Monday, 15 February 2016

Valentine's Day Hypocrisy

Something that only occurred to me while taking in the celebrations this Valentine's Day.

I cast my mind back to the last time February 14 fell on a Sunday, a few years ago. My friends and I were all being fashionably cynical about it, lots of conversations along the lines of it's-just-a-commercial-holiday, why-bother-taking-part, etc, etc (the Americanism "Hallmark Holiday" doesn't get used here in Australia, but we certainly understand the concept). To his credit, our pastor at the time wanted to reverse that attitude: he delivered a nice little sermon that it was originally a Christian holiday, and we should celebrate it openly, warmly, uncynically. And, thinking about it, he was right. We should.

The specific St Valentine myth he was referring to (and there are a few to choose from) was that of Valentinus of Rome, a 3rd Century clergyman who was imprisoned and then martyred for performing weddings for soldiers, who in those days were forbidden to marry. Makes for a great story – a priest torn between his conscience and the law, any number of star-crossed lovers who just have to be together, Caesar standing unmoved by their plight, all culminating in a heroic stand against The Powers That Be that ends in said priest's execution. If you made it into a movie, you could even do the cheesy Hollywood ending where he gets thrown to the lions (even though that probably never happened) and his soul ascends to Heaven, still smiling down on those whose happiness he brought to full flower before being guided into the clouds by choirs of cherubim, or some shit like that.

Real-life martyrdom comes in only two flavours: messy, and painful.

Some variant of that story was no doubt told in any number of churches this 14 February, and that's a problem. Because this is the second Valentine's Day to pass since the Coalition reneged on their promise to hold a conscience vote over the legalisation of same-sex marriage. In fact, more than that, this February 14 was:

A). A Valentine's Day that passed while the Australian Christian Lobby (to borrow Voltaire's joke, none of the above) were busy drumming up opposition to the government's "Safe Schools" programme, because it might stop some gay kids getting bullied or catching an STI, thus keeping them from an early grave by disease or suicide. And also...

B). A Valentine's Day that passed while the Coalition were busy organising a plebiscite to find out how the people of Australia feel about same-sex marriage, while also doggedly making sure it would be non-binding. Stop and consider how fucking perfect that is: blowing $150 million of our money on a plebiscite they have no intention of following, because they've already know what's best for everyone. If that's not a summary of the modern Liberal-National Party, what is?

It's known both former PM Tony Abbott and NSW Premier Mike Baird are devout Christians. It's a pretty safe bet they both attended church services on Sunday; the odds aren't terrible that the clergyman up the front repeated some version of the St Valentine myth above. And it's certainly true that all the churches I keep in touch with celebrated Valentine's Day.

And they did it – celebrated a day started by the legend of a man who married those who were forbidden to marry – while making sure a segment of our population stayed forbidden to marry.

And they wonder why the world hates them.

Actually no, it's worse than that, they take our hatred as a badge of honour, twisting verses like John 15:18 into the doctrine that hatred is proof of righteousness, that if you're not drawing the world's ire, you're doing it wrong. And they come to this conclusion by reading the Bible "literally."

If we find St Valentine's headless remains anywhere, I vote we wrap him in copper wire and place a magnet on his headstone. With the conduct of the church, would could have him generating electricity.

A modern St Valentine hard at work (source).

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