How I became a climate sceptic

My journey from the first book to the second…

My earliest recollection of an environmental awareness dawning in me was when I was reading an Enid Blyton book, the name of which I cannot now recall – I must have been aged around seven or eight years old. It wasn’t one of the Five or Seven sequences, but within it there was a description of some children playing in the outside, beyond a wood, a long way from home (something that I did a lot in real life) and coming across some rubbish that had been left. I think it was paper wrappings rather than anything more foul, but from memory Blyton talks about the way in which the rubbish would remain, marring the environment. That situation struck me as a wrongness; this wasn’t an argument, just an instinct, a seed.

That seed only really started to grow after I had left school. First, and fundamentally, reading Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance helped me to put that instinct into a wider context. In particular, I still often find myself remembering a scene where Pirsig and his son cross over a highway, and look down on a traffic jam. The contrast between those two experiences of technology has always resonated with me; that is, I am fully convinced that the Buddha can be found within the pistons of an internal combustion engine! The point is to make the technology serve the human, not to conform the human to the Machine.

At University my understanding of the green perspective properly started to broaden out. Amongst many other books I was particularly influenced by Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Jonathan Porritt’s Seeing Green. This was also when I read The Limits to Growth; whilst I found that analysis plausible on an intellectual level, it didn’t grip me in the way that the other books did. For me being Green was about living in the world in a certain way, with a certain set of virtues and with a view towards harmonious and community-centred living (I was also getting to grips with liberation theology at this point). I wasn’t particularly politically involved (the reasons for that are a story for another time) but I remember knocking on doors and campaigning for Mike Woodin at one point.

When it came to deciding what to do after graduating I was tempted by academia – I have always been tempted by academia – but the lure of earning a living was stronger. Most of the commercial options had no appeal and I chose to further my environmental awareness by joining the Department of the Environment. Here I was involved right at the sharp end of environmental debate from the beginning, as my first job centred on the safety of nuclear power! Although the postings were only supposed to be for a year, my first one was extended in order for me to run the ‘THORP consultation’, which was fascinating, and I got to see green politics from the inside, both how decisions are made by No 10 and the Cabinet, but also how the external bodies and campaigning groups made (or didn’t) any impact (without going into details, I was massively more impressed by Friends of the Earth than by Greenpeace).

Whilst I stayed in the DofE for a few more years, and learned an immense amount, in 1995 I got ‘clobbered by God’ and my attention turned to vocational matters. All matters green started to take a back seat, and after much change and moving around, it was only in 2005 that I started to look again at environmental concerns. This was triggered by reading an article by Bryan Appleyard that introduced me to the issue of Peak Oil, and this became an abiding passion for me. From working on the nuclear industry I had developed some awareness of questions around power supply, and I remain very interested in questions around energy.

So this reawakened me to the analysis offered by the Limits to Growth perspective (Peak Oil is simply one facet of that, albeit, for me, the most salient) and my dormant green concerns now started to wake up again. At this time – as had been the case ever since I became aware of the issue after Thatcher’s speech in 1988 – I accepted the mainstream consensus around what was then called global warming. That was when I bought the Jeremy Leggett book illustrated at the top (in 1990). What I want to sketch out now is how I became more and more detached from that consensus, and now regard it as a bad religion, a form of insanity.

The first knock came when in 2007, via the excellent (sadly now moribund) website The Oil Drum, I came across the work of David Rutledge. Rutledge pointed out that the IPCC estimates for available fossil fuels took no account of the ‘Peakist’ perspective (peaking applies to all the fossil fuels, not just oil), and that the most alarming models were radically unrealistic. This was a surprise to me. As I found the scientific understandings around resource limits persuasive and ‘hard’ (ie grounded in solid data) this meant that there was, for the first time, a question mark against the IPCC. I was working on my book at this time, and I wasn’t sure whether to use as the precipitating challenge global warming or peak oil; discovering Rutledge’s work made the choice very easy.

More radical was the impact of Climategate in November 2009. The IPCC not taking the Peakist arguments into account I thought was a simple mistake, that would be corrected over time – an innocent assumption on my part. Climategate persuaded me that there were bad actors involved, Michael Mann foremost amongst them. As this was deeply challenging to my preconceptions I felt the need to dig into the details of this (and learned a lot about paleo-climatology in the process) and I particularly benefited from Andrew Montford’s writings. I go into some detail here, but the gist of my conclusion was simply that a) the Hockey Stick is very bad science, and b) the perpetuation of the Hockey Stick was not driven by scientific considerations but by social and cultural ones. I am persuaded that the understanding of historic temperatures that prevailed before the malign Dr Mann got involved is essentially correct, ie that there were previous warm periods in human history that reached higher temperatures than we now face (Minoan, Roman, Medieval warm periods).

This was an uncomfortable time for me in many ways. I remained (so I thought) within the overall environmental, green worldview, I was just more and more persuaded that the greens were making a great mistake in placing all their emphasis upon climate questions. I read a lot by people on all sides of the issue at this time, from Watts Up With That to Real Climate, and my principal take away was that reasoned argument was being lost beneath the politics, that is, the ‘scientific consensus’ was being enforced by social pressure and force – by bullying. The science simply wasn’t strong enough to win arguments on its own, so unethical behaviour had to be relied upon to make up the difference. Round about 2011 or so I settled on one main person to follow, who had earned my trust as someone who took a genuinely scientific approach to these questions: Judith Curry at her Climate Etc blog, and she is also interested in the philosophical aspects, which are my bailiwick. I still read a handful of others (Steve McIntyre, Roger Pielke) but I have stepped away from following all the detailed arguments.

Whilst I am open to further arguments on the technical questions, it is the wider sociological aspects that interest me now. I am persuaded that the present noise is essentially a bad religion, a conclusion that I had reached before coming across this book (which I have purchased but not yet read). When truth becomes subordinate to political questions, and those questions are shaped and structured by prior political interests, then the scientific discussion is compromised by human nature. That is, as I have argued more substantively elsewhere, good science is a subset of good religion. It is impossible to carry out good science without the context of a robustly embedded good ethic (= it is bad to falsify research), and that good ethic cannot subsist without a grounding in a religious, narrative framework (= ‘this is why it is bad to be bad’). It is not possible to be a good scientist without a sense of holiness (and, I suspect, it’s not possible to be a good scientist if your metaphysic is antithetical to the Christian worldview – I might go into that more on another occasion).

Why does this matter? For all my life I have had what I would now call an environmental concern, and I have often been either a member of the Green party, or a green member of another. I still think of myself as ‘green’, but what I see in the present Green movement seems insane, and not just about environmental questions. So in part, I wanted to tell this story in one place, so that I can refer to it in future. I sometimes think of myself as ‘a deep green climate sceptic’ – I remain convinced that we are in a state of overshoot, I’m sympathetic that we might be in an olduvai gorge situation, and we certainly have to reckon with the nature of the one-time ‘carbon pulse’ (we will go back to coal as we descend the down-slope). In particular our general cultural conversation is ‘energy blind’; most especially the ways in which, even now, investment in renewables is dependent upon the ready availability of fossil fuels, especially diesel, and the way in which our economy is influenced by the availability of oil (which was the underlying cause of the 2008 financial crisis). From my point of view the attention given to climate change is a great green herring.

This is slowly becoming obvious. When the bad science is only (literally and metaphorically) in the stratosphere, the ordinary person quietly ignores it. Now that it has triggered the idolatry of Net Zero it is beginning to impact upon most people’s daily life. When it gets to the point of saying ‘you must not heat your home because of climate change’ resistance gets stronger and the standard of evidence that the science has to meet becomes much more important. As that evidence doesn’t exist, the modern green movement is about to have its very own ‘Wile E Coyote moment’ and be left behind. Pointing out that the climate is changing is not enough (it clearly is); even pointing out that human activity is involved in that change is not enough (our behaviour does have an impact). It is the catastrophising which is the bad religion – and bad religion can only be overcome by good religion, not by the absence of religion at all.

Which is why, in the end, I’m a Christian not a green.

Here I stand, I can do no other; God help me.

On the use of this blog

I had thought I would keep this blog for more personal elements, and use my substack for longer opinion or essay pieces. That isn’t working. I’m also conscious of the need to keep some control over my published output, and this website is hosted by me (via GoDaddy) and it costs me, so as well as being more secure I want to get my money’s worth!

So going forward I’m going to publish all the substack essays here as well (and I’ll slowly add in on this site the ones I’ve published there already). I will also resume using this page for the more chatty, social media type elements. I’ve abandoned the media round-up, and deleted those posts. They weren’t adding anything of real value! But there will be a bit more of ‘me’ here; this will resume as my principal blog, my penseive. It might have some ‘meta’ commentary on my posts (especially the HTRI) stuff.

Going forward I am hoping to publish (via Kindle) two books this year, sourced principally from existing writing: a revised ‘2nd edition’ of Let us be Human, including additional material (including a chapter on Islam that I cut from the first edition), and a themed collection of my writings around national identity, especially Brexit, called ‘La La La’ – One Land, One Law, One Language. There might then be a third, next year, covering my writings on the CofE, working title of ‘Haunted by Herbert: Reflections from the front line of Parish Ministry’, and which will include some of the more autobiographical stuff here. That will require more work, hence the delay.

My writing output, especially my more personal stuff, is directly correlated with my peace of mind and heart and soul. That’s why the writing here fell off a cliff in the 2010s. It’s also why my writing in the last few years has taken off again, as my life is much more settled. This is about taking it further, and committing to it.

Here is something I’m listening to a lot at the moment, from James’ new album:

“Yet a simpler life is calling me
A spit of land, community
Can you come around and rescue me?
How blessed I am, your love to receive”

The divine circumlocutions

Can’t quite believe that it has been two months since my last post here… but then, I know what I’m like. So no reckless promises.

I continue to find much that is worth spiritually reflecting on with McGilchrist, in particular about the way that language works (which I think might be an un-teased-out confusion in TMWT). Yet it has been helpful in refreshing my appreciation for the way in which G-d cannot be captured in words, that the divine name cannot be spoken and so on. We use language to grasp – and God is forever ungraspable. For me, I find it useful to use an abundance of words (ie be cataphatic), the collection of which I think of as ‘the divine circumlocutions’.

So I feel happy to use the following expressions: the divine, the Lord, the creator, God, Father, the source, the Word, the logos, the holy. None of them can finally capture the reality for reality cannot be captured in words, it can only be pointed to.

We really need to recover this understanding; it’s at the root of what has gone wrong. But that’s a story I’ll tell on the substack.

For now it is enough to say “hallowed by your name” – hallowed, treated as holy, as set apart, as not a thing like other things – to use the divine circumlocutions with an awareness that in the end, “I am unworthy — how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer — twice, but I will say no more.”

The apathistic stance devastates the world

At the heart of our modern predicament lies a way of seeing the world that is characterised by carelessness – a carelessness that is systematically taught and encouraged through the educational and industrial establishments that dominate the activities of the western world. I call this way of seeing ‘the apathistic stance’, and I wrote about it in my book:

“There is a Greek word apatheia which has come down to us as the word apathy. It means being uncommitted or uninvolved emotionally – an emotional distancing, a ‘not caring’. This happens in science because the scientist is pursuing the truth about the world. What they are trying to attend to is what the world is actually like – not what they want the world to be like. So a true scientist will put their own desires to one side and submit to the process of scientific method in order to pursue the truth. This requires a discipline – you have to be trained in how to investigate, in the attitudes of science, you have to learn what I call the apathistic stance. This is what you do in order to ensure that your own biases, your own emotional desires, are put to one side. This process is a way of learning more about the world, of learning in particular more about the physical and natural world, because the physical and natural world does not depend upon our emotional reaction to it. As with all tools, however, we need to learn how to use them properly – and this has not happened with regard to science. This process of emotionally disengaging from what we are trying to discover in order to discern more truth, putting our own desires to one side, is a tool, and we need to learn how to use the tool, how to put it into a broader framework. In other words, after gaining true information from employing the apathistic stance, we need to adopt a different stance in order to process that true information properly. We need to integrate it with our wider knowledge and understanding.”

(I am minded to do a ‘ten year update’ on the book – I finished the text in January 2012, and I think it still holds up)

As a culture we have neglected this second part of the process. In the religious traditions, the apathistic stance is a moment in our growth of learning – it is a distancing from our own emotions in order to grow closer to the truth. The point of the religious discipline is to integrate those new insights with the wider understandings and frameworks which give sense to those new insights (for no new insights can have meaning independently of such wider frameworks).

Instead of this integration we have been dazzled by the jewels that the apathistic stance has unearthed, all the fruits of technological and scientific development. We have not cared about the consequences – for if we started to care about the consequences we would no longer be apathistic, and we would no longer have our golden goose.

So we have built a society that slaughters the creation around us. We have excised our compassion, we have abandoned wisdom, we crucify creation for a mess of pottage.

The apathistic stance devastates the world.

To overcome this devastation, to heal the world, is first and foremost a spiritual task – and the most essential element of that task in our present time is to dethrone science; or, to put that in slightly different terms, the only way in which we can work out our salvation is if we restore theology to her proper position as queen of the sciences.

An agony of values – and an ongoing identity for the Brexit Party

Jean-Claude Juncker calls Brexit the ‘original sin’; Daniel Hannan writes that Brexit is turning us all into devils; it seems that theological language is inescapable. That is because theology is the language that we use when we are talking about our values, and the Brexit debate has thrown our values up in the air. Which values shall we choose? Which is really a way of asking: who are we as a people?

Much of the argument about Brexit has been conducted around economic values. The Remain argument is that the economic cost of exiting the trading arrangements of the European Union are too high for us to bear. The Leave argument is that shackling ourselves to a declining protectionist bloc misses out on the great opportunities of the wider world. Yet if we only argue about economics, we give those arguments themselves too high a value.

The Harvard economist Dani Rodrik has formulated a ‘trilemma’ which I believe captures something very important for our argument. His trilemma goes as follows: there are three centres of value which are currently being debated in modern politics. The first is associated with free trade and global capitalism, and the changes that need to be made in order to allow economic growth to flourish. The second is national identity, and all the ways in which different cultural habits make communities what they are. The third is democracy, and the way in which disputes are resolved.

Rodrik’s trilemma is simply to say: you can have two out of three, you can’t have all of them, and we need to honestly and consciously make a choice.

Consider China. China has chosen to maximise economic growth, and to assert Chinese national identity – but in doing so, is drawing on non-democratic methods. In a similar way, but using the EU as their ‘national’ identity, the Remain perspective values free trade and a European Empire (© Guy Verhofstadt) and is explicitly happy to manipulate democracy to gain the required results.

An alternative perspective, which characterises contemporary political ‘common sense’ and the Conservative party, is to similarly choose economic growth but to emphasise the democratic values over against the national identity values. In other words, where there are local cultural habits that might prevent the efficient workings of capitalism, those habits can be discarded. This is the ‘Washington consensus’ that has been imposed upon economies around the world on a regular basis, often catastrophically (and those that resist this model, such as Korea, do rather well).

Which leaves a third alternative, which is to emphasise democracy and national identity, and de-emphasise the needs of free trade. This is the position of ‘national populism’, the assertion that the interests of global finance cannot be allowed to destroy local cultures. This is the position that has been hugely fuelled by the financial crisis and the reaction to austerity. It is what ultimately lies behind the vote for Brexit, and it is, I believe, the explicit value position that we in the Brexit Party need to stand for.

With his mess of a deal, Prime Minister Johnson has chosen the standard Conservative and mainstream consensus position. This can be seen in very many ways, but most saliently and explicitly in his abandonment of the Unionists in Northern Ireland. There can be no clearer image of the way in which economic interests (the desire for free trade agreements for GB) are given a higher value than national identity interests (the sense of the United Kingdom as one country).

The Remainers occupy, as stated, the non-democratic position on the trilemma. This leaves a huge opportunity for the Brexit Party to distinguish itself as the only party which gives a priority to both national identity and democracy. Put bluntly, there is now only one Unionist party in GB – and it isn’t the Conservatives.

This position does not mean that we reject free trade agreements, only that we say that there are higher values to take account of. We say that it is not worth selling out our country. We say that Johnson has sold our inheritance for a mess of pottage – actually, pottage is mixed vegetables, so perhaps our line needs to be that Johnson has sold our inheritance for a mess of Brussels…

I believe that if we consciously choose this third position of Rodrik’s trilemma we will occupy a position that is distinctive, has integrity and will be immensely popular, increasingly so as awareness of what is in Johnson’s deal starts to develop. It is the position, after all, which is very well embodied in the Party’s position on British Steel. Making strategic investments in certain companies for the national interest is not compatible with making free trade our highest value – but it is fully compatible with a national populist position.

So why do I call this an ‘agony of values’? The word agony comes from the agon, the athletic competitions (and religious feasts) of ancient Athens. We are involved in a struggle to assert different values, to change our politics for good. This is a value claim, which is why it is resonating so strongly with people. This is a contest, an agony, and these are the values that it would be inspiring to fight for – which not only will enable us to win, but will make our winning worthwhile. Let’s fight for something good – and leave the Conservative party with a more contemporary sense of agony.


One possible area of unanimity to be found over Brexit is simply that it is a mess. I do not believe that anyone can be happy with where we find ourselves. How can the church most help? How can the church best model a different way of engaging, both with the issue of Brexit and with each other across the divides, in such a way that we are a faithful and healing witness to the nation?

I would say: friendship. Jesus famously calls us friends, and I believe that there is something holy in the nature of Christian friendship which we are being called specifically to model at this time. A very good part of the recent letter from the Bishops of the Oxford Diocese stated: “There are leavers and remainers in every congregation, but this can never be our primary identity as Christians.”

Which is to say that there are values and aims which Christians hold that transcend any particular political claims. Christians share with each other not simply doctrinal claims, such as “Jesus is Lord”, but also an awareness that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, that progress in human affairs is ultimately and wholly dependent on the grace of God.

These shared values are then embodied in particular virtues – and it is those virtues which (as the Church has classically understood, following Aristotle) enable a genuine friendship to take hold. The virtues that we need today include hospitality to alternative points of view, humility in a shared search for the truth that we insist it is possible to find, patience in recognising how long this process may take – and over all these we must put on love, to bind them together.

Why, though, do we in the church find it so challenging to model such virtues? How is that we find it so difficult to be distinctive salt and light in this time of worldly tumult?

To act in a gracious way, turning the other cheek to those who seem to hurt us and trample over things that we hold precious, requires us to draw on spiritual reserves. To model a different pattern of life, the way of the Spirit rather than the way of the enemy, requires sustained practice. It is not something that comes easy to our flesh, which clings so hard to the ease of worldliness. It is always easier to say ‘I thank you Lord that I am not like this sinner’ than to say ‘I repent in dust and ashes’.

Might it be that we in the church struggle to demonstrate a distinctive witness of friendship across the Leave/Remain divide because we have fallen out of the practice of friendship within our own church life? We have spent many decades arguing with each other over matters of church order and sexuality, and that has come at a cost. We have not always enabled ‘good disagreement’ and have instead allowed the fruits of bitterness, strife and resentment to plant seeds. Have we used up all our spiritual reserves in internal dispute, leaving us incapable of withstanding worldly pressures when it comes to engaging with critical political issues like Brexit?

Our most important task, now as always, is to immerse ourselves in prayer, seeking the still small voice amidst the earthquake, wind and fire of Brexit. Such prayer would have the effect of loosening the hold that our opinions have upon us, as we remember and laugh at our own frailties. With humility, and forgiveness for others as well as for ourselves, we might be in a better position to see the truth of where we are, and thus the way to where God wishes us to be.

It will also enable us to be better friends. I am fond of Stanley Hauerwas’ ‘Modest Proposal for Peace’: let the Christians of the world agree that they will not kill each other. In the same spirit, I suggest that we Christians agree that we will remain friends with those on the other side of political debate. We will seek the image of Christ in the face of our opponents; we will resolve to disagree gracefully, affirming that what we share is greater than what divides; we will repudiate a spirit of accusation in favour of a shared and humble recognition of mutual sinfulness. Above all, we will cling to an insistence that there is a truth here to be found, a truth which will set us free from this mess in which we have become embedded.

In doing so, I believe that we will be witnessing to our nation and our world that there is a better way for all human beings to follow. We will do justice to our faith, and to each other. Let’s be friends.

Forest Values

Soon after I arrived in the Forest last year, I went in to the Fountain pub in Parkend and was struck by the large painting of Warren James on the wall there. “Who’s he?” I wondered. So I did a bit of digging, and I am struck by how many lessons there are from his life for us now. He is a local inspiration.

For those who don’t know, Warren James led a rebellion by Foresters against exploitation by the authorities in London. In order to ensure a ready supply of wood for building ships Parliament in London passed a law in 1808 ‘enclosing’ the Forest, meaning that the ancient rights of Foresters were made illegal – such as being able to gather wood or graze sheep in the Forest. Not surprisingly, this meant that the Foresters themselves became much poorer.

Resistance to the law was muted because there was a promise made to the Foresters that the enclosure would only continue for a period of 20 years – that is, for as long as it took the oaks to grow big enough to withstand grazing. Sadly, that promise from London wasn’t kept despite Foresters presenting petitions to Parliament to have their rights restored. The Foresters continued to suffer, and this outraged Warren James, and he began to organise resistance to the Enclosures, which culminated in a rebellion involving thousands of Foresters tearing down the fencing that kept them out of the Forest.

Of course, the hand of the law came down hard on Warren James, and he was arrested, tried and sentenced to death for his resistance. Two weeks later, that sentence was changed to one of transportation for life, and Warren James was sent to Australia in 1832, where he died in 1841.

James was a committed member of my church in Parkend, and I have no doubt that his resistance to London was rooted in his faith. The Bible is quite clear that enclosure can be an evil (Isaiah 5.8) but a more fundamental Christian value is that we have to look after each other. That is exactly what James was doing, and this is what I think of when I think of ‘Forest Values’ – standing up for those who are struggling to make ends meet; insisting that promises are honoured; resisting the emissaries from London who choose which laws to enforce and which to ignore.

I am struck by the parallels that run between the issues that James faced and the ones that we face today. There is an economic struggle, driven by imperatives from an overmighty centre (consider that the steel plant down the road in Newport could be saved immediately if we come out of the EU without a withdrawal agreement). We have received promises from Parliament that this will happen, and then with the passage of time those promises are not honoured. In the meantime, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer…

The biggest difference between Warren James’ time and now, of course, is that now we have the vote. When we see an injustice, or a problem that needs to be solved, we can use our votes to effect a change in a situation. At least, that is the theory. We might be forgiven right now for thinking that our votes don’t matter as much as they used to – because, say, we didn’t know what we were voting for, or we’re just small-minded and intolerant bigots and therefore our views don’t matter.

Those who say such things don’t share Forest Values. Each vote has the same weight as any other, whether cast by rich accountants or poor carpenters. That is only fair – and fairness, alongside mutual help, respect for the law, dignity for all of us, and other values like these, are what I believe most of us hold to – and what I worry that those who follow London thinking have given up on. We can do better than this.

This is why I’m standing to represent the Forest in Parliament. I want to represent the values that Warren James stood up for – Forest Values, looking after all the people in this wonderful Forest of Dean.


I was warned when being interviewed to stand as a candidate for the Brexit Party that I would be accused of all sorts of horrible things. Indeed, one of the key moments in the interview came when I was asked to imagine that I was being interviewed on TV and the first question was, ‘The Church of England is against racism – how then can you stand for a racist party?’

So I cannot claim that I have not been forewarned that these accusations would come. Still, the sheer extent of the claim has been surprising.

To be accused of racism is a serious charge. It would for example, if proven, lead to my being (rightly) dismissed from my present work – and I’m sure that is true for other candidates. So there is a lot at stake.

To make such a serious charge flippantly is highly unethical (and certainly unChristian). It is not an accusation to cast around casually, but to avoid flippancy means assembling evidence. I am open to there being evidence that I am a racist – not least because I understand the nature of ‘unconscious bias’ – and if there is such evidence it would mean that I need to do a lot of work on changing myself, for, be assured, I believe that racism is a very great evil and a blasphemy. More: if I was led to the conclusion that the Brexit Party was racist then I would leave it, immediately. (I wouldn’t be on my own, of course – in fact I strongly suspect that there wouldn’t be a single PPC candidate left.)

To make the charge seriously also involves considering counter-evidence, in order to reach a fair judgement. So here I would point out that all PPCs are required to formally renounce racism (and other prejudices) and work to the highest standards of public life. I would also point to the very wide diversity of ethnic representation amongst our PPCs. If you look at the list of Brexit party candidates, it reflects the diversity of modern Britain in terms of race, gender, sexuality, religion and so on. It would seem a little odd, to put it no more strongly, that none of this diverse range of people are aware of the alleged racism of the Party that they support. On the surface, this diversity of PPCs would seem to accord with what the mainstream claims to value. It is the wide space between what the mainstream claims to value and what it actually does in practice that I think we need to pay attention to.

I do not believe that the Brexit Party is racist – actually, that is too bland. I believe that the Brexit Party is consciously, explicitly and intentionally anti-racist. I believe that this anti-racism has been embedded within its structures from the very beginning and is a thread running through all that we do. As I said above, if there was someone who was genuinely racist hidden within the system, I think the system would move incredibly swiftly to excise such an individual upon discovery. The onus is upon those who are accusing us of being racist to demonstrate how and where.

As I see no such evidence myself – and see so much counter-evidence – I am forced to speculate on an alternative explanation for this phenomenon, an alternative explanation for the great heaps of moral opprobrium dumped upon the heads of Brexit Party supporters.

What we are seeing in this political conversation is what happens when one side (the Westminster bubble, as disseminated through the mainstream media) sees the other (Leave voters, those who are excluded from the mainstream conversation) as irretrievably morally compromised. We Brexit supporters are “a bunch of fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists” as Mr Cameron so memorably phrased it.

It strikes me that what has happened is that a dehumanisation has taken place.

The actual people who support Brexit, who are standing for or supporting the Brexit party in all their glorious diversity, we are no longer seen as people. We are no longer seen for who we are, with all our varied beliefs, hopes and fears. We have become signs, sigils, icons – we represent something other than ourselves, we have come to represent that which the mainstream most despises. We are ignorant, or racist, or poorly educated, or prejudiced in countless other unacceptable ways. Furthermore, as this representation carries such an immense amount of rage with it, it is clearly psychologically loaded. It is part of a fixed belief system in which the mainstream have invested a very large part of their sense of identity. See Ben Habib’s interaction with Oliver Kamm for a very clear example of this.

I speculate here, for I am sure that there are many different varieties of projection involved, and it is certainly not the case that every critic of the Brexit party is guilty of what I am describing, but there seems to be a sense of the self as righteous, which is formed over and against a sense of the other as unrighteous. When the other challenges the righteous self, this is profoundly threatening, and destabilising. If this other is not wholly evil, does this mean that my self is not wholly good? To entertain such a notion is a profoundly disturbing thought. If we truly do live in a culture of narcissism then to threaten the beloved self-image is to invite a reaction of rage…

There seems some initial plausibility to this. It would explain the polarisation of our politics, and the digging of trenches, and the failure to actually engage with the other. Of course, this dehumanisation also has frightening historical antecedents, which we need to become conscious of and keep prudently in mind. Obviously, these are just the beginnings of a line of thought that needs so much more careful and prayerful consideration.

So, if there is even a little bit of truth in my speculations, how then are we to respond?

I think that the only way forward, for each of us personally and for the nation as a whole, is to attend to the need for friendship, most especially to consciously and actively cultivate friendships across the partisan divides. A real friendship is only possible, according to Aristotle via Aquinas, when there is a shared aim. I believe that Leavers and Remainers share many aims in common – that actually we do all want to live within a decent society, within which the vulnerable are cared for, children are encouraged to reach their full potential, and we are all enabled to share in the joy of this creation. It is what Christians call the Kingdom.

If we can articulate those shared fundamental values – and if we can restrain ourselves from recklessly accusing others of not sharing those values (and that applies both ways) – then perhaps we can start rebuilding a sense of mutual trust, and a civilised framework for working through our differences, and we can move beyond our current imbroglio.

In other words, Brexit no longer just means Brexit. This staggeringly chaotic process also gives us the opportunity to renew our national conversation, to refresh our deepest values, to learn more about each other – and, dare I say, to love more about each other? We as a people, as a community, as a country: we can do so much better than this. I, for one, am going to try.

Why am [was!] I standing as an MP for the Brexit Party?

This is something shared in my work context – obviously out of date now!

Dear friends,

I thought it might help if I shared a little about what has led me to the place of standing for the Brexit Party as a potential MP. This will be in two parts – a bit about my own vocational journey, and a bit about my own fundamental values and beliefs.

When I was a teenager and through to my mid-20s I was intent on a political career, and I joined the Civil Service as a means of being trained for that – seeing government from the inside. However shortly before turning 25 I had my vocation experience when God made it clear that I was supposed to go into the church. After some painfully stubborn resistance I gave in to that call, and I have always believed that choice was final and irrevocable. However, over the last several months I have felt an increasing sense that God was revisiting that decision, and asking more from me. This has not been a comfortable process – I love my work in both parish and Diocese, and ____ and I have felt very settled in the Forest. I really do not want to disrupt that. However, I have learned that it is futile to fight God, however much our desires might run contrary to his.

I’ve spent a lot of time praying through the verse ‘Do you love me more than these?’ which Jesus asks of Peter on the beach. In the end I’ve had to say that, however much I love my congregation and my colleagues and my candidates, I do love Jesus more. (Apologies for how pious that sounds, it is meant sincerely!)

Yet even with all that, I can imagine the question being raised ‘OK, Sam, politics – but why the Brexit Party?!’ One of my core political passions is centred on social justice. I don’t believe that it is possible to be a Christian and not be concerned for social justice – although that still leaves lots of room for political disagreement about precisely how the desire for social justice is best pursued.

So how does that fit with supporting the Brexit Party?

I think I need to make two points. The first is simply: the Brexit Party is not UKIP version 2. I couldn’t support UKIP in its present form; indeed, the Brexit Party is going out of its way (and rightly) to ensure that it is inclusive, and that there is no prejudice on grounds of race, gender, religion, sexuality, handicap and so on. I have had to sign up to a four-page document promising to pursue the highest standards in public life, which I was very glad to do. If you look at the roster of candidates that have been announced you will see a lot of diversity – and that includes several people who voted Remain in 2016.

The second is that I believe the 2016 referendum allowed many people who were previously excluded from having a voice in our national life to speak up – and what has happened since then is that those in positions of power have sought to put those people ‘back in their box’. I know that this is something on which people of faith and good will can disagree, but, for me, this is a grave injustice. I want to ensure that this group of people – those who are generally poor and excluded in sharing in our common life – are listened to. I am ‘inspired by love and anger’ to quote one of my favourite hymns, by possibly my favourite hymn writer – and yes, I remain a committed Greenbelter, where I regularly listen to that hymn writer’s talks.

I believe that the technical question of Brexit will be resolved in the next year or two, but afterwards there will need to be a process of national reconciliation, wherein we learn to trust each other once again, and we heal the split between Leave and Remain. That is what I suspect I’m supposed to get involved with – and possibly not even as an MP, for I am well aware that following what I think is God’s will in this process gives no guarantee of ‘success’. My favourite prophet, Jeremiah, ended up failing, but he did God’s will in any case. I don’t have certainty that I’ll be elected, or that the Brexit Party will win, or even that Brexit is God’s will – all I know is that I am being called to stand up and speak out. That’s it.

In all of this, I would ask for your prayers, that God’s will be done, not just with me, but with our overall political situation.

With thanks for our fellowship in the faith,

Sam Norton

Vicar of Parkend and Viney Hill

Associate DDO and Vocations Advisor Diocese of Gloucester

Some theses about spirituality and ‘mental illness’

1. There are phenomena that people experience within their own mental life that are often life-denying at a minimum, life-destroying as a maximum. Please do not interpret anything else that I say here as in any way denying this first and most basic truth. My issue is all to do with a) how these phenomena are understood and b) how those who have to endure them are treated, both by ‘professionals’ and by wider society.

2. There is no such thing as ‘mental illness’. There are physical illnesses that have mental symptoms (eg Alzheimers). To describe the phenomena of thesis #1 as ‘mental illness’ is to wrongly apply a form of language (‘illness’ and ‘disease’) from one area of life to a different area of life. It is a category error, a philosophical mistake. That it is a mistake with a vast apparatus of the state and capitalist industry supporting it does not make it true.

3. The language of modern professional psychiatric care – as best summarised in the risible DSM (see this, which I think is brilliant) – is a perfect example of a Kuhnian paradigm which is overdue for being overthrown. In just the same way that the Copernican paradigm eventually couldn’t cope with all the epicycles that had to be introduced as a result of telescopic observations, we are not far from the time when contemporary psychiatric understandings will collapse under the weight of its own inadequacy and contradictions.

4. Pharmaceutical drugs do not work in terms of curing the phenomena of thesis #1. They do have benefit in terms of the placebo effect (which I do not see as trivial) and in terms of stabilising a volatile situation, ie they can suppress symptoms. Put simply they are a tool of social management. They do not heal people; at worst the side effects simply increase the phenomena of #1.

5. We cannot understand the phenomena of thesis #1 by looking at individuals in isolation but only as human beings embedded within a particular community and context. The phenomena of thesis #1 are inescapably social.

6. It is in the interests of the state that those who exhibit disorderly or otherwise unwelcome behaviour are pacified and controlled. Any full understanding of the phenomena of thesis #1 needs to have abandoned political naïvete.

7. It is in the interests of the pharmaceutical industry that there be new diagnoses of new forms of disorder, which thereby justify the creation of new drugs with new patents that form new income streams for those companies when old patents expire. Any full understanding of the phenomena of thesis #1 needs to have abandoned commercial naïvete.

8. The philosophical roots of contemporary psychiatric care lie in atheism and materialism – in other words, it proceeds on the assumption that there is no such thing as the soul.

to be with the freakshow

language of demons and angels

personal agency

human centred care

taking the soul seriously

it is possible that the greatest failure of Western churches in the twentieth century is that they have capitulated to the psycho-complex. If we are unable to cure souls, then what on earth is the point of us?

Clement quote about father nursing