Today, as far as I’m concerned, is the first day of summer. By some reckonings, that technically occurred last month, but, for me, as for many others, summer only really begins with the solstice, an event which is widely celebrated on June 21st throughout most of the northern hemisphere (conversely, the winter solstice is being celebrated in the southern hemisphere today).
But what exactly is the solstice? It’s actually a lot more complex than the familiar image of convoys of hippies and druids gathering at Stonehenge to watch the first light of dawn break through the stones of this ancient monument – although this is probably the most well-known (and – at times – controversial) incarnation of such ancient solstice celebrations here in Britain.
We’ll start with the science (and if I’ve got this wrong, let me know!).
Astronomically speaking, the summer solstice occurs when the sun reaches its maximum elevation in the sky and the day is at its longest. This happens because the rotation of the earth’s axis has tilted the northern hemisphere closest to the sun, and it will now begin to gradually shift back – resulting in the slow shortening of the amount of daylight in a 24 hour period as summer makes its slow and stately progression towards autumn and winter.
Despite being a non-believer, I feel quite strongly that not all people of faith are as evil or misguided as some on the left (and others) would perhaps have it. As with most people who have grown up in our modern multicultural society, I have friends and acquaintances of all faiths and none.
However, I have also had some rather unpleasant experiences with people of faith, especially with individuals who practice those particularly intolerant forms of Christianity. I have actually been told to my face by a ‘born again’ Christian that, because of my sexuality, I am an “abject sinner” who will end up “burning in hell” unless I am “saved” by accepting Jesus into my life.
Um, no. Not going to happen.
And, just the other day, I was sat in my local cafe drinking tea and listening to a woman sitting behind me as she loudly bragged about what a good Christian she was. She then started listing all the people she knew who had terminal illnesses and explained in graphic detail how said illnesses were entirely the fault of the people suffering from them because…. guess what? They hadn’t accepted Jesus into their lives.
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me–
and there was no one left to speak out for me” – Martin Niemoller.
Martin Niemoller was a controversial figure, whose motives and actions are still debated by historians, theologians and political theorists to this day. But his words (above) ring as true today as they did in the 1940s. Like many Lutheran pastors (and other religious leaders) in 1930s Germany, Niemoller was an anti-communist who opposed the democratic experiment of the Weimar Republic and its associated ‘decadence’, welcoming the Nazi accession to power in 1933 even to the extent of apparently having official meetings with Adolf Hitler.