When people complain about religion it’s about as sensible as protesting about food. Religion is here to stay, and many of us need it. Eat too much food with certain things in it, and it kills you.
Religion in the wrong hands is lethal, and can be an excuse to kill people. When religion becomes murderous it has invariably transmuted into politics, and is no longer religion. Religion and politics are interchangeable, but many of us prefer not see things this way, because we are either fanatically religious, or fanatically political or fanatically atheist.
Fascism, which is all about dictatorship, uses religion quite ruthlessly by adopting the faith of the majority in order to manipulate public opinion. Dictators have much in common with religious leaders – they are invariably charismatic, articulate and persuasive; the dictator uses pseudo religious language but follows their own path, just exploiting the common religion of the time, even if that religion is totally opposed to the activities of the fascist dictator’s regime.
It is this use of religion as a cloak for nasty political ends that causes people to condemn Muslims, Jews or Christians, and make sweeping generalisations, and then justify their own personal bigotry on a dozen different fronts. We all love to rest comfortably in the belief that our own religion (or non-religion) … and our own country and our own people would never do such terrible things. Sadly this is not true.
I can’t be bothered to defend religion to heavy-duty atheists, because all the stuff I just wrote about is equally applicable to Communism… a non-religious philosophy that started out with all sorts of worthy ideals and ended up by empowering the likes of Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot and Kim Il Sung. Please note militant atheists, these non-religious doctrines killed between 80 and 100 million people within a very small time scale – 50 to 60 years – not a great advertisement for atheism, methinks. The religion of Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot and Kim Il Sung was about themselves. Their dictatorships had no place for compassion, love or understanding, even less the golden rule – that one should treat (or do unto) others as one would like to be treated oneself – the one philosophy that just about every religion shares.
But the pendulum is moving in another direction. The nasty lessons of cruel doctrines are teaching us the virtues of thinking for ourselves. We live in a very exciting and inspiring moment. We are finding our own path to spiritual fulfilment. We are meeting in groups to practice yoga, reiki and meditation. We are listening to music in our homes, without having to go to a church or public places to hear stirring and soaring harmonies; we are finding inner peace and spiritual fulfilment in our own space in our own way. And most amazingly… we are still going to church and places of worship… but not because the law says we have to, or because of social pressure, but because we want to. We are changing, we are thinking for ourselves, we are becoming aware of our own spirituality, and this connection is cosmic.
About a half a century ago I spent a lot of time playing games; they weren’t the kind that involved telling fibs or ringing doorbells and running away – more cavorting around Highgate Woods being a hobbit or Aragorn son of Arathorn. Other games involved my sister’s tremendous dolls-house and all the characters therein, who were taken on journeys of discovery to far off lands in the back garden, where they did battle with appalling environmental problems, jungles and deserts and encountered inexplicable and seriously oversized hazards. We also played lots of board and card games, and I frequently sulked when I lost, which I have learned not to do, now that I am professing to be grown-up.
Once my parents found me sleepwalking in the house, and as my mother followed my uncertain progress, I climbed into the bath. “What are you doing, dear?” she asked… “It’s Julia’s game,” I explained, through my sleepy disorientation, as she guided me back to bed.
Years later I spent many long and lovely hours playing games with Julia’s three sons, and more recently but less frequently with her granddaughters, something she would love to have been able to do, but sadly isn’t around to do so.
Why do we need to play games? It’s all to do with the harmony of life… or so it seems to me. So much of our time is spent caring for others, feeding ourselves, earning a living, keeping our lives and our surroundings in good order – we need things that apparently don’t belong to the nitty gritty of everyday existence. Reading, watching TV and films are OK for escapism but playing games is part of the scenery of life.
I don’t have a great interest in computer games, or role playing games with knights and dwarves and whatnot, I would rather keep the land of fantasy in my head, or with Middle Earth, the Seven Kingdoms and Narnia.
My preferred game is an Italian form of Canasta, called Samba in this country. It is played with a partner, in fours, three packs of cards, and it makes ordinary canasta look like happy families, without the happiness. Once I went on a weekend break with three friends to Southwold. One of our number had a deep seated hatred for card games, but once bitten she became so hooked that we found ourselves playing at six in the morning in the hotel lounge with the hotel porter hoovering around our feet.
Italian Canasta is a compelling and beautifully balanced game, allowing players to chat between the action. It moves with trends – trends of luck, patterns of winning and losing, and an elegantly structured handicap system, so that the better you do, the more difficult it becomes to win.
There are so many metaphors for life, and a good card game does the job beautifully. Games provide an insight into how seriously we take ourselves, and how able we are to face uncertainty and change. Gambling is a complete waste of time, it’s the adventure of the cards themselves, and the shape of the game that provides the unexpected story. Once one picks up a hand of cards, those strong, weak or disappointing symbols and patterns look back at you like old friends, and what happens thereafter can never ever be predicted. It’s like the game of life including the scary bits, even if the scariest thing is the prospect of the much loved enemy picking up a pile of discarded cards, and getting a score that makes your eyes water.
Thank you lovely friends and family for making it all possible… if it wasn’t for my fellow players I would never have half so much fun and sensible silliness in my life.
One of the interesting things about new technology is that far from undermining intuition and the sixth sense, it emphasises it. Depending on how attuned one is to spiritual connection, phones and mobile phones remind one that we are surrounded by machinery, but in reality one only has to think about somebody we know and love, and they are aware of that thought. Then we call them on the phone, and they say “well that is so weird, I was just thinking of you.” But of course it isn’t weird at all.
People who suffer near death experiences (and are as good as dead) explain that they can read peoples’ thoughts, and this has been recorded so many times that one has to believe it. It seems that it is only in our human, material and physical state that we are made to believe that there isn’t a great connection between us. In reality the connection is total, but reality is not what it appears; this is the innate nature of life itself.
A beautiful experiment was done by Rupert Sheldrake who proved that dogs and cats knew when their owners were coming home from the office, just by planting TV cameras in the home, and timers. The moment when the owner of the pet decided to leave the office, the pet responded. We have lost this “sixth sense” connection, and we need to regain it.
Friends always prove to me that we are all connected, not just by the telephone connection, but by being. I have three good friends who are abroad, two in Italy and one in Spain. I don’t get to see any of them that often, but there is absolutely no problem about connection. Months may pass, with a phone chat here, a Skype session there, and when we do get together it’s evident that absolutely nothing has changed, we still hold each other in high regard, and enjoy each others company. One of the three I met in 1971. She was a very young copywriter in a publishing house, and I can recall to this day how she showed me the ropes, and the forms and filing that had to be done. I can even remember the name of the book; it was “Aspects of the Theory of Bounded Integral Operators in Lp- Spaces.” It was written by G.O.Okikiolu, and is now available from some sources for a mere $115.95. Personally it is not my kind of read, but I was very happy to write the book blurb and the publicity at the time. Yesterday, 42 years later, I rang my friend in Spain…she had tried to call me the day before, but although I had been thinking of her when she did, I was busy on the line, so we were a day out of synch, only not.
It is the knowledge that those people that are far away are as close to me as you are, reading this blog, which astonishes and intrigues. Everything is connected, and although in the living state it is difficult to be confident about this, because of our conditioning, because of who we are, and because of the way life unfolds, it is just the uncertainty and the ambiguity of all those things that teaches one to accept total connection… step by step.
The Internet has also done us massive favours underlining that distance is no object. Right now, I see that amongst the games I am due to play on “Words With Friends” is one with my lovely nephew… he is working this week in New Delhi as it happens, but we are still as close as if he was sitting next to me.
In the early hours of this morning a young friend of mine died, leaving three children and many members of her family bereft. I do not doubt that right now, she is discovering just how totally connected she and we are. No doubt you feel a great deal better now Alix. I salute and honour your astonishing bravery over the past year. You will know that we are all thinking of you, with love.