Faith, and Other Worrisome Ideas

They had an election here last week. Afterwards they counted the votes.

13 November 2020 | 7 Minutes

And this made a lot of people very angry indeed. In some states, groups of voters assembled to chant, ‘Stop the count! Stop the count!’ Elsewhere, in other states, ‘Count the votes! Count the votes!’

Both groups were supporters of the same political party. American elections are strange.

Here’s a phrase you might hear around election time in the United States: ‘They won the popular vote, but lost the election’. This is a normal sentence, apparently. The conversation will flow around it. Nobody is going to stop and say, ‘Wait — what?’

They have a thing called an Electoral College, you see, which is a sort of institutionalised Gerrymandering system that disconnects the concept of ‘popular vote’ from election outcomes.

And why do they do this? Well, to put it succinctly, the United States electoral system is an archaic, anti-democratic mess created by slave plantation owners who — and this always seems relevant to me somehow — wore silly wigs.

And I say it with no disrespect. I know those slave plantation owners were terrifically grave and earnest individuals, worthy of deification, to mention only in hushed tones of reverence, etcetera. Or to put it another way, I’m not trying to upset anybody here.

The Americans feel about their democracy the way Australians feel about Vegemite. They know it’s not good, but they like it. And most days, they’re prepared to fight somebody about it.

I was raised on Vegemite. Rain on a tin roof. Vegemite on toast. Arnott’s gingernut biscuits and tea, obviously. Tea in those funny, awful mugs you get from Woolworths. That’s the quintessential Australian experience, right there.

Now, give Vegemite to an American and they’ll freak out at you and tell you to your face that it tastes horrible. Yes, we know it tastes horrible. Paradoxically, it also tastes wonderful. It’s like nicotine. Or whiskey. Except more addictive, and you can give it to your kids and the State won’t get involved. How great is that?

So, what I’m saying is that Vegemite is like American democracy. You literally have to be raised on it to believe it’s even real.

Now look, let me take a step back from all this for a moment. I am aware that my irreverence is temperamental. This inability of mine to feel fervour about sacred institutions — even about Vegemite — might just be the way I am. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe I’ve noticed something that most people haven’t? I will now attempt to explain my worldview, so you can decide for yourself.

When I was a child, I had very little exposure to organised religion. Once or twice, I think, the school brought in a representative from a local church.

“Hello, children!”

Picture the scene. One earnest church figure. Damp hair. Uneasy, creepy smile.

Thirty apprehensive children. One hand raised.

“Why do you believe the world was created in six days?” Note, six days and not seven — I was listening.

The answer involved ‘having faith’. Reason, or firsthand knowledge or experience — was utterly irrelevant, it was explained.

“Have faith in God”, he said.

And yet, I noticed, this man was not his god. He was a bloke with a greasy comb-over who claimed, to an audience of children, that if we did not accept his expertise — if we didn’t take it all ‘on faith’ — then, well, he couldn’t save us from the inevitable eternity in hell, could he?

Would a deity really want humans to turn their brains off? Were we really supposed to accept ‘on faith’ the insights and expertise of this damp-haired man threatening poor, doubtful children with eternal torture?

I didn’t think so. If this man was literally correct, then other forces had to be in play. Perhaps there once had been a loving God, but very likely Satan had killed him off, and and usurped his throne as a Pretender. From that perspective, Mr. Comb-Over’s religion made somewhat more sense to me. He was, after all, running some kind of protection racket.

“Everything is going to be fine, kid. You give us some money, you cooperate and do what you’re told, and we’ll protect you. You see, we work for someone very powerful…”

I’ve been suspicious of men like Mr. Comb-Over my entire life. I don’t believe a word they say. I’m open to the possibility that there might be a god, but if such a being exists, what would any of us know about it? We’ve only recently decided that perhaps the females of our species are equals of the males. We’re just now grappling with the idea that maybe cutting down all the trees that give us oxygen is a bit, you know, unsound.

We’re primitive. I am in comfortable disagreement with my ancestors about all sorts of things. They gave us Vegemite, for which I’m grateful, but maybe now’s a good time to part ways with the past and move forward.

By the way, have any of you stopped going to Facebook? I stopped. I didn’t delete my account, I still need it to access my 15,000-ish fans (not that the number has much significance because, unless I give Facebook hundreds of dollars every time I post, nothing I write there will reach more than a few hundred followers. Which is rotten, and part of the reason that I stopped going to Facebook).

And having stopped, I have felt less generally vexed. Some of my friends stopped being aggravating woke free market neo-liberals, just as others stopped being aggravating, paranoid anti-government conservatives.

I stopped visiting Facebook, and I felt better and my world improved. Of course, some will say to me, “You don’t realise what you’re missing!” And when I ask them to clarify, they respond with something like, “you have to take it on faith, I suppose”.

Yet oddly I find myself managing happily without taking anything on faith. My life is bereft of Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Comb-Over, and yet somehow, most days I spring out of bed in a good mood. Well, no – I stumble about for a while, groaning, “why did you wake me! It’s five-thirty in the morning! Why must you do this to me, and what is wrong with you both?!”

To which my children sweetly smile and reply, “Sorry for this nonsense, Dadda, but we rather wanted to use the tablet, you see, and, also can we have raisin bagels with butter? My sister is particularly partial to them and…”

Yes. I know – why would anybody believe me? – but it turns out that if you don’t own a television, and just leave books around the house, all little girls will eventually turn into 19th Century ladies, and there’s nothing anyone can really do about it, except buy a television, I suppose, and I’m not doing that, so I’ll be stuck in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women for the foreseeable future, apparently.

Listen, why don’t you ask me how I’m doing? Fairly well, thanks for asking. I seem to be behaving myself. I’m writing a few novels at once. Next year I intend to publish two novels, possibly even three. (Please make a mental note to buy these. Raisin bagels cost money, etcetera)

On a more serious note, I know this has been a tough year for many. Some of you have lost friends and relatives. While others, like myself, have to come to terms with the bitter realisation that their relatives might actually be immortal goddamn it.

And on a somber note, I have to say that I have lost friends this year. I found out recently, actually — that a close friend of mine, Andy, whom I have known for more than fifteen years, well — it turns out Andy enjoys the music of Neil Diamond.

So that was rough. I didn’t know what to say, obviously, so I said the wrong thing, of course, and admitted something I’d told nobody before, which is that some nights I sit up late and listen to Norah Jones’s 2002 album, Come Away With Me, and I unironically enjoy it, too. A lot. And I know that when I said that to Andy I was trying to hurt his feelings, but it’s true nonetheless. I love Norah Jones, and it feels good to get that out there after all these years.

And so to all of you — except Andy — please stay safe and well.

With chaste and unbridled affection,

Kris St.Gabriel

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