Good god, bad god

The devil may have all the best tunes, but god certainly has all the best choral music. I was listening to a Byrd Magnificat on the way in to work last week and started thinking about the good things about religions.

So: choral music, from plainsong to gospel taking a diversion through Buddhist and Hindu chanting, is definitely one of the best things about religion.

Also the concept of stewardship. This is a Christian one really, the idea that we are answerable to a deity for how we look after and manage their creation. Unfortunately some interpretations of this concept assume that we have been given the rights to own the world rather than the duty to act as its caretakers. No creator worth believing in would just hand over a jewel like this planet of ours for us to to destroy in the way we are.

Reciprocity. Christianity is keen on reciprocity. Luke 6:31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. This is is an exhortation to pay attention to karma really, isn’t it? However, Christianity does not seem to be as hot on cause and effect as Buddhism and Taoism are, with the Great Big Escape Clause In The Sky offering to let you off the hook: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:15.

Meditation. Stilling the mind. One of the things I really like about eastern religions and philosophies is just how damn practical they are. They give clear instructions. Breathe in-two-three, breathe out-two-three-four-five-six. Look at the candle. In-two-three. And guess what? Their instructions work.

Parables. All the great religions have wonderful parables, metaphors and fables. Love ’em.

Architecture. Hard to beat a good medieval Cathedral in the impressive architecture stakes. Modern bridges do it, but not much else. Robes. Most good religions have impressive robes. Padded embroidery. Gold thread. I’m rather fond of the Orthodox tradition of long beard, square hat and fancy copes myself, though a mitre is very satisfactory in its own way and the red and orange robes of Buddhists are rather jolly. And ceremonial, there is something very calming about slow and measured movements which have been repeated for centuries and a good procession is always a pleasure to watch. And then there’s the smell of incense and the walking around with a censor so the smell of it gets everywhere. Ach, let’s face it: I’m a ritual-bunny.

But I think that’s about it. Good things about religions: choral singing, the concepts of reciprocity and cause and effect, instructions on how to meditate, a rag-bag of stories and metaphors, some neat buildings and robes and some soothing ceremonial. Mind you, any half decent military service should be able to deliver the goods in terms of costume and ceremony but they have a bad habit of doing it all to the sound of marching bands.

It’s not a long list, really, is it? And you are more than bright enough to know what I’d put on a list of things that are bad about religions. Me, I’m going to listen to that Byrd Magnificat

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10 responses to “Good god, bad god

  1. Interesting. Can I add my Nan’s Vicar to the good list – he’s one of the many cool people associated with the Church of England – and he’s yet to preach against abortion or homosexaulity.

  2. Ooh and art – god also has all the best pre-reformation art. Especially frescos, show me a decent secular fresco.

  3. Mmmmm. But I don’t particularly like pre-renaissance art, so I don’t think it makes it onto my list. But then the music wouldn’t make it onto yours. 🙂

    AB

  4. I’d go for art too. Even if you don’t like icons or whatever, a lot of inspriration for more modern art is religious. And there are all those cute little representations of other peoples’ (bugger, where should that apostrophe go?) gods that make nifty knick nacks… And illuminated manuscripts.

    A Welsh person once told me the Welsh language was saved by having the bible translated into Welsh and then taught.

    Ah, but you aren’t a Welshophile, are you. *Grins*

    Community. Who’s going to babysit the vicar’s children and the organisation of the flower arranging rota. I miss that.

    Organisation. It’s not just the idea of reprecociocity that comes out of it, but the committee members to do something about it. All that practice at organising jumble sales spills over into Jubilee 2000 and leads to Make War on Povety.

  5. Inwardlookingness. As distinct from meditation? Reflection on who you are, where you are going, the sort of person you should be, an assessment of your actions this week. This is why horrorscopes are so popular for people who don’t do church.

  6. Community and organisation, yes. As Alan Bennett said that the Church of England didn’t mind what you believe, so long as you can organise a tight jumble sale.

    Welsh. Good. I’m all in favour of additional languages, it’s just the people who scare me. Actually. Case in point. If one of the benefits of bi-lingualism is mental flexibility, then how come the Welsh are so blumming narrow-minded?

    Thanks for reading, Sol.

    AB

  7. Another good thing from religion: Two ideas: gratitude and unconditional infinite love.

  8. Gratitude, yes, I guess, healingmagichands. Though I find being grateful to a god I don’t believe in to be harder than accepting that I am, in part, responsible for the good health of the good earth.

    However, too many practitioners of the world’s religions have acted out of unconditional infinite hate for me to be comfortable with the original, pure, concept. In fact, most of the teachings of most religions stick in my throat these days. It’s the random cultural artefacts which I enjoy. As listed.

    Thanks for reading, though, and thanks for posting.

    AB

  9. I tend to feel that there are lots of good things about faith, and slightly less (other than the surface things like music and architecture) about organised religion. It is undeniably true that many religions have led to some terrible things (Christianity’s list includes the Crusades as well as more recent events), but many great things have happened through the faith of individuals.

    For me, the best thing about belonging to a church (as distinct from being a Christian believer) is the sense of community. Organising meals for the families of newborns, giving the elderly members a hand, support when times are trying.

    You’ve hit on something with the stewardship issue – the Christian view should be that we are responsible, not that we can do as we please. But we can add this issue to the list of things that you can’t quite believe supposedly Christian leaders are doing these days.

  10. Religion often sponsored math. Priests needed good calendars (e.g. the awfully complicated computation of the date of Easter), hence astronomers and mathematicians. Mathematics in turn led to scientific method, freethinking, atheism, and the demise of religion. QED

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