Star Stuff

Monday, 10th September 2005

mountainsIt was a sublime experience: Europe: a natural history, on BBC2 last night (photograph, left, like other images on this page, from; the continent's epic voyage through 5oo million years of Earth history; through jungle, desert and tropical sea environments; through volcanic eruptions and mountain building episodes; the story of a dying sea and the birth of a new ocean.

Big BangIt was followed by a wonderful little programme, Space, Flying Visits, narrated by Sam Neill, recounting, in a mere 10 minutes of spectacular starry images, the birth of the universe from the big bang to galaxy and star formation and demonstrating how we, and everything around us, are made of star stuff, dispersed throughout the galaxy by supernova explosions.

Same Planet, Different World

Orange march protestThen I turned over for the ten 0'clock news on BBC1 and an angry Orangeman was wielding his ceremonial sword while the police tried to persuade him to divert his march away from a Republican area.

God did such a good job of creating the Earth and he gave Europe - from the Emerald Isle to the Urals - endless forests, rugged coasts and beautiful mountains, but he must be having second thoughts as to whether he was wise to create us in his own image!

'I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me'

Exodus, 20:5

riots, BelfastStirring stuff, very true and powerfully expressed in the King James version of the Bible. I can understand the bitterness and alienation experienced by so many in the Loyalist communities of Belfast (I am, nominally at least, a Protestant myself) and I understand that the rioting was not, in reality, about the diversion, by a few hundred yards, of a traditional march, but that image of a soberly dressed elder, cherishing traditional values and waving a big sword is a strong one - to me more telling than the images we've become immured to of the petrol bombs and bullets in the rioting that followed.

Flag, Book and Planet

It's an image which says a lot about the way we humans organise our politics and religion and how we see ourselves in relation to the natural world: we value tradition, we're fiercely loyal to our families and communities, but I wish we could take this fierce loyalty a bit further and extend it to the planet that supports us.

I wonder, as we wave our precious flags, revere our holy books and fiercely guard our ancestral rights if we ever really see the wonderful, sustaining world around us.

I don't think we do, or we wouldn't treat each other like we do and we wouldn't treat the Earth as we do. It seems as if the natural world is taken for granted as a stage set for the more interesting things that we humans get embroiled in.

The Day before Tomorrow

EarthHere's a quote from a radio interview, as best I can remember it, concerning Wednesday's proposed fuel price protest:

Interviewer: And of course, there are environmental concerns too?

Petrol Protestor: Yes, there are environmental concerns and they are important and we must deal with them in due course, but jobs are at risk and that's what we need to deal with today: we can deal with the environmental problems tomorrow.

Ah ha!that kind of environmental crisis; the kind that doesn't need dealing with until tomorrow . . .

Heaven and Earth

handIt's good to dip into the King James Version of the Bible, the one I was brought up with, with almost daily readings at school assembly and in church. The King James Version remains my favourite translation; I've read a few of the gospels in the New English Bible, but, although it might benefit from modern scholarship in terms of clarity and accuracy, I feel it loses out in power, rhythm and poetry.

Besides, the original could hardly be clearer in passages like this:

'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth'

Exodus, 20:5

The Alternative Second Commandment

That's clear enough! - no images, no likenesses; not of anything in heaven, earth or even the waters beneath it. There are only Ten Commandments, and I come a cropper on number 2: this is pretty much my job description and I guess that I'm heading for big trouble.

I guess my true beliefs run entirely contrary to commandment #2; if we don't look at the heavens, the earth and the oceans around us, if we don't take the trouble to see, if we don't understand our world by making images - graven or otherwise - and likenesses in drawings, photographs and satellite images then we really will be in big trouble! Next Page


All images on this page (apart from my drawing, above) are from

Richard Bell,