To get home after work I have the choice of two buses; No 12 and No 171. Both will take me to about 2 minutes walk from where I live but for some reason I prefer to catch 171. I was therefore quite happy tonight, when after about 5 min of waiting, I saw a 171 appear at the horizon. I got on board, find myself a free seat on the upper deck, whipped out the book I am currently reading (Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris) and readied myself for enjoying the next 20 minutes or so, far from the madding crowd, as on many other evenings.
Alas! It wasn't to be. A few hundred metres down the road, I was pulled out of my story by a male voice on my right singing its own version of Amazing Grace. You meet those people from time to time in London, most of the time some decrepit rasta singing reggae; they sing out loud and you are never really sure why they are doing it: is it that the light missing on certain floors or do they expect to be discovered by a producer and start a career? I was reflecting that this latter possibility was not very likely on a bus and even less so in the part of the city we were in as I was getting ready to go back to my book. I clicked my tongue to show my dissatisfaction. I was looking at the man at the time. He seemed noticed me from the corner of his eye and immediately raised the volume of his singing. I tried to return to my reading anyway. After all I have been used to reading in noisy environments since school. This time it wasn't happening however. I decided to bide my time and see whether the man would stop after that song or perhaps get off at the next stop. The bus was by now almost full.
After a while, he did indeed stop and I breathed a sigh of relief. A short lived sigh of relief. The next thing I knew the man, in a rather emphatic way, a bit like an actor saying his lines, was telling us about god.... How he had decided to love him and how god had decided to grant him salvation in return. I glazed over pretty quickly but did catch the word "love" (or is it "Love"?) being repeated several times. I tried again to ignore the man and to go back to my reading. To no avail. Slowly but surely, my temper, usually rather unflappable, came to boiling point. Several times, I thought about interrupting him and asking him politely to desist but did not do anything about it probably out of cowardice. After about ten minutes of this, I just could not take any more. I shut my book, put it back into my bag and got up to get off the bus at the coming next stop. As I was coming down the stairs, I glared at the man one last time. I met his gaze as he was still talking: did I imagine a sparkle of mockery?
I took the next bus, which fortunately arrived quickly. Not so fortunately however, I could not go back to reading. I went on fuming for the next ten minutes of the trip home and here I am ranting about it now. I imagine the aim of this guy was to make some converts or at least to interest people to his saintly discours on love (sorry: Love). In my case (and was I really the only one?), it did not work at all. It actually had the completely opposite effect. The man was here to extol love but he only managed to raise anger and something verging on hate. I don't go about shouting my beliefs (whatever they are) over the rooftops (except, perhaps, this particular rooftop: Blogspot). Most people don't. Why do religious zealots feel the need to do just that? What can't they stick to their beliefs and keep all those marvellous discoveries of theirs to themselves? If I wanted to hear about them; if I wanted someone to tell me how to live my life, I would know where to find a church... It is those sort of practices which have spawned most of the violence the world has know: crusades, inquisition, forced conversions, jihad, terrorism (some of it), intolerance... Why can't people leave each other alone? I am not asking them to give up on their beliefs and thought; just that they stop shoving them down other people's throat. Is that too much to ask?
Religion was the topic of the day it seems!