Here’s the thing: I kind of wish I was religious. I’m not. I was christened as a child but my dad is an atheist, my mum a lapsed Catholic (the nuns at her convent school put her off) and the only times I have been to church were as a Brownie, Venture Scout (mostly with a hangover for that phase – post 18!), weddings, christenings, funerals and Christmas services. I also went to a C of E school as a child and happily chirped along to “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”, “Lord of the Dance” etc. during Assembly. I enjoyed the Christmas Carol concerts and the magic of visiting church with the school at Christmas time and for Harvest Festival.
I was also in the (award winning!) school choir at junior school and we often put on extravaganzas based on biblical stories – Jonah and the Whale, Noah and the Flood, etc. Happy memories.
But as an adult? I find it hard to relate. I feel that I live by Christian tenets, good will to others (most of the time unless they are BMW drivers!), kindness, generosity and doing to others as I would have them do to me (or something). But the times I have been at church for non-celebratory reasons I have found myself getting a little bored and restless. I don’t really like being preached at however much goodwill there is behind it.
My maternal grandmother was brought up staunchly catholic and, although lapsed from being a regular churchgoer later in life it became clear to me how much those beliefs had stayed with her when I was in my early 20s and she told me one day that she was sorry that I wouldn’t get into heaven when I died (or something along those lines) – purely because I wasn’t a Catholic, not because of anything I’d done. It was quite hurtful at the time, because despite not believing in those imagined places of a life beyond, it felt like a massive criticism from her. And I don’t believe that its really possible to convert from no religion to any religion (it might be doable to go from one to the other?). If you are not brought up as a true believer then you are brought up as a cynic and a sceptic and realist and a “scientist”. I tend to pride myself on living my life without the mumbo jumbo.
However since having children I have really noticed the benefits of being a church-goer: being part of a supportive community (a Christian friend told me that the members of her church would be bringing her and her husband home cooked meals for the first two weeks after their baby was born!); the choice of having your children christened which would give them the benefit of being considered a part of the Christian community in their own right (we could still do this but I feel it would be hypocritical); and the one that’s really on my mind right now – being able to get your children into a great school when the time comes.
I have recently found out that the best junior school in our area, winning an “Outstanding” OFSTED report is the Catholic one. Unfortunately I fear that our children won’t have a hope of getting in there due to our lack of religion (of any sort!). My sister actually converted to Catholicism – because her husband was brought up Catholic and she really did have an interest, but it also meant that her girls have been able to access great schools in South London.
It makes me want to sigh. I took Sociology at A Level and I remember studying the theories of Karl Marx – that religion is “the opiate of the people”. I remember having a lightbulb moment “!” – yes! Religion was designed to keep the proles from rebelling – religion was their comfort in hard times – it was a way of imparting the message to them that, no matter how bad things got in this world, they would be rewarded in the next. As far as my dad is concerned that is a complete nonsense because there is no “next world”. Personally I don’t ever think about this – I don’t want to believe there is nothing and I do believe that there is magic in the world in the form of electrical impulses and things about how our brains work that we will never truly understand – life is miraculous when you think about it. But that doesn’t mean my kids will get into a great school…