Monday 25 December 2023

The Real Meaning of Christmas: 25/12/2023


Nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago, of course - it was convenient in the roll-out of  Christianity to the northern lands to adopt the existing winter festivals and rename them. Our secular nation has almost entirely reverted to the true meaning of Christmas - revelry, feasting, firelight and sex. 
Mr ishmael was a spiritual man, and here he is musing on religion. 

Me and God


A Swiss Army Knife Story by the younger Ishmael Smith

I read a novel once. It wasn’t so much a novel; it was more an encyclopaedia of philosophy, past, present and future. The author of this book must have read everything there was to read on the subjects of man, God and existence. No, it wasn’t the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, nor the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. It was an intellectual juggernaut of a book. It rolled all over me and I can feel its tyre tracks yet. It was also a very moving book for it described man’s search for meaning and how he was unable to find anything in the existing philosophies. Not just some of them, all of them, he took them all to pieces like some sort of metaphysical watchmaker and found a flaw, an imbalance, in every last one of them. So, quite properly to my mind, he invented his own. He called it the Church of Reason. He tried preaching it in the University where he taught. But, sure enough, he wound up, very quickly, in the loony bin with electrodes in his head, needles in his bum and one of those nice back-to-front jackets.
Now, as we all know, there are worse places to be than the loony bin. You could be in school, for instance. You could be in Redditch, like me. Or you could be working on a Community Programme, overseen by yesterday’s yes men, failed captains of industry, supplementing their company pensions by telling you how noble it is of you to be shovelling community shit or shuffling community papers for seventy pence an hour. You could even be working in a probation office chastising poor people for their poverty. (You only ever see poor people, misfits and child molesters in a probation office. No self-respecting thief or bank robber would be caught dead talking to a probation officer.) No, give me the loony bin any time. You meet a better class of person. You get much more sense from somebody who thinks he’s Napoleon than you do from the average Senior Probation Officer. But, even so, I thought it was a bit strong to be getting the liquid cosh and the electric personality annihilation so beloved of psychiatrists simply because he had a different point of view on the meaning of life and God and everything. So, ever since I read the improbably-titled Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I have tended to keep God himself firmly at several arms’ length.
In fact, if God were to appear by my desk this morning I’d be out the back door and over the fence quicker than a thunderbolt. It seems to me that everybody who has anything to do with the Almighty finds themselves in big trouble. Did you ever read about the Monsignor from Knock? There was this Priest in an otherwise God-forsaken Irish village situated in a bog at the top of a mountain in County Mayo. Whether it was the local poteen, a leprous distillation concocted from potatoes and known to strike unseasoned imbibers permanently blind, or whether it was an actual miracle is a matter for speculation. What is known, however, is that the inhabitants of Knock started reporting that the local statue of the Virgin was doing everything short of coming down off the plinth and breakdancing. Tears, nods, gestures; everything. The good Monsignor started hearing the sound of heavenly cash registers and, quicker than you can say “Holy water, pound a bottle”, he’s off to Dublin. Monsignor James Horan, once there, persuaded the Government that they had to build an International Airport on the top of his mountain. This was in Ireland, don’t forget, so the Airport was duly constructed, but, sadly for the Monsignor, the citizens of Knock and the Irish Exchequer, the anticipated jumbo-loads of camera-swinging, dollar and yen laden tourists failed to materialise. So, perhaps peeved, perhaps dispirited, but certainly with the impoverished Irish Government breathing down his neck the Monsignor set off for that other shrine, Lourdes. Maybe he went for inspiration, or perhaps, more cynically, he went to check out the competition. Whatever, when he arrived at Lourdes, a place of pilgrims and miraculous healings, he promptly and permanently dropped down dead. It wasn’t a miracle. There was no resurrection. He was seriously dead; Knock, Knock, Knocking on Heaven’s door. He was as lifeless as it’s possible to be outside of school, Redditch, the Community Programme and the probation service.
Now I can’t help but feel that the untimely demise of the previously healthy and relatively young Monsignor was something in the nature of a Sign. So, if God can do that to someone who works all the hours He sends on His behalf, then I’d just as soon have nothing to do with Him, thank you very much. I have enough trouble with the Access people chasing me all over the country without having to be looking over my shoulder for the fiery finger. I don’t want anyone appearing to me in a dream and telling me to go and slit my kid’s throat. I don’t want anyone to smite my enemies for me; I’d just as soon take ‘em to Court. And the last thing I want is Eternal Life. Seventy years of this’ll do me fine. Don’t misunderstand me. I have nothing against Christians. Some of my best friends are Christians. This whole God business is like homosexuality. It’s ok by me. I just don’t want it made compulsory.
God, unfortunately, does not confine His attentions to mere Christianity. Wherever there are people to be frightened, blackmailed or otherwise coerced from their wits you will find the Almighty and His Ambassadors. You would think that with the whole of creation to mess about in and all of eternity to do it in that He’d leave us alone for a millennium or two. But no. God, like some aging whore, is happiest when people are fighting over Him. It used to be the Christians torturing and roasting one another in the name of God. Then, once they’d invented chastity belts, they bankrupted Europe and went off on their mad Crusades. What they didn’t realise was that the Wily Turk was every bit as fanatical as them and that when it came to a spot of religious bloodletting the Saracen would have their heads on a minaret quicker than they’d have his outside a pub. So, suitably chastened, they came home to start back in on each other again with the thumbscrews and the hot lead enemas. Then, God be praised, they found the New World, joined forces and went out to torture the savages into accepting the one true Faith. They succeeded, of course, there’s nothing like a hot, crisp roasting at the stake, or, better still, a good massacre, to bring heathen peoples to the Lord.
After that, things went a bit quiet on the Christian Front. Oh, there’s still a few thousand in Northern Ireland ready to kill and maim on the Lord’s behalf and I suppose there’ll always be missionary types wanting to go off into isolated parts and corrupt a timeless culture with all that heaven and hell stuff, but, in the main, God seems to have stood his Christian forces down. No such luck with the Muslims. They’re at it everywhere, in Afghanistan they’re fighting each other and the Russians; in Iraq and Iran they’re just plain old-fashioned fighting each other and everybody else. And every last one of them wants to gang up on the Jews. The Jews, themselves, will shoot anybody who looks at 'em the wrong way. In India you’ve got the Sikhs fighting the Hindus. They don’t mind getting killed because they all believe that they’ll go straight to the bosom of Allah, Jehovah, Vishnu or whatever alias God’s been using with them, there to sup milk and honey, goat meat curries or whatever God’s got on the menu for them.
Perhaps you can see why I take a dim view of God and his activities. Some people will argue that God’s ok really. It’s just that man doesn’t understand his purpose and that up there, in one of his many mansions, God’s really pissed off about famine and war and AIDS. And that God really cares. Those kind of people will, given a chance, grab the nearest New Testament and start giving you all that “not the slightest sparrow” stuff and inviting you to services and telling you they’re gonna pray for you. I know because this happened to me quite recently. It was the Day the Jovas Came.
I knew they were in the area because the kids had, in the cruel fashion of children, been joking about them. Mark and his mate, Andy, had been knocking on the door saying, “Morning brother, we’re the Jovas, we’re here to save you.” And scoffing generally at the idea of Christianity. Now, I’m a liberal sort of fellow most of the time, except when it comes to Harry Secombe, and I figured that anybody who received such a consistently bad press as the Jehovah’s Witnesses couldn’t be all that bad. Like anybody else I’d heard all that stuff about them letting their kids die for lack of blood transfusions and how once you let them in they start hitting you over the head with the Bible telling you to repent. And about how they provoke you into saying something fairly unchristian to get rid of 'em. But then I knew, also, that the statespersons of this world and their Admirals and Generals weren’t too fussy about who they bombed and napalmed; men, women, children – doesn’t matter just as long as they’re communists or enemies of democracy. So, no matter what I say about God Himself, I wasn’t going to prejudge the Jovas just because they don’t hold with technology and tend to ramble on a bit. And anyway, it gets lonely sitting here at the word processor. If they’d taken the trouble to come and tell me about heaven it’d make a change from double glazing and loft insulation salesmen telling me how I couldn’t afford to be without their wares. When they came there were two of them. One white and one black woman. They both had nervous smiles.
Good Morning. We left some literature. Before. With your wife. We were wondering if you’d had time to read it.
Well, no. I don’t believe I did. You wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff that comes through the letter box. What was it about?
Well, it was about the state of the world. All the divorce and everything….
Yes, said the other one, and we were wondering if you’d been able to find the Lord.
Find the Lord? Well, actually I’ve spent the last hour trying to find my Swiss Army Knife and it’s nowhere to be seen.
They started to laugh a bit, then stopped themselves.
But surely you can’t compare your whatever it was knife with the Creator of heaven and earth…?
Well, no, not exactly, it’s just that I’ve gotta change this plug and I don’t reckon I’m gonna do it by praying at it. You know, right now the most important thing in the world to me is finding my Swiss Army Knife. You know, if you had one yourself and come to depend on it like I have you’d know what I mean. 'Slike if you all of a sudden lost your clothes then getting them back’d be uppermost in your mind and you’d leave the spiritual stuff 'til later. I’m not being blasphemous or anything. It’s kinda render unto Caesar. You ever seen one? They’re really good. They’re red, about this big and they’ve got all sorts of clever little tools in them. Mine’s got a wirestripper and a couple a blades and a corkscrew and a bottle opener and a couple of screwdrivers and some other things that I don’t understand. It’s like a miniature tool kit. And strong. Got the Swiss flag on it.
Oh yeah, says the black girl, my husband has one. His has scissors on it. I know the thing you mean.
Yeah, that’ll be the Officer’s model. I don’t know why but the officers in the Swiss Army seem to get knives with hundreds of blades and things. Magnifying glasses. Pliers. Everything. And the troops just get a little knife like mine that can do maybe a dozen or so things. I wouldn’t fight in an army like that, would you?
Well actually I don’t believe in armies…
No of course not. Me neither. I don’t think they do, come to that, no need for them to go off fighting, not when they’ve got everybody’s money. Look, why don’t you come in and help me look for my knife. You know, have a coffee or something.
They were in like a shot, faster than Moses crossing the Red Sea and when they saw my desk their eyes lit up. Among the row of books there are several bibles.
Oh, you read the Scriptures then, the one said.
Yeah, all of them. Look there’s a Koran here. Some Islamic stuff – The Prophet, the Way of the Sufi, it’s really good, you ever read it? There’s the I Ching, a book on religions of the world, the Sayings of Confucius, and the Bible. Yeah, I read them all. Some of the time, not all of the time. Sugar?
They looked at one another as though they’d fell amongst thieves and there wasn’t a Samaritan in sight.
What do you think about homosexuals…all this AIDS business?
As one, they replied:
It’s an abomination
You see what I mean? None of this greatest of these is charity nonsense for them. None of this cast not the first stone. I already told you some of my friends are Christian; well, some of them are gay. Some of them are both. And here’s these people. In my house, drinking my coffee, reading my bibles.
Saying that my friends are abominable.

Merry Christmas, Ishmaelites everywhere


inmate said...

Wonderful. Yep organised religion, my god better than your god, my version of Christianity/islam/Buddhism ‘sbetterer than yours.
Course the govament has now stolen the role of God, cos they know best.

Bungalow Bill said...

What a great piece. I no longer know what I believe, if anything. Best, perhaps, to be quiet and attend.