Tag Archives: rants

Thinking out loud

I’ve started and given up on this post several times over the last few weeks, because it will be rambly/probably dull/maybe a bit ranty/probably not too well thought through/not brilliant and incisive/too serious/etc etc. However, I am writing it now as I am putting off doing some proper work and can’t do the washing up as there’s a daddy longlegs flying around in the kitchen so I am hiding like a big girl’s blouse in the bedroom with the door shut. I think the inlaws think I’m working really hard – but I’m sure my secret’s safe with you.

Anyway, I’m digressing.

For the past several months, and particularly the past month and a half or so, I’ve been trawling the press and blogs from the two countries I was in last year for articles not just about my topic, but on the wider issues around sexuality. This started off as just gathering background material for my research, and I didn’t have any expectations other than they might occasionally say something that I could quote to use to illustrate an incisive and brilliant insight (or a sweeping generalisation, more like) that I might make in my thesis. However, particularly over the last month and a bit, this sideline has taken on a bit of a life of its own. I’m not going to talk much about what is being said in the press and blogs (they’re Christian blogs, you can guess. Sigh), but I just want to note down here something that is in the long process of occurring to me, with the disclaimer that these are initial thoughts and hunches and not well-thought-through nuggets of wisdom or anything.

Basically, I’ve been thinking about processes of “othering” – you can see it for example in America with all the rhetoric about “terrorists” – creating an “other”, a common enemy, in order to promote solidarity/identity/political support/justification for decisions and opinions/etc. Over the last few years of course this discourse has mainly been focused on the Muslim community, and in the Cold War it was the evil Communists. Of course it’s not just the West that does it – Cold War propagandists in the Soviet Union were just as active casting “the West” as the “other”, and even today there is a lot of stuff being said about the pernicious influence of the decadent west destroying traditional values etc. Likewise in the Muslim community the west is often portrayed as a corrupt and decadent society, an “other” to be resisted due to the threat that it poses to traditional values and lifestyles. This of course leads to the creation of a homogenous “enemy” who may exist, but nothing like in the proportion that the “othering” discourse would have you believe.

With that in mind then, I’ve been reading a lot in the media recently about sexuality, given that last month in both countries Gay Pride marches were in the news (in one it went ahead, in the other it was banned and didn’t take place). Amidst all the frothing at the mouth are some “othering” discourses which are really worrying me, and I have to say they are nearly all coming from Christians. In particular the language being employed is insidious and powerful – to give the most worrying (in my opinion) example, one very influential and widely-read Christian blog keeps referring to homosexuals as “imoralii”. You can obviously guess the meaning of the word, but what bothers me is not so much that they consider homosexuality immoral, but that by using an adjective as a noun they are not only objectifying and “othering” homosexuals but also implying inferiority, sub-status if you like. What ‘imoralii’ means is literally “the immorals” – they’re not saying they are people who happen to be immoral, but that their primary identity is not “person” but “immoral”.

I’m trying to think of an example in English where we use an adjective in place of a noun to mean something pejorative. The main ones I can think of relate to gender and race, and I don’t really want to dwell on them to be honest. Another example, again from the Cold War, would be when Americans termed anyone living behind the Iron Curtain as “Reds”. It was an instantly homogenising, pejorative term which took no account of individual difference, but of course “people who happen by geographical accident to be living behind this Cold War construct, regardless of whether or not they support or oppose the dominant political ideology” didn’t have the same ring to it, and also didn’t convey the same implication of Communist threat and American superiority.

Some years ago I was thinking about the term “non-Christian”, as it had made me feel uncomfortable for a while. I realised that what made me uncomfortable was the “non” bit of it. I think there is a subtle but hugely important difference between “person who isn’t a Christian” and “non-Christian”. The first one is just a statement of (arguable) fact (by arguable I mean that I don’t think I’m in any position to pronounce who is or isn’t a Christian), whereas the second one to me implies inferiority – I am an X, you are a non-X, therefore I am superior. This use of “imoralii” to me feels the same as that, implying superiority, so the uncomfortableometer has started to be more than a bit troubled.

What is troubling me even more though, is that leading on from this “othering”, which is largely being supported and not challenged, there is a disturbing undercurrent of hatred and violence. At the Gay Pride march which didn’t happen, there was a protracted incident where a coachload of people who were intending to participate in the Pride march were stopped and threatened by thugs with weapons. The Christian blog showed a (rather close-up) photo of this incident, along with a sentence about people trying to stop the march from going ahead, which was interspersed among pictures of people praying and holding placards. Although challenged later in the blog comments and claiming that they did not support violence, it was clear that they did nothing to stop the violent intimidation and by including the picture as though it was a minor incident were basically condoning it as, after all, it was against those evil “imoralii”.

That very blatant example is only the most obvious. There are lots of others that are much more subtle. And then today I was listening to the BBC World Service where they were reporting from the GAFCON conference in Jerusalem, where many conservative Anglican bishops who are unhappy with the way the Anglican Communion are dealing with matters of human sexuality in the church have gone in protest instead of going to the Lambeth Conference. There they played a snippet of a interview with a delegate who banged on and on about “gays” and how the Bible is so clear that the only result of being gay is DEATH (which was almost spat out, she said the word with such glee and relish).

And this is what is really worrying me. I am sure that however the current lot of discourses have ended up, they started off with a genuine belief that this position is the one which most glorifies God and obeys his word and all the rest of it. However, it seems to me that this concern about glorifying God is now, in many (not all, I must hasten to add) cases is now used as a veneer to cloak violent “othering” discourses, debates AND actions. So it is fine to turn and look the other way when homosexual people are threatened and abused and worse, because they are the “other” and are defying God and so somehow deserve it. NO! By all means disagree and debate, but this “othering” and demonising, and not only that but creating an inferior “other” who is acceptable to abuse is so contrary to the gospel I hold dear I hardly know where to start.

Actually in writing this I’ve got myself so worked up I hardly know where to finish this blog entry, never mind start anything. God help me.

Eurovision

We ended up in Edinburgh to watch Eurovision, and unlike many this year I actually rather enjoyed it. I know that Terry Wogan got very hacked off with the so-called block voting, particularly by the eastern European countries, but I honestly don’t think it was as bad as it has been over the past few years so I can’t really understand why he’s chosen this year to question whether the competition still has any value. I left a comment on Maddie’s blog which ended up being quite long (sorry about that!) so thought I would transfer my witterings over here, where I can be as long-winded as I like 😀

One thing I’ve noticed in the eastern European media is that Eurovision is something they take very very very very very seriously indeed. After doing really well the first time they entered, the next year (a couple of years ago) Moldova’s entry bombed and the papers were full of agonizing and angst about the shame brought onto the nation, and there were serious suggestions not to submit an entry the following year as the shame if they went through the same thing again would be so great. This year the entry selected was rather controversial (I won’t bore you with the details, it involved differences of opinion between the public phone-in vote and the in-studio juries who were choosing the entry) which resulted in a flood of vitriol from the public accusing the authorities of corruption (amongst other things) and claiming they were responsible for heaping shame onto the country. Other countries in the region are, I believe, similar in how seriously they take it.

On Radio 4 yesterday (before the show) they were talking about how the voting isn’t actually so much political as representing the make-up of the new Europe. So, Spain gave Romania 12 points – there is a very significant and sizeable population of Romanians in Spain (much greater than in the UK, however stridently the Daily Wail might like to claim otherwise). Likewise Turkey always gets a high mark from Germany, thanks to the large population of Turks living there. Despite hating Russia and blaming them for 40 years of illegal Soviet occupation, Latvia will always give Russia 12 points because 1/3 of their population is ethnic Russian. As Spain, Germany and Latvia can’t vote for themselves but large chunks of their populations can vote for their own homelands, it’s no surprise that certain countries feature highly every year in the voting. I don’t see what’s so awful about that, to be honest. If I was living abroad and Eurovision was as important to my sense of nationhood as it is to many of these nations, I would take the trouble to vote for the UK from abroad, just because I could. I think that the phone votes represent those communities who think Eurovision is important (maybe because for so many years taking part just wasn’t an option – now they’re able to participate they’re making the most of it having been out in the communist cold for so long before), and more than that think it’s important enough to be prepared to vote. Many Romanians in Spain aren’t having the easiest ride, they’re facing a lot of discrimination, likewise many Turks in Germany, so why not give yourself a little light relief and try to influence a result to have, at least for an hour till the end of the show, a little bit of national pride rather than relentless prejudice?

None of this explains away the Scandinavian block voting though. Obviously I’m a bit prejudiced in favour of the east Europeans because of my background, but I do think their situation is different. There’s no excuse for Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland to trade high marks.

One thing people are saying is that the contest is not valid as it’s no longer about the music. Please please don’t blame the eastern Europeans for that – it hasn’t been about the music for many years before they were able to participate. Boom-bang-a-bang, Diggi-loo-diggi-ley anyone?

I can’t believe I’ve just spent 15 minutes of my life ranting here about Eurovision. I think I need to get out more. Going to parties and watching the whole thing is one thing, a valid use of my time, but sermonizing about it? Good grief!

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

(Disclaimer: discussion about abortion, some may find it upsetting)

This is the name of a Romanian film that we went to see a couple of weeks ago at the Glasgow Film Theatre. I’d been trying to see it all last summer while I was in Romania (narrowly missing the opportunity to attend a showing with the director and main actors, thanks to turning up at the box office only an hour after it opened to find that tickets had been sold out 20 minutes earlier), and was really glad to have the opportunity to see it at last. It won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and lots of other awards since, and there is all sorts of huffing and puffing going on in the Romanian press that it wasn’t nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars this year.

It’s based in 1987, in the last few years of the Ceausescu regime in Romania, and follows two friends, one of whom has arranged to have an abortion, which from 1966 until the revolution in 1989 was illegal in Romania due to Ceausescu’s desire to increase the population – the unwanted children who ended up in orphanages were another result of this sick extreme pronatalism, many of them handicapped due to the result of unsuccessful abortion attempts. Many thousands of women died from the complications of illegal abortion – usually haemorrhaging or infection – and many others (along with the people who performed them) were jailed. The film is just about the one day that the abortion takes place (in a hotel room).

So, as you can imagine, it wasn’t an evening of light entertainment. Far from it in fact. But I have to say I think it is a really important film – I found it really authentic in its oppressiveness (Romanians I have spoken with who lived during those times have also said this) and Anamaria Marinca who plays the friend gives an absolutely outstanding performance. It’s not one for the squeamish (there is a lingering shot of the aborted foetus towards the end), but most of the unpleasantness is off-screen – either you know what is happening and that’s enough, or you don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s really tense.

What happened in Romania between 1966-1989 is why I can’t just be simply pro-life. What has happened since the end of 1989, when it was made legal (abortion rates are still high, and even though they’re coming down, the rates of non-use of modern reliable contraception are scarily low still, so abortion is in effect used by many as a form of contraception), is why I can’t be simply pro-choice. In an ideal world there would be no need for abortion as all women and men would be educated and empowered to make effective contraceptive choices and have access to effective contraceptive methods so that no child would be unwanted. But this isn’t an ideal world, many people don’t have the education or freedom to make those decisions or ability to access those services, and governments don’t always prioritise sexual health and family planning services so that even when people want better contraception it simply isn’t available to them. I’m sure I’ve said it on this blog before, that I tend towards the more liberal end of the conservative view – abortion is wrong in an ideal world, but in the non-ideal world we live in it should be safe, legal and rare (I think that phrase is from Hillary Clinton). When I saw an abortion on TV a few months ago, I couldn’t watch, everything in me was crying “no!”, but making it illegal isn’t the answer. I’ve got too much experience of Romania to ever be able to agree that making abortion illegal is anything other than inhumane. I think the problem with the pro-choice/pro-life duality is that only one party is accorded rights, either the mother or the child, and so the debate is never anything other than totally polarised. It’s messy, but I don’t think you can look at one set of rights without considering the other. I’m not sure that that will make the debate any less polarised though – it’s going to stay messy for a long time yet.

When I started this entry I just intended it as a film review, I think I got a bit carried away (hence the disclaimer at the beginning, added later!). I don’t know what the answers are. But I don’t think the polarised answers that dominate the debate at the moment offer a full solution either way. All I can do is try to think about where I (and the Church, and people of faith) fit in, and how we can best bridge the gap between the pro- and anti- brigades – not as an intellectual chin-scratching exercise that makes us feel worthy, but because there are real people and real lives – adult and child – behind the debates.

Incidentally, if you know the book (and film) “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Attwood – although fictional and set (I believe) in the future, it was inspired by the Romanian extreme pronatalist policies.