Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Why Does Religion Get all the Cool Hats?

OK, maybe religion has produced some beautiful and profound things aside from hats: art, philosophy, holy crusaders, suicide bombers. But you've got to admit ─ it excels in the creation of really cool headgear.

The truth is, religion has a strange and perhaps not entirely healthy obsession with head coverings. Not only does it prescribe a wide variety of styles ─ ranging from the fairly simple Hutterite scarf and Muslim hijab, to the incredibly ornate Roman Catholic mitre ─ it also dictates a sometimes bewildering set of rules as to when and how they are to be worn. The long tradition of Sunday-go-to-meeting hats reflected St. Paul's admonition that men should pray with their heads uncovered while women should pray with their heads covered. In other cultures, the prevailing religion dictates that women must cover their heads when in public, but can go bare-headed among family members. What's a poor agnostic to think?

Maybe this preoccupation with pieces of cloth stuck to the top of one's head stems from religion's tendency to require that its practitioners separate themselves from the rest of the population: either through some means of self-mutilation or by wearing ludicrous clothing. Given the choice between wearing odd clothes (regardless of how ludicrous) and cutting, scarring, or otherwise poking holes in our bodies, it's safe to say that most of us would opt for the funny caps. Still, even though hats are relatively convenient as a sartorial genuflection to God, they can nevertheless give rise to surprisingly contentious emotions ─ and in certain circumstances, even endanger embassies.

This isn't to say that secular hats are free of all irrationality. Back in the days when everyone and their uncle wore hats, there were a surprising number of rules that went with them. Emily Post, who reigned as society's Queen of Etiquette for many decades, declared that in apartment buildings, hotels and clubs a man must briefly remove his hat when a lady entered the elevator. "A public corridor is like the street," she explained, "but an elevator is suggestive of a room, and a gentleman does not keep his hat on in the presence of ladies in a house." Stores and office buildings, however, were different matters since their elevators were to be considered "as public a place as the corridor" (Post).

Truth to tell, there's something a little strange in the whole idea of hats as symbols of respect. We put them on as a sign of respect, and then take them off as a sign of respect. We carefully pick out just the right hat to wear to an event, and then remove it as we arrive. Maybe hats just make us a little crazy.

Or maybe the craziness is coming from "out there" and we're just not wearing the right hats.

Inspired by the Gray Lensmen science fiction stories (in which the protagonist wore a special helmet to protect himself from mental attacks), Michael Menkin, inventor, and front-line combatant against alien abductions, has developed a simple Thought Screen Helmet. It is easily made with a few readily available materials plus two square yards of 3M Velostat. The finished product, according to Menkin's testimonials, not only keeps our minds safe from alien thoughts, but also makes it difficult for them to find us for purposes of abduction. As one enthusiastic Thought Screen Helmet user gushed:

“I am happy to report that the Thought Screen Helmet has been performing beautifully! It’s been over six months now and NOT ONE INCIDENT! Aside from some of the naive neighborhood kids and their taunting it’s been a blissful period” (Menkin)

I guess religion doesn't get all the cool hats.

Michael Menkin wearing his stylish
and comfortable Thought Screen Helmet


Menkin, M. Testimonials. Retrieved February 21, 2008, from Stop Alien Abductions Web site:

Post, E. (1922). Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home. New York, New York: Funk & Wagnalls.