Friday, May 19, 2006

Faith and hope and charity...

The comment from FatFiz in my "Thank Christ, he's not gay" post below has inspired this. I began by writing a reply comment but soon realized it was getting out of hand... Before I go any further, I should apologize to my few regular readers (and any possible newcomers) for the length of this post, but I hope you'll read it, and I'd be really interested in reading your thoughts and comments.

I have been a non-believer in God and all that goes with him/her/it since I was about ten years old. I fail to understand why people do believe in this stuff. To me, it's completely unfathomable. And not just Christians; Muslims, Hindus, etc, too.

That said, I kind of envy them their faith. It must be really great to have something to believe in. It must be wonderful to know that when you die you will be reunited with all the friends and family who have gone before you. I can't buy into this, but I really hope it's true. I hope it's true for all those who have died for their faith. I hope it's true for all those who kept their faith in the most trying of times. And I hope it's true for me. Because, despite being a non-believer, I like to think that if there is anything "up there", I'll still be eligible since I'm a pretty good guy. I even give to charity. Mostly animal ones, but I also gave to the tsunami relief fund.

The truth is, I find religion quite an emotional subject. I'm a sucker for things like that old Michael Landon show Highway to Heaven. Lump-in-the-throat stuff, that. And I don't know why I should find it so. As I said, I made my peace with no religion some two and a half decades ago. So why is this? Have I, in reality, not made my peace with this?

My mum once told me that when I was very young, I was so into the bible that she thought I would become a vicar or something. And I remember drawing pictures of Jesus on the cross. Not gory pictures; just pictures copied from the pages of my bible. Isn't that strange?

On occasion, Wife and I have family and friends visit, and they want to see some of the sites local to us. One of the places we take them is Canterbury cathedral. And you can spend hours in there. It's a really cool place. At this point I'll take a sentence or two to say that I love churches. They are such enormous monuments to faith that, again, it seems incredible in this day and age that so much money, effort, love and devotion to God was poured into them. Today such undertakings would be absolutely out of the question. The monetary value of the artworks and relics and icons and whatever else, quite aside from the building itself, is astonishing.

So, Canterbury. In Canterbury cathedral - indeed, perhaps in many churches and cathedrals - there is a place where visitors can leave little prayers to be read out at the following morning's service. And this is an amazingly moving place for me. Again, it comes back to this utter envy that people can believe so strongly that they'll leave a prayer out in the open for any passing stranger to read, and perhaps judge them on.

The last time we were there, there were several prayers from one family. I think they were praying for a safe trip to Heaven for Granddad. But the ones from the kids get me the most. Maybe it's their innocence. Maybe it's the levity they bring to the sad reality. The kids in this family had added prayers for God to look after their guinea pig and how they hoped there was lots of grass in Guinea Pig Heaven. How can you not be moved by that?

And when our 11-year-old Italian niece was here, she wrote, in English: "Dear God, please stop war in Iraq and the world." I think I was barely aware of wars in the world when I was 11. Perhaps I had a sheltered upbringing, or perhaps I was too busy playing football and riding my bike, but I find it incredible not only that these things prey on the mind of an 11-year-old girl, but that she knows how to express her exasperation at the fact in another language.

Well, I've gone on even longer than I'd anticipated, so I guess I'll wrap it up. But it's a funny old thing, religion. And I can't believe how many religious blogs there are out there. And probably many of their authors would be horrified by sites such as this. But, why is that? I'm not peddling my anti-religious ways as strongly as they are peddling their faith. I'm just having some fun, hopefully entertaining occasionally, and maybe, just maybe, causing someone to think once in a while, even if that someone is me.


Anonymous Wife said...

Yes, well... but then our Italian niece is quite extraordinary.

19 May, 2006 19:58  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Yeah, she is.

Well, this has proved to be a particularly popular post... Went down like a lead balloon!

19 May, 2006 20:00  
Blogger Riss said...

I liked this post, in the sense that you're atheist but non-judgemental. I'm religious (I believe in God but organized religion annoys me) but don't really buy into the whole going-to-hell-for-not-going-to-church thing. The God I believe in is a pretty stand-up guy. I think He'll understand that even though I had premarital sex, am divorced and sometimes give in to fits of wrath/lust, I'm still an overall decent person and let me through the gates.

19 May, 2006 20:14  
Blogger the cappuccino kid said...

churches facinate me also, in an architectual sort of way! coventry's is a beauty!
my wife is a catholic. became one after i met her. she was brought up church of england, but when i met her she was a "born again christian". it is things like that i don't understand. how you can move faiths! what difference does it make? after all they read from the same book, and my mum always says you dont need to go to church to talk to god. he is supposed to be everywhere!
each to thier own i suppose.

19 May, 2006 20:46  
Blogger ENGLISH RANTER said...

I left the cub scouts (a group possibly more evil than most religion) at the age of 8 because I didn't believe in God and they wouldn't let me stay unless I attended the church with them once a month.
My mum wrote me a letter saying unless I could give church a miss I wasn't going to stay. They threw me out. Probably why I'm useless at knots now.
However, despite 30-odd years of atheism, I still appreciate some of the stuff from several religions - including Christianity - as wise, respectful, and ultimately, "good".
I wandered into a church in a Kent village not long ago. Right little Tory stronghold you would think. But inside the door, they'd got kids to draw pictures of why war was wrong, and why nuclear power was fucked up.
It's just not as simple as religion = bad.
Now I believe that it's good to believe that the dead are around us, somehow.
Capitalism feeds on the appeal of the lack of responsibility a mortality without an afterlife offers.
Personal morality is an assumption that the liberal intelligentia assume comes with the package of humanity.
But unfortunately it's just not true.
It's all too easy for the systems that surround us to create new evil gods to worship without ever mentioning the word religion.
But I agree, those that are consumed with conversion of others are usually those that are most scared of the sin within themselves, rather than that which exists within others.
Bunch of preaching cunts.
All the best *, as Bon Jovi once said, keep the faith ;-)

19 May, 2006 20:55  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At least you didnt get lots of posts from zealous christians trying to convert you.

I visited York minster last year, a lit a candle in memory of my old man. I got a bit emotional. The word awe-inspiring is over used. But these buildings, their acoustics and desing were designed to inspire awe. And that they do.

I like ER refused to swear my cub scout oath, I didnt like the queen tho. I went to a very catholic school. Lots of priests. Lots of lunatics. Lots of child abuse. Hence my complete lack of faith and my humanistic stance on the world.

Interesting post here. Have a bit more patience tho you moaning git!!!!!

19 May, 2006 21:03  
Blogger the cappuccino kid said...

the boy gos to a left footer school too. stood with my mother one day talking to another grandmother and she turned to us mid conversation and said "but of course, you're not of the faith" had to drag my parental unit away as she was starting to foam at the mouth!
and they are supposed to be christians!

20 May, 2006 08:45  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i hate those bastards imena tha 1s that tell u that ur wrong ur lifestle is wrong that everything u do is wrong n that is u just pray ur mind will b ok agin buncha cunts.very old building i love tho dun care wot its built 4 just tha idea that people made beauty with primative( compare 2 now) tools but dun shove that papist crap down my throat nomore tyvm i think u figrueit out very young if u dun believe it i was 4 r 5 n decided it was all shit neways , so just give me that fkin donott n leave me alone

20 May, 2006 20:11  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

Hi Nowt, I just have been slow around the edges catching up on reading so I am just getting to this now. I love this post and this kind of thinking.

You may have read my review of a play I just saw and it was two guys, one an atheist and one of this topic is on my mind.

the thing is, we all ask the same questions. A lot of Christians don't realize that atheists also wonder: why are we here? What is truth? What is love" What is the meaning of life? Why is there suffering?

These profound questions are not under the sole jurisdiction of religious people. It is a human quest and condition to search and ask about life.

I am a Buddhist, the worlds worst Buddhist, but you know, ya try...and for Buddhism, God is a non-issue because it's taken as you can't prove or not prove, its just what it a lot of the practice is making choices while alive, let death (reincarnation?) and god cross those bridges then sort of thing...we are accountable for our time here in this life to deal with it.

I think it is a mistake and a raw deal to oneself to not be open to other peoples ideas and beliefs...we don't have to agree or worry, but to listen and exchange ideas.

I think it is very natural to be in awe of a church even if one does not practice the religion. The temples of many cultures I love to visit. In airports I always seek out the chapel, and take a few minutes to helps with the travel. I love cathedrals and korean or zen temples, and I love the sacred spots of native Americans...

When people make these temples, even very ancient ones I have been to in the desert outside of Vegas...had a wonderful compelling effect on me. The people who design and create and built worship places, they are inspired and so know what they are doing...I think they often are appreciated by interfaiths...and historians and non-believers. Look how anthropoligists write about other cultures beliefs and customs...?

AND...I think there are icons and images that are universal especially in temples and churches...

circles, crosses, stars, roses, candles, radiation lines, clouds skies, otherworldly creatures(blue skin Khrisna, ganesh, virgin mary, serpent, snakes around the world are mystical) makes sense that we are moved by the devices and powerful symbols in a church...they are powerful and primal and primordial. Even ancient peoples worshiped sun and moon...stars, blood represented life and death...Innuit hunters said a prayer when they killed a whale or seal..and always had fresh water with them, to give their kill a drink. And religion was probably born from hunting, saying grace to the animals we love but depend on for our own life...humans will always want to reconcile that reality.

Well, I ramble what else is fucking new. At least I'm not trying to spell fucking aluminum on a saturday morning(who was THAT last week...F.F?!!!)

21 May, 2006 06:07  
Blogger FOUR DINNERS said...

Dunno if there's a 'God'. If there is 'n I get to meet him/her/it I'll be sharin' an understandin' with him/her/it.

Wonder if I can get him/her/it in't union?

21 May, 2006 11:13  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Thanks all. It's made for very interesting reading.


21 May, 2006 18:02  
Blogger wrinkled weasel said...

I appreciate your candour. It's one of the strengths of this blog. This is an interesting piece, and the eventual feedback proved that. You said (of churches), "They are such enormous monuments to faith that, again, it seems incredible in this day and age that so much money, effort, love and devotion to God was poured into them."

I have often thought that too. It is especially gratifying that you have an open mind about these things and don't just want to be negative.

If these buildings are such a visible and material testament to something spiritual and discerned by faith, it is hard to dismiss that faith out of hand.

21 May, 2006 23:29  
Blogger Cynnie said...

I hope you read old postings..
I'm catholic, I believe in god and jesus..
I dont believe in the pope and all his little cronies.
And I'm a fucking fighter so i refuse to abandon my religion just cause some old guys got their claws into it.
I dont think this is what jesus had in mind when he started this thing..( you gotta remember Jesus was a revolutionary!!)
So ..I think god didnt make us human JUST so he could condemn us to hell for it..( there is no freaking hell..God LOVES us..why would he torture us for all eternity??)
But we do have free will..and man is so imperfect and we always fuck up and hurt each other..
But all in is fucking great.

23 May, 2006 01:31  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

WW: You're right, it is hard to dismiss the faith out of hand. The faith is quite something. I just can't quite swallow the foundation of that faith.

Cynnie: Thanks for your comment. I think many people these days have a lack of respect for organized religion but refuse to let that lessen their beliefs. If Jesus existed (and I suspect he did, even if I don't believe he was the Son of God) he was indeed a revolutionary. He was a radical MF. And that's cool. Something that should always be borne in mind.

23 May, 2006 09:55  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God does love us - this love, revealed by Jesus Christ, is so radical that it can rarely be accepted. The Jewish authorities crucified Christ because His teachings were so radical.

Take, for example, the parable of the Prodigal Son. This is a very well known parable today, but it was scandalous in its teachings at that time. Take a read. Find a bible, or simply google LUKE 15:11-32.

In a Patriarchal society like the Jewish society, respect was given to the father as head of the family. This is even codified into Mosaic Law as the fifth commandment.

Now imagine that you were to ask your parents to give you your inheritance today. That would certainly cause issues in your family.

In the context of the time it was tantamount to telling your father you wished he was dead. This would typically result in the child being disowned. Yet this father loved his son so much, he overlooked the insult and actually gave the son his share of the inheritance.

The son quickly squandered the gifts from his father in a life of earthly pleasures and self-indulgence. He ends up paying the earthly price for this. At this point, we are not sure that he even repents, but he clearly understands that he had it better living with his father than living on his own terms. So he decides to return, if only to work as a simple field hand, or slave, where at least his basic needs would be met.

We are told that the father sees the prodigal son from a long way off, and runs (runs!) to greet him. Can you imagine the love of a father who looks out to the road every day in the hope that his son will return to him?

The son tries to give his prepared speech, hoping that his father will accept him, if only on an employment basis, yet the father barely hears him. He has already welcomed him back, and is going about finding jewelry and new clothing for his beloved son. He orders a feast to celebrate, slaughtering the "fatted calf" that had been long prepared for some other event.

There are those, who like the other son in this parable, prefer to judge rather than forgive. They insist that people be perfect in accordance with their principles, and don't understand the depth of God's love and forgiveness.

How fortunate we are that our God will give us the full measure of His Grace, regardless of if we came to know him late in the day (Matthew 20:1-15) or if we fall away before returning like the prodigal son.

The Lord is there for us. He seems to be calling you, based upon what you have said in this post. Perhaps it is time to take a moment and listen.

And do not worry. Our Heavenly Father does not condemn us to eternal damnation if that is not what we seek. It is always we who choose to reject the Father, the Father will never reject us.

10 September, 2006 18:50  

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