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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘religion’

Birth

In which we praise Parliament, a very rare thing

As you’ll have no doubt read in the news, Parliament has voted against reducing the abortion time-limit. I’m pleased and amazed – for once, a political decision has gone by which has been apparently been decided on the basis of fact, not emotion.* That’s been a rare thing for the past few years. Maybe we need to have free votes more often.

In case you missed it, the media debate leading up to this vote went something like this:

Religious fundamentalists:** We need to ban abortion reduce the abortion time limit.

Scientists, doctors, medical charities, and so on: [some facts showing that we shouldn’t]

Religious fundamentalists: [emotional handwaving]

Scientists, doctors, medical charities, and so on: [more facts]

Religious fundamentalists: [more emotional claptrap]

Lots of Conservative MPs: [the religious fundamentalists’ surveys and anecdotes repeated wholesale]

Parliament: 190 in favour, 332 against.

Maybe I’m being slightly unfair, in that it wasn’t just the Conservatives voting for the amendment. Ruth Kelly did, of course, although I was surprised that Jim Dobbin, Labour, and leader of the parliamentary all-party pro-life group was nowhere to be seen. He’s a Catholic, and has previously said that he’s against both abortion and contraception. Well, I suppose he’s a better Catholic than Cherie Blair, at any rate. The Tories were the only party whose leadership was pushing hard on the issue, though – K’s MP, a Tory frontbencher for many years, voted with the party line. My own (Labour) MP, I’m pleased to say, voted against.

* This may not be quite true – I’m giving people the benefit of the doubt here. What is true is that Parliament voted for the fact-supported side of the argument; it may be a step too far to say that it was the facts which made them vote that way.

** Nadine Dorries, the apparent leader of the campaign, has claimed that she is not at all a religious fundamentalist. However, she worked very closely with religious campaigners, and admitted that they supplied a lot of the information she used in the campaign. The website run by and for her campaign was set up by and in the name of a group of very fervent religious campaigners, Christian Concern For Our Nation. Ironically, Dorries likes to go on about “the abortion industry” and how it needs to be stopped, when she was formerly a director of BUPA, one of the largest non-NHS abortion producers in the country. One wonders how much anti-abortion campaigning she did in their board meetings.

A Big Splash (Or, Films I’ve Never Seen, Part One)

In which we wonder what the filmmakers were thinking

Every time I’ve been to the cinema recently, I’ve had to sit through a trailer for newly-released film Evan Almighty. And it makes me slightly uneasy. Because – if you’re lucky enough to have managed to avoid the thing – it’s a lighthearted family comedy based on the story of Noah And The Flood, from Genesis. God comes down to Earth, visits an innocent politician, and tells him to build an ark because he’s decided to do the whole flood thing again.

Read that again. It’s a lighthearted family comedy, where God comes down to visit a politician, because (going on what happened last time) he wants to warn him that everyone else on the planet is going to be killed in the biggest natural disaster you can imagine. Did anyone even think at all about this film before it was made? Did they get beyond “comedy, sequel, some Bible story that everyone vaguely remembers”?* To my mind, the idea of writing a comedy about God breaking the only promise he ever made to the whole of mankind,** and apparently planning to kill everyone on earth apart from an American politician, is a little … well, perverse.***

I assume – not having seen the film – that not everyone (apart from the blessed family) gets killed at the end. Surely no Hollywood studio is going to release a big summer comedy where everyone on earth apart from a handful of people dies at the end? Drama, maybe, but not comedy. All in all, it sounds like a bit of a mess. Does God turn out to be nice in the end? Does he say: “Aw, I was only kidding. I just wanted you to learn how to be a better person.” How many people are killed by the flood that I did spot in the trailer? I really don’t want to find out.

* Although most people forget the bit at the end where Noah gets drunk, and one of his sons is forever cursed for seeing his drunken father’s tadger.

** Because it – the promise that “I’m not going to kill you all ever again” – was made before the Tower of Babel incident, when God scrambles everyone’s brains and makes possible the Tourist Phrasebook – so, as everyone was rather samey, there wasn’t any one Chosen People. And he never does kill everyone all together again – after that, he limits himself to smiting one city at a time.

*** And not in the good way

A failure of logic

In which we don’t always believe in belief

You often hear people saying something along these lines:

Something horrible happened, but we survived. And then something else horrible happened, but it could have been so much worse. Someone Up Above must be looking after us, because we got through it.

My mother has said it a lot in the past, but she’s not the only one. And every time I think: hang on a minute. If someone has their eye on you, if someone saved you, why did it happen to start with? Why did you need to be saved? If someone’s looking after you, how did something so horrible happen?

The churchgoer in the street

In which major international issues do not disturb the local parish

Given that today, in the news, there’s rather a lot about the slowly-growing and now likely forthcoming schism in the Anglican church, I thought I’d ask the average churchgoer in the street about it. Well, the average churchgoer who is also my mother, at any rate. She’s a fairly average “active” Anglican, though. She’s white, lower-middle-class, female, edging towards elderly, lives in a commuter village, and goes to church every week. She’s a Sunday School teacher, has organised the parish’s Christian Aid collections, sings in an ecumenical Christian parish singing group,* and generally is far more active and puts more effort into religion than most churchgoers, never mind the huge percentage of Anglicans who tick the relevant box on the census but never cross the threshold of a church for anything other than weddings and funerals.

So, I said: “what are you going to do if the church splits in two? Is anyone going to leave St. Nick’s over it?”

Her answer: “What split?”

“You know, the one that has been rumbling for the last few years.” I tried to explain how the rather homophobic Peter Akinola is a figurehead for a group of largely-American homophobic conservatives, who do not like the Archbishop of Canterbury and have been threatening for some time to lead a schism, sometimes in the hope of bending him to their will, sometimes apparently meaning it.

“I’ve not heard about any of that,” she said. “We don’t talk about that sort of thing at church. That’s nothing to do with us.”

So, there you have it. I don’t think The Mother is particularly ignorant. As I said above, I think she’s probably less ignorant than your average churchgoer is likely to be, because she takes a very active interest. But to her, the politicking of a motley band of Americans and Africans isn’t important. An earthquake in Lambeth Palace isn’t important. The Second Coming occurring in the Lady Chapel of our parish church probably wouldn’t disturb most of the congregation, so long as it didn’t disrupt the Mothers Union or the bellringers, and everyone still got a cup of tea (or coffee) after the Sunday communion service. For your average English Anglican, dogma is something you recite during the service without really listening or understanding. It certainly isn’t something to get all argumentative about.

* where “ecumenical” means “Anglican and Methodist”, because they’re the only churches in the village. I’m not sure what they’ll do if those often-suggested plans to subsume British Methodists back into Anglicanism ever make much progress.

Bones

In which we know where the bodies aren’t buried

Archaeology news story of the week: British pagans have decided that archaeologist should hand prehistoric skeletons over to them for reburial. Which is, of course, a silly idea, and one that a lot of archaeologists have a problem with.

Archaeologists naturally tend towards conservation. It’s something that’s drummed into them all through their training: you can only dig something up the once, so once you have it in your hands you have to look after it. You store it away carefully, because you never know when you’ve managed to extract all possible information from it. That’s why throwing something away – and that’s what reburial amounts to in many ways – is anathema to an archaeologist. To most practical archaeologists, artefacts like skeletons are a bit of a nuisance. If you’re in the field, they lead to lots and lots of paperwork.* If you’re back at the lab, you have to look after them – artefact aftercare ends up costing about ten times as much as your average dig does, at the least.** But you still have to look after them, because otherwise you’re not really an archaeologist.

A pagan quoted in that article says:

Any story that is reconstructed from [prehistoric skeletons] will be an imagined past, which usually turns out to be a blueprint of the present imposed upon the past

Which is, indeed, true. But it’s also true of modern pagan religions, to be fair. Modern paganism is an entirely modern religion. It draws influences from prehistoric religions, but so do other modern-day religions such as Mormonism. There’s very little direct link between any religion today and any European religion of three thousand years ago, so any claim of continuity is rather suspect. For one thing, there’s a huge variety of religious practise in British prehistory, which suggests that religions changed in nature over time then just as they do now. At some times people were buried in graves as they are now; at some times they were buried, or exposed, and then their skeletons were taken apart and stacked up somewhere.*** At some times, they were cremated. Sometimes they were buried in a “partially articulated” state – which means the body was still meaty enough for some of the major joints to hold together, but rotten enough for some big bits to have dropped off. In East Yorkshire, rich people were buried in chariots; which just goes to show that people from East Yorkshire have always been slightly strange.****

Which of those different types of burial represents different religions? It’s hard to say, because religion doesn’t always determine burial type. Which of them represents any of the various strands of modern paganism? None of the above. There’s no reason why remains shouldn’t be treated with respect; but equally there’s no reason why any modern religion should claim to have responsibility over them.

* especially for skeletons, because there’s all sorts of legal paperwork to fill in to prove you didn’t just bury the body the other week.

** and digs are bloody expensive

*** this, with burial, is more or less what happened from medieval times through to the 18th century; it was only after that that people started to see the grave as “eternal rest”.

**** no, really, the Iron Age archaeology of East Yorkshire really is rather distinct, and different to anywhere else in the whole of Britain.

Topical

In which we beware the homophobes and have milky tea

Apparently, it turns out that tea is much more healthy if you drink it without milk. The news isn’t going to help me, though, because I will never ever drink the stuff without milk in. I’ve tried it. It makes me ill. Without milk in, without fail, it brings up my stomach. So the news that it’s healthy raises a bitter laugh.

More serious news: as I type,* people are protesting on the streets of London for their God-given right to be nasty people. More specifically, they’re protesting that homophobia should be legally sacrosant, on religious grounds. I’m not sure I understand these religions for whom “keep away from the gays, you might catch gayness” is apparently more important than “love thy neighbour”. Take the Christians, for example – Jesus famously didn’t say anything at all about sexuality. St Paul did, but St Paul said lots of things.** The Old Testament does, but the Old Testament also says that wearing mixed-fibre fabrics should attract the death penalty.*** If being able to turn people away because they’re gay is such a religious issue, how come it’s never been a major tenet of your faith historically? If it’s not, why are you being nasty?

* see, that’s damn topical

** Then again, most Christians probably pay more respect to the teachings of St Paul than Jesus himself. St Paul wasn’t even one of Jesus’s followers, but he still managed to invent most of Christianity. For one thing, he came up with the controversial and shocking idea that you didn’t have to be Jewish to be a Christian. Want to feel like you’re going to heaven but can’t give up the bacon rolls? Thank St Paul! Trying to get your child into an Anglican school, but don’t want to have to stay away from everybody when you’re menstruating? Guess who you should thank!

*** I will look this up and check it later, I promise.

Miscellany

In which various things happen, and we listen to Thought For The Day

First Christmas present bought already, but I’m still going to have to devote the weekend to running around the county hoping desperately to find something inspirational. I’m not saying what I’ve already bought. It’s for my dad, and I don’t think he reads this place, but you never know.

When I get up in the morning, I have Radio 4 on in the background. I like Radio 4, but I normally try very hard to avoid listening to Thought For The Day, in case of the very real risk that it will make me want to throw the radio through the kitchen window.* Today though, I caught a quick flash of it. I can’t remember the exact phrase I heard, but it was something along the lines of “lots of Christians use phrases like ‘God willing’ and ‘if God wishes it’ all the time”. Which left me rather puzzled, because even though I’ve known a large number of devout Christians over the years, none of them have ever said any such thing in normal conversation. Maybe one of the good aspects of Thought For The Day is that it makes you realise there are people out there whose view of the world is so partial and skewed, that they really do believe they are standard conversational phrases, just because that’s what all their friends say.

I was talking to someone last night about the next Book I Haven’t Read that I’m going to write about: House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. “Oh, I don’t think anyone’s read that all the way through,” she said. “I don’t think you can.” So maybe I should invite additional contributions to the next Book I Haven’t Read post – if you have read House Of Leaves all the way through without cheating, let me know.

Big Dave says he’s found a flat now. A “one-bed studio flat”, or what people Up North** still call a bedsit. At least this means he has the weekend to do his Christmas shopping in, rather than worrying about property-hunting trips down to Barking and Beckton.

* especially if Anne Atkins is the writer/presenter.

** apart from if you’re a property developer, of course. Or you live in Leeds, probably.

Numerology

In which we refuse to get superstitious about the date

I like to think that I’m a sensible, rational, clear-thinking person.

It’s not always the case, though. For example, I’m the sort of person who likes to watch their car mileometer trip over to a nice round number. I’ll spend half a mile looking from the road to the clock and back again so I can watch it change from 15,999 to 16,000. And, similarly, there’s a nice symmetry about today’s date: 06/06/06.*

That’s all it is, though. Symmetry. I don’t believe that there’s anything inherently bad about today’s date, just because if you take out the zeros it looks rather like a number mentioned in one of the stranger parts of the Bible. In the news, there are reports of superstitious mothers desperate not to give birth today, just in case they give their child bad luck – or, even worse, if he turns out to be the Antichrist. If they believe in all that, they should probably avoid watching the remake of The Omen that comes out today too.**

The apocalyptic parts of the Bible – particularly, Daniel and the Revelation – are cryptic to read. They were written for two very specific audiences, who would have understood the references and the context. They weren’t written for believers of a radically different religion, a couple of thousand years later. Naïeve, literal readings are always going to be misreadings, because they are impossible to do sensibly – a literal reading of apocalyptic literature cannot be done unless you believe that the world will suddenly change into one of magical fantasy. I wonder if, in a couple of thousand years’ time, C S Lewis’s The Last Battle will in the same way become misunderstood religious doctrine, because it, too, is an apocalypse, in both senses of the word.***

* If nothing else, it means Americans can’t get it the wrong way round. I’m still wondering why they keep going on about November 9th, because I don’t remember anything interesting happening then.

** Not just because they’ll believe it all, but because it’s probably not as good as the original anyway.

*** Plus, it’s got a better plot.

Beltane

In which we wonder where religions come from

The big problem with three-day weekends* is that you start wishing they were four-day ones.

I didn’t do much for the May Day weekend. Lazed around in the house, then on Monday popped out to York for the day. As it was May 1st, I automatically thought of Edinburgh, and the raucous, fire-whirling Beltane celebrations on Calton Hill.

The Beltane celebrations are very popular in Edinburgh, largely with students and tourists who leap at the chance to do something Celtic, Spiritual and Traditional. The last of those, of course, is rubbish: Edinburgh Beltane is an entirely modern event, with no connection to some ancient mystical past. That doesn’t mean it isn’t religious and spiritual, of course – we all make our own religions, even if we don’t realise it. Although most of the performers are interested primarily in giving a performance, there are a few pagans among the Beltane organisers who see it, personally, as a religious ritual. They are the ones who, if the Christian Fundamentalist wing of Edinburgh Council succeed in getting it blocked,** will sneak away for a private ceremony in a quiet field somewhere, without the fire jugglers and drunken students. In fact, many of them already do.

As I said, we all make our own religions. Back home on Monday, I said a quiet and submissive prayer to the Goddess. Not because I believe she exists, but because I believe she might; and you never know what other gods were listening at the time. It’s always nice to think you’re receiving a bit of spiritual guidance, whether it comes from the supernatural world or not.

* apart from them being largely bunched together, as Diamond Geezer has described.

** No, really – there is a small-but-significant Christian Fundamentalist faction in Edinburgh Labour Party, who constantly do their best to block what they see as a Satanist festival. I used to know someone who was closely connected with the Beltane Fire Society, which is how I know all this – although it might be a few years out of date now.

Nationalistic

In which we go dragon-killing

Well, I sat down at my computer to write a long serious post about how I need to lose my shyness. But then, I thought: hang on a minute! It’s Saint George’s Day! So, I dressed up in a suit of armour and went out to sing “Jerusalem” and stab a few dragons instead.

Actually, that last bit wasn’t quite true. I love the fact that other countries have deadly serious national days; England has a national day to celebrate a mythical Lebanese man who isn’t even a Catholic saint any more. Bulgaria, in fact, has much better St George’s Day celebrations than we do, although no longer on the same date.* England has, well, nothing at all, and most of the people who campaign for more of a celebration are rather nasty nationalists. We could do with a decent liberal and welcoming national celebration, if only as an excuse for a party.

* because they still date their saints’ days with the Julian calendar, which is a couple of weeks out by comparison.