Sunday, 11 November 2012

Degrees of nonsense

... reading about vampires just isn't as respectable as reading about Jesus and Mohamed ... You can get a degree in theology, but you can't get a degree in repelling vampires. There's undoubtedly a pervasive sense, even now, that religion is a superior class of metaphysics. Throwing salt over your shoulder when you've spilt it is for people who wear their dressing gowns while watching ITV before midday, while attending mass is for the kind of people who possess ties and toothbrushes.

The anthropologist Pascal Boyer once wrote 'Some Fang' (a type of people in Africa) 'say that witches have an extra animal-like internal organ that flies away at night and ruins other people's crops or poisons their food.' It's said that these witches sometimes assemble for huge banquets where they devour their victims and plan future attacks. Many will tell you that a friend of a friend actually saw witches flying over a village at night, sitting on a banana leaf and throwing magical darts at various unsuspecting victims.

Well, he continues, 'I was mentioning these, and other such, exotica over dinner in a Cambridge college when one of our guests, a prominent Catholic theologian, turned to me and said "This is what makes anthropology so fascinating and so difficult, too. You have to explain how people can believe in such nonsense."'

So personally, I've always thought the difference between religion and superstition was not so much degrees of nonsense, but politics.

From a talk by Deborah Hyde, AKA Jourdemayne, who also shares her knowledge of of dark matters here and here.