Friday, 4 June 2010

History subverts religious nonsense

I can't understand  parents who bemoan their kids growing up. One of the biggest joys of being a parent is watching them figuring out the world for themselves. We had one of those impromptu family discussions in our house yesterday prompted by one of those delightfully innocent questions that cuts through all the bullshit of the polite grown up world - just why do religious people believe such obvious nonsense ?

I should explain that our kids have grown up in a thoroughly free-thinking household - but at their school they seem to be  largely  surrounded by friends who are either practicing Muslims of varying degrees of orthodoxy, or Evangelical Christians.  Either way - happily my kids genuinely struggle to comprehend the barminess of their friends' beliefs - both in  theory and practice - whether it's the concept of an imminent apocolypse and the bodily resurrection of our ancestors, or having at all costs  to cover your hair and not consume shellfish. 

We can try  to explain it to them in terms of psychology - religion gives people comfort, or in terms of sociology - it affirms people's cultural identity.  But on  a purely abstract level, having encouraged the application of reason in  every other aspect of their education, it's very difficult to explain religious belief in terms of anything else other than  wanton stupidity and simple superstition.

However I've found help  in the unlikeliest of places -  the BBC's 'History Of The World in 100 Objects' -  this week they have been looking at the rise of the major world religions. They do so in terms of power - both political and economic. The 15 minutes a day programmes chart why the big four religions we are stuck with today triumphed over other local 'pagan' religions. And clearly slow that was not because they were any more intellectually vigorous or morally superior, but because they won by  military conquest (Islam), or by providing the fabric of empire (Christianity and Hinduism) or by trade networks (Buddhism). Maybe the disciples of the Flying Spaghetti Monster were just less fortunate in their historical breaks.

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