I was born in the 70s in Dublin; Odds were I’d be Catholic. It was predetermined and if I was born in Pakistan I would have been Muslim or a Scientologist if born in L.A. (not factually correct I’m sure but you get the gist). Bear in mind I am not an expert on world matters even though I do hold a Bachelor of Arts degree and can name most celebrities babies (it’s a gift).
I’ve been told by many people in my life not to write about religion for fear of alienating readers but nobody puts baby in a corner.
The world is gone politically correct mad and that’s fine in some respects but it can be very limiting and if you get a chance read George Orwell’s 1984, if only to see the first reference to Big Brother. When freedom of speech and belief are prohibited, there is a tendency for things to go to shit. Look what happened when dancing was banned in Footloose, it’s a cautionary tale folks.
Some subjects can be highly emotive. My mother always told me never to get involved in arguments regarding politics or religion. Good advice, but after a few drinks in the pub, things inevitably head that way; although I have to blag talking about politics from bits I’ve gleaned from newstalk or facebook feeds.
Religion, however, I am passionate about. As a kid, I never thought to question anything… Santa, having to watch the Late Late Show on a Friday night or God. Why would I? Adults made all my decisions and I assumed they knew best. Primary school had brainwashing down to a fine art. We learned prayers by rote and had the literal fear of god put into us, particularly in the run up to our first confession. We were 7 and had to confess our “sins” in a dark and scary box to a man of questionable morals. My son is 7 and there is no way I would ever put him through that, even if he didn’t have autism. I don’t care how much they have gussied it up these days.
When the teachers weren’t around I remember a game we would play at lunch where we’d all stare at a picture of Mary for 60 seconds and then stare at the wall and gasp as she appeared to us. The same would have happened if we’d stared at a picture of Jason Donovan for long enough (I know I did).
Our school tours were normally a pilgrimage of some sort, none of your trips to Tayto Park that they have now.
One particularly cheery trip involved visiting Oliver Plunkett’s decapitated head in Drogheda. Basically a head pickled in vinegar (a miracle)… extremely appropriate for 9 year olds. Strangely enough it’s the picture on the left of Oliver that bothers me most. My nanny had it hanging on one of the bedroom walls and when I discovered what hung, drawn and quartered meant , I had many the sleepless night.
Mass was something to be dreaded as a child. Somehow my parents found out about a 25 minute mass at 1PM in St. Brendans in Coolock. The priest would play to huge crowds; standing room only and added the extra incentive of a couple of labradors on stage. We would try our best to delay them with a lost shoe or a pretend illness to cut it down to about 15 minutes. When I was 13 or 14 I was allowed to go to Saturday night mass with my friends. We felt really grown up and would stand at the back chatting. To this day I don’t know why we went; surely our time would have been better served having a few cans of Ritz in a field and playing with a Ouija board. Although, I think we were asked to bring the missalettes home as proof.
In secondary school, I joined an after school club called R.A.Y. I think it stood for Renewal Action Youth and we had to take a pledge renouncing alcohol. Much fun was to be had as we played badminton and watched movies in a freezing hall. The only movie I remember watching was Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure, need I say more? I continued in this vein till my late teens. I would pray for ages at night before sleeping although it was more of an OCD thing and I had to say the prayers in a certain order or something really bad would happen.
It was a late night chat with a friend that first opened my eyes. We were having a sleepover and I was about 18 and we were discussing our virginity and how we absolutely couldn’t reach 20 with it still in tact (I blame Pee Wee Herman). When we were done talking I began muttering and she asked what I was doing. I explained praying and she was incredulous. She asked me so many questions but she wasn’t looking for answers, she wanted me to question myself and find my own answers. I lay awake all night, terrified… but if there was no god.. what would happen if I died? What did it all mean? but by the morning I realised that what she had guided me towards made sense.
One of the first things that attracted me to my husband, apart from the fact that he’s an absolute babe was that he felt the same about religion. He was born and raised a Muslim and had drawn his own conclusions as a teenager. He’s whip smart and I really admire the conviction of his beliefs. He cast off the shackles of his youth and looked to Darwin, Tesla and Attenborough (David, not Richard; although he really enjoyed Jurassic Park) for answers. We married in a civil ceremony in Turkey in 2007 and celebrated with a fry and a Lost marathon after.
When we had kids we didn’t make a conscious decision to raise them atheist, it was a given. However when we started sourcing schools for our oldest, they looked for a baptism cert. This concerned me and so we decided to christen him on his first birthday to ensure he got the school of our choice. I know I should’ve sent him to the local Educate Together but I couldn’t get my head around the fact that you called the teacher by their first name and there was no uniform. I was dealing with an undiagnosed child and thought he was just very badly behaved and needed the discipline of an established and structured school. I had my own rebellion by dressing him in jeans and mumbled all the rejecting satan shite. He got into a really good school and last year I asked the principal if I needed to christen my youngest two. He said he it didn’t really matter but they wouldn’t be able to make their communion or confirmation. Fine! But now I was raging about Conall and wished I could rescind his. I suppose I’m lucky I have boys as communion won’t be as big a deal for them but I don’t want them to feel left out. We can have a meal and nice clothes if they want it. Conall’s aspergers reinforces our beliefs. He sees things logically! Consider the reasons why people believe in God or have at least some affiliation with a religious tradition. In previous centuries religion served the purpose of explaining the world, and giving humans a sense of purpose and a moral compass. With the rise of scientific explanations, religious traditions are expected to dwindle and ultimately vanish. Still, many people continue to have some spiritual beliefs.
My Dad always says he believes in God but not the Church and my Mam lets on she’s religious but always seems to miss mass accidentally on purpose. I think that that generation were brainwashed to within an inch of their lives and it’s much more difficult to let go. I will still say “please god” or “bless you” ; I think these have become colloquialisms and not a declaration of faith. As I said before it’s an emotive and personal life choice and it would be nice to have these conversations logically. Religious people have been known to get mad at adversity; let’s not cite examples. Atheists are crap at sticking together as they are free thinkers and act accordingly.
I know for some that religion is a medium through which they can contact their dead loved ones and if it gives them comfort and solace then that’s a good thing. To me, too much emphasis is put on the “hereafter” and not on the now. When I die, I want to be remembered through funny anecdotes and laughter and certainly not at a grave or in a cold church. I don’t believe we will see our loved ones again… but we can keep them alive in our hearts. When my Aunty Pat died, we had a night in The Goblet and lit a candle in front of her picture. We got pretty pissed and told hilarious stories about her and I know she would’ve loved the night. I have not lost a parent or god forbid (see, see?) a child and I cannot imagine the unbearable pain and heartache. I would want to blame someone or at least believe in that old chestnut “everything happens for a reason”. Frankly, it’s absolutely horrific and I can’t let my mind wander to those dark places or I’d be snorting Lexapro.
So if Gay Byrne were to ask me what I would do if I died and was at the pearly gates of heaven I would probably be completely inarticulate so I’ll let Stephen Fry answer that one…… Stephen Fry on God
Sometimes it feels like Ireland is stuck in some kind of right wing rut with regards to our disgraceful abortion laws and people’s inability to think outside of the “catholic box” (that sounds like very specialised porn) But maybe change is coming… look at the issue of marriage equality and all the positivity that surrounds it right now, it’s a step in the right direction and hopefully the Ireland my kids will grow up in will be diverse and fun and not including fear of blindness or visions of decapitated saints.