Tuesday, 30 October 2012

After Sandy- American And European Religion

There have been two big events in North America the past few days- first the earthquake in Canada that triggered a tsunami in Hawai'i and now the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Only a couple of weeks ago some of us Brits shared on Facebook our memories of the great storm of October 1987. I wonder what went through the minds of people elsewhere reading it.

Let's face it- Europe is the geographically comfortable continent. Yes, there are floods sometimes. The occasional earthquake. But I can go on holiday 100% confident that I won't come home to a Southampton in ruins after a natural catastrophe.

Tomorrow is Hallow-e'en. Gone is the old superstitious fears of ghosts and witches (and a good thing too) and instead a jolly celebration as Guy Fawkes Night gets eclipsed.

So we tell ourselves modern ghost stories and scares, such as the Mayan calendar ending. We choose to be scared by things that deep-down we know aren't happening.

Surely it's that time of year when the media decide which plague is going to kill loads of us.

Humans are bad at risk.

For example, I used to be scared of flying. I quite like flying now, although my preference within Europe is to go by train. A few years back I chose to fly to Dublin rather than take the ferry from Holyhead, due to time constraints. And when I mentioned that flying is one of the safest forms of travelling, one lady suggested I tell that to people who'd lost relatives in a plane crash.

We worry about plane crashes. Yet happily hop in a car or on a train.

I gather you are more likely to die in an asteroid or comet impact that in a plane crash, as an event like that- although rare- causes devastation on a wide scale.

I visited the USA this spring. The flight from Reykjavík to Minneapolis/Saint Paul suddenly got diverted as we approach Sault Ste Marie, and instead of flying in over upper Michigan and Wisconsin (I was so tired when I got in, that I ended up referring to a state called "Wichigan") we went across the Canadian side of Lake Superior and near Thunder Bay and Duluth. The reason for the diversion was "storms". When I landed I learned it was due to a tornado.

Yes, we do get tornados here. But this was different. The Sunday we were in a restaurant and it came over really dark and as we were going home there was wind, rain, thunder, lightning. And I was sitting by the TV, watching as tornado warnings were given across parts of Minnesota.

And herein lies the difference between the two continents. We live in a fairly comfortable continent. Maybe the decline in religious faith is because we seem to have it all under control, with scientific progress solving all our problems.

North America seems to be more of a frontier place. I'm not talking about the Wild West and wagon trains. But a frontier between the comfortable what-we-can-control scientific world and nature (and even much of European nature is tame and cozy- let's face it, unlike in the USA, I've never walked anywhere in the United Kingdom where there might be wolves or brown bears around). Nature cannot be placated, cannot be reasoned with. The US Senate cannot ratify a treaty made with it. Congress cannot declare war on it. You can build cities and civilisation knowing that one day it will be destroyed and there is nothing you can do to stop that day coming.

And having that deep in the psyche has got to have an impact on religious faith.

No comments:

Post a Comment