Just in case?

What should you never talk about in polite company? Religion, politics, and religion. Oh and religion.

I find religion fascinating, but all of the conversations I have ever had thereof go from zero to upset-defensive-never-allow-Po-to-darken-this-doorstep-again in about 5 seconds. It’s just impossible for people not to take religion personally. We don’t have time to think about what people are saying carefully and craft our own responses, and in the heat of the moment it all seems to go awry. So I’m hoping blogging about it will take some of the fire out of the ire (OMG I should copyright that).

I don’t really have a fixed opinion of God. I go through phases as I’m sure most people do. I swing from strongly atheistic to agnostic to “I believe there is a God but I reject organised religion.” Right now I’m leaning towards strongly atheistic but I’m sure that will change.

My official position: No scientist has provided proof that convinces me that God does not exist. No religious person has provided proof that convinces me that God does exist (although if a man came up to me claiming to be the son of God, born from a virgin, I would probably walk away very quickly and spend the night on Google trying to figure out which mental illness he had. So maybe I am just a lost cause).

I am one of those sad people who is born with the genetic defect of not being able to ‘believe’ ie. take something to be true without proof that convinces them. And so I choose to abstain. Maybe there is a god, maybe not, I don’t know. And as I don’t know, there is nothing I can do about it, so why make a fuss about it or worry about it? If there is a God I am going to hell since I doubt him, although I can’t see how it is my fault that he made me a belief mutant, and if there is no God then it doesn’t matter. Live life now!

However I do admire people who have a strong faith. I like how people can dedicate their lives to a chosen religion and live honestly like that.

What blows my mind, is those people who live secular lives, who probably live in my abstinence kind of way, who maybe would say ‘I believe there is a ‘spiritual being’ but who don’t actually dedicate their lives in any way to living spiritually, but who still do things like getting their child christened. What the hell?

I have family like this. I have never heard these people mention God in my life. Never seen them enter a church. They live exactly like me. And then they go a church of choice and get their child christened. I have been to such christenings. To me they are soul-crushing. People who don’t want to be there, muttering words they can’t even pretend to have an interest in. To me it makes a mockery of religion.

Do those people really believe that if they go to the church and mutter those words then their child is now safe for heaven? That all it takes is those words? Do they not think God knows that they are not interested in him, that they are essentially doing it ‘just in case’?

By doing it just in case, as far as I am concerned they are negating the existence of God, because they are saying that some mumbled words said in half- or non-belief are all God needs to keep a place for your child in heaven. That a super spiritual person who lived their life in service of God but who did not happen to be christened would not, by their logic, go to heaven, but they with their words will? How can that make any sense if they really believe in God?

No, they are doing it just in case. They are admitting that for them religion is superstition, and we are all afraid of superstitions, just in case they are true.

My parents did not christen me. They didn’t practice any religion, so why should they? I am so grateful for their honesty. It probably wasn’t an easy choice.

South Africa is a very religious place compared to some other countries. Christianity was in our schools, we had Christian assemblies every single day. Muslim, Hindu and Jewish children were not excused. They had to stand there and listen. I am so glad my parents had the courage to go with honesty rather with social convention and ‘just in case’. If I ever have children I will not christen them. If they become Christian later they can arrange it for themselves.

I hope I am not offending anyone, but I really cannot stomach this ‘just in case’ religious position. I wonder if there is someone out there who can set me straight and tell me I am understanding it all wrong? I just hope I never go to another christening in a room of people there ‘just in case’. I bet going to a christening with people who love and celebrate God must be a truly wonderful experience.


16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. tiah
    Sep 06, 2010 @ 09:05:11

    I’ve discussed religion with friends. I think it is how it is discussed. “You people always…” will not work. “People who think ___ are just idiots” is also not helpful. In such situations, move on to the weather.

    My old village church was very pretty. People did like to come and do the dunk and wed thing regardless of personal belief. I had many people tell me “the church should just be grateful people want to use it,” which was rather rude. People do get very insulted and annoyed when churches put stipulations, like attending an intro to religion course before marriage. Wee, bit insulting to people whose faith they are dismissing.

    But I don’t understand why people who don’t have faith desire to do it. Take marriage. If there is no faith, then the marriage begins in its first min based on a lie. If one does not believe, then their vow isn’t “just in case” it is lying due to total lack of faith and intent. What kind of promise would I be making if I said, “On my honour to Santa Clause”? So they lied to each other. Promised nothing. The marriage is a farce from the start. Why start off badly? Rather have a judge, because at least lawyers are real. Thus, I can think of many other ways I’d have happily had my family wedding if I did not believe. So many beautiful venues, settings – one can still have lovely photographs and memories. It boggles my mind.

    Or, they do have some faith, but feel uncomfortable practising, are not sure how to practice faith any more. In such case, it is different. Plenty of people believe in God, but find it hard to talk about or go to church. It is their own struggle and not one which needs people poking at.

    Which brings us to why vicars often marry people even if they are not sure the couple truly believes. It is to the couples detriment if they marry on false pretence. But for the vicar to deny a couple who believes, but is struggling, it could crush what little faith they are grasping hold of. Thus, many vicars give people the benefit of the doubt, because again, it really is not their place to judge what is truly in people’s hearts.


  2. Po
    Sep 06, 2010 @ 09:19:04

    Tiah: you know how awkward I feel at these christenings, a true non-believer, expected to say some words that I don’t believe in? I feel AWFUL, like I am cursing the poor child by even being there. It is wierd to be there.But I know I am not the only one ‘just waying the words’. I dunno, at least I am honest and admit that to me they are empty words.


  3. Shannon
    Sep 06, 2010 @ 09:53:42

    Bravo you, Po. I think if God is real (I think yes, for the record), then S/He is much more honored by honest doubt and the courage to stick by it than by the “fire insurance” (as my dad used to call it) that people try to procure through baptisms and christenings they don’t really believe in. There’s a verse in Revelation that I love, in which God says “Because you were neither hot nor cold, I spit you out of my mouth.” The Greek verb is actually more like “I vomited you out.” It suggests God is like, get on or get off, but don’t try to half-ass it with me.

    In the tradition I grew up in, they don’t baptize infants because they don’t believe that’s a decision parents can make on behalf of their children; but they have baby dedications, in which the parents commit publicly to raising the child in the love and service of God, and the congregation commits to helping and supporting them. And you’re right, it is really beautiful.

    My church meets in a sanctuary that doubles as a basketball gymnasium and a school auditorium, so we shall never have this problem, but I would hate it if people wanted to get married there because of its location, or the sanctuary was the right size, or they liked the stained-glass windows. We’re not a building or an institution, we’re a community and a family. If you stick with us and struggle through day-to-day life with us and are there to celebrate when someone graduates university or has six months clean in AA or has a baby–if you are part of the life of the church–then we want to celebrate with you when you are happy and mourn with you when you are sad, and we will be jubilant with you on the day you enter into your marriage covenant. If you are not, why would you even want to? It feels like housebreaking. Just go on down to the justice of the peace.

    Tiah is much more gracious than I am. :P

    Honestly though I am glad of the increasing secularization of society, because so many of the rituals of Christianity have just become social rituals–church weddings, christenings–that people do because they’re the done thing, not because they have any investment in it or sense of the gravity of it, and it cheapens it. Leave that stuff to the people for whom it is really meaningful and part of the fabric of their lives. Hurray secularism!


  4. Po
    Sep 06, 2010 @ 10:12:09

    Shannon: what you said about the secularisation of society – I couldn’t agree more. People who are doing the rituals in an empty way should stop lying to themselves. People for whom those rituals have meaning should do them with all their might.
    I am very dubious about celebrating christmas because it appears to celebrate materialism and nothing else at least in the houses I celebrate in.
    If I have kids I would like to bring them up without that, but I enjoyed believing in Santa so much, how could I rob them of that fun?! Difficult choice.


  5. Helen
    Sep 06, 2010 @ 11:36:08

    Wow, that’s quite a mind-full there! I’m not quite sure that I know how to respond, except that I think you (all) have some very good points and I’m going to be thinking about all this for a while now.

    Two things I would like to say: I’m from a super-religious family, and from being on the ‘inside’ I can say that the church as an institution annoys me more than it gives me faith. People seem to think that being ‘religious equates to being ‘good’ or ‘kind’ or ‘compelte walkover’, Ned Flanders style. In my experience good people and religious people aren’t the same thing, and using religion as an excuse for being cliquey, judgemental or narrow-minded upsets me.

    More than that, people using their faith as an excuse to ignore the world around them appalls me. Surely if we were meant to accept blindly without questioning then our having minds that naturally probe and prod and question and wonder would be a bad thing? In which case we should reject technology, medicine, Science… rather than just ignoring or dismissing (or getting outright aggressive) at certain aspects of progress just because they don’t fit into what we were spoon-fed as children.

    I am a Christian, I just don’t like the church very much, and I actually stopped attending mine because I found that it was making me lose my faith.

    And for me, the best ‘church’ that there is is going to the middle of nowhere and sitting on a rock.


  6. Po
    Sep 06, 2010 @ 11:53:24

    Helen: can’t argue with a single thing you have written there either! I try my best to be a good person, a moral person. In my case my motivation does not come from God, I know in some cases it does. I think if you are on the rock and think hard about living an honest and moral life, then that is a good church!


  7. Po
    Sep 06, 2010 @ 11:56:51

    Sorry, maybe I shouldn’t use the word ‘argue’ because there is no right or wrong in this situation at all. I do agree with everything you say though. In terms of religion if I am standing obejectively aside, then what I think about “just in casers’ is none of my business. It’s their choice. But when I think of the problems in the world and I see how easily people lie to themselves, are desperate to lie to themselves, and how damaging that is, then I feel like maybe I should voice an opinion on this matter.


  8. poractacuscotts
    Sep 06, 2010 @ 13:09:48

    Po, I love that you started this conversation off and I loved reading each of your answers. About a year and a half ago, I had a friend organise a Philosophy night. We read various essays about the existence or not of God and I found it truly fascinating. To see the way people spoke to each other, how their childhoods and experiences and cultures shaped them and their responses.

    Growing up in a CHristian household with a mother whose faith is one of the things that gives her strength to get through everyday, I find myself in an odd position. I love that religion teaches acceptance, tolerance and love. But I hate that it teaches fear and sometimes the opposite of acceptance. The worst part about religion in my view is when people cannot differentiate what are church (and therefore man)-instigated rules and God’s rules. Sex before marriage, homosexuality, women’s relationship to men, alcohol and our reactions to them are all cultural and societal perceptions that over the years have been incorporated and owned by the church and other religions to their own ends to the point where people can’t tell the difference between what being Christian is and what doing what the church tells you is.

    I say we should all just go and watch Dogma.


  9. Paula
    Sep 06, 2010 @ 18:37:16

    Religion is a sensitive topic to some. But I figure either you battle it out or avoid confrontation and be a fool. I am glad that my mom despite being a pastor allows us to explore our own religious path, so long as we maintain respect for her one; she’ll respect where we are headed.
    The weirdest aspect about religion (and what i find most fascinating about it) is that they all follow similar beginnings… so similar in fact that you can relate most stories to Roman/Greek/Egyptian mythology. But that scares some people.
    I have always been in religious philosophy because I am a big reader and I like to question a lot. I just hated that in church, especially the leaders would always shoo me away when I had questions which then eventually led to my pull away because I am curious… but then I found someone who I could totally go into religious debate with- he turned out to be gay and left the church and then my questions being unanswered just frustrated my need to leave and find out for myself.
    But the thing is I can’t stop defending the church. I am just slightly more fair about it. It’s really weird on Saturday I was defending the church while opposed to it. It’s like Ghandi said (paraphrased) I like your Jesus but not your Christians. Like I used to be religious and I genuinely loved God and still do. It’s just I no longer actually call myself one because of the associations I have.
    sjoe. Hope you’re good though


  10. Po
    Sep 06, 2010 @ 22:24:27

    poractacuscotts: I had a conversation with a deeply religious friend of mine about homosexuality once. At the time I was trying to keep things level and understand what she was saying and what I was saying. So I didn’t think very deeply about it. But afterwards and still now my mind goes back to that conversation again and again. Very time I am deeply shocked by what she said and what the acceptable method of “curing’ gay people was. I rarely have strong opinions but my opinion is so strong on that matter that I wish I had said something. But then I probably wouldn’t be friends with her any more. I still value her friendship, even if she thinks it is a good idea for a gay man to marry a woman to cure himself. Argh. I get the shudders just thinking about it.
    Sorry, that was a bit of a tangent. We should all watch Dogma, agreed.
    Paula: wow, cool comment! It’s so true what you say about Christian stories having echoes in other religions. A virgin birth is a common motif. But I never want to have that conversation with anyone. I also love that Ghandi quote, I had never come across it.
    I have never heard/read such interesting and well thought out responses to religious questions in my life! I am all for writing about religion rather than talking about it. I am not great verbally, I have much better control over what I want to say when I write. Thanks guys for such interesting comments.


  11. Shannon
    Sep 07, 2010 @ 00:24:44

    Too true, Po, I have loved the comments. Being both a person of faith and a scholar of religion (both undergraduate and graduate degrees are in history of religion) I find that it is very difficult to discuss religion with many people–nuance gets lost and feelings get hurt and I’m too religious for some and too academic for others and so no one is happy. :P
    Your initial problem elicited a strong reaction from me that perhaps sounds harsh on review, so I want to clarify it. I’m not opposed to the ubiquity of religious rituals, even amongst the unobservant, out of a cliquish desire to keep “our” stuff to “our”selves and lock others out. It is more that I have such a deep respect for the communal aspect of the faith life, and think that if you are not participating in that, then the rituals lose their meaning.
    I go to a very odd sort of church–it is what we call intentionally interracial, meaning part of the mission of the church is to overcome barriers of race and class. So we are about 50% black, 40% white, and 10% Asian and Latino, which sociologically puts us in a category with less than 7% of US churches in terms of diversity. We are in a low-income neighborhood and across the street from a homeless shelter, and many of our members have lived there at one time or another. Our building also houses a charter school that provides college preparatory education for low-income middle schoolers, and a community development center that does job and computer training and welfare-to-work stuff, and most members of the church are involved to some degree with one of these two ministry partners. So we have a very high view of community, and that it is not all flowers and rainbows, it is really f’ing hard–it is teenagers falling pregnant when you had turned backflips to keep them in school, and kids moving in with you because they haven’t anywhere else to go, and drug relapses. And then there are also these extraordinary moments like the baptism where the father got up and said that he had lost his faith when his entire extended family was killed in the Rwandan genocide in ’94, and he had moved here with his wife and kids having lost any sense of God. He said he recovered it through the church, which his children started attending before he did because at the time, we were meeting at the homeless shelter where they lived; we didn’t have a building yet. But he said the church loved his kids and took care of them emotionally when he couldn’t, and had enrolled his kids in school and gotten them onto sports teams and made sure they were OK, so that day he was presenting them all six of them for baptism: from 16-year-old Marc down to 2-year-old Rose. And those kids were a solid mess when they came to us; one of the boys lived with me for a couple of years and had terrible night terrors that we finally diagnosed as PTSD. But that baptism that day–I can’t imagine I will witness many things in my life that will touch that. So when people treat faith communities casually, don’t invest in them and then show up to wear pretty clothes at Christmas or want a christening–it just runs so counter to how I understand community that it rankles at some core level.
    Um, I think I still sound judgy. Maybe I just have to own it. Blech.


  12. Champagne Heathen
    Sep 07, 2010 @ 07:12:55

    Mothers in law. That’s why.

    That’s why I was christened by my 2 heathen folk. And that is why I will have many issues with my religious in-laws when it comes time to getting married. I ain’t getting married in any religious ceremony, because it is an insult to what I believe & it is an insult to that church/ synagogue/ mosque (as has been discussed above).

    If you’re going to get psychological, I reckon that faith rests with your inner-child. That one who sat through faith ceremonies, heard about “God it watching over you”, that if you follow your rituals then all will be ok, and if you don’t, all will be downhill. As we mentally develop, we make choices about faith; whether to keep believing (so deepening your faith & commitment), to stop believing, or to not make any conscious finite decision – your “just in case”rs. I reckon the 3rd group still hear their inner child’s voice when it comes to faith. Mentally, their adult side says they don’t have to follow the cultural rituals, but their child side won’t let them rest easy unless they do. So it’s less “just in case” to appease a God they have not made a decision about, but to appease their own inner child.

    That’s my theory today anyway!


  13. tiah
    Sep 07, 2010 @ 10:33:54

    To clarify something – the idea that being a Christian makes one good, and those who are not are bad is a misinterpretation of the faith. To be a Christian is to have faith in Jesus Christ as the saviour (since many people do believe he existed, but not as a saviour, there is a difference).

    To want to live a “Godly” life is admirable, but the Christian must admit that this is not possible without the help of Christ, as we are all fallible (we shall ignore the pope for this little spiel). What it means to live a “Godly” life, however, is up for debate – hence all the arguments over the “rules”.

    Going to church will not make you good. Just like going to school will not necessarily make you smart. Nor going to the gym will necessarily make you fit. It all takes work, and one slips up. Many non-Christians do good things. Of course. Many Christians do bad things. They all do. That is the whole point. Christians admit to being sinners, thus in need of Christ. They are “saved” despite their faults, by faith – not by “goodness”. Going to church is done for many reasons, but to highlight two purposes:
    1 – To celebrate en mass (sadly, this often is performed like a dull party, but never mind)
    2 – To help “educate” and keep one on that path that they seek (everyone is at a different place – some of struggling more than others – we’ve all got our battles – just like in the gym. Your abs may be rock hard, but my thighs can press a gazillion …)

    I admit, that some interpretations of Christianity like to simplify things to either / or. Esp children’s Sunday school classes. I know people who don’t dance for fear of going to hell – heaven help them (and I mean that).

    But this whole idea of “Being a Christian = good” myth drives me bonkers. We shall ignore the whole debate on what “good” truly means, otherwise we are going to run into a whole philosophy tut, too. Point is, faith is beyond a desire to be good, not good – it is about belief in something that one sees as true. Right. It is. It does not give one moral high ground. Morals are a whole different kettle of fish.

    *Now steps off soapbox and moves on to discuss the weather….*


  14. Po
    Sep 07, 2010 @ 21:23:39

    Shannon: wow, just reading that made me want to cry. I wouldn’t have the strength to help other people like that all the time, it would destroy me. I really admire that. I never thought you were harsh at all, actually I was worried I was being harsh. I have real problems writing judgements about other people’s actions because I hate it when people judge me without knowing me. But in this case, I have to be brave and admit, yes I am judging people who live ‘just in case’. I don’t mean that that should in any way affect or upset them, because there is no objctive right or wrong here, it is just that their way of doing things is against my way of living. But that is not my business, it just compeltely flumoxes me.
    I studied a teeny bit of philosophy at uni and Nietsche’s idea of a nihilistic life had a strong effect on me. He claimed (well, probably you know, but anyway) that many people are living as if ‘God is dead’. That was his really over the top way of saying living ‘just in case’. They don’t live in a godly way, don’t celebrate God, don’t take action with spiritual guidance, but still perform the rituals, still aim for the after life rather than live life to the fullest now. And so that life becomes empty in a way. If people are always preparing for the next life but not living fully now, but they don’t even live in a godly way they are kind of negating the point of life. It’s all a bit confusing, but you are living in a Godly way and you are living life to the fullest, helping other people to make their way through life, so he certainly didn’t have you in mind. I kind of agree with his idea, not that I follow any philosopher religiously (ha) at all because they were all on crack.
    So yes, I judge people for doing empty rituals because if I did it, I know it would be a lie. I judge them in relation to what is right for me.. But if it makes them feel connected to God, or helps them sleep at night, they can do whatever they want, it has nothing to do with me.
    Shooweee, you see how far I have to go to justify to myself that I just made a judgement of other people!?


  15. Po
    Sep 07, 2010 @ 21:28:30

    Tiah, why, may abs are rather hard, thank you ;)
    Ha just kidding. I know, I have also encountered the holier than thou people who think they are good because they go to church. I love thinking about words like ‘good’ and ‘beauty’ and morality’ both in a literal and philosophical sense. I think at the moment I am adopting a cultural point of view, that our cultures decide what is good and bad. I guess because I am a religious sceptic I think there is no objective good or bad at all, only that which we decide. But anyhoo, I will probably change my mind on that tomorrow.


  16. Po
    Sep 07, 2010 @ 21:33:13

    Champagne heathen: oh the mother in law! I quake at the thought of a mother in law! Well, actually it is a father in law I have to worry about if I have to worry. The BFG’s dad is quite a devout catholic. He is a lovely man though. His grandkids from his daughter all ended up being Muslim, so I am worried he secretly hankers after a little catholic kid. I just couldn’t baptise a kid though. You see, this is exactly why I object to ‘just in case’, it’s because when I imagine doing something like a baptism, I feel a bit sick, like what a faker, lier, evil person! Marriage makes me feel the same way. Actually almost all of the customs and rituals that people take part in make me feel that way. I really am a mutant.
    I wouldn’t object to the bfg’s dad taking an imaginary sprog to church though and letting the kid decide for himself. He can get baptised later.


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