There are those who would have it that religion is most often used to bad ends but I would contest that. Much of the music is inspirational, and the songs, too, are fun to sing which is a surprise because fun is not a big part of religion: well not a big part of the religions with which I am familiar. Personally I enjoyed religion on Sunday afternoons when my parents would send me off to Sunday School that took place in a run down Baptist Chapel a little over two miles away. We, my sister and another friend, would have a penny each way for the bus, tuppence, a penny for the collection, and another for candy. Well any child could see that by walking one way and skipping the collection there was thruppence for candy, which was a lot. It was so much that the time allocated to Sunday School had to be adjusted not only to accommodate the walking time, but also the time taken in the sweet shop before such large transactions could take place.
We would arrive then, at the Baptist Chapel when the opening service was well under way with Miss Hemmings, a spinster in her middle years, banging away on the out-of-tune upright piano with such fervour as to hide our scuffles into the back row of the assemblage. We scoffed tiny chocolates and chewed our ways through toffees as old faithfuls such as Onward Christian Soldiers, and There is a Greenhill Far Away, kept thumping through the room. After the songs we went downstairs to the Biblestudy Room where a text was chosen and Miss Hemmings told us of Lot’s Wife, or the Widow’s Mite while we giggled about anything and nothing. When it was over we ran for the bus and the front seat upstairs where me and my friend pretended to drive and my sister yelled at us to behave.
All in all it was a pleasant way to spend Sunday afternoon and later, much later, I learned that our parents spent those afternoons in even more pleasurable ways. It did etch a memory though, in our seven to ten year old minds, of the nasty things God would do if you did not join his army and fight the good fight. Later, when we added the horror of human sacrifice the God of Abraham was so keen on, my friend and I dismissed Miss Hemmings’ teachings as well intended, but misplaced, and largely untrue. To this day my sister finds it hard to completely shake off the indoctrination and had her children baptised just in case. Sadly she is probably in the majority, even in England, where we were taught. Happily the law now requires that religious stories are taught as stories and not, as Miss Hemmings would have it, as fearful, irrevocable, facts.
It will be a long time I fear before the hotheads of the Middle East can bring all those old stories into perspective, and even longer, I suspect, before the gun totting, Bible punching, diehards of Middle America can do the same. It is a pity though, as we go through this, the third election of the twenty-first century, that the candidates are indentified by which of those old stories cling most fervently to them. They all claim to be under the ‘God Sacrificed his Only Son,’ umbrella of human sacrifice which, although startling, is of course a foundation stone for when we are asked to send our children off to kill strangers.
Proclamation of ‘God is Great,’ and of how we can all be saved through the sacrificing of another is not only far fetched, it positively incites violence, yet without aligning oneself with such a doctrine a candidate for the US presidency is doomed to failure.
We kids had fun back there on rainy afternoons, and our parents had even more, but killing over collections of apocryphal stories thousand of years old is not fun: there is no spiritualism in that.