Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Ken Knowles, ODC

I was sorry to learn that my fellow local Amnesty campaigner, Ken Knowles, had died recently.
Ken was one of the last of the island’s most endangered species, the Ordinary Decent Christian. A retired schoolmaster from Ireland, he was one of the little band around a local liberal clergyman who started the Manx Amnesty group, and who is himself no longer around. They saw absolutely no contradiction between vigorous human rights campaigning and their faith, so it might be inevitable that they found themselves in the minority in their churches while able to work comfortably with non-Christians who are simply unwelcome elsewhere in what passes for charitable activity on the island.
As Ken’s health deteriorated he offered to host the Amnesty meetings at his house to stay in touch, and when a ‘proper’ venue opened we saw less of him. I didn’t find out he’d also lost his sight until he rang out of the blue after I’d had an item in the paper supporting another good friend - Pat Kneen, the Manx assisted suicide campaigner. Ken was irate about the local church attitude to the issue, in particular the way in which four leading churchmen took it upon themselves to put the church ‘view’ to government without ever seeking it from their congregations, and had even dictated a letter to the papers by phone.
He was amongst those who left their regular churches at the time, distressed by the lack of discussion and kneejerk attitudes. I’m not sure he ever found another church community, which was heartbreaking for him but a greater loss to local churches. They lost a thoughtful, sincere man who simply could not be silent about human misery.
But the discourtesy of his fellow-believers did nothing to diminish Ken’s faith, and I also remember him disagreeing sharply in print with my fellow Freethinker Andrew Dixon’s quip about ‘bronze age belief systems’.
A lesson for us all locally here. This isn’t the UK, and you can’t cut yourself or others off because you disagree with their views on one topic. The churches do it all the time, then wonder why they’re dying or why the voluntary sector whose policies they insist on dictating is a sick mess. But then some of my Freethinker mates won’t work with ‘people of faith’ either, unable to see that some people just cannot frame their view of humanity except through a prism of faith.
Folk like Ken and I just plodded on, looking for a middle way on the things that matter most to us, agreeing to disagree on other topics and moving on.
I could take a dim view of the island, having witnessed the public treatment of either of my late friends, Ken Knowles and Pat Kneen. I think I’d rather take something positive from having known two remarkable men in a small community in a few years. That either of them were able to speak up, and that neither of them were broken by the bigotry or apathy that surrounded them.
I think I’ll take an example from that.

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