King's Evangelical Divinity School

25 June 2010

"No pain? Well that's alright then"

Today the media details the findings of a report commissioned by the Department of Health which concludes an unborn child cannot feel pain before 24 weeks. The report maintains nerve endings in the brain are insufficiently developed for pain to be felt. Naturally, the report is being seized upon as justification for the current 24-week limit at which abortions can take place in this country.

Am I missing something here? We see those incredible three-dimensional images of fully-formed unborn children who move and grimace, while a pregnant mom will tell you how sudden sound and movement causes the baby to respond. Yet we are told an unborn child at 24 weeks cannot feel pain. But I dare say you prick a premature baby born at 22 weeks with a pin and he/she will feel it. You'd certainly be arrested for it. Or are the professionals in question suggesting the nerve endings in the brain miraculous appear at birth? Because if so I doubt it will be too long before even later-term abortion is justified on the basis it causes no suffering. You may think this is a ridiculous suggestion, but I once heard one well-known pro-abortion MP during a science committee hearing make the ludicrous statement that there was no scientific evidence a baby felt any pain until after birth.

But this is neither here nor there. What is relevant here is how the report challenges directly one of the key issues - pain and suffering of the unborn child - on which anti-abortion campaigners have challenged the current 24-week limit for some years and have secured considerable public support in the process. More importantly, there is evidence to suggest the current intake of MPs are are much more sympathetic to reducing the term at which abortions can take place while, significantly, new PM David Cameron has previously made clear he wants to look at this issue with a view to lowering the limit. Thus the Professor who chaired the review maintains we do not now need to revisit the upper limit, a position the Department of Health has strongly echoed this morning.

And here, in all its glory, is Stage 2 of the utilitarian argument for abortion. The first stage highlighted the suffering of women as a result of being denied an abortion, the social problems an unwanted baby might (might!) cause, and so on. Today's stage 2 goes one step further down the utilitarian route, denying abortion even causes pain or distress.Watch out for Stage 3: a challenge to the view that in the majority of cases abortion causes lasting psychological harm and depression among the vast majority of women involved. Watch how all the previous statistical and anecdotal evidence demonstrating this to be the case will gradually be reinterpreted and dismissed. I'm reminded of George Orwell's 1984 in which the leading character's day job was to censor and destroy all documents detailing a past history no longer convenient to the totalitarian state.

I know some of the issues surrounding abortion are complex, and I do not want to make light of very difficult situations and choices faced over choosing, say, between a mother or unborn child, aborting one twin to save another, genuine and horrendous physical handicap, incest, or even rape. Whatever one's views as Christians on some of these circumstances, such situations are traumatic and rarely reached on flippant grounds, and as Christians we do well to approach such issues compassionately and objectively rather than as reactionary zealots. But then there are the myriad of abortions which take place on the basis of nothing more than social convenience, with women all too often encouraged to have an abortion by some who are driven by purely ideological grounds. The problem, of course, is a population increasingly uneasy about the unnecessary pain and suffering of the unborn child. This report serves as a useful antedote to such sentiment.

I do not believe this report, the timing and nature of which are suspect and troubling. But that aside, purely utilitarian arguments do not justify abortion on the scale we see today anyway. There are strong moral reasons for condemning the holocaust of 200,000 unborn children every year in Britain for predominantly social reasons. That we have now reached the stage where it is denied such activity causes pain or suffering simply to salve our conscience is a travesty.

24 June 2010

Guest Post by Chris Lazenby: "There is no God. Or is there?"

I wonder how many KEDS students (if any) have read There is no a God by Antony Flew? The book is subtitled ‘How the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind’ and was first published in 2007 by HarperOne.

This is a wonderful read for so many reasons. Professor Flew - a true scholar and former professor of philosophy at Keele, Oxford and Aberdeen - more or less wrote the rule book for the so-called “new atheism” with his 1950 essay ‘Theology and Falsification’. The blurb on the back cover of the book tells us that this became ‘the most widely reprinted philosophical publication of the last half century.’ He grew famous – as has Richard Dawkins – for his atheistic views, and debated and spoke widely around the world as to why he did not believe in God. In a debate in the U.S in 1998, he said this; ‘I know there is no God’, and claimed that a system of belief about God contained contradictions similar to ‘unmarried husbands’ or 'round squares.'

Flew was clearly a major thinker of the 20th and early 21st century. And yet, over the past few years, where discussion about atheism is so often paraded around our broadcasting media, his name is rarely, if ever, mentioned. This is probably because, towards the end of his life in 2004, Antony Flew changed his mind. As far as the new atheism goes, Flew is a fly in the ointment (no pun intended).

One of Flew’s guides in life was a line from Plato’s Republic; ‘We must follow the argument wherever it leads.’ The line is quoted several times throughout the book. And this is what Flew honestly tried to do as he journeyed through just about every knotty problem which theology, philosophy and science can offer, mostly from the point of view of a devout atheist. He, it was, who first coined the term ‘free will defence’ in criticism of Christianity and other religions which try to explain the evils of the world by putting them all down to man and his free will.

But following the argument wherever it leads, led Flew to a complete turnaround. I won’t go into details as I wouldn’t wish to spoil the story if you should decide to read it. But basically, certain philosophical and scientific arguments led Flew to change his mind. One notable blow to his certainty came in a debate with Terry Miethe, who laid out a particularly convincing version of the so-called cosmological argument (which I’ve discussed in other entries in this blog). Another came from the discovery of the complexities inherent in DNA. I quote from the book on page 75:
What I think the DNA material has done is that it has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements to work together…. It is all a matter of the enormous complexity by which the results were achieved, which looked to me like the work of intelligence.
On page 76-78, Flew quotes Schroeder, dealing with the absurd argument in support of evolution which uses the well known example involving monkeys, typewriters and the works of Shakespeare. This section of the book made me laugh out loud as I read the mathematical probabilities for this and the sheer idiocy of the claim.

In a section starting on page 78, Flew has a subheading; ‘Duelling with Dawkins’, in which he recounts various ‘run-ins’ with that rather loud mouthpiece of the new atheism. This too is entertaining to read as Flew (in answer to Dawkins’ selfish-gene writings) says that… ‘natural selection does not positively produce anything. It only eliminates or tends to eliminate, whatever is not competitive.’ He goes on to describe Dawkin’s book The Selfish Gene as ‘a major exercise in popular mystification.’ He write; ‘Genes, of course, can be neither selfish nor unselfish any more than they or any other non-conscious entities can engage in competition or make selections. (Natural selection is, notoriously, not selection…’)

Did Flew have a “Damascus Road experience”? Not as far as we know, unless it came after the book’s publication. But what is clear is that he developed an interest in the Christian faith. On p24 he writes; ‘… when I later came to think about theological things, it seemed to me that the case for the Christian revelation is a very strong one, if you believe in any revelation at all.’ By the end of the book, he writes “Some claim to have made contact with this Mind (i.e., God). I have not – yet. But who knows what could happen next?”

An appendix at the end of the book is written by N.T. Wright, current bishop of Durham (though soon to retire), and well known theologian. Of this appendix, Flew writes on p160; ‘Wright’s response to my previous critiques of divine self-revelation, both in the present volume and in his books, comprise the most powerful case for Christianity that I have ever seen.’ These hints in his book lead me to hope that Antony Flew came to know his Lord before he died in April of this year and that he is now safely with him.

Chris Lazenby

22 June 2010

A Brief Moment to Comment on the Coalition

Apologies! End-of-year marking and examination season has been in full swing for several weeks, hence the lack of blogging. But I've finally been able to take a short break from college issues especially to watch the Budget. In doing so I was struck by how our political landscape has changed so much in this country in just six or seven weeks.

First, Cameron looks quite relaxed and statesman-like, while today the Tories seem to have regained their historical reputation for financial competence. It was weird, too, watching the Chacellor speak with LibDem Cabinet ministers on either side of him (clearly it was Cameron's turn for that seat hidden behind the speaker at the despatch box). Interesting, too, is how just a few months ago LibDem leader Nick Clegg was shouted down by Labour MPs when asking questions during every single PMQs, yet now he sits next to the PM and is one of the most powerful men in government (much to the livid anger, no doubt, of members on the benchs opposite... perhaps some of them realise now they were rather ungenerous to the leader of the third party, which I dare say contributed to his unwillingness to explore more seriously a Lib-Lab coalition). Funny, too, how our perceptions change. I always considered Clegg a bit of a joke, someone who promised everything knowing full well he would never be held to account as the leader of a third party unlikely ever to secure power. Yet now I see him in a quite different light. Not only was he educated at a prestigious English public school (arguably an ideal training ground for running Government), but he has also proved quite able to ditch ideology over pragmatic necessity. [Reading back I can't believe I just wrote that! My, how things have changed in the last few weeks.]

For their part, I think much of Labour looks not only tired and out of touch, but many of its MPs arguably come across as somewhat hypocritical. They regularly shouted Clegg down so his voice quite literally couldn't be heard at PMQs, and yet now Harriet Harman, during her Budget response, shakes her head in disbelief at the concept of the LibDems working with the Tories, as if "How could they? They are one of us!" Well clearly they should have portrayed that sentiment a little more generously when they had the chance. Hypocritical, too, is the shrill indignance emanating from some Labour MPs such as Chris Bryant and, a few weeks ago, David Blunkett (yes, you heard correctly, David Blunkett of all people) that the new Coalition government is guilty of briefing journalists rather than informing Parliament first! This, of course, from an ex-government which was contemptuous of Parliament (Blair: "I've never been a House of Commons man") and did precisely this kind of briefing (enter Alastair Campbell) for years and years. They need to take care. People have long memories and they could look rather silly if they continue to call the new government for the very things they engaged in for years.

Meanwhile, glad to see the current approach to politics seeks to use talent from across the parties, notably the welcome involvement of Frank Field and more recently John Hutton. I think the Coalition government has successully captured the middle ground of British politics which, years ago one would simply not have associated with the Tory party. Early Thatcher succeeded in doing so and the party remained in power for years. Later Thatcher and 1990s Conservativism failed to do tso and the results for one of the most successful political parties in Western Europe were disastrous. Labour needs to bear in mind the inherent dangers of a sharp, reactive lurch to the left. For all his faults, Blair recognised that along that path lies utter folly. As one who was somewhat doubtful (and who knows? It could all end rather quickly) the Coalition government looks increasingly serious, pragmatic, statesman-like and - it must be said - quite good. It is certainly much-needed at this time.

Anyway, back to those scripts for a nother few days. But before I go, on another note did you hear about the North Korean government's unfortunate broadcasting decision concerning World Cup football recently? The Stalinist state did not broadcast live North Korea's first match against Brazil, which is more the pity given how they managed to keep the mightly footballing nation to a highly respectable 2-1 result. No doubt buoyed by this result the Dear Leader and his minions decided to broadcast the next North Korea match live. Yes, that's right, this was the match which North Korea lost 7-0 to Portugal. You couldn't make it up.

10 June 2010

Christians and Personal Finance

An area I find intriguing and have wanted to blog about for some time is Christians and personal finance, specifically a biblical theology approach to handling personal finance. A Reformed Protestant focus upon thrift, evidence that better money management following conversion has contributed to Pentecostal upward social mobility in regions such as Latin America, and biblical theology themes such as good stewardship, all demonstrate the relevance of this subject for everyday Christians. The current economic climate, too, and what may yet transpire in, for example, the Eurozone (together with a wider global knock-on effect), arguably make it even more relevant. Today's brief post, then, will be the first of several thoughts on the issue over coming months. Of course, when it comes to personal finance there are so many issues to explore, but rather than spend time writing one or two lengthy, detailed essays offering a comprehensive biblical theology of personal finance I thought I would simply share brief thoughts as and when, beginning with the suggestion that wise management of personal finance is indeed a Christian principle.

The concept of good stewardship is well-established in Scripture. Drawing on the management of a household's affairs and finances, this theme of stewardship serves as a model for the oversight, organisation and management of ministries which God has enstrusted to His servants. And (tangentially) neither should we limit ministry to full-time or large-scale callings. Whether full-time, part-time or lay ministry, an important scriptural principle seems to be that, generally speaking, faithful and successful stewardship in small or relatively minor areas of ministry eventually lead to God entrusting us with greater ministerial responsibility (see Mt 25:24-28, Lk 16:9-11). So whatever your church job or ministry, regardless of how small or seemingly menial it appears, doing it well for the glory of God often proves we are ready and able to handle larger ministerial responsibility. In short, prove yourself a faithful steward in a little and the likelihood is God will entrust you with stewardship of a lot. (I should add, of course, that we ought not to extrapolate from this that smaller ministry is automatically a sign of failure. It is not. Sometimes God specifically calls people to ministries which by their very nature will never expand exponentially or be regarded as successful in strictly human terms. Jeremiah's calling, a prophetic ministry which went unlistened to and secured multiple enemies, is a case in point).

But I digress. Ministerial responsibility aside, it seems pretty clear that faithful stewardship and careful, wise management of finite resources are concepts which are well-attested in Scripture. Whether the thrift of the woman detailed in Proverbs 31, important lessons gleaned from the Parable of the Talents, or various references to good household management and stewardship, arguably there is plenty of evidence to suggest wise management of personal finance represents an important biblical principle. Moreover, given how as Christians we believe that all we have comes from God, it seems doubly important to exercise good stewardship over our personal finance. This is what I'm interested in touching upon over forthcoming months, exploring possible biblical and practical guidelines for the efficient management of personal finance, including issues such as debt, interest, saving, investing, and so on, together with Christian attitudes towards money and finances.

Sadly, the prevalence of the prosperity gospel and the damage it has caused has resulted in some Christian leaders reacting the other way, failing even to discuss what the Bible has to say about money, personal finance and Christians responsibilities in these areas. Yet many Christians are proactively seeking biblical teaching on these issues, not out of an obsession with money and finance (after all, it is impossible to serve God and Mammon), but rather basic biblical guidelines on good stewardship of personal finance. There is no doubt such stewardship offers enourmous benefits.

8 June 2010

Evangelicalism and Liberation Theology: Oil and Water

Several months ago I attended a lecture during which a Christian tutor of theology strongly affirmed liberation theology. I don’t know which surprised me more: that she was an Evangelical based at a thoroughly Evangelical college and seminary, that she received a standing ovation from her predominantly Evangelical peers, or that afterwards she was eulogised publicly in thoroughly Evangelical language by another Evangelical who pronounced her a prophet.

Within the Evangelical periphery there is increasing sympathy towards for liberation theology, particularly among some Pentecostals within the academy (conversely, it should be noted, other Pentecostals/Charismatics are diametrically opposed to liberation theology). Why might this be? The noted Pentecostal Studies pioneer Walter Hollenweger, formerly Professor of Missiology at the University of Birmingham, helpfully differentiates between Pentecostal pneumapraxis (experience of the Spirit) and pneumatology (theology of the Spirit), arguing that many Pentecostals’ experience of the outworking of the Spirit is strong, but their theological reflection of that outworking is somewhat less developed. This prioritising of praxis above theology has permitted some Pentecostals to become involved in radical ecumenical dialogue (including interfaith dialogue), to develop a radical political theology and, getting back to where we started, embrace liberation theology enthusiastically. This is because, for the Pentecostal academics in question, a shared pneumapraxis with one's dialogical partners is far more important than theological reflection and a carefully-boundaried set of propositional truths (which tends to define the broader Evangelical movement). Or put another way, a body of doctrine and tests of orthodoxy become subservient to what is perceived as a shared experience of the Spirit, which is why, say, some Pentecostals and Charismatic Catholics get on so well despite being poles apart theologically. In such cases, a shared pneumapraxis becomes an important (indeed final) authority on issues of faith and practice, while theology takes a back seat. Thus from time to time one encounters Pentecostal academics dabbling in theology of questionable orthodoxy which might raise eyebrows among peers.

Lest anyone think I’m having a go at Pentecostals here, let me reiterate again that very many Pentecostal scholars do not embrace liberation theology, while for many pneumapraxis is firmly relegated to a subsidiary role (after all, the Pentecostal academy is far from theologically or politically homogenous). Rather, my reasons for raising Pentecostalism just now within the context of liberation theology and orthodoxy are threefold: a) the lecturer referred to above is strongly Pentecostal, b) there now exist expressions of Pentecostal liberation theology in Latin America and elsewhere, and c) I am increasingly of the view that Evangelicalism (within which Pentecostalism is broadly located) and fully-fledged liberation theology are theologically incompatible – oil and water – and I suggest embracing wholly and uncritically liberation theology marks an important trajectory away from Evangelical orthodoxy. The purpose of this brief post is to explain why I believe liberation theology and Evangelicalism are incompatible, how one cannot embrace both simultaneously and coequally without substantially redefining one or other.

4 June 2010

What Utter Hypocrisy

Today Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan quoted the sixth commandment to Israel in Hebrew, telling the Jewish state "Thou shalt not kill". He has also described Hamas as freedom fighters. This from the government which continues to threaten severing ties with any country which even dares raise the issue of the Armenian holocaust, presided over by Ottoman Turkey when over a million Armenian Christians were massacred in a myriad atrocities across the country during the First World War (if you don't know much about those events do a little research and the facts will horrify you). Of course, Turks today cannot be held accountable for events carried out a century ago in their name, while many in Turkey equally condemn the genocide carried out early in the twentieth century. But Erdogan and his government  not only threaten allies who raise the issue a century later, the PM also issued a veiled threat to expel 100,000 Armenians just a few weeks ago if the world continued to refer to the Armenian genocide. And now Erdogan quotes the sixth commandment to Israel. What sheer hypocrisy! Turkey's rhetoric this week merely reinforce the view by some observers that she is in a process of strategic realignment and is distancing herself from Israel. One simply doesn't use such undiplomatic language otherwise. That, of course, is Turkey's prerogative. All nations must do as they see fit, whether out of pragmatism, ideological reasons or to satisfy their domestic populations. But Erdogan's hypocrisy by quoting Scripture really is too much and until the present regime is replaced I, for one, will not be going to Turkey any time soon. Put on ice, too, are any planned study trips with students to visit the seven churches of Revelation.

Israel right or wrong vs Israel is always wrong

The truth about the flotilla is slowly coming out. The Independent details how an Al-Jazeera reporter acknowledges an initial small group of Israeli soldiers lowered to the boat were overcome and beaten, while Haaretz reports fears of three unconscious soldiers being taken hostage (the Al-Jazeera reporter details four captured Israeli soldiers). Given Israel's sensitivity about its soldiers being taken hostage (Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas four years ago and remains a hostage, while Hizbollah's abductions of Israeli soldiers led to the 2006 Lebanon war), this undoubtedly contributed to a second wave of Israeli soldiers boarding the ship who were apparently far more brutal in putting down the riot. We now have confirmation several of those on board were provocateurs, with family members back in Turkey acknowledging they sought martyrdom. We've seen the slingshots, complete with Islamist slogans and ball bearings, as well as other weapons. We've seen the videos of soldiers being beaten, too, though apparently the journalists who filmed them have complained Israel released the footage without their permission. Elsewhere, the Guardian reports on how Hamas has refused the flotilla aid which their propaganda machine had maintained was essential for the survival of the people of Gaza. Indeed, on the BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight the other day an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset openly stated the flotilla was not about aid, but rather making a political statement. Meanwhile, another ship is making its way to Gaza, also on a publicity mission and adamant it will not stop. Its cargo? Cement. Lest anyone think I've fallen for the Israeli propaganda machine, the media sources cited above are generally on the left and tend to be the most critical of Israel.

It all comes too late, of course. It always does. Israel has already been tried and sentenced in the court of public opinion before some of the facts even had chance to emerge. Time again Israel responds to provocations no other country would tolerate (imagine, say, Syria's reaction to settlers on the Golan firing some eight thousand rockets over the border). The problem is, Israel sometimes acts stupidly, as it did earlier this week. After all, the Hamas propaganda strategy and manipulation of the media is pretty slick and it was clear the flotilla offered a chance for valuable media coverage, which is probably why Israel sent in troops with paintball guns. But as we know it all went dreadfully wrong with tragic consequences.

What is galling is the instant demonisation of Israel by an hysterical media lynch mob whenever she is involved in confrontation. Whether her actions are clearly justified or else Israel acts foolishly (and make no mistake, her gung-ho military doctrine is sometimes a cause for concern), there is an immediate assumption within the Arab world that Israel is out to engage in deliberate murder. Elsewhere, Israel is instantly judged in the court of public opinion, while there is a notable absence of scrutiny of the other side. By the time the facts come out demonstrating Israel is not the demon everyone jumps to assume, it's too late. The damage is done, and the evil Israeli monster narrative is reinforced (which is precisely what the likes of Hizbollah, Iran and Hamas all want, while us poor Western saps dance to their tune).

Earlier this week a blog reader responded to my flotilla post by asking what outrage must Israel commit before I scream, "no, enough". My answer, I think, is that for many Christians the instant demonisation of Israel before the full facts have come to light, the same old anti-Israel propaganda and hysteria, the blatant ignoring of the wickedness perpetrated by Israel's enemies, the West's hypocritical demonisation of the only democracy in the Middle East (however imperfect it is), siding with Islamists and countries such as Iran, and (dare I say it) in some cases blatant anti-Semitism, all make it somewhat difficult for some Christians to join in the instant universal chorus of condemnation of Israel which is so ideologically-based and in many cases hatred-driven.

I'm no ultra-Christian Zionist who takes an "Israel right or wrong" position, and I do try (perhaps not always successfully) to be objective, seeking to point out when Israel when does wrong. But like millions of Christians who eschew supercessionism on the basis of Romans 9-11, I strongly believe God retains a plan and purpose for the Jewish people. When, then, a nation four-fifths of which is Jewish is immediately pilloried and demonised by those unwilling even for a second to consider that there may be another side to the story, it makes it very difficult to join in that condemnation until the full facts are known. After all, while an "Israel right or wrong" position is untenable, an "Israel is always wrong" position is equally unChristian. 

Sadly, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was right when he recently observed that the world is against Israel. As for me, despite the sin in the land, the need for the Jewish people too accept Yeshua HaMashiach, the Jewish Messiah, however unpopular it is and however much people criticise me for it, I would much prefer to be a friend of God's historical people and take the time to establish the truth rather than be on that side which instantly demonises them no matter what.

3 June 2010

Guest Post: Larry Helyer on the Gaza Flotilla Episode

Yesterday Larry Helyer sent me a comment on the flotilla issue which I suggested we post here as a guest post, to which he agreed.  Larry earned his Ph.D. at Fuller Theological Seminary, California, and has also studied in Jerusalem. He has taught at Taylor University, Indiana, since 1978, and has various publications in biblical studies, theology and archaeology. He is joining King's as a distance learning tutor from September 2010.

I have followed the Mideast Crisis regularly since 1968. I continue to be amazed by the conflicting versions of violent episodes that, tragically, regularly occur. One might think the Israelis and the Arabs (to simplify a rather complex situation) live in different universes.

The rhetoric employed and conclusions drawn often defy rational discourse. Why is it that the Arab press and diplomatic spokespersons typically resort to "over the top" language when reporting on or responding to these tragedies. Can one take seriously the Turkish prime ministers' accusations of "state terrorism" perpetrated by Israel? What is perplexing to me is that this pattern is endemic in the Arab world. I can list example after example of this kind of distortion. We all laughed at the nonsense of the Iraqi minister of information during the most recent Gulf War. He maintained with a straight face that U.S. troops were being beaten back from Baghdad when in fact they were virtually right outside his office. The Six Day War affords so many examples of absolutely false and hysterical reports it's wearisome. The psychology of this is mystifying.

Now, on the other side, Israel practices state censorship and often prevents journalists from having direct access to information or events. This creates in the minds of many the impression that they are not trustworthy and are hiding something. In some instances, they have indeed hid things.

Bystanders must make a choice: they can accept uncritically either the Arab version or the Israeli version; they can dismiss both as completely self-serving and disingenuous; or they can sift through the conflicting versions and assess which version corresponds more closely with what actually happened. In my opinion, the Israeli version has proven more reliable than its Arab counterpart over the years.

In the flotilla episode we now have competing videos of the affair! The evidence is quite clear that this was a premeditated, staged event for media consumption. Tragically, the consequences were worse than probably both sides anticipated. It will, however, serve as fodder for the Arab media's unrelenting attack against the "Zionist Nazis."

American sympathies tend to favor the underdog. Those without any biblical or theological commitment to a future for Israel in God's plan tend to identify with the plight of the Palestinians. I personally lament the deep suffering and oppression of the Palestinians. I have personally known Palestinian families and have grieved over the harassment and penalties they have had to endure. But I also resent the way their leadership and the Arab leaders of Israel's neighbors have so poorly served them. A peace agreement and a two-state solution could have been achieved years ago had moderate voices prevailed. Alas, such has not been the case.

Though it is politically incorrect to say it, Islamic ideology lies at the taproot of this ongoing crisis. Palestine lies within the Islamic domain. The notion of a Jewish state within their midst is abhorrent. This then colors everything and influences the rhetoric of this conflict.

At Taylor University, Daud Kuttab (a Palestinian Christian) paid a visit and shared his apparent optimism for a Palestinian state in 2011. After listening to him, I must sadly declare that nothing he said leads me to share his optimism. As an example of what I view as totally unrealistic, he listed the several items that he felt must be realized for a Palestinian state. The very first condition he laid down was the following: Israel must take full and complete responsibility for the refugee problem. This is a deal-breaker! And it is so obviously unbalanced and distorted that I come back to my starting point. How can we account for such distorted explanations of the situation? Perhaps we fallen human beings simply cannot be objective when we find ourselves in such emotional distress. So now I conclude with a question: Can the Holy Spirit enable individuals deeply committed to a deeply held political cause to transcend biases and seek the truth and nothing but the truth? I want to believe he can.

Larry Helyer

1 June 2010

Israel and the Flotilla: What About the Bigger Picture?

Once again Israel has hit the news spectacularly, and yet again many Christians have simply aped the bitterly polarised and heated debate concerning the Jewish state which rages across the secular world. Thus, many on the religious left once again shout loud and indignantly, rather idealogically and unrealistically condemning an entire nation (pity we rarely hear the condemnation quite so vociferously when the other side fire rockets or blow themselves up in crowded streets), while some extreme Christian Zionists, as always, slavishly defend Israel no matter what she does, almost as if the secular Israeli government is somehow inerrant. The result of such hysteria is that the strategic ramifications of the wider issues and conflict are lost on those Christians who seem quite incapable of exploring events objectively and disappassionately. Yet it is worth for a moment taking stock of the bigger picture and how this might have a bearing on the region, and indeed upon the rest of us, regardless of our theological view of Israel.

It seems to me one of the gravest aspects of this issue for the region is the breakdown of the once-famous Israeli-Turkish alliance. But make no mistake, this has been coming for some time. Turkey previously guarded its secular constitution jealously, perhaps aware that even the slightest weakening towards religion would eventually let the Islamist genie well and truly out of the bottle. But things began to change with the election of the conservative AKP, a political party consisting of several blocs, including mildly Islamist factions. The AKP came to power in 2002 and was reelected in 2007, and for a while the Turkish military was uneasy with this new religious focus,  ready to intervene militarily if necessary. The country's increasing division along secular-religious lines is typified by the government's attempt to lift the headscarf ban for women and gthe reversal of other strict secularist laws, together with strong opposition to such efforts.