Belief again.

I have read Astral Travel, by Elizabeth Baines. To say I enjoyed it would not be quite accurate, as it is a serious account of the narrator`s abusive childhood. One of those accounts where I say to myself – if only half of these awful stories are true, it`s evident that these are sad and terrible tales for any writer to have to tell – or to decide to tell. Excellent writing, and some scenes stand out vividly, as we visit parts of England, parts of Wales, and breath in sights and smells – from petrol fumes and bruises to the fragrances of honeysuckle, and wild flowers whose names I have never known.
No parent is perfect, and the accusing eye of a writer, time and again will alight on parental flaws, which make better literature than anodyne reflections of happy-ever-after-land. When I read about fathers in literature, there is a scene I recall from my own childhood. I was four or five. The family had acquired an electric hair-dryer. I was standing perched on my father`s knee, and there was laughter from both him and my mother, because I was drying his hair, and had spotted his bald patch. No! he protested, enjoying the moment, it`s not possible, I don`t have a bald patch. Yes, you do, Daddy, I said, laughing happily, and aimed the warm air across the top of his head. The scene can`t have lasted more than a minute or two. I must have climbed down and it was over. There was nothing in the scene beyond a moment of hilarity, a loved child, a loving father, a cheerfully loving mother alongside. It wouldn`t get me far in an autobiographical novel, a scene like that.
Behind the unhappiness that surrounded Elizabeth Baines` astral-travelling father, were the long shadows of prejudice. It was believed, we were told that this boy brought up in a poor family in Ireland, had Jewish grandparents. We glimpsed Jews coming to Ireland and shedding their identity in order to avoid anti-semitism, becoming Catholics. And there they were again, my lifelong questions about belief, the kind of things I wrote about in my play Candlesticks, to which was added (in the novel,) homosexuality, and what that entailed. I don`t think that being Jewish was a criminal offence in Ireland of the nineteen fifties, in fact I`m sure it wasn`t; but certainly, homosexuality was named as criminal, and lives were wrecked.
So for me the aftermath of reading Astral Travel was clear. It set me pondering (OK, most things do,) on the nature of belief, what it actually means. Someone I have never met, but is a facebook `friend,` declared the other day. `Yes, I am a Catholic.` Fascinating. They are embarking, (they told facebook,) on a course of Catholic Theology. Amazing, other facebook friends commented, several coming forward to identify themselves as Catholics too. And of course being Catholic means you believe things. Lots of things. Or at the very least you try to believe things, or tell people you believe things. While as you really can be Jewish and believe very little – if that`s what you`re like.
The same day, someone else I hardly know asked to read The Scapegoat, and I was plunged yet again into the murky world of belief. Yes, you can be Jewish and not believe in much. But the religious Zionist movement, I would say, connects to a set of beliefs which have changed the modern world. And so – as William Holman Hunt demonstrates in The Scapegoat – has the Christian Zionist movement.
I wrote in a cover note that I was aware a play whose overall theme is religious Zionism, both Jewish and Christian, may not be the most marketable piece in the world. But I did do the research on Hunt, and to my mind he was the real thing. As a Christian, he was haunted by doubt, particularly doubt as to the truth of the resurrection. When he saw there was a movement afoot for the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, he took this as proof (he wrote,) that the rest of the New Testament could be believed. Restorationism, the movement was called. (A Victorian movement. See Daniel Deronda, by George Elliot.) But it didn`t go away. The evangelical right in the USA are pretty close to that old movement. God returning the Jews to their homeland, as a precursor to – I`m not even sure what. I think not believing is in general a safer option than believing. I really do.