Life is tangible – we are, we see, we touch, there is no reason to doubt the reality of it all. But things happen that conflict with this certainty.
I attended church when at school (compulsory), and also whilst Sue and I were bringing up our children. We all learned much along the way.
I have had many years to get used to the potential existence of a higher power. Will there be a sign? Has there been one and I missed it, or didn’t believe it at the time?
If I’d been born a few thousands of years ago, I am certain that I, along with my fellow cave-dwellers, may have nodded a thank you to the sun for keeping me warm and giving light – certainly in those non-cold and the non-dark moments, anyway. On the balance of things, the sun would seem to be a worthy recipient of a bit of worship, especially, as we probably worked out all those years ago, that without the sun – or water – there’s no life. Do we need to look further?
Many didn’t feel the need to look further, and there are those in a far-off jungle clearing who probably still look no further. But some humans decided to invent religions – forms of organised worship – with a whole array of gods to whom you had to bend the knee, for a purpose. And (being uncharitable at this point) to give money to, in order to buy your way to a better life during, and especially after, this one. Of course, this ‘better life during’ continues to elude the majority in spite of the promises, but there was always the fallback promise of a ‘better life after’ to keep the pennies rolling in, even though it’s unproven and no-one, but no-one, can point you towards anyone who has experienced it. Dodgy salesmanship and an act of faith… just like Brexit for some! Cynical or what?
Strangely (or not), most of those to whom the money is given, seem to live suspiciously good lives, with full bellies and comfortable, watertight homes. I always love the story about the Rabbi being asked about why he threw the collection money up in the air. “What God catches, He keeps”.
As one example of adding further products to their particular portfolio, the Catholic church extended this normal giving into some things called ‘indulgences’ to help buy your way to their ‘Heaven’. The more you gave, the nearer the front row of Heaven’s great O2 arena you could get. And, even if you were late to the gig, you could even buy indulgences for past transgressions, or even the transgressions perpetrated by your relations to ensure that no-one could possibly be poking something red-hot up their bottoms in ‘Hell’. The more indulgences, the merrier, and, to quote Tim Rice’s lyrics in Evita, “the money keeps rolling in.”
All in all, a nice little earner for those whose religious dogma controls the lives of the masses, and has kept – and still keeps – millions in their thrall.
I know I’m painting with a very broad brush, but, when it comes down to the cold, hard facts, there is nothing to my knowledge to prove the actual flesh-and-blood existence of any gods, heaven, hell, or lives before or after this one – which is the only life any one of us knows. So why don’t we just try to make the best of what we know we have, and let what comes next (or not) take care of itself? Simple! Then why are so many billions of people convinced that there is something else other than what we know, and for which there is no proof?
As I am undoubtedly nearer to the end than the beginning of the only life I know, I have chance to think on these things. Am I worried about what happens when I die? Do I want another life? No, and probably not.
There is nothing to convince me that there is any ‘hereafter’, and I don’t dwell on it. Inevitably, I’ll never know in any case, so disappointment won’t enter into the equation, as my time as a sentient being will simply be over – just a pile of ashes to help a few flowers grow. Maybe that’s for the best, and a productive ending.
That said, I can understand that people do have unwavering faith in the promise of another life, and whilst I envy their strength of conviction. I just don’t share it.
I have had the great fortune to share very special experiences singing in places of faith, large and small, around Europe. Spiritual music and simple prayer most definitely have the power to move, and importantly, to make you think, reflect and move forward as a better person. Anyone who has been to a funeral, an Evensong service, or listened to an Iona Community service will know this. You don’t have to ‘believe’, to be moved.
I have also experienced things that have happened to me over the years where a ‘guardian angel’ has saved me from a fate including death, for which I have no rational explanation. In On The Rocks – an earlier essay in this series – I write about a cycle helmet preventing a possibly fatal accident, and an irrational intervention I had experienced prior to going out on my bike. Why was I spared? What unseen force compelled me to wear my helmet?
I cannot explain or rationalise this. I may be able to at some future point – I may have my own revelation.
I would never damn anyone for a faith or belief which enriches their own lives, and makes them into as good a person as they want to be. Just look at the power of community that a typical Church brings to those who choose to worship, and there is proof that belief combined with community brings purpose to lives, and helps people to live longer and more happily. That’s a truly positive outcome.
I would damn anyone who uses a faith to further an agenda which results in repression, control, misery and death, or where they espouse ‘my God is better than your God’. There seems to be an awful lot of this, and it starts wars. Our past and present world is littered with wars of religion, with the only result being the death of a lot of faithful innocents, and little, if any, change to the religious status quo. To my mind, a loving and supportive God would not allow this and the many other human atrocities and tragedies we know about, to happen. The ‘we are given free will’ argument always seems to be a convenient excuse, but faiths have had many years to develop arguments to support the ‘free will’ proposal and to protect their interests.
Q: Do I believe in God?
A: Yes – if God = Good. In the absence of any proof to the contrary, I have my one life, and I hope that I have done something along the way to be a good influence and supporter, a good husband, and a good source of succour to my greater family. I trust that the meaningful legacy which I leave, is in the character of my children and grandchildren, that they should recognise ‘good’ and use that power and realisation to help, guide and cherish. I see that in them already.
I know that in life’s lottery, I am extremely fortunate to be 70, in decent health as I write this, and able to contribute. Is this one measure of a good life? Do I need to look any further for anything else? In my case, God = Good. And I am sure that in my case, it doesn’t mean self-satisfied or selfish.
I’ve just been out for a walk, and my God has reminded me once again that I have a lot to be grateful for – which I have. I thanked my God for the simple reminder.
As Irish comedian and actor Dave Allen used to say “May your God go with you.”