To a previous blog a friend in our district graciously responded : “Wise words from my neighbor across the valley”. In my natural humility, I discounted the first part of his response. It was the second part of the statement that set me fantasising. We do in actual fact live on opposite sides of a valley in Wembley Downs and, for some reason best known to a psychiatrist, I envisioned Neanderthals living in a wooded valley. I hasten to add that the fantasising that follows in no way emanates from my gracious friend being seen as a Neanderthal. It is just that his words prompted the picture of a wooded valley with wisps of smoke above the trees identifying where various groups lived.
One of the groups has a leader called Adolph who struts around proclaiming evolutionary humanism, and saying that those of us with less pigment in our skin are a superior race and it is our task to weed out the degenerates and leave only the fittest to survive and reproduce. They are a very clever family and have developed a rocket that will enable them to explore well beyond the valley. They have what is called a “White Forest Policy” and have signs out saying :”We will decide who lives in this part of the forest.” Any of us who stray on to their hunting grounds are put into what they call “concentration camps”.
Another group in the forest worship a deity called “Capitalism.” They trust in an imaginary future called “Credit”. Their main activity seems to be cutting down trees and making elaborate structures called castles.
The biggest group in the valley are known as “The Happy Chappies”. They discovered that drinking rotten fruit juice makes you feel better. They have now found a small berry called “methamphetamine” which makes you feel very happy.
Our biggest problem in the valley is a group who call themselves the “Colonials”. They have no sense of territory and seem to think that what is ours is theirs if they can get it. There was a mushroom shaped cloud over their part of the forest yesterday and some of us are wondering what it is all about.
And then, of course, there is my friend on the opposite side of the valley. Our totem is two pieces of wood joined together and reminds us of a stranger who appeared in the forest and spoke of “life in all its fullness” and “loving one another”. To most in the valley he was a nutter but some of us thought he made a great deal of sense.
At this point of time, I am very much concerned about life in the valley and have no idea what will become of us.
Come to think of it, that is a pretty important thing for all of us to think about. What will become of us? I must give it some thought when I go hunting tomorrow and share my ideas with my friend on the other side of the valley. He too is concerned about what is happening to us all. It really is an important question for us to consider “What do we want to become?”
The Neanderthals lived in the valley of Neander in Germany. DNA research by Svante Paabo suggests that we share a common ancestor. Neanderthals disappeared 27,000 years ago. Nobody knows why. Many theories have been advanced including climate, disease, violence etc. My own theory is that they failed to face up to the question “What do we want to become?”
The statement sticks in my mind as if attached with glue – something that is quite rare as I approach senility. It was the statement of Greg Barton, the Director of The Global Terrorism Research Centre. He was speaking about the rise of Islamic State (IS) in Northern Iraq and said “We need more religion, not less”. The point he was making was that “there is a need to do some positive counter messaging and so far no-one is doing it very well …….. The message of I.S. is a positive message (leave the comforts of home behind, fulfill your religious destiny and you’ll be part of history) and we need to demythologize it ….. We need more religion, not less.”
The statement reminds me of an article by John Gray in the Financial Review where he applauded Karen Armstrong’s “Fields of Blood” and accused secularists of distorting the present position. “There was a time when everyone took it for granted that religion was on the way out, not only as a matter of personal belief but even more as a deciding factor in politics. …. Today no one could ask why religion should not be taken seriously. Those who used to dismiss religion are terrified by the intensity of its revival….The unimportance of religion is part of conventional wisdom, an unthinking assumption of those who like to see themselves as thinking people. .… Worldwide secularization, which was believed to be an integral part of the process of becoming modern, shows no sign of happening. Quite the contrary: in much of the world, religion is in the ascendant.”
Gray, as he usually does, overstates the case but he does point up (as does Greg Barton) the importance of religion in today’s world. He also points out that Stalin and Mao were “virulently hostile” to religion. Their “war on religion”, and the nature of their regimes, is something that the evangelical atheists of our day conveniently disregard in their promotion of the secular state. The secular state is much over-rated, as was evidenced by Joe Hockey’s plea the other day “We want Australians to go our there and spend for Christmas. Don’t let Santa down, go our there and spend for Christmas”. Joking? If only he was! Joe doesn’t smile much these days, let along crack jokes. I noted the other day that the historian Yuval Harari described Capitalism as “the world’s most successful religion”
Do we need more religion, not less? It depends of course what you mean by “religion”, some versions of which I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. Other religions (particularly the one I believe in!) offer hope in a pretty hopeless world.
Jim Wallis made an interesting comment the other day “We need not to go to go right or left. We need to go deeper”. And that’s what I will be trying to do this Christmas – providing I can handle the stories of St Luke and St Joe which seem to dominate at this time of the year. Pity! Because what we are on about really is important and has far reaching consequences – as we will find out in Northern Iraq, and Western Australia!