Monday, July 02, 2012

That Would Be An Ecumenical Matter (2)

The Barons compelled John to sign the Magna Charter, which said:
1. That no one was to be put to death, save for some reason - (except the Common People).
2. That everyone should be free - (except the Common People).
3. That everything should be of the same weight and measure throughout the Realm - (except the Common People).
4. That the Courts should be stationary, instead of following a very tiresome medieval official known as the King's Person all over the country.
5. That 'no person should be fined to his utter ruin' - (except the King's Person).
6. That the Barons should not be tried except by a special jury of other Barons who would understand.
Magna Charter was therefore the chief cause of Democracy in England, and thus a Good Thing for everyone (except the Common People).
                                    1066 And All That

What would Jesus have said about gay marriage?

I don't know, and neither does anybody else.

What did Jesus say about marriage?

Jesus said that marriage was absolute and irrevocable; divorce not so much forbidden as logically impossible.

It is (almost inevitably) more complicated than that. What follows is very boring indeed.


A story is told about what happened when a group of Jewish legal experts asked for Jesus’ opinions about marriage. The story can be found (in slightly different forms) in Mark and Matthew's gospels. Most scholars think that Matthew learned it directly from Mark. This is how Mark tells it:

And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?” tempting him.

And he answered and said unto them, “What did Moses command you?” 

And they said, “Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.” 

And Jesus answered and said unto them, “For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife’ ‘And they twain shall be one flesh’. So then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”

And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.”

The lawyers are referring to a passage in Deuteronomy which states that if a man is unhappy with his wife he can dissolve the marriage provided he gives her a written certificate to that effect. She is then free to remarry; but if her original husband changes his mind again, he can’t have her back. It’s this (relatively rare) question about divorcees getting back together that Moses seems to be ruling on. The passage doesn't so much permit divorce as take divorce for granted but forbid men from marrying the same woman twice.

But under what circumstances can the original husband dissolve the marriage? The Deuteronomy text sounds fairly specific: "if it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand...." What does "some uncleanliness" mean? This seems to be the question that the Pharisees are trying to catch Jesus out with. Matthew's version, indeed, says that they asked him “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?

"Can a man divorce his wife just because he feels like it, or only under certain very specific circumstances?" Faced with a choice between two mutually exclusive alternatives, Jesus naturally chooses the third one. There are no circumstances under which divorce is lawful. Set aside what Deuteronomy says; go right back to the creation of the universe and have a look at how God originally set things up.

Some people talk as if Jesus was a kosher rabbi who just wanted Jews to be better at being Jewish, and that it was nastybad St Paul who invented the idea of Jesus the iconoclast overturning the Jewish Law. But here is Jesus talking about the Torah as if it was a contingent thing which Moses thought up, and appealing to an earlier, divine law against which Moses' teaching could be judged.

As everyone knows, the book of Genesis contains two quite different stories about God making the first humans. In the first story we are told that "God created Man in his own image. In the image of God created he him; male and female created he them". The second version contains a funny story about how, when "Adam" was found to be inadequate by himself, Yahweh "grew" "Eve" out of part of his body. The point is that both versions say that men and women were originally a single creature that somehow got split in two. In the first version, "Adam" is both male and female — either a hermaphrodite, or else a composite being made up of a male half and female half. It's this male-plus-female entity which is said to be the image of God. In the second version, "Eve" was originally part of "Adam's" body -- his rib. When two people fall in love, it's like the two halves getting back together. "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh." Jesus wanted this to be taken at face value. "Can't you read?"  he seems to say: "they are no longer two people, but one person. So of course they can't be split apart."

I have in front of me a Christian Union book called "The Message of The Sermon on the Mount". It was written by John Stott, who was much cleverer than me and had studied the Bible for much longer and in much more detail. Talking about this passage, he writes:

"Thus marriage, according to our Lord's exposition of its origins, is a divine institution by which God makes permanently one two people who decisively and publicly leave their parents in order to form a new unit of society and then 'become one flesh'."

But that seems to me like a bland, social-worker-ish gloss on the passage; as if he's trying to translate it into prose before we've understood the poetry. Harold Bloom's speculative reconstruction of the story's source (the lost, hypothetical "book of J") seems to get the point across much better:

Starting with the part taken out of the man, Yahweh shaped the rib into a woman, returned her to the side of the man.

"This one is flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone" said the man. "Woman I call her, out of man she was parted". So a man parts from his mother and father, clings to his wife: they were one flesh.

And look: they are naked, man and woman, untouched by shame, not knowing it. 

So once you are married, you can't be unmarried. A piece of paper saying "I'm no longer married" doesn't make you not married, any more than a piece of paper saying "I don't have a head" means you don't have a head. I don’t see any other way of reading this.

Before moving on, we should probably cast a glance in the direction of the dog which didn't bark. Obviously, we shouldn't attach too much importance to what the text doesn't say. Just because Jesus didn't mention something, that doesn't mean he didn't think it mattered. He might have thought it was so obvious that everyone would take it for granted. But we should at least record in our notebooks then while he is talking about marriage, the one thing that Jesus doesn't refer to, at all, even in passing, is, er, babies 

So: what about the plain passage from Deuteronomy which permits divorce? Ah, says Jesus: Moses only said that as a concession "for the hardness of your hearts" ("because you are so hard to teach"). The more I think about this, the less confident I am that I know what it means. Marriage after divorce is adultery; but Moses (reluctantly, because of the poor raw material he had to work with) permitted remarriage after divorce; so did Moses permit adultery? Are we to imagine him sitting at the foot of Mount Sinai says "Well, the Ten Commandments is more guidelines than rules"? This isn’t the usual Christian line: the usual Christian line is that the Torah added to basic moral laws which everyone agrees with (don't murder, don't steal, don't cheat) a whole lot of extra rules about washing after you’ve eaten shellfish and chopping bits off little boys which only applied to Jews, and which Jesus subsequently lifted. It isn’t usual to say that Moses permitted certain sins but that Jesus revoked the concession. 

I can’t parse it any other way than to say "Jesus seems to acknowledge that there are two kinds of marriage: the really really real marriage in which two human beings merge into a single creature; and a lessor state of living together which can be dissolved through a legal process, but which may be the best that we hard-hearted humans can marriage." It seems to be clear that he is saying that in his kingdom, only really really real marriage is going to be allowed.

According to Matthew, this is what Jesus' disciples took him to mean. "If that's how you understand marriage" they seem to say "Then celibacy is the easier option". ("If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is good not to marry.") Jesus agrees, rather cryptically, that “there be eunuchs that have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake” but adds "All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given….He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." This has usually been taken to mean something like "Yes, celibacy is better, but I am only advising it, not commanding it." But again, that seems to weaken the force of the original passage. In context, it almost seems to mean the reverse: "Yes, marriage is very difficult: most people will have to take the easier path of celibacy". But isn't it interesting that having said that getting married is like two people becoming one flesh (irrevocably) he says that being celibate is like physically maiming yourself (also irrevocably). You either add a bit to your flesh, or cut a bit of it off. Hermaphrodite or eunuch; your choice.

If I were going to press the text in directions that it probably doesn't want to go, I would wonder out loud whether it was of any significance at all that the this incredibly difficult story, in which Jesus says that Christian marriage is almost impossible and that some of his followers may have to deny or remove the sexual part of their natures altogether, is immediately followed in both Mattew and Mark by the story in which he tells his disciples that if they want to be part of his kingdom they are going to have to become exactly like children.

And now we come to the difficult bit.

The core of the passage is clearly the verse about divorce and adultery. It is quoted in Mark, where it is not part of the discussion with the Pharisees, but an additional teaching Jesus gave the disciples in private. It is buried in a group of miscellaneous sayings towards the end of Luke's gospel, without any surrounding narrative at all. And it is quoted by Matthew twice: once in the Pharisee story, and again in the famous Sermon on the Mount. But where Mark thinks Jesus said:

Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

Matthew thinks he said:

Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

"Except it be for fornication". "Except for marital unfaithfulness" says the New International Version of the Bible. The Good News Bible goes out of its way to be confusing, as usual: "even though she has not been unfaithful", it says. Either way, it's a pretty substantial get-out clause. It almost turns Christian marriage into one of those wild west gunfights where you have to wait for the other fellow to draw first so you can shoot him and claim self-defence. Both man and woman are committed to a life long relationship, but when one sleeps with someone else (a sin) the other becomes free to marry again sinlessly. Which is very hard to reconcile with the rest of the passage. The disciples don’t say “Whew! What common sense and pragmatism: Jesus' version of marriage isn’t so arduous after all.” They say "Jesus is making marriage so hard that spiritual self-castration sounds like a preferable option."

Now, Miss Walker taught me that any differences between the four Gospels came about because, although the four writers were honestly writing what they remembered, different people naturally remember slightly different things. You wouldn't expect my essay about the school trip to St Albans to be exactly the same as Helen's essay about the school trip to St Albans. If we accept this theory, we would have to say that we simply don’t know what Jesus thought about marriage Mark and Luke think he said one thing; Matthew thinks he said something completely different.

Which is why it is easier to accept the view of the majority of scholars that the synoptic gospels are the result of a holy cut-and-paste job. We have to imagine Matthew copying the story of Jesus' discussion with the Pharisees more or less word for word out of Mark's Gospel, coming to the part which says that married people can never be divorced, thinking "Jesus can’t possibly have meant that: he wouldn't have commanded the impossible" and adding a few words of his own so it reflected what Jesus must have really meant. (*)

The existence of this inconsistency — the fact that Matthew is different from Mark and Luke — seems to me to be very nearly the most interesting thing about the whole passage. God makes an absolute rule: no divorce, ever — that's just not how the Universe works. Moses comes along and says "When He said 'no divorce', He meant 'no divorce without the proper paperwork.'" Later, Jesus says "Moses exceeded his authority. In my Kingdom, 'no divorce' is going to mean 'no divorce'." And Matthew writes this down as "'No divorce' means 'no divorce unless your partner is already cheating on you'."

"But Andrew: surely you must mean 'Matthew under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote this down as…' Because obviously, every editorial or scribal change to the text of the Bible up to May 2nd 1611 was directly and infallibly inspired by God, and any change made after May 3rd of that year is the work of PC new agers watering down the Word of God at the behest of the Frankfurt Group...."

Well, yes: obviously that must be what I mean.

But either way, we have to say that someone incorporated lines into the Bible which softened or granted exceptions to what seems to have originally been an absolute rule. Someone thought that there could be, and had to be, some gap between Jesus' concept of eternal marriage and how people could actually live. We have an exception to an absolute rule being introduced into a text which is about Jesus removing an exception which had been introduced into an absolute rule. 

And that's pretty odd.


Astute readers will have spotted several pages ago where I am going with this. The various Druids, Archdruids and former Archdruids who have recently been holding forth about marriage take Jesus at his word when he says that a marriage is something which takes place between a man and a woman, and say that it can't be between a man and a man or a woman and a woman because that's just not how the universe works. But they interpret Jesus with some liberty when he says that marriage is indissoluble -- even though it was the impossibility of divorce that he was actually talking about.

If we take Jesus at his word, we would have to say that we do not have any such institution as marriage in modern Britain. If marriage is the voluntary union of one man with one woman to the exclusion of all others for life then then mere possibility of divorce means that what you are signing up to isn't marriage. It certainly isn't marriage if you get a lawyer to draw up in advance a legal document about who gets the furniture if you decide to break the solemn unbreakable promise you haven't made yet.

This seems to me to be true even if you don't think that it matters one way or the other what Jesus taught about marriage. If you think that that human beings are basically fornicating chimpanzees you might still want to bestow legal and financial advantages, as well as a certain amount of status and respectability, on those chimpanzees who solemnly promise to stay together, come what may, for their whole lives. (In fact, the more strongly you believe that human beings are fornicating chimpanzees, the more reasonable it might be to want social structures in place to encourage life long coupling.) But I don't understand how you can add "But of course, you are completely free to break this solemn promise if you both agree, and then you'll be free to gain the same legal and moral advantages from entering into another promise of life-long fidelity that you don't intended to keep."

According to the Church of England's website Senmatu (current Archbishop of York and next Archbishop of Canterbury) as saying that we shouldn't redefine "marriage" as something which can happen between two men, because:

1: Thats not what the word currently means ("we must not torture language")

2: That's not how it was done years ago ("it's set in tradition and history")

3: That's not how it was done years ago ("very clear social structures that have been in place for a long time")

4: Sometimes bad people have tried to make big changes which haven't worked out too well ("that's what dictator's do")

But surely language, tradition, history and social structures are very much the kind of thing that you would expect governments to make laws about? It's only if you believe that marriage is not a social structure, but something hard-coded into the universe on Day 1 (or at any rate Day 6) that making changes to it becomes an issue. 

If we have accepted that life-long-but-not-really relationships between men and women can, in a manner of speaking, be described as "marriages", it is hard for me to understand why, for some of the Druids, extending the word "marriage" to cover life-long-but-not-really relationships between two men or two women is such a deal-breaker. Particularly when the whole content of the Gospels seems to point to a tension between what is ideal and real and what is possible in practice. "All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.... For the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this precept."

I don't know if Jesus literally believed in an hermaphrodite Adam living in a middle eastern oasis about four thousand years in the past. He certainly didn't think that when a man goes to bed with a lady, they literally merge into an hermaphrodite. (And he really, really didn't intend even a small minority of his followers to lop off their own genitals.) But he seems to have taught that human marriage has a magical element to it. Something supernatural happens. It isn't about how we organize society; its about what is really really real. If this is what the various Bishops believe, I wish they would come out and say so in so many words. If it isn't, then I wish they would shut the hell up. 

(*) Scholars think that Matthew and Mark both had access to a lost fifth Gospel called "The Bumper Book of Jesus' Best One-Liners" or "Q" is you are German and humourless. They incorporated the "sayings" of Jesus from "Q" into their re-writes of Mark in different ways. The fact that the "adultery" saying crops up by itself in different contexts in Matthew and Luke suggests that they found it in Q. This is interesting, because it suggests that "If a divorced man remarries, he's committing adultery...." was originally a saying in its own right .... possibly an unexpurgated quote from our Old Friend The Historical Jesus. Is it, indeed possible that the conversation with the Pharisees and the speech about eunuchs were commentaries on the "divorce" saying, made up by first-generation Christians and put into Jesus' mouth in an attempt to clarify what they thought he meant.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

That Would Be An Ecumenical Matter (1)

Racism (1) – Having a deep, irrational, visceral dislike of people of a particular race.

Racism (2) – Behaving in a way, or holding a belief, that is to the disadvantage of a particular race.


"Mr Smith must be a racist, because he does not employ any Ruritanians in his kitchen."

(Racism (1) He does not give jobs to Ruritanians because he hates them.)

"No, Mr Smith is not a racist. In fact, his daughter is married to a Ruritanian, and he employs several Ruritanian waiters and backroom staff. He does not hire Ruritanian kitchen staff because he thinks that Ruritanians cannot cook."

(Racism (2): His behaviour unfairly disadvantages Ruritanians in at least one particular respect.)


Racism (1) is usually conscious. Daily Express readers hate Muslims because they are Muslims, and know that they do. 

Racism (2) might very well be unconscious and unexamined.

"As a matter of fact, Mr Smith never hires Ruritanian chefs. When this was pointed out to him, he was surprised, because he honestly thought he was just hiring the best person for the job. He’s going to try to be more fair next time he hires kitchen staff.”

Bad thinking habits can be very difficult to break out of. In fact, Mr Smith contracted food poisoning after a eating a plate of Ruritanian ghoulash in 1983 which left him with a sense that Ruritanians and nice food don’t go together. 

Racism (2) may therefore be more harmful and insidious than racism (1).


Some people claim that all instances of Racism (2) actually arise from Racism (1): Mr Smith’s belief that Ruritanians can’t cook really comes from a deep ideological belief that Ruritanians are sub-human fiends who will be put on the first train back to Ruritania when he’s running the country. He’s got the bee in his bonnet about their cooking ability because he thinks that’s all he can get away with right now. 

But while that might be true in a particular instance, it seems  pretty unlikely that all erroneous beliefs and prejudices come from blind hatred. It’s actually more likely that Racism (1) grows out of Racism (2) — a sincere and superficially reasonable resentment against the chef who inadvertently poisoned you turns into a a general resentment against anyone who looks or sounds a bit like him. Which is, of course, a good reason to jump on dodgy assumptions like “No Ruritanian can cook” and “Every American is a gun touting fundamentalist” whenever you hear them.

It is at least theoretically possible — imaginable in some possible world — that Ruritanians really do make bad cooks, in the same way that Klingons really do make bad ship’s councellors and Betazoids really do make bad security officers. 

If the facts supported Mr Smith’s beliefs about Ruritanian chefs, would we say:

a: His beliefs are racist but true,

b: Since his beliefs are true, they are not racist

c: Bring me a new set of facts

Am I free to say “I don’t actually need to listen to any records; I know in advance that white men can sing the blues just as well as black men becasue the alternative would be racist.”?


It is clearly much worse to hate everyone from Ruritania than to think that no-one from Ruritania can cook. But it’s much easier to write a fair law insisting that you give everyone a fair chance of working in your kitchen than it is to write a fair law preventing anyone from sitting at home hating Ruritanians.


We could choose to use English in such a way that everyone who believed in 1900 that women should not be allowed to vote, or should not be allowed to vote yet,  and indeed everyone who failed to support the women’s suffrage movement with sufficiently wholehearted enthusiasm was “sexist”, since they clearly held a belief that was to the disadvantage of 50% of the population. 

We could also chose to use English in such a way that we only applied the word “sexist” to those to opposed (or failed to sufficiently wholeheartedly support) the women’s suffrage movement because of an a priori belief in the general inferiority of women, or because of a misogynistic opposition of the whole idea of female people. 

That would be a question about language; not about voting or about women.


“Some people opposed giving adult women the right to vote in elections because they were sexists; other for a variety of different reasons” does not mean “I personally don’t think women should be allowed to vote” but I fear that, whatever we do, some people will take it that way.


If I were an anarchist, I might say that voting is completly meaningless, so it doesn’t make any difference who is allowed to vote and who is not allowed to vote. Would I be free to say that it was not “sexist” (or “racist”) to refuse to bestow a completely meaningless privelage on one section of the population? Would we say that society was “sexist” because it debarred men from riding on pink unicorns? If a woman is debarred from some activity or privelage which is meaningless in itself — say, the right to drink in a particular bar, granted that there are other equally good bars where she can drink, and other equally good bars where both men and women can drink — can this be defined as “sexist”? 

If so, then sexism would have to be defined as “behaving in a way that differentiates between genders in any respect whatsoever”. This is problematic because many people think that the genders are, in fact, different in some respects. It might also get us into weird situations where we had to say that, say, a carnival which celebrated Ruritanian dress, Ruritanian music and (very importantly) Ruritanian cooking was “racist but good”. 

Virgina Woolf would, I think, have argued that while there is nothing wrong with having women-only bars in principal, in practice, the women-only bars will inevitably end up having better beer and better bar snacks than the men’s only bars, so and actual concrete disadvantage will have crept in. This may very well be true.

These are points about language, not about bar snacks, unicorns, carnivals or To The Lighthouse. 


Someone who was wrong on the internet asked whether there was any good reason for the Archdruid and his various predecessors' and successors to be opposed to the proposed redefinition of “marriage”.

“No” replied someone else “Its pure homophobia”.

This seems to be on exactly the same level as when the Prime Minister said (in all seriousness) that the cause of crime was "criminals".

I don't think that the Person Who Was Wrong was asking “Are the various druids' remarks examples of homophobia (2)”: they clearly are, because they clearly differentiate between homosexuals and heterosexuals to the former’s disadvantage, (granted you believe that being able to marry is an advantage, a question that we can leave in the air for the time being.)

No-one could possibly think that it was worth saying  “The Druids are homophobic because they are homophobic" any more than they would think it worth saying "Mr Smith thinks that Ruritanians can’t cook because he thinks that Ruritanians can’t cook".

So the person who says “The Druids disapprove of gay marraige because they are homophobic” must think that they are offering an explanation. They must be saying “The Druids disapprove of gay marriage because they are homophobic in sense 1”: they disaprove of it because of their deep, visceral, gut-level hatred of homosexuals.

Well, maybe they do. And maybe they don't. That is the question. 

“Do the Druids disapprove of gay marriage because they hate gays, or for some other reason?”

I do not know the answer to this question, because I have not examined their souls sufficiently closely.

And niether, I contend, have you.

Friday, June 29, 2012

That Would Be An Ecumenical Matter

"I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or catholics."
Woody Allen

The Enemy described a married couple as "one flesh". He did not say "a happily married couple" or "a couple who married because they were in love", but you can make the humans ignore that. You can also make them forget that the man they call Paul did not confine it to married couples. Mere copulation, for him, makes "one flesh". You can thus get the humans to accept as rhetorical eulogies of "being in love" what were in fact plain decriptions of the real significance of sexual intercourse. The truth is that whenever a man lies with a woman, there, whether they like it or not, a transcendental relation is set up between them which must be eternally endured or eternally enjoyed.
C.S Lewis -- The Screwtape Letters

A great many people think that if you are a Christian yourself, you should try to make divorce difficult for everyone. I do not think that. At least I know I would be very angry if the Mohammedans [sic] tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.
C.S Lewis -- Mere Christianity

But now look at pages pp 26, 30 and 31 [of Mere Christianity]. There you will observe that you are really committed (with the Christian church as a whole) to the view that Christian marriage -- monogamous, permenant, rigidly "faithful" -- is in fact the truth about sexual behaviour for all humanity: this is the only road of of total health (including sex in its proper place) for all men and women...Do I not then say truly that your bringing in of Mohammedans [sic] on p 34 is a most stinking red herring? I do not think that you can possibly support your 'policy' [of a two-tier marriage system] by this argument, for by it you are giving away the very foundation of Christian marriage. The foundation is that this is "the correct way of running the human machine". Your argument reduces it merely to a way of (perhaps) getting an extra mileage out of a few selected machines.
Letter from J.R.R Tolkien to C.S. Lewis (not posted).

I say we shall have no more marriages. Those that are married already, all save one shall live. The rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery - go!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Songs of the Old Communist

Leon Rosselson
Cellar Upstairs Folk Club, London
16 June


When I arrived at the little upstairs room in the Exmouth Arms, Leon Rosselson was already sitting in the front row reading the Guardian, which is what you would have imagined him doing before a concert. The compère introduced him as the greatest living English political songwriter; an assessement with which it would be very hard to argue. Like a lot of people, I knew his songs long before I had heard of him. I just kept noticing that my favourite performers -- Martin Simpson, Martin Carthy, Billy Bragg, Dick Gaughan and Chumbawamba had all covered Leon Rosselson songs. (Come to think of it, they all covered the same Leon Rosselson song....

If you'd only heard Billy Bragg belting out "in 1649 to St Georges Hill...." you might be taken aback by the little man with the squeaky voice (I almost wrote “nerdy”) chatting away about 1970s environmental protests and an arts project he was involved in which used an old London bus as a performance space. He steers clear of the famous, well-covered songs: no Stand Up For Judas, no Palaces of Gold...the man sitting behind me shouts out for The World Turned Upside Down but he doesn't sing that, either. (I think it was the man sitting behind me who took the above footage on his phone: thank you, man sitting behind me.) He does sing "raise a loving cup to Abiezer / he's a dancing, drunken, roaring, ranter" as an encore, though. Winstanley's Diggers broke away from Abiezer Coppe's Ranters: I expect you knew that. 

Several of the songs have that kind of anthemic, sing-a-long chorus. He spends some time teaching us ("Pete Seeger style") the words and tune of a newish, English take on the big rock candy mountains ("I'm going where the suits all shine my shoes...") But what he does best are patter songs and story songs and thesis songs. He's almost like Jake Thackray with the sex and catholicism replaced with left wing politics. (The ghost of George Brassens -- Jake's hero too -- appears to him in one song to tell him to carry on writing regardless of what everyone thinks.)  Over and over again, he tells us about little men confused by a world in which everything is commoditized. There's the old tale about the man who finds that a motorway is going to be built through his back garden, and the newer one about the man who achieves celebrity by committing suicide on live TV; and the familiar story of poor Barney, forced to work in the factory when all he really wants is to make junk sculptures in his garden (suggested by a Marxist book about the condition of workers in communist Hungary, apparently.) Production lines keep turning up as symbol for everything which is wrong with capitalism:

It was press, turn, screw, lift,
early shift and late shift,
every day the same routine
Turning little piggies into plastic packet sausages
to sell in the heliport canteen

Some of the political points may be a little bit obvious: his response to teh riotz is to say that the rioters are only doing the kind of thing that made England what it is today –

Francis Drake, now there's a looter 
Plundering the Spanish main...
Was rewarded with a knighthood
Looters deserve nothing less

But more often, he takes us off into complex slabs of poetical political theory that you really have to concentrate on: 

What do you feel said the land to the farmer?
"Sweat on my brow" the farmer replied
"Sun on my skin" said the spring time lover
"Ball at my feet" the young boy cried
And the man whose eyes were made to measure
Said “Proud to invest in a high-yield area
Concrete and glass and stake in the future...”

The club isn't amplified and the language and argument require close attention; which makes for a pretty demanding evening. But it's clear that everyone in the room respects and reveres him as a song writer; the phrase "hanging on his every word" just about covers it. 

It's a cliché to say that Rosselson's songs are better when other people sing them. People say the same thing, equally unfairly, about Dylan. It's perfectly true that Billy Bragg on the one hand and Martin Simpson on the other have taken his songs and turned them into their own, wonderful things. But it's in the lessor known story-songs that his real genius lies, and I don't think anyone else can do them better.  In a funny way (considering what an unassuming performer he is) the evening is carried by the force of his personality. A little man who can't always get his guitar to stay in tune and who sometimes stumbles over his own lyrics, speaking for little men who are having motorways built through their gardens.

As before, the club itself was the star of the evening, with a stream of talented performers getting up to take floor spots. Resident singers Bob Wakely and Ellie Hill  did cheerful renditions of Clyde Water (drowned lovers), Sheath and Knife (brother-sister incest) and an, er, homage to the Carthy / Swarbs Sovay. Tom Paley did an American song about – I'm not sure what it was about. There was a skunk involved, and everybody said “whack diddle eye day” a great deal. It dripped authenticity. Someone whose name I didn't get did a killingly camp version of an old music hall song taking the mickey out of Scottish people. But the highlight was the fellow who sang a song of his own in praise of the National Health Service. I don't know if the roof was raised for the song itself or for the sentiments behind it, but raised it most certainly was. It's a very brave man who sings protest songs in front of Leon Rosselson.


A few of my favourite of Mr Rosselson's songs, for people who do not have a theological objection to Spotify.

Friday, June 08, 2012

"I learned that I was right and everyone else was wrong when I was nine. Buck Rogers arrived on the scene that year, and it was instant love. I collected the daily strips, and I was madness maddened by them. Friends criticized. Friends made fun. I tore up the Buck Rogers strips. For a month I walked through my fourth grade classes, stunned and empty. One day I bust into tears, wondering what devastation had happened to me. The answer was: Buck Rogers. He was gone and life simply wasn't worth living. The next thought that came to me was: these are not my friends, the ones who made me tear the strips apart and so tear my own life down the middle; these are my enemies. I went back to collecting Buck Rogers. My life has been happy ever since."

Ray Bradbury

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Parish Notices

If you are one of the 16 people who likes to read me wittering on about folk music then could you please click on the word "folk music" on the side bar and you might find I had nearly typed up my last three months worth of notes. Will try to stay more up to date from now on.

In other news, some of my books are now available on epub (that's "Nook" , mostly, I think) format on the Lulu website, and the ones which aren't will be shortly. There's also a dead tree version of the Star Wars book. 

Jack Kirby was quite good; Paul McCartney was the second best Beatle; we're English, we'd be disappointed if it didn't rain on a Bank Holiday.

Monday, June 04, 2012


Jack did fight for our freedom of speech over in Europe during the Second World War, so I think it would be a sad day if any criticisms of his former editor Stan Lee were deemed “Stan Lee Bashing” and those posts were not allowed at the Kirby Museum and censored because certain individuals threatened not to support the Museum project because they took offense to posts critical of Stan Lee.

Rob, dear heart, no-one is saying that "any criticism" of Stan Lee is to be deemed "Stan Lee bashing". You appeared to be arguing that Stan Lee made no contribution whatsoever to Marvel Comics; that Stan Lee never wrote a single word of good dialogue in his whole life. Some people, including some of Jack's biggest admirers, consider these claims to excessive. Other people consider them to be batshit insane.

This really is a pretty pathetic rhetorical device.

"I think that Mr Politician sleeps with goats and drinks the blood of teddy bears"

"Those, Sir, are outrageous claims, and if you do not withdraw them, I shall sue you for libel and or slander." 

"Ah, see what Mr Politician is like! The minute you make the slightest criticism of his economic policy, he threatens to sue you. Now we see the violence inherent in the system! Help, help, I'm being repressed!"

What did Stan Lee create before and after he worked with Jack? 

After Stan Lee worked with Jack (and Steve) he produced about 60 issues of Spider-Man, the whole run of Silver Surfer, maybe 30 issues of Captain America. Someone can do the sums, but I would imagine that, in total, Stan's Marvel output with other artists is greater (in pages) than his output with Kirby. In my opinion the Romita-Lee Spider-Man and the Buscema-Lee Silver Surfer are inferior to the Ditko-Lee and Kirby-Lee versions. But they are the received versions of the character; the one everyone knows. Despite his credit, there was very little of Ditko's character (apart, obviously, from the costume design) in the three Spider-Man movies.

If the point here is that he didn't create or originate any characters except in collaboration with Kirby or Ditko, then I would tend to agree with you. The one exception is She-Hulk. (Although significant supporting characters and villains are introduced when he is working with other artists: Mephisto, Kingpin, Rhino, Mary-Jane Watson.) But every informed agrees that Stan Lee was not the sole creator of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Thor or Doctor Strange. (Many of these characters seem to be the result of a synergy between a number of creative individuals: I don't think anyone has ever claimed that Larry Leiber created Thor, but Larry Leiber clearly didn't have nothing to do with the creation of Thor, either.) It's the claim that his copy-writing made no contribution to the artistic success of those comics which makes us accuse you of Stan bashing.

After leaving the Beatles, Ringo Starr had two US number one singles, a top 10 UK album, a career as an actor and children's TV host, and is reckoned to be the 56th richest individual in the UK. He played the drums on John Lennon / Plastic Ono band, which is odd if Lennon considered him to be such a poor drummer. 

It's very hard to imagine the Beatles without Ringo. Pete Best walking along the canal in Hard Days Night? Pete Best singing Yellow Submarine? Pete Best composing Octopuses Garden? Of course, that Beatles, the imaginary non existent Beatles might have been better than the actually existing Beatles. But it would certainly have been different.

What I’ve always said is this: why doesn’t someone start a Stan Lee daily weblog and talk about something special Stan Lee did every day instead of complaining about Stan Lee’s critics?
I'm up for this. 

I've been wanting to do a detailed critical exegesis of the first 30 issues of Spider-Man for a while. Not "every day", but I would imagine we could a get together a group of people who actually used to enjoy Marvel comics and do something pretty regularly. Sensible people, I mean: not ones who think its clever to say "Jack Kirby never drew a single decent panel in his whole life." 

Anyone else up for this? (Seriously.) 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

New of Momentous Importance

Where Dawkins Went Wrong

The Viewer's Tale

Fish Custard

Do Balrogs Have Wings?

with other e-book formats to follow shortly.


*"real time" reviews of Episodes 1 - 3

*that thing I wrote about the Hero's Journey

*parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of "Little Orphan Anakin", though not necessarily in that order

*other bits and bobs

Only available on Kindle; other e-book formats and dead-tree edition to follow shortly.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Entirely possible that I'll write something in the next month. In the meantime, here are a few songs to listen to on the 14th May.


Playlist of Songs About, Er, Intercourse

Monday, May 07, 2012

It Takes All Sorts

Bristol Folk Festival
5- 7 May
Colston Hall

Bath Ales have ludicrously re-branded “Barnstormer” as “Barnsy”. I would no more order a pint of Barnsy than I would eat a Snickers bar. The organizers of the second Bristol Folk Festival had evidently taken to heart some of the complaints about last year's refreshments: the addition of a “beer tent” on the ground floor and some festival friendly snacks at the caff were a great help, although the Mexican frajita place over the road did very good business.

On Monday evening the compère does the Folks Men joke again. Everything is folk music, he says, because everything is written by and performed by folk, not by, say, plants or animals. So the Anglo Celt Sound System is totally folk.

They play a sort of young people's night club dance music; with that drum rhythm dominating everything, while a front man in a turban does his thang on one of those huge drums and another one plays Irish whistle or Northumbrian Pipes. I could recognise it has as having some connection to instrumental folk – several musicians all doing their own thing on their own instruments in such a way that it all comes together into a single thing that you dance to. In that sense it was quite similar to what the people in the bar were doing with fiddles and squeeze boxes. (Folk-buddy #1 claims that they even went into Cuckoo's Nest -- a Morris tune with filthy words that no-one ever sings -- but I had evidently stopped paying attention by that point.) The band definitely had a following: people were forming a queue an hour before they were due to come on stage. But I couldn't help noticing that other people were also leaving before the end.

Doubtless if you liked this kind of thing this would be the kind of thing that you liked. But it was a bit niche to finish the festival on. Last year we had Bellowhead and glitter coming from the ceiling. Everyone likes Bellowhead. This year we had a very good night club band; and a sense that the actual folk festival finished with Sam Sweeney and Hannah James doing their delicate traditional tunes and clog dancing (how can a form of dance based on having blocks of wood on your feet be so damn graceful?) before we let the Young People do their thing for a couple of hours before bed time.

Did I not once tell you to avoid anything with the words "Celtic" or "Fusion" in the main job description?

There was a big stand on the bridge outside the main hall selling "old fashioned" sweets – white chocolate things with hundreds and thousands on them, rice paper sherbet flying saucers, Hershey bars, multi flavoured pretzels. I liked the Finnish liquorice best; soft like a truffle, sugary on the outside, salted on the inside, a very strong liquorice taste without the chewiness I like the taste of salty licquice, by usually find that much salt is a little nauseous. I think that liquorice like porridge, should taste of itself rather than being used as a sugar delivery mechanism. I think the same thing about Krispy Kreme Donuts, but wouldn't go as far as putting salt on a donut.

When I said that I didn't like “Celtic” music, some people affected to believe that that meant that I didn't like Celtic music. Which would obviously be ridiculous. Sunday's headliner, for example, was the slightly too ethereal for my taste Cara Dillon, backed up with what (I am assured) was a who's who of famous Irish instrumentalists. I am no expert in what is technically known as the diddly-diddly-dee sub-genre (sub-sub-genre “look how fast I can play this damn whistle”) but that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy it. Ms Dillon, of course, didn't use the c-word. She called it “Irish music” or more specifically “this is a tune from County Tyrone.”

Ewan McLennan was by some distance the best thing I heard over the entire weekend. He came on to the stage and practically whispered "A Mans and Man For A'That". And then, in case we'd missed the point, played "Auld Land Syne" on his guitar. You forget that these tunes, belted out at so many drunken parties, have a real proper melodic beauty if you trust them. But the soft, feathery delivery could wrong-foot you: before long he's bringing the same style to protest songs; turning "Banks of Marble" from a rabble rousing soap box thumper into a meditation on injustice and then topping it with an almost too painful to listen to version of Old Man’s Song.

We're living on the Pension now and it doesn't go too far 
 Not much to show for a life that seems like one long bloody war
When you think of all the wasted lives it makes you want to cry 
 I don't know how to change things but by Christ we'll have tae try

Oh, and an audacious reworking of Bob Dylan’s Blues from the Radio 2 Freewheelin' project. Take a silly, filler song. Slow it down. Deliver the lines as if they mean something even if you don't have the faintest idea what. Someone said that he sang it better than Bob Dylan's version. I don't think that's true. I think that this sort of cover is always sort of kind of engaging in an inter-textual debate with the original. If we didn’t know how Almighty Bob sung it, we wouldn’t we gasping with amazement at Ewan’s reworking.

Celtic indeed.

I think that I shall become the kind of person who likes liquorice I shall make a big thing of it. It's the sort of thing you might right on a character sheet in an RPG to show that you have an interesting personality.

Luke Jackson was by some distance the best thing I heard over the entire weekend. I wish I hadn't raved about him quite so much after Frome, because the set he did in the more intimate Colston Hall 2 was on a whole different level. Five years from now, he will be the biggest thing in folk, unless they steal him from us an make him into a pop star. The photos on his Facebook page show signs that someone is trying to brand him, which would be a shame. There's an honesty, even a naivety to his performance; telling us that a particular song is the one that been in his act for the longest (he's not yet 18) or introducing a traditional number with “I'm not quite sure who wrote this.” He has a deep, mellow voice which lets him pull off an old spiritual like Poor Wayfarin' Stranger with an intensity that I can hardly believe. There's absolutely no sense that he's mimicking a more experienced singer: you feel he's felt it himself. But its the self-written songs which crystallize his own experience: climbing trees, riding his bike in the park, realising he's going to lose track of his three best friends, hearing people on the bus running down teenagers. They are so perfectly done that listening to them almost seems voyeuristic. He encores with Oakham Poachers ("Steve Knightley asked me to do something traditional”) and while its clearly a cover of the Show of Hands arrangement, it suddenly, startling goes into his own bluesy riff on the final line. Astonishing.

"You may now cross off "dead children" on your O'Hooley and Tidow bingo card" tweeted Folk-buddy #1. This was immediately retweeted by O'Hooley and Tidow. Twitter is a powerful friend and a dangerous enemy. At one level, live tweeting events like this is great fun; and occasionally helpful, when other twits tell you what is going on somewhere else. At another, it tempts you to spend the event in the twittersphere, not in the moment (which is always a problem for a writer, even without the 140 character limit). And the acts themselves are reading your tweets. Since Folk Buddies #1 - #4 refused to eat the Hershey bars I purchased from the liquorice shop I idly tweeted "I wonder if the band like American chocolate" "Yes please" tweeted back Mawkin "Enjoy the set..."Which is sweet: but it makes one immediately reluctant to tweet “this band sucked”. Actually, my general rule, being one who does not know anything about music but knows what he likes is to only review acts I've enjoyed. When I hear someone I don't think much of, I generally leave well alone.

(Which is not, by the way to be construed as meaning that if I don't review something I thought it was awful. I had a great time listening to Andy Irving at the the Folk House in May. He's one of my favourite singers. Specially liked his straight down the middle version of the It Was Sad When the Great Ship Went Down to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the wassisname, and his very traditional Stewball. I just didn't get around to putting pen to paper. I also failed to say anything about the very wonderful Monty Award Winning Chris Rickets at the same venue. His version of Leaving of Liverpool reduced the entire audience to tears, and I was impressed as hell that he finished up with What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor. Not ironically or post- modernly; he just seemed to trust the song. Neither Andy Irvine nor Chris Rickets were at the folk festival. Now I've confused everybody.)

Instrumental folk is not always my most favourite thing, but Mawkin do it better than anyone I've ever heard. That was precisely 140 characters, that was.

O'Hooley and Tidow were by some distance the best thing I heard over the weekend. The last time I reviewed them, I described them as "depressing" (a fact they apparently remember). Actually, this isn't entirely fair. I would now be more inclined to say "haunting". Some of their songs pass almost unnoticed at the gig and then come back and kick you in the teeth three days later. The musical setting of a sentimental Victorian poem called Little Boy Blue, for example. They hold it, as so many of their lyrics, at arms length; there is something detached, and therefore chilling, about their performance. The verse is pure sentiment; it could almost be an Edwardian parlour ballad. But in the middle of the song, something altogether more contemporary cuts in; with percussive piano and declarative singing, it's an unsettling ultimately very moving shift in direction. (Clever, too: the line "but as he was sleeping an angel song awakened our little boy blue" would have been cloying.) But the tune is deceptive; I suddenly found the melody (“what has become of our little boy blue”) drifting to the top of my consciousness a week later and making me feel sad for no reason at all. There own lyrics love to hold up the ordinary for observation: the astonishing song about the old couple's coach trip to Blackpool piles trivial detail on trivial detail ("and the handbag with the fiddly catch that sometimes nipped her finger / but it matched her coat and sunday shoes so it really didn't matter") with an urgent, driving rhythm. It ends "'Have you enjoyed your day trip?' Vera says 'It were real'." Lancashire people do use "It were real" to mean "I had a good time"; but the line is taken up and repeated over and over until it becomes a sort of Samuel Beckett existential yell at the universe. Or something.

I have also previously raved about Solarferance. Folkbuddies #1, #2 and #3 all bought their album, which proves that I was right. They are the ones who stand on the stage with Macbooks, making strange noises with mortars and pestles and musical saws and live looping them, while singing very detailed close harmony versions of traditional songs. I think Folk-buddy #1 is probably correct that they need to work on their stage personae; Nick in particular has a slight tendency to look like someone doing a send up of disc jockey; but it's early days and what they are doing is fantastically difficult. "I never had but one true love" is awfully clever, The multi lingual Cutty Wren is still the best thing they do; the point, at which, I think, they passed beyond being awfully clever to actually making music. 

Every folk festival, I assume, involves a young woman singing "I'm Being Followed by a Moon Shadow", "Streets of London" and "Leaving on a Jet Plane." I have no problem with this. I would be sorry if it didn't happen. The sense of being at folk festival is an important part of being at folk festival. I have more than once been in a not very pleasant venue drinking not very nice beer when a not very talented young man with a hat, beard and guitar sits on a chair and sings a not very good song about the banking collapse and how it relates to the young lady who is no longer dating him and thought "this is exactly what I signed on for". I described her on twitter as "charming". Folk-buddy #1 wanted to know if my liquorice had been drugged.

Show of Hands did a fairly restrained set. By their standards. Regular readers will be aware that last year's performances was the best set ever done by anyone anywhere and they made no particular attempt to top it. They are never less than very good. We had a Cousin Jack and an AIG, Phil got to do Jamestown and Innocents Song, Steve Got to Home of a Million Dreams (which I don't think is as good as he obviously does) everyone did Keys of Canterbury, and we wound up with Now You Know Will You Come Back To Me. There was a hen night. A group of young ladies with a big banner that read "Getting married but still in love with Steve and Phil". (There are some folk performers, such as Seth Lakeman for example, who you can easily imagine young ladies adoring for their boyish good looks. Phil Beer and Steve Knightley, not so much.) This rather boosted the party atmosphere. I don't think Steve did as much banter as he usually does, since he spent most of the period between the songs engaging in call and response with the girls. Which was fine. In fact it rather underlines what a showman he is; quite able to fool around with the hen party, and then dedicate his last song to them, and say "good luck for the big day" in a stage whisper before quitting the stage. Wanting to postpone the debate about whether objecting to the common fisheries policy -- or indeed listen to a song about a character who objects to the common fisheries policy -- makes one a Nazi, I hung around in the hall and had a chat with the ladies. They'd were serious Show of Hands fans. They'd been calling out for him to sing Poppy Day, which is an incredibly depressing song about a drug dealer and had been at the Albert Hall concert the previous month. They said Now You Know was their favourite song; I said that Cousin Jack always makes me cry because my Daddy was Cornish. We left feeling that we were the best of friends.

That's the kind of band they are: not necessarily my favourite song writers (1) or my favourite live act (2), but never failing to catch the mood of the hall (angry last year, festive this year) and create a corporate experience. Godlike, in other words.

Lucy Ward is beautiful and lovely and funny and clever and I think I am probably in love. She drew a little heart on my CD and was just as lovely meeting the fans off stage as talking to them on stage. The picture of her on her album makes her look like a fey Monroe-ish starlet In real life she has bright blue hair and says that the best thing about Shrewsbury is that every third shop sells cakes. (She lived on macaroni pie during the folk week, apparently.) She has a sense of humour and comic timing which makes you think that she could probably hack it as a stand up comedienne if she wanted to; but in between the bubbling are some very dark songs. Alice in the Bacon Box is about a lady who ends up in the workhouse because someone takes her cardboard box away. Its based on a true story. She's good at making unexpected turns, as with her “traditional English song by Jarvis Cocker” which she does so well and, er, audibly that it made me go back and listen to the original. The recording which catches her stage act the best is Maids When Your Young, which is sung with an absolutely conspiratorial level of filth which is a joy to behold. She was by some distance the best thing I heard over the weekend.

Many people thought that Lady Maisery was the best thing over the whole weekend. There was a squeeze box, clog dancing and a strange Norwegian thing which may really be called "diddling" in which you sort of sing instrumental numbers. And there was a song about a fairy.

Dan Walsh plays the banjo and Will Pound plays the harmonica. Half way through, Dan did his banjo solo. You know that thing where the music gets so quick that's its obviously the climax, and everyone claps, and then he gets even faster? He did that three or four times. Brilliant (and he was properly playing a tune as well, not just showing off.) It was obviously the best bit of musicianship anyone did over the whole weekend the whole weekend (seriously).

"Hmm...8 out of ten" said Will when he returned to the stage.

Some years ago I was involved in the design of a computer game about pirates. There were different kinds of pirate ships, each with different attributes. (It was, as I may have mentioned before, described by the Daily Telegraph as "adequate".) In several years of writing documents and setting up auto-correct functions, I still discovered new ways of miss-spelling "manoeuvrability".

I feel very much the same way about liquorice

I didn't get very near the free stage this year because there was so much going on in other place, but would award several points to an Irish student Celidah band, quite possibly called Really Potcheen, who did things like Galway Girl very nicely and honestly. They described New York Girls as a Bellowhead cover, which says something about the nature of the Tradition.

And the Appliejacks who did appallachian clog dancing. At one point, the nature of the venue meant that the music from upstairs and the music from downstairs was in competition. English Morris dancing and American clog dancing. On Sunday, the man with the big Indian drum taught some of the morris dancers how to dance. 

Now, that's what I call fusion.

(1) Chris Wood
 (2) Chumbawamaba

Thursday, May 03, 2012

speaking of national anthems: that Nobel Peace Prize would make a nice birthday present, wouldn't it?


Sunday, April 15, 2012

I wish I’d kept the Private Eye cartoon of the publisher holding a large manuscript with the title “Bugger All.”

“Actually, Mr Frobeshire”, he is saying “when we said ‘write what you know’…”

Of course, we know what “write what you know” means: it means “write what you know and not what you read in some book”. You don’t have to be a vampire to write a teenaged vampire novel (though it probably helps) but for god-sake don’t set it in a trendy high school in California if you went to a bog-standard comp in the north of England. You’ll end up looking like a wally. (See also under Rowling, J.K.)

I mention this, because regular readers may have spotted that I am terribly reluctant to write about what I know: the interesting stuff is what I don’t know. On an average day, I work out what I think about DC’s opportunistic piece of shit Watchmen knock offs in the act of writing essays about them (essay = trial run). On a good one, I catch the eureka moment of consciousness on paper. I still think that the “What I really think about Matt Smith” piece is the best I’ve ever written.

At some point, I’m afraid I am going to have to come back and have another go at the marriage thing, which ought to be interesting, because I’d like to figure out what I think. I’m a bit reluctant to do so because I don’t know where I will end up; and I’m fearful of colliding with the brick wall of people who already know, and who, indeed, have declared in advance that no other viewpoint is conceivable. Go one way, and I’m actively working towards the downfall of western civilisation; go the other, and I’m simply a Nazi. A while back, I wrote a few lines on one of those forums about what I understood Clause 29 to have been, and why I think it came about. “A small-minded over-reaction to the use of some arguably age inappropriate sex-ed material in junior schools”, I think I said. Whereupon I was roundly accused of supporting genocide, or at any rate, supporting people who supported genocide.

You can see my reluctance.

But here is one thing I'd have to sort out before I started. I'm asking the question, you understand, because I don't know the answer, not because I do.

What does the Church of England think about voluntary celibacy in marriage? 

And come to that, what does the Church of England think about the voluntary separation of married couples?

See, if I’ve got this right, the Church of England thinks that God invented marriage for three purposes - Procreation, Sex and Companionship. There was also a sort of big meta-reason: he intended the relationship between a married couple to be a sort of icon of the relationship between Jesus and the Church. 

This iconography does not, incidentally, make marriage a sacrament in the way that solemnly re-enacting the Last Supper is a sacrament: note that the prayer book has a Sacrament of Holy Communion, a Sacrament of Baptism, but a service for the Solemnization of Marriage. Very clever people who say that the Church of England regards marriage as a sacrament may be making an honest mistake; people who talk about marriage “having a sacramental dimension” (very probably “in a very real sense”) are deliberately trying to throw dust in your eye.

Not sure where they got the “first, marriage was ordained for the procreation of children”, part from, either. The Bible seems pretty clear that God made Eve because Adam needed a helper, and that they only “knew” each other after they’d been kicked out of the garden. But going to the Bible to find out about Christian marriage will tie you up in knots: the Old Testament seems to regard polygamy as permissible but inadvisable; the New to regard marriage as a necessary evil.

So anyway: what’s the Church’s position on non-consummation: if two consenting adults get married, is sex compulsory? And what happens if a married couple lives apart for some reason: say if a woman chooses to marry a sailor who is only allowed to come ashore for one day every seven years; or even if a prison visitor chooses to marry a convict who he will never live with or possibly even touch? Unusual set ups, certainly: uncommon, inadvisable, but does the church forbid them or say that the couples in question are not really married?

Come to that, what happens if a couple who don’t really like each other marry — say, because their parents really want grandchildren, or because the future King of England has pretty much got to have a beautiful Queen, or because one or both parties is pregnant, or even to secure a dowry or an inheritance? I mean, these may all be really, really bad ideas, and the Church might counsel against them, but are the couples in question Not Really Married? And suppose, while continuing to dislike each other, they stick to their vows, stay together, and make the best of it. Married, or not married? You tell me.

You see where I am going with this. Marriage was ordained for three purposes: babies, sex, and companionship. Certain Christian factions appear to be arguing that a proposed new kind of marriage is a contradiction in terms; an impossibility; a sin and (in some cases) the harbinger of the end of western civilisation -- because it can’t possibly produce babies. Logically, they must mean either that if you remove any one of three elements from the prayer book then what you are left with is not marriage; or that you can have marriage without sex, or marriage without companionship, but you cannot have marriage without babies. (Which is a problem in itself, because the church does, I believe, permit very old people to get married if they want to.) Or else they are working from some source of ecclesiastical authority other than the Book of Common Prayer. (Johnthelutheran helpfully points out that the prayer book definition is taken for granted in actual English law.)

I am not terribly interested, for the moment, in finding out what the Church of England ought to think; or hearing arguments for an against disestablishment; or hearing from people who think that what the Church of England thinks is bronze age savage sky fairy sky fairy sky fairy wobbly sets wobbly sets wobbly sets. I’m interested, for the moment, as a point of information, in finding out:

a: what the church of England does in fact teach about voluntary celibacy and voluntary separation in marriage and

b: when, or on what basis it was decided that Cranmer made a Mistake and that marriage was ordained, not for three reasons, but only for one.

I’m sure this stuff must be written down somewhere. In a book.