All The False Gods

It is reported that British police have decided to investigate a Newcastle Football Club fan banner protesting the recent acquisition of the club by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund. It shows a Saudi-clad man wielding a bloody sword and about to behead a magpie, as fans in the background chant: "We got our club back." The banner then lists the crimes of which the Saudi regime is accused by all human rights groups: terrorism, beheading, civil rights violations, murder, censorship and persecution. The Premier League promotes LGBT bracelets and anti-racism genuflections in honour of Black Lives Matter, but allows Saudi Arabia to take over a top club. It is unlikely that the cartoonist Andrew Birch will be prosecuted however. His illustration in The Spectator on 29th October showed two dismayed Newcastle players looking at a poster about club player fines under the new regime; ‘offside – 5 years in jail; kissing and hugging after goals – public flogging; conceding penalty – amputation; criticising owners – strangulation, cut to pieces and thrown into the Tyne’.

Manchester City Football Club majority owner is Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a billionaire member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is an elective monarchy formed from a federation of seven emirates. An emirate is the possession of an emir, a male, noble ruler. Perhaps the Principality of Monaco serves as a comparison. The UAE is nothing like Saudi Arabia which exports Sharia based Islam as far as it can throughout the world. Saudi Arabia promotes the building of mosques worldwide. It is a rival to Iran in middle east power struggles. However, Manchester City and Newcastle football clubs are owned by autocratic rulers who do not reflect the democratic traditions of this country. What they do is provide disproportionate funds to their clubs to achieve success beyond the scope and capacity of basic supporter and local business income. In 2018 Manchester City’s owners were fined 30,000,000 Euros and banned from playing in Europe for two years for breaching fair play rules which correlate income and expenditure. In 2020 this was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on grounds of time barring and vagueness of some evidence. Rival managers José Mourinho of Tottenham and Jürgen Klopp of Liverpool strongly criticised the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s ruling over the Manchester City case, with Tottenham’s manager describing the outcome as “disgraceful” and his Liverpool counterpart calling it a bad day for football. In France Paris St Germain Football Club is owned by Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, through state-run shareholding organization Qatar Sports Investments, another non-democratic middle east potentate.

It’s not just Arabs and Muslims however. Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich purchased Chelsea Football Club in July 2003 for a reported fee of £140 million. In 1992 he had been sent to prison for theft of government property. In 1995, Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky acquired a controlling interest in a large oil company called Sibneft. The deal took place as part of a loans for shares programme and each partner paid US $100 million for half of the company, above the stake's stock market value of US $150 million at the time, and rapidly turned it into billions. The fast-rising value of the company led many observers, in hindsight, to suggest that the real cost of the company should have been in the billions of dollars (it was worth US $2.7 billion at that time). Abramovich later admitted in court that he paid billions of dollars of bribes to government officials and gangsters to acquire and protect his assets. Manchester United is owned by American businessmen the Glazers. In June 2005 Malcolm Glazer secured 98% of shares and control of United. As part of the family’s leveraged takeover they loaded their own £525m borrowings on to the club to repay. Malcolm Glazer died in 2014. Over the years the Glazers have profited from selling portions of shares rather than investing sufficiently in new players and thus angering the fan base. Supporters invaded the Old Trafford stadium just before the game with Liverpool in protest on 2 May 2020 to demand that the Glazer family sell the club to allow competition with Manchester City’s owners in particular. Malcolm Glazer was born into a Jewish family of Lithuanian origins. His name and family have largely kept within the legalities of business practice and have not been associated with criminality. They have also had significant charitable outreaches over the years as has Roman Abramovich who now lives in Israel.

You can buy Manchester United supporters’ flags and posters with the inscription ‘One Love Man U The Religion’. The words 'Man U The Religion' also appear on one of the main stands. It is an indication of the idolatrous nature of modern football in which the epithets of Christianity are purloined, ‘Paradise’ (Parkhead Stadium), ‘Rooney walks on water’, ‘Immortal’ (Jock Stein), ‘divine’ (Lionel Messi and others). Commentators often use the term ‘football gods’. Premier League football is primarily big business. Clubs depend on huge sums of money to fund players' contracts. Supporters only dream of success, however it may be achieved. It is all a modern version of ancient Roman circuses with gladiators, exotic beasts and chariot racing paid for and provided by the emperors and their families. Today however, footballers are paid exorbitant sums of money, though, indeed, they are still bought and sold like slaves by contract from one club to another as Billy Bremner the former Scottish international ruefully noted. There is an unwritten contract between supporters of football clubs, the owners of football clubs, the players and the coaches. It is an uneasy alliance. Remnants of previous amateur sporting ages are seen in unsuccessful clubs whose supporters do not waver from one generation to the next and in the lower leagues where more honest endeavour is often visible. The facade of the once ‘working man’s game’ is all but broken down. Football is an international entity and instant fame is the reward for successful involvement whether that be of Islamic autocrats, dishonest business people or gifted football athletes.

Football is the world’s favourite sporting diversion. It is a universal language. It has enriched the poorest of men from the favelas of Rio De Janeiro and from rural African villages to the back streets of cities such as Naples and Glasgow. Now women’s football is rising in profile also. There is a curious contradiction in that the ‘taking the knee’ phenomenon is practised by black football millionaires who have benefited from this European originating game owned by people even richer than the players are. Why is it not being denounced as a colonial construct? Hugely more black people play football than white. Who constitute the minority interest? Is this not cultural appropriation? Why are black footballers not acknowledging that they have become rich playing this white man’s sport? Why are football’s white European origins acceptable while classical music’s European origins are not? A black American university teacher called Philip Ewell has recently claimed that Western classical music is rooted in racism. Ewell also thinks that Ludwig van Beethoven is worthy of consignment to the history bin and that our reverence for classical music is an expression of white supremacy. Ewell maintains that Beethoven has had his reputation propped up by ‘whiteness and maleness’ for 200 years. Does this sweeping generalisation lacking any supporting evidence also account for J S Bach, Mozart and all European classical composers? Is the intrinsic worth of J S Bach's musical corpus to be devalued because he was a white European Christian male? Is Yoruba drumming to be made equal or superior because it is played by black Africans? Other American black academics insist that Beethoven’s music reflects African rhythms without offering the musicological proofs; the Moonlight Sonata? the Pastoral Symphony (6th)? American absurdities may be scoffed at but in Britain nowadays the increasingly common view is that in the European musical works were the product of an imperial society and that the classical music canon must be decolonised. Orchestras in Britain are letting musicians go because of their skin colour. The English Touring Opera has dropped fourteen white musicians in order to ‘increase the diversity of the company’. Aged between 40 and 60, they’ve been told their contracts will not be renewed because of diversity guidance from Arts Council England. The Arts Council runs culture in Britain and finances plays, orchestras, and other artistic endeavours. It hands out millions of pounds to all sorts of talent challenged projects. The mixed race virtuoso cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason evinces world class talent without ever being subject to quotas. He made his way by personal excellence through music grades, competitions and performances to international acclaim.

Is there any Christianity left? Can it be recycled, remodelled, restored for future generations? Does it offer rational explanations and eternal truths apprehendable today amid life’s absurdities? Or is it simply an either-or, remnant surviving minority report for fewer and fewer initiates? In the west this seems to be the case. All in the human spirit that was once directed towards God is being directed towards the individual self and to the saving of the planet from climate change and global warming, even at cost to human life itself. It is a new religious fervour with its priests and priestesses, philosophical and scientific absolutes, doctrinal intolerances, marches of faith and attempted rebellions to throw off the old order. Not in China though where the problem is most acute. All this is a reversal of the Genesis inspired assertion of a purposefully created world order. ‘Behold, it was good’. This much may be agreed, notwithstanding dinosaurs, volcanic eruption and pandemics.

Here is an up to date example of earth worship. The case of the singer Tori Amos featured in The Guardian on 1st November. She is an American singer-songwriter and pianist and a classically trained musician with a mezzo-soprano vocal range. She is quoted as saying ‘Grieving my mother and the ceremony of playing live, I collaborated instead with the land, water and muses of Cornwall – they helped me reboard my sonic spaceship’. She wrote, ‘The song Metal Water Wood came first. I was trying to combat this force of despondency, loss – a quagmire of “What is this that’s zapping us, almost stealing our life force?” I started reading about Bruce Lee. I don’t know why I was drawn to him. The muses take me to places sometimes, and it doesn’t necessarily make linear sense. But he said: “Be like water.” As a fire being, as a fire creature, that was almost as if I was betraying the element that has always gotten me through stuff before… And the muses, of course, were there. I had to say: “OK, I know I’m a guest here, but will you share your secrets with me?” And the land said to me: “Are you worthy? What are you going to do with these secrets, Tori? Will you honour them? Or are you going to bend them to suit your own needs? Or are you going to be really honest, that this has broken you?’ Panentheism, spiritualism, animism and earth worship are alive but not too well among us.

Is the west broken now, having had its day (centuries) at the top table of world influence, culture and politics? If this is so it is because of the disconnection with the overarching helpfulness and protection of Christianity. The intellectual advances of European culture are rooted in Judaism and in Christianity. These connected human curiosity with the possibility of a relational and rational universe. That is, a personal and an understandable one. Reject these first principles and much must fall apart. The Chinese Communist Party exercises close moral authoritarianism over its citizens. Vladimir Putin handily separates the exigencies of church and state allowing him to rule on traditional Christian moral certitudes for Russian life. Both systems criticise the decadence of the fragmenting west and its ensuing political weakness. Neither are interested in our boasts of freedom.

Christianity can never be consigned to history. It is based on the resurrection of Jesus. For 2.3 billion of humanity this is at the very least a comforting hope and at best an affirmation of an ongoing and eternal love relationship between our Creator and humanity. Christianity is a safe space above the fray of human disagreement to which the humble hearted may gain entry for the recovery of their alienation, loss and suffering. The resurrection only came after Jesus’ crucifixion here on earth, on the rubbish tip outside Jerusalem in 29AD. There has never been such a contrast between human being and divine purpose. That is worth keeping in mind this early 21st century.

Robert Anderson 2017

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