God Save Your Mad Parade

I surprised myself, really. I, an avowed republican and atheist, watched the Queen’s funeral.

It was a historic event, there’s no doubt about that. If only because we need reminding once in a while that we live in a militarist theocracy.

Sure, the Prime Minister — elected, but just barely having any democratic legitimacy — was involved, reading one of the weird stories from the strange Christian book, The Bible. But look at the start of the ceremony. The military led the march to the church, surrounding the coffin throughout. Just inside the doorway they handed over to the religionists, who led them down the aisle.

All the living Prime Ministers were there, and some other politicians too, I expect. But it was not a day for them, for the elected; nor for their electors, for ‘commoners’, except to bow their heads and throw flowers.

I kept an eye on Twitter throughout, but it wasn’t nearly as snarky as I imagined. A few comments about dropped papers and spiders, but mostly just revelling in it.


Eyes Full of Tinsel and Fire

Christmas is the time of year when the devil doesn’t have all the best tunes. The other side gets some of them too.

I love Christmas songs. Not all of them. of course, but many. And that includes some of the Christmas carols. A full choir singing ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing,’ or ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’? I’m there.

The best Christmas songs, though, do belong to the — let’s say — secular side of things. I have a hierarchy of my personal favourites. Things move around a bit, and very occasionally new ones arrive; and you won’t be surprised to learn that ‘Fairytale of New York’ remains unassailable in the top spot.

One of my other favourites is Greg Lake’s 1975 hit, ‘I Believe in Father Christmas.’ Now, if you haven’t listened to the words too closely — written, I’m surprised to discover, by Peter Sinfield, of whom I had barely heard before researching this — you might think it’s a simple celebration of Christmas, set to a jaunty tune, much like Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody,’ from a couple of years earlier (and every year since). It’s not, though. It’s much darker and more interesting than that:

They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a Silent Night
They told me a fairy story
Till I believed in the Israelite

And that closing couplet:

Hallelujah, Noel, be it Heaven or hell
The Christmas we get we deserve

Lake and Sinfield have argued that it’s not anti-religious or atheistic. Well, you can have your interpretation, guys. I know what I think.

I mainly wrote this because I’ve wanted to use the line I’ve stolen as a title for years. And I’ll leave you with the wishes the song provides:

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year

I think we’re all going to need some hope and some bravery in 2020.


Religion, Faith Schools, and 'The Great Pumpkin'

Another from the "never posted" series. Again, I don't know why I didn't post it. It seems pretty finished. It's also wildly out of date, stemming is it does from 2006. 2006! That's eight years ago now! Where the hell does the time go?

Anyway, the original piece follows.

Religion is much in discussion at the moment, it seems, and atheism even more so.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that

the ideal of a society where no visible public signs of religion would be seen — no crosses around necks, no sidelocks, turbans or veils — is a politically dangerous one

But no-one has been trying to do that. True, there have recently been two cases in which employers have restricted what their staff can wear, with regard to items related to religions. Now, whether employers should be able to insist on such restrictions is one question, and a valid one to be asked; but it’s not something new, nor unique to religious clothes.

And it’s not as if anyone other than British Airways has done anything to restrict the display of Christian symbols. The woman in question there was in a uniformed occupation, and the cross violated the uniform code. Case closed. Do you think it would have been any different for a police officer or ambulance driver? If you want to get the uniform rules in your job changed, speak to your employer, go through your union, or whatever: but keep the courts out of it. Similarly if you are in a non-uniformed job with a dress code.

All of which is different from – almost orthogonal to – the case of Jack Straw asking Muslim women to remove their veils during a conversation (note: asking, not insisting; during a conversation, not forever).

I got the impression from the radio news this morning that the ArchieCant was trying to play the “persecuted Christian” card, railing against the overwhelming forces of our secular society. But having scanned his actual article, I see that that is not quite so. Rather, he is warning of the dangers of a society which only allows state-sanctioned religions to exist. Fair point, but again, not something that anyone is suggesting in Britain.

There’s no excuse for a Christian leader to complain about his (and it is always “his”) religion’s place in modern Britain (or, even more so, America). The various Christian churches, and the church of England in particular, hold a remarkably privileged position in British public life, from the head of state being also the head of the church, through the tax-free status of religions, right up to the exclusively-religious nature of Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ (and that’s not even mentioning the ‘Daily Worship’ or the complete takeover from 8 on Sunday mornings).

Then the Education Minister Alan Johnson has changed the former intent of the government regarding allowing non-believers (or different-believers) into new “faith” schools. Now don’t get me wrong: I am utterly opposed to “faith” schools: one great thing that America gets right, in my opinion, is it’s implementation of the separation of church and state that bans states from enforcing religious observation in schools, and I would happily see it removed from schools here. But we are where we are, and if there are going to be new, state-funded schools that base part of their teaching on a religion, then I think that the worst thing possible would be for them to be exclusively pupilled by kids from families who are followers of that religion.

And remember I went exclusively to state Catholic schools in Scotland.


Nutters, "Emigration, Death, Regret and Substance Abuse"

I see that Tony Blair has become a catholic. No surprise there. But as an ex-catholic atheist myself, I'm feeling down with Nick Clegg.

In other catholic-related news, there’s a fine analysis of ‘Fairytale of New York on the BBC website, after the Radio 1 farrago. And I hadn’t realised that Shane McGowan’s birthday is Christmas Day. So as well as Newtonmas, we can also celebrate McGowanmas on Tuesday.

Rationalism and excess: what a fine seasonal combination.