Co-Void 19 Thoughts From a Rural Location Part 3

countrysidewild-geese-3379677_640As I was walking down the slope into the small valley I could hear voices ringing out and the heavy sound of machinery. This was unexpected. Gradually the sounds quietened. It got me thinking about what a surreal dream we all inhabit – bordering on a nightmare. I’ve mentioned this before but it came to me so clear. What exactly is going on? I was thinking about how we are becoming afraid of our fellow beings. Mind forged manacles indeed – now we are not simply ‘isolating’ ourselves but imprisoning our minds. I carried on and dropped still further to a stream. There stood a man, alone, looking at the waters flowing. It was an encounter. Briskly I continued and as he turned and walked to me I gave him a wide smile (the only form of ‘reaching out’). He seemed perturbed. Maybe this was just my interpretation – but it felt awkward. I said ‘hello’ (‘bonjour’) and he replied in like. After crossing the stream I watched him climb the slope I had previously come down. His trousers were salmon pink in colour – I have this fanciful idea that he came from the stream and took human form! What better time for another species to tread warily into human society. They must never have witnessed us so scared and vulnerable.

The way from the stream is a fair climb – but with rocky outcrops on the path to aid the ascent. I could feel my heart beating and my lungs filling with breath and subsequently exhaling. My legs moved with the will of my mind – thankfully they have the strength to do my bidding. We are physical as well as mental creatures. We need to move. It’s inbuilt. By the time I reached the top, I was panting but I could see back down towards the valley. The trees are clothing themselves and soon the ‘clear-season’ and its sights will be fully clothed and veiled. Dare I say it, masked! From the heights, I felt stronger – mentally and spiritually. But what is going on? What is happening to us? Will this nightmare become but a thing half-remembered, to haunt us only in future fears and anxiety?

Everything we think we know comes to us through a screen. Even if others speculate upon this theory or another, their information has also come from a screen. Well, I suppose there must still be some of us reading non-virtual newspapers! It is speculated that the virus might have come from one of Wuhan’s infamous wet-markets (which apparently are beginning to re-open!); others maintain it has come either deliberately or by accident from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (manslaughter or mass-murder); others think that the problem lies with 5G (and its towers/masts) and that the coronavirus is simply – dare I say it again – a mask. As a result of the virus there are others who point out possible dangers via enforced vaccination (that might well carry a chip too – so all of our movements would be tracked not simply car journeys); the linking up of our minds (and bodies) with A.I.; a cashless society – whereby we all become slaves of the banking system. The latter reminds me of the proposed UBI (universal basic income) – maybe that will be used as a ‘sweetener’ to gain our compliance? But it might also mean that everyone is reduced to a slave wage with JUST enough to survive. I mean if you tie all these in together – it’s harrowing reading. The image of humans linked in to an artificial web – food for thought, or food for an emerging spidery elite?

  • Maybe this ‘Strange New World’ we find ourselves in will herald a bright future for us and our fellow creatures. It’s entirely possible. Isn’t it? That would mean altering our relationship with SCREENS and our fellow humans. For the moment it feels like reality is processed through a screen. Can we be as brave as Alice and step through the looking-glass? Do we need to live our lives through screens? Surely this dream we are living through has shown us the potential of a different way of life – if only viewed askance. It surely must have prompted many of us to ask basic (and not so basic) questions, such as:
  • What is REALLY important?
  • What is the true nature of REALITY?
  • Who (or what) provides us with our apparent reality? 
  • What will give us real and deep happiness?
  • Where do we belong and what do we belong to?
  • Do we need to constantly complicate our existence?
  • Can we be happy with less?
  • Is it more important to have silence than noise?
  • Are we being manipulated by the media?
  • Who can we trust?

Is it more important to share and live a spiritual rather than materially based life?

I could go on. But I’ll spare you. You get the drift.

So – what’s it to be folks? Or is it a question of ‘wait and see’ (hopefully not followed by ‘hide and seek’)? Is it a question of looking at the chessboard and guessing our opponents next three moves? Or are we all on the same side? And this is where I can only re-iterate: reality presents itself through screens! I really don’t know anything. Absolutely nothing for sure. I wait. I watch. I listen. I think. I ready myself. This spectacular BLIP in the history of ‘Our kind’ might just be that – a BLIP! A nasty blip nevertheless. Once we’re through the looking-glass and then back again into ‘reality’ it might be as if it were all just a bad dream. No technocracy; no crashing of the economy; no mass unemployment; no One World Government – but rather families, extended-families (and Nations) getting on with their lives anew. A major spiritual change moving across the still, silent oceans and passing over the towns and sprawling cities of the World. A return to deeper and simpler ways of living. Can we be trusted with FREEDOM?

Time will tell.

By Tim Bragg
Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help Notes for a Better Life available from Amazon
Image by Antonius Ntoumas from Pixabay.

 

 

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The Vanishing Futurist by Charlotte Hobson

The Vanishing Futurist by Charlotte Hobson

• Paperback: 320 pages
• Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (2 Mar. 2017)
• ISBN-10: 9780571234875
• ISBN-13: 978-0571234875

Reviewed by Anthony C Green

thevanishingfuturistThe Vanishing Futurist is a novel that I stumbled upon by accident whilst browsing in Liverpool’s excellent News from Nowhere left-wing bookshop. It is set in Russia in the period immediately prior to, during, and after the revolution of 1917.
The story is told from the perspective of Gerty Freely, a young English governess who works for a wealthy Moscow family. It is told in the past tense, from an unspecified point in the future, although it is clear that it is a point at which the Soviet Union is still in existence. References to a Soviet film of The Vanishing Futurist being made in the nineteen fifties, and other snippets of information, make it appear as though we are dealing with real, historical events. The appearance of real-life individuals such as the great Constructivist architect, designer, and artist Vladimir Tatlin and early Soviet Commissar for Education Anatoly Lunacharsky add to this sense of realism.

As the revolutionary upheavals of 1917 intensify, the Kobolev family by whom Gerty is employed, decide to leave Moscow, for the warmer and safer climate of the Crimea. Finding it more and more difficult to support herself through the teaching of English, and also partly out of ideological commitment, Freely ends up becoming a member of the Institute for Revolutionary Transformation (IRT), a small community which is established in order to practice a radical form of collectivist living, where all goods, including clothes, are held in common. The Communities increasingly meagre supplies of food are all shared equally, all work is collectively undertaken without distinctions of gender, and all diversions from the inner and outer struggle to reinvent oneself as the perfect Socialist Man/Woman are either frowned upon or banned outright.
Sex is regarded as one such diversion, though the proscription on physical relationships between commune members is tested early in the novel when Gerty falls in love with an avant-garde artist, scientist, and fellow IRT member Nikita Slavkin.

It is Slavkin who is the hero of the novel, and the Futurist referred to in its title. He brings his sexual relationship with Gerty to an end not long after it had begun, although his claim that he has done so for ideological reasons is strongly undermined when he quickly becomes physically involved with Sonya, another female member of the commune.

Life in the IRT mirrors developments in the world outside as the young Soviet Worker’s State battles for survival against the combined forces of Imperialist intervention, internal counter-revolution, and endemic poverty and backwardness which has been worsened by the wasteful brutalities of the First World War. Thus, as the original revolutionary spirit of experimentation in art comes up against the austere and harsh requirements of War Communism, a split emerges within the commune itself, between the radical followers of Slavkin on one side, and those who side with Fyodor, an IRT member who stresses the importance of discipline and efficiency as the key to the building of socialism. The original radical impulse of the IRT is further weakened when the leadership of the local Soviet decrees that in order to help cope with the acute housing shortage in Moscow it must open its doors to people who do not necessarily share the ideological fervour of its founders.

This aspect of the novel can be read as an analogy for the way that the revolutionary spirit of Russia’s small but class conscious industrial working class was severely diluted by an influx of more politically and culturally backward elements from the countryside, who were needed to replace workers who had joined the newly established Red Army in order to fight the White Counter-Revolutionaries and imperialist interventionists. This struggle also mirrors the tensions within Russia between on the one side the Slavic/conservative/traditionalist elements and the Westernised/ liberal/modernisers, a tension that dates back to at least the 19h century and is still unresolved within today’s Russian Federation.

It is on two of Slavkin’s radical inventions that the novel hinges. The first is called the PropMash, an abbreviation of Propaganda Machine, which is a form of sensory overload capsule that, by bombarding people with sights, sounds and smells designed to promote socialism, can supposedly rapidly break down individualistic conditioning and raise political consciousness to the required level of the new revolutionary man or woman.

The PropMash has mixed results, and Slavkin’s attention is soon diverted to an intense study of the newly emerging theories of Quantum Physics. These studies lead him to adopt what has become known as the Many Worlds/Multi-verse interpretation of quantum reality, essentially the idea that every decision we make creates a new universe; that an infinite number of parallel universes therefore exist, and that within this plurality of worlds everything that can possibly happen has happened, is happening, or will happen. Although seemingly straight out of a Philip K Dick novel this scientific theory, first postulated by the American Physicist Hugh Everett in the late nineteen fifties, has now become almost mainstream.

Slavkin’s logical deduction from the Many Worlds’ theory is that although Communism, the highest and final form of socialism and thus of human development, may not be possible here and now in the conditions of the backward and impoverished Russia of 1918, there must exist an infinite number of alternate universes where Full Communism has already been achieved. This revelation leads him to invent the Socialisation Capsule, which is essentially a vehicle for the transportation of individuals, beginning with Slavkin himself, from the harsh reality of his own material existence into a dimension where one of these utopian, communist parallel realities exists.

Slavkin’s public questioning of the possibility of achieving communism in present-day Russia quickly brings him to the attention of the local Cheka, the forerunner of the KGB. When he disappears from the experimental laboratory where he has been taken, a disappearance that apparently occurs after the facilities’ housekeeper had heard his new device whirling into action, the central mystery of the novel is posed: has Slavkin actually disappeared into one of the alternate communist futures that he believes must exist or, more prosaically, have his radical scientific theorising and experimentation led him to pay the ultimate price under the increasingly harsh excesses of Soviet Communism? It’s a question that Gerty, who has by now found that her brief physical relationship with Slavkin has left her pregnant with his child, sets out to discover the answer to.

I was not entirely satisfied by the ending to the book, but that may be no more than saying that, as a writer myself I would have chosen to conclude it differently. That aside, I thought The Vanishing Futurist was excellent. it is part Historical Fiction, part Science Fiction, and it deals with big questions, about how we should live, about our capacity to imagine different, better worlds, about high ideals, and how such ideals often come into conflict with the material practicalities of brute survival.

If that makes it sound as though it might be hard going, it isn’t. Its light and easy to read style make it a novel that is accessible to all reasonably intelligent readers. I would, however, add the caveat that although prior knowledge is not essential to the enjoyment of the book, the readers who will get the most from it are those with some background understanding of the main events and themes of the Russian Revolution, and perhaps also of the artistic movements that came to prominence and flowered briefly during this period of history, movements such as Futurism and Constructivism. The writer has clearly done her own homework in these areas, and her novel is highly recommended.

Anthony C Green is a social care worker, novelist, Trade Unionist, and political activist living in Liverpool. His latest novel Special, based on his experiences as a social care worker, is now available: https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/contemporary/special/

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SPECIAL by Anthony C Green 

  •  SPECIAL by Anthony C Green  special
  • Matador £7.99
  • ISBN 9781788033 442

Special is essentially the fictional biography of Annie Carter, born in Liverpool to a white mother and Jamaican father, told from the (her own) perspective of someone with an IQ of 70. The author uses his own experience of working within the field of Social Care for more than 20 years to reconstruct her life-story seen through her eyes. It provides an authentic insight into what is often a largely hidden world.

Annie was born in 1963 a (not “in the late 1950s” as stated on the back cover). The distinction is important. Philip Larkin`s poem Annus Mirabilis rings true to anyone who lived through the period:

“Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles` first LP”

The Chatterley ban ended in the autumn of 1960 and the Beatles` first LP came out in the spring of 1963. Larkin`s point is that there really were enormous changes in social attitudes between 1959 and the mid-1960s. In 1959-60 I taught children like Annie, from families who had moved from the Manchester slums of Collyhurst and Harpurhey to a nearby overspill housing estate. They were designated E.S.N. (Educationally Sub-Normal) but were taught in the lowest stream of Primary Schools. Special is set in Liverpool only a few years later, in an environment I found almost unrecognisable from my own experiences.

That said, the book is a gripping read. Jennifer, Annie`s mother, was only 17 when Annie was born. Two siblings arrived at intervals before her father was murdered in a racist attack (the racial element, although apparent throughout the novel, is largely incidental to its main theme) when Annie was 6. Two years later she was sent to an institution some 20 miles away from home. Her mother was an infrequent visitor. The heart of the book is Annie`s reaction to her new situation and how she coped with it. She was always aware of what was going on, unlike some of the other inmates who lacked her level of intelligence. She was sexually abused by staff and even, on a home visit, by a step-father. She ran away when she was 15 and worked as a prostitute in Wigan before being “re-captured”.

The author recounts these experiences with great sensitivity and understanding. He succeeds in the difficult task of empathising with Annie`s situation without either being patronising or under-stating the problems she sometimes caused for others, even for those she instinctively liked. He made one feel sympathetic both to Annie and to her mother Jennifer, who was torn between her love and responsibility for Annie and her need to serve the interests of her other children. And maybe if Annie`s father had not been murdered her life would have turned out differently. Her father doted on her and would surely never have acquiesced in her being sent to Mandlestones, the institution to which she was sent when she was 8. She clearly treasured his memory. I recommend the book warmly. It made me feel on Annie`s side throughout all of her difficulties. In describing the pitfalls which could befall a vulnerable child and adolescent in the 1970s he pulls no punches. Kindness wasn`t absent, but neither was exploitation. In that sense, it is also a piece of social history, the reality of which we have become increasingly aware. It also chronicles an increasingly progressive and humane approach on the part of the authorities.

The Prologue also serves as an Epilogue and should be re-read if its contents have been forgotten during the course of the book.

Reviewed by Henry Falconer

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Buried Lives: the Protestants of Southern Ireland

buriedlivesBuried Lives: the Protestants of Southern Ireland

Robin Bury, The History Press Ireland, Dublin 2019.  20.00

ISBN: 978-1-84588-880-0

Robin Bury, a member of the Church of Ireland, who grew up in East County Cork in the 1950s and 60s, has examined the long and troublesome experience of the Protestants in what he calls ‘Southern Ireland’. He uses this term rather than the ‘Irish Free State’, or the ‘Republic of Ireland’ as he covers the period from before the foundation of the independent Irish state until the present day.

What was it that turned the once strong and thriving southern Irish Protestant community into an ‘isolated, pacified community’ living an isolated parallel existence from mainstream society?  How did the section of Irish society that produced some of the nation’s greatest writers; Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, Oscar Wilde, WB Yeats, J M Synge, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Beckett; international brands like Guinness, Jacob’s Biscuits and Jameson whiskey decline from 10% of the population in 1911 to less than 3% in 2011? What happened? Was this decline natural, or was it helped by human intervention in some way?

The decline began to accelerate in the period 1919 – 1923. Bury examines carefully the statistics from this period in his first chapter taking into account the number of people directly or indirectly connected with the Royal Irish Constabulary and the British armed forces, those who died in the Great War and the postwar Spanish flu epidemic and natural decrease.  Excluding the approximately 64,600 people included in these categories, Bury estimates that 41,856 southern Irish Protestants left the country; whether by direct intimidation, or their own apprehension and fears of being trapped in what was quickly becoming a conservative, Catholic, Anglophobic state.

The newly formed Irish Free State certainly had no policy of driving the Protestants out.  This was certainly not the case with the IRA ‘irregulars’ who – in east Cork at least – targeted a large number of Protestants; small farmers, businessmen, shopkeepers and one Church of Ireland clergyman. They were seen as the enemy; ‘land-grabbers’, ‘landlords’, ‘Freemasons’, ‘Orangemen’, ‘Imperialists’, ‘informers’; all to justify their killing.

Things got so bad, that the Archbishop of Dublin and two other leading southern Protestants had a meeting with the Free State leader, Michael Collins after thirteen Protestants were murdered in the Bandon valley. They wanted to know if the Protestant minority should stay on in the county. Collins assured them that, “the government would maintain civil and religious liberty”. However, Collins wasn’t in much of a position to do much to help. IRA irregulars assassinated him a few months later.

This is a period that many people, especially in today’s modern Ireland would wish to bury; hence the title, Buried Lives. The author is meticulous in his documentation of this tragic, overlooked, and often deliberately ignored aspect of Irish history. The second chapter records some survivors’ harrowing stories; many given as evidence to the Southern Irish Loyalists Relief Association and the Irish Grants Committee to try to win some compensation for their loss. These personal stories show the genuine terror these survivors experienced.

Bury shows how southern Protestants adapted to life in DeValera’s Free State by living quiet, but largely separate lives, rarely socialising outside their own communities; they ‘kept their heads down’ and got on with things in a virtual parallel universe. Until recent times, the mainstream Irish attitude in the South was deference towards the Catholic Church and a romantic rural nationalism. The Protestants survived because they became an insignificant minority.

Bury also looks at the influence of the infamous Ne Temere decree issued by Pope Pius X in 1907.  Before 1926, only 6.1% of Protestant brides were marrying Catholic men; by 1971 the figure was 30%. Today, it’s closer to 50%. Children of couples married since Ne Temere are brought up in the Catholic faith, further contributing to the decline of the Protestant communities in the State.

Bury looks at the notorious Fethard-on-Sea boycott of 1957 where all Protestant-owned businesses, farms and even individuals were boycotted after the marriage of a local couple broke down and the Protestant wife, Sheila Cloney, took her children away from the Co Wexford town. The boycott was organised by the local parish priest, Fr William Stafford and lasted for nine months.

Happily, the Southern State has changed a lot in the last sixty-odd years since the Fethard-on-Sea boycott. This is not due to the silent minority – the marginalised Protestants – but people, mainly women, brought up in conservative, Catholic Ireland – who said, we’re not going to put up with this anymore.  Strict censorship has gone; Article 44 of the constitution, which gave a special place in society to the Catholic Church, was removed, divorce and contraception were legalised, homosexuality was decriminalised. There is still a long way to go, people are still assumed to be at least culturally Catholic, but perhaps the Southern Protestants may yet find a place in the sun. The rise of Sinn Féin electorally in the Republic may stymie this; it may not. Time will tell.

This book is a useful introduction to a difficult and painful period in Irish history. It has an appendix on the victims of the Bandon valley massacres and extensive notes and a bibliography for further research for any reader wishing to examine the author’s case in detail.

Reviewed by David Kerr

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The Poetry Pharmacy and The Poetry Pharmacy Returns; William Sieghart

poetrypharmacyAre you ever out-of-sorts, grieving, or broken-hearted?  Have you regrets, a fear of the unknown, or are you having to deal with problems in your life? A time may come when you’re bored, or anxious, or perhaps you are bereaved or unlucky in love.

Quoting Alan Bennett, the editor of these two compilations of verse says, “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”

The reader identifies with the sentiments in the verse; you’re no longer on your own. Somebody else has experienced the same thing and bared their soul in print. It speaks to you. You have made a connection. You’re NOT the only one who feels like this.  Sieghart believes this can be therapeutic, hence his titles, The Poetry Pharmacy and The Poetry Pharmacy Returns.

For comfort, reflection, delight and inspiration, Sieghart offers poems to deal with most of our problems together with little individual introductions to explain why he considers them apt to the appropriate situation.

I love this poem by the fourteenth-century Persian poet, Hafez, which speaks to us all in a time of rancour, discord and division. It reminds us, that whatever path we take, we are probably working towards the same final goal as our neighbour who goes a different route; understanding, not fear, is the key.

I am in love with every church

And mosque

And temple

And any kind of shrine

Because I know it is there

That people say the different names

Of the One God.

These collections have delighted and inspired me and encouraged me to look into further poems by authors who spoke to my condition. I am likely to share some of them with the rest of the congregation the next time it’s my turn to give a reading when Sunday morning services eventually resume.

The Poetry Pharmacy; Particular Books 2017. ISBN978-1-846-14954-2

The Poetry Pharmacy Returns; Particular Books 2019. ISBN978-0-241-41905-2

Reviewed by David Kerr

 

 

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Hail Satan?

Baphomet“Hallowe’en is coming
And the goose is getting fat.
Will you please put a penny
In the old man’s hat?
If you haven’t got a penny,
A halfpenny will do,
And if you haven’t got a halfpenny
Then God bless you,
And your old man too.”

That’s the wee verse my sisters and I used to rhyme off at this time of the year, annoying our neighbours in Rathcoole as we went from door-to-door in homemade costumes made from bin bags. We carried Jack o’Lanterns which our mother had lovingly hollowed out of turnips. That, believe me, was no easy task.

This was long before the coming of the commercial Americanised imported ‘trick or treat’ fashion and the appearance of readymade costumes from Asda or B&M. As we counted our pennies, bobbed for apples and hoped to get the slice of apple tart containing a silver sixpence we were just having some fun.

We never thought of it as a celebration of the triumph of evil, or devil worship or of horrible things. We were not conjuring up demons; not a bit of it. It was part of our inherited traditions; every bit as much as the Eleventh Night, The Twelfth, St Patrick’s Day, Easter or Christmas. To hear some religious people talk; you would think that devil worship is what it’s all about. Not at all.

Still, the season we’re in reminds me of a recent documentary I saw at the QFT. Penny Lane has made a hugely entertaining film about a recently formed religious group that is beginning to attract public attention. It’s growing quite fast in the US where it began, and in some parts of Europe.

This new religious group has published its Seven Fundamental Tenets. Let me share them with you…

  •  One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
  •  The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  • One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  • The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
  • Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.
  • People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.
  • Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

By and large, with a quibble over a word here and there, that sounds like something you might read in The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Magazine or in The Inquirer; it sounds like faith guided by reason. It wouldn’t be out of place in one of our churches.
Doesn’t it all sound grand?
Doesn’t it all seem reasonable?
Doesn’t it sound ethical?
At first glance, I’d say yes.

So, what is this new religious movement and where is it based? Well, significantly or otherwise, it’s based in the town of Salem, Massachusetts. Yes, that Salem; the group calls itself The Satanic Temple. Wow!

For a moment, when I read these Seven Tenets, I thought to myself, “My God. A lot of this sounds quite reasonable. Have I been batting for the wrong team all these years?” Not only is the devil reputed to have all the best tunes; it now looks like he’s beginning to run away with the best principles too.

In fact, however, the Satanic Temple does not worship the Christian devil. They don’t actually believe in a literal Satan; for Christians, Jews and Muslims the personification of evil and hatred and the adversary of truth. The Satanic Temple’s symbolic ‘Satan’ is based on the literary heroic character of John Milton’s Paradise Lost; the wannabe challenger of arbitrary power and self-styled champion of the dispossessed.

They use their status as a recognised religious body to challenge conservative right-wing Christian theocrats in America who are trying to impose their own religious principles on others in violation of the US constitutional amendment separating church and state. They demand equal status for their own ‘deeply held religious principles’. When such groups try to place Crosses or Nativity scenes or stone tablets of the Ten Commandments on public property; TST then demand equal treatment in the courts for statues of Baphomet; their goat-headed symbol. Rather than allow that to happen, the Christian theocrats usually take their symbols down.

So, in the interests of peace, justice, empathy, mercy and equal treatment for all, should we prepare to ditch our Hallelujahs and start singing Hail Satan? Well, I’m sure (or, at least I hope) you’ll not be surprised to hear me saying, No.

John Milton’s literary Satan is not all he seems. He is not a man looking out for the common good of all humanity. He is a self-seeking immortal animated by a grudge against God to prey on humanity’s innocence.
Milton wrote at the time of the English civil wars. He thinks the common good is the most important thing about society. His opposition to kings is based upon his strong conviction that monarchies, being fatally vulnerable to the power held in the hands of one flawed individual, cannot benefit nations. To Milton; the only flawless king is God, therefore no human being should usurp God’s empty throne. That’s why he agreed with Charles I’s execution for treason and excoriated the Presbyterians of Belfast who protested against it.

He believed that republics, with their checks and balances, are a much better option; but Milton knew how naked ambition can pervert republics, too. He knew what happened to Rome and Athens. He had read his Tacitus, his Plutarch, and his Suetonius. From this, and his personal experience in the English civil wars, he concluded that the heart of tyranny is individualism.

Milton’s Satan personifies this individualism. Satan cannot bear to put the common good before his own personal desires. He exemplifies all that is dangerous about personal charisma, charisma, and his rhetorical dominance is bound up with that charisma.

When Satan makes speeches to other people, he is always manipulative, always instrumental. He uses people for his own ends. He lies. He is not a champion of the oppressed at all.

We might applaud the probably well-intentioned folk behind the Satanic Temple for the fine ethics in their Seven Tenets. Following them may indeed make them better people and good neighbours; but their champion has feet of clay.

As non-subscribing Presbyterian Christians, our champion is Jesus of Nazareth. I realise that some forms of religion can be a sly way for people to feel superior to others (we’re the chosen, God’s elect; you’re a reprobate sinner).

But we have no magic formula;
no Seven Tenets;
no 39 Articles;
no Westminster Confession;
no Four Spiritual Laws;
no Five Points of Calvinism.
We reject the insistence many professing Christians have, of insisting on doctrinal correctness, and concentrating on the afterlife and avoiding hell above all else.

We seek to nurture a deep and living faith in the goodness, grace, forgiveness and unconditional love of God as embodied in the life, the teachings, the death and the vindication of our Elder Brother, Jesus the Christ.

Hail Satan? No thanks. Instead, my cry will be
Kyrie Elieson. Lord have mercy. Alleluia and Amen.

This article was first delivered as a sermon in First Presbyterian Church, Belfast by David Kerr the Sunday before Hallowe’en 2019.

Picture: Eliphas Levi’s image of Baphomet

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Co-Void 19 Thoughts From a Rural Location Part 1

countryside-2175353_640Earlier today (as I write) I finished reading Colin Wilson’s second postscript to his book: ‘The Outsider’. This work has been with me before, and now during, the current pandemic. I think Mr. Wilson was probably something of an ‘outsider’ too. This was his first book and, for a young man, propelled him into some unexpected fame, the like of which had probably not occurred since Lord Byron and his ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’. It seemed both men woke one morning to find themselves famous (to paraphrase Byron).

I have a few books ‘on the go’ as they say, but browsed my untidy bookshelves and picked out Isabel Colegate’s: ‘a pelican in the wilderness — hermits, solitaries, and recluses’— it seemed fitting (and no capitals in the actual title!). There’s a bookmark just over half-way in so it seems I’ve been here before — but I am either blessed (as in ‘peak experience’ blessed) or cursed by being able to read a book/listen to music or watch a film as if for the first time on each occasion.

The sun was shining (I’m in France so we get it here first) and the cat was lying down next to me fast asleep (plus ça change) and as I was reading the introduction, I felt the shadow of indolence pass over me. It wasn’t just indolence though. I was content. It felt like a partially drug-induced soporific state. As if I wasn’t quite in the real world. It could have been an experience where I shifted into another reality or received a visitation. But neither. Yet it was perplexing. Here I was — like so many of us — in forced lockdown with so much TIME on our hands. ‘Eternity in an hour’ — well not quite but with such autonomy (apart from geographic constriction) we could/can do anything. I have a whole pile of books ready to be read. I have songs ready to be recorded and I can compose, play, record (each part), mix and master songs from home. I can write to my heart’s content. And yet, back then, I simply slumped in my chair.

It’s like being in a sci-fi ‘B’ movie (forgive the Americanism) but not quite ‘The Walking Dead’. On the latter, I really enjoyed most of the series though I gave up at one point as it seemed to have morphed into something quite different. That original ‘something’ was the essence of the series that appealed so much — the existential angst; the amoral threat of the zombies. The zombies weren’t even important — it was simply this uncontrollable (well, near uncontrollable) threat. In fact, a threat that HAD to be controlled in some fashion. In this current sci-fi film, I find myself in it’s all rather perplexing. The threat of the virus seems very abstract and that’s probably because I live in a foreign and rural community. Shopping is becoming more and more surreal but not at the stage of the UK. So — how do I guard myself against something that is an abstraction? In shops, folk are gloved and masked and cashiers are goldfish like, wrapped in perspex or polythene (or something similar which I haven’t identified). I don’t wear gloves or a mask — I find that faintly absurd. Perhaps I shouldn’t — but in my ‘bit-part’ in this unfolding ‘movie’ or ‘mini-series’ that’s how it feels. I’d feel very odd clapping at my doorstep too — it just isn’t me. I have expressed my appreciation to friends who are nurses ‘on the front-line’, besides no clapping in rural France — yet. Maybe this is just my misanthropic side. I remember in 1997 when the UK went mad regarding the death of Diana. It was an odd feeling for me, I was bewildered and unsure why I wasn’t (or hadn’t) been caught up in the hysteria. How should I have felt then and how should I feel now?

For the moment (as I shall keep these thoughts fairly short) I too am an ‘outsider’. I look in. I’m at the wings of the stage. Who are the actors? Who’s in the audience? Well, back to me slumping in the chair in the calming rays of the sun — something eventually stirred me and I went off on a walk (I’ll share a link at the end of this of some words I wrote, photos I took and music played and composed of this particular walk I enjoy.) While walking, ideas came to me and one of the ideas was writing — well THIS. Walking, like any form of exercise, often needs to be prompted — it needs to become a habit and so it is with writing. Writing has its own muscle. I’m flexing it now. Tomorrow I might well slump in the chair again — but I have got my guitar out a few times now and firming up those fingertips (ouch!). I’m playing a lot of bass too but am currently unmotivated with other instruments or recording. (In fact, I have recorded music for a brace of poems and some drums for — just about – ‘on-going’ projects.) One step at a time, eh? So if you feel yourself nodding off and sliding down the cushions of your chair — make a mental note and give yourself a start! There’s much to do in these (for me and perhaps you) idle times — you can be busy doing nothing or can shake off the automaton-skeleton and come alive. Zombies come in all shapes and sizes so prepare yourself!
Tomorrow — I shall take out my chair and read. Maybe play some guitar too. You never know. I’ll try and go on my walk and let ideas flow, then share it with you.
(Here’s a link to my new writing channel – with the aforementioned ‘rural walk’: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEw98UVm8HXamMj0NWsOgLg…

By Tim Bragg
Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help Notes for a Better Life available from Amazon
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay.

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1950s Tiki Culture / Exotica Documentary (“The Air-Conditioned Eden”) (Parts 1 and 2)

Tiki_Anthony_Eisley_Hawaiian_Eye_1961

Tiki culture gave repressed 50s Americans an excuse to be freer

This documentary is about “Tiki Culture” & Exotica in 1950s American pop culture. It aired circa 1999 as part of Channel 4’s “Without Walls” series. It’s a fascinating look at how Americans created a weird fusion of cultures (originally drawn from Hawaii, Polynesia, and Oceania), to escape from the sexual and social repression of their daily lives. Tiki had its own music (Martin Denny & Exotica music is featured) and the style influenced arts, design, leisure, architecture and much else. Some even tried to create a Tiki home. But why? What drove this?

Jarrett Hedborg, an Interior Designer who contributed to the documentary said:

“A lot of this look is about running away from technology. The idea of the White man’s garden of Eden and this feeling of refuge. It is feasible to have the fantasy of sitting on the beach under a palm tree looking out at the Pacific even though you’re sitting on your bamboo sofa in Des Moines, Idaho staring out at your back garden.”

Delusional? Maybe!

Walt Disney even created a big Tiki attraction at Disneyland.

At one point America (and particularly American men) went crazy for the idea of natives who lived by different standards and who gave them permission to be freer. The swaying hips and beckoning hands invited them to join a fantasy. The effect on other cultures and how they defined their identity was almost certainly more negative. Their culture was distorted and projected back to them. By the 60s Tiki began to disappear. It became an embarrassment and most hid their Tiki paraphernalia.

As one of the contributors sums up: “Tiki was a purely populist or pop culture phenomenon. It was very loved by the people but discarded and shunned by culture critics and writers. The elitists were demanding more authenticity. The people didn’t care. They didn’t know better so they just had fun with it.”

Fascinating.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

Part one is here

Part two is here

 

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Covoid – 19 Thoughts From a Rural Location Part 2

countrysiderainbowI should have been ‘banging’ the drums with a Big Band at this time; two weeks of playing throughout each day, with more informal playing during the night. But, as with everything else, the reaction to the virus forced its cancellation. Undoubtedly I would have enjoyed this as I have done in previous years but I am also content being outside my home reading. And thinking. And listening — as some magpies shout in their vulgar, guttural fashion. Have they noticed the change we are all experiencing? And now I am inside writing.

My mood is good and I wonder how much of that is due to blue sky and nascent sun. How much are we creatures of the weather we live under? How much of our thought and language and even culture is tied to temperature and scudding clouds? The flora and fauna that surrounds us is surely a product of our seasons — the weather of our particular part of the world. I can feel spring rising. And what must spring think of these times — less noise, less pollution, fewer humans out and about. There is palpable silence at times in an air that seems clearer and sharper. Maybe this is fancy upon my part. I am lucky for sure.

My imagination (and I trust empathy) reveals situations others must find themselves in. Perhaps YOUR situation. This is a time we are forced to confront ourselves. How many people love to ‘go out’ to escape themselves and their life? Perhaps it is only in silence that we can evolve spiritually. How can we evolve if we don’t know ourselves and how can we know ourselves in a world of noise and confusion? But now we are turned in and this might be both positive and negative. We must evaluate every relationship we have (human or otherwise) — be that a mother, alone with three young children; an old person alone peering from a bedroom window at an empty park opposite; a husband and wife quarrelling over lack of money; a young man desperate for the company of his friends…We have to assess our inward and outward life. Others, of course, are still ‘out there’ doing invaluable jobs — their time for reflection will come later.

It’s odd in that it feels as if a sky-sized shroud has been lowered upon the earth. This shroud allows the sun to penetrate — it both warms and freezes us. It is a comforting blanket and a winding sheet for the dead. This shroud has deadened sound but in its fibres also carries the deadly virus. The world is enfolded by and with this danger. Thankfully the great majority of us will be there to see it cast aside and thrown away as we are resurrected from this collective experience. The Everyman corpse will rise and — I hope — greet its new world with a different attitude and approach. But for the moment we rest in peace — or not.

For those of you encountering deep boredom be rest assured that boredom always gives way to creativity. We ALL have this potential no matter how simplistic. It’s good for children to be bored — because that boredom will become the mother of invention. We live in an age of passivity. It wasn’t always like this. We also live in an age of passive and individual entertainment. Many of us are tied to a ‘smart phone’ that is a magical box of potential. Yet this spring of knowledge allows us only to drink alone for the most part. There ARE things we can do in communion — but we really need to restore equilibrium and have connexion with our fellow beings. Okay, normally I am content alone — but that includes listening to great artists and reading books. The latter is NOT a passive act — it requires commitment and re-imagination as my mind translates printed symbols created by another’s mind to enter my own where I ‘magically’ translate these symbols into the most beautiful or complex of ideas. The greatest minds lie dormant on my bookshelves until I breathe life upon them as I take them down and open their pages. It is TRULY wonderful.

Once confined folk have grown irritated by a succession of films or a diet of fast-food television then perhaps their creativity might shoot along with those of spring. It’s simply a matter of activating our brains into ‘action’ rather than ‘reception’. But it’s also, perhaps, a matter of tempering the passions of our brain. I’m not advocating acceptance here but rather restraint that can lead to creativity. Imagine a fully blind person whose concept of the ‘outside world’ is limited to the extent of their body (including hearing and smell). They live in a constant interior world. For the moment we are tied to dwellings — houses that can become homes. Families that can become fully connected. Relationships that can become fully honest. This is our time to change.

Confinement is not without risk and we could feel ourselves tethered and chained both mentally and physically. It is our relationship with these tethers with which we must come to grips. You’ll notice that the generic title for these thoughts is Co-Void 19. Co represents: cooperation, coexistence, correspondences and Void — that which we encounter. We are being given the potential to refill this void in a new way. We stand at its periphery and gaze inwards in uncertainly. But the void is filled with everything we exude. Every thought and action. Every creative act.

The world as was, has been voided. Even if this experience is shortened quicker than anyone might think and with fewer folk dying or being affected than we might have projected — something tangible has happened. The void we stare into is potentiality. Maybe as creatures brought to life again through a great shock we might slump back into our old ways. The void then instantly becomes but a shared hallucination and the old world is revealed to our tired eyes. But maybe not. We can step into this void with courage and common-sense and re-imagine and re-furnish our existence anew.

‘Spring Steps’
https://youtu.be/6FBpppYulmg

By Tim Bragg
Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help Notes for a Better Life available from Amazon

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Dark Waters

darkwatersRating: PG-13 (for thematic content, some disturbing images, and strong language)
Genre: Drama
Directed By: Todd Haynes
Written By: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Mario Correa
In Theaters: Dec 6, 2019
On Disc/Streaming: Mar 3, 2020
Runtime: 126 minutes
Studio: Focus Features
Stars: Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Anne Hathaway Tim Robbins, and Mark Ruffalo

Dark Waters is a disturbing film. It tells the true story of an attorney (Robert Bilott), played by Mark Ruffalo) who took on the DuPont corporation over toxic chemicals. It’s in the fine tradition of films like A Civil Action and Erin Brockovich.

Ruffalo is perfect for the part of the crusading lawyer. He depicts a man who has an inner sense of Justice who perseveres in the face of obstacles. The type of man who quietly argues his case and persuades doubting colleagues at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP. Someone who isn’t intimidated by the scale of the forces on the other side. He is very unflashy, much like the film.

Bilott is prepared to risk his career, his health and even his family relationships to do what is right. He is lucky that his wife Sarah (played by Anne Hathaway) has the same values and generally supports him.

He is also lucky to win the support of his law-firm boss, Tom Terp (played by Time Robbins). His law firm DEFENDS the big corporations not the little guy and they’re trying to land Du Pont as a client! Yet Bilott is able to persuade them to do the right thing and take the case of Wilbur Tennant (played by Bill Camp), a West Virginia farmer who is convinced DuPont has poisoned his cattle, his land — and perhaps his family. DuPont has dumped toxic chemical waste into the Dry Run Creek where his animals drink.

From there the David vs. Goliath battle begins. DuPont doesn’t lack resources. They have an army of lawyers and deep pockets. They use every legal trick in the book to delay and confound Bilott. Bilott works his way through everything that they throw at him. They swamp him with files but he painstakingly puts them in order and analyses them. They introduce scientific evidence and he exposes their corporate links.

At first, even the local community being poisoned in Parkersburg isn’t supportive. DuPont is the biggest employer in the town and has “bought” the community, financing the local mall and schools and giving out freebies.

Slowly the truth begins to emerge. DuPont has knowingly exposed thousands if not millions of consumers to dangerous levels of toxins. As I said at the start it’s disturbing. It makes you question what type of people run large corporations and whether they have our best interests at heart. It’s also inspiring as the villains are eventually brought to some kind of account at least.

Dark Waters is a compelling true story based on the 2016 New York Times Magazine article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare”. It has a great ensemble cast (I particularly enjoyed Victor Gerber as the DuPont lead lawyer). It’s a thought-provoking film and one where the good guys actually win.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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