Logic versus religion

We have reached the stage of the school holiday when I’m no longer sure what day it is. Routine has flown, leaving in its place two rolled duvets who pretend to be my children. I feed one end of the roll and remove dirty laundry from the other. It’s a foolproof system so far.

Lying in bed one morning, I realised it must be Sunday because helpfully there was a programme called Sunday on Radio 4. It sets the boundaries and also works as an alarm clock, making me leap out of bed with impatience at people talking terribly seriously about their imaginary friends.

Last week, there was a piece on Sunday about a proposed eruv in London. In case you haven’t heard of it (and I hadn’t), an eruv is an artificial boundary enclosing several private properties, exempting the area from ancient Jewish sabbath laws. There are complex rules about transferring things from private to public domains, forming an abstruse legal area that has occupied fine lawyerly minds for hundreds of years.

I’m going to deal with it in one irreverent blog post. I’m sure it’ll be ok.

I understand it’s a good idea to have a rest occasionally. I passionately defend labour laws limiting hours we should work in a week – I get it, I really do. But I also studied philosophy at university and have the kind of mind that likes following ideas to their logical conclusions to see what happens.

There are some religious rules forbidding switching electricity on or off on the sabbath, which makes me marvel at the prescience of those erudite scholars who made the rules before we knew what electricity was. Now we have a whole industry providing automatic “sabbath setting” labour-saving devices to let people who know and care what day it is carry on with modern life.

I know a Christian musician who won’t play in an orchestra on Sundays. Eric Liddell (also Christian) famously refused to run the 100m Olympic heats in 1924 because they were on a Sunday. His loss was Vangelis’ gain. Swings and roundabouts.


How do you get from ‘it’s a good idea to rest now and then’ to ‘you must not carry a pen in public on the sabbath’?

I’ve sat in many, many Christian church services, being told about a god who seems to vary depending on who is doing the telling. The shared bits of religion between Christians, Jews and Muslims were written thousands of years ago by men living in a very different society. You can’t untangle history and religion. We can’t just go out and sacrifice a goat on a whim any more.

I’ve been told that eruvs are ‘wonderful’ and ‘freeing’. That, to me, sounds like people enjoy the freedom to bend the literal rule that was laid down thousands of years ago. I approve. But logically – and this is the crucial question for me – why do people not question the original rule rather than construct complicated ways of getting around it?

Of course a mother needs to carry her baby around. Every day. (Another clue these rules were written by men with their heads safely in a book while their children were looked after in another room.) I applaud arrangements letting mothers go out of their houses with their children. What appalls me is the rule that kept them in.

The first eruv in the UK had an eleven-mile perimeter and contained an area of roughly six and a half square miles. It’s mostly clear nylon fishing wire strung on poles. Apparently, God is ok with you pushing your baby buggy anywhere inside this, but gets really cross if you stray more than about six feet outside. Oh, and he also gets cross if the wire breaks and you haven’t noticed. But it’s ok on a Tuesday.

This kind of god sounds petty and vindictive. One who drinks too much on a Saturday night and wakes up on Sunday* determined to take out his hangover pain on anyone who gets too close. Within about eleven miles, by the sound of it.


NOTE: This rant has been brought to you by a cheerful atheist. Please do not try to convert me in the comments. You can do what you like: I’m happy for you and reserve the right to find it daft. (I have form: if you hunt around this site there are several exasperated posts. Best not visit if it’s not for you. I even had a poem published called Confession of a worn-out god.)



* other sabbath days are available