Tag Archives: freedom of speech

St George – do we like him, or not?

I was almost thirty before I knew when my nation’s patron saint’s day was. I discovered it by accident by visiting a cathedral on this date = 23rd April.

 

George – who took over from St Edmund as England’s mascot – is less well known and celebrated here than our Celtic neighbours’ saints. Pubs in England will promote St David, St Andrew, and St Patrick’s days, but in school I was never asked to make a St George’s day thing; never attended a party for him as child nor adult. I’ve not seen the St George flag – a white background with a red cross – hanging out on this day, any year.

 

In Britain, we don’t use our national flag that much, unless there’s a royal occasion. They appeared at the most recent royal weddings, for which we all got a holiday; for the Queen’s landmark milestones, and on her palaces.

 

The just-for-us English Georgian one is seen in one of three contexts: six nations rugby, the football world cup; or by nationalists such as the English Defence League who march occasionally, proclaiming messages that most of us consider dangerous, for they are unwelcoming of other nationalities which live among us. Hence, there is concern and derision for this use of the flag and perhaps why, when it’s not an international sporting fixture, that we don’t display them. Note that whereas it’s considered a sign of national pride for our Celtic neighbours to get their flags out, it’s been noted that in England, we must have the pan-island Union Jack (which has the Georgian cross in it, combining England and Scotland’s flags but not Wales). Perhaps this point is why people like EDL do attract a following.

 

There is a fourth place that we might encounter St George – in churches. He’s not that common as a dedication for parish churches, unlike Mary, Paul, Peter, Andrew, Trinity.

He’s not found by fishing ports, like Nicholas, nor town gates like Botolph and Giles; not popular in a region in which he lived like Cuthbert or Edmund (in Northumbria and East Anglia respectively).

 

In English cities of multiple medieval parish churches, only Norwich has any Georges (2 out of 31); none of London’s 39, York’s 19, Bristol’s 14, Cambridge’s 15, Ipswich’s 12 (I’m allowing ruins and chapels as well here)… not in any of our other cathedral cities or county towns… save Canterbury, whose George in the high street (1 of 12) was obliterated in the last war.

 

Even checking the lost churches of these cities, which sometimes doubles the amount of dedications, I found only one George, ever, in London (in Botolph Lane) out of c100 parish churches in the old city; and nor could I swiftly think of any just outside it. None other of Norwich’s total 63 medieval dedications, nor any of its monasteries, were to St George. There’s one at Stamford (Lincs)… but not many in England, and I can only think of them in towns, not rurally.

The most famous English church dedicated to George is the chapel at Windsor castle. This vast perpendicular space is at the heart of the country’s largest castle and one of the places we most associate with our monarch, now and historically. It is from here that knighthoods are dispensed, in the order of this patron saint, which involves garters – yes those sort!

 

George lived in the 3-4th centuries, thus before English parish churches were conceived; rededication is possible. So it is significant that someone who became and stayed our patron and who died 1700 years ago, whose Order is 700 years old, has few churches to his name.

 

I noted that from Georgian times, George does appear in new churches, and not just Anglican ones. A Unitarian in Exeter, a German Lutheran church in the city of London, bear the name George, when saints and people’s names are unusual as part of these denominations’ titles.

 

In Bristol, England’s then second city, there’s a regency St George near the centre (and an area to the east); there’s a contemporary one in Brighton’s Kemptown (a town created by a George); a late 19th C monster in Jesmond, Newcastle – home of the Geordies; and there are three in Edinburgh’s new town (18th and 19th C), a building venture dedicated to King George. Glasgow has a 19th C George in the Fields and its original sibling, a more central late Georgian George, which like in Edinburgh, has its own square – a royalist, unionist statement. There’s an 18th C George at Great Yarmouth, home of Nelson’s naval hospital and column.

Georgian churches – from the era – are traditionally English; solemn, quiet, not given to fuss; upright pews for stiff sitting, lips and values; orderly; places for mayor’s swords to rest in public ceremonies celebrating status; cerebral, but not given to displays of public affection, or the indulgent colourings in of our Victorian or Catholic, ahem, neighbours…

There’s a couple more Catholic churches dedicated to St George – such as Southwark’s RC cathedral and again in Norwich – not centrally. These are later 19th C dedications.

 

I note that George is not a British monarch’s name until the German house of Hanover takes over the throne; and that four kings are named George in a row; and then George returned last century to make an Edward sandwich (our first king, who built the palace that became ‘mother of all parliaments’) when we were being very imperial and class and might driven. And it’s a George who instigated a cross for military bravery in the last war. Hmm…

————

 

I was feeling uncomfortable about George the dragon slayer and this sort of Englishness.

 

I wasn’t sure about the dragon, who is the symbol of our neighbour, Wales. Note that name means ‘foreigner’ (a name given by the English to those whose self moniker means ‘fellow countrymen’) and this dragon seems to be about squashing threats of those that are different or other. I note too that dragons are important symbols to China and elsewhere.

 

I was further appalled to check the official St George website, royally appointed, who is trying to promote this under proclaimed saint, and their version of the dragon myth:

 

Pagans placate a sleeping dragon (well, let it sleep then!) with an unwitting sheep in order to get their essential supplies; and when sheep run out, they turn to the women. If the princess hadn’t drawn the lot to be dragon fodder – no doubt a good looking one – would St George have turned up to rescue her? On a white horse!! And killed the blessed thing (NOT on his horse) so that the villagers could get the water that the dragon nested by. (Was there no other water source? No reasoning and negotiation? No befriending the dragon?) Oh, and this feat naturally got the wayward barbarian Pagans turning to Jesus (well, the religion named after him) since the dragon slayer was of course already a convert…

 

So blonde, tall (Aryan) George, in his pennant shield with traditional armour on the horse (supposedly female fantasies), is usually depicted killing some poor alien beastie below him (not even what the story says), looking ugly and in agony. Supposedly too the picture of chivalry, and symbol of crusaders (more attacking foreigners and ‘dragons’ in the name of Christianity)…

 

Then I read a little more about Georgie not Porgie and felt a little more comforted.

 

One – EDL fascists – he’s not even English! (He’s from Turkey and lived in Persia, a part of the world you’re often harsh about). Ironic for crusaders then…

I bet we don’t even say his name right here.

 

But – I began to like his story and feel he is especially appropriate. Converted to Christianity, swift riser in the Roman army… still bored and cynical (when’s the dragon coming?). Well, the real dragon of George’s life was his emperor, Diocletian, who persecuted Christians in times of unrest and who were standing up to his harsh regime.

Then there was a supposed plot against Diocletian’s #2 by Christians – note there had to be reasonable reason – and so churches were shut (ringing any bells?) and scriptures burned; citizenship, if not life, would be forfeited for those found foul of the Emperor’s decree.

George wouldn’t do the worst that he was asked to by his paymaster, and in fact, he took down some Roman posters. But his paymaster was in the city, and George knew he was about to be cooked goose… Indeed, despite his brave and reasoned arguments, and his former favour, Diocletian put him to death for refusing to renounce his faith.

I’m now suspicious about that as a reason for martyrdom… rival Edmund claimed that too.

But… regardless of whether my facetious retelling (based still on the royal St George website) is true, it’s interesting that this is what the official fans purport and this is what the Catholic church canonised him for.

Not only courage, but compassion. Not for mass conversion, military might or beastie brutality, but for refusal to comply with unjust orders, to order his 1,000 men to bully citizens, and to renounce his faith and principles. George was willing to also disobey the scriptural mandate (did it yet say this, or was that later king’s scribes?) to obey earthly authority, but George must have felt that as this clashed with what he felt God was asking of him and what he lived by, that he must follow his God and his conscience. And he even told the Emperor off for his unjust rule.

Now I’m impressed.

Maybe this George is worth giving attention to afterall.

I hear that he has long been revered, not just here, but in many parts of the world.

May we and would-be Diocletians continue to remember him.

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Pride and Prejudice: Minister accused of gay hate crimes

It’s ironic that on the day I finish editing my novel about synthesising being gay and Christian, there’s a news story on just that in the city in which my story is set. The front page of the local rag has a picture of a pastor set against the recent gay Pride parade. His email to the organisers has earned him a hate crime allegation with the police.

I felt many things as I read that story.

First was the irony that this same newspaper published the faces and names of men at a homosexual gathering which got raided to shame them. It was mentioned at a Pride event – local gay people have not forgotten how their paper treated them.  Perhaps fearing hate crimes allegations directed at itself, the paper now covers the Pride celebration like any other local event. Its tone in this article seemed to be firmly with the LGBT community and against this local evangelical minister.

My second feeling is that this paper’s article is very biased and poor. We do not know what the email of “homophobic language” contained. We are only told that the minister, Alan Clifford,  went up to a stall at Pride and offered an exchange of leaflets. His were called “Good news for Gays” and “Jesus – Saviour of us All”. Too true, I thought; for God loves gay people and is here for us as much as anyone else. Further research confirms the tenor of the minster’s views – that ‘gays’ are perverts who need curing – which has become international news. His views are upsetting, angering – and make me sad.

My next thought was regret that the Pride organisers made this email into a police affair. If I had received an email of the sort I am assuming was sent from Dr C, I would have written back, explaining my views and challenging his. I’d have directed him to George Hopper’s pamphlet “The Reluctant Journey” about a Methodist who, on exploring the Biblical teaching on being gay and actually meeting some, had a complete change of heart. He is celebrated as a supporter of gay Christian people, whilst retaining his more evangelical and Bible based faith. I hope my own book might assist with this too.

I believe that challenge and heart changing is far more productive than crime making. What the latter does is reverse the oppression, so that traditional Christians and other faiths feel they’re persecuted ones, and wonder how equality and anti discrimination works when they are being silenced. You give prejudiced people more reason to feel it, and more reason to band together – Dr Clifford is already hailed as being persecuted for witnessing. Two papers copying each other ended that the minster is anti Muslim too. But saying that Jesus is greater than Mohammed is not Islamophobic  – for Christians, Jesus as God is higher than any prophet, and banning or deriding that statement is not allowing freedom of belief. There is far more genuine Islamophobia in the media and from politicians, which I abhor.

I also note the irony that complaints about Dr Clifford being offensive to lead to investigation; but he cannot call the other side offensive and register a complaint.

I would like to see an end to all such offensives.

I’ve now read Dr Clifford’s response. He makes two other valid points – that the intention was compassionate campaigning, not to harass; and that ‘homophobia’ is a misnomer, for prejudice is not fear. Perhaps there is a little fear in anti gay sentiment, of the notion that they are set to break up the order of your society, and what being open to them might mean for your faith journey. It’s something I can relate to, but I am glad of where that journey took me and to whom I now embrace, not decry.

The other concern is – we have too much police control, and that police were experienced as aggressive at this event. Like the local paper, they have turned from breaking up gay meetings to supporting gay people. This is admirable in principle.

It seems we are now in a minefield where freedom of speech as ever is being eroded – even on matters where one sympathises. Sentiments which hurt and insult others who have perhaps already been through stress should not go unchecked – they should be challenged.  But not be afraid to broadcast a view lest it leads to a police record.

I am deeply saddened when people use their freedom of speech to curtail the freedoms of others. I cannot understand why those whose central message ought to be about love see a legitimate expression of it as an aberration, something abhorrent to be campaigned against rather than celebrated. When a faith should be about a better world – more free, more loving, more understanding – I am despondent that some preach hatred and separation instead of inclusion. I refer them to the Easter sermon that was preached in the film version of Chocolat.

It’s PR like this that harms evangelical Christianity especially – you are not serving, you are doing a disservice.

But I am sad at the other team too. Subverting and reversing freedom and anger is no way to be better understood and accepted by those not yet able and willing to do so. It’ll keep those Christians with feeling they’re misunderstood victims who must stick together and fight for the cause. It means the circle might go round again, spinning between bashing gay people or Bible bashers, depending on who has the most sway on leadership.

We don’t want any bashing. We want a world where such differences are no longer divisions, and people don’t not say or do something for fear of reprisal, but because they no longer feel it.

It also seems my novel’s message is still much needed, for both sides.

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Policing protesters

Police heavy handedness is all too common a feature of our broadsheets. Today’s Independent and Guardian reported how protesters in the spring at a London department store were held for many hours and had their homes searched under the terrorism act; over 100 people face trial. There is rightly an outcry from many quarters. I am alarmed and angered that the reasoning is wasting of ‘court time and resources’ as one MP put it, or police time. What matters is that the freedom to peacefully protest is being taken away; and that bullying tactics make this not a free country. This is abuse of power, of law, and an assault to liberty.

Protesting againsta company’s tax evasion is nothing to do with terrorism. That should be tightened to a very slim definition of those using death or the threat of death to make a political point – such as bombings, hostage holding, siege by gunpoint. It is not for people camping out in a commercial premises who had no intention of harming anyone. The phrase ‘national security’ needs to be tightened to mean the above or foreign invasion. The MI5’s other remit, of threats to the economy, should be scrubbed as economy is not part of our national security and comes across as being more concerned about finance than liberty of its citizens.

When, like so many other countries, we are faced with insupportable cuts to deal with a so called debt caused by greedy and irresponsible financiers and our own government’s mistakes, we do not want our already heavy taxes being spent on taking away free comfortable livin. It makes one wonder what other  will be eroded. We want the right to speak up against losses to pension, student support, and all the other services that are suffering. And anything else that matters to us. Conflating demonstration with terrorism means the means to speak out is receding. That is not democracy, it is tyranny.

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The Royal Wedding

When I left my home to watch the nuptials at my local cinema, the city was quiet -much like any bank holiday. But I was surprised to see decorators and Big Issue sellers at work as normal. After the event, I stepped outside, hoping to hear local church bells ringing;  I strained to hear a little chime distantly. Most shops were closed, but while the majority took the advantage of another bank holiday’s rest, few displayed anything in their windows about the event. One restaurant said it was closing due to ‘the wedding’ – the monarchical aspect was dropped. Others had triangular flags on strings but avoided the national tricolours. From one window dangled a Chelsea football flag – not even a local team – for the next day’s match. 

I am among those who are proud of our monarchy and heritage. But I did note that the service used words which made me shudder – about the very negative church view of why we have marriage – to stop fornication and to have children. I noted with pleasure the lack of ‘obey’ in Kate (now Duchess)’s vows. The Guardian points out that the music was very imperial. I am proud, although most of the unfamilar pieces didn’t stick out, especially not the new piece composed by John Rutter. The choir descants spoiled favourite hymns as usual. And there was a heavy military feel to the day, which I struggled with as a pacifist.

I am bored by the silly media commentary and bitch comments about the attire of people I often have no interest in.

What does interest me is a parallel between the new princess (why does she have to have her husband’s first name?) and the one of the women I most admire in History. Although also not royal or aristocratic, Anne Boleyn did keep her first name when she became queen. Her wedding to Henry VIII was a private and secret affair – its date is not known – but her coronation is easier to compare to yesterday’s wedding. Anne Boleyn is a much maligned woman, whose enemies’ vilification programme has been successful for 400 years. She was not the grasping bitch whose reign was cut short by beheading; she was the real star of the Reformation who set up the kingdom ready for the successes that her daughter Elizabeth reaped. She was a woman who also knew that her costumes of public occasions spoke symbolically as statements, and used them well. Allegedly also dark (although Joanna Denny disagrees) and slim, Anne had to wait a similar time to Kate (possibly longer) before finally marrying into royalty. In contrast to choosing an established military uniform, Henry’s bridegroom outfits would have been as interesting to see as his wives’. I believe that Jonathan Rhys Myers commented on playing Henry in the Tudors TV series that this was the best dressed male in history. The costume designers for the show got a unique opportunity to make such splendid clothes for a male.

 I wonder what the metropolitan police would have done to control the crowds who allegedly booed Anne and threw things on her two mile ride through the capital.

Which brings me on to the bitter aftertaste of yesterday’s affair. In reading the papers, what’s stuck in my mind was the heavy handed response of police. I chose contrasting papers; the more local and conservative one only briefly mentioned the arrests as a low number, instead quoting the police on the nice atmosphere in Westminster. The self aggrandised left wing one spent much time on the feelings of suppressed republicans who feel their right to an anti royalist view was curtailed by pre-emptive police. On the same page that OK magazine had its huge Royal Wedding special advert, this paper reported on Bristol anti Tesco protests being escalated by riot police – who then got what they dressed for. Also this month, I read of another recent time when British police had stepped in aggressively citing ‘breach of the peace’ before any had been caused. Rightly, complaints are being made at all these incidents. It’s the same month that I watched Stuart: A Life Backwards about two real men that met over protesting that managers of a shelter where drugs were dealt were arrested in a raid and then imprisoned.

Whilst some are angry at the public expenses of yesterday’s ceremony, the real bill comes from security. We didn’t  pay for the Abbey or the reception or the dress; the uniting families met those costs. What the recession and cut weary nation did pay for was a multi-million police bill, involving stop and search on all those near the abbey as well as heavy handedness at republican parties. Security now spoils any large event, which are often full of peace, fun and neighbourliness to strangers. We’ve become obsessed with searching people and it really should not be tolerated. Yes, if we’re innocent we mind particularly. And this same police force, who we regularly pay our taxes towards, is rough handling other peaceful demonstrations against important matters and undermining our right to be a free country.

Vintage wartime posters are available to buy, and felt all the more appropriate with their crowned slogans in the light of our internationally followed royal wedding. The one that is most appropriate is ‘Your freedom is in peril – fight with all your might’. That doesn’t mean taking up arms – but it does mean the right to publish, speak publicly and privately,  and hold up placards should never be curtailed.

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