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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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.