Perhaps it’s just bad timing, perhaps not, but I got this email this morning.
There is only one way to fill the Emptiness you try to fill in your life.
You are a child of God the almighty. He love you more than anyone else can do so.
He send his son Jesus in the world and he died on the cross for all our sins.
So that we are free of our guilt and can be reconnected with our father in heaven.
He knows of all your fights an your needs. He can fill up your heart completely.
And he was the one who saved you in all your adventures.
xxxxxxxx (name withheld)
Mmmmm - interesting, and it’s nice to get something unusual, especially as I’d only been arguing about faith before going to bed the previous night. I came downstairs and read it to Vanessa as we had our porridge this morning. “Don’t reply” was all she said, maybe because she knows me well enough to know I take religion very seriously, and that I’d only say something I regret, that I’m pretty confused on the subject, maybe because she lives in a Catholic country were faith still demands respect. But I can’t.
I’ve tried to steer clear of religion on this blog, or politics, as such a platform like this, which gets about two thousand eyes on it a day, can easily turn into a gallows, as most of the time what you believe evolves into something better down the line, and such things simply become an embarrassment or worse. Secondly, there is that intimidation that anyone who makes a living from the faith of others - that they like your words and are willing to pay from them - that to upset them may rob you of their patronage, that few are unbound to speak their minds, tickets or books unsold. I once joked that when I criticised my old mate Bear Grylls I always lost Twitter followers, but that it was offset by the fact the average IQ of my followers went up (it’s an old joke, but still a funny one). But questioning faith is something else. This is one reason that much of what we read and see and hear in the mainstream is very different from what we hear and see on the bus, in Lidl, sitting close to people talking who feel at ease enough to say what they think. That is not to say they are right in their casual racism, xenophobia and fear, only that this may be a better representation of reality, that beyond media and academia the minds of people are lagging behind utopian thinking. I think I’m a brave person, and I think I’m brave enough to question the dogma of all my belief, to question the politics in my DNA, my working-class hatred of the rich and inequality. I was brought up with faith, that God made it all, about Adam and Eve, the ark, all that fairly story mind-bending that goes on around the world, which luckily for me was toothless. I dare to ask if what I believe is right or wrong, that maybe there is a God, to check the data. I also know that to attack other people’s faith is a little cruel, like taking the piss out of someone’s football team they’ve followed all their lives, passed down from father to son. I know and have people as close as a family whose love God is profound, complete and unquestioning. It does me no service to write what I write, but I feel I must. Just as people feel compelled to demonstrate their faith, to wish their faith on others - both in ways soft and hard - I must demonstrate my faithlessness.
But I think about religion a lot, it troubles me, it’s one of my many obsessions that torture, that I want to grasp what it is to have blind faith, rather than just sleep on it like most do, that it’s not important, that faithless you have no need to understand, when in fact it’s the most important issue of our age. Do you know that there are many in positions of power around the world whose faith is based on the desire of Armageddon, for the rapture, that World War three is just what they desire? That Christian groups in the US (and historically) support Israel because the end of days cannot come until all the Jews have returned to the promised land, that the Jews want Jerusalem because those buried there will be the first to rise from the dead. How about the environment? Did you know that many in the US completely believe that Jesus cannot return until “the last tree is cut down”, and that global warming is something to embrace. When you have no faith, or what faith you have is coloured by science and rationality (which is no faith at all, nothing more than buying a lottery ticket each week in the hope of one day winning), then such things are just seen as being cooky ideas, and yet cooky ideas have teeth. And that’s just the Christians!
One thing I find impossible to understand is how our minds have been subverted by the faith of others, why it needs to be protected or defended in a western rational world where we now consider the most devout Christians as crazy? The idea that a law could be debated at the UN would make the criticism of Islam a hate crime beyond parody. Shame on us, and death to our children and grand children’s freedom.
The other day someone tweeted that the Charlie hebdo cartoonists fought for freedom of speech that we all take for granted as a defence against Islam! I suggested he attempt to do an exhibition of their work at his local school or town hall to test just how free he really is. I feel as if we are living in a time where all normal trains of rational thought have been hijacked and diverted, where sound solid people can defend Pakistan as a haven of peace and goodwill just as a visitor to Germany may have in 1938. It often seems that our very liberalism and fairness has been turned back on ourselves (a technique actually espoused by al-Qaeda in dealing with the west, that our softness is our weakness).
Because I question I open myself up to be labelled a heretic of our age, a racist, and like all racists, I can try and defend myself by saying all my mates at school were the outsiders, the Sheik, the Lebanese refugee, the Ghanaian, but I’ll admit, even with friends like these I had that little racism of a Northern city in the 70’s - that as a kid I was sexist and racist and xenophobic - but no more than my mates (it’s funny when you travel that you realise that racism is in the DNA of all people in all countries, and perhaps the UK is one most sensitive to it). But I remember in 1988, at six form with my mate Nimrod, the only black kid on our estate, how he took the Satanic Verses off the library bookshelf and threw it in the bin, a lad whose parents had fled their own country due to persecution. What did I do? I did nothing because I was too ignorant to understand.
After every single atrocity, we see fair-minded and liberal people act as apologists for a totalitarian and fascistic ideology based on the stolen teaching of an illiterate Arabian (I could include the word paedophile, but seeing as Muhammad was alive in the 5th Century, it seems to have sex with a 9 year old a distraction for more serious points), and I ask myself why? Why do we condone the sacking of some geek for making a sexual joke about a dongle, yet condone and defend an ideology that is indefensibly misogynistic, reactionary, homophobic, violent, anti-democratic, and anti-free speech?
Over the years I’ve seen a lot of faith, I’ve spent time with and lived with Christians of all types, with Mormons, with Scientologists, with Jews and Muslims. I’ve tried to get to grips and understand their faiths, to have empathy for others, have respect for the nature of belief. Many people argue about the source and the nature of the soul, but I would say that faith is equally as nebulous, and of far more bearing to the world we live in. I would like to respect faith and believe, but the more I try the more disturbed I become, even though I actively want to be persuaded that I’m wrong, after all, how good would it be not to ask questions, that every question ends with three letters.
Now faith does not simply have to be based on some Godhead or deity, but simply faith in an idea, the key selling point being that fundamentally that this faith must be based on a simple and easily digestible answer, some certainty, that faith is a service industry. This occurred to me when I went to a catholic mass. I could see the appeal, the sense of shared history and support and community, and no singing. But when the priest spoke he spoke with nor fire or venom, he did not tell us what we should think, he was like the owner of a DVD rental shop, simply glad of any custom, wishing not to doubt he moved with the times and picked a faith on the rise. Faith does not serve the content, but those in need of simple answers or subverted by the powerful for their own means.
But faith is not confined to angels and devils, but to politics, the new faith of many, and equally as baseless in truth or reality, selling an idea of a free utopia where all are equal, where there is no poverty and there is work for all. The closest we could get to this if we invaded Norway. Our bible is the media we consume, complex ideas and tensions and conflicting truths tamed seemingly in a sound bight or little snippet to ‘like’ on Facebook, some oversimplification that takes one grain of reality and mixes it up with some readily formed idea (class, envy, fear) in order to reach a preconditioned conclusion. We pray for the abolition of the house of Lords, a system of balance too complex to grasp in a tweet, yet find ourselves confused when these toffs defend tax credits. We cry out at the public school banter at prime ministers question time, yet let slip real politics to simply make fun of a toff who stuck his dick in a dead pigs mouth. The fact that a politician like Jeremy Corbyn can be elected gives some hope that there is a desire for something greater than make-believe, but all such politicians, once at the coal face tend to find their ideals blacked by the dirt of the digging.
Maybe the greatest exponent of blind faith, portraying that same victory over reason, is the rise and rise of Donald Trump. When he says “I will make America great” he’s actually telling his followers he’ll lead them back to the promised land. The supporters roar with approval because as in religion this is about selling the commodity of make-believe and hope. As with all faith, to stand up and say “excuse me - could you give a little more detail on that?” or how he’d need a shit load of Mexicans to build a fuck off wall to keep them out would just make you an unbeliever, a heretic to his truth, a naysayer.
Christ - tell me what to believe? Am I the crazy one to have no faith?
My only conclusion, the only conclusion that stands up to the scrutiny of a 21st-century mind, the conclusion I hope some civilised world will make a thousand years from now, is that faith is a form of madness in all people, hardwired into us for some reason - perhaps simple a blind hope that kept our species striving one - a reason subverted by some, part that magic of make-believe, part dark circuit of control.
Maybe I’m lost, maybe Jesus is the way, but how could I follow a God that would have his own son tortured to death, or the teaching of an illiterate shepherd who’s stolen biblical truth still leads - and too many to simply be excused - ‘crazy’ fundamentalists to seek paradise through murderous suicide. Even for a God there must be some evolution of thinking, the bible or Koran a gallows for his ideas as much as this blog is for mine. The very weakness of all religion and all faith is very madness at its core, the idea it could be true, the reality that there is no easy answer, no heaven, no great America, no total equality or utopia, only a reality that life is cruel and joyful and complex and forever in doubt.