This turned up in the Guardian last weekend. How merrily, merrily does the charming fellow condemn 95% of us to unspeakable pain - a 95% including many Christians, many believers from other religions, as well as unbelievers/agnostics, like you and me, darlings, who, whether we believe in an afterlife or not - Granny doesn't, personally - would never be willing - or arrogant enough - to condemn 95% of their fellow humans to unpleasanter aspects of it, sight unseen.
Granny bears no tolerance towards people who think like this. Especially when they use the fear that their promises of hellfire engender to hook the vulnerable and draw them into their net.
Granny can give an example. But will revert to the first person to do so; she'll find it easier that way.
In early 2000, I spent almost two months living in a hostel in Birmingham for people with mental problems or learning difficulties. Nominally I was writer in residence; which meant working orally, mainly, with people many of whom could not read or write. These were not your glamorous, let alone literary mad, these were people barely off the street in some cases. Some of them were toothless; some smelt; some muttered to themselves. A few were ex-alcoholics, others ex-junkies. Most if not all of them were the kind of people the rest of us don't want to know about, whom we sidestep if they approach us begging for a fag or for change for a cup of tea.
There were also a group of younger men; some were in transition towards more settled times, but all had suffered shitty lives, in one way or another. I became particular friends with this lot. I grew fond of them, they tolerated me, if only because I came from outside, because I endlessly listened to them, taped their stories or wrote them down, played pool with them after supper.
One was Paul, a thin, sensitive boy, also a great reader. ('Which do you prefer, Per-NEL-ope, Roald Dahl or Tolkein?). But he had been in trouble at school, where he was beaten up, probably for not being macho enough though he didn't report that directly. He got into more trouble after, took to drugs, hallucinated, went mad, for while was given the other - as lethal - kind of drug that baffled and overstretched doctors often pour into the so-called mad, so converting them to zombies, much less trouble to everyone. A gentle sometimes witty boy, despite all that, he sent me up continuously: 'There you go, Pern- El -ope,' he'd say, 'Digging our stories out of us. There you go.'
In betweenwhiles he'd tell terrible jokes, in the worst of taste. (A man went into an undertaker’s, said my mother-in-law’s died. Undertaker. ‘Do you want her embalmed cremated or buried?’ ‘All three,’ says the man ‘to make sure she stays dead.’ )
Another of my friends, Alan, was not a boy at all except in his head, and much more of a loner. A depressed forty-year old going on twelve, he wore a black leather jacket with skulls painted on the back, and aggressively studded leather wristbands. When he told the director of the hostel - he often did - that he wanted to sleep in a graveyard, she offered him sandwiches and a blanket whenever and as often as he liked, but I don't think he took up her offer. He showed me a photo once of his three year old self, taken when he went into one of the Welsh children's homes, his scared green eyes the only part of him still recognisable. Do I need to remind everyone of the horrors of the Welsh children's homes? This man was one of the results; the abuse he received there, mental, physical and sexual, was compounded in his case because he came out so angry he started hanging out with Satanists who abused him yet again, ritually this time. And no, he was not making this up; he showed me the upside down cross tattooed in his wrist. 'Why did you stay with them, Alan?' 'They were nice to me,' he said - one of the saddest and most terrible of all the more obviously terrible things he told me. He was a pretty boy at the time; he had photographs of himself at that age too. This could explain why the Satanists liked him. The result of course was human breakdown; a borderline schizophrenic, prone to panic attacks and worse. The chances of his ever-recovering and leading a normal life was nil, virtually.
He and Paul were friends of a sort. And for several weeks one or other would come to me and tell me about the church they'd discovered, went to weekly, from which they came back, they said, filled with the Holy Ghost. 'Do you believe in the Lord Jesus? Why don't you come with us, Pern -EL-ope? they said. 'You'll be filled with the Holy Ghost too.'
Finally, one Tuesday night I did. Not because I had any hopes of, let alone desire for the Holy Ghost; not of the kind that was after them, anyway. I was simply curious. Paul and Alan were both pleased; 'Now perhaps you'll find Jesus too and be filled with the Holy Ghost,' they said.
'Or maybe I won't,' I thought.
(To be continued.)