Sunday, December 10, 2006

Religious Symbols

During my morning commute to the office to have my soul sucked out, energy bled away and youthful enthusiasm and optimism brutally suppressed by a bleak despair, I like to lighten my mood by listening to the Today Program on Radio 4. That's when I'm in the UK of course. In San Fransisco I listen to KFOG which is in no way similar, unless John Humphrys is prone to listening to Pink Floyd in the bits where he's not on air.

Anyway, while I was driving in today, a Vicar was expressing his displeasure at British Airways' recent decision to prevent a member of staff, a committed Christian, from wearning a cross outside of her clothing. He asked for all Christians to boycott the airline in protest. There was, of course, an entirely predictable debate involving Turbans, Burkhas and all manner of other religious symbols or attire, and their acceptability or otherwise in the workplace. I, as (perhaps regrettably) a godless heathen began to feel a touch 'left out', while at the same time having a certain amount of sympathy with the chattering clergyman.

Should I wish to proclaim my lack of faith to the world at large, what 'symbol', I wondered, would I share with my infidel brethren? A cursury search of the web (after all, I dont actually want to FIND one, that would spoil the point) has revealled the happy fact that while there is much discussion on this issue, there is no commonly agreed upon symbol. So, I'm free to make up my own then. Yippee.

Most religions, I figured, seem to have their holiest sites or most revered figures firmly located in extremely hot places. After all, Christians, Jews and Muslims all appear to have quite an interest in arid climes. And what is it that all of these places have in common? Sandals. So my first thought was a circle, containing a stylised pair of sandals, with a line through them at 45 degrees. Now that would look 'wicked' on one of those fine silver plated chains from the cheap shop - the ones that manage to turn your neck green after a week's wear. Not to be, I'm afraid...

Meaningless speculation and drivel (two of the pillars of my own existence) are helped along, I find, by pleasant company and conversation. You can speculate on your own, behind closed doors, but my mum always told me it would make me go blind (I think she said speculation). So, a couple of minutes after arriving at work, when it was time for my cigarette break, I collared a colleague and dragged him out into the rain with me. He doesnt smoke, but he does enjoy the cigarette breaks.

He told me that the Greek gods live on the top of Mt Olympus, where it's likely to be chilly, and that nobody had enquired of the Norse gods as to whether central heating was an essential feature of the average dwelling on Asgard, or whether they required air-conditioning instead. So, that's the sandals image done away with then.

This fellow pointed out that, from his point of view, one of the good things about having a religion was that it can sustain, even nourish, a person through times of adversity. He also pointed out that despite my tendency to liken my life to a vast and featureless desert without end (and therefore without a centre), there are in fact a few things around which my life does appear, to the outside observer, to revolve.

The first of these, of course, is a solid comittment on my part to the practice of 'taking the mickey' indiscriminately out of almost anything that anyone holds dear, whether or not I personally have sympathetic leanings, purely for effect. [I'd like to point out that I make fun of myself as well, I dont want everyone else to have all the attention.] Well, I cant argue with him, but its a bit ethereal really. Cant easily make a symbol out of that.

Then he struck a vein of pure gold. Food. If there's one thing about which I can endlessly enthuse and evangelise, its food. As the recipient of several blunt comments regarding the 'quality' of any chicken which might be obtained from a supermarket at two for a pound in comparison with the kind of free-range feathered aristocrat to which I am drawn myself, he knows he's on to a winner there.

So, next time you set eyes on an oversized individual proudly sporting a Potato (possibly engraved with a pair of sandals, I dont give up on an idea that easily) on a chain, know that it's there as a gesture of solidarity with those who like to advertise their own faith. And, of course, to sustain and nourish him through times of adversity; at which task it may, I respectfully suggest from a purely materialistic point of view, be (at least temporarily) more effective than an item of headgear or jewellery.

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