Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"That Man Would Typewrite a Love-letter"

In my God as Metaphor post some time ago, I ended up concentrating on organised religion, and how it might be read as a literary effort to explain our search for meaning. It struck me then, and still does now, that in doing so I had over-emphasised my critique of religion, and only briefly touched on the antipode of science that I had also been meaning to critique:
The same argument, incidentally, could apply to scientific theories seeking to explain the world, including that part of it that relates to our morality. It is simply a metaphor framed in very different terms, albeit one I personally am finding increasingly limited.
That was all I wrote about science, then, and yet the post had been partly motivated by my dismay at the tendency in certain quarters to disparage the beauty that surrounds us in dismissing the claims of organised religion.

In one of those happy little coincidences that life throws up now and then, and yes, I am being somewhat disingenuous here, I recently picked up a book by an author I was very fond of as a child. I will not say who it is just yet, as there is another post to be written about him. The passage I want to concentrate on today draws on a metaphor drawn by the village postman:

Look at these early flowers which appear. So many of 'em are droopin' bells, as though natur' were ringin' em [the courting birds] on their way. When the west wind blows, I watch the snowdrops, the little woodsorrel of the pine-woods, the tall daffodils, and bluebells ... All of 'em ringing their carillon - bells for the birdies' weddin's, swingin', swayin', pealin'; and the great big marsh marigolds and the flamin' buttercups standin' up straight out o' the green grass and holdin' their ... chalices aloft and cryin' , "Good 'ealth to bride and bridegroom".
Shortly after this tour de force of rustic mysticism - even if "flamin' buttercups" strikes an odd note to more modern ears - our narrator encounters a keen gardener, with whom he cannot resist sharing the postman's vision, although even the narrator refers to these as "quaint conceits."
'Ah, yes,' he said in his superior way; 'very pretty, no doubt. But we botanists like to stick to facts.'

'Facts are not so beautiful as truth, sometimes,' I ventured to interpolate.

'Those of us who have a scientific bent explain things differently,' he said, with a superior air. 'You see,' he added. 'those tubular flowers of yours live under cold atmospheric conditions. By closingh the petals much of the warmth which would be lost by radiation is preserved. The surface presented to the Arctic winds and dews being that of the involucral leaves, or bracts, of the calyx, which...'
Now, while our narrator is clearly not shy of editorialising - I would have thought that his interlocutor's condescending attitude would have been obvious without us being told twice of his superior airs - and while there are flaws and subtexts that I would like to explore anon, he can coin a wonderful phrase.

"Facts are not so beautiful as truth, sometimes" speaks even unto a confirmed agnostic like me, and it's a truth that the more militant atheists would do well to remember.


  1. Nice post. I'm dying to know who the author of the quotes is now - I should know! I'm an agnostic, too, but can you be a "confirmed" one? - Aren't we, by definition, open to persuasion?

  2. Thanks, Welshcakes. If it helps, the author of the very first quotation is, er, me. I will go on to talk about the author in question some more, either here or in an Other Place.

    As for whether one can be a "confirmed agnostic", I think the only answer to that could be "I wouldn't know". Although you've now set me off thinking about confirmation classes and the rest...

  3. Within the last few years I heard what I thought was the best way of saying this and, for the life of me, I do not remember who said it. I paraphrase:

    Interviewer: So, you do not believe in God?

    Interviewee: I've never said that.

    Interviewer: But you are on record as being against religion. Therefore you're an atheist?

    Interviewee: I've never said that.

    Interviewer: The two do not match up.

    Interviewee: I am against religion, for various reasons, but I am not against the idea of God because, in the scientific sense it cannot be proven or unproven. It remains open to debate but much of religion can easily be exposed as bunkum.

    End of.

    So why get involved? Much of the good stuff of religious writing is pertinent but only in our contemporaneous society - had I wished to control a tribe I may well have invited a stonemason to rumble up a few, 10?, stones to quell the rabble and got away with it. I like to think we are more sophisticated these days. We are not.

    It's still the same story i.e. tough on the speakers of truth tough on their followers. Oops. I just did a James and let know that some of us do not accept the nonsense they propagate.

    So, there may or may not be a god or a God. I do not care. What I do care about is people thinking about what is best for us human beings and then doing ,not nothing, but stupid things. For example, Africa has not worked despite the aid we throw at it so we will throw more? Eh? Explain that to me.

    We have had today an explanation that the reason for violence in Palestine is the fact that they have more children in a certain demographic age than other countries therefore they should be excused their violence. I return time after time after -oh you get the gist - to what James is saying, it will not stop here. It may take a few years but it will return.


  4. Thanks Ian - and the very best of 'ealth and 'appiness to you and everyone hereabouts too.

  5. "That Man Would Typewrite a Love-letter"

    "Facts are not so beautiful as truth, sometimes"

    Ian, it reminds me a little of Coleridge who started with "he who loves Christianity better than truth". Thanks for this.


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