Dress Down Friday

Some questions

Gary Younge asks some questions. I’ve provided some answers. You might want to as well.

There are lots of them, so I’ve picked and chosen.

Do you think of yourself as white or British or both?

I think of myself as a Londoner. I’m usually identified as one, too. I don’t generally recognise patriotic or other superstitious claims on my identity, and certainly not on my allegiances.

I’m also very suspicious of people who play identity politics. Its a bit of a con, isn’t it?

If you’ve grown up with people from a variety of different national backgrounds – as any Londoner does – the first thing you notice about people is whether they’re chavs or toffs, clubbers or indie kids: not the amount of melanin in their skins.

Not everybody sees things that way.

Since this is where you live, don’t you think you should try and integrate with other races more?

Where I live, everybody under the age of 20 – black, white, asian, turkish, kurdish – speaks with the same London urban accent; different from the cockney of fifty years ago, but owing as much to that as it does to whatever patois is fashionable at the moment. I’m too old to adopt it without sounding stupid.

Is your first loyalty to your God, or to your country?

I don’t really believe in God.

Given the genocide, slavery and colonialism unleashed in the name of Christianity over the last two centuries, do you feel your religion is compatible with democracy?

The most important development within Christianity within the last three hundred years is the division between church and state. It is notable that even deeply religious politicians in the UK do not seek to justify their political choices by reference to any holy book. That is a good thing.

Given the objectification of women in your culture and the rise in teenage pregnancies, don’t you think it’s time to ban young girls wearing make up?

Societies which lay down formal and legally enforced codes of dress and behaviour for women generally also deprive women of fundamental civil rights and equality under the law. So, I’d be against it. Unless its my daughter in a mini skirt*.

Why aren’t you doing more to check the rise in Christian fundamentalism?

I have no problem with Christian fundamentalism. My only problem is when religious figures seek to promote an authoritarian or illiberal political agenda. I combat it by voting for and supporting political parties which do not make pacts with religious fundamentalists, and I urge others to do the same.

Why should we balance our belief in human rights with our tolerance for Christians?

The two goals are entirely compatible and do not need to be balanced. Christian and other religious beliefs are simply political beliefs which appeal to the supernatural for authority. The things that religious people say or do should be evaluated according to exactly the same standards as those which apply to non-religious people.

Have you seen what the Bible says about women?

Yes. Have you read Leviticus and St Paul on gays?

It is sometimes worthwhile asking people who claim that they are a true believer in a particular faith whether their beliefs include not only the nice parts, but also the silly and wicked stuff as well.

Some religious people will say that they agree with all of it, and want to put it into practice, because it is the word of god. Others pick and choose; either they feel a bit intellectually dishonest about doing so, or they don’t care at all. Others interpret their religion as a personal code of ethics, but baulk at imposing it even on self-proclaimed co-religionists. Still others explicitly reject the nasty elements altogether, and regard themselves as modernisers of the religion.

But tell the majority about the weird stuff in the Bible, and they’re amazed. And that’s because most people aren’t particularly involved in their religion, and the C of E is pretty soft-liberal nowadays. Decent clergymen put a great deal of effort into interpreting the worst bits away. Most just concentrate on the nice bits of the Bible: the fluffy easter chicks and the star in the sky, and so on. That’s as it should be. And as a result, we’ve got women priests and (openly) gay vicars.

To the extent that we maintain a separation between church and state, and to the extent that no religious leader specifically exhorts his followers to commit acts of violence or discrimination against gays or women, or provides active support to such criminal enterprises as the murder of abortionists, and as long as the state does not try to legislate these values, and as long as nobody tries to establish a state which embodies these repellant beliefs, I am not overly bothered by the Bible thumpers.

Now the Olympics are over, can we finally admit that white people are genetically equipped to excel in archery and rowing?

Its because most of them are public schoolboys, isn’t it. I bet whites do quite well at eton fives too.

Oh, I don’t really know. I don’t follow sport.

What is it with white people and homophobia?

In 1985, 70% of people polled by the British Social Attutudes survey thought that homosexuality was “always” or “mostly” wrong. In 2002, that figure had dropped to 47%.

I don’t know what the break down of that figure is by ethnicity.

Homophobia is, I think, on the decline in the United Kingdom. It is notable that even Michael Howard backs civil partnerships now.

*Only kidding. I don’t have a daughter.

Hat tip: Dave