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If you could go back in time, where would you go (and why) #Backtothefutureday @History_hit

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This post is inspired by the following #backtothefutureday – what do you mean you haven’t seen Back to the Future? That pinnacle off 1980s film making – by Dan Snow on Twitter (@History_hit):

DanSnow

As soon as I read it, I knew exactly the places and times that I would go. Before I take you on a short tour of the history that I would visit, a quick note on time travel.

A lot of the responses Dan got were along the lines of: ‘I’d warn voters about the oil price crash following the Scottish Independence Referendum’; ‘I’d prevent the Great Wars’ (always amuses me describing them as ‘Great’, my Grandad fought in the Second and it wasn’t that great); ‘I’d kill Pol Pot.’ All tempting prospects, I will grant you, I’ve lost track of the number of times my wife and I have thought ‘If we could go back in time, get to the hospital sooner, would Tristan be with us today?’ Recent theories in theoretical physics have something to say about this.

In the Standard Model of Physics, Time Travel is allowed, at least in theory, if you create enough gravity you can force SpaceTime to bend back on itself and travel backwards in time along a Closed Time Curve (CTC), but inevitably you are going to run a high risk of creating paradoxes: banging your own Mum, killing your Dad etc these paradoxes, it is theorized, would lead to unfortunate things like the unmaking of the very universe, so not cool. For this reason it has always been suggested that Time Travel will always be impossible, even if technically possible. Stephen Hawkings famously threw a welcome party for time travellers on June 28, 2009, no one attended.

Last year, University of Queensland physicist Tim Ralph and PHD Student Martin Ringbauer proposed a new theory, that they partially tested suggesting that – as much as I understand it – Time has a built in anti-paradox mechanism born of Quantum Mechanics meaning you could go back in time, irrevocably change the past but return to the present to find nothing has changed. Any changes that you made, any paradoxes you create, may or may not endure in the multiverse but the present you will return to is the present you left. So there’s no killing Hitler (or your Dad), no banging your Mum to create the paradox of fathering yourself and, closer to home for me, no way to save Tristan’s life.

Kinda cool, huh? If you want to read more on that, here’s some further reading:

Nature: Communication – Experimentations in Closed Time Link Curves
Huffpo: New Time Travel Simulation May Resolve ‘Grandfather Paradox’

Anyway that’s not at all what this post is about, I just find it interesting. Here is, in Chronological order, the points of history that I would visit and why:

The Mystery of Potbelly Hill

In my earliest visit, I would take our time machine to the Southeastern Anatolia Region Turkey and the
rough period of 9130 BCE (Pre-pottery Neolithic A). On a mountain ridge rising out of a flat valley a group of Hunter-Gatherers are quarrying stone, huge quantities of stone. Why they are quarrying stone, what they used to quarry and why they began are not clear to us in 2015, but these hunter-gatherers will soon be using this stone to build a series of 20 stone circles consisting of at least 200 megaliths. I will drop in on these pioneers at 100 year intervals and watch the site become the first of religious sanctuary on the planet with successive generations continuing to build upon this site for 1000 years, until it is abandoned quite suddenly.

12 000 years after my first visit, the remains of this once mighty site will be uncovered by Klaus Schmidt and given the name Göbekli Tepe (Potbelly Hill). Since its discovery, the site has totally rewritten our understandings of when humanity moved from a more primitive hunter-gatherer existence towards society in a form that we can understand today. Excavations continue at the site and create far more questions than we have answers about its builders and the purpose of their building. You can read more about Göbekli Tepe here.

A meeting with the rubber people

Having left Turkey and the mysterious ruins of Göbekli Tepe, now buried by the very people who built and inhabited it for 1000 years, I would take our time machine to Central Mexico and the states that are now called Veracruz and Tabasco. Here, we find another culture closely related to the early hunter-gatherers that first established themselves in the region around 5000 BCE. We do not know what they called themselves but history has named them The Olmec, meaning Rubber People.

Often referred to as the mother culture of Pre-Columbian Central American peoples, everything you probably think came from the Maya – the concept of Zero; the Mesoamerican writing system; the Mesoamerican Ball Game; the Long Count Calendar (of 2012 conspiracy theory fame); and even the very building of pyramids – all originated with The Olmec.

It’s the pyramids that I’ve brought our time machine here to see, you see they simply don’t exist anymore, with the notable exception of La Venta in Tabasco. In the early 20th Century, oil was found in both states and our modern hunger for black gold would lead to the destruction of priceless archaeology and forever rob us of a more complete understanding of Olmec Culture.

I would walk the paths betweeen the first pyramids ever to be built in Central and South America and marvel at some of the finest artisans the world has ever known work their wares in precious Jades, Amethysts and Obsidians; take in a match of their insanely violent ballgame in one of the first stadia ever built for sport and follow them as drought and environmental change would force them to move from capital to capital abandoning their previous monuments, often ritually sacrifing the stone back to the earth in the process.

Finally, around 500 BCE, in the last days of the Olmec Culture, I would follow in the wake of their emissaries from the Olmec Heartland along their well trodden trade routes across Central and South America. Here I would bear witness as they continue to teach their advancements to the Maya, the Aztecs and cultures too numerous to name from Southern Mexico all the way through to the Brazilian Amazon.

Paying my respects to ‘Oriens’

Next for our travel through time, I would like to bring our time machine back to the UK and a Villa close to the Roman town of Mancetter about 1600 years ago. This one is different, closer to home, I’ve brought us here to pay my respects. We are here for the funeral of a Roman child.Couirtesy of Archaeology Warwickshire

A little girl, her name lost to history, embalmed using Frankincense and buried with the wealth of a noble lady. Laid to rest in a beautifully worked, lead-lined, coffin with jet bangles on her wrists beside the family villa where she had spent her short life. Her parents grieve beside her graveside, 1600 years separate us, their tears fall from my eyes. Their pain, is now my pain. Her name is Oriens.

I was there when Warwickshire County Council’s in-house Archaeology Team, Archaeology Warwickshire, opened the lead lining of her coffin for the first time in 1600 years. Filled with silt, all that remained of a child so loved: two jet bangles, a few teeth and some bone fragments, everything else lost to the acidic soil she was buried in. I remain very proud to have been involved in giving her the name Oriens and being able to help tell her story to the world.

I wonder if her parents would take some solace knowing that in 1600 years time their daughter would be remembered, that she would have a legacy stretching far beyond their own.

We won’t linger too long by the graveside, we have more to see…

Not all romance with Byron and the Shelleys in Switzerland and Italy

Next, I take our time machine to 1816 and the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. where we are going to hang out with one of my favourite poets, Lord Byron, and some very notable friends.

To say we are joining ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ Byron at an interesting time in his life would be an understatement and a half. Having been the darling of English literary scene since the publication of the first two parts of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in 1812, Byron’s excessive lifestyle had finally caught up with him.

In the previous 6 months, He left/fled England following the rather public breakdown of his personal life. His wife Annabella had quite openly left him, taking away their daughter and was filing for a formal separation on the grounds that Byron was a lunatic who was involved in an incestuous relationship with his half sister Augusta Leigh with whom he was obsessed and that he had the unfortunate propensity for sticking his cock in anything that moved…all largely true. This is not even mentioning the fact he once tried to buy a 12 year old girl for £500. All these things came to a head, with his life imploding and debtors beating a path to his door, Byron decided a change of scenery was in order.

It was only a few months into his stay at Lake Geneva that Byron would meet and befriend fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley – another one of my favorites – and Mary Godwin who would be soon to marry Shelley. At the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in June, Byron, the Shelley and Godwin with 2 companions were kept indoors across 3 whole days where they would entertain each other by reading out loud German ghost stories and composed their own. From this literary play, Mary Shelley would form the basis of her magnus opus, Frankenstein – A Modern Prometheus.

Byron rarely stopped still for long and I would follow him from Lake Geneva to Italy, where he would stay until 1823, fall in love with Armenian culture and write prolifically both poetry and none-fiction whilst having numerous affairs with married women in various cities across the country. I would be there when he founded the Liberal Newspaper with Leigh Hunt and Shelley and present at his debauched dinner parties before the dream ended with the death of Shelley in a boating accident in 1822. Two short years later Byron would also die.

This is one of my favorite Byron poems:

WHEN we two parted

In silence and tears,

Half broken-hearted

To sever for years,

Pale grew thy cheek and cold,

Colder thy kiss;

Truly that hour foretold

Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning

Sunk chill on my brow–

It felt like the warning

Of what I feel now.

Thy vows are all broken,

And light is thy fame:

I hear thy name spoken,

And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,

A knell to mine ear;

A shudder comes o’er me–

Why wert thou so dear?

They know not I knew thee,

Who knew thee too well:

Lond, long shall I rue thee,

Too deeply to tell.

I secret we met–

I silence I grieve,

That thy heart could forget,

Thy spirit deceive.

If I should meet thee

After long years,

How should I greet thee?

With silence and tears.

Sir Richard Francis Burton and the Hajj to Medina

From one legendary 19th Century shagger to another and now we take our time machine just a short jump forward to 1851 to join the company of one of my personal heroes: Sir Richard Francis Burton.

If there is ever want to feel like you haven’t perhaps done quite as much as you could with your life, take a look at what Sir Rich was known for: he was an explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat. He was known for his travels and explorations as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures. According to some, he spoke 29 European, Asian and African languages. Yep, I definitely need to spend less time on social media.

I would join Burton on his most celebrated expedition, completing the Hajj to Mecca and Medina. Although Burton had spent 7 years in India and possessed a highly evolved and intricate knowledge of Muslim culture, this journey was best described as ‘batshit crazy’ even for him. At the time, few Westerners had ever completed the journey largely because if you were caught attempting to do so, even if by some miracle you could convince your captors that you were a devout Muslim they would, in all likelihood, kill you. Burton was an avowed atheist and despite being attacked by bandits en route, managed to complete the Hajj (affording him the right to bear the title Hajji) using a variety of disguises that would not have seemed out of place in a Baldrick ‘cunning plan’.

It is often noted by his biographers that on return from his Hajj and on rejoining the British Army, Burton took the examination to be an Arab Linguist…and failed.

I can highly recommend reading more about Sir Richard Burton and the wiki page is a decent start: Sir Richard Francis Burton  it reads like someone who just got carried away making things up about themselves, only the vast majority of facts about his life are all 100% verified by contemporaries and if anything Burton was known for understating his achievements – presumably just to avoid all other humans feeling inferior.

So I hope you enjoyed my little jaunt through history.

What about you? Where would you go in history and why?

Remember: If you don’t like these thoughts, stick around, I have others…

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that #ff thang #2 He Who Licketh the Skip

6 Sep

I’ve never had to point a firearm at someone and make the decision to pull the trigger. I hope I never will. My Granddad did. It was a decision taken, not out of anger, or fear (though he was afraid) but from duty and the instinct to live. ‘Here be man’s most monstrous’ he’d write in margins. It was horror that he could not find words to express, at first. He awoke screaming for the rest of his life and never spoke of the war if he could avoid it. Granddad died before anyone knew what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was. My Granddad was a hero.

I’m posting this a bit earlier than Friday to meet the real (not one of the squidgier variety) deadline for this week’s Weekly Blog Club. It’s such a great initiative aimed at encouraging people (especially in public & 3rd Sector) to write. Each week, there are suggested topics for any writers who are struggling to come up with something to write about, one of last week’s topics was Hero’s and it reminded me I should post this one. Anyway, I highly recommend checking them out on Twitter and visiting the site, they always have a lot of great content from some really brilliant writers.

My mate Skip’s a hero.

He’s seen darkness far worse than anything Granddad saw, but took the same action and lives with a similar consequence.

SkipLicker, to use his own description,  Is:

King of the Stickmen. Hardcore Troll. Carried a rifle once, then got shot at… Fuck off and be offended somewhere else

It’s the Hardcore Troll bit that gets some of my followers hot under the collar and not in the groovy, post-watershed way. To them, Skip’s just a Troll and Trolls are bad. mmkay? There is only one other person* I am warned about more for following and talking to on Twitter than Skip.

I like Skip, I have from the first time I read one of his blogs and chatted to him. I take people as I finds them and Skip has always been lovely to me. More than this though, Skip has a lot of very interesting things to say about a lot of different things. He is a fantastic writer with a voice that swings, often disarmingly, from sneering, acidic wit to warmth and empathy.

I’m most interested in his thoughts on war. You see, Skip’s writing a book about his experiences and, just as I think she’d approve of my granddad’s journals, I think Mary O’Hare would approve of Skip’s portrayal of war…

If you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, it probably means you haven’t read Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. You should rectify that situation immediately, it truly is a brilliant book. Vonnegut was writing a War book too – an anti-war book in fact, as perfectly pointless as an ‘anti-glacier’ book – he was reminiscing with an old war buddy, when the man’s wife interrupted:

“You were just babies then!” she said.
“What?” I said.
“You were just babies in the war — like the ones upstairs!”
I nodded that this was true. We had been foolish virgins in the war, right at the end of childhood.
“But you’re not going to write it that way, are you.” This wasn’t a question. It was an accusation.
“I — I don’t know,” I said.
“Well I know,” she said. “You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be portrayed in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.”
So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry. She didn’t want her babies or anybody else’s babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and movies. – Slaughterhouse 5 – Chapter 1

I think we can be certain that wars are not even party encouraged by books or films but, just in case, Skip’s writing will have no role for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne. Read this: Words in a Skip: Hang em’ High and this: Words in a skip: Holes and Me

Quite recently, Skip has been a voice of reason in the growing cycles of online ‘outrages’  following trolling and is amongst a group of interesting folk asking important questions about Freedom of Speech. One of the few things that the Left and Right of UK politics seem to agree on is the need for freedom of speech applied to some and not others. You can threaten to blow up an airport and get away with it, but don’t dare threaten an Olympic Diver…

Skip thinks you should be able to say anything you want and he’s right, I think. That is how Freedom of Speech works? I’m asking, not telling. Either everything is okay to say, or nothing is. Read this:  Words in a Skip: Frankie Says Relax and this: Words in a Skip: Sticks and Stones.

Skip suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That didn’t come from nowhere, it came from the things he saw and did at war and the things done to him in preparation for war. Skip is not alone, there are likely huge numbers of troops returning from war with mental scars invisible to the naked eye, but that are as debilitating as lost limbs. Read more of my thoughts on War and the armed forces

So there we have it, follow my mate Skip…but not literally, that probably won’t end well.

*The dubious honour of ‘Person I am warned most about on Twitter’ goes to Milo Yiannopoulos (@Nero), Editor-in-Chief at The Kernal. I like him too, he’s a brilliant writer with an acerbic tongue and yes, if you’re going to tell me about the horrible things he’s said…I know. He’s said a lot of things that I find pretty awful, but I suspect a lot of them he has said because he likes to shock and, besides, he’s always been sweet with me, as I said before, I takes ’em as I finds them. Also rumour has it that he is a great deal nicer in real life than how he sometimes chooses to present himself in print.

You Know the score: If you don’t like these Thoughts, stick around, I’ve got plenty of others.

America, vote Mitt Romney (if you want endless war and fiery death).

2 Sep

This week, I remembered that there is a wealth of difference between UK and US politics.

Picture the scene…

The leader of the main opposition party takes the stage for his keynote at the party conference and promises the party faithful that, if he is elected Prime Minister, there will be:

  • More war;
  • Less global stability;
  • Abortion will be made illegal; and
  • An isolationist approach to trade and imports/exports

There’s no way that would happen and, if it did, there is little hope that politician would ever be anything other than in opposition. Mitt Romney may be the next President of the United States and that’s the basis of his election campaign.

Watch Romney’s speech from the Republican Party Convention:

I found the moronic chanting of “U-S-A” an interesting touch.

Seriously America, you can’t honestly think this guy’s a viable alternative to Barack Obama. Mitt Romney strikes me as a rather venomous man, but here’s what his vague speech seemed to promise if he wins:

  • Romney will have America back to being seen as bully of the world in no time. Obama has said sorry once too often for Mitt’s liking, there’ll be no more apologising and Romney has a plan to create some awesome new situations to not be sorry for.
  • You’ll be going to war with Iran over their ‘nuclear weapons programme;’
  • You’ll be going to war with Syria…reason will be found at a later date;
  • Relations will be deliberately be soured with Russia by adopting a much less flexible approach with the Kremlin. Obama has been too soft there, apparently;
  • Not content with pissing off Russia, Romney also has a bone to pick with China whose loan of $1 Trillion now basically underpins the US economy;
  • He will save the State of Israel from the ‘wheels of the bus’ that he is certain President Obama has thrown them under; and
  • When not busy antagonising other superpowers and bombing small, Muslim countries back into the stone age, Mitt is committed to the criminalisation of abortion in the US, because all life is sacred…well all life except for the lives of those people in aforementioned countries that he will flatten.

It goes on, but it’s not all bad…in between all the war and infringements on basic human rights and freedoms, Uncle Mitt’s going to create a lot of jobs. He doesn’t really state how, exactly, these jobs will be created, but create them he will.

There was a single moment of praise for Obama, for the assassination of Osama Bin Laden…there is a cheer and chanting… Please. Don’t. Let. Them. Win

Political satire must be difficult in the US! I sat through a lot of the Republican Party speeches not entirely convinced that I wasn’t in fact watching a heavy-handed political satire. Mitt Romney strikes me as little more than a very sinister parody, but this is no joke, he might win in November’s US Election. That misguidedly dangerous fool might be the next President,

America doesn’t need Mitt Romney and the world certainly doesn’t need Mitt Romney.

Think of it like this, a vote for:

Probably leads to a future that looks like this:

So yeah, vote Mitt Romney: vote for the destruction of the environment, for religious intolerance, and for worldwide belligerence with massive helpings of war and death…

Alternatively, use your common sense, say no to the Republican morons. Vote for Barack Obama in the November 6th Elections. He’s not Mitt Romney!

The Essex Lion (It’s a real thing…Possibly)

27 Aug

Roooooooaaaaaaaaar!

There’s definitely possibly a lion on loose in Essex. Of this possible supposition we can be (un)certain…

I have been a long time reader of the brilliant Fortean Times and have always enjoyed the sections of the magazine on Cryptozoology and Out-of-Place animals and the works of Loren Coleman and Karl Shuker. From the minute I read about the Essex Lion story, I made this prediction:

https://twitter.com/Paulcoxon81/status/239835678102401025

I still stand by it (although the Guardian have already run the story). There is just too much about the story that makes it fit very nicely with other unexplained sightings of big cats across the UK (and beyond). Here are my thoughts following some good discussions and arguments with friends last night and this morning on all things unexplained and cat like:

Ah but there’s a picture this time

Pictures of Alien Big Cats (ABC), so-called because they are alien to their environment and not actually extraterrestrial, are common in the UK and have been for a long time. Since the age of the camera, there have been many pictures reporting to show large cats wild in just about every part of country.

Here’s our friend the Essex Lion:

And here’s The beast of Bodmin:

So pictures are not uncommon, what is uncommon are follow-up sightings in the same location after the initial hype. I’m not doubting that the picture is indeed of a Lion and was taken in Essex and not forged, that seems to have been independently verified*, but ABC sightings seem to be of a far stranger breed.

*Update

There was a picture verified, but the picture I used above seems to have been one of the many fakes and not the picture that was shown to experts at the local Zoo…In fact, I am at a bit of a loss to track down exactly which photo experts at the Zoo were shown that made them so adamant that a Lion was loose in Essex. I think it was this one:

 

Which, okay, could be a Lion…possibly. It’s incredibly hazy and hard to get a sense of perspective, but it has a mane. More on this photo later.

But the police are taking it seriously…

Yeah. It’s a picture of a Lion…you’d kind hope they would. It’s definitely a case of ‘better safe than sorry’ when it comes to making sure no one gets eaten by a Lion. But I remain convinced that nothing will be found.

It’s all a bit hazy…

The reporting of anomalous events is an interesting one. Look at UFO sightings with multiple witnesses and the range of accounts that end up getting reported especially with the passage of time during a ‘hype’. As The Guardian’s Jonathan Haynes has already noted:

And accounts are only likely to get more outlandish; part wilful exaggeration, part mild mass hysteria seems, often, to account for this. Already, various versions of the Lion photograph seem to be in circulation, all reporting to be ‘real’.

Even after the search had been called-off and, a rather sheepish, Essex police admitted that what had been seen was probably a domestic cat (I’ve yet to ever drink the required amount that domestic cats, start looking like Lions) the statement of the first witnessed still has the distinct ring of the Fortean to it:

“I was looking out of the window and we saw smoke – it looked like there had been a bit of a bonfire,” she said. “When the smoke cleared I could see this shape in the field, so I got the binoculars out. We had a look and it looked like a lion.” – Guardian Source

Though no expert on Big Cats, I haven’t come across many accounts of them appearing from fire. The witness account is peculiar if you think of it in relation to the photograph. The witness was observing the cat through binoculars, it’s easy enough to misinterpret the photograph as showing a Lion, I’m not convinced how easy it would be to make the same mistake looking through binoculars which would have a higher level of magnification than the camera.

Things get stranger with one witness account disagreeing on the Lion description and suggesting the big cat was, in fact, more Sphinx-like.

It is currently unknown if Essex police will begin hunting for Sphinx’s in the countryside. Possibly not as one local resident believes it was her cat, the Brilliantly-named, Teddy Bear, who was responsible for the sighting.

Anyone missing a lion?

It is not common for ABC sightings to be linked to the loss of animals from captivity, most big cat sightings are of Melanistic leopards and not of lions.  Lions are pretty big, you would be acutely aware of the fact if you owned one. There are no accidental Lion owners out there and no one in or around Essex had reported losing a Lion. There was a circus nearby, but that had been two weeks before the first sighting and they had not reported losing a Lion (I have to hope anyone who owned a Lion and subsequently lost it would have the decency to report it).

Essex Lion Gets in on Twitter

The Essex Lion is the first ABC I recall to have it’s own Twitter account though and some of it’s tweets have made me chuckle:

https://twitter.com/EssexLion/status/239875258566471680

https://twitter.com/EssexLion/status/240059560998629377

The Lion

So, is there a Lion currently on the loose in Essex? I have to say, probably not.

Was a Lion pictured in Essex at all? Possibly.

Then, where did it go?

As with many a cryptid before it, it vanished from whence it came. With little more than the movement of air announcing it’s departure, it has slipped seamlessly back into the lining of the pockets of the Cosmic Trickster.

Read More 

Possible Origins of the Big Cat Legend: Spectral Black Dogs

British Big Cat Attacks

The Fortean Times: Cryptozoology

The Fortean Times: Alien Big cats 2003 – 2006

The British Big Cat Society

Big Cat Sightings

Cryptomundo

Aside

Message to #Olympic Nations and World

28 Jul

I have yet to remember the name of the country, but I recall a BBC commentator say that a small country had halted it’s raging civil war for 16 days while the games are played out. There is something surreal about pausing a war. What a wonderfully curious species we are, but it got me thinking…

You remember that moment when representatives from pretty much every country on our entire planet were standing together and no one got stabbed, blown up, raped or tortured?

Yeah, it needs to be like that from now on.

Those Guns, Bombs and other kill kill death things you’ve so ingeniously created to kill enemies real, perceived or otherwise, you don’t need them. They’re Ours now. That war your currently enjoying, sorry to give ending away but here it is: loads of people die, infrastructures get fucked and things are bad. Eventually the right people realise that things were better before all the death and stuff. So it’s quite simple, unless yours is definitely the first war that will solve things that talking wouldn’t, then stop. Stop now, your guns have a better use.

Your armouries are made of metal, metal is finite. As you no longer need to blow the fuck out of each other, then we need metal, lots of it and cooperation. We’re going to sort this stuff out, all of it and build a spaceship together.

Or not

It is our choice, but the alternative to our crazy spaceship is that we’ll continue to destroy each other and the environment. We will fail as a species and you will die here.

What I believe: On Religion

14 Jul

I will not pull any punches with this post nor will I apologise if it causes offence. I often find myself amused by how angry religious people get about their religion being criticised and how little such people actually understand the concept of faith.

What do I mean?

If you believe in something , have faith that it exists and someone tells you that you’re wrong, you won’t get angry, right? Because you know they’re wrong. If any part of this post angers you, perhaps you should question the strength of your faith and if your anger stems from that little voice in your head that is hidden beneath all the dogma, that whispers doubt. I would never seek to take away a person’s right to believe whatever they want to believe and if your faith is strong enough then not a single word I write should be able to take that away.

I was raised Church of England by my parents and used to attend Church. From quite an early age, I remember worship left me cold, I felt nothing but a guilt that I was doing something wrong. I’d look round our old, beautiful village Church to see the faces of people enthralled with faith and I was envious. I’m not envious any more and I’m certainly not Church of England.

Then What am I? Muslim? Hindu? Atheist? Agnostic? The truth is: I just don’t know. I think it’s okay not to know. I do know that I believe in science and I believe in people, their capacity to make links with others in ways that we are only just coming to understand and I believe in a connectedness with the natural world around us. I’m not an atheist I don’t think, at least not by most definitions, I guess if forced at gunpoint to pick something to believe in (should you ever find yourself in this situation, here’s a handy flowchart to Pick a Religion), it would be an adapted form of Paganism.

But organised religion has long fascinated me.

Religion is insane

There’s no getting away from it.

Religion is insane.

If ever there was a task with zero return on the amount of time invested in it, it’s religious observance. But not only that, in order to fully utilise this zero return on investment, you have to accept things, that you know are categorically not true, are actually truths. Oh and you can’t pretend, you truly have to believe the lot, because otherwise the unseen bearded sky fairy will judge you harshly…it’s called faith, it allows you to do and say stupid things and treat other people with a heady mix of condescension, contempt and, often, just good old fashioned violence. Here are some crazy things you have to believe (and do) to have a faith:

  • God(s) exist (Religions mostly rely on some form of bearded sky fairy…In my honest opinion, of those religions widely practiced, Hinduism has the best Gods.)
  • Homophobia is not only acceptable it’s to be encouraged (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism etc)
  • Women should be subservient to men (largely all Western Religions)
  • The earth is only a fraction (14 000 years old based on the Bible) of it’s actual age (Most creator myths have flawed timescales, none more so than the Bible).
  • There are minor God’s who reign over things like household chores (Hinduism).
  • The souls of vaporised Thetans, who once inhabited our planet, are bound to the souls of all humans living (Church of Scientology)
  • Joseph Smith is a prophet (Mormons – Seriously, watch the South Park episode on the Mormons, it’s a work of genius. Jo Smith gives us all hope that anyone can end up getting revered as a prophet.)

Irony car haz ironyz

Religious people do not get irony. I recently witnessed people with strong Catholic beliefs criticising the beliefs of Scientology because they were ‘crazy and far-fetched’ and, best yet, that ‘Scientology causes more harm than it does good’…I’m not sure another better definition of irony exists than either of those statements. Simply because your particular brand of crazy has a longer history than  another, doesn’t make it any the less batshit crazy. Let’s not even get started on the numerous vile abuses by the Catholic Church over centuries that make most of the quite-frankly sinister goings on in the church of Scientology seem like high-jinx.

Religions biggest crime

I’m not going to claim that religion starts all wars, it contributes to many, sure, but we’ve never needed much help. Take away religion and war will remain, the study of history is the study of a species constantly evolving new and varied ways of bashing the shit out of itself and every thing else around.  No, for me religion’s biggest crime is keeping people stupid. Though it claims to provide answers religion offers nothing in the way of truth. Richard Dawkins refers to a reliance upon a ‘God of Gaps.’ For the religious mind, God, their great deity, exists in the gaps in our current understanding of the universe, but those gaps are closing.

It’s totally impossible to write this post without mentioning Richard Dawkins’ most controversial work, The God Delusion. It;s heavy-handed and patronising in parts, but remains a work of brilliance in explaining, in eye-searingly exhaustive length, why religion is dumb and God almost certainly does not exist. Richard Dawkins is almost definitely right, I find him an objectionable little man,  but he is right. His writing style has always struck me as being much like the Big Labowski’s Walter:

“Am I wrong, am I wrong?”

“No Walter, you’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole!”

So, I highly recommend reading The God Delusion and many of Dawkins’ other works, being a bit of a dick doesn’t necessarily make you wrong. I find commonality with him in the belief that the natural world, evolution and biology are wondrous enough to not require bearded sky fairy God to add extra wonder to my life. Go outside and look at the intricacies of a flower; think about the complex social interactions that make up our daily life; the way a squirrel walks across a razor thin fence; the giant cock of a Sperm Whale; the hive minds of ants and bees…Wonders and there’s no need for God.

In slight defence of religion

I’ll never allow myself to be fully critical of religion, I’ve seen it’s power at work, first hand I’ve seen a benefit. My Mum faced death and was empowered by her religion, was not afraid. My Mum truly believed her God had designs for her and her illness and passing were part of his plan. Now, I might have my opinions about that, in fact I entirely disagree, but I could not have taken that belief away from her, it goes back to that point I made at the beginning: if your faith is strong enough, then it is armour to protect you from my words. But if I could have taken her faith away, I truly believe she would not have faced her death with such humour and grace.

We probably need religion

It’s always been with us since the earliest Hunter Gatherers started forming complex societies, Göbekli Tepe, built in Northern Turkey, some 11, 000 years ago was largely built for ritual and religious use and on to the present day. So often throughout history,  the temples come before the city; religion, worship and bearded sky fairies of one brand or another have been here a long, it’s unlikely they’re going anywhere soon. Perhaps it is true as some have argued, we have a need for religion, as a species, not because it gives us senses of ethics or morality, but because it does something else. Logic dictates it must have a benefit to us as a species otherwise it would be unlikely so many would have devoted so much of their time to it, whilst ignoring a lot of serious flaws in the dogma.

Many writers on futurism don’t see a future without religion or belief, in fact many see a return to more Paganistic or even Shamanistic belief as a response to the increased reliance on technology, including the widespread genetic and technological augmentations that is predicted. So while belief in, broadly-defined, greater powers may not go away, most futurists seem to agree the future for oppressive bearded sky fairies is unlikely the last, in anything more than small pockets, for more than the next 100 years.

I’m going to write two more posts similar to this On Science and On Magic.

If nothing else take away this final thought from my post:

You know the drill, if you don’t like these Thoughts, stick around, I’ve got plenty of others. x

Further Reading

Richard Dawkins – The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins – The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.

Alaine De Botton – Religion for Atheists

Christian Post – Atheist Alain de Botton Insists Society Needs Guidance From Religion

Scott Adams – God’s Debris (Free PDF copy)

Searching for Eve

7 Jun

There are few stories in the Bible that I find more noxious than that of Adam and Eve. The central message of the tale can be paraphrased as ‘women, it’s all your fault. It’s vile misogyny and we allow our Children to be taught it as if it’s some nice moral tale. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong, so I went in search of a different Eve.

This piece was originally written as part of a research group into the Female Goddess. Is it speculative in parts? Yes. Still beats biblical Eve hands down in my opinion. Hope you enjoy.

All About Eve

 

I would dearly like to try and save the image of Eve, mother of humanity and to do this I’m going to take a fairly sizeable leap away from tired, misguided religious dogma and its associated misogyny and into the field of early human evolution and present a much more wholesome case for the Eve of genetic memory.

Enter right Mitochondrial Eve a figure from our biological evolution who, perhaps most importantly is real and allowed to exist without Adam’s rib with not even the merest hint of a pointlessly-placed tree bearing forbidden fruit or a serpent in sight. So who was Mitochondrial Eve? She is nothing more nor less than the most recent common ancestor for all humans living today and can be traced back to roughly 200, 000 years ago. Mitochondrial Eve has her counterpart in Y-Chromosomal Adam who can be dated back 90,000 – 60, 000 years ago. So how does this relate to the story of Eve?

To begin with, it doesn’t really, the Homo Sapian genus spread onwards, expanding exponentially until about 70, 000 years ago when it hits a rather alarming genetic bottleneck that reduced a large population of humans down to possibly as few as 500 breeding pairs but certainly no more than 10, 000 breeding pairs. Humanity was going through the roughest patch of its entire evolution. As for the cause of this bottleneck? Well that’s a tricky one as we don’t really know, but the best theory that science seems to have come up with is that of the Toba Extinction Event.

The Eruption of Lake Toba, in Sumatra, Indonesia is one of the largest volcanic eruptions ever to take place on the planet with estimates that after the initial destruction, floods and a variety of other nastiness the entire planet was plunged into a 6-10 year volcanic winter event with almost all sunlight being blocked out by huge clouds of ash. Although the Toba event carries the title theory, there are corresponding genetic bottlenecks in other species dating to exactly the same time, it is fair to say the very survival of genus Homo Sapian after this event is statistically improbable, yet survive they did! But what does this have to do with Eve?

Imagine the survivors of this event, don’t forget they didn’t all survive in one place. Here we have a population of only 10, 000 breeding pairs at most spread across the entire planet, small pockets of life seeking survival in conditions humans have not experienced since (though will likely experience again before the end of our history). It seems likely that the female of the species played a role more important than ever before? This Researcher wonders if the fact that early cultures revered the female goddess so much more than later cultures is a direct result of Genetic or cultural memory that comes from the centuries after Toba.

Here we have a very different Eve, not living in the Garden of Eden, but living in hell-on-earth revered amongst early societies for the ability to bring new life, to rebuild what was lost. Admittedly this last part is speculation on my part (though I’m confident I am not straying into Dolphin-riding Atlanteans territory), but if I have to believe one view on Eve or another then I’ll pick the mother of humanity revered for bringing life after great catastrophe rather than a 1-dimensional construct produced by men to control women.

Bibliography and Further Reading

 

Chesner, C.A.; Westgate, J.A.; Rose, W.I.; Drake, R.; Deino, A. Eruptive History of Earth’s Largest Quarternary caldera (Toba, Indonesia) Clarified (March 1991); Geology 19: 200–203.http://www.geo.mtu.edu/~raman/papers/ChesnerGeology.pdf. Retrieved 03/10/2010

Dawkins, Richard; The Ancestor’s Tale, A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life. (2004) (“The Grasshopper’s Tale”); Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 416.

Gibbons, Ann; Human Ancestors Were an Endangered Species. (19 January 2010). ScienceNow. http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2010/119/2.

Would Love to hear any feedback, good or bad.

You know the drill, if you don’t like these Thoughts, stick around, I’ve got plenty of others. x

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