When you’re a vicar, you get used to the feeling that every time you walk into a room an elephant walks in with you. I’m used to mine now, he’s called Gordon and he drinks. It’s probably the embarrassment of the company he keeps.
Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that people politely avoid the vicar when they can. Being a priest is fine in a church, obviously. People expect a person in a dog collar and, as a general rule, respect them. But in the outside world – and particularly on the comedy circuit – a vicar is the spectre at the feast; an alien, deluded simpleton who belongs to the Dark Ages. Generally, people are polite when I enter the Green Room but conversation falters when I sit down. I may be a fool for what I believe but childhood training means you don’t swear or talk about sex in front of the vicar because she’ll damn you to hell or, at the very least, choke on her tea.
What an oxymoron that is!
When I open a gig, I generally let fall a few choice swear words and watch the relief ripple through both the audience and my fellow performers. If I don’t, at least one of them will apologise to me during their act. Unless, of course, they are an atheist, in which case, they’ll usually make a dig or two. After all, what would you do if stuck in a room with someone like your Grandma who believes something so utterly ludicrous that you could only despise their credibility? And that’s pretty much what atheists think.
At this year’s Edinburgh Festival, I interviewed Tez Ilyas for the BBC. Tez is a Muslim who was commenting not on the amount of atheistic but on the anti-theistic comedy currently prevalent – the kind of stuff that is mocking of any kind of faith, and generally more ranty than original or funny.
The reason that anti-theistic comedy is like this is because it is basically lazy. Yes, it sees the ridiculousness of worshipping a God who dislikes humanity, is willing to kill his own son and damns to hell anyone who doesn’t worship Jesus. Fair enough. But atheists, in my experience, are generally very intelligent people and it intrigues me as to what it is that makes them simply despise what appears to them to be ludicrous without having any curiosity about why people believe it.
The most common line is “because people are stupid.” And the reason why religion exists is, ‘to control people.’ The latter may be why religion still exists but the reason it began was to try and make sense of death.
Which, frankly, is not something we’re doing any better nowadays.
I walked away from Christianity when a priest told me that my dying husband couldn’t go to heaven “because he doesn’t believe in our Lord, Jesus Christ.” This was the kind of priest (very common, alas) who believes that “Christ” is Jesus’ surname rather than a title for the Only Begotten of God.
You may feel that last sentence is contradictory but, the moment you dive deeper into religion and look underneath the admittedly murky bathwater – the stuff that both fundamentalists and anti-theists don’t dive into, probably because it’s scary and life-changing – you will find the baby. And oh, my goodness, what a baby! This isn’t an exclusive, Christmas virgin-born baby; it’s The Baby — the reason for all Creation; the glory and the love that binds the stars and planets together; the great Divine plan for all and the gift of understanding the way the Universe works.
When that priest broke my heart, I threw Jesus and Christianity out of the window and decided to be ‘spiritual’ instead. That was all well and good … but as the years passed, I kept noticing that all my anger and contempt for the faith in which I’d been raised kept biting me; it was as if I had tried to hide it all under a pink blanket covered in tea lights and crystals but the darkness kept oozing out underneath. I knew I had to get down and dirty into the root of the problem. So I did… It took more than a decade and I’m still studying now but oh, what delight is in the search!
Quantum physics is just about catching up with mysticism which is very exciting. Mysticism has no religion but rests joyfully in the root of every faith. And no, I’m not going to give you a quick fix of how it all works here because the whole point is that you have to seek it for yourself.
Conventional religion is generally idle religion. It is simple on the surface — believe this; worship that and God will like you and send you to heaven when you die. And it’s great fun because you can spout phrases like “I am the way, the truth and the life; nobody comes to the Father except through me” and feel nicely superior to everyone else.
Lazy religion and lazy atheism believe that this means you have to worship Jesus to get to God. Christians condemn those who don’t worship Jesus and both other faiths and atheists, quite understandably, see this as delusion, coercion and control.
Mysticism sees this as the Christ Consciousness speaking through Jesus — and the Christ Consciousness is exactly what it implies: a state of consciousness. Nobody experiences God except through the Christ Consciousness — and you can have that consciousness if you are Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, agnostic, atheist or whatever. The Only Begotten of God is the Christ Consciousness. How freeing is that? That is what Jesus is trying to teach throughout the Gospels. That is Christianity! As the great mystical teacher Father Richard Rohr says, true Christianity really hasn’t even found its feet yet.
There is a world of magic and mystery in the heart of any faith. If you’re not interested in that (and it involves a lot of deprogramming), then by all means ignore it and I wish you all happiness.
But if you’re an atheist and you are just going to tar the whole of religion with the same brush, then you’re just going to have to go on being embarrassed for the vicar when she and the elephant arrive in the room. After all, she’s the one with lazy beliefs, right?