Monday, June 30, 2014

Church of England's Wonga woe


"Church ethical investors defend their stake in Wonga. Un-*******-believable," tweets the Rev'd Giles Fraser. And he is absolutely right.

The Church of England's financial arm has an interest in the payday lending firm, believed to be around £100,000. But this apparently forms part of much bigger pooled fund, and it isn't possible to get rid of the Wonga element without risking as much as £9million on the whole package. So the Ethical Investment Advisory Group of the Church of England has decided to retain the shares in 5,853% APR Wonga, and they do so in a glossy brochure with an appeal to the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Mt 13:24-30): "Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn."

So, Wonga must prosper for the Church of England's investment fund to prosper. But when it comes to cashing in, the Wonga shares are not destroyed, as the parable ordains. Nor are the proceeds of exorbitant usury bound in separate bundles for (say) the specific alleviation of poverty. No, the shares are simply sold on to another investor, and the funds enrich priestly pension pots. The Ethical Investment Advisory Group explains:
Nevertheless, we are in the process of tightening our recommendations regarding investment restrictions, both in terms of the maximum percentage of restricted activities that may take place within permitted investments and our rules around pooled funds, which is where the investment in Wonga occurred. Pooled funds are often the only way to access certain asset classes and investment strategies – including venture capital, which can not only increase financial returns for investors but also serve society. Even so, difficult choices remain and it is inevitable that the investing bodies will from time to time graze their knees as they interact with a complex and ambiguous business world. But in our view, it is better to stay on the field of play than to sit on the sidelines.
And they helpfully illustrate this point with a picture:


Marvellous, isn't it?

The thing is, they have spectacularly missed the point. It may indeed be impossible to be 100% 'ethical' in one's investments, for shares in a hotel chain may indeed lead to porno films, and a stake in a bank might incorporate investment in military ordnance.

But when the Archbishop of Canterbury turned over the Wonga tables and "asked for aspects of ethical investment policy to be reviewed", he wasn't asking for a clever financial fudge: he clearly wanted rid of them, for they were a manifest embarrassment, and he said so.

He is of the view that Wonga is shamelessly exploitative and unethical, not to say 5,853% evil. He has advocated the establishment of a network of credit unions in order to help the poorest and most dispossessed in society, and explained his objective unequivocally: "I’ve met the head of Wonga," the Archbishop said, "and we had a very good conversation and I said to him quite bluntly ‘we’re not in the business of trying to legislate you out of existence, we’re trying to compete you out of existence’."

It's difficult to compete a company out of existence when you're active underpinning their share price.

It's difficult to make the money-lenders redundant when you're contributing to their accumulated wealth.

It is impossible to minister with integrity if you do not practise what you preach.

We are now at the point where the Ethical Investment Advisory Group of the Church of England is unethically undermining the ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury. They are permitting Mammon to subvert his mission to the poor and hinder his witness for justice, compassion and truth. It will not be possible for Archbishop Justin ever again to rail against Wonga usury without fingers pointing straight back into his face and his critics crying "Hypocrite!". They won't be interested in reasoned financial nuances and the subtle penalty clauses of 'pooled' investments.

Imagine for one moment if the Vatican Bank were found to have shares in Durex.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Church of England's "less than morally perfect" portfolio


If you rail against the usurious evils of Wonga, you really oughtn't to be surprised if you're called a hypocrite for enriching your own £6bn investment portfolio from its exorbitant payday loans. The Archbishop of Canterbury urged swift divestment: he wanted to "compete" Wonga out of existence. But the Church Commissioners have decided otherwise, principally because they stand to lose somewhere between £3m-9m if they ditch their Wonga shares.

The Church explains its new policy in this press release:
Ethical Investment Advisory Group - ethical investment restrictions tightened

The Church of England’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) has tightened its recommendations regarding investment restrictions. From this month none of the EIAG’s investment exclusions have a revenue threshold higher than 10%, a reduction on the previous 25% threshold.

The EIAG also announced that during 2013 it instructed votes for the Church Commissioners and Church of England Pensions Board on over 30,000 resolutions at approximately 3,000 company general meetings. Reflecting wider concern over executive remuneration packages, the EIAG withheld support in over 70% of cases.

In wider corporate engagement, church investors recorded important successes in the areas of both alcohol and pornography. After engagement with the EIAG, all three major UK-listed supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – published alcohol policies newly acknowledging the potential for alcohol to cause harm. In the area of pornography, church investor engagement with a major telecommunications company led to the company ceasing to promote pornographic material on its handsets in the UK.

The threshold reduction follows a review requested by the Archbishop of Canterbury in light of the “Wonga controversy.” As a consequence of the review process revenue thresholds used to exclude companies on account of their involvement in tobacco, gambling, high interest rate lending and human embryonic cloning have been capped at 10% from the previous threshold of 25%.

The annual review makes it clear that these new restrictions would not have prevented the exposure to Wonga which was in a pooled fund and which could not have been screened in the same way as direct holdings are.

Edward Mason, EIAG Secretary, said: “Exposure to restricted investments, like Wonga, can occur in pooled funds and the EIAG accepts this.” Commenting on the EIAG’s intention to propose a new pooled funds policy to the national investing bodies, he said: “The policy will specify controls on the use of pooled funds but will not bar their use.”

The EIAG will publish the new policy on pooled funds later once the investing bodies have agreed it. The annual review explains that pooled funds are often the only way to access certain asset classes and investment strategies – including venture capital which, along with increasing financial returns for investors, also serves society.

Writing in the report’s foreword, EIAG Chair James Featherby explains that the Commissioners’ indirect investment in Wonga highlighted some misconceptions about ethical investment, and in particular that its objective is to achieve a morally perfect portfolio.

“In our view Christian ethical investment is, instead, about fulfilling responsibilities to beneficiaries and trying to make a positive difference in society. The Church’s national investing bodies seek to do the latter through engagement with companies, partnerships with other investors, and participation in public policy initiatives. In this way they aspire to be part of the Church’s witness to the world.”
And so the negative publicity, bad press and 'outcries' will continue, as they rightly should.

Mammon is morally tainted. As the Chairman of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group says, "It is no more realistic to desire that they invest only in morally perfect companies than it is to desire that any of us should relate only to morally perfect individuals."

And so: "When engaging with companies the investing bodies seek positive momentum not perfection. We usually only recommend divestment where we see no genuine desire for change."

But if it is now the Church of England's policy to invest in blatantly unethical and immoral corporations in order to nudge them toward righteousness and salvation, why not enrich your less-than-morally-perfect portfolio from the proceeds of (say) pornography, prostitution, landmines, tobacco, or firms that exploit under-age workers in the developing world? Why divest oneself of shares in Israeli companies if by continuing the engagement you may bring to an end the appalling suffering of Palestinians and eradicate Israeli 'apartheid'?

Is socially-conscious investing a credible way of mitigating sin?

In 1758, the Quakers withdrew their investments from the extremely lucrative slave trade. They did not deem it consistent with the teachings of Christ to invest in evil in order to nudge it toward righteousness.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Archbishop of York attacks religious brainwashing


The Archbishop of York doesn't like the word 'radicalised', so he has called on all religious leaders to ensure that young Britons are not "brainwashed" into fighting and killing in the name of their faith. Dr Sentamu told Sky News:
"I don't want to use the word radicalising. I think it is brainwashing. We don't want our young people to be brainwashed believing really a lie, that by fighting and killing another person your religion becomes better. All religious leaders, whatever tradition they come from, have got a duty to work together to make sure that our young people are not being brainwashed into some kind of nonsense."
His Grace was struck by the first comment on this in the ensuing chat thread:
"I went to a catholic school, ok it was some years ago, but they brainwashed all the kids, or at least they tried, we were taught some nightmarish stuff, hate protestants, too many to put on here, but one sticks in my mind, I actually felt sorry for some of my friends because they were not catholic, we believed they would never know god because they weren't catholic, all religious schools try & brainwash the kids, we have to separate schools and religion, all it did for me was turn me against the church, it's all about controlling people, people are far too educated these days to fall for the churches rubbish. OH' and the begging bowl and the usher telling my dad, silver only today, I hate them. Richest business in the world, keep them all out of schools. They teach segregation."
Extremist atheists and secularists will aver that all religious indoctrination is 'brainwashing' that inflicts harm on children. Professor Richard Dawkins is persuaded that sex abuse does "arguably less long-term psychological damage" than being brought up in the Roman Catholic faith. He told Mehdi Hasan on al-Jazeera:
"There are shades of being abused by a priest, and I quoted an example of a woman in America who wrote to me saying that when she was seven years old she was sexually abused by a priest in his car. At the same time a friend of hers, also seven, who was of a Protestant family, died, and she was told that because her friend was Protestant she had gone to Hell and will be roasting in Hell forever. She told me of those two abuses, she got over the physical abuse; it was yucky but she got over it. But the mental abuse of being told about Hell, she took years to get over."
Accepting that religious 'radicalisation' is concerned with returning to the fundamentals or roots of one's faith, the Reformation was a radical pursuit. Martin Luther was a radical. His Grace is radical. Pope Benedict XVI was radical. Of course there are degrees of radicalisation, and His Grace isn't nearly radical enough for some (neither was Luther; nor was Pope Benedict XVI). But Dr Sentamu is concerned with the radicalisation which inspires killing in the name of God. The problem is that Mohammed did precisely that.

Of course, the vast majority of British Muslims are congenial and peaceable. They would quote from the Qur’an passages like Surah 2:190: ‘Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but do not begin hostilities, for God does not love aggressors’. The Archbishop of York would approve of that. The problem is, there are a few other British Muslims who prefer 'martydom', certainly the 400 or so about to return from Iraq and Syria, where they have been contending for their faith in the name of Allah.

And they would say to those who appeal that Islam means 'peace' are quoting out of context. Surah 2:190 is taken from the sixth year of the Hijrah, when the Muslims of Arabia were a strong and influential community, but not supreme. Mohammed ordered them to defend themselves against Meccan attacks, but not be aggressors because they had a treaty. Many of them were exiles from Mecca, where the Pagans had established an intolerant autocracy, persecuting Muslims. When they tried to assert their rights, the result was bloodshed. This surah was therefore concerned with a specific period of self-preservation; it is not a blanket command regarding all acts of violence. Being bound by context in time and space, there are many who do not consider it to be an eternal injunction.

Mohammed used what today would be termed 'murder', 'aggression', and 'terrorism' in order to propagate his beliefs and spread his ideology. (Qur'an 8.17; 33.26; 8.67). He raided towns without warning, killed unarmed men who had gone to the fields and markets on their daily business, captured their wives and children, and is said to have distributed the younger women among his soldiers while always keeping the prettiest ones for himself and having sex with them in the same day he murdered their fathers, husbands and loved ones. These are not fables, nor are they the bigoted musings of those who may be termed 'Islamophobic', but it is history as recorded in the Qur’an and the Hadith. This is the biography of the 'prophet’ who sets the example for today’s Muslim youth, for many are taught by unenlightened imams for whom this Mohammed is considered the template for perfect manhood.

Political Islam (or 'Islamism') demands the use of terrorism because it is intrinsic to its ideology. They are fused, contiguous and inseparable. Islamism is the terrorist; brainwashed Muslims are the victims. But the assumption that an adjustment in vocabulary can persuade the Islamist to adapt to Western values is a delusion. Both sociological manifestations rely on a degree of religio-cultural brainwashing. The two systems are antithetical: they cannot co-exist; one must give way to the other. But only one is prepared to be radical in its propagation, offence and defence.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Israel attacks Syria – an inconvenient truth


It would appear that the Israeli Air Force launched retaliatory attacks across the Syrian border following the death of a 15-year-old Israeli citizen called... Mohammed.

Curious thing for the tool of an oppressive, racist and apartheid state to do, is it not?

Mohammed lived in the Arab village of Arraba in the lower Galilee. Doubtless the BBC, which had a big map of the "Israeli-occupied" Golan Heights to illustrate its coverage, and the Guardian, amongst others, will get round to explaining this little incongruity in due course.

Tory answer to terrorism is censorship and more surveillance


"British Muslims flock to jihadists' hardline sect," says today's Times. The ISIS recruitment video appears to be working: if you're depressed at the prospect of a tedious life of sex and alcoholism in Britain, come to Iraq or Syria and stone a few homosexuals and prostitutes, or behead the odd infidel. It's fun. In the words of one young British Muslim: "A message to the brothers who have stayed behind. You have to ask yourself what prevents you from joining the ranks of the Mujahideen? What prevents you from obtaining martyrdom? You are going to die anyway."

Try to watch that recruitment video soon (very soon), because the Government is demanding that Google remove it from YouTube. That is the Conservative response to the imminent threat of 400 jihadi youths about to return from their tour of duty in Sunnistan.

You expect this sort of thing from David Cameron. But Liam Fox?

He is in favour of increasing state monitoring powers "to intercept the communications of extremists". Of course, they'll intercept the communications of the rest of us as well, and maybe His Grace will fall within the emerging redefinition of 'extremist', for isn't an extremists simply someone who believes very strongly in something with which you happen to disagree?

Liam Fox is of the view that the people will accept greater levels of surveillance to monitor the ISIS extremists when they return home: "A majority of people will accept that an 'ideological battle' means that the authorities will need greater powers to intercept the communications of extremists," he said, explaining: "They hate us because of who we are. We can't change that. It is our values and our history that they detest more than anything else."

But British values and our national history include freedom of religion and freedom of expression. Jihadi recruitment videos are undoubtedly disturbing and reprehensible, but you don't solve the malignancy with censorship. Indeed, the entire history of religion teaches us that where beliefs are suppressed by the state, they tend to spread underground as believers contend for their faith against the persecution. The antidote to Islamic religio-political extremism is the Judæo-Christian ethic and the values of the Enlightenment. Against malignant totalitarian theocracy you argue for peace, goodness, tolerance and the virtues of liberal democracy.

But Cameron isn't persuaded, and Fox seems to share this Tory strand of authoritarianism. "The whole area of intercept needs to be looked at," he insists. "We have got a real debate, and it is a genuine debate in a democracy, between the libertarians who say the state must not get too powerful and pretty much the rest of us who say the state must protect itself."

So, in order to protect its citizens, the state will restrict their liberties and subject them to increasing levels of surveillance. In this "ideological battle" between libertarianism and authoritarianism, the current Conservative leadership inclines toward the latter.

"It became necessary to destroy the town to save it," said a US soldier when asked to justify a decision by allied commanders to bomb the Vietcong. That quotation has been distorted over the years: "We had to destroy the village in order to save it." Village, town, country - the size of the community is irrelevant: the principle is the same. Regardless of civilian casualties, the enemy must be eradicated. So, to protect freedom of religion, we must restrict it. To guard freedom of speech, we must limit it.

And so the Islamists amongst us modify our values and regress our liberties by a couple of centuries. Therein lies their victory.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

'There is no life without Jihad' - the feebleness of the MCB



Pope Francis has (at last) excommunicated the Mafia: their tribal murders, thuggery, intimidation, protection rackets and drug trafficking will be tolerated no more. Their violent culture is deemed to be incompatible with the Roman Catholic religion, and the Pope of Rome has spoken unequivocally: "Repent, or you're going to hell."

Young British Muslims are leaving their university courses to fight with ISIS in Iraq. The above video features a number of them, in particular a medical student previously known as Nasser Muthana, aged 20, now sporting a turban having adopted the name Abu Muthanna al-Yemeni. Apparently his younger brother Anseel, 17, has also joined the Iraq massacre. In the video, Nasser says:
"We are a state who is implementing the Sharia in both Iraq and the Sham. And look at the soldiers, we understand no borders. We have participated in battles in Sham and we will go to Iraq in a few days and we will fight there. We will even go to Lebanon and Jordan with no problems, wherever our Sheikh (Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) wants to send us."
The film is entitled 'There is no life without Jihad', which calls for their countrymen (ie British Muslims) to "answer the call and fight for Allah". Nasser adds: "Send us: we are your sharp arrows. Throw us at your enemies, wherever they may be."

Another young man in the video, named as Abu Bara Al Hindi, describes jihad as "the cure for depression". Speaking in front of the ISIS black flag, he asks: "Are you willing to sacrifice the fat job you’ve got, the big car you’ve got, the family you have?"

"Are you willing to sacrifice this, for the sake of Allah? Definitely, if you sacrifice something for Allah, Allah will give you 700 times more than this."

The third British jihadist, who calls himself Abu Dujana al-Hindi, says: "A message to the brothers who have stayed behind. You have to ask yourself what prevents you from joining the ranks of the Mujahideen? What prevents you from obtaining martyrdom? You are going to die anyway."

This is essentially a call to religious theological radicalisation and religio-political terrorism.

And the response of the Muslim Council of Britain?

Well, their website is being revamped, and their Twitter feed goes on (and on) about 'British values'. They have, however, put out a statement via Facebook, which includes:
We are concerned by reports of young people from the UK who may feel it necessary to go to the region to help. But travelling to Iraq or Syria will not help the people of those countries, and will cause anguish for worried parents at home. Those going are a very small minority, but our community must come together to demonstrate to young people that there is a better way.
Of course these youths are "a very small minority", but the proportion of Mafiosi to Roman Catholics is also very tiny. Ratio notwithstanding, Pope Francis has denounced them unequivocally and decreed their eternal damnation.

Now, the Muslim Council of Britain is not a pope: in Islam, there is no magisterium; no supreme global religious authority issuing divine words of wisdom (whatever sundry ayatollahs may believe). But the MCB does purport to represent Britain's Muslims and is "one of the UK’s largest and most diverse Muslim umbrella organisation (sic) with over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organisations, mosques, charities and schools". So you'd think they'd be a bit more robust in their denunciation of teenage jihadis.

Ahmed Muthana, 57, is the father of Nasser had Aseel.

He is understandably sad, shocked and devastated at his sons' actions, and so is his wife.

But the father has excommunicated the son. "It's a Muslim thing: you don't keep the devil in your house," he said, as he binned pictures of Nasser. He said if his sons ever return to the UK, he would like to see them jailed. He added that his sons have "betrayed his family and betrayed Britain". "They don't represent me now and I don't want to see them again," he added.

Would that the MCB spoke in such potent terms.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Francis bows his head to receive Justin's blessing


It is not remotely surprising that the Archbishop of Canterbury should desire to bless the Pope of Rome, but the humble attitude of His Holiness in accepting it has caused something of a stir among Roman Catholic traditionalists:



Is Pope Francis humbly acknowledging the episcopal ministry of Archbishop Justin and affirming the validity of Anglican Holy Orders? Is he recognising that we are neither heretics (as it still says in Westminster Cathedral) nor 'separated brethren', but part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church?

It appears so. For he has previously opened his heart to Protestant Evangelicals, and as Cardinal Bergoglio he knelt at a Protestant prayer meeting to receive the blessings of several Protestant pastors:


And you haven't heard him talk much about the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham or the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution 'Anglicanorum coetibus' of Pope Benedict XVI, have you?

For many Roman Catholic traditionalists, this is one hell of an ecumenical mess, sending out confusing messages about the Faith, the (Roman) Catholic Church and the uniqueness of ministry of the Vicar of Christ. They may think this a false expression of showman humility — a theatrical performance; a patronising gesture of genuine compassion but counterfeit ecclesiology. But His Grace detects a spiritual, doctrinal and moral shift in ecumenical relations. Pope Francis is more Anglican than many believe, or would find it possible to admit.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why does the Church preach a PC gospel of middle-class respectability?


The Church of England put out a press release yesterday, welcoming the report of the House of Commons Education Select Committee into Underachievement in Education by White Working Class Children. Speaking after the release of the report, the Church of England's Chief Education Officer, the Rev'd Jan Ainsworth said:
“This is a timely report into a pressing issue, and the Church of England stands ready to play its role in supporting the young people identified by the committee.

“We are particularly pleased that the committee has highlighted the complexity of issues associated with White Working Class underperformance. Excellent schools can clearly make the world of difference to disadvantaged young people, but the committee also recognises that we need a greater understanding of associated social factors.

“That is why we have commissioned our own project, working through Church schools serving some of the most disadvantaged communities in England, to put additional resources and energy into enabling those children to succeed. Church schools can and do make a real difference to the lives of children who have the furthest to travel in terms of educational achievement, but we recognise there is more that could be done.”
The Church of England is putting more money specifically into educating white, working-class children?

Head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw observes: "The underperformance of low-income white British pupils matters, particularly because they make up the majority - two-thirds - of such pupils. So the lowest-performing group of poor children is also the largest. If we don't crack the problem of low achievement by poor white British boys and girls, then we won't solve the problem overall."

A focus on poor white British boys?

While His Grace welcomes this development, he can think of one or two bishops who might find this sort of language a bit Ukippy, not to say BNP-ish or 'racist'.

Funny - isn't it - how the Church permits matters of social justice to be determined and developed by ethnic identity, but those policy issues of considerable concern to the working class - such as immigration, housing and employment - may not.

Why is it acceptable to sermonise about justice for white working class children, but not for white working class adults? Why can there be more money for educating white working class children, but not for housing white working class adults?

Is it because vicars and bishops are drawn mostly come from middle-class backgrounds. Is it because middle-class theology embraces educational inequality but frowns upon the aspirations of white working class adults?

A fundamental weakness of the Church of England - in common with many churches in Europe - is its tendency to demand that people do not merely acknowledge the Lordship of Christ but also abandon their former way of life in favour of that of a peculiar middle-class sub-culture. Notwithstanding some of the excellent work going on in some of the most impoverished parishes in the country, the public perception of the Church of England remains one of middle-class privilege and an elitism which has little relevance to the working class.

While this may be something of a misconception, it is undoubtedly exacerbated by bishops treating Kippers and BNP-supporters as irredeemably racist outcasts.

Even Jesus broke bread with prostitutes and tax collectors.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Short-sighted Hague downplays ISIS threat to UK


Foreign Secretary William Hague informed Parliament this week: "..we estimate the number of UK-linked individuals fighting in Syria to include approximately 400 British nationals and other UK-linked individuals who could present a particular risk should they return to the UK. Some of these are, inevitably, fighting with ISIL" (Hansard, Column 852).

So, 400 British citizens (presumably Sunni Muslims, though he didn't specify) are contending for their faith (ie Jihad) in Syria, against the infidel (ie Shia Muslims and the West). Mr Hague says of Iraq's extremists:
ISIL is the most violent and brutal militant group in the middle east. It has a long record of atrocities, including use of improvised explosive devices, abductions, torture and killings. The reported massacre of 1,700 Shi’a air force recruits is more evidence of its brutality. ISIL’s aim is to establish a sharia Islamic state in the region, and it is pursuing these goals by attacking the Government of Iraq, gaining control of territory, and inciting sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims.
Surely the 400 British citizens who are fighting with/for ISIS are now themselves terrorists?

And surely they will pose something of a threat to the UK when they return freely on their EU passports to live amongst us once again?

According to Dr Osman Hassan, Assistant Professor in the University of Warwick's Department of Politics and International Studies, it is currently estimated that nearly 20% of foreign fighters in Syria come Western Europe; predominantly France, Britain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. As such, he says, it is not just the UK’s 400 citizens that will need to be closely monitored, but rather an additional 1600 EU citizens who have the ability to cross the UK’s borders (free movement of peoples, and all that).

So, that's 2000 foreign-trained, war-hardened, blood-thirsty jihadis free to return to Europe and commit terrorists acts across the borderless EU. Dr Hassan warns: "The nightmare scenario for the UK, however, is that the planning and preparation for an attack on UK soil is conducted abroad and missed by foreign security services. This is not unprecedented; for example members of the Hamburg Cell in Germany later went on to plan the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington D.C."

To those who say Iraq is theologically tribal, politically primitive, geographically distant and so 'nothing to do with us', His Grace urges you to heed the words of Tony Blair:
At its simplest, the jihadist groups are never going to leave us alone. 9/11 happened for a reason. That reason and the ideology behind it have not disappeared.

However more than that, in this struggle will be decided many things: the fate of individual countries, the future of the Middle East, and the direction of the relationship between politics and the religion of Islam. This last point will affect us in a large number of ways. It will affect the radicalism within our own societies which now have significant Muslim populations. And it will affect how Islam develops across the world. If the extremism is defeated in the Middle East it will eventually be defeated the world over, because this region is its spiritual home and from this region has been spread the extremist message.

There is no sensible policy for the West based on indifference. This is, in part, our struggle, whether we like it or not.
Dr Hassan agrees and warns:
What was resounding in the Foreign Secretary’s address to parliament, however, was that the government understands the causes of the conflict in a very limited way. It is the case that leaving a security vacuum in Iraq following the UK and US withdrawal has provided ISIS with space for the occupation of towns and cities. It is also the case that the Iraqi government has helped stoke sectarian tensions between the Sunni and Shia populations, which is equally spilling over the border from Syria. However, Secretary Hague failed to mention how wealthy individuals from ally states in the Gulf, namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait have helped fund extremist organisations in Syria such as ISIS. He also failed to mention the growth of satellite TV stations broadcasting from across the region, but also from the UK having taken advantage of free speech legislation, are contributing to a growing sectarian conflict. The wider regional context needs to be understood if the threat is to be reduced and allies need to be called to task for their part in spreading sectarian conflict and extremism. For example, stoking sectarianism across the region has been a fundamental part of the Saudi Royal families survival strategy following the uprisings it faced in its own Eastern Province and in Bahrain in 2011. The success of ISIS is a result of the Arab Spring giving way to larger sectarian divides and a regional cold war taking place between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iraq is just another battlefield in this regional cold war. As the conflict spreads across the region from Lebanon, through Syria and Iraq, the opportunities for fighters from Western Europe to gain expertise and training is growing. In this context, the UK government’s willingness to neglect the nature and scale of the threat, and instead rely on domestic security services in the future, is deeply short sighted.
The Islamists are coming.
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us (1Jn 2:19).

Monday, June 16, 2014

Iraq - this is no time to blame and shame


This mass roadside execution is what Sunni/ISIS/ISIL jihadists do to their Shia cousins. God alone knows what appalling fate awaits the Christians.

In a reasoned justificatory apologetic, Tony Blair says: "We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that ‘we’ have caused this. We haven't. We can argue as to whether our policies at points have helped or not; and whether action or inaction is the best policy and there is a lot to be said on both sides. But the fundamental cause of the crisis lies within the region not outside it."

General Sir Michael Rose lays the blame squarely at the feet of Tony Blair: "It goes without saying that if you start a war, you should be sure that the end result will be demonstrably better than the situation prior to the conflict," he said. "Only someone who has lost touch with reality could possibly claim Iraq today is more stable or that life has become better for its inhabitants."

The Guardian goes for Saddam: 'If there has to be a hierarchy of blame for Iraq, however, it must surely begin with Saddam, who brutalised his own society, embroiled it in a terrible war with Iran, wasted its resources, and provoked the world by his aggression against Kuwait.'

The UK's former ambassador to the US Sir Christopher Meyer said the handling of the campaign against Saddam was “perhaps the most significant reason” for the sectarian violence now ripping through Iraq. “We are reaping what we sowed in 2003. This is not hindsight. We knew in the run-up to war that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would seriously destabilise Iraq after 24 years of his iron rule,” he said.

The media are full of claim and counter-claim; there are patchy historical analyses, superficial religious overviews and a plethora of variable truth assertions, each designed to bring a degree of political perspective and sociological understanding to the chaos that is engulfing the region. Innocent Iraqis - Kurd, Shia and Christian - are being systematically 'cleansed' from the land, and our political and military leaders are busy blaming and shaming.

One understands the instinct to deflect blame and self-justify, of course. But reflexive essays and philosophical theorising do nothing to resolve the gross violations of human dignity we are now witnessing. The West has spent so long defining human rights in economic and social terms to satisfy our cushy cosmopolitan universalism that we have lost sight of the fact that our most fundamental notions of freedom are simply not shared by millions in the Middle East. The moment that Saudi Arabia abstained on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, it ceased to be universal. It was Article 18 of that Declaration - enshrining the right to change one's religion - which was problematic for the Saudis, then the only explicitly Islamic UN member state.

Now there are many more Islamic states which are full members of the UN, but detached and unconvincingly demurring from certain freedoms afforded by the 'Universal' Declaration. We tolerate this tension in the name of globalisation, but the problems of relativism will not be overcome by cross-cultural empirical research to reveal and understand common patterns of belief.

Before this becomes just another theoretical essay leading to yet another moral blind alley on the ethics of discriminating between legitimate and illegitimate uses of force, let us pause to reflect - not on who or what is to blame and why or how, but on the need for peace, sacrificial mercy and moral leadership in a world in which the foundations upon which the moral beliefs of the past have disappeared without any compelling replacement emerging.

Those who are dying don't care of Bush, Blair, Obama, Saddam or Satan himself are to blame: they are confronted with evil, and the state is implicated. In 1991 we rushed to aid the Iraqi Kurds in the north and Shi'ite Muslims in the south by imposing 'no-fly zones'. In 2011 we intervened swiftly in Libya "to prevent a bloodbath". When ISIS have done with the Shia, they will surely turn their murderous zealotry on the Christians, whom they hate because they fear. Do we really do nothing now but play a pathetic game of blame and shame?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Housekeeping


Thanks to the generosity of His Grace's regular readers and communicants, we have almost reached the fund-raising target for blog modernisation and crucial steeple repairs. His Grace's shiny new blog is currently in development.

The new Disqus comment facility will permit commenters to correct grammatical errors post-publication, to save having to apologise and infuriatingly post a comment again. It will also allow redaction, for those who are inclined to deny they wrote what they undoubtedly wrote. Disqus permits separate conversations to develop within a thread, so those who wish to turn every blog post into a discussion about homosexuality will be able to do so without hindering the main line of argument.

One very exciting announcement to make at this stage is that His Grace has secured the services of an Editor and Deputy Editor. Indeed, this team promises to take the blog into the spiritual stratosphere, confirming His Grace's position as the foremost religio-political blog in the UK (whatever Wikio rankings may say..).

Bless you all for your generosity and continuing support.





 

Friday, June 13, 2014

"The Christian centre of Iraq has been totally ransacked"


A plea from Canon Andrew White, Vicar of Baghdad:
Dear Friends,

Things are so bad now in Iraq, the worst they have ever been. The Islamic terrorists have taken control of the whole of Mosul which is Nineveh the main Christian stronghold. The army have even fled. We urgently need help and support.

Please, please help us in this crisis.

Iraq is now in its worst crisis since the 2003 war. ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Group), a group that does not even see Al Qaida as extreme enough, has moved into Mosul, which is Nineveh. It has totally taken control, destroyed all government departments. Allowed all prisoners out of the prisons. Killed countless numbers of people. There are bodies over the streets. The army and police have fled, so many of the military resources have been captured. Tankers, armed vehicles and even helicopters are now in the hands of ISIS.

Mosul residents fleeing the ISIS takeover.

The area is the heartland of the Christian community. Most of our people come from Nineveh and still see that as their home. It is there that they return to regularly. Many Christian’s fled from back to Nineveh from Baghdad, as things got so bad there. Now the Christian centre of Iraq has been totally ransacked. The tanks are moving into the Christian villages destroying them and causing total carnage. The ISIS militants are now moving towards Kirkuk, major areas to the Oil fields that provide the lifeblood of Iraq. We are faced with total war that all the Iraqi military have now retreated from.

People have fled in their hundreds of thousands to Kurdistan still in Iraq for safety. The Kurds have even closed the border, preventing entry of the masses. The crisis is so huge it is almost impossible to consider what is really happening.

WE NEED YOUR HELP

The summer is by far our worst time of the year for support. Both our Foundation in the UK and US have seriously had to reduce our funding. We are in a desperate crisis. So many of our people had returned their homes in Nineveh for the summer now they are stuck in this total carnage unable to even escape. We desperately need help so that we can help the Christians of this broken land just get through this new crisis. Please can you help us, we are desperate.

The terrible fact is that ISIS are in the control now of Fallujah in the South and Mosul in the North they could now move down towards Baghdad between the two and cause a total crisis there. So to be honest I don’t know what to do, do I stay or go back? I have a huge amount of commitments here. If I go back, I cannot change the situation but I want to be with my people. Here we are with this huge crisis and need and we do not even have the resources to help those most in need. So the crisis is huge and we need help, will you please help us?

With much love and grace,







Andrew

Please, please help us in this crisis:

To make a donation NOW, see HERE

Please also consider regular giving by Standing Order. Regular monthly giving enables families to be fed weekly, medical support and supplies remain available to all in need and the vital reconciliation work can continue, particularly at this most difficult of times.

FURTHER READING AT THIS TIME

Shea – The Cleansing of Iraq’s Christians Is Entering Its End Game by Nina Shea (10 June 2014).

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Iraq descends into Islamist anarchy – we reap what we sow


It is only Islamist anarchy (ie terrorists' lawless chaos) from our perspective. From the viewpoint of the Islamist militants, it is Islamic anarchy (ie socially autonomous regions free of central coercion). The State of Iraq is reverting to its lateral tribal structure, without an operative top, or head or centre. The Islamist anarchists (aka Sunni Muslim militants) insist that they operate by politically and religiously acceptable means. But as to what count as unacceptable means cannot be determined because different types of anarchists differ on the specifications, having rejected the force, coercion and authoritarianism of the state.

Holistic and tribal means are anarchically admissible, as are utterly individualistic ones. So, as they take the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit, having already secured Ramadi and Falluja, they are not concerned for the humanitarian situation or the displacement of half a million people: their divine mission is to overthrow the central oppression of the infidel. The anarchy that follows is a more acceptable form of organisation, for it entails a relatively non-coercive, non-authoritarian organisation - the voluntary and co-operative organisation which is in submission to Allah.

If the US and other Western nations send military or strategic assistance to Iraq's government, the insurgents - an al-Qaeda offshoot called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL) - the disparate anarchic groups will unite in opposition to the naked authority and coercion of the the Great Satan.

No man or human organisation can ever rightfully exercise authority over that which is ordained by Allah: the only authority that is justified is that which is revealed through his Messenger. No king, no president and no state has the right to push the soldiers of Allah around.

Compared to the fate which is about to descend upon Iraq's minorities - Shia, Kurd and Christian - Saddam Hussein was a relatively benign dictator. He may have channelled privilege and wealth to certain favoured minorities, and he may have persecuted others, but he was a recognisable state power, subject to the testings and judgments of the international community. Societies are not ineluctably saddled with states: as we are now seeing, states can be displaced or even decay, and so political obligation lapses or vanishes, for there is no controlling political authority and no identifiably strongman.

ISIS/ISIL now controls a large part of eastern Syria and western and central Iraq. They will soon march on Baghdad to depose Shia PM Nouri Maliki and wipe out the infidels who entrench inequities, domination and exploitation. The human cost will be profound; their suffering unimaginable. We can deplore and condemn and issue all the resolutions we want: we are simply reaping what we have sown.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The abomination of judicially-enforced abortion


Lord Justice Munby - Head of the Family Division of the High Court of Justice in England and Wales - has featured a number of times on His Grace's blog over recent years. He is the "self-regarding, pompous, publicity-seeking pillock" who says the law of this country is secular, and that Christianity no longer informs its morality or values. He has also declared that "secular judges" ought not to view the precepts of one faith as any higher than those of another, and that sexual ethics have nothing at all to do with Christian belief.

And now, not content with insisting that "problem parents" ought to be forced by the courts to use contraception to prevent "repetitive pregnancies", Sir James Munby has forced a 13-year-old girl to have an abortion.

The President of the Family Division of the High Court seemingly has the power to order the destruction of a baby in the womb.

Yes, we are told that the girl was "very damaged", "impaired", "largely out of control", and has an IQ of just 54. And yes, we are also told that the father of this child was just 14 years old, and manifestly reckless and irresponsible.

But the court was informed that she "initially wanted to keep her baby". She might have wavered on this, but what 13-year-old wouldn't? In any case, Social Services thought the pregnancy inappropriate, so they asked the High Court to decide whether it ought to be allowed to continue.

And Sir James Munby, the anti-family High Priest of Secularism, ruled that an abortion was in her best interests: "Leaving to one side her own wishes and feelings, the preponderance of all the evidence is clear that it would be in her best interests to have a termination," he decreed.

"Leaving to one side her own wishes and feelings"?

Do we now live in a country where one's IQ determines whether "wishes and feelings" ought to be taken into account? We're not talking here about whether she would like her bedroom painted orange or pink; we're talking about a baby - a new human life. Surely if a pregnant girl lacks the capacity to decide matters for herself, the unborn baby has the right to an advocate?

But Lord Justice Munby determined that if the girl were allowed to give birth there would be "very little chance" she would be allowed to keep her child.

So what about adoption? Is that not preferable to termination?

Does a girl with an IQ of 54 and the vocabulary of a six-year-old not still think and feel? Is an enforced abortion not still potentially greatly injurious - physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually?

But, of course, in Lord Justice Munby's aggressively secular world, there is no moral code but that which is pragmatic and accords with human rights; there is nothing spiritual to consider. And the physical, emotional and psychological must be subsumed to the utilitarian imperative. This girl would not have a "full understanding of what the pregnancy would involve", and so it's in her "best interests" to abort the child.

Does any woman really have a "full understanding" of what pregnancy involves before they have carried a baby to full term and finally given birth?

Does any man ever have a "full understanding" of what pregnancy involves?

Do only those with an 'acceptable' IQ have the right to be pregnant?

What if this girl had been Roman Catholic?

Since Lord Justice Munby is of the view that “the laws and usages of the realm do not include Christianity, in whatever form”, we know the answer. He is persuaded that "reliance upon religious belief, however conscientious the belief and however ancient and respectable the religion, can never of itself immunise the believer from the reach of the secular law".

In this brave new secular world, everything is rendered first unto Caesar, in whose honour our babies are routinely sacrificed - even against the wishes and feelings of the half-witted mother.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Humanists hijack 'Trojan Horse' saga to denigrate faith schools


The so-called 'Trojan Horse' plot by extremist Muslims to infiltrate a number of Birmingham's schools is fraught with accusations, counter-accusations, recriminations and complexities. On the one hand, school leaders insist that they are properly educating their students - doing nothing but trying "to meet their spiritual needs as one tool to raise their achievement". On the other, Ofsted say they discovered in some schools evidence of bullying, nepotism, gender segregation, discrimination against non Muslims, racism and misogyny.

Tristram Hunt and Labour are using this bandwagon as evidence that Michael Gove's national programme of academisation is not working; that by severing a school's link to the local authority, he is removing a crucial mechanism for monitoring standards and intervention where necessary. And the British Humanists are using the saga as evidence that faith schools are all divisive, discriminatory and prone to religious manipulation by zealous governors and extremist teachers.

The Church of England's blog doesn't permit comments (which, knowing how much of His Grace's day is occupied with sifting abuse and fielding spam, is understandable). So, with the permission of the Church's communication's team, His Grace reproduces their post on this matter to gauge the tenor of response:

Birmingham, the BHA, Religious Education and Church Schools

The publication of the OFSTED report into 21 schools in Birmingham linked to the so called “Trojan Horse” affair led to a flurry of tweets and comment from the British Humanist Association (BHA) yesterday. The thrust of their contention - that the OFSTED report showed the damage done by the presence of faith schools in the education system – is a shaky attempt to build one of the BHA’s long held aims into the news agenda. The tweeting of a comment from the debate on the report was typical: “Great from @crispinbluntmp - there should be no faith schools, every school should prepare pupils for life in wider British society”.

Unfortunately for the BHA the facts do little to support their claims. The fundamental problem with the BHA’s argument is that none of the schools being looked into in Birmingham are faith schools.

Not one.

Of the 21 Birmingham schools investigated by Ofsted, 8 are Academies and 13 are local authority run. So the BHA’s argument that “the way to stop this kind of thing is to make get rid of faith schools” is not simply misleading, it is so far off the mark as to require special measures.

Perhaps one of the deeper ironies of the BHA’s attempt to hijack this issue for their own aims is that it is a perfect example of using a “Trojan Horse”; using the OFSTED findings as subterfuge for attacking the work of church schools not least in Birmingham itself.

At the same time that the BHA was going into overdrive about the OFSTED report, the Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, was making his maiden speech in the House of Lords. His theme was education. In his speech Bishop Stephen noted that the diocese of Chelmsford has recently accepted an invitation to be a co-sponsor of the London Design and Engineering University Technical college where in addition to receiving technical and practical training, Religious Education will be given a high priority on the curriculum. The Bishop noted that the trustees of the college recognise that it is “impossible to understand and inhabit the modern world – especially in East London – without a critical appreciation of faith, and even more than this, a mature spiritual, moral, social and cultural worldview. Moreover, good religious education has been shown to be one of the best ways of countering religious extremism.“

In an interview after his speech Stephen Cottrell warmed to this theme saying “RE, perhaps in the past, might have been something which was just of academic interest. Now it’s of practical relevance to actually understand who is my neighbour, how do I love and understand and appreciate my neighbour…One of the things that most obviously contributes to cohesion between people of different cultures and different faiths is proper appreciation and understanding of different faith traditions”

The Church of England educates a million children a day in its schools. Even the BHA, in its more reflective moments, would be hard pressed to describe CofE Schools as hotbeds of religious extremism or indoctrination. The contrast between some of the findings in the recent OFSTED investigation and the experience of those educated at Church of England schools stand in marked contrast. As the former Chief Rabbi, Dr. Jonathan Sacks, wrote of his own experience of Church of England primary and secondary schools: “I went to Christian schools, St Mary’s Church Primary, then Christ’s College Finchley. We Jews were different and a minority. Yet not once was I insulted for my faith.”

The work of Church of England schools in Birmingham is evidence of Stephen Cottrell’s contention that the best way of countering religious extremism is to engage with faith and not banish it. For over a decade some Church of England primary schools in the city have had an almost 100% school roll from Muslim families, serving children from local communities in the inner city. Every Church of England School in the city educates children of all faiths and none. Meanwhile the Church of England’s only secondary school in the city provides an account of excellence and achievement in the midst of challenging circumstances.

St Alban’s Academy is the only state-funded Church of England secondary school in Birmingham and is the nearest secondary school to the city centre. The proportion of students known to be eligible for free school meals is very much higher than the national average. The percentage of students from minority ethnic backgrounds is over four times higher than the national figure and the proportion of those who speak English as an additional language is high. The percentage of students registered by as having special educational needs and/or disabilities is well above the national average.

The School’s most recent OFSTED report – from 2011 – found the school was “outstanding”. The report said “From exceptionally low attainment on entry, students leave with above average attainment and outstanding achievement.” The report further highlights the achievements of the school in providing: “outstanding spiritual, moral, social and cultural development that underpins students’ exemplary behaviour and makes an exceptional contribution to their excellent learning.”

This is the experience of millions of families who have been served by Church of England schools which remains a testament at firm odds with the doctrinaire dogmatism and opportunism of the BHA.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Pope Francis prays with presidents Peres and Abbas


During his visit last month to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, Pope Francis did what popes are supposed to do - listen intently to both sides, look earnest with furrowed brow and pray for the peace of Jerusalem. But this pope went further: he extended an extraordinary invitation to President Shimon Peres of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to attend a prayer meeting at the Vatican. Not to debate land or borders, or talk about prisoner exchanges, or terrorism, security, bombings or mutual feelings of injustice. It was to be a prayer summit focusing on God, not politics. There would be no spiritual coercion, no political objective and no expectation of temporal breakthrough: just three men - a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim - on their knees before their Creator seeking guidance, wisdom and enlightenment.

“It is my hope that this meeting will mark the beginning of a new journey where we seek the things that unite, so as to overcome the things that divide,” Pope Francis said.

No doubt the world scoffs at such a vacuous gesture: if umpteen meetings at Camp David over many decades poring over Middle-East nitty-gritty can't bring peace, there's not a lot of hope for a prayer meeting at the Vatican which studiously avoids any of the detailed points of dispute. But the Israeli-Palestinian peace process cannot be resolved without dialogue, and this prayer summit did, at least, bring both sides together.

The thing is, when you're on your knees before God, you tend to be honest. If your mouth utters 'occupation' while the heart dwells on 'cohabitation', God knows your hypocrisy. If your lips avoid all mention of 'Israel' while the heart and mind acknowledge its legitimacy, God sees the deception. And if you describe Jerusalem as "our Holy City" while you're plotting with Hamas to threaten and terrorise its inhabitants, God weeps at the duplicity. You can run rings around American presidents, but you can't mock God.

President Abbas reportedly prayed for a “sovereign and independent state”, because Palestinians are “craving for a just peace, dignified living and liberty”.

President Peres invoked Scripture: “Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

Pope Francis exhorted both to listen to the heart of God and the deepest desires of their peoples: "Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict; yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities," he said.

And so, while the world's political leaders weigh up the prospects for peace in the context Israel's centrists, moderates and liberals confronted by Fatah-Hamas unity, a pope and two presidents pray for peace. Significantly, Jewish rabbis intoned from the Torah in Hebrew; Christian cardinals read from the New Testament in Italian and English; and Muslim Imams chanted from the Qur'an in Arabic. Yes, Islamic prayers at the Vatican. This is the first such multi-faith ecumenical event to be held under the aegis of St Peter's, which became simultaneously a church, a synagogue and a mosque.

"We have heard a summons and we must respond. It is the summons to break the spiral of hatred and violence, and to break it by one word alone: the word 'brother'," Pope Francis said, as the presidents listened in humility.

Of course, we are dealing with thousands of years of history woven through with theology. But where there are no expectations, there can be no recriminations.

His Grace has long held the view that peace will not come to the Middle East until profound theological differences are acknowledged and addressed, for they run far deeper than the political. There can be no political solution to this dispute until there is a theological solution. There will be no peace in the world until there is peace between the world’s religions. Presidents and prime ministers can preach and proclaim, but only a pope can pontificate. Inter-religious dialogue is the cornerstone of peace in this region. As His Grace wrote (prophetically?) in 2009:
Cranmer can think of no better solution to the Israel-Palestine problem than religio-political mediation. And it would be preferable to have a credible, theological heavyweight do this (His Holiness) than a superficial lightweight who knows little (Tony Blair).

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Ann Widdecombe: Britain is now "a very difficult country" for Christians



The Rt Hon Ann Widdecombe (still no peerage) says being a Christian in modern Britain is "very difficult". She attributes this to "quite militant secularism" and equality legislation: both have combined to create an intimidating and censorious context, making people feel they ought not to express their faith publicly. She said:
"Christians now have quite a lot of problems, whether it's that you can't display even very discreet small symbols of your faith at work, that you can't say 'God bless you', you can't offer to pray for somebody. If it's an even bigger stance on conscience that you're taking, some of the equality laws can actually bring you to the attention of the police themselves. So I think it is a very difficult country now, unlike when I was growing up, in which to be a Christian, an active Christian at any rate."
Of course, Jesus never promised believers that following Him would be a barrel of laughs. Those who hold on to a faith which embraces ethical and moral judgments are certainly having a rougher ride than those who disregard moral questions. It is easier to be the sort of half-evangelical Christian who proclaims an all-inclusive good news compared to the thoroughly evangelical type who believes that the Church can be committed to an ethical worldview without moderating its tone as a bearer of glad tidings.

Life in the Holy Spirit is a constant battle against 'the flesh'. The Spirit who descended at Whitsun - the glorious festival of Pentecost we celebrate today - empowers us to walk the precarious path between law and licence. We must be constantly vigilant, as St Paul warned in his letters to the Galatians and Romans, of the twin temptations of antinomianism and moralism. Every way of life not lived by the Spirit of God is lived by 'the flesh', by man taking responsibility for himself whether in libertarian or legalistic ways, without the good news that God has taken responsibility for him. Consequently, we cannot admit the suggestion that Christian ethics should pick its way between the two poles of law and licence in search of some middle ground. Such an approach to living the Christian life could end up by being only what it was from the outset - a fruitless oscillation between two sub-Christian forms of life.

A consistent Christianity must take a different path altogether, and that will attract scorn, condemnation and even physical persecution. But the path of an integrally evangelical ethic rejoices the heart and gives light to the eyes because it springs from God's gift to mankind in Jesus Christ. The flesh becomes dangerous when it is conceived as an alternative source of strength and wisdom to the Spirit: in the Christian life there must always be maintained a paradoxical tension between the weakness of the flesh and the strength of the gospel which is heard and lived through it.

So, let us be sure that we are being mocked and ridiculed for holding on to the faith that was bequeathed to us by Christ; not for expressing the opinions or moralistic obsessions of the flesh. Let us ensure that the world is hostile to the divine promise of the work of the Spirit within us; not the alternative rival source of strength and wisdom in the pretensions of the flesh. Let us, in humility, express the good news of Christ; not the justification of man through 'works of the law'.

As we reflect today on the descent of the gift of the Holy Spirit, let us remember not to seek fulfilment in our own self-expression, but in God's promise of ethical illumination which springs from the resurrection of Christ. The Spirit opposes 'the law' and 'the flesh' - the former is inadequate for salvation, and the latter is obsessed with autonomy and power. If things are 'difficult' for us, and if people snarl when you say "God bless you", is it because they hate the beauty of Christ within you, or because they find you an aggressive, hypocritical, loveless pharisee who bangs on about idolatry and moralism more than the believer's freedom, the fruit of the Spirit and the wonder of angels?

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Scotland's sinister 'Named Person' scheme undermines parental privacy



Please watch this brief interview with James and Rhianwen McIntosh. They are demonstrably intelligent, eloquent, loving parents who know what's best for their four children. Notwithstanding their experience as parents and their intuitive capacity to nurture and love, they have been informed that their children have all been assigned a 'Named Person' to oversee their welfare, supervise their upbringing and intervene where they deem it to be appropriate, even when this conflicts with the will of the praents.

This sinister 'Big Brother' scheme is not due to come into effect until 2016. But in a letter from the Scottish NHS, Mr and Mrs McIntosh were shocked to discover that all future letters and medical reports would be shared with their children's 'Named Person' - without their consent. Holyrood has effectively passed a bill which nullifies parental rights and endows the state with higher baby-sitting authority: Scotland has become the progenitor and guardian of all her children - not ultimately or in extremis, but right from the beginning.

It has also been reported in the Express that parents will be reported to the state for trivial family incidents, such as forgetting a child’s doctor's or hospital appointment. Although the scheme is not set to be fully implemented until August 2016, the Scottish Government guidance is now being used by the NHS to justify sharing data on children with head teachers. Some parents received a letter from a paediatrician in NHS Forth Valley that said, “we are now required to inform the Named Person for your child if your child fails to attend an appointment”.

“In addition, we may also send them copies of future relevant reports,” it continued.

The bizarre thing is that a child's 'Named Person; is not available for consultation or discussion: they may be a health worker or teacher tasked by the state to monitor the child until they reach the age of majority. As Aidan O’Neill QC observes, this is “predicated on the idea that the proper primary relationship that children will have for their well-being and development, nurturing and education is with the State rather than within their families and with their parents”.

Director of The Christian Institute Colin Hart said: “This is the kind of situation we have been warning about since MSPs decided to meddle with the rights of families to have a private life. The state seems intent on usurping the role of parents and reducing them to helpless spectators in the lives of their children. Mums and dads should be very afraid of this kind of Big Brother invasion into their lives and their homes.”

One must hope and pray that the Coalition policy outlined in the Queen's Speech - to criminalise causing psychological or emotional harm to children - is not a step on the way to a UK-wide 'Named Peron'. We must all be rightly appalled when children suffer neglect and harm, but a state policy which potentially criminalises the likes of James and Rhianwen McIntosh is manifestly one which impinges upon liberty and will surely target the innocent.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Children's bones; babies' bodies – the undying shame of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland


This is a guest post from Sister Tiberia:

I didn't think there was anything that the Roman Catholic Church did in Ireland in the 20th century that actually had the power to shock me any more.

I was wrong.

This week, the news broke internationally about the nearly 800 bodies of children found in a disused septic tank belonging to what had once been a 'Home' for unmarried pregnant women in the town of Tuam in Ireland.

The Irish Mail on Sunday ran the story first. Then The Guardian got hold of it (and HERE), and then the Daily Mail ran the story.


It's now made the Washington Post.

For any who might wish to plead media inaccuracy, please read the evidence first.

We all know the Guardian is not a bastion of clear-headed unemotional journalism. But if they have accurately quoted Father Fintan Monaghan, Secretary of the Tuam Archdiocese, you will have to excuse me while I beat my head against a wall.
"I suppose we can't really judge the past from our point of view, from our lens. All we can do is mark it appropriately and make sure there is a suitable place here where people can come and remember the babies that died."
Excuse me?

Infant mortality rates in Ireland in the period between 1926 and 1961, when this home was running, were dreadful anyway. According to the historian Catherine Corless, the mortality rate there was four to five times the national rate. Nor did the mothers of these children have any choice about where they were taken, or what was to happen to their children. There's a name for a place where people are interned without trial or appeal, worked or kept in inhumane conditions and die from "malnutrition, neglect, measles, convulsions, TB, gastroenteritis and pneumonia". I'm sure everyone here knows what that is. So let's not invoke Godwin's Law before we even get to the comments.

Is Father Monaghan serious when he says we aren't to judge? We do judge. We judge the actions of the people who neglected these children. We judge the actions of the people who permitted them to die from the diseases of neglect. We judge the actions of the people who denied these children Christian burial. And we judge - with reason - the actions of the representatives of the Church who still can't say plainly what every decent person is thinking - that this was an outrage, then and now. That it should never have happened - then or now. That it is the Church's undying shame that this was allowed to happen on their watch.

And for probably the first and last time, I am in total agreement with a Guardian writer. Emer O'Toole says:
"Do not say Catholic prayers over these dead children. Don't insult those who were in life despised and abused by you. Instead, tell us where the rest of the bodies are. There were homes throughout Ireland, outrageous child mortality rates in each. Were the Tuam Bon Secours sisters an anomalous, rebellious sect? Or were church practices much the same the country over? If so, how many died in each of these homes? What are their names? Where are their graves? We don't need more platitudinous damage control, but the truth about our history."

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Vicars face sack for joining Ukip



Clergy who support or join Ukip will face disciplinary proceedings under a new resolution passed by the Church of England.

Church of England bishops have backed a declaration stating that the policies, activities and objectives of the far-right party are "incompatible" with Christian teaching on racial equality.

The move means that a complaint of misconduct can be brought under the Clergy Discipline Measure against any cleric who is a member of, promotes or expresses support for the party.

The General Synod will have an opportunity to debate and give formal approval to the declaration when it meets in York next month. If there is no debate, the declaration will automatically come into force at the start of the meeting.

The effective proscribing by the bishops of the political party comes after the General Synod gave final approval in 2012 to legislation making it "unbecoming" or "inappropriate" conduct for clergy to be members of a political party with policies and activities declared “incompatible” with Church teaching on race equality. Where a political party is deemed to have changed its views, the ban could be lifted by a simple majority vote by the bishops.

The move was first proposed by concerned Labour supporters in the Synod, and they have the backing of the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair.

Nigel Farage is fuming.

"We are a modern, forward-thinking and progressive nationalist party,' he said. "We are non-discriminatory and we have a constitution to match."

He added: "It is high time that was put out there. The Church of England has to keep up to date - they are stuck in the 1970s."

A Ukip spokesman said today: "This is indicative of the way that the Church of England is being politicised. What is written in the Bible and Scripture is clearly of secondary importance to the politically-correct option that these people adhere to. Where is it going to end? Are Ukip members going to be allowed to be buried any more in churches? Is that where it is going to end? It makes you wonder. It is very sad to see the Church go along with this."

O, hang on..

His Grace has made a slight mistake.

Silly him.

The Church of England has proscribed the BNP and the National Front, not Ukip.

But this is odd, because 'mainstream' politicians say Ukip is racist; the Rt Rev'd Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willeden, and the Rev'd Arun Arora, CofE Director of Communications, are both convinced that Ukip is racist, too, which must also render membership or support of that party "incompatible" with Church teaching on race equality.

And what are we to make of the Church of England's own 'institutional racism', as discovered by its own internal report and corroborated by the Rev'd Rose Hudson-Wilkin?

"Parish clergy are part of the problem," she said. "Whether consciously or unconsciously, they are not encouraging black people who are in their churches to come forward. Our report shows that there are some who are aware of the issue and are acting to improve the situation, but the Church is still a long way from reaching an acceptable level of equality."

Gosh.

Is the Church of England to proscribe itself, or is it deemed by the Bishops to be "changing its views"?

His Grace has written on this matter before (HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE). He is constant:

The United Kingdom is a democracy, and the BNP is a legally-constituted political party. It operates within the law, and has a message which a minority find attractive and a sizeable majority finds utterly repugnant.

But so does Respect, Veritas (does it still exist?), the DUP and Sinn Fein. And some unenlightened ones might even find the Conservative Party repugnant, let alone Ukip.

And why only proscribe the far right? What about the far left?

If those in Christian ministry ought to be sacked for holding anti-equality views, should a Christian who believes that salvation is to be found in Christ alone be permitted to teach children? Should a doctor who believes homosexuality to be a sin be in General Practice? Can a member of Opus Dei or a practising Muslim be Equalities Minister? Can an anti-abortion, pro-family Roman Catholic an EU Commissioner?

It is a cornerstone of liberal democracy that the personal-politico-religious can co-exist with the public-religio-political while being at odds with each other. The alternative, as demanded by some politicians of the Left and vast sections of the media, and, it seems, by an entire red sea of bishops, is for the thought-police to patrol our religious consciences and political opinions, to ensure that both conform to the prevailing religio-political zeitgeist.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Robert Jenrick: "I don’t need to have a disabled daughter to know what it’s like"



Who? What?

There's a by-election this week in Newark, the seat vacated by the disgraced Conservative MP Patrick Mercer who stood down after being found guilty of breaching parliamentary lobbying rules - that is, using using his position for paid advocacy (ie 'cash for questions'). Newark has been considered a relatively safe Conservative seat over recent years (majority 16,000), though Labour took it marginally in 1997 (majority 3,000).

The battle is rather important for the Tories: they haven't actually won a by-election while in Government since 1989, when William Hague was elected MP for Richmond, Yorkshire. It would come as something of a personal boost to David Cameron if he were able to end that 25-year drought. Robert Jenrick has been chosen to fight on behalf of the Conservatives, and he is studiously on CCHQ-message 24/7.  Seriously, it is impossible to discern any individuality or authenticity from his utterances: he believes what he is told to believe. He is a sky-blue modernising Cameron clone.

And the battle is also rather important for Ukip: they have never won a by-election in their entire history, though they came quite close when Diane James beat the Tories into third place and came within a whisker of taking Eastleigh from the Liberal Democrats in 2013. Nigel Farage desperately needs Westminster representation - just one MP will suffice - if his bandwagon is going to carry on rolling. Ukip have chosen the redoubtable defector and former Tory Roger Helmer MEP as their candidate, and he is studiously not on anyone's message. His beliefs on same-sex marriage, homophobia, immigration and the Roman Catholic Church are individual, authentic and gloriously un-PC.

And so we learn that Mr Jenrick thinks David Cameron is doing a great job, that the Conservatives are God's gift to politics and that CCHQ is the bees-knees.

And we learn from Mr Helmer that Ukip is on a roll, only they can rescue us from the morass into which we are sinking, and that Nigel Farage is the way, the truth and the life.

But instead of focusing on the issues, they seem intent on making this by-election something of a class war, which is rather odd given their beliefs, backgrounds and respective earnings.

Robert Jenrick is a privileged Cameron clone and multi-millionaire, with (according to the Daily Mail), a "£5 million property portfolio and £500,000-a-year joint earnings". And Mr Helmer hasn't done too badly either as a Tory/Ukip MEP for the past 15 years, having taken home around £250,000 per annum in salary and 'allowances'.

Both live very comfortably and are manifestly well-heeled: some might say typical Tories. So it oughtn't to matter how many millions they have or how luxurious their pads are in London, Paris, Brussels and Vegas.

It certainly doesn't matter to His Grace: both the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate may be engaged or disengaged with the rest of creation; either may be a good or bad servant of God or a force for good or ill in the world.

But there is one line of the Mail interview with Robert Jenrick which caught His Grace's eye. When asked what he could possibly know of life on the breadline, he apparently responded: "I don’t need to have a disabled daughter to know what it’s like."

Now, with a prime minister who had a disabled son and who knows very well what it's like; and in a nation of around 11 million who live with some kind of disability, this appears to be a particularly crass comment. Though, to be generous, it is at least spontaneous and authentic.

His Grace is of the view that one does not need to be disabled in order to represent the interests of the disabled in Parliament, any more than one needs to be female, gay, lesbian, brown-skinned, black-skinned, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh or Hindu in order to advocate for any of these demographic groups in the democratic parliamentary process. Any compassionate human being of engaged reason has the capacity to watch, listen, understand and empathise.

But surely one does have to have a disabled daughter to know what it's like. Surely one has to have experienced the emotional traumas, the desperation, resentment, frustration and the months and years of medical treatment in order to know what it's like. Disability discrimination abounds: it is enshrined in the pages of the Old Testament in the rules for Levitical priesthood:
Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God.
For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous,
Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded,
Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken;
No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God (Lev 21:17-21).
The supremacy of the able-bodied may be observed in all times and across all cultures: their chronic separation, stigma and suppression on the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder has been a cause of intolerable, unimaginable suffering. The able-bodied cannot know their daily struggles or gauge how to verify their consciousness or oppression. Nor can they know anything of the father of the disabled child, and his propensity for illusion, folly, escape or destructive behaviour. We cannot identify the good with the bent of our own natures: our empathy may be natural, but generosity and compassion run against the grain of our depraved wills. The fact that we have to impose 'knowing' on our unwilling natures suggests that we cannot know by self-imposition what others know by natural or fatal infliction.

The highest good for humans - including politicians - is to love and take joy in the whole course of the world. It is also to know oneself and to speak the truth in love. The best MPs are those who can love those around them constantly, consistently and steadily, undiverted by their own pain and disappointments or their own partial interests. This is true public service, and it carries within itself the greatest intrinsic satisfaction - physical, material, psychological, mental and spiritual healing.

The people of Newark have an important choice to make this week, and their election could well seal the outcome of the next general election. For God's sake, choose wisely.
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