Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin

July 7, 2008

I took a break from reading this past week.  On Monday night, there was a fire in the apartment below Manny and his family.  It was the superintendent’s apartment.  The super and his entire family were badly burned and their apartment is completely destroyed.  On Wednesday, the super’s 14 year old grandson died from his burns.  We are hoping and praying the rest of family pulls through.  So it has been an emotional week, and instead of reading, I’ve been thinking over the fire and how fragile this crazy life really is.  The thing that kept the fire from spreading?  It was because the family wasn’t able to reach the door to get out of their apartment.  They couldn’t open the door.  Because they couldn’t open the door, the fire didn’t spread upwards into the rest of the building.  But because they weren’t able to open the door to escape, some of the kids were trapped in their bedrooms and couldn’t get out until the firefighters broke down the door and rescued them.  I know its cliche to say, but when you think about how quickly everything can change, you realize what is really important in life.  And that is the people you love.  There’s really nothing else.

Which brings me to The Reluctant Mr. Darwin.  Charles Darwin’s favorite daughter, Annie died of a mysterious illness when she was only ten years old.  Darwin referred to the time she died as the time he gave up on Christianity.  The death of his daughter, combined with Darwin’s knowledge that natural selection lead to the evolution of species rather than divine law made the concept of God impossible for him to believe.  This was what made Origin of Species so controversial.  Quammen writes:

It was a bigger issue that whether humans and monkeys share a common ancestry.  It was the issue of whether humans and monkeys, along with lobsters and dandelions and all other living creatures, share an absence of special divine appointment.  In plain language: a soul or no soul?  An afterlife or not?  Are humans spiritually immortal in a way that chickens and cow’s aren’t, or just another form of temporarily animated meat?

Darwin’s theory of natural selection depends on variation among species, and these variations are completely random.  There is no divine intervention, there is no higher purpose of life and death.  And yet despite all of Darwin’s experiences and knowledge of evolution and the origin of humans, it was not enough to make him disbelief in a higher divine power.  He believed in, according to Quammen, “a Supreme Being in the fuzziest sense, given rise to the universe and set it in motion according to the mechanics of fixed laws.” 

Can you imagine what Darwin thought of his daughter as he wrote about natural selection and how it meant that human life was nothing special.  What of the soul of his daughter?  Was there no special purpose in her life?  Was she not any more special than the barnacles he was studying at the time?  Maybe that’s what kept him from being an all out atheist. 

Anyway.  Tomorrow I resume reading.  I really want a light novel or something.  But last week I went the the Strand Annex on Fulton Street (where everything is 20% off because they’re closing that location, all NYC’ers should go) and picked up some more science books.  I don’t really want to read them.  Maybe I’ll go the library tomorrow and get me some light reading.

Bless Me, Ultima

January 30, 2008

Since I wrote my last post about moving out and the amazing apartment in Brooklyn, all of my plans have fallen to pieces. Nothing worked out how I anticipated, everything became one big mess. And I’m afraid that nothing will be the same between me and my (former) perspective roommate, who also is (maybe was?) one of my closests friends. We have not spoken since the fall-out of our plans and I feel awful but at the same time proud of myself for making a decision that was best for me, not everyone else around me. However, as of today I still have no apartment and no roommate.

Through all this drama I have been reading Bless Me, Ultima and this book was completely captivating. I wanted to read it because it is one the boyfriend’s favorite books and I wanted to read something that was important to him. I think this book is an example of magical realism, where things like witches, curses, forces of evil, spells, shamans and miracles are just a part of everyday life. This book asks questions that I have held to myself since childhood (for reference, I grew up in a strict Irish-Catholic family). If God is supposed to be all loving and forgiving, why is there still so much suffering and evil in the world? The main character, a seven year old by named Antonio, spends a great deal of time thinking about religion and the conflicts between native pagan Gods, the Catholic God, and the saints. How come a pagan healing ritual cured his sick uncle when prayers by the priest to the Catholic God failed? How come his mother prays to the Virgin of Guadalupe instead of to God? How can you believe in just one God if there are so many other forces at work?
I had strange dreams while reading this book. This book is mysterious and has many secrets. It asks questions but does not fully answer them. Ultima seems to know the answers to everything but we don’t know why and we never get to know all that she knows. This story took my mind off all that was happening in my life and helped me not to take everything so seriously. So my plans to move fell through but I am lucky I have other options available to me and I can continue living at home if I need to. There is so much more to life than what we preceive.