Picture yourself being born

............the fact that disbelief appeared so much, well, smarter. Believing in God was not merely old-fashioned, superstitious and constricting, it was also a sign of weakness, simplicity and fearfulness. We were too clever, too clued in, too cute in every sense you can conceive of, to need crutches. My contemporaries and I were about to set out on an adventure of freedom. We had started to pocket our first pay packets and were determined to let the throttle out. We were going to party, dance, drink, love, and drive fast-looking cars, and we did not want God riding shotgun on such activities.
Looking back now, I cannot recall a single moment of epiphany when I understood, even briefly, the enormity of what I now understand religion to signify. But I have a sense today, acquired several eventful decades later, that I never recall having had as a child, of what religion is, and of what it might offer. The strange thing is that I always had this sense, except that I never thought of it as religion. I had, as a child, an awareness that religion might be important, but no sense of what its content might be. I was aware of the things I now think of religion as containing, but had no idea that these could be called religion.

It was many, many years later that I awoke one morning with a phrase running around my head and, in the background, the sound of a wind swirling through trees, and realized that I had had as a child the most vibrant sense of the religious. The phrase was 'Picture yourself being born . . .' It was all I recalled from a passage I'd read in a book by Fr Luigi Giussani, the Italian priest who founded Communion and Liberation around the time I was, in fact, born. The trees I recognized also, because as I woke I became convinced that I was back in my aunt's house in Cloonyquin, in the County Roscommon countryside, and I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. The book was The Religious Sense, in which Giussani, by telling us what religion is, implicitly tells us what religion is not: 'Picture yourself being born, coming out of your mother's womb at the age you are now at this very moment in terms of your development and consciousness. What would be the first, absolutely your initial reaction? If I were to open my eyes for the first time in this instant, emerging from my mother's womb, I would be overpowered by the wonder and awe of things as a "presence". I would be bowled over and amazed by the stupefying repercussion of a presence which is expressed in current language by the word "thing". Things! That's "something"! "Thing", which is a concrete and, if you please, banal version of the word "being". Being: not as some abstract entity, but as presence, a presence which I do not myself make, which I find. A presence which imposes itself on me.'

As we grow we forget what it is like to be a child. I don't mean that we necessarily forget what happened or what our thoughts were, but we forget the constant torrent of sensation that childhood is. We become inured to things, indifferent, worn down. We lose our taste for the sharpness of sensation.

Lapsed agnostic by
John Waters - a journalist who has become an outspoken campaigner for fathers' rights in Ireland. He has also written a song to represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest. Here he recalls his journey from belief to unbelief and back again.

193 pp. Continuum UK and Continuum US. To purchase this book online, go to www.continuumbooks.com.


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