Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Childhood myths

I'm using the word "childhood" to designate, not only my own early years in Australia, but the wider concept of the infancy of Humanity. The great myth of Noah's ark belongs to these two domains.

As a boy in Grafton, I had witnessed two major floods, in 1950 and 1954. In our dull existence in a small country town, floods were exciting happenings, tinged with anguish, because nobody knew to what height the waters might rise. On the other hand, people rarely feared for their lives, because few of us were in the vicinity of swirling currents and treacherous depths. Besides, there were boats and dinghies everywhere, even amphibian military vehicles nicknamed "ducks". During the tense countdown to an impending flood, many local men saw themselves faced with long hours of harsh effort, in the chilly dampness, to protect their families and belongings from the rising waters. Some of these flood fighters were convinced that an ideal way of sustaining their bodies during these combats consisted of a regular intake of warming alcohol, often rum or whisky. An outcome of this belief was that a few rare accidents during a flood involved drunken men who slipped in the water and drowned.

I've always looked upon the biblical tale of Noah's Ark as an archaic precursor of themes I'd witnessed as a ten-year-old child in South Grafton. As soon as weather reports made it clear that there would soon be a flood, farmers started to move their animals to higher grounds. As the waters slowly rose, families in isolated places were offered a choice between moving by boat to safer places, or staying stoically in their inundated houses. In my juvenile vision of a Clarence River flood, the waters seemed to cover the entire flat world. I had no reason to imagine that there might be places on Earth that remained high and dry.

The ancient people who left us legends of the Deluge probably saw things in a similar way to me, at the age of ten, on a farm in South Grafton. If the rain were exceptionally heavy, the resulting flood would be universal (or global, as we would say today, knowing that the Earth is round), and the only way of surviving would be to scramble aboard a gigantic biblical boat. If there were room on the vessel, a farmer might ask the captain to save some of his dearest animals.

Normally, there's a time for infantile tales: childhood. As we grow up, most of us set aside such legends, replacing them by adult explanations. Sadly, some folk remain immature kids throughout their entire lives. In the USA, a recent poll revealed that half the population believes that a supernatural being named God created the universe, in much the same form as we see it today, at some time during the last ten millennia. In other words, for these folk, who have the superficial appearance of adults, it's as if scientific research in general, and Darwin's theory of evolution in particular, simply never existed. The extremists, who call themselves creationists, believe that Genesis is a literal description of the way in which the cosmos came into being. A milder form of this anti-scientific affliction consists in believing in the concept of intelligent design, which alleges that "all things bright and beautiful" were conceived and produced by a superior being intent upon creating a satisfactory abode for humans.

[NOTE: In my personal profile attached to the Antipodes blog, I speak of spending my time at Gamone "admiring the beauties of Creation". I have hoped that readers would understand that my use of the term "Creation", with a capital C, is a trivial case of poetic license, which is not meant to suggest that I see the cosmos as the outcome of a biblical Genesis-type creator. In fact, I often use the term "Creator", with a capital C, to designate Big Bang principles, evolutionary events, and their on-going consequences.]

Some Australians might be pleased to know that America's star creationist is a Queensland expatriate named Ken Ham, who has set up a so-called Creation Museum in Kentucky featuring a reconstruction of Noah's Ark carrying robotic dinosaurs. First, Crocodile Dundee, then Steve Irwin, and now Ken Ham. There would seem to be big openings in America for Aussie clowns. I don't wish to waste any more time describing the US operations of this nitwit whose success story appalls but does not surprise me. Whether we like it or not, America is America. Use Google to learn more about the Ham scam.


  1. Not only Americans have creationists, but they also have Jesus Camp...

    "Le XXIe siècle sera religieux ou ne sera pas" said André Malraux.
    I’m afraid, creationists and Jesus Camps is not what he was thinking of.

  2. Merci cm. Le « Jesus Camp » donne l'impression d'être une sorte de stage de lavage de cerveau destiné aux enfants. Quant aux mots attribués à Malraux, ils m'ont toujours intrigués. Quelle est la signification de cette déclaration ? Un retour à la spiritualité, à la suite d'un siècle excessivement matérialiste ? Sûrement. Que veut dire exactement la dernière partie de la déclaration, « ou ne sera pas » ? Moi, j'ai toujours pensé que les mots de Malraux ont le sens suivant : De deux choses, l'une. Ou bien l'homme moderne redécouvre une dimension spirituelle de l'existence, ou bien l'humanité s'effondrera. Cela dit, on se demande si Malraux (plutôt athée) ait réellement prononcé de tels mots.

  3. L’attribution de cette phrase à Malraux est en effet très controversée. Athée, j’ai toujours eu des problèmes quant à son interprétation. Toutefois, depuis la chute du mur de Berlin, j’ai l’impression que les hostilités communisme/capitalisme se sont déplacées vers une guerre des religions.
    Mais bon, on sort du contexte de votre article…

  4. Non, vous êtes pleinement dans le contexte de mon article, et j'apprécie votre évocation de la chute du mur de Berlin, qui aurait pu symboliser la fin du matérialisme et le retour d'une recherche de la spiritualité. De nos jours, Dieu est servi à toutes les sauces. [Je ne sais pas si mon français est compréhensible.] Au moment où les activités du créationiste australien idiot m'agaçaient tellement, j'ai vu à la télé des images d'anciens combattants du Vietnam, en Harley-Davidson, célébrant le Memorial Day. Forcément, un grand barbu tatoué n'a pas hésité à signaler explicitement que le doux Jésus était sûrement de leur côté... au Vietnam, évidemment, mais sous-entendu en Iraq également.