‘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

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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

About an Emperor

There’s nothing new under the sun – and not much new on this blog either.  I go to write about a topic and do a little search – and lo! I find three posts on the same subject without even trying.  But so what?  I mean, how closely are you paying attention anyway?

I’m kidding.  I know you’re all taking notes.

So, today’s topic is the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  Aurelius was a stoic; which in many ways is not a philosophy I’m drawn to: I’m not much enamoured of cold showers or camping in the snow and I absolutely decline to whisper as I kiss my children good night, ‘tomorrow you might be dead.’  (I tell myself that child mortality was much higher in his time than now – but that’s not the reason.  The reason is that I simply can’t contemplate it.)

But I can contemplate things which are happening at the moment – at least to some extent.  I’m not sure what M A would have made of the constant negative outpouring of news to which we are subjected 24/7; I suspect he would have rationed his intake of it just as I try to do.  I don’t wish to be callous; I know the situation in Syria is appalling but I don’t want to hear about it every day: I know austerity is causing suffering but there’s only so much of it I can read about.  When I find myself becoming angry, frustrated, depressed or anguished I simply turn it off, reflecting that while we have a responsibility to inform ourselves about what is going on, that responsibility needs to be balanced with protecting one’s own mental health.

But where Marcus comes in really handy for me is in the personal arena; and the saying I’m focussing on right now is this:

‘Love only what happens.  No greater harmony.’

Of course you can see a problem right away: how can I possibly ‘love’ some of the terrible things that happen to me?  How can I ‘love’ a partner’s gender dysphoria or a son’s mental illness or a total lack of money?  Well, in order to do this you have to dig deeper.  You have to believe that underlying every life event is a purpose, and that that purpose is for your own highest good.

I wouldn’t presume to say this to anyone else; and neither, incidentally, did old Marcus: his sayings were written for his own use only.  It’s quite heartwarming to read, across the millennia, a man writing to himself things like ‘for god’s sake stop!’ and ‘when will you ever learn?’  I can remember writing similarly frustrated exhortations to myself in my old diaries.

That a Roman Emperor who wielded power over much of the known world should find the time for reflection and the humility to chastise himself, is truly astonishing.  To put his advice another way, ‘If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day.’  That quote is from Leonard Cohen who, despite his sexual proclivities, was in many ways a stoic, able to look death and disaster in the face and know them for what they are:

https://www.leonardcohenfiles.com/goodadvice.html

Here’s some more information on Marcus Aurelius:

http://www.society-for-philosophy-in-practice.org/index.php/publications/pp-journal/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=131:ppr-spiritual-teachings-of-marcus-aurelius&catid=61:ancient-philosophy-reviews&Itemid=77

and a load of good sayings of his:

https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/marcus_aurelius

Incidentally, I can’t help wondering if the title character of ‘About a Boy’ was named for Marcus Aurelius?  He is after all a great stoic:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0276751/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Kirk out

Nobody Understands Thee. What Tu Du?

I am happy to report that depression is lifting; this is thanks in no small part to actually writing about it.  I am all too prone to interacting with people only when I feel good and hiding away when I’m depressed, thinking that no-one will want to know me in this state and that all I’ll accomplish is to bring everyone down.  But to write about it honestly has been very therapeutic and has allowed lots of other people to open up about their depression: I’ve had many messages of support as well as testimonies from others about what they are going through.  People have offered to visit or meet with me; people have said they miss me and one friend even said I was fantastic.  This has given me a real lift.

I guess you could say in these situations you find out who your friends are: it used to be that one would distinguish between intimates and strangers by the use of pronouns.  A lot of languages still do this, such as French, Spanish, German and Italian, using the informal ‘tu/du’ to distinguish intimates from more formal contacts.  Of course it can also be a way of indicating status, which is why the equivalent probably died out in British English.

Interestingly, when Quakers began, one of their distinguishing characteristics was that they addressed everyone as ‘thou’, this being the informal pronoun (the equivalent of ‘tu/du’) and thus putting everyone on the same level.  The odd thing is that, thanks to ‘thou’ surviving in religion, nowadays it sounds formal rather than informal.

The trouble is, no-one knows how to use ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ any more.  So here’s my handy guide.

  1.  ‘Thou’ is equivalent to ‘I’ and ‘thee’ is equivalent to ‘me’.  Examples: ‘what dids’t thou say?  I gave it thee.’
  2. the verb form usually ends in ‘est’ contracted to ‘st’, as in ‘did’st, could’st, hast (the ‘d’ is forgotten)
  3. the possessive is ‘thy’ with a noun following and ‘thine’ without: ‘thy socks be wet’; ‘these socks be thine.’

Here’s a fuller guide to using ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ correctly, so you’re not caught out.

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

Don’t be like the person who posted this joke on Facebook:

A 19th century Quaker farmer woke up in the middle of the night hearing noises downstairs. He crept down the stairs, cap-lock rifle in hand to discover a burglar in his living room. He took aim and announced in a loud clear voice, “Excuse me, friend, but would thee please move? I am about to shoot where thee is standing.”

The correct version should of course be: ‘Excuse me friend, but could’st thou please move?  I am about to shoot where thou art standing.’

Oh, and if you want an archaic plural of ‘you’, try ‘ye.’

Kirk out

Lincoln, Mandiba, Maya and Dante

I don’t know much about Abe Lincoln except what everyone knows: that he was shot in the theatre (ouch) but apparently before he died he suffered from depression.  ‘If there’s a worse place than hell, I’m in it,’ is how he put it.  ‘Ouch’ doesn’t begin to cover that.

Nelson Mandela was despised as a nobody, imprisoned for twenty-seven years and yet became the first black leader of South Africa.  The regime took away his marriage to Winnie and his only son.

Maya Angelou became an elective mute as a child after suffering abuse, as her memoir ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ relates.  And yet she rose to become one of the foremost authors of the US and gave a recital at Bill Clinton’s inauguration.

What these people have in common is both darkness and greatness – and that’s no coincidence.  Most of us spend our lives avoiding darkness.  It’s painful and confusing; it’s unpleasant and frightening.  It can be absolute hell with no let-up.  Yet in the darkness lies the way to greatness.

Darkness comes when everything else runs out; when all the tried-and-tested methods for keeping your life going have ground to a halt, when habit seems meaningless and loved ones remote.  The darkness comes when you are at the absolute end of your strength; when there is not one ounce of energy left within you to try to make things work any more.  It’s like floating on a black sea: there’s nothing you can do but let it happen.

It’s the same journey Dante made when he ‘woke to find himself in a dark wood where.. the right way was lost.’  Dante has one hell of an Easter weekend; going through the inferno on the Friday, purgatory on the Saturday and finally arriving in heaven on Easter Sunday.  What’s interesting is that he never loses sight of the world ‘outside’, knowing at any moment what day and hour it is, where the sun and moon are and whereabouts he actually is (hell is located in the centre of the earth in his cosmology.)

Hell is the worst thing the human imagination can conceive: read James Joyce’s sermon from ‘Portrait of the Artist’ and then try sleeping, if you can:

http://www.online-literature.com/james_joyce/portrait_artist_young_man/3/

I couldn’t.  But you don’t need to believe in Biblical sin and damnation to read Dante.  Like all works of genius it transcends the age which spawned it, and today it can be read as a dark night of the soul; a journey through the depths of depression towards realisation and enlightenment.  In Dante’s cosmology the damned are quite separate from those in purgatory who, though they suffer, have hope.  But we need not read it so: for us, as for Dante himself, there can always be the possibility of transformation, of transition to a better place.

Nowadays we have little concept of sin and punishment.  We have thrown out the sins of our fathers and decided that we are our own judge, jury and executioner.  But the greatest sins are those which separate us from others and from our common humanity – which is why the centre of Dante’s inferno is not fire but a frozen lake.

What melts the frozen lake is compassion.  One of the most moving scenes from the film ‘Gandhi’ is where a man comes to him in despair.  ‘I am going to hell,’ he tells the Mahatma.  ‘I took a Muslim child and bashed his brains out against a wall.’

‘I know a way out of hell,’ says the ever-practical Gandhi.  ‘You must find an orphaned Muslim child and raise him yourself – as a Muslim.’

The way out of hell is reconciliation.  Reconciliation melts the frozen lake and allows people to come together.  Where would South Africa have been without the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Mandela instituted?  Where would Maya Angelou have been if she had stored up bitterness and hatred in her heart?  Instead she turned the hell of her childhood into a powerful work of art.  Reconciliation is the way out of hell.

None of us knows for sure what happens when we die, but anyone can find out what happens when we live.  Embrace the darkness, find the truth within it, and move on.

Here’s an article I found helpful when writing this post:

http://www.kosmosjournal.org/article/a-dark-night-of-the-soul-and-the-discovery-of-meaning/

Kirk out

TV Martyrs

Imagine my surprise!

Go on!

Well, have you imagined it?

What’s that?  You want a reason?  OK well imagine that yesterday morning it’s early.  Too early.  That’s not the reason – I wake up early every bloody morning including Sunday.  Nor was it the fact that OH made tea early: that was no surprise either.  This is my life – everything is early.  Nope, the surprise was that as he came in with the tray the news also entered the room that the Church of the Martyrs was on the radio.  Not local radio, national.  Radio 4.

Let’s backtrack a little.  Immigration is a big subject for debate at the moment.  The other week I had a disagreement with someone who thought there was a link between the churches and far-right groups.  No, I said.  Absolutely not.  Maybe in the US but not here; in the UK, churches of whatever persuasion would not touch far-right groups with a bargepole.  And I stand by that – but the programme (which was also on the TV) gave me pause for thought; because it appears that 66% of Anglicans want immigration to be reduced.  That’s 66% of churchgoing Anglicans, not people who just put ‘C of E’ on application forms without ever setting foot inside the porch.  The figure for non-churchgoing Anglicans is 88%, which is more understandable, but the figure of 66% is quite concerning because it means Anglicans are more hostile to immigration than other denominations.

https://www.christiantoday.com/article/majority-of-anglicans-want-immigration-levels-reduced/125319.htm

First on the programme was Billy Graham’s son Franklin, who defended his attendance at Trump’s inauguration by saying, in effect, ‘no-one’s perfect’ and declaring that God intervened to appoint Trump as President.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09qb053

it’s about 7 minutes in.

The recording of The Martyrs came as a breath of fresh air.  It was made during a recent ‘Tomatoes’ breakfast cafe about which I have blogged many times:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/tomatoes-and-tomatoes-and-tomatoes/

and talking about a Christian duty to welcome the stranger and the refugee.  It included an interview with Evernice, whom I know well, who is a refugee from East Africa and now a valued member of the church.  There was also an interview with vicar Richard who reiterated the point about the Christian duty to welcome the stranger.  It never ceases to amaze me how people can ignore key aspects of the gospel when it suits their particular prejudices.

Kirk out

The Devil is in the Retail

The title of this post came to me at 5 o’clock this morning, and I immediately started to construct a post in my mind, centred around this question: what is the biggest threat to Christmas?  It’s not Muslims: Jesus is a prophet in Islam and most Muslims are quite happy to go along with celebrating Christmas in a minor sort of way.  It’s not Sikhs or Hindus or Jews or those of any other religion.  It’s not even militant atheists like Richard Dawkins.  Nope, it’s our good ol’ friend commercialism, who, the minute a religious festival pops up rubs his hands together, sets up a stall and starts cashing in.

Of course this is nothing new: from the money-changers in the temple to medieval purveyors of religious relics, people have always tried to cash in on religion; but I am starting to feel a little like Jesus.  What with Black Friday and Christmas starting in October and all the relentless shopping, I’m itching to get in there and do whatever is the modern equivalent of overturning the tables.

Our Christmas has cost about £250 in all; including food, presents, cards and decorations.  Now I’m not saying ideally I wouldn’t have liked to spend a bit more, but I’m not convinced that if I had it would, to quote Jane Austen, have added considerably to my happiness – or anyone else’s.

Anyway, today is the solstice, which is a time for acknowledging the darkness while remembering the light; a time for lighting candles rather than cursing the dark; a time for reflection.  It is hard to recall now that Advent (which continues until Christmas Eve) is traditionally a time of fasting rather than manic shopping and endless parties.

So this Christmas as well as thinking of the homeless and empoverished, spare a thought for those who think Christmas comes from a store.  Because they are truly the poorest of the poor…

Kirk out