Rachel Tookey: Week 6

This week, RACHEL TOOKEY talks about religion and suggests that we all do a little less arguing and a little more listening.

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Religion in Cambridge is a tricky subject. The main trouble I have with religion here is finding the churches. This is because everything in Cambridge unfortunately looks like a church. I was sitting in the JCR open meeting of Churchill for half an hour before I realised it wasn’t mass and the wine was just complimentary. This search is made even more difficult because everywhere you go, everyone in Cambridge will be taking themselves extremely seriously. As a result, I was similarly fooled by the people of CURAS last week into thinking it was the atheist church. All I wanted was a free waffle.

Excessive opinionation is an unfortunate facet of life in Cambridge. It may even be a symptom of post-traumatic stress. You can sometimes forget what pleasant conversation is until you find yourself aggressively defending your self-esteem after someone asks you to pass the salt. It seems that discussion and debate is often confused with yelling and sweeping generalisations. Often – but not always (let’s not generalise here), sometimes reasoned debate also seems to become confused with being a tosser. I mean ‘abject rudeness’ (let’s not be rude here).

After being raised a Catholic, I’ve shifted into firm agnosticism over the years.  My first experience of religion in Cambridge was how the reaction it inspired tended to be patronising. If you weren’t an atheist, you were essentially wearing a blue hoodie. When people saw me wearing a cross, suddenly I was stupid. And if you’re open about being an atheist, you’re shoved into the new atheist category.

Both sides of the debate have been drowned out with excessive opinionation and unnecessarily derogatory attacks. If you’re religious you’re treated like you’re stupid, if you’re an atheist you’re treated as if you’re a militant. We seem to have forgotten that you can have faith with reason and intelligence, and you can have disbelief without being a wanker. In particular, it’s like we’ve forgotten that you can have an opinion and still be able to listen.

I find this issue everywhere in Cambridge, secular or non. People resort to being aggressive so that others are either unable or unwilling to shout them down, and in turn stop listening to them. There are perhaps some basic tips that have been forgotten when we try to have discussion. Like take it off Facebook. Genuinely, stop commenting on that post. Oh, now someone else is weighing in with a Youtube link to a kitten video. Facebook has really created a measured way of resolving the world’s issues.

The next tip: shut up and listen. Listening is a lot like trying to eat crisps in the library. It requires extreme care and caution, but makes everything all the more productive. And it involves keeping your own mouth shut. It’s also like bird watching, in that it seems to have become unfairly unpopular. My final tip is to always offer free waffles, I really enjoy these.

You might not agree with this – it’s just my experience.  The difficulty with a column is it’s hard to stop it being didactic opinion. So feel free to comment (because you were of course waiting for my permission) because I want to listen. (I also want to go bird watching without judgement, and eat waffles). Having been raised a Catholic, I struggle with my daily guilt – and will therefore be regretting this article for weeks to come. I’ll shut up now.