I’m somewhat blessed with a multitude of jobs – Marketing Manager, app developer, graphic artist, copy writer, website designer; but none are more eye opening or indeed as fun as my daily adventures in other people’s private lives.
You see, I’m an agony aunt.
Albeit far removed from the gin soaked graying lesbian man eaters of community radio, or their polar opposite, the overt blonde 40 somethings, whose lives revolve around discussing erectile dysfunction and justifying copious amounts of liberal sex with anyone or anything that has two legs or a strap on.
I’m the man up front and centre for a series of ‘help’ related iPhone applications, ranging from relationship issues, through to the mind numbing mundane-ness of sport and trivia.
I already know what you’re thinking; yo dawg, sport? What do you know about sport? You’re about as sporty as an Albanian washing machine, and about as knowledgeable on the subject. Well, when it comes to sport there isn’t really much to know – I normally just rattle off a list of muscles that I invented (Bleets, Trutes, Biffords) and mention something about monosodiumhypertention – the lack of electrolytes in the underlying muscles of your running and lifting mass index areas.
The more attuned of you will realise that last bit was nonsense.
A steaming pile of number two in a broken toilet; a pork pie 400 miles high, filled to the brim with whoppers. Absolute bollocks so large that a small army of Chinese child workers will have grown up, raised a family, suppressed capitalism, and died long before they get a chance to sew together a pair of pants large enough to house them.
I was fibbing.
That goes to show the value of my counsel. It also shows the value of those receiving the advice; most of my rambling is met with positivity and admiration. Like we’re so eager to pass on the burden of bettering our own lives, we blindly leap into the suggestions of people that have absolutely no pre-conception of who we are.
However it’s not the sport, the trivia, the science, or even the relationship issues that disturb me the most. One such app I oversee is responsible for fielding questions from the religious community; I play the part of a Preacher, with my character firmly supplanted deep in the roots of the American Baptist Church ideology.
“But, you’re an atheist aren’t you?”
I am. I’ve made the definitive leap across the agnostic divide. But deep down I understand the folly of religion; ordinary people experiencing ordinary problems, interpreting them in a completely unique, and sometimes misguided way.
This is how you deal with questions regarding religion – the same way you deal with any question from a rational and desperate human being.
But before this careens off course into a long lost Shakespearian monologue, let’s dive into the meat of the article:
In the Confessional
I’ve come to understand a lot about religion while working as an agony aunt – not so much about the blindness of faith, but more so about redemption and concept of the soul.
Example: “The Bible says if you don’t believe in him you won’t go to heaven. What if as a kid I didn’t believe in him?”
I’m confronted by these confessions daily; individuals anxious and concerned about the mortality of their souls. My conclusion is that the concept of heaven has had a negative impact on those who were taught to fundamentally believe in the concept. Amid the lessons and selflessness evidenced by Jesus, are stapled on the selfish idealism of saving our souls. We witness it each day – confession itself was designed to absolve people of their sins, surely a pursuit that only has the motive of selfishly saving the soul of the wrong-doer?
Heaven has become something to attain, like a promotion at the workplace, with better pay, a better view, and the overwhelming knowledge that your mortal soul has been cleansed of sin for the express purpose of ‘keeping up with the Jeffersons’.
“Can a person be saved and still have no desire to read his bible?”
What has happened to acts of kindness? Where is this metaphysical rule book with attached yard stick for measuring the amount of times they read their bible, or the amount of Hail Mary’s they’ve recited as a child?
More importantly who are the people interpreting the words this way, and then preaching falseness to a bemused and bewildered flock?
Why has the focus become things that ‘I’ can do to be saved? Like a Titanic passenger in the freezing water shouting to passing row boats “Save ME, save ME, I’ll give you anything you want”.
“Is there a sin God cannot forgive?”
You mean apart from selfishness? Apart from the obvious fact that your belief system has become based not on how to better society, but on how to make sure you’re on the right side of the fence when the rapture comes, so you can wave to sinners saying “See you later losers” as you ascend into heaven?
To be honest it’s wrong for me to paint all Christians this way. To be honest, my family is deeply rooted in the Catholic Church – I don’t ever deny their faith or cast the same aspersions upon them. I can only present you with evidence from my place of work and hopefully reach a conclusion on the reality of Christian Baptists and how they seek help.
These people aren’t reaching out because they’re evil, or even really because they’re selfish, it’s because their religion and the ideologies of the people that taught them values are askew. It’s the only life they have ever known – a life that constantly makes them fearful, not just of displeasing God, but also for fear of displeasing the only Earthly people that love them – their family.
My conclusion is that self preservation of the soul is driven by naivety and a misunderstanding of the world that they are connected to, but don’t interact with. It’s an amazing thing to consider; a sub-culture of deeply religious individuals entrenched in the same neighbourhoods and city districts as the rest of society.
Example: “Despite the bible says don’t be engaged with non-christian people, I’m in love with this person. I’m missing the church and I’m not happy about it. What should I do?”
A genuine cry for help – an individual forced to choose between the person they deeply love and the notion that their church will turn their back on them for expressing that love. Several examples of this reveal themselves throughout the lifetime of the app.
In this instance the individual was convinced the Bible preaches segregation, making special reference to the notion of ‘Christians’ – an amusing thought, considering the Bible was written before the advent of modern Christianity. But the pain is real.
What we have here isn’t a cry for religious guidance, it’s a heartfelt outpouring of emotion over flying in the face of family to love whoever our heart desires; a cry that is heavily veiled in the cloak of religious doctrine and ideology. Every day people are forced to choose between existing peacefully and happily, and saving their souls from damnation:
“Is it wrong for a female to marry a female no matter how deeply in love they are?”
On the surface we could easily mistake this question as a folly; the random rambling from a curious mind. But the phrasing “Is it wrong…” makes me instantly think of a cry for help. A young woman that has already committed what she thinks is a crime, and is trying to justify her actions by seeking counseling from the man that can tell her right from wrong, in a religious counseling app that bypasses her need to discuss the topic with her pastor, or even worse, her parents. My answer was thus:
“The Bible is a quagmire of opposing ideologies on the issue – we’re taught homosexuality is wrong, but we’re also told to respect God’s creations. Respect love. Love is a beautiful thing and is God’s creation; they may not be able to marry in a church, but their existence is sanctioned by God”
No, I’m not a Christian, but all I can do is answer these questions with respect to both their religion, and also respecting how society truly thinks. The intention here was to take the argument out of the ‘Gay’ arena, and put it up there with the framework of “That’s how God made us”.
My only hope in all of this is that I’ve helped this person accept that how God made them is who they truly are, and the love she feels for another woman was given to her by who she sees as her creator.
My job isn’t to tell them the truth, it’s to tell them what they want to hear – to stop them from teetering over the tipping point and deliver them to a place that they feel their religion could never deliver them to – being allowed to be what God made them to be.
They turn to counseling for help, for a warm hug that reassures them that they’re not broken, that they’re not freaks that are destined to be outcast by the friends and family that up until now have sworn to care for them and protect them.
“Is gay marriage wrong?”
“ Catholics believe during communion that the wafer and wine is actually the body and blood of Jesus, is that possible?”
“As an umarriage [sic] couple can u hug, cuddle, n even kiss as long as it’s nothing inappropriate?”
“Will marrying a non believer effect my relationship with God and my future kids relationships with God? Will he go to heaven with me?”
Questions from curious minds, all of them completely oblivious to the world changing around them, oblivious to the doctrines of other religions beside their own, and scared of loving someone outside their religion for fear of falling from god’s grace.
I can never judge these people; in many ways I feel pity – the countless souls flittering through the app all seem to share a similar story. That is, a group of individuals trying to justify the values they have grown up with, all while living life in ordinary society.
These aren’t idiots these are real human beings, all of them attempting to answer questions that we see as mundane by objectifying the only reference they’ve ever known; God.
And every now and then you get a message that tears away at your heart – something that brings the stereotype of crazy Christian fundamentalism down to everyone’s level.
“I heard on TV that a baby that died before being baptized would not go to heaven, but to limbo or purgatory. Is this true? My baby girl died of SIDS 1 week before her baptism. Where is she?”
And here we come to crux of the article, the meaty globule at the centre of this slow baked shepherd’s pie. Under the slow burning outer crust of religious doctrine and mashed potato is the bubbling meat of humanity – the effervescent alarm that booms loudly in all pre-conceived notion you’ve ever had of religious zealously.
Quivering in the centre of the pie is humanity – a family that throughout the most interminable hardship anyone can imagine have kept to their faith. They never dared question God’s rule, God’s law, or even God’s existence. It is the summation of everything I’ve spoken about here: Naivety, yard sticks, and the concern for the soul.
This question is merely the justification that an atheist is the best person to take the reins; a delicate situation that requires going outside religious ideology. In this instance we aren’t simply speaking to a Christian, we are speaking directly to a mother.
Ironically I prayed my response held weight:
“I am so sorry to hear that, you have my heartfelt sympathy. This is delicate. There are no rules to God’s love – your baby was innocent, she was loved while she was still with us and is still loved. The concept of purgatory is unsupported; heaven and Earth are truly one and the same. God is everywhere and is everything. So in death your child is with him. Take heart.”
I was angry, I wanted to find whoever made this ridiculous television program and shake them violently. The selfishness of church control had stepped beyond governing the lives of souls old enough to make their own decisions and was busy supplanting fear into the hearts of parents with children that couldn’t even feed themselves.
I wanted to line up the Westboro Baptist churches of the world and shout at them – I wanted them to stop their purile vulgar attempts at righteousness, and as an atheist I wished more than anything in the world that God truly existed if only for him to see just how far the interpretations of his word had sunk into the depths of depravity.
And in this moment it somewhat made sense – I started planning this blog many moons ago, with the intention of showing just how cooky and bizarre religious zealousy can be. But along the way I learned a valuable lesson in humanity.
Before I was filling a role that a more qualified counselor wasn’t available to do, and by the end I realised qualifications aren’t even needed. When we genuflect, touch our palms and look to god for guidance we know the answer will never come, and our prayers are simply a reflection on our own humanity – a way to find a sane voice in a world that religious ideology is finding it harder and harder to keep up with.
We pray not because we think God is listening, but because we hope someone more earthly is.