Category Archives: Tolerance

Let’s replace Cecil Rhodes statue with one of Engels Foxhunting!

Brother Ivo is undoubtedly a “Christmas person”, much preferring the celebration of the Incarnation of our Lord to merely that of the turning of the year. Granted, New Years Eve has a jollity and optimism about it amongst the young, but for those of older years, it tends towards the rather mawkish and sentimental.

Our Scottish cousins have a different view, and may they have a thoroughly good time of it, but it is not for Brother Ivo.

Notwithstanding this, the turn of the year traditionally challenges us to focus upon some improving notion and the one that currently draws Brother Ivo’s thoughts is that of tolerance.

The context of this is the recent furore created by some rather over privileged students at Oriel College Oxford who wish to to do away with a statue of Cecil Rhodes.

Brother Ivo is no expert on Rhodes, but it is undeniably the fact that he left significant funds for the benefit of future generations and they now seem now seem intent on repaying his generosity with priggish ingratitude.

Many other philanthropists had enemies. Andrew Carnegie, for example,  endowed libraries across the world but was so hated for his tough line with Trades Unions, that the anarchist Alexander Berkman attempted to kill him. Plainly philanthropy never did equate to perfect morality.

The problem with Rhodes is that the controversy is intergenerational. The new generation feels entitled to judge out of time, out of context ,  and all too often out of ignorance.

This is a pity because we need to be reminded of our history, and to have important figures set within it like landmarks by which we orientate our way through its twists and turns. The present controversy appears to turn upon this generations lack of tolerance towards those of another time with which it currently feels out of tune. There is much moral vanity on display and no great subtlety of understanding.

It is not a uniquely British phenomenon, indeed there appears to be a rather desperate ” me too” element involved: if New Orleans can reject Robert E Lee (forgetting his role in post American Civil War healing) , then we too must show ourselves no less diligent in repudiating historic wrongs.

Pondering the question of such memorials set Brother Ivo to reflect upon some odd quasi-juxtapositions.

Parliament Square / Whitehall sees memorials to both Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. Past generations appear to have lived comfortably enough with that. The fact we do so does us credit. The most difficult of disputes to resolve are those where each side “has a point”.

The Embankment has both William Tyndale and Thomas Moore memorialised. One wonders if the passing crowds ever reflect upon how remarkable that equality of honour might appear to those who fought over religion, in past eras,

In Parliament Square we have comparatively recently raised a statue to Nelson Mandela without having felt the need to evict that of Jan Smuts with whom he might have had have several differences of opinion. Happily for the General, most Oxford students won’t know who he is, so he will probably hold his place.

In the same vicinity we have Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill who were far from close friends or political soul mates, indeed a recent book about them bore the sub title “The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire”.

Indian sub-continental rivalries are further memorialised with statues of Nehru and Jinnah almost within hailing distance of each other around the Law Courts, Nehru outside Kings College, and Jinnah over the road in Lincoln Inn Fields.

As far as Brother Ivo recalls, there is no enthusiasm from the Human Rights lobby to remove the statue of Che Guevara from its place on the Embankment despite the jolly homophobe’s penchant for killing political prisoners. Similarly, there is no apparent pressure to rename the two Stalin Avenues in Chatham and Colchester.

We have not yet called to mind the bust of Karl Marx, set appropriately enough in a cemetery, but no doubt were we to do so, Diane Abbott would argue that he did more good than harm, though her accountancy methods might attract some scrutiny on that point.

Such benevolence to the heroes of the Left continues. There is a plan to erect a statue of Friedrich Engels’ beard at Salford University, ( yes,  seriously  ) presumably not to far from the BBC so it will have plenty of visitors.

Looking at the plan, Brother Ivo could not help but mischievously note that they have not felt it necessary to depict space for a brain, but actually there is more fun to be had than that .

The spokesman for the design group responsible, Engine, declared that “We aren’t interested in making a “hero on horseback” which is something Engels would have been horrified by”.

Except he probably wouldn’t.

Engles declared himself never happier than when on horseback – riding to hounds!   He once wrote to Marx “On Saturday I went out fox hunting – seven hours in the saddle….That sort of thing always keeps me in a state of devilish excitement for several days: its the greatest physical pleasure I know…. I was in at the death”.

It is this kind of dichotomy that delights the English. it is probably why we are content to have a degree of incoherence in our historical statuary. We take what we like and put up with what we don’t – and there is a lesson for many in this world.

We are happy to celebrate, in death, aspects of character of those who were bitter opponents in life. We know there is nothing pure or logical in history and that Marx was wrong – there is no historical determinism. We got where we are in a muddled way but somehow we manage ok without continually tearing each other apart. It is this penchant for tolerance that so exasperates the ideologues.

Tolerant peoples are better than “black and white” in their judgements and thank God for that.

It was this acknowledgement of complexity that enabled Mandela and De Klerk to find a way forwards in South Africa – though sadly less broad minds may yet put an end to the hope.

Some of us recall the bonhomie that unexpectedly broke out between the late Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams after they had concluded the Northern Ireland Peace process.

The ability to avoid stiff necked principle is a virtue that has to be learned with age and experience. It is plainly not a common one amongst the self styled elite of younger generation which seems certain it is right about everything, not least where historic statuary is concerned.

In the interests of fostering an ability to compromise. perhaps the way forward for Oriel College, is to offer a historic compromise. They should offer to remove the Cecil Rhodes statue together with all the finance with which he endowed the University, upon condition that it is replaced by a mounted statue of Friedrich Engels riding to hounds.

such a solution would simultaneously be a triumph of the Left, an affirmation of  the importance of truthfulness in historic matters, a tribute to an indispensible feature of the English countryside and a reminder that few of us are as predictable as some would have it believed.

On that quirky note, may you have a Happy and idiosyncratic New Year

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.

 

 

 

Who is Mohammed? (and who can answer?)

” Who is Mohammed?”

This was the rather arresting headline on the front page of Brother Ivo’s free local newspaper. With such an attention grabbing front page it thereby avoided being cast aside unread, and partial answers were seen to be offered in the words of George Bernard Shaw, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Carlisle and others, all offering respectful opinions telling us how unique, compassionate and utterly admirable he was.

How much these alleged character witnesses knew of the man is not entirely clear, yet their high opinion of the Muslim prophet was plainly advanced to whet our appetites.

If the present tense of the headline had not alerted him, the offer at the foot of the page gave the game away, with a website offering to take the reader to the Qu’ran online and a telephone number to call to obtain a free copy.

This was paid advertising.

It was all very enterprising.

Who this man Mohammed was, is indeed an interesting and important question in the modern world, so putting the question into the public domain is superficially to be welcomed, and yet, it brings with it, a necessary corresponding question. Can any alternative view be safely advanced examined and published?

Can it be said in a local newspaper that , for example , Mohammed was a trader whose travels around the Arabian peninsular brought him into contact with the Gnostic Christian heresies which fled and established themselves there after being rejected by orthodox Christianity at the Council of Nicea?

Could one advertise, or respond through the letters page that his reporting of Christian historic belief and doctrine was/is demonstratively false and misleading – something which God is not likely have got wrong had the Qu’ranic revelation truly been a Godly revelation?

Might anyone say that Mohammed became a warlord capable of generosity and mercy, yet also according to Islamic sources, responsible for the murder of prisoners, a whole tribe of Jews,  the poisoning of critics and the sexual abuse of his 9 year old child bride?

Will anyone explore the circularity of his truth claims?  Mohammed is God’s final prophet, so says the Qu’aran, brought to you exclusively by Mohammed who is to be believed because he is God’s prophet etc..etc

Would the paid advertisers allow others to engage with the question by pointing out that if Mohammed lived today, the principle question raised by the modern secularists would be whether he should appear first before the Central Criminal Court, the International Court at The Hague for modern day war crimes, , or the Child Protection Court?

It may be unduly sceptical, but Brother Ivo will not be looking at the letters pages over the next few weeks in expectation of vigorous theological jousting, neither will he encourage others to offer paid advertising of a contrary opinion to those encouraging us to embrace Mohammed and his reported revelations.

It is much to be welcomed that Muslims have taken the trouble and paid the costs of putting the question “out there”. The problem is that a full engagement will not occur because the newspaper will censor serious critical engagement with the chosen question, not least, lest some of Brother Ivo’s identified issues be raised.

None of them are new, yet all are legitimate questions.

Nobody is similarly inhibited over questioning Christianity.

If Brother Ivo declared” Jesus is Lord”another can, and doubtless will riposte “Oh no he isn’t”, and Brother Ivo accepts that as a price worth paying for the freedom to speak the truth as he sees it. That is the Faustian bargain that believers and non believers have struck in order to create the largely tolerant free flow of ideas within our society and this is precisely what differentiates it from the intolerant regimes that many have fled, together with the violence and strife that follows soon after.

It is not that we have avoided intolerance; rather we have learnt to live with challenges to our values as the least worst option.

Even if the newspaper were to be willing to put its editor and staff at risk, many in the community will have taken note of what has happened in Paris and Copenhagen to those bold enough to apply criticism to the object of Islamist veneration. Many will avoid engaging with the question posed – and that too is a betrayal  of our most valued contribution to peaceful society – the honest and peaceful acceptance of difference of opinion.

When historian Tom Holland wrote and presented a critically acute historical examination of a Islam for Channel 4, ” Islam The Untold Story”, it did not make it to a public screening: such were the sensitivities of Mohammed’s admirers which the broadcasters were at excessive pains to protect. Most people know this and act accordingly, censoring criticism rather than risk controversy. That is how religious freedom dies, not with a bang but a whimper.

All this presents a Brother Ivo with another of his many paradoxes.

He wants to welcome the decision of some Muslims to ask their question, but can only do so provisionally. Engaging in public religious discourse in a pluralistic society carries responsibilities as well as rights. If one asks open questions about one’s faith, all involved have to expect and accept an uncensored and potentially offensive subsequent debate.

So do we have it – or do we walk away?

Remembering Names on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Names are important.

We correct those who mistake our names.

We ask the names of others early in relationships.

We name our pets, and sometimes our treasured possessions. This is beyond utilitarianism, it makes sense to name places for identification purposes, but naming is more than that. The bestowing of a name gives value. The removing of a name removes personality, denies individuality and deliberately demeans

In the Bible, names abound. They are given at birth, and are sometimes changed to denote a significantly changed relationship.

Thus, Nehemiah tells us that “Thou art the Lord the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham “.

When Simon was chosen to lead the disciples, he became Peter – the rock. After a transforming encounter with Christ,  Saul became Paul.

In our culture, we remember those who have gone before. We record names on War Memorials, and when we are unable to do this, we use Rudyard Kipling’s lovely phrase “Known unto God”. It is the gentler , more loving alternative to either ignoring existence or choosing the French rationalist version
“Unconnu” – unknown.

Each week in Churches throughout the the world we pray intercessions for the recently departed and those whose anniversaries of death occur at this time.

January the 27th  is observed in the United Kingdom as Holocaust Remembrance Day.

We are asked to remember those who were killed in one of the worst genocides in history. We tend to do so with reference to the enormity represented by that number 6 million.

Some have pointed out that there have been -and continue to be –  many similar dreadful mass murderings of God’s children. Sometimes these are politically motivated, other times it is religious or tribal hatred that cause the horror. THey continue even now, yet tragically the victims are rarely identified to us

There is a continuing holocaust of the inconvenient unborn which some condemn on the basis of denied Human Rights, but others condemn with a recollection of the words of Jeremiah, “I knew you before you were formed within your mother’s womb”.

Few of those rejected, will have been given the dignity of a name, but each individual is ” known unto God”. It is more difficult to reject those to whom one has ascribed the dignity of a name. Paradoxically, most still born children will be honoured with the recognition of their uniqueness and many are named.

The holocaust was not only about the Jews, although they were especially targetted by the Nazi anti-Semitists. It is no bad thing to be broad in our recollection.

Unlike many other such tragedies, the Germans documented their victims, we have their names. We can, and should remember them and their individualism.

Throughout Holocaust Remembrance Day Brother Ivo will be tweeting names of the victims . The names will be chosen at random. They will be from different countries. Most will inevitably be Jews. That is fitting when we commemorate the greatest, if, tragically and shamefully, not the only planned European genocide in living memory. Its conception started with the Jews.

As Europe’s Jews begin to feel less safe in recent weeks it is especially important to assert the value and worth of Jewish lives.

The “Final Solution” was powerfully recorded on film. Because of the film and documentation we are well placed to find and remember names. It is always touching to read them. It puts humanity back into the horrifying statistics.

We have the records and the knowledge and the images to both remember and contribute to the promise made when the death camps were liberated, “Never again”.

We can now address our natural human response to turn away, by restoring humanity to those to whom it was so dreadfully denied.

That stripping of humanity began by assigning to victims a category and a number instead of addressing them by name, the name given and shared by those who love them.

To mark the day, Brother Ivo will be tweeting the names of some who died in the death camps. He invites you to share those names on your time lines. You may care to offer a brief prayer for them though they now be in God’s safe keeping. The prayer is probably more for us than them. Remembrance is for the living as well as the dead.

These individuals will have come from various countries, the majority, though not all will be Jewish, others will be communist, gay, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gypsies, some will be criminals  – It matters not.

On that day, let us remember them indescriminately simply to affirm the humanity of all God’s children

If you want to contemplate or share recollection, you may find names and restore the dignity of individual remembrance here

http://www.ushmm.org/m/pdfs/20141010-dor-names-list.pdf

 

It takes two to tango and the Taliban are not fans of Strictly Come Dancing.

The events in France this week have challenged us all to make sense of troubling events.

Many conclusions will be drawn,  frequently according to our preconceptions.

“Don’t trust Muslims”,

“Don’t demonise Muslims”,

“To hell with all faith”,

“Close the borders”

“Repent of our foreign policy”

“Redistribute more wealth”
“Send in the diversity co-ordinators”

Never has a problem had so many seemingly obvious causes or instant solutions.

The more Brother Ivo has listened, the more convinced he has become that there are two important areas for Christians to address..

The first is the need for us to have a deeper, prolonged and more honest faith dialogue with our Muslim neighbours. It will not be easy.

It takes two to tango and the Taliban are not fans of Strictly Come Dancing.

The second is that it is both foolish and dangerous to regard Islam and Chritianity as comparable religions in relation to the wider Society.

If we accept that there is a distinction between those Muslims who follow the Abu Hamza’s of this world and the everyday folk we meet in the shops, schools, hospitals and streets of Britain, then we will all need to better understand what lies within that faith. We are unlikely to advance our understanding however if we think we can view it with the same mindset and cultural assumptions of secular Liberal Britain as most of our politicians and media do.

Those of us who can view these matters from a literate religious perspective have an advantage in getting to grips with the problems and so can -and should – make a special contribution. We will need intellectual courage and integrity to do so, It will not make us popular.

Consider for a moment, the High Wycombe Muslim interviewed on Radio 4 yesterday, who proclaimed that Muslims love their Prophet more than they love their wives or children. Such a statement would be almost incomprehensible to the average Briton, though those with longer memories, might have noted a similarity to Golda Meir’s famous observation that there will be no peace between her people and their neighbours until Arabs learn to love their children more than they hate the Jews.

Later in the day, as the French Special Forces showed their great skill and bravery, we saw young child hostages being carried out of the Parisian supermarket by the rescuers.

Christians can state with confidence that Christ was unequivocal about such matters.

He punctured the pomposity of those who claimed to love God, whom they have never seen, whilst not showing equal love for those about us who we can know  1 John 4:20. Jesus plainly taught that love of God and love of Man were to be seen as two sides of the same coin without being in competition one with the other.

Following an affirmative answer to His question, “Peter, do you love me” he answered ” Feed my lambs” – not ” Take them hostage”.

Rather than seeing children as hostage material or subordinate family member Jesus saw them as models of behaviour for all who would enter the Kingdom. Matthew 18.3

He warned those who harmed children that it would be better for them to have a millstone tied round their neck and to be cast into the sea. Luke 17:2

It is hard to consider these teachings as in anyway congruent with the actions and attitudes of the more florid adherents of Islam.

Christianity can handle such inhumanity in clear theological terms; perhaps Islam can too, but all too often we are too polite or fearful to ask.

Yet ask we must.

Those who assert that such fanatics cannot be defeated by force often foolishly and wrongly suggest that the solution to the problem lies in social or economic change. It does not. Such bigotry must be defeated theologically and that can only be done by understanding the faith claims, principles and – let’s be blunt, its weaknesses.

Brother Ivo has not yet heard kindly responsible Muslim Imams and scholars asked by our media to identify with clarity the texts, traditions and authorities which enable them to accept criticism of the faith by secularists like those of Charlie Hebdo without recourse to violence.

One assumes that their peaceful response is not simply founded on lack of weapons: if they have faith inhibitors of intemperate action, this needs to be made more widely known, not least to the hot headed young.

Christians, and particularly those with religious studies skills, are best placed to ask such questions and lead such dialogue from the perspective of the non-Muslim majority. By knowing how to ask the right questions, appreciate alternatives, explore complementary ways of interpreting text and how to challenge assertions, we can make an important and distinctive contribution.

Yet too often we find clergy either disinclined or incapable of standing their ground, or identifying those questions.

It is not, of course, Christians who ridicule Islam.

We suffer far more insult at the hands of our National Broadcaster than Islam which has secretly benefitted from policies such as the recently publicised kid glove approach embodied in the BBC guidelines on what can and cannot be said and portrayed.

Christians are well placed to explain how to demonstrate dignified patient responses.

Too often, however we collude with the notion that the man Mohammed perfected God’s revelation to humankind, rather than His Son. We also collude with the idea that Islam suffers more at the hands of militant secularists; they do not. The harsh cartoons against Christ and his Church has spawned no concern on the Left of incipient ” Christo-phobia”.

When all faith is portrayed as threatening, intolerant, divisive and excluding, Christians need to be equipped to speak of our unique “selling points”. We need to explain this both to Islam and to the wider secular community.

We need to recognise and speak our truths plainly

Our God is imminent, not remote.

Jesus washes our feet and commands us to offer service rather than demand submission.

God is not too proud to enbrace the humiliation of crucifixion if that is what it takes to lead us back to Him.

We do not have to earn God’s love because it has already been given.

Unlike Mohammed, Jesus responded to insult by turning the other cheek; He did not sanction the death of those who insulted him.

The societies created by Islamic values, and Christian values are accordingly very different.

Such differences matter.

If we do not assist by identifying explaining and publicising such differences, how can secular society and Islam understand each other better? Christianity has an important interpretive role.

Above all, a primary distinction between Christianity and Islam in modern Britain is that Churches are not incubating hundreds if not thousands of angry isolated young men admiring the Parisian attackers.

Amongst the messages to communicate to our Islamic neighbours are:-

Muslims seem to be happiest and most free within in the western societies than in the Middle Eastern Islamic homelands.

The biggest killers of Mulims in the world today are other Muslims

The most persecuted religion in the whorl is Christianity

 

We can call these inconvenient truths.

It may dent Islamic pride, but Christians and Jews are not clamouring to enter Islamic societies. Our harshes Muslim critics fight in the Courts to avoid being returned to more Islamic societies.

These truths need to be said.

Even so, Christians are best placed to engage with Imams and scholars to encourage them to diagnose and address the disease of terrorism within their mosques. We must not shirk the responsibility for doing this.

We need to explain to the public the religious and theological difficulties which such Imams face. Brother Ivo has identified some of these in earlier posts.

We need to understand, publicise and praise both the fact, and detail of how many peaceful Muslims are standing with us against such terrorism which has been imported from less tolerant societies. The press is not good at giving credit where it is due.

This honest reconciliation of sincere difference and its communication to the wider public is difficult work, not least because of the flabby assumption that Chistanity and Islam are really very similar and can be treated alike by modern secular society.

 

They are not

If you are in any doubt about that, compare the body count.

Conversations with Islamic friends

Attachment-1

Brother Ivo has been blessed with a highly textured life.

He has broken bread with Ministers of State and Ministers of religion. He has enjoyed the company of soldiers and peace activists, judges and murderers (of which more another time), artists and hippies, punks and businessmen.

It is that experience and enjoyment of humanity in so many forms which inspires him to try to write from different perspectives in a quest to be “interesting”.

On the evening of a terrible day when Parisian cartoonists have been foully murdered by Islamic terrorists, Brother Ivo reflects upon two very different Muslims he has known and shares those recollections before outlining some questions which he thinks we need to ask our Muslim friends, before reflecting how we need to conduct ourselves in troubled times.

In the mid-1980’s Brother Ivo had a friend, an elderly gentleman who had sought asylum in the UK as a political dissident from the military regime in Pakistan. He was related to opponents of that regime and flown to the UK with little preparation. He told two stories about how he had been brought to faith.

Once, when destitute and fearful, alone in a small rented room, he had given up on life, having been pretty secular, and had simply prayed to God that he had certain material needs and that if God wanted him to believe, the satisfaction of those rudimentary requirements would be a good starting point. It seemed a pretty poor start to a spiritual relationship but it apparently worked.

The next day he discovered that a neighbour had left a box outside the door with a note explaining that here were some basic goods he thought he needed. Unpacking the box he was amazed to discover that e verything on his list was there. His prayer having been thereby answered, he resolved to deliver his side of the bargain and to explore faith.

Flying to the UK with no plans about meeting immigration requirements, he again prayed for entry whilst on the plane, and somewhat against his expectation he was  admitted as a  political refugee.

He was a good citizen. He worked, was scrupulously polite, kindly and law abiding and so when the Salmon Rushdie story was all over the newspapers in the 1980’s  Brother Ivo invited him to speak at his church,  where he talked of his faith in simple and sincere terms charming everyone, until he was asked about the Satanic Verses.

At that point he surprised everyone by saying calmly and deliberately that if Mr Rushdie were present with us then, he would feel duty bound to throw himself at him and attempt to throttle him with his bare hands. It seemed all very odd awkward and improbable, and very un-Anglican too, but we prayed together and that was that.

We remained friends.

He gave Brother Ivo a small book he had written on the subject of political Islam which seemed to be the dreams of an elderly idealist ; it spoke of the recreation of the Middle Eastern Caliphate which seemed a highly unlikely prospect at the time. He even invited Brother Ivo to receive his hospitality in the tribal homelands,  when the politics of Pakistan changed, but that was not then practical which in retrospect was a shame..

The gentleman went on to become the first speaker of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.

Brother Ivo’s next friend could not have been more different. A rather stylish artistic teacher who disappeared for a couple of years and re-emerged as a another “Salmon Rushdie” figure,  having won literary prizes for writing best-selling “magic realism ” books which were highly un-Islamic but internationally acclaimed. He had to publish under a pseudo name for fear of joining Mr Rushdie on the the Fatwa, not least because he had become a practicing Roman Catholic and was thus apostate.

Brother Ivo sponsored him to UK citizenship. The only other person Brother Ivo so sponsored was an East African Muslim with whom he worked in equal partnership. Readers may accordingly safely assume that Brother Ivo is no            “Islamophobe”.

Those of us who can point to a backstory of interfaith friendship and tolerance in these days of tension between Islam and western values have a particular duty to lead the discussion and ask honest questions on days like today.

Sadly this is often not done.

There is much tip toeing around sensitivities, especially within our Churches,  which too easily assume upon little scholarship that because we worship “One God” from an Abrahamic heritage, we share more values than perhaps we do.

Christians complain of religious illiteracy, and yet demonstrate much of our own, when well meaning clerics speak as if there is nothing much between Christians and the followers of the Islamic State that a few choruses of Kum By Ya cannot sort out.

In truth our faiths are very different and honest dialogue needs to dig deep with those willing to do so. How many are, is problematic.

Modern Christians, whether Liberal or “Bible based”, are happy interrogating the text of their Bible. The one group may see itself impelled by the Holy Spirit to find fresh expressions of the truth,  the other may be more strict in interpretation but is not greatly offended by seeking internally cross referenced validations. We have different translations of the Bible texts and it is possible to discuss how language has changed; nuances of translation are matters of interest not outrage

Such dialogue is less welcome throughout the Muslim community. One’s duty is not to explore but to submit. There is scholarship, but it is much more closely aligned to an assertion of an immutable, directly revealed text , and that immutability has been preserved at the cost of suppressing certain texts where difference was found. Whereas textual nuance might be the occasion for fascinated exploration by western theologians, there is no such liberty afforded the Islamic scholar.

Islam has a greater rigidity of thought than Christianity.

The God of Islam is not close to His People, authority permeates the faith. In addition to the direct words of God as taught to Mohammed  (albeit in fragmentary episodes) there are traditions about their prophet whose life is asserted to be the model for all good Muslims.

It is in this that so much of our inter faith dialogue will run into difficulty.

The modern view of Jesus for the Christian is suffused with Christ’s compassion to the errant and the inconsistent. (That is not a criticism).

Brother Ivo’s “Muslim convert to Catholicism” friend found that most attractive and an important contrast to his former faith; he  rejoiced that Jesus deflected the penalty of the Law in the case of the woman taken in adultery. He  recognised the awe inspiring generosity towards the thief on the cross. He would have identified that Jesus never killed or condemned anyone and neither did his Disciples or early followers. The closer one gets to the historic Jesus the greater the love and forgiveness. The power of Jesus example lies not in earthly success or conquest but rather in a lack of temporal power  in the example –  the incarnation. “This is what God is truly like”

In contrast Brother Ivo’s Islamist friend would have had no difficulty in asserting a number of illiberal principles based upon the deeds of his Prophet.

Mohammed personally condemned adulterers to death. He carried a sword         ( which Brother Ivo has seen) and used it in political earthly conquest. He massacred the  Jews of Qurayzah, and distributed their womenfolk to his followers. He expelled Jews and Christians from the Arabian peninsular and  taxed those in other conquered lands who would not convert. He ordered the murder of Abu ‘Afak and ‘Asma bint Marwan who mocked him in poetry.

One does not have to reflect long upon the contrasting lives of Jesus and Mohammed to see that reconciling an image of God between to the two traditions may not be as easy as many may  think,

Far from being totally un-Islamic, any objectively minded person can see that those who say they only seek to emulate their Prophet’s actions are not without justificatory material.

Brother Ivo has no doubt that whoever killed the journalists of Charlie Hebdo will be well able to cite episodes in the life of their Prophet to explain and justify their actions. His life is asserted to be the personification of that to which a Muslim should aspire. Brother Ivo’s old friend would have been kindness itself in almost every action in his life, yet he would have been impelled not to deny the Islamic integrity of the Parisian murderers.

The writer friend was very different. Eccentric in many ways, he had a much lighter approach to life, always blessing the compassionate and wholly at odds with  the zealot.

Writing tonight with anxiety as to how we can keep the peace with our many kindly Muslim friends who live lives of honesty and integrity without applauding violence, Brother Ivo offers hope in the words of his friend Salim who used to say –

“Whenever bad things happen in the world, people always say – look at that – that’s human nature, look how terrible it is is: but when you think of all the temptations , the opportunity to do evil, I always ask – why are so many people so good, and so kind and considerate – they don’t have to be”.

That is the text we need to hold onto tonight.

Islam has so many excuses for bad behaviour, and our Christian heritage is scarcely much better, yet somehow, most Muslims don’t behave like that, and Christians have largely given up on the persecution of others so all is not hopeless in the world. Thanks be to God.

How we deal with those who pose a direct risk to the innocent is a problem for another time.

For now let us grieve with the sorrowful, give thanks for the solidarity of people who want to live freely and peaceably together and resolve to open dialogues with our Muslim neighbours to discover how they manage to overcome their historic difficulties, how they pick their way through the theology to reach conclusions diametrically opposed to the violent Islamsist with their literal appeal to texts whist keeping within a theology that does not easily take to innovation in thought.

Whilst we are about it, we might ask similar questions of ourselves

 

#CountingOurBlessings

In the old soviet era, the bolder more stoical Russians sustained themselves like oppressed peoples all over the world with humour. One of the popular formats for jokes was to repeat to ones friends and neighbours reports from  a fictional radio station – Radio Yerevan (Radio Armenia)

One such joke ran that the station had reported the economic forecasts for the following year.

“It will be terrible,” ran one such report, “Natural disasters will strike, the crops will  fail, tractor production will plummet. The rouble will collapse, and there will be widespread hunger and demoralisation- but happily, there is good news”.

“What’s that the?” neighbour would ask.

“It will be a whole lot better than the year after”.

Well, things did change for the Russian people, and notwithstanding current difficulties, most Russians would not want to go back to their old regime. Things did eventually get better, if not yet perfect.

We would do well to remind ourselves of how optimism lifts people in times of change as we enter our own period of modest uncertainty with the approach of a General Election in May 2015.

No sooner have the Magi arrived in our churches with their gifts to lay before our mangers, than our party leaders are similarly out on the road bringing less tangible largesse in an attempt to close the Christmas season down, and bring the news spotlight back onto themselves. This will continue as we observe the circumcision of Christ and that troubling account for all,parents, when the young Jesus is left behind in the Temple by oversight of Mary and Joseph,,

Thereafter, Jesus and his family disappear from history until his cousin calls him to his mission many years later.

During that time Jesus lived an ordinary life, and so shall we, whatever the politicians and even the liturgy may say to us.

It occurred to Brother Ivo that before we get caught up in the partisan battle, it will do us no harm to encourage each other during the remainder of the Christmas Season by counting our blessings during these early days of 2015.

Brother Ivo was taught to be methodical about such analyses so here are a few headings for you to consider , and perhaps add thoughts of your own as we learn to start #CountingOurBlessings .

Our Constitution is under discussion, yet none of us fears greatly for our lives and freedoms under our present current constitutional arrangements.

We have a Monarch of unquestioned and unrivalled probiity. Her vast experience may be called for if the election yields a multi-party parliament with various permutations of Government needing to be negotiated. We know and trust the Queen to play her part with impartiality, and the Armed Firces and Police will stay out of the matter entirely. Happy is the country with such stability.

Our politics are robust, yet despite widespread cynicism, the remarkable question is not why our politicians  are so bad, but why- looking at others around the world- they are they so much better than in most other countries. Opponents will not be imprisoned, and notwithstanding occasional malfeasance., you would not now how to go about bribing one, the ballots will be honest and true. Do we value our politicians and their parties for that most comfortable of political expectations? Are we yet #CountingOurBlessings

The economy is a contentious issue, yet it will do us no harm to remind ourselves that the difference between the parties in the previous Party Leaders debates was over budgets differing by only one or two billion pounds. The contentious ground was remarkably narrow. Whatever happens, the supermarkets will be full, we shall overspend next Christmas, the holiday industry will be advertising on full throttle in the next months and even the unfortunate  will find the food banks fully provisioned.

Our “austerity” debate is largely about whether our government spending should return to the level of of few short years ago, when few of us were feeling despondent at Radio Yerevin levels. Our NHS will continue to do sterling work so that many will be healed and restored, whilst our hospice movement confers upon most of us the blessings of palliative care.

This is not to say that there are insignificant differences, yet we are the fifth largest economy in the world and even the worst scenario is infinitely better than the prospects for most of the world’s inhabitants.

A UK welfare claimant receiving the highest allowance under the benefit cap of £26,000 pa stands in the richest 1% of the world population’s income  income – and that is before one factors in the value of a lifelong pension, free healthcare and schooling for children.

Brother Ivo is no Dr Pangloss: he simply does not need to have pointed out that come what may, we shall continue to be vastly blessed in comparison with our brothers and sisters across the globe. None of us turns on a tap expecting to drink infected water, we have a temporate climate which yields few natural disasters, and our security at many levels is greatly to be envied from abroad.This is why so many people would love to come and live in these islands.

We have religious freedom despite there being concerns at encroachment, and despite anxiety at the arrival of newcomers, the North/South divide and the problems of our young getting on the housing ladder, we are a nation largely at social peace one with another.

These are great benefits to acknowledge in these early days of the year.

The Kings knelt in thanks for the gift of the Christ child, the saviour of the world. We too should do so, firstly and foremost,

Whilst we are there, however, it will do us no harm at all to close our ears to those who would have us fearful, anxious, suspicious or be-littling of each other.

This week Brother Ivo will be tweeting on the hashtag #CountingOurBlessings in a small protest against the negativity that the spin doctors will try to stampede us towards.

Please retweet and feel to join his modest campaign if you too, wish to start the year with a proper sense of proportion, giving thanks that notwithstanding proper concerns for what needs to be done to address our nation’s problems, we are indeed of clear mind and full of thankfulness that we are indeed a most fortunate people.

Is our diversity only skin deep?

The choice of Lennie Henry to guest edit the flagship BBC radio programme Today inevitably brought the question of diversity into the public mind.

He is a much loved figure, amiable, “just like us”, and an excellent ambassador for “the Black Country” in both senses of the word.

You can’t not like Lennie.

If you looked for an example of an integrated person, in some ways different but in most ways not, it is hard to think of anyone better to choose.

Nevertheless, given a full , open choice of issues to explore, this very English man of colour felt it appropriate to go back to issues of diversity and exclusion. That was his right and his choice, but it is interesting that he felt obliged to look primarily  in that direction rather than others; he identified with exclusion even though he has been as well embraced as anyone you might care to name.

Brother Ivo has lived long enough to have seen much change in this regard.

His own mother spoke of her fear of seeing the first black man in herstreet in the North of England, the children fleeing,  lest he take them back to wherever he might have come from.

She was not initially comfortable around such strangers. She was troubled when the teenage Brother Ivo and a friend brought home a very pretty girl of Indian origin, yet to her credit she later  learnt her own similarity with people of difference by badinage, whilst buying dress making materials from an Indian young man in the local market. Shared interests bridged  cultural gaps

When she saw the fervour of dislike amongst some parts of the community with the early rise of the National Front,  she confronted her own discomfort and by an act of will put it aside, for which Brother Ivo always admired her.

If you have never felt difficulty with difference, you have no claim to virtue in espousing tolerance.

Listening to Lennie Henry exploring issues such as the numerical disparity of BME managers in professional football, the problems of securing more ethnic minority MPs and black authors breaking out of their traditionally niche subject areas, Brother Ivo began thinking about another side of the  diversity coin.

We regard ourselves as tolerant towards a diverse society because most of our major towns and cities have a variety of cultures in situ and  readily visible, with Dreadlocks, Turbans, and Hijabs abounding, but does that really tell us much?

Happily we have relatively little racial tension and no “rivers of blood” yet if we drill down looking for hard data,  how is the mutuality of acceptance really playing out?

Brother Ivo would have found it very interesting to hear not from those who have been motivated to integrate but rather to hear from those who have not yet done so.

Diane Abbott, Sajid Javid, Amjad Basir MEP and Chris Hughton had important and interesting stories to tell, and yet they are all people who have moved towards the values of the “indigenous community”: the story of those communities which are more inward looking is less explored. and it is a shame that Lennie did not go there.

That surely is the story that truly needs to be explored.

Brother Ivo was moved to explore this thought when he recalled a discussion he recently had with a colleague from another Church who sought his help in locating somebody willing and able to facilitate conversations within his own Church which had a number of people from a specific African region.

The colleague had made a mistake and did not want to compound it. He also had a problem, which he explained.

When he found people from the same country gravitating to his church he thought it was  a good idea to promptly introduce the newcomers to each other and expected that alone to be a successful strategy.

He had not appreciated the tribal dimension.

He soon learnt that there were plainly issues that he did not know and yet they were issues which his congregation did not feel comfortable discussing with him. They feared he might disapprove of their reservations and so, he was effectively excluded from a dimension of his own ministry. He may have been all for diversity and yet found that he needed needed  informed specialist help to penetrate the cultural issues that were holding back fellowship. Brother Ivo was able to suggest a source of such assistance.

There was another problem.

His new congregation members were very supportive of the Church. If he wanted simple things done his requests were met with enthusiasm yet those tasks embraced  tended to be of a more menial capacity. Recruiting people to join the PCC, to become Treasurers or Church Wardens had never been successful. He was concerned by this.

He did not want outsiders to speculate about racial glass ceilings. He was genuinely bothered that he was unable to extend his opportunities with this new generation of worshipers. There may be to be a very prosaic answer. The new immigrants may be young, have working long hours, have family commitments in other towns; in that they may be no different from other young people with too much to do, yet he cannot be sure.

It is these conversations that need to be had. It does take two to tango.

Brother Ivo shall be seeing him again in a couple of months and will be interested to see see how he is getting on with the support suggested.

The story from this local Church is the kind that does not reach the media.

There are many new cultures and communities now in the UK. Some are still not wholly comfortable with the language and the culture. With 4 million newcomers in the last decade, it would be highly unlikely that all the potential issues of integration will have even  yet been identified, let alone solved.

We should, as a larger community be keen to ensure that ours in not an exclusionary culture; In Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free male or female. Yet the British have tended to be a pragmatic people relying on evolutionary practice rather than grand schemes of intellectual design. THis is both a blessing and a curse.

Seeing diversity on the street it may look ordinary enough, yet until we know and understand the various communities – and not least how they inter-react one with another – any declaration of diversity having been easily achieved is premature.

It may be too early to “celebrate diversity” not because we should not aspire to it, but simply because our success is greeted prematurely. Integrating  two  communities is of a different order of magnitude than integrating forty or a hundred. in many ways we have not yet begun.

Lennie Henry did a good job, but he skimmed the real depth of the problem

It will take time for so much diversity to bed down: the problems are exponentially complex and not exclusively caused by the “indigenous majority” – howsoever one defines it.

We can, however take a degree of comfort that the vast majority of folk do want to see this happen peacefully and naturally.

We in the Churches have an important role in facilitating acceptance on all sides, but we will help nobody if we allow the problem to be defined in the one dimension of indigenous intolerance only.

 

 

Jeremy Clarkson; mountains and molehills

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Many years ago, the scriptwriters Frank Muir and Denis Norden set themselves a challenge to break every one of the BBC guidelines on taste and decency in one sentence. At that time, no programme could make jokes about religion, the Royal Family, race or sexual activity, and they came up with the line “Christ”, said the King, “that nigger’s a poof”.

Despite a genuine dislike of taking the Lord’s name in vain, Brother Ivo still smiles at the subversive brilliance, verbal dexterity, and conscission of their invention. It was that skill which made them pre-eminent in their field for decades and throughout that time their gentle affectionate mocking of humanities foibles and weaknesses were never perceived by anyone to be anywhere near “hate speech”, that ugly invention of the equally ugly politically correct.

The line which they wrote was a verbal answer to a puzzle they had set themselves.

The world event they constructed was so improbable as to be safely removed from all of the ills which the decency code attempted to exclude. Yet to tell the story of their invention today risks bringing down all manner of of accusation upon Brother Ivo. It is because he is able to safely address these issues, having nothing to lose, that he feels compelled to do so.

He comes from a generation that had many many faults in these matters but it is not one over which the succeeding ones have any right to feel morally superior. Let him offer a few examples.

In the days when you could be prosecuted or killed for provocative behaviour, the comedian Lennie Bruce challenged everybody’s attitudes. He was a “hip” jazz fan and would take to the stage with a theme rather than a routine, and his comedy was improvised. In one such routine he took racial epithets and constructed a kind of jazz drum solo. Having identified a Polack, some Niggers, a Yid a Mick and a Spic he was soon chanting the rhythm of his invention like a musical nonsense verse before, having disarmed the terms, reduced them to a meaningless cacophony of syllables, he broke off, declaring all such attitudes equally meaningless.

In 60’s America it was a brave and creditable performance. Lenny, with his chanting of each of these terms, risked more, achieved more for racial harmony than the anonymous sneaks who took a muffled out-take of Jeremy Clarkson recording a nursery rhyme and published it for their own purposes.

Another example is still with us. Kinky Friedman is a Texan singer who wrote a song satirising racial prejudice against both himself , a Jew, and black people. “They ain’t making Jews like Jesus anymore” proclaims that today, Jews don’t always turn the other cheek, but along the way he has his protagonist ” a rednecked nerd in a bowling shirt” mistake him for a “well dressed country nigger”. Kinky needs to establish the prejudice before demolishing it – all in the musical style which the redneck would have thought defined him only. It is satire and edgy to this day forty years on.

Brother Ivo is very comfortable owning these examples of his generation’ s steps on the way to tolerance in the public sphere, for these were small but important cultural landmarks of far greater significance than the PC heavies who predate upon the foolish, like bullies.

Lenny Bruce was quite an immoral man and certainly no Christian, yet he had a number of insights which deserve respect. He would had been excoriating of the new puritanism of the politically correct, and in his spirit Brother Ivo proposes we continue that legacy by insisting that we reserve our ire and condemnation of racism for those who are truly racist, unkind or intolerant. Lennie famously remarked that the Liberal can understand and tolerate everything – except those who don’t understand them.

Making mountains out of molehills like the Jeremy Clarkson story is self indulgent and a distraction.

Clarkson, like Carol Thatcher before him and, before her, Ron Atkinson, come from the same generation as Lenny Bruce and Kinky Friedman. It was the generation that loved their golliwogs, called their pet cats Nigger and laughed at Michael Bates brilliant portrayal of an Indian in “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. This was also  the same generation which rejected Enoch Powell,  passed the Race Relations Act, brought Apartheid to an end and learned (much thanks to Ron Atkinson) to welcome black footballers as they grew to make their great contribution to the National game. That acceptance probably did more to move “minorities” into mainstream acceptance than anything else. When your star player in your sports team is black, it overcame any prior prejudices. We have yet to similarly exploit our Asian players’ talent but it will come.

When much has been achieved, all that is left for the pygmy campaigners of today is to complain at small things. Mr Clarkson was probably silly to start on that particular rhyme in his sound test , but it was perhaps not so very far from the naughtiness of Muir and Norden. One thought the BBC enjoyed boundary pushing, and edginess against the norm, seeing how close one can get to the line without crossing it.

Mr Clarkson’s transgression is about as outrageous as a ten year old saying ” bum” at the back of the class in 1912. Back then, nobody liked sneaks.

Plainly Christians insist upon according dignity to all we meet. In this context, is everything. “By their fruits ye shall know them” and none of those driven out of public life by the Politically correct strike Brother Ivo as Himmlers in the making.

There was a recent attempt to prosecute fans of Tottenham Hotspur who had appropriated the term” Yid” to themselves. That had done so historically in solidarity with their many Jewish supporters when other fans abused them. It has happily been accepted that that term, like many others, is used as a familiarity interlnally within the group and its associated friends. Comedians like Chris Rock and Reginald Hunter routinely use the offending term knowingly to those of their own race and they do it with a mischievous glint in their eyes to tease the discomfort of white members of the audience.

Jesus too used this technique to make a more important point.

When he used the term “hypocrite’ against his opponents, it had a plain undertone. His opponents hid their true nature and were thus acting like the masked actors of the Greek theatre;”You are no better than those dreadful Greeks” is the stinging implication to proud Jews. Similarly, when he rebuked the Syrophonecian  woman for seeking the blessing intended for the Jews there was a racial divide implicit in his initial testing rejection, which brought forth the response that the little dogs under the table may catch the children’s scraps.

Was Jesus “racist”?

Plainly not, yet many Christians will happily join the marxist approach of the  politically correct in applying this term to those they disagree with on other grounds.

Surely the various examples, biblical and secular, which Brother Ivo has identified are joined by a common thread. It is that context is everything. Intention and context is an important part of giving offence.

Those who wish to demonise words regardless of context might care to be reminded that society changes and that they may too in time fall foul of the language rules which the PC folk impose.

In forty years time, the grandchildren of today’s radicals may well be rebuking and prosecuting them for their use of the perforative word “Tory”. No matter that some of that clan use it amongst themselves, it is frequently used as a disparaging term – “hate speech” if you will. If you cannot conceive of using the term in a positive way but only as a derogatory  term or term of derision, if you use it to divide, then it is entirely foreseeable that this will join the list of that which is unsayable though you may convey exactly the same idea by referring to the “T-word”.

This is a nonsense. Moral people should ensure that their yea is yea and their nay means nay. If you can’t say it openly, you should not be saying it at all. Before I criticise you or think of prosecuting you I ought at the very least to examine the context before pronouncing judgement. It is what is in our hearts that corrupts us in our dealings with others not the words themselves.

Witch-hunting the foolish and the unguarded is not a moral activity, it is however a tactic of bullies with a political agenda of social control ( the clue is in the title) and for the male fides of that project alone it ought to be rejected.

The Ecology of Political Institutions

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David Cameron’s attempts to build bridges with those parts of Christian community opposed to the re-definition of marriage by praising the faith has opened up another wound for him, as the monstrous regiment of the priggishly offended, duly lined up behind the writers of the oppositional letter to the Daily Telegraph, shrieking like maiden aunts at a Chipperfields Review.

Actually, Brother Ivo takes that back; some of the broadest minded, most tolerant people he has known have been somewhat severe looking ladies whose observations on the follies of the rest of us were acute incisive and instructive.

What is intriguing is that those who are complaining  about  the PM’s. assertion that Britain is a Christian country, would almost certainly be equally assertive that they are “friends of the earth” ( capitalised or uncapitalised). How strange it is that they do not apply their thinking logically and broadly across the disciplines. Only connect.

Let Brother Ivo explain through a seemingly divergent illustration.

Researchers in the United States were recently tasked with improving the flood risk in a part of the country which was suffering rather like our own West Country. After much study they reached the conclusion that things had started to go wrong when the wolf had been removed from the local ecology.

The wolf had predate on deer. In its absence the deer population had expanded. The growing population was no longer wary of grazing the riverbanks, and both ate and trampled young riverbank saplings. The absence of saplings had resulted in decline in the beaver population which no longer dammed the rivers and created flood plains.

In short, taking out the top predator had disastrous consequences downstream. The presence of a wolf population had its downsides not only for deer, but farmer’s livestock, and yet the costs of their absence to the ecology both near and far was devastating.

Those who signed the letter calling for the removal of Christianity from public life, decrying its historic naughtiness, would of course, be equally united in decrying the removal of wolf from its role as top predator in the ecological pyramid. Ask them to explain and protect the complex web of relationships in the natural world and they will have both energy and understanding,  protesting to maintain the smallest variant of of an obscure weed rather than give way to a road by-pass.

So why the blind spot?

Why the seemingly total incapacity to understand that the Constitution of Britain, and indeed all the Constitutions and Institutions of the Anglosphere and the other political environments which evolved from the Protestant Reformation,. are themselves illustrative of the much approved principle ” survival of the fittest”.

Those who seek to preserve the natural world in aspic are frequent the same people perversely cavalier in tearing down the finely tuned political ecosphere which is responsible for the happy free and once tolerant society in which they have lived.

In Britain, our Established Church is an amazingly successful coalition of Catholic, Liberal, Evangelical and Charismatic views. We frequently contend seriously and passionately on deeply held issues. We do not share, still less enforce, much doctrinal orthodoxy and yet a bloody history of contention has taught us much an this has passed by osmosis into the body politic.

The tolerance we learned to accord each other, based upon good Queen Elizabeth I ‘s disinclination to “open a window on men’s souls” influenced the political sphere so that we are greatly blessed that traditionally, our political leaders have been opponents not enemies.

That is currently under threat from the doctrinaire ” progressives” and other heirs to the more European forms of the “Enlightenment” – the wonderful folks that brought you the French Revolution, Marxism and Fascism, whilst dear old fashioned Britain stuck with a Constitutional settlement that bemuses the narrowly logical in the same way that an ant cannot appreciate what goes on beyond its programmed allegiance to its narrowly understood community.

It is should be a historical joy that somehow we have benefitted from this guided evolution. At many decision points, there has been intelligent design -and those intelligent values have been predominantly Christian.

Instead of scrapping the past and building afresh on atheist logic -the North Korean and Albanian model –  we have traditionally and pragmatically built upon our Reformation and Restoration past,

In this distinctly British political ecology, the Lion has learnt to live with the Unicorn, and the lambs have been happy to prosper in that same environment. It is why Ed Milliband’s father was able to find refuge here, though he did tend to ungraciously bite the hand that fed him.

Why did so many faiths find a home here if not because they could prosper under the penumbra of our Christian Establishment?

Once, there was strict legislation against Catholics, Jews, and Non-Conformists but isn’t the point that our Established Church and associated Institutions have demonstrated the capacity to both evolve and nurture that which is not itself?

What the Telegraph signatories do not seem to take into account ( or more worryingly not even to know) is that in an environment it matters who the top predator is.

Mouthing words about “diversity” whilst sawing the trunk of the tree under which you -and it -have flourished is simply crass.

Many of course are the same folk using their free speech to promote Government regulation of the press.

Diversity, of itself does not develop tolerance or peaceful co-existence. Syria is diverse, so is Lebanon. It is secular “liberal” France that has banned the veil, and secular America that hounds Christianity from the public space through litigation.

If you want to see what happens when you remove institutions in diversity rich countries you may go to any number of failed states which struggle to bring together suspicious factions.

Those willing to break the institutional eggs to make a diversity omelette actually have no idea how they will put Humpty together again.

Building a tolerant free country is a long slow process. Our country went through that difficult and costly centuries ago and whilst the architecture of its happy outcome is hardly characterised by its clean logical lines, it still manages to hold us together.

Those who believe that there is a functional alternative might usefully put their talents to the test by building some prototype institutions which demonstrate similar resilience and strength to that of Christian Britain. Good luck bringing the gay, the Islamic, the vegan and the tribal into your Ark.

In contrast, we already have within our Established Church, huge diversity. In our Christian Monarch we have a wise Queen welcomed as Head of State or Commonwealth across the largest network of family and political ties in the world. Our Parliament holds multi party, multi faith views: none of this was designed, but came about by the very natural selection that the National Secular Society is anxious to teach in our schools.

How strange therefore, that they and the Metro-liberals who distain the Established order never pause to reflect that this country remains amongst the best to live in precisely because the Christian faith, analogous to a ” top predator”,  has shaped the environment for the benefit of all, whether they know it or not.

To those who signed the Telegraph letter, Brother Ivo remembers and adapts the old First World War Bruce Bairnfather cartoon of the soldier Old Bill.

” If you know a better political ecology -go to it”!