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A Good Year for the Crazies!
From the nun on the bun to Allah on a training shoe, blessed eamonn mccann says 'Amen' to the unholy year of 1997 with all the news that fits through the eye of a needle.
Eamonn McCann, 10 Dec 1997
THERE'S REVIEWS Of The Year for politics, sport, business, movies, records, television, books. But never a Religious Review Of The Year. Until now.
In January, it was reported from Clearwater, Florida, that the Virgin Mary was appearing daily on a glass-fronted office building near the centre of town. The New York Times quoted spectators saying that the 12-foot high Virgin would dance in time to music played "gently" through speakers, displaying a preference for country-style songs in waltz-time rhythm. "Billy Reid", perhaps. "The radio said there's another shot dead/And he died with a gun in his hand". Where are you Cruncher O'Neill when the Mother of God needs you?
Auberon Waugh said in the Daily Telegraph that he preferred the story of a statue of Our Lady of Guadeloupe weeping tears of blood in a cigar store in Lewis, Kansas. I agreed. If I were Our Lady of Guadeloupe and found myself serving as an ornament in a cigar store in Lewis, Kansas, I'd shed tears of blood, too.
February: The pro-life crazy, Liberal MP and mad Catholic, David Alton, this month sent all candidates in the imminent British election a questionnaire regarding their views on abortion and euthanasia. The results, he threatened, would be published in the new newspaper of the Movement for Christian Democracy. "This is a single-issue publication," explained Alton. "It will fight for those distinctive things precious to Christians." The paper was being bankrolled by Harrod's owner Mohammed ("they think I have a small cock, but I don't let them fuck me up the ass") Fayed, a Muslim.
Following the appearance of the wonderwall Virgin of Clearwater, Fla., news came in March of Mother Teresa's face showing up on the surface of a cinnamon bun in the Bongo Java coffee shop in Nashville, Tennessee. The owner of the Bongo Java, Bob Berstein, registered the trade-name "Nunbun" and launched a line of Nunbun tee-shirts, prayer-cards and baseball bats, and a video game in which a squirrel steals a bun and is about to snuffle into Mother Teresa's likeness when (if you're quick on the controls) a huntin' dog appears and shakes him to death by the throat. Explained Mr. Berstein: "I'm a Baptist, but this is business. I'm a prayerful man. God knows I needed a break".
Hale-Bopp and Heaven's Gate made April a memorable month. 21 women and 18 men in a rented house in the salubrious suburb of Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego, California, swallowed a Phenobarbital-alcohol mixture and died, believing that they were about to be transported to paradise in a spaceship travelling in the wake of the comet discovered by and named after Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp. The 39 members of Human Individual Metamorphosis, or "Heaven's Gate", were led by one-time psychiatric patient Marshall Herff Applewhite (aka "King Do"), whose former nurse, Bonnie Nettles, who had died in 1983, was believed to be piloting the spaceship. Video "testaments" left by the cultists appeared to confirm that they had gone to their deaths contentedly and without pain.
Given that 87% of Americans (220 million people) believe they will go to heaven to live forever when they die; that 125 million believe in UFOs; and 200,000 believe that they themselves have been abducted by aliens and taken on UFOs to another world before being brought back to earth, it's small wonder 39 came to believe in Heaven's Gate. Considering particularly that nothing in the beliefs of the Heaven's Gate group is an inimical to human rationality as the Eucharist.
The biggest electoral effort ever made in western Europe by the "pro-life" movement proved abortive on May 1st when all 51 candidates lost their deposits in the British general election. The 51 constituencies had been selected as the most promisingly "pro-life". If the total "pro-life" vote (17,600) had been cast in one constituency, and that the constituency with the lowest winning poll in the UK, they still wouldn't have taken a seat. In every constituency where they faced the Monster Raving Loony Party, the MRLP polled better.
Bucolic Baptists banned Mickey Mouse in June for encouraging gay sex. The Church's 140th Southern Convention, meeting in Dallas, voted to boycott the Disney corporation in protest against a deal with union representatives extending health benefits to gay workers. The Baptists were also angered by Ellen de Generes "coming out" in the Disney-owned sit-com "Ellen".
Meanwhile, Nike apologised to Muslims and recalled more than 38,000 pairs of basketball shoes from Islamic countries because the logo on the soles resembled "Allah" in Arabic script. However, the company refused to have the shoes burned under the supervision of Mullahs, recycling the rubber instead to save the soles.
July is a big month for religion in the North. Tens of thousands take part in marches called by the Orange Order, an organisation which requires applicants to attest that they have been hostile towards Catholicism all their lives and, if married, that their spouses have taken the same view. In a number of newspapers, Catholics who take exception to this hostility being paraded through their neighbourhoods are condemned for bigotry and for putting peace at risk. Anyone questioning whether the views of the Orange Order are the defining views of the entire Protestant community risks denunciation for insulting the culture of the Protestant people. Deep one, this.
The Guardian reported on August 1st that the BBC plans to kill Assumpta just after she agrees to give Father Clifford a ride in Ballykissangel. Fr. Clifford, played by Stephen Tompkinson, has only had thighs for Assumpta (Dervla Kirwan) since he arrived at Ballykissangel two seasons ago. The quivering couple has always managed to still their throbbing hearts and parts in time. But the series is to end with the lush and lovely Assumpta not electrified but electrocuted.
On August 24th, the Independent On Sunday broke the story that Pope John Paul might appoint the first-ever female member of the Trinity by promoting the Virgin Mary to Co-Redemptrix, thus to place her on a par with Jesus and form the Holy Quartet. Rather in the way Ash recruited Charlotte Hatherly. Of course, the Virgin Mary never existed. She's "an act of theological plagiarism", an amalgam of Ashtoreth of Canaa (Ashtoreth, eh?), the Virgin Maya (Buddha's mum) and various other virgin mothers of gods. But the fact that something is non-existent has never stopped the Catholic Church making it a big deal. Take priestly virginity, for example, which Assumpta would, if she'd been spared.
Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, died in September in a car accident - an event better handled as a religious than as a current affairs story, irrational awe being one of religion's things. The contents of the as-yet-unpublished recording, the so-called "Squidgy 2" tape, suggest that Diana's ambitions and predilections had more to do with the fleshy pleasures of this life than the spiritual joys of the supposed next. But she was presented in life as a being of myth and magic. And in death, she's pondered for iconic significance. "Diana the Huntress", said her serial adulterer brother. With her healing touch and magic glance. And her buried on an island in a lake, as was Arthur, King of Camelot, Christian saint. Was there ever shite like it?
This month too, the evil Albanian "Mother Teresa", responsible for a mountain of misery in the Third World, particularly affecting women and children, managed to dredge up a half ounce of decency, and died.
In October, the Clinton administration began to put pressure on the mildly left-wing Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni to open talks with the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, which holds large swathes of territory in the North of the country and has been inflicting great suffering on local people. The LRA was formed in 1986 from the remnants of the army of Milton Obote, who had been overthrown by Museveni. Its first leader was Alice Lakwena, who instructed her followers to smear themselves with shea-butter so as to deflect bullets and to rush at Museveni's troops shouting, "Jesus is Lord". Still, they had almost reached the capital, Kampala, before being defeated in 1987.
Lakwena's army had genuine support among the Acholi people of the Northern region. But Kony's reformed LRA is an altogether nastier outfit, specialising in massacre and mutilation - lips and legs are cut off in the standard punishment for informing - and the kidnapping of children as cannon-fodder. Kony says he wants a Uganda built on "Christian family values".
This month, a report by US consultant Robert Gersony declared that stability depended on a deal with Kony. Museveni says no. But the pressure is on.
November was the month of X-files and exiles as the nation was convulsed in controversy about whether a Traveller child who had been raped and made pregnant had a right to an abortion. For any still uncertain, the answer to the question is yes.
Hardly anything religious ever happens in December, it being the month of Xmas. The majority of the population gives itself over to eating, drinking, unusual sex and general celebration. Many seek to discommode Christians by pointing to Osiris, Mithras, Dionysius etc., the gods of various middle-Eastern tribes around the time of Christ, all born of virgins on or about December 25th. But these bozos were phoneys, too. The Xmas festival marks the Winter Solstice, when we turn the cold corner of the year and can celebrate survival against harsh nature, and set our faces once more to the sun, the thought of Spring, and miraculous re-birth. All myths and folk-tales set around this time and providing other-worldly explanations of the human struggle for existence are prosaic accounts of Nature's poetical truth. To bring religion into Xmas is to demean ourselves by insulting Nature. n