Island Life by David Slack

You Gotta Sin To Get Saved

Just for the record, I'm in the thirteenth year of my first marriage and I have both believed and not believed in God over the 43 years of my life.

At our country school in Kiwitea, we had Sunday school on a Monday in the community hall where we sang songs and listened to stories. I may be mistaken, but as far as I can recall, most Mondays it was the same story about the wise man who built his house on the rocks. These were illustrated with figures on a felt-board. Attendance was voluntary, but typically all the kids except the Roman Catholics trooped across the road each Monday afternoon to get their instruction. In my last year at the school, my brother, sister and I rebelled and chose to bike home instead.

Religion and I didn't see much of each other after that for a decade or two. I got to High School and for a time I acquired the secular lefty trappings for which not everyone seems to have large affection. I wore a black armband for a month when Mao died, and no, I don't feel too clever about that now. Not that there were many takers for that world- view at Feilding Agricultural High School in 1976. That was more or less the point. We read Samuel Beckett and Albert Camus and I decided existentialism and an absurdist perspective on a Godless world was just what I was looking for.

I went off to university and made new secular lefty friends, and did plenty of, er, sinning. We sat in Legal System and listened to a great lecturer - John Thomas - offer us a few jaded insights into the typical career trajectory of people such as us. (Actually he first warned us: look at the person on your left. Now look at the person on your right. Only one of you is going to make it into the second year. Even lefties can practice a little Darwinism). He would get our leftist sensibilities all fired up with the injustice of a case and then he'd drop this on us: Ten years from now, you'll charge people a lot of money to take the other side of this case.

Not us, we all protested.

Another terrific lecturer in Jurisprudence, Ian McDuff, offered us this hypothetical dilemma: A house is burning. From it you can save either a baby or a Rembrandt.

As if, we all declared. Or rather all but one. One nice guy called Phil, who was in the territorials, bravely allowed that he'd save the picture.

Ah, but we're older now. I don't think anyone that I recall from that group will have gone over to the Rembrandt side, but I tell you what, the old lefties are thinning out. And I hate to disappoint OtherPundit, but I'm not a through and through lefty myself these days. I have no objection in principle to lower taxation if it's true that it can actually generate equivalent revenue. I think the private prison in Mt Eden seems to have accomplished good things. I believe in encouraging competition in the marketplace - unbundling the local loop seems an especially good example.

And I'm not so secular these days. Believing in God comes in handy when you're teaching your daughter's Sunday School class. I've been doing it for about a year, and I expect to be doing it for a good long while. I regard it as balance in her life against some of the other messages she's going to encounter. The Barbie people, the Mary-Kate and whatever-the-other-one's-name-is people, the cellphone people, Disney, and a few million other grown-ups who ought to know better are all looking for every angle they can find to bombard Mary-Margaret and every other child on the face of the planet with their pitches, and I don't care much for their messages. The emphasis is simple: develop a taste for acquiring things. Think principally about yourself. Preoccupy yourself with your image. Think shallow: shallow is good. Put yourself first and preoccupy yourself with becoming a consumer.

I like the Christian values that encourage selflessness, and consideration, and charity, and forgiveness. I think they make the world a little better. I accept that you can get good moral guidance in other ways too; I just happen to like this option. I like the community we have at our church. I like the good humour and the genuine interest people have in each other. And I like the thoughtful reflective context it offers. You have your choice of services: I like the solemn quiet ones. Faith comes in many packages, I'm still working out what it means to me. So I don't feel inclined to stretch out on the couch today and analyse this in any depth. If you're looking for something in that line, Anne Lamott over at Salon does a nice job of it.

But I'm not here to push it down your throat. You'll have to listen to someone like Dubya to get that.