25 March 2008

Thought for the Deity

As the most important festival in the Christian festival, Easter is generally treated as a more serious affair than Christmas. Rather than unmitigated joy, it is a time for reflection, for contemplation of deeper spiritual matters. It is also a time for the most smug and sanctimonious piffle you are likely to hear broadcast on public airwaves. I can't remember hearing a more self-righteous collection of judgements masquerading as moral guidance as came out of the broadcast media over the four day weekend.

Kicking off on Good Friday's "Thought for the Day" on Radio 4, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, takes a swipe at the faithless for their arrogance. What puzzles the bish, apparently, is "the absolute certainty of their conviction which does not allow for any doubt ...the believers I know have a much humbler attitude".

It's a reworking of a very familiar claim - the last resort of someone who has run out of ideas. To seek an explanation of the complexities and mysteries of the world around based upon only what we can prove, in my humble opinion, is, well, pretty humble. To say: "I can explain it all - God made it" is surely the most arrogant position of all. But it saves having to expend too many grey cells.

Next up the leader of the Scottish Catholic Church, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, used his Easter sermon to pile into the debate on the proposed embryology bill as a "monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life". He forgot to add something about the "human dignity" of those who live with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's who might face the prospect of a cure through such research, but I'm sure that was just an oversight.

He concluded that it would allow experiments of "Frankenstein proportion." Which was ironic, really - I don't think any of the scientists I have read on the subject have mentioned using the bill to turn the dead into the living, as Dr Frankenstein attempted. They leave that sort of thing to the church every Easter.

Finally, even the non-conformists felt a need to get in on the act, when faced with the prospect of bookmakers opening on Good Friday for the first time. A spokesman for the Methodist Church said they would prefer people to think about the day's religious significance rather than placing bets. In logical terms that's a false opposition, surely? I don't believe that one activity excludes the other.

In fact I would go further and say that placing a bet can be part of contemplating the wonder of the universe and complexity of life. If you care to really think about the chances of life existing at all on earth, and marvel at the process through which we came to be, I reckon a £10 punt on a 50-1 outsider might put things in perspective. It would certainly seem like short odds, all other things considered.

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