Friday, September 25, 2009

Labour Councillor calls Catholics "slobbering zealots", denies he's a bigot

Kudos to Damian Thompson for blogging this. He's not a blogger I always agree with, indeed I don't agree with all of this post but he's bang on the money with his main target.

Labour Councillor in Barnsley, Tim Cheetham (crazy name, crazy guy) came over all funny at the sight of the faithful venerating the relics of St Terese of Lisieux. Merrily tweeting and blogging away he very sweetly described them as "slobbering zealots" .

In case you don't know this, dear reader, veneration of saints and their relics is something Catholics, Orthodox Christians and High Church Anglicans do. That is, we give them their due honour as outstanding spiritual atheletes and for their closeness to God. Scroll back through time and we find that veneration of saints and relics was practised in the early Church too. A letter from the Church in Smyrna in 156 described how the remains of their martyred bishop, St Polycarp were treated:

"We took up the bones, which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together as we are able, in gladness and joy, and celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom."

Catholicism is a sensual faith; its central ritual, the Mass, particularly in the beautiful extraordinary form is a fabulous spectacle of gorgeously attired priests performing intricately choreographed movements and alternating moments of hush and drama. The great art inspired by Catholicism is heady with colour and magnficent detail, the popular iconography - think of the imagery of the Sacred Heart, the heart illuminated by rays of golden light, enclosed in a crown of thorns, peirced by a lance and bleeding garnet drops of blood - blazingly vivid. Above all Catholics want to touch, to feel the divine presence, or that which is close to it. How jealous we are of St Thomas, who was invited to touch the saviour, or of the children of Fatima so privileged to see the Virgin Mary and the multitudes in that place on the day the sun danced.

In contrast to all this exuberant passion, Councillor Cheetham is constantly fending off waves of nausea. He is flabbergasted and plainly not a little repelled by the "creepy", "macabre", "grisly" thought of people lining up to see "parts of a skeleton in a glass box". His mind's eye boggles at them kissing - kissing! - the box and squirms at the thought of saliva (a word he can't bring himself to use, delicately referring to "body fluids") left on the box's surface being inhaled by the next kisser so causing a local outbreak of swine flu. But the grossness overwhelms him, pressing the scented pomander to his nose, he imagines the faithful "slobbering" over the casket.

Councillor Cheetham's saliva fixation is quite a serious one, incidentally. In the comments box he reiterates his revulsion at "the shared lipwork" on St Terese's casket and reveals that he "regularly" lectures children not to drink from communal water fountains. After all who knows what may have pressed its lips to the faucet in the recent past.

To Councillor Cheetham's mind, the only types who engage in all this "exuberant fluid transfer" which, nota bene "caused him some discomfort" are "zealots", people given to an "excessive fanaticism". Tory PPC Louise Bagshawe, who had the nerve to object to Cheetham's language is an "apparently devoted Catholic" and he adds silkily, she is "author of what is described (rather patronisingly in my view) as 'chick-lit'." Bagshawe, Cheetham opines, should "suspend her bigotry" (yes, that's right, she's the bigot, right) just get with the programme and admire him for daring to express himself.

In which we are dissed by a cretin

In fact, everyone who objected to Cheetham's comments - which were, by the way, a trifle distorted by Twitter's word length limit, not that he meant them or anything, though admittedly he's "prone to outbursts of brutal honesty" - are in the grip of something he calls "persecutionism". They are "bigots" and "zealots", you realise, who, no don't laugh, have made "personalised attacks" on him. The vitriol is theirs, not his. They are "intolerant", and have "hijacked" St Terese's message "with nothing more constructive to add than mean spirited internet posts, intolerance of other beliefs and unfounded accusation."

I said don't laugh.

Along the way he rehearses some derivative and frankly idiotic arguments - one might call them prejudices - about the Whore of Babylon, which he declares "conducted their business [in Africa] in a socially damaging and dictatorial way". His comments have the weight of authority because of "the time I spent in Africa". He doesn't elaborate on what this business was or is and leaves it to his readers' imaginations to figure out what was socially-damaging and dictatorial about it. I suspect it's another fixation - big black men and their big black phalluses which they are incapable of keeping in their trousers. Since Cheetham is cretinous enough to hold one set of ancient prejudices, he's cretinous enough to hold a full complement of them.

Convinced of his own importance in the grand scheme of things, Councillor Cheetham is a man who has "a fairly strongly held view" which he is "open and honest about". He's unabashed by the "ranting" of his leading critic, a mere "Telegraph keyboard jockey" who has "nothing better to do than foment hatred". Unlike the hitherto obscure Cheetham, that Telegraph keyboard jockey is the one who's paid to blog and does so getting a staggering amount of hits. Cheetham may like to ponder that.

As Dolphinarium readers know, we've seen this before. The disparaging comments, the primitive prejudices, the outrage, the utter outrage at the suggestion of bigotry and the attack-is-the-best-form-of-defence tactic of accusing the critics of bigotry.

Venomballs turned all that into a fine art, suggesting that Catholics should be discriminated against in public life, lashing out against imaginary left-footer fifth columnists in the party and seeing "dangerous" Catholic League conspirators peeping at her from behind walls. But give her this at least, dear reader: nutball may have been a few prayers short of the full novena but at least she was literate. Councillor Tim Cheetham claims inter alia to be a student of theology and ordained. How can I put this gently? He must be studying at and have been ordained in one of those terribly hands on places because he can barely string a sentence together without making an embarrassing prat fall.

Is there a sub in the house?

There are howlers aplenty in Cheetham's ramblings; nouns which should start with a capital letter are in lower case, there are superfluous inverted commas all over the place, he uses the wrong possessive adjective "their" when referring to an organisation, rather than "its" and for that matter, he repeatedly incorrectly renders its possessive with an apostrophe, while - of course - missing out the possessive apostrophe when it is needed, hence a French nun's, that is something belonging to a French nun, in Cheethamville becomes "a French nuns". Yeurghh.

Frankly it's no wonder Councillor Cheetham's thinking, if one may call it that, is in such a mess. He doesn't have sufficient command of his mother tongue to arrange his thoughts into any coherent sequence.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

He's a student of theology? What are they teaching them these days? We're not talking about hillbillies in Limerick worshipping a tree stump - as you say, the veneration of saints has a long and distinguished history behind it. I don't know, he must be from one of those schools that has a horror of the physical.

I've always found the Slavonic Mass extremely beautiful, when it's done right. The Coptic and Syriac versions also get good reviews, though I've not experienced them myself.

10/03/2009 3:52 PM  

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