another overly lengthy blog post that is me reflecting on a few things inspired by the fear of having to make a speech at a pro-secularism march
This weekend I had to make a speech at the Secular Europe march. I worry about doing such things. Even though comedians are meant to have a desire to play Hamlet and seem wise underneath the jester garb, something inside me (my brain I presume, as there aren’t really any other organs that conjure up guilt and then mull over it) makes me feel awkward at taking to a stage with serious purpose and on a bill of people who really know what they are talking about. I became a comedian precisely because I didn’t know what I was talking about.
Something between my inability to say no and my great big ego means I usually say yes, then I stand edgily on the pavement watching a succession of people deliver fine speeches and talk of extraordinary experiences and wonder if chutzpah and jazz hands will be enough to get me through.
When I mentioned the Secular Europe march a few days beforehand, I was surprised how many people had misinterpreted what modern secularism entails. My viewpoint is that secularism defends the freedom to worship but is against religious privilege. I see it as another step towards equality, though the way its ideas are mangled by its opposition it has been seen as a bigotry, that ghastly bigotry of equality.
The bigotry of equality is what has snapped at the heels of those journalists and jocks that whine on about how “the most oppressed group now is the straight white, middle class male”. This oppression, and as a white middle class male I have felt the lead sledgehammer thwacks of it, is not being quite as privileged as before. Your privileges, earnings and access to opportunities is still more than most, but not quite as much more than most, and that is so unfair, before you know it you’ll be on the same level as the gays, the women and the blacks, and that can’t be right because you’re the sort of person a few generations ago would have been giving orders to shoot at some unarmed rabble wanting bread or salt.
I wore my intellect on my sleeve on the journey to the rally by going to the wrong but of pavement the wrong side of central London. I then swore across town, my curse words distracting tourists from the architecture and guardsmen of London they were ogling.
I heard a series of powerful speeches on suffering, oppression and the importance of freedom of expression for all and enjoyed seeing amongst the banners a balloon with “down with this sort of thing” painted on it. I had gathered my thoughts on a piece of paper and here are a few of the things I said or intended to say, I’m not sure, I get rather carried away in the moment.
The enemy of civilization is neither secularism nor faith it is thoughtlessness. We are blessed and cursed with brains so big we have to come out of the womb way too early to avoid killing our mothers and then start from a lowly position of gurgling incompetent while other animals pop out, shake off that amniotic fluid and go for a gallop in a meadow. While most animals are hardwired and ready for much of what will be thrown at them by nature, we learn, and via learning we shape our environment rather than fit into it as it is. With these brains, we have the ability to question, if we fail to do that, if we look for a high priest or elder to do our thinking for us, to instruct us and manipulate us, then we are failing to live up to our potential. “it’s not my fault, I was told to do this” is not a good enough alibi. As Stanley Milgram showed us, we can be manipulated into outrageous even murderous situations by the overbearing authority figure that we fear.
It is not enough to say I believe it because God or Christopher Hitchens or asome Mahirishi told me.
We have evolved to be capable of free thinking, your brain heavy skull caused your mother to go through agony at birth, in memory of her pain, use its contents as fully as you can. Before going on a rampage of violence and carnage because some dicks made a film, stop for a moment and think, “hang on, it’s just a film. I don’t like what it says, but it is just a film. I think I might take the handkerchief out of the bottle and put the petrol down”
I then went on about evidence based thinking for a while as gesticulated wildly.
As for faith schools, unsurprisingly I am against them. The arguments that they are providing better education (and there is pro and anti evidence for this) seems no argument at all, if faith schools are doing better then the answer is not more faith schools, it is fighting to improve all our schools. Everyone in a local area need to get involved, good schools improve the lives of everyone, this is no time to sit back and blame the teachers while sinking into your armchair, we have to stop undervaluing education and those who provide it. One of the major reasons I am against faith schools is not fear of indoctrination or creationist education, I know enough rationalists and atheist who have come out of Catholic schools, but that faith schools create another wall between communities. I was arguing with a friend who believes Muslim schools are the right way forward but also spends much of his time complaining people don’t understand Islam. We won’t gain understanding by putting the Muslims in the Muslim school, the Jewish in the Jewish schools, the Anglicans in the Anglican schools and so on. One of the greatest weapons against bigotry and intolerance is experience and interaction – the propagandists and the rabble rousers may tell you about the Gays or the Jamaicans or the Hindus or the tall or the short or the gothic, but if you have mixed with them, if you know people socially, you can question that. “you say all Belgians are like that, but the ones I know have never kept a boy in a well or cooked cats”. We are told “the multicultural experiment has failed”, I am not even sure it has really begun. In living memory, Bed and Breakfast places could still have a “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs” above their buzzer. I fear faith schools will eventually aid divisions that some or only to keen to inflame.
Then there was gay marriage…
I have already seen people with straight faces complain that society is now prejudiced against the homophobe , “what about the right to discriminate, eh?”
If you are against gay marriage; why? The Christian Concern man on the TV said it was because it was against his God’s words, but I wonder if he could honestly declare that nothing in his life goes against God’s words. And if it doesn’t he must live a multiple personality life like Sally Field’s Sybil because you can’t be true to all God’s words without facing conflict from snack choices to wife stoning, it would be a busy day for the men people who live in the mind of Mr Christian Concern. When did the occasional homosexual mentions become the central theme of The Bible and why did Jesus forget to mention it? I am sure there are still not enough people doing as they would be done by to get down to the small print stuff.
Some say gay marriage devalues marriage. Surely the only thing that might devalue your marriage is your behaviour within it. How does my marriage change if same sex marriages are legalized? What is the fear – “well it was very embarrassing, I told someone I was married and of course they immediately thought I was gay”. If you are worried marriage is being debased, look at some of the people getting married every Saturday. Only the other week I saw an awful woman marry a ghastly man, doesn’t that devalue marriage? The rot set in when the awful and ghastly started marrying, there’s nothing we can do about it now.
“The last thing I want is those gays having increased stability in their relationships and a greater suggestion of commitment, it will ruin my sense of disgust as I imagine their vicarious and bacchanalian lifestyle I have been told of.
If you don’t want a gay marriage, you won’t be forced to have one.
Someone else argued with me that the west and its soulless depravity was a flamboyant display of the failure of secularism. I suggested they look back to when we were a truly Christian society (there’s still quite a few bauble of faith dangling in system anyway) and see how much better it was then. Then the church going, God fearing elite were happily exploiting or ignoring any piteous child or similar member of the underclass, left to live in squalor and sold a dream that if they put up with the squalor on this go, when they died there would be a smashing place for them, so don’t make a scene now. Ealing comedies are not documentary evidence of our previous lifestyles.
The most ancient of criticisms is “how can you have morality if there’s no god.”
At the mention of that, the audience groaned, many of them clearly having had that thrown at them before. Before the worthy point the finger at the atheists, perhaps they should look to themselves and wonder how can there have been so little morality when there is God. How can any Catholic church leader declare there is no morality without god when such immorality has been committed by the very organizers of worship I presume in the sight of their god.
Here is another argument for the loss of privilege, for self-questioning and free thinking to be used to its full. Crimes within religion can occur and can be covered up because the congregation respect and fear their leaders. Certain people were given a level of power and respect which allowed them to do whatever they wished with no consequences. If it all became too much, they could just be moved to another parish. It is not a pleasant watch, but the document Deliver us From Evil shows one story of how power allows you to corrupt.
With the revelations of just how complicit senior figures in the catholic church were in sexual abuse cover up, I am, naively of course, perplexed that Cardinal O Brien believes he is still able to take some moral high ground with the reading out of letter in all Scottish Catholic churches which criticizes the Scottish parliaments position on gay marriage. I think the sorting out of non consensual sex would take moral priority over consensual declarations of love, but I am odd that way.
Such oppressive leadership by fear and epaulettes is not merely the domain of the religious; communism, fascism and any other dogmatic systems seek to shut down free thinking and incarcerate those who question it.
Healthy societies should encourage questions and public scrutiny, not fear them. I think it was Howard Zinn who said that governments fear a healthy, well-educated and interested population; they are much harder to manipulate.
A proper secular society gives people rights to freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. It is not a threat to anyone of faith, unless their mission is to ensure their faith and their people are superior to all others and deserve rights above all others not of their persuasion. There will always be those who think some people are more equal than others.
Damn it, I think I might be some sort of utilitarian.
“The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.” John Stuart Mill
and of course, I ended with this
My tour continues, next up Exeter, Brighton, Lincoln, Oxford as well as an angry show at Norwich. All dates here