TWO MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT

This post isn’t about global Armageddon, so I’m sorry to disappoint if that was what you were looking for.  No, this is about my adventures on New Year’s Eve, in one of the closest “cutting it so fine as to be graphene-thick” moments I’ve ever had.

My OCD got the better of me, and I was stuck in a loop of complete inertia.  I needed to complete my chores to perfection, but knew that it wasn’t possible.  And so I collapsed into a mess of mental compulsions and avoidance.

Who else remembers ‘Allo ‘Allo?
I had been invited to a close friend’s New Year’s party, and there are certain expectations that one will be present at the required time.  Well I tried to hard to leave my pit of procrastination, and finally summoned the energy at 2330.  I got in a taxi at 2337, and had a lovely chat with my driver, who was quite pleased that I’d chosen him, as my route took him to near his home – so he could look in on his family just after 12 (I love beautiful coincidences like this).  Trouble is, neither him nor my friend live particularly near to me, so this was literally going to be a race against the clock.

Let’s just say that the driver got me there rather, ahem, efficiently.  I wasn’t keeping my eye on the speed, but it felt an awful lot like the 88 mph needed to transport me to the correct dimension to wish a happy new year to my mates.  Regular text updates on my location were sent en route, and Google’s ETA fluctuated between 2359 and 0002.  I was going to miss it.

But no.  I rang ahead as we turned on to my friend’s road, and I was greeted at the front door with a glass of prosecco and ushered in to the kitchen just in time for the obligatory snog and Auld Lang Syne. 2358.  Two minutes to midnight.

I WENT TO CHURCH AND I LIKED IT

“I went to church and I liked it;
hope my boyfriend don’t mind it”

Is what I’ve had going round in my head for the last 24 hours (thanks, OCD!).  But at least it helped me to remember to write this post.  I’m pretty sure that Mr. Science Gentleman will be concerned about my Skeptical Muscle after I confided in him by text that I actually felt really positive about attending a church service.

The occasion was a family funeral, and I felt strongly that the local church was the right place to hold it. My relative had been a regular attendee, and part of the “family” in the church community. Their funeral was well-attended by people from many parts of the community – turns out that my relative was something of a social butterfly (amongst the pious, at least). The service was conducted by the old vicar who was brought out of retirement for this funeral. They knew each other well, and the vicar’s family was almost like a distant branch of ours (I may be the first instance of an atheist being on first-name terms with the local clergy). And I felt it was totally appropriate for him to conduct a traditional Church of England ceremony in a church that I’d not set foot in for almost 20 years.

The experience really reinforced the attraction to religion for both those who are strong believers, and those who are not.  The church back home has over 1000 years of history (I grew up in a place that was pivotal to British history in almost every era – it’s kinda cool, here‘s a good starting point if you’d like to find out more), and that history is a part of what made me who I am.  Even though my relative’s funeral was a religious one, it was highly personalised and because the minister knew them well, he relayed some anecdotes about them in the sermon – some of the stories were things that I didn’t even know about them.  Even though I have a lot of anxieties about churches and religious figures (again, thanks for that, OCD) being inside The Abbey felt comforting and safe.  It was a known quantity, and a place of familiarity after so many years away.

So what now?  Am I going to convert back to Christianity?  Not likely.  I still feel strongly that a church is not a place for me, and not only do I not want any of my milestones celebrated in a church ceremony, I also feel that I would be a hypocrite if I did.  The experience has alerted me to the role that humanism can play in meeting the needs that religion often caters for.  A need to celebrate and affirm life events, a sense of togetherness, something to identify with.  I don’t buy into the idea of a humanist congregation, or feel that my humanism is part of a faith group, but I like the fact that humanism is flexible enough to accept everyone without forcing a set of rules on those it serves.  For me, losing religion was about leaving behind the shackles that chained me to a limited life.  As a result, I don’t like the ideas of the “humanist community”, or “sceptical community”, even though I participate in both.  I am a humanist, and a skeptic, but that’s not all I am.  Defining me only as that would do an injustice to the exciting, varied, and unrestricted life I have chosen.  You don’t gain freedom by choosing a new captor.

I would strongly recommend a humanist ceremony to anyone who wants the experience of a formal ceremony, but without the “God” bit. I’ve not attended any humanist funerals yet, but I have been to a few humanist weddings. These were a far better reflection of the couples’ aspirations and beliefs about marriage than a rigid, religion-based ceremony could ever be. My relative’s funeral was a perfect send-off because it shared with humanism so many of the aspects that made the ceremony appropriate and memorable; not because it was in a church.