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Friday, November 2, 2012

Religion in post-war Calliope 2

Back to the main theme. I have no stats to back this up, but my guess would be that our township was 40% Church of England, 25% Presbyterian, 25% Catholic and 10% Other. Something like that. As there was no religion classed as 'Atheism', those who professed no religion were probably called C of E as well, to save them from the embarrassment of being in a group no-one ever classified.

   There were a couple of families from the scrub whose names I won't mention but whose religion was indeterminate, so they would have been bundled in with the C of E on school enrolment just to give them a slim but best possible chance of redemption on Dat Jujm'nt Day (and to keep the School Register in good order).

   I don't mention family names any more, because each time I've said something in this blog that I thought individuals or families I've named would never get to see, they damn well have, and they've written to me, Fortunately it's with only mild protestations and good-humour, and not defamation suits. But I've had a good run in this respect and don't want to bust it. No names, no pack drill.

   There was rarely any debate raised at school between Catholics and Prods because the kids had not the faintest idea about church history a million years ago in weird places like Europe. The Catholics, we were told, did everything they were instructed to by this Pope character, mainly to have lots of children. That was it. Go forth and multiply, yea, as quick as you can. And they did. There were four kids in our family, but that was a mere trifle compared with the Catholics, who followed Father's orders to the letter and produced babies by the score.

   The men were generally sweet with that, but having a kid once a year until the end of their child-bearing days was a bit of a strain on the women, who nevertheless performed their maternal duties admirably.

   I got the idea, probably from what I overheard from adult conversation in the right camp, that this was the only real instruction via the priest. Make babies. Later on when I was stepping out with a Catholic girl, she raised theological arguments about this English king called Henry VIII who, to save on alimony and arguments, had chopped the heads off almost 8 wives (which was why he was called Henry VIII don't you know) but I said to her I was sure it was more complicated than that.

   I wasn't all that sure. I didn't have a clue really, but hell, you've got to defend the religion of your birth, haven't you? You can see why I ended up teaching history and religion at university now I guess.

   So yes, I was C of E. You may already have figured out I wasn't born a Catholic. I think we were well in the majority, particularly with the Don't Knows thrown in. This had its comforts, as there's always a measure of safety in numbers. A neighbour of ours one Christmas time was at the farm having a drink and made a comment that burned into my brain:

   "You might think it’s the Communists we have to worry about, but I'm telling you, it’s the Roman Catholics."

   There were, as you may gather, no Catholics present, just a group with the correct religious and political opinions. I'd never seen any evidence at school of the Clear and Present Danger from the Catholic kids, but when adults say things with such conviction, you can't ignore them, can you?

   So far, so good. It hasn't happened yet, but ... you never know.

Calliope Union Church 2007 - barely changed from 1957!

   We shared the little church with the Presbyterians, better known amongst us (non-Presbyterian) kids as 'Pressbuttons'. I don't know if we made that up or if it has wide currency throughout the Queen's realm. We thought it was good for a belly-laugh anyway. But because there was a C of E altar at the business end of the church, the Pressbuttons apparently put some sort of a screen across at that end when they worshipped, to save them from the hell-bent sin of association with graven images or something.

   I can't even remember if there was a C of E crucifix at the pulpit end or not, but the more I think about, yes, there was. Some even said that the Presbyterians worshipped facing the front door, with their back to the pulpit. This may or may not have been the case. You can be sure some diligent Calliope Presbyterian is going to read this and correct me if it's not (which is fine by me; I am just a Humble Seeker after Truth). Oh, and they didn't kneel to pray either – they sat – which seemed to me to be a very solid point in favour of going over to them if I renounced the faith of my birth and had to have another one for the Census.

   I think it's the Scottish heritage. Those lads and lassies, they don't kneel for anyone. It's eyeball to eyeball for them. I know, because I fought a Pressbutton once. In Grade 1 it was. She was fierce.

   Where the Methodists or any other sundry groups worshipped I haven't the foggiest.

   The real interest in all this is the sociology of religion – a fancy way of saying how things worked out in practice. The critical issue – and it was a biggie, I can tell you – was marriage. This really tells the story, which is where I shall resume, when it is meet and proper so to do.


  1. Thank you for this - it evokes my 50's childhood in England.

    Not a religious family but an assumption of the orthodox C of E and hence state school where the assumed vocabulary for the blue-jacketed private catholic boys down the road was "salesian (just had to Google the spelling) sloshbuckets (no Google needed!)"

    I really had no idea what this was all about which is a token of how non-religious home was. Another token at 17 was seeing a yamulkah for the first time and asking why Joe was wearing that funny hat. My mum was Jewish - but clearly not in a religious sense.

    Also good to be reminded of the "no names" rule ("Joe" is permissible) My dear sister-in-law fell foul of this some years ago. I don't think she mentioned names but the specifics were, well, too specific and people identified themselves and took unpleasant exception.

    1. You had to check the spelling, Dave. I had to find out what it meant!

      That's a big difference with England, or was for us. English history from Tudor times onward [at the latest] had a feudal Catholic order, with nobility right up to Mary [another axe-murder victim, though Henry of course stopped at two wives for the chopping block, which strangely enough didn't make him Henry II]. In those days in Calliope there were no Convent schools, the nearest being Gladstone, and it definitely wasn't for the local gentry, so quite a difference.

      Nor were there any Jews in Calliope, or if there were, they wore no yarmulke in public. I spelt it like that because the spell-checker insisted, and we know it is always right! :) They would have got some very odd looks, and thought crazy for not at least having one with a broad brim suitable to the climate.

      Funny thing is, had I not used those real names, I would never have renewed a friendship with some I haven't seen since childhood, such as my best mate who was the subject of this horrific shark story:


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