Ramblings on religion, Christmas and hot, buttered crumpets.Posted: December 15, 2012
This time of year always raises some questions in my mind. No, not “how can we make sprouts appetising?” or “what is the acceptable time to crack open the champagne on Christmas Day?”. No, in fact, I always find myself thinking of religion. Stay with me, people!
You can’t really plough through Christmas and not think about it even a tiny bit, surely? If anyone ever asks then my answer is that I’m not religious at all. So, why I am celebrating Christmas then?
The truth is that I’m a bit of a fraud and a hypocrite, probably. I’ll happily enjoy the festival with ‘Christ” in the name but not follow it up for the rest of the year. I love a good rendition of Away In a Manger. I regularly attend a playgroup at the church just around the corner (it’s friendly, cheap, spacious and the pastor came round last week with hot, buttery crumpets. “Sign me up immediately”, I thought). We have a nativity scene in our lounge. Yep, a tiny, ceramic baby Jesus right there in our living room. WHY??
Religion scares me a bit. I wasn’t raised in it particularly, we did attend a very small church but I remember that being more of a community thing than about God. We lived in a tiny town where most people attended on Sunday morning. (And frankly, I loved it, as half way through the uber-dull service, us kids would get to go and colour in pictures of sheep and goats in another room). I’m not Christened, my parents particularly wanted my brother and I to choose our own path, if any, into a faith. (We didn’t, none of our 4 kids are christened either….).
During my childhood, religion was very much this happy memory of crayoning Jesus’ beard and making Easter bonnets for the school competition (which I won). But also religion was the reason for so much violence and hatred just over the water in Belfast. It was the reason that so many Old Firm games descended into chaos. Why you couldn’t walk down Easter Road in Edinburgh wearing burgundy-coloured clothing. Why people were supposed to marry within their own religion just one generation before mine (ask my parents…) and to an extent still have to today.
Nowadays, churchgoers are a minority, with church thought to have stood still while the rest of society moved on. Archaic views no longer relevant in a modern, eclectic world. One thing that really struck me when I first attended the church playgroup was during the sing song at the end. We did “Wheels on the bus”, “If you’re happy and you know it”, all the greatest toddler hits. And then the leader sang one that I didn’t know. I quickly twigged that it was about God and stuff. I felt so awkward because everybody else knew the words. Like some big neon arrow was about to drop from the ceiling, accompanied by a klaxon, “THIS PERSON DOES NOT BELIEVE” it would shout “SHE’S ONLY HERE FOR THE CRUMPETS”. As they ended the session with a prayer, I shuffled nervously, clutching my toddler. I wondered if all these people in the group (they even looked normal and everything) actually came to church a lot? Are you telling me that there are lots of people walking the streets who do this every week? That it’s actually a modern, friendly and entirely non-scary place to visit? That they’re not even doing it just to get their kid into a particular school? That some parts of it have evolved? What do the regular church-goers think of me, a part-timer and one who only really likes the good bits like Christmas? Why do I need it when I’ve made it to 34 relatively intact?
Going to church for me meant traditions, family, community, knowing who lives near you, helping neighbours. I like all of that stuff. It’s the God bit that I’m not so keen on. I like to read and educate myself on things in my own time and via whichever means I wish. I suppose I’m not great at being lectured or taught, I’ve always liked to do my own thing and draw my own conclusions. I find people who do attend a church or religious centre pretty interesting, just to find out what makes them tick. But preaching at me will only make me switch off.
And I just don’t know if I believe. My Granny used to always say “whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye”, basically what’s meant to happen will happen. So, doesn’t that imply that there’s a grand plan, that someone else is in charge? Is it a hirsute man in sandals sitting on a cloud? I’m too much of a control freak to think that someone else is running the show.
I know that there’s a big difference between belief and extremism but they both begin with religion and in my opinion this is at the root of so many problems. If God is in charge and he’s inherently good then why, this weekend in particular, do awful things happen?
We didn’t get married in a church and we don’t intend to raise our daughter in any faith. She can work things out for herself. But what I do want to bring her up with is a strong community with good people and neighbours around us, good traditional schooling, with respect for others and a positive spirit. That and a healthy love for crumpets.
So, we’ll continue to have the nativity scene in our lounge, we’ll always try to make Christmas about far more than the presents. Because that’s our tradition and that’s what we believe in.