Sunday, July 31, 2005

God shaped holes

The phrase "God shaped hole" was recently used in a comment. I have to say that I disagree with the whole (or, hole, if you prefer...) image here. It's worth explaining why. God isn't some sort of fixed concept, even for theists. One of the reasons the word lacks any real meaning is that it's applied to all sorts of areas that people don't understand. Initially, the word "god" could explain everything - why we're here, how the universe was created, why we behave as we do. Then, after humans began studying the world, the spaces for god became smaller, as science began to explain. So now, when we can explain the evolution of human life, much of how the mind works, the way the atoms build up matter, the creation of the universe from a matter of microseconds after the big bang, and so on, the "god shaped hole" seems to have become smaller. Do we just say "well, god programmed the world to continue in this way after the big bang"? If so, it dismissed the notion of free-will - something that is important to religion (if you have no free will, how can god punish you - after all, you're only doing what he's made you to do. A problem for them, anyway, but one worthy of its own topic). But where else is the hole that he's supposed to fit, now we can explain so much else? And isn't it worth assuming that we can explain the rest as well, since we've had so much success so far? The god-shaped hole gets smaller and smaller...
However, that's not really the point that was being made. It was that people tend to fill this hole with other things (cf. Chesterton here, although he's thoroughly deluded...) - material goods, "New Age" nonsense, and so on. But again, the hole image fails - I believe that god is, and always has been, some sort of ontological Polyfilla - something to shove in cracks in your picture of the world. The cracks were once larger, now they become smaller - perhaps too small for people to want to really refer to god. So they choose something else.
So the image of a hole is too large for the purposes people use god for.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Edward Heath

So old Ted's dead. And of course, the tributes are pouring in. He was, of course, considered amongst the absolute worst of the Tory party before Thatcher, but let's forget that. He was, again, a friend of Mao Tse Tung, Deng Xiaoping, and an apologist for the Tiannaman Square massacre, but don't mention that. Did you know he was good at yachting? He liked music? And he wasn't as bad as Thatcher. So that's OK, then.
And, of course, there was a newspaper headline, reprinted in Private Eye, and available in one of their compilations of amusing newspaper cuttings. Responding to hypocrisy amongst MPs regarding homosexuality, and the status of Hampstead Heath, North London, as a gay cruising ground, the headline read "Gay group claim many MPs use Heath for sex". Probably the best way to remember him...

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Opiates and so on

Hmmm. Hmmm, indeed.
It seems that various Islamic clerics have, as part of their condemnation of the bombings in London last week, decided to specifically start telling their "flock" (sheep is as apt a description of the religious as any I can think of) that killing people is bad, and results in going to hell.
Welcome as condemnation of bombing is from any human being claiming to be civilised, I can't help but wonder at the mindset that believes one can only not perform evil acts if one is threatened with eternal torment for doing so. This isn't an attack on Islam per se - all religions are guilty of it. As some portentous pop singer or other bellowed, "Is goodness hard to come by without lying?" And surely it's time to reflect on the harm that religion does to society. Not simply the suicide bombers (who are always religious - how could anyone who didn't believe in an afterlife - whatever that means, they're always a tad unclear on the subject - think that blowing themselves up to take down a few other people is a good thing?), but the whole "philosophy" of "We're god's chosen people, she's chosen to reveal her divine secrets to us, not you, so we're better than you..." It's from this starting point - the basis of all religion - that the idea of killing other people because they have different superstitions from you stems.
So what to do? Well, obviously, you can't outlaw religion. In a democracy nobody should be imprisoned simply for being wrong or stupid. But Mr Tony was very fond of promoting something he called "faith-based schools". Surely these must be abolished? The fact that my taxes go to pay for the propagation and promulgation of half-backed superstitious idiocy annoys me intensely. Indeed, banning religions from running schools, and thus protecting young, impressionable minds from being brainwashed, has to be a basic minimum. And rather than teaching RE - still compulsory in schools - perhaps we could teach Philosophical Studies, or some such.
Secular Humanism will maybe be the dominant world view one day. It's worth putting in the effort to make that day sooner rather than later, for all our sakes.