Popular Map Temporarily Removed from Modern Warfare 2 Over Reference to Allah Offending Muslims

In what seems to have sparked a great deal of religious debate in the Call of Duty community is the sudden, unexpected removal of the Favela map from the rotation for Modern Warfare 2 by Infinity Ward and Activision. The explanation of the temporary removal of the map is to change some of the art assets that have attached a quote attributed to Muhammad.

The map in question is known as “Favella,” and depicts a run-down shantytown in Rio de Janiro—the controversy stems over some artwork hanging in one of the bathrooms that apparently contains an image of a tree but beneath it is displayed a quote from the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The quote, written in Arabic, reads: “Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty.”

The objection is not over the quote itself; but instead as to it being displayed in a bathroom, a place considered dirty by proponents of orthodox Islam.

Many religions contain customs and language that mark certain places and things (or people) as unclean and this is often used as a form of social control that denies these people/objects participation in religious rituals or honors. It is not unexpected that a bathroom would be considered an “unclean” place. As a result of it uncleanliness the presence of any reference to or quote from the Prophet Muhammad is considered disrespectful.

Gaming blog Kotaku contacted Activision for an explanation and received a message back:

We apologize to anyone who found this image offensive. Please be assured we were unaware of this issue and that there was no intent to offend. We are working as quickly as possible to remove this image and any other similar ones we may find from our various game libraries.

We are urgently working to release a Title Update to remove the texture from Modern Warfare 3. We are also working to remove the texture from Modern Warfare 2 through a separate Title Update. Until the TU is ready, we have removed the Favella multiplayer map from online rotation.

Activision and our development studios are respectful of diverse cultures and religious beliefs, and sensitive to concerns raised by its loyal game players. We thank our fans for bringing this to our attention.

As mentioned, they intend to keep the map offline until all the assets can be fixed; after that is completed the map will return with the offending content removed.

An overtly loud way to fix what could be a relatively minor issue

No doubt, this act by Activision is to show their sensitivity towards the expectations of a demographic of gamers who play their games. It seems highly likely that a notable population of their gamers happen to live in Middle Eastern countries (where Islam is dominant) and that no small number of Muslims in the UK and US also play Call of Duty games.

However, it’s also not impossible for them to contact those who complained to them and explain that it might take some time (a few weeks) to get the assets changed and then quietly publish new textures as part of a patch. The presence of this accidentally offensive picture and quote in a bathroom would have been quietly brushed away and mentioned in passing in a patch notes.

People not offended by the presence of this image (because they didn’t know) would continue to not care.

We’ve have seen this sort of thing highlighted before when City of Heroes was expanding into Germany and they had a group of villains who looked a lot like the Nazis and held the name “The 5th Column.” They were overtaken by a different villain group called “The Council” with a slightly different aesthetic (but similar powers and position in the narrative) and were eventually replaced in order to smooth over potential German sensibilities. Especially because in Germany, Nazi paraphernalia and imagery is strictly illegal.

Instead, Activision had made the very loud point of removing an extremely popular map, creating a great deal of attention to the fact that they’re fixing it, that Muslims complained, and that they’re doing something about it. By doing this the publisher is shining a bright light not just on their own loyalty to “multiculturalism” but they’re also spotlighting the complaints that have abbreviated the game experience for players.

As a result, it has generated a flare up of animosity from non-Muslims toward Muslims due in part to increasing news of violence and bad behavior by Muslim groups in reaction to perceived insults to their religion. Fortunately, none of this happened in relation to this image in the bathroom of a map in a video game.

The vanishing map itself has drawn great deal of criticism—no small amount of it directed at the Muslim complaints—and although it is temporary, this has become a sticking point in conversations arising from its removal.

Why the Video Game SMITE Avoids the World’s Most Popular Religions

SMITE-LOGORecently, a Hindu group (in the United States) became agitated at Hi-Rez Studios’ DOTA-like online game SMITE for providing several Hindu gods as characters—the game also allows players to play gods from other mythologies such as Greek, Egyptian, and Norse. The irritation directed at SMITE for the inclusion of the Hindu gods brought people to notice that SMITE seems to have avoided other widely known mythologies—especially those from the Abrahamic religions.

Gamepolitics picked up the story, asked the question, and Hi-Rez responded; however I think it’s obvious why games don’t go with characters from popular religions.

Why? There’s two reasons. The first is that the characters from Abrahamic mythology cower under the umbra of an amount of privilege to an audience who want them sanctified and would rather have their hagiography laid out in a video game rather than see them rolling down the lane in a DOTA game. The second is that much of Abrahamic mythology is excruciatingly boring and steeped in a political culture that lacked a sense of transhuman imagination and instead turned to mysticism rather than the inspiration of animism.

Privileged mythology has a serrated edge in a given culture; the audience might perceive it as too sacrosanct to approach. See the prohibitions against drawing the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, that have been the center of a certain amount of strive involving Comedy Central and South Park—giving rise to Draw Muhammad Day in protest to some particularly stupid radical Muslim groups and drew many Muslims in counter-protest not because they felt a pressing need to do anything but ignore a total outsider drawing Muhammad, but because they felt obligated to speak up for their own cultural norms.

However, what really prevents characters like Jesus being portrayed in a video game like SMITE is because of the trivial condition of sheer dullness.

Jesus, Abraham, Noah, Moses, Muhammad, etc. they’re all just humans who were the center of the narrative mythology plots where they drove either a political or cultural revolution. Adam isn’t even a character so much as a vehicle for telling the story—he didn’t cause anything so much as things happened to him. Jesus exists as a sort of protagonist to a political story of a moral teacher who seems to be framed in a spiritual homage to the Greek poem the Odyssey (and Odysseus is still a more compelling character.) None of them exhibited special powers beyond their connection to the divinity du jour and their only claim to cultural significance is from the context of their own mythology. Worse, that mythology belongs to the popular religious culture meaning that it cannot even claim to be exotic.

Okay, so Moses murdered an Egyptian in his narrative, he’s violent; but that doesn’t make him an impressive warrior. Sure, Elisha could summon bears to tear people to shreds—people do love to flog that one. Ezekiel seems to have had an undead army of skeletons at one point in his story. The problem is that these imaginative turns are blanketed heavily by extremely boring prose regarding customs, costume, laws, and the odd genocide.

The only elements of the mythology that anyone has managed to make remotely interesting have all come from Revelations where angels are described as fantastic monsters, the four horsemen, and the various incarnations of the angel Lucifer. These, however, belong to contemporary Christian mythology arising from an era of poetry and arts and thus are actually imaginative and escape from mysticism to involve symbolism and the flourish of presentation.

No doubt the only character worth rolling up into a game is also the oldest portrayal, the war-deity YHVH. There could be fire and smoke, booming voices, the skies parting for a chariot with a rider tossing fire bolts like spears. The grand drama of the gods that was quickly lost after the influence of the Babylonians and other cultures bled out as the stories were crammed like garments into overstuffed luggage into early Christian mythology.

We are more likely to see Renaissance-era contemporary additions to Christian mythology—Revelation’s angels, four horsemen, etc.—arrive in SMITE as part of Christian cultural characters because they fall a little bit outside the mainstream symbolism. They’re also far more interesting than any of the other contenders.

Mack Wolford – Needlessly Dead at 44

The crueler part of me wants to make a joke and be done with this, but I think that there is an important message to get out in the wake of Mack Wolford’s death by snake bite.

Mack Wolford, like his father who also died from a venomous snake bite, was a Pentecostal Pastor who handled snakes to show is faith. He had been bitten before, trusted in God and prayer and had come through. This time however, the Yellow Timber Rattlesnake injected more venom than his body could handle, and after 10 and 1/2 hours of agony, he died a needless death, one day after his 44th birthday. He made it 5 years longer than his father, who he saw die the same way.

It is always somewhat inspiring to see someone carry their beliefs through to the bitter end, but he was not dying by the oppressive hand of a government that he sought to overthrow. He was not even a religious martyr in any real sense. He simply let himself die for misplaced faith; just like members of Heaven’s Gate, or the followers of Jim Jones, who had the ultimate faith in false beliefs.

If you’re reading this then you probably already know my views on faith in general, but that is not what this is about. This man, and perhaps even his father, should be alive today. With timely medical care, they probably would have survived their envenomations.

No matter what you think of prayer, the evidence is clear; in most (and I believe all) cases, medical professionals will do more than God to intervene and help a person who is sick or injured. If seeking medical help shows a lack of faith, then it is a lack of faith that is well warranted, but I believe that it shows only a concern for a person’s wellbeing and has no bearing on faith.

The most important thing to let Pentecostals know about though is the fact that Mark 16:9–20, the verses that the peculiarities of their religion hinge upon, are almost certainly not original to that book. Not one of the oldest manuscripts in existence contains these verses, and there are multiple different endings that were added on later, including the one that we see in modern English copies.

As Wolford’s mother said in the With Signs Following documentary trailer above, "the word is still the word"; except when it’s not.

If these verses are later additions, which seems almost certain to be the case, then it leaves even faithful Christians with no reason to believe that handling venomous snakes or drinking poison is a good idea. So please, don’t do it, and if you are envenomated, seek medical attention at least as quickly and fervently as prayers.

One Year Ago Today, The End Didn’t Happen

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This is a spectacular mainstay of  paranoid religious thinking and it crops up time and time again.

Now we’re looking at the 2012 Mayan end of the world, another manifestation of this sort of behavior. Of course, we should know better because the calendar everyone thinks that will end the world isn’t the only Mayan calendar we know about.

There’s a reason why one of the end of the world predictions was called the Great Disappointment; and when these come out there’s numerous humorous betting pools about “how many days until backpedaling.”

The best defense against this sort of cult thinking is an actual background in critical thinking and following the evidence. People devastated their livelihoods and lives for last year’s May 21st prediction—all on the premise that the world wouldn’t be here for them to worry about.

They let themselves be suckered in the worst possible way and Harold Camping’s organization swelled as a result. Sincere or not—the injury so some was profound and terrible.

The next time someone doomsays without evidence: chances are very good the world again won’t end.

via Friendly Atheist.

Bristol Palin (and Many “Save Marriage” Advocates) Need a Lesson in Cultural History

Not long after President Obama made a somewhat tepid acknowledgement that gay citizens should be able to get married, Bristol Palin decided to throw her own two cents into the arena.

She did so with a patronizing lecture on parenting,

“While it’s great to listen to your kids’ ideas, there’s also a time when dads simply need to be dads. In this case, it would’ve been helpful for him to explain to Malia and Sasha that while her friends parents are no doubt lovely people, that’s not a reason to change thousands of years of thinking about marriage. Or that – as great as her friends may be – we know that in general kids do better growing up in a mother/father home. Ideally, fathers help shape their kids’ worldview.”

Perhaps it’s just me, a student of contemporary and ancient cultural anthropology, but the ritual and social recognition of human marriage are a complex trend and not at all as static or simple as “thousands of years of thinking about marriage” might implicate.

In fact, across those thousands of years of thinking about marriage monogamy is only one solvent for tribal and clan affiliation; it sits side-by-side with polygamy, polygyny, polyandry, and numerous other rites and contracts for matrimonial relationships. Perhaps Palin should be aware that arranged marriages still persist today in some cultures where children can be assigned to a potential mate even before the day they’re born. Maybe she’s thinking of the ancient Israelites and other cultures where a male could be married to multiple female slaves—or that marriages in other cultures also included not just a male and a female, but sometimes both partners also maintained harems of concubines, none of this was considered extramarital.

That’s only the scrim of the history of the subject.

Perhaps in those thousands of years of thinking about marriage we can look to the way that North Carolina used to think about marriage in racist terms, in 1875 they altered their state charter to include a law that prohibited blacks from marrying whites. North Carolina is in the news because of an ideologically driven amendment to their constitution that leaves strange wreckage of domestic partnership laws in order to deprive gays of any chance of being married in the state—an amendment that rings very similar to the miscegenation amendment of 1875.

After all, Palin, you know that you’re speaking to a dad—a dad of color—he might as well let his daughters know that states like North Carolina have a long, ghastly history of bigotry and prejudice against people of color. Just like they’ve voted to make certain gays are constitutionally deprived of their 14th amendment rights, NC previously deprived blacks of those same rights—that to marry whom they wished.

To the “thousands of years of thinking about marriage” there’s a lot of history for this sort of behavior, after all bringing an outsider into the intimate bounds of the tribe or clan is unacceptable. If we looked at this obviously racist view of marriage in North Carolina in the same way that Palin does the world of today we would still have to live with that black mark.

Advice from Palin on this matter has been ignorant, patronizing, and overprivileged—and it resounds with the enduring reek of insensitive chauvinism.

Those thousands of years of thinking about marriage are still ongoing and hopefully with a greater modicum of wisdom than the 61% of North Carolina who voted on Amendment One and people like Bristol Palin. People who cannot bring themselves to be compassionate about why people marry and why depriving them of that right makes them second class citizens.

Religion As Portrayed in Video Games

So, Danny O’Dwyer decided to do a video about a favorite subject of mine: video games. In it he expounds about the way that video games have focused on the niche of religions—after all, they’re a fundamental part of our society and their portrayal fits into how games access audiences. Although he sees it as that video games don’t tend to reflect on them much at all.

Not entirely the case, but for the most part, to communicate well with mainstream culture most media meant for a broad audience does try to keep religion as a cultural backdrop and not a main theme.

In the video game Mass Effect, Commander Shepherd must mediate a dispute over religious freedom on the Presidium Commons of a space station known as the Citadel when a hanar (basically a floating man’o’war jellyfish alien) wanted to preach about the Enkindlers. In Mass Effect, the Enkindlers are essentially a dead race known as the protheans who the hanar believe seeded their homeworld and lead to their eventual evolution into the sentient race they are today. The Enkindler religious belief is important to them amid other cultural artifacts. The hanar on the Citadel is “preaching without a license,” an act a little confusing to someone in the United States where preaching wouldn’t require a license.

Later, in Mass Effect 2, a batarian can be found on the asteroid space station Omega preaching on a box about how humans (like Shepherd) are a pox on the universe. “A blight. You, sir, are a blight.” And how their gods may yet return and raise them into glory over the other lower races. (Sadly, by Mass Effect 3, the batarian race will become all-but extinct with the annihilation of their homeworld.)

That’s science fiction.

The game Eternal Darkness views religion as a sort of poorly lit scrim against the real gods, a sort of gauzy backdrop of shadowplay as they move in the dark. Charlemagne is mentioned in passing but really it’s the old gods that hold sway along with their magic and other dead and gone civilizations. Of course, that’s because the game takes some very strong influence from Lovecraft’s Mythos writings and does an excellent job of it.

Then there’s the Diablo series—and the upcoming Diablo III—that borrows liberally from ancient Jewish and modern Christian mythology. With the major boss of the series, the eponymous Diablo, is a name for the Christian character of “the Devil,” there’s also reference to ancient gods like Baal—the name of any number of ancient local deities in the Middle East—and others taken from contemporary Western, especially German sources. In the game, there are several religious orders of vague cultures such as the Horadrim, there are chapels, there’s demons, and even angels. All central vestments of modern Christian mythology repainted into the Diablo universe.

Then there’s games where players get to play as gods, such as Black & White and From Dust—all extensions of the ever popular progenitor of the style Populous.

Of course, lest we forget, there’s things like Left Behind: Eternal Forces; but I’m not about to go into how badly that one went over when Kazz already did.

The Strange Case of Suppressing Atheism: Texan Theaters Reject Ads Again

Religious roots run deep in the culture of places and this is exemplified by communities who generate controversies out of religious preference and majority. It’s reflected in the culture of privilege and demonstrated by common uses of shrill behavior by vocal minorities who are backed up by quietly agreeing moderate majorities.

The current case that’s unfolding itself in Texas between a movie theater in Arlington, the Green Oaks Movie Tavern, and another one in Plano, the Angelika Film Center. In this case, the Dallas-Forth Worth Coalition of Reason sought to run family-oriented ads before movies (the advertisements are quite adorable, actually) but two times now they’ve been rejected by movie theaters on the basis of apparent policy or complaints after a deal had been struck to run them.

Advertisements connected to atheist interests commonly give rise to fake, astroturfed controversy. Although some of the campaigns have been loaded with deliberately caustic messages such as, “You know it’s a myth,” others have relegated themselves to simple messages such as “If you don’t believe in God, you’re not alone.” Both generate an equal level of surprise and appeal in local communities and with media organizations.

The DFWCOR advertisements display images of happy families, elderly, and smiling faces along with the message: “What makes our families beyond belief?” and “Our families are great without religion.”

Nothing stands out as controversial about this campaign. In fact, it’s possibly even more tame than any others that have received even more attention.

The first theater in Arlington rejected the advertisements after the deal was struck cited that they refused to run any religion-related ads before movies. FOX News, a news outlet well known for political and asocial distortion in their reporting, ran the story as if the advertisements were “directed at children,” rather than intended to be run in front of all movies at the theater.

The second theater in Plano recently agreed to take the advertisements, but then suddenly turned around and rejected them citing complaints from the community. Updates to the story have suggested that the decision to reject the ads came not from the theater itself, but further up the corporate chain. They had received complaints from people who had seen an article suggesting that the ads would be coming.

The story is still building, but this one is coming across like a very anti-social community intent on pushing these advertisements out of their sphere of influence.

For one, there’s literally nothing blatantly offensive about these ads to the reasonable ordinary person. Why certain community members felt the need to complain about it and the theater corporation decided to cave to their complaints feels somewhat strange.

We’ve seen this behavior several times before. With bus companies attempting to suppress or reject ads of an irreligious nature, with the florists surrounding Jessica Alquist who refused to deliver to her (although at least one was legitimately closed for the day), and even with billboard companies who refuse to put up advertisements for atheist groups. That’s not to say that advertisements haven’t been going up–sometimes not without a fight–but that there should be a fight at all, especially when billboards and bus ads in these networks run sectarian religious ads already.

I guess this wouldn’t be so apparent or demonstrable in the theater situation if the theater had done their homework initially (in the case of the “no religious ads” policy) and if the second one hadn’t accepted the ads just to have their corporate home office overrule them after that acceptance.

The problem is possibly all about exposure. If a few complaints from a small number of people can get an advertisement pulled; I wonder how many counter-complaints it will take for them to put it back up again or at least understand that they’re not dealing with a tiny minority of people they can just step on without consequence. It shouldn’t be necessary, but social pressure is already being used by one set of petty individuals.

The theaters in Plano do run advertisements for local religious organizations on a regular basis, so an atheist organization like DFWCOR wouldn’t be out of place amidst them.

Propaganda 101: Which square is darker? (Living Waters Tract)

living-waters-which-square-is-darker This propaganda tract outlines several optical illusions like the one seen on the cover. Both squares, A and B, happen to be the same color; but the human eye registers them as different shades because of comparison processing in the optic-nerve used to provide contrast between different shades. The pamphlet includes mirages, the apparent motion of the sun across the sky, and finally this:

3. Then there’s the illusion that the sky is blue, when it actually has no color.

This statement is false; it’s an example of the equivocation fallacy. The “sky” that we refer to as being blue is in fact the visible blueness of the canopy of atmosphere overhead. To refer to the blue sky in the same manner that we refer to the “sky filled with stars” or the sky being the region of air that clouds and aircraft travel through is to conflate different conceptions incorrectly. The sky’s azure hue is no more an illusion than a reflection in a mirror is an illusion.

These sort of sensory perceptions don’t really matter, because they don’t have any serious repercussions. However, there is one that is a very serious deception. It’s the mistake when they think that they get into Heaven on the basis of their own goodness or by their own good works.

That’s not an illusion…it’s mythology.

Illusions at least come from a reasonable superficial model of sensory perception—mirages look like water because the heated air ripples and refracts light; the sun appears to move across the sky because the Earth rotates in relation to it; and the sky is blue because of something called Rayleigh scattering. Each of the above so-called illusions relies on a reliable set of accessible evidence—air rippling visibly, the sun crossing the sky, the sky being blue—but religious mythology about Heaven has no such foundation, it exists only as an ad hoc assertion and a just-so story.

If you were mistaken, wouldn’t you like to be told, or would you prefer to stay deceived when it comes to such an incredibly important matter.

Here the pamphlet author goes back to the original statement that these other illusions “don’t really matter” and indicates that this is because they don’t have any serious repercussions. We can set aside that this ignores the potential plight of desert nomads whose knowledge of the mirage illusion would save lives. The rest of the sentence asks if you’d rather be told about a thing or be wrong about a potential illusion—in this case the ad hoc Heaven mythology.

How exactly do we know about the other illusions? We’ve tested them. The mechanics behind mirages, why the sun appears to be in motion, and why the sky is blue teach us more about the reality we live in. They are real manifestations that anyone can encounter and verify the effect of. The Christian mythology referred to in the pamphlet, however, has absolutely no method of external validation, it is not manifest, and therefore cannot tell us anything about the reality we live in.

The Bible warns that if you are guilty on that [Judgment] Day you will justly end up in Hell.

Of course, for any good propaganda, what is a reference to Heaven without it acting as a stalking horse for its ideological cousin the Threat of Hell. This is just an appeal to another ad hoc mythology to enforce obedience or evoke fear in the reader.

The artwork inside of the pamphlet is actually quite beautiful. Most of them are portrait illusions involving skulls that appear from the intersection of detail and overarching design. Sadly, none of the images are appropriately sourced.

Child Witches Just Aren’t Funny

Unsurprisingly, organized modern-day witch hunts aren’t funny at all. In fact, they’re atrocities of the highest order and compelled and perpetrated by the superstitious and religious who place their religions above the rights and sovereignty of others. This is all-too-common a theme of not just when religions clash over cultural misunderstandings; but it’s also a symptom of a society that hasn’t grounded its morals and laws in defensible secular codes that accept the equality of human life.

Most religious ethics can barely agree on even very basic qualities of human life, arising instead from their tribal forbearers with xenophobic consequences. Often their arguments as to why some people are special and others are not relies on the supernatural or untestable qualities. This is the entire reason why “spectral evidence” has no place in criminal proceedings and is not admissible in a court of law in the United States.

And this is precisely why Christians in Nigeria are committing horrible, indefensible moral evils against children.

Before anyone condemns another human being, especially a walking, living, breathing child of something that could result in such hideous consequences—don’t you think that first we should provide a tangible test first? When was the last time that we treated someone for an illness without a single symptom or gone to repair a wall without observable damage.

Read Leo Igwe’s account of his most recent arrest after rescuing a young girl, Esther; and his subsequent treatment by police and the community for attempting to step in against this ignorant behavior. If you’d like to know more about the child witch phenomena and the religious and cultural background, Martin Robbins of the UK Guardian has an excellent take on recent events.

Don’t forget, people close to home behave in very similar manners as well and it’s our duty to keep them in check through laws and education; as much as it’s their duty to actually educate themselves and not do evil in the name of their religion. Immoral propaganda and campaigns of ignorance do much to provide foundations for these acts and we still see far too many of them lately.

The presenter in the video is R.K Watson from Skepchick.com. You can find more of her videos on YouTUBE.