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Discerning the light

Former Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway, whose complex relationship with his own Christian tradition has made him perhaps the quintessential sceptical Scot, widens his focus to the world’s religions in a new book exploring the history of faith.

A Little History of Religion follows in the footsteps of Karen Armstrong’s A History of God and Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions in offering a popular introduction to this most intricate of subjects from a questioning, though not unsympathetic perspective.

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Another look at The Man Who Fell To Earth

And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love, its voice
An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled)
But not for long to hold each desperate choice.

Those enigmatic lines from Hart Crane’s The Broken Tower preface Walter Tevis’ 1963 novel The Man Who Fell To Earth, a sci-fi classic that has been somewhat overshadowed by Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 film adaptation, currently being replayed in British cinemas.

That’s unfortunate. Roeg’s interpretation has many memorable scenes and images that entangle themselves in the mind, and is electrified by a charismatic lead performance by David Bowie, an elegant alien presence. But while the film captures something of the book’s strangeness, Roeg’s habitual desire to shock through the shoehorning of several gratuitous scenes into his movie adds nothing to Tevis’ subtle tale. Since the film has gathered so much attention I thought it worth writing a few lines about the novel.

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What’s so bad about being a Trotskyist?

So what exactly is so bad about being a Trotskyist?

The extent of the far left’s infiltration into Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party depends on who you ask.

For Corbyn’s opponents the presence of a virulent new revolutionary strain within the ranks seems very real. Wherever one looks, it seems, the Militant undead are rising under the cover of the membership surge to resume their abortive 1980s takeover project, lobbying aggressively to consolidate power in the hands of the party membership to enforce a form of Bolshevik ‘democratic centralism’, and employing the pro-Corbyn Momentum group – a cuckoo in the Labour nest – as their vehicle.

For Corbyn’s supporters such fears have more to do with the desire of the party’s old guard to hold on to power than the genuine threat of a leftist insurgency. They see the membership surge as the British expression of an international anti-austerity movement exemplified by new European parties such as Podemos and Syriza, Scotland’s Radical Independence Movement, and, across the Atlantic, the Bernie Sanders phenomenon.

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The Battle for Home: The Memoir of a Syrian Architect

If we can no longer recognise our surroundings as a shared home it becomes easier to contemplate their destruction.

The Battle for Home: The Memoir of a Syrian Architect by Marwa al-Sabouni is a profound, understated meditation on architecture’s capacity both to civilise and destroy, written while the author witnessed first-hand the destruction of her native city of Homs.

Al-Sabouni argues that years of misguided and corrupt urban planning have ripped apart the delicate urban and social fabric of Syria’s ancient cities, facilitating the conditions for violence between segregated communities living as strangers in fractured landscapes they can no longer recognise as their own.

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Defining Labour: socialist or social democratic?

Abstract arguments about political philosophy don’t usually have much bearing on the pragmatic day-to-day business of British politics.

Britain’s reputation for political stability, current difficulties notwithstanding, is often attributed to the suspicion with which its decision-makers, commentariat and electorate habitually regard dangerous things like ideas.

But sometimes, as with the Labour Party’s present agonies, repressed differences over fundamental matters of political ideology surge to the surface. For all the personal venom that has attended it this is one of those rare British political crises that, in the end, is about ideology. What does Labour want to do and why? What is Labour actually for?

Among the many words the party’s warring factions use to describe each other – some of them printable – the most interesting are ‘socialist’ and ‘social democrat’. Though often used without much precision, and sometimes interchangeably, these terms refer to distinct political traditions with different visions of the good society. Understanding how they have usually been defined by historians and philosophers since they first entered the political lexicon helps illuminate the deep-seated political differences that make Labour’s ongoing crisis so peculiarly bitter.

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