King's Evangelical Divinity School

30 April 2010

Your Caption Ideas

After tonight's final leaders' debate, all the papers and media outlets are besides themselves analysing every single aspect, nuance and tone of the event (one channel even interviewed at length an expert in the esoteric discipline of body language interpretation). But surely The Times newspaper has, by far, the most interesting take on tonight's debate with this particular image...


Your suggested captions please...

21 April 2010

FITE Update 6: Importance of the Christian Vote

BBC New's website has run a quite lengthy article on the possible impact of the Christian vote in the forthcoming general election. The upshot is that in such a closely fought race as the 2010 election, the Christian vote might well have a greater impact than normal, particularly in marginal seats. So if you feel it's been a waste of time in the past, don't let this chance by. Get out there and do some research on your local MPs (there's a very useful little tool to do just that from a Christian perspective here, and a more detailed site across a wider selection of issues here), put prospective candidates through their paces (call and email them, make them work for it by telling you where they stand on issues you consider important), then get out there and canvas for the Christian vote. And don't forget to register to vote yourself.

20 April 2010

62?

Yesterday hundreds of newspapers across the globe reported on the somewhat ashtonishing assertion by a senior Iranian cleric (one of the chappies who exercise absolute control in the Iranian theocracy) that by dressing immodestly and acting promiscuously Iranian women are responsible for bringing earthquakes upon Iran. I agree it does seem rather unlikely, but delve a little deeper and one begins to wonder if the cleric gentleman is on to something here. Cast your minds back to how in 1962 Iran witnessed the highly destructive Bou'in-Zahra earthquake. Now consider how 62% of all Iranian university students are women. Elsewhere, in a recent poll 62% of female respondents in Iran, while eschewing feminism, nonetheless sought greater women's rights, while 62% of Iranian women in a recent (and possibly rather unimportant) Internet poll admitted they were considering leaving Iran. A theme seems to be developing here 62 = women = evil.

But wait, there's more! It is surely no coincidence Iran's arch-enemy Israel's is celebrating its 62nd birthday this year. Spookily, David Ben-Gurion was 62 years old when he became the Jewish state's first leader. No wonder the pioneer psychologist Sigmond Freud famously had a curious unnatural fear of the number 62. But the clerics are fighting back, taking on these twin forces of evil and seeking to turn the number 62 to their own advantage. Thus, the mineral Samarium (used in nuclear fusion and apparently helping Iran develop a nuclear capacity) has the atomic number 62. Notably, too, in two national elections didn't President Ahmadinejad win with the backing of 62% of Iranian voters each time?

It can't possibly all be a coincidence, can it? Well actually, yes (especially if, like me you've sadly spent your evening trawling the Internet for entries combining 62 with various words just for a cheap laugh). Indeed, like the cleric's assertion about women causing earthquakes, it's all utter nonsense, much like the Iranian President's regular assertion Israel should be wiped from the face of the map. No wonder, then, Israel is somewhat concerned about these Iranian mullahs developing a bomb.

19 April 2010

Another Princess Diana Moment?

Following Princess Diana's violent death this country underwent a curious metamorphosis, from stoicism, understatedness and that famous British stiff-upper-lip to a mood of mass hysteria and cult worship the likes of which we hadn't seen before. It swept the nation like a tidal wave, growing in intensity, every day witnessing an ever greater outpouring of grief and simultaneous loathing for the rest of the Royal Family. Strikingly, in life the public was far from enthusiastic in its love for Diana, tut-tutting at her odd behavious and a string of extra-marital affairs. But all that changed with her death and elevation to cult status, encapsulated in the new PM Tony Blair's famous epithet "The People's Princess". The people lapped it up, and the rest is history.

What caused this swing in the nation's mindset leading to such a public display of emotion, traditionally anathema to the British? I think Blair's epithet, and indeed his premiership, was symptomatic or causative (you decide) of a sea change in the British mindset, marking the ditching of years of tradition and history at a breathtaking rate, together with the end of deferential attitudes for ever. Whatever your views on whether this was a good or bad thing, into the vacuum swept spin, image, the cult of celebrity, style, Cool Britannia, and all that. Over the years, the result has been the X-Factorisation of Britain, where politics is filtered through a reality-TV mindset and obsession with celebrity. Meanwhile, the British media has adapted to take into account this focus of image over substance and must take responsibility for its own contribution to the Diana hysteria phenomenon and ensuing cult of celebrity and image.

Let's move the clock forward to another example of hysteria sweeping the nation, albeit not as widespread or comparable in terms of human tragedy, but in its unlikelihood no less significant. I'm referring, of course, to Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg's quite remarkable catapulting into poll opinion orbit, from a distant, insignificant third place just last week, to overall leader in one of today's opinion polls. Not since the Liberal Party (the antecedent of today's Lib Dems) represented one half of the two-party system nearly a century ago has this been the case. So what happened over just a few days to cause this remarkable turnaround, to reverse a century of election results overnight? In short, ninety minutes of televised debate. In the first such debate of political leaders going into a general election, early polling immediately following the debate suggested Nick Clegg came second, then a few minutes later one of the newspapers declared he had just won the debate, and then the media - seeking to spice up a rather dull election (and no doubt sell more papers in the process) - did the rest. Cleggmania was born and opinion polls taken over the weeked have seen the Lib Dems reach dizzying heights.

All this is surely another Diana moment, mass hysteria leading to an opinion reached on the basis of image and sentiment over substance, the adoration of celebrity and a focus on style. I watched the debate and to be brutally honest all three candidates were quite hopeless, driven by projecting an image over substance. Indeed, Clegg was quite vacuous at times, yet his success reflects how the two main parties have totally failed to set out their political stalls successfully to a volatile audience which has decided it likes Mr Clegg on the basis of a nice haircut, suit, well-modulated voice and generally sharper, more youthful image than his two opponents (and no doubt also being ded-up with the other two). Some (mainly Lib Dems, one suspects) will no doubt suggest I'm being a trite condescending towards the great British public. Indeed I am (and far from trite), I believe the British public has fallen hook, line and sinker for image over substance, while hysteria has fed on itself. How else does one explain these levels of support for a party which, for example, is the most Europhile and wants to take us into the Euro (even old Tony at the height of his popularity didn't dare try this one on) from a public which is traditionally Europhobic and strongly against the Euro? We could list various other Lib Dem policies which the British just don't want, explaining why they've been in the third party wilderness for almost a century. We are left, then, with the obvious conclusion that today's opinion polls reflect more a knee-jerk reaction to a brief debate, together with media-induced hysteria which has fed on itself and grown beyond all proportion. If heightened scrutiny of Lib Dem policies over the next couple of weeks leads to a decline in Lib Dem fortunes, we'll know for sure this is the case.

This said - and getting back to where I began - Britain has changed. The public can be whipped up into a hysterical frenzy. Meanwhile, style does take precedence over substance, celebrity over issues, appeal over policy, which is precisely why David Cameron, a former spin doctor, has arguably based much of his election strategy upon himself. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown, who promised to ditch spin when he came to power, went back to it with a vengeance shortly after. In short, this election is a bit like the X-Factor, and all of us have some responsibility for that, whether the main parties for not standing by and setting out honestly their ideological principles, the media for seeking to whip up a frenzy, or the British public for its obsession with celebrity, as expressed in interviews by the media with politically-illiterate members of the public observing how "that Mr Clegg certainly looked the part, though" or some female voters opining how dishy that young Mr Clegg looks. What a way to decide which political masters we are enslaved to for the next five years.

So this focus of style over substance is why I've found this the most boring election ever. But of course, the results of the election will be very real, creating a unique and quite authentic dynamic at Westminster in the days and weeks following May 6 which could change the country for ever, and not necessarily for the better. A pity, then, to vote on the basis of celebrity or because of mass hysteria. Problem is, the politicians haven't given us much choice. Meanwhile, it's a pity the other parties weren't also allowed their moment of fame at the recent televised debate to lay out their stalls. I think, like that nice Mr Clegg, they too would have seized their moment and it would have worried the two main parties. What an election this would then be.

__________
  UPDATE
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This morning I came across an Archbishop Cranmer post also comparing politics to the X-Factor, though his focus is somewhat different. It can be found here. He also has the knives out for Nick Clegg, comparing Cleggmania to bird flu (remember that?), and more seriously, highlighting the strongly secular nature of Lib Dem education policy which will be of interest to Christian voters.

12 April 2010

Jewish Tentacles

Archbishop Cranmer has uncovered some unpleasantness among our political elites. The key paragraph states:
Is it not ironic that, at a time when Labour criticise David Cameron for sitting beside ‘xenophobes’, ‘anti-Semites’ and ‘homophobes’ in their new European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament, that we find they have a few within their own ranks?

Rather shocking that this kind of thing still happens among parliamentarians. Rather than comment and replicate, I leave it for you to read His Grace's original post, which sets out the story in his unique and erudite style.  Full details here.

FITE Update 5: Who's Responsible for This?

Today's Daily Telegraph has the following report:
Social workers' actions befitted 'Stalin's Russia', says judge


Social workers have been accused of behaving like the authorities of "Stalin's Russia or Mao's China" by a judge over moves to permanently remove young children from their mothers.
 
Lord Justice Wall said the failure of social workers in the London borough of Greenwich to support a mother trying to make changes to her life and get back her two children, who are in care, was ''quite shocking''.


The judge said what occurred would do little to dispel the perception of many that social workers were ''arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents into an unsatisfactory care system - trampling on the rights of parents and children in the process.''

In a second case, another appeal judge said the actions of Devon County Council in pursuing plans to have a baby adopted without giving the natural mother a last chance to show he was safe with her was likely to be perceived as ''more like Stalin's Russia or Mao's China than the west of England''.
The rest of the story can be found here.

Call me an hysterical reactionary, but this issue has troubled me and I've blogged about it for years. So when you decide how to vote on 6 May, please consider 1) which party holds the greatest responsibility for bringing such a state of affairs about, and 2) which of the political parties is most likely to reverse this injustice. These are real lives we're talking about here, completely destroyed lives, and it is happening all the time across the length and breadth of the land. What a terrible job it must be for decent social workers and Christians who genuinely seek to do what is right, but see so many decisions of this kind reached purely on the basis of ideology or targets.

Further Election Resource for Evangelicals

In light of my comment series on the forthcoming election, I've been sent a link to someone else's blog who likewise plans to comment on the issue in the run up to the election. The brief article I've read is quite useful and I'd be interested in taking up and discussing further several comments the author makes. I think this article's strength is its focus on the big picture rather than single issues, and I suggest Evangelicals may find it useful as they prepare to vote. Anyway, if you aqre interested the post can be found here.

9 April 2010

FITE Update 4: Good Stewardship?

Good stewardship of resources represents an important Christian principle. Yet it seems Britain, the world's sixth largest economy, gives many millions of pounds of aid to China, the third largest economy. It's not that we shouldn't help poor people in other countries, but when China is spending some 50 billion pounds on defence this year why should we not expect that country to take care of her own problems? Meanwhile, British overseas aid to China has quadrupled under Labour.

Is this good stewardship of resources? I think not. Surely this money would be better spent in far less developed countries where it could make a huge difference. Lest anyone think I'm making a partisan point here, the criticism comes a former representative of Tony Blair and former Foreign Office minister. Full story here.

FITE Update 3: Encouraging Marriage?

In this Faith in the Election (FITE) series of short posts I'm continuing to highlight faith issues and how they might contribute to how Christians decide to vote in the forthcoming election. Let's talk briefly about marriage, because there seems to be a clear dividing line between the parties here. David Cameron's Tories want to introduce some kind of tax break for married couples. Labour and the Lib Dems, on the other hand, are completely opposed to such a concept. This said, government minister Ed Balls, after years of opposing recognising marriage in the tax system suddenly seemed much more in favour of marriage recently. Positioning for the election (or possibly to be next leader of the Labour Party)? Or Damascene conversion? Whatever Balls' inconsistency on this issue, Labour certainly hasn't been inconsistent, with marriage firmly downplayed as an institution over the past thirteen years.

So for many people of faith Cameron's desire to recognise marriage in the tax system will be applauded. Except his own Shadow Business Secretary Ken Clarke is not convinced of the value of a marriage tax break. Indeed, wasn't it Ken Clarke who abolished the married couples tax allowance when he was Chancellor? Cameron, for his part, wobbled earlier this year concerning the costing of his proposed marriage tax break. Elsewhere, Nick Clegg doesn't have much of a track record on supporting marriage, as Archbishop Cranmer wittily points out here (Warning for LibDem readers: His Grace has little time for the third party).

So we have the luxury of an issue in which we can differentiate between the main parties/leaders on marriage. Despite Ed Ball's Damascene conversion to the benefits of marriage, Labour has downplayed marriage's societal role throughout its tenure, focusing instead on equality and also recognising alternative relationships and family units. For Nick Clegg marriage is simply a piece of paper and no more special than any other union. Meanwhile, David Cameron is quite adamant he wants to promote marriage and aspires to recognise it in the tax system, though several of his team are not convinced and the national debt means anything the Tories introduce would be modest to begin with. You decide which of these might be most conducive to those voting from a faith worldview.

8 April 2010

FITE Update 2: Tories and Gays

In recent years the Tories have tried hard to capture the pink vote, something unthinkable a decade or two ago. The Conservative Party has sought not only to change its image on this and similar issues, but there is substance too. In short, the Tories are more gay-friendly, as evident through various statements, Commons votes and policy changes. But it all went pear-shaped with Shadow Home Secretrary Chris Grayling's recent comment to the effect it was up to B&B owners' conscience whether they opened their homes to gay couples. Importantly, Cameron did not sack or publicly reprimand his Home Affairs spokesman, which has led one gay Tory activist to claim she will now vote Labour. This suggests that despite Cameron's positioning, the Labour Party is indeed the natural home of gay rights and activism, a view backed by how the government gleefully seized upon Grayling's comments to argue the Tories haven't changed on this issue. Meanwhile, Cameron's efforts to win some of the gay vote has failed... on two counts. First, gay activists are now openly calling for a vote in support of Labour. Second, by not sacking Grayling it would seem Cameron is not convinced of modern society's fixation with celebrating the gay lifestyle. Yet by seeking a via media he has also alienated many conservatives who reject special treatment on the basis of sexuality. How might this whole issue play out among Christians deciding how to vote?

Faith in the Election (FITE): Update 1 - Family Values

The Daily Mail reports that Schools Secretary Ed Balls, one of Gordon Brown's key allies and a possible successor for leader of the Labour Party, has dropped his planned legislation which would see sex education introduced for children as young as five. As Parliament wraps up, the parties negotiate on outstanding legislation so that some is pushed through and other bills are ditched until after the election. Apparently, the Tories wanted changes to such an early introduction to sex education, which Balls was unwilling to concede. However, this doesn't mean he won't try to reintroduce it again in a new parliament (if, that is, Labour wins and he remains School Secretary).

Elsewhere Christina Odone writes a short but interesting piece in the Daily Telegraph on Cameron bringing back family values. I suggest British Evangelicals are currently divided over whether this is really the case, though undoubtedly Cameron's rhetoric over the past year or two has been consistently more in keeping with pro-family values than anything we've heard from the other two main parties so far. The thrust of Odone's piece is that although Cameron is more pro-family than the other parties, nonetheless she prefers to avoid labelling him a traditional family values guy because Major's "back to basics" campaign was a disaster, not least because some Tories (including the PM) were not practising what they preached.

Faith in the General Election

And at last we're off! A month-long general election campign which, I'm quite sure, will ensure everyone in the country (even us politics junkies) has become thoroughly tired and fed-up of everything political by voting day (6 May).

This election is very important for people of faith. Naturally, as Christians our faith shapes our worldview which in turn influences how we vote. There can be little doubt thirteen years of Labour government has been strongly antithetical towards Christian values and had a massive impact upon Christianity in this country. Not only various bishops and well-known figures take this view, some on the religious left dismayed with Labour's wars would agree. Elsewhere, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has announced he is an atheist, something political leaders always avoid doing. Honesty, or indicative of an even tougher time for Christian values if he secured a government role? Meanwhile, David Cameron is a churchgoer who is keen to be seen holding to traditional values. But confusingly he also wants to be seen as modern, inclusive and ridding the party of its so-called nasty image, for example by seeking to capture the gay vote. There are, of course, other parties to vote for (though some are regional) including some where faith and politics are intertwinned, for example Northern Ireland's DUP.

My view is Christians should take a strong interest in this election and vote. After all, this represents an important election which could see more of the same - even more - antithesis towards Christianity. A hung parliament could also mean a change in the voting system which changes our politics for ever. What could this mean for Christians? And if this is a reality shouldn't we be looking much more carefully now at the Lib Dems and what they could mean for Christianity in the UK? Moreover, the Conservatives were the party of traditional values but if they return to power will there really be a reversal of some of Labour's social and moral policies? Committed Anglican Daily Mail columnist Peter Hitchens feels the Tories have so ditched their values that a thumping at the polls and the emergence of a new party along the old Tory lines is what is needed. There are various other issues we could raise, but as you can see there is a lot to play for here, particularly for people of faith. And if we don't vote, when the dust settles and we find ourselves in difficult circumstances we will only have ourselves to blame. In future years complaining about the erosion of Christian values will seem pretty hollow if we didn't at least bother to vote, being salt and light by encouraging others to do so and seek to bring change.

Over the course of this election I'll be drawing attention to issues which have relevance to Christians and are worth bearing in mind as we prepare to decide who to cast our vote for. To keep these pages fresh, up to date and relevant I'll be keeping my comments short and to the point. Please feel free to elaborate or develop the discussion of issues raised through your comments.

4 April 2010

Persecution of Christians in the Middle East

Before church this Easter morning I was reading through the papers and came across this article in the Daily Telegraph about the awful situation in which Iraqi Christians find themselves. It's a tragic report of several hundred thousand Christian refugees fleeing the violence they encounter in the likes of Bagdad and Mosul and heading for the West or the Kurdish areas, death threats, being stopped in the streets with demands to see identity cards, resulting in being robbed, kidnapped or more recently simply shot out of hand. Murder of clergy and laity is frequent. And it is clear they are being targeted specifically because they are Christians.

The report highlighted several issues for me. First, anti-Zionist Christians do the plight of such Christians in Iraq and across the Middle East few favours by constantly focusing on the situation in the Holy Land at the expense of the terrible trials Christians face across the wider region. The horrors described should have us all up in arms, but voices from some segments of the Church are strangely silent over the persecution of Christians in Muslim lands. Inevitably, these persecuted Christians might be forgiven for feeling their Western counterparts have forgotten them. I was also struck by the details in the Telegraph story of an influx of Western missionaries imemdiately after the Iraq war and the damage this purportedly caused. Such activity in a Muslim area, especially in the wake of a war by America and the West, if not thought through carefully and can appear triumphalist, and as such defeats the whole effort to spread the Gospel. I'm not saying we shouldn't evangelise in Muslim lands, we certaionly should be preaching the Gospel wherever we have an opportunity. But Islamic extremism is such in soe countries it has to be done differently from in the West. I have warned about the dangers of triumphalism within the context of Christians in Muslim lands here, and we do well to take care how we discuss and work within such regions, ensuring we do not endanger further the immensely precarious positions our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ find themselves in some such countries.

We've Lost Control Over Our Own Homes

So many stories with a religious element emerging recently, demonstrating yet again that secularisation theory has proved woefully mistaken, while religion remains an important determinant of political behaviour. One such story over the weekend is Conservative Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling's suggestion that people running private bed and breakfast establishments from their own home should be allowed to turn down gay couples if they wish. This story has a faith element because it comes in the wake the recent case when a Christian woman refused a gay couple from staying at her B & B because she objected to two men sharing a bed in her home. However, under legislation introduced by this government she no longer has the freedom to refuse service on such grounds. In short, equality legislation says she is breaking the law.

Well, the law is an ass. Grayling differentiates between hotels and family-run establishments where customers spend the night in your family home. It is quite one thing to refuse service to somebody because of their religion, race, gender or sexuality, but home owners surely have the moral right to choose what happens in their own home. Indeed, private hostelry has always expressed suspicion of prospective customers, whether motorbikers, unmarried couples, young people, people with blue hair, Mods, hippies, or whatever. Owners of B & Bs have always chosen to turn down people they don't want in their own home, whether that decision is reached rationally or not. Personally, I for one believe B & B owners, whether Christians, Muslims, atheists, gays, or whatever, should be allowed to limit who they take in. After all, it's their home which they exercise control over (or did until this government took it away).

Meanwhile, I certainly wouldn't want to stay in a B & B where, say, a secular atheist owner made me feel uncomfortable about my faith. Neither should such a person be forced to welcome Christians like me. Yet of course some people revel in exacting their "rights". In short, they want to engage in a triumphalist lording over those who question their faith or lifestyle, and if they can draw on the law to force their opponents to ditch their principles, even in their own homes (a kind of ideological imperialism), so much the better. It smacks of revenge, and a particularly vindictive kind at that, and it is complete nonsense. Are we going to legislate every time someone disagrees with what every member of society practices, says or believes? This is why pluralism's days are numbered. It is unworkable.

2 April 2010

We Only Hear One Side of the Story

Today's Independent reports an attempt by Muslims visiting the cathedral in Cordoba, Spain (formerly the Great Mosque of Cordoba under the Moors), to pray there despite it being forbidden by the Catholic authorities for Muslims to do so. Now compare this story with oft-heard attempts by religious Jews to pray in the Temple Mount compound (known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary) where the Dome of the Rock is located. It is not permitted for them to do so.

Now some will respond by arguing Muslims can't have it both ways. Either they must accept that people of other faiths should be allowed to pray in Muslim holy sites which also have religious significance to Christians and  Jews, or else they can't militantly demand to pray in former Muslim sites like the cathedral at Cordoba now under the control of another faith.

But this is not really the point I'm trying to make, and the issue is more complex than this. It is true some Muslims riot when there is a rumour that Jews seek to enter the Temple Mount compound and pray. But interestingly, it is the Israeli authorities which forbid Jews praying there in a bid to keep the peace. Moreover, the Jewish religious authorities have also issued religious pronouncements forbidding Jews to pray in the vicinity of the Temple Mount. Thus, while in Cordoba the Catholic authorities prohibit Muslims from praying in the cathedral, in Jerusalem the Israeli state and religious authorities forbid their own people from praying at the Temple Mount, which is under Mulsim control, this despite three thousand years of Jewish religion and history there inextricably intertwinned. How different the two approaches are.

Yet I still haven't yet quite made the point I'm driving at, which is this. Israel won't allow non-Muslims near the Muslim-controlled Temple Mount enclosure. I have often been stopped from walking through the Muslim cemetery on the eastern wall during Friday prayers by Israeli soldiers. Also, I was once on a tour of Jerusalem which included a young British Muslim woman who wanted to visit the Dome of the Rock. At first, Israeli soldiers at the gate wouldn't let her in because given her secular, Western  appearance they didn't believe she was a Muslim. Only when she could prove her Islamic credentials was she allowed in (while the rest of us had to wait outside). Meanwhile, the Temple Mount has remained under the control of the Islamic waqf since Israel took control of East Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War.

And this is precisely my point. We often hear how, after Friday prayers, Palestinian youths are provoked by rumours that orthodox Jews plan to storm into the Temple Mount to pray and respond by throwing stones over the Western Wall to Jewish worshippers below. But have you noticed how we hear very little about this other side of the story, the efforts by the Israel state and religious authorities to stop Jewish religious activity in the Temple Mount area? You'll have to spend time in Jerusalem to hear and understand the full narrative.