Religious matters

English: Christadelphian Meeting Room, Napton ...
English: Christadelphian Meeting Room, Napton This Christadelphian chapel stands on the corner of Howcombe Lane in Napton. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seen on the signboard of a Christadelphian Church : “Seminar: Brexit and Bible Prophecy”. What?? Anyway, that started me thinking about religion again.

In the days that religion was developing as a means of understanding the world, when natural occurrences like storms and earthquakes were hypothesised to be caused by supernatural agencies, such as spirits and gods, the details didn’t matter too much to people.

English: Cains Folly Landslide (2) Very active...
English: Cains Folly Landslide (2) Very active landslide, Greensand sitting on Lias. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If your neighbour believed an evil spirit caused a landslide, it didn’t matter too much if he thought that the spirit was male, while you categorised it as female, and your other neighbour didn’t assign the spirit a gender at all.

Eventually problems arose with this approach. When Johnny arrived home with a bloody nose because he had insisted that the spirit was female and Nigel next door had been told that it was male, issues arose. Nigel always was a bit of a bully, as was his dad.

Bloody nose 1
Bloody nose 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The tribe as a whole would, over time, discuss the matter and come up with a consensus. The landslide djinn had to be female as it didn’t actually try to kill anyone, but made work for the men, who had to clear the slide from the track.

As time passed, the original idea of the evil spirit would become embedded in a mythos or body of myths, as the spirit’s role and actions are extended upon, firstly by grandparents telling kids scary stories to keep the kids awake at night, then embedded into the structure of the society as the adults, more or less jokingly at first, try to appease the wrathful spirits.

Dance of the Lord of Death, Paro
Dance of the Lord of Death, Paro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eventually people starting taking the stories seriously. A whole structure of myths and stories got inflated into a cosmology and a rationale for the way things were. Johnny’s and Nigels’ descendants took all the stories and hypotheses and treated them as if that was the way things were, and to some extent they were correct.

Except that the daemon that started the rock slide was called gravity and it was not a active being with human characteristics but a force of nature, impassive and impartial.

Lightning.
Lightning. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Having experienced the scientific revolution, most societies on Earth these days recognise that earthquakes and landslides are not caused by malevolent supernatural beings, but by the forces of nature, but this has to be taught to kids.

As they grow up they believe in fairies and Father Christmas, but they soon learn to distinguish truth and fact. They may well believe in these beings for the benefit of adults and the possibility of presents and money for some time, but their belief in these beings is ambivalent. Eventually their belief is fake, and everyone knows that. It becomes a game.

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing
Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Without any knowledge of science, our ancestors did the best that they could, and make the best guesses as to causes of phenomenon using the tools that they had at the time – myths and stories, based around being of unlimited power and dominion.

With the advent of writing, these myths and stories could be written down. The writings did not change, so the views of people were now tied to these fixed stories. A class of people arose who existed for the single purpose of understanding the writings and even interceding with the supernatural beings.

Illustration from a collection of myths.
Illustration from a collection of myths. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of the sages, magicians and priests would have been wise individuals who, fundamentally, did not believe the myths and stories in the writings, but who could see an opportunity, but the vast majority of the religious officials would have really believe the religious corpus.

When two culture came into contact there would have been a mismatch in the religious beliefs. Since the supernatural beings were, in general, born from disasters, such as floods and landslides, it would not do to offend them.

Brisbane City Floods
Brisbane City Floods (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But the guy from the city over there believed that the seas came from the salt tears of the goddess, while you knew that the seas arose when the god split the rocks and the seas sprang from the depths of the earth.

What to do about this? Well, in most cases the traders or travellers would have no problem with this, most people being practical in nature, but when the priests heard, well all hell would break loose.

Priest with cross at Lalibela
Priest with cross at Lalibela (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the very least, some people would travel to other lands to try to persuade the inhabitants of their errors, and they would either succeed of fail. If they failed, they could be cast out or, possibly, put to death in various horrible ways.

If the missionaries were put to death, why then that would escalate things and war could be the end result. After all, yours was the one true religion and we can’t have heathens looping off the heads of true believers can we?

A group of believers
A group of believers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So we get religious wars, crusades and jihads. Remember, although we cannot really conceive it these days, religion was the only explanation people had of the world. Science would be along in a few centuries. In this rational and largely atheistic world that we live in, we can’t really understand the fundamental belief in religion that used to prevail.

We teach religion as a subject in schools, like maths or geography. It’s largely been dissociated from feelings and even belief. This is why in the Western nominally Christian world we are uneasy when people believe deeply in religion. It seems to us like a sort of throwback to more ignorant times.


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Religion is still strong in the rest of the world, though it does appear to be waning in influence. From our less religious point of view, the rabid followers of Islam seem insane and wrong, and it is hard for us to understand them at all. More moderate Muslims probably think that the so-called “radicals” are wrong, and are horrified by their actions, just as Westerners who are nominally Christian are horrified by the actions of the Klu Klux Klan or other extreme Christian cults.

Religions can and do exist side by side in many societies, but it is an odd situation. So long as people keep their views to themselves and practice their religion discreetly people get along. But if someone believes that their religion is the only true religion and that others are going to burn in hell or whatever, then that person would consider themselves to be justified in trying to save the others from themselves, by force if necessary. Or maybe that person believes that their deity requires them to force others to believe, and the same applies.


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Maybe this is not the end of the story. Science is an explanation of the world, observation based. It is possible, though unlikely in my view, that this world view is as misguided as religion is misguided. Maybe our descendants may look on science as we look on religion, as necessary, but ultimately wrong headed view of life.

Science and Religion are portrayed to be in ha...
Science and Religion are portrayed to be in harmony in the Tiffany window Education (1890). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

Lemmings

English: Traffic Jam in Delhi Français : Un em...
English: Traffic Jam in Delhi Français : Un embouteillage à Delhi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Australia there have been traffic jams up to 28 kilometres long. In New Zealand the end of the holiday period is likely to create “traffic hell“. Meanwhile, those of us who have stayed at home, have found the roads to be eerily empty.

Why do people rush away at Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere? Of course, it is our summer, and getting away from home for a few days is always attractive, but it is evident that if thousands of people try to travel the same roads at the same time there will be congestion.


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I call those who join the exodus and arrival progressions lemmings. This is of course unfair to both the furry creatures and to the humans. Lemmings don’t really commit mass suicide, and the humans, in many cases, don’t have a lot of choice of travel time.

In the Garfield cartoon, Garfield meets a mouse who is half lemming. Garfield asks the mouse what a lemming is. The mouse replies “A gerbil with suicidal tendencies”. (This cartoon may be online, but I’ve been unable to find it. The Garfield strip for my birthday is quite funny, though.)

In our bigger cities, there will always be traffic problems, because of the sheer number of people that need access to the CBDs and who have to come, in the main from dormitory suburbs. If the roads were sufficient to carry all the traffic it is likely that there would be little room for the CBD itself.

The land of the automobile, the USA, has probably reached the best compromise between the needs of the car and the needs of those who live and work in the centres of cities. Special roads carry cars from the outskirts to the centres of the cities where special buildings have been built to house the cars during the day while the owners are working and shopping. Other special roads take traffic past the city centres and on to other cities. Other countries have copied or extended this model.

Nighttime view of Downtown Los Angeles and the...
Nighttime view of Downtown Los Angeles and the Hollywood Freeway, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Humans often don’t have much choice of when they travel, given that they have to work and working days around holidays are pretty much fixed. Some places even shut down on certain days to avoid having to staff offices when few people will be around.

In the Southern Hemisphere Christmas falls in summer, so the natural desire is to go away from home at this time of the year, on a holiday or, as they say in the USA, on a vacation. So it is unfair, really, to call them lemmings. They don’t have a lot of choice.

English: Bank Holiday Monday traffic approachi...
English: Bank Holiday Monday traffic approaching Horncastle This queue stretched from the town centre beyond the speed limit signs. Oh joy! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The lemmings are unfairly tagged with the appellation of suicidal maniacs. The story goes that periodically the lemmings migrate usually as the result of population pressures. Geographical features have changed over the millennia and consequently the lemmings fall over cliffs (which didn’t feature in the ancestral environment) or drown in rivers and fjords which have widened since their ancestors swam them.

Illustration of swan-necked flask experiment u...
Illustration of swan-necked flask experiment used by Louis Pasteur to test the hypothesis of spontaneous generation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These theories were used to “explain” why numbers of lemmings are found dead at some times and dead lemmings are rare at other times. The Wikipedia article on the animals has some interesting theories on issue, such as the spontaneous generation of the animals in mid air resulting in their demise on hitting the ground.

While we may laugh at these theories, we must remember that in 1530s science was nowhere nearly as sophisticated as today. In 500 years time, it may be that our scientific knowledge may look just as silly.


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I believe that people don’t have to all travel at the same time. Sure the dates are constrained and working requirements also constrain the dates that people can travel, but usually there is some leeway. People could travel a day earlier or a day later. Most employers are more than happy to accommodate such slight variations. If it is impossible for an employee to vary travel dates then a change of travel times would do the trick.

Frequently the call is for the roads to be widened or, as the euphemism has it, improved. This solution may well work in a country like the USA which has a large population which is concentrated in cities with little population in between, but is problematic in smaller countries. In New Zealand, not only are the main centres much smaller, but the population is a lot more dispersed than in the USA.

English: Traffic problems are not new.. Did bo...
English: Traffic problems are not new.. Did both sides have separate car parks? Did Proud Edward go home to think again about the terrible state of London’s traffic congestion. Outside the car/lorry park. A reenactment? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When these factors are considered, it may not make sense to continue to continue to build wider highways in smaller countries. A six lane highway that may be heavily used four times a year doesn’t make economic sense. A four lane highway that is heavily used much of the time does make sense.

English: View of Moscow's MKAD / highway ring ...
English: View of Moscow’s MKAD / highway ring Deutsch: Blick auf den Moskauer Autobahnring MKAD (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I frequently hear people call for “improvement” of roads that I regularly travel with few hold ups and issues. This is because I travel at times which are called “off peak”. People travel to work at the same times every day, and consequently you can travel easily in the opposite direction to the majority and wonder if they could not slightly change their schedules to avoid the hold ups, and indeed some people do do so.

English: Tilehurst Road This is normally chock...
English: Tilehurst Road This is normally chocker with traffic in the morning peak period. After a night of steady snow, on the Friday before Christmas, many people had decided to stay at home. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people travel in to work very early (and leave early too, of course). Some people “work from home”. This latter can be a euphemism for goofing off of course, but most people who work from home treat this option seriously and with the state that the art of technology has reached, people can usefully contribute from home.

There is an example of the pitfalls of merely “improving” roads near where I live. When I came to this city I recall sitting in traffic on a four lane (two each way) highway into the centre of the city. Subsequently a motorway was built into the city and the four lane highway is relatively lightly used. (The road I refer to is on the left of this picture).

On the right State Highway 1 (SH1) Wellington ...
On the right State Highway 1 (SH1) Wellington motorway, and in the centre the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT) rail lines heading for Porirua and the Wairarapa Line rail lines heading for the Hutt Valley : from left Wairarapa up, NIMT up, NIMT down, Wairarapa down. Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously in this case the motorway was not considered at the time that the four lane highway was built, but it does demonstrate that often the most obvious solution can often be less than efficient over the longer term.

English: Road Works on the A43. The road is re...
English: Road Works on the A43. The road is reduced to one lane for a section and the temporary traffic light has turned red (seen in the distance). Traffic is beginning to emerge from the other direction. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)