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.

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 sin of being offended

(Slightly revised version of blogpost written in 2006, after the Muhammad cartoons)

Should a Christian be offended by blasphemy, in the way that various Islamic groups have – according to the official story – been offended by an obscure film on YouTube? I believe not, and I’d like to explain why.

There is no shortage of material that could be cited as offensive to Christians but I’d like to focus on the graphic novel ‘Preacher’, written by Garth Ennis, partly because it is a cartoon/ comic, and partly because it is a work that I am familiar with.

To understand ‘Preacher’ you must imagine a tale composed of a blend of three other stories, but then put through the blender of a particular film. The three stories that ‘feed’ it are: Unforgiven, the Clint Eastwood western; Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (although it predates the Da Vinci Code – it’s actually drawing on the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail); and Anne Rice’s ‘Interview with a Vampire’; and all of this is then fed through the stylistic blender of Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”. It is certainly blasphemous, also obscene, disturbing and very funny. I believe it also makes some interesting theological points – not as profound or interesting as I had once hoped, when I was first reading it, but interesting nonetheless.

The basic plot is this: an angel and a demon come together and conceive a child; when the child is born it is immediately expelled from Heaven, and God vanishes from His throne. Genesis (the child) plummets to earth and is ‘united’ with Jesse Custer, a preacher (probably Episcopalian) who was raised by some rabid and violent fundamentalists in the Deep South of the United States. You could say he has some problems with his faith… However, once Genesis is united with him, he gains the Word – the power to command people to do whatever he tells them. Through various adventures involving the Priory of Sion and his best friend, an Irish vampire, he ends up producing a confrontation between God and the Angel of Death. God, of course, isn’t the God that a ‘normal’ Christian would recognise – God is schizophrenic, in the popular sense, in that there is sometimes a raging Old Testament father figure full of righteous anger, and sometimes there is a radiant New Testament figure seemingly all sweetness and light. The end of the tale is the death of God – and the continuance of the world without Him, seemingly all the better for it.

Ennis grew up in Northern Ireland, and there is clearly a kinship between the God in ‘Preacher’ and the attitudes of someone like Ian Paisley. I had hoped that there would be something theologically creative at the end – that was what kept me reading – along the lines of Genesis becoming a renewed God, essentially a retelling of the Christian story but in a modern idiom. Instead, Preacher is profoundly atheistic, and is in fact much more of a story about the importance of friendship than anything about theology. It remains deeply memorable, and the set-up I think is wonderful, but in the end there is little engagement with ‘mainstream’ Christianity – Christians within it are portrayed as either fundamentalist fascists or as idiots, and the ethics that are vindicated are those of the western, ie righteous violence.

Now, in the face of such a sustained and offensive criticism – how should a Christian react? Should a Christian shun any contact with such writing, with a view to avoiding ‘contamination’ from its blasphemy? My reading of Christianity, influenced from what I know of the work of René Girard, is rather the opposite, and that the degree of our ‘offence taking’ is the degree to which we remain to be converted to the gospel.

A key word in Girard’s analysis is skandalon. It means the taking of offence, seeing something as shocking or blasphemous. As part of his anthropology, Girard argues that scandal is contagious and reproduces itself across a society, forming a major way in which a society polices its own customs. The practices of societies are founded in sacred violence and scapegoating – in other words, societies reinforce their identity by choosing a person or group as the ‘cause’ of all their problems (think Jews in 1930’s Germany) and the society achieves a sense of unity by combining against that person or group, expelling them violently from their midst, and then telling a religious mythology justifying their actions. This practice persists over time, for the society is never able to completely eradicate tensions within itself, due to the maintenance of rivalrous desire, when one person wants what another person has.

Girard describes this contagion of scandal as the way of the world, and sees the Satan, the ‘lord of this world’ as that force which seeks to reproduce scandal, the taking of offence – for it is in the shared nature of the offence taking that the social solidarity is affirmed and reinforced. A society has a vested interest in ensuring the maintenance of scandal, for that is how the society itself is maintained. What such a society cannot accept is the continued existence of the source of scandal.

I believe this can be seen rather clearly in the case of the video posted to YouTube. When it was first uploaded, nobody took offence – hardly anyone even noticed! Yet certain authorities have a vested interest in shoring up the unity of Islamic societies over against the West, and so the West is then scapegoated as the source of the problems (internal tensions) experienced in Muslim countries. Thus it is Islamic sources which seek to generate a sense of scandal about the film – to great success – and at the cost of, amongst others, the life of the American Ambassador.

Christianity, however, begins with the scandal of the cross. That is, in the story of Jesus we have the unmasking of this process – a scapegoat who isn’t simply a victim, but one who is understands what is happening and who forgives those who take part in it. In other words, a victim who does not take offence. This “non-taking of offence” is central to Jesus’ entire ministry – indeed, he is regularly criticised for eating with sinners and tax collectors, and memorably criticises the religious authorities saying that the prostitutes will get to heaven before them! Through not taking offence, through not seeing religious pieties as things to be defended, Jesus changes the social dynamics and enables a non-violent reconciliation with the excluded to take place. That is the essence of the Kingdom – an unmasking of this process of scandal, scapegoating and violence, in order that a new common life, not built upon these elements, can come into being.

Thus, for a Christian, it is wrong to take offence, it is a sin. To take offence is to play the devil’s games, to enter into antagonism between the ‘righteous’ and the ‘unrighteous’, the ‘sinner’ and the ‘saved’. In letting go of any sense of offence, one is released from the mythological pressures embedded in all stories of ‘them and us’, and is set free to become the sort of person that God originally intended – living in peace and loving the neighbour. This is what lies behind the striking language in Matthew’s gospel (5:29), where Jesus commands us to pluck out our eyes if it “causes us to sin” – language taken up by a great many moralists seeking violent self-harm, as it is, of course, to scapegoat a part of oneself. The original language used in Greek, however, is related to this word skandalon and the passage means ‘if your eye is scandalized, pluck it out’ – in other words, if you are offended by something that you see you should blind yourself, for the fault lies in you, not in what is outside you.

This I find profoundly helpful, in terms of guiding my engagement and interest in the world. We are not to seek to preserve some sort of moral purity – that runs counter to Jesus’ own well documented practice. Nor are we to protest at being offended. If God does not take offence at the murder of his Son, how can we take offence at anything milder? It is precisely because of this bias against ‘offence’ embedded in Christianity from the beginning that Western society has grown up with this remarkable notion of free speech and free enquiry, which is what is now at stake in the confrontation with the Islamists. It is the unmasking of the sociological processes of scapegoating and sacred violence by Jesus on the cross that fundamentally enables the fruits of Western society that we presently enjoy – including, most especially, modern science. Girard puts it well: “The invention of science is not the reason that there are no longer witch-hunts, but the fact that there are no longer witch-hunts is the reason that science has been invented. The scientific spirit … is a by-product of the profound action of the Gospel text.”

Western civilisation is under threat and it is worth defending, but not by being offended by those who hate it, whether the Islamists, or even artists like Andres Serrano.

Anders Breivik’s "Christianity"

In his own words:

If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform. This makes us Christian.

European Christendom isn’t just about having a personal relationship with Jesus or God. It is so much more. Christendom is identity, moral, laws and codexes which has produced the greatest civilisation the world has ever witnessed.

I’m not going to pretend I’m a very religious person as that would be a lie. I’ve always been very pragmatic and influenced by my secular surroundings and environment.

As a cultural Christian, I believe Christendom is essential for cultural reasons. After all, Christianity is the ONLY cultural platform that can unite all Europeans, which will be needed in the coming period during the third expulsion of the Muslims.

As this is a cultural war, our definition of being a Christian does not necessarily constitute that you are required to have a personal relationship with God or Jesus. Being a Christian can mean many things: – That you believe in and want to protect Europe’s Christian cultural heritage. The European cultural heritage, our norms (moral codes and social structures included), our traditions and our modern political systems are based on Christianity – Protestantism, Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and the legacy of the European enlightenment (reason is the primary source and legitimacy for authority). It is not required that you have a personal relationship with God or Jesus in order to fight for our Christian cultural heritage and the European way. In many ways, our modern societies and European secularism is a result of European Christendom and the enlightenment. It is therefore essential to understand the difference between a “Christian fundamentalist theocracy” (everything we do not want) and a secular European society based on our Christian cultural heritage (what we do want). So no, you don’t need to have a personal relationship with God or Jesus to fight for our Christian cultural heritage. It is enough that you are a Christian-agnostic or a Christian atheist (an atheist who wants to preserve at least the basics of the European Christian cultural legacy (Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter)). The PCCTS, Knights Templar is therefore not a religious organisation but rather a Christian “culturalist” military order.

There’s lots more in the same vein.

I’m about to go away on holiday. I might have more to say about all this when I return, but it will be on my other more political blog – Gandalf’s Hope.

Motive

If it turns out that he’s “a right-wing Christian fundamentalist” and those doctrines provided a motive for his behaviour then such doctrines need to be denounced and combatted. In just the same way that the doctrines that give rise to terrorists shouting ‘Allahu Ackbar’ also need to be denounced and combatted. Of course, that would expose a contradiction at the heart of our society – or, perhaps more accurately, a self-hatred. Muslims etc are victims of the oppressive West, therefore they are on the side of the angels. This Norwegian nutter is an expression of the oppressive West, therefore he is on the side of the devils.

Perhaps there are all sorts of mitigating circumstances and doubtless we will come up with all sorts of explanations but in the end evil is as evil does and he is responsible to the Almighty for what he has done.

Why, O LORD, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
He boasts of the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD.
In his pride the wicked does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
His ways are always prosperous;
he is haughty and your laws are far from him;
he sneers at all his enemies.
He says to himself, Nothing will shake me;
I’ll always be happy and never have trouble.
His mouth is full of curses and lies and threats;
trouble and evil are under his tongue.
He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent, watching in secret for his victims.
He lies in wait like a lion in cover;
he lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
His victims are crushed, they collapse;
they fall under his strength.
He says to himself, God has forgotten;
he covers his face and never sees.
Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself, He won’t call me to account?
But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked and evil man;
call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out.
The LORD is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land.
You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.

Psalm 10, NIV

(NB for a flavour of what I’m guessing is part of his motivation, do some research on Fjordman and read his writings. They are very interesting and have been very influential.)

Roman Catholic Social Policy vs Sharia Law

I was shocked (shocked, I tell you, shocked!) by the Observer’s comment “I would take sharia law over roman catholic social policy.”

I find this unfathomable, and offer up this post so that people can have a natter about it, should they so desire. Here are a few thoughts to kick things off:

- I see catholic social theology as one of the glories of Christian thinking and practice. Whilst I have some minor disagreements with it (eg some aspects of sexual ethics – I disagree with Aquinas as to how to properly describe the telos of sexual behaviour) on the whole I find it a tremendously congenial place to stand;
- in contrast I see sharia law as profoundly iniquitous, not in theory (which I can understand) but in practice. To put it bluntly, the imposition of sharia law – not least if it threatened my daughters, eg their education – is something that I would have very few qualms about fighting…

Roughly speaking, it seems to me that if you have any desire for the full human flourishing for those who are not the dominant heterosexual males in a society, then the Catholic side of things has to be preferred.

Off you go :)

Roman Catholic Social Policy vs Sharia Law

I was shocked (shocked, I tell you, shocked!) by the Observer’s comment “I would take sharia law over roman catholic social policy.”

I find this unfathomable, and offer up this post so that people can have a natter about it, should they so desire. Here are a few thoughts to kick things off:

- I see catholic social theology as one of the glories of Christian thinking and practice. Whilst I have some minor disagreements with it (eg some aspects of sexual ethics – I disagree with Aquinas as to how to properly describe the telos of sexual behaviour) on the whole I find it a tremendously congenial place to stand;
- in contrast I see sharia law as profoundly iniquitous, not in theory (which I can understand) but in practice. To put it bluntly, the imposition of sharia law – not least if it threatened my daughters, eg their education – is something that I would have very few qualms about fighting…

Roughly speaking, it seems to me that if you have any desire for the full human flourishing for those who are not the dominant heterosexual males in a society, then the Catholic side of things has to be preferred.

Off you go :)

So…

So we have a new baby at the moment – and sleep is somewhat disturbed – particularly last Wednesday night when I woke up at about 2am and couldn’t get back to sleep with brain buzzing about certain questions. So today – having gone to bed at about 7.30 last night and managed a good ten hours of sleep (w00t!) – and getting re-centred in worship this morning, and pondering the eternal truths like ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ – I’m starting to wonder “what planet was I on?” :)

(Not that I wouldn’t still want to defend much of my thinking – just… the sane me is not well represented there!)

So…

So we have a new baby at the moment – and sleep is somewhat disturbed – particularly last Wednesday night when I woke up at about 2am and couldn’t get back to sleep with brain buzzing about certain questions. So today – having gone to bed at about 7.30 last night and managed a good ten hours of sleep (w00t!) – and getting re-centred in worship this morning, and pondering the eternal truths like ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ – I’m starting to wonder “what planet was I on?” :)

(Not that I wouldn’t still want to defend much of my thinking – just… the sane me is not well represented there!)