The Things I Love: A Conversation with God

This story doesn’t exactly illustrate the principle of not apologising for the things about which we feel passionate, but it’s close enough (just don’t tell God).

‘Well,’ said God, ‘what is it you can’t live without, because I’m thinking maybe I could take it away from you.’

‘God Almighty, why would you do that?’ I said, not having had many conversations with Jehovah and being a little uncertain about how to address him.

‘Well, you know. It’s important to me, what with my fragile ego and all, that nothing takes my place in your affections. Those things that you say you couldn’t live without could very well come between us.’

‘I see,’ I said.

‘And besides,’ God said, ‘I sometimes like to let a person be deprived of everything they hold dear, just to make sure they still believe in me.’

Now it happens I’d once read the story of Job in the Bible so I knew to tread carefully with this particular deity. So I told him first of all that I couldn’t live without Facebook and Twitter. Lo and behold, they instantly disappeared from my life! I was lucky, I guess, that Jehovah wasn’t as omniscient as he liked to claim. He didn’t suspect that it’s really reading I’d find it hard to be without: books, comics, magazines; anything with words, even the ones passed off as God’s own, even though they’re not.

‘Next!’ demanded the Almighty. So I told him of my love for Adele and Rihanna and all those other modern girl singers. And just like that, he removed them from my life too. This didn’t involve too much effort on his part seeing as I didn’t have any of their recordings to begin with. This left me with all the other music in my life – all that potent, cheap music from the sixties, seventies and eighties, which truly I would find it hard to live without.

This was getting trickier. I wanted to keep my family, especially my children and grand-children. Poor old Job was deprived of his – but what to tell God instead? ‘What I really love,’ I said, thinking on my feet, ‘is people who ring me up claiming to be from my bank when they’re not, or try to sell me solar panelling I don’t want or grants for boilers I don’t qualify for. ‘With a word – which sounded very much like ‘poof!’ – everyone in call centres everywhere vanished not only from my life but from the entire world.

‘Right,’ said the Lord, a little too smugly for my liking, ‘we’ve eliminated Facebook and Twitter, girl singers and people on the phone. What else can’t you live without that I should deprive you of?’

‘I’m inordinately fond of wires,’ I fibbed, ‘especially ones that tangle themselves up of their own accord.’ Which of course is all of them.

‘Done!’ said God. ‘They’re gone.’ And then, being careful to avoid mentioning friends I wouldn’t want to live without, I said, ‘I love getting pizza menus through the door, even though I’ve never, ever considered ordering a pizza delivery in my entire life. It’s so thoughtful of whoever it is who thinks I need them in their dozens.’ ‘Well,’ said God, ‘I’d say there are far too many things in your life you love more than me, and I’m more than happy to remove them. No more pizza menus for you.’ And he chuckled to himself.

‘You know, God,’ I said, not wanting to tip him off to the final thing I couldn’t live without, ‘I’d say that religion is the most important thing in my life. Definitely couldn’t live without that.’

Really though, I thought to myself, what no-one can live without – quite literally – as those poor souls with AIDS have discovered, is the human immune system. It’s the only thing keeping the outside out and the inside safe. Even Job, who was inflicted with all manner of diseases, relied on his immune system to survive Jehovah’s unwanted attentions.

God didn’t need to be told twice. He zapped all religion from the world and with it, he too vanished up his own fundamentalism.

And everyone live happily ever after, especially me.

 

 

 

 

Lessons From Life 6: Don’t Apologise For Things You Love

You’ll notice here this series has changed its title half way through, from 12 ‘Rules’ to ‘Lessons From Life’. Seems more appropriate.

Many years ago, when I was still at school, we were all required to give a talk about a hobby or something that we enjoyed doing. Despite being a hormonal teenager, I side-stepped some rather more compelling interests and opted instead to share my passion for reggae music.  

Reggae had reached the UK from Jamaica. Immigrants from the West Indies in the early 60s brought their music with them: ska originally, evolving into reggae over the course of the decade. When I first heard it in the late ‘60s, it had the familiar rhythm with an emphasis on the off beat that Bob Marley would later introduce to the wider world. I didn’t know that’s what it was doing then, of course, nor was it in any way familiar to me, a white middle-class boy in the north of England. I knew instantly  on hearing the opening bars of whichever track I encountered first (I wish I could remember more clearly which it was; either Jimmy Cliff’s Wonderful World, Beautiful People or Harry J’s Liquidator) that I loved it. I still do, whichever it was. 

So to my school talk. I gave some background to the genre and played snippets of different songs on my trusty cassette player, but I did it so apologetically, as if half embarrassed by my love for the music. Reggae wasn’t respectable back then, being seen by cooler kids (and they were all cooler than me) as a medium for throwaway novelty songs. I felt too, although I certainly wouldn’t have put it this way back then, that I was misappropriating another culture’s heritage. I felt a fraud, not being Jamaican myself. All of which is why, after a few minutes, the teacher interrupted my presentation. ‘Never,’ he said, ‘apologise for something you love.’  

While I didn’t then go on to complete my talk with unabashed enthusiasm, I gave a lot of thought to this trendy chap’s wise words (I can’t, alas, remember his name; he wasn’t one of our regular teachers) and eventually incorporated it into my emerging, rather fuzzy philosophy of life. I determine I will never again apologise for anything that means something to me, regardless of what others might think.  

Flash forward 50 years. I write a short piece about my abiding love for reggae music for my writers’ group. Another member happens to be involved in arranging a Black History Month celebration event and is having trouble finding contributors (there aren’t a lot of black people in this part of northern England.) Consequently, she asks me to talk about reggae and play a little of the music, via Bluetooth, at the event. While on the night I feel and admit to being an utter fraud – particularly when quite a few ethnic folk turn up – this time I make no apologies. 

Story for Rule 5: Don’t Take What Isn’t Yours

I try to ensure that the pictures I use on this blog are out of copyright or are otherwise freely available. I try to credit them when that’s possible, though it very often isn’t. I tell you this as it has some relevance to the ‘rule’ Don’t Take What Isn’t Yours. The story that follows is very loosely based on real events.

Barney worked long and hard at the lab. He carried out his research with diligence and wrote up his reports conscientiously. He was committed to the scientific method and evidence. There were no shortcuts as far as Barney was concerned. But he was growing increasingly dissatisfied. Not with the work, nor his colleagues. Nor even the long hours. No, his dissatisfaction stemmed from what happened to his work once it passed out of his hands. He knew it wasn’t uncommon, but nonetheless he was annoyed – no, he was angry – about what went on. His reports passed up the chain for his boss, Professor Jo Ashbridge, to consider and subsequently pass on to the university’s board.

Recently, however, Barney had cause to suspect this was not happening as intended. He’d come across a number of papers in the company’s in-house journal ostensibly written by his boss that read very much like his own work; they had the same vocabulary and phrasing, even the same paragraph breaks and structure. Sure, there were minor differences; a word or two altered here and there, sentences rearranged, though not always for the better, and sometimes a modified abstract. But it was his work nonetheless. What wasn’t there was his name. Instead the papers were credited to Professor Ashbridge and occasionally to a co-author, whom Barney doubted actually existed; he was aware that academics often included the name of a fictitious partner to increase their credibility. Ashbridge hadn’t even had the courtesy to cite Barney as co-author. He could hardly confront his boss. The reports did, after all, have superficial differences and the professor could easily claim that any similarities were entirely coincidental – before contriving to find ways of demoting or firing him.

Barney hit on a plan of sabotaging his own reports. Not so much that anyone would notice. At least not at first. He’d change small points here and there so that, for example, the section numbering wasn’t always sequential. Sure enough, once the report was published in the journal, there was the same error; no-one had picked it up. Then he got bolder. He included blatant untruths, though not to the extent they altered the over-all findings: a made-up name or a reference to a non-existent scientist. Finally, he added, deep within the report’s discussion of results, and without any surrounding context, the line: it is immoral to lift another person’s work and pass it off as your own. He was more than pleased when this survived, in tact, in the published paper. It was then a short step to query, innocently and under a pseudonym, about its inclusion, and that of all previous errors, in the professor’s papers.

And the result? After a lengthy enquiry and the professor’s admission of guilt, his publications were withdrawn and the real author tracked down. By then, however, Barney had moved on to better things: a post in an institution with less compromised ethical standards.

Professor Ashbridge quietly stepped down to spend more time with her family and garden.

Rule 5: Don’t Take What Isn’t Yours

Back when I was headteacher (principal) of a small school, children would frequently fall out over their belongings. They would ‘borrow’ or swipe one another’s pens, pencils, erasers, stickers… you name it. Trauma would usually ensue, and much time wasted (theirs and mine) in locating and returning disputed items. It became apparent we needed to take steps to save all this time and trauma, and the cause of these, namely interfering with others’ property. Together, the children and I arrived at one of the most effective rules ever devised: don’t take what isn’t yours.

The rule worked very successfully in school and equally well in life.

While obviously ‘don’t take what isn’t yours’ includes do not steal, it involves so much more: do not do anything that would rob others of their peace of mind or sense of well-being: do not take advantage of someone else, do not (mis)use them for your own pleasure or advancement: do not deprive others of life, liberty or happiness.

Expressed more positively, take only those things that you have earned, won, negotiated, paid for or which have been freely given to you.

Why do this? After all, as Christians are fond of saying, with no God to keep us on the straight and narrow, why should atheists feel any compunction to treat others fairly? From whence comes our moral compass? Certainly it doesn’t come from a non—existent deity. The golden rule, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’, while usually credited to Jesus is a much older principle, predating him by as much as 2000 years.

I would venture to say any such principle comes from within ourselves; it’s part of our nature as social animals. I have no issue with the view it is the result of social conditioning. That it originates or is reinforced by the socialising process we undergo as children does not invalidate the compunction to treat others fairly.

There are those, of course, who have no such compunction, and even those of us who do aren’t always successful in exercising it. The socialising process isn’t wholly effective, 100% of the time. But it’s good enough. It points us in the right direction; it’s an ideal, an aspiration. It’s a good way to be, which is enough in itself. It doesn’t guarantee that the consideration will automatically be reciprocated (though in my experience it makes it more likely) but nonetheless it comes with its own rewards: a sense of integrity, peace of mind, the trust and respect of others. Plus it keeps you out of trouble.

 

 

Rule 4 Guest Posts!

I’m honoured to have five guest posts following my Rule 4 post, Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate (aka, don’t believe everything you read.)

First up is –

QAsol:

As we know, the ‘pandemic’, its resultant lockdowns, compulsory mask wearing and soon to be mandatory vaccination program is a conspiracy by governments to subjugate their peoples in line with the world domination plan of the originators of the so-called virus, the Chinese, who deliberately created it in a lab and tested it first on an insignificant percentage of their own population before unleashing it on the world and America in particular, to destabilise the West and take control of the world by deconstructing democracy and depriving us of our hard-won freedoms, in the meantime censuring the voices of reason that see the conspiracy for what it is and seek to expose it, especially this site, which from the start has

Franklin D. Ruser-Graham:

The pandemic crisis is a timely reminder that we all need to return to the Lord to seek his forgiveness for the great moral failings of this country. In particular, I speak of the genocide of the unborn, the LGBTQ agenda – which God’s Word tells us clearly is a perversion and abomination that brings down his justified wrath upon us – and the erosion of the religious liberties upon which this great country was founded, though clearly this doesn’t include Muslims or any other of those made-up religions. Covid-19 is a wake up call, reminding us we should all go down, on our knees, in front of the most perfect man who ever lived, God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to beg his forgiveness for our sinful ways. Also, you shouldn’t need reminding, Jesus wants you to give and give again to causes close to God’s heart, specifically, this great ministry of mine.

Fux News:

So where is the evidence that masks work? There isn’t any. And lockdowns? Government overreach. All designed to perpetuate the hoax that is Covid-19 which has been perpetrated on us by a cabal led by Bill Gates . Our sources – the guy in the backroom who got it from his mother’s cousin’s second wife who knows someone who works in a hospital – tell us his vaccine contains a microchip designed to reset our DNA so that we all subscribe to the liberal leftie agenda and its absurd demand for evidence for all this garbage we make up as we go along…

The Worldwide Church of Jesus Christ’s Superspreaders:

We thank you Lord that we are able to gather here together in this season to worship you in truth and spirit. It is our calling, we know, a command you make clear in your Holy Word, specifically in II Covidians 19:21 (Variant reading). Satan, the Father of Lies, who has unleashed this plague on the Earth with the express purpose of denying God-fearing men and women their right to worship in vast numbers, shall not have his way. We vanquish him and his virus through the power of the Holy Spirit, who gives us authority over every sickness and protects us through faith from the works of the devil. In your name Lord. Amen, Amen.

Politicians and their mouthpiece media:

It is possible the new Covid variant discovered yesterday, might be a potential threat. It may be that lockdown might need to be extended because of this. We imagine everything is going to get so much worse before it gets better. We don’t know this for sure but we are happy to contribute to all the speculation to help maintain the sense of hysteria we’ve done so much to create. We conjecture that… blah, blah, more speculation, maybes, possibilities and mights…

Meanwhile in the real world:

The various vaccines are demonstrably effective, even against the Brazil P1 variant and can be adapted for others. They reduce infection rates. They reduce hospitalisations. They reduce transmission. That’s it.