Monday, April 25, 2016

On Forgiveness

I am not, as you may know, a fan of any religion, and the faith in which I was immersed in my youth, Christianity, is far from being my favourite. Frankly, I dislike Christianity and would as a rule prefer a world free from its intrusion.

But finding the whole Christian malarkey rather on the nose doesn't mean I think there's nothing of value being preached in the churches. Of course, much of what IS good about Christianity is just universal morality, or borrowed from some older religion. But there is one core element of the faith that, though not necessarily unique to Christianity, always does seem to me to be a very distinctively Christian value, and that rare distinctively Christian value that all of us, whatever our spiritual disposition, would do well to practise more often.

That is forgiveness.

If Jesus was a real dude, he was onto something with the forgiveness spiel. And if he wasn't a real dude, kudos to whoever put it into his mouth.

Forgiveness, I think, is a pretty wonderful thing, and a thing that makes a better human being of the person who manages to inject a bit of it into their life.

Talk of "Christian values" is rife in the world of today. Pious fundamentalists will tell us that the phrase means sexual propriety, exchanging bodily fluids with people of a pre-approved genital configuration and so forth. And if you take their scriptures at their word, they do have at least a skerrick of support for that - thank whatever deity you like that not many people do take their scriptures at their word.

More secular types will speak of "Christian values" too - normally in the context of compassion and tolerance. In fact the term will be used as a stick to beat those who proclaim their own Christian belief but act without compassion and tolerance. And certainly there's more than a skerrick of scriptural support for those values, and anyone behaving without compassion towards their fellow man is probably not being very Christian in the strictest sense of the word. Although in other, more empirical senses of the word, they may be being very very Christian indeed.

But even compassion and tolerance, as laudable as they are, are the "easy" part of "Christian values". Being nice to people? Treating others kindly? We all should do these things, but that's not news, is it?

What's harder, and what is less likely to be promoted, either by the fundamentalists, or the Christian politicians, or the secularists berating the others for betraying their own values, is forgiveness.

"Love thy neighbour" is an easy matter. What's hard is "love thine enemy".

When we talk of compassion, it's usually in the context of those we deem "Deserving". The people we see as having done no wrong, who have been mistreated or fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. We are eager to extend the hand of friendship to anyone we think has earned it. And so we should.

But so rarely are we called to extend that hand to those who don't deserve it. So rarely do we emphasise the importance of granting compassion to those who have done wrong, who have mistreated others, who have caused misery to others, who have hurt us.

For the most part, we prefer to condemn than to forgive, and we have convinced ourselves that this is not only easier and more satisfying, but that it is right. Those who do wrong deserve condemnation, and we will pour what they deserve upon their heads as much as we can. After all, how can we correct bad behaviour, we confidently ask ourselves, if we do not turn our backs on those who behave badly and make it clear: you are not welcome here.

And I am no different to anyone else: this is my instinct too. This is what I do more often than not.

But I don't want to. I want to try harder, and be better. I want to make the effort to forgive. I don't want to seethe with hate and anger, even when it's entirely justified. I want forgiveness to become a part of my doomed atheist soul.

Forgiveness is a thing of inestimable value, precisely because it is not restricted to those who deserve it. It is a thing of sublime beauty, not because it is just, but because it is generous.

Forgiveness, real forgiveness, means looking at someone who has done you wrong, and saying I will not hate you.

It means seeing a human being hurt another human being, and saying we need not hold onto that hurt forever.

It means seeing atrocity, and saying even the worst in humanity does not have to poison the best.

It means recognising that for even the most corrupt and depraved among us, the sins we commit are not the totality of ourselves, and that every person ever born was more than just their worst deeds.

It means saying redemption is real, and possible, and important, and nobody is beyond it.

It means knowing that the human animal is complex and messy, and nothing it thinks or says or does is so simple we can place each other in neat categories of good and evil: the reasons that we do right or wrong are not so amenable to easy identification that we should find our judgments infallible.

It means, more than anything, declaring that you will never deny the humanity of a fellow traveller in this life, even at those times when they may try to deny yours.

I want to embrace forgiveness. I don't want to deny room in my heart for sympathy or pity, even when I'm looking at someone who my gut says deserves none of either. I don't want to hate people even when they hate me, and I don't want to bay for vengeance against anyone, no matter how much they deserve retribution, or how little they deserve compassion.

I want to forgive people. Not to excuse actions or abandon values, but to grant the recognition of our shared humanity to everyone, even those - especially those - who have done everything to merit the revocation of that recognition.

And I want you to as well. But if you don't, I'll forgive you.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

MKR Recap: The Choux On The Other Foot

Tonight, Redemption Round continues to redeem contestants, although not literally. Or figuratively. After Nev and Kell achieved a score of 71 and demonstrated their own low standards by reacting as if this was good, it's time for Sarah and Monique, who you might remember as the policewomen who were on the show in the first instant restaurant round back in the late 70s.

Voiceover Man tells us that Monique and Sarah are "out to prove that cops can cook", because apparently we all assumed they couldn't. You know how people are always going around talking in hushed whispers about how bad at cooking the police are? Remember all those old comedy sketches - we thought them hilarious at the time - about police officers making food badly?

For entree, they're making pea and ham soup, so it seems like they've already given up. At the supermarket the ladies make a joke about the term "calling for backup". It seems to go down well, so they make it another twenty times.

Main is rabbit pie. Manu is looking forward to it, being under the impression it is going to be made by someone good. Pete warns that "you don't want a dry pie", but really we don't need to know about his personal life.

The cops get home and Axel F starts playing, because they're cops. They did this the first time Monique and Sarah cooked and it was tired and annoying then. Sarah begins shelling the peas by hand, which is an astonishing waste of everyone's time. Monique is kneading dough. She says "there is nothing from a packet in this dish" but she is lying: the flour was from a packet. Just goes to show you can't trust cops.

It is now time to de-bone the rabbit, which is not as much fun as it sounds. Frankly there's a lot of cooking stuff going on at this stage of the episode and it's extremely boring. If there's anything worse than watching people cook on TV, I've not heard of it. My Kitchen Rules has yet to figure out that its strength lies in ignoring cooking almost completely.

Anyway, the cops are saying they're out to show that "cops are ordinary people", but I bet it won't work. Not after the Wood Royal Commission.

Here come the other teams, walking down the street, awkwardly reading their scripted lines and speculating on how long it will take Lauren to say something bitchy. Alex and Gareth are making police jokes, and they are very very bad police jokes. "Do we have to commit a crime to get fed tonight?" What the hell does that even mean? Lauren joins in with, "I hope we don't get prison food", which is even stupider because Sarah and Monique are police officers, not prison guards. If the guests can't even get the demarcation of duties in the justice system right, they don't deserve food, frankly.

The judges arrive to the strains of The Cruel Sea's "Better Get A Lawyer", because the show's music editor is getting fired tomorrow and is trying to bring everyone down with him. Lauren reveals that both she and Carmine are aroused by Manu's hair and we all vomit in our mouths.

The menu is written in invisible ink, requiring special lights to read, as a reference to the fact that - wait for it - Sarah and Monique are cops, and also to the fact that traditionally cops like to make simple tasks difficult to people.

Entree is served, and the table erupts with outrage at the fact that the pea and ham soup is more of a puree than a soup, because the table is occupied by people who care about that sort of thing. "I'm already angry and I haven't even tasted it," says Lisa. Well that just makes you an idiot, Lisa.

Pete is unimpressed by entree. He struggles to find any of that "beautiful pea flavour", having overlooked the fact that peas don't have a beautiful flavour, they taste like peas. Manu thinks the soup has been destroyed by blitzing it, which is Monique's mistake: she assumed that since everyone at the table has the mental age of a small child, they'd want some baby food.

The pea and ham soup, which is actually pumpkin soup, but isn't actually a soup anyway, is deeply disappointing. Luckily, there is some redemption in the fact that Paige is sexually attracted to the bread roll. Lauren claims she could've made a better pea and ham soup, but this is untrue, as is the claim that Lauren can do anything better than anyone.

In the kitchen there is trouble, as the cops have driven recklessly into Problematic Pastry Valley, where many an aspiring pastry-maker has come a cropper in the past. In the dining room, it's been 90 minutes since entree and the diners are going delirious with hunger. Paige thinks she's a train robber. Kell claims that she is in a police station. Everyone is writing hallucinatory confessions in invisible ink. Dancing around a pig's head is imminent. Meanwhile in the kitchen Monique and Sarah have no idea what's going on and there's no room in the oven for the chips.

The cops are in a panic, not realising that they have guns and can easily gain high scores via threats of violence. The guests are becoming impatient. Lauren makes her dissatisfaction known by waving her hands bizarrely in the air. The guests discuss the fact that they want their pies to be completely enclosed, because that is a thought that has just naturally occurred to them and was no way fed to them by producers in the knowledge that the pies are pot pies.

Main is served, in an atmosphere of dread and oppression. "It's not a pie!" Lauren screams in the studio, and pretty hypocritically - she's not much of a pie herself.

Pete notes that the cops could've gone the simple route, but they pushed themselves, illustrating an important life lesson: never push yourself. But in a shock twist, he loves the pie-which-is-not-really-a-pie. The guests like it a lot less. Rosie has found a bone. "I've got a little bone too," says Nev, misunderstanding what the conversation is about. Nobody can understand why Monique and Sarah have placed a small circle of pastry on top of pie filling a bowl. Lauren can't stop waggling her hands around.

In fact, although the guests are disappointed with the food, their hatred of Lauren might be overcoming that. Paige notes that "if there was grass, and a snake in it..." and doesn't finish her thought. I think she's saying she wants Lauren to be bitten by a snake. And so say all of us.

Meanwhile in the kitchen we are told that "cops never give up", although modern-day policy on high speed chases seems to be contraindicative of this. Monique and Sarah are filling their profiteroles.

Back in the dining room Nev is saying "duck's nuts", while Lauren waves her arms like a muppet and Lisa attempts to subtly make clear just how much she wants to bring Manu to climax.

Dessert is served. The only criticism that Manu has is that the custard wasn't cooked long enough, and that Lisa is more aggressive than he would like in a woman. Pete loves the dessert, but it should yet again be made clear that Pete is an insane paleo person and doesn't actually know what desserts should taste like.

The guests eat, and Carmine and Lauren whisper bitchy comments to each other, as is the routine on these occasions. Everyone enjoys the profiteroles, except Lauren, who waves her hands and says a bunch of stupid crap and claims her custard is better the Monique and Sarah's custard and in general just refuses to shut her mouth.

Scoring time, and the guests are not kind to the cops, even though they know if they give low scores they'll probably have some crack planted on them pretty soon. From the guest teams Monique and Sarah get only 22, or a "Double Dee", as it's known in the MKR business.

The judges are a little more generous because they know what they're talking about, and Monique and Sarah end up with 62, which is a terrible score but probably better than at least two of the pathetically inept teams still to cook.

Next, Hazel and Lisa, who will cook something that Lauren will bitch about.

Monique and Sarah take their police-themed evening too far

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

On Australia Day

Despite my general loathing of patriotism, I quite like Australia Day. It's not the kind of thing I like to participate in, but I like the fact it's there. Because for all the great and mighty flaws of this country, there's a lot to like about it. For all the deeply objectionable and repellent aspects of Australian culture, there's much in it to love and admire. And for all the times I despair at the ignorance and malice of the Australian people, there is also courage and kindness and integrity displayed by them every day.

So Australia Day, I think, is a pretty good idea. In fact, it's a lot like Christmas: a welcome holiday, a good excuse for getting together with loved ones, and an opportunity to reflect on what's important to us.

Funnily enough, it's also exactly like Christmas in that holding it on January 26 isn't really right.

This isn't because I think Australia Day is a celebration of an invasion. I don't think the Australians celebrating on January 26 are celebrating invasion. That's the whole problem: we're celebrating the good, the positive, the things we love about our country - but we're doing it on a day that has nothing to do with any of those. We're not celebrating an invasion, but we're celebrating on the anniversary of an invasion, and that seems, to put it mildly, a bit odd.

January 26 doesn't fit the bill for a national day in any respect. It doesn't mark a moment of discovery, or of great achievement, and it certainly isn't the date of any national act of creation. Australia, the modern country, didn't begin on January 26, 1788: what happened on that day was the establishment of an imperial penal outpost on land that quite clearly did not belong to the people doing the establishing. The people who lived here didn't want the colonisers here, and most of the colonisers didn't want to be here either. It was an invasion, and one that not even the invaders would have taken much pride in.

Frankly, there is just no reason for us to feel a passionate connection to the current date of Australia Day. That it was an important moment in Australian history is beyond doubt: that it was a great leap forward for humanity, or an achievement to revere, is an absurd suggestion. So even if you have no personal objection to Australia Day being celebrated on January 26, you can't seriously have any deep and abiding affection for it.

And what that means is that the only people who truly feel strongly about the date are those who are opposed to it. Those who recognise that it's the anniversary of an invasion that kicked off a shameful history, and think that's an inappropriate date on which to celebrate the best in our nation. Those who see it as a day on which to reflect on the wrongs of the past and how they may be avoided in the future, rather than throw a party. And most importantly, those who are made to feel, by the choice of date, that they are being excluded, that by placing the national celebration on a day of sadness Australia is telling them that their people, their heritage and their culture are less Australian than the rest of us.

So if you're a non-indigenous Australian, with no particular attachment to January 26, why would you want to make your fellow Australians feel that way? Why would you not want Australia Day to be more inclusive, a more genuinely all-embracing recognition of our country's best qualities? Why would you prefer to continue the divisiveness and make every Australia Day more combative than celebratory? Why do you care so much about that particular date that you'd rather keep fighting than just pick a date everyone can accept?

There's just no reason. The debate over the date of Australia Day is one between those who feel passionately about the issue, and those who are arguing out of pure pigheadedness.

I like Australia Day, but while it's on January 26, it'll never be the real Australia Day that we should have.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ham Wars

What happens when you combine the year's two biggest entertainment juggernauts, and also you have far too much time on your hands?

This or something I guess.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

On Christmas

It's that time of year again! This is of course a phrase that will be correct no matter when it is uttered, but on this occasion I am referring to the Christmas period, a season of joy and festivity and people taking unconventional attitudes and thinking it makes them better than you.

Christmas comes around once every year, if you're a Christian of respectable stock, so you might think you're pretty well clued in on all the facts of the Yule. But think again, because I am about to blow your mind with some


Let's get going, Big Guy!

FACT 1: The word "Christmas" comes from combining "Christ", the name of our saviour, with "mass", meaning "weight". Originally, Christmas was the one day a year when Jesus would visit the temple to be weighed. If he had put on weight, there would be wild rejoicing, but if he had lost weight, the emperor would have the people whipped for not feeding the Messiah properly.

FACT 2: Christmas was illegal in Australia until 1952, when Prime Minister Robert Menzies had a vision of Fred Astaire singing Here Comes Santa Claus after eating an entire bag of magic mushrooms.


FACT 3: Although We Wish You A Merry Christmas is generally considered one of the most beloved of Christmas songs, Christmas is never actually referred to in the lyrics.

FACT 4: JK Rowling has confirmed, via Twitter, that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is gay.

FACT 5: Turkey only became the traditional Christmas meal after the extinction of the Plum Cactus.

I'd sure never have guessed THAT!

FACT 6: Although we celebrate Christmas in December, archaeological evidence indicates that the first Christmas celebrations took place in April, and that the holiday was known at that time as "Easter".

FACT 7: Different cultures have many different versions of Santa Claus, some far removed from the jolly fat man in red we know so well. For example, in Finland, Santa is depicted as a jolly fat man in vermilion, while the Turkish Santa Claus, though jolly on the outside, has a seething reservoir of repressed rage. In the Cook Islands, children are brought Christmas presents by a mysterious spirit called "Steven Asquith", who sets fire to anyone who sees him and will leave retirement home leaflets in the stockings of those who give him cookies. But all of those pale in comparison to the Brazilian Santa, who doesn't give presents at all, but comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve to stage illegal dog fights in the homes of obedient children.

That's amazing!

FACT 8: Charles Dickens's classic Christmas tale "A Christmas Carol" was originally titled "The Fun Ghosts Who Gave Mr Spengler A Right Old Case Of The Willies". Dickens was forced to change the title after being informed that the word "Willies" was illegal, and in doing so he also changed the book's plot, from the story of Bilby Spengler, a clinically depressed barber who learns some difficult lessons after getting a ghost pregnant, to the story we know and love today.

FACT 9: The Christmas tree is not part of the biblical story of the nativity, but comes from an incident later in Jesus's life, when the Christ-child won a hundred dollars in a local breakfast radio contest by eating an entire pine tree on air.

FACT 10: Advent calendars kill more than sixty thousand people every year.


Monday, December 14, 2015

On Shame

One of the funniest things about having depression - and there are lots of very funny things about it, if we're being honest - is the way you keep hearing about the importance of "fighting the stigma". It's hilarious because so many people are scurrying around, wittering on about "stigma" as if that's the greatest challenge, as if we who suffer from depression are horribly beleaguered by other people's opinions of the illness. If only, we are led to believe, we could just change attitudes in society, it would be so much easier. We got to get rid of the stigma.

We're told this as if the media, the internet, the very world itself isn't utterly saturated with people starting conversations and exploding myths and shattering taboos and endlessly, unstoppably combating STIGMA at every turn. Reducing the stigma of depression is one of the twenty-first century's greatest growth industries: you'll certainly get a lot more praise for fighting depression's stigma than you'll ever get for, say, treating people who actually have depression. The noblest thing you can do with regard to depression, apparently, is to talk about it, because not enough people talk about it, and we won't ever slay the Depression Dragon until we can make sure there's not a single person left alive who doesn't talk about it every day of their goddamn lives.

But more than the Big Lie that We Don't Talk Enough About Depression, the insistence that we attack STIGMA is hilarious, because it assumes the stigma is an external thing. We bloviate about stigma as if any social approbation could possibly exceed the stigma that comes from within, as if it's even possible to worry about outdated attitudes to mental illness in the community when your mind is consumed with the unquenchable shame devouring you from the inside out.

Keep talking about stigma, as if stigma is a well-meaning idiot telling you to cheer up because they don't understand what's going on in your brain.

Keep talking and ignoring the stigma that is hearing your children cry because they're terrified by the outbursts of their father's broken mind. Keep talking because you don't know what stigma actually is, because you aren't sitting up in the middle of the night, staring into darkness and wondering how much damage you've done the kids this time, how many times as they grow up they'll remember the times their father lost control of his misery, how much their adulthood will be consumed by the lingering residue of a father's selfish self-destruction.

Keep talking as if there is anything in society's misunderstanding of depression that can possibly compare to the knowledge that you're ruining your partner's life because you can't help yourself, that every time you rush to the edge of the abyss to look longingly at oblivion you're killing a little more of the happiness of the people you love. Keep talking as if the real STIGMA isn't the guilt that you've caused yourself by forcing your own nightmare onto the shoulders of people who never did anything to deserve the burden.

Keep talking, and discussing, and conversing, and flaunting your overwhelming compassion, as if that famous STIGMA is anything like the humiliation of having the police come to your house, and threaten to pepper spray you, and take you away in handcuffs, for your own protection. And living the rest of your life knowing you so completely lack the most basic capacity for living as a functional human being that your own family has no choice but to treat you as either a helpless child or a dangerous animal, so beyond reason that talking to you isn't even an option: the only solutions available are pills and restraints.

I don't want to hear any more about stigma, because I don't care about stigma. The rest of the world can call me crazy, the rest of the world can call me a crybaby, the rest of the world can roll its eyes and say it's sick of my whining - and the rest of the world will do exactly that, and the ones who claimed to be the most understanding will be the first to tell me they're sick of it.

And the rest of the world can do that all as long as it likes, because I'm so ashamed and disgusted with myself that there is no stigma the world can inflict that is worse than the stigma I've grown inside myself. And all your efforts to combat the stigma will naturally achieve their main aim of making you proud of yourself, but they won't do a thing for me. Because I'm broken, and I know I'm broken, and I know my brokenness has hurt the people I care about time and time again, and I let that happen. I know that because of my depression, I'll always define myself by my reliable tendency to let people down. I know that my depression has poisoned my life and the lives of all around me, and I'll probably do it all over again, and worse, sooner rather than later.

So if you want to write a thinkpiece or a cute webcomic or a pithy tweet about the best way to rid myself of THAT stigma, go for it. But if all you've got is the same mindless trash about stigma and conversations and honesty, then feel free to keep it to yourself. We've talked too much about it already.

Monday, November 16, 2015

On Religion

I have some thoughts about religion. They are just thoughts, and I believe they are reasonably good thoughts, or I would not be writing them down. But they are still just thoughts, and I don't want them to be attacks, or even defences - if they are not expressed as well as I hope, I apologise in advance. It's not easy to find the right words, it's not easy to be the person one wishes to be at the best of times - anyone who says otherwise is lying to you. But the reason I write these thoughts down is not to campaign or argue or call anyone or anything out - I'm writing them down because it's frustrating to keep them inside, and I'm writing them down because it makes it clearer to me what they actually are.

I am not a fan of religions. I don't think there's any good reason to believe their stories, and I don't often think very kindly of their impact on the real world.

But that real world is one I live in, and it's a world full of religion, and full of religious people, and I know a lot of those religious people, and no matter how nuts I might think their various religions are, it'd be incredibly foolish of me to place their religious beliefs ahead of who they are, what they do, the imprint they leave on the world.

And the fact is mostly they're good, and they're kind, and even when they're not all that good or kind they're usually just ordinary blundering humans like we all are. And they surely think my total lack of belief in any gods is as mad or madder than I think their beliefs are.

So I can't follow any line of argument that says the way to judge a person's character is to ask them which holy book they invest their faith in. Even if there are bits of that holy book that horrify you.

But what I do believe, and I've gradually come to this belief over a lifetime of observation, is that a person's religion is not a club they join, it's a belief - or an identity - they carry inside themselves, and every religious person is committed to their own, often intensely personal, version of the faith.

In other words, you can never assume that you know what someone believes because they give their religion the same name as someone else whose beliefs you've looked into.

You could ask Fred Nile what a Christian is, and listen to all he has to say, and accept that what he told you was true, and the next time you met someone who called himself a Christian you would be almost totally wrong about what he believed.

Sometimes that argument is put in terms of "who's the REAL Christian?" Is Fred Nile the true Christian, or was Pastor Fred Phelps, or is Father Bob McGuire, Mother Teresa, Ann Coulter, Tim Costello, Kanye West?

Who among them follows the true Christianity?

Maybe they all do. We speak of "extremists", "militants" and "moderates", as if everyone under the same religious label is following the same religion, and the only difference between them is how strong their belief is.

But what if that's not the difference? What if the difference is that they're not members of the same religion in the first place? What if Fred Nile and Father Bob McGuire are both passionate, devout, committed Christians, but they are devout in two different faiths that happen to share a name?

This is actually not that difficult for we westerners to grasp, because we're quite used to thinking of Christianity in terms of different denominations. We don't expect a Catholic to think the same way as a Methodist, or an Anglican to think the same way as a Baptist, on everything, because we already have different names for the different sects. So it's not a huge leap to think of different Christians as belonging to different religions, or to put it another way, to different "versions" of religion.

Here in the west we don't have that same understanding of Islam: we're used to thinking of it as a monolith, and we tend to swallow the message that Islam is a religion with strict uniformity of belief.

And so when "extremists" tell us that they are being good Muslims by killing, and "moderates" tell us that Islam is a religion of peace, we who are not Muslims feel we need to make a choice of who to believe. So we see a passage from the Koran that seems to suggest killing is justified and we say aha! Islam must be a religion of violence. Then we see another passage from the Koran that seems to suggest killing is forbidden, and we say aha! Islam must be a religion of peace.

We get nowhere, because the reality is: Islam isn't A religion at all; Islam, like Christianity, is a whole bunch of religions, and some of them are so far apart from each other that they're barely even cousins.

I know Muslims. You probably do too. I know for a fact they don't belong to a religion that endorses terror and murder - I'm sure I would have noticed if they were going around doing that sort of thing.

And when I see people doing horrific things and claiming their religion endorses it, yes, I believe them. To think that the violence of the world is due only to religion would be absurd: to think religion is not involved at all would be just as absurd.

So who's the true Muslim?

Frankly, how should I know? I don't believe in their god, so I'm hardly in a position to opine on who he's smiling on. And it doesn't much matter to me.

But more importantly, I don't believe they're worshipping the same god at all. You can give your god the same name as someone else's god, and you can give the name of the religion based on that god the same name as someone else's religion, but saying that a god who wants you to slaughter and destroy is also a god who wants you to commit your life to love and generosity is, to my mind, ridiculous.

If I said, I believe in the god Bob, who wants me to shoot everyone I see in the face; and you said, I believe in the god Alf, who wants me to help the poor and extend the hand of friendship to all people; it's fairly obvious we are talking about two TOTALLY different gods.

Why would we think any different, just because the two gods had the same name?

This is why I'm troubled by talk of "moderates" and "extremists". It seems easy to alienate a person by telling them their faith is "moderate", because they believe in peace and acceptance. I know Muslims whose commitment to Islam is fierce and full-blooded, and completely compatible with a love of diversity, equality and freedom.

In short, the "moderates" do not differ from the "extremists" by the intensity of their belief, but by the very nature of their faith. And we who are not religious do not get anywhere useful by seeing Islam as a single religion in which believers are distinguished by greater or lesser commitment.

Instead, it's worth recognising that Islam, the religion practised by the Muslims we know and and love and live among and value as friends and colleagues, quite simply is not the same thing as Islam, the religion practised by the Muslims who gun down innocents and blow themselves up and behead their enemies.

You'll often see the repetition of a line that goes something like, "ISIS represents all Muslims the way the Westboro Baptist Church represents all Christians". It's true, but not because there is a neat line we can draw between "true" Christians and Muslims, and "false" Christians and Muslims. It's simply because knowing whose religion shares the name of another's tells us nothing about what their beliefs are, and how their beliefs influence their behaviour.

That a person's religion could be so hateful and diseased that it would inspire murder is a horrible thing. But I can tell if a religion is hateful by the way the person who follows it behaves. Likewise, if you want to know what any person's faith is like, don't ask them what it's called: get to know them - what they believe will be illuminated by the person they are.

In summary: I remain no fan of religions. I am saddened by the horrors done in their names. But if we allow ourselves to be fooled into thinking good people are not good people, just because of what their religion is called, rather than what their religion IS, we can only worsen divisions, and forget who our friends are.