One of the great joys of living in Australia is being part of a secular nation. Coming from Ireland, where Catholicism still pervades every corner of our beleagured island, the very fact that you can get a drink on Good Friday or Christmas Day is revolutionary. Religion, other than sporting, isn't high on the agenda. You go to the MCG to worship: you'll pray that your horse places at Moonee Valley. That's Melbourne spirituality. I love it. All things formally religious are met with a sort of quasi-Aussie shrug of the shoulders. For a non-believer like me, it's a comfortable place to be. I don't believe in God, I don't believe in your God, but I fully respect your right to worship whatever you like. As long as you're not inflicting it on me and mine, you are fully welcome to bow down to the Great Green Arkleseizure in whatever way you see fit. Knock yourself out.
Now I'm not one to fret about the vacouous, inane world of fashion. Really, is there nothing more important to worry about? What irks me—sorry, belay that, bemuses me— are religions that make a point of inflicting particular dress codes on their adherents. Again, let me reiterate that as a secular humanist, hey man, whatever floats your boat— but dress codes just seems to me to be, well, stupid. It's 35 degrees out there (that's a cheeky 95 for all our American cousins) and the local Jewish orthodox community are going about their business in enormous beards and black suits. And that simply strikes me as massively daft.
It's nothing to do with Judaism per se. It's to do with a set of values that prescribes how you should look at all times. As Mrs. F points out from time to time, "why would you think that God cares what you're wearing?" So it's a fashion thing for her. For me, it's simply about being practical. Black suits, wide rimmed hats and all that good stuff were probably just the ticket in eighteenth century Europe, and of course adherence promotes a sense of community, of togetherness, of commitment. Admirable all. But it's now 150 years later, and whether you're in Williamsburg NY, Balaclava VIC or even in Tel Aviv, surely things can move on? Surely we can get a sneaky set of sandals in there, some sober shorts? It's SO hot out there, I can't tell you. There's ten year old boys playing next door and a ping-pong table aching to be abused, and they can barely go outside and whoop it up—because they're in the wrong clothes and they'll simply boil away to nothingness. Which is hardly fair. Especially on the young. Hey, if you're one of the grand poo-bahs in the very desirable fur hats, you've taken your knocks in life and you are entitled to perspire as freely as the next man. But the kids surely don't deserve this. Is there not some sort of Amish style rumspring so we could loosen up on this? Could we not lose the bloody monochrome, admit that religion in general ought to concern itself with the content of people's hearts rather than, shallowly, how they look, and move on? Of course not. From the hijab to the yarmulke to the once-a-year ash covered Irish Catholic masses, it's a declaration of apart-ness, of commitment, of a statement of belief. The fact that I think it's all a load of arse is neither here nor there.
All I'm asking for is some practicality. I look like a dorky American a lot of the time in my spare time, notwithstanding the fact that my pear-shapedness lends me some good ol' USA authenticity. But there's also the simple, stark truth that dressing like a preppy, identikit American - runners, shorts, t-shirt, maybe even a baseball cap - is just the most practical, most useful, most versatile way of dressing, for what I want to do - play sport, have a jar, meet some people, watch the Wire. It is, hand on heart, nothing whatsoever to do with wanting to look like an American, or even particularly wanting to be looked at in the first place. It's solely and seriously practical. So I call upon all major religions across the globe—indeed, I will start with my old friend Pope Benedict—to get over themselves. Buy the Taliban some New Balance and the Muslims a baggy pair of shorts, and some shorts and t-shirts for the lads next door. I'm telling you. The world'll be a better place, and a better smelling one, too.