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The trouble with religion (part 94)

In which we discuss a suitable Sunday topic


The Mother phoned up today, as she does regularly, to tell us all the latest exciting goings-on in her social circle. Her friend George, who she knew from church, has died aged 85, after a long illness. “Of course, he’d been ill for years,” she said, “and he was in great pain. By the end he was screaming. ‘Take me, Lord, take me!’ It was a blessing when he died.”

When it comes to religion, The Mother is a great fan of this sort of logic. If The Family Car Crash Of 1988 ever comes up in conversation, The Mother will no doubt say something along the lines of “You had such a narrow escape! It just proves that God was looking down on us.” Now, it’s true that I almost lost a) my life b) an eyeball;* but I’m not sure God deserves much in the way of credit. It is fair to argue, though, that the Family Car Crash Of 1988 was a Good Thing: the insurance windfall paid for a piano and a university education.

You can’t really argue, though, that taking the life of an old man after he’s had a long and painful illness, so bad he begs you to kill him, is a good way for any deity to behave. If God really wanted to bless a man who had been a devout churchgoer all his life, a churchwarden and church committee member for many years, someone who every Sunday had been up at the altar receiving the body and blood of Christ devoutly believing that the said God had personally told us all to do this every week,** if He had really wanted to grant him a boon, wouldn’t he have saved him the several years of pain and suffering?*** But, no, in The Mother’s religious logic, bringing the death after George had been calling out for it loudly for a while is the kindly Godly way to behave, not letting him die after a short illness a few years ago. It leaves me thinking: just what does count as compassion, for the religious?

* Strangely, although my life was saved by a pretty narrow margin, I never realised until many many years later just how close I’d come to being killed. Instead, I concentrated on the irony that my eyeball was probably saved by my poor sight, as the thick plastic lens in front of it absorbed the impact of the shards of glass that hit me. With extra irony, the sight in my other eye is almost perfect.

** Although of course, Jesus didn’t want me for a sunbeam do it on a Sunday morning.

*** Let’s not get into the tragic story of George’s wife, either.

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Death

In which we try to stay rational


Now I know that, according to tradition or superstition or some ancient charter, the deaths of the famous are always supposed to occur in threes. But just recently, there’s been an enormous flood of them. It’s seemed this week that every day yet another well-known person has turned their toes up. I know it’s just coincidence, because I do have a rational side; but sometimes you do think: what, another one?

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Numerology

In which we refuse to get superstitious about the date


I like to think that I’m a sensible, rational, clear-thinking person.

It’s not always the case, though. For example, I’m the sort of person who likes to watch their car mileometer trip over to a nice round number. I’ll spend half a mile looking from the road to the clock and back again so I can watch it change from 15,999 to 16,000. And, similarly, there’s a nice symmetry about today’s date: 06/06/06.*

That’s all it is, though. Symmetry. I don’t believe that there’s anything inherently bad about today’s date, just because if you take out the zeros it looks rather like a number mentioned in one of the stranger parts of the Bible. In the news, there are reports of superstitious mothers desperate not to give birth today, just in case they give their child bad luck – or, even worse, if he turns out to be the Antichrist. If they believe in all that, they should probably avoid watching the remake of The Omen that comes out today too.**

The apocalyptic parts of the Bible – particularly, Daniel and the Revelation – are cryptic to read. They were written for two very specific audiences, who would have understood the references and the context. They weren’t written for believers of a radically different religion, a couple of thousand years later. Naïeve, literal readings are always going to be misreadings, because they are impossible to do sensibly – a literal reading of apocalyptic literature cannot be done unless you believe that the world will suddenly change into one of magical fantasy. I wonder if, in a couple of thousand years’ time, C S Lewis’s The Last Battle will in the same way become misunderstood religious doctrine, because it, too, is an apocalypse, in both senses of the word.***

* If nothing else, it means Americans can’t get it the wrong way round. I’m still wondering why they keep going on about November 9th, because I don’t remember anything interesting happening then.

** Not just because they’ll believe it all, but because it’s probably not as good as the original anyway.

*** Plus, it’s got a better plot.

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Pinch, punch, and other superstitions

In which it is the first of the month


This morning I awoke like any other morning: with The Cat sitting on top of me and doing cupboard-love purring as loud as he possibly could. “Aren’t you a nice cat!” I said, sleepily, tickling him under the chin. “Ooh, you are furry!”* Eventually, I dragged myself out of bed to go downstairs and give him some breakfast. It was only then that I realised that today is September 1st, and my month is therefore doomed.

You see, I keep believing that it’s vital that the first thing you say every month is “White rabbits!” and if you don’t, you’ll have a month of bad luck. Or maybe you’ll just miss out on a month of good luck; I’m not entirely sure. It’s hardly something you can do meaningful experiments on, given that most months – like today – I forget about it anyway.

Last month, I did remember about it. I cheated slightly: I pegged a reminder note to my dressing gown, and managed not to mumble anything to the cat. Last month, I guess, I did have a rather nice month, so maybe it does work after all. Luck is where you find it, though. I have no idea what will happen to me a month from now; maybe, though, when October 1st comes around I’ll remember to look back and see if this month was lucky or not.

* Yes, I regress to twee baby-talk when I’m near cats. Shoot me now, please.

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