Sunday, March 24, 2013

radio blah blah

Light and shade, tears and laughter, etc. etc. on the Radio 4 slot I like to call "the one after the Today programme" this week. On Thursday we had the excellent In Our Time on the fascinating life of Alfred Russel Wallace (and featuring former Welshman of the Day Professor Steve Jones), younger contemporary of Darwin and the man some feel that Darwin stitched up fairly shabbily by quickly publicising and publishing his own work in response to a letter from Wallace revealing that he was theorising along similar lines to Darwin. A more charitable view might be that Wallace played a vital role in energising Darwin to get off his fat beardy arse and finally collate and publish the mountains of evidence he'd been gathering for the previous 20-odd years.

Anyway, that was all very interesting; interesting in a different and more shouty-at-the-radio kind of way was the discussion on Tuesday entitled Christianity At The Crossroads, chaired by John Humphrys and featuring various goddy types as well as the defiantly godless Matthew Parris. The subject matter for discussion was very much as you'd expect from the title: how relevant is the Christian Church (in all its various flavours) to modern life, particularly in the wake of all the sex scandals, in the Catholic Church in particular? The fact that we've got a fairly new Archbishop of Canterbury and a brand spanking new Pope gave the whole thing a bit of extra spice.

The trouble with the discussion, as it always is with discussions of this kind, is that it was basically a detailed discussion of the warp and weft of the emperor's britches, complete with some disagreements over which colour they should be, whether they should end above or below the knee, whether those little bells attached to the hem are a good idea or not, without addressing the more fundamental question of why the emperor is in fact wandering around bollock naked.

A more sensible starting point for discussion would be: OK, you folks represent organisations that, ultimately, seek to tell people how to live based on an interpretation of the contents of a book that is supposedly the condensed thoughts of a supernatural being who created the world, can be petitioned by prayer, and takes a disturbingly close interest in what we do with our genitalia. This is important stuff, particularly given the dire consequences presented for stepping outside the bounds of what's deemed to be acceptable behaviour. So you will naturally have some pretty compelling evidence that the tenets of your religion are true, and this would be a good moment to present it. Note also that you'll have to account for the church's stated position on various subjects changing over time, usually just after the majority view in society as a whole switched: things like acceptance of evolution, homosexuality, slavery, that sort of thing. But start by convincing us that your supernatural friend exists, otherwise the rest of the conversation is entirely pointless.

Sadly we don't seem to be at a point in human history where that approach is acceptable. The best illustration of this is in that while Matthew Parris musters some robust arguments for things like divorcing the notions of religion and morality, he does still seem to concede without question that a real person called Jesus existed, and that the church that's built up around his teachings has corrupted the message in some way, as well as buggering all those altar boys, which to be fair I don't think the bible explicitly encourages. The reality is that there's absolutely no more reason to believe that the Jesus as described in the Bible existed than, say, King Arthur, and that if you're going to make the claim that no, there really was some guy named Jesus (or more likely Yeshua, Jesus being a subsequent Romanisation of the original Hebrew name) who didn't actually do any miraculous shit but was just a guy around whom various myths coalesced, then you're seriously into So What territory. To steal an argument I read somewhere else, if you're saying that Santa Claus exists, but is actually a plumber from Grimsby who doesn't wear a red uniform or own any reindeer or deliver presents and whose name is Gavin and not Santa Claus then essentially you're agreeing with me that Santa Claus doesn't exist.

So the whole programme was a depressing illustration of the special treatment given to religion compared with any other set of bonkers claims about how the world operates. As depressing as it is I suppose it at least provides a riposte to those who say: relax, you've essentially won, the world is a pretty secular place, chill out, have a cocktail. Clearly we've got a long way to go yet.

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