Sunday, March 30, 2008

The rise of anti-Anglicanism

One might expect the more robust Roman Catholic newspapers and journalists to disparage the Church of England and impugn the reputation of its leaders and faithful adherents, but it is quite another thing when The Times enters the fray.

In its Credo column on March 29th, James Mawdsley touched on a dimension of Cranmer’s very raison d’etre, in his assessment of 'The proper place of the Church in debates of state’. It is worth reading, not only because His Grace holds Mr Mawdsley in the highest regard, but because of one crucial paragraph:

Politicians listen to scientists, to the military, even to economists. If politics is to play its role in overcoming evil, then it must also listen to the Church. For 2,000 years the Church has grown as an “expert in humanity”, notably thanks to her patient listening in the confessional, in her apostolate with the sick and the poor, and in her experience of persecution. Therefore if politics would truly serve Man, and is to be an agent in reaching the common good, then politics has to open its ears to the Church.

Cranmer could not agree more. But what was profoundly saddening was the overt anti-Anglicanism which permeates the piece. Consider the opening paragraph:

Anglicanism and Islam were both founded by men who wielded total power. Under Henry VIII, politics swallowed religion. Under Muhammad, religion swallowed politics. Consequently, Anglicans struggle to defend their religious identity against a political agenda and Muslims struggle to defend their political rights against a religious agenda. Roman Catholics believe that the boundary between religion and politics is no less essential than the bridge.

It is a purposely provocative juxtaposition of Anglicanism with Islam, and it is a grotesque caricature of the foundations of both religions.

If ever anyone dared to compare Roman Catholicism with Islam, there would doubtless be cries of anti-Catholic bigotry (especially from the aforementioned more robust Catholic media), but the Church of England is deemed to be fair game. Anti-Anglicanism has not entered the vernacular, but it is, sadly, becoming increasingly pervasive.

Only a profound ignorance of 7th-century Arabia would assert that Mohammed in any sense 'wielded total power'. Any cursory reading of the Qur'an and the Hadith would establish that Mohammed acted in different ways in diverse situations because he was politically forced to do so: he understood his complex religio-political context and agreed a number of compromise treaties with people of diverse religious beliefs. Of course there were acts of barbarism, but there was also much diplomacy. While Henry VIII may have had little patience for diplomacy and compromise, neither, it has to be observed, did Queen Mary (as Cranmer is all too aware).

Any impartial analysis of the history of the Church of England will establish that it opted for a via media on the complex Church/State relationship. For The Times to convey the notion that Rome and Rome alone now has this in perfect balance and that Anglicanism is hopelessly compromised is to ignore both historical fact and present reality. It is sad indeed that when Cranmer questioned Mr Mawdsley on this, he responded that Roman Catholics can remedy their past wrongs 'by returning to their roots'. He continued: 'I am afraid that Islam and Anglicanism offer no service when they return to their roots (persecutors).'

The reiteration of the juxtaposition is confirmation of his anti-Anglican sentiment.

Yet it is not the Church of England that lays claim to theocracy: it does not believe that it uniquely holds the keys to salvation, and neither do any of its leaders claim to be infallible. It also insists that it is part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, even if other Christians of another denomination insist that it is not.

‘Ut unum sint' is not remotely aided by comparing Anglicanism with Islam. Henry VIII was no saint, but he was certainly no Mohammed. And if he were, what does that make the Papacy?

And an apt PS:

It was on this day in 1533 that Cranmer was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury as a consequence of the requisite papal bulls. His Grace was the last Archbishop of Canterbury to be appointed with papal authority.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fitna now censored in the UK

There is great importance in the provision of freedom of expression. Without it, there would be no political or religious dialogue that would be meaningful or in any sense credible. There were references to Cranmer yesterday on a number of websites and prominent blogs, and the link from ConservativeHome referred to it being ‘a tribute to the UK that Fitna is freely hosted here’.

Well, it no longer is.

LiveLeak, the British company which boldly went where the American Network Solutions did not dare, has also been threatened into submission. Their Fitna link now leads to the following message:

Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, and some ill-informed report from certain corners of the British media that could seriously affect the safety of some staff members, LiveLeak has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers.

This is a sad day for freedom of speech on the net but we have to place the safety and well being of our staff above all else. We would like to thank the thousands of people from all backgrounds and religions who gave us their support. They realised that LiveLink.com is a vehicle for many opinions and not just for the support of one.

Perhaps there is still hope that this situation may produce a discussion that could benefit and educate all of us as to how we can accept one anothers culture.

We stood for what we believed in, the ability to be heard, but in the end the price was too high.


Cranmer knows rather a lot about the price that may be paid for speaking out for what one believes, and that price may indeed be very high, but the notion of freedom of expression being censored in a free country by any authority other than Parliament (which may not bind its successors) is repugnant to all freedom-loving and law-abiding democrats.

This film is provocative; it is shocking and even repugnant, and it may even emanate from a desire to cause maximum offence, but it also has an undoubted educational purpose insofar as, for the first time in such an accessible medium, it helps to explain the theological genesis of the jihadi suicide bomber. Of course the qur’anic quotations are devoid of context, and of course millions of Muslims will find the implicit interpretations repugnant, but that was the very purpose of the film.

It may have assisted all peace-loving Muslims the world over if the outrage over this film had been matched and even surpassed by protests and demonstrations against all the featured acts of barbarism committed by jihadists 'for the glory of Allah'. But they have not.

It is not Cranmer’s desire to cause gratuitous offence, but in the United Kingdom in the 21st century His Grace’s ‘bottom line’ must reverberate the length and breadth of the land:

Freedom of speech must be tolerated, and everyone living in the United Kingdom must accept that they may be insulted about their own beliefs, or indeed be offended, and that is something which they must simply endure…

And the principle in enshrined in law. In an important judgement on a case dealing with religious freedom of speech in the High Court on 23rd July 1999, Lord Justice Sedley quoted Socrates and two famous Quakers when he declared: "The irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and provocative have a right to be heard."

Just a decade later, this is no longer the case.

There is one religio-political agenda which has no compatibility with British democracy; indeed, it is in the process of destroying it. It may be observed that one may attack Christianity and offend Christians by blaspheming the name of Christ with impunity; there is no sensitivity to the level of this offence, and therefore no censorship. But any such attack on Islam and its prophet not only meets with the full force of the law, there are draconian levels of pre-emptive censorship just in case the Queen’s Peace is disturbed.

The default 'blasphemy law' in the UK is now Shari’a, and it is under its absolutes that all religio-political discourse must now be conducted. The Qur'an is now treated with greater respect than the Bible; the name of Allah is more fearful than that of Jehovah; and the life and teachings of Mohammed are more sacred than those of Jesus.

Cranmer presumes the Archbishop of Canterbury is content with the incorporation of this aspect of Shari’a into UK law, albeit by the back door.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Fitna- the ‘challenge’ of Islam

Debate about Geert Wilders and his ‘anti-Qur’an’ film Fitna is everywhere in Holland. But there is something about the furore surrounding this 15-minute piece which causes Cranmer some disquiet. It has been billed on the whole spectrum of comment and reaction from being a simple exposé of Islamic orthodoxy to being blasphemous and ‘anti-Islamic’. And its maker, Geert Wilders - a Dutch MP from the conservative Party for Freedom who has been outspoken in his criticism of Islam and his support for immigration restrictions - has been threatened with death for his involvement in the project since al-Qa’eda issued a fatwa calling on all Muslims everywhere to kill him.

Yet the reaction and calls for censorship constitute precisely what Cranmer warned of some time ago. There is an emerging definition of blasphemy which is replacing the now-defunct UK laws relating to the crime, and which is demanding pan-European adherence. Thus the EU has condemned the film because it is ‘critical of Islam’ and features ‘controversial images of the Prophet Mohammed’.

Note that reports do not mention ‘the Islamic Prophet’; just ‘the Prophet’. The ‘Son of God’ would undoubtedly be pre-fixed with ‘whom Christians believe to be’ in almost every media narrative.

Yet the outrage over this film may be unsurprising in Iran, Indonesia or Pakistan, but it is somewhat disproportionate in the West considering that it simply depicts how jihadists commit violence and justify their atrocities according to the Qur'an. Yet that fact itself has never aroused outrage among significant numbers of Muslims, such that they would be moved, say, to mount protests against it, as they are against this film.

But the collusion in the universal enforcement of respect for ‘the Prophet’ has spread to the Land of the Free. Network Solution – a US company that hosts 7 million domain names - has decided to suspend its hosting of fitnathemovie.com while it investigates whether the site’s content is in violation of the Network Solutions Acceptable Use Policy.

This is an unacceptable pre-emptive censorship, and must be an infringement of constitutional right. Network Solutions has caved in to radical Islam and spat in the face of free speech. It should not be for Network Solutions to determine what is and is not acceptable any more than it should be for Google. If causing offence is deemed to be unacceptable, who knows who might get offended next and which sites will be pulled?

And it is noteworthy that Network Solutions is perfectly content to host radical Islamic websites, some of which belong to (or are closely affiliated with) terrorist groups like Hizbollah.

Fitna may be viewed by going to Mr Wilders; PVV website and clicking ‘Fitna in première'. To Cranmer’s knowledge, no blogspot account is presently hosting the film, and that will doubtless remain the case.

One might think, since the murders in Holland of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, and the hounding into exile of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, that Geert Wilders might be more inclined to moderate his language on Islam or avoid the controversy altogether. But there is something in him that will not bow the head or bend the knee to what he perceives to be a very real threat to the traditions, culture and liberties of his country.

While he derides the Dutch prime Minister for his weakness, he insists in The Spectator that he is ‘not bound to any Afghan or Sufi or Pakistani law. I am bound to the Dutch law and I’m sure that my movie will be within all the boundaries of the Dutch law. You can like the text or dislike the text, like the message or dislike the message, but I’m not doing anything that will be an incitement of hatred or things like that.’

So what is his aim?

He says: ‘I really believe that the Qur’an is a fascist book and Islam — which is more ideology, according to me, than religion — is something that is at least very bad for our values and our society. I’m not a cultural relativist. I believe that we should be proud of our culture. Our culture is far better than the more retarded Islamic culture. So this is why last year in an article I wrote, I said, well, we should ban the Qur’an. I initiated a big debate with the Prime Minister in the Dutch parliament about it and talked about how it would be good if there could be a new Qur’an like a New Testament and all the hatred and incitement and intolerance — get rid of that.’

The sole limit to freedom of speech that Mr Wilders recognises is incitement. And this is the problem he has with the Qur’an.

‘Big parts of the Qur’an today are still used to do the most terrible things. And I believe a lot of people don’t know that and I hope it will open their eyes and we will get a discussion going about the real nature of Islam. We should stop this process of Islamisation and we should protect not only our identity but also our freedom more. With the growing amount of Islamisation of both our countries and our societies we will lose our freedoms. At the end of the day Islam will kill our democracy and our society, and I know it will not happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow but there is a process going on and there is a total lack of urgency of people who really feel that it is a threat.’

And what is his main message to the non-Muslims who see his film?

‘Stop being a cultural relativist and be proud of who you are, and fight for it especially if, you know, I mean these people are not Buddhist. I wrote an article a few weeks ago that said, imagine if I would have said last year that I wanted to burn the Bible, that I want to make a movie to show the fascist character of Christianity. Would there be extra meetings of the government? Would there be evacuation plans of our embassies in Rome, Berlin and Brussels? Would there be bishops like grand muftis who say there would be bloodshed? The answer of course is “no”. So it proves my point already. All the reactions of the Islamic world, even unfortunately from the Dutch government, show that Islam is something different, has to be treated differently, as something entirely beside our own culture and values.’

For Mr Wilders, Fitna is an apt title for Islam is indeed a challenge. And Douglas Murray is persuaded that the film will have loud consequences and that perhaps the price of silence is already too high: ‘When the limits of freedom of speech are dictated from outside you may not feel it today or tomorrow. But the day after, or some day soon, you will’.

Michael Gove MP: ‘We must monitor Muslim schools’

The Shadow Education Secretary (or, more accurately, the Shadow Children, Schools and Families Secretary [what an absurd mouthful] -) has called for ‘a much tougher approach’ to confronting what he sees as ‘real problems’ with Muslim faith schools that promote extremism.

It is reported in the Jewish Chronicle that he has challenged the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (who thought of this department?) to ‘tackle the real challenges to community cohesion in schools and campuses where extremism remains an issue’. And he questions an issue which Cranmer raised some weeks ago – that of giving the Association of Muslim Schools the right to establish its own inspection arrangements, even though its deputy chairman, Ibrahim Hewitt, is under investigation by the Charity Commission in his capacity as chairman of ‘Interpal’ – a pro-Palestinian organisation. Mr Hewitt is head of the Al Aqsa school in Leicester, and is on record as saying that 'the word integration doesn't even belong in a true democracy'. He has also called 'political zionism a threat to world peace', and has talked of the 'zionist control of the media'.

Mr Gove expresses concern that Muslim faith schools are not being adequately inspected, noting that the King Fahad academy in West London has used textbooks that describe Christians and Jews as ‘pigs’ and ‘monkeys’, yet Ofsted inspectors appeared to have failed to investigate such texts.

Is it really credible that a group of Muslim inspectors would have picked up on this, and criticised it, and published its report for the world to see?

But it is brave of Mr Gove to single out Islamic schools. It leaves him open to all manner of accusations of ‘racism’, ‘bigotry’, ‘ignorance’ or ‘Islamophobia’, but he obviously does not mind. He is an eminently sensible chap who understands the threat of ‘Islamism’, and is determined that it shall not infect the nation’s education system.

It may have simply been Mr Gove’s desire to play to his audience, but Cranmer is puzzled by his singling out of Jewish schools as role models for faith schools. He said: ‘One of the many gifts the Jewish community has given Britain is a brilliant working model of how to combine respect for religious tradition with commitment to shared British values.’

While this may be true, there are also equally brilliant working models among the Christian schools. While the Church of England may have had a few centuries head start, it did not take long for Roman Catholic schools to combine their religious tradition with respect for British values, and this task was far more challenging after enduring centuries of discrimination. Cranmer is pleased to hear that such centres of excellence will be preserved under a Conservative government. Mr Gove said that he and David Cameron ‘are committed to doing everything we can to support and nurture Jewish faith schools. We want to celebrate their success and ensure they’re there for generations to come.’ If this is so for Jewish schools, then a fortiori must it be the case for Roman Catholic schools.

And Mr Gove pours scorn upon some of the battier ideas to emanate from New Labour, such as the absurd idea of forcing faith schools to admit a quota of pupils who did not share their school’s faith. He supports the right of parents to educate their children according to their religious beliefs, and states unequivocally that parents ‘shouldn’t lose that right because of a clumsy mechanism to deal with community cohesion’.

Cranmer looks forward to Mr Gove being Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, but hopes that his first act will be to revert to being the straightforward Education Secretary - just so we all know what he’s supposed to be about.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Catholic Muslim Forum objects to public baptism of Muslim converts

It is curious that a forum established with the fullest support of the Vatican should criticise His Holiness for daring to baptise Magdi Allam on Easter Day. They have denounced the act as ‘provocative and triumphalist’.

Hmm…

Cranmer thinks this is suitably timed for the moment King Abdullah descended upon the Vatican ‘to call for conferences between the religions to protect humanity from folly’, which is a bit rich, coming from an adherent of Wahhabi Sunni Islam,

The guardian of the holy sites of Mecca and Medina wants to stem ‘the disintegration of the family and the rise of atheism in the world’, and said: "If God wills it, we will then meet with our brothers from other religions, including those of the Torah and the Gospel to come up with ways to safeguard humanity."

Cranmer does of course support all the world’s religions joining forces and working together where their unanimity may be a force for good, but this cooperation must be in the political realm. The King says: “I have noticed that the family system has weakened and that atheism has increased. That is an unacceptable behavior to all religions, to the Koran, the Torah and the Bible. We ask God to save humanity. There is a lack of ethics, loyalty and sincerity for our religions and humanity."

Cranmer is not remotely persuaded that the King is talking here of a dialogue of equals. While all faiths may unite in their support for the traditional family, it is difficult to see how they may combat atheism. To which god will the converts be directed? For the Wahhabi, the ethical code which must ultimately prevail is that of Shari’a, and the Christian commitment to such a dialogue will have the effect of censoring any inquiry into Islam, however scholarly, and any criticism of Muslims, ‘for fear of causing offence’. It will certainly halt public baptism of Muslim converts, when such a rite of passage is supposed to be a very public witness of faith and evidence of their commitment to the Saviour and Lord.

Arab newspapers have already deplored the baptism of Magdi Allam, whom they say has ‘worked tirelessly to attack Islam’. One said that the Pope's involvement made it look as if the Vatican was ‘scoring points’, provoking ‘genuine questions about the motives, intentions and plans of some of the Pope's advisers on Islam’.

And then they invoke their commitment to 'A Common Word' - for the sake of humanity and world peace – insisting that their dialogue ‘is not a tit-for-tat logic of reciprocity’.

Reciprocity is a good word, and Cranmer would rather the King had begun his ecumenical endeavor there. Will the King permit churches to be built in Saudi Arabia, where there are over a million Christian believers? Will he acknowledge that religious freedom includes the freedom to change one's religion without fear of execution? Will he concede that the genders are equal in the eyes of God, and that all humans should be treated with justice? And will he learn from the Christian understanding of justice, mercy, and love?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Gordon Brown ‘caves in to Catholics’

At least that is precisely how boldly the 6 o’clock news stated the case, while the BBC website leads with the more measured ‘Brown compromise over embryo vote’. In fact, the Prime Minister has done no such thing: the Whip has not disappeared, but has merely been stayed. The deal is that no Labour MP will be obliged to vote against their conscience in the first round of voting on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in three areas:

• Preventing fertility clinics from refusing treatment to single women and lesbians - under current legislation clinics must take account of the welfare of the unborn child including "the need for a father". This will be replaced by the "need for supportive parenting".
• Creating a child with the correct tissue match to save a sick brother or sister.
• Creating so-called hybrid animal/human embryos to aid stem cell research.

But when it is apparent (as it shall be) that it is the majority view of the House of Commons that all of the above are to be permitted, Labour’s three-line Whip shall return, and all members shall be obliged to vote in favour of all of its provisions. This deal is reportedly acceptable to Labour’s Roman Catholic rebels.

But Cranmer is bemused that this is deemed by then to represent any kind of deal at all.

It is widely reported that the Church’s belief is that the price for supporting this Bill is too high: any procedure which involves selecting embryos and destroying those which are unwanted or which have been used for research - for whatever end - is an affront to human life and dignity. That remains so, yesterday, today and forever.

So what kind of acceptable compromise is it that permits Labour’s Roman Catholic members to vote against the Bill on Tuesday but be obliged to support on Wednesday? If God opposes chimeras and fatherless children one day, he is hardly going to be displeased if, on Judgement Day, the Christians who voted in favour of the Bill yesterday adduce a neat defence tomorrow of ‘it was another day’.

How can obedience to God be so variable? A conscience vote does not change from day to day, depending on the vicissitudes of democracy. As Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor has stated: ‘Catholics in politics have got to act according to their Catholic convictions’.

He did not say that this only applied on Tuesdays and Fridays, and the rest of the week is a moral free-for-all. Their yes should be yes and their no should be no. It is not a very firm belief or opinion that constitutes a ‘conviction’ one day and may be dispensed with the next simply because the votes aren’t going your way. Indeed, that is very antithesis of conviction, and contributes to the perception that MPs are shallow hypocrites, spineless dissemblers and manipulative liars.

But there are some who are prepared to hurl such insults straight back.

While it is no surprise to see that Lord Winston accuses the Roman Catholic Church of ‘lying’ over the Bill, it is somewhat surprising to read that David Cameron has accused Roman Catholics of misrepresenting its provisions, and cautioning them to moderate their criticisms of it.

But then he has nothing to fear from troublesome priests.

Yet.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

BBC: ‘Schools could offer Koran classes’

It is not very often one can accuse the BBC of being anti-Islamic or unnecessarily alarmist when it comes to matters religious, but this headline quotation is an undoubted example. It is almost purposely designed to irritate ‘White Britain’ or the ‘Middle England’ of nominal Christendom.

The National Union of Teachers said that schools ‘should allow imams, rabbis and priests to offer religious instruction to pupils in all state schools’ in order to ‘reunite divided communities’. While one may be incredulous at the union’s naïveté that the descending of sundry religious leaders upon some of the nation’s schools is the solution to ‘divided communities’, it is important to note that this union specified Islam, Judaism and Christianity. When the BBC first reported this story, they singled out ‘Koran classes’ in order to ruffle a few feathers. Later on in the day, the headline was changed to ‘Call to offer faith class choice’, though it is still possible to search for it under the original provocative headline.

But this story becomes a little more interesting when one reads that the NUT said parents ‘had a right to have specific schooling in their own faith, if that was what they wanted’.

This is curious, from a teaching union which calls for faith schools to be abolished because they allegedly ‘lead to community breakdown’. But the NUT’s General Secretary, Steve Sinnott, is persuaded that offering pupils some instruction in their own faith ‘could reduce the demand for faith schools’. This provision would be ‘over and above the religious education already included in the curriculum’, possibly an after-school provision, and would be ‘more than simple religious education’.

Indeed, Mr Sinnott, you are talking about religious instruction.

He continues: "There would be real benefits to all our communities and to youngsters if we can find a space for parents who are Roman Catholic, parents who are Church of England, parents who are Jewish, parents who are Muslim for them to have space for some religious instruction. In that way we could keep cohesion within communities."

And so schools ‘could have imams coming in or local rabbis or local priests’.

Cranmer wonders what world Mr Sinnott inhabits, because there are very many schools indeed which already have priests and pastors, imams and rabbis very much involved in their everyday life. The Church of England schools are never without the very active involvement of their local vicar, and it is a prerequisite in all Roman Catholic schools that its leadership is made up of practising members of the faith. It is not only Eton College which has Anglican, Roman Catholic and Muslim chaplains, but very many state schools actively reach out to their local religious leaders who are only too happy to involve themselves in this aspect of community life.

But Cranmer has a few questions for Mr Sinnott.

If a schoolteacher approaches a church group today, (s)he probably has a rough idea of what the church is about, be they Protestant or Roman Catholic. Schools may have no problem accommodating Protestant or Roman Catholic instruction, but how will they cope with the ‘extremists’ – the Plymouth Brethren, say, or Opus Dei? How does a school handle a request from Jehovah’s Witnesses? Since schools may not discriminate (under EU law) on the basis of religious adherence, they will be legally bound to provide such extra-curricular instruction for all of their pupils’ diverse needs. And if they fail to do so, they may be open to legal challenge.

But while there may still be an awareness of the beliefs of the mainstream Christian denominations, how many teachers today have any idea of the Muslim groups? When a school asks for an imam to visit them on a regular basis to deliver religious instruction, how are teachers going to really know whether their visitors are moderate Sufis or Barelwis, or extremist Wahhabis or Salafists? Will the teachers enquire about the financing of these imams, just in case it comes from Saudi Arabia? And who will ask if they have links with foreign organisations such as the extremist Muslim Brotherhood or Jamaat-e-Islami, both of which are highly influential in the Muslim Council of Britain?

And who will monitor what the children are being taught? Will there be an unequivocal equality among the genders or respect for sexual diversity? Who will oversee this aspect of the curriculum, and who will determine what is acceptable and what is not? Will female imams be permitted, along with female priests and rabbis? And why does this teaching union completely ignore Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists?

Doubtless all those who will offer ‘Koran classes’ will profess to be ‘moderates’, but even the likes of Tariq Ramadan are lionised at Oxford while considered extreme in France. Of course there will be genuinely sincere and ‘moderate’ imams, but accurate recognition is difficult. And we are talking about our children, and their future, so there is no opportunity for a school to make mistakes.

But the NUT offers no guidance on its policy; simply that school ought to start offering extra-curricular religious instruction, and suggests that the religious leaders ought to provide it. And these leaders might well ask why they should submit themselves to sex-offender checks to assess their suitability for working with children, and why they should bother with such an inefficient, time-consuming and largely fruitless pursuit, when it is a whole lot easier to provide children with the instruction that their parents request by establishing faith schools.

The NUT ought to realise that its views are repugnant to people of all faiths, and unfathomable to many parents who simply want their children brought up within a moral framework of faith and where they will achieve good results and learn how to be rounded, respectful, considerate, and wise. Education is not simply about results; it is about values, character, social and mutual responsibility, duty and compassion - all the ingredients which, together with curriculum and teaching, go to make up the 'ethos' of a school.

Religion does not simply ‘slot in’ conveniently to suit the secular agenda of a trade union; it is all-encompassing and seeks to propagate values as well as standards. When faith is integrated into the whole life of a school, there is a richness in the study of moral, social, spiritual and religious issues which can never be found in the secular, for the one involves God, and the other does not.

Unless, that is, one can find a god who is content to be slotted in at one’s convenience, and who is utterly conformable to the fore-ordained agenda of state education, and with whom the NUT shall be well pleased.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Magdi Allam - from Mohammed to Christ

Magdi Allam is one of the foremost Muslims in Italy - a journalist who has been a prominent critic of Islamic radicalism. He is deputy director of the leading newspaper Corriere della Sera and has angered some Muslims with his views, especially in his support for Israel. He was baptised by Pope Benedict XVI in the traditional Easter Vigil Mass which takes place in St Peter's Basilica, and received into the Roman Catholic Church. All arrangements were kept secret by the Vatican.

There is no doubting the need for secrecy in this case - particularly in the wake of recent charges by Osama bin Laden that Benedict XVI is leading a ‘new crusade’ against Islam – but such a high-profile Muslim convert receiving such a high-profile baptism and reception, and on the holiest day of the Christian year, seems almost purposely designed as to cause offence in certain quarters: it is a manifest boast, and certain journalists have not disappointed in their triumphalist recapitulation, as though the denomination were more important than the glory of finding the incomparable Christ. Mr Allam could, after all, have been baptised and received by a local and obscure parish priest in Viterbo, where he lives, and the media would have been none the wiser.

And neither would Cranmer.

According to Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson: ‘For the Catholic church, every person who asks to receive Baptism after a deep personal search, who makes a completely free choice following adequate preparation, has the right to receive it. For his part, the Holy Father administers Baptism in the course of the Easter liturgies to the candidates who are presented to him, without making distinctions among them, considering them all equally important before the love of God and the welcome of the community of the church.’

Without making distinctions? Considering them equally?

So the hundreds of converts eligible to participate in this service drew lots, and all had an equal chance of being selected, did they?

This baptism, after Tony Blair’s reception which was performed personally by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, gives the impression that Rome is not remotely concerned with the last being first: there is a manifest pecking order of privilege.

But Cranmer wonders if the Vatican would have been so high-profile with an anti-Palestine Jewish convert, or might it have been sensitive to the recent accusations of anti-Semitism?

And would the media report anything at all of a Roman Catholic journalist converting to the Church of England? And if it did, would not a high-profile ceremony performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury have been greeted with ridicule or with accusations of anti-Catholic bigotry?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Christus Resurrexit


Quia Deus caritas est! Alleluia!
Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia!

CHRIST our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast; Not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness: but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Cor. v.7

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin: but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Rom. vi.9

Christ is risen from the dead : and become the first-fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death : by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die: even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Cor. xv.20.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

The Collect.
ALMIGHTY God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life; We humbly beseech thee, that, as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

The Epistle. Coloss. 3.1.
IF ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.

The Gospel. St. John 20.1.
THE first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.

Cranmer wishes all of his readers and communicants a happy and blessed Easter.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Cardinal condemns 'monstrous' legislation

Cardinal Keith O'Brien has a habit of poking his head above the parapet whenever politicians dare to venture into the religio-political domain, as though the authoritative moral position has been imparted to one body and articulated infallibly, and it is to this teaching that all ‘right-thinking’ people must adhere. But he does not hesitate to censure with accusations of bigotry those who seek to address politically issues which are manifestly politico-religious, as though the entire realm of the political is ultimately also subject to his worldview.

On the question of the Government’s ‘Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill’, Cranmer agrees, on balance, with the Cardinal. Though whether he was wise to term it ‘monstrous’, or to suggest that its provisions will permit the creation of Frankenstein's monster, is quite a different matter. If his objective was to go for headlines, and upstage his weak and insipid humble and holy counterpart at Westminster, he has succeeded. But if he were really concerned with the ethical issues in the provisions of this Bill, he would have been wiser to apply pressure behind the scenes.

The Cardinal has turned this into a Church vs State battle – a conflict as old as the Church itself – and by stoking the fire (by pre-disclosing the content of his Easter sermon days before it is delivered), he has made a free-vote compromise difficult if not impossible, as neither party can be perceived to ‘back down’.

Thus Ben Bradshaw – the overtly gay and more covertly Anglican health minister – has been wheeled out to contend with the (Roman Catholic) Church and insist that the Bill is about the easing of suffering. Supporters of the legislation believe hybrid embryos could lead to cures for diseases including multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's. According to Mr Bradshaw, the Government is therefore right to force through the legislation on a three-line whip, and is manifesting Christian compassion in the process because it will be ‘to the potential benefit of many people in this country’. He said: ‘I think if it was about the things the Cardinal referred to, creating babies for spare parts or raiding dead people's tissue, then there would be justification for a free vote. But it's not about those things. He was wrong in fact, and I think rather intemperate and emotive in the way that he criticised this legislation. This is about using pre-embryonic cells to do research that has the potential to ease the suffering of millions of people in this country. The government has taken a view that this is a good thing.’

The Government is promising a limit of 14 days' development of the embryo, and an assurance that they cannot be put in a woman or an animal. They are (unsurprisingly) supported by scientists who are more at liberty to condemn the Roman Catholic Church than politicians. Dr Stephen Minger of King’s College London states unequivocally that ‘this is yet another example where it is clear that the Catholic Church is misrepresenting science because it doesn't understand the basic facts’. He added: ‘The church should carefully review the science they are commenting on, and ensure that their official comments are accurate, before seriously misinforming their congregations.’

Well, faith and fact are frequently held in tension, and the principal contention is that this Bill will permit scientists to create chimeras - part-human, part-animal embryos for use in stem cell experiments. Looking at some Labour MPs, it is difficult not to believe that chimeras have existed for quite some time, but the Cardinal’s concern (and that of many Christians, Jews and Muslims) is more to do with the spiritual status of the chimera – that is, its ensoulment, and the sanctity of its existence. If humans are made ‘in the image of God’, in whose image is something that is part human part animal? And does such a creation have ‘human rights’, ‘animal rights’, both or none?

Chief Whip Geoff Hoon has offered Roman Catholic members of the Cabinet the option of writing to him asking him to be excused from the vote on ethical grounds, but he has made it clear that they must not vote against it. Des Browne, the Defence and Scottish Secretary, Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary, and Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary, are understood to be pushing to vote against parts of the Bill. They may be forced to resign if Mr Brown does not back down and allow a free vote on the issue.

But what intrigues Cranmer is the extent to which this is being portrayed as an ‘anti-Catholic’ provision and an exclusively ‘Catholic’ concern. Those who feature in the media appear to be exclusively Roman Catholic, such that the Established Church is perceived as having no point of view at all, and the Evangelicals, Muslims and Jews have ceased to exist altogether (not to mention the Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists who rarely get a look-in on any matter, yet all of whom might oppose such a bill on the basis of their commitment to the principles of ahimsa).

In fact, the very issues now being raised by leading Roman Catholics were raised by the Archbishop of Canterbury as far back as January 30th. Dr Williams called for the Government to allow a free vote on the 'big issues' of conscience, posed by the proposals on hybrid embryos in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and the removal of the clause on the need for a father.

He said: 'The hybrid question - there has been a lot of rather extreme and alarmist talk about this and I fully accept that it is not about the breeding of monsters, but at the same time, I think there remains this very instrumentalist view of the human embryo: we use it for something and then destroy it, and I find that ethically very hard to accept. The hybrid embryo is just an aspect of overall attitudes to embryo research. In this country, more than in many others we seem to be taking for granted that it is all right to regard the human embryo as something to be used instrumentally - that is my big moral concern.'

He further said that he 'regretted' the proposals on removing the need for a father, saying it was a 'downgrading of the ordinary processes of reproduction and upbringing' in favour of a 'highly technological view' of what human reproduction was about.

There has been no reporting of this in the wider media, and absolutely nothing on the scale as that achieved by sundry Roman Catholic cardinals, archbishops and bishops. It is as though the Established Church speaks with no moral authority, yet when Rome speaks Parliament must listen.

This is not an exclusively ‘anti-Catholic’ Bill; it is a fundamentally anti-Christian one, and some might say an anti-religious one, for it is secular to the core. While the Prime Minister pontificates about his manse upbringing, and quotes Scripture as evidence of his ‘moral compass’, he is quite blatantly unsympathetic to religious orthodoxy, and is manifestly hypocritical in his politics.

And when one considers the some of those who are jumping on this bandwagon (like the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols) it is difficult not to perceive this as jockeying for position in the battle to succeed Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.

But Cranmer is further intrigued by Cardinal O’Brien’s condemnation of the Bill on the grounds that ‘the government has no mandate for these changes: they were not in any election manifesto, nor do they enjoy widespread public support’.

As an aside, Cranmer has not heard the Cardinal demanding a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon on the basis that the Government has no mandate for the ratification, or that the referendum promise was a manifesto pledge, and the demand evidently enjoys widespread public support. The Cardinal simply appeals to these criteria on issues with which he has no sympathy: he is dedicated to the break-up of the United Kingdom, and in favour of an ‘independent’ Scotland within the European Union.

And the Cardinal calls for the establishment of a ‘single permanent national bioethics commission’ as ‘the only way in which the issue could be "adequately discussed".’ But who will sit on this commission? How and by whom will they be selected? To whom will they be accountable? Do we not have enough quangos already doing the business of government and deflecting the accountability of our elected representatives?

One can only guess at the Cardinal’s hopes and aspirations, but it is certain that he intends that such a commission should include prominent Roman Catholics. So what happens then when they are out-voted? Or is the make-up of the commission somehow to be rigged?

Whipping MPs is of course for the maintenance of party discipline. Where members rebel against the Whip, the worst they can expect is political oblivion. Yet when they ignore their consciences, reject their religion, and rebel against God, there is the distinct possibility of eternal damnation. For the devout, there is no contest. But the wisest political leaders would never force such a scenario. David Cameron has said that Conservative MPs will get a free vote on all aspects of the legislation. This is just as it should be. Sensible fellow.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thomas Cranmer, burned at the stake on this day 1556



This Good Friday falls early this year, and gives pause to recollect the burning this date of His Grace, Henry VIII’s Archbishop of Canterbury, author of this gentle prayer for Holy Week:

Almighty and everliving God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be make partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God,for ever and ever. Amen.



A fitting tribute to His Grace on this fateful day - earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life.

Who is God?

But this Jesus whom you crucified, God has made him both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36).

This dual title, 'Lord and Messiah', gives a clue as to how the Hebrew scriptures were understood. In their Greek translation, the covenant name of God, Yahweh (Exod 3) is translated 'Kyrios'. For example, in Psalm 110:1, the Hebrew text says 'YHWH says to Adon, sit at my right hand...'. The two characters in the dialogue are distinguished by two different titles. The Greek translation of Psalm 110:1, however, from which Peter quoted in Acts 2:34 reads: 'the Lord says to my Lord...'. Our English versions reflect the fact that the same noun is used for both persons. The distinction that was clear in the Hebrew text became ambiguous in the Greek text.

What distinguishes the Father and the Son is not a difference in divine essence, but a difference in their persons and it belongs to the person of the Son to become incarnate, but the incarnate Son is and remains consubstantial with the Father.

God the Son did not first appear in the history of redemption in the incarnation, but has been mediating the knowledge of God and saving his people for millennia before. This is how the Apostle Paul read the history of salvation and why he declared: 'There is one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus' (1Tim 2:5). We see this way of thinking in his admonition to the Corinthians regarding their conduct at the Lord's Table, where he reminded them that they were not the first to be baptised (1Cor 10:1f) and they were not the first to eat the Lord's Supper (1Cor 10:3). Indeed, they ate the same food and drank the same drink we do: 'For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ'. Paul did not see only occasional types of Christ in the Hebrew Scriptures. Rather, he saw God the Son actively operating throughout Scripture. In other words, the unity of the covenant of grace is not merely typological but substantial.

Christians today are partakers of the same justifying and saving grace by which God the Son justified and redeemed his people before the incarnation. Paul said this much when he told the Corinthians: 'For the Son of God Jesus the Messiah whom we preached among you...is not Yes and No, but in him the Yes has come. For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in him. Wherefore also through him is our Amen to God for his glory' (2Cor 1:19-20).

'You were redeemed...with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake' (1Pt 1:19f).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Paul Scofield (1922-2008) - A Man for All Seasons

Cranmer is profoundly saddened to hear of the death of Paul Scofield CH CBE, one of the greatest actors of his age. He will doubtless be remembered for his most famous Oscar-winning screen role – Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s ‘A Man for All Seasons’ – the stage version of which premiered in London in 1960 and transferred to Broadway the following year.

But it was his performance as King Lear in Peter Brook’s 1962 stage production which is widely considered his finest and greatest role. The Stratford production transferred to London and went on tour across Europe in succeeding year. It was also heralded in Moscow and New York. Thankfully, it was preserved for posterity in a screen version which, to date, is without parallel.

On stage, screen and radio Paul Scofield played most of the major Shakespearean roles, and throughout his career he was lauded for sonorous voice, his distinguished appearance and tremendous presence. He mysteriously always eschewed a knighthood, only accepting elevation to Companion of Honour in 2001.

He was without the theatrical flamboyance of the Gielgud, Olivier, Richardson generation, and remained an intensely private man. The world is the darker for his passing.Goodnight, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

But while Cranmer does not begrudge the success of Paul Scofield with ‘A Man for All Seasons’, he is bemused to still be awaiting a film version of his own life, which is, by all accounts, every bit as theologically challenging, politically engaging, and spiritually inspiring as that of the traitor More.

Though what to call it…?

Civil Partnership: Catholics 1 Police 0

Cranmer just loves it when conflicting minority sensitivities, agendas and assertions of ‘rights’ are found to be mutually exclusive and irredeemably irreconcilable. Hitherto, the Christians and their orthodoxy have lost on such issues as civil partnerships, gay adoption, wearing crosses or ‘chastity rings’ in schools, or even the traditional free vote in Parliament on contentious issues of morality.

But a brave Roman Catholic couple who objected to their marriage being listed alongside ‘civil partnership’ have won the first round in an employment tribunal action against the Strathclyde Police Force.

Lucille and Frank McQuade (with whom, judging by their picture, you would not want to mess) have 26 years of faithful marriage behind them, and are claiming that Strathclyde Police Force is guilty of sex discrimination and religious discrimination after altering its civilian employee records to change their status from ‘married’ to ‘married/civil partnership’, as though there were some equivalence. They deem it to be an unacceptable change to their ‘true legal and religious status’ because, as Mrs McQuade states, ‘The concept of homosexuality is not compatible with our faith’.

Quite so, Mrs McQuade, quite so. You are simply obeying Scripture and the traditional teachings of the Church; an orthodoxy which His Holiness has even very recently reiterated.

Cranmer is not inclined to revisit the complexities of the concept of ‘concept’, so he is relieved that Mrs McQuade states rather more straightforwardly: ‘We find it offensive that people don't know if we are married or civil partners."

But Strathclyde Police are bound by sexual orientation ‘guidance’ (courtesy of ACAS), which stated that ‘outing’ an individual's sexual orientation against their wishes or without their clear permission was inappropriate and a breach of privacy. In order to avoid this undesired ‘outing’, the two categories are considered synonymous because ‘in most situations they were treated the same, so there was no need to identify them separately’.

Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Media Office, said: "When civil partnerships were introduced, politicians stressed they were not the same as marriage. It is absurd that a public body cannot list these separately." But Tony Grew, the editor of the Pink News, a campaigning newspaper for homosexuals, said: "Many people in the police, and the vast majority of people they serve, are proud of the fact that their gay and lesbian colleagues no longer have to hide in the shadows. It seems this couple are not among them. They are entitled to their view, but in 2008 it looks like the sad relic of a prejudice that has no place in modern Scotland."

The distinction between marriage and civil partnership is becoming semantic. Whilst Parliament advocated equality on matters including pension provision and inheritance, it was never intended that official forms would be amended to re-classify marriage as a status equivalent to civil partnership.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien observed at the time: "The Scottish people must be aware that we are indulging in an experiment which will always have huge social consequences. The Catholic Church teaches clearly that we, as individuals and a society, harm ourselves when we do not protect and promote the female-male lifelong relationship that we know as marriage."

The Christian Institute unequivocally terms ‘civil partnership’ a ‘counterfeit marriage’, the ultimate aim of which is to ‘completely equate homosexual relationships with marriage’. In the case of Strathclyde Police they appear to have been prophetic. The Institute further observes:

UK gay rights groups are fully aware of the significance of civil partnerships in achieving legal same-sex marriage. The Government commented on its consultation: “it was clear that many of those who supported the principle of a civil partnership scheme would prefer that marriage was made available to same-sex couples.”

Civil partnerships equate homosexual relationships with marriage in law, though not in name. The Government’s Women and Equality Unit wants all official documentation asking for a person’s ‘marital status’ to be altered to read ‘civil status’. This would include both marriage and civil partnerships.’


All that Strathclyde Police needs to do is to amend ‘Married/Civil Partnership’ to ‘Civil Status’, leaving the McQuades to be free to insert ‘Married’.

But that still leaves the problem of those in a ‘civil partnership’ who do not wish to be ‘outed’.

Doubtless this dilemma is occupying Sir Humphrey inordinately and disproportionately.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Euthanasia… ‘we don’t let animals suffer like this’

Meet Chantal Sebire. She is inflicted with esthesioneuroblastoma, a terminal cancer of the naval cavity which progressively diminishes sight, taste and smell, and is accompanied by irrevocable brain damage.

The BBC’s Will & Testament blog tells us that the French courts will not permit doctors to assist her suicide because under French law it is permissible to withhold life-sustaining treatment, but nothing may be administered to provoke death. ‘In other words, "passive euthanasia" (withholding treatment) is legal, while "active euthanasia" (deliberately acting to end a patient's life) remains illegal.’

The blog’s author is clear where his sympathies lie, stating starkly: ‘The consequence of this court decision is that Ms Sebire now faces months or years of living with a progressively more painful and debilitating condition. During that time, she may decide to refuse all medical assistance except pain relief. Alternatively, she could decide to travel to Switzerland, Belgium or the Netherlands, where assisted suicide (under certain circumstances) is legal.’

And there the issue is left for discussion.

Well, Cranmer is more than a little irritated by this sort bland and oblique moralising, which is devoid of any analysis of either the politics or the theology of the tragic situation. And let us all agree that this poor woman’s condition is indeed tragic, and no-one can pretend ‘to understand how she feels’, and neither should any comment detract from the dignity with which she endures her affliction, or underestimate that her suffering must be profoundly psychological, emotional, spiritual as well as physical.

But the question of euthanasia is reduced to a question of liberty – she should be free to terminate her life at a time of her choosing – and assisting her would be the ‘Christian’ thing to do.

While Cranmer agrees that the decriminalisation of suicide in 1961 made a modicum of sense insofar as one could never achieve a successful prosecution of the successful and ought to express compassion toward the unsuccessful, the liberalisation of the law on euthanasia would be a dangerously amoral development, as the Lords Spiritual asserted when the issue was last presented to Parliament.

But this is not simply a theist perspective; it is consistent with the principles of Enlightenment secularism also. Natural law – what constitutes right and justice - is common to all mankind. The Greeks and the Romans articulated this in their philosophy, setting the foundation for St Paul and later philosophers. Thus did Cicero write of ‘true law, right reason, diffused in all men, constant and everlasting’, and St. Paul reflect on ‘what the law requires is written in their hearts’ (Rom 2:15). Hobbes defines the law of nature as ‘a precept of general rule found out by reason by which a man in forbidden to do anything which is destructive of his life’.

Opposition to ‘do anything which is destructive of life’ is one of the few general rules which unites all of the world’s religions. The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church states: ‘Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick and dying persons. It is morally unacceptable’ (para.2277). Pope John Paul II reflected in his encyclical ‘Evangelium Vitae’ that ‘we see a tragic spread of euthanasia, disguised and surreptitious, or practised openly or even legally. As well as for reasons of misguided pity at the sight of the patient's suffering, euthanasia is sometimes justified by the utilitarian motive of avoiding costs which bring no return and weigh heavily on society’. And more recently Pope Benedict XVI stated that ‘freedom to kill is not a true freedom but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery’.

The Orthodox and Protestant churches have expressed similar views, most notably the Baptists, who concluded that ‘a Christian should never recommend, or help with a suicide of an unsaved person because that would hasten the unsaved person's damnation and prevent any chance of repentance. It is an affront to God to take one's own life, both for reasons of his sovereignty but also because any murder is an attempt to annihilate his image in man (Gen1:26f)’.

Similar sentiments opposing euthanasia may be found in the scriptures and/or ethical traditions of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Suffering is natural to the human condition, and the end of life does not need hastening but loving; there should be no easy escape, but dignity and care. Assisted suicide is as morally repugnant as abortion; indeed, Cranmer is hard-pressed to comprehend those who repudiate the former while supporting the latter, for both are concerned with the termination of the seemingly deficient or unwanted; both have the distaste of eugenics – ending the ‘unworthy’ life. Just as the legalisation of abortion was never intended to open the floodgates that it evidently has, so the legalisation of euthanasia would mutate over the decades, and eventually lead to the ‘humane’ termination of all those who simply cannot be bothered to continue. What will doubtless begin with volunteers will eventually include conscripts; the ‘right’ to die may easily become and expectation, and will certainly eventually become a duty.

Killing is not healing. In a culture that worships youth, beauty and physical fitness, the elderly, ugly and disabled may be seen as revolting, but they are also made in the image of God. And just like he did at Calvary, they must be exhorted to suffer and endure with dignity whatever life throws at them. And then, with Job, shall they know that their redeemer lives. And in the meantime, unlike with Job, they need friends and comforters around them who can make them see that their life has worth, and that their witness is profound.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

First Church opens in Qatar

The authorities in Doha have permitted no cross, no steeple, no bell, and not even a sign to indicate what the building is. And that is the reality of Islamic suppression of churches. While utterly reasonable Muslims assert the Qur’anic injunction that ‘there is no compulsion in religion’, it is quite a different story where the Wahhabi expression of Islam is dominant, and where the kuffar are obliged to comply with Islamic rules which govern religious expression.

When it comes to building churches in Arabia, there are so many conditions for planning that one wonders why anyone would bother to navigate their way through the tedious bureaucracy. According to Umdat al-Salik (a manual of Islamic law certified by Al-Azhar as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy), a church building may not be higher than or as high as any mosque, so no steeples are permitted. They are forbidden to bear images or symbols, so no crosses or the sounding of bells. It is gracious that they permit a door in order that worshippers may enter.

When 5,000 faithful flock to Our Lady of the Rosary to celebrate its historic consecration, they pray no one will notice. Fr Tom Veneracion, the priest, is right to be worried about a backlash. He says: ‘The idea is to be discreet because we don't want to inflame any sensitivities.’ Many Muslims have branded it an ‘offence’, and a politician has called for a national referendum to determine its fate. Doha's Al-Arab newspaper has said: ‘The cross should not be raised in the sky of Qatar, nor should bells toll in Doha.’

Contrast this with developments in Oxford.

Cranmer has previously reported on the rise of the minarets amidst the dreaming spires, and on the demands to sound the call to prayer. But now local Muslims want to build a minaret which is to be taller than any church spire.

As Nadine Dorries MP notes:

’There must be half a dozen or so journalists who could be described as 'leading' in their field. Last night I had supper with one who is a household name and TV personality and would be the first name on many peoples lips when asked to name an writer whose views they respected on the issue of Islamist fundamentalism.

‘I had no idea that England was far more important to the Islamists than America - following on from 9/11, I thought it would be the other way round.

‘I suppose it stands to reason that here is the home, the mother country of the English language, of world finance, of law and innovation, and some of the most famous universities in the world.

‘Symbolism is everything to the Islamist in the midst of a Jihad, the holy war we are silently engaged in.

‘Apparently, the minaret of a mosque, which will be built in Oxford, will stand taller than the dreamy spires.

‘Standing taller is all that matters, it’s the most important thing. Symbolic.

‘To the Islamist, America is a Johnny come lately, it's England that matters.

‘Whereas anyone walking by may not even notice the towering height, casting a shadow over a dreamy spire, to the Islamist it represents a triumphant call to arms.

‘And the passer-by will think it’s just another innocent call to prayer.’


Quite so, Mrs Dorries, quite so

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Cameron Social Contract

It does not quite rank with that of Rousseau, who was primarily concerned with how freedom manifests itself in civil society, and the reality that restraints upon the freedom of the individual are necessary if community is to function at all. But David Cameron has articulated a philosophy that not only resonates with ‘middle England’ (wherever that be) but is consonant with the thesis of rationality and morality; namely that physical freedom is inescapably linked to civil freedom, and that only by agreeing to surrender some of the former can the latter exist at all.

His big theme – or meta-narrative - is the central importance of the family. Cranmer has written upon this matter before, and he is delighted to hear Mr Cameron talk of rewarding marriage in the tax system and extending parental leave. Marriage (of male and female) is manifestly the foundational building block of civil society, attested to by millennia of empirical evidence. And it is right that the institution should be supported by the state because not all ‘lifestyle choices’ are equal and not all should be equally endowed. Cranmer believes that it is right and noble and good that the financial liberties of the individual should be curtailed to support families in the bringing up of children, for only by acknowledging the supremacy of the nuclear family will civil society rediscover its civility at all.

But it is even more of a delight to hear how such policies fuse with wider Conservative philosophy. Eschewing any promise of tax cuts (with which, as much as he longs for them, Cranmer agrees), Mr Cameron states that ‘money is tight and we've got to make choices’.

Well, indeed it is, and, as a man trying to persuade the British public that he should be the next prime minister, indeed he does. But it is not so much that these choices have to resonate with the British people, but that there should be choices at all.

At the moment, Labour provides ‘untrained outreach workers’, while Mr Cameron insists that we need ‘more trained professionals who really know what they're doing’.

He continues:

They exist already. They're called health visitors. Highly-trained NHS professionals who come to your home and build up a strong, trusting, personal relationship with your family. They have a huge part to play in making everything seem manageable. They don't judge, they help out. And that's why it's not surprising that overwhelmingly, parents say it's this kind of help and support they want: from a trained professional, in the home.

‘But under Labour, the number of health visitors is in freefall. Many are set to retire, with no plans to replace them. It's got so bad that in some parts of the country you're lucky to see one at all. According to one report, the drop in health visitors has led to serious medical conditions going unnoticed, poor diet - and even cases of rickets.

‘That's why I'm announcing today that a Conservative Government will provide a universal health visiting service to all parents. We're going to radically increase the number of health visitors so that every family can count on the proper, professional support they need. Another 4,200 health visitors. With money set aside for proper training and extra help for families in the most deprived areas...’


Mr Cameron insists that he will ‘be careful with public money - especially when times are tough’, and this is the foundation of his Conservatism. It is not his money, and neither is it the Government’s; it belongs to the people. His mantra will be that ‘Labour investment’ amounts to nothing more than ‘Government waste’, and with this he is pledged to stop government profligacy and to be responsible with public spending.

And when he pledges to do this against a backdrop of ‘family-friendly’ terminology, and dares to be filmed by cameras in his home in order that people may see what an utterly ‘ordinary bloke’ he is, one begins to detect the Cameron Social Contract. He desires ‘more flexible working, extending parental leave, corporate responsibility, more NHS health visitors’.

It may be the sort of ‘touch-feely’ Conservatism that irks those who are persuaded by the dogma of individualism, but true Conservatism has never exalted the individual above civil society; indeed, it is a parody to insist that it ever did. The small state and lower taxes will happen, but only when families are assisted in their raison d’être and disfunctionality ceases to be a drain on the public purse. It is strong families which will mitigate social problems, and by promising to invest in them Mr Cameron shows himself to be a man of integrity and vision.

The liberties of the individual are enhanced when they are curtailed to augment the liberties of the family, because within communitarianism is a mutual protection and peace. The group collectively is more important than each individual that makes it up. The sovereign and the general will are more important than its subjects and their particular wills.

And before anyone condemns Cranmer for inclining toward state totalitarianism, consider for a moment that we now live in an age where individual rights have become the supreme expression of being; a totalitarianism that insults civil society and breeds mutually exclusive and perpetually competing sub-communities who will never acknowledge the primacy of the whole. Under Labour, the British people are not free at all, and there are profound difficulties in interacting with one another in any meaningful way. Decisions and behaviour are largely dictated by an over-mighty and arrogant executive that believes it rules by a notion of divine right.

If Mr Cameron is doing anything with this announcement, it is establishing that the zeitgeist of relativism is at an end. The focus on the smallest community – the family – does not intrude upon individuality; rather, in the long term, it gives individuality an outlet for its fullest expression. As Mr Cameron says: ‘That's why this family-friendly stuff is Conservative - seriously Conservative. It's about solving our social problems for the long term. Reducing demands on the state. And showing that the way to do it is through social responsibility, not state control.’

Under a Cameron premiership, the state will privilege the family.

And Cranmer says amen to that.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Palm Sunday - Hosanna in excelsis!

Benedictus qui venit in nomine domini.

There is something lyrically beautiful and majestically timeless about the Latin rendering of this supreme moment of joy. And as we enter this Holy Week - the most solemn and intense period of worship in the Christian calendar – it is important to remember that it does indeed begin with supreme joy as Jesus entered Jerusalem as the fulfilment of the long-promised salvation of Israel.

As Cranmer held his blessed palm this morning, and gazed at an altar bedecked with palm branches, he reflected that palms to the Romans were a symbol of victory and of military prowess. The Jewish people simply echoed this practice, perhaps drawing on 1 Maccabees where it is recorded that the people waved palm branches to celebrate the independence of Jerusalem and Judea.

And as the ancient hymn Gloria Laus was echoing in Cranmer’s mind, he reflected upon his palm cross – the sign of Christ's grace which simultaneously fuses the joy of his triumph with the profound sorrow of his death. The Passion Gospel is forever in the background of the Hosannas of the people – a people who could never have foreseen what would befall their Messiah just a week later. They yearned for a king who would proclaim Israel’s independence from Rome; they wanted a Messiah who would be their religio-political hero; they wanted a Jesus who would fulfil their religious expectations and affirm their political agendas.

On this final Sunday of Lent, Cranmer wishes to pause from temporal matters religio-political and reflect on the fact that little has changed in two millennia. Even today, those who believe in Christ want a certain kind of Jesus; a certain type of Messiah – one who will bless our politics, bless our wars and battles, and will be ‘on our side’ against all our enemies, foreign and domestic. We seek a Messiah who will affirm out notion of truth, our interpretation of Scripture, our spiritual pilgrimage through this temporal existence.

Today is a day for humility, reflecting on the fact that Jesus did not enter Jerusalem riding a fine chariot, or the equivalent of a armoured vehicle or a Rolls Royce: he rode in on a donkey, like a humble peasant on a mission of peace.

And let us not forget that these same people who today shouted ‘Hosanna!’ are the same people who cried out ‘Crucify him!’ just five days later. And all because they realised that the Jesus who rode in on a donkey was not the Jesus they had invented in their minds, for he had objectives which were not remotely in line with their own.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Iran – the world’s ‘role model and saviour’.

So says the utterly impartial, impeccably sane and devotedly democratic President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, no doubt egged on by the infallible Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (left). Cranmer must have missed the hundreds of nations falling over themselves in the rush to emulate the perfect ‘role model’, and he must be blind, deaf, dumb or dead to have not understood that the greatest Iran is the ‘saviour’ of the world.

And Cranmer can hardly wait to bear witness to Iran’s grand soteriological scheme by which the world shall be saved – or is this salvation for Muslims only? Or, more specifically, Shi’a Muslims only? Or, even more particularly, the Shi’a Muslims who happen to put their trust in the political theology of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei?

Now that voting has taken place, Cranmer received last night a word of prophecy that the conservatives will win. His Grace felt emboldened to share this after it was conformed that reformist opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were barred from running on the grounds of alleged ‘lack of loyalty to Islamic values’, and the turnout of his supporters was said to be ‘glorious’. Cranmer does not mind prophesying that President Ahmadinejad will triumph also in next the 2009 presidential poll.

What a marvellous surprise this must be for the Iranian people, and what a source of great joy to President Ahmadinejad. And what confirmation this must bring them all that the US is the ‘great satan’ and that other Western democracies are Iran's enemies.

There were around 1700 candidates barred from running in this election after they were screened by Iran's ‘Guardian Council’ - an unelected body of clerics and jurists that vets election candidates. This ‘Guardian Council’ has denied bias, so it is manifestly not biased.

The only manifesto pledges of the triumphant and victorious parties of which Cranmer is aware are concerned with the maintenance of ‘Islamic values’ and the drive to ‘go nuclear’ – and therein lie both national glory and eternal salvation. And we are not talking here of enriching uranium for some civilian energy programme, but the production of a bomb by which Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni may ‘wipe Israel off the map’, welcome the 12th Imam, and usher in the new Islamic era. And if readers and communicants wish to know more about those who fail to live up to these 'Islamic values', he commends the work of the Iran Liberty Association (but warns strongly that their videos are profoundly disturbing).

The most remarkable aspect of Mr Ahmadinejad's piety is his devotion to the Hidden Imam, the Messiah-like figure of Shi’a Islam, and the President's belief that his government must prepare the country for his return. All streams of Islam believe in a divine saviour, known as the Mahdi, who will appear at the End of Days in the company of Isa (Jesus). But President Ahmadinejad and his cabinet have pledged themselves to work for the return of the Mahdi. Indeed, his military involvement in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq is purposely designed to agitate against Israel to hasten the Last Day. Iran's dominant ‘Twelver’ sect believes the Mahdi will be Mohammed ibn Hasan, regarded as the 12th Imam and descendant of the Prophet Mohammed.

This election and Iran’s political agenda are not remotely democratic, but are driven by Shi’a theology which is guarded by clerics who ensure that all legislation complies with Islamic law. And when it comes to foreign policy, this can only mean one thing for Israel, for they hold to the divine promise made in the Al-Israa Sura (Sura 17) that they will liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque - the first 'Kaba' to the Muslims - and will enter it as they have entered it the first time (Sura 17, ayat 7). And the prophetic foundation is the message of Mohammad that Islam will enter every house and will spread over the entire world.

They are dedicated and pledged with their lives to the ‘liberation of Palestine’ - all of Palestine.

This is Iran’s final solution.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The climax of the Chaldean catastrophe

Cranmer brought to the attention of his readers and communicants the plight of Iraq’s Christians some time ago, not least because their systematic extermination was scarcely registering on the radar of the mainstream media. While the Iraq focus has been on a botched peace and the occasional atrocity committed by the odd deviant soldier, thousands upon thousands of Assyrian and Chaldean Christians have been ‘cleansed’ from the lands in which they and their forebears have dwelt for almost two millennia.

Under Saddam Hussain there were around half a million of them, distinguishing themselves from their Assyrian cousins, and forming the majority of Iraq's Christians who numbered around 800,000. Saddam appointed numerous professing Christians to positions of authority, including Tariq Aziz, for whose release the Chaldeans pleaded. They were left to worship in peace, and the Islamist jihadis were kept firmly under control. But now their numbers have dwindled by an estimated quarter of a million. Since the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraqi Christians have been targeted by Islamists who label them ‘crusaders’. Churches, priests and businesses owned by Christians have been attacked, and many have fled the country.

It is a great irony indeed that the war to depose Saddam - led by two of the most openly Christian leaders of modern times – is resulting in the systematic elimination of believers from the region.

And now Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, has been found dead and buried. He was kidnapped after leaving Mass and leading the stations of the cross in Mosul, northern Iraq, on 29th February. He believed that the violence they were enduring was a test of faith and, because of it, Christians in the country ‘had learned to put into practice values like forgiveness and love, even for those who persecute them’.

He is a true martyr for his faith, in stark contrast to those ‘suicide bombers’ who pervert the very definition of the word as they blow up innocent women and children in order to gain a place in paradise with the sexual services of a host of virgins. The comparison itself is vile, and yet modern martyrdom appears to have become the sole preserve of Islam.

Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said: "The most absurd and unjustified violence continues to afflict the Iraqi people and in particular the small Christian community, whom the Pope holds in his prayers in this time of deep sadness. This tragic event underscores once more and with more urgency the duty of all, and in particular of the international community, to bring peace to a country that has been so tormented."

Pope Benedict XVI said he was profoundly moved, calling the archbishop's death an act of inhuman violence. His Holiness said it was a cause of ‘deep sadness’, adding: "The most absurd and unjustified violence continues to afflict the Iraqi people and in particular the small Christian community." In a telegram sent to Chaldean Patriarch, Cardinal Emmanuel Delly III , the Pope deplored the inhuman act of violence underlining that it damaged the cause of fraternal coexistence between the beloved Iraqi people.

The murderers appear not to have heard of the official Muslim charm offensive addressed primarily to the Vatican, which carried no fewer than 138 authoritative signatories. Or perhaps they were indeed aware of such overtures, but also of the admirable theological riposte made by His Holiness as he understood precisely what they were about.

Canon Andrew White, the only Anglican vicar working in Baghdad, has warned of the ‘very real danger faced by Christians in Iraq’, adding: "This awful event happened in the very heartland of Iraqi Christianity in Nineveh. We are in tears - we are devastated. We are not giving up our faith in Jesus and I am not leaving this beloved land of Iraq."

Charities are united in their concern. Daniel Hoffman, director of Middle East Concern which campaigns for the rights of Christians in Iraq, has said that this murder will lead to ‘a mass exodus’ of Christians fearing for their safety. His fears are shared by John Pontifex, a spokesman for Aid to the Church in Need, who says that ‘that no one among the Christian community is safe’. He believes that this murder is ‘the last straw’ which may ‘result in the extinction of Christianity in Iraq’.

Dr Suha Rassam of Iraqi Christians In Need (ICIN) said: "The only way for the Church in the Mosul area to survive might be if it goes underground, like it did in the first and second centuries. This way, Mass and other services would be held in secret and priests go about their duties clandestinely.”

And while the West slumbers on, someone ought to remind our leaders of the parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt 25:31-46): ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me.’
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