Tag Archives: Sunday school

God Only Knows

John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia, May 2021

There is an elephant in the room and it is ginormous.
This blog has touched on just about every experience we all went through in the 1970s.
I myself have written on such diverse topics as flute playing to green-keeping.
There is one topic that I haven’t broached yet however…. 

Religion.

This is not going to be a critique on peoples beliefs and faiths.
A ‘my god is better than your god’ type of tussle, far from it.

Whatever floats your boat is my motto, just don’t try and pull me aboard yours.
I’m quite happy bobbing about here in my life jacket among the shark infested waters that I’ve just created.

Continuing the nautical theme let me nail my colours to the mast. I’m a card carrying atheist – a born again heathen.
My bookshelves groan with the weight of Dawkins, Hitchins, Harris and Grayling.
This is more to do with my experiences of religion around the late 60s and 70s.

My first recollection was the family getting all spruced up in their Sunday Best.
Dad in his good suit, Mum in hat and gloves and we three boys in matching McDonald of Clan Ranald tartan kilts and ties being paraded in front of the Bearsden South Church.
Competition was fierce.

The service from memory was a lot of standing up and sitting down, a bit of singing and some speeches.
Mercifully, after a while us children would form an orderly line and walk past the pulpit to a door that accessed the Sunday School. I thought, as a jolly jape, it would be fun to give Elaine Currie a playful kick in the bum in front of the whole congregation as we exited the kirk.

The slipper came out later that day and I was severely punished for besmirching the Allan family name in front of the whole parish.

The snooty Wright family (neighbours but not friends) were even more pompous and supercilious than usual, looking down their noses at us – which was hard as not one of them was over 5 foot.
I wonder how sanctimonious and judgemental they were when their son Gay Gordon came out a decade later!

Sunday school was all play, colouring in and listening to stories that featured a long haired Scandinavian looking bloke called Jesus a lot. When asked what God looked like, my mate Frankie described him as a big jolly old man with a beard who wore dungarees and sat on a cloud.
As a 5 year old it worked for me. He could be right but I can’t remember a reference in the Old Testament to denim.

I went on a summer camp a few years later with the Scripture Union thinking it would be all play and outdoor adventure, which it was during the day, but evenings were all Bible readings and discussions. (I guess the hint is in in the name) It was really intense, what I would now call indoctrination, so much so that on my return, I boldly announced to my parents I was now a Christian. “We’ll see how long that lasts” grumbled my father.

We were given diaries with specific Bible passages to read each night before we said our bedtime prayers. I was devoted – for almost a week.
I lasted until the Friday after our ‘conversion’.
Frankie had given up on Thursday when interrogated.

The next couple of years the Sunday family charade would shed numbers until it was just me and Mum.
One morning enjoying a lie in my mum shouted up to me

“Get up. It’s time to go to church “

“No ! I’m not going !”

“OK then”

That was a lot easier than I had thought. I was expecting major conflict.

Looking back my parents participation in the church, and hence mine, was more social than spiritual, with a hint of  ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ and the times.

Church services there after and to this day have been for marriages and funerals or musical events I’ve performed in. I was part of a flute trio that Mrs Mac the music teacher would ‘hire’ out our services to in various houses of God. I didn’t object too much as the acoustics were generally inspiring even when the services weren’t.

Religious Education at school was from a likeable chap called Josh.
I don’t remember if he was an ordained minister or not. When I attended his classes it wasn’t as dull and boring as I had anticipated.
He gave a broad glimpse of other religions and history without the fire and brimstone I had expected. Unfortunately 5th year double RE on a Friday afternoon clashed with our pub time. The brewers communion won that battle easily.

In my mid teens I skimmed through my brother’s books on Zen Buddhism but after Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance things got a bit heavy.

“You, the bow, the arrow and the target are one”…. Yeah, right. I’ll stick with my weekly TV dose of Kung Fu, Grasshopper.

I used to admire those gaudy colourful posters in Indian restaurants of all the Hindu gods and deities and thought of maybe researching it more. It may be Pavlovian but every time I pass a statue or picture of Ganesha or Krishna my mouth waters and I have an unhealthy craving for pakora and spicy onions.

To complicate matters at the end of the decade I was going out with a Catholic which in certain quarters of the West of Scotland was not looked upon favourably. Not always considered, by a small minded few, to be a marriage made in heaven.
They were wrong and it was and still is.

I’ve met a few priests in my time, mostly to do with the schools my wife worked in, and I’ve found them to be amiable company.
I remember being told a tale of the novice priest and the older priest in full regalia, traversing the nave, the novice swaying incense back and forth and the old priest whispers to him.

“Love the frock but do you know your hand bag’s on fire ?”

In the words of the late great comedian Dave Allen (my near namesake)

“May your god go with you”