Thursday, 29 December 2011

Goodwill to all men. Providing their theism is EXACTLY the same as yours.

This punch up, between priests of rival orthodoxies within the same religion, beautifully sums up the idiocies of religious divides, and the hypocrisy of the Church(es). I have no idea what they're fighting about - it could be some minor detail in their respective theologies, or who gets the best pews, but these men are priests, showing themselves up as all too human. This is no better or worse than drunk blokes getting shitfaced and having a set-to on a Saturday night - the difference is that said drunkards rarely offer themselves up as representatives of God, guardians of morality and guiding lights for us fallen.

I know I should be laughing at it - certainly if it were shown by Monty Python or something, sped up slightly or shown to the background of Benny Hill's theme music, it would be partnered perfectly. But it's real, so I find it irritating. Some tiny difference in the way a holy text is interpreted (by people, of course) or how the ceremonies should be undertaken, or some other seemingly trifling difference can lead to this, or worse, to perpetual conflict, escalating even to war. You need only see how Shia and Sunni Muslims have fought with each other (over what's essentially a difference of political opinion on who should have taken over their prophet's position as leader of the Muslim 'nation' on his death hundreds of years ago) to take my point.

To an atheist, this conflict over what's basically a matter of historic opinion is utterly bewildering, but to a Muslim, it's a fundamental article of faith, one that a very few of them are prepared to fight, kill and die over. I can understand wars fought over oil, territory, subjugation of people - understand them happening at least - but not this. Those priests fighting are merely an unedifying example of exactly the same sort of pointless schism between people who should be showing compassion and understanding to each other, given the inherent similarities of their beliefs in particular.

I know it's a ludicrously extreme example, but to me, this is like the septuaganarians of the Aylesbury and District WI hurling chairs at each other across the church hall in a dispute over whether their cakes should be covered in Royal Icing or rolled fondant - it's that stupid. The difference of course is that the good ladies of the WI would do no such thing because they'd realise that, though they may want the cake decorated differently, fundamentally it's still a bloody cake. Those priests would be better off sitting down with a cuppa and a slice of said delicacy and discussing their differences like men. That is all.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

First Warsi, now Cameron not recognising the facts

David Cameron's recent assertion that Britain is '...a Christian country, and we shouldn't be afraid to say that...' is irritating to those of us whose secularism is important to us, but more importantly, it's not backed up by the facts.

It's true that in the 2001 census, some 73% of the population described themselves as 'Christian'. But that is a hugely broad, poorly defined and easily misinterpreted figure, especially when you take into account the actual practices of a lot of those people. Indeed, the PM himself said he was a 'committed but only vaguely practising' Christian, whatever that means.

Much more recently, the National Centre for Social Research conducted its 28th survey into British Social Attitudes, covering pretty much everything from politics, through transport, the environment and religion. This does not just ask people to define themselves as Christian, other, non-religious etc. It actually asks people about their religious beliefs and practices. Its findings bear little resemblance to the picture of Britain that the PM, and recently Baroness Warsi, would paint. The NCSR found that 50% of British people characterise themselves as having 'no religion', while 20% see themselves as CofE, 15% 'other Christian', 9% Roman Catholic and 6% 'non Christian', presumably other faiths. Full results can be found here. Of those who do count themselves religious, more than half never actually attend a service of any kind. Most tellingly, only 14% of the population actually attend services weekly, and the numbers are falling - affiliation to the Church of England has halved since 1983.

This doesn't look like a Christian country to me. It looks like a largely secular, but at the same time multi-faith country that should not be being governed by, or in the interests of, any one of those religions. It's another example of those in power conveniently ignoring the facts in favour of their own world view, and it's particularly frustrating to people like me who think that government should be secular, with the Church (of any faith) having absolutely no role in policy making when those policies affect everybody.

Cameron did, at least, leaven his comments slightly - more on what he said here. But his central assertion that the 'Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today' rings pretty hollow to the millions of us who, like me, have somehow managed to piece together our own moral code without ever having read the thing.

Monday, 19 December 2011

To live in the hearts of those we love

Saturday was the 25th anniversary of the passing of my best mate's mum. I spent Saturday with said mate, driving to Brighton, going to the game, the usual Saturday stuff. He, as he has done ever since I've known him apart from fleeting moments, kept any thoughts he may have been having about her to himself.

I never met her, not becoming close to him until after she passed on, but would like nonetheless to pay tribute to her here. At his wedding in May, remembering her in his speech, he quoted one of his favourite sayings. 'To live on in the hearts of those we love is not to die.' A beautiful sentiment and one he lives by, remembering her the way he does. Indeed, I'd go further. He is nothing less than a living embodiment of his late mum's qualities, as well as those of his dad of course, and a lasting legacy to her life that shows that she is still, through him and his sister, having a positive impact on the world. She would have been, rightly, hugely proud of both of them, as they are of her.

If everybody's life were led the way hers was, such that its lasting impression is one of a pure goodness continuing to be done even after they were gone, of the human qualities we should all hope we have within ourselves being passed on unmistakeably, the world would be a much, much better place. I don't know what sort of bloke he'd have been were she not taken from her family when she was, but I do know that he, and his sister, would certainly have been no less than they are now – the absolute finest, the most human, the most empathetic and selfless people you could ever hope to know.

I hope he'll forgive me for making this most personal of entries but, when I've spoken to him about her in the past, I've felt that I've never really been able to do justice to what she's left the world. The highest possible tribute I can pay her is that she, and all her qualities, indeed live on in their hearts.

Hans Blix has the last laugh

So North Korea's 'great leader' departs, fairly prosaically as it turns out, handing the reins over to one of his sons in the bizarrely paradoxical way of Marxist hereditism which characterises the leadership of the place. I shall be re-watching Team America in his 'honour', and urge you to do the same. As a piece of satire, reducing a man whose cult of personality deifies him in his own land to a figure of mockery, it's matchless. But the real world will be watching to find out if the next in line is a moderniser or merely a clone of his father politically, ripe for further attention from Messrs Parker, Stone and Brady.

Team America had Hans Blix's meddling in Kim Jong-Il's affairs punished by his being fed to sharks, of course. In reality the Swede lives on to see, like the rest of us, his puppet nemesis no doubt turned into a god by his cowed people just as his father was. There's an extremely interesting 15-minute piece on the Beeb website at the moment about the country, giving a glimpse into this oddest of nations.

Given the highly militaristic nature of the place (a country of about 22 million people in which the armed forces number over a million!), the outside world is a bit concerned that North Korea is developing (or could develop) a nuclear ICBM capability, so the choice of successor and his likely direction are of considerable interest to other governments.

I've said before that our politicians may be grasping, corrupt, careerist dogmatists, but at least we are free to say as much, and don't have to go and bow before statues of them. We are fortunate indeed to live in a place not governed by people like that loon - I may think little of our current PM, but at least he isn't feeding UN Weapons Inspectors to his pets. Oh, hang on, that was the film, wasn't it? Anyway, you take my point..

Monday, 12 December 2011

The duality of man

Last weekend was one passed in extreme good cheer, spent with 14 friends at an enormous house in Oxfordshire we'd rented for the weekend. We 'Orphans' organise our own Christmas each year, going away for a couple of days to do things our own way before we head to our families. Drink is taken, much food is eaten, music and singing done well and done terribly, real fireplace, the lot. Jolly bally good times had by all. My love, respect and thanks to all who were there, and to absent friends who couldn't make it this time round.

Drama on the way home, though. We'd not been on the road fifteen minutes when we saw, right in front of us, a cyclist sprawled in the road, flat on his back alongside his wrecked bike. The car who'd hit him was just pulling over, as did we and a car behind. We ran to him to find him unconscious and bleeding heavily but breathing. I won't go into too much detail, but while we waited for an ambulance and stopped traffic from ploughing into him (and us), the minutes felt like they stretched into hours.

One of our number was particularly superb in her response. (You know who you are!) I salute her calmness, caring nature and willingness to literally get blood on her hands to help this man. Anyway, the ambulance turned up after what was probably around 10-15 minutes, but felt like years, closely followed by an Air Ambulance, a helicopter which deposited more paramedics in a field adjacent to the road before taking off again immediately.

While the paramedics were tending to the man - 'serious head injuries', 'life threatening', 'not stable, non-responsive' - the farmer whose field the chopper had landed in mooched over for a chat. "Whose idea was it to land a helicopter in my field?" We pointed out that there was a man lying seriously injured in the road and that they put down as close to him as possible. Clearly this didn't satisfy our landowning friend. "I've got animals. They get spooked." I'm not entirely sure why he was directing this at witnesses - perhaps he felt we'd demanded that the thing land right on his field, dropping smoke flares to better assist the pilot in getting exactly the right spot to scare the horses to maximum effect. Obviously, you know those waggish pilots, they did what we asked rather than worry about what was best for the injured bloke. "Who do I take this up with?", mister farmer asked one of the police officers.

The dichotomy of response between my friends, other witnesses there, the medical crew and police, and this totally solipsistic git with not the slightest care for the well-being of somebody badly hurt basically on his doorstep, was startling to me. I assume the bloke will, in the event he ever needs emergency medical treatment, insist on road transport to get help to him, lest his livestock be bothered again. Merry bloody Christmas, mate.