One sunday morning a few years ago I answered the front door and at once realised that I was having my first visit from the Jehovah witnesses. They seemed ok to start with and I spent a few minutes politely listening to them as they began what I guess is their well worn patter aimed at spreading the word of their God and encouraging me to sign up to their creed. It was all going rather swimmingly until my partner at the time decided that she would get involved in the conversation as well, and proceeded to start a fairly intense theological debate on our doorstep that wound them up so much I ended up being condemned to hell.You see,during the conversation that she was having she let it be known that we were unmarried and had two young children and because of this and her pointless argumentative nitpicking at them,they issued their own version of a fatwa against us. Now if having been in sales all these years has taught me anything it is that if you’re trying to sell something it’s probably a good idea to avoid telling your prospective customer that they are going to hell if you want to close the deal. At the time I thought it would be a bit funny to go to the living room, put the intro to Iron Maidens ‘Number of the beast’ on at full blast and in their opinion make my ticket to hell a first class one. It wasn’t actually until a while later when re-telling this event to someone else that I actually felt pretty cross about it. I mean, I dare say that whichever brand of religion anyone signs up to or gets born into, the doorstepers surely don’t have the big cheifs authority to condem anyone to hell do they?
If there was any good to come out of this encounter it was that it opened my eyes to the fact that religions of all types are represented badly by their foot soldiers and even in some cases by their senior members too,who like to twist interpretations of beliefs to suit their own, often crazy views. Although I grew up in a catholic home it wasn’t a particularly hardcore environment as the church’s doctrine was never forced down our throats on a daily basis. It was a pretty easy going existance where with the exception of Sunday mass and the encouraging of bedtime prayers, religion was a relatively low key part of our lives. This upbringing coupled with going to a catholic secondary school meant that my formative years were to a degree influenced by the religion that I had been born into and to a large extent these beliefs still exist in my life even though they have been watered down to a degree. For example I broadly agree with the 10 commandments,although I do so as a concept as apposed to the alleged delivery method, and I believe that there is a (kind of) life after death,but I’m also able to pick out the bits of the teachings I do agree with, debate the bits I’m not sure about and ignore the bits I don’t agree with. Now I realise that this means I hardly fit in with any religious code and indeed a priest once told me that cherry picking wasn’t allowed,but if I didn’t cherry pick I’d have given up on religion years ago the reason being that I break a lot of the rules of my faith. I have sex outside marriage, I take the lords name in vain and I work on the sabbath virtually every week.To name but 3.
But what happens if your so called “sins” are a bit more troublesome to the church than my need to work on weekends? I know a number of gay people who are completely ostracised by just about every brand of religion that there is and despite being given the legal right to get married this week,the churches have still got their cassocks in a twist and are falling over themselves to distance themselves from the new laws. People are so enshrined and entrenched in their beliefs over this that they are resorting to changing their religions rather than their opinions. Makes my cherry picking seem a little trivial really. I couldn’t care less if straight people or gay people get married. Surely if two people want to commit to spending their lives together and are so in love with each other that they want to be married to one another, then who cares what sexuality they are and more importantly,who are the self appointed,door stepping foot soldiers who allegedly represent God (whichever god that might be) to deny this from happening? We have a situation in this country where gay couples can adopt children but not get married and surely this means that the church is undermining it’s own philosophy of family. Not only that but not a day goes past without some religious nutcase either oppressing, enslaving or killing people or people’s in the name of one god or another. I struggle to see the difference between 2 opposing sets of football hooligans beating the crap out of each other in the name of which football club is the best and a couple or armies killing thousands in the name of Allah or God.Let’s not forget that in the U.K. we are hardly blameless. Having spend the best part of a thousand years trotting around the globe and attempting to spread Christianity by a combination of force and imperialism,we should hardly be surprised to discover that the rest of the world seems intent on raising its voice and doing the same to us.Even today we still see areas of society in the U.K. where upon communities are still segregated depending on which brand of religion you happen to agree with.
But lambasting religion or moaning about its moral boundaries is always going to happen,as is my regular calling upon my god for his help. In the film ‘Bruce Almighty’ Jim Carrey gets to be in charge of Gods emails for a few weeks and naturally all the incoming prayers are prayers asking for some kind of personal achievement,and if I’m honest I often find myself doing the same. I’m not ashamed of this and I’m sure that come the day when I have to go through the purley gates and answer for myself,the big guy might well want to know why I once prayed that I would be chosen to go on Jim’ll fix it and regularly prayed for Millwall to win the cup. I guess he wasn’t receiving his emails on those days. Last week I found myself praying that the airplane I was taking off in would make it safely off the ground and more importantly safely back on it at the other end. So lacking in confidence was I in this prayer coming to fruition, I decided to pray on behalf of everybody else on board too which in my mind would give me a much better success rate. And it turns out that this time the message got through.
Just under 3 years ago our family was preparing for the inevitable when my Mum was terminally ill. All through her life she looked forward to her death in a belief that she would be reunited with her parents and sisters and more importantly with God. She faced her death with a calmness and dignity that I doubt I will be able to do when my time comes and this was because of her certainty and conviction that death was just another stage of the circle of life. When she did pass I also found that calmness in me. I found it deeply reassuring that she may be in heaven (whatever heaven is) and it was her faith and her belief actually prepared me for her passing. Despite being there with my Dad and my Sister as she drew her final breath,I found myself being unable to shed a tear, which I entirely attribute to her conviction in her faith. Please don’t think that this makes me cold or emotionless as it simply isn’t true, I found myself sobbing like a baby a few weeks ago watching a repeat of only fools and horses when Raquel has the baby and for some strange reason found myself getting a bit teary eyed during sports personality of the year. I do realise that I’m very odd.
So in summary, I believe in a cherry picked brand of religion and I believe in being able to live a life normally in the society in which I live.I don’t care if you have a God or not, I don’t care if you don’t believe in anything or not and I don’t care if you don’t care about what I believe in. But I don’t want your moral judgement because your not fit to judge me, your no more important or special than I am and your views are no more relevant than mine. I don’t care if you’re a man who loves another man or a woman who loves another woman or if your both and you love your car just a bit too much. I like to think that I lead a reasonably good life and that I’m kind,help old people to cross the road and give to charity. I like to think that in someway I can enrich someone’s day a little bit with a funny remark or compliment. I like to think that the big guy would in general approve of me. If you disagree or think I should be at the wrong end of a jihad then by all means do so, I don’t care. Keep your self appointed opinions and gods to yourself. If you agree then feel free to say so and if you don’t then feel free to keep your opinion to yourself. I’m not going to judge you for your beliefs and lifestyle so butt out of mine.
See you next Sunday. In time for church.