I suppose I’m actually quite grateful to David Cameron for his recent public excursions into the religious realms. Given the angst and outrage on all sides, from ‘militant atheist’ to fundamental devotee, it is probably high time this country discussed its effects on our lives. Here are a few thoughts. I emphasise ‘a few’ because it is an inexhaustible topic on which I’ve written before and may be persuaded to, again.
I am not religious. Or maybe I am – it rather depends on the definition presented and the context in which it’s framed. But I am willingly not a member of any of the world’s recognised, crafted and orthodox doctrines consensually upheld as being ‘Religion’. I, therefore, find it easier and more accurate to say I am not religious. In fact, because ‘God’ is only ever publicly discussed within the tight rubric of the orthodox and sometimes new-age paganism, I invariably find myself sympathising with and reacting similarly to the atheists and agnostics. I see how I might easily give the impression of being an atheist to anyone with rigid beliefs or an ability to overlook nuance.
However, apart from some angry teenage years when I asked those common and immature questions such as: what kind of god would let such awful things happen?, I am not an atheist. I would say I am a person with Faith and a Being with a soul, consciously on a spiritual journey and in a personal relationship with God as I know them.
Briefly and roughly, because I really could write a book on this: ‘God’ to me, is not some bloke, some supreme individual, sitting like Saturn on a throne, dispersing events and conditions. To me, God is Pure Energy – the original and whole source. Not so much ‘Creator’ as catalyst or vehicle. The Initiator. I imagine the Beginning as something like the first exhalation or first thought – as if, as soon as this ‘source’ thought to look upon itself, universal polarity was born. Paradox: unity and polarity; two sides in one. That would be father and mother god, thank you – (what the heck use is an orthodox god that only represents half of existence) – archetypes of the masculine and feminine principle (which is before and beyond gender); light and dark; dynamic force and receptive form; positive and negative. God is, therefore, both singular and plural. And why I usually say “Gods” (Elohim: feminine plus masculine plural). I like to imagine this as that Big Bang. The dawn of a cosmic day. To me, this means that God is the sum of the parts, good and bad, (why I can interpret God as being Everything) and that each potentiality and actual manifestation is a part of that whole; cosmological particles, vibrating on frequencies that determine density. Every fusion – including us – unique in its frequency and, consequently, its relationship to the universe. Humans are quite dense…
Either Everything is of God or nothing is. All the gods are one god and all the goddesses are one goddess and all is One. Facets of Unity. A cosmic prism. That any religion fights another over God or in the name of God is pathetic for it demeans Divinity, reducing it to the level of man’s petty and narrow imagination. That is not about God but patriarchal, political control, backed up by an ambiguous and iffy doctrinal narrative.
Each religious tome is open to historical, cultural, literal, poetic and political interpretation and any real lesson or ‘truth’ worth a bean in the pages of one, can not only also be found in the others but likely existed as human ideals ever since people started forming cooperative communities. For me, the Arts and Science reveal God better than doctrinal sources. I don’t think Science contradicts or challenges God in the slightest. On the contrary: I think Science describes God and infinitely better than the middlemen who claim to understand and represent Him/Her/Them – Us. I think we each have Free Will and a direct line to God. Accessing, delegating or not believing in one or both – that should be for each individual to decide. It is dark magic to coerce or oppress another’s Free Will and there is no such thing as vicarious atonement.
Orthodox religions and other cultish groups have as much capacity for evil as for good. Religion does not guarantee Spiritual Faith; it just sometimes incorporates it. Faith with a small f does not always equal ‘spiritual’ belief, either. After all, football is akin to religion for some and, though one may laugh or be offended by that, nonetheless, it well fits the same potentially broad and sometimes legally disputed definitions of religion.
The Christian Religion has informed our modern Constitution, Law, Education, Arts, Foreign Policy, Charity.. Are we “a Christian Country”, today, by belief and spiritual practice? No. If we are a Christian Country it is in the historical context that I can accept the statement as true. How can it not be (post the overlaying and repressing of old paganism) since Christianity began its ascendancy and privilege here around the 6th Century and dominated every administrative, civic and cultural sphere, thereafter. Some of that influence and reflection is profoundly beautiful and some of it is ugly, false and needlessly oppressive.
Religion, Politics and Science: holy trinity or oppressive troika? Neither and both. Their constant battles with each other have informed and underpinned our whole culture and now, we are rightly questioning again the propriety of these overlapping influences. Science is crucial to understanding and making the most of our modern world; Politics is how we wrestle with the direction and progress of our personal and collective lives. But Religion? That is just politics with added conviction. What place should it have beyond the philosophical? I don’t think I care whether political leaders are religious or not; atheist or devout in their faith. What I care about is either side’s ability to impact on our Democracy, Law, government policy, education etc (I’ve made my distaste for indoctrinating children and faith schools clear enough in other posts). Our lives must not be undermined by one spiritual mindset (yes, a generous word choice, I know – ok, let’s say ‘dogmatic’, seeing as Cameron started it this time). In short: you believe what the heck you like, pal, but don’t imagine, for a minute, that it gives you a right to legislate for everyone, based on it.
The outrage at the overt hypocrisy of some ‘leaders’ and the anxiety over apparent retrograde shifts towards political religiosity is justified. I believe secular governance, which provides equality for all under the Law, is the most egalitarian and best way to way to ensure and uphold everyone’s rights equally in a healthy Community. What we call Religion but what I would wish was actually just called spiritual practice, is a matter of individual choosing. Secular governance and sound Law is the best way to ensure everyone’s rights. This does not require anyone to bury their faith. It just recognises that not everyone has Faith and that no one faith is superior to any other. I do hope though that we don’t go into some pendulum reactionary mode of mindless contempt which just threatens free speech and expression from another angle.
Personally, I am happy keep ‘God’ in national ceremony – a spiritual heart and consciousness, if you will – but not for any official religion to dominate civic life nor to inform national identity by the desire and design of one group. It would, though, be as much of a tragedy to see recognition and space for the spiritual disappear altogether from our ‘culture’ or from our national and constitutional rituals as is the received ‘faith’ we are currently being force fed. That sounds, albeit unintentional, I’m sure, like it would be just another cynical type of moralising and a rather clinical and soulless road to travel.