South of the River – fasting, religion and science


Compass-SouthWednesday saw the start of the holy month of Ramadan and like many people in South Leeds, I fasted.

No, I haven’t embraced Islam, I’ve started the 5:2 diet. This is where you “fast” or at least greatly reduce your calorie intake on two days each week. I have never followed a diet before, I’ve heard too many reports of rapid weight loss being followed quickly by rapid weight gain – so-called “yo-yo” dieting.

When I read about the 5:2 diet it seemed to be coming from a different angle. It’s based on solid scientific research and seeks to tackle the issue of fat-loss rather than weight-loss. It looks at how our metabolism works.

Our bodies have been developed over millennia by evolution, which works on a very long timescale. Here in the west, we are facing a relatively new phenomenon of plentiful supplies of food. And the market pushes food and especially sugary food at us all day, everyday. Luckily the present government are so caring that they are doing everything they can to reduce the amount of money we have to buy food. Perhaps we’ll all be on the 5:2 diet soon, whether we like it or not.

But I digress, the point I was trying to make is that our bodies are trying to cope with constant eating which they are not designed to deal with. Fasting gives our bodies a chance to catch up and deal with – metabolise – the food, especially carbohydrates that we eating too much of. If you think about our hunter-gatherer ancestors, they had a small but regular intake of nuts and berries with intermittent meat from animal kills. That’s pretty much still what our bodies are expecting. So breakfast, lunch, tea, plus a Mars bar mid morning and crisps and biscuits on the sofa in front of the TV … well it’s bound to lead to problems!

I’m not evangelising for this diet or any other. I am trying to explain rationally the thinking and research behind it that has convinced me it’s a good thing to do.

I like to think that I’m a rational person. I was brought up in a Christian household and I have no problem with the ethics of Christianity – at least the strain we followed. Care for others, do to others as you would like others to do to you, blessed are the peacemakers, etc.

The culture it has spawned has been amazing. I love visiting cathedrals and listening to Bach’s Mass in B minor. But I never got the God thing. Why does there have to be someone out there, in charge of everything?

Going back to our hunter-gather days, we couldn’t explain why the sun rose every morning, or the change of the seasons, or storms or volcanoes. Having a god, or gods to thank or blame made as much sense as anything else. But now we can explain why these things happen. We understand gravity, the solar system, meteorology and plate tectonics – why do we still need god?

That’s a rhetorical question by the way, but no doubt someone will try to enlighten me in the comments section.

The basics of religion are irrelevant, but mostly harmless from my point of view. I have friends who are religious and lead as good a life as my atheist friends. The trouble is that people do things in the name of religion that are not good and then wrap them up as part and parcel of being a true believer.

Women’s oppression runs through most societies and we are gradually pushing it back, not fast enough, but we’ve made quite a lot of progress in the last 100 years. And yet the Church of England is still debating whether to let women be bishops, and some strands of Islam insist on covering women from head to toe, or worse mutilating their genitals – all in the name of religion.

It’s not religion, it’s not in your holy books. These are cultural practices and culture develops and moves on. We live in the 21st century and society has progressed. If you want your religion to be relevant, you need to move with the times.

Jeremy MortonMy advice, however, is that it’s now safe to ditch religion and lead your life in a more rational, scientific way.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.

2 Replies to “South of the River – fasting, religion and science”

  1. Okay, I’ll bite!

    Rational people disagree about all sorts of things so as the only basis for values it’s a bit problematic. How can you decide what is good on the basis of reason alone?
    I very much agree with your comments about the oppression of women but I’m not sure you can argue that the oppression of women is wrong purely on rational grounds. Isn’t this a value judgement? When you (or I) say oppressing people is wrong I don’t think we are just saying this because we think it is rational not to oppress women, or because we believe it will lead to a better society (what’s better?!) but because it is wrong to oppress people.

    The difficulty with all forms of human knowledge is that they depend on assumptions an assumption that our senses tell us accurate (true) things about the external world and/or an assumption that our reason tell us accurate/true things. Most of the time we don’t question that our reason and senses are reliable but ultimately we are relying on a belief that they are.

    Would Bach have produced the B Minor Mass or cathedrals been built if Bach and those responsible had not believed in God? This does not mean (s)he exists but significant numbers of people have done so throughout history. It is of course true that many people have believed in God or gods to explain things mankind couldn’t explain at the time. But I don’t think it’s true to say we know why the sun (appears to) rises every morning but we do know how. We don’t know whether the world was created or not.

    The monotheistic religions provide some explanations for good and evil, what they are and why good is preferable. Religion is, of course, often use to exercise power over people and men (it is largely men) have used religious texts to justify this or particular things they found threatening. Personally, I am believer (and its belief and faith not certainty – God preserve us from religious and non-relgious fundamentalism!) philosophically because I find it the best explanation I have across for love.

  2. After much reading, discussion and contemplation I came to the conclusion that I did not believe in a God. I have read much of the Bible over the years and I do think that there is a strong message within on how to best live our lives and how to be charitable of thought but that is where it ends for me. I don’t think that the power for good comes from anywhere other than within ourselves. Likewise we can be our own worst enemies if we are not aware of our own self talk. As for miracles they are all around us, but if you don’t choose to look, you can miss them. This is how I see things, but as it has been pointed out already it is not necessarily the truth, but it sure is my version of it.
    Everybody has their own truths and if we acknowledge that the truth is individual to each one of us and just as real for you, me or the people next door, then we ought to be able to respect those who believe as much as those who don’t and respect can bring peace within.

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