Archive for the 'Atheism' Category


Council Prayers: NSS’s Own Goal

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

“Benedic, Domine, dona Tua in usum nostrum, et nos in servitium Tuum, per Iesum Christu, Dominum nostrum. Amen.”

I was back at the Oxford Union last week in the snow, this time to oppose the motion ‘This House believes that the dividing line between religion and politics should shine brightly’. We were at the formal black-tie pre-debate dinner and the Union President, a friendly and confident young woman called Lauren, had called us all to stand while she prayed the traditional Latin grace. (Translated, it read “Bless, O Lord, us with Your gifts and us in Your service, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”)

I struggled to offer our invocation to the Almighty as I was smiling inwardly at the irony. Attending the dinner and subsequently proposing the motion in the debate were Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, Lord Warner of Brockley, chair of the Parliamentary Humanist Group, and Dr Peter Cave, chair of Humanist Philosophers of Great Britain – all colleagues and, apparently, each an avowed non-praying atheist.

For me the irony was double and delicious as I knew that the London-based National Secular Society was in the process of hauling little Bideford Town Council (16 councillors for a population of 14,000 in sleepy north Devon) through the courts over their insistence that the council holds prayers at the beginning of their municipal meetings. Properly elected Bideford councillors had democratically voted twice to keep council prayers, but that wasn’t enough for the militant secularists at NSS, represented at the dinner and in the debate of course by the amiable and courteous Keith Porteous Wood. What, I wondered, is going through his mind as the President called us publicly to pray – an overtly religious act in that formative hot-house for thrusting young politicians and future prime ministers (here). Obviously no brightly shining dividing line there.

Next day as I returned to London the news came out that NSS had won their case in the High Court. However, although their argument rested on three points – that the prayers were discriminatory against atheist councillors, that the prayers were a breach of human rights laws, and that the council had no lawful authority to hold prayers as part of its formal meetings – it was notable that Mr Justice Ouseley rejected the first two claims about discrimination and human rights and only upheld the third more minor legal/technical one.

Before the High Court ruling the Guardian’s assistant editor Michael White had argued that local communities “should surely be allowed to sort out their own arrangements without the help of the NSS complaining that… human rights have been infringed” (here).

And Equalities & Human Rights chief Trevor Phillips said that he “dropped his coffee” when he heard Keith Porteous Wood saying on the radio that he wanted to use the Human Rights Act to prosecute councillors in Devon. Phillips reckoned the move was “nonsense on stilts” (here).

And in the event, while NSS celebrated their win on the minor technical point, they lost the major human rights and discrimination cases (which, apparently, they cannot appeal as they won the other) and have been exposed as proponents of a hard-faced small-minded illiberal secular fundamentalism that acts against free choice and local democracy. And on the way they’ve stirred up furious controversy and helpful public debate.

Thus they’ve lost the plot, scored an own goal and Communities & Local Government minister Eric Pickles has promised to rub their noses in it by using new localism powers to make council prayers legal again.

Explaining why, he said yesterday: “The High Court judgment has far wider significance than just the municipal agenda of Bideford Town Council.

“By effectively reversing that illiberal ruling, we are striking a blow for localism over central interference, for freedom to worship over intolerant secularism, for Parliamentary sovereignty over judicial activism, and for long-standing British liberties over modern-day political correctness.

“Last week’s case should be seen as a wake-up call. For too long, the public sector has been used to marginalise and attack faith in public life, undermining the very foundations of the British nation. But this week, the tables have been turned” (here).

Exactly right Eric. We owe you a curry (here). And to cap it all diminutive Bideford Town Council voted two days ago to appeal the High Court ruling (here).

Thankfully the issue has legs and won’t go away quietly. Someone, it seems, has been praying…

Against The Gaystapo

Monday, January 30th, 2012

If you followed November’s synthetic furore over my October Church of England Newspaper article (here) about the bully-boy tactics of the UK’s gay leadership – I borrowed gay journalist Johann Hari’s apt term ‘Gaystapo’ to describe them – you may be interested in a recent statement by the newspaper’s Chair of Trustees:

“In October 2011, the Church of England Newspaper published an article by Alan Craig entitled “Confronting the Gaystapo”. The article was clearly identified as a personal opinion by a named individual. Its theme was that the gay rights lobby uses aggressive methods to advance its cause and should be confronted.

“The newspaper is a forum for informed debate on matters of Christian interest, of which gay rights is one. There is no topic that we regard as “too hot” for us to debate. In the following edition, the newspaper published responses taking a different view. The overall editorial policy of the newspaper is determined by a board of trustees of which I am the chairman.

“With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been better had Alan Craig’s article been written more gently and if he had avoided references to Nazism. However, even with that caveat, both his article and the subsequent responses are within the scope of the editorial policy of this newspaper.

“Certain members and supporters of the gay lobby responded vigorously, and even reported the newspaper to the police who have taken no action. By doing so, they have added credence to the main thesis of Alan Craig’s article.

“In the course of dealing with this organised agitation, a statement was made by the newspaper to one reader that appears to have gained some currency.

“Again with hindsight, we can see that this statement could be read as questioning Alan Craig’s status as a Christian, and suggesting that the newspaper supports gay marriage. It was not the intention of the editor to convey any such impression. For the avoidance of doubt, the trustees affirm that the newspaper does not support gay marriage. We regard Alan Craig, and those in the church who agree or disagree with his views, as brother Christians.

“We further acknowledge that Christians do disagree on many issues. These are best addressed by temperate debate.”

Three things arise from the statement:

First, it’s now clear that the newspaper does not support gay marriage. My article drew attention to how churches across the spectrum are united against David Cameron’s shocking showboating proposal at the Tory Party conference, and it’s good that CEN has reaffirmed it follows the mainstream Christian line even under heavy pressure from gay activists.

Second, predictably, there was no police action over the article and threats of legal action proved hollow. That is because there was no hate speech in my piece. It was rational, reasonable and evidence-based, and drew an important distinction between the ordinary gay-in-the-street and the ambitious vindictive gay lobby leadership who are fair game for criticism.

Third, the statement draws attention to the vigorous response and “organised agitation” of the gay lobby which has “added credence to the main thesis of Alan Craig’s article”.

That’s the key point. Ben Summerskill’s reaction in the Guardian (here) to my article beautifully illustrated the ugly but sophisticated bully-boy tactics of Stonewall and other gay activist organisations. “We are sure that many of the paper’s advertisers, such as the University of Sheffield, will be deeply disturbed to read this crass and homophobic article,” he opined ominously to religious affairs correspondent Riazat Butt who dutifully published his words.

In other words, more bluntly, he said “Jump”.

“How high?” asked Sheffield’s academic authorities meekly as the next day they cancelled their CEN advertising (here). Thereby they raised severe doubts about freedom of speech at “one of the UK’s leading universities” (here) and demonstrated themselves unwilling to defend our democratic liberties.

So Ben Summerskill walked willingly into the controversy surrounding my article and unerringly validated my point about the illiberal and intimidatory nature of much of today’s gay activism. The Gaystapo are militant, politically powerful and sweeping all before them.

The rise of gay neo-fascism needs urgently to be confronted.

Confronting The Gaystapo

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Having forcibly – and understandably – rectified the Versailles-type injustices and humiliations foisted on the homosexual community, the UK’s victorious Gaystapo are now on a roll. Their gay-rights storm troopers take no prisoners as they annex our wider culture, and hotel owners (here) and (here), registrars (here), magistrates (here), doctors (here), counsellors (here) and (here), foster parents (here), grandparents (here), adoption agencies (here) and traditional street preachers (here) and (here) find themselves crushed under the pink jack-boot.

Thanks especially to the green light from a permissive New Labour government, the gay Wehrmacht is on its long march through the institutions and has already occupied the Sudetenland social uplands of the Home Office (here), the educational establishment (here), the politically-correct police (here), and the Guardianista management of the BBC (here). Following a plethora of equalities legislation, homosexuals are now protected and privileged by sexual orientation regulations and have achieved legal equality by way of civil partnerships.

But it’s only 1938 and Nazi expansionist ambitions are far from sated. Flattered by appeasers and feted by the political class, the Oberkommandos from Stonewall and OutRage! have expansive goals for cultural hegemony and have long wanted to march on the next territory. They want to hijack a word and capture our culture at its deepest level. They want to reconfigure relationships, eliminate the traditional family and hence eradicate stable upbringing for our children. They want SSM – same-sex “marriage”.

And, unbelievably, the Conservative prime minister, betraying many centuries of Christian marriage in his green and pleasant land and naively revelling in his Munich moment, makes virtue out of vice, holds a piece of paper aloft and declares triumphantly to the Tory party conference, “It’s Gay Marriage in our time”.

Someone once said, “There is a time for silence and a time to speak… a time for peace and a time for war”, and SSM could be the invasion of Poland, the catalyst for war and a cultural fight-back. Catholic bishops are incendiary, evangelicals are appalled and even the dear old Church of England seems to think SSM is a step too far – “The Church’s view remains of marriage as the life-long union between a man and a woman,” said an Anglican spokesperson (here).

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. For years Winston Churchill was a lone voice against the burgeoning darkness of Nazi ideology and intolerance. In the wilderness and with few public friends, he was marginalised and dismissed as belligerent and a war-monger. He was scorned as a political has-been, out of touch with the then-modern mainstream.

But he saw clearly the hidden hegemonic ambitions of the Nazis and their intended assault on our civilization, our values, our way of life. To the fury of the Nazi leadership in Berlin he exposed the sinister truth, gave a trumpet-call for resistance and rearmament, and in due course galvanised the nation for an epochal battle against the fascist menace.

Our civilisation, our values, our way of life – indeed the national character – are inevitably formed from the values of the Christian faith, as over a thousand years and more ‘Christianity’ and ‘Englishness’ have become fully entwined and fused. So erase Christianity and you erode Englishness and the nation loses its identity and self-confidence. In recent decades gay militants have been in the van of the secularist and new atheist assault on Christianity, and as a consequence our culture has corroded and debased and national confusion and self-doubt has grown.

Christian believers have been a lone voice against the resulting sexualisation, narcissism, hedonism, selfishness and materialism. Marginalised and dismissed as bigoted and homophobic, Christians are now despised as has-been and out of touch with the cool cosmopolitan mainstream.

But the hidden hegemonic ambitions of the Gaystapo have been exposed recently by their plans to annex and redefine ‘marriage’. They already have achieved equal rights through civil partnerships, so to covet the word and undermine a foundation-stone of our civilisation – and nurturing place for our children – betrays other more ominous intentions. They want to change our language, manipulate our culture and thereby impose their world-view on us all. Cultural domination is their aim and fascist-type intolerance (here) of politically-incorrect dissent (here) is their weapon. The eradication of marriage as “the life-long union between a man and a woman” is a huge next step along their way.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man or woman. Who will stand up and publicly confront this new domination and intolerance? In 1938 it was perfectly reasonable to like the German people but hate Nazi ambitions and ideology. Today it is perfectly reasonable to warmly engage with your gay neighbours while at the same time forcefully confronting the vaulting ambitions of gay leaders and their atheist and humanist fellow-travellers.

There is a season and a time for everything under the sun. For Christians, the season of appeasement, fear and cowering in the corner is over. “Whom shall I send,” said the Lord, “and who will go for us?”

Now is the time for people of courage to rise up and defend marriage, our children and the very foundations of our civilisation. The only right response? “Here I am, send me.”

Sun, Sand and the Corner of a Spanish Campsite

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

As usual this month sees our annual family fly-away to the hot sun, cool pool and relaxed sociability of a Spanish campsite. The baking beaches, long slow barbeques and solitary early morning prayer times at the water’s edge as the magnificent translucent Mediterranean sun rises silently, imperceptibly, over the sea’s far horizon – the attractions never pall but rather entice us back year after year.

It was maybe five years ago that I fell into a new holiday habit and developed a new holiday mantra. I casually threw Alan Storkey’s ‘Jesus And Politics’ into my baggage thinking I really ought to get to grips with some serious reading rather than the usual airport novel, and surprisingly found myself gripped by the intensity and originality of his argument. In swimming trunks under the poolside parasol, with Bible in one hand and highlighter in the other, I checked and re-checked Storkey’s thesis and for hours was interrupted only by the delighted shrieks and splashings of our pre-teen children enjoying themselves under the watchful eyes of the pool lifeguards.

I love my children deeply, but I was now suddenly addicted to heavyweight vacation reading. “My own holiday begins when the kids are safe, happy and quarter of a mile away,” I announced, and I’d intone this new mantra as I retired to a far corner of the campsite to the amiable disgust of my wife.

Haykel’s 600-page ‘The Life of Muhammad’ was next. Laborious but informative, I was astonished at how this authoritative tome which has the endorsement of the Grand Shaykh of al-Azhar University, Islam’s premier seat of learning, could simply airbrush and whitewash the darker doings of Muhammad’s life. For instance, Muhammad’s approval of the assassination of the poetess Asma bint Marwan – slaughtered whilst asleep with her young children – for composing abusive verses against him, is passed over without comment while the subsequent Islamic conversion of Banu Khutmah, Asma’s husband’s tribe, is warmly attributed by Haykal to the ‘courage’ of her assassin!

The title of the following year’s book, ‘Matters of Life & Death’ by Christian ethicist Professor John Wyatt, didn’t look like jolly holiday reading. Jolly it wasn’t but illuminating it was. It highlighted the callous treatment of weak, vulnerable and disabled people implicit in the Ronald Dworkin and Peter Singer type of godless liberal humanism and how there is an straight-line connection between today’s utilitarian individualism and the growing enthusiasm for euthanasia and eugenics. We are, it seems, steadily returning to the laws of the jungle and Darwinian survival of the fittest; the talented and useful are lauded and acclaimed while the elderly, terminally-ill, unproductive and unwanted are looked at askance. Brute barbarism with a smooth smiling liberal face is apparently becoming the mainstream mindset. O come Lord Jesus!

My main book last year was Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’. Perhaps affected by the Spanish sun, I decided to give atheism’s chief proselytist full credit and try to get inside his ‘evidence-based’ arguments against the existence of God. “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down,” writes Dawkins (p28). Apprehensively, I determined to be vulnerable to his evidence and arguments, with the attendant risk that his book might in some way undermine my faith.

However it took just eighty pages for Dawkins himself to dispel my apprehension. He claims to be a scientist who draws conclusions only from hard facts and clear evidence; if he could see incontrovertible proof of the existence of God he reckons he would change his mind immediately. This sounds terrific – at least until you read Dawkins on Stephen Jay Gould, from whence you realise his claims are untrue and that he has creedal doctrines as rigid as any red-neck fundamentalist believer.

Gould was an eminent evolutionary biologist who argued in ‘Rocks of Ages’ that science, which deals with the empirical realm, and religion, which deals with questions of ultimate meaning and moral value, are ‘non-overlapping magisteria’; the how question is categorically different from the why question. This conflicts directly with Dawkins’ scientism (which believes that science has or will have the answer for virtually every question) so he is forced to write on page 81, “I simply do not believe that Gould could possibly have meant much of what he wrote in Rocks of Ages”!

Gould’s says one thing plainly and clearly. Dawkins, away with the fairies, flying teapots and little green men, and against the clear evidence, believes it simply must mean something else. It’s classic Dawkins self-delusion. I said goodbye to his nonsense.

For this summer’s holiday I have David Bentley Hart’s ‘Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies’ awaiting me on my Kindle. Dipping into the first few pages, I’ve already highlighted the author’s comments about “Christianity’s twenty centuries of unprecedented and still unmatched moral triumphs – its care of widows and orphans, its alms-houses, hospitals, foundling homes, schools, shelters, relief organisations, soup kitchens, medical missions, charitable aid societies, and so on.”

It seems Bentley Hart will be an excellent antidote to Dworkin, Dawkins and Christianity’s other trendy detractors. I can’t wait for my shady corner of the campsite.

(This post was published as an article in The Church of England Newspaper on 26 August 2011)

China Gets It

Monday, May 30th, 2011

“It’s all a bit dated,” said my taxi companion, a member of the House of Lords with a long track record of public service. He and I had been at the Oxford Union debating the motion “This House believes the 21st century belongs to the East, not the West” (here). We were being taken to the up-market overnight accommodation provided by ‘the world’s most famous debating society’.

“We should have moved on from this old-fashioned adversarial style of argument to a more consensual approach,” he said warming to his theme. “We should look for points of

agreement rather than difference.”

I dared to differ, and said so. You don’t have to be a fiery outside-the-walls Old Testament prophet to recognise how far UK public life has moved from a truth-based confidence to a grey ducks-in-line conformity. The priority for today’s governing class is not to robustly deal with reality but to cautiously control relationships. Rocking the boat and frightening the horses have become crimes against the entrenched liberal status quo. Rather we must cover our eyes, block our ears and hold hands together while we dance round the maypole – preferably singing la-la-la from a politically-correct hymn sheet. After all, as one Roman politician famously said 2000 years ago, What is truth? He would have felt utterly at home in Westminster and Whitehall.

Fortunately Oxford Union Society knows no such toadying compliance. Founded nearly 200 years ago in a more vibrant age, debates in the Union chamber take place under the watchful eyes – by portrait or bust – of Oxford graduates and former prime ministers such as the Marquess of Salisbury, William Gladstone, Sir Alec Douglas-Home and Edward Heath. In 1933, the year Hitler came to power, the Union notoriously passed the motion “This House would under no circumstances fight for King and country”. More recently it has listened by video link to the banned Islamic firebrand Zakir Naik, and its contentious invitation to Nick Griffin (here) preceded by two years the BNP leader’s controversial appearance on BBC Question Time.

Our debate last week could only have taken place in secular materialist Europe that has blinded itself to spiritual realities. Speaker after speaker showed themselves dazzled by China’s recent super-power appearance on the world stage and there was much debate about relative economic development, commercial growth and financial investment.

But I pointed out that the real undetected jaw-dropper is the recent phenomenal growth of Christianity in the country. While post-war Europe has said goodbye to God, the Chinese have said hello in exponentially increasing numbers. According to Professor Niall Ferguson, a century and a half of intense Christian missionary work had yielded just half a million Chinese believers by 1949. But he reckons the church today is growing so fast that within three decades some 20% to 30% of the Chinese population of over 1.3 billion will be Christian (here). There will be more Christians in China than the USA.

According to former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, Dominic Lawson, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has discovered what Europe has chosen to ignore (here).

“One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact the pre-eminence, of the West all over the world,” said a senior member of the Beijing Academy. “We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had.

“Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system.

“But in the past twenty years, we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful.

“The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”

As a result and despite persecuting the underground church, the atheist Chinese Communist government is pouring money into Catholic and Protestant seminaries and helping to fund state-sanctioned churches (here). The largest Bible printer in the world is based at Nanjing and produces over a million scriptures a month primarily for the Chinese church (here).

So while Christianity is and will increasingly bring life, vitality, human rights and democracy to China, godless Europe is declining into sterile risk-avoiding regulation-bound sclerotic gentility and is destined to become a sort of Isle of Wight to the world – a refined tourist resort, museum piece and history theme park, but irrelevant to the future of the globe. Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon: how secular Europe is fallen!

But I had good news for the bright young students of Oxford. The future belongs neither to the East nor the West but to them if they will grasp it. As it happens the University’s own Latin motto tells of the one thing that is needful. It is the first line of Psalm 27: Dominus Illuminato Mea. The Lord is my light.

So as I closed the debate I urged them to listen to their University motto and choose the light. I was delighted this proffered choice received loud applause. There is hope for the younger generation, even in fading secularised Europe.

(This post also appeared as an article in last Friday’s edition of The Church of England Newspaper.)

Secularism Sucks

Friday, May 6th, 2011

It’s distressing and depressing. The Anglican establishment – as represented by the Bishop of Oxford and chairman of the Board of Education, the Rt Revd John Pritchard – has so lost confidence in itself and the Gospel that it wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater and reduce the proportion of church-going pupils at C of E schools to just 10 per cent.

So secularism rules and guilt-ridden liberalism reigns. The bishop – who himself was privately educated of course (here) – reckons sniffily that the church schools for which he has responsibility seem to be about “collecting nice Christians into safe places” (here). Tell that to the hard-pressed headteachers of the C of E primary schools in deprived multi-ethnic east London where I live.

He justifies this new inclusivity with supreme liberal-Anglican arrogance, claiming that the Church of England “is the only organisation that exists for the sake of its non-members”. Tell that too to the Chair of the Charity Commission and its 162,000 registered charitable organisations (here).

The bishop – who was educated at the top-drawer universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Durham – says he arrived at the figure of 10 per cent by “pure hunch”. Then presumably he can advance no rational reason why invertebrate church authorities shouldn’t go further and decide on zero per cent.

He could of course go even further than that. He could propose that the church hitch herself fully to the hostile secular bandwagon and start to actively discriminate against believers who want church school education for their offspring.

Or how about the church offering to fund Richard Dawkins’ latest plans to set up an atheist school (here)? That would at least have the merit of taking the bishop’s self-flagellating liberal agenda to its logical conclusion.

The enemies of Christianity are salivating of course. Even the National Secular Society which takes no prisoners and is currently running an aggressive ‘Debaptise Yourself’ campaign (“Liberate yourself from the Original Mumbo-Jumbo that liberated you from the Original Sin you never had!”) (here) concedes the bishop has taken “a step in the right direction” from their point of view.

Thank God for the Catholic Church with its clear stand against secularisation. Our local oversubscribed Catholic secondary school effectively excludes our daughters because we aren’t Catholic believers. But I don’t begrudge them this despite the limited alternatives. At least they know what they stand for.

And of course the Pope routed New Atheists and other protesters during last year’s visit with his call to arms against the UK’s “aggressive secularism”. There are “deep Christian roots… present in every layer of British life,” he said, and attempts by the 20th century totalitarian regimes to eliminate God (Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot come to mind) should provide “sobering lessons” on tolerance (here). Unsurprisingly our intolerant friends at the National Secular Society had a hissy fit (here).

But the Catholic hierarchy doesn’t always hit the right note. In his Easter message Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien rightly called on Christians of all denominations to resist attempts to destroy our Christian heritage and culture (here). Yet he spoilt this by appealing to self-interest, complaining about the way Christians have been marginalised and prevented from acting in accordance with their beliefs. Here the Cardinal’s language became shrill and victim-speak.

It is of course true that Christians face marginalisation and hostility. But this is not unexpected. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me,” said Jesus. We should rejoice and be glad when the National Secular Society, Richard Dawkins, Peter Tatchell and politically-correct authorities like Wakefield & District Housing of recent ‘palm cross’ fame (here) have a go at us for our faith.

The far greater crisis is the corrosion of our culture. Self-centred individualism, hedonism, sexualisation and shopping are the dehumanising hallmarks of our age, and all these are directly attributable to the de-Christianisation of our civilisation. It’s the voiceless and vulnerable who suffer from today’s me-first morality. Society is enjoined to look after number one, so the devil will of course take the hind-most and helpless.

Christians must awake, arise, advance Kingdom values for the 21st century and challenge such secularisation. This is not because we ourselves have been disadvantaged, but because Christian values are demonstrably better for wider society. It’s hedonistic secular values not Christian modesty and restraint that misunderstands human nature, liberalises the drinking laws and unleashes the binge-culture on town centres every weekend.

It’s the secular cult of youth worship rather than Christian respect for parents that sexualises our children, teaches inappropriate sex & relationships education at school and elsewhere and then wonders why teenage pregnancies have soared.

I recently received an email from a non-believing acquaintance: “Only today some fool member of the clergy said that only 10% of CE schools pupils should be practicing Christians,” he wrote angrily. “I am not a practicing Christian but this situation is ridiculous. The ‘establishment’ doesn’t realise that the reason for the success of such schools is because they are Christian. They also don’t realize that the success of the West was because of its Christian cultural matrix.”

My angry agnostic acquaintance got it exactly right: Secularism sucks.

(This post also appears as an article in today’s edition of The Church of England Newspaper.)

“They Will Persecute You Also”

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

It’s ironic that progressive Muslim Dr Taj Hargey of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, (here) asserts what radical-progressive Christian Jonathan Bartley of Ekklesia doubts (here), that there is now active discrimination against Christianity in the UK – much of the responsibility for which I reckon lies at the door of this country’s particular brand of aggressive New Atheist secularisation.

Such discrimination in schools was highlighted in an Ofsted report published three weeks ago (here). And a publication ‘A New Inquisition: Religious Persecution In Britain Today’ launched a couple of week ago by the independent non-religious think-tank Civitas (here) and dedicated to Ben and Sharon Volgelenzang (see my previous post here) highlights how recent religious hatred legislation has been used in an “at best arbitrary and at worst biased” way particularly against Christians.

But discrimination against Christians in the UK is nothing compared to the persecution of Christians abroad. Over the past month:

On 1st July, Muhammad Guul Hashim Idiris, a convert from Islam, was publicly executed in the Hudur district of Somalia, apparently because of his Christian views (here).

On 5th July Maher el-Gowhary, also a convert from Islam who in the face of deep hostility is trying to get his conversion recognised by the Egyptian authorities, was ferociously attacked on a Cairo street while accompanied by his lawyer (here). According to Maher the attackers intended to behead him.

On 16th July Pastor Artur Suleimanov, another convert from Islam, was shot dead outside his church in Makhachkala, the capital of the Russian republic of Dagestan (here).

On 17th July, at least eight Christians including the wife, two children and grandson of a priest were slaughtered in a previously peaceful village near Jos, Nigeria, (here) where the wider conflict is a complex tribal and economic/land issue as well as a religious one (here).

On 20th July, two local Christians questionably accused of blaspheming Islam’s prophet were shot dead outside court in Faisalabad, Pakistan (here).

On 27th July, a Christian centre in West Java, Indonesia, was attacked by Islamic extremists and buildings were destroyed (here).

There are fewer than sixty Catholic priests in Turkey and in June the fifth to be shot or stabbed in the past four years was killed and decapitated by Islamic ritual (here).

In Iraq the campaign of violence against Christians is so decimating and displacing the community that some commentators reckon it is possible Christianity’s 2000-year history in Iraq could end within a generation (here).

It is right of course that discrimination against Christians in the UK should be challenged by Hargey, Ofsted, Civitas and others.

But it is abroad where the real Christian persecution is taking place.

(Incidentally, I spoke outside 10 Downing Street yesterday at a protest against Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. Organised by the British Pakistani Christian Association (here) and including Sikhs and people from other persecuted Pakistani minority faiths, it was held on the anniversary of the Gojra atrocity – see my previous post here – and had Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali (here), who is himself a refugee from death-threats in Pakistan, as keynote speaker.

I don’t hold much hope. Not only is the Pakistan government unwilling to address the evil effects of the blasphemy laws in their own country, they are actively promoting what is effectively a global Islamic blasphemy law at the United Nations. Pakistan, on behalf of the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) – including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Egypt, etc, who are not exactly known for promoting human rights – proposed the Combating Defamation of Religions resolution (here) which was passed at the United Nations Human Rights Council in March; indicatively and ominously the resolution highlights Islam and Muslims four times but cites no other religion. It certainly makes no mention of the defamed and mistreated Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Ahmadiyya Muslim sect in the Islamic Republic’s own backyard.)

Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Midnight on Monday found me in BBC Radio 5 Live’s studios at White City discussing faith schools with Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society. We were on Tony Livesey’s late night chat show, and the issue triggering the discussion was the news that Foreign Secretary and avowed atheist David Miliband is avoiding the local state primary school near his home in Camden and sending his five year old adopted son instead to a church school further away (here). Apparently Miliband’s wife Louise attends the Anglican church linked to the school.

It is of course amusingly reminiscent of – but less spectacular than – the decision a few years ago by left-wing former fire-brand Diane Abbott MP to shun local Hackney schools and send her son to the private £10,000-a-year City of London School (here).

But it is the disingenuous nature of Keith Porteous Wood’s National Secular Society that I want to discuss here rather than the hypocrisy or otherwise of David Miliband or Diane Abbott. I’m not surprised that, when push comes to shove, parents want to do the best for their children, nor that the Milibands have chosen a church school in order to achieve this.

But the real hypocrisy and rank cant lies with the NSS, and Keith Porteous Wood is a pleasant and occasionally formidable spokesman for this deceptive organisation. NSS is better described as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The organisation likes to present itself as a benign pressure group that aims to achieve an equitable and just secular society in which religious viewpoints are appropriately represented but restricted in public life. “We campaign… against the undue influence of religion in public affairs and education,” purrs the NSS website (here) claiming they also defend values such as human rights and freedom of speech. NSS, it seems, would persuade us that it promotes a sort of ‘procedural secularism’ (to use the jargon) that includes a neutral public square where no religious worldview predominates and where the state benevolently holds the ring between alternative and often competing beliefs and creeds. This secularism entails a separation of religion and state and non-discrimination between religions by the state that guarantees plurality and religious freedom. For historical and pragmatic reasons I personally wouldn’t advocate disestablishing the national church, for instance, but for many people such ‘procedural secularism’ is an attractive way of organising public affairs, and they point to the US and India as societies where religion thrives within a secular framework.

But in fact the National Secular Society offers no such benign vision. Rather it is another vehicle for shrill and aggressive New Atheism, whose intention is not only to ride religion out of public life, but also to attack faith – especially Christianity – wherever it finds it, including in private belief and practice. According to New Atheists, religion should not even be carried on by consenting adults in private. Their virulent strain of ‘ideological secularism’ (to use the jargon again) which attempts to exclude or severely control religion in private as well as public, is what NSS in fact promotes.

How do I know? NSS’s real motives are uncovered by the ‘debaptism’ campaign currently running on the organisation’s website (here) in which we are urged to ‘Liberate yourself from the Original Mumbo-Jumbo that liberated you from the Original Sin you never had!’ For a ‘bit of fun’ you can also purchase from NSS your very own ‘Certificate of Debaptism’ printed, indeed, on quality parchment paper. Yippee!

Baptism of course is a sacred Christian initiation rite as old as the faith itself. It is personal to the believer and his/her family and is carried out in and by the church. It has no impact whatever on public life or wider social policy.

So why is the NSS sticking its nose into our private business? Because it is two-faced, publicly proclaiming its vocation to promote fairness and restrict religious privilege in public life whilst actually using this as a front for its all-consuming anti-Christian crusade.

Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett et al are open and honest about their desire to eradicate Christianity. The duplicitous National Secular Society is not.

And that’s why Keith Porteous Wood could only talk cant about Christian and church schools on Monday night.

Climategate And The ‘Ugly Fact’

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

It was the 19th century biologist T H Huxley – aka ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’ for his public support for Charles Darwin’s recently published theory of evolution – who said that “The great tragedy of Science is the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.” We’ve recently seen the slaying of the beautiful hypothesis of man-made climate change by the ugly fact of the human frailty of scientists courtesy of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia.

Dr DawkinsThe clandestine release of CRU’s confidential emails and documents on the internet (here) – inevitably now called ‘Climategate’ – may prove to be to science what the Telegraph’s publication of MP’s expenses is to politics. And in a wider sense it’s possible it will also   be as undermining to Richard Dawkins   and his fellow science-worshippers as child-abuse by priests and nuns is to the Roman Catholic Church.

On the top global issue of the day where accurate scientific analysis is vital, and just before the Copenhagen summit, we discover – surprise, surprise – that scientists (the high priests of Dawkins’ God-forsaken new religion, Science-is-God) seem to have feet of clay and are subject to the same mendacity and prejudice (Christians call it ‘sinfulness’) as the rest of us. It appears the CRU’s climate-change conclusions do not exactly exhibit ex cathedra infallibility nor are their theories quite as flawless as holy writ.

The ‘ugly fact’ of scientists’ frailty was amply illustrated on BBC TV’s Newsnight on Friday when Professor Andrew Watson from the School of Environmental Sciences also at the University of East Anglia attempted to defend his colleagues at the CRU in a head-to-head debate with ‘Global Warming Contrarian’ Marc Morano speaking from Washington. As I watched Prof Watson’s woeful performance, I was persuaded to take a significant mental step towards the sceptics’ camp.

It was appalling. The main thrust of Prof Andrew’s argument was that underlying CRU research is sound and that the critics are simply mounting a campaign of “character assassination” against CRU personnel. But he became shrill in his protests. He rolled his eyes like a schoolboy in a tantrum. “Stop shouting” he squealed at the bullish American. “Will you shut up just a second?” he yelped.

His piece de resistance came at the end. “What an arsehole,” spat out this esteemed professor who had previously objected to character assassination and was hereby exposed as a vulgar and intolerant hypocrite. It was an expletive for which the BBC subsequently had to apologise. (Watch key moments from Andrews’ performance here.)

Was this an example of the cool, logical, objective, factual, dispassionate, reasoned, rational, evidence-based argument of one of Dawkins’ scientists – the exact opposite (according to Dawkins) of the subjective, biased, emotional, irrational, unreasonable, partial, perverse mumbo-jumbo of religious people?

Actually, the childishness, prejudice, petulance and condescending conceitedness displayed by the professor was breathtaking. No wonder Americans think the English are a whingeing supercilious lot.

No wonder too that the arguments of global-warming sceptics are gaining traction against the theories of climate-change scientists.

Dawkins’ small god

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

A couple of weeks ago or so I watched the final programme in Richard Dawkins’ Channel 4 series ‘The Genius of Charles Darwin’.I generally try to avoid personal denigration, preferring to assess someone’s ideas and opinions rather than their character. (It is of course a false if civilising dichotomy to separate a person from his/her views as ideas don’t exist in a vacuum, they come from a personality. In many ways ideas reflect the person.)

However on this occasion I’m willing to state categorically that however articulate and intelligent, Dawkins is a fool and he’s an important reminder of Churchill’s dictum that scientists (and those like Dawkins who worship a scientific world-view) should be on tap but not on top. On the key issues of life my pre-teen daughters have more real insight and wisdom than the high-flying high-profile former professor from Oxford University.

Personally I’m agnostic about whether we evolved over millennia or were created literally in seven days, and I’ll happily concede that Dawkins makes an enthusiastic case for the former. However it doesn’t seem all that important especially as by his own scientific criteria Dawkins will never be able to prove a key component of today’s evolutionary theory: the Big Bang was by definition a one-off and therefore cannot be subject to the repeated and rigorous testing that scientific analysis requires. It must always remain a theory and therefore ultimately a matter of, well, belief – rather like the 39 Articles of Religion of the Church of England. In the programme Dawkins came across as a sincere, passionate but slightly dotty high priest of this new religion and presumably his bank balance is following the ever-upward trajectory of his unintended and equally dotty alma mater from another new religion, Rev Sun Myung Moon of the Moonies.

My problem is not with evolutionary theory per se but with Dawkins’ insistence that science has (or will have one day) the complete explanation for all things. Dawkins is locked into a mechanistic materialist and therefore limited view of the world in which nothing can exist unless it can be seen, measured, tested and exactly evaluated. “Where’s the evidence for God?” he cries. “Show me the provable facts and I’ll believe!”

sun-set

 

Poor Dawkins. No doubt he’s an excellent scientific thinker and apologist. But what about love, beauty and truth: there can be no measurable scientific, logical or rational explanation for them so do they not exist? How about the human potential inherent in my young daughters that will blossom in unknown ways as the years unfold: it cannot be measured so does it not exist? What about the effect on a concert audience of the first movement of Beethoven’s sublime ‘Moonlight’ sonata played perhaps by Daniel Barenboim (here); Dawkins-style science cannot begin to explain the magic of the moment so did it not happen? How about Gazza’s stunning volley into the Scottish net in Euro 96; scientific logic cannot explain, understand or predict Gascoigne’s flash of genius, so what exactly are we watching on the video (here) Professor Dawkins?

And how about poetry, dance and the imaginative arts? Beyond technical support, what has science usefully to offer towards the illogical creativity inherent in all these?

The programme showed Dawkins foolishly worshipping the small god of his own closed scientific belief system. It would be funny if it wasn’t evidently so persuasive to so many in our secular age.

Instead it’s tragic.