9 February 2014
Those of you who have had a conversation with me in the past few months may be aware that I spent two weeks in Uruguay last month. And, as it often happens when one travels—even, as I discovered, when one is merely travelling home—a couple of interesting things happened to me. Some of the said occurrences, of course, pertain to the seemingly fanciful title I have given this text, which, because I am not usually in the habit of tantalising my readers, I shall address immediately and without further delay.
Although my family lives in Montevideo (the capital, for those of you who don’t know), some of its members often visit the seaside city of Punta del Este in the summer. It was for this reason that when I was last home, I decided to spend an afternoon in my aunt’s house at the resort. After an excellent lunch and a few hours spent ‘catching up’ with my family, it was time for me to take the bus back to Montevideo. As it so happened, the woman who has been working at my aunt’s house for years and I wound up sitting next to each other on said bus.
Before I go any further with my narrative, I feel it is important for me to clarify two things. Firstly, that this woman can neither read nor write should not be taken to reflect badly on her intelligence (she is indeed brighter than many individuals I have encountered here) or indeed, on my aunt. This woman is over seventy years old and comes from one of the poorest provinces in Uruguay. Her harsh situation forced her to start work early in life. By the time she came under my aunt’s employment, she was already over forty, and felt it was too late for her to learn to read and write, despite my aunt’s efforts. Secondly, it is not the objective of this narrative to mock the woman for her beliefs—which I shall explain presently—but rather to view them in terms of older superstitions, towards which the masses have always tended.
It was in my knowledge—even before we boarded the bus—that my travel companion was going back to Montevideo in order to embark upon a spiritual retreat of sorts. I was naturally quite curious about this, especially given that she had been a staunch atheist until she was tragically struck by her younger daughter’s early death about two years before. I also knew that her spiritual beliefs had something to do with both the Virgin Mary, and aliens (hence the title, ladies and gentlemen). Therefore, in an uncharacteristically polite and cautious manner, I proceeded to question her on the aforementioned beliefs.
I will refrain from transcribing the entirety of the conversation for the sake of brevity, as well as for that of my readers. From what I understood, her beliefs essentially come down to the following:
1. Aliens are beings who are closer to God than we are (they are even made from a different sort of matter).
2. Since its beginnings, the Earth, and indeed all the living beings in it (especially humans), has been guarded by said aliens.
3. We human beings have been mistreating the Earth for millennia now, despite the fact that the aliens have sent down beings such as Jesus and the Virgin Mary to guide us down the right path. (Also, the Virgin Mary ascended into the heavens because the mother ship took her up, but that’s a different story).
4. That we mistreat the Earth and each other makes the aliens angry.
5. Therefore, if we don’t act quickly and mend our ways, an apocalypse by flooding is imminent.
Now, I neither claim nor aspire to be an expert in theology, ecology, or indeed, science fiction. However, it seems to me that this set of beliefs appears to be a corrupted version of the way that we, the well-read people, understand (or indeed misunderstand) the world.
On one hand, there is the positivism which has dominated our understanding for the last century or so. Because it is no longer acceptable to believe in angels (i.e. I daresay most of us agree that they are kind of like unicorns in that we’re pretty sure they don’t exist), we have given their theological position to aliens, whose existence we cannot simply refute, despite the unlikelihood of our ever coming into contact with them. Secondly, the concerns we have recently had with the environment and global warming are present here too. Anybody who was born around the same time I was knows that it is impossible to complete science requirements in secondary school without coming across the idea of global warming; and the notion that if we do not change our ways quickly, the glaciers are going to melt and we are all going to drown (or something). Lastly, there is the attempt to reconcile our positivist beliefs in science with the possibility of belief in God. Because, despite what many of my friends who claim to be cleverer than I may think, this is an actual concern people have these days. Indeed, I suspect that most people, especially when faced with tragedies such as the loss of a child, find themselves in need to believe in something which transcends our own existence.
From the fact that I have been able to analyse my travel companion’s beliefs without making fun of them (or so I hope, in any case) one should not take it to be an especially good or informed set of beliefs. Indeed, most of the beliefs listed seem rather unnecessary. If anything, as I’ve said before, it is a very clear example of what the ignorant have always done: namely overhear snippets of different thoughts that the educated set forth, mix them without popular superstitions, and create what we call syncretism. Finally it also comes to show that no matter how far we think we have come as human beings, we still do not do enough to provide the masses with the education necessary to render us all truly equal, or at least potentially so.