Some Fundamentals

I don’t have a great deal of patience with orthodox religion but I support the right of those who do to practise their devotion in so far as it does not oppress or suppress others. Neither am I an atheist – though I must admit to sounding like one if you miss the nuance. To me, religion seems to have little to do with God and everything to do with politics.

Every time there’s a debate about anything professing to relate to ‘God’ or ‘Faith’ it’s always couched in the context of orthodox religion or atheism versus orthodoxy. (The thing that both frustrates and makes me smile is that, besides neither having much to do with sacredness or divinity, both also hold positions of non-evidence-based certainty.) To me, framing the existence or non-existence of ‘Gods’ in such narrow terms, as described and prescribed by patriarchy and/or orthodoxy, is stale and unimaginative – and distinctly unhelpful.

Nevertheless, that is the rubric within which most of the world keeps itself confined – be it through education, governance or ‘holy’ wars.

Each religion is mostly interchangeable with another: they alter their costumes a bit and change dates and the names of people and stuff but the basic tenets; the widest meaning in the message is generally the same.

And all religions have been, are and continue to be vehicles of both peaceful and violent thought and deed. At their best, they try offer beautiful interpretations of Life’s mysteries through archetypes, parables and metaphors as lessons and frameworks by which to live and, at their worst, they offer fear, contradiction and ambiguity and sow confusion. Each religion has its moderate majorities, its peaceful literalists and its violent fundamentalists.

But all religious tomes are like poetry and music – subjectively and conveniently open to literal, artistic, cultural and political interpretation – one’s sensitivity may be stirred from truth and beauty to offence and ridicule. Yes, the Qur’an has verses which can be interpreted as permitting or even promoting violent retribution and punishment. So does the Old Testament. No Abrahamic Faith is immune – they all have colourful histories – and, looking further east, neither are the Hindus, nor the Buddhists.

Most ‘religious’ people are moderate people who have no drive to convert or ‘correct’ the behaviour of others. Many followers of the orthodox faiths pick and choose their adherences with varying degrees of guilt or comfort, be it using contraception, eating pig, imbibing intoxicants, marrying out of one’s faith, neglecting Confession – yada, yada. One only has to witness the majority approval for secular governance within the ‘first’ world and the majority who aspire to it in other regions of the globe to appreciate this: equal, educated, free and well-informed people; people who can rely on consistent and fair laws and a sufficient measure of security, don’t want or need to be told how to live by either the representatives of elected authority or by those who claim to represent a Higher One.

Major swathes of the world’s populations are being sold short while religious doctrine replaces basic/general education and information is exchanged for censorship. If religious dogma is your main or only source of common knowledge and experience, then it is little wonder that superstition, prejudice and taboos prevail and fester. And to force it on children is in the least, a grey kind of magic. Religion within mainstream education should be facilitated through philosophy, not through doctrine. Faith schools? No, thank you. Save it for the Temple.

Law, governance and culture have been traditionally shaped and dictated by Patriarchy and it is as loathe to give up its self-righteous control freakery as, say, Neoliberal governments and corporations. It is curious how those who claim to be so devout often seem more concerned with trying to control the lives and souls of others than their own. That there is no such thing as vicarious atonement seems to have escaped their fascist fonts of wisdom.

Of course, any ‘moral’ militant can find things to hate in the modern, secularising world; things over which to take personal offence as an excuse to let out their outrage and paranoia: the aspiration for equality; for living according to one’s individual desires and needs; for being free to draw personal boundaries, exercise preferences. And, indeed, so they do. But History is replete with religious and political violence and atrocious foreign policies, isn’t it…? Terrorism perpetrated by citizen groups, ‘democratic’ governments and state sovereigns alike. What conceit, though, to assume to speak for God! To actually claim power and take offence on behalf of one’s god! As though any god, worth its salt, needs defending! But then, Humans have always had an amazing, indefatigable ability to reduce a god to the level of their own petty imaginations, haven’t they…

Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims: all brilliantly misrepresenting their faiths; all desirous of imposing their ideology on others; all so certain. It is politics, mediaeval style. No wonder the atheists are bemused and pissed off.

The problem here isn’t ‘God’, though. The problem is cultish and political bigotry, narcissism and fear. It is the arrogant and ultimately fruitless notion that you are the manager of another’s soul and free will. It is the pitiful demonstration of people who look upon the world with narrowed eyes, lacking appreciation for the greater beauty, diversity and mystery of the human animal; who cannot recognise or stomach the paradoxes of life: that simple things are often made complex by their explanation and that things which seem complex are often very simple.

What the bigots fail to realise is that while they are perfectly entitled to their rigidly narrow and conjured opinions – so is everyone – those opinions don’t give them the right to legislate for everyone or terrorise and kill, based on them. This is why a secular society is the best way to protect and govern with equal and fair effect: the best way for the majority, the minority and all the individuals therein to know and feel that they belong and will be treated equally under the Law. Good Secularist or Pluralist governance shouldn’t mean that you have to bury your faith. It should recognise that not everyone has a faith and that no one faith is superior to another.

General Election

We submit our objection
To your misdirection
And ripping apart of our seams.
We demand some correction by General Election
To save us from your crazy schemes.

We’ve made our inspection
Of your poor protection
And find it is wanting in deed.
We insist on reflection and General Election
With growing impatience and need.

We suffer infection
By your faux perfections
Induced by your ideals and creeds.
To avoid insurrection give General Election
As purge of your tumorous weeds.

We condemn your erection
Of onanist sections
That waste what you’ve given away.
We demand re-collection by General Election:
Redress to appalling decay.

We announce our rejection
Of moral confections
And doublespeak easy forays.
We instruct new selection by General Election:
The way and the day for our say.

The Malignant Gulf

The ability of those who insist on popping and squeezing us into deserving and undeserving boxes is so simplistic and crass as to be almost impressive. But, because people tend to believe what they want to and, because any belief a person subscribes to can be encouraged and confirmed by someone, somewhere, it’s easy enough to polarise people with the cheapest of generalisations and the most narrow or distorted of evidence. Of course, for this to be successful the discourse has to be superficial and stereotyped and requires a lot of efficient labelling. People love labels: it makes them feel they have the entire measure of an idea, a circumstance or a person. And nearly every one of us participates in the game to some extent. Yes, it can be benign shorthand between peers but mostly it is a malignant device, more concerned with revenge and punishment than persuasion and which serves to constrain everyone by widening the gulf.

Now, polarisation can and should be a vital and positive state because it provides a gap into which opposing views may encounter, inform and enrich each other. This is exceedingly useful in discerning one’s own personal ideals. It requires, among other things, an honest inner dialogue, access to information and the freedom to be temporarily confused or ambivalent without being afraid of the outcome at which one might arrive. It is perfectly possible, normal and reasonable to hold opposing thoughts and feelings simultaneously and indefinitely – or at least until you are tested.

However, apart from the ‘confused’ and ‘indefinitely’ part, this is not what is happening in the national conversation. In fact there is little conversation at all: rather we are talked at and down to by those who are spiritually and emotionally impoverished. People who lean Left are accused of being Marxist, envious, naive, dependent etc; those who lean Right are presumed to be elitist, neo-liberal, crony capitalists, pull-the-ladder-up types. Classical is pitted against neo-classical economics; big state versus little state. Blah, blah, blah.. Who cares? Who doesn’t? None of them are entirely right; none of them are completely wrong. But for as long as those in control see any and all of this as just a competition to be won; for as long as people try to find the solution based on selected chunks of history and adherence to worn out labels – well… we’re not going anywhere far or fast.

Behind the polarising of a nation lies fear: fear of being taken for granted; fear of not having a fair share; fear that our lives are at the mercy of others. This is a very real fear and a truth for around ninety-nine percent of the population. That covers nigh on the entire political spectrum – from left to right.

Obviously there are extremes and yes, it’s undeniable that currently we are being chauffeured dangerously to the Right – by many quite deliberately created opportunities, I might add. This is the political spin game and isn’t it obscene? We all know this: we all know this is dumbed-down governance, aided and abetted by dumbed-down media. Expedience grounded in seeming ideology. And do you know…? Sometimes I wonder if they’re as ideological as we perceive them to be: isn’t that also part of the game? Because, well… you’ve got to ground your bullshit in something… so why not a trumped up moral judgement? Why not pretend that economics is an empirical science? Why not use divisive tactics? Why not make everything black and white? Why not mislead half the populace into believing they are carrying or being carried by the other half? Why not only pander to one part of the country? That is the game and we are the angry, pathetic but cooperative pawns.

Why are we still allowing ourselves to be played like this? And why are we content to have our own needs so temporarily met at the expense of everyone else?

The Left is struggling to form a palatable alternative voice and vision and there are moves afoot to improve their messages – what the hell took them so long…? But, even if, no, when they get back into power – and Gods know we need the Tories out – it will be three to five years tops and we will be right back here again, arguing over which wing is better; which wing understands economics; how big the state should be; that we are badly served etc etc. Because these aren’t just times of acute crises, requiring emergency action: these crises are the result of chronically bad politics supported in no small measure by inadequate education.

We just go round and round and down and side to side – isn’t that a spiral? Well it’s not progressive, anyway.

People are rarely so absolutist through and through. Most people travel in both directions along a spectrum of opinion. They vary their positions according to context, experience, understanding, imagination and emotional intelligence. I’ve discovered that I lean left on many, maybe most issues, but I don’t run the country and the country is not run for me alone. I understand why people might shudder at the ‘loony Left’ as much as I shudder to hear the ‘righteous Right’. I know I will support the Left sufficiently to remove this dreadful Coalition, but I wish to high Heaven for a harmony. And that will require a more constant consensus than either the Left – and definitely the Right – can galvanise.

I long for the day when the discourse is not about what some theorist or philosopher said: it’s become about as useful as citing the Bible. I long for the day when politicians, media and active citizens drop their heavy reliance on the words of dead people who only ever had half an answer and were products of their time, not ours. It’s not that History has nothing to teach us – of course it does! History is fascinating and vital, provides perspective and creates a narrative for how we arrived here. It’s not that such events or thinkers are irrelevant: it’s that we are held hostage to them. If we can’t understand, define and describe our world, our circumstances in our own terms and words, craft our own solutions – start from here – then perhaps we are not ready to progress in any meaningful way. This is our era; our narrative. We should live a continuum of sustainable, positive progress, not a static, even retrograde and most insane mundanity.

From the hundreds

Hey, Ministers!
Yeah, you lot with the haughty faces
Wagging your pudgy fingers,
As if it was your place
To designate my status.
Bad smell is it,
That sets your nose ungainly high?
Well… aren’t you grand!
What precious, Punic peacocks standing
Deaf above the hue and cry!

 

From the hundreds
By the thousand, marking how the theft is rising
Puffed-up pride kicks to the wayside
Those indentured to your tithing…

 

What a troop of pompous prancers
Robs us in their finest weaves!
What a dubious intellect
That loves a nation on its knees!
But, oh my goodness!
Don’t you look and speak the part!
And aren’t you marvellous icons,
So adaptive and receptive
To the fashion of deceptive arts!
Just look at you!
All smug and snuggled up against the withered hordes
Well, aren’t you lucky! Aren’t you clever!
What vainglorious, cosseted and cozened crowing frauds!

Wholly Unholy

I have so much empathy for atheists!  They must look on in horrified wonder at the crazies and feel quite outraged at the impact Religion has on the world, their society and their own lives.

To challenge a religion is not blasphemy or high treason and it most certainly does not have to be interpreted as anti-God.  It is – mostly – honest, curious and rational.  Whose authority is being challenged, anyway?  God’s?  Naa – S/He can take care of themselves.  We have placed far too much faith in authority and organised religion is possibly the most pervasive of them all.  Even the orthodox religions are nothing more than cults. They just have the seal of legal/official recognition.  At best, Religion provides a focal point for devotion, the safety of tribal allegiance and seeming validation of a belief structure.  At its worst Religion spins, covers up its worst misdeeds, blackmails emotion, claims inordinate legislative power, herds the sheep, empowers the opportunist and skews the minds of the vulnerable.  Too harsh?  It is a Man-made authority, outrageously claiming to speak for God.  Well God can speak for itself / themselves.

Regardless of claims to the contrary, it’s never actually “God’s work” being done or “God’s enemies” being vanquished because it’s not about God at all, is it?  God, as in the source of sacredness and divinity in ALL Life?  Nope.  It’s about ego and excuse: a front for hidden purposes such as the acquisition of land and resources and socio-political-economic dominance.  It’s a political tool for patriarchal control.  It always has been.  This is predicated on the daft and impossible notion that ‘God’ is a male and a male only.  Given the dual nature, the construct of polarity on which our universe depends, I find that hilarious.  And very tragic.  After all: what the heck is the point of a divine being who only ‘lives through’ and represents one half of the manifest world?  Not much.

What a weapon Religion is that it can manipulate hope and fear through superstition, second-guessing and imposed guilt, all on a platform of imbalanced and irrational messages.  I’m not referring to metaphorical source concepts such as Immaculate Conception, transubstantiation, etc.  Leave that to the literalists (and the bankstas).  I mean contraception, sexuality, women bishops, the burqa, gender segregation, education, circumcision, gay marriage etc: the endless list over which such literalism and metaphor should have no jurisdiction relative to State or individual application.  This is not “The Word of God” – these are the edicts of men: pervasive, narrow-minded and stupid men, bent on the reduction of their God to their own levels of pettiness and narrow thinking. Religion is a middleman, masquerading as servant of Higher Purpose and never has ‘Faith’ in such authority been so misplaced, so betrayed.  In short, Religion seems to have little to do with God and everything to do with politics.

Children have a right to a non-politicised education.  Adults have the right to manage their life choices according to their own consciences.  Everyone has the right to observe their own spiritual or philosophical code, be it solo or in congregation, just as everyone also has the right to not believe in God.  Everyone has the right to not suffer an infrastructure laced with unproven and unjustified dogma.  An individual’s recognition, acceptance, dismissal of a god or the Self is a personal affair: Faith is a private matter.

There are as many paths to the Self as there are people: you don’t need an agent – you have a direct line.  The world does not need the organised doctrine of bigots, control freaks, or prescriptive do-gooders influencing legislative power any more than it needs the corporate lobbyists.  If the Church doesn’t want to, or cannot be subject to the laws of its land then perhaps it should be cut loose.  Separation of Church and State is not just desirable but increasingly essential in a world of complexity, diversity and rapid change. This is because a secular society is the best way to protect and govern with equal and fair effect: the only way to prove that the majority, the minority and all the individuals therein feel and know that their rights are valued equally.  Good Secularist or Pluralist governance shouldn’t mean that you have to bury your faith. It should recognise that not everyone has a faith and that no one faith is superior to another. That doesn’t take unswerving blind belief.  It just requires a basic humanity.

***

Meanwhile… In a time long past and a land now lost, Jerusalem was deemed Holy. Jerusalem: the enduring pawn of the Abrahamic Faiths is like a vortex, drawing in and compacting the Light.  Now, by the abuse and manipulation of another age, the Divine has apparently vacated for healthier climes – probably to the nineteenth hole.  Well – wouldn’t you?

Manifest Thought

With Rights come responsibilities. Obviously. Free speech is the free expression of thought or the repetition of another’s. But the right to speak freely is not cost-free. The right and responsibility of selective censorship belongs firmly with the speaker/writer, who must choose whether or not to risk the possible consequences of social controversy and Law: self-censorship. By ‘self-censorship’, I mean not the suppressing self-censorship of fear but merely the act of thinking before one speaks or writes. Free Speech does not mean you have no right to react, to be offended by it. Free speech means the right to speak freely, the right to offend or the possibility of its happening and the right to be offended. If you take offence it is up to you how you respond – the consequences of your response are your responsibility. The responsibility of choice – that is what is ‘free’ about free speech – and that is also its cost. To be grown up, responsible individuals, we would be greatly advantaged by freedom and accuracy of information from our politicians and mainstream media. But we aren’t.

[Twitter and other social media are proving a golem to the Powers that Be. Social media are gateways: publishing platforms, sources of factual and fictional information and currents through which the whole spectrum of discourse is electronically made manifest as a public performance. For some, its immediacy and potential reach means it’s perceived more as an online conversation: spontaneous, informal, reactive; for others, its textual permanence and reach understandably expects an equitable standard with traditional publishing. The trouble is, is that it’s neither and both.

Social Media reflects the physical, mental, emotional, multi-dimensional world. It is, therefore, bound to reflect the very best and the absolute worst of both information and humanity. Truth, illusion, kindness and cruelty are available in equal measure. We also live in uncertain times. Not a single aspect of Life is untouched by the precipice(s) on which we stand. Our Dear Leaders are proving themselves to be tyrannical incompetents; our institutions are in need of ethical audits; our mainstream media are all too often the mouthpiece of another’s agenda. We live through an age of shocked-but-not-surprised and it is increasingly possible, however sophisticated we think we are, to believe in anything and nothing – even momentarily. Sometimes it is only hindsight which distinguishes between an ignorant herd mentality born of rumour and the rapid acquirement of new and important information.]

The global climate is highly strung, reactionary and poorly weighted. So are we, sometimes. For sure, some people go out of their way to be aggressive, intimidating and personal. This is a reflection of the real world, so we can expect this, unfortunately. But occasionally even the most temperate and secure among us might react impulsively and with questionable justification. We have all given and received undesirable attention, inadvertently or not. We also know that, however hard we try not to, someone, somewhere might be offended. Indeed, there are even a few who go out of their way to find offence, irrespective of the speaker’s intentions. In the physical world we are perfectly capable of reducing ourselves and others, so why on earth would it be different in the ether? We are learning the ways to handle it, much as we did when we were growing up in the ‘real’ world. I’m not condoning gratuitous expressions of personal hatred. Nor am I disputing a person’s right to pursue their offender. This right to respond and seek official consequence is catered for through civil law (and criminal where appropriate): any immediate improvement should arguably be focused on ease of access and affordability for private individuals. It should not be within the direct reach of the Police and criminal courts and especially not through politicised Police and Crime Commissioners and careless or overly enthusiastic G4S employees. Laws already exist for those occasions when State-sanctioned enforcement is required. I am cautioning that knee-jerk law or policy and chaotic, generalised accusations from on high are likely to be far more detrimental than the current dilemma. We have enough evidence of divisive spin to recognise a threat to social fabric when we see it.

Social media are still rather recent phenomena and I suspect we need time for more unfolding; to trust and allow our peers to curb behaviour by approval, caution or condemnation; to match our electronic reputations to conscience and Will. We are learning to dance on yet another shifting carpet, so trying to define the warp and weft of this erratic picture is bound to produce a fragmented narrative. I’m not enthralled that any of us, be we a public or private figure, might suffer a potentially very public attack, especially if it’s unfounded. Nor is there comfort in such abuse being on permanent record, but the alternative right now is terrifying, as it will certainly result in the further encroachment of authoritarian ideology, whim and fear. That way lies a very policed state.  We recognise the signs – Gods know there have been enough alarm bells.

We either have free speech or we don’t. Trying to shut us all up, whatever our opinions, good or bad, right or wrong, is not the mark of an evolved society. It is disconcerting to witness government and mainstream media panicking about everyone else’s morality and liability, threatening caveats which would turn the whole concept into an oxymoron. Freedoms of speech and expression are extensions of Free Will and Freedom of Thought, born of an influence (call it God, biology, I don’t care) greater than religion, government or society – despite an often relentless effort.

We lose these freedoms by sloth and oppression and at our peril.

We all have lessons to learn in discretion and discrimination. This one is for the collective.  It will be enriched greatly and grasped more quickly if it is practised with much better example, by those with power, who claim to serve our interests. That would be a viable and welcome ‘trickle down’. We are all having to grow up again. Hopefully this will be led by a principled nature and the nurture of good conscience.

In the meantime, take heart that we are all not telepathic.

Apropos on anonymity: While it’s undoubtedly true that some hide their identity because they are up to no good, there are many, ordinary and decent internet users, who mask themselves for artistic reasons or because they are protective of their privacy and/or are suspicious of the surveillance state.