Saturday 30 April 2011

Civil Religion and identity

National civil religions are concerned primarily with creating a sense of national identity and unity, of reaffirming national mythologies, of reinforcing the elite’s narrative of the nation. It uses rites, stories, ceremonies, symbols (Parsons,2002, p.5-6) It is one of the ways a nation is represented to itself by the elite, part of ‘the spectacle’ referred to by the Situationists. Civil religion has been facilitated by almost universal access to television (in the UK), now events experienced in the immediate location by a few thousand can be participated in by the entire population (Dayan and Katz, 1988, p.162). In 2000 89% of prime time UK TV viewing was on only 4 channels therefore State television as a means of perpetuating and reinforcing civil religion is still very effective(Burton, 2005, p.218). State sponsored or hijacked events are occasions when national unity is reaffirmed- and therefore transnational identity (eg working class/faith based identity) is undermined, this serves the interests of the national and international political/economic elite as it maintains artificial and false divisions between the exploited and militates against transnational working class solidarity, it also hinders the realisation that the interests of those in power and the interests of those ruled over are mutually hostile. There are many events that are televised that perpetuate this sense of “imagined community” (Anderson, 1991 in Pittaway, 2003, p.163) including ‘Last Night at the Proms”, international football tournaments, coverage of internal and international conflicts and ROYAL WEDDINGS, in these dissent or anti-nationalism is absent, marginalised or demonised. All these and other televised civil religious events involve the deliberate re-presentation of ‘the nation’ to itself by the State/elite reaffirming their values, interests and legitimizing existing social hierarchy even presenting it as ‘God ordained’ when the institutionalised church plays a submissive, co-opted role. When these events are televised the immediate audience is recast in an affirming role for the television viewer. However we are not in ‘1984’ yet so the transmitting of these events into households allows room for private interpretations of, or dissent against, these events that are not able to be controlled by the elite irrespective of their power to promote propaganda(Dayan and Katz, 1988, p.162-8 citing Durkeim).


Anderson, B. (1991) ‘Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and spread of Nationalism’, 2nd edn., London/New York, Verso quoted in Pittaway, M. (2003) ‘Language, identity and nation’ in Chimisso, C. (ed) Exploring European Identities, Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp.149-182.

Burton, G. (2005) ‘The media and new technology’ The effects and implications of technologies for the media and their consumption’ in Burton, G. Media and Society, Critical Perspectives, Maidenhead: The Open University, pp. 197-223

Dayan, D. and Katz, E. (1988) ‘Articulating consensus: the ritual and rhetoric of media events’ in Alexander, J. C. (ed), Durkheimian Sociology: Cultural Studies, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 161-86.

Parsons, G. (2002) ‘Introduction: the concept of civil religion’ in G. Parsons Perspectives on Civil Religion, Aldershot: Ashgate/Milton Keynes: The Open University, PP.1-10.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Silent Disorder

SPEAK Monastic Weekend: The Silent Disorder

Dates: 29th April- 2nd May
All welcome.
Where?Catholic Worker Farm, nr London.
How?We will be camping, so bring a tent if you have one. The weekend will be handmade by those who come along, so bring yourself, stories, musical instruments and please bring food to share. 


Saturday 2 April 2011

Foolish Children on behalf of Mistreated Parents

A minute silence dedicated to your mother who died due to care provided in an old people's home - a gripping experience.
One of the organisers of the manifestation tells it with tears in his eyes. He had heard my story on national radio. We arrived a bit too late at the manifestation to be present for the silence..

Dwaze kinderen, foolish children - the phrase refers to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, called Madres locas by their adversaries supporting the military regime - these foolish children demonstrated for the first time against the abominable state of care for the elderly or disabled in so-called care homes in the Netherlands.

I should hesitate to mention it, having heard that conditions are worse in most British care homes. But then again, if that is so, stand up and be counted and raise your voices.

Back in the Netherlands: hearing about someone's mother who was sedated by unknown "prescription" drugs, who was wheeled to the mortuary where she eventually died of hypothermia - you are not supposed to call it murder... but how else should you call it?

As for me, I still do not know what was done wrong with my mother. It is bad enough to have to deal with so-called care managers, inhouse gp's without any real knowledge or capability, first the phone call about her death on Saturday morning and a few hours later a second call: "Cannot you take IT away, IT is getting smelly".
"We have our planning to work by", reply after we noticed that all her earthly possessions had been robbed from the room where she died. They had allegedly been demolished but some pieces could be found back and others presumably were put on ebay or elsewhere by your friendly care workers.
So my mother died according to plan.
I will not tell the full story, especially since there are still so many questions about her death.

[If you read Dutch: the story can be found here (to be read in reverse order) and here (reverse order again).
The organisation behind the manifestation: here and here where an English translation is provided sometimes.]

But "mistakes were made, we offer an apology, please give your bank account number" says the new CEO of the Care Corporation, tastefully called Osira, combining Catholic, social democratic and humanist houses in one corporation. As if the robbing of tangible pieces of memorabilia (amongst which my own wedding picture) can ever be expressed in money.

That is why we were in The Hague, near the government buildings, as Foolish Children.
And we shall be there again every first Saturday of the month. And who knows - it may be the Dutch equivalent of Tahrir Square somehow, some day...

Osiris, the Egyptian god of death and resurrection - in the highly probable case you did not get the distaste of the name "Osira".