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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Warning - Some Irreligious Content

I have a little travel tale to tell, but first let me give you some background.

I'm Scottish Protestant by birth, at times Catholic-educated, influenced by an Agnostic father. Growing up, I've been exposed to, and at times inflicted with, religion of various types. I've witnessed it, partaken of it, been yanked unceremoniously out of it.

I remember Sunday school from my very early days, courtesy of my mother, but no church visits. I went to Catholic schools from the age of about 7 up to 12, until my father visited mother superior and swore at her!! Basically, my sister had been having nightmares and they were tracked back to the use of a certain junior reading book (she was 7 then) which showed pictures of the devil tempting a little girl to steal cookies from a jar. My poor sister was a mess over it.

So off my dad went to complain, both she and I were taken from class to sit in the office with them and it all ended up in a huge row and I do believe the 'f' word was uttered by him, perhaps even in reference to the pope. Knowing my dad, this is a definite possibility. He then, apparently (I don't remember this), took both his girls by the hand and told a very shaken nun that we would NOT be returning. I won't repeat here what my mother had to say about that, as putting us in school fell under her responsibility.

I know that at my brother's school, another Catholic establishment (we were in Macau which was under Portuguese rule then and it was Catholic or nothing), my father had specifically requested that he didn't want his son undergoing religious instruction. To which he was told "That's quite acceptable, we have several heathen here." So there you go, my parents were the proud owners of three heathen children in a Catholic environment.

Before being dragged out of my Catholic experience, I became pretty much brainwashed by the whole thing and I think that probably influenced my father as much as my sister's fear of ever putting her hand in a cookie jar. I was heavily into the periphery of the whole scene. The holy cards, the rosaries, the accoutrements of the belief rather than the belief itself. Oh the hours and pocket money I spent at the Catholic Centre! I do recall that it was me asking for a veil that was the final straw to my father. And knowing him, it would have gone something like this: "No bloody daughter of mine is wearing a veil in church."

With a change of school, I grew out of it all and settled back into my non-religious ways, merely observing the many and varied that surrounded me in my next school - Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Catholic, Islam, Sikh, Christian. Today I don't have a religion, I have a belief in the power of the individual and each person's choice to follow good or evil ways. I also don't believe anyone has the right to accuse me of 'sin' as it relates to their belief system.

Anyway, my flight out of Tokyo was a bit late and the departure lounge was full. I managed to find an empty seat and as I was pretty tired from the long haul over the ocean, I just wanted to sit quietly until it was time to board the next flight. I sat next to this middle-aged gentleman and he decided to strike up conversation with me. The usual: Where are you headed, holiday or business, etc. Not that I asked him for details, he started to tell me about his missionary work in China, bringing Christianity to the people there.

At that, my left eyebrow was already climbing up my forehead. I was politely nodding and my eyes were glazing over. Then, he had the f'ing audacity to ask me - Do you know where you're going when you die? Let me just say I was NOT in the mood for a conversation like this. I merely answered, yes, ashes to ashes and scattered in the wind is my wish. Nope that wasn't going to suffice. He said no, I mean do you know, really know, if you are going to heaven? Well at that, my right eyebrow joined my left up towards my hairline and the glaze fell away. Had I not been so tired, I think I'd have told him that I thought it was all a load of codswallop and he really should think twice before asking questions like that one. Instead, I just said conversation over mister, you're selling and I'm not buying...and got up and sat elsewhere!!!

Not so far away that I couldn't observe him and the poor guy who took my place next to him. He was in for the same line of questioning. And when he told the missionary that he was in electronics import-export, he immediately said that he was looking for an ipod and a dvd player and could he help out!! Oh and by the way, Mr. Missionary was travelling business class.

I've seen religion, I've seen faith.....not the faith that means a trip in the car to church on Sunday, but the kind they practice in Tibet, where pilgrims from all corners of the region make their way to Lhasa, to the Jokhang Temple, which is the spiritual centre of Tibet. Prostrating themselves devoutly, inching forward body length by body length as they make their way slowly towards, then clockwise around, then into the temple, a painful journey which demonstrates the power of their belief in their faith. This isn't a day's outing, it can take them years of travel.

A faith that overcomes the incredible hardship that these people face, not only on their pilgrimage but every day of their lives. Lives they lead with an incredible appreciation for everything around them, for the smallest of considerations. And who share what they have with strangers, with a smile, and with absolutely no expectation of reward. Tibet was a humbling experience for me. To see people with so little, expressing such happiness and satisfaction with their lot. Since then I've never taken anything for granted.

I think I'll just remain an observer of many ways of thinking, and stick to my own.


Sunny Delight said...

My own childhood experiences were strictly protestant, witnessing many of its forms....as a teen I went away from those years with an 'ideal' of how a christian 'should be'....and thinking that most of those who call themselves christian were the biggest hypocrites of them all....as for myself I observe, I learn, I try not to judge others, and just live my life in a way that feels as true as I can make it.

Matt Kohai said...

I find it hard to think of nice things to say about most organized religion. I stopped going regularly when my father stopped taking us regularly, about age 5. Last year, I went to a Catholic church for what will probably be the last time - I was stunned by the intolerance and bigotry of the priest's sermon. It was frightening. And I also have the Church to thank for some of the emotional difficulties that my wife is experiencing, by way of how her parents raised her and treated her as a child.

The closest I've found to a religion with any appeal is Zen Buddhism. It's simple, it doesn't prosetylize, and it can be viewed as a philosophy or as a religion - you can be of some other faith and still meditate and such. But I still have yet to find a sangha I can sit in and feel comfortable with.

Fiona said...

I agree Sunny, 'christianity' can be a cloak behind which not all is good and pure.

And Matt, I'm there with you on the organised religion stance.

Sally-Sal said...

I think Abe Lincoln summed it up for me "When I do good, I feel good, and when I do bad, I feel bad, and that’s my religion.”

At the end of the day, all that matters is for you to believe in something. Taoist, protestant, presbyterian, I think having faith is important.
It's the lack of faith in *anything* that I find disturbing.

Jonas said...

I'm not one to question others' beliefs...only my own. I deeply resent any individual claiming to "know." Faith is not knowledge, beliefs are not facts. A pox on those who confuse the concepts.

Gillette said...

When I was a teen, I used to amuse myself with Jehovah's Witnesses that would knock on my door and engage them. Once a man and his daughter kept coming back..that is until the day I was outside tanning in my very itsybitsy bikini, with the straps down and my legs spread eagle and they happened to stop by for a visit. Even at that young an age, I just stayed in that position and stared him straight in the eye. They never came by again..hehehhee....

Emily said...

As you know, I share a lot of your feelings about churches and the whole Christian thing.

At the same time, I am trying to give it more of a chance, now. Possibly this is a sign of desperation!

Fiona said...

I think, Emily, we find comfort in various things. And there are far more damaging things than church ;)

Did I say it was good to see you back in our midst? :)


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