Sunday, July 15, 2007

Crazy guy, crazy days

The Blairs believe they eat the blood of Jesus. So should we sack them too?

By Polly Toynbee
Wednesday February 3, 1999
reposted from The Guardian

Intolerance is a terrible thing and everyone's against it. Britain wrongly prides itself on tolerating almost anything except of course whatever happens to be the particular intolerable item of the day. Today it's being rude about the disabled and having loopy religious beliefs.

Hoddle the Horrible is the latest victim of the new intolerance that puts a gag on everyone in the public eye, allowing them no views outside an ever shrinking list of well-censored platitudes.

First, the disabled. They are affronted and rightly so. But they are pretty good at standing up for themselves, as it were, and well able to give as good as they get against any lunatic blaming them for their wheelchairs. In the rough and tumble of debate, potty speculation on the causes of suffering in the universe is hardly likely to do the disabled much harm. They can be angry, they can be outraged, they can shout back, but that doesn't mean others should be gagged, let alone sacked for expressing weird opinions.

Freedom of speech means freedom for our arch enemies to say unspeakable things, not just freedom to say things we don't mind. Freedom and tolerance are difficult to live with, not easy. It means letting crazed, handless sheiks hurl down curses on christendom from north London mosques. It means fanatical mullahs voicing support for foreign fatwas against writers on soap boxes at Speakers Corner. It means gurus from the planet Zog touting scary millennialist nonsense without censorship. And letting football coaches whose brains are in their feet believe the force is with them when all the evidence is to the contrary.

It's plain that Hoddle's sin was not his belief that he is a blessed soul wrapped in a temporary corporeal overcoat. His sin was Batty missing that penalty, Beckham's foul and failing to play Michael Owen soon enough.

If we had won the cup, by now a book entitled something like How to Win With Good Karma: Glenn Hoddle's Scriptures would be top of the best sellers alongside the rest of the New Age and religious bunkum. Since the karma wasn't with him and everyone hates him, they picked on his religious creed as the reason he must go. His God just wasn't up to the job. His guardian angels didn't make the grade. Where were his personal seven wise councillors who have watched over his immortal soul since the beginning of time through every incarnation? When they greet him in the Home for Newly Arrived Souls in the Astral Plane to talk him through the video of what went wrong, I suppose they'll have to send him back next time in a wheelchair, damned lucky not to be a nematode. If he's sure he's going to be human next time, before he goes he should check out the web site for the Association of Reincarnation who have devised the ultimate will for saving his mighty pay-off, 'How to inherit your own money when you come back'.

The world is so full of mad beliefs, where would the sacking end if every public figure had to give their own account of the meaning of life and everything? The Blairs believe they eat Jesus's actual blood and body when they take Catholic communion, and that all in their graves shall come forth at the last trump. As for life after death, in some inchoate, sentimental, infantile and Disneyesque way, the great majority of people in Britain don't, won't, can't accept they'll really die. They are convinced of their own immortal survival. Ask them to explain either heaven or reincarnation and it's all a fuzzy mystery, a leap of faith. It's hopeless trying to ask any of them all those questions without answers: is everyone in heaven good? If so, where's the fun? If so, everyone would be unrecognisably different people. If we're all merged in some dazzling ball of light, who cares? How old are you in heaven? If it's the age you die, then most will be newborns and geriatrics, hardly heaven. If it's some notional optimal age, what about the babies who never got there? What do widows/widowers do when they find they have two or more spouses up there?

These are Christian questions without any possible answers, except those opaque mystery words that mask the impossible.

As for Hoddle's reincarnation, animals and people must be getting more moral, moving up the evolutionary scale, since there are now vastly more humans than ever before. And yet there's no obvious sign of this moral improvement. But Hoddle's religion is no more nonsensical than anyone else's looks once exposed to the cold, mocking light of front-page headlines: 'Blair believes he's got a father in heaven!' or 'Straw believes in a day of judgement!' Even we small band of very wise humanists, atheists and rationalists may harbour suspiciously mystical beliefs about the human spirit that might not altogether stand up to the scrutiny of aggressive newspaper scorn.

"Untenable", they claimed his position was, lacking last minute miraculous intervention. Why? Because the howls for his dismissal were so loud from all sides that he could no longer command the respect of his team. In other words, whoever is howled down must go, regardless of their offence. The press started it, but the politicians were hard on their heels, as they always are these days. Oh, for the day our leaders start leading and bark back at the dogs instead of joining the pack. Blair's briefers are saying he's despaired of the national press. But since his alternative is to dumb down to Richard and Judy, where he fell in happily with this populist anti-Hoddle hue and cry, that hardly suggests some newfound face-down-the-press stance.

No, the only way this feeding frenzy for tearing down public figures will end is if they start to get brave. Shrug, ask who cares? Insist that private lives and personal views are no-one's business when unrelated to their job. Mark out the ground between people's competence at work and whatever chaotic thoughts or deeds may occupy the rest of their time. Otherwise there'll be no end to this wolfish appetite for famous heads on spikes. (I thought of sending Hoddle a joke on a postcard, but it probably wouldn't draw a smile. A widow went to a medium to contact her late husband. 'What's it like on the other side?' she asked. 'Oh, not bad really. We run about a bit, eat a bit, have a bit of sex, run about a bit more and have some more sex.' 'Oh, I never knew heaven was like that!' she said. 'Heaven? I'm not in heaven!' he said. 'I'm a rabbit in Australia.')

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