Monday, 27 July 2009
"There is probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life"
I received an email from a girl I knew back in Baku. A young and pretty girl. A few years ago she illegally immigrated to the states. Last time I saw her she wore tight clothes and talked about a potential marriage to an investment banker. I have not heard from her for a few months.
And then, out of the blue, this email arrived.
At first, I thought it was some weird joke that I just did not get. I emailed her back, politely asking what that was.
It is a poem,- she replied.
She told me she writes poems these days, because they describe the changes in her life so beautifully.
There are two things I found disturbing in this situation:
a) that she believed this could be called a poem;
b) the content.
One day, it stated, she received a letter from a poor African boy. He told her about John’s Passage 3:16. She opened the Holy Bible to check what it was about, and…
Oh, miracle! The book opened right on the very same page!
The poem then described how she was shaking with excitement and happiness. And was telling me I could be just as happy if only I could open my eyes, and heart. I wish I knew her parents address: it felt appropriate to express my condolences.
There are at least four churches in our little commuter village. The one on the hill is famous for the very good school attached to it. The admission requirements are very strict. Your child has no chance of getting in unless you worship in that particular church at least three times a week.
As a Soviet girl, I never thought much about it. We were told "Religion is the opiate of the people".
My parents came from the generations of atheists, and would celebrate the holidays and say Inshallah; but out of habit rather than with the real meaning behind it.
To me, religion is a cultural thing: holidays, presents, stunning cathedrals to visit on my trips abroad and the lovely smell of church candles. And I loved it when my child took part in the Nativity play at her pre-school.
"Come, come, come to the Bethletham!"- she sang in her sweet little voice, her eyes fixed on the teacher miming in the corner. Cute. When you are three.
And suddenly, I live in an area where almost every other person has an imaginary friend they like to visit on weekends.
I guess, there is nothing wrong with religion as such. Hypothetically, all religions in this world teach us to be good. And there is nothing bad about being good, is there?
I understand some of the reasons. For a lot of people here it seems to be about the social interaction, a bit like joining a club. ( Also, helps if you want to get your child in that church school)
Besides, it is pretty depressing to think there is nothing beyond this life. All the effort to survive and achieve something-for what?
So, I can imagine it must be comforting to believe there is some reason or meaning to it all. Or, at the very least, that there is a bunch of angels (or virgins) waiting for you on the other side. I respect that.
And yet, the extreme cases scare me. I get uncomfortable and want to run away.
And until I moved here, that is precisely what I did. All my life I managed to step gently around the religion, without falling in. Some of the best English lessons were taught by the native speakers, and I attended classes at the American Bible school, as well as the Bahai centre. The Bahai invited us to visit them at home, where they sang beautiful songs and served sweets with tea. I liked them, but I could never join them. And my closest encounter with a mosque in Baku was sitting across the road in the very early hours of the morning, (while all those horny Azeri males still snored peacefully in their beds) so I could paint it without getting harassed.
And now, in this lovely English suburb, religion is everywhere I look. Toddler groups at the churches, school Nativity plays and baby christenings to attend … I suddenly realized something that would have been obvious, should I have paid more attention- There is actually a lot of religion in this country. I hear there is even more in the states. I also hear, there has been a lot more back home, since I left. Is the world becoming more religious, or was I just blind before?
A nice Kazakh girlfriend invited me and my druggie friend for lunch.
She cooked a fantastic Kazakh plov, and we sat around the table, chatting away, relaxed and full of food.
And then she said that demons almost killed her the other night.
-Yes..-she continued calmly, picking at her fruit- I saw them. They sat on my chest and tried to smother me.
I did not know how to react. It was unfair: I did not see it coming. I did not know she was going to talk about demons. What do you do? Do you laugh and make a joke? Do you nod sympathetically, glancing at your watch?
As I sat there in shock, my druggie friend finished rolling her joint, and lit it up:
- Honey, - she said- That’s just fucked up.