December 31 - International Day of Solidarity of Azerbaijanis

Posted on December 31, 2019

The last day of the year! People all over the world celebrate endings and fresh starts, the hope of a New Year, the celebration of the Old.

In Azerbaijan, people celebrate the tearing down of a border fence between Iran and Soviet Azerbaijan, in December 1989 - and the collapse of the Berlin Wall (November through December 1989)!

The idea behind this holiday is that Azerbaijanis all over the world share many values, a common history, and therefore a psychological unity.

The whole thing about the border fence on the border shared with Iran is that ethnic Azerbaijanis traditionally lived in the areas now carved up into Iran, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Turkey. So that fence artificially divided a people and likely many families. 

A "diaspora" means the dispersing of a people from their original homeland. Diasporas are sometimes caused by natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions or horrific droughts, but they are more often caused by war, repression, or exile. The Azerbaijani diaspora resulted in Azerbaijanis living in European nations (such as Belarus, Ukraine, and the U.K.), in North America (Canada and the U.S.), and in nearby Asian nations (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan). I hope many people who live away from Azerbaijan will be able to visit there!

December 30 - Freedom Day for Scientology

Posted on December 30, 2019

I guess it makes sense that a religion would have its own special holidays, but I never thought about the religion of scientology having them. Yet today is Freedom Day for Scientologists - it's the anniversary of the official recognition of Scientology as a religion, by the U.S. government, in 1974.

Scientology has at least 14 other holidays on its calendar, including the birthday of the religion's founder, science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, and the anniversary of the 1950 publishing of Hubbard's book Dianetics, which outlines ideas and practices that have become the religion (and is therefore probably Scientologists' Bible?).

Here are two contrasting statements about religion:

(1) What people deeply believe about the world and cosmos and meaning and purpose of life - what people hold as sacred - the spirits or beings or gods (or God, singular) that people worship, and what people do in worship - is so important to them that these ideas and practices must be accepted and respected even by people who do not share them.

(2) Religious beliefs and practices - just like all other ideas and actions - can be discussed, analyzed, criticized, and even ridiculed in an open society. Religious practices, just like all other actions, must hold to the laws of the land; if they cause harm to people or to others' property, "it's my religion" is not an acceptable excuse in court.

I can see truth in both statements. All of us live in a gIobal pluralistic society (in other words, there are a lot of people with a lot of different cultures and religions and values and ideas), and we truly must tolerate one another and celebrate the diversity! 

Unfortunately, in both the past and present, some
people have been repressed for their religious beliefs
and practices. This has especially been a problem for
people of minority religions in a region or nation.

However, obviously we cannot "accept," "respect," or allow ANY and EVERY behavior that is claimed to be a part of someone's religion. For example, quite a few religions of the past ordered people to make human sacrifices - in other words, to kill other people! Yeah - that's a big no! 

Just as obvious, if a religious believer - even a religious leader - calls on followers to, say, kill people who are non-believers, or kill people of another religion, or kill people they claim disrespect their god, that's a huge problem for a pluralistic society and cannot be allowed. 

There are other religious practices that harm people or property, as well, and societies and courts/judges/juries have made tough decisions that attempt to find a balance between the rights of a believer and the rights of everyone else. For example, do parents have the right to deny their children basic medical care if it is against their religious beliefs? Do bosses who make a practice of paying for their employees' health insurance have the right to deny health insurance coverage for a necessary medical procedure that is against their religious beliefs? Do city officials have the right to discriminate against the marriages of same-sex couples if homosexuality is against their religious beliefs?

Finally, there should be an assumption, in a free society, that ideas can be discussed and criticized, even if some people get upset about discussion and criticism. 

Now, why am I writing about the freedom to discuss and criticize religious beliefs today, of all days? Most of us have more automatic respect for religions that are ancient (although that might not be entirely reasonable), and all of us can see that ancient religions might reflect the bigotry and sexism of their very-different-from-modern times (for example), and so we might excuse bigotry and sexism in an ancient holy book as long as modern believers acknowledge that people of all races and genders are equal in value and dignity. 

South Park Studios made a video
called "What Scientologists Actually
But Scientology is not an ancient religion. L. Ron Hubbard was born in 1911, and he founded the religion in 1953. He reportedly did so to make money (the sales of his science fiction and fantasy stories weren't blockbuster earners). The origin story told by this religion - that the dictator of the Galactic Confederacy, Xenu, brought humans to the planet Earth in spacecraft, stacked the humans around volcanoes and then detonated hydrogen bombs inside the volcanoes - may or may not be any more silly than other religions' origin stories (although it does sound more like an origin story a science fiction writer like Hubbard might write - and less like an origin story ancient people would come up with), but other origin stories have at least been normalized for us by centuries or even millennia of repetition.

Also, Scientology has been at the center of some disturbing claims about brainwashing and violence towards members who want to leave. In Germany, the "religion" is classified as an "anti-constitutional sect," and in France it has been called a dangerous cult in parliamentary reports. 

I think it is crucial that people subject their religious ideas and values to the same sorts of critiques that, say, political ideas and values are open to. 

December 29 - Independence Day in Mongolia

Posted on December 29, 2019

Today Mongolia celebrates its independence from China in 1921. 

Actually, the December 29 holiday commemorates the declaration of independence on this date in 1911. Mongolia set up a republic at that time - but China invaded and took control in 1919. Mongolia was able to achieve lasting independence with the help of Russia in1921.

Mongolia is famous for Genghis Khan (aka Chinggis Khan), conqueror / unifier / ruler / founder of the Mongol Empire...

This monument to Genghis Khan is perfectly enormous!

...for the snow leopard, wild Bactrian camel, and horses...

...for nomads and their tents (gers, or yurts)...

...for the Gobi Desert...

...for the richest collection of dinosaur fossils in the world...

Not all fossils are fossilized bones. Some are footprints!