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Fear & Trembling #3

"We don't yet know if there's a God - and you want to eat!"

An episodic examination of the modern soul by THOMAS McGRATH who spent two months in 2009 looking for it.

Image fear & trembling lion

SO WHAT type of rough beast might we expect to have been born in Brick Lane? Under the impression that the Emperor's New Postcode (momentarily disregarding Dalston's recent usurpation) was in fact only a fatuous cloak for some apocalyptic prelude, I travelled down there last Wednesday evening. I was looking for a fissure in its diabolical disguise - some pentagram, caduceus or purposeful goat - but beside the bursting pink and white blossom that decorated the surrounding suburbs, the area (at least beneath its modern patina of 'fashionability') was in fact uniquely bereft of spiritual or magical vitality. I could only dimly speculate that evil festers and thrives in the dead zones where the modern heart beats weakest. Bewildered, I staggered about for the best part of an hour without any indication that it was anything but the most consummate of disguises - or perhaps an elaborate, meaningful joke. As I neared the area I did begin to come across a graffiti motif, a thoughtful looking fellow with long hair, stencilled in spotted silver paint and accompanied with pseudo-spiritual slogans such as GODLOVE. These thickened around Brick Lane itself - could they be the handiwork of a subterranean hipster Maitreya cult? I feared that I was clutching at straws. My expedition was looking hopeless.

Image russell brand

Image pascal

Russell Brand & Pascal (could have been such great friends)

Eventually I stopped for a coffee. As I sipped it outside a café on a grim patch of E1 pavement, a bus serendipitously passed by; although there was no Maitreya visible on the top deck, bent in thoughtful perusal of that day's London Lite, the bus itself boasted the latest theist retort to the Atheist Society's humanist propaganda campaign (discussed in my first post). This one came courtesy of the Russian Orthodox Church: "There is God", it declared, "Don't worry. Enjoy life". The unfortunate resemblance of this message to the preceding Christian response (the peppy little "There definitely is a God - so enjoy your life and join the Christian party") certainly ranks as one of the smaller historical consequences of the Great Schism, but the potential benefits of greater communication were easy to discern. Unless the quintessentially Russian omission of the definite article was intentional - perhaps as an obscure allusion to the Ontological Argument - it would appear that the Eastern Church has fallen into the common trap of putting excessive faith in the appropriately named Babelfish (last year I came upon a Tenerife menu offering English-speaking patrons the delicious delicacy: 'Turkey gizzard and fun spaghetti' - at least I presume this was lost in translation, though perhaps they were just trying to lighten up the turkey gizzard).

Grateful as I am to the Orthodox Church for pitching in - especially as it gives my blog the dizzying flavour of mediocre prophecy - what is it with all this "don't worry" business? What kinds of tipples are served at the seemingly oxymoronic "Christian party"? One need not be Pascal to find the blithe tone somewhat incongruous. In the Twelfth Century an infinitely sterner theological tradition begat a frightening little volume called entitled Hortus Deliciarum, a book that ranks the supposedly benign joys of gardening as a danger to soul only marginally milder than classics like fornication (incidentally, I am currently trying to rehabilitate this underused word, as it could potentially give things a novel ring, 'Fornication and the City', for instance, sounds wonderful). The Atheist Society might like to consider an amusing and unanswerable retaliation to its two opponents by plastering some more buses with the ironical slogan: "There is a hell - now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

The English Religious Renaissance requires a tautening of the soul's bow; not further reckless relaxation. I think that in this age of enduring (if precarious) wealth, only a dose of mediaeval severity is capable of curing the English of their endemic fatuousness, and the concomitant self-disgust that suffocates its possibility of noble or poetic existence. Will my generation really offer history no more than its current dismal little platter of indie bands and graphic designers? If so, then - irregardless of its slight though tantalising possibility of veracity - the purported residence of a demonic avatar in an area currently renowned for its 'creative' hairdressers is a powerful and apt symbol. "It is a monstrous thing to see," writes Pascal, "in the same heart and at the same time, this concern for the most trivial of matters and this lack of concern for the greatest. It is an incomprehensible form of bewitchment and a supernatural torpor which is a proof of an all-powerful force that causes it."

I walked home with my empty hands disconsolately wedged in my pockets, and again passed one of those stencils. I scrutinised it again. Could it be the Maitreya? I tilted my head. It certainly resembled somebody, though perhaps not the man whose photograph accompanied my last post. I looked hard into the thoughtful expression, the piercing eyes, the guru-long hair… Russell Brand. It looked a lot like Russell Brand. Could he in fact be the "rough beast", an anti-Christ propagating peace, vegetarianism and free love? Or the alleged reincarnation of Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna - residing in fashionable East London? It all makes ominous sense…


 
01-Aug-2010
 
fear & trembling  , thomas mcgrath  , brick lane  , Maitreya  , hortus deliciarum  , russell brand  , buddha  , krishna  , god  , christian  ,
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