Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Holy Crap

I read a brilliant piece in yesterday's Stylist magazine by Alice Wignall ('Losing Our Religion?'). I think of Alice as a sort of mentor; not only because I've been lucky enough to work with her in the past, but because every time I'm thinking of giving up my creative ambitions and settling for something well-paid and immediate, one of her features will pop up and remind me of the sort of writer I'd love to be. She writes for everything from The Guardian to Cosmo - look out for the name. This article was about the recent notion of Britain turning on its formerly official religion, Christianity. The Archbishop of Canterbury has complained of a 'bullying campaign' in this country towards devout Christians, citing cases like nurse Shirley Chaplin from Devon who lost a tribunal against the hospital who banned her from wearing her crucifix necklace at work. This sort of discrimination claim really annoys me. Everyone's workplace has a dress code and a hospital's obviously has to be more rigid and sterile than most. The angle of this piece was more about the everyday Christians - young women who fear mentioning their piousness in the workplace in case people treat them differently.

It seemed quite topical to me, as just last week, a good friend was telling me about a colleague whose beliefs were becoming an issue. We all want to be tolerant and kind, but some Christians just ruin it for the rest of them by making it a huge part of their personality, conversation and identity. I have no qualms with the faith itself, but it should be just that - private, personal and just one aspect of a person. I don't like to be submerged in someone's views, just as I wouldn't pelt someone with incessant titbits about my love of musical theatre or garlicky foods. It's just not necessary. This is the kind of Christian that gets my goat. I remember going to the funeral of a friend in my teens, and another friend's mother remarking that such times made her so sorry for anyone that hadn't embraced God in their lives. I hated her for that, so ill-judged at a time when God had never seemed less fair or relevant.

Of course many practicing Christians manage to be quietly devout; a person first and a Christian second. I suppose I just link any sort of religious fervour loosely to madness*, and if you were unfamiliar with the bible, many of its teachings would indeed sound like the ravings of a lunatic. This, coupled with the person's affinity to a dogma that suggests many of my friends deserve to burn in hell for their lifestyle choices, does not a firm friendship make. Is that so terrible a reason to secretly judge someone? The Stylist piece quoted many women who admitted to feeling a 'discomfort' around someone on finding out they are a devout Christian. This does seem injust, but I know the feeling they refer to - it's a sort of 'Watch your step, this one has views' aversion - and the reason I know this is because it is not simply applicable to Christians. I feel the same kneejerk discomfort on finding out someone is teetotal (terrible, I know), a vegan or a Daily Mail reader. A hard-line Tory or a militant feminist are similarly so far outside my values and opinions that I will hesitate to treat them as I would a kindred spirit. Especially if they make their 'thing', whatever it be, a huge deal every single day. This is the only circumstance in which I can imagine a Christian would face mass criticism, and it seems to me that it is a very insecure person that needs to so heavily advertise their own religion.

There are numerous little things that put us off a person slightly (drinking milk straight out of the bottle and putting it back, anyone?) Just because they used to be the default religion for this country, some Christians appear to think people not wanting to hear their preaching is a terrible movement of persecution, when in fact most of us have simply moved on from all that. We abandon outdated laws and language from our culture all the time, why not religious ones? It's ok if you believe in God, but many of us also believe in our professional environment being free from such intense subject matter. That may seem like bullying to the Archbishop, but whacking an acquaintance over the head with your creationist beliefs is probably less bearable. So pipe down - we'll risk going to hell if it means we don't have to hear you thanking an invisible deity for your morning coffee.

* Shortly after posting this, I turned the page of the book I'm currently reading on the train, and saw an excellent description about how the humanist/logical mind processes the idea of religion:

The primitive thinking of the supernaturally inclined amounts to what [Henry Perowne's] psychiatric colleagues call a problem, or an idea, of reference. An excess of the subjective, the ordering of the world in line with your needs, an inability to contemplate your own unimportance. In Henry's view such reasoning belongs on a spectrum at whose far end, rearing like an abandoned temple, lies psychosis.

- Saturday, Ian McEwan


  1. I think you are spot on with regards to people being so 'into' their faith that they allow it to govern every part of their daily life, I am in tune with the description of people and their 'thing'. And you are right, it is not just limited to religion, I'd like to hear more of your thoughts on that in particular.

    I'm not quite sure where the Christianity as the formal religion of our country idea comes from though? But I do respect your confidence in tackling such a volatile issue head on.

    I agree that faith should be an internal, personal thing. In fact I 100% agree with that. That is an excellent definition of FAITH.

  2. Thanks Mr Curious, intriguing as always. You are making me Miss Curious with regards to your identity.

    I'm pretty sure Church of England Christianity is regarded as pretty English, if not British. We have biblical explanations thrust upon us in primary school, for example, making science lessons very confusing later on.

    But do enlighten me as to the way to describe it, perhaps 'official' is too strong for the way it permeates our culture and traditions?

  3. As a reaction to the regulations of Rome, a well-known monarch decided in 1534 that it was time for a new approach to Jesus.. so yes, it is most definitely an English thing, I agree with that.

    I think the delineation between the different 'types' of Christianity is necessary as biblical explanations are both Jewish and Christian, in fact the story of creation is found in the Old Testament, which as I'm sure you are aware is a pretty big part of Jewish Tradition. The Bible is actually an integral part of a number of faiths, after all, Islam, Judaism and Christianity are all Abrahamic, generally speaking!

    BUT, that is getting away from how to describe it.. perhaps.. traditionally accepted religion rather than official religion would suffice? After all the multi-cultural diversity of the UK of GB exemplifies an abundance of variety in terms of FAITHS and so on..

    Please do not think I am bothered by your use of the term official, in fact the way you put it as formerly offical was brilliant.

    I hope you reach a much wider audience in the near future :)

    Mr. Curious (not even close to a Mr. Darcy)

  4. It is the state-sanctioned official religion though. Christian bishops guaranteed seats in the House of Lords vote on our laws.

  5. Very interesting topic =)

    I agree with you about faith being private. You dont have to wear a crucifix or go around your workplace offering to pray for people to be a Christian. Although I do agree to some extent that it should be applied the same to other religions. It doesn't actually say that you have to wear anything specific covering in Islam, just be modestly dressed. In France they've ban all religious symbols in schools and I think workplaces as well. I think thats better so you dont get everyone squabbling about which religion is being discriminated against.

    I tend to be quite forward about being an atheist but doing religious studies has mellowed me a bit, none of our group started off by pushing opinions on each other. I have since learnt most peoples religious views but even on a course where religion is the topic, we dont feel the need to go on about our own faiths and beliefs which i like.

    I do tend to judge people a little when they tell me they're religious. I think its that it suggests irrationality to me. I dont think its even the belief in God but more believing in dogma I find a bit irrelevant in modern times. I'm trying to be more open minded about it but I do find it difficult.

    I felt the article was a little overly sympathetic. Particularly when it comes to people being sacked for discriminating against homosexual couples. I have no sympathy for that, just as I would have no sympathy if they had discriminated against someone for the colour of their skin, regardless of what they thought their religion told them about it.

    I think if anything our society is still overly Christian considering the mix of faiths today, particulary in education. Schools are still required to have a daily act of worship, faith schools are can only allow people of that religion and in Ireland it's even worse, abortion is illegal and so is blasphemy.

    My main annoyance at the moment is that our country is paying £20 million for the Pope to visit this country. His visit means nothing to me as an atheist and I'm sure its the same for most atheists, muslims, jews, and other non Catholics so why are we paying for it? Incidentally this was brought up in the last leaders debate and they dodged the question entirely in order to not offend religious people. They said they were happy for the Pope to come over here, well so am I, if he wants to pay for himself.

    I agree with you basically that I think it's something that can be kept private. I find the article a bit overly sympathetic towards a religious group that dominates our politics and laws.

  6. Highly offensive article! Why have an opinion and not express it? Why have a belief and not talk about it?

    Coming from someone who often imposes their own opinion on other people is rather hypocritical.

    People should wear what they want to wear and talk about things they wanna talk about. If you dont like to listen, tell them so, but dont say that people's beliefs should be kept private because why should it be if it's a part of their life and a part of who they are and if they are proud of it?

  7. Anonymous- Why express a very strong opinion but not be strong enough to put a name to it?

    And I dont see how MissWrite imposes views, she's not walking around shouting her blogs at random people in the street. The blog is here, expressing her opinions, you dont have to read it.

  8. Anon is a troll - it's the same person who comments on various Miss Write blogs just posting pointless negative comments which have no substance which is why they are posted under anon.

    Ignore them, it's a waste of your time responding.

  9. But aren't you also Anon, last commenter?! But its ok if it is complimentary huh...

  10. I think the point Abby and the friendlier Anon were making was that if you constantly and strongly disagree with me, it might be a more resounding argument if you had an identity to separate you from other Anons, whereas just disagreeing with me and calling me lazy/offensive/crap at writing behind the anon mask is what makes you a troll. Do you see?

  11. People are going to disagree with you if you write strong willed pieces surely that’s the whole point to cause controversy? If everyone said ‘Ooh how lovely’ you wouldn’t get any work, controversy sells. If you are seriously into writing you’d better get used to some people hating what you want to say – your obsession with knowing who wrote what is because your angry about someone disagreeing rather than actually thinking these comments would carry more weight with a name. And no I didn’t write the other comments on here, as you may be able to tell anon can be used by anyone?!

  12. I don't think anyone has 'constantly and strongly disagree(d)' with you as there are a number of comments, clearly written in very different styles, which have taken issue with something you have said. I wrote one (not the above) and stand by both my comment and the decision to remain anon because I notice largely only comments with the slightest hint of negativity prompt any response from you. I, and perhaps others, feel that getting into a more personal interaction because we happen to disagree on one blog post that caught our eye in the big wide-world of blogging is not worth the effort.

    Rebrowsing your blog I find an interesting writer, and I commend your efforts to take on some controvertial topics, but some of your statements will incite critism, good, bad, you need to be able to be reasonable with it all and not demand that people in the wide internet world take you on in a more personal slanging-match.

  13. Above Anon: good point, eloquently made. I tend to respond to negative commenters when their attacks are completely devoid of any real evidence or reasoning behind their displeasure. You explain neatly and sanely, while I'm sure you can appreciate the unnecessarily mocking and sneery (therefore personal) tone of the anon comment I took issue with. This anon is also a raving hypocrite, telling me off for expressing my opinion while in the same post blandly declaring that 'People should wear what they want to wear and talk about things they wanna talk about.' Let's not bother going to work either, and lie in the grass barefoot smoking weed. There are dress codes in life and also workplace codes of etiquette.

    I like that I interact with my commenters, do other bloggers just let the feedback rain down on them and ignore it? I don't think it should reflect badly on my aspirations as a writer if I want to defend myself against the odd barbed comment.

  14. Pater Nostra writes,
    We are indeed a state, like Iran, that has a state religion, the head of the Church of England is also the head of state. During the education acts mania of the last twenty years no party has had the courage to take the requirement for a daily act of worship out of our schooling for fear of upsetting people. Fear of bullying, you could say. I say any religion is fine as long as, like sex, it is done by consenting adults in private

  15. You obviously have no knowledge of what it means to be an evangelical Christian – unsurprising, since your blog post makes it clear you actively don’t want to know. The clue is in the ‘evangelical’ – for these Christians, part of their faith is their duty to share what they believe to be God’s message. It’s not a question of whether they want to or not, it’s a rule of their belief system. So it’s not the same as me going around shouting ‘I like red shoes, I really like red shoes, everyone else should like red shoes too’ – it’s something they feel they have to do.

    Now, you clearly would prefer not to have to listen to this. So we have a clash of belief/value systems – you don’t want to hear it, they feel they have to say it. I think the only way we’re all going to get through the 21st century is if we all take a deep breath and try to be as tolerant as we possibly can. People who constantly share their Christian faith can be annoying; as, dare I say it, can people who whinge about occasionally having to listen to something that doesn’t accord with their own belief system. It does help to be more tolerant if you can understand where they’re coming from. Personally, I would look at each individual position: you are mildly annoyed by being exposed to views which you consider misguided. They are following a religious imperative to share their faith. I think you have less at stake, and so should let it wash over you with a good grace. What harm does it do you to be in the presence of misguided opinion? It means nothing to you, so it’s no different to hearing someone bang on about how jeggings are a style classic which will endure forever (to use a probably inept fashion parallel). However, they have a lot at stake.

    I used to know a bloke who was the most shy, socially awkward person imaginable. Yet, every week, he would stand up in the JCR (hardly the most welcoming environment) to talk about the Christian Union and invite people along. It must have been hell for him, but he did it anyway, because he felt he had to. I don’t agree with his views, but I have a lot of respect for his sharing them.

    Personally, I think it’s a little shallow and egoistical to declare that a faith which has survived for millennia, and brought great comfort to people in the most difficult circumstances, is akin to 'madness'. Are you so sure that all the believers over all the ages are wrong? You are of course very welcome to your opinion, but it is just your opinion, not a verifiable truth.

    In any case, it’s not just Christians who feel the need to talk about things that other people find uncomfortable or distasteful. When I worked in an office, I used to ‘evangelise’ about organ donation – not every day, but whenever the opportunity arose. If someone found the whole thing wrong and offensive, obviously I strongly disagree, but I respect their right to their opinion. If they went home and blogged about how unreasonable I was to talk about such things, I would have felt very hurt.

    And I am staying anonymous for the reasons outlined by Other Anon above – you do seem to take issue with any feedback which isn’t ‘Great post!’. But your writing is strong enough to have got me cross about your post (and to have written this mega essay in response), so you can take that as a compliment…

  16. If you thought your critique was genuine and had substance you wouldn't hide behind anon, end of story.

    (From a blogger since 2005, who has had her fair share of trolls and her fair share of completely genuine criticism and argument from people who believe what they're saying is justified therefore have no problem in putting a face to a statement.)

  17. There's nothing wrong with disagreeing in the blog but you have a right to your opinion so why not name yourself? And a blog is a bit more personal than putting an article out there for scrutiny.

    The controversial opinions Lucy is putting out there are on her blog in her name. You seem to know who she is and be responding to her as a person so why shouldn't she know who you are so she can respond?

    Anon who writes about Evangelical Christians-

    But there's a limit to that, where do you stop everyone expressing their views when it becomes offensive? Evangelical Christians have very strong views on homosexuality, I dont think they should go around freely expressing that. And what about muslim extremists? Should they be allowed to preach violent messages because they believe Allah wants them to?

    Also if we're allowed to express any views that includes people who think religion is madness surely? So why call it shallow and egotistical?
    I dont think she's calling it a verifiable truth but it is a verifiable truth that there is very little if any proof for religion so it is pretty irrational.
    And I think there's a big difference between believing in some kind of God and believing in dogma that was written thousands of years ago and then repeatedly translated.

    I encourage organ donation but I wouldnt "evangelise" every day in an office because I would find that pushy. When it comes up I will talk about it but I dont think you should push it on people. Please note I have a strong opinion on your post but I'm happy to put my name to it because I think you should know since I'm being critical.

    To all anons- stop with the excuses, Lucy has some strong opinions and she's openly putting them into a blog. If you feel strongly about it, fine but if you're going to be so personal and critical you could at least put a name to it. She's clearly not going to track you down and punch you.

  18. OK, I am clearly missing something about blog etiquette because I thought 'Anon' was a valid posting option, and this is obviously not the case. (This is 'Anon' of 8 May by the way). I don't accept that posting as 'Anon' makes me a troll or means that my views aren't genuine or substantial, but obviously opinions differ. Just to clarify, I don't know anything about Lucy/Miss Write apart from this blog. I won't post again, so future Anons aren't me (that should help narrow it down...)

  19. I think you need to experience religion to 'get' religion. As a non-religious, mostly non-practising Catholic I read your blog and can see you are writing it from a completely different perspective than how I see it.

    It also may be because the UK deals with religion a LOT differently than we do here in Ireland, where Christianity really is the religion (we don't have many muslims or jewish people, just predominantly Protestant and Catholic with growing amount of atheists). But religious views are respected here, are not preached or really talked about, a part of who many people are, not something seperate to them like who their favourite band are, and are private.

    But the funny thing is, which has always gotten me, is why do non Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter?


  20. I meant other anons when I said about being personal/knowing Lucy (another reason not to use it is its confusing/annoying when there's more than one).

    Interesting about Ireland Rosie, I think its good to respect different views but like it said in the blog, I think keeping it private is a good thing.

    Christian and Easter are Christian names but not necessarily Christian festivals. Religious scholars dont actually think Jesus was born in December so Christmas was actually built around the pagan winter solstice. Easter is probably celebrated in spring because it symbolises new life and is also a time for pagan festivals. So nice as it is Christians celebrate their holidays then I think we're all entitled to celebrate something at that time of year even if we're not religious.