Last night I met with a group of friends. It was such a lovely experience, yet it left me kind of melancholy. I was surrounded by people I have nothing but warmth and affection for; people with whom I’d been very close to before my rejection of evangelical Christianity almost a decade ago. I have no regrets over the choices I made back then. In fact I’m proud that I was able to act on conviction despite the massive emotional cost. I’ve written before that it meant walking away from a lifestyle, a safe haven, a group of friends whom I adored. I was a toxic brand, actively speaking out against beliefs dear to them. It was never my intent to cause people pain. I just had to act with personal integrity and be honest with myself and the wider world. I no longer believed any of it. Ten years on there are no wounds, but I do sometimes feel the undertow of sadness that our lives went different ways. I suppose that will always be there. I’m also acutely aware of how my decisions influenced Joy’s life and that of my children, all of whom still hold to religious views. My absence from that environment was a grieving process for her, and many things we once would have shared we no longer can. I do not inhabit that world. The real miracle of it is that as a couple we have rebuilt our relationship into something else, an ongoing process that has required honesty, often brutal honesty from both of us. But then who said relationships were easy? In fact nobody ever did, as I recall. However close you are to a person you’re still coming from a different point on the map, so I suppose the skill of it is to communicate in a way that enables you to chart a path together. I think we’ve negotiated a few rocks along the way, and we have learned things about each other, about ourselves, that have surprised us both.
Thursday, 19 May 2016
The biggest danger facing America now is thinking that Donald Trump cannot go the whole way. The 2nd biggest would be failing to recognise that he has tapped into some of the nations arterial concerns. Is he the answer to the issues? No. Should he be given a little credit for having the bravado to raise them? I think yes. We live in a world where to say the wrong thing at the wrong time is to risk swift retribution. I dislike this climate, because whilst it intends to make the world a gentler place it actually creates the kind of space where the Trump’s of this world can rise from mediocrity and command a level of attention otherwise unthinkable. People tend to play it safe, treading a line that ensures the horde does not dissent, and for me this breeds a social timidity, a culture of fear reminiscent of ages past. It was only a few hundred years ago that to speak against the church was to risk some unpleasant consequences, and whilst we may no longer burn dissenters at the stake I do sense a troubling drift towards a climate where to speak the unpopular aloud is to risk incurring a status of social pariah. In my vision we would create a climate where people understood that disagreement does not have to equal discord, where to speak in controversial tones is perfectly acceptable and just a consequence of living in a free and democratic society. I cannot honestly say that I feel as free as I would like to. I have some strong views on a number of social issues, many of which I have blogged about, but there are some topics that I have to step back from. For example, I have a raft of things that I would like to share on the behaviour of the Traveller community, but if I venture even commonly accepted statistics then I would expect my employees would take me into an office and censure me. Same goes with some of my attitudes towards Islam. To speak my mind here is to risk transgressing some unseen code. There appears to be a politically correct bubble expanding ever further into the public consciousness, choking the life out of free discourse and in some cases strangling the free exchange of ideas. Speaking as an atheist I am used to being perceived in derogatory terms in some religious communities. This is ok. I’m not offended by such opinions. I welcome living in a space where my detractors can speak freely and I want this to persist. And the reason why Donald Trump commands such a following, however ill judged, is that he speaks into people’s concerns. It doesn’t actually matter whether there is any validity to the concerns themselves, but at least he gives voice to them. Would I prefer that the public discourse was a little more refined? On a personal level yes. But would I ever wish to inhibit free speech, or render it difficult, or foster a culture of fear? No. Of course no. Always no.
Posted by Rob Barnes at 17:47
Monday, 25 April 2016
I blog on impulse. That way I get something raw and real and unsanitary. Its the undiluted me. When I read some of my older posts I see when I've held back because these are the least engaging. Its when I share what I really think when the wheels get greased. Today I am reflecting on the canard that the genders are equal. This is to say that our respective qualities perfectly balance each other out to create a harmonious synchronicity. All I need do is glance at the amount of gender inequality in the world to know that this is bullshit on a quite spectacular scale. We are not equal. We have fostered a patriarchy that has prevented women from equal opportunity for as long as I can recall. When I take pause and consider, honestly and without fear, whether I think one gender has superior qualities than the other, then as hard as I try I always reach the same conclusion. I put to you that women are better creatures on the whole. More capable. Less prone to wanton destruction and acts of pride. I spend a lot of time ashamed at my own gender. At the violence, at the lack of perception, at the wasteful inanity. At the simple inability to listen. I find women to be more refined, more together, better equipped to facilitate and bridge build, and I do wish that more of them recognised the power they have within. I also wish they would appreciate that they are sometimes guilty of allowing traditional imbalances to persist. Now I do want to say that there are a lot of very capable men in the world, those of mental and physical strength, with presence of mind and of creative disposition. Listeners, thinkers, reflectors. I just doubt that there are as many. I've often noted that males are not always great listener's, and I consider myself a sinner here. I wish I used my two ears and one mouth proportionately. Perhaps then I would make fewer mistakes. On a different tact I suspect that many women, dare I suggest the majority of women have no idea just what powerful beings they are, and how they have the ability, should they choose, to captivate and influence a man in ways that would greatly enhance their happiness. It saddens me when I see Facebook posts from people I know that recount how the latest male has walked all over them, treated them poorly, failed to respect and honour them. Yet at the same time I just know that if these same women had greater awareness they would, at the outset, set the tone of the relationship and make clear that they have a level of expectation which any guy needs to aspire to. These women, I'm loathed to say, appear to be natures doormats. Too accepting of the traditional, going in with low expectation. I am of the view that with a little escalation in self awareness, combined with just a smidgen of self confidence, many women could enjoy more successful relationships. And they would attract better men because they would be more attractive themselves. Know what you want, set your standard, shape the mood music. You'd be surprised. And the more capable men will be drawn to you. And finally a brief word on the phenomenon of the "New man". He's a boring creature invariably trying too hard to be sensitive and ends up being a cardboard cutout. Real masculinity is strength under control, strength refined, strength channelled. It can be funny and raucous and ever so frisky but it is essentially a force for good. Now it isn't for me to pick you a partner but you'll be better off with this kind of guy, a man who represents the best aspects of the male gender. Hold on in particular to the words "Strength under control", because this kind of guy isn't the wet blanket new man that I personally despise so much. He's got way more to offer. But I digress. Without wanting to preach I would love to see a world of strong and confident and expectant women, because this would make for an amazing world. Go make it happen.
Posted by Rob Barnes at 02:33
Saturday, 23 April 2016
I’ve been a strong critic of faith. I rejected a deep personal faith nearly 10 years ago. From time to time I like to take pause and reflect on where I am, what I think. Just to forewarn you, this blog will not mark the return of the prodigal son. But nor will it be unduly harsh or condemning. It has always been the case that the primary reason I am no longer a Christian is simply because I do not think that the claims about Jesus Christ are true. Nor do I presently think that there are any particularly good arguments for the existence of God. Yet, and this is something that’s hugely important to me; I never want to reach a point where I would reject new information out of either pride or dislike of the ramifications. I’ve always maintained that many of the finest people whom I have ever met have been persons of faith. I’ve experience their kindness, their forgiveness, and their hospitality. And I confess that I do sometimes find it hard to be so condemning of the convictions of people whom I value so highly. When I consider whether there exists the possibility of a supernatural realm, whilst I see no evidence I do regard the question as an interesting one. Wouldn’t it be cool to have our understanding thrown on its head, to have to recalibrate all of our pre-established reference points and take on board new possibilities. The closest thing to the spiritual and the numinous I feel is when I look up at the stars, which is something I try to do often. From my back garden I see a vast black sky laced with ice gems, these tiny glints which are in actual fact celestial bodies of a magnitude I cannot comprehend. It awes me. My stomach goes light. Nothing else gets me like that other than perhaps a magisterial view from a coastal path or from the top of a mountain. I recognise our very existence is inexplicable, and immensely improbable, and I try to live in recognition of that. And whilst I do not think I am a creature destined for eternity I do love the day to day joy of simply being. I cannot for the life of me think what could persuade me to embrace any religious worldview, all the more so when I am so well versed on the central claims. It just doesn’t persuade me. It does not seem worth wasting time on. It seems mired in contradiction and, dare I say it, has a very man made vibe about it. Once again, I don’t want to critique when I’ve done so much of that before. I just want to reflect on where I presently stand. I appear to be a humanist, an atheist. What is important is that I never become so entrenched in what I am today that I am blinded to the new ideas of tomorrow. I am a man that has changed. I am a man that can change. I do not fear change. I fear intellectual paralysis far more. I’m not beholden to one ideology and I am as proud of that as I am any other facet of my personality. My body is middle aged but my mind is young and frequently inspired to entertain new concepts. I hope that I have plenty of opportunities to grow and change some more. I’m not ready to be put out of pasture yet. I don’t think I’m that kind of beast.
Posted by Rob Barnes at 16:55
Friday, 15 April 2016
Sarah Palin is, in many ways, a perfect repository for all the worlds bad ideas. Global warming denier, Creationist, Evangelical, rabid right wing Republican. If there’s a perfect storm of intellectual inanity then there you have it. And it’s a vessel perfectly designed to beguile the credulous, all heels and hose and power dressing, the hair and make up the work of a crack team. Get the lighting right, chuck in enough Stars and Stripes, and American exceptionalism has its poster girl. Now I’m not having a dig at Americans here, but rather the cultural climate that creates the conditions for these kinds of individuals to reach heights of power way beyond their mental pay grade. Would you really want this woman anywhere near the White House? I frankly wouldn’t even let her empty my tumble dryer. She is a dangerous ideologue, cranked up to the max by a ground swell of the disillusioned who like their God front and centre and their country music loud. It all lacks nuance. It doesn’t appear to recognise that the devil really is in the details when it comes to life’s deeper problems. Talking of devils Mrs Palin would have us believe that there really is one lurking out there in the shadows. I wonder, is he also responsible for cursing all those American Christian female’s with an addiction to dildo’s and masturbation? That last bit was a reference to my favourite article of the last week. A US evangelical by the name of Mac Major (Who sounds to my ear just a bit like a porn star) has suggested that women are in the grip of a demonic addiction to masturbation and sex toys. To listen to his perspective is to envisage a state of play where every flat surface in every US household containing a female is crammed with sexual aids and things requiring battery operation. Oh God, it’s enough to make a cat laugh. Does this guy really think that the devil is encouraging all humans with two X chromosome’s to get intimate with enough plastic to fund a new oil boom? It appears yes. On a slightly, but only slightly serious note, isn’t it alarming that a man feels that he can speak so boldly into this private area of a female’s life? It all sounds a bit controlling to me. But then isn’t that religion in a nutshell? It’s the perfect concoction of coercive control, all gently wrapped as a free gift, but embellished with more small print than you’d find on a loan shark website. But I digress. Suffice to say that this week has been one where the dullards of the world have had plenty of airtime. And I guess I’m ok with that. At least insofar as that I want a society where all have a voice. Even those I find barmy, or distasteful, or deluded. And at least I get to choose whether I get to turn the proverbial volume down.
Posted by Rob Barnes at 22:38
Friday, 8 April 2016
If I lived in Bangladesh, or in many other Islamic countries, and openly declared my atheism I would be killed. In some of these countries it would be state sponsored, in others it would come courtesy of a lynch mob. If ever I need assurance that I am on the winning side then this would be it. When people are so fearful and ignorant that they seek to silence opposing voices it says something about what they stand for. It says also that they are brittle, fearful, and lacking in basic decency. I consider myself a rude and brassy atheist, the kind that will not tolerate your attempts to share your particular vintage of truth. Oh, and note the choice of wording here. Vintage. A cursory appraisal of religious history will reveal that the branding tends to undergo various revisionism on route to the current day. Not that this bothers me unduly. It's just a product afterall. A product vying for attention in the marketplace of ideas. I happen to think freedom of belief is very important. If you want to build your life on a religious idea then do so. I simply ask that you extend the freedoms you enjoy to those who think different. On paper it sounds so easy, but this is where the fear comes into play. In fact fear is somewhat important in the land of the righteous. Fear of sin, fear of God (Which is apparently the beginning of wisdom), fear of missing the Heavenly Express as it winds it's way to the pearly gates. It's all just a bit tedious and tiresome to my ear. Working as I do in law and order I know a thing or two about coercive control, and belief in God would appear to be a perfect example. Oh they'll tell you they came freely, that they see salvation as a free gift. Yet once claimed just sit back and watch the hoops that the devout continually leap through to keep up their end of the "free gift". Beneath the raised hands and the happy clappy and community is a culture of fear. Fear on an industrial scale. Rarely voiced, yet a tacit everpresent. In particular I feel for the many women who grew up in the faith, knowing no other identity than alignment with a fiction so self evident that it, excuse the pun, beggars belief. They are unwitting victims. They would consider themselves free. I'm not convinced they'd recognise true freedom if it were offered to them. I've seen the way they battle with balancing the requirements of faith with a sense of self identity. The inner feuding to reconcile animal appetites with the ways of the righteous. In contrast I am free. Free to experience life without limits. I can tread my own path, getting it wrong and getting it right, trampling and pirouetting in equal measure. I can face mortality with, if not comfort, at least the sense that I do this thing on my terms. I wonder whether such freedom is a terror to those who raise machetes towards those who refuse to align themselves with the absurd? Towards those whom actively agitate against it? Fear that such as me will pollute, sour, poison the wells of salvation? Have you seen the common theme underpinning this? Fear. Cold fear. Cowardly fear. And I think this will continue as long as religion has any semblance of power. I for one will happily share the planet with those who think a different way. I don't mind our differences just so long as we seek to do no harm. Sure I'll speak out. I'll mock and laugh and critique. But you won't die. And you can return the compliment. Neither of us has to end up in the gutter with our brains splashed all over the road. Which was the fate that befell the free thinker whom inspired me to write this blog.
Posted by Rob Barnes at 03:47
Thursday, 24 March 2016
I wouldnt say I enjoy offending people. But I dont usually waste too much time concerning myself if the occasional ill judged statement emerges before it undergoes my own, admittedly loose, editing process. I'm relieved that I am not a public figure, though, as I fear I might incur the wrath of those pitchfork brandishing arse wipes that seem to lurk in every nook and cranny online. And this is really saying something, because there are a lot of nooks and crannies out there. But trust me, you really dont have to do much more than fart these days and somebody will take umbrage. Every day I sit bewildered as some minority group ascribes itself martyr status in the wake of some perceived slight. I often think we've allowed thought crime to enter once more into the public domain, and we have become so sensitive, so petty and easily confused that we've let our skins get way too thin. By way of example consider the following phrase, which if you're from Buckinghamshire you might have heard. "You're about as much use as a one legged man in an arse kicking contest". Innocuous once upon a time, but now it's discrimination, and you can be sure some oaf, whom probably isn't disabled themselves, would be quick to identify and point out my egregious error. We've decided that everything must be sanitized, everything must undergo vetting and pass some vigorous litmus test before it's fit for public consumption. God it's tedious. Tedious and bewildering. Are we really incapable of seeing the difference in spontaneous humour and underlying prejudice? Do we really want to live in a culture where we are literally hostage to the prevailing winds of opinion? I don't think many really want this, so why do I sense the creeping extension of moral policing wherever I turn? Perhaps I'm imagining things? Overreacting and over analysing? Perhaps I'm just at the age when things don't seem such a big deal. All I know is that I tend to avoid forums such as Twitter because I'd find it too much of a challenge to reign it in. I'd get in trouble. Before I know it I'd be dragged into an office at work and told how inappropriate my comments were and how I'd mortally wounded the sensibilities of some person who they'll never identify. Ok then have it your way. Let the glass ego rule supreme. Let the thought police do what they do. Just don't complain to me when we've created a culture so risk averse that people no longer actually say what they mean.
Posted by Rob Barnes at 12:41