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There is no organised religion

21 December 2012

IT WAS the loo-roll that finally did it for me. It was positioned just a few inches off the floor - within perfect reach for those sitting down, but in a ridiculous place for those standing up. I apologise for the graphic nature of this image. But it was the loo-roll position that made me realise what I hate about Brasilia - and also what I hate about atheistic rationalism. This is going to take some explaining.

Everything in Brasilia has been planned. But the capital city of Brazil, a country known for its energy and dynamism, is anything but these things. It is Milton Keynes on steroids. Everything is set out rationally on a grid system, but bizarrely in the shape of an aeroplane. There is a hotel quarter, a political quarter, a restaurant quarter. Finding a café from my hotel was a ten-minute taxi ride.

This is the architect Oscar Niemeyer's interpretation of the words "progress and order" that are emblazoned on the Brazilian flag. The 104-year-old died this month, and the flags are flying at half-mast in his supposed masterpiece.

Niemeyer's signature buildings are great concrete saucers, set in a monochrome cream Legoland. Thank God for graffiti. Chaos is human. But mostly in Brasilia, you are told what to do and how to do it - even down to the way you go to the loo.

To get from A to B, you need to drive. I want to walk, but that option isn't rational, apparently: it doesn't involve a machine, so it's not part of the plan. I removed the loo paper from the holder, and placed it on the shelf in a small and petulant act of defiance.

This is what I hate about rationalistic atheism - or rationalistic theism, for that matter. I don't mind atheism, although I'm not one. Live and let live, I say: Nietzsche was a genius. But the idea that my beliefs have to be rationally ordered is an instrument of control. The communists did it; the military did it (both, in turns, very happy with the way that Brasilia was being built). But this type of rationalism does not have a human scale.

What I love about faith, among many things, is that it won't tell me that my absurd hopes and dreams are absurd. Some of the best parts of the Bible are the weirdest. A baby as God: it's ridiculous. But it's also fantastically generative and imaginative. Even God exists on a human scale.

I know that religion can be hijacked by people who want to use it to tell others what to do - mostly about how they can and cannot have sex, and whom they can and cannot have it with. Those people also need to be ignored. But, fundamentally, there is no such thing as organised religion. All religion is intrinsically messy. It is the graffiti of the soul.

Canon Giles Fraser is Priest-in-Charge of St Mary's, Newington, in the diocese of Southwark.

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