Although I am aware that the census form is not an application for a job, admission to the afterlife, or even for new friends. I know that I am not going to be judged by anyone – other than a computer. But I am appalled about the narrowness of the fields by which I am asked to define myself and, having completed the form, there is no-one who is even vaguely recognisable as me.
The Religion Question is always one that ignites debate, one which resulted in a large number of people describing themselves as ‘Jedi’ ten years ago. Despite the question not being compulsory I am unable to skip past. I think it deserves an answer, but, of the options available, only ‘Christian,’ ‘No Religion’ or ‘Other’ might apply to me. Disappointingly, there is no box in which to write a 5000 word essay. Or even ‘Undecided: work in progress.’
Given the violent history of this country, ‘Christian’ is a very broad term to use as one category. (Has no one watched The Tudors/read a little Alison Weir?) I fall under the sub-section of ‘Lapsed Catholic.’ I would not mention this, but for the fact that there is no appreciation of just how much work it takes to become a lapsed Catholic. Not when you have been brought up in the faith. At various points in my life – births, deaths, marriages, depression, lonliness, and a love of ritual and singing loudly (and sometimes out of tune) – the magnetic lure has pulled me back, and I have become a lapsed, lapsed Catholic.
‘No formal religion,’ I would be prepared to admit to, but, to me, ‘No religion’ implies a lack of inner life, and that is not me (or many others). I suspect I may commit far more time and energy to the issue of belief than the average person who simply ticks the ‘Christian’ box. Probably an unhealthy amount of time – much of it reading the work of Karen Armstrong (who has done much to explain to me the reasons why I feel the way I do) and walking well-trodden paths that connect me with pilgrims who have come before. I abhore the current strand of agressive aetheism that results from fundamentalism, and it is this that makes me feel the need to rail about this issue.
And so I was delighted to find this extract from 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein (a novel).
‘Here is is then: the sense that existence is just a tremendous thing ,one comes into it, astonishingly, here one is, formed by biology and history, genes and culture, in the midst of the contingency of the world, here one is, one doesn’t know how, one doesn’t now why, and suddenly one doesn’t know where one is either or who or what one is either, and all that one knows is that one is a part of it, a considered and conscious part of it, generated and sustained in existence in ways one can hardly comprehend, all the time conscious of it, though, of existence, the fullness of it, the reaching expanse and pulsing intricacy of it, and once wants to live in a way that at least does justice to it, and wants to expand one’s reach of it as far as expansion is possible and even beyond that, to live one’s life in a way commensurate with the priviledge of being a part of and conscious of the whole reeling glorious infinite sweep. ‘
I agree: it is a very long sentence with a few too many ‘one’s’ for my liking. But I’d love to see a civil servant process that answer.
I am enraged to what I appreciate is an unreasonable degree by the Marital Status question. Nowhere is there the option to declare that I am co-habiting, in a long-term, loving, stable relationship of 12 years, with a partner who, like me, is a conscientious objector to marriage (unless, of course, at the age of 58 I suddenly yearn for respectability and change my mind). And so I am forced to declare that I am single, and Matt is forced to declare that he is divorced – although both of us disobey instructions and write outside the box. Because that is not who we are.
Finally, I am flumuxed by the Employment Question. My ‘main employment’ – the one I spend the vast majority of my time doing – is writing. And yet I earn very little from it. My supplementary occupation, one that takes up far less of my time but pays the bills, is Compliance Consultancy. Once again, there are several crossings out.
You are talking about a question of identity here, and you want me to tick boxes? Frankly, I’m looking forward to this year’s tax return.