I have been meaning to do a post on this for a while. Faith and religion is a thorny topic at the best of times, but I feel that I would like to pin my flag to the mast on this issue, not just for me, but also for my kids. When they are older and want to find out about this issue, I want them to have my balanced (and uninterrupted) view.
As a boy I was brought up to believe in God and Jesus. If you go to school in Britain, by and large the school you go to has the Christian faith within its curriculum. That's standard. Now, my mother and father for want of a better phrase towed the party line. My mother's mother died in 1982 and as a result we moved to Cardiff so that my grandfather could live with us. I remember when my deeply distraught mam came home with the sad news that Nan had died she said to me "Nanny has gone to heaven to live with Jesus." I was nine, and it was very strange to be surrounded with older people in the family crying and consoling each other. I remember thinking "Does Jesus know she's coming?".
Later on, I got involved with the church choir near where we lived, I got confirmed, I was made a Dean's Chorister. Once my voice broke, I drifted away from the church and started to notice more and more the fact that the school I went to had many people from all over the world there with their own religions and faiths. This really started to pique my interest in it. I find religions fascinating, though I think it prudent here to say that now I don't believe in any of them.
I didn't do very well in school, my exam results were poor. I did however learn lots about people and their different faiths. We had kids from China, Japan, India, Africa, Pakistan, Russia, Greece and if I remember rightly some Czechs too. We had a couple of great teachers there. Mr Morse, the Religious Education teacher and Mr Holland, the Biology teacher. Mr Holland is gay (I hope he doesn't mind me saying that) and openly so even then (1987). He was also a Christian. It was a bit of a juxtaposition there, but he seemed ok with it. He took a lot of flak, but still came in every day and taught us. Even those with the worst of prejudices.I did a little research for this blog and found a article about what the bible supposedly says about homosexuality here. I'll say now, if you agree with anything in that article, you might as well stop reading this now. The type of people who can live so blinkered a life they are willing to put fingers to keyboard and write articles like that terrify me. Mr Holland was an inspiration and one of the first people to show me that to have faith didn't mean you had to live your life in a certain way.
Mr Morse, was a Religious Education teacher that made a point of telling us about Islam, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhism, Judaism and a plethora of other types of faith, not just Christianity. We talked about moral issues too. He made us debate in class about all sorts of things. The one that sticks most in my mind is Abortion. I was chosen to debate for abortion and another very vocal member of the class against it. As you can imagine in a school with a strong christian faith based ethic in it, I had a tough time arguing for abortion. Fourteen year olds don't want to kill babies. Or be labelled as someone who might think that was alright. Life was so much more black and white then, we almost refused to acknowledge the shades of grey. There was much shouting, to'ing and fro'ing. From that day onward I have been pro-choice.
Back to faith. Later, when I had left school, I got into Buddhism and practiced really seriously for about a year and a half. I found that a lot of the people that were into it were all very arty. That was ok, I thought, I had designs on arty too. I got me some beads and a little bell and learnt the chant of Gongyo which you were supposed to do every morning and evening. I flung myself into it. There was talk of me becoming a "Young Men's Leader". I started to feel like I belonged somewhere. These people accepted me for who I was, with all my foibles. I went along with it for quite some time. As there is no real meeting place for Buddhists, meetings were had at peoples houses. Sometimes fifteen or twenty people would be in someones front room, all doing gongyo and then chanting the phrase "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo" for a pre determined amount of time. Usually an hour. These meetings were called Tozo's. I suppose you could compare it to church. As far as I remember, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo roughly translates to "I believe in the law of cause and effect in my life". The Tozo's I went to were themed. You would chant for the best job for your life, the best relationship for your life and so on.
I remember one particular Tozo where we were chanting for the best relationship for our lives the realisation came over me that I could be somewhere else, not chanting in a room full of earnest arty types and smelling their feet (you took your shoes off to chant and knelt down). I could maybe be in a cafe or a pub or somewhere social looking for a relationship. I could be in the job centre looking for a job that I wanted, and not chanting for one. That was the day I decided Buddhism wasn't for me.
I don't want to come across as anti religion here. I'm not. I think that essentially, all faiths share the same basis, which is be good to one another and others will be good to you. The problems start to arise when only educated and privileged people get to learn to write through the ages. Generally, those people were men and through privilege comes power. Those scribes then decided what went into those "holy" books and shaped the religions to their own ends. That in a way, is its own kind of terrorism.
I now feel that I can't believe in a religion because I have no proof of one aside from books, buildings and ritualized worship. If there is a supreme being that controls us and all around us, why isn't that being a bit more hands on? People will say that the human race is flawed and sinful and does not deserve the favour of a divine being. My argument will always be that the divine being is a bit ambivalent in its non action. With so much strife and hardship in the world at the moment, you would have thought a divine being might be in the mood to change some things for the better. But intervention on that scale isn't forthcoming, is it?
I'll reinforce my point by concluding with the following thought: People need belief systems to get through their lives. Be it Christianity, Islam or whatever. It makes people feel safe and not alone. Life is lonely, any one who tells you different is probably selling something. I won't eschew your faith as long as you don't ram it down my throat, or persecute me for not believing in it. I have my own belief system. I believe in the inherent nature of the human being to do good and be selfless. There is heroism everywhere you look.