Monthly Archives: May 2011

China Gets It

“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

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.)

Taliban-Style Sharia Law? Welcome To Tower Hamlets

A couple of weeks ago the Sunday Times ran an article ‘London Taliban tell women to cover up’ (here). The main thrust of the story was about a Bangladeshi woman who works in a pharmacy in Whitechapel who has received death threats for refusing to wear a veil even though she is not a Muslim. She wears western clothes, and both she and her employer have been told that unless she covers her head and wears longer robes local people will boycott the shop “because this is a Muslim area”.

Her story had been covered at length on BBC Newsnight a week earlier. As a result a Muslim man came into the shop threatening to kill her. She went to the police and to her MP Rushanara Ali.

I know the young woman in question and her husband. Like the Sunday Times journalist and the police, I had extensive talks with her, walked round the area and visited her in the pharmacy. I became concerned that unwittingly or deliberately, the issue has been universally misinterpreted. The intimidation cannot be dismissed as the work of a small extremist Islamic fringe from say Luton or Leicester. Rather, this is  normal Islam practiced by the pharmacy’s regular customers all living in the same neighbourhood as the huge East London Mosque on Whitechapel Road and the Tablighi Jamaat Markazi Mosque on Christian (sic) Street.

If it’s Taliban-style sharia law as the Sunday Times says, then Taliban-style sharia law is mainstream in Tower Hamlets today. And that’s the issue.

So I wrote this letter which the newspaper published (here):

Playing down the Tower Hamlets Taliban

Both the Tower Hamlets police borough commander and the Quilliam Foundation, the anti-extremism think tank, are wrong to minimise the threats to the Whitechapel pharmacy assistant as just the work of a “small minority” of “Talibanesque thugs” (“Tower Hamlets Taliban order women to cover up”, News, last week). The issue is much more serious than that.

I know the young woman and the pharmacy concerned, which is located in a Muslim-majority residential area under the shadow of the East London Mosque. The intimidation comes from burqa-wearing women as well as bearded men, who live in the vicinity and come to the pharmacy for their prescriptions. They are normal, local residents — the Mr and Mrs Smiths of the neighbourhood — who have made it clear they reckon their part of England is now part of Islam and that the non-Muslim young woman must wear Muslim clothing.

It is especially ominous that the police borough commander should play down the matter. He of all people needs to recognise that this is standard Tower Hamlets Islam doing its normal hardline outreach work. The consequences of this are very distressing for the young woman in the chemist shop. In the long run they are an equally disturbing threat to the liberty of the rest of us.

Alan Craig