Why Religion and Faith Still Matter
Of Gods and Men, a film about Christian monks in Algeria, has made me, through the ideas it presents and represents, rethink my place in the world. Religion bashing has once again become cool, as it’s generally acknowledged that only idiots believe in what they can’t see. Individual responsibility, Sartre screaming in the collective ear; but if the individual is an empty vessel then I believe society is a brothel filled with cheap sensory overload, false promises and superficial relationships. Say I spend time fulfilling daily duties for a paycheque (that paycheque goes towards basic necessities and fancies, no more) and in my free time I Tweet, Facebook/Facestalk, drink, go to the cinema (hardly, too expensive these days, download it), gossip about Apprentice… where does wisdom and understanding come into it? Can the teachings of holy books be replicated by Twitter or the rising careers of pop scientists?
Apparently, we live in a world of logic, of seeing is believing. So what do you see? I see mostly greed and its twin: self-interest. Salary talk, position, ambition, experience, job cuts to favour the rich, the idolisation of celebrity and adoration of a pigsty lifestyle. Me, myself and I. My wife works for a charity in which staff get paid next to nothing, are expected to take on more and more work while the owners go cultivating a smile. Charity works on commission, the poor serve to satisfy the immense desire of the wealthy and privileged. Ignorance, lack of care and a refusal to sacrifice are all bestselling tattoos, and the salesman is king and executioner.
“Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.”
What did Of Gods and Men (or the story behind it) show me?
You go home and you want to be loved, yearning for life to matter. You go home and the very notion of home has loving connotations. But what religion shows is that there’s no greater love than the love for God (or deity of choice). Buddhism teaches that God lives inside the everyman and then loving our neighbour can only be natural. Devotion to Kindle, devotion to video games, devotion to any temporary pleasure cannot compare to wholehearted devotion to God because of the example you set for others. You show nothing by scratching your balls to porn, you show goodness and character by showing and proving love driven by devotion. That, friend, is the reason why “traditional marriage” still matters.
The family unit is on the way out or as strong as ever, depending on your background. The laptop is your brother, the iPod your mother and the TV your almighty father. And the Internet will tell you what you should think. YouTube will even show you how to walk. For me, the family was and, in many ways still is, the backbone. The teachings I received from my grandparents and my mother will stay with me for the rest of my life and the love and support shown by the sacrifice that my parents made in bringing me to England can only serve to inspire my actions. But people are people, unpredictable. The effect of today’s chaotic mindfuck world cannot be measured. Desire for everything, yes, everything, also means that family break-ups are common. Love, like blood, is not eternal. And yet, the enduring faith in God seems to endure all. The monks in Of Gods and Men prefer to turn their back on family and home to serve in the name of Christ, to help and offer hope. Whether you’re religious or not, you cannot but be moved by such grand statement of love. A safer, warmer existence purposefully turned down in favour of a dedicated, harder life with no monetary objective in sight and no thought of one.
I was born into an Orthodox family. I went to church, read the Bible, followed and performed the rituals. And what annoyed me, deeply, was seeing people do these rituals, proclaim their love for God, step outside the church and treat others like dirt, again. From my experience there are many who practice the religion of the self, using religion to serve their needs. You know, the politicians, the businessmen, celebs, power merchants. And your regular next-door type who visits church once a month to catch up on local gossip. Faith should be a force that takes you away from the confines of establishment, allows you to get your hands dirty in opposition to the lies spread by pristine hypocrites.
“As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.”
I live in Twickenham, a relatively safe, anonymous suburban town, and let me tell you something: I hear and I’ve heard lots of casual racism. Oh, but it’s a joke! Of course people you’re not quite comfortable with or willing to fully accept are a joke. The butt of jokes. As racism towards blacks and Asians is now, in theory, frowned upon, racism towards Eastern Europeans has escaped the politically correct enforcers. From Polish plumbers to Romanian gypsies, to whores and The Guardian’s complete lack of coverage of Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. I mean it can’t be that good. It’s a Romanian abortion movie, right? But also the little whispers between shop workers and office monkeys in judgment and mistrust. From my point of view, with the dim lights of multiculturalism flickering in the background, this cannot but devalue people. The holy texts will not instruct you to laugh along to prejudice. The monks in Of Gods and Men don’t stand around taking the piss out of people who are different to how they are. There are no silent congratulations in-between prayer sessions.
Our Western existence is one of comfort and material possessions, despite daily complaints from friends and family. Happiness may or may not come into it. And fear of loss will paralyse the Western essence sooner or later. And then what? Put things in perspective. Is your loss a monumental event worthy of special care and attention? Of course it is, you’ve paid your taxes, you’ve signed up to first world rights and expectations. Religion, though, can give a person relief in the sense that a belief in more than this, more than this terrifyingly limited existence, hands people vision. Like any other religious aspect, this is open to personal abuse. But I’ve seen people hitting the booze to get through their soulless drudgery. You can’t talk about religion being a comfort blanket or escape pod when you don’t know how to deal with your daily grind. Maybe the religious aren’t as stupid as you think for pouring over ancient texts to find meaning.
And the main message will be love. Brotherhood through love of a good cause is when love goes beyond a mere fling. More than that, love of responsibility, of being the heart of the poor and needy. Through the examples set by Jesus Christ, and not by Oprah or Mark Zuckerburg. What Of Gods and Men also shows is that extremism is partly due to being ill-educated or lacking education. Reading, and a higher awareness, would help to snap the chain of blind leading the blind. I’ve seen love and wisdom shown by believers that should not be dismissed by non-believers (and, also, the other way round). Like the story of the monks in Of Gods and Men, there are many examples and plenty of guidance we can all take from religion and faith to inspire our friendships and day to day struggles.