I’m a lapsed Catholic. For those of you who don’t know what this means, it means I feel namelessly guilty all the time but have no way of offloading it onto a handy divinity. The best I ever feel is bad that I don’t feel worse.
I am, according to new research, one of an increasing number of ‘nonverts’ in the nation. This is not as painful as it sounds; it refers to the people who grew up with a faith but do not adhere to it any longer. The report, analysing data from the annual British Social Attitudes Survey and the biannual European Social Survey, revealed that nearly half the population of Britain now professes itself secular, and 60% of them grew up in Christian households. Another 2% come from other religions and the remainder grew up in homes that didn’t practise any religion in the first place.
But it is a little bit painful. I wish I believed in God. Any god. The older I get and the more chaotic the world gets, the more I wish I could trust in a higher power. This is partly a variant on the imposter syndrome most of us suffer from to some degree; just as I can never believe it when my pay packet arrives each month (HOW have I not been found out yet?), I can’t believe that I’m supposed to deal with the world all by myself.
This is surely some kind of hoax. And it is partly that all the traditional authorities, all the old, protective layers between mankind and our worst instincts seem to be disappearing fast. The idea of trusting your government was risible even before an actual orange actual madman was elected to the actual White House. The monarchy? Please. We lost faith in our “betters” even before we did politicians. They even took The Great British Bake Off away from us. Even the rightness of our Victoria sponges is a matter of mere opinion once more.
It would be such a relief to feel that there was someone, anyone, in charge. Someone in true all-embracing authority and with the unerring moral compass to go with it. My own gyrates so wildly (in the last few weeks I have found myself discussing whether I could kill a paedophile, a suffering animal and/or a parent with dementia – and I became very frightened by myself indeed) that the idea that humanity is in sole charge of itself becomes utterly untenable. There is a basic, natural human urge to believe in something bigger than ourselves, whether it’s a god or self-certified guru with a bunch of healing crystals. If you don’t have that, life can feel at times – and often for very long times – quite comfortless. You have to believe in people instead and bloody hell, people make that hard sometimes.
But maybe like any faith we nonverts (and secularists-from-birth, if they are plagued by the same yearnings) have to work at it. I recently helped judge the Prix Clarins award, which (in partnership with this here magazine) offers money and mentoring to a charity founder who is helping make a difference to the next generation. And by the end of the day spent interviewing the shortlisted candidates, I felt better than I had in years. They were all amazing, outward-looking, compassionate, ambitious women who saw a need in the world and stepped up to fulfil it. They renewed the faith in human nature that I habitually let headlines, horror stories and Twitter trolls erode. Hallelujah! Now I just need to stop feeling bad for feeling good.
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