How not to do religion.

Religion is mostly uncool in general. Either there’s the romanticised Roman Catholic imagery (look at me playing with the etymology there. That’s what passes for cool in my world, oh yes) in things like ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ and ‘The Departed’, which we all know doesn’t come from belief, it comes from movie-and-tv world, in which depression, egomaniacal behaviour and drug abuse can all be quite cool and admirable, or there’s religious belief in the real world, which is mostly, as Dylan Moran has pointed out, based around tea. Not to mention quite incongruous. It doesn’t add up. Real World + Invisible Deity = Someone Looking Silly, or at least someone looking extremely serious, daring anyone to risk pointing out that they may possibly be being silly. There’s melodrama, or there’s boring.

Most religious groups do sort of divide up along those lines, too. You get the serious, dusty ones; the Wesleyans and the Church of England, Chapel, that sort of thing; and at the other end of it you get the happy-clappy seventh-day-pentecost alleluja evangelists. There’s space in between for every shade of ridiculousness except for Marcus Brigstocke. Mine is, of course, the one that manages to be both very very serious and more ridiculous than most of the others: the Quakers. And I don’t even fit in there.

Quakers are an odd bunch. The gist of it is; everyone has their own relationship with the divine (hereafter referred to as the Thing, to avoid causing offence to people who don’t believe in God. Of which I am one, but fortunately I’m not at all offended by any of this post), which means that we don’t need an intermediary to tell us how to be religious, so we all get together to sit in silence, mostly. Everyone, having their own relationship to the Thing, has their own truth, and so we don’t need to agree to believe exactly the same thing. If you’re conducting your own relationship with the Thing, it’s a 24/7 thing, and so you don’t get to cop out of anything by saying it’s not communing-with-the-Thing time (e.g. Sunday morning): you have to do it all the time. Practically, this tends to mean various levels of success/failure in not lying, fighting, gambling, getting drunk, being selfish or showing off. It really honestly doesn’t have anything do to with porridge. Although I like porridge a lot.

I’m mostly terrible at those things, especially at not being selfish and even worse at not getting drunk. Okay, and not showing off is really hard too. Okay, I’m only good at the not gambling, and I’m too choice-phobic for it anyway, I go tharn in the supermarket if my usual milk isn’t there and I have to pick one. I would claim to be good at not fighting, but then I’d have hexed myself on the not lying thing: ‘good at not fighting’ is not the same as ‘rubbish at fighting.’ The whole thing would be much easier if porridge-eating was part of it, I might shock myself and succeed at it. But the thing is, I’ve got used to trying and failing within this particular set of parameters, banging my head against this particular brick wall, so to speak. Just because I don’t believe in an actual proper God doesn’t seem like enough of a reason to quit bloodying my head on this reassuring, known, hard stone wall, and go seek a new one. Realising that I hate most mainstream movies hasn’t stopped me from paying a tenner to sit in a sticky-carpeted hollywood temple resenting the crisp-eaters behind me and hating my own popcorn-scoffing habits (I don’t even like popcorn), so I don’t see any arguments against sticking with my religion, with or without the God bit in it. Besides, there aren’t even any Quakers here, so it means I get to sit here with my Richard Dawkins book, and selfishly drink all the tea. Whilst eating porridge.

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About alexandraengland


3 responses to “How not to do religion.

  • jan p

    Loved the Marcus Brigstock link

    • alexandraengland

      I think he’s great, and he has a point. Richard Dawkins even used Brigstocke’s bit in his UC Berkeley lecture, at http://is.gd/cr09g. At 28.55 he just plays the whole rant through, from start to finish. The bit at 25.40 also kind of made me laugh, which surprised me. I hadn’t expected Dawkins to do amusing.

  • Michele Nicholls

    The result of so many contrasting influences on one in childhood can be very confusing, can’t it? My mother was a lapsed-Catholic-atheist/agnostic (depending on mood) and my schooling was in-your-face C of E, so I’m just as confused as you on this one. Being a bit pretentious at heart, I call the ‘Thing’ the Ineffable’ if it was comprehensible by the human mind, it wouldn’t really be big enough to be awesome, and then it would rather lose its pint, don’t you think?

    You’re getting positively prolific – how nice ;o) xxxxxxxx

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