Thursday 18 February 2016

Referendum Choreography

Phwoar! When David Cameron arrives for a meeting, you know he means business. In with a left, in with a right, and a left, and a right, and then rapidly moves away from the microphone. Inside and away from Public Relations, he puts his feet up and asks what they will talk about. The Fleetwood Mac of the EU remains quite positive that there will be an agreement, because he knows it has to look like a significant agreement by waiting a bit longer for the announcement.

(I am claiming ownership of any use by the BBC or Sky News or You Can Call Me Al Jazeera of 'Tusk' by Fleetwood Mac as background music when the agreement is hailed with fanfares and hyperbole.)

What annoys me about Labour defenders of the EU membership is that they seem obliged to give these Cameron negotiations credibility. I don't. They are not what he intended, with his election bluster, and they make a marginal difference. Yes, I'll concede a marginal difference, and one that frustratingly takes up valuable time at the EU, but does not justify by outcome the time taken. And none of this can bind the European Parliament element that votes after the referendum and not before. The BBC and other broadcasters are fed the news agenda by all this choreography, and haven't got the freedom to call it for what it is. They are forced to take the government at face value, and leave it to mainly Europhobes in added commentary to call it choreography.

It is quite possible to be pro-EU and regard Cameron's negotiations as a sham and choreography, a figleaf by which to claim something to get a pro-vote. I want a pro-vote on the basis of all the reasons for being in the EU.

First of all, watch the BBC 4 rerun of The Great War and realise that a political-economy across national borders, with supranational institutions, ties nationalities together. The EU might have a democratic deficit, but it has laws of liberal democracy for member states. The UK since Blair has been chipping away at freedoms and, as well as the European Court of Justice, the EU has been a resistance against loss of liberty. Furthermore it is good to have a transnational parliament. The democratic deficit is in fact the Council of Ministers, where executives decide like a mini-parliament. The answer is to strengthen the European Parliament, and have an elected Commission President, not lots of national parliaments.

Then there are the social benefits of the EU, and its dirigiste economic methodology, that does not mean a single market sinks to the lowest common denominator. It is capable of taking on transnational corporations that would seek to pit one country against another. The EU is a confederacy, and a model of a different way of organising politics. It is different from Russian autocracy and American unity but separation of powers and Chinese corrupt political monopoly.

I still favour Britain in the euro. Going in at the correct rate would give the euro ballast and indeed flexibility. In the long run, unless the pound becomes an international currency, we will be in the euro and will use it.

So I will vote in favour, and it would take an earthquake in politics to vote otherwise. The people in Europe are not some sort of alien race, they are like us in all diversity, as is the UK.

And what it we come out? First of all, if we come out, the UK will break up. Scotland will exit the UK and indeed Northern Ireland might well seek independence. In fact Northern Ireland would be put in a terrible position, given the need to be close to Eire.Silly Unionists (UK) expose themselves as the backwoods people they have been for a long time, more UK than the UK. And there won't be a recognisable UK.

If we come out we will still have to pay for access to the single market and have to accept its free movement of peoples. So we will not, so-called, 'control our borders' any more than we do now. The only difference is that we will have no input in to the decision making. Also, when we are out, the EU could become quite hostile to our claiming any part of the EU project from outside. Also, our international politics will be diminished, because the USA and Commonwealth countries will need to deal with the EU institutions and not the UK.

So there is no benefit being outside the EU. The pro-European side is simply not making the case. Being defensive, they are playing Cameron's game. Cameron is only taking Conservative Party politics into the EU agenda, and wasting its time. We should not be having a referendum; the referendum is gambling our UK future on the basis of Tory Party internal politics. I am having to swallow voting for Cameron in this referendum whereas every vote I cast I want to hasten his and his government's removal.

If Cameron loses the vote - we come out - he will have to resign. The Tories and what becomes remaining of Britain will have to be led by some nationalist Tory. This is why, in internal Tory politics, people like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are weighing up in to which side to fall. But if Cameron wins it he will also do well to resign, because he will presumably be 'on a high' and there is a perceived weak Labour Party to take on as the alternative to the bitterness among Tory Europhobes that will wipe out Cameron's narrow majority. So there could be a big effort to repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act after the referendum in order to make it easier to go to a General Election and get a bigger Tory majority under a different pro-European Tory leader, given that Cameron has said he wouldn't stand for re-election as Prime Minister. Rather than revert to patronage, a repeal of the Fixed Term Parliament Act might involve other legislation so that, for example, a simple majority of the House of Commons can call an election rather than two-thirds as the Act now stipulates.

Meanwhile the Chinese economy and society might go into one of its periodic meltdowns so we ought to stick with the EU on that basis if on no other. The UK banks are extremely exposed to a Chinese failure.

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Tackling the Fundy

So what's the answer to someone like Alan Craig, who was interviewed Saturday on BBC Radio 5 Live and rather held his own, and was (to secular ears at least) pretty offensive and exclusive towards Jayne Ozanne, the recent organiser of the YouGov Anglican attitudes to LGBTs survey, and married Erika and Susan? Erika and Susan would like to have been married in a Church of England church, but cannot by its rule-book.

He sounded offensive simply because he said God wants everyone to be heterosexual, with sex only within heterosexual marriage, and thus blanked out everyone who has a fulfilling relationship on any other basis. Effectively they cannot be Christian if they don't "pay the price" that Jesus charged. But in comparison he left others back in their sophistications and semi-removed arguments because he was able to be simplistic and literalist straight off the page. Jesus had said a man marries a woman and becomes one flesh for eternity. That's it; end of argument.

Just to say, back in Anglican days I was once invited to join Erika and crowd going to Leeds but declined to do so, and thus after so many years of online contact was surprised to hear that Erika had not even a residual German accent. In fact all three women sounded terribly Anglican, where you can imagine dinner parties and candles and a quick prayer at the beginning. As a northern pleb I discovered this terribly Anglican way when an agnostic and mixing with the chaplaincy briefly at the University of Essex.

The weakness of Jayne Ozanne's position is that she claims also to be evangelical but has to use 'the Jesus ethic' implied, and the supposed 'core message of the New Testament as a whole' to make her argument, but this leaves a lot in between of absent information and technique. Erika can say how damaged evangelical youth become because their individual gay discovery is rejected by people like Alan Craig, particularly in supposedly supportative fellowships that are anything but. That's an ethical argument that then needs another argument about theology and ethics. The wish to marry within Anglicanism is a disjuncture between personal biographies and the institution.

Packed into this argument, of course, is Jesus as trump card, so no one wins an argument against Jesus and Alan Craig kept quoting Jesus, or claimed to do so.

One argument against him is to state more clearly that no one claiming to be Christian is obliged to treat the Bible like the Qur'an is within Islam. Even if the Scriptures 'contain everything necessary for salvation', these can be treated with more subtle reading. The problem with this is the Rowan Williams' institutional argument, where despite all he had written previously, he discovered as Archbishop of Canterbury that the scriptures contain nothing positive regarding gay sexuality. This justified his efforts to secure an Anglican Covenant based on the institutional exclusion of gay ritual inclusion (marriage included, but much more), a Covenant which the Church of England rejected but which Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby obviously assumes was passed. (After all, this whole business that The Episcopal Church is excluded from doctrinal, ecumenical and interfaith votes as a "consequence" of inclusion is Anglican Covenant talk. Who cares what a synod votes when Anglican primates can act otherwise?)

First of all Alan Craig would be tackled on his bald statement that Jesus founded the Church. No he didn't and nor did he intend to do any such thing, not even a new synagogue. Jesus, he could be told, was a Jewish rabbi, an end-time rabbi.

Second point is that the Bible cannot be treated as reportage. The New Testament is all post-Paul and mainly in the Paul camp, and it is not reportage of Jesus but originally primary documents of the beliefs and expectations of mainly Gentile early Christians in diverse churches.

Therefore we cannot know what Jesus did actually say. However, we might assume he did say what is claimed about marriage because he will have understood and observed mosaic law.

This is where Jayne Ozanne was interesting, in that she said we now know so much more about sexuality, that it is not all male-female and she quoted the example of intersex people. She might have quoted people of one sex in body and the other in the brain. In other words: Jesus was wrong. Jesus was culturally limited.

This is the crux of it. Just as he and Paul were wrong about the last days, and the whole supernatural structure of existence, so they were wrong by being of a limited cultural world view.

So where that leads is Christianity as 'the cult of the individual', and that Jesus is followed. Alan Craig will tackle this simply: Jesus is God Incarnate and therefore, as he said, knows all about homosexuality and polygamy. He no doubt knew all about nuclear energy as well, if you asked him, given that nuclear power is rather important for the workings of the cosmos. He'd have told James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein a thing or two as well.

It is drivel, of course. Human beings are not made by God but evolved, including all its apparent gurus. We came about because some random rock out of the sky knocked out the life support for dinosaurs - a huge extinction took place. Evolution is specific and chaotic, only systematic in its interactions. And all humans go back to a single cell organism. The argument about intersex, which is scientific, clashes against readings of scriptures, which is mythology. Mythology tells us nothing other than how cultures believed and arranged themselves, and how others imagine.

In the end, Christianity comes down to a dogma of priorities: the cult of the individual guru, the priority and sufficiency of scripture, and it leaves the compromisers like Erika, Susan and Jayne in having to become ever more sophisticated in their acceptance of these two premises and yet be fully included.

My answer is thus to deny the label Christian, and clearly I am not because for me Christianity is belief in the incarnation of God in the man Jesus. I don't believe this, nor in what this implies. I don't understand the label liberal Christian either when it comes to those others using the label in Unitarian churches or Quaker meeting houses. People can call themselves what they like of course but there is no 'ethical league table' available historically at which Jesus can be placed at the top. It doesn't work like that. Also I think there is a departure between Christianity and ethics, simply because Christianity's first loyalty is to its Christian interpreted guru and the scriptures from where much but not all comes.

So I am not surprised that someone like Alan Craig can run away with it, and give full rein to his unethical offensiveness. The rules are biased in his favour. He can be challenged of course, by other Christians, but he gets away faster and clearer while they are interpreting the starting gun.

As for young people: well change and a bit of trauma is all part of being a teenager and coming to adulthood. Transition is part of learning. We come to realise that things are not quite as we thought - more abstract, less concrete, and motives are mixed. It is their task when the fellowship is stifling to leave and find a new path. They are not in cults, and people also do leave cults. It's bad but they'll get over it. If they don't seem to be able to recover then get help and not from such Christians.

Tough about the Church of England. The days of cultural support for a Church as a Church (in the Troeltsch sense) are pretty much over. The choices are (on his categories) between being a sect or mysticism. Mysticism never priorities another guru or a book. We live in interesting times, as they say.