I’ve never been a Christian with a big C, but my mother tells me that I’m a christian with a small c. She means it as a compliment and I take it as such. She’s a Christian, a good Catholic, and she doesn’t wear her religion on her sleeve and cite it as proof that she’s a good person. She’s just a good person. She puts into practice what she believes in. She tries to be compassionate. She strives for understanding. She aims for empathy. Those are the things that her faith teaches her, and those are the lessons she tries to live throughout her life. For her, that’s what being a Christian, and a christian, means. I might not believe in God or gods, but that’s something worthy of respect.
It’s Easter weekend, the most holy time in the Christian calendar. I was brought up a Catholic but much to the distress of my parents the teachings of the church never penetrated. I decided at the age of 10 that God was just Santa Claus for grown ups, then spent the rest of my teenage years rebelling against Catholicism because in the 1970s that was a lot safer than rebelling against a western Scottish and working class expectation of heterosexuality. In Coatbridge in the mid 70s I’d make a point of eating a bridie on Good Friday, as I suffered from the naive delusion that a bridie contained meat. I told the priest at school that I was an atheist, mainly just to annoy him, truth be told. And then when he took me to one side and asked if I was having problems with my faith, I’d angrily reply that my faith was just fine, it was his faith that was causing me the grief. Then just shy of my 16th birthday there was the mother of all arguments when I told my parents that I wasn’t going to go to Mass anymore. It was an even bigger fight than the I’m gay fight some years later.
Along with my siblings I got dragged along to Mass every Sunday and to Confession whenever our mother realised that we hadn’t been for a while. Confession followed a familiar ritual. Bless me father for I have sinned, it’s been six weeks since my last Confession. I always said six weeks because it was invariably much longer, but figured that six weeks was long enough that the priest wouldn’t remember me, but not so long that I’d get hassle for not having been for ages. And then I repeated a wee list of generic childish sins. I fight with my brother and sisters. I’m disobedient. I swear. And then I’d end the recitation with “And I tell lies”, so I was covered for all of the above. The priest would then do whatever it was that he did, I was no longer paying attention by this point, he’d tell me what my penance was, then I’d go out and lie to my mother and say it was two Hail Marys and an Our Father, because I was buggered if I was going to sit there and recite ten decades of the rosary.
The last time I went to confession however, when I was fourteen years old, the priest didn’t follow the script. After my wee list of regular sins he said, “Tell me my son, do you play with yourself.” My jaw dropped. I was speechless. I knew exactly what he meant and was horrified he’d asked the question. It took all the effort I could summon to prevent myself from yelling out, “None of your damned business you dirty pervert.” So I played dumb. “Eh … I play by myself. Is that what you mean?” Clearly realising that he was dealing with a particularly obtuse child, the pervy priest tried again, “Tell me, do you have impure thoughts about women?” As loudly and as firmly as I dared, I replied in a tone which meant that this conversation was definitely over, “NO!” And that was the only time I ever told the truth in the confessional. Wild horses could not drag me back after that.
I’ve since learned that this particular priest was abusing the privilege of the confessional. Priests are taught not to go fishing for sins. Contrition is only meaningful if the penitent willingly offers up the knowledge of past misdeeds, that’s what confession means. But I didn’t know that when I was a kid. I never told anyone, not until many years later. The last thing a teenage boy wants to do is to talk about his masturbation habits with his parents or the adults in his life. So I never said anything, and now I’m left wondering how many other kids this priest perved on. Kids who weren’t strong enough to stand up and say no. Kids who told him what he wanted to hear so he could get his rocks off while he abused his power and abused the trust of a child. That priest was a Christian with a big C, but his actions were not those of a Christian with either a big C or a small one.
So I’ve always been suspicious of those who wear their religion on their sleeves, who cite it as proof of their goodness. If you’re a Christian, you shouldn’t need to tell people. Because if others see that your actions are christian in my mother’s sense of the word, that you’re a good human being who understands the importance of compassion, of humanity, of empathy, and the centrality of love, then the discovery that you are a believer means they will know that you are a good Christian. The proof of the Easter pudding is in the eating.
The most prominent self-declared Christian politicians today are Ruth Davidson and Theresa May, both of whom are characterised by a lack of christianity in their deeds. I may not be a Christian, but I know that Jesus didn’t teach us to take away the mobility cars of the disabled, to force people with degenerative conditions to prove repeatedly that they are still ill in order to continue to receive support, or to make women who’ve been raped prove that they’ve been raped before they’ll get the money that they need to feed their kids. Compassion means you put the needs of the weak and the vulnerable before the needs of the strong and the rich.
Ruth and Theresa put the need of the rich to receive even more of their wealth in tax breaks than they already do before the need of the poor to live a life that’s dignified. Don’t know about you, but that strikes me as pretty damned satanic. They’re self-declared Christians with a big C, but there’s nothing about their political deeds that’s christian with a small one.
So this Easter let’s reflect on the gap between the words and the deeds of our political leaders who lay claim to Christian beliefs. The lesson to take is to beware those who feel the need to display their faith like an advertising hoarding. It’s actions, not words, which count, and their actions are the opposite of all the things that their faith claims to stand for and to have taught them. The real religion of Theresa May and Ruth Davidson is hypocrisy, greed, and a materialistic selfishness. They’re the Pharisees that their Jesus decried, and their actions of the past few weeks have exposed the truth. Ruth’s days of pretending to be the cheery caring face of a modern Conservatism are over.
Thus endeth the lesson.
Audio version of this blog post, courtesy of Sarah Mackie @lumi_1984 https://soundcloud.com/occamshaver/wee-ginger-dug-15th-april-2017
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