Morals vs. Religion

I’ve been told a couple of times recently that I shouldn’t be so anti-religion because religion serves a purpose. An example often given is the Christian prohibition of sex before marriage: isn’t it for the best, they ask rhetorically, that we don’t end up with a bunch of single mums with kids they can’t handle or didn’t want, kids that may end up being neglected or abused?

Obviously my first response to that is that if the church promoted contraception that wouldn’t be a problem!

However the more in-depth response is that I do believe morals serve a purpose. I think society – the world – needs morality, a code of behaviour, a set of rules. However, morality is just the set of rules that suits us best and allows us to best get along. As our societies change, so should our morals. The world and humanity are in a constant state of flux, nothing is ‘normal’, and ‘tradition’ depends on the time and place you value the most.

Turning your morals into a religion causes them to stagnate. It denies the change necessary to keep up with a changing society. It eventually makes them counter-productive and divisive.

To a follower of such a religion, life must seem like a tortuous exercise in Orwell’s double-think: sex before marriage is totally unacceptable, yet it is done all the time by decent people, even people who adhere to this religion, so it can’t be that bad, so maybe I’ll do it, so I did it and now I feel horribly guilty for being immoral… 

Once upon a time, it was probably a good idea not to have sex before marriage. There were limited contraceptive options, and having a child was difficult and dangerous. The risks and hardships were very real and very severe. But now we have a myriad of cheap and simple contraceptive options, and in the event of their failure we have ways of safely aborting a foetus. If you don’t want an abortion, there are systems in place to care for a child or help you do so: adoptions, orphanages, and so on. Now, with these changes and choices, the prohibition on sex before marriage makes much less sense. We don’t need that rule anymore, but religion clings to it.

I really think that religion has no place in the world. Be moral, be ethical, but allow for flexibility.

Philosophy

For 2,500 years, humans have been trying to formulate ideas about how we should live, what constitutes a good liife, and how happiness may be reached. We have  considered material goods, the pursuit of duty, the application of pure rational thought, resignation, and a variety of other methods to reach a good life, as well as endless combinations of these ideas. We hope always to improve our lives and to become better people. But after 2,500 years, can we be said to have improved, to be happier? When one reads ancient letters, journals, and essays, one finds very much the same concerns and activities as those which occupy us now. What, then, is the purpose or point of philosophy? Is there one? Sometimes I feel that the point is to make the philosopher feel smarter or better than the general populace. It seems very much a pursuit for the benefit of an individual rather than society. In the 300s BCE, Epicurus told us that happiness could be attained with friendship, freedom, and thought, and that we habitually and needlessly purchased expensive goods to satisfy the needs of our souls; modern corporations still use this habit against us. In the first century CE, many Roman orators and writers described politics as being more about personal glory than the greater good; this appears to continue as it was. In the 1500s, Montaigne made similar observations about education as might be made today: that it teaches fact without teaching understanding, what to think but not how to think. Socrates himself told us to question every presumption, to apply logic and rational thought in all matters, and that a view held by a figure of authority or by a majority or for a very long time is not necessarily correct simply because of that fact. When you look around and see what we have done with such wisdom, one might be forgiven for taking Schopenhaur’s grim view of the world!

Skulls

The skull of ‘Lucy’
(Australopithecus)

Quite some time ago, possibly over a year ago, we took Elspeth to the Melbourne Zoo. On display near the elephants is an elephant skull. Upon seeing it, she was first slightly nervous, and then overcame that to become quite interested. Ever since then, she’s had something of an obsession with skulls.

She asks to look at pictures of skulls – she will specify an animal – and she will point out to people, ‘You have a skull in your head!’

Recently, as part of my university studies (Human Evolution & Diversity), I was looking at some pictures of skulls of various ancient hominid species including the famous ‘Lucy’. Elspeth was on my lap. I scrolled past the pictures to read the text at the bottom of the page, and she began protesting:

‘Go back so I can see the skulls! They’re beautiful pictures. I like skulls.’

I think I’ve created a future paleoanthropologist!

I’m thrilled with the things she takes an interest in. I can see how skulls might seem a bit morbid, but they’re fascinating really. The amount you can tell about an animal just from its skull is almost unbelievable.

For instance, from the position of the spot where the spine joins the head, you can tell whether an animal is bipedal or quadrupedal. From patterns of wear on the teeth you can tell what it ate and what else it used its teeth for; for instance, Eskimos and Neandertals both use(d) their teeth to soften hides so they could be worked into boots.

I hope Elspeth keeps her curiosity and fascination with all sorts of interesting and bizarre things. There is so much to know about so many things!

Including skulls.

Awesome husband is awesome

Last week was exam week for the Fall of the Roman Republic. With Open Universities, a non-invigilated exam will be open, the questions available, for several days or a week, and you submit your answers in a Word document by the due date.

Last week was also the week that Aidan returned to work after a five week break.

Despite needing to work, being sick, and wanting to do his own study (Aidan’s just starting with Open Uni too), he was willing and able to take the kids out a few times and give me plenty of time to get my exam done, distraction-free. I am so grateful; I would never have gotten the thing done if I’d had the kids underfoot the whole time. Aidan’s help and support is, as always, invaluable.

So it’s all done, submitted, and now I move on to my next subject: Human Evolution and Diversity.

Milestones and acheivements

Elspeth

A few weeks ago I finally decided it was time to properly potty train Elspeth. So I said to her, ‘No more nappies during the day, it’s underpants or nothing from now on.’ She threw a tantrum, but I’m bigger than her so I won. And we’ve had remarkably few accidents! She rarely needs reminding or prompting, she goes on the potty by herself, and often asks to use the toilet too. So that’s good!

Evelyn

In the last week or so, Evelyn has figured out crawling! She’s getting around like a champion now, and follows me around the house all the time. She is also starting to babble, making quite a few nice consonant sounds – ‘ba’ and ‘da’ and ‘ga’. She’s done the occasional ‘da-dee’, which Aidan is happy to claim as her first word. There are also some ‘hiyas’ and ‘yeahs’.

Me

I’ve been studying hard and I’ve just about finished my most recent unit – Worlds of Early Modern Europe. Next week I start on the Fall of the Roman Republic.

Home alone

goodbye

I’ve just waved goodbye to my husband and daughters, closing the gate behind them, not to see them again until tomorrow afternoon. They’re off to visit the ‘nanny and poppy with the birds’ – Aidan’s parents, as distinct from mine who have a cat.

I’ve sent Elspeth off before, usually to the ‘nanny and poppy with the cat’. I’ve gone out alone. But since Evelyn’s birth I have not spent any more than an hour or so at home by myself.

I confess to a small sniffle and the wiping of a tear after I shut the gate behind my family. Off they go to have fun, while I stay at home to get some work done on an essay.

The silence is kind of nice. I do think I will enjoy my time alone, with nobody else’s needs pressing mine lower in the priority list. But I will miss Evelyn’s funny laugh and toothless grin, and Elspeth’s enthusiastic hugs and wet sloppy kisses. Although I don’t think I’ll miss being woken up at 3am.

So it’s 9.30am. I’m going to have a shower, get this place cleaned up a bit (we have an inspection coming up) and then get stuck into addressing this essay question: Why was witchcraft a crime in Early Modern Europe?

Quiet… for a while…

It’s a chilly Autumn morning in Melbourne. There’s scarcely a breath of wind. The heater is on, and besides the sound of hot air rushing through vents, my house is filled with silence. My husband sleeps, having worked the night shift last night. The baby enjoys her morning nap in utter stillness. Usually a toddler would be running around right now, talking and singing and making up words, but today even that noise is absent. She holidays with my parents.

I try to fill the space with study; I have an essay due at the end of the week, and this was partially the purpose of Elspeth’s holiday. To study, I need tea. The click of the kettle as it reaches the boil sounds ridiculously loud today. Even as I know that my husband can sleep through the usual baby and toddler sounds, I wonder if that little click disturbed his slumber.

I always get a feeling of triumph from actually drinking the first cup of tea I make in the morning. All too often it is forgotten, left to go tepid on the bench, as I attend to the various wants of my children. But today I get to drink it while it is still piping hot.

As I sip my expensive tea, and read about disastrous famines in Europe in the twelfth century, I wonder if I have enough gluten free bread left to make a nice cooked breakfast – poached eggs on toast, maybe.

But even as the thought enters my mind, the baby stirs. My peace is gone, obliterated, and I put my Mummy persona back on like a mask.

Who’s my beautiful girl, then? Did you have a nice nap? Oh yes, I think you did! Come to mummy!