Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

An Open Letter to the Usual Suspects

Dear Christian Grand High Poobahs,

By way of the lovely Cheryl Morgan, we, the Elders of Sodom, recently learned of this BBC News article regarding your recent letter to the Telegraph, in which you condemn what you see as discrimination against Christians, citing the example of Nurse Shirley Chaplin, who is currently taking Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital to an employment tribunal for refusing to let her wear a cross in a customer-facing role. We thought it only fair to respond -- Grand High Poobahs to Grand High Poobahs, so to speak.

Granted, our immediate inclination is to say, "Boo hoo, sucks to you," or perhaps, "Aw, diddums, are you not allowed to spread your ethically retarded message of salvation by blood sacrifice just anywhere and everywhere you see fit these days?" Some of our number are somewhat less than sympathetic, it has to be said, considering your belief system so heinous on so may levels that not being allowed to wear the cross is rather akin, far as we're concerned, to not being allowed to wear a Klansmen hood. Cry me a fucking river, some would say. But more conciliatory voices among us do appreciate that you just don't get where we're coming from here. In the spirit of faith -- in human reason -- we're ready to do our best to explain it. In the spirit of hope -- that you can get your heads around some very simple notions -- we're willing to give it a shot. In the spirit of charity, well, we figure we have enough to go round that we're able to buy you a fucking clue.

See, it seems to us that Chaplin and the bishops need to show that other staff are allowed to wear necklaces while carrying out the same role, or there’s no discrimination here whatsoever; and even if they do... well, we'll get to that. The point is, the trust in question, as quoted in the Sky News article, is saying this is simply a matter of “agreed uniform policy and the safety of staff and patients.” In patient-facing roles, dangly metal trinkets are considered inappropriately grabbable and such. If you'll note on Cheryl Morgan's blog, Kev McVeigh refers to how, under the policies of his NHS trust, "staff are not supposed to wear jewelry or wristwatches under infection control guidelines." So Nurse Chapel is being asked to follow the fucking dress code. What an outrage!

For sure, the trust in question admits there may be lapses in dress code that slip by, but "they got away with it" is hardly a reasonable response when one is pulled up for not playing by the rules. Shame on you, Grand High Poobahs, for buying into this most juvenile of excuses. It is no doubt somewhat unjust if others are let off the hook, but clearly the equitable enforcement of the policy you should, we rather think, be advocating would not allow Nurse Chaplin to wear her necklace, simply do its best to make sure these other lapses were dealt with the same way. End of story.

But this is not what you're really advocating is it? One rather suspects such lapses are quite common, but that most nurses pulled up for wearing dangly earrings will simply remove them; and that would be that. But Nurse Chaplin instead insisted that it was her right to continue breaching this dress code, and you seem to support her in this. Really you think her jewelery should be exempt because it is a symbol of faith. You think she should be exempt. You seek to assert a privilege on religious grounds. We appreciate that this privilege has been afforded Nurse Chaplin for most of her career, through her years of invaluable service, and that the loss of privilege is often perceived as an infringement of rights, but her reaction (and yours) is actually quite revealing as to why this is a privilege rather than a right, why her demand for exemption is of dubious merit.

Note, from the Sky News article, that while your letter and the reporting itself presents Nurse Chaplin as having been asked to remove the cross entirely, the trust spokesperson talks of having "offered her a number of different options in the hope that a mutually acceptable solution could be agreed." We can't help but wonder if one of those options was simply to hide it from view, as in the case of BA worker, Nadia Ewelda. Indeed, this BBC news article indicates that the trust was quite happy for her to wear it "pinned inside a uniform lapel or pocket." This sounds very much as if the bone of contention for Nurse Chaplin was not the wearing of the cross but the open display of the cross.

Now, clearly Nurse Chaplin has every right to wear whatever she likes within the confines of the dress code, just as we would have the right, if we were nurses, to wear t-shirts reading, "Jesus fucked His Beloved Disciple," under our uniforms. (There as those among the Elders of Sodom who hold to this doctrine as a firm tenet of their belief, by the way; they consider it a profound article of faith.) If these reminders of faith are not visible to the public, and not breaches of the policy for some health and safety reason, there's no legitimate reason to disallow us wearing them. But surely you can see that if we Elders of Sodom insisted it was our right to wear these t-shirts in such a way that the slogan was on open display, well, an employer might see it differently.

The matter of health and safety policy can be put aside now, we think. If this were originally about an injunction against dangly jewelery in general, Nurse Chaplin has made it about the open display of her cross. And certainly we can say that exemptions to dress code are sometimes offered on the basis of religious faith. But the trust addresses this where it says that the wearing of the cross is "not a requirement of Christian faith." It's not comparable to wearing the turban in the Sikh faith or similar prescriptions as regards other religions. Were this the case, were this a matter of a religious decree the believer must abide by, well, one might have grounds for saying that this is an infringement of a recognised right. Then you'd have a leg to stand on.

(Some of us within the Elders of Sodom, we should add here, have... idiosyncratic views on how such "rights" are also actually privileges, afforded the powerful mainstream religions largely because they have the power to assert that privilege. Some of the more orthodox Sodomites hold that to cover up the cock and arse is unholy, that the wearing of leather chaps that expose the crotch area is a divine decree of Pan Himself. And what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, they say. If the wearing of such clothing is a right then it applies to all; that it does not shows that it is, in fact, a privilege. We are curious as to where you would stand on this, Grand High Poobahs? Would you support our right to expose our cocks and arse as Pan decrees, or would you assert your religion's privileged status over ours? But this is to drift from the core point...)

The wearing of the cross is not a matter of religious dictate, but an outward expression of personal belief that is discretionary on the part of the believer. As such it constitutes a communication of — maybe even of an advertisement for — those beliefs. This is what makes it a privilege rather than a right. If Nurse Chaplin is under no obligation to wear a symbol of faith in open display, to grant her permission to do so at her own volition where this contradicts a dress code is to privilege her, just as granting a Sodomite permission to wear their "Jesus fucked His Beloved Disciple" t-shirt openly would be bestowing a privilege. There's no legitimate obligation on the trust's part to allow either Nurse Chaplin or a host of Sodomites to use their workplace as a platform for communicating personal beliefs. At any point the trust would be quite entitled to say, stop it, KTHXBAI.

The trust would, we presume, frown on staff handing out pamphlets advertising such beliefs, or evangelising to patients directly, urging them to pray, read the Bible, etc.. Or, for that matter, preaching the Secret Gospel of Mark, arguing that Jesus was a homosexual, or exhorting patients to emulate David and Jonathan's intimacy -- which we hold to have been sexual. The Elders of Sodom consider the trust entirely within their rights to tell us to keep our beliefs to ourselves, to say that such advocacy is entirely inappropriate in the workplace. The only question then is, how far are they entitled to extend that policy to dress code?

We tend to think an employer is within their rights to say that such tacit physical expressions are inappropriate in a customer-facing role. If it were an inverted cross, they’d be entitled to ask the wearer to remove it, to avoid offending Christians. If it were a symbol of even a mainstream political party — Labour, Conservative, Lib Dems — it still seems fair to us for the employer to say, this does not belong in the workplace. Whether it was as brash as a slogan t-shirt saying, “Jesus fucked His Beloved Disciple,” or as subtle as a badge with a Union Jack, a St. George’s Cross or a St. Andrew’s Cross, the customer-facing employee is representing their employer, and that employer has a right, we’d say, to veto symbols of allegiance, not least where such allegiance carries a suggestion of opposition to beliefs that may well be held by customers. We’d even go so far as to say that this sort of policy would equally apply to, say, a pink triangle badge as an expression of gay rights advocacy. If we believe passionately that such advocacy is crucial, an employer still has the right to tell us, no, not when you’re representing us. Fight the good fight in your own time, not against our customers.

This is by no means an easy judgement to make. There are arguments back and forth as to whether ethical discretion is applicable here, whether a badge that carried, say, the Red Hand of Ulster would be patently unacceptable as anti-Catholic while a pink triangle badge would be arguably acceptable as simply pro-homosexuality -- i.e. not anti-anything and therefore not oppositional, or oppositional only to unreasonable prejudice. Many such symbols of belief are extremely contentious in and of themselves. A Union Jack badge might be worn as a purely positive expression of patriotism but it might equally be worn as an expression of an uglier, racist nationalism. Or it might simply mean that one is a Mod. We rather suspect that the present-day employer is often in the tricky position of dealing with shifting and clashing mores in a society where many symbols previously deemed acceptable without question are now being challenged. This is clearly the case with the Christian cross.

Now here's the thing. Most of us within the Elders of Sodom are not easily offended or even discomfited by such symbols, but for all the tolerant strains of Christianity out there and all the profoundly ethical Christians that subscribe to them, the liberalising reformations of Christianity are far from universal. At its historical core and in its mainstream expressions — in Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Orthodox Christianities and many if not most strains of Protestantism — Christianity retains, on the whole, a deep-rooted ideological opposition to homosexuality. Those of us within the Elders of Sodom see a cross and it may not trouble us, we may even prefer to assume the individual is actually wholly tolerant, but this is despite it being a symbol which says to us, “I disapprove of your sexuality; I subscribe to a belief system which condemns your actions as mortal sins.”

Now this message is… unwelcome to say the least. We don’t see how a Christian has the right to express that message, albeit tacitly, in a physical symbol, any more than a Northern Irish Unionist has the right to wear a badge with the Red Hand of Ulster on it when they’re dealing with Catholic patients. We can avoid this message by and large or challenge it as and when we encounter it. We don't see why we should be faced with the prospect of having this message foisted upon us when we check into an NHS hospital, where the nurse-patient relationship would render a challenge problematic. You can understand -- no? -- how a Catholic patient might feel uncomfortable being cared for by a nurse who advertises their allegiance to Unionist politics, how they would almost certainly be wary of anti-Catholic bigotry. You can appreciate -- yes? -- how they might feel uncomfortable about the deeply unpleasant situations that could arise even if they simply seek to establish an absence of bigotry by asking the questions that badge begs. The same is true with a Sodomite and a cross.

Faced with that cross, any Sodomite sees a badge that begs the question, "Are you homophobic?" If you think that question is unreasonable, Grand High Poobahs, you are so sorely in need of a clue that you must be at page one of The Mystery of the Abjected Other. Poobahs, dudes, babes, that cross is the symbol of a religion that has spent two millennia condemning us, burning us at the fucking stake when its power was such that an entire civilsation could be labelled Christendom. It's a religion that even now continues to lobby in support of values and social mechanisms we consider rooted in prejudice and profoundly unjust. You now that, right? You should do; you're the fucking figureheads of the lobby. To put it in terms you might understand, the cross, to us, is Nero's seal on an order to throw early Christians to the lions. It represents an imperial power on the socio-cultural level. It represents the fires the people like us died in because people like you believed the bullshit you're still spieling now. Every cross is a burning cross to us.

Every cross is a burning cross.

But don't worry. Our position would not be to argue for a veto of all such symbols on principle across the NHS. This seems extreme, and the Elders of Sodom are not terribly keen on draconian legislation that enacts such sweeping moral dicta. Some of us would tend toward a radical acceptance, tell you to wear your cross so we can know you for what you are; as long as we can wear badges that advertise our own beliefs in no uncertain terms, representations of Christ giving a blowjob to His Beloved Disciple, for example. If you think that would be obscene and offensive, tough shit; either you play the delicate sensibilities card and we throw your history back in your face, tell you just how obscene and offensive we consider your words and actions, and we all agree to keep our opinions to ourselves, or you suck it up, motherfucker.

Every cross is a burning cross. And if you want to wear it, expect us to be wearing an inverted one whenever and wherever the fuck we feel like it. With Jesus in a motherfucking ball-gag.

Of course, others among the Elders of Sodom tend to the opinion that some symbols represent philosophies so inarguably obscene and offensive that to say anything goes is just a step too far. Germany has legislation against the open display of the swastika, and it seems hard to argue with that. Within the NHS, we can certainly imagine a policy forbidding a Red Hand of Ulster badge as wholly inappropriate. If an extremist Christian sect adopted as its symbol a Star of David but inscribed within a circle with a line through it, you could see how many would deem that outrageous, yes? If you react with similar outrage to an inverted cross, do you get to ban that too, regardless that Satanism is largely the province of New Age eccentrics and angsty teens with a taste for loud guitar music? Meanwhile twenty centuries of outright hatred enacted in very real and physical atrocities does not justify us in condemning your crucifix?

Every cross is a burning cross.

Oh, Grand High Poobahs. Moral disfavour is something you're going to have to get used to, we fear, especially if you're going to carry on preaching the condemnation of homosexuality in a culture that now very often, and more so by the day, deems that message as obsolete and objectionable as the condemnation of "miscegenation." I have little doubt that there are many Christians who you most assuredly do not speak for, many who reject that dogma as a product of history rather than a pretty fucking decent guy called Yeshua, who preached acceptance of the Other; for that reason, this letter is not addressed to them. It may well be that Nurse Chaplin herself is amongst those for whom the symbol does not represent an opposition to our very way of life. To them we extend our sympathy that the symbol of their faith is so tainted that this sort of situation comes to pass. Those who would wear that cross and stand beside us in rejecting your message, Grand High Poobahs? Them we wholeheartedly applaud. We might echo Bill Hicks in suggesting maybe Yeshua would rather see a fish sign on their lapel than another fucking cross, but if they can redeem that tainted symbol, power to them. To you Grand High Poobahs who uashamedly adhere to your reactionary doctrines however, to you we say, deal with it, kiddy-fiddler.

Every cross is a burning cross. Either put the flames out or face the consequences.

So, on the whole, the Elders of Sodom don't ask for the privilege of wearing Cocksucking Christ badges. Nor do we even demand that the cross be treated across the board as the badge of hatred it can all too often be worn as. Ultimately, we simply support employers in their exercise of judgement -- ethical or otherwise -- over how their employees are allowed to present themselves to patients, what attire is deemed appropriate and what is not. We say that a trust which institutes a policy against religious symbols has the right to make that call. Just as it would be within its rights to institute a policy against badges expressing contentious political allegiances. Because those religious symbols do express contentious political allegiances. Largely because of you, Grand High Poobahs, because of you. You have had twenty centuries to spout your ideology under that symbol and -- surprise! surprise! -- the shit you've spewed has stuck, and -- surprise! surprise! -- all it takes is for the rest of us to smell it through the incense and realise it fucking stinks. If you think the way the shifting mores of the culture at large are playing out now is unfair on you, you are simply reaping what you yourselves have sown. Deal with it.

That sound you're not hearing right now? That's the sound of the smallest violin in the world not even being played. Cause we're too busy not losing sleep, motherfuckers. It's your cross to bear. Peace out.

Hugs and Kittens,

The Elders of Sodom

Most Rev Lord Sweary of Clitfun, Former Archbugger of Cunterbury
Rt Rev Mycock Slut-Joint, Bugger of Sinchester
Rt Rev Mycock Anti-Nazi-Rally, Former Bugger of Cockchester
Rt Rev Peepee Fister, Bugger of Chesthair
Rt Rev Hand-Any Prickis, Bugger of Hairyfnord
Rt Revd Nipple-Arse Greed, Bugger of Slackbum



Blogger Unknown said...

Wow, this post definitely made the cross I wear feel a bit heavier. I now also feel compelled to actually wear a “Cocksucking Christ” -badge, should I see a contradiction here?

On a more serious note, thank you for this furious (and inspiring) piece of writing. Thank you also for acknowledging the existence of folks like myself, who consider it the greatest offense towards our "delicate sensibilities" to see someone wave a cross in one hand and a gun in the other (so to speak).

11:58 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Thank you for *being there*, Maija. And, really, some of the most profoundly decent people I know are Christians, with a faith that's genuinely about non-judgemental compassion, so no matter how these... merchants of spiritual credit sully that faith, I'd be as contemptible as them if I didn't acknowledge those who actually *get* the ideas of agape and caritas. :)

And personally? I sorta think wearing a cross *and* a "Cocksucking Christ" badge (or simply a pink triangle, if one wanted to be a bit less bolshy ;D) would be seven shades of awesome, contradicting only the obsolete OT dogma that Yeshua himself rejected and the ugly update of it that I blame Paul for crowbarring in.

Hell, you know those t-shirts that say, "What would Jesus do?" I kinda think Matthew 21:12-13 gives the answer.

5:11 pm  

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