I was trying to write a post about how a lot of good ideas we try to live by are, when you look at the details, nonsensical.

Copyright. It looks sensible and just in the abstract, that an artist should benefit from their original work and be protected against anyone who wants to copy it. Until you try to define "original", "work", "benefit", "protect" and "copy".

The idea of patenting genes or scientific discoveries is, um, "patently" ridiculous, but even straightforward patents of algorithms, chemical processes and mechanical devices rely on legal terms which, if taken literally, could result in the patent holder owning half the universe. Or nothing at all.

The idea of "Justice" - as in "retribution" - relies on the rather strange notion of a misdeed being somehow counterbalanced and erased by inflicting a punishment which is supposed to be equal in some way.

If I steal a thousand dollars from a millionaire, how do you calculate the damage done - or even define it - and how do you calculate an "equivalent" incarceration period. And should I get less if I'm claustrophobic?

However, fortunately for us all, I got bogged down in detail, so I'll just post part of the introduction, below. It might be interesting in its own right.

Someone once defined theology as trying to be rational about absurd ideas[1]. As a former theology student, I think he was right. Here's an example.

Early christian theology recognised one god, who had one son - the notion of a holy ghost was a later addition. Nice and simple.

But the son was human, or half-human and half-divine, or his body and emotions were human but his intellect and soul were divine, or...something. So what happened when the imperfect human part disagreed with the perfect divine part? Surely Jesus wasn't just a mindless automation controlled from upstairs?

Did baby-Jesus' poo smell bad? Did he ever get involuntary erections? Did he sweat? All vitally important questions.

Maybe the human part was so perfect that it was always in accordance with the divine part? No, that wouldn't work because humans are fallen so are incapable of that level of perfection - fallenness is built into the flesh. That's the whole point of original sin.

Besides, the whole purpose of him being on earth was to live and suffer and die as a human. The resurrection and bodily ascension could only be meaningful if he were human - a reanimated mannequin wouldn't do.

So the compromise reached was: Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. Two incompatible beings squeezed into one because...well, god could make his own rules. Problem solved, right?

Well no, because that means god was both up there and down here at the same time, both the passive watcher and the active preacher. So were there then two gods, maybe with different knowledge and agendas?

This dispute was so bitter it nearly splintered the fledgling church before it could become established. It was patched up in the Nicene Creed, stating that Father and Son were two separate entities...but they were made of the same stuff, whatever that means.

Which only left the question of whether the son had always existed as a separate entity, or was called into existence by the father splitting himself like an amoeba. The answer was that Jesus had always existed, but only as a bodiless force before it became a person.

Which only left the other question of this obscure single line in the approved books, which seemed to be talking about a third mysterious thing in the sky.

Cue more schizming.

Okay, so theologins endlessly worry about cloudy abstractions which have no bearing on real-world questions. It's nice they have a job for life, but it never affects real people, right?

There's an idea in islamic law that people fall into two distinct groups in relation to an individual - those who are family, and those who are not.

There's your immediate biological family - parents, siblings, cousins, offspring, nephews and nieces, aunts and uncles, grandparents and grandchildren etc - plus your in-laws. You're not allowed to marry these, and sex with them is forbidden as incest. Probably fairly sensible, yes?

There's another idea that receiving milk from a wet nurse makes her part of your family - so sex with her or her family is off-limits. Well, it makes a kind of sense, I suppose. Oh, and the man who made her pregnant so she could make the milk, he's family too.

But how much nursing does she have to do to become family? One suckling session? One drop of milk? The law has settled on five suckling sessions being the threshold, because the Qu'ran says ten. Um, okay.

But what if you're suckling and you're not an infant? Maybe you're five years old, or fifteen, or fifty - if you're a man sucking on the breasts of a recent mother, does full sex with her become forbidden the fifth time you do it, or is there an upper limit to your age beyond which she can't become family, no matter how much of her milk you swallow?

Yes, this is a real controversy, and the answer seems to be that there's no age limit.

But what if she's dead?

What if you've sucked her milk four times, then she dies and you suddenly develop necrophiliac tendencies...and so you suck really really hard to get the last of her milk. Is it then illegal to fuck the corpse because she's now a relative, or can she only become a relative when alive?

This vital point of jurisprudence has been extensively debated, and I'm delighted to say I have no idea whether a conclusion has even been reached.

[1] I've found the actual quote. It's from the anthropologist James Frazer, writing in The Golden Bough. It runs:

"myth changes while custom remains constant; men continue to do what their fathers did before them, though the reasons on which their fathers acted have been long forgotten. The history of religion is a long attempt to reconcile old custom with new reason, to find a sound theory for an absurd practice."

1 comment:

  1. The problem with religion is that it has nothing to do with spirituality.

    When people worship whatever spirit(s) or higher being(s) on their own, there's no need for hierarchy or other rules to make things more complicated. The problem with organized religion (any organized religion), is that people involved make power their first priority and spirituality takes a back seat. And we all know that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely...

    By the way, I'm watching the England vs Germany soccer game. I usually sleep in til noon on Sundays, but I got up early to watch this game and to root for Mexico later on.

    So far, England 0 and Germany 1, but it's only 25 minutes now into the pucker up and blow on a vuvuzela! The game just started!