THE SPIRITUAL HAIR OF THE RELIGIOUS DOG

As we watch the Syrian refugee crisis unfold from the safety of our Antipodean couches, it’s easy to point an accusing finger at the perceived cause of this humanitarian tragedy. I mean of course, religion. It’s also tempting to agree with Stephen Fry who, on one of his popular QI episodes, eloquently commented: “Religion. Sh*t on it.”

Extremism, evangelism, child abuse, sky fairies and repressive laws that date back to the dark ages – seriously, who needs all this toxic mind-garbage? Is it any wonder we’ve had enough of the whole damned business? Religion, it seems, has given the world a massive hangover.

Yet ironically, we need more religious thinking, not less. At least, we need more of the positive values that all religions, in their original teachings, foster. Hard as it is to believe in these conflicted times, religions originally developed to civilise humanity. Religion, in its purest, truest form, nurtures virtues such as tolerance, compassion, kindness and cooperation.

We are, after all, connected to one another by something mysterious, wondrous and vastly greater than us. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking calls this elusive something the Theory of Everything. Others call this God. Or nature. And, just like nature, religions evolve. Just as we have biological diversity, new religions appear to adapt to changing environments. Just like nature, sometimes these mutations are productive. Sometimes they are fatal. The problems begin when some theologians (mostly men) attach archaic social laws to their holy writings and wield these artefacts over the heads of the faithful like giant demolition balls. They use strategic interpretations of some of the more ambiguous scriptural passages to justify discrimination, sectarian divisions and, of course, war. This desire to protect, to seek vengeance and fight over an ideology is also a distinctly masculine take on religion.

So, in the spirit of Stephen Fry, I’d like to refine his faecal target. Sh*t on dogma. Sh*t on all those theologians dragging their violent, discriminatory and irrelevant social laws into the twenty-first century and sh*t on all politicians and religious sects that think differences can be solved by guns and dropping bombs.

Karl Marx once said religion is the opium of the people. I would argue that it should be the oxytocin of the people. Yes, folks. That’s the love and trust hormone. The girl hormone.

As a woman and, according to some religious doctrines, a second-rate citizen, I’d like audaciously to suggest an alternative to solving disagreements with violence. How about developing an oxytocin bomb to deploy over conflict zones? Having researched this idea, I gather, however, such a weapon is a long way off. Oxytocin is ‘context-specific’, which means different people react to it in varying ways. There are also ethical issues – one of major concern being that people might start trusting one another. Now, there’s a worry. So, until this minefield is thoroughly researched, (Google X – please put it on your list) we’re stuck with the male solution to conflict – the war machine.

There is, however, an antidote. I’ll call it, in science speak – the oxytocin meme. Or to put it in a language our Australian drinking culture understands – the spiritual hair of the religious dog.

The Spiritual hair of the Religious Dog

The Spiritual Hair of the Religious Dog.

True religion is an oxytocin meme. There are examples of this everywhere – our own divine Graham Long of the Sydney Wayside Chapel, for example – deploying love bombs where they are needed most. The current Pope, who, despite being head of a patriarchal institution that still thinks it owns women’s bodies, is doing a stellar job of fostering unity and brotherhood among the followers of all the world’s religions. And, of course, there’s the Dalai Lama spreading his memes worldwide.

On the other hand, we see a lack of the oxytocin meme not only in the Syrian conflict, but also in Hungary’s deplorable, inhuman treatment of refugees.

We can all do our little bit to help spread this meme. Twice a week, I teach Baha’i scripture classes at two primary schools on the Lower North Shore. Here, I do my bit to dispel misconceptions (no, you don’t go to church to visit Rapunzel and a mosque is not an insect with wings that buzzes around your ears at night). I teach children about the world’s major religions and focus on the similarities rather than the differences.

Memes may spread more slowly than chemical weapons of mass affection, but seeing the enthusiasm with which children embrace these concepts of love and unity has made me hopeful. So, I’ll continue to administer the spiritual hair of the religious dog and deploy love bombs to my beautiful students – the world’s future peacemakers. In the spirit of unity and inclusiveness, I hope you too, in your own unique way, will share and spread the meme.

REFUGEE CRISIS – A CALL TO ACTION

As I woke up this morning in my warm comfortable bed, I thought of all those people on the other side of the world displaced by war. Like many, I’m haunted by that image of the dead Syrian toddler on the Turkish beach.

When victorious images of gun-toting soldiers and fighter jets blowing up enemy targets are replaced by pictures of dead babies and devastated families hurling themselves onto train tracks, we’re finally seeing the truth of war.

Here in the Antipodes – so far away from the conflict – it’s easy to feel helpless. There’s a half world between us.  What can we do over here to make a difference?

Violence is clearly not the solution to this extraordinarily complex problem. So I’ve compiled a list of ways we can help – some take only the click of a mouse; others require a little more commitment.

  1. Donate to all or any of the organisations linked here. International Committee of the Red CrossUN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)International Rescue Committee, Médecins Sans FrontièresOxfam, World Vision
  2. Lobby your governments to up their refugee quotas. Refugees enrich communities and countries. When was a country ever less by embracing multiple cultures and faiths? Many of the world’s prosperous nations were settled by refugees, pioneers (and in Australia’s case) – convicts. My mum was a WW2 refugee and I like to think she made NZ a better more beautiful country for having settled there. So. Have more say in the taxes we pay: more resources for refugees, women and children, less resources for soldiers and bombs.
  3. When refugees arrive in a foreign country, one of the first challenges they face is the language barrier. So, if you’re pondering career options or looking for a change in profession, how about training as a TESOL teacher in your home country? Note to governments – in the light of current events, these courses should be FREE or heavily subsidised.
  4. Welcome and support refugees in your community. Amnesty International has set up this wonderful programme:Welcome Dinner Project.
  5. Use social media. We have tools at our disposal to reach a global audience. So Post. Spread the call to action. Here are a few good hashtags for tweeters. #refugeeswelcome, #refugees,#refugeecrisis. Tweet and retweet.

 

 

These are the assets we must protect.

These are the assets we must protect.

 

Let’s turn this tragedy into an opportunity to make the soul of the world grow.

The death of Aylan Kurdi – that little boy who looked as though he was sleeping, but was alone and drowned on a foreign beach because of a man-made war – should not go wasted. Enough of the bombs and the violence. Instead of hatred for death cults and dysfunctional regimes, instead of thoughts of war, please turn your hearts towards love for those who are suffering and your minds towards peace.

Look at the list above. Do something. Make compassion more powerful than war.

And fellow Australians, read this:

http://www.smh.com.au/world/how-you-can-help-refugees-trying-to-reach-safety-in-europe-and-here-in-australia-20150903-gjea65

FREE WILL: IS IT REAL?

Every few days on the blackboard outside my neighborhood café, Sandy, the owner, posts a new gem of wisdom.

Yesterday as I rushed past with my takeaway chai latte, I glimpsed these words: ‘The body is the servant of the mind.’ Which got me thinking: what if the mind is, in turn, the servant of the soul? Now before you think I’m about to get all mystical on you, I’m going to refer to a study on consciousness conducted by the psychologist Benjamin Libet in the 1980s. His experiment revealed that seconds before his subjects had a conscious intention to move a finger, there was a signal in the brain. His results, which have been hotly debated ever since, imply there is a driver behind our conscious thoughts – be it our subconscious or some external force.

Thirty-five years later, when it comes to our own brains, we’re still fumbling about in the dark.

Are we merely avatars of a celestial consciousness? Creations of an artist or novelist in a higher dimension? Or travelers on some preordained journey?

Are we merely avatars of a celestial consciousness? Creations of an artist or novelist in a higher dimension? Or travelers on some preordained journey?

Most of us believe we are masters of our own destiny. So does a belief in our own agency make us behave more morally? If at some point in the future, science proves that we don’t have free will, how might this change the way we treat others?

What an exquisite paradox! The deeper we go down this rabbit hole the more complex it becomes. What do we really mean by free will anyway? Are we just fiddling with semantics?   After all, like all life on this planet, we are constrained by our own biology and, in the case of humans, by our cultural indoctrination.

If we do eventually learn we don’t have free will, we may also discover the source of that force that drives us – be it some transcendent self, a collective unconscious or something we don’t even have a name for yet. And when we unravel this mystery, it will turn many religions on their heads and be as life-changing as discovering earth is not the centre of the universe, or communicating with sentient life on other planets.

However, if history is anything to go by, the person or people who discover the true source or impetus behind consciousness may well be ridiculed or professionally/physically assassinated for spreading unrest and corruption. My guess is it’ll take a few hundred years for their ideas to be absorbed into the human mindset.

I doubt however, these epiphanies will come in my lifetime. In the meantime, harbouring the illusion that I do have free will, I’ll continue to post these blogs and buy the best chai lattes in Sydney from Sandy’s café. All while enjoying her complimentary morsels of wisdom.

COLD-CALLING CRIMINALS AND BRAIN-DEAD BOTS

Anyone who has set up a web site will know about those persistent creepy-crawlies that breed in the warm, inviting spaces of the internet. So it’s time for some digital house-keeping and a dose of cyber-insecticide.

Out in the physical world, most people respect those ‘no advertising circulars’ signs many of us have on our doors or letterboxes. Sadly, the same doesn’t apply to the world of digital real estate.

Despite having a polite sign on my contact page saying: No advertisers. Please. I’ve had emails from entities with convincingly human-sounding names like Brad and Susan offering weight-loss products, ab-builders and services that will increase my hits/improve my site. Sometimes they even arrive with an invitation to unsubscribe when I never subscribed in the first place.

 

As welcome as a plague-carrying flea.

As welcome as a plague-carrying flea.

May I just say here, that the last entity I’m going to want to do business with is someone (or something) who disregards or can’t read a simple request sitting right in front of them.

There. I feel better now I’ve sprayed.

 

 

 

 

The Infidel’s Garden is Moving House

Although I’ll continue to rave about things that fire me up on this site, The Infidels’ Garden now has its very own blog. And to celebrate its launch as well as several five star reviews, the book is FREE for the month of July.

Click on this image to take a trip to its new blog:

The Infidel's Garden is moving house.

The Infidel’s Garden is moving house.

The Metaphysical Turkey

First of all, a quick response to some of your questions. This is a WordPress site and so far, I’m very happy with it – no problems with hackers (to date) and WordPress is elegant and easy to use for a techno-klutz like me. All the content is mine.

Thanks so much to those of you who have bookmarked this site;  I aim to keep you – my fabulous readers – stimulated and happy!

Alectura lathami

Australian Brush Turkey – Alectura lathami

Some of you may be upset by this next post.  So before I tell this true tale about a very handsome brush turkey – a large somewhat clumsy and shy bird that lives in Sydney suburban bushland –I’d like to explore some of the more unusual ways in which cultures deal with their dead.

Zorosastrians wash bodies in water and bull’s urine before leaving them for vultures to pick clean.

In Tibetan sky burials, the human corpse is cut into small pieces and placed on a mountaintop, exposing it to the elements and animals.

Vikings laid the bodies of their dead on the deck of a boat, sent it off into the sunset before setting everything alight by firing flaming arrows at the pyre.

Click here on my link-star for more:star with wings There. I hope this prepares you for what is to come.

Back to my story.

Two days into 2105 I was in the honey and syrup section of our local farmer’s market when I got the call we all dread. It came from the nurse at the rest home in New Zealand where my mum had been living for the past 18 months. “I’m afraid your mother has passed away,” she said.

Those words, as well as the time, the place and the weather – a warm Sydney summer’s day – are something I’ll never forget. Time and life as I knew it stopped.  From that moment, I stepped into a parallel universe where everything, although the same, looked and felt utterly different.

My mother – elderly and weak – had been ill for some days with pneumonia, so her passing wasn’t entirely unexpected. We knew she was ready to go. Nevertheless, I was in shock. So when the nurse asked what I wished to do with her body, I said: “If my mother had her way, she would be put on the compost heap along with the grass clippings.”

Although in hindsight, I regretted this spontaneous outburst, it wasn’t intended to be disrespectful. You see, my beloved mum didn’t believe in extravagant funerals. She told us she wanted to be cremated, her ashes sprinkled in the shrubbery of the family home, where my father’s remains had been scattered 30 years earlier. So I was very conscious things had to be handled in a way that honoured her wishes and knew she wouldn’t have wanted to be embalmed or as she would have put it – “placed in a fancy box which would have been burned.”

The next week passed in a blur of arrangements I didn’t want to make and regrets I couldn’t face. I had lived in Australia for the past fifteen years and even though I had recently visited her, wasn’t there to hold mum’s hand when she passed away. This broke my heart. Yet strange things happened over the next few days. It turned out the funeral director I was dealing with was a Buddhist. This would have delighted my mother who was drawn to Buddhism and told people she wanted to be reincarnated as a bird.

One week and two days after my beloved mum was cremated I was returning home when I saw a brush turkey flapping about in the carport.  Panicking at the sight of the family car, it pooped on the front veranda then in a flurry of black wings and grunts, made a graceless escape over the fence.

I thought that was that.

Instead, the bird took up lodging in our garden.

Let me add in the twelve years the family has lived in this inner city suburb, we’ve never experienced such a persistent and ongoing visitation from such a big wild bird. They come and go. Generally, they don’t move in. However, this brush turkey decided to hang out on our compost heap and sometimes in the afternoons, at the time I would normally make one of my daily calls to my mum, I would see it sitting on the lawn sunbathing and looking into our family room.

Now, I’m not sure a brush turkey, which, being larger than a chicken and only slightly more capable of flight would have been the bird of choice for my mum’s reincarnation. But she had a fabulous sense of humour and appreciated irony.

The actual perpetrator of this metaphysical conundrum.

The actual perpetrator of this metaphysical conundrum.

I’d like to add here, my mother was very proud of her compost heap. She kept it neat, turned it regularly and used the rich soil it produced as fertiliser for her gorgeous New Zealand garden.

For about six weeks, the turkey and I had a daily routine.  The turkey fossicked, hurled all the egg shells, orange and onion peels and avocado shells from the compost heap onto the garden path and lawn. Daily, I swept and shovelled it all back again. This battle went on all summer.

One day in late summer the turkey vanished. I decided it had either found a mate, a better compost heap or ended up as a roast (I’ve heard they’re tasty).

Then, on a Sunday in May – Mother’s Day to be exact – I stepped into the garden to find my tidy compost heap once more violated. The turkey had returned.  Just for one special day. So I paid tribute to my beautiful mum on Mother’s Day by once more tidying up the compost heap.

When I told this story to a very down to earth friend, she smiled tolerantly as if dealing with someone who is seriously deluded and said: “Ah well, we all have our own ways of trying to make sense of things.”

Indeed the loss of my much loved mum – a powerful personality who always felt larger than life – is devastating and hard to make sense of.

Now rationally, I know the brush turkey was alive before my mother passed on. Rationally, I know as someone with runaway imagination, I tend to see patterns in the world where others see randomness and simply coincidence. But we all have our own ways of reconciling common sense with the mysteries of the universe and who knows what happens when we die? No one’s come back with a non-fictional account of their experiences. If science hasn’t yet unraveled the mysteries of consciousness and time, then I feel we must consider all possibilities.

I’ll be looking into the whole topic of reincarnation when I set up my blog for The Infidel’s Garden which I’ve just started building.

Meanwhile, come back and visit again.  And of course, I’m interested in your comments on this post. What do you think?  Was that visit from the brush turkey coincidence or communication?

HIDDEN AGENDAS

The digital ecosystem is indeed a murky place. When I first set up my blog my comments page was inundated with spam which I decided to go through manually.  Some of this spam was so utterly nonsensical and apparently pointless that it got me thinking – who or what generates this drivel and for what purpose?

Alligator Mississippiensis by H Zell

Alligator Mississippiensis by H Zell

I’d like to tell a story here to illustrate where I’m going with this.  When we lived in crime-riddled Mexico City, many houses in our suburb were hidden behind high walls topped with shards of colourful broken glass or decorative but lethally pointed wrought iron.  Not long after we arrived, a uniformed man knocked on the fortified door of our high walled but not particularly secure property and offered to guard our house. Without getting into the whole social justice side of societies like this where the rich and poor live cheek-by-jowl, we were told by people well versed in how such operations worked that if we didn’t pay up, we would probably be robbed.

So perhaps some spam serves a similar purpose. After all, if spam didn’t exist, then anti-spam services wouldn’t exist either.  It’s like creating a disease then selling the cure. In my mind the paid host should do a spam clean as part of their service. It’s the only way to keep things fair.

I believe in a free market, albeit one with a finely tuned moral compass. See John Oliver’s wonderful Last Week Tonight for ferocious investigative journalism and examples of how things can go horribly wrong in the free market when people/corporations behave unethically.

http://www.hbo.com/last-week-tonight-with-john-oliver#/

Which brings me to the comments people have sent me. Most arrive on my comments page with advertising attached. So who puts this in? WordPress? ( in which case I’m sorry to genuine posters). Or do the senders have hidden agendas;  ie: are they actually advertisers?

This lack of transparency really bugs me.

But to those of you with specific and I’m going to  assume sincere questions: with regard to copyright, anything posted online has copyright, but this doesn’t mean someone unscrupulous will ignore your artist’s rights ( see my mention of moral compasses above). The copyright page of The Infidel’s Garden has a thematically relevant strategy for dealing with this. Click on the link below  for a ‘Look Inside’ version of the book.

bosch demon 1 flipped with shadow

On that note, I’ll be including a separate post on superstition shortly. I’m also planning to set up a separate blog for The Infidel’s Garden.

No idea with regard to internet compatibility issues. Yes, to the request to share my blog on Facebook – the more readers I have the better as long as they have lungs, brains and hearts pumping warm blood through their veins.

Meanwhile, to those of you who are not bots or marketers of advertising space, I’m interested in any comments on the whole spam/advertising conundrum.   How can we clear away the murk?  How do we keep this digital ecosystem free of predators and pollution?

Obviously spammers and advertisers need not reply.

ALARMING!

The other day as I was trawling through sites of fellow eBook authors, I came across a blog with some very disturbing information about fake book reviews.

As these reviews undermine the efforts of all genuine reviewers and hard-working writers, I feel this is a very loud conversation all self-published eBook authors need to have.

In the absence of a famous author brand name and/or advertising undertaken by the traditional publishers, genuine reviews by enthusiastic readers are gold for self-published eBook authors.

However, it seems multiple paid reviews (some of them astoundingly inarticulate) are the strategy some authors use to make their books swiftly climb up the ranking scales and even hit the best-seller lists.

I do understand ePublishing is still the Wild West and as the industry takes shape, it will have its fair share of unscrupulous opportunists with no systems or clear rules in place to weed these villains out.  So, how do we, as genuine hard-working authors, deal with this lazy and dishonest practice?

I’d also like to throw another idea out there – are paid reviews any more or less ethical than paid advertising or those extravagant PR campaigns undertaken by the big publishing houses to market a chosen few authors? Are we being unrealistic in expecting word-of-mouth to be our sole method of spreading the word about our books?

In the midst of all the eNoise, when you are an unknown author, without an advertising and PR budget, how do you gather a following? Mark Coker of Smashwords points out you must write a book that touches people’s souls. I agree with this, but how do you reach people in the first place to tell them their souls just might be touched by your book?

Let’s also remember writing a genuine, insightful review that is constructive and helpful for both readers and authors is no small task. A reader must be sufficiently moved by a book to write something. They must be confident of their writing skills and also understand the importance of good reviews in this recently formed eBook universe. And they must do this all willingly for no financial compensation.

With that in mind, I’d also like to point out an uncomfortable truth. Amazon KDP is in the business of selling books. And, as authors, we are supplying the products. Business after all, is business and our mesmerizing writing and rollicking plots, our soulful characters and the wrenching moral dilemmas they face may not be enough to draw in the volume of readers we would like.

In this new world where so many of us are competing to be heard, the pragmatic me can see the future of reviews changing. Professional and paid reviews by people who have genuinely read the books may become the new norm. Then another issue will rear its ugly head. Will only reviewers who generously dish out five stars get the most work? Ah, what a dilemma!

I’d be very interested in knowing how other eBook authors and reviewers feel about this.

As a first time author, I’m new at this whole business, but I’d like to say my two five star reviews for my recently published book The Infidel’s Garden were unsolicited and unpaid. My sincerest thanks to you both! And without I hope sounding too greedy, here’s hoping for more.

I’ll say no more on this, as there’s an excellent discussion thread on this topic here.

http://dionnelisterwriter.com/2014/11/27/review-cheats-shameful-author-behaviour/#comments

 

Five Star Review for Infidel’s Garden

Seasoned writers may be blasé about such things but as this is my  debut novel and my first review, I’m posting it here.

WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL BOOK!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! This is the kind of tale that gets into your head and keeps you thinking about it all the time. The kind of book you sit up to midnight reading promising yourself ‘just one more chapter, just one more.’ I read it over three nights (had to take a break to feed the family – drag) but the story and the characters are still running around in my head a week later. The main character, Marjit, is spunky and witty, the acerbic black dog that sits on her shoulder makes me laugh and cry, Pieter, her beloved, is upright, moral and dishy, and the sex scenes are steamy and poetic. The setting, Christian Holland after the Spanish Inquisition, is very well presented. It is a world completely alien to us today but the author brings it to all our senses – the sights, the smells, the fears, the horrors, and the delicate gentle corners where innocence is nurtured and encouraged to blossom. It’s a frightening place that can only be survived with the aid of love – the question is whether love can survive in such a place at all.
Hearty congrats to the author for a fantastic first full length novel and looking forward very much to the next.

Thanks to JoannaGoanna and all of you who have purchased/downloaded The Infidel’s Garden. I do hope you are also enjoying the book. If you have any questions or comments about the characters or story, please feel free to contact me on this site. I would love to hear from you!

I’m also well into The Seven Plagues of Love, so if you want to have a sneak peak of Pieter and Soheila’s next incarnation, please contact me and I’ll put you on my mailing list and send you some sample chapters once its ready.

THE INFIDEL’S GARDEN BOOK TRAILER

Finally! It looks as though everything is up and running.     The Infidel’s Garden is now available across multiple eBook platforms including iBooks, Amazon Kindle and Kobo.

It’s free for a while on all sites except Amazon where it costs less than a cup of coffee (or at least a Sydney cup of coffee).

For a little taste of the book, here’s the link to the book trailer which has  been uploaded to Youtube.

The music is Prince Waldecks Galliard by Blackmore’s Night. The sources of the very-fiddled-with-artwork are mine and royalty-free images from Wikimedia Commons.

Enjoy!

Here are links to the book.

Smashwords

iBooks – sorry I can’t work  this one out – you’ll have to do a hunt on your iPad. Author name and  book title will bring it up on the iBook store.

Amazon

Kobo

Barnes and Noble Nook

Thanks for taking the time to have a look. If you do read the book and enjoyed it, a review (on Goodreads, Amazon, iBooks etc)  would be wonderful and will make many people ( including this author)  happy.

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)