/ 29 March 2024

God edition: Religion’s hard to believe in, I swear

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Two by two: A 17th-century print shows Noah, his family, the animals and birds enter the ark. Did Adam and Eve’s serpent (or its descendants) slither on too? Photo: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
God Edition

My name is Christian and I am not a believer.

It is not because I have thought deeply about all the options available. Or studied the Bible carefully. Or even visited many different places of worship to see if there was one religion that I could believe in.

Mind you, places of worship can be incredibly beautiful, even awe-inspiring. Notre Dame in Paris, before the tragic fire of course, was one of my favourites. My son, five years old at the time, managed the steep climb up the many steps to the top of one tower. 

The fierce gargoyles that guard the magnificent views of Paris made such an impression on him that he immediately needed to wee – in one of the ancient gutters. His name is Gabriel but there was nothing angelic about this shocking lack of respect. 

There might even have been murmurings of disapproval from some of the other panting tourists who had reached the top. And the expression of this disapproval might have involved some swearing, perhaps even profanity.

Ah, profanity. This is one aspect of religion that seems to have been embraced by most of humanity. Our ability to express surprise, anger, shock and even hatred would be so much more limited if we didn’t have the full range of religion-related swearwords. 

These milder, often quaint expressions (for Heaven’s sake, dear Heaven, Heavens above), or the slightly more forceful for God’s sake, Jesus Christ, Holy Christ (taking in the slightly confusing holy cow and the definitely comical jumpin’ Jehosaphat) seem to be generally accepted as part of everyday language.

A colleague, often under the severe stress of deadline on a Thursday, pushes this general acceptance to the limit by slipping in a slyly disguised word from the more crude sexual and anatomical side of cussing: “Jesus effing Christ!” seems to be an effective stress reliever.

Bodily functions and body parts certainly provide some of the spicier phrases that, although guaranteed to meet with parental disapproval, have that satisfying verbal sledgehammer effect. It is hard to beat the power of “Fuck you, you arsehole”. Certainly not the religious equivalent of “Go to hell” or “The devil take you”.

And what proof do we have that the fiery hot place somewhere down below overseen by a red guy with horns actually exists? Most of us are too busy trying to deal with the hell on Earth that has been created by our fellow human beings. And many of the worst perpetrators of these crimes against humanity are the very same ones who proudly proclaim their staunch belief in one of the many religions on offer.

The orange-hued Donald Trump puts his own fiendish spin on the devil and hell theme. It is hard to believe that any right-thinking Americans are not dreading how hellishly embarrassing life in the United States is going to be after the election.

We all know the usual suspects but stab a pin at random into a map of the world and there will be something evil happening there. So being the one in charge of this sinful world is a mighty task. 

Possibly these major conflicts involving millions of people are just too hard to deal with and a better choice would be to help out the people in some less troublesome situations. 

Certainly somebody sitting in a mini­bus taxi with a driver who literally has the lives of 16 people in his hands and chooses to use one of those hands to speak on a cellphone while speeding through a red traffic light could use some assistance. And what about the person who stops at a faulty traffic light somewhere in the Joburg city centre during load-shedding and finds that their car has been surrounded by gun-wielding thugs? A bit of help from above would be welcome.

But there’s probably no time because so many footballers need attention. Nowadays it is unusual to see a footballer who doesn’t perform some religious rigmarole when running onto the field before a match. 

The most popular appears to be the stoop to touch the turf and then several signs of the cross across the chest, perhaps finished with a lifting of the arms to the sky.

There is no doubt that there are some highly paid footballers in desperate need of assistance. Some of my colleagues would be grateful if several commandments about basic defending were issued to Chelsea’s backline and the forwards could use some guidance in the location of the opposition’s net.

Many have said that Manchester United’s recent victory over Liverpool in the FA cup quarter final was a miracle that couldn’t have been achieved without some outside influence.

The football season is long and stressful and the boss upstairs probably needs a rest at the end, but there is no chance of that, with the battered but devout rugby players needing to find the courage to face another charging slab of muscle or to field yet another high kick.

And come the Tour de France, the cyclists, who in the past have not hesitated to use any means possible to survive this ridiculously arduous race, will probably need help keeping their urine samples pure.

Judging by all the profuse thanks offered up at awards ceremonies lots of attention is also being given to rappers, rockers, pop stars, directors, actors and everyone else involved in the film industry.

It is fortunate that there is no indication that any members of the animal world are sending out urgent pleas for help from the Almighty. In this world there is no pretence of civilised behaviour, kindness and mercy. There is always something waiting to make a meal of you, and it almost always involves tearing, biting, strangling and gruesome scenes of bloodletting.

A good example of this is the great white shark. One minute you could be living your best life as an apex predator gliding around in False Bay with your pals, every now and then executing one of those spectacularly photogenic leaps out of the water to snatch a plump seal in mid-air, when suddenly you spot a pair of orcas grinning toothily as they set their sights on the exact spot they need to bite into to extract your liver. 

Nothing is going to stop you ending up as a limp carcass on the beach with a great chunk missing from your side. But the prayers of the seals will have been answered.

It is not clear what role the orcas played in the Noah’s Ark situation. Presumably they had no problems with the flood waters. But, as with many other aspects of the Bible, the ark does throw up quite a few questions. 

Did the serpent from the Garden of Eden manage to sneak on board? How many times were the lions allowed to go back for another helping at the buffet? Were there special toilet arrangements for the elephants?

These silly questions were inspired by Ricky Gervais, someone I turn to when, after spouting my usual frivolous, ill-informed drivel, I need a more serious, erudite analysis of religion. And the bonus is that his wisdom often comes in the form of a witticism.

“God is in charge of everything. He is not absent-minded. A volcano going off? He doesn’t say ‘Oh, I forgot to turn the microwave off.’”

And in a nod to our current power issues: “And God said let there be light and there was light. Which means He created the Heaven and the Earth in the dark. How good is that?”

The final word must go to the great soul singer Curtis Mayfield. The title of one of his greatest songs says it all: (Don’t Worry) If There is a Hell Below We’re All Going to Go. We just have to hope that one of the punishments down there doesn’t involve being locked into a small room and made to watch endless reruns of Dr Pimple Popper episodes.