A Divisive Issue for the Freedom Movement

I don’t choose to write about this issue on Halloween from any lack of concern about its seriousness, but the very different views on this traditional celebration are a good place to start. My hope is that, by observing this difference about one topic that’s not very emotive, we might be able to do the same about another that in my experience can sunder fast friends and close allies like no other.

While Neo-Pagans celebrate the old Celtic Quarter Feast of Samhain this evening, tracing a line of continuity with the customs and beliefs of an ancient community that—like all religious claims based on historical fact—is contentious, to most families in the UK, Halloween is a bit of fun for the kids, a bit of careful safeguarding for the adults and no more religious than St Valentine’s Day.

The reaction of the western liberal and even fairly traditional Church includes a similar sense of indulgence, while stressing the significance of the images of ghosts and goblins—similar to that of the gargoyles on the Cathedral of Notre Dame—and that of the name: the Eve of All Hallows, the evening before All Saints Day. More Evangelical/ Pentecostal communities, especially those whose members originate from Africa, take the light-hearted devilry of the day extremely seriously, as evidence of Satanism. What the congregants of the latter religion feel about folk dressing up as demons I have no idea. Finally, commercial interests clearly see it as yet another way to make money selling unhealthy snacks and non-biodegradable single-use tat.

So that’s Halloween; what about abortion?

Stop for a moment and observe your immediate reaction: anger? sadness? dismay and disbelief? dispassion? Only you know why you feel about this issue as you do, and only you know the reason for the strength of that feeling.

A thought experiment—what would what is sometimes described as “the Freedom Movement” be like if everyone felt the same way as you do about this most divisive issue? What if everyone felt the opposite?

Breathe. Is it vitally important to you that we all are unanimous in support of your opinion on this topic? Can you allow for freedom of thought, freedom of conscience and freedom of expression?

Would it be possible for you to work shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who differs slightly, or even distinctly, from your stance? Could you accept their freedom to choose their own political path, even while utterly disagreeing with their ethical judgement?

Let’s break it down, because abortion means many things to many people but in terms of ethics the components are fairly clear: termination of a pregnancy (viable or not) by the action of an agent (self or other) with the intent to end the life in the womb (or at least begin that process inside and end it outside).

Ethics can seem like a cold calculation. It analyses according to categories, attempting to cut up the complexity of human experience to fit it into little conceptual boxes—but as the wonderful Professor Martha Nussbaum says,

…this is not how it feels to be in that situation. It does not feel like solving a puzzle

(The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, Cambridge: University Press, 2001, p.32)

Before we continue let’s address a common reaction to any man venturing an opinion on this most female issue. Standpoint epistemology is a fancy name for “I know cos I am one/ cos I’ve done this/ cos I was there”. It’s a seductive stance and very popular these days, especially on social media but, if taken to its logical conclusion, it means accepting absurdities like “only cows have a say in their welfare”, “only astronauts can argue about footage of the moon landings” and “only the dead have a stake in their funeral arrangements”.

That said, anyone who could not possibly be faced with the choice of whether to continue with or terminate a pregnancy must at least acknowledge the moral gravity of the issue—as well as the deeply personal and emotional nature of that decision. So a basic respect for women in general and pregnant women (whatever the outcome) in particular would be a good start.

Abortion is ethically complex because pregnancy is ethically complex: one body inside another and utterly dependent; one mature and (otherwise) autonomous adult human being with a socially stable status, one developing human being whose status may change from one day to the next—from blastula to zygote to foetus to baby—or from one moment to the next—from wanted to unwanted, or vice-versa.

Immediately the reduction of complexity can be seen on both sides: pro-life attention to the baby, as if he or she is an astronaut in a space capsule instead of intimately involved in a particular woman’s body; pro-choice attention to “my body, myself”, ignoring the existence of another self, like and unlike, not-quite-identical.

At this point it has to be said that the “half my DNA” argument from the father, while factual, is overstated. Nature and nurture intertwine in gene expression so it’s very clear that the mother is not doing only half of the labour of pregnancy.

With all this in mind, the agency involved in abortion is similarly complex. Here are very different ethical categories:

  • I act, affecting my body
  • I act, affecting my body and another
  • I act, affecting my body and a dependent other
  • I act, affecting my body and a dependant other inside my body
  • I act to ask another to act…
  • I act to require another to act…
  • I act to coerce another to act…

This brings us to issues of rights and duties, and the ethical basis of both. “It’s gonna be my way cos I’m powerful enough to force you to comply” is not an ethical argument that commands widespread approval, yet both sides employ it and present it as such. “I know you don’t agree but if you’re a good person you’ll change your mind” is similarly manipulative and “this is too important for you to disagree with me” is also, at least, undemocratic.

I’m writing about abortion on Halloween because if the Freedom Movement is manipulated into in-fighting it will be over this issue. Just now, because we’re so powerless (no, Donald Trump is not and never was fighting for freedom and neither BTW is Vladimir Putin or Volodymyr Zelensky) this clear division isn’t being highlighted. When we, hopefully, start getting elected, will it be the hairline crack that the clever masons of the new world order chisel apart?

I suggest a pragmatic, principled truce. Call it the All Hallows Eve Agreement if you will:

  1. We respect each other’s right to disagree and to campaign to maintain or change the law.
  2. We acknowledge the coherence of our opponents’ stance on abortion with their view of pregnancy.
  3. We commit to work together to improve the socio-economic status of vulnerable women so that they may have better choices.
Crow standing on skull silhouetted by full moon in graveyard.

Thanks to Karen Arnold for releasing her image Halloween Background Poster Invite into the Public Domain.

Advertisement

Ash Wednesday 2022

A university library is not one of the places I would associate with Ash Wednesday, but that’s where I am. I debated going to the “Vigil for Ukraine” down the road but I know me. At some point I might have found myself on my feet shouting WHEN’S THE VIGIL FOR YEMEN? Or the DRC. Or Canada, Australia and New Zealand for that matter. When’s the wake for all our school kids? For our elderly? For all those top sportsmen suddenly collapsing on the playing field?

I’m not going to comment on Ukraine other than to say:

  1. It’s been going on for 8 years. Do you really think the WEF-controlled media and Governments focussing on it right now is a coincidence?
  2. If you want a critical evaluation (including the above point) I recommend as your guide, because she says what she can evidence and distinguishes that clearly from what she can’t, Whitney Webb.

[Whitney & Ryan Cristián in discussion on this.]

Meanwhile this is the third year when my elderly mother hasn’t received the ashes and heard the words “dust you are and to dust you shall return”. Actually last year I did an impromptu ceremony for her myself, burning the Holy Week palms from last year. She bears it well. Unlike most of her contemporaries she doesn’t mask (unless manipulated into it) and isn’t vaccinated. It’s probably why, ages with the Queen, she’s still alive. That and her faith, her excellent nutrition and her positive outlook.

One of the reasons why I come to the university library is to read the student newspapers, to see what their concerns are. The issue in the plastic shelves is from September last year. Presumably “Cos of Covid” (CoC). What are their concerns?

  • Accommodation (or lack of, CoC)
  • Administrative chaos, CoC
  • Online exams, CoC
  • Sexual violence (cause: toxic masculinity)
  • Impact of Texas Heartbeat Law on “women, BIPOC and transgender people” (sic.)
  • Phobophobia (sic.)
  • Terrorism
  • Mental health (lots of new counsellors)
  • Student stereotypes (not true)
  • Self-care
  • Lookism
  • The Arts
  • Covid tests
  • Mars
  • Women’s sports (no mention of biological males in them)
  • Paralympics

[Heartbeat Law]

I have great affection for the students in general and my own in particular. Sheep without a shepherd, mostly, they are trying to find their way in a world mostly out to confuse them. Because the confused are easier to control. So many have been vaccinated with these uncontrolled substances, experimental drugs used on an unsuspecting population in callous privileging of profits over people. They regularly miss class due to adverse reactions. So far, no-one has died.

But others have died in my extended family. Of course this is put down to coincidence. To compare the mortality of the vaxxed and unvaxxed is to be a conspiracy theorist – but only if your conclusions are not those sanctioned by the State. Likewise all the “sudden death”, CoC, of course. What else could it be?

So this Ash Wednesday I sit alone in a university library, wishing I was in a world where I had a symbolic mark of death on my forehead – wishing I wasn’t surrounded by a heartbreaking number of young people naive enough to have allowed death to be injected into their arms.

Dust you are and to dust you shall return.

Black and white drawing of skull and crossbones

Thanks to Dawn Hudson for releasing her image Skull and Crossbones into the public domain.

What’s Wrong with the Resistance?

I’ve just left a chat group on Telegram because I couldn’t stand it any longer. Like many, I don’t have much free time — and an unrelenting flood of repetitious, unevidenced, incoherent and hysterical posts about “the Cabal” does nothing to inform and persuade people to resist the developing technocracy and everything to reassure them that its resisters are all crazy.

Left-leaning friends (current and former) may be relieved to hear this. Typically unable to distinguish between pointing out the historical roots of Big Pharma in poison gas manufacturers, such as I.G. Farben, and denial of the Shoah, they’re unable to reason clearly because they confuse categories.

For example: if I say it’s a Tuesday and the calendar says it’s a Tuesday and Adolf Hilter says it’s Dienstag, does that make me (or the calendar) a Nazi?

A real example: Alison McDowell, excellent on the links and repercussions of the 4th Industrial Revolution, blocked me on Twitter when I pointed out her (obvious) ignorance of the Catholic Church. Among other instances was her oohing and ahhhing over a post about “Masonic crosses” which even the original poster eventually conceded were simply a variety of crosses illustrated in a Masonic book. (Still not got it? The category “Masonic” applied to the book, it could not be assumed to apply to every illustration of traditional Christianity referenced in those pages. Especially as Masonry isn’t Christian.)

In fairness, Alison is quite candid about the fact that she couldn’t tell a Maltese Cross from The Maltese Falcon. She just didn’t like me pointing it out. I point things out. It’s why I lose friends. And save lives. Also, her Da Vinci Code style amateur exploits in the wonderland of Roman Catholicism (as I say, she’s amazing on Geo-Political Economics) are small potatoes compared to the Frito-Lay-factory-short-of-a-fish-supper crazy going on online right now about “the Cabal”.

Let me try to summarise (no, I haven’t read it up in depth and I don’t intend to):

The Cabal is a sinister leftist right wing communist elitist Black Jewish Catholic Alien reptilian, em, cabal, of gay trans paedophile vampire vegans funded, em, by themselves, who came from Outer Space to this Flat Earth and tried to convince us it was spherical by founding The Catholic Church and Black Judaism to really worship Satan, who is, em, them, by means of The Pyramids, The Eiffel Tower and Big Ben. Oh, and, y’know, religion, Netflix, NASA, and stuff. Antarctica is a Circular Ice Wall beyond which (it is known because no-one can get there) there is All Sorts of Alien Tech. Like they can blow this shit right up! They govern us by means of Mind Control and drink kids’ blood. The Moon Landings were faked cos there’s no Outer Space. We’re not gonna believe what those Aliens say!

Source? All over the Internet. Apparent source? Every Tom, Dick and Harriet with a 2-dimensional account with 15 identical followers that opened sometime in 2020/21. And all those influenced by them, including some vulnerable people with shaky mental health.

There are also celebrity influencers and though David Icke of course springs to mind, he appears to be speaking (of the struggle between the limbic and mammalian brains and the frontal cortex) metaphorically and may be simply a rather dramatic New Ager who believes in Universal Consciousness and Higher Things. He also, very clearly and very sanely, preaches specific resistance to the ongoing violations of human rights and civil liberties.

My concern is both with the ones who don’t (such as trust-the-plan Simon Parkes) and the ones who urge people to take part in illegal actions that are as unlikely to succeed as they are likely to alienate the general public.

Because it is no secret (they state it openly) that intelligence services are targeting resistance groups in person and online. What better way to derail the train bound for freedom than to send its drivers conflicting signals, place as many obstacles on the track as possible and, easiest of all, convince the passengers not to get onboard but to stay, patiently, listening for further announcements in the waiting room…in the deferential and ever-deferred hope of a celebrity saviour.

If religious education were actually taught in schools and church history in universities (based on historical fact rather than endless emoting and opining over present-day imaginary identities) then more people might know that the blood-drinking hypothesis was a 1st C. Roman imperial slur against the newly-formed Christian community and one that was diverted from their spiritual descendants to be used against Jews in most centuries since, including this one.

I do not deny the depravity of some human beings but the lesson of the Holocaust is not that Germans are especially sadistic but that good people can be gradually coerced into evil fairly easily, until it becomes banal.

That’s what we need to resist. Anti-Semitism, recklessness, agents provocateurs, clashes of celebrity egos, ignorance and stupidity will only get in the way of the diffusion of sane, sympathetic, balanced and well-researched investigations such as that of Cory Morningstar on The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg. (Cory doesn’t deny the ecological problems of the planet but simply shows how big businesses is exploiting them, and young activists, in order to open new markets.) Or basically anything written by the amazing, and always responsible independent journalist Whitney Webb. (Whitney is always careful to state exactly what she can evidence and her analysis of political blackmail and international information technology is based on painstaking research.)

For resistance to be effective, the messages broadcast need to be sane, focussed and supportive of human rights and civil liberties. That means the administrator “owners” of groups and channels need to reduce repetition, weed out the crazies and ban prejudice. Otherwise all they will do is encourage either inaction or unsympathetic and possibly life-threatening confrontation with the authorities and the general public. What we need to be doing is appealing to hearts and minds. Warmly and wisely.

Thanks to Circe Denyer for releasing her image Halloween Whispering Clowns into the Public Domain.

This Is My Gender

Genderfuck and Maundy Thursday are two nouns not often encountered in the same sentence. The former is a gender-subversive strategy from the identity politics of the 1970’s with older roots – which some would argue stretch back at least as far as the Passover meal (not a Seder service) celebrated by Jesus and his disciples sometime around 30 AD and commemorated by the latter Christian festival.

Yesterday I got into a bit of a tiff on Twitter which I dislike especially when it’s with someone I respect. In this case someone I know personally who does the most admirable (and often least admired) job in theatre – so there is absolutely nothing I could teach him about performance. Of gender or of anything else.

Yet I realised that despite our mutual respect and many shared values, and despite my very amateur and academic acquaintance with his professional practice, I simply wasn’t communicating my theoretical and political problem with the very recently fashionable claims and demands made about transgender. This is my attempt to provide a clearer and fuller explanation for those disinclined to read all about it at length HERE.

Maundy Thursday marks the institution of the Eucharist. [If you’ve just fallen asleep, wake up! I’ll be talking about genderfuck next.] In the Gospels [no, seriously!] Jesus takes bread and says: This is my body. Christians argue about the many ways this presence and change should be understood and articulated (transubstantiation is only one of these ways). Semantically, these words are a speech act – they do something. Like saying I do and you’re married. Charms, curses, spells, blessings, judicial sentences, some traditions of divorce, coming out of the closet and self-declaration of gender are all also (usually) speech acts.

Although my book Trans/Substantiation (which I was quite rightly accused of plugging) also puts forward a new and more ecumenical interpretation of presence and change in the Eucharist, I am not concerned with that here. [Thank God! You say – or words to that effect.] I’m interested in the limits of a speech act which, although it has the magical quality of changing reality, is normally understood to take effect in the present and have a bearing on the future. Speech acts (usually) have no power over the past.

I mentioned performance because the diva of Queer Theory, Prof. Judith Butler FBA, stresses the performativity of gender. [No wake up, honestly!] In other words it’s all an act, being a man or a woman is just playing a role. I have no problems with that understanding of gender. I don’t believe it to be an adequate description of the phenomena (it’s very lazy ontology) but there is a coherent concept, however shallow.

Putting together these thoughts on speech acts and performativity, let me state that I have no problem with a self-declaration of gender which is understood as: I’ve been playing the role of a man and I now want to play the role of a woman and I undertake to do so for the rest of my life – while respecting the right of people with a vagina to be protected from forced invasion of their safe space by people with a penis (especially if they have been raped by one).

It’s not the only form of genderfuck [told you!] and some would argue that it’s one of the least subversive of the patriarchy because it leaves these binary gender roles intact. There is also the problem of gender nonconforming political strategies (such as gay drag and butch lesbianism) being hoovered up by transgender ideology – with people feeling the pressure to tidily transition to ‘the other’ gender rather than subvert their own or the whole binary system.

Let’s go back to the Eucharist [deal with it!]. The words of consecration/ institution are not: this is not bread and never has beenand anyone who thinks differently is anathema, believer or not.

We are now under immense social pressure to believe that not only can people change their gender, and retroactively, by speech act, assert a permanent underlying essence of masculinity or femininity irrespective of psychology, physiology, or even performance, an assertion for which Queer Theory provides no theoretical support; we are required to not blink an eye if a future assertion, or a series of such assertions, should permanently and retroactively reverse this gender; we are told that women who have suffered penile rape are being selfish and callous when they ask for safe space; and that parents who wish to prevent teen pregnancy are being reactionary and middle-class when they complain about the lack of prudence (let alone Duty to Care) which allows an adolescent with a penis and an adolescent with a vagina to use the same toilets unsupervised while at school.

I am fascinated by magic. Being a Roman Catholic with great sympathy for the Pagan roots of Celtic Christianity and other syncretic spiritualities, especially those of the various locations in the Americas where I’ve studied and worked, my novels are full of the uncanny. However every novelist knows that even when you create a fantastic world, you have to establish and keep to rules of internal narrative logic.

Speech acts are powerful assertions and they have limits. Identity is not something that depends solely on individual assertion. The suffering of marginalisation (especially when ignoring or attempting to trump that of others) is, of itself, neither sufficient nor necessary to establish either one’s identity or the ethics of one’s cause. There is a great deal of difference between an assertion and an imposition. Emotional blackmail and bullying, online or in person, by an individual, a group or an interested institution, do not prove the validity of an ideology – especially one which is presently encouraging many young people to consider life-changing and irrevocable decisions leading to their bodies ending up scarred and sterile for the rest of their lives.

Young people experiment with identities. Anyone who denies this has forgotten their own youth. Let them experiment. But let their youthful enthusiasm, angst, playfulness, posturing, politics, peer networks and constant surveillance of internet information not lead them to a form of genderfuck which subverts their fertility as well as their happiness.

One lesson from Maundy Thursday is that interested institutions (such as imperial dynasties and pharmaceutical companies) could not care less about the individuals whose bodies they consider expedient to maim and destroy in their lust for power.

Jesus subverted cultural notions of power. He questioned authority. He even reprimanded his own disciples, for the sake of a woman who was reverencing his body, even when they had a care for the marginalised.

Ethics isn’t simple, neither is gender. Think about that. Consider genderfuck. Especially on Maundy Thursday.

bread-in-hand-1493896293Yc7

Thanks to George Hodan for releasing his photo Bread in Hand into the Public Domain.

 

 

Both Sides, Now: Scotland and England

Reading Pádraig Ó Tuama’s In the Shelter: finding a home in the world, about telling stories in the shelter of the Corrymeela community, in the place he problematises in a poem’s title as ‘[the] north[ern] [of] ireland’, I think of an undergraduate essay I wrote for a course of Practical Theology, in St Andrews University in the late 1980s (a decade or so before the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998). In it, I identified the phenomenon of what is now commonly known in critical theory (and may have been then, but not to me) as ‘multiple selves’.

I wrote of categories of identity, of Us and Them, which were problematic because historically, culturally, linguistically and/ or ecclesiastically, they included the identity of the Other they attempted to exclude:

‘Protestant’ being rooted in the Pre-Reformation Church, which ‘(Roman) Catholic’ claims also to be in unbroken continuity with and which also, at Vatican II, accepted much of the protest of Martin Luther, 400 years on; ‘Scot’ coming from and returning to ‘Ulster’, territory which does (not) include Donegal and which is (not) ‘Irish’ and is also (not) ‘British’ – another humdinger of a category that can designate anything from ‘Brythonic Celt’, through a successful ‘Welsh’ (Tudor) exercise in propaganda, to ‘English’ and ‘Commonwealth’ and ‘United Kingdom’.

Each phrase that I have written in the above paragraph is so problematic that it would be quite reasonable to argue that it is a downright lie. And yet it tells a truth. I have not attempted to draw out all instances of contradiction and connection, overlap and oversight that are possibilities among all these categories of identity.

My point in the essay was that the only way to peace is to accept the reality of this blurring of identities and to tell our stories. Argument of the ‘you’re wrong so I’m right’ variety can’t do that. Mostly because it depends on asserting and maintaining rigid categories of ‘you’ and ‘I’, of ‘us’ and ‘them’. (Of course I’m thinking of David Hare’s wonderful play, Us and Them, and if you haven’t in your life yet seen a youth theatre group perform it then do so.)

The pain of the Referendum on Scottish Independence this year, before, during and after, was one which is not supposed to exist. We don’t have a word for that which, ‘over there’, (another quote from Hare) has been called Trioblóid/ Troubles, which Ó Tuama explains means ‘Bereavements’. Of course it really has meant that in both languages.

We don’t have a word in English, or in Scots, or in Scots Gaelic, or in any of the other indigenous languages of these islands for the Troubles between ‘English’ and ‘Scot’. We have had no way to express this pain – and because we can’t express it, the pain has nowhere to go. The attempts of ‘No’ voters to come to reconciliation have met with inchoate rage from those who are ‘Still Yes’, a rage that cannot find adequate words to express itself as there is no common ground to argue over; the decision to vote ‘Yes’ in the first place was met with some of the same feeling, mostly on the internet and over the border, but here in Scotland this decision, when not shared, was met with much sorrow, with hurt and with incomprehension.

A good friend of mine, a good friend and a good man, said to me, in a pub on Great Western Road, in Glasgow, at the height of it all, when I was full of the disenfranchised of Maryhill waving banners and having the hope of making a difference, and frustrated with him for not getting it: ‘it really pains me when you talk about Scottishness as a club, of which I am not a member’.

I was simultaneously ashamed, and annoyed with him for being awkward. He’s like Màiri Mhòr nan Oran, Big Mary of the Song, who was banned by her dour minister from singing inside the house and outside the house. Màiri Mhòr stood in the doorway of her house and sang. My friend is like that, awkward, and I want to trace his genealogy and add up the years he’s spent ‘here’ or ‘there’ and come to a decision: is he or is he not Scottish? But then I’d have to do that for myself, and that would be unnerving.

During the year I spent in California 1990-1991, while not marching with banners proclaiming NO BLOOD FOR OIL! (if the protestors kept them, they’ll have been well used since) I participated in groupwork on prejudice and liberation. Focussing especially on the negative media portrayal of Islamic/ Middle Eastern men (watch Sex in the City 2 for an instance) I discovered my deepest racial prejudice. I was anti-English. Which was awkward, since my mother grew up (when not evacuated to her mother’s people in the West Highlands) in a village that Miss Marple would have felt at home in, my grandfather was born within sound of Bow Bells and – though his father came from Germany and, perhaps, generation upon generation, from Israel – his mother was from East Anglia and her surname means ‘home’.

We need to listen to each other, both sides, now, in Scotland. Not rush to hug each other in a false reconciliation which only continues to ignore the pain which is unspoken since officially it doesn’t exist.

‘(Still) Yes’ voters need to hear how it feels to have the door of this exclusive club called ‘Scottish’ shut in your face, the shock and hurt of your dearest friends and neighbours and indeed family wanting you and yours politically over the border like Jock O’Hazeldean and the lady that was(n’t) his. Sometimes very aggressively. Sometimes violently. Sometimes thoughtlessly. I was shocked, then ashamed, when an old friend from Barbados was chipping in with his hopes and fears (for ‘No’) over the internet. ‘What’s it got to do with you?’ I asked him. He told me. I’m middle-aged, with more degrees than sense, and had ignored the fact (fiction) that Barbados is ‘British’.

‘No’ voters need to hear how it feels to constantly correct not just ‘foreigners’ but our southern neighbours, even living amongst us, when they conflate ‘England’ and ‘Britain’, again and again and again. Still. How it feels to be tongue-tied in yer ain tongue, which no teacher, correcting you, again, ever told you contained words footnoted in Shakespeare (for monoglot English speakers) incomprehensible in Oxford but instantly recognisable from Friesland to Scandinavia. How our myth of oppressed national identity that draws a clear line from the Clearances by anglicised lairds to the closure of the steelworks at Ravenscraig in the wake of the Thatcher years is so problematic that it would be quite reasonable to argue that it is a downright lie. And yet it tells a truth.

In Hare’s play, it gradually becomes reasonable to draw a line of separation, to mark it with a string, a fence, ever higher, finally, of course, with a wall. In Ó Tuama’s book, he quotes the Irish saying: Ar scáth a cheile a mhaireas na daoine/ It is in the shelter (shadow) of each other that the people live. He draws out the ambiguities of scáth among which, in English, are the idea of living in someone’s shadow, and of the shadow self. Embracing, accepting and celebrating my Englishness, overlapping and intermingling with my Scottishness, has been a great joy, a great challenge and a great liberation. I feel more whole, I also feel far more confident in asserting the Scots language. One does not preclude the other. I don’t assert the English language as there’s been too much of that already.

If we are to heal, if we are to live together in 2016 and beyond, in harmony, in whatever political constellation we democratically decide on, we need to come out from under each other’s shadow, and enter into our own. We need to shelter each other’s stories because even if they contain lies they tell truths. We need to stop arguing, stop denying our troubles and start sharing our heartfelt pain through telling our stories. Both sides, now.  uk-splat-flag

Thanks to Dawn Hudson for releasing her image ‘UK Splat Flag’ into the Public Domain.

 

 

Categorical mistakes

Coming across an RC priest-bashing piece of journalism the other day (while reading something worth reading from the same source – not from the same writer) I was struck by how much we still haven’t learned the main lesson of Aristotle: things tend to fall into different categories. In this piece of lazy reportage, one adult makes multiple attempts to invite another adult out socially. Apparently the newsworthiness stems from their gender (both male), their age gap (50 and 29), and the vow of celibacy of one of them. The writer in his profile describes himself as pan-sexual, so readers would not expect the presumed homosexuality of the presumed romantic intent of the invitations to be considered deviant and therefore newsworthy. We have the word of the recipient that he’s been textually ‘bombarded’ and a quoted text, which the writer and recipient apparently take as the depths of depravity: “don’t be shy”. I’m already bored.

So why was this unnewsworthy reportage written? Is it, for all the professed liberalism of the writer, playing on the presumed homophobia and ageism of the reader? The 29 year old (who has previously accepted social invitations from the 50 year old) describes the older man as “creepy”. Would this 29 year old male describe unwanted (presumed) romantic attention from either a female (of any age) or from his own generation (of any gender) with this term? The writer does not challenge this judgment.

Although ageism is growing in popularity among young White men and is especially endemic to the gay White male milieu, the end of the piece presents the real hook: clerical child abuse. Now that’s newsworthy! It’s just not relevant and necessitates the mention of some other Scottish RC priest entirely unconnected to this non-story. What’s the attempt at connection? That the priest, in his first and successful attempt at inviting the younger guy out, said he remembered him as an altar boy. No, it’s not the best line but he was maybe out of practice. Does the 29 year old say that, when he was a boy, the priest bombarded him with social invitations or in any other way harassed him? No. Is the writer therefore covertly collating adult (presumed) homosexuality and paedophilia? Yes.

What the writer is practicing is covertly homophobic, ageist and sectarian. What he professes to be practicing is moral panic over child protection; when the media-savvy ‘victim’ is 29.

This instance of a lazy categorical mistake (that conflates homosexuality and paedophilia, or an adult age gap with paedophilia, or multiple unwanted social invitations with sexual harassment – I admit it may be considered harassment) has repercussions. A middle-aged man, struggling with his vows, is publically embarrassed and his livelihood endangered. Do such journalists care? Riding on the wave of the moral panic over the O’Brien scandal some years ago (which did not concern children, yet child abuse was always mentioned) the Herald ran a similar story (there were a few cosy dinners before and after the adult male layman felt harassed by the priest in that particular story) and accused a priest of hypocrisy – without checking their facts. Held in high esteem by his parishioners, his RC parish church is one of the few in Scotland in which homosexuality is not condemned from the pulpit and remarried couples find a warm welcome.

This week in the news we’ve seen the categorical confusion of a bright boy with a terrorist – because of White Christian prejudice over his religion and the colour of his skin.

A few years ago categorical confusion led to the chilling murder of a man on the London Underground, because police couldn’t tell the difference between someone coming from a hot country and a suicide bomber.

It is an evil thing that we do when we confuse categories and choose to believe the thing worst possible about someone. This is not what the presumption of innocence is about, it forms no part of the social contract, it’s cheap thrill journalism and it has nothing to do with true religion.

For a reminder of what good we can do, when we refuse to confuse categories, read this account of what happened when a young, bearded, Arabic man in a scarf and khaki camouflage clothes, walked into a liberal Christian church, wearing a backpack, a few days after the terrorist attack at Glasgow Airport.

clock-1373644964Hyl

Thanks to George Hodan for releasing his image “Clock” into the Public Domain

Lily and Steve

A light-hearted look back at the hierarchical hysteria over equal marriage in Scotland while we wait for the result of Celtic cousins over the water making up their minds.

“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” is a late 70s ‘Moral Majority’ gloss on Genesis 2–4 popularised by US evangelist Jerry Falwell (Sr). It’s funny, in the campy way that just about everything from the US popular media in the late 70s is (just think of cardigans and Starksy and Hutch) and is much better known than feminist thealogian Mary Daly’s queer midrash on Lilith and Eve. It’s also, if one pauses for thought, not true.

If (in line with more recent RC Magisterial biblical exegesis) we accept the compatibility of creation and evolution, and are informed about the ubiquity of homosexuality in the animal kingdom, then the fact of homosexual behaviour among early homo sapiens sapiens is incontrovertible. God made Adam. God made Eve. And God also made Steve. We’ll come back to Lily. As the gloss both includes and excludes, leaving Steve to haunt the text as ‘the other man’, Adam becomes bi, Steve gay and Eve either bi or betrayed or abandoned or (as is the lot of many lesbians in patriarchal literature) invisible. Except in feminist midrash, where she and her helpmeet leap over the wall and have other ideas.

All this marriage of fact and fancy about pre-lapsarian, pre-fraticidal, pre-civic, ante-diluvian (or even just prehistoric) partnering may seem a far cry from the hysteria going on in Scotland just now where Catholic bishops have been trumpeting the virtues of supporting exclusively heterosexual marriage (as both a civic duty and a human right) in the national press and on 100,000 pre-printed campy parish postcards. The Scottish hierarchy ignores both the repeated assurances of the Scottish Government in the Civil Partnership and Same-Sex Marriage Consultation Document that this change in civil law will not interfere with the regulations of religious bodies (‘weasel words’ says Archbishop Conti in The Herald) and the fact that even the Rev. Falwell (Sr) supported LGBT civil rights, including marriage.

The creation story that supposedly promotes exclusively heterosexual marriage doesn’t only leave out Steve (and Lily) but also the wife of Cain (Mabel?). In order for the inventor of homicide (and politics, as he founded a polis) not to marry his mum, even an American televangelist would write her into the script. And the wives of Enoch (Enid?), Irad (Iris?), Mehujael (Jael?), Methushael (Martha?) and also Seth (Beth?). With Lamech, wives finally get a mention: Adah and Zillah. The Voices Off are silent, cut out of the script. With all the glosses and biblical exegesis written since whatever committee comprising Moses (all of them unknown) first set reed to papyrus, one would expect a bit more about the unfeasibly small cast of Genesis 2–4 than the wee gloss: “…not Adam and Steve”. One would feel that Mabel and Beth (daughters-in-law to the ‘mother of all who live’) deserve more mention. And then there’s Lilith, who does get into patriarchal midrash (Daly wasn’t her creator) but only to get bad press: objecting to the missionary position she is demonised. So let’s rename her Lily.

The hierarchical hysteria in The Herald ignores the awareness of the people of Scotland that church pressure on matters of civil law is highly selective and self-interested. The Scottish RC hierarchy actively promoted ‘Section 28’ and said nothing about the recent UN decision to include homosexuality in their exceptions to a blanket ban of death penalty legislation of member states. Change on sexuality involves change on sex and that terrifies a celibate male hierarchy by threatening the status quo. Their entrenched opposition to homosexuality, despite the years of compassionate and liberating biblical and ethical investigation to the contrary, must be seen in the light of their entrenched opposition to the possibility of generalised clergy marriage and inclusive ordination.

Genesis 2–4 can only be read in the context of Genesis 1, where the Word of God repeatedly states that the original creation is good. And that means Adam and Eve and Lily and Steve.

Only Say The Word CA

All things to all – women priests and closeted clergy

Watching a certain very reverend Episcopal priest focus and transfer attention adroitly from parishioner to parishioner at the cathedral door, I recalled the corporate American studies on time: while people in top manager mode spend on average less than 9 minutes on each task, those in front line mode spend less than 2. This kind of wisdom also brings us the warning that good customer service is now reported to an average of 15 friends whereas bad reports reach 24.

As a proofreader and as a life coach, in quite different ways, I am often confronted by mess. Clients often have the painful but empowering realisation that their chaos is self-caused and part of my work is to invent or inspire strategies to clear up the mess. However I am sometimes confronted by my own low threshold for disorder. The other day I was berating someone about the ergonomic nightmare of his office (I could hardly move the mouse for coffee cups) only to be later struck by the thought that the thesis produced in that disorder was one of the best I’d seen in years.

At that particular cathedral service, all sorts of irruptions of humanity were occurring. There was the little cherub determined to sit up on the ledge of the front pew and lean over backwards during the first hymn; the crash, the wail and the voices off during the sermon; the two friends absorbed in chat about a pair of (rather lovely) crimson shalwar trousers one was holding up during the final blessing; the stampede for the pail of rhubarb on the fair trade stall; the sight of someone currently experiencing a surfeit of boyfriends chatting to one of them; little hands wanting to help give out hot coffee, while clutching biscuits; a doggie or two – just to add to the fun.

I was just attending the service and wandering around chatting afterwards, I wasn’t working or rather fulfilling my vocation. I don’t know the topics that filled those barely 2 minute windows at the cathedral door but I can bet on an average Sunday they include birth, death, illness, humour, planning, gossip, tact, patience, hope.

I’ve recently acted the part of a hostage in a play inspired by the experiences of the 1980’s hostages in Beirut. My new novel, which has just reached 40,000 words, features a WW1 heritage tour of Flanders and Picardy. It struck me on Sunday that another name for all this jolly disorder is ‘life’ and that it is exactly this kind of life, in all its fullness, that those in danger of losing it long for so much. It also struck me that the person at the door is required not only to be a good manager but also to be ‘all things to all’ (‘men’ is a sexist interpolation; it’s not in the Greek).

I find the demise in Scotland of my mother church quite poignant. Closeted clergy and bishops determined to foist their frumpy Catholicism on an increasingly disloyal and an increasingly elderly flock who may not feel it seemly to challenge ‘Father’ but are quite capable of thinking for themselves – despite their portrayal as fawning laity in the RC press. The insult, Sunday after Sunday, service after service, of lamenting the lack of vocations and praying for more while good talented women sit in the pews and are expected to stay there.

I get annoyed by the smug essentialism of the praise of women’s diffuse awareness in multi-tasking and criticism of men’s ‘further-along-the-spectrum’ focus of attention. I find the very frequent juxtaposition of ‘women’ vs ‘male’ (human vs bestial) insulting. I have little patience with the malevolent stupidity of those who insist that the men’s movement is, was and ever shall be intrinsically evil in its every aspect and is only ever in reaction to feminism and never inspired to undertake a similar journey – not the same, we do not start from the same place, and if all our journeying is to be policed by those who insist that we do then we will never get anywhere.

However, after a period of theological study and soul-searching in the 1908s, what finally changed my very conservative RC mentality about women’s vocation to the priesthood was the experience of a woman presiding at the altar. The natural grace, the natural place of a woman presiding at table was just so obvious that all the objections were revealed to be the sham of sexism. Thank God, the Scottish Episcopal Church has many good women, having the patience, the tact, the sense of humour, the compassion and the good cheer to be all things to all at the church door. I hope and pray and work for the day when the RC church will open its eyes to the underused potential in the pews. Of course, if those eyes open, so might the doors of all those clerical closets. That might be very messy indeed. Life often is.

Creative Commons Door

Cross Words and the (Roman) Catholic Press

I’ve won the crossword competition of a certain Scottish Catholic newspaper twice. I started doing crosswords when I returned from years teaching around the Northern Mediterranean and in Latin America, observing that my English spelling and grammar were getting distinctly dodgy. In the Ratzinger years (I never experienced him as the blessing his papal name pretended to be) the crossword was the only thing I liked about that publication. I dislike personality cults and their ubiquity amongst the Scottish RC clergy is not lessened by the constant reference to ‘how much the laity love their priests’ by the staff writers who appear to update their photographs only as frequently as their ecclesiology. My favourite of the bylines is: ‘Celtic supporter and married father of two’. Answers on a postcard.

Perhaps it’s unfair of me to pick faults with a periodical cherished by people of the third age who lived through times when sectarianism, i.e. anti-Irish racism and anti-(Roman) Catholicism, was indeed Scotland’s shame. It’s not now. Yes we still have The Walk which reformed Christians fail year after year to denounce but the boot’s on the other foot in terms of shame now. New Ways Ministry report that RC is synonymous with prejudice in the USA amongst the majority of young people and even the RC press in Scotland notes that out of 113 RC parishes around Edinburgh only 30 are not threatened with closure for want of attendance.

The Revd Jim Wallis wrote a book in 2005 subtitled, “Why the American Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It”. I don’t agree with all of his conclusions but it reveals the roots of the secular struggle for liberation in the Biblical prophetic tradition – a tradition that the Church is using all its might to quash. So the RC press sees no irony in calling for African clergy to ‘re-evangelise Europe’. Slavery was definitively opposed by the RC Magisterium only in 1965 (so those expecting a change on women/married priests or equal/second marriage can expect to wait a bit longer) and even now the idea that enforcing European culture globally is wrong is only voiced in the RC press by colonised clergy and bishops – and only in reference to ‘militant secularism’. Scan any example of the RC press and the majority of images of Jesus are White, blond-haired and blue-eyed. Scan again for instances of inclusive (non-sexist) language. It’s not just that they get it wrong, they just don’t get it.

When the Revd Dr Martin Luther King opposed racism he was opposing the ‘moral majority’ of his day. It’s all there in chapter 9 of Genesis. The Church, the State, Tradition, the Bible. All agreed. All but a small still voice that became a hurricane. The frustration, the hurt, the passivity I observe amongst my lay co-religionists is rooted in a co-dependent mentality that has rendered us as yet unable to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery. We are house dogs rejoicing that a crumb of comfort has dropped from the table – from which many of us are officially banned.

Turn to the promise in Isaiah 51:12 “I am the one who comforts you. How can you be afraid?” Turn to the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12) and read those assurances to you. The Church is ein fest Burg that can withstand militant secularism but the people of God are pilgrims and, often, only in desert places can we hear the call, the Spirit of the ekklesia.

Cross and Altar   ( Small Cross and Altar by Petr Kratochvil: Public Domain )

Best for Baby

Outed and unjustly branded ‘hypocrite’ by a certain Scottish newspaper some years ago, the well-loved RC parish priest preached a heartfelt but sombre sermon to the Midnight Mass congregation at my home church. Tragic events this last month, a year and a century ago cast a pall over the usual joy of the weans awaiting their presents and of the old glad to see another Christmas and hoping to see in another new year. Having mostly shot the craw from my cradle Roman Catholicism some years ago, with the arrival of Ratzinger, I have always felt at home in my home parish – although not at ease. Struggles with celibacy are nothing new in the RC community and only became newsworthy when blended cleverly with both homophobia and anti-Catholicism disguised as outrage at RC episcopal ‘whitewash’. The ‘production values’ of the liturgy, and the heating systems, may never rival those of the Episcopalian cathedral where I feel at ease – although not at home – but the parish of my infancy and youth still holds warmth for me. I participated in the music ministry, the Charismatic prayer group, the Justice & Peace group, I sold (awful) Campaign Coffee, met with Focolare and went on parish retreats and on pilgrimage, served at the altar and returned there from my sojourn with the Franciscans. This year, at my mother’s house, I constricted a crib with her handpainted icon of St Francis as backdrop and Sisters from the local FMDM house have promised my mother to pop in to see it.

So all was pretty cosy, if not exactly warm, until the end of Mass when the parish priest approached the subject of the crib – which I had helped build when it first arrived. This year the proceeds, ‘I have been told to announce’, he was careful to say, will go to the St Margaret’s Adoption Society, ‘for a legal battle they are involved in’.

Oh. The one against ‘the gays’. Like plucky little Belgium against the invading Hun, like St Joan against the English, like Christ outfacing Pilate (the former manifestly representing the Scottish RC hierarchy and the latter ‘aggressive secularism’) and not at all like a Hebrew mother entrusting her babe to a reed basket, praying for someone to care for him, even someone unlike her.

The only thing nuclear families do with consistency is explode. If it takes a village to bring up a child, why are ‘pro-life’ Roman Catholics worried about the sex of the couple who have volunteered to provide for a needy child’s primary care? This is one I’ve changed my mind on. I used to think it was about freedom of conscience, like the legal battle of midwives not to supervise abortion, or about democracy, like state-supported faith schools. Now I realise it’s about limitation of options due to prejudice: it’s not about what adoption should always be about – whatever is best for Baby.

johnny_automatic_Moses_in_the_bulrushes