Thursday, July 31, 2008

On The Lambeth Conference

Last week my brother, a Vicar in The Church of England, met Bishop Gene Robinson for a twenty five minute chat. He won’t, slightly irritatingly, tell me what they said to each other, but fair enough. I even assured him I wouldn’t publish what they said on this blog, and I wouldn’t have. But it didn’t fly. Anyway, my brother typically prefers to discuss theological issues face to face, despite the fact that we usually have far more substantial and detailed exchanges by letter or email. No matter.

Gene Robinson, in case you didn’t know (why should you if you are not an Anglican Christian) is the ordained Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in the Episcopalian Church in the United States Of America. The US Episcopalian Church is one of the thirty-eight provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which at the moment is holding its once a decade Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, England.

Recently, here in Kuwait, I’ve taken to watching BBC World. I used, more commonly, to watch Al-Jazeera. But these days I become increasingly interested in what’s going on at home.

A short while ago, in amidst all the preoccupation with Radovan Karadzic, I saw Gene Robinson speaking.

Afterwards, an African Conservative Bishop was interviewed about homosexuality and Christianity. He referred to the sense (with which I agree- regrettably to you, perhaps, if you disagree) that the Bible is clear that homosexuality is not what God wants for human beings. Then, as if this was relevant, the journalist ran past him the following idea.


“One Bishop’s sin is another Bishops love and tolerance”.

What to think about that? I am supposing that this is intended to convey the idea that if a Christian believes that a particular action is a sin, that is wrong, that he might also therefore not be loving or tolerant towards those who commit the sin. And that, in other words, the erstwhile, noble principle, that one should ‘love the sinner and hate the sin’ is not valid. That to love the wrongdoer one must deny that there is a wrongdoing in question. While I would absolutely maintain that homosexual deeds are far less sinful than murder or rape, does this mean, I wonder, that if we are to love murderers and rapists, as indeed is our Christian duty, we need also to deny that murder and rape are wrong? Only asking.

The following thoughts also came to mind. They express the core of my feelings on this, relatively speaking, irrelevant issue, which currently faces the Worldwide Anglican Communion (though try telling that to the media).

Regarding the quote that “One Bishop’s sin is another Bishops love and tolerance”:

Is this supposed to be imply that Bishops who don’t sin are not loving and not tolerant. What does tolerance mean, anyway?

Is love and tolerance the defining essence of the Gospel? No, it isn’t. Aah…that was a line asking to be taken out of context now, wasn’t it? Love and tolerance are, indeed, fundamental and central to the Gospel, but they are not its core essence, which, surprisingly enough, is God’s incarnation and self-sacrificial love on the part of the world.

Besides, the meaning of love and tolerance are not stable, not clear. Whose love and tolerance? What is meant by love and tolerance? They are just words. Also relevant to the question of what love and tolerance is, is the love and tolerance of liberal fascism, for example, or the love and tolerance of the restrictive, banalising nihilism of political correctness? Or to put it simply: is the value of all forms of love and tolerance absolute?

The absolute, objective love and power that resides in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not linguistically dependent. It exists prior to and independently of the words used to refer to and describe it. For this reason, words do not merely arbitrarily concoct or devise that Gospel to be whatever someone, using words, might want it to be – through words. Rather words may, or may not, refer to and capture the Gospel accurately.

And some other more general thoughts arose:

The idea that opposing the institution of actively homosexual clergy for the Anglican Communion is ‘homophobic’ is strange. This idea is, I would suggest, often inaccurate and also, when it is inaccurate, insulting. Yes, some straight men, including Christians, do fear homosexuals for irrational reasons. But most, I would suggest, do not. I, for one, would never deny that gay men are very often pleasant and agreeable. Indeed, I have often, beyond that, admired the manner by which they have moved beyond our typically hideous macho male, competitive templates regarding their general approach to life. To me, certainly, they are not frightening, unless they choose to be. Why else would they be my friends, as they are? But not thinking, as a Christian, that they are frightening - and so therefore not being homophobic towards them - doesn’t, surely, necessarily imply that the Christian not feeling such a fear, should then necessarily believe that active, practi
cing homosexuals should lead congregations in their worship of God. And that, and that alone, or so it seems to me, is the issue in question.

The separate question of granting and maintaining liberty and protection for homosexuals in society in general (which I certainly support and defend) is, of course, entirely separate -but so for that reason not relevant to an internal debate regarding the Christian religion.

And if anyone out there thinks that because I am not blandly, blindly swallowing the liberal consensus on this matter, I am therefore something along the lines of a homophobic intolerant bastard, well, they can go right ahead and eat my shorts. Though I'll have to find them first.

Be with Me

Be with me my Lady
Be with me tonight
Be with me with the rising sun
Be with me at night

Be with me in strength my Lady
Be with me in truth
Be with me in your heart my lady
Be with me tonight.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Poignant Question

Recently, my dear Slovak friend Miroslava spent some time in the UK on holiday with her boyfriend. She spent a lot of time around Windsor, but also went to London.

When she wrote to me about her time there, she asked a poignant question. It reminded me of the still enduring old school innocence and charm of the Slavic sphere, the moral integrity of which has not (yet?) been as corroded as has ours.

“I’m wondering how many possibilities for having fun young people have in London.”

(How endlessly sweet)

This was how I replied:

"Young children having fun in London? Well, I think there are two things to note. First, that for some kids, ignored and cast adrift by their parents, having fun means roaming around in wild packs, pissing about, being a menace and possibly stabbing people (have you heard about the recent 'Knife Crime' anxiety?). Secondly, another type of child has parents who worry about: a) the other wild and dangerous children and the safety of the streets, generally, and b) Paedophiles. In consequence, they keep their kids locked up at home all the time, and so consign them to the virtual worlds only of the computer and the games console.

I was lucky. When I grew up there was still a relatively low level of public fear about the safety of kids. Yes, I was told not to 'talk to strangers', but other than that I could do pretty much what I wanted after about the age of nine, within reason. I walked to school and back every day alone, and would go into Cambridge town centre on my own. Nowadays, 'respectable' parents increasingly won't let their kids have this kind of freedom. While the ones who will are those who, as it were, dont care about them.

Sad, but I do see this as a reversible trend. But it will require the return of moral values, something which is impossible without a spiritual awakening (and I don't mean an Islamic spiritual awakening, mind, just to be clear).

Good luck in your exams, my dear


By the way, 'Jonny' is the name my family and some friends call me. I don't mind anyone calling me it, as it happens (as did Mutley on a recent comment), but I can see that it might seem a bit 'wet' (though not as wet as 'Timmy', I would wager?). It is also far too familiar, I think, to use as an official moniker, as May from Italy led me to see.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

On Money and Power

This evening on my way to work I had the following conversation with a Bangladeshi taxi driver.

Taxi Driver: Where are you from, Boss?

Jonathan: England. You?

Taxi Driver: Bangladesh…

Jonathan: Ah, Dhaka.

Taxi Driver: You know Dhaka?

Jonathan: No.

Taxi Driver: Bangladesh is a beautiful country. Very nice weather. Bangladeshi people are poor. We are a poor people. Very poor.

Jonathan: Yeah, I’m sorry about that.

Taxi Driver: We are poor. And so we are happy.

Jonathan: Ahhhh….?

Taxi Driver: Poor people are happy. Rich people are not happy.

Jonathan: Interesting.

Taxi Driver: Poor people eat and have a roof and work. Everything is simple…everything is good. Rich people are not happy, Kuwaitis are not happy. Rich people always problems, not simple - with food, with life.

I suspect he wasn’t trying to state in some kind of categorical, definitive way that it’s always good to be poor, however poor poor is; or implying that all rich people must inevitably be unhappy. All kinds of questions might also want to be asked, about what he meant by happiness. As a Bangladeshi earning perhaps 800 dollars a month here in Kuwait (so about twenty five times the average Bangadeshi income), it might also be pointed out that in relative terms he’s pretty rich.

In any case, a noteworthy exchange – summoning all kinds of cliché-questions and cliché answers about what the ‘really important things in life’ are. Yet clichés are not invalid just because they’re dull, or places we’ve been before.

It put me in mind, moreover, of something I’ve often wondered. Something I specifically ask myself when I encounter vitriol fuelled invectives against the ornately wealthy, denunciations diabolising them as callously evil, selfish swine. In an attempt at their defence, seeking understanding, I don’t want to join the deafening chorus of leftbeam opprobrium. I suspect too much that this scorn is motivated, too much of the time, by mere covetous envy, and not much else. It is not the wealth that they hate, but that the wealth is not theirs. Instead I want to ask – why do the rich want to be quite that rich, quite as rich as they are? Why must there always be, as it might be put ‘yet another yacht, yet another penthouse’. Or why is enough not enough? These are not questions, mind, motivated by a Socialist’s passion for redistribution (though it’s true I do want everyone to have enough). They are reflections of a certain vertiginous curiosity about how such an indigestion can be stomached. How it can be lived with. Doesn’t it lead to a heady bloatedness? Isn’t it self-alienating? Is it really quite that important, all that wealth? Are you sure? Don’t you lose yourself, scatter yourself, fragment yourself in your attachment of such an incrustation of material wealth onto the carapace that is your ego, beneath which you hide your soul? Only asking, Guvnor.

A related question regards power. Why do people want power? Or why do people who have power, want even more of it; or, at the very least, want very desperately not to lose the power that they have. This is the question that comes to mind when I hear about the conspiratorial cabals that, so we’re told, control and oppress the world in the name of power. Ok, though I question (though do not dismiss) the truth of what’s alleged, I also wonder: ok, supposing you’re correct – so what? Again, are you as incensed as you are because you’re envious? If not, well, I can agree: power lusts are unrighteous, unbecoming to the dignity of man. But isn’t pity as appropriate as condemnation, if not more so? The slave owner, after all, is not less enslaved to his role than the slave is to his. He’s just another kind of slave, as enslaved as the slave, only differently. Ok, I grant, he sleeps on more comfortable sheets.

Are these curious individuals who covet wealth and power; are they evil, or are they just, well, boring, a bit or a lot limited in their interiority; shallow, lacking in imaginative, metaphysical flair?

It is time for me to make some honest statements:

Firstly, that I myself don’t know, as friends or relatives, any of these seriously wealthy, seriously powerful people. I could indeed, therefore, be barking up a host of erroneous trees. Secondly, that I myself, yes, would definitely like to be richer than I am (though power, understood as ‘coercive potentiality’, will always, I hope, leave me cold). And thirdly, that, yes, I could well imagine that, on achieving a degree of wealth significantly greater than that which I currently possess (I could probably keep myself going, sans income, for about two to three years, at a stretch), I myself might very well be persuaded to feel partial to a little bit more….? I am indeed ‘only human’, or so it’s said.

But what I yet want to ask myself, in soul interrogatory mode, is this: what would I do with such wealth? Speaking now, as one not yet (presuming I ever would be? Ha!) put in a position to be open to the temptations of soul-corruption that wealth presumably carries, I know only what I would want to do. Which is:

First, be free of ‘the system’. We all know what I mean by this, do we not? Suffice it to say, the phrase ‘wage slavery’ sums it up nicely. The condition of being free of the need to work, as opposed to the condition of desiring to work, which, in the face of the limited joy attaching to ‘lounging around’ in the Roman manner, would, I trust, endure.

Second, do with my wealth all kinds of fine and dandy things for the betterment of my fellow man (and woman). No, not with the caveat that I myself would derive no self-gratifying frissons of meaningfulness, self-respect or delight from my largesse (why, oh why, do we think that giving has to be self-denying?) but with, nevertheless, the defining characteristic that what I did with my wealth would in fact, and not in merely spinned out appearance, actually have to be for their betterment. Not, mind you, with all my wealth – I’d need to keep some back for myself (shit, this man is so human). After all, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be free of the system now would I?

As to what I would do exactly – that’s another story, though the thought of the University I wrote about continues to interest me. Another might be a genuinely independent, self-funded if necessary, source of media revelation, in a manner reminiscent of Citizen Kane’s undertaking. People need to be fed and clothed and housed, too, and healed from all manner of nastiness.

Yeah, you’re right, it’s a pipe dream. You’re right, I’d get corrupted. Yachts and penthouses and decadence would prevail – a thoroughgoing kneeling at the foot of Moloch ensue.

Then again, maybe it wouldn’t. Hmmmmm.

If anyone out there with ‘an awful lot of wonga’ wants to put me to the test, they should feel assured that they should go right ahead. We could even work some sweet little disclaimers into the deal, such that you’d get your money back if yachts were witnessed!

And if you don’t (don’t worry – I do understand, I’m not that mad), could I maybe just ask you a favour?

Could you consider spending a little less of your money on yachts and penthouses, and persuade your friends to consider this too?

Don’t worry, I’m joking.

Are you?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Controversy that is Homosexuality and The Hope for the Higher Light.

I’ve been reading a very interesting article articulating a seldom heard perspective.

It was written by what might be called an ‘ex-homosexual’. In keeping with the convention that everything surrounding homosexuality has to be controversial, especially in the context of Christianity, I'm aware the very term, ‘ex-homosexual’ may rouse certain people to fury.

People do not choose to be gay, it is said. Nor do they choose to stop being gay. The orientation is innate, congenital, "God given" even. The term ‘ex homosexual’, therefore, is pure homophobia. So it is thought.

I don’t really know what to say. If someone wants to think of themselves as ‘ex-homosexual’, why shouldn’t they? Despite the fact that I’m happy with the term, I 'm not aware of harbouring any irrational fears of homosexual men myself - though I suppose if gay men wanted to frighten me they could conceivably succeed, though I’d hope not. Besides, I have gay friends and I'd thought my recent illuminating (and enjoyable) trips to gay bars in
The Castro might constitute at least supporting evidence for my quasi ‘right on’ credentials, not that I seek any.

Anyway, please read the article if you feel animated by this issue. While I’d object to some of the things Ronald D.Lee says - sometimes he seems cruel and insensitive - I found it a very refreshing perspective. I found these lines especially interesting:

“From Mark I have learned that two men can love each other profoundly while remaining clothed the entire time.

We are told that the Church opposes same-sex love. Not true. The Church opposes homogenital sex, which in my experience is not about love, but about obsession, addiction, and compensation for a compromised masculinity.”

I don’t know, I'm guessing that according to a certain hermeneutical script, when an ‘intrinsically’ gay man discovers he's no longer gay, it must be, it has to be, it cannot otherwise be but, that he's been brainwashed by dastardly interfering heterosexual sex suppressors (Christian, no doubt, the bastards!), who've robbed him of the truth about himself that had been so hard won – regardless of what he might actually have to say about it.

It cannot just be that he came to certain conclusions on his own, as a free man, as the writer of this article did, for example. It cannot just be that such an ‘ex-homosexual’ might have decided, for example, that he’d never actually had the innately compelling, nay, pre-determining, erotic desire for other men that he’d hitherto felt he’d had (or is it been told that he’d had?); or, for example, that despite the fact that he continued to feel an appreciation for rippling male biceps and thighs he nonetheless wanted, out of an expression of free will, to cultivate a more fertile, life promising interest in the Daughters of Eve – to renounce, in any case, the totalizing demands placed upon him by the ‘identity-centred’ nature of essentialising sexual politics.

As it happens, despite my failure to be up in arms in defence of the homosexual community, I'm against all punitive repressions against, or intolerance towards, homosexuals. Why do I need to spell this out? I am against cruelty and coercion at all times, and so necessarily will be so regarding the self-appropriation and self-discovery of one's existential identity. In return, however, might militant homosexuals be persuaded to ‘pipe down’ a bit? Is this asking too much? That they stop bothering and harassing certain heterosexual perspectives and understandings, seeking to forbid them the right to exist?

Oh dear: That voice in my head is screaming at me again:

Shut up you homophobic bastard! Stop oppressing us. We are proud to be gay!

To which I say: why is being gay anything to feel proud about? Does this mean being straight is something I should feel proud about too? If so, ok, I will. But pride is overrated and has certain consequences, let us not forget.

Look, honestly, I don’t care if men want to have sex with each other. Why would I? So long as it isn’t my genitals in the mix, why would I get defensive and prickly? From my perspective, in all honesty, however, I find homosexual sex puzzling and odd (how quaint I am). I mean, why can’t homosexuals just shake hands and call each other ‘Sir’ as I do when I’m overwhelmed by affection for another man. Heavens, they could even hug one another if they wanted - at highly poised, significant moments for maximum effect. Anyway, that’s just me. This is all very subtle and complex I realise. As indeed is sex itself! Though try telling that to the Neo-Darwinians of the world, or to the producers of "Reality" TV shows.

Unfortunately, our society’s gross, simplistic approach to sex lends me little support in my desire to approach sex with delicacy and nuance. But then, what is society but a changeling, hurtling through history from thesis to antithesis, blindly or otherwise looking for a story. Who knows, maybe we’ll rediscover the higher light, and in the not too distant future, too. I for one certainly hope so. Then things might get seriously, sublimely interesting and joyful for a change. We’ll see all this genital posturing for the tedious, distracting, limiting, and above all irrelevant, seediness that it is.

In connection to this, I'm reminded of some great, yet sad, lines of the much under-esteemed wordsmith, James Douglas Morrison. He is too often dismissed as ‘just’ a rock star. They are taken from
‘An American Prayer’. My vision of this work is that it is a 1960s American echo of T.S Eliot’s 1920s Anglo-Centric elegy on the death and decay of Western civilization: 'The Wasteland'. Both minds were aware that in the absence of the higher meaning that tends towards eternity, all we have are each other’s bodies to cling to on the road to death.

We live, we die & death not ends it
Journey we more into the Nightmare
Cling to life our passion'd flower
Cling to cunts & cocks of despair
We got our final vision by clap
Columbus' groin got filled w/ green death
(I touched her thigh & death smiled)

As an alternative vision, I refer to what I wrote recently to a friend:

“God, The Prince of Peace, wishes his children, the men and women of Planet Earth, to love one another and to live in peace. This means that he wants, not only men and women, the two halves of the human family, to love one another, as they do not too much of the time; but that women love women and that men love men. The purpose of this love is not that we should experience rhapsodic epiphanies of sexual delight (though these on occasions might occur as a spin-off), but that hatred, fear, oppression, cruelty and suffering should be banished from the surface of the Earth.”

That we do not want such a love to define and transfigure our collective lives. It is this lack of desire which, for me, defines and indicates most perfectly the reality of Sin in the world.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Science and the Nature of Faith

I read a great post today on McCabe’s site about “Scientism”. As can often happen, I found myself putting into words, in response to somebody else, something that I might never have written down if I hadn’t been so stimulated and provoked.

Gordon McCabe made quit a few interesting points in his
post. Actually I don’t know what manner of believer or anti-believer he is, but he’s certainly critical of Religion.

Er….aren’t we all, I reflect internally as a theist -though I didn’t say that to him. Wasn’t Jesus, weren’t all the Old Testament prophets, as well as all the reformers, critical of the religious establishment? But yes, I know, that’s a whole other shindig.

What engaged me most was what Gordon had to say about the nature of faith. He criticises religious faith on the grounds that it is a “belief without evidence or reason”. For his second point, I will let him speak for himself. In his view:

“a worldview which includes a moral system based upon rationality rather than religious decree, a scientific understanding of the physical world based upon reason and evidence, and a fully-rounded population, appreciative of the arts, philosophy and literature as well as science and technology, is the means by which the human race will be capable of progressing.”

This was how I responded:

"I like the way you write. With energy and yet in a moderate, calm tone. Powerful and respectful of those you disagree with.

To me faith has three possible meanings, I think. One is what you say it is: a 'belief without evidence or reason'. In other words, I want to win the lottery tonight. And so I will. That is my belief.

But it could be something different, though similar: Again a 'belief without evidence or reason' - but here the evidence or reason that is lacking is not any possible kind or type of evidence or reason, but that type of evidence or reason demanded as sufficient by a particular epistemological community (i.e a western scientific one).

Thirdly, faith is much closer to 'trust'. I trust that my Mum will pick me up when she said she would because I know her, and I know that she loves me etc. Here her existence is presupposed and undoubted and a lot more besides. I think this was what Jesus meant by 'have faith'.

Odd besides, that the Protestants of the world should have to be tainted with brushes applied against the Magisterium and its pronouncements (i.e that made against against Galileo’s heliocentrism).

As a theist, to me, solar-system-wide heliocentrism is no problem at all. Why would it be? Surely it is humanism not theism that puts man at the centre of the world, if you know what I mean?

Still, I know what you mean about the shame that attaches to theism for many theists. Maybe if they were listened to and ridiculed less by those hostile to metaphysics and faith, this feature would be less apparent?

Your closing lines are sumptous and wonderful. Again, as a theist I have no issue with that optimistic vision, and nor does God, I'd suggest.

We must always return to the question: What is meant by this 'God' that we are denying the existence of?"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

On the Iniquity of Our Young

While I can see that it might smack of shameless self-promotion to post comments on my blog that I have left on other people's, I do think I want to do this sometimes. After all, most of what I write is elsewhere. Sometimes I find I express myself better when I engage with a particular 'lead', as it were, than when I write into the 'heart of light, the silence' in that kind of a way one does when one isn't focused in ones 'writing sights' on a particular addressee.

Rachel North, who survived the 7/7 bomb attacks on the London Underground, has written a book about her experiences, and also now contributes articles to leading UK Newspapers. While I could in no way agree with everything she wrote in connection to the recent knife crime incidents in the UK, I agreed that adults, not children, are ultimately responsible for our children being the monstrous, highly disappointing brutes they so often are (my words, not hers).

"It's certainly true that children learn how to live from the adults they are surrounded by. Often we teach them indirectly by our example to do the opposite of what we explicitly teach them to do in our pronouncements. That we then condemn them for not equalling the explicit standards that adult themselvs flout, is as underving of respect as is the lack of respect they show for these standards.

Believe it or not, but young people actually want to learn from adults whom they can admire and who can teach them boundaries and grant them a vision of what life is, and what it is for, namely creativity, understanding, peace and love.

The 'right' is correct in attributing the cause of youth anarchy to our general nihilistic cultural-spiritual implosion. That the right is unjustified in its cruel and hypocritical stance towards kids who are not being guided in life does not, I believe, negate this essential fact.

Wisdom from the 'right', compassion from the 'left', might come close to my approach, I suppose.

But it is time for us to move beyond inhibiting polarities of 'left' and 'right'- French revolutionary terms, I believe, highly out of date, I would have thought?

Or is politics, indeed, only about parties wanting to achieve and mantian power as our cynics maintain?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Thought for the Day

Without God, it is embarrassing for men to love one another, unless they are gay.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The New Metaphysics

If, on a whim, as Laura did all those years ago, you look at me and declare: ‘say something profound’, I might have very little to offer. I tend to freeze and flail when asked to perform to order. Of course, on the other hand, if pushed I might do one party trick I know and rattle off a certain Ronald Grimsley quote I love. I read it first while taking refuge in my temporary lodgings the evening before my doomed interview at Oxford, on account of which I was banished to Durham. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon was playing in the background.

When I read this:

‘The movement which began as a vigorous attack on Hegelian Metaphysics is, therefore, metaphysical in another sense, since the dethronement of an essentially conceptualising rationalism in favour of a more existential approach which accords greater importance to the testimony of affective human experience, is intended mainly as a way of compelling man towards a new awareness of being.’*

I burst out in fits of laughter, which entirely destroyed the amorphous ambience Waters had intended to convey. I think I found, and find, it as funny as I do, for three reasons. Firstly it is long and complex, and dextrous as a cobra on heat. Secondly, its metre is jaunty and springy, yet tight as leather trousers. While thirdly, it is actually brilliant, not at all verbose, even though it will be considered to be. On the contrary, every single word is necessary. What it says is also fascinating, besides: that existentialism, so often associated with atheism and materialism, can in fact be understood as metaphysical in a new way, and the reason why. I think it's possibly a strange thing about me that I will often laugh at something uproariously precisely because I admire it, or think it brilliant. I like to think this laughter might have been similar to, or the same as, what Nietzsche called ‘Golden laughter’. It is the opposite of derisory laughter, cynical laughter, the laughter of the vengeful. It is a little orgasm of the soul, as it encounters something that must be celebrated, now, and with more than just words.

And yet when people hear me laugh in this way they sometimes think my attitude is to mock, as opposed to take delight. This disjunction can be confusing and embarrassing.

* Apologies to the friends, families and associates of Professor Ronald Grimsley (RIP) if I quote him incorectly. I am recalling from memory.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Affairs Of State

Recently, as one does of a Friday morning, I was wandering through the blogosphere, looking for things to read.

Eventually, I wound up at

Here the case is put for an English Parliament to offset the new Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, created in the early years of Blairdom. This case relates closely to the West Lothian complaint: that sense that the Celtic countries of the UK have an unreasonable influence over purely English affairs. I may write further about the West Lothian question at a later date, as well as the related proposals to establish an English Parliament for English issues. This morning, however, I was given to meditate on the deeper, broader question of the identity and constitution of my country as a whole. That is, England, the largest country of the as yet still, just about, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I was fired up to this end after reading about how, in Chris Abbott’s opinion, Alan Duncan, the Shadow Trade Secretary, had been insufficiently concerned in a recent article he’s written, to safeguard and consider England’s interests, inclining too much to emphasise Britain’s identity above that of England’s.

Chris Abbott took umbridge with Duncan’s emphasis on the so-called ‘Regions’ of England. Yorkshire, said Duncan, was a region, when in fact, of course, well at least as far as England is concerned, as opposed to the European Union, it is a county (or three counties, to be precise). Then after quoting Duncan as saying this:

But we still need to do more to target areas of the UK that are failing to keep pace with the rest of the country.

Abbott replied: The UK - a country? Surely it's a Union of countries?

At which point, not disagreeing but feeling the Realm shattered and broken, supine on the floor beneath me, I felt encouraged to take up me ‘pen’ (if you see what I mean). I then proceeded, it might be supposed, to have ‘gone off on one’, as the curious idiom would have it:

Yes the UK is a union of countries, not regions. Just as England is a union of counties; and counties, so one hopes, a union of cities, towns and villages, each of which are unions, or so one hopes, of neighbourhoods and families - which are, again, or so one hopes, unions of individuals who don't hate each other too much.

This, to me, is the natural, healthy order of things. No I'm not saying 'There is no such thing as Society', but we do need, I feel, to return to our roots, to the familiar, to what is most at home about ourselves.

The UK is essentially two things: The shared face that our four countries show to the world, and a statement of our common bonds of cultural affinity, bonds that understand themselves as rooted in the lands of the British Isles and united around a common allegiance to the Crown.

To me The Union Jack is a Monarchical expression of the Union of the British peoples around the Crown. It is not the flag of England, and obviously not the flag of Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland (though these nations (except Wales, alas) express themselves through it). There really should be no tensions or confusions regarding this matter.

Personally, I have no problem being both English and British. But I am not Welsh, nor Scottish nor Northern Irish. Indeed I would expect a person from these countries to get upset with my presumptiousness if I ever claimed that I was.

But the problem is, if you take away my right to be English, this will mean either that I will have to become Welsh or Scottish or Northern Irish OR that all of our British peoples will also have been deprived of their rights to identify themselves with their respective countries.

Is this what Europe wants, I wonder?

Actually, my comment has not yet been approved. Maybe the webmaster thinks I’m some kind of nutter.

Or maybe he’s a Republican. Not sure that that should matter too much, though. I would question the relevance of this issue to the basic bond of English patriotism that we share. After all, the role of the Crown is to defend the laws and liberties of the British Peoples, so Monarchists and Republicans should always be able at the very least to agree that what is most important in our form of government is that it discharge this duty to our freedoms and our dignity.

As for why I would prefer Monarchy to a Republic, that is a whole separate question. But it is perhaps instructive to remember that the last time we experimented with a Republic, the experiment came to an end not because the Monarchist forces wrested the country back from the Roundheads by force, but because the Army, fearing anarchy, asked Charless II to come back. And even before this, let us not forget, Cromwell himself had been offered the Crown, though he declined it, assuming its functions in all but name. Our innate preference for Monarchy has already been shown – and this preference, despite the best efforts of a scurrilous and vapid media to sell newspapers through scandalous reportage, seems, despite all modernist suppositions that it should not have endured, to have nonetheless endured.

On the other hand, maybe Chris Abbott didn't post my comment because he wants to see a dissolution of the Union?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Professor Tillotson

I have a friend in Santa Cruz, California, a virtual friend, whom I have neither spoken to nor seen. Yet now and again we have very stimulating 'finger chats', courtesy of Yahoo Messenger.

She calls me handsome a great deal, and the like. Ironic, given the dearth of visual stimuli we share, though it's very welcome anyway. I don't normally get such compliments from the ladies, he said as a matter of fact.

Anyway, narcissism aside, we had just got onto the subject of transgenderism and what it was. Then she had to fly. The next day she asked me to remind her what we'd been talking about, but I had to fly. But not before suggesting that she write me an essay. About what, she said. About transgenderism and what she thought of it. She'd always seemed interested in gender issues, after all. She said, ok Professor Tillotson, but you need to be more focussed. So I gave it some thought and, wanting to give her some choice, came up with these nine tasks.

You will note that the concept 'Transgenderism' is painted with a think, broad brush. I mean everything that challenges conventional, traditional, gender-role, mission statements.

  1. Give an overview of how feminism in American culture has changed in its ideology and expression since the 1960s.
  2. How have women in America reacted to the various ways in which men have tried, or have not tried, to respond to feminist critiques against them and to change, or not change, their behaviours towards women, both in the workplace and in the 'dating game'. Do women want pre 1960s men back?
  3. Does the American homosexual community in America have an agenda other than to merely not be discriminated against and oppressed?
  4. To what extent do modern American women want to dominate men, as opposed to just be their equals.
  5. Why don't women make the first move more than they do?
  6. Why is it both impolite and so often ineffective for a man to ask a woman for sexual relations directly, as opposed to ask her for sex indirectly through courtship rituals and discourse?
  7. In what ways do women not understand men.
  8. What do women want? (Not very original I know).
  9. Give an account of the reasons why the birthrate is dropping amongst Caucasian women in the Western World.

    It goes without saying that if anyone out there wants to write me an essay on any of the above they should go right ahead. My email is on my profile page.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Let's Talk About Sex

"There are a lot of female sex writers these days. Honestly, I don’t know why. All I know is that for me, sex shows us who we really are." From The Reverse Cowgirl

Although expressing a common perception, it’s interesting that of all the avenues granting us insight into the human condition, sex is often considered the most important.

“Understand sex, my good man, and you have grasped the very root of the matter.”

I have a friend who believes it’s very important to talk about sex. He believes sexual energies emerge from the very heart and center of who we are as persons. On his reckoning, if we don’t talk about ourselves in sexual terms, we’ re not really talking about ourselves at all.


What do I think of all this, then?

Firstly, I’m confused. I’m not sure if Reverse Cowgirl wants to imply that nothing but sex can show us who we are; or if she feels that sex must be included as an important, but not the only, ingredient in any method of understanding we might employ to illuminate humanitas. Maybe these distinctions are not relevant to her. Maybe I’m ‘splitting hairs’.

But anyway, what is sex? I’m not asking as an essentialistic, natural theologian might, eager to move you through circuitous pathways of rhetoric and suggestion to an already established, waiting conclusion that sex is what I, what Nature or what God deem it to be, not what you feel it to be.

I mean, what is sex, existentially, in the experience and architecture of the self? Leaving aside every gloomy, moral consideration of the age old question: "What is to be done with our genitals", what place, what role, what potency, what importance: sex and the self?

Even though I’ve narrowed the question down a bit, I’m still not sure we know what we’re talking about. What do I mean by this ‘sex’ that is relevant, existentially, to our lives? Am I talking only about acts of genital interaction with others or oneself, and our fantasies, the sex we’d like to have with others but can’t (too unattractive, too shy, too incompetent, the other’s unavailable) or won’t (our own moral compass). Or, on the other hand, am I talking about a certain order of energy in the body, something that is always there, which combines with other energies in the body and self at all times, or, as some might suppose, is the only real energy of the self, which only pretends sometimes to exist under other names?

If sex is more than our genital deeds, after all, we can no longer maintain that there can be some people who do not ‘have sex’. Even if your celibacy achieves the high, exacting standards set for it by the Magisterium of The Roman Catholic Church, and you don’t even masturbate (something progressives confidently tell us is impossible), on this reckoning, one is still having sex because sexual energy, and the relevance it possesses in the self, is still having you, moulding you, shaping you. Hurrah! You need no longer feel exiled and banished by the morays of the modern! Even you –involuntarily sexual celibate that you are or adventurous climber of the mountain heights of ascetic equanimity that you have become – even you are having sex, deny it as you may.

I am no sexpert. My thoughts on sex are highly subjective. Oddly enough, this seems somehow appropriate. The heart of sexuality, after all, what Gurdjieff called the ‘sex centre’ and other Asian physiologists call the 'sex chakra', is tangled in amidst our digestive tract and lavatorial infrastructure. Like our stomach aches and customs of egestion, it is an intimate, private affair; of little importance to the public weal – despite the contrary impression its status in the public imagination and public discourse seems to give it in these post-Freudian, oh so liberated, funky, dunky days.

Sex used to be done in private while prayer used to be done in public. Now sex is done in public. Even in the privacy of ones boudoir it is done in public, given the extent to which an obsessiveness to conform to media decreed templates of sexual convention has invaded our psyches. While prayer, if it is done at all, is increasingly done in private, according to a shattered randomness reinforcing the egotistical isolation that spirituality had originally sought to correct. The “anarchy of individual belief”, my lecturer at Durham Colin Crowder used to call it, quoting somebody else I believe.

Things sure do change. Perhaps in the future eating will be the new taboo. People will take their spaghetti bolognaise into the water closet with them so as not to be seen. They will gather to gossip and exchange pleasantries as they relieve themselves.

When I reacted to Reverse Cowgirl’s line, it was because of what I imagined she implied about the range of human identity; namely that it doesn’t extend that far beyond the sexual, if at all, except perhaps through pretentious flourishings of sublimated dishonesty and repression (her thinking perhaps allied to the old “everything must be dumbed down and demystified in the name of sex” imperative). Maybe she didn’t mean this. No matter. I’m sure a lot of people do. You don’t have to be unintelligent to think like this. Why, you can even be a highly accomplished figure in science and academe and maintain that all we are is sexual, and nothing but. That our sole meaning and purpose in life is to fuck and keep going something the purpose of which is to fuck and keep going, so that it can fuck.

Do I mind being thought of as a sexual being? Why, not at all, my good lady. While it is true that sexual happiness can hardly be said to have been particularly visible in my life so far, I don’t think my portion of sexual dissatisfaction has been that remarkable or outstanding. As I believe it has been said, far more people are bored by, far less people satisfied with, the sex they get than one might suppose. While the existence of involuntary celibacy and the prevalence of misery and heartache occasioned by the often maleficent effects of sexual relationships gone awry, can together speak of a lack of access to sexual experience, and a darkness and deceitfulness wrapped up in sex, moreover, that our society’s concerted efforts to trumpet sex as the ultimate pinnacle of human meaning and fulfillment tends rather too often to obscure.

I am not, I feel obliged to protest, anti-sex. I don’t feel I have had sufficient reason to be. A lot of people suffer from sex more than I do. Either they lack it more than I have (I speak here of interactive sex, not just masturbation, that solitary consolation). Or they are hurt by it more than I have been. While I do not believe that attitudes in support of celibacy will necessarily reveal an underlying hostility to sex in general, I think they sometimes can. Speaking personally, I don’t have that requisite degree of bitterness about sex, of ressentiment as Nietzsche would put it, to have become, as I believe some others have become, someone who wants to put sex into cold storage and banish it from human experience.

I am, so I suddenly hallucinate, being perceived right now as someone who is being defensive about sex. Let us call him my hypothetical reader.

You protest too much. Why say you are not anti-sex unless subconsciously you know that you are anti-sex?

I don’t really understand how I can wriggle out of that one; how I can escape from that pin fixing me, wriggling to that wall, other than to say that I’m not defensive about not being anti-sex.

I happen to suspect that the reason my hypothetical reader supposes I’m being defensive is that he and I actually have a disagreement, not about whether or not sex is good, but about whether or not sex is all that we are. He thinks it is, or at least that sex is what we are ‘most essentially’. I do not. He sniffs out and senses that this is the root of the matter. That ultimately we are disagreeing not about physics but metaphysics. He doesn’t want to accuse me of having metaphysical beliefs, however. That would be too easy. He knows I have them already. And he knows that I’d only plead guilty if he did. He wants to go to the next step. To his understanding, it’s not possible to have such metaphysical beliefs and at the same time be positive about sex. Therefore, discerning my spiritual anchoring, he takes the metaphysical commitment for granted and leaps to his inference, and conclusion, that I am anti-sex, and asks me knowingly if I am. He is so certain, so confident that I am anti-sex, moreover (whatever anti-sex means – hang on, that’s another quagmire), that he won’t take no for an answer. Assisted in his own mind by the suspicion that I am uptight and nervous and fidgeting, distractedly, as I write this, he concludes that I must be in denial. He doesn’t believe me when I say that I’m not anti-sex. So he plays his unanswerable masterstroke, and tells me that I don’t know my own mind because I am governed by my subconscious, a subconscious that is unknown to me and that pulls my strings from within. Oddly enough, even though he is not me, and so for that reason even more at a remove from my subconscious than I am, he knows the contents of this occult, esoteric me better than I do. Remarkable! He is the master of my dreams. Should I give him my money?

Let’s talk about sex.

Ok, why not. But to me sex is just a part of who I am. For this reason, alas, I am not going to be able to talk about it as if nothing else mattered, as if it and its permutations and possibilities are not always linked in to and informed by aspects of my self, considerations about myself, that are not sexual. That are, for example, emotional, intellectual or spiritual. While I accept that, yes, one might want to maintain that these words merely refer to qualities that are but dishonest sublimations of the same sexual sex that we see vividly displayed in empirical matter and expressed in our erotic deeds, this is not what I maintain. Yes, everything about us is inter-connected. But that doesn’t mean that everything about us is identical with what the Neo-Platonists amongst us might want, rather derisorily, to refer to as our lowest common denominator.

Yes, I know, I must be a boring person to talk to about sex. Sigh.

The belief that it is in this way identical, that everything that is crucially important about ourselves is sex, and a sex, besides, that is resolutely materialistic and stubbornly unsubtle or untranscendental, seems to be pretty widespread these days. As I might put it to my dear friend Lee, possibly laughing in a way only he would understand, with respect to the belief that sex is God and Lord of all: ‘There’s a lot of it about’.

I’m not sure after all that, that I'm any closer to answering the question of what sex is. But I feel at least pretty sure that I know what it is not. And that what it is not is everything.

Something of a cliché, you might retort. But if that is the case, and we all know this to be true, why do we talk about sex in the ways that we do?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

General Synod

Currently my brother is attending the annual General Synod of the Church of England at the University of York. My brother is not a bishop or anything like that. On the other hand his 14 years of experience as vicar have set him in good enough stead to attend this year as a humble member of the assembly.

This year it discusses if women should become bishops, that is, holders of the most senior positions in the Anglican Church, except for the two Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and The Queen, who is Supreme Governor (and a woman, funnily enough).

If you live in the UK you will probably know about the Synod already. Our media tends to drop its customary lack of interest in the spiritual health and affairs of the nation when some controversial point affecting the Church of England can be set upon to incite scandal or reflection on its allegedly beleaguered fate and advancing decline.

But what interests me is how utterly bizarre and bonkers, if not sinister, this must all seem to your average, everyday post-Christian. Their knowledge of the gospel, after all, floats somewhere between non-existent and a stable, a star, some shepherds and three Kings gathered around a manger.

Are Christians aware, I wonder, of what these people must think about a gospel they know nothing about when all that they’re told about it by their favourite media outlets is that the principal institution in the land subscribing to it doesn’t like gays, doesn’t want to employ gays, and doesn’t want women to break through any threatening glass ceilings?

Don’t worry. I am not advocating censorship of the press to advance some rosier, less prurient Canterburian presentation. I set my colours firmly to the mast of our hard won, post-medieval liberties of conscience. I do not seek to imitate the authoritarian ambitions of certain other Godly paths I could mention.

Nor, just to let you know, do I believe, as a Christian (of a kind), that there is no place for a discussion of sexuality, homosexuality or the role of the ‘sacred feminine’ in Church debates.

All that confuses and perplexes me is how Christians have allowed it to come to pass that their faith can be seen by the wider, general, unbelieving public as something primarily, if not only, preoccupied with such secondary and, relatively speaking, irrelevant matters such as is homosexuality wrong and should women celebrate the Eucharist.

Just as I have no problem at all understanding why someone might not believe in the existence of God if they have had no experiences of what they take to be God, especially in light of the obvious sufferings of the world; so I have no problem understanding that if you are an atheist, or if not then a believer in some self-styled divinity of your own devising, you might very well, according to the lights of your own notions of virtue, see no reason why the Church's teachings on homosexuality, for example, can hold any water at all; how they could be anything other than a mere ideological justification for an ancient, hysterical homophobia.

Christian morality is morality for Christians. That is a logical utterance that seems robust enough for me. And when I say Christian morality I mean Christian morality, not Christian sexual morality – which is a mere outworking and expression of Christian morality, as is Christian business morality, Christian martial morality and Christian table manners for that matter.

Asking or expecting a non-Christian world to understand or embrace Christian morality without being Christians first, is a bit like criticizing players of baseball for fouling up the performance of cricket when they are not even trying to play the game.

First invite people to become Christians. First explain to them, present to them, show to them, demonstrate for them the glory and splendour and majesty and freedom that resides in the Gospel of Christ. Only then, if they become Christians, can they be expected to behave like Christians. Before this point, what justification can there be for Judgement? You tell me.

Why moralize to the outsiders when they don’t know what your’re talking about.

Monday, July 7, 2008

To Hijab or not to Hijab

Legally, Kuwait does not oblige women, Kuwaiti or ex-pat, Muslim or non-Muslim, to wear the veil, or as it is said, the hijab. By the hijab, I mean one of three things.

Wearing only a headscarf:

Wearing a headscarf and abaya or long robe:

Wearing, in addition to such a total body covering, a face covering to cover either everything or everything but the eyes:

The legality of veillessness is one of the ways Kuwait, while certainly the second most conservative country in the Gulf, is different from Saudi Arabia, its larger, considerably more restrictive neighbour to the south.

Nevertheless, most Kuwaiti women choose to wear the veil – of one kind or another at least some of the time. To an extent, this is because 99.98% of Kuwaitis are Islamic*; and as we know, Islam favours the hijab, especially in its more conservative expressions.

But Islam cannot be the only reason. If it were many Islamic, Lebanese, Egyptian and Syrian ladies in Kuwait, as well as a noticeable minority of Kuwaitis, who proudly and unself-consciously display their hair, would be considered, and would consider themselves, to be making anti-Islamic gestures. But they are not. Nor, I’m sure, would they be allowed to make such gestures if such a semiotic meaning attached to them.

Some Islamic militants, of course, think it’s anti-Islamic if women, especially Muslim women, don’t wear the veil. But this is not a mainstream, Kuwaiti perception. Yes, not wearing one indicates a less than all-consuming religious fervour; yes, it might be thought, ideally, you really should wear one. But that’s not the same as decreeing that if you don’t, you’re rejecting or attacking Islam. For now, despite the advancing rise of religious conservatism in Kuwait - reflected in the recent acquisition of an additional 50 seats in the Parliament by religiously motivated MPs - a perhaps surprising degree of relative freedom, not only in matters of clothing, exists in Kuwait. Especially if one considers the misconceptions some in the West might have about how conservative it really is here. It is very conservative. I would never doubt that. But it’s not that conservative.

Women can drive, women can vote**, women can walk the streets alone, women can sit with men who are not their relatives, and talk to them in public. In private schools, girls and boys can be educated together, and classes are mixed at the State University (though this may change). Freedoms exist that while unremarkable in most of the world, are deprived women just a few kilometers across the border.

Recently, I talked over the question of hijab with a charming, engaging and Islamic, Somali woman whom I’ve recently been fortunate enough to befriend. Outside of work, she does not wear the veil, except occasionally. I’d heard that Somalia was very religious. So I was a little surprised about this.

Actually, I didn’t ask why she, a devout Muslim, doesn’t always wear hijab, as that would have seemed rude. It was she herself who made illuminating remarks about why women, given their freedom not to wear hijab, nevertheless do. Clearly, many women wear it for religious and cultural reasons which they choose voluntarily. As I understand it, the rationale seems to lie with the understanding that a woman’s beauty belongs to her husband. It shouldn’t be devalued by being shared between too many eyes in a circumstance, one supposes, that compromises its scarcity and therefore value. If the woman is not yet married, then her beauty exists for no man, except, innocently, her male relatives at home. The veil is an extension of the home’s walls, formally delineating the private, as opposed to public sphere. On the other hand, and unavoidably related to this, is that a woman’s beauty is understood, reasonably enough I suppose, as an inducement to male sexual covetousness. While Islam is relatively free of the specifically Neo-Platonic, anti-carnal associations that have regularly pitted Spirit against Flesh in frenzies of insanity in the West, Islam does have a keen appreciation of the vigour and zeal of male, sexual lust; and most relevantly, its distracting potential when it comes to the male’s choice between congress and God. Notions that it is the responsibility of the male, inside his own conscience, to restrain and order his lusts, in spite of female fleshly appearances, being relatively unemphasised, it has thus come to recoil as a duty upon women to assist the uncontrollable in controlling themselves and directing their attentions to God, where they belong.

A second reason my friend suggested for wearing the veil was fashion. Some of the headscarves can exude a stunning elegance, especially when set off by the right kind of hypnotic, facial beauty, accentuated by the very concealment that surrounds it. Some headscarves and robes come adorned with precious stones, moreover; while cursory internet searches reveal the many coloured options for headscarves on the market.

The final reason was one that had never occurred to me, but that is striking in its obviousness. Some women wear the veil, they assume the means of legitimate, public concealment, not to minimize but to maximize their freedom of movement and expression. In a culture, like every culture, where, if you are a woman, eyes can conspire to keep tabs on you, a hijab in return, as long as it be sufficiently concealing, can conspire to promote an invisibility of a quite different kind.

* Out of a population of 1.1 million Kuwaiti citizens (figures vary) there are, apparently, only 250 Kuwaiti Christians. These are drawn from a handful of families that converted to Christianity when Kuwait was under British control, whose past choice of religious conversion, a fait accompli as it were, is now respected.

** Kuwaiti women were granted the vote in Kuwait for the first time in April 2006.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Not Used To Boasting

Jonathan is experienced and proficient at improving students competency in English to the standard required for University study, be that study in the field of the Humanities or Business. By utilizing a strongly learner-centered approach, he is aware of the importance of flexibility in targeting his teaching to the aspirations and needs of his students. Above all, by sharpening and refining their powers of expression, he wants his students to grow in intellectual and analytical self-confidence so that they will excel as much as they are able, in both their University studies and the workplace beyond.” Jonathan, 2008

"In the world as it should be, men would not chase women. Women would chase men. Men would chase the Kingdom of Heaven." Jonathan, 1991.

"The problem with you, Mr Tillotson, is you need to live in a more gracious age than this." Father Anthony Meredith, SJ, 1994 (quoted from memory).

Recently, I've had some news. This news is still secret from my Kuwaiti boss. I have about five bosses in my company by the way, but it’s the Kuwaiti one who pays. The news won’t be secret much longer, however. Even though the chance of his reading my blog is quark-sized, amongst the few who care about my Most Royal Obscureness, word begins to circulate. I have a future and it isn’t him. This news might wing its way to him somehow.

Before long he will need to be told. He needs his notice period. The bureaucratic wheels of residency and work visa transference, which I have worried, possibly without cause, he might obstruct - hence my delay in informing him - need to begin their croaking, labyrinthine circuits. Actually, I’ve nothing against him at all. I have always found him rather charming, the two times I’ve met him. He has treated me well. But in the Game of the Gulf, so I sense, when in doubt, fortune favours the silent.

The words that I recently wrote, above in italics, are for some PR literature for my future employer. It felt weird writing it. It always feels weird, having to sell myself. I do not like doing it. I can’t help feeling it is in poor taste. But here, as in interviews if I want to stand a chance of succeeding, I had to force myself.

Actually, in this case the energy and zeal I mustered to get my new job surprised me. Typically, my efforts to secure work are less than half-hearted. Begrudged, weary expressions of resignation to wage slave reality are usually my style. Might it be, can it be believed: after seven years of not wanting to be a Tefl teacher, am I finally coming round to the idea?

There might be some truth in this. I’m not sure. Let me sit on that thought awhile. In any case, do not take this fancy as a cancellation of my invitation to you to suggest, or better provide, rosier, more meaningful avenues for my talents and potentialities – howsoever you may perceive them. As I have written before, I’m happier to be bought than to sell myself.

Where did I acquire my aesthetic, visceral, aversion to boasting. I realize what a feminised psychologist would say, dripping, oozing matronisation: You lack self-esteem. You should be more confident. You were not loved enough as a child. Don’t be so wet.

Whatever the status of these presumptious, intimidating observations, what interests me are the cultural, intellectual influences that might underwrite, shore up, justify my, admittedly, existential reluctance to boast, to loudly sing my own praises; especially to sing them where they belong to be sung, or so we’re told: in the two fields of endeavour that are supposed to matter the most to male egos keen to reproduce their genes and maximize their impact: before the faces of ladies, and in the search for employment.

I like to think I get some justification for what I like to consider not my weakness but my attachment to a gracious, sublimely higher life, from the life of Jesus Christ. Though clearly certain, if not arrogant, about his own importance when pressed, in his behaviour he was very humble; both preaching and enacting examples of altruistic service towards others (albeit a service that made him happy as well; well, until Gethsemane). The boasts he did make, when he made them (expressed most repetitively in the Gospel of John), tended to be made after he’d performed some outrageously cool miracle or delivered one of his heart warming wisdom speeches, stunning his audience into an imploring curiosity. He didn’t market himself as someone who should either be taken on trust, or found interesting to the exclusion of others. On the contrary, that we might be interested in and make space for others, was exactly what he wanted; that we should hunger and long for the happiness and joy of others, as God, with whom it is true he identified, hungers and longs for ours; for the happiness of his creations, their liberation from the dark consequences of their own self-chosen, self-enclosing, selfishness.

In a defence of myself against the accusation of betraying a wetness ill-suited to our shamelessly self-centred age, beyond Jesus, I would defer generally to a long tradition of thought in Christendom; a tradition which at least in its explicit intentions has sought to promulgate and promote ideals of self-sacrificing service and love. I acknowledge that such thought has not always, or even often, materialized in practical action; that charges of hypocrisy and failure to deliver are absolutely justified on occasions. But not on all occasions, I would hasten to insist. What we should remember about hypocrisy, moreover, which many Westerners, resentful and disenchanted with their own culture, seem not to want to see, is that at least hypocrisy reveals the existence of some standards, even if they are not kept. Not being hypocritical, not failing to be who you aspire to be, as a culture, is all very easy if what you aspire to be is exactly what you already are, or even less.

I tangentialise, if that's a word. Should it be? I think so.

What I want to say in conclusion is that I dislike asserting and promoting my qualities in the abstract - by speaking of or referring to them (whatever they may be). I would prefer, unselfconsciously, to just show them, by just embodying them, to those who can or wish to see them. It is not for me to relate to you my value, whatever it may be. It is for you to perceive it, insofar as it is valuable to you. That goes as much, I feel, for a woman who might want to mate with me, as for someone who might want to give me money in exchange for some activity on my part.

If this leads you to suppose I should want to live in a very different world, then, in which, amongst other features, women were more proactive in the courtship processes ( there is no modern equivalent for 'courtship') and employers were more upfront in selling themselves to potential employees, whom they would conclude from their own perceptions were suitable for them, you would be right.

Such a world, sublime, gracious, abundant, sacrificing no standards of excellence on its altars of co-operation; peaceful and advancing according to a higher dialectic; in which the interactions of opposites occur through love, not war. This is the world that I come from, if I might be mythological for a moment. The world I want to see.