The Word Rabbit

Information

This article was written on 28 Dec 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The Rabbit’s New Year message

There is such a thing as a sustaining fib. When you wake up, get dressed and leave the house, you do so in the conviction that everything will be fine. That, of course, may be the first fib that you entertain that day, because you have no proof that everything will be fine. You simply hope it will. For people who work hard for years in the hope that they will have a happy and comfortable retirement, they are sustained by the hope that they will live to see it, while there is a somewhat less comfortable possibility that they will die of cancer or a heart attack. Telling themselves that they will definitely live to spend it is, therefore, a fib.

It feels the same with religion for people who happen not to believe. My own faith is a weak and paltry thing, apt to shrink back when there’s a crisis and then get forgotten when life is going well and just about all the people I know and love are atheists and agnostics, so I understand their reasons so well that they sometimes seem convincing, but I wonder if there’s something at the heart of faith that isn’t, for the people who don’t believe, a similarly sustaining fib.

Faith presents you with a system of values in which you need to look out for your fellow human being, no matter what his station, disregard wealth and affluence and strive to do the right thing, no matter how hard it is and how ostensibly pleasant it would be to do the opposite. There is a reward here, but for most people of faith it’s a reward so deferred as to be, for the time being at least, fairly abstract. When the clubber that you’re trying to help is sick over your shoes in the early hours of the morning, eternal life is irrelevant. You have to grit your teeth, ignore the acrid smell of chunder, and know that what you’re doing is pretty much the right thing.

When you abandon the idea that you should always try and do right, stupendously bad things start to happen fairly quickly. Hitler’s plan was to elbow aside the sheep-like German Christians and to replace the whole edifice of Christianity with a Reich church. Stalin hated Christianity so much that he dynamited the cathedral of Christ the Saviour and embarked on a sustained anti-religious campaign that set the tone for much of what followed. It’s fairly easy, in both cases, to herd off your enemies to a gulag or KZ if you have abandoned the idea that even the people with whom you disagree are still your neighbour and still owed the service of your love.

This is not to say that I think faith is the only morality in town. I know people who are atheists or agnostic and whose lives are lived more nobly, a million times over, than many people who tell us that they’re Christians, loudly and frequently. Here I’m thinking particularly of a couple I know, one of whom had a career as a mental health nurse, lobbying hard for the needs of her patients and the other who works for the police, prosecuting the kind of criminal whose crimes don’t bear a second’s introspection. Both are better people than me, by far, and both are utterly indifferent to any of the trappings of faith. But it seems that when the great mass of people walk away from something that, at least nominally, urges them to think about being better, at least some of the time,  then we’re corporately headed for a dark place.

In the most unwittingly perfect juxtaposition of Christian morality with reactionary materialism, that great spiritual thinker and theologian, Nigel Farage, asked his followers to ignore the Archbishop of Canterbury’s exhortations towards compassion and wished his followers a Merry Christmas, the festival which came about because of the birth of a person who placed compassion at the heart of his ministry. I have my issues with the CofE and with the Archbish, most notably around the fact that ecclesiastical bling seems to represent a misuse of the faithful’s money and that two consenting adults having sex seems to be the focus of more prurient interest than the content of either’s character, but his message seems pretty much spot on and it’s one to which I lend more credence than the failed politician who is intermittently leader of UKIP.

As with the UK, as with America, where Donald Trump, a man not known for his pronouncements on faith-related matters, has been rubbing himself to a chubby by thinking about nuclear weapons, telling his neighbours in the UN to fuck off and advising that people with Ebola be kept as far from his sacred country as humanly possible. They may both, Farage and Trump, nod in the direction of Christianity because it solidifies their power base with people for whom ‘Christian’ means ‘white,’ but it’s ultimately as unconvincing as a toddler holding a turd and saying that he’s found it.

This queasy, final category, of people who profess Christianity but aren’t Christian is perhaps what makes the flight from religious values inevitable. If George W. Bush could hold prayer breakfasts and then blow the living crap out of Iraq and Afghanistan, Richard Nixon, raised as a Quaker, could build a career on bashing communists and then sabotage peace talks in Vietnam to become President and our own, saintly Tony Blair could act as Dubya’s cheerleader, then people are utterly justified in asking how supposed Christian values mean anything other than doing what you were going to do anyway, spraying it gold, sticking a crucifix in the top and then praying to it. You can’t say they behaved, in any way, like Christians except of the worst sort, who do a reading in church and then spend the rest of the week in pious finger-wagging every time someone cracks a smile.

If this is to be reversed, Christianity as a corporate body needs to show that it is no longer the religion of the powerful and the religion of people given to fibbing. In England, it’s squarely aligned with the monarchy and the institutions of state power, which is manifestly where it doesn’t belong. This is a religion of the poor and the dispossessed, the broken and downtrodden, who can find no other hope but an impoverished carpenter from Galilee who brought hope and a kind of savage beauty. He was persecuted for pretty much his entire life by both the religious and secular authorities who first tried to find and kill him and then, latterly, contrived at his downfall and rejoiced in it and yet, lo and behold, these are the authorities who have, in turn, co-opted Christianity and are now persecuting precisely the people who it came for. You can’t be the religion of the state church, with its vast power and inherited privilege, and be the religion for the poor sods on the bottom. You have to choose.

It’s the same in America, where professing a Christian faith is the expected default setting for every President who has generally spent time separating foreign people from their lives. The religion and the public profession of it are at odds, symbolised by the fact that Mike Pence is now the Vice President, a man who has advocated the kind of idiotic gay cure that would have made Jesus despair of humanity and give up the whole thing as irrevocably lost. And it’s the same thing in any number of other countries around the world, not just Christian ones, where the profession of a faith is used to subjugate and oppress. Should you want an example of what happens when the church suddenly takes a moral stand, look at Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador who was appointed as a safe pair of hands and yet chose to denounce poverty and social injustice but, worse yet, assassinations and torture. The ruling elite, devout Catholics all, one assumes, had him killed. And that is what waits for people who dare speak out – the same martyr’s crown as was extended to Maximilian Kolbe, murdered by the Nazis in a concentration camp for ministering to the sick and a legion of others, seen and unseen.

The price of not doing it, though, the price of not resisting power, the price of telling ourselves that prayer is sufficient, is that we’re exposed as weak-willed hypocrites in the eyes of the world and of telling ourselves perhaps the greatest fib of all, a fib so great it blossoms into a huge lie: that you can be a Christian and behave in an unChristian way. You cannot, ever, hope to reconcile the two and hope to be correct. Christianity needs to break away from power and power needs to stop feigning Christianity, because the two are irreconcilable. If we want people to believe what, for them, is a small and slender fib, however marginally, we at least need to act like WE think it’s true and that we’ve thought it through in all its terrible implications. Caring always, is much more difficult than anyone, including me, gives it credit for, and the extension of compassion to people you’re very close to hating is almost impossible, but this is where we are. For Christianity, it’s the hard, sad and lonely way, or it’s oblivion. The stakes have never been higher.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.