Friday, 12 July 2013

At the Mercy of the Benighted

Wednesday. The sun is a copper disc riding the azure sky; clouds have dissipated, leaving behind a civilized landscape upon which the sun casts its blazing eye. People are conscious of the warmth. It is Britain, after all. A land where warmth is as fugacious as a friendship between two mendacious kleptomaniacs. Andy Murray is the recent SW19 hero, the Ashes is in its throttling swing, a pendulum of non-stop, emotion-invested drama which, for over five weeks, will trigger a vast rise in the number of people playing cricket. Myself, I'm at a bar, enjoying the company of a longstanding friend. At our shining table, the sonorous melodies of lower and middle class discourse floating all around us, there are situated eight glasses. Two bore cuba libres; two bore shots of gin; and four had seen nothing but orange, lemon and lime wedges soaked in a deluge of Pimms. All in all so far, it is a good day for all, is it not?
            Passersby wear smiles of two kinds. First, the relieved kind, notwithstanding this singing, eneverating heat that is a "gift" of Mother Nature's, of course. It is an arrival of relief (albeit an arrival as precarious and uncertain as a child standing up for the very first time, only to fall and rise again later, when excitement and encouragement have distracted the young whipper-snapper from their gruelling mission, only to cool down as the child seeks once more to overcome this tribulation of moving as a quadruped), yes, despite this, people are relieved that it isn't raining! The second type of smile is one filled with hope, with expectation, with imagination. People are scheming up trips around the country to Cornwall and other coastal areas; picnic baskets are being pulled out from storage rooms, dusted down and filled with sandwiches and biscuits and cooler packs to keep everything fresh; there are frisbees, footballs, cricket sets, tennis rackets, there are men without shirts (how flattering) and there are women with short skirts and small tops (oooh, how delightful...ah, the hypocrisy, eh?). Summer, in its slow-yet-measured way, has charmed so many of us.
            Why? Why does it seem that, innately, we are charged up suddenly, each of us glowing with vivacity and a collective flamboyance so as to make many nations fear us for our forthright practice of behaviour? What makes us so happy when resident people win tournaments, and when national teams play and when the weather is oh so delectably wonderful (personally, I hate all this heat, whatever happened to rain and darkness?)?
            Part of the answer, my friends, is faith. The conviction of the truth of a doctrine. Wednesday was a day veridical in its pulsating energy as people immersed themselves in the wealth of sunlight and prospect. Of course, I do not sit here stating faith to be the answer, I merely argue it.
            The conviction of the truth of a doctrine. Usually when we think of doctrines, they bear association to political structures, to religious orders. They apply to the multiplicity of civilization. Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus, they are none of them formed exclusively by old, erudite, region-specific males. A religion offers itself to anybody who seeks to believe, and even those who don't, perhaps. If a person's view of ethics, morality, and their philosophy on life, life after death and death itself, correlate to a religion, then they have as much right as the next person to associate themselves with it. To believe is to be human. This seems as close to a fact as possible, because for over five thousand years humans have worshipped gods. Rome and Athens and Olympus all still bear temples of ancient civilization, and in other areas of the world, it is thus.
            A doctrine. Rules? Guidelines? Principles? Can a doctrine be manipulated in order to enforce conformity? Can a doctrine be used to reproach and censure people? To manipulate religion is to draw upon a form of vicarious authority. Priests, vicars, rabbis, clerics, paladins. Any holy man or woman using his or her power as a method of control seems to be on the road of and to theocracy, a move that is treacherous. Their power should not be theirs, but their deity's. For in a religious government, the saviour, the miracle worker, the very essence of that society's core, becomes both the hero and the villain. The compassionate champion and the despotic overlord. So, away from theocracies for today.
            Faith can apply to national tournaments and the excitement of summer and warm weather because we have experienced it all before! This nation has seen success, through wars, through sports, through the use of political and social democracy. Each year, despite the way we grumble and bemoan and derisively attack the erratic, impulsive weather, we are quick to swarm in the sun in sun tan lotion and shorts and t-shirts and sunglasses, rarities in this part of the world; of course, it is in these moments once every few years, once every decade, once every whenever, that when something beyond the normality and the vicissitudes of day-to-day life occurs, we, in an eluctable chorus of delight, surprise, and vicarious thrill, praise belief. We confess we knew Andy Murray would win, deep down in our hearts (personally I'm a Federer fan, and despite his defeat early on, I state it happily), we will explain how we just knew England were going to win the Ashes, how the next team who wins whatever were simply the team we had that gut instinct about, and how, without ever watching a weather report, we just had that sneaky feeling today would surprise us all with glimmering sunlight and promising warmth. We believe because we have experienced it before. The bible, ultimately, offers Christians a set of psalms and moments in the lives of Jesus and Moses and other religious figures, where they (through the help of God) brought salvation to the struggling, and did not rebuke, but offered forgiveness and rehabilitation to sinners. These experiences, again, that people nowadays encounter through the lucubration of these religious tomes and through attending mass and services and so forth, are ultimately similar variations. They exist in their written form, whether Jesus could cure blindness with God's help or not, it is a story that many people had and have faith in. They are prepared to see a veracity in something that happened so long ago because of its very existence today, not because there is necessarily any proof – it is a story that has survived for so long and will survive for even longer. A story of true human kindness, selfless offerings and an inexorable tide of compassion towards the suffering, a tide so strong that in righteous glory, a miracle is created and performed. And because we need integrity and honour to be motivations for living, it seems worthwhile to believe, does it not? And thus, God, Jesus, Moses, they are all seen as heroes. People offer them their belief, their faith, because their stories, their legends, their inimitable existences as saviours, as conjurers of the miraculous and the wonderful, live on in the minds and the hearts of people thousands of years later.
            At the end of this Wednesday, I found myself in my own crisis of faith. A man I look up to, a man who simply does not know who he is, why he is, anymore, offered me the chance to disbelieve, to turn away from him. Why do I look up to him? His fantastic beard, his fatalistic attitude of what is, is, and what will be, will be? His survival instinct, his pure, incorruptible generosity? I don't know. I simply see him as a cool chap, I suppose. A man who I can talk to without feeling the garlic-flavoured threat of judgement, nor the unappealing taste of family scorn. He is just interesting. Yet, he sees himself as a failure. As a man who, even if he has any aspirations, cannot realise them. Will never know how to realise them. He is festering psychologically, and all I could do was watch, and want to rail against it. I've never sought out a religion. I've never had a moment where I need a miracle in my life, I've always had a kind-of fatalistic philosophy of my own. Thus, before we parted ways, more than pleasantly inebriated, I told him that, no matter whether or not he had lost all faith in himself, I would not stop believing in him. Don't get me wrong, I'm not the Redeemer from Steven Erikson's Toll the Hounds, a character unable not to forgive, but I believe that, to some degree, a lot of people deserve a second chance to find whatever it is they seek.
            I simply fear that my veteran friend seeks only mindless oblivion.

            Any comments on your own views of faith, or anybody who disagrees with any of this, feel free to post below.


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