Laughing gas logic?
As I indicated in a tweet to Anglican priest Rev Jane Atkinson on September 6, I am deeply troubled by the “celebratory” tone of media coverage around BBC presenter Rachael Bland’s death.
Using the Twitter handle that features her maiden name Hodges, I tweeted “Apologies to family and friends of @Rachael_Hodges but I find the ‘celebratory’ tone of reports of her illness and death rather contrived and fatalistic.”
And later that day I indicated the Christocentric (more so than Christian) basis of my concerns, tweeting “Is it just me @RevJaneAtkinson, or is there something contrived and excessive about the “celebratory” tone of media coverage of @Rachael_Hodges’ death? Having seen an AIDS victim healed I cannot help but see her death as a profound tragedy.”
My sincere belief in the possibility that Bland’s life could have been miraculously saved therefore prompted my tweets to Rev Atkinson as much as anything else.
And there is much else that I will be addressing here about mainstream media and medical contrivances and excesses – or “overthrows” in cricketing language.
My use here of cricketing jargon and my application of the wider “cosmological cricket” method of analysis that I introduced in the first article in this series has been facilitated by the curious criss-crossing of the paths of England batsman Alistair Cook and India bowler Jasprit Bumrah on the fourth day of the recently concluded fifth test cricket match, at the Kia Oval in London.
Bumrah’s “overthrows” secured Cook’s historic century, the 33rd and last in his illustrious career with the bat. A grand finale!
I hope to be more controlled and accurate in my comments about the end of Bland’s curiously tragic and triumphant media career than Bumrah was.
As in the first cosmic cricket article, documenting my careful, Christocentric engagement with the atheistic Marxist Selma James, my goal is a cricket-like, fair and balanced assessment of Bland’s and her BBC colleagues attempt to make the best of a terrifyingly tragic situation.
The challenge is to be fair to them even as I give liberal expression to my instinctual-intellectual, dare I say spiritual equivalent of Bumrah’s “anomalous, sling-arm action and natural pace”, as his ESPNcricinfo profile puts it.
I expect that just as the “peculiar release point of Bumrah’s deliveries makes it hard for batsmen to pick him”, some readers may struggle to grasp my essential points, or the spirit in which I make them.
The Jewish reformer Joshua (Jesus) of Nazareth had a similar problem.
According to the biblical writer John, Joshua said “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
That unpredictability is the antithesis, virtually, of the “overthrowing”, “over-blowing” instincts that I believe brought the church into existence.
In my book The Bible: Beauty And Terror Reconciled, I address the perfectionist anxiety and other individual and group dynamics that are a part of or that interact with this instinct, as I make the case that Joshua merely wanted to reform Judaism, not start a new religion: Christianity.
Relying heavily on the words of the Bible, especially the original Hebrew and Greek texts, I argue that Joshua’s main theme was the “Kingdom of God”, not the church or any other earthly, real estate linked interest – with all due respect to the occupants of the Vatican, the White House, the Israeli Knesset, the Kremlin, the Saudi Council of Ministers, the British Houses of Parliament and similar secular and religious power bases.
The history of the world is replete with examples of how such spaces and places of concentrated power are repeatedly proved to be in some way self-contradictory: impotent.
Joshua may have articulated and incarnated the truth of this power dynamic more successfully than anyone before or after him by his resurrection rich resetting of the relationship between time and eternity; between life and death.
But it is not an original idea. It is not an original story.
Thanks to Karl Jung, Joseph Campbell and others, the links between the Christ narrative and ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman divinities are well known.
I have traced that story to the multiple millennia old, plagiarist publishing and bookish body-snatching trickery of the African folklore figure Anansi.
And the way Bland’s tale intersects with the “Anansi and Brah Dead” story is awe inspiring, truly.
And a primary paradox of Joshua’s Word Become Flesh life story, that wondrous genomic web surely, is how like the cricketing criss-crossing of Cook’s and Bumrah’s fates, success and failure are always at each other’s mutual service and jeopardy.
One previewer of this article, an aspiring midwife, has left me in no doubt of the peril I am putting myself in, saying people will ask who I am (or think I am) and what gives me the right to question Bland’s, the BBC’s and the wider mainstream British media’s arguably capitalizing, kamikaze response to her cancer predicament.
The fact is nothing her former colleague and friend Richard Bacon, BBC 5 Live Controller Jonathan Wall or anything anyone else has said or done has altered my sense that however well intended, there is an at least questionable, possibly unwholesome, suicide contagion risking element in the laughing gas logic behind Bland’s You, Me and the Bic ‘C’ podcast that she co-hosted with Deborah James and Lauren Mahon.
However commendable her and their efforts to put a positive “top spin” on their and other cancer sufferers’ predicaments, nothing that has come to my attention so far has shaken my sense that the former cricketer-turned-commentator Johnathan Agnew demonstrated something like the speed bowling precision and penetration that bagged him 666 first class wickets when, responding to Bland’s September 3 tweet saying she was told that she had “days left” to live, he tweeted “And then reality suddenly bites and perspective gained. This is awful. No words, other than love to you and Steve xx”.
From overs to ovaries
So, I persevere in my effort to engage with the reality of death that Bland faced, or tried to face, with due respect to all implicated, naturally or unnaturally.
Aided by my editorial midwife, my Shi Maria or Sis’ Nancy, I persevere with the publication of possibly offensive opinions, having fully reconciled myself to the possibility of being misrepresented or misunderstood, intentionally or unintentionally.
This would not be the first time that has happened.
Part of the impetus to birth the artificially inseminated opinions I share here is my experience of the soul destroying power of the media to undermine through silence.
I persevere with this protracted labour of life and love (as CNN assistant managing editor Christina Kline can attest, it’s taken a lot longer than I anticipated) because I am equally concerned about the mental and physical health and well being of the BBC’s news, information and entertainment consuming public and that of BBC personnel.
I am concerned that tributes to the irreverent, gaseous (contagious) laughter-in-the-face- of-death attitude that Bland propagated through her podcast are symptoms of the widespread technological-ethical desensitization and disconnect from reality that celebrity centered secular and religious print and electronic media content seems to be fostering.
If BBC Norfolk reporter Mike Liggins recalls an email I sent him in 2013, he can attest to the care and camaraderie that I seek to be guided by in my often fraught interactions with journalists, academics and other traders in the knowledge industry.
As I recall, in that email I sought to empathize with Liggins on the basis of my understanding of the deadline and other pressures of a journalist’s workload.
Such care for Liggins and other BBC personnel, including former staffers like my local MP Clive Lewis, might come as a surprise to some who know of my long-running fight with British, American, Caribbean and other media houses over their probable role in a Barbados-sown, globally grown campaign of character assassination, economic sabotage and other attacks on my intellectual property and human rights.
But others like Liggins, to whom I have always sought to be cordial and respectful, even as I have publicly denounced him for privately and rather questionably labeling me “a crank”, can attest to my goodwill toward all associated with that broadcasting entity.
Others still, like Barbadian businessman David Harvey who know of my commitment to principles of empathy, forgiveness and interdependence can attest to my efforts to play with a straight bat, treating all equally, irrespective of gender, race, religion or class.
Using the “open face” of the bat
This openness to engaging with others despite possible, even probable differences of opinion stems from my heartfelt belief that all differences between human beings can be overcome through dialogue.
This “open bat” belief not only prompted me to consider contacting Bland directly, when I learned of her days left dilemma: it also explains my rather random addressing of my second tweet of September 6 to Rev Atkinson.
I have never met Atkinson, vicar of St John’s Church in Little Thornton, Lancashire. And I cannot even recall why I started following her on Twitter, frankly.
She and I have not had a single conversation about religion or anything else, so far as I am aware.
My tweets were merely invitations for reverend Atkinson to engage with me on the Bland cancer battle phenomenon.
I did not assume that she shares my belief in miracles. And I note her non-response to my tweeting thus far in that respect.
Moreover, I do not think I would have tweeted to reverend Atkinson on September 6 had she not come to my attention via a twitter notification, as I was preparing my second tweet about Bland that day.
And crucially, more than the fact that Atkinson is a priest, it is the fact that she describes herself as a “wife and mum” that led me to include her in my Bland bravery critiquing tweet.
I felt that as a wife and mother like Bland, who heart-breakingly, has been wrenched from the familial bonds of her husband Steve and their two year-old son Freddie, Atkinson would appreciate the value I place on those womanly roles.
But I did not assume that Rev Atkinson would agree with or even approve of my divine-healing-possibility-based beliefs.
I did not assume that she shares my, oncologist Dr Craig Martin’s, Healing Rooms associates Ray and Ruth Scorey’s or similar theists’ belief in the power of prayer to heal the sick.
Indeed, knowing the skepticism of many Anglican priests about this area of Christian faith, I am prepared for the possibility that Atkinson disapproves of the position that I am taking here profoundly.
Nonetheless, as I reflected on the possibility of life saving divine interventions, like that which I believe saved the life of a Barbadian who was dying of full-blown HIV/AIDS in 2003, I could not help but wonder if Bland’s life might also have been saved.
That HIV/AIDS survivor is the person I referred to in my tweet to reverend Atkinson.
And I also spoke to that Barbadian on September 6, urging him to share his story precisely for people like Bland’s sake: people whose lives are in jeopardy.
And one of the main questions I am grappling with here is if rather than seeking to “punch cancer in the face”, as she once put it, had Bland and those now lionizing her pursued a more humble, religiously reverential, deftly death defying strategy, might she still be alive today?
My fundamental concern is that Bland did not even consider the possibility of a miraculous, supernaturally “mediated” recovery because that proposition is alien to the culture of the super cool, scientifically sophisticated, secular, technologically advanced “Beeb”.
I am deeply troubled by the possibility that the secular humanist, typically atheistic ideology that apparently dominates its programming policy is generating a lethal silence on crucial matters of faith and spirituality at the publicly funded BBC.
My concern, as I hinted in a somewhat cryptic September 8 tweet, is that media celebration of Bland’s irreverence in the face of death may be “masking a deadly cynicism and conceit” that is at the heart of the mainstream global media’s relationship with the Western medical and wider secular scientific establishment – and with the pharmaceutical industry particularly.
And I believe that if the opioid addiction epidemic in the United States and a similar pharmaceutical drug crisis here in the UK and elsewhere has made anything clear, it is that this “deadly cynicism and conceit” transcends simplistic secular-religious rivalries.
As I suggest in the first article in this cosmic cricket series, religion is not the only opiate of the masses: irreligion can be an opiate just as easily.
Informed by at times cordial but mostly fraught interactions with a number of BBC Norfolk personnel, including Liggins, Lewis, Rita Johnson, Wendy Witham and Gary Standley, it seems clear to me that it is not just pie-in-the-sky-eyed Pentecostal and other fundamentalist evangelical Christians that are susceptible to ideological tunnel vision and faith fantasies.
Indeed, if one considers the “chemical imbalance” character of the identity politics preaching and practice of Sir Hilary Beckles, Dr Sandra Richards, Margaret Gill, Boris Johson, Nigel Farage, Jane Garvey, Sandi Toksvig and other fundamentalist evangelical feminists, capitalists and communists (socialists), it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that all ideological systems, whether labeled secular or religious, are subject to the perpetual patterns of degeneration and renewal that are seed-like or seminal components of much print and electronic media mischief and hazards.
In TBBTR, based on lessons learned from my own free thought limiting, possibilities precluding immersion in evangelical fundamentalist Pentecostal Christianity, I explore these secular and religious label transcending cycles of degeneration and renewal.
And my belief that the BBC and other media houses often function much like a church, temple, synagogue, mosque or other religious organization is key to my view of the public mischief that may have been perpetrated by Bland’s cancer battling podcast and the questionably celebratory tone of tributes following her death.
Indeed, my understanding of the limitations of all print and electronic news and knowledge trading, digital or analog, has evolved from my perception of the considerable harm that preachers like the late reverends Holmes Williams and Granville Williams of Barbados and reverends Billy Graham, Franklyn Graham, Bishop Eddie Long, Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson and Pope Francis have done, despite their best intentions, through their efforts to communicate truth from the pulpits of their large churches, through radio and television broadcasts and through Bible, tract and other Christian literature distributing activities.
As I note in TBBTR, the thought of my own capacity to mislead through my writing and publishing activity terrifies me (page 24).
Long before I was introduced to the work of the late Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan, I had acquired at least an elementary common sense grasp of the fact that words can become “carcinogenic” when they are mass produced and misapplied or otherwise lifted from their historical context.
Barbadian broadcaster Vic Fernandes, of the Starcom Network may recall a message I sent to him around 2002 about my detection of toxic elements in the environs of Rev Williams’ church, Peoples Cathedral.
At the time I was thinking particularly of the tragic death of pastor Ricardo Birkett in his mid 30s.
A bright light and heir apparent to Williams, potentially, Birkett was also cut down by cancer, a rare blood-based strain, if I am not mistaken.
I am concerned that even before Bland was afflicted with cancer she had inherited or became infected by a BBC bullying culture mediated, power-of-prayer precluding, atheistic version of the church-focused, closed mind encouraging quality of faith that I believe Rev Williams may have infected Birkett with unintentionally.
The big ‘C’ Rachael Bland and I didn’t have: a conversation
I actually contemplated contacting the brave Bland to tell her about the divine intervention and miraculous healing that is possible when we break the walls of silence that insulate us in sanitized secular and religious bubbles or enclaves.
I considered tweeting to Bland when I learned of her heart breaking, desperate days left dilemma on September 6, as my colleague Dr Natalie Tobert, a medical anthropologist who I was visiting in London that day can attest.
Among other things, I sought to enlist Tobert’s help because I thought she might share her knowledge of the apparent suppression of scientific studies supporting the efficacy of spiritual remedies with Bland.
I also thought I might tell Bland about that Barbadian who was miraculously delivered from death’s door as he lay wasting away under the soul devouring ravages of fully blown HIV-AIDS.
He had been sent home to die, at his request, because death seemed imminent.
I prayed with him for divine healing and he is still alive and well today.
And living with the thought that I may have been similarly used by God to prevent Bland’s death if I had contacted her is just one of the consequences of the indecisiveness that prevented me from initiating a conversation with her via Twitter or any other means.
But that indecisiveness is a consequence of my own fraught faith journey, and especially the result of my first-hand experience of the special care that a conversation about religious faith, initiated in such a public space, with a possible atheist dying of breast cancer would entail.
Followers of this blog may recall the complex, secular and religious walls transcending, ideological bubble bursting, interdisciplinary bridges building skills I documented and demonstrated in the record of my careful conversation with the Marxist matriarch James, published here on May 6, exactly four months ahead of my tweet to Rev. Atkinson.
The parallels between that conversation with James and the challenging one I envisioned with Bland are significant.
Here is an extract of my record of the James-Campbell conversation. It begins with an assessment of James’ “apparent unfailing optimism” that sadly foreshadows the critique of Bland’s outlook I am pursuing here. I wrote,
“Much as I applaud James’ apparent unfailing optimism, which in many ways reflects the pragmatic hope and sense of purpose that powers my own often thankless ‘invisible’ work, I cannot help but be uneasy about the prospect of her and others’ work ending in frustration, or worse, for them and others… What I hope this analysis of James and my careful conversations makes clear are the challenges that we all face if women’s and men’s words are to be fleshed out or incarnated fruitfully and have their intended inter-generational, ‘carnal knowledge’ curating and harmonizing, creative outcomes.
“It was toward this end I that referenced the idea of the ‘banality of evil’ during my interview with James, as a counter to her selectively pessimistic, self-fulfilling prophecy risking, mainstream media modeled view of communication challenges.
“The danger of this morbidly mechanistic, deadly digital view, the price that women, men and children are all paying for superficial, corporate deadlines driven news coverage and analysis, with its simplistic secular-religious dichotomies and antagonisms, can hardly be calculated.”
The James-Bland comparison, points not only to the potentially lethal intersection of fundamentalist evangelical strains of atheism and feminism but also to the possible irrelevance of age.
There is a 48 year gap between James and Bland, demonstrating how irreversibly a dubiously death “embracing” mental dye can be set.
The whole point here though is to explore the possibility that Bland not only considered experimental cancer treatments, as reported by her longtime friend and colleague Bacon, but to what extent she may have been open to the idea of being healed by prayer or a similar supernatural power invoking expression of faith.
And readers should be clear: I am not saying that Bland did not try a traditional “prayer of faith” based remedy.
Was Bland a victim-perpetrator of a British Bullying Corporation?
I am saying that based on what I know of her podcast and of the BBC, her resorting to such a remedy seems unlikely.
The question, again, is to what extent it may be accurate to say that Bland’s employment with the BBC and her apparent immersion in the wider “liberal” British and Western media’s aggressively secular, typically hostile-to-religion environment conditioned her mind and determined her death.
My main concern is to what extent Bland, Radio 5 Live controller Wall and other mainstream media decision makers may be complicit, through personal or technological communication overthrows or excesses, in publishing, broadcasting, podcasting or otherwise propagating a subtly bullying culture of death.
And the rationales behind both my “Help Google Be Good Not Evil” and “Make morally muddled, media attention seeking murderers nameless” petitions come to mind here.
Yet beyond my own and other’s well publicized and documented stories of BBC and other UK, US, Canadian, Caribbean (especially Barbadian, Antiguan and Jamaican) journalists’ bullying, plagiarism, politically subversive maneuvering and related machinations I assume nothing.
As the oncologist Dr Martin, a devout Christian could attest, I would be the last person to put Bland or any other person under any pressure to accept my belief in Christian or other faith healing traditions that challenge Western medical and wider secular scientific orthodoxy.
My spirituality and psychiatry reconciling associate Tobert and others familiar with my idiosyncratic, church-attendance avoiding or severely limiting, unconventional brand of spirituality can attest, I would be the last person to pressure Bland to accept my beliefs.
Martin and his pastor John Browne, of Servant’s Church in Norwich know at least a little about how deeply skeptical I am of all organized, church-based religious routines.
So I can say with the clearest possible conscience that I fully affirm the plucky Welsh woman Bland’s right to live and die as she chose.
But again, having seen the “hand of God”, or what we might call the glorious uncertainties of the cosmos, in line with my cosmic cricket, sporting chance, open-minded view of the world, I am obliged to point out that Bland’s death may have been both needless and needlessly kamikaze.
I am not saying that prayer guarantees that we are healed.
I am saying that it creates that opportunity.
And I am concerned that having immersed herself in the atheistic culture of the BBC (as Birkett and I had immersed ourselves in church-bound evangelical fundamentalist Christianity), Bland may have been denied, or denied herself, arguably, the power to choose a miraculous, supernatural remedy.
And, again, I feel obliged to explore this possibility at the risk of offending Bland’s BBC colleagues, friends and family because of my own experience of the cynically silencing atheistic propensities of the BBC, CNN, the Associated Press, the Washington based International Center for Journalists, the London based National Union of Journalists and similar secular media entities.
And my and others’ concerns about the BBC’s, the Guardian’s, the Telegraph’s, the Daily Mail’s and other mainstream media and new (social) media houses’ roles in institutionalizing insensitivity and a widely documented culture of bullying is a matter of public record, having been previously published here, here, here, here and elsewhere.
I have also been campaigning against secular and religious bigotry in the media through less public channels, as in a recent letter to the House Of Lords’ Select Committee On Regenerating Seaside Towns.
Indeed, for several years now, drawing on both personal and professional experience, I have been warning anyone who would listen about a secular and religious boundaries transcending mechanistic moralizing propensity that seems to be both at the root and in the self-perpetuating fruit of the global misuse of artificial intelligence and related technological interventions and legal-social innovations.
This is the backdrop to a link I made between Bland’s religious and wider convention challenging cancer coping or fighting parental strategy and musical “matriarch” Elton John’s gay parenting advocacy.
Responding to a story by CNN assistant managing editor Christina Kline about the launch of Sir Elton’s ambitious 300 concert farewell tour on September 8, I suggested that the British pop musician may have “done more than any other singer to consciously or unconsciously undermine the concept of motherhood, parenting and family life”.
Sir Elton’s and others simplistic, explicit or implied equation of gay parenting with heterosexual biological procreation not only makes light of far reaching issues of biological heredity, at least potentially, it disembodies and fragments the construction of personal narrative that is key to the growing child’s grasp on reality.
There have to be better ways of ensuring that LGBTQ people are treated with respect and dignity than by imperiling the imperatives of procreation and parenting that are rooted in male-female biological interdependence and complementarity.
However well meaning, the simplistic celebration of Bland’s brand of bravery by her BBC and other media colleagues it triggered me with thoughts of John’s and other gay, lesbian and transgender spokespersons’ consciously or consciously perpetrated technological “overthrows”, misappropriations and misdeeds.
It smacked of the media-political conceits that justify abortion but decry the death sentence for murder simultaneously.
It prompted thoughts of overthrows or overflows like the abuse of analytics by Google, the chilling, soul sickening sale of sex robots as substitutes for intimate human contact and the political hijacking of the good intentions and generous information sharing of Facebook, Twitter and other Anansi approximating perversions of social media users intentions and identities.
Whether they are accidental or deliberate, such abuses of technology are not only cheapening human communication and connection but are existential threats, as Stephen Hawkins, Elon Musk and others seem to have conceded rather belatedly.
And as I told Lancet Psychiatry founding editor Niall Boyce, ahead of the 2018 Digital Innovation In Mental Health Conference, in which we both participated, these threats, like the “invention” of writing and the development (not invention) of Gutenberg’s printing press are only the latest in the long list of creations by which we human beings consciously or unconsciously over extend and “overthrow” our professed beliefs.
This is some of the thinking behind the conclusion I have reached that while probably well meaning, the “up beat”, supposedly morale boosting component of media stories about Bland’s tragic demise at 40, leaving her two year old son and husband behind, may also be a social symptom of what the designers Dolce and Gabana might call the synthetization of human sentiment – at the risk of offending Sir Elton, Toksvig and other gay parenting apostles and evangelists.
At any rate, the untimely death of the yet young Bland by breast cancer has prompted me to redouble my efforts to ensure that all cancer and other disease suffers are not deprived of access to the full spectrum of natural and supernatural, possibly life-saving cancer remedies by the bigotry and poverty of imagination that generations of legalistic and literalistic, consciously or unconsciously divisive print and electronic media programming has made a feature of everyday life – and death.
Supported by the research of medical anthropologist Tobert, and with crucial contributions from Digital Innovation in Mental Health Conference convener Dr Becky Inkster, conversation analyst and entrepreneur Dr Elizabeth Stokoe, deadly disease defying Pentecostal Christian oracle Keith Barrow, medical folklorist Dr Andrea Kitta, educator-artists Deborah Liversage and Janice Lear-Gurney and others who in various ways exemplify the passion, creativity and overall zest for life that clearly powered Bland’s pubic image, I am redoubling my efforts to fight the fundamentalist atheist and theist evangelizing that is at the crux of supposedly intelligent, liberty loving, progressive humanity’s social suicide.