Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ash Wednesday

It's been a strange day in possumland.
I got into a debate, on another forum, about Matt 7:6. Essentially, the passage is, "do not cast pearls before swine". My argument was that, even for Christians, this is a shitty axiom for humanity. It's an especially arrogant position for Christians.
1. Pearls begin as irritating grains of sand in a clam shell. The clam does not appreciate the sand.
2. Despite the discomfort to the clam, the grain of sand accumulates self-insulating layers of pearly coatings that disguise the irritating grain of sand.
3. Finally, the clam purges the pearl because it grows to large to keep internally.
4. The value of the pearl is subjective. If you're the clam, the pearl sucks ass.
5. Cultured pearls are the most common and least valued pearls. The clam also DIES when the pearl is harvested.
So, as a metaphor for faith... a pearl is a horrible example of anything positive. It starts out annoying, gets increasingly large and increasingly annoying, and- in the end- the being that has sustained the pearl is killed. NICE!

Then, there's the whole "swine" categorization of non-believers. ARG!

On a separate note: our possum nanny called this evening, breathless with excitement. She asked if it was Ash Wednesday. I confirmed that it was. She said that she and a friend were standing in the vestibule of a Catholic Church and they thought it would be funny to go in and get ashes. They wondered "where do we get the ashes?" I told them they'd have to stand in line and receive the ashes from a priest.

At first, I thought this was kind of funny: two active Baptists trying to crash Ash Wednesday. But, the more I thought about it: the less funny it became. Now, I don't know why I felt like defending Catholicism... but, I did find it ironic that Christians ask for tolerance, yet these two were taking glee in making the ritual of a rival faith a "shits and giggles" experience. The hipocracy was a bit more than I was comfortable with. *shrug* I dunno'. I sometimes feel like it's a waste of my time and effort to be respectful of believers when they're so obviously NOT respectful of each other.

Now...from a personal point-of-view, I hated Ash Wednesday (when I was a Catholic). I'd go to mass before school and get the smudge on my forehead. Then, I'd spend the rest of the day dealing with people who'd say "You've got dirt on your forehead." LOL I'm surprised that there aren't more reports of Catholics stabbing colleagues and friends with scissors and other offfice supplies on Ash Wednesday. Furthermore, I realize that Catholics don't really heed the part of the Bible that instructs believers to not flaunt their good works, but... come on. Ashes on your head is a definite OUTWARD sign of faith.


Kathryn said...

LOL Ashes are easier when you go to Catholic school.

And the ashes aren't flaunting good works - yeah they are showing that you are a Catholic - but they should be humbling, in that you are supposedly admitting that you were and will be dust. :)

As to the other - you know I agree!

Carlie said...

I agree, they acted in bad faith. I'll admit to having been a Baptist who tried out Lent once or twice, but because I thought the idea of self-sacrifice was a good one and wanted to see if I had the willpower. Even though I don't believe in any religion now, and think all those rituals are silly, I'd never co-opt one to make fun of it any more than I'd put on blackface for a night out just for the hell of it.

Anonymous said...

I showed up at work yesterday, and I kept seeing a bunch of guests and co-workers with ashes on their heads. I work in a Casino-Hotel, and as a lapsed catholic turned athiest after 13 years of indoctrination, I found it completely obnoxious. I had a co-worker take a ballpoint pen to my forehead:

Rev. BigDumbChimp said...

Honestly to me, it's a case of the old

"Our ridiculous ceremonies and rules for practicing illogical faith are better than your ridiculous ceremonies and rules for practicing illogical faith. So we of course must be correct."

Matt D. said...

I'd never point and laugh at their "ash-head", but I'm not *completely* convinced that I shouldn't - under the right circumstances.

Ridiculous ideas are, definitioanlly, deserving of ridicule - but that doesn't mean ridicule is always the best method.

If someone wants to put ash on their forehead, so be it. From my point of view, it's not significantly different from wearing a cross, WWJD bracelet, dagger, frock, habit, yarmulke or crossing themselves occasionally.

I don't feel any need to point out every silly religious observance and say "Look! Look! Silliness!"

If, however, they're actually trying to convince someone that their faith is justified; that's when the line is crossed. At the point, it's reasonable to expect them to provide evidence and reason to justify their belief and it's also at that point that I think ridicule might become a useful tool.

First, though, I'd actually prefer a reasonable discussion.

Proud to be an Atheist, especially today said...

So they are supposed to get the ashes from a priest? At this one job I used to have, I saw people put ashes on their foreheads during their cigarette break..not as significant I'm guessing.

AlisonM said...

The ashes are also supposed to be from the palm fronds everyone waved about on Palm Sunday. I suppose that could be considered recycling.

I went from doing shopping yesterday and wondering over and over why people had dirt on their foreheads (I forgot!) to shopping today and seeing all the ultra-orthodox women with their wigs and long skirts and opaque tights, to reading a story on Pharyngula about a Palestinian man who murdered a woman because she hadn't properly covered her hair. All the rituals, every one of them, range from silly to oppressive to outright dangerous.

Saurian200 said...

My father was Catholic in the sense that there was a church somewhere with his name on a list. Even though he doesn't call himself one, everyone recognizes him as an atheist.

My mother is Jewish. I never even heard of the ritual of putting ashes on your head for Ash wednsday until junior high school when I suddenly started seeing people walking around with dirt on their head.

Interstingly, a friend of my older brother used to be an amateur movie maker. One time he made a movie with some of his friends about zombies. In the movie the zombies made other people into zombies by spreading graveyard dirt on the victim's forehead.

When I first started seeing my fellow students wearing ash on their forehead my first thought was that the school was being overrun by zombies.

darrell said...

While I see your point about their rudeness toward other "believers" I don't necessarily think it's such a bad thing. I mean as Rev. Bigdumbchimp was saying, all religious superstitions are stupid, individual religions just like to pretend that they're not being irrational. We shouldn't have to feel bad for making fun of them. In a country where atheists are the least liked minority, the least likely to be voted into political office, and where the majority of people feel we need to "just shut up" (remember that CNN piece?), I think it's only fair to let the religious ridicule eachothers' idiotic beliefs...maybe it will eventually lead to more disbelievers.

Or maybe not...but at least they're just laughing at eachother and not declaring holy war.

Anonymous said...


In your post you said, "Then, there's the whole "swine" categorization of non-believers. ARG!"

I'm not sure what your "ARG" is supposed to mean.

For me I'm the superlative non-believer and I am quite accustomed to having the faithful compare me to things they've labeled as base. Remember, in their crazy conception of the world, their perfect god made these disgusting things, and yet they choose to employ them as insults. I, however, am highly imperturbable, thus not easily insulted in general, and when I have no respect for the one issuing the insults, I'm almost impervious.

So, to be insulted, I first need to respect the person spewing the vitriol. Then, beyond that respect I have to interpret what they've said as somehow denigrating or derogatory. In this case, "do not cast pearls before swine" can't irk me in the slightest since it fails both tests: I don't respect the Bible-spouter and I greatly esteem the swine.

Growing up I spent a fair amount of time in the company of pigs. Not a single one of them ever quoted the Bible at me. I respect them for that. If they were Bible-piggies, they kept it to themselves. For my part I never tried to convince them that the world was other than they perceived it. Admittedly, today I would be somewhat inclined to push the issue, but back then, I was far less outspoken about pig faith.

Anyone who has kept company with pigs can't help respecting them. A sow with piglets is a model mother, a true maternal force to be reckoned with. That commands respect, maybe even admiration, huh? Boars are huge, loud and just plain scary. You disrespect them at your peril. And piglets, well, I don't know about respect but what's not to love about little piggies. All in all, pigs are worthy of admiration, respect, and a bit of love. Just like me.

So, if a religious person wants to insult me, calling me a pig won't do it. To insult me, the religious person has a much bigger obstacle to overcome: just like the piggies, they have to earn my respect.

Chakolate said...

What I hated about Ash Wednesday, even when I was a Catholic, was that they said to you, 'Remember thou that dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return.'

What kind of a message is that for kids? You're dirt! No matter how big you get, you'll always be dirt! Then you're gonna die.

Way to raise self-esteem.

Anonymous said...

'Remember thou that dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return.'

What kind of a message is that for kids?

Actually, I think Catholics are shooting themselves in the foot with that one. THAT line is what raised my first seeds of doubt. My child mind interpreted that as a contradiction: was I a soul (meant for heaven or hell) or was I just dust?

As an adult, I see what they were trying to say, friends and I discussed the contradiction of that one.

I do see your point, though.
However, there are many, many messages that are BAD for children in Catholicism.
Maybe I should make that a post?

Carlie said...

Self-esteem? Religions are all about breaking self-esteem. That stupid JOY acronym from a few posts ago is a good example; you come last, no matter what. I spent almost a year in counseling figuring out that a great deal of my inability to ever take my own needs into consideration or make any decision that wasn't based on other people came directly from my early church training.

Anonymous said...

I spent almost a year in counseling figuring out that a great deal of my inability to ever take my own needs into consideration or make any decision that wasn't based on other people came directly from my early church training.

Most religions seem to set up children, girls especially, with this backwards mentality.