Monday, October 31, 2011

Reclaiming Halloween

This is a guest post by Simon Robinson:

The rubber horror masks, witch costumes and pumpkins that have appeared on supermarket shelves can only mean one thing: Halloween (Hallowe'en) is upon us again, and is bigger than ever. This kitsch celebration of the ghoulish, promising confectionery-fuelled mischief for children, and alcohol-fuelled mischief for adults, is promoted not just by the retail industry, but growingly by the entertainment industry, where film and television have made vampires synonymous with hedonism and sexuality, and music artists like Lady Gaga don fetish wear and devil horns just to buy a pint of milk. To many eyes, Halloween has come to represent not just pumpkins and sugar, but the culmination and validation of a year round media diet of horror, the supernatural and the occult.

These aspects of the festival have always been troubling to many of the Christian faith, but most have failed to find an effective reply. Many Christians simply join in, with the emphasis firmly on light hearted and child-focused fun. At the other end of the spectrum, some distribute pamphlets warning of the dangers of celebrating the occult – a protest which seems likely to founder in a secular culture where Christian disapproval has become a much sought-after credential. 'Un-Halloween'-themed costume parties for children organised by local churches are great fun and get closer to the mark, but seem unlikely to have much social impact, as indicated by the often sizeable percentage of little skeletons and witches whose parents amusingly missed the point.

While confronted by the rise and rise of Halloween, what many fail to appreciate is that what Christians have on their hands could be what Simon Cowell would call a 'high class problem'. Halloween is believed to originate from the pagan festival of 'Samhain', but has long since been Christianised into 'All Hallows Eve', in a bold, ruthless, and far-sighted move that was typical of our indomitable forebears. Halloween revellers are in fact celebrating the eve of a Christian festival – All Saints Day or Hallowmas, if they did but know it – partaking in the symbolic last gasp of darkness before it is extinguished by the light. However, unlike similar success stories of Christmas and Easter, the duality of Halloween and Hallowmas is largely forgotten. This is perhaps unsurprising considering the main activity of the traditionally Catholic feast day is to pray to Saints, a no-no for Protestants. It is followed by All Souls day, which features prayers for the departed faithful. Both festivals are sombre affairs that are not universally observed by Christians, and are certainly devoid of any appeal to the masses.

As our distant ancestors knew instinctively, banning or protesting against frivolity does little to promote the Church's message. Clever marketing does not attempt to change society's attitudes overnight, but works with the grain of human nature to shift perceptions by degrees over time. I would therefore propose that Hallowmas (a name preferable to All Saints Day for its connotations of Christmas and its lack of doctrinal ambiguity) be made into an ecumenical event. This sombre day of the dead could become a joyous celebration of the Christian Communion, for all denominations; a day when the great works of the likes of Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, and Williams Booth and Wilberforce could be celebrated, in the context of the faith that sustained and inspired them. The sterling work of Christian charities and the plight of Christians around the world could be highlighted. We rightly recognise the cultural and technological achievements of the Islamic faith; Hallowmas could become a day to trumpet the manifold gifts bestowed upon the world by Christianity. Mass thanksgiving services, gospel concerts, school visits and parties could be held, food and drink (the traditional recipe for Hallowmas cakes can be found online) consumed, and small gifts and cards given. This initiative would not only complete and answer Halloween by reviving its malnourished sibling, but by providing an additional day of celebration instead of bemoaning the existing one, would surely put a dent in the unearned reputation that Christians have as wet blankets. And who but the most churlish could object to children donning sheets and fangs on Halloween if, the very next day, the message of light overcoming darkness would firmly and joyfully be reinforced?

Whether or not this vision of the future appeals, it would appear unlikely that such an initiative will come from the Church of England, with its seeming determination to undermine itself and its message at every turn. Indeed, the Rev’d George Pitcher, the Archbishop of Canterbury's former press secretary, recently denounced the CofE's media and public affairs unit for employing people who would not 'last 20 minutes in the private sector, let alone in private enterprise'. But then, all the best social trends begin from the grassroots up. Why not wish someone a Happy Hallowmas this year. Who knows where it might lead?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cameron moves to disestablish the Church of England


One expects a Conservative prime minister to conserve all that is good in our Constitution. Where reform is necessary, one expects a Conservative prime minister to implement change in accordance with Burkean precepts – evolutionary, not revolutionary; consonant with social mores and sensitive to national customs and traditions. And one expects a Conservative prime minister to be fully informed of the facts of the nation’s political and religious history, and if not informed, certainly well advised.

It is depressing to observe that all those Conservative MPs with any grasp of history and politico-theology are languishing on the back benches: we have a government of constitutionally-illiterate technocrats, more concerned with the politics of economics and ‘modernisation’ à la Cool (if bust) Britannia.

This week, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Australia, David Cameron went where Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did not dare: he chipped away at the Act of Settlement 1701. He announced the end of male primogeniture in the Royal succession, and of his intention to lift the ban on the Monarch being married to a Roman Catholic. As His Grace has previously pointed out, such a change will require a raft of historic legislation to be amended. The BBC mentions the Bill of Rights (1689) and the Royal Marriages Act (1772). To these, we must add the Coronation Oaths Act (1688), the Crown in Parliament Act (1689), the Accession Declaration Act (1910) and the rather more sensitive Act of Union (1707), Article 2 of which specifies that Roman Catholics may not ascend the Throne of the United Kingdom. The Treaty of Union 1707 is the founding charter of the United Kingdom. Tamper with this, and the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.

Scottish unionist politicians have never wanted this truth out. They have feared the day Scots became aware that the United Kingdom is the creature of a treaty between two equal parliaments: a living, legal document, capable of amendment and adjustment to contemporary needs. These are the unspoken ‘constitutional ripples’ which so haunted Donald Dewar, and the reason successive prime ministers of the United Kingdom and unionist Scottish secretaries of state had no intention of ending the ban on the Monarch either being a Roman Catholic or married to one: they were quite happy to let historically-ignorant politicians continue banging on about the Act of Settlement 1701 when, all along, the hurdle was the Act of Union 1707.

This fact has not escaped Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond who demands ‘equality of faith and gender’. He found it ‘deeply disappointing that the reform has stopped short of removing the unjustifiable barrier on a Catholic becoming Monarch’. He said it was ‘a missed opportunity not to ensure equality of all faiths when it comes to the issue of who can be head of state.’ He added: "It surely would have been possible to find a mechanism which would have protected the status of the Church of England without keeping in place an unjustifiable barrier on the grounds of religion in terms of the monarchy."

Actually, no, it wouldn’t. It is no more unreasonable to expect that the Supreme Governor of the Church of England should not be Roman Catholic than that the Pope should not be Protestant. Of course it is ‘unfair’ and ‘discriminatory’ that the Monarch may not be or marry a Roman Catholic, but the very act of choosing a religion manifestly necessitates discrimination against all the others. It is also ‘discriminatory’ that the Pope may not be Anglican, and even more ‘unfair’ that he may not marry at all (not to mention that he is always a ‘he’). But there are sound theological and historical justifications for the restrictions upon both the King of the Vatican and the Queen of the United Kingdom, and none of these amount to a violation of their ‘human rights’. The firstborn of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would always have been perfectly free to marry a Roman Catholic should he or she have so desired: that would have been his or her human right. But the firstborn would not then have been free to be Monarch and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. But to be King and Supreme Governor is not a human right.

The Prime Minister expounds his profound beliefs: "The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he is a man, or that a future monarch can marry someone of any faith except a Catholic – this way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we have become."

This way of thinking?

If the Prime Minister actually bothered to think about the anachronistic tensions inherent in the very institution of monarchy, he would instantly profess democratic republicanism. Divine assent? Anointing with oil? The lively oracles of God? Oaths sworn on pain of preternatural wrath? Are these things not also ‘at odds’ with modernity? And if he dared to consider the last vestiges of patriarchy, he would insist that his own children took the maiden name of his wife, and that she remained a Sheffield after their marriage, for is not taking the man’s surname ‘at odds’ with an aggressive assertion of gender equality? The British Monarchy does not only discriminate against women and Roman Catholics: it discriminates against every man, woman and child who is not a member of it. Monarchy is antithetical to ‘equality’. If you wish it to conform to the European Convention on Human Rights, you abolish it.

The Prime Minister further clarified his ignorance. He said: "Let me be clear, the Monarch must be in communion with the Church of England because he or she is the head of that Church. But it is simply wrong they should be denied the chance to marry a Catholic if they wish to do so. After all, they are already quite free to marry someone of any other faith."

Firstly, a quibble. The Monarch is not the Head of the Church of England: he or she is merely the Supreme Governor; Jesus is the Head. But it is quite wrong to state that the Monarch is free to marry someone of any other faith. The Act of Settlement requires the Monarch and his or her consort to be ‘in communion with’ the Church of England. Whilst it would be possible to write more than a few pages on the meaning of koinonia in this context, it must be noted that it is not only Roman Catholics who are prohibited from taking bread and wine in Anglican churches: communion would be problematic (not to say prohibited) to Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Motherwell Joseph Devine talks of the Monarch being 'free to marry a Scientologist, Muslim, Buddhist, Moonie or even Satanist but not a Catholic', but this is utter nonsense. The adherents of many faiths are barred from being ‘in communion with’ the state Church, not just Roman Catholics.

And let us remember that it is the Roman Catholic Church which prohibits the communion: a Roman Catholic monarch or spouse would not be barred by the Church of England. So when, at some point in the future, we have a firstborn Anglican queen married to a Roman Catholic consort, while she goes to Westminster Abbey for the Eucharistic symbols, he’ll need to go to Westminster Cathedral to get the transubstantiated real thing. Their children will be caught somewhere in between: while they are carnally at the Abbey with mummy, they will be spiritually in the Cathedral with daddy.

Surprisingly, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, said the elimination of the ‘unjust discrimination’ against Roman Catholics would be widely welcomed. He added: “At the same time I fully recognise the importance of the position of the Established Church in protecting and fostering the role of faith in our society today." As Labour’s Chris Bryant observed, ++Vincent ‘clearly has no understanding of the law on succession’. Mr Bryant’s grasp of the Constitution is better than that of both the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Westminster.

Roman Catholics are divided on this reform. There are those who, like Cardinal Keith O’Brien, hope the Cameron reform will ultimately lead to the repeal of the Act of Settlement. Responsible Roman Catholics like Ann Widdecombe recognise the true agenda here of the promotion of feminism and the disestablishment of the Church of England. A few years ago, she observed: “If we get rid of the provision that the Heir to the Throne and the Monarch can’t marry a Catholic, we will undermine the link between the Monarchy and the Church of England which will threaten the establishment of the Church taking with it our last figleaf that we are a Christian country.” The Catholic Herald, while lauding Oliver Cromwell as ‘a man of principle, deep faith, and immense vision’, takes the view that David Cameron is the ‘heir to Blair’, addicted to ‘constitutional tinkering’ for nothing other than ‘short term political gain’. Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith opines:
But I do not think the consequences of this action have been considered. Had the patriots of 1715 or 1745 been successful, we would have had a Catholic monarchy, perhaps. Cameron’s reforms will give us a monarchy that is Anglican purely by default, but which might in future generations be Catholic, Hindu or Baptist; but which will most likely be none of the above. In other words, by removing the religious qualification, Cameron is effectively opening the monarchy up to secularisation. And why? Because he wants to abolish the last legal disqualification under which Catholic suffer? There is no evidence of that. Rather it seems to be a largely meaningless piece of political posturing, a desire to look ‘modern’. But this is one piece of political vanity for which future generations may pay a high price.
And that ‘high price’ will be the ultimate disestablishment of the Church of England and the establishment of a secular state. And, when it comes, the mechanism by which it is achieved will be traceable to David Cameron’s 2011 decision to amend the Act of Settlement. Consider, 50 years from now, the ensuing constitutional crisis as the Heir to the Throne is forced to choose between being a faithful Roman Catholic or being crowned King or Queen of the United Kingdom. And worse, this poor individual would be forced to make such a choice while in the profoundest depths of grief at the loss of a mother or father. How could the Government and Parliament of the day be so callous and insensitive as to demand that their Sovereign abandon God and reject the Holy Mother Church at such a moment of great need? In that situation there would be considerable pressure to disestablish the Church of England. And it would all need to be rushed through Parliament in time for the Coronation.

Tha Act of Settlement is formally entitled ‘An Act for the further Limitation of the Crown and better securing the Rights and Liberties of the Subject’. It is because the Crown has historically been limited that our rights and liberties have been preserved. The Act was forged during an era of intolerable foreign interference in the governance of England. Like Magna Carta, it is a foundational treaty between the Monarch and his/her subjects which defines our liberties and asserts our sovereign independence from all foreign princes and potentates. And its provisions are ‘for ever’: our forebears made sure it was watertight.

But David Cameron chips away at this Act as though it were no different from any other. And by so doing, he weakens the contract between the Monarchy and the people, because once the Monarch is Roman Catholic or married to one, 'in all and every such case and cases the people of these realms shall be and are thereby absolved of their allegiance'. Parliament cannot demand a fealty which the Constitution nullifies. The Prime Minister appears to be oblivious to the fact that the Oath of Allegiance is contingent upon the provisions in the Act of Settlement, and so he picks away at a delicate thread by which the whole gilded fabric of the carefully-woven tapestry will unravel, including the establishment of the Church of England.

To quote the words of Hugh Gaitskell at the 1962 Labour Party Conference, as he warned of the inevitability of surrendered sovereignty should the UK become a member of the EEC: "You may say ‘let it end’ but, my goodness, it is a decision that needs a little care and thought.”

Sadly, the Prime Minister doesn’t have much time for ‘care and thought’. He is a thoroughly postmodern politician, not given to the discipline of contemplation demanded by history, theology or philosophy. His priority concern is economic politics, or political economics. Everything else is peripheral and expendable.

The irony is that there are very few Roman Catholics who find any disquiet in the residual anti-Catholicism of the Act of Settlement. The overwhelming majority are far more concerned about the closure of their adoption agencies and attacks upon their schools and their teaching on abortion, contraception, fornication, fidelity, divorce or homosexuality. The wise ones recognise that disestablishing the Church of England would be a further step in the de-Christianisation of Britain. As Gerald Warner prophetically observed back in 2009:
No religious or constitutional change can be entrusted to Labour. Nor can it be entrusted to the "modernised" Tories: if a Cameron administration addressed the Act of Settlement we may be sure it would indulge in trendy feminist abolition of male primogeniture, compromising the title of future monarchs in the same anti-traditional style as the 1688 Whigs.
The Act of Settlement may be anti-Catholic, but our whole political discourse has become profoundly anti-Christian. We must look beneath the surface, discern the true agenda, and unite to contend for the Faith.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sir Jimmy Savile is dead.


It is reported that Sir Jimmy Savile has died at the grand old age of 84. He was, in his own way, something of a national institution - an entertainment eccentric; infectious, extravagant, and immensely generous with both time and money.

His Grace has no intention of writing an obituary for the man - many will do so who are far more eloquent and better informed. No, this is simply to point out that over the course of his professional life, Sir Jimmy ran more than 200 marathons and raised in excess of £40million for charity. While many civil servants, bankers, industrialists and politicians expect to receive their knighthoods and their OBEs and CBEs for doing nothing but their jobs, Sir Jimmy Savile thoroughly merited his honour whilst having no expectation of it. He fixed it for thousands of people to experience something in life which would otherwise have been denied them. It is more blessed to give than to receive. Rest in Peace, Sir Jimmy.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Warsi: "The stronger we are as a Christian nation, the more understanding we will be of other faiths"

Here we go again. If Baroness Warsi were to dedicate just one tenth of the effort she devotes to religious affairs to her job as Chairman of the Conservative Party, she might just arrest the inexorable decline in party membership. Today, again, she expounds the infinite acceptance and unending tolerance that are at the heart of the Christian faith. Or her intepretation of it.

His Grace won't re-rehearse the praise he has poured out on Sayeeda Warsi in the past (time and time and time and time and again): she is brave, articulate and forthright in her beliefs. She glides through the complexities of Pakistani politics, confronts ‘honour’ killings and forced marriage, exposes voter fraud and immerses herself in very relevant and pressing social issues which benefit more than her co-religionists: her eyes are not solely on the glorification of Allah and the wellbeing of the Ummah.

But she understands Pakistan's history more that Britain's, and is more attuned to the politics of the mosque than that of the Conservative Party. She proclaims: "For many years, I have been saying that the stronger we are as a Christian nation, the more understanding we will be of other faiths. That is why, a year ago, I went to a bishops’ conference and said that this Government would 'do God'. It is why the Pope’s visit was so important for our country. And it is why I am proud that this year, for the first time, the Prime Minister held an Easter reception in Downing Street."

Yet 'doing God' must be on her terms. And her terms are those of her leader, for whom Jesus was 'the founder of the Big Society', and who preaches that Christians should be 'tolerant and welcoming and broad-minded'. It is the 'love your neighbour' side of the gospel without any theological truth. Jesus did both. The Church must do both, even when that truth is unpalatable.

Baroness Warsi says: "We need to create a country in which people can be unashamedly proud of their faith – where they don’t feel that they have to leave religion at the door. That means being proud of Christianity, not downgrading it. It means encouraging people to say that their faith inspires what they do. It means supporting religious charities in delivering public services in schools, hospices and rehabilitation."

His Grace despairs. The Conservative Party preaches this, but does absolutely nothing to address the injustices of Labour's equality legislation. What Baroness Warsi is saying is that we need to create a country in which people can be unashamedly proud of their Christian faith – as long as they don't hold that faith too strongly. Where they don’t feel that they have to leave religion at the door, unless it's going to offend someone. She says this means being proud of Christianity, not downgrading it. Yet the Coalition are intent on doing precisely that, merely by virtue of imposing a 'wishy-washy' liberal kind of Christianity upon Roman Catholic adoption agencies. One may only deliver public services in schools, hospices and rehabilitation if one is not too doctrinaire.

Sayeeda Warsi says she speaks 'as a proud British, Muslim, Conservative woman'. How many pround British, Christian, Conservative men is her party embracing and promoting? If you happen to believe that homosexuality is a sin and shouldn't be taught to primary school children, or you object to 'gay marriage' on sincere theological grounds, are we really to believe that such candidates could sit in David Cameron's Cabinet alongside the Baroness?

Britain does have a proud history of pluralism and inter-faith dialogue. And the Government is right to take advantage of the Church of England's parish structure in order to move 'beyond the photo calls outside the mosque, beyond hosting the local imam for tea in a draughty church hall'. But, with enormous respect, this is what politicians do in order to get re-elected. They have to be seen, and perception is all. And in order not to offend (and so alienate any constituency), their speeches are bland and the expression of their faith 'wishy-washy'.

But it's a bit rich of of the Baroness to talk about the 'need to take the lead internationally'. She says: "That means pressing other governments to safeguard religious minorities – be it the Copts in Egypt or Christians and other minorities in Pakistan. It means raising problems of persecution at the highest level, as the Archbishop of Canterbury recently did in Zimbabwe."

This, from a member of the Government which links overseas aid to gay rights but not religious liberty; and which bent over backwards to stress that the recent visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Zimbabwe was absolutely nothing to do with any branch of governmment. Indeed, a Foreign Office spokesman said: "He is not a representative of the Government and his proposed meeting with Mugabe in no way reflects a change of Government policy."

Baroness Warsi's understanding of the Christian faith is about as extensive as David Cameron's. In the words of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Devine, the Prime Minister 'has surrounded himself with religiously illiterate, secularist advisers’. He wrote: 'It would appear his priority up until now has been to have an exchange of ideas with more liberal and radical minorities, including sexual minorities. It would appear that those immediately surrounding and advising the prime minister, and perhaps Mr Cameron himself, are not religiously literate and simply have no reference to religious sensibilities.'

So, when the precepts of that God happen to conflict with Government policy, it is not possible to speak robustly about the place of Christianity in Britain without robustly defending the liberty to manifest that religion in the public sphere. Freedom of worship is inadequate: freedom of religion is what is required for this to be a 'Christian country'.

His Grace is not frightened of these debates: politicians are, though they pretend ad nauseam to be having them. And as a result of this disjuncture, the level of political discourse in modern Britain is diminished. Contentious moral issues, no matter how worthy of scrutiny or debate, are swiftly closed down with threats of suspension, expulsion or dismissal. In this age of hyper-sensitivity to offending anyone on any matter, genuine debate is suppressed and liberties are thereby surrendered. David Cameron is an Anglican: in that, His Grace greatly rejoices. Not all Anglicans agree on every matter of doctrine, and that via media is both it weakness and strength. But until the Prime Minister and the Baroness grasp that the cross of Jesus is not a duvet and the crown of thorns was not wrapped in cotton wool, they will not understand that Christians may occasionally be intolerant, unwelcoming and narrow-minded. Indeed, they may even be downright angry: 'The stronger we are as a Christian nation', the more we will certainly love our neighbour, but the less we will tolerate idolatry, sophistry, and hypocritical politicians.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Merkel: "If the Euro falls, there will be war in Europe"


When a German chancellor talks of the inevitability of war in Europe if he (or she) doesn't get his (or her) way, it would be remiss of the British to ignore it. It is not clear who we should infer will go to war against whom, but Chancellor Merkel's observation is ominously similar to the threat made by her predecessor Chancellor Kohl, who once said: 'The future will belong to the Germans...when we build the house of Europe... In the next two years we will make the process of European integration irreversible. This is a really big battle, but it is worth the fight.’ A CDU document from 1994 explained: ‘Never again must there be a destabilizing vacuum of power in central Europe.
If European integration were not to progress, Germany might be called upon, or tempted by its own security constraints, to try to effect the stabilization (a word replete with unpleasant historical echoes) on its own, and in the traditional way.’ Kohl asserted his conviction that if there were no further European integration, there may well be war.

His Grace happs to believe the complete opposite: the euro increases the likelihood of civil unrest and war. With the break-up of the former USSR, Quebec’s bid for independence from the Canadian federation, the former Yugoslavia’s descent into tribal warfare, the splitting asunder of Czechoslovakia, and even the fracturing of the United Kingdom, the evidence is overwhelming that states established by treaties are fragile entities. Artificially created states - that is those crafted by supranational bodies and imposed upon diverse ethnic groups and disparate cultures - tend to revert back to their ethnic groupings, often with horrific wars of independence in the struggles for nation-state recognition. Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev said that he finds it particularly surprising that European leaders are trying to construct a European Soviet after he had overseen the fall of the Russian one. The political structures of Western Europe have kept its countries in peace and friendship for the longest period of stability in its history, yet there has arisen a great dilemma. There are those who believe that the EU is yesterday’s solution to the day-before-yesterday’s problems. A union that was forged to avoid war has (we are told) yielded a sustained peace. But the greater and more successful that peace, the more remote the possibility of war becomes, and the harder it is to find a reason for the existence of the Union. The entire experiment has produced a great paradox.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Dean of St Paul’s throws Jesus out of the temple


It beggars belief that the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral have surpassed the disruption to Divine Worship which Hitler inflicted with his bombs. Throughout the entire Second World War, St Paul’s was closed for just one day to permit a brave soldier to disarm an unexploded bomb. That was a genuine health and safety issue. Today, we are six days into a closure because of a few dozen tents pitched in Paternoster Square, many of which are aren’t even occupied.

It is perfectly possible, for those who can put one foot in front of another, to navigate your way through this quaint canvas village: there is, in truth, nothing obstructing the determined worshipper’s path to the House of God. But ‘Health & Safety’ has been invoked outside, so the gospel cannot be preached within. It is a bizarre model of Christian leadership which voluntarily abandons the pulpit on the off-chance that someone might trip over a tent peg. Indeed, there is a higher risk of twisting your ankle on a snow-covered Paternoster Square, but the Cathedral does not close every Christmas on ‘Health & Safety’ grounds.

His Grace has sympathy with the protestors: they are concerned about poverty and rail against greed. Good. So did Jesus. Their heart is in the right place, even if their protest isn’t. They are sheep without a shepherd. The Stock Exchange is not the cause of the global economic crisis: it would make far more sense for them to occupy the Bank of England or Parliament Square, for there the decisions are taken to tax, spend, loan, print money and set interest rates. It is politicians and bankers who have sunk us into this morass: those who trade in stocks and shares are not the cause.

It is not every day that His Grace can praise Alan Rusbridger and The Guardian, but on this matter they are spot on. Aside from the quite unnecessary swipe at the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, the article is lucid and accurate. Mr Rusbridger writes: ‘This rather messy and absurd situation has handed the dean and chapter of St Paul's a truly historic opportunity to discredit Christianity in this country. They seem determined to take it.’ It is a sad and sorry day when Christ’s mission is expounded more accurately in the pages of The Guardian than in London’s foremost Cathedral Church:
A cathedral isn't really there for the tourists, even if it can charge visitors £14.50, as St Paul's does. It is a place for prayer and worship. The congregations who come for these, the real purposes of the building, should remember that Jesus talked to publicans and tax collectors. He might even have talked to merchant bankers. He would certainly have talked to the protesters camped outside.

Aspects of the protest camp are silly and rather squalid. But it still represents a profound and important moral revulsion which the Church of England needs to take seriously. These aren't the usual Spartist suspects. The sense that there is something outrageous, unjust and absurd about the world of modern finance has spread across the whole political and religious spectrum. Even Pope Benedict XVI has reinforced his predecessor's teaching with a demand that the markets of the world be brought under human control. The Church of England needs to be part of this discussion, for its own sake and for the sake of the country. And that is done far more effectively by theatre and by conversation than by lecturing or even preaching. It is no use having clever bishops saying clever things that no one listens to. Here at St Paul's right now, there is a chance to catch the attention of millions of people who would never listen to a bishop or recognise a Dean without a Torvill.

The protesters aren't right about everything. A lot of the time they aren't even coherent enough to be wrong. But the role of the church is to talk with them and to find out how their sense of injustice at the present slump can be refined and educated and brought out into the wider conversation. The cathedral has a chance to take Marx's taunt about religion being "the heart of a heartless world" and try to make it true, and valuable. It must not fumble this.

If the dean and chapter continue their steps towards evicting they will be playing the villains in a national pantomime. There will be legal battles and, eventually, physical force. At every step, the cathedral authorities will be acting in the service of absurdity and injustice. Yet this is where the logic of their position is leading them. They must see this, and stop. Jesus denounced his Pharisaic enemies as whited sepulchres, or shining tombs; and that is what the steam-cleaned marble frontage of St Paul's will become if the protesters are evicted to make room for empty pomp: a whited sepulchre, where morality and truth count for nothing against the convenience of the heritage industry.
God speaks through whomever He wills, whatever the person’s faith or lack of it. The story of Balaam (Num 22-24) suggests that the Lord is prepared to speak truth through a numb-skulled, money-grabbing seer, and even through his ass. Whether Balaam be a sinner or saint, a believer in the One True God or not, there is no doubt he was inspired to speak the mind of God and impart a vision of Israel’s destiny. Alan Rusbridger is more ass than Amos, but today he speaks prophetically to the Church of England. God must have some foreknowledge that The Guardian is required reading for CofE bishops. We must pray that their eyes may see and their ears may hear.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

“For me, constituency and country must come before the baubles of ministerial office”


There are no better words than those of Stewart Jackson MP, until yesterday PPS to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson. He told the House of Commons and the whole nation: “For me, constituency and country must come before the baubles of ministerial office. I will keep that faith with my constituents and with a heavy heart, I will vote for the motion and I will take the consequences.”

And so he was duly sacked. Adam Holloway MP resigned on the floor of the House. The Prime Minister suffered the largest rebellion over ‘Europe’ of any prime minister since the UK joined the EEC in 1973. The perception is that David Cameron believes exactly the same on the EU as Ed Miliband, who believes exactly the same as Nick Clegg. The political élite are apparently in perpetual collusion to surrender the people’s sovereignty to an unelected and unaccountable government in Brussels. The rebellion dwarfs that suffered by John Major over Maastricht, when the ‘bastards’ numbered just 41. Cameron has 81 ‘bastards’. When more than half of your backbenchers reject your authority – including the Chairman of the 1922 Committee – something is clearly awry. Discipline has broken down: trust has evaporated. And let us be in no doubt, had this division not been so heavily whipped, the vote against the Government would have been far higher.

Below is the Role of Honour of those patriots who voted simply to let the people decide their political destiny. These are they who have laid down their careers over a point of principle. These are they who deserve to be reselected by any associations who may be facing boundary changes. In defying their party whips, they have put liberty and democracy above petty matters of party politics. Some of them told their leaders where to go in no uncertain terms; others did so with a heavy heart. If you happen to meet any, please express your gratitude. If you can be bothered, please write to one or two and thank them.

Conservative:

Steven Baker (Wycombe)
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay)
Andrew Bingham (High Peak)
Brian Binley (Northampton South)
Bob Blackman (Harrow East)
Peter Bone (Wellingborough)
Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West)
Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire)
Steve Brine (Winchester)
Fiona Bruce (Congleton)
Dan Byles (North Warwickshire)
Douglas Carswell (Clacton)
Bill Cash (Stone)
Christopher Chope (Christchurch)
James Clappison (Hertsmere)
Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford)
David TC Davies (Monmouth)
Philip Davies (Shipley)
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)
Nick de Bois (Enfield North)
Caroline Dinenage (Gosport)
Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire)
Richard Drax (South Dorset)
Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster)
Lorraine Fullbrook (South Ribble)
Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park)
James Gray (North Wiltshire)
Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry)
Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)
George Hollingberry (Meon Valley)
Philip Hollobone (Kettering)
Adam Holloway (Gravesham)
Stewart Jackson (Peterborough)
Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex)
Marcus Jones (Nuneaton)
Chris Kelly (Dudley South)
Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire)
Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford)
Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)
Julian Lewis (New Forest East)
Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes)
Jason McCartney (Colne Valley)
Karl McCartney (Lincoln)
Stephen McPartland (Stevenage)
Anne Main (St Albans)
Patrick Mercer (Newark)
Nigel Mills (Amber Valley)
Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot)
James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis)
Stephen Mosley (City of Chester)
Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall)
David Nuttall (Bury North)
Matthew Offord (Hendon)
Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton)
Priti Patel (Witham)
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole)
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin)
Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood)
John Redwood (Wokingham)
Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset)
Simon Reevell (Dewsbury)
Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)
Andrew Rossindell (Romford)
Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)
Henry Smith (Crawley)
John Stevenson (Carlisle)
Bob Stewart (Beckenham)
Gary Streeter (South West Devon)
Julian Sturdy (York Outer)
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle)
Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon)
Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes)
Charles Walker (Broxbourne)
Robin Walker (Worcester)
Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire)
Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley)
John Whittingdale (Maldon)
Karen Lumley (Redditch)
Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North)

Labour:

Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)
Rosie Cooper (Lancashire West)
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North)
Jon Cruddas (Dagenham & Rainham)
John Cryer (Leyton & Wanstead)
Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West)
Natascha Engel (Derbyshire North East)
Frank Field (Birkenhead)
Roger Godsiff (Birmingham Hall Green)
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North)
Steve McCabe (Birmingham Selly Oak)
John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington)
Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Andrew Smith (Oxford East)
Graham Stringer (Blackley & Broughton)
Gisela Stuart (Birmingham Edgbaston)
Mike Wood (Batley & Spen)

Liberal Democrat

Adrian Sanders (Torbay)

DUP:

Gregory Campbell (Londonderry East)
Nigel Dodds (Belfast North)
Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley)
Rev William McCrea (Antrim South)
Ian Paisley Junior (Antrim North)
Jim Shannon (Strangford)
David Simpson (Upper Bann)
Sammy Wilson (Antrim East)

Green

Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion)

Independent:

Sylvia, Lady Hermon (Down North)

Monday, October 24, 2011

EU Referendum: if Cameron gets this wrong, the cost at the next election will be immense


This is a guest post by Zach Johnstone.

In the months preceding the European Parliament’s ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 it became something of a ritual for Daniel Hannan MEP to end each speech with the Latin dictum Pactio Olisipiensis censenda est (‘The Lisbon Treaty must be put to the vote’). Indeed, when Mr Hannan spoke in a debate on any issue whatsoever, these words rang out around the hemisphere to the profound disapproval of the pro-federalist members. This was not merely, as it may at first seem, a hollow manoeuvre from a ‘rogue’ MEP with designs on causing a stir in the disproportionately pro-EU chamber. Nor was it in any way a populist ploy designed to add gravitas to a proposal so far removed from the thinking of the mainstream political establishment that it deserved little better than to be cast off as either eccentric or irrelevant. No, this was quite different.

It was, in fact, a direct and unambiguous restatement of the promise that each of the three major parties made in their 2005 manifestos to this effect. Labour’s mandate to govern derived in no small part from a clear pledge to hold a referendum on the EU Constitution, whilst both the Conservatives and the LibDems offered similar assurances to their voters. The parties were united in their insistence that further change to the EU should be subject to popular consent, such that has not been seen for almost four decades in the United Kingdom. Far from raising a contentious issue, it was Daniel Hannan’s intention to exhibit the axiom that MPs were duty-bound to hold a referendum and that, until this was offered, both the national government at Westminster and the supranational institutions of Brussels were uniformly complicit in holding the democratic process ransom.

In the event, there was little that Hannan et al could do to prevent Parliament’s ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, or the LibDems’ abstention from the vote, or the Conservatives’ U-turn on the issue of a referendum in the same year. In the face of the organised party machine, conviction and integrity are soon ground down as the way is paved for opportunism and career advancement. Promises were rescinded as quickly as they had been made. However, even if little was achieved in a legislative sense, the uproar surrounding these events reaffirmed one thing: it is now simply irrefutable to challenge the notion that a large proportion of British people (as many as two-thirds by some estimations) are desperate to have their say on UK membership of the EU.

This is precisely where we stand as we head in to today’s Commons debate on the motion calling for a referendum on EU membership. The people have made their wishes known, and now all that is left is for those with influence to ignore and to overlook.

The popular message could not be clearer: the Union’s transmogrification from an unassuming economic entity to a social, cultural and political behemoth has not been accompanied by sufficient (or, indeed, any) popular consultation. Despite the very provenance of much of the legislation to which we are subject having shifted, not since 1975 have we been conferred with as a demos regarding the direction – or the extent – of this change. To say that this fact is widely regarded as a flagrant insult to democracy does not even begin to encapsulate the sentiment held by many.

Cameron’s determination to whip his party to vote against today’s motion – arising as it does from a petition signed by over 100,000 citizens – does nothing whatsoever to ease this culture of disillusionment and detachment. The offering of directly democratic mechanisms present in both the Conservative manifesto and the Coalition Agreement such as recall mechanisms and elected police sheriffs gave optimism to many who saw such initiatives as the practical manifestation of Cameron’s pledge to return power ‘from the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities. From Brussels to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy’. Perhaps this government, unlike others, they thought, would genuinely seek to push power down to the lowest common denominator: the individual.

Today that optimism will be swiftly laid to rest.

By promising voter empowerment and concurrently voting against precisely that, it is no exaggeration to state that Cameron’s strategy risks permanently tarnishing both his personal image and that of the modern Conservative Party. Today’s vote will not bring the Coalition down; aside from a handful of outcries from the few mainstream media outlets offering anywhere near the appropriate level of coverage to an issue of this magnitude, it will be swept under the carpet. But make no mistake: ‘cast-iron’ promises are not easily forgotten.. After today, any remnant of credibility that Cameron’s party has built up through such initiatives as the (entirely ceremonial) Sovereignty Bill will ebb away. Voters who turned towards the Conservatives as a progressive party with a healthy dose of scepticism reflecting that of the national mood will summarily turn away again. This is not an ephemeral political whim but a reflection of the seriousness with which a government takes its citizens’ right to have their say – get this wrong now and the cost at the next election may prove decisive.

It would be remiss of me to denounce Cameron’s approach without firstly acknowledging, as many other commentators have done, the fact that ‘Europe’ is a decidedly sensitive issue for many Conservatives. As Matthew d’Ancona observes in his latest piece: “...one of the great accomplishments of the Conservatives’ 13 years in Opposition was the gradual achievement of unity over Europe.” Not only does the issue risk fracturing the party at any time but Cameron faces the additional challenge of appeasing his Coalition partners. Moreover, it has been widely argued that with more pressing matters ahead (read: addressing the debt crisis), to rake up these old dividing lines is at present both pointless and unhelpful.

Yes, it goes without saying that we are in unprecedented territory: the eurozone stands on the brink of collapse unless France and Germany can broker a deal that satisfies the markets, while the growth forecasts for our own economy look woefully bleak. Yes, the need to manage the fragile and downright unpredictable mood of coalition governance must also be borne in mind. In fact, any number of current issues could be cited as reason enough for the Government to seek to avoid unnecessary distraction. But this is about so much more.

Suspending disbelief momentarily, were the result of today’s motion not a foregone conclusion, I would ask but one thing of all MPs of conviction: to consider for a moment the unique nature of the motion they are to debate. For we are not talking about a simple in/out referendum but one that also opens the door for a genuine via media: renegotiation. The fact is that not every UK citizen calling for a referendum believes the EU to be an intrinsically negative thing; many support it and wish to put the issue of withdrawal to bed whilst others, to varying degrees, wish for the UK to remain a member state on different terms. This motion offers the scope for a far-reaching debate, without the black-and-white rigidity of the traditional in/out dichotomy, through which the true wishes of the British people can truly be determined.

The verdict?

Daniel Hannan is exactly right when he asserts that there is a worryingly prevalent trend amongst MPs on both sides of the House to take what they believe will be the answer to a referendum question and work backwards from there. Referenda in the modern era are held not on the basis of merit but of winability. It is this disingenuous political manoeuvring that renders voters apathetic towards those elected to represent them. Regardless of the outcome for which any particular MP hopes, it is in the vital interests of public faith in the democratic process to permit a referendum to take place and to empower citizens with the ability to articulate their position on the most important of matters. There is nothing to say that a referendum will not tell us that a majority of UK citizens favour further integration into the EU project; opinion polls may point to an anti-EU majority, but they also pointed to a pro-AV majority mere weeks before the referendum earlier this year. This is not about timing or opportunism: it is about the fulfilment of promises; salvaging the very integrity of the democratic process. It is, quite simply, what is right.

For decades the British people have been denied the opportunity to answer a simple but absolutely crucial question: from where, and by whom, do we wish to be governed? If we miss this opportunity, and it seems as though we will, it is troublingly difficult to say when another will come along.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Canon Giles Fraser accuses his critics of 'talking complete nonsense'


Following the continued closure of St Paul's Cathedral, the Canon Chancellor the Rev'd Giles Fraser has issued a tetchy statement:
Statement from Canon Giles Fraser
22 October 2011

The Revd Canon Dr Giles Fraser, Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, issued the following statement today (Saturday 22 October 2011)

"I remain firmly supportive of the right of people peacefully to protest. But given the strong advice that we have received that the camp is making the cathedral and its occupants unsafe then this right has to be balanced against other rights and responsibilities too. The Christian gospel is profoundly committed to the needs of the poor and the dispossessed. Financial justice is a gospel imperative. Those who are claiming the decision to close the cathedral has been made for commercial reasons are talking complete nonsense."
It is an interesting rebuke (not, of course, directed towards His Grace, for he never alleged that the Cathedral was closing for commercial reasons: quite the contrary) for, with Lucan undertones, it purports to preach justice for the poor while rebuking his critics for 'talking complete nonsense'.

This intemperate language manages to be patronising, arrogant, high-handed, self-righteous, rude and condescending all at the same time. Presumably, appearing, as it does, on the Cathedral's website, the statement is issued on behalf of the Dean and Chapter. It is evident that the Rev'd Giles Fraser is something of a loose canon.

But, on the matter of 'talking complete nonsense', this is the man who massacres Scripture; despises the 'ego' of heterosexual weddings while lauding gay marriage; berates conservative Anglicans as 'homophobes' and 'extremists'; equates 'Islamophobia' with racism; does not believe in the immortality of the soul; rejects the salvific notion that Jesus was sacrificed for our sin...

His Grace could go on (and on). So, when it comes to 'talking complete nonsense', perhaps the Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral might express a little Christian humility, patience, kindness and love. Perhaps he might understand that there are Christians outside of his narrow cloisters who hold beliefs just as sincerely as he holds his. He may be privileged to preach his liberal socialist gospel from the pulpit of St Paul's. But others of us are restricted to our blogs.

Ah, but then Giles Fraser thinks we bloggers write 'the most disgusting bile, wrapped in the clothing of anonymity'. He alleges that 'nasty and insulting comment drives away all the interesting stuff' and that we are 'poisoning the wells of open debate, not enhancing it'. The medium, he avers, is 'abandoned to people with thick skins and short tempers. And that is hardly the open forum that many bloggers claim they are protecting'.

Abandoned to people with thick skins and short tempers?

Sounds like the Canon Chancellorship of St Paul's.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Canon Giles Fraser loses St Paul’s £20k a day


Last weekend, when the Metropolitan Police began to clear the ‘Occupy London’ protestors from the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, Canon Giles Fraser instead told the police to leave. In an act of Christian charity, he defended the rights of the demonstrators to protest (presumably because he agreed with them), and even invited them in to Sunday worship.

That was nice. But it's all backfired. For the first time in living memory, this great cathedral has been forced to close its doors. The Dean has written an open letter to the protestors advising them that there is no lawful alternative but to close St Paul’s Cathedral until further notice. The reason? ‘Health & Safety’.

You see, each tent has a stove of some sort, and with all this Calor Gas ‘there is a very clear fire hazard’ which constitutes a ‘public health aspect which indeed speaks for itself’.

Does it? One wonders how the Lord might ever have imparted the 10 Commandments if Moses, faced with a burning bush, had pleaded ‘Health & Safety’. Would he have said to God, with a very heavy heart, that it is simply not possible ‘in the current circumstances’ for him to fulfil his obligations to the hordes encamped at the bottom of Mt Sinai?

It is all very amusing in a way, for Canon Giles Fraser is actually the Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser – that is to say, like Judas (Jn 13:29), he guards the purse: he is in charge of St Paul’s Exchequer. And he writes very eloquently in such exuberant capitalist terms that the ‘Occupy London’ hordes might consider that the closure of the Stock Exchange last weekend was somewhat fortuitous and that they have stumbled upon a veritable den of unrepentant capitalists in the House of God. In his most recent report, the Canon tells us:
The number of paying visitors to the cathedral recorded a small increase and the global economy continued a recovery. Net assets at the year end increased to £19.0 million (2009 £15.3 million) after taking account of a decrease in the FRS17 pension deficit of £0.73 million.
And he goes on to talk of the cathedral’s key income generator being ‘the number of paying visitors’ which increased by 1% in the year to 820,000 (2009 812,000) yielding an income ‘on which the cathedral remains heavily dependent to enable it to sustain its work and mission’. We are told that the surplus amounted to £1.27 million (2009 £1.46 million) which maintains ‘a strong liquidity position’.

And reaching the full flight of capitalist-accountant mode, the Canon Chancellor goes on to talk about the strength of global financial markets; investment units; endowment funds; the valuation of the investment portfolio; low interest rates; dividends; Triple A Rating; investment and property portfolios; the valuation of the assets of the closed pension scheme; and the Church of England’s ‘ethical investment policy’. In total, we are told, the gross income from St Paul’s commercial activities, which included admission charges, the crypt shop and event income, increased by £0.66 million to £8.25 million.

This will be the reason that the Dean, the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, is mighty annoyed with the Canon Chancellor. For if the gross income from commercial activities - including admission charges, the crypt shop and event income - amounts to £8.25 million per annum, for each day the Cathedral closes its doors, it is losing in excess of £20,000. In commemoration of the colossal folly of the Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser, who ushered away the police who were ushering away the protestors, His Grace has rewritten the lyrics of a song which was also set on the steps of St Paul’s. Enjoy:


Early each day to the steps of Saint Paul's
The Occupy hordes hoist their tents.
And the Canon Giles Fraser welcomes and calls,
"Come, gather at our great expense.
Come curse the capitalist world, show them you care,
And you'll be glad if you do.
As you queue for your Starbucks,
We’ll grant you a prayer;
Though our flock is kept out of the pew."

Feed the hordes, £20k a day,
£20k, £20k, £20k a day.
"Feed the hordes," that's what he cries,
While the Dean and Chapter are forced to economise.

All around the cathedral the saints and apostles
Look down as the protest grows.
But the doors are locked shut as the tourists all jostle
While the hordes force the cathedral to close.

Though his words are simple and few,
Listen, listen, he's calling to you:
"Feed the hordes, £20k a day,
£20k, £20k, £20k a day."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Gaddafi goes to meet Allah


Earlier this year His Grace expounded why we must send Gaddafi the way of Saddam. Not all agreed, of course. There remains a certain disquiet among Christians on the matter of capital punishment, for our God is one of love and forgiveness, and life is a sacred gift. There are those today who object to this apparent 'summary execution', bemoaning the lack of justice and a fair trial. Doubtless Gaddafi would have been found guilty, and enlightened Christians would then have demanded his incarceration for a very long time. A few Scots would eventually have granted parole on compassionate grounds. He does look a bit ill, after all.

To those who object to Gaddafi's execution or the manner of it, His Grace urges you to save us your sanctimony. There are those who say there should be no rejoicing in the death of any man. Well, put yourselves in the shoes of those who have lived under the brutal dictatorships of the modern era - Mao, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Ceausescu, Saddam - and ask by what moral standard you judge the oppressed and persecuted? As you read your newspapers over coffee and lounge in the comfort of your cosy armchairs, reflect on the undeniable fact that some people are just evil. And when the sum total of the suffering they inflict reaches beyond endurance, those who have suffered will feel wholly justified in taking up the sword. Of course, they might themselves then die by the sword, but that is their choice. When the state ceases to bear the sword and justice is no longer seen to be done, judgement will fall somehow from the anarchic baseness of human nature.

We are told time and again that ‘the British Government does not support the use of the death penalty'. But when it comes to tyrannical Muslims, HM Government seems to care a little less. Every public opinion survey suggests that a significant majority of the electorate does favour capital punishment, particularly for certain types of murder. And especially if they're in a foreign land. David Cameron hailed Gaddafi's death as a step towards a 'strong and democratic future' for the people of Libya. Speaking in Downing Street, he said he was proud of the role Britain had played in Nato airstrikes to protect Libyan civilians after the uprising against Gaddafi's rule began in February. And the Prime Minister is on the record as saying:
[I]f someone murdered one of my children then emotionally, obviously I would want to kill them. How could you not? But there have been too many cases of things going wrong, of the wrong people being executed, of evidence coming to light after the execution, and sometimes there is just too much of an element of doubt. And I just don't honestly think that in a civilised society like ours that you can have the death penalty any more.
His opening sentence is interesting, for it is concerned with that very heated passion which caused Jesus to tell Simon Peter to put away his sword. It is not for David Cameron to kill anyone: it is for a court of law to weigh the evidence dispassionately, determine guilt or innocence, and dispense justice. But what happens when the courts are corrupt and passions abound?

To God, our three-score-years-and-ten are but a blink of the eye: He deals with eternity. Yes, life is sacred, but it is not inviolable, for that is idolatry. The man who murders that which is made in the image of God has violated that which is sanctified, and there is a just penalty for that violation. Yes, of course things go wrong in the administration of justice, but that is not an argument for ceasing to administer justly: it is an argument for improving and constantly reforming our evidence-gathering processes in order that justice may be better administered. And God is the ultimate judge: vengeance and vindication are His.

Today, Muammar Gaddafi stands before his Maker. He will have discovered by now that Allah isn't quite what he believed him to be, and that divine justice is inescapable. Those who waved their guns and rejoiced with cries of 'Allahu Akbar' ushered their former leader into the presence not of Allah the most merciful, but before the Throne of Judgement of the One True God. There will be no lakes of wine; no endless stream of virgins; no pat on the back from his inspirational prophet; no utterance from Allah of ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (in Arabic, of course). No, the wages of sin is death. And because Gaddafi has committed one or two sins of some considerable magnitude, was quite unrepentant, and did not accept Christ as his Lord and Saviour, His Grace suspects that things might be a little warm for Muammar today. His lake of wine will be a lake of fire: his tongue will burn and his thirst will never be quenched. The only virgins he’ll meet will be the worm variety, for the pit of Hell is a place of decomposition and destruction; of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Muammar Gaddafi has gone to the place prepared for the devil and his angels, where the beast and the false prophet will be, to be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

And to those who do not agree with His Grace’s rather literalist understanding of the afterlife, he does not care: he feels better for having conveyed a sense of what it must be to fall into the hands of the living God, without the hope of the salvation of Christ. There is no obituary to write for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi other than 'good riddance’. He has reaped simply what he sowed. Justice has been done. The world is all the better for his passing.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cameron and his ruling élite


There is an observation on David Cameron in the Daily Mail from one of his political colleagues. It is nothing new, but in the context of the impending Commons vote on an In/Out referendum on the UK's membership of the EU, it is revealing of his instinct. Mark Pritchard, secretary of the 1922 Committee, warned that it 'would be dangerous for the "political elite" to be seen to be blocking public demand for a referendum again'.

Before he came to power, David Cameron linked the ubiquity of ‘one-size-fits-all solutions (which) are dispensed from the centre’ with ‘demoralisation and democratic disengagement’. He called for a ‘radical decentralisation’ which does not constitute ‘some romantic attachment to the past’, but one which is designed to revive civic pride by initiating ‘a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power: from the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities. From Brussels to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy’.

But it may simultaneously be observed that he has done more than any Conservative leader since the nineteenth century to centralise the internal workings of his own party: many of the powers which used to be held by local associations are now exercised centrally by a ruling Tory élite. Unless Mr Cameron manages to overcome his Bullingdon urges, he will lead the Conservative Party to yet another period of intractable division over 'Europe'.

How on earth can there ever be 'a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power' without a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU? How can control of our destiny shift 'from the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities. From Brussels to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy’ wiithout a significant realignment of what is often referred to as our 'relationship with Europe'? Churchill had it about right: ‘We have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe but not of it. We are linked but not combined. We are interested and associated but not absorbed.’

Unless we are to end our inexorable absorption, either the EU's foundational precept of 'ever closer union' must be abandoned, or we must leave. The former is not a remote possibilty, so the latter is the only course open to us. Since EEC accession was ratified by a referendum in 1975, a national plebescite would need to precede our departure. Whether or not such a vote could be won when the Outers would be ranged against all three main political parties and the power of the Establishment is unknown: it would be a huge risk. And yet... and yet... as we have been absorbed by increment, perhaps our sovereignty and liberty must be regained by degrees - of which the first must be a symbolic victory in next week's EU referendum question.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Stephen Twigg is pruned to Labour’s education ideology

When the Blairite moderniser Stephen Twigg was appointed by Edward Miliband as Shadow Education Secretary, it appeared as though all three parties were moving towards an eminently sensible consensus on state education. The unions were irked; many teachers were despondent, and Toby Young was ecstatic. At last, state education was to be liberated from the bland consensus of uniformity which has dominated half a century of pedagogical theory.

Only last week, Stephen Twigg positively welcomed Free Schools. In response to Michael Gove’s announcement on 10th October of 55 new Free Schools and 13 new University Technical Colleges, Mr Twigg said: “I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement.” He went on to heap praise upon their endeavours, declaring: “I congratulate the university technical colleges and free schools that have secured approval today.” He added: ‘Labour supports experimentation and innovation in how we set up new schools’, and called for an ‘evidence-based’ approach to the Conservative education revolution, explaining: “The question for the Government’s free schools policy is will the new schools established be good ones. Will they extend opportunities, particularly in deprived areas? Will they drive up school standards in their localities? Will they be based on a fair admissions policy? Most important of all, will they help to close the attainment gap between children from rich and poor backgrounds? That is the basis on which we will scrutinise and challenge the Government’s policy. The Secretary of State’s belief in the programme is ideological. Our scrutiny will be evidence-based.”

What’s more, last week he was perfectly chilled about extending academies: ‘Mr Twigg also said he was “relaxed” about an enormous expansion of Academies, free of local authority influence and able to set their own curriculum, teaching hours and pay rates.’ So enthused was he that he called for all schools to have academy freedoms: ‘I struggle to understand why schools should have to apply for those freedoms. Why cannot the Bill simply give them to all schools?’ He stated categorically that he didn’t want to return to LEA omnipotence: ‘We need to look at a renewed role for local government in education, but without turning the clock back to the days of local authorities running schools; I do not think anyone is arguing for that.’

As if all this were not clear enough, only last Friday he gave an interview to the Liverpool Daily Post entitled ‘I will back free schools, says Labour’s new shadow education minister Stephen Twigg’, in which he explained that he is ‘not going to take an absolute policy of opposing them...’. Asked if Labour was shifting from a more traditional party stance on schools to a ‘New Labour’ policy, Mr Twigg said: “I think that’s too simple. But people will describe it in the way they want.” He explained his priority: “The tests should be: will the school raise standards for pupils and parents, will it contribute to a narrowing of the achievement gap between rich and poor and what is the wider impact of that school?”

But, as the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics. While politicians of substance and conviction refuse to bend with the winds of pressure and stand as resolute as the oak, Mr Twigg lives up to his etiolated name. For now he says that he opposes the Free Schools policy. Seriously, On Sky News, he spouted: “What I said this week is we oppose the policy, we don’t want a free-for-all in British education, but as these schools open, some of them are going to be really good, some of them are going to be run by really good people and we’re not going to put ourselves in a position as a Labour Party of opposing those schools.”

And yet he (bizarrely) insists: “No, it’s not a U-turn – that makes a good headline in papers. There are very, very real concerns about the free schools policy, I share those concerns. We saw an announcement this week by Michael Gove for new free schools when there is not enough money for existing schools with leaking roofs.”

So, Labour’s education policy is ideological. They have thrown out empiricism and discarded evidence-based research. Stephen Twigg privately believes exactly as Tony Blair and Lord Adonis believe, but the mighty Balls-Burnham-Miliband ideology is too strong a wind for the leafy Twigg, who doubtless yielded under the threat of being pruned.

Just a year ago, Edward Miliband said Free Schools were ‘ the opposite of the thing we need’. Last month he reiterated: ‘I don’t think free schools are the right answer’.

Ed Balls referred the policy as ‘the most socially divisive education experiment for 60 years’. Andy Burnham in a speech to the NASUWT called it ‘a reckless gamble’, and in a press release referred to Free Schools as ‘an elitist experiment’.

So, poor Twiggy didn’t have a hope of resisting. Following the confusion created by his u-turn on a u-turn, he was challenged in Parliament yesterday by Education Secretary Michael Gove. The exchange went as folows:
Douglas Carswell MP: Many parents in my part of Essex would like to see local Free Schools. For all their enthusiasm, there are still too many obstacles and obstructions. What will the government do to make it easier to establish them? Could I bring a delegation of parents to discuss with officials how it could be done?

Michael Gove MP: I am grateful to him. We will do everything possible to support the establishment of Free Schools. But there is a barrier I cannot do anything about, and that is the confusion of the Labour Party benches. Just last Friday, and member said he would back the setting up of Free Schools. But just yesterday he said on television that the Labour Party opposed the Free Schools policy. His u-turn within 72 hours leaves parents and teachers in a quandary. That is why so many of them are saying, thank heavens it is a Coalition Government in power rather than Labour.

Stephen Twigg MP: Can I first of all join with the Secretary of State in welcoming the appointment of Sir Michael Wilshaw, who has a fine track record, and to thank his predecessors… I welcome the increase in the numbers of young people taking history, geography and foreign languages, but schools are getting mixed messages about the EBacc. Will he answer the question I put to his colleagues? When he looked to create a technical baccalaureate, as proposed by many, including his friend Lord Baker? If he does not do that the UTCs are being frozen out of the improvements he says he wants to deliver.

Michael Gove MP: It is a curious kind of freezing out, which has seen the number of UTCs increase massively as a result of the changes we have made. But if we are talking about freezing out and frost, what about the cold shoulder he is turning to the parents who want to set up free schools everywhere? If we are talking about a chill effect, what about the effect of all those who believe in educational reform who will have seen his brave efforts to try to drag the Labour Party into the 21st Century, only to see him tack back within 72 hours? We detect the hand of his leader dragging him back from a posture of reform to one of reaction.
And they wonder why politicians are among the most despised.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The misdirected folly of Occupy London


Apparently there has been some protest over the past month to occupy Wall Street which is being replicated in all the major cities of the world throughout Asia, Europe, the United States and Canada. Demonstrations have been held in Rome, Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, Lisbon, Madrid, Stockholm, Athens, Auckland, Wellington, Sydney, Tokyo, Manila, Taipei, Hong Kong, Seoul, Washington, Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver... altogether, some 80 cities and centres of finance have seen tens of thousands of protesters descend upon them, angered by the billions of their dollars/euros/yen/pounds being doled out to bail out the banks during a time of recession, unemployment and job insecurity.

But the best laid plan of the London contingent was to occupy the Stock Exchange, and it all went a bit wrong. Unfortunately (if not unsurprisingly), they were refused access the Stock Exchange, so they occupied St Paul’s Cathedral instead, which is just next door. There they were welcomed by the very accommodating left-leaning Canon Giles Fraser, who ushered away the police from the Cathedral steps so he could divide his loaves and fishes and feed the confused hordes.

Are these people stupid?

By all means, demonstrate and shout your rage at the politicians and bankers. But if buildings must be occupied (which appears to be the nature of the campaign), the targets in London must surely be the Palace of Westminster and the Bank of England. For it is there that they will find those who are responsible for ruining the economy and condemning millions to hardship through greed and bad government. It is the banks who borrowed from banks who borrowed from banks who lent out Monopoly money, all with the manifest consent of Parliament. If you want politicians to be accountable to the people instead of to quangos and the big multinational corporations, you won’t bring it about by picking on the poor Stock Exchange.

Capitalism has it faults and moral flaws, but ultimately it is concerned with the liberty of the individual and the free society. Its spirit is intrinsically democratic; its ethic is non-authoritarian. The moment you rail against capitalism and economic liberty, you usher in tyranny, despotism, absolutism, totalitarianism and dictatorship. Political authoritarianism within capitalism is authority without democracy, which leads to social unfreedom and cultural illiberty. The Stock Exchange instinctively eschews constraint and coercion, and seeks to create the wealth to improve standards of living and alleviate poverty. That is the theory. If, in practice, it does not always work – principally because of the tensions in the nature of man – it is not beyond the wit of man to devise a socio-cultural-economic framework which permits self-reflection and encourages charity. It is entirely possible to inspire an ethic which exhorts individual responsibility and unashamedly exalts the type of social capitalism that can only be achieved through the nation state, accountability, and democracy. Of course, there are tensions between the market and morality, and between the citizen and the state, but these are not the fault of the Stock Exchange.

Caring for widows and orphans, feeding the starving, and clothing the naked, are at the very heart of the Christian vocation. It is incumbent upon a righteous government to alleviate poverty and suffering, and that requires economic growth and wealth creation. Yes, let us protest against the economic morass into which we are sinking. But let us not do it in accordance with the religio-political precepts of the Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser, who seems content to suffer the blasphemous misrepresentation of the Lord upon the steps of the House of God. One wonders if he would have been so generously accommodating of those who took part in the Rally against Debt, or whether he would have insisted that the police do their job in time for Sunday's Matins.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Gay Marriage: a theological perspective

His Grace has been told time and again - in conversation threads and via testy emails - that 'gay marriage' is of Christian provenance. He has been told by a number of Conservatives - not least the Prime Minister - that such unions constitute a wholly Conservative pursuit and so a laudable aim. Lest His Grace be accused of bigotry; of bringing the Faith into disrepute; of smearing and recontaminating the Conservative brand; and of being the cruel persecutor of a gentle minority, His Grace has asked a Christian believer to expound his theological thoughts on the matter. This is guest post by Andrew Grey:

“There can be no such thing as gay marriage. Marriage is between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others”. Lord Tebbit’s statement encapsulates what is essentially the bottom line for many of those who are outraged by the proposals of Lynne Featherstone MP to legalise gay marriage.

There are of course many complex political issues which relate to this, on both sides of the debate. This post, however, will not attempt to argue within such a frame of reference; instead, the focus will be a theological one. Can a Christian ever endorse gay marriage?

Many Scriptural passages are cited to support the idea that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman, with a view to procreation. The Yahwist’s creation story famously states: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). This is taken to be the correct model for marriage – any distortion of this model, including homosexual marriage, is against the divine intention. This idea cannot be simply dismissed as ancient nonsense because it is, as is also well-known, cited by Christ, according to Mark and Matthew, to condemn divorce.

Surely this leaves the matter indisputable? For Christ, marriage is between one man and one woman. It is the ideal model and anything different is wrong. However, this perspective neglects the rest of this passage. For Jesus draws attention to the notable exception of eunuchs (eunouchoi). He acknowledges that not every man will marry and have sex with a woman: some people are eunuchoi ‘from birth’, some have been castrated and some actively choose to remain celibate for the sake of their faith.

Many have argued that the eunuchs who have been so from birth may have referred to homosexual men. Whether or not there is a case for this, this is the not the line of argument I wish to pursue here. Rather, the point we can take from this is more general: yes, Jesus cited Gen 2:24 as a model for marriage – but he clearly acknowledges that this doesn’t apply for everyone. Of course, it does not automatically follow that gay marriages must be accepted – what is clear is that this particular text cannot simply be cited as a clear-cut case for heterosexual marriage being the only acceptable lifestyle: the matter is more complex than this as Christ, in His wisdom, identified.

It is also sometimes argued that homosexuals cannot ‘marry’ because the model of one man and one woman represents the union between Christ and his church, usually based on the tradition following from Augustine based on Ephesians 5:

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. (Eph 5:31-32)

Paul clearly envisaged the male-female union as symbolic of the union between Christ and the church. Without doubt Paul would not have considered homosexual marriages as symbolic of such a union. Indeed, Paul makes quite explicit why it is that he identifies specifically the union of man and woman as symbolic of such a union:

For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church…Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. (Eph 5:23-24)

The problem with this model is that it not only reduces women to a status which they, thankfully, in Western society, no longer hold, but it also is completely incorrect. Paul’s model for marriage is, unsurprisingly, not ideal. It is true that he acknowledges the need for the husband to love his wife, but then adds “in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word” (Eph 5:26). For Paul, the husband represents Christ in a marriage because the woman ought to obey him and submit to him, whilst his purpose is to sanctify her.

With all due respect to the great Apostle, his understanding of both women and relationships was, at best, incredibly flawed. Women are not subordinate to men; both women and men are created in the image of God and to all people, women and men, is extended the invitation of redemption through Christ. It goes without saying that a marriage could not work with one partner being entirely submissive and obedient to the other. And far from men being in a position of superiority in which they are able to sanctify their wives, it is often women who need to remind their husbands of what is righteous and just and ultimately good.

Paul’s model for marriage, on which he bases the parallel with the union of Christ and his church, is therefore not applied by Christians today, and it cannot be used to assert that only heterosexual marriage works because only heterosexual marriage symbolizes the union of Christ and his church: marriage does not, indeed cannot, work in the way Paul imagines.

There are, of course, arguments against gay marriage which are not based on Scripture, such as the assertion that heterosexual marriage is undermined by gay marriage. By allowing two women or two men to marry, it is suggested that society is somehow undermining the union of man and woman. But it is difficult to see how this is the case. Will less heterosexual couples marry now, in outrage at homosexual marriage? Is the union of a woman and a man of less significance simply because two men or two women can also form such a union? Such ideas are implausible, and, more to the point, if they really were the case, homosexual marriage would not be needed to undermine heterosexual marriage: heterosexuals would be doing a good enough job of undermining it themselves.

It is also sometimes objected that, if we are to allow gay people to marry, then there is nothing to stop us allowing two relatives or an adult and a child marrying. We shall be obliged to open the doors to all kinds of incest and paedophilia – such is the consequence of the sort of wishy-washy, liberal mindset which allows for gay marriage. But this simply isn’t true. Society’s condemnations of incest are rarely based on Scripture; condemnation of paedophilia even less so. We do not base our opposition to incest on Old Testament prescriptions and prohibitions largely because, as one minister puts it, “A close reading of scripture reveals a sexual ethic we do not and would not want wholly to embrace now: polygamy, concubinage, levirate marriage, and such horrifying rules as the requirement that a rapist pay the bride-price to the rape victim’s father and marry her without the right of divorce.

Society, of course, has very good reasons for refusing to allow incestuous and paedophilic relationships, reasons which do not apply to homosexual marriages. Experience and the insights of the natural and social sciences tell us that incest distorts familial relationships and damages them, and that paedophilia involves an unhealthy power dynamic and would require the consent of those who cannot truly consent. Absolute permissiveness does not necessarily follow simply from allowing homosexual marriage.

Even if none of the above objections are compelling, how do we know that homosexual marriage works? The short answer is that we do not. We cannot know for sure because it is only something that we have very recently begun to consider allowing. But neither do we know that it cannot work. The main evidence we have so far is the evidence from six years of civil partnerships in the UK, evidence which, for some, suggests that couples in such relationships are less likely to divorce than their heterosexual counterparts.

This is not an argument that gay marriage is superior to heterosexual marriage. Neither is it an attempt to argue against heterosexual marriage in any way. His Grace has rightly noted, drawing on Aristotle, that heterosexual marriage (including procreation) “is essential for the functioning of society”. I quite agree. We need men and women to marry and have children for the continuation of human society. But allowing people who are already homosexual, who will never experience attractions to members of the opposite sex and will therefore never enter heterosexual marriage and have children, will not undermine or threaten this.

A defence of gay marriage usually arises, if anything, from a great respect for the institution of marriage as a union of mutual love between two people. For the Christian, marriage is of course about even more than this – it is about two people, through their union, participating in the life of God. There is something altogether beautiful about two people committing themselves to one another, making sacrifices for one another, and indeed in physically expressing their love via intimacy with one another. This is the ultimate purpose of marriage and sex: to strengthen a bond between two people, and, for Christians, to ultimately reveal a new understanding of God through their union. This understanding is effected via a change in married people – as Rowan Williams points out, they are caused to re-perceive themselves as loved by another. Procreation is a wonderful product of heterosexual marriage and, needless to say, it is necessary that procreation occurs in society: but it is not the ultimate aim of marriage (as couples who cannot or have chosen not to have children demonstrate). The union of two people is about far more than breeding.

These wonderful truths about marriage are to be celebrated and encouraged: but they are not excluded from or eradicated by the union of two people of the same gender. On the contrary: allowing more couples to celebrate their love and to enter a commitment which will discipline them, enhance their understanding of God and ultimately transform them can only be a good thing.
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