Why We Need to Acknowledge the Ways that Religion Sucks

In recent weeks, and perhaps months, I feel as though I’ve seen a spike in the number of really off-putting Islamophobic posts popping up in my social media newsfeeds. Of course, my newsfeed is not necessarily a good indicator of social climate, but considering that the majority of Canadians supported a niqab ban and screening new immigrants for Canadian values, and the recent hate crimes against Muslim communities in Canada and the USA, I’m left wondering if my newsfeed is on to something.

The sentiment behind most of these anti-Islamic posts I encounter is that the religion of Islam itself is to blame for a variety of awful things, an idea that Reza Aslan attempted to counter in an interview several years ago:

“Islam doesn’t promote violence or peace, it’s a religion. Like every other religion in the world it depends on what you bring to it. If you’re a violent person your Islam, Judaism, Christianity or Hinduism is going to be violent.”

While I largely agree with this statement, as well as Aslan’s assertion that:

“To say ‘Muslim countries’ as though Pakistan and Turkey are the same or Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are the same, as though what is happening in the most extreme forms in these repressive countries… is representative of what’s happening in every other Muslim country, is frankly… and I use this word seriously, stupid,”

I also feel as though there’s an implication rolled in to the first statement that actually makes the Canadians I know and love, and interact with daily, more susceptible to harboring Islamophobic sentiments. While he comes short of explicitly stating it, it sounds as though Aslan is suggesting that religion has absolutely zero role to play in determining the way in which people view themselves in the world, has no impact on the way in which people behave, and thus, cannot be held at all accountable for any awful action performed under its banner.

But the thing is, that’s crap, isn’t it?

As an acquaintance pointed out in a discussion on social media, at the very least, religion gives people licence to do some horrible things, and normalizes the idea that horrible things can actually be OK to do. One of the earliest stories young Mormon children learn about involves a young man being prompted by God to chop off another man’s head in order to steal a book. A passage in the Quran appears to justify killing a boy out of concern for the burden his behaviour would place on his parents. The Old Testament records a command from God to murder women and children.

I also believe that religion promotes tribalism, and judgement of those that are different than we are. I find support for this belief in passages from both the Bible and Quran, as well as from personal experience. When my son was 3 years old, we drove past a shirtless man who was jogging on a sweltering summer day. My son immediately piped up to inform me that, “that man is doing something bad!” I tried to engage my son in a discussion about how the Mormon idea of modesty that he learns about at church is heavily influenced by a particular culture (I didn’t use that language of course, but rather tried to chat about how different people have different ideas about what is appropriate for different situations, and provided some examples that would be familiar to him). But try as I did, I couldn’t seem to get him off of the idea that he absolutely knew the correct standard by which everyone should dress, having learned about it at church, and that anything else was unequivocally WRONG. Due to my continued challenging of these sorts of ideas, I think my son has a somewhat more nuanced view of the world at age 7 than he did at age 3, but the conversation definitely left me with the impression that it was exposure to our religion that had supported his dogmatically judgemental attitude, and that without that being challenged, such an attitude could easily persist beyond childhood.

And am I the only one who thinks that the 3 big monotheistic religions placing the stamp of divine approval on racism, misogyny, and slavery had a significant role in the perpetuation of these evils up to the modern day?

All I’m saying here is that I do believe religion has and does cause some significant harms, and I feel like the majority of thinking people would have to agree. Is Aslan correct in suggesting that people bring an awful lot of who they are based on other influences to the embodiment of their religion? Absolutely. Is it reasonable to describe it as a one way street, where the existing body making up a religion doesn’t influence the person practising it at all? Absolutely not. And the fact that people know that is why trying to tell them otherwise actually makes them more susceptible to Islamophobia.

If I tell someone that, “[with every] religion in the world [what that religion is like] depends [only] on what you bring to it,” when they encounter an article telling them that the worst ten countries in the world for gender equality are Muslim majority countries, and featuring several verses from the Quran that seem to show Islamic support for these characteristics, they’re not going to believe me.

And they shouldn’t. Because there are elements of Islam and Christianity that do promote gender inequality. Just as the above referenced article does with Islam, I might point out that the New Testament places men in a position of authority over women, and instructs women to be silent and submit to their husbands as to God, and that 3 of the 4 worst US states for gender equality are also the states with the highest proportions of Mormons.

Instead of trying to tell people that religion bears no responsibility for the awful acts committed in its name, wouldn’t be a bit more authentic to acknowledge that religion has an ugly side? I feel like if we did, that people wouldn’t get so freaked out when the Islamophobes of the world make statements indicating just that. And maybe, just maybe, we could even help the Christian majority of Canadians identify something they have in common with Muslims: membership in a religion that is not entirely good or entirely bad in the impact it has had on the world.

Panago Summer Promotion: Daiya Cheese!

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I have been eating pizza from Panago for the last few months without cheese….but starting this summer, I won’t have to anymore!

Panago’s summer promotion is going to feature Daiya mozzarella! You can look for it starting May 26, 2014!

I can’t wait to try it! If it’s really good, I may have to start ordering even more Panago than I have before. With these promotional menus, what happens is that if a promotional item/pizza takes off and is really popular, it can get added to the menu permanently, which I would obviously want to have happen in this case!

Now, when ordering vegan pizza from Panago, it is important to remember than only the gluten-free crust is vegan, and also that the sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions have dairy in them, but there’s still lots of vegan topping choices. I may even have to give the veggie pepperoni another try!

Vegan Prawns

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These don’t really taste like prawns. The fishy, seafood-y flavour just isn’t there. However, they also don’t taste bad. There’s no weird after-taste, or anything, which seems to be a common downfall of vegan substitutes for things. They just taste…well, sort of like bland nothing. The good news is that the texture is very convincing, so these could easily be used in a flavourful dish, or in a sauce, and be great. My plan is: butter prawns! You know, butter chicken, but with vegan prawns instead!

In Defense of the Princeton Privileged Kid

Just kidding!

My eyes nearly rolled out of my head while reading about how he had “checked his privilege.”

And fortunately, after seeing it pop up a few times in social media forums (thankfully, only posted by people calling out how ridiculous it was), I saw what I thought was an excellent response to it.

As the original essay, and the response, rolled around in my head, and I saw people’s comments about them floating around the inter-webs, I began to notice something about the language of the response that I thought was producing an interesting effect.

The author of the response states at the beginning that she will be directly addressing the privileged kid, and goes on to do exactly that. Everything she writes is from the second person point-of-view, right from the beginning, all the way to the final paragraph where she states, “Otherwise you’ll just look like a complete f*****g a**hole when you write a hypocritical article completely missing the point of everything.” 

And then we all cheer. Because he has come across as a privileged, spoiled, bratty a**hole with absolutely zero willingness to consider that his life has been positively affected by white, male, cis-gendered, heterosexual, and class (to name a few) privilege. And now Violet has put him in his place. Good for her. Glad someone did it.

To be perfectly clear, I can’t think of a single thing about Violet’s response that I didn’t find was bang-on.

Where things got interesting for me was in realizing that my reading her response, as it was written, in the second person, was initially mostly about me gleefully revelling in the ridiculous things someone else said (that I vehemently disliked) being wittily exposed as such. The things he said were ridiculous, and I certainly don’t think I would ever express anything like that myself, would I?

No. I can honestly say I don’t think that I would. Have I held views, and made judgements about things that were informed by privilege? Of course. Have I benefited from my own unique blend of circumstances and characteristics, and their alignment with institutional forces that privilege me? Certainly. Have I made it an ongoing effort to confront my privilege, and to acknowledge it? I think so (no, I’m not asking for a medal for this).

But also: Have I ever gotten defensive about what I felt was a suggestion that I hadn’t worked as hard as I thought I had (or as hard as someone else had to) to earn something? Possibly only in response to someone pointing out that maybe privilege played a role in my achieving it? Or even only in response to someone making a statement about how hard someone else had to work for something, or acknowledging the challenges they face (and perhaps not even referring to me at all)? Have I ever thought of some challenge that my parents, or grandparents had to experience and in some way claimed that it diminished my own (undeniable) privilege? Have I ever responded to the suggestion that my judgement of something was informed by privilege, and thought, “well, I’ve had to deal with some of those things before too, so I don’t think I really need to check my privilege (as much?) here.” Or perhaps, when confronted with one of these situations where my privilege has been called out, and I felt uncomfortable about it, have I ever said, or even just thought something like, “well, sure, I might not have that particular problem to deal with (but don’t forget, I have had to deal with some similar things!), but I can think of lots of people who have it worse than _____, so (instead of taking this opportunity to have my own eyes opened a little bit, and check my own privilege) maybe you (or they, as the case may be) should check your (their) privilege.”

Uh, sadly, yes, uh-huh, yep, probably, yeah and affirmative. Thankfully, I think I can say that the most blatantly obvious and yucky examples of me having done that were back in the days when I had yet to be introduced to what exactly privilege meant. Having said that though, I still get regular, previously unconsidered (sometimes it’s a matter of “not considered in sufficient depth”) insights from listening to others about how soooo many aspects of what I say, think and do are informed by privilege. I guess privilege is sort of like that. Becoming aware of one, a few, or even many manifestations of it in your life doesn’t make it go away.

It’s kind of fun to be an onlooker to what feels like someone sticking it to the Princeton Privileged Kid, I suppose. And maybe there’s no harm in that.

I guess I just hope that once we’ve all taken our satisfaction in it, that many of us take a step back and consider the uncomfortable question of what we might (in some degree) have in common with the PPK.

Pesto Soup with Gnocchi, Beans, and Greens

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I cannot explain how much I love this soup! This may be my favorite vegan recipe we’ve tried so far! It is so rich, and filling (the gnocchi and the beans make it pretty hearty), and creamy. And I feel good eating it, because it’s got all those vegetables in it and stuff. After trying it the first time earlier in the week, I insisted my husband make it again today as part of our Mother’s Day dinner (that we served to our non-vegan mothers). I want this soup every week now.

I’m in love. With both this soup, and the husband that makes me yummy food. 

 

Chocolate Chip Pancakes

My son and I had a lot of fun making these together!

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Because I had a lot of egg replacer left over from my foray into vegan french toast, I decided to use some of it up by veganizing this originally non-vegan recipe for chocolate chip pancakes. The original recipe was really egg-heavy (the originator of the recipe is grain-free, I believe, so it makes sense), so it seemed like a true test of the egg replacer.

I’m not sure if this would have been the case with real eggs or not, but the pancakes ended up sort of reminding me of a cross between an omelette and a pancake, that tasted really good! As weird as that sounds, I don’t think you can really go wrong with chocolate chips (dark, vegan chocolate chips, obviously) and banana. I did feel like I could tell it wasn’t made with real eggs. The egg replacer gets the texture bang on, but the taste isn’t the same. However, since the chocolate and banana were the stars of this show, it wasn’t an issue for me.

Because the texture was a bit funky (compared to a traditional pancake, that is), I was concerned about how well they would freeze (I made a 10x batch of these, so I could freeze them for future quick breakfasts). No problems there! I froze them with little pieces of wax paper in between so I could separate them easily, and then I just pop the pancakes in the toaster to warm them up. I’ve been eating them plain, and I think they’re great just like that. My son likes to spread peanut butter on them.

Creamy Avocado Alfredo (For 4)

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My husband used this recipe from my friend over at Entrées Etc.

The dish was very rich. I personally enjoyed the richness, but my husband thinks next time he tries it, he’ll thin the sauce out a little bit. I eat a lot more avocados than him though, so I’m used to the texture and taste. My husband also said that next time he would spice it up (ie. literally, add some spices to it), though he did actually add all of the ‘optional’ spices at the bottom of the list already, but apparently we have burned off most of our taste buds, and need to make everything extremely spicy. 

Here’s the recipe:

• 250 g dry spaghetti / pasta of choice
• 2 ripe avocados
• ½ cup fresh basil leaves / ¼ cup dry
• juice / zest from 1 lemon
• 2-6 garlic cloves (to taste)
• 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
• 4 tbsp olive oil
• 1 tsp salt
• freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• (optional – cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, onions, broccoli, vegan parmesan)
• (optional – a few dashes of turmeric, chili powder, red pepper flakes, mustard and cayenne pepper)

1. Prepare a medium-sized pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta, reduce heat slightly and cook until al dente, approximately 8-10 minutes.
2. In a food processor, add in all the ingredients for the sauce. Blend until smooth and creamy. Scoop this into a large bowl.
3. Transfer the cooked pasta to the bowl as well. Toss together, before adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve right away, optionally with some additional basil leaves, lemon zest, and/or chopped cherry tomatoes.