Monday, 11 February 2013

Farewell Ratzi and thanks for all the bigotry

Thomas Mann – damned by the Pope.
Isn’t identity a funny thing? Okay, let me try to be clearer: isn’t how we choose to identify ourselves a funny thing – what labels we decide fit us; what tribes we decide we belong to?

To be honest, I’m not personally a big fan of identity politics – or, indeed, of labels in general. So often it seems simply to point up what divides us rather than what unites us.

So it was not uppermost in my mind to consider penning something around February being LGBT History Month.

But then something happened that made me change my mind.

The Pope decided to retire.

That’s right: because Joseph Ratzinger has called it a day, I decided to pick up the LGBT baton for a post.

Many of us might prefer that no religious leader have any meaningful power in the 21st century world, but whether we like it or not, that is not the case, and the office of pope still commands a great deal of clout and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Before his own elevation, Ratzinger had previously been grand inquisitor for John Paul II: when Karol Wojtyła was getting a tad past it, it was undoubtedly Ratzi who was really pulling the strings, so he’s had power for rather longer than simply his ascension to the top job in 2005.

Now, number one point to make: beating Ratzinger up because he was a member of the Hitler Youth is just plain daft. You don’t have a to be a fascist sympathiser to comprehend that children, at that time, would have had little safe choice in the matter.

So that isn’t going to be this blog’s complaint.

The problem with Ratzinger is that he has used his office to push lines that are sexist and homophobic.

Clare Balding – damned by the Pope.
His rhetoric about how those dodgy gays will essentially kill off civilisation cannot simply be taken as the rantings of an elderly person – not least because he/the office has the authority mentioned earlier.

And whether the Pope realised or intended it or not, his pronouncements have lent a veneer of legitimacy to those who would discriminate against LGBT people – and even do violence toward them.

His stand against contraception in general – and, in particular, the use of condoms as a method of safe sex – has been detrimental to the fights against poverty and against HIV/Aids.

He would rather a married couple produce far more brats than they can care for than that they use contraception. He wants every act of sexual intimacy to be heterosexual, monogamous, married and with getting the bird up the duff in mind.

He would rather that people died of Aids-related conditions than that they use condoms.

This is also an individual who has played a role in the protection of child abusers by his organisation.

Jodie Foster – damned by the Pope.
But then again, this he has also headed an organisation that believes that the victim of rape, even if a nine-year-old child, should not be allowed an abortion if made pregnant by her abuser.

It is an organisation that does not value women, but would rather a woman die than have the abortion that could save her life. The realised human being is worth less, in Catholic orthodoxy, than the potential of her producing a (male) child.

These are the attitudes that Herr Ratzinger has chosen to uphold in the name of a belief in something for which there is not a solitary shred of evidence.

Thus his faith cannot be viewed as somehow ‘cute’ or ‘quirky’, but for what it is: a stick with which to beat many, many other human beings whose lives and whose intrinsic being is different to what he wants it to be.

Let's also be quite clear: there really is not much difference between the likes of Ratzinger and the likes of the Taliban: and yet we (rightly) condemn one, but allow the other great respect and clout.

There’s something very wrong with that; very wrong indeed.

Oscar Wilde – damned by the Pope.
And it is worth noting that it is far from certain that the cardinals will elect a new pontiff with more 'liberal' credentials. Ratzinger is not the first 'traditionalist' to occupy the role of pope, and he is highly unlikely to be the last. In other words, his reactionary attitudes are far from unique.

I hope that Ratzinger has a peaceful retirement. There would be something rather pointless and sad about wishing him, as an individual, ill. But he is most certainly NOT some sort of saint. And the organisation that he has spent a lifetime promoting and defending is, frankly, immoral and corrupt and well past its sell-by date.

Now, since I have mentioned LGBT History Month, let's be a little more positive. Here are a few of my own household gods – who just happen to be or have been part of the community of which I myself am also a member. They're not my only "household gods", and they are not "household gods" because of their sexuality, although it is not hindered by the sense of connection that flows from that.

And perhaps, in that, I have just countered my own arguments against identity politics.

Remember: every one of these extraordinary people would be damned by the man who is just about to retire, and by his organisation. And yet he and it would almost certainly applaud Tony Blair.

Alan Turning – damned by the Pope.
Alan Turing – massively instrumental in the defeat of fascism and in the development of modern computer science, but effectively driven to his death afterwards simply because he was gay.

Thomas Mann – one of the greatest authors ever; a principled and humane giant.

Virginia Woolf – wonderful, wonderful writer, and hugely innovative. If you haven't done so already, do read Mrs Dalloway.

Quentin Crisp – England’s real queen.

Oscar Wilde – greatest wit ever? And yet one of my favourite quotes of all time is more poignant than Wilde’s reputation would lead one to expect: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”.

Stephen Sondheim – what a god of the musical theatre. Forget Andrew Lloyd Whatever He's Called.

The Pope.
Clare Balding – breaks down barriers all over the place, not least by being a ‘posh bird’ introducing Rugby League for the BBC. In line for national treasure status – and it will be utterly deserved.

Alan Bennett – just a wonderful writer; such a great ability to understand human beings and the smallnesses of their lives.

Nigel Slater – quite simply the best food writer that this country has produced since Elizabeth David. Nobody else, currently writing, has anything close to his sense of food and time and place and memory.

Jodie Foster – a wonderful screen actor, and has managed an amazing career without getting caught into all the crass celeb gossip etc.

Gore Vidal – oh how we miss him; an intellectual giant and iconoclast.

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