Religion seems to be dominating the news at the moment. Last week, the eyes of the world were focused upon the inauguration of Pope Francis at the Vatican. Today, as I write this, the airwaves – at least here, in the UK – are monopolised by live coverage of the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury. In a fascinating new book – “Religion for Atheists” – Alain de Botton argues that the cultural manifestations of religion: the art, music, rituals, literature, architecture, have much to offer, even to the non-believer. As a lapsed Catholic myself, I must admit to finding some of de Botton’s arguments persuasive (I can also recommend his other books “How Proust Can Change Your Life” and “The Consolations of Philosophy”). On the other hand, it is undeniable that religions have had disastrous consequences, as even a cursory look at human history reveals.
My schooldays were, in general, a time of misery for me, due to the ministrations of malicious, black-robed Christian “Brothers”. Partly as a result of that, I have no liking for formalised religion to this day. My poem “Communion” is a brief – though pungent – attempt to express some of the dichotomies and hypocrisies of established religion. [The word “tawse” refers to the leather strap that was frequently used to enforce “discipline” in the days of corporal punishment.]
Bread and water, blood and wine,
flowing from the font divine.
Words murmured, gaze intent.
Heads lowered, soft assent.
Tongues receptive, doubts healed.
Thoughts deceptive, minds sealed.
“Crack!” of tawse, encrimsoned skin.
Rigorous laws enforced therein.
Immaculate deception, bred into belief.
Fallible conception, ceaseless grief.
Font divine, endless slaughter.
Blood and wine, bread and water.