Random Wisdom

When I have a book of aphorisms or verses or proverbs I sometimes open it at random and see what leaps out.  So today I opened my Quaker Faith and Practice and found this verse:

‘Creeds are milestones, doctrines are interpretations: Truth, as George Fox was continually asserting, {is} a seed with the power of growth, not a fixed crystal, be its facets never so beautiful.’  John Wilhelm Rowntree, 1904

https://qfp.quaker.org.uk

This seems to me to sum up the entire raison d’etre of QFP.  It is not exactly a handbook; much less a rule book, but a guide to – well, Quaker faith and practice, which like Rowntree’s seed, is continually evolving.  Which means that unlike the Bible or other religious texts, it is regularly updated.  This is not at all a ‘slash and burn’ exercise but one carried out thoughtfully and meditatively over a number of years involving a wide circle of people and a wider field of consultation.  Quakers do nothing in a hurry and certainly not rewriting the book of – what do they call it?  I can’t remember.  I want to say the Book of Longing because Cohen is on my mind at the moment.  ‘Book of Discipline’, that’s it.  Not a very helpful title really as it sounds like a headmaster’s record of canings administered.  But there you go.

The problem with the Bible is that while interpretations vary endlessly – as do translations – the text itself is fixed and cannot be altered.  Where Quakers score in this sense is that changes can be made easily and paradoxically, more quickly.  The Book of Discipline is updated roughly every thirty years to take account of changes in society, to ensure we remain both relevant and true to our testimonies, and to let go of passages which are no longer considered useful.  Hence, while it took mainstream churches decades to catch up with social attitudes on LGBT people, Quakers very quickly adopted these ideas under the testimony to equality; since the 1970’s there have been passages in the book about this.

Nor do we venerate George Fox, the father of Quakerism.  He was a figure very similar to St Paul in many ways in being both a visionary and a founding figure; but he was problematic.  He could be ferociously stubborn and bull-headed and some of his pronouncements seem to us today extreme and unhelpful.  But because he’s not a saint (testimony of equality again) we are free to criticise him, something that is not usually the case with St Paul in the church.

So there it is – we’re better than the mainstream churches.  Nyah, nyah, nyah!

Humbly yours

Kirk out

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You’re Pretty Ugly

Recently I have been on the receiving end of two contrasting comments on my appearance: both were completely unsolicited, which left me feeling rather like a batsman (batswoman?  I don’t know what they call women cricketers) who didn’t even know she was on the field, let alone that her team was ‘in’.  Interestingly both were connected with Quakers, and both occurred when I was feeling at peace with myself and the world: this may not be a coincidence.

The first incident happened when I was exiting Quaker Meeting on Sunday, feeling sunny and peaceful and at one with the world.  A guy was standing outside: he smiled at me and as he was what I can only call loitering, I was unsure whether he might be interested in Quakers.  In any case I would have smiled back, as indeed I did.  He then said something about ‘growing a beard’: I assumed he was talking about himself as he had a fair amount of stubble.  He then went on to say, ‘I don’t like that in a woman’ and asked if I had considered waxing, whereupon I said that his comment was unacceptably personal and walked on.

My assessment of this guy was on reflection that he was probably autistic; not just because his comments were rude but because he didn’t seem to realise they were rude.  He gave me the impression of someone who speaks their thought habitually without restraint or awareness: so, bruised as I was by his comments, I basically exonerated him.  I’d be lying if I said they didn’t affect me though.

The second encounter was more interesting in a way.  I’ve just come back from two days at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre (an excellent place to stay whether or not you’re studying) and while I was there I ran into an old acquaintance: I’ll call him Bert.  I’d always been slightly wary of Bert as I found him a tad patronising but I’d generally assumed we were basically on the same page politically (this was almost certainly a mistake).  So we said a passing hello, then later I went over to have a chat – and almost the first thing he said to me was ‘you’re looking very pretty.’  I muttered an uncomfortable ‘thanks’ but I was totally taken aback, as I’d assumed his politics would preclude such personal comments; and whilst I was slightly flattered my discomfort far outweighed these feelings.

WARNING: GENDER GENERALISATION ALERT

(this means that comments below are a generalisation to which there may be a number of exceptions, though not enough to disprove the rule).

So here’s the thing: women don’t do this.  When women make unsolicited comments they tend to be of an affirming nature (that’s a lovely skirt; where did you get those shoes?, I love your necklace.)  These comments convey a sense of equality; of comparing notes and appreciating each other.  They are affirming and do not make me feel uncomfortable.  However a man saying I look pretty feels entirely different.  It conveys a sense of judgment, a sense of appraisal, a sense of being looked at and assessed.  It doesn’t feel like a compliment, though it’s dressed up as one.

So lest we forget; this is a generalisation.  Women are capable of negative and critical comments (‘do you always wear your hair like that?’  ‘What an interesting shade of pink!’  ‘Gosh, I’d never dare wear those things together!’) and men are capable of supportive comments, made without any sense of judgment.  But I think there’s a general truth here.  In my experience.

Kirk out

 

Many Quake But Few Are Quoken

I shall be absent for a couple of days as I’m going to be Quaking in Bournville at a Quaker study centre called Woodbrooke.  It’s an odd thing but I started to write another post yesterday with this same title and it’s completely vanished.  Perhaps I’ll find it in a few weeks hiding in the blogosphere equivalent of the back of the drawer.  In the meantime I must get my head into quaking mode so au revoir for the present.  Keep up the good work. *

Kirk out

*I’m not at all sure what I mean by that

If I’m Bored It Must Be Sunday

When I was a child Sundays were practically synonymous with boredom.  Everyone went to church and the whole thing was an incredible performance; dressing up in your best (and most uncomfortable) clothes, sitting still through hours of excruciating boredom and not being allowed to do anything fun.  When I was a teenager it was hardly less exciting as the pubs were closed most of the day, only the paper shops were open (and with restricted hours) and there was nothing to do.  It is hard to see a connection between all of this conformity and the teachings of Christ.

Religion everywhere is a magnet for those who seek power.  The tragedy is that religions often stem from prophets or messiahs who preach against power – but the lure of getting people under your spell by promising heaven and threatening hell and by aligning yourself with the gods you are supposed to be worshipping, is too great.  One survivor of Catholic abuse said a nun told her ‘I’m God.’  This is the most basic idolatry ever and you can’t understand how they don’t realise it.

But!  Yesterday was an antidote to all that because I went to a brilliant service at All Saints.  The church, so often associated with shaming gays and lesbians and excluding those who don’t fit in (thus directly contravening the teachings of Jesus) has changed – and one small church in Loughborough has taken the brilliant step of having a Pride service.  It was a terrific event, inclusive and welcoming not just to gays and lesbians but to everyone, encouraging us to love ourselves as God made us.

http://www.allsaintsloughborough.org.uk/jml02/

After that I went to the pub and then to another pub and then for lunch and then for a walk along the canal.  That’s what Sundays should be like.

Kirk out

Taking a LEAP: Alternatives to Money

FB-share-whale

As I said yesterday, I’ve just finished reading ‘No is Not Enough’ (actually I have yet to read the end bit, which is the LEAP manifesto pictured above, an alternative manifesto with a number of broad-ranging suggestions to tackle climate change and deal with the excesses of global capitalism.  It refers to Canada but is applicable anywhere and everywhere.)

https://leapmanifesto.org/en/the-leap-manifesto/

Klein hits the nail on the head, as always, by pointing out that attachment to money is at the root of this; and without coming over all biblical manages to say the same thing as the New Testament:

http://biblehub.com/1_timothy/6-10.htm

Money itself, as I have pointed out before, is neither real nor evil in itself.  It is morally neutral since money is a concept we have agreed to treat as if it were real for the purposes of exchanging goods and services.  So it strikes me that the way to destroy global capitalism (which god knows we need to do before it destroys us) is to undermine this attachment to money.  We can do this in any number of ways: by freecycling, by refusing to buy what we are sold, by helping each other out without asking for financial rewards and above all by refusing to regard money as the be-all and end-all of our existence.

For ten years now I have put my money where my mouth is by giving up paid employment in order to do what I love.  I have taken a leap off the cliff and tried to do the impossible – namely, to make money from writing – and I can’t claim to have succeeded yet.  But – and here’s the astonishing point – I have survived.  My health has not gone down the tubes; I haven’t starved, gone without adequate clothing, frozen to death or been homeless.  Whenever disaster has threatened to strike something has always come along: I’ve even managed some luxuries such as holidays, the odd bottle of wine and, in the last year, a car.  Much of this is due to the generosity of friends (and Friends) and family, but I hope those (F)friends and relatives would agree that there has been some kind of exchange here: in that I may not have money but I have time and energy to do things for others.

This is a phenomenon I’ve observed in other people who put their lives on the line to do what they love; that something always turns up.  I don’t even think you need to have some kind of religious faith for this to work; just the faith that comes from taking that leap off the cliff.  Every artist (unless they are born into money) has this same dilemma: how do I make a living and practise my art?  My view is that if you wait until you can afford it you’ll probably wait forever.  Take a leap of faith.

Living without money has taught me a lot.  In some ways it’s been a very hand-to-mouth existence but I think that central to survival is to think only of what you need today, here and now, and let tomorrow take care of itself. It has also brought a certain kind of freedom: an immunity to advertising.  There is no chance whatsoever of any advertising affecting me or tempting me to buy something I don’t need, because I don’t have the money.

At the same time I refuse to allow lack of money to limit my imagination.  I never tell myself ‘I can’t’ when an opportunity comes up, because maybe there’s a way that ‘I can.’  For example I can go to the Labour Party Conference in September because I’m going as a delegate and this will be paid for by the local party; and in the same way I’ve managed to go to lots of things for free because I’ve managed to access funding or because I’ve offered to do something in return.

It’s amazing what can happen when you look beyond the limitations of mere money and take a LEAP.

Kirk out

‘More-Persecuted-Than-Thou’ Attitude

Today I was taking part in a Facebook debate (reasonably well-mannered, considering it’s Facebook) on faith and atheism and whether people are harassed or persecuted in any way because of their beliefs.  I commented that in my experience in the UK it was easier to say you were atheist or agnostic than to ‘come out’ as a Christian.  As I said a while back:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2017/03/07/are-you-a-closet-christian/

you open yourself to ridicule or scorn and are often held to account for everything from the Inquisition to latent homophobia.

However one person on the Facebook thread believes that the persecution is all on the other side.  Atheists get it in the neck much worse than the faithful, apparently, and Christians who complain of criticism are being whiney (my word) and confusing argument with personal attacks.

I think there are some double standards here (my persecution is real but you’re just being whiney) and I have to say it doesn’t accord with my experience.  I can’t speak for the US but in Western Europe Christianity is on the back foot and has been for several decades.  In spite of the establishment of the Church of England and the protected status of faith schools (both of which I disagree with, by the way) in society at large atheism has become the default position.  You are assumed not to have a faith unless otherwise stated.

Generally when you mention your faith to people they start to edge away as though you’re about to lay hands on them and start praying.  Of course historically the church has a lot to answer for and I wouldn’t dream of defending it: even nowadays you can see some examples of pretty bad evangelism, usually carried out by some very thick-skinned people.  But there is a level of scorn aimed at the religious which I don’t see directed at atheists (not that I’d want it to be) and led by the high priest of atheism, Richard Dawkins.

To sum up, the zeitgeist is not friendly to faith.  I wouldn’t call it persecution, but I wouldn’t call it acceptance either.

Kirk out

Freedom of Sp-

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Freedom of speech is a very thorny issue at the moment, and the latest spike in this thorn-bush is the proposed visit of Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, to the UK.  Here are two views on that proposed visit:

https://www.premier.org.uk/News/UK/EXCLUSIVE-Franklin-Graham-on-visit-to-UK-I-m-not-coming-to-preach-hate

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/dec/07/us-evangelical-preacher-franklin-graham-uk-critics

Now I never particularly liked Billy Graham; I’m generally suspicious of popular preachers and prefer dialogue to evangelism, but his son seems to take it to a whole new level, denouncing Islam as a religion and gays and lesbians for the usual tedious reasons.  Apart from the fact that he seems to have a very short memory about the practices of Christianity (many of which are similar to fundamentalist Islam today) people naturally take offence and think that his views have no place in a multicultural society.  And when I read about him in Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin_Graham

I tended to agree.  I don’t want those views spread over here.  No thanks.

But there’s the thing: people used to say, ‘I disagree profoundly with what you’re saying but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’  People used to say that freedom of speech meant the freedom to say anything except to shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded building.  So here’s the question: does insulting Muslims in a multicultural society constitute shouting ‘fire!’ in a burning building?

Last weekend’s Observer contained an opinion piece entitled: ‘Even Those with the Vilest of Views Have a Right to be Heard.’ (I can’t link to it as the whole thing is behind a paywall.)  But the premise of the article is that people like Martin Sellner of ‘Defend Europe’ who stop charities from rescuing drowning refugees, or Lauren Southern who thinks Hitler was just a Social Justice Warrior who got lucky, should not have been prevented from entering this country because their views, no matter how vile, have a right to be heard.  I totally disagree.  But here’s the thing: where do we draw the line?  Where is the division between strong opinion and hate speech?

I’m quite uneasy about some current tendencies.  I disagree profoundly with Germaine Greer’s comments on transgender women (although according to the article here she seems to have backtracked a little)

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/12/germaine-greer-tells-qa-her-trans-views-were-wrong-but-then-restates-them

as they were not a helpful contribution to the debate.  But I don’t think they constitute hate speech.  They constitute strong, blunt, even rude opinion – but that is not something that should be shut down.  Yet many universities have decided to ‘no-platform’ her.

We should think about this concept of ‘platforming’.  There is a difference between somebody having a ‘platform’ – being allowed to express opinions unopposed – and being on a platform as part of a debate with other speakers.  But surely, even if you have a platform, in a wider sense the debate goes on anyway?  People respond on social media and in the press; often these things make the news and magazine programmes faster than the speed of light, triggering an even wider range of opinion.  So maybe instead of ‘no-platforming’ people like Greer we should be saying, ‘come and have a go if you think you’re cogent enough.’  Robust debate is essential in any healthy society – and surely if universities are about anything they are about fostering this?  If students cannot hear and rebut strong opinions, no matter how much they dislike them, then what kind of adults are we producing?  There is already too much of a tendency for people to stay in their own little enclaves (especially on social media) where rarely a voice is heard from outside.

On the other side of the debate I hear stories of vulnerable young people struggling with identity and sexuality; I hear stories of attacks proliferating after certain people are allowed to speak; I hear of hatred on the rise.

So what do we do?  A line must be drawn somewhere.

Personally I was pleased that Martin Sellner and Lauren Southern were turned away at the border.  Their views are so extreme and their actions so horrid and harmful that I don’t want them here.  Then again at the same time I would like, Louis Theroux-style, to have the opportunity to debate with them.  After all, how else can we change their minds?

It concerns me greatly that nuanced debate is being shoved aside in favour of something resembling a gladiatorial conquest.  Yes, it’s painful to have your deeply-held views challenged, but it can be beneficial.  A debate can often (though not always) change people’s minds: it can also help to clarify your own views by setting them up against other people’s.  How well do your arguments stand up?  Do they have holes in them?  Are you as well-informed as you imagine?

As I’ve said before with the trans agenda, only with debate can true acceptance (as opposed to putting up and shutting up) come.  Only with open debate can understanding arise.

Yes, there is a line between free speech and hate speech.  But where the hell is it?

Kirk out