Now for Rónán Mullen

Yes

 

I voted against the 8th referendum in 1983.  I was in the minority and it passed.  I was 20 years old and I felt out of touch with my own country.  I could not understand how the holy Joe brigade won on that day.

I clearly remember them handing out lapel badges with tiny feet on them, to represent the feet of foetuses.  I remember the praying women, bearing their crosses and their rosary beads, marching up and down the central reservation in O’Connell Street, saying the rosary.

I remember the convents being cleared out on the polling day to make sure that nuns who had not been outside their walls in decades were engaged to cast their votes.

Thirty years on the climate has changed in Ireland.  The winds from Rome have weakened considerably.  They iron hard grip of the church on society has slackened.  The hand of the church is liver spotted, wrinkled, veined and atrophied.  The church has failed to move with the times and faces dissolution.  It is losing control of its two strongest bastions, education and health.  Ireland is well on its way to becoming a fully secular nation.

I am not anti-christian.  I actually think the Christian church was in its day the greatest force for positive change on the planet.  The preaching of a message of peace and love was a giant leap forward from some truly awful religions.  The breaking of bread and the drinking of wine as votive rites are much more civilised than chaining virgin girls to rocks, stoning sinners to death or slitting the throats of sheep and goats.

My issue is not so much with Christianity as it is with organised religion.  My position is summed up by a speech from the film “Kingdom of Heaven” where the Hospitaller knight says to Balian:

 I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of God. Holiness is in right action and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What God desires is here [points to head] and here [points to heart] and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man – or not.

In summary:  Regardless of your intentions, we are what we do.

In the Repeal the 8th campaign we saw, yet again, what the Religions Right actually do.  They lie.  They cheat.  They bully.

These are people who hold themselves up as the model of morality in our society.  Their intentions are all good.  But their actions are a disgrace.  They intentionally distort facts to make their point.  Sometimes they lie through omission and they have been caught in outright overt lies.  When they are called to account on their lies they employ the tactics of “Deny, Delay, Defend”.

Uniquely in this campaign the social media giants like Facebook and Google decided they would not accept political campaign postings in the lead up to the vote.  OK this is anecdotal but I did notice a fall off in “Repeal” material on my social network feeds.  On the eve of the election I was still seeing “Vote NO” material.  The no campaign exploited every loophole they could find to keep their campaign going.  I classify this as cheating.

The bullying was overt throughout the campaign.  Removal of Repeal posters.  Attacking campaigners in the streets.  Toppling their tables.  Throwing their leaflets to the ground.  Shouting down debaters in public discussion.  It was all ugly behaviour and none of it was reflective of what I think of as the Christian ethos.

These are people who took the lesson of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers in the Temple, and use it as a model for how to wage every campaign.  They weaponize religion.

They lost this campaign.  They lost the same sex marriage referendum.  They lost the right to travel referendum.  They lost the divorce referendum.  But every loss makes them smaller, tighter, closer and more and more fanatical.

Rónán Mullen is the tip of this spear.  Elected by my own Seanad constituency.  Who, who, who is voting for this Smeagol, this Gollum, this hobgoblin.  Out, out, out I say.  This must not stand.

 

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How does your garden grow?

Titchmarch

Today,  May 2nd, is the birthday of Alan Titchmarch who is one of the UK’s most celebrated TV gardeners and gardening authors.  As an avid gardener myself I have great time for people who can turn an introspective pursuit into mainstream entertainment.  This is a classic example of what I call #tainment as in #Edutainment, the blend of education and entertainment that makes education accessible.  So Titchmarch is a proponent of #Gardentainment

There is a Chinese proverb which says : If you want to be occupied for a year get a job, for a decade get a wife, for a lifetime get a garden.

Paradise is derived from the old Iranian word for a walled enclosure, paridayda which described a royal palace enclosure or park.  These might be hunting parks, or simply royal gardens.  In any case just remember when you are ripping out your weeds by hand, it’s another day in paradise.

Titchmarch has been decorated many times with things pinned onto him by the Queen of England.  So what does a celebrated gardener, TV presenter and author do to top off his life?  He writes a book of poetry of course!  His book is called “The Glorious Garden” which is a beautiful name for a book of poems.

 

Winter Garden; by Patrick Kavanagh

No flowers are here
no middle-class vanities - 
only the decapitated shanks
of cabbages
and prostrate
on a miserable ridge
bean-stalks.

Cavafy Birthday

Cavafy

Born in Alexandria, Egypt to Greek parents on this day in 1863 Constantine Peter Cavafy is 100 and a half years older than me.  Below is a poem inspired by the Odyssey an enduringly favourite theme of mine.  It reads a little clunky because of course it is a translation from the Greek.

The theme is important and a lesson in a philosophy for life.  All life is a journey to a destination, the ultimate destination.  Make sure you stop and listen to the birds, smell the roses along the way.  Don’t rush headlong into your coffin and then complain that you missed out.

Ithaca; by Constantine P. Cavafy

When you set out for Ithaca
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raises them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
At many a Summer dawn to enter
with what gratitude, what joy –
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaca always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don’t in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to give you wealth.
Ithaca gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn’t anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca hasn’t deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you’ll have understood what these Ithacas mean.

The Coyote Who Fasts

Nezahualcoyotl

When the Spanish conquered the New World they did a pretty thorough job of erasing anything good, positive or civilized from pre-Columbian American culture.  The goal was to say that Americans were savages, Spanish were Civilized Christians and the culture of the latter should erase the culture of the former.

From time to time it is possible to catch a glimpse of something else.  If you look very very carefully you can find traces of the rich tapestry and layered civilization that existed before Cortes arrived in Mexico.

Nezahualcoyotl (the coyote who fasts) was a philosopher king, poet and warrior who ruled about 50 years before the Spanish conquest.  His deeds and his poems were passed down through oral traditions.  When the native Indios learned to write they set down the history of Nezahualcoyotl on paper.

We get a picture of a wise and thoughtful king who would have been celebrated in any Western realm.  He ruled the Acolhua people from his capital of Texcoco.  One of his main preoccupations must have been to keep his people independent of the influence of the larger and more powerful Mexica.

As a child his father was killed by the powerful neighbouring Tepanecs, closely related to the Aztecs, who took control of Texcoco.  The young Nezah was taken to the great city of Tenochtitlan where he was educated by the Mexica, learing about their legal and administrative systems.

He worked over the years to build the alliances that put him at the head of an army of 100,000 troops.  On the battlefield he displayed strategic and tactical genius.  His victory resulted in a new ruling order in the Valley of Mexico, the triple alliance of Texcoco, Tenochtitlan and Tlacopan.

He then demonstrated that he was not just a warlord.  He made his capital into a center of justice, learning and creativity.  Spanish friars later described his capital as the “Athens of the West”.  He assembled a library, built fine water gardens and held a court of “wise men”.  He established strong legal systems and the rule of law.  In lake Texcoco he constructed a dyke to separate fresh water from brackish.  He constructed aqueducts to transport the fresh water to his capital.

He rejected the blood thirsty human sacrifice driven religions of his neighbours, which were such a powerful propaganda tool for Christian conversion by the Spanish.   Instead he constructed a temple which was an empty space for an unknown and unknowable God.  He did not permit any sacrifice and worshiped by the burning of incense.  It was clearly in the interests of Spanish propaganda to sideline the legacy of such an evolved philosopher.

The following poem gives a sense of the man.  Given that it was written 100 years after he lived, and that it was originally Nahuatl, translated to Spanish and subsequently translated to English I have taken some liberties with it.  For instance in the second verse I have assumed that the “Eagles stained red” were battle standards, things we know well from the Roman legions and Napoleonic French Corps.  Also in the same verse I say the Princes are scythed down.  The pre-Columbian Americans had no wheat or barley.  They had no scythes to harvest grain.  But I am trying to convey the metaphor for the battlefield as a harvest of lives and the metaphor of the scythe just works.

Finally today is given as his birthday so he gets onto my “Poets’ Calendar”. Born April 28th, 1402.  Read the poem below and take note that this was written around the time when Europe was so civilized that the English burned Joan of Arc at the stake for heresy.

 

A poem by Nezahualcoyotl (Edited heavily by Donal Clancy)

He makes the Eagles and Ocelots dance with him.
Come to see the Huexotzinca.
On the dais of the Eagle he shouts out,
loudly cries the Mexica.

On the battlefield we raise toasts with the divine liquor of war,
where the eagle standards are stained red,
where tigers howl,
where precious stones rain from fine armour,
where rich plumed headdresses wave like fields of grain,
where princes are scythed down.

There is nothing like death in war,
nothing like the flowery death
so precious to Him who gives life.
Far off I see it. My heart yearns for it!

And they called it Teotihulcan
because it was the place
where the lords were buried.

Thus they said:
‘When we die truly we die not because we will live,
we will rise, we will continue living, we will awaken,
this will make us happy.’

Thus the dead one was directed when he died:
‘Awaken, already the sky is rosy,
a new dawn has come,
hear the flame-coloured guans sing,
see the fire-coloured swallows and the butterflies fly.’

Thus the old ones said that who has died has become a god,
they said: ‘He has been made a god there’
meaning ‘He has died.’

Even jade is shattered,
even gold is crushed,
even quetzal plumes are torn.
One does not live forever on this earth.
We endure only for an instant.

Will flowers be carried to the Kingdom of Death?
Is it true that we are going, we are going?
Where are we going, ay, where are we going?
Will we be dead there or will we yet live?
Does one exist again?

Perhaps we will live a second time?
Thy heart knows; just once do we live.

Like a quetzal plume, a fragrant flower,
friendship sparkles.
Like heron plumes, it weaves itself into finery.
Our song is a bird calling out a melody,
how beautiful you make it sound!
Here, among flowers that enclose us,
among flowery boughs you are singing.

The earth is a grave and nothing escapes it,
nothing is so perfect that it does not descend to its tomb.
Rivers, streams, springs and waters flow,
but never return to their joyful beginnings.
Eagerly they rush onto the vast realms of the rain god.
As they widen their banks,
so they carve their own burial urn.

The bowels of the earth are filled with detritus,
once flesh and bone,
once animate bodies of men who sat thrones,
judged cases, presided in council,
commanded armies, conquered provinces,
possessed treasure, destroyed temples,
exulted in their pride, majesty, fortune, praise and power.
Vanished are these glories,
just as the fearful smoke vanishes that belches forth from
the infernal fires of Popocatepetl.
Nothing remains of them but the words of a poem.

Happy Birthday Joy Davidman

DavidmanLewis

Joy Davidman & C.S. Lewis

Born on this day in 1915 to a New York Jewish family Helen Joy Davidman was considered a child prodigy, graduating with a masters from Columbia aged 20. The poem below was written in 1936 in the period when she became an atheist and Communist, supporting the Republican cause in Spain.

In the 1940’s she and her first husband, William Lindsay Gresham, began researching religions seeking meaning in their lives. They looked at Judaism and even experimented with Dianetics, L. Ron Hubbard’s system that would become Scientology. Ultimately they were attracted to Christianity, in particular by the writings of C.S Lewis.

Divorcing Gresham after he had a affair, Davidman moved to the UK, and ended up marrying C.S. Lewis. The marriage was largely one of convenience, their relationship was professional and they collaborated in work. When her Visa ran out Lewis offered to marry her to keep her in the UK. He wrote of her;

She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always, holding all these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend (and I have good ones) has ever been to me. Perhaps more

Snow in Madrid; by Joy Davidman

Softly, so casual,
lovely, so light, so light,
the cruel sky lets fall
something one does not fight.

How tenderly to crown
the brutal year
the clouds send something down
that one need not fear.

Men before perishing
see with unwounded eye
for once a gentle thing
fall from the sky.

Happy Birthday George Herbert

RobertWhite1674

Portrait by Robert White of Herbert painted 40 years after the death of the poet.

Born this day 1593, Herbert is one of the Metaphysical poets.  This poem is considered symbolic of his struggle with holy orders, which he ducked in University for a career in Parliament, only to return to the cloth later in life.

The Collar : by George Herbert

I struck the board, and cried, “No more;
I will abroad!
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free, free as the road,
loose as the wind, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
to let me blood, and not restore
what I have lost with cordial fruit?

Sure there was wine
before my sighs did dry it; there was corn
before my tears did drown it.
Is the year only lost to me?
Have I no bays to crown it,
no flowers, no garlands gay? All blasted?
All wasted?
Not so, my heart; but there is fruit,
and thou hast hands.

Recover all thy sigh-blown age
on double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
of what is fit and not. Forsake thy cage,
thy rope of sands,
which petty thoughts have made, and made to thee
good cable, to enforce and draw,
and be thy law,
while thou didst wink and wouldst not see.

Away! take heed;
I will abroad.
Call in thy death’s-head there; tie up thy fears;
He that forbears
to suit and serve his need
deserves his load.”

But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
at every word,
methought I heard one calling, Child!
And I replied My Lord.

Perception is reality.

Darwin

Charles Darwin and his ancestor.

Every day I see a drama played out in the media, and on social media in particular.  Group A present their reality.  Group B present a counter reality.  Group A argues on science.  Group B argues on pseudo-science overlying blind faith.  Group A is constantly baffled by the inability of group B to grasp reality.  Group B is constantly baffled by the inability of group A to grasp reality.  Group A say “that is not reality – it is perception”.  Group B say “I know what reality is”.

Group B is right.  They do know what their reality is.  Group A ignore perceptual reality at their peril.

Let me tell you a story.

When I was a child I grew up in a large Irish Catholic family.  Seven kids of which I was 6th.  As if the house was not full enough we also, until she married, had my Aunt Phyllis living with us.  I was about 5 when she married.  I was supposed to be the “train bearer” but her bossy bridesmaid, would not let me bear the train.  What I remember about that wedding is the cold.  It was a red raw cold Easter wedding.  In the main group photo you will see me retreating from the church steps to escape the wind by going back into the church.

Phyllis was, to my young mind, the living embodiment of Mary Tyler Moore living in our house.  She was cool, sassy, grown up and not a parent.  My two oldest brothers are over 6 ft tall.  Phyllis is about 5′ 3”.  To my young mind she towered over them.  They were teenagers.  They are my brothers.  She was an adult, they were kids.  She towered over them.

My oldest brother, Jerry, is a Solicitor.  Second oldest, Fergus, is an Architect.  Both well educated professionals.  Phyllis was never a professional.  Mostly she was a mother and housewife.  When she married and moved to Swords in North County Dublin my younger brother and I used to cycle out to visit her quite often.  She would feed us and then send us home.  We loved it when she baked a cake that flopped.  She let us eat as much of it as we could before it went into the bin.  In a family of 7 kids cake is a luxury, flopped or not.

So here you have this short woman with no pretensions to a fantastic education.  Beside her you have my two oldest brothers, towering over her, wielding university degrees.  If I have a need to seek advice on an important philosophical matter who am I going to ask?

Phyllis of course.  In the reality of my 5 year old mind she is the adult.  They are the teenagers.

I know, in my 50 something year old brain that my 60 something year old brothers are well capable of addressing deep philosophical issues.  I know, rationally, that they are well educated, highly experienced adults.

This is the point at which Group A and Group B fall out with each other.  You can prove, without a doubt, to the adult mind, that Jerry and Fergus are the more qualified mentors.  You can absolutely convince me on the evidence that I should ask them for advice.  I will absolutely agree with you, and then I’ll go consult Phyllis.

Vaccination protagonists present all the science to anti-vaccination people, who read it, internalise it and refuse to vaccinate their kids.  Astronomers present incontestable evidence to flat-earthers who nod and smile and go back to live on their flat earth.  Democrats present cast iron evidence that Republicans are exploiting the working man and the working man reads it, shakes his head and votes Republican.  Atheists disprove God again and again.  People of faith can’t argue back, but they know what they feel, and they feel they believe, and in belief lies salvation.

Evidence, statistics, facts, research, proof, they are all good.  They are all worthy valuable pursuits.  But they don’t necessarily change our innate perceptions.  Our reality is founded on our perceptions, not on the cold hard realities of the world.

Again and again Group A think they can win by arguing reality.  In truth they will only win by changing perceptions, and that is a far harder task.

Martin Luther challenged the reality of the Christian Church in 1517.  By the 1960’s the church had, for the most part, altered it’s perception, with the enactment of Vatican II.  That was a hard won victory, 450 years and counting.  Charles Darwin postulated the theory of human evolution in 1859.  That took only about 100 years to gain widespread mainstream acceptance.

Changing perception takes time.  It does not take weeks, months or years.   It takes generations.