Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Losing my religion

One thing you notice, when listening to the REM song, is the anguish in Michael Stipe’s voice as he struggles with his new-found torment. It seems from the song that, prior to some recent events, he has been a man of faith, comfortable in the knowledge that there was something out there for him when his time comes to shrug off his mortal coil; there’s something for him to move towards; something to drive him to do good.

But for reasons unknown to the listener, that promise of something great to come is lost to Mr Stipe now, and he is tormented about the great and difficult task that lies ahead of him … the task of living. A task which, I’m sure many of you will agree, is difficult enough as it stands, but for Michael Stipe, with the added fear that he is now facing, fear of having to continue to live-on and to experience all the pain and frustration that the modern world inflicts upon its inhabitants, without any material or heavenly reward at the end, is proving to be more than he believes he has the strength to withstand. Michael Stipe is desperately and dangerously close to despair, and right now, at the time of singing this song, he can see no way to continue.

Losing one’s religion, or faith, or spirituality, can be an enormous moral and physical calamity for anyone.

Saving the World HQ has recently sent Donkey to Turkey to attend a summit of the World’s Super Heroes, and yesterday we were granted an afternoon off from the high-level discussions to take-in a bit of history from this incredible part of the ancient world. We visited Roman, Greek, Christian and Persian ruins on the western coast, and we were all suitably shocked and awed at the magnificent civilisations that have grown, flourished and disappeared over the centuries. For this na?ve Donkey, coming from a country whose oldest buildings are not much more than about 170 years old, it was truly an awesome experience.

On the way back to the Super Hero Summit, we stopped at what is said to have been the last known house of the Virgin Mary. St John, entrusted by Jesus to look after his sacred and beloved mother as he perished on the cross, is said to have taken Mary with him as he set about spreading Christianity throughout the world, and the last place they lived before dying was here at Ephesus, high up on a windswept hill.

The location of Mary’s last days remained unknown until a German nun had a vision sometime in the mid twentieth century, and after years of searching, and finding, and partitioning the Vatican, the Church declared the authenticity of the site in the mid 60s. Now, of course, pilgrims flock to the little stone chapel which has been built on the site, and yesterday, Donkey too stopped for a look at what perhaps may be “one of the most holy sites for Catholicism in the world”.

Amongst the Super Heroes gathered, there were Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, and with the exception of the first and some of the second group, many of the visitors had questions about the site, and the lady to whom it is dedicated, and Donkey, being both the hoary old Catholic and social butterfly that he is, found himself explaining the whole Jesus, Mary and St John thing to them all as we wandered up the hill to the little stone chapel. So by the time we burst through the door, Donkey was more into an historical, explanatory frame-of-mind than one which might normally have been expected from a Catholic lad entering “one of the most holy sites for Catholicism in the world”.

It was the looks of rapturous, spiritual wonder radiating from the faces of the other Catholics from our party, who had reached the chapel before us and who were silently kneeling and praying, which startled me into realising where I was, and I quickly checked myself and made the appropriate, habitual gestures before quietening my thoughts with a view to some kind of respectful prayer or reflection, but you know what? Nothing came.

“What’s going on?”, I wondered. Once upon a time, Donkey would have shut everything else out, and would have concentrated on this place and moment, affording it all the love and respect that “one of the most holy sites for Catholicism in the world” deserves. But I felt nothing from the place – there was no power, no inner strength, just the cold stone from a 40 year-old building which could not possibly have been anything like the last house of Our Lady of Efes, which would have been built some 2000 years before.

And it was with these thoughts, very much focused on the academic (“this could not have been the house she lived in, it’s too new”), rather than the spiritual (“the last known house of Holy Mary, Mother of God”), that I wandered back down the hill in the rain, feeling as though I had just been taken to another dodgy tourist attraction. I knew in my heart that this was the wrong approach, and that I perhaps had just missed a great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it was my head, not my heart, which was calling the shots that afternoon.

Upon rejoining my colleagues, I could see how uplifted were the Catholics amongst them, and it made me feel even worse, not because they had felt so much, and I nothing, but rather that I was so disturbed by my lack of feeling.

You see, for years now I have based my spirituality on a belief in people, and the power that they bring to me and each other through compassion and interaction. It is this which empowers me to interact with people from all faiths, and all walks of life, and it was probably this which resulted in my patiently answering questions about the Bible from Buddhists and Hindus as we wandered up the hill towards Mary’s House.

I have believed in the good will and power of mutual interaction and love for years now, and have been convinced that it is by far a greater road to world peace and harmony than following a confused collection of antiquated dogma. I believe … no, I know that it is the right way forward … so why then do I feel so bad about my lack of any spiritual epiphany at Mary’s House? After all, I can sit quietly in a Hindu or Buddhist temple, or under a tree or by the sea, and after a period of quiet self-reflection, feel completely up-lifted.

Am I starting to get scared that I don’t have a contingency plan if the end day comes and I’ve in fact been wrong all these years? Should I be hedging my bets and put a bit more effort into trying to feel something in a cold stone chapel in the mountains of Turkey … y’know, just in case?

Losing one’s religion is indeed very painful … but so is searching without and within to try to hang onto it. Sometimes I wonder if it’d be less painful to just follow blindly … but, deep down, while I might back myself to be able to fool God, or gods, I’m not sure I’d ever really be able to fool myself.

REM's Michael Stipe; haunting anguish in Losing my religion. Pic: Google images.


Anonymous said...

Oh Dear, Donkey...that's VERY deep. A little too deep for me at the moment.

I'm trying to just scratch the surface of my thoughts at the moment as I wait patiently for my heart to heal.

Hey!!! It snowed in Canberra yesterday!! Can you believe it? 2 weeks before Summer. I prefer to believe it was something precious, rather than the hole in the ozone or something. I'll just be an emu for a bit...Hee Haw!!!

Anonymous said...

hey donkey....can you tell me how you changed your "comments" into "moaning mules"?....please...

DonkeyBlog said...

Wow, technical questions for the most computer-illiterate Donkey in the Barn! This will take a bit of research, Shammy ... let's see;

In your template, scroll down to the section that starts with ... (note, I have to remove the "<" to give you these instructions).

p class="post-footer"

Then go to line that says;

a class="comment-link" href="$BlogItemCommentCreate$"$BlogItemCommentFormOnclick$$BlogItemCommentCount$ Comments/a

And replace the last
" Comments" with whatever incredibly hilarious witticism you desire.

Have fun...

PS If you've not done already, have a look at my post about stupid kangaroos etc. It was written at the time of yours, and others' recent blog demise.

Anonymous said...

Hey thanks for that. I'll go try it.

I'm deciding between Laughing Leprechauns and Pots of Gold.

Might go with the gold...I'm a bit skint!

Anonymous said...

You know i'm sorta at the same stage in my life where i'm starting to doubt the existence of Jesus. I read the gospel and stuff now days and find myself thinking "Yeah, that's a great story" and immediately i fear that i'm gonna burn in hell. Which is another thing that turns me off about religion...this whole punishment thing.But i do feel very upset that i suddenly feel that way cos religion is a very big part of my life.

I really do blame all these books and movies like Da Vinci's code that make you doubt everything. I know we shouldn't be swayed by all that, but it has done its damage.

I hope i find myself soon. I hope we both do.

Perhaps it's something we all have to go thru....

DonkeyBlog said...

Yeah Booby, but take a tip from Auld Grand-pa Donkey, you don't go through this stuff once ... it just keeps comin', over and over again.

Rub yerself in rock salt - that'll toughen y'up!

The Editor said...

Believers say it makes their lives happier.

Someone phones up and tells you you've won the lottery, it's a wind-up. but you believe them. Until you find out its a hoax you feel great, you tell everyone, life is completely different, you've been born again!

Conclusion; belief affects what you feel, but has nothing to do with reality.

Anonymous said...

Consider that 'Losing My Religion' came out in 1991, the same year Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize winning play "Angels in America" debuted on Broadway.

Given that the official video for the song features an all-male cast(with angel wings aplenty), I'm convinced that the song is a lament expressing anguish and controlled rage over the devastation effect that HIV/AIDS was having on artistic gay communities at the time. I'm guessing that Michael Stipe, personally, was experiencing at the time a deeply-felt loss to AIDS of a loved one.

As for the melody of the song, I can't help but think that Peter Buck must have adapted the melodic structure of the psychedelic transcendental classic of 1967, 'Slip Inside This House'(from the 13th Floor Elevators' masterpiece album "Easter Everywhere"), to fit Stipe's lyrics.