There are a few discussions happening on Facebook about science and religion and whether they can exist together, or whether science will make religion/spirituality redundant. I’m very happy that many of the born-again Atheists that, after reading The God Delusion, went on evangelical campaigns to convert the world to Dawkinsism seem to have backed off a bit, as this has allowed this space for more open discussion.
Last night I watched a documentary on the Voyager space probes. As the years came and went after their launch and these probes made their way past each planet, they somehow transmitted images back to Earth and for the first time we saw the planets that share our solar system (how this signal get’s from space to Earth when I have trouble getting a WIFI signal from my lounge to my bedroom is another of life’s mysteries…). As Voyager flew past Neptune and entered deep space the scientists on Earth managed to get the camera to turn back towards our solar system and it sent back an image. This image is, to me, one of the most sobering and grounding images ever taken. Among the grey of space there was a tiny blue dot. That was Earth. It looked so small, so fragile. It puts everything in perspective.
This leads to another thought. Of all of the uncountable life forms on Earth (yes, let’s start with just the Earth) from bacteria, viruses, insects, fish, all of the species of mammals from whales to farmed sheep, the birds, each of which were born and are alive, somehow, a statistically almost impossible feat, I ended up being born a human. Not only that but I was born a human living in the south east of England. I could have been anything. But I was born as me. Next time I complain about the strength of my home WIFI signal just remind me of this.
So how do I, a Pagan polytheistic animist, square the Voyager image, and the film above with my beliefs? Let’s have a look.
I once had my own business and I shared this with a very spiritual man, but not a religious one. He once said to me, “Well, if you’re going to worship anything it makes sense to worship the things that keep you alive. The Sun, the Earth.” The solar system, and our planet’s relationship with it create our seasons. I read a wonderful blog by the Druid and blogger John Beckett on Patheos some time ago. Sadly I can’t find the post, but the gist of it was that some believe Atheism to be the natural state of the human mind. John’s argument suggested that, if all evidence of every religion was to disappear from the Earth, and somehow the human race also forgot all religions, that lack of religion and belief would not last. At some point we would look to the Sun, the seasons, the stars, and the Moon, and we would begin to see stories, to see meaning behind the natural movement of the Earth and its relationship with its closest celestial bodies. We would begin to develop deeper relationships with the seasons. Many modern Pagans do this now. It’s just common sense to me. So the stories of my ancestors, and the ancestors of other tribal peoples around the world can still offer valuable lessons. They are beautiful and poetic ways to relate to the world. When I look towards the sea I see Llyr. As an animist I don’t see Llyr as the God of the Sea, I see him as the sea itself. The stories of Llyr and his children give me ways to relate this powerful element that makes up a third of our planet. You might see it as a powerful and useful metaphor. To me it’s more than that. Who is right? That’s not the important question. To quote the Bard – There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. – Hamlet (1.5.167-8)
I love to watch scientific programs. I’m also not against Richard Dawkins. I love his book The Ancestors Tale. I don’t think he would like me saying this but I found it an incredibly spiritual book, and instead of challenging my Paganism, it added even more depth to it. Quantum physics is suggesting the existence of alternative universes, some even filled with alternative Damhs living parallel lives. So to believe in Otherworlds is also not too far out there. Of course there are places where current science and my beliefs separate. As an animist I believe that all things have consciousness, from my dog, to stones, to trees, and I believe that, as I have consciousness, through meditation and Journeying, I can communicate with the consciousness of others, and of Otherworlds. When I get to areas like this there is faith because it is subjective and is only proven to me by experience. I don’t expect anyone to share my beliefs.
As I watch programs like the one on the Voyager probes, see videos like the one above, see from a photograph just how small our planet really is, it makes me wish the perspective it gives me was contagious. I wish those getting upset to the point of murder about a cartoon, and those who felt they needed to draw that cartoon, politicians who seem hellbent on creating fear of an ‘Other’, all those involved in war and power, would see that we are one species, floating through space on a tiny planet that somehow manages to sustain an abundance of life. That our existence is a miracle, that we could be so much more than we are.
But then maybe I’m seeing the Star Trek utopia, and it seems we are a few generations from that.