Greenbelt 2014 #gb14

TL;DR: it was great…

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1) I think this was my seventh Greenbelt, and (obviously) the first at Boughton House, which I thought was a stunningly good venue. For me, the benefit was crystallised on the Sunday afternoon – when there wasn’t much on that I wanted to take part in – and I was able to spend an hour in the shade of a tree looking across the grounds and drink in the simplicity and beauty. The bustle of the festival was just a background hum, and it was a matter of a few minutes walk to re-engage, but that opportunity to indulge in natural refreshment was priceless and for me justified the move completely. Having said that, there are clearly teething problems with the site, and I ended up leaving the festival mid-Monday morning because of the weather and the knock-on effects on talks – and that was obviously a prudent move on my part! I’m sure those problems will get sorted though.

2) I went to more talks than last year, for various reasons. A particular highlight was when Vicky Beeching was given a spontaneous standing ovation, that was really moving (and that talk was pretty good too – I definitely will purchase Robert Song’s book). I have a new intellectual crush…
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Her talks were all good, and the session on ‘Does the Church of England have a future’ was very stimulating – I might do a post entirely on that theme in the next week or two; I definitely want to do a Learning Church session on it.

3) As I have come to expect, one of the most important features of Greenbelt is catching up with old friends and making new ones, and this year didn’t disappoint. Friday night was particularly good as I had three different conversations in succession in the Jesus Arms! I am more and more conscious that Greenbelt is becoming my ‘tribe’ religiously speaking – generously Christian, but with very fuzzy boundaries; non-denominational, inclusive, curious, artistic, passionate. All things that I would like to develop more. As I despair more about the central institution of the CofE I rejoice more in the faith itself and what small groups of believers are able to accomplish together.

4) One final thought, following from that. I am sure that I am not the only person who identifies more with GB than with other Christian badges, and I wonder how far the GB leadership committee have explored the “expansion of the brand”. There are lots of hazards to this, but – especially in the light of the access problems – lots of advantages too. I’m thinking of something like taking over a hotel for a weekend and turning it into a single venue like the Pagoda – a limited number of tickets, one or two key speakers – like a conference but done according to GB principles. Have one just for CofE clergy mid-week! I think an awful lot of productive engagement would come out of such a thing.

Anyhow, loved it – not quite as much as last year, but there were particular reasons why last year worked so wonderfully for me, which will probably (hopefully!) never be repeated. I’m definitely going back next year – but I might do the glamping option…

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Atheism and the heart of darkness

The recent pictures of the beheading of James Foley are simply the latest exemplars of the brutality that drives the Islamic State. It would appear that the executioner spoke with a British accent which must surely make us ask ourselves – what is it about our contemporary British society which is so awful that it can generate those who wish to travel to a foreign land thousands of miles away in order to take part in systematic savagery?

Let’s move past the trope that it is religion that causes this. In the contemporary secular understanding of the world, it is, of course, purely down to religion that people can be horrible to each other, but such an approach is less and less credible as time goes on. Recent research published in the three volume ‘Encyclopedia of Wars’ shows that of the 1,763 wars listed, covering all of human history, some 93% were waged for non-religious reasons. Of the remainder, more than half were driven by muslim expansion. So all the other religions combined have been responsible for less than 3% of all the wars that have ever been waged. The reflex response to the horror of James Foley’s end in our society is to blame religious ignorance – indeed, to insist that to be religious is to be ignorant – but to stay in that mindset is to abandon any hope of either genuine understanding or progress in resolving conflict.

After all, what we see on the small scale with James Foley’s murder is reproduced in societies around the world. This is the heart of darkness, about which Conrad wrote so compellingly, and which Coppola translated to effectively onto the screen. This is ‘the horror, the horror’, the element of human nature that exults in blood and death. There is a human propensity to violence, which surely has a genetic root. After all, if chimpanzee troops can engage in violent savagery against each other, why should human troops be so different – and so far as I am aware, there is no argument to say that chimpanzee violence is rooted in religious beliefs.

What seems more plausible is the notion that in the struggle for resources and reproductive fitness human biology has inherited all the instincts that lead chimpanzees to slaughter each other. When human beings are placed in a situation where there is an easy way to distinguish between one group and another, and when those groups are placed under severe pressure associated with access to scarce resources, then those human beings are highly likely to end up slaughtering each other and playing football with the decapitated heads of the enemy. Put more succcinctly, proximity + diversity + pressure = darkness.

This darkness is a potential of every human heart. Civilisation is that thin crust covering over the darkness and enabling all the higher expressions of humanity, all the things which liberal society values, such as the possibility of peaceful disagreement, respect for human rights and diversity and so on. My concern is that the taproots of civilisation, most particularly the taproots of our civilisation, have been progressively destroyed over the last few centuries, and that it is this which means that we produce young men who wish to go overseas.

After all, this darkness is a central part of the Christian world view – we call it sin, in extreme forms we call it depravity, and we say that this is an inescapable part of our nature. We all sin, we all fall short of the glory of God. If we say that we have no sin then we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. We have stories that talk about how sin came into the world, and stories that talk about the immediate consequences of that sin – the original murder that followed the original sin. Much more important, we also have tools that enable us to engage with, overcome and redeem that sin – to turn our hearts of darkness into hearts of light. Such tools, principally our language of forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation – all that makes for peace and builds up our common life – these are what enable creative resolutions to human conflict. Without such tools, we are doomed to repeat the biological processes of our primate cousins, with the notable difference that we are apes armed with far more powerful weapons.

The question that I wish to ask the atheist is simply: is there anything in your worldview which enables the overcoming of the heart of darkness? Clearly the existence of the heart of darkness of itself need not trouble an atheist worldview, although it shatters the complacency embedded at the centre of liberal progressivism with which atheism is often associated. My question is about what can enable the heart of darkness to be changed: what are the resources which an atheist perspective brings to the table to enable our community to engage with and overcome the darkness which explicitly proclaims its desire to destroy our civilisation?

To change a human heart requires rather more engagement than a dispassionate understanding of the world can offer. We need to engage with our emotional health, and we need to discuss questions of pride and humiliation, both in ourselves and in other cultures. We need to have an honest conversation about the bleak brokenness of human nature, what the potential triggers for murder lust might be, and what we might be enabled, as a community and society, to do about them.

Although I greatly respect the insights that evolutionary biology can offer, they cannot get us very far on the journey we need to travel. I rather suspect that pondering the story about the political execution of an innocent man on a cross can tell us more about this than all the tomes of the evolutionists put together. It is because such tales have been relegated to the category of ‘fairy stories’ that we have become culturally bankrupt, lacking the capacity to engage creatively with the crises of our time. We will only be able to make progress when the dominant secular narrative accepts a more humble role, and we once again give stories the place of primary honour in the shaping and moulding of our civilisation.

The United States is channelling Daggett

This is from the screenplay of The Dark Knight Rises

INT. DAGGETT’S PENTHOUSE – DAY

Daggett bursts in, furious. Stryver tries to placate him.

DAGGETT
How the hell did Miranda Tate get the inside track on the Wayne board?! Was she meeting with Wayne? Was she sleeping with Wayne?

STRYVER
Not that we know of -

DAGGETT
Clearly you don’t ‘know of’ anything, do you?! Where’s Bane?!

STRYVER
We told him it was urgent -

DAGGETT
Then where is the masked -

BANE (O.S.)
Speak of the devil…
Daggett turns. Bane is already there.

BANE
…and he shall appear.

DAGGETT
What the hell’s going on?

BANE
The plan is proceeding as expected.

DAGGETT
You see me running Wayne Enterprises?! (Moves towards Bane.)
Your stock exchange hit didn’t work, friend. And now you’ve got my construction crews working all hours around the city? How’s that supposed to help my company absorb Wayne’s?

BANE (TO STRYVER)
Leave us.

DAGGETT
You stay right there! I’m in charge!
Bane places a gentle hand on Daggett’s shoulder.

BANE
Do you feel in charge?
Daggett is taken aback. Stryver leaves.

DAGGETT
I’ve paid you a small fortune -

BANE
And that gives you power over me?
Daggett considers the heavy hand on his shoulder. Nervous.

DAGGETT
What is this?

BANE
Your money and infrastructure have been important. Till now.

DAGGETT
What are you?

BANE
Gotham’s reckoning. Come to end the borrowed time you’ve all been living on…
Bane gently takes the terrified Daggett’s head in his hands…

DAGGETT
You are true evil…

BANE
I am necessary evil.
Stryver, on the steps outside the living room, flinches.

I think that the United States (by which I mean: the small group of profoundly naive and ignorant in the State Department guiding US policy, not the US as a people – see this) has lost its way in the world, and has placed its trust in Mammon. Whether it is Russia or China or ISIS that plays the part of ‘Gotham’s reckoning’, that moment of truth is closer every day.

Stop poking the bear: A secure and prosperous Russia is in our national interest

The more I read about the situation in the Ukraine, the more despairing I become at the utterly banal and criminally negligent incompetence of our Western leadership. These are just a few bullet points, as I don’t have the time to turn it into a proper essay – maybe my next Courier article will remedy that.

1. Russia has vital strategic interests in the Ukraine (see my earlier thoughts), and it is rational for them to pursue them. We don’t.
2. That means that escalation will have to go much higher if we are expecting Putin to back down on this. (Actually, I think the only way Putin will back down is if the oligarchs around him are facing bankruptcy – and even then, only if their fear of bankruptcy is greater than their fear of being stabbed with an umbrella on a London bridge).
3. The principal driver of this crisis is the United States, seeking to expand the borders of Nato to the edge of Russia. They are seeking to humiliate Russia. This is not a strategy of statecraft but of small boys in a playground.
4. The EU is following the lead of the US – even though it is becoming much clearer than the interests of the EU radically diverge from those of the US. Will the US regret bugging Angela Merkel?
5. Have a read of this article from Dmitry Orlov, about MH17. Are people really going to be taken in by the whipping up of anti-Russian hysteria? That would make me so depressed.
6. We are nowhere near as strong as we think we are in this conflict, especially financially. Clearly the US and the EU are going to try to cripple Russia using financial means rather than military means. There are two major problems with this – first, the dollar’s status as a reserve currency is not permanently assured, and the major non-Western powers have already been putting alternative options into position. Second, I really believe that when push comes to shove, the West is more dependent upon Russian energy than Russia is dependent upon Western finance. After all, oil can be purchased in currency other than the dollar, even by barter – but the supply of oil is extremely tight.
7. If I was Putin I would respond to the financial sanctions by saying ‘we are going to lower our oil production by 1 million barrels per day’ – he could offer a fig-leaf and say ‘we are concerned about the loss of pressure in our major fields’ but that doesn’t matter. The price of oil would immediately spike, returning the West to recession at best. There is a great chance that Russia would get as much income from a lower output, given that higher price – and other nations would be quite happy to pay them for it. The West thinks that Russia will play by Western rules!
8. All this time, the real ideological and civilisational threat to the West continues to hack its bloody way through Syria and Iraq as Obama – who was always an oblivious empty suit – spends more time on the golf course. A happy Russia, fully engaged with the West, a stable energy supplier and ally against ISIS and so on – that is overwhelmingly our national interest. Instead we are being led by incompetent and naive fools into a conflict which will lead the West even further into the dust. God really wants us to change.

Update: title amended thanks to an email from Ian

Of prophecy and life in a horror movie

I enjoy horror films. This is a somewhat bizarre taste for a clergyman I suppose (a legacy of a very secular youth) but I find them cathartic. After all, classic horror is deeply conservative – there is a peaceful status quo; there is a violent interruption to the status quo; then the violent interruption is repudiated. My taste tends more to the supernatural thriller side of things (The Exorcist, The Conjuring) rather than the gory schlock (Friday 13th) but I can enjoy most of them – particularly if I find myself in need of an emotional purging. Sometimes I can get really tense and a good ‘Aaaagh’ is effective therapy.

One of the most striking horror films of the last twenty years was the film ‘Saw’, which I thought was very interesting, and had a remarkable central conceit (ignore all the sequels and derivative copies). The premise of the first film is that an evil genius has trapped people in a room, and forces them to make painful choices if they are to survive. The Russian playwright Anton Chekhov wrote “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” Well, the film ‘Saw’ gets its name from the object lying on the floor in the opening act…

Why am I discussing such things here? Well the interesting thing about that film isn’t the gore but the exploration of the nature of choice, specifically, of the way in which we prioritise certain things rather than others. It is a measure of our humanity that we are able to step away from our own immediate needs and see a larger picture. The film is an exploration of values and it operates very effectively as a critique of the collapse of conventional western values and their replacement by mindless and selfish consumerism. Each character is faced with a particular choice, rooted in their previous patterns of life, and the challenge for each of them is to ‘choose life’.

There is a strand of theology rooted in some passages of the Old Testament which relates quite strongly to this. Specifically, in Deuteronomy chapter 30 God gives the Ancient Hebrews a choice. Either they choose life, which means to worship YHWH and establish social justice, and they shall flourish; or, they choose death, which means worshipping foreign gods and tolerating injustice, and then they shall be destroyed.

This fundamental message is repeatedly forgotten in Old Testament times, and in order to bring the people back to the right path, God sends prophets to them on a regular basis, to repeat the ‘Word of God’ and call the people back to life. Prophecy is often misunderstood as being principally about a prediction of the future. Such predictions are a part of what the prophetic ministry means, but they are a byproduct of the primary task.

Jesus himself, as the quintessential prophet, sums up the prophetic message when he describes the two great commandments. The first is to love God with all that we’ve got, to put him first in our priorities; the second is to love our neighbours as ourselves, which means to establish social justice, to ensure that no member of our society is flung onto the garbage heap. Where such priorities are not in place, the consequences are terrible. When the prophet denounces such activity he usually follows the denunciation with a vivid description of what the consequences will be, using the language of God’s wrath.

These consequences are principally geo-political. The political leadership of a country that has turned away from the right priorities is – by definition – operating in an unreal situation. This means that their decisions become less and less guided by truth, and more and more guided by the illusions held by the ruling class. The most vivid example of this in Old Testament times came with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army in 586 BC. The ruling class had felt themselves immune to the consequences of their actions; the prophet Jeremiah denounced their foolishness (and was thrown into a cistern for his troubles); the false prophet Hananiah told the rulers that everything was going to be fine – but reality broke in and scenes from a horror movie ensued, culminating with the slaughter of the royal family on the steps of the temple.

It is a useful rule of thumb when considering the nature of God to substitute in the word ‘reality’ – instead of saying ‘God won’t like that’, say instead ‘reality won’t like that’, in other words, ‘it won’t work, it will go wrong’. To be properly attuned to God in any situation is essentially to see the underlying truth clearly, to not allow any distortions of value to mislead our judgements, to step away from illusion. This is essentially what the prophet does – he simply speaks the truth into a situation. Sometimes this truth is heard by the leadership of a community – as with Jonah in Nineveh – and the people repent, and the foretold disaster is averted. Where the truth is not heard, however, then the consequences are terrifying.

We are, I believe, in a time when the consequences of our prior actions and decisions are coming back to haunt us. Western society does not have right priorities, and it is not concerned to seek social justice, and as a consequence we are running head long into the brick wall of reality. We have built an empire upon cheap energy and easy credit, and now both of those things are being taken away. We are going to have to start making choices about what we really want – what are we prepared to let go of, what are our deepest values? Where those values are aligned with God and social justice, then we still have a potentially prosperous future ahead of us, even if it means we have to saw off things that we are remarkably attached to. If, however, we refuse to make such choices, then a bloody fate lies in wait.

The rules of hospitality

There is a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin that runs: “Houseguests are like fish – they start to smell after three days”. Hospitality is a tremendously important concept and practice, and it is one, I believe, that is much richer and more workable than ‘tolerance’. After all, what does it mean to ‘tolerate’ something, especially in the home? There are always bounds to what is considered to be acceptable behaviour, on the part of both host and guest. Indeed, there is much delightful and occasionally pointless ritual that surrounds the nature of giving and receiving hospitality. I greatly admire those of my friends who are swift to send small cards of acknowledgement after having stayed with me – I’m getting better at that, but would still only mark myself as slightly better than terrible.

This process of offering hospitality has tremendous cultural weight. I recently watched the celebrated author Neil Gaiman give a reading of one of his stories at the Barbican, called ‘The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains’. This is a dark and forbidding story set in Scotland before the time of the highland clearances, and a key plot moment hinges on a claim to hospitality. In an environment which is inhospitable – as the highlands in winter very much are – to be able to claim hospitality from a stranger in their shelter meant the difference between life and death. For those of you who have been watching Game of Thrones, I need simply say ‘Red Wedding’.

The same seriousness was given to hospitality in the Ancient Near East, as is witnessed to many times in Scripture. The most notorious rejection of the cultural norms around hospitality was the infamous city of Sodom. Their perversions had very little to do with sexuality. That our culture thinks that their sin was sexual simply reveals our own distortions. If the sin was sexual, why does Lot – the man portrayed as honourable – offer his own daughters to be raped by the mob (Genesis 19.8)? No, the sin being portrayed in the story of Sodom centres on the need to show hospitality, and the rules and rituals associated with it, which are hugely more important than sexuality. If only the Church of England gave as much attention to the issues around hospitality as to sexuality we might be less tied up in knots.

Jesus himself sees the sin of Sodom through the lens of hospitality. When he is telling his disciples to go out and proclaim the Kingdom he says that those who do not welcome them – who do not give them hospitality – will suffer even more for that rejection than Sodom and Gomorrah. As so often, sexuality is not on the horizon of his thinking. More than this, the famous Biblical teaching “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” is likely a reference to the experience of Lot in Sodom.

Hospitality, then, is an immensely important concept. Where I believe the concept differs most crucially from that of tolerance is to do with the boundaries of what is acceptable. There is, in Scripture, no sense that the offering of hospitality leads to any burden upon the host to change their patterns of life, especially their patterns of worshipping life, in favour of that of the guest. There is, rather, an immense emphasis on the profound wrongness of doing so. There are many examples of this throughout the Old Testament, but one of the clearest is to do with Solomon, who is shown as losing his way because he is led astray by his wives, who worship different Gods. As a result of this sin the Kingdom of Israel is split into two, and never again regains the authority that it held under David and Solomon.

Biblically, then, there is no room for what is presently called ‘multiculturalism’. There is a clear emphasis upon the rights and obligations associated with hospitality, which were seen as immensely significant, literally matters of life and death. Yet an equal weight is given to the insistence on keeping the patterns of home-life and worship stable and faithful.

Why do I discuss these things? It strikes me that our disputes about immigration would benefit from this understanding of hospitality. Where there is a clear risk to life – say, as with the Jewish population of Germany in the 1930s – there is an equivalently clear obligation on a Christian community to offer hospitality, to provide the means of life to those who are in a vulnerable position. There are many contexts today where the offer of hospitality might mean the difference between life and death.

However, it seems equally clear that there is something reckless and self-destructive about changing our own inherited patterns of life, including all the rights and rituals around hospitality, in order that other cultures might be established. There is a difference between a host culture which gradually changes in order to absorb and assimilate the gifts which different cultures can bring, and a host culture which is itself radically undermined by a revolutionary change brought about by mass immigration.

I am aware that this is a sensitive issue, to say the least, and I am sure there will be many reflex responses along the lines of ‘fascist!’ ‘bigot!’ ‘racist!’ and so on – the usual litany used to close down the conversation. I want to argue that we simply need a much better discussion around these issues, one which will command a widespread cultural assent from all who live in these islands, one which preserves our capacity to give a hospitable welcome to those in need whilst also preserving our own domestic patterns of life. We need to form a new consensus about what patterns of life can fit within a right sense of hospitality, and what patterns cannot do so.

After all, we too have a right to continue as a distinct culture and community, just as much as any undiscovered tribe in Papua New Guinea or any other exotic locale. It is not a mark of wickedness to try to defend our own way of life, our own inherited norms of freedom and community. It is not in and of itself wrong for a discussion about such matters simply to end at the point of saying ‘well, this is how we do things here, this is who we are’.

The world doesn’t owe us a living

A few thoughts sparked by this article, amongst other things.

The world is a hard place. If we don’t function properly within it then we will get chewed up and spat out.

To earn a living requires making a contribution that is valued.

There are two sorts of valuing. One is the sense of monetary worth. One is the sense of quality, spiritual worth.

The world dictates what is considered to be of monetary worth. If we wish to earn a living then we have to offer something that the world considers to be of value, ie of monetary worth. That is simply the way that the world is.

The world also drives a hard bargain. If it can get what you can offer for free then it will take it, thank you very much. I think that there is some truth in saying: the world will value you in the way that you value yourself.

The world could be larger than the number of people who have read Harry Potter. It may simply be 1,000 true fans. In fact, it need only be as large as a single other person – but then that one other person needs to be able to offer something that the world values.

It is perfectly possible to offer something of immense spiritual quality to the world and find that the world does not value it, does not offer any monetary reward. If that means that the desire to create vanishes, it is likely that the original desire was poorly founded, and not in touch with the real Spirit of creativity.

The contribution can be any of a myriad number of things, can be all kinds of wonderful, but the valuing is not under our control. If we wish to offer up ourselves to the world then there are two verdicts to keep sight of. The verdict of whether the world is willing to pay for our creativity, and the verdict of whether our creations have any eternal merit. We should not expect those valuations to coincide.

A simple law of economics is supply and demand. If what you offer is the same as what many other people offer, the price will be cheap, the work will not be valued. As we are each of us unique, it is possible that pursuing our individual vocations – which lead to a proper valuing and quality – may have the happy consequence that we can offer something to the world that nobody else can offer.

That is not guaranteed.

I lost money on publishing my book. It was one of the best things I have ever done, from which I gain immense satisfaction. I feel happy whenever I think of it. Yes, I am aware of my privileges.

Nothing would make me happier than to be able to earn a decent living from writing and teaching the faith. It is almost certainly a pipe-dream. That doesn’t matter. I write because I cannot do otherwise. To cease to write would be a self-undoing (and my lack of writing is a good index of the levels of stress in my personal life).

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, then all these things shall be added unto you, Allelu – Alleluia.

Remorseless logic and a Bishop’s rest

So at least one Bishop has now made the decision to enact discipline with respect to a priest who has entered into a ‘gay marriage’. As Ian Paul rightly asserts, the time of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has now come to an end, and the Church of England is going to have to choose where it stands with regard to non-tradtional sexuality.

There is a remorseless logic to the situation that the Bishops now find themselves in. The remorseless side of things stems from the nature of the society that we now live within, which will consistently seek to assert pressure from the progressive side of the sexuality argument. The logic, however, is an internal one. After all, it was the acceptance of contraception at the 1930 Lambeth conference which has led directly to our present social understandings of sexuality. The Roman Catholic hierarchy recognise that the logic of accepting contraception leads inevitably to a much more progressive understanding of sexuality tout court, which is why they have held out against it.

I can see any particular Bishop resting safely on a traditional Roman Catholic understanding of sexuality. That much could be argued for, and we don’t have to go far to see how it could be argued for. To my mind, those who oppose modern sexual mores need to accept the internal logic of their position and accept that, if they are to reject gay marriage (for example) then they are also required to reject contraception and re-marriage after divorce and so on. There are people who have made that argument within the Church of England and it seems to me to be an honourable position to hold.

However, what of those who do not wish to accept such a stance? What might be a place of ‘Bishop’s rest’ – that is, how might a Bishop exercise due authority within his Diocese when it comes to questions of priesthood and sexuality? Is there a place to stand at the end of the progressive path?

I am concluding that there is, and I believe that the new substantive policy would rest upon: an acceptance that questions of sexuality and marriage are second-order issues; an acceptance of the authority of the individual baptised conscience; and an acceptance that we are called to exercise a radical non-judgement.

Practically, the outworkings of such a framework would mean a repeal of Canon B30 (which articulates the traditional view of sexuality) and an understanding that the sexuality of any particular priest is first and foremost a private matter for the priest themselves. I think that there would still be some room for the exercise of discipline over a wayward priest, but it would have to be on the grounds of either a) illegality (in which case the church disciplinary process would follow the secular one, as in other areas of misbehaviour) or b) bringing the church into disrepute. For the latter, an individual bishop would have to discern whether there was in fact clerical misbehaviour or whether there is simply a faithful position which is out of step with wider cultural mores (in other words, the Bishop needs to discern whether the disrepute arises from waywardness or a prophetic vocation).

Article 32 might be rewritten in the following form, to articulate the new perspective: “Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded by God’s Law, either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from sexual relations: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to develop lawful sexual relationships at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.”

One last metaphor to assist contemplation: there is a remarkable sequence in Peter Weir’s ‘Master and Commander’ when the ship’s captain has to take the momentous decision to sacrifice the life of one crewmember. A storm has stripped away a canvas-filled mast from the main body of the ship, with the man on it, and the detached rigging has begun to work as a sea-anchor, and will eventually cause the entire ship to sink. The captain has to cut the ties to the lost mast in order to enable the ship itself to come right and continue to be a safe vessel for the other sailors.

I see the traditional view of sexuality within the Church of England as being that broken mast. Unless we cut ourselves free of it we shall all sink.

What we believe makes a difference

(Courier article)

I would like you to imagine an ideology that encourages a population of believers to move to a far distant country. When there, the ideology tells the believers that they are to work towards changing that country in ways that reflect the ideology, to displace the original inhabitants of that country and, ultimately, to ensure that the patterns of life that had previously obtained in the country are eliminated.

Am I talking about Islam? No, I’m talking about an ideology, born in native East Anglian soil and mothered by Christianity, called Puritanism, which motivated the Pilgrim fathers to establish a ‘city on a hill’ in North America, and which became incorporated into the self-understanding of the United States and which led in a consistent and logical fashion to the genocide of the native american population and the almost universal abolition of the previous civilisations.

Of course, I might also be talking about ancient Israel. Consider this passage of instruction given to Moses, when he was told that Joshua would take the Israelites into the promised land: “the Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy the nations living there, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua will lead you across the river, just as the Lord promised. The Lord will destroy the nations living in the land, just as he destroyed Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites. The Lord will hand over to you the people who live there, and you must deal with them as I have commanded you” – the commands being, essentially, to eradicate all ‘foreigners’ from the land.

Such ideologies do not have to be religious. A quick glance at twentieth century history gives several examples of secular ideologies that were used to justify national expansion. My point is that ideologies have consequences, serious consequences. An ideology is simply the structure of values and beliefs which guide behaviour, and it has the longest lasting and widest ranging effect upon the nature of the world within which we live. If we are to continue enjoying the sort of common life that we have enjoyed in this nation for many centuries then we need to ensure that those ideologies which are hostile to that common life are brought out into the open and engaged with.

This is the background to the most important political issues of our time, which are tied in with questions of UKIP and EU, of immigration and Ofsted inspections. We need to have a better conversation. We need to talk explicitly about values, about what sort of society we want to live in. Now those who raise this point are normally belittled as closed minded and racist little Englanders, as opposed to the intellectually sophisticated metropolitan world citizens, our morally enlightened elite. This is a fatuous division, not least because it is actually the most progressive achievements in our society that are most at risk from unplanned changes. For example, equal rights for women and minorities are developments in our society which build upon deeply rooted principles in English common law. If you believe that a girl born in this country has the right to an education, to a career, to an independent romantic life and so on then that is a substantial claim, an ideological commitment. Such a commitment means, as a matter of simple necessity, that you are against those ideologies which would seek to remove them, ideologies which say that women are the property of the men of their family and that if the male authority is rejected, then the men are justified in carrying out ‘honour killings’ in order to enforce their will.

The challenge for our ruling class is that they are faced with a dilemma, for to be committed to one ideology rather than another is to say that multiculturalism is bankrupt. This is inescapable and inevitable. To my mind the central question is how much damage will the multicultural experiment be allowed to cause before our ruling class recognises the roots of our cultural malaise and commits to doing something about it. At least, I hope that is the central question. The longer the elite and their legions of useful idiot supporters continue to ignore and belittle such concerns, the more likely it is that the despair so many people feel about our political situation will turn toxic, and then we really will be in a cruel and unusual era.

Such a step will not be easy. For example, one of the most problematic elements of Islamist ideology is associated with the Wahhabi strand of Islamist teaching, which has grown over the last two hundred years or so, and which is based in, and backed by, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has financially supported the establishment of mosques which promulgate an ideologically extreme form of Islam which is, in no uncertain terms, hostile both to the more peaceable mainstream of Islamic thought and the long-established norms and mores of England. Can we expect, any time soon, any actions by our elite to take steps against this ideology, to stop the message that it broadcasts taking root? Well, watch for when we stop making money by selling armaments to Saudi Arabia, that will be the sign that our elite recognise that there are more important and enduring elements to ensuring the safety of the realm than worshipping at the idol of ‘increasing economic growth’. That is when we will know that they are serious in seeking to preserve British values in the British realm.

One last point. I do not believe that it is a trivial fact that the schools at the centre of the controversy over a ‘Trojan horse’ strategy in Birmingham were all ‘secular’ schools. The claim to secular neutrality is an insufficient grounding for preserving one way of life rather than another. If we are to preserve an English way of life then we need to strengthen and build upon all the elements of English culture. The rites and ceremonies of Englishness need to be resurrected and affirmed. That this ends up being an argument for an established Church of England is one possible conclusion. I shall write more about this another time.

The theological basis of my politics

I thought this could be useful as a single place to outline some fundamentals, that I can then refer back to as needed. I’m not going to put any evidence in this, it is intended as a conceptual outline, not an argument.

1. The human being is made in the image of God. To deface the human being is therefore a blasphemy.

2. I view the Western development of human rights legislation as a secular working out of this Christian perspective. Christianity is, so far as I know, the only religious perspective to have abolished slavery, and it did this not once but twice.

3. A particular aspect of this is concern for the minority, those who are especially vulnerable. Biblically these are the widows, the orphans and the aliens. Concern for the vulnerable is more commonly known as ‘social justice’. I do not believe that it is possible to have a living Christian faith and not be concerned about social justice. There are, however, many ways in which that concern for social justice can be worked out.

4. This seed of the gospel is inherently radical and progressive, dismantling structures of exclusion and oppression. I like Girard’s teaching that it is due to the profound workings of the gospel text that things have got better – it is not that we no longer burn witches because we are scientific, rather, we are scientific because we no longer burn witches – and we no longer burn witches because we are more informed by the gospel.

5. Protecting the vulnerable, preventing the dehumanisation of our neighbour – this is a political programme. In order for that programme to be achieved there needs to be a support structure in place. This support structure can be expressed in legal form, but most substantively it needs to be expressed through the embodied forms of the culture. The Eucharist is a more progressive rite than the shared watching of X Factor. The Christian therefore must pay close attention to the cultural forms within which we live, and seek to preserve those which support a Christian approach, whilst struggling against those which would undermine such an approach.

6. In our present context, the forces which I see as most inimical to the Christian vision fall into the category of ‘industrial modernism’. This I see as having two aspects. The first is the ideology of making the world safe for multinational profits. All of the local and distinctive elements of human life, whether those be amongst the native tribes of the Amazon or the working mens clubs of a Durham mining town, prevent the smoothly functioning efficiency of a market state – that is, a state which sees its own primary purpose as enabling the multinational company to make more money. I believe that God rejoices in the manifold diversity of humanity and anything which reduces the human being to a unit of economic productivity is of Babylon. Profoundly and paradoxically linked in to this is the intellectual aridity of the various fundamentalisms which afflict religions, and within ‘religion’ I would include the dominant contemporary form, which is left-wing multiculturalism. If we are to preserve the human in the cultural context, then we must insist upon the value of the dissident opinion, and therefore ensure that the rights to free speech and free association are not inhibited. We either stand with the Rushdies and Ayaan Hirsi Alis of this world or we let go of any attempt to preserve our Christian patterns of life at all.

7. I see the most important political conversation happening within the UK at the moment as the question about whether to remain part of the EU or not. Given what I have said above, it will, I hope, be clear why I object to the EU. I see it as an overmighty principality in the Stringfellow sense, as something which is necessarily and relentlessly dehumanising. We need to be free of it. Given the impoverished state of our political system, I see only one option for effecting the change which I believe to be so necessary.

Anyone interested in more on this – especially the first few points – is directed to my book, which gives a much more substantial explanation of my views.