If the Earth was flat, wouldn’t cats have pushed everything off it by now?
Are they the same thing? Many of my regular readers will will be unequivocal about their answer – it will be Yes!
I’m not persuaded. And my reason for holding such a position is that it depends on what one means by religion and superstition. Obviously these two terms will have slightly (or significantly) different meanings depending on the society and culture in which one resides. I live in Aotearoa, and there is absolutely no doubt that what these two words mean here is very different from what they mean in the Bible Belt of the USA. I’ll leave it to others to define these terms for other parts of the globe, but whenever I refer to religion or superstition, I can do no better than to yield to the view of this country’s most celebrated theologian – Sir Lloyd Geering.
Sir Lloyd defines religion as:
A total mode of the interpreting and living of life.
He goes on to explain:
Everybody who takes life seriously, in my view, is taking the first steps in religion. And this definition of religion, fortunately, covers all the types of religions we’ve had or will have in the future, because it recognises that religion is a human product. Religion is what we humans have evolved in our culture to enable us to make meaning of life, and to live together in the most harmonious way.
He defines superstition as:
a belief or practice for which there is no longer any rational basis, because it has survived from the cultural context where it could be deemed reasonable
Sir Lloyd suggests that the creation myths (yes, myths – there’s two versions in Genesis) were an attempt at explaining how the world came into being and humanity’s relationship to it, and given their understanding of the world around them at the time and information available to them, it was reasonable to hold such a belief. If you like, the two myths represent two theories of creation.
But to continue to believe the creation myths as being true given our current understanding of the universe, is to believe in superstition. Similar arguments can be made about a physical resurrection of Jesus, the existence of heaven and hell, the Immaculate Conception, the miracles described in Old an New Testaments, gender roles, human rights, to name just a few.
To insist that to be a Christian, one must believe such superstitions, as some Christians and some atheists do, is to fail to understand the true nature of religion.
No, I’m not referring to the ability of pathogens to become resistant to vaccines. Rather, I’m referring to those people who are resistant or hesitant about being vaccinated – particularly regarding covid. Many who understand the wisdom/necessity of taking precautions to limit the spread and harmful outcomes of the current pandemic, take a dim view of those who hold a different view. In fact some comments by otherwise intelligent people indicates that they have little to no sympathy for the unvaxxed, even wishing the unvaxxed succumb to covid as such fools don’t deserve a place in society.
While I have at times felt frustration towards those who fail to understand the benefits of health measures such as vaccinations, masks and social distancing, I do understand that how people think about various aspects of their lives are not usually based on willful ignorance. There’s usually many aspects of one’s background and experience that goes into how we develop the perspectives and attitudes we hold. An obvious example is how I, and most autistics, perceive and think of autism compared to those who are not autistic.
When it comes to resistance and hesitance towards vaccinations, there does appear to be more at play than stupidity. The University of Otago’s Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health & Development Study – an ongoing longitudinal study of children born in the city of Dunedin in 1971-1972 indicates that adverse childhood experiences (ACE) are the most solid indicator of whether or not one is likely to be resistant or hesitant to vaccination.
At the extreme end they may have been sexually abused, been exposed to extreme violence, or psychological abuse. Others have been neglected, grown up in chaotic environments, left on their own or isolated in school. The study, now 50 years in the making, has shown that victims of ACE end up being slow learners at school, and by their early teens have concluded that their health outcomes are not under their own control.
By their late teens, it is apparent that they dropped out of education early, and have a below average reading ability. They are also suspicious of the motive of others, and tend to misunderstand information when under stress. By the age of 45 they are likely to have a lower socioeconomic status, be less verbally adept, be slow information processors, and have less practical health knowledge.
What perhaps is significant is that victims of ACE see themselves as nonconformists who value personal freedoms over social norms, whose distrust of authority figures runs high. And herein lies a problem. Measures to counter the pandemic, be they mandates or advisories are viewed with suspicion. The time for reasonable dialogue is long gone – by 30 or more years. When study participants were 15 years old, they were asked to complete a checklist of “things you want to know more about if you are going to be a parent”. 73% checked immunisation. That was when the discussion should have taken place.
Let me quote from the findings of the longitudinal study regarding vaccine resistance and hesitancy:
Today‘s Vaccine Hesitant and Resistant individuals are stuck in an uncertain situation where fast-incoming and complex information about vaccines generates extreme negative emotional reactions (and where pro-vaccination messaging must vie against anti-vaccination messaging that amplifies extreme emotions). Unfortunately, these individuals appear to have diminished capacity to process the information on their own. The results here suggest that, to prepare for future pandemics, education about viruses and vaccines before or during secondary schooling could reduce citizens‘ level of uncertainty in a future pandemic, prevent ensuing extreme emotional distress reactions, and provide people with a pre-existing knowledge framework and positive attitudes that enhance receptivity to future health messaging. Moreover, many of the factors in the backgrounds of Vaccine-Hesitant and -Resistant Dunedin participants are factors that could be tackled to improve population health in general, such as childhood adversity, low reading levels, mental health, and health knowledge.Deep-seated psychological histories of COVID-19 vaccine hesitance and resistance (unedited version) – Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit, University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ
As always, the Dunedin longitudinal study provides a unique insight into significant aspects of a cohort of individuals born in 1971 & 1972, and the findings pose as many, if not more questions than they answer. With regards to handling future pandemics (and there will be future pandemics), this particular survey points to what needs to be done. What it can’t do is provide leads into how it might be done. Any suggestions?
Sources for this blog post:
Deep-seated psychological histories of COVID-19 vaccine hesitance and resistance (.pdf file)
Covid-19: Vaccine resistance’s roots in negative childhood experiences (RNZ)
Dunedin Study sheds light on New Zealand’s successful vaccination rates (Otago University news)
I stumbled upon a website while researching a possible article about the relationship between the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and Humanist societies. For just a few moment I thought that American Humanists had gone absolutely plain stark bonkers. Who in their right mind would ever consider that the former POTUS would be remotely eligible for consideration let alone actually be awarded Humanist of the year?
Then I noticed the byline under the “American Humanism” title: Harnessing the power of Christian ethics to help heal the world. The penny dropped. And at the bottom of the page there is a link titled Discover our core values. I’ll let you discover those on your own. Finally I noticed the articles and links in the right hand side column. Sigh, another example of generalisations used to tar an entire group by the actions of a subgroup taken out of context. This seems to be the weapon of choice by some theists and atheists alike.
One thing I do notice when with Quakers, is how much my comfort level varies depending on the occasion. In other groups and settings, even on occasions the family, I always feel like a fish out of water, and I feel much the same with Quakers in “unstructured” situations, for example chatting during refreshments after worship. But in more structured situations such as meeting for worship itself, “Afterwords” (a time for reflexions or thoughts that arose during, or outside of, meeting but one felt wasn’t suitable for ministry) or business meetings or discussion groups, I feel “at home”.
What sets “structured” conversation apart is the mode of communication that follows implicit but undefined guidelines. These include moments of silence between each speaker, and one doesn’t respond directly to another speaker but simply speaks their own mind or thoughts. “Let your truth speak” (an old Quaker saying). The idea here is that one should speak to their own truths, not oppose or argue against those of another person or group. It allows individual Quakers to hold a wide variety of perspectives, without being judged right or wrong, and perhaps more importantly, encourages one not to pass judgements on others based on one’s own biases and prejudices. We all have them.
For me this mode of conversation provides me the opportunity to truly communicate. It allows me the time to digest what has been spoken and time for me to convert my own thoughts into reasonably structured sentences. I really struggle forming sentences “on the fly”. Not only do I have to find the right words and put them in the correct order, I then have to manipulate the jaw, lips and tongue “in real time” to convert those words into sounds that will be intelligible to the listener.
This is a tall order for me, even in company that I’m comfortable and familiar with, but in other situations the fear of misunderstanding, or worse, being misunderstood generates stress that has a negative impact on how I perform. Perhaps I’ve mastered the art of conversation to a limited degree, but in my youth I was extremely clumsy. Let me assure you that fear caused through being subjected to violence, both verbal and physical due to communication failures has left an indelible mark on my confidence in social situations.
Simply knowing I don’t need to respond directly to anything anyone else has said is comforting and allows me to feel an equal among equals. Simply knowing I’m not going to be judged by what I might say alleviates that subconscious fear of violence that always lurks when when in company of others. Simply knowing I will be given the space to allow my thoughts to grow into words that can be shared gives me a freedom of expression I seldom experience elsewhere. I feel valued.
Over the years, a number of atheist fellow bloggers have recommended I would be better off joining a sports club than “wasting my time with religion”, but I beg to differ. At least their suggestions have been with the best of intentions, which is more than I can say of some other sections of society. For me religion isn’t about theories, theology, dogma or creeds (absent within quakerism) nor about deities or about believing what others claim is The Truth. For me religion is experiential and how one responds to that experience.
I don’t believe in the supernatural, but often my response to the good within humanity, the beauty found in nature, the awesomeness of the universe, and even simply knowing I’m uniquely me, is so intense that it feels like there is “something” that others might explain as being supernatural or divine. Please note the emphasis on how the experience feels, not that there actually is a supernatural dimension. This is most fully experienced in the company of others with a similar perspective. For me that’s among Quakers.
What gave rise to this post was that I was strongly reminded of how awkward, uncomfortable, and dare I say fearful I feel in unfamiliar situations. In the early hours of yesterday morning (about 12:20 am from recollection) I Zoomed into an online Quaker meeting for worship at Woodbrooke in the UK. As always with silent worship, I felt right at home, and I remained that way until the end of the meeting. Then as conversation started, I felt the panic set in.
There was only one person at the meeting that I knew. I have known her through the medium of blogging for seven or so years, and while I am very comfortable about sharing my thoughts with her through the medium of WordPress, in the “real time” environment of Zoom, I struggled to make any form of “normal” conversation, what is often referred to a “small talk”. I should have reminded myself that she too is a Quaker and that we both could have slipped into the Quakerly “structured” mode where moments of silence aren’t considered awkward and where conversation doesn’t need to imitate small talk. I’ll try to remind myself of that next time.
One final observation. It occurs to me how much the Quakerly form of communication suits the autistic experience. Generally Autistics are not interested in games of one upmanship, debating or winning arguments. In spite of our social awkwardness, we’re more amenable to sharing and cooperation, and due to our minority status in a neuro-normative world, are more appreciative of differences being … well, just different. It’s not a case of being better or worse, right or wrong. When austics get together their form of communication is often along the lines I’ve described here, with perhaps shorter silent periods between speakers. Our normal mode of conversation parallels the Quakerly “structured” mode to a remarkable degree.
Fiction is a lie that tells us true things over and over again.Neil Gaiman
We have art in order not do die from the truth.Friedrich Nietzsche
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —Emily Dickinson
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.Maya Angelou
I’ve just read that the POTUS is required by law to issue an annual proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer “on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.”
I thought there was a separation of church and state in the US. The writer has got to be kidding, right?
On Saturday I and two of my siblings travelled the three hours to Opunake to a commemoration service for an aunt. I’m in my 70s and the two siblings are knocking on the door of 70, and attending funerals, commemorations and celebrations of lives of recently departed is becoming more frequent by the year.
This particular service was called a commemoration as the aunt died in January, but due to the restrictions on international travel imposed by Covid, it was felt more appropriate to delay the funeral until as many as possible would be able to attend. Instead of there being a presence of a body in a casket, there were her ashes in an urn on a table amidst flowers, photographs and a candle. Somewhere between 200 and 300 attended
Looking back on the services I have attended over recent years, it struck me that the only “real” Christian funeral was that of my mother. All the rest either ignored Christian theology altogether or at best may have included a token hymn that reflected an aspect of the deceased’s life more than anything specifically Christian.
Like all the others I have attended (apart from my mother’s) there has been no mention of God or gods, Jesus or an the expectation of an afterlife in heaven or hell. The only token towards a cultural Christianity was a quip by one speaker who mentioned that if her late husband was the one designated to drive her to the pearly gates in his much loved orange Vauxhall Viva, she’d probably wish to be somewhere else – anywhere else. He had a reputation for loudly expressing his view that he was the only competent driver in the world (and probably in heaven), although it was evident to everyone else that he wasn’t.
Aunty Joan was my father’s oldest sister and was just a few weeks short of her 105th birthday. She was one of twelve siblings, of whom only two remain. I was going to title this piece “Another one bites the dust” in light of that comment being made in jest by one of her remaining brothers, but I suspect some of my readers might not think too kindly about such an irreverent phrase, particularly if they have experienced a recent loss of their own.
On the drive back, my brother, who is neither a Christian nor religious made the comment that Aunty Joan was a true Christian, and the world could do with more people like her. My sister and I agreed, but I quipped that a great many fundamentalist Christians would disagree. It all comes down to what one considers “being Christian” is all about.
I live in a society that is secular but nominally “Christian”, and as best as I can recognise, the religious beliefs of Kiwis has changed little over my lifetime. What has changed is what Kiwis consider “being Christian” is. Until the 1960s, most Kiwis regardless of their religiosity would have been offended if they were described as not being Christian. Being Christian did not centre around belief but around action. One was judged by their deeds – generosity of heart and spirit, helping those in need regardless of one’s own circumstances, listening, caring, being supportive and being a warrior of whatever one perceived as social justice.
What has changed over recent decades has been that the concept of “being a Christian” no longer has that meaning. Lead by the importation of fundamentalism it’s become all about belief – having a specific sort of faith, and that “good works” count for nothing. Perhaps if one does “good works” for the purpose of salvation (whatever that is) then just maybe they do count for little. But people such as Aunty Joan never gave salvation a second thought. They give of themselves because, in good conscience, they could not ignore the needs of others.
For old schoolers such as myself, Christianity was (and I’m using the past tense deliberately) about one’s relationship to humanity (Love your neighbour as yourself). Today it seems that for some Christians, all that matters is one’s relationship with a deity and the worshipping of “His” Bible.
Sixty years ago I too would have been offended if someone had declared I wasn’t a Christian. Today, I’d be offended if they said I was. It’s not that my beliefs or values have changed significantly, it’s because the common understanding of what being a Christian has undergone a radical change under the influence of the fundamentalist evangelical movement. That’s why today, if someone asks if I’m a Christian, I always ask what they mean by being Christian. I’m unlikely to be in agreement with many who are younger than fifty.
The following is a poem by David Harkins that was presented at the service. I felt it was most appropriate.
You can shed tears that she is gone Or you can smile because she has lived. You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left. Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her Or you can be full of the love that you shared. You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday. You can remember her and only that she is gone Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on. You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
There are times when I wish I had indoctrinated my children, especially my son. That way, he’d probably still hold beliefs and values similar to, or at least compatible with, mine. Instead, I encouraged them to think for themselves; to seek out evidence and then draw their own conclusions. At times. as happened yesterday, I begin to question the wisdom of that.
I’m not a believer in absolute or objective truths, be they religious, social, or even scientific. I’m old enough to recall “Scientific certainties” that are no longer certain and in some cases disproved.
I can recall a time when homosexual acts were criminal and when the medical profession classified homosexuality as a disorder. It was first declassified as a disorder in Australia and New Zealand in around 1972, in America a year later and throughout the most of the world within a couple of years. In Aotearoa New Zealand, homosexual acts weren’t decriminalised until 1984, and in some parts of the world such acts can still be punished by life imprisonment,
As an aside, as a teenager, I was an avid reader of periodical magazines and other publications, especially if they contained articles of a scientific nature, and I first became aware of the possibility that homosexuality was not “wrong” in the mid to late 1960s through a number of articles I read that were mostly highly critical of, and sometimes angry at, a pamphlet titled Towards A Quaker View Of Sex first published in 1963. Although I didn’t get to read the entire pamphlet until more than forty years after its first publication, excerpts accompanying the articles seemed more reasoned and well thought out than most of the criticism leveled at it. Most of the criticism was related at the morality, or rather the perceived immorality that the critics believed the publication advocated.
And yet, most (but not all) of the conclusions reached in the pamphlet are now widely accepted as the norm: same sex relationships are generally viewed as within the bounds of normality; here, and in many parts of the world same sex relationships have equal footing with heterosexual relationships; here, a partnership is legally recognised by its nature and duration, not by whether or not it has been formalised by a marriage or civil union. We have still some way to go in accepting and recognising forms of relationships that do not involve only two people. For example in this country there is no legal recognition of a relationship that involves A & B & C, although the relationships between A & B, B & C, and A & C may be recognised.
I have drifted off topic somewhat. Now where was I? Oh yes, indoctrination. If I had indoctrinated my son into believing the Bible was not the literal Word of God, nor a rule book to live by, then he might not have reached the conclusion about a decade ago that indeed the Bible is literally the Word of God and is to be believed and followed to the letter. Unfortunately I don’t think I ever mentioned, let alone discussed, the Bible. I regret that now.
And yesterday I realised that I did not indoctrinate him sufficiently to be suspicious of conspiracy theories. They are “conspiracy theories” and not “conspiracies” for a reason.
Yesterday I discovered that he is convinced that the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11 was due to controlled implosions on multiple floors within the buildings. I had to forcefully end the discussion when he declared that all demolition experts agree that the buildings could not have collapsed the way they did unless they had been rigged by a demolition expert to collapse that way.
Sigh! If he had said “some experts” or “an expert” instead of “all experts” I might have been prepared to hear him out. I’m not closed to rational disagreements, but the use of “all experts” was sufficient evidence for me to conclude any discussion would not be rational.
I must admit I’m somewhat curious as to who he believes the “conspirators” might be. After all if it was “controlled”, it was planned, so who planned it and why? But in the interest of maintaining a mostly close relationship with my son, it’s a curiosity I’m not going to try to satisfy.
Last Friday the commemoration of all those who died in the terrorist attack in Christchurch was broadcast live on radio and television nation wide. This video clip is of the speech made by our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during the commemoration. My belief is that her comments represent the majority of my fellow Kiwis. This is so much in contrast to many other political leaders around the globe, starting with you Mr Trump.