Sunday 12 July 2009

Some thoughts on Tradition

I have recently returned from a business trip to the far east and arrived back just in time for the annual tradition of the 12th of July. The "Glorious Twelfth" as it is known in some circles is the traditional celebration of the The Battle of Boyne in 1690 when the Protestant King William of Orange gave the Catholic King James a bloody nose. Now it was far from the simple matter of two denominations of Christianity being belligerent, it was more about the power of the royal families in Europe at the time. In fact Pope Alexander VIII lent King William troops for the war against King James. King William and the Pope and several other countries were in the League of Ausburg which was set up to defend the Palatinate of the Rhine from the French. A fact sadly lacking from the history expounded by organisations like the Orange Order who much prefer the world view that the Battle of the Boyne was a "Protestant Victory for a Protestant People" which is in fact a load of revisionist knob cheese, but what is a bit of revisionism when it is the absolute right given by God and justified by Luther, Calvin, Knox and the tooth fairy to be a raving bigot at the drop of a bowler hat each July.

I overheard a conversation at the airport where a grandmother was telling her grandchildren of the "good old days" when her grandfather paid her 1 old penny each time she sat on his knee and shouted "To hell and the flames with the pope and all Catholics". Ah yes the good old days of vitriol and hatred ... such a fine gift to pass on to one's children!

When I was a teenager if you travelled outside the streets where you were known it was inevitable that you would be asked "What are you?". Now for other traditional forms of hatred like racism it is easy to pick your targets by visual cues alone. Picking which person to abuse is harder when based on religion hence the blunt interrogative method. It became second nature for most to quickly work out who was doing the asking and switch sides accordingly, this whilst being ethically suspect was a sure fire way to avoid getting a black eye or worse. Needless to say one had to learn the responses to the follow up questions of "Well sing the Sash" or "Say the hail Mary" but that was a small price to pay.

You could not answer "neither", that was not an option, you could not sit on the fence. You had to plant yourself firmly on one side or the other and be prepared to defend that position from all comers, needless to say expressions of distrust or outright hatred of the "other" side were mandatory if you were to be believed.

As a callow youth the painful experience of having to fight off both sides soon lead to the my questionable position of variable allegiance, although in hindsight I was put in the position of having to repeat parrot like the vitriol of one side or the other, something I could not and hopefully would not allow myself to do now.

Now do not get me wrong, tradition can be a wonderful thing. The traditions of openness, friendship, philanthropy and generosity of spirit are fine things to pass on to the next generation. Such traditions are the glue that holds societies together and makes them work. However on the other side of the coin are the traditions that are divisive, that are driven by the sure and certain knowledge that your tradition is the ONLY one that is right, the only one that is useful and in this case that it is the only one that is God Given to you and your side only.

Traditions are dangerous when they are the only thing that defines who you are. I do not define myself by the country that I live in, nor do I wrap myself in the dubious comfort of a flag, as this only succeeds in hiding me from others. If I was holding that tightly onto a flag how could I hug a stranger or extend them the hand of friendship?.. and there is the rub ... i do not think that is part of the traditions I see unfolding each July. There are no hands of friendship, no hugs expect for those in your tribe. It is all inward looking, incestuous, foetid reinforcement of generationally transmitted regligious hatred and distrust.

Tomorrow, tens of thousands of bowler hatted, white gloved men will march behind banners that display their commitment to the British monarch (but ONLY with the strict condition that the monarch is Protestant, or more exactly, not Catholic) and commitment to the Bible (the protestant one not the catholic one). The banners they march behind will be flanked by men carrying swords and pikestaffs in rememberance of those that were killed and the fact that they needed to be killed to protect the faith. There will be marching bands playing military marching tunes mixed with sectarian anthems, some of which will have words that call the listener to arms to defend with violence the God given right to be Protestant. There will be acts of worship in which ministers will pillory the "church of rome" and declaimed it as the worst evil in the world. There will be speeches where the leaders of the Orange tribes will extole their members to stick together for God and Country at all and any cost.

This is not a tradition I want any part of.

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