Things in Sydney are going to start getting back to normal now that the Pope and his pilgrims have packed up shop. World Youth Day (come on – that was definitely a week!) is officially over as of yesterday. I wasn’t unduly affected by any of the action, although all that tambourine shaking puts me on edge. I’m just not a jamboree girl. There’s something so… so… cultish about everyone linking hands and skipping and singing in a circle. I’m glad they’re all so pleased with themselves and their god, it makes for a nice atmosphere all round, much better than when George W. Bush arrived, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me want to cross the road.
I was accosted several times by well-meaning pilgrims. It’s a funny thing in a society where generally speaking, people don’t simply start talking to you unless they’re taking your order or your cash or your measurements. And I guess these super friendly approaches, too, were about more than saying hello to a stranger in the street (and on the ferry and in a hotel bathroom). They’re in the soul trade, and perhaps they were trying to help save mine. (Too late, she cried!) Still, to be fair no attempts at conversion were made – they just wanted to say “Have a wonderful day.” Oh, and “You have a beautiful city,” and I’m always open to flattery where my beloved hometown is concerned. So if they were of a mind to spread the love, they kept it to themselves, and for a week Sydney was one of the most eerily cheerful places on earth. Is that such a bad thing? No. But let’s be honest – wave all the flags you like, sing as many songs, dance as many jigs and exhort as many prayers – that Pope is still one scary looking dude.
In a more general sense, I think one of the things I have difficulty swallowing is the element of presumption some people so fervently bring to their religiosity. I’d never presume to tell someone how to live their spiritual life, and yet at a media dinner I attended a few weeks ago, one of my dinner companions insisted to me that I should be exploring religious faith. For my own good, of course. I was fascinated by her own search for answers and betterment, and how it led her down the road of various spiritual inquiries; she was critical of what she perceived to be my lack of faith and my lack of effort in pursuing it. I disagreed. I said that I have great faith in existence, in the knowable world, and in the life I lead. I believe in humanity, and I believe I have an individual responsibility to lead an ethical life. My soul, damned by some measures, is just fine, thanks very much. I am not a bad person, I know that in my heart and mind, and I do not believe for a second that any god or being or universal force would ever think otherwise and punish me with eternal damnation for my various shortcomings as an eternally flawed human being. The very idea is absurd to me. I don’t believe I have anything to fear from whatever awaits beyond this life, including the entirely plausible idea that it’s absolutely nothing at all.