Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A Journey Round 'Our Fathers'

Today, for the first time since Saturday, there was blue sunlight sky with small puff ball clouds skidding over it in a rush to get somewhere else and fast. I did not offer up the 'W' word to Dillon the Yorkie / Jack Russel cross I simply started putting on the 'serious going for a winter walk' gear. Usually the response is excited circling, jumping and general skittering around from the moment the waterproof bottoms go on. Today he just stood there with his back to the French windows shaking and trembling in excitement with his brown eyes fixed on mine, we were going for a proper walk, the first one since Saturday, not just a 3km up and down the lane but further a-field. His dog god was fulfilling all the faith and belief Dillon has in him. Dillon's dog jacket went on with out any wriggling, the lead was attached to his collar with out any fidgeting, the door opened and there was no flying leap to freedom seeking to rip the lead from the dog god's hands but a serene exit, vertical tail, slightly wagging, head high - we were going for a walk!

As a child of the late 50's, born to God fearing parents who were deeply committed to the Calvinist Church of Scotland, I can remember having a faith and belief system which was Dillon simple. What ever the Sunday School teacher told us was 'gospel', Christ was born on Christmas Day, nailed to a tree and died on Good Friday and was born again on Easter Day. The rest of the year was just a 'fill in' between these two momentous events. Sunday's remained a day of rest (aka; boredom for us kids who were not allowed out to play until after Sunday Lunch) by the early 60's there were even some TV programs on after 6pm as a break from all this religiosity. We had 'Songs of Praise' or William Barclay sermonising on the 'Risen Christ' then at 8pm the moral turpitude of Dr Findlay's Casebook; "Is that an anal thermometer in your top pocket Dr Findlay? Aye, Janet, some bum's got ma pencil."

As I got older, the Church of Scotland became more ingrained in my soul and, like most of my family, involvement in Church clubs, associations and institutions became the norm. So it would have gone on, this unthinking blind faith and belief, if the Falkland's conflict had not intervened, I would have just been like Dillon shaking in expectation that at some point 'god's' purpose would be revealed to me. I would get to go on that special walk I hoped for, after a period of darkness.

Here's what I learned on active service - faith and belief are just superstitions. Marines thought they would be safe if they had letters from their kids in the top left pocket of the combats, if a Jellico cat finger puppet was in their left hand trouser pocket, if they left the magazine on their NATO Standard SLR one round short. Pilots who would go berserk if their harness was not done up in a certain order or the safety pins from their ejector seat removed in a certain rotation - there were all sorts of faith and beliefs about what would keep them 'safe'. The dying rarely asked for 'god' it was their mothers or wives. Belief and faith in any 'god' is about as effective a protection on a battle field as a 'Jellico cat' finger puppet in your left trouser pocket.

Between 1982 and 1988 I struggled with this whole idea of the uselessness of a 'god' who was such a key part of my own and my extensive families of relations lives. I decided I had missed something, it was just a test of my faith and, being pragmatic, I decided to study the basis of the religious teachings I had never really questioned, up until that point, and began training as a lay preacher. Having an analytical mind I started noting the difference between the conscious and unconscious conditioning as to how to interpret the writings which are part and parcel of the Christian Ministry and the glaring contradictions and holes this set of teaching tries to cover over. 

As I did some comparative reading in Zoroastrianism and Buddhism I started seeing ideas and concepts from these older, humanistic philosophies appearing as New Testament 'truths'. The core of Buddhism is based around 10 humanistic 'Siskapada' or footsteps which are not about what you should not do or not believe in (as in the Ten Commandments) but how you should behave towards others to create peace, harmony and progress. The Old Testament Story of 'Noah's Ark' is actually a Babylonian folk tale which has been discovered, written on Cuneiform clay tablets, predating the Babylonian's take over of Judea. At least three other religions in the Eastern Mediterranean, popular at the time, have a 'virgin birth' as the basis of their religious beliefs. The list of parallel comparisons go on and on. Josephus makes no mention of any such person as 'Jesus Christ' in his contemporary histories nor do any of the Roman records of the day. By the time the Roman Empire was in trouble and needed some form of unifying construct in the 5th Century, there was as many different tales about the 'Christ' as there were believers. The Council of Antioch set out to do one thing, to agree the core story once and for all, what bits were to be redacted, what bits were to be kept and how it could be moulded into a shape the Roman Emperor of the day could live with while not causing ructions amongst the privileged classes. Hence 'Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.' which is hardly radical from a man who is supposed to have dished the dirt on the 'Pharisees' and cleared the 'Temple Mount' of money lenders. The New Testament is actually a theological recipe, made up from a number of preexisting religious traditions of the day, known across the Roman Empire, with the sole aim of controlling and unifying  the masses while allowing them apparent 'freedoms' which are not in anyway 'free', as they are all qualified by obligations and strictures.

Ironically the path I first took to reaffirm my Calvinist faith and belief system is the path which has ended up with me as a confirmed atheist. I do not need any 'god' to tell me to be my 'brother's keeper' or 'love my neighbour'; just self commitment to act in a fundamentally human way, one which has benefited man, as a social animal, ever since we left the East African Savanna, all those hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Being supportive of each other is a fundamental human trait which religious and political governance seek to make hard and difficult by creating division and hatred where none should be. This need to be supportive of others is hardwired in each of us, it is why clubs, associations and charities exist across the modern world.

Think - do you make a donation to a 'cause' because a 'god' tells you to or because it feels right, at a very basic human level?

No comments:

Post a Comment