Jealous Gods

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

Arthur C Clarke

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I have witnessed enough examples of synchronicity, karma, and general spookiness to believe that the universe works in strange and mysterious ways that we, at this stage in our development, couldn’t possible understand. I do not, however, believe in God.

Nature is not generally wasteful therefore it is statistically unlikely that we are alone in this vast universe. It is probable that there are other planets that are, have been, or will be inhabited by people with culture, beliefs and technology. These people may be like or unlike us; they may be primitive or highly advanced; they may even have been here aeons ago, and they may have used their sufficiently advanced technology to give early humans a leg up the evolutionary ladder, and such behaviour may have led to humans worshipping them and calling them gods. They are, however, no more gods, than people with differing beliefs and values are demons.

Whilst I don’t believe in a giant man who lives in the sky, is everywhere all the time, and made everything out of nothing in under a week, or 6,000 of our Earth years if you cleave to the idea of a ‘God Day’ being not twenty-four hours, but 1,000 years long, I have always had an abiding interest in the concept of gods, religion and mythology.

The stories we have been told of gods and their mythologies are basically harmless fairy tales built around a creation myth in an attempt to understand who we are, how we got here and where we might be heading. Religion is something quite different and is perhaps best summed up by this quote from Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate in physics.

“Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”

People who kill, segregate, demean, and, in all kinds of other ways, treat others cruelly on the grounds of religious belief (theirs or their victims) are at best deluded or insane, and at worst downright evil themselves. Yet somehow, these ‘good’ people doing evil things justify their behaviour by the projection of evil onto their victim: they love the wrong person, eat the wrong food, wear the wrong clothes, say the wrong prayers.

Most religions are filled with contradictions. So-called gods are described as loving and benevolent, yet are imbued with the worst of human traits such as petty jealousies and murderous wrath at the slightest hint of disobedience. The Judeo-Christian God’s creations Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden and cursed for the ‘sin’ of seeking knowledge, after He had lied to them that they would die if they ate the fruit of the tree. If this is how a god behaves, he is certainly not worthy of worship.

But there’s something far more basic at work here, which, I feel, has been overlooked. The tenets of most religions include something about it being wrong to kill. There is also often a reference to some kind of adversary, or devil-like being who will lure you with falsehoods and tempt you to sin.

If those who commit vile acts in the name of religion cannot be persuaded to practise tolerance on grounds of reason, decency and compassion, then they should think on this: no loving god would ask you murder someone for loving a person of a race, gender or belief system that doesn’t gel with your beliefs. No loving god would entice you to beat a woman in the street for wearing trousers, or not covering her hair or face. No loving god would require you to bomb innocent people because you disagree with the actions of their Government.

The entity that whispers to you, urges you to become involved in what any reasonable person would describe as atrocities, is not a loving god. When you die, expecting to enter paradise to receive whatever treats your god has promised, you are in for a shock, for you were lured by falsehoods and gave way to temptation to commit the worst kinds of sins. The voice that stirs you to hate is not the voice of god, but the voice of the Adversary: the devil, Satan, Iblis, Shaitan; whatever you call it. It was a test and you failed.

If there is a hell, it will not be filled with gay people, bare-faced women, people who slept with someone they weren’t married to, or ate meat on Friday. It will be filled with those who tortured, maimed and took the lives of innocents; those in positions of trust who abused children, those who murdered their daughters for falling in love with the ‘wrong’ man. And they will be there in hell because they chose to ignore not only the voice of reason, but also the small, quiet voice of a loving god (or as we atheists might call it ‘conscience’ or ‘empathy’) and listened instead to the insane roar of the same personified evil they claim to be fighting against.

By SJB

Neither Seen Nor Heard

Whenever I write, I always have an actor in mind. I do this even if it is a piece of work not intended for production. I do it because I need to hear a character’s voice clearly in my mind before I can let them speak on the page.  I was recently commissioned to write a script for a specific actor, and to have her voice in my head as I wrote made the work joyfully plain sailing.

This also works the other way around. Whenever I see an actor whose voice and delivery interest me, or a pair of actors whose onscreen chemistry really sparks, a screenplay begins writing itself in my head. That’s probably why I rarely finish them, as there are just too many ideas knocking around in there. Though commissions and deadlines tend to help me focus more efficiently.

With this in mind, some years ago I took a course at a major London drama school so I could get a handle on what makes an actor choose one part over another, to understand what great lines really feel like in your mouth, to be able to say someone else’s words and make them seem like your own.

While the experience was great fun, and I gained valuable insights from the other students, many of whom were experienced actors, the school’s training style wasn’t really for me. I’d wanted to learn about specific techniques, whereas their approach was more along the lines of ‘running around the hall and making a shape’ and ‘freeing your Inner Child.’

Which brings me to an interesting idea. Who’s to say that everyone’s ‘Inner Child’ is the same, that is, one who likes to cartwheel through the park screaming?

If my inner child is a reflection of the child I once was then right now she’s probably up in her room doing her homework. If my inner child is the part of me who follows her bliss, then she’s writing a screenplay in her head or chopping up samples for her next album.

It could be fair to say that I’ve lived my life in reverse. I was an unbelievably serious child, who hated sports and games. There’s a photograph of me somewhere, aged around nine, which looks as if I’m roller-skating. It’s staged. I put the skates on, posed for the picture, then took them off and went back to reading (or maybe writing) my book. Incidentally, I won the roller skates in a fancy dress competition. I went as a mermaid. A serious, well-researched mermaid complete with tail. Not feet for roller skates. The irony was not lost on me even then.

I acted at school, and took it all way too seriously, to the extent of always memorising the entire script so I could act as unofficial prompt when the others messed up because they were unprofessionally under-rehearsed, or had let nerves get the better of their silly seven-year-old selves.

Another time in primary school, we all had to read out each other’s poems, rather than our own, at a Harvest Festival, and I made sure to credit the poem’s author before I read it out, as I didn’t want anyone thinking I’d written it, because the scansion was off, and, quite frankly, her imagery was poor to say the least.

That’s not to say I didn’t have fun as a child, I did; but it wasn’t of the running, jumping and screaming variety. I read books, wrote songs and stories, had singing and ballet lessons. Most of these activities still give me the most joy today. Not the ballet. That’s too much like hard work.

I am considerably more relaxed and less self-conscious as an adult, and spend much of my leisure time having childish conversations on Twitter with my friends, many of whom are proper grown-ups with serious jobs, such as professors. I suspect they’ve lived their lives in reverse too, and by the time we’re all in our eighties, we’ll probably be bald and wearing nappies. Oh, wait…

By SJB