5 09 2010

I don’t know how old I was when I stopped believing in a god. I’m not even sure it was any form of concious decision on my part not to believe, more of a sub-concious overtaking founded by an almost innate desire for rationality. Try as I might, I cannot marry together the two notions of science and religion, I just can’t. At this point, it is perhaps best to admit that I really don’t know what I’m going to write. The debate, fuelled spectacularly by Stephen Hawking’s apparent rejection of the notion of a god, is one to which there is obviously no right or wrong answer. There cannot ever be. No-one will successfully prove or disprove the existence of a deity, thus for a large part the argument is trivial to the extreme.

I just don’t believe. I have nothing against people who do, but I simply don’t. I do have various views on some elements of religion however, such as the long-held belief that religion causes more problems than it solves (the Middle east is the classic example of age-old religious problems, but throughout history nearly every conflict has been, to some extent or other fuelled by religious intolerance). I also cannot shake the nagging thought that religion was initially conceived as a tool of the rich to control the poor (again, for me the Bible is prime evidence of this, written as it was by educated people for rich people). If we couple these thoughts with the notion that somewhere beyond time and space there is a deity sitting/standing/lying/existing somewhere then it becomes clearer to me why I do not believe in a god.

There is a more fundamental problem too. What does this ‘god’ look like? Most stereotypical images have an elderly man in a white robe with white beard. Yet it is a typically human trait to imagine things in our form. Take the idea of aliens for example, practically all film/television aliens have easily identifiable human features, eyes, mouth, legs or arms. They are there to provide familiarity to the viewer. The same applies to a ‘god’. God created us in his own image is the line that is spewed forth by religious folk, but this seems somewhat egocentric to me. Why must this all powerful deity have a face, or a body at all? It may be something completely unrecognisable to us humans. Something beyond our limited imaginations.

There are a number of other practicalities which do not add up in my mind. Why must the god in question have a book to pass on his word? I feel that this ‘god’ cannot have it both ways, it cannot sit back and watch our world objectively, far removed from any input; whilst simultaneously expecting us to surrender our lives to it based upon the ‘teachings’ written in a book of whichever god we are going to choose to believe in. If there is to be objectivity, do not have a book with your lore in it, there cannot be removal from the subject if there remains interference.

Which moves me back to the problem with the book. Any religious text had a starting point. Of course it did. Most were written by people who were literate, born out of stories designed to inspire fear, and generate control. As with any story, the drama of it made the tale worth telling. All the stories had a moral. All had a point to make. And most finish with some version of the apocalypse raining down upon us. Of course this was another storytelling feature, there had to be a consequence to the tales, something to keep the people in line. Some form of warning about the dire outcomes of not heeding the teachings of the book. Of course, scientifically, this is not far wrong. We all know that eventually our sun will explode, swallowing the Earth and destroying whatever, if any, forms of life that may be left. Truly apocalyptic, and yet known fact too.

Which moves me neatly onto the problem of science. I am no scientist, I do not appreciate the intricacies of physics or biology or chemistry. I do, however, appreciate that they are there. I appreciate that there are fundamental rules which dictate to us how the world works, and why it continues to do so. There is a rationality to science which appeals to me. Cold, hard logic dictates to me that there cannot be any god. It is the oft-quoted Sherlock Holmes which sums up the world best, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. This is how science seems to work in my mind. Scientific fact continues to press home my own understanding of the world. Science, which can do so many things, cannot do the one thing it really needs to however. It needs to disprove a god. As demonstrated this week, that cannot be done.

Light the Match and You’ll Have Fire…

14 08 2010

You know how it is, when you are searching around for days looking for something to blog about, and then a prominent news agency goes and drops something right in your lap. Such as this story from the Beeb.

It’s really quite an interesting conundrum. On the one hand we must agree that all religions have the right to practise and worship freely. But on the other, we must also respect the sensitivities of certain locations based on what has happened before. My own personal view is that the mosque should not be built, and I’ll explain why.

Yes, the proposed site is two blocks from Ground Zero. Yes, I’m in favour of advocating religious freedom. Yes, logically, these things should add up to me accepting the plans for the mosque, and, like Obama, preaching the necessity of religious tolerance. However, this case is different. This case is American, and involves the religion many still associate with the cause of the September 11th attack. Of course, this association is born out of naivity and foolishness (suddenly I remember the West Wing’s analogy – Al Qaeda is to Islam as the KKK is to Christianity), but nonetheless it is still prevalent. The disaster happened eight years ago. The wounds, I feel, are still raw, and the passion still runs high. The consequences of the attack are still being felt in Afghanistan and Iraq. Blood is still being spilt due to the attack on America. The situation, despite promises from politicians shows no sign of ending any time soon. If we add all this together we have a potentially hostile situation developing in New York, at a site which, in my opinion should be used as some form of war memorial.

And herein lies my biggest concern about the building of a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. The users of the building will not be safe. The plans are already encountering difficulties and objections from the people who can object to it, politicians and press alike. Can you really imagine what it will be like in a few years time when the building is actually opened? Can you imagine the numbers of people who will be abusive towards the builders as they are erecting the mosque into the sky? Can you imagine the continued police presence around the site most of the time just to ensure that the project gets completed? I can, and whilst I acknowledge that there may be a great deal of speculation in what I’m imagining, I still maintain that the results will be problematic. The building is going to bring out the elements of American society which are conveniently swept under the rug. They are going to be vociferous, angry, and most likely, violent. The Muslims who come to use this mosque are going to be subjected to a barrage of abuse because of where the mosque is situated, and the connotations of the site. They will be users of the highest profile mosque in the world, and they will be acutely aware of this.

There is a comparison to be made, albeit a local one. The plans for a new mosque in Dudley have been met with a chorus of widespread disapproval, which culminated in a violent protest march earlier on in the year. This has raised tensions in Dudley, and is likely to continue to do so. I fear that this could be repeated in America, but on a larger scale, and with many more problems.

The simple solution, as I see it, is not to create such a problem in the first place. I’d suggest a relocation of the mosque to somewhere less controversial. I’d suggest not doing anything to antagonise a potentially hostile situation. I’d suggest leaving the Ground Zero site free of religious connotations. There is a bigger issue though, that of education and religious intolerance. The solution to this problem will take many more years to find I fear.

Over the Dinner Table…

5 12 2009

Tonight my parents have had a dinner party, with a small band of their friends encircling our dinner table to laugh and talk about various things with a few bottles of wine handy. As seems inevitable, the conversation turned to politics. Having been invited in to grab some pudding, I found myself unwittingly dragged into the conversation (I hesitate to use the word “argument”), and found myself understanding so many things about the frustrations of the older generations.

To say I became scared of some of the stuff they were saying is perhaps taking it too far, but, through the course of the hour or so I spent listening, there was a frightening amount of stuff that the BNP’s publicist would have been proud of. Starting off with the premise that there are simply too many people in the country, thus necessitating a dramatic cull (we moved from Nazi Germany – with echoes of Nick Griffin’s comment about Hitler going just a bit too far with the Jews – to modern day China in the conversation), one particular member of the party exhibited his own take on the state of the country. Those we kick out of the country (roughly the 15 or so million people which would see our population be taken back down to about 50 million) would have to go somewhere else. Anywhere else. It doesn’t matter, as long as they aren’t on British soil. Look after your own first, then see what’s left to share with the rest of the world.

From there we moved through the problems of industry, religion, education, and class. The continuing theme was not, as I was perhaps expecting it to be, the fault of the current government in these issues; but was instead the larger issue of the psyche of the population. The phrase “white underclass” was one which was casually tossed around and seemed to be the common denominator in the matters. Laziness is to blame for the lack of industry in Britain (we have the know-how, so why don’t we do it anymore?). Religion is emphasised by varying gang cultures which is a product of the “underclasses” (I must have spent roughly ten minutes trying to explain that not all knife and gun crime is committed by black people). The education system is too saturated with children who know too much about the dole, about how to play the system to maximise laziness and reward. So ran, in a nutshell, most of the points that were made.

However, it was not only the fault of the white underclass, it is also the fault of immigrants (we take in way too many for our resources to cope). Having tried to explain Malthusian principles of a checking factor to the group, the response was that it will not be disease as we will simply find a cure. In short, for too many years we, as a country, have been to lax with too many things that we are now at a point where we are going to suffer greatly. Our import/export ratio is woefully imbalanced, our manufacturing industry is all but gone, and our gas and oil reserves are all used up. Or, to put it another way, we’re doomed.

Nor is the future any better, as younger generations are being taught too much in the way of other religions (apparently being indoctrinated into them) by our schooling systems, and they are being taught about gay rights from the age of four. They are becoming adults too quickly, a problem exacerbated by shops selling clothing which encourages them to grow up and act more like an adult from a younger age. Kids aren’t allowed to be kids any more. Apparently.

The problem was, that despite all these problems there were no real workable solutions offered. Getting rid of 15 million people to somewhere else and looking out for ourselves was the ideal principle. Cutting our imports down to provide a stimulus for our manufacturing was another suggestion (but failed to ignore the knock-on effects that that would have on various other trades and indeed, other countries who then grow disillusioned with the severence of economic ties). Starting again and establishing British industry once again to its former levels should be the aim. This industry which grew out of the industrial revolution will be pretty east to kick start as we have all the know-how, it’ll just take a bit of hard work. Apparently.

And yet, despite all this, they all freely admitted that they would not be joining their local political party. They would not be taking any actions as there is simply nothing they can do to stem this tide. And it was at this point I began imagining the same conversations happening in living-rooms, kitchens, dining-rooms, or over the garden fence up and down the country. Whilst the BNP are still largely discredited, it suddenly became so much clearer to me why people would want to vote for them. I maintain it would still be a protest vote, but it is not, as I’d thought, a protest vote against politics, it is a protest vote against the country. And it was then I began to feel uneasy. I’m pretty sure most of the party tonight would not vote BNP, as, for all their gesturing and posturing, they are not racist fools. The tide with which politics is battling is not against the BNP, as I’d have thought. Instead, politics must grapple with the consequences of the last 50 or so years, the decline of the empire, the industry, the rising dissatisfaction at all that has come to pass.

The Conservatives will likely come to office next year, and will be faced with the same problems. Industry will still be gone, the number of migrants will still remain “too many”. Bureaucracy and red tape will have to continue as a definition of our society. What seems to be needed is the foundations of stability need to be relaid. Industry played such a large part in British life for so many years, something needs to replace it, or it needs to be re-grown. I’m really not sure what the solutions are, if indeed there are any.

Tonight was an interesting eye opener, and it was nice to have another view of the world. However the hugely annoying uneasy feeling with which I left the conversation as the coffee arrived still lingers in my stomach, and I’m really not sure how to combat it.

Delving Deeper…

17 03 2009

It was with interest that I read this article about the Wizard of Oz. Yes, that childhood tale of a young girl just trying to get home, aided magnificently by the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion. Oh, and the dog. It is always interesting to read into books rather than taking the face value for granted. Now I’m not sure that I completely agree with the theory being portrayed in the BBC’s article, but it is interesting to see an argument or theory put forward well. A considered, rationalised approach substantiated with specifics from history to contextualise the argument mean that the original proponent of the viewpoint, Henry Littlefield has a strong case. Especially when you consider that the film actually took away some of the political points through subtle changes (the Ruby slippers were actually Silver in the original book, an apparent reference to the use of silver to substantiate the American Gold Standard which was ailing at the time the book was written.

Despite this, the viewpoints put forward by readers at the bottom of the page are more in line with my thoughts. You can read whatever you want to read in things. The Wizard of Oz has, through the course of the 20th and 21st Centuries become extended metaphors for a range of things. I think that this may be a case of reading something into it that was not intended to be there in the first place. By this I mean modern observers are mapping ideas onto the film that fit with the society that they know at the moment. This isn’t unusual, it has been happening for ages, and I think that the example of the Wizard of Oz serves to indicate this further.

To link in with this idea of interpretation of films, I saw Watchmen on Sunday. I have to say I really liked it. The film looked good, the plot was substantial, considered and thought-provoking, and I would recommend going to see it, although you may wish to lose the preconceptions of a ‘super-hero’ movie that my sister apparently approached the film with. I have my own theories on the movie that I will share with you, so if you haven’t seen it, now would be a good time to stop reading.

I think that it can be argued that the film is an anti-religious one. Dr Manhatten (the big blue one) is used as an extended reference to god, with the idea being sown into our heads early on, when it is explained that he does not consider himself to be a god. Through the film we see what Manhatten is capable of, infinite knowledge, bringing death, being in many places simultaneously, being an entity for people to unite behind (the film uses Vietnam to highlight this idea). All are ideas which can be seen to be ‘god-like’. This theory is further substantied when, at the end of the film, Manhatten leaves Earth to set up life in another universe. He therefore can be seen to be both the bringer of life and death. So very god-like.

I say it is anti-religion though because by the end of the film, Manhatten has been made into the bad-guy. Through the series of events that leads to the destruction of a large part of New York, Manhatten becomes the common enemy that prevents the Russians and the Americans wiping the planet out in a nuclear war. By giving them something to hate, Manhatten saves the earth (even though strictly it wasn’t of his own design).[I’m thinking that the next Batman film will follow a similar line given the ending to the previous one]. So, in the course of the film, Manhatten is shown to be god-like in all but name, and is hounded down and almost forced to leave the planet, indeed, the universe to save mankind. It is true that he could fight back, and would almost certainly win, but it is his love of mankind which sees him disappear. To me this smacks of being anti-religion.

I think. As I’m writing this I am also considering the possibility that the film is pro-religion too, as here is this omnipotent being who has saved the world from itself and has united enemies. I suppose it is what you make of it then. Just like the Wizard of Oz.

The Power of Prayer…

27 03 2008

Now I know that this example is neither a new thing, nor is it all that uncommon. But everytime I see a story like it, I cringe.

I am stuck between wondering how stupid the parents were before their child died, and how much their faith has comforted them after she did.  Now, as I’m sure most of you are aware, I am very definately not into this whole religious thing. To me it doesn’t add up. However, I accept that people are religious, and even tolerate this belief. Until they go and do stupid things like this.

Religion is a nice idea for those who want to believe in it. I don’t. However, the thinking that some higher deity can, and more importantly will, interfere in peoples lives is, quite frankly, idiotic. If, and there’s a big if here, God does exist, surely he would interfere to help every sick or dying person, rather than just one in the middle of America.

And then there is the issue of what the parents do after their child died.  They have one of two options:

a) renounce their faith as their God will have let them down.

or b) attribute the death to not praying enough, feel completely remorseless for the death, and continue in the same naive fashion hoping that enough praying will resurrect the girl.

Newsflash. It won’t. The girl is now dead because two muppet parents thought the power of belief alone could save her. Rather than simply going to the doctors and getting the care that was needed to save the girls life.

Whilst I’m sorry that the girl died, I feel no sympathy for the parents, and just wish this would be a lesson to other such religious people. The age old battle between science and religion seems to rumble on. I just wish that for the fanatical religious people, there could be some recognition that the two could maybe co-exist. This case seems to show otherwise.

Hundreds of years…

26 02 2008

…Of academic reputation have gone up in smoke it seems to me. I found this on the internet, and didn’t quite believe it. I firstly had to check it was not April 1st. Thankfully it wasn’t. Then I had to check it wasn’t a prank. Again, perhaps unfortunately, it wasn’t.

The official website confirmed it, much to my disappointment.

I cannot understand it. Not even a little bit. These people at one of the most renowned universities in the world, have decided in their infinite wisdom, to study why people believe in God. What is more, they have been given £1.9 million to work it out. Can I have just half of that if I give the answer right here and now? Please?

From what I can gather, ‘god’ as an entity serves two purposes:

1. It is a way of dealing with death.

2. It is a way of dealing with life.

Firstly, it is to help people believe there is life after death. That there is something else, something which should be looked forward to, rather than feared.  God makes things good, if we are good then we will spent eternity playing blackjack on one of the millions of tables in heaven. For example.

If we are bad, we go and join Satan and grow rather fond of fire. Simple, isn’t it?

And to me this is a redundant argument. I think, judged by today’s standards at least, I have been ‘good’. At least, I haven’t murdered anyone, or slept with my neighbours dog. I haven’t done enough to justify being sent to hell at least. Which, because the middle ground all but disappeared after the Enlightenment, means I’m off to heaven. Now if God is a) all knowing, and b) all forgiving, the fact that I haven’t prayed every night for all of my life shouldn’t piss him off too much. Therefore, he will, perhaps begrudgingly, have to welcome me into heaven, regardless.

Which leads me onto point two. Believing in God is a way to justify why we are here. It is not enough to simply accept we are, and make the most of it. There are another two aspects to this I feel. Firstly, God is an explanation for human existance, and, by definition, any animals existance too. God, therefore is the meaning of life. God is why we are here, and why we are made the way we are. Secondly, God is a reason to live life well. When I say well, I mean looking after others, being charitable, not murdering anyone, or having elicit affairs with your neighbours dog. For example.

Running further with this, our physical form, our bodies, are effectively borrowed from God for the duration of their existance with the proviso that we do not abuse them. God created everything as a reflection of itself, so we should not destroy these miraculous creations, as we will be offending God. When they reach their expiry date, then our soul is free to join God and discuss whether we should take over Pluto.

Whether or not you have picked up on my cynicism about religion is not my concern. I will tell you now, in black and white, I think it’s all tosh. If God created us, then God created logic too. My logic says that God does not, and cannot exist. Yet it is one of those wonderful things which cannot be proved or disproved. What sort of deity creates people who are inclined to dismiss it’s presence? Maybe just a few screws loose…

Anyway, after that highly controversial rant, I am expecting my cheque from Oxford in the post tomorrow.

Losing my religion…

11 02 2008

Is quite an apt song for Rowan Williams to be listening to at the moment it seems. However, I feel a bit sorry for him. Yes he is a bumbling fool. Yes he doesn’t know how to handle the press. And yes, he very often says the wrong things. But I genuinely believe his head is in the right place.

Take the current row over Sharia law. From what I can gather, he merely suggested that it was a possibility that Britain could adopt the law in the future. I do not think he was advocating it, nor do I think he was necessarily saying it was a good thing. What he thinks is that it may become something necessary to encourage religious cooperation in Britain.

I completely dislike religion, I’m sure it causes too many conflicts, and problems. This row is but another one. I think though that in the case of Archbishop Williams, the press have blown this out of all proportion.  In a similar way, if I suggest that I believe that, for example, Fascism is a good thing, some will seize upon that and suggest that I’m a firm advocate of killing jews and Hitler. Which of course, I’m not. But those in the press keen for a good story, would not hesitate about taking this and running with it. As they have done with good old Rowan.

Apart from those odd eyebrows, Rowan’s heart is in the right place, so I say let it go. There is too much in the way of religious discontent in the rest of the world for it to become a big issue here.