St Paul's misogyny

Holidaying in Sicily, Herring ponders St Paul's attitude to women and asks why, if love is doomed, w

I have just been on holiday to Sicily. It’s a beautiful place, lots of history, amazing scenery and driving there is a seat of the pants exhilarating dance with death. But it’s not a bad thing to be reminded of your mortality. I find it makes you live life harder.

I was based in Syracuse, which has some pretty incredible sights, least of which is the gigantic modern Cathedral, built around a statue of the Virgin Mary that apparently produced tears for a week back in the 1950s.

It is quite amazing to see grown-ups bowing in homage to a plaster representation of a fictional character, when surely common sense dictates that this was an accident or more likely some kind of confidence trick. But then maybe the Virgin Mary likes to use her magical powers to make inanimate objects weep for a short period of time.

Anyway, the Cathedral, designed, I believe to resemble a giant teardrop, is an edifice to ugliness as well as stupidity. Much more moving in a religious sense was the crypt beneath the city’s original Cathedral which had been one of the gathering places of the first European Christians and has a 1st century altar at which it is likely that St Paul preached.

Now if I was a Christian that would be the kind of thing that got my juices going, not a lachrymose statue. Indeed my historian and ex-Christian heart jumped a little in any case when I realised St Paul had probably been in the little grotto in which I was standing. He arguably has more influence on the spread and the philosophy of Christianity, even than Jesus himself.

He is certainly responsible for the misogyny of the religion and there shouldn't be a man alive who doesn't thank him for that! He kept bitches in their place, whereas Jesus, the sandal-wearing hippie, clearly thought they should have equality or something. Thank goodness that sense prevailed. All women are good for is crying and preferably in statue form. That's what St Paul and I think and so I was pleased to have been in the same room that he had breathed his hateful words.

Whilst sight-seeing is fun, human watching is the most fun thing for me on holiday. I especially love watching couples interact. One breakfast time I was sitting next to an Italian couple who were probably a little bit older than me and from their studied silence and frostiness towards one another had clearly been together for a while - familiarity breeds contempt, always remember this.

They barely spoke to each other and when they did it was little more than a grunt. The man popped outside for a smoke. There was a fire door right behind their table, which closed behind him. Five minutes later he had finished his cigarette and his face appeared hopefully at the window. It was time for his wife to let him in. But even though she was no more than two steps away and could almost have reached over from her seat, she shrugged and sighed and indicated that he should go round the building and come in another door. Not surprisingly he was somewhat aggrieved by this suggestion, but who knows what slight had occurred earlier for him to deserve this treatment and he vociferously gestured for her to stop being so stupid and to let him in. She was indeed being ludicrously petty and after a couple of minutes made a big show of getting out of her seat and pushing the door for him. He entered and by now was too cross to thank her for this gesture and they sat in fuming silence for the rest of the meal. They were being more childish than the adults who worship a piece of stone which once had some moisture on it.

This was funny for me as a casual observer, but when one considers that they have to spend all their time in this battle of wills, scoring points off one another, it is actually mildly tragic. You only seem to see two types of couple on holiday, either those who have just got together or just been married who are ridiculously happy and demonstrative about their affection, or those who have been together for too long, have nothing left to say and can only derive any pleasure from tormenting their companion who is both their gaoler and their prisoner.

The new couples never seem to look at the old and see a frightening vision of their inevitable future and the old couple never seen to look at the new and remember that they once felt this way about their partner, which might rekindle some lost emotion and warm their heart (or more likely break it). Ultimately love is doomed and yet we all carry on despite the mountains of historical evidence ahead of us. You have to admire this triumph of hope over experience.

Richard Herring began writing and performing comedy when he was 14. His career since Oxford has included a successful partnership with Stewart Lee and his hit one-man show Talking Cock
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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.