Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Twelfth of September

Yesterday there were two Calendar anniversaries on my phone and my tablet. They came up automatically, as they always do. And they will do so next year, and every year, as they will if one uses an electronic calendar. The odd thing is that these are not anniversaries that have anything directly to do with myself, and certainly not my life as Lucy Melford.

One reminds me that on 12 September 1994 - twenty years ago - M---'s husband died in hospital. He was only fifty-two. I got to know him in the last two years of his life, as he battled with emphysema, when the oxygen bottle was his constant companion. I thought him astonishingly brave and philosophical in the face of encroaching death. A model of patience and fortitude in fact, when lesser men would have fallen to pieces. He did not. He struggled into work, on oxygen, until he could do it no longer. He struggled to build up the minimum number of days necessary to give his widow-to-be a sufficient pension (he had switched from teaching to a less demanding career late in life). He didn't quite achieve his aim. But in every way he commanded respect, and my Calendar entry is, if you like, a small salute to a fine man's memory.

M--- did more than just remember the day he died. This is the other annual event recorded still in my Calendar. At noon on every 12th September, wherever we happened to be, she would choose a quiet place where she could read out passages from her own religious and philosophical books as an annual act of remembrance, dedicated to her late husband. Sometimes this would actually be at his graveside. But we were often away on holiday, and so she would then read for him at some spot away from passers-by, into the wind. Just her and her husband, for I would retire to a distance, and probably go for an hour's walk. In 1996, for instance, she stood way out on the beach at The Mumbles, near Swansea. In 2008, the last time I witnessed her engaged in these readings, it was at his graveside in Crawley. I feel sure (even though I can't possibly know) that yesterday she would have read to him, wherever she was.

M--- had long ago embraced the Baha'i faith, and took it seriously. For a summary of its origins and principles, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bah%C3%A1'%C3%AD_Faith. She was drawn to it because it seemed to her eminently reasonable and direct, and capable of evolving with humanity's progressive growth towards fuller enlightenment. It seemed to her full of wisdom. But although appreciative of M---'s faith, which enjoined her to live an exemplary life, her husband was not a Baha'i.

And nor was I. I'm not the kind of person who ever adopts any official system of belief, and I've become ever more resistant to living by someone else's rules. I think beauty, wisdom and good actions are possible without adherence to any creed. I can't dismiss the possibility of something beyond and above human consciousness and understanding, but my gut feeling is against the idea of an entity, power or force that has a distinct personality. So the individual that Christians and others (Baha'is also) call God is in my view unlikely to exist.

In my only exposition on such matters (in a post in September 2010) I said this:

I used to say I was an atheist. But nowadays I'm not happy with that. It seems too dogmatic. How can I claim to be so certain that there is no supernatural agency at all? On the other hand, the notion of entities like humans but of godlike stature, understanding and capability seems mistaken. It seems like the kind of limited thing a human being would imagine. If a supernatural agency exists, then my personal belief is that it would have no physical form and be quite unrecognisable. And it would be non-personal: this entity would not be a person like ourselves, and would not be 'aware' of individual human beings. We could not speak to it in English or whatever. So prayers, incantations and spells would be utterly ineffective. We could not invoke it, nor would it intervene. But it would influence our lives. Not our fortunes, though: it wouldn't make us richer or save us from harm. It would shape our development and growth, like breathing the right gas would, or being subject to the right gravity. Yes, it would drive evolution. I don't think that calling it 'the collective forces of Nature' really describes what I'm getting at, but such a phrase seems to mean something, and allows some mental grip on this vague and slippery notion.

Nothing has occurred since 2010 to make me change this 'collective forces of Nature' idea.

There's no formal system of belief in my world-view, no principles to keep to. I actually like not having to follow pre-determined lines of action. I like to think for myself what's best, what's just, what will lead to the happiest consequence. By not being bound, I'm free to do the thing that most suits the requirements of the moment. And I can still do the noble, quixotic or irrational thing. Indeed, no matter what I do, no divine praise or punishment will come.

But if I consciously do the wrong thing, the mean thing, the thing that shames me as a human being, then I do know it. Everything is on my personal responsibility. I can't plead that 'God (or the Devil) made me do it'. The act was my own; the result all of my own making and mine to deal with. Something badly done requires sincere confession and apology. Something done well justifies self-congratulation. In either case, there is a lesson to be learned, so that bit by bit one improves.

And I do think I have improved as a person in recent years, when I have been able to live my life as seems most natural to me. I regard this as at least some evidence that high personal standards of personal behaviour, and the showing of kindness, empathy and consideration towards other people, can come simply from personal resolutions and inclinations, unsupported by religion in any form.

You can probably see that M---'s spiritual ideas and my own were a very long way apart. One was formal, with definite guidelines; the other was undefined, without rules of any sort. That didn't prevent us both having, in our different ways, the capacity to be decent persons.

And I did not think that M--- was wasting her time when standing on some headland, or out on a beach, and reading from her books of Baha'i prayers and the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. It seemed to me that she was reaching out to her dead husband, taken so early by a cruel disease, and offering his spirit, wherever it was, the reassurance that he was cherished and not forgotten. How could one not encourage and support such a thing?

I have to say also that whatever the Baha'i teachings were on partners that discover they are transsexual, they did not give M--- the right answer, nor even the ability to cope. That does not invalidate the religion, but it failed M--- when stormy seas were washing her world away and she needed a rock to cling to. I hope she did not suffer a double loss - not merely me, but her faith as well.

3 comments:

  1. Dear Lucy I have to say that from what you say your are still the atheist. The reason you cannot 'connect' to God is because you have a closed heart. God is spirit and should be worshipped in spirit as well as in truth. Remember I am speaking as one who was once very atheistic. There is nothing wrong in what you say about being a better human being by striving to that end. We are all indeed responsible for our own actions but that in itself isn't enough as far as God is concerned. It is difficult for anyone not of the faith to understand this. I can only say that it is possible to know God personally because I and all those of the faith have experienced it and still do. We all have a free choice in this too. We make the decision to believe or not. You choose not to, I chose to accept God and His gift of life in Jesus Christ. I know I made the right choice. Sure, I can live a good life and that is expected of me but there is more to just this life.
    You mentioned the Baha'i faith...here is a better description.....
    http://www.allaboutreligion.org/bahai.htm
    It is similar in conception to what we in the Christian faith call the coming One World religion prophesied to come about before the return of Christ, one of many prophecies that have either come about or will do soon.
    I feel for M in what she is (was) doing and I suppose for her it was by way of a comfort at the loss of a dearly loved companion but you know there is a peace that transcends all others. As Jesus reminds us, 'My peace do I give unto you, it's a peace that the world cannot give, it's a peace that the world cannot understand'. Believers in Christ have that peace Lucy.
    By the way, 'Twelfth' has an 'f' in it my love.

    Shirley Anne x

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  2. You know, I wondered whether I'd spelled 'twelfth' correctly! Something did seem to be missing. It's put right now.

    I still wouldn't say that I am 100% atheist, otherwise I would totally pooh-pooh the possible existence of something supernatural, which I don't. How could I be so absolutely certain? However, I do see that 'worship' is absent from my personal point of view, and that it is little more than an acknowledgement of the laws of physics and their effects around the universe.

    You have certainty, and can feel assured about this world and a world to come. I have nothing at all, and face nothingness at the end of my life. Death will be just a cut-off point.

    Lucy

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    Replies
    1. Oh Lucy don't say that. Of course you have a future after death, you simply aren't aware of it just yet. All you need is (apart from love...LOL), well I've said it often enough. There is a saying popular amongst some Christians and it is this... I'd rather believe in God and later find out I was wrong than not believe and discover I was still wrong! No-one can persuade you other than The Holy Spirit bringing you under conviction. Hey at least you believe in the possibility. There is still hope. Love
      Shirley Anne x

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