Yesterday after school, instead of going straight home, I went down to the town centre, and when I didn’t find anything entertaining to do there I took a walk along the river that cuts through the town. It is a lovely river, very well-behaved and very English. It meanders measuredly through town; neither fast nor slow. It matches the red bricks of the town houses perfectly.
I was sitting on a bench when two things occurred. I read elsewhere on the net about a pastor that had kicked out a scout troop in the USA because BSA changed his policies on gay kids. And, right next to me were one elderly man with a tattered plastic bag that gave the birds crumbs of bread, and a few metres away a couple in their thirties together with their daughter frolicked in the grass. The old man kept looking at them with this smile, as if he just enjoyed the sight of the little family.
Sometimes my innate Swedishness battle with my curiosity, and it seems that my Swedishness always win. I can’t bother people with silly questions. I must not intrude upon people. So, I didn’t ever ask the old man what he liked about the family. But then I read the article about the pastor.
In Johnson City in New York state, the pastor Donald Kidd of the Primitive Methodist Church evicted the Boy Scouts, this after 83 years of hosting the troop. According to the article, one of the things that the pastor said of the boys, after BSA’s decision to allow gay kids as members, was that they were “backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud”.
The contrast can not be more complete. I’m sitting here next to the river in a fairly prosperous town, watching a little family laugh on the grass, and I’m also watching an old man look at them with that smile as if he is wistfully remembering when he was in the younger man’s shoes, and how nice it was. At least that’s how the story that is unfolding in my mind is moving.
I have this game I sometimes do, when I watch people and try to understand why they do what they are doing. I give them motives, a past, a goal, a future. These thoughts were a part of that, but they were also more. A contrasting perhaps, or a confirmation of my own biases?
I’ve been down this path before, and I think I’ve said it several times already in different ways, but I believe that this linked opening scene of the movie “Love Actually” starring Hugh Grant has it right, and I further think that love is what defines human beings.
Oh we quarrel, and we bicker, and we are unreasonable, and we are indifferent or intolerant to strangers that we don’t know and who aren’t really persons in our lives but more like statistics. We blow everything out of proportion, and can spend years resenting someone for a slight that was performed in a few seconds. But incidents do not define a life. The one we thought of as a prime wanker then goes home, leaves our life for now, and spends time with people he or she loves.
When we look at the circle of friends, the families, the clans and kind surrounding each person I really think that the nice and decent people are in the majority. They can be full of self-deceit and self-importance, more often than not, but they can also be in a default state of decency. Every family has the drunk uncle, or the guy that beats his wife or children, and everyone has that relative that you don’t really invite to parties, but which you have to invite anyway because Aunt Petunia might be cross if you don’t.
If human beings were defined by hate, anger, and fear would not a weak old man with a bent back and nothing but a bag of crumbs flee from a family on the lawn and from yours truly on the bench? Would not the mother attack at once to protect the off-spring? Would I not be tempted to take the bag of crumbs from the feeble man? I could use it to lure the birds closer so I could kill them and eat them. Would I not display and chase away the other males nearby because they would be a threat? If aggression, hate, and anger were our main characteristics, could this pastoral scene exist? No.
Only with the “gospel of love” can humans be debased enough to feel all that. Only if we are all sinners, lost, contemptible can we be “saved”. Only if we are the betrayers of god and his will can we be these evil beings that must be saved by condemning young boys for things their national association decides, and then punish the same boys by evicting them and calling them “backstabbers of god”.
No. If we were left alone, we would not be pushed down by judgement to the point where we needed to be rescued at all. If boys and girls were allowed to be boys and girls, I think we’d do all right. But that requires removing pastors like Mr Kidd from any position of authority over the moral compass of human beings.
This week the arch conservative and staunchly traditional House of Lords passed the second reading of the same-sex marriage bill for England and Wales with an overwhelming majority. Next year, I expect, Mark and I will be husband and husband. For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth and condemnations from the prelates of the realm, and from their followers, two peers to one voted for the measure. In this country, at least, religion thankfully appears to be losing its grip.
So, in the future, I may come back with Mark, and as an old man feeding the ducks by the river, I can look at a younger gay couple and nudge Mark in the side and smile the same wistful smile as this old man did.