Monthly Archives: September 2015

Pigs, prime ministers, bishops and the rest of us

If you haven’t worked it out already by now, I am no fan of the Conservative party nor of David Cameron’s government. The way that the poorest people in society are being demonised in readiness for being cast out onto the street and starved to death turns my stomach. The “swarm” of migrants buzzing wildly across the Med have been dehumanised and vilified to such an extent that it took the picture of a dead child to crack the stone hearts of Europe.

Last week, it was alleged that our esteemed PM had done something with his penis and a pig’s head that he probably should not have done. This prompted an online petition calling for him to leave office.

Of course it did. These things always do.

The problem I have with this is that putting your pecker in a pig is really not particularly newsworthy. What one rich bloke gets up to with his rich friends should probably not be surprising to anyone (particularly given the reputation that tory MPs and members gained in the 80’s and 90’s) and whether or not Cameron’s member got all porky at some point in the ’80’s is probably irrelevant to how badly he is running the country just now.

If you are going to use the prime minister’s penis as a reason to throw him out of office, I think you should concentrate on whom he is pissing on rather than on which items of butchery it has been visiting. Frankly, it scares me how people can see genuine human suffering and brush it aside as what happens in politics and yet call for his head if he’s been getting intimate with an animal’s head. Our priorities, as a nation, seem back-to-front.

On the subject of over-privileged men performing rituals, I turn my gaze to the Catholic bishops of England and Wales. Nearly two years ago, they published a questionnaire on Surveymonkey and asked people to fill it in. The questions were badly worded and over-complicated but it was a start. Many people filled it in and waited with bated breath for the results. Bishops being bishops, of course, never even thanked us for taking the time to contribute. No results were released, in spite of many calls for them to do so.

The Extraordinary Synod on marriage and family life took place in October 2014 and the bishops talked back and forth for a couple of weeks, producing something of an astonishing mid-point report only to return to form and release a final report with all the good bits removed.

This year, the bishops released another consultation document, which I liked even less than the previous year’s one. This year, we got several pages of text telling us exactly what we should believe about marriage and family prior to not really asking us six questions that seemed to be worded quite carefully to produce favourable responses in a few areas and to ignore many other areas that really needed some good honest discussion.

I was astonished, yesterday, to read that the bishops of England and Wales have not only decided to publish a summary of the results from this second consultation, but that what they have published contains many scathing reports about them from the people of the church. They report receiving criticism about their treatment of women, of re-married divorcees and of gay couples. Intersex and transgender people remain completely invisible, of course, but it’s a start.

The whole kaboodle can be seen on the Bishops Conference’s website, or you can find the PDF version of the summary document here: Marriage and family report

On the subject of bishops, the bishop of Rome has been in the US this week. He addressed a joint session of Congress to tell them that they have blood on their hands:

Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

I’m not sure I agree with this article that this counts as gently scolding. To stand in the US congress and tell them that they are selling their souls for blood-drenched cash is an astonishing thing for someone to do and I hope those congressmen and women are thinking seriously about what he had to say to them.

They’re politicians, though, so I doubt it somehow. Human suffering seems to be one thing that any politician can ignore.

The world spins ever onward through a trail of its own suffering

Our planet. Small, isn't it?

Our planet. Small, isn’t it?

As our wonderful planet moves ever onward through the darkness of the universe, it leaves a trail of joy and woe, stretching out behind it, borne outwards into space by the solar wind.

Although we never actually pass through the same place twice, it can seem that our little planet is stuck in a rut. We do the same stupid things over and over again without ever seeming to learn how to do it differently. Greed seems to be a particularly strong motivator in us all (I guess that might be an evolutionary advantage for the species), yet our responses to greed in others have not changed much either.

I was talking to Ukrainian acquaintance last week, who was despairing that the news-cycle had forgotten her homeland, which is still at war with Russia over an ever-expanding scrap of land on its Eastern frontier. The refugee crisis rumbles on that bit closer to home, with alternating stories of hope and bigotry.

Those migrants aren’t refugees: they have smartphones! Well, if you were thrown out of your home and your country at a moment’s notice, would you dump your phone out of your pocket as you left, or would you cling to it as your last connection with the life you are being torn away from?

Those migrants are all terrorists. Actually no. Most of them are simple desperate people trying to get out of a desperate situation. As I have said before, no sane person gets onto a tiny little rubber dinghy to make a long voyage by sea unless they rationally consider that to be less risky than staying on dry land. It’s amazing the clarity you gain when someone points a gun at you or destroys your family home. Maybe some of the people from Syria coming into Europe genuinely do want to blow us up. Nobody ever said that compassion came with no cost. We cannot hope to filter out every single bad guy, and the cost will be measured in spilt blood and body bags. Maybe even the spilt blood of my own friends and family. This risk does not free us from the moral obligation to welcome the stranger. If we are to continue to believe that the European way of life is good and honourable and free, we must be willing to pay for that privilege. Simply locking desperate people out comes with the far higher price that we will, as a society, lose our soul.

On a smaller scale, a random person in the US has bought the rights to manufacture the principal drug used to treat toxoplasmosis and has decided to increase the price from $13.50 to $750 per tablet. Nice going, dude. People will now die an unpleasant death because of your greed. Maybe I’m naïve, but this is what I think of when I consider health care “systems” that put the cost of care onto the user and not onto general taxation.

I’ll leave with a quote from my favourite philosopher:

The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender.
The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born…in pain.

Citizen G’Kar

Church, Vatican, Pope, transgender people: eeny, meeny, miny, mo

I’ve spoken before about my take on God doesn’t make mistakes and how many good and holy (ahem) people use this concept as a weapon to do harm to one of the rich West’s most vulnerable groups.

Jesus speaks in explicit terms about the way we treat each other. He states that faith without good works is quite dead. He speaks about what happens if “one of these little ones” is turned away from God by our actions.

Jesus was spectacularly insensitive to the delicate attitudes of the religious authorities of the time (it’s what ultimately got him killed). When he healed the deaf-mute man in the Decapolis region, he spat on his own fingers and put them into the mouth of the man he was healing. You simply did not do that. It is difficult to overstate the scandal that action would have caused.

Time and again, Jesus marched to his own beat and always put the plight of people ahead of the rules. To him, blind obedience to a heartless and implacable law was pointless. He said with word and deed that the true way to honour God is to go out to God’s people and to do good amongst them, to spread God’s word amongst them. Jesus didn’t hate the world, nor did he distance himself from the “worldly”; no, he came here to redeem the world.

Unlike several of his predecessors, Pope Francis seems to have read the bible.

Back in January, he (reportedly) met and embraced a transgender man and told him that there is a place in the church for such as him. Now, given Vatican bureaucracy, it is entirely possible that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the artist formerly known as the Inquisition) didn’t get the memo, because they intervened in a case in Spain where the bishop asked for advice because a transgender man had been asked to be a godparent.

The CDF’s letter, as seems to be the case with most of what has come out of that office in recent centuries, utterly fails to understand anything. In stating “…transexual behavior reveals, in a public manner, an attitude opposed to the moral demand of resolving the problem of one’s own sexual identity according to the truth of one’s own sex…”, the CDF is taking out a full-page advert to state “WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND THIS THING”. Of course, lack of understanding is no impediment to prejudice (and, indeed, is often the cause), so the letter goes on to state that Mr Salinas cannot possibly be a godfather because he was born without a penis.

Personally, I don’t use my penis at all in my duties as godparent to three wonderful children. To do so would be weird.

So, there you go.

The situation continues to develop, with the pope seemingly in conflict with most of the red-shirts. One consolation, I suppose, is that the red-shirts rarely make it to the closing credits without being eaten by aliens. I retain hope.

Turning tide

Sorry. Windows rebooted without me asking to and ate my post.

Anyway, the tabloids stagger us once again with their hypocrisy and Katie Hopkins disgusts and shocks in order to sell papers. And harden hearts. The Great British Public appear to be big flock of smelly sheep that will follow the papers to hatred and will run back to compassion at the sight of a drowned child. And the Sun moves from threatening living refugees with gunboats to an emotion-soaked tribute to a dead one.

David Cameron, a man whose spine seems to be made of cream cheese, has gone from running scared of UKIP to running scared of the ghost of Aylan Kurdi. I wonder if Philip Davies MP is confident that his comments will get him re-elected (although, in truth, the election is so far in the future, I suspect MPs could actually throw the refugees into the Med themselves and still retain their seat in 2020).

Whilst I think that photographer Nilufer Demir should get every award that exists for producing the photograph that finally turned the tide towards decency in this country (a country that has long offered a welcome to those fleeing tyranny), I am still disgusted that it takes that image to crack open our compassion. We’ve been hearing about deaths at sea for years and, in particular, in recent months and nothing has broken through until now.

Of course, Aylan’s suffering is now over. What of the thousands of people whose suffering is ongoing? All they are looking for is a place to find some peace after the trauma of losing their homes and the compounding trauma of trying to get somewhere that will welcome them. By God’s grace, these people are still alive and we still owe them our hospitality.

We’ve demonised all Muslims in recent years (thanks, UKIP) and proclaimed that our country is a Christian country (we have an established church, so this argument holds up much better here than, say, in the USA). Cameron has even used this fact to appeal for votes in the recent election. Oops. Christians have an unambiguous duty to welcome the stranger, to welcome the migrant and to welcome the refugee. The Old Testament is laced with exhortations to remember that the People of God were strangers in Egypt and God rescued them: they are now to extend welcome to strangers. All of them. Matthew’s Gospel underlines this by casting Jesus himself as a child refugee, fleeing for his life ahead of a tyrant’s army. That story would have been a whole lot shorter in Katie Hopkins’ version. When he grew up, Jesus told us explicitly that we would be judged by God based on how we treat people with nothing, not even a country to call home.

And now Pope Francis has joined in.

This doesn’t have to be our nation’s most embarrassing time, nor our continent’s. We are people, and so are they.

Migrants? Refugees? People.

Al-Jazeera English has declared that it will stop referring to the Mediterranean migrant crisis because calling the desperate people who are staring death in the face yet making the journey anyway ‘migrants’ is clouding the real issue.

The real issue is that these people are desperate.

I have ruled out the other possibility, ie. that they’re stupid, because most people are not stupid, and all people do what they do for a reason that appears rational to themselves at the time. It is not stupid to get into a tiny little boat to cross a surprisingly deep sea with far too many other people if the alternative is to watch your family be killed by war or tyranny (or the tyranny that so often takes root in soil fertilised by war).

No. The people getting into overloaded boats or climbing into airtight refrigerated lorries are not stupid. They have swords behind them and broken glass underfoot, but they have the hope in front of them that oh-so-civilised Europe will accept refugees fleeing unimaginable circumstances.

The one percent or less who are heading to the UK will arrive at Calais where we are asking the French to treat them like dogs. That’s nice of us. We’re even sending over more of our own dogs to keep them company. One wonders just how many church-organised protest marches are converging on Downing Street to protest the actions of our own government here. We are not doing ourselves proud.

I was once proud to be English. To me, for a long time, Englishness meant being a plucky little country that could punch above its weight that was able to admit to the errors of the past and move on. We didn’t quite invent slavery, but when we decided that it was wrong (after some considerable time, I might add), we sent ships of war out to prevent other nations trading slaves too. When Nazi Germany started persecuting Jews, we opened our doors (albeit with some deja-vu inducing headlines from the Mail) and provided a safe place for thousands to flee. In fact so many Poles came to our shores during the war, we had sixteen squadrons of Polish airmen flying during the Battle of Britain.

Proud times indeed.

Oh yes.

But now, they’re a swarm of migrants coming over here and either claiming our benefits or taking our jobs, or maybe both depending on which newspaper you read.

I’ve quoted it before, but I’ll wrap up with the parable of the sheep and the goats. We are to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and visit the sick and the imprisoned, for we are all people in the eyes of God.