Pontificating

18 September 2010

The Pope is visiting the UK. I have been toying with the idea of writing a post about him for a while and couldn’t quite decide what to write. A lot of the people I follow on twitter are very anti-pope. Be they lapsed/reformed-catholics, gays, atheists or humanists. But I don’t have the same problem with him.

He’s been invited as a Head of State by the Queen. We’re footing the State-related bill – he’s paying for the church bits, to put it simply. And yes, his state is a little odd, but it’s still, formally, a state. So if the Queen had invited another Head of State who was doing things people may disagree with – say Bush, or Mugabe – yes, being irritated about that is fine.

Similarly with the Pope’s treatment of gay people, women, his views on condoms and child abuse in the church. Protesting this is fine.

But when it all gets mixed-up with anti-religion feelings I start to feel uncomfortable.

In a speech at Holyrood, Benedict urged Britain to guard against “aggressive forms of secularism”. He said: “As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a ‘reductive vision of the person and his destiny’.” (This was in stark contrast to his strongest comments to date on paedophillia in the church and depoloring of the church’s failure to act swiftly and decisively in the past).

I have a problem with what I, too, would term aggressive secularism for a number of reasons:

  1. Aggressive secularism is wholey negative. It is an argument against religion more often than an argument for secularism. Any argument which is in the negative always makes me uncomfortable. I find people who argue for something FOR more convincing.
  2. People like Richard Dawkin have turned his form of secularism into a quasi-religion, and sought religious-type following of dogma under the auspice of science in the same way the church does under the auspice of faith.
  3. The aggressive secularism arguments are often mis-directed at faith, not the church and ignore the fact that while the two are linked they are not the same. Religious people are the first to acknowledge people are fallible – Priests abuse children, just as Doctors kill (e.g. Harold Shipman). It happens. It is the responsibility of the church to ensure it is handled properly, it is not a fault of faith.
  4. Aggressive secularism is as dangerous as aggressive religion. Indeed one will breed the other.
  5. Religion is, generally speaking, understanding. Christians understand people may have other faiths. Aggressive secularism – by being wholey negative – causes resentment from all faiths.
  6. For all it’s faults, and there are many*, religion has formed a positive basis for the way this country is run, with laws on murder, encouragement of families who care for and look after each other, and rules for how you should treat others.
  7. * = many of the faults of ‘religion’ are not the fault of religion itself, but a fault of the Church’s teaching of it. Such strong animosity towards homosexulaity, for example, or the anti-condom stance of the Catholic church.

I guess my key points are these: If you want to protest, get it right as to what you’re protesting about – the church, or religion? And, that whatever you believe should be fine. You should be allowed to believe whatever you want. But when you start arguing against what other people believe, rather than for what you believe, then that is – quite rightly – called ‘aggressive’.

As the Dalai Lama’s said: “Perhaps the most significant obstruction to inter-religious harmony is a lack of appreciation of the value of others’ faith traditions.”

Advertisements

NYC: Next Fall

7 March 2010

Last Tuesday, while I was still in New york, I went to see another Broadway show. The play, Next Fall, has had a magnificent welcome. Starting out last year off-Broadway it progressed and was in previews at on Broadway when I saw it.

It’s a play that deals with relationships between couples, parents, friends, and God. The relationship at the haeart of the play is a gay one. But it could be any one. I tend to connect with plays that have a theme about relationships (how could one be written without such?), but in particular gay oned (I also saw a tremendous piece of gay theatre off-Broadway, The Temprementals, while I was in New York). The play opening formally in March, was written by Geoffrey Nauffts and produced by Elton John and David Furnish.

Next Fall one opens in a hospital waiting room – a place where, no matter where in the world you are (New York, London, Bogota) the same emotions come to the fore: fear, worry, stress, loss, worry, concern… The story is about a gay couple and starts in what is, essentially, the final scene. It progresses with a series of flashbacks to tell the story of Luke, who ens up in a hospital bed, and his partner Adam.

The synopsis:

Luke believes in God. Adam believes in everything else. “Next Fall” portrays the ups and downs of this unlikely couple’s five-year relationship with sharp humor and unflinching honesty. And when an accident changes everything, Adam must turn to Luke’s family and friends for support… and answers.

The religion aspect is one which interests me in particular. Growing up ‘different’ and having a faith are things that are not necesarilly easilly reconcilable. They’re something that takes some personal struggle. And this play asked some uncomforable questions as part of the plot. But it also proved that understanding it requires a personal belief.

The play particularly shows how this, combined with family relationships, can cause gay people to remain uncomfortable. In a country where Proposition 8 has recently been introduced, to stop the progress that had recently been made on introducing gay marriage in the US, it’s a situation that remains, and a story that should be told. Ironically, Porposition 8 was voted for the same day as President Obama won the US presidential election – and this juxtaposition brought forward the ideaf for Next Fall.

At times, through the flashbacks, I felt like only part of the story was being told – I felt as though the struggle between faith and sexuality was not being fully explored. But alongside resolving the sixth character’s position the reason for Luke’s understanding of faith and exuality became clearer.

It was brilliantly acted, but – even more so – a fantastic, emotional funny and thought provoking well-written script. I’d gladly see it again, and I’d most likely well-up in the same way. If you get the chance to see this Play in New York, or wherever it is lucky enough to be produced next.

Read more here, see the show’s website here and twitter page here.


Oh well, that’s alright then

19 October 2008

Since my last post, Homophobia, the City, the Church and why it’s wrong, I saw that Reverend Peter Mullen published a column saying “Why I was wrong”. He says

“I much regret making some off-colour jokes about homosexuals on my website and I have offered a full public apology. I made those remarks and they are the responsibility of no one but myself. I repeat, I’m sorry I wrote what I did.”

I’m pleased to hear he apologises for his remarks – saying “Let us make it obligatory for homosexuals to have their backsides tattooed with the slogan SODOMY CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH and their chins with FELLATIO KILLS. In addition the obscene “gay pride” parades and carnivals should be banned for they give rise to passive corruption, comparable to passive smoking”, and “There ought to be teaching films shown in sex education classes in all our schools. These would portray acts of sodomy and the soundtrack would reinforce the message that it is a filthy practice”.

Of course – in his apology – he goes on to say he supported the decriminalisation of homosexuality, but that gay people should stop there. He implies his main point is about Gay Pride similar parades (although it only appear to be ‘in addition’ in his original comments). He says that he opposes “the corrupting influence of the promotional parades of homosexuality by such as Gay Pride demonstrations”.

The Reverend is making the same snide assertions that are damaging as Section 28 did in the 1980s. He implies that homosexuality is promoted (as if people will become gay through watching and enjoying a pride parade) and thereby implies gay people should not be allowed to seek equality. He ignores the destructive way that being made to be, not just feel like, an outsider is damaging.

The Reverend himself talks about the suicide of Shaun Dykes in an earlier column, but ignores the fact that comments like those he makes can have a damaging effect, as I very clearly set out in my last column:

This is one week after Shaun Dykes, a gay teenager in Derby, was goaded and jeered by a crowd – filming him on mobile phones and shouting “jump you [followed by a stream of expletives]” – into killing himself (a story which made very little press) and another similar suicide in Manchester. It is also the same week as a United Nations committee has called on the UK to take “urgent measures” to fight intolerance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans young people.

Thank you, Reverend, for your apology but – whether you meant it or not – you should know better and realise what damage you do. As I said last time, your comments are nothing but damaging.


Homophobia, the City, the Church and why it’s wrong

10 October 2008

It’s ironic that, in the midst of a Credit Crunch – at least partially caused by loose-lipped City bankers talking down stocks – a loose lipped City cleric can cause damage of a different kind. The Rev. Peter Mullen, chaplain to London’s Stock Exchange, said:

Let us make it obligatory for homosexuals to have their backsides tattooed with the slogan SODOMY CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH and their chins with FELLATIO KILLS. In addition the obscene “gay pride” parades and carnivals should be banned for they give rise to passive corruption, comparable to passive smoking.

I’m not sure what I can say about this. Apparently a “joke“, the reverend used the immortal line some of my best friends are gay – or at least the slightly more caged “many of my dear friends have been and are of that persuasion” (note the have been). Like our Tory friend, but in a rather different way, he is wrong on so many levels.

Google’s cache of his blog shows us he believes that “We disapprove of homosexuality because it is clearly unnatural, a perversion and corruption of natural instincts and affections, and because it is a cause of fatal disease”. He is right that some sexual behaviours are riskier than others. But HIV is not a gay disease. Of course he doesn’t let that get in the way of promoting modern day branding torture for gay man.

It’s also ironic he is chaplain to the London Stock Exchange. As I have previously posted the number of prospective City employees open about their sexuality has plummeted recently.

Disturbingly, the Reverend suggests that:

There ought to be teaching films shown in sex education classes in all our schools. These would portray acts of sodomy and the soundtrack would reinforce the message that it is a filthy practice ending with the admonition: “We do, after all, know the importance of washing our hands after going to the lavatory.”

This is one week after Shaun Dykes, a gay teenager in Derby, was goaded and jeered by a crowd – filming him on mobile phones and shouting “jump you [followed by a stream of expletives]” – into killing himself (a story which made very little press) and another similar suicide in Manchester. It is also the same week as a United Nations committee has called on the UK to take “urgent measures” to fight intolerance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans young people.

Rev. Peter Millen’s comments are nothing but damaging. Whatever his opinions – I’m not going to delve into debates about the bible and homosexuality – he has a responsibility not to make sick ‘jokes’ which add to the latent homophobia that still needs to be tackled in this country.


%d bloggers like this: