Monday, 26 October 2015

Trendy religious pluralism

G.K. Chesterton, writing 90 years ago about the add-on gods of Classical paganism or, as it could be, religious equality and diversity today.

"It is regarded as a liberal and enlightened thing to say that the god of the stranger may be as good as our own; and doubtless the pagans thought themselves very liberal and enlightened when they agreed to add to the gods of the city or the hearth some wild and fantastic Dionysus coming down from the mountains or some shaggy and rustic Pan creeping out of the woods. But exactly what is lost by these larger ideas is the largest idea of all. It is the idea of the fatherhood that makes the whole world one. And the converse is also true. Doubtless those more antiquated men of antiquity who clung to their solitary statues and their single sacred names were regarded as superstitious savages benighted and left behind. But these superstitious savages were preserving something that is much more like the cosmic power as conceived by philosophy, or even as conceived by science."
(The Everlasting Man, 1925, Chapter IV, 'God and Comparative Religion'.My emphasis.)

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Downton and God

Dear Downton Abbey, in its final series, is figuratively speaking clobbering us at every turn with feminist dialogue. Well and good, its characters have to be portrayed as vastly enlightened on the subject of pretty much everything, lest we withdraw our 21st century sympathies from them. Lady Violet is the exception, the dinosaur, and always good for a laugh although she is sometimes allowed to utter sensible lines, notably in the latest episode when she held up Family as the bulwark against State - though she was immediately shot down by her own daughter who was already surrendering the Family as dead despite being happy to continue availing herself of Family wealth, connections and practical advantages. Of course. But the place where Downton rings especially wrong is on the subject of God. I mean, where is He? Religious observance would have held a prominent place in a Big House, even if only in terms of going-through-the-motions rather than with spiritually integrity. This anachronistic absence gives rise to great infelicities in the dialogue, because this artifcial absence cannot be maintained in character conversation. God will out. So, in the latest episode, we had the following catastrophes of tone and taste. Lady Mary jibing than even a monkey, given enough time, would type out the Bible: meant as one of her usual taunts of her sister, in reality a shocking statement of pervasive ignorance. Lord Grantham and his sister (I think) exclaiming  'Halleluia' and 'there really is a God' with much feeling, over the mere fact that Mrs Carson will continue to be know as Mrs Hughes: no comment needed. And Mr Bates uttering 'My God' when his wife hints that she is pregnant even though she has previously said in a bald-faced lie that she was not hiding anything from him: one half-assumed it was uttered in choked-up rage and half-expected him to strangle her for her duplicity (am I the only who finds him sinister?), seeing as both the 'my' and the 'God' were meaningless in terms of his character so far. These examples are not nothing. They are especially not neutral. Their tone and values get absorbed in general Downton-ness without our realising it, all the while doing their insidious work of contributing to the rubbishing of the Triune, Christian God, as if that too were a mark of enlightenment.

Bake-Off and Motherhood

As the dust has settled a bit on the 2015 Great British Bake-off victory of Nadiya Hussein, let's highlight something else than her headscarf, to wit: that Bake-Off is that rarest of environments in contemporary Britain, one where it's ok to be a full-time mother. Hussein's pivotal role in her family passed largely without comment. Everyone, understandably, was excited about her throrough-going Britishness, as it was reflected in her general demeanour as well as in her bakes. Presumably though, religious observance had something to do with her decision to be at home, and all power to her. Assuming that is the case, I can't help wondering how viewers would have reacted if a contestant with Nadiya's winsom appeal had been equally obviously seen to be a Christian rather than a Muslim. (And I don't mean just by a cross worn around the neck, as that's often a mere fashion statement - except where it does it mean something and therefore must be visited with wrath by Health and Safety or Equality commissars.) Would there have been as much jubilation over a Christian Nadiya's win? Or would people have taken to social media to criticise her choice of work as privileged or elitist or, on the other hand - because one can't win at this - to denounce her oppressed status of wifey-at-home? Just a thought.