Mrs Literarylad and I have recently come back from a holiday in Australia. In Perth, we metaphorically walked our legs off exploring this city that we know well from previous visits, but which is changing rapidly.
Down by the waterfront, the walking got too much and, like a couple of toddlers that refuse to go any further, we just had to sit down for a while. It was a great place to stop, looking out across the water to South Perth, Heirisson Island and King’s Park away to our right. But our peace was disturbed by an unwanted intrusion when two young guys turned up and made straight for us.It didn’t look good. Their opening gambit was ‘this is going to sound strange, but…’ The one who said this explained that he’d had a premonition he was going to see a couple where the woman was wearing a purple top (see picture) and that he should tell this couple about god. He was right – it did sound strange. And the way he said it suggested he didn’t believe it any more than we did. What is it with these people that they feel the need to browbeat the rest of us into sharing their beliefs? Only today I answered the door to someone who handed me a leaflet and said they wanted to invite me to ‘an event’. I said ‘no thank you’ and to her credit she smiled sweetly, said goodbye and left, which is not the way it usually pans out.
Being disturbed in your private sanctuary is bad enough, but to be hassled when you’re enjoying a moment of quiet contemplation while on holiday is too much. And these guys didn’t give up, even though I responded by telling them outright that we’re atheists. Funny; my ‘belief’ (that gods are the invention of human beings) are every bit as strong as theirs, and in addition are supported by an overwhelming weight of evidence, but I don’t see fit to accost strangers and insult them by telling them that their world view is wrong. Religious groups are very vocal about the importance of respecting people’s beliefs, but in typical irrational fashion seem to think that’s a right that only applies to them.
There followed an over-long exchange of views about whether god exists or not, during which they proffered the usual fatuous justifications for a belief in god.
‘Don’t you think all this…’ (wave of an arm to indicate the world and everything in it) ‘…proves that there must be a creator?’
Er…no; why would you possibly think the fact that something exists proves it was made by someone?
‘OK, so science tells us about the big bang, but what was there before the big bang?’ (It can only have been god, obviously!)
OK, so religion tells us everything was made by a magic being in the sky; but what was there before the wizard?’
‘God has always been there.’
OK, so it isn’t acceptable to say that the universe has always been there – science is expected to give a full explanation – but it’s fine to say the wizard has always been there?
No answer. They ignored this setback to their arguments and, after a brief pause, continued with their script. Because that’s undoubtedly what it was. A Bloggy pal of mine, The Closet Atheist tells of a branch of ‘learning’ called ‘Apologetics’. From what I can gather, this is basically aimed at giving religious students a stock set of questions and arguments to (supposedly) counter all the arguments they might hear from non-believers. These guys weren’t there to debate, they were there to persuade, and any points scored against them went further over their heads than the airplane we arrived on. They resorted to personal accounts of having seen god, which, when pressed about the details, came down to having rather just felt ‘his’ presence. I guess you can’t argue with recollections of personal experience.
I expect these guys really believed they had felt god’s presence, and who am I to say they were deluded – perhaps they had? Although I could have told them that the mind is a curious thing, and very open to suggestion – particularly at times of great emotion, when naturally produced chemicals within the brain, combined with wishful thinking, can cause all sorts of strange effects.
Instead, anxious to wrap up the meeting, I said we’d just have to agree to differ. They didn’t seem to want to accept this happy compromise, but eventually they realised they weren’t going to get anything more out of us. It was at this point they asked if it was OK for them to pray for us. Fine, I said, so long as you don’t do it here. Their faces dropped, and it became clear that was exactly what they intended. I made it quite clear that wasn’t going to happen, and fortunately they accepted this, told us what lovely people we are, shook our hands, and went away to look for some other poor sop to try their pitch on. I say fortunately, because had they insisted on kneeling down, closing their eyes and saying a few words to the big guy in the sky, I would have had no alternative than to push them off the wharf…
Despite this one depressing experience, we had some great times in Australia. I love the warm weather and the sunshine. I love the beautiful, natural environments – the rainforests, the bushland, and the deserted beaches. I love the relaxed lifestyle. I love the wildlife. And I love the exotic plants and flowers (for a selection of photos, visit Pulling Weeds). With family in Sydney, we’re bound to go back again sometime. It’s just a case of how quickly we can save up enough money…
Note: The picture above is of the Swan Bell Tower, in Barrack Square on the Perth waterfront. When St Martin-in-the-Fields, in London (Trafalgar Square), replaced their bells, they donated the old ones to the state of Western Australia, who refurbished them, and built this tower to house them. The tower, not so long ago, stood alone on the waterfront, and could be admired from all directions. But that whole area is undergoing extensive development, with land being added where there was water, and the tower is fast being surrounded. The picture below, taken from the bus station, shows the buildings going up around the glass spire.
Text and images copyright Graham Wright 2018