Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Crackers and Religion

I was discussing some Matzo crackers with my auntie, who came for a visit from France, and remarked on the same that it was not to be used for Passover. I tried to explain this to her, but I couldn't quite find the right word for Passover (I eventually settled, rather embarrassingly, for 'Jewish Easter'). All the while, I described the Passover story to jog her memory, where the Angel of Death were passing over the Hebrew homes, where the blood had been painted with blood, after which the Pharaoh released them and while preparing to leave, they made unleavened bread, not having the time to allow it to rise.

And she seemed bemused by the story.

She didn't know the story, and this surprised me as she had called herself a Christian for quite some time. I pushed further and she answered that she called herself Catholic as she had been baptised as such and was culturally so. Culturally so. Hmm. Not that reminds me of an article by Richard Dawkins on how, all the while being a firm Atheist, called himself a Cultural Christian. That is to say, he enjoyed Handel's 'The Messiah' and singing Carols, and the architecture of churches and the culture created by Christians.

Following a tradition and a cultural act created perhaps from religious traditions does not make you a member of that religion. Aren't you just paying lip service, or saying so because it is more culturally acceptable? And why does religion have to do with culture?

By this I mean the architect of Westminster may have been a Christian, but that does not make it a Christian building. Handel's music may have religious themes, but I listen to it because it is beautiful and moving. Even if he was Christian, it does not make the music, by default, Christian. I see this in the same light as when Dawkins said that labelling a child by their religion is abhorrent because they do not have the capacity to chose their religion and it is equally abhorrent to have a child labelled in the same way as their parent.

I'm wondering how many, like my Aunt, have written a religion in, say, the census while not having any real knowledge/belief in that religion and put it as such because they consider it so by habit and culture.

Maybe a census should be expanded to clarify this.

71% in the UK census classed themselves as Christian but I guesstimate that perhaps 20% or more have only gone to church as children or for certain ceremonies (weddings, funerals etc.) or even personal crisis (in the example of my father. He found a resurgence in his Catholicism, went to Confession, then fell by the wayside again). Childhood baptism does not make one Christian by choice.

I'm also wondering if the 15% of the No Religion box were Atheist or those who don't believe in anything or those who don't generally care or the culturally religious.

Ho hum.

1 comment:

Moonroot said...

The 'official' religion of this country, the Church of England (Church of Wales hereabouts), would be claimed as their religion by many people. Yet many who describe themselves this way seem to mean it more culturally than religiously, ie they come from within a Christian culture, go to church for the big occasions (weddings, christenings, funerals and occasionally at Christmas) and probably pray for help in times of crisis. They have a vague belief in God, yet they don't really have any kind of religious practice. Perhaps they just go to it as a default setting because that's the milieu in which they were raised. Perhaps they don't have the spiritual curiosity to look further.

I think it happens in many religions. I know a lot of people who are broadly sympathetic to Paganism and Pagan ideas, and who self describe as Pagans, yet who never actually practice anything - except perhaps for making the odd trip to a Pagan site or dressing Pagan-y (lots of black, lots of occult-themed jewellery). They may even attend an open ritual once in a blue moon, but it's probably more about being part of the counter-culture than anything else.

If non-practicing Christians describe themselves as C of E (Church of England), a friend of mine has suggested non-practicing Pagans designate themselves P of E. :-)