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Sunday, 16 November 2008

Poetic justice

The saga of the poet Waterstone’s kicked out of their Cardiff shop has taken a new twist: Patrick Jones has now been invited to read his “blasphemous” poem to the Welsh Assembly.

(In case you need the background, click here for all the posts we’ve carried. Briefly, Patrick Jones wrote a collection of poems (pictured), and the book chain Waterstone’s agreed that he could stage a reading and signing at its Cardiff store, but pulled out when Christians threatened to disrupt the event.)

According to the website of Christian Vice – sorry, Voice – the Liberal Democrats’ culture spokesman in the Senedd (Parliament), Peter Black, has invited Jones “to insult Jesus”.

What Peter Black actually says – and this is taken from the Welsh Lib Dems’ website – is:

I was disappointed that Waterstone’s capitulated to the narrow bigotry of Stephen Green’s Christian Voice and cancelled a reading by Patrick Jones. I can understand that they would not want their staff and their premises subject to the sort of disruption that this fringe group were threatening. Christian Voice’s actions amount to the sort of moral bullying and censorship that has no place in a democratic society.

Stephen Green and his supporters have every right to object to the contents of this book, but they do not have the right to prevent other people reading it or listening to its author read from it. After appearing with Patrick on a radio phone-in, I decided to invite Patrick to come to the Assembly to do a reading here.

Art can only thrive when artists are free to express themselves. I’m pleased that we have found a way to ensure that people can hear Patrick’s poems and make their own [minds up?] on them.

Patrick’s work “The Guerilla Tapestry” was read at the celebration to mark the opening of the Assembly. I’m sure many people will look forward to hearing his latest work in the next month.

Stephen Green – who is a large percentage of Christian Vice, we suspect – has this to say on his website:

This is a creepy event at which Jesus-hating AM’s [Assembly Members] can swoon over poems packed with hatred for Christianity and which speak of Mary Magdalene and the poet having sex with the Lord Jesus Christ. They will also hear Jones’ unfettered hatred of Christianity, which he has somehow managed to convince himself is indistinguishable from Islam.

What they will not hear is Jones insult the prophet Mohammed. He dare not do that at all, let alone in the sexual way he insults Jesus Christ, whom he sees as a soft target.

Christians in Wales must not take this lying down. We need to stand up for our Lord against this attack on His honour and on the Church itself by Peter Black. He has gone out of his way to show contempt for Christians in Wales. As he is the LibDem Culture Spokesman, that means insulting Jesus Christ is now official LibDem policy. The LibDems have thus become a political party Christians can no longer in conscience vote for or take any part in.

Oh, dear! Can we just get one thing out of the way? I don’t think atheists, agnostics, sceptics, call us what you will, actually hate Jesus. If he existed at all, we can know nothing about him. How can you hate that which you know not? Only religionists can do that. Jesus of Nazareth may have been a nice guy within the context of the mores of his times. Who knows?

What we detest is what some – not all – Christians have done in his name. They seek to censor and to censure, to punish and to prevent, to hold up their own beliefs as the way and the truth and the life for all.

But Green uses the black-or-white tactic: if you’re not with us, you’re against us. In his case, if you explore Jesus through art, if you criticise him, if you explore what people have done in his name, then you’re against him and everything he did and stood for. Even if we knew his life story in that amount of detail, it would be impossible to disapprove of everything. Hate is a pretty powerful, all-enveloping word. It’s not a black-or-white affair.

To talk of “Jesus-hating” is a bit OTT, not to mention rich, coming from someone who seems to hate everything that is not Jesus, or intimately connected with him and the myths that have followed him.

Back to Jones. Yes, there is a line in a poem called “Hymn” that talks of Jesus and Mary Magdalene in a sexual context, but it’s hardly blasphemy (not that such a crime exists any more, Stephen), and the whole poem is a comment on religion (among other things) in general. Here’s a taste:

just like mary magdelene
i fucked jesus
just like mary magdelene
i have been deemed useless
i shall drift to dust [. . .]

The Welsh Assembly reading is scheduled for 11 December.

Wales’s national daily, the Western Mail, sides with Jones, too.

“ ‘Do we live in Iran?’ asked a bewildered Mr Jones,” it said yesterday, and then answered the question:

No, we do not, and this censorship should not have been allowed to happen. Waterstone’s must have been aware of the content of Mr Jones’ poetry – it is still for sale in their shops – so someone must have been satisfied that the work was appropriate for a public reading.

Stephen Green, the man behind Christian Voice, has a right to object to the contents of Mr Jones’ work, but Mr Green and his followers do not have the right to prevent others from reading, buying or listening to it. Mr Jones invokes the example of Iran; there are plenty of other eerie historical parallels that spring to mind.

One of the pillars on which our way of life is built is that the free exchange of ideas allows opposing points of view to be put and argued in a public or a private arena. The strength of an idea can be enough for it to carry the day – and even to go on and change society.

Mr Green may feel he has right on his side: the way to test this is through discussion and debate, not through disruption. If he thinks his ideas are the stronger, let him put them in a reasonable and calm manner.

The paper reports that Green and his cronies plan to protest at the Senedd, and the Mail agrees, as I’m sure we all do, that it is right and proper that they should be allowed to.

Thanks to Barry at the Freethinker for alerting me to this one. See his take on it here.

You can also see Peter Black’s own blog piece on the issue. There’s an interesting swipe at Patrick Jones among the comments that seems to think that insulting the mother of a living person is the same as referring to a fictitious incident concerning a mythological figure a couple of millennia ago.

We’ll also be carrying a feature on this issue in the next issue of G&LH.

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