Thoughts on themes old and new

Whilst on holiday overseas recently, I noticed that many of the major international news channels gave substantial coverage to the death of a British nurse who became involved in a hoax directed at royalty.
Two Australian radio personalities pretended to be the Queen and Prince Philip attempting to contact Kate Middleton in hospital, where she was being monitored in the early stages of pregnancy. As an apparent consequence of the hoax, the nurse is believed to have killed herself, though her involvement in the proceedings seems to have been quite minimal.
Several issues are involved here:
1. What personal state of mind possessed the nurse to take her own life – the circumstances were hardly mitigating?
2. To what extent does royalty’s desire for public interest and support, if not awe, encourage an over-emphasis on their importance and the extent to which the popular media will go to deliver stories about them?
3. When a hoax goes wrong, is it a case of shared blame, or is a scapegoat required?
Little criticism seems to have been levelled at royalty, the hospital, the nurse or the general media for being so enthusiastic in reporting the entire matter (including the nurse’s funeral in India). However, it seems that the Australian radio presenters were suspended and the radio station manager forced to issue an apology.
Perhaps also a case of Aussie-bashing…..?
In the past week, I have been informed that a school in the town where I live, Northampton (UK), is the subject of a legal action by the NASUWT teachers’ union. It seems that the headteacher of the school will not renew the one-year contracts of teachers who fail to attend school on a Saturday. The contracts are already disgracefully inadequate.
The purpose of such attendance is to conduct student enrichment activities, or otherwise to prepare lessons and mark students’ work. These activities are normally carried out as a part of the teachers’ working week and some time is allocated for such duties in the five-day teaching schedule. They can also be completed by teachers in their lunchtimes or out-of-school hours.
The school in question happens to be an academy, that is, a secondary school outside the control of any Local Education Authority. Such a school is very much at the mercy of the headteacher and the school’s governing body, not to mention the insidious influence of the Secretary of State for Education.
For many, including myself, this is just another outcome of the dangers inherent in government schools becoming academies – schools that have sold their souls for a mess of pottage initially shaped by central government. The pottage bowl is now taking its own shape and is drying up.
It almost makes one glad to be teacher in retirement…..!
A respected newspaper writer, who also happens to be an Anglican priest, recently wrote the following in The Guardian newspaper:
“If Christmas means anything it is that the answer to the human condition is not to be found in the stars but in the crib. Here the hope of humanity is continually renewed. God is not an old man with a beard. God is not some power that believers can borrow for their own limited, and often bigoted, schemes. If that is God, even if such a being exists, then count me among the atheists.”
So far; so good – I can go along with all of that. The writer goes on:
“What I call God is to be discovered in the vulnerability of a child, in the excessive openness and dependence upon something outside one’s own power or ability to explain.”
Now, it is with this that I have some difficulty. I believe that what is being said is that human beings fail when they depend on their own power and confidence, if not their ability for guile and deception. There are instances, of course, where the opposite can be pointed to – and not only in scientific pursuits. So too, what exactly is being determined as human failure?
Notwithstanding all of the above, what is it that the writer proffers as an alternative? He suggests vulnerability, excessive openness, a dependence upon an external power that, to all intents and purposes, cannot really be known, and a lack of understanding or ability to provide explanations. Are these qualities and characteristics able to operate at the level of even personal relationships, never-mind on an international scale?
It would seem to me that if this is the suggested answer to the human condition, then it will remain an answer to be discussed within philosophy and mythology rather than believed in and practiced within the complexities of the world in which we live.
It would seem that the question of who and what is “God” is one that is as complex to answer now as it ever has been…..!
When will they ever learn?
It was recently reported that the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has stated that, when British troops are finally withdrawn from Afghanistan, he will consider deploying them in the (Persian) Gulf area. He said this as he prepared to visit several Gulf States for the purpose of sealing arms deals with such states as Oman, and defence agreements with the United Arab Emirates.
He justifies the plan to sell Typhoon aircraft to the UAE “…as a big, significant defence co-operation, which could lead to more British troops being stationed in their country.” Cameron obviously wishes to increase the presence of British troops in the region, one that already sees a British military presence in Bahrain, Qatar and the Emirates. These states are hardly bastions of democracy. So, is the United Kingdom paying a high price for enriching arms dealers and adding to the exchequer in consequence of these arms sales?
To what extent can the United Kingdom continue to regard itself as the “mother of democracy” when it colludes with dictatorial rulers, despots and anachronistic religious/royal households in consolidating their power through the sale of arms. So too, what is meant by “significant defence cooperation”? Defending who or what?
As usual, government and the military collaborate in justifying such actions, blessed by the right wing press and the state church, as historically it has sought to do with the presence of the British military in foreign fields and most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It would seem that for these persons and bodies, the idea of the sun setting on the British Empire is anathema…..!
Speaking of the British Empire!
Awarding successful Olympic Games athletes with state honours in the recent New Years’ Honours List is one thing, but, remembering the spirit of the Olympic Games and how they are meant to bring about a community, if not oneness, of international feelings and personnel, is another.
To award British athletes with “British Empire” honours and for athletes to receive them as such, is dishonourable and a disgrace. After all, and despite the delusions of some and fond hopes of others, there is no longer a British Empire.
There has not been an entity or an animal with this name for a long time…..!
With all of the above in mind, it is worthwhile to recall the words of that great British-born hero of the American revolution, Thomas Paine, when he said: “The circumstances of the world are continually changing, and the opinions of men change also”. He also wrote… “Government is for the living, and not for the dead; it is the living only that has any right in it.”
Now, old or new, that is a theme worth thinking about and acting on.

About stewculbard

I am a retired secondary school teacher of Humanities, having spent a major portion of my working life as a Minister of Religion with the Baptist denomination. I would now describe myself as a secular humanist and a socialist. I am married to Vicky and we have three children - two sons and a married daughter - all of whom are in their thirties. Formerly of Melbourne, Australia, we are all now living in England. My academic studies have been undertaken in Australia, the UK and the USA. I have a doctorate in religious studies from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. In retirement I enjoy reading, listening to classical music and writing. I am a member of Republic, Sea of Faith, Dignity in Dying Campaign and the National Secular Society. As well, I have a subscription to a number of cultural and political associations, including Amnesty International and, as a committed European, The Federal Trust.
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