Monday 11 May 2009

I'm falling out of grace.....

When I was studying history at University, I used to find gender studies exasperating. It wasn't that I didn't find the subject interesting - I did a whole course on women in Industrial Revolution Britain as revealed in the works of the likes of George Eliot, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell and Mary Wollstonecraft - I objected more to the posturing of some of the historians who covered the subject. Was it really necessary to make a point of calling history "herstory"? What place did political correctness have here?

Of course, the point that historians like this were making (and sometimes labouring) was simply that a good historian should take care to consider the subjectivity of every single piece of evidence they study... including any gender slant. It is a truism that history is written by the victors, but it is equally true that history has largely been written by men, and the role of women is, by comparison, neglected. The language that we use IS important because it can either help to reinforce or to undermine the status quo - and not just in history either.

I mention this because I have decided that I need to cut some words out of my common vocabulary. They are words that I use pretty often, but only rarely in their original sense, choosing instead to use them almost exclusively when swearing. The words in question? heaven; hell; God; Jesus Christ; damn; holy. Stuff like that.

Why am I going to cut them out? Because I do not believe in God. It's not just Jehovah, mind you, I don't believe in any gods - not Zeus, not Baal, not Shiva. None of them. I simply choose to go one god further in my disbelief than most. I don't believe in heaven, I don't believe in hell. I believe that when you die, that's it - and I also believe that that's okay. Like lots of people, I have certain views on organised religion, and my study of history has shown me some of the more unpleasant things that people have done in the name of religion, but I absolutely respect an individual's right to their own religious beliefs. Of course I's just not for me. I was brought up in the Church of England tradition: I sang in the choir; I attended Sunday School; I studied Religious Education at school; I read the lesson in chapel; I know large chunks of the Bible story from both Old and New Testaments.... the works. That kind of stuff is hard to entirely shake off, and I'm sure that my christian upbringing (both of my parents are believers) is stamped through my core, whether or not I happen to believe in the Almighty.

So why worry about the words? What difference do they make to anything? They're just words, aren't they?

I received a text message from a colleague the other day. It was one of those messages that has clearly been sent to everyone in the addressbook in his phone, and it was announcing the birth of his son, Joshua. As well as telling us all the exact minute of his second child's birth and telling us the exact weight -- why do people do that, by the way? -- he also took the time to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers. Now, I know that this is simply the kind of thing that people say in circumstances like this, but those words made me oddly angry. How dare he presume on either count? Yes, I'm pleased that everthing has gone okay for them, but I can assure him that it's got nothing to do with any prayers of mine, and I seriously doubt it has anything to do with anybody's prayers at all. Why use that word? Why presume that just because he's a religious man, that everyone else shares his beliefs? There's another reason to be angry too: another of our colleagues has been having a difficult time recently because his wife went into labour with their twins prematurely, and one of the babies died and the other is clinging onto life in intensive care. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the idea that the wellbeing of Joshua has anything to do with prayers means by implication that if things go wrong then that's somehow down to a lack of prayer. Yes, I know that the text message wasn't meant to mean anything within a million miles of that, but I'm afraid that's the unconscious insinuation that I read into those words. What does the church teach us? If you're good and you say your prayers, then good things will happen to you. If you don't.......

The words you choose are important, and I'm going to try to rid myself of those words that have a religious overtone that I don't believe in.

Not entirely uncoincidentally, I put a new sticker on my car this weekend.

Atheist Bus

Some people think that atheists must lead empty, purposeless and meaningless lives in the absence of a belief in the afterlife. I've actually found my lack of belief to be quite liberating. If this is all there is, then what greater motivation do you need to try and make the most of it; to celebrate being human and to celebrate our humanity?

I don't believe in God, I believe in mankind people.


  1. Newsflash. I've just become an uncle again. This time to the little daughter C's brother and his wife have just had. All doing well, and new dad sounds euphoric. I didn't pray for that one either.

  2. How much did she weigh? Ha, just kidding. Don't know why people do it but they do (Zach was 7Lbs 7 at birth btw). I guess maybe it's because so many people ask this question that its easier to just blast it out in one go.

    Sweet sticker mate! Still prefer your T tho (the '...look busy one')

    I've always though for fuck's sake covered most of my needs with a couple of dangs here and there covering most other situations.


  3. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the idea that the wellbeing of Joshua has anything to do with prayers means by implication that if things go wrong then that's somehow down to a lack of prayer. And that's exactly what I've heard said, plus the whole 'lack of belief' is why bad things happen to you with the bonus 'reasoning' that if you are a person of faith and bad stuff happens it is a testing and is nothing more than your religious icon of choice believes you can cope with if you completely trust in them...


    I have to say, I was a bit concerned at the start of your post where you were going with your argument, but its a grand post. And a challenge to all of us who stand in challenge to religious belief to speak a language that reflects our convictions.

  4. Hello Swissie. Yes, I´´m for people too. Although I tend to use colloquialisms like oh for god´s sake on the grrounds that they are just that - a colloquial figure of speech thingie that no-one expects me to actually mean.

    You seem to be doing well at unprayed for kids...

    PS haven´t gone that quickly but had an accident with the site. was going to bring it back up but didn´t have trime before going away from my machine for 10 days. Am leaving this from an internet caff - it is too much hassle to try and repair a blog from here though! Thanks for asking and see you back in blogland soon.


  5. This is interesting and makes me think about a study that was done some time ago with cardiac patients. One group had "people praying for them" and the other supposedly didn't. The outcome they found is that the "prayed for" had better outcomes.

    But never having researched the research, your post makes me think about how they controlled the control group. Is it possible for someone in the cardiac unit to call everyone they know and tell them, "no, no prayers, we are doing an experiment."


    Since I am a believer (although in no way traditional), I don't agree with everything, but I do find your points fascinating. And there are, just for the record, deeper thinking theologians who can acknowledge that our outcomes in life may not be related to whether you are a good or better believer.

    Me, I just really like the rituals.

  6. that's interesting Spins - Richard Dawkins cites a "serious" medical study into the effect of prayer (double-blind, with a placebo group) in "The God Delusion" and the results were that it had no effect on those being prayed for at all... and in fact, the group that fared worst were the ones who were being prayed for and knew about it. Something to do with the psychological pressure it put upon them to get well, they think.

    Dawkins goes on to explain how religious types then went out of their way to invalidate the trial as being meaningless, but then remarks that if someone came up with DNA proof that Christ had no father, then they'd be all over it like a rash!