In case you are new to these, I write them quickly. these blog posts are often questions, not opinions of certainty. You will find flaws in spelling, punctuation and reasoning.
I have been following the religious slaughter debates, awakened to it by a Christina Odone piece that made the sound that I imagine the victim in Munch’s The Scream is perturbed by. I had one of those moments of being confused by what it is to be human when I heard that the reason animals can’t be anesthetized before slaughter in some Halal abattoirs is that it means they won’t hear the prayer. And thus I splutter like Oliver Hardy, or Eric Campbell being disturbed from his soup by Charlie Chaplin. There are times I attempt a leap to understand, but I fall into an apoplectic crevice. There is much I do not understand about physics, philosophy , near bloody everything, but that is due to being lazy and lack of diligence. However much I read, I fear I will never understand the necessity of a sheep to listen to prayers. I don’t even read my sheep a bedtime story, though I sometimes show them pop up books. They don’t like it.
I believe I am a ghastly liberal. Not quite ghastly enough to read The Guardian on a regular basis, but ghastly enough. I am not so sure though, as I have not yet seen 12 Years a Slave. Apparently, the act of not seeing 12 Years a Slave is tantamount to declaring you think slavery is good. I am told that you must go to see it, then feel rather bad and sad about it all, emotion being the equivalent of action, then get on with shopping and stuff, every now and again pausing to say to a friend that it was all so sad. I am writing this on an a macbook pro, unsure of just how bad the conditions of workers might be, but certain that this technological boon and it is dazzling, predominantly unused applications, are a necessity.
Another dent in my liberal aura is religion. I am not too bothered by liberal religious type, hey, some of my media acquaintances are Vicars and former Deans, but underneath it all, I am perplexed and my empathy runs thin. I cannot really make the leap of understanding as to how people well-read in science, informed by modernity, still find room for a traditional deity. This is not a dig at them, it is my own inability to comprehend. I understand that the idea that “this is all there is”, though I reckon it is a pretty good this even if it is annoyingly finite for us individually, may make people want something beyond the material. I certainly understand that death is a quandary, well more than a quandary, headfuck will do. Barely a day goes by without thinking, “hmmm, I am not sure I am going to ever be content that you get this one go, this hopefully 80 or more years of experiencing things and that is that” and my son has now reached an age where death troubles and upsets him. He does not wish to imagine a world without us (maybe we should start being nastier to him so we can put him off us), so I can see the desire for an afterlife.
But most of the religious people I know don’t seem to have a grand view of A Matter of a Life and Death style escalator to a hotel like heaven with tinges of cloudy edges and a beheaded aristocrats ruing the lack of technicolor. When I have done panels with religious people, I can happily chatter away, most are not homophobes or creationists or assassins of abortionists, it’s all just a little difference of opinion. It is when they get to the “sensation of the Holy spirit” that my mind judders and stalls. This is the bit where I go quiet and smile, but inside I think, “this is all a bit mad”.What allows their minds, and these are often people with far broader reading and deeper experience than I have, to keep thought space for something so far from materialistic experience?
It’s all very well Thomas Nagel saying we cannot know what it is like to be a bat, I can’t even know what it is like to be a Bishop. This is why so many of those debates between the faithful and faithless are a waste of time. They are not merely debating with an entirely different set of facts, they are speaking in a different language. They have experience that I cannot understand as experience, all calls to evidence and experimental results are pointless. I am intrigued to know about the differences in the brain. Is there such a thing as a religious brain that enhances mystical experience. We can’t even meaningful describe what we taste when we taste chocolate, how the hell will we put “the touch of the holy spirit” into meaningful words? I am not sure whether to be pessimistic about my inability to imagine a world without religion, but can I at least imagine a world without fundamentalist religion, with a dancing gang of liberal deities declaring, “hey, just get on with it and be kind” (time for another eulogy about the Quakers can go here).
Unfortunately, when things go tits up will dogmatism always be alluring. Is certainty, however blind and damaging, all part of evolution? What would change if the religious programming was not instilled so frequently before the child was seven? We are frequently told that there are ages when children are too young to be taught of procreation. Before then, they have usually learnt about 30 or 40 wars in history classes, with the brutality and agony of the casualties bowdlerised, so they all just become “events” on time chart. There are many things that children are too juvenile for, but they are quite grown up to be given a view of total explanation of the universe and existence from the position of mangled, ancient texts.
There is a sudden stop here, I got distracted by another thought. I will come back to it when I have worked it out.
My endless tour continues with a new show – off to Leeds, Chorley, Glasgow, Newcastle, Edinburgh Science festival, Laugharne Weekend, Swansea and a town near you. Details HERE
also continuing regular club nights in Brighton, Northampton and London. Mark Steel joins us at Comedy Cafe London this Tuesday.