Taboo? (I’m talking about Jesus)

Do you cringe when someone mentions Jesus in polite conversation?

I’ll admit it – I do. Not because I want to, or choose to, but because – well – I don’t really know. It’s an unconscious reaction.

I’ve never been a right-on kind of Christian. Not even when I was briefly president of the Newman Society at university (which I did badly, like most things except partying).

I went to Mass, had my private devotions and my Catholic friends – but we didn’t talk about Jesus. Well, most of us didn’t.

We shook our heads and rolled our eyes at the evangelicals and charismatics. The ones who spoke in tongues and said they could feel the spirit move.

But I never felt that people would look on me with pity if I said I was a Catholic. It was just what you were – a brand of Christian. Or maybe a scoffing atheist, but still nice about it, like my friend Janet.

Now, though, friends raise their eyebrows if I let slip the fact I’m going to church. Two of them even tried to persuade me not to go. It was as if I’d gone out wearing six-inch platform soles and a red leather mini-skirt. As if I really was too clever, too old, too worldly wise for such silliness.

‘Creepy,’ someone I know said, after visiting a Catholic school, referring to a crucifix.

‘Just wrong,’ said another about a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the garden of – um – St Mary’s.

Roadside shrines are now accepted as commonplace in this superficially Christian country – as long as they feature a football scarf or a teddy bear. But heaven forfend someone leaves a statue of Our Lady amid the decaying chrysanthemums.

And yet, we revel in images of colourful Indian ceremonies, of many handed – or headed – gods.

We all know about (and respect) Ramadan and Diwali.

We admire peace-seeking Buddhists and Hindus working towards nirvana. Some of us admire white witches. Well, they’re interesting, at least.

We ‘celebrate’ Halloween, but disconnect it from All Saints Day – and All Souls Day.

So why are we so patronising and supercilious about Christianity?

Why the scorn poured on a faith that says ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’?

When the new Pope was elected, the priest at our local church said, ‘I think the supreme Pontiff would prefer to be called the servant of the servants of God.’

And it struck me, then, how wonderful it was, that simple statement.  The servant of the servants.

How there’s a lesson in that for all the world’s politicians – and its journalists.

Where does their divine right come from, these high-horsed pontificators who populate our TV screens and newspapers – and run the world?

Jesus (I say in a tentative voice) . . .

Jesus (firmer this time) had (reportedly) a lot of things to say whose spirit they might wish to emulate, even if they don’t believe in a God of any kind.

Jesus said blessed are the merciful.

Jesus said the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

Jesus said it would be easier for a camel to slip through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to get into heaven.

I suspect Jesus wouldn’t have said, ‘Go on, have that bar of chocolate. Buy that expensive face cream and a car that costs more than some people’s houses. Go on – you’re worth it.’

Or, ‘yeah, take massive risks with someone else’s money. Ruin the world’s financial systems. Meh. You’re too big to fail’.

I wonder. Do we (I’m talking mostly middle-class white folks in England, as you probably guessed) feel uncomfortable around ‘Christians’ because while they seem to be just like us, they’re actually focused on something different? Not the latest iPhone or the pink coat that’s so this winter. Well, they may be focused on those too, but they’re not their be-all and end-all. Their end-all is much, much bigger – beyond all knowing, in fact.

Do they make us feel selfish, these Christians? Because they’re like us, but not like us?

OK there are exceptions – the Amish, for example. But then they’re not really like ‘us’ (well I don’t wear a bonnet do you?) – and anyway, there’s been a film about them with Harrison Ford, so let’s put them to one side.

What I’m wondering is, do we allow ourselves to find Buddhists, Hindus and white witches ‘interesting’, because they’re different?

‘Aha!’ you may say, ‘but why haven’t you mentioned Jews or Moslems?

Why, indeed? People who are often subject to far more suspicion, discrimination, abuse, hate and loathing in the west than are mere Christians. Well, that’s a topic too far-ranging for a short post like this – and being neither a Jew nor a Moslem I can’t speak from experience. Plus, I don’t have any answers.

But I do know that fear is at the heart of hatred and mistrust. That fear stokes the flames under martyrs, as well as the engines of terrorism.

At school I learned about Catholic martyrs burned at the stake, here, in England. As children we sang:

Our fathers chained in prisons dark were still in heart and conscience free, how sweet would be their children’s fate, if they like them could die for thee.

I wish to God those days were gone forever, for all religions, all faiths. But they aren’t, are they? The gap between the haves and have-nots grows. Poor countries face famine and natural disasters. The rich throw tons of food away and Western governments build flood defences that Bangladeshis can only dream on.

And so it will continue to happen.

But I’m a pessimistic optimist. It may not be in my time, but one day, surely . . .

[By the way, I don’t wear red leather mini-skirts, or six-inch platforms, but I’d defend my right to do so against all comers.]

This entry was posted in Religious for a year: Atheist-man's experiment, Thinking, or ranting, or both and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Taboo? (I’m talking about Jesus)

  1. Audrey Chin says:

    Ah well, they never said taking faith to heart it was going to be comfortable… I suspect all true practitioners of faith will always be somewhat out of step with the masses and strangely similar to each other, whether they’re Xtians or Buddhists or whatever … Anyway, that’s how it looks to a former convent girl who still goes to church and meditates at the Buddhist temple and lights a stick of incense for the neighbourhood jinns every now and then …


  2. Jennie Saia says:

    I’ll be completely honest, since you were. For a long time, the Catholic church held a special place in my “book of bad guys,” because I worked as an advocate for women’s reproductive rights. We worked on an international scale, and I never felt like any other religion attacked women on this subject as much as Christianity – especially Catholicism – did. (It surprised me, too.)

    I’ve grown up some since, and also learned that several of my friends are Catholic. I’ve become able to “hate the game, not the player” – and even that wording is too strong. I don’t hate the Catholic church. I’ve seen what a positive influence it can be on people who are willing to accept the parts of it that make sense to them, and reject the parts that don’t fit their social open mindedness. And I’m aware of the many good works led by the church and its members.

    However, I do still question why people would turn to a religion that they have to ignore half the tenants of. It seems like it would be hard to celebrate and believe fully with one eye closed. I’m not saying people shouldn’t – I strongly believe to each their own, whatever works for them – but I do wonder.

    In any case, thanks for writing this. I certainly don’t think Christians as a group should be persecuted… but it would help our move to mutual understanding if publicly prominent (usually extremist) Christians stopped using their religion as an excuse to commit hateful acts.


    • I’m glad you read this and replied, Jennie. I’ve been an absentee Catholic for many years and it’s ironic that it was not my decision to start going to Mass again but my husband’s – and he’s an atheist. The Catholic church is a constant puzzle to me – composed as it mostly is of good, hard working and socially engaged people yet with such a chequered history. I can see that the church organisation and hierarchy has developed shells over the centuries that have divorced it from its grass roots in many ways – I hope the current Pope is the beginning of beneficial change. I am particularly impressed that you can be fair about friends’ religious beliefs when you are probably vehemently opposed to the church’s teaching as it affects reproduction (and I think you live in America where these issues have become far more polarised and high profile than they are here in old England). Why do people stick with the church when they disagree with some of its fundamental moral judgements (as many people do)? Well, I can only guess that they feel the benefits outweigh the negatives. I have found – and so has my husband – that the sense of community we have shared this last year and the genuine charity, selflessness, humility and public spiritedness of the congregation we have becone a part of is what keeps us going – sharing in something we will never have on our own. I will probably continue to go after his ‘experiment’ ends even though I am still in an undecided place (she says, vaguely!). There’s lots more I’d like to ‘discuss’ with you so maybe I’ll email, but best stop there for now or I’ll be here all day!


      • Jennie Saia says:

        Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. I’m always glad when people find a real community – for a short while, I didn’t have one, and felt the absence of it very sharply. I can relate, to some degree, to overlooking the “negatives” for the sake of the positive- I certainly have friends whom I love very much that still do and say things that madden me. I tend to just ignore and brush off those aspects of their personalities, and focus on what we have in common. Then again, that’s my personal decision, whereas church doctrine affects millions, and attempts to control the options of people who aren’t even part of the church, which is what really burns me up (In Hell? I kid.)

        I also have friends (I learn so much from other people) who plan to re-join the church once they have children, much more because they want their kids to experience that community than because of the religious teachings. I would argue that their children would already have a pretty broad network of family, family friends, and their parent’s work colleagues… but, I do get how nice it is to be plugged into something like that. I wish you all the best with your experiment!


  3. hello, memoirs… tolerance of faith is hard to come by these days. tolerance itself can hardly be expected, hohoho. methinks we live in hard times. people nowadays take pride in being ignorant, brutal and selfish (and they vocalize it). it’s easier to come across prejudice showing its hard and pointed teeth… :c hope you are well 🙂


    • Hi, on-hold cynic. Yes, that was really my point I suppose. You put it succinctly. It seems we tolerate and even celebrate pride, arrogance, selfishness, ruthlessness (I hate all the ‘because I’m/you’re worth it’ style of ad campaigns)and ignore their negative sides (ha)- but people scorn and even despise faiths because they don’t believe themselves – they can’t or won’t see the good things about them.
      I’m well, hope you are, good to hear from you (and now I clicked the right button I can see more of what you’re up to, keep on writing.).


  4. Nobody mentions the Spanish Inquisition! Far too many questions to answer, although I have a few, being a recovered catholic myself with siblings still under the yoke. Seems to me catholicism depends on a good deal of hypocrisy; not just from child-abusing priests pontificating on morality for the ‘flock’ [once I decided I wasn’t a sheep, I had to leave the flock], or frustrated nuns bullying small children in their ‘care’, but also the ‘faithful’ who subscribe to the doctrine and the infallibility of the main man [a virgin apparently], but limit their families anyway.
    Your main question [if there is one] seems to me to be why are we as a society embarrassed by christians being too vocal, while tolerating other cults like islam and judaism, the other two of the unholy trinity of toxic Abrahamic cults. It’s possibly the exoticism of foreign faiths, although I look on them all as part of the same phenomenon; humans inability to accept they are not special but just another accidentally evolved species. It all stems precisely because most humans think they’re ‘special’ surely? That they deserve to live forever rather than compost back into the biosphere from whence they came.
    It’s all to do with comforting those who can’t cope with the idea of their own death, of their ego ceasing to be. The latest, most modern cult, suited to the new scientific age, is belief in the ‘singularity’, which has a large following among science bods, its head priest being Ray Kurzweill, which is basically a belief that with developments in computing power, the day is approaching when we [us ego creatures] can upload our entire being/consciousness/mind/soul/memory etc etc. into a computer and become a super cyborg who can live forever. The very idea horrifies me more than any religion’s phastastical theories, not least because one can dismiss ignorant peasants superstitions easily, but science graduates? People who should be steeped in objective assessment, logical examination and rational theorising?
    My bottom line has always been that IF there were such a thing as the creator of the whole universe [given what we know about the size of that and our place in it], would this superbeing really be bothered by an insignificant scrap of monkey life on a tiny ball of rock orbiting a minor star on the very edge of it all? Would it really give a toss if Jews left Palestine, or Christians were crucified? IF there were such a thing as god, it would be as oblivious of us as we are of the millions of micro-organism which crawl on our skin, and in our intestines, and would be as impressed with us worshipping it as we would be if micro-organisms formed religions based on theories of the world [us] and how important they all were in the scheme of things. Onward Christians lifeforms, marching as to war… a lot of wars involved with religions.
    A curse on all their houses.


    • Or a plague, even?
      I sympathise with much of what you say. Wars, the Spanish Inquisition, bonfires under martyrs, the papacy itself very noticeably at times in its history, make you wonder how the people involved could call themselves Christians. And, yes, there is hypocrisy, perhaps, among those who tolerate the organised form of the church and the papal pronouncements but privately differ. Then there are the historical accretions of clerical celibacy and papal infallibility. The Vatican Bank. All these and more. I accept all that. I also find what you say about the universe (just the one?) especially convincing after my trip to Jodrell Bank and hearing the sounds of the stars. And I am not at all looking to live forever – well, most certainly not as a disembodied brain. If there’s nothing after this one, well, OK. But…
      I, as is probably plain from my ‘religious for a year’ posts if nothing else, am floundering around a bit trying to work out what I really believe. Church-going has been a surprisingly rewarding experience – if not necessarily the one it ‘should’ (?) be. I was brought up Catholic and can see now, having lived through a very considerable gap in my regular attendance at church before becoming a ‘regular’ again, that the more one attends and participates, the easier it is to be drawn in by the reassuring feeling of comfort that the community brings with it, or does these days – we’re currently not risking death by going to a Catholic church in this country (I hope not anyway, though people elsewhere are). The old [reportedly] Jesuit ‘give me a child till he is 7’ and all that. Once that stuff is in there it stays. Or can be re-ignited very easily – or aspects can. I started to read ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’ as research for my currently-being-written book and stopped – I can see the endless spiral of self-questioning that would ensue if I pursued it – and I think the priest character I have created is already confused enough!
      In this world where selfishness is so celebrated, I think it is worth reminding ourselves that one of the very good things about Christianity is that it teaches us to consider other people. I wasn’t saying Christians are too vocal – I was saying on the contrary that many wouldn’t dream of talking about it because of the reaction when they do – cringe. Where the post was attempting to tread with a light step, was why tolerate and accept and respect some belief systems and not others? Of course this then brings down upon my head Scientology and Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Klingons. OK, I don’t know. I just wanted to talk about it. Thanks!


  5. ‘why tolerate and accept and respect some belief systems and not others?’ Yes, that would not be logical [I hear Mr Spock in my head], which is why I treat all beliefs based on nothing at all as the same; delusional monkey business. I don’t really view the four you mention as any more deranged than the major players; they just don’t have the numbers, but do share the illogicalities and self-serving nature of all religions.
    Our problem is we evolved a brain complex enough to ensure success in a world not exactly friendly to a thin-skinned, hairless monkey who can’t run very fast and has no fangs or claws. But apart from using pointed sticks, throwing rocks and their modern counterpart, bombs, and building dwellings that don’t blow down, there’s too much spare which encourages us to waste our time imagining we are special because of it. We put brain power above all other attributes, but of course, we would wouldn’t we? We value monkey talents, and dismiss others’.
    Am I dissapointed my perspicacity and sheer monumental intelligence will be lost to humankind and the planet? You betcha! But that’s just my ego, it’ll get over it.


    • Oh Peter, you do undersell yourself! I think we are at an inmpasse here. I don’t really know what I think and believe at this stage in my life – but you do. Lucky you. So, you can keep on holding everyone including me to account, it’s your public duty (can’t do a wry smiley face, sorry).


  6. On the other hand I could be wrong and the great creator mother is going to give me hell … whoops, naughty boy!.


  7. Tess Ross says:

    Wonderful discussion Mary … thanks for starting it. We all need to question things in order to find the answers! As a practicing Catholic, I still ask questions. Many years ago, I did try the Pentecostals and found that I missed the sense of reverence and ceremony that the Catholic Church does so well. In the end I returned and have never looked back, but it doesn’t stop me from asking God “Why? why? why?”

    This present Pope has changed no doctrines but he has such a pastoral heart for PEOPLE that one is drawn to him. He is JESUS to us I believe. Jesus’ doctrines were not easy. He challenged us (he continues to challenge me!). One cannot hope to live the faith without being challenged. Our world wants the easy option and spirituality does not simply revolve around giving everyone equal rights, gay marriage etc and we’ll all be happy. Anyone who takes on Christianity has to know that they will follow the path of the cross! Does that sound crazy?

    What I mean is, Jesus is not Santa Claus. Life hands us raw deals and we have to live through it. We will need to forgive at times when we would rather not. Need I go on?? Oh Mary, i didn’t mean to write a discourse here but we want an easy life … an easy Jesus … and he challenged us to take up his gospel options which means loving people – gays, homeless, jobless (even rich arrogant people too) whoever. No judgement, such a hard thing to do … but I keep trying!

    I promise this is the last word! We can only understand the Catholic Church by first understanding Jesus – the one whose name we can’t mention (I totally agree with this). Get to know HIM first and then the rest will follow. People not in the Catholic Church do not understand this. Anyway, thanks for the discussion, including everyone’s input. Great to hear from them! And I’m not proud of those priests who abused children either … or the bishops who protected them. Time for a fresh start. Tess xx


    • Thanks for reading all that Tess. Yes, it was an interesting debate. I was surprised how many people agreed about ‘Jesus’ – just this week an old friend said – of course, we Catholics never talk about Jesus. I like your point about loving the rich and arrogant too – there is a tendency when one holds views that are ‘left’ or ‘right’ to apply an instinctive dislike to the ‘other’ – and the fact that so many very wealthy people can give away vast sums for others less well off does suggest that rich people can be nice too!! The way of the cross, hmm. I am writing about a fictional priest who’s a detective of sorts and the story is set in Lent – he spends a fair bit of time thinking about evil and contemplating the stations of the cross. As I write about it I wonder more and more at the horror of that death. I’ve recently started reading a book called The Master and Margarita which features the devil himself – very thought provoking. Anyway, I must go to the optician now, but I hope you keep on reading and keeping me on my toes – I really must try and love the arrogant! (And I, too, hope the Pope keeps on the path he started out on – it will not be easy and I far for his safety.) Mary x


      • Tess Ross says:

        Mary, your book sounds fascinating! Love the idea of the priest detective. I will have to make a point of buying it when it is published! I like detective shows and murder mysteries like Midsomer Murders and Dalzeal and Pascoe.

        I am editing a spiritual book of an 85 year old friend from my church who spent 7 years with Mother Teresa as a nun. She is fascinating and I am enjoying editing her book at the moment. She constantly keeps ME on my toes so we all need someone of that kind don’t we?!

        The thing with loving all these difficult people is that one can only try. I think I fail so often … but I do count on God’s mercy and don’t dwell on my failures.

        By the way, I too, fear for the Pope’s safety so I was amazed that you wrote that! I just finished reading a book about the first month of his Pontificate. Fascinating! All the best. Tess xx


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