Tuesday, February 17, 2009

religion and moi

Here is my introduction to the book, first draft.

Religion has always been a troubling phenomenon for me. I can't recall it ever holding any attraction, or any sense of reality, though that is probably a false memory, as many researchers are now saying that religion and childhood go together like fish and chips. If not official religion, then its general territory - magic, monsters and coming alive again after being snuffed out by cops, Indians, assorted bad guys or the afore-mentioned monsters. Of course I marvellled at Superman and fantasised flying faster than bullets on errands for attractive schoolmates, but the god I heard about at Sunday School was nothing but a source of irritation. I felt ashamed of the gullibility and self-deception of my elders, and the questions I posed, without ever vocalising, were much the same as those of the young Christopher Hitchens; why would a perfect being want to be worshipped and praised by his creations? Wouldn't he be as squirmily embarrassed as I was by all this fawning? Okay, that was making the mistake of thinking the god was just like me only more super, but surely by worshipping him and singing to him and dedicating buildings and babies to him, they too were making assumptions about his nature, or at least how he preferred to be treated, and these assumptions actually made him all the less attractive, as someone totally insatiable, never entirely appeased, never satisfied, like the most nightmarish of parents. He was far more remote and less believable than Superman, who, like us, had gone through childhood and survived his parents and looked sexy even in his ridiculous outfit [well, okay, unlike most of us] – in fact he was the most reassuringly human of extra-terrestrials

It seemed so patently made-up and yet, as I glanced about at the adults during the Sunday service, they all seemed to believe so fervently. It seemed to make such a difference to them. I didn't get it at all. Even if their god existed, which I could never concede, what would be the point of sitting around, swaying and chanting and smiling and fervently believing?

I wondered what they believed when they were in the throes of believing. Or what they were thinking at least. Were they thinking, He exists, wow he really exists, wow, I mean I just can't get over it, and he created us all, and me especially, I mean I know i'm nothing special but to me I am, and it's all because of him, I can just never thank him enough, or praise him or... I just wonder if he notices how impressed I am with him, because I really really am, but maybe I'm not showing it enough, though he sees everything, but maybe he wants me to smile more, to sing louder, to spread the word, I'm not spreading the word enough, I'm keeping it to myself, that's selfish, that's a sin, PRAISE THE LORD!...

It worried me. I felt rather contemptuous of these swaying, smiling chanting elders, even as a young boy, but I also felt intimidated. I didn't know how to deal with such conviction, and of course I still don't. The sense of intimidation is heightened of course when there's a congregation of them. I've never attended personally to feel the love, but I'm thinking of masses of shining-faced believers in massive modern evangelical churches, chanting and stomping and halelujaing, presumably in gratitude for believing, and also masses of bobbing madrassa students and streetloads of breast-beating Iraqi men chanting something about Allah. I don't wonder so much then about what they might be thinking, as the whole impetus appears to be about unthinking, submitting to some kind of chain of basic believing being.

So, in the following, I want to put some pressure on all this believing, and to consider the alternatives. I want to look here and there at the history of religious belief and unbelief, and to wonder about the future. I doubt if I'll come to any earth-shattering conclusions, but I feel it's one of the most important issues to try to get our heads around, as the gap between believers and unbelievers widens, and exasperations grow.

Not that this will necessarily be a bridge-building exercise! Partly it will be my attempt to come to terms with the intimidating nature of relentless religious belief. I've no idea, honestly, as I write this, what the outcome will be.



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