Tuesday, 31 December 2013

I'm a Lapsed Catholic Bore and I need help.

Mild Mannered Intellectual Husband and I will be celebrating New Year's Eve quietly at home tonight. The official excuse is that he wants to test-drive a paella dish he'll be serving to friends in a fortnight. But we both know the shameful real reason. He cannot take me to parties anymore - or at least not until I seek help for my Problem.  

My Problem, party-wise, used to be that drink made me too flirtatious for my own good. Those were the pre-MMIH days decades and I was busy surveying the field of unsuitable men very, very thoroughly, for reasons I now forget (Book deal? Boredom? Can't tell anymore). It's not that drink was an enabler then, more of a sensible precaution, like donning goggles and protective gear before a spot of welding.

The thing about drink, bless it, is that it affects people in very different ways. 

Some men turn into sex offenders.

Some women will resume a tearful argument they started with their now dead mother 33 years ago.

At any given party in London you'll be cornered at least once by the Property Price Bore. 

The Tedious and Pointless Anecdote Bore is somewhat international ("...so I said to him, it was on the Tuesday, no, wait, the Monday night because Linda had called at the week-end, that's right, so we're in the kitchen, finishing off the...what's the name of that chocolate roll with the thinghies? Oh, anyway, I said to him : "I'd take the red ones if I were you." And he said...no wait, I'm telling a lie, it had to be the Tuesday because..").

The Holiday Bore will pursue you with pictures of his/her latest adventure. They used to be actual photos, arranged in an album or twelve, so you could at least spot these particular bores and give them a wide berth. Now it's all digital so when they whip out their phones and say: "Here, there's something I wanted to show you.." you simply don't know if you are going to be staring at the sonogram of a foetus, a selfie, a particularly fiendish sample of sexting or the peaks of Machu Picchu, which they will insist means 'very small' ("It's Spanish!").

As for me, I can be very tedious about all sorts of things when sober. My political and feminist rants are somewhat legendary. I remember a protracted argument over an alcohol-free dinner with friends in Marrakech (see what I've subtly done there?) about whether it was nice of Angelina Jolie to adopt all those kids or whether she was in fact a publicity hungry anorexic and a shameless husband stealer (can't quite recall now which side I was on).

But when I drink, these days, I turn into a Lapsed Catholic Bore. There, I've said it. 

The reasons are opaque at best. I have now lived in England - a country in which the majority of Christians are Protestant, if they are anything at all, and where no one is making me go to any church - for nearly a quarter of a century. Why would I feel the urge to hunt down and zero in on the poor, frightened Catholic guest at the party (often the only one, or the only other one there) and let them have a protracted piece of my mind about the whole ecumenical matter? 

Why is it that, with a couple of drinks in me, I object so violently to innocent, even charming talk of "well, I've always liked the spectacle, the smell of incense.." which I  have solicited in the first instance with very pointed questions?

These people are not trying to (re-)convert me, far from it. They'd rather not talk about religion at all. They're often (and this, for reasons too complicated to explain infuriates me sooo much more) not that bothered about questions of faith, really. They call themselves Catholics, go to Church maybe a couple of times a year (more often if they're currently trying to get their kids into the excellent Catholic school down the road) and speak with fondness about the incense and the bells. That's all.

It's at this point that a third gin and tonic (or a second Margarita) tips me into ranty unreasonableness. Mild Mannered Husband has taken to kicking me so regularly that I wear protective padding under my trousers but to no avail. Everything I have always hated about Catholicism spills out and gushes forward like sewage from a burst pipe. 

The obsession with sex and reproduction and the indifference to social injustice.

How absolutist it is in theory and how easy it is for most of its flocks to ignore the nasty bits and go on with their lives, thereby feeling no compulsion whatever to work at making the religion itself less rabid and more tolerant.

The 'do as I say, don't do as I do' flavour of the whole thing, which in the rich West translates into a 'do whatever you like' vibe and in the Third World becomes: 'I don't care if you are starving and a virtual slave - you will have as many kids as God feels fit to send you, bitch!' vibe.

The worst possible tactical move my frightened, cornered guest can make now is to minimize matters. "Our local priest was never like this," they bleat, ingratiatingly. "It really depends who you go to"

"Really? REALLY?" I will roar back, spilling half a Margarita on the plush carpet. "You could negotiate, shop around? Buy off the peg, in the sale, the bits you liked? What about confession, eh?"

"...Er, I haven't gone for years (nervous laugh), I don't remember much about it, really.."

"Right, right. I suppose you weren't regularly asked if you touched yourself down there, then. Cos that tends to stick in the mind..."

The guest gulps, MMIH sprays his drink out, breaks into a cough, gives me another furious kick.  It's pointless : I'm possessed, nothing will stop me now. A psychic wound I didn't know I had (being forced by sheer reason to give up a religion I would have loved to believe in if only it hadn't been so incredibly barmy and unpleasant, particularly to women) is now bleeding again. And nothing short of loudly haranguing a fellow Catholic will make me feel better.

"No, really, I'm fascinated...It was never about dogma for you? Dogma didn't come into it, you say. I mean, it's like saying you enjoy the rain and you have never experienced the wetness....Which bits of the introduction did you miss? How often were you asleep during Catechism? I guess you didn't have a priest teaching religious education at your lay state school telling you that divorce is a mortal sin punishable with Hell. You didn't? How odd!"

The guest has backed away against the wall, an empty glass in his/her hand, an olive pit in his/her mouth which is impossible to get rid of.. just like me.

"So in fact, let me guess, you've probably remained unaware that Hitler himself, had he repented a few seconds before death, would have a shot at Paradise after several billion years of Purgatory, whilst a perfectly nice but unrepentant divorcee is confined to damnation for ever. Thought so. You didn't know, never thought...ok, but how does that make you feel NOW?"

I should let it go, I know. Even the Pope is nice and reasonable these days, giving the Catholic Church a bad name with US demento-conservatives. ("If two people of the same sex love each other", sweet Francis is supposed to have said, "who am I to judge it's wrong?" Who are you? You are the sodding POPE! The historical byword for absolute, infallible, categorical pronouncements about good and evil, against which there is no appeal. That used to mean something in my day...)

A new age might in fact have dawned for the religion itself, much to my drunken chagrin.
Don't get me wrong, I hate Catholicism, but much as I hate it, I'd hate it even more to see it evolve and become thereby more...palatable. 

To reform now, as if the whole Aids thing, the whole abortion thing, the whole 'sharing balconies with dictators' thing, the whole pedophilia thing hadn't happened? Sorry, too easy. And another thing...

I know, ok, I know, I need help, spiritual help, fast.

Is it too early for a gin and tonic? 

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