Sunday, 7 February 2010

Losing my religion

I hear this morning that there is a growing campaign to include Heavy Metal Music as a religion at the next census in 2011. Believe it or not - and I suggest you should believe it - some 400,000 people at the last census of 2001 wrote down 'Jedi' as their religion. I understand the statistic gives the Jedi religion some form of official recognition, even though this sudden rush for Jedism is a postmodern joke, rather than a form of spirituality. It is in the nature of statistics not to know the difference.

Or perhaps not. It is in the nature of certain people to consider the menu at McDonald's to be perfectly edible. But is it? Nothing is religious or irreligious but thinking makes it so, as Shakespeare might have written if he had been as clever as the chattering classes. But is it a religion? What is a religion exactly?

But what is more important here is what approval of Heavy Metalism as a religion means for the definition of religion: it means simply that whatever I broadly call my religion is my religion. Some religions demand moral codes, others dress codes, and others still suicide codes; religion, thus understood, is almost about as useful a label in these matters as 'thing'. What, on the other hand, if we class religion as one's most important belief, or the guiding light of one's life? I'm not sure that helps either. That isn't why Jedi was written on the census by nearly half a million people. Going to church doesn't help either, nor any particular belief in an afterlife that separates the good and the bad, nor indeed in any particular kind of God: Sugar-Daddy versus Angry-Lord.

So, what we are facing here is not actually an understanding of religion, but something much broader: a particular understanding of the individual. Religion is whatever I say it is, says the enlightened, autonomous, self-defining particle, or the buffered individual, as Charles Taylor calls him. This thinking has now gone viral within religious organizations themselves. I define what kind of Christian I am going to be, not only within Protestant Christianity where autonomy has always been a factor, but also within Catholicism. I can be anything from a member of Catholics for a Changing Church to a member of the Latin Mass Society. I can consider regular Sunday Mass attendance as fundamentalism, if I wish to.


And this is one of the things the pope meant last week when he talked to the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales about 'mature debate' excluding dissent. What he meant was that it was about time people both inside and outside the Church stopped behaving like teenagers who want the world to revolve around them, their views, their expectations and definitions. It is about time they stopped behaving like buffered individuals or autonomous 'I's. He perhaps meant it was about time we became attentive to the life the Church initiates us into, if only we would allow it. If I'm not mistaken, he practically suggested we should grow up.

I cannot be categorical about this, but I think when we start losing 'our' religion, and embracing the Church, perhaps we will.

1 comment:

  1. Writing "Jedi" as a religion didn't give it any official status. See the ONS's view on it -
    But it was a way to protest against an irrelevant question on the census form: a question whose answer should mean more-or-less nothing in terms of "services" provided. If the Wikipedia article on the subject is to be believed, the number of Jedi in New Zealand crashed between the two most recent censuses. Yet nobody writes articles dissecting the reason for a fall in practising Jedi.
    Of course, if you'd all write "Beaker Person" as your religion at the next census, I'd happily apply for some kind of a grant.