There was once a land which had a large and imposing building in the middle of it. The building was called The Church, and in it was a special box that contained The Wholesome Doctrine, or sometimes Dogma for short if they were feeling affectionate. Those who frequented The Church were called the Godly, and if you were very Godly, every now and then, as a special treat, you could stroke the Dogma.
Now the Godly were very jealous of the Church, and zealous in their care of it, and in who should go in to it, and who should go out of it. They strove hard to read the Word of the Lord, and to keep every word in it; and they made special effort to apply all of these words to their lives, so that they should live up to their name and be truly Godly. There was an ideal Godly person, and every single member of the Church was measured against that ideal. You had to be measured twice a year, and if you succeeded in measuring up correctly, your reward was Belonging (as well as being allowed to stroke Dogma, or even give it a biscuit). This was to keep both the Church and the Godly pure. Criteria for Belonging were strict, but such was the love of the Godly for the Church, that they worked very hard to measure up correctly.
The Criteria were these:
- Being able-bodied;
- Not being poor;
- Preferably being white;
- Being male or female, and nothing in between, and certainly not wanting to be one if you happened to be born the other;
- Not being A Homosexualist;
- Not being divorced, or worse, divorced and remarried;
- Not be married to an Ungodly, or Tainted, person, otherwise known as an Unbeliever;
- And (worst of all) not have had sex outside marriage. Preferably not to have had any sex at all, but if you insisted on having it, it was only allowed with a person of the opposite sex, and even then only if you were married. Certainly only for the procreation of children.
There were many Godly that did not match criteria 1-3, but these were considered by the Church to be things that you could not do anything about, but that you might receive The Help for. If you were not able-bodied you could be Healed to make you as good as everyone else. This did not always work, but if it did not, it was generally because you had committed some kind of sin, so that was your fault. Or you hadn’t tried hard enough. If you were poor, you could apply for The Paternalism, in which kind people would pat you on the head and tell you how well you kept your children, and show you the way to the Food Bank. Not being white meant that you got extra help: you would then qualify for both The Paternalism and The Toleration, in which case kind people would tell you (loudly and slowly of course, in case you didn’t understand English) how beautiful your children were and bring Rice and Peas to any social function, because that of course was what you ate. Or Curry. All the time. This is because the Godly were very kind and tried hard to be loving, but sometimes they didn’t really understand Love because of the Criteria and because of Rules that they loved inordinately and used to practice keeping all the time.
Criteria 4 and 5 were more difficult, because these were Most Definitely a Matter of Lifestyle Choice. They tended to be grouped under the loose heading of Disobedience, or sometimes, Sin, and belonged to the Fallen World. The Godly would tell you that All Had Sinned and Fallen Short, which they really did truly believe, but they often forgot to include themselves in that. You were constantly sinning if you carried on Falling Short. When pressed, they would recall nostalgically a time called Before the Fall, when nobody ever Fell Short, but then a Woman came along and ate an Apple and that was where it all went wrong, and now we were all Sinful and someone called Grace had had to come along and put it all right again, at great expense and inconvenience, which we must never do again and nobody should ever be allowed to forget. The Fall was of course the reason why everything in The World was Ungodly and why the Church had to have Rules like these.
Now it should not be thought that criteria 4 and 5 were hopelessly irremediable. If you fell short of one or both of criteria 4 and 5 you could have The Choice. The Choice consisted of two courses of action: 1. You could have a Half Life. It worked like this. If you were born a boy, and wanted to be a girl, or alternatively a girl that wanted to be a boy, that in itself was not a Sin. It was only a Sin if you actually went ahead and tried to be a girl if you were a boy, or a boy if you were a girl. So you could have a Half Life if you just stayed the sex you were born. To those who fell into this category, the Half Life was colourless and miserable and absolutely without joy, but of course it enabled you to avoid Disobedience, or Sin, which was really a very joyful thing, so you could have a nice big smile even if inside you felt all shrivelled up and dead. Similarly, if you were a Homosexualist, Half Life was of course available to you if you gave up being one, because it was after all Only a Choice. If you insisted on not giving up your choice, or worse, had the brass neck to say you had been born that way, well, you could still be forgiven and have the Half Life if you just denied that you were a Homosexualist and never actually fell in love or had a kiss or a cuddle or any of those lovely things that make life worth living. If you lived a Half Life, you could still be in the Church and still go and stroke Dogma occasionally.
If you refused the Church’s generous offer of The Half Life, well then that was your look out and you had to be Put Out of the Church with the Utmost Severity and Left To It. You weren’t allowed to be one of the Godly any more, not if you didn’t want to be helped to be Alright again. That was the other choice that you had.
Criteria 6-8 were very tricky. They were tricky because the Godly sometimes ended up getting Divorced either through the strain of having to pretend that Being Godly and Avoiding Sin was Joyful, or through the fact that they were married to someone who had to try very hard to be Godly and wouldn’t see that it really was a Very Joyful Experience to be Godly, especially if you got to stroke Dogma occasionally. Sometimes people got divorced because something bad happened to them. The Godly tried very hard to make them believe that the Bad Thing was All their Own Fault because they Didn’t Pray Hard Enough or Didn’t Have Enough Faith (that was quite a common one), but even so, quite often they failed and the person would Get Divorced and become an Ex-Godly person, because of course, if they got Divorced, they had to be Put Out of the Fellowship with the Utmost Severity and Left To It. A Divorced Person might come back into the Church and be one of the Godly again if they consented to a Half Life, that is, promised never to fall in love again and get married or have any more sex, ever. If they did any of those Disobedient Things like Enjoying Being Loved, well, that was it. Even the Half Life was withdrawn, and they were Very Severely Put Out by the Godly and never allowed back again. The Church lost quite a few Godly People to Sex, which only made them even more fearful and condemning of it.
There were some strange things missing from the Criteria, like Minding about the Environment, Caring about Poverty and Education, Trying to Avoid War, Seeking Justice for the Oppressed and Generally Being Nice, but those were thought far less important than the Real Criteria, especially the Sex one.
Well now, it can be imagined that the people who lived outside The Church, in a place called The World, were Really Very Bad Indeed for being brass-necked and refusing to listen to the Wholesome Dogma and doing terrible things like Being Their True Selves and Enjoying Sex and Not Being Interested in Being Obedient and generally Getting Divorced and Remarried Willy-Nilly. They did other things that they had no right to do, since they were Outside the Church, like Being Kind to one another, trying to Do Something About Poverty, Trying to Make Sure Everyone was Treated Fairly whatever sex, colour or gender they were and no matter how much money they did or didn’t have, and, worst of all, Being Green. Of course there were plenty of people in The World who didn’t do any of these things either, but the people who did tried very hard to interest the people who didn’t because, they said, they wanted to help each other and make the world a better place. Most of all, they tried to help each other Live Life in its Fullness. Generally speaking, there were more good people than bad in The World. Sadly, the Godly couldn’t see that, because they were Too Frightened to go out and have a Look, in case they got sucked into doing Something Terrible and having to become an Ex-Godly Person.
This situation persisted for many years until eventually there were only two Godly People left in The Church to stroke the Dogma and give it a biscuit, and the Dogma had become very old and tatty as a result. The two brave Godly had become completely blind and stiff, but they were Joyful, because they were Godly and Belonged and they had succeeded in keeping all the Ungodly from The World out of The Church. But in spite of their being Godly, they found it quite hard to be Joyful all the time, because there were only two of them left, and they began to wonder how they could get more people to join the Church and Become Godly. They tried all sorts of things, like Singing Terrible Songs and putting on Dinners where you got people in under false pretences and then harangued them all evening about Being Godly and didn’t let them out until they had agreed to Become Godly. They tried everything they could think of, but nothing worked.
One day, just as their Desperation reached its Most Desperate, Jesus came to visit. By this time, The Church had a very high wall around it to Keep the Ungodly Out (and increasingly, if only they had cared to admit it, The Godly In), and on the wall there were guards and barbed wire. Jesus scratched his head in puzzlement and asked to be admitted. The guards could not recognise him, and summoned the two remaining Godly in Great Perplexity. Even these August and Reverent Persons could not recognise Jesus because of being Stiff and Blind and completely obsessed with The Dogma. Jesus was sad, and spent many hours gently persuading the Godly that it was alright to let him in, even though he was Poor and Not White and possibly Not Even Completely Able Bodied (the Sex Question did not of course arise, because everyone knows that Jesus and Sex never, ever went near each other, EVER, and that was why he never talked about it). The standoff went on for days and Jesus began to get cold and hungry because of being kept waiting outside the Church because they didn’t recognise him. Kind People from The World had to bring him hot food and drinks and offer hospitality, and that made Jesus happy, though he was sad because none of the Godly had thought of doing that for him.
After a while Jesus got to know the people from The World really quite well and he saw that most of them were good and kind and knew about all sorts of things that The Godly didn’t know about, such as that you can still have Sex and be a Good Person, or that you can be Divorced, or Gay, or even Transgender, and still recognise Jesus when you see him, which was more than the two Godly had managed. The Ungodly in The World took Jesus to their hearts, and welcomed him; and Jesus delighted in them, because they had chosen to join in his work of Being Green, and Caring about Injustice, and Being Fair among many other things, and they all began to work together. The kinds of work they began to do together were called Salvation. The people in The World loved Jesus and enjoyed doing Salvation with him, and nobody kept on haranguing them about Belonging, or tortured them with the Terrible Songs that made your toes curl.
Now the two Godly had been listening to all this from inside The Church, though they could not see it because of being Blind. They got older and older and more and more decrepit, and no new people came to the Church asking to be made Godly, because they were all too busy being in The World and Living Life in its Fullness and doing the work of Jesus. Eventually, one day, they decided to step outside and see what it was all about. They put on some special Armour of God that they happened to have handy in the Church for just such occasions, paying particular attention to the Breastplate of Righteousness and the Helmet of Truth, so that they could not be Made Ungodly and have to become an Ex-Godly person like so many of their number had because they could no longer Belong. Since they were so very stiff now, they hobbled out; and it was worse because the weight of the Armour of God was so great, and really they were not very Joyful any more, though of course neither of them said so to the other. It was not much fun banging into things because so much Being Godly had made them blind. They had Qualified to Belong so many times that they had forgotten what Belonging was about.
Jesus saw them from a distance and stopped what he was doing to get a better look at who these two figures might be. When he realised that it was The Godly finally breaking their self-imposed siege, he gave a whoop of joy and rushed to meet them with open arms. The first they knew of it was being swept up in an embrace; and the People of the World also came to greet them with offers of refreshments and somewhere to sit down because the Armour was really very uncomfortable and quite unnecessary, beside which it was really no protection all against Sex anyway. When the Godly realised that they were not going to find themselves suddenly Divorced and Remarried, or even Cohabiting, which was the most terrible thing that they could possibly contemplate, they began to relax a little and to accept the kindness that was being extended to them. As they began to enjoy the kindness, they gradually stopped being Blind; and as they slowly began to engage in conversation with The Ungodly, they began too to lose their stiffness, though they could not yet bring themselves to join in with Salvation in case it meant compromising Belonging and, worse still, Forgetting The Dogma.
After a period of months of watching Salvation going on and become increasingly less blind and stiff, eventually one of the Godly decided to join in. He was getting cold and bored Sitting in Judgement all the time. Nobody drew attention to what he was doing, they simply let him join in the helping work, and to his surprise he found that doing Salvation with Ungodly people didn’t make him Ungodly at all, and that actually it gave him a wonderful sense of Belonging. What was more, the Joy was even more Joyful, and he found something else that he had forgotten all about, and that was Freedom.
He went to the other Godly Person, who was still Sitting in Judgement, to talk to him, because he felt very sorry for him sitting there all on his own being Godly, and tried to persuade him to join in. It wasn’t successful. Eventually, Jesus came and knelt before the lonely Godly person, and asked him what he could do for him. “Well,” said the Godly man, “you’ll know all about how, since the Fall, we are all sinful, and that includes…..”
“Let me stop you there, my friend,” said Jesus.
“What?” asked the Godly man, incredulously. “Doesn’t everything begin with The Fall?”
“It doesn’t have to,” replied Jesus, kindly. “The Doctrine of The Fall may be comforting to some, but there never has been a time when the world was perfect and people were sinless.”
The Godly man looked at him, speechless.
“It’s always been like this,” continued Jesus, but very kindly, because he knew it would be a terrible shock to the Godly Person to discover that actually the world had never been Perfect and that Perfect wasn’t how God loved it, and that Imperfect didn’t offend him.
Slowly, as Jesus spoke to him, the Godly Person began to understand that the story of the Fall was just that, only a story, and that really it was just a way of trying to explain what happens when you stop being a child and thinking that everything is wonderful and that the world revolves around your parents, who know everything and will always look after you. He began to realise that actually, the story of the Fall was just a way of trying to describe Consciousness, or what happens when you’re about seven and suddenly you don’t want to get in the bath with your siblings anymore; and then, the older you get, the more flawed you realise that humanity and the world are, and the more insecure it makes you, and then you have to find someone to blame for it all. The Godly Person slowly understood that Faulty was the way the World was, and had always been, and most importantly, that Jesus didn’t mind it being Faulty; that in fact, he loved it that way, and always had. And that what had happened was simply that Humanity had Grown Up, and not Fallen at all.
Then he stopped being Blind, and realised that the Criteria for Belonging were simply a manifestation of the fact that The Church was frightened of Imperfection and Faultiness, and that it found its security in insisting that God needed everything to be perfect. That was the only reason that some people were Included and some were Excluded, but that wasn’t how it really was at all. When he reached this understanding, Jesus gave him a big hug, and so did all the Ungodly, and it didn’t hurt him at all.
After that, the Godly Person allowed Jesus into the Church, and all the Ungodly too. Now that he had stopped being Stiff and Blind, he saw that the Church had become very dreary and drab because of all of the Embracing of Dreariness that had gone on in it. And when he tried to stroke Dogma, he saw that it was really just a tatty old box full of dust. But the Ungodly saw how much Dogma had meant to him, and so they very kindly stored it in a cupboard in the Vestry instead of throwing it out altogether, so that he could occasionally get it out and gaze lovingly at it and remember the days of Inclusion and Exclusion.
And then everyone, all the Godly (of whom there were not many left) and the Ungodly (who were many more in number, some of whom the Godly Person remembered as having been Put Out with the Utmost Severity) got on with doing Salvation all together, and that made Jesus very happy, and he never went away again.