05 April 2010

On betraying my faith

As you can tell--I started this a while ago...

Probably in two senses. I revealed my background, but I am a "backslider" from it. It's Good Friday tomorrow, so perhaps a good time to take stock...

(The notice about "Easter Opening" at our local Tesco carefully avoids mentioning either "Good Friday" or "Easter Sunday". Why? Who do they think is going to be offended? --apart of course from professional victims.)

It's the end of term, and happily as usual the class arranged an informal gathering after the session in the local pub. (It happens to be the national tenanted pub of the year, last year--not just your average local) For some reason, however, they seemed really keen on the cheesy chips... I digress.

One student took the opportunity to ask me about my religious beliefs. That was interesting, because I have always treated teaching as a secular zone, and apart from one member of the class who wears the hijab (I don't go looking for other more subtle iconography; she didn't join us in the pub, which was a pity, but I think she had practical logistical reasons for getting away and she was not the only one) I was not aware of any religious allusions in my teaching.

(There is one on the web, though, at the end of the page on memory.) 

I asked what prompted her question. (Teachers, like politicians, are not good at straight answers, much as we may expect them of others.) She referred (she was certainly concentrating) to a throwaway remark about how Kolb seemed to be able to map his four-point learning cycle onto any set of four items, such as the seasons, or the four gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And in discussing e-learning, I had alluded with reference to the need for the transparency of the media, to Herbert's "The Elixir"
A man that looks on glasse
On it may stay his eye,
Or if he pleaseth, through it passe,
And then the heav’n espie.
I was a little surprised by the reference to the gospels. To me, their labels (as opposed to their contents) are no more than taken-for-granted cultural reference points, like Father Christmas or the Grand National (no--I am not going to look for a link for a horse-race).

George Herbert is a little more esoteric, but in fact it was only J's question in class which (apart from a vague reference to "heav'n" in the quotation) imbued the reference with any religious significance.

But she had sniffed out the religious references, and she asked me about my faith--directly. That's one of the great things about these informal meetings with mature students; they recognise that our tutor-student relationship is relatively trivial, and other aspects may be much more significant. I used to think this was a big deal which required careful "management"; actually it's routinely conducted common-sensically.

So she asked me whether I was a Christian. Put like that, it's a challenge. Or at least I still experience it that way, because I used to be a Christian (bold "C" if your browser doesn't render it). Given the impoverished and banal ritual of my brand of evangelicalism, I still have my "decision card" signed on 29 March 1959, and stuck inside the front of one of my bibles.

I didn't know how to reply. Yes would be unrealistic--I haven't been a regular church-goer (if that is a proxy for belief) for many years. I no longer know what the creeds mean, apart from the outcomes of hard-fought disputes at councils at Nicaea (325) and Chalcedon (451), etc.

No would be stupid. I have a problem. Our beloved dog, Rupert, is over 13 (human) years old. He is diabetic and consequentially blind. He won't last much longer. But he--like his predecessors, William and Harriet--orders my offices. Strange expression? Simply, walking the dog is my time to pray. I value that a lot. How will I do that without him? Is he an icon, in the orthodox tradition?

In the jargon of the moment, my "spirituality" is very important to me. On the other hand, such "spirituality" seems largely to be soft self-indulgent bul***it.

But the authoritarian diktats of much religiosity have been exposed, from biblical scholarship to the latest scandals, to be self-serving obstacles to faith. The greatest, largely artistic, expressions of religion are among the highest creations of the human spirit, refined over the ages--albeit often in ignominious ways. I celebrate them. Particularly as they are manifest in (what we think we know of)  the teachings of Jesus and even some parts of Paul.

But I reject all the false dichotomies I am asked to choose between.

Strangely, this may matter to me but not much to anyone else. So many thanks if you have read this far, and apologies if you sought an answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.

SIn! You didn't mention sin!


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