Tainted love

Sometimes I feel I’ve got to run away
I’ve got to get away
From the pain you drive into the heart of me
The love we share seems to go nowhere…

Every time I think that I’ve plumbed the depths of despair at what the Church of England gets up to, along comes another episode of ‘how to demonstrate to the world that we are spiritually incompetent’. I refer, of course, to the debacle that has clustered around Fr Philip North’s consecration.

Two things first, before I let go and rant.

One, I feel immensely sorry for Fr Philip, who seems both principled and capable. Two, I have a huge amount of sympathy for the traditionalist perspective, not because I ultimately agree with it but because the process that has led to our present position has been driven by politics and a largely atheological form of argumentation (using the language of rights and justice). I well understand the fears and frustrations of those who see their perspective being marginalised and driven to the wall without even the courtesy of being properly engaged with by the wider church. It would be like seeing children let loose to play with the family heirlooms where the most distressing element is not that the heirlooms are being damaged but that all the other adults in the room do not recognise that there is damage being done. Far better that the damage is done openly and clearly with a full consciousness of what is going on rather than this blundering.

However.

The consequences of our compromises are absurd and damaging and will make the eventual and inevitable collapse of our unity all the harder to deal with.

What, after all, is going on with +Sentamu’s ‘gracious restraint’? I have to confess to being rather baffled, in that I simply don’t understand the theology, the ecclesiology, of what is about to happen.

I hear that it is not about ‘taint’, by which I understand that it is not about a form of purity and/or contamination that will follow from consecrating or ordaining outside of the tradition. It is, apparently, all about communion. That is, those who take part in such consecrating or ordaining are placing themselves outside of the historic communion of the church catholic.

What I don’t understand is where this leaves Fr Philip’s future apostolic ministry within Diocese and Province. After all, I thought the very definition of being a bishop is that they are the principal celebrant of the Eucharist, from which all other priestly ministry in their area derives? Is this aspect not considered crucial as Fr Philip is to be a suffragan? But then, how can a suffragan bishop not be in communion with the Diocesan or the Archbishop?

+Sentamu has indicated that there are ways in which his authority will be recognised during the consecration, such as through oaths of obedience and ‘presenting the episcopal ring’. Yet to my mind this is to elevate the outward forms of episcopal office above the spiritual heart, which is centred on communion. What sort of witness is this?

I can only conclude that we are not a spiritually serious church. We are neither hot nor cold and thus we are apt to be vomited out of our Lord’s mouth. Which, now I think about it, is a rather good description of this noxious mess.

Don’t touch me please – I cannot stand the way you tease.
I love you though you hurt me so
Now I’m gonna pack my things and go…

Piss Christ and defending the deity

Courier article

In 1987 the American artist Andres Serrano created a photograph that caused much controversy in Christian circles. The image was of a small plastic crucifix suspended in a glass of the artist’s own urine and it was, naturally, called ‘Piss Christ’.

When I first heard about this, and saw the image, my initial reaction was ‘yawn – someone else trying to get shock value from appearing radical’ and to move on to more interesting things. I didn’t think much more about it until I made a passing reference to Serrano’s ‘delinquency’ in an article. This provoked a conversation with a friend that made me look closer at the image and the levels of meaning that it contains.

After all, suspending a crucifix in piss is a rather apt image for the way that secular culture treats Christianity. The culture doesn’t take Christianity seriously enough to want to attack Christians with physical violence, so it just pours scorn upon it. The dominant culture feels that it has won the argument against Christianity and so doesn’t feel the need to engage with Christian claims at any depth. Christianity is simply something to be excreted along with the other rubbish that the body politic has digested.

More deeply than this, however, is the sense that the photograph can be seen as presenting a profound theological truth. That is, Christians claim that Jesus was the Son of God. The crucifixion, therefore, and everything associated with it – the beating and flogging, the insults and spitting, along with the execution itself – tells us something important about the nature of God, and how we human beings relate to the divine. What the crucifixion says (amongst many other things!) is that God cannot be equated with human glory. There was no more shameful way to die than crucifixion, and this presented a huge problem to the early church. How can the promised Messiah be someone hung up to die on a tree? Yet this is precisely the mysterious wonder at the heart of Christian faith – that our own notions of what is glorious are what need to be re-examined. We preach Christ crucified, a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.

One of the most important implications that flow from this is that God doesn’t need to be defended. If God can be glorified even in the cross, then what is left that God needs to be protected from? The whole notion is absurd. It would be rather like putting a giant wall up in space to defend the sun from attack by nuclear missiles. The Sun is perfectly capable of protecting itself.

Hence, for the first few hundred years of the Christian faith, when it experienced its greatest growth and ended up converting an entire Empire, there simply was no ‘defence’ of Christianity in any physical sense. The early believers allowed themselves to be thrown to the lions in the Roman arena rather than deny their faith – and taking up arms would itself be such a denial. Those early believers were called martyrs, a word that simply means ‘witness’, because they were pointing to the truth of the faith, a faith that did not, indeed could not, be advanced by force of arms.

This has had profound consequences for Christian culture, not least in terms of providing room for the growth of free speech. If a dominant religion does not need protection from being insulted – for it was born out of the greatest insult that human beings could offer – then there is no need to exercise such control over free speech that insults represent. A mature faith can simply laugh it off and move on, regarding it as like the babblings of a toddler, just beginning to appreciate the effects of words.

Wittgenstein once wrote: “Humor is not a mood but a way of looking at the world. So if it is correct to say that humor was stamped out in Nazi Germany, that does not mean that people were not in good spirits, or anything of that sort, but something much deeper and more important.”

What the Christian understanding of glory – and truth, and witnessing, and violence – allows for is room to laugh. Room for satire and absurdity, room for all the ways in which we can transgress and play, all the ways in which we can be queer and eccentric and odd – dare I say, room for the religious to wear silly dresses and make up and prance around on a stage? At the heart of the Christian claim is the faith that God has acted in the world to put things right, that we have been saved. The natural consequence of such salvation is joy and laughter, a release from an obligation to take things too seriously, for fear that if we don’t, those things that are precious to us will be taken away.

Which leads, of course, to the question that needs to be put to those of another faith, which may not have such confidence. Is it possible for a faith that was established through violent military victories, and which experienced its greatest growth as part and parcel of those military victories, and which raises up as the ideal man someone who was violent and led such military victories – is it possible for such a faith to co-exist with satire and absurdity, with comedy and pantomime? Is it possible for such a faith to detach itself from the identity that was formed and established through military victories in such a way that it can live in peace with those that it has not conquered? Or is it true what the Ayatollah Khomeini said, “There is no room for play in Islam . . . . It is deadly serious about everything.” Rather a lot depends upon the answer.

Not all religions are the same

Courier article

I write this on the day after the attack by militant Muslims on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, where journalists, cartoonists and police were murdered in cold blood – all for the ‘crime’ of causing offence to the Prophet Muhammed. There is much lamentation at this turn of events and, worse, lots of cringeworthy hand-wringing from the politically correct and morally bankrupt who try to say that the cartoonists brought it on themselves, that perhaps they should have been more polite to the violent fascists. The contradictions in the modern secular West are bearing down upon us with a vengeance.

I have written before in these pages (September of 2012) about the ‘taking of offence’, and how that is understood as being a sin in Christianity, as it is a form of pride; and I have also pointed out in these pages (last November) that Jesus himself was often exceptionally rude, most often to those in positions of power and authority who were exploiting the poor and vulnerable. I have no doubt whatsoever that if Jesus had been gifted with the art of illustrating rather than the art of speaking then he would have portrayed the Pharisees of his day with images that were just as rude as those that the Charlie Hebdo journalists have produced.

After all, who are the people who are trying to rule by fear and intimidation? Of course we can point out all the ways in which the oppressive West acts with injustice in areas of the world, as we blindly allow the worship of Mammon to destroy all that makes for a joyful humanity. The point is, however, that we are able to say those things. The West has within itself the possibility of transformation. It is the very fact that we have a culture of open criticism that makes the culture of the West worth defending, even whilst admitting to its many and diverse sins.

What this campaign of intimidation against the West is trying to do is to force us to renounce our fundamental values, to put a boundary around what we can or cannot say. This is not something that the West can tolerate, on pain of self-dissolution. To be the West simply is to be the place where there is freedom of speech, where there is protection for the giving of offence. After all, where is the merit in allowing freedom of speech where that only applies to pleasant speech? No, it is precisely the speech that is rude and offensive and vulgar and obscene and blasphemous that is the speech that needs to be protected. It is only when that form of speech is protected that the dynamism at the heart of Western culture can flourish – and it is that dynamism which allows for so many of our blessings across so many different spheres.

This campaign of intimidation is not new. It has been in plain view for all astute observers since at least the fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989, and the origins run very deep in Islamic thought. This is not a campaign being waged by stupid people. On the contrary, the intellectual roots are profound and subtle, and not without merits from which we can learn. However, what we in the West need to decide is whether to confront the intimidation or to submit to it. In other words, do we actually wish to retain a culture which allows for freedom of speech or do we not? Let us not be in any doubt that this is what is at stake; that this battle has been waged for at least a generation; and – let us be very clear – we are losing.

After all, how many newspapers have published the ‘offensive’ cartoons this morning? Why so few? The answer is obvious – it is because they are afraid. They have already accepted the status of dhimmitude, which is the term given to those who are tolerated by Islam. Those who wish to subordinate the West can see that our cultural and political leaders lack the testicular fortitude required to stand up to intimidation, and so they pursue their course of action, confident of their eventual victory. They believe that the tide of history is with them and there is, as yet, very little evidence to say that their perception is wrong. They do not have to do much more – simply set the agenda of terror, and allow demographics to do the rest.

I have two questions following on from the atrocities in Paris. The first is: will the West ever recognise that not all religions are the same and that, in stark contradiction to the accepted narrative, the fruits of democracy and free speech in the West are the direct consequence of the deep action of Christian theology within our culture? The accepted narrative, after all, with its fetishisation of Galileo and Darwin, casts the Christian authorities as those who are hostile to free speech, to intellectual exploration, to the vulgar dynamism which is at one and the same time the most attractive and most alarming feature of our society. This accepted narrative is a travesty of the truth, but, much worse than that, it forms part of the intellectual blindness of our political and cultural elite which in itself prevents a full and effective engagement with the fascists who are attacking us. Unless our elite can recognise that we need to rest our values on a religious foundation then we will inevitably lose ground to those who can recognise that reality.

My second question is for those who wish to apologise for the Islamic faith. Does Islam have within itself the resources required to police the violent terrorists? Those resources are both doctrinal and practical. After all, the list of terrorist atrocities that have been carried out by Muslims over the last thirty years and more is extensive, and the YouTube beheadings carried out by ISIS are simply the latest example of a well-established trend. Those who carry out such barbaric acts are explicitly and avowedly doing so as Muslims, in the name of Muhammed, and they cry out ‘Allahu Akhbar’. It is not enough for other Muslims to say ‘that is not true Islam’. The links between the terrorists and long-established Islamic teaching are not trivial. The links between extremist behaviour and extremist preaching, such as the Wahhabi strand of Islamic thought financially backed and promulgated by the Saudi government, are not minor.

Yes, the situation has many complexities which I have not been able to engage with in this article, yet I do find myself wearying of those who take refuge in moral complexity and equivocation, when by so doing they give clear succour and encouragement to the enemy. We need to recover an awareness of our own religious roots, of the vitality and dynamism of the Christian faith – yes, even the Church of England! Without it, all that we most value in our society will pass away. The fundamental clash is clear. We either kowtow and appease those who wish to police what we are allowed to say, or else, with Jesus, we revel in our rumbunctious rudeness and tell the enemy where to go.

So that was 2014

Well that has been quite an interesting year – mostly dominated by continuing domestic fall out, including a long drawn out court process, but that has now been resolved satisfactorily. Things seem to be stable (famous last words…) Home education was abandoned at Easter, for several reasons – not sure it’s better for the children but it’s certainly better for me! I continued to be involved in local amateur dramatics, including singing ‘I’m too sexy’ solo in the panto, along with one other role. Really it has been a year of getting a lot of stuff sorted out behind the scenes – personally and professionally. There are some major changes coming just down the line – and I am full of enthusiasm for what is coming – but I need to have some holiday first as I’m rather stretched! I am, nonetheless, moving away from Ground Zero, and the future is very appealing. I am optimistic that my productivity – including my writing on this blog! – will start to increase again. There is still so much that I need to say!

Previous years: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013.

In praise of dodgy women

This morning’s sermon is in praise of dodgy women. It is not a response to the nomination of the first woman bishop in the church…

I was asked for advice about reading the bible the other day, and one thing I said was ‘skip the genealogies’ – but sometimes they repay careful attention. I want to talk this morning about the lineage of Christ given in the first chapter of Matthew. There are five women listed, and I think that Matthew has a particular purpose in listing them. After all, they don’t have to be mentioned – Luke’s version of the genealogy doesn’t list them – so why does Matthew choose to do so? What is the point that he is making by including them?

First on the list is Tamar, found in Genesis 38. Tamar is a woman who impersonated a prostitute in order to seduce her father-in-law, and thus preserve the blood-line of Judah in Israel. Not a conventional hero.

Second on the list is Rahab, found in Joshua 2. Rahab was both a prostitute and a foreigner, who betrayed her own people in order to protect members of the Israeli army in their desire to destroy Jericho. Not a conventional hero.

Then comes Ruth, who has a whole book of the Bible telling her story – and it is a wonderful story – but at its heart is the tale of a foreign woman seducing her ‘kinsman redeemer’ in order to establish a safe and secure future. Not a conventional hero.

Fourth, and crucially, comes one that is not named – a woman who decides to take a bath on a rooftop in order to catch the attention of King David, following which comes tragic tales of murder and slaughter. Bathsheba is really quite far away from being a conventional hero.

So what do all these women have in common? They are all sexually compromised, they are all dodgy.

Which brings us to Mary, mother of Jesus, and the last named woman on the list. A woman of whom it can also be said that she was sexually compromised. A girl carrying a baby but betrothed to someone who isn’t the father. It’s quite possible that Matthew is responding to gossip about Mary, and the unusual nature of Jesus’ birth, by including all these women in the list.

He can do this for the simple reason that God works through them. That is, the whole point of the genealogy is that without these dodgy women then we wouldn’t have Christ.

From which I would simply want to ask the simple question: do we have room for dodgy women in our congregation? For those that society sees as sexually flawed or broken? And they don’t just have to be women! We are all of us dodgy.

I rather think that if we don’t have room for those who are dodgy, we don’t have room for Jesus either – if we say to the sexually compromised or unacceptable that there is no room for them in the inn, then I believe that Jesus will also move on. So as we prepare for Jesus’ arrival at Christmas, let’s also make room for those without whom he could not have come, and remember to give an acceptable place to the dodgy. Amen.

In Christ there is neither sexually legitimate nor illegitimate

So: House Group today, exploring the Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4) and all the ways in which Jesus is taboo-busting by simply talking to her (actually, I would say: flirting with her). The Samaritan woman – the first evangelist, from the same gospel that also brought you the first apostle, also a woman – is disqualified from acceptability on several grounds. Firstly, she is a woman. Second, she is a foreigner. Third, her sexual identity is problematic.

So in the discussion around this passage I thought of Paul’s famous ‘In Christ there is no…’ and thought that the Samaritan woman is embodying what Paul is describing. So I think it would be orthodox and reflective of Christ’s actions to say: In Christ there is neither Jew nor Samaritan, there is neither male nor female, there is neither sexually legitimate nor illegitimate.

It’s *all* secondary. It’s not about whether you worship on a mountain or in the temple, it’s whether you worship in spirit and in truth. It’s not about how you apply your dangly bits, it’s about whether you love in spirit and in truth…

/rant over

“Love’s the only engine of survival” – reflections on the Christianity of Interstellar

interstellar
I recently went to watch the latest Christopher Nolan movie called ‘Interstellar’ – and this is a reflection on the film that includes discussion of the ending, so if you like to watch your science fiction stories completely unspoiled about how they turn out, best stop reading now.

Interstellar is one of my favourite sorts of movies, by one of my favourite modern directors (he was also responsible for Inception and the recent Batman trilogy). It is what is known as ‘hard’ science fiction, whereby the story is intentionally grounded in what is considered to be ‘proper’ science. In this case, there is even a book by the physicist Kip Thorne, who was a technical adviser on the movie, which discusses the astro-physics of black holes, which is the means by which humans travel from one star system to another – hence the ‘interstellar’ of the title.

Nolan is, I believe, an atheist. At the very least, he is a humanist, and this takes a particular form in the film. The premise of the story is that, some time in the near future, the earth is dying, for reasons unexplained but probably as a result of human pollution. There is a ‘blight’ which is killing off most of the food crops in the world and consequently all the economic resources on earth are going towards agriculture rather than space exploration: “We need farmers, not engineers” as one character says. In order to support this shift of emphasis, the history of space exploration has been suppressed. Text books now describe the moon landings as a propaganda coup against the Soviets, a televisual sleight-of-hand used to intimidate political opponents.

In this context, to seek to explore the stars is a defiant act of hope. The film as a whole can be taken as an attempt to re-inspire the watcher with a desire to voyage into the final frontier, “Mankind was born on earth. It was never meant to die here”. The story of the hero, which has a significant amount of emotional heft (in ways that I shall not spoil here) is very affecting, especially for fathers of daughters. At the conclusion of the film, the hero is forced to make a leap into the unknown, and this is where the humanism of the director is shown most clearly. Where there might seem to be a deus ex machina – a God intervening in the system in order to set things right – in Nolan’s story, the deus turns out to be humanus – human beings from the future that have learned to manipulate time. One might say ‘God is one of us’.

However, although that is the surface truth of the story, there are two ways in which the film actually draws deeply from the Christian mythos, in ways that make me consider the film to be quite orthodox in its message. By ‘orthodox’ I mean ‘informed by the resurrection’, that is, seeing the world with a Christian point of view. The Christian perspective seems to subvert even the most consciously humanistic of intentions!

The first way in which the story draws from the Christian mythos is simply in terms of the narrative arc. The salvation of humankind is at stake, one man has to move forward, leaving behind all his ties to his family and ends up journeying alone into a black hole where he expects to die, and yet – miracle of miracles! – something happens to transform the situation and the hero is enabled to return, to be reunited with his loved ones one last time, before he ascends once again into the heavens. I trust that this description is enough to show the parallels with the Christian story.

However, that first parallel with the Christian story is itself quite a slim point. It is the story of the redeemer, which, although it undoubtedly has a definitive form in our history in the Christian gospel, can be found in other cultures in very similar forms. Where I found the film to be most deeply compatible with the Christian story is in the fundamental message about love, articulated by one of the co-stars, and the one whom the hero voyages to pursue at the end of the tale. The co-star gives a moving speech at a crucial moment in the plot about the way in which love guides human activity, and that love is not bound by time. It is, in a sense, the faculty in human beings which (in the language of the film) allows us to access the ‘higher dimension’ of time and guide us, and which the hero directly uses later on in order to guide his decisions and achieve the salvation of humanity. This is an understanding of love which sits directly within the mainstream Christian tradition. To adap St Paul’s language: love bears all things, love hopes all things, love never ends – death has been swallowed up in victory.

Nolan’s Interstellar is a great film – some wonderful action sequences, a solid plot with emotional weight, and an inspiring message delivered with awesome imagery. That message, it seems to me, is quite profoundly Christian – despite a superficial coating of humanism. Our society is still haunted by the Christian imagination, and whenever a creative artist in our society seeks to express something transcendent they cannot, despite themselves, avoid drawing from baptismal waters. In our own time we have entered, if not the end of the earth as a whole, certainly a time of great tribulation and trauma. We would do well to be guided by the message of Interstellar: love will guide us through the abyss.

“You’re so rude!”

Courier article

I would like to return to the theme of political correctness this week, and expand on one element from my last article. One of the aspects of Jesus’ ministry which is regularly missed (although those who know me will recognise that I am on something of a campaign to raise awareness) is that he was exceptionally rude. This was always for a particular purpose, and mostly that purpose was to expose the wickedness of those in positions of power – both secular and religious – and defend those without power, the ‘widows and orphans’ of his time. Yet the most exemplary example of Jesus’ rudeness comes not when he is criticising the powerful but when he calls a foreign woman a dog, which was just as much of an insult in his time as it is in ours. Why does he do this?

His disciples had just become very nervous about Jesus being rude to the religious authorities – “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard [you]?” – and so Jesus takes them away from the city and they meet the foreign woman, who has a grievously ill daughter. The foreign woman begs Jesus to help but he does nothing – first he ignores her completely, “Jesus did not answer a word” – and then, when the disciples get fed up with her begging and ask Jesus to do something, he basically says ‘get lost’, saying “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”, in other words, not to foreigners like you. Then, when the woman persists in her begging, comes the insult, that it is not right to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs, ie the foreign woman.

Notice that whilst all this is happening, the disciples make no complaints about Jesus’ rudeness to the woman. In contrast to the Pharisees, whom the disciples deemed worthy of protection and respect, this foreign woman doesn’t count – and so all the examples of Jesus’ rudeness to her don’t register with them. They see what Jesus is doing as completely conventional and unremarkable, it is exactly what they would do in his situation. Which is why it is so shocking when Jesus grants her request and says to her “Woman you have great faith!” In other words, in contrast to the Pharisees, here is someone who is modelling what God is looking for – and I’m quite certain that this Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he took his disciples out of the city.

Now, in retelling this story, I am not wanting to simply defend rudeness. I am, after all, very much a supporter of kindness and gentleness. Yet what Jesus could see clearly was the way in which the political system can enforce certain cultural standards which work to keep power with some people and prevent others from gaining access to it. In other words, if we pay attention to language, and notice what is generally acceptable and what is not, then we can gain an insight into where the power lies within a particular community. What Jesus was doing was bringing his disciples face to face with the political reality of their time – and ramming home the contrast with what God was looking for. The foreigner had absolutely no status with the disciples, yet she demonstrated great faith. The Pharisees were the opposite, on both sides of the equation.

I conceived my last article as essentially about a defence of the poorer and often older working class man. The sharpest opposition to what I said has come to me from richer and younger women. I believe that this is an indication of where the power lies in our society and I also believe that this is one of the clearest symptoms of how disconnected our society has become from reality.

After all, it is amongst the traditional manual labourers that there is the clearest and most obvious link with the production of economic value; in addition, if those men get removed, society will cease to function extremely swiftly. I say “men” because it is men who do these jobs, and there is very little pressure from wider society for gender-based and egalitarian quotas. This is for the simple reason that women don’t want to do such jobs, and so the political apparatus does not seek to impose such quotas. I am thinking of jobs like working on an oil rig, or fishing at sea, or collecting our rubbish bins early in the morning. Jobs where there is very little glamour but where there is also a distinct lack of cushioning from reality, where a mistake doesn’t cause embarrassment it causes significant injury or death.

I came across an extremely interesting statistic the other day, that the average man is stronger than 90% of women. This, too, is a reason why the jobs that I have in mind tend to be overwhelmingly male, for they are physically demanding and there simply aren’t that many women who can cope with the level of physical exertion required. In other words, here is a difference that isn’t due to some political campaign of oppression but is simply part of the fabric of reality. This is the world that we live in.

So am I now arguing for women to get back into the kitchen, preferably without shoes? Not at all. The issue is about how we look after all the members of a community, and that includes working class men. They, too, must be included. I believe that those men on whom we depend so absolutely for the essentials of modern civilisation have become excluded from the circle of concern in our culture. Where a healthy society would treat such men with a very great deal of respect, acknowledging the vulnerability of a community without what they provided, we have instead cultivated a society of scorn, which looks down on manual labour with a sneer, oblivious to the truth that without them, all will collapse. There are still Pharisees today.

Our polite discourse has settled around a practice of discounting the contributions of working class men. I think that this is wrong, it is an injustice and it is immensely self-destructive. When people seek to express the concerns of this group of people, it is not enough to respond with a squeal of self-righteousness, as if the voice of authority in our culture were a Graham Norton figure saying ‘You’re so rude!’ and pouting. It is because the concerns of some of us are not regarded as legitimate by the rest of us that our political system is going through such upheaval. This will not come to an end until all are included in our circle of concern.

The last permissible prejudice

Courier article

Regular readers of this column will know that I’m not a fan of political correctness, by which I mean the way in which traditional language has been replaced by supposedly less-offensive euphemisms. So – ‘handicapped’ has become ‘disabled’ which in turn has become ‘differently abled’ (I use this example because I am a handicapped man; I have a stake in that particular debate). I have two principal reasons for my distaste, one is a classic ‘enlightenment’ argument, the other is specifically Christian.

The classic objection to political correctness is that it is a constraint upon freedom of speech. Words matter, they are tremendously powerful, and when particular forms of speech are ruled impermissible it means that the natural distribution of power within a society is constrained. Those who have power, especially those who can enforce that power, can gather yet more power to themselves. To make freedom of speech into a basic value within a society – and that includes things like freedom of assembly, freedom to disseminate and publish ideas and so on – is to leave room for the small children to point out that the Emperor has no clothes. It is to ensure that there are elements of power that remain outside the control of central authorities. This is the case no matter how worthy the cause that is being advanced to justify the restrictions upon speech.

The more Christian objection to political correctness is simply to point out that it is a sin to be offended – and it is the taking of offence which is the principal fuel that drives the desire for politically correct speech, principally by cultivating a fear in those who would like to speak that they might unwittingly cause offence. To be offended is to assert a position of privilege, to occupy a position of pride, to say ‘my status demands more respect than you are offering to me’. Whereas Christians are taught to take the lowliest position, and those who are first shall be last. There is a wonderful passage in St Paul’s letters where he describes all the ways in which he might claim a justifiable pride as a son of Abraham and a zealous Pharisee but that he now considers them all as dross. To allow oneself to be offended is to step away from the healthy spiritual heart of Christian life.

What we have with political correctness is a campaign to police cultural boundaries, to mark out what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. This is a campaign with particular ideological heft, rooted in the idea that inequality has to be abolished: not, it must be emphasised, inequality of opportunity so much as inequality of outcome. All must have prizes! The sense that there are innate differences between people – that these differences may be immune to our political blandishments and that, even more important, those differences may be creative and forces for profound good in the world – this is the ultimate heresy for the politically correct. All must be smoothly functioning cogs within the imperial bureaucratic and industrial machines. Difference is inefficiency!

This is an example of magical thinking. I do not wish to denigrate magical thinking, which is the practice of changing consciousness in accordance with will, and tremendously powerful (it’s what the advertising industry does, for example). What I object to is that political correctness is an extremely bad example of magical thinking, in that it takes no account of physical realities. To pretend that there are no differences is not to engage with reality; it is, in fact, a flight from that reality into a utopian vision of perfect conformity. All of my instincts are to take one look at the smoothly whirling wheels and want to shove a stick into it. Difference is human.

Which brings me to the fundamental point that I wish to make this week, which is that whenever there is a dominant political consciousness, that rules some forms of speech legitimate, and others illegitimate, it is very instructive to look for the blind spot and to ask, as Rowan Williams was prone to on a frequent basis, “Who pays the price?” In other words, which group of people do not enjoy protection from a politically correct environment? There are always prejudices, so where do the prejudices lie today?

I would argue that the last permissible prejudice in contemporary polite society is a prejudice against the working class British man. Those who fall into that category are denied any form of cultural acceptance. They are scorned as ignorant, racist, bigoted, redundant (in both senses), patriarchal, chauvinist, fat, lazy – generally as a waste of space that it would be best not to pay much attention to. Their cultural expressions are ridiculed, their political views vilified. There are two areas in particular that show this prejudice most clearly to me.

The first is in family law. Historically the typical man was able to perform the classic roles of protector and provider for their family, and in return they had certain legal assurances about the safety and integrity of that family – that it could not, for example, be destroyed upon a whim, that the legal contract of matrimony would be protected and enforced by the court system. That has entirely broken down and so one of the greatest social goods that a typical man was able to nurture and enjoy is now removed. This has been made possible for the simple reason that the state has taken over the roles of protector and provider; a real man of flesh and blood is no longer necessary.

The second is that the typical working class British man is at the very sharp end of the immigration debate. It is not those who are well established in their professions who are most at risk from the surge in immigration, rather it is those whose most marketable asset is their low wage cost who find their livelihoods being taken away by those who can provide labour at an even lower price. This is a development that is perfectly fine and justifiable for those who own industries, or those who wish to take advantage of much cheaper labour in the domestic sphere, but it has completely hammered the average man.

So is this a moan? No – that would simply be to ‘take offence’ in turn. It has been said that ‘to those who have will more be given, from those who have little, even that little shall be taken away’. Life is hard, ‘life is suffering’ as the Buddhists teach. What I would say is simply this: political correctness is a luxury, a product of an absurdly affluent society that has lost sight of the fundamental economic and practical truths of human life, the nature of genuine human differences that can be celebrated profitably rather than denied to everyone’s detriment. There are truths which will not go away, and which promise a much more fruitful future for the working class British man than our present delusional patterns of life can offer. We are rapidly entering into a time when the classic old-fashioned virtues of the working class man will once more be seen as valuable and honourable. Political correctness is simply a bubble on the crest of a wave that is now crashing against a very rocky shore. The meek shall inherit the earth.