Going to Church

churchOn suburban Sunday mornings in the 1960s, church was the place to be. How many of those who crowded the pews in those distant days were, in any meaningful sense, Christians, it is hard to say. Going to church was expected. If you were an atheist or even an agnostic, you were definitely in a minority.

Going to church was not all duty. If you were in your teens, there were other incentives. Most churches in the growing suburbs of the major cities ran youth groups, which were good places to meet members of the opposite sex. Even the most hyper-vigilant parents could not disapprove of the youth group.

Denominations were taken very seriously. My state-school scripture classes reflected a multitude of fine divisions. There were Presbyterians, Methodists and Congregationalists, each class with its own minister or lay teacher. There were also lots of Baptists, with of course good old Church of England as the staple fare. The number of Catholic kids was small, as most were at their own schools.

Catholics and Protestants belonged to different tribes. My family, although not at all religious, were wary of Catholics, who were, we believed, likely to be less cognisant of the public good than the rest of the population. I am not sure where this belief came from. Perhaps it derived from the time of Archbishop Mannix, whose uncompromising brand of Irish Catholicism was deeply unpopular with many Australians.

I don’t think I had even met many Catholics until, in the later years of high school, some Catholic girls from a nearby convent school joined us for the matriculation years. I had vaguely expected that having been taught by gracious ethereal figures in wimples and religious habits, they would be more circumspect and reflective than the rest of us. In practice, they proved to be riotously un-devout. One told me that, if any of the girls showed any signs of wanting to become a nun, the others would, as quickly as possible, find her a boyfriend. The nuns, I learned, were not particularly revered. Some sounded quite troubled, others verged on the sadistic.

How rapidly that era of middle-class suburban religiosity changed! Attendances began to fall away as early as the 1970s, and there were fewer young people seeking to become priests and nuns, or wanting to become ministers. But the days of abundant vocations were not quite what they seemed.

As we now know, and as the churches themselves knew at the time, there was a dark side to the organised religion of the 1960s and 1970s. Even then, as I have learned from Catholic friends, many parents had their suspicions about certain priests. But there were many who, unsuspecting or possibly even desperate, simply trusted their kids to church-run schools and homes, expecting—as they were entitled to expect—that they would be well-taught and well-treated.

This essay appeared in a recent edition of Quadrant.
Subscribers read it weeks ago.

The churches, of course, responded as every institution does when it is under attack. They covered up the problem instead of confronting it. As Christians, they ought to have done better. But then as a spiritually based institution, they had a great deal to lose. They were also, as organisations, singularly ill-equipped to manage the complex human needs of their employees. In retrospect, we see clearly how the churches, particularly the Catholic Church, were almost doomed to run into a storm of child sex abuse. Schools provided an ideal environment in which priests with predatory inclinations might operate with little risk of detection.

As it usually does, public exposure of wrong­doing came too late to address the original systemic problem, which had itself largely been solved by the passage of time. While the churches still insist on running schools, most are almost entirely staffed by lay teachers.

Churches continue to be unique organisations. With a spiritual purpose, but a necessarily earthly existence, they are constantly treading a fine line between too much unworldly refinement, and too little real business savvy. The need for greater accountability—inwards, outwards and possibly upwards—has meant that past practices and assumptions have come under increasing challenge.

At a practical level, religious institutions have to find ways of financing themselves. It costs money to run the simplest church, and while some have income-generating assets, most of the funds for day-to-day operations have to come from donations—in other words, from the collection plate. The tax concessions many believe are granted to the churches—as churches—are hard to find. Places of worship are exempt from rates, but rectories are not. While church building funds may be registered as tax-deductible charities, plate-giving is not tax deductible at all.

Ministers walk a tightrope. They must maintain some sort of spiritual rigour, while still attracting new people to their congregations. Some are natural preachers, with a gift for communicating spiritual ideas in ways that resonate with ordinary folk. Others work stolidly away, showing a more personal concern and care. All run the risk of burning out, and all rely heavily on their wives (for most ministers continue to be men), to nurture the busy networks that are so essential to survival.

It is, as they say, a tough gig. While they have considerable authority, it would be a brave or self-confident minister who admonished a member of the congregation. Many parishioners are very sensitive when it comes to slights, and a bit like a doctor’s patients, can always find another congregation that is willing to take them. Perhaps, because God is a fairly hard taskmaster, many people feel they are ‘owed’ for coming to church.

The churches tell us a lot about the communities that built them. It is extraordinary that when travelling, so many people who would never willingly enter a church at home, are eager to be propelled through the great cathedrals of Europe, for they are the supreme monuments to the vision of our forebears. Somehow, the buildings mean even more than the religion that brought them into being.

The greatest will no doubt be kept up, if only because their beauty brings the tourists in. But the earnest chapels, the little boxlike churches that once housed the worship of communities long vanished, at best will be “repurposed”—at worst, bulldozed to the ground, and the land redeveloped.

The small weatherboard churches you can still see, dotted around rural Australia, have a particular poignancy. These unpretentious places were once the focus of the communities they served. Country people still pull together when times are tough. But no church can long survive where populations are declining, and in many parts of rural Australia there are fewer people now than in the days before the First World War, when many of these now-abandoned churches were built. Even in the bigger regional towns, the mainstream churches are struggling, kept alive more often than not by valiant teams of women, the sole bearers of the tradition they represent.

Australian cities do not lack people. But although the churches have tried just about everything, from hip-hop to meditation, to bring people in, something has changed within the general psyche. Sunday is now much like any other day of the week. The shops, the clubs, the pubs and the sports grounds are all open, as are many cafes. Christianity, for all its beauty, power and tradition, no longer commands the attention it once did. Many if not most Australians, without overtly rejecting organised religion, have decided they can do without it.

But if most of the churches go, where will our spiritual lives reside? Cyberspace is one possibility, but seems a poor substitute for a physical building, a place of friendship, a place of refuge, a place for making contact with the world beyond ourselves. Possibly small groups of believers will meet in each other’s houses, as the early Christians did.

Or maybe Christianity, as the most fertile and creative of the world’s religions, will reinvent itself. The church carries the framework of belief within which each member of the community arrives at his or her own personal theology. But there is no reason why those who doubt, or who want a freer form of self-expression, should not be made welcome.

Perhaps, if we use a little imagination, the churches might become the place where we could start these conversations. Maybe now we have, at last, a chance of avoiding the endless confusion of form with substance, and investigating the substance a bit more closely. If our culture is worth fighting for, then so are our churches. We would all be the poorer if they ceased to be.

31 thoughts on “Going to Church

  • Jody says:

    “If our culture is worth fighting for, then so are our churches. We would all be the poorer if they ceased to be.”

    That’s a great big “IF”!!!

    Also, you mentioned the general antipathy towards Catholics expressed by other Christians. When I was growing up in a Catholic household in the 50’s and 60’s my mother assured us the other Christian faiths were mostly “wowsers” and, true to form, most of those I/we met were, in fact, wowers. Our parish priest was young and used to come to our boisterous parties to drink, play guitar and have great talks/laughs. He was moved to another parish in Muswellbrook, as I recall!!! Too much frivolity and broad-mindedness for the Diocese of Maitland to cope with!!! He left the church and got married a few years later.

    And the great cathedrals of Europe survive because they are artifacts of the greatest engineering achievements which were possible at the time of construction. And those little towns dotted all over France and Austria all still have church steeples in the middle of them. It was my ongoing joy to go to Hochamt in Wien am Augustinerkirche jeden Sonntag!! It was a classy ritual which I’d gladly return to Vienna, any day of the week, to continue attending. Then there was this unforgettable service while we were there in 2011 at Stephansdom! A Requiem mass for the last heir to the Austrian throne, Otto von Habsburg, celebrated by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn:


    • Jody says:

      And after the Requiem Mass, this:


      So, for come countries like Austria the Church and the ritual and ceremony are still very important!!

      • Salome says:

        But not all that many Austrians go regularly. Same with the rest of Europe. Still, for desertion of the pews, I think Australia pretty much takes the cake.

        • Jody says:

          There is a tax imposed upon Austrian Catholics to help pay for the upkeep of churches, so they do take it seriously as I said before. I put RC on my documentation when we arrived in Austria and, sure enough, I received a letter asking for cash!!!

          • ian.macdougall says:

            As far as I am aware, the Danish government still pays for the upkeep of Denmark’s Lutheran churches and also the salaries of the ministers. One church my wife and I visited there had a beautifully tended graveyard attached. Clients (deceased) get a plot of ground in which to be buried for 20 years, after which said plot is allocated to someone else. (Hence the graveyard scene in Hamlet, where the skull of Yorick is unearthed in the course of a re-digging of the site.)
            The gravestones and markers, however, are all stored in one section of the graveyard, and one can visit the gravestone of a relative, if not the original grave.

  • en passant says:

    As an atheist I see the supermarket of gods (dead or some unfortunately alive) as a man-made construct created to fill a gap. I fill my ‘gaps’ by belonging to several clubs and specialised organisations. I have no need of an eternal afterlife, though I have exchanged a lengthy debate with the religiously minded over the years (of many faiths). My argument boils to down to the fact that god (choose as many as you like) is either powerless or has abandoned Earth and moved on. How mysterious is it that the select few major prophets hear voices in their heads when Facebook, Twitter and emails are much more efficient and far less likely to end up screwing up the message?
    Religion has been a force for evil, destruction, murder, conquest, delusion and dementia than any other single source or cause of death. Smallpox to this day runs a close second, though the two could be grouped under the heading of ‘Diseases Unique to Humans’.
    The survival and revival of some religions is the greatest proof of the evolutionary lack of progress in developing people capable of creating and and then remaining civilised.

    • wgdix2@internode.on.net says:

      In more than 65 years of my adult life no one has convinced me how the following, among other things, came to be of their own volition:-

      a. Earth’s axial tilt or obliquity from the perpendicular to the orbital plane, giving us the seasons. Other planets in our solar system have their differing obliquities.
      b. Earth’s daily rotation, giving us day and night.
      c. Earth’s elliptical solar orbit, fastest and closest to the Sun at the equinoxes and slowest and farthest away at the solstices.
      d. Capillary action, which draws water to the topmost branches of trees, some exceeding 110 metres in height such as the Australian mountain ash and Californian redwood.
      e. Photosynthesis, by means of which trees and plants convert carbon dioxide and water to oxygen and stored energy. Conversely, humans and other animals consume energy, inhale air to oxygenate the blood, and exhale carbon dioxide. This is recycling on a large scale.

      If a partial answer to the first three is gravity, what is it and who or what causes it?

      If the entire answer to everything is to be found in the ‘big bang’, who or what lit the fuse, or caused matter, including gases, to be and gave them their combustibility and subsequent order and fertility?

      I search for an explanation that avoids the facile ‘everything is just there’.

      If voices in my head there be, among them are the music and words of one who I suspect would appeal to others, though not all:-


      Alas, in your conflation of all religion with things evil, destructive and so on you mistake the actions arising from the sewer of the human heart with the teaching and example of the central figure of history.

      He was the One who came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. We call this year 2016 because we still reckon the years from his lowly birth in Bethlehem two millennia ago.

      He will one day return. Meanwhile, hospitals, welfare organisations such as the Salvos, Vinnies and Anglicare, and international aid organisations such as Barnabas Fund, bear daily witness to his command that we love our neighbours as ourselves.

      • ian.macdougall says:

        Wyndham, interesting questions, but nothing ‘comes to be’ of its own volition. That is about ‘things’ willing themselves into existence. But your own ability to ponder the issues a-e above is a consequence of this planet’s suitability to support your own life and that of every other organism around, so without that condition having been met, your question would not have been asked in the first place.
        As far as I am aware, ALL celestial bodies rotate, including the Sun, and all orbit some orbital centre: in the Sun’s case, that is the Galactic Hub – the gravitational centre of the Milky Way. The elliptical orbits of the planets around the Sun and their constantly changing orbital speeds are a consequence of Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation: as Newton himself showed. (Einstein posted an update.)
        Capillary action is a consequence of the polarity of water molecules, which polarity in turn is a consequence of quantum mechanics, which in turn is a consequence of whatever. Photosynthesis likewise comes out of quantum physics.
        But consider this: there are around 10^29 stars in the known Universe, and if our solar system is typical there are 10^30 planets involved, give or take a few. I think it highly likely that there is life on a lot of those, and intelligent life on quite a few in turn. I think also that it is odds-on that those intelligent beings have created civilisations, and religious world-views often involving some projected beings with all-too-human(?) characteristics and dispositions, including anger and lust for blood and to be appeased. The sin-and-redemption story, and that of some Prophet (pbuh) being the messenger of said Sky-Ogre are also likely to have occurred on more than one of those say 10^25 or so planets.

  • Jody says:

    Next to being in the Musikverein, Theater an der Wien or Wiener Staatsoper the churches in Vienna are the places I most preferred to be!! And singing with the congregation like this is, well, an ecstatic experience (even though this wasn’t the particular hymn). This is what it sounds like, though;


    And Cardinal Schonborn is an impressive church elder (probably the next ‘pabst’). THERE IS SOMETHING WAY BEYOND THE SELF!! I’ve experienced it many times over.

  • Jody says:

    For ecstatic/spiritual experiences you can’t go past this religiously-inspired, comprehensive musical MASTERPIECE: it doesn’t mean you have to believe in the allegories of the old testament but in humanity itself; the human condition of flaws and failings and the idea of repentance, humility and forgiveness: if JS Bach could feel this way then I’m sure there is hope for other people. But, alas, less so in our age of hubris, materialism and narcissism!!

    Have mercy, my God,
    for the sake of my tears!
    See here, before you
    heart and eyes weep bitterly.
    Have mercy, my God.


  • whitelaughter says:

    The “church” is the fellowship of all believers – and in OZ, between 61-62% of the population. The “church-going” though amount to less than 2%: the Church does not go to church.
    And why bother, if the rest of the church isn’t there?

    *IF* the mainstream churches truly wish to be relevant (and I doubt this) then they should use the religious calendar to focus on different parts of the Bible at different times of the year, so that Christians meeting up can discuss our thoughts on the current topic of study. Purging the clergy of rubbish is also essential – I’ve heard more heresy,religious ignorance and even outright blasphemy from the pulpit than from even the most odiferous God-haters. They also need some lessons in basic honesty: if the clergy/congregation don’t belief in the basics of their denomination, then they should call themselves something else, rather than claiming to be that denomination. The Anglicans, who should find this easiest with their High/Low/Narrow/Broad branches, are particularly bad at this.
    Finally, OZ has not become less religious – we’ve become less Anglican/Uniting. The Anglican church has dropped from 40% down to 17% in a generation, the Uniting from 30% to 13%. Everyone else has stayed roughly the same or increased. the obvious way to reverse the trend is to consider what the Uniting and Anglican churches do – and do the exact opposite.

    • pgang says:

      Very good points. The Anglican and Uniting churches liberalised. The Lutheran church is beginning down that path now too and will cease to effectively exist in Australia in a few decades. Our church is starting to feel more like ‘Feel God About Yourself Pty Ltd’ with every passing month. People are losing interest. You can get that sort of trite nonsense from the tv.

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

    Even though formal religious observance continues to decline, the sense of a supreme authority beyond this world of shadows continues to be an essential aspect of the human psyche. Most people are not consciously aware of it, many even indignantly deny it. Every time there is a religion-related article in Quadrant, there is at least one comment vigorously spruiking the merits of atheism, as if the article itself demanded such spirited response. Is it, perhaps, indicative of a deep-seated, never-to-be-acknowledged insecurity?

  • Warty says:

    As Christianity, per se, forms the foundation of our civilization, one would feel compelled, well almost, to agree with the last two sentences of Jenny Stewart’s article, but I feel the damage has already been done, the attacks inflicted by the enemies of Christianity/enemies of faith/haters of any sense of moral judgment, having laid bare the very bones of civilizational decline.
    That the Cultural Marxists intended the demise of the Church cannot be doubted, though atheism had already begun the unstitching at the time of the French Revolution, when religion was banned to be replaced by reason (the irony being that this statute was promulgated immediately before The Terror).
    In a sense, with the ideas now permeating our schools, universities, police, MSM, armed services, civil service, major parliamentary parties, we are fighting for our ‘lives’ and need desperately to re-inject meaning into our somewhat divided society. Just how that might be achieved, I am not altogether certain, despite the fact I am not an atheist or an agnostic.

    • EvilElvis says:

      The answer seems to me, as with firing up conservatism, to get back to basics. A bit of fire and brimstone, stick to your historical core beliefs and sell them with conviction.

      After going to my partners nieces recent first holy communion, I was not filled with spirit after sitting through a sermon about refugees and being open hearted to our muslim brothers.

      Spare me…

      • Warty says:

        Indeed, Cultural Marxism has infiltrated ‘the Church’ too, which tries to outdo itself in accomodating as many of the limp wristed ideas floating around in our Brave New World as it can. That lefty Anglican church, in Gosford, is one such example, and ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ takes on added significance.
        As you may have gathered, many of the responses, to the Quadrant articles, indicate a readership in its twilight years, so the ‘bit of fire and brimstone’ bit may be beyond many of us, though we can all write with conviction.
        I note en passant’s spirited response to Bill Martin, and though I agree that, though his ideas may indeed contribute to challenging complacency, and even lazy assumptions, but that the very humanist thrust, which so many of us support, viz the supplanting of faith and devotion by reason, may have contributed to our current state of cultural aridity, and atheism is at the heart of that.
        It is one thing to challenge the church, but it is quite another to suffocate religion, which I believe goes back to the many many millennia old desire to discover just who we are and our purpose in this embodiment. The question: what is my purpose in life? If followed by ‘to be a lawyer, or a computer analyst, or a dog catcher’ is to settle for a very poor second best. But if it were to be met by another enquiry, such as ‘I do not as yet know, but I’m prepared to spend my last breath attempting to find out’, then life just might be a little more fulfilling. Such a question, may indeed lead one to a realm of spirit, particularly when one finds out that the individual is not the centre of the universe, as so many humanists believe, when even an out of control bush fire can show such an individual he is very frail indeed.
        What indeed is transcendent? Believe me, it ain’t atheism.

  • en passant says:

    You final comment reminds me of the Robert Burns insight into the soul: “If only we could see ourselves as others see us.”
    So when you say: “there is at least one comment vigorously spruiking the merits of atheism, as if the article itself demanded such spirited response. Is it, perhaps, indicative of a deep-seated, never-to-be-acknowledged insecurity?”
    If an article is written spruiking religion, then what is wrong with a counter-argument being posted? So, if I write an article on the atheistic viewpoint then I would WELCOME alternative views and dialogue, though my experience of living in the M.E. has almost cured me of that futility.
    At my age I can reasonably expect to be dead in 7 – 10 years maximum (and hopefully so) as I would also expect the quality of my life by that to have deteriorated to the point where my daily focus is on pain relief and having my nappy changed regularly. Worse, I may NOT have Alzheimer’s Dementia so, like both my parents I am likely to be fully cognizant of my miserable condition. A deep-seated, never-to-be-acknowledged insecurity? I think not. I will leave that weakness to the sky-dragon believers who communicate with the voices in their head and need a crutch of myth and magic to alleviate their fear of their inevitable death.

    • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

      Bullseye! – The article was not spruiking religion at all, it was merely about religion in contemporary Australian society.

    • Jody says:

      My advice would be that if you are restricted to a decade then stop worrying about these issues and spend time having a great quality of life. And that would necessarily mean engaging with great art (created by many of those who were divinely inspired!).

  • Jody says:

    I’ve just read this in the comments section of “Spiked” by a regular and intelligent participant. It’s essentially about Brexit – which reached the level of a cult (usurping the role of religion?) like so many other ideologies in the modern world. Somehow I felt it meshed tangentially with some of the ideas exchanged on these pages and it is worth a read! The writer is responding to those critics who’ve labelled the “Brexiters” as un-educated, parochial and ignorant. Sound familiar?

    “It is no coincidence that the more educated a person is the more likely to have voted remain. The way history is taught and explained in academia is one of constant progressivism. Most people think that supranational organiations (EU, UN), enlargement of the electoral franchise, the widening of all sorts of rights, the elimination of the separation of social roles between men and women, environmentalism or irreligiousness are processes that are inevitable. There is the notion that a reversal of any of these trends would not only be pernicious but would go against the laws of history, it would be anti natural. The often argued line of “We can’t allow this or that in the 21st century” expresses this thought about historical inevitability. Brexit is then seen as an aberration, a heretical “turning back the clock” towards a 19th century nationalism that has been superseded.

    This view is not only historically false but extremely damaging morally and intellectually. It is wrong because it arbitrarily selects a short period of history (roughly from the 1848 revolutions to the present) and therefore ignores 95% of human history. A longer reading of history will
    show that there have been trends towards more or less freedom or more or less nationalism
    and that the current trend is not exceptional and therefore is as likely to change course as others have been throughout history.

    This historical inevitability is also profoundly detrimental towards human agency. If history is meant to go in one direction only, the individual is not free, he’s just a puppet in the hands of historical forces, and this is the first step toward tyranny. And it also means the end of humanistic learning. If ideas are only going to move in one direction, all analysis, criticism and study is superfluous, there is nothing to learn.

    It is in fact the Remain side the one that has shown lack of intellectual initiative as well as extreme pusillanimity of character. They have been taught a lesson of intellectual independence by the less dogmatic and far more independent Brexiters. Very often the biggest fool is the one with the fanciest degree.”

  • en passant says:

    The 7-10 years I give myself is just the cold arithmetic of my age, the ever accelerating number of deaths of friends and acquaintances posted monthly on the website of a club to which I have belonged for 50-years and observing the effects of age on others. I am not one of those who yells “but that will not happen to me!” Yeah, right. It will, though the date is presently uncertain.

    So, how did you know I am not enjoying life to the full? In fact, I am. I have written two books, one published and one for private distribution. I spend 6-months of the year in Paradise and the other 6-months here in Oz (which I regard now as Paradise Lost). As a hobby, I write for five magazines (make that six if you include articles {not comments} I have had published in Quadrant). I occasionally still work in a professional capacity and accept interesting jobs, which is why I will be in NZ in November. Now that I have explained my full, enjoyable life, that is out of the way. So, let me reiterate or clarify my view.
    Reading articles in Quadrant and commenting on them is part of having a great life. I enjoy (most) of the debates I read in this blog. I also spend time devouring my bucket list of books and playing internet Chess (just below Master Class).
    As Evil Elvis commented: “After going to my partners nieces recent first holy communion, I was not filled with spirit …” Why would you Elvis be inspired when he had to suffer listening to a human claiming to be a conduit to a god telling him earthly twaddle based on today’s socialist political fashion? Didn’t Elvis notice god’s steady hand guiding the twaddler? Umm, no, neither did I – not once, ever.

    Warty makes a good point with “… the very humanist thrust, which so many of us support, viz the supplanting of faith and devotion by reason, may have contributed to our current state of cultural aridity, and atheism is at the heart of that.” Good point, but it does not apply to me as I neither feel arid, nor feel that is it the fault of atheism that nihilism is being equated to atheism. They are not even close.
    I have much higher standards than almost all of the godly I have ever met. The difference between us is that I live by the standards I have consciously set – and they are almost saintly. I noticed a long time ago that the godly preach high standards and almost universally ignore them – while condemning (sometimes literally) those who do not subscribe to a belief in their mythical, deaf and powerless god. There are exceptions, but they are a minority.
    So, that leads to Warty’s big question: “… what is my purpose in life?” I often tell people I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, hence I have had challenged myself throughout my life by transferring between several quite different careers. Add to that the fact that I have lived for more than one year in 8-different countries and in every State of Oz (except Tasmania & Northern Territory), etc. That breadth brings a different perspective to how I see the world and its temporary occupants.
    I asked a fellow atheist friend what his aim in life was and is answer was “To cram in as many different experiences as possible.” Sounds a lot more worthwhile than life in a monastery or at a suicide-bomber training school practising to take out of this world as many people as possible. That’s religion in a NUTshell
    To finish: there is no need for any god, which is just as well as I have never heard anything from him and whatever it is ‘out there doing nothing’, they have never accepted my invitation to have coffee and discuss his/its/their career so far.
    If there is a god, any god, how is the world so screwed up? Don’t blame humans as it is the one in charge who takes the fall. Oh, we have free-choice? Good! My choice is to say goodbye god.

    • Warty says:

      I notice that both you and Jody, talk of a god, non specific, though your end your response with ‘my choice is to say goodbye god’: specific. I have long since stopped using the name ‘God’ as it is both misleading and it carries with it two millennia of misguided Christian thinking on the matter: that there is a ‘person’ somewhere, who will answer to the name ‘God’ is approached with awe, patience, long suffering and, of course, when the need is dire. Well, there are people who do indeed believe this, and I’ve lived long enough, and interacted with a sufficient number of people to know not to ridicule what some many genuinely believe. I also believe that most people are able to shape their worlds according to their beliefs, and that the world has a way of disillusioning people too.
      The thing about the question bit is that everyone asks questions about the world they are born into and the situations they find themselves in, and most feel satisfied (to varying degrees) with the answers they received. Not all questions are existential. Jean-Paul Satre asked existential questions, sometimes in rather bizarre ways, as far as I remember (I read all that sort of stuff in my seriously disturbed 20s) but it is quite another thing to ask without putting oneself at the centre of a universe that knows no transcendence, a la Jean-Paul Satre or Herbert Marcuse. It is quite another to ask questions because you feel utterly compelled to, because the various narratives you’ve been presented with, including the Christian, just don’t make sense. For instance, Jody finished her enigmatic quatrain with two statements, the second one leaving (me) with more questions that they sought to resolve: ‘for now, the inner life is nourished by those who DID believe in a god, and we have been left with the glorious cultural artifacts of that belief: cathedrals, literature, paintings , sculptures and music’. Now, as you may have noticed, Jody quite often supplies hyperlinks to some of her favourite Youtube pieces of music, always within the context of having been uplifted by those pieces of music, and possibly holding the not unexpected belief that many Quadrant readers will be similarly uplifted. In the context of her last statement (the one I quoted) there is a slight anomaly here: they are not artifacts, but living works that no doubt have the same uplifting effect on the observers as they did back in the 19th, 18th and 17th centuries. It doesn’t mean we start thinking of ‘their god’, but simply that we experience the sublime. Jody does or she wouldn’t keep doing what she does. She mentioned it to you, because she felt you’d understand, and believe me I understand, albeit, with one qualification: you cannot build on those ten minutes or thirty minutes of transcendence, and once the memory is gone, so does the experience of the sublime.
      Now, my response is hitting the sort of length likely to get up certain readers’ esteemed nostrils, so I will attempt to hit my straps in as few (remaining) words as I can (on a topic that deserves 40, 000 words at least). I had the good fortune to undergo two experiences that could well have transported me to the never never, but instead left me with a powerful sense of gratitude for everything I have. It was not something planned, desired, or expected, and another person may have experienced the same events in very different ways. It is just that events that some regard with horror can be, for others, transformative. You cannot explain what, but something had changed within. People who’ve faced death on the battlefield have described similar transformations, yet others have disintegrated under identical scenarios, even the same battles: you know, because you may have read of similar occurrences. No rational explanation can be given for the profoundly dissimilar outcomes. Quests, or profound questions can also be transformative and defy ‘rational’ explanation, but there those who can relate to what is described and those who are left cold, and there is no judgement, no criticism, it is just the way things are. Church and spirit are two entirely different phenomena.
      My apologies for the length.

  • Jody says:

    I’m happy for you. I very much believe this:

    “I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
    Some letter of that After-life to spell:
    And by and by my Soul return’d to me,
    And answer’d: ‘I Myself am Heav’n and Hell”

    I have entreated god’s help on many occasions in my life and been given an unequivocal knock-back. I am reminded of NASA – they send out expensive technology hoping for a sign of life beyond the solar system. Radio silence.

    For now, the inner life is nourished by those who DID believe in a god and we have been left with the glorious cultural artifacts of that belief. Cathedrals, literature, paintings, sculptures and music.

  • en passant says:

    I appreciate the effort and thought you put into your reply. Try writing an article one day.
    In my more adventurous days I faced death a few times. I wrote a heritage biography for future generations, but one bit might interest you in light of our debate and your comment about how people react to life-threatening situations. You only have to watch an ISIS or a holocaust video to be stunned by how people behave when facing a certain and ugly death. Here is one adventure in which I had plenty of time to think about my mortality and if it was time to pray. I didn’t.
    “One of the ‘adventures’ we dreamed up was to take a raft to sea at night to the wreck of the ‘Alkimos’, which was grounded on a reef about 3-kilometres offshore about 60km north of Perth. This last misadventure really came close to killing us as we had no lifejackets or communications gear and had not told anybody where we were going or when we would be back. It was also a long weekend and we had not checked the weather either. We took two oil drums and lashed them together on a pallet. This ‘raft’ turned out to be highly unstable, no matter which way up we floated it. This was eventually fixed when we added driftwood outriggers and one of us stayed in the water (to also provide motive power). This took all day to work out so we eventually set off at sunset and spent a cold, wet night on the ‘haunted’ Alkimos. Getting there was the easy part as the weather turned bad during the night. The next morning we set off at dawn in rough seas (forgetting that every morning the wind always blows from onshore to offshore) so we soon lost sight of Australia as we headed on strong currents out to sea! When the ‘raft’ broke up in heavy seas we were extremely lucky to be picked up by the only fishing boat out that day as the weather was so bad! Curiously, the fishermen never asked what we were doing clinging to a pallet about 5km from shore. Dumb or dumber, or just too stupid to die …?”
    If that did not cause me to ask for supernatural help, I cannot think what will.

    “the glorious cultural artifacts of that belief. Cathedrals, literature, paintings, sculptures and music.” They were all created by men and they would have been created in some form with or without any god. Just look at the palaces of emperors, the Coliseum, Mad King Ludwig’s castle on the Rhine, etc.

    • Jody says:

      Yes, I’ve often heard that remark before – many times. But the fact is we have what we have as a direct result of those particular individuals and a religious aesthetic. Those ‘pleasure domes’ of the Mad King and his theme park sensibility, the Coliseum and countless other palaces are every bit as kitsch as those of the Habsburg emperors and any other royals you care to name. Testimony to decadence, power and excess, wholly without a religious purpose. I wouldn’t want to compare the magnificent Nostre Dame Cathedral with the Hermitage in St. Petersburg or any other decadent structure. A temple of secular delight is the latter and an architectural marvel built to the glory of god and the church for the former.

      The fact is – like it or not – the catholic church shaped the direction of western classical music for nearly 1,000 years, and painting for at least two or three hundred years. You are entirely free to speculate on what would have occurred without that, but it’s purely hypothetical. The church provided the opportunity for artists to achieve at the highest possible levels, reasonably consistently and without divine intervention!!

  • bdave351 says:

    The slow dissapearance of the ‘church’ is surely a great thing for us as a species looking to moving forward towards the stars.

    Sadly however, yet another regressive ridiculous religion seems to have thrust itself to the forefront of world affairs.

  • en passant says:

    The truest remark you have made is: “The church provided the opportunity for artists to achieve at the highest possible levels, reasonably consistently and without divine intervention!!” That I take means that no sky-dragon was required.

    bdave351: welcome to the debate and your accurate comment.

    • Jody says:

      The ‘sky dragon’ was essential to the project. It was the creators of those works who became the living godhead. And that last sentence is my answer to Warty’s comments (9/10, 8.30pm).

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