Thursday, November 30, 2006

Popery on a wing and a prayer

It is difficult to conceive of a foreign visit more fraught with political and theological difficulties than the Pope’s sojourn in Turkey. He has so many bridges to build, it seems rather apt that one of his titles is Pontifex Maximus. Just where is His Holiness supposed to start? With an apology for his Regensburg address? Regret at the affront to Islam? Positive noises towards Turkish accession to the European Union of Christendom? Or with his original agenda of trying to repair the millennium-old split with the Orthodox East?

In September the Pope quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor who was persuaded that Mohammed had brought nothing but evil and inhumanity to the world. Now he is quoting the 11th century Pope Gregory VII, who spoke of the charity that Christians and Muslims owe to one another, which is ‘an illustration of the fraternal respect with which Christians and Muslims can work together’. Before his arrival, protesters in Istanbul carried signs saying ‘Ignorant and sneaky Pope, don't come’ and ‘Jesus is not the son of God, he is a prophet of Islam’. In order to dispel his reputation for Islamophobia, he immediately asserted that ‘Christians and Muslims belong to the family of those who believe in the one God’, and he assured Turkey's chief Islamic cleric, Ali Bardokoglu, that he desires ‘authentic dialogue’ (ie one that is rational and critical) between Christians and Muslims based on ‘mutual esteem and respect’ (ie, stop killing us and bombing our buildings). In an apparent U-turn, he expressed support for Turkey in its quest to join the European Union. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he was persuaded of Turkey’s ‘permanent contrast’ to Europe, and asserted that it was destined to remain a Middle Eastern country. Now, however, he ‘views positively and encourages the path of dialogue, of Turkey's getting closer to and entering Europe on the basis of common values and principles’.

Could it be that His Holiness was able to make such overtures because knew that the EU was about to deal a heavy if not fatal blow to Turkey’s EU aspirations? The Commission has decided to halt negotiations until Turkey opens its ports to Cyprus. Turkey will only accept customs union with Cyprus if the EU eases its embargo on the Turkish-controlled north of the Mediterranean island. Therefore eight negotiating chapters have been closed - talks on the free movement of goods, right of establishment, financial services, agriculture, fisheries, transport, external relations and customs union. With the Pope in Turkey, this is a strangely-timed pronouncement of an acutely political decision. However, St Anthony of England may be about to enter the fray. He said: ‘Just at the moment to send an adverse signal to Turkey I think would be a serious mistake for Europe long-term’. Turkey has every right to be confounded by these mixed messages.

Of course, the Pope’s original reason for visiting was to meet Patriarch Bartholomew – ‘first among equals’ of the leaders of the Orthodox Christian churches. The Catholic-Orthodox relationship has also been fraught with difficulty, even before the two churches split nearly 1,000 years ago. Catholicism was dominant in the ‘Latin’ West; Orthodoxy in the Greek-speaking East. Over the centuries, political, cultural and theological differences widened to the point where the two Churches formally split in 1054. There have been attempts at reconciliation, but significant obstacles remain. One is the status of the Pope - seen by Catholics as the final arbiter of theological and moral truth. For the Orthodox churches, such authority derives from the first Seven Councils of the Church - the last of which occurred in AD 787 - whose rulings cannot be altered. Other differences concern the filioque and the nature of the Trinity, the relationship between science and Faith, whether God can ever be fully understood, or the existence - or otherwise - of Purgatory.

His Holiness tried to resolve the Reformation divisions over a 20-minute cup of tea with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer thinks that three days in Turkey is just as manifestly inadequate to address any of these issues in the required depth.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Catholic Archbishop threatens Government

Vincent Nichols is the Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, and he seems to be jockeying for the Westminster succession. Following his campaign against the Government on faith schools, which (according to Lord Baker) was founded upon lies and hysteria, he has now threatened to withdraw all Catholic co-operation with the Government if the new sexual orientation regulations proceed. The withdrawal of its traditional support for the Labour Party in marginal seats would have a very interesting effect in a general election.

The regulations have a genesis in EU equality directives (there’s a surprise) and are designed to stop businesses from discriminating against homosexuals. They will, for example, oblige Christian or Muslim printers to print ‘Gay News’ (if such a publication exists – you get Cranmer’s point), or Christian hoteliers to accommodate homosexual partners. It has even been suggested that a vicar who refuses to bless a homosexual union (or serve them Holy Communion?) may also be liable to being sued. The Catholic Church is particularly concerned about a potential obligation to place adoptive children with homosexual parents.

While most of the nation’s Christians appear to have elevated Vincent Nichols to the status of great moral leader, Cranmer cannot but wonder at the hypocrisy of the man. His argument against gay adoption is not so much based on nature or statistics, but on an assertion that heterosexuality is the majority expression in the country, and therefore the one that should prevail. Why should he not abolish priestly celibacy by the same reasoning? It is clearly damagingly repressive, and Scripture condemns it as ‘a doctrine of demons’. And what does he say about the homosexuality and child abuse within his own organisation? The Archbishop ought to consider not only parables about splinters and planks (or motes and beams, depending on your translation), but also the implications of pluralism in an increasingly post-Christian era.

And yet, and yet…

The Archbishop says very wisely: ‘The Government must realise that it is not possible to seek co-operation with us while at the same time trying to impose upon us conditions which contradict our moral values. It is simply unacceptable to suggest that the resources of faith communities, whether in schools, adoption agencies, welfare programmes, halls and shelters can work in co-operation with public authorities only if the faith communities accept not simply a legal framework but also the moral standards at present being touted by the Government… Those who are elected to fashion our laws are not elected to be our moral tutors. They have no mandate or competence to be so.’

Cranmer agrees wholeheartedly with this. He just wishes the words had come from the Archbishop of Canterbury – the man who is supposed to be the thorn in the side of a morally corrupt and intellectually deficient government.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cold Turkey – ‘No Pope here!’

Cranmer is looking forward to the intelligent and erudite musings of his communicant Mr Istanbul Tory on the imminent visit of the Pope to his environs. The Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople extended the invitation, which was seen as a way for the Pope to encourage and cheer Turkey's embattled 150,00 Christians, in a Muslim nation of 80 million.

Following the Regensburg address, one wonders what His Holiness may dare to say that will be sure to have absolutely no possibility of being misquoted, misrepresented, or misunderstood. And yet, maybe his very presence in Turkey is a reminder of the gulf that exists between Christendom and the Islamic world. This is, after all, the man who once warned that letting Turkey into the EU would be ‘a grave error against the tide of history’ - he has become the incarnate symbol of Western hostility towards Turkey.

This visit could hardly be at a more contentious or inopportune time, coming, as it does, as the debate is reaching a bitter climax over whether to admit such a Muslim-populated country into the European Union. Mindful of the Turkish element in the plan to assassinate Pope John Paul II, a security plan involving 12,000 policemen is being implemented in Istanbul, with strategically-placed snipers, and the thorough search of the sewers for bombs. The authorities are only too aware of the on-going attacks against Christians since Regensburg, where the Pope was deemed to have ‘insulted the Prophet’ and ‘defamed Islam’. The Jihadists are out for blood – it is, after all, the will of Allah that the Pope be beheaded, and since Allah is immutable and impassible, he cannot change his mind. The death sentence stands until the Pope dies.

His Holiness is expected to make a defence of Christian minority rights, and call for an end to Turkey’s anti-Christian discrimination laws that make it difficult for churches to own property. The treatment of Christian minorities is one of the major hurdles to EU accession, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide has recently highlighted two cases of Christians being arrested for the nebulous and all-embracing crime of ‘insulting Turkishness’. Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal both work for a Bible correspondence course, and now they stand accused of inciting hatred against Islam, insulting the Turkish army, promoting sexual promiscuity, and bribing Muslims to convert to Christianity. They deny all charges, yet it is difficult to believe that their trial will be just. Will His Holiness raise such issues, or might this simply compound Turkish public opinion which is increasingly turning anti-European? According to a recent poll, 81% of Turks now believe that the EU is not treating them ‘sincerely and fairly’, compared to 2% who say that it is.

The Pope is expected to visit Istanbul’s 6th-century Byzantine Hagia Sophia Church, which was converted into a mosque when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453. It is likely to be here, the embodiment of the ‘clash of civilisations’, that the Pope’s every word, every movement, every gesture will be scrutinised to establish with what reverence His Holiness holds Islam, and what hope he may offer the people Turkey in their interminable quest to join the European Union.

Cranmer is still deciding whether this Turkish trip is the pontifical voyage from hell, or to it.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

BA and the offence of the cross

Cranmer is delighted by the news that British Airways has agreed to review its policy on uniforms in the wake of the Nadia Eweida affair. The millions they have spent on honing their corporate image have been flushed down the lavatory by the damage to their reputation caused by this issue. Had they been wise, they would simply have turned a blind eye. In the event, a minor internal issue of uniform policy became a global point of contention, with a growing movement calling for a boycott of the company. With pressure from comments made by senior politicians, clerics, and even the United Nations, BA had no choice but to reconsider. The Church of England was a key contributor to this debate, and gratitude is due to the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London. And on Friday, a little later than most, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams woke up to the significance of this issue, saying: ‘If BA is really saying or implying that the wearing of a cross in public is a source of offence, then I regard that as deeply offensive.’ British Airways may not have been as much persuaded by the theology of this objection as by the news that consultations had begun on a possible disinvestment of the church's £10.25m shares in the company.

When this issue was first brought to his attention, Cranmer contacted BA’s chief executive, Mr Willie Walsh, who responded as follows:

Dear Dr Cranmer,

Thank you for contacting us about our staff wearing religious symbols.

British Airways does not have a policy that bans such symbols but, like many companies whose employees need to wear a uniform, we do have a dress code.

Our staff are allowed to wear crosses on chains or any other similar items whether religious or not, but these must be worn beneath their uniform. Some religious symbols – such as turbans and hijabs - can be worn openly as they cannot be placed under uniforms.

This policy has been in place for many years and ensures that our uniform standards remain consistent. The media coverage refers to a serving employee who has not been suspended.

As this case is currently being investigated, we cannot comment further at this time.

He refused to answer Cranmer’s point about the Sikh kara. And neither was he prepared to engage in conversation about the fact that neither hijabs nor turbans are obligatory.

So, it now appears that BA is prepared to consider permitting religious symbols to be worn as lapel badges. The joy for Cranmer, in this postmodern age of subjective relativism, is that this will now open the floodgates. How will BA define religion? Theology? Longevity? Social acceptability? Number of adherents? By permitting the cross, BA must surely be obliged to permit its employees to wear lapel badges of Yoda, since (according to the 2001 census) Jedi Knights outnumber both Jews and Sikhs in the United Kingdom. He rather suspects this will create far more publicity than the cross…

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Pope and Archbishop show

So, here’s the score:

Female and gay bishops - bad.
Peace in Israel - good.
Materialism - bad.
Talking – good.

This is the content of mind-blowing Vatican Declaration signed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope. By all standards, whether one agrees with them or not, they are considered to be two of the most formidable theologians to hold either office. One might have therefore hoped for insights into the nature of koinonia, ecumenism, soteriology, the atonement, or ecclesiology. Not a bit of it. One is fed instead on superficial statements of the blindingly obvious, as though this were the intellectual and spiritual level upon which we all live. His Grace wonders why these men had to meet at all to draw up such a patronising document.

In his greeting to the Pope, the Archbishop said: ’I have been heartened by the way in which from the very beginning of your ministry as Bishop of Rome, you have stressed the importance of ecumenism in your own ministry. If the Good News of Jesus Christ is to be fully proclaimed to a needy world, then the reconciliation of all Christians in the truth and love of God is a vital element for our witness..

The Pope’s love for ecumenism did indeed begin with his ministry. Let us not forget that this is the man, as Cardinal Ratzinger, who wrote the document Dominus Iesus, which stated that the Church of England, where the apostolic succession of bishops from the time of St. Peter is disputed by Rome, and churches without bishops, are not considered ‘proper’ churches. They suffer from ‘defects’, simply reiterating that its holy order were ‘null and void’. That doesn’t sound very ecumenical to Cranmer. Rome will not budge on doctrine, not least because it is Semper Eadem. It is, however, reported to be reconsidering the use of condoms. Condoms and a Papal calendar - His Holiness is clearly trying to appeal to the masses…

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Giscard proclaims the French ‘non’ was ‘un accident’

Cranmer is indebted to Mr Croydonian for drawing attention to the latest evidence, if any were needed, that the EU is being forged not by democracy, but by teleology. The EU model of government is best understood by examining the Aristotelian notion of telos, which is concerned with ends, purposes, and goals. In cultures which have a teleological world view, the ends of things are seen as providing the meaning for all that has happened or that occurs. If one thinks about history as a timeline with a beginning and end, in a teleological view of the world and of history, the meaning and value of all historical events derives from their ends or purposes, that is, all events in history are future-directed. The Christian worldview is fundamentally teleological; all of history is directed towards the completion of history at the end of time. When history ends, then the meaning and value of human historical experience will be fulfilled. Modern European culture is overwhelmingly teleological in its experience of history, that is, we see history and experience as entirely future-directed. This, in part, explains the insistence that the EU is an unstoppable ‘inevitability’.

Much has already been written on the manifestly undemocratic workings of the EU – how, for example, a treaty is put to a referendum, the people say no, so they are asked again, and again, until the ‘right’ answer is given – but never before has the leader of a democratic nation accused his compatriots of accidentally voting the wrong way. According to Le Monde, the Eurocrats are insisting that 'We cannot stay deaf and blind to the necessity of restarting the process of European integration'. They are indeed gods, intoxicated by their own infallibility; utterly convinced of their self-righteousness. Thus Giscard declares with all the authority of an absolute monarch: ‘The 'No' of 2005 was an accident. The social and economic climate has now changed'.

That’s alright then. Divinity has spoken. The French and Dutch must vote again. But they must remember, ‘non’ is for ‘un jour’, and ‘oui’ is for ‘éternité’, whatever the weather or ‘the social and economic climate’.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Islam and ‘the deep, deep sleep of England’

Mr Paul Goodman MP, in a speech in the House of Commons last week, has articulated perfectly the threat posed by Islam to the peace and safety of this Realm. His constituency is High Wycombe (11% Muslim) which was the focus of the plot to simultaneously bomb a number of transatlantic flights in a terrorist spectacular that would have equalled the bombing of the World Trade Centre. He referred to this plot, the Dhiren Barot conviction, the Abu Hamza affair, the bombings of 7th July, and the attempted shoe-bomb atrocity by Richard Reid, to remind the House that UK security is under threat.

With incisive reasoning he states: ‘Relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain are clearly to some degree poisoned. Seeking to drain the poison and heal those relations is a bit like a doctor treating an illness. We have to diagnose the cause of the illness before seeking to cure it.’ He entertains possible causes – ‘racism’, Islamophobia, UK foreign policy, poverty, and the 7th-century mentality of some that resides ‘in the hill villages of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir’, yet he assiduously points out: ‘Dhiren Barot cannot originally have been a victim of Islamophobia as he was raised as a Hindu. Jermaine Lindsay, the 7/7 bomber, cannot have been caught in an intergenerational struggle with Pakistani elders as he was black. Mohammed Sidique Khan, another 7/7 bomber, cannot have had his livelihood damaged by lower life chances as he was a graduate of Leeds Metropolitan university’.

His Grace reproduces Mr Goodman’s conclusion at length, not least because he identifies the crucial distinction between a private, devotional faith, and the public, political one, or, as Cranmer may put it, he identifies that apparently benign religions may have decidedly malignant political agendas, and that such agendas may come to fruition unless they are exposed and confronted head-on:

I suggest to the House that that missing something is the ideology of Islamism. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) said, Islamism is not Islam. Islam is a religion-a great religion at that and one, it seems to me, as various, as complex, as multi-faceted and as capable of supporting a great civilisation as Christianity. Islamism, however, is an ideology forged largely in the past 100 years, and that word ‘ideology’ should help to convey to the House a flavour that is as much modern as mediaeval.

Like communism and like fascism, those other modern ideologies, Islamism divides not on the basis of class or of race, but on the basis of religion. To this politician, it has three significant features. First, it separates the inhabitants of the dar-al-Islam - the house of Islam - and the dar-al-Harb - the house of war - and, according to Islamist ideology, those two houses are necessarily in conflict. Secondly, it proclaims to Muslims that their political loyalty lies not with the country that they live in, but with the Umma - that is, the worldwide community of Muslims. Thirdly, it aims to bring the dar-al-Islam under sharia law.

I am not an expert on Islam, but I have learned enough about it since I was first elected to this place in 2001 to recognise that its view, and our inherited view of the difference between the sacred and secular, diverge. In our inherited view, the sacred and the secular are separate. The Christian tradition from which our inherited view springs has always acknowledged a distinction between what is God’s and what is Caesar’s. In Islam, that distinction is harder to perceive.

It is, of course, true that in the Muslim societies in which I have travelled sharia law and secular law exist side by side. In Pakistan, for example, there are both secular and sharia courts. None the less, the distinction is anathema, so to speak, to the Islamists. They look back for inspiration to Mohammed’s original political settlement, in which the religious and political were, in effect, one and the same. They are, as the phrase has it, ‘dreaming of Medina.’ They seek to restore the caliphate to a glory that is tinged with nostalgia and longing.
Let me give a hard example of what that means and its significance in the context of the Queen’s Speech. The Home Secretary was recently and notoriously heckled at a public meeting in Leyton by Abu Izzadeen, another convert to Islam, who was formerly known as Trevor Brooks. He said to the Home Secretary: ‘How dare you come to a Muslim area?’
That was not some random insult or interruption; Mr. Izzadeen knew what he was doing. He was asserting that Muslims are in a majority in the part of Leyton in which the Home Secretary was speaking. He was therefore claiming that part of the country as part of the dar-al-Islam. He was saying, in effect, that sharia law, not British law, should run in Leyton. Mr. Izzadeen’s version of sharia law would be consistent with dispensations for Muslims from some aspects of British law, the application of a sharia criminal code, special taxes for non-Muslims, a public ban on alcohol consumption and the closure of pubs and bars, and a ban on conversions from Islam to other faiths.

We can, of course, choose to dismiss Mr. Izzadeen as an isolated fanatic, but such a view may be unwise. There is polling evidence to suggest that his views tap into a reservoir of sympathy and support. For example, an ICM poll that was commissioned last February found that four out of 10 British Muslims want sharia law introduced to parts of this country. It is important to note that that almost certainly represents a degree of support for what I would call soft sharia-in other words, for the application of some sharia law in relation to family arrangements alone. None the less, even the implementation of soft sharia would mark, I think for the first time, one group of British citizens living under a different set of laws from other British citizens.
We must consider what the likely future effect would be on domestic Muslim support for sharia, and even for terror, of a further downward spiral events, of further international tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims, of further domestic terrorist incidents-which, alas, there may be-and of racist and xenophobic backlashes against British Muslims. That is the challenge that we all face together. In my view, it is a challenge to Britain that is no less pressing than the challenge of climate change, which has occupied much of the debate today. That is the challenge for the political and media classes as a whole, and it is especially the challenge for this Government and the security and terror-related aspects of the Queen’s Speech.
There are three tests for those parts of the Queen’s Speech and, in concluding, I will put them as questions. The first question is: does the whole Government machine clearly recognise that Islamism is a key element in poisoning relations between Muslims and non-Muslims? The evidence is ambiguous. The Prime Minister has said, crucially: ‘The rules of the game have changed’.

Individual Ministers, such as the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, whom I heard speaking on this matter last week, see the scale of the problem. However, as a brilliant pamphlet - Martin Bright’s ‘When Progressives Treat with Reactionaries’- for the think tank Policy Exchange indicated, the foreign policy, Home Office and security establishments are divided on how to deal with the Islamists. Anyone who doubts that those divisions exist should ponder the leaked memos from Government in relation to the proposed visit by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, with which Mr. Bright illustrates his pamphlet.

…There is a deep problem. Politicians’ words can nearly always be better chosen, and now is never the right time, it seems, to have a public discussion about Islamism and integration. Broadly speaking, we have not been having this public discussion since the Rushdie affair, and my main concern about not having an informed, decent, consistent and rigorously thought through public discussion about Islamism centres on the effect that that postponement will have, not only on the non-Muslim majority, but on the Muslim moderates-the moderate and prosperous greater share of Muslims to whom I referred earlier.

The leadership of the Muslim community that I know best, in High Wycombe, is moderate and sensible. The community makes a huge contribution to the town. It is well integrated into both the main political parties and it produced the first Conservative Asian mayor in the country - Mohammed Razzaq-in the 1980s. However, it is clear that nationally, and especially among the alienated young, the moderates are not making the running; the Islamists are making the running. The moderates are in a position strikingly similar to that of the Social Democratic and Labour party in Northern Ireland, which has, in the past 15 years, been outpaced, outwitted and outsmarted by Sinn Fein-IRA, with consequences that are still fully to be seen. Deferring the debate further will only allow this process to continue. When it finally takes place, which it will, it will probably be noisier and nastier than would otherwise have been the case. It is essential that the moderates grasp that the main threat of the Islamists is as much to them as to anyone else.

This Queen’s Speech thus presents us with a choice-we can either take an approach that tends to lurch from pacification in the wake of future highly charged public rows, such as the veils controversy, to panic in the wake of future terrorist attacks, which we are, alas, told are only too likely to happen, or we can rise to the challenge in an informed, decent and consistent way. In facing the challenge, Opposition Members must acknowledge and be mindful of the fact that Ministers have a responsibility that none of the rest of us at present has to bear. George Orwell once wrote of the ‘deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.’ On 7/7, we heard the roar of bombs in London. I sometimes worry that the deep, deep sleep that Orwell described in the 1930s is still here in relation to Islamism in sections of the Government, parts of the political and media establishment, the House and the country. This is one of the most urgent problems facing us, and if we are in that deep, deep sleep, it is time for all of us to wake up.

Cranmer says Amen.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Christian Union students 'persecuted for righteousness’ sake'

Cranmer might have hoped that the age of persecution had passed with the atrocities committed in his own generation, yet the reality is, as the Lord forewarned, that Christians will always be persecuted just as he was. Neither burning nor crucifixion may be literal practices of the modern world, but the humiliation, isolation, and spiritual anguish of these tortures certainly continue.

His Grace received an e-epistle yesterday from Andrea Minichiello Williams, the Public Policy Officer of the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, who also alerted other media. She asked that attention be drawn to the increasingly desperate plight of young Christians in British universities who are finding that their Christian Union meetings are banned, bank accounts frozen, and their advocacy of Christian orthodox belief deemed too offensive for expression on university premises.

At Edinburgh University, the pressure is coming principally from the Gay & Lesbian Society, who, above most groups in society, ought to identify with the injustices of intolerance and bigotry. At Exeter University, students are threatening legal action against the Student Guild and the university if they do not support their rights as Christians to the freedoms of speech, belief and association. They have advised that their action will be taken under the Human Rights Act 1998, and the Education (No.2) Act 1986. In Birmingham, the prohibition upon non-believers from leading their meetings has rendered them ‘too exclusive’ for the universities policy of inclusion. It is manifest common sense that leaders of a Christian Union should subscribe to foundational Christian truths, not for reasons of dogmatism or exclusivity, but in accordance with the apostle Paul's command to ‘teach what is consistent with sound doctrine’ (Titus 2:1).

Emma Brewster, CU worker at Exeter University said: ‘This is a fundamental issue of freedom of speech and of common sense. Legal action is the last thing we want to take, and we certainly don’t relish it, but we are fully prepared to stand our ground for truth and freedom. We want to be able to study in a university that allows students – of all faiths and of none – to freely express their views from whatever stance they might take, be able to disagree with one another, and yet to co-exist alongside one another. Surely that is a truly democratic society?’

Cranmer is of the opinion that this is not only a fundamental of democracy, but an imperative in any educational establishment. How may the intellect be challenged if there is no open exchange of views and a search for truth? How may iron sharpen iron if the discomfort of the metal is deemed to necessitate sheaths of cotton wool? It appears that all university societies and clubs must permit the participation of anyone and everyone, irrespective of sympathy or predisposition, even if they hold beliefs or indulge in practices which are antithetical to the stated purposes of the society.

Cranmer looks forward to the enforced inclusion of tone-deaf philistines into the Gilbert & Sullivan Society, the compulsory incorporation of wheelchair-bound students into the rowing club, or the imposition of a lesbian bishop upon the Mohammedans’ Friday prayers.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Soul for Europe

This is the precise name of an imminent EU conference to ‘help activate Europe’s cultural powers’, to be attended by the President of the Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and other EU luminaries. A Soul for Europe will begin on 17th November and last for three days, and its objective is to harness Europe’s cultural powers, ‘not only in the arts sector but in all areas of life and politics, and to use them as a driving force to further European integration’.

His Grace has consistently asserted that the EU is about ‘something more’ than mere economics, and deeper than politics. He is bemused that when such blatant spiritual objectives are stated, people persist in dismissing him as a ‘conspiracy theorist’ - not only Jesuit-educated anti-EU campaigners like Dr Richard North, but even the occasional unintelligent communicant on this august blog.

The stated belief is that culture can ‘promote the process of European unification’, because ‘all areas of European policy - regional development, economic, security, social and foreign policy - can become more effective if given a cultural dimension’. Fascinating. And what is this culture? Pro-European, anti-State, anti-individualist, socialist, federalist, ‘third way’ Catholic-ecumenism. Just about everything that is antithetical to the instincts and culture of the United Kingdom.

Human sympathy normally spreads outwards from individuals to families, then to extended families and friends, and onwards to form communities, regions and countries, as people discover common ties of kinship, language and culture. God made the nations with diverse qualities, and these variations of national characteristics and cultures display a wonder of creation. If the story of the Tower of Babel established anything, it was that segregation occurs along these lines, and that attempts to re-build a unified tower are doomed to failure. There was never meant to be a bland uniformity, and totalitarian governments which have attempted to impose such conformity have presided over nationalistic discontent and precipitated civil wars. Free states extend the hand of peace and friendship to their neighbours in an appreciation of other cultures and nations. The love of one’s own country permits an understanding of the love others have for theirs. No amount of patriotic feeling, nationalistic zeal or blindness to national diversity can lead to war: war is the manifestation of the lust for power and domination, especially the power of dictators motivated by trans-national ideologies based on race, class, religious ideals or utopianism - such as Nazism, Communism or totalitarianism. These have been the great scourge of Europe, and one of the principal barriers to their advance has been the patriotic resistance of nations determined to defend their own cultures, their rights, their liberties and heritage.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Is Canterbury dancing to Rome’s tune?

According to The Times, the Church of England may one day reconsider the ordination of women priests. In an interview with The Catholic Herald, the Archbishop has admitted that the divisions caused by the ordination of women had ‘tested his conviction that it was the right thing to do’, and he even concedes that the development may have been wrong.

The interesting dimension to these statements is that there is no appeal to Scripture or tradition, but they are based on the wholly subjective assertion that women priests had not ‘renewed’ the Church in any ‘spectacular ways’. In what sense is this a measure of the rightness of ecclesiology, the applicability of theology, or the practice of liturgy? Has the decision to ditch my Book of Common Prayer ‘renewed’ the Church of England in any ‘spectacular way’? Has the Archbishop’s own office achieved the same?

Lambeth Palace has said that Dr Williams’ remarks to The Catholic Herald had been ‘wilfully misinterpreted’, insisting that the Archbishop fully supports women’s ordination, but they seem oblivious to the effects of his equivocations. He does indeed state this, but he also leaves the door open for reversal of the decision. Cranmer wonders if such mixed signals have anything to do with his plans to visit the Pope next week, not least because Rome has indicated that any moves to consecrate women bishops would cause an intolerable division in an already imperfect communion.

The Archbishop views his ministry as ‘containing and managing the diversity’. This is not leadership; it is functionalism. What are the limits of such diversity? What about the ordination of gay clergy? What of gay marriage? What of adherents to racism? How is unity expressed in such diversity? At what point does communion become impossible? It is worth considering that a ‘broad church’ may acquire such breadth that it ceases to be a church at all, yet if ‘managing diversity’ is the Archbishop’s raison d’être, why bother trying to repair the split with Rome?

Monday, November 13, 2006

‘No more referenda’ – EU urges less democracy

"Given the recent experience in France and the Netherlands concerning referendums, we would not advise anyone to organise one."
(European Commission official)

This is the considered opinion of the European Commission’s spokesman, as reported by The context is the Polish decision to hold referendum on entry to the Euro at some point in 2010. The response from Brussels has been one of dismay, with the firm reminder that ‘the treaty obligations are clear, the Euro is to be introduced when the convergence criteria are met’. For Poland there is no option to consult the people, no opt-out, no possibility of preserving fiscal sovereignty: ‘The Euro is part and parcel of becoming part of the EU, joining was ratified by referendum, including the Euro too.’ said the Commission official.

His Grace finds the political certitude of the European Commission a quasi-theological construct; it is teleological philosophy, in which there is one foreknown direction and one fore-ordained outcome. Plebiscites are regarded as highly risky. Dissenting voices are ignored or ridiculed, and any inconvenient referenda results are ignored.

His Grace’s loyal, erudite and intelligent communicant, Mr Colin, has quoted Sir Frederick Forsyth (he is actually a mere CBE, but his knighthood is long overdue) at length on the post below, and he provides a link to the whole speech. He posits one possible way forward - a successor to the strategy deployed by Sir James Goldsmith in the General Election of 1997:

What we have to seek, what we have to demand until the pressure becomes relentless, is a national referendum. It’s not as weird as it sounds. The first ever held in this country was held by a Labour Prime Minister called Harold Wilson in 1975. We have never had a national referendum since... We are, I believe, entitled to another one, on a number of grounds... every nation in Europe has had a referendum on an aspect of the EU since 1975... I believe that we can say with complete justification, we’re entitled to one. We are entitled to revisit 1975. We should demand, not I fear of the Labour party, I think we should demand of the Conservative party. But demanding is all very well; people have been demanding things like law and order, good policing, a bobby in the village, a copper on the street. It doesn’t change a damn thing. But you know things can occasionally change, even the Labour party. You may remember the 1997 election, that the one thing that the late James Goldsmith did actually bequeath to this country is that he frightened John Major into guaranteeing that we would not abolish the pound sterling without a referendum...

The only way to be heard, to be listened to and to be abided by, is to speak softly and carry one hell of a big stick. If those out there in the constituencies and the shires, those on the constituency associations can make it quite plain that this MP is not coming back to the house unless the Conservative leader gives a pledge that within twelve months of entering Downing Street he will grant this nation a national referendum. At the point where they know that they are going to lose fifty seats they’ll buckle, despite the screams of Clarke, Heseltine and Patten. They will buckle despite the whinging of Hurd and Howe. They will buckle because politics is about reality. The reality is, if it is clear to the present leadership that you are not going to enter Downing Street, because quite simply two to three or maybe even up to four million loyal Tory voters are going to mow the lawn on polling day, they will grant the referendum...

How long, O Lord, how long?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

EU Constitution on track

The chairman of the European Parliament’s Constitution Committee, the German Socialist, Jo Leinen, has suggested that France and the Netherlands should vote again on the European constitution, which they both rejected in referenda last year. Citing the precedents of Denmark and Ireland, both of which voted again (respectively, on the treaties of Maastricht and Nice) after having got the answer ‘wrong’ in 1992 and 2001, Leinen says that the same approach could be adopted for France and the Netherlands: ‘It could be that the price which will have to be paid will be that the new treaty is not called a “constitution” any more but a “Europe treaty”. The goal of having an actual constitution may have to be postponed and we may have to be satisfied with a basic treaty instead,’ (Der Standard, 20th October 2006).

Leinen claims that the absence of this treaty or constitution is the reason why Europe is under-performing in energy policy, the war on terror, the fight against illegal immigration, the fight against organised crime and many other areas. Essentially, ‘more Europe’ is the solution to Europe’s ills. He says that the German presidency in 2007 should work towards a consensus and that corrections and amendments to the old text should be agreed upon by 2008, by which time a new ratification process could begin. He wants the new treaty to be ratified by referendum – but by a single referendum taking place simultaneously across the whole of Europe, and that the ‘majority’ should be of voters as well as of states (this essentially destroys national sovereignty before the vote has even taken place). Leinen said it was quite wrong for the will of ‘the majority’ to be thwarted by ‘No’ votes in ‘one or two states’, notwithstanding that those two states were founder members of the whole project.

But the French Socialists are of the opinion that the Constitution has to be abandoned, and their leader in the National Assembly, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said: ‘It is not possible to make our citizens vote again on the same text,’ (Libération, 20th October 2006). By contrast, all the representatives of all the other EU Socialist groups refuse to accept that the Constitution is dead. Leinen said: ‘It is very dangerous to say that the treaty is dead,’ – even though Germany itself has not ratified the constitution since, although it was approved by the German Parliament, it has been successfully stalled by an appeal by anti-Constitution campaigners to the Federal Constitutional Court.

Where does this leave Britannia? Well, when Leinen was asked whether or not there should be a referendum in Austria, where anti-EU feeling is among the highest in the Union, he said that there should be no popular vote since there was provision for the Constitution to be ratified by the country’s Parliament. If it is re-branded a mere ‘treaty’, doubtless the same will be argued for the United Kingdom, and the Royal Prerogative will be the mechanism by which the Constitution is imposed.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The tiresome path to Christian unity

It has been announced that the Archbishop of Canterbury will make his first official visit to Pope Benedict on 23rd November. This is the latest in a series of dialogues exploring the ecumenical objective of unity, and fulfilling the prayer of Christ ‘that they may be one’. This encounter may well result in some of the most considered theology on Christian unity in four decades, observing that both the Archbishop and the Pope are (whether one agrees with them or not) highly accomplished academics and renowned theologians.

The timing is said to be significant, marking, as it does, the 40th anniversary of the first meeting between an Archbishop of Canterbury and a Pope since the Reformation. When Archbishop Michael Ramsey met with Pope Paul VI in 1966, it began a process which was designed to heal the rift caused by Henry VIII when he broke with Rome in the 16th Century. Of course, yours truly was not an insignificant player in the process; His Grace and many other noble and honourable men of God were turned to ash in order establish the foundations of the Church of England, so why reverse it? And who is suing for this unity? Are Catholics prepared to compromise one iota of their dogma in order to embrace the heretic Anglicans? Not a bit of it. Are Anglicans prepared to accept the authority and infallibility of the Pope on matters of doctrine? Not remotely. So why continue the façade?

Could it be that the more the ecumenical agenda is pursued, the more likely it is that the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion will split? Is this Rome’s objective - a continuation of the divide-and-rule strategy so effectively deployed across the European Union? Such a schism would leave the Rome as the unchallenged global church – the sole Christian authority – and Protestantism would be reduced to an insignificant sect like any other. It has already been observed that the Anglican Church is really two churches, and the Anglo-Catholics and traditionalists have little time for the trendy bishops dance towards gay and female bishops, and a laisser-faire (to say the least) approach to Scripture and the XXXIX Articles. The liberal and conservative factions may be irreconcilable, and the exodus of the latter to Rome would not merely be a major publicity coup for the Vatican, not least because it would constitute the death throes of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

The Church of England belongs to the traditional Catholic order, and it is time to find a way of exercising and exerting an authority consistent with Protestant ecclesiology. While assertions of power within the Church of England have held the communion together for five centuries, it is a serious question whether a church built on the sands of episcopal authority and provincial autonomy can continue.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Canterbury and Rome unite against secularism

After five centuries of schism with Rome, and a subsequent congenital predisposition to compromise, the Church of England has at last discovered a campaign which not only re-unites it with the Mother Church, but also around which its fracturing communicants may sing from the same hymn sheet. Yes, in a world of religious unrest, spiritual poverty, and theological turmoil, the churches of Rome and England have decided to set aside their ecclesiological and soteriological differences and unite to challenge the Royal Mail's decision to issue festive stamps without a Christian theme.

We have Santa, a snowman, a reindeer and a fir tree – all thoroughly good, religiously-neutral, politically-correct symbols of Winterval. The one-time pagan celebration of the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti has come full circle, and the post-Christian era is well and truly upon us. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster are challenging this with the release of a new think-tank report which confronts the secularist agenda to excise Christ out of Christmas. They would have preferred Christian-themed stamps to remind people of the true meaning of Christmas, but images of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, kings, shepherds, stars, stables and mangers are all deemed a little too overt for a modern, multi-faith Britain. After all, what right does Royal Mail have to inflict gospel imagery upon the doormats of the Mohammedans? No, they must be free to celebrate the true meaning of Eid; the Sikhs and Hindus the real meaning of Diwali, but God forbid that Christians should insist on cultural expressions of the real message of Christmas.

Yet in an era in which all paths are supposed to lead to God, and in which sin has been relativised beyond rational definition, why would one need to celebrate the birth of a saviour at all?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Bishop says Islam is about ‘victimhood and domination’.

The Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, has given an interview to The Times in which he exposes the inconsistency, schizophrenia and hypocrisy of many Muslims. He accuses them of double standards in their view of the world for propagating a ‘dual psychology’ in which they sought both ‘victimhood and domination’.

The bishop has previously poured scorn on the UK’s politically-correct multicultural agenda, and now states that Muslim demands can never be met because ‘their complaint often boils down to the position that it is always right to intervene when Muslims are victims... and always wrong when Muslims are the oppressors or terrorists’. He compared Bosnia and Kosovo, where he said Muslims were oppressed, with the powerful position of the Taleban in Afghanistan, who he said had been the oppressors. He added: ‘Given the world view that has given rise to such grievances, there can never be sufficient appeasement and new demands will continue to be made.’ In stating this, he articulates the precise strategy by which Islam is becoming the dominant, unchallenged faith of Western Europe.

He disagrees with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seeks to create a multicultural, multi-faith United Kingdom in which all expressions of religion would be permitted, and leaders would be free to preach their message. Bishop Nazir-Ali directly confronts the failure to counter Islam’s politico-religiosity, which has permitted a radical Islam to flourish in Britain, spread by imported extremist imams who have no qualifications and, in many cases, do not even speak English. He articulates Cranmer's very thesis when he says: 'We are dealing with not just a faith, but with a well-defined political ideology.' He advocates rigorous checks to ensure that Muslim clerics are committed to the British way of life, cutting right across the zeitgeist of political correctness and accusations of bigotry or racism.

The Bishop of Rochester is one of the few serious figures in the Church of England who sincerely believes that British values have developed from the Christian faith and its vision of personal and common good. He states: ‘After they were clarified by the enlightenment they became the bedrock of our modern political life. These values need to be recovered to help us to inculcate the virtues of generosity, loyalty, moderation and love.’

Should not this man be Archbishop of Canterbury?