Thursday, 1 May 2008

You can't say that!

Well, the last post has been deleted (laid to rest with flags and bugles) as it caused a wee bit of a stooshie. And a perfectly fair challenge to what I wrote. Which makes me ruminate on provocative statements.

A week or two back, we replaced the sermon with a Muslim-Christian dialogue. The Muslim speaker finished by telling a very un-PC joke which I found funny, but I'm used to Glasgow humour. I remarked at the time: "If I'd said that, I'd have been reported to the Racial Equality people". But he could say it and what he said maybe made us think about some of our unexamined attitudes. In that sense, the provocative can be useful, as it does provoke thought.

But another Muslim person might have been seriously upset. And could quite legitimately have accused him of either collusion with racism or being devoid of taste and sensitivity. The response might have been that by reclaiming the pejorative language, he was satirising and subverting the opposition. And that by doing that he was embracing and affirming his identity and empowering himself. Something, for example, those who use terms like "Queer theology" would argue they are doing. A bit like judo, taking the strength of the insult and turning it back on the opponent to floor them.

I've never quite agreed with the self proclaimed "queer theologians". I see what they're trying to do, but their adoption of that language has seemed, to me at least, to reveal an abiding self hatred and acceptance of a negative stereotype peddled by the homophobic.

There is a strain in the Judeo-Christian tradition which has taken the insult, adopted it and worn it as a proud badge of identity. The term "Hebrews" for example. The Ancient Egyptians applied this term for wandering, nomadic, smelly and "uncivilised" tribes (the Habiru) to the captive Israelites, who took it over and used it to identify themselves as a people. Some synagogues today proudly describes themselves as "Hebrew Congregations". The same is true of the term "Christian", first used in Antioch as an insulting nickname. Pliny the Younger, when writing as Governor of Bithynia to his boss the Emperor Hadrian, described Christians as "cannibals", totally misunderstanding the nature of the Eucharist and that was used as an accusation against followers of "the Way" when sending them to the lions.

I suppose it depends on who uses what term and whether or not they openly identify themselves with the derided group. The "N-word" debate is pretty good example. Or Jonathan Ross's backing group on a Friday night. It seems to be OK for someone to use a pejorative term to describe themselves (self affirming) but not on to use a similar term for a group of which they are either not a part or not openly and positively identified with.

No answers here, just thoughts.


  1. What you have written, you have written. If it offends, then possibly the problem lies with those who take offence. Preaching the Gospel, as I see it, often offends, but I'm not going to stop doing it!

  2. Well, yes but I wasn't preaching the Gospel. Sometimes it's good to listen, reflect and say "I am not the Pope, I'm not infallible (not that he is either), sorry for that". And that can lead to a genuine exchange of viewpoints that enlights both.

  3. frdougal, your post is interesting but your comment is a treasure. Thanks.

  4. I think what we have to learn from this is the public nature of blogging. It's not a private journal, and the more widely it is read the more thoughtful the writer has to be. Of course, there are times when you want to raise a hackle or two - but that's another story!
    Having a son in professional journalism has taught me much about how you deal with such things ...

  5. The nature of blogging.. what I hadn't quite twigged was that actually you're joing a community and each community has its own etiquette or house rules which the newbie may inadvertantly transgress. I've been reading some quite interesting stuff on the monastic life which may be relevant, but I'm busy getting ready to take a retreat to Cumbrae, so haven't time to hunt it out. Will share it with the world on my return from the far Western Isles!

  6. I think your right about community norms. In general in Piskie blogging circles we:
    1. are open about our identity
    2. are willing to be critical of issues
    3. try not to be critical of particular people (except insofar as responding to public words/ actions)
    4. sometimes disagree over how we define 'offence'.

    The other thing I value is that that the blogs often forge relationship 'across party lines', which means we can model respecting those we disagree with.

  7. Now that I'm back form the far Western Isles, here's that little bit of wisdom from the monastery I was on about:

    "Decorum brings a quality of graciousness and propriety to everything we say or do. Of itself, decorum is not a sign of sanctity or purity of heart, or of mastery over our pride or passions... in the monastic life, decorum may be considered the spontaneous expression of an interior harmony, the exterior reverberation of an inner gracefulness and dignity. When we are being ourselves, our graced selves, we will radiate a certain charm...and we will have an instinctive feeling for the right thing at the right time. Monastic decorum flows from the heart outward, manifesting the intense but gentle love at life's source." (from "Monastic Decorum" in "Monastic Practices" by Charles Cummings OCSO, Citercian Publications, Kalmazoo, MI. 1986).

    Ties in rather with community norms, although it puts it in rather different language.

  8. That's why I'll never become a canon, far less a bishop! I speak, and write too often, without too much thought - as many will testify too!

  9. Kenny, if they ever make you a bishop, I won't pope, but I might join a monastery for safety's sake!

  10. Thank you for the affirming words, Dougal, the exterior reverberation of an inner gracefulness and dignity, perhaps. Certainly made me feel good about myself today!

  11. Fair comment, my reverberations are often more of clang than a gentle chime. Mind you, if they ever thought about making me a bishop, I'd advise everyone else to join a monastery for safety. Ideally, near Mars