I am not a fan of organized religion. Having had it shoved down my throat by two batty spinster headmistresses at the girls’ school I attended in my early teens, I emerged having had more than enough to last me a lifetime.
I am also of the opinion that organized religion was a) invented in order to subdue the masses, and b) is the cause of as many wars and acts of terror in our world as politics, if not more.
Equally, however, I believe very firmly in one’s right to choose – and if regular churchgoing gives you comfort and joy, then why not?
I attended Sunday School as a young child, which I remember quite enjoying, and my mother used to say a prayer with me before bed (“Gentle Jesus, meek and mild …”) but my family were not churchgoers, and my brother and I weren’t ever christened.
My father, however, was brought up as a child as a very strict Catholic. From what I gather, however, as soon as he was old enough to make his own choices, he stopped going to church and I never remember him showing any interest in religion at all.
However, six or seven years ago, my father suddenly started going to church again every Sunday, regular confessions, attending Holy Days of Obligation, and direct debiting money every month to the Catholic Church. He is so anxious not to miss a Sunday that he has hunted down and attended the local Catholic service in such places as Mauritius, Antigua and St Lucia. (Although I’m not convinced he’ll find one in Oman, where he’s currently on holiday!)
And why not? As I said above, if it gives him comfort and he enjoys it, then it’s all good, as far as I’m concerned.
About a year ago, Dad told me that it was his greatest regret in life that he hadn’t had Nick and myself christened as babies, and that it was now his dearest wish that we would be. After some closer questioning, he admitted that he believes the Catholic teaching (whether current or when he was a child, I’m not sure) that people who have not been christened end up after death in Purgatory (not a nice place, Google it).
The two main points that struck me from this conversation were:
1. My understanding of ‘God’ (Allah, Buddha, whatever label you want to give ‘him’) is as an omnipotent force of GOOD, not somebody who would send an innocent baby or child who hadn’t been christened through no fault of their own, to burn in purgatory for the rest of time.
2. My father is an otherwise intelligent, well-educated man, who has been indoctrinated (and I don’t use that word loosely) by Catholicism to actually believe that I’m going to purgatory because I haven’t been christened. Under any guise other than that of the Church, words like ‘brainwashed’ and ‘cult’ would be bandied about.
Several months down the line, and after discussion and consideration, Nick and I have both agreed to be christened – not because for one millisecond we believe in ‘one Holy Roman Catholic Church’ (words that I understand we may be required to say during the event), or indeed because either of us believe that we’re going to Purgatory after we die.
No, the reason we’ve agreed to it is because if by doing this one small thing that’s so easy for us to do, despite it being meaningless and insignificant to us in the greater scheme of things, we are able to grant our father’s ‘dearest wish’ (his words, not mine), then after all he has done for us over the years, why would we not go ahead and do it?
And to me, that is what Christianity is all about – not sitting in a building parroting words made up by somebody else – but living as good and kind a life as I can, being loyal and thoughtful and trustworthy, and being the best daughter/wife/mother/sister/friend that I can be.
And here endeth the lesson for today (!)