28 November 2005
I've just been listening to Robert Winston on Start The Week (BBC Radio 4) blathering on about 'spirituality' and 'soul' and 'the transcendental' (as if these are meaningful terms) in advertising his new series The Story of God on BBC1 TV beginning on 4th December. At one point he seems to take a Sea of Faith type of position, that 'God' means very different things to different people, and its all in the mind, and that polytheism is just as good as monotheism. Then he mentions that some people are more susceptible to religiosity than others due to the actions of the serotonin 'reward' system in their brains, which is a materalist position. Then he cites the 'dark matter' problem as being a reason for physicists to get religion, when it's either just a form of matter that we cannot detect or an error in our understanding of gravitation.
It seems to me that an explanation for a lot of religion is that it is made up of erroneous theories that people have guessed at for explaining natural phenomena, and just refuse to give up despite all evidence to the contrary. They want to continue believing in these things for emotional reasons of wish-fulfilment. It would be nice if people we love didn't really die but somehow lived on. It would be nice if injustices didn't really happen, but someone up there 'made it all right' in the end. It would be nice if there was a benevolent plan behind the randomness and struggle for survival. And so on.
At least Grayson Perry on the same programme talked a bit more sense. That it is difficult to be fundamentalist about compromise or about nonbelief.
Some humanists have tried to adopt the term 'spiritual' to try to give it a humanist slant. In fact the way many people use it it just means 'being human' or having humanity or empathy. But the trouble is that it has too many other associations -- with spirits, ghosts, seances and so on. Have you met any person whom you could truly describe as 'spiritual' as opposed to 'humane', or 'artistic' or 'feeling' and so on? It seems to me to be a term used by the religious to distinguish themselves as somehow better than the rest of humanity, a form of hypocrisy.
He fails even to consider that there might be no "Jesus of History". Contemporary chroniclers do not say anything about any such person.
He himself tells the story of how "Saint Helena", the mother of Emperor Constantine, "discovered" three crosses at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and identified one as "the true cross" by claiming to have used it to raise a corpse from the dead!
What more obvious story of the cynical setting up of a myth?