Banksy, Christmas, Christianity and Work

I liked this article on the BBC website about Banksy’s Cardinal Sin sculpture, which was “designed as a response to the child abuse scandal in the Catholic church”, and in particular I was fond of this comment from the artist:

“The statue?  I guess you could call it a Christmas present. At this time of year it’s easy to forget the true meaning of Christianity – the lies, the corruption, the abuse.”

(By the way, for an excellent discussion about Christmas please read this.)

The Vatican’s response, or lack of it, to child abuse is well-documented. One thing that tends to get overlooked, though, is how the institution doesn’t condemn the (often) specifically homosexual nature of the child abuse.

The Vatican is perfectly happy to condemn homosexual activity between two consenting adults but I have never heard robust theological condemnation of homosexuality in the context of institutional child rape, so it appears that transgressing a key plank of Catholic doctrine in the line of your ecclesiastical duties is absolutely fine. Presumably consenting homosexual males go to Hell but rapist homosexual priests get a free pass into Heaven.

Incidentally, I recently met a homosexual man who said he had never been cruised as much as when visiting Vatican City as a tourist. I have no reason not to believe him.

I imagine many Christians will be grossly offended by Banksy’s work, and at some point the ones with functioning brain cells might even say:

“Freedom of speech doesn’t give you the right to shout ‘FIRE’ in a crowded theatre.”

This is a common and ostensibly intelligent restriction on freedom of speech or freedom of expression. It also impliedly condones any resulting behaviour. However, it is an incorrect analogy for analysing the taking of offence and the consequences of that.

In the theatre example, genuine fear of death is harmful and leads to another harm: mass panic and stampede. This is then likely to cause actual death or serious injury – again, harmful. The initial harm, the fear of death, which then leads to other harms, is a perfectly comprehensible and rational response to the primary action of someone shouting ‘FIRE’ in an enclosed environment, and that’s why it’s sensible to refrain from doing it and why mentally stable humans generally do.

The taking of offence is a completely harmless consequence of someone creating a sculpture (or drawing a cartoon, etc). Being harmless, it does not have the power to lead to additional, compounded harms. That should be the end of the matter.

– There then follows a logic break –

We pick up events in the shape of – for example – bombing, maiming and murdering. This is all very harmful and it is a perfectly incomprehensible and irrational response to the primary action of creating a sculpture or a cartoon, which caused no harm.

Lesson: don’t let people give themselves an armour-plated right not to get offended by using the theatre analogy.

I recently heard someone describe the Vatican as a nihilistic institution, and I agree with that diagnosis. The irony is that it’s often the unreligious that are accused of being nihilistic and obsessed with death. This is silly.

Religion, not absence of religion, tends to be obsessed with death. By reason of their fixation with Heaven, many religious people by definition seemingly look forward to death, and some are even disappointed when this doesn’t happen on a huge scale.

All that talk of Heaven, Hell, God, Satan, the afterlife, and all that fucking imagery of a poor, tortured dude pinned to a lump of wood, dying or dead. If that’s not an unhealthy obsession with death someone needs to explain to me what is.

A colleague of mine told me our HR system had recently been upgraded to allow us to select and change our religion on the intranet (for equality monitoring, you understand).

I can be very gullible at work because I automatically assume my colleagues aren’t intentionally talking bollocks. Carelessly and/or incompetently talking bollocks, absolutely, but not intentionally. So I checked it out for myself and saw he was right.

As you can imagine, I have been crying out for this essential functionality for some time now: there’s nothing I like to do more after a hard day shifting papyrus from my desk to someone (anyone) else’s than update my religious status on a flat-screen monitor from the comfort of my ergonomically designed working environment.

I logged on to the system and scanned the drop-down options but sadly none of them tickled my fancy. There were ‘rather not say’ and ‘no religion’ options but on that specific day I had an inexplicable and overwhelming urge to describe myself as ‘Infidel’. I’ll speak to the IT manager and see if he can put in a change request with the supplier.

At least the system recognises that people can change their religion, though. In my view there is general unease with the concept of someone changing their religion from day to day. You can change your political affiliations, your football club, your wife, your sexuality and even your gender, but not your religion. People feel you should be ‘consistent’ when it comes to religious matters.

Consistency by reference to whose standards, though? The truth is that people of the same religion only have one thing in common: the name of the religion. Within every religion, even within every denomination, there is huge difference in beliefs and practices. For example, I know Jews who eat bacon sandwiches like they’re going out of fashion. (They even make these on Saturday mornings, using fire, in double contravention of the Sabbath.) I know Jews who don’t believe in God. I know Muslims who love a glass of Malbec. I know Muslims who pay interest on regular, non-Sharia mortgages. I know Christians who don’t go to church. I know Catholics who are homosexual. I know Scientologists who aren’t scary. (Ok, I made that up.) I even watched a BBC programme recently which featured a Christian minister who doesn’t believe in God.

I suspect most people can’t handle the idea of others changing their religion because they instinctively associate religious belief with certain privileges: going home early on a Friday, extra school holidays, right to silence others on the basis of offence caused, right to be homophobic, right to be sexist, right to genitally mutilate defenceless babies, etc. They want you to define your unreasonable privileges and then bloody well stick to them, please. Open-mindedness is actively discouraged when it comes to religion so you had better get your choice of religion right, first time. Or hope that your parents do, on your behalf.

Before I forget: merry Christmas.