Saturday, 16 July 2011

21st Century Foxes, Vixens and Sewer Rats

Update:  (4 August 2011)

This news is bound to set the heather ablaze!  We were all ready attend a glorious shooting party in Perthshire and now we hear that "Hackgate" is also the talk of all the journalists and politicians in Scotland.

Will this have an repercussions on the First Minister Alex Salmond or does it prove that he was politically astute in courting the Murdoch press, especially the Scottish Sun to support the SNP?  In this there were certainly some strange bedfellows!


Over the last 10 days a tsunami of sycophants, sewer rats, gutter press journalists, phone hackers, bent coppers and pillars of the community (Members of Parliament and Peers of the Realm not excluding Piers Morgan) have been dragged into the leader columns of the international press.  We present a drama which is still unfolding as we write and reflect that tomorrow, Sunday, will be the first Sunday without the News of the World. 

The main characters in this drama are:
Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks, Les Hinton, Neil Wallis and Tom Crone

Politicians have not remained unblemished and David Cameron and Gordon Brown have both been guests at events organised by News International (NI) and News Corp.   The Metropolitan Police has also been called into question, especially John Yates, Andy Hayman, Lord Blair and the current commissioner Paul Stephenson.  The MPs who have been most active in using privilege are Tom Watson and Chris Bryant.  In the House of Lords, John Prescott has been consistent in claiming that his phone was hacked and other Peers of the Realm who may have taken the Murdoch shilling have put in their tuppence worth.  If this sounds like loose change, it is.  It shows that the UK is no cleaner than some countries which the Establishment despises.  In this scandal, we have seen politicians, press and police mingling to such an extent that one wonders whether this is the lubrication of the wheels of government or the raking of money, power and influence by very opaque means. 

The attention of the public has been drawn to NI primarily because it has recently been disclosed they hacked into a child’s mobile phone after she had gone missing and was later found to have been murdered.  The cover up then unfolded and has dragged in the great and the good, though strangely Whitehall, the civil service and some others pillars of the establishment have remained untouched.  We present the following links which illustrate the status of the constitutional ramifications of the Murdoch saga, it’s unwinding and some calls for a statutory body to oversee the press, as the PCC has failed.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown: Murdoch’s News International operated a “criminal-media nexus”

Lord Prescott’s speech in the House of Lords

Lord Grade’s speech in the House of Lords debate:

Baroness Wheatcroft’s speech in the House of Lord’s debate:

Meanwhile, the constitution is being tinkered with by Nick Clegg and his chums.  Charles Walker, MP, has made probably the shortest speech for many years in the House of Commons and other interventions are worthy of some notice. 

Mr Charles Walker: No system is perfect, but we have had a fairly dynamic democracy over the past 350 years and by fixing parliamentary terms we will lose some of that dynamism.

Mr Charles Walker: Fixed-term Parliaments: constitutional vandalism.

(you will need to search for Charles or Walker on the web page)

Stain from tabloids rubs off on a cozy Scotland Yard

Hacking row: Theresa May to 'outline' concerns over Met

Monday, 4 July 2011

Authoritarianism without hierarchy: Presbyterianism extra!


We are continuing our trend in challenges to authority with a further look at religion and society and mentioning some rather interesting one-liners which we have been gathering over the years.  I would refer you to our previous posts on: 

- Interfaith in Palm Springs

- the religious specialists conference Salon de Refuses at Edinburgh

- the event of channelling during the sacrament of the Blessed Bhaji (, and

- Presbyterian: the most fissile element in nature

These were posted early in the history of the blog.  Many had considered these to be over the top, but you will see from a list of commentators that end of term papers provided by our first class honours * essays have not been far off the mark.  To celebrate the 4th of July and the uprisings of the Americans against the British Empire, we are reviewing some of the better known reviewers of scholars.

Contemporary trends have impacted on religion in several ways.  First, the rise of science and its ability to provide more rational explanations than religion - for example Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang theory.  For an accessible introduction to the history and current developments in the latter, we recommend Simon Singh’s Big Bang.  This has also led to the rise of rationalism and the scientific method, based on hypothesis, experimentation and evidence, which encourages a questioning and investigative attitude.   Second, and related to the first, is the rise of democracy which scholars like Professor Donald Meek suggest has led to a “rejection of central authority and authority figures” and a reaction against “metropolitan control”.  In current UK terms, this has meant challenges from the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and to some extent Northern Ireland coupled with an ideological Conservative Party mindset which encourages localism.

This has generated an increasingly free, open and more tolerant society especially in western democracies, a decline in traditional communities and an increased emphasis on the individual and an individual’s rights.  It has seen changing social attitudes to women, minorities and sexual orientation and the emphasis on human rights.  By 2011, however, Rights and Responsibilities were being coupled as some governments found themselves hauled before the courts in terms of human rights issues.  This has even led to some difficulties in Scotland regarding the authority of the UK Supreme Court having any say in criminal law.  (Lord Hope)

Third, politics, economics, and advances in transport and communication technology have all made societies more interconnected with one another.  This trend towards globalisation has meant that societies are no longer isolated or insular, but are able to compare conditions (social, economic, political) as well as belief systems between each other.  The rise of Facebook and Twitter is said to be responsible for some of the Arab Spring uprisings, though this has been questioned with uncontrollable ‘spoof’ postings by some parties.

However, the increased openness has allowed others to examine and challenge long-accepted beliefs, either to reform the religion, abandon it in favour of another or ‘develop’ a hybrid of beliefs from several religions.  This utilitarian approach has been likened by Marion Bowman to a “spiritual supermarket” or a “pick and mix” approach to religion, and has been studied by scholars using rational choice theory, which is based on economic models.   (Economic models, however, have said to have failed in predicting the financial crisis of 2007 and the recession which followed it, though anthropological research has claimed to have predicted both.)

These trends have resulted in challenging the various forms of religious authority identified above.  Thus, the inerrancy and interpretations of scriptures and texts have been questioned, as has the selection and legitimacy of religious specialists (especially to interpret texts).  Moreover, traditions (and interpretations) have begun to be seen as being a product of particular historical and social contexts, so bringing their legitimacy and current relevance into question.  A few years ago, Katherine Whitehorn, the journalist and broadcaster, was quoted on a BBC Radio 4 programme as saying that tradition was after all “habit in a party frock”.

Thus, while these authorities may have exercised power and expected unquestioning obedience in the past, religion’s declining influence coupled with changes in knowledge and social attitudes have led to an increasing willingness to both question and look for alternatives.   The willingness to question is particularly prevalent in belief systems such as Wicca and New Age and Celtic spirituality which emphasise choosing beliefs according to personal preferences and experiences.  This can be described as having mystical ‘elements’ with transformational qualities and Linda Woodhead calls this “relational religion”.  (Much of the cult of the late Diana, Princess of Wales exemplified this.)  Professor Paul Heelas* describes this situation as one in which “The individual serves as his or her own source of guidance,” with a life being lived in the “here and now” and without a reference to an external authority.  Authority is essentially grounded in experience which is also able to modify tradition according to individual needs.

Authority within these belief systems includes texts where these exist; myths and traditions pre-dating conventional religion (e.g. Celtic Christianity); traditions from ‘nature religions’, for example Native American and aboriginal traditions, but also including so-called pagan religions, occult phenomena and eastern philosophies.  Other phenomena such as channelling, memories of a previous incarnation can be linked to post-World War I increases in spiritualism.   This has given rise to hybrids based on traditions across belief systems – syncretism – or on denominations within the same belief system – ecumenism.  Thus, Richard Holloway, a former Anglican bishop of Edinburgh described himself in a BBC Radio 4 programme as a “Buddhist, Quaker, Anglo-Catholic Agnostic.”

Some have attributed the appeal of these belief systems to a lack of understanding and some justifiable disillusionment towards science (failure of education system) and an increase in the promotion of intuition (previously thought to be exclusive to females).  With globalisation and the consequent exposure to alternative belief systems has come what David Spangler refers to as an “awareness that we are all one people ... [and share] ... a common destiny.”

However, this has also raised issues about authenticity, legitimacy and credibility.  There can be a lot of sociology jargon such as emic and etic perspectives which serve to further complicate the issue.  However, some have dismissed this whole trend as nothing more than misplaced nostalgia, romanticism or just plain nonsense. With some justification, Donald Meek also debunks the ‘phony’ nature of much that passes as authoritative in Celtic and new age spirituality as well as myths that either portray Celtic Christianity as having a ‘light’ touch compared to Catholics or being more in tune with nature.

As regards legitimacy, Celts by blood such as W Davies have dismissed “self-appointed Saxon expert[s] on Celtia” of being “cultural imperialist[s] or cultural transvestite[s]”.  Further, accusations of “cultural theft” have been made whether in relation to Druidry or the adoption of Native Indian traditions by non-Indians.  It has also brought into question the legitimacy of claiming affinity with traditions that one does not belong to by birth or ancestry.  Terms such as orthodoxy, orthopraxy and omnipraxy abound and it is obvious that an outsider wishing to market an alien spirituality would claim that one does not have to belong to a tribe to espouse its spiritual lineage.

Finally, the emphasis on personal experience has brought the credibility of these belief systems into question.  Thus, Heelas regards the “authority of the participant” and the absence of an agreed body of beliefs as “sociologically precarious” while others have dismissed this as ego gratification in this current age of celebrity and event driven historical ‘analysis’.   Similarly, Steve Bruce considers the ‘pick and mix’ approach only possible in societies where “people do not have very strong religious commitments” Indeed, a review of Woodhead and Heelas’s book likens these beliefs to a fashion accessory or ‘must-have’ “ideological clutch bag.”