Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Column, May 9, 2006

IF I remember rightly it all began with let there be light.
Then came the heavens and the Earth, Eden, the whole plant and animal kingdom.
Then He got to Adam and Eve and it all started getting a bit messy.
But you have to say that creating the Universe and everything there is in it in just six days, was not too shabby a feat. Something to put on your cv while taking a well-earned rest on the Sabbath.
So why then do some people assume that a God powerful enough to create the entire Universe, omnipresent enough to be with every one of us every moment of the day, is so touchy as to be offended by an image of Jesus in a nappy.
Dr Barry Morgan our Archbishop, is not a happy man and the reason he's unhappy is that Jerry Springer - The Opera is showing in Wales.
"Blasphemous and gratuitously offensive" is how he described the show and when you hear that it's got pole dancing, the Ku Klux Klan, Satan and a nappy-obsessed Christ figure, you might think he has a point.
"They'd never get away with saying the same thing about the prophet Mohammed," said Dr Morgan.
Yes, well, having adherents ready to lop off the heads of those who offend against does make you re-evaluate your criticism of a religion, but it's not something that makes me more likely to convert.
It doesn't fill my heart with love of the Lord to be told that I'd better worship Him, because I wouldn't get away with being so cheeky about Allah.
Is Dr Morgan worried about the offence to God, or the offence caused to fellow Christians?Myself, I think God, if He existed, would have broad shoulders and would suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous musicals with the stoicism typical of an all-powerful, all-seeing deity.
I suspect that when people like Dr Morgan shout blasphemy, it is because they are more concerned with their own feelings as Christians. What stings the most is the lack of respect for their faith, not their God.
Do they really believe a God who parted the Red Sea, visited the plagues upon Egypt, caused Noah's Flood and brought the walls of Jericho tumbling down is going to be offended by a theatre show?
And anyway, won't those responsible reap their rewards in the hereafter, where a warm welcome will await them, while those prudes who disapproved will surely enjoy their heavenly reward?
I'm always a little confused by Christianity's insistence that we were born with free will, and yet all around they're very quick to tell you what you can and cannot, do/watch/say.
I would have thought that it's not really enough to arrive at the Pearly Gates to say: "Lord, I've led a good life, but then again, I didn't have much choice in the matter did I? I'd have sinned given half a chance, but my Archbishop was a bit of a spoilsport."
Perhaps the Archbishop is unhappy that there will be more bums on seats at Jerry Springer than on pews in church on Sunday. However, I'm not sure that people, deprived of seeing Springer - The Opera, will be flocking to hear a sermon instead.
I'm not sure which sort of Christian annoys me more, the happy-clappy, beardy hippy who thinks he's down with the kids because he tortures an out-of-tune guitar as they sing the dirges that pass for hymns nowadays - or the po-faced, lemon-sucking priests who disapprove of anything approximating pleasure.

THE case of Vernon Barker will show us just whether the Labour party has forgotten its working class roots.
He was a man who died before his time, poisoned by the asbestos that it was commonplace for so many men like him to work with.
Now the House of Lords has ruled that because he was exposed to asbestos a number of times for different employers, his widow Sylvia is to have her compensation drastically cut. The award was only £153,000 anyway - small enough for the suffering that goes along with a death from mesothelioma, the cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
The thing is that any reporter attending inquests will tell you that we're seeing more and more men like ex-Shotton steelworker, Vernon Barker. Tucked away at almost every hearing, among the road crashes and suicides, appear men of a certain age, dying of an industrial disease because of a job they did in their youth. Every year the grim toll exacted among men who worked with asbestos decades ago steadily increases.
These men are Labour heartland material - manual workers who worked in heavy industry, shipbuilders, steelworkers and in construction. The people who year-in, year-out kept faith with the Labour party as the party for the working man.
Now they are dying in their thousands and insurance companies are limiting payments to their widows because they can't track every job they did 40 years or more ago.
To tackle this outrageous loophole will require a change in the law. The test of character for the party of working people is whether they can deliver it.

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