Tuesday, April 26, 2011

No to AV

I've been meaning to write about this for a little while, but it seemed too trivial to occupy blog space in the run up to Easter.  But now the referendum draweth nigh, and we must all make a decision.

I will vote no.

I realise that this will come as no surprise to anyone.  As a Conservative, it was always likely that I'd be saying no.  And if I'm honest with myself, I recognise that one factor in the decision making process for me has been that deep instinct to resist change which lies in the heart of every Tory.  I hope, however, that this has not been the only or indeed the most weighty factor.  I hope I am not deciding on purely party lines - although I do recognise that the Tories arguably have the most to lose under AV.  I hope, as well, that I am not making my decision on the basis of so much of the campaigning from both sides, which has been thoroughly negative throughout.  Frankly, the No campaign has sickened me, and the Yes campaign has also left me faintly nauseous.

To be clear: I am not voting no because I think AV would benefit the BNP - it wouldn't; I am not voting no because I think AV would be too complicated to understand - it isn't (although it is more complicated if one wants to vote tactically, but one ought not to do so in my opinion); I am not voting no to spite Nick Clegg - I rather like him; I am not voting no because AV would cost too much - if it were really better, it would be worth spending the money.

I should also point out that I am a Tory in a seat where a Tory hasn't stood a chance of winning for 20 years - one of the 'safe seats' which the Yes campaign have been talking about.  It is frustrating for me.  But I just want to point out that it is absolutely not true that my vote 'doesn't count' because of this circumstance; it counts just as much as anyone else's.  It's just that not enough people agree with me to make a difference in the outcome.  If I was really that bothered, I should get out there and try to persuade them, not complain about the voting system.

And that brings us to the heart of it for me.  It's about what sort of politics you want.  The Yes people have been saying that AV would force MPs to work harder, to appeal to a broader range of people.  Doubtless that is to a certain extent true.  Except that it strikes me that very often the best way to appeal to a broad range of people is to be vague, bland, unexceptional.  I think AV favours that sort of MP.  It encourages non-ideological politics.  Now, you may think that is a good thing.  There would be more consensus.  But I think that politics is about having a vision of a better society and persuading people to get on board with it.  Political differences are not, after all, purely a product of circumstance - it is not that those less well off must support Labour, whilst the wealthy support the Tories, and the wealthy with a bad conscience support the Lib Dems.  These differences are about ideas - huge, significant ideas, about humanity and society and morality.  And ideas need arguments.  They need arguments to showcase their grandeur.

I think AV would stifle that.  To pick up second preference votes - and in many seats, that is what will matter - you're best off being the guy the others don't object to all that much.  I think it's a shoddy way to choose MPs.

But I invite you to show me why I'm wrong...

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Elie Wiesel, from 'Night':

The SS seemed more preoccupied, more worried, than usual.  To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter...

The three condemned prisoners together stepped onto the chairs.  In unison, the nooses were placed around their necks.

"Long live liberty!" shouted the two men.

But the boy was silent.

"Where is merciful God, where is He?" someone behind me was asking.

At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over.

Total silence in the camp.  On the horizon, the sun was setting.

"Caps off!" screamed the Lageralteste.  His voice quivered.  As for the rest of us, we were weeping.

"Cover your heads!"

Then came the march past the victims.  The two men were no longer alive.  Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish.  But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing...

And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes.  And we were forced to look at him at close range.  He was still alive when I passed him.  His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.

Behind me, I heard the same man asking: "For God's sake, where is God?"

And from within me, I heard a voice answer:

"Where is He?  This is where - hanging here from this gallows..."

Francois Mauriac, from his preface to 'Night':

And I, who believe that God is love, what answer was there to give my young interlocutor whose dark eyes still held the reflection of the angelic sadness that had appeared one day on the face of a hanged child?  What did I say to him?  Did I speak to him of that other Jew, this crucified brother who perhaps resembled him and whose cross conquered the world?  Did I explain to him that what had been a stumbling block for his faith had become a cornerstone for mine?  And that the connection between the cross and human suffering remains, in my view, the key to the unfathomable mystery in which the faith of his childhood was lost?  And yet, Zion has risen up again out of the crematoria and the slaughterhouses.  The Jewish nation has been resurrected from among its thousands of dead.  It is they who have given it new life.  We do not know the worth of one single drop of blood, one single tear.  All is grace.  If the Almighty is the Almighty, the last word for each of us belongs to Him.  That is what I should have said to the Jewish child.  But all I could do was embrace him and weep.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Using Easter well

I wasn't brought up in a tradition where Easter was a big deal.  On the whole, we maintained our non-conformity by ignoring the liturgical calendar.  Christmas was a purely secular event; Easter was about chocolate.  The rationale was two-fold: firstly, that we should be remembering the great events behind Christmas and Easter all the time; secondly, that Scripture didn't mandate or command the observance of these or any other festivals.

In more recent years, I've observed Christmas and Easter more closely.  In essence, I moved away from the version of the regulative principle that said you couldn't do things that weren't directly commanded in Scripture, although I still think nobody can criticise people who choose not to observe the festivals, since there is no Biblical authority behind them.  Moreover, I came to think that it was just impossible for human beings to remember everything all the time.  Without a focus to our remembering, our remembering melts away.  It's why we have communion, why we come together to worship: to provide a focus to our remembering of Jesus.  Christmas, and especially Easter, helps me with that.

But I did make the mistake, as I moved to this position, of treating Easter as if it were mythical.  Consider Tammuz, if you will.  Tammuz is an annual dying and rising god.  He comes and goes.  In some ways he quite clearly stands for the coming and going of the seasons.  His dying and rising were observed annually, with funerals and celebrations.  These rituals did not commemorate anything; there was nothing to commemorate, since Tammuz was never thought of as a historical person per se.  He was rather a personification of a timeless reality.

To treat Easter as a myth is to see the passage from Good Friday to Easter Sunday as a sort of re-enactment.  In my case, it meant trying to find the right emotional response for each day: remorse passing into grief passing into joy.  I suppose acting as if my participation made it real.

Easter is history.  It happened once and for all.  So, this weekend I will be remembering and celebrating, not re-enacting.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

House of Mourning

Last night, I think we walked home past a house where someone had died.  I don't know that for sure, but the circumstantial evidence was strong: police car, ambulance, paramedics bike.  The biggest indicator, a wail of grief.  Inbetween sobs, somebody was crying out 'please, please!'  I don't know with whom they were pleading: the paramedic, the departed, the universe, God?  It was indescribably painful to hear, and although we only heard it in passing it left me really quite shaken.

Made me think about death.

I think everyone is either terrified by death, or doesn't understand death.  To have such a final limit - and a limit which nobody knows when they will cross - is surely the most horrific thing.  No matter how much people try to persuade themselves that death is just a part of natural existence, I cannot believe anyone is really as resigned to death as that position would lead us to expect.  To pass from life - which means to pass from everything, including yourself - is the most appalling prospect.  I will be honest: I dread it.  In fact, I think dread could be defined as the subjective reaction to the objective prospect of death.

In the face of that, Christianity is about dying well.  Oh, I know, it's about living well, enjoying the here and now, delighting in God's good creation, loving people around us, investing in the world.  Of course it is.  But all that stuff is just the stuff that is threatened by death.

If my faith in Christ doesn't help me to die, what use is it?  If I cannot die in peace, how can I live in peace?