Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tatchell condemns ‘Christian bigots’

It is curious indeed that Peter Tatchell of the ‘gay rights’ group Outrage protests at the Lambeth Conference against the ‘Christian bigots’ who oppose homosexual behaviour. Does he not realise that, for all its manifest faults (and they are legion), at least the Church of England is openly discussing the issue and engaging with theologians who hold views similar to his own?

Yet during his concluding remarks, Cardinal Kasper reiterated the uncompromising position of the Roman Catholic Church that ‘homosexual activity is disordered’. No discussion, no debate, no conference to seek the diverse views of sundry homophiliac theologians or academics.

So why does Mr Tatchell not protest outside the Vatican?

Or is it simply that it easier to hurl insults at those closer to home with whom one does not agree, ‘bigot’ being the easiest?

Cranmer notes the thoughts of Charles Moore on the matter:

“Almost every time you read an article commenting on people who, for religious reasons, disapprove of homosexual marriage, practising homosexuals becoming priests and so on, you find the word ‘bigot’ used. Even intelligent commentators seem to think it unarguable that such attitudes are bigoted. Why? To this day, all the mainstream monotheistic religions of the world take the view that homosexual acts are wrong, and they have reasons of scripture and wider moral teaching to back this up. Believers who maintain that view in the face of modern social pressure are only following their faith, just as Christians would be if they opposed polygamy, suttee or euthanasia. The word ‘bigoted’ does have an accepted meaning. It does not mean ‘religious’, or even ‘fervently religious’. Bigotry is the obstinate and blind, often nasty and hypocritical, attachment to a particular creed. No doubt some people who oppose gay marriages are indeed like this — venting hatred towards homosexuals (which their religion forbids) — but many are decent, conscientious and thoughtful. Isn’t it rather bigoted, in fact, to assume that your opponents on certain subjects are bigots? It is like the way anyone who criticises Islamist extremism will find himself described as ‘Islamophobic’.”

Obama prays: ‘Make me an instrument of your will’

And well might we all. In private. But Melanie Phillips has discovered something more than a little distasteful about the prayer which Barack Obama lodged in a crack in Jerusalem’s Western Wall last week. It was allegedly removed ‘by a religious student’ and subsequently published in the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv.

Sacrilege. How unprincipled. Outrageous abuse. Appalling breach of privacy.

Not a bit of it.

Ms Phillips was on to Senator Obama from the outset: “Was it really likely,” she asks, “that Senator Obama would have inserted such a note in such a place, with the serried ranks of the world's media lenses pointing at him, without at the very least harbouring the teensiest suspicion that within seconds it would be removed and its contents find their way into a newspaper?”

And the contents of the note were then broadcast to the world:

Lord - protect my family and me. Forgive my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.

And she speculates that the messianic ‘Redeemer from Illinois’ had pitched a prayer not to the Almighty, but one ‘tailored for those American voters who are perhaps amongst the most suspicious of Barack Obama – evangelical Christians who would surely be moved and impressed by a display of such piety’.

But it has been revealed that ‘Obama’s note was published in Maariv and other international publications following his authorisation to make the content of the note public. Obama submitted a copy of the note to media outlets when he left his hotel in Jerusalem...

So, while there are denials, it appears that the pious and devoted Christian Barack Obama wrote his sincere prayer and stuck it in the Western Wall with the fullest knowledge that it should be made public.

The scriptural injunction is clear: ‘But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly’ (Mt 6:6).

It is the exercising of ourselves in secret prayer which distinguishes sincere Christians from hypocrites, who go through their religious exercises merely to be seen and approved by man. Such people love to pray standing on the street corners, in full display, or have their prayers broadcast to the world simply to invigorate their campaign and ameliorate their opinion poll rating.

Well, the Lord tells the Senator that he has received his reward in full.

Religious hypocrites place a far higher value upon the applause and adulation of man than they do upon the approbation of the Lord. The outstanding mark of a hypocrite is that he is one thing in private, but quite another in public. The genuine Christian knows that God sees and hears him in secret, and cultivates communion with him in private devotion. The diligence with which we perform our private devotions is the criterion of our sincerity.

Whether this story is true or not, Cranmer does not know. But Ms Phillips draws attention to a much more serious issue, which is the undoubted disparity that exists between the way the media treats the ‘religious right’ and what is rarely termed the 'religious left’ (which does not appear to exist, notwithstanding the Socialist Bishops of the Church of England). President Bush was mocked and vilified for disclosing that he prayed, with the world’s media portraying him as a ‘religious nutter’ for ‘taking instructions’ on how he should govern and wage war. ‘Barack Obama, however, has actually asked the Almighty - in a handwritten note that he purportedly imagines will be read by the Divine eyes - to make me an instrument of your will.’

She might well ask ‘Where are the howls of outrage from the rationalist media now?’

Why is it that politicians on the religious left are respected for their sincerity, piety and humility, while those of the religious right are judged to be fanatical, fundamentalist, superficial and hypocritical?

Is it because they are right?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rabbinical court ruling makes mother ‘feel like a harlot’

The invective which was poured out upon the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chief Justice over their proposals to admit Shari’a courts in the UK was focused mainly upon the antithetical nature of its traditions to what has become the British worldview, in particular with respect to democracy and the founding principles of the Enlightenment. The inequality of women and the infringement of their rights in particular was advanced as one reason why there must never be Shari’a matrimonial courts, for the word of a woman, under Shari’a, is worth significantly less than the word of a man.

But a story in the Jewish Chronicle highlights that other religious courts may be prone to patriarchal prejudice, as a Jewish woman in London finds herself being divorced by a rabbinical court against her will because she allegedly wore clothes it deemed ‘provocative’.

Asaf (Asi) and Karin Gabay were originally married and divorced in Israel, remarried in London in 2000 and then obtained a civil divorce here last year. But in order to be able to marry another partner in an Orthodox synagogue, they need a ‘get’ — a religious bill of divorce. A get must be voluntarily given by the man and accepted by the woman. If her husband denies her a get, the wife is left trapped as an ‘agunah’ — a chained woman — who cannot remarry according to Jewish law.

But while the Sephardi Beth Din (Heb. ‘house of judgement’) insists that it has acted in Karin Gabay’s ‘best interests’ to ‘ensure she would be free to remarry’, Mrs Gabay, a mother of seven, said she was ‘devastated’ and ‘completely shocked’ by the court’s ruling.

When Mrs Gabay did not accept the get, the rabbinical court applied a ‘get zikkui’ — divorcing her without her consent. Normally, this is resorted to only in cases of adultery.

The grounds for the get zikkui in this case include ‘religious laxity’ and the assertion that she ‘dressed provocatively, worse than a common harlot’ (succinctly and sensitively put). Mr Gabay told the newspaper that Mrs Gabay had been seen in (shock horror) ‘mini-skirts with long nails and hair extensions’. While this is manifestly unacceptable to the husband, the wife insists that she dresses ‘respectfully’.

It is noteworthy that the Sephardi Beth Din licenses a restaurant run by Mr Gabay, and also one run by his father. And further, the London Beth Din had been handling Mrs Gabay’s case when the Sephardi court intervened. It appears that the man turned to whichever court was most likely to dispense the judgement he required - in this case one presided over by three men already disposed to Mr Gabay and his father - and which appears to have little respect either for the right of a woman under English law to dress as she wishes or for the jurisdiction of other courts.

Sharon Shenhav, head of a women’s-rights project, condemned the decision: “Jewish women have the right to expect to be treated with fairness and justice.”

Quite so, quite so.

There have been rabbinical courts in England for three centuries, yet still there are contentious judgements of Jewish law which favour the male over the female. Cranmer has no doubt that there will be a flood of such cases in the Shari’a courts when Muslim men accuse their wives of ‘religious laxity’ for not wearing a hijab, and the Muslim women find their rights arbitrarily set aside, their reputations ruined, and their self-respect and self-worth set at naught.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Church of England - a house divided

Dr Andrew Lilico has written a most interesting and learned piece for ConservativeHome, entitled 'How and Why the Church of England will split'.

Cranmer has appended his own thoughts on the matter:

Over the past decade, the morality of homosexuality has become obsessively an increasingly central issue in the Church of England. It is an evolving debate, the complexity of which is compounded by the contiguous debates of same-sex civil partnerships or ‘gay marriage’ and whether such partnerships should receive liturgical blessing; the ordination of practising homosexuals and the rights of bishops to demand pledges of celibacy from their priests; and the first elevation in the Anglican Communion of an openly homosexual priest to a Bishopric. With the strong feelings these developments have aroused on the two apparently irreconcilable wings of the church – liberal and conservative – it is possible indeed that it will lead to schism. While a final decision on this may be imminent, the Archbishop of Canterbury recently stated: ‘It is not a question of legislating for schism or providing for schism or whatever - we are there already’.

Given that 'we are there already' - and Dr Lilico is simply stating what the Archbishop has already proclaimed - it is important to keep this in perspective. The Church has been fracturing ever since the very first debates over the divinity of Christ and the nature of his humanity – the great controversy at the Council of Nicea in AD325. Schism is inevitable in the diversity of humanity and the broken imperfection of our fellowship.

Historically, the Church of England maintained the same continuity as the Magisterial Reformers with certain Roman Catholic beliefs and practices – particularly the Church-State link, infant baptism, and recognition of the authority of the Church Fathers. It adopted a via media which supplanted papal authority with royal authority, and thereby suffered none of the pressures endured by the Continental Reformation to define itself by doctrine. It exists, without rivals, by parliamentary transaction and is thus an Act of State. No government has any plans to change this (even Jack Straw's constitutional reforms maintain 26 bishops in the House of Lords).

The debate on homosexuality within the Church of England is contiguous with the increasing assertion of ‘human rights’, and considerable changes in the relationship between the individual and society. The modern tendency to frame the immunities accorded people by law in terms of ‘subjective rights’ is a conception which puts the autonomous individual at the centre of our system of law. At the Enlightenment, there had been no impulse for homosexual rights (as there had been for slaves and women); it is a development of the 1970s.

The Church of England was founded on compromise and contradiction, and it still retains these disparities. These inherent tensions have created an ongoing struggle between its various wings, and some assert that the debate over homosexuality is the ultimate political battle for supremacy. The rhetoric is intense from both factions: statements like ‘Anti-gay bishops crush liberals’ are counterbalanced with those who assert the church’s attitude towards homosexuals is ‘a modern form of human sacrifice’. There is middle ground, like the compromise to accept homosexual priests as long as they give their bishop assurances of celibacy, but such proposals are deemed inadequate by both sides. The Daily Telegraph observed:

"Issues in Human Sexuality laid down the principle that the clergy were allowed to be homosexual by inclination, by temperament, and by affection - but only within the privacy of their cassocks. They must not do anything outside them with anyone, ever. Even by the standards of the Church of England, it is a remarkable achievement to produce a statement that no one on either side of the dispute could really sign in good faith and then to make that a touchstone of orthodoxy. If homosexual practice was wrong, then why should the faithful laity be allowed it? If it is not wrong, why is it a bar to ordination?"

It may be concluded that efforts to hold the Anglican Communion together are simply going to protract the division, keeping the debate at the forefront of people’s minds, deflecting the church from it primary mission - the proclamation of the gospel. It may be time to acknowledge that one harmonious body may not be possible among dissimilar parts of the world, where different attitudes and traditions prevail. Ultimately, the discussion ceases to be about homosexuality, but about control and authority; power and politics. The homosexual debate has simply become the means by which that battle is being fought, with its absolute demand of ‘Which side are you on?’. While for many, this permits of only two answers, the Archbishop of Canterbury, seeking a via media, asserts that ‘it is really a matter of having a language in which to disagree rather than speaking two incompatible or incomprehensible exclusive tongues’. But his search for ‘reconciled diversity’ is, for many, an unscriptural if not an unattainable objective.

Let the Anglican Communion divide, by all means; it is a relic of Empire. But the Church of England, as the genius Hooker designed, shall hold itself together through this 'tension', just as it has done since its foundation.

Bishops march against poverty



Bishop bashing has become something of a pass-time throughout this Lambeth Conference. The perception is of a worldwide Anglican Communion obsessing over gender and sexuality – fiddling with genitalia while the world burns. And even when they begin to address possible resolutions of the mutually-exclusive positions on these contentious issues - by proposing an Anglican Covenant, a Pastoral Forum, or a ‘Faith and Order Commission’ - the Church’s perpetual media critics damn the bishops before they have had time to digest the proposals themselves.

It was encouraging, therefore, that the Archbishop of Canterbury turned to the bigger picture. He led 600 bishops along with their spouses and other faith leaders down Whitehall, past Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament and across the Thames in a bid to remind world leaders of their commitment to halving world poverty by 2015.

One can ignore the intervention of the Prime Minister. He simply had to be seen in the right place, and heard saying the right thing. He made a rather obvious if hyperbolic speech about the need of rich countries to help the poor, telling the bishops: “This has been one of the greatest public demonstrations of faith that this great city has ever seen. You have sent a symbol, a very clear message with rising force that poverty can be eradicated, poverty must be eradicated and if we all work together for change poverty will be eradicated."

Actually, as long as the Government continues measuring poverty in relative terms, it will never be eradicated. In fact, Jesus must have had the Government’s obsession with relative poverty in mind when he said the poor would always be with us (Jn 12:8). Cranmer is, after all, living in poverty compared to Bill Gates.

The bishops were simply obeying the exhortation of Deuteronomy, that because there will always be poor people in the land, we are commanded to be open-handed toward the poor and needy (15:11). Since no-one takes much notice of the bishops when they preach from their pulpits, the march draws attention to the need to improve education, health care and agricultural production in the poorest nations of the world.

The concern is that the ‘Millennium Development Goals’ will not be met by the target date of 2015. Of this, Dr Williams wrote: ‘Because our faith challenges us to eradicate poverty, and not merely to reduce it, we should all be more alarmed that with the halfway mark to 2015 passed, it is clear that most of these achievable targets will not be met. The cause is not a lack of resources but a lack of global political will.’

And even for this they are mocked and scorned by the media. While The Daily Telegraph is of the opinion that ‘Bishops should stick to religion, not economics’, or that ‘Anglican bishops are promoting ignorance’, there is little appreciation of the fact that they have, at least, attempted to engage with the issue while the eyes of (some of) the world are upon them. Of course most of these bishops are Socialists, with a commitment to wealth distribution because it is the rich getting richer who make the poor poorer. But there will be no placards ‘calling for free markets, free trade and better protection of private property’ until there is a dialogue between the Church and the Conservative Party which can bring enlightenment to Their Graces. It is not that no bishops harbour secret leanings to the right; it is that no-one from the right bothers to talk to them or convincingly reassure them that there is no shame in supporting a Conservative worldview. The only way the Church will ‘get to grips with the real causes of poverty’ is through respectful dialogue and deeper engagement between the religious and the realm of the political right. And scales do not always fall from blinded eyes overnight.

Yet Cranmer wonders why he has never heard The Daily Telegraph criticise the pontifications of the Roman Catholic bishops on global poverty, for, if the Anglican bishops are promoting ignorance, there are some who might assert that the Roman Catholic bishops’ grasp of economics is positively retarded. Their doctrine is concerned with such notions as solidarity, centralisation, economic justice, workers’ rights, minimum wage, state intervention, collectivism, statism...

And one does not hear of them promoting the salvation that may be wrought though free-market capitalism either. But then they are not wont to convene a conference, even once a decade, which is open to media scrutiny or offers opportunity for open debate and a rigorous religio-political analysis of their social doctrine.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Obama and Cameron

Not quite peas in a pod – one may be green, but the other is most definitely black – yet there is something in the generational fusion which makes Senator McCain looks like a year of yesterdays, while Cameron and Obama represent the hope of a thousand tomorrows. The ‘special relationship’ no longer has to be a meeting of political minds – as it was for the momentous Thatcher-Reagan era – and neither does it need to be defined by a pseudo-religious crusade – as it was during the Blair-Clinton years. No, the Cameron-Obama relationship works (and will work) because both intuitively understand the zeitgeist of postmodernity. They have been hewn and buffeted by the same world events and issues, and these are a generation apart from those shaped Senator McCain and Mr Brown.

And no, Cranmer has not lost his marbles, for he knows Senator McCain to be a true Conservative, and it is undoubtedly his occupation of the White House which will solve more of the world's ills than Senator Obama even knows about. It is not simply the experience of years; it is that Senator McCain has conviction and is authentic – politically, intellectually, spiritually and personally. Senator Obama, on the other hand, is a creation of the media; a carefully-crafted and finely-honed product who heeds the polls, takes the pulse, measures the temperature and then blows with the prevailing wind. He is more of a mood than a set of beliefs, and one encounters him emotionally and intuitively more than rationally.

But thus is the nature of postmodernity: it evidences a willingness to combine symbols from disparate codes or frameworks of meaning, even at the cost of disjunctions and eclecticism. It is the triumph of symbolism over substance.

It is most likely that a President Obama would look more to Paris, Berlin or Brussels than London, if only because President Sarkozy, Chancellor Merkel and President Barroso eclipse the utterly insignificant and ineffectual Prime Minister Brown. President Obama would doubtless continue the Democratic fixation with the EU’s ever closer union, implement protectionist domestic policies, borrow and spend, divide America, and expand the tentacles of government. But what else would one expect of a Socialist?

Yet Senator Obama is as much New Democrat as Tony Blair was New Labour. He is as relaxed with people as Mr Blair and Mr Cameron are, and he reaches out with the confidence of familiarity. He looks good, sounds good, and, in an age where image is everything, this makes him good. He may not be a prophet riding on a donkey, but he increasingly embodies the hopes of a nation and is captivating the world. Like Martin Luther King Jnr, he speaks of dreams and freedom, of hope and optimism, of a time when there will be no black and white. Take this, for example:

“The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.”

He might as well be quoting from Isaiah. It is not quite a promise that the lion shall lie down with the lamb, but his narrative is messianic – he is the chosen one - and from the four corners of the world they come to kiss this shrine.

But how disappointed they all shall be when they realise that he is not the Messiah.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Pope rejects invitation by ‘apostate’ Strasbourg

Or so The Times reports. It would have been neat – exactly 20 years since the address given by Pope John Paul II – but there has apparently been a ‘breakdown in confidence between the Pope and the European Parliament’. Rome experiences ‘great disillusionment’ with the European project: ‘Its founding fathers, Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schuman, were deeply Catholic. However, a well-informed observer said that the EU “has become more and more secularist”.’

And so Pope Benedict XVI has spurned the EU overtures ‘amid Vatican alarm at what is seen as a drift towards militant secularism’.

Militant secularism? Why would this eminent and highly astute theologian, who has shown himself more than capable of incisively addressing some of the most pressing problems of this age, permit a little militant secularism to deter him? Having spoken stridently against aspects of Islam, illegal wars, abortion, gay marriage and global warming (to name but a few), there is absolutely nothing to suggest that His Holiness would not have revelled in the opportunity to occupy the Strasbourg pulpit to admonish the secularists and exhort the faithful. Cranmer can think of no better place for the Pope to repeat the message he gave to the Catholic World Youth: ‘side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, a quiet sense of despair’.

‘Spiritual desert’, ‘interior emptiness’ and ‘quiet despair’ sound like the very essence of the Temple to the gods of the EU.

The letter from the Vatican simply said that the Pope was declining the invitation to address MEPs ‘owing to other commitments and his age’. He is, after all, 81, and his recent visits to the United States and Australia must have been a little gruelling.

Apparently, the EU Parliament wanted the Pope to be ‘principal Christian guest’ in its ‘Year of Intercultural Dialogue’. And now they will have to put up with ‘a less well-known Eastern Orthodox leader’.

They could always invite the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is not as less well-known as some obscure Eastern Orthodox leader, especially after the past few weeks. Or they could consider Scripture and invite a completely unknown Christian guest, perhaps some humble peasant from an obscure village in Ireland, and let him inform the great and the good of his plight and the consequences of their endless meddling directives.

Or they could simply invite Pope Benedict XVI when he is less busy. For this ‘apostate Strasbourg’ theory is nonsense. There is nothing this Pope would have enjoyed more than the opportunity to speak ‘to Europe’ about its fixation with the Enlightenment belief in the power of reason, its declining birth rates, its empty churches and its political indifference. It is a continent beset by ‘metaphysical boredom’, and heading for spiritual oblivion.

These are not issues any Christian leader would avoid; they are opportunities to preach the Good News. It may be out of season, but that is of no consequence to those who need lifting out of the morass.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Conservative Party and the Ulster Unionists

Cranmer prophesied this a year and a half ago, or something like it. He was right about the strategy, but he got the wrong party. And he wonders if Mr Cameron has not got the wrong party also. Whilst a hung parliament is looking increasingly unlikely as the outcome of the next general election, if one were to result, Mr Cameron would need Unionist votes - and it would likely be the DUP, not the UUP, who could deliver. Of course, there is no shame in cosying up to the Unionists - Labour did this just recently in order to ensure the passage of 42 days detention – but it is bizarre indeed that an ascendant and vibrant Conservative Party should propose amalgamating with a party which is presently on life-support.

The UUP is but a shadow of its former self. Having been virtually obliterated in Northern Ireland it now sends just one MP to Westminster – Sylvia, Lady Hermon – and she is hardly known for her Conservative leanings; indeed, her voting record shows her to be New Labour to the core. Cranmer cannot but wonder how the professional, committed and loyal North Down Conservative Association will take to having her foisted upon them as their next candidate. One wonders if Mr Cameron is aware that not all UUP members are philosophically Conservative, and that its Socialist elements are as deeply embedded as the loyalty of many to the Orange Order which is not known for its commitment to equality, liberty, inclusivity or the ‘celebration of diversity’.

And yet there may be something in this. Certainly, there is much more in it for the UUP. But if Mr Cameron’s eyes are on Ulster politics a generation (or two) hence, rather than on some short-term strategic gain, this is an astonishing altruistic political gesture and evidence of a remarkable integrity.

Of course, there is much for the ‘working party’ to work out before this ‘new political force’ becomes a reality. It is not yet clear, for example, if this is to be a partnership of cooperation or an amalgamation of the two into one. If this is a ‘normalising’ process for Northern Ireland politics, it is not clear how the Conservative Party’s non-sectarian appeal, so carefully nurtured in the Province since 1992, is assisted by carrying a lot of Orange baggage. Hitherto, Roman Catholic Conservatives have been able to vote for ‘The Conservative Party’ in many parts of the Province, yet they may pause more than just a little before voting for a 'Unionist and Conservative Party’ with a hint of Protestant Orange, not least because it will clash with the green. At let us not pass over the gross insensitivity of the Conservative Party sitting in government with Sinn Féin in Belfast, whilst Lady Tebbit (amongst others) lives every day with the appalling consequences of the Brighton bomb.

And there is the further question of why Mr Cameron is rebuffing the DUP so early on in the leadership of Peter Robinson. If it is because of his ‘homophobic’ wife (Mr Robinson’s, that is; not Mr Cameron’s), this would be as unjust as judging the Conservative Party by the rantings of Ann Widdecombe (as it happens, Cranmer is most fond of Miss Widdecombe, but it is clear that very many are not. He merely makes the point that her name has become synonymous with certain unappealing ‘old fashioned’, ‘right wing’ attitudes which are manifestly not shared by the present Party leadership).

Cranmer happens to know that the DUP and Peter Robinson would have been most interested in exploring the possibility of a relationship with the Conservative Party. And when one examines the political philosophies of both in relation to foreign affairs, defence, education, the strategic fiscal and expenditure issues and the broad thrust of social policy, it is clear that the parties have very much in common. A ‘normalising’ process with the DUP may have been much more fruitful philosophically, if fraught with difficulties politically: it is, after all, manifestly easier to absorb a weaker party than it is to fuse with one in power. Whilst Sir Reg Empey may be prepared to relinquish his authority and abolish his office, this would never have been a possibility for Mr Robinson.

But Cranmer is intrigued by one nugget from a speech made by Sir Reg last March. He said:

“I have given David Cameron an undertaking that if he succeeds in forming a new group in the European Parliament after the 2009 elections, outside the federalist leaning EPP, then the Ulster Unionists will support him by joining his new Group. It is vital that we build a pan-Union front, involving like-minded parties who believe in the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. And it must spread to the European Parliament as well. The Union and the United Kingdom cannot survive if those who believe in it fight their own corners separately.”

Could the Conservative-UUP partnership be constructed on the very foundation upon which Mr Cameron built his own leadership?

Friday, July 25, 2008

SNP victory in Glasgow East - the Christians won it


The seat has loyally returned a Labour MP in every election for almost 60 years - virtually since the Labour Party was born. It was as Red as Ken, as safe as houses (if, indeed, houses may any longer be considered safe), and this by-election defeat will go down as one of the most dramatic ever. The SNP overturned a majority of 13,500 - a result that will send shockwaves throughout the entire parliamentary party - and the new MP, John Mason, is a committed Christian.

But why did Labour lose?

There will be much talk in the mainstream media of a tedious, dour and unpopular prime minister in Westminster, chatter about an increasingly ascendant SNP or Margaret Curran's misinformation and lies, and much analysis of why people did not come out to vote - the turnout was just 42 per cent, compared to a general election turnout of 48 per cent. It is evident that traditional Labour voters either defected or stayed at home because they felt that Labour had ceased to care about their low life expectancy, high levels of unemployment, poor housing and health problems.

Or their faith.

In the run-up to the by-election the Bishop of Motherwell denounced Labour unquivovally: "What are we to do when our religion is attacked and our conscience outraged? When one considers the self-inflicted injuries this Labour Government has visited upon itself, one could be forgiven for thinking it had some kind of death wish."

Quite so. And Cardinal Keith O'Brien has been preaching scorn and condemnation for quite some time over Labour's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

But the Roman Catholic factor will have very little analysis, save, perhaps, from the occasional Roman Catholic commentator. Cranmer has previously highlighted the Labour's anti-Catholic attitudes and the religious make-up of this seat, and (should the psephologists enquire) it would come as no surprise at all to learnn that Christians abandoned Labour in their thousands.

Labour manifests gross insensitivity to the religious or ethical considerations of Christians. The HFE Bill - which was postponed because of this by-election - seeks to maintain the present abortion limit, produce animal-human hybrids, and permit the production of ‘fatherless’ children. The only appeal was ever to the 'science', as if this were the only source of reason. The triumph of utilitarianism has relegated religious considerations to the peripheries of sanity, and the only rational context in which debate can now take place is that which reduces ethical considerations to matters of economics or science.

By weakening the safeguards controlling abortion, Labour has cheapened the value of life. By forcing the closure of Roman Catholic adoption agencies, Labour has negated the primacy of conscience. They have misrepresented science in order to perpetuate their programme of social engineering, and they are intent on destroying the carefully-laid foundations of tolerance and respect which have set this nation apart. This Labour government is so intent on legislating for tolerance towards every intolerant minority that they blindly end up legislating for intolerance of the tolerant Christian majority.

When Christians dare to be convicted, they are portrayed as bigots. When they articulate a view with which others may disagree, they are dogmatic. When they fall short of perfection, they are pilloried and cast as hypocrites. When they defend the unborn, they are unenlightened. When they oppose animal-human embryos, they are anti-science. When they express concern over the fatherless, they are homophobic. When they speak up for the poor, they are wishy-washy liberals. When they defend faith-based education, they are intolerant. When they seek to uphold marriage, they are ‘right wing’ reactionaries.

Well, at least they possess a vote, and with that vote can they bring judgement upon those who have ceased to care, ceased to listen, and ceased to submit to the higher sovereign power.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The emergence of the Conservative Humanist Association

And why not? The Conservative Party has various diverse fora dedicated to Conservative Christians, Conservative Jews, Conservative Muslims, Conservative Hindus (no Sikhs or Jedi). Not to mention the various cults of inter alia Bruges, Animal Welfare, Way Forward and Rural Action. It is the very task of a political party in a liberal democracy to forge links across a very broad spectrum of popular appeal, and it therefore comes as no surprise that the Humanists should feel that their voice must be heard amidst the cacophony of voices vying for the ears of Conservative politicians in the hope of influencing policy. It is a symptom of postmodernity as society splinters into hundreds of sub-cultures and designer cults, each with its own language, code and life style.

Yet Jonathan Isaby of The Telegraph refers to the Conservative Humanist Society as ‘a potentially controversial new faction’.

All that he adduces to support this is their invitation to ‘the leader of the Atheist Opus Dei’ Professor Richard Dawkins, who has agreed to officially launch the group at the Conservative Party's conference in the autumn. But this is simply a logical consequence of the natural Protestant progression which began when the Church of England ceased being the Conservative Party at prayer. That great schism occurred during the reign of Margaret Thatcher, during which era one or two meddlesome priests went further than swimming the Tiber; they came out as Socialists.

But the Conservative Humanist Association is controversial for a number of other reasons. Its intolerance of the public role of religion in society is itself the very sort of extremism the Conservative Party ought to eschew if it is to remain a broad church. They assert that 'politics and religion do not mix', and point to Northern Ireland, the Middle East and the Balkans as 'very tangible proof'. Have they not considered the appalling consequences of humanism and atheism in a number of other nations throughout history? Militant secularism is an inviolable political creed and atheism itself seeks to propagate an absolutist worldview and infallible doctrine as repugnant as any it seeks to repudiate.

If religion is bad and God does not exist, the Conservative Humanist Party must oppose a very great deal of what Conservatism is supposed to conserve. Indeed, they refer to the Christian 'strangle-hold on our institutions of state'. Whilst one may legitimately question the relevance of the Established Church, or express concern over the discrimination inherent in having 26 bishops sitting in the House of Lords, this settlement is woven into the fabric of Parliament and is foundational to its functioning. But the Conservative Humanists must be opposed to the position of the Monarch as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and thereby they seek to undermine the role of Christianity in the public sphere. At a superficial level they require that British coinage be reformed to eliminate ‘D G REG F D’, but at a much deeper level they seek to abolish all faith schools.

This is not only totalitarian; it is fundamentally anti-Conservative. By removing the individual right of parents to educate their children as they wish, they undermine their profession of Conservatism with the imposition of a bland Soviet conformity to their arid worldview. A liberal democracy ceases to be liberal when it attempts to prevent the passing on of those very foundations by virtue of which it has developed. The liberal state is obliged to listen if it is not to turn secularism into another tyranny. Liberalism Conservatism accommodates the Established Church and the public role of religion: indeed, disestablishment and the diminution of the role of Christianity are more likely to permit an absolutist ‘humanist’ liberalism to emerge which would be just as monolithic as the days when the church was sovereign.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cardinal Dias: the Church of England is terminally ill

Meet His Eminence Cardinal Ivan Dias, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. His evangelisation technique is to tell it like it is.

He notes that some churches 'live myopically in the fleeting present, oblivious of our past heritage and apostolic traditions', and others (or is it the same one?) 'behave in a disorderly manner, going whimsically our own way without any co-ordination with the head or the other members of our community'.

And so Ruth Gledhill concludes that the Cardinal has diagnosed the Church of England as suffering from 'spiritual Alzheimer's' and 'ecclesial Parkinson's'.

Charming.

And yet the Cardinal is in many respects quite right, notwithstanding that the analogy makes light and is profoundly unsympathetic to those who are afflicted by such illnesses - as Pope John Paul II tragically was - or their families who endure the darkest years of stress and trauma having to watch their loved ones decline inexorably to incapacity, incoherence, and what must feel like oblivion.

But Cranmer's principal contention would be with His Eminence's choice of illnesses, for he has chosen the incurable, terminal kind. It would have been missiologically more accurate and theologically more appropriate had he chosen to speak of suffocating weeds and thorns (Mt.13) or a part of the body which needed the surgeon's knife (5:29-30). At least then the harsh words of his flesh would have been tempered by the spirit of truth, and their reception might consequently have been more palatable.

And all church communities, however great, suffer their bouts of illness. Dare one speculate of what diseases the Roman Catholic Church in England might be showing showing symptoms?

It is noteworthy that the Cardinal is among those who favour 'a positive reception for defecting Anglicans'. His choice of illnesses is possibly therefore not accidental. It is also interesting that his Congregation and its mission spawned the term 'propaganda', though its original meaning has been somewhat negatively warped over the past century.

And doubtless if any Protestant had spoken of the Roman Catholic Church in such terms, (s)he would be a 'bigot'.

Iris Robinson – anti-gay or pro-God?

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
God bless you, please Mrs. Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,
Hey, hey, hey.


And Iris Robinson MP MLA is doubtless praying rather a lot at the moment. She is the wife of the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson MP MLA. Not that she should be defined merely or even primarily as being his spouse, but one can but wonder at the conversations over their breakfast table. Mrs Robinson's views on homosexual behaviour (please note that it is the behaviour) is that it is repulsive, wrong and immoral. She has never made a secret of her opinion on the matter, and yet still she wins her seats at Westminster and Stormont. The majority of her constituents either do not care about her beliefs, do not know of them, or endorse them. Whichever, her views - however unpalatable her views may be, and however repugnant one may find her - are shared by a great many British people.

She has recently expounded her views further in a parliamentary meeting, during which she said:

“There can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality and sodomy, than sexually abusing innocent children. There must be sufficient confidence that the community has the best possible protection against such perverts, and it is important that there be a mature public debate on the issues, but the security of our citizens must be our overriding priority.”

When asked to clarify her meaning, she did so in no uncertain terms, saying:

“I cannot think of anything more sickening than a child being abused. It is comparable to the act of homosexuality. I think they are all comparable. I feel totally repulsed by both.”

This has exercised Mr Iain Dale somewhat, to the extent that he thinks she needs to see a psychiatrist to be cured of her ‘bigoted, ill judged claptrap’. He accuses her of reinforcing ‘existing prejudices among certain people who then feel expressing them in a violent way is somehow acceptable and can be defended because of the "scriptures".’

She has, of course, done no such thing, and, having lived through decades of sectarian violence and murder, she would be repulsed by the accusation that her appeal to Scripture somehow renders violence acceptable.

Mrs Robinson has not helped her cause by juxtaposing homosexuality with paedophilia. The one is, after all, legal in the UK between consenting adults; the other manifestly illegal and predatory. But one gets the feeling that she made an off-the-cuff comment based on her personal feelings rather than asserting a moral or legal equivalence. And this is how many may react to the issue, not least because there is presently a feeling or perception of being overrun by a militant ‘gay lobby’ which is intent on forcing its agenda down the throats of every heterosexual and undermining the view of the traditional family.

Christians, Jews and Muslims all have scriptures which incline them do view homosexuality with distaste. Yes, of course these are open to interpretation, and one should always be cognisant of the science of hermeneutics and the art of the sitz im leben, but people with a faith have every right to state their opinion on homosexuality and on everything else, however this may jar with the zeitgeist, and however this may offend the politically-correct imperative to ‘celebrate diversity'.

Essentially, Mrs Robinson believes it is the role of government to implement God’s Law. She says: ‘The United Kingdom is a country that has been shaped by our long and proud tradition of Christianity. It may no longer be fashionable to say such things and some people for their own petty reasons may attack me for saying so, but I believe that legislation passed in this country should take cognisance of and reflect the traditions and beliefs which made us the society which we are today.’

And on this, Mrs Robinson, an Ulster Protestant, has found favour with the leader of Ireland's Roman Catholics. Cardinal Sean Brady said that, although the precise details of the claim would need to be explored, the role of government is always to work for the common good of its people. He was therefore in general agreement with the MP's claim that human governments are divinely instituted, and that they ought to act justly on the basis of God's law. When the civil law opposes God’s law, the Roman Catholic Church is in no doubt about the Christian’s right to demur:

Times to Refuse Obedience (Catholic Catechism 2242):
Citizens must refuse to obey directions of civil authorities which are against the moral order, the fundamental rights of persons or the Gospel teachings. By refusing obedience, the person correctly serves God and not the political community. A distinction exists between what "is rendered to Caesar" and what "is rendered to God" (Mt 22:21). "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).


While there are many in this militantly secularist age who would rather governments were silent on God’s law, they fail to understand the very foundations of those concepts of equality, liberty and justice which are necessary and intrinsic to enlightened and civilised society.

The think-tank Theos advocates that:

"...the specific actions the church should take depend on the nature of the state - that the closer its moral orientation is to the gospel, the greater the capacity for cooperation. The church therefore has the obligation to closely examine the moral orientation of the state, how its policies and actions contribute to the public good, not religious belief; and measure them against the church’s conception of the public good that underlies its public witness."

It is therefore a question of 'navigating between theocracy on the one hand and a privatized faith in a secular society on the other’.

And should one get this wrong, one risks rolling back the progress of the last three centuries, and Cranmer is in no doubt which theocracy is presently waiting to assert its own concepts of justice, liberty, equality and conception of the public good. And when it does, people will be longing for the good old days, and singing 'God bless you, please Mrs Robinson'.

Monday, July 21, 2008

David Cameron – Euro-sceptic or pragmatically nudging to No10?

There is something a little frustrating about Conservative Party policy. After a decade of Tony Blair’s covert ‘third way’ and a year of Gordon Brown’s overt Socialism, one might expect an incoming Conservative government to be more, well, Conservative. And one might also expect a decade of Labour abuse to necessitate some quite major surgery – something transformative, reformative, even seismic or revolutionary.

But the state of play at the moment is that the Party will match Labour’s funding on the NHS, it will exceed Labour’s spending on the ‘green’ agenda to limit ‘global warming’, it will sustain discrimination against England in the legislature, it will continue to permit uncontrolled immigration from Eastern Europe, and it is not even ruling out tax rises.

No doubt David Cameron considers all of this to be strategically and politically necessary. One mustn’t alarm the voters; one mustn’t frighten them; one must be populist; bending with every wind; agreeing with every poll; like the true salesman and sophist, telling the electorate what one thinks they want to hear.

Yet there is one policy which has the potential to be explosive on a nuclear scale.

When David Cameron was interviewed by Andrew Marr yesterday, he confirmed his policy to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Of course there were conditions, but, with the impasse caused by Ireland, it is not impossible that the ratification process might not be complete at the time of the next general election. And, in such circumstances, it is Mr Cameron’s pledge to give the British people a say on the issue, and to recommend a ‘No’ vote. Some time ago he said:

"Today, I will give this cast-iron guarantee: If I become PM a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty that emerges from these negotiations."

There was nothing equivocal about this pledge; indeed, it is a reiteration of a William Hague’s previous announcement that he would ‘not let matters rest’. And the refrain only serves to strengthen the perception that an incoming Conservative government would be more eurosceptic than any we have had since the UK’s accession to the EEC. Mr Hagues recently said:

"Gordon Brown has no democratic or moral authority to sign Britain up to the renamed EU Constitution. This move is a total breach of trust with the British people and a flagrant breach of his solemn election promise to the British people."

If that's true now, it will still be true in May 2010.

Mr Cameron is focusing not only on disaffected Labour voters and disappointed Liberal Democrat voters, but also upon those Conservatives who have not voted Conservative since Maastricht; those who either vote UKIP or, more likely, do not vote at all. And he does not need to use the language of withdrawal to do this, but instead to articulate what type of relationship the UK will have the EU under his premiership.

And that is clearly one in which ‘ever closer union’ or integration by stealth can have no part. And, indeed, the principles of subsidiarity will be invoked, and sovereignty will be gradually regained area by area, just as it was ceded.

'Ever closer freedom' sounds like a slogan by which the next general election may indeed be won.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lambeth and the provisionality of Anglicanism

As the Lambeth Conference is formally convened, there have been ecumenical greetings from the multiple factions of the worldwide Church. On the agenda are mission and evangelisation, social justice, the environment and violence against women, but no-one is in any doubt that the media and the Church’s critics will focus upon the divisions surrounding homosexuality and women bishops.

And how shall the Archbishop of Canterbury hold it all together?

Cranmer was amused by this observation from Thinking Anglicans:

“Reading all the titles of the (ecumenical guests) made me wonder whether the problem we have with Anglican authority is that we just don’t have impressive enough words in front of our names. If Rowan styled himself catholicos, supreme head, patriarch, holiness or beatitude who’d dare oppose him?”

And yet the fact that he does not is part of the Anglican tradition, and that tradition appears to include talking itself down and stressing its provisionality. There is a quest for absorption into the wider Church and for finding a raison d’être because the Church of England has ceased to believe in itself. There is historic rationale for this, because the Church of England is part of the catholic Church of Christ, and the restlessness it has experienced since its foundation (ie since it ceased being simply the Church in England) is simply a symptom of eschatological reality.

Anglicans profess the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, and this is without geographic or sociological limitation. It is no more English than it is Russian, Greek or Roman: it is incarnational and visible in each disparate society, and is therefore fragmented and fractured because catholicity is partial and incomplete. The unity to which it aspires is an eschatological hope to be fulfilled beyond this life, and all parts of the Christian Church - whatever they assert about themselves, and whatever impressive titles their leaders have before their names – stand in this position of incompleteness, with partial understanding, gazing through a glass darkly.

And it is in this fragmentation that we may find the cross. And the suffering inherent to our humanity should evoke humility and contrition. Ecclesial communities cannot be the Church catholic, but neither can the Church catholic be the repository of completeness or truth while it lacks the fullness which union with those communities would provide.

The Church of England has never claimed the exclusivity claimed by other communions. It has always been part, portion or branch of the whole catholic Church. As a fragment of the whole, as a victim of disunity, it shares its responsibility for schism. But because it acknowledges its provisionality, it works incessantly towards healing the wounds in the body of Christ, and it does so with humility, with brokenness, and without globe-trotting expressions of triumphalism.

The Church of England should have confidence in its ecclesiology, its tradition and the Anglican Communion. But the survival of the latter must not become an end in itself, for all communions, however great, are destined to cease. But the Church of England's cultural habit of self-denigration must also cease, if only because other communions are not so cursed with this propensity. The Church of England is worth its salt, and anyone who asserts the contrary can have no understanding of the meaning of church, and little appreciation of the provisionality with which the whole worldwide institution is charged.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism

This think-tank has had its launch in London, which is apt considering the UK’s bleak reputation in this area. There are an increasing number of incidents of Jewish people being assaulted and insulted, attacks against synagogues, cemeteries and other Jewish property, and arson against a Jewish school. The state broadcaster ignores discrimination against Jews and fails to report attacks upon them; national newspapers denigrate Jewish symbols in ways they would not contemplate doing to crescent moons; British academics vote to boycott Israel while ignoring some of the world’s most abhorrent regimes; and a Muslim MP gets away with referring to Muslims as ‘the new Jews’.

The need for such an institute is clear, if only to distinguish between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. And one wonders if they shall clarify that Shem did only beget the Jews.

The Jerusalem Post carries the story:

”The academic boycott of Israel is ignorant on so many different levels; it's ignorant, as it will achieve nothing, it's ignorantly ineffective, it's ignorantly motivated and it's driven by politics," UK Minister for Europe Jim Murphy said this week at the launch of a new think-tank dedicated to examining the growth and development of anti-Semitism in the world today.

Speaking at the launch of the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism (EISCA) in Parliament, Murphy highlighted the extremes of both Left and Right, and spoke about the legitimization of contemporary anti-Semitism by other faiths.

EISCA director Dr. Winston Pickett said the institute's goal was "to become a leading think-tank on anti-Semitism, generating new strategies to counter and overcome it. Its research trajectory seeks to analyze anti-Semitism as a global phenomenon with deep historical roots and a resilient ability to adapt to present circumstances.

"Our aim is to provide clear thinking on anti-Semitism - and this means regarding it as central to understanding contemporary prejudice and racial hatred today."

In keeping with this goal, Pickett said, the think-tank plans to offer a Web-based network for the most comprehensive scholarship in the field and toward solutions-oriented research that explores ways to address anti-Semitism in all its forms.

At the launch, Murphy enumerated two motives behind right-wing anti-Semitism: the tangible hatred of "the other" and the conspiracy theories of influence, which he said the far Left had also utilized.

"For the extreme Left, I would argue it is their unresolved relationship with Israel which drives their philosophy," he said. "The idealistic dreams of Israel as a potentially enduring socialist and collectivist state were strong. But particularly during Israel's second decade as a state, some international anti-imperialists came to a different conclusion. Israel's relationship with the US was part of this. And for a tiny minority, anti-Israelism took on an air of anti-Semitism."

Murphy stressed that "being critical of Israel in no way makes you an anti-Semite, any more than Zionism equals racism." But he said there were those who had "gone beyond criticism of Israel into the entirely darker sphere of anti-Semitism."

"Once you set aside the legitimate criticisms people have of Israel, then you can only come to one conclusion, which is, for the vocal minority, [that] they are driven by anti-Semitism," he said.

Murphy also talked about the anti-Semitism championed in the Islamic world.

"In addition to the anti-Semitism of political extremes, there is also, of course, the anti-Semitic pulse from a minority in the Islamic world," he said. "President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad of Iran is the highest-profile proponent, but he is not alone. Sections of the Islamic media tolerate and on occasion advocate anti-Semitism."

Murphy called for wider research on anti-Semitism and talked about the need to be much better at collecting statistics on anti-Semitic incidents throughout Europe. He made it clear that the British government was fully committed to supporting the new initiative and had already provided some financing for the think-tank, via a £20,000 grant from the Department for Communities and Local Government, to publish a report later this year on anti-Semitic discourse, stemming from a key recommendation of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism.

"Our commitment is absolute," he said. "That is the reason we welcomed the All-Party Inquiry into Anti-Semitism and its important recommendations to the police, the Home Office, government departments, schools and universities on steps to take to monitor anti-Semitism better and to reduce levels of abuse. In particular, the report calls for further research on the correlation between conflict in the Middle East and attacks on the Jewish community."

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Stephen Pollard, chairman of EISCA, said he felt Murphy's speech set down an important marker.

"Jim Murphy stressed that the government is committed to leading the fighting against anti-Semitism," he said. "That is good news, but it is terrible that in the modern world such a commitment is necessary. That is why EISCA has been formed - to study, analyze and act against the roots of contemporary anti-Semitism."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Government moves towards state-sponsored Islam

Cranmer has previously written on the possibility of the Church of England being supplanted by the Mosque of England, with its own via media between Islam and the indigenous culture, placed firmly somewhere on the spectrum between Jihad and democracy.

This is not a new development. Tony Blair announced such funding during his last days in office, to ensure the propagation of an Islam of ‘moderation and modernity’

He said the voices of ‘calm’ Islam had been hijacked by extremists, and highlighted such books as The Muslim Jesus as though it should join the Hadiths of Islamic orthodoxy.

It does not, of course, mention the Trinity, for that would be offensive.

The BBC has announced that now the Government is to fund a ‘board of Islamic theologians’, with Oxford and Cambridge Universities hosting debates on ‘key issues such as women and loyalty to the UK’. Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said it was government's job ‘to support Muslim leaders on controversial issues’.

Cranmer is not so sure.

He has no doubt that there ought to be funding to assist in the education and training of imams to reduce mosques' reliance on overseas ministers (usually Pakistani) who invariably understand little of British society, repudiate democracy, and rarely speak English. But the use of tax-payers’ money to fund a conference at the élite universities on ‘women and loyalty to the UK’ is fraught with difficulties.

This will not be a Lambeth, where every Bishop (well, almost) expects an invitation and has a right (most of the time) to attend. Who will these 20 ‘leading thinkers’ be? Who will select them? It is alleged that the board’s work will be ‘free of political interference’, but this is impossible for group in receipt of state funding: it will be as compromised as the Established Church, and it will be very difficult to persuade the recusants to comply with any emerging doctrine.

It is stated that the board's membership will ‘reflect the diversity of Islam and Muslim communities in the UK’.

Really?

So Abu Hamza, Hizb ut-Tahrir and MPAC are as entitled to their places as Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain? What Islamic ‘third way’ can be found to accommodate such a diverse gathering? By what voting mechanism will such diverse individuals formulate British Islam? And how will the orthodoxy be made binding?

Yet the Sheikh perhaps gives the game away when he says: ‘This board has to be something owned by us, driven by us but supported by government. We've made it clear that it's not for government to touch our theology or touch the way we train our people.’

And suddenly, with the language of supremacy, what they 'have made clear', the ‘them and us’ distinction, with the assertion of the possessive pronoun, one detects a hint, just a hint, of the Dar al-Harb giving way to the Dar al-Islam, and the Government becomes complicit in the construction of the Dar al-amn – the house of security – which it will be obliged to support in perpetuity. And God forbid that the British Government should ever presume to interfere with ‘our theology or touch the way we train our people’.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Archbishop: Christian doctrine is ‘offensive to Muslims’

Should any of Cranmer’s readers or communicants be interested, the voting preferences for votes cast electronically at the recent sessions of the General Synod are on-line.

Some bishops abstained and some, in true Ruth Kelly style, absented themselves.

All of this is proving highly entertaining for those who profess allegiance to the Bishop of Rome, highly embarrassing for those who profess allegiance to the Church of England, and profoundly upsetting for those who worship the Lord Jesus Christ.

And as the Lambeth Conference continues apace, the Archbishop of Canterbury has declared that Christian doctrine is ‘offensive to Muslims’.

In a letter to Islamic scholars - A Common Word for the Common Good - he calls for closer dialogue and understanding between Christianity and Islam, and he admits that the Christian belief in the Trinity is ‘difficult, sometimes offensive, to Muslims’.

What a scholar. What a theologian.

The Lord said this would be the case. The Apostle Paul said it would be the case. And it appears that the Archbishop of Canterbury is almost apologising that it is indeed the case.

Has the Archbishop considered that God becoming man might be offensive to women? Has he considered that he himself might be offensive to Anglicans?

And one wonders why he has never seen fit to issue such a statement out of respect for Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Unitarians, for the Trinity conflicts with their beliefs as well as the Islamic teaching that Allah is one.

He also equates the Crusades with Jihad, noting that ‘Christianity has been promoted at the point of the sword and legally supported by extreme sanctions; despite the Qur'anic axiom, Islam has been supported in the same way, with extreme penalties for abandoning it, and civil disabilities for those outside the faith.’

No theological or historical distinctions at all: no mention that the Prince of Peace told his followers to lay down their swords, while Mohammed actively took up his.

One awaits the admission by any Islamic scholar that Christians may find the central tenets of Islam offensive – the denial of Jesus as the Son of God; the denial of the crucifixion; the disparaging of the integrity of the Bible; the insistence that the coming of Mohammed was prophesied in the Bible.

The Archbishop’s letter is apparently a response to the letter from Muslim leaders written last September. The Pope beat him to it, without any apology for Christian doctrine. Curiously, Dr Williams describes the document from the Muslim scholars as being ‘hospitable and friendly’. This was not Cranmer’s recollection, but it is wondrous how the perspectives of time distort the reality.

His Grace will now shut up, lest he be accused of hating Anglicans. He is happy to commend the considered musings of Tory Heaven on the matter.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bishop: Labour has ‘lost its ethical credibility in the nation’

He must a ‘homophobe’ and a ‘bigot’, for he has dared to criticise the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which will permit the creation of animal-human embryos, ‘saviour siblings' and, by removing the need for a father, also allows lesbians and single heterosexual women equal access to IVF and fertility treatments. The Bill also leaves the abortion limit unchanged, though it looks likely that some of rigours in the provision of this practice, like the necessity for the approval of two doctors, will be weakened.

For all of this, the Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Devine, has entered the by-election battle in Glasgow East, stating that the Bill has cost the Government its ‘ethical credibility’ with voters. According to the last census, there was a declared allegiance of around a third of the electorate in Glasgow East for the Roman Catholic faith. Notwithstanding this, Labour's candidate in the by-election, Rosemary Curran MSP, said she would have supported the Bill, will support it if elected, and is not convinced of the need to change abortion.

That’s how to win votes.

The Bishop has said that Roman Catholic voters in Glasgow are appalled by the unethical measures contained in the Bill, and said that they may express their displeasure at the ballot box.

Indeed they may, and perhaps they ought.

And not just Roman Catholics, but all Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jedi Knights

In a letter to Scottish MPs, the Bishop says: ‘Christian people have not changed. It is Labour that has broken its pact with Christian voters. What are we to do when our religion is attacked and our conscience outraged? When one considers the self-inflicted injuries this Labour Government has visited upon itself, one could be forgiven for thinking it had some kind of death wish.’

In this case, Cranmer may be persuaded to facilitate euthanasia.

This is not the first time that the Bishop of Motherwell has hit the headlines. In March he claimed that the ‘gay lobby’ attends Holocaust memorials ‘to create for themselves the image of a group of people under persecution’. Quite why he said this is not clear, not least because homosexuals went to the gas chambers along with Jews. But he has also referred to a ‘giant conspiracy’ of homosexuals and secularists, and favours the jailing of the former if not the latter.

He really ought to address the ‘gay lobby’ in his own church first, because judgement begins with the House of God.

But Cranmer has a question.

Peter Tatchell agrees with St Paul when he says that homosexuality 'isn't natural'. Paul refers to men who exchange natural acts for unnatural; that is, they engage in sexual activity which is ‘para physin’ - 'against nature’ (Rom 1:18-32).

Is a life of celibacy not also ‘para physin’? Indeed, the forbidding of people to marry is referred to as ‘a doctrine of demons’ (1Tim 4:1-3).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Obama and the Politics of Fear

Cranmer is not Obamacon, and never will be. And neither will he be persuaded to be an Obamaroon, even if it be a better word. But, for some reason, Daniel Hannan MEP has decided to be a leading Obamacon and finds himself yearning for his idol to become president. It is not at all clear to Cranmer why the word ‘con’ is suffixed to Mr Obama’s name, for he is manifestly not a Conservative, and Mr Hannan cannot mean it in the pejorative.

Barack Obama may have youth and hue, he may exude charm and charisma, but he lacks intellect and nous, experience and integrity. He is a popular puppet on a sinister string of Democrat imprecision and hypocrisy. He is wedded to state intervention, corporatism and big government. He is committed to endless government programmes to ‘help’ individuals, with little awareness of costs or understanding of economy. It is not clear what his policies are on anything, for he is one of Donald Rumsfeld’s known unknowns. Or he may be an unknown unknown. Whichever, if he were elected to the office of the most powerful man in the world, the world would take a collective intake of breath, and wait.

There has been an outcry about this cartoon in the New Yorker magazine, which has hitherto been very supportive of Mr Obama's presidential campaign. Even the McCain camp called it ‘tasteless and offensive’. It is entitled ‘The Politics of Fear’, and depicts the Obamas standing in the Oval Office in front of a fireplace in which an American flag burns. A picture of Osama bin Laden hangs over the mantelpiece.

Mr Obama, wearing sandals, a dishdasha robe and turban, is giving his wife a ‘fist bump’ – a hip greeting that one Fox News presenter said had been dubbed a ‘terrorist fist jab’. Mrs Obama, in military fatigues, has an Afro hairstyle, AK47 over her shoulder and a bandolier of ammunition strung across her chest. The themes are manifestly terrorism and insurgency.

Mr and Mrs Obama profess the Christian faith, though he was born of Muslim parents. It is not clear at which point Mr Obama had his Damascus Road experience, though it appears to have been sufficiently experiential to persuade him to abandon the last prophet and embrace the Son of God. Good for him, even if he does keep company with some distasteful church leaders.

But Cranmer is not sure what all the fuss is about over this cartoon. It is, after all, a cartoon, and the hysteria with which it is being greeted is akin to the outrage expressed by the Islamic world to the Danish cartoons of Mohammed. No, of course Mr Obama is not a prophet, and lampooning him is not prohibited in the Qur’an. But satire is a very healthy manifestation in a free country, and ridiculing one’s politicians has a very long and distinguished heritage. And neither is simply associated with democracy; evidence of political satire has been discovered in ancient cultures like those of Greece and Rome. Politicians feed on people's grievances, promoting divisive, parochial and sectarian interests, and using prejudice and fear is the most effective campaigning tool in the armoury. It is, as the editor of the magazine states, ‘part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to prejudice, the hateful, and the absurd’.

Yet it is interesting that satirists pussyfoot around Hilary Clinton for fear of being labelled sexist, and tread equally carefully around Barack Obama for fear of being labelled racist. While John McCain’s age appears to present no problems at all for the satirists who have no problem with the ‘ageist’ label.

When a candidate offers optimism and hope, inducing fear is the only tried and tested antidote. It is not, of course, ideal, but the only antidote to fear is love, and no election has been won with promises of perfect love. The concept of ‘positive campaigning’ is a myth created by politicians to induce a feel-good factor to make us respect them. Plagued with the perpetual drip, drip, drip of sleaze accusations, lies, hypocrisy and the ‘snouts-in-the-trough’ mantra perfected by the anti-establishment Guido Fawkes, politicians above all professions need a makeover to ‘decontaminate the brand’.

Yet a little perspective is called for.

Which is worse? Being portrayed in Islamic dress surrounded by terrorist allusions, or given the eyes of a demon and equated with Satan? Tony Blair famously endured the latter, William Hague was humiliated under the permed coiffure of Margaret Thatcher, Michael Howard will forever be associated with Transylvania, and dear Ann Widdecombe will live with Doris Karloff until the day she dies.

So why is this Obama cartoon considered so utterly beyond the pale?

Is it because he is a practising Christian battling the smears that he is a radical Muslim? Is it because ‘Hussein’ is his middle name, and any portrayal of him as a Muslim shames him? The last point may be significant, for the Obama camp has created a website www.fightthesmears.com to debunk the rumours. It has also reported that they have paid Google so that searches such as ‘Obama and Muslim’ direct people to sites that rebut the smears.

His Grace thinks the man ought to protest a little less, lest people start to think they have hit a very raw nerve.

Or does Barack Obama have something to fear?

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Pope and the paedophiles; the Archbishop and the homosexuals

As His Holiness arrives in Australia for an international Roman Catholic youth festival, he brings good news of great joy. In his message to young Australians, he urged them to look to God for the answers to their deep questions about the meaning of their lives: “Many young people today lack hope,”, he said, “They are perplexed by the questions that present themselves ever more urgently in a confusing world, and they are often uncertain which way to turn for answers."

And Cranmer agrees. Do not look to man. Look to God. Seek him night and day with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, and you shall find him.

His Holiness continued: “They see poverty and injustice and they long to find solutions. They are challenged by the arguments of those who deny the existence of God and they wonder how to respond. They see great damage done to the natural environment through human greed and they struggle to find ways to live in greater harmony with nature and with one another."

Good stuff.

But then he turned to one of the themes of his trip to the US – the priestly ritual sexual abuse of children – and said everything possible would be done to prevent a recurrence of Australia's sexual abuse crisis and to promote healing among the victims.

Everything possible?

The issue of the rape of young boys by Roman Catholic priests has been a major scandal in several countries around the world after bishops and cardinals were found to have moved abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them or reporting them to authorities. These priests are not only homosexual; they are paedophiles. They are not concerned with celibacy or holiness, but with depravity and porneia.

If the Pope were prepared to do everything possible, he would give Cardinal Bernard Law to the secular authorities. If sexual abuse is ‘incompatible’ with the behaviour required of the clergy, the former head of the Archdiocese of Boston must be brought to judgement. He has not only been aware of egregious sexual misconduct among his priests, but was apparently engaged in elaborate efforts to cover up incident after incident of child rape. Yet he remains sheltered by the Vatican; given sanctuary by His Holiness despite knowing of the rape of young boys and simply turning a blind eye to the possibility that his priests, if moved, may go on raping other young boys.

If His Holiness were really prepared to do ‘everything possible’ to heal this appalling wound, he would not only remove Cardinal Law from his Vatican sinecure, he would also remove his cardinal’s hat.

He does neither, and one wonders why.

But His Holiness also had a word or two to say on the Anglican ‘difficulties’.

"My essential contribution can only be prayer," he said. "The desire is that schisms and new fractures can be avoided," adding that Rome would not "intervene immediately" in their decisions.

Intervene immediately?

Well, Cranmer can hardly wait for the intervention in the non-immediate future. Good grief. Has it not yet sunk in after five centuries that ‘the Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England’. At least GAFCON (or Foca) is pledged to uphold the 39 Articles.

Yet Cranmer finds it interesting that it is the Church of England that is attacked for its hypocrisy and bigotry over homosexual priests and its misogyny over women bishops.

It is lambasted by gay bishops on the left and by camp actors on the right. And it is persecuted by homosexualists like Peter Tatchell who are hell-bent (sorry) on forcing their sexuality down everyone’s throats.

At least the Church of England is having the debate, out in the open, in the full glare of media scrutinty, under the unflattering spotlight which exaggerates every blemish and imperfection. Contrast this with Rome’s complete lack of debate, the denial, the darkness, and the sinister sanctuary afforded to those who knew of depraved paedophilia yet did nothing to prevent it.

How many homosexual priests preside over the most sacred Sacrifice of the Mass? How many homosexual priests go on raping altar boys? How man homosexual priests are known by their superiors? How many of these bishops and cardinals do all they can to protect their priests but ignore the suffering of the innocents?

God knows.

Why do the Peter Tatchells and Sir Ian McKellens of this world not turn their gaze to Rome and illumine her hypocrisies, instead of kicking the Church of England which is, at the very least, trying to address these very difficult issues in a very unforgiving world?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Coptic Christians forced to convert to Islam or emigrate

As the Worldwide Anglican Communion (with a few exceptions) gathers to argue over women and homosexuals, which appears to be occupying all the column inches and all the blog pages – as though the Church of England were concerned with and is about nothing else - Cranmer would like to turn to a corner of the world where Christians are being persecuted for their beliefs. He has previously reported on the situation in Iraq and Israel, but the brothers and sisters in Egypt are experiencing a similar ‘ethnic cleansing’ to which the world turns a blind eye.

The Copts of Egypt are among the world's oldest churches. Their founders date back to the days of the Egyptian Therapeutae (‘Ideal Christians’ according to Iraneaus), brethren to Jesus and the original Jerusalem Church. Christian Coptic Egypt was conquered and oppressed by the Muslims in the late 7th century, and it has been a downward spiral for the Egyptian Christians ever since.

The Copts are now on the verge of extinction due to Muslim animosity and persecution. Indeed, Egyptian writer Ahmad Al-Aswani says it is ‘open season’ on Egypt's Copts:

"What Is Happening to Our Coptic Brothers is is no longer a matter of sporadic incidents. I hope that I have not exaggerated in using the words 'open season' for what is happening in Egypt to our Coptic brothers, but it is the closest description to what is happening. It is no longer a matter of sporadic incidents, but an uninterrupted series of events.

"Today, you read of the incident in Zeitoun, and tomorrow of the one in Alexandria, and after that of the one in Deir Abu-Fana in Minya, and thus of the diverse incidents, ranging from killing without reason to armed robbery, kidnapping of monks, torching of houses and cars, and waylaying and kidnapping of girls.

"As usual, all then repudiate and condemn, accompanied by official and media denial of any sectarian or terrorist motive. And if that isn't appropriate, the standard excuse is trotted out: the criminal was mentally disturbed and did not mean to do what he did.

"This is what has happened in individual incidents...such as the Zeitoun incident a few days ago, or the Alexandria incident two years ago. If we observe closely, we find that these criminals then disappear, and are not brought to trial in any court, and no one hears about them afterward.

"In mass incidents, such as marches after Friday prayers – which follow a Friday sermon inciting (worshipers) to burn the homes of the villages Copts, on the pretext that these 'infidels' seek to turn one such home into a church that will pollute the pure village – the (allegations that sparked the incident) are later proven untrue. (This proof, however, comes) after houses, shops, and cars have been burned, (and) after police and government officials arrive to make sure that the burning is complete.

"Then the media, as usual, accuses rumormongers of being behind the regrettable events, saying that they must be agents of Israel or America.

"Of course, the usual Coptic notables deny any suspicion of sectarianism, and affirm national unity, and the sheikh and the priest embrace. The matter is concluded with no investigation and no trial for anyone - as if nothing had happened. (All then) wait for the opening of the next season, and for the recurrence of the same events, the same responses, and a promise that parliament's new unified law for houses of worship will solve all problems - in the knowledge that this law does not yet exist.

"(Thus) continues the cycle of sad events in Egypt, without end - and one saddening thing is that some prominent Copts voluntarily deny any suspicion that sectarianism is fuelling recent
events (even) before the truth becomes known. I do not know whether they are aware that their words both increase the suffering and will fail to end this series (of incidents).

"Instead, why don't they use their media presence to defend their people, the Copts, and to urge the enactment of laws to prohibit what is happening, and to purge the educational system and media of the explosive mines of sedition, discrimination, and incitement?

“What is happening is an attempt to terrorize Egypt's Copts, and to force them either to emigrate from the homeland once and for all, or to convert to Islam to protect themselves and their families from harm and to protect their property from the confiscation mentioned by many Islamic publications. It causes me regret, and as an Egyptian it makes my heart bleed, to see this farce endlessly repeated, and to see the same prominent individuals say the same words - and then to see the matter forgotten a short time later.

"Frankly, I blame the Coptic leadership in Egypt, headed by His Eminence Pope Shenouda III himself, because it has reached the point where lives and property are taken with impunity, and clearly with the authorities' collusion - with no fear of effective response, and with the confidence of all that, as always, the matter will end with beard-kissing and forgetting.

"Although I fully believe that the majority of Egypt's Muslims side with their Coptic brothers and against these incidents, I must point out that in light of the incitement, and in light of the seditious clerics on the religious television channels, things have changed, with the suspect collusion of the government.

"Perhaps the most recent farce is the June 5 report in the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram...accusing Copts residing abroad of being behind the Zeitoun incident, and of forming an armed Coptic organization to instigate civil strife in Egypt.

"Can you imagine such far-out nonsense? I implore you: For God's sake, oh Egypt!"

So while the Lambeth Conference is consumed with misogyny and homosexuality, let us remember that it is little more than media side-show, a trivial entertainment marketed by the media and salivated over by certain Romish vultures circling above and waiting to pick over the already-emaciated carcase.
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