So on Tuesday I opted for sleep over my 10am lecture due to unshakable tiredness...which didn’t however prevent me from watching early morning cooking shows, and then America’s Next Top Model. Go figure.
Anyhow, probably around the ten-twenty mark there’s a knock at the door. I answer it, still dressed in my dressing gown, and find two women on the other side. One has Scary Blue Insistent Eyes and the other has a Black Jacket and Monosyllabicitis. As far as I can tell, her whole job throughout the following story was to nod enthusiastically with Scary Eyes at significant moments, and to generally be a wingman. woman. person. thing.
When I open the door, Scary Eyes is visibly discomfited at finding what looks to be a slacker, and not, say, a submissive old person, or someone she gathers she might actually be able to have an intelligent conversation with. Cause, you know, all youth are scum with zero brain cells and absolutely no interest in anything not associated with Michael Bay, or talcum-powder looking substances. Right.
But she plows on nonetheless, because I might be dumb and uninterested, but I will definitely notice if she turns around and leaves without saying anything, and will overcome my inbred laziness to complain vociferously about her failed game of chappy.
There’s some preamble which I can’t remember and then she cuts to the crux:
SE: What are your beliefs on God and the Bible?
Not even a perfunctory May I ask, just straight in there with the personal private question. And a pretty big question at that when I’m still in my pj’s and the sun ain’t even warm yet. But because I need to give her an answer,
Me: Uhh, well I was brought up Catholic...? It might be a thin answer on the surface, and not really an answer at all, but you may be able to gather from that ellipsis (if you want to get technical, it’s actually an ‘aposiopesis’, apparently) that I am experiencing Religious/Spiritual Ambivalence.
SE: Mhm, and do you believe in Creation?
I like to think it was partly to do with the earliness of the hour and the Unshakable Sleepiness and the lack of an audible capital at the start of Creation that I didn’t immediately twig she meant the whole ‘In the beginning...’ stuff at the start of the Bible. Anyways, I guess I kind of gawped at her, because she clarified,
SE: Do you believe in the Creationist point of view?
Again, a kind of a big question that can’t really be answered on the spot when you have the aforementioned Existential Ambivalence. So she backlit it for me:
SE: Let me put it this way - do you believe in Evolution?
This was something I knew the answer to pretty much right away.
Me: Yes, yes I definitely believe in Evolution.
This seemed to be what she’d been expecting, which I initially thought was a good thing and was all yay! until she continued,
SE: Well did you know that people who don’t believe in Creation, and who do believe in Evolution, also believe that life has no meaning?
And there were so many things wrong with that sentence I was bulldozed into quietude. Aghast. Flummoxed. Flabbergasted.
SE: I mean, you know, because all life is just a biological progression...?
And at this point, slightly flustered by my silent non-reaction, she did this weird hand gesture, as if she was surreptitiously pushing all the Evolutionists off a cliff. I guess it was supposed to show the ‘biological progression’ but it looked all wrong to me. But lo, she was not done,
SE: Would you like to believe your life has no meaning?
The thing is, her eyes were scary because they were kind of magnetic, not because of any charm she had, but because of her sheer dogmatic determination to make me pay attention. They weren’t hypnotic, just insistent, like I said. But she had this really kindly sweet voice, and between that and her eyes like holding me to her, for a moment I couldn’t untangle the meaning from the words. And then it hit me: she was saying that because I believe in Evolution, my life has no meaning. I was not just damnable, but damned, and worthless and meaningless as long as I believed that a long, long time ago a fish crawled out of the ocean and grew legs and eventually a conscience. A total stranger was standing on my doorstep, judging me. Which is very unChristian. I don’t think I’ve ever been so affronted, or insulted, in my life. Simply writing this out won’t convey any of the import that actually went on, like when you tell someone about a really terrifying nightmare and it just sounds really silly in the light of day, but trust me, that is what she meant, and that is how I felt.
So I like knit my brows together and said,
Me: No, of course not.
You know that part in You’ve Got Mail when Meg Ryan’s character is typing away to the Tom Hanks character about how she can never think of the right thing to say exactly when she needs to say it, but can think of it perfectly fine a couple of days later? Yes. That. Here.
Anyway. Then she blabbered on about this little Creationist booklet they’d put together, pointing out merits such as bright colourful pictures of turtles and coral reefs and short paragraphs (you know, cause I’m five and have the attention span of a goldfish), totally overlooking the brainwashing content. At least I assume that’s what it is. I haven’t looked at it; I slapped it down on the kitchen table so anyone who passed through the house would see and I could rant. There’s a small part of me that’s anxious if I do read the booklet, that I will be brainwashed (maybe this is because I’ve just read A Clockwork Orange??), and if I’m going to start believing in something I want it to be on my own terms and not because some bitch posing as a Christian came to my door and told me my life was meaningless unless I started believing the parable at the beginning of the Bible which was never supposed to be taken literally anyway.
Then she turned to the back page of the booklet and highlighted an interview with a SCIENTIST, you know, a SCIENTIST, who by dint of being a SCIENTIST believes in evil evil "Evolution" and is therefore bound for the heathen home of fire and brimstone, except for the fact that in this interview she, this SCIENTIST, asks what does it all matter what you believe because ultimately you’re coming home to God, and for that she will be spared an endless existence in the lake of fiery non-death, maybe getting off with a light millennium or two. SCIENTIST.
SE: Now is it a fluke we’ve caught you at this time (ha, nice one), or are you usually in just now?
Me: Given the positive connotations of the word ‘fluke’ I’m gonna have to say, fuck no.
Actually, I said,
Me: Yeah, it’s a fluke, I’m usually at uni. AND I WISH I WAS THERE NOW, LISTENING TO A LECTURE ABOUT SAMUEL GODDAMN BECKETT EVEN THOUGH I CAN’T STAND HIM AND HIS STUPID PLAYS WHERE FUCK ALL HAPPENS, TWICE. This is what you get for missing uni kids, be warned.
SE: Well is there any time we could come back to hear what you think about it all, having read the booklet?
Me: Ugh, sure, whatever.
SE: Well, we’ll be back around some time soon, then. Goodbye!
So I’m going to try to unpick this because it’s two days later and I’m still angry about it and I want to set my record straight.
I’ll start by saying this, to show that I’m not coming at this from a defensive non-religious point of view. Until I went to uni, being around religion and religious people was normal for me. I went to Catholic schools, and up until I was 16 I went to church every Sunday. I even went on a pilgrimage to Bosnia Herzegovina. My mother’s side of the family is pretty devout, while my dad’s is not, and this is epitomized in the two of them. So I like to think I’ve been exposed to two different outlooks on religion and spirituality and therefore have a more balanced and less angsty view than I might otherwise have done. But I was very much conditioned into the Catholic way of thinking, like all my friends were, and when that happens I think it’s only natural that you eventually break away from it in order to form your own opinions on the philosophy you’ve taken for granted up till then. I guess that’s what I’m doing now. I don’t know what I believe, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be certain, but I do know that during the periods of anger and resentment when I’ve told myself I don’t believe in God in one way or another, I’ve felt extremely lonely. It’s obviously true that religion is a comfort, but that shouldn’t trivialize it.
Even though I’ve become kind of estranged from my religion, I’ve felt the urge to defend it in the past few months. I never expected to feel quite so protective of it, as though it were a living infant or something, but when you’re being openly judged by people simply because of your religion I think that’s bullshit. Like it’s this thing that suddenly transforms you in the eyes of other people, when actually it’s their own prejudices. I might not be a strong ‘believer,’ but that in no way means I disagree with religion. I might have a natural disinclination toward being preached at, being told I’m sinning, being told that women are inferior to men, that homosexuality is unnatural and wrong, and all the other stupid fucking short-sighted old-fashioned disgusting hypocrisies all wrapped up in religion—I hate all of that, but that is not all of religion, and that is not the way all religious people feel or think.
And those people who aren’t even gracious or decent enough to simply be atheist or agnostic and personally take nothing to do with religion, but have to actively and proudly declare themselves as against religion, and will cite examples of their opposition like shining trophies of peacemaking when really it’s akin to the political dictatorships they also profess to be against? Yeah, I fucking hate those people. And I have personally known them. That attitude is vile and offensive, and worst of all, it’s blindly, obnoxiously hypocritical. I have no time for those people. They don’t deserve an opinion, because they sure as fuck can’t form one.
This type of person’s favourite argument against religion seems to be that it causes too many wars. I’ve always taken this at face value and kind of gone ‘oh yeah...you’re kinda right...um...’ But thinking about it, it almost isolates religion as being the number one instigator of war. Um, religion isn’t a living being, okay? It can’t decide whether it wants to go to war or not. It’s people ‘fighting in the name of religion’, not religion itself, and those people who ‘fight in the name of religion’ are extremists and do not represent the majority of people with faith. Or maybe even in history, the minority. My point is, religion on its own does not promote war; fucked up people using religion as a band-aid for their cracked minds do that.
Secondly, that argument (that religion is bad because it is the root cause of too many wars) has a major flaw: it seems to imply that religion isn’t a good or justifiable reason for war, but that there are good and justifiable reasons for war. Which there aren’t. Nothing is worth that much human destruction. It is a really stupid ignorant horrible argument that doesn’t take into account its own fallacy and also all the wonderful benefits people derive from religion.
Bearing that in mind, I just want to go back to that key thing Scary Eyes said, that people who don’t believe in Creation and who believe in Evolution necessarily believe that life has no meaning. Um, what kind of dumbass generalization is that? And what kind of crack leap of logic? I’m fessing up: I haven’t read the Bible, and I haven’t read Darwin’s stuff on Evolution, so my argument is coming purely from anger and not from academia. But this is exactly the thing (or one of the things) I hate about philosophy. The whole ‘if x is true then it follows that y...’ when it’s just not like that. The world, people, thoughts, ideas, beliefs—all of that stuff does not package down into this like neat little box or system of rules and regulations. If I believe in Evolution, why does that mean I also have to believe that life has no meaning? I don't believe that, so it's blatantly untrue. What right did Scary Eyes have to tell me what I do or do not believe? No one has the right to tell anybody else what they do or do not believe. That, as far as I’m concerned, is a total infringement of your rights as like, a cognizant human being. And you know the really twisted thing that’s just occurred to me? By telling me that I must believe my life has no meaning because I believe in Evolution, whereas it would have meaning if I believed in Creation, she was kind of creating her own ideological Heaven and Hell. Like, she wasn’t even discrediting Evolution, she was treating it as representative of some inherent evil or weakness or sin or ignorance or something in me.
You know what it was? It was scare tactics. It was intimidation. It was degradation. It was bribery, like, obviously her goal is for conversion to the Creationist belief system, and to do that she was trying to scare me into thinking my life, my existence, everything I do or say or think or feel, was meaningless—but that it could all be meaningful, if I just got a totally new belief system. Like it’s not integral to your whole identity as a person. Like it’s something you can just switch, like your brand of coffee, like from caffeinated to decaf. I mean, what the fuck? To trivialise beliefs like that—doesn’t that kind of undermine her whole point? If they’re so trivial, what do they matter anyway? If they don't matter, what the hell's she doing at my door?
So I was ranting to my parents about this all last night, and my dad told me this story of when he was staying in Devon with all the hippies, and two young guys came to the door wanting to sell their religion. Now, my dad might not subscribe to the Catholic ideology, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t highly interested in alternative spiritual ideologies. In fact, that word pretty much sums up my dad: he is alternative. So the two guys say, can we have five minutes of your time to talk to you about our religion? And my dad said, sure, I’ll listen to you for five minutes, if you’ll then listen to me for five minutes. They struck a deal. So the two guys talk about their religion for five minutes and my dad listens patiently and attentively. At the end of the first five minutes, my dad begins his by explaining he still doesn’t subscribe to their views, and here’s why—and the two guys cut him off with expostulations of ‘How—? Why—? Just listen—!’ And my dad responded with, ‘You had your five minutes, now let me have mine.’ Again he tried, and again he was cut off. The third time it happened my dad simply said, ‘Well, that’s it, you won’t let me share my own views [because you’re too busy ramming yours down my throat], so you’ll have to go. That was the deal, and you couldn’t stick to it, so CYA.’ Okay, my dad doesn’t say ‘cya’ but you get the idea. And the moral of the story, kids, is if someone tries to impose their beliefs on you and won’t listen to what you have to say, you the person they want to take on these beliefs, fuck ’em. All they’re interested in is statistics, power, homogenization, brainwashing, whatever you want to call it. If these cold-callers actually want to complete their mission, which is to encourage more people to participate in a religious life, they need to seriously rethink their game plan. Because that right there? That pushed me away from religion, not towards it.
And, in case you are wondering Scary Eyes, my life is meaningful. And I am the only person on the planet who has the authority to say that.