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A User's Guide to The Cosmos, God and Locations for the Philosophical - by Roland Leach

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Automobiles

The car has killed more people in the twentieth century than World War 1 and 11, as well as all the wars since.

Make a stand. Walk somewhere, preferably away from roads.

How Do We Live?

In essence this is the 'Big One'. What do we do, what can we do to makes our lives happy, contented, fulfilled, purposeful. Are we hoping that it will all just come to us one day; the pieces to fit all so snugly into the puzzle of life? What strategies will we find to make it all worthwhile? Do we need to find God? Become rich? Thin down and pump out? Collect stamps? Fall in love? Everyone will find different things that will make it worth the trip. 

In an edition of New Internationalist on this very topic Vanessa Baird gives a few guidelines:

* Question everything. As Socrates said, a moral life is one of continuous questioning.

* Value uncertainty. It's much better and braver to live with the discomfort of uncertainty than to opt for the certainties of totalitarianism or fundamentalism.

* Get stuck into ethics. Don't leave it up to religious people and politicians to decide what's right and wrong. Make sure you have your say.

* Obedience can be a deadly virtue. Be prepared to disobey orders you don't agree with.

* Look at your circle of concern. Has it shrunk over the years? Could you widen it?

* Ask ethical questions about things that aren't usually connected with morality. They may well be before long. 

Of course this is only one approach. Many may find this doesn't suit them at all.

Certain Certainties

What happens when people believe in right and wrong, black and white. When there are fixed truths and ways of living? Eternal verities that have apparently always been true and right.

Who is excluded in their righteous world?

Genetic Engineering

The question of what is a human has taken another turn in the last half of the twentieth century. James Watson discovered DNA in 1952, the very blueprint of what makes us - at least biologically. 

We can clone sheep and now it is anticipated that in the near future we will be able to have a whole range of body parts that we will be able to buy when the other ones go over their use-by date. Warranties and all.

The Ark

Noah built his arc 300 cubits long, a small miracle for the times especially for a 600 year old man and it seemed big enough for every creature god had made. Until one day men driven by the smell of spice and the glint of gold re-mapped the world.

They all came back with tales: Columbus told of macaws, manatees & iguanas, peccaries, hispaniola & hutias. Pigafetta reported monkeys that looked like lions only yellow and more beautiful and then there were armadillos, toucans, sloths and vicunas. All who had failed to make the original ark.

God it seemed had been far busier than anyone had thought.

Why are all the white boys so rich?

Jared Diamond in his book, Guns, Germs and Steel, examines how Western European countries have become so powerful over the last 600 years. Working as an anthropologist in New Guinea in the 1970's he met a New Guinean named Yali. From working with him he soon found that this man was as intelligent, if not more, than himself or other Whites. Yet Yali was aware that his people were seen as primitive and lacking qualities admired by the West. So he asked Diamond 'Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo (material goods) and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?' By this he also implied 'Why are they regarded as superior human beings to us.'

Diamond went off to find the answer and finished up writing his book as a result.

In the past many cultures looked down on tribal cultures as primitive and backward. In doing this they labelled the people as inferior, as if there were stages of development humans went through, and these races didn't have what it took to progress. In doing so they often dehumanised these people and made it easy for themselves to invade their land, take their homes, deny them their languages and beliefs, and often killed large proportions of the population through outright war (though the term is hardly ever used, especially in the case of Australia) or through disease.

Diamond shows that it was not for any inherent or innate trait belonging to a race that made them 'unsuccessful' in regard to becoming powerful city-states such as those in Europe. They adapted to their environments and most worked intelligently with the land and its animals to manage a livelihood.

However to those early Europeans who came with the latest technology and the firearms to forcefully prove their superiority these indigenous people appeared less than human. The Europeans' material success was proof of the others' lack of humanness as they did not have the same things, didn't live in cities, or believed in the same Gods.

Instead of these reasons - biological essentialism which became racism - other people in different parts of the world developed different cultures due to a range of reasons. These included the availability of grasses that could eventually be grown as crops (wheat, rice,), the presence of animals that could be domesticated and the availability of metals. It was partly these things that made it possible for European cultures to emerge from hunter-gatherer tribes to form larger societies that became towns and cities, where farms allowed surplus food so that all didn't have to work in primary industries. This allowed for a division of labour and people no longer had to get food for themselves, but diversified into creating tools, weapons and art. This in turn led to a leisured class (those who organised and managed the transference of goods/food to others) with the wealth to accumulate these goods which became markers of their cultural superiority. Religion became more organised and a priest class emerged with special privileges. People who had physical power/intelligence/charisma, with skills of managing/controlling people, usually in conjunction with military power became rulers who lived off the product of others. A class system evolved with distinct hierarchical relationships. The society became more powerful and then started to conquer others who were less organised. States and eventually Empires arose.

Those in isolated areas who didn't have these environmental pre-requisites remained hunter-gatherers.

The question to ask is why was, and still is, progress defined in terms that denote technological sophistication, which has everything to do with accumulating more material goods and little to do with spiritual growth though many of the cultures responsible for the colonisation and exploitation of indigenous peoples in Africa, Australia, North and South America and Asia, had religions that spoke of spirituality and good deeds as the cornerstone of their beliefs.

Power

When people have power they will use it.

Darwin's Pistols

By the time Darwin set out on The Beagle things had changed, but not enough to disturb all those quietly confident that God did the bidding and that these were good times to live in. The archaeologists may have made dents on Bishop Usher's proclamation that the earth was created at 8 p.m, 22 October, 4004 B.C, but little adding errors couldn't destroy the fact that someone was definately in control and reality was as you saw it.

Intellectuals and free-thinkers could call everything into question, like the radicals at Edinburgh University, which Darwin attended as a medical student, but boatman along the canals were still seen as heathen and treated as such because they they worked seven days and could not keep the sabbath. 

Charles Darwin was no child prodigy and his father had worried that he was not bright enough to be a Darwin. As a young man he only thought of enjoying himself. A man who liked to ride and hunt, kept a good collection of pistols and enjoyed a thick cigar. Life was never sweeter than those nights on the Patagonian plains when after riding hard all day he could relax by the fire, drinking mattee and eating roast game, feeling what it was like to be a gaucho, blowing lassoes of cigar smoke into the night sky.

When he set out he didn't know that, pistols in hand, he would have a wild potshot at God. He had originally intended to be a clergyman (the type that had a comfortable parish where he could ride and shoot) and had gone with Captain Fitzroy to prove the existence of the Flood. On the edge of the Pacific (the small islands of Galapagos) he had taken his wild potshot, but God's too big a target to miss, and though the shot wasn't fatal, it made him drag a leg on cold days, and who believes in a God with a limp?

The history of relationships

Sometimes lives entwine momentarily, strengthened by the soft curve of touch. The knots come later.

Ideology

Ideology can be seen, at a general level, as the set of values and attitudes within a society. However, it would be seriously misleading to see it as a passive collective term encompassing these beliefs. The real significance of ideology is its power to naturalise values and beliefs; that is, to take specific values which have been agreed upon to be desirable and make them appear fixed, as though it is part of the natural order.

In some cases these values are enshrined within fixed moral or even divine laws - made from some greater power outside. These values, however, have been culturally constructed. They have been made up by men over the centuries to lessen conflict in society so that people could live more securely, and they have also suited the vested interests of the dominant social group in society - the group of people who have benefitted by having these values accepted as legitimate. By making laws that privileged themselves certain groups have been able to perpetuate their higher status throughout the ages. The main problem, and this is where ideology comes to the fore, is to make these arbitrary laws and rules seem natural and right to everyone. Even those who are directly disadvantaged by it (Usually non-whites, women, working class). To accept your own inferiority and believe that others have a right to control you is an example of internalising the dominant ideology.

Television

The television has been more influential in the twentieth century than any other invention. It has created fashions and ways of thinking, brought down governments and has made stars. It has been the greatest form of propaganda, albeit subtle at times, the world has known. It has also spread American culture to the rest of the world and all the little and big imperialisms that go with it.

In the first television debate Richard Nixon (the infamous Tricky Dicky) went up against John.F. Kennedy. At this early stage of his career Nixon didn't have bad policies and probably outshone Kennedy but the country-wide audience all went away on Kennedy's side. The reason was that poor old Nixon didn't have the looks, personality and charm of his opponent. Under those early television lights Nixon looked dishevelled, sweaty, and unattractive in his five o'clock shadow. All in all he looked sneaky and certainly not the sort of person you would trust as President. Kennedy looked just grand.

Hollywood was able to shape reality through cinema but never to the degree that television was able to; relentlessly getting into the home for hours every night of the week. Television showed the News in vivid images, revealing what they deemed as news from their perspective. It showed supposedly ordinary people in the suburbs living ordinary lives, which most accepted as normal when the reality, even in the US, revealed it was nothing like this. Some of this might have been fantasy but many viewers accepted it as the way it was.

The mother in Beverly Hills 90210 was constantly bombarded with letters from around America asking her for advice on raising children as she was such a perfect mother.

The CNN coverage of the war in Iraq, the famous Desert Storm campaign, brought an actual war live to the homes of the world. Of course, it only showed what it wanted to. American heroes, nasty Arabs.

Ulysses (Odysseus) 

Out of all the Greek myths Ulysses or Odysseus is the one that most people are familiar. Even if you don't recognise the name it will register when you hear the story of the guy who goes to fight in the Trojan War and takes 10 years to get home (the obligatory wayward nymphs and sirens on the way) to his ever faithful wife, Penelope. When he finally arrives home in disguise only his dog, Argus, recognises him. 

Now here's a man whose got it all. The archetypal hero with strength, courage, skill and cunning. Yet he always strikes me as a bit of a nostalgic wimp who romanticises how great things were and wants to return to the strong woman at home.

If you ask me Calypso is the perfect woman who he should have stayed with. On her island (how many women have their own island!) he spent his days sitting on the edge of cliffs, eyes wet with memories, mourning his far-off wife but always returned each night to his lovely Calypso. Always in love with his own idealised memory of love.

Calypso sang as she wove gold on the loom, the smell of cedar and sandalwood on the fire and around the entrance to the hollow cave sea-crows and falcons perched in alder and poplar and the scent of cypress longed into air. Now here was a woman with a voice and a tasteful back-to-nature home, yet Ulysses longed for distances, groaning and grieving over a wine-dark sea(though he kept this to the daylight hours), imagining his time-worn Penelope fulfilling every dream, inventing her each day anew, while all these things waited softly in the hollow cave. 

Calypso could have given him a young body free from death, but some (mostly tragic heroes)prefer the thrash of waves, the rock-cliff edges, the sight of themselves returning, to strip off their disguise and say I have returned from beyond, and give up all for that moment of recognition, like the wan adventureless Narcissus finding himself in his reflection.

He finally gets together a raft of Cephalonian pine tied with catgut and rawhide, letting Calypso send him breezes so he could go home.

And finally getting home I bet he sat on cliffs and romanticised his nights with Calypso. Over and over.

1900

My grandmother didn't know she was born when the first hinges were being unscrewed, albeit ever so slightly, off the doors that had always opened into a nice, comfortable room, fire aglow with the family sitting happily around the lounge room. Certain of most of the things that they had been told and never even thinking that the fabric of reality could be different.

She was still only a child when Einstein had put forth his Theory of Relativity and Picasso had painted Les Mademoiselles des Avignon. Both had said in their own ways that truth was no longer fixed, that it all depends on the angle, the position of the observer in their relationships to things. In essence, all things are relative.

She had been born just before the new millenium. Two years before Queen Victoria died. Her father may have read in the papers the year before how Victoria had sent a telegram to a General in the Boer War congratulating him on his victory. The General had replied: 'Any hardships and privations are a hundred times compensated for by the sympathy and appreciation of our Queen.'

You can imagine the man weeping, keeping the telegram to pass on down as a heirloom, sending out his men for fresh victories as the Boers retreated in their wagons. It was just that sort of age.

Then again not all doors led into comfortable drawing rooms. In many there were no light or coal to start a fire. Wives and children were being beaten. Then there were all those lives that were simply sad, whether they were eating off fine silver cutlery or not eating at all. All the certain certainties didn't seem to make them one bit happier.

My grandmother would have said that this was all their own fault. 'If you want to be happy you have go and look for it. Never just shows up on your door.' I heard her say that many times during my youth, and it didn't matter if the hinges were loose or not.

She use to tell us how she met Bertrand Russell after the war. He was the most hated man in England, she said. I had once defended him, trying to explain that he only wanted peace and was a great man who time had proved right. I could have added that time made things slippery, not in the sense Einstein had meant, but it still had to do with standing in a particular position with a focus skewed to a particular object. She had only said that she had met him on one of those Saturday soirees on the banks of the River Cam. 'I should know, I met the man when you weren't even a glimmer in your mother's eye. Your mother wasn't even a gleam in my eye, so don't tell your old grandmother about philosophers. I met him and thought him, insignificant.'

I didn't want to argue with a woman who met Bertrand Russell, and by the time we talked those doors had been blown wide open by others who had come ready to blow up the whole town, never mind one door. And by the time I did want to argue she was gone.

The All

What can we do in the face of it all. This all can be rather frightening at times. Intimidating and persuasive. What strategies do we all develop to cope with existence?

Goddesses 

In the beginning was the Goddess. For at least 25,000 years people worshipped the Mother of Creation. The dominant religions of today, with their male Gods have been going for only a tenth of the time. 

Women were dominant in this former time as they were the beings who were responsible for the mystery of life and birth. It was not known for a long time that men also had a part in this creation and it was believed that women conceived through the intervention of other forces. The Australian Aborigines believed spirit children dwelt in pools and trees and when women entered these places they became pregnant if the spirit children wished it. 

The goddesses were displaced by male gods for a number of reasons. The main stimulus to change was the discovery that men had a significant role in making women pregnant. There were also social reasons such as the integral role women played in growing and collecting food waned and after about 6,000 B.C an increase in population led to a shift in more intensive agriculture. Farms developed, cities grew. On a metaphoric level Nature was being tamed (women had always been linked with Nature) and men took on the major role of ploughing and sowing the passive fields. Thus the word 'husbandry'. As cities grew and the social organisations entailed with this growth increased dramatically the military became important and men were able to assert themselves through their physical strength. 

And male Gods have dominated ever since.

Cinema 

When the Lumiere Brothers showed their first film of an oncoming train the audience ran out of the cinema, scared witless and believing that they were in danger of being crushed.

Fashion 

Why is that skirt you bought last year, which you wore repeatedly with profound and lasting love, look so daggy now? It might be a little faded but it is exactly the same skirt, nothing has changed, it is the same piece of clothing. Only your attitude towards it has changed and all because of the new fashions of this year which have the amazing power to label anything other than now as something not to be seen in.

The Faces of Christ 

The face we knew as we grew up was average-looking. It was a kind face though, the sort of face you would get into a car with. It was always Anglo-Saxon. 

In a painting Da Vinci shared with Verrochio he is an ugly man, hanging like a scarecrow against the sky, but the calves and thighs are those of Carl Lewis.

In a chapel in Lagos he is a much darker man, and in Mexico he is plumed with feathers like a dancer. 

A recent bishop, without papal consent, said that Christ probably looked a lot like Yasser Arafat.

A Short History 

Once there was belief in the Church and its teachings. This changed with the rise of Science and its rational method of understanding the cosmos. This started during the Enlightenment in the eighteen century. Early geologists showed the world was much older than the Bible would have us believe and then Darwin's theory of Evolution or more specifically the Theory of Natural Selection threw our ancestry into doubt. Nietzsche declared that 'God was Dead' as the old traditional values had lost their power in the lives of individuals. Marx revealed the old social hierarchies were a sham and that we had been tricked by ideology into accepting inadequate lives and the promise of heaven only kept us in chains. Freud's theories of psychoanalysis took away the sovereignity of the self.and in doing so questioned the very basis of morality as how can you have morality if there is no real choice. 

In this turmoil Science offered us a better world. If there was no afterlife at least new advances could make this life healthier, safer and more comfortable. There was a firm belief in Progress. The world was improving and there was a firm belief that Science would deliver us a better world to live in. 

Then World War 1. The advances of Science gave us planes to drop bombs, tanks, mustard gas, all improved means of destruction. Never had the world been at total war before and never had so many died for reasons that seemed absurd in retrospect. The 1920's were an age of disillusionment. Einstein questioned the fabric of reality as did Heisenberg and others. World War 11. Science gave us the ultimate weapon; a force that could literally destroy the world. 

It had all led to this.

The world was absurd after all.

Sigmund Freud 

Freud is famous for tracing all human behaviour back to sex. He is not very popular with feminists and like Darwin enjoyed a good cigar.

Like only a few other men in the last hundred years he shocked the human race into re-examining how much control they really did have over what they once had regarded as their 'knowable' self. He proposed that we are really only products of our biology and the things that happen to us in our early years of life. The way people respond to these influences determine the way they approached the world. 

So much for Free Will and choice.

Disturbing the Universe 

In the poem, 'The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock' by T.S Eliot, the persona longs for a life where he can fulfil his desires. He wants to be 'out there' asserting himself, picking up women and generally feeling pretty damn pleased with himself. Instead he is an alienated anti-hero, too scared to say what he feels to a woman for the fear of rejection: 'I have heard the mermaids sing each to each/I do not think they will sing to me'. He is pathetic as he imagines how others stare at his baldspot as he descends the stairs and in the way he procrastinates and puts off any decisive action. 

But a reader cannot help empathising with him. Perhaps there is a little bit of Prufrock in all of us. All those safe little things that we surround ourselves with so we do not have to put ourselves, emotionally and physically, at risk. Believing in the things we are told are right, never thinking for ourselves and acting on our beliefs. Too safe in what society offers us; too scared to disobey our 'betters'. In the end living a 'small life'. 

Prufrock wishes to 'disturb the universe', but he is too timid to risk being seen as an outsider and drowns in the inane routines that society prescribe as an normal life. His life is the opposite to 'Letting Go'. (See Entry for this)

Memory 

What is memory and how does it alter our sense of the past and shape time itself?

An example: get out of bed, eat breakfast, brush your teeth, get in a car/bus/train to work/school. Work/study. Go home. Eat dinner. Work/watch TV. Sleep. Get out of bed ..

This type of life will fly by. Time itself will shrink and the brain will not record repetitive things you do. It closes down on repetitive tasks and the memory doesn't record them. This leaves you with a life that appears almost blank. The brain only locks in new things. That is why holidays are so memorable. You are doing different things that the brain doesn't recognise and records. It is remembered vividly and seems to have lasted for ages.

So if there is an answer it is to do different things every day, even if it means taking a different route to work. Don't get trapped into routine as it will literally kill you. Your life will pass you by in a very real way.

Perfection 

Perfection tucks in the bedsheets tight, nurses' corners that won't ride up. Perfection measures the minutes, never misses a bus, never late, and worries till she arrives. Perfection has to know what is going to happen tomorrow and takes out insurance just in case. And when things go wrong as they inevitably do, she screams and shatters like a mirror, complaining about the scars which the glue has not healed.

Letting Go

The secret, the meaning to life, here it is, stand back, take a breath:

one must let go.

Of course you must know what to let go of. See Letting Go 2

The Universe

Once the world was a small place. This was because humans assumed that what they knew equated with reality. People feared that the world came to a sharp edge which dropped away to nothing. Those first sailors were heroic men who set out in boats in the knowledge that they may never return.

When Columbus proved the earth was round by sailing to its other end it did broaden our perspectives. When those first astronomers looked to the skies with improved telescopes it revealed the world as much larger than was previously thought, and when the Earth was shown to be just another planet revolving around the Sun, and that our Sun was just one of millions of millions of suns, it made our own little spot in the cosmos decidedly small.

From latest astronomical data we can draw an analogy between the universe and our own home in the suburbs. If we say the universe is our house then the galaxy of which Earth is a small part, then this particular galaxy which seems so unbelievably humongus is - when set in the universe - just a small green pea that fell from your plate and is resting peacefully on the kitchen table in that very same house.

Inside this pea the galaxy is made up of 1,000,000,000 solar systems and suns, which is made up of trillions of planets, of which Earth is one. Population 5 billion. Living in Australia with 18 million. Of which we are one small individual taking up a few years.

Are we feeling small?

Cats

Some may say this is hardly a philosophical issue but it is one of those things under our very noses that call into question the assumptions we are operating from. The current trend is to see them as the killers of native creatures and should be controlled, registered or eliminated and a recent poll revealed 30% of people are willing to let them be, while 70% dislike or hate them. Why?

Cats are not obsequious, fawning 'please can I help or lick your face' sort of animals. They are independent and seem indifferent to our wishes. They have 'attitude' and as we know a lot of people don't like others who disregard the way the world is and who think they can live as they like when the majority tow the line and say 'three bags full'.

Their history is mixed. The Egyptians were the first to domesticate them and they were regarded as sacred animals. In the once wonderful Library of Alexandria they were painted on the walls along with the mythic journeys of Isis and Osiris. But things were not always so good. In Europe during the Middle Ages they were associated with the devil and were burned in the name of the Church. Good old Pope Gregory in 1233 even made a proclamation that heretics worshipped the anti-Christ in the form of the black cat. The bad reputation of the black cat still continues today and its a wonder that natural selection (see Darwin) has not adapted them to a less conspicuous colour.

The Church has a lot to answer for and they seem to have had more than their quota of twisted minds who dressed up in robes. They were never too keen on women: those who didn't fulfil their roles as obedient wives and mothers were evil temptresses, and the Church went one further step and associated the female form with cats. From the days of Eve women were constructed as the ones who would lead men astray, who would lead them off the path of righteousness. If we thought Freud was the first to think everything came back to sex we are sadly mistaken as the Church saw sex as the cause for all the evils of the world. At least Freud didn't see it as bad.

Under the influence of the Church cats became symbols of fertility and promiscuity and cat imagery came to describe women in pejorative ways. In the 1400's prostitiutes were known as 'cats', the vagina was known as a 'pussy' and women were described as 'slinky' if they moved in a certain provative way and when acting bitchy were told to 'put away their claws'.

This tells us a lot about society's attitude towards women, but what I want to know is why cats have less rights than birds? Why kill one animal to save another if it is claimed in some humanitarian way and is environmentalism just another form of discrimination, a holocaust of cats to save the lebenscraum of native animals? Are we saying we want all creatures to have a chance to survive but if there are too many it is fine to kill them. What exactly is the belief underlying this social practice.

Death

Since reading this book you are a hour closer to death. It is the one inevitable.

Metaphor

Those people who think that analogy and metaphor are useful in giving insights like to compare life and death to a river running out to the sea.

Imagine the body is just a container, a plastic Evian bottle (some might look more like Coke, Galliano) that is there just as a temporary holder of your spirit or soul. It does, of course, wear away with age, until finally it dies.

Death is merely the death of the shell, the container, a plastic Evian bottle, but what is intrinsically you - the water that is inside - is still exactly the same. And when death arrives it is like pouring the water into a river, watching it become part of a greater whole, still alive but part of the sea, part of everything.

We are Stardust

Everybody has within their bodies molecules of the beginning, the ancestral stardust of the Big Bang.

Rain

She didn't like the idea that all her female friends at the market were to get wiped from the earth by flood. They were good women who knew how to get a laugh out of life despite their husbands. The latter were nasty layabouts who deserved what was coming to them but it seemed that her husband's God didn't have a lot of compassion. After hearing about him for years and years she would go further than that. She didn't like his God. He was always demanding something. Do this, do that, just like her husband and her father before him.

Besides what did his God ever do for him? The old boy was five hundred years old before they were able to conceive their first child. Then there were Shem, Ham and Japheth. It was his idea to call a son, Ham.

Now he always had God talking to him, giving him instructions, and when she could get her husband to listen it was always This is the Lord's Covenant, wife. She was sick of being called wife and his God spoke in the same terms. It was always Go forth, Noah or Take your sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. And the wives and daughters were tacked on the end, nameless.

While the boys were out cutting down gopher wood and collecting pairs of animals she had slipped back into the town warning her friends that there might be a big storm coming. She didn't want to believe it and she was no doomsdayer like her husband, but she thought that just in case she might make a few preparations.

Her husband would never admit it but she had an eye for carpentry. Knew how to get a straight angle and was better than him or his sons at getting a join to fit watertight. But Noah had kept the Ark to himself and his sons, telling her to keep to the kitchen. She would have hungry workers coming home everyday.

The monstrosity was half-finished in the backyard. Three hundred cubits in length, fifty in breadth and a height of thirty cubits. She could tell it would never float.

The last thing she was going to do was go aboard if the rains came. Not to mention the stench of all those filthy animals messing everyday.

It was at this point that she decided that she would arrange the women from the basket-weaving group to get together a smaller boat. No grand title of Ark, but a well-made skiff with a good sail. And they would take their cats.

When the clouds came in from the north she had a premonition that this was going to be a big storm, the one that hit once every century. They had happened before and people survived and gone on living.

It was when the lightning struck that she had gathered up the women and they had gone to the boat, climbing aboard with a few supplies and their cats, Zillah bringing a nice eggplant casserole for the first night, and found themselves a cosy spot.

She could hear her husband yelling in the distance that they were set, Do you hear me, wife? She luxuriated in a smile, thinking that she would never have to hear him and his homilies again.

Sitting around the table they felt the bottom rise. The boat was afloat and they could feel its slow rock, settling down in a steady rhythm and knew it would be safe. They had looked at each other, feeling free for the first time, their smiles breaking open like parting waters.

She had said, 'Wives', waiting for a moment of suspense, 'No longer. We shall now choose a name. A name that will be our own for forever after.' They had thought briefly, selecting names that rung of freedom. Each woman announcing it as they went around, one by one, around the table.

It was only when they got to the last two seats at the table that they realised that these two with large shawls and scarves over their heads were not women at all. Asked to take off their disguises they found two young men, handsome boys who had just come into town. It seemed that Zillah had brought more than her moussaka.

And all the women saw what was brought aboard, and behold, it was very good.

Civilisation

Civilisation has always been about ridding the world of barbarism. It has been the avowed duty of nations who believe they have progressed beyond their neighbours to make the Earth a civilised and safe place where everyone obeyed and believed in the same rules.

The so-called barbarians have certainly notched up their atrocities over time, yet it has been the twentieth century that has seen the most inhuman acts committed. They say the Commandants of many of the concentration camps were highly civilised men who finished their brutal day by drinking a nice wine, listening to Mozart and reading Goethe. The acclaimed intellectual of the holocaust, Hannah Arendt, commented after going to the trial of the Nazi Adolph Eichmann that he was not a monster or psychopath, but appeared 'terrifyingly normal'. Just a man who was 'unable to tell right from wrong'.

Technology

Say technology and most people will think of computers, however technology has been around for a long time and it is simply creating tools to cope with the environment in a more efficient way. Those first humans who picked up a flat stone and thought 'Gee, this would be handy if it was a bit sharper' and then devised a way of making a sharpened flint were the predecessors to rockets and micro-chips.

The question that has plagued us in the last century has been whether all innovation is necessarily beneficial. They might do the job better, but are there dire consequences? Nuclear energy is the obvious example. It might be a good source of energy in a world that is depleting its resources, but who is going to stop nations from pointing them at each other. Just like those pointy sticks.

There is also the problem of accidents.

Another aspect that is often overlooked is the social consequences of progress and technology. Making things faster and more efficient is all very good but what happens to those people whose jobs it was to make them in the beginning. Do we have a responsibility to safeguard people's livelihoods. Or is it tough luck? Adapt or perish. It has a familiar sound to it. Survival of the fittest? See Darwin 2

What I Learnt in 12 Years of Religious Education at School

In Year 9 we had Brother Clancy who would come in for one period a day and taught RE. He was about six foot six and loved talking about football as well as God. He was a nice bloke and I remember thinking at the time that he should have skipped the god-thing and got married and had his own kids who he could teach footy. He always had interesting ideas why certain footy teams won and loss on the weekend, and you could see he was more interested in this than going through the Catechism.

One day he told us about a missionary who went and lived with lepers on the island of Molokai, which is one of the smaller islands of Hawaii. He drew the map of the islands on the board, colouring the land green and ocean blue and told us how dangerous it was just to get there because of the gigantic waves that broke all the way around the islands. The missionary had to sit in the ship for three days at sea waiting for the swell to drop so they could make a dash for it between sets. You could see he was interested in the adventure of it all so I put up my hand and asked whether lepers could still surf. The class waited for me to get bailed out or told not to be smart or blasphemous, but Clancy took it as a serious question and said he didn't know for sure, but he didn't think so. Lepers were pretty tired most of the time. 

When they made a film about the missionary on Molokai twenty years later I remembered Brother Clancy.

Politicians

Most politicians are about as useful as handing out condoms to endangered species.

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