Faith and its absence

Like Kipling, I inhabit a godless universe, but I was brought up mildly Christian (Church of Ireland!), in so far as I accompanied my parents to their modestly attended church every Sunday and went to Sunday School where I and one or two other kids seemed to spend all our time colouring in pictures of smiley, round-faced Jesuses entering Jerusalems on donkeys.

My parents didn’t have religious upbringings themselves, and had joined the church as much to gain access to a welcoming community as to express a commitment to God. This may explain why we didn’t pray or say grace, and didn’t talk about God much. We didn’t ask, “what would Jesus do?” or say “God willing” when making plans, or cross ourselves when we passed a church. Although there were Bibles in the house, nobody read them apart from mum, who did bible study courses. I never opened one and the only Christian skill I learnt was to fall asleep the minute anyone entered a pulpit.

Dad would discuss the existence of God and the possibility of an afterlife, touching on Pascal’s wager and the limitations of human cognition, but was curiously silent on his own beliefs; mum would admit to a personal faith, but almost with an embarrassed defiance, like someone admitting to playing D&D when they were younger and asking what was wrong with that.

I guess I wasn’t trained or raised in Christian thought. My parents didn’t inculcate Christian certainties and theories and so I never had a crisis of faith; I wasn’t angry and I didn’t actively renounce God, so it wasn’t liberating. It simply dawned on me, in my late teens, that I wasn’t living as a Christian. Lapsed, rather than apostate, my habits and my ways of thinking were humanist rather than religious. I didn’t bear God in mind; I didn’t factor the spiritual in.

But perhaps some Christian-y (Christian-ish?) sorts of thinking persisted, handed down from earlier generations and preserved by my parents’ cultural nostalgia: classical oppositions and definitions, perhaps – ways of thinking about what was worth praise and what should be viewed with suspicion: a vague sense of cosmic disapproval: not actual beliefs, more shapes of thought.

This left me without psychological resilience. In my view, here we all were, tiny and defenceless creatures lost in a vast, vast and utterly uncaring universe, equipped for our protection only with the Protestant work ethic but without the God part, apart from the judge-y-ness, hoping that we could construct our own defences, formulate our own purposes, because nobody was coming to save us. If you don’t work you die.

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