Friday, 18 April 2014

Easter, and a young man's thoughts turn to atheism

I've been calling myself a Christian for about 25 years now. On and off. It's a strange thing to call oneself and I find it increasingly difficult to do without some form of qualification. Such are the complicated meanings of the word, I feel compelled to develop some form of pre-emptive argument.

"I'm a Christian, but not one of those raging homophobic evil right wing ones."

"I'm a Christian, but I'm utterly rubbish at it and don't really understand what it means."

"I'm a Christian, but yes I will have some of your alcohol, debauchery and crime."

Most of all, I'm a Christian, but please don't ask me why. The original answer - "so Sarah Fenchurch would go out with me" - quickly became redundant, especially when she got married to that other guy and changed her name to Sarah Mibblethrop or something.

The reasons I would have given you in the early, zealous years - carefully ordered biblical phrases that formed a kind of logical equation about avoiding Hell - now seem na├»ve and self serving.

And the reasons I would give in more recent years don't seem to be exclusively 'Christian'. Standing up for what is right, arguing for the weak instead of defending the strong, seeing through external appearances  - these seem to be values that simply define basic human decency.

And the reasons not to go by the name 'Christian' are manifold. Barely a day goes by without news of some hideous act of small minded selfishness committed by a "Christian". Someone who wears the name with pride, but appears to think that Jesus's main message was "Go into the world and fuck over everyone who doesn't agree with you about absolutely everything."

Occasionally I see Christians standing up for their beliefs and I think, "Man, standing up for *my* beliefs means opposing everything you say, and possibly hitting you over the head with a rake." Like recently, with the Christian campaign against World Vision.

World Vision is a charity, a big one, stopping hungry children from starving to death. A couple of weeks ago they decided to extend employment rights to homosexual couples. So that's two good things, in my mind - looking after the weak and supporting a marginalised part of society. My definition of Christianity sits pretty comfortably with that.

My definition is apparently not that common.

Several Christian leaders opposed the recognition of gay marriage, and decided to register their dissent by withdrawing their support from the charity and urging others to do so, until World Vision changed their minds. So, to clarify, that's church leaders using their influence to persuade massive groups of Christians to use starving children as hostages in a game of ideological warfare.

Now. I'm never going to say whether someone is 'a Christian' or not. As we've seen, I have enough trouble working the definitions out for myself, so trying to define someone else's spirituality is probably beyond my remit. But, if I had my way, these people - these people in positions of power, responsibility and influence, these people who would rather risk a child's hunger than a challenge to their way of thinking - if I had my way, these people would not be called Christians. They would be called fuckers, and that would be that. It would be tattooed on their heads and written on the labels of their coats. There would be a box on every form they filled in that said 'fucker' and they would have to tick it. If someone in the street shouted, "Hey - fucker", they would be duty bound to turn round and say, "How can I help?" And on the signs outside their churches, it would say, in massive letters, "Church of Fuckers". And if you supported their policies, that's the church you would have to go to.

I am not in charge. They will stay 'Christian' and calling them fuckers will earn me no points whatsoever. Leaving me wondering, what do I do? Do I do what a lot of others are trying to do and reclaim the name of my faith? Make noise in the name of Christianity that is, in my terms, 'good'? There's something to be said for that. There are some really smart, compassionate thinkers out there who are doing their best to remind the world that Christianity should be about tolerance, love, respect and support for those who find themselves persecuted.

Sometimes, though, I just want another word. Let the idiots have the word 'Christian'. To a lot of people, it pretty much means 'fucker' anyway. Let them practise their panicky, inflexible, prejudicial nonsense in their massive buildings with their massive incomes. Let them continue to rejoice in the incredible coincidence that the most powerful being in creation happens to share the values of middle class, right wing, conservative, consumerist Western society. Let them have it.

It's not like Jesus called himself a Christian. In fact, it was only after he'd gone, and things started to become an organisation, that labels started to matter. Wherever I am in my confusion, I find nothing problematic about the way Christ lived. I feel challenged by it, and inadequate in my response, but that's OK. That's a tension I'm happy to live in. He seemed to be all about not settling for the obvious answers, not holding onto things too tight, not resting on a set of ideas and saying, "This is it!" He seemed to be about a living, changing response to the needs of others and the truth of individual situations.

I'm not sure what to call myself. Except, 'idiot', mostly. I'll probably stick with Christian for now. After all, there are plenty of good people who are fine with the term. People I respect, people I am proud to know. But I must hold it lightly. Because I am also, always, on the edge of being a fucker too.

Happy Easter

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Nobody knows the trouble I've seen

My life is unbearably easy. You know that thing you were just doing, before you got distracted and started reading this? Whatever it was, it was harder than my day. Even if you were laying down, stroking your elbows, sipping Lilt through a straw, my day is more relaxed.

You see that paragraph above? I stopped after I typed the word 'my', to put on some music. Because I realised that my day was not quite as pleasurable and decadent as it could be. And then, after the word 'easy', I stopped to have a massive bite out of a sausage sandwich. Thankfully, the person at the shop has correctly put red sauce on it. The other week, someone erroneously put brown sauce on my sandwich. Brown! Ruined my day. And, by consequence, the day of everyone I met.

In the absence of actual, real difficulty in my life, my brain is forced to invent pretend problems. Bored of having no actual issues to unravel, my brain works very hard to come up with reasons why my life is not, as it appears, a constant stream of uninterrupted joy but is, rather, a terrible struggle against incredible opposition.

I'm going to share one of these with you today, that you might empathise with my plight, feel my pain and, maybe, engage in some kind of fundraising effort on my behalf.

Look at this.

You see? you see how intolerable my life is?

Seasons one to four of fun serial-killer show Dexter, all lined up nicely on my shelf. Fitted, as they should be, between 'Deep Space Nine' and 'Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds'. Alphabetical by series, chronological within series, obviously. Nice and neat. A universe of order and calm.

But am I happy? You'd think so, wouldn't you? You'd think I'd be content, sitting in my leather armchair with a glass of port, thinking, "Hurrah! Should I decide to watch the episode of Dexter where Jimmy Smits goes nuts during a game of golf, I know exactly where it is, on my shelf of wonderful things!"

But I'm not. Can you tell why?

That's right. Look at those bloody DVD spines. Look at them! Not one of them is the same as the other. Not one!!! How can I sleep, how can I eat, how can I envisage happiness when these maverick, mismatched, irritating bastards sit on my shelf, mocking me with their crazy, haphazard design?

It looks like they were planning great things with the first one. There's a red band, consistent with the imagery of the show, that is clearly meant to develop over future box sets to create a pleasing, if gruesome, ribbon of blood. But by the time series two comes out, some gibbon has decided, screw that. Let's keep the ribbon but change its size, shape, colour and position. And while we're here, let's change the position of everything else! Let's make sure that it in no way matches the last box set. Screw you, Rob. Screw your attempts to be happy and calm forever.

Series 3 tries a little bit to match 2, but still gets it wrong. And changes the logo. By series four they even change the font saying 'season four', except it's now 'The Fourth Season'. Well, that's not the same at all. Why? What's wrong with you people? Why do you hate me so much?

How difficult can it be to create a uniform, consistent design for the merchandising of a TV show? Here's my Babylon 5 DVDs.

Now, obviously I'm already slightly unhappy that the boxes don't all fit on one bit of shelf. Don't think I haven't tried. While some people spend their days working hard to save lives, put out fires and carry water to their family from a hole in the ground, I stand by an Ikea shelving unit, fretting about the spacing of DVD box sets. Should I just start 'Babylon 5' on a new section? What will I do with the space after 'Angel'? And what if the knock-on re-spacing culminates in there being no space for 'The West Wing' on the bottom shelf? Fuck this! Why was I even born?

And then there's the spines themselves. Full marks for at least using the same logo each time. But why are they all different sizes? And why can't you make up your mind where to stick the BBFC rating? Idiot! Who even gave you a job? Was the only other candidate at the interview a bowl of soup?

Anyway. As you can see, my life is quite the conundrum. There is some small solace, though. Deep down on the shelves, hidden between 'Party Animals' and 'The Prisoner' are some beautifully designed, perfectly matching spines. Their uniformity gives me hope that, despite the apparent meaninglessness of existence, there is - somewhere - someone who gives a toss. Thanks, whoever designed these. They make me happy. For now, at least, I will not kill again.

Hang on. Those BBFC ratings aren't quite the right size...

...the voices...

...the voices are back...