The Eton wall game is a beautiful thing. It is sublimely, perfectly, uncompromisingly pointless. It is played at the poshest school in England, Eton (it’s where William and Harry went to school).
The whole thing is controlled by a set of brilliantly arcane rules, but in essence, a ball is put down next to a wall, and the two sides form a scrum and push it backwards and forwards for an hour. The goals are a door at one end and a tree at the other.
The big game takes place every year on St Andrews Day. Here’s the thing though: no-one has scored a goal in that game for over a hundred years. It’s not about winning. It’s about pushing backwards and forwards.
Why am I telling you this? Well, it’s a little complicated, but I’ll try to explain. I was feeling a little uninspired this morning. Not that I didn’t have any ideas I wanted to write about- I just didn’t have the time to do them justice.
So I went over to a local news site to look for inspiration. Instead, I just got tired. I made the mistake of looking in a section called “Most Commented”. It’s a drop-down menu listing the news stories which had attracted the most comments that day. These would be the most interesting and controversial stories. You would think.
South Africa is a pretty rough place. There are constant violent protests against slow service delivery. People die on the roads like flies. There are strikes at the mines, and xenophobic violence in the townships. A man was sentenced today for paying his gardener to kill his wife. Our politicians are stealing millions and our young people can’t get jobs. And what did my countrymen want to talk about. The most commented story of the day was a reader’s submission titled “Creationists….Atttteeeeeention!”
Sadly, you could be damn sure the creationists were going to pay attention. Because this argument has been going on on this site for nearly ten years. And it has dominated the “most commented” section since day one. Cape Town could fall into the sea, Obama could strangle a prostitute, and we could discover that Nelson Mandela had died in 1972 and been replaced by a Cuban doppleganger, and the “Most Commented” column would still be dominated by “God’s existence proven… by science!” or “Atheism can no longer be denied by rational people”.
Since I started reading the site, the “Most Commented” section has almost permanently contained at least one reader’s ramblings about god. Either for or against. The writer, under the guise of reasoned, measured argument, proves that the other side is not just wrong, but delusional, and probably criminal, and is certainly unkind to puppies.
And then the comments start pouring in, and any sign of reasoned, measured argument goes up in smoke. It’s on! Again! Like it was last week! And the week before! Who’s going to win? Can you guess?
I had tried writing a piece or two for the site myself, but I gave up. It was terrible for my ego. I would pour my heart and soul into writing an incisive analysis of the latest corruption scandal. It would take me hours. Ten people would read it. One would comment. To correct my grammar.
And then some gormless idiot called “darwinisdead” would write something called “Proof at last! The bible shows that atheists have chrome jaw muscles!” fifty thousand people would read it in the first ten minutes. Comments would only stop pouring in when the news site’s servers crashed.
I’m not a religious person myself. It’s not something I lie awake thinking about. As long as you don’t harm me, or anyone else, I couldn’t care less what you believe. I see no reason others shouldn’t extend me the same courtesy. The only religion I could ever imagine being prejudiced against are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But that’s purely personal. I live down the road from one of their churches, and they seem to have instituted some sort of points system according to which they cannot enter heaven unless they come round to my house every second Sunday during nap time to give me a crappy little magazine. No thank you. I already have one. You gave it to me yourself. Last week.
There is obviously a corner of the internet, though, where everyone cares very deeply about what other people believe. Or at least that’s how it appears on the surface. What I really think is happening is that there is a corner of the internet where everyone feels they gain some sort of kudos from attacking everyone who believes something different to them. You score points for the attack. Not for winning.
I would be willing to stake my life on the bet that there is not a single atheist walking the earth today who lost his faith in God after reading a particularly incisive comment on a news site. There are no brand-new Christians on their knees in church right now because some arbitrary internet commenter chose a news site as the ideal forum for bringing the theory of evolution crashing down in ruins by quoting an obscure verse from Deuteronomy.
It was all too much. It was so filled with venom and hatred that I stopped writing things on the site. It got to the point where a report about a snake being found in a car would end in a comment-war about religion (to be fair, the snake was trying to get a naked women to eat an apple at the time). I wrote one final piece and left the site forever. Until today.
Seeing that the endless battle continues unabated, I went and had another look at that final piece. Then I brought it over here. You’re reading it now. I thought I could just copy and paste it here and update it a little. Instead I seem to have burst out from the middle of it like that chest burster in Alien.
And so we come back to the Eton wall game. It’s a much more sensible pastime. Two bunches of dirty schoolboys shove each other backwards and forwards along the wall. Hour after hour, year after year, backwards and forwards, up and down. And no one is going to win. No one is even going to score a goal. At least they seem to be having fun. At least they understand that it’s only a game.