...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Day 2529: Chappy Chanukah


Best wishes to all Jewish Chums for the eight day festival of Chanukah.

Apparently this is to commemorate a MIRACLE where the lamps for the re-dedication of the Great Temple in Jerusalem were kept burning for eight whole days even though Jehovah, always the joker, had placed Judea in the one bit of the Middle East that doesn't have any oil.

Or, as the Chief Rabbi put it during his Fart for the Day, it is a celebration of the victory of monotheism over the Hellenistic tradition that gave us democracy, science, literature and the enlightenment. Er.

Mr Jonathan Socks – for it is he – was using his bully pulpit to call on all good people to stick up for the FINE old British TRADITIONS of Christianity.

I think that this is jolly SPORTING from a leading member of a community who probably remember those "fine old English customs of Christianity" as including the pogroms, persecution and finally expulsion that saw no Jewish people AT ALL allowed in England between 1290 and 1655 (when no less a religious maniac than Mr Oliver Cromwell allowed them back in).

But, of course, this is just Mr Socks backing up a co-monotheist in their INSISTENCE that Great Britain must celebrate Christianity.

Yes, this is the debate organised Conservatory MP Mr Mark Pilchard to warn us about the growing threat of "Christianophobia".

Conservatory OUTCRY about the ABANDONMENT of Christianity is another FINE ENGLISH TRADITION. Two-hundred-and-fifty years ago, for example, the Conservatories were up in arms about Liberals-in-Whigs religious toleration and the "1753 Jewish Naturalization Act". I'm sure Dr Socks wishes he'd been there to support them then.

Goodness, if the Conservatories are RIGHT, another quarter of a Millennium being abandonned like that and Christianity might even WOBBLE slightly!

Christianophobia – give me strength

Of course ALL words are "made up" at some point. This one has clearly been made up from the word: "Islamophobia" which itself is made up to sound like the word "Homophobia".

"Homophobia" is to gay people what "Racism" is to black and brown people and "Sexism" is to lady people. It means an unreasonable PREJUDICE where people with more POWER use it to harm and disadvantage people – usually a minority – with less power.

It is OBVIOUSLY made up that way because "Gayism" sounds SILLY and a bit RUDE!

Oh, and possibly because people often think that HATE for the unalike is based on FEAR of the unalike. "Bullies are always COWARDS," as the Fine Old TRADITIONAL English saying, goes. Besides, it is probably EMPOWERING for someone on the receiving end of being OPPRESSED to think that the bully might be a bit AFRAID.

Unfortunately the "-phobia" bit often leads some people who ARE homophobic to think they are oh so VERY CLEVER for saying: "I am not homophobic – I do not FEAR gay daddies, for I can beat them up!"

Homophobia, however, is a PREJUDICE and NOT a fear.

Muslim people in this country are also a minority, and also often come in for ABUSE. This is probably why they have APPROPRIATED the "-phobia" bit for themselves, and created the word "Islamophobic".

The fact that SOME people use Islam as an excuse to be very, very HOMOPHOBIC indeed, does not appear to have struck them as an IRONY!

Anyway, as I am sure we have discussed before, there are some Christians who are very, very nice, and there are some who cannot walk past a cross without climbing up on it and crying: "oh, oh, oh, I'm so being oppressed!"

If people have a PHOBIA about Christianity, it is probably a very REAL FEAR, brought about by the last thousand years of Christians rampaging around the place conducting pogroms, persecutions and expulsions. And that's when they weren't burning random people to death for WITCHCRAFT.

That is not to say that people cannot be prejudiced against Christians! I know that I certainly jump to conclusions the moment I hear someone going on about how they worship some Middle Eastern dead bloke. "Oh, here we go…" I often think. That is very wrong!

But what I am NOT doing, is doing anyone down over their belief. Oh no! I am hardly in a POSITION to do anyone down, am I? I do not have any SPECIAL RIGHTS – like free appearances on Fart for the Day, or compulsory religious assembly for pushing my Militant Atheist Baby Elephant ideas on anybody! I do not get a free seat in the House of Lords Club – no matter HOW MUCH I WANT ONE! – just for NOT believing in a special friend. I am not a member of the SELECT band who get to protest against gay daddies while standing outside of Parliament when it is ILLEGAL for everybody else.

Christianity is NOT in decline because of ATHEISTS or SECULARISTS or even HOMOSEXUALISTS.

Christianity is in decline because what organised religions need to enthuse their followers is MISERY. If you are starving hungry in the middle of a war zone and likely to catch bubonic plague and bleed to at death any moment then a bit of mindless hymn singing and some togetherness is probably just what you need to cheer you up.

If you are BULLIED into the pews with the threat of FIERY RETRIBUTION… followed, allegedly by MORE fiery retribution in the hereafter… then going to church and looking sharp about it are probably top of your to do list.

But if you are happy, peaceful, well fed and free to make your own mind up then, well I'm sorry but you've probably just got better things to do with your time.

And shouting and squealing and just generally UPSETTING folks isn't going to convince a whole load of people to turn up at your SOCIAL CLUB.

Traditions Shmaditions

Anyway, I thought that most REAL British Traditions – legendary stories like Robin Hood and King Arthur – actually have their roots in PRE-Christian mythologies (for all that they have bolted-on Christian trappings like Friar Tuck and the Grail story). King Arthur is, as you probably know, tied up with DRUID MAGIC and the stories of Merlin and Vortigern and Dragons and Fey. Robin Hood was a rebel AGAINST the invading Normans with their new-fangled Divine Right of Kings all backed up by the Roman Church.

Herne the Hunter, the Queen of the May, the Green Man, John Wayland Smith, Morris Dancing, burning people in a giant wicker Edwood Woodwood, er, maybe not that last one. These are the traditions of ENGLAND-LAND.

May Day, Halloween, even the Winter Solstice that Christians decided to sit Mr Jesus birthday on top of – where does that YULE LOG fit into that baby/manger story, then? – all our REALLY ancient traditions and they haven't got a LOT to do with Christianity beyond generally being co-opted.

No one is REALLY sure what the TRADITIONAL religion of Britain was like before the Romans invaded, since it was mostly wiped out by THEM. But we think that there was a lot of LEARNING involved, and it certainly seems to have encouraged the study of ASTRONOMY, if all those big stones on Salisbury Plain are anything to go by. The Christian Church took a LOT of catching up on THAT front, as I've no doubt you remember.

In fact so much of Britain's "tradition" is missing that Professor Tolkien FAMOUSLY had to go around making it all up again – Hobbits and all – because it irritated him that we DIDN'T have a grand myth cycle the way the Nazis had Wagner. Er, or something like that. And it was STILL a whole lot better than the scheme that his chum Clive came up with then went and spoiled with a whole lot of Christianity he stuck in.

Actually, the REALLY real tradition of Great Britain is just to be a bit EMBARRASSED about the whole "religion" thing. It is like Sainted™ Princess Diana's FUNERAL – everyone remembers what happened and now thinks that maybe we got a bit CARRIED AWAY in the moment. And we'd rather not be reminded of it anymore.

Britain DID have some rather nasty religios wars and we did all get a bit carried away. But we actually worked out that being a bit embarrassed about it all stopped us being a whole lot WORSE.

And funnily enough, that served us rather WELL.

Now, I suggest we all go and have some jolly dreidel fun! Shalom!


Matthew Huntbach said...

"No one is REALLY sure what the TRADITIONAL religion of Britain was like before the Romans invaded, since it was mostly wiped out by THEM".

This is completely wrong. The Romans weren't very much into wiping out religions. Actually, they were pretty much happy for local people to go on worshipping their local gods, though they sometimes wondered whether they were local gods or just their own gods appearing in a different format. One can, for example, see plenty of votive addresses to Celtic gods in Romano-British artefacts.

Most of the rest of the stuff you write is similarly wrong and more an indication of your own prejudices than enlightening.

Alix said...

Matthew, you in turn are completely wrong. three points:

1. The imposition of a distinctively Roman style of religious practice was a key weapon in the process of romanisation. The conquerors fused local gods wherever they found them with their own pantheon, resulting, in Britain, in such composites as Sul-Minerva (at Bath). The ultimate aim of these fusions was to impose the cult of emperor-worship at the top of the pantheon where the existing mythology would likely have some sun-god or other. The fact that the native gods survived in name is absolutely beside the point - that was just to make romanisation easier for them. The Romans "believed" as freely in these animistic local gods as they did their own, but they were totally unapologetic about imposing their own religion.

2. The Roman purpose was nothing more or less than the introduction of a new social structure with religious ritual at its heart. They fundamentally changed the way in which religion was practised. Pre-Roman worship was focused, so far as we can tell, in sacred sites that were used for nothing else - groves and water commonly. Under the Roman occupation religion assumed its characteristically Roman civic role in the form of public temples at the centre of the new forums. The pattern of temple-basilica-forum was repeated across the empire, and underlines the extent to which religion played a central role in the Romanisation process. The results, in the form of churches often built on the sites of Roman and post-Roman temples, are still with us today. It's a rare and celebrated church indeed that's built on a Druidic grove. Indeed the consensus among historians is that, given the Romans were only here for four hundred odd years, the degree to which they successfully smashed religious and cultural continuity is remarkable.

3. In AD60 Suetonius Paulinus conquered the Isle of Anglesey with the express purpose of exterminating the Druidic order, the religious leaders of pre-Roman Britain, who had withdrawn there in the years following the conquest of AD44, and had become a focus for rebellion. That's a pretty unequivocal statement. Names of gods allowed to hang on, fine, warp and weft of old religion, NOT fine. It was too closely associated with the old authorities.

Incidentally, early Christianity under Constantine was also conceived artistically and - often - intellectually in terms of a sun god cult. It was simply the most accessible way of dealing with Christianity to the Roman mindset.