Billy Pilgrim is a prisoner of war during the Dresden bombing, and later is taken by the Trafalmadoreans in their flying saucer, for exhibition in their zoo. Trafalmadoreans experience time non-linearly, being aware of past and future. The novel may illustrate this by showing Billy travelling in time, between his time in Germany and before and after, including his death- but then, I experience the book in a linear fashion which allows me to absorb its lessons in the order the writer wishes. It also includes a man boasting of torturing a dog to death, and some good jokes.
How can we live with these things? “So it goes”, says Vonnegut, meaning “Shit happens”, or something. Millions of lice are killed in the de-lousing process, and 135,000 people in the Dresden bombing. So it goes.
That figure is inaccurate: Dresden city council in 2010 stated the figure was between 22,700 and 25,000. So, does that make it less bad? Or do we look to motive- to destroy a mass of munitions works, an intact government centre, and a key transportation point to the East or German civilian morale? Or just relative fame: the Tokyo bombing of 9 March 1945 killed 83,793 people, and the Hiroshima bomb 71,379.
So it goes. It happens. Live with it. If you can contemplate history as a single whole, rather than as discrete monstrous horrors, there are good bits too. Some of the suffering is from ignorance. Billy Pilgrim causes great suffering to two horses through ignorance, and weeps when he is told of it.
Or possibly, it is a call to be better. a way for Vonnegut to “impress upon readers that we keep making the same mistake and it doesn’t have to be that way,” says a Vonnegut partisan. That was not how I experienced it: in it, I contemplated horror, and contemplated it again, enjoyed the jokes, and while I am against militarism because the army kills people and destroys things, I don’t feel more motivated to oppose it.
It is on this list of “35 books you must read in your lifetime” which includes seven books about war, more in which war is incidental, several dystopias, and A short history of nearly everything by Bill Bryson as a token glimpse of what good people are capable of. There have been several attempts to ban it or remove it from school libraries: the US supreme court considered when a New York school board removed it with eight other books as “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Sem[i]tic, and just plain filthy,” and concluded that “[i]t is our duty, our moral obligation, to protect the children in our schools from this moral danger as surely as from physical and medical dangers.” The court concluded that the school board could not remove the book from its library once it was there for these reasons.
“Filthy”. It is an anti-thriller: Billy suffers no suspense or fear because he knows what will be next, and goes happily enough to where he will be murdered because (as a time traveller) that does not end his experience. While the zoo has a male and female human exhibit, they are naked and observed, there is no attempt to arouse or disgust the reader. Some novels have sex scenes or suspense to produce a sexual or emotional response in the reader, and this does not. We are left with the jokes, and the Dresden bombing.
Where a culture imbues a single prejudice, that gays are ew, the Bible seems clear. But when people look at verses which appear to say that and see it is ridiculous, and question why anyone would ever think that, then the Bible is less clear. The Bible is clearly in favour of slavery until, well, it’s not.
I read the Pilling report so that you don’t have to. I hope that by small changes like supporting church blessings for gay relationships, and by framing the debate, it will ease the church into celebrating gay weddings. How it does so is worth considering.
It reports the origins of Anglicanism. The Anglican gift to the world is the middle way between reformed and Roman Catholic Christianity. The Reformation started war all over Europe and English Catholics in power burned their opponents, but Queen Elizabeth got people talking and agreeing to disagree. Or something: Since the bitter conflicts around its inception and in its formative times, it has sought to hold together rival traditions, theologies and priorities for the sake of the common good and in recognition that God’s Kingdom is greater than any human system of belief. The three elements of Scripture, Tradition and Reason are emphasized differently by distinct traditions within the Church itself.
The Bible is “our primary means of knowing God and God’s will”, as Cranmer says. Yet where those Calvinists use the Bible alone, Anglicans use Scripture, Reason and Tradition. This is traced to Richard Hooker, one of the most important English theologians of the 16th century, and the 39 Articles. What is not in the Bible is not to be required of any Christian- and therefore Anglicans may disagree about Scripture. I am not sure this follows, but see para 286 if you want.
Tradition is the Church reading the Bible and contemplating human experience and thought under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Yet, in one sentence at the end of this section, the report declares that the Church may err in matters of historical tradition. It cites articles 19 and 21, which say the same thing.
Reason is important because the exercise of rational thought is required in order to understand and apply the teaching of the Scriptures. Created in the image of God, we are capable of moral reasoning.
What does this mean for the church? We will continue to dispute, and may have to be content with disagreement, as we have to be about Pacifism. The church holds together distinctive traditions. Anglican ability to live with disagreement can be a counter-intuitive gift to a world fixated on immediacy, certainty and intolerance of difference.
Someone committed to the homophobe position could take great comfort from parts of this report, but it will lead to equality of marriage, even in the church.
My friend is afraid of mice. They spread disease, and I don’t want them in my house, but I would not scream like she did. She was deeply ashamed of her reaction, which she thought could not be objectively justified, but friends were sympathetic.
With homophobia, it is the opposite. Only fellow-sufferers sympathise, and they are not ashamed. I might sympathise if homophobes had any insight into their condition, or any shame for it. Homophobia is a grotesque overreaction.
The Associated Press style book bans the use of the word “homophobia”. It is easier to find delighted squeals or sober condemnation of this than the actual guide, which is behind a pay-wall. Here I find AP’s justification: Phobia means irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness. In terms like homophobia, it’s often speculation. The reasons for anti-gay feelings or actions may not be apparent. Specifics are better than vague characterizations of a person’s general feelings about something.
The key is “irrational”. Homophobia is an intense emotional overreaction. It could be felt as disgust or anger rather than fear. So there is “Institutional homophobia”, the entrenchment, within the structural and behavioural systems of groups and institutions, of negative attitudes to homosexuals and/or direct discrimination against them (Pilling Report p73).
Those who exhibit institutional homophobia may not be conscious of it as a fear, but do not question the institutional view: they have not applied rationality to the position they take. To that extent their position is irrational.
“Americans for Truth (sic) about Homosexuality” is fair pleased with their coinage “Aberrosexual”, meaning “Pervert”, for LGBT folk. Don’t you just love that plosive b? They can hardly complain, then, about the use of insulting and dismissive words for them.
Are there alternative words for homophobia? Aftah use the clunky “Moral opposition to homosexuality”, which shows difficulty with framing the debate. They don’t like being called phobic, but their word “moral” raises the question, what are the moral grounds for opposition?
As homosexuality is no more objectionable than left-handedness, the onus is on those opposed to homosexuality to demonstrate some rational reason to object. “We’ve always objected” is insufficient, as a teacher in the 1920s could use that to justify forcing a left-handed child to write with his right hand.
“All Christians object” is not sufficient either: it raises homophobia (yes, I know) to the level of the most important doctrine of Christianity, and no Christian believes all the official doctrines of their church, often because we are ignorant of them.
My friend could not ignore the mouse she saw, and the homophobes show a similar obsessive interest. For Fox sake, they even whine that Fox News has a pro-homosexual bias.
And yet, I am left with the question, “How could anyone believe that?” People do. I want to understand.
I don’t know Margaret. I did not learn till the funeral that her son can sign. He is deaf, and when we met we conversed in writing- friendly enough, each time, he has a charming enthusiasm in his communications. So when he came over to their house, and we played knockout whist- a way of being together without much talking- and she talked to him, repeating herself, I don’t know whether she could not sign, or whether they spoke so as to include Dad and me.
She is not terribly intelligent, but her not signing was an indication for me that she was stupid and had stopped her son from signing in an obviously failed effort to integrate him into normal society. This is not a generous interpretation.
I am glad my father remarried, and I resent it. I resent the growing distance between us- he died on 31 October, I had not phoned him since I had visited in early September. He had not phoned me.
Poke and prod the gladness, and resentment.
The gladness makes me happy. It is a generous response- and we are genuinely generous, and like to see ourselves as so, him and me. It brings out the positive in the situation. I wanted his good, separate from my own if necessary.
The resentment is unassuageable. There is nothing I can do, now, to make him closer to me, possibly nothing I could have done at any time in the last ten years. It is not incompatible with the gladness: I am well aware that conflicting emotions co-exist.
I am better to admit the resentment exists. Of course I deny reality where reality is uncomfortable, but there are moments when I do not. I can persuade myself that there are reasons to be glad, which makes the resentment less painful.
One reason I am not that unhappy at my father’s death is that it has changed a conflict situation, an open wound, the distant relationship where I wanted to be closer but did not see how into a resolved situation; and the sources of joy in it, such as his independence, are clearer to me. And I wept last night at those things which I resent. How liberating to be selfish!
Here is Hieronymous Bosch, Christ Carrying the Cross. To our left is Veronica, who wiped his face with a napkin which afterwards bore a likeness of his face. He is Blessed, doing what the people want and need. Around him is this mass of humanity, filled with their own concerns. And someone clings to the bar of the cross.
Christmas 2001, they had been married for two months. I visited: it was the three of us, her descendants were in their own homes. On the Sunday I went to the Quaker meeting then to visit Sheena in Linlithgow, dressed female. I was still presenting male at work, but less and less, elsewhere. I got back to Dad’s flat, and went into the spare bedroom. Dad told me I would have to get changed in order to spend the evening with Margaret, who would be home from her visiting soon. Later, he came in to tell me I had to get changed as Margaret was arriving. I stayed, lying on the bed. Just as I had started cleaning off my make-up he came in to tell me I could stay dressed. And I wonder whether he projected his distress at my transition onto her- even whether I was part of that projection.
After I went full time, in April 2002, he told me I could not be in the house when she was there. I did not see her again until 2004.
He complained about her so much that when she wanted to move back to B—- I thought he might not go too. He complained about her to my sister as well. Now, my sister’s children call Margaret “Grandma” (my mother had the baby-name of “Li”) and may be more likely to stay in touch with her than with me.
And yet it was unquestionably good for him. I don’t know what his social life would have been like, but with her this year he could live independently, and without her he would need some carer- me, possibly- at least to shop and to do some of the housework and any gardening. He was dressing and bathing himself, I think.
If he, or we, were projecting distress at my transition onto her, had he not remarried that distress would have to come out in some other way, and we might have had a more honest relationship. When I had aversion therapy in 1991, he
(I have just found the title for this post.)
accepted me. I did not have to have aversion therapy, he said: if that was the way I needed to relax it was fine by him. Now I say I am glad he remarried, because it was so good for him. Even though it drove us apart, or at least after it our relationship was more distant. That is the generous thing to say.
Exegesis is the interpretation of the Bible. “Eisegesis” is reading into the Biblical passages ideas which they do not support, for the interpreter’s own ends. Homophobes often attack scholars interpreting the Bible in a non-homophobic way by claiming their work is special pleading.
To illustrate how this works, let us consider slavery.
St John Chrysostom interpreted Paul’s letter to Philemon as indicating that slavery should not be abolished. Pope Nicholas in his Bull Romanus Pontificus (1455) authorised the Portuguese to reduce Muslims to perpetual slavery. At the time, the Ottoman Empire enslaved Christians at will, but that is no excuse. Here, I read By the 1850s, Southern evangelicals contended that abolitionists repudiated the Bible and saw them as political radicals. By the Civil War, most Southern evangelicals supported secession to separate themselves from Northern society and its disregard for religious instruction. This is an academic from the Texas Christian University.
People who saw themselves as Christian interpreted the Will of God to support slavery, when they thought it in their interests to do so.
Catholics consider that the traditions of their church, its “magisterium”, has authority to interpret the word and will of God. Protestants consider only the text of scripture itself is authoritative. So the argument that “We have always interpreted certain passages in a homophobic way” is no ground for continuing to do so. What matters is the actual words.
Therefore, all we have to interpret the passages used by the homophobes are those passages themselves, and the passages which show gay relationships in a favourable light. Any allegation of trying to read things into the passages which are not there can be turned against the homophobes. So each reader has a choice whether to interpret these passages in a homophobic way.
This clause in the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill surprised me:
14 Same sex marriage: protection of freedom of expression etc.
(1) For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Part so far as it makes provision for the marriage of persons of the same sex and as to the persons who may solemnise such marriages affects the exercise of —
(a) the Convention right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,
(b) the Convention right to freedom of expression, or
(c) any equivalent right conferred by rule of law.
(2) “Convention right” has the same meaning as in the Human Rights Act 1998.
There is an answer in Scots law to the question whether statutes of the Scottish parliament supersede or affect the interpretation of Convention rights. I don’t want to dig out the authority, but if the Parliament has any right to do so I imagine it has to be done in the clearest terms. The risk of putting a clause like this in, is that people might think any statute which does not spell that out might alter our human rights. Why not say that the convention right to protection from discrimination is not affected?
It could be a place-holder, to be amended later to say that Christians can say the most disgustingly homophobic things, or that homophobic speech in some circumstances is a public order offence. Or, it could be a sop to those who fear their freedom of homophobic speech is threatened. As drafted, it does nothing at all.
The purpose of a statute is a political decision- whether or not to allow equal marriage, for example. The wording of it should be a lawyer’s decision. What words will best put the political intention into effect? Having a clause which adds nothing can only obfuscate the issues.
Villain of the week, a banker, had had someone murdered. He said it was his “duty” to prevent losses to his bank and shareholders.
What is the world like? TV dramas range between the reassuring ones where right wins over wrong, and the bracing ones where what matters is power and money- from Person of Interest to The Good Wife with Ripper Street somewhere in the middle. In 19th century Whitechapel, a slum, the decent police inspector is driven to only a little bad conduct, so that those who like good and bad neatly divided may retain sympathy with him- less this series than the first.
We so want the world to be one where good wins and bad suffers, where there are rules which are obeyed by good people, which all good people may understand, so that the bad people are excluded. Me too. So Ardie Bea‘s long, scholarly series on the Bible and homosexuality (he thinks it’s against) follows a tempting line. God sets out the rules. The rules are in the Bible. We can know what is Good.
Unfortunately, Jesus disagrees. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. In Matthew 10 he sends out his disciples, and warns them of the bear pit he sends them into- yet tells them not to take money or spare clothes. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus claims to “fulfil” the law. Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Right conduct is impossible, for unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
What is right is contingent and provisional.