Memories Are Made Of This

But that’s the trouble, doctor. I remember things, yet when I try and get hold of the memory, really try and recall all the details, it slips away as if it wasn’t really there in the first place.

I see.

I’m sorry to trouble you with this, but I have to say I’m worried I might be getting Alzheimer’s or something.

These are short term memories, I take it? Alzheimer’s typically affects the short term memory. Long term ones are already in the bank, as it were, and are usually still available to those with the onset of Alzheimer’s. Not that I think that that’s what we’re dealing with here.

There’s plenty of problems with my short term memory certainly, doctor. Like where I’ve put my keys and glasses. And I can’t tell you how many umbrellas I’ve lost. The number of times I go into the kitchen and can’t remember what I’ve gone in for.

Oh, but that’s perfectly normal. There’s even a name for it. It’s called the boundary effect and it isn’t just confined to people getting on in years.

Yes, that’s just it, doctor. It’s not only senior moments, though there are plenty of those. It’s memories from earlier in life too.

Have you tried accessing, as we in the medical profession like to say, happier memories? It could be that your mind is blocking more unpleasant ones. Try accessing a happier memory, something that made you feel good that you’d really enjoy reliving.

It’s happier memories I’m talking about. They’re just as elusive as any other sort. I can summon up the feeling – the elation or the contentment or the excitement – that a past event represents, but then when I try and think of what actually happened – where it was, who was there, who said what, that sort of thing – it all slips away.

So give me an example.

Right. Okay. Maybe like when I think back to when I first realised I was in love – a long time ago now – we’re both lying in the sun, looking into each other’s eyes. And I think, so this is it, this is love. And it’s a wonderful feeling. But then I realise I can’t remember where the field was that we were in, and which friends were with us, because I’m certain we weren’t alone, nor even whether the sun really was shining. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe, over time, I’ve added that bit. And I start to wonder if I’ve imagined all of it. And then I realise that all my memories are the same. I can’t remember any details and those that there are, I have a troubling feeling I’ve added myself over the years,well after the event

I see. And does that matter? You still have the feeling, don’t you? Of what it was like to be in love for the first time?

I can still conjure up the feeling, yes, but then, that’s it. I feel as if my memories are like those Roman gravestones you used to see in museums. You know the ones, where only one corner is the real thing. The rest is someone else’s reconstruction of what they think the stone would have looked like, or should’ve looked like, all built around that one tiny fragment. Who’s to say whether they’re right, the people who’ve added on the rest? Even if they are, it still means most of it is largely fake. That’s my memories – tiny fragments of feeling – supported by what I think should be around them, but I suspect wasn’t at all.

I think you’re worrying unduly. I’m sure you’re not inventing your old memories.

But I am. I’ve forgotten almost all of them, so I embellish what’s left. And every time I do, something real falls away and I lose another piece of my past and of myself.

Perhaps that’s how it is for everyone. Perhaps our memories are not nearly as fixed as we like to think. It’s possible that each time we recall a memory we have to reconstruct it from the time before, which is itself a reconstruction of the time before that. Some psychologists think so, anyway. All that repeated copying is bound to make for the occasional error, which we then fill in as best we can.

So is it the same for you then, doctor? Your memories are full of holes too?

Well, I have to say I haven’t given it much thought.

Maybe you should. Maybe you’ll find you’ve more holes than memories.

Perhaps. But then, does it really matter? Isn’t it now that counts? Perhaps memories are no more than an indulgence anyway.

I don’t think so. I think our memories are the record of all the things that have made us what we are. Lose them and what have we got left?

Oh, now I’m afraid you’re getting a little too metaphysical for me.

Nothing more than a few scattered impressions, full of holes.

Well, perhaps you’d like to make an appointment with one of my colleagues who can help you with your problem. In the meantime, if you could see your way to bringing our desserts, I’m sure my wife and I would be most grateful.

Dilemma

I don’t dare speak out. It’s so difficult to go against what the council of elders say. I know that it’s right in all it says about the great Providence of our gracious God and the redeeming crosse of our Lord Jesus Christ. And how, if we don’t confesse our sins, we will be cast into the lake of fire forever, along with the devil and his mynions. I know all of this to be true. I have been raised in the ways of the Lord. Everyone in the settlement knows these things.

And yet, that is part of the problem, is it not? When thou knowest something is wrong but no-one else seems to and they conform and their conforming makes matters worse. Our hard-earned freedoms are slowly being taken from us and no-one seems to have noticed. We are even being instructed on what we should wear; cover yourselves the reverend says – in this infernal heat! – and treat thy neighbours as pariahs if they do not comply, do not play their part in keeping the colony safe. I know there are dangers out there, but this does not seem like the way to deal with them.

Judith tells me just keep my mouth shut and do as I am told. Judith, my goodly wyfe. Just be quiet she says, then they don’t single you out too. She is right of course. No-one wants to meet the same fate as the dissenters; the heretics as the council calls them. But when you can see that the church is doing something that just does not seem… well, right. Shouldn’t you speak out then, whatever the consequences? When it is telling you something that deep down you know is not faire or reasonable?

But then, the dissenters did that and look where it got them. No-one will hear from them again. Cast out, like the scapegoats of Holy Writ. Judith is right. Do not step out of line, conform, keep quiet. The ministers and powers-that-be know what they are doing. It is our job to do as we are told. They know what’s best for us. It is for our own good. It is how we will survive these cataclysmic times.

Isn’t it?

Jesus writes…

Image: Caleb Havertape (https://www.pinterest.co.uk/calebhavertapei/_saved/)

Ubi Dubium has posed the question, ‘why didn’t Jesus write his own gospel?’ It’s a good question. What better way to ensure his ideas were conveyed precisely without any margin for error or misinterpretation, than to do it himself? If he hadn’t the time or the ability to do so, why didn’t he dictate his message to one of his literate disciples (surely one of them could write) who could then, as an eye-witness, finish off the story accurately once Jesus himself had returned to Heaven. Why, instead, did he leave it to people he’d never met, most of whom wouldn’t be about for another few decades?

It seems to me there are three possible answers.

  1. Jesus believed the world as he knew it was soon to end. He was convinced God was about to intervene and sweep away the old order and inaugurate the Kingdom of God on Earth. If the gospels that have come down to us are to believed, this was the core of his teaching. Jesus mentions its imminence repeatedly across the synoptic gospels and the morality he proposes, wholly impractical in the long term, is designed for the ‘shortness of the hour’. In this scenario, Jesus and his followers had no interest in writing anything down for posterity. There was no posterity; the end was very truly nigh.

  2. God didn’t want his Son to write his own story. He wanted the job left to people whom Jesus never met, who were little more than children during his lifetime and who lived hundreds of miles from where events occurred. God was sure this was the best way to create a record of his Son’s visit to Earth, without inaccuracies, inconsistencies and contradictions. 

  3. The creator of Mark’s gospel bought into Paul’s celestial Saviour, his illusory ‘Lord Jesus Christ’. Mark set about creating a ‘what if’ back story for him, set in Palestine in the recent past and constructed from Paul’s ’revelations’ and Old Testament ‘prophecy’. Mark highlighted Paul’s teaching that the Christ, whom he calls the Son of Man in his gospel, would soon be coming to the Earth (not a second coming or a return) to rescue his Chosen and reset reality.

Are there any other possibilities? I can’t think of any, nor have I read of any. So which of the three is the most plausible?

Scenario 1 leaves us with a Son of God not knowing what he was talking about. This Jesus was wrong about when the Son of Man would appear, wrong about the End of the Age, wrong about the traumatic nature of God’s intervention, wrong about the Final Judgement, wrong about the fate of the unrighteous and wrong about the Kingdom of God being established on the Earth. This scenario gives us a Jesus who is a failure as both a prophet and Messiah. It’s a wonder anything at all was written about such a loser, let alone narratives that preserved his hopeless predictions about the Kingdom’s arrival.

Scenario 2 is of course ridiculous, though it is the one most Christians buy into, more or less. As well as its inherent implausibility, it relies on the hypothetical document Q, for which no evidence exists let alone any extant copy (or even fragment). It, and a supposedly reliable oral tradition, are speculative, needed only to counter the improbability of this scenario.

Scenario 3, while contentious, makes most sense of why neither Jesus nor any of his contemporaries wrote down or otherwise recorded a single thing he said or did. Mark’s gospel, created shortly after 70CE, was the first anyone had heard of a Jesus on Earth. The three subsequent gospels were all based, to varying degrees, on Mark’s fable. In this scenario there was no real Jesus, and no dozy disciples, to have recorded his exploits and teaching.

What you think, Ubi?

The Traveller

Ever wish you could go back and start again?

Irving woke suddenly. His first instinct was to sit up but he found he was already propped up with pillows behind him. There were two figures at the foot of the bed. He couldn’t tell who they were; he didn’t recognise either of them. He realised, furthermore, that he’d no idea where he was. This was not his own bed, certainly not his own room. There was an oxygen cylinder beside him and an intravenous pole on his other side, a tube from which was attached to his arm, delivering some colourless liquid into it. And what an arm! Not his own. He raised both: skin and bone, fingers like arthritic spindles. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. He was 49, for God’s sake!

‘Dad?’ one of the figures said. ‘Are you okay?’

‘Dad?’ Irving repeated with a weak, quaking voice that was also not his own. ‘I’m not your dad. I don’t even know who you are.’

‘It’s me, dad. Mark.’

Mark was his son’s name all right, but Mark was only 24, not like this imposter who was himself in his forties. ‘No,’ Irving growled, tugging at the tube attached to the valve in his arm, and wincing at every painful movement.

‘Grandad, best not,’ said the second stranger, reaching towards him.

Grandad? What were these two up to? His grandson, his daughter Emma’s boy, was only just turned 3. ‘I don’t know who you are,’ he growled, ‘but I’m not your grandad.’

The pair exchanged glances. Irving ignored them, hoping they’d grow tired of their game and go away and bother someone else. Instead he took in the room around him. With a jolt he realised where he was. This was the hospice, where his own father had spent his final days a few years earlier. Suddenly, something about this made sense; he was here for his own last days, his mind was failing him. Perhaps it had already; the last 30 years wiped from his memory. In that case, the strangers might be who they claimed to be. Though it was still hard to believe that this bearded giant was the little blond boy he looked after at weekends.

‘Davey?’ he asked cautiously.

‘Yes, grandad. It’s me.’ He seemed pleased to have been recognised.

‘Where… ‘ Irving began. ‘Where’s your mother?’

Davey looked at his uncle again, unsure of how to respond. ‘He doesn’t remember,’ he said.

It was true: Irving didn’t remember, but he was sufficiently aware that something bad must have happened. He felt the room turn and his consciousness begin to drift. He gave into it and allowed himself to slip into the dark.

When he woke again, there was someone else in the room. ‘It will be tonight,’ they were saying. ‘If you like, we could increase the dose a little, make it easier for him.’

‘No,’ Irving shouted, ‘Not yet. I don’t belong here. I want to leave,’ but the sound that came from his mouth sounded nothing like the words in his head. They were more like a series of desperate groans, and before he lost consciousness for the last time, he heard his son say that it would be for the best.

* * * * *

Irving reasoned that he, like everyone else, was a time traveller. Everyone was travelling into an unknown future at the rate of one second per second. The direction of travel was always forward, or at least it appeared to be. There was no-one who travelled in the opposite direction, from present to past, not even at the same stealthy pace. Irving, however, had begun to entertain the possibility that it need not be so. If travel was possible in one direction, into a future that until it was reached had no actual existence, then movement back into a past that had demonstrably existed up to only a second earlier seemed more than a viable proposition. A visit to a known destination was much more of a sure thing than a mystery tour to somewhere that as yet had no didn’t exist. He spent many hours calculating how to reverse the direction of travel at a mere second at a time. He was not over ambitious. He did not seek to move in millennia or even decades like the time travellers of science fiction; he knew, from the everyday journeys of everyday people, like himself, that it was best to take things slowly; to work first with seconds and to build slowly and gradually to hours and then days.

The work progressed satisfactorily until matters came to a head with a greater sense of urgency the day after the department’s mid-summer party. He had not intended to drink quite so much, but after the award of a generous grant as a result of a successful research bid, everyone was in celebratory mood. The alcohol flowed more freely than was usual at these events. He eventually took a taxi home and after a pint or so of water, turned in.

It was the following morning that he hit the child. He just hadn’t seen her coming, darting out from between parked cars. Irving’s reflexes were slower than he anticipated; the result of the previous night’s alcohol consumption, and despite the fact that every aspect of the collision, every movement of the child’s body, jerking mid-air like a lifeless marionette, took place over several elongated seconds. Eventually she landed with a cracking thump on the side of the road while Irving sat motionless behind the wheel. He knew then, as time began to resume its normal flow that he would take advantage of its distortion and press backwards through it, leaving behind the accident one second at a time into the immediate past and beyond, to a time before he had hit the girl. On arrival at a time when the strands of time that had led to this point had unravelled, he would relive the last few hours so that they did not result in a dead child at the side of the road. He would not take the fateful car journey and the girl would live again. These thoughts were instantaneous; he was already moving, letting time peel away, first in slow seconds and then accelerating so that he felt himself moving rapidly. He began to lose consciousness, trusting in time itself and in his own calculations to propel him safely to a new beginning.

* * * * *

He woke suddenly. His first instinct was to sit up but he found he was already propped up by pillows behind him. There were, he could make out, two figures at the foot of the bed in which he found himself.

 

 

 

Conspiracy theories, Covid and Hanlon’s Razor

‘Three great forces rule the world: stupidity, fear and greed’ (attributed to Einstein).

Former UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, shows a colleague how to correctly apply a face covering.

The principle of Hanlon’s razor tells us we shouldnever attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.’ Likewise, we should never attribute to conspiracy that which is more adequately explained by incompetence.

I don’t subscribe as a rule to a conspiracy theories. They usually entail too many agents coordinating too many activities that need to be kept secret from too many others. I don’t have sufficient faith in people’s abilities to accomplish anything as complex as this. I’m far more convinced that stupidity and after-the-fact attempts to hush-up and explain away incompetence more than adequately explain what might seem to be conspiracies.

And so to the UK government’s recent handling on pandemic restrictions. Has it been a conspiracy to control the little people (of which I’m one) or a bumbling from one measure to another, listening to the advice of SAGE scientists, a limited number of whom are epidemiologists or virologists (these are outnumbered by behavioural scientists and modellers) and dithering over the on-off lifting of restrictions?

The latter seems more likely. And yet politicians, being part of the elite, or indeed the elite personified, continue to impose restrictions on the masses that they consider have no application to themselves. It is easy to see how some feel there is a conspiracy afoot.

Some facts and figures to consider:

  • At the time of writing, 84% of the UK’s adult population has had at least one dose of the vaccine.
  • 63% have had two doses.
  • Vaccinations are available to everyone 18 years and over (from Gov.UK, 28th June 2021).

France has 28% of its population fully vaccinated. France is in the process of lifting all restrictions (by 9th July.)  Similarly, 42 US states have now declared themselves ‘fully reopened’.

With 60% of its adult population doubly vaccinated, the UK has still to embark on lifting remaining restrictions.

You are advised not to dance, sing or hug at weddings. Venues that don’t take steps to prevent these can be fined.

Hugging is fine if you are Health Minister and you are having an affair with your aide.

  • Scientific studies suggest that masks are not effective in preventing the spread of Covid-19 (see here, here and here). 
  • Unless medically exempt, you can be fined for not wearing a mask in indoor public spaces.
  • Mask wearing and social distancing are required even if you have had two vaccines. Unless you’re a world leader attending the G7 summit.

Controlled mass events, allowed as experiments, have not led to any significant increases in Covid infections.

Theatres, nightclubs and other venues are still not allowed to open.

  • You must quarantine at your own expense if returning from an amber designated country.
  • You do not need to quarantine on entering the UK if you are a world leader attending the G7 summit. You do not need quarantine on return to your own country, even if you and your entourage have caused a 2,450% increase in Covid infections in the area where the summit is held. 
  • You do not need to quarantine or self-isolate on entering the UK if you are a Eufa official or ‘VIP’ attending the final stages of the Euros at Wembley Stadium.

Either the UK has reached the point where Covid-19 restrictions need not be adhered to, or it hasn’t. Whichever it is, the remaining rules need to be applied equitably; the same across the board. They are not when the elite do not have to comply with the same legal requirements as the little people. One set of rules for them and another for everyone else is guaranteed to produce resentment and unrest. It leads to people taking the law into their own hands.

The evidence demonstrates that, thanks to a 83.3% uptake of the vaccine, Covid-19 is under control in the UK. While there are new infections, they are not proving to be as lethal as earlier strains of the virus; they are not overwhelming the NHS. If the rules do not apply to fornicating ministers, cavorting politicians and football’s VIPs, they do not apply to any of us.

Immortality

I am immortal.

My immortality is conditional;

It has to be protected.

A fatal accident could deprive me of it,

Or an illness; a virus even.

But if I can avoid these, by taking all necessary precautions,

I will live forever.

Spend my life in my house,

Avoiding contact with other people,

Wearing a mask, vaccinating.

It might not be much of a life, but if it guarantees eternal life,

I willingly surrender responsibility for my own health.

This is what the government tells me;

If I do all of these things, I won’t die.

And I believe them.

 

I am immortal.

My immortality is conditional;

It depends on believing the right things,

And having righteousness imputed from on High.

My church tells me so;

It is what the Bible teaches.

And I believe them.

It might not be much of a life, but if it guarantees eternal life,

I willingly sacrifice my integrity on the altar of wishful thinking.

 

I am not immortal.

I will die. I will die of something,

Be it one of the innumerable viruses human beings are prey to,

An infection, cancer, heart attack, accident.

This is a fact.

 

In a little over a hundred years,

Every person alive today, the babies born last night,

Will be dead.

Every one.

Like those who have gone before.

 

Not one person living today was alive in 1900;

They are gone. Every one of them.

They are not in heaven, nor in hell.

They are not lying in the ground awaiting resurrection.

They are gone.

 

Nothing I do, nothing you do, can prevent it;

No magic formula, no amount of masking up, no perpetual hiding from life,

Will save you from death.

Come to terms with it;

Death is inevitable.

Defer it as long as you can, by all means,

But don’t think it isn’t out to get you.

 

You will not survive your death.

There is nothing on the other side because there is no other side;

No eternal life, no immortality.

Only arrested development allows you to think otherwise.

 

Live now.

Epilogue

Friends and family offered Jack their condolences. He and Martha had been together for forty-one years and her passing wrenched Jack from the life of comfort and security that had developed over their time together. More than half of him had died along with his wife, when he had always assumed he would be the first to go. He was the older by two years and statistically, he knew, the life expectancy of the male was lower. Maybe, he thought, living with him had taken its toll on Martha, carrying her off earlier than either of them expected. 57 wasn’t old these days.

He stood at the back of the crematorium in a daze, which was how he had been for the last week, shaking hands with all the well-intentioned relatives and acquaintances. They meant well, but their platitudes rang hollow, not because they weren’t sincere but because that was how Jack felt: hollow. Their words and gestures rattled around the empty space inside him without touching the sides, and then faded away into nothingness. ‘Good of you to come,’ he responded, the same to everyone; automatic pilot. ‘Yes, thank you. Good of you to come,’ until Alice, his sister-in-law, reached the front of the line. Where had she been when Martha had been in the hospice? he found himself thinking. Maybe she wasn’t his sister-in-law, he thought, giving her the benefit of the doubt – she’d been married to Martha’s brother George – but all the same, she was family. She should’ve put in an appearance.

‘God bless you,’ said Alice.

‘Thank you. Good of …’ He stopped, looking down at the little woman in black whose hand he held. She looked awkwardly over her shoulder to those in the line behind her who looked down at their shoes or out of the window.

‘God bless you?’ said Jack. ‘For Pete’s sake, Alice, it was a humanist service. God wasn’t invited. Martha was quite specific about that.’ And suddenly there was something there inside him after all, an echo of the past, another abandonment.

‘I thought…’ began Alice, ‘I only meant…’

‘Yes, I know what you meant,’ said Jack, ‘and I thank you for it, but not in the way you think.’ He finally let go of her hand and she moved off quickly, coughing nervously.

‘My condolences,’ said the next embarrassed mourner, shuffling forward and offering his hand. ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘Don’t be,’ said Jack, his inner strength growing by the second. ‘Martha and I had a good life together. Well, I know I did. But you know something? This isn’t just the aftermath of something that happened once. I am not a footnote to… some previous life.

The man – a distant uncle perhaps – looked aghast.

‘And neither are you,’ said Jack. ‘Neither is anybody.’ His voice rose uncomfortably as he took to addressing all of those who milled around or waited in line. ‘So don’t come and join me for the funeral tea at Greystones, because I won’t be there. I’ll be out discovering what comes next. And that’s what you should be doing too. So get out there… and live!’

There were tuts and gasps all round and Alice spluttered, ‘Well, really!’ but Jack didn’t hear any it. He was already on his way out, jumping into his nephew’s SAAB and giving him directions for the Outrageous night club.

Lessons from Life 12: Purpose

A few years ago I got into a ‘discussion’ with a Catholic priest who had said on his blog that there is no purpose in life without God (meaning of course his own particular brand of that particular fantasy.) I argued the opposite: that while some people found purpose wasting their lives worshipping and serving an imaginary being, others found purpose in a wide range of far more worthwhile concerns and activities.

Purpose need not be cosmic in scale nor equate with big, ambitious projects, like saving the world or other people’s souls. A purpose can be modest and parochial; it has only to be meaningful to you. I pointed out to my deluded correspondent that he, like everyone else, frequently had purposes other than a delusional pursuit of God: short term purposes like visiting the store, supporting a sports team, cultivating a garden, writing a blog…

Several scientific studies in recent years have come to the conclusion that having a purpose in life increases one’s chances of living longer. There is a clear correlation between the two. This doesn’t mean adopting a random, makeshift purpose is going to increase your chances of living longer; the purpose needs to be worked out for its own sake, and to be genuine and heartfelt. The potential to live longer is a bonus (good genes and a healthy lifestyle play their part too, of course.)

As for me, as you weren’t asking, my purpose is to enjoy life and to help others, as far as I’m able, to enjoy theirs; to enjoy my relationship with Dennis (having taken so long to be my true self!); to care for my children and grandchildren; to be with friends; and simply to be, here and now. Whether these will help me live to a ripe old age or not, I really don’t care. They give my life meaning and make it feel worthwhile, and that’s all that matters. No God necessary.

What I learnt in Sunday School

I was expelled from Sunday School when I was 8.

My parents had moved from one side of town to the other and I had likewise changed Sunday Schools. Neither my mum nor dad was a church-goer. I suspect I was packed off to Sunday School each week to give them both an hour’s break from at least one of their offspring.

I quite liked my original Sunday School. It was run by two ladies who seemed positively ancient, Victorian refugees in the Swinging Sixties (not that there was much swinging in the northern English town in which I lived.) They had us sing a lot of songs about Jesus and we stuck pictures of him in an exercise book. These two activities were acceptable in my sight, not because of their Jesus content but because I rather liked singing and sticking things in books.

The new Sunday School had none of these moderately pleasurable activities. Instead, it focused, week after week, on hammering home to little groups of 7 and 8 year olds that Jesus had died for them on a cross and had then come back to life. This, an earnest young woman or frightening older man would tell us, was for real. Now, while I watched Doctor Who on TV (the original) and read Superman comics, I was under no illusion that these were in any way real. I knew they weren’t, and I also knew that the equally far-fetched Jesus story was also made-up. And it wasn’t anywhere near as good.

Despite what the earnest young woman and the older man told us, my undeveloped 8 year old brain just couldn’t accept the weird story of a man who came back to life to save me from something they were calling ‘sin’. Sin, they explained, was all the bad things I’d done that upset God. Now, if I was honest, I did occasionally do things that upset my mum – I once peed up against the wall in the back lane and that upset her a lot – but I couldn’t really see how anything I did could upset God so much he’d need to send his son to die on a cross ‘in my place’. None of it made any sense.

I took to asking the earnest young woman questions about it, not out of a need to know, as I recall, but out of mischief; I seemed to know intuitively that she wouldn’t know the answers. Why did God get upset? How did Jesus dying make him happy again? What had it anything to do with me when it all such a long time ago? (I knew it was a very long time ago because we’d learnt all about the Romans in real school.) 

Sometimes the young woman would ignore my questions. Other times she would attempt an answer, but these made so little sense that I took to behaving very badly, disrupting the little group whenever I could with silly horse play. She retaliated, eventually, by bringing in the frightening older man to tell me off. To no avail. I still couldn’t take any of it seriously, and continued to play up.

Before long, my parents received a letter in the post, informing them it would be better if I didn’t attend Sunday School any more. They seemed disappointed – they’d be losing their hour’s peace – but not particularly surprised.

The point of my telling this story is that I wish I had listened to my 8 year old self. He seemed to know instinctively that all this Jesus talk – this Christian ideology – was nonsensical. I didn’t listen, however, and ended up, after joining a particularly evangelical YMCA in my teens, falling for it hook, line and sinker. I seem to remember that a sexy young American evangelist played a part in my conversion. (Plus, he had stickers! See above.)

Evangelicalism consumed my life from that point on, influencing crucial life choices and leading me to suppress who I really was. It would take me thirty years to break the chains and escape. 

Lessons from Life 11: People first

I have learnt over the course of my life to reject ideologies and ‘principles’ that take precedence over people. Political, epistemological and religious ideologies that are only interested in their own perpetuation and not about improving the lot of the maximum number of individuals have no intrinsic value. Consequently, and as Paul Simon once put it, I stand alone without beliefs. Largely so, anyway, though of course no one is entirely without belief; what I mean is that I don’t subscribe to any particular ideology.

While politically left of centre, I can’t honestly say I’m a socialist, never mind a communist. Those packages don’t interest me; they have caused, in their own way, too much damage for those they claim to champion. I don’t stand to the right either. As a slogan that was around in my formative years said, society is about ‘people, not profits’. And there is such a thing as society, despite Margaret Thatcher’s disastrous declaration that there isn’t.

Similarly, and in spite of its claims, Christianity does not put people first. They come a long way behind the ideology’s central preoccupations: defending indefensible doctrine, preserving the honour of imaginary beings and, impossibly, having a ‘relationship’ with them. As Richard Dawkins first pointed out in his 1991 essay, ‘Viruses of the Mind’, religion behaves like a contagion that is only interested in spreading itself. It has a willing and effective transmission system in those already infected and has no time for those in whom a new infection doesn’t take. As it has done from the beginning, those who suffer from the virus immediately take to demonising those who are able to resist it. Religion, despite its fine talk about loving neighbours, always creates division and strife: Us and Them, them being the lost, the obstinate, the apostate and, worst of all, the degenerate. Here’s how the strident but tawdry Reformation Charlotte Christian blog referred recently to LGBT people, who, damn them, just won’t leave their deviant ways and let the virus in: 

Of course, nobody – literally, nobody – can walk away from the Scriptures and come away with the understanding that God is fine with men committing shameless acts with men and women giving up the natural relations for those that are contrary to nature (Romans 1:26-27). This is nothing more than an assault on God’s design for humanity by those who hate God and seek to justify their wickedness. But God has words for them – and he will not be mocked.

An ideology that views other people like this is not one worthy of anyone’s time or attention. It is an ideology for those unable to reason for themselves, who have a pathological need to feel ‘righteously’ superior, a condition achieved, despite what its founder may have said, by disparaging others. It needs to be allowed to die like the nasty infection it is. Christianity isn’t, of course, the only virus of this sort; all those that think more of supernatural beings and exclusionary condemnatory ‘principles’ than they do of real people are equally unhealthy. Like every cult leader before and since, the founders of both Christianity and Islam are made to insist that you love them much more than you love your parents, your children or anyone else. How’s that for wickedness?