Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Evangenlical? Who? Huh?

An ex-girlfriend has recently joined, or at least attended her first meeting of, an evangenical church in Bradford. This isn't about the sect. It's about my ex-girlfriend.

(Full disclosure: I was once and the age of about eleven a Billy Graham convert. I went to an Earl's Court rally, though I was in an annexe and only saw a televised version of the main hall I went down the front when he called for people to step forwards, had a tutor, or pastor, or whatever they called them, who tried to discuss Biblical texts with me. This lasted about six weeks, and though I tried, I really wasn't getting it, and I think the tutor knew it as well. I wonder what the drop-out rate was? Organised religion, or indeed organised anything, remains a total mystery to me. If asked, I'd say it was the idea I have to follow some leader rather than make my own mind up, but that's just a rationalisation. It takes hormones to be a joiner, and I don't do whatever the joiner hormone is that they haven't found yet.)

So you can guess that I don't get what a seasoned adult with two children and three marriages is doing getting involved with evangelicals. (I know you think there's a clue in the question, but read on a little.) I've been to an evangelical service, exactly once, as a politeness to a girlfriend's relatives, and a sad affair I found it as well. The group in Bradford look a lot slicker and have a decent merchandising operation going - I mean, have a range of inspirational literature available. I'm going to be blunt here: evangelical religion is for troubled people. Not 'troubled' in the sense of 'need to stay on their meds', but in the sense of 'not sure where all the pain and confusion are coming from, or why, or what to do about it, and so with a ton of unresolved emotional baggage around rejection, lack of love and need'. That kind of 'troubled'.

Emotional baggage can be dumped. The catch is that if your experience is like mine. I didn't get a new Hermes-filled Loius Vuitton set of "healthy positive emotions and reactions" when I lost the nylon-filled cardboard stuff. I got a messenger bag in which I carry the immediate feelings of the day. I don't feel bad any more, but I never quite feel good either, and nor would I call it being well-balanced. It's more like being... on standby. I don't have emotions about stuff that's nothing to do with me, but then nothing in my daily round is anything to do with me, so I don't have any emotions. But I could have them, if anything happened that was to do with me. On standby. You're right, it is pretty vacant.

That's hard to live with, especially if you're used to a level of drama, however specious, as part of your daily emotional diet. Evangelical religion offers that. It offers drama, meaning, belonging and purpose, the assurance that your daily struggles have a significance beyond grubby bill-paying, and the promise that you are on a road to living right. The catch is the same one as afflicts what looks like its mystical opposite: Eastern spirituality and its various techniques. It's a solution that comes from outside, whether from a Christian God or a spiritual Unity and Peace. You're still trying to fix yourself, but this time with God or Inner Peace.

I suppose what's puzzling me is that it's this woman I used to know. She's no more religious than I am. She works in insurance, fer Christ's sake, and no-one who works in insurance can possibly be religious. Go to church, yes, be religious, no. Part of me wants to say "who are you and what have you done with my friend?" and another thinks she will give this an honest try, and the whole thing will break against her innate realism. I hope she's not doing it to please someone, because that hasn't helped her in the past. But maybe she does oxytocin, and is looking for someone and something to believe in, because she can. That doesn't work for me, but maybe it will work for her.

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