The Birth, the Nation and the Aftermath

By the time you read this it will all be over. It has been growing for almost a year-starting very small and developing during the days, weeks and months.

In the beginning nobody could predict what the outcome would be-who specifically it would be. The nation is divided. Some are actively involved and interested, keen to know the outcome; others harbouring a fervent wish for it all to be over, although I suppose none more so than the protagonists.

The journalists have massed in the usual fever of enthusiasm, camping out on doorsteps, interviewing the public, attempting to summon something-anything-that can conceivably be imagined as ‘news’ and succeeding-as always-in producing only conjecture.

STOP PRESS: Baby Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana has arrived.

Elsewhere in the news, the UK has held a general election. Elections are a gift for the press. Not only is there a protracted build-up, providing infinite opportunities for fevered speculation but an aftermath in which results can be examined, discussed, regretted or celebrated to the point of mortality.

You can analyse and dissect as much as you like, bringing it all down to this or that policy- immigration, housing, health or education, but to me it is much simpler. I think of political philosophy as a circle. At one end of the diameter are those who are self-seeking and wish to line the nests of themselves and others at the expense of someone-anyone-worse off themselves. Perhaps this is an ingrained, natural human characteristic, linked to a survival instinct. Who knows? At the opposite end of the diameter are those who seek to suppress their innate desire to stuff everyone else by wanting equality of wealth, health and happiness for all alike.

Around the circle lie the various ‘shades’ of these two beliefs. Everyone has a place around the circle, maybe nearer to the self-seekers, maybe next to the equality lovers.

Strangely, it appears that both extremes can lead to dictatorships. This is demonstrated repeatedly in history all over the world; and dictatorships do not usually lend themselves to majority happiness.

As one meagre vote among an entire nation’s, it seems hopeless to expect to make a difference, but that one vote is the one and only little speck of decision we have as individuals so we must apply it, hopeless or not. Here where I live there will never be a change and yet I exercise my right to vote, placing my pencil cross each time against a no-hoper who best represents my views.

It is now all over bar the inquest, the result a dismal endorsement for the self-seekers. Some will be happy, many depressed. We brace ourselves for another five years and hope for better-next time.

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Laugh and the World Laughs with You?

An old man goes to a church, and is making a confession:Man: “Father, I am 75 years old. I have been married for 50 years. All these years I had been faithful to my wife, but yesterday I was intimate with an 18 year old.” Father: “When was the last time you made a confession?” 

Man: “I never have, I am Jewish.” 

Father: “Then why are telling me all this?”
Man: “I’m telling everybody!”

Is this religious joke offensive? It might be deemed by either Catholics or Jews to be so, although I doubt it-because all of those of Catholic or Jewish faiths that I have ever known have had mature, balanced senses of humour. All of them would be able to enjoy, share or even initiate a joke about their own religion and I believe people of the Jewish faith, particularly are fond of Jewish jokes.

The world has experienced a dispiriting couple of weeks. The ghastly events in France, more grim action in Belgium and Germany.

In Saudi Arabia a perfectly peaceful man who wished to share his views has not only been imprisoned for them but is to publicly flogged every week for months. Again in Saudi Arabia unseasonal snow has led many to commit the sin of having fun by constructing snowmen. The building of snowmen is now forbidden. If you were to read this in a satirical magazine it would be funny, but it isn’t-it’s true.

In Nigeria such horrendous atrocities have been committed in the name of religion that it is difficult to believe humans can have wrought them.

To me, a sense of humour is one of the most basic qualities of humanity. One of the fundamentals that sets us aside from the animal kingdom and makes us recognisable to each other. Aside from crying in order to address its most pressing needs, a baby’s first communication is generally a smile, followed swiftly by laughter.

The ability to be self-deprecating, to not only participate and enjoy in a joke against yourself, your appearance, your age, your gender, your disability or your race but to tell one; this must be one of the most engaging aspects of any personality.

Whatever has happened to the world? Have vast swathes of people had sense of humour amputations? Or has some odd mutation taken place that has resulted in them being born without it?

Nevertheless there are still many brave, balanced, intelligent people prepared to satirise religions, and still some who will joke about their own faith-even Islam.

For myself, I am an atheist. If anyone wishes to joke about atheism I would be delighted. I take my atheism very seriously, but not as seriously as my dedication to humour and to humanity.

Worldly Troubles? I blame God…

                When my brothers and I were small children we were sent to Sunday school. We would begin on Sunday mornings by undertaking a thorough cleaning of our shoes [in my case it was most likely Clarks sandals with the cut out flower in the toe] then have to walk down through the village to the church and into a small section of the vestry where we would listen to Bible stories and sing along to a hymn:

                ‘Jesus bids us shine with a steadfast light

                Like a little candle burning in the night

                In this world of darkness we can shine

                You in your small corner

                And I in mine’

was a favourite.

                The best part of Sunday school was the stamp, gravely distributed and stuck on to a card as proof of attendance.

                My parents did not accompany us to these privileged gatherings, preferring to stay at home and enjoy the Sunday morning free of us-and who can blame them? My father was, in those days an occasional Church goer. But my mother was an unabashed, self-confessed atheist- brought up a Catholic, schooled in convents where [allegedly] she was beaten with a rubber slipper, until all vestige of religious belief was truly eradicated.

                Having learned at Sunday school that life after death was a trip to heavenly paradise I would sit on my mother’s lap and seek reassurance from her that this was assuredly the case, only to be told that death was ‘like a candle being snuffed out’. There was that candle theme again.

                The hypocrisy of sending us to Sunday school whilst admitting died-in-the-wool atheism appeared to present no qualms for my mother. Presumably the opportunity to off load us for a morning was compelling enough to overcome them. In any case my father put in a sporadic appearance at church at that time.

                Some years later, long after I’d begun to acquire my own lack of belief an aunt wrote to tell me it was time for me to become ‘confirmed’-an undertaking I took very little time to decide upon. I wrote back [extraordinarily politely for a mardy teenager] explaining that I didn’t know if I wanted to be a member of the Church of England-or indeed any church, come to that.

                Later still, when my own children came into being there was pressure from family members to have them christened, as I had been. I held out. They might want to be Buddhists, Hindus or atheists. Who was I to choose a religion for them?- And if I did, what was to stop them from rebelling, as all self respecting teenagers should?

                Because that is what I find baffling about indoctrination. Yes, small children are little sponges who soak up knowledge, skills or gobbledegook indiscriminately, only to rage against everything they’ve been taught as soon as a hormone raises its head above the window sill. So how come fervent devotion to religion is still rampant in the world, causing mayhem, war and suffering? And what ‘God’ would allow it all to happen?