Growing up, religion was as important to me as politics, responsibilities and mortgages…. id est, not at all.
I was never baptised and never set foot in a church until my nain passed away.
The only ways religion touched my life were the songs we sang in primary school assemblies and the prayers we said before dinner time – looking back now (as a teacher myself), I understand these instances only to be ones encouraged by our teachers because they were professionally obliged to do so.
As I grew into my teens, religion became only something I understood to be the main reason behind the world’s disagreements. The only time I ever even slightly considered religion to be of use was one lad’s determination in high school that being spotted by teachers saying the Lord’s Prayer during assembly meant you didn’t get shouted at as much in lessons. Quite the claim.
My disassociation with religion continued, and continues, to this day.
It’s in no way that I’m against faith – I know that many find solace and harmony in it – but I guess I’m yet to appreciate that side of it. My sceptical mind ensures that I probably never will. Perhaps that’s sad in itself, but I can at least say I find faith and solitude via other means.
Occasionally I pity religion and its attempts to encourage others to it – particularly Christianity (seeing as that’s the primary faith of those around whom I live) – even though I’m sure all of the world’s religions and faiths struggle to find new blood to carry their flame into the uncertain future.
I pity it because, for me at least, its followers are fighting a losing battle.
It’s definitely no secret that more and more people are either turning their backs on religion completely or are simply too busy to find a place for it in their fast-paced, modern lives.
It must be hard to remain relevant in this modern world.
Often I see small chapels and churches offering youth-friendly gatherings to encourage youngsters to faith. On many occasions, I find myself wanting to place my slowly-shaking head in my hands at the sight of their various events and advertisements; all the time realising that their recruitment techniques have reduced themselves to mere pittiful gimmicary.
Stop trying so hard!
But that’s the Cache-22. In order to remain relevant, Christianity (and many religions) must fight in any way it can to maintain its purpose. No longer is the promise of ‘heaven’ and the warning of ‘hell’ enough to turn non-believers into regular church-goers.
I suppose science and its numerous reality-based answers to questions previously too perilous to even consider has deemed faith nothing more than irrelevent. It’s sad, certainly, but it’s true.
As a teacher of a language creeping up to two millennia in age, I am constantly aching to share with students why I know the Welsh language is relevant.
However, over my past seven years as a teacher, it often, surprisingly, pains me to hear students say that they enjoy my lessons.
It pains me to think that, despite the fact they’re leaving my classroom with more knowledge of our national language then when they walked in, they might primarily enjoy my gimmicy PowerPoint presentations and quirky, yet often cringy, vocab’ videos.
Learning Welsh might, for them, simply be a ‘side effect’ of a fun way to spend an hour behind a desk.
As much as wonderful examination results year on year fill me with genuine pride in each and every student, I worry as to whether they’re minds, loaded with vocabulary and phrases as ammunition, are brave enough to use their acquired skills in the real world.
I think of students past and remind myself of their abilities in lessons – knowing their standard of Welsh is far better than mine when I was at their age.
I went on to learn Welsh (something I will always consider my greatest achievement)…. will they bridge the gap between having the knowledge and having the guts to step into daily-use fluency?
Do students yearn for trips to Glan-llyn to practise their Welsh or to get away from their parents for a weekend and spend time with their mates?
Do adults scramble to find local Welsh classes to arm themselves with the tools to ask for a pint at their local watering hole in Welsh or simply to jazz up their CVs?
It’s no secret that those attempting to promote and encourage the Welsh language work tirelessly to get our nation conversing in Welsh. There is certainly no shortage of events all over this land offering opportunities to experience the language.
But what if we’re trying too hard? What if our attempts to encourage Wales’ native tongue are the final gasps of a community spirit that has no place in an evolving world? What place, if any, will Welsh have in years to come?
When I see chapels opening their doors to young people with the hope of turning their heads to faith, deep down even my science-ridden outlook tells me those attending are there only to take selfies with friends and organise their weekend outing to McDonald’s and Starbucks.
Now and again I consider how the rôle of education in incorporating religion into children’s everyday lives has had only a detrimental effect (simply by, perhaps, trying too hard) in its attempts to embed itself into commonplace.
I worry that, as a schooled subject rather than a ‘natural’ and common phenomenon, Welsh has become much like religion; on a one-way road to oblivion.
My mind forces me to question whether my life-choice of replacing the word ‘thanks’ with ‘diolch’ (even when conversing otherwise wholly in English) has, in the eyes of those to whom I say it, reduced itself to a gimmic – much like people of faith wishing God’s blessing upon non-believers.
And there again appears our Cache-22. Should we, as those ‘burderned’ with encouraging the use of Welsh, not sink to levels of gimmicary then perhaps our language might not endure. Yet at the same time were we not to at least make an attempt to remain relevant through gimmicary, would our goal of a bilingual populous become merely an unachievable dream?
Like science has indirectly turned the masses away from religion with its wondrous explanation of our cosmos and everything in it, so has the English language with all its free-flowing ease and global appeal turned the tides of speech against Welsh.
So, as to stand in solidarity with others in their struggle to endure the tests of a modern world, I shall lower my guard against religion and faith and bid all the blessing of whosoever your god(s) may be and pray to them that Welsh will, forever and ever, be a part of the fabric of our divine land.
Wales is, after all, God’s own country and the Welsh language itself ‘iaith y nefoedd’ (the language of the heavens).