Friday, 17 September 2010

Furious Friday

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It is quite hard not to grow cross when you have spent all week being told by men in frocks how immoral you are. Of course one can see that the fellows have a point. I am so damn immoral that I spent all yesterday afternoon making stew for my old mother. I ruthlessly delivered it to her today, for her lunch. No wonder the religious gentlemen think Britons have no health in them. I am selfishly having my sister and my niece's dogs to stay, and am cruelly giving them extra love, in case they should be missing their humans. On Sunday night, in an act of pure fecklessness, I shall go and collect the niece from the airport. In the moral relativism in which I am told I am mired, I send money each month to Africa, and the Red Cross, and Great Ormond Street hospital, and the Burma Campaign.

I have all the flaws that flesh is heir to. There are days when I am grumpy. I have no capacity to keep my office organised. I have moments of shocking laziness. I quite often refuse to do things (the compound will tell you that I am a famous chucker). But I make an attempt to be a reasonably decent human being, not because I think this will get me to heaven, but because I think that it's what humans should do. In a way, it is an act of selfishness, because I want to be able to look at myself in the glass each morning. If I had one creed it would be the line from EM Forster: kindness, kindness and yet more kindness. I like the slightly surprising cry from cross old Philip Larkin, who said all that is left of us is love. I am inordinately fond of the Hippocratic oath, which instructs: first, do no harm. But the Pope tells me that because I do not believe in a deity which turns wine to blood and a wafer to human flesh, I have no morality.

I do not wish to upset my Catholic friends. There are people I love and admire who have gods of all stripes, as well as none of the above. I think everyone must believe what they wish. But to say that one belief system has cornered the market on morality is just empirically incorrect. I am as guilty as the next woman of a sweeping generalisation, but in the end each person must be judged on their actions, not their creed. The good or bad comes down to individuals, not prescribed (or proscribed) groups. Belief or non-belief is not the marker for morals.

Richard Dawkins once said a very interesting thing. He said that all believers are also atheists, because there are Gods that they think do not exist. So, Christians do not believe in Allah; Hindus do not believe in Yawheh; Jews do not believe that Jesus was divine. Pretty much no one now believes in Thor and Odin, although when I was a child I remember thinking them very splendid sort of gods, with all that hammer action. There are ancient religions which are now dead as twenty-seven dodos. Zeus no longer commands worship, although there was a time when Pausanias could write: 'That Zeus is king in heaven is a saying common to all men'. No one has much time for Ra the Sun God. There are no more followers of Nin-Kasi, the Mesopotamian goddess of beer, even though she sounds a most delightful deity, or the lesser Siduri, the divine tavern keeper. As HL Mencken once wrote, who now worships Huitzilopochtli? Actually, I can understand why no one does. Quite apart from the fact that his name is impossible to pronounce, he was a savage god, requiring daily sacrifice. The chosen victim was held down while a priest used an obsidian knife to cut out his beating heart. Huitzilopochtli's sister goddess Teteoinnan, the earth mother, required even more gory worship. At each harvest, a young girl was chosen to be flayed; her skin was then carried to the temple and worn by the officiating priest.

The point is that there is a reason it is called faith rather than fact. Many different people believe in many different gods, now and throughout human history. There is no way of telling who is right. So it seems frankly peculiar that any one faith would make a claim to all human virtue. I absolutely see that the Pope would want to stand up for his church. I just feel a little disconcerted when he tells me that because I do not share his God, I have a 'truncated view of man and of society'. I'm truncating off now, to commit more acts of gross indecency. I have to make my mother some tomato sauce for her freezer, because that's what immoralists do, on a Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, here is the pack, in full fig:




Ready for their close-up:


Sister's poodle:


Niece's dog:


My old ladies:



And my dear old sedum, just coming into flower, pretty enough to soothe the most jaded soul:



I look at that and for some reason, I think of Hamlet. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. That will do as my quote of the day.


  1. Loved your post... your words kept me reading! Its interesting to read someone else's take on this topic... Born and raised Catholic (took no offence to your post) ~ Spiritual and full of Faith by choice.

    I know I am living proof that this is but a small visit in the universe of life ...

  2. HHL - how very kind you are. As always after a post touching on religion, I was having the usual amount of angst. Your lovely comment has reassured me greatly.

  3. Everything you say resonates. I think many of us with faith (or not) give and so receive more from the local level humanist stuff. Trying to make a difference, putting others before ourselves, doing jobs for mums and grandmas, hearing our child read when we're on the floor with exhaustion, volunteering for tedious community tasks, listening with empathy to an elderly neighbour etc. Priests are so far removed from Joe Bloggs' basic daily routine of unstinting kindness they clearly need to get out more. Perhaps Channel 4 should commission Undercover Papa - it gives the millionaires their reality check.

    Anyway more importantly the dogs look to be having a ball. Can't believe it's so long since I dipped into our blog that your beautiful dogs are all wise whiskered magnigficence. Goes too quick...

  4. It's a fantastic quote.
    I agree with Sarah Lamballe: everything you say resonates.
    I also love the Dawkins idea that believers are also atheists. Isn't there a kind of monotheism we can all subscribe to, free from hypocrisy? I think you may have tapped into it already, somewhere among your trees and flowers and lovely dogs.

  5. Loved the post and the rant!

    Love the dogs but my favourites are still your two - they are not old ladies. They are gorgeous ladies.

    Never have seen that flower before! Thanks as usual for something soothing at the end.

  6. You obscenely wicked philanthrope! By the Gods, no good can come of all this goodness.

  7. Sarah - what a lovely comment. Adore the idea of the wise whiskers.

    Miss W - Yes, YES, let us all believe in the trees and the flowers and the dogs. I do sometimes think that if I were to pray to anything it would be my Scottish mountains. I go and look at them sometimes and find myself lost in awe and wonder.

    Mystica - how sweet you are. Of course I secretly believe my girls to be the most beautiful of all, but cannot say that out loud.

    Glory - that made me laugh so much. Thank you.

  8. Tania - as one who was born C of E for rites of passage but no more, who spent a few years as a card-carrying Catholic during my first marriage, and who is now married to a moderate Anglo-Catholic C of E priest, I applaud mightily every word you have said. The Dawkins quote is most definitely going to be stored up and used, ideally on some extremely inappropriate Diocesan occasion; and you have summarised beautifully all that I feel about organised religion. I support my husband completely because he does an excellent job in the role he is in, but I find any exclusive evangelism - in any branch of faith - deeply distasteful. All I can say to your continuing intelligence and common-sense is Hallelujah!!

  9. Cassie - what an absolutely lovely thing to say. I have very fond memories of the C of E, in which I was brought up. There was a delightful Canon Wykeham, with tremendous Dennis Healey eyebrows, to whom I listened devoutly each Sunday. I like that it is, as you say, a moderate place. Moderation in everything, I say (except possibly cake).


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