Monday 20 January 2020

The rainbow warriors are the cranks who deserve our scorn

It's a disgrace: The news this week that Ashers had lost their appeal will not have come as a surprise
It's a disgrace: The news this week that Ashers had lost their appeal will not have come as a surprise
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

There comes a point in every columnist's career when they realise that everything is cyclical.

What went around the corner in the past will, sooner or later, come back in the other direction and repeat itself.

It doesn't just apply to dashing (ahem) columnists, of course.

In fact, perhaps the best example of the cyclical, almost circular, nature of life can currently be seen on the satellite channel Yesterday.

It has been running repeats of the original Yes Minister and the follow up, Yes, Prime Minister, and it is remarkable to see how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Even though the first episodes of that truly great political sitcom were written towards the end of the 1970s, the issues are still startlingly relevant - in recent repeats, the hapless Jim Hacker has had to cope with feminists, bolshy unions and the ever-vexed question of Europe.

So, in other words, while every generation encounters problems and issues which are new and fresh to them, they've actually been around for years.

I am struggling, however, to find a proper historical context in which to place the current controversies involving Christian-owned businesses such as Ashers bakery in Belfast and Beulah printers in Drogheda.

Both companies - private commercial concerns, by the way - have been feeling the weight of the secular crozier in recent times and the news this week that Ashers had lost their appeal will not have come as a surprise.

It's a disgrace, certainly. And a victory for the mob, undoubtedly. But it's not a surprise.

There's no point in re-litigating the whole Ashers case again because we've all been down the road so many times it doesn't bear repeating. But for those who have been living in a ditch for the last two years, here's the Cliff notes - gay man asks for cake with the slogan 'Support Gay Marriage'; baker accepts the order and then changes his mind. Gay man sues the baker and wins, baker appeals and loses.

A great victory for human rights and tolerance and humanity?

Or a truly terrible piece of legal social engineering which will force other private business to print/draw/create messages which go against their own personal code?

What has been claimed as a great victory for gay rights on this island is, if a victory at all, a massively Pyrrhic one which does their cause no favours.

Nobody likes a bully and one of the interesting aspects of this case, and the fall-out which has followed it, is that the people taking and supporting the case against the bakery genuinely don't seem to realise that they are simply a modern iteration of the mob.

After all, every mob in history has thought it was doing the right thing.

In fact, every mob in history genuinely thought they were the virtuous ones and the subject of their ire was the evil-doer, not them.

Sound familiar?

Ultimately, this is a minor enough decision in a foreign jurisdiction.

But the response has been indicative of an ever-growing, furious intolerance from the very people who used to have to cope with vicious intolerance. Many of those who are appalled by the whole Ashers debacle were also people who voted in favour of the gay marriage referendum. There are few people in this country, at this stage, who don't have gay friends and we have reached a stage of social tolerance where most people simply don't care one way or the other.

Yet, even though the votes of straight people were required to carry the referendum and were assiduously courted, those people who were 'allies' of the cause during the vote are now homophobes if they disapprove of the action against Ashers.

The most telling interjection into this ridiculous affair came from none other than Peter Tatchell - a genuinely courageous man who has put his life in danger on numerous occasions down the years. His attempted citizen's arrest of Robert Mugabe, for instance, could have seen him killed on the street by that thug's henchmen.

Tatchell is probably as close to a spiritual leader as the gay community has - yet he supports Ashers over the campaigners.

Did it ever cross the minds of these agitators that when even Peter Tatchell is against you, then maybe you might need to rethink your position?

I doubt it, because introspection and changing your mind are now seen as signs of weakness; of not being sufficiently committed to the 'cause', be it gay cakes/gay marriage/abortion or immigration.

That's because we now live in the Age Of The Absolute - where a person's entire world view can be encapsulated by a hashtag and 140 characters.

Maybe it's a lack of life experience. Maybe it's a result of indoctrination. Maybe the culture is just making dummies of us all.

But unyielding dogmatism is never a good look, no matter who is wearing it.

When I started out, one of the earliest tropes I wrote about was that Christians weren't special and they didn't deserve special treatment. This was because it was invariably Christian groups which wanted to ban or censor stuff. In other words, there was a time when the Christians were the cranks and the people we laughed at. Not anymore - now the rainbow warriors are the cranks who deserve our scorn.

Modern life is rubbish. Or is it just me?

A funny thing happened to me the other day.

Well, it wasn’t funny-haha so much, as funny-grrr.

In fact, for the first time in my adult life, I encountered something that actually made me want to scream.

I don’t mean the kind of guttural, indecipherable bellow that comes from a bloke’s mouth when he’s angry.

No, I’m referring to a sudden desire on my part to unleash a long primal shriek of fury and impotent rage.

Because I couldn’t get the Wi-Fi to work on the train down to Cork.

In terms of that old chestnut about First-World problems, having a complete freak-out because the laptop wouldn’t send an email is up there with the dumbest of them.

I didn’t let out the girly shriek, of course.

After all, commuting on a train can be a bothersome experience at the best of times without worrying that one of your fellow passengers is having a psychotic episode as he tries to break the window so he can feck his computer out into the darkness of the countryside that was whizzing past.

Then a similar thing happened on Thursday, when a 1,000-word piece just vanished from my screen.

Now, maybe my laptop has a modicum of taste and doesn’t want to be associated with me — and who could blame it?

But I realised that the single-most infuriating presence in my life is technology that won’t do what I want. I’m not alone in this sense of utterly daft laptop rage.

A friend of mine broke his laptop while having a hissy fit and even though he had to save up to buy a new one, he secretly admits it felt bloody marvellous — for a second. Then he started to cry with frustration. Modern technology  makes our life easier. But I remain convinced that we’re all going to die from laptop-related stress.

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