Sunday, 23 December 2012

Whose birthday is it anyway?

Well, Christmas is on us again, if we believe it! Every year it seems to start earlier, seem scarier (we just never got when were younger what a mad scramble it is to get all the gifts nor did we know that a fifth of English men buy their presents on Christmas eve in service stations) and to involve less religion. Think about it, could you find a religious advent calendar? Cards with a message mentioning God? A nativity set on sale beside the innumerable Santas?

I do understand that a lot of people celebrate Christmas despite being atheists or Buddhists, or whatever, but it seems to me that the difference between our modern celebration of Christmas and the ancient Roman Saturnalia is becoming increasingly obscured. And do you want my verdict on why this is happening? Yeah, sure you do, it's Christmas, you're rushed off your feet and worrying that the Joneses are going to arrive over from next door any moment now and find that your house  (unlike theirs, which has a giant blow-up reindeer on the lawn and a 'jingle-bells' door alarm) looks as though a bomb has hit it--and what you want to think about is spirituality in modern society.

I think that religion is being leached out of Christmas because of the vanilla problem. People are crying out for a spiritual compass in today's hard times but Christianity in particular (though other religious traditions such as Judaism or Buddhism in Japan have the same problem) is just too beige these days. Where once they used to erect large cathedrals filled with some of the best art and music ever composed by mankind, today's Christians worship in white-washed suburban boxes in which they mutter dirge-like hymns. Where's the emotion, excitement and beauty? Well, there's certainly some temporary excitement to be gained in evangelical mega-churches, but we all know that that isn't the same.

Maybe next year we should try to make Jesus as exciting as Santa Claus, if only to make it easier to explain to children whose birthday it is.

Merry Christmas,

Monday, 10 December 2012

Liberalism and Democracy

Today on the news, I saw a guy from the Egyptian National Salvation Front talking about how Morsi should not use his majority to act against "universal human rights" and "democracy". This seemed to me to sum up how little most of us in the twenty-first century understand what democracy is really about. Mostly we confuse "democracy"--decision-making via majority vote--and "liberalism"--a doctrine of respect for the life choices of individuals. In fact, these two concepts, while historically entangled in nineteenth century Europe, are analytically entirely distinct.

So often today we see believers in liberalism--usually urban and educated--agitating for a political system which in actuality allows the mass of the populace who have very different values to choose leaders whose views are totally incompatible with liberalism. There can be a positive relationship between democracy and liberalism--as there was in the nineteenth century in Europe--but there can also be a quite negative relationship--as for example, in many European countries in the twentieth century.

We really do require greater clarity of thought when considering political philosophy, so it's just a great shame that we don't ever seem to teach political philosophy in universities any more...


Monday, 3 December 2012

TV in a Time of Poverty

In television as in anything else, there are fashions. For example, there seems to be a wave of fantasy shows recently, as there was a wave of soapy medical shows not so long ago. What I think is interesting is American audiences' love in this time of economic scarcity of stories of people living the high life, as in Revenge with its snappily-dressed billionaires or Downton Abbey with its early twentieth century aristocrats. This more than anything else brings home to me that we live in a depression period--remember all those shiny movies from the thirties in which there is lots of singing, dancing and lingering shots of food! It also strikes me that reality shows today are not like reality shows from a little while ago--today people are obsessed with the Cinderella story of talent shows, it's almost like a Jimmy Stewart movie...