Tuesday, December 22, 2009

politicians, souls and fighting words

Canto: Today, we're going to start in on some general, speculative chit-chat about religion, and see where it leads us...
Jacinta: Well I want to start off by getting strident, and expressing my disappointment and disgust at the continuous attempts to inject religion into politics in this country. We now have two 'dyed in the wool faith-heads' leading our two main political parties, and it's clear that their religiosity is affecting law-making and decision-making, even if only in a few marginal areas.
Canto: Not marginal to everyone of course, if you're talking, say, of gay marriage.
Jacinta: Think of political areas, or areas of social policy, where religion tends to rear its ugly head.
Canto: Easy. Hatches matches and dispatches, which covers just about everything.
Jacinta: Yes, births deaths and marriages. And what ties them all together? The religious notion of the 'sacred'.
Canto: Which always seems to pertain only to us humans. 'Every sperm is sacred', the satirical song goes, but only every human sperm. Only human abortion is an affront to Fred - something which is not sufficiently picked up on.
Jacinta: Which raises the question - why is only human life sacred? Why aren't we worried about aborted chimp foetuses? And does sacredness only belong to homo sapiens? What about homo erectus?
Canto: Augustine of Hippo proved, at least to his own apparent satisfaction, that humans had souls - which was what made them so sacred. His argument was in fact remarkably similar to that of Descartes more than a thousand years later. Unfortunately neither of them brought their great insight to bear on homo erectus, homo neanderthalensis, Australopithecus afarensis or Ardipithecus ramidus. Is it possible to be semi-sacred, or semi-demi-sacred? Is the soul digital? Can it be broken up, or is it of whole cloth designed to fit each god-worthy being? Of course the new green Christians or green theologians will want to claim all life as sacred, but does that also include microbial life?
Jacinta: Oh they'll argue that some life is more sacred than others, and deny the self-serving nature of the argument. But I was talking about public figures, political figures, and their religious agendas.
Canto: Well, so was I, but I don't think we need worry too much, we have the best arguments.
Jacinta: But what does that matter when they have all the political power? We know that the refusal to allow gay marriage is a triumph of religio-political power over reason, but what can we do about it?
Canto: Uhh, we can go back to the future, I mean the seventies, and say that marriage is an outmoded bourgeois institution we're all better off without?
Jacinta: Yeah, funny how nobody says that anymore. The thing is, homosexual couples aren't even allowed the right to a civil marriage ceremony, are they?
Canto: Dunno, presumably they can go in for all the ceremony they want, it just won't be recognized by the state. Though the state will give them all the legal entitlements of a married couple, except the entitlement to legally call themselves 'married'.
Jacinta: Which just makes it all the more insidious.
Canto: Do you think this is really a religious scruple, or just a traditionalist one?
Jacinta: I think the established churches like to flex what little muscle they have left from time to time, so I think, yes, it's organised religions working frantically behind the scenes, doing their little bit to cause a bit of misery where they can. I mean, I haven't investigated the campaigns of the pressure groups that would've had the ear of our Jesus-loving PM, but it's highly likely that such campaigns existed and were successful. It was a small, pathetic, petty victory, but a victory nonetheless.
Canto: Fini la rigolade! We shall fight them in the pubs, and in the pulpits, we shall drive them from our schools and our armies, we shall outshine their feeble firmaments with our fourteen billion year old universe of scintillating supernovae, we shall tell true tales of evolving and adapting forces, threading their way forward through a world of struggle and death, which will knock their creation stories and original sins and sacred yearnings into a midden of putrescent puerilities...
Jacinta: Eh, Can my boy, time for a cup of tea and a lie down.

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