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.
Every time I’ve been to the cinema recently, I’ve had to sit through a trailer for newly-released film Evan Almighty. And it makes me slightly uneasy. Because – if you’re lucky enough to have managed to avoid the thing – it’s a lighthearted family comedy based on the story of Noah And The Flood, from Genesis. God comes down to Earth, visits an innocent politician, and tells him to build an ark because he’s decided to do the whole flood thing again.
Read that again. It’s a lighthearted family comedy, where God comes down to visit a politician, because (going on what happened last time) he wants to warn him that everyone else on the planet is going to be killed in the biggest natural disaster you can imagine. Did anyone even think at all about this film before it was made? Did they get beyond “comedy, sequel, some Bible story that everyone vaguely remembers”?* To my mind, the idea of writing a comedy about God breaking the only promise he ever made to the whole of mankind,** and apparently planning to kill everyone on earth apart from an American politician, is a little … well, perverse.***
I assume – not having seen the film – that not everyone (apart from the blessed family) gets killed at the end. Surely no Hollywood studio is going to release a big summer comedy where everyone on earth apart from a handful of people dies at the end? Drama, maybe, but not comedy. All in all, it sounds like a bit of a mess. Does God turn out to be nice in the end? Does he say: “Aw, I was only kidding. I just wanted you to learn how to be a better person.” How many people are killed by the flood that I did spot in the trailer? I really don’t want to find out.
* Although most people forget the bit at the end where Noah gets drunk, and one of his sons is forever cursed for seeing his drunken father’s tadger.
** Because it – the promise that “I’m not going to kill you all ever again” – was made before the Tower of Babel incident, when God scrambles everyone’s brains and makes possible the Tourist Phrasebook – so, as everyone was rather samey, there wasn’t any one Chosen People. And he never does kill everyone all together again – after that, he limits himself to smiting one city at a time.
*** And not in the good way
You often hear people saying something along these lines:
Something horrible happened, but we survived. And then something else horrible happened, but it could
have been so much worse. Someone Up Above must be looking after us, because we got through it.
My mother has said it a lot in the past, but she’s not the only one. And every time I think: hang on a minute. If someone has their eye on you, if someone saved you, why did it happen to start with? Why did you need to be saved? If someone’s looking after you, how did something so horrible happen?
Following on from Thursday’s post, here’s the first Book I Haven’t Managed To Finish Reading Yet.
I’ve always been interested – in an academic kind of way – in trying to understand what other people believe;* partly because I can rarely understand why they believe it. That’s why I wanted to read A History of God by Karen Armstrong. I’ve started it three times now, but it’s still a book I haven’t managed to finish reading yet.
It’s a very good book, but the problem I have is that it’s very information-dense. As I was brought up as a good little Anglican, I still know a lot about basic Christian theology and a fair amount about the Bible itself. Because of that, I already had a fairly good grounding in the Christian side of the history of God, and the early Jewish part too. The problem comes with the development of Islam, which I know relatively little about, and the later developments in Deist philosophy. It just goes right over my head, and I get stuck in a thicket of theologians’ names and hair-splitting beliefs. Every time I try to read the book, I slow down but plod on when I get to Islam, then get stuck somewhere in the medieval philosophers. I’m hoping that if I make it past that section we’ll eventually get to the growth of fundamentalism. I know a bit about that, mostly from an apocalyptic viewpoint,** and it should hopefully start to be an easier read again after that point.
* although I have to admit to a certain amount of point-and-laugh too.
** but then, the apocalypse is the most important aspect of most Christian Fundamentalist theology, not to mention all the other 19th-century and later Christian sects, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and so on. The next time a Jehovah’s Witness comes to your door, remind them that for many years they taught that Armageddon would occur during the lifetime of members who were alive in 1914.