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Essay

God only knows

By Rebecca Quin

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So, my brother is getting married next year which is a big deal for our family. But it's an even bigger deal for the organisation that he's marrying into: the Catholic Church.

He and his wife-to-be are getting hitched in her native Malta, where the state religion is Catholicism. Malta is heavily Catholic; the majority of its population believe in Catholic doctrine and many of the country's laws are influenced by the religion. Malta was the last European country to legalise divorce (in 2011) and abortion remains illegal. Both of these concepts are traditionally "wrong" according to the Roman Catholic Church, though beliefs among individual worshippers do vary across the board.

In order to be able to get married there, my brother and his fiancee have to jump through several hoops. They must attend marriage preparation classes, learn a number of passages concerning marriage in the Bible and demonstrate proof of their Catholic background, including showing their certificates of baptism and confirmation — both religious ceremonies that you undertake, as a child and teenager respectively, to be indoctrinated into the Church.

As an official witness to the marriage, I'm also subject to a Catholic background check. But I haven't considered myself religious since I was 18. Although my brother and I were raised Catholic and went to a Catholic school, I can confirm that I'm definitely not one of the 1.27 billion-strong network of Catholics in the world.

I'm not sure that I believe in God but I wouldn't say that I am an outright atheist either — I think the label is "agnostic." The Oxford Dictionary defines an agnostic as "a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God." To me the concept of God always seemed too incomprehensible to fit into one neat story or explanation.

The U.K. is predominantly Christian, although there are many different religions that are practiced across the country. In some parts of London you could easily spot a church, a mosque and a synagogue within a few square kilometers of each other. This is a great example of the U.K.'s diversity but is also a source of social conflict.

In Japan there are two primary religions: Shintoism and Buddhism. As a foreigner, it's very hard to tell them apart. Shrines and temples look the same to me. But I like how the two coexist in harmony. It seems that lots of Japanese people think of themselves as both, whereas it would be pretty uncommon for somebody to think of themselves as both Jewish and Muslim.

Do I pretend to believe in the Catholic faith for the wedding? Is it enough to have once performed all the rituals that make me an official member of the Church? I guess. God only knows.

神のみぞ知る

筆者の兄が来年結婚する。結婚式は相手の出身地で、敬けんなカトリック教徒の国、マルタ共和国で行なわれる。結婚の証人となる筆者は、カトリックの環境で育ったものの信者ではないのだが…。

The Japan Times ST: September 2, 2016

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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