Monthly Archives: September 2015

St Jerome and “Bible Believing”


Today we commemorate St Jerome , one of the four Fathers of the Church, who first translated and collated the “library” of books into what  we now call the Vulgate Bible. He also wrote a number of commentaries, many of which were addressed to holy women of his time.

He is frequently depicted in Rennaisance art wearing a large red cardinal’s hat – quite ahistorically – perhaps as a way of promoting the reading of his Latin translation rather than those of the modern vernacular, which the Protestant reformers favoured. He is also frequently accompanied, more or less artistically successfully, by a pet lion, his story perhaps embellished with that of Androclese and the lion: no matter, his life and achievement are real, and we might usefully reflect that his world changing work emerged from the Syrian desert in which he had spent much time in preparatory meditation.

Given such a plainly Catholic identity, he is a figure of Christian unity, being revered by several church traditions, not least the Anglican Community, the Eastern Orthodox, and the Lutheran Churches.

His work is often taken, paradoxically, by a less Catholic tradition, that of those who are less open to Church tradition and perhaps even the Holy Spirit.

In the elections to the Anglican General Synod, there will be some offering a shorthand term ” Bible believing” for their basket of policy positions. Brother Ivo is always puzzled by the term. What about the rest of us? What are we? Is everyone else somehow not “Bible believing” if those positions are questioned or challenged?

No Christian can be uninspired by the record of God’s interaction with the world. We do, of course, have a few minor variants in our collections of  books admitted to biblical authority. Not all include the Apocrypha or the Books of Wisdom.

Having a slightly innovative if not provocative nature, Brother Ivo has struggled to find a term for those of us who approach scripture from a less rigid, Protestant fundamentalist position. He has no wish to deny the huge debt we owe to St Jerome, or suggest in any way that reading the Bible is in any way an optional extra for the Christian.

Nevertheless, he does like to remind his friends of the “Bible Believing” constituency, that for the first three hundred years of the faith there was no Bible. Indeed there are many fine Christians today who have, as yet, no complete Bible because the speak languages or dialects where the scholarship is incomplete. What are they ? Are they “Bible Believing”?- how can they be if they have an incomplete Canon? Does it even matter?

What too, of those with other incomplete opportunities to engage fully with St Jerome’s legacy, the illiterate or the learning disabled?

Brother Ivo notes that when St Luke records  Jesus commissioned the 72 to begin the spreading of the word, he insisted they travel light. It is striking that he does not require them to carry  any scriptures. It may be that the Hebrew Scriptures would lie  ahead of them – though not in the households in which they were to stay.

Some of the 72 might have committed passages to memory, they may have known the Psalms as we recall favourite hymns, yet none of these recollections of past written record would include the terms of the new Gospel,  most if which were not yet reduced to writing.

What is interesting is not how much,  but how little these ” Non Bible Believing” Christians had by way of materials. We can only speculate, yet surely their aide memoirs would include some of the more striking parables, maybe the beatitudes, a few healing miracle narratives, the Lord’s Prayer. It is, of course a guess, but Brother Ivo senses that the repertoire of teaching stories available to those early oral evangelists would probably have numbered between a dozen and twenty episodes from what we now call the Gospels. Many of our schoolchildren know as much.

It is not a question of  “how much” built the early Church but “how little”. Yet built it was.

During the local General Synod Election hustings a young person asked candidates for a single word that encapsulated what young people were looking for, if they are to take the Church seriously.

The word he was looking for was “Passion”.

The early evangelists must surely have had convincing passion to supplement their paucity of materials. Maybe St Jerome’s Bible was needed as that passion dimmed.

As he has searched for a term for those, then and now, who respect the Scriptures but feel the need for more than literalism to reconnect with those early story-based, passion-filled evangelists, Brother Ivo has come up with a  term;  “Gospel Gracious”.

Surely that is what Christ calls us to be, making much out of the little we know and understand , but infusing it with love and applying it to our neighbours. If we are imperfect in our quoting of “Chapter and Verse” Brother Ivo feels sure he will forgive us.

But let us not end there. St Jerome gave us much and we should celebrate it.

Here is a prayer to do so.

O God, who gave the Priest Saint Jerome a living and tender love for Sacred Scripture, grant that your people may be ever more fruitfully nourished by your Word and find in it the fount of life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Did Dr Carson really say the “un-sayable” about Islam?

Brother Ivo has been impressed by the candidacy of Dr Ben Carson for the US Presidency.

He captures the mood of those in many countries,  who are inclined to choose leaders from outside the professional political class. Dr Carson was an undoubted world class neuro-surgeon with a wonderful backstory of fulfilling the American dream; he rose from deprivation within the poorest most excluded community, to a position of eminence.

Unlike the other front running outsider, Donald Trump, he brings thoughtful politeness to the debate. He is not frightened to speak his mind yet there is no brashness or combativeness; in many ways he is a breath of fresh air.

When he refers to his own career, it is with a quiet gentle humour. Often he uses it to illustrate the opportunities which the American system affords to all. He has the ability to unite people of goodwill which is why he is so feared by many opponents. Hitherto his approval ratings amongst supporters and opponents alike have been very positive.

This may be why his remarks about a potential Muslim President have been taken up with such outrage by a media that is traditionally inclined towards the Democratic Party.

Is it justified?

Dr Carson has not denied the right of anyone to submit themselves for election under the Constitution, neither has he denied the right of the electorate to vote for them. He is simply questioning whether an adherent of one set of beliefs is consistent with his own  view of what America embodies.

Every Presidential election is a clash of value systems, of which secular atheism, Christianity, and Islam, with its blend of spiritual belief and political and social expression thereof, are but three examples.

Is it so outrageous to say that one who follows Islam, might attract special consideration for suitability to follow a Constitution informed by the values of 17th century European Christianity, rather than 7th century Arabic theology?

As the furore is reported by the media it is worth underlining that Dr Carson was not completely dismissive of voting for a Muslim. “And, you know, if there’s somebody who’s of any faith, but they say things, and their life has been consistent with things that will elevate this nation and make it possible for everybody to succeed, and bring peace and harmony, then I’m with them”. That does not sound like bigotry to Brother Ivo.

Dr Carson has no problem with Muslim Senators or Congressmen, but rightly identifies the Presidential role as highly specific and iconic.

Is that not what many are alluding to, when they question if a candidate who is “Pro-life” or a creationist is fit for office in the 21st century? How suitable will Dr Carson’s critics on this issue, find an orthodox Muslim’s attitude to gay marriage?

Every candidate will have a basket of values. Most who are not anodyne will be scrutinised,  and some will have core beliefs that render them more or less electable. America has traditionally judged socialists and pacifists as unsuitable. That may change, but styling either as unattractive is both normal and uncontroversial.

Islam is a complete package; unlike secular society, it has no concept of a “private sphere” of behaviour. It has a perfect lawful right to express itself constrained by the law both in the UK and the USA. Whether an adherent of one of the forms of Islam, Mormanism. or one of the many strands of Christianity for that matter – is a good fit for the requirements of a Constitutional Office is a perfectly reasonable examination to undertake.

Dr Carson should not be vilified for doing so in his typically thoughtful and proportionate fashion.

Our first response to David Cameron’s migrant problem should be prayer

Brother Ivo never wanted George W Bush to become President of the United States.

Like many in the UK. he had fallen for by Bill Clinton’s beguiling southern charm and was deceived by his wife’s assurances that the rumours of their lying about Bill’s extra marital affairs, whilst trashing the reputation of the women who told the truth, were nothing but a “vast right wing conspiracy”.

He was also persuaded that Al Gore was the “smartest man in the room” although it subsequently transpired that his University examination results were significantly worse than those of the younger Bush; that was not widely known then and is hardly common knowledge now.

Brother Ivo confesses he went with the “stupid President” theme until that fateful day when the 9/11 bombers struck and he saw the enormity of the situation beginning to etch itself on the face of the jovial man who had expected his time in the White House to be primarily concerned with a domestic agenda.

He watched as “Dubya” climbed over the rubble with a loud speaker to address the responding police and firemen, reassuring a shaken nation and promising to respond to the outrage. Brother Ivo recalls how many people at the time were saying that it would inevitably happen again and that nobody could stop another such an outrage if the enemy were prepared to kill themselves in that fashion.

During the bewildering period when America was under attack, the security services took the President into the air and kept his whereabouts unknown until the fog of war had cleared. It was not long before that was criticised.

The President did respond and 9/11 has not been replicated; he did keep America safe from that kind of attack, although the aftermath is with us still. That is not however the point of this post.

Looking upon the shaken President during those days and his efforts to reassure, restore confidence and fulfill his duties, Brother Ivo could not do anything but put his opinion aside and begin praying for him in such a time of trial.

It is surprising how praying for someone softens one’s approach to them.

From that point, Brother Ivo came to dislike the easy insult, the ill-informed statement, the unfair casual assumption.

Brother Ivo is somewhat counter cultural and it amuses him to watch folk’s reaction when he mildly resists an opinion which has been reinforced by every BBC “comedy” programme for ten years.

When appropriate, Brother Ivo points to the remarkable PEPFAR initiative of President Bush, a much under appreciated humanitarian initiative which has been transformative for AIDS victims in Southern Africa.

It is very easy for us to stay with our prejudices about people. Political figures do invite examination, indeed scrutiny is a vital component of democracy, and yet when a massive and potentially intractable problem presents itself, it is worth thinking about the terrible weight of responsibility that falls on those we elect and to be more understanding.

David Cameron had little inkling of what was about to unfold in the Middle East when he won his election last May. In its way, this problem is as complex and worrying as that which presented itself to George W Bush on 9/11.

One does not have to be a supporter of this Government to ask whether the instant attacks that the Prime Minister is “not doing enough” might be a bit facile. How much is “enough”? Wouldn’t “a bit more” always be better?

Those accusing him of indifference or callous delay might also pause and reflect.

The implications of the Middle Eastern Wars are huge, long lasting and, almost certainly, currently unpredictable. The consequences of massive immigration from those troubled regions will be long lasting. Whatever is done will almost certainly be less than perfect, and yet the weight of responsibility must be intense and scarcely bearable.

Of course the Prime Minister must be held to account – he asked for the responsibility – but that ought not to prevent us from recognising that what we expect of our leaders in circumstances such as these, is probably more than any of them can deliver.

In truth, most of us are like needy children asking a parent to simply “make it go away”.

In such circumstances our own personal and best response should perhaps begin with the words “ Our Father…”

Does ” Boiling Frog Syndrome” apply to the “Migrant Crisis”

How are we to think clearly about the problems presented to us by migration?

Can we be best directed by our feelings?

Our feelings might be – should be –  instinctively sympathetic for those who have been displaced, but there will be others feeling a fear of the unknown , concerned if an indeterminate number of people with different backgrounds histories and values seek refuge amongst us.

Maybe we are better to bring cold hearted logic to bear if a solution is to be reached with the necessary swiftness?

But is it is a cerebral matter only? Should we try to to work out optimal numbers, calculating our economic costs or gains?  Is that even possible in a plural democracy where there will be many views? It certainly cannot be done quickly. It thus falls to a worried Government to make a decision how to respond quickly to that dreadful picture of a drowned toddler on a beach.

Rarely will a Prime Minister have better understood Harold Macmillan’s summation of the Prime Ministerial nightmare ” Events, dear boy, events”

There will be some who will see the opportunity for political advantage, either to brand the Prime Minister an unfeeling brute or to bolster their argument against the EU. We may try to resist getting sucked too far into those areas if we are true to the mission of trying to reach a practical solution that does not affront our values, but few will succeed. Each and every decision will bleed political consequence into the body politic,

Brother Ivo ‘s abiding sense, as the various dimensions and complexities of the problem unfolds is simple, though not immediately practical. If you or I feel totally comfortable with our position in this dreadful crisis, we are probably not thinking hard enough.

It is a good discipline for us all to go to the position in the debate where we feel least comfortable and ask ourselves ” Where is there merit in this quarter of the discussion?” The more Brother Ivo has turned the issues over in his mind,  the more he has come to appreciate that this is one where most “sides” have a point. This is always the worst kind of dispute to be embroiled in; the worst civil wars occur where there is indeed a degree of merit on both sides.

So today Brother Ivo will challenge the instincts of perhaps  a majority in his Church whose instinct is dismiss fears about migration, and its consequences.

In an attempt to find a way of thinking clearly on the subject, Brother Ivo turned briefly to a rather obscure Harvard academic Wesley Newcombe Hohfeld whose work attempted to encourage a careful definition of concepts for use in legal analysis so that we do not confuse the argument with imprecision. He developed his language tools for use in civil disputes but as will be seen, they may assist in carrying our thinking when discussing immigration and the related Human Rights issues.

In a nutshell, Hohfeld identified that there are always two sides to a legal relationship which he called “correlatives” If one person has a legal right somebody else must have a  corresponding duty. He went further and identified four distinct pairs of necessary relationship,

So we have :-

Right – Duty

Privilege – No Right

Power – disability

Immunity – Liability.

To discuss a matter in Hohfeldian terms, you keep within those language rules; this is especially the case when considering “privilege” which is purely used in an analytical sense and has no class or wealth connotation. If you cannot clear your mind of other preconceptions about these words – stop reading now,

Looking at the migration issue through such a lens we begin to see more clearly where the current problems – and resentments arise.

In Hofeldian terms  British Citizenship  conferred  a “privilege”. If you were born here, nobody had any right to deny it to you. We legislated for others to petition to enjoy that “privilege” , by citizenship application or marriage; the “powers that be” had an absolute discretion to grant or withhold the privilege . Those petitioning were under disability; they might have a right to be considered, and the State might have a duty to consider the application, but it was the State alone which had the arbitrary legal “power”  to reject,  and a failed applicant was under “disability” in terms of challenging the discretion,

Within such a legal environment, the Executive, guided by the Legislature, would have enjoyed uncomplicated discretion in cases such as the present immigration crisis.

Provided the electorate approved, the Government could have been as mean or as generous as it wished with a true sense of control over the problem. The numbers who entered the country and the character thereof was a decision for the UK and above all for its peoples. Those peoples have been historically very welcoming and generous as Kenan Malik has written about here .

Yet we are not in the same age when such generosity was exercised, we are now in the world of the EU, and the Human Rights Act, and that makes a huge difference in terms of how confidently and quickly the Prime Minister feels able to act.

As Nigel Farage constantly points out – perfectly accurately – the Prime Minister is no longer in charge of the borders. The ( Hohfeldian ) “privilege” of the right of residence has been greatly extended, it has certainly been ceed to every person within the European Union – hundreds of millions of people.

Some hundreds of thousands have  already  exercised their “privilege”. We may not be accustomed to using the word in that context but it is le mot juste.

The UK is currently attractive to our EU neighbours because its language is the second language of many, its economy is thriving, it society diverse and welcoming; there is stability and residents enjoy a higher degree of welfare than many in the EU. A welfare claim is also a “legal privilege” – the Government has “no right” to withhold it from anyone within the extended class of those “privileged” in this way. There is the current irony that David Cameron has created more jobs for the French than Francois Holland.

There is currently no lawful mechanism for removing or restricting the privilege currently enjoyed by all EU residents.

Yet that “privilege” in not limited to those born or currently residing within the EU.

As Douglas Carswell  has written, anyone currently admitted by any of the member states to residence, automatically joins the numbers of those with a potential claim on the British State and economy. What he does not add is that any dependants  subsequently passported to residence, via s 8 of the Human Rights Act ” Right to Family Life”, must also be afforded the same status. If a newly arrived resident has a significant family tie. there is a duty to respect it. How many may subsequently claim that right is both unknown and unknowable, so people worry.

The class of those entitled to insist upon the privilege of residence was further extended under both the asylum and refugee conventions of the UN and Article 2 of the Human Rights Convention to anyone from a war zone,

Through those legally enforceable rights, the class of those who are “immune” from British Government control, and can make the British Government and taxpayer “liable” for their welfare is equally unknown and unknowable.

Every person who can reach the UK from a country where an oppressive Government infringes Human Rights has the “right” to claim asylum and the Government has a “duty” to grant it. Legal Aid must be afforded those whom it challenges because the right under dispute is an “absolute” one and access to the Courts must be resourced.

An “asylum seeker” has a well founded fear of his or her own Government. It encompasses persecution by reason of race, religion, nationality, political belief or membership of any political group. Sadly, the numbers of those afflicted is not in short supply,

A refugee is an asylum seeker who has fled his or her homeland through unrest civil war or natural disaster . a useful exploration of the definitions and all too frequent confusions,  by Mr Harry Mitchell QC is to be found here .

It does not take much reflection to appreciate that the class of those who are or maybe entitled to the privilege of UK residence and the ancillary rights and entitlements that go with it is vast. It certainly encompasses not only all 4 million Syrian refugees but also every gay person in Uganda, Pakistan, Iran ( to name but a few), every atheist in a Muslim State  and every woman at risk of sexual violence from Boko Haram or Islamic State. It encompasses many citizens of countries which sit on the UN Human Rights panel which only goes to prove that satire is not dead.

We may want – and choose-  to help every one who arrives; we are a generous people as the response to the single picture of the drowned Syrian child testifies. yet it is rather disingenuous to pretend that those who worry about numbers do not have a point.

That point primarily arises out of the legal context in which these crises arise which makes it different from virtually every other mass movement that preceded it.

When Huguenot, Irish and Jewish and Commonwealth migrations occurred in previous centuries, there was not the same context of enforceable “rights”,” privileges” “immunities” etc – nor indeed was there a welfare State of such attraction to the migrant choosing where to go. There was not the means by which the attractions of the UK were so graphically and instantly available.

This context matters when comparing the current situation with the past. If the Government appears to hesitate before acting, given the enormity of the problem and consequences of getting it wrong, Brother Ivo will be slow to criticise.

In the context of  the General Synod Climate Change debate, much weight was attached to “boiling frog syndrome” : we were told that “by the time you recognise the severity of the problem it is too late to do anything about it”.

One is bound to enquire whether the same principle applies, uncomfortably, in this debate.

The culture, attitudes, values, and institutions  of the United Kingdom have evolved over centuries. Despite many disagreements between us, we have a modus vivendi which many in the world find either attractive or at least convenient to enjoy. It has not proved as easy to replicate in other cultures as enlightened rationalists once assumed it would be.

Our current legal structures mean that we afford equal protection to the scarred woman fleeing an acid attack, the persecuted Christian, the gay African – and many who are in sympathy with the perpetrators of such persecution. We have amongst us those who perpetrated genocide, resisting exclusion because they might face the death penalty. We have advocates of the the values and systems that caused the crises ready to add such diversity to our public life.

We may decide that is a price worth paying, but it is hard to think that the debate about it is not worth having.

At the very least, it may be appropriate to introduce into our public considerations the notion that this current crisis might cause us to reconsider whether our legal structures are fit for the purpose of maintaining Britain as a place of welcome and refuge. Remember the frog.