Visiting churches with non-religious people
Just for the record, I am a non-religious person. But I grew up Catholic, and went to mass occasionally and always at Easter and Christmas, and I went through all the Catholic rituals like my First Communion and my Confirmation. I’ve read the bible more or less through, and I know my saints and sinners, my apostles and my prophets.
I kind of take it for granted that this knowledge, which I didn’t have to do anything to acquire, is just common knowledge. Doesn’t everyone know that Jesus fell three times before being crucified? Isn’t it well known that Judas was a redhead? And everyone knows that Lot offered up his virgin daughters to the people of Sodom so that they wouldn’t rape his (male) guests, right? Right??
Travelling with C and L the past few years has shown me that no, not everyone does know this stuff.
C will often point out something to me and ask – “hey, what’s going on here?” I don’t always know. But, just like learning about constellations, there are a few easy ones. If he’s got arrows sticking out of his thighs, it’s probably St Sebastian. If there’s a dragon involved, it’s probably St George. If he’s carrying his own head, it’s probably St Denis.
So there we were in an ancient Paris church, the church of Saint-Pierre de Montmartre to be exact. C and L and me. I had already told C all about Saint Denis, about how he was executed, picked up his own head and walked for several miles carrying it. What a swell guy.
“Do people really believe this shit?” C asked. I don’t think I’ve ever really thought of these stories in terms of belief. I don’t believe in god or an afterlife. I don’t believe in the church, or original sin. I don’t believe in religion as an idea. But I like stories. So maybe in a way I believe in this shit.
Anyway, so I thought I would explain to L – in that imperious tour guidey way that I have – the story behind this statue of a man holding his own head. But before I got a chance, L rounded the corner, took one look at the statue, opened her eyes wide like saucers, and completely lost her shit.
And then I lost my shit.
And then we continued to lose our shit together.
This is a tiny church, and very quiet. And there we were, two oafish Australians, bent over and laughing, laughing, laughing.
L ran for the door and went outside to get on with losing her shit. We joined her some minutes later and then we all went sensibly for a glass of wine. And we didn’t lose our heads.