Tag Archives: religion

Closing Down Dissent. Or Satire. Or Anything, Really…

I'm not really trying here, am I?
Shakespeare says NO! (via Wikipedia)

Ah, the joys of following the Northern Ireland news. Every so often, you get served up the kind of insanity that only the combination of parochial religious zealotry and a genuine 17th-century mindset can provide.

This week, it seems that the DUP councillors in Newtownabbey, evidently nostalgic for the days of the Life of Brian controversy, elected to force a shutdown of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged), just a week before performance time. Because, hey, there’s nothing more important going on in Northern Ireland than a slapstick play that might put a few religious noses out of joint.

Let’s just clarify here: this is the Reduced Shakespeare Company that has been in existence for three decades and has been a fixture on the London theatre scene for much of that time. This is a show that has been around for nearly 20 years, winning awards, being performed around the world in numerous languages. And this is the DUP councillors standing up en masse and doing their best to bully the local arts board into shutting it down without a vote.

It would be funny if it weren’t so predictable. The combination of political power with the certainty of religious faith brings tends to results in the shutdown of dissenting points of view. Underdog sects and religions can favour freedom of conscience, but history shows that when the boot’s on the other foot, attitudes change. After all, when you’re in possession of the ultimate truth, isn’t it a public good if that’s the only truth that’s going to get promoted?

The trend towards secular government is one that took a long time to hit Ireland, and arguably it still hasn’t hit the North. Everywhere else, there has been pushback, in the form of Texas creationists altering school textbooks, Islamist efforts to marginalise secular Turkish youth, or a UKIP councillor linking gay marriage to recent floods. In Northern Ireland, the linkage between religion and the sectarian divide and the fact that parties from either extreme hold the whip hand means that it’s not so much pushback as an effort to hold onto power (something the Unionists have been doing for decades).

There’s no indication that anyone involved in cancelling the play had actually seen it, or had any interest in seeing it. Whether their chief interest was in “defending Christian values”, grandstanding for a few more votes or simply throwing their weight around, they both overstepped the mark in terms of their electoral mandate and completely undershot in terms of doing something of benefit for the people of Newtownabbey.

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Justified and Ancient

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Not actually made out of Lego.

On the train to Salt Lake City, I had my first Mormon experience a little ahead of schedule, when an elderly gentleman sitting nearby started chatting and soon began to try and persuade myself and another passenger (he’d mistaken us for a couple) that the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints was the be all and end all of the Christian experience. Intent as I was on enjoying the train ride, I limited my responses to nods and making a few historical points, but when he claimed that the temple in Salt Lake City was the most beautiful building in the world, it at least gave me something to add to my sightseeing list.

Well, I’ve seen it (that’s it up above, as seen from the tower-block church headquarters next door). Seen it in the darkness, after my train got in at 3am and I decided to wander around; seen it in the sun, though without being let in, as it’s sacred even among the church members themselves; and seen it at sunset, which was pretty damn magnificent (the sunset, that is), viewed from the State Capitol on the hill above. And, well, it’s . . . nice. Solidly built out of granite, with hints of both Disney and Gothic styles in there. But that’s as far as it goes. Even when judged against other religious edifices, it’s no Hagia Sophia and no Pantheon. It doesn’t even hold a candle to St. Peter’s Basilica, which lacks the purity of form of the first two.

The fact that it was built over the course of 40 years by pioneers carting granite from a quarry a few miles away is impressive, though that point falters a bit when one realizes that most of the building happened after the railroad arrived, allowing rather faster stone deliveries. Ultimately, it’s a solid building with a plain facade, a golden statue on top and an unfortunate resemblance to a build-it-yourself Lego kit. To call it the most beautiful building in the world requires the speaker to invest it with qualities that exist outside its physical proportions.

This is not to knock the Mormons too much (I’m not going to type out the full church name every time, which they seem to prefer). Each and every one of them whom I met was polite, friendly and happy to chat to a visitor from abroad. Then again, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who’ve been out-and-out rude to me over the course of the past two months or so. I just struggled at times to cope with the blurring of the lines between “belief” and “truth”, and eventually I escaped to the pub and then a cinema to see the excellent Ides of March, which is all about how politics and the real world destroy idealism.

Hmm. Maybe blind faith isn’t so bad after all. Where did I put that pamphlet?

(Hopefully some of the above is coherent – I’m in Denver now, and by my reckoning, I’ve had about six hours of sleep in the last 48. Time for the head to hit the pillow at last.)