The Church of Dan Murphy

I grabbed a stray "Dan Murphy's" catalogue this morning, so that I wouldn't leave coffee rings on the arm of the sofa. It occurs to me how similar the wine scene and the church are to each other. Each is a cult a gathering of people clustered around hope, and enjoyment, and mystery. Each is full of charlatanry. Even the wine writers cheerfully admit that a great deal of what is written and said and done, is plain bull shit. Great claims are made, and great rip-offs are carried out. Even supposedly sophisticated palates are sometimes unable to tell the difference between wines. Even white wine with red colouring  added is sometimes not recognised as white wine! Just like the church, where extravagant baseless and exploitative claims are made about the reality of God, and people seem to have no real nose for distinguishing between reality and ridiculousness.

It is not that all wines are the same, all that the whole thing of wine is a made up story with no truth to it. Even I can tell the difference between wines; some of them anyway. Just as with religion, some of us have a more refined palate than others.

When we went through a wine tasting demonstration at the Royal Adelaide show, I could mostly tell the difference between different glasses of wine, although I could not distinguish the flavour highlights that were alleged to be there. My wife could. When we 'blind tasted,' trying to identify the unmarked glasses on the basis of those flavour highlights, I was able to say, "Yes, this glass does taste different to that one, but it's pretty much the same as the third one. They might be playing a trick on us!"

Wendy effortlessly said, "Glass One is Wine B, judging from the flavour; Glass Two is wine C, and Glass Three is Wine A." She was right!

Something like this happens with religion. One of my friends says Richard Dawkins has no flavour receptors for religion; no palate; not that this proves religion is false, it just means he can't taste it. But even though he can't taste it, that does not blind him to the idiocies which are promulgated by some religious practitioners and adherents, just as I am not blind to the more ridiculous statements about wine.

As a young person, I loathed beer. I now enjoy beer far more than wine, for the most part. I can distinguish between beers, and even make qualitative statements about different flavours, in the same way that people talk about those differences between wines which remain invisible and indistinguishable to me. And so it is with the religion. At different times in our lives, in different situations, we have different needs and different tastes. Different religious expressions and different languages appeal to us.

And it is not as though the wine scene, for all its sophistry and sales tricks, is empty of a certain truth. People flock to the wineries for socialisation, for mystery, and because there is something different and good about wine. Sometimes we simply overstate the mystery of religion, and understate, and underrate, the common good and healing power of gathered community. There is a reason Jesus ate and drank with so many people. God is first of all a God who comes to us and sits at table and yaks with us.

The Women's' Christian Temperance Union harridan of my childhood congregation suddenly shouted out from my memory as I was about to paste this text into my website. "What about the damage wine causes!?" Indeed! And what about the damage religion causes? Some of us must abstain forever, or are forever 'recovering Christians.' We are not less people. Rather, we have identified our wounding. A pity it is that some of the other drinkers and prayers could not find their wounding!

Andrew Prior 2013


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