Friday, September 28, 2012

Ways of reading

They each read different books. Not just different - of different kinds.

She was a lover of fiction; he of non-fiction. She always had at least one novel on the go - sometimes more. He was reading, or re-reading, or referring to, works of philosophy, theology and psychology, to inform and guide his own thinking and experience.

He was typically reading aloud from his books, enthusing, seeking to share the insights he had gained, or thought he had gained, and relate them to people and circumstances they knew. She was more often lost in her books - lost to him - as if for now in a closed and complete and separate world - self-contained, set at a safe distance from duty and the mundane.

He read books as he had learned to do bible study in church groups - seeking wisdom, guidance, searching for meaning and new ways of being - listening for a voice, a message that would change his life for the better, show him who he was and who he might become.

She read, and was charmed, amused, entertained, distracted, educated and informed. She read to increase the circle of her friends - those fictional characters who populated her imaginative landscape. This was friendship for its own sake. She was happy to be with them, and to reflect upon the nature of that being. No hidden purpose or ulterior motive came between, or behind, them.

See them on a quiet afternoon. Two people. Two open books.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Something greater

When people talk about believing in something greater than themselves they are usually taken to be alluding to God and religion. But why? Lots of things are greater than you, me and the human race - the known universe and everything that exists, to name but two. We seem strangely reluctant to concede this. In fact most religious teaching is not about something greater than ourselves. It's about other people like ourselves, and how we should deal with them, respect them, take care of them, love them. It's about other people as the object of our ultimate concern.

The Christian message that I was brought up with and came to teach and preach myself was something very like 'God is Other People'. In my declining years, as I drift into irrelevance, this begins to feel constricting and the thirst for 'something greater' remains.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Order! Order!

One of the things I noticed when I was taking anti-depressant medication was that I was able to see, hear, attend to and do one thing at a time. This will surprise people who suppose that they know me. They have probably never seen me do more than one thing at a time - anytime.

But that’s only partly true. Inside my head - in my mind and imagination - I am so busy. Voices. Ideas. Views. Opinions. Perspectives. Meanings. Interpretations. Experiments. Crowding in. Swirling around. It’s like the House of Commons - only noisier.

And it’s all very distracting, and makes it nearly impossible to give proper undivided attention to the immediate task. Simply reading a novel requires a major effort of concentration. Having a serious conversation, the only kind I really care to have, can be exhausting.

Medication, like Mr Speaker in the Commons, can restore order, but some of the side-effects are ruinous.

I had to find a better way.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Death in January

Although I have no plans to die at all, I did find myself looking back upon my father's untimely death. Untimely because I never wanted to lose him, but also for me out of season - for me if not for him.


I'd rather not
Die in January
Like my Dad

If you or You don't mind

It might have been alright for him
Dying in January
It gave him one last chance
To enjoy Christmas and
Have a good time
Enjoy a drink or two
And remember better, younger days
Of merriment he knew

For him it would have been
like a bonus
a golden handshake

For me
To die in January
Would be more like
Having to endure the torture
Before the coup de grace.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

What have I done?

If it's true that I do not really know what my past has been, because all I have is a collection of memories, none of which I can verify for sure . . . 

If I do not know the significance of what I did in the past, nor have any way of telling whether I could have done otherwise . . .

If moreover in making a judgement about what I have done I do not know how many relevant factors there may be which I did not know, and still do not know, and may never know . . .

How on earth - or later in heaven - can I be held accountable for my life and what I have made of it? And why does the Church in its liturgy invite me on every possible occasion to own and confess and repent my individual wrongdoing?

Individual responsibility may be no more than a necessary fiction. But if so what kind of necessity is this?

Saturday, September 01, 2012

In Praise of Money

Celia Green argues that a very good analytical case could be made out for the desirability of money, on the most idealistic grounds - but never is.

The charms of money are distinctly under-represented in literature. There are no songs or poems extolling its virtues.

She offers this:

Money which soothes my woes
Faithful and never-failing support when all else turns against me
Constant and reliable when men betray and deride me
Ever-attentive to my smallest wish
Providing me with a fortress of refuge much better furnished than
my enemies would wish me to have
Respecting all my needs which I could not possibly explain to a
social worker or my GP. . . .

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Insanity for beginners

I first heard this free adaptation of a well-known parable in a talk given by John Rae, then Headmaster of Westminster School - in the seventies I think. I have since come to see sanity as an escape from reality.

A parable for today

A man was travelling from Pimlico to Westminster when he fell among muggers, who beat him and stripped him of his credit cards and left him for dead. It started to rain.

There came that way a bishop clothed in purple, who, when he saw the man lying on the pavement, said to his chauffeur: "Draw up here, Jenkins. but keep the engine running. I'm already late for the conference on world poverty." He lowered the window just far enough to put out his hand and, making the sign of the Cross, he said: ' In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen. Drive on Jenkins." And he passed by on the other side.

There came that way a member of the International Marxist Group, who, when he saw the man, said: "I embrace you - metaphorically of course - as a fellow victim of the capitalist system. With any luck you'll die. The heroic struggle of the workers needs a martyr or two." And he passed by on the other side. 

There came that way a philosopher from the University of Oxford, who, when he saw the man, said: "Though it is true that the evidence of my eyes suggests that there is a man lying on the pavement, it is not a logical step to conclude that because he is lying on the pavement he is in need of my help. On the contrary, the fact that he has been immobile for several minutes suggests that he may be beyond any help I could give even if I decided to give it. Even if he is alive (whatever that may mean) it is by no means certain that he would welcome my help: he might have chosen to lie on the pavement, in which case he would regard any action of mine as an unwarranted interference with his free will as expressed in his decision to lie on pavements." And he passed by on the other side.

There came that way a member of the Government, who, when he saw the man. said: "This is a problem we inherited when we came to office. We are already taking the most strenuous measures to deal with it. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that you will be one of the last people left to die on the pavement." And he passed by on the other side.

There came that way a member of the Opposition. When he saw the man he said: "This is a direct result of the present Government's policies. I give a most solemn promise that when my party is returned to power, people like you will not be allowed to die on the pavement. And he passed by on the other side.

There came that way the Headmaster of a nearby public school, who, when he saw the body lying on the pavement, said to himself: "Oh dear, I hope he's not one of ours. " And he hurried by on the other side.

There came that way a pop star in his powder-blue Rolls-Royce who, when he saw the man, called out to him from the moving car saying: "I identify myself with the oppressed in all the world. I love you man, I love your face, I love the whole goddam stupid human race. "And he drove by on the other side.

Finally, there came that way a lunatic who had recently escaped from an asylum. He was incapable of logical thought. He understood no politics, possessed no ideals, performed no civic duty, held no position in the world, paid no taxes and gave no alms. He had the mind of a child. His family had secretly hoped that he would not survive until manhood because they found the burden of his abnormality too hard to bear.
When he saw the man lying on the pavement he went up to him and lifted him, body, blood and dust, and carried him in his arms to the nearest hospital.

The lunatic arrived at the hospital. He carried his burden into outpatients and laid it on a table. A doctor examined the man and said: "This man is dead. Who brought him here?"

"I," said the lunatic.

"You must be mad," said the doctor.

And they laid hands on the lunatic and thrust him into an asylum.

Thursday, May 03, 2012


Jesus loves me. This I know,
for the Bible tells me so;
but the Bible also tells me - to hate my wife,
which is really strange.

If Jesus really does love me
then surely he would want me to love my wife.
Unless Jesus has designs on her himself,
and hopes that, by hating her,
I might drive her away into his (everlasting) arms.

Then, after a decent lapse of time,
and an amicable divorce,
they might marry
with the blessing
of God
the Father-

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

When novelty is not enough.

"When a thing is new, people say: 'It is not true.' Later, when its truth becomes obvious, they say: 'It is not important.' Finally, when its importance cannot be denied, they say: 'Anyway, it is not new.'" (William James, 1896)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Keeping quiet

E. M. Forster is quoted as saying "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."

Several obituaries to Lord (Keith) Newton of Braintree have claimed that he was the only other politician to have known of the affair between John Major and Edwina Currie back in the eighties when they were in government but before he was leader of his party and prime minister. If he did know he cetainly kept quiet about it and won himself some warm tributes for his personal loyalty.

I'm not so sure. Did not his complicity in the cover-up amount to an abuse of political power? Had word of their affair ever got out it is highly unlikely that Mr Major would have won any subsequent party or national elections. Was this not a historically significant deception? Did not the electorates have a right to weigh such knowledge about their candidate before casting their votes? By withholding this vital piece of information did not Mr Newton ensure that John Major's campaigns for leadership were based on a false prospectus? Was this any more than a spectacular denial of democracy, the people's right to know and judge for itself?

More Confessions

"When I returned from the first of my travels in Eastern Europe, in the early 1960s, and uttered such elementary truths as that the Communist regimes were cruel, repressive dictatorships; that they had no regard for human rights; that they showed undisguised contempt for the people they governed; that their normal methods had always included torture, the imprisonment of opponents, and judicial murder; that they were hated and feared by most of the people who lived under them; that they contained as an all-pervading feature inequalities of personal power wider than could be found in the West; that they did not even have the redeeming feature of being efficient, but were, on the contrary, inefficient to the point of near-shambles; and that they devoted colossal resources to trying to cover all this over by lies, including most of their official statistics—I found virtually no one willing to believe me. Most of my Labour Party friends thought I was passing through some sort of McCarthyite episode. Nor was it only left-of-centre people who reacted against the truth in this way. My conservative friends thought I was ‘exaggerating wildly’, ‘going too far’, ‘over the top’, and so on; and they kept responding to my remarks with sentences that began ‘Come, come."

Confessions of a Philosopher by Bryan Magee

Confessions of a Philosopher

"Before Freud was even born, Schopenhauer expounded what is normally thought of as Freud’s theory of repression, a theory which Freud himself pronounced to be the cornerstone of psychoanalysis. Furthermore, Schopenhauer provided all the necessary connecting links in the argument: at length and in detail, and with memorable examples, he spelled out that the greater part of our own inner lives is unknown to us; that it is unknown to us because it is repressed; that it is repressed because to face up to it would cause us a degree of disturbance that we could not handle; that this is so because it does not fit in with the view of ourselves that we wish to maintain; that this incompatibility is caused by high levels of such things as sexual motivation, self-seeking, aggression, envy, fear and cruelty whose presence within us we do not wish to acknowledge, not even in the secrecy of our own thoughts; and so we deceive ourselves about what our own characters and motivations are, allowing only such interpretations of them to appear in our conscious minds as we can deal with."

Confessions of a Philosopher by Bryan Magee