Quotulatiousness

April 16, 2014

Handel’s Messiah – the Live Aid of 1750

Filed under: Britain, History, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:08

In the Telegraph, Michael White explains why Handel’s Messiah really was the 18th century equivalent of Live Aid:

Every year, his masterpiece reliably comes round, filling musicians’ diaries with unending renditions of the Hallelujah Chorus and “Surely he hath borne our griefs” (or “worn our briefs” as choirboys have it), like a tonic for the flagging bank balance. And it will be the same this week, with a performance of some kind or other guaranteed to come your way, unless you’re living in the Outer Hebrides without a choir in sight or sound.

But for good measure, there’s also a BBC TV programme on Saturday in which the historian Amanda Vickery is looking at Messiah’s back story. And it seems her interest isn’t in the piece as a gift to musicians but as a gift to the poor — focusing on a London performance in 1750 that was, as she says, an 18th-century precedent for Live Aid.

This performance took place at the Foundling Hospital in London, which these days is a museum but was then a children’s home attracting the support of celebrated figures in the arts world. Painters including Hogarth gave it canvases to exhibit; composers such as Handel gave it music to perform. And the funds raised helped keep it going — in something like the manner of that other famous children’s home, the Ospedale della Pietà, Venice, where Vivaldi gave his services.

[...]

The only problem was that Handel depended for commercial success on operatic ventures that proved disastrously expensive and went sour when public tastes changed (as they always do). Hence his interest in writing English oratorios: they were cheaper to produce than opera, avoided over-priced Italian singers and attracted decent audiences.

Hence Messiah, which was written not for London but for Dublin, where it was premiered in April 1742. A large crowd was clearly expected because notices published in advance begged gentlemen to leave their swords at home and ladies to attend “without Hoops”. The critical information on those notices, though, was that making room for more people would “greatly increase the Charity”; because even this initial Dublin try-out was a fundraiser, designed for the relief of prisoners and an infirmary.

So it was good causes that helped swell the turnout. And from what we know of how it went, the audience was high-minded, entering into the spirit of an entertainment that was happening in a concert hall but none the less used sacred texts.

Jonathan Swift, the Dean of Dublin’s Anglican Cathedral, had initially tried to stop his choir being involved, on the grounds that a concert hall wasn’t the right place for such things, and that one of the soloists, Susannah Cibber, was a woman of loose morals. But when she sang “He was despised” she did so with such beauty that another clergyman in the audience stood up and shouted “Woman, thy sins be forgiven”: the kind of engagement you might wish of modern audiences, if only they could be distracted from their iPhones.

April 14, 2014

Queen’s student goes looking for racism, doesn’t find it, declares it’s happening anyway

Filed under: Cancon, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:44

Your source of all sorts of odd news, the Daily Mail has this little gem from up the lake in Kingston, Ontario:

A Canadian college student recently conducted a social experiment to see if people treated her differently if she wore a hijab — a traditional Muslim veil that covers a woman’s head and chest — and what she discovered was a bit unexpected.

Anisa Rawhani, a third-year student at Queens University in Ontario, wore the traditional Muslim garb for 18 days in January as she worked at the university’s library, visited stores and restaurants near the campus and as she did volunteer work with local children.

According to Rawhani — who conducted the experiment to see if people in her community were racist towards minority groups — she noticed that people actually treated her more kindly and with more respect than when she didn’t wear the hijab.

Rawhani, who is not Muslim, wrote about her experience wearing traditional Muslim clothing in the March edition of the Queen’s Journal, where she works as a copy editor — the article is titled ‘Overt to Covert.’

Fortunately, as the Queen’s Journal account makes clear, she was able to get a clear explanation of the phenomenon from a professor:

Leandre Fabrigar, an associate professor in the department of psychology at Queen’s, cited “impression management” as a possible explanation for my experience.

He explained that often individuals who harbour biases, but fear social disapproval, will publicly act respectfully towards minorities. “Impression management is when [someone] very strategically, and usually quite deliberatively, tries to manage the impressions that others have of [them],” he said.

Impression management is focused on manipulating others’ perception of the self, but there are more genuine reasons why someone would be kinder towards minorities. Fabrigar said that sometimes individuals realize that they harbour biases, or other unwanted influences on their behaviour. Then, when interacting with members of minority groups, they experience an internal conflict between their negative biases and the egalitarian values that they believe in.

So the fact that Rawhani didn’t encounter overt forms of discrimination actually proves that the people she was interacting with in her Islamic disguise are hugely bigoted, hate-filled wretches who just don’t want to show it. Cool, got it, thanks.

April 12, 2014

Political religion

Filed under: Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:19

In the most recent Goldberg File “news”letter, Jonah Goldberg discusses what serves some non-religious groups as an effective religion-replacement:

… I read some reviews of Jody Bottum’s new book (which I’ve now ordered). In, An Anxious Age: The Post Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America, Bottum argues that today’s liberal elites are the same liberal elites that we’ve always had. They come from the ranks of mainline Protestants that have run this country for generations (with some fellow-travelling Jews and Catholics, to be sure). But there’s a hitch. They champion a

    social gospel, without the gospel. For all of them, the sole proof of redemption is the holding of a proper sense of social ills. The only available confidence about their salvation, as something superadded to experience, is the self-esteem that comes with feeling they oppose the social evils of bigotry and power and the groupthink of the mob.

This strikes me as pretty close to exactly right. They’re still elitist moralizers but without the religious doctrine. In place of religious experience, they take their spiritual sustenance from self-satisfaction, often smug self-satisfaction.

One problem with most (but not all) political religions is that they tend to convince themselves that their one true faith is simply the Truth. Marxists believed in “scientific socialism” and all that jazz. Liberalism is still convinced that it is the sole legitimate worldview of the “reality-based community.”

There’s a second problem with political religions, though. When reality stops cooperating with the faith, someone must get the blame, and it can never be the faith itself. And this is where the hunt for heretics within and without begins.

Think about what connects so many of the controversies today: Mozilla’s defenestration of Brendan Eich, Brandeis’ disinviting of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the IRS scandal, Hobby Lobby, Sisters of Mercy, the notion climate skeptics should be put in cages, the obsession with the Koch brothers, not to mention the metronomic succession of assclownery on college campuses. They’re all about either the hunting of heretics and dissidents or the desire to force adherence to the One True Faith.

It’s worth noting that the increase in these sorts of incidents is not necessarily a sign of liberalism’s strength. They’re arguably the result of a crisis of confidence.

March 19, 2014

Alex Marwood: “Fred Phelps might finally be teaching us a lesson”

Filed under: Media, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:45

Alex Marwood contemplates the actual lessons to be drawn from the impending death of the head (former head?) of the flamboyantly repellant Westboro Baptist Church:

But here’s the thing that might indeed deserve celebrating: I think that, in his final hours, Fred Phelps might finally be teaching us a lesson. And it’s not the lesson that his spittle-bowed ranting, his family’s laughable adaptations of pop songs and psychotic banner-waving have been intended to teach us. For years now, I’ve looked at Westboro and wanted to ask them about their take on the Seven Deadly Sins. The old man and his numerous offspring seemed, you see, to base their style upon them. Wrath he had, in plenty — but Phelps also seem to be driven as much by envy (of the “fags” who were getting preferential enabling), a prideful self-belief only challenged by that of L Ron Hubbard, greed, as demonstrated in all those juicy court settlements from local councils who sought to limit his ‘freedom of speech’ and, well, frankly, quite a bit of sloth, sitting about in his compound sending the grandkids out to demonstrate. As to gluttony and lust — well, no one really knows what went on behind the walls of that compound when Louis Theroux wasn’t filming, but the guy has 13 kids and a bit of a paunch, which suggests a degree of busyness, to say the least. And here he is, at the end of his life, alone, unmourned and, as many people believe, anyway, probably going to hell.

So thank you, Fred. You’ve taught us how not to live our lives. Actually, I would hazard that, if anything, Fred’s career has done gay rights a favour. For every sad-act who got themselves sucked in by them, there will be thousands upon thousands who will have thought “well, if that’s the face of the moral Right, I’m out,” and gone and shaken hands with their local homosexuals. In a land where the values of Christianity often seem to have been warped by the twin evils of psychopathically Right-wing Right-wingers and greed-fuelled fraudsters, Phelps picked up the ball, glued spikes on it and kicked it into the faces of small children and then sued them for getting in the way. He will have done more to turn people away from his brand of God than even Morris Cerullo. So thanks, Fred! If any of the kids are looking for an example of a Christian life, we now have a perfect example to show them, and say “the opposite of that, basically”. Well played, and flights of something sing thee to thy rest!

Dark Dungeons Teaser Trailer

Filed under: Gaming, Humour, Media, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Published on 18 Mar 2014

Dark Dungeons brings Jack Chick’s 1984 masterpiece to the silver screen. Visit http://darkdungeonsthemovie.com/ for exclusive updates!

Debbie and Marcie arrive at college unaware of the dangers of RPGing. They are soon indoctrinated into this dangerous lifestyle where they face the threat of learning real life magical powers, being invited to join a witches’ coven, and resisting the lure of Ms. Frost, a vile temptress of a GM. But what peril must the two friends face when they stumble across the Necronomicon and their fantasy game becomes a reality game? Find out in Dark Dungeons!

February 27, 2014

Can conservatives be atheists?

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:33

According to at least one prominent Republican, the answer is very definitely not:

Yesterday, in response to one of the many brouhahas that CPAC seems always to invite, Brent Bozell issued the following statement:

    The invitation extended by the ACU, Al Cardenas and CPAC to American Atheists to have a booth is more than an attack on conservative principles. It is an attack on God Himself. American Atheists is an organization devoted to the hatred of God. How on earth could CPAC, or the ACU and its board of directors, and Al Cardenas condone such an atrocity?

The particular merits of the American Atheists group to one side, this is a rather astounding thing for Bozell to have said. In just 63 words, he confuses disbelief in God for “hatred” for God — a mistake that not only begs the question but is inherently absurd (one cannot very well hate what one does not believe is there); he condemns an entire conference on the basis of one participant — not a good look for a struggling movement, I’m afraid; and, most alarmingly perhaps, he insinuates that one cannot simultaneously be a conservative and an atheist. I reject this idea — and with force.

If atheism and conservatism are incompatible, then I am not a conservative. And nor, I am given to understand, are George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Anthony Daniels, Walter Olson, Heather Mac Donald, James Taranto, Allahpundit, or S. E. Cupp. There is no getting around this — no splitting the difference: I don’t believe there is a God. It’s not that I’m “not sure” or that I haven’t ever bothered to think about it; it’s that I actively think there isn’t a God — much as I think there are no fairies or unicorns or elves. The degree to which I’m confident in this view works on a scale, certainly: I’m much surer, for example, that the claims of particular religions are untrue and that there is no power intervening in the affairs of man than I am that there was no prime mover of any sort. But, when it comes down to it, I don’t believe in any of those propositions. Am I to be excommunicated from the Right?

February 19, 2014

Polygamy and the inevitable “bachelor herd”

Filed under: History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:11

William Tucker suggests that societies that practice polygamy will always produce a violent fringe of men too poor or too powerless to have even a chance of marriage (or any kind of stable relationship with women):

Polygamy? What does that have to do with anything? Am I suggesting that because some minor sheik outside Baghdad takes two wives, two young Muslim brothers in Massachusetts feel compelled to blow up the Boston Marathon?

Well, yes. In any human society there are approximately the same number of men and women. Under monogamy, which limits each man to one wife, everyone gets a fair chance to marry. When powerful and successful men are allowed to take more than one wife, however, as they are in a polygamous society, this creates a pool of unsuccessful men at the bottom of society who are constantly in conflict with the system.

The history of Islam has been one continuous story of rebel groups off in the desert and deciding that the religion being practiced by the authorities and their harems back in the cities is not the “true Islam.” They come crashing back upon the palaces, overthrowing the leaders (no Ottoman Sultan ever died of natural causes) and establishing a new regime that is just like the old one, where powerful are allowed to take multiple wives.

[...]

The fruits of polygamy are visible all over the Middle East. Because women are always in short supply, families can charge a “bride price” to any man who wants to marry their daughter. Because daughters are now worth money, they must be veiled and sequestered so they don’t run off with some callow youth. Older men desperate for wives push down into younger and younger cohorts of the population. Marriages between 35-year-old men and 13-year-old girls become common. [...]

But the main product of polygamy is a population of angry young men who are ripe recruits for terrorism. The Koran supposedly limits a man to four wives but in countries where there are vast disparities of wealth this is routinely violated. Osama bin Laden’s father, a successful Saudi businessman, had 22 wives and 54 children. The unbalance between unmarried men and the available women in Saudi Arabia is the highest in the world.

February 18, 2014

The Tea Party’s vulnerabilities on abortion, gay marriage, and immigration

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:21

L. Neil Smith agrees with a lot of Tea Party positions, but correctly points out that their determination to drag (some) religion into politics undermines them in three key areas with non-Tea Party audiences:

As for abortion, gay marriage, and immigration, I was taught in college (and have since confirmed) that the populist Grange Movement of the nineteenth century never quite got off its knees because white farmers didn’t want to share their cause with black farmers. The Tea Parties are demonstrating exactly the same kind of suicidal short-sightedness.

In the eighteenth century, most Americans were either passionately for or against slavery. When the Framers wrote the Constitution, they came to a compromise about the issue: slaves would be counted as three fifths of a person for the purpose of representation. They have been severely castigated about this compromise for a couple of centuries, but without it, there would never have been a United States of America.

I’m saying that similar compromises are possible regarding two of the three issues I’ve mentioned, and I have a question about the third.

Abortion first: I know that one side thinks it’s murder and doesn’t seem aware that half the population — with equal passion and sincerity — considers laws against it to represent expropriation and slavery.

A few years ago, I ran an admittedly unscientific abortion survey on my personal website for three years, asking this question: “Could you be satisfied with a compromise under which abortion would remain legal, but not a single cent of tax money would ever used to pay for it?”

The result was that an overwhelming eighty-five percent responded “Yes”, leaving, I assume, a disgruntled seven and a half percent at either end of the curve, who believe that women — or at least their uteruses — belong to the State, or that abortion ought to be an entitlement. Beyond the palest ghost of a shadow of a doubt, the issue is settled, then. We just need to pound it into our “leaders’” thick skulls.

[...]

The question I have about the third issue is this: by precisely what mechanism is my marriage of thirty-odd years to my lovely and talented wife in any way damaged or diminished by letting my friends George and Fred get married, too? I’m talking about nuts and bolts, here, palpable connections. I don’t want to hear about the Bible or your religion. Under the First Amendment, that’s excluded from the conversation.

Their taxes help pay for the courthouse and the judge’s salary. They are entitled, by virtue of that payment, to exactly the same services that you and I expect. What we’re talking about here is leaving George and Fred alone to live the same dream that Cathy and I have been able to live, I can’t find it in myself to deny them that hope.

February 2, 2014

Groundhog Day – “…when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect”

Filed under: Humour, Media, Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:01

Jonah Goldberg‘s 2005 column on the movie Groundhog Day, which just keeps repeating:

When I set out to write this article, I thought it’d be fun to do a quirky homage to an offbeat flick, one I think is brilliant as both comedy and moral philosophy. But while doing what I intended to be cursory research — how much reporting do you need for a review of a twelve-year-old movie that plays constantly on cable? — I discovered that I wasn’t alone in my interest. In the years since its release the film has been taken up by Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, and followers of the oppressed Chinese Falun Gong movement. Meanwhile, the Internet brims with weighty philosophical treatises on the deep Platonist, Aristotelian, and existentialist themes providing the skin and bones beneath the film’s clown makeup. On National Review Online’s group blog, The Corner, I asked readers to send in their views on the film. Over 200 e-mails later I had learned that countless professors use it to teach ethics and a host of philosophical approaches. Several pastors sent me excerpts from sermons in which Groundhog Day was the central metaphor. And dozens of committed Christians of all denominations related that it was one of their most cherished movies.

When the Museum of Modern Art in New York debuted a film series on “The Hidden God: Film and Faith” two years ago, it opened with Groundhog Day. The rest of the films were drawn from the ranks of turgid and bleak intellectual cinema, including standards from Ingmar Bergman and Roberto Rossellini. According to the New York Times, curators of the series were stunned to discover that so many of the 35 leading literary and religious scholars who had been polled to pick the series entries had chosen Groundhog Day that a spat had broken out among the scholars over who would get to write about the film for the catalogue. In a wonderful essay for the Christian magazine Touchstone, theology professor Michael P. Foley wrote that Groundhog Day is “a stunning allegory of moral, intellectual, and even religious excellence in the face of postmodern decay, a sort of Christian-Aristotelian Pilgrim’s Progress for those lost in the contemporary cosmos.” Charles Murray, author of Human Accomplishment, has cited Groundhog Day more than once as one of the few cultural achievements of recent times that will be remembered centuries from now. He was quoted in The New Yorker declaring, “It is a brilliant moral fable offering an Aristotelian view of the world.”

I know what you’re thinking: We’re talking about the movie in which Bill Murray tells a big rat sitting on his lap, “Don’t drive angry,” right? Yep, that’s the one. You might like to know that the rodent in question is actually Jesus — at least that’s what film historian Michael Bronski told the Times. “The groundhog is clearly the resurrected Christ, the ever-hopeful renewal of life at springtime, at a time of pagan-Christian holidays. And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect.”

That may be going overboard, but something important is going on here. What is it about this ostensibly farcical film about a wisecracking weatherman that speaks to so many on such a deep spiritual level?

And on the subject of the groundhog whose day it is, here’s an old post with a local-ish connection: A tribute (of sorts) to Wiarton Willie.

January 30, 2014

Duffelblog – Marine converts demand religious symbols be allowed in uniform

Filed under: Humour, Military, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:14

You can always trust Duffelblog to give you the latest US military news:

Marines Convert To Norse Paganism, Demand Horns And Wings On Helmets

CAMP LEJEUNE, NC — An entire rifle squad which has converted to Asatru, or Northern European Heathenry, has expressed disappointment in new Pentagon dress code requirements claiming religious exemptions to military uniform standards are not inclusive enough.

The Asatru devotees complain they are not allowed to wear their religious clothing in uniform unlike Sikh, Muslim, and Jewish members. Focused on historical Norse paganism, the Marines want to affix horns and wings on their helmets in order to accommodate individual expression of their beliefs.

“It’s the only way Valkyrie can identify the Kindred if we fall righteously in battle,” said Sgt. Bram Gunbjorn, who serves as both squad leader and gothi (priest) of his squad of housescarls, otherwise known as 3rd Squad, Second Platoon, Charlie Company.

The squad believes upon their worthy death in combat, the Valkyrie will lead them to Valhalla, the mythological hall presided over by Odin, the Allfather.

“I think these clowns have been reading too many comic books,” said battalion Sgt. Maj. Mike Brooks. “There’s no actual historical evidence Vikings or any Northern European groups wore that garbage into battle.”

Soon after the sergeant major made this statement, the horrified Marines submitted a complaint to their Equal Opportunity Officer on the grounds of religious intolerance.

January 24, 2014

The “charter of Quebec values” is starting to look like an election winner for Marois

Filed under: Cancon, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:22

Paul Wells initially dismissed the proposed charter of Quebec values as unlikely to appeal to the majority of Quebec voters. He now admits that he may have been wrong, as the minority PQ government has been gaining support since introducing the charter proposal and if the trend continues, we might expect to see Premier Pauline Marois a snap election. He attributes this to a few key elements in Quebec politics and culture:

A secular imperative. I have friends who disagree with the PQ on just about everything — but who applaud the notion that it should be impossible to tell a person’s religion by looking at him or her. These people tend to be atheists who view religion as inevitably backward and retrograde. They tend to keep books by Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins on the nightstand. They’d sooner everyone got over religion altogether. In the meantime they don’t want to have to look at evidence of religion.

[...]

The suggestive power of government. Canadians, including Quebecers, tend to trust and listen to their governments. Governments can lead opinion, and often do. I know all this sounds crazy. And the people least likely to notice the willingness of the public to be led are those who consider themselves full-time opponents of any given party in power. But it’s one reason why highly ideological politicians seek power: not for its own sake, but because it gives leaders the hope of being followed.

Islamic fundamentalism. Does anybody believe the PQ would be on this — what’s the word? — this crusade today, if 9/11 had never happened? Is anyone surprised that so many witnesses at public consultations on the PQ charter focus exclusively on Islam that government officials are left pleading with witnesses to mention other religions at least once in a while?

[...]

The moral collapse of the Quebec Liberal Party. These days you can’t find the Liberals’ new leader, Philippe Couillard, with a dog and a flashlight. I wish this were more of a surprise. The notion that diversity is a strength and that there are different ways of being Québécois is on trial. That notion has animated the Quebec Liberal Party, on its better days, for more than a century. But the Liberals decided 40 years ago that there’s room for only one party with any convictions in Quebec, and that’s the PQ. Couillard represents the third consecutive case — after Daniel Johnson and Jean Charest — where the party chose the most viscerally federalist leadership candidate on offer, then surrounded him with advisers who systematically advise him not to say what he believes. The results are predictable. The PQ sets the debate’s terms, the Liberals hide under the coffee table.

January 18, 2014

QotD: Belief

Filed under: History, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:59

Why do so many people believe in a god? Dennett’s Breaking the Spell is an attempt to examine that question, for Christian fundamentalists, Islamic teachers, Buddhist monks, atheists, and others. He begins by pointing to the commonality of pre-scientific answers in groups of people: “How do thunderstorms happen?” answered by “It must be someone up there with a giant hammer” (our example, not his). Then, probably after a minimum of discussion, a name such as “Thor” becomes agreed. Having successfully sorted out thunderstorms, in the sense that you now have an agreed answer to why they happen, other forces of nature are similarly identified and named. Soon you have a pantheon, a community of gods to blame everything on. It’s very satisfying when everyone around you agrees, so the pantheon soon becomes the accepted wisdom, and few question it. In some cultures, few dare to question it, because there are penalties if you do.

Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, & Jack Cohen, “Disbelief System”, The Science of Discworld IV: Judgement Day, 2013.

January 11, 2014

Poll on women’s head coverings in Islamic countries

Filed under: Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:17

From this graphic, you’d have to draw the conclusion that most people in Islamic nations are scandalized by the appearance of women’s hair:

Click to see the original report (PDF)

Click to see the original report (PDF)

An important issue in the Muslim world is how women should dress in public. A recent survey from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research conducted in seven Muslim-majority countries (Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey), finds that most people prefer that a woman completely cover her hair, but not necessarily her face. Only in Turkey and Lebanon do more than one-in-four think it is appropriate for a woman to not cover her head at all in public.

The survey treated the question of women’s dress as a visual preference. Each respondent was given a card depicting six styles of women’s headdress and asked to choose the woman most appropriately outfitted for a public place. Although no labels were included on the card, the styles ranged from a fully-hooded burqa (woman #1) and niqab (#2) to the less conservative hijab (women #4 and #5). There was also the option of a woman wearing no head covering of any type.

Overall, most respondents say woman #4, whose hair and ears are completely covered by a white hijab, is the most appropriately dressed for public. This includes 57% in Tunisia, 52% in Egypt, 46% in Turkey and 44% in Iraq. In Iraq and Egypt, woman #3, whose hair and ears are covered by a more conservative black hijab, is the second most popular choice.

Update: Of course, no discussion of the oppression of women in other countries can be considered complete until we’ve managed to find an angle where Western culture is significantly worse:

Studies have found that the average woman in the UK spends £26,500 on her hair over her lifetime, with 25% of respondents saying they would rather spend money on their hair than food. And women don’t just spend serious money on their hair, they spend serious time on it. On average, British women spend just under two years of their lives styling their hair at home or in salons.

Whether it’s covered by a veil or coloured by Vidal Sassoon, hair is a feminist issue. Indeed, hair is so bound up with ideals of femininity that, to some degree, the measure of a woman is found in the length of her hair. In the semiotics of female sexuality, long hair is (hetero)sexual, short hair is non-sexual or homosexual, and no hair means you’re either a victim or a freak. When Natalie Portman shaved her head for a film role she summed up these stereotypes with the observation that: “Some people will think I’m a neo-Nazi or that I have cancer or I’m a lesbian.” But Portman also added: “It’s quite liberating to have no hair.”

[...]

In a sense, women’s hair in the west functions as it’s own sort of veil, one which most of us are unconsciously donning. The time and money women spend on their hair isn’t just the free exercise of personal preferences, it’s part of a broader cultural performance of what it means to be a woman; one that has largely been directed by men. Rather than fixating on what the veil means for Muslim women, then, we should probably spend a little more time thinking about our own homegrown veils. Because it’s still an unfortunate fact that, across the Muslim and non-Muslim world, women are often judged more by what is covering their head that what is in it.

December 29, 2013

QotD: Memes and culture

Filed under: History, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:41

People in all cultures grow up and acquire a set of beliefs. One way of looking at this is to call the beliefs that are inherited “memes”. Just as “genes” code for hereditary traits, so memes are intended to show the inheritance of individual items, rather than a whole belief system. A tune like “Happy Birthday”, a concept like Father Christmas, atom, bicycle, or fairy — all are memes. A whole slew of memes that forms an interacting whole is called a memeplex, and religions are the best examples, which at various times and in various cultures have had, or still do have, many linked-up memes like “There is Heaven and there is Hell …” and “Unless you pray to this God you’ll go to Hell” and “You must kill those who don’t believe in this …” and so on. You will have some familiarity with other religions, and you will appreciate that we’re not saying that your religion is like that. It’s all the others, the mistaken ones …

Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, & Jack Cohen, “Disbelief System”, The Science of Discworld IV: Judgement Day, 2013.

December 27, 2013

QotD: The Church of England

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:47

“Getting the PM to choose the right bishop is like a conjuror getting a member of the audience to choose a card. With the Church of England the choice is usually between a knave and a queen.”

“The bench of bishops should have a proper balance between those who believe in God and those who don’t.”

“Bishops tend to live a long time, perhaps because the Almighty is not all that keen for them to join him.”

“The plans for a new church in South London had places for dispensing orange juice, family planning, and organizing demos, but nowhere to celebrate Holy Communion.”

“Theology is a device for helping agnostics to stay within the Church of England.”

“The Queen is inseparable from the Church of England. God is an optional extra.”

Jonathan Lynn, “Yes Minister Series: Quotes from the dialogue”, JonathanLynn.com

Older Posts »
« « The limits of redistributive politics| Peter Jackson’s variations from the original Hobbit story » »

Powered by WordPress

%d bloggers like this: