Sunday, March 08, 2009

going to hell? already there.

so, today sees us sitting in a catholica church, surrounded by people, the god-a-fearing, the sucked in, the scared, the sheep, the asleep, the innocent, the guilty, the mewling hoards.

and out the front, the priest, the father, the leader of the flock, the tormentor, the boogey-man, the conveyor of threats, promises, the keeper of the riches.

he who must be obeyed.

he who hands around the basket for the coin. TWICE cause once aint enough you tight-arsed congregationalists.

he who reads the book, wipes the germs from the cup, breaks the bread. in a purple robe with snappy elocution and a kind of arrogant bearing, to my atheistic mind, that is.

i sit there dressed nicely with a calm, respectful face, not grimacing externally, resisting the guffaws when i feel them surge. i stand when required, i pass the basket, i turn and shake my neighbour's hands and say "peace be with you." that much i can say with utmost sincerity.

but i don't do the amens. i don't pray. i don't bow my head and i don't cross myself. of course i don't cross myself. i'm not catholic. practising religion is an exclusive kind of activity. guaranteed there will be some non-religionist in the audience on any given weekend; do they watch with envy the lining up for the wafer and wine?

occasionally i will sing a hymn, if it's one i like.

who can deny the power of blake's fantastic jerusalem.

















And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green
And was the holy lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic mills
Bring me my bow of burning gold
Bring me my arrows of desire
Bring me my spears o'clouds unfold
Bring me my chariot of fire
I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
'Til we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land
'Til we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

how do i reconcile my love for this poem, nay my adoration of it? it includes god, it includes religious concepts.

it's easy, dear reader. god is just that, a concept. it is something i can sing of, just words, i don't have to believe. for me the beauty, the awe and the power is in the words of this glorious hymn and the music. we sang this at my secondary school, an anglican school, where religion was part of every monday morning assembly. we had the hymn books, and we sang all sort of horrible hymns. this was the one everyone loved. it was so uplifting, you could feel that sword in your hand and see the chariot of fire, and i swear recently when i bellowed it out to the bush, singing with my sister and brother-in-law on our camping trip, i had tears in my eyes. the others, clokes and the kids, i think thought it was weird. they weren't moved, they didn't get it, they didn't know it. so how could i, a non-believer be the only one in the church (quite possibly) to be moved by that hymn? oh sweet irony.

today in the church, as i had princess leaning on me, rolling her eyes and sighing about all the god stuff, i watched the people going through the motions. of course not all are. some would be genuine in their faith and for them it be a goodly thing.

i thought of perseus as i sat in the church, watching the purple-robed one. i wondered when the last time was that he was in a church, and what his approach is. i figure i am a guest there, and as always when i'm a guest in anyone's house, i try to be respectful and polite. i could imagine perseus and me ganging up on the whole congregation - grabbing the mike and trying to tell them how wrong and blind they are. the priest was talking about abraham preparing to sacrifice his son. he spelled it out, sacrifice means kill, he thought god wanted him to kill his son.

there were kids in the congregation; what did they make of this? we've just had a man throw his daughter off a bridge, and then here's this man talking about fathers killing their children? where's the sense in that? where's the sensitivity?

sitting there it seemed more than the con that i generally see it as. to see all the families and the people going through the motions, and really, a lot were, they were there out of guilt, out of family obligation, out of habit.

is that how you want to live your life?

not me.

the irony is princess has been asked to read a prayer at a year 7 school service at church next week. i think she's chuffed to have been asked, but i said to her if it's very goddy, she would be able to tell them if she felt uncomfortable reading it. that she could offer to read something else, something more about humans than make-believe. she loves the idea of vampires and witches and wizards, but she is as scornful of an omnipresent god as i am. she knows vampires and the like aren't real, so she applies the same logic to the idea of god. but she said she's ok to do the reading, and i am so proud of her; for being chosen and for doing it. she can read it and not believe it. they are just words. the school she's at would respect her wish not to read for her own reasons if she explained them. they are tolerant of diversity in religious faith and belief and active dis-belief, which i was pleased to see specifically listed in some literature they put out.

i am exhausted. by the church. by the lunch, and chatting to people and smiling and ignoring my period stomach-ache and tiredness. i did my duty and that's good. but as soon as we could, we came home to play guitar hero.

serious addiction developing.

off to the golden age of couture in bendigo tomorrow, and very excited about it too. my type of religion: art.

happy sunday to you.


I'm not Craig said...

You really need to find a different church to hang around at.

I will, with great maturity and respect for your beliefs, refrain from actually suggesting, you know, mine, or pointing out that it's not as far from your house as you might think, or anything like that.

Is it wrong that this post made me feel, just briefly, relieved that my in-laws are almost all agnostics or deeply committed atheists? The only thing I ever had to do to accommodate their religious beliefs was to get married in a church that didn't look too much like a church.

Perseus said...

I love going to churches. It's all so abstract and lofty, and I am very well behaved. When the sermon starts, I enjoy it for the mythology (I just ignore the bit where they say it's real). My house features religious art (even my blog art is from Genesis) and I'm happy listening to Bach while reading Kierkegaard.

And I love a good singalong.

(INC: Stop saying 'beliefs' as if we're choosing to ignore the alternative. We have knowledge, it is you, dear sir, that has the 'belief' just like a kid 'believes' in Santa.)

Perseus said...

(A compromise INC: you could refer to our 'non-belief').

Melba said...

Uh oh don't start you two.

Nice to see you INC, thanks for your restraint. I need to reiterate I wasn't there out of choice, it was obligato.

I like the old churches better, this modern, ugly, stark. As Clokes said on the way home yesterday, Sacred Heart in St Kilda (our local) is much better. The priest was very laid-back, and it was so much more "colourful."

The stained glass was better too.

I'm not Craig said...


Well, I did think about using the term "non-belief", but then I thought about all the discussions of atheism on this blog and others over the years where Melbs and others have written very compellingly about all the wonderful, postive things they believe in, and, in particular, faith in each other rather than in a deity, and the term "non-belief" seemed hollow and inadequate.

I spent Sunday morning at my church, which met in our very ugly building so we could listen to a sermon about the importance of doing more to help the poorest and most disenfranchised in our world.

I don't know where you find these churches that talk about nothing but abstract and lofty things. It seems if you select churches based on content rather than architecture then the experience can be quite different.

Melba said...

But INC for us, it's the architecture that is one of the only things that are attractive.

And the music, if it's lovely.

Unless they start preaching buddhism, then whatever they say as long as it's delivered within the context of religion is, to me, bogus.


Perseus said...

When they say 'help the poor' and then say 'there is a God' it is lofty and abstract.

Churches are abstract by even existing.

It is a building into which solipsists congregate because they believe they will survive their own death.

I'm not Craig said...

Okay, now I'm just confused.

Melbs, I can understand why you have hated some (all?) of the sermons you've ever heard, but why does this extend to writing off every religious utterance in the history of the world except those involving buddhism?

I suspect that if I suggested that anything said in any non-Christian context was bogus I would be considered a little bit narrow minded.

Also, it's a little bit of a sad reflection on we churchgoing types if the people in the church are less attractive than the architecture of the building they meet in.

We need to lift our collective games, clearly.

And perseus, I do so enjoy our little chats. Feel free to write off me and all my Christan friends as a deluded bunch of solipsists if you like. I suspect that you consider that by doing so without having ever met a single one of us you are simply saving time.

Who cares if churches help the poor for lofty and abstract reasons? Do kids in Nairobi who get to go to school and eat regularly due to support from my church actually care why we sent the money? Is the food that keeps them alive less sold because it was paid for by religious folks?

And what does "churches are abstract by even existing" even mean?

My church has cleverly anticipated your argument by constructing our new hall almost entirely out of concrete* (and, for no sane reason I can fathom, balsa wood)

Also, I'm curious. Why does the very notion that some of us believe in a higher being bug you so much?

* see what I did there?

Perseus said...

Buddhists don't believe in God as a rule INC. Buddha himself (as in Gautama) said the question of whether or not there was a God was a wasteful and irrelevant topic. The higher teaching of Buddhism actually states that even if there is a God, he is still irrelevant.

"I suspect that you consider that by doing so without having ever met a single one of us ..."

I've never met a Christian? Don't be silly.

I'm not overly irked. I'm just using the same forceful language Christians use, back at them. I live a few doors from a church and they put signs out front, like, "Jesus loves you" and "You will have everlasting life". So, in reply, I say, "Jesus is dead in the ground," and "When you die that's it," and for some reason I get accused of being argumentative or confronting or cranky or whatever. Not really. I'm calm. I'm just matching your communication level.

Here's how it seems to go.

Christian: "There's a God"
Perseus: "No there's not."
Christian: "Wow. you're really full on and obsessive."


I never said that helping the poor was bad, but to help the poor because it is the desire/hope of a magical fairy in the sky that created the world and shit, is, you must admit, an abstract concept.


Church architecture is not necessary abstract. But a church which is a place where people worship a Divine Being is lofty full stop.

It's also very childish, I think, but thanks for the cool music, architecture and stuff over the years.


You must also concede it's solipsism... and hubris... to think that if there was a God he cares particularly about you, and to think you were made in his image, and you will be judged by him. Come on. It's arrogant. Isn't it? Huh? Am I wrong?


I enjoy our debates too.

Melba said...

Boys play nicely while I'm away today. Look at the pretty lingerie above and hold your horses until I come back with all guns a'blazing.

Peace out.

Melba said...

Warning: stream of consciousness follows with little or no editing. Please read at own risk.

INC, I didn't say I hated church or every sermon. It's like this, in a nutshell. I hope you get it. I was there under sufferance. I make the best of it when that happens. I never choose to go to church of my own free will. I like the music if it's nice; some of it is beautiful and moves me to tears, some of it is horrible and makes me want to kill myself. The schmaltzy, saccharine stuff.

I like the architecture if it's nice, like old and gracious. I can't however, take the sermons seriously simply because of the little matter of who and what is always hovering in the background. The whole context is a belief in god. That's why I called everything that is said bogus, because of the context. Whatever good is said in a sermon is undermined then by this expectation that you believe in god?! Bogus!

This doesn't mean that there is nothing of worth that is otherwise said in the sermons. I do believe in probably all of the ten commandments, for example. Can't be bothered counting now, but I'm sure they are closely aligned with my personal beliefs.

But it seems to me that all these things are rendered bogus (not in and of themselves, but by association) because of the context they are nested in. The religious stuff. The God stuff. I would rather say "yep, I believe that" (don't kill) but can I believe it that without having to believe in god? Of course! Somehow the person delivering the sermon is diminished in my eyes, because they believe in god. I do believe it even comes down to a matter of respect, but then I have trouble respecting a lot of people, it's one of my major flaws.

Your point about the congregation being less attractive than the architecture is sad, but not intended by me. I'm not there for the people (other than family), I'm not there for anything for myself. I'm not going to make friends with anyone in church. It's not going to happen, just like it's not going to happen if I found myself at an Alien Convention.

I'm trying to think if I'm bugged by the fact that some of you believe in a higher being. I guess I'm not bugged really by that, it's more I'm bugged when you argue with me, or get offended, or defensive. Not that you've really been defensive yourself, but you got confused with what I was saying. It bugs me that you can't get what I'm saying, my argument that is. Am I really that unclear or do you really find it so hard to believe that I DON'T believe?

Take that disbelief and turn it around; THAT is the disbelief I have about people who believe.

Headache now.

How are those undies eh?

I'm not Craig said...


I will try to keep this really brief and limit it to a response to your specific questions (which may or may not have been rhetorical - if they were, please disregard this comment)

1. Are you unclear?
Absolutely not. I understand your argument. I happen to disagree with you on this particular issue.

As you've pointed out in the past, only one of it can be right. I can live with you thinking that it's you if you can live with me thinking that it's me.

2. Do I find it hard to believe that you don't believe?

Not at all. As I've cheerfully acknowledged in the past, even we believers have days when we find it hard to keep believing. Many of those closest to me, including my brother and my little sister, gave the whole thing up decades ago.

Essentially, I believe one of God's greatest gifts to us is the ability to make choices for ourselves about what to believe.

I can't hold that view and then simultaneously get all shocked and disappointed when some else's choices don't match mine.

You know, I hope, that I consider you to be one of the most awesome human beings on this planet. Our differing religious views can not and will not change that.

Since I am doing a very poor job of keeping this short, I will move on to ....

3. How are those undies eh?
I approve. Where can I buy them and do they have them in my wife's size?

Perseus said...

" believe one of God's greatest gifts to us is the ability to make choices for ourselves about what to believe..."


"God, the greatest being ever in the whole universe, gives us humans (as opposed to other mammals) the ability to make choices! Nothing to do with evolution of the brain, trial and error, genetics, upbringing, lessons... nope, nothing to do with them... it's a GIFT from GOD! A personal gift!"



Somehow the person delivering the sermon is diminished in my eyes, because they believe in god.

I hear ya Melbs. I hear ya.

You know, it's weird why people would even want to be religious. We know what a crank God was, but his brat of a son wasn't much better. Both of them, the Father and The Son, are so concerned with people believe in them, and that's apparently more important than being good.

A pedophile who truly repents and bows down to Jesus and worships him and believes in him gets into heaven (3:16 or whatever it is).

A good person who is law-abiding but an atheist, will not get into heaven because he didn't believe.

What a stupid, stupid philosophy.

God and Jesus are such egotists! "Ew, believe in me, believe in me, worship me, pray to me, believe in me... while I let the bushfires burn your house."

Melba said...

INC thank you for being, as always, such a gentleman. I don't think I deserve your high praise, in fact I know I don't, if only because I'm not as gracious and nice as you. You're right, most of my questions were rhetorical and not necessarily directed at you personally, so I'm glad you didn't take offence, and I always like to read your ideas.

The undies, as far as I can see, are valued at around 250 British Pounds and so now I am thinking how can I learn to sew some. If I do work this out, I'll take an order for Honey Bear.

Perseus. So do we basically think that religion and God were invented to control the masses? Jesus was an historical figure, he lived and died - but God's son?? So why did "whoever" pick Jesus to be God's son? Why not someone else? Was it a timing thing? How did this all evolve? These are the questions I would love to know the answers to.

I've spent 2 days in VCAT so please excuse me ending a sentence with a preposition above... actually, I do that all the time anyway.

Perseus said...

To say it came about to control the masses is wrong I think, Melba.

I figure it was just a way to explain things at the time, like, where does rain come from? We now know where rain comes from.

It also explained where we came from (Adam and Eve), but we now know that is wrong as well.

It also helped people to cope with the death of loved ones, and still does.

Personally, it wouldn't help me. To know my dead loved ones are being judged by a mongrel in the sky is an awful thought.

And to think they may be aware of their own death, and can watch what is happening on Earth, is also an abhorrent concept for me. They obviously can't intervene in anything, and so it's just trillions of voyeurs up there watching us have sex and masturbating and wiping our bums etc. That's awful.

God, in Genesis, a fine book, says: "From dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return." I find that the best explanation, and the most comforting one. It means I value my life, and the life of everyone else because it's all we have. And at funerals, I both mourn and celebrate the life of the deceased, and try to learn things from their life... that to me is more comforting than the religious position.

It strikes me that without that arrogant belief that they will survive their own death and get to hang out with their mate Jesus, Christians don't actually have anything of worth. Everything they said (Biblically) was wrong.

And they can't claim morality either (eg: helping the poor) because you don't need to be religious to be good.

So all that's left is a belief in the afterlife. That's all it is nowadays.

Melba said...

Yes but Perseus, I understand there were deities and gods that were honoured early on, ie there were all sorts of things to explain stars, natural formations (eg the aboriginal dreaming), the Shinto religion in Japan has all the gods you pray to for prosperity, health etc. Ancient ertility goddesses, totemic-type systems, Hinduism has a bunch of gods and goddesses.

What I'm asking about is the three monotheistic religions, starting with Judaism. Did Judaism evolve or was it just Moses doing his thing and it started from scratch? Obviously in the bible it started from scratch, but realistically, has it been traced in history?

Also, you must agree with the controlling nature of religion. Maybe it wasn't invented for that purpose but it certainly is a convenient mechanism is it not? All those three religions can be seen to have major beneficiaries from having millions of believers.

Perseus said...

I would say the church controlled the masses, but that's different to 'religion'.

(PS: I am glad you are still alive.)

Melba said...

Thanks I'm glad I'm still alive too. Apparently Ramon had a close shave the other day as well.