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Losing my religion

It seems the song lyrics as posts theme continues… I wonder how long I could keep it up? Let’s not answer that. I am 43 and have a good stock of lyrics that pop into my head so we could be a while. 43 years old seems quite old to decide I have really and finally lost my religion, but as the cardinals elected Pope Francis I yesterday I found I didn’t care at all, other than having the usual passing interest in headline news item. To be honest, a headline about Michael Gove would have exercised me more.

But old habits die hard, and as I was born and raised as a Catholic it was a formative experience which will never entirely leave me. Having grown up with John Paul II, I was a little taken aback when I found myself moved when he left his earthly flock. Pope Benedict however was a disappointment. Now, to write that he was a disappointment, infers that I had some kind of expectation vis a vis the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church and that’s what I can’t quite unravel. What did I expect? I don’t go to church, much less pray in the manner in which I was instructed, or follow any of the precepts of the church, so why would I have an expectation?

I suppose it was the faint hope of a sign. Many was the Sunday I stood in St Norbert’s in Spalding waiting for a sign. There were none. Then, for a while we switched churches, not denomination, just venue. We stopped going to St Norbert’s (who was he anyway?) and started going to another church in Sleaford. I can’t remember the name of the church there, but I have a vague recollection that the priest was not what I expected. And there was an old man with Parkinson’s disease who used to take his seat near the front and when he stood up he the disease would have him tremble like a Quaker. We usually sat behind him, on the left hand side of the aisle as you faced the altar. His overcoat, which he kept on was of a particular sort. Grey, a little thin, somewhere between a raincoat and proper winter coat. The coat never seemed adequate somehow. Parkinson’s seemed terribly cruel to that old man then, and it has since been confirmed to be so in the case of my grandfather, also a Catholic and of course in Pope John Paul II. Parkinson’s seemed to me then to be the very opposite of a sign. Pope Benedict, formerly Cardinal Ratzinger, offered no sign either, no sign that the church was likely to move in the direction that would have any, even faint, meaning for me any more.

It seems that the resonance is lost. It is a shame in some ways. Pope Francis seems more likely to hold the attention of the congregation and that would once have included me.

Still, times change and as Michael Stipe said

Try, cry, why try
That was just a dream
Just a dream
Just a dream

What the Pope did next…

Locked himself away in a life of seclusion, contemplation and prayer, apparently. I don’t suppose it will be a hair shirt and stone walls running with damp, whilst rats run across the floor either. And why should it be. He is an old man after all. Still, as a lapsed cradle Catholic, I can’t say he has inspired me in any way. His predecessor was at least familiar; Pope Benedict has seemed more removed from the world from the beginning of his papacy, notwithstanding his decision to join Twitter. Perhaps he got one too many mean tweets…

They discussed the soon-to-be vacant position on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning. Uppermost in one contributor’s mind was that any new Pope should be able ‘to listen’. I don’t think that’s entirely what he meant; in my experience the Catholic church major on listening – they even have a name for it: confession. I think what he meant was that he would like the new Pope to take the church in a more inclusive direction in the 21st century i.e. listen to people’s concerns and change accordingly. Another contributor was more traditionalist, he wanted the new Pope, whoever he may be, to ‘uphold the values of the church.’

Of course, the discussion was, pardon the pun, nailed on to annoy me. First, it was a cabal of men, women always being second class citizens in Vatican City, and second they always talk about the values of the church as if they were somehow sacrosanct, fixed and immoveable objects, which they are not. The values of the church are the values of men. Evolution shows us that to survive and endure it is not always an advantage to be strong and immutable. Those that survive are the organisms that can change, adapt, be flexible and sometimes undergo wild, wonderful and unexpected mutations. The Catholic church is run by men, for men. The ancient nature of its original hegemony means it has amassed enough money and power to totter on in the same old fashion for one more Pope at least. Benedict has practically ensured that by appointing non-radical Cardinals cut from his approved cloth. It is a shame. I do not like organised religion, but I recognise the value of it for some. Organised religion can offer community, education, guidance, structure, solace and comfort in life for many, but until the Catholic church tears down some of its man-made ideology, that is offensively dressed up as the word of someone called God, I can have nothing to do with it.

The gap between science and religion

By religion I mean any sort of loosely organised mysticism, spiritualism or esoteric practice.

I’ve been thinking for a while that I seem to live in a gap somewhere between Professor Brian Cox, and his ilk, who calls anything that can’t be directly observed, or quantified through some baffling mathematical equation, merely wu wu, or woo woo (how do you spell that Bri?), and that bloke with a white beard whose address is @heaven.

I know there are scientists who have faith too, Professor Robert Winston never called anything wu wu in his life, but I think they are in the minority. I love science but its breathtaking theoretical arrogance is a right turn off at times and, well, that more or less goes the same for the religious life. It’s like we have to jump to one side, or the other, or consider yourself without a framework for life.

Except there is the middle way and it is to be found in the arts, and I call philosophy an art too, albeit a maddening one. So when I saw this TED Talk by Alain de Botton I watched it and I realised that when I stood in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern the other week, and leaned on the rail over the void, clasping my hands as if I was 7 years old and kneeling under the watchful eye of the Virgin Mary and St Norbert in church, I was not going as mental as I thought I was.

Ranter or Sulker?

Ranters have the upper hand I am afraid. In the 17th century they had their own religion involving maverick self-proclaimed prophets and messiahs. Ranters were also prone to immoral living, drunkeness and blasphemy. Today, they mainly settle for being more healthy than your average sulker.

A sulker surrounded by ranters?

Apparently you are either one, or the other.

I am definitely the former and I live with the latter.
I have low blood pressure, my compadre’s is higher – despite being very fit.
I rest my case.