233 – The Big Bang Theory

P-p-p-pick up a pontiff!

WARNING: If you are of a religious bent, you might want to look away now and, I don’t know, watch Song of Praises. Is there a Muslim version of Songs of Praise? Muezzins & Minarets? Or is that a role-playing game?

Anyway,  even though you should probably hear what I’m about to say you’re only going to end up wishing you’d heard Aled Jones singing instead so yeah, it’s probably best if you didn’t keep reading.

I hate taking pot shots at religious folk. You’d think this was because it’s too easy – like shooting loaves and fish in a barrel – but no.

I hate it because most of the time the people taking offense don’t deserve to be offended; it’s the things they believe in I think are ridiculous, not the people who believe them. Sure, it is ridiculous to believe in those things but it’s not their fault they believe in them. They were born to parents who believed silly things, whose parents believed silly things before them and passed them down from generation to generation in the manner of that boring ‘and Phares begat Esrom and Esrom begat Aram’ bit after Noah’s Ark, where all the world’s civilisation grew out of a handful of people in some epic deity-sanctioned act of incest.

“Father forgive them; for they know not what they do” I would say, as I’m just as guilty and can’t honestly deny there aren’t certain of my parents’ traits I haven’t picked up from them. I can’t help blessing people when they sneeze or knocking on wood for good luck even though it’s absurd to do either. It’s not quite the same as people who actually believe prayer does some good but if they think it helps, I’m not going to stand in their way; that being said, I don’t want to hear about it at the lowest points in my life. I’d feel insulted if I had a dying child and was told what boils down to “I’ll have a word with my imaginary friend to see if he can do something about it” but they’re only trying to help, and if it works for them that’s between them and their imaginary friend.

Be in no doubt: this is how I view religion. It’s applicable to all manner of new age faiths as well: all that rot about higher powers is tantamount to your imaginary friend wearing a slightly different hat. I hate it when people tell me they believe in ghosts and spirits and deities because “There has to be something more to life.” No there doesn’t – or, being perfectly truthful, there’s plenty more to life that you can see people doing about you. Being an Arctic truck driver’s something more to life. Skydiving and sewing are two other paths through life’s grand canyon. All these things are as outré to my life as something that cannot be seen or felt or known in any way, yet they’re real because I can see and touch them and partake in them if I want. Aren’t these things good enough? Must we pine for an indefinable more and live as if we’re the dream of kid who forgot to clean his toys away before bedtime?

Seeing leaves turning gold and sycamore seeds – spinning jennies – falling from their branches: I don’t need to pin that behaviour on God or Gaia or some supernatural force any more than I need fireworks going off around them as if the turning of the season wasn’t wondrous enough. For that matter I don’t need to understand the science behind why things happen as some people do; but then, science doesn’t need to be believed in: science simply is.

This is a familiar rant to those long term readers who persist in punishing their brains with my blog posts (for which I thank you with a written approximation of a blown kiss: Mwah). Usually I’m happy letting sleeping gods lie; if other folks want to believe wacky nonsense, so long as they don’t wave it in my direction I say live and let live. I see religious debate as being like the old Star Wars versus Star Trek debate: personally, I’m a Babylon 5 man, but I don’t mind people dressing as wookies or writing Kirk/Spock slash fiction so long as none of them record over War Without End with episodes of Voyager or Droids.

This morning I saw a provocative picture that had on one side a collage of evidence supporting the theory of evolution, while on other was the evidence against it: a picture of the Bible and a single line quoted from it. Beneath the picture in the comment section were posts from self-pitying Christians complaining that they were being picked on – again – and that the people scoffing were at best smug bullies and at worst, hipsters.

Hipsters. They called evolutionists hipsters. Of course you realise, this means war.

For a start, evolutionists? No such thing. I no more believe in evolution than I believe leaves turn gold in autumn because of their lack of chlorophyll compared with in summer months, or that the desk my keyboard rests upon exists. These things don’t need to be believed in; like science, they just are. You can believe God created man from dirt and magic breath and I can believe the autumn goblin paints leaves golden, but we’re both believing shit that doesn’t exist while pretending it negates processes that do.

Being a reasonable chap who refuses to believe the myriad religious people across the planet are all abject idiots, I’m sure most of them actually see their god of choice a sort of religious Polyfilla plugging the gaps in our knowledge about how we came to be. The ascent of man and the creation of the universe is a long and arduous process not easily understood, and those who have insight into these things – and not a one of them would say they understood everything completely, as unlike certain people I could mention they’re not content to leave all matters ineffable – have had so much trouble conveying the complexities of everything to people bamboozled by the plot of the Bourne Trilogy that they’ve given us a single simple phrase that sums up creation without offering any insight into it whatsoever: the Big Bang Theory.

I can’t pretend to understand the Big Bang Theory, but I get the gist of it. Sadly, most people when confronted with a creation story as simple as the Big Bang only ever get the gist of it and accordingly think that’s all there is to know. In their eyes there was nothing and then BANG! there was everything, but just as streamers aren’t magically created by party poppers the actual theory is a little more complicated than that. Sadly we’re used to pat answers to complicated questions, as evidenced by all the people who still believe God made the universe without ever wondering how he did so, and just who this God chap is anyway. If I was one of them – and a long time ago, I was – I’d be wondering where God went, where he’d lived, and where are all the other Gods were. I mean, that girl Sally in class lives just down the close, and my mate Matthew lives in the road above us, and people live in all these houses along the street and even the grown-ups have mummies and daddies and granddads and aunts, but in the Bible God’s aunt doesn’t get so much as a single mention.

“Ah, but God doesn’t need an aunt,” people say, talking in the same voice laypeople use when saying “Ah, Einstein – E=mc2,” as if uttering what looks like a guitar chord carries any greater meaning to them beyond an alphanumeric jumble. That’s one of the things about Greek mythology that attracted me away from my own boring religion so many years ago; you can trace the lineage of the Greek pantheon in the same way you can’t with Christianity. Where Zeus has parents and a wife and kids, the Judeo-Christian God is his own son and also, somehow, a ghost. There are no marriages for God and no fights over the Christmas dinner table. Christmas must be a dull affair in heaven, given people are forbidden from putting up trees or dressing as Santa, and Jesus celebrates his birthday on the same day meaning he only gets half the amount of presents.

I resent these people whining about the picture and taking it as a personal attack on their faith, because the Polyfilla god should only plaster spirituality over things we don’t know rather than pasting superstition onto things we’ve evidence are true. Once, people probably did believe in autumn goblins, but then botanists discovered chloroplasts (which, please note, is not the same things as inventing chloroplasts; I know some people get confused when scientists say they’ve discovered something) and now you’d have to be a loony to think otherwise.

The best god is the one that doesn’t interfere with the running of the universe in any way. It’s like the afterlife: lots of people believe in one despite not being able prove it exists. We’re a self-important race who hope there’s some way of persisting after our lives end, because knowing there’s a point at which we’ll never think anything again is only comfort to the most miserable and nihilistic among us. It’s nice thinking we’ll be rewarded for a job well done, and that those criminals who’ve trespassed against us will get their comeuppance in an afterlife. It is, alas, hogwash. Luckily for you I’ve no way of proving it’s hogwash, as the whole afterlife story takes place in a realm that only exists beyond human consciousness.  Unfortunately for you, the burden of proof that it exists is upon you, not me.

But, being reasonable, so long as you don’t tell me my poor dead son is ‘in a better place now’ we can live peaceably and I won’t be forced to smash your fucking lights in.

I’d hope that most people of faith realise their faiths are a little wonky, and that they’re not at all based upon facts that exist in the everyday world – we wouldn’t call it ‘faith’ if they were. I suppose it’s possible that preponderance to faith is the result of a chemical imbalance in the same way as, say, depression. I don’t like myself very much (“We don’t like you either!” Oh, you guys) and nothing anyone says will change my mind. Maybe when people say they feel the love of God there’s actually some neuron misfiring in their head, that all religion is the product of a (mostly) benign mental illness. Where some people hear voices telling them to KILL ALL THE PENGUINS others hear God telling them to calm down, relax,, the penguins are our friends, and before you know it there’s a new Psalm written and a couple thousand years later people attend Sunday service at the Church of St. Percy.

I’ve never a religious experience – unless you count the times when I was a kid, huddled in the school toilets, too scared to leave and I’d rub my eyes really hard to make after-image ‘angels’ appear to comfort me, which I don’t. Maybe my brain isn’t predisposed to religious experiences, and when I listen to a banging Sasha set I’ll hear only great music and not proof that God is a DJ.

If you do feel the love of God when you’re doing something you like, hey, bully for you! But don’t you dare say when pointing at scientific fact that we’re picking on you.

Because you Christians (and for Christians I’m talking about the United States in particular; depending on where you live there might be a different top-dog religion) have so much god-damned privilege you don’t get to feel sorry for yourselves. I’m a far from militant atheist. For the most part I don’t want to be a part of the new wave of atheism, which deifies Richard Dawkins and revels in spite as much as it does reason. I’m not proud to be an atheist, because atheism is the innate state of this world: we’re all born as atheists and it’s not until we’re indoctrinated with our parents’ religious beliefs that we swing one way or another. There are a thousand different creation myths but only one fact, and scientists curious about the workings of the universe will always find that fact no matter the mythologies that doubt them.

Maybe there are a lot of bandwagon-hoppers treating lack of faith as a rebellious new religion, and maybe a lot of them are spiteful idiots, but hell, there are a lot fewer of us than there are of you, and you guys hold all the power.

I do not believe in a God. I’m trying to move in a country where not believing is generally frowned upon. At the interview deciding whether or not I get to do this I’ve been advised not to mention that I am, in fact, an atheist. The preferred answer I should give is “Well, I was raised C of E but these days I’m not particularly religious” presumably because it shows I’m not entirely godless and that, given my good Christian upbringing, there’s still hope for my eternal soul.

It’s humiliating. I’m not an atheist activist but I’m staunch in my lack of belief. I live in the world, not in a fantasy arena where everything’s a test to see if I proceed to Heaven or not. I believe in facts and figures, not imaginary friends; in science, not symbols, and I have to conceal this because you whinging religious types might be petty enough to bar me access to the country in which I wish to live. I have to steer clear of my political affiliation which is fine, given how subjective that is, and I guess given that I’m married my sexual preference isn’t going to come up – but imagine if it did. Imagine if I had to hide the gender of my partner of choice because I might have a heterophobe or homophobe deny me a VISA. I’d hope this wouldn’t happen and that anyone who did let sexuality determine their decision would be dismissed as the scum they were, but religion’s a different matter. The person determining my fate might very well be given carte blanche to reject me as I have rejected their God.

And based on an Internet meme about evolution you’re complaining people are picking on you?

I’m generally very tolerant of people’s religious beliefs but right now I’m fed up of idiots upset that I and people like me aren’t respecting their religion as we should. You’re afforded all the privilege in the world yet somehow that isn’t good enough for you. You’re like people bemoaning there are too many blacks, gays and women these days, and when is somebody going to stand up for the straight white male? Having faith doesn’t make you special, it certainly doesn’t mean you command respect, and if that hurts your feelings then boo-hoo, let me cry you a flood of Biblical proportion. Your religion means less to me than your taste in music and by golly, I’m judging you based on that, too.

I used to be more lenient; frankly I’m sick of this. Religion isn’t a willy to whip out and wave every time you get excited and if you insist on treating it as such then I reserve the right to laugh at how small it is. You spun sugar into candyfloss, denied the sugar ever existed and now bitch when someone waves a bag of Tate & Lyle in your face. You turned the Big Bang into a thousand different fairy tales and confused your storybook for The Way Things Work.

You want to believe? Please, feel free. But you’ve believed for thousands of years, risen to great power and amassed great fortunes. There aren’t atheist clubhouses in every city, town and village the world over. There is no Atheist Channel from which atheist leaders in atheist ranches milk gullible viewers of their cash. This is a scientist’s world and you’ve doodled in crayon over it for quite long enough. We haven’t taken your pencils yet you’re still bawling, petulant as we erase your imaginary friend from our book of creation.

Do the Christian thing: smile, nod and get on with your life. Reject evolution if you will, but don’t hold it up as an example that we’re keeping you from riches you deserve. Maybe we can be a nasty sometimes but remember, we believe in evolution. Unlike religious faith – immutable, unshakable – we know we evolved and will continue to do so.

How can this be? With the complex nature of everything that was and will be, we’ll never stop searching, never stop puzzling, never stop expanding on our quest for the ultimate answer. Though it might take generations of refinement and discovery one day we’ll find it, for we are science and we are the universe.

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