Sunday, 24 April 2011

Happy Easter... or maybe Ēostre!

There's been some talk lately on the blogs about religion - what to tell the children about God, that sort of thing. I suppose (along with Christmas) it's the time of year for it. Ironic, however, that the name 'Easter' has nothing to do with Christ, crucifixions or Christianity and is actually our version of the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring, Ēostre. Here she is looking splendid as she flies through the heavens:

But enough Germanic paganism. What do you tell the children? Northernmum1 Jane Blackmore had that very problem earlier this week, and it provoked not a little discussion. I've not faced the question yet, directly, not from Charlie anyway. And Sally's old and thoughtful enough to have a meaningful discussion of the question. And we go to church; we'll be there today. Primarily, we go because we both sing in the choir. Sarah and I share a love of English choral music - a love, indeed, that brought us together. I was once even a professional singer in a cathedral choir; I've had plenty of religion. I've also taught Religious Education in a boys' secondary school, and believe me there's none more questioning, more aggressively anti-religion than adolescent boys, by-and-large. Richard Dawkins is a kitten compared to 11D last thing on a Friday.

Personally, I always had a soft spot for the old Bishop of Durham. You know, the one Maggie Thatcher appointed by mistake: David Jenkins. Although woefully mis-quoted on things like the resurrection ('conjuring trick with bones) and virgin birth, the Bishop at least had the courage to articulate the ambiguity many of us feel about religion, faith and questions of ultimate meaning. Things aren't as straightforward as they seem; if anyone tells you they're certain of something, avoid them. But the realm of truth is wider than that which can be proved scientifically in the laboratory. Shakespeare is true; King Lear speaks more truth about disfunctional family feuding than any amount of empirical psychology, and it doesn't matter that there never was a King called Lear.

Poetry - good poetry, that is - is 'true' in a way that it's impossible to prove. The beauty of the English landscape - a bluebell wood, perhaps - speaks to us in a universal way that even Richard Dawkins recognises. 'It is raining DNA outside,' he writes in The Blind Watchmaker. 'On the bank of the Oxford canal at the bottom of my garden is a large willow tree, and it is pumping downy seeds into the air. There is no consistent air movement, and the seeds are drifting outwards in all directions from the tree.'

My point is this: there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy (Shakespeare - again). And we'd perhaps better not close our minds to them just because there's not a particular kind of evidence available to support them. Keat's Ode to a Nightingale is a rare gem of incredible beauty. Asking me to produce evidence - or proof - is meaningless. But then, asking someone to prove that murder is wrong is just as difficult. And we don't stop believing that it is, just because of that.

For more about the beauty of spring, in this case finding your nearest bluebell woods, have a look at this:

And for more philosophical musings on the nature of science and religion, try this post.
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