Word a Day: Place, belief, and contempt

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Hello again. Today’s series of writings took me through an array of different styles, genres, and techniques. The first is focused on creating a sense of place, using certain words and thought breaks so as to develop the hellish nature of the battlefield.

The second is perhaps better placed in a Theory Thursday entry, but the idea of using a discourse style of writing to tackle a particular issue I have been having myself felt like the best way to approach it. My views stand with that of Sam’s, but please do excuse me for any biblical inaccuracies. It is my hope to one day read the Old and New Testaments in full, so as to gather a clearer picture of Christian faith, and the beliefs of other faiths.

The final entry is an attempt to show a contemptuous and cruel character. Sarah – as I hope I show – is not one for life’s subtleties; she fails to recognise the bird that is on the window sill, and her high vantage point in the Palace of Versailles makes her look down on those who she actually belongs to.

I hope you enjoy these writings.

3.4.15

The waste of the battle was strewn across the fields; charred wagons, torn banners – bludgeoned men. I made my way through the chaos – such loss, misery, and for what? Glory? – here are there, cries came from the men who lay in the mud. Wishing for it to end.

We knew not glory. Glory requires victory, success – nobody had known such things today. On this day, there was only pain. It had begun with the sun to their backs, rising above the yellow fields, prepared to watch the carnage. Why would God let this happen? He who watched idly, as men put themselves against one another, only to end with death, death, death.

I passed a young boy – he could only have been fifteen, not even young enough to work – lying legless in the cesspool of blood. Something gripped my leg. I spun, hand on my sword hilt. I saw nothing. I looked down, and my gaze was met by that of a man – his face half cleaved off. How had he survived? Such cruelty.

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The badge on his arm showed he was a friend. All men in this battle were friends; even the enemies. We knew not why we had to war, only that the others were a threat to our freedom, and us their’s. Taking the pistol from my belt, I finished the botched death. Bless’d mercy.

“Sir!” A young soldier, his arm bandaged, ran up to me. His face flickered red in the glow of a fire, one of many dotted about the battlefield.

I reclaimed myself: “what is it, private?”

“It being the General, sir. He’s wounded bad, sir.”

“Take me to him”, I said firmly, and we weaved our way through the wasteland.

4.4.15

“How can you explain what happened at the beginning then? The very beginning!” Matthew fired at James.

They had been arguing for what felt like eternity, coming back around to the same questions, running in circles, two opposing forces chasing one another’s tales.

“Something disrupted the equilibrium at the start of the universe; a particle of matter entered it, and caused the Big Bang”.

James was adamant. How could anyone be so blind to ignore scientific evidence?

“How? What started that?” Matthew asked. He liked James very much, he had no quarrel with him, but his scientific argument only went so far. Matthew agreed with some things James said, but he could not see how he could argue that science was the only answer; God had power in this, too.

The rest of the class sat in silence. Their tutor had not turned up on time for the class, and half of the philosophy students had left already. The rest sat with their heads bowed, looking at their smartphones.

“OK then, how can you deny evolution?” asked James.

“God made the Earth, and he made Adam and Eve”, Matthew said. “Man did not evolve”.

“But there is evidence that it does! We have fossils! Carbon dating, genetic testing!” This was getting ridiculous now.

“Were they actually man, though? How can you even be sure? They existed millions of years ago!”

“You are both right”.

The two boys looked around. Sam, unlike his classmates, had been listening to the conversation; they were in philosophy after all.

“How?” asked James, pointing at Matthew. “He cannot provide sufficient evidence that God exists”.

“And you cannot prove he doesn’t”, said Sam, making James look like he had been slapped. Matthew smiled.

“You are both right”, repeated Sam. He sat forward in his chair, looking at the floor in the centre of the horseshoe shape the tables made.

“What are we arguing about?” he asked, almost rhetorically.

“History”, said James. “The past”, said Matthew.

“Belief?” asked Sam – this time rhetorically.

He sighed: “what we talk about in this seminar are people’s ideas, people’s theories as to how we got here; how we are who we are; what makes us think the way we do; different opinions from across time and space”.

“What does that help with?” hissed James, clearly prepared to fight his corner again.

“It helps us to understand that we do not know; we can never know”, Sam replied. “Everything you have been talking about are what we believe, in order to make sense of the world.

“You believe we have evolved from apes, and the world began with particles and the Big Bang”, he said, looking at James.

“And you think God created the world in six days, and on the last he created man and woman as they are today”. Matthew nodded.

“On evolution”, he started, rubbing his fingers together, “you both have your own points. Both of which are valid.

“We may descend from apes, but can we describe those apes as men when they were not? Man was only man when he became what we can see now! Even now we are evolving, technically. I may learn not to pick up a hot pan, or survive a car crash; I will learn from those experiences, and go on to survive.

“Have I evolved, or have I learned? Am I the same as I was before the accident? Have I evolved? I have certainly adapted to the environment in which I live: my wounds will heal, and I will learn from the past.

“The birds Charles Darwin found on the islands that had different beaks to feed better, are similar to people across the world have changed to cope with their environments. But they are still birds, they are still people, they are just different; just as you and I are different!

“Right”, said Matthew slowly. “Where does that leave us?”

“It leaves us”, said Sam – not quite sure himself, “that we cannot have been truly man until we appeared as we are now, but even at that we are all still different!

“What I am trying to say is: yes, maybe we did come from a line of apes, but can we say for certain? You have a story that you have made to make sense of our world – we all have! No matter what we believe, all of our opinions matter, that is what makes us humans.

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“Each side can learn from the other. And each side can inform the other’s opinions. If we accepted everything we are told, what are we then? People, or machines?”

Sam’s mind felt like a maze; he had run a rope behind him, and now it was tangled. It didn’t matter; he had a core point he wanted to put across, that he hoped would help everyone. The class was listening now, not looking at their phones anymore.

“On the beginning – who can say for sure?” he asked. Even he had had doubts about his own beliefs: was all of the science he had believed as a boy, and now an adult, really true? Were there other ideas?

He had concluded: “We can never know. Perhaps we shouldn’t know. We know that we are here now, and that we began somewhere. You say God created the Earth; you say it is the result of the Big Bang. You cannot prove God created us, and you cannot say that he did not initiate your Big Bang.

“We have, as I say, made these stories to make sense of the world”.

He looked at his classmates at large, not really noticing that they were all looking back at him. On the walls, posters of Karl Marx, Plato, and one of David Hume gazed blankly at the wall opposite them.

“We all have a story we believe, to make sense of ourselves. Whether we take notice of it or not; our whole lives are a story, and what we learn throughout them will help us write our next chapters. The Vikings told stories of Thor and Odin; the Greeks told stories about how Gaia gave birth to Uranus – the sky; the Chinese, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and scientists all have their own opinions of how we got here. How can we prove any of them wrong?”

“How come, then”, interrupted James, “the Church held science back, and usually has done?”

“If science came first, would it have let the Church flourish?” Sam asked. “Religious stories like Noah, Moses, Jesus and the disciples are just that – stories. People across the world teach these stories to their children to learn virtues and vices such as right and wrong, love and hate, compassion and greed, selfish- and selflessness. Just as the Romans, Greeks, and Vikings did before us.

“Had Newton not discovered gravity, would we know it as gravity today? Is gravity even a thing, or just an explanation we have given to an effect that we have witnessed? We are looking for dark matter, but is that not just a thing we have created to explain the great emptiness of space?”

Sam took a sip from his water, his mouth dry from all this talking. The room was silent.

He continued: “what I am saying is that we could have believed anything, history could have been so different, and yet here we are. Neither of you will be able to truly believe the other, or maybe you will! Some day.

“What I think is that we can learn from one another. Stories – scientific or religious – are there to help us make sense of what we are, who we are, and where we came from. Who’s to say there is no Heaven, when no one has ever been there? Who is to say there was no Big Bang, when no one was there to see it?

“Science can help us discover what is there; the atoms, the gravity, the dark matter, and the Higgs Bosons. Religion can helps us make sense of it, but also learn the values that may benefit us in later life. All religions are like languages: language developed between different communities to meet different conditions – so did religion.

“Religions should not fight but discuss. We can all learn something from on another. Just as we have learned from the people of the past, like Marx, Plato, Rousseau, and Cicero. They each try to give an explanation to something they have seen, but who is right? Who is wrong?

The class sat motionless. James looked at Matthew, rather sheepishly, and said: “I get that we cannot agree on a lot of things, but I guess that is the same among scientists, too”.

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Matthew nodded, staring blankly at his jotter. Coming out of his thought bubble, he thanked James, adding: “maybe we can agree on things. Science has taught us a lot about our universe. Many people in the Church believe some things science says, just not all of it”.

Sam nodded gratefully. “Good, now let’s move on”.

5.4.15

Sarah walked across the decorative room, her high heeled shoes echoing from the oakwood floor. She made her way towards the beautiful paned window, and looked into the courtyard below. Tourists were milling around there, seemingly aimless, no real purpose.

A small bird fluttered down onto the white stone window sill on the other side of the window. It pecked at something Sarah could not see, hoping backwards and forwards across the sill. How could she tell him? George had gone off in search of the bathroom, and left Sarah in this bedroom, somewhere in the Palace of Versailles.

France! Such a typical place to choose to go. He was young, though; like a baby deer trying to walk. The sex was good, but it wasn’t exactly something to shout about. Sarah played with her short dark hair, the rays of the sun falling across her face.

She turned at the sound of echoing footsteps behind her, and saw George walking towards her from the doorway. He embraced her, looking down into her pointed little face. “Shall we move on?” he asked cheekily, grinning broadly.

“Oh, please”, she teased. She kissed him, making some of the older visitors raise their eyebrows and mutter in the way the French do. Turning to face the doorway, she weaved her arm around his, and walked through to the next room.

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