Saturday, March 26, 2005

Ain't you glad you got good religion?

This is something I don't know that I'll be able to write at all well. It's something I've been trying to articulate for ages.

Warning: the following contains religious themes, and the "f-word" (and two "b-words". And a "q word" - I wouldn't normally warn people about the "q word", but it's there, three times, where you don't expect it, and it's a capital Q too, so I thought, three big Qs in a row, people might not be expecting that, kids and the frail aged and pregnant women and so on, best be on the safe side and warn them. So you're warned. Turn away now).

Years ago, I "got converted". It was when I was fourteen, turning fifteen. For some reason I was staying with my grandmother and grandfather - it's possible that my mum was sick. Anyway, a few weeks (or months, as I remember it) essentially alone, with my grandparents, who were elderly and German and, for a fourteen year old boy, difficult to please or understand.

Silverton was at that time really isolated, ten or fifteen beachside huts where retirees fished and smoked and drank beer. There were exactly no people my age in the town. At the time it seemed like it was where old people went to die. I was intensely, bitterly, self-consumedly lonely.

I did stuff. I went down the beach, I walked to the nearest town, I devoured the second hand bookshop, I read HP Lovecraft and wrote bad science fiction stories, I went down the beach again. There was almost nothing else to do. There was nobody at all my own age.

Anyway, after about three weeks of what to me was solitary confinement, I met Tim. Tim was skinny with freckles and a nose that had a fair head start on the rest of his face. He'd gone to my school but left two years back. I fell on him like a starving kitten on a pork chop.

He seemed happy. He seemed very happy, in fact, as happy as only a few people I've ever seen since. He was happy, and he had a million friends, and a remarkably hot girlfriend*, and all this, he explained, because of the great work God was doing in his life. Because of his church.

I might stop that bit of the story there, because the intervening stuff (the baptism in the sea, the tongue-speaking, the prayers for the salvation of my increasingly enraged family, the door to door religious spruiking, the "bashing-my-brain-until-it-was-bloody" against the iron bars of fundamentalism, the slow recovery) are best left for a more dis-inhibited mood. It will happen.

But anyway, what I wanted to write about was this weird, un-nameable feeling I've got. The closest I can come to a name for it is "religious loneliness".

There's that word again. Half the readers turn off. Religion.

See, its something rather difficult to talk about, but that's what this blog is for, so I can talk and write anonymously about the things I find it difficult to talk about. So, religious loneliness.

A lot of what I came to believe when I was fifteen I don't believe now. Some of the articles of faith have withered away, like a neglected plant. Some of them I tore out by the roots, and they had put down remarkably deep roots in such a short time, and some o fthe root might still be there now, pushing its way to the surface. Some of the ideas I suspect had only had a brief lifespan, either because that was the kind of idea they were, the theological equivalent of ryegrass, or because the soil where they were planted did not suit them, or because there was just something wrong with them, "bad seeds".

The fundamentalism has gone. Creationism - gone. Biblical inerrancy - gone. Hell stocked with faggots and adulterers and those who drink alcohol - gone. Heaven and Hell - absolutely gone.

Eternal life - where anything that we can call "us" just goes on and on and on, where our personalities survive our bodies? Where the product of our iffy genes and the bad things our mummies said and our steadily strengthening prejudices lives on for all eternity? Gone, thank God.

God the Father, who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah - gone. God who watches and listens - gone. God as any kind of "person", something outside you that you can have a conversation with and who can tell you things that you don't already "know" - gone.

That's all gratifying and modern and educated and it probably gives me some points with some people. But the thing is, there's still a lot inside.

I don't know if I can come up with a similar list of what from my religious days remains. It may be that only the undefinable things, the things inaccessible to my rational mind, the things you can't put in a credo.

But the thing is, I have what I feel is a strong inner religious life. I have what I still want to call strong Christian beliefs.

(That, by the way, is a word you have to be careful using nowadays. I typed it and I realised that I've almost stopped using it. The word mutates from my mouth to your ear. I say "Christian" and I mean one thing, and by the time it's travelled the few short feet to someone else's ear, it's decayed into something like "homophobe" or "Creationist" or "someone unshakeably convinced that the Eternal Creator of the Universe agrees with him or her in every little thing".

It's a kind of exponential radioactive decay, a theological or linguistic loss of mass and energy. Someone should write down a list of half-lives of words. The more specific words seem to be more stable - I say "spelunking" and people understand I mean clambering about in caves with a helmet with a light on. But short words, like "love" or "God" or "true"...

Maybe it's powerful words that are unstable. Love is a linguistically unstable isotope.

And maybe that's why women can say "No" and the guy can stand up in court later and believe she said "Yes". And that's why when you want to make a word less ambiguous, more stable, you make it longer. Either through elevated language, or that "working class tmesis" thing where instead of "yes" you say "abso-fucking-lutely".)

Anyhow, have to wrap this up now, and I've successfully managed to avoid talking about the difficult topic. So, here goes, in bullet point form.

I have strong religious beliefs.

None of my friends share them. The vast majority of my friends are highly educated atheists who live in the twenty-first century, to whom Christianity is a mediaeval grotesquery. I still occasionally see one person from my old fundamentalist days, she is still a fundamentalist.

I haven't been able to discuss a lot of this for several years, and I want to.

You want to belong, you know. To be surrounded by people who you know have similar beliefs, a tribe. That space-cadet glow.

Boo hoo hoo, poor bugger me. Bloody hell.

Anyway, it's my own fault. My beliefs aren't so bloody unique that no-one shares them - I think I'd fit pretty well into the Quakers, for example. I like porridge. And I could learn to Quake. After exams I may check them out.

Thanks for listening.


*I should point out that at that time I was celibate, and Tim mentioned girls, so I was hooked.

My celibacy at the time wasn't an accident. It was a decision, but a difficult one, an act of deliberate, careful, reasoned choice, made after taking into account the likely consequences at a physical, social, psychological and spiritual level.

It was almost certainly the right decision, even if it didn't feel so at the time, and today I have nothing but respect for Bethany Lilly, Diana Vale, Anna Christopolous, Martina Dubois, Vikki Murchison, Jenny Carpenter, Julie Roume and some blonde girl with glasses whose name I can't remember but whose mother was overprotective to the point of being quite clearly mental. And always, always Helen Priest.

And all of the other girls who had made the deliberate, careful, reasoned, heart-breaking choice that I should remain celibate.



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