Sunday, November 30, 2008

No brocade

We were talking with friends the other day about how some people of faith are able to face death with a kind of serenity, and how this somehow validates the claims of those who believe. Later I came to see how my take on religion is different from most others.

For me religion doesn't work - has never worked. Religion in my understanding is not effective; doesn't produce, let alone guarantee, benefits; it's not therapeutic, does not solve problems; makes life harder, not easier; it's not the bandage but the wound.

Religion, like love, hurts. It really hurts. It hurts me. How could it be otherwise?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Hero of the Year

Bishop Gene Robinson in Pink News:

. . . the thing that I would say to the people in the pews of the Church of England is: 'When are you going to stand up for your gay priest?

'Whom you know and love, you know his partner, you adore his partner, when are you going to demand of your church leaders who also know the sexual orientation of their priests and who will go to dinner at his house with his partner.'

'When are you going to demand that they support publicly what they support privately?'

One of the frustrating things about pronouncements from the Church of England for us in the States, is you would think from those statements that there are no gay priests or gay-partnered priests in the Church of England.

And that's a kind of living death for those priests.

It must be very difficult to feel any sort of worth if the church will let you work for them but not acknowledge you.

And let's remember that priests are called to get into the pulpit every Sunday and call people to a life of integrity. To not allow the priests themselves to live such a life of integrity is tragic.

What I most admire about Gene Robinson is his costly commitment to openness and honesty, and his refusal to hide.

Hiddenness is the divine prerogative, not a prerogative for divines.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

(S)layers of meaning

One of the most useful conceptual tools when interpreting a biblical text is contained in the question, 'What must the truth have been and be, that someone who thought in the way this person did should express it like that?'

Actually it can be applied to almost any form of human communication.

As in:

There are always two sides to every divorce. There's yours. And there's shithead's.

Fool, Philosopher, Sage

From Maverick Philosopher:

The fool is never satisfied with what he has, but is quite satisfied with what he is. The philosopher is never satisfied with what he is, but is satisfied with what he has. The sage is satisfied with both, with what he is and what he has. Unfortunately, there are no sages, few philosophers, and a world full of fools.

You can run

I have met people who, when you ask them how they account for the unexplainedness of life, the puzzle of it, the point of it, smile and say: “When someone raises questions like that, I turn away, sit down, and enjoy a good lunch.” Afterward, they think of it no more.

. . .the one contemporary whose life I most carefully tracked, from the beginning to at least The Fall, was Albert Camus. “A single sentence will suffice for modern man”, he wrote in 1956: “They fornicated, and they read the papers.” Well, that’s a way to avoid the nothingness.

Michael Novak, No One See’s God, ix-xx.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What's left?

I used to see myself as on the left, the old left, old Labour. I'm still Labour. It's in me. Call it tribal, though it's not a tribe I was born into. More like the Church of England, it's one I joined.

But am I still left? Can I claim to be when I find myself, as I increasingly do, nodding in agreement with those, like a recent correspondent to the Church Times, who inveigh against "a culture in which honest and thrifty people subsidise . . the mindless random procreation of life by very young people who have no time for each other, let alone for their pitiable and blameless offspring"?

"Only laziness, down-levelling, and a perverted political correctness could allow that the lack of a high income or a high IQ or a stable background preclude recognition by the perpetrator that such behaviour is wrong."

"It is greatly to the credit of Jeremy Kyle and his team that they bring the culprits face to face with the enormity of their actions, and then bend over backwards to offer practical, professional, and costly help, and a sense of meaning to people disastrously ensnared, with the state's tacit assent, by their own selfishness and decadence."

Jeremy Kyle? Now after what I said in my last posting about unpopular minorities, can you think of anyone more unpopular, and more of a minority than Jeremy Kyle? And yes, I do feel sympathy for him.

Descent into smugness

I was kind of brought up with this idea that siding with the underdog is as much a Christian as an English character trait. An unpopular minority is an underdog, so I can't seem to help siding with unpopular minorities, even the ones I don't really approve of or agree with.

It's for this reason that I can't enjoy BBC Radio comedy, much of which, as Martin Kelner points out, is aimed at easy targets, from dubious politicians to self-obsessed celebs, but always the same ones over and over again, wheeled out for a cheap clubbable laugh.

There is no denying a tendency towards smugness. As Kelner says:

Jeremy Hardy on Radio 4's The News Quiz, for instance, is a funny man but there is something about his tone - maybe it is the approbation of the audience - that occasionally seems so self-satisfied that, even while you are laughing, you want to give him a smack round the neck with a sock filled with horse manure.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Most things happen by chance

. . . the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Ecclesiastes 9.11

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Anyone there?

God decided to hide himself so that we might have an idea what he's like.
Simone Weil

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's too easy to stuff Bush

As you may know by now, I can't help having a soft spot for any beleaguered minority, and not just ones that are Muslim or gay (lesbian, bisexual . . .).

Well here's another - and thanks to Norm for putting in a good word for him. He's talking about Oliver Stone's new movie about George W Bush, W, and the critical responses to it.

What Stone presents is a political downfall and his protagonist's consciousness of that fact. But this is evidently not enough for many critics caught up in a cultural moment in which Bush has come to stand as either pure incarnation of evil or a laughing stock, or both. There is no kind of wrongdoer today, or tyrant, or criminal, or enemy, who doesn't have someone to remind us of their humanity: of the fact that they came to whatever it is they did by way of impulses, temptations and weaknesses which they share with ordinary people living decent lives. The very architects and perpetrators of genocide are not denied this consideration. But a movie that shows George W. Bush in the figure of a man, though it shows him in the end in abject defeat - this doesn't fit with a certain dominant liberal consensus. It tells you some interesting things about that consensus that there is now no more hated figure than a democratically elected politician whose incumbency is about to end.

Bush does indeed have plenty to answer for: principally that he allowed a wholly necessary conflict - the much-maligned war on terror - to be morally tarnished and politically weakened by Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, by the practice of extraordinary rendition and forms of interrogation that are torture. But these facts, referred to in Oliver Stone's movie, do not explain the perception of some of the critics that W. is kind to George Bush. It isn't.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

There's one born again every minute

The trouble with most religious believers I know is that they are content to go through life on little more than a whinge and a prayer.