January – battening down – maybe not

Zenpolitics it seems has taken January off, almost unwittingly. It’s a month for battening down the hatches, keeping out the winter chill and all that sort of stuff, but unless you’re a determined recluse in acres of snowy countryside with a icy wind blowing so you hardly dare venture out, and ideally there are one or two wolves a-roaming and howling just to drill home the message… unless you’re all that and a bit more you’ll be on the train to work, driving round the M25, all the usual headaches but just a bit more in the dark than at other times of year.

And with almost February comes the snow and the ice, but no wolves yet.

Now the serious stuff. January has been the month of Charlie Hebdo, and much talk, wise and foolish, on the subject of free speech. And inequality in the wider world, with wealth ever more concentrated, has had a local reflection in the impact of the spending cuts on social welfare in the UK.

Two quotes have penetrated through to me in my eyrie above west London –

‘Like most religions, Christianity contains a faintly left-wing, anti-wealth message,’ said Jeremy Warner in the Telegraph. ‘Naively utopian, anti-growth.’ Christianity, Jeremy, was around long before left and right-wing came into common speech, and we trust that the message from the archbishops, wiser men than you, that economic growth alone won’t solve the country’s economic problems, and that the effect of recent spending cuts has been seriously damaging, will resonate with many, including most Telegraph readers. Rarely has a journalist looked so egregiously foolish.

Just to even things out, there’s Polly Toynbee, in the Guardian, claiming that in linking his mother and his faith, and suggesting (playfully) he might punch someone who insulted his mother, the Pope is using, in her words, ‘the wife-beater’s defence’. Quite how she got there only she knows, but it’s cheap and anyone who listened to the Pope’s actual remarks will know that it entirely misses the subtlety of the point he was conveying. To misrepresent wilfully (and I assume it is wilfully) is … let’s just say poor journalism.

Faith let it be remembered is deeply personal to countless millions and they will take insults against their faith seriously. If discrimination, bigotry or cruelty attaches to a faith it should be criticised, I’d almost say hammered, but for the attachments it carries, not for the faith that lies at its heart.

Free speech is priceless and an absolute, but so too are compassion and understanding. And of their nature, or rather human nature (everyone having their own point of view, as many shades of opinion as there are individuals on the planet),  they will conflict, and we all must strike a balance as best we can.

But, please, avoid barmy remarks, and cheap swipes. We can all do better than that.

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