The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 08 Sep 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Tories, faith and hopelessness

It happens. In fact, it comes with the turf. You’re grinding along, going to your place of worship, whatever that might look like, you talk to God, you think about faith-related stuff during the day and then, suddenly, you’re aware that you feel as though you’re floating away from it, like old Eeyore floating downstream on his back. There’s nothing, it seems, that you can do about it for the moment because you’re having what happens to everyone. You’re having a crisis of faith.

When I was a member of the URC church, I read an unbelievably honest letter from an older and retired vicar who said that as he edged towards death, he was starting to wonder, in his darker moments, whether life after death was not just a load of old bum that had been hammered together to make people feel comfortable and content. Clearly, I’m paraphrasing, but this was very much the tenor of what he was saying. Much the same thing have occurred to me.

My need to believe in life after death is motivated by the fact that some of the people I loved most of all are, in fact, dead. And I miss them. I miss going to see my Nana for a cup of tea, I miss my great grandma’s infectious wit and I miss Aunt Nellie (she was 100 and not my aunt) and her warmth and humanity. The idea of wandering up to a park bench and sitting next to them in the sun and letting it warm our faces is so seductive that it’s beautiful.

And there’s the anger. I’m nominally a Quaker, as I go to Meeting for Worship and I absolutely believe in Quaker principles. There is nothing I would alter or amend and, when I’m in their company, I feel like I’m the best person that I can be, with all my flaws temporarily silenced and my virtues magnified. It’s a good feeling and sometimes it breaks my heart because I’m aware that it isn’t present at other times. But then the anger comes in and it destroys and destroys until there’s nothing left.

A few days ago in a service station, I was heading for the exit when four people in business rig cut across my path and didn’t apologise. This, the not saying please, thank you or excuse me is a pet peeve and would annoy me anyway. I said something, the woman in the group bit back and then the red mist descended. As we walked to the car, a kind of rolling argument ensued whose premise was that she was amazed anyone had spoken to her like that and, apparently, sworn at her. Something about the posh voice, the posh clothes and the sense of seeming entitlement kicked the working class clitoris in my brain and I was raging. If my partner hadn’t bollocked me, I’d probably have screamed in her face. Quaker values were miles from that car park.

But when I get sucked into arguments like this, when faith is ebbing, it feels like someone is trying to take something away from me. I don’t have many possessions as it is and depression has sliced away my ability to act unilaterally and any financial independence I may have had. My sense is that I’m standing on a small island, roughly the same size as my feet, and if I don’t defend my territory, I’ll end up in the sea. Rationally, I know this is nonsense, but I’m lying on my bed in the middle of the day. I’m not out there in the world and I’m not faced with someone who, it feels like, wants to slice away my land. When those people or, significantly, people I think might be those people are in my presence, I’m on the defensive and ready to find slights, real or imagined.

My reason for writing this is not that I have the answer. I have no answer to my crisis of faith, to my need to feel the divine, just as I have no answer to the anger. I suppose if I want to do anything, it’s to tell people that having a faith and, right now, mine feels like a very thin and paltry thing that barely deserves the name, is not an end point and to say that, in anger, I’m battling a demon that I can never hope to control or confront. It feels as though, right now, the best I can do is to lean back against the lead and try to keep the dog under control until it wilts.

Milling around this, around the weak faith and the anger, are a kind of political nihilism, a recognition, if that’s not to strong a word, that struggle seems not to work. We live in a Tory country where people say Tory things. Last night, I had a brief set-to on Twitter with the red-faced horsey set, all red trousers, enthusiasm for fox hunting and strange hatreds and was aware that they may well be the voice of the country in a way that I’m not. I went to sleep looking at a distant tree and wondering if it hated me and liked them, which is the kind of half-conscious depressive thought that is probably in my brain all the time but particularly prominent right now. When you’re faced with this, it seems, there’s no point fighting. It’s like punching a rubber jelly that wobbles back into the position it was always in.

There’s no trite payoff to this blog, no moment of epiphany. I’m an angry wreck of a man, struggling with faith and hopelessness. That’s it. Oh, and if you want to entertain yourself, read ‘Dover Beach’ by Matthew Arnold.

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