Probably around 1956, my later-to-be-husband and I were on a boat at anchor in a creek off the River Thames, babysitting his sister’s two children while their parents enjoyed a well-earned drink in the onshore pub.
Diana, the older of the children, was perhaps 2 or 3 years old, and made a game of postponing bedtime by responding to every request or answer with one word.
This is probably the most important word in the entire lexicon and it is what makes human beings pretty unique in the animal world.
We are seldom content with accepting everything around us. We want to know why it is there, what it is composed of, and how it works, if we are referring to material objects. If, however, we are referring to emotions or more ephemeral issues, we remain curious and seek explanations.
Which is why human beings invented gods, with their accompanying spiritual qualities.
There were so many answers people could not find, and the more cunning among them realised that they could become really powerful if they claimed the ability to interpret messages from the gods!
The Indians, the Greeks, the Romans and the Scandinavians, as well as the indigenous people of what is now the USA, along with most other nations around the world, each invented a pantheon of gods, usually including a supreme overlord. The Jews and the Islamists – whose religions share a great deal of history, are unique in being monotheistic.
All religions had their priests and their prophets. Islamists regard Jesus Christ as a prophet, though inferior to Muhammed, while the Jews reject his followers’ claim that he is the son of god.
For believers in those religions, the Shamans or priests were the repositories of knowledge (shades of Tony Abbott!) and they were the ones who determined what could or could not be accepted as truth.
In the western world, by the Middle Ages, the Roman Church – having jealously guarded the works we recognise as the Holy Bible as the sole source of true knowledge, excommunicated many whose scientific discoveries cast doubt on the veracity of the Bible.
To this day, there are many supposedly Christian sects who solemnly and sincerely believe in the Genesis version of the creation of the world. Because that is what the Bible says!
Science is slowly winning the battle of convincing more and more people that the Bible is not an accurate source of knowledge.
As with the Torah and the Qur’an, there is much in the Bible, most particularly in the New Testament’s record of Christ’s ministry, that is concerned with establishing rules for life. In many cases they are admirable, but they ignore the fact that, in an everchanging world, increasing knowledge demands that rules need to change to keep relevance.
If, two hundred years ago, people had been expected to accept our modern views on human rights, they would not have reacted well! Indeed, many in the twenty-first century still brush them aside – including the Australian government!
The underpinning pf science is asking – WHY? – closely followed by – HOW?
When I was about 8 or 9, I was given a Children’s Encyclopaedia, and the flyleaf carried this verse, which forms the first line of a poem by Rudyard Kipling:
I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
No scientist could wish for better guidance!
But religion is, by definition, conservative. It looks to the past and resists change, just as the Holy See did in the seventeenth Century!
As an agnostic, I do not deny the possibility that a god exists but am increasingly convinced that she – or he – does not! I stand with you, Stephen Fry!
What I learned about the life of Christ from studying the Scriptures was that he believed in change, and demonstrated it in his treatment of the woman, about to be stoned for committing adultery, and cemented it in his modernising of the 10 Commandments, whittling them down to what were, for him as a believer, the two important parts. And any unbelievers would do well to seriously consider following the second one if they seek a harmonious existence!
But – the fight is continuing. Those who insist on living in the past are denying the rest of us a future!
Continuing to refuse to accept the science is dooming the world to even more unpleasant circumstances for our children than they will already experience because we have waited so long to take really effective action.
I truly believe the real adults need to take over the streets until the government gets stuck into the job which it is morally obliged to take on!
Ensuring that the world remains habitable for all living things!