Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Be that as it may... 4

H'mmm. Fireworks night, eh?

I have many times wondered about the wisdom thereof. So many injuries, disfigurements, opportunities for people to hurt themselves (and, more importantly, each other); it's expensive, trivial, momentary, intrusive for those who would prefer not to have vast explosions of extreme volume rending the night sky (which may be many parents of small children, come to think of it) and almost impossible to police to prevent careless folks bending breaking and ignoring the safety procedures, leading inexorably to a desensitisation about the dangers of playing with fire.

But these are the least of the issues. Much more important, imho, and fundamental is the whole rationale behind November the Fifth and what it celebrates.

We think of the political activist Guy Fawkes and his colleagues in the cellars under the House of Parliament, plotting with their barrels of gunpowder to kill the king when he came into the chamber. But they were discovered, arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to... death by burning at the stake. H'mm yes, that's our history folks. We used to do that to people. The English way was to treat our political dissidents with brutal forms of execution. It should be something to be ahsamed about, like our historic involvement in unjust wars, piracy, the slave trade, shocking treatment of children and women and the poor and the mentally ill...

No, we don't ritually make a public humiliation and spectacle of those who challenge our institutions these days. (In some cases, we rejoice and make merry over 'celebrities' immoral choices to have a family of children outside of marriage, to have serial lovers, to behave irresponsibly with dr
ugs or booze or - but that's another topic, really). Anyway, some might argue that the pendulum has swung too far towards care and kindness, seeking to get the criminal and the psychopath back into society as quickly as possible.

Yet we set aside time, money and rational thinking to celebrate the barbarity of our long-extinct laws of execution by a seriously cruel method. No, we don't have a Drinking Hemlock Week or a Hanging by the Neck Until Dead Afternoon; perhaps these are not adequately spectactular. But we do gather up combustibles into a pile, shove a dummy on top and make a great family night from the savage punishment meted out to this man who. after all, would probably have voted LibDem, if he had been given the opportunity, commenting on the authority of the monarchy and being disapproving of the two-party system.

And don't get me started on Lewes, and the way they do things there.

But it's a great evangelistic opportunity, Andy, they tell me. Harrumph, is all I answer. Surely we should have had our big party the week before, inviting families up and down the avenue to sit around dressed as characters who populate the occult - ghosts, skellingtons, ghoulies, the undead, evil spirits, witches, warlocks, elves, hobgoblins and all things demonic, while sending the children out to break with the general rules and for one night only to talk as many strangers as possible, to beg, to accept gifts from unknown and unsupervised grown-ups and stay up late, wandering about, and to provoke nightmares and fear and nasty surprises...

There's something wrong here, surely, with both of these dangerous 'opportunities'.

Evangelistic events should be focused on fun, friendship, conversation, food, civility, times of appropriate celebration (may I tender the following ideas: Christmas, Easter, start of the school holidays, birthdays, anniversaries - let those whose marriages last make a fuss about it, I suggest - exam results, homecomings, harvest, housewarmings, weddings, births, christenings & dedications, baptisms, etc etc).

Let celebration be restored to things worth lauding.
For goodness' sake.

4 comments:

badly dressed boy said...

A very well reasoned argument Mr Back. While I am 100% with you on Halloween (last year I refused to hold a halloween party in my Cub pack despite other sections of the group doing so), I hanker a soft spot for all things bright and fizzy.

Last year I sampled Lewes on bonfire night (owing to a conveniently located relative with a spare room). It was certainly an experience, and I enjoyed it, although it wasn't entirely pleasant.

I don't agree that Bonfire Night is not a suitable evangelistic opportunity, but your points are all valid. I think it is possibly a great opportunity to show our friends we do celebrate this day.

Last year, however, at my Cub November camp, the annual construction and burning of a guy on the camp fire was brought to an end by the presence of my Catholic assistant leader. Seeing as she'd suggested (and subsequently agreed not to hold) a Halloween party, I agreed that it was the same principle, and it made me think about why we burn a Guy.

That was far too long and rambling, but great blog Andy!!

BackChat said...

Rambling indeed, Mr Boy, but you touch upon issues of a religious nature which I did not have the boldness to mention. Nice one.

Rather splendid use of the word 'camp', too.

Now, 'hanker a soft spot'. I have heard 'hanker after' as a phrase, or 'have a soft spot for'. But your combination is as entertaining as it is creative. Some might use the term 'incorrect' but it is only a few, among whom I may or may not count myself.

Edward Rhodes said...

You raise a number of very important points Andy, however, I would like to make one historical correction (please note that this will not make pleasant reading).

Guy Fawkes' wasn't burned at the stake, he was publicly hanged (though not sufficiently to kill him) and then disembowelled and castrated alive before being beheaded, and his body quartered and allowed to rot in public as a deterrent to others.

This might make some people re-evaluate the fervour with which they celebrate the fifth of November.

Edward Rhodes said...

You raise a number of very important points Andy, however, I would like to make one historical correction (please note that this will not make pleasant reading).

Guy Fawkes' wasn't burned at the stake, he was publicly hanged (though not sufficiently to kill him) and then disembowelled and castrated alive before being beheaded, and his body quartered and allowed to rot in public as a deterrent to others.

This might make some people re-evaluate the fervour with which they celebrate the fifth of November.