Advert for a new god
Must be prepared to change the world
I recently got a note out of nowhere to catch-up with a research scientist, professor and friend, who I fondly call Doctor Duane. I hadn’t seen him for at least 5 years, probably longer. He’s an American who lives in Perth, Australia, when he’s not travelling. He was coming to London, and hoping to meet.
Our paths first crossed when I worked in advertising. We were part of a small group trying to get the audacious idea of interactive TV advertising off the ground. The industry already knew how powerful TV was. The question we posed, was how much more effective might it be, if viewers interacted with adverts using their remote control? All that forward thinking included boarding a plane one Friday night from Heathrow, to be deposited early Sunday morning in Sydney, wondering where Saturday had gone courtesy of Doctor Duane, who’d organised one of the first Australian events?
Early results in the UK were encouraging, but it largely missed as the next best thing, and the option to watch TV (including adverts) quickly migrated online. I was always good for chasing a pipe dream.
I think you need one
We spent time catching up, filling in the inevitable gaps which appear after a prolonged absence. As usual, his stories seemed more colourful than mine. It’s not easy to top someone who purchased Al Capone’s house in Chicago. His love for history and buildings being largely to blame, coupled with a reasonable price in a less desirable district of that famous windy city.
The conversation took an unexpected turn when he shared a thought later, that I ought to take a look at the Baháʼí faith. I’d always known that he was part of one of the less familiar religions, at least to me. It partly explained why he didn’t drink, but it wasn’t something we spent time discussing. Aside from the promise of a book written by his father and my likely interest, not much else was said.
I expect his thought was prompted, in part, because of my own change in circumstance with more time to think and write.
The Baháʼís believe in the unity of people and the value of every religion. There is only one god who has appeared throughout history and includes Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. If you’re judging by world popularity, they’re a bit of a failure with no more than 8 million followers and likely a lot less. I’m rather fond of underdogs.
Is there a bigger question?
The conversation got me thinking. Why are people more likely to seek out god or perceived to be more receptive to one, when they’re older?
Most of us have experienced religion at some time during our lives, often as children with little to no choice. I use the word religion deliberately and knowingly. It’s defined as a belief system which comes with rules, ethics and philosophy. Faith, on the other hand, is a personal expression and interpretation of those rules. The faithful have complete belief in their chosen god and often the religion’s intermediaries on earth - vicars, pastors, priests etc. Faith is why religious communities exist. It’s worth remembering that it also takes faith to deny the existence of a higher being too.
Experience shapes belief
I bumped into religion when I was 7 years old, when we left sunny Surrey for Merseyside. One set of grandparents in Aigburth were Pentecostals, a more intense form of christianity that seeks experience with god (often called the holy spirit), not just placid followers of ritual and rules. Every room in their house paid homage to their faith, with pictures of Jesus and crucifixes hung on many walls. There were spiritual ornaments with well-known verses from psalms framed neatly in porcelain on the mantlepiece and dusty dark oak surfaces. It was a mausoleum. And their faith came with an absence of fun, laughter and joy but plenty of fear. I still wonder why?
I met another professor growing up, a particle physicist at Liverpool University. He was a friend of my parents, who met at church; a global light on atomic nuclei and no doubt excited more recently in retirement, by the findings from the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Yet he was also a christian. Why?
My smart, well-balanced, grown-up nephew was baptised by a baptist a few years ago. His answer to why, was because Christianity provided the best evidence to explain his reason for being.
Older and wiser?
A teetotal vegetarian with concerns for the lack of action by mankind to save its children’s children, might have inadvertently put me on a course to join up with god.
I once met a Hare Krishna in a suit, who kindly bought me a delicious vegetarian lunch and a soda at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness HQ in Soho, as we discussed his PCs and how many I wanted to buy. A recent glance at the Krishna web site suggests that they’re more passionate about animal welfare and community self-sustainability than god and fear. Sounds promising.
I’m certain plenty of holy texts have a code to protect life and help those in need. That sounds like a moral mandate to stop the current climate crisis if ever one was needed. There are plenty of famous figures who also led conscientious lifestyles, Saint Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, C. S. Lewis, the Prophet Muhammad, and the Dalai Lama.
But don’t most old folk turn to god because they fear death and seek forgiveness, rather than to start personal crusades?
The thought of nothing after life apart from death, is something we’ve all played around with in our heads at some point. Some don’t like what they see in the abyss. To live for three score years and ten, more if you’re lucky these days, yet be such a tiny speck of nothingdom, only to end up a handful of dust, can be disconcerting.
A speck which shrinks further, when you consider that arresting picture of earth, the pale blue dot, taken from Voyager 1’s camera before it left our solar system. A journey which will never end as it drifts aimlessly in our galaxy, the Milky Way, one of 100 billion galaxies in the universe. A scale beyond our comprehension unless you’re an astrophysicist or have a love for StarTrek. But it’s there. It all exists, no need for faith on that one as the recently launched James Webb Telescope begins to confirm in ever greater depth and detail.
We need to believe
Oxford University researchers have been asking whether belief in a god or gods is a natural state for people or do we create our belief systems, based entirely on our environment?
3 year old children believe that Mummy would know what was hidden in a box which they’d never seen before. And so would a supernatural being. By 5, children are a lot less sure that Mummy would know, but they still believed that a god-type being would. Is this an early example of built-in faith?
Advert for an evangelical
Playing on my own inner desire to believe, I’m looking for an evangelical (good news, Greek) leader. Doesn’t need to be supernatural, in fact would prefer a human, preferably female, as popular and powerful as The Donald (without being a scumbag), who is passionate about saving humanity from itself and has the mandate to lead and change their country. Would need to be the leader of a global heavyweight and currently a serious heavy polluter, which rules out the UK and Europe. Democracy and liberty, nice to haves, but likely to make the job harder.