1. Being a damnable heathen and pagan sorceror, Christmas largely passes me by, though i enjoy all the Glühwein and gluttony and whores. Madeley wrote recently of his Christmas loathing. i suppose i enjoy it because i usually travel to see people, in England it was my mother, in Germany Juniper-in-Kassel; and i like the sense of exceptionality, of a certain ritual. For atheists, i suppose religion seems baffling and implausible, pure nonsense & fairy tales (as if the fairy tale of money by which most people live is more credible). i was a peculiar kind of agnostic for many years, because i lack faith; i am of the spiritual generation requiring signs & wonders before i believe anything, but then i had signs & wonders and that was that. i was always able to sympathise with the idea of Christianity – the dominant religion of the west, though looking to be soon superceded by Saudi-style militant Islam – but wondered, from the outside. Now i am in a sense within my own particular bubble – a bubble inhabited solely by me since i have no interest in joining frightfully earnest “pagan” societies and consorting with gabbling Wiccans – i see things differently.

As an outsider, i thought that being Christian must transform the believer, so one’s everyday life would be utterly altered. Perhaps people become Christians because they suppose this will initiate a wholly new life, and are then disappointed to find it’s more or less the same as the old life. They then get tattoos and denounce all religion as vile superstition, and fall into the mud and mire of apostacy, where passers-by piss upon them and throw semen-encrusted eggshells at their sorry faces, a fate they richly deserve, for their unbelief and, as it were, frowardness.

2. In my disgusting old age i see that human life requires a certain boring stability and predictability, and that the periods of exaltation are usually limited to youth, when everything is developing and all is new, and the small self provides little ballast to new experience. i don’t think it is possible to sustain this high course without insanity, and when i remember how difficult and kind of insane my 20s were, i’m glad to have settled into a pot-bellied, cardigan-wearing torpor and ease. My great period of spiritual unrest was in 2008/9, but this passed and now i just take these things for granted.

Perhaps spiritual enlightenment is akin to romantic love, that it is most clearly felt when it is a new and shocking transformation; thereafter, it is just how things are. i note that back in my tai chi days (i.e. before i grew fat and slothful), i felt little when i practiced every day, but if i did nothing for a few weeks a simple chi kung would affect me powerfully, with tingling hands, trembling eyelids, etc. And just yesterday i prayed for the first time in a week – normally, i do so every morning, as i walk to my local s-bahn station – and could feel an immediate rush of awareness, reminiscent of the 2008/9 days of glory. It could, then, be that we cannot sustain these grand impulses in their full vigour, and that while our life is subject to a general transfiguration, after the initial shock it will be so pervasive as to be subtle and even mostly imperceptible. So i would say that i don’t really feel different to my pre-2008 days, and yet from time to time i react as my old self would not have, and people occasionally regard me as they would not the consumptive atheist i then was. The sense of exciting transformation is felt mostly when entering a wholly new life, or when it has been interrupted – akin to the white of breaking surf, where the ocean collides with a different reality. There are surfers of the spirit, who will to remain always in this moment of exaltation, always on the wave as it breaks in brightness, but this is rarely to be sustained; i am more interested in living daily in a greater understanding, which will rarely be showy or even noticeably different; but the general concourse of things, that will be thoroughly and subtly transformed.

3. Protestant Christianity aims at a vision unencumbered by ritual, decoration, aesthetics, beauty, grace – so the Viking’s Evangelical Christian mother swears by one of these awful modern Bibles, with stick figure drawings, presumably seeing the King James Bible as damnable Popery (the Viking once uttered something on the lines of: “That stupid James Bible is like really stupid shit because you cannot understand it without thinking and it is like not written in modern English, so, like, all this stuff is like not clear and stuff. A Bible should be like a Chemistry textbook for children, so you can just read it and find the answers, and there should be stick figure drawings of God so like you can relate to God like he is Magneto and be a good Christian and go to Heaven and stuff”). These dreadful Christians have cartoon strips of their deity, nor do they shrink from Kumbaya with electric guitars, performed by earnestly-grinning mongoloids who will later embezzle the Church funds, molest deformed children, and run away to the Philippines to live with someone called Juan.

One can sympathise with plain-speaking, plain-minded, plain folk who like an undecorated so-called spiritual reality. One is then, i suppose, is no danger of mistaking the external trappings for the informing reality, since such folk have no trappings; but i think one requires a certain ritual to consciously step a little aside from the everyday, and without it one will either lose all faith – and then grow embittered & angry that it did not last – or just go a bit strange and be subject to oracular pronouncements, spastic fits, speaking in tongues, frothing at the mouth, rolling sexually about on the ground (covered in couscous), playing Kumbaya on the bongos, indulging in schismatic heresies, and foretelling the imminent Apocalypse, like the Viking’s mother, clad wholly in white robes and carrying gold nuggets about one’s person for a well-provided afterlife with stick figure Jesus and stick figure Jehovah.

4. It’s fashionable to suppose that rituals develop as an attempt – by stupid neanderthal pre-scientific folk – to understand reality, and if we just had enough Science we would dispense altogether with all ritual. This seems part of the general modern attempt at understanding, which looks at everything as a machine or practice, and asks, Why do people do this? – as if everything can be rationally disposed of in this manner. Not being Scientific, i prefer to think pragmatically, to wit, What effect does this have? – since i don’t see how a so-called explanation can be anything more than an (untestable) hypothesis. i wouldn’t ask, Why do people send Christmas cards? – since the original cause (assuming there is only one) will have long evanesced into the practice of yearly human motive. i would rather ask, What effect does it have?

There are people who are as it were spiritually Protestant, living an unadorned and apparently rational life. They tend to grunt suspiciously at those whose life flowers into meaningful ritual, seeing all that which gives human life value as somewhere between wasteful extravagance and damnable and despicable deceit. i had a student of this sort, a HR lawyer at a large engineering company; an intelligent woman but, by god, arid and charmless and awkward, and even the other students (all finance and IT experts) found her offputtingly so. i prefer to live otherwise, and if people say it is illusion, then by their standards (that i could not replicate and empirically test and statistically analyse the experiences i had in 2008/9) just about everything is illusion and we would all be better off living some kind of sanitised sci-fi life, drugged into happiness since all experience is apparently biochemical (and that only if these folk will admit that happiness if in any way desirable) and riding around a tedious sci-fi city in Sinclair C5s, grinning emptily at our ipads and playing Angry Birds like drooling retards from Beeston.

5. i think, had one gone back to the Middle Ages, stormed into a Cathedral like Russell Brand, and angrily demanded to know the origin and purpose of e.g. the Mass, nobody would have understood; it’s not so much that people (i dare say) supposed these rituals to come from God, as that they lacked the machine-age mind to expect everything has a rational cause and can be so analysed and then rejected or accepted by a committee. And i think it is our modern need for final explanations and step-by-step clarity which is awry – or rather, it is fine for designing a machine but not everything. Machines have become our new model of humanity, and as we once constructed idols of stone and wood, now we construct and worship machines, and suppose ourselves to fall short in having emotions, in requiring something beyond a machine’s mindless purpose. The more people devote themselves to servicing the machine, the more it is necessary to operate like a machine, the more we feel our own humanity is inadmissable and a kind of ghastly mistake.

Perhaps humanity alone does not suffice to counter the deadening impulse of the machine and its Nazgûl attendants; humanity alone does not, in a sense, even exist – humanity is rather the way we perceive ourselves in the varyingly warped mirror of our arts and creations and purposes. Humanity is not the apex of reality, but rather a capacious middle room, influenced by all about it, by the divine and demonic – and our greatly fallen world is such that one could discern both impulses in all religions, to varying degrees – suggested by the inclusion of figures such as Loki in the Norse pantheon, or the peculiar God of Job (Jung’s Answer to Job). i am not qualified to say whether, for example, Odin was originally a man, or if someone just made him up one day after eating the right mushrooms, but he exists now, as a god.

No one can, i think, understand the genesis and purpose of gods, but their effects can be perceived – dark or benign as they may be, they are the essence of extravagance, of that which one does not require for base biological survival, of that which flowers and is in the presence of vigorous human imagination, without which one is not fully human, though one may always become so. A one-sidedly and lunatically imaginative person, in thrall to a demonic impulse, is no advertisement for religion, but, for me, no more does the geek or boffin sell Science and so-called Progress.

Purely personal, my taste for extravagance and flourish, for the one-eyed god of the north, or this Christ in his fury, over a Sinclair C5 and ipad and grinning sci-fi drone pumped full of happy chemicals. But for god’s sake, if we have to use mobile phones and cars, let us also smoke and wear ridiculous clothes and be men.

cardinals

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