A Welsh Pilgrimage

Not being a native to these lands, I try to get out and about as much as possible. Within England, there is a strange fascination with ‘day trips’. Understandably this is not a uniquely English convention, it is more the destinations of these excursions that I find most curious. When visiting the States recently, destinations for day outs included: theme parks, arcades and shopping malls. Even though I was staying with incredible religious people, the only time they interacted with a church was in the form of Sunday service. They saw churches as sacred buildings to be entered into only if one was pure of heart and intent. The idea of taking a day trip to a church, as the form of some kind of recreation, was almost abhorrent to their morals.

‘I hopped in my Chevy after work on Friday and set off for a long drive.’

Perhaps its because the average American church was not built to inspire awe in its followers. Early American Christians could simply be humbled by the savage land that they found themselves in, for them the Church was a safe haven from the brutality of their day to day existence. As a result, these religious structures were built with economy and stability in mind, rather than bombast. Unlike the churches and cathedrals that you’ll find in England and Wales (I’ve yet to venture further North to Scotland, although I’ve heard wonderful things!). Indeed, even the most humble of English village churches have a certain grand Gothic appeal to them.

Last weekend, I decided to book myself a little break in Wales. I’d not explored the area that much, and I’d heard great things from some of my Welsh co-workers (rather unsurprisingly!). I hopped in my Chevy after work on Friday and set off for a long drive. Armed with a list of tourist destinations, pubs and interesting churches (thanks to my assistant Huw!) I left the city behind me and headed across the border and into the heart of Wales. I could tell you about the delicious pies I ate, or the charming locals that I met there – but this is not a blog about food or communities (more’s the pity). There is but one place that I know will stay with me for a long time to come. Hidden away, atop of the vale of Alyn lies a Church so stunning that I almost felt the kind of religious fervor that it was probably built to inspire.

gresford
‘…atop of the vale of Alyn lies a Church so stunning that I almost felt the kind of religious fervour that it was probably built to inspire.’

All Saints Church, situated in Gresford, will be the one place that I will recommend to anyone travelling to North Wales. Forget the throwaway seaside towns, and the austere country homes; this is a place where you do not need a pocketful of change or pamphlet to find your way around. The locals are more than happy to tell you about the church’s history and, if you’re lucky, you’ll bump into the charming minister there who will bless you on your way out. My time in Wales was pleasant, but my visit to All Saint Church was magical and, just for a moment, this atheist was nearly converted in to a true believer.

-J-…

Truth and Religion

Travel the world for as long as I have, and you’ll soon brush shoulders with all manner of people, religious and secular. Going to different lands and exploring strange continents is also how religion is spread. As brave explorers put forth their fresh ideas to eager minds; concepts are digested and integrated into new cultures and so human history becomes further amalgamated and developed.

hitch
‘… even Hitchens could not definitively prove the synthetic nature of religion.’

You see how I equated the idea of religion (belief in an extra-terrestrial power beyond human capabilities) with human dispersioan? That is because, I believe, I am slowly coming to a realisation, that religion is a wholly man made concept. To those who have read any Hitchens, this idea will not be a new one. Embedded within the narratives of all major religions are inherently human stories, that have clearly been edited, passed down and (most importantly) created by people. If we take these findings to their logical conclusions, then there can only be one answer to the question of truth in religion. That there is none.

lawn
‘Every Sunday morning he goes to church, and I mow the lawn.’

If you’re shocked by the frankness of my discussion, please do remember that I am just a simple atheist, exploring the notions of religion. I am, by no means, laying down the definitive answer to the truth of religion. All I’m attempting to lay out are my findings, based on the philosophical journey that I’ve been on for the last year. In every argument there are loop holes, and even Hitchens could not definitively prove the synthetic nature of religion. I’m not out to rain on anyone’s parade, despite my misgivings concerning the origin of God, I believe in the notion of freedom of thought. Barry across the road from me is a Baptist gentleman, I don’t hear the prayers that he makes at night and he doesn’t confront me with his religious based beliefs. Every Sunday morning he goes to church, and I mow the lawn. As he leaves the house I wave, smile and wish him a good day. He always replies ‘Thank you, God be with you Jose.’ Even though he’s aware of my atheism, Barry wishes me well in the terms of his culture. Barry would never dream of stopping me from mowing my lawn, so why on Earth would I stop him from attending church?…

God Bless America!

Last year, I went to visit my pal Steve, who lives over in the States. He only lived in the UK for a little while, but we were great friends, so I thought it’d be really fun to go and see him – and see America! However, it was a bit weird.

It might be one of the things that first made me think about religion, to be honest. I knew the stereotype of the angry Bible-bashing Americans, but from my experience with Steve over here I didn’t expect that to be a big thing, at least near him.

When I walked into his parents’ house I was in for a massive shock.

jesus christ
“A lot of Christians wear crosses around their necks. You think when Jesus comes back he ever wants to see a f**king cross?” – Bill Hicks

Crucifixes, everywhere. Some small, some huge, with a naked Christ in agony, blood streaming from his wounds. Now, I do have a sick fascination with religious stuff, but this was a bit much for me – especially in the bathroom!

Steve never acted religiously when he was in the UK, so it’s entirely possible he has to when he’s at home. It did freak me out a bit to see him praying so much, so eager to get to church on the Sunday – so much so that I felt like a real heathen for not joining in. I spotted some nasty looks from his parents when I started eating without praying first.

The church service he goes to is right by his college campus. Like most poor young people, Steve can’t afford to live away from home, so he goes to college nearby. Even though I only saw the campus going in and out of the church, it seemed like a Mecca compared with the dusty, solemn building we were stuck in for hours.

Family Saying Grace before Meal
“Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub!”

That feeling was massively helped by the free shit I got. There was some college and campus marketing or something going on, so obviously I dived in pretending to be a student, and ended up walking away with *free* samples of some men’s deodorant.

Seriously, bargains are my religion.

I think I might go to hell for this entry.

So I get back to Steve’s, loaded down with this “men’s fragrance” and glad to be out of the church, when his dad walks in and asks what I’ve got. Apparently, men don’t need to smell good; it’s practically a sin. He took ALL of my free stuff, and said he’d give it to charity – I guess poor men do need to smell good, just not me.

I like a lot of Christians but really guys, this seemed to go a bit far. No offence Steve – you’re a cool guy and I’ll come visit you again, I just might get an AirBnB next time……

Cleanliness – Godliness

As you might expect, I’ve been thinking a lot about religion and what it means in an everyday life. When you’re dedicated to a religion you have to make all kinds of daily concessions – tithing, prayer, all that stuff you need to remember to do.

In that line I’ve been thinking about a certain phrase you’ve probably heard of…

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I wanted to know who first said this, and what I can do in my life to be closer to “Godliness”.

Throughout Jewish history, this was given to be a truth, and the difference between clean and unclean things was very important – although it seems to be more symbolic and often refers to food. One of the earlier distinct between clean and unclean was referring to the animals which were taken onto the ark by Noah, and then later to which animals can be eaten:

“You are therefore to make a distinction between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; and you shall not make yourselves detestable by animal or by bird or by anything that creeps on the ground, which I have separated for you as unclean” – Leviticus 20:22-26

At other points in the Old Testament, God talks about cleanliness in a much less literal, more moral sense. In the New Testament Jesus declares all foods to be clean, and that cleanliness was a matter of the soul, not of ritual.

“You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” – Luke 11:39

Of course Jesus famously washed the feet of his disciples – but only their feet, for the rest of them were already “clean” – or holy.

As a term, it was first used in Babylonian and Hebrew religious texts, but it was first written in English in the Advancement of Learning (1605) by Sir Francis Bacon, who said “Cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God”. In 1791, John Wesley wrote “Slovenliness is no part of religion. Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness”.images

So it looks as though I shouldn’t worry too much about physical cleanliness, but as it’s hard to know when you’re morally “clean” I’m going to stick with it anyway. So, my mission for the next week:

  • Eat kosher food. That means it has to be killed in a certain way, I generally can’t eat gelatine, I shouldn’t have blood or sciatic nerves from an animal (probably not going to be a problem). I will avoid eating camel, hare, pigs and snails. Goodbye bacon.
  • Keep my home clean. I’m not usually that untidy, but there are a few parts of my house that could be a little more godly, shall we say. First step is to hire an oven cleaning expert; then do a good clear-out of my wardrobes and games.
  • Ask guests to take their shoes off when they come into the house – this is slightly stolen from the Asian custom, where it’s also to do with cleanliness, specifically germs.
  • Try to do one good act every day to clean my soul.

Let’s see how I get on with this. Considering that I’d usually rather nap than clean, I might be godly yet tired by the end of the week.…

Onward Christian Soldiers….

There's so many!
There’s so many!

Not really sure where to start on my quest for religion, I turned to that staple of decision-making – online quizzes.
I’ve taken five online quizzes claiming to find the right religion for me. Here’s what I got:

http://www.selectsmart.com/RELIGION/

This claims to tell me my spiritual path. First of all, it seems pretty Christianity-centric, but let’s see.
It claims that my top result is Unitarian Universalism – never heard of it.
Next is Quakers – they always seem like nice guys
Then Taoism, Neo-Paganism, Mahayan Buddhism and Jainism.

Next up we’ve got the Playbuzz quiz “Which Religion Best Suits You?”
It spat up Buddhism. Okay, we may be getting somewhere!

Jainism....the (kinda) good guys to use that symbol before the (really) bad guys used it.
Jainism….the (kinda) good guys to use that symbol before the (really) bad guys used it.

Now ProProfs. Can I join the religion of spell-check please? It’s existence, not existance.
Haha I think it must have heard me complaining about its spelling, cause I got LaVeyan Satanism. Gonna have to look some more into that one!

Hello, Quizrocket. Where do you think I belong?
Apparently behind a lot of adverts…
Oh dear, I got atheist. Does atheist really count as a religion? Isn’t it more like the absence of religion?

Alright, one last one, and it’s findmyreligion.com. This quiz claims not to guess what religion you are, but see how “your own thoughts fit into different beliefs”. That sounds like what I want!
This quiz is much more interesting – it’s asking me questions like, do you know there is or isn’t a god, or think there is or isn’t a god. Hmm.
Okay, answer time. 71.4% secular (which is atheist, right?), 50% Wiccan, 35.7% Pagan, 14.3% Buddhist and 14.3% Hindu.

As you can see, I’ve had lots of different answers. Is it because all religions are, at a base level, the same? Or does it entirely depend on what kind of questions are being asked?
Before next time I’ll look into these few religions, and see if any particularly “speak” to me.
Send good thoughts – I must just need them.

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