Did we like it?
Professor Robert Winston explored the origins of religion with a calm fervour worthy of the most devout of disciples, managing to educate, entertain and astound in equal measure.
What was good about it?
• Winston’s presentation, which is undyingly passionate, feverishly informative while rarely patronising. He also avoids preaching the rights and wrongs of organised religion, satisfied simply to delve into its origins without remarking on edicts of convenient scripture or oppressive undertones.
• The seemingly little stories which, when extrapolated, had profound significance in the tale of mankind’s relationship with god(s). The epic opened as Winston visited a temple in southern Iran, within which burned a flame representing a perception of god, a role it has fulfilled for 2,000 years.
• The earliest evidence of humanity’s worship of deities in the Gargas Caves in France. Here, among the usual animal sketches, are hand prints which, it’s guessed, was how cavemen communicated with the gods “in the walls”.
• Winston revealing human disgust at carrion, therefore necessitating burial, may be an atavistic attribute which evolved through an inability to consume raw, rotting flesh.
• The ridiculous sight of a vicar blessing a tractor in Somerset as part of the reli-gious ritual to make sure the farmers enjoy a sumptuous harvest.
• The rather graphic description of how the Aztec priests would remove the still beating heart from human sacrifices made to appease the gods.
• The wonderfully iridescent architecture of the Hindu temples which are decorated with multi-coloured idols of some of the 330 million gods in the Hindu pantheon.
• Winston presenting a spartan, economical appraisal of Hinduism, explaining how each worshipper is free to follow whichever god they choose and how each god is venerated by its subjects; it looked like a herd of shoppers in the sales moving from one bargain counter to the next.
• A lucid clarification of Buddhism, and how it views gods as “irrelevant” and that the faith itself is merely a conduit to step off of the “wheel of life” (as life, through infinite incarnations is suffering) and in to a state of Nirvana.
• How the Zoroastrian faith once prohibited the burial or cremation of the dead, and so corpse were left in “silent towers” on the tops of hills where they would provide feasts for the sacred vultures.
What was bad about it?
• The opening scenes, which swept from the termite mounds on the African plains, to druidic groves in deepest Devon and the monumental temples of ancient Central American civilisations, seemed to be more of an alluring travelogue designed to hook viewers before all the “boring” theological exposition started.
• Winston’s assertion that the way humans “care for their dead sets them apart from other animals” was a little unfair. We’re sure elephants, that certainly have a sense of mourning for their dead, would wish to be able to inter corpses in the ground but they aren’t really adapted to dig graves.
• Winston not going into detail about who did indeed build the city 2,000 years ago which the Aztecs appropriated a millennia later and named City of the Gods because they were so in awe of the huge pyramids and temples.
• The incidental music that sounded as though Darth Vader was being sponsored to breath heavily and dirtily into a telephone to raise money to fund yet another Death Star.