Saturday, October 29, 2011

Free and Clear Speech

I have a whiteboard discussion starter for a unit on Freedom of Speech. Clicking on coloured boxes reveal photographs of people associated with issues to do with freedom of expression. Most of the photographs are rarely easily identified by this generation – Mary Whitehouse for one.

I try to update it every so often to keep it relevant and interesting. A couple of years ago Russell Brand made it on to the board after he and Jonathan Ross got involved in unpleasant telephone conversations with Andrew Sachs. It is always interesting to debate where the lines should be drawn between what you can say and what you can’t. Last year, we waved goodbye to Arthur Scargill and Fred Phelps took his place. He was the church leader who encouraged his flock to wave banners at the funerals of soldiers insisting that God was punishing America for its attitude to homosexuality.

Who shall I kick off the board this time to make way for a photo of either Dr Rowan Williams or simply a picture of St Paul’s Cathedral?

I confess that I haven’t been keeping up to scratch with what the protest is all about. Interim reports have kept me busy for a while. Protestors have pitched tents outside the Cathedral to draw attention to the greed of capitalism, the fat cat bonuses of bankers and the way in which the ConDem’s cuts are unfair and discriminatory.

There was an article in the “I on Saturday” about driving the protestors away from St Paul’s and how such a move has divided the Church of England. The people that should be saying something – like the Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams – are keeping silent on the issue. Silence is often a bad move where the church is concerned. Silence equates to agreement and approval - not something the church should be doing.

What really bugged me about the article in the “I” was their additional fuel thrown onto the fire in the form of “What the Bible says…” It is never a good idea to rip a verse out of context to make a point. “Render to Caesar the things that a Caesar’s” (Matt 22:21) was never the focus that Jesus was saying. That seems to some to be written in capital letters while the “Render to God the things that are God’s” seems to be in the small print at the bottom of the page!

“If any would not work, neither should they eat” 2 Thess 3:10. The same group of young people that discussed freedom of speech issues this week, discussed poverty issues this time last year. Where do people get the idea that poor people don’t work? The problem is not that they don’t work – they do, and often very long hours in very poor working conditions. The problem is that get paid crappy wages! There is another verse somewhere that says that the worker is worthy of his hire. Pay people a working wage! If you, Mr Cameron, want people to work for their unemployment benefit – stop calling it unemployment benefit – call it a job and pay a proper wage for it!

But what REALLY bugged me apart from the verses taken out of context was the version of the Bible they had used. There are so many accessible versions of the Bible. Did the journalist pick the “New International Version” or “The Message”? In favour of the protestors Proverbs 22:16 was quoted. “He that oppresseth of the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want.” “Want” what? Recognition? A fat bonus? Beautiful as it may be in language and poetry the King James Version was the wrong choice.

“He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich— both come to poverty “ is how the New International Bible put it.

“Exploit the poor or glad-hand the rich—whichever, you'll end up the poorer for it,” warns The Message.

It seems to me that by using the King James the writer is creating an impression that the Church of England, or the Church universal, is out of date and archaic, and has no relevance to today’s world, and has nothing to say about current issues that anyone can understand clearly.

I beg to differ.

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