Religion............ Shit it!
I've stolen those words, I confess. They were Stephen Fry's response when asked about religion in a television interview. They also happen to express my own views on religion almost precisely. I was reminded of how much I detest religion only yesterday (Sunday, naturally) when I attended the first Holy Communion Service of my youngest nephew Patrick.
I'm wincing when I imagine what Patrick and his family have been through. It is not just a simple case of turn up on the day and walk off with the spoils. Oh no. If you want to be accepted into Catholicism (actually they don't but they have to, more on which later), you have to prove your worth. For about as long as I can remember now my brother-in-law has terrified me with tales of rehearsals, weekend church engagements and, worst of all, having to be nice to a priest!
And not just any old priest. I fear a lawsuit should I mention his name. You never know, there could be more than two of you reading this. However, what I can tell you is that whoever I have spoken to, regardless of their religious views or denominations, they have universally condemned this man. His faults seem to range from a staggeringly misplaced arrogance, to a religious fascism and an unnverving presence around small children. And he sings badly too. Jeez, does he sing badly. And he's one of those priests who, the worse he sounds, the louder he sings in blissful ignorance. Tell me Catholics, are your priests all like that?
So back to the plot. Why do I object to religion so much? Where to start? I'm mindful that some (one or maybe even both) of my readers may have religious sensibilities so I may have to tone this down a little. In a nutshell my problem with your God is that he never shows up, except perhaps to start a war. I can't weave my tender brain around the notion that he lets bad things happen as some kind of test. That strikes me as being a bit like me coming round to your house with a few gallons of petrol and setting you alight to test the strength of our friendship. I'm unlikely to be invited back. At the very least you wouldn't be buying that brand of tea that you know I like again.
My natural cynicism can't help but remind me of the bad things that your God has done. Where was your God when my best friend died at the age of 26? Did he do that? Did he have a hand in the death shortly after of another of my friends aged just 30? No, make that two aged 30. I prefer to think not. Science did these things, because only science and nature could be so cruel. Naturally then it follows that if God is not responsible for the horrific things I have seen happen, nor can he take the credit for the happiness and joy I have experienced. He did not send me Emma. He did not get me a job in the funniest barn yard in Britain. He did not keep my family fit and well for so long. Fate did all of these things.
What makes me especially queasy about religion is it's desperate attempts to hold on to power and influence in society. It's awful beyond my comprehension that Patrick and the other children in his class have to go through this brainwashing facade so that their parents can get them into the school of their choice. The government play a role in this of course, but in forcing children to belt out 'Our God Reigns' in a tuneless manner until they are old enough to know better, the church is desperately clinging on to it's relevance. It's like a mad gunman taking hostages until it gets what it wants. Except nobody dies. Well, at least not until God decides to test their faith in him. Tea anyone?
Eye-bulgingly, God even goes begging. Blow me if a woman didn't come around with a velvet bag intended for the reception of our coins. At one point I thought it was the FA Cup Third Round draw. Number 52........Southend United..........will play number 13..............Tranmere Rovers. Emma actually put money in. Ok, so it was only 45p, but honestly I would rather donate my hard earned (ok earned) money to the IRA. Amusingly, my Dad seperated all his copper coins from his golden nuggets and big silvers, only to drop the wrong pile into the bag. The priest's flight to Las Vegas leaves just after last mass next Sunday.
In trying to find the root of all of this anti-religious hatred (for I hate God every bit as much as he loves me but don't worry, he's already forgiven me) I think it might hark back to a trip to Lourdes I took as a child. Just because all of my mates had been I wanted in. My abiding memory of the trip is of noticing not a single person emerge from the font of alleged miracles in possession of a miracle. Not only that, but the statue of Mary steadfsastly refused to weep. Recently, my Mum has been telling the story of how I told her that Sue, the person responsible for my care during the trip, kept coming back to the room drunk at 3 in the morning. I have no idea whether this is true or whether it is just something that a nine-year-old might say just for the attention. If it is not true, may I take this opportunity to apologise to Sue but if you are going to take me to France bothering non-existent Gods then there are going to be consequences!