In, Out, In, Out, Shake It All About… (On the EU Referendum)

Well, there’s only one day left to go before the dread EU Referendum is upon us Brits, and we decide once and for all whether we want to remain a part of it or not. Some of us will have already done postal votes and for them, the decision has already been made. Others will have already voted at the tradtional polling stations. For me, even with only a few hours to go before the close of polls… well, that’s another story.

To begin with I was definitely on the Leave side, and it’s quite surprising how much of this had to do with the one thing most secularists would be mortally afraid of if you mixed it with politics: my Christian faith. There are actually a few more conservative Christian types who actually think our membership of the EU contravenes the will of God, that when God divided the nations at Babel and later set their borders, this was somehow a good thing in order to prevent some of the worse abuses of power that sinful human nature could produce. This kind of argument I will best leave to one of my former pastors to make- see [1]. On top of this, there were even arguments to the effect that since the Queen had made in her Coronation Oath to do various things including upholding the Christian faith and so on, this was actually a covanent with God and the secularizing tendencies of pan-European institutions were somehow about us breaking that covenant. Even one book I read contained an alleged prophecy stating that we should come out of Europe because it would align itself with the Antichrist before The End. I kid you not.

Now, of course, when I looked into it, there seemed to be plenty of good secular reasoning to back this up. When you looked at, say, the Greek crisis and what the EU has forced (against the declared democratic will of the people) upon it in terms of austerity, to keep the Euro alive, we get one example of why it seems that this kind of power structure is no good- it undermines democracy and national sovereignty. How many referenda have we also had in the past on the EU constitution or other treaty changes, in various countries, where the EU basically said “Wrong! Do it again! Let’s hear the right answer!” And then there’s TTIP- the pending trade deal that might allow corporations to sue governments and force the privatization of the NHS. Not to mention the litany of regulatory blunders as part of things like the Common Fisheries Policy which, in setting quotas to conserve fish stocks, only forced fishermen to throw back perfectly good, and perfectly dead, catches of fish back into the sea. Or the various problems which the Common Agricultural Policy, farm subsidies &c. might likewise cause. (You hear little of butter mountains and wine lakes these days, however. Though that make a good idea for a short story- Jenny Everywhere in Surplusland, maybe?)

All this led to some pretty unpleasant conclusions- like voting for and supporting parties I was somewhat uncomfortable with, i.e. UKIP. The more I heard about it and the actuons of some of its members (everything from bigoted remarks to their voting records for MEPs inside the EU, which seemed counter-productive), the more I grew concerned, but, as I knew the candidate for our area personally, I thought maybe they’re not all that bad, and frankly, some of their manifesto ideas seemed to make sense at the time. Sadly, of course, their attitude to climate chainge (unrelenting skepticism) was not one of them, their economic ideas are unflinchingly neoliberal and this conflicted with some of my inner leftie tendencies which still remained after all this time.

Of course not all my Christian friends were in favour of UKIP and leaving the EU. Most of these being the leftty activisit types whom I knew through SPEAK or those who knew them, who probably had a very different idea of what Christianity was to some of my church friends- much more inclied towards social justice issues and less upon (where it infringed on worldly politics over evangelism at all) personal moral issues and would be religious liberty. Many of these people were astounded I’d even want to consider, at least, supporting UKIP. No matter how much I’d try to say they weren’t that bad really, I had to wonder.

Of course now I left the church (one of whose members is the local UKIP candidate), and with spending more time amongst those of a more radical leftist bent, I had reason to want to reconsider my views on the matter.

Now, when all that’s said and done, there are several things that really get me about this referendum business.

First of all, as has been pointed out in the mainstream media quite constantly, there have been claims of scaremongering from both sides. Typically one side will come out with some claim, and the other side will try and rubbish it or try to point out flaws. The Leave campign seem to provide some of the more egregious examples, like the alleged money we supposedly spend on the EU which when things like the rebate is taken into account and the fact we get some back anyway, and any savings we make from it form a minuscule part of government spending- we will not have all that much more to spend on the NHS. That even assuming the offset in economic losses will make it meaningless anyway.

Worst of all is all is the way in which the immigration issue has been so much of a big deal. The Leave side have been hinting, for example, that Turkey might join the EU and bring millions more immigrants to th UK, using the refugee crisis as leverage (even in spite of the fact that we are not inside the Schengen area and those trying to climb on lorries desparate to reach the UK are hardly going to be deterred by Brexit). Yes, it is true that there is ultimaely so much space to go around, so many houses, so many hospital beds. Perhaps free movement of labour does seek to drive down wages and conditions as immigrants might have a lower level of demands in terms of wages (which are naturally higher than in their home country anyway). But at the same time, immigrants can also pay taxes, start businesses, possibly fill the jobs British people would seek to avoid anyway, and actually be of benefit to our eeconomy instead of a burden. How much of the pressure on our poblic services is not in fact down to austerity? How much of the housing crisis is really down to bad policy or even markets? How much of the business with jobs is down to neoliberal notions of shareholder value trumps everything? Frankly, this is more about scapegoating those less fortunate than us instead of blaming the real people responsible- the rich and powerful. Exploiting xenophobia and Islamophobia.

Then again hte Remain camp isn’t so much better- even suggesting the security of Europe might be threatened if we left, that the economy would take a nosedive- admittedly, hough many economists back that one up. Typical of the tit-for-tat mentality in the debates, the Leave campaign immediately hit back and rubbished these claims, reckoning, for example suggesting that the economists who make such predctions also failed to predict the 2008 financial crisis. And the business interests who favour Europe? They said the same thing about is joining the Euro, didn’t they? And as history has proven, maybe our not joining it turned out not to be such a bad idea after all.

There is also the suggestion that Brexit is all about right-wing values and hate, which it should not be- it is not about personalities, who our awkwards bedfelows might be, but on the issues. Just like I could not care less about all the celebrities and political dinosaurs the campaigns wheel out (why should we care so much partiucularly about what celebritiess have to say any more than anyone else?) nor do I care if Farage, Boris and their ilk are campaigning for Leave. After all, I don’t like Cameron, Osborne or those dinosaurs as Blair (the man who brought us into Iraq), or all the heads of corporations who want us to stay in, but they are all supporting Remain.

One thing I am very skeptical of is the claim that the EU has ben instrumental in securing peace in Europe. Never mind that the institutions which would later develop into the EU were mostly a Western affair, and for the four and a bit decades after WW2 the biggest possible threat to peace was the tension between capitalist Weat and “communist” East, dominated by Russia/the USSR which covered a good chunk of eastern Europe and is satellite states a good chunk more? That, although the EU now encompasses much of Eastern Europe and some parts of the former USSR, there are yet more tensions between it (and the West in general) and Russia, which is not part of the EU? What about Ukraine? What about the former Yougoslavia 20 years ago? So what good has the EU done for peace? Can anybody really tell me if the last 70 years since WW2 has not had a resumption of major conflict on the level of the two world wars, has not been in spite of, rather than because of the EU? I would welcome suggestions.

So, what of the Left case for “Brexit”, sometimes referred to as “Lexit”? Wasn’t the Left traditionally Euroskeptic back in the ’70s? Well, we’ve seen sadly little of it. Despite the fact that there are a few trade unions (RMT?) supporting it, a few within Labour (not Jeremy Corbyn however, who seems to have gone over from his original euroskepticism to support the normal party line). There are of course a few on the fringes- George Galloway of Respect, the Socialist Labour Party (something to do with Arthur Scargill methinks) and the like. The Morning Star newspaper seems to have carried plenty of columns arguing a left case for leaving the EU. But we see little of this in the mainstream media- it’s all Cameron and Osborne on one side and Gove an Boris Johnson on the other. I mean, even UKIP has been complaining that Farage has been sidelined in the debates, but he gets more prominence than any on the left arguing for Brexit. The fact is that, for all the worker’s rights, environmental protections (you know, like those fishing quotas) and whatnot that came from the EU,  it still a neoliberal-oriented organization and no-one on the left who wants to remain in the EU argues for it without hoping for substanitial reforms. The only worry is that with a Tory government in power- and especially if Cameron has to step down- a lot of these may be eroded further. We worry about TTIP, but if we make the much-vaunted trade deals on our own, how do we know they won’t be as bad as if not worse than what we might get out of TTIP- which we cannot influence if we leave, along with our comrades across the Channel. But to suggest the EU is internationalist- well, it actually is a regional trading bloc at odds with some other parts of the world, and actually discriminates against those outside the EU with regards to things like free movement rights. Much hope for world socialism there? Doubt it.

Nevertheless, I came across a film which makes the case for “Lexit”, which might be worth a watch. [2]

And another article (shared through a friend) which suggested that we’re basically screwed either way. [3]

So, I’m out to vote. If you are eligible to vote (and are not an anarchist who doesn’t beleive in voting in principle), I encourage you to do so if you have not already. I doubt I can influence anyone at this stage with an article like this, and frankly don’t want to. I barely know myself. But there you have it. As ever, confused.






Whatever happened to the Old Year’s Resolutions?

Well, another month has passed, the mad pre-Christmas rush, plus the day itself, is over. (The world, contrary to what crazy New Age misinterpreters of Mayan calendars might have had us believe, is not, however.) Technically it’s still Christmas, but few seem to be that bothered during the lull between Boxing Day and New Year. When the latter comes, it’ll be time to put to bed any misguided ideas about Old Year’s Resolutions and start thinking how to make some ones for the New one.

And I said I was going to make some and update you on them.

Mentally of course I wanted to do loads- spend more time with God and reading the Bible, studying harder, wasting less time on the internet, buy less useless crap- but I never formalised any. Such, as one member of my church did remind me, is perhaps tantamount to legalism, when we as Christians ought to be free and not trying to live by rules- even self-imposed ones- to the letter. Probably quite right, but the bad habits need fixing and new ones put in it’s place.

About the only one I managed to keep up to now is, “Don’t buy any more comics.”

Yes, that’s it.

Not that this is a bad thing. At £2.40 a time, not to mention the danger of possibly forming obsessions of the wrong kind where Supergirl and Power Girl are concerned, it can’t be entirely a bad thing. Not that I haven’t tried reading other sorts of stuff, and haven’t tried enjoying it for the storyline.

Magazines I have almost kept to not buying to- until the allure of the Christmas Radio Times proved too much to resist. And the latest monthly special of the Micro Mart soon followed, as it might contain useful info on possible computing bargains and new tech to come- as a would-be budding IT person it would be wrong not to at least try to keep up. Possibly with a more up-to-date means than a paper magazine, but they have their uses. There is plenty of room for the old stuff.

Whilst I am being worried by that Sushil Yadav guy on the Powerswitch forums (look him up if you dare) suggesting “Industrial society Destroys Mind and Environment”- and that the only decent thing we can do is cut all production back to food, clothing, shelter and that’s it (yeah right) or the warnings of impending food crises elsewhere, plus the dreaded Fiscal Cliff that the States might fall over and lead to further economic turmoil nationally and internationally, perhaps it could be a wake-up call. Or perhaps I should not be worried so much as all that. Yet materialism I wonder could be going too far, no less so in my case.

But, as we learned a week ago gone Friday, it’s still not the end of the world, yet. And I hope we can make 2013 a slightly worthwhile New Year. I wish you all a good one.

Old Year’s Resolutions? (Or, perhaps, something yet more radical?)

Again we come to the end of another year… nearly. In fact we’ve actually got just short of another whole month before its end. The trouble is it seems to have gone awfully quickly, and I feel my life is little better now than it has been for the past quite a number of years. So, I’ve been thinking- instead of waiting a whole ‘nother month before making New Year’s Resolutions, how about finishing the old year the way you mean to go on? If one is really to make such a radical difference, why not start now and not wait until some arbitrary start-over time, which perhaps means you aren’t really serious?

It’s not just the problems in my own life I need to get right, of course- whether that be  putting ten times more effort into job-seeking and college work, doing stuff round the house and maybe even this blog. And spending less, and drinking less, and wasting time on the internet a heck of a lot less. I’ve been wondering about how screwed up the world is. I amongst all the arguments I’ve been having on YouTube about the merits or otherwise of free-market capitalism as opposed to Marxism and everything in between, wondering about the ongoing economic turmoil and the hopeless state of politics, whether we ought to remain in the EU or not, &c., it rather strikes me that there is something very wrong. Even if we are to assume that capitalism has played its part in development and reducing poverty- yet we should still realise there are still a lot of desparately poor people in the world, a lot of environmental damage, and that business is taking its share of the blame. But what drives business? Us. It only exists as long as someone is buying its good and services, if people want what it has to offer, or allow ourselves to be conned into believing so. I wonder what all these campaigns, all this politicking and so on is really doing. We need to change first. So, perhaps there is an even greater need to make a real difference than just personal ones.

Of course one can hardly escape a certain festival already being hyped up as part of Phase 2 of the silly season. And we are once again needing to be challenged as to whether it should really be about the baby in a manger who would grow up to be nailed to a tree, or the portly chap with the white beard, red coat and reindeer. And another video, being shared by a certain friend on a certain social networking site, certainly makes me wonder all the more. And whether we need a paradigm shift in the way we think. The video, by the way, is here:

Really the two representative figures could not be more different. One represents ultimate self-sacrifice and selflessness, and moreover, of the God we Christians are supposed to understand. The other represents the secular (if not pagan), materialistic, worldly side of things, that if it is selfless at all, gives to its own and rewards only those it thinks deserve it. (The man who died on the tree did it to redeem those who certainly deserved nothing of the sort.)

All this digresses of course from the somewhat trivial idea of making a few small resolutions in order to improve one’s own life. Perhaps indeed though one ought to start somewhere. The question is, exactly where? I shall perhaps give myself a little time to think about it, and return to it in another post in a day or two. Meanwhile, I must start by doing something positive and serious before the next 24 hours is up.

Meanwhile, a question- what would your Old Year’s Resolutions be? What suggestions do you have for mine? How would you have them not just to change your own life, but impact on others and maybe the world? (If we start small, it might build up…)

And by the way, the baby in the manger who grew up to be nailed to a tree and die is, of course, Jesus. I would suggest He also didn’t stay dead, but rose to new life, so that we too, could die and live again. That, I contend, is the essence of real change. The thing is, do we trust Him to do that? (If, indeed, some of us believe in Him at all?)

Religion, atheism, moral awkwardnesses, and all that (pt. 1)

Now I have other, much better and perhaps more interesting or amusing things I could be talking about on this blog. But after reading a certain post on a certain blog, and having got into heated arguments in the comments section of that post with the blog’s author, and on a certain discussion forum elsewhere on the internet having come across much the same sort of issue, I feel like it is about time I addressed certain issues which, to say the least, are going to be pretty divisive.

(And yes, after reading the above, some of my readers are wondering what the bleeping heck I am on about. Why can’t this guy just write clearly?)

It is often the criticism made of atheists and skeptics that ‘religion’ is pretty much the cause of most or all of the world’s problems, responsible for all manner of wars, injustices and atrocities. And whilst indeed what is commonly called religion has played a contributing factor in many of these things, often it is given far more credit than it deserves. It’s not like mankind has not managed to commit wars, injustices and atrocities completely independently of religion, after all, and may or may not even have tacked on religion as an excuse. Think about it: were the Troubles in Northern Ireland, say, a conflict concerning Protestants and Catholics? Or about whether Northern Ireland should be part of Britain, or part of the Republic of Ireland? And what about Emperor Constantine, the man who is credited with making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, really conquering by the sign of and in the name of Christ? Or was he just using the faith for political gain and as a convenient way of uniting the already fractious empire? And did that act, ultimately, do more to damage the perception of the faith than anythng else in history? After all, it is a sad thing when something which is supposedly not of this world, which is supposed to stand headlong against all the world’s evil, corruption and wickedness, is co-opted by it and used to justify that very evil?

Or is that really so?

Because it is also the same criticism of those atheists and skeptics that said Christianity in particular, whilst supposedly claiming to be all about love and righteousness, is anything but, and that its foundational documents, that collection of writings called the Holy Bible, is full of all manner of atrocities including slavery, genocide, oppression of women and more.

The trouble is, on the face of it they might seem to be right.

Yet in ways, not all is as it seems. For instance, many of these allegations prove to be completely unfounded when you understand the text for what it really is, the context of the ancient world (which let’s not forget was not only operating under much different constraints to now, but did not and cannot be expected to share all of our values and presuppositions about what is right), and so on.  I don’t claim to understand everything about this of course, as I am no scholar or full-time apologist, but it certainly makes for enlightening reading. Yet other things, when viewed from a radically different angle, turn out not to be unspeakable evils, but perhaps unfortunate though necessary ones. In future posts I may try to address these issues in more depth, though time, space and willingness do not permit such in this one.

It might be also worth pointing out that many views the atheists and skeptics themselves tend to hold are far from perfect. I could mention certain things such as abortion, say, though at the same time I realise that particular issue is not simply divided by matters of faith. There are “pro-life” atheists and quite probably people of faith who are probably ‘pro-choice’. (Both of those terms are lacking.) I could mention the historical example of Marxist-Leninist communism, which also sought to do away with religion (and yes, a certain fellow-blogger who knows who she is, it was an atheistic value-system as well as a political ideology) in the name of providing a fairer and better world. At the same time, it is unfair to assume that all atheists are like the communists became, or to assume they share that political ideal. After all, Ayn Rand despised Communism and Christianity alike, in favour of an also extreme laissez-faire ideology the complete opposite of communism. I could use the example of Rand too, though I dare say many atheists despise her views too. But it all goes to show how rejection of religion does not imply whatever else we believe is automatically better.

And ultimately, I would like to show my faith as not one of evil but of good- of love shown to those whom all others have rejected, of sins forgiven, of the sick healed and the hungry fed and injustice replaced by justice. Of a God who is Love, not some vindictive and uncaring monster.

I very much doubt I can do it, but as the Apostle Peter said, “always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15, WEB)- and that is hope, not despair and disbelief.

Merry Christmas to my readers… (pt. 2)

Well, it is technically Christmas, surely? Are there not traditionally 12 days of Christmas, ending on 6th January (Epiphany)? Of course it doesn’t mean we all need a partridge in a pear tree, but even so!

(And yes, I know I’m cutting it fine leaving it until now, but better late than never…)

I thought the second part of this post- which would have been the first part but for the fact I was a. basically too lazy and b. well, Christmas day isn’t exactly the ideal time for updating one’s blog- should be dedicated to decidedly Christmas-related musings. After all, there’s plenty of the utter madness this blog is partly meant to be about, in the practice of Christmas, and plenty of other stuff worth thinking about.

Of course, this time of year is so often derided for ending up being about exactly the opposite of what it’s supposed to be. If you’re Christian, you might well bemoan the fact that modern society has secularised things, and forgotten the bit where it’s basically supposed to be about, you know, the birth of Jesus, not about jolly bearded chaps and their red-nosed reindeer, and certainly not about the basic worship of Mammon, whereby people must spend inordinate amounts on presents, extravagant and gaudy decorations, food drink and so on, the shops beginning perhaps as early as September or October, and if you don’t, the gods of the economy will punish you with low growth, business failure and job losses. And if you so much as mention the Jesus bit, the PC crowd will jump down your throat because it might upset  Muslims or atheists, who probably don’t even mind. Whether or not you are a Christian, there are other concerns, too- the materialism also, the bit where it’s supposed to be about peace, goodwill and having a good time when often it is anything but- all the stress of buying presents, preparing Christmas dinner (I am sure my mother will have words with me on that score) and falling out with the family who come round to share it (so some claim).

Now it might be worth pointing out, that maybe Christmas is based upon pagan festivals after all- like, say, the Roman Saturnalia or perhaps the birth of the sun, the Norse Yule, and various other things connected with the winter solstice. Maybe when the church became established after Roman Emperor Constantine co-opted it (creating the Catholic Church and its Eastern equivalents in their present form) these things were simply Christianised, and it’s fair to say that we don’t know if Jesus was actually born anywhere near December- some suggest mid-September, say. My Presbyterian friends don’t bother too much with it, and don’t seem lacking in their Christian faith or witness for it one bit. Another guy- evangelical Christian from America, naturally (not to do down the nation, but it seemsthey’re always from America, this sort) appeared on TV, as part of a programme on theories of what the star the wise men saw was, trying to point to an astronomical phenomenon which did appear on December 25th- so maybe it was the date after all. Either way, traditionally it has become the date which celebrates Christ’s birth, and it is a time when some folks are still inclined to go to church and do the Jesus thing more so than at most other times of the year, so it can be a worthwhile witness.

There are secular observations I can add too. Firstly, the time we bother with Christmas. As I pointed out, it is well overdone in the commercial sector, often with Christmas relate goods being sold months ion advance. Then, over the tannoys, in the media, Christmas music, TV programming &c. comes out at least by late November or the beginning of December. Works Christmas parties are several weeks before Christmas day. And then, by the time the day is done, along rolls Boxing Day… and the sales start, and as if the mad shopping frenzy which preceded Christmas (right up to the Eve) didn’t leave folks with retail fatigue, back they all go again as if nothing happened. They can’t get through the doors fast enough. And then it’s back to work, and it’s as if Christmas is already over, all we have to look forward to is the New Year, and it’s not like Christmas doesn’t last for days to come. Yet, if I recall right, our mediaeval forebears continued the festivities for days after, all the way up to Twelfth Night, and didn’t go back to work ’til the following Monday (‘Plough Monday’)*. After all, in the dark, cold, miserable time of year, we need something to cheer us up. And is this the best time to still be working? The thing it, we have it all the wrong way round. If we started Christmas on December 24th (Christmas Eve), didn’t concentrate it into one mad day of meal preparation, gluttony, drinking, falling out and Morecambe and Wise repeats, and kept going after that, into January, we wouldn’t be quite so miserable come later on, when it’s still the dead of winter and there’s nothing to look forward to. There’d be no concept of ‘Blue Monday’.

Yet sometimes it seems, perhaps Christmas is a waste of time, if it’s all about materialism and isn’t even that Christian. But, nevertheless, I’m not giving up just yet.

*Then, it was perhaps one of the few times in the year, if at all, they actually got any time off.