Richard Holloway (2012) Leaving Alexandra. A Memoir of Faith and Doubt. Richard Holloway (2016) A Little History of Religion.

I guess I should review these books individually, but it’s my blog, I have god-like powers and can do anything I want. I asked Richard Holloway to sign my book, which is his autobiographical writing, when he visited Dalmuir library. He asked me what I wanted him to write in the flyleaf, I said that book you were talking about earlier, Andre Schwarz-Bart, The Last of the Just because I wanted to read it. I’m with the Society of Friends on this one, no kowtowing. No bended knee. Books are holy things. But what they mean that’s a mystery. Perhaps a blessed mystery.

A Little History of Religion has the merit of being little.  There’s not a lot of love there, references to divine love, followed by divine genocide, but the common feature of both books is a movement from faith to doubt. Richard Holloway is a prolific author. He is a former Bishop of Edinburgh, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church and Gresham Professor of Divinity. A theist believes in God. An atheist doesn’t believe in God. And an agnostic believe in both view. I’m a bit like that, only worse, or better, depending on your point of view. Richard Holloway’s autobiography, in particular, is a beautiful book because it is true. True to who he is now and compassionate towards who he was. Wisdom often takes a lifetime. Perhaps it never comes. And some religions that believe in the merits (and demerits) of reincarnation believes it may take lifetimes. I’m in no hurry to find out the truth.

The commonalities of both Holloway’s books are a belief not in doubt but in faith. The most dangerous kind of hate is certainty. The latest example is Trumpism, a back to the wall beleaguered party that triumphs against all the odds. This is combined with revanchist call for revenge against all those against them. Mary Queen of Scots for example had John Knox and his followers singing outside her window and shouting you’re getting it hen, as soon as we’ve got it. And they were right, but it took three blows of the axe, making her suffer first. She was going to hell anyway, or heaven, if you were a good Catholic.  The Plains Indians danced their feet off, but the white man wasn’t covered in ash, although Holloway does acknowledge buffaloes did come back, not so the Indians. Of course, the Palestinians on the West Bank shouldn’t be there because God bequeathed that land to the Israelites and everybody else is an interloper, because God can’t be wrong and no international laws or treaties can make that right. The Promised Land means The Promised Land. Move pal. Or else.  Just the same as Trump can’t be wrong because he is considered so right about making America great again. Anybody that have doubts is getting it. First on the hate list, China, second, Russia, next up the rest of the world. On bended knee we must come and return to a past that never existed to pay homage.

It’s not Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao or indeed Emperor Nero that provides the template for certainty among uncertainty but Nick Bostrom in his book Superintelligence. When the robots or whatever you want to call them figure out –very quickly – that the humans they are ostensibly serving aren’t very smart then they become gods. But even Gods have uncertainties, moments of doubt. These superintelligent robots will use all the earth and its distant stars capacities to reduce uncertainty to a point where it becomes absurd, in human terms, not that there will be any need for humans. But all religions are absurd, but they have a logic to them.

Holloway preaches a message of love. A parable he frequently uses is the parable of the blind man and the elephant. I attributed this to Rumi, but I may be wrong. Each clutches a trunk, an ear, a leg and describes what they feel and what they see. All are telling the truth of what they perceive. But when partial truth become the whole truth each sect goes to war over their vision and allows no dissent. A tusk can never be an ear, because God does not allow such things.

Note the righteousness of religion. It can never be wrong, because God cannot be wrong. A tautology that is rarely taught. Another parable Holloway is fond of is the Good Samaritan.

A man fell among thieves who left him naked and unconscious on a dangerous and deserted road. A priest came along followed by his assistant. They were good men who wanted to help, but their religion prevented it…Next along is a Samaritan, one of the races Jews were forbidden to associate with. His religion has the same prohibitions as theirs.

Both men are religious in their own one, but only one is compassionate as God is compassionate. And it’s a common refrain in Holloway’s writing, ‘the institution that claims to represent God can easily become God’s greatest enemy’. Amen to that.

Another parable Holloway favours is Matthew’s parable of workers in the vineyard all coming at different times and being paid the same rate of pay. God’s like that Holloway is saying and we don’t really understand Him (although He might be a She, but is never an It). If you don’t believe me, he says, read Job. According to scripture God gets into a bet with the devil and lots of bad things happen to Job, including losing his wife and family, all his wealth and suffering from endless and painful diseases. What makes it worse is ‘Job’s comforters’. They seem to have all the answers, but when God appears he’s not happy (God is never happy, or he doesn’t appear) and his standard stick is ‘my wrath is kindled against you and your two friends…’ I guess that means hell and everlasting damnation. But God is good to Job. He stops torturing him. And he gives him a new family and even greater wealth. Holloway is good at this bit. Basically, he’s saying what anyone with common sense would say, ‘fuck off, god, I liked my old family, even the smelly dog.’ And I’m with Holloway with this one if Abraham agreed to sacrifice his son, well, there’s something a bit sick about that.

Holloway’s call for a godless morality might be beyond us, for the very good reason we might not be here much longer. I don’t believe in the rapture. I believe in the apocalypse of greed and gross stupidity. Oh, well, I guess, our parents have been saying the same things for years. Things ain’t the way they used to be. I’m sure I’ll look good as a dead person. Go on, with your god-like powers, use that line from The Life of Brian. ‘We’re all individuals!’

Voice from the back of the crowd, ‘I’m not.’

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Jack’s Big Day Out -Dalmuir Library

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If we exclude the launch party for my debut novel Lily Poole, where I didn’t have to do anything much, but go to the bar and buy drinks and get a couple of selfie-styled photos, then yesterday’s outing in Dalmuir Library was my first outing as an author. There were only two things made me more nervous than losing something on a flip of the coin.  A heads up (i) There would be an audience. (ii) No audience. The tale of the latter was far more likely. My partner Mary asked me if I wanted her to go. She couldn’t really be bothered. Hasn’t read the book, wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about, but on the plus side Dalmuir Library is only a ten minute walk away. I hinted if she came along at least I was guaranteed an audience of one.

As any budding author knows playing the shucks-you-wouldn’t-let-down-card, if such a card exists in modern sagas with pre-nup agreements always works. I think what swung it for me was the Waltons was on the telly and presented a picture of prairie life as it should be. Mary put me right. It wasn’t the Waltons but Little House on the Prairie. I get a bit confused with nostalgic images of long-lost yore and life in pre-Trump America, but sure as fate, a pigtailed and incredibly young looking Laura Ingalls was in the next shot. She was planning to go on a picnic with a raccoon and her sister, whose name nobody can ever remember, (spoiler *  she went blind at some point in later programmes, probably looking for food for picnics), but they planned to enjoy themselves regardless of whether they had food or not, because in those halcyon days they made do, a picnic without food was still a picnic. I guess they could have hunted and eaten the raccoon, or raccoon tail, because everybody in America is licensed to carry a gun except black men and Mexicans. I missed what happened next because I didn’t want to be late. Bob, Mary’s son couldn’t be bothered going to the snooker, so the potential audience had just doubled, or increased one-hundred percent, whichever sound more impressive. It was icy on the roads and pavement, I clung onto Mary’s jacket because I didn’t want her getting injured, and as they say in theatre land, break a leg, especially as she’d have missed all the fun. Bob had to deal with global warming on his own.

I wasn’t sure if the library was open, but three push-bikes were parked in the rack outside, which was encouraging, but then three people came out and rode away on them. On the plus side, Donny, West Dunbartonshire’s Champion Reader, which sounds like a cartoon character, nipped into the library in front of us and led the way.

If I included Donny and the two librarians working behind the counter my potential audience had increased by a multiple of three. A person smarter than me with a HNC in PR would have been able to calculate that number in audience growth rates above the mean, in terms of integers, and put positive spin on it (and ignore the negative and equalizing values that the audience were all paid employees of West Dunbartonshire Council). Things were looking good for a quick and diplomatic exit.

However, as anybody that’s ever been to Dalmuir Library knows that’s the place where they first got the idea for Dr Who’s Tardis. Donny the Champion Reader led me into the Tardis room and there were seated give or take a few bodies, around 15 000 folk. I recognized some of the faces. Pat McDade hadn’t given any hint on Facebook, where he lives, that he’d be making the journey to reality. But there he was seated in the back row close to Jim Mirren, his wife and father-in-law. Mary and Robert went to sit beside him. In the middle tier were the author Emma L Clapperton and her mother Margaret. They smiled to encourage me to hurry up and get it over and done with. In the front row a man with slicked black hair, blue casual wear and soft shoes clutched his ticket nervously and later asked me to autograph it.  The librarian had to bring in more chairs, which might or might not have been a good sign.

The Champion Reader graciously offered the much prized and  sought after padded swivel seat at the front as my throne. Pat’s voice drifted down, some belittling remark about me being unusually early for someone that prided himself on being fashionably late. Jim McLaren breenched in and then we needed another seat for Louise, Alan’s fiancée, but they’ll probably never get married because he’s grey and going bald. She’s already swithering, but her secret is safe with us. Don’t tell anybody, unless you have to.

John, the head of West Dunbartonshire Libraries, stood up, and  like father of the bride, did the mandatory announcement about safety issues, where the toilets were and read a short speech about me. Donny remarked that was quite a good blurb and that he should know because he sometimes had to write them. I didn’t say it was a pretty good blurb because Unbound’s was crap and I’d written it, but that was the only time I was modest. After that I claimed to have read every book in the English language and some in schoolboy French and was in the process of re-writing them and making them better. After yakking for several hours Donny had me saying au revoir and had to pull me away from my audience and push me outside where he had a taxi waiting and the meter showing a bill of £321.

‘Money well spent,’ was my parting remarks to him.

I’m not sure I’ll be invited back. But with a library card in my possession I will not be thwarted in my plans for global domination.

Des Dillon at Dalmuir Library, 2pm.

Last Saturday, when I was in Dalmuir Library, Gregor Fisher was doing a gig at 7pm. It was sold out. Tickets only. But let’s put this into perspective. Dalmuir Library is not the Albert Hall. Sold out means about thirty hard plastic chairs filled by wee woman with blue rinse and bookish leanings. A stocky wee guy with a bit of the blue rinse about him was setting up the microphone, practicing saying one-two, one-two. I didn’t want to tell him that it gets harder as you get older because I was sure he’d learned that himself. I just let him get on with it.

Today I learned that wee guy was called Donny O’Rourke and he’s the dedicated reading champion of West Dunbartonshire libraries or something like that. It sounds a bit like Batman, but with books, instead of Robins. He was master of ceremonies and did the introductions for an old pal of his – Des Dillon. I didn’t know a lot about Des Dillon. I can remember Ann Marie at a film and television course making a face which meant he’s not really one of us, because he’d left early, written a play called Singin I’m No a Billy He’s a Tim.  Ann Marie probably won’t remember me either. And if she does I’m sure she’ll make the same scrunched up face. I left the course early too, never to amount to much. True, of course. But there you go. The next time I heard of Des Dillon was when I bumped into Sharpie. He told me he’d been to a play. Obviously, if you come from Dalmiur that’s not the sort of thing you admit to. You can say things like I stuck the heid on the wife, but even though it was her fault, it was a total accident. People will nod their head in recognition. Or the dog fell out the windae, but it wasnae my fault. It wasnae my turn to take him out. There’s three storeys in that one story, but going to the theatre. Fuck off. But then Sharpie explained he went with Jackie and it was her idea. That makes it kinda OK. Then Sharpie explained it was funny. One guy  jaked up wakes up in the cells and turns round and the guy sharing his cell is a Billy boy. He’s a Tim, a Taig, a potato muncher and the Sons of William and he go to it and gie it laldy. I’ve never seen it, but that’s my kinda play.

Des is a wee guy, brought up Coatbridge and the first thing he told us was he was proud of his Da, because he was 72 and went to the gym, so he could scrap, and he’d battered the guy upstairs from him that was 53. Then he told us he was here to read poetry. That’s hard for a guy to say. Especially, a working-class guy.  He played it down by telling his audience about how he’d posted some of it on Facebook and forced his fourth wife to read it. Yeh, fourth wife. We got that old story about when you’re first married and you have sex and you put a pea in the jar on the mantelpiece… and later in life when your libido fails and you take a pea out there’ll be always be something left in the jar. Multiply that by four and that’s a lot of jars. That’s a lot of mantle pieces. And Des was good at that. Telling that’s where story telling in Coatbridge begun. Elbow on the mantelpiece telling the story of who did what to whom – and that wan had a shotgun. And then there’s the drink. Des is AA, been non-toxic for 30 years. I guess he was too busy getting married. But we know about that. Then there’s the language of deference. How we are talked down to because we don’t speak Received Pronunciation. Discriminated against. Des said he turned down a contract with the BBC, a ten-part adaptation of one of his books that would have netted him upwards of £100 000 because of the BBC’s coverage of the Independence Referendum. Des is part of the 45%. Vocal in the ways that those above us with power fuck up the working class. I know all that. But it was good to hear it verbalised. Des is one of us.

Poetry wise, Des was a bit nervous. He rattled through his poems. One about Lena Zavaroni, Mamma He’s Making Eye’s at Me, and how full of the wine he sang outside his sweetheart’s house of his true love. There was a sonnet and he talked about the diamond shape of verse and how restrictions can make the poem, but I can’t remember what it was about. Coffee and tables were set up, but I nipped away. I’m not sure about poetry, but I am sure I like Des Dillon. One of us that has given voice to the violence done to our language and the poor by the gatekeepers of society. Who benefits? That’s the question Des leaves his audience with. Post your answer in poetry and give voice to working-class culture. Let’s give insurrection voice and  bring the tanks back to George Square.