“…. as it proceeds from love so it cannot but end in love”

May 25, 2013

King James I

King James I

Parliamentary Tories this past week experienced a sort of renaissance of absurdity and bigotry, not really as noticeable on this scale since the Thatcher years. For example, Sir Gerald Howarth – self confessed ‘devoted to Thatcher‘ (and 1980s prejudices, apparently) – stood up to denounce the same-sex marriage bill as the work of “aggressive homosexuals” using it as a “stepping stone for something even further“. He didn’t elaborate on what “something even further” meant, or who the “aggressive homosexuals” specifically are. But he did show the World the intensely ridiculous lengths of a masterfully ignorant bigot, that we so woefully refer to as “Sir” will go to protect his prejudices.

Then came the manic ramblings of old Norman Tebbit. Tebbit remains insistent that allowing a same-sex couple to marry, would eventually allow him to marry his son to avoid paying inheritance tax. I address the ridiculous use of the slippery slope fallacy with regard same-sex marriage here, so I wont repeat myself. But Tebbit’s finest moment in this debate came, when he suggested that the Bill may in fact lead to a lesbian Queen with an artificially inseminated heir. Heaven forbid we have a Monarch who isn’t the result of slightly incestuous relationships.

It would appear that Tebbit is under the impression that people are only gay, if they can get married…. and that a gay Monarch would in fact be completely heterosexual, if only gays aren’t allowed to marry. Or maybe he’s suggesting that the gay Monarch will hide his or her homosexuality, and marry someone of the opposite sex, to produce an heir. Living their whole life as a lie, which apparently, doesn’t undermine the sanctity of marriage in the minds of the swivel-eyed loons. Norman Tebbit is more suited to the court of King Henry VIII, obsessing over heirs, than he is to any time after the 1950s.

Tebbit, as it turns out, in warning of a possible homosexual Monarch, is about 1000 years and about five Monarchs too late. The United Kingdom has had gay Monarchs in the past. Here are a few.

The third son of William the Conqueror, William II of England, succeeded to the thrown with great expectation. He was the Tiberius to his father’s Augustus. The second in the line of Norman Kings that began in 1066. William II was a rather terrible King. He was considered a tyrant, and had an incredibly fiery temper. He never married, produced no offspring, and surrounded his court with “pretty young courtiers” – all men. It is claimed that he promoted male courtiers, based almost solely on how attractive he found them to be. Rumours of his homosexuality sparked harsh disagreements between his court, and the Church. Owing to the times, William was ridiculed for surrounding himself with long haired attractive male courtiers, so much so that Henry I, upon succeeding William, insisted that no male courtier be allowed long hair. Rumours of his homosexual relationships were rife at the time.

In the graveyard of Hulton Abbey in Staffordshire, laid a decapitated body, belonging to a man named Sir Hugh Despenser the Younger. He was hung, drawn, and quartered following the overthrow of King Edward II by his wife Isabella in 1326. Despenser was married to Edward’s niece, Eleanor de Clare. This brought him close to Edward. He was considered a favourite of the King, joined him in battle, and was with him right until the end. The King reigned more and more favours and titles upon his nephew-in-law, leading to huge unrest with the nobility of the day. Despenser is also rumoured to be King Edward II’s gay lover. He wasn’t the first either. According to commentators of the day – including The Lanercost Chronicle – and some modern historians, posit that King Edward had been sexually linked to Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall, whose Royal patronage caused much upset during the reign. Gaveston’s biography, written by J.S. Hamilton, says:

“there is no question that the king and his favorite were lovers.”

Similarly, in “The Life and Times of Edward II” by Caroline Bingham, it is stated that when the not-yet-King, Edward was introduced to Gaveston for the first time, as youngsters:

“….the king’s son saw him he fell so in love that he entered upon an enduring compact with him.”

– There was a growing anger toward Edward’s treatment of both Gaveston, and Despenser. Queen Isabella noted that Despenser was a “sodomite“, and her jealousy is well documented.
The Meaux Chronicle, written a couple of decades later, states that King Edward:

“….took too much delight in sodomy.”

– We can of course never prove that King Edward was gay, or was sexually involved with some of his male friends, but the rumours at the time, the discomfort the Queen felt toward the relationship between her husband and male companions, and subsequent writings and plays from Marlowe, all strongly suggest it to be true.

It is rather ironic that those seeking to use the Bible to condemn homosexuality, may choose to do so by using the King James Bible, given that King James, is the only Monarch we can say with almost 100% certainty, that was gay. And a Monarch so dedicated to one of his lovers in particular, they would openly kiss in public, according to contemporaries at the Court of King James.
In the book “A History of England” by James Franck Bright, we are told:

“The first of his favourites was Robert Carr, for whom the King acquired a peculiar affection while he was lying wounded from an accident at a tournament. Carr had been his page in Scotland, and the King, feeling a natural interest in him, visited him and fell in love with his beauty.”

– We then learn that the King has a falling out with Carr, complaining, among other things, in a letter to Carr that still survives that Carr had recently been:

….withdrawing yourself from lying in my chamber, notwithstanding my many hundred times earnest soliciting you to the contrary.”

– After the downfall of Carr, King James seems to met, and fallen for George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. Villiers was known to be a handsome man, of high intelligence. He was a commoners, and elevated to the Dukedom by the King.
In the early 2000s, the decaying Apethorpe Hall, a favourite of King James and the Duke of Buckingham was restored to past glories. During the restoration, a secret passageway was found, linking the King’s bedchamber, to the Dukes.
During time spent apart, Letters between the two that still exist raced between the two, and represent rather beautifully written Renaissance letters of romance and sexual flirtation. In one, Buckingham states:

“sir, all the way hither I entertained myself, your unworthy servant, with this dispute, whether you loved me now… better than at the time which I shall never forget at Farnham, where the bed’s head could not be found between the master and his dog”

– The King is also prone to letters of romantic intrigue, sent to Buckingham on several occasions. In one, James writes, referring to Buckingham as his wife:

“I desire only to live in this world for your sake… I had rather live banished in any part of the Earth with you than live a sorrowful widow’s life without you… God bless you, my sweet child and wife, and grant that ye may ever be a comfort to your dear dad and husband”

– In one particularly telling letter from King James to the Duke of Buckingham, James is extremely candid about the effect had on him, of their recent parting:

“I am now so miserable a coward, as I do nothing but weep and mourn; for I protest to God I rode this afternoon a great way in the park without speaking to anybody and the tears trickling down my cheeks, as now they do that I can scarcely see to write. But alas, what shall I do at our parting? The only small comfort I can have will be to pry in thy defects with the eye of an enemy, and of every mote to make a mountain, and so harden my heart against thy absence. But this little malice is like jealousy, proceeding from a sweet root; but in one point it overcometh it, for as it proceeds from love so it cannot but end in love. Sweet heart, be earnest with Kate to come and meet thee at Newhall [Buckingham’s mansion in Essex] within eight or ten days after this.”

– His jealousy, is out of love. His heart is hardened against his absence. The King refers to Buckingham as ‘sweet heart’. The passion and the love between the two is quite evident, and rather spectacular. I would recommend reading their correspondence. It is a wonderful story of romance, at a time when homosexuality was widely and violently condemned. On March 27th, 1625, King James died in his bedchamber, with George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, at his side.

Rulers, not just in England, have been heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual throughout history. The only reason it is less discussed, and less historically provable, is because two of those three sexualities, have been oppressed so viciously for no other reason than religious doctrine. Rumours of homosexuality of rulers range from the Roman Emperors Nero, and Tiberius (the gender of a lover in Rome, was met with very little opposition, and far more indifference than much of the conservative party accept 2000 years later), to Emperor Jianwen of Liang, whose own poems speak of sexual liaisons with men. From Frederick the Great, to Al-Mu’tamid ibn Abbad. They range from Christendom, to Islamic societies, to the far reaches of the Chinese Empire. They do so, because the spectrum of sexuality is as natural and insuppressible as the spectrum of eye colour.

Norman Tebbit is simply echoing the bigoted screams heard throughout the centuries from hysterical anti-gay voices that wish a monopoly on telling others who to love, based on religious fanaticism. What we can take from this, is that Medieval anti-homosexuality language such as “sodomy” and “sinning”, and the unwarranted stigma that this attaches to homosexuality, is still used today by those who have apparently decided to forego all social, neurological, and genetic advancement, and instead choose to cling to archaic views made popular by 13th Century Papists who we may say, had the excuse that they knew no better. Norman Tebbit, and others like him do not have that excuse.

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The Extremes of Woolwich

May 23, 2013

The horrendous murder of a British soldier – Lee Rigby – savaged on the streets of south east London yesterday, sparked an outcry across social media that I don’t think I’ve quite seen before in this country. A backlash that threatened to spill over into violent clashes on the streets. This is the dark side of social media. And it came from two extremes, with equally as repugnant statements.

The far right Nationalists used the attack, to highlight their hate for all Muslims, and in fact, anyone with slightly darker skin, as a group. They, in their ignorance, seem to be under the impression that a fringe Al-Shabaab supporting maniac, is somehow a perfect representation of British Muslims as a whole. They took to the streets, disgustingly attacking Mosques and shouting abuse at anyone who doesn’t fit their narrow band of what is deemed correct. Upon social media, they issued thinly veiled, as well as quite blatant threats, alongside vicious racism, that in my mind, can only be described as inflicting terror also:

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But it wasn’t just the far right Nationalists who vented their propaganda, and hate. Then came the apologists, and their predictable attempts to deflect blame from the guilty, onto the West in general. Unwilling to accept or even acknowledge that Al-Shabaab are responsible for murdering innocent Muslims also. They instead choose to over simplify the World, into two camps: Islam v Enemies of Islam – much the same way that the EDL do, only a little more subtle with their tactics. As if believing in the same God as people you’ve never met, in a country thousands of miles away, is some sort of justification for senseless murder. The victim mentality:

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Thankfully, the majority of social media remarks upon the murder in Woolwich, were both respectful and decent, from Muslims and non-Muslims alike, focusing on the murdered soldier. This marked the difference between moderates, and extremes quite intensely. The moderates seemed entirely focused on expressing shock and sorrow at the loss of a life in such a brutal manner. Those on the extremes, did not seem too interested in the loss of life, and the unthinkable tragedy his family have just had inflicted upon them, choosing instead to focus on either how much they dislike all Muslims, or how things like this only happen, because of British foreign policy. It seemed an easy way for the extremes to score very cheap and easy points.

No doubt the motives will be discussed, there will be those who claim Islamic extremism is fostered entirely by Western foreign policy, being as they tend to be, so naively unable to accept that negative and wholly unacceptable interpretations of their own faith might shoulder some blame. There will be those who claim to be “defending” England, without accepting that the terror they apparently deplore, they themselves are guilty of handing out, frightening decent Muslim men, women and children who have done nothing wrong. But it is important to remember that at the heart of this entire situation, is a family who have lost a loved one, in such a horrendous manner. I feel for the Muslim community of Woolwich over the next few days and weeks. The possible violent and completely unjustified retribution against an innocent community, is shocking to the rest of us, but terrifying to the people living it.

“An extremely popular and witty soldier, Drummer Rigby was a larger than life personality within the Corps of Drums and was well known, liked and respected across the Second Fusiliers”

– MoD statement.

I feel for the family of Lee Rigby, of 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, who so heartbreakingly leaves behind a 2 year old son, and who, in the most tragic circumstances, lost his life yesterday.


The Great Syrian Freethinkers: Al-Ma’arri

May 19, 2013

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Such was the nature of the power of Christianity, its dogma, its insecurity, during the Middle Ages, that a great writer, humanist, and long time friend of the King could be put to death for nothing more than refusing to swear that King Henry VIII was the Supreme Head of the Church in England. Thomas More was lucky in one sense. He had his head swiftly detached from the rest of his body with one sweep of the executioners axe. Lucky, because others were not accorded the same swift death. Robert Lawrence, a Carthusian Monk, refused also to submit to the Oath of Supremacy. Though, unlike More, Lawrence was hung, just enough to ensure he lost consciousness. He was then revived, in time to see his stomach slashed open, and his insides pulled out, and set on fire. He was then cut into pieces, his head stuck on a spike on London Bridge. This agonisingly horrid punishment was handed down for questioning the King’s power over Rome, not for questioning Christianity or religion in general. Simply for questioning the power of the Monarch over the power of the Pope.
This was England, and this was Christianity, in the Middle Ages.

Whilst we see no one questioning Christianity in general, or religion itself in general, throughout Christian Europe really from the death of Greek Philosophy, through the rise of Christianity, the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, until the Enlightenment…. (we can perhaps ascribe that situation, to the existence, wealth and power of the Papacy over the centuries; a single authority that Islam has always lacked) we see some wonderful free thinkers, and rationalists coming out of the areas considered Islamic during those centuries. It would seem that Islamic settlements dealt far less harshly with free thought and criticism during those centuries, than Christianity. The violent suppression of free thought that plagues Islamic Nations today, appears to be a relatively new phenomenon for the faith.

Over the next few articles, I will endeavour to introduce you to a few rather wonderful culturally Islamic freethinkers from days past.

In the city of Aleppo, in Syria, stands a statue to the poet, Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri. His statue has recently been beheaded, by Syrian rebels. The beheading of the statue of Al-Ma’arri by Islamic extremists, for me, is a rather fitting tribute to a brilliant freethinker, who attracted great attention among poets and writers of the late 10th Century with his sharp critique of Islam and religion in general. Al-Ma’arri’s life was never in danger for questioning, and often insulting the idea of religious belief. That’s not to say that categories of punishable Heresy didn’t exist in Islamic tradition, they certainly did, though not as harsh at that time, as was happening across Europe. This is evident in tracing Al-Ma’arri’s route across the Middle East, and his notable presence in Baghdad.

His freethinking and his ideas thereof, are often repeated in one way or another by freethinkers today. On a side note, he was a strict vegetarian, believing it immoral to harm animals in any way. One may quite rightly say, he was a genius, well ahead of his time. And far advanced, even in the 10th Century, when compared with the religious fundamentalists that beheaded his statue earlier this year.

His philosophical poetry, at times reads like the works of modern day, so called ‘new Atheists’ much of the time.
In one poem, Al-Ma’arri writes:

“So, too, the creeds of man: the one prevails
Until the other comes; and this one fails
When that one triumphs; ay, the lonesome world
Will always want the latest fairytales.”

– ‘The lonesome World’ – Here Al-Ma’arri is convinced that the World is on its own, yet humanity cries out for something more, and in that sense, will always welcome fairytales to make the spiritual loneliness of humanity seem less so. A rather revolutionary idea in such a dark age. Reason is rejected, for the latest fashionable fairytale. The supremacy and importance of reason, becomes a key feature of Al-Ma’arri’s works.

He is also not afraid to openly criticise the leaders of faiths. A surefire way to get your head swiftly removed from the rest of your body, in Christendom at the time:

“O fools, awake! The rites ye sacred hold
Are but a cheat contrived by men of old
Who lusted after wealth and gained their lust
And died in baseness-and their law is dust.”

Al-Ma’ari gives us his own distinction between those who subscribe to religious schools of thought, and those he refers to as ‘Enlightened’. To be enlightened, to Al-Ma’arri, is to give up on religious superstition:

“Hanifs (Muslims) are stumbling, Christians all astray
Jews wildered, Magians far on error’s way.
We mortals are composed of two great schools
Enlightened knaves or else religious fools.”

– For Al-Ma’arri, reason was enough to guide humanity. For Al-Ma’arri, all religion is just a tool of power over whom he considered to be fools.

He is scathing in his attack on the rise of religions, how he considers them to have perpetuated through the years, whilst at the same time he advances the cause and superiority of reason.

“Had they been left alone with Reason, they would not have accepted
a spoken lie; but the whips were raised (to strike them).
Traditions were brought to them, and they were bidden say,
“We have been told the truth”; and if they refused, the sword was
drenched (in their blood).
They were terrified by scabbards full of calamities, and tempted by
great bowls brimming over with food for largesse.”

He has no trouble using such fierce and provocative language, with his mention of the angels of Islam, Munkar and Nakir. According to Islamic tradition, after your burial upon death, and after the last mourner has left the site of your grave, Munkar and Nakir prop you up, and ask you:

“Who is your Lord? Who is your Prophet? What is your religion?”

– If you answer correctly (Al-Lah, Muhammad, and Islam) then you will be treated kindly. If you answer incorrectly, you will be punished horrifically whilst you await the day of judgement. Al-Ma’arri doesn’t appreciate this idea. He states:

“And like the dead of Ind I do not fear
To go to thee in flames; the most austere
Angel of fire a softer tooth and tongue
Hath he than dreadful Munkar and Nakir.”

– Here, he is openly noting that the Indian tradition of cremation is far preferable upon death, than a visit from the ‘dreadful’ Munkar and Nakir. The use of the word ‘dreadful’, had it been applied to Christian figures, or angels, would most certainly have been considered far to heretical for the author not to face immediate and harsh death. Had he used similarly toxic language within certain Middle Eastern countries today, I suspect he might have received quite an outpouring of outrage and calls for death. But, Al-Ma’arri moved freely across the Islamic World in the late 10th Century, stopping for at least a year and a half in the culture centre of Baghdad, in which he was warmly welcomed and celebrated by literary circles.

“They recite their sacred books, although the fact informs me
that these are a fiction from first to last.
O Reason, thou (alone) speakest the truth.
Then perish the fools who forged the religious traditions or interpreted them!”

Al-Marri seems to us, to be better suited to walking and talking in the streets of 19th Century Philadelphia with Thomas Paine, or sitting around a fire place, with a whiskey, deep in discussions in the mid-20th Century with Bertrand Russell, or joining Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris on stage for merciless debates with religious apologists in the early 21st Century; than he does to the Middle Ages. His appeal to reason, his dismissal of superstition, and his openly antagonistic and scathing approach to dealing with religious dogma and power, seems alien to a Middle Age in which we today consider to have been the dark days of human intellectual advancement. Islam appears to be entering a stage of its history today, in which Christianity emerged from two centuries ago. An insecure age, in which questioning is suspicious, freethought is a dangerous concept, and satire or ridicule inexcusable to the faith.

I advise reading the works of Al-Ma’arri. They do not only suggest a vast gulf when it comes to the perception of ‘heresy’ between the Islamic World of the Dark and Middle Ages, with the Christian World. They also speak to our sense of humanity, the supremacy of reason, and of the importance of free expression. They remind us that our Enlightenment traditions are not new. They are embedded within the psyche of mankind as can be seen from Epicurus, to Al-Ma’arri, to Paine, to Hitchens. Enlightenment thinking has a wonderful tradition unto itself. The poems are as relevant today as they were in the 10th Century. And that is what makes Al-Ma’arri – one of the few I name as personal heroes – worthy of greatness.


The Myth of Monotheism

May 9, 2013

“Sinners receive pardon by the intercession of Mary alone.”
– St. John Chrysostom

At the summit of Montmartre in Paris stands the basilica of Sacre Coeur; a late 19th, early 20th Century political and religious prodigious Catholic Church dedicated to Jesus, and the decades following the French Revolution. Crowds flock to look out across the beautiful city from the highest point at the foot of the basilica. At night, the brightly lit Church illuminates the skyline of Paris quite wonderfully.

Last week, I sat in on mass being spoken at Sacre Coeur. It’s my second Catholic Mass in Paris. Previously I’ve sat in on mass at Notre Dame. As an outspoken Atheist, one would assume I would be quite averse to all things ritual with regard religion; and yet, I find it strangely alluring. To me, it reveals something about the human condition and its desire for guidance from ‘outside’. A sort of, lack of belief in ourselves. In much the same way as the air fills with the sound of the Islamic call to prayer from the stunning Blue Mosque of Istanbul multiple times every day, Catholic rituals intrigue me. If we start from the position, as I do, that there is no God, that Jesus was not divine and may not have actually existed at all; then the rituals I see at Catholic mass seem fatuous, almost child-like, and very alien. And yet, here we are, surrounded by throngs of people, beautifully crafted stone monuments, brightly coloured windows, inspired art of the geniuses, nuns, cardinals, priests, people kneeling before the altar, so passionately enthralled in prayer that somehow the pointlessness of the ritual becomes irrelevant and the human aspect of a desire for hope, a feeling of belonging, and outside interference becomes prevalent.

It is true that those who follow the line of the three main Abrahamic traditions insist that their one God is the key to salvation, and that believing so, makes their Monotheistic faith altogether different from the Polytheistic faiths that have inspired generations before them. But it would appear to me, that the idea of ‘one God’, is not enough for those who deeply require ‘outside’ guidance and the hope for a grand plan. Polytheism seemed to have all bases covered. The single God of Monotheism, regardless of the ‘omni’ attributes applied to it, still struggles to fulfil the very basic desires that religion is supposed to inspire. And so the religious work on ways to get round that problem, walking a careful line between Monotheism and Polytheism.

Catholicism is quite spectacular at subtly blurring the lines between Monotheism and Polytheism, whilst insisting on the faith being entirely Monotheistic. This blurring of the lines between the two ‘theism’s is not new for Christianity. Let us not forget that Satan holds great power over mankind, the only key difference between Satan and God appears to be the attributed ‘good’ and ‘bad’ concepts. Other than that, they are essentially two Gods, in much the same way that Hades of Greek Mythology, and king of the Gods of the underworld, was as much of a God as Zeus. Satan occupies an important and rather central place in the Pantheon of Christian icons. It is through a single conversation between Satan and Eve, that the entire ‘plan’ of God was forced to take a dramatic, and time consuming turn. The Christian defined plan of God, is one great attempt to undo the apparent ‘harm’ created by Satan in Eden. Satan is a rather powerful being, able to circumnavigate the apparent omnipresence of God. Christianity, in its entirety, exists through the actions of Satan, and the long, drawn out reactions of God. Perhaps we could call Satan a minor deity, but a deity nonetheless.

We must also note the veneration of Saints in Catholic tradition. They may not be ‘Gods’ in a very strict sense, but they play a key role once reserved for Polytheistic Gods of old. The Saints give us a human face to a faceless religion. They surround the square of St Peters in Rome. They appear in Catholic Churches and Cathedrals across Christendom. Saints days are celebrated, and intercession of Saints is a key doctrine in many Churches. They provide an example of how one ‘should’ live according to the faith. The Saints replace the minor Gods in the old Roman Pantheons, in charge of, and able to intercede within the realm of certain human causes, that a single God seems to lack sufficient time to commit to each. Saint Peter is the Saint of long life. Christina the Astonishing (able to perform miracles) is the Saint of Mental Illness. Florian is the Saint against Fire. Gerard Majella is the Saint of expectant Mothers. The Saints play an important, supernatural role in the running of the World; a human, Earthly role that we find easier to relate to, than a faceless, mysterious ‘one God’ entity.

Crucially, according to Catholic doctrine, the Saints also hear our prayers. They hear the silent prayers, of millions of believers, in many different languages, all at the same time, from all over the World.
The importance placed on the ability of the Saints in heaven, to be able to intercede on behalf of Christians on Earth, naturally elevates the Saints to a status beyond that of human, but just below that of ‘God’.

“All those who seek Mary’s protection will be saved for all eternity.”
– Pope Benedict XV

Popes throughout the ages have placed great emphasis on salvation through Mary. She exists on a platform as close to a ‘God’ as one could possibly get. The blurred lines are evident. Popes demand her worship, without actually using the term worship:

“What will it cost you, oh Mary, to hear our prayer? What will it cost you to save us? Has not Jesus placed in your hands all the treasures of His grace and mercy? You sit crowned Queen at the right hand of your son: your dominion reaches as far as the heavens and to you are subject the earth and all creatures dwelling thereon. Your dominion reaches even down into the abyss of hell, and you alone, oh Mary, save us from the hands of Satan.”
– Pope Pius XI

If Catholicism, with its God of the ‘omnis’ were truly Monotheistic, it would not require the intercession of Saints on behalf of humans. It would not require Patron Saints suddenly able to hear millions of prayers, in different languages, in different places, all at the same time. It would not require Mary having any dominion. They would need no control, nor need to intercede within a certain realm. The Ave Maria, the rosary, would be meaningless, and yet it holds a meaningful and rather curious centrality within the Catholic faith. This represents the careful line, mentioned above, between Polytheism and Monotheism, and an interesting way to reconcile the problems presented by Monotheism, with some of the comforts offered by the Polytheistic past.

Similarly, we see Muslims often living by and focusing on the sayings and life of the Prophet Muhammad as opposed to just the Qur’an, despite the great emphasis placed on the worship of just one God, in the Qur’an. Islam does not accept the ‘worship’ of any other God, but Allah (an old Pagan God). They seem however, to play rather fast and loose with the term ‘worship’ when it comes to the Prophet Muhammad. The entire concept of death for apostasy, comes from the Hadith, and not the Qur’an. Muhammad’s life and sayings occupy a key space in the faith of Islam. There is no need to live by the words and life of the Prophet, if the faith is Monotheistic. He is simply a man. He makes mistakes. He is fallible. The Hadiths are pointless, if the Qur’an is the true word of the one God. If the only requirement of Islam, is to live by the words of the Qur’an, then the faith can be considered far more Monotheistic, than it is the moment we introduce Hadiths into the equation. Muslims undoubtedly hold the life of sayings (even outside of revelation) of the Prophet, in high regard. To question the actions of the Prophet, is to insult Islam. To negatively depict the Prophet, is to insult Islam. They may not call it ‘worship’, but it is as close as devotion gets to worship. Mehdi Hasan of New Statesman fame once told a crowd during a debate that he loved the Prophet, more than his own children. That is devotion, closer to worship than any other form. It places infallibility on a person, but simultaneously claiming not to. Again, it blurs the lines of Polytheism and Monotheism. The Islamic faith, like Catholicism, goes ‘beyond’ the simplistic ‘one God’ notion. Not quite enough to make it outright Polytheistic but certainly enough to render the concept of Monotheism in Islam suspect.

I don’t think it is possible to apply the succinct terms ‘Polytheism’ or ‘Monotheism’ so flippantly to the Abrahamic faiths. There are recognisable problems with Monotheism for the devoutly religious. It lacks a human aspect that can only be fulfilled by human actors; human actors who slowly become ‘worshipped’, relied upon for the continuation of the faith and as close to Gods as one can be without acquiring the name. Their lives and words are just as central to the faith, as the ‘revelation’ of their God. They are deemed untouchable. Polytheism did not die with the growth of the ‘Monotheistic’ religions. It simply shifted focus, blurred the lines, and the product of that blurring, can be seen when we sit in the dimly lit Basilica of Sacre Coeur and witness the unwavering and passionate devotion of the believers.