Print Story Strength and Curse
Religion & Philosophy
By DullTrev (Sun Oct 23, 2005 at 08:43:46 AM EST) (all tags)

So, it's a bit of a quiet day for me. I spent yesterday working in Cumbria, so I had a few chores I needed to do at home today. Well, I would have chores eventually, once I stopped watching bad TV. And it was the TV which got me to thinking. Thinking about God.

Now, hang on, wait up, don't run away. This is wasn't one of those "I once was lost but now am saved" stories. It's a story about doubt and faith, about despair and hope, about sorrow and joy. And I'm not trying to convince you of anything, I'm just telling a story.

So, first of all, it probably helps if you understand the bad TV. I am cursed with only receiving terrestrial TV, which over here in the UK means four and a half channels. (Sorry, UK joke.) Anyway, Channel 4 (why yes, we do name our channels imaginatively) shows Stargate SG1 and Enterprise on a Sunday afternoon, and, being a sad, lonely geek with no social skills, I watch them every week. Luckily, there's nothing on after them for a little while, so I can avoid sitting watching TV all day (now you understand why I don't pay for any other channels - I know what I'm like).

Anyhow, as I stood up to start my chores, I must have knocked the remote control, and it changed over to BBC1. Now, living on my own, I do have a habit of just leaving the TV on - sad, lonely geek, remember? I ignored it, and went to get some cleaning stuff from the kitchen, and started on the chores.

Now, eventually, the show on BBC1 changed from the warm inanities of Terry Wogan to the horror that is Songs of Praise. Yup, that's right, our state broadcaster, er, broadcasts a Christian show every Sunday. That's what comes from living in a country where your head of state is also the head of your country's religion.

This week was showing the first of two programmes with "the nation's top 20 favourite hymns". And despite myself, or possibly because I dislike cleaning, I started watching it.

Now, if this was a church magazine, this would be the point at which I told you how a wave of wonder and awe swept over me. But it isn't, and it didn't. Get that out of your head right now.

I watched it because I knew quite a few of the hymns. I had a nice, upright, Church of England upbringing. In other words, my mother would take me to church every week, where I would sit amongst lots of very elderly people, vaguely worried that the congregation seemed to get fewer and fewer every winter.

My brother came along too - he had no choice. My father came along as well, but he... well, I'll get to that later.

As time passed, I got to the age where I needed to get confirmed. This is usually around 13 or 14, when we are, apparently, able to make our own minds up. This is the point where the baptism you had as a child gets certified and becomes valid. You confirm your entry into the church. (Note: This is not exactly how it was explained to me, but I think it gets the essence of it, anyway.)

The young DullTrev was perfectly happy to do this. You see, he believed. He had talked to his mother, and had asked Jesus to enter his heart. He wasn't an evangelist, he wasn't going to set the world on fire, he wasn't (heh) dull about it, he just quietly believed. And so, to the delight of his mother, he was confirmed, like his brother before him.

So that was how I knew many of these hymns coming from the TV. But, as I'm sure you've guessed, it's been a long time since I believed. Oh, it lasted a long time. I still had it when I went to university. It even survived the efforts of the student evangelical group, though I did manage to mock them at every opportunity. It even survived me studying physics - a belief in God didn't imply a belief in the creation story.

But what it couldn't survive, what started chipping away at it, was life. The depressing inevitability of the collapse of my first love affair. The terrifying news that my father had heart trouble at the same time my mother was being tested for suspected bowel cancer. The horrifying realisation that the reason I wasn't achieving what I wanted academically was because I was too scared to put the effort in and find I just wasn't intelligent enough. The fear I felt at everything, at being alone, at losing my parents, at being a failure, that is what it couldn't survive.

And so, I assume by a different path, I arrived at the position I now understood my father held. You see, while my father played his role as a parent and came to church with us every week, he wouldn't go up to receive communion. I asked him about this and he said "It's just a symbol. Some people need to have that symbol in their lives. I don't." I suspect he was just too polite to say he didn't believe. He didn't want to colour our views, my brother's and mine. He wanted us to decide for ourselves.

And I suppose we both have. My brother told my mother he lost his faith, as he put it. But it was never a big thing for him, as far as I can tell. I, however, have never been able to tell her. I suspect she knows, but I just couldn't do it. Since she retired, she's studied hard to become a Reader, essentially a lay preacher. It takes time, and effort, and commitment. She's considering studying more and becoming a vicar.

And I know she does this because she believes with all her heart. She truly believes we need to have faith to make sure we are saved. She's too kind a person to press us on it. She'd never tell us we were damned. But she loves us, and I can't bring her the pain she'd feel if I told her the truth.

Which brings us back to the programme. It had some really wonderful hymns in there, inspirational music, music designed to speak to your soul, to the inner emotional you. And it works, it really works.

But now all it does is it reminds me of the belief I once had, the faith I once held so dear. And it was good to have it. Because it makes things so much gentler. It makes the world so much easier to cope with. It gives hope.

And I am without it. And I want it, I really do. I really wish I could believe there was a divine being, someone or something that makes all this have a reason, have a purpose. I want it with all my heart.

But I know it isn't there. I know it isn't true. The greatest strength and greatest curse of humanity tells me it isn't there. My mind understands the similarities between all forms of worship, of the belonging it gives you, the comfort. And I know my religion is no different to any other, stretching back to the worship of thunder gods and water spirits.

And it hurts. It hurts so much.

And so, I watched the programme, I heard the hymns. And I cried for all that I had lost.

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Strength and Curse | 19 comments (19 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Lost? by Idempotent (2.00 / 0) #1 Sun Oct 23, 2005 at 09:57:15 AM EST
Quite a familiar story; I could have almost told it myself. Except that I would have said that I had escaped it, not lost it.

Religion to me seems a dangerous thing. Dangerous because it doesn't encourage personal responsibility, and dangerous because it can be corrupted and used as a tool to do Evil Things.

Personal responsibility by Dr H0ffm4n (4.00 / 1) #7 Mon Oct 24, 2005 at 01:32:38 AM EST
That depends on your particular reading of your religion. Abdication of personal responsibility is just as easy without religion.

[ Parent ]
Forgive me father ... by Idempotent (2.00 / 0) #8 Mon Oct 24, 2005 at 01:56:00 AM EST
... I have trolled. Or summat.

Don't you find anything slightly discomforting about having this God-figure doing all sorts of stuff around you which you're not supposed to understand? And how this is supposed to be a good thing? And you better not complain about anything, because that's bad, and you should accept all the crap that other people do to you, because that will maintain the social structures is what God would do and you'll get your reward in heaven, although we can't prove that so you'll just have to have faith.

[ Parent ]
None of what you say requires religion though by Dr H0ffm4n (2.00 / 0) #12 Mon Oct 24, 2005 at 06:07:39 AM EST
Ignorance or manipulation of power is not the sole domain of religion.

[ Parent ]
Requirement no, by Idempotent (2.00 / 0) #13 Mon Oct 24, 2005 at 06:21:58 AM EST
but it does make it a lot easier.

Handguns make it easier to kill people while not fulfilling any useful purpose in society, and we've banned those.

I don't have any problem with people being religious, but I don't think they should do it in public and that they should be prepared for people to call them fools.

[ Parent ]
What's in public? When can you call them fools? by ambrosen (2.00 / 0) #16 Mon Oct 24, 2005 at 06:51:59 AM EST
Should churches be allowed to get roadsigns erected to help people find them, like sports centres or football stadiums do?

Should the religious be allowed to explain that their belief system guides the way they live their life (and no one else's) without being ridiculed? Should DullTrev's diary be taken as a chance to congratulate or ridicule him on his beliefs, or just to talk about the feelings involved in changing your worldview?

[ Parent ]
Yes, I know it's a tricky one. by Idempotent (2.00 / 0) #18 Mon Oct 24, 2005 at 07:25:44 AM EST
But true freedom is freedom from the actions of others, and religion seems to provoke a lot of unfortunate actions.

[ Parent ]
I have a sense of how you feel... by Metatone (2.00 / 0) #2 Sun Oct 23, 2005 at 10:26:28 AM EST
although belief for me was always just this intangible that others had and I didn't. My mother quietly believed, but I think that's lessened somewhat. I went to a good traditional private school with a Christian preaching every morning. The spanner in the works was my father. He sort of believed, although not deeply.

Trouble is, his shallow belief was in the religion of his family, Hinduism. Listening to the different traditions, side by side, it's hard to become anything other than a sceptic, powered by accidental truly comparative religious studies.

I keep meaning to write something, with a trite title like "Living Without Hope: Consolations for Natural Unbelievers" but I doubt I'll ever get around to it.

What's your mom's Turn Undead modifier? [nt] by debacle (2.00 / 0) #3 Sun Oct 23, 2005 at 01:09:37 PM EST


+666 [nt] by Roaming Philosopher (2.00 / 0) #4 Sun Oct 23, 2005 at 04:48:07 PM EST
Ents Talking

[ Parent ]
While flippant in my other comment.... by Roaming Philosopher (2.00 / 0) #5 Sun Oct 23, 2005 at 04:55:36 PM EST
I also have a similar story. Religion, faith, in some ways just another manner of running away. I still run away in fear, but now I recognise it for what it is, as opposed to just covering it up. Thank you for a nice story, and in the end aren't we all alone? Maybe, maybe not.

Sounds familiar by stark (2.00 / 0) #6 Sun Oct 23, 2005 at 11:49:59 PM EST
I too was brought up C of E, met lots of lovely people there, enjoyed singing the hymns and was confirmed. I think I believed, as well.

My religion didn't really survive university. Encounters with other people who weren't religious, and discussions I read on the internet, all chipped away at it. I eventually came to my current belief which is that God can't possibly exist; it is too unlikely given what we understand now. The concept of God and worship made me consider how useful it is as a way of keeping people under control and creating a peaceful society. As a moral code I think Christianity is pretty good, but I still don't believe.

I told my mother that I didn't believe when I was dating a girl who was very much a serious Christian; she wanted to know about my faith and had had problems with non-Christian boyfriends before. It was a hard call to make; I felt guilty for giving up on the teachings that we'd been given when younger. My mother took it relatively well; she was upset, I think, but she said that she believed everyone comes to meet God in their own way. She hoped that this would happen for me at some point. Maybe it will.

Thanks for an excellent diary.
U.S. Patent 5443036 concerns a device for encouraging a cat to exercise by chasing a light spot.

You don't have to be religious by Idempotent (2.00 / 0) #9 Mon Oct 24, 2005 at 01:58:16 AM EST
to do the whole "be nice to other people" ethics stuff. And in fact, surely you're a better person if you do it without believing in a reward in the afterlife.

And would you want to believe in any God which would condemn a Good Person for not believing in them?

[ Parent ]
Sorry, by ambrosen (2.00 / 0) #10 Mon Oct 24, 2005 at 03:47:13 AM EST
are you proselytizing here?

That's pretty damn rude. Even for an arsehole like yourself.

[ Parent ]
Where I come from we call it "debate". by Idempotent (2.00 / 0) #11 Mon Oct 24, 2005 at 04:24:22 AM EST
Also, I wasn't suggesting a change in a belief system, merely pointing out how a religious mother might not be too upset with a non-religious child as long as that child lead an ethical life. Perhaps I was being too subtle.

By the way, do you mean "arsehole" in a good way, or a bad way?

[ Parent ]
Not suggesting a change of belief, by ambrosen (2.00 / 0) #14 Mon Oct 24, 2005 at 06:47:23 AM EST
but implying that one belief was a priori better than another. Perhaps my response was a little grumpy, though.

[ Parent ]
Umm... yes? by stark (2.00 / 0) #15 Mon Oct 24, 2005 at 06:51:42 AM EST
That's pretty much what I think; I try to stick approximately to the ethical code while ignoring the stuff I don't think is relevant, like most other people.

I'm not sure people who are good Christians do things because of a reward; they generally do it because they believe it is the right thing to do.

I'm not sure about the condemning part - I don't believe in God, so it's not really relevant to me any more. I'm sure a proper Christian who is  more knowledgeable about their religion would have a good response to that one.

U.S. Patent 5443036 concerns a device for encouraging a cat to exercise by chasing a light spot.

[ Parent ]
I don't think it's a reward, either. by ambrosen (2.00 / 0) #17 Mon Oct 24, 2005 at 06:56:46 AM EST
I don't know really how strongly I believe, or in what, but the thing is that any discussion along these lines is going to involve people telling other people that according the critic's maxims for life, the criticised person is wrong, and the criticised person replying that according to their own maxims, their view is right, with neither acknowledging that their own maxims could be anything other than the only truth, and very little debate about the bottom-up process by which these maxims are formed and reinforced.

Which is why this is a good diary, and why I jumped on the grandparent comment as not good. According to my worldview.

[ Parent ]
V2FP by pinkcress (2.00 / 0) #19 Mon Oct 24, 2005 at 11:02:21 AM EST
As you say, more emo.

Your father's reaction sounds similar to mine. I don't think he really believes in anything but made a point of offering us ways into religion if we wanted it (mass a few times a year, vaguely half-arsed religious school, etc).

I say it's the lapsed Catholic thing still eating away at him -- there's nothing quite like Catholic guilt.


Strength and Curse | 19 comments (19 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback