Archives for category: worth a look

Over the last few weeks, I have been listening to Neil MacGregor’s terrific “Living with the Gods” BBC podcast. It has helped me to reconsider some of my views on religion and belief.

The podcast is wonderful, in that it brings you on an audio journey to places and peoples across the world. You name it, it’s there – from the dank caves of southern Germany, to the sacrificial pyramids of Aztec Mexico, to the great Kumbh Mela festival in India. Newgrange is mentioned, as is the Angelus that booms out on Irish radio each day. It considers the symbolism in religion, the common rituals, the public displays and private moments, and the relationship of religion to the exercise of power. It takes all these disparate elements and synthesizes them into a concrete, powerful narrative.

What I hear from all this is that religion is core to who we are. In all religions, our own nature is echoed back. It is a mirror, reflecting our greatest fears, our greatest needs and our hopes for the future. If you bypass the specific details of any one religion, you find the same needs there. These great longings are familiar to so many of us.

Religion doesn’t even need gods or supernatural agencies. We’ve seen in the last century the damaging power of secular belief systems gone awry. It seems that people will reach out for anything that gives them a sense of security, purpose and answers. God is just one alternative among many.

Such a pity it is that the details become so important. People will kill and die over the minutiae of their own faiths. Wars have started over trivial differences, people executed and tortured for not adhering to the orthodoxy of the day. Even today, so many people take delight in disparaging other people’s religions (and I’ve been one of them) to the point that demagogues can exact discriminatory laws and great injustices can take place with nary a whisper. Behind the details, we forget that at the core of much belief is something entirely understandable: something quintessentially human.

Such a pity that more people don’t reach out to understand religious practices elsewhere around the world, because the impression to be formed is that no matter where we are or who we are, there is a commonality that runs through us all. Having no religion or being inquisitive within one’s own religion, may be advantageous in this regard.

Thought is given in the podcast to life without religion. This is possibly the least satisfying part of the series, as it suggests that it’s unsustainable in the long run. At the end of the series, MacGregor makes the bold statement that we run the risk of society breaking up completely – this is something I would have wanted to understand more. Personally, I see many people making a good fist of living without gods or the traditional rituals of yesteryear. I don’t see how humanistic societies can’t operate for the success and happiness of their peoples: the record of countries like Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands is a case in point. Even Ireland is a happier place now that we have allowed God to fade into the background. Perhaps such states of affairs are unsustainable and perhaps communities are in peril, but at least a counter argument can be made in a world where we don’t now have to rely on revelation and traditional authority alone for matters of truth and belief.

Please give the podcast a go and let me know what you think.

Ah yes, advertising. The crude oil powering the engines of modern media. It pays the bills of television, radio, newspapers and the Internet, and as such it is a necessary evil. Most of it, of course, is godawful: woefully wide of the mark, superlatively irritating and completely absent of even the slightest smidgen of creativity.

Nevertheless, there are some real gems out there, and I’ve just discovered a blog that brings us the best of them.

Like this, using red paint to emphasise an important message:

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Or this, demonstrating the braking ability of a Mercedes..

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Or this one, from Amnesty International

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This is very powerful stuff.

Happy Monday everyone,

Here’s a video my twin boys discovered that will help you get into the week. Base Jumping! Bicycles, triple headstands, and reverse jumping, it’s all there…

(If you liked that and you haven’t seen the Wingsuit video go there now. Now! What are you still doing here?)

A somewhat different one this morning. John Cleese discusses creativity and the simple things you can do to maximise your creative potential. It’s a superb talk as you might expect, and well worth watching. Click on the image to view. 

John Cleese

Via The Next Stage.

It’s now just over 4 years since the tsunami hit South Asia.

These two videos convey to me the horror of the event. They were both taken in Banda Aceh in Indonesia at the very moment the huge wave forced itself upon the city, causing unimaginable devastation and a legacy of suffering that will last a long, long time.

This is for anyone who has never seen the John West commercials..

.. and the weather is terrible, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start it off with a bit of a laugh..

First, a rugby theme..

And now for some Brummie polar bears..

 

This is a mindblowing podcast from NPR’s “This American Life”. It’s about the Credit Crunch, explained so that even a thicko like me can understand it, but done in a way that is, well, mindblowing.

I’ve been like an evangelist over the last few days, telling my real-life friends to listen to it. 

So now I’m telling you.

I rediscovered this gem on YouTube tonight. The original recordings date back from the 1960’s and many years later they were turned into a series of short animations by Brown Bag Films.  This particular one gained an Academy Award nomination in 2001. All the films have recently been uploaded to YouTube in their entirety.

It harks back to a very different time in Ireland. More certainty, fewer questions, perhaps. Whatever the case, the twists the kids put on the stories were delightful. Note the strong Dublin accents! 

Is it me, or does John the Baptist look very like Chris de Burgh?

Over the past few years, I have developed a habit of skepticism, which perhaps could be described as the careful use of critical thinking in the face of extraordinary, supernatural or highly unusual claims. So, if I hear someone talking about healing crystals or angels or UFO’s or homeopathic cures or divine miracles, my immediate reaction nowadays is disbelief.

Skepticism is not something that comes naturally to me. I have a relatively trusting nature, so for me, skepticism is hard work. I’d love to believe – I really would – it’s just that alarm bells go off in my head which can sometimes make for awkward situations in otherwise polite company. 

So, when I hear about people using the phrase “at first I was skeptical, but..” in the context of “witnessing” something such as a UFO or a miracle cure or some other such nonsense, it’s become clear to me that these people doesn’t know the first thing about proper skepticism. Most people simply don’t realise the extent to which they can be manipulated or deceived by false arguments, hidden prejudices, partial evidence and statistical anomalies.

My journey into skepticism has been a long, but highly rewarding journey. In my teens, I read Martin Gardner’s “Fads and Fallacies“, which presented the other side of Homeopathy, Biorythms, UFO claims and Scientology. Much later on, I read Carl Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World” and his “baloney detector kit”. Around the same time, I came across James Randi’s website with his million dollar challenge. I developed a keen interest in identifying logical fallacies and exposing urban legends using Snopes.com. More recently, I have become a keen subscriber to Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid and the superb “Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” podcasts.

In the light of a media culture that seems to thrive on feeding mistaken notions rather than challenging them; in the light of a world where sophisticated marketing techniques are employed by all manner of cults and fringe groups; and in the light of multi-million industries peddling all manner of snake-oil cures, maybe it’s not too late to bolster our skeptical abilities. 

I would recommend the above books, websites and podcasts if you are interested in learning more.

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