Archive for April 11th, 2008

Second Fridays

One of my new year’s resolutions was to insert some sort of regularity in the type of things I write about on this blog. As usual, I haven’t paid any attention to it thus far. One thing that did occur to me was to use the first Friday of every month to look at David Quinn’s latest piece on religion in the Indo, and see if doing so nine months in a row would bring me some sort of eternal reward. Regrettably, the opportunity to start in April has passed me by.

But today he’s channeling Coolio, of all people, so I couldn’t resist taking a closer look.

‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ could be played as the background music to the violence which has rocked Limerick city yet again this week and doing so would not be the least bit exaggerated or out of place. “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I take a look at my life and realise there’s none left.” Does this exaggerate what is happening in parts of Limerick, Dublin and elsewhere? Or it is a brutally accurate depiction?

I was never a fan of Coolio, and I prefer Stevie’s original Pastime Paradise, apart from the rhyming of lots of words ending in -ation, which is never a good idea. But David Quinn is to be commended nonetheless for recognizing that hip-hop can be very effective in articulating subjective experiece of social realities. I look forward to further pieces in this vein. One on what Q-Tip can tell us about how the liberal agenda is undermining parental choice in schools would be nice.

As is often the case, Quinn is adept at describing the symptoms of a real social problem, but he isn’t so good at identifying what the root of the problem actually is. Here’s what he says about the importance of a criminal gang:

All of us want to be respected in some way, shape or form. The vast majority of us have legitimate ways of seeking and gaining respect, whether through our jobs or our families or our local communities. Many of us gain a sense of dignity and meaning and purpose from our religious beliefs.

An alienated, poorly educated 18 year old from one of Ireland’s sink estates can find no legitimate way to gain respect, to acquire status. He has no job, he has either no family, or else it is deeply dysfunctional, and he believes in nothing. Therefore he seeks out illegitimate ways. The gangs provide this.

As usual, he thinks that the root of the problem he identifies is the absence of a religious bond to a higher purpose. But what I find interesting is that he sees the importance of religious beliefs in terms of their capacity to perform a useful function. His view, then, is somewhat similar to that of Kanye West in Jesus Walks:

I ain’t here to argue about his facial features
Or here to convert atheists into believers
I’m just trying to say the way school need teachers
The way Kathie Lee needed Regis that’s the way I need Jesus

It is not that the beliefs are important in themselves: rather, it is their enabling effect. No doubt Quinn would prefer that the young man of his example would believe in God, but his description of the function of belief invites one to wonder if a belief in anything in particular is preferable to a belief in nothing. That is, it doesn’t matter if you believe in the resurrection of the body, or in the eventual withering away of the state through the dictatorship of the proletariat, or in your property portfolio, or in Manchester United, or in serving the Fuhrer, as long as it delivers a sense of ‘dignity and and meaning and purpose’. In short, a false god is better than nothing.

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