This is another repost from the old blog, for archival purposes.
I’m watching Peter Owen Jones’ Around The World In Eighty Faiths. You might recall Owen Jones as the public school hippy ex-ad man anglican vicar from Extreme Pilgrimage.
This time ’round, Owen Jones is on a world tour, looking at the beliefs and rituals of eighty different faiths. It’s fascinating. The beliefs held by these eighty faiths are not in any way compatible with each other, and Owen Jones acknowledges this by not attempting to conjure those pitiful explanations for why they are, in-fact, all the same belief. He’s very respectful of the beliefs as they are described to him. For much of the series, he whispers as though it is an Attenborough documentary, and he must not disturb the wildlife in its natural habitat. He stands at a short distance watching in awe of the rituals. Clearly profound things are up.
But when he goes to Moscow to meet the Russian Orthodox Christians, a brief and sudden angry streak displays itself. He is disgusted with what atheism — not communism, atheism — did to the Russian Orthodox religion under the Soviet regime. But, to tick off another of his eighty faiths, he goes to observe some atheists performing their ritual in a dusty old meeting room. He wants to know “what contemporary atheism has to offer.” What a fascinating way to approach the issue. Not whether an idea is right or wrong; what it has to offer.
Later he visits Damanhur, a “spiritualist” commune in northern Italy. Here he learns about spherocells and environmental transformers, and concludes that there is much creative energy in the vicinity. Hey, in Damanhur, you don’t even need to be sentient to get creative: “Plants can modulate sounds. By making them listen to classical music, they learn to use it better. There is an interaction between our thoughts and the vegetable’s.” To prove the point, Owen Jones strokes a leaf to help the plant with its latest composition.
“Most religions have some wacky stuff in them. We’ve just become socialised into believing that ‘there are some people who believe this, and that’s OK.’ Is that OK? I mean, I think that’s OK.”
Sure, Pete. If you think that truth doesn’t matter.