Poison into medicine

A day of total rest seems to have helped. I’m still feeling like shit but considerably better than yesterday. It’s likely we have a venue for Christmas Carol this year again, which has been something of a sticking point. In celebration of this probable breakthrough, I got out of the house for the evening. I went – (rock and fucking roll baby) – to a religious meeting in Chelsea.

I have a real problem with dogma when it comes to ideas that serve us. There are lots of ideas that serve lots of different people. I am coming close to nailing down the specifics of the ideas that serve me. Just this morning I courteously told a Jehovah’s Witness to stop ringing my doorbell as I detest some of the aspects of their faith, particularly their take on submission of women. I didn’t give her my reasons, though as I wasn’t going to try to persuade her she’s wrong. Nobody is wrong, nobody is right – unless there is some sort of gargantuan coincidence in play. Puts me in mind of South Park, the announcement at the entrance to hell, pub quiz style: “I’m afraid it was the Mormons. The Mormons was the correct answer.”

If we find something that serves us, then that’s right for us as long as it does no harm surely? Because what is a faith structure but a blueprint for our happiness and our ability to facilitate the happiness of others? I’ve read the religious texts of many world religions. They all offer beauty, fable, challenge and outdated values, but with differing levels of personal autonomy. Most of them are very old. Age lends credibility to ideas. A new religion needs a serious cult of personality to gain traction. And also it has to fill a need. Most religions were invented to answer the unanswerable questions. What’s the meaning of life? What happens when we die? A new religion has to come at the right time and fight harder for its place in the market. Atheism is the big success religion recently. A dry, joyless, colourless faith rooted in self righteousness and dogma. I’m being deliberately arch calling it a religion, but it’s the same thing: “Our idea is the right idea and all the other ideas are wrong. Read our book.” It’s hubris. Arrogance before the gods. Even if there are no gods. Arguments with atheists always carry smugness.

But here, in London where ideas are free and atheism is the prevalent religion, we can have these discussions. Londoners are still attacking and being attacked because of these clashing ideas though. Meanwhile in Myanmar there’s a genocide of Muslims by Buddhists. All around the world, Muslims are being killed by Christians for killing Christians for killing Muslims etc etc. Nobody knows where any of this started really. It’s in the mists of time. And with no start it can logically have no end because who admits culpability?

It’s a bugger to contemplate. I just witnessed the peaceful version of a blazing dogma row at a comfortable middle class meeting near my home. A woman spoke beautifully and eloquently about fighting demons in her daily life, but she rooted some of her discoveries and understandings in other faith practises. At one point someone snorted, with audible contempt, and darkly named the ancient faith that one of her practises arose from. Most people were visibly uncomfortable, fixing eyes.

She was talking about her family in Mexico after the earthquake. This was really recent. She’d had a panic attack this very morning and had got herself out of the house to attend the meeting. She was talking about coping strategies she had found to deal with an almost untenable situation. Who the hell are we to disapprove of her because she’s cherry picking religious tenets when she needs to? Her family and home town were in a massive fucking earthquake. I attempted to salvage the situation by suggesting she was talking about “turning poison into medicine,” which is party line talk for the particular practice this meeting was about, and fitted her subject matter. I got called a natural diplomat afterwards simply because I was the only person not spitting teeth about her bringing up two other old world religions. I’m no diplomat. I don’t like conflict and have a usefully retentious brain. “My grandfather was a diplomat,” I responded, which is loosely true and means I’ll be better placed to break up any future unnecessary squabbles when they arise. But I didn’t succeed in breaking this one up. Pride got involved. It was all a bit strident and unnecessary.

People were being overly precious about dogma, and not being sensitive to the fact that she had had a terrible few days and needed to get something off her chest. They told her she was “wrong”. What nonsense. She was being insensitive, choosing the wrong place and time to talk about her alternative faith structures. She didn’t need dressing down.

This is the thing though. Religions are wonderful ideas. But people get really fighty about the contents of their brain. We all experience everything differently. Colour, sex, walking, breathing, thinking. Everything is different for a different person in ways that we can barely comprehend. If we start trying to impose our reality on someone else we are closing down our own possibilities and essentially engaging in an act of aggression. This blog, then, by my own reasoning, is an act of aggression. To an extent, but I’m not telling you that the things you believe in are wrong. You might be the one lucky right person. I’m just working out what I think. I wish there was a way we could all make peace with the idea that “right” thing is the thing that gives the greatest happiness to yourself and others. What else can it be? That will change person to person. Most religions have peace at their heart. The war bit comes from our own shit. We use detail of doctrine in isolation to justify our worldview. Then we entrench, find allies, and throw shit at the people who don’t purport to believe exactly the same thing we do. It’s poison.

I love the idea of turning poison into medicine. It’s why I’ve written this blog. I saw a bit of poison. I’ve explained why in a broader sense and hopefully kicked off some thinking in myself by writing words. How can such lovely ideas cause so much destruction?

The scabs fell off yesterday for the frog poison I put into my bloodstream. That stuff could kill you. It made me very sick for a short while and then gave me clarity and made me feel well. It was poison as medicine.

This is written mostly to eviscerate the lump in my throat I had after seeing ego and damage – poisons – getting in the way of a meeting about ideas. Humans just shouldn’t talk comparative religion. Like I just have for 1000 words. But I’ve been trying to find a way of using it as medicine. And splurging words is part of that process, it seems.

I’ll keep going to those meetings. I’ll just wear my diplomatic coat next time. Well, not mine … my grandfather’s.


Let’s all try and let go of our shit… NMHRK.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

One thought on “Poison into medicine”

  1. I like this. I just had a discussion with one of my colleagues about this remark: “Atheism is the big success religion recently. A dry, joyless, colourless faith rooted in self righteousness and dogma. I’m being deliberately arch calling it a religion, but it’s the same thing: “Our idea is the right idea and all the other ideas are wrong. Read our book.” “.


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