Koan: “Muddy Road”

A Zen koan:

Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.

Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.

“Come on, girl,” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself.

“We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”

“I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”

Speak Up, Please

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The appropriate word here is “Bleeaagh.” In 897, Pope Stephen VI dug up the decomposing body of his predecessor and put it on trial for violating church law. Formosus, who had been dead for nine months, was found guilty and buried again. Rome turned against Stephen, who was eventually strangled in prison. It’s known as the cadaver synod or, in Latin, the “synodus horrenda.”

Famous Atheists

Famous atheists:

  • Ingmar Bergman
  • Ambrose Bierce
  • George Carlin
  • Denis Diderot
  • Sigmund Freud
  • David Hume
  • John Stuart Mill
  • Bertrand Russell
  • Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Percy Shelley
  • B.F. Skinner

“One of the proofs of the immortality of the soul is that myriads have believed in it,” wrote Mark Twain. “They have also believed the world was flat.”

Barrett’s Classification of Demons

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A classification of demons, from occultist Francis Barrett’s 1801 book The Magus:

  • Mammon: prince of seducers
  • Asmodai: prince of vile revenges
  • Satan: prince of witches and warlocks
  • Pithius: prince of liars and liar spirits
  • Belial: prince of fraud and injustice
  • Merihem: prince of pestilences and spirits that cause pestilences
  • Abaddon: prince of war
  • Astaroth: prince of inquisitors and accusers

Jedi Census Phenomenon

More than 70,000 Australians declared themselves members of the Jedi in the 2001 census, thanks to a fad fueled by e-mail. So did 53,000 New Zealanders and 20,000 Canadians. In England and Wales, 390,000 people gave their religion as Jedi, making it the country’s fourth largest reported religion, behind Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.

Ironically, the stunt led many otherwise apathetic people to take the census, so it may actually have improved its quality.

Hayfever and Ever, Amen

On this date in A.D. 600, Pope Gregory the Great decreed that saying “God bless you” is the correct response to a sneeze.

How does that work, exactly? When you become pope, do they give you a special hotline phone? If so, I think there are more important questions he could have asked.

You can spare others the whole “gesundheit” question by tickling the roof of your mouth with the tip of your tongue — it stops the sneeze impulse.

Invisible Pink Unicorn

http://www.invisiblepinkunicorn.comWho says atheists don’t have a sense of humor? The Invisible Pink Unicorn (“blessed be her holy hooves”) was “revealed to” the Usenet newsgroup alt.atheism in 1990.

Since then, she’s acquired all the trappings of a real deity: gospels (“according to St. Sascha”), revelations (to “St. Bryce the Long-Winded”), relics (the Holy Sock of Bob), scripture, and historic artworks.

Because she’s invisible, it’s impossible to prove she does not exist. “The Invisible Pink Unicorn is a being of great spiritual power,” say the faithful. “We know this because she is capable of being invisible and pink at the same time. Like all religions, the Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorn is based upon both logic and faith. We have faith that she is pink; we logically know that she is invisible because we can’t see her.”

Followers debate her attributes, but it’s generally agreed that she prefers pineapple and ham pizza to pepperoni and mushroom, which is said to be eaten only by followers of the Purple Oyster of Doom. The IPU also “raptures” socks from laundry as a sign of favor.

Is this harmless fun or awful blasphemy? It’s getting hard to care. As the French writer Edmond de Goncourt wrote, “If there is a God, atheism must seem to him as less of an insult than religion.”