Reflections on Religion

August 27, 2010 at 3:33 am | Posted in Philosophy | Leave a comment
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As I was ironing tonight, I thought about the stories I have written for a history website. Three of them were about religion. One of them was about my praying the rosary for my brother and my father when they were struck down by polio in 1961 – I was thirteen. That led me to think about what my beliefs were at various times and how religion has affected me throughout my life.

As I was growing up and as a young adult, Catholicism taught me about an ever-present God and my guardian angel and about black and white; good and evil. How could I do anything bad when you were constantly watched from above? Besides, I wanted to be holy and pure like the saints – in spite of my rather rebellious nature. Some of this influence may have been good, but there were definite negative effects. The most insidious was that I developed an acute sense of guilt that was almost completely undeserved. I have had to work hard for the last twenty-five years to eradicate this unrealistic guilt, not always with success.

Religion joins us to others of the same beliefs, providing support when doubts worm their way into the dogma and rituals. But the religion that unites also divides. In my younger days, it was most obvious in dividing me from anyone who did not belong to the Catholic church, including those ‘proddies’ who attended the state school down the road. It also separated me from anyone who the church regarded as damned, and that must have been most of the world!

For almost forty years, religion made me fearful – of the devil; of committing sin; of failing to measure up to an impossible standard. That fear made me unable to appreciate the real value and beauty in people, the kindness that is everywhere if you can see it, as well as the beauty of the natural world and our responsibility to it. I saw things superficially, because that is how religion makes you see. It closes you off from anything that is different, that does not conform to the sectarian or ideological beliefs that have become entrenched over centuries and imbued in you since birth. Religion was almost always the reference point for goodness or evil, purity or impurity, the saved and the damned. All these values were judged according to tenets that precluded difference.

Once my eyes were opened to the rigidity, enslavement and intolerance of religious belief, I began to see the world and its people in a different light. I could see that we were not masters of this planet but simply an organic part of it. I found that the concepts of right and wrong are not constant. They change, both within different cultures and over time. What is good in one age is bad in another; what is bad in one culture is accepted elsewhere. I began to see that it is in this one life that we can prove ourselves to be, or not to be, decent people; it is in how we treat others and behave towards them that we reveal our true selves.

It is not important whether we believe in one god or many; whether we worship in a church or mosque, a temple or synagogue, or out in the fields and mountains. What matters is what is within us. Which religion you follow, which set of fairy tales or fantasies you believe does not matter. These beliefs do not necessarily make you a good or worthwhile person. Indeed, following a creed can, and often does, lead away from real humanity, and towards bigotry, sectarianism, intolerance and war instead, dividing families, communities, nations.

Many peoples have a common determinant of moral standards, exemplified in the dictum, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. That, I believe, is the creed we should all live by. If every religion truly took that as their basic reference point, many of their dogmas, laws and rites would be redundant. If we followed it, we would see people as other selves and the world as a wonderful place. We would see are other perspectives and treat everyone with respect – unless they show themselves unworthy of it. Only when we walk in their shoes, or at least beside them, can we treat people as we would like to be treated, and thus create a better world for all. Religion can, and often should be, totally irrelevant to a person’s quality. 

Now, back to the ironing.

© Linda Visman

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Nostalgia

May 2, 2010 at 8:04 am | Posted in Philosophy, Society | Leave a comment
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Last night, my husband and I, and several friends, went to a club about 45 minutes away from home, for dinner and a show. The dinner was the usual bistro meal, adequate but nothing special. The show was absolutely great. It involved a quartet of (not-too-young) men who pay tribute to three groups from yesteryear. They call themselves “The Three Bs”.

The show was in three parts, and the group dressed to match the particular “B” they were imitating in each part: the Bee Gees; the Beach Boys; and the Beatles. So, what’s special about all that? Well, firstly, they were very good. Their singing, stage presence and enthusiasm really had the crowd involved. The dance floor in front of the tables was continually full of enthusiastic dancers, whose ages ranged from about eighteen to their sixties (I was one of the older ones actually on the floor). The seated audience covered the same lower age range, but a higher upper range; some people would have been near eighty. I suppose the biggest thing that struck me was how much this show, and its audience, illustrates the huge surge in nostalgia as the Baby Boomers age.

So, what is nostalgia?

Nostalgia: n, a longing and desire for home, family and friends, or the past. (The Macquarie Dictionary, 2nd revision, The Macquarie Library, Sydney, NSW, 1982.)

Nostalgia has always been a part of the human makeup, but why does it appear that this post-World War II generation is particularly noted for its nostalgia – in fact, so much so, that the emphasis is now seen to be on the second part of the definition, “a longing and desire for the past”, rather than on “the home and family”? I think there are a couple of major reasons for that, though there are probably others too 

The first reason is that, in general, Baby Boomers had an easy life when they were growing up. The nineteen-fifties were a time of high employment and financial security. For the first time, children didn’t have to – indeed they couldn’t – go out to work at a very early age. Families could afford to buy their own homes, a car, labour saving devices. Children had access to levels of education their parents could only dream of. They were now more likely to be “white-collar”, rather than “blue-collar” workers.

The second reason is the huge changes that have occurred in technology and society in general in the post-war period, but especially in the last twenty years. Many of these changes came as Baby Boomers were reaching their forties, and have continued through their fifties and up to their sixties. They would, in earlier times, expect to be settled in their employment, having raised their children, and be looking forward to retirement. Economic and social changes, caused by technology and changing attitudes, now mean that many feel nervous rather than secure. Change has happened too quickly; no other generation until theirs had ever been faced with such enormous and continual change.

It is no wonder many Baby Boomers wish to return to the days when there was a sense of freedom and opportunity – along with a sense of security, when confidence was strong and the world was their oyster.

© Linda Visman 2nd May 2010

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