Varieties of religious belief…

Just in case anyone imagines that all religions are the same or more to the point that all religious experience is the same they should read RS Thomas, quondam vicar of Aberdaron (Wales) and Father Thomas Merton, Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky.

And read them one after the other.

RS Thomas:

‘And God said, I will build a church here

And cause the people to worship me

And afflict them with poverty and sickness

In return for centuries of hard work

And patience. And its walls shall be as hard as

Their hearts, and its windows let in the light


This is from The Island. There are many other poems I could quote.

Thomas Merton:

‘Yesterday Father Macarius and I went out and blessed the fields, starting with the wheat and oats… Out in the calf pasture we blessed some calves who came running up and took an active interest in everything. Then we blessed some pigs…the sheep showed no concern and the chickens ran away as soon as we approached. The rabbits stayed quiet until we threw holy water at them and then they all jumped.’

(The Sign of Jonas, May 6, Ascension Day)

I’m with the rabbits.

RS Thomas, for whom the word curmudgeon could have been invented, and who is nonetheless wonderful, and Thomas Merton walked in different worlds. The one weighed down, just surviving amid the crags as do the mountain sheep, the other spreading grace and jumping for joy, at one with the sheep who showed no concern, for sprinkled holy water or for anything else it seems.

Merton’s time to show concern would come later. (Nuclear disarmament and radical America of the 50s and 60s.)


Those who shout…

A very short poem…with the first verse taken from R.S. Thomas’s

poem, His Condescensions Are Short-Lived. Thomas is well-worth reading!


Those who shout


“…Democracy is the tip

the rich and the well-born give

for your homage”


Now it’s those who shout

and those who have the money

to make us hear their shouting


What of those who reason

who argue who balance –

how will they be heard


and who will be left to listen?



Freedom – another miracle

Apropos my last post,

Nick Cohen (Guardian book review) of Daniel Hannan’s Freedom and Why It Matters

“In the end, however, Hannan loses his self-control. The book degenerates into incontinent complaints about Barack Obama, the welfare state and human rights. To his confused mind, it is apparently fine for the Americans to enjoy the protection of the Bill of Rights, but not for the British to enjoy the protections of the Human Rights Act. It is as if the history of Anglo-Saxon liberty from the Witan through Magna Carta, the Levellers, the Glorious Revolution, the American Revolution and the suffragettes has been one long struggle to reach its perfect consummation in the hand-me-down prejudices of last week’s Daily Telegraph.”

Democracy – a miracle of life

I put something down (but didn’t post it) on the subject of democracy a few months back. Recently the Economist ran a very good piece on the state of democracy, and the challenges it faces, around the world. But they missed the crucial point that I make it my piece below. Democracy is not God-given (God has never opined on the subject of democracy), it is fragile, it is remarkable that we have it, we should be thankful and guard it with our lives. We need to recognise how right and left are both valid positions, how each country’s past will colour its attempts at a democratic present, how in may countries it will not be in the way we understand it in the West, recognise too that it exists in hybrid forms, and that evolution toward democracy is slow and in no way Darwinian – bastard lines may usurp, pure lines may be sidelined, autocracy waits in the wings.

Miracles in life: 1] Democracy (other ‘Miracles’ may follow!)

The miracle is – How we all come together and beyond the ties of family and kinship set up governments and abide by their laws, and beyond that how we work within democracies, which might be the least-worst form of government, but looked at another way are a miracle, a triumph of human nature, where without compulsion and out of self-interest and fellow-feeling we come together and confront and  debate and decide.

Those who criticise and claim disillusion live in a short-sighted world where human rights are if not God-given somehow natural laws and one of those human rights is democracy, which foolish men in foolish governments seeks all the time to subvert. Democracy is a human accomplishment, not a human right, and it takes all our commitments, as voters, as fellow workers for the cause, to make it work. Democracy battles against apathy and animosity for its own survival.

Criticise politicians for their arguments and decisions but don’t criticise them as a breed of men if you’re not prepared to join and argue with them – be a part of the process. If you wish to hold them accountable, be accountable yourselves.

Foolish men and media rail against government and politicians. They are the unaccountable ones, and all their foolishness, all the vindictiveness goes without challenge.

As Yeats wrote:

Mock mockers after that/That would not lift a hand maybe/To help good, wise or great/To bar that foul storm out, for we/Traffic in mockery