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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 193: October 2011

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Well, who would have believed it possible this summer, that England would outshine and beat Norn Iron in the rioting stakes, the game of overthrowing kings, or is it the game of giving kings the excuse to look tough and be draconian in response (or just nerdy and out of touch like D Cameron). Incredible, but when you pick over all the bits, also understandable when you see where Engerland has been going. Meanwhile the middle England fightback has begun with the courts giving two young guys who advocated rioting in their home areas through social media four years imprisonment each. Bring back the tree trunk, I say [Do you mean ‘the birch’? – Ed] [No, I was thinking of a bit of tree hugging instead of mugging]. No one turned up at the ‘riots’ these guys were respectively advocating, I’m not sure whether they were serious or just messing. I well remember a couple of decades ago sitting in a pub on the north side of Dublin planning the revolution the next day (and I remember it well because, no, there wasn’t too much drink involved). No one turned up then either. Perhaps it is just as well a revolution didn’t happen the next day because if it did and the counter-revolution triumphed I might have been hung, drawn and quartered.........however as there wasn’t, as I say, too much drink involved and nothing happened I wasn’t even hungover or overdrawn though maybe a quarter of me would have welcomed that revolution.

Life is like picking blackcurrants
The summer is over, and, while it had its moments of sunshine they were generally just that, there were no long periods of good weather, no blocking highs in the Atlantic (again and again and again over the last summers). Apart from some blackberries of the thornless variety which are still fruiting in the garden, the summer fruit is all picked, eaten, jammed, frozen or given away. But as I was picking the blackcurrants I realised it was a good meditative exercise. Blackcurrants don’t hang in big bunches like redcurrants so they are slower to pick. If you wanted to try to do this task fast you would be sadly disappointed and frustrated at the speed you would achieve. But if you sit back, metaphorically speaking because you’re likely to be standing up or kneeling down – though you could bring an old chair and sit down even if not sit back – it is a relaxing activity presuming you’re not picking lots of blackcurrant bushes (we have two). You need to suspend the sense of trying to achieve the task fast and go with the methodical flow of doing the job, hopefully in the sunshine but certainly in the open air, enjoying that moment of being alive. And, paradoxically, take this approach and it seems ‘in no time’ the job is done. Surely a lesson for other tasks in life too, not just for currant affairs.

Oh, and blackcurrant jam is the fastest to set in my experience of making jam and marmalade, it must have lots of pectin, and also the one with the most taste. Not perhaps to everyone’s liking but I think it’s great. I must want jam on it.

Religious/spiritual/secular belief, in your concept or lack of it of the divine and spirituality, is a fascinating area for many reasons. Christians sometimes accuse others of believing in fairy stories when Christian belief is just as big a fairy story (by which I mean believing in thing which cannot be ‘proved’ to be true) – I happen to believe in that story but how do I posit it in a modern age, and how do I respect other people’s beliefs? Knowledge of what others actually believe helps but at the end of the day it’s a difficult act to get right. But then secular beliefs are, I would feel, just as problematic in explaining where we come from in this vast universe of ours (well, I say ours when I mean where we are posited because the universe is no more ‘ours’ as humans than anyone else’s who happens to live the far side of the universe or in a parallel universe or.......)

Some things can be critiqued about religion though. Intolerance should not be tolerated. Sectarianism should be secateured. Injustice should be justly dealt with. The Golden Rule – common to world religions and humanism too - of treating others as you’d like to be treated yourself should prevail (though in a Wizard of Id cartoon the Golden Rule became ‘Whoever has the gold makes the rules’ and there is plenty of that about too).

But I firmly believe modern standards of truth and humanity should inform religious thinking unless we want religious belief to be fossilised icons of bygone eras. Which brings me to a video I watched over the summer about Joseph Smith and ‘The Lost Book of Abraham’. As well as claiming to transcribe The Book of Mormon from tablets the founder of Mormonism said he was given by an angel, he later came to acquire an Egyptian papyrus in 1835 which he announced was The (Lost) Book of Abraham, and he set about translating it. Among other things, he said it portrayed an attack on Abraham by an Egyptian priest. The Lost Book of Abraham entered the canon of Mormon scriptures.

There was one slight problem. The key to Egyptian hieroglyphics had only just been cracked through the Rosetta Stone though no one in north America at the time could translate written Egyptian. Joseph Smith’s ‘translation’ was entirely fanciful and basically he got nothing right. The papyrus concerned prayers for a dead Egyptian priest and Abraham is never mentioned. Long thought lost or burnt in a fire in the latter 19th century, the papyrus survived into the modern era. When it was actually translated, rather than the story which Joseph Smith imagined, an entirely different situation was told or unfolded – as said, prayers for a dead Egyptian priest (the papyrus was packed with his mummified body). The papyrus has been dated to a millennium and a half after Abraham so could not have been written by Abraham himself, as Smith claimed. Joseph Smith imagined what he wanted to believe from the Egyptian papyrus, and soaked in the Judaeo-Christian story, he added a Judaeo-Christian myth of his own making, entirely misrepresenting both text and illustrations. And if he got that so absolutely wrong, what chance, even if he was given tablets by an angel (and that does not happen every day) that we would have got that right either..... So I am afraid that in this game it is Secularism 10, Mormonism 0. The video is easily traceable on the web if you search for ‘The Lost Book of Abraham’, as well as other material from different positions (include rather weak apologia from the point of view of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the main Mormon denomination).

Alien nation in Norn Iron
It might seem strange to think that there is such a thing as Protestant alienation in Northern Ireland, given the fact that the IRA called an end to the war they had fought for the best part of three decades, and the fact that Northern Ireland remains part of the UK. Of course the nature of the UK has also changed, with devolution to Scotland and Wales, so the whole entity is less centralised than it was. But changes following the Good Friday Agreement, and the slowness of the IRA to disarm, may have made many Prods feel left out in the cold, whether they were right to feel so or not.

While the Protestant middle classes may have got the gravy in the old Stormont years, the Protestant working class did get jobs but were little better off than their Catholic neighbours. Without the self-help ethos of the Catholic community, the Protestant working class were in a worse position to weather the end of industries such as linen and shipbuilding. Protestant working class academic achievement today is often woeful – a socially disadvantaged Catholic has a 10% chance of getting to university compared to a 5% chance for a socially disadvantaged Protestant (see here)

Now Catholics do still have slightly higher unemployment rates, partly perhaps due to a greater proportion of Catholics living west of the Bann (that great physical but sectarian dividing line in the North). But different approaches may be necessary in Protestant working class areas to encourage both education and economic and social development – if the educated just up and leave that may not be community development but the continuation of social apartheid.

So there are legacies of the past to be dealt with, and the Protestant community, more secular than the Catholic but also divided into sometimes many Christian denominations insofar as people belong to churches, can be less cohesive and more difficult to bring together in decisive action (apart from the self appointed guardians in paramilitary and post-paramilitary organisations).

But there are also myths to confront, which is why ‘dealing with the whole past’ is important. I would argue one republican myth is that violence was necessary, the armed struggle from 1969 onwards. Yes, some people saw it as necessary, they felt there was no alternative, but from the perspective of nonviolent struggle I would argue that that is simply wrong. People on both sides took up arms because they saw no alternative in struggling for what they believed in. Again I believe that is simply wrong. But don’t get me wrong here either – the fact that the possibilities of nonviolent struggle were unknown to them (and whether they would have bought into it if they did know) was certainly not their fault.

There are also old shibboleths and myths from the past which should be confronted. Tom Haire, County Grand Master of the Orange Order, was quoted on BBC Newsline on 12th July 2011 saying about the Battle of the Boyne that “It gave everyone civil and religious freedom. We consider sometimes our freedom is being denied to us and our civil rights and we hope that we can move forward and see better days ahead.” The theme of ‘civil and religious liberty for all’ as an Orange theme is fine if it were true. The original Battle of the Boyne may have brought to power a King, William, reigning along with his wife Mary, who was more progressive than James but the idea that Catholics thereby got ‘civil and religious liberty’ is absolute nonsense. Even Presbyterians, having to pay tithes to the established church, felt and were hard done by. And Catholics were far worse off in terms of their personal, political and religious freedom than Protestants, and they had little if any land.

As INNATE is always saying, Northern Ireland has a long road to travel. The shortest journey begins with a thousand steps. May the road rise to meet us.

- - - - - -

Well, autumn is officially here though the end of August already felt quite autumnal. Climbing Mangerton mountain (well, hill or mountain it’s about 850m) close to Killarney in Co Kerry on the last Saturday of August it was quite cool at ‘ground’ level, maybe down to 14 degrees. But once on the exposed slope above the Devil’s Punch Bowl (yup, I’ve been supping with the devil!) at about 650m the temperature felt more like 7 or 8 degrees and there was significant wind chill – I was well wrapped up but my hands were going red with the cold and I could have done with gloves, and that was with virtually no rain. Dreams of a warm summer, how are you, still, there is always next year to dream, and the year after, and the year after that........but as some people point out, this is Ireland and not Spain (and we can be thankful not to have Spain’s burgeoning problems with availability of water).

And back into autumn routines and busy-ness. I wish you well with yours and keeping the head above water, and I’ll be back with you again soon, Billy.

PS Good to see Corrymeela honouring Ray Davey by naming their ‘village’ there at the Corrymeela Centre after him, and, as recorded in the news section he’s still alive and 96. A gentle man who has made a remarkable contribution to peace and peacebuilding in Northern Ireland. There is the old cliché about it being better to light one small candle than curse the darkness but his name, Ray, is entirely appropriate or apposite in how he helped to light and keep that flame lit.

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

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