Thursday, 3 October 2013
I had an utterly bizarre conversation today. It began innocuously enough, with my youngest daughter asking a question which was approximately along the lines of why Halloween was evil? It emerged that somebody had imbued some supernatural element into it, apparently genuinely believing that demons and devils and spooks and spectres are a tangible part of our world. OK then, I find myself thinking. That's an empirical claim about the way the world is. Should there not be some evidence to back this up? I mean, if you are prepared to tell a vulnerable child something that could potentially cause some psychological distress surely you'd want to be sure that such assertions had some evidence to back them up? Apparently not, as it turned out. Which of course I knew. There never has been any evidence for ghouls, ghosts, demons and devils. These things hark back to our prehistory when we lacked the nous to explain phenomena we now understand in scientific terms. Thing is, what really angered me was that, in the mind of this adult, it was perfectly appropriate to share a potentially terrifying piece of unfounded and unproven information with a young mind still forming its own view of the world. Oh heck, you've probably already guessed: this inspired piece of information sharing had religious origins. And therein lies the problem. Therein, in fact, is why my distaste for the religious claims of the world only increase with time. It saddens me that clever people, decent people, caring people can so glibly share such potentially harmful insights with the young and the vulnerable. It saddens me that the minds of these otherwise capable people have been so addled by the poison chalice of religious inanity. It's been a while since I've written about matters of faith, because for the most part it keeps its mucky paws off of me. But when it steps inside the circle and attempts to contaminate those I love and cherish most, and with such flagrant disregard for truly sacred values such as evidence, reason, and the desire for truth seeking I have to respond. I hope you don't mind, but those of you of a religious disposition please consider this as a very clear shot across your bow. It's not that I would deny you the opportunity to share your faith based opinions with my children, but I do reserve the right to expose them for the tawdry, ill informed, and frankly weak minded fodder that they are. In fact, let's sit down together. You can tell me why I should take you seriously, and then I can explain why that's not an appealing proposition to me. Now before I forget, a word about evil: We don't need ghouls and ghosts and demons and devils to bewitch us. We can find our own way. If you doubt this I invite you to think of any event in history where we have spoken of evil and the blame could not be placed squarely at the feet of mankind. Hitler, The inquisitions, the great religious wars of the past, the Stalinist purges. Stand back and study these. You will find them all man made, all the result of entertaining absurd ideas about the nature of reality. To imagine that Pope Benedict had a little demon on his shoulder, or in his soul whilst he was covering up the endemic rape of children is to release him of responsibility, and to say that he was somehow under the direction of supernatural powers is equally cheap. He, like each and every one of us has the capacity to do great harm. To hurt those near and far. To wound, to scar, to distress. Why don't we just have the moral courage to face up to this truth? Isn't it better that we take personal responsibility? That we own our own transgressions rather than to inject some otherworldly supernatural element into them? All I can say is that when I get things wrong it is because I get things wrong. Nobody else to blame. Nobody else pulling the strings. It's about me, my failings, my inner foibles. Is that really so hard to accept?