Archives for category: Church

I have been thinking about this recently.

The reflection was initially precipitated by a report earlier this year, which suggested that ‘spiritual’ people are at a higher risk of mental health problems [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9774259/Spiritual-people-at-higher-risk-of-mental-health-problems.html]. I have not read the original paper – from researchers at UCL – but seemingly those who have ‘a spiritual understanding of life’ are more predisposed towards anxiety disorders, phobias and neuroses, eating disorders and drug problems’ than ‘those with an understanding that was neither religious nor spiritual.’

The study was based on a survey of more than 7,000 randomly selected men and women in England. What is unclear from the brief report is how spirituality was defined, and also how the researchers came to separate ‘spirituality’ from ‘conventional religion’ or ‘agnosticism’ and ‘atheism’.

I know many people who claim to be spiritual, but are also religious or atheist. The overlap between what people view as spirituality and some belief system, whether religious or non-religious or anti-religious, seems huge, and the notions are often inextricably bound together.

There is of course a significant problem with how spirituality is defined. As a teenage, when I emphatically renounced Catholicism, and shortly afterwards all religious beliefs, I announced myself (in hindsight arrogantly) as ‘not religious, but spiritual’, as if the label ‘spiritual’ conferred depth, and that I occupied a more-meaningful-areligious-but-holier-than-thou-world.

I abandoned the label some years ago, having become increasingly unsure what it truly meant, both to myself and in a wider context. Today, I remain an atheist, who attempts to live every moment as richly and as appreciatively as I can. Perhaps that equates with ‘spiritual’ for someone else.

Today, out of curiosity I did a mini survey at the office on how my colleagues view spirituality. The religious tended to equate the experience with things God-related. Others, who were no longer religious, viewed it as something outside and beyond themselves, something that connects to a way of being that is intangible, inexplicable, but present within.

I remain unsure of the label, and reluctant to attach it to my own way of being.

I am sure of very little. But the present feels important to me, how I live it, how I appreciate it, and how I can positively interact with those in my immediate life and beyond.

And kindness. I am a huge fan. Perhaps that is my ‘spirituality’, but I will stick with the original word.

CQ

I have just re-read this book, having initially enjoyed it many years ago.

I connected with it again, even more so this time round. And even more so now, the furore that surrounded the appearance of The Country Girls in 1960 both infuriates and embarrasses me…another fuel to my fire on the issue of repressed and fear driven Ireland.

I like O’Brien’s prose. It is readable and immediately accessible, but also nuanced and intelligent.

She captures well, and in a way that feels recognisable and reassuringly familiar, an Ireland and its people of a certain era:

‘Poor Mama, she was always a worrier. I suppose she lay there thinking of him, waiting for the sound of a motor-car to stop down the road, waiting for the sound of his feet coming through the wet grass, and for the noise of the gate hasp – waiting, and coughing.’

Women of Ireland indeed lived lives of worry and fear, suffering much in their years of waiting. The Country Girls is very much about escaping that Irish female destiny, which at least partly explains its condemnation by the fear-driven Catholic Ireland.

When her mother dies, Cait, the main ‘country girl’ of the title, fears that she will re-appear:

‘What is it about death that we cannot bear to have someone who is dead come back to us?’

Moving from rural Ireland, the ‘country’, to the city of Dublin was transformative for Cait (I, like Edna O’Brien, made a similar journey, but for us it was the longer, both literally and metaphorically, distance from provincial Ireland to London):

‘I knew now that this was the place I wanted to be. For evermore I would be restless for crowds and lights and noise. I had gone from the sad noises, the lonely rain pelting on the galvanized roof of the chicken-house, the moans of a cow in the night, when her calf was being born under a tree.’

I also connected with the need, that desperate one, to escape the boredom of growing up in the Ireland of a certain era, as verbalised by Cait’s friend Baba:

‘We’re eighteen and we’re bored to death… We want to live. Drink gin. Squeeze into the front of big cars and drive up outside big hotels. We want to go places.’

I no longer need to go places, at least not so much physically, but I am glad that I left Ireland behind, physically, when I could and did.

CQ

This film was highly rated at the 2012 London Film Festival. I saw it yesterday, in a relatively packed auditorium for a Saturday midday screening.
I was hugely impressed. This is great, and essential, cinema. Shocking? Yes. Distressing? Yes. But some truths need to be told, and told again, and again, until they get the attention they deserve. Tragically, atrocities within the Catholic Church just don’t go away.
Mainly focusing on sex scandals within the Catholic Church in America, much of the film deals with the sexual abuse of deaf boys by Fr. Murphy in a school for deaf children in Wisconsin. Years later, the adult victims began a campaign to have Fr. Murphy removed from the priesthood. While this did not happen, the campaign achieved much to bring the issue of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church into the open. The campaign continues to gain strength.
The reason why priests who abuse children remain not only active as priests, but continue to have open access to children, is beyond comprehension, yet it appears to be how the Catholic Church deals with such heinous crimes (at worst the ‘offenders’ are deemed ‘sinners’, never criminals). The hierarchy within the establishment mostly responds to allegations of sex abuse against its priests with silence. A sad irony indeed, as we learn in Mea Maxima Culpa of the abuse of children who were already vocally silenced and isolated by their deafness.
The intricacies and complexities of the conspiracy within the Catholic Church at the highest level to publicly ignore the suffering of the abused is astounding. As is the money – billions – ¬†the institution pays out annually via ‘fixers’ to ‘settle’ sex scandal cases.
There is an on ongoing movement, led by the human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robinson, to remove the Vatican’s right to exist as an independent state (granted by Mussolini…the Vatican’s position in the war is surely the stuff of another film…), a status that currently gives it diplomatic immunity and puts the Pope outside the jurisdiction of the law. It is truly absurd, and wrong, that such a situation exists. It is also absurd, and personally shocking, to see clips of various Heads of State paying homage to the Pope during their special audience…
Nonetheless, I do have a sense of the Vatican imploding. I hope that I am not being overly optimistic…

CQ

I have often believed, particularly at difficult times in my life, that my atheism may limit the potential for community in my world.

Thus, when I heard of the newly formed Sunday Assembly, a monthly meeting of atheists or the ‘godless’, I was intrigued.

Today I made the second of such get-togethers, in a (disused I think, and badly in need of repair, but beautiful too) church in North London. The church setting appears to affront some atheists – tweets that followed from the first meet included one that compared atheists in a church with Jewish people in a concentration camp… I do understand this sentiment, but I also think that churches can be places of beauty and of peace, which I can appreciate and benefit from, aside from the religious connotations.

There are two main people behind the concept of the Sunday Assembly, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, both stand-up comedians, and both charismatic and entertaining, and very funny. Pippa is also a musician and singer, and leads the small band that provides the music during the Assembly.

I queued to get into the church, which became full to overflowing with people of all ages, including children. The atmosphere is not serious, but also not flippant, despite the humour and laughter and upbeat music and singing.

The motto for the Assembly is:

Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More

I like this theme.

Today focused on the wonder element, and the guest speaker was a physicist, Harry Cliff, from the Science Museum, Cambridge and CERN, who seduced us into wondering about matter, anti-matter, and The Big Bang. Powerful stuff, and he was great, clearly hugely bright and clever (and only 27 years old), but also succeeded in making difficult concepts accessible. He did make me think, and wonder…

Sanderson ended with a few words on wonder, and how a capacity for retaining the ability to wonder in our lives might just enrich it. Too often worrying interferes with wondering, and it is difficult to align both in our lives.

Singing is not my thing, and it made me cringe a little, in a queasy quasi-evangelical way.

But I like the idea behind the Sunday Assembly concept.

I will go again.

As I write, I am listening to Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service on 6 Music…

CQ