Monday, 24 August 2009

The God-Shaped Hole, Birmingham and Marcus Brigstocke

My wife is not a fan of stand-up comedy. In the (very long) queue to see Marcus Brigstocke new show God Collar, she told me that she was only there for my sake. In true Edinburgh Fringe tradition, everything was running almost an hour late so it was a pretty chilled spouse that finally settled into her seat beside me to see the opening night. Fortunately, both of us were well rewarded. Marcus’ show is personal, funny, touching and raises some interesting questions on religion and religious experiences.

The basic premise of God Collar is that Marcus does not believe in God but if God did exist, he would very much like to ask him a few questions. He has harsh words for all the Abrahamic religions, rightly questions the moral examples laid out in the Old Testament and has strong words on Judaism and the Muslim religions too. Atheists however are not immune. One of my favourite lines is “before I read The God Delusion, I was an atheist. By the time I finished it I was an agnostic.”

I have read quite a bit of Richard Dawkins writings while a student but mainly his stuff on evolutionary biology so I haven’t read The God Delusion. Apparently though there is a whole chapter in it dedicated to “the god-shaped hole.” Brigstocke probably didn’t do it much justice when he summarised it as Dawkins saying “some people have silly thoughts and they mustn’t have” but I think I understand where he is coming from. My own experience of “the god-shaped hole” certainly isn’t silly to me.

Personally, I don’t like the phrase “god-shaped hole”. It is a void and I discovered it within myself when I was in my late twenties. I had taken up meditation and while visualising the journey deeper into my own mind I came to the point where I could travel no further. And there it was, like a hole in a floor which contained utter blackness. It is not a comfortable image. If I close my eyes now, I can still see it.

The next question was “what next?” To be honest, I was scared. With every session of meditation the void seem to grow larger in my mind. It felt like I was losing my sense of self, that I desperately had to cling on to my feeling of self because if I fell into that void, I would cease to exist. But cling on was becoming more and more difficult. One evening, literally at my wits end, I prayed and let go. My conscious self fell into the blackness.

Perhaps I had faith before but if I did, it wasn’t based on experience but dogma. For once in the void it is not black at all. Rather I feel a connectivity with all things. A peace and tranquillity that I had not known before. It is a strange but calming sensation. To be honest, I don’t consciously go there much nowadays. Perhaps I don’t have to but it is reassuring to know that it is there if I every need it.

So how does this all link to organised religion? I’m not sure that it does. In God Collar, Marcus says that he can’t imagine God, so he starts with something smaller. Birmingham for instance. Then he imagines the routes into Birmingham and where one is born will dictate the road that one will take towards Birmingham.

For me, it was the A47 via Leicester.

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