Converts, Wed, Jan 30 2013 #(403)

Jan 30, 2013

Converts Corner — Jack Greaves

Born in Lancashire to an Irish Mother and English Father of the Roman Catholic Faith in 1944 at the end of the Second World War, there was of course no other direction possible than to be brought up as a Catholic child in a Catholic school.

Father was a cotton mill worker, one of James Nelson's Mill workers, but joined the Police Force guarding the munitions factory during the war, away from home, but relatively safe and able to get home frequently.

The cotton industry was struggling to survive following the war because imported cotton and cotton goods were cheaper and so by the early fifties when an opportunity to move south and take over my maternal grandfather's house in Dagenham Essex arose it was taken gratefully, to provide job opportunities for my brother, sister her fiancé and of course my father.

Grandfather who was still living in the house, with my uncle Walter after grandmother had died, was a strict Irish Catholic, a proud man immaculately turned out, to this day he is the only person I have ever heard off that used to polish the instep of his beautiful leather shoes, other meticulous people polished their shoes ritually, but not the instep as well. He shaved with a cut throat razor and I had to promise to sit still when he was shaving to watch this amazing event.

We said the rosary, most nights kneeling on the floor whilst leaning on the chair seats, each taking it in turn to lead a verse, including me as I grew older.
School was run by Nuns, I can't remember the particular order they came from but they were of course devout and varied from the saintly to the fierce.
Once passed the junior stage school was a Catholic secondary school but the church ran a club one evening each week at which the priests would organise supervise and control.

The Saint Peter's parish was a large one mainly because of all the Irish people working at Ford's factory in Dagenham, and as such had several priests, some on training or in junior roles. From time to time priests from America came to train in this environment and their different, more relaxed approach was in contrast to the strict 'no questions allowed' Irish method.

The chief priest was always seen wearing his long black cloak reminiscent of the Dracula character of the scary films. He was unapproachable to us youths. However, I had some serious questions which no one could answer, or should I say would not answer. When eventually the American Priests were running the club we all got chances to ask questions and were given answers, my questions concerning my lack of belief in the churches dogma and teachings were given serious attention and answer after answer just left me in more doubt. Finally the priest said Jack in the end it is about faith, you either believe or you don't. I wrestled with this for some time but eventually I told my mother that I was not going to church anymore or taking part in the Catholic Religion because I did not believe in it. I was around fourteen at this time and it caused great consternation and I was the 'black sheep' for a long time. Things improved after Grandfather and Walter moved out, but the background pressure continued even up until I was going to get married when my mother begged me to get married in the church, my future wife was also a Catholic but like me was not practising her beliefs however were not so clear.

In the Catholic Church you have to have meetings with the priest to 'prepare' for marriage and having agreed to get married in the church to appease my mother, I had only done so saying that I would not lie and would not agree to the church rules just to get married in the church.

During the pre-marital talks my views came to the fore and the priest said that he could not marry us because I did not agree with the churches teachings and that the only possibility would be to gain the Bishop's approval to proceed.

This eventually came some two weeks later, the only reason I was given was that my views would change in time with the churches influence from within the church, whereas this possibility would not exist from outside the church. Strange logic, since I was by this time 21 years old and following the ceremony I had no further contact with the church.

One of the notable effects of the church's influence on me from being a child was that I still felt guilty of eating meat on a Friday until I was around 21 years old. This rule of the church was abandoned by one of the Popes I do not remember which, so my guilt was unnecessary after some time by order of the Pope, but the little tang of guilt remained, as I say, until around 21 years of age.

Throughout my working life, I am retired now, I have held my views under the banner of agnostic, 'don't know' was the easiest way to shelve any further trauma or argument. Like others I use the God word to symbolise the unknown and I am on record for saying that my God was everything I did not understand, which of course is still a vast area. 'God knows' is a frequent comment which I make and it could be interpreted as Christian speak or blasphemy depending upon the interpreters position. However both would be wrong.

I trained as an engineer in the first place, with a 5 year apprenticeship and after rising through design draughtsman stage to project management, left it all behind to manage businesses for a major PLC. Finally after retiring early went to college and university to get a BSc in Environmental Science and my favourite subject is the evolution of life.

The twin towers disaster and I think Richards books, most of all 'The God Delusion' have finally got me off the fence and I must say that I have a sense of resentment that my life has to some extent been negatively affected by religion.

Jack Greaves


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