Like many people, I’m entirely unsurprised that the earthly embodiments of Ned Flanders are still with us. Like many people (actually, in my case, probably more) I’m greatly tempted to make a few bad jokes about it and move on. In fact, I’ve already made a few and thanks to everyone who’s played along, laughed or risen to the bait.
I’m prompted to try a more thoughtful response having read this piece by a friend whose wisdom, compassion and talent are a great inspiration to me and would be remiss if I failed to point out that what I write here is simply another point of view that I feel worthy of similar consideration.
Should we indulge in a little piss-taking of religious zealots who hanker for the end of the world?
Satire has always been one of the weapons of those seeking to overthrow the establishment, a means by which one can seek to diminish false or faulted authority. Make no mistake, in this part of the world; Judeo-Christian faith is part of the establishment. We are not secular nations. Try running for PM or office in the US and coming out of the atheist closet.
I know a fair bit about Christianity. In my youth I tried hard to be a Christian. I’ve read the good book, studied it in some detail. In particular, as it happens, the eschatological passages.
Since then I’ve been on something of a philosophical journey. I’m still on it. I’ve no doubt that my opinions will continue to change and evolve but at present I’ve remained on a pretty steady course in the direction of atheism.
Allow me to take a second to define my own atheism, as I think it’s important to the points that will follow. I believe that there is no being that created the human race with the intent of taking an interest in our individual spiritual existences. I don’t discount the possibility that there is a higher intelligence out there somewhere, pan-dimensional and incomprehensible to us or even (though I give the idea little real credence) that we’re being grown in a petri dish like a culture of streptococcus. If that is the case, then the scientist growing us cares no more for you and I than we do about the wellbeing of an individual bacterium. The idea does suggest that a fine sobriquet for the human race might be retardigrades. Oops, there’s the first tasteless gag of the piece. Pardon me.
So I think that it behoves those of us with reasoned, philosophical atheistic tendencies to poke a little fun and try to diminish the authority of religion on our everyday and political existences. Indeed, I think that we should be making a point that a truly pluralistic society should be a secular one.
I’m not suggesting that a secular society should be one which forbids or even discourages the practice of religion. If you want to pray to God, burn incense or cover yourself in woad and cavort naked in a stone circle then please, go nuts. More nuts.
But let’s take the UK. Should the laws of the land be influenced by religion? And if so, which one? Should the law be influenced by biblical writ, Sharia law and so in, in proportion to the number of believers? Because sooner or later those multiple sets of laws are going to conflict.
I’m not suggesting that our laws are perfect (Anatole France’s quote about one law forbidding rich and poor alike from stealing bread and sleeping under bridges springs to mind) but assuming that a reasonably just set of laws could be arrived at, they shouldn’t be based on the writ of someone’s imaginary friend.
While a significant proportion of the populace believe that this life is simply a passing phase to something more significant, will they ever live this life fully? How greedy. Isn’t this life enough? We are selfish beings by design, it was a survival trait in more primitive iterations and that urge to protect our own interests will naturally extend to our immortal soul. So why sort things out now when you should be feathering your heavenly nest? We could discuss religion as a tool for social control here but it’s a terribly well-trodden path.
Everything that happens, every thought you have, every action you perform, every emotional reaction, conscious or unconscious can be detected with an MRI scanner – at some level this demonstrates that there’s an energy change associated with it. When you die, your body stops respiring, it stops transferring energy. MRI a corpse’s brain and you get a pretty dull show.
If you’re going to live on it will be through the echoes you leave in this world, through the lives that you touch, the artefacts, the writing you leave behind (yep, a legacy of tactless nob gags. I’m very proud) through what you learn, teach, through the people that you love. Isn’t that enough?
The problem that I have with religion is that it’s a distraction from the day to day. Not the only one, by any means: take consumerism, self-image, war and a thousand weird cultural conventions and apply the same argument. Today though, I’m writing about religion. While this world is viewed as trivial, a distraction from the big, immortal questions (to which the answer may or may not be 42) then sleeves are not being rolled up, important decisions are being left to an imaginary deity, important shit is not getting done.
There’s some brilliant stuff in most religions – if everyone did as James 1:27 commends: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” then I’m pretty sure that the world would be a less shitty place than it is now. But there’s some pretty fucking stupid and offensive stuff in most religions too, magic and misogyny and the problem is that if you’re going to allow that it’s holy writ, you’ve got to take the shiny and the shitty together. If there was one bit of empirical evidence for the gods of the major religions then perhaps there would be an argument for religious influence on law. But there’s not. There’s faith – in Mark Twain’s words: “…it was the school boy that said ‘Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.’”
The shadow of the end of the world is indeed upon us but it’s not the rumblings of a magic, bearded, Darth Vader character in the sky. It’s the endless stupidity and cupidity of our race. God can’t save us. But if we learn to face the facts and start concentrating on the problem we have the means to save ourselves.
So if you’ve been waiting for the rapture to take you up to heaven and woken up disappointed to find that it’s another quotidian vista of cornflakes and reality television: get over your delusions. If you want heaven, start making it here.