Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Metaphorical Squirming of Horace Goolan

As a schoolboy, Horace Goolan had learnt about the Reformation, the name that historians gave to the change in the religion of most of north Western Europe from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism.  Even now in his sixties, Horace could remember a few key facts about it. In 1516, or ’17, or something, Loofah had nailed his faeces to a door after living on a diet of Worms etc.

Another aspect of the Reformation that Horace wasn’t too sure about was what might have been called, but wasn’t, the Thirty Nine Articles. This factoid was the number of different positions that various strands of Reformation religious belief, (eg: Roman Catholic, High Anglican, low Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinist, Baptist, Anabaptist, Erasmian etc), held about the status or nature of the bread and wine ritually used in the Christian mass.

These positions formed a kind of spectrum. On one end the wafer was the flesh of Christ and the wine was his blood. On the other bread was bread and wine was wine, and if one’s particular sect celebrated mass at all, it might as well have done so with a turnip and a cup of cold tea, or find some other, or no other way of expressing whatever it was that mass expressed.

In between the poles of flesh and blood and nothing and nothing, there were ranged many intermediate positions, such as the belief that the bread was bread and the wine was wine until Communion at which point these things somehow, and for a strictly limited shelf life, “became” flesh and blood, specifically that of Christ. Others thought that Bread and wine were only symbolic or only symbolic until a priest touched them in the correct context, and so on, and so on.

It looked absurd to early twenty first century eyes, or at least to that pair of them protected by the skull of Horace Goolan; but in other parts of the early twenty first century world, people were drawing up and strictly enforcing numerous edicts about male beard length, or how much hair could show from under a woman’s scarf.

As Horace contemplated various emails, tweets, blogs and websites via his computer, he had begun to wonder if nit-picking fanaticism was not actually an inherent, deep-wired tendency in humans which, if it couldn’t be  focussed on bread, wine, beards or scarves; would get fixatedly focussed onto something else, such as the precise attitude that should be taken towards a British South Coast town council proposing to set an annual budget that would entail it in making cuts to the services that  it provided to the public.

Most of the digital correspondents whose messages  Horace saw, disapproved of cuts to public services, but this was an attitude that, in terms of public pronouncements at least, spanned most of the British political spectrum, unlike the USA where some politicians would say outright: “Damn the poor, let them starve!”, early twenty first century British Conservatives might imply that although they found hurting the poor, distasteful, they had to do it. Indeed, some seemed to find it so distasteful that, like Victorian gentlemen debauching child prostitutes, they literally found that what they did was unspeakable.

Liberals and the British labour party, (which by 2012 could hardly call itself socialist any more), also said like schoolmasters about to inflict corporal punishment; “I’m sorry it hurts, but it must be done, so down with your trousers and out with your bum.” And then others further to the left and probably further way from any prospect of real political power, floundered around mouthing like fresh caught fish in various media. Those who had got elected to a South Coast town council on an agenda of planetary rescue, used devices like extensive public consultation to conceal the fact that they too were rippers in dark alleys intent on doing a swift bit of slicing before slipping away into a dense green pea soup-like fog, leaving the coppers to ask “Whodunnit?”

The messages coming out of Horace’s computer suggested as many political stances in relation to this as there had been Reformation attitudes to sacraments. Some called the cutting councillors “traitors”, advocated walkouts, mass resignations and setting “Illegal” budgets. Others said, in effect “condemn the sin and not the sinner” ie don’t be rude to rippers and choppers as they are ripping and chopping because bad central government is forcing them to rip and chop; once they had finished and put their bloody cleavers down, they would get on with doing all the nice things, or at least those nice things that they had managed not to cut, which had been promised in their electoral leaflets and manifestos.

Horace dodged, weaved and vacillated agreeing with as many as often as he could. He swam, squirmed and slimed like an eel through the tentacles and past the beaks of many, many, many octopi. He was not dead in the water but he felt pulverised by the positioning and certainty of those around him, also swimming in the polluted seas of political discourse. They trumpeted and spouted out statements, jibes, attacks, pledges and condemnations.

Would it all blow up? He wondered. Would a cataclysm come, freezing and fossilising him and those around him in mud which would then be pressured into stone for museums, temples, ministries and palaces of some unknown future epoch? Or would it, like a squib, leave a trail of hot air behind, becoming like attitudes to bread and wine, a footnote of obscure political history? 

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