Thursday, May 11, 2006

If He were a Carpenter

WARNING: If you're deeply religious you may find the following piece offensive. If you're really that pious I don't really care if I do offend you, but don't say you weren't warned.

The trouble with most of the world's religions, it seems to me, is that they were all designed in pre-industrial times. In other words, they were put together by artisans. And fairly amateur artisans at that. There were no blue-prints drawn to check the consistency of the different parts, and no computers to generate all sorts of sophisticated three dimensional models on. Nor was there any real pressure to get it right. Billion dollar lawsuits were still centuries away and trade unionism hadn't taken off yet (can you imagine any self-respecting Union of Catholic Priests letting them slip that celibacy clause over?). You couldn't find reviews of every new religion out there on Amazon. So the general idea was, put the damn thing together and get it out there, and if afterwards it has to be held together by faith, so be it. Little wonder that most religions turned out as clumsy as they did.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for handicrafts. These tiny independent craftsmen are great for coming up with little trinkets to decorate your house. And if that's all religion amounted to - something you could pick up in a souvenir shop - I'd be all for sticking with the artisan route. But when religion becomes the official reason for killing other people, I can't help wishing that these things had been a little more, well, professionally designed. Look at it this way - would you travel on a plane that had been put together from the spare parts of his child's tricycle by some desert goofball? No, right. You want to know that teams of highly trained engineers have spent years running safety tests and perfecting the technology for this. You want to know that if something goes wrong it's going to be for a better reason than "our product moves in mysterious ways". So why not apply the same standards to religion [1]?

Take the much overlooked / misinterpreted fact that Jesus was a carpenter before he started going around performing miracles and all that jazz. There have been plenty of attempts to romanticise this fact, but who are we kidding? We all know what small-time carpenters are like. They're the guys who'll promise you delivery on a certain day and not show up till two weeks later. They're the guys who'll show you this glorious pure walnut piece in their shop and promise to make you one exactly like it, but when it finally gets delivered to you your piece will be made out of cardboard, cheap sunmica and spit. They're the guys who'll arrive at your door with a 4-piece dining table set in white when you ordered a sofa in beige, and when you point this out to them they will first look hurt at your pettiness and then proceed to spend 45 minutes hollering over their mobiles at a series of dimwitted assistants (the result, no doubt, of copious in-breeding) before informing you that yes, they have finally traced your sofa but unfortunately in all the confusion it got shipped to Darfur and has been eaten by a village so they'll have to start making you a FRESH PIECE which could take anywhere from two days to a few centuries, I'm sure you understand. They're the guys who when they finally turn up with your sofa will have made it in some vague non-standard size so that first it'll be too long or too broad to fit through your door and they'll have to dismantle it to get it in and that'll cost you extra, and second you'll never be able to find cushions / matresses / linen to go with the damn thing. They're the guys whose stuff will keep you awake at night with all the creaking. They're the guys whose furniture will fall apart 12.5 hours after their shop goes out of business. Keep telling yourself that Jesus was an independent carpenter, and suddenly this incessant wait for the Day of Judgement begins to make a lot more sense. [2]

What we really need, I think, is an Ikea version of religion. Something basic and functional that comes with clear instructions and that you could assemble in your own home and that would actually work. No more overwrought headboards or gilt-edged frames or handcarved legs to stand on, no more wrestling with your soul to find the answer, none of this Abraham Lincoln build-your-own-log-cabin stuff, just turn to page 3 in the manual and remember to turn the screw counter-clockwise. It isn't just that an Ikea religion would be reliable, so you wouldn't have to keep propping it up with books and worrying about it falling apart and wouldn't need to kill someone if they tried to sit on it. It's also that this way you'd have standardisation, so people who got the same model would actually have the same religion, as opposed to all this interpretation crap [3]. And people would be able to say why they picked one religion over the other, thus making genuine theological debate possible. What's that? Why am I a Christian? Well, for one thing, it came with free shipping.

Which is not to say that the old religions aren't quaint and brimming with character [4]. If you're the kind of person who regularly buys furniture from antique stores, you'll probably want to hang on to your authentic fire and brimstone version. But for the rest of us, who just want a faith we can sleep comfortably in without having to commit murder to get it, there'd be the machine made stuff.

Now, wouldn't that be a world worth living in.


[1] And speaking of standards, how about FDA testing of all religions? They certainly have enough side-effects. I'm pretty sure you'd find that being a raving fundamentalist increases the chances of heart disease. Though you could argue that this is a good thing.

[2] It's a little known fact that the third person to witness the resurrection of Christ after Mary and the Magdalene was a Mrs. Lutyen-Smith, who wanted to know when she was going to get the dresser she'd ordered just before the Sermon on the Mount. Speculation that this may have been the real reason Christ (always conscientious when he'd taken an advance for something) came back from the dead has, of course, been supressed by the Church Authorities. Dan Brown, however, has an expose on the topic planned. He's thinking of calling it the Da Vinci Cot.

[3] This interpretation problem is not exclusive to religion, by the way. It's true of all sorts of outdated artefacts. One man's amphora is another man's urn. One man's terracotta figurine is another man's sandstone pipe-cleaner. And as for the ongoing debate about what a Zulu knobkerrie actually is, the less said the better.

[4] Many great works of literature would be the poorer for being invaded by Ikea. Several Henry James novels would have to be rewritten, for instance, and an entire sub-plot of the Odyssey would collapse.



Tabula Rasa said...

you're doing better than you know with the ikea analogy. two years of my old dresser and i was invoking god every morning.

Cheshire Cat said...

Sadly we did have a rational, mass-produced religion. It was called Communism, and may we never see its like again...

Miss Bramble Bush said...

Hilarious stuff Falstaff! Wish I could forward it to the Dean of the School of Divinity.Mwahaha.

ozymandiaz said...

Two points. One, the role of religion is not the prosprerity of souls or saving them or guiding them to the afterlife/next life, no, that is the role of faith and beliefe. The role of religion is now, as it has always been to control the mindless masses. To gain power and keep it.
Two, regardless of what type of religion is designed, no matter how funcional and easy to assymble, it will be handled by, of all things, people. People can screw anything up.
No, religion will not find perfection until the human elament is removed. When we are gone and machines inhabit the world then perhaps religion will be suitable.
p.s. You give the FDA way too much credit.

Falstaff said...

tr: :-).

cat: true. And you have to admit, when it came to killing people, it was pretty damn efficient. None of this fake 'we need someone to make cartoons of our prophet so we can have an excuse for killing people' crap.

bramble bush: thanks.

Oz: True - but that's only more reason why you need something that's easily mass merchandised, no? Agree with you about the machines though. As for the FDA, well, it's the thought that counts, right?

dazedandconfused said...

Fal, am a little surprised. Don't you own a sturdy, old, beautiful bookshelf somewhere made by a sturdy, old, carpenter?

Aishwarya said...

I am offended by the lack of religious outrage in the responses to this post. I'd been looking forward to it. :(

Falstaff said...

d&c: ? No, I don't. My bookcase was brought from Target - hardly an outlet known for it's artisan-ship.

Aishwarya: Yes, I know. It's sad isn't it. There just aren't enough good, devout people left.

Sue said...

Loved the post - absolutely hilarious!

But, IKEA, really? Move houses a few times with IKEA furniture and you will never call them reliable again..Antique stores still get my vote, so what does that mean in your religious argument? - why wouldn't I sleep in peace, since I have no carpenter to deal with? Just arguing for the sake of if - its a lovely post.

Swapna said...

Good post... :-)

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