Life’s shifting pageant

Listening to the World Service on the gay pride rally in Jerusalem very early this morning, I heard one peculiarly silly remark, to the effect that the conservative religious ‘communities’ that were making such a fuss about the rally are part of the ‘richness and diversity’ of Jerusalem. That was immediately followed by a ‘but,’ because the person who said it was defending gay rights against religious opposition, and yet – the starting point was richness and diversity. Well – you can call it richness and diversity, of course; you can call it jelly beans and dancing and flowers and anything you like. It’s always possible to dress things up in pretty language to make everyone feel cheerful. But all the same it can seem fairly contrariwise to call angry irrational narrow religious bigotry that wants to stop things and ban things ‘richness and diversity.’ You can call anything anything, but if you do it by backwards pretty soon everyone will forget how to say things the right way up. If religious tyrants are richness and diversity, then what would fit the description of poverty and narrowness?

In other words, no, in the normal understanding of the words, religious bigotry that wants to ban things for no real reason it can point to other than a Holy Book is not richness and diversity, it’s the opposite. It’s not just off at an angle, it’s the opposite: it’s a force for smallness and sameness and uniformity and obedience, and there’s nothing rich or diverse about it. (Except maybe the embroidery.) Yet people think there is – that’s the odd thing. Well – in a mostly or partly secular society, it may be unfamiliar, it may seem to have a whiff of the exotic (which would dissipate in about fifteen minutes if you had to live with it), it may look quaint and eccentric and exciting; but it’s not rich and diverse in itself. There’s a difference. Novelty is one thing, and richness is another. It might be as well if more people had a firmer grasp of that distinction, lest they get too infatuated with this idea that fundamentalist patriarchal bullies are attractive merely because they’re different from the crowd at Starbucks.

One reason the Vatican and the mufti of Jerusalem and ultra-orthodox Jews (all of whom opposed the gay pride rally) are not about richness and diversity is because they don’t want richness and diversity themselves, and if they could, they would eliminate them. They’re not fans of cosmopolitanism and patchwork and hodge podge and salad bowls. That’s not their schtick. They’re fans of monochrome – black, usually. They’re not shining ambassadors for richness and diversity for the same sort of reason that Nazis weren’t. Nazis had a pretty clear idea of what kind of thing was okay and what wasn’t; the first category was quite small, and the second was a candidate for steady methodical culling. That’s what zealots want for all of us: not richness and diversity but obedience and uniformity. Call them strawberries or butterflies or rainbows all you like, it won’t change that.

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