Awake too early in a strange hotel room; that’s what I’m used to, and this morning, I reached over to switch on the kettle and a look at the headlines on my iPhone. I looked up the Daily Mail homepage. What would stoke their ire this morning, I wondered?
Now there are lots of aspects to the article with which we may argue. Chiefly, I think, is that the funding for Pride comes out of a different budget than the money for Cancer Research. The headline might as well read ‘Tesco drops Cancer Research for Disabled Children’ or ‘WI’ or indeed any of the community projects they support. But that wouldn’t be a story, right? Anyone else here spot an agenda shaping up? Teh evil gayz have no more stolen the Cancer Research money than those disabled kids did with their pesky, over-priced playground.
Tesco has backed Cancer Research’s Race for Life for a decade, raising (according to the DM’s numbers) ‘hundreds of millions of pounds’ for the charity. Tesco may not be your favourite multi-national farmer-screwing capitalist octopus, but that there loot ain’t no bad thing. That said, what do I know about morals? As I don’t believe in a god, it’s sometimes interesting to hear from people who think about the eternal in order to check my moral compass. The DM has found two men of god who are calling for a, er, boycott of Tesco. Blimey! I’d love to see their working out. Fortunately the DM quotes them at length.
First up is Francis Phillips, a commentator at The Catholic Herald. I’m going to quote him in full (from the DM story, anyway) with my responses to each of his ill-thought-out statements in italics.
‘Tesco is a supermarket. Its remit has been to sell good-quality food and other items at very reasonable prices, and in this it has been hugely successful. Why has it now aligned itself with an aggressive political organisation such as Pride London?’
Catholicism is a religion. Its remit has been to worship the Holy Family, and in this it as been hugely successful. Why is one of its newspapers now aggressively encouraging readers to take the political action of boycotting a business that operates in a legal manner and provides employment to thousands?
‘Why has it given up its sponsorship of Cancer Research? Or at least…why hasn’t it taken up with another mainstream charity such as the British Legion or Age UK?’
Hold on! Do you mean like this?
‘There are thousands of ex-servicemen and wounded soldiers needing help in this country, and millions of elderly people in danger of neglect.’
That’s true, but how is this relevant to the argument? Are you trying to pedophile priest be deliberately emotive just for the hell of it?
‘They are a fundamental part of the fabric of our society – the kind of fabric that Tesco should be reflecting.’
Tesco do support these groups. Where, for example, do you think I bought the poppy I’m currently wearing? You’d think a journalist would think of googling ‘Tesco charity trust’ before committing to paper. Ultimately, Tesco is built on private money and can do anything it likes within the law. Who is Mr Phillips to tell them what to do? Oh – I forgot: Mr Phillips is a Catholic, and it’s therefore up to him to tell everyone what to do. How neglectful of my Catholic friends who have allowed whole decades to pass without being similarly didactic.
Next, David Skinner of the Anglican Mainstream organisation has written to Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke: ‘For Tesco to sponsor a tiny homosexual minority – according to the Office for National Statistics, that amounts to little more than 1 per cent of the population – will be showing the utmost contempt for a large proportion of British society that still adheres, more or less, to the morality and values of the Ten Commandments.’
David Skinner, two questions:
1. Which of the ten commandments condemns homosexuality?
2. The ONS puts the number of gays in the UK as roughly equal to the number of Jews. Would you similarly disapprove of Jewish charities getting support from Tesco?
Even question 1 is a red herring. How many of them can you name? Read the ten commandments. How many could you honestly say you live your life by?
Emma Gilbert who actually works for Cancer Research was a bit more sane in her appraisal of the situation: the relationship between Tesco and CR ‘came to a natural end for both parties.’ She sounds, well… pretty cool about it, really, doesn’t she? Hey, Dave, Frank – take a chill pill, woncha?
I closed my browser as the kettle, and my blood, boiled quietly. It’s a classic piece of DM spin: find a photogenic victim, find a convenient villain, put them together, put the most emotive quotes at the top and you’ve got a story. I’m conscious that Messers Phillips and Skinner don’t represent all Christians (though you gotta love the audacity of calling your organisation ‘Christian Mainstream’), but whenever there’s a story about gay things, there is always a statement from someone with something nasty to say about us. And do you know? It’s always a Christian! I suspect (though can’t be sure) that Mr Skinner’s view is about as mainstream as those poppy-burning Muslims we keep hearing about.
I can think of plenty of companies that you could boycott because their unethical practices are so bad people actually die as a result. Shall we scour Mr Skinner’s kitchen cupboards and check he only buys Fair Trade orange juice? The tobacco industry uses chemicals that cause the children of some workers to be born without genitals. How does Mr Phillips feel about that? Do I hear a call for boycotting cigarettes? Can I assume that Mr Phillips is a smoker in the same way he assumes Tesco ‘don’t’ ‘support’ the ‘mainstream’ ‘charities’ of his whim? Face it, gents, you just don’t like gays. Which is fine and up to you, but if you’re pumping all of your hatred into this nasty little campaign, then a lot of more worthwhile causes are missing out on your considerable energies.
Here’s a thought: I don’t believe in any god. And if I did, it probably wouldn’t be your god. And if it were, I bet we could still manage to disagree on something. So if your entire objection to a section of society that is as approximately as numerous as the Jews (I keep saying it, because I really want to ram home the point that whether you discriminate or not shouldn’t be based on percentages, and because Jews and gays share a similar history of persecution that should be familiar to any sentient adult in this country), then your opinion is no more than that. Don’t you approve of gay marriages because they don’t please your god? Fine, then equally you shouldn’t approve of Jewish, Muslim, or for that matter civil marriages because they are surely just as abhorrent. Your god can tell you to stand on your head, naked, eating yoghurt for all I care, just don’t expect me to join in unless the process also involves presents, booze and a day off work.
Ian McKellen famously rips out Leviticus from the Gideons Bibles he encounters on his travels. I have some sympathy (it’s not easy being an Ian) but censorship doesn’t sit comfortably with me. So this morning, I finished making my cup of tea, took a pen, and in the inside cover of my hotel room’s Bible wrote:
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.