Friday, September 30, 2011

Tory Eurosceptic froth and bubble

It seems almost perfectly timed, on the eve of the Conservative Party Conference. The Spectator prominently carries the story, as does the Mail, along with the Telegraph.

It transpires that the UK has been requested by the EU Commission to pay welfare to all EU nationals, which could cost us up to £2.5bn. So much for the Coalition’s welfare reforms: as our elected government squeezes British nationals and forces the indolent into work, our unelected government obliges us to fork out for ‘benefit tourists’, who will readily find British benefits to be vastly more beneficial than those of Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Hungary...

Yes, if life is just a bit too hard on your Polish peasant farm, come to Britain and we’ll give you a house, pay your rent, pay your council tax, feed your kids, educate them, give you a GP, limitless healthcare, a dentist, pension credits and sundry loans, all before you’ve paid a penny in tax. We tried to stem the tide with the ‘right to reside test’, but that’s now been ruled ‘discriminatory’. In the EU, you see, all citizens are equal: we all have the right to reside wherever we please (except, of course, for citizens of those countries who joined in 2004 who may be subject to temporary restrictions in, say, France and Germany).

Essentially, Britain’s rules on welfare discriminate against foreigners. But in the EU, there are no foreigners: we are all Europeans. Ergo, the British Government may not impose any ‘right to reside’ test upon any EU citizen which it does not apply to its own citizenry.

And now we have two months to bring our rules into line with the EU norm, otherwise we’ll be dragged (again) to the European Court of Justice and humiliated (again).

So, lots of irritation from the Eurosceptic press; lots of indignation from Eurosceptic ministers. All just in time for the Prime Minister to spout about national sovereignty, British resistance to the encroaching superstate and our inviolable red lines.

If the European Court of Justice upholds the Commission’s request, economically inactive people will be able to move between EU member states just to claim benefits, without any intention of working or contributing to the member state’s system.

It’s ever closer union. As long as we remain an EU member, it’s as unavoidable as the rain.

So, before you get caught up in revived hopes of the rise of Conservative Euroscepticism, please remember that we’re in a coalition with the most rabidly Europhile party in Britain, and that it has to last until 2015. Please remember that last year, a European Court judgement forced David Cameron to agree to allow prisoners to vote. Please remember that there has been no promised examination of the Working Time Directive, despite its disruptive effects on the NHS. Please remember that despite promises to decimate (at least) red tape, EU regulations keep pouring in, strangling British businesses. Please remember that the Prime Minister agreed to a 2.9 per cent increase in our EU contributions, despite promising to Parliament and the Country that there would be none. Please remember that one of his first acts was to opt in to the ‘European Investigation Order’ which obliges British police forces to act on the orders of other EU police forces, with or without primary evidence, and even for actions which are not criminal act in the UK.

And please remember the Conservative Party conference of 1999, when John Maples proudly proclaimed the party’s intention to renegotiate the Treaty of Rome. To deafening cheers and rapturous applause, he declared:
One of our first acts in government will be to negotiate an amendment to the Treaty of Rome, to allow each country the freedom to decide for itself whether or not to apply new European legislation outside that core.

This will stop the slide to a superstate. No longer will Britain be bound by every anti-business, nanny state, interfering regulation dreamt up by the Commission.

...If the European Union develops into a Federal Superstate, then Britain will simply be a province of that superstate. The single currency could well lead to a single tax policy. The social chapter will lead to a single social policy. The common foreign and security policy will lead to a European Army.

That is where Mr Blair is leading us. If he wins the next election, he will do it. How will we explain that to our grandchildren? Are we just going to sit back and watch a thousand years of history signed away? Is that the way to honour generations who gave so much for our freedom and independence?

No!

It is our duty and I believe our destiny to stop that ever happening. When our grandchildren ask “What did you do to preserve Britain’s independence?” let us make sure we can say, “We won the 2001 general election. We created an open, outward looking, free market Europe. We leave to you the same free and independent Britain that we inherited."
Pantomime. Playing to the gallery. Froth and bubble. Pure sophistry. You can expect a bit more of it over the coming week. By their fruits ye shall know them.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pastor Nadarkhani: NO ANNULMENT of the death sentence


Contra rumours being spread by (inter alia) Mehdi Hasan of the New Statesman, His Grace has received authoritative notification that sources inside Iran have firmly denied reports that a verbal notification of the annulment of the charges against Pastor Nadarkhani has been given to his lawyer, Mr Mohammad Ali Dadkhah.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is urging that conclusions should not be drawn on this case until a formal written verdict is received from the court, stating: 'Continued international vigilance and pressure is vital: the life of this man is still very much in the balance.'

Some sources close to the situation fear that reports of a verbal annulment may have been a deliberate attempt to misinform the international community and ease the pressure on the regime. It is disappointing that some high-profile journalists have become party to such vile propaganda.

CSW has facilitated the sending of over 19,000 emails from campaigners to the Iranian embassy in the UK and continues to pursue advocacy on behalf of Pastor Nadarkhani. CSW’s Chief Executive Officer, Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW urges caution over the recent reports of verbal annulment of the charges against Pastor Nadarkhani. Until a written verdict is confirmed to have been received by credible sources, there must be no let up in pressure on the Iranian regime. Continued international vigilance and pressure is vital: the life of this man is still very much in the balance.”

His Grace is appreciative of those at The Spectator who have highlighted this appalling case: namely Alex Massie and Freddie Gray.

Pastor Nadarkhani refuses to renounce Christ

Following yesterday's report, Pastor Nadarkhani was brought before Iran's Supreme Court for the third time and asked to recant his faith in Christ. For the third time, he refused. His lawyer presented the final defence and we are presently awaiting further news. Sources indicate that the judges could take up to a week to issue their decision on the implementation of the death sentence. However, they reserve the right to effect execution within a shorter period of time should they so desire. There is a real concern that the death sentence could be implemented without any official announcement at all.

His Grace contacted the Foreign Office, Lambeth Palace and the Holy See about this case. William Hague responded within the hour, with the following statement:
“I deplore reports that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Church leader, could be executed imminently after refusing an order by the Supreme Court of Iran to recant his faith. This demonstrates the Iranian regime’s continued unwillingness to abide by its constitutional and international obligations to respect religious freedom. I pay tribute to the courage shown by Pastor Nadarkhani who has no case to answer and call on the Iranian authorities to overturn his sentence.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury broke his silence to express 'deep concern' at the sentence faced by Pastor Nadarkhani, and at the persecution of all religious minorities in Iran. But despite seeking to intervene directly in the case of murderer Troy Davis, and despite being opposed in principle to the death penalty, the Holy See has not uttered a word. Iran views Evangelical Protestants as 'corrupt and deviant'. Does His Holiness agree?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani to be hanged in Iran - for converting to Christianity

It really is quite incredible. Last week, a convicted murderer, Troy Davis, was finally executed in the United States, and it seemed as though the entire British (and EU) Establishment arose to denounce the barbarism. Even Pope Benedict XVI appealed for clemency.

Yet today, Iran is scheduled to hang a Christian pastor for 'apostasy', and the collective silence from our scurvy politicians, trappist churchmen and hypocritical media is positively deafening.

Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was found guilty two years ago of 'apostasy', even though he was never a practising Muslim. His guilt was determined because he 'has Muslim ancestry' (which is a kind of convenient catch-all in a place like Iran), and he was sentenced to death. That sentence may be suspended if he renounce his faith. This week, in court, he has twice refused to recant. A third refusal today will result in his execution.

His Grace knows a thing or two about recanting and the inevitable consequences of recanting the recantation. There is no greater torture of the soul. Yousef Nadarkhani is bound upon a wheel of fire, knowing in his heart that he is faithful to his Lord and Saviour, and yet every fibre of his flesh will be screaming to declare that there is no god except Allah and Muhammad is a messenger of Allah.

As the years of imprisonment, torture and solitary confinement have failed to break this man's faith, the Iranian authorities have tried to use his family against him. A year ago, Fatemah Pasindedih, his wife, was found guilty of apostasy. Her conviction was overturned on appeal, but the effects of all this trauma upon their two sons is unimaginable.

It is important to note that there is no Iranian criminal statute which requires the automatic execution of those who abandon Islam. The judges in this case appear to be relying on Article 8 of 'olvasileh-Tahrir' - a fatwa issued by the late Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 revolution, and also on edicts issued by Ayatollah Shirazi, one of Iran's present leaders. These appear to be based upon Shi'ite interpretations of the Qur'an and Hadith, and are in contravention of the international covenants to which Iran is a signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees freedom of religion and freedom to change one’s religion. They also violate article 23 of the Iranian Constitution, which states that no-one should be 'molested' or 'taken to task' simply for holding a certain belief.

Iran has ancient Armenian and Assyrian churches, but Pastor Nadarkhani's problem is that he is an Evangelical: he led a successful and growing 'house church' of some 400 souls. In Iran, Evangelicals are viewed as being 'corrupt and deviant', not least because they 'spread'.

Of course, Pastor Nadarkhani is just one of thousands who face persecution for their religious beliefs in Iran, including leaders of the Baha’i community who are presently serving 20 years for practising their faith, and hundreds of Sufi Muslims who have been flogged in public.

But this story does not involve 'apartheid Israel' or the 'barbaric United States'. It is simply about one Christian in Iran who wants to worship God in spirit and in truth, in accordance with the Gospel of Christ. The British media won't care much for that. So thank God for the blogs who can point you in the direction of the Iranian Embassy (or via here). Please make your protests known. Perhaps a word of support from the Foreign Secretary? Or is he too busy condemning Israel? The Prime Minister? Too preoccupied with planning? The Archbishop of Canterbury, perhaps? O, forget it.

Though the Greeks will default, we should not be too swift to claim that’s a good thing

This is a guest post by Andrew Lilico:

When we take out a loan, we undertake to repay. We make a promise. Even without an oath, our yes should be yes, our promises kept.

If we lend to someone that we believe cannot repay, we induce her to make a promise we believe she cannot keep. We thus induce her into an immoral act. A Benthamite would have it that we bear no responsibility, here. She entered into the deal freely – no-one forced her into it. The lender might take collateral or charge a very high interest rate, reflecting the risk. If both parties are willing, what is the problem? But the Christian should not regard this as adequate, any more so than when the same willing-trade argument is used to defend prostitution or slavery. Mere freedom not to participate does not make an immoral act any less immoral. If we induce someone to commit an immoral act – be it prostitution or promise-breaking – we are culpable. When Eck and Melanchthon commenced the Reformation era re-framing of thought about usury, they were focused upon the concept of lending to the relatively well-off, who were known to be well-placed to repay, and it was important that no harm was done or intended by the usurer.

When a nation takes out a loan, it undertakes to repay. If it does not do so, it break its promise. That is wrong. Greece has been a democracy throughout the period it acquired the vast majority of the debts it now owes. If the Greek population did not wish its government to borrow, it was free to vote for a different government. Greeks enjoyed lower taxes, higher public sector salaries, higher benefits, higher economic growth, and many of the other fruits of the debts it acquired. Did we see protests from Greeks about these benefits? No. The Greek population chose this path, when other paths were possible.

The Greeks will now default – we can be confident of that. But many commentators go further than observing the fact that they will default, to urging that they should, and that others are wrong to try to persuade them not to do so. Default there will be, but it will be a moral failing mainly of Greek making, not that of others. And it will not, in fact, truly be the case that the Greeks have no choice but to default. Not defaulting might involve many years of serious declines in Greek living standards, but even at the end of that period Greece would have a wealth per person much higher than that of most countries in the world. We would expect an Egyptian businessman, or a Peruvian home-owner to pay her debts; so why would it be immoral to hope that a much richer Greek might do so?

The attempts to bail out Greece with international funds are of course bailouts of the banks of other countries, under another name. It is wrong that poor German and British taxpayers keep the wealthy German and British bondholders and depositors in banks rich, despite the investment errors those wealthy people made. But it was not obviously wrong, in many cases, for banks to have lent money to Greece. At the time those loans were made, back in the halcyon days of the mid-2000s, banks had no conception that Greece might not repay. Perhaps they should have worried about that, but that is a different matter. These banks were not making immoral loans to a borrower they knew could not repay. They were merely making loans that, with the benefit of hindsight, we can now see were ill-advised – quite a different matter. If/When the Greeks now do not repay their loans, that is a moral failing of the Greeks, not of the banks.

But there are players out there that did indeed make loans to Greece at a time when it was clear that Greece would not be able to repay, immorally inducing the Greeks into promises they would not keep. Those players are the IMF and the EU. By the time of the 2010 (and now 2011) bailout packages, it was already obvious that the Greeks would eventually default. And that was widely understood even by the politicians and technocrats involved in putting together these bailouts. The point of the bailouts was not to save Greece – it was to delay default to a moment that was more convenient for the banking sector. But the effect was that Greece was induced to make promises it would not keep. That is immoral.

Thus the agents that are culpable here are not, in fact, the banks. Those in the wrong are the Greeks for refusing to pay (when they do so refuse) – the sin of promise-breaking - and the EU and IMF for making loans they knew would not be repaid – the sin of usury inducing promise-breaking.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Labour’s lightweight leader sells ‘Bargain Britain’

Frankly, Ed Miliband’s turgid conference speech isn’t worth a minute of His Grace’s time. Labour’s lightweight leader talked incessantly about a ‘new bargain’ with Britain, imposing the ‘right values’, that nothing will come of nothing, and alien versus predator or something like that. There was an assurance that Labour would not reverse any ‘Tory cuts’ (ie tacit assent), and then a thesis of explanation as to why these cuts were based on the ‘wrong values’ (the right ones nowhere defined). Astonishingly, he attacked Tony Blair and his NHS and Education reforms, and got an ovation from the assembled throng (with a few jeers aimed at Blair). The jokes were strained; the delivery dire. The speech was clumsy and confused; Ed Miliband halting and self-contradictory. It was a speech of illiberal, corporatist, socialist dogma for the benefit of sundry assembled trade union leaders. David Miliband could have done better. Frankly, so could Harriet Harman. For the sake of Labour and the country, the speechwriter needs sacking and Ed Miliband replacing.

The Big Fat Greek Default

It is axiomatic that taxation in a democracy must come not only with representation, but also with justice: the people must give consent for the tax to be levied and assent to the level of that taxation. Once that assent is removed, collection becomes impossible. Especially when a nation's tax collectors deem it to be onerous, and are themselves advising the people not to pay. The Greeks are being buried beneath a tax burden which may suit Germany, but will plunge Greece into political instability, social unrest and even civil war. If the politicians cannot sort this out, a military coup is not an impossibility. This is Greece, after all.

EU politicians have spent months assuring us that the bailouts are working: that Greece will not default. We, of course, knew otherwise. Greece is insolvent, broke, bankrupt: its government cannot repay its debts and will never be able to do so. Pumping in bailouts of billions of euros may make the country liquid for a time, but it is nothing but political sticking plaster. It will not improve solvency; it merely delays the inevitable.

When a nation does not bear the consequences of its actions, its behaviour is distorted. ‘Moral hazard’ is a natural consequence of insulating the profligate from punitive judgement. Greece would have behaved differently if its people had been fully exposed from the outset to the risk, because pain encourages responsibility.

Pope Benedict XVI observed a few years ago that the global financial crisis ‘shows the futility of money and ambition’. He said: ‘He who builds only on visible and tangible things like success, career and money builds the house of his life on sand. We are now seeing, in the collapse of major banks, that money vanishes, it is nothing.’ And he added: ‘The only solid reality is the Word of God’.

As the IMF, EU and ECB troika move to sustain the banks during the imminent Greek 'orderly' default, the banks are insulated against the just consequences of their irresponsible lending. 'Moral Hazard' originally referred to the prospect that insurance distorts behaviour: when holders of fire insurance take less precaution with respect to avoiding fire or when holders of health insurance use more healthcare than they would if they were not insured. Thus it is that a party insulated from risk may behave differently from the way it would behave if it were fully exposed to the risk.

When we do not bear the consequences of our actions, there is indeed the creation of a false sense of security. While abortion is available on-tap, why not indulge in endless irresponsible sex? And so it is that the ECB/EU/IMF are granting the banks endless abortions, because the consequences of delivering the children conceived during their age of irresponsibility are too frightening to contemplate.

Banks and building societies are in the business of lending money, and the risks of doing so are offset by the potential for making high returns. But a moral hazard arises when those banks and building societies enjoy all the fruits of the good years but are bailed out in the lean years. Shareholders appoint boards of directors who make decisions on risky loans, and they all profit when the investment turns out well. But His Grace is more than irked that it is he who shall subsidise their lean years, especially since he never profited during their years of plenty. It is a perverse financial morality when the humble and oppressed taxpayer is forced bear part of the burden of risky financial decisions made by irresponsible lending institutions.

Consider the home. For what family can survive or function without one? And then consider the effects of moral hazard upon the peace and security of domesticity. The whole Euro-crisis was inevitable precisely because it wasn’t so much built on sand, but on thin air. Greece never actually fufilled the Maastricht convergence criteria in the first place: her accession to the single currency was a mechanism of absolving themselves of risk. The euro exposed the Greeks to debt not only above the value of their assets, but beyond their means ever to repay. The ECB sold this debt on to other EU banks, who in turn shifted it on to other EU banks. They were all hedging (and praying) against the risk of default, and pushing those risks even further along.

Reliance on central banks coming to rescue as lender of last resort is bound to discourage prudent behaviour. When a government guarantees the liabilities of a financial institution, it also risks weakening the currency and causing an increase in interest rates, with all the consequent unemployment, recession, inflation and increased poverty. This is an undoubted moral issue, for people are reduced to hardship and depression, firms are condemned to closure, more workers to unemployment and more families to homelessness through unprecedented levels of repossession. The total number of suicides, heart attacks, divorces and mental breakdowns is never known.

God cares for the poor, the oppressed, and the underdogs in society. He pours his wrath upon those who corrupt justice or create economic machines designed to provide more wealth for the wealthy and deprive the poor. The story of Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21 establishes that authorities are not free to pursue any policy they please or to ride roughshod over the rights of the poor. These same concerns are vehemently expressed by the prophets Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah, writing in the 8th century BC. God demands conscience above political conviction, and a government which places narrow economic considerations above liberty and justice is guilty of worshipping Mammon above God.

Greece is no longer sovereign, for she has abdicated her control over these crucial powers of state to a foreign power. Greece is no longer a democracy, for whoever is elected must now make their supplications to the German Caesar, for it is in Berlin that the power now resides, and it is thence that fiscal morality is defined.

And so we arrive at what Pope Benedict referred to as the ‘Godless character of modern culture’, with the warning that ‘Christianity in Europe could become extinct’:
‘If we look at history we are forced to notice the frequent coldness and rebellion of incoherent Christians. Because of this, God, while never shirking in his promise of salvation, often had to turn towards punishment.

‘Nations once rich in faith and vocations are losing their own identity under the harmful and destructive influence of a certain modern culture. There are those that, having decided that 'God is dead', declare themselves 'god’, believing themselves to be the only creator of their own fate, the absolute owner of the world. When men proclaim themselves absolute owners of themselves and the only masters of creation, are they really going to be able to construct a society where freedom, justice and peace reign?

‘Is it not more likely — as demonstrated by news headlines every day — that the arbitrary rule of power, selfish interests, injustice and exploitation, and violence in all its forms, will extend their grip?’
Within this moral hazard the love of Mammon may indeed be seen as the root of all evil. But, as His Holiness observes, 'evil and death never have the final word’.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Eurogeddon- it's coming, it's certain, it's unavoidable

Dumbing down the Conservative Party

It appears that MPs are being encouraged to discuss fashion at next week’s party conference. Yes, that’s right, fashion. It’s a topic recommended by CCHQ in which ‘delegates might like to take an interest’. Paul Goodman at ConservativeHome notes that suggested topics for debate do not include the European Union. You see, the last thing CCHQ wants is for delegates (not representatives?) to ‘bang on’ about Europe. Good grief, no. And they probably won’t be encouraging discussions on planning, marriage, or HS2 either.

All this is consistent with the Conservative Party’s ever closer centralisation of power. If MPs or candidates do not comply with the request to discuss ‘fashion’, no doubt they will be deemed to have manifested an inappropriate ‘manner’ or ‘attitude’, the consequence of which will be demotion to the bank benches or removal from the Approved List of Candidates. No longer are local associations free to select who represents them: CCHQ advances those it favours, and its mechanism for dividing the sheep from the goats is increasingly opaque. There is no openness, no accountability, and no appeal against arbitrary judgement. While David Cameron preaches localism, devolution, subsidiarity and democracy to the nation, his own party is dedicated to centralisation, secret bureaucracy and 'star chamber' justice.

Over recent months CCHQ have been culling their ‘Approved List’. His Grace has now been contacted by 28 of these ‘excised’ candidates, many of whom have been loyal party members for decades, including former local association chairmen and deputy chairmen, with impressive CVs of devoted service to their communities and a clear commitment to traditional Conservative principles. Some even fought seats in the 2010 general election, and managed to increase the Conservative share of the vote. It is noteworthy that 24 of these 28 have either written or spoken on ‘Europe’, expressing the view that our ‘relationship’ with the EU is not entirely in the British national interest. There’s not a lot CCHQ can do stop MPs ‘banging on’ about ‘Europe’, but they are omnipotent in determining the ‘type’ of candidate who is advanced.

Ivan Massow (portrait above) is on the Approved List of Candidates.

His Grace would like to remind his readers that Mr Massow was once a feted by the great and the good at CCHQ as the incarnation of everything the party purports to stand for: in 1999 he was even chosen to accompany Baroness Thatcher to a party conference. He then left the party over its intolerant attitude (as he saw it) to homosexuality. He caused immense damage when he defected to Labour, branding William Hague ‘prejudiced and ignorant’ and the Conservative party ‘nasty and intolerant’. He said Conservatives ‘chime with the most base values and claw away at national insecurities’. He accused the party of ‘stirring up prejudice and fear’. He then launched a self-indulgent quest to become Mayor of London, campaigning against the official Conservative candidate and in contravention of the party’s constitution.

Yet he is now, once again, an ‘approved candidate’ for the Conservative Party.

It is difficult to understand how someone could bring the Conservative Party into such disrepute and publicly insult the Leader, and yet remain somehow ‘approved’. Approved for what?

Judging by his portrait, perhaps he knows a thing or two about fashion. But one has to wonder why CCHQ appears to place no value at all on loyalty, discernment, knowledge, and personal judgement.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Troy Davis: "For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls."


This is a guest post by Zach Johnstone:

The last words of Troy Davis, executed in the early hours of Thursday morning, resonate with those who read them precisely because they remind us of the inveterate reality that miscarriages of justice can, and do, take place. Evidence that may at one time seem irrefutable can later be shown to be without foundation or, at the very least, insufficient to warrant the ending of a life. The circumstances surrounding the Davis trial were dubious, the testimonies questionable and the evidence insubstantial. In a fate reminiscent of the case of Teresa Lewis in late 2010 (and countless others), we have been made bluntly aware of the irremediable nature of a death sentence – there are no grey areas when it comes to such a punishment, and no opportunities for reconsideration.

Irrespective of the extent to which Davis was complicit in the murder of policeman Mark MacPhail in Georgia in 1989, the mere possibility of his innocence and the court’s subsequent response is reason enough for us to look closely at the implications of the reinstatement of the death penalty in the United Kingdom. The ambiguity surrounding Davis’ guilt - and the need to explore the case’s wider ethical repercussions - is particularly pertinent given that the two e-petitions seeking debate in Parliament on capital punishment have, at the time of writing, collectively attracted more than 50,000 signatures, a matter upon which His Grace has previously ruminated. But what if such cases were to arise in the UK? Are there incontrovertible benefits to be arrived at by way of sentencing criminals to death? Would it ever be permissible to tacitly consent to the occasional innocent death via wrongful conviction if the overall effect on society was positive?

Without doubt, the most commonly deployed argument from those in favour of capital punishment is its utility as a deterrent against heinous crimes such as rape and murder. On Thursday night’s edition of Question Time, the newly-elected Conservative MP Priti Patel propounded this theory, insisting that if capital punishment were in place a fall in crime would logically follow. She is far from alone; Charlie Wolf, the American broadcaster, wrote yesterday that “one only has to look at studies and statistics concerning murderers who have been let out to kill again to realise that the death penalty does work as a deterrent”. It is a view that is seemingly logically consistent at first glance, yet despite Mr Wolf’s appeal to ‘statistics’, he helpfully fails to offer anything in the way of quantitative data.

A little digging, however, soon reveals that the ‘deterrence’ argument is not as black and white as it is often presented; a study published in 1998 detailing murder rates in the world’s major cities revealed that the number of murders per 100,000 citizens in London stood at 2.1. In Philadelphia, where capital punishment is very much in operation, the figure stood at 27.4. These figures are not, of course, gospel – for one thing, any number of extenuating factors aside from capital punishment – be they social, economic or cultural - could account for such variations. What seems clear, however, is that the deterrence argument is not a trump card. In the face of the threat of death, experience from other countries demonstrates that murders will continue apace, with little evidence that criminals feel put off by the prospect of losing their life.

Yet what of those who readily acknowledge this reality and yet still advocate the reintroduction of capital punishment? The overriding sentiment here is seemingly one of revenge and reprisal borne out of contempt for the perpetrators of atrocious acts of violence. Justification of this viewpoint is in keeping with ‘an eye for an eye’; if you are prepared to end a life, it therefore follows that you must expect yours to end too. There is, I believe, cause to argue that this perspective holds some weight – whilst some may contend that this is no way in which to carry out justice in a civilised society, it is patently observable that those charged with murder thought little of civility when committing the most merciless crimes imaginable. The problem, however, arises when we delve deeper into the implications of a death sentence, given the propensity of legal systems in all countries to (quite frankly) get it wrong. To be placed on death row has, time and time again, proven not to be absolute evidence of guilt, and there is little to suggest that this would change in the United Kingdom.

To take the example of Philadelphia once more, it is interesting to note that between 1986 and 2005 six people were exonerated whilst awaiting execution on death row, narrowly avoiding paying the ultimate price for a crime that they did not commit. These are the (relatively) lucky few, however, and clearly do not represent all innocent people who find themselves erroneously charged with grievous deeds. Whether innocent or, as in the case of Troy Davis, where the evidence gradually dissipates and leaves the principle of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ in tatters, there is a need in any intelligent discussion of capital punishment to acknowledge the axiom that innocent people are, from time to time, on the receiving end of misappropriated death sentences. Where high-profile mass murderers such as Saddam Hussein are concerned, many of us instinctively and unreservedly support execution, however where there is reason to suspect innocence, cases such as that of Troy Davis have demonstrated (if it were needed) the utterly unparalleled consequences of sentencing individuals to death.

If we are to have a sensible debate surrounding the death penalty, there is a fundamental need to learn the lessons of other countries; to recognise the myriad failings of US states, most importantly their failure to categorically determine guilt or innocence in a multiplicity of cases, is essential. We must also dispense with the formulaic notion that capital punishment results in a decline in the number of murders, a notion that runs up against difficulties as soon as it is subjected to quantitative analysis. Evidence would have to be beyond doubt, and no stone left unturned. Ultimately, of course, there is rarely absolute certitude (save in the case of confessions) when it comes to cases of such severity. Whether or not we can abide the loss of the occasional innocent life in order to ensure that the overwhelmingly guilty majority receive a punishment befitting their crime is a pressing issue, and one to which there is no obvious answer. It is for individuals to delve into their consciences, to debate and discuss, and to ultimately arrive at their own moral conclusions. On balance, however, I find myself opposed to the reinstatement of capital punishment: the loss of even one innocent life in the name of retribution is, I believe, too great a price to pay.

(Addendum [by His Grace]: the sad case of Cameron Todd Willingham).

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Pope's speeches at Martin Luther's monastery


Pope Benedict XVI has visited the monastery of the man who ignited the Reformation. The Pope made two speeches, both reproduced below. Perhaps sometime soon, as a manifesly generous gesture of true ecumenism, the Vatican might consider Martin Luther as a candidate for beatification, in honour of his profound prayer life, his generous attitude to accepting sacrifice and the genuine and practical love he had for the poor. But above all, for his his holiness, the sanctity of his intellect, his love for God, His Word, and the holy life, and for cleansing the Church of error. He is, beyond dispute, a true Doctor of the Church.

ADDRESS OF POPE BENEDICT XVI
ECUMENICAL PRAYER GATHERING
AUGUSTINIAN CONVENT
ERFURT
23 SEPTEMBER 2011


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through them” (Jn 17:20). According to the Gospel of John, Jesus spoke these words to the Father in the Upper Room. He intercedes for coming generations of believers. He looks beyond the Upper Room, towards the future. He also prayed for us. And he prayed for our unity. This prayer of Jesus is not simply something from the past. He stands before the Father, for ever making intercession for us. At this moment he also stands in our midst and he desires to draw us into his own prayer. In the prayer of Jesus we find the very heart of our unity. We will become one if we allow ourselves to be drawn into this prayer. Whenever we gather in prayer as Christians, Jesus’ concern for us, and his prayer to the Father for us, ought to touch our hearts. The more we allow ourselves to be drawn into this event, the more we grow in unity.

Did Jesus’ prayer go unheard? The history of Christianity is in some sense the visible element of this drama in which Christ strives and suffers with us human beings. Ever anew he must endure the rejection of unity, yet ever anew unity takes place with him and thus with the triune God. We need to see both things: the sin of human beings, who reject God and withdraw within themselves, but also the triumphs of God, who upholds the Church despite her weakness, constantly drawing men and women closer to himself and thus to one another. For this reason, in an ecumenical gathering, we ought not only to regret our divisions and separations, but we should also give thanks to God for all the elements of unity which he has preserved for us and bestows on us ever anew. And this gratitude must be at the same time a resolve not to lose, at a time of temptations and perils, the unity thus bestowed.

Our fundamental unity comes from the fact that we believe in God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth. And that we confess that he is the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The highest unity is not the solitude of a monad, but rather a unity born of love. We believe in God – the real God. We believe that God spoke to us and became one of us. To bear witness to this living God is our common task at the present time.

Does man need God, or can we do quite well without him? When, in the first phase of God’s absence, his light continues to illumine and sustain the order of human existence, it appears that things can also function without God. But the more the world withdraws from God, the clearer it becomes that man, in his hubris of power, in his emptiness of heart and in his longing for satisfaction and happiness, increasingly loses his life. A thirst for the infinite is indelibly present in human beings. Man was created to have a relationship with God; we need him. Our primary ecumenical service at this hour must be to bear common witness to the presence of the living God and in this way to give the world the answer which it needs. Naturally, an absolutely central part of this fundamental witness to God is a witness to Jesus Christ, true man and true God, who lived in our midst, suffered and died for us and, in his resurrection, flung open the gates of death. Dear friends, let us strengthen one another in this faith! This is a great ecumenical task which leads us into the heart of Jesus’ prayer.

The seriousness of our faith in God is shown by the way we live his word. In our own day, it is shown in a very practical way by our commitment to that creature which he wished in his own image: to man. We live at a time of uncertainty about what it means to be human. Ethics are being replaced by a calculation of consequences. In the face of this, we as Christians must defend the inviolable dignity of human beings from conception to death – from issues of prenatal diagnosis to the question of euthanasia. As Romano Guardini once put it: “Only those who know God, know man.” Without knowledge of God, man is easily manipulated. Faith in God must take concrete form in a common defence of man. To this defence of man belong not only these fundamental criteria of what it means to be human, but above all and very specifically, love, as Jesus taught us in the account of the final judgement (Mt 25): God will judge us on how we respond to our neighbour, to the least of his brethren. Readiness to help, amid the needs of the present time and beyond our immediate circle, is an essential task of the Christian.

This is true first and foremost in our personal lives as individuals. It also holds true in our community, as a people and a state in which we must all be responsible for one another. It holds true for our continent, in which we are called to European solidarity. Finally, it is true beyond all frontiers: today Christian love of neighbour also calls for commitment to justice throughout the world. I know that Germans and Germany are doing much to enable all men and women to live in dignity, and for this I would like to express deep gratitude.

In conclusion, I would like to mention an even deeper dimension of our commitment to love. The seriousness of our faith is shown especially when it inspires people to put themselves totally at the disposal of God and thus of other persons. Great acts of charity become concrete only when, on the ground, we find persons totally at the service of others; they make the love of God credible. People of this sort are an important sign of the truth of our faith.

Prior to the Pope’s visit there was some talk of an “ecumenical gift” which was expected from this visit. There is no need for me to specify the gifts mentioned in this context. Here I would only say that this reflects a political misreading of faith and of ecumenism. In general, when a Head of State visits a friendly country, contacts between the various parties take place beforehand to arrange one or more agreements between the two states: by weighing respective benefits and drawbacks a compromise is reached which in the end appears beneficial for both parties, so that a treaty can then be signed. But the faith of Christians does not rest on such a weighing of benefits and drawbacks. A self-made faith is worthless. Faith is not something we work out intellectually or negotiate between us. It is the foundation for our lives. Unity grows not by the weighing of benefits and drawbacks but only by entering ever more deeply into the faith in our thoughts and in our lives. In the past fifty years, and especially after the visit of Pope John Paul II some thirty years ago, we have drawn much closer together, and for this we can only be grateful. I willingly think of the meeting with the Commission led by Bishop Lohse, in which this kind of joint growth in reflecting upon and living the faith was practised. To all those engaged in that process – and especially, on the Catholic side, to Cardinal Lehmann – I wish to express my deep gratitude. I will refrain from mentioning other names – the Lord knows them all. Together we can only thank the Lord for the paths of unity on which he has led us, and unite ourselves in humble trust to his prayer: Grant that we may all be one, as you are one with the Father, so that the world may believe that he has sent you (cf. Jn 17:21).

ADDRESS OF POPE BENEDICT XVI
MEETING WITH REPRESENTATIVES OF
THE EVANGELICAL (LUTHERAN) CHURCHES OF GERMANY
AUGUSTINIAN CONVENT
ERFURT
23 SEPTEMBER 2011


Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I begin to speak, I would like first of all to thank you for this opportunity to come together with you. I am particularly grateful to Pastor Schneider for greeting me and welcoming me into your midst with his kind words. At the same time I want to express my thanks for the particularly gracious gesture that our meeting can be held in this historic location.

As the Bishop of Rome, it is deeply moving for me to be meeting representatives of Council of the EKD here in the ancient Augustinian convent in Erfurt. This is where Luther studied theology. This is where he was ordained a priest in 1507. Against his father’s wishes, he did not continue the study of Law, but instead he studied theology and set off on the path towards priesthood in the Order of Saint Augustine. On this path, he was not simply concerned with this or that. What constantly exercised him was the question of God, the deep passion and driving force of his whole life’s journey. “How do I receive the grace of God?”: this question struck him in the heart and lay at the foundation of all his theological searching and inner struggle. For him theology was no mere academic pursuit, but the struggle for oneself, which in turn was a struggle for and with God.

“How do I receive the grace of God?” The fact that this question was the driving force of his whole life never ceases to make an impression on me. For who is actually concerned about this today – even among Christians? What does the question of God mean in our lives? In our preaching? Most people today, even Christians, set out from the presupposition that God is not fundamentally interested in our sins and virtues. He knows that we are all mere flesh. Insofar as people today believe in an afterlife and a divine judgement at all, nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately he mercifully overlooks our small failings. But are they really so small, our failings? Is not the world laid waste through the corruption of the great, but also of the small, who think only of their own advantage? Is it not laid waste through the power of drugs, which thrives on the one hand on greed and avarice, and on the other hand on the craving for pleasure of those who become addicted? Is the world not threatened by the growing readiness to use violence, frequently masking itself with claims to religious motivation? Could hunger and poverty so devastate parts of the world if love for God and godly love of neighbour – of his creatures, of men and women – were more alive in us? I could go on. No, evil is no small matter. Were we truly to place God at the centre of our lives, it could not be so powerful. The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – this burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.

Another important point: God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.

Now perhaps you will say: all well and good, but what has this to do with our ecumenical situation? Could this just be an attempt to talk our way past the urgent problems that are still waiting for practical progress, for concrete results? I would respond by saying that the first and most important thing for ecumenism is that we keep in view just how much we have in common, not losing sight of it amid the pressure towards secularization – everything that makes us Christian in the first place and continues to be our gift and our task. It was the error of the Reformation period that for the most part we could only see what divided us and we failed to grasp existentially what we have in common in terms of the great deposit of sacred Scripture and the early Christian creeds. The great ecumenical step forward of recent decades is that we have become aware of all this common ground and that we acknowledge it as we pray and sing together, as we make our joint commitment to the Christian ethos in our dealings with the world, as we bear common witness to the God of Jesus Christ in this world as our undying foundation.

The risk of losing this, sadly, is not unreal. I would like to make two points here. The geography of Christianity has changed dramatically in recent times, and is in the process of changing further. Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse? In any event, it raises afresh the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed – the question of our fundamental faith choice.

The second challenge to worldwide Christianity of which I wish to speak is more profound and in our country more controversial: the secularized context of the world in which we Christians today have to live and bear witness to our faith. God is increasingly being driven out of our society, and the history of revelation that Scripture recounts to us seems locked into an ever more remote past. Are we to yield to the pressure of secularization, and become modern by watering down the faith? Naturally faith today has to be thought out afresh, and above all lived afresh, so that it is suited to the present day. Yet it is not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness that we achieve this. This is a key ecumenical task. Moreover, we should help one another to develop a deeper and more lively faith. It is not strategy that saves us and saves Christianity, but faith – thought out and lived afresh; through such faith, Christ enters this world of ours, and with him, the living God. As the martyrs of the Nazi era brought us together and prompted the first great ecumenical opening, so today, faith that is lived from deep within amid a secularized world is the most powerful ecumenical force that brings us together, guiding us towards unity in the one Lord.

Palestine fed up with waiting for common EU position

On the elusive quest for Palestinian statehood, 'fed up' is apparently the present feeling of Mahmoud Abbas and his delegation. While His Grace thinks that may be something of an understatement, this quotation is worth reporting and disseminating far and wide:

"The Europeans have been taken aback by our decision but we are going ahead because we see they cannot agree with each other... We can't give up our rights while we wait for the Europeans to be united... (EU foreign relations chief) Ashton can't unite by force the 27 when they don't see eye to eye. She can't invent a foreign policy where there isn't one."

As it is with economic policy, so is it with foreign policy. The artificial and forced unification of nations which are disparate and diverse is doomed to failure. We have seen it in the USSR, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia... we can't even hold the United Kingdom together. The evidence is overwhelming that states established by treaties are fragile entities. Artificially created states invariably tend to revert back to their ethnic groupings, often with horrific wars of independence in the struggles for nation-state recognition.

Palestinian leaders declare: "...we see they cannot agree with each other."

Why are Europe's leaders so blinded to this fact?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dis-united Nations



Iran's President Ahmadinejad decided to deliver a speech to the United Nations attacking the United States for its history of slavery, causing two world wars, using a nuclear bomb against 'defenceless people', and imposing and supporting military dictatorships and totalitarian regimes on Asian, African and Latin American nations.

The President also accused some unidentified European countries of still using the Holocaust 'as the excuse to pay fine or ransom to the Zionists'. He said any question about the foundation of Zionism is condemned by the US 'as an unforgivable sin'.

Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the US Mission to the United Nations, said: "Mr Ahmadinejad (note the 'Mr') had a chance to address his own people's aspirations for freedom and dignity, but instead he again turned to abhorrent anti-Semitic slurs and despicable conspiracy theories."

What he didn't mention was his disputed re-election in June 2009 when Iranian security forces crushed opposition protests, the internal political turmoil that has sharply diminished his power, or Iran's nuclear program which the US and its allies believe is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.

Human Rights Watch's UN Director Philippe Bolopion said: "While President Ahmadinejad is lecturing the world from the UN podium, dissent is still being crushed ruthlessly in Iran and basic rights demanded by millions in the Arab world are brutally denied to Iranians who are demanding the same."

No doubt there will be calls for regime change. Indeed, there already have been.

Permit His Grace to remind the world... President Ahmadinejad is a political puppet in a smart suit (sometimes): in Iran, the real power is spiritual and resides with the ayatollahs, who (in Shi'a theology) are 'the word of the God'.

The Pope's speech to the Bundestag


As the first German pope in 500 years makes a state visit his Fatherland, here is the full text of his speech to the Bundestag:

The Listening Heart: Reflections on the Foundations of Law

Mr President of the Federal Republic,

Mr President of the Bundestag,

Madam Chancellor,

Mr President of the Bundesrat,

Ladies and Gentlemen Members of the House,

It is an honour and a joy for me to speak before this distinguished house, before the Parliament of my native Germany, that meets here as a democratically elected representation of the people, in order to work for the good of the Federal Republic of Germany. I should like to thank the President of the Bundestag both for his invitation to deliver this address and for the kind words of greeting and appreciation with which he has welcomed me. At this moment I turn to you, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, not least as your fellow-countryman who for all his life has been conscious of close links to his origins, and has followed the affairs of his native Germany with keen interest. But the invitation to give this address was extended to me as Pope, as the Bishop of Rome, who bears the highest responsibility for Catholic Christianity. In issuing this invitation you are acknowledging the role that the Holy See plays as a partner within the community of peoples and states. Setting out from this international responsibility that I hold, I should like to propose to you some thoughts on the foundations of a free state of law.

Allow me to begin my reflections on the foundations of law [Recht] with a brief story from sacred Scripture. In the First Book of the Kings, it is recounted that God invited the young King Solomon, on his accession to the throne, to make a request. What will the young ruler ask for at this important moment? Success – wealth – long life – destruction of his enemies? He chooses none of these things. Instead, he asks for a listening heart so that he may govern God’s people, and discern between good and evil (cf. 1 Kg 3:9). Through this story, the Bible wants to tell us what should ultimately matter for a politician. His fundamental criterion and the motivation for his work as a politician must not be success, and certainly not material gain. Politics must be a striving for justice, and hence it has to establish the fundamental preconditions for peace. Naturally a politician will seek success, as this is what opens up for him the possibility of effective political action. Yet success is subordinated to the criterion of justice, to the will to do what is right, and to the understanding of what is right. Success can also be seductive and thus can open up the path towards the falsification of what is right, towards the destruction of justice. “Without justice – what else is the State but a great band of robbers?”, as Saint Augustine once said . We Germans know from our own experience that these words are no empty spectre. We have seen how power became divorced from right, how power opposed right and crushed it, so that the State became an instrument for destroying right – a highly organized band of robbers, capable of threatening the whole world and driving it to the edge of the abyss. To serve right and to fight against the dominion of wrong is and remains the fundamental task of the politician. At a moment in history when man has acquired previously inconceivable power, this task takes on a particular urgency. Man can destroy the world. He can manipulate himself. He can, so to speak, make human beings and he can deny them their humanity. How do we recognize what is right? How can we discern between good and evil, between what is truly right and what may appear right? Even now, Solomon’s request remains the decisive issue facing politicians and politics today.

For most of the matters that need to be regulated by law, the support of the majority can serve as a sufficient criterion. Yet it is evident that for the fundamental issues of law, in which the dignity of man and of humanity is at stake, the majority principle is not enough: everyone in a position of responsibility must personally seek out the criteria to be followed when framing laws. In the third century, the great theologian Origen provided the following explanation for the resistance of Christians to certain legal systems: “Suppose that a man were living among the Scythians, whose laws are contrary to the divine law, and was compelled to live among them … such a man for the sake of the true law, though illegal among the Scythians, would rightly form associations with like-minded people contrary to the laws of the Scythians.”

This conviction was what motivated resistance movements to act against the Nazi regime and other totalitarian regimes, thereby doing a great service to justice and to humanity as a whole. For these people, it was indisputably evident that the law in force was actually unlawful. Yet when it comes to the decisions of a democratic politician, the question of what now corresponds to the law of truth, what is actually right and may be enacted as law, is less obvious. In terms of the underlying anthropological issues, what is right and may be given the force of law is in no way simply self-evident today. The question of how to recognize what is truly right and thus to serve justice when framing laws has never been simple, and today in view of the vast extent of our knowledge and our capacity, it has become still harder.

How do we recognize what is right? In history, systems of law have almost always been based on religion: decisions regarding what was to be lawful among men were taken with reference to the divinity. Unlike other great religions, Christianity has never proposed a revealed body of law to the State and to society, that is to say a juridical order derived from revelation. Instead, it has pointed to nature and reason as the true sources of law – and to the harmony of objective and subjective reason, which naturally presupposes that both spheres are rooted in the creative reason of God. Christian theologians thereby aligned themselves with a philosophical and juridical movement that began to take shape in the second century B.C. In the first half of that century, the social natural law developed by the Stoic philosophers came into contact with leading teachers of Roman Law. Through this encounter, the juridical culture of the West was born, which was and is of key significance for the juridical culture of mankind. This pre-Christian marriage between law and philosophy opened up the path that led via the Christian Middle Ages and the juridical developments of the Age of Enlightenment all the way to the Declaration of Human Rights and to our German Basic Law of 1949, with which our nation committed itself to “inviolable and inalienable human rights as the foundation of every human community, and of peace and justice in the world”.

For the development of law and for the development of humanity, it was highly significant that Christian theologians aligned themselves against the religious law associated with polytheism and on the side of philosophy, and that they acknowledged reason and nature in their interrelation as the universally valid source of law. This step had already been taken by Saint Paul in the Letter to the Romans, when he said: “When Gentiles who have not the Law [the Torah of Israel] do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves … they show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness …” (Rom 2:14f.). Here we see the two fundamental concepts of nature and conscience, where conscience is nothing other than Solomon’s listening heart, reason that is open to the language of being. If this seemed to offer a clear explanation of the foundations of legislation up to the time of the Enlightenment, up to the time of the Declaration on Human Rights after the Second World War and the framing of our Basic Law, there has been a dramatic shift in the situation in the last half-century. The idea of natural law is today viewed as a specifically Catholic doctrine, not worth bringing into the discussion in a non-Catholic environment, so that one feels almost ashamed even to mention the term. Let me outline briefly how this situation arose. Fundamentally it is because of the idea that an unbridgeable gulf exists between “is” and “ought”. An “ought” can never follow from an “is”, because the two are situated on completely different planes. The reason for this is that in the meantime, the positivist understanding of nature and reason has come to be almost universally accepted. If nature – in the words of Hans Kelsen – is viewed as “an aggregate of objective data linked together in terms of cause and effect”, then indeed no ethical indication of any kind can be derived from it. A positivist conception of nature as purely functional, in the way that the natural sciences explain it, is incapable of producing any bridge to ethics and law, but once again yields only functional answers. The same also applies to reason, according to the positivist understanding that is widely held to be the only genuinely scientific one. Anything that is not verifiable or falsifiable, according to this understanding, does not belong to the realm of reason strictly understood. Hence ethics and religion must be assigned to the subjective field, and they remain extraneous to the realm of reason in the strict sense of the word. Where positivist reason dominates the field to the exclusion of all else – and that is broadly the case in our public mindset – then the classical sources of knowledge for ethics and law are excluded. This is a dramatic situation which affects everyone, and on which a public debate is necessary. Indeed, an essential goal of this address is to issue an urgent invitation to launch one.

The positivist approach to nature and reason, the positivist world view in general, is a most important dimension of human knowledge and capacity that we may in no way dispense with. But in and of itself it is not a sufficient culture corresponding to the full breadth of the human condition. Where positivist reason considers itself the only sufficient culture and banishes all other cultural realities to the status of subcultures, it diminishes man, indeed it threatens his humanity. I say this with Europe specifically in mind, where there are concerted efforts to recognize only positivism as a common culture and a common basis for law-making, so that all the other insights and values of our culture are reduced to the level of subculture, with the result that Europe vis-à-vis other world cultures is left in a state of culturelessness and at the same time extremist and radical movements emerge to fill the vacuum. In its self-proclaimed exclusivity, the positivist reason which recognizes nothing beyond mere functionality resembles a concrete bunker with no windows, in which we ourselves provide lighting and atmospheric conditions, being no longer willing to obtain either from God’s wide world. And yet we cannot hide from ourselves the fact that even in this artificial world, we are still covertly drawing upon God’s raw materials, which we refashion into our own products. The windows must be flung open again, we must see the wide world, the sky and the earth once more and learn to make proper use of all this.

But how are we to do this? How do we find our way out into the wide world, into the big picture? How can reason rediscover its true greatness, without being sidetracked into irrationality? How can nature reassert itself in its true depth, with all its demands, with all its directives? I would like to recall one of the developments in recent political history, hoping that I will neither be misunderstood, nor provoke too many one-sided polemics. I would say that the emergence of the ecological movement in German politics since the 1970s, while it has not exactly flung open the windows, nevertheless was and continues to be a cry for fresh air which must not be ignored or pushed aside, just because too much of it is seen to be irrational. Young people had come to realize that something is wrong in our relationship with nature, that matter is not just raw material for us to shape at will, but that the earth has a dignity of its own and that we must follow its directives. In saying this, I am clearly not promoting any particular political party – nothing could be further from my mind. If something is wrong in our relationship with reality, then we must all reflect seriously on the whole situation and we are all prompted to question the very foundations of our culture. Allow me to dwell a little longer on this point. The importance of ecology is no longer disputed. We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly. Yet I would like to underline a further point that is still largely disregarded, today as in the past: there is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he listens to his nature, respects it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.

Let us come back to the fundamental concepts of nature and reason, from which we set out. The great proponent of legal positivism, Kelsen, at the age of 84 – in 1965 – abandoned the dualism of “is” and “ought”. He had said that norms can only come from the will. Nature therefore could only contain norms if a will had put them there. But this would presuppose a Creator God, whose will had entered into nature. “Any attempt to discuss the truth of this belief is utterly futile”, he observed. Is it really? – I find myself asking. Is it really pointless to wonder whether the objective reason that manifests itself in nature does not presuppose a creative reason, a Creator Spiritus?

At this point Europe’s cultural heritage ought to come to our assistance. The conviction that there is a Creator God is what gave rise to the idea of human rights, the idea of the equality of all people before the law, the recognition of the inviolability of human dignity in every single person and the awareness of people’s responsibility for their actions. Our cultural memory is shaped by these rational insights. To ignore it or dismiss it as a thing of the past would be to dismember our culture totally and to rob it of its completeness. The culture of Europe arose from the encounter between Jerusalem, Athens and Rome – from the encounter between Israel’s monotheism, the philosophical reason of the Greeks and Roman law. This three-way encounter has shaped the inner identity of Europe. In the awareness of man’s responsibility before God and in the acknowledgment of the inviolable dignity of every single human person, it has established criteria of law: it is these criteria that we are called to defend at this moment in our history.

As he assumed the mantle of office, the young King Solomon was invited to make a request. How would it be if we, the law-makers of today, were invited to make a request? What would we ask for? I think that, even today, there is ultimately nothing else we could wish for but a listening heart – the capacity to discern between good and evil, and thus to establish true law, to serve justice and peace. Thank you for your attention!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Church of England’s guilty silence on Fatherhood

This is a guest post by the Rev'd Julian Mann:

Jesus taught his followers to pray to 'Our Father which art in heaven' (Mt 6:9). It is therefore incongruous that the Church of England is not more vociferous and assiduous in speaking up for fatherhood.

In the wake of the August riots, secular politicians, such as Tottenham MP David Lammy , have spoken of the social problems caused by the absence of fathers. Well before the riots, Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens, a lay Anglican, warned of the unfolding social disaster resulting from the growth of the fatherless family. Mr Hitchens has long warned of the devastating impact especially on boys of the lack of a father's authority, a prediction that came devastatingly true in that explosion of evil in August.

But the institutional Church, despite its willingness to pronounce on a range of other socio-political issues, has not entered the fray.

Whilst social stability may not be an absolute requirement for the spread of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is necessary. Evangelism does suffer when societies become disordered. Also, the Church is or should be concerned about the general well-being of all people.

So why isn't the Church of the nation contending for fatherhood when Britain is broken because dad is either absent without leave or has been sent to the dog-house?

Cranmer's Curate was born in 1964. Think tank Civitas kindly provided him with a snap-shot of what has happened to the moral fabric of his beloved country roughly during his life-time. In 1960, there were three violent crimes against the person per 10,000 people in England and Wales. By 2010 that had risen to around 73 violent crimes against the person per 10,000 of population. During that period, the proportion of children growing up in a home with a resident father and mother fell dramatically – see Civitas's important 2002 publication Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family.

The latest figures of course exclude the huge number of violent crimes that go unreported, a fact to which any objective observer of the goings-on in an accident and emergency department in any UK hospital on a Friday or Saturday night will testify.

In contrast to the reticence of its clerical expositors, the Christian Bible is very far from silent about the crucial leadership role of fathers. According to the New Testament, fathers have the primary role in instructing their children in the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul addresses father not mothers when he says: ‘Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord’ (Eph 6:4).

The production by the Mothers' Union of their What Dads Add cards (to be given to fathers when their children are baptised) is a welcome initiative. But it is a pastoral rather than a prophetic move. Far better, and of much greater impact, would be a clear statement by the Church of England, endorsed by the MU, about the crucial leadership role of fathers in both the Church and the family and an explanation of the appalling spiritual, moral and social consequences of sidelining them.

The guilty silence of the institutional Church can only be explained by a spiritual and moral capitulation to the permissive society. A Church that was being prophetic for Christ against the cultural flow would have the recovery of fatherhood at the top of the agenda for its next General Synod rather than the innovation of women bishops.

Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge. He is an occasional columnist for Christian Today.

It is the Palestinians who oppose a two-state solution



Sometimes a little YouTube lecture says far more than a Cranmer homily...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cameron consults Blair over the ‘State of Palestine’

And thank God for that. When you need religio-geopolitical advice, it’s always worth seeking it from someone who understands the issues, grasps the theology, appreciates the history and isn’t overly concerned with popularity. Whatever you may think of Tony Blair, at least he looks at the proposal of the ‘State of Palestine’ through the prism of perspective.

And that detachment permits him to see that Middle East peace is not contingent on the carving up of Israel, but on the emerging Shi’a beast of Iran. It is President Ahmadinejad’s nuclear ambitions which herald Armageddon; not the weapons capability of Hamas. As the world focuses on the ascendant terrorist union of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hezbollah in Syria, and al-Qaeda in Lybia, it is Iran who nurtures and suckles them, irrespective of their Sunni heresy, for the goal which units them all is the eradication of the state of Israel; to drive the ‘vermin Jews’ into the sea; to rid the world of the ‘lethal birds of prey’ and to disinfect the region of ‘lethal bacteria’.

Tony Blair understands (in ways that Nick Clegg never will) that for Shi’a prophecy to be fulfilled, Iran must not only possess nuclear weapons, but use them – for both national glory and eternal salvation. The Jews must be ethnically cleansed from the region: there is no ‘two-state solution’ which will satisfy this evil, for there is no compromise to be had. President Ahmadinejad is not enriching uranium for some civilian energy programme, but for the production of a bomb by which Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni (or his successors) may ‘wipe Israel off the map’. They may then welcome the 12th Imam and usher in the new Islamic era – a supreme Shi’a Islamic Caliphate.

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

David Cameron may ‘do God’, but he doesn’t do theology. Especially where that theology becomes politics. Liberated from the constraints of office and the inconveniences of democracy, Tony Blair is free to do both. And he grasps that Iran’s foreign policy is theological and can mean only one thing for Israel. He knows that the Shi’as hold to the divine promise made in the Al-Israa Sura (Sura 17) that they will liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque – the first 'Kaba' – and will enter it as they have entered it the first time (Sura 17, ayat 7). And the prophetic foundation is the message of Mohammad that Islam will enter every house and will spread over the entire world.

President Ahmadinejad is dedicated and Iran’s Ayatollahs pledged with their lives to the ‘liberation of Palestine’ - all of ‘Palestine’. This is Iran’s final solution. If they can get a group like Hamas to do their bidding in the meantime, so much the better. But be not deceived, the quest for Palestinian nationhood and intermittent terrorist atrocities are just a lot of smoke and mirrors to deflect from the real grievance and the ultimate conflict. And should Israel fall, there can be no hope for the West.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What if an EU referendum went the same way as AV?


With news that there are advanced plans afoot for our mass desexualisation, the establishment of ‘gay marriage’, and the construction of thousands more grotesque (and useless) windmills on our green and pleasant land – all, His Grace is sure you will agree – priority concerns as the economy melts down and civilisation crumbles around our feet, it transpires that another Conservative MP has put his head above the parapet and demanded a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. His Grace has lost count of those who are getting restless or repenting and recanting their previous Europhile delusion.

While ConHome is jubilant, and the grassroots doubtless urging Mr Pritchard to have a chat with 1922 Chairman Graham Brady in an attempt to persuade him to come out as well, His Grace would like to ask an inconvenient question.

Say the Prime Minister also recants and grants the much longed-for referendum on the EU. What then?

Where is the cohesive planning and preparation for victory? How do you propose to unite the disparate and disjunctive voices to pool their efforts and resources in the pursuit of a common objective? We have inter alia the Campaign for an Independent Britain, the Bruges Group, the Democracy Movement, the Better Off Out campaign, the European Foundation, The People's Pledge, The Freedom Association, Open Europe, Conservatives Against a Federal Europe, EU Referendum Blog, Global Vision...

And the reality is that the leaders and members of some of these groups thoroughly despise those who lead and support others, so much so that they are barely on speaking terms and regularly berate each other in their respective fora. Good grief, even UKIP can’t coalesce around a single political strategy, with its own (few) elected politicians resigning, defecting and demanding a change of leader. The anti-EU movement is defined by that to which it is antithetical: there is no unifying movement towards any positive vision, and that includes even the idea of a referendum. In truth, there are some very prominent individuals who are so unyielding in their infallible opinions and uncompromising in their dispositions that unity of purpose is an impossible ask: the contempt they have for others is palpable. Even the arch-Eurosceptic Bill Cash MP was recently heard to criticise the arch proponent of 'Better Off Out' Douglas Carswell MP - for having 'extreme views' on the EU! We not only have the People's Front of Judaea and the Judaean People's front, but the front and rear of the people faffing around about semantics in Samaria while the occupation and destruction of Judaea continues apace.

We were told time and again before the AV referendum that there was a ‘progressive majority’ in favour of electoral reform; that people wanted change, a different politics, a fairer system, a more democratic method of electing their representatives. After decades of wailing and wandering in the wilderness, the Liberal Democrats got their manna and quail.

But they blew the holy grail.

The pro-AV campaign was disunited, poorly articulated, badly led, painfully patronised and hopelessly disorganised. Against all that, its generous and credible funding went absolutely nowhere.

Similarly, on the matter of an EU referendum, we are told time and again that in excess of 50 per cent of the nation would vote to leave the EU tomorrow. And so those who yearn for liberation continue to demand such a referendum. Despite the chronic divisions in the ‘withdrawal’ camp, the demand is still for this strategy – the success of which would be wholly contingent upon unity, charismatic leadership, creative strategy, credible patronage and very generous funding.

And Sir James Goldsmith is, very sadly, no longer with us.

The disparate, swivel-eyed, little-Englander, extremist, Right-Wing Withdrawalists would be up against the unified, enlightened at utterly reasonable voices of the entire Establishment – Government, BBC, Church (CofE and RC), and even the Monarchy itself.

Let us not forget that the 1975 referendum on the UK’s continuing membership of the EEC was held at a time when previous polls had suggested a clear majority in favour of withdrawal. That poll was overturned by charismatic politicians, cross-party consensus, an unequally-funded campaign, clever marketing and the erosion of reason by omnipotent pro-EEC forces. We saw it again (and again) in Denmark over the Maastricht Treaty; in France over the Constitution for Europe; and in Ireland over the Lisbon Treaty. If ‘No’ is not an option, ‘Out’ becomes be an unthinkable heresy.

His Grace despairs, and cannot for the life of him work out why those who demand a referendum are not already planning, plotting, scheming, strategising and preparing for victory. Where is the media onslaught? Let us hear of falling taxes, reduced burdens on business, rising employment, increased standards of living, and a prosperous UK as part of EFTA, the Commonwealth and the free-trade world. Instead of deploying the language of military defeat - terms like ‘Out’, ‘Oppression’ and ‘Withdrawal’ - let us hear talk of ‘Freedom’, 'Democracy', ‘Prosperity’ and ‘Britain in the World’. Yet getting even that unified message out of anti-EU organisations would be like herding cats. The Europhile Establishment is vastly more experienced are far more advanced in such matters. Nick Clegg was quite simply not the man to lead the pro-AV campaign, and none better emerged. So, please, for God’s sake, stop banging on about a referendum until someone emerges who could win it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Edward Leigh on ‘gay marriage’: “A recognizably Conservative Government would not do this”

Lest it should suddenly and inexplicably disappear, His Grace reproduces below an article on the Cornerstone Blog by Edward Leigh MP. It will be interesting to see how Non-Conformist, Anglican and Roman Catholic MPs vote on this (not to mention adherents of Judaism and Islam); and even more interesting to observe into which lobby Cabinet Minister Iain Duncan Smith decides to walk (unless, of course, he is 'unavoidably' absent from the vote). It will also be interesting to discover if Cranmer's Law applies equally to a respected Roman Catholic MP as it clearly did to Roger Helmer MEP and (naturally) to His Grace on this matter.
Statement by Edward Leigh on Same-sex Marriage & Civil Partnerships

I am astonished and disappointed that a Conservative Government, albeit a coalition one, has announced it is consulting on whether to do away with traditional marriage which has always been between a man and a woman.

The British are a tolerant people and it is right that homosexual people should be allowed to get on with their lives. But this does not extend to mangling the language of marriage so that, for the sake of the tiny number of gay people who prefer marriage to civil partnership, everyone else in society must have the definition of their own marriage altered forever.

Once we have departed from the universally understood framework of marriage, there is no logical reason why the new alternative institution should be limited to two people. Why not three? Or thirty-three?

Same-sex couples already have all the rights of marriage in the form of civil partnership. Why must they also have the language of marriage? No doubt because it is an important symbol to them. But it is also an important symbol to many other people. Must the religious and cultural heritage of the whole nation be overturned to suit the demands of a minority even of the gay community itself?

We should also be concerned about liberty. This is all part of a process whereby debate and honest language is manipulated and suppressed by a kind of Newspeak. In recent years people who say things gay rights groups do not like have often found themselves being reported to the police. If the government presses ahead and replaces marriage with a unisex institution, what is the future for those who say they do not believe a man can have a husband or a woman a wife?

This would not be the action of a government whose primary function is to protect our traditional freedoms and values. A recognizably Conservative Government would not do this.

On the separate issue of legalising the registration of civil partnerships in churches, this is being promoted as defending religious freedom. In fact, this is an attack on the bedrock of society: marriage and religion.

When Civil Partnerships were brought in we were assured that they were not marriage. This pledge has now been broken. A marriage is a union between a man and a woman making a sincere attempt to stay together for life with a view to raising children. Civil Partnerships, by definition, cannot be this. The whole point of banning Civil Partnerships in a place of worship was to make clear that they were not marriages. This distinction will now be lost.

Why is this an attack upon religion? Because sooner rather than later a Minister of Religion will be sued for refusing to conduct a gay marriage in Church. Even if our own courts stand firm, we can place little faith in the European Court of Human Rights. It will be argued, with some justification, that it is irrational and confusing for some churches to permit this and others not.

The Government seems to have lost the point of the Pope’s visit in September. He was arguing, and I agree, that religious people do not seek to impose their views on others. But they must be allowed their own space.

The Government has to recognize that this is a steam train on a collision course with the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. Same sex couples already have all the legal advantages of marriage and can have a blessing in those churches which want to do them without any change in the law.
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