Saturday, April 01, 2006

At a rough guess, that looks like the end to me!

This is the image I wanted to use with my previous over-long and perhaps whiney post, because the image of an Ulster street preacher looking at a vast atomic explosion is kind of amusing. It is the cover of what seemed like it was going to be a very good book on the topic of prophetic bible-bashing folks. Sadly, though the book goes through pre-20th century millenarian movements in Ireland, only a very few pages at the end are devoted to the really much more intersting 20th century stuff. But I wonder what the preacher shown here could be thinking? Perhaps "I told youse so!" or maybe "Sure, that was a tremendous bang!" Or even, "Oh no! I left the gas on!"

Friday, March 31, 2006

On the abyss of the weekend

When I was very small and slowly growing up in Northern Ireland, my parents told me repeatedly that according to their interpretation of the prophetic texts of the bible, terrible things would soon happen on our earth, certainly within my lifetime. I would see before my melting eyes the lurid events of Revelations -- the seven seals of divine wrath would be opened and pour forth unthinkable viciousness. As if humans weren't screwing things up enough on their own... That was the whole point, however -- because of human depravity, the Age of Grace would be wrapped up according to a timetable of prophetic events, which, once set in motion, would bring Armageddon to all the affairs of mankind.

"It's shaping up for the end times!" preachers would bellow at me and the congregation in church. "These are the last of the last days," my father would say, either in the living room or from the pulpit. "And, without Christ, you will be left behind!"

I remember vividly in perhaps 1981, a preacher describing the whole End-Times prophetic chart and concluding with the flourish that the Second Coming, or Rapture, must happen, "though God has not revealed to us the dates," before the end of the 1980s. It was the Second Coming that was to trigger the restarting of God's prophetic timetable. After the Second Coming, Armageddon would occur in seven years. It would involve fantastic destruction, pain, mutilation and injury -- whole swathes of the earth would be wiped out in world wars that must have seemed unimaginable to literalist scholars of the prophetic texts, up until 1945.

1945... Today, still with considerable anger, I imagine the generation of preachers before the ones who shouted at me while I was growing up, greeting the news of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the dawning of the Atomic Age, with glee. Almost any of the fantastical, lurid prophetic texts, the ones describing in detail really evil shit, could now be attributed to some aspect of a nuclear holocaust. In St Mark's Gospel chapter 13, verse 24, Jesus says: " those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall..."

"It's a nuclear winter, isn't it, sinner?" Sometimes they would shout their message so loudly, these preachers would fall hoarse, and for effect, resort to dramatically croaking out the last few pernicious words of their sermons, fifteen minutes into overtime. For born-again Christians who eschewed the world and the flesh, they knew an awful lot about demagoguery and showmanship. Another preacher I remember vividly describing how terrified animals in zoos would run amok and crush people to death in the End-Times panic. My father never ceased to say that people would be so crazed with evil that they would take to playing a kind of game where they'd use their cars to run pedestrians over.

All this and more, triggered by the Second Coming. What is the Second Coming? For all the terrors of the run-up to Armageddon, in my opinion the doctrine of the Second Coming as preached by the godly people by whom I was raised -- and I think I am being generous in calling it a doctrine -- is the most monstrous of the lot. Here's the most relevant passage from the bible:

Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

It is, for all that I will say next, still a rather beautiful and lyrical passage. It is a revolutionary idea, one that my parents still cling to fervently. We shall not all sleep. As soon as we are born, it is said, we begin to die. Death is as certain as change is constant. But St Paul in this bible passage holds out the thought that through Christ, those Christians alive at the moment of the Second Coming, will go to heaven without having to suffer pain, sickness, weakness, death. What human would not want to turn to face the ultimate enemy and cry, O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? For this to happen, Christ has to come back to earth from heaven and, like a mighty cosmic vacuum cleaner, suck up all the saved ones in an instant, into heaven.

If, like me, you are not born again, you'll be left behind. I sat through thousands of Gospel Meetings where this point was labored. Every conceivable miserable splitting of the family unit was imagined by preachers who, though Christian in name, had not an ounce of humanity or love within them. "You'll come home from school one day, son, and they'll be GONE." "It could be at nighttime. When it happens, it will be nighttime somewhere on the earth. When you wake up and run to look for your mummy, wondering why she hasn't called you from your bedroom, that's when you'll find that we'll have been raptured!" "Be sure you know where the keys of the house and the car are kept. We won't need them any more."

And so on. At the age of seven or eight or nine or even a bit older, this stewed-up old nonsense is terrifying. It warps the normal family, it makes horrified, terrorized imbeciles out of little children.

Though the effect of this wretched nonsense on me has been profound, I have to say that I side with an American psychiatrist, Gordon Livingstone, who recently published a very readable book of common sense thoughts on life called "Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart," in which he wrote: "the statute of limitations has expired on most of our childhood traumas."

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Immigration USA 2006

Immigration policy is a huge issue in the United States this year. I am keeping a close eye on the issue as I reported on it in the past, and also because immigration stories, crossing the spectrum from tragedy to triumph, are always fascinating. As so often in the U.S., debate is heated and polarized, sometimes maddeningly so. It's reassuring to find a calm, rational voice such as this woman, who injects much-needed calm on her web site with the headline WHEN ILLEGALS GO BERSERK WILL YOUR STATE BE PREPARED? Before I read further, I risked the guess that her answer to the question in her headline is something along the lines of: "ARM YOURSELVES NOW! KILL! KILL! KILL!!" And I wasn't wrong -- but what had not occurred to me, is that (according to her) undocumented immigrants are in league with the federal government! The immigrants will start rioting so that the Feds will then have an excuse to impose martial law and compulsory viking-hat-wearing on Thursdays! Maybe even higher taxes!!!

White Park Bay

My mother took this photograph of White Park Bay on Northern Ireland's north coast a few years ago. Sure, isn't it lovely!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Out on Your Own

It's the title of new research on the experience of growing up gay in Northern Ireland published yesterday. I can assure you that the title, with its ironies, is very apt. The news article I quote in full below, because it is worth reading, if you care. It's appalling and yet not at all surprising. I'll return to this topic again.

'Quarter of young gay men in Northern Ireland have attempted suicide'
Tuesday 28/03/2006 16:28:22 Press Association

A quarter of young gay or bisexual men in Northern Ireland have attempted suicide, new mental health research revealed today.

Nearly two thirds considered killing themselves and 30% self harmed, a survey disclosed.

The scale of the hidden emotional torment among non-heterosexual men, aged under 25, emerged in findings in advance of a major national conference in Belfast which will consider calls on the British Government to fund training and resources on different sexual orientations to all professionals working with young people, including teachers, youth workers and health and social services staff.

Three years of research among 190 young men, which was carried out by the Rainbow Project, revealed one third were diagnosed as having a mental illness at some time in their lives with almost as many having had a potential psychiatric disorder.

A quarter had attempted suicide; over two thirds thought about taking their own lives while four out of five who had suicidal thoughts indicated they were related to same sex attraction.

Among the key factors which contributed to suicidal thoughts and self harm were homonegative experiences in school, bullying, homophobia from other pupils and neighbours.

According to the survey, different factors which affected their mental health were:

- Difficulties in accepting their sexuality

- A shortage of people who understood what they were going through

- Homophobia at home, within society and at schools, even among teaching staff.

- Loneliness and isolation.

The findings will be debated at a conference in Belfast tomorrow to be opened by the Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, Bob Collins.

The research entitled `Out on Your Own` claimed blatant homophobia and negative attitudes within many families resulting in young gays moving away. Outside the houses, the same attitudes were widespread throughout Northern Ireland.

Repeated instances of homophobia had a negative affect on their mental health, and the survey claimed the needs of young same sex attracted men were currently not being met.

With limited support available in school and family settings, young men and women had no choice but to seek out other lesbians and gay and bisexual men (LGB) through the Internet and gay scene. It was invaluable to some.

But the findings added: "However these avenues often do nothing to discourage self destructive behaviours, such as alcohol or drug misuse or unsafe sex and they may not provide a supportive milieu for a young man who is lacking in self-confidence."

It said addressing the mental health needs of young gays was not a straightforward task.

Lesbian, gay and bi-sexual youth groups, personal development courses and individual counselling all had parts to play.

Changes also needed to be made to the psyche of our culture, and despite the changes to legislation, there were still many facets of society that were heterosexist and homophobic.

The findings added: "The needs of this population must be included in the strategic planning of organisations that work with young people, accompanied by inclusive polices which address the needs of lesbian, gay and bi-sexual people and staff training.

"It is only when all sectors begin to be inclusive of LGB people that this acceptance can filter through to the rest of society."

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Des Bishop

is kind of hot, no?