Finally, a reason to have “belief in belief”

November 10, 2014 • 12:23 pm

This is the best reason I’ve seen yet for promoting religion even if you don’t accept it yourself. It stops people pissing on the walls! Or so say Ranjani Iyer Mohanty in a piece in the The Atlantic, “Only God can stop public urination.”

If you’ve been to India, and I have (many times), you can’t help but notice the prevalance of public defecation and urination, for private toilets aren’t ubiquitous (almost nonexistent in villages), and public excretion has become a noxious custom, even in the large cities. How do you stop it? As Mohanty describes, you put up tiles or murals depicting the gods on walls customarily used for male urination.

I suspect it won’t work.  If you gotta go, you gotta go, so you’ll just move your outdoor activities to another place.  But here are some photos of the urination-preventing devices:

Janny McKinnon/Flickr
A pee-proof wall in Mumbai painted with images of Jesus Christ and the Hindu guru Sai Baba, along with the slogan, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” in Hindi (Reuters)

Mohanty has other suggestions:

My daughter, a firm believer in national integration, has suggested that these god tiles also include Muslim, Christian, and Sikh iconography. After all, if there’s one thing Indians have in common, it’s their god-fearing—or at least god-respecting—nature (pollsreveal that roughly 90 percent of Indians view religion as an important part of their lives). I wonder what would happen if I placed a few god tiles around my daughter’s room; after all, messiness cannot be next to godliness.

In fact, the concept has already expanded to several faiths. In documenting how tiled Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and Sikh gods arrived in Mumbai’s streets (they replaced or supplemented written messages ranging from the polite “please do not sully the wall” to the more aggressive “son of an ass, don’t pee here”), the Indian photographer Amit Madheshiya recently marveled at the “harmonious existence for the gods” in such “cluttered and messy spaces”—especially in a predominantly Hindu country that “is often irreversibly divided along the coordinates of religion.”

Unfortunately, panaceas are rarely perfect. The other day, as I was leaving my neighborhood, I spotted a man on the same road urinating against those same walls. I was shocked. Who could be so bold as to disregard the presence of all those gods? And then it dawned on me: He might be an atheist.

Yes, we have here something rare: a completely novel critique of atheism!

h/t: Brian ~

48 thoughts on “Finally, a reason to have “belief in belief”

    1. I have used that urinal!

      Not in India, but at a very large outlet mall in northwest England. To be fair I think the pictures were chosen by the (mostly female) marketing department, who interpreted them as women being delighted at all the wonderful shopping opportunities but didn’t realize that they would also be used in the men’s toilets.

  1. Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it all be gone.

    (1 Kings 14:10)

    Mark Twain made much of this:

    A person could piss against a tree, he could piss on his mother, he could piss on his own breeches, and get off, but he must not piss against the wall – that would be going quite too far. The origin of the divine prejudice against this humble crime is not stated; but we know that the prejudice was very strong – so strong that nothing but a wholesale massacre of the people inhabiting the region where the wall was defiled could satisfy the Deity.

    Take the case of Jeroboam. “I will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall.” It was done. And not only was the man that did it cut off, but everybody else.

    The same with the house of Baasha: everybody was exterminated, kinsfolks, friends, and all, leaving “not one that pisseth against a wall.”

    In the case of Jeroboam you have a striking instance of the Deity’s custom of not limiting his punishments to the guilty; the innocent are included. Even the “remnant” of that unhappy house was removed, even “as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone.” That includes the women, the young maids, and the little girls. All innocent, for they couldn’t piss against a wall. Nobody of that sex can. None but members of the other sex can achieve that feat.

    (Letters From The Earth)

    1. Too be fair, “him that pisseth against the wall” may be merely a colorful way to say “men”, not the description of an actual behavior by said men.
      The downside of painting multi religious murals is that some religious fanatics would enjoy pissing on someone else’s gods.
      And if this is merely due to a lack of sanitary facilities, where do the ladies do their business (lacking the ability to piss on a wall)?

      1. Maybe. It’s used only in cases that involve the killings of those men and all their line, never in any good or even neutral context so it must at least be pejorative.

        Of course if the Bible had been written by Inuit, it would have read “him that writeth his name in the snow”.

    2. I remember that verse from Leviticus. From the days when I used to get sent to Sunday School and used to look through the Bible for rude words.

      I think I was too young to know much about sex or the euphemisms therefor, so all the bits about ‘lay with’ or ‘knew’ went right over my head, sadly.

    3. …& also “he left him not one that pisseth against a wall, neither of his kinsfolks nor of his friends”
      1 Kings 16:11

      1. In the Southern Baptist church of my youth, I never heard “pisseth” uttered from the pulpit. I wonder if a synonym would have been used – “urinateff”?

        When I was in the hospital as a teenager, recovering from knee surgery from playing basketball, my urinal was full and I was not yet able to ambulate to the pissoir; I was in extremis and wouldn’t you know I would forget the name of the device. Finally, I (thought I had correctly)remembered the name and called the nurses’ station, asking if someone could come and empty the “urinator.” The nurse came in with a smile on her face.

        An old Appalachian corn pone joke has a fellow building a grist mill in a location with no stream whatsoever within sight so as to be able to turn a wheel so as to turn a set of millstones. When a passerby pointed this out to him and asked what he was going to do about it, he replied, “Well, I guess I’ll just have a [community] ‘pissin’ ‘.”

  2. I spotted a man on the same road urinating against those same walls. I was shocked. Who could be so bold as to disregard the presence of all those gods? And then it dawned on me: He might be an atheist.

    Close, bit no cigar.

    The role of the atheist is taking the piss out of the religious.

  3. The new prime minister Modi has started a campaign called “Toilets before Temples” aimed at dealing with the issue. Actual toilets will be built, and cleanliness promoted. This will obviously help in public health, tourism and other areas too.

  4. Rohinton Mistry’s Booker Prize shortlisted novel – Such a Long Journey – has a storyline where the main character stops people using the wall around his apartment block as a toilet by paying a street artist to cover the wall with paintings of Hindu gods, Muslim buildings, Christ and Zoroaster

  5. Here’s another exploitation of religious guilt and/or authority to contrive people’s behavior:

    Commute to work on a bike. In a relatively small community you will rapidly develop statistics on some drivers who do not like cyclists.

    Strap a baby trailer onto the bike and make the same commute. There is now a strong correlation between the traditionally nastiest drivers and their avoidance of you.

    Hypothesis, religious guilt is primarily the culprit for the changed response. True, no one wants to send an innocent child to its death, but religious guilt can easily negate antagonism even if it is for the wrong reason.

    1. I would interpret that to mean that those who dislike cyclists do so because they fear the possibility of killing them and do not wish to live with that for the rest of their lives.

  6. Painting and posters is cheaper than actually providing functioning public conveniences.
    Let’s not solve a problem, just pretend we solve it by some magic.

  7. “Cleanliness is next to godliness”

    This phrase gets mocked but good in, IIRC, one of Tom Robbins’s early novels. (Another Roadside Attraction, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, or maybe the one with the Camel cigarettes logo on the cover. I think.)

    The mocking (paraphrased as best as I can recall):

    “If in this, the last quarter of the 20th century, we haven’t found something more important than cleanliness for godliness to be next to, perhaps it is time we revised our ideas of godliness.”

    I used to go around declaiming that riposte to people who used that stupid phrase.

  8. I live in sunny California where there is no shortage of publicly-accessible places to go potty and I still come across the occasional peed-on wall (or worse) – and lots of litter and cigarette butts ten feet away from trash cans. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live someplace with a serious lack of facilities and unless the Indians are planning on installing thousands and thousands of toilets they won’t make a dent. These murals strike me as a big FU to the poor and indigent and an open invitation to get your sacred icons defiled.

  9. Yes, they are now the local atheists’ exclusive urinal. Somewhere where they can ‘take the piss’ out on gods on a daily basis, very nice of them to provide an outlet for this minority group. Very accommodating indeed!

  10. If cleanliness is next to godliness, I guess I’ll have to stay dirty (no way I want to be anywhere near those creatures 🙂 ).

    1. I guess I’m pretty safe then. A dirty mind is a terrible thing to waste…

      Oh, you weren’t talking about _minds_ …?

  11. Painting walls with Jesus? Sounds like missionary crap to me. Where are the murals of Christopher Hitchens, if only for equal time?

  12. Perhaps a sign on the wall saying, “One never knows when one is being videoed.”

    Or maybe just a picture of a smart phone with a red video light on, or with a photo of someone urinating.

    1. Don’t they have CCTV in elevators in Singapore which take your picture if you pee in them and then publish the pics in the newspaper??

      1. I wouldn’t be surprised, what with (what I was given to understand from my U.S. Navy port visit there) the gov’t’s disdain for chewing gum wrapper littering on the streets, and penchant for caning.

      2. I read they have detectors that detect the small of pee, stop the elevator (with doors shut) and summon the cops. The well-equipped dissident would come equipped with small bottles of pee to be tossed behind him as he exits the elevator. (Why do I instinctively think of these things? Just naturally reactionary I guess. I wouldn’t want to belong to a society that would have me for a member…)

  13. This is interesting, since they mention muslims too.
    To depict the prophet is ‘Haram’, it is a sin.
    Should one pee on a ‘Haram’ picture of the Prophet? Or should one only burn it? Some conundrum, it appears.

    Note that women can just crouch, only slightly lifting the skirt, sari or burka.

    1. I guess if you were peeing in public in a burka there would be no reason to be embarassed. One and only advantage to burkas.

      1. I read somewhere that was a big advantage of those crinolines they used to wear in Victorian days (with, apparently, no underwear). Just park over a small, convenient and innoffensive bush…

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