A few weeks ago, I wrote about the life and death of Brian, and the blog that documented them.
One of the regular visitors was a guy called Mark, a real, meatspace friend of Brian, rather than a dilettantish blogchum. Today, I went back to Brian's site one last time, and casually followed a link back to Mark's own blog.
Mark's an enthusiast for "Ulster mission hall gospel music", and chairman of something called the Ulster-Scots Agency. Now, this may raise a few gentle alarm bells among some of you: admit it, lots of us operate under the instinctive prejudice that Irish Catholics tend to be warm and eloquent and loquacious, while their Protestant neighbours are sour-faced bigots. But surely this is as daft as any other overarching cultural or ethnic generalisation; Wilde and Shaw and Yeats and Beckett were all born Prods, and I can't imagine any of them mincing down the Queen's Highway in sashes and bowlers.
Clearly, Mark's a religious man, but I've got no problem with that. Whatever gets you through the night and all. Then I read a little bit more, specifically what Mark said about Brian's last hours and his funeral:
"To the best of my knowledge (ie up until a few weeks ago), Brian rejected any form of personal faith, let alone a saving faith in Christ alone. However his wife Terri told me this afternoon that for the last few days he had been trying to talk to her, through his sedation, about 'God' and 'Heaven'. He was brought up in the red brick streets and mission halls of Woodvale in Belfast. We can just hope and pray - I'm asking you to do so."
"Brian's funeral was last Sunday, near Carndonagh in Donegal. It's a long story, but the good part is that I met his brother Bill, his friend Ivan and one of Brian's clients (incidentally also called Mark). All three confirmed to me that Brian had professed faith as a young man and took part in many beach missions and open air witnessing in his younger life. I had prayed that morning for some sort of confirmation of Brian's faith, and I got it three times over."
Again, fair enough. I know enough about Christian theology (I've got an A-level to prove it) to understand the importance that Protestants place on salvation through faith. Mark was sincerely concerned for what he perceived as the wellbeing of his friend's eternal soul - a friend who, let's remember, I never met, never really knew.
But then I remembered something that would probably have confirmed some of Mark's suspicions about people who choose a different route to heaven, but at the same time reinforced my own instincts that this religion business is all a bit unpleasant. After my grandfather died (this was some time before I was born), some Catholic friends of the family made a point of explaining to his widow that, because he'd committed suicide, they wouldn't be praying for him. Mortal sin and all that kind of thing. Sorry. Of course, it wasn't the fact that prayers were not forthcoming that upset my grandmother; it was that people who'd called themselves friends had chosen to tell her, in a time of howling grief, that her husband was too wicked to be a fit subject for their discussions with the Almighty.
I can understand Mark's desperation to grab at the slightest straws of evidence that Brian had got God before he died; and I can even understand those Catholics who decided that the method of my grandfather's death put him beyond redemption. Both points of view are entirely consistent with the dogmas and philosophies by which they choose to follow their lives. The same understanding extends to those Hindus who believe that the sand formation between India and Sri Lanka was built by an army of monkeys, or the Muslims who think that a woman with a driving licence is an affront to Allah. And, let's be ecumenical, to the Jews and Jains and Pagans and Parsees and adherents of any other faith who really, really, really believe stuff.
I just wish a few more religious people would display a similar level of understanding when it comes to the reasons I have for thinking that they're talking bollocks.