Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Draconian, as in 'pertaining to Draco'

A number of people have responded on this blog and elsewhere to my post of yesterday on the assumption that I support the legislation on homosexuality currently being proposed in the Ugandan legislature.
Indeed, one post on another blog is headed, “CHURCH OF ENGLAND VICAR BACKS UGANDAN ANTI-GAY LAWS”.
The problem with this thesis is that my very first sentence refers to “the Ugandans, who are currently considering draconian legislation regarding homosexuality”. The important word here is ‘draconian’, referring to the seventh century BC Greek lawmaker, Draco, whose penal code imposed the death penalty for numerous minor offences.
The dictionary definition of ‘draconian’ is thus an “adjective (of laws) harsh and excessive”, and that was precisely my meaning. The proposed legislation is, in my view, “excessively harsh”.
Some have gone on to suggest that I must, nevertheless, somehow be in agreement with it, so let me quote what I posted on the Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream blog (which I also maintain) at the end of October:
My immediate personal reaction —since someone is bound to ask —is that it is clearly extreme in places, most obviously in suggesting the death penalty for homosexual acts with an under-18 year old. Why not, I find myself asking, a similar death penalty for adulterers or fornicators?
I also cannot help wondering why this is felt necessary in Ugandan society, when there is already legislation in place. My personal inclination is that in any humanly-ordered society*, criminal punishment is inappropriate for sexual impropriety. That which is immoral should not always be illegal.
Perhaps this was not strongly worded enough. Perhaps it was also a mistake only to post it on the CAM site, not here. However, I had hoped that calling something ‘draconian’ was an obvious enough indication of what I thought.
To be absolutely clear, I do not support the proposed Ugandan anti-gay laws. Where I have said that the Ugandans might have a point, is in the fear that their own society might go the same way as they see Western society has gone. Given my own discomfort both with where we are and where we might yet wind up, that is a viewpoint with which I do indeed sympathize.
Revd John P Richardson
16 December 2009

* Ie not a theocracy
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  1. Hi John

    I do not for a moment think you support the draconian nature of the proposed Ugandan legislation, but you did write, "the Ugandans, who are currently considering draconian legislation regarding homosexuality, might actually have a point."

    I have been troubled by the words, "the Ugandans ... might actually have a point." What point is that? I think I can guess what it is, in relation to the British situation you are reacting to. But it would be a guess. Thus, to be blunt, I think your ambiguity around "a point" laid your post wide open to the variety of reactions which have found their way to you.

  2. Somehow the explanatory memorandum to that bill reminded me of this novella. At any rate, I've rarely seen such devices used outside the Continent.

  3. Peter, I think you're right, and I should have made myself clearer, given what I already know about how people read.

    My take on the Ugandan legislation is like my take on an official suggestion, announced here on the radio this morning, that middle-class parents giving their children watered down wine at home was leading to binge drinking.

    Personally, I think the suggestion is stupid beyond words. However, when I look at our streets filled with Saturday night binge drinkers I have to admit that the chief medical officer "might have a point" - not in his proposals, but in his anxieties and desire to do something about it.

    Perhaps someone out there who disagrees with me could also think I nevertheless "might have a point".

  4. John,
    I actually thought you were pretty clear, although yes "they have a point" needs a bit of care around it, but it draws you into the article.

    The problem is that nowadays people don't generally make the effort to understand a point, but merely win their case. What you said is irrelevant, words, grammer, syntax, if a few words can be taken to make you say something else that reinforces their case.

    We can see this in the Iraq enquiry. How on the one hand Tony Blair can say, if he knew there were no WMD he'd just have to use a different argument !!!!???!! & how the anti-war group are reporting the whole thing.

    Facts don't seem to mean much these days, just winning.

    YET people also get very upset about being misunderstood.

    Darren Moore

  5. This seems apposite:

    Happy Christmas John: and keep up the good work. This really is one of the best Christian blogs.

    Steve Walton, Marbury

  6. I would love to hear you say more about what sorts of laws are right and wrong.

    You correctly say that there are some things it's not right for the government to make illegal and there are some things that a just government should criminalise (e.g. stealing), and presumably some things which a government may or may not criminalise (e.g. driving on the right hand side of the road). How can we distinguish which laws come in which category?

    Also - do please elaborate on what a humanly-ordered (non-theocracy) looks like. In our democracy demos is god, and the majority rules. If Jesus is not the explicit Lord over a political system, won't we end up with some other god acting as Lord? And won't that always be worse?

    Maybe this context isn't the best place to discuss these issues (your previous blog entry shows how easily people mis-read) but once things have calmed down a bit, would love to hear your thoughts!

  7. Anonymous, this is one of the most important questions we face, and I will get back to you on it as soon as possible - probably with a separate post.

  8. Keep blogging John. I thought you balanced it nicely first time. I've expressed additional thoughts over on the "of course I could be wrong" site.

    Grace and peace, Daniel

  9. Thanks for that, Daniel. A brief look at the "of course I could be wrong" site suggested to me the subtitle should be, "but I don't honestly think I ever have been".

    Isn't that true of us all, though? ;-)

  10. I would love to hear you say more about what sorts of laws are right and wrong.

    Me too!

    I will get back to you on it as soon as possible - probably with a separate post.

    Good! I look forward to it.

  11. don't support the proposed Ugandan law, but you clearly support their current set up, eg homosexulaity being a crime.

    That's the point, in your original article you pointed out that when we stopped using the law to curb homosexuals, society started accepting them, and that's a bad thing.

    So basically you support police arresting gays in toilets.

    And that is vile.

  12. D. Hastings, are you actually saying you support men having sex in public toilets?

    I'm not sure that is your intention, but that is what it comes down to.

  13. Anyone having sex in public toilets or public parks or wherever should certainly be arrested.
    But in the more extreme end of the homosexual movement there has been agitation to allow such things, precisely because anonymous sex is part of that subculture. What does that tell us?

    Mark B.

  14. With regard to sex in toilets, or “cottaging” as it’s called in the UK, there are a few things that I’d like to say.

    Firstly, I would never recommend cottaging to anyone, under any circumstances. It’s dangerous in all sorts of ways, and it’s hardly likely to enhance one’s self-respect. It’s just possible that two guys may meet each other in a cottage and hit it off, and that neither of them is seen in a cottage ever again. But the chances of that happening are remote, since the sort of people who go cottaging tend to be those who either don’t want to make any kind of commitment or can’t because of their circumstances. Often they want to remain anonymous because they’re in the closet. I find it significant that, in a police operation at a “highway rest stop” in America some time ago, all the men arrested were married (in the traditional, heterosexual sense) except for one. Yes, you guessed it: the exception was a Roman Catholic priest.

    Secondly, for some people cottaging seems to be an addictive practice. I find it no coincidence that all the compulsive “cottagers” whom I have known also had a serious drink problem and one of them was also addicted to gambling on fruit machines.

    Thirdly, I’m afraid that there will always be men who go cottaging, just as there will always be men who go kerb-crawling, because some people are always attracted to the forbidden and the dangerous. I don’t honestly know how you help such people.

    Fourthly, I think I’m correct in saying that when I was a child (and knew nothing about such things) there were no gay pubs or clubs outside London and a few other large cities. There were certainly no gay social groups or other safe spaces for gay men to meet each other. Cottaging was almost the only way to do it. Many years ago now I went to a talk given by a Christian child psychiatrist who said that one of the wonderful things about human nature is the way that it obstinately keeps on trying. Even some forms of childhood stealing, she said, could be seen in a positive light as a refusal to be out down. One evening I heard the landlord of a pub (an ordinary straight pub), a man who always likes to broadcast his views on and to the world loudly, saying (à propos of I’m not sure what), “Now I can remember when it was illegal to be gay.” (Not strictly accurate, but we know what he meant.) “But gays still managed to find each other.” So perhaps even cottaging, back then if not now, can be seen in a positive light, as another example of the way that human nature keeps on trying.

    Finally, as I’ve already said, there was a time, now thankfully long gone, when cottaging was the only way for gay men to meet each other, except in London and a few other large cities. I apologise if I’m wrong, but I can’t help suspecting that, if things were run the way that the Revd Mr Richardson would like them to be run, that would once again be the case.