Christopher Norris

Christopher Norris

Christopher Norris is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cardiff. He is the author of more than thirty books on aspects of philosophy, politics, literature, the history of ideas, and music.

Whose Bad Books?
Wednesday, 13 December 2023 13:14

Whose Bad Books?

Published in Poetry

Whose Bad Books?

by Christopher Norris, with image by Martin Gollan


Our pastor, he said ‘Praise the Lord,
Give praise unto His name,
And spread the gospel news abroad:
To save your souls He came!’.

He said ‘The grapes of wrath are stored
For those who bear the blame
That drags us mortals Satan-ward
To feed the Devil’s flame’.

I harkened, took it all on board,
And told my kids ‘For shame,
Listen up else you’ll be zero-scored
When God decides the game’.

But then I thought: ‘There’s things ignored
In all that he’d proclaim,
Things apt to strike a jarring chord
With folk outside the frame.


That Jesus, he had stuff to say
That goes for black and white,
Good news our pastor could convey
And help set old wrongs right.

You know, the bits not only they
But us black folks can cite
Because there ain’t no earthly way
They’ll spread the racist blight.

Truth, justice, peace on earth - let’s pray
Those words shed kindly light
And quench the flame whose kindling may
Burn fierce in darkest night.

A good man, Jesus, when he’d play
It down, that touch of spite
That blasted the fig-tree to pay
Those chatterers back alright!


But Christ-as-God’s the one who’ll see
You burn in Hell should you
Risk any word or deed that He
Deems wicked or taboo.

Old monks devised the Trinity
In hopes that it might do
To silence such rank heresy
Amongst the errant crew.

Still look around and you’ll agree:
It’s God, not Christ, that slew
Those legions of the damned whose plea
The wrong God listened to.

The one to whom they bend the knee,
The God of Soldier Blue,
Is He whose old book’s held to be
The sole book good and true.

It holds the one and only key,
The single passe-partout
Vouchsafed by Him to guarantee
They pay the homage due.

And when the tribal lords decree
Some holy war or new
Crusade to wage they’ll soon make free
With Joshua’s hullabaloo.

I hear it in their hymnody,
With our old pastor, too,
When he takes such unChristian glee
In tales of butchery.

It’s in the blood-filled oratory,
The martial tropes on cue,
The monotheists’ battle-spree
To get a God’s-eye view.


But nearer home I saw it fill
The airwaves, tv screens,
And op eds: ‘they went out to kill,
Those two black female teens.

A woman elderly and ill
They killed by brutal means,
A Bible teacher who’d instil
God’s grace in wolverines.

Don’t blame their parents’ lack of skill,
Don’t blame it on their genes,
Don’t say it’s what their home-lives drill
Them into - death-machines!

No, we’ll not walk safe streets until
We’ve junked those childhood scenes
Of violence, want, and horrorsville
So justice intervenes.


For the Lord tells us: eye-for-eye
And tooth-for-tooth’s the law,
And those two girls have got to die
To quit the moral score’.

That’s what he said, the lawyer guy,
And the DA then swore
That it would anger God on high
If sins weren’t answered for.

It’s how they think, the folk who buy
That vengeful line - what more
Effective way to block the cry
Of conscience they ignore?

It’s him, the Moloch-god, who’ll pry
Into the hate-filled core
Of minds long driven far awry
By that god-awful lore.

Those old books have the sinners fry,
And their god wipe the floor
With infidels who dare to try
The penalties in store.

O there’s good bits, you can’t deny,
Like passages that soar
On prophet-wings to touch the sky
Or heaven’s gleaming shore.

Yet always there’s some sinner nigh,
Some tribe to shock and awe,
Or angel to touch Jacob’s thigh:
‘Not yours but God’s, this war!’.

Our pastor has his own supply
Of bible-quotes he’ll draw
So swiftly on you never spy
Some massacre in the raw.

But that’s the itch they satisfy,
The itch of tooth and claw
To hear him conjure deeds we’d shy
From once through the church-door.


And now each latest bulletin
From Gaza lets us know
Once more how massacres begin
When preachers run the show.

The same old talk - ‘wages of sin’,
‘God’s children’ or ‘God’s foe’,
‘We chosen ones’, ‘you devil’s kin’,
And suchlike to-and-fro.

It’s still the same old tales they spin,
The tales that strike a blow
For each hate-manual and its twin -
Two creeds, same war-tableaux.

Sometimes I think the guys who’d pin
The death-rap on those low-
Life scapegoat girls are mirrored in
The siege of Jericho,

Since that’s the mythic origin
Of what the victims owe
To bible-lore when victors win
On points scored long ago.

The truth ‘all one beneath the skin,
All kindred, bro and bro’,
Gets lost each time the trumpets’ din
Brings yet more grief and woe.

For it’s the vengeful god within
That answers when they blow
And spike some war-primed endorphin
With carnage to bestow. 


I catch the bible-bashing tone
In that DA’s appeal
For the death-sentence to be thrown
At those too hurt to heal.

I catch it in the battle-zone
Reports of those whose zeal
For far-off kills by bomb or drone
They’re hard-put to conceal.

But you’ve a language all your own,
You holy men who deal
In sanctifying missions flown
Or fusillades of steel.

It’s your God churns the flesh and bone,
Whips up the hate they feel,
His chosen ones, or sees them blown
To bits unless they kneel.

He taunts the victims as they groan
On the inquisitor’s wheel,
And tells his flock ‘Let them atone
Beneath the Seventh Seal’.

For it’s a savage seed they’ve sown,
Those scriptures that reveal
Depths of malignity unknown
Till blind faith makes them real.

To George, from Sunny Wigan
Friday, 25 June 2021 17:25

To George, from Sunny Wigan

Published in Poetry

To George, from Sunny Wigan

by Christopher Norris 

At the back of one of the houses a young woman was kneeling on the stones, poking a stick up the leaden waste-pipe which ran from the sink inside and which I suppose was blocked . . . . She looked up as the train passed, and I was almost near enough to catch her eye . . . . [Her face] wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever seen.
- George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

His eyes caught mine, him on the morning train,
Northbound, next station Wigan, me
Up early, jobs to do,
Clothes slung on, hair not fit to see,
And kneeling, stick in hand, with that blocked drain
To clear, the kind of stuff that he,
Scoop-ready, took as cue
To tell the outside world that we
Poor plebs were padlocked to our ball-and-chain.

I know, I know, all part of his campaign
To shock the shameless bourgeoisie,
To give a close-up view
Of how we live, a woman’s knee
On cold, hard stones as just the thing to gain
A bit of extra sympathy
For us hell-dwellers who
Seem so far gone in misery
That, somehow, we’ve no reason to complain.

What grates when they go slumming to maintain
Their street cred and their pedigree
As our brains-retinue
Is just how often that esprit
De parti prolétaire sounds like disdain
For working-class identity,
Or what they take as true
Marks of it, like my making free
To meet his gaze with gestures so profane.

We get it constantly: ‘you live in vain,
Waste lives in routine labour, flee
The troubling thought that you,
So long downtrodden, might yet be
The very class best placed to ease the pain
Of age-old servitude, the cri
De coeur of your sad crew,
If only you’d promote your plea
With works and days less brutally mundane’.

It’s what we hate, that old class-hopper’s bane
Of thinking they’ve a special key
To others’ life-worlds through
Their reading, thinking, Ph.D.
In urban politics, enormous brain,
Or all the myths that guarantee
The many and the few
Won’t gel, the few on their quick spree
Up North, the many on their darkling plain.

One fantasy I like to entertain
Is how they might get uppity
When gawped at in their zoo,
Those Wigan folk – give him a flea
In his left ear, and then proceed to cane
That book’s dyspeptic parti pris,
The doleful tale it drew
From sifting through our life-debris,
Like me outside in curlers, stick up drain.

Give him this tip from me: next time you deign
To come, do meet the family,
Spare us an hour or two,
And let the lived reality
Sink in, the squalor but, as well, the strain
Of stoic humour that can see
The joke yet still say ‘screw
Your Wigan Pier stuff’ when the glee
Proclaims ‘down south’ the jester’s home domain.

Please know your nitty-gritty leaves a stain
Of patronage on all that we
Drain-pokers might accrue
Of self-respect, autonomy,
Or books, books, books as our road to attain
The kind of knowledge you would-be
Déclassé types won’t do
Much good with till your family tree
Sprouts new red leaves: then head up North again!