Saturday, 22 September 2012

Racism isn’t the Only Prejudice


This is an issue I have written on before, and will undoubtedly be something I will write on again in the future as it is something I feel passionately about.  I come from a Working class background and have often felt inferior because of this, and have also felt that people perceived to be of a higher social status get preferential treatment when it comes to education, employment, housing and many other situations in life.   Aren’t we supposed to be a largely egalitarian democracy, where those with the most intelligence, skill and know-how rise to the top?  In theory we are, but the reality for many people is an acceptance that our social backgrounds are a hindrance and even a bar to getting on in many professions.  It is time we started to challenge these unfair and outdated notions and challenged the bigotry and prejudice of the class system as we are supposed to challenge any other unfair prejudice.  What started me on this was the fact that I wrote to a group of people calling themselves ‘the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism’; I wanted to ask them what they thought about class as an issue.  I wrote quite a number of emails and finally got one reply after many months telling me that the said campaign had finished, and that I should contact another group calling themselves ‘the Institute of Race Relations’ who amongst other things produce a quarterly called ‘Race & Class.’  I decided to write to them and got a nice reply telling me in effect that though there are other prejudices they only deal with racial issues.  However, I have written to them again to ask them that if the quarterly is called ‘Race & Class’ why are they are not dealing with the issue of class and to this date they haven’t yet got back to me.


Here is the essay proper:


It now seems that it’s not possible to make offensive jokes about anyone anymore, but it’s ok to charge people more than they can afford for gas, electricity, groceries, transport and the like; if old pensioners die in Britain in Winter because they can’t afford to heat their homes, no one seems to bat an eyelid, but Heaven forbid if anyone makes a slightly near-the-knuckle joke.


Why is class as an issue ignored when other prejudices like racism and sexism are, admittedly very weakly, tackled?  Why won’t those people purporting to stand for fairness and equality challenge the very real problem of class prejudice in England?  If one is tackled, why not the other?


Those who, for whatever reason, turn a blind eye to the injustice of the class system in England are the same as those who turn a blind eye to racism in other countries and those who turn a blind eye to religious intolerance in other societies.  Until class as an issue is tackled in a very real and effective way, it will keep coming up to haunt people and very likely because of the class system and all the prejudice and injustice of this system we will very likely go on hating each other in England.


It seems that some Middle class people in England use their professed interest in racial equality to totally ignore the fact that some of those same people, who fervently profess their belief in racial equality, completely turn a blind eye to class inequality; why is that?  Is it because many of those same Middle class people benefit from the inequalities of class the same way some white people benefit in more racist countries?  If we are being truthful, we know the answer already.


It seems to me that the ‘pay-off’ for some Middle class people being so concerned about racism and sexism, is that no one is then allowed to tackle them on their class prejudice; and let’s be honest, class is still an issue in Britain, and it certainly is an issue in England.  Millions of people in England feel pushed aside and otherwise marginalised because of their perceived low-social status, and feel that often Middle class people get better jobs, better housing, better education and generally all-round better lives and life chances for no reason other than their perceived higher social status; I wonder why all those concerned Middle class people are not campaigning about this?  It’s obvious that those who benefit from such injustice don’t want to rock the boat; if someone is really concerned about equality they would be concerned about everyone’s equality and not just a select group of people.


I must add something here; it is right and proper that people fight for the rights of Black people and other ethnic minorities, it’s just that being selective is tantamount to saying that some people deserve equality and other people don’t; that’s the confused message that comes through some Middle class people who are fighting racism but seem to blithely, almost wilfully, ignore class as an issue.  Why is a Working class White person deemed less important than a Black person?  In short, why are the rights of one person deftly ignored, and someone else’s rights perceived as more important?  In a nutshell, and rather ironically, that is the class system!  Upper class people are seen as better than everyone else, Middle class people may not be as important as the Upper class, but at least they are perceived to be better than Working class people.  Thus we have the prejudice that pervades nearly all English life, and is in fact the social fabric of English society.  By constantly ignoring this problem, the very people who proclaim equality and equal rights, are actually in fact adding to the problem.  And while we are at it, why does social class very rarely if ever appear a part of equal rights literature; again, why is class ignored when virtually everything else is included?


There is a kind of what I would call ‘polite fascism’ amongst some Middle class people, even those who consider themselves believers in equal rights.  Their prejudice towards Working class people is manifested in refusing to accept class as an issue, the very issue that is in fact at the heart of division, double-standards and the hypocrisy we often find so readily accepted in English life.  Upper class people can pompously look down on everyone; Middle class people defer to this and so in turn look down on Working class people; some Working class people defer to this and then finding themselves at the bottom of one unfair social system, readily cling to another unfair social system which is racism.  So some Working class people become racist; but this is fuelled by the injustices of the class system.  Both racism and class are intertwined, and they feed off each other in a kind of vile symbiosis.  Often, and more cynically, both race and class are played off against each other, with the effect of marginalising both Working class people and ethnic minorities; and to the benefit of who we may ask?


Until this issue of class is faced and dealt with, we will continue to live in a third-rate country, a country that is a sham of a democracy, with no real democracy at its heart.  We will continue to hate each other, instead of learning to work with each other and trying to build a fairer nation that regards people as equal before the law, and not as a nation of unequals.  I feel however, that whatever is said, some people who are prejudiced would rather live behind their cosy wall of platitudes and half-truths than face up to their prejudice and their part in keeping the divisions, of all kinds, going.


I’m not attacking Middle class people, I have some Middle class friends and I like many Middle class values, what I am taking issue with is the selective nature of equal rights in England; why is class not seen as a viable issue to discuss and tackle?  I am waiting for an explanation of this but am struggling to find one.


The God I worship isn’t just for the Upper class, He’s for the Middle class too; He isn’t just for the Middle class, He’s also for the Working class too.  He isn’t just for White people, He’s also for Black people.  He isn’t just for the poor, He’s for the rich as well.  He isn’t just for Northerners, He’s for Southerners too.  He’s not just for Jews, He’s for Palestinians as well.  He’s for you, and me.

If someone is praised for living in a palace and yet someone else is dismissed in some way because they come from a council estate, how is that not an abuse of human rights, like racism or sexism, or in any situation where one human being is somehow devalued by another human being?  We need to open the debate on class, and accept it is a real problem with real consequences for many people.  In the end, we don’t have to hug each other or see life through rose-tinted glasses, but even if you change one person’s mind, and leave all the bigotry to one side, then that person might realise that whether we clean windows or live in a palace, we are all human beings and we all have intrinsic worth and we all deserve consideration, toleration and respect.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Paradise Lost

Once, when the world was young, we walked with God; we were simple people unsullied by ambition and desire, and the hatreds that burn up the world today.  Was it all that long ago we walked innocent and free, and lived just for the smell of fresh air and the green of the grass and the trees and the simple pleasures that gave us the most happiness?


I was a simple boy from a simple family; no ambitions, no desires, no anger within me.  What happened to that boy who lived long ago, what happened to his dreams if he had any that is?  God came to me in my innocence, in my poverty, in my youth and answered the prayers of my heart; then I knew He existed, something existed beyond humanity and base human nature, something that would give everything meaning, a being who meant what He said and could do even more.


Did I lose Paradise when I lost myself?  Did Adam lose Paradise when he became ambitious, when he became filled with desires of all kinds, when he stopped putting God first?  Then men became sophisticated and civilised and urbane and cultured; then we all started hating each other, putting each other in class systems and judging each other differently because of the colour of our skin, or the way we talked or the company we kept.  In becoming sophisticated and civilised, we left God behind or confined Him to churches one day a week, safely anaesthetised where He couldn’t challenge us or check our greed and stupidity and selfishness.


All those years ago, a poor city boy lived, amongst other poor people long forgotten now, simple people, people who in the great scheme of things didn’t really count, were not important, had no great dreams or ambitions to take on the world or take over the world, just content to be.  At the dawn of time, Adam had the same simplicity, the same peace and contentment, but he gave it all up and made the wrong choice.


If Paradise is lost, can it ever be found again?  Does God want us to live in all simplicity, childlike faith, a faith that moves mountains but that brings us what we all really want, and what we certainly need, a peace of mind that stills the troubled waters of our busy and bustling lives?  Adam lost that vital relationship he had with God, and forever since all humans have lost it with Him; we have all been punished for our original ancestor’s sin.  What is God’s answer?  If we listen, can we hear it on the breeze?  If we look can we see it in the sky in the formation of the clouds?  If we ask for peace and simplicity, will God give us our heart’s desire?


In abandoning God, we have abandoned ourselves to the four winds, to fate, to chance, to the stars; we have lost our senses, and swapped what is good and life itself, for a half-life, a shadow, something which is a sham and doesn’t hold water and only leads us down false paths.  In our affluence, we have abandoned God; where will we find Him again?


God calls us, softly and sweetly; can you not hear?  God beckons us; can you not see Him?  God is waiting, has always been waiting, for us to return, to return to our senses and to Him.  Every one of us is a child of His, a spoilt and petulant child.

When God called me, I listened.  I’m still listening.  I lost everything before I really knew what I had, and stumbled in the wilderness of my own ignorance and stupidity.  What was God trying to tell me all those years; I really don’t know.  I lost Paradise; the gates were closed for me.  Now they are slowly opening again, after what seems like a thousand lifetimes; I want to reacquaint myself with God, but He knows me inside out.  I cry out in the night; I shout for God, and He hears me…

Saturday, 1 September 2012

My Own Private Idaho

Like many people, I like to feel good and happy, and hopefully all of the time.  Of course, who feels happy and content all the time?  I don’t; not all the time anyway.


Having in the past suffered from severe manic depression, and it now largely being a thing of the past, I try to keep from things that might start the onset of another episode.  I might add that my disobedience to God didn’t help matters when I was depressed.  I now try just to be an obedient servant.


In trying to feel good and happy all the time, I surround myself with things that I like; I buy all kinds of films, especially Film Noir, I try to do things that I like, like writing, taking photographs, going shopping, reading on all kinds of different topics and I especially, usually occasionally, like to travel to different places.  I am also a reasonable cook and at least once a day I like to eat something nice that I’ve made like a decent curry or a pasta sauce from scratch or something like a risotto or a paella or something even that I’ve never made before; usually it works out because I always follow the instructions even when I occasionally chop and change things.


I try to get a little simple pleasure out of each day; if it’s sunny, I say ‘what a nice day!’  If it’s raining, I say ‘well it might brighten up and still be a nice day!’  I personally like thunderstorms and dramatic weather, hopefully as long as I am indoors or not getting soaked, and can watch a thunderstorm transfixed for hours at a time.  Up until very recently, I also looked forward to drinking half a bottle of wine on Friday night and finishing off the bottle on Saturday.  Well I tell a little white lie; I always buy another small bottle to add to Saturday’s Bacchanalian reverie!  In the week I used to have a few bottles of beer, choice English ales or bitters.  I have given up booze for the time being because I feel God wants me to.  Even though I am not a heavy drinker I feel God wants me to give it up for Him; for the time being.


Those Private Solitary Moments

Like many people growing up in urban areas full of all kinds of people, I sometimes get the need for solitary moments; for me this can be walking along a beach near the end of the evening, just listening to the seabirds singing and looking for their food, or even taking a small holiday to North Wales and taking a walk where I may, hoping that I can enjoy the walk whilst not meeting too many people along the way; if I do meet people I’m always polite, but you get what I mean.  I believe we all need moments such as this, as much as at other times we need to be around other people, especially family and friends on special occasions or just when we’re chilling out and having a laugh.  But for me, at times I need to be alone, to think about things, to think about God and what He wants for me, and just to reflect on my life and perhaps where I am going.


I definitely need those private solitary moments to keep me going, and it might sound strange but when I am on a lonely path somewhere or a slightly isolated beach or even on the Great Orme, which is a hill in North Wales, near the end of the day, I feel somehow closer to God, and in the silence of the burgeoning evening I find solace and peace that sometimes I don’t find in the midst of crowds of people.  I need those moments, they are part of my life.


God is in Every Experience

Some people go to church on Sundays to find God, some people go to church more than once a week to find God; as a non-church goer but at the same time a dyed-in-the-wool Christian, I try to find God in every experience.  Of course, I find Him when I pray to Him, and I find Him when I read the Bible.  But God is everywhere in every place all at the same time; we can’t escape Him even if we wanted to, but a Christian should feel comfort that He is always there and only ever a prayer away.


I have a calling on my life, but not coming from a Christian background or community of any kind, I have to find and experience God for myself without priests or vicars or anyone else really telling me what I should do or what I should believe.  Because of this, I consider myself just a Christian, not particularly Catholic or particularly Protestant, or any denomination for that matter, just someone who is a Christian and tries to live out that faith each day.  As I said, for me Christian experience, experiencing God, is something at this time that is private and solitary, yet at the same time I am aware that God is in every moment and is everywhere in time and space.


I have felt God move in my life, sometimes because I was obedient and He was rewarding me and sometimes because I was basically disobedient and He was punishing me.  I believe that with those He calls, as you’ll read with the Israelites in the Old Testament and people like me and many others today, He deals with our sins in this life.  I think for those He doesn’t call, He will deal with them in the next life.  What in the end does God’s calling on a person’s life mean?  For me, it means that, whether I want to or not, I have to serve God with a whole heart; sometimes I think I manage this, and other times I don’t.  Christianity then isn’t something that is a game to me or even religion, it is a palpable and sometimes hard-edged reality.  Christianity is to me God’s presence in my life; He knew me before I knew Him.  When the Israelites were obedient they prospered, when they were disobedient they suffered and sometimes terribly so.  We can learn much from the Israelites relationship with God in the Old Testament; how to live, and how not to live.


The Israelites and their many different prophets didn’t seem to separate the world or their nation for that matter into secular and divine, they saw everything as being a part of God and His Creation.  Likewise, we should not separate things we do into secular or divine and should see that God can enter in every experience and thing we do, whether it’s praying, baking a cake, doing exercises to get fit, going out with friends or just chilling out and relaxing.  God is there for all life and our whole lives.


God, a Refuge

So, for me God is a friend who I can talk to and completely rely on.  I won’t tell you that I have a ‘hotline’ to God and that He treats me better than anyone else, or that I am somehow more blessed than others, quite simply because it’s just not true; we are all special to God, all those He calls for His purposes.  We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good.  (Romans 8:28 NJB)  It does help of course that we develop a love and total respect for the God who can do so much more for us than we are barely able to ask.  So, even if like me you sometimes crave solitude and a kind of nice loneliness, along wind and sea swept beaches or country lanes or hilltops, God is our refuge and He will protect us and enter into our lives, especially if we ask Him to.


I’m trying to write about a faith that goes beyond the four walls of a church, that goes beyond the rituals and human traditions of many Christian denominations, that goes beyond sectarianism and fighting for sects, that goes beyond our class and skin colour and country of birth, that goes beyond everything we really think we understand and often don’t, a faith that embraces all our imperfections, all our brokenness, all our questions and misgivings and a faith that brings real meaning and hope, peace and contentment into our lives.  Most of us desire such a faith, but if we are honest what we do have falls short, if not far short, of that blessed reality.  I have yearned for a long time to have a walk with God that would mean me being contented and happy and for a long time have felt that what I have is something far less solid; my sins have caught up with me and caused a gulf to separate me from the perfect love of God.  Yes I know He loves without let or reservation, but I still feel there is a gulf between me and God. 

In time I hope for a perfect relationship with God; I’ve learnt to be content with what I have and I am learning to be more tolerant of my fellow human beings; it’s a slow process but if we make a little progress each day it all adds up in the end.  Our part is merely to have faith and remain obedient.