I was brought up attending a Catholic convent school and mass on Sundays. My mum still runs the church choir and is an active pillar of her local Catholic church. It always intrigued me that my dad promised her he would support her quest to bring up their children as Catholics. He came from a protestant background and kept quiet about his personal views on religion. However, he always ensured that we attended church every Sunday with my mum. As teenagers, my brothers and I questioned the justice in him sending us off to church when he got to stay at home but he did not get drawn into our religious banter and simply stated ‘I am just keeping my promise’. I enjoyed the community of the church but felt my time at church was wasted daydreaming rather than believing. When I flew the nest I thought about my Catholic upbringing and searched for my faith. Looking back my search was driven by loneliness and a need for a replacement family community. I dabbled in a few churches at university but soon lost interest.
I have a little pet theory that there is a genetic predisposition to faith in a higher power and that I did not inherit it from my mum. I respect that others have activated faith genes and welcome the variation of human diversity, when it is exercised peacefully. I have an academic interest in exploring religious ideology as I have a genuine interest in all aspects of humanity. I personally align myself with the Buddhist philosophy, 'the meaning of life is to seek happiness and avoid suffering' combined with a secular Humanism slant, 'to live an ethical life based on reason and humanity and equal treatment of everyone regardless of religion'. My husband was brought up in a tight-knit Hindu community but also seems to be lacking in an activated faith gene. Having a family has been a challenge for us both as we have had to negotiate the religions and customs of our families alongside our own ideology from a secular stance. I had often wondered whether having children would kick start a latent faith gene but I can honestly say it has not been triggered. I spent many weeks when the children where young chatting regularly to a Jehovah’s Witness but I must confess it was because I am interested in exploring and debating alternative views rather than because I was searching to fill a gap in my own. I finally concluded after my cancer diagnosis and the intense fear of dying it created that as I hadn't been jolted into faith in God that it is highly unlikely I ever would.
I prefer to have faith in humanity and the quest in treating each other with respect. I lack faith in an afterlife but am comforted by the thought that my atoms will be endlessly recycled and that snippets of my DNA could be detected in my descendants. I would love to have my DNA sequenced to discover more about my genetic heritage and who knows if the price drops in my lifetime it may be an affordable proposition.
The exhibition covers Egyptian life from 30 BC, just after the death of Cleopatra and Antony when it fell under the Roman rule of Octavian , until the end of the Islamic Fatimid dynasty in 1171 AD. It illustrates the move from the polytheistic beliefs of the Pharaohs and Romans to the mono-theistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
It is a thought provoking display of cultural and religious artifacts that have been well preserved by the dry climate. I was fascinated to discover that many of the cultural clues were obtained because of the Jewish custom to dispose of religious scriptures respectfully. I learnt that synagogues have a special room, genizah, to store those items until they can be disposed of according to the Jewish custom. The discovery of almost 280,000 Jewish manuscript fragments dating from 870 AD to the 19th century in the genizah in the synagogue in Old Cairo enabled historians to reconstruct the history of Egyptian Jews, including their co-existence with the other faith communities in Egypt. The treasures salvaged from the genizah depict times of peaceful religious tolerance and times of tension and power struggles too. They highlight the significance of the interdependence between the different Egyptian communities. It was poignant that the last cabinet contained three children’s tunics, spanning the 1,200 years covered by the exhibition. It was impossible to discern the religion of each child from the style of tunic. It was however possible to note that they all belonged to Egyptian children.The tunics reinforced the ideas of communality.
British Museum Great Court, London, UK
(Diliff. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:British_Museum_Great_Court,_London,_UK)
A regular companion on my London trips is a uni friend who has also settled in London suburbia. We are both busy mothers and part-time workers who share a passion for history and art. We enjoy the chance to catch up unencumbered by our children and the opportunity to explore from a position of adulthood. Every two or three months we steal away from our chores for a snippet of child-free culture.We often rendezvous at The British Museum to mooch around the special exhibitions. I became interested in The British Museum when my OU module ‘The Arts, Past and Present’ introduced me to Benin artwork and enlightened me about the controversy surrounding many exhibits as to whether they should be returned to their homelands. I was drawn to visiting the Benin works to see them in the 'flesh'. That heralded my desire to delve further into the historical insights offered by The British Museum and also led to my British Museum membership .
I consider myself lucky to live on the outskirts of London. I have not always been able to take full advantage of my proximity to London. When the children were younger I felt tied to my house and its immediate vicinity for the majority of the time. It was a fine balancing act; keeping the house together, working part-time and ensuring that the children were where they were supposed to be and in the right clothes- not forgetting to feed them too. Now they are more independent and they no longer need me for the school run. It took some emotional adjustment when my school run days were over and I felt bereft for a few days. I joked with my youngest, ‘you have ruined my social life.’ A big part of my socialising had been chatting to mums on the walk to and from school and at the school gate. However, it did not take me long to realise that I could take advantage of my extended 'time window' and London’s cultural offerings. I can hop on a train into the centre of London in under an hour and even return before the kids get back from school. London is also a convenient and central destination to meet up with friends from further afield too. So, since being released from school run duties I have enjoyed a multitude of London trips; The Bank of England Museum, The Tate Modern, several theatre matinee performances and a host of other excursions. I haven't ditched the school mums though; we arrange a curry and catch up evening every once in a while.
Faith Fact: Tim Spector, a Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King's College London set up the Twins UK register in 1993, the largest of its kind in the world. He has stated that twin studies from the US, the Netherlands, Australia and the UK show a 40 to 50 percent genetic component to belief in God.
Last Friday, my uni friend and I decided to meet up and explore the current exhibition ‘Faith after The Pharaohs’. Great! Faith is an F word and would fit my blog remit. I also enjoy pondering and debating faith and the big 'God' questions and thought it would be an enlightening experience.