A City United

I often use this blog to talk about the importance of respecting differences between people, for we are all different, we cannot not be. Yet there is always more that unites us as human beings, common thoughts and feelings we all share.

Many people in the world have experienced terrorism. Terrorism is directly caused by division and forces that enforce that division. I’m British, the British government have been responsible for some of the worst divisional conflicts in the world: Northern Ireland, the formation of Israel-Palestine, Iraq and Syria and the partition of India. All of these conflicts have bred hate, division and terrorism.

This week I’ve been the closest I’ve ever been to an act of terrorism, the explosion at a pop concert in Manchester. I used to live in Manchester, I attended concerts at the city’s arena where the tragic events took place and i support one of the city’s football teams. I was concerned about my friends who still live in Manchester and their families. After the shock and concern there was a feeling of anger, of frustrations about the inability to get anything done about terrorism. However, the news then turned to the aftermath, such as the Manchester taxi drivers who offered people lifts to safety for free, the people who  helped parents find their children. Even the offer of Manchester United fans to dedicate their UEFA cup win to all of Manchester (I’m a Manchester City supporter myself) was a move towards unity. The sense of the majority of a community coming together in a spirit of unity, that the city would not be broken into division and hate.

Of course, not everyone shared that feeling of unity. There were calls by some to further ostracise the Muslim community, to rally the anger into an increased mistrust of Muslims. Such calls create division and are exactly what causes terrorism in the first place. If you are different and bullied for being so, you can find some solace in groups such as ISIS, to give into anger and share it with others with a similar story. Conflict becomes a vicious spiral where recriminations build and thinks deteriorate into more violence and death.

I can almost hear the criticism of these words by some conservatives of the thoughts of a liberal: That reaching out to people is not the way to resolve these problems. It all comes down to why I really don’t get right wing thinking. To me, the idea that there is one way to be, that one size fits all, just simply doesn’t work.

In Manchester, we like there being two big football clubs because you can find the club that suits you as an individual, but we share a love of Manchester football. I really don’t get why people would support United, but I appreciate that their supporters feel the same way about our lot. When I first starting going to Maine Road, I got a buzz from being accepted by the community of fellow City supporters and singing together about our love of the football club. In particular the feeling of inclusion and solidarity of attending away games in the boisterous away end.As a younger man, there were times I did feel a hatred towards Manchester United. Then I was guided through an acceptance that Manchester United weren’t so different from us after all, that we shared much in common. Indeed both clubs proudly sing versions of the same song ‘Oh Manchester is wonderful!’

In Wales, we seek an economy that allows Wales to grow and flourish, for Welsh culture to thrive  and the one size fits all policies of the government in London simply don’t work. At times I have experienced negative feelings towards England and the English for the history of oppression of Wales and the Welsh. Yet I have learnt that it was never intentional, it was simply an effect of the roundabouts of English politics, Yet I love England and the British Isles as neighbours and fell we shoudl eb working together not against each other. I desire for Welsh autonomy does not have a desire for separation as its motivation.

In Christianity, we all go to different churches because we have found the churches we like that help us be closer to God, yet we appreciate that other people find different paths in different religions, with other styles of worship and spirituality. In churches we also find communities to be a part of and that gives us a strength that can be used to work together to help others.

A one size fits all system, forces people to conform to ideas that don’t quite fit. Encouraging  diversity allows people to find a place of strength which enables them to reach out to understand and respect the different ways of others better. One size fits nobody well.

The real tragedy of Manchester this week is that is was predominantly young people going to a concert by an artist, Ariana Grande, that they found they could relate to, who helped them find a sense of themselves and then experience the joy of celebrating the artist with other like-minded young people, just like a football match or a religious service. Yet, many of them lost their lives that night, due to the actions of a man, who hadn’t found his place in the world and people to share with, who was unable to then reach out to understand and help others, a person who could only find solace in a community of division, separating themselves off from the world, so lost that he took on their creed of vengeance on the world that had shut him out.

This was also the week of the death of Ian Brady, the Moors murderer. A man from Manchester who also murdered young people. It is also possible to view this troubled man as finding some kind of relief for his personal problems in killing and burying his victims on the Moors. As a society we should not exclude people or leave people behind.

Yes, it is sometimes a challenge to realise that those who make things harder for you or your community or indeed kill innocent children are not acting out of hatred to your kind, but are dealing with their own problems and you are the unfortunate victim. We are all victims sometimes of unfairness. The bully is never truly evil, but someone expressing rage about not finding their place the world, someone to take their own frustrations out on. The difficult part is realising how you are different and then finding ways to live at peace and friendship with those different from you. The task is to prevent people getting so lost and confused in the first place and not attacking them for where they have ended up, having failed to provide an inclusive society. A society that doesn’t divide it’s people but one that returns us to a culture where people are not ignored, where you will be picked up if you fall down. It isn’t always easy, as a species we still have a lot to do.

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Believing in Evolution

There is a substantial difference between knowing something and believing it. Belief is much more powerful as it goes beyond logic and connects with peoples sense of self.

This idea helps make  clear why there is a stigma about mental illness. The anxious person or the depressed person can know that they are ill, that it is possible to not be ill, often the problem is that they don’t believe that they can be well. I suffered from anxiety, there were brief times when I wasn’t anxious, instead of knowing I was well, I believed it was merely a temporary respite. It was when I believed that there was nothing wrong with me, when I believed what I already knew rationally, did I become well. so the mental illness stigma is perhaps because healthy people don’t recognise the difference between knowing something to be true and believing it. Perhaps for the healthy, they believe they are well before they have developed an explanation for why they are well, belief comes before knowledge in this instance.

As a scientist I both know and believe in the theory of evolution. I know, because I have studied, read and observed the evidence and accept evolution as a rational, empirically produced explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. I believe,  because I also accept the scientific process for discovering the laws of the physical universe, I accept the process as a valid way of generating truth.

Many scientists have difficulty understanding why those of religious faith lack a belief in evolution, indeed some of faith have difficulty believing in evolutionary theory. Religious faith is different to simple belief. Belief in God is different to beliefs about the physical universe, because belief perhaps comes before knowledge, rather than coming after knowledge. Religious belief connects to the self, before any empirical process of gathering knowledge. Faith concerns something beyond understanding of relationships in the physical observable universe. As a scientist I believe that it is possible for science to explain what God is, but that humanity may never establish a theory of everything. Sometimes, it is perhaps dangerous or less open to truth if belief comes before knowledge.

It is accepted that such theories as evolution or gravity are true. such truths can be established from raw data acquired from the physical universe. I believed these truths before I became a Christian and I know that there is no conflict between holding these beliefs in addition to religious beliefs, such as God having a role in the creation of the universe. The issue is perhaps that for some people the religious belief is more powerful to themselves than a mere rational piece of knowledge. To the atheist scientist, belief in scientific theory is more powerful than mere knowledge or understanding of religion, often atheists struggle looking beyond mere empirical understanding of the physical universe. To someone of faith, these powerful ideas can make the concept of evolution seem less important and hence less true. Yet people are not robots, they all harbour non-rational thoughts and ideas, the belief of humanists that there is perhaps, simply, that there is a physical explanation for these mental phenomena, but their belief may not be as strong as these less easy to break down logically ideas are not as fully explored, perhaps mentally acknowledged or as strongly believed. No individual person has a fully coherent explanation of themselves or the wider universe, yet every individual is on a journey to discovering truths.

I think I should point out, that I am in no way declaring any superiority for religious faith over atheism. What I am saying is that faith is worthwhile exploring. It is a question of balance, people choose what to invest our mental energies upon, there should be space for rational scientific inquiry as well as reflection on the question of faith.

#parisattacks and Community

Once again, Paris is subject to terrorist attacks and I was affected as the news of the tragedy filtered through late last night. Earlier in the evening I also heard of the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Baghdad , whilst this news saddened me, it didn’t affect me as much, so I wondered why this is. The deaths of innocent people everywhere are surely equally tragic.

I concluded that it was because it was closer to home. In the same way as when there is news of a rape or murder in Wales, it affects me more deeply than when there is news of rape or murder in, say, Australia, because it is more local. I believe that as human beings we view the whole of humanity as the targets used in archery, the rings closer to the centre have a stronger significance to us, as they are closer to us, I think everyone is at the centre of their own sphere of influence:

Zone 1 : Partners, immediate family and close friends – These are the people I care about the most and whom I am most effected if there is bad news and I am motivated to go to the ends of the earth to help.

Zone 2 : Extended family, casual friends, work colleagues, members of local social groups

Zone 3 : Local community, people I interact with more occasionally, who share the same lived in space

Zone 4 : National community, in my case Wales

Zone 5 : National neighbours, for me, Ireland, England and Scotland.

Zone 6 : Similar cultures, for me, Western society: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Northern, Western and Central Europe.

Zone 7 : The global community, the rest of the world.

To me, this hierarchical system, makes sense. Incidentally it explains why I regard myself as Welsh first and British second. Being aware of ones place in a community, enables individuals to learn that everyone elses archers target is different, that people closer to us tend to have their centre closer to our own centre. It is always interesting to be open to and learn about people in other cultures, to learn how their ‘archers target’ is different to our own.

Understanding that our own target, our own values, whilst important to us individually, on a global level are equal. no one individual is more or less important than anyone else. As rational beings, people know that any individual ‘archers target’ is no more important than any other. What it is is that we are more affected by change to our local community than the wider community, yet, are able to realise that  local effects affect us locally, whilst a murder close to home or a long way away is equally tragic.

It is perhaps when this ‘archers target’ system is ignored, that conflict arises. It is possible, especially in a globalised world, for people to regard social groupings that they belong to, for people in outer zones to be more important than those locally. For example, as a Christian, I may feel more affected by the murder of a Christian in say, Pakistan, that the murder of a Muslim in Wales. I don’t, I am more affected by the local murder, but I know people who do feel this way. As society is more global, our social sphere becomes global and there become sections of our local communities that we don’t interact with, because we spend more social time online, then this distortion of how we care for people can become affected.

There is so much trouble, so much conflict in the world and with the internet and global news coverage, we know a little about what is going on all over the world. People do care, if there is a tragedy anywhere in the world, people want to help. Perhaps the difficulty is that in helping, people, naturally, in the first instance wish to help in a way that imposes the slightly different values of their local community, rather than listening to troubled community and responding to the needs identified locally.

For example, I worked on a camp alongside an isolated village in Madagascar, surrounded by one the last remaining areas of  primary forest. I went there with the motivation that such areas of such natural beauty and diversity should be preserved, as much of Madagascar has suffered from the loss of it’s forests. In my first few days there, I saw evidence of tree felling and clearing of areas of forest for farming by the local villagers. An initial reaction was how daft are these people for razing such an important and increasingly rare resource. After spending time there, I realised that these Malagasy villagers are not daft, but witty, friendly, cooperative people.

Slash and burn agriculture has been used for centuries throughout the world. An area of forest is cleared, the wood used for building and fuel, and the area cleared, farmed until the soil nutrients are depleted. Then another area of forest is cleared and the process repeated. This was sustainable, as over time, the forest would re-establish itself, it would be generations before that area was cleared again. The problem is population growth and finite areas of forest. To the villagers there has always been more forest to clear if need be. However the villagers learned from us that the forest wasn’t infinite and they were interested in developing ways to preserve the forest, whilst maintaining the resources needed to sustain their village. Indeed, they were wondering why the price for wood products at their local market was rising. Local solutions work, simply going in and telling people not to cut down trees, only creates conflict.

I suspect, there will be many calls in the next few days to do something to solve the problems of the broken fractured societies in the Middle East. Perhaps we should all remember, not to join in with the loudest, angriest voices, but to keep listening to all voices, maybe one day, humanity can learn to work together and respect one another, before conflicts get out of hand.

Fighting Against Evil Supermarket Bread

I love bread! I love making it, baking it, the smell of it, eating it and spreading it with jam! It is the most wondrous stuff and the staple of European food. To an outside observer it would seem that the British in general have ended their love affair with bread. The story is a rather middle-class first world problem, but also illustrative of creeping value loss.

I was lucky to grown up in a small rural town, isolated from the early wave of the supermarket takeover of the British high street. The town had a bakers shop, mainly baking bread for the townsfolk and local businesses such as hotels and restaurants. We had several butchers shops, a fishmonger at the weekly market and several greengrocers. We also had a local independent supermarket , which sold one of everything, basically all dry goods, it even had a cheese counter. Shopping meant walking from shop to shop to purchase your provisions.

Nowadays the town has a rather poor chain baker, is very fortunate to have retained a butcher and convenience shops (which are basically only good for alcohol and snacks). There is a huge supermarket, 7 miles away in the next town, a drive or a bus journey. Time wise, weekly shopping now actually takes much longer. How did this happen? How is the only way of getting a decent loaf of bread to travel 7 miles to buy flour and bake it yourself, indicative of a more modern efficient society?

Supermarkets came about as they offered a more efficient distribution network, offering lower prices, more choice and exotic goods. There were supermarkets in the big cities first. My family used to drive to the city (a three hour round trip) once a month or so, for shopping: books, LPs, clothing and anything else we desired. On the way back we would visit the supermarket to stock up for the month on dry goods, such as rice, as this was much cheaper and to be able to buy foods we couldn’t get at home.

Most people in the town did this kind of shopping (in those pre-internet times). This did impact on the local shops. However the bakers survived as, fresh still warm bread is something very special, to be picked up from the local shop and delivered to the breakfast table. As time passed, local bakers declined. The supermarkets sold the soggy crappy ‘Chorleywood’ sliced, plastic bag bread, only good for toast, at rock bottom prices. So people bought this cheap crap and didn’t eat as much of it, instead people ate more and more of the other things the supermarket provided to replace bread (which they made more profits on),  bread declined. Occasionally people missed fresh bread, the supermarkets provided ‘in-store bakerys’, producing bread any real baker would be ashamed of. However, this made those who only used a supermarket to think that this was what real bread tasted like, it was no longer seen as something very special.

The supermarkets won and killed off real bread as an everyday staple. Bread is now seen as an artisan, luxury product, and often priced accordingly. This is very sad. Many place the blame on the ‘evil’ supermarkets, exploiting the British consumer. This is a rather reactionary view and is indicative of how extremist views can arise, whether they be on bread, meat-eating, political creed or religion. A blame culture, blaming others for a failure to act responsibly. Are the supermarket bosses really that evil, do they drink the tears of virgins with glee?

No. The supermarkets have simply followed the path of maximizing their own profits, without regard for their impact on society. The town planning system failed in holding back their growth.  They are not evil in the sense that they set out to destroy peoples enjoyment of bread,  A consequence of this is loss of bread and a loss of appreciation of the value of various foodstuffs. People are not evil, they simply follow convention and seek cheap food. This explains why bread demised, why the disgusting factory farming of animals proliferated, why people vote for political parties that superficially make the right noises.

Those of us who have invested the time to research, investigate and think have understood this. but the majority don’t. So, for those who understand, can see the situation as one where people just need to be told the truth, to be educated and they will form the same conclusions as these early seers. However, the majority appear not to listen to this vocal minority. They don’t listen because surely a minority of wierdos can’t be right, they must be extremists. So, all these dedicated minorities become tarred with the extremist label, whether they be religious converts, animal rights activists or political activists. The minorities respond by becoming exasperated, so shout louder and sometimes start acting immorally themselves ‘for the greater good’. Moral principle is lost, as well as access to a decent loaf of bread.

Corporate culture has killed off many things precious to ordinary folk. Not because pursuing a profit or greater efficiency is evil, but by taking the idea too far, without control, trying to be all encompassing. It is often heard that people don’t have the time to enjoy kneading there own loaf of bread, yet people have the time to sit for hours everyday in a traffic jam on the way to work and queue in the supermarket. It is very curious indeed how people don’t seem to take responsibility for there own lifestyles anymore in this ‘need’ to comply with contemporary economic theory.

Interpreting Science & Religion

I am a Scientist. I do sometimes feel sad about how often these things are misinterpreted, especially when such statements as ‘Scientists say…’ and the perception is created that it is that all scientists agree or that science itself has concluded something. I feel sad because this simply isn’t true. It’s an interpretation, conclusion forming and communication problem.

For example: ‘Scientists say “GMOs [Genetically Modified Organisms] are a good thing and implementation of GM technology must be supported”‘:

Science has an understanding of and discovered ways to manipulate the DNA of organisms. Scientists have used techniques developed in various applications, This is value free fact.

It is possible to interpret some individual applications of GM technology as beneficial. Scientists may interpret this potential of GM to do net good. Part of the role of the scientist is to discover things about how the world works and communicate these findings and potential uses. At this point science ends.

GM as being universally good? We are now entering into value judgements and forming conclusions. Really it is up to individuals and society in general whether something is potentially good. The conclusion that ‘all GM is good’ is absurd, each application has to be judged on it’s merits and some applications will be bad too. However it is difficult for policy makers and legislative bodies to create rules for. So, hopefully this makes clear the problem of lumping the process of truth, interpretation and rule making conclusion, into one misleading ‘Scientists say…’ statement.

I am a Christian and the exact same problem occurs in faith. For example “Christians say that justice is a good thing and must always be supported”:

Christianity is a religion, that assists people in connection with their spirituality/  the divine. This  enables people to enter a state of understanding and connection with the idea of universal love ,truth and goodness. That is what Christianity is, it’s not unique to Christianity, or even unique to religion. This connection with God through the Holy Ghost enables individuals to understand and connect with the concept of justice and know that it is good.

The secular person can equally understand the concept of justice. Perhaps rather than through spirituality, it is achieved by considering examples of justice and injustice until the concept is understood in the mind.

Any individual issue of justice has to be assessed on it’s merits as to whether it is a case of justice. Considering whether an act is a just act is an interpretation. Furthermore attempts may be made, that come to be understood empirically, to reach conclusions and create rules. Rules are not Christianity, they are an individuals interpretation, for example: ‘Christianity must be defended when attacked’ is an interpretation, subject to the frailties of human reason. So, it is equally wrong to make statements such as ‘Christians say justice should be defended’, isn’t a part of Christianity, it is an interpretation by some people who are identify as Christians.

Spirituality isn’t an easy concept to understand, even those of faith sometimes lose their ability to connect with their spirituality. I used to be Agnostic myself, so found it easy to criticise Christianity, because I didn’t understand what it was. It is the interpretation of Christianity, indeed conclusions by Christians that can cause problems.

Really because the brain state of spirituality is something discovered, rather than reached through logic, it is an emotional state, it is not easy to achieve. Much of Christianity, as a religion,  concerns biblical stories and rituals that assist adherents achieve spirituality. This is all symbolic and not literally true:

As a Christian, I believe in God, the father almighty. What is God? God is the brain state of achieving spirituality. God only exists in human minds, there is no corporeal existence in this universe. I believe God is eternal, because spirituality exists in the universe, any being with human-like mind can access this concept and the concept is eternal. Becoming a Christian is simply gaining access to God.

I believe in immortality. I have connected with my spirituality, which I call God, my physical body will perish, but I have connected with an eternal concept, that other humans will achieve after me, that is my immortality. I do not believe that my soul will endure in some spiritual realm, fraternising with angels and other souls, although this is a wonderful concept, it is not true, but does contain a sense of being on a path to achieving spirituality.

I believe that God created the universe, not as some supernatural creative force of matter and energy, but as the possibility that in an otherwise dead neutral universe of matter and energy, human beings are capable of love, of experiencing decision making with an awareness that there are good positive ways of acting and otherwise (the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in the Genesis creation story) and giving value to life and the universe. I don’t think humans will ever know how God was involved with the creation of this universe, to me this is not an important part of the faith, simply the belief is.

The words Christians use are more symbolic than literal. When I take communion, I do not believe that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ. I do believe that I have symbolically connected with Christ and that helps me achieve the state of spirituality and connection with the Holy Trinity.

What makes Christianity special, is it’s clothes. The stories that surround the faith itself and the tradition it is a part of. All religions are about achieving spirituality, it’s just that the clothes, the stories and rituals are different. The ‘rules’ are interpretations by specific sects of any religion, it is a shame that they are not always recognised as such. Everyone makes rules and creates fictions, to get through life more efficiently and keep ourselves happy, to achieve spirituality quicker, it is important to remember that they are all fictions and not absolute truths. I create and subscribe to fictions as a Scientist and as a Christian to achieve happiness, whilst retaining an understanding of what are universal truths and what are fictions/interpretations.

In Science as well, we make rules and form theories. These help Scientists make efficient progress. Good scientists are always aware that the general conceptualisation of a theory may not be quite right. Good scientists are always keen to consider that they have discovered something that reveals the bigger picture more clearly. Equally adherents of faith should always question teachings and interpretations of their faith,

It baffles me that people wish to ever lump Science and Religion together, to me this is absurd. Science is a way of gathering information about how the universe of matter and energy works. Religion is about fragility of the human mind and the force of seeking an ease with itself and the universe. They are almost entirely separate. I don’t believe you can have the universe with human like minds in it without God.

All too often, we go from simple concepts, along paths of reasoning, making a generalisation here, strongly identify with a particular case and reach interpretations and conclusions that have little to do with the initial concept.

#JesuisCharlie and Freedom of Speech

I was taken aback yesterday by the sheer volume of postings about the tragic murder of twelve journalists and policemen in France this week. Often things that become big in the media and social media bemuse me. What struck me is the prevalence of the idea that what happened represents an attack on ‘freedom of speech’, it doesn’t and is actually an unhelpful interpretation of the events.

The facts are that these journalists were murdered by a bunch of sick individuals. That is it, it is terrible and awful, but apart from pray for their families and loved ones there is nothing people can do about it.

Why the huge reaction? innocent people are murdered by messed up people and fascists everyday, particularly so in Syria and Iraq in recent times, so this week is just like any other. These murders are just as terrible and tragic as those in France this week and just as deserving of moral outrage.

It seems likely that the perpetrators of this crime are misguided Islamic extremists, so it can be argued that this was a terrorist act. It seems as though society at large has forgotten how it should deal with terrorism as we learnt to do in Britain when subject to IRA terrorism. You ignore it, you don’t let it effect your life, you carry on as normal, you don’t change laws. You continue to work for social justice, unity and a fairer society, you keep talking until issues are resolved and  tackle the issues that lead people to adopt the crazy belief that killing innocent people is going to solve anything. Everyone is at risk of being killed by extremists, so modification of behaviour is pointless.

Having said this, why is there a perception that this was an attack on freedom of speech. The actions of our own government represent a much larger attack on individual liberty that this one incident. The satirical magazine used images of the prophet Mohammed, which is known to be offensive to Muslims. Yes, people have the right to say and draw whatever they wish, that is to be defended. However it is also important to respect people from other cultures, to respect the majority of peace loving Muslims, when attacking the unislamic beliefs of the extremists. These crazed, gun wielding, murderers exist, so it is wise to not provoke them. I’m not saying that the journalists shouldn’t have published cartoons if it was important to them, and everyone else has the right to criticise them for bullying a minority group, but going around being offensive to a minority group (Muslims in France in this case) is going to cause problems with the irrational extremists. The effect is not promoting harmony but may cause further division and mistrust. They have the right to do it, but  shouldn’t have targeted Islam in the way they did. What the cartoons lacked is a separation of the extremists, from the majority of real peace loving Muslims. Our society is not ideal, prejudice and oppression exist, rather than perpetuating such myths, people should work towards unity and inclusion. By doing so, the nutcases are exposed and can be dealt with through the justice system.

It’s perfectly possible to criticise Islam or aspects of Muslim culture without causing offense to the group of believers. It is sad that we live in a world where there are oppressed groups and most of us are aware of this and careful not to attack the groups label in our humour, but instead target the behaviour we disagree with. Generally, in the West, I appreciate the unnecessary privileges, white males such as myself have and take issue with anyone who cracks jokes about groups such as: black people, women, homosexuals and the disabled. As a Welshman, I am not very much oppressed, so the tirades of sheep jokes I suffer, are not a furtherance of oppression and I am free to hit back with my arsenal of jokes about the larger group, the English.

Having said all this, I like the ‘JesuisCharlie’ sentiment. It is true that we are all ‘Charlie’, we are all oppressed and sickened by the actions of extremists who take the name of God in vain, or whatever misguided creed they subscribe to support murder, who want to kill everyone in the world that doesn’t subscribe to their twisted corrupt perversion of Religion. We are all oppressed by those in power who fail to deliver the fair, just world the majority of people want and often perpetuate the divisions in our world.

I identify myself as a Christian, and as such I perhaps should take issue with the extremists who purport to be Christians. The thing is you can’t force people to listen, to understand and open their hearts and minds, sometimes all you can do is lead by example and hope that the light of truth will enter these people lives and keep the doors open. It is important to remember, whether you are a Christian or not, that Jesus was nailed to a cross, for saying that we should strive to be better people and to be kind to others especially the less fortunate and not to go around kiling people because they offended you, ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone’.

What the world needs is peace, love and a good laugh at ourselves.

Beyond Feminism

I’ve discussed Feminism briefly as a movement promoting equality and working towards the prevention of males dictating how women should behave, a movement against oppression. We live in a multi-cultural world where cultural traditions, historically patriarchal, continue to dictate and enforce conformity to convention. These pressures are beyond simply telling women how to behave, they dictate how men should behave as well and they dictate what our sexuality should be amongst other things. The further you are from the conforming archetype the tougher life can be. For example, pity the poor, mixed race, disabled, lesbian with a mental illness, however this person is so out there that perhaps they understand that trying to conform will get them nowhere and at least may find it easier to be themselves!

Often parents strive to help their children conform to society. The motivation for this is to educate children in how the world is and by implication conforming will yield social benefits. For example the message: Don’t be gay if you can help it, as your life will be harder. I discussed bullying earlier, or how conformity is enforced. However what these strategies often lack essentially is advice on how to deal with not conforming. As someone who isn’t quite the conventional male archetype, I know that it is important to acknowledge difference and being an outsider, to be comfortable and confident in who you are, as it is this confidence, this connection with oneself that provides the social benefits, rather than conformity itself. I don’t understand why my own parents, to some degree, made me feel that certain activities I liked were wrong, because it meant i spent my teenage years and much of my twenties dealing with unpicking these imposed restraint on finding out who i really was. I gather most of my contempories underwent similar processes.

If individuals really were free to choose there who they are, people would choose to be the dominant archetype, as life is easier. Being conventional relieves you from discrimination and the world its around you like a glove. for example you pick up a magazine and it is full of articles about things you are interested in, the people around you are sufficiently versed in these topics that social discourse is straightforward. However if that isn’t you and for the majority it isn’t it is better to accept the difference.

Why does society inflict this conformity? Economically, perhaps it is more efficient if everyone wants the same things, rather than a variety of options to cater for? I don’t think anyone really would want such an Orwellian dystopia. Historically, there was the landed gentry, and there still is,a ruling class, who obtain great wealth and wish to keep it that way as it affords them a life of luxury with built in maintenance of the system. This minority can then inflict the conformity they wish in the rest of the population, as those that conform receive preferential treatment. I am against such a system and in western society, generally there is an objection to such a system, but often we lack collective awareness of it and the ruling class control the media, a divide and rule system.

Culturally, diversity is now cherished. For example Christianity in Britain, once a bastion of dictating the rules of society, no longer does this. The church is now a minority group, instead the principles of the faith and spirituality are preached,  people are expected to form their own conclusions to moral questions with reference to interpretations of biblical teachings.

Music, as many art forms, has never been about conformity. Interest is maintained by constantly looking for new ideas and different ways of expressing ideas. With the rise of recorded media and the birth of pop music an even greater diversity of musical styles flourished, often despite the attempts of the record industry (the ruling class) to dictate popular tastes. But then music has always been about rebellion and exploration. and it still discouraged by the powers that be: Restricted performance licensing, poor sound insulation in new build housing etc. Nonetheless generally Britain is a society that actively promotes unconformity in comparison with other countries, yet there remain forces against this openness. Are these forces simply grumpy older people who wish they had the choice to be themselves instead of conforming?

Giant Leaps

Discovery of something wonderful gives one a sense of newness, feeling fresh and alive. The energy acquired makes one desire to share this discovery with the world. There is also a sadness, that you have changed as a person and will never quite be the same again. however you have grown and are a better person for it.

This desire to share does create problems. Problems because what you have discovered is something that only really has relevance or is new to yourself. It terms of society, it is not new, with very rare exceptions such as scientific discoveries. So it is problematic as it is unnecessary to force this discovery onto other people, particularly when these other people are not aware of what it is that you have discovered about yourself.

it is perhaps once again the outsider issue. I discovered a few years ago, what it is to be happy, to be able to relax and be myself, that feeling disconnected from the world wasn’t a part of me, but a symptom of not knowing exactly what happiness was. I did communicate this to people, who were disturbed by it. I think that the reason they were disturbed was that they had never made the transition of being sad to finding out what happy is, that these people had a sense of always knowing what happiness was, hence find the concept of it’s discovery somewhat baffling.

What I have found interesting is that there are people who have understood my discovery. These people have had similar barriers to being comfortable within themselves, people who have spent a lot of time thinking in deep dark places. Such people can relate to similar experiences more readily than those who haven’t dwelt in negativity.

This phenomena has many examples in a wider context:

Religion: There are the people who discover their faith, their spirituality later in life. Some of whom then wish to convince the rest of the world of this truth they have discovered in themselves. such street corner preachers make a lot of people uncomfortable, particularly those without a faith. Others, of faith, who have grown up in a particular tradition have never perhaps made a great leap, but whose understanding of their faith has unravelled incrementally, a sense of the faith  always having been there, a sense of never having denied it.

New music/art: Probably most people at some point have discovered a new artist, whom they make a connection with, which they find exciting and life affirming. Again there is the desire to tell the world and more particularly, their friends about. There are also people who may have grown up with the artist, or who have known about the artist  earlier in their career, to whom there is less a a great leap of connection.

Sport: A new convert to a particular sport, or a new fan of a particular team, tends to have a more intense fervour of commitment and interest than the long standing fan, at least for a period of time after the discovery. In this case, there is less alienation of the new convert. There is less alienation as here the new person is joining a community that is distinct from the wider world, there is knowing that never will everyone be a convert to this particular cause. The discovery is one that is not based on anything inherent in the self, so there is always a point for everyone at which they discovered this love.

It is sad, that most of the discoveries people make are only of relevance to themselves, so communication of it should be restricted to family and friends, even if others were influential in making the discovery. Though often people are appreciative of someone simply expressing joy, without needing the specific details. There is a disdain for the preacher who only discovered something recently, however a reflective preacher who has deepened their understanding of a discovery, who can express the discovery in a new way is always I believe important.

Tolerance

Growing up as a member of minority groups is difficult, because there is a sense that you are not ‘normal’, so there is a desire to discover what ‘normal’ is. There is a sense of questioning why you are different and a sense of anger that your way, your needs are not tolerated. I struggled with this until I accepted that there is nothing actually wrong with me and accepted myself. The sense of anger comes after reflections that what you are isn’t immoral, so other people shouldn’t be prejudiced against you, yet there continue to be examples of other people not understanding.

There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ person. The majority of people are in the majority on any individual facet of life. some people feel less prejudice due to who they are. However some minorities face differing levels of challenge. Two ‘extreme’ examples:

People over 6′ tall: These people live in a world of discomfort because every standard chair and desk is too small and too low. In society generally, the needs of this minority are not fully appreciated, but few are actively prejudiced against tall people.

Paedophiles: Some peoples minds are such that they are sexually attracted to children. Sex with children is morally one of the worst, if not the worst, abuses humans beings are capable of. If the paedophile is fully aware of themselves and reflected that they should not under any circumstances act on these desires, then there is no problem. What is a problem are the societal barriers for such a person to seek help from a wider misunderstanding society, for help in coming to terms with this facet of themselves. There is a lot of prejudice towards such people

The point being that actually there is no real difference between these examples, yet society in general accepts tall people more readily than the paedophile.

Tolerance is essentially about awareness that everybody is different and to accept everybody without prejudice.

I am reminded of the biblical story of Sodom (Genesis 19). In this story, two angels visit the city of Sodom. The angels are welcomed by Lot, but the remainder of the people in the city seek to do the visitors harm. God removes Lot and his family to safety then unleashes fire and brimstone upon the city of Sodom. My interpretation of the story is that the people of this city have become immoral and sin has become accepted as ‘normal’ in the city. The people of Sodom are intolerant of the visitors as failure to welcome guests is itself an example of intolerance.

When I first read this chapter I was unaware of the connection between the name, Sodom and sodomy, a reference to homosexual practice. Indeed some people interpret this story as ‘evidence’ that homosexuality is a sin against God. This interpretation has led to a long history of discrimination of homosexuals, when actually the message of the story is one of tolerance and the importance of reflecting morally upon ones actions.

I find it strange that as an individual it has taken me some years to accept myself for who I am and be happy. it is better to be open and listen, so that you can understand yourself and other people can understand you (but also to be respectful when people don’t understand you). Yet it has taken society much longer to accept minority sexualities, gender equality, racial equality and many many other minorities. There is still far too much intolerance in the world. Sadly there is still intolerance within Christianity, a force whose message is the promotion of tolerance.

War and Love

I’ll stick with this minorities vibe until something else pops up. Four years ago I became a member of another minority, when I realised that I had become a Christian.

I had been listening to a lot to J.S.Bach and Renaissance Polyphony. As a younger person, I’d steered away from such music simply because it was music written for praising God.  I was prejudiced towards the music as I was agnostic. Really as a much younger man I’d steered away from metal as I didn’t see the point of music about death, hate and destruction. Freeing your mind from prejudice is such an important step to take in life.

So I’m in this tiny minority of Christians who also like metal. It was so affirming to meet a curate at a church in Scotland who also liked metal. I am not alone. Coming to Christianity via music was important. I love music, it has the ability to instil an understanding of meaning, that no word (especially from an ancient text which has undergone multiple translations over time) or image can do, though I wonder if people who love the visual image or written word more like anything find this for their preferred art form?

Anyway, having become part of the Christian community I quickly realised that there is as much diversity in thought and opinion, if not more so, than in the secular world. What I find concerning is how in Christianity as in other religions, there is a tendency for different groups to congregate in different churches and this fosters prejudice against the other groups, so there is a constant battle with this directive force and Gods message of love. Christianity and the church are essentially separate entities, the church being the  gathering place for Christians, however politics manages to rear it’s ugly head.

My understanding is that God understands that humans are weak, troubled confused beings, yet loves us for trying to make sense of it all and act morally. Through the example of Jesus and the presense of the Holy Ghost, God reveals a way of achieving spiritual calm and enlightenment we should all continue to strive for, yet know that we should never have the arrogance to believe we ever reach the end of this journey. This is amazingly good news.

Yet, we have so many different churches, so many different styles of worship,linked with differing interpretations of the Bible. If you live in a small place, where there is one church, that is where all Christians and the curious would go. In larger towns, there is a plethora of churches to choose from. The church has created minorities within Christians and this has led to much war and destruction. whilst lovers of metal music  are generally some of the most peaceful loving people you could hope to meet.  My point is that it is hard to tell whether there actually is any more love in the church than there is outside it.

This raises the question of what is the point of being a Christian? For me it is simply helpful for myself as an individual to achieve a sense of calm, loving reflection through worship of God and I would recommended it to anyone, the hard bit is perhaps  finding a church if that benefits you as an individual.