An abbey is the buildings where the monks or nuns live. They are very draughty (not just because of the ale) but that might be because Henry the Eighth had the idea of nicking all their immense wealth they’d accrued from all the poor folk and knocking the walls down. Not a bad idea really. Those ruins look quite nice and still attract in a lot of tourism.
Henry was obviously very forward thinking.
The great Patriarch of the whole Abrahamic religions: judaism, christianity and islam. So the guy’s got a lot to answer for. Without him we might have made a hell of a lot of progress and all be a lot less hung up and much more cheerful. We’d also have a lot less misogyny and better sex lives.
Abraham championed the monotheistic tradition (if you don’t count the christian god as three). This was unusual for the times. There was a lot of pantheism and multiple gods about at the time.
I don’t know which is better.
Abraham was described as having lived to 175 years of age and was another of those people (all men) to whom the super pixie spoke in a vision. Seemingly he was given his new name and told all about the future troubles that were coming.
Abraham had loads of kids, and we know how trying kids can be at times, but that does not justify him dragging Isaac up a mountain and scaring the wits out of him as he built an altar and prepared to slaughter Isaac with his great sharp knife. Fortunately the fairy was only kidding and testing Abraham out and at the last moment, as the knife was poised over his terrified, trussed up son, the superpixie told him it was all a joke. Luckily for Abraham they did not have Social Services back then and, as there were no schools, Isaac had nobody to confide in.
There are other things that seem a bit odd: Abraham, like many of the great patriarchs, lived to a ripe old age. Sarah, his wife, supposedly had kids when she was close to a hundred.
How many of these secret visions are we supposed to take on trust? If the pixie has something to say to us why doesn’t he just come out and say it? Why sneak about in caves, mountain tops and wildernesses speaking to these old guys in private? Why all the burning bushes and tablets of stone?
Don’t you think it’s a little strange that the fairy was sorting all this out back then but doesn’t do it now? Why doesn’t the pixie appear in the superbowl or Man United cup final to make an announcement?
Oh well. So Abraham, an unschooled, nomadic Arab, set the whole thing in motion.
These are the people who are not strong enough to stand on their own. They are easily led. An acolyte is someone who lights the candles or participates in the services – an active follower of a religion. They like obeying rules and doing what they are told. Usually lacking in imagination or critical analysis they take everything at face value. If it’s written down and Abraham says it happened it must be true.
All despots love acolytes. They are very handy.
Adam & Eve
According to the mythology that is religion Adam was the first man. He was made by the great supernatural, all knowing, eternal fairy, out of dust.
Eve was an after-thought and was made out of Adam’s rib when the fairy realised that Adam might be lonely. The fairy hadn’t thought it all through to start with, had he? So much for all-knowing.
The pair of his new creations were plonked in a perfect garden and told not to eat the fruit of knowledge. Of course, the fairy had previously created all manner of plants and animals (equipped with sex organs and mating rituals) for Adam and Eve to eat and play about with.
Eve was tricked by a serpent (what was that serpent’s function?) into eating the fruit and persuaded Adam to eat it, too (henceforth, used as justification for reviling all women as evil temptresses who must be hidden away in shapeless gowns). They lost their innocence and were kicked out of the garden by god.
So what can we learn from this?
- This is a classic creation myth. Every culture has one. You can imagine them sitting round camp-fires telling their stories. Primitive people were extremely ignorant but just as intelligent as us. They tried to come up with plausible stories that fitted in with their limited understanding. Story telling was an art. It didn’t have to make sense. It just had to sound good and capture the audience. Naked people, innocence, sex, serpents and beautiful gardens with running water and fruit – what could be more appealing to nomadic desert folk. Very dramatic.
- This myth does not make any sense. Dust, ribs and talking serpents, magical forbidden trees, wondrous gardens and a god who doesn’t seem to like sex and is pretty harsh about it. It is a creation myth that had its roots in pre-jewish culture.
- The god described, who was meant to know everything and know what was to come, seems to have been remarkably amiss. Why put the tree there in the first place? Why punish Adam and Eve when he knew what was going to happen? It’s the usual muddled nonsense. But makes for good drama when told around the campfire, with the flickering flames and the twinkling desert stars and everyone asking the eternal questions – what is this all about? Where did we come from?
- The basis of misogyny is laid down here in this myth. Eve has a very subsidiary role. She was made out of Adam’s rib. That’s hardly equality. She is also blamed for man’s fall from grace; she tricked Adam into eating the fruit and thus all women are to be forever blamed. That sounds fair doesn’t it? But that fits in with the prevailing misogynistic culture of nomadic Arab society where women were subservient and a commodity to be bartered.
It is quite incredible how far-reaching a primitive creation myth can be. The misogyny of those primitive pre-Abrahamic cultures resounds down the ages. It contributes to the whole disgusting business of female genital mutilation and whole cultures putting their women in sacks and treating them like dogs.
It’s the same as before life. Somehow the universe got on without me for 13.77 billion years, give or take a minute or so. I’m sure that it will manage without me for a few billion more.
It will be a great shame not to be able to open my eyes on to all this awesome beauty.
Best appreciate it while we can. It only lasts a short while and then it’s gone.
Nothing gold can last!
So, I will not be meeting up with my dead friends and relatives. I will not be coming back as an earwig. I will not have beautiful handmaidens dropping grapes in my mouth by the side of nice cool fountains. I will not be singing in any ethereal choirs.
The idea of an after-life was made up by people long ago because they couldn’t imagine themselves not existing anymore.
I can. But then I can’t. As a conscious human being I find it quite hard to believe that this life is all pointless, that it is an exceedingly wonderful accident of chemistry, and that one day soon I will cease to exist. Surely I’m much too important for that to be the case?
Instead of waking up with a bevy of virgins my brain will cease firing electricity down neurones. My consciousness will dissolve. I will be unaware as the bacteria and worms dissolve my flesh. I won’t care at all.
There will be no tunnels of light, choirs of angels, gates and cherubs, no men in long robes. No ice cream. No music. No sex (no wonder puritans like the idea).
I will no longer be aware of anything. Nothing will exist for me. The universe will slowly run down due to natural entropy and I won’t be around to see it. That’s a shame.
No amount of wishful thinking will make it any different. We’d best grow up and get on with it.
There is no wondrous purpose or anthropomorphised vision of paradise and heaven; we die.
After life there is merely rotting and oblivion.
But wasn’t all that stuff about eternal ecstasy (or grotesque torture for the bad guys), meeting up with loved ones and living forever so reassuring and great. Shame that the bad guys took it over and used it as a power tool to get people to conform and put up with lousy conditions (they’ll be pie and ice-cream in the sky), to fight and blow themselves up in the certain knowledge of eternal life – oh, and no hanky panky (except for them) got it?
Age of Enlightenment/Age of Reason
The Death of Theocracy.
A lot was at stake and far fewer were burnt at stake.
This is simply the most important thing that has ever happened. It began as a philosophical movement in the mid eighteenth century, gathered pace and has changed the whole cultural landscape of the Western World for the better.
The premise for the Age of Reason/Enlightenment was to challenge ideas based on tradition or religion and move to a system based on reason and scientific method. This inevitably took religion out of controlling people and introduced the present secular states where tyrants, despots and conmen were free to either directly set up rigged systems or pervert democracy in order to gain power.
A great improvement. Well, at least people were no longer publically beheaded or buried up to their shoulders and pelted with rocks for blasphemy.
People could at last ask to see photographic evidence of tablets being passed down, burning bushes or audio recordings of conversations with supernatural forces in caves or up on mountain tops without fear of torture.
As soon as religion was taken out of the equation we experienced rapid progress. Science ruled. In contrast those cultures still ruled by religious superstition continued to stagnate.
I do not make the case that everything is hunky-dory. That is far from the case. In many ways the Age of Enlightenment heralded all sorts of moral and social problems that we are still battling to address today. It has unleashed a chaotic state. This needs addressing. Religion gave people structure and purpose even if that was madness and stupidity. Freedom from religion has left many people directionless and aimless with only hedonism to fall back on. I’ve nothing against hedonism but ultimately it is vacuous. What is necessary is for the State to provide purpose and impetus before the fanatics of religion rise up to fill that hole. Nature and creativity are good for that.
Without religion there is still plenty to marvel and wonder at. Life can be full and satisfying.
Politicians have so far not been particularly inspiring in this direction. They had better get their act together. The alternative could be religious oppression and back to the scourge of misogynistic conservatism stifling thought and expression – the thought of that is dire.
However the writers, artists, poets, dancers, musicians and other creative folk have been doing a great job in making life worthwhile and filling the hole religion used to occupy. Long may they continue!