One of the things I enjoy doing on my daily van trips — I’m in transportation at an addiction recovery facility, and I drive every day a round trip between Schenectady, NY and New York City — is play tourguide. Since the trip is close to three hours long each way, there’s plenty of time to point out interesting details of the scenery along the way. I often see deer (today I saw a doe with a newborn fawn in the roadside grass), sometimes wild turkeys, occasionally great blue herons. There are apple orchards along the way, cattle, horses, a grass-field airport, hills and forest.
But I also drive through numerous road cuts which bare sections of Upstate New York’s fascinating geology. Most of the rock here is sedimentary — that layered, sometimes multicolored stuff — and almost all of it has undergone folding or uplift. It’s common to see the layers standing on edge, or at some angle quite far from the horizontal, and you’ll sometimes see it humped and bumped so that the naturally flat layers are rippled into a crude sine wave with red and white layers alternating.
My knowledge of geology is rudimentary. I have wished all too often that I could drive the roads of New York with a qualified local geologist, so I could learn how old the stuff is, what era each layer originated in, how far back in time I’m seeing.
Anyway, today I’m driving two clients, a man and a young woman from New York City, and pointing out bits of this and that along the way. (Orange County Choppers, the motorcycle customizers from TV, is right along the way, and that always piques interest.) But as we come up to a section of vivid vertical layers in a road cut, I start to explain about sedimentation and layering, and how significant it is that these normally-horizontal layers of stone are now almost completely vertical.
For myself, I LOVE knowing that this stone MOVED, over however many millions of years, and is, in fact, still in ultra-ultra-ultra-slow motion. And I love imparting that tidbit of knowledge to others.
But this time, as I’m in mid-explanation, the man breaks in and says happily “And you know who did all that? One guy! God! He made EVERYthing! He did it all! Ain’t that amazing!” He wasn’t correcting me or anything, he was just sharing HIS knowledge, adding his own remarks to what he thought I was getting at.
That was the last of the tourguiding on today’s trip. For the next hour or so I thought about how limited, how disturbingly frozen and ungrowthy is religious thinking.
I’ve often reflected that the entire world around us, every aspect of it, projects information at us. If you have ears to hear and eyes to see, the entirety of existence is this constant COMMUNICATION, and that fact in itself is endlessly fascinating. For the open mind, the world burns hot with knowledge — throwing off the sparks of pictures, processes, drama, wonderfully deep sequences of ideas and understandings — and it just makes me laugh to think of it.
But religious thinking of the “God did it all!” sort is a wet blanket tossed on that fire, dousing it to ashes. Nothing remains but the dead gray cinder of faith, separating each believer from an entire world of luminous knowledge.
Damn. That’s just so … sad.