When I was a boy I would be sent alone to church by my mother, who would dress me in my Sunday best and wave me on my way. It gave me a lifelong dislike of organised religion, the feeling of being an outsider. Thanks, mum. You were praying by proxy, I now realise. I never asked why you didn’t come with me – children rarely query the motives of adults.
The poem is built around an incident when attending another church. I was threatened with a thumping by some older boys after the service had finished – “knuckles hard as pews”. Needless to say, I didn’t wait for the final sermon, and left as surreptitiously as possible.
Ironically, the only other time I attended the same church was for a funeral service for the journalist who gave me my entrée into the trade. His father had been the church organist. His son couldn’t have been more irreligious.
Although I’ve attended many church services, I am not a churchgoer, only attending through social obligation. It is good to have a spiritual aspect to one’s life but that doesn’t necessarily demand religious involvement. For me, organised religion is simply the politics of the soul. As a natural outsider, I have never felt able to belong easily to any group, especially a religious one. Apart from which, I don’t believe in God or an afterlife, much as I would like to think they exist.
The nearest I have come to having a religious view is this….that all of creation is so amazing, intricate, and improbable, that in and of itself it could be considered to be “God.” As intelligent beings, we have been given a chance to discover the universe as far as we are able; and we have a responsibility to care for our part of the universe to the utmost degree, including each other.