Many of my friends, like me, are non-religious. Baptised perhaps to a Christian deity, it started off with a promising faithful start, maybe even attended a religious high school, but we’re basically damned heathens now: we eat bacon during Easter, we’re rubbish at the biblical questions at trivia, and sigh whenever we hear anything that comes out of the Family First party.
We’re sceptical and nuanced, and as such, perhaps a bit lost.
A workmate told me recently that I am the most spiritual person she knows.
“Because I go to yoga?” I asked. My bendy, well-aligned chakras twinkled bright.
“Dunno. You just care about that stuff.”
Spirituality and religion are not one and the same, I suppose, but from an early age I had an interest, perhaps even an obsession with it all. Apart from a few Sunday school lessons, my parents grew bored of the church and I wasn’t reintroduced again until scripture at Albury Public School. In grade four, an elderly lady came each week and read the bible and taught us about the good book. She told us god was caring and we should pray for good things we want in our life.
“If I pray for a skateboard, will I get one?” My classmate Zach asked.
The scripture lady laughed and so we all laughed along while waiting hopefully for her to answer the question, but she never did. I’m not sure if Zach ever got his skateboard.
We did get our own leather-bound bibles though.
And I decided, I would read mine in its entity. Because nothing says 'cool' like 'studious bible-reader.' A friend read the dictionary every night and I would make the bible my thing. And I tried, night after night, but couldn’t get through Genesis.
But I did pick up some new imaginary friends: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Jesus. They stuck around for a brief while but they were too judgemental and didn’t get into The Spice Girls.
At 14, I became friends with a very blonde, very blue-eyed, very enthusiastic evangelist named Kelly. And like many new-age Christians with a saved soul, she tried to convert every one of her friends. After sleepovers I would go to church with her family, her young trendy mum, brother and mum’s boyfriend. I never really found out what happened to her biological dad, but I believe they prayed for him.
The church was Faith City in Wodonga, an industrial area, near the bread factory and a bowling alley where I’d attended a many parties. Faith City was kind of like a party. A young Christian rock band played when we entered, they sang into microphones and strummed shiny guitars and their faces were projected onto screens at the front of the church.
It was all very impressive and expensive-looking. It was different to the churches I’d visited in Europe with my family years before, where I’d ran my fingers across crumbling stonewalls that smelt like vomit. Where saints were cut up into pieces for the benefit of their community. There was history and death in those places, here there was light, colour and modern hi fi equipment.
And I felt highly anxious and was unsure exactly why. Kelly and her family offered salvation with their white teeth and knowledge of what to do, how to be a good person and knowledge of heaven. I didn’t get “it.” And I desperately wanted to get “it.”
We stood in a pew as the collection was passed around. I had never seen so much cash in my life, so many pineapples, even a few crispy green $100 bills. You could repent with cash it seemed.
The very, white pastor finally gave his spiel and I was surprised, it was something I was familiar with: politics and the upcoming election. I was used to my dad, red-faced, yelling at the 7.30 Report as a pollie was being interviewed. Mum telling him to calm down. Dad not calming down.
It is, and still remains, one of my fondest memories.
The pastor’s approach was a little softer, he wasn’t yelling but he was firm.
“God has given us John Howard as prime minister. We will embrace him and not listen to the lies. He is our leader and we will listen to him.”
The 2004 version of fake news. I was young and naïve, but something switched in me in that moment. And I felt sick.
Perhaps I could be indoctrinated to a point, but when it came to convincing me that John Howard was a good chap, even I wasn’t going to believe that crap, who at this time had lied about boat people throwing their children overboard.
Dad had raised me well as a true leftie.
After this moment, I become increasingly interested in evolution and like a reborn sceptical atheist tried to convince Kelly to question her blind following. Our friendship drifted when she moved to the east coast and to this day, her Facebook posts are speckled with ‘Thanks Jesus.’
I read Darwin. I researched proof of evidence around the historical truth of the bible. I was still obsessed with Christianity, but rather seeking its flaws, I read up on the horror, the crusaders and holy wars, Salem and witchcraft, cults and mass suicides led by a “leader”.
My dad encouraging me by printing off articles, recommending books, lengthy discussions at the dinner table. He wasn’t a hater of religion but rather wanted me to question everything. He watched and still to this day watches, ‘Songs of Praise’ every Sunday because he likes the hymns, the panned shots of English churches in soft glowing light, being engulfed by a wholesomeness.
My interest did eventually become less gruesome, and become more of a curiosity into philosophies, ideas and morality. That search for something, or ‘the other’, that thing that keeps you awake at night, that makes you buy bullshit healing crystals.
In ‘First we make the beast beautiful,’ Sarah Wilson explores the idea of anxiety as a search for meaning. A restlessness of the spirit that makes us on edge and constantly scrolling our social media feeds to fill in the gaps. A gnawing.
Now we are freer, our lives are not dictated by churches on how to live. We are driven by self-interest and the ongoing pursuit of being healthier, happier, prettier, funnier, smarter, better.
If you’re not these things, you need to try harder. New $109 yoga pants might help. Or you can download a mindfulness app. I have about 20.
Before attending a three-day wellness festival in the bush, my mum was worried I might not return. Might get taken away, or caught up in a cult of sorts.
“Be careful,” she said. Classic mum.
She needn’t have worried. The Wiccan circle didn’t interest me. The $10 healing service couldn’t cure me. The vegan meals didn’t fulfil me. These serious women with their endless emotions didn’t understand me.
But I smelt nice from bush essence therapy and I slept well in the tepee.