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No man is an island – Activism and Asceticism, Society and Soul.

Published October 25, 2013 by Katy J Went

Many self-development paths talk about the voyage of self, a transformational journey of our inner being which may be accompanied by external somatic spiritual practices, for example – meditation, yoga, abstinence. Ascetism disciplines the body so as to set free the spirit. The idea can be that as we grow as spiritual beings we become more immune from the chaos of the world around, we can find inner peace rather than need world peace.

To me, though, that becomes a path of transportation, not transformation – a worldview eschatology that is more escapology than soteriology – one that also makes us immune from care, community and connectedness, to anyone other than our own self or conception of any higher being. Our vertical path must be accompanied by a horizontal one – outward, as well as inward and upward.
Some, on an apparent path toward illumination end up in isolation, looking only inward. But as Jesus said:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others…” Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV).

True illumination gives light to others, and benefits society as a whole.
The modern twentieth century mystic Thomas Merton wrote a book No Man Is an Island and in the chapter on “Being and Doing” penned the words:

“what we are is to be sought in the invisible depths of our own being, not in our outward reflection in our own acts. We must find our real selves not in the froth stirred up by the impact of our being upon the beings around, but in our own soul which is the principle of all our acts.”

Merton went on to express the idea that our acts are as a mirror to the soul, but an imperfect and impermanent one. He regarded them as “transient and superficial”, but to me this reeks of “so heavenly minded, as to be no earthly good”, even Jesus was eminently practical about spirituality, “not all those that call me Lord will enter heaven…but those that clothe the naked, feed the hungry…” etc.

Merton again, ponders the paradox that “Stagnation and inactivity bring spiritual death. But my soul must not project itself entirely into the outward effects of its activity. I do not need to see myself, I merely need to be myself.” (p.124)

Image

Drop Of Water by Jani Rava

Being fully yourself, should naturally overflow, not a glass half-full or empty but a glass over-full, spilling out, giving out… An ocean is never full, but always flowing. The drop that feels it has no effect still forms a ripple on a still sea or joins a wave in a stirred up one. We are not just drops of water in an infinite ocean of humanity, instead, together we are waves, eroding established structures, shaping systems and society. We can make a difference.

Merton was not the first to use the phrase “no man is an island”, the seventeenth century poet and thinker John Donne used it in his Meditation XVII:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
This reflection upon sickness, death and corporate humanity, has lines that have stood the test of time. We are connected, the death of one affects us all, “diminishes” us, as a piece of land eroded and washed away.

I have always struggled with belief systems and practices that separate faith and works, mind and body, self and society. To me, we are not good unless we also do some good, not in a guilt racked, works oriented, aid-based sense of charity – but a transformational change that spills out, from oneself, onto the streets, into communities, makes waves, affects structures, creates policy and which organically organises a better world for all not just for one.As Mr Spock said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one” (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn).

To Aristotle, the securing of one individual’s good is great cause for rejoicing, but to secure the good of a whole city or nation was a nobler and more divine result. The Star Trek Vulcan-human paradox of logic versus humanity means that it is also often the right thing to do for the many to sacrifice for the one.

Socially, I disagree with Jeremy Bentham’s assertion that “It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.” Serving the majority is easy and far from right. Standing up for the “little ones”, minorities, the oppressed, distressed, disenfranchised, downtrodden or destitute – how we treat the disadvantaged is a far greater measure of ethical attitude.

Some people seek out solitude for an allegedly “higher” spirituality, others go there for refuge or retreat from the pain of the world. Simon and Garfunkel’s song I am a Rock (1965) describes an isolated existence, seemingly immune to pain and grief, but really rather lonely and protected.
I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me,
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain,
And an island never cries.
One of my favourite quotes comes from Steve Jobs:

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently – they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”, Think Different

In the new book The Bite In The Apple by Chrisann Brennan, his first girlfriend, Jobs is portrayed more negatively as having returned from a 1970s transformational trip to India and coming back “sexist” and beginning to “reject the feminine aspect as inferior to the glorious masculine”. Hardly pushing the human race forward. For all his technological genius and advancement, in the world of human relationships and equality, he sounds less evolved.

Bill Gates was the man to be hated as Microsoft grew and grew, but now his health research philanthropy could potentially transform the lives of millions and with even Warren Buffett trusting him to dispose of $billions as part of the billionaire’s pledge where 114 US billionaires are giving away between 50 and 99% of their fortunes. As Buffett has said, “Were we to use more than 1% of my … stock … on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced. In contrast, that remaining 99% can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others.”

Transformative Social Change is a practical philosophy that combines the personal with the collective. The personal is political, true change effects change without as well as within, society is transformed when groups of individuals are. The “no man is an island” analogy, for me, means that spiritual paths that involve separation or escapism from our communities are elitist and in the end non-transformational, instead they can become, for me at least, selfish.

Author and trainer, Alison Clayton-Smith, writes that:

“One of the first issues I identify in my book about self development is that, well frankly, it can all be a little be self-indulgent. Ecclestone and Hayes have suggested that focusing on areas such as self-esteem risks becoming internally obsessed. Not only does this mean we stop wanting to do things for the benefit of the community but also we stop thinking about where society needs to change. I think that we can benefit from shifting to a view of the interconnected self. That is, I am not me in isolation of anything else. I am linked to everything that is around me, whether that be other humans or the rocks and soil. They affect my existence and I affect theirs. This is where ideas from ecopsychology, and systemic approaches, can aid our thinking…we can start to think of a more holistic self development, one which leads us to seek out opportunities to benefit the whole, not just the part of the whole.” http://www.growinginsights.co.uk/2011/12/self-development-moving-away-from-the-self-and-towards-the-interconnected-self/

To return to Merton’s “Being and Doing”, or St James’ faith and works, it is not that we are what we do, but that doing can reflect a truer state of our being, putting our spiritual practice into practice, to good effect, so to speak.

Neurologist Dr Daniel A. Drubach, has written books on the brain, from a holistic standpoint, and on the crossover between Jewish religious philosophy and the neuroplasticity of the brain. He writes that the path to psychological, physical and spiritual transformation, is a Jewish expectation, to constantly re-create ourselves, just as the brain does. In a 2002 journal article on “Judaism, Brain Plasticity and the Making of the Self” he talks about a key Jewish idea, that the “self” is created through action, just as the brain through repeated action, forms connections within from regular activity. Whilst Merton spoke of inaction bringing spiritual death, inertia can also bring mental or physical death.

The inspiration to write this article was seeing a 5Rhythms quote that “All this dance is bull-shit if we don’t take it out into the street”. The late Gabrielle Roth’s 5Rhythms dance movement philosophy is described as a “dynamic movement practice – a practice of being in your body – that ignites creativity, connection, and community.” It is this integrated, connected aspect that I love. Roth termed herself the Urban Shaman and took dance to the kids, the elderly, to New York rather than California, and to those that thought they could not dance, but realised they could move in an individual, unstructured way that expressed themselves rather than conformed to structured time or dance steps. Her 5Rhythms integrated body, heart, mind, soul and spirit; created connection within and community without.

We need psychological/spiritual exercise as well as physical exercise and to exercise ourselves on behalf of others.

The biblical path to illumination was once described by the prophet Isaiah:

“…if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58:10-11)

The personal contemplative state can never be a fully enlightened one if it becomes separate from the connectivity we share with people and planet. It’s all very well looking at ourselves as the droplet of water under a microscope of self-analysis and development, but if we want to make waves then we need to fall from our solitary lofty intentions, become a drop in the sea and get rippling. Plop-psychology!

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Driving mullahs mad and Saudi Women towards Equality … slowly

Published October 1, 2013 by Katy J Went

Why tune in to comedy when you can tune in to a fundamentalist preacher (christian, muslim or cult)?

Sheikh al-Luhaydan sabq

Sheikh al-Luhaydan on SABQ.org

Saudi Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Luhaydan, a judicial and psychological consultant to the Gulf Psychological Association, has proclaimed on the sabq.org news site that:

“If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards. That is why we find those who regularly drive have children with clinical problems of varying degrees.”

This is no more illogical and unscientific than the Saudi religious Shura Council in 2011 being warned in a pseudo-scientific report that letting women drive would “provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce” and that would, in turn, result in there being “no more virgins”, presumably reducing the availability of reward for suicide bombing – I mean “freedom fighters”. In the last few days hundreds have died from these kind of immoral-by-anyone’s-standards attacks on freedom. In the last ten days over 130 people have died in terrorist attacks on a church, bus and market, in just one city – Peshawar, Pakistan. Over 60 were killed last week in the Kenyan shopping mall massacre, and on Sunday 44 students were massacred in Nigeria by the extreme Islamist group Boko Haram, whose name tellingly means “Western education is forbidden/sinful”.

Women2Drive campaign logo

Women2Drive campaign logo

Women in Saudi Arabia are being encouraged via a 12,500+ twitter campaign to flout the Saudi kingdom’s driving ban – strictly speaking a religious fatwa, though not based in either Sharia or criminal law – and drive en masse on 26 October. Defying the ban, the only country in the world that imposes it, is an attempt to raise awareness of all rights denied women there, although since 2011 they have been promised the vote by 2015. Punishment is normally by arrest and a fine, rather than more serious repercussions although imprisonment and lashings have not been unknown.

Access to the website oct26driving.com within Saudi has reportedly been blocked. Hashtags #women2drive, #Women_driving_affects_ovaries_and_pelvises and facebook pages such as Saudi-Women-To-Drive and Women2Drive have gone viral gathering thousands of likes but so too have ones advocating the beating of women that drive.

I don't have a car - I have a camel graffiti

I don’t have a car – I have a camel

Social media has at least safely enfranchised a Saudi woman’s right to protest, often and necessarily anonymously. One has even taken to graffiti art on the streets of Riyadh. The anonymous 23 year-old woman has been stenciling an image of a camel with the words “I Don’t Have A Car, I Have A Camel” and the hashtag #women2drive.

1990 and 2011 both saw attempts to ignore the restriction and demand equal rights, well progress at least, for Saudi women. Back in 1990 47 women were punished and many lost their jobs. In 2011, one of 100+ to take to streets and drive, Manal al-Sharif was accused of “besmirching the kingdom’s reputation abroad and stirring up public opinion”, only her capitulation and promise not to drive again led to her eventual release. She had risked using her own face, voice and real name, to stand up for all women. Several others ended up in court, that year, and one, named Shema was sentenced to 10 lashes. Manal says, “I measure the impact I make by how harsh the attacks are, the harsher the attacks were the greater the impact.”

Al-Sharif, a former Islamic fundamentalist herself, questioned her beliefs after 9/11 and listening, aged 21 – against the advice that it was satanic, to the Backstreet Boys’ “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely“. She began to challenge both terrorism, tradition and patriarchy. She was given an award in 2012 by the Oslo Freedom Forum for “Creative Dissent” and gave a brave and inspiring talk.

In 2005, Saudi’s King Abdullah was interviewed by ABC News’ Barbara Walters:

ABDULLAH: I believe strongly in the rights of women … my mother is a woman, my sister is a woman, my daughter is a woman, my wife is a woman. I believe the day will come when women drive. In fact, if you look at the areas in Saudi Arabia, the deserts and in the rural areas, you will find that women do drive The issue will require patience. In time, I believe it will be possible.

WALTERS: But there are so many restrictions against women. Do you see this changing?

ABDULLAH: Yes, I believe we can. But it will require a little bit of time … Our people are just now beginning to open up to the world, and I believe that with the passing of days in the future everything is possible.

WALTERS: Why do you think Saudi Arabia is becoming fertile ground for al Qaeda?

ABDULLAH: Madness. … Madness and evil, it is the work of the devil. … Such acts cannot be perpetrated by any individual who has a sense of decency or humanity or justice or faith.
http://abcnews.go.com/2020/International/story?id=1214706&page=1&singlePage=true

Al-Sharif is a part of starting the My Right to Dignity campaign for full Saudi women’s citizenship and what has become known as the Saudi Women’s Spring after the uprisings of the Arab Spring. She says, “the child cannot be free if his mother is not free … society is nothing if the women are nothing.”

In Saudi Arabia women cannot work or leave the house to shop, without the permission of their husband or male guardian, they cannot even have certain medical surgeries without that say-so and hence do not even have rights over their own bodies.

Because they are almost prisoners in their own homes Saudi women have the world’s highest incidence of diabetes, 70% obesity rates and only last year was Physical Education added to the education curriculum and their women partially allowed to compete in the Olympic Games.

For her, “Freedom starts within. ..the struggle is not about driving a car. It is about being in the driver’s seat of our destiny. It is to be free, not only to dream but also to live.”

More on this story on the bbc news site, on alarabiya.net  and the excellent saudiwomendriving blog.

A Harvard-educated Catalan radical feminist anti-capitalist nun and her political inspirations and aspirations

Published September 14, 2013 by Katy J Went

A Harvard-educated Catalan radical feminist Christian anti-capitalist nun – Sister Teresa Forcades, who is also a medical Doctor with a Master’s degree in theology, has a quasi-political campaign that is fast gaining momentum. Oh and she’s pro-openly LGBT people ministering in the Roman Catholic Church alongside her support for women to be priests. She’s pro-women in other ways too including abortion and a woman’s right to decide.

A Christian heroine of Sister Teresa is the 12th century German St Hildegard von Bingen, also a theological and medical polymath, though the “Sibyl of the Rhine” was, in addition, an artist, botanist, musician, playwright and poet. last year, Hildegard was made only the 4th female Doctor of the Church for her theological contributions. Forcades is unlikely to get similar approval given her open critique of the Roman Catholic church as “misogynist and patriarchal in its structure” and needing urgent transformation.

Hildegard was also critical of aspects of the Church, especially its Temple-moneymen-like selling of access to the Sacraments, something Jesus was infamous for combating when he drove them out of the Jerusalem Temple, whip in hand. She has also been regarded as something of an early feminist. Though willing to admit her “weaker vessel” sex status, much perhaps due to her sickly state of body, she, nonetheless, used that to her advantage in her attempts to gain political autonomy for her nuns. She invented a modified Latin alphabet, the lingua ignota and neologisms, perhaps for secrecy and community bonding with her nuns.

Like Hildegard, Sister Teresa says that “everything she does is born of deep Christian faith and devotion” but many question how a left-wing feminist can reconcile taking orders within the sexist homophobic institution that is the Roman Catholic Church. In 1971, when Mary Daly was the first woman asked to preach at Harvard Memorial Chapel she denounced Christianity as “irredeemable for women” and called for an exodus from the Church. Almost all those attending the service, men and women alike, joined her in walking out of the Chapel, so why is Teresa in it?

The Sister has, however, written on Christian feminism – La teologia feminista en la història (“Feminist theology in history”, Fragmenta Editorial, 2007) and just as with her famous opposition to Swine flu vaccine, which subsequently went viral, she researched for months before opposing its scientific basis – she has a PhD in Public Health – so too, she examined the Benedictine order before admitting herself to them. This she did by presenting to them a talk on a community of gay Catholics who celebrated their homosexuality as a divine gift – their positive reaction led her to put her doubts aside and take the sacrificial vows. She acknowledges that this has not stopped her falling in love three times.

The Second Vatican Council – The Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes, 29) on human community, says that:

“with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion is to be overcome and irradicated as contrary to God’s intent.”

So the religious is political but do religion and politics mix well? Most people recoil at the expressions of faith from Parliament rather than pulpit of Bush or Blair. Most recently, the shock coming out of Gorbachev as Christian, shows that he was wise to keep his faith quite when President of Russia. Faith for politicians can be a millstone around their necks but the Church gets as much criticism for failing to be political and certainly for not keeping up with the evolution of society, sex and sexuality.

Forcades, though, doesn’t want to run for political office or start a Party – she already has a ministry and political leader in the Church and Jesus, though also cites Gandhi and Chávez as inspirations alongside the radical left wing Greek, Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party “alliance of leftists, greens, Marxists and Maoists” (Guardian). 

In like manner, Forcades has drawn political support – tens of thousands from a spectrum of political and religious beliefs, and has an agenda: one with with Marxist, socialist, green economic and social policies. As much liberation politics as liberation theology.

She also stands for the regional independence of Catalunya (a 2014 referendum is possible) and is a fierce nationalist in the sense of that region’s self-rule. Though she is no xenophobe of other peoples, regions, countries nor indeed of immigrants and would see immigration controls ended. A slight hypocrisy perhaps in that the Catalan region is Spain’s wealthiest and can afford to go it alone, isn’t Spanish unity, Christian generosity and the Benedictine-rule ascetic poverty better served by that region assisting the poorer ones amidst Spain’s current austerity climate that includes 30% unemployment, rising to 55% amongst the young.

Her blend of hard-left (as someone recently opined why is it “hard-left and far-right?), is more far-left but with a soft-heart and wise intelligent capable and captivating head, despite its nun’s coif and veil headdress. There appears to be no contradiction between her state-led re-nationalising socialism, anti-capitalism and more individualistic nationalist independence and strong democratic values that espouse every member representation and a transparent democratising takeover of utilities including public ownership of the Internet. Her vision and version of modern freedoms is more communitarian than either communism and capitalism.

Her political manifesto was co-authored with Spanish economist Arcadi Oliveres, and has 10 demands:

  • A government takeover of all banks and measures to curb financial speculation
  • An end to job cuts, fairer wages and pensions, shorter working hours and payments to parents who stay at home
  • Genuine “participatory democracy” and steps to curb political corruption
  • Decent housing for all, and an end to all foreclosures
  • A reversal of public spending cuts, and renationalisation of all public services
  • An individual’s right to control their own body, including a woman’s right to decide over abortion
  • “Green” economic policies and the nationalisation of energy companies
  • An end to xenophobia and repeal of immigration laws
  • Placing public media under democratic control, including the internet
  • International “solidarity”, leaving Nato, and the abolition of armed forces in a future free Catalonia

BBC World Service – Heart and Soul, Sister Teresa Forcades

https://www.facebook.com/Forcades

Pope, Pat and Tutu all speak out on faith and LGBT

Published July 30, 2013 by Katy J Went
This week has seen Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Pope and firebrand Pat Robertson, speak out on LGBT identity and faith positions. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the usually extreme fundamentalist homophobic Pat Robertson who, when questioned on TV about transgender, said:

“I don’t think there’s any sin associated with that. I don’t condemn somebody for doing that…It’s not for you to decide or to judge.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/29/pat-robertson-transgender_n_3672244.html

Is age or grace softening him or is he seeking to get one up on the Pope’s latest announcement that being gay or a woman might actually be ok, just don’t ask to be a priest.

Pope Francis has affirmed gay orientation, but not practice (which still requires forgiveness) nor equal marriage. Also, on women, they are to be more proiminent but  “But with regards to their ordination, “the Church has spoken and says no… That door is closed.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23489702

Meanwhile, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, of South Africa, has blown people away with his statement on homosexuality, coming from a continent where even more usually liberal-minded Anglicanism is homophobic. He said that he would rather go to hell than a homophobic heaven and could not worship a homophobic God. He was speaking at the launch of a United Nations gay rights program in South Africa:

“We have to build a society that is accepting and it is not a free society until every single person knows they are acknowledged and accepted for who they are.”

“I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.”

“I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place.”

“I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level.”, “I think it’s as utterly unjust as racism ever was.”

“Can you imagine me having said it’s unjust to penalise something they cannot do anything about, their race or gender, and then to keep quiet when people are hounded, people are killed, because of their sexual orientation?”

South Africa may have deep divisions and violence still but it is the only African country to fully support equality of race, sex and LGB identity, allowing gay marriage since 2006, 7 years before the UK and France. The laws passed with overwhelming political support.

South Africa was also the first country in the world to protect sexual orientation as a human right in its constitution. Discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender or sexual orientation, has been against the law there since the 1994 interim and 1997 final constitutions.

Homophobic attacks in South Africa are, if anything, on the rise and especially of lesbians. Several having been murdered and even mutilated over the last year.

Of the world’s 76 nations that criminalise homosexuality 39 are in sub-Saharan Africa, with some of their homophobic campaigning allegedly encouraged and supported by American fundamentalist Christian organisations.

Transgender and Intersex people have also had a level of legal recognition for gender change since 2004 when the Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act (2003) came in to force, although in 10 years only 95 people have taken advantage of it since medical and/or surgical proof is often deemed to be required and many officials are still transphobic and reluctant to implement the law according to reports.

It’s slow speed ahead, but a seed of change nonetheless. One can easily jump on the ongoing LGBTIphobia, and one should – yet acknowledge too that 14 nations and 14 US states bringing in same-sex marriage laws, with several denominations increasingly and fully accepting LGBTI identities is a gathering storm of progress. Bigotry will not fall in a day and inching towards equality should be celebrated without letting them off the hook for hypocrisy and double standards.

Liberty, Equality … Essence and Existence

Published May 22, 2013 by Katy J Went

All very Samson and the Philistines, except one wonders who the philistines are in this case. Award-winning military historian Dominique Venner, a far-right activist, Islamaphobe and anti-“gay” marriage campaigner in France shot himself dead beside Notre-Dame’s altar in front of 1500 people yesterday (21 May 2013). Although a note was found beside him, police have not revealed its contents. The only clue was left on his blog, criticising the twin evils of same-sex marriage and Islam:

Il faudra certainement des geste nouveaux, spectaculaires et symboliques pour ébranler les somnolences, secouer les consciences anesthésiées et réveiller la mémoire de nos origines. Nous entrons dans un temps où les paroles doivent être authentifiées par des actes.

“It certainly will require new, spectacular and symbolic gestures to shake the somnolent sleepiness, stir anesthetized consciousness/consciences and wake up the memory of our origins. We are entering a time where words must be authenticated by acts.”

He saw himself as a modern day western Samurai – the theme of his next book. In the 60s he had fought to oppose Algerian independence as a member of the Secret Army Organisation (OAS) which had then attempted to kill President Charles de Gaulle.

He scaremongered about Islam quoting an Algerian blog that predicted Islamic rule in France within 15 years, which would paradoxically overthrow the new French law on same-sex marriage, signed this month.

25 years ago at university I remember the same predictions being made about several of Britain’s cities: Birmingham, Bradford, Leicester, Luton. Extremism of all hues and colours is the problem. But it is Venner’s, not that of laid back liberal lesbians and gays, trans, intersex and gender and sexuality queering. The “aggressive homosexual community”, to quote Sir Gerald Howarth MP, is a myth, certainly no danger to life or liberty, when we want liberty for all not less.How does equal marriage reduce straight liberty? If you are that worried by it, “stop having gay children”, to quote a viral internet slogan – the problem is, that one day some extreme heterosexists might do just that, all very Brave New World, if a gay gene could be eradicated as a disability in the womb.There is no contradiction here between giving religious conscience equal freedom with those whose “lifestyle” offends them, for it is not religion that sets one free, even Jesus condemned religion that bound, laws that multiplied, whilst justice and mercy were forgotten – no, it is the truth that sets one free. And truth evolves, or rather unravels. Indeed, this week the Church of Scotland voted to allow active gay ministers, the Church of England may lag behind but will surely follow. The BBC ran an interesting piece on how religions justify changing their mind, in the light of the dogmatic “unchanging” word of God/guru/saint/prophet.
Venner’s final paragraph was typical of French existentialism, yet mentioning the far right German philosopher Heidegger’s 1927 work Sein und Zeit, “Being and Time”, who influenced Sartre:

C’est ici et maintenant que se joue notre destin jusqu’à la dernière seconde. Et cette seconde ultime a autant d’importance que le reste d’une vie.

“It is here and now that our destiny is played out to the last second. And this final second has as much importance as the rest of life.”

Heidegger argued that how we question defines who we are, and that the being we seek should not be lost sight of in the philosophic questioning. He also wrote that the essence of being lies in its existence which Sartre interpreted to mean that existence precedes essence. Far from it, I would argue, humanity’s essence is free, we must question and campaign until our existence and laws (paradoxically and anarchically – why do we need laws to be free?) match our essence. Liberté, égalité, fraternité … ou la mort! I guess Venner chose la mort, “death”.

Rather than end on a morbid note, it is worth drawing attention to the fact that over 2 centuries ago, in the closing decade of the 18th century, the French were fighting for equal rights. Well fighting anyway!

The 1789 French Revolution adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. It asserted and assured that all men “are born and remain free and equal in rights” and that these rights were universal. The Declaration became and is a key human rights statement. It condemned discrimination and prejudice on the grounds of gender, race, class or religion. Protestants and Jews were for the first time given close-to equal rights with Catholics, thereby reducing the power of the Church. The new republic failed to extend those rights to women (LGBT rights was barely a public concern then). Nicolas de Condorcet said, “he who votes against the right of another, whatever the religion, color, or sex of that other, has henceforth adjured his own.” The lack of female equality led playwright Olympe de Gouges to publish her own Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen instead in 1791, highlighting the failure of the extension of equal rights across genders. So, liberté, égalité,.. but only for the fraternité!

We no longer debate slavery, at least in the West – except economic slavery, so why are racial and religious disharmony still prevalent, albeit we no longer condemn mixed race or religion marriages? Why are gender and sexual equality still being questioned over 200 years later? Why is our essence and existence not yet free, for all? If one is not free then we all are not free.

New Pope, new hope or same old story?

Published March 13, 2013 by Katy J Went

Twitter @pontifex “habemus papam franciscum” … but not certain about testiculos habet et bene pendentes, “He has testicles and they hang well”. Whether he has the orchises or avocados to change the Roman Catholic Church, or even the desire, is a far different matter from the alleged gender testing, James Bond style (Casino Royale), on a special chair with a hole, to confirm he is neither another Pope Joan nor a eunuch, intersex or third gender, a group of people the last Pope was firmly opposed to.

The more traditional announcement came 25 minutes earlier from the Papal balcony, “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum… habemus papam!” – “I announce to you a great joy… we have a pope!” Pope Francesco I, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, from Argentina.

I was hoping for a Brazilian so I could make jokes about his waxing regime. Still, an Argentinian, so now Britain could be at war with 1.2bn Catholics and the Vatican over the Falklands, who in a far more democratic process voted, well all bar 3 did, to remain British this week.

He is last time’s runner up to Ratzinger/Benedict, from Buenos Aires, and the first Jesuit, a 76yo of Italian parentage. He is the first from the developing world, outside of Europe, in a millennium. He is in favour of the simple-life, taking the bus to work and cooking his own meals. He sees poverty and simplicity as a form of spirituality and some in his native Argentina have called on him to campaign more for social justice, anti-poverty, rather than to just embrace it as a spiritual rule.

More hopeful was his statement in 2007, “We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least… The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.”. Whether that will unlock some of the Vatican’s riches for redistribution.

He is no liberation theologian, another conservative, as evidenced by his traditional views on abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality. On the latter he has strongly opposed the pro-LGBT reforming agenda of the Argentinian government including same-sex marriage (2010) and the first country in the world to fully depathologise transsexuality and to fund without prejudice or psychiatric intervention gender reassignment transition (2012).

Argentina’s current and first elected female president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (known as CFK, so hope she wears a bullet proof vest!) has criticised Bergoglio, now Francis I, and the Catholic church’s opposition to her policies as evoking the tone of “medieval times and the Inquisition”. He weighed in against her forward looking policies saying that “adoption by gays and lesbians is a form of discrimination against children” and in a formal letter to Catholic monasteries, “Let’s not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

So, a giant international leap for catholic-kind but barely even a small step in the right direction for true equality and diversity across all the strands of sexual and gender identity, gays and lesbians, women and trans, despite his past attention to social inclusion of those on the margins of society.

So homopaleohistoria and homoerotophobia, same-old-story and same-sex-love fear.  New Pope, new hope, nope – same old story. Let’s see, do I have the patience? Many people have waited 2000 years for a church to fully embrace the equality and ethics of Jesus who welcomed sex workers, tax collectors, women, children, working class fishermen, rebels & revolutionaries (John the Baptist & Judas), ethnics (Samaritans, gentiles, Romans), lepers, eunuchs and more.

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