Take love, for example. It’s completely and undeniably the biggest force in the history of human nature; it transforms our entire psyche, blinds us to our bad decisions, and in other ways, is the inspiration behind some of the most beautiful natural creations in the entire world. Yet despite love’s power it will only ever exist as merely a thought. It’s funny.
I’ve never been a religious person – well, that’s a lie. When I was a little girl I was taught as a Christian, which even today after coming to terms with religion through my own natural self-discovery I hold no grudges against. (A lot of that is because at the time I was happy, and happiness means far more to me than logic, but that’s a post for another day.) Now I suppose I identify myself as agnostic, being infinitely interested in the cultures of different religious beliefs in the same way as I’m interested in the culture of love and romance. As far as actually following a religion myself I have to say with respect that I don’t completely.
As a writer I find too many flaws in the plot.
What I don’t find beautiful in a belief however, is the sense of pomposity certain believers seem to it take upon themselves to flash around like a 50 year-old man in an overcoat on a park bench. It’s this self-assurance factor a relationship with anything provides; you feel confident in the fact that you’re no longer alone and instead as though you’re part of a secret little organisation; safer, stimulating, and more comforting than the world outside. Turing certain individuals into arrogant cock-ends, as I otherwise like to put it.
Two weeks ago at work, our organisation was hosting a session in a new venue. It was a church no less than 30 years-old, in the style I find particularly corny and overwhelming. An expensive stereo system whispered Christian soft rock into the already stuffy room (I mean, if you’re going to play it quietly, then why buy such an impressive stereo?), while we sat in creaky mustard coloured chairs and spoke to the clients. Afterwards, the man in charge of the venue took a colleague of mine to meet in private. She came back fifteen minutes later beaming as though she’d just set eyes upon her first baby, and clutching a modern-looking paperback bible in her hands proudly.
During the car journey home, she gushed about her conversation with the vicar. Apparently a week previous to this session she mentioned that she was interested in a couple of the quotes printed on the various posters around the room, then got into a deep discussion with him about re-discovering the bible. Kindly, the vicar had taken her to one side after this session had finished and offered her a free bible which he’d marked with the pages he felt were the most relevant to their conversation and which she’d find the most enlightening. Sweet of him, I thought.
I wondered which pages she wanted to read about as she talked more of her recent dive head-first into Christianity. The way she spoke so affectionately about her new discovery felt as though she was already absolutely committed (even after admitting that she’d never read a page of the bible in her life), so I was curious to find out why she’d experienced this sudden change of heart. She sounded so happy and proud of herself as she made a plan out-loud of which passage she’d start on first, and then turned the conversation to the session leader and I.
“Are you religious, Cathy?” She asked, warmly.
“Well, not particularly,” I admitted, treading carefully so not to upset her. “No.”
“Oh,” my colleague replied, unusually flustered considering that my response was nothing short of polite, as I was genuinely interested in her revelations for the reason I’ve just explained. I like to learn about people’s beliefs, and wasn’t about to be rude about her recent discovery after she’d spoken so lovingly about it, was I?
“Well you know,” she began, quickly changing her tone to one of almost… disgust. “I just think that these days at least some people should have a sense of good, solid, moral values.”
What was that supposed to mean?
I sat back in my seat, in silence, trying to digest her comment. So, just because I don’t necessarily agree with a belief she’s been holding so close to her heart for a grand total of seven days this apparently means that I don’t have any sense of “good, solid, moral values”?
Call it women’s intuition, but there was something about the way she suddenly turned from a gushing fountain of love into a salty bitch queen which really felt as though it was through disapproval. Disapproval of what, my politeness? My genuine interest? No, she actually had the nerve to assume that because I said I wasn’t particularly religious, it meant that I didn’t give a shit about anyone or anything, basically.
Maybe I don’t believe in God, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect others around me. I believe that in my heart I have good, solid, moral values, because I’ve experienced life, grown up (sort of), and care about myself and my loved ones. I actually even care about the people who I don’t know, to an extent I wish sometimes that I didn’t. My own personal, private, morals and beliefs are based on nothing but genuine love and respect for others, NOT because I feel that one day I must be judged by some kind of fictional higher being.
I ran this thought through my head all the way home, while my colleague continued her conversation with the session leader who happened to be the one driving. She twittered on and on about which page she was to start on, and which stories she’d heard at her children’s school plays about Moses and turning water into wine. “Just don’t mention it,” I concluded, listening to her make mistakes in a recollection of The Good Samaritan, understanding that the moment had passed, and to make a point about it now would be plain obnoxious. “You wouldn’t want to offend her.”