Disclaimer: I have not found god. Don’t worry.
I had a particularly strange experience yesterday afternoon. And god was involved. You can bet I was surprised!
There are several issues here that I, to be frank, struggle with somewhat. God is one of those ‘things’ that follows you around throughout your life in many and varied ways. From being accused of being involved in a papist conspiracy at the age of seven to being followed all around Trafalgar square by evangelicals at fifteen to failing to bed a girl simply because she was christian … well, you get the picture. Probably not, actually. She was lovely. We were both seventeen, and used to go out and hang out and wrestle and it was kinda funny. Kinda sweet. Utterly frustrating.
I guess it’s every teenager’s fate to be continually hassled by these strange people. You’re young, feeling your way in the world, desperate to find some way in which you fit, somewhere you’re accepted, welcomed, celebrated. You’re weak, easily suggestible. Sorry. It may sound patronising, but it’s true. So they target you. Everywhere you go.
I argued philosophy with one, darwinism and the complexity of the eye with another (an asian doctor who said the eye was too complex to have occurred by chance. The usual guff. Probably an opthalmologist. And not a good one). They’re very persuasive. Well, not that persuasive. I struck up a friendship with twins in my ‘home’ town, they were serious evangelicals. The sort who stood on benches in the high street and preached. Eventually they admitted defeat and we just said hi every now and then – my chief memory is that if I passed them in full flow on a bench or whatever, with a small audience, they’d stop mid-harangue, ‘Hi Pete!’, and then dive back in without so much as a missed beat.
Now, I’m an equal opportunities disbeliever, and I found the sorts of juvenile anti-god arguments just as pitiful. ‘If god is all powerful, why does he let X happen?’ The modern Lisbon earthquake. I am no Pangloss, but neither am I a Cassandra. Ditto Dawkins et al. None of them seem to understand the nature of belief.
God is unproveable. Either way. Hence Pascal’s wager.
Just in case you’re unfamiliar with the mathematician’s views on god, allow me to explain. These are the options:
a) Believe in god
b) Don’t believe in god
And these are the possibilities:
c) there is a god
d) there is no god.
Now then, once one dies, the following combinations obtain:
a + c = e
where e is eternal bliss
a + d = f
where f is mild embarrassment at the point of realisation, but after death, nothing.
b + c = g
where g is you saying ‘bugger’ as you’re led down to the place where the guy with the pointy tail and bad breath plies his trade
b + d = h
where h is blessed relief as this world of shit has to carry on without you.
Now then, any equation involving d may result in temporary embarrassment, while an equation involving c may lead to eternal bliss or having a hot poker inserted rectally.
Logic, decided Pascal, dictated that one ought to believe in god, because if you’re right, you win! And if you’re wrong, you merely die anyway.
So far, so logical. He did, naturally, fail to take into account an omniscient deity, who may take offence at your feigning belief because it’s logical.
It’s a little like the kindness of dolphins. You never meet the swimmer whom the dolphins, clicking their clicky little laughs, gently pushed away from the shore. You only meet the one with the wonder story. Clever little bastards, they truly understand the value of a carefully placed story.
God is all about belief. You either believe in him/her/it, or you believe that there is no him/her/it. It’s simple.
Believing in nothing is, frankly, quite reasonable, and actually quite impressive considering we humans will believe practically anything if it’s said loudly enough. Tony Blair. Lots of people believed in him. Margaret Thatcher. If you believe what people say, she usurped power for thirteen years, as no-one ever voted for her. I once had a argument about how the country felt when Kinnock held his ‘victory rally’ in Sheffield the day before he got stiffed in the general election. I’m not sure he had even been born when it happened, but he was adamant that he knew better than I did what the reports of it did to his campaign. He might have argued on fact convincingly, after all, politics is what he does, but to argue on a subjective matter with someone who was there, when you yourself were not, is foolhardy at best.
So. I’m chatting to a friend. She’s highly intelligent, spiky as anything, but a fine example of womanhood (and I mean that in its total sense, not in a simply physical sense, whatever). She knows what she wants, and gets it. She has been seeking the perfect man. She is the sort for whom nothing less will do. Naturally, she’s having trouble finding him (my good self excluded, equally
naturally). We skype. We haven’t spoken for, well … weeks …
The conversation goes something like this …
Me: I’d just been thinking where you’d vanished to …
Her: I haven’t vanished dearest. Still here, but significant things have happened to me…
Me: ooh … good things?
Her: Well, unspeakable things … in some circles at least! I have found my faith again – and have been on a serious high for 2 weeks … I include you in my prayers every day, in fact. I hope you don’t mind – can’t do any harm … Don’t worry … it’s nothing weird … Church of England and very high church at that … not a charismatic me
Naturally, I am somewhat taken aback. After all, of all the people she might have plighted her troth to, god? I am at the very least perturbed.
Me: that is unspeakable! Of all the people … couldn’t you have become a lesbian instead?
I truly think that a milestone in your life has been passed by when you don’t bat an eyelid if someone comes out, but get worried when they find god. Now, I know she’ll read this, and also that she’ll appreciate that I have to say what I feel. She also knows I mean no disrespect, I’m merely taken aback.
I mention that I ought to find a way of making her recant, while pointing out that of all the men … she replies that she didn’t expect it, either:
Her: But you see God chooses one – even if one does everything to avoid it. I used to be very spiritual and then lost my faith when I witnessed the aftermath of the Tsunami at Christmas 7 years ago. I was there and just couldn’t cope with the devastation…
She continues: If you think about it actually, Pete – I am looking for perfection. There is only one who is perfect ..
Me: no, don’t give me this god chooses you BS …
Me: it’s a mental illness!
In any other walk of life, hearing voices (not that I’m saying she’s hearing voices, but it is a common enough thing to hear people mention) suggests that you have some sort of, well, mental imbalance.
The conversation ranged on until we agreed to talk of something else. Partially because I was in shock that someone so able had taken such an easy way out, abrogated her own responsibilities (I’m already anticipating the flaming email here …).
Her: Look – write me off as someone who’s gone mental … but there were and are some rather more impressive characters than me who have a strong faith … I recommend you go and see the fantastic French film “Of Gods and Men” …
I would never write her off, but it’s a poor argument.
A good friend of mine’s mother once (I know, u-turn) went into an off-licence to buy him a bottle of whisky.
She informed the assistant of her need, finishing with the words ‘I hear that Glenfiddich is very popular.’
The assistant smiled indulgently (I’m making this up. An indulgent smile aimed at this lady might prove fatal) and simply said ‘madam, its popularity has thus far failed to make it any good.’
(with apologies for inaccurate renditions)
We touched back on the subject:
Me: god is only perfect because he doesn’t exist …
Me: oh, I’m quite upset
Her: Pete, sweetheart – be a little more tolerant. I still have all my intellectual faculties
Me: I’m in shock
Her: Don’t be upset … I am very happy
Me: oh, of that there’s no doubt …
Me: but oh …
Me: just o.
Her: Anyway, I’ll still pray for you …
Me: noooo …
We’ll argue about this more, without doubt. It’s what we do best with one another.
More to the point (what was my point?) this life is full of little epiphanies. Those times when you discover something, or are told something, which acts as punctuation. BIG punctuation.
Sometimes, you realise at that point that you have truly lost someone. They have gone. Like Anna Karenina, they are dead to you.
[disclaimer no. 2: I do not, in this instance, mean that this individual is dead to me. They still rock. Just thought I’d clear that up!]
This is very, very sad.
I am very, very sad.