Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Strike Out

What are we British made of? At what point did we decide to throw our toys out of the pram and nonce around like a bunch of immature children? When did the pendulum swing so far that we bleat and complain, when in global terms our cup continues to run over?
Times are, compared to the pampered years we've lived through, tough. But when we use this word do we have any real grasp of just how good we continue to have it? More than that, are we so ignorant that we choose to blame everything on the bankers when it's our addiction to credit and living beyond our means that partly  lit the touch paper? True, there are some greedy bankers in the world, but don't be so quick to project your infantile concept of the problem onto them. If you want to see the real pantomime villain then find the nearest mirror; you'll be eyeball to eyeball.
What was that? How dare he? Oh yeah I dare, and then some. If we had the self control to live within our means, or at least within touching distance we wouldn't be in quite the same mess. Granted, it wouldn't have cured the problem but at least it wouldn't have magnified it.
People of Britain (I deliberately removed the "Great"), the time has come to stop whining, hunker down, and get on with it. How's about we showed some grit, something like the courage that got us through two world wars? Times were orders of magnitude harder then, and the issues were life and death. In light of this, and as sad as I am that you cannot afford that 3D television you had your eye on, or that expensive handbag, or whatever. You are still in the lap of luxury, and if you doubt this then I suggest you try living as much of the developing world does. Day to day, hand to mouth, subsistence living. And their numbers dwarf yours, and they live in squalor and hardship and get to enjoy such delights as high infant mortality, starvation, and death from diseases that we in the west simply hand wave away.
In short, please by all means state your opinion, and bemoan that your pension isn't going to stretch as far and will cost you more. I'm sorry, but when you reap the harvest we've been cultivating for so many decades, don't be surprised when what you sow isn't quite as much as you hoped.
We're less affluent. We're not poor. And if you say otherwise, I'd love to see your evidence for this.

Monday, 28 November 2011

A Rapist In The Family - Further Reflections

Not so long ago I wrote a blog titled "A Rapist In The Family". It raised the rather uncomfortable fact that at some point in our family history, a male probably forcibly copulated with a female, impregnating her and ensuring his genetic code found its way into the next generation. Now if you ask the average non psychopath you can be reasonably confident that agreement can be reached that rape is a bad thing. Yet as a skeptic what grounds have I to say this? My ancestor, smaller brained and more brutish was doing no more than avoiding the Darwin award by reproducing, and he was following a natural compulsion.
So what changed? How can I transition and argue that rape is in fact bad?
Well I happen to think the answer is rather straightforward. And I think the key to it probably lurks in the evolution of language. When our species stumbled across this facet it was an absolute game changer; it meant that whole new avenues of communication were made available to us. One could argue that language is the thing that undergirds all sociobiological transactions in the modern world. 
Yet we still have rapists? And people of violence? 
I probably don't need to spell out the rest. What I do say is that it does put a pin in the balloon of any claim of objective morality, this rather tenuous idea that in order for us to know right from wrong we must appeal to some transcendent force, or as people commonly refer to as God. You see, it doesn't seem to move us any further forward? We have reasonable explanations for why we can say of a certain act that it is wrong or harmful, and to the modern world most of us have a clear understanding that rape is detrimental to the flourishing and wellbeing of its victims. We can say this despite knowing that we didn't always think this way, and we can acknowledge that we are the products of a long line of human ancestry. Now I chose rape as just a single emotive example to make a greater point; namely that our moral leanings are accumulated over time and are informed by many factors. Can a person still rape? Well yes? They can expect to find themselves subject to the laws we have established to protect ourselves, however. And how did these laws come about? Once again we can doff our cap at language as the conduit that made this possible.

The Secret Of Polite Conversation

Is not to bother. I'm serious. I mean what's the point? I know that silence can be awkward, and we kind of feel we should fill the blanks, but ask yourself, is it any more than white noise? Now I'm a quite down the line kind of guy, and I'd much rather have a discussion worthy of our time, or at least a joke or a quip; anything but uncomfortable musings about the weather or other rubbish that neither of us give a rats arse about. So let's cut the following deal; don't feel under any obligation to fill the empty space should our paths ever cross. It's not that I don't want to chat; it's just that I'd rather engage with you on a meaningful level, because that's when people connect and make real contact, and those episodes are always worth tuning into. 
It's a funny thing; over the last couple of weeks I've been chatting on and off with people that I've worked alongside for three years yet haven't spoken to before,  and it always shocks me how my initial appraisal of a person is so wrong. There's always more to them than I credit them for, some intriguing layer, something I just didn't expect to find there. This is about as cool as interaction get's, that moment when we have to re-calibrate and adjust our definitions of people. That's contact worth having. On the flip side, and if you're at all like me there are some people that it seems very hard to engage with, and thats not a critique by the way. Is it a chemistry thing? Have we allowed our pre-suppositions to get in the way of something more? I couldn't honestly say. 
When alls said and done I love nothing more than relationship building, forming alliances with people and learning how they tick. But I never force the issue; if something's going to flourish its going to have a natural element to it, which takes us full circle to just why I dislike this social convention we call polite conversation. It's just a hindrance as far as I can tell, and it's boring too. Do any of us want to waste the time we have? That's not to say we should be motivated by selfish intentions; if I see somebody looking a little flat or down I'll often ask how they are. If they are not in the right place to tell me, or simply do not wish to then lets fine. I've done my bit, I've reached out tentatively.
No idea why I'm writing this, by the way.  I'm just off on one.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

A Tribute To The Mothers Of The World

You do the hardest job in the world. You are amazing. If you take nothing else from this heed that.
For one thing you have to sacrifice so much. Once upon a time you were a carefree young girl, the world at your feet and your story all ready to be told. You could spend hours getting ready, afford those clothes, take that trip, get up late. And then one day that came to an end and the diary took on a different form. Suddenly it's a twenty four hour commitment to the wellbeing of others, a brand new little person wanting everything you've got and then more. The love you have for them, even when they are being a pickle is beyond anything you've ever known; a mothers love, deep and intense and sacrificial. That carefree girl get's put away and everyone else come first; I know how much you sometimes long for the days when your time was your own, or when someone would pamper and love you and put you on a pedestal and treat you like a princess, even if it's only for a while. Only the treadmill rumbles on, the conveyor belt of expectation never ending. And as those little people become slightly bigger people the demands seem to grow. You often have to balance so much, don't you? Work, child rearing, relationship building with your partners. And I know that sometimes it gets too much. This is why you're brilliant, why the term beautiful exists, in actual fact. Your sacrifice is the most noble, the most stressful, the most physically exhausting of them all. Demands from all sides, a constant stream, and the worst is that you get so little thanks. And then there's that guilt you feel, even when you do so much there are those days when you feel like you've let people down. You're expected to be Mothers, lovers, colleagues, organisers, transport, chef; that doesn't leave much time for you.
I'm going to say this again. You are amazing. No, you're absolutely bloody stupendous. I am in awe of you, you're doing the most important job in the world and there's rarely any time off. You have all those lovely clothes in the wardrobe you'd love the chance to wear, and what you'd give for an afternoon at a spa being pampered. I want to thank you for everything you do for the children and the fathers of the world, because you are the engine room, and without you the wheels would come off. I know it's hard, I know you struggle, and I have an even bigger heart for those of you doing it alone. Those days when you feel poorly you can't hand over, and at that time of the month you can't just curl up in a corner with a hot water bottle and a magazine. That's sacrifice, that's love, and if there are such things as angels they'd do well to take a tip or two from you. And when the days come when you lose it, when you shout and wring those overworked hands, don't be too hard on yourself. It doesn't make you any less incredible. It makes you human, fragile, and real.
Perhaps one day you'll get to reclaim that long lost girl that you used to be? Perhaps you can start thinking of yourself, indulging yourself, taking your foot off the pedal and discovering all those passions which you had to shelve for a while?
You're more than just a mum, you realise? You're a lady, a woman, and my hope is that one day, perhaps not so long from now, all your hopes and dreams will come true.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Tale Of Christopher Green

I don't think I ever disliked anyone more than I disliked Christopher Green. You know the sort; teenager of rich parents, best trainers, big mouth. He also liked to pick fights with people for absolutely no reason, and when your number came up he'd nag away at you until you snapped. 
Being a rather unpleasant teenager myself I was probably due my day of reckoning, and it was to take the form of a ferocious right hand that came out of nowhere and knocked me clean out. That was chastening; no bugger had ever done that before. Worse, it happened at the end of a youth club in front of all my peers. In fact scrub chastening; humiliating is a better fit.
A normal person would probably have skulked away and licked his wounds, surfacing sometime letter a better and more contrite person. I was therefore waiting at the school gate at the end of the next school day and boy did we give it some. I remember having hold of his neck and slamming five cracking right handers into his skull, and I expect he returned the compliment with a few of his own. The upshot; he never bothered me again. He moved onto new targets. For my part I'm quite certain that I'd have waited for him day after day until he'd got the message, but I was pleased that it didn't come to that.
This was twenty five years ago, and I have a sneaking suspicion that being on the end of that shot was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I was arrogant and full of myself; I needed taking down a peg or two. I wonder what kind of man I'd have become if that hadn't happened? More arrogant? More aloof?
As the years passed the real man hopefully emerged from that foolish teenager, and he's an altogether gentler spirit. The thought of me lashing out at anybody these days seems absurd to me.
At the age of 17 years Christopher was driving at high speed in a Peugeot 205 GTI, a vicious hot hatch which put way too much power through the front wheels. One day he left the road at insane speed and hit a tree, and it was later established that identification had only been possible via his dental records.
I vividly recall being called by my buddy Stuart. A voice down the phone saying "Greenies Dead"
Teenagers don't die, do they? We last forever, we're indestructible? At the end of the call I went up to my room, and I prayed for the lad. Prayed and really meant it, and from this emerged perhaps his final lesson to me, namely the sheer pointlessness of hating. What's the point? Who gains? And for what?
I can honestly say that he made me a better man, and I'm so sad that his road was to end so soon, and under such traumatic circumstances. Nobody should have to perish inside a burning car.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The One's They Leave Behind

I am parked in a gateway just outside North Marston. A low, late autumn sun cascades thin light through light grey clouds, the trees and hedgerows a forlorn combination of greens, browns, flecked yellow. I have just come from a visit to my father's grave, a practice I allow myself once in a while. Truth is, it's just a grave isn't it? An unremarkable piece of ground that served as the last resting place of a man fortunate enough to live a full, albeit slightly curtailed life.
I'm not one for deep introspection, and my visits tend to feel a bit anti climatic. The cemetery is set amidst pretty countryside on the outskirts of Winslow, a quiet plot of land marked by tall hedgerows and a black ornate entrance gate.
I tend not to think so much of his death, but rather of those left behind. My mother was married to him for 48 years, and I'm awed at how she has succeeded in creating something positive from the ashes of that loss.
That's all we can do, isn't it? Head down, move on, doing our best to make our lives meaningful? I expect all who read this have been bereaved at some point, and if not then be sure that's it's coming your way. But resist, if you can the urge to hurl yourself off the nearest bridge at the prospect, because you've got some living to do yet. There's a journey ahead that doesn't have to be bleak or morose; it can be beautiful and numinous and enriching. And we're all on the same conveyor belt after all, so don't let mortality bring you down too much. 
I'm parked  the gateway that marks the beginning of Matthews Walk, so named  after a young child who perished at a cruelly young age. I walked it earlier this year and it was memorable for both the company and the landscape I shared it with. I wonder whether we need to do more to remind ourselves that our glass is half full rather than half empty? Hell, it's worth reminding ourselves that we're even holding the bloody glass. Of all the people that could have been born you and I were; that's neither to be sniffed at nor taken for granted. So whatever road you traverse, and whether you're drifting through the meadows of relative comfort or scaling the jagged peaks of tribulation, do so in the knowledge that it didn't have to be you there doing it. You scooped the jackpot, won the main prize, and succeeded where literally billions did not.
Pat yourself on the back, kid. That's quite a victory.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Sex Inside Your Head

A few months back I wrote on the fun to be had in writing erotic fiction as a means of self expression.  I want to reflect upon the issue again because It really has opened my eyes to new levels of sexual identity and imagination. By the way, I know that most of you who read this will never admit to doing so; it's ok, I'm delighted to be your naughty secret. But anyway, I've been beavering away on the subject when opportunity allows and I've found it so liberating. It's a time when I can allow my natural creativity to focus on issues of fantasy, those ideas and compulsions that often form a sexual narrative in my head.
I've always maintained that the best sex begins in the mind, and if you can understand and find peace with that then I'd argue that it puts you in a good place to be an exiting and stimulating partner. The lovely thing is that our sexual persona is often the polar opposite of how we are on a day to day basis; a corner of our psyche, a bottom drawer that we get to open when chance allows. I really do feel that if partners could find a way past their own inhibitions and really share of themselves and with each other relationships would flourish more than they do. And I don't just mean the erotic aspect; the same could be true of when we find issues or certain expectations difficult. We all have different lines in the sand and a happy medium needs to reached. That said, I suspect that for some their background puts a psychological block on sexual self expression, perhaps negative family experiences, or a background attitude towards sexuality as something dirty or unspeakable. I acknowledge that these can be difficult discussions, yet I feel they are worth having. If I have one desire from this piece its that perhaps one person will think about the subject and perhaps reflect on their sexual attitude and appetites. I cannot say strongly enough that it's ok to explore the realms of your sexual imagination. Open up, explore who you are, find your zone and be open to new experience.
Anyway, I'm off to dress up as a French maid replete with stockings, basque, and 4" heels. Actually no, I'm going for the Batman outfit instead. I can even jump from the wardrobe again now that we've had it repaired.

Breaking The Silence

The Council of ex-Muslims is an organisation I want to stand firmly alongside, and if possible increase their visibility. What they are doing requires enormous courage, even though in reality none should be required.
A Muslim who leaves Islam is exercising a life choice, doing no more than saying I do not subscribe to this system of belief. Why then, should such a decision come with so much  baggage and fear?
It's easy. Islam has a lot to lose. For any religion, it's adherents are the oxygen that allow it to breath. Remove the oxygen and the thing dies. No wonder then  that those with the proverbial power often deploy veiled threats in order to keep the flock in line. It used to be this way with Christianity, but the enlightenment strangled it of its power to control in this way. Which brings me to the point I want to make today; namely to highlight the importance of dissent. I have posted a video on my Facebook and Tweet feeds which I encourage all of you to watch; it shows that as a species we are often scarily ready to conform, even when every piece of evidence we have demands a different response. My own journey has required me to stand apart on numerous occasions and will doubtless require me to do so again; something I am proud of. I do not want to be swayed by power of numbers and I do not desire to hang out with the herd. So whether it's my attitude to religion, or my promotion of deeper acceptance of our sexuality, or my commitment to put truth above comfort, I will continue to dissent when I feel it appropriate.
Not to showboat, nor to make a scene, but simply because I desire to walk this way. I just want to be authentic, because to do so is to live as a truly free human being, and that seems a good idea given that we're all on limited time.
So join me in being who you truly are. Not because I or anybody else dictates it, but because you are free and beautiful and, most important of all, because you can.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Thank You, But No.

I'm almost impossible to offend. In order to do so you not only have to hit a raw nerve, but do so at the right time.  The last time somebody did this was perhaps four years ago, and to this day I've never told her just how clumsy her comments were. It get's a bit oblique here, but if you're interested stick with me.
It is a weekend and I am at home. A friend of my wife is visiting, and it is the early days of my apostasy.  Having rejected religion I was still damaged goods, trying to re-orient myself, trying to figure our how the world really was and form opinions that were not based on some ancient text. I was a few months into my job with the police, and for some reason the discussion turned to my faith, or rejection thereof.  I cannot recall the thrust of the discussion but talk turned to my new job, and this individual felt it appropriate to point out that people had most likely been praying for me prior to my successful application, which of course meant I should be grateful to the almighty for his (It's always a he isn't it?) providence. On the surface this is a genteel statement, the kind words of a kind and lovely person. The timing however was about as clumsy as two rhino's mating, the suggestion being that I somehow owed gratitude and acknowledge her God with due servility.
At the time I let it pass, but on reflection I wish I hadn't. In my position, those words were an affront, a dreary monotone from a lifelong member of the flock. I cannot say precisely why I felt so utterly violated; perhaps something to do with the fact that I was working so hard to forge my own space in the cosmos, far away from the false consolation of faith. Bare in mind that this would have been the same year that my father died, the same year that I was recovering from what had been two years of undiagnosed work related stress. My marriage wasn't great due to the whole religion thing, and I was being sporadically blessed with letters and e-mails from people urging me to reconsider my worldview. In summary, I was a bit fragile, which isn't a word anybody would normally associate with me.  So when a well meaning person tries to ascribe my hard work to secure a job to the providence of a being whom, if they did exist, exhibits all the hallmarks of a perfect shit, well it was never going to go down well.
As with most things, time heals. I rebuilt my life, formed my own perspective on a number of issues. Only in hindsight did I recognise that all forms of religious belief have a cultish air about them; this is why they are so hard to leave. And one only see's this from the outside looking in; in all the little signs winking away; the group think, the conviction that the brand of faith you hold is the best, the desire to win to souls of the lost and walk them to salvation.
Most of you who read this will wonder how I ever got involved? It's no real mystery; I was ripe for the picking. A credulous twenty something, single and good natured, open minded and prepared to give anybody an audience. I was a little lonely, too, so when I was surrounded by all these warm and lovely people it was just the best feeling, kind of like finding the home I'd always wanted.
Anyway, whatever point I was intending to make has flitted off somewhere. Suffice to say that this female has forever earned her place in my memory as a classic example of being sincerely and utterly wrong to project her infantile beliefs onto me. I'd served my time, thank you.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Day The Gods Were Born

It is thought that our ancestors emerged from the cradle of Africa somewhere between 100,000 and 250,000 years ago. Of course our lineage goes back far further, but in terms of what we might delicately call modern man this is the time we are considering. Our descent from tree dwellers to savannah roaming hunter gatherers was a pivotal moment in our history. Without this astonishing event would our brains ever have evolved sufficiently to enable someone like me to be sat typing this?
Try to imagine those early years. The wonder, the adventure, the fear and mystery; an endless striving for life let alone flourishing. We owe these homo sapiens a lot. Now imagine the crash of thunder, the flash of lighting, or the onset of a flash flood or volcano or some other natural terror. What else can a fledgling mind do but ascribe these events, this phenomena to a higher agency, some power beyond their comprehension? And thus the Gods were born, back in our pre history, when we had the answers to precisely nothing. Gaps in our knowledge were huge, our brains, whilst in many ways magnificent, unable to grasp that these events could have a natural cause. In all cultures there are structures of belief, and it seems that it is a thing that comes quite naturally to us. But don't be deceived; in fact just consider what else would have come naturally to us back then. Rape was the favoured means of copulation, brute savagery route one to securing territory. Child and human sacrifice were also employed in many cultures, so to say that something is natural is to say no more than we are capable of it.
So the Gods are born. And as with all things they evolve. During those early epochs we worshipped them in all shapes and sizes, mistaking even the sun and the moon for looming supernatural forces. Yet as we become cultured and philosophical so do our Gods; and we begin to ascribe to them patterns and moods that run parallel with our own. Funny that.
Back in the midsts of time our many Gods fought for supremacy, disparate tribes marching forth under their banners of belief, conquering and spreading their own brand of primitive religion. You may have noticed that this strategy never really fell out of fashion, and to this day the variant religions also compete for resources, or as they might say, the souls of the living.
I'll conclude with a little arithmetic. As evidenced, we once worshiped many kinds of God. As time progressed the pool of possibilities narrowed and we find ourselves worshiping perhaps one God in particular. To quote the magnificent Christopher Hitchens, could it be that we are getting closer to the real figure all the time?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

A Clumsy Kind Of Love

It's entirely possible to be right in all the wrong ways. I know this because I've been guilty of it. And because I've been guilty of it I recognise it in others. You've probably done similar, unless you're a shrinking violet who consents to everything. Unless you fall into the later category you can likely recall times when, from a position when the facts are on your side you've perhaps pushed someone too hard, forced them into too tight a corner, causing them distress, anger, sometimes humiliation. You'll know when you've done it because you'll have mixed emotions afterwards. What could have been a point well made and a discussion worth having has been rendered a side dish amidst a more unpleasant episode.
There's someone in my extended family who's frequently been right in all the wrong ways, and often with the best of intentions. Even when what drives her is love and compassion, she poisons it all with an uncanny ability to be clumsy, thoughtless, and blind to the motivations of others. Down the years, and long before I knew her she was doing the same; seeking to control, unable to allow others room to breathe emotionally. The result? Nobody tells her anything, or at least not until later. And the moment she learns this, a hornets nest of agitation explodes within her and the cycle of clumsiness continues, noise and debris hurled in all directions.
For the record, I've always got on well with her; I've been largely spared too much discomfort by virtue of the fact that the very first time she tried it on she was left in no doubt that she was firing across the wrong bow. I'm a fairly gentle soul, but I'm nobody's punchbag, and when required I have no problem speaking clearly and directly into a situation. This is what I did with her, and the result has been a substantially easier ride. What I'm trying to ask is whether sometimes we allow those closest to us to fall into self destructive patterns that cause friction with others and harm to themselves? Do we sometimes take the easier road and remain silent when a few words spoken firmly and with love might have challenged the behaviour? How much of their conduct is the result of our failure to speak plainly? Can we do more? Should we?
What I'm not saying is that we should be trying to get people to conform to our expectations all the time. That's excessive control, which is a massive character flaw. What I'm wondering is whether the balance can be struck whereby we accommodate people's quirks yet also have the guts to stick our heads over the proverbial parapet when need be?
As always, I'm just thinking aloud. Publicly, as I'm apt to do. Just wanted to throw the ideas out and see where they landed.

Friday, 11 November 2011

A Tale Of Two Lives

Up until 4-5 years ago I had a lot of friends. Good friends, dear friends, people I loved dearly. If I was struggling with something I could bounce it off them, knowing they would understand, and that they would not judge.
I don't really have that anymore. It's my fault really. And it's the risk I knew I took when I decided to pursue principle over comfort. I'll spare you the details and this blog is anything but a pity party. It's a simple acknowledgement of what happens when you turn away from everything on which you frame your life.
My Christian friends are the finest people. Better than I, and better than they know themselves. To turn away from my faith was always going to mean distancing myself; again my decision. Having decided to leave the party it's rarely good form to hang around. It wasn't that I wanted to leave the people I'd grown to love and respect, but rather a need I had to make the cleanest possible break. I knew also that my rejection of the things they cherished would make for some awkwardness, and it was not my desire to subject them to that. You see, the problem with me is that I say what I feel, my heart is on my sleeve, and to remain in situ would have been fraudulent and dishonest. More than that, having rejected the pillars of belief how could I operate in a realm in which those self same pillars were the rock on which many lives were built?
So I distanced myself. I had no idea what came after. There had been no exit strategy; I just knew I couldn't do it any more.
These days I'm a more solitary creature. Of course I have a family and one or two close friends, but I'd be lying if I denied that a gap didn't exist. I'm sometimes subject to an inner loneliness, even when around others. I don't always feel I connect as I used to. I don't know why? My professional life also means I inhabit a strange kind of netherworld that seems to fall between two stools. Anyway, I guess what I want to say is that I chose my road, and the consequences are the result of those choices. If I'm honest, I'd love to form deeper friendships; the kind where you talk into the early hours, challenge and encourage, laugh and bemoan. Those experiences are few and far between, and I miss them so very much. Still, in so many other ways my cup runs over. Two beautiful daughters, a wife who's far too good for me, a family that accept me for who I am. I'm neither poor nor hungry, there's a roof above my head and I've got a great job. Funny how we're rarely satisfied isn't it? We can always find gaps in our drive for the perfect life, which of course is perfectly unattainable. My greatest strength and my achilles heel are one and the same; my need to pursue what is true, my addiction to knowing how the world really is. I don't expect this will ever change, and despite the empty space where I want close friendship to be I would do the same all over again.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Before The Lights Go Out

Cast your mind back for me.  To before you were born. Any memories?
What? None? Oh well.
It's not a trick question. Just my way of pointing out that non existence isn't really such a big deal. You weren't uncomfortable, or lonely, or hungry, or sad.
In fact, you weren't anything. And then the lights came on; bright and brash and dazzling, and our eyes open upon a universe that defies all scale and beauty.
Being alive is quite something. I don't think we grasp this fully. Fact is, I think many of us take it for granted.
Bad idea. Very bad. And a real shame, too. For me a wasted life is an ungrateful life, a poor life, an affront to this incredible thing we call consciousness. As an aside, consciousness is something we know very little about. It eludes our efforts to understand it and leads only to further questions. All the same, we're conscious, and we have a finite time in this body and on this planet. I don't know how your journey is working out although I expect it's a mix of highs, lows, and meandering? Whatever the preceding chapters I think we owe it to ourselves to make our road as interesting as we can. 
I have no proof as to what happens when the lights go out. I strongly suspect it's like how it was before, which is to say not anything. Whatever views we hold surely there has to be some appreciation that this life needs living with passion and drive and a thirst to figure a few things out? I see people waste their lives terribly, just as I've seen others flourish and grow into incredible human beings. I have no magic recipe to ensure or avoid either outcome, but I think an open mind is crucial. That and a sense of wonder, a questioning spirit and a desire for new experience.
Life is a passionate adventure to be lived and cherished and valued. It's a raging river, a breaking wave, the flash of sunlight over the horizon. It's touch, it's scent, it's vision. It's every neural stimuli sucked in from the world around us. It's a dance, a leap, a dive and an embrace. It is to each of us something precious, a continuum of experience upon a conveyor belt propelled by time itself. Only time is a thief and the clock ticks ever downward, converging upon an hour when the lights may dim and the dance may cease. In fact there is no greater thief, for what it takes can never be regained. So faced with this certainty, armed with this knowledge, what are you going to do?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Empty Chair

Mention the name William Lane Craig, and only a few people have heard of him. Philosopher, Theologian, professional debater. Recently he came to England to give a series of talks, which passed under the radar of almost everybody. Yet he is regarded as the planet's primary apologist for the Christian faith.
He seems a nice enough guy. Very skilled rhetorician. Of late however he appears to have developed something of an obsession. He has become, or so it would seem, fixated with staging a debate with
the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who also happens to be author of The God Delusion.
Dawkins has ruffled feathers, you see. He has the temerity to suggest that it's actually ok not to have faith. So what, I hear you say? Old news in Western Europe. Not so the other side of the pond, however, where books penned by not only Dawkins but other prominent free thinkers have played a large part in freeing a great many from the manacles of religious indoctrination. You can tell that cages are rattled because you cannot visit a Christian website without hearing his name mentioned.
Why so? He offers only his thoughts, which one is free to accept or reject accordingly. Yet the obsession amongst the faithful is a very strange phenomena. Unless I'm mistaken they want to see this debate rather urgently, as if this somehow would settle the matter of whether or not we're alone in the universe. So then, what exactly is the issue?
I expect its a mixture of things. To be sure, Dawkins has stirred the hornets nest and has been a player in helping America break free of religious fixation. And those who have faith tend to get quesy when pressed.  Equally troubling must be the statistic that the fastest growing demographic is those professing no belief, so the ship appears to be a bit leaky. But anyway, Dawkins has consistently refused to debate with Craig, and recently articulated clearly his reasons why. You see, Dr Craig has some rather odd views on genocide. Simply put, if God should command the death of children, mothers, or anything else its automatically ok because apparently he will have morally sufficient reasons for doing so. So as long as God commands something it must be for the best and most perfect reason, and we can never hope to understand because we're all yucky and human and small.
Ok, I know the majority reading this recognise the absurdity and indeed the obscenity of that perspective. We're all innately able to know why genocide is a bad idea. And on that no more needs to be said. However, it is because of this that Dawkins refuses to share a stage with Craig. It would give Craig a platform, the oxygen of publicity. And the thing is, Dawkins is already oxygen rich in this department. So it really comes down to the simple fact that for one, Dawkins finds the views of his
opponent deeply unpleasant, alongside the brute fact that nobody outside evangelical circles cares what the good Dr Craig has to say. So for those who continue to clamour, I fear that you do so in vain. Until such time as William Lane Craig rids himself of his anti human views he deserves only the coldest of shoulders. And frankly he deserves no less.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

It's For Charity?

What's your attitude towards charitable giving? I ask because it's an issue that interests me. We all know how good we Brits are at the one off giving, the Children In Need and Comic Relief etc, but do these national events truly reflect the national disposition?
I'm going to suggest that this is one area where we can learn from Christians, because by and large I think they have a lot of things right on this issue. Whilst I jettisoned more or less everything when I left my faith, the one thing I kept is a thing known as the ten percent rule. It's actually not a rule, so no guilt trips are required. It's more of a recommendation that we try to give away ten percent of what we earn. Now of course not everybody can do this, but for those who can have you ever asked why you don't? I know ten percent is a lot, but every time I've thought about reigning it back I get to thinking about who loses out. I am incredibly fortunate; I can feed my family, clothe them, keep the house warm. I don't take this for granted, and I'm under no illusion that everybody can claim this. There's a part of me that wants others to have similar levels of comfort, and I don't think it's merely up to governments to sort this. My selfish side occasionally flares up when I reach the end of the month to find I can't afford something I wanted, and I've grumbled that the extra ten percent would have made a difference. But the moment rarely lingers; I know its selfishness of the highest order, and that the commitment we've made as a family is just that; a commitment. There's another risk in giving however; it's the potential for hubris, for looking at ourselves and being self congratulatory because of what we do. This is a terrible attitude, a really grotesque trap to fall into. You see, I don't thinking giving should be seen as any different than paying the bills, buying the food, or putting petrol in the car. I'd suggest regarding it as an extra is a category error; it should be front and centre of the monthly budget, simply something we do without fanfare. I have an immediate family who I want to care for, and a wider family that I feel I have an obligation towards. I don't pat myself on the back when feeding the former; so why the latter?
Charity, in my mind, just shouldn't be an optional extra, but merely a part of who we are as a species. Isn't it right to be outward looking, mindful of the bigger picture, and contributing  towards the greater good?
One very important caveat; a lot of people who lack financial resources give of their time instead. Fantastic, I say. An even more noble pursuit. What I'm trying to get us away from is the sense that, as George Michael sang, charity is a coat we wear twice a year. I don't subscribe to this position at all. Our ability to look outward is a very real reflection of the content of our hearts.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

What About The Children?

A couple sit beside each other, facing a class teacher on the opposite side of the table. Their body language couldn't be any more strained, shoulders and legs facing away from one another. During this particular parents evening they calmly announce that they are getting a divorce, and go out of their way to say that "The children won't suffer"
Four words. Just four. I wonder if it is even possible for a human being to say anything more idiotic?
The children always suffer. Often horribly, terribly, and over an extended period. If floundering parents can be honest about nothing else they should at least be honest about that. A mummy and a daddy are the twin pillars on which a child rests; the stability that they gain from a stable, nurturing and loving family environment has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt. So when those pillars crumble, to even contemplate saying something like the above is idiotic. The words are ugly because they are an affront to issues of child wellbeing, and surely indicative of gross immaturity on the part of those that would venture them? At the risk of incurring your wrath may I suggest that a good dose of reality is in order, along with an abandonment of many of the selfish impulses that may have fired us before? When we enter into relationships we must be aware that whilst we gain enormous amounts,it will also chip away at the edifice more commonly referred to as the self. We will, if we've any hope of success, have to accept that we won't be able to bring everything with us. Adjustment is essential, a re calibration of our expectations. And let's get the word selfish out of the way and accept that we need to lose some of that, too. And that's before children come along.
Seriously, if we can't manage this then please don't start a family, because when children begin to appear the erosion of the self starts anew. It has to, and if you expect to float along and maintain the equilibrium then cloud cuckoo land is your home.  I'm certain that selfishness and the unwillingness to re-calibrate is at the heart of many broken relationships. People  unable or unwilling to accept that some things have to give way; that they can't have their cake and eat it. I'm also certain that if people were less self serving then fewer relationships would fail, and more children would be raised in stable and loving homes. The thought of not having ready access to my girls sends a cold shudder through me,  and I've seen what it does to people who've endured this traumatic ordeal. It's still the kids that suffer most, though, because what you've robbed them of is something they can never get back. You've compromised their inner security, put their wellbeing in doubt, and sent out the message that what should be a place of refuge provides no real refuge at all.
Modern society is facing a holocaust of broken relationships, and broken children are being churned out into the world and causing the cycle to repeat.
As always, we as people have the power to change this. In our choices, in our expectations, in our willingness to accept that we can and must do better.
We owe it to our children, who did not ask to be born and had life thrust upon them. We need to be doing everything within our power to be cultivating the next generation of adults, and to ensure that the soil around them is moist, fertile, and not easily washed away.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

This Thing Called Love

I don't follow the life of Kim Kardashian. I understand she's a model and has her own reality television show, which I've never watched. I was struck, however, by a news headline that greeted me this morning concerning the fact that her second marriage had collapsed after seventy two days.
That's just over two months. I wonder, how does that happen?
I'm in the realm of guesswork now, but something tells me that chemistry and unrealistic expectations are at the root of it. Chemistry because she was probably experiencing that feeling known as love, and was riddled with endorphins sending messages to her brain and libido that this was it, this was the one, the forever relationship. Powerful highs, to be sure, but misleading for a whole gamut of reasons. The "love" experience in those early days isn't meant to stay in that form; it necessarily matures into something deeper and more robust. If this confuses or disappoints you then you've some maturing to do. Those highs create the initial connection, but it's a false plateau, a window during which people need to get to know each other in order for things to progress. Think of it like the space shuttle taking off; the initial thrust of launch, the boosters jettisoned at a certain altitude to allow the craft to establish a safe orbit. Don't think for a minute that this has to equal boredom; that's the big lie society feeds you. It just means you've built a platform to really work from, a point where the relationship can head off in all manner of cool directions.
The 2nd point, false expectation, is caused by the chemistry waning, that stage where those endorphins don't fizz quite so crazily, when it's just that bit harder to get motivated. I suspect many people get caught up in immature thinking at this point, and once again this is where I'm going to cause offence.
If this is when relationships flounder for you, then you have a personality issue. You're not engaging with the real world, and you're falling away just when things might get interesting. I maintain that there is absolutely no reason why relationships can't grow and improve as the years pass; it takes honesty and genuineness and commitment. It means facing up to issues as and when they arise and being prepared to be vulnerable, candid, and open to accepting that on occasion you've got it wrong.
This thing called love, those feelings; I sometimes wonder whether they've been the source of more destruction than happiness? I don't mean to sound cynical, and I'm aware of the advantages. I just wonder whether our brains have been a bit slow to catch on to the need to reach beyond those chemical highs?