Tag Archives: Christianity

Laugh and Be Liberated

8 Jan

You don’t need me to quote a whole load of stats and studies at you in relation to how laughter can be an exceptionally healing medium. For years I’ve been saying that the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon books should be made free on the NHS to all and sundry. Far cheaper for the state for those amongst us who might be suffering with a case of the old ‘black dogs.’

In the past I might have found this cartoon to be offensive. I was great fun at parties, I can tell you!

In the past I might have found this cartoon to be offensive. I was great fun at parties, I can tell you!

What shocked me the most about the recent brutal killing of the French journalists was not so much the utterly abhorrent and evil act itself – but the polarity of discourse in relation to what led to the attacks. I’m sure that there are some better examples than the ones that I’ve been exposed to but so far it seems to be either ‘an attack on democracy’ or ‘this is the fault of multiculturalism and pandering too much to the muslims.’ Where’s the context? Where’s the invitation for some proper plans and projects to unravel some of this horrible lack of understanding which has been allowed to develop between those members of the human species who seem to have been segregated into two camps – ‘muslims’ and ‘non muslims.’ Are we facing a new apartheid? Whatever religious (or non-religious) thought we happen to follow, do we really want to buy into this kind of rhetoric?

So here’s my own, personal context and a couple of examples.  Regular readers of this blog may be aware that half of my family of origin are ‘muslims.’ But that my own background has also involved exposure to extremist religious thought. No – not those pesky muslims again whaddartheylike – but extremist christianity.  I won’t bore you with what all of this entailed (and to be honest – it’s actually that juicy that I’m saving it for my autobiography) but suffice to say that there was a time when I had a lot more sympathy with those particular minority followers of Islam who get all sniffy (or murderous) about whether Mohammed was being dissed or not. You see, affluent christians in the west also got/get naffed off about New Age crystal-twirling, scientists who tell us that we are descendents of monkeys, Harry Potter and films that portray Jesus as being a bit racy. Some of these people nearly pee their pants over the line ‘He’s not the Messiah! He’s a very naughty boy!’

It's not big and it's not only not funny - it is downright offensive. Apparently.

The Life of Brian: It’s not big and it’s not only NOT funny – it is downright offensive. Apparently.

Yesterday I had a bit of a flashback to 1989. I remembered that when it came to Salman Rushdie and the fatwa, I had been thinking along these lines “Well of course the man should be able to write whatever he wants. This is a democracy! But come on… he was a bit daft…surely he should have realised what would happen…”  I ran this dusty old memory past my other half too and his recollection of 1989 had been similar, but with a twist of; “and what will the cost to the taxpayer’s purse of his posh literary wibblings be now that he have to pay for his protection day and night…?” (sheesh – and people say Yorkshiremen are tight – you wanna meet a Brummie-born boy!)

The interesting point of all of this though – is that both of us have come to the same conclusion. Perhaps it’s been a result of the jobs that we’ve both done. Perhaps it’s having travelled the world and met zillions of different people with different religious persuasions and political opinions. Perhaps it’s maturity. Or perhaps it’s because I now believe much more in tackling the roots of where extremism comes from rather than heading off on a knee-jerk reaction – a witch hunt. For me there is a very real, close to home fear of a backlash against muslims whenever any kind of atrocity carried out by some sicko in the name of so-called Islam takes place. I remember just a couple of days after 9/11 when a friend of my sister in law – who also wears a hijab – was wandering down the  frozen food aisle of Asda when she was suddenly approached by a skinhead who grabbed her, punched her in the face and spat “that’s for The Towers – paki bitch!”)

But perhaps it’s simply a matter of maturity. Either way – my sentiment these days towards Salman Rushdie and the french cartoonists and their equivalents  is this – if someone else creates something – whether it be words, art, music or a cartoon – that makes you feel defensive, scared, angry or insulted about a set of beliefs that you happen to have about the way the world works, then the first port of call for judge n’ jury should be with yourself. Those extreme emotions are about you. Not the person who gave birth to an opinion or an act of creation.

Salman. These days I reckon that if he bothers you... You either need to get out more. Or think less.

Salman. These days I reckon that if his writing bothers you… You either need to get out more or think less. And I can’t afford to pay for it – but I’d happily do a security shift for him if he’s ever short staffed.

There was an incident recently in a Derbyshire school where a headteacher was vilified for having copied the Roger McGough poem ‘The Lesson’ into her ‘welcome back to school’ newsletter. You can read a local news report about it here. http://bit.ly/1wYvm70

At the far end of the spectrum, many parents were horrified, were disgusted, cue newspaper headlines etc. At the other end of the scale, lots of us were thinking “well – that was a bit of an error of judgement on her part – I mean it IS an amusing poem but doesn’t the headteacher realise that lots of parents lack a sense of humour when it comes to their children and jokes about violence? Big miscalculation!”  But there we have it, don’t we? Is this an act of creation (by Roger McGough, by the teacher wanting to share a funny poem with jaded parents) – that has fallen victim to another set of beliefs that folk are not allowed to offend or to produce anything a little bit quirky or non run-of-the-mill? Or what?

What do we think about that one? We live in a democracy, the headteacher didn’t joke about Islam… and the life of this excellent teacher hasn’t been threatened. But her job and standing in the community has been challenged because she said or did (or reproduced something) in a manner that offended some people. People get so upset… even about these comparatively small things…

But returning to challenging extremism of any kind. One of my favourite writers is a chap named Adrian Plass (he’s probably the most well known modern Christian writer in the world these days – sort of a more humourous version of CS Lewis.) Anyway, the folk that I used to hang out with during my hate-mail to Monty Python days felt that our Adrian was far too rude about christianity (even though his books unashamedly set out to teach your about it – I mean the guy’s hardly Aleister Crowley). They felt that he was too ‘irreverent’ and ‘disrespectful.’ But there was something in the fella’s writing that always touched me. Honesty and humour in relation to the human condition, I guess.  But what offended the anti-Adrian folk the most was that he was poking fun at them (as well as himself, cause if you can’t do that… then you really need to get out a bit more eh?)

And back to the cartoons. As well as being the perfect antidote to a really crappy day, or a really bleak mood – I still swear by Bill Watterson’s stuff. But more than that. I began to read Calvin and Hobbes at the same time when I was plotting to block the entrances to shops that sold Halloween outfits. And thank the Good Lord that I did… because such dry wit and humour took the edge of my more fundy tendencies. I was introduced to new words, concepts, debates – as well as the wonders of having an imaginary tiger as a pet, of course. I learned that ‘Calvinism’ was actually something to be mocked – a group of people to feel sorry for – rather than something to aspire to (and yeah – I’m actually serious again with regards to that little comment…)


Don’t give your kids – or anyone – the answers. Ask the buggers questions!

And this is what a clever artist – whether it be a painter, a film-maker, a cartoonist or a writer does. And it isn’t just about poking fun at the establishment, at an economic system or a religion. It’s about harnessing an element of the human condition and communicating it to others. Learning by stealth, perhaps.  For me- it isn’t just about protecting the rights of those journalists to produce their work without fear of being attacked. It’s about sticking up for the teacher who might have dared to have said or done something slightly different than the norm and who has used an outlandish sense of humour. It’s about having some tolerance for those who have different beliefs from you and it’s about never – ever – thinking about using violence against someone for an act of creation.

(Unless of course it’s Russell Howard – because I find some of his jokes to be really offensive. And my other half going ‘JUST LEAVE THE ROOM THEN, YOU DAFT BINT’ simply doesn’t scratch my itch sufficiently…)

Russell Howard. He really upsets me sometimes. He wants to watch out... I discovered this thing called the 'Remote Control' and it makes him disappear...

Russell Howard. He really upsets me sometimes. He wants to watch out, he does… I discovered this thing called the ‘Remote Control’ and it makes him disappear…



“The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.”-Luther

RIP Charlie B Guys.




An American Wail? or English Repression?

28 Jul

First of all – I will lay this on the line. Any anti-American vitroil is not welcome here on ‘comments’.  Now, I don’t mind for a minute if you want to lay into USA world foreign policy to date, or the way that the country is managed at present. Or hell – the whole foundation of the country if you like! But the whole point of this rant is that I am very naffed off at something I just heard.

Two women chatting.  Yes. I was earwigging (pretending to work).  They were in their early forties. They were  discussing religion – focussing on Christianity. I smiled to myself at the time because it was a nice, polite chat.  Very much couched in evangelical-christian speak (albeit with a very large dash of liberalism and middle of the road Anglicanism). For those of you who are sane enough NOT to know about such language – it was this kind of thing;

“But at the end of the day, it’s not all about me is it? Its about Glory in the Name of the Lord” etc etc.

Anyway. These two highly intelligent and reasonable women (yes, I have already forgiven their Silly Speak. It’s a free country after all) were chatting away about bland, harmless stuff. Then, one of them said:

“Oh yes. I heard all about that particular initiative from an American who was visiting over here recently. Nice bloke. You know – not your usual irritating American

Now. Is it me – or was I right to be really taken aback by this comment? Not just because the woman came across as being very well educated, informed and she talked all about inclusion and community cohesion.  But I was even more alarmed when I realised that the woman who said this – was a vicar! A Church of England bloody vicar! (Sorry vicar pals – the ‘bloody’ is for effect – not having a go at you all…)

First of all I got annoyed. Like many of my friends (regardless of what country they are from) I abhor some of the crap that the USA has caused/ pre-empted in this world.  Just as I do the crap that the UK/Europe etc has ALSO caused to happen and/or not responded to. But the faults and failings of politicians and the people who voted them in NB*** I am NOT just talking about the USA here**** hardly gives anyone the right to generalise about a whole race/nationality of people.

So I got to thinking about this a bit more (dangerous I know). I don’t mind stereotypes – especially when you can use them for clever, non-harmful amusement. We have them for a reason – and if you are going to use them – use them in a silly, non-offensive way! For example – my husband always accuses me and mine of being vandals and thieves. ‘Watch yer car!’ he calls out to random passers-by who park near our house ‘She’s from Manchester’.  Whereas I always have to explain to him what a ‘library’ is – because he does come from Birmingham after all.

But can you imagine a similar conversation these days between two such educated, devout and well-informed people that use silly stereotypes and which go completely ‘above humour. For example – what if the woman had said  “Yes I learned about that initiative from a chap who was from Pakistan – but he didn’t seem to have any suicide bombs strapped to him” or “He was Irish but he didnt seem to be drunk” or “He was from France but he didn’t smell of onions”….

When I hear things like this – I know that I am in danger of sounding ridiculous, patronising even. The gut reaction is to want to shout over to them “Hey! Missus! Watch your mouth! Some of my best friends are American AND they are a lot more enlightened, clever and empathetic than you are! So ner!”. But of course, that would be a bit pathetic. However,  there is nothing worse than a smug Brit (whose own country pioneered colonialsm and raped and murdered millions of innocent people across the world in the advancement of the UK’s own economic interests) slagging off all citizens of the USA. Because ‘Well. We no longer DO that kind of thing do we?  That is Sooooo Victorian. We leave that to the USA now’…..

I know that I might be sounding a little OTT here (honestly –  I am only foaming at the mouth ever-so-slightly…) but this kind of talk is dangerous. Its no better than the kind of thing I heard too often in southern Africa ‘Ah – he is British – but he is a nice white person’.  Anti-americanism (or any racism-thinly-veiling-a-superiority-complex) breeds hatred, mistrust and feeds knee-jerk reactions of the extreme right; whether they be from the Middle East or the Deep South.


But before you worry that I have TOTALLY lost my sense of humour – I must share one of my favourite scenes with you from ‘Outnumbered’. Okay – it DOES feature an American being the ‘butt of the joke’ but I think it could just as easily be someone from The South of the UK with a really, really posh accent and who is into alternative therapy…. (heh heh)…..


Outnumbered – Episode 5 ‘Welcome to English Repression’

The last time Mum’s sister Auntie Angela came to visit, it all ended in disaster. Now she is back to show off the American therapist she has married….