About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bulldozers tear down giant religious teapot

We're not talking here about Russell's teapot, which was described like this by Bertrand Russell:

If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

No, this was an actual Earth-bound giant teapot, located in Malaysia. As this story in The Telegraph (UK) explains, it was a prominent cult object related to the teachings of the Sky Kingdom. The image that the paper has published on its site suggests that the teapot was rather a fine structure ... a little kitsch maybe, but quite handsome as teapots go.

The Telegraph story states that:

About 40 workers with bulldozers and lorries destroyed the "subversive" teapot and other symbols of the pan-religious Sky Kingdom, in Terengannu state. An assembly hall, a concrete boat and a temple-like structure that was under construction were also demolished.

Now, sometimes when I read about such, er, crackpot actions as constructing or destroying giant teapots on religious grounds, I worry that I'm being spoofed. It seems, however, that this is a genuine story. Indeed, the giant teapot was even a tourist attraction:

Members and visitors to the commune believe that water from the teapot, which poured into the giant vase, held purifying powers. They follow the teaching of Ariffin Mohammed, 65, better known as Ayah ("Master") Pin, who holds that every religion is equally valid and that anyone can find his or her own path to God. His settlement has been a popular destination for Muslim, Chinese and Indian Malaysians, as well as foreign tourists.

Although the authorities explained the destruction as being because of some kind of zoning regulations, since supposedly "inappropriate buildings had been constructed on agricultural land", the destruction has been welcomed, and had been urged, by Islamist activists. These tolerant, thoughtful adherents of the religion of peace objected to the apostasy (or is it heresy?) of the cult's leader, since Ayah Pin claims to have direct access to God, contrary to Muslim teachings.

Really, will all this religious madness never end? Thank Zeus I'm an atheist.


Anonymous said...

Bertrand Russell is relevant in more than one way here. This is prime evidence for his thesis that:

Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear.

This (somewhat tacky) exhibit was demolished for the simple reason that people were afraid of it. Not of the teapot itself :-) but what is represented: choice and humour.

A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence.

One very smart and very wise man. These attributes do not always go together, but when they do the result is always remarkable.

(N.B. Hazel AKA Corylus – posting on blogs under real name now – everyone knows it anyway!)

Russell Blackford said...

Hello, Hazel ... well I didn't know it. But good to have you here, and even nicer if it's with your real name.

Anonymous said...

Key 'Corylus' into wiki Russell.

I use it as an in joke for people into gardening. Plus my avatar is a Hazel Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius).

I like to play puzzle games :-)

Russell Blackford said...

Okay, okay, I get it. :D

Steelman said...

I wonder what are the beliefs and practices of this group, other than the universalism revealed in the article? Did they just sit around all day, incessantly drinking their purifying "tea" and celebrating one another's unbirthdays?

It's a shame the Islamists felt they had to smash the crockery; it was kinda cute, after a Disneyesque fashion (fond childhood memories of the Happiest Place on Earth, here).

Russell Blackford said...

Without knowing anything more about them, they sound like a pretty harmless bunch from what's been revealed. It seems ironic that their property has been destroyed at the urging of one of the religions that offer a path to the salvation, according to the group's universalist doctrine.