Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gerald Kaufman: "Here we are, the Jews again"

It has traditionally been the preserve and privilege of the comedian to be able to criticise and denigrate one’s co-ethnic fellow man without inciting wailing and gnashing of teeth. No-one accuses Rabbi Lionel Blue of being anti-Semitic, or Shazia Mirza of being Islamophobic. And doubtless there are homosexual comedians who dish out homophobia with gay abandon; and disabled comedians who get away with all manner of offences against their co-afflicted. And by ‘co-afflicted’, His Grace does not mean to say that disability is an affliction in the sense of being an evil or an illness, such as may cause physical pain or mental and emotional distress, though it may certainly be, and some would say undoubtedly is. But ‘affliction’ in the sense of that which is dealt us in life; that which may be a bane; the cross we carry daily.

Gerald Kaufman was born a Jew: it is his ethnic identity as well as his religion. The word is used hundreds of times in the Bible, and always refers to ethnic Jews (Israelites, in contrast to Gentiles). Perhaps being one of the Tanakh’s ‘Treasured People’, to whom was bequeathed the Law of God, privileges him to offend all Jewry. It’s just a pity that he can’t do it with the charismatic charm and disarming flair of Rabbi Blue.

It is reported that during a debate yesterday in the House of Commons on the Government’s plans to change the law on universal jurisdiction (which would sensibly prevent any Tom, Dick or Harry seeking an arrest warrant for any suspected war criminal), at the point the Jewess Louise Ellman MP rose to speak, Gerald Kaufman uttered from a sedentary position: "Here we are, the Jews again."

Now, Ms Ellman and Sir Gerald don’t quite see eye-to-eye on certain issues, principally the question of ‘Palestine’. And she happens to chair the Jewish Labour Movement and is Vice Chairman of Labour Friends of Israel. Such exuberant and unashamed Judophilia evidently makes her an evil Zionist in Sir Gerald’s eyes, which are firmly fixed on Al-Aqsa to the glory of Hamas.

But ‘Here we are, the Jews again’ is a curiously self-loathing complaint.

Can you imagine Sayeeda Warsi saying to Sajid Javid or Sadiq Khan: “Here we are, the Muslims again.” Or Anne Begg saying to Paul Maynard: “Here we are, the disabled again.” Or Chris Bryant saying to Nick Herbert: “Here we are, the gays again.”

Such comments do not only offend members of these minority groups; they manifest a prejudice which may offend all. Gerald Kaufman’s comment appals not only because it evidences a bigotry which will aggrieve many Jews, but because it is blatantly anti-Semitic and disgusts Gentiles as well.

In a statement released by the Labour Party, Sir Gerald said: "I regret if any remarks I made in the chamber caused offence. If they did, I apologise."

But a carefully-worded conditional apology is insufficient: there ought to be consequences, not least because this is not the first time Sir Gerald has spouted such bile: a year ago, he outrageously alleged: "Just as Lord Ashcroft owns most of the Conservative Party, right-wing Jewish millionaires own the rest." And only last December, he pleaded God’s forgiveness on the Coalition Government for their ‘complicity in Israeli war crimes’.

He plays on all the traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes which can only exacerbate racial and religious tensions. Perhaps the matter ought to be taken up by the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism. Certainly, if he were to make such comments outside of the Chamber, venturing without the protective canopy of parliamentary privilege, he would probably be arrested for inciting hatred.

And one has to wonder, on ‘universal jurisdiction’, why Gerald Kaufman can support the action taken against Israel’s former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, who had a warrant issued for her arrest for ‘war crimes’ in December 2009, but he is not calling for the immediate arrest of Libya’s former foreign minister Moussa Koussa, who has arrived in the UK today to a hero’s welcome, despite being a close confidant of Gaddafi during his 30-year bloody and tyrannical rule; despite being expelled from the UK in 1980 for threatening political assassinations; and despite being linked by intelligence sources to the Lockerbie bombing.

Is it ‘cos ‘a is Arab, Sir Gerald?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is Ed Balls ‘the most annoying person in modern politics’?


Perhaps it depends what the Prime Minister means by ‘modern’. If we take the term as it relates to the English language, we are talking about the post-1500s. There have been a fair few annoying people since that era, and, indeed, quite a few during it, not least those who conspired in that fateful day in 1556. If we were to apply the term to history generally, we are looking at all politicians since the end of the Middle Ages: again, an awful lot. If modernity is being considered in relation to the arts, well, this is difficult, but it’s essentially the first half of the 20th century. Modern in relation to politics is sometimes used to refer to the period since the late 19th century or simply to the post-war period. But if, as is most likely, the Prime Minister was talking of modern as it relates to the present, it is difficult to understand why he bestows the award for superlative annoyance upon Ed Balls.

Perhaps it depends what the Prime Minister means by ‘annoying’. If it is slight anger or mental distress, quite a few of his own backbenchers will be vying for position. If it is in the sense of repeated harassment, one would think that Nick Clegg would be more of a thorn in the Mr Cameron’s side. But ‘annoyance’ derives from the French ‘anuier’ which itself derives from the Latin ‘odio’, meaning hateful.

If the Prime Minister believes Ed Balls to be the most annoying, excruciating, irritating, aggravating, meddling, disconcerting, vexing, bothersome and hateful person in modern politics, he has clearly never met Ken Livingstone.

Are we facilitating the al-Qaeda takeover of Libya?


While the world has been focused on the surgical strikes to remove Colonel Gaddafi from power (distracted momentarily by a nuclear meltdown in Japan), one can only wonder at the scant attention paid to Libya’s ‘rebels’. It appears not to matter who they are as long as they want what we want, at least in the short-term: our enemy’s enemy is our friend, and all that. The Supreme Allied Commander of NATO (Europe) has said there are reports of ‘flickers’ of al-Qaeda and Hezbollah among them.

O, goody. And we are apparently now considering giving them bombs and guns and bullets to facilitate their jihad against Gaddafi, without any question at all of what they may choose to do with those bombs and guns and bullets when the devil has gone. You can’t really give a bomb on short-term loan, or demand the return of unused bullets. Perhaps we’ll see them again soon at an underground station near you.

It is curious indeed that while we categorise Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation and are fighting al-Qaeda at home, we are content to arm them abroad. This is the broadest of coalitions in the righteous pursuit of UN Resolution 1973, but it seems to be more than a little short-sighted. Several members of Libya’s ‘opposition’ (officially termed the National Transitional Council) were in London yesterday to discuss the post-Gaddafi world order, which stretched Resolution 1973 to the Iraq objective: it is, after all, about regime change.

But this is all far more complicated than the media make out: Libya, rather like Iraq and Yugoslavia, is an artificially-constructed state, forged out of distinct and separate tribal identities: east Libya has historically been in conflict with what is now the west. Benghazi in the east was part of a Greek region known a Cyrenaica, and Tripoli in the west was a Punic settlement, both separated by Mediterranean trade agreements, language, culture, ethnic temperament and 600 miles of desert. This is how it remained as empires came and went – Greek, Roman, Ottoman and British. It was not until an invasion by Italy in 1911 that the two entities were forcibly united by Mussolini, with a central governance in Tripoli. Ever since, the Cyrenaicians have considered themselves a people oppressed and a land under occupation: they were Gaddafi’s Basque region; his IRA and his PLO all rolled into one. In Benghazi, they were freedom fighters.

The weakening of the strongman in Tripoli is the fulfilment of a century (to the year) of longing for independence. The present conflict will lead undoubtedly to demands for secession, and Libya will revert to its constituent regions. And the civil war will be bloody: we will probably arm the ‘rebels’ in their quest for freedom, and then just let them all get on with slaughtering each other.

But isn’t it strange that Iran has been silent? What do they know that we do not? Are they in touch with the freedom fighters of Benghazi? Is some new pan-Arabia alliance being forged between Iran and the ascendant Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hezbollah in Syria, and al-Qaeda in Lybia? Egypt is about to elect a party to power whose slogan is ‘Islam is the solution’, which chimes somewhat conveniently with the blueprint for regional and world domination and the beliefs of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hassan Nasrallah and Osama bin Laden.

The ‘rebels’ are not liberal democrats: they are no more concerned with the British or US interest than Gaddafi was, or indeed than those who brought down the World Trade Centre on September 11th 2001 or those who bombed the London underground on 7th July 2005. And neither will they be concerned with religious liberty. Christian minorities throughout the region face increasing risks under Islamic rule. While we may naively hope for the region’s dictators, tyrants and medieval monarchies to be replaced with an enlightenment democracy which respects the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, it has to be observed that the hope may be a long time coming, if ever it comes at all.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Christians for Cuts


The march against ‘Government cuts’ attracted quite a few Christian groups – all peaceful, of course. In prophetic fulfilment of John 17:21, Protestants, Catholics, Evangelicals and those who have recently joined the Ordinariate are united as ‘Christians Against Cuts’ – a sort of coalition liberation theology. One group planned to enter a branch of Barclays bank and offer biscuits to staff and customers while praying, reading the Bible and singing hymns as a witness against ‘the injustices of the banking system’.

These believers profess to be ‘inspired by Jesus' example of protesting against the moneychangers and traders in the Jerusalem Temple, who were exploiting the poor’. They find it unacceptable ‘that rich grow richer while the poorest and most vulnerable are faced with unprecedented welfare cuts as a result’.

Another group is the Student Christian Movement who also appear to be inspired by Jesus and his ‘standing alongside the poor and marginalised of his day’. And so they are called ‘to resist injustice in the here and now’. They carried banners reading ‘Where is good news for the poor?’ and ‘Invest in education, not war’. One of their spokesmen also appealed to Jesus and the moneychangers, saying: “Two thousand years ago, Jesus protested against those who exploited the poor in the Jerusalem Temple. Now Christian students will not stand by when ministers are devastating education and public services while putting aside billions for renewing nuclear weapons."

One student, ‘passionate about faith and justice’, explained: "Communities will have their lives destroyed by the cuts. Opening higher education to a free market system will ruin it and bar millions of people. As a Christian, it's my duty to stand up."

Well, it is also His Grace’s duty to stand up for he, too, is passionate about faith and justice. He also takes his third exhortation very seriously: he disagrees with these Christians on much, but we are obliged to live in the love of Christ.

After Ed(ward) Miliband decided to invoke Nelson Mandela, Emmeline Pankhurst and Martin Luther King to his righteous cause against the Coalition's cuts, it is perhaps understandable that some might appropriate God to their crusade. But it is wholly inappropriate. When Jesus spoke about the good news for the poor, he wasn’t talking about doctors, teachers, nurses or civil servants, and neither was he talking about those who subsist on benefits. If any of these ‘Christians Against Cuts’ bothered to examine what the Lord said about the poor, they would find it rather more nuanced than their myopically anti-Tory view.

The peasants (eg Lk 6:20) who possessed little material wealth were not called ‘poor’ (‘ptochos’) if they possessed what was sufficient (ie subsistence) - they were termed ‘penes’. Jesus was concerned with the literal, physical needs of men (ie not just the spiritual [cf Acts 10:38]). When Luke was addressing the ‘poor’, he meant those who had no money – the oppressed, miserable, dependent, humiliated - and this is translated by ‘ptochos’, indicating ‘poverty-stricken…to cower down or hide oneself for fear’ - the need to beg. The ‘penes’ has to work, but the ‘ptochos’ has to beg. Those addressed by Jesus are the destitute beggars, not ‘penes’ or the general peasant audience of few possessions. This is an important distinction in the modern political discourse and for a society where the threshold of poverty is defined by the non-possession of a television, a DVD player or Nike trainers.

Jesus spoke more about money than he did about heaven and any other subject. Both the Old and New Testaments teach that God is the owner of all (Gen 14:19, 22; Mt 5:45; Acts 17:28), and that we are stewards or trustees and wholly accountable for everything (Lk 16:1-13). The key word in the dealing of believers with Mammon is ‘faithfulness’: a steward must be faithful (1Cor 4:1f). Money is not in itself evil, but the love of it is (1Tim 6:7ff). The first disciple to fall was over money, which he never lived to spend (Jn 12:4ff; 13:7-29); the first sin in the Church concerned the giving of money to the Lord (Acts 5:1-10); and the judgement of God upon the world finance system is symbolised by 666, which bestows the power to buy and sell (Rev 13:16-18).

God instituted a financial order which includes tithes (Lev 27:30-33; Mt 5:20) and offerings (Rom 12:8; 1 Cor 13:3). It is noteworthy that tithing was before the Law; it was not of the Law. Offerings were to be abundantly and joyfully from the heart (2Cor 8f). There is nothing little about taxation and nothing about state welfare, with which ‘Christians Against Cuts’ appear to be concerned. But there is an awful lot about blessings and cursings on the use and abuse of money. If one withholds what belongs to the Lord, one can expect to pay the consequences: a curse does not come without a cause (Prov 26:2). The extent to which the nation is in financial difficulty now is in direct proportion to the extent the last Labour government unrighteously administered the nations’ wealth. How much did they put in they invest for the future? How much did they put in the ‘storehouse’ (Mal 3:8-10)? What is the national debt? How much have they purloined unjustly from the people? Is this theft? If so, thieves cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor 6:10). And ignorance is no excuse: whole nations can be cursed when there is no righteous financial order.

No democratic government wants to raise taxes or impose cuts in public services, not least because both hurt the demos and impede the government’s quest to be returned to office at a general election. But in a righteous financial order, debts are repaid and the books are balanced. If they are not, the consequent curse is simply left for future generations. It is baffling that ‘Christians Against Cuts’ would prefer to sustain a situation in which £120million is paid every day in interest than spent on hospitals, schools, welfare... or on justice for the poor. ‘Christians for Cuts’ – of which His Grace is but one – understand that the pursuit of fiscal righteousness is undoubtedly painful, but that's because it demands discipline and we are simply not used to living within our means. And they also understand that these cuts are not deep and by no means fatal: the policy is that public spending will shrink very modestly as a proportion of GDP. This will still permit the state sector to grow but the private sector will grow faster. Since the former is funded by the latter, this makes perfect sense.

The task of the believer in this is to render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and to minister from the abundance of our hearts to the ‘ptochos’ – the destitute beggar.

It is not to anticipate the tune of the Christian Socialists and ‘march for the alternative’, especially where there is none.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The (re-)birth of the Social Democrats



It is reported that Nick Clegg has ordered a rebranding exercise of the Liberal Democrats to allay fears that his party has shifted too far to the right in coalition with the Conservatives. Apparently, he wants to include the word ‘social’ to give the impression that they are still concerned with such ethical issues as equality and fraternity. That would be consistent, not least because they call themselves both ‘liberal ‘and democrat’, despite being neither tolerant of religious diversity nor particularly respectful of the will of the majority. Last week, LibDem Scottish MSP Hugh O’Donnell resigned from the party claiming that the leadership was ‘neither Liberal nor Democratic’.

If their own politicians believe this, they evidently need no Tory to point it out to them.

Will rebranding help? Pre-fixing Labour with ‘New’ certainly worked, though the ditching of ‘Clause 4’ established a change which was rather more than skin deep, and Tony Blair was the very incarnation of that change. Replacing a patriotic red, white and blue torch with a green tree has not really worked for the Conservatives, and the ‘decontamination’ of the Tory brand continues apace. Ultimately, political philosophy is more important than slogans and logos, and philosophies take generations to develop an incarnational identity, which is perhaps why neither Labour nor the Conservatives ever seriously considered a name change, as Nick Clegg is reported to have initiated.

What would they call themselves? The Liberal Social Democrats is an awful mouthful and the acronym LSD presents an immediate problem, though in terms of their perception of reality it might be appropriate. Perhaps Social Liberal Democrats might be possible, though this abbreviates to SoLiD, which is just silly, and ‘Social Liberals’ sounds sexually cultish. This just leaves the Social Democrats, which is a tried and tested party name and well-established political philosophy all over the world.

But the problem is the UK already has a Social Democratic Party (with 41 members and 4 councillors, no less, and is listed on the Register of Political Parties for England). These Social Democrats profess a direct lineage to the Jenkins-Owen-Rogers-Williams SDP of the 1980s, though it is not clear why they did not find common ground with Tony Blair's New Labour, as the SDP founders and many supporters did. It could hardly have been down to incompatible philosophies: David Willetts once observed that Tony Blair was trying to copy continental Christian Democracy with 'The Project'. Certainly, he moved Labour very much towards the federalising agenda of the EU, not to mention the idealistic belief in the moral regeneration of society, and was duly rewarded with the ‘Charlemagne Prize’ for services to European integration. The Liberal Democrats are very much of this Europhile mould, though rather more secular in their social philosophy than morally regenerative in a Roman Catholic sense.

Perhaps it would be wise for the Liberal Democrats to retain ‘Liberal’ in order to ground them in their historic foundation. And they can’t drop ‘democrat’ because the word really is the last vestige of that political process they retain. A democratic temper is not only incompatible with the authoritarian dogmatism of the Liberal Democrats; it requires large concessions to the exigencies of practical politics as well as toleration of diverse traditions and beliefs. The party, like all of them, is a coalition, and any rebranding that involves a name-change would need to be a very sensitive pursuit, not least because its final ends are dependent upon democratic means. Tilt too far either way, and the Liberal Democrats could split into their Liberal and Social Democratic factions. A revived Gladstonian Liberal Party of Millite possessive individualism would find much common ground with the Conservatives, and the Social Democrat rump could either coalesce with the existing 41 or try to inject Ed Miliband’s reversion to Old Labour with a degree of Blairite moderation.

Ultimately, of course, rebranding is a superficial marketing strategy, and one may well ask what on earth makes Nick Clegg believe the British public will be fooled by such an exercise. They can ditch the parrot and adopt a set of scales, but that won’t dupe anyone into believing they care more about justice than the orange feathers convinced us they soared above the clouds as free as a bird. They can re-name themselves Social Democrats, but a Snicker is still a Marathon, and Starburst will always be Opal Fruits.

But they are desperate: the party faces a decimation (at least) in Holyrood and wipe-out in the English local elections. Nick Clegg has to be seen to be doing something to placate his party’s rank and file and keep Chris Huhne from the leadership door (not least because Mr Huhne is anxious that he is likely to lose the very marginal seat of Eastleigh at the next general election unless he can pull something out of the bag; the profile of the party leadership might just save him). But being seen to be doing is rather more important in modern politics than actually doing. And His Grace is persuaded (not entirely by cynicism) that this story is all froth and bubble. The Conservatives agreed to a five-year coalition deal with a party called the Liberal Democrats; dissolve that, and the contract for government is void.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fr Michael Seed in attempted Balkans arms deal

Papal Indulgences just aren’t what they used to be. Perhaps it’s because they have become as devalued as the Zimbabwean dollar that Fr Michael Seed has been arranging a seedy alternative. He couldn’t really ask his donors if they want a ‘k’ or a ‘p’, not least because His Holiness does not bestow peerages: the only ‘p’ that features in Rome’s hierarchy of orders is that of pope. And not even Fr Michael Seed is in a position to sell that particular honour.

But reports that Tony Blair’s confessor has fixed the odd papal ‘k’ is not the first time this troublesome friar has been accused of bringing his church into disrepute.

As if the conversion of Tony Blair were not disrepute enough, it appears that whenever a celebrity seeks to convert (privately), Fr Michael is never very far away (with a coincidental pack of paparazzi). All the gags about ‘sin-bins’ and his salacious ‘pray-and-tell’ memoirs (entitled ‘Saints and Sinners’, launched at Stringfellows [...where else?]) have perhaps been exhausted. His ‘Confessions of a Cleric’ were allegedly greeted with dismay by Pope Benedict XVI. After all, the confessional is supposed to be confidential, and while Fr Michael has never disclosed that Tony Blair repented of his fervent support for abortion and privately regrets introducing civil partnerships, this particular Franciscan does seem to enjoy name-dropping (or, rather, name-carpet-bombing).

But, in an era which is highly sensitive to any link between cash and honours, the allegations in the Mail on Sunday that Fr Michael Seed has arranged papal knighthoods in exchange for generous donations to Roman Catholic causes are grave indeed.

Paypal cash for Papal honours?

But that isn't the worst of it. The Mail further reports: 'The most damaging evidence concerns his attempted cultivation of an Israeli arms dealer, Hezi Bezalel, who was seeking business opportunities in the Balkans'.

Business opportunities in the Balkans? Was Fr Michael really involved in arming Croatian Catholic nationalists - the long-time adversaries of Western democracy? Fr Michael allegedly claimed he could introduce Mr Bezalel to influential Balkan politicians ‘and the man who looks after all arms for the region’. Who is this person? How on earth does Fr Michael know him? This revelation is grave indeed: far more so than the selling of trivial trinkets like honours.

It’s not as if his superiors could not have seen this coming: vows of chastity and poverty are a little incongruous with a celebrity champagne life-style, which includes a luxury flat in Pimlico and cavorting with scantily-clad women in London’s nightclubs. The Cardinal Sins remain unchanged: lust, greed, pride... Any responsible spiritual leader would have ordered Fr Michael to abstinence, humility and obedience as an immediate and urgent remedy. Haven’t they watched Sister Act? AN Wilson once cuttingly remarked that where two or three Hello!-style celebs are gathered together, Fr Michael Seed will surely be there in their midst, managing to be both clumsily sycophantic and intrusive.

How long is it before he appears on Strictly Come Dancing?

The day may be nearer than he thought.

But perhaps no sooner than he hoped.

Census Day 2011: "Mind Your Own *%$#@!! Business"

There really is only one answer to the Census 2011 religion question:

Mind your own *%$#@!! business

The incursions of the state into our private affairs are becoming a cause of considerable concern. A person’s religious beliefs are his or her personal domain. While the Census 2011 religion question remains optional, it is not likely to do so: the more the state gets to know, the more it appears to assume a divine right to know.

Today's invasion of privacy will be tomorrow's loss of liberty.

And so the ‘Mind Your Own’ campaign was officially launched in January upon His Grace’s blog.

There was even a Facebook Group dedicated to the cause (it has attracted 354 supporters). Big Brother Watch endorsed the campaign in February.

When the state decided in 2001 to begin prying into the religious affiliations of Her Majesty’s subjects, eyebrows were raised, questions asked, conspiracies spread and bloggers did what bloggers do.

But the people heard the cry of Minch Yoda.

For the Jedi to achieve what they did was really quite remarkable: to inspire the official registration of a greater number of adherents than those who expressed affiliation to or identification with either Judaism or Sikhism was laudable.

And so it was established, if a little yodically, that the Jedi population of the United Kingdom numbers 390,127.

But this campaign was a typically benign and uniquely British response to the sort of skirmish by the state which in France would bring the protesting hordes onto the streets baying for blood.

The Jedi campaign was glorious repartee.

But it wasn’t revolution.

It didn’t effect change.

And so the state has come back this year with even more probing ‘religion’ questions.

Or, rather, more options to tick.

But it is profoundly flawed, as His Grace has previously explained.

According to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, 'everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion'. It may be further observed:
1. Article 9 includes the freedom of belief and the freedom to manifest belief
2. A belief does not have to be a religious conviction
3. A belief can be an absence of belief
4. A belief (i) must not be trivial (ii) must be consistent with basic standards of human dignity or integrity and (iii) must be coherent, in the sense of being intelligible and capable of being understood
5. It is hard to predict whether an act is a manifestation of belief or not
6. A religious obligation is likely to be a manifestation of belief
7. A religious motivation is not likely to be a manifestation of belief
8. An interference with an Article 9 right can be justified
But who determines religious triviliality? Who judges a religion's coherence and intelligibility? Why is the belief in a carpenter who gets resurrected from the dead not absurd?

What is coherent about human infallibility or intelligible about angels dictating books to illiterate warlords? What is capable of being understood about a man with an elephant's head, or a book which is revered as a living guru?

Is there any inconsistency between human dignity, Yoda and the Force?

His Grace is fed up to the back teeth of the database state; of having to classify himself as ‘married/civil partnership’ or designate himself as an ‘EU citizen’ instead of British. And forms which enquire into ethnicity, disability and sexuality, all in the interests of ‘diversity’, are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. Data gathering has evolved into a beast of omniscience. It has developed a plethora of permutations in labyrinthine layers of infinitely nuanced complexity.

And the state has not proved sufficiently competent to safeguard that information.

Categorising religious adherence is simply a step too far: one’s religious beliefs are no business of the state.

Not least because HM Government have never defined ‘religion’.

And the British Humanist Association have got this completely wrong: by attempting to elicit more accurate data (a laudable and honest pursuit), they risk perpetuating the inaccuracy for a further decade.

Ticking a box does not make you a Christian.

But neither does going to church every Sunday.

The ‘cultural’ affiliation – ‘believing without belonging’ – remains strong in the UK: it is not the same as ‘No Religion’.

Of course, one should not confuse ethnicity with religion, or culture with creed.

But it is straightforward to tick ‘male’ or ‘female’, for these are clearly defined.
You can fill in ‘age’, ‘geographical location’ and count the number of bedrooms in your house. These are facts.

But ‘religion’?

How can the state presume to make windows into men’s souls?

They helpfully list a few Christian denominations to guide us.

But what of the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Christadelphians? Unitarians? Mormons?

Does one need to be Trinitarian to be a Christian?

Does one need to believe in the perfect revelation and final prophethood of Mohammed to be a Muslim?

And what about the Buddhists?

Why is that a relgion and not a philosophy of life?

Can one hold two faiths simultaneously? May one be both Buddhist and Shinto?

And why are the courts saying that Environmentalism is a religion?

Where is that box on the census form?

Enough is enough.

Until the sate defines religion, it is not possible to tick ‘No religion’.

The BHA are simply trying to skew the data assist in their own secularising campaign.

It is as disingenuous, unreliable and fraudulent as the 72 per cent figure of Christian allegiance which has been bandied about since the 2001 census.

And they are using it as a front to raise funds for their cause.

They even absurdly assert that the only reason there are Church of England bishops in the House of Lords is because of the 2001 census.

It is time to stop this nonsense.

Today, when you complete your 2011 Census form, to the religion question, please respond ‘Other’

And then write in: "MIND YOUR OWN…"

Unfortunately the form does not appear to leave sufficient space for

“...*%$#@!! BUSINESS”

Perhaps this is a blessing, for expletives and expressions of frustration only demean the integrity of the campaign.

Remember, today's invasion of privacy will be tomorrow's loss of liberty.

Also remember that the National Census is NOT being abolished: merely the inefficient 10-yearly form which is out of date within a year. Government data gathering in the future will be electronic and more frequent. Unless a stand is taken now, this question (and others yet to be conceived) will become mandatory.

Our freedoms of conscience, religion and association are too precious to entrust to a government database.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ed Miliband: "I am Nelson Mandela; I am Emmeline Pankhurst; I am Martin Luther King!"



This is truly shameful rhetoric: the very stuff of hyperbole, exaggeration and self-magnification. It has echoes of his predecessor windbag, Neil Kinnock. Except that Ed Miliband is smaller and shriller in every sense. Juxtaposing a protest march against government cuts with the gross injustices and inequalities of apartheid, votes for women and racial equality is preposterous. Miliband's grandilquence demeans the sacrifice of those who spent years in prison and ultimately paid with their lives. His high-profile participation on this march makes him look more like an obsessive Arthur Scargill than a Keir Hardie; more like an extremist Ken Livingstone than a New Labour heir-to-Blair. Ed Miliband will live to regret this. Indeed, as the media now juxtapose his speech with images of appalling violence and vandalism, his credibility (what little he had) may now be gone forever.

Sharia Law for Libya protest closes Oxford Street



It's curious how today's march against Government cuts is being streamed by the BBC and has made the front pages of just about all the newspapers (here, here, here, here and here...).

There was a march yesterday, too. The cause was 'Sharia Law for Libya' (and everywhere else). Sure, there were not quite the 250,000 estimated at today's march, but this one still caused the closure of Oxford Street.

But, curiously, not a whisper from the BBC. And no mention by other sections of the MSM.

In fact, one has to go to the Africa Press to find out that it took place at all.

Bishop Alan Wilson on the BBC’s ‘pisspoor’ Bible’s Buried Secrets



Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou is the latest theologically-inclined, telegenic academic to be commissioned by the BBC to present her objectively-atheistic (ie ‘neutral’) worldview to the nation, courtesy of the taxpayer.

She has been deploying her much-vaunted Oxford doctorate and senior lectureship at Exeter to tell us about the ‘Bible's Buried Secrets’, which were not actually buried very deeply; indeed, they were not particularly secret. Perhaps standards have slipped in Oxford’s theology faculty.

Is it the incongruity of her glamour and grace with the stark and foreboding Old Testament that the BBC found irresistible? Is it that she wore a sensual, green blouse throughout? Or is it that her name sounds sufficiently like a course in New Testament Greek all in itself? His Grace asks because Dr Stavrakopoulou’s profound doctoral insights may be read and discovered by Tyndale's ploughboy: they are all certainly within the grasp of a first-year undergraduate. So quite what is ‘buried’ or ‘secret’ is... well, buried and secret.

The BBC sent Dr Stavrakopoulou all the way to Jerusalem, Judaea and Samaria to contextualise her mind-blowing, ground-breaking, startlingly-original and revelatory thesis that Israelite monotheism developed and that King David did not have a global empire. She is very keen to point out ‘as an academic’ that ‘religious literature shaped by ideological and political factors’ which ‘can result in a biased account’.

His Grace is dumbfounded by her brilliance.

He lauds and praises the BBC for discovering a Dawkins disciple of such intellect.

She further informs us: ‘Much of what is presented as historical fact, I know to be ambiguous.’

She knows. She does not explain how she knows, but she knows that she knows what she knows. With her, there are no known unknowns. Or unknown unknowns.

His Grace genuflects in the presence of her omniscience: he is not worthy to comment.

But he knows a cleric who is.

Bishop Alan Wilson is of the opinion that this is ‘pisspoor stuff’. And it is. He summarises his opinion in the Facebook snippet reproduced above (without permission, but he’s a good egg).

And speaking of eggs, please don’t trouble Bishop Alan about his use of language: he is quite busy at the moment tending his new flock of chickens, and ‘piss’ can be discovered numerous times in the Authorised Version (Is 36:12; 1Sam 25:22, 34; 1Kg 14:10, 16:11, 21:21; 2Kg 9:8, 18:27). It is refreshing indeed to hear such use of the vernacular by senior Church of England clergy. One wonders why the BBC haven't engaged him to present a documentary on the Bible's un-buried non-secrets.

But perhaps he would look a bit silly in a flimsy, green blouse.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The People’s Pledge will unpledge BNP candidates

As His Grace has been mulling over whether or not to take this pledge, he has been in dialogue with some of the campaign’s founders, high-profile supporters and officials. The People's Pledge is clearly a progressive and inclusive campaign. They are harnessing the power of the internet in an attempt to give every Briton, from all backgrounds, a voice and a choice. They intend to focus that support to apply pressure where it will be felt the strongest – in the marginal seats.

The whole point of launching the initiative is to make sure that there is a broad choice of mainstream candidates offering an in/out referendum on the EU. Their aim is to secure a pro-referendum majority in Parliament.

There is little doubt that the issue of a referendum on the UK’s continuing membership of the EU is of the utmost importance to very many from across the political spectrum; it may even be the defining political issue of the age.

But a pledge is a 'solemn undertaking', and so His Grace does not take them lightly. He has a long association with past campaigns which attempted to secure a referendum on the EU. His heart is very much with the spirit of the Pledge initiative, but his head was troubled on two counts:

Firstly, in some constituencies, it is entirely possible that the only candidate offering to support the referendum may be the BNP candidate. If the ‘main three’ parties all eschew the campaign as being trivial, vexatious or simply a distraction, those voters who take the pledge are swearing to vote for the BNP, UKIP or Green, all of whom are likely to put up Pledge-supporting candidates. Yet it is observed that UKIP in particular do not stand in every constituency: in 2010, there were some 90 seats, mainly in Wales and Scotland, without a UKIP candidate. If the BNP stand in (say) Glasgow North-East, with its appalling levels of poverty, and none of the main-party candidates agree to the People's Pledge, the exhortation to Glaswegians is to vote for the BNP as ‘the only candidate who publicly promises to support a binding referendum’.

His Grace was troubled (to say the least) that, by supporting the People’s Pledge campaign, he may be exhorting his readers to vote for the BNP, whose candidates will doubtless bend over backwards to garner every vote.

When His Grace put this matter to some of the campaign’s high-profile supporters, he was told he was being ‘facile’ and ‘completely stupid’, not least because such a scenario is extremely unlikely to occur.

Secondly, His Grace was troubled (again, to say the least) that, by supporting the People’s Pledge campaign, he may be exhorting his readers and communicants to vote for those who have undermined the constitutional foundations of the nation and brought the country to its knees.

It is evident that the Pledge is incompatible with membership of a political party: those who take it are promising to grant a five-year term of office potentially to their political opponents, provided that those opponents will support a Bill calling for an in/out referendum. So, if one were a Conservative supporter in Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath, and Gordon Brown suddenly supported the campaign and the Tory candidate did not (nor any other), this pledge requires the Conservative supporter to vote for Gordon Brown.

And so we have a 'solemn undertaking' to vote against one's party. His Grace thinks it counter-intuitive to expect Conservatives to vote Labour or Socialists to vote Tory or Greens to vote LibDem when we are gifting power for five years, with no assurance at all that the campaign will succeed.

His Grace takes his voting very seriously: he is accountable ultimately to God, as are all believers. And his conscience does not rest easily with having contributed to another Labour victory – during which they would wreak further havoc upon society, the Constitution and the nation’s finances – still with no referendum. Not least because the People’s Pledge have yet to set out precisely how they will win such a campaign (against BBC Europhilia and the EU’s coffers) should a parliamentary majority be achieved.

While His Grace continues to mull over the second of these issues, he has received an assurance on the first which goes a long way to permitting His Grace to view this campaign more favourably.

He has been assured that the People's Pledge will not be including information about BNP candidates in their listings. They are of the view that ‘the party should not be given moral or democratic equivalence with others, since it seeks to offend and exclude people on the basis of race’. This is significant because it is the first indication from the People's Pledge of a political policy or moral stance which surmounts the hitherto paramount issue of a referendum.

His Grace has been assured that the People’s Pledge will not be accepting signatures from BNP candidates and neither will their views be listed on the question of an EU referendum.

That could not be clearer: BNP candidates who profess support for the People’s Pledge will be swiftly unpledged.

Which just leaves the thorny issue of potentially having to vote for Gordon Brown.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thank Allah for Veena Malik



It's quite easy to suffix this with 'As the actress said to the bishop...', but that would be to trivialise one of the most formidable clashes of the Islam of love with what Jesus might have termed the Islam of 'whited sepulchres', except this mullah isn't even beautiful on the outside.

Plea to the BBC: put her on Question Time.

Please.

(Blessings to Nick Cohen at the Spectator's Coffee House)

Socrates forced to drink political hemlock


The Greek one suffered a fate worse than the Portuguese one: the Socrates of Athens was sentenced to death on a trumped-up allegation of corrupting the nation’s youth; the Sócrates of Portugal has resigned after losing a vote in parliament on a package of austerity measures designed to avoid a humiliating IMF/ECB bail-out, after the fashion (coincidentally) of Greece.

His Grace won’t say he told you so.

But he told you so.

Portugal's national debt stands at a colossal 83 per cent of GDP. At least the leaders of Greece and Ireland remained in office long enough to negotiate a rescue package. The sudden resignation of José Sócrates means that Portugal enters a period of political limbo, which can only induce further fiscal insecurity and rumble the markets further. Their economy is now teetering on the edge: without the ability to lower interest rates, the choice was between the rock of spending cuts or the hard place of tax increases. The bizarre thing is that the deficit-cutting austerity package which has just been rejected by the Social Democrats is precisely what will now be forcibly imposed by the EU/IMF. And it will be painful. As Ireland has discovered, even with a change of government, he who pays the piper calls Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’.

By curious coincidence, EU leaders meets today to put together a €440bn rescue fund to halt the contagion. Sadly, the inoculation comes too late, though it is unlikely that the antidote would have been effective anyway. Portugal is steeped in maturing debt and is having to sell €20bn of bonds simply to finance its budget, at levels of interest which the markets believe to be unsustainable.

And so it came to pass that Portugal had her sovereignty removed.

And around £3bn of the savings which George Osborne preciously set out in yesterday’s budget will be extracted to the European Commission’s bailout fund, and Britain will be forced to throw good pounds after bad euros. The Chancellor giveth and Brussels taketh away.

And while the people were distracted by wars and rumours and wars in the Middle East, and by earthquake, flood and nuclear fallout in the Far East – and not forgetting David Beckham’s tattoo – the smoke and mirrors of our economic and political governance continued. And the masses were heartily entertained.

Spain is next, by the way.

But David Beckham is certain to have another tattoo by then.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor DBE 1932 - 2011 RIP


The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
Burn'd on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were love-sick with them; the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes. For her own person,
It beggar'd all description: she did lie
In her pavilion--cloth-of-gold of tissue--
O'er-picturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature: on each side her
Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,
With divers-colour'd fans, whose wind did seem
To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid did.

Whatever happened to Budget Purdah?


Today's array of headlines are shameful: not those concerning the war, but those disclosing George Osborne's intentions as he deliver's Budget 2011. Many are not at all speculative, but apparently quite authoritatively informed. By whom?

There was a time when Budget was shrouded ('purdah' is Persian for 'curtain') and none in government would discuss in advance any matters which related to it. There is virtually no point the Chancellor delivering his speech today: we already know there will be an increase in the personal income tax allowance; that the rise in fuel duty will be cancelled; that first-time buyers are to be helped on to the housing ladder with a £250,000 fund; and that some announcement will be made on tax reform to merge National Insurance and Income Tax.

The media are frequently using the future tense or the periphrastic form for the immediate future; it is 'will', 'is going to' and 'is about to'. The unknown conditionals have disappeared. There is no 'may' or 'is expected to' or 'is hoped'. There is is no 'could', 'should' or 'might'. We have instead pages of authoritative comment on what the Chancellor will say: we have the facts. Has the budget been systematically and purposely leaked, or are we dealing with increasingly prophetic journalists? We already know from the Prime Minister (no less) that motorists are to be helped. But when the Chancellor himself (and his acolyte Matthew Hancock MP) are touring the television studios just a week before the Budget, we can take their fiscal 'hopes' and 'aspirations' as formal policy announcements.

Leaks are nothing new, of course. But Speaker Bercow was elected to his present position with a zero-tolerance pledge: ministers are obliged to inform Parliament before spinning to the media. There will probably be no rebuke, and His Grace is content to use that adverb, for, unlike the mainstream media, he is neither 'reliably informed' nor prophetic.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Kris Hopkins MP: "It is more convenient for the infidel to kill their Muslim brothers and gesture disapproval than it is to stand up to a tyrant"



Fast-forward to 17:28:22 to hear a quite remarkable speech by Conservative MP, Kris Hopkins (Duke of Wellington's Regiment, ret'd). Quentin Letts noted that the House listened in silence, and also that the Prime Minister remained in the Chamber to hear the whole debate (which Tony Blair rarely did). The speech is reproduced below (blessings to ConservativeHome). The last paragraph - on the indifference of most Muslim countries to the tyrants among them - is quite the most powerful utterance on the conflict so far:
"During my basic training in the Army, I realised that a sergeant shouting at me to stab and scream and stab again a bale of hay with a fixed bayonet was teaching me how to rip somebody apart. A few years later, I saw the remains of an IRA terrorist unit that had been ambushed by a Special Air Service unit. The remains had been shredded by the hundred of bullets that had gone through their bodies.

"Following the first Gulf war, a friend of mine showed me some pictures that he had taken of the convoy attempting to escape back up to Iraq. One of the pictures was of the charred, black head and a desperate hand-black and maimed-of someone trying to leave their vehicle. There is nothing glorious or romantic about war. To those in the media who have portrayed what is happening now-or what has happened in previous wars-as some form of entertainment, I say that that is just not right. I am afraid that human beings need to commit brutal, savage attacks on each other to win wars.

"I have spoken in the House before about our lack of political capital following the illegal war in Iraq and what I believe is a folly in Afghanistan. There may be moral reasons to fight again, but I will be honest: we are struggling to find the moral high ground from which to project that morality. As people have said, Gaddafi is the man who brought down the Pan Am plane over Lockerbie, the man who shipped the weapons that killed some of my colleagues and the man who killed WPC Fletcher. However, I feel uncomfortable about going to war. It is not a simple choice; it is a really difficult choice to contemplate.

"This morning when I was coming to work, I listened to a phone-in from BBC television about whether we should kill Gaddafi. It was almost gladiatorial, as though people were phoning in so that we could see whether the populace was giving a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. I have to say that I was fairly disgusted that the killing of another human being, however disgusting he is, could become a form of entertainment.

"While we pontificate about morality and our obligations, brave men and women are putting their lives at risk at our request. This is not a debate about student fees, the Scotland Bill or the double summer time Bill; this is about the business of war. We do not take this decision lightly. While we wage war on our enemy, Muslim brothers and Arab leaders-with a few exceptions-remain silent. It is more convenient for the infidel to kill their Muslim brothers and gesture disapproval than it is to stand up to a tyrant. To the new leaders of the emerging democracies out there in the middle east, I say this: 'The next time a murderer comes to the end of his reign, you gather in your House, like we are today, and think about how you're going to take your share of the responsibility and what you're going to contribute'."
There is so much that is praiseworthy in this speech, not least of which is the observation of the propensity of some sections of the media to reduce military action to another round of The Weakest Link. War is not entertainment: it is, as Mr Hopkins reminds us, bloody, horrific and traumatic. And while the Kuffar are nobly sacrificing themselves, perhaps the Ummah might indeed consider what they may better contribute to the peace and security of their divided nations. Inshallah.

The graphic truth about Labour’s economic legacy


His Grace can't quite identify every country by its shape, but this graphic makes a very persuasive case ahead of tomorrow's budget. It shows how Labour’s disregard for taxpayers’ money left the UK with the worst deficit of any country in the G20. We are now spending more on debt interest than we spend on schools, the police, or defence.

Labour have opposed over £50 billion of the Government's savings to pay off this debt. As well as undermining their own credibility (which is not difficult), their refusal to say where they would cut leaves them swimming against the tide of economic opinion. The government’s deficit reduction plan is supported inter alia by the G20, the OECD, the BCC, the IMF, the IFS, the World Bank, Fitch, Moody's, the CBI, the IOD and even Tony Blair.

As Ed Balls sits by Ed Miliband tomorrow, as the Leader of the Opposition stands up to rail against George Osborne and pontificate about 'coalition cuts', let us not forget that they both stand as a stark reminder of Labour’s legacy. Ed Balls and Ed Miliband were Gordon Brown’s economic advisers when he doubled the national debt and left us with the biggest deficit in our peacetime history. There is a considerable moral obligation upon the Government to address this fiscal crisis, and to do so with the greatest of attention to the poorest and most vulnerable of society.

Archbishop of Canterbury delighted with the Big Society – and the mainstream media are mute

With war in the Middle East, and earthquake, floods and nuclear meltdown in Japan, the news that peace has broken out between Lambeth Palace and Downing Street has not made a single column inch of news reporting anywhere. Whenever there is disagreement between these great institutions of state, commentators scramble to exaggerate the rift; if it is not seismic, it is profound. Accord between a prime minister and an archbishop is a tedious dog-bites-man matter.

But it ought not to be: in fact, praise of a principal policy of a Conservative government by the Archbishop of Canterbury is quite distinctly a man-bites-dog story, eminently worthy of reporting. In a speech entitled ‘Big Society - Small World?’, Dr Rowan Williams firmly embraced the way the concept of the Big Society has opened up a serious debate on our political priorities, whilst acknowledging that it is as nebulous as the Holy Trinity, having ‘suffered from a lack of definition about the means by which ideals can be realised'. The whole speech merits reading, but you will need to concentrate, for it is an academic lecture delivered in an academic institution: it is characteristically irreducible to sound-bites and slogans.

The Archbishop praised the conceptual foundations of the Big Society, which have perhaps been most eloquently articulated by Dr Philip Blond at ResPublica; in particular, he emphasised the far-reaching possibilities of the development of local co-operation and 'mutualism' throughout the entire spectrum of political action, and stressed the interdependence of the local, the national and the international spheres.

Dr Williams suggested that theology has a key role to play in defining our need for a proper appreciation of 'character' and the notion of 'empathy' and that the pursuing of national goals without defining what sort of people we are or want to be cannot be of much value without this:
"If we live in a milieu where a great many signals discourage empathy and self-scrutiny, and thus emotional awareness, we shall develop habits of self-absorption, the urge for dominance, and short-term perspective. Our motivation to change anything other than what we feel to be our immediate circumstances will be weak, because our sense of ourselves as continuous, reflective agents will be weak. And the clear implication of all this is that without an education of the emotions – which means among other things the nurture of empathy – public or political life becomes simply a matter of managing the competition of egos with limited capacity to question themselves"
Whilst welcoming localism – that is, lauding the thesis of Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell – the Archbishop quite reasonably urges that the relocation of governance is not simply a bureaucratic shift: it needs to be related to considered thinking about how civic character is formed and how social relations are shaped. On this, he affirms the visible communities of the established Church which, with its committed presence in every locality, has its own role in affirming the importance of civic responsibility:
"If the Church is actually nourishing empathy, mutual recognition, then it is nourishing people who will continue to ask difficult questions in the wider public sphere, questions – for example – about how the priorities are identified when cuts in public expenditure are discussed, about the supposed absolute imperative of continuous economic growth, or about levels of reward unconnected with competence in areas of the financial world."
Why is “Archbishop agrees with Tory right-wingers” not news-worthy?

On the international level, Dr Williams stressed that whilst the Big Society vision recognises the dangers of excessive centralism in creating dependent rather than creative political culture, the answer cannot be found in reliance on the market, and we need also to consider that:
"A 'Big Society' model for international development will aim to strengthen not government in isolation but the self-confident nurturing of local political capacity through civil society that will in due course support a lasting participatory politics at national level. What is required, in other words, is an engagement with the government of developing countries that will work seriously at building a healthy political culture through the encouragement of local initiative."
This is perfectly in tune with David Cameron’s ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ agenda; it is contiguous with Dr Blond and Pope Benedict XVI.

Dr Williams also urged support of microcredit institutions: "...the small-scale investment needed to give impetus to small businesses is best handled in this mode; and the running of microcredit schemes is itself a profoundly important learning vehicle for those involved". He also suggests the possibility of using revenue raised from a tax of financial transactions to ‘offer an integrated resource for local and co-operative ventures’ and the revenue could be handled by a 'Big Society Bank'.

In speaking about the ideals of the 'Big Society' concept, the Archbishop emphasises that this does not mean we should be opposed to national infrastructures:
"Localism does not mean the dissolution of a complex national society – let alone a complex international network of societies – into isolated villages. It means, for one thing, the familiar principle of 'subsidiarity', so important in Catholic social thought – the principle that decisions need to be taken at the appropriate level."
He gives the example of the need for national resourcing and monitoring of factors such as health and education and, on an international level, the need for international regulation and monitoring of microfinance initiatives in order for them to have any sort of long-term value. He concludes with an exposition of the religio-political and politico-philosophical opportunities presented by the Big Society:
“My concern is that we use this opportunity to the full – and particularly that we do not treat the enthusiasm around some sorts of localism simply as a vehicle for disparaging the state level of action to secure the vulnerable, nationally and internationally. It is welcome that there is a concern to think about relocating power; but, as we have seen, for this to work well depends on being reasonably clear as to what you want power to do – which includes the ‘backwash effect’ of serious localism in re-energising national and international policy, to the extent that it is building real civic virtue.”
Lefty Archbishop embraces Tory Right? Lambeth Palace lauds Conservative Party policy? Anglican Church affirms Catholic Social Teaching? His Grace cannot remember the last time there was complete accord between Downing Street, Lambeth Palace and Rome. But not a mention in the media – not even by the religion reporters of The Telegraph or The Times: once again, the facts are completely ignored: the Archbishop of Canterbury is muted; the Established Church sidelined.

And His Grace does not think this is entirely down to wars and rumours of war; or because flood, famine and fire have stolen the spotlight. It is deliberate and purposeful, and that purpose is clear to those who have ears.

Monday, March 21, 2011

On this day, 455 years ago, Archbishop Cranmer was martyred



In commemoration of the martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer, the current incumbent of the See of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, preached a sermon five years ago at the church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford. He noted:
Cranmer lived in the middle of controversies where striking for a kill was the aim of most debaters. Now of course we must beware of misunderstanding or modernising. He was not by any stretch of the imagination a man who had no care for the truth, a man who thought that any and every expression of Christian doctrine was equally valid; he could be fierce and lucidly uncompromising when up against an opponent like Bishop Gardiner. Yet even as a controversialist he shows signs of this penitent scrupulosity in language: yes, this is the truth, this is what obedience to the Word demands - but , when we have clarified what we must on no account say, we still have to come with patience and painstaking slowness to crafting what we do say. Our task is not to lay down some overwhelmingly simple formula but to suggest and guide, to build up the structure that will lead us from this angle and that towards the one luminous reality. 'Full, perfect and sufficient' - each word to the superficial ear capable of being replaced by either of the others, yet each with its own resonance, its own direction into the mystery, and, as we gradually realise, not one of them in fact dispensable.

...And in his last days, this was Cranmer's curse. If there was no easy certainty enough to kill for, was there certainty enough to die for? That habit of mind which had always circled and hovered, tested words and set them to work against each other in fruitful tension, sought to embody in words the reality of penitence and self-scrutiny, condemned him, especially in the midst of isolation, confusion, threats and seductions of spirit, to a long agony, whose end came only in this church minutes before his last hurrying, stumbling walk through the rain to the stake. It is extraordinary to think of him drafting two contradictory versions of his final public confession, still not knowing what words should sum up his struggles. But at the last, it is as if he emerges from the cloud of words heaped up in balance and argument and counterpoint, knowing almost nothing except that he cannot bring himself to lie, in the face of death and judgement. What he has to say is that he has 'written many things untrue' and that he cannot face God without admitting this. He cannot find a formula that will conceal his heart from God, and he knows that his heart is, as it has long been, given to the God whom the Reformation had let him see, the God of free grace, never bound by the works or words of men and women. Just because he faces a God who can never be captured in one set of words, a God who is transcendently holy in a way that exacts from human language the most scrupulous scepticism and the most painstaking elaboration possible, he cannot pretend that words alone will save him. 'If we deny him, he also will deny us'. He must repent and show his repentance with life as well as lips; 'forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished'.

...So Cranmer draws the terrible and proper conclusion from a lifetime of skill and balance, of 'rightly dividing the word of truth': what appears bit by bit in our words about God as they are prompted and fired by the Word Incarnate is the realisation of the God who is always in excess of what can be said...

...It led Cranmer - as it led so many others in that nightmare age, as it led the martyrs of our own age - Bonhoeffer, Maria Skobtsova, Janani Luwum - to something more than a contemplative silence: to a real death. When we say that the word of God is not bound, we say that death itself can be the living speech of God, as the Word was uttered once and for all in the silence at the end of Good Friday. Cranmer speaks, not only in the controlled passion of those tight balances and repetitions in his Prayer Book, but in that chilling final quarter of an hour. He ran through the downpour to the town ditch and held out his right hand, his writing hand, for a final composition, a final liturgy. And, because the word of God is not bound, it is as if that hand in the flames becomes an icon of the right hand of Majesty stretched out to us for defence and mercy.




Today is not a Feast or Principal Holy Day in the Church of England; just a 'lesser festival' of remembrance: 'Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, Reformation Martyr, 1556.' From His Grace's Book of Common Prayer, the gospel reading for today:
Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
Judge not, and ye shall not be judged;
condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned;
forgive, and ye shall be forgiven;
give, and it shall be given unto you;
good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over,
shall men give into your bosom.
For with the same measure that ye met withal,
it shall be measured to you again (Lk 6:36-38)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dr Evan Harris clarifies: “I hearby solemnly declare Islam is more anti-women and more anti-gay than the Church of England”

And His Grace is deeply appreciative that Dr Harris has made that point of his humanist-atheist-secularist understanding clear (and it is to be observed that Dr Harris compares an entire monolithic faith with one denominational expression of Christianity). His Grace will now fisk Dr Harris’ fisk:
1) I “tweeted a broadside against the Established Church”

I think its contradiction in terms to say one tweet – evn taken out context – is broadside. You must have very narrow sides. Or an over-inflated view of the power of a tweet. Its rather sweet either way.
His Grace is delighted that you find him ‘sweet’: he takes pleasure in being fragrant, and has rather robust sides. Not all do, however, and so your attack upon the Church of England may cause distress to many, for the Church is neither buildings nor institution, but people. Considering that Twitter appears to have been recently responsible for ending careers, getting one joker arrested for threats of terrorism and another sued for libel, a tweet clearly has enormous power. A tweet, by definition, can have no context other than its 140 characters: each one is an isolated unit. This one simply caught His Grace’s eye.
2) I alleged that the Church of England “hates women and homosexuals”

I did not. If I had wanted to say that I would have said it. I said that the Church Of England was mildly misogynistic and homophobic, that is to say that it discriminates adversely against women and gay people. If you had looked at the whole twitter discussion (about the role of women and gay people in the Church of England) and the TV debate it was a comment on, it would be obvious that it was relating to the fact that the Church of England bars gay people and females from being Bishops.

The dictionary (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/misogyny) defines misogyny as hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women. But I concede maybe I should have said “sexist” to be clear what I meant.

Again the dictionary (wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn) defines homophobic not as narrowly as just the hatred or fear of homosexuals but also prejudice against homosexual people and homosexuality. However, given the contentious nature of the word in some circles may be I should have exceeded 140 characters to say “discriminatory against homosexuals and critical of homosexual behaviour.”

In any event your guff and bluster about hatred is misplaced.,

Let me clear - it is not my view that the Church of England as a whole hates women or gay people.
Guff and bluster? His Grace uses the OED which refers simply to ‘the hatred of women’ (from Gr misos hatred and gunē woman). There is no alternative meaning. For those who, like His Grace, do not use inferior online dictionaries (from Princeton or wherever), misogyny is hatred, pure and simple, so your denial that you said ‘hate’ is clearly not true.

It is noble of you to concede that you should have used words other than ‘misogynist’ and ‘homophobic’: that, indeed, goes some way to admitting that the words you used were ill-advised and inaccurate, as His Grace alleged. You engaged in unreasoned hyperbole: that was the cause of the objection.

The Church of England’s restrictions on those who may be bishops are drawn from Scripture and have been widely discussed and debated within the Church’s own democratic body, the Synod, and modified or clarified by consensus or accommodation of diverging interpretations. There is no ban at all on homosexual clergy (including bishops). It is noteworthy than you now make clear that you ‘do not believe that the Church of England as a whole hates women or gay people’. But you did not same ‘some’ or ‘part of’: you attacked the whole Church, which some may deem prejudice. The ‘broad church’ approach is characteristic of the Church of England’s via media: your caricature of misogyny and homophobia was a gross distortion.
3) I am “Abortion-supporting”

Ad hominem, off-topic and misrepresentation. I support the right of a woman to choose abortion (as do many Christians of course) but support policies which reduce unwanted pregnancies and thus the need for abortions (as do many Christians)..
You did focus an awful lot in Parliament on this issue as a matter of ‘equality’, and you manifestly favoured greater liberalisation, which very few (if any) Christians do. The requirement for the consent of two doctors ought to be maintained, since doctors are as fallible or prone to bribery as any in authority. It is widely known that your record on abortion (and euthanasia) earned you the title ‘Dr Death’, and you have frequently been accused of ignoring or distorting evidence to maintain your point of view. That is what you have done in this tweet on the Church of England – ignored and distorted. Ad hominem His Grace may occasionally use, but it is not at all off-topic when it constitutes part of your agenda for ‘equality’.
4) “One wonders why he targets only the Church of England, which very broadly accommodates such an array of mutually exclusive propositions and beliefs that some wonder how it maintains believers in communion at all.”

While this is your own dig at the C of E, it is wrong to suggest that my criticism of religious attitudes to women and gay people are restricted to the C of E. Ironically, I have also been attacked by Catholic and Islamic bloggers for “picking on them”. But of course some in each religion delight in seeing themselves or their creed as persecuted and singled out.
His Grace has never seen you tweet ‘Islam hates women and gays’ or ‘Catholic Church hates women and gays’. If you could point to where you have written this, His Grace would be appreciative.
5) “Dr Harris refers to the Constitution, insisting that it should not be ‘linked’ to misogyny or homophobia. But these are not reasons simply to disestablish, but to ban altogether, for the illegality of discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexuality is firmly embedded in statute law.”

This is the interesting bit of your post.

I note that despite the bluster about “hatred” you do here clearly interpret my words as being about the discrimination on gender and sexuality grounds. Well done. It suggests the preamble was a pedantic attempt to create a straw man (allegations of hatred).

However you are wrong. It is not unlawful to be prejudiced against women or gay people. Moreover I often argue against criminalisation of ideas, emotions and thoughts, and indeed the incitement of negative ideas, emotions and thoughts. You are also wrong in that it is (rightly) not unlawful for the church to discriminate on these grounds in appointments to the priesthood and the bishopric. This is specifically protected by the relevant European Directive on employment discrimination and by our Equality laws - Schedule 9(2) of Equality Act 2010.

While I have argued that the exemption should not extend to the employment of youth workers, I have always strongly protected the right of religious organisations to make their own rules on who should be in their priesthood, etc. In fact I have never joined a campaign on women priests (etc) since, not being a member, it is not a matter for me what the CofE does. All I have said is that if I was a member I would support women bishops.

The point is that the CofE is perfectly entitled to bar women and gay bishops, but the nation has a whole – via its constitution - should not be linked to that lawful discriminatory view by virtue of CofE being the established religion. The country has moved on from such discrimination and should leave the CofE separate to determine what it wants to do.
Ah, your own straw man emerges. You say His Grace is wrong because ‘It is not unlawful to be prejudiced against women or gay people’. His Grace never said it was; he clearly used the word ‘discrimination’, which is not at all synonymous with ‘prejudice’. Your sleight of hand on this point is corroborative of your propensity to distort in order to win your argument.

Bizarrely, you state: “I have always strongly protected the right of religious organisations to make their own rules on who should be in their priesthood, etc.” You clearly do not defend that right on Twitter; indeed, to refer to the Church of England as being misogynist and homophobic is a manifest denigration of ‘its own rules’: by criticising and attempting to shame, you are certainly not ‘strongly protecting’ the right of religious organisations to practise in accordance with their own beliefs. The assertion that you are is absurd.

Your argument about disestablishment is one with which His Grace is very familiar, and it is fraught with complexity. To many secularists, it is as simple as a single parliamentary bill: in reality, disestablishment will occupy a vast amount of parliamentary time and political energy: there are much higher priorities than whether or not a Roman Catholic should be able to accede to the Throne.
6) “He appears not to understand that it is neither liberal nor democratic to ride roughshod over the consciences, beliefs and views of minorities; if, that is, the Church of England constitutes a minority, for Christian orthodoxy appears to have been excluded from those ‘protected characteristics’ identified in Labour’s Equality Bill.”

All religious belief is protected by “Labour’s equality bill” (that is the Equality Acts of 2006 and 2010) very clearly. What is not permitted is to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against other people where that infringes their rights and freedoms unless it is covered by exception which in turn requires the discrimination to be for a legitimate purpose and to be a proportionate of achieving that purpose.

The courts have consistently held that when it comes to delivery of public services and the receipt of commercial services, discrimination against gay people on grounds of religious conscience is not lawful. Just as it would not be right tom allow religious doctrine as a get-out for racial discrimination (qv South African Dutch Reform Church) or to allow some non-religious creed (eg the BNP) a similar loop-hole with which to discriminate against gay-people.
It is here that you show your intolerance of Christianity and a manifestly illiberal attitude towards the religious conscience. The rights and freedoms of some conflict with the rights and freedoms of others: Labour’s Equality Acts have created a ‘hierarchy’ of rights, and it is evident that the Christian conscience is being subsumed to a totalitarian act of sexual uniformity. Parliament has defined marriage by authorising the Book of Common Prayer as being between one man and one woman: the Church holds to that definition, which (you aver) discriminates against the rights of homosexuals to marry in a church building. Why should that be a ‘right’? And if it be, what of the priests and bishops who oppose such freedoms and thereby refuse to officiate? Should they be prosecuted for discrimination? The Church of England offers the ultimate ‘public service’ to all, but you would have it conform to the gay rights lobby and sex equality advocates regardless of its customs, traditions and orthodox beliefs. That is not liberal: it is Marxist.
7) “The [Liberal Democrat] party has proportionally fewer women MPs [just 12%] than both Labour [31%] and the Conservatives [16%]). Is that evidence of LibDem misogyny?”

The difference is that Lib Dems and the other parties do not have rules in place to prevent women being approved or selected, and are actively seeking ways to increase the proportion. The Church of England’s current official position is that 0% women bishops is the currently right number.
The Church of England is not a political party: it does not need to pander to every whim or appeal to every opinion in order to garner votes. It is not concerned with sophistry and lies, but with integrity and truth.
8) “would Dr Harris advocate the re-writing of history to accommodate Christ’s femininity or expound his homosexuality? Jesus chose 12 male disciples and did not marry: does that make him a misogynist? If God is our Father, and God is love; if Christ is the Son, and Christ is love, then there is no hatred – mild or otherwise – in the expression of maleness that lies at the heart of Christian divine ontology. Indeed, it is manifestly illiberal to seek to emasculate this God or androgynise the faith on the basis of a tyrannical desire to impose ‘equality’. How can that be love?”

I am sure you can find someone interested in that theological discussion.
Your reluctance to engage proves that you are oblivious to the logical corollaries of your equality agenda. God is Father and Christ is the Son: if that is misogynistic, you are advocating a completely different religion.
9) “please, Dr Harris, the Church of England is the least of sinners when it comes to grappling with complex issues of gender and sexuality: why don’t you pick on another religion whose hatred of women and homosexuals is – how she His Grace put it – rather less mild?”

I hearby solemnly declare Islam is more anti-women and more anti-gay than the Church of England.

Happy now, Cranmer!

I would point out that it is difficult to squeeze an attack on Islam’s doctrine into a 140 character tweet about the established church!
His Grace is happier, indeed. For you have clarified your views on Islam and conceded that your tweet was poorly worded and inaccurate. You have admitted that you engaged in unreasoned hyperbole, and so His Grace was justified in his objection.

He notes, however, that you have not addressed any of the points he made alluding to the tyranny of the majority or Mill’s defence of minorities. The Church of England is a benign institution: if Liberal Democrats can find no space for exemptions in law on the basis of the Christian conscience, you have ceased to be liberal, at least in the sense that your forebears from Mill to Gladstone would understand.

Dr Evan Harris: the Church of England is misogynist and homophobic


As the former Liberal Democrat frontbench spokesman continues to make his bid to succeed Nick Clegg (for there is nothing more conducive to his ambition than not to be tarnished by the whiff of coalition), he has tweeted a broadside against the Established Church, alleging that it hates women and homosexuals.

He qualifies it with ‘mildly’, but what is mild hatred? How can one mildly hate women? What on earth is mild hatred of homosexuals?

Of course, one might expect such comments from an abortion-supporting humanist-secularist-atheist, but one wonders why he targets only the Church of England, which very broadly accommodates such an array of mutually exclusive propositions and beliefs that some wonder how it maintains believers in communion at all. Dr Harris refers to the Constitution, insisting that it should not be ‘linked’ to misogyny or homophobia. But these are not reasons simply to disestablish, but to ban altogether, for the illegality of discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexuality is firmly embedded in statute law.

Is it not ironic that the Church which is tearing itself apart over issues of gender and sexuality, and which has devoted an utterly disproportionate amount of its ministry time and theological effort to considering whether or not women may be ordained as priests or consecrated as bishops, should be singled out for its anachronistic attitudes by someone professing to be a liberal?

O, and a democrat.

In truth, he is neither: Evan Harris is one of those aggressive secularists whose atheist fundamentalism can admit no liberal breadth or democratic latitudinarianism. He appears not to understand that it is neither liberal nor democratic to ride roughshod over the consciences, beliefs and views of minorities; if, that is, the Church of England constitutes a minority, for Christian orthodoxy appears to have been excluded from those ‘protected characteristics’ identified in Labour’s Equality Bill.

It is strange indeed that Evan Harris accuses the Church of England of (mild) hatred of women at the very time it is being accused by departing bishops, priests and laity of having lied and schemed to impose women bishops upon them. Synodical approval for women priests was obtained in 1992 only because of the assurance that alternative pastoral arrangements would be made for those who could not, in conscience, accept female spiritual authority. That compromise has plainly been abandoned, so there is no ‘hatred’ of women: indeed, if anything, there is boundless love of the sort the Liberal Democrats can only dream of (the party has proportionally fewer women MPs [just 12%] than both Labour [31%] and the Conservatives [16%]). Is that evidence of LibDem misogyny?

Perhaps Dr Harris confuses misogyny with theology. We pray ‘Our Father, who art in Heaven’: would Dr Harris demand the BCP be amended to ‘Our Mother’ on alternate Sundays? God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten Son to redeem us: would Dr Harris advocate the re-writing of history to accommodate Christ’s femininity or expound his homosexuality? Jesus chose 12 male disciples and did not marry: does that make him a misogynist?

If God is our Father, and God is love; if Christ is the Son, and Christ is love, then there is no hatred – mild or otherwise – in the expression of maleness that lies at the heart of Christian divine ontology. Indeed, it is manifestly illiberal to seek to emasculate this God or androgynise the faith on the basis of a tyrannical desire to impose ‘equality’. How can that be love?

If Evan Harris wishes one day to lead the Liberal Democrats (in coalition with Ed Miliband), one can perhaps understand why he has abandoned Mill for Marx. But, please, Dr Harris, the Church of England is the least of sinners when it comes to grappling with complex issues of gender and sexuality: why don’t you pick on another religion whose hatred of women and homosexuals is – how she His Grace put it – rather less mild?
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