I don’t know. Maybe I’m getting old and cranky; maybe I need to spend more time cuddling kittens and walking on beaches and staring gape-mouthed at sunrises or something; but I have decided that if my fellow homosapiens have one habit that really gives me what my father used to call ‘the tom-tits’*, it’s this: sitting on the fence.
Case in point #1: a former acquaintance of mine–technically we’re still Facebook friends, but that doesn’t really count any more–is a musician and poet who lives in Melbourne. If I revealed his name, you’d probably remember him; he was, very briefly, very famous once. Anyway, he occasionally reminds anyone who’ll listen that he’s had yet another batch of poems published in our foremost right-wing stinkrag, Quadrant. This is A Good Thing, apparently, because Quadrant’s poetry choices are chosen by Lord Lesley Murray, who of course as anyone knows is simply the best poet Australia has simply ever known. Ever. And, this FB friend of mine chuffed, Quadrant ain’t so bad because people should inform themselves of opposing arguments on issues so they can be properly informed and therefore really test their opinions and so on and so on, I think I’m going to be ill.
I took the opportunity, which I’m guessing he didn’t really appreciate, of reminding him that Quadrant is currently edited by a chap named Keith Windschuttle–a fellow who, at the behest of the Howard government and for almost entirely political purposes, decided to completely rewrite Australia’s post-colonial history and keep all those nasty aboriginal deaths and horrible massacres conveniently out of the equation–using, it has to be said, some totally dubious research practices. If this is the sort of publication my acquaintance wants his work to be in, that’s entirely his right, of course. I’m simply not sure where the bragging rights come from.
And because I decided to assert my position well and truly on one side of the fence, he got all huffy and we don’t speak to each other any more. No loss, I have to admit. The nail in the coffin was his entirely pointless and rude response to a perfectly innocent happy birthday wish I decided to send him. Good luck to him. No doubt he’s busy now still pestering Lord Murray with his stuff, and trying to prove to everyone how right he always is n(pardon the pun), perched on the palings with one buttock either side of reason, just to be safe.
Case in point #2: the other night I enjoyed the debate between Cardinal Pell and Richard Dawkins on the ABC’s Q&A program. I will state up front that I am quite strongly predisposed towards atheism in this debate. Yet again, tonight, I’ve had a reasonably polite slanging match with another of my FB friends over religion. (Of course, my parents always said it should never be discussed; maybe they were right.) The gist of my Friend’s argument is that it is possible to see all sides; to accept that people need religion, and that everyone’s entitled to an opinion (as if this was ever in doubt) and we should welcome the views of all religious persuasions, etc etc. I had apparently been ‘rude’ because I commented that many years ago I had liberated myself of the ‘absurd and irrational notions of religion’; for the record I was raised an Anglican although I never recall at any time during my childhood enjoying being at church, understanding it, wanting to be there. Frankly, it bored me to tears. Sorry if this offends you.
The idea of Intelligent Design is patently absurd–any attempt to dress up spiritiual dogma as science is the cheapest form of intellectual fraud, in my humble opinion. Sorry if this offends you.
I replied to my friend’s very gentle haranguing of me that I was only being honest–“I could smile and lie,” I said to her, “and I’m tempted to say that many Christians do this as a matter of course…” I’m sorry if this…I’m sure you get it by now.
Anyway, I’d rather not sit on the fence on issues that I think are important, and I do believe that the Faith Debate (if I may call it that) is pretty important. I’m a good person, I have a good life and I’m grateful for all the right things–lovely kids, a gorgeous partner, an interesting job, a house to live in, food, all that. But I don’t have God. There’s no Heaven. The world was not ‘created’. It is considerably more than 4,500 years old, as some religious people will have you believe. I’m sure Jesus was a very nice chap who told some interesting stories, which happen to be popular still–I have no issue with any of this. (Apparently he was pretty handy with the tools as well–good at shelving. I’m sorry if this …you know.) If all of this works for you, cool–whatever floats your boat, as a friend of mine used to say. Believe what you have to believe–it’s not a crime. Be warned, though–I won’t be convinced. (And by the way, this does not make me intolerant, as some people have claimed. I have a position and I stick to it and I may well remain eternally puzzled as to why some people seem to find this threatening. I accept fully that mine is only one view in a pantheon of millions and anyway who really cares what I think? You’ve probably stopped reading by now anyway. Especially if I’ve offended you.)
Is it that people are afraid to commit? When is it okay not to want to compromise? Are they afraid to be intellectually honest with themselves? Are they afraid of causing offence? Or, as I suspect in the case of the first scenario I referred to earlier, do some people conveniently pack away their values if it means having to justify seeing something in print (for example)? I don’t know; there are more than likely no easy answers.
If I have a spiritual compass, as I commented to my second friend, it derives from Buddhism; I would of course be a totally hopeless Buddhist, since I eat meat and have long hair, and occasionally I drink to forget–but I get where they are coming from in ways that I just don’t with other religions; Buddhism centres on the self and notions of calm and mindfulness; in other words, it’s my responsibility. I don’t have to outsource forgiveness and compassion to a nebulous deity.
I have also long drawn inspiration from the last teaching of the Buddha before he died, which I found in a book (The Teaching of Buddha) I purchased in Thailand on my honeymoon way back in 1998. The last thing Buddha said to his students, gathered around him under that famous tree in northern India: “Make of yourselves a light.”
So go forth and illuminate, people. Do it with courage, and with compassion in your hearts. Just don’t bloody well do it from the top of the fence!
*This is rhyming slang, of course. My father often speaks it like a second language.