A novel that disembowels religion!
I left early. That was a rare event for me. I normally did not get home before nine but with friends staying I could take the liberty. That’s the beauty of being the boss.
Liz, being retired, had taken them off to York for the day. Seemingly they’d had a good day walking the walls, touring the shambles and eating out at the quaint old coffee shop. They’d done the tourist bit and combined it with a bit of shopping at a few of Liz’s favourite haunts. I was not quite sure what Tobes made of that but he seemed quite happy.
‘You know Oph, I’ve been looking through all your notes for this book of yours. You’ve done a lot of work, but you don’t think that you are perhaps going a bit far?’ Kathy asked as they sat in the front room after their meal.
I was used to Kathy being challenging and relished the exchanges.
Liz had prepared the cafeteria which was sitting in the middle of the coffee table exuding rich aromas and placed a dish of sliced halva at the side next to a bowl of succulent black olives. I was rolling the joint to go with it.
‘You think I might be a little extreme?’ I chuckled mischievously, looking up from the workings and shaking my head. ‘Ah, Not really Kathy. I don’t think you can be too extreme when it comes to religion, can you? Religion is extreme in every sense. It pisses me off. The religious fraternity have far too much to say on things that impact on my life. It annoys me. I find it infuriating. A lot of it is offensive to me. That gives me the right to hit back.’
‘You know what he’s like, Kathy,’ Liz said, sitting herself down and giving me one of her warning stares. ‘He gets a bee in my bonnet and he’s off.’ She pressed the plunger down and began pouring the coffee. ‘He’s not renowned for my tact and diplomacy. Bit of a bulldozer in a china factory.’
‘Perhaps you’re over-reacting just a tad, my little love?’ Kathy suggested in her most diplomatic manner.
‘Yeah, Oph. You’re being dogmatic,’ Tobes stated in a more belligerent tone, grinning at me.
‘I don’t think so,’ I said vehemently, quite relaxed about being ganged up on. ‘It’s not something you can pussyfoot around with. If we don’t do something they impinge more into your life. Before you know it you’re living in a theocracy and the whole of your life is controlled.’
‘Yeah, but that couldn’t happen here,’ Tobes interjected. ‘This place is getting less religious if anything.’
‘Less Christian, maybe,’ I conceded. ‘But you can see it with Islam; the ignorant Taliban. They take away your freedoms, are intolerant of anyone who thinks or believes differently. They are a bunch of evil repressive thought police. They are violent and cruel. That’s offensive in itself. We have to stand up for rational thought, for freedom and the right to believe whatever we want. There’s a group that want to bring in Sharia law into Britain. They should be fervently opposed.’
There seemed to be general agreement over that. I smirked smugly.
‘But it’s not just about us and our hard won freedoms from religious intolerance,’ I continued, feeling I was on a winning streak. ‘We’re one world now. We should be standing up for other peoples’ rights and freedoms, wherever they live. It’s not right that women are being treated so appallingly in so many parts of the world. That can’t be right – whether it’s female circumcision or forced marriage, social ostracizing or being forced to wearing burqas. Someone’s got to bring it out into the open and do something about it. This isn’t the middle ages. This is the 21st century.’
‘But you can’t say that our culture is anything to be greatly proud of,’ Tobes remarked with a sigh and a shrug. ‘There’s nothing particularly inspiring about going round the town centre on a Saturday night with drunken kids puking all over the place, girls falling out of their clothes, drugs, violence and mindlessness. If TV is a window into our culture, with its game shows, reality TV, soaps and pointless trivia we’ve got little to be proud of. We’re not exactly displaying a better example.’
‘At least we’re free to decide,’ I responded, lighting the jay and passing it across.
‘It seems to me that when you give people too much freedom they don’t know what to do with it,’ Liz remarked sadly. ‘It all becomes gratuitous excess.’ She turned her nose up at the thought.
‘But hasn’t it all been said?’ Kathy remarked, going back to the original theme. ‘It’s their country. It’s up to them to decide. Let them get on with it. We shouldn’t interfere. We’ve made enough of a mess interfering with other countries. They’ve surely got to do for themselves.’
‘By all means,’ I agreed with a hint of exasperation. ‘Let them get on with it, indeed. I don’t think we should get involved to the extent of imposing our culture and values on others.’ I pursed my lips and stirred a couple of sweeteners into my coffee, placed a chunk of halva in the saucer and sat back. ‘That doesn’t stop us from speaking up about things we consider repulsive. It doesn’t stop us from arguing our case as strongly as possible for other peoples’ rights, does it? If you want things to improve you have to fight for it. History has surely shown us that. And I’m not advocating violence here.’ I sipped the coffee and took a nibble of the halva, waiting patiently as the spliff was slowly passed around. ‘Religion is a shackle that’s held us back for most of our existence. It is conservative. Just look at the effect of Islam – you have a vibrant culture that has given us civilisation, maths, astronomy, agriculture, science, and now it is frozen in mediaeval stagnation because of a stupid idea tied up in the ravings of some religious guy from the dark ages.’
‘I’m not sure that’s quite how they’d see it, Oph,’ Kathy said with a tinkley laugh.
‘Perhaps they’ll put a fatwa on you Oph?’ Tobes chortled. ‘We’ll see you getting beheaded on YouTube.’
‘Ha. That’d be good. I could be martyred for my beliefs,’ I responded cheerfully, as if this was something to be desired. ‘Put me in the same boat as Rushdie.’
‘Ooh, having your head cut off would be a good thing, would it?’ Liz asked in exasperation.
‘But I think that sums it up doesn’t it?’ I argued, not allowing this to ride. ‘Things don’t get more obscene, barbaric or repugnant than that, than fatwas and executions. Blindfolding someone, terrifying the life out of them then callously slicing their head off. That’s surely worth fighting against. There’s an irony there. Not standing up to be counted is precisely what they want. The terrorists who do those barbaric things want to stop you talking. That’s why they do it. They want to cow you into turning a blind eye. Isn’t that precisely why we have to speak out?’
‘Well I agree with that,’ Tobes said. Kathy and Liz did not look so sure.
‘The thing is Kathy,’ I continued, accepting the jay. ‘We never seem to learn from our past mistakes. We should look back at history and see all the stupidity and learn from it. But we don’t’
‘Such as? darling Oph?’ She enquired sweetly.
I nibbled the halva and took a big toke while trying to think of a good example. Finally my mind settled on one that had legs. ‘Well way back in history we had tribes like the Picts,’ I began. ‘They believed that gods resided in rivers, streams, rocks and trees. Everything had its gods.’
They nodded, sipping their drinks. I took another toke and passed it on.
‘When they went into battle they stripped down to bare skin and painted themselves with blue designs,’ I continued. ‘That’s how they got their name. They were named by the Romans. Pict means painted. We get picture from the same word root.’
I helped myself to a couple of the olives. ‘Anyway, they believed the gods looked down on them and were impressed by their designs and protected them in battle. They believed that blue was particularly favoured by the gods. In their heads that made them completely invincible. That in turn made them more fearsome in battle. It all straightforward Skinnerian psychology; you know, someone had painted themselves up and was super successful. They put it down to the paint. The idea caught on and everyone did it. They were successful and put it down to being favoured by the gods. If it went wrong and you were defeated the Shaman put it down to a failure in the preparation. You see the same thing with present day sportsmen. Many of them have superstitious rituals, behaviour patterns, articles that they have to wear in order to be successful. It all very human. We need rituals to feel secure.’
‘The Picts were very successful,’ Tobes observed. ‘So it must have worked.’
‘Yeah, it certainly helps if you are a warrior and you are convinced that if you wear nice blue swirls you are indestructible and even if things go wrong, and you are unlucky enough to get killed, the gods will whisk you off to some wonderland,’ I suggested cynically. ‘It probably promotes reckless fearlessness and that is just what you want on any ancient battleground where it’s person to person and fear and psychology play a massive part. Back then those painted Picts would have been particularly terrifying. That’s what made them successful. Not the intervention of any gods!’
I allowed myself a smile and helped myself to a couple more olives while I waited for the reaction. ‘It is also what you need if you are trying to convince someone to blow themselves up as a martyr. Some god’ll whisk you to wonderland. It’s that fearless recklessness that made them so formidable then and what makes the present day human bombers so difficult to deal with. They have been brainwashed to believe in that wonderland.’
‘Probably, Oph,’ Kath conceded. ‘But where is the learning from past mistakes bit?’
‘My point is that we look back on it now and see how daft it was,’ I said. ‘We no longer believe it those things. There were no gods looking down on the Picts and being impressed with their blue woad, just as there were no gods looking down on the Incas in Peru as they constructed their amazing intricate Nazca lines in the desert to attract rain. The rain didn’t come. The Inca’s empire died out. The painted Picts have all gone. We can see why it worked but you won’t find many people claiming it was down to the gods. Not now. We know it was pure psychology. Yet back then they believed in it enough to die for the idea. We do not seem to learn. We are hard-wired in our brains to believe ………. and it was and is all bollocks.’