I stand at the foot of the Cathedral’s tower and look up and up, at the fragile tip of the spire.  It’s enough to make you fall over backward if you aren’t careful.  A memory of Cologne, probably ten years ago: I did just that, craning, craning, then landing on my arse a little dazed.  It had been a blazing hot, blue-skied day.

I have a camera in my hands.  It’s new.  I am preparing a follow-up to my Sheffield post last month.  I have the camera after a post-holiday splurge and want to try it out, and felt that I would take advantage of the rare sunshine we’re getting to capture as much of the city as possible.

I don’t want to take a picture.  It’s not that the Cathedral in Sheffield isn’t interesting architecturally.  Anyone who looks close enough, particularly from the inside, will notice that it has been built and rebuilt through the ages.  The stone on the eastern side of the building is paler, rougher and probably three hundred years older than much of the rest of it.  I was told by a surprisingly upright bell-ringer there, a long time ago, that the magnificent altarpiece is medieval. The screen looks like it was made in the last hundred years.  A number of swords are beautifully arrayed along one wall of the chapel, and are evidently original to their era.

There is a curiosity: a glass pyramidal ‘dome’ shines from its place in the ceiling.  Its colour and mixture of square and triangular panels seem very 1960s, giving it the impression of one of those hideous modern extensions to historical buildings that never should have happened.  A gentleman who turned out to be the chief organist (or possibly only organist) a few years back told me that this is called a “lantern tower”, and is as original as any other piece of the church.

This occasion I don’t go inside, only peer up with the grey sky behind the spire and wonder why I’m not taking a picture of it.

I feel very uncomfortable around religious edifices.  The grandeur and the artwork evident in their design and construction are utterly fascinating, but they are not functional buildings.  They are built as monuments to one god or another.  Their survival of their towers through the ages amuses me constantly: those who place so much faith in a book of stories seem to have forgotten the one about Babel.  Talk about hubris.  And I hate to apply Freudian ideals to anything, but—

Organised religion seems to cause more trouble than it’s worth.  Ooh, heavy topic for a Friday afternoon!  But bollocks, why not.  I do not trust the ‘officers’ of these faiths.  The integration of church and state in some parts of the world concerns me.  The existence of the Papal city-state is troubling.  In any time or place, violence ‘with the sanction of God’ is perhaps one of the most evil things I can think of.

I have a problem with the ritual nature of many religions, particularly the obvious Catholic/Christian ones.  Baptisms in particular make me supremely uncomfortable and I have taken to avoiding them.

At a baptism ceremony, a priest in robes speaks of the youngster as though of the same family.  The child is promised to God.  Those present at the ritual are obliged to do everything in their power to keep this human being on the path toward God.

A candle is lit, like the best of arcane practices.

The priests are good enough to allow heathens into the church for this archaic procedure, however the non-believers are excluded from moving to the front of the church to take the sacrament.  There is an undercurrent of nasty elitism to Christianity, not to mention that more frequently-noticed sense of superiority that gets up the noses of so many.

What is most frightening is the rigid structure of the Rite of Baptism, which is a sequence of alternating phrases between the priest and the entire congregation:

–––The priest will say: “Please repeat after me: Come to him and receive his light!”

–––The congregation repeats, Come to him and receive his light.

–––The priest will say: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth.  Let my soul glory in the Lord; the lowly will hear me and be glad.”

–––The congregation repeats, Come to him and receive his light.

–––The priest will say: “Look to him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame.  Taste and see how good the Lord is; happy is the person who takes refuge in him.

–––The congregation repeats, Come to him and receive his light.

This chant, like the mindless repetition of cultist supplications, sends chills up my spine every time I hear it.  Being present is akin to becoming an accomplice in something pagan and esoteric.

The last time I consented to attending a Christening, I found my body unresponsively rigid.  Every muscle appeared to be tensed and I could only loosen one limb at a time, with great effort.  That evening my jaw ached – I realised from keeping my teeth clenched for the entire two hours.  My eyes had felt as though they were about to pop from my head just for the hypocrisy of my being there, complicit in what was, I felt at a time, a hateful thing.

When you offer somebody body and soul to another, it is normally called slavery.

Sickeningly, people baptise their children not because they believe in the god or the idealism, but because – for many, like marriage, like conception – it is ‘what you do next’.  Sometimes it’s a family tradition.

Okay.  Some families have a tradition of interbreeding or murderous tendencies.

Those that undertake the ceremony for these reasons under the illusion that it ‘means nothing’ are about as blameless as Pilate.  One might equally say that placing your baby on a pentacle surrounded by black candles and offering his eternal soul to Satan is equally meaningless, if you don’t believe – but you wouldn’t rush to do it and invite your family and friends to watch, with punch and pie to follow.

—db