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