Good God — the eastward position, and all creation groaning!The quotation is from Jude the Obscure and references two clergymen debating the fatuous positioning of the eastward altar in the midst of human tragedy. Hardy's words echo in this post.
Having just attended a wonderful classical music concert at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, I was very taken by the giant stone shaped sculpture outside the hall, the 'Ishinki Touchstone', created by Japanese sculptor Kan Yasuda. Or rather I was taken by the impromptu addition to the artwork, which is why I took this picture:
|Ishinki Touchstone: a form returning to its heart|
Perhaps because one of the musical pieces was a particularly unnerving religious exposition called 'Offertorium' or 'an offering', on top of recent experience of church services and, in particular, her prostrate position, I got to thinking about organised religion in 21st century society. Major world religions employ prostration as an act of submissiveness (worship) to a supreme being. I don't think she is worshipping, simply indicating that she is submissive, helpless, in need. Prostrate with a plastic cup.
I have had a small tourist-like experience of being in her position, being at ground level during street interactions. I sat with a street girl in Worcester for an hour or so one evening, just to talk to her (I'd had a pint which had loosened my tongue). She was really nice, friendly, glad to be heard, I guess - and was quite routinely verbally abused, mostly by young men. She was kicked once. And old fish and chip papers were thrown at her. One hour, one girl, one City. Nowadays, it is commonplace in UK, which is the fifth richest country in the world (£6.01 trillion in private wealth - honestly, I don't know what a trillion is, but it works out to £115,000 for each and every one of us. Or it would if we shared some...)
Out of respect for this young girl, for this precious human being who has equal dignity and value to all of the rest of us humans on this earth, I have not blown up that portion of the picture in order to show that her posture is prostrate. Nobody asked her to gesture in this way, she is not part, I'm guessing anyway, of any sect, this is a universal act of submission and I find it shocking. I don't find her choice shocking - I think she is perhaps very brave to be there, or just utterly desperate. No, what's shocking is the ubiquity of vulnerable humans with no help and no prospect of help. The stone artist, Yasuda, translated Ishinki as meaning a 'form returning to its heart' and if we think about 'heart' as 'empathy' or 'compassion', and then think about this girl in this place, 'governed' by the Tories (yes, really, fuck them), then the heart we return to really is a heart of stone.
Clearly, the impromtu political message on the boulder is particularly relevant because we are in the midst of an election which is in danger of moving unmaginable power towards a very secretive and wealthy right wing clique. But, here's the point that I wanted to make about organised religion.
The church in this country really means the Church of England, who say this:
Christian life is lived in relationship with God through Jesus Christ and, in common with other Christians, seeking to deepen that relationship and to follow the way that Jesus taught.
Jesus Christ, the revolutionary, would have held this girl close to him. He would see those £££ figures above and say, right, you give her enough money to live on, you have more than enough. And he could point at the Tory government and see quickly that they have allowed this situation to develop where 'the poor' are a permanent feature in our 'fifth richest country'. So, what might the Church of England do about it? They could, very simply, OPPOSE this kind of politics that is deliberately removing the social safety net that was fought for by millions of working people. They could come out of hiding and state their opposition to all that is happening in front of them. They could SUPPORT Jeremy Corbyn and his radical socially progressive policies which will begin to unpick the damage and begin providing help for our fellow humans once more.
Do I think they might do such a thing? No. Why not? Well, to put it in bald terms, the Church of England stands to gain like all other wealthy power groups in our society. The Church holds an estimated £4.3bn (with a return on investment of 19.1% = £821.3 million (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/apr/28/religion.anglicanism). 4.3 billion pounds. 4.3 BILLION! (Jesus! You might well exclaim!). And what do they do with all this wonga (I know)? They are mostly concerned with continuing ceremonies and practices for thin congregations by paid vicars and bishops in its thousands of churches nationwide (which it also pays to maintain). So, the form of the Church of England, its ceremonials, its clergy, its buildings, is what they are concerned with and there seems little chance of this form returning to its heart, to its original principles.
By way of example, in the midst of such social degradation and suffering the Twitter feed of Justin Welby (@JustinWelby), ostensible follower of the path of Jesus Christ and CEO of Church of England Inc. is primarily concerned with those very ceremonials and says this: "The resurrection of Jesus doesn't just change how we look at the world around us - it changes the reality of the world around us." Not for the girl in the picture it doesn't - or the millions whose lives have been reduced to helplessness by the policitics of heartlessness. Two years ago, the Church seemed to be showing some Jesus-like commitment. Now, where are they? I believe they could turn this whole thing around, change the reality of the world around us, by intervening in the same way Jesus would have done.
George Monbiot catches this perfectly:
The choice before us is as follows: a party that, through strong leadership and iron discipline, allows three million children to go hungry while hedge fund bosses stash their money in the Caribbean, and a party that hopes, however untidily, to make this a kinder, more equal, more inclusive nation.