Sunday, August 31, 2008

Taxpayers foot the bill to combat Islamic extremism

As the councillors in Tower Hamlets are allegedly being obliged to observe Ramadan whether they are Muslim or not, it appears that taxpayers are contributing to the propagation of a ‘moderate’ Islamic theology in the name of ‘fighting Muslim extremism’.

If this isn’t Jizya, Cranmer is not sure what is.

Jizya is the tax under Islamic law which non-Muslims have to pay in order to live their lives with a degree of autonomy and to practise their faith free from aggression.

Birmingham City Council spent £525,000 in the last financial year under the Government’s secrecy-shrouded Preventing Violent Extremism Pathfinder Fund (PVE). And now they are throwing another £2.4 million at the project, to be spread over the next three years. Since this augments the Council Tax, it is a manifest financial penalty upon each household in areas with significant Muslim populations in order to combat Islamist aggression.

While councils across the country have received PVE cash to help communities tackle extremism, there are concerns over how some local authorities are using the money. Birmingham City Council used the £525,000 to fund projects at 10 mosques in the city. Dr Mashuq Ally, the council’s ‘Head of Equality and Diversity’ (who asked taxpayers if they wanted to fund such Marxist pursuits?) said the projects ‘focused on young people, religious institutions, and women and media’. Among them was a scheme to teach imams English. Another was aimed at developing management structures in the mosques.

Surely these ‘management structures’ ought simply be educated to employ English-speaking imams in the first place. Why should the taxpayer subsidise importing Pakistani imams into UK mosques? It is not their lack of English that offends, but the particular brand of Islam that they preach. At least if they cannot speak English, the propagation of their message of hate is somewhat hindered.

Another programme involved the council funding Criminal Records Bureau checks on all teachers and staff working at the Islamic schools attached to the mosques. But since other schools are obliged to find this money themselves, this amounts to a taxpayer subsidy on unregulated madrassas. The people of Birmingham are unwittingly helping to educate the next generation of Muslims through faith schools which are not subject to Ofsted - the state’s inspection regime.

Among the mosques to receive funding is the Green Lane mosque in Small Heath, notorious for being featured on the Channel 4 Dispatches programme Undercover Mosque, the sequel of which broadcasts tomorrow. But in contravention of every guideline for the spending of taxpayers’ money, substantial funds are allocated with no accountability. While some may question how Dr Mashuq Ally, a Muslim, could lead on matters of equality and diversity, all ought to be concerned with his admission that ‘we commission work and pay for the cost for things to be delivered. We don’t go and tender out, the reason for that is that it can create divisions within communities’.

You see, this work is ‘highly specialised’ – too specialised for the kuffar to comprehend, and too specialised to merit obtaining at least two competing quotations to ensure good value for the taxpayer.

There is no doubt that some Muslims object to PVE because they think the programme stigmatises them, but there are an awful lot more non-Muslims who object to the fact that Muslim groups seem to be benefiting from the handouts while youth clubs, libraries and community centres have been closed down for lack of funds.

And when one considers the behaviour of the councillors in Tower Hamlets, one has to wonder whether local government is even capable of choosing appropriate Muslim partners for this kind of project. When the Government’s Communities and Local Government department was asked what checks, if any, are being carried out to ensure local authorities are allocating funding effectively to counter extremism, a spokeswoman said: "This funding is not being ring-fenced in this financial year, but is currently being paid through the Area Based Grant. This gives local authorities flexibility about how they used their resources.

"The Communities Secretary will be reviewing these arrangements at the end of the financial year 2008/09 and will consider at that point whether there are exceptional circumstances which would merit ring-fencing."

So the peace and safety of the realm is the hands of Hazel Blears. Isn’t that reassuring?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Alistair Darling: ‘People are pissed off with us’

This is the frank, if somewhat blunt assessment of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the view of the British people upon this Labour Government. And he is not wrong. But it is astonishingly candid, crude (despite ‘piss’ appearing in the Authorised Version of the Bible [2Kgs 18:27; Is 36:12]) and unparliamentary language from one of the holders of the great offices of state. If Cranmer were a betting man he would wager that Mr Darling’s tenure at the Treasury is about to be curtailed, not least because he rides roughshod over the Prime Minister’s assurance that the economic situation is not as bad people think and that Britain is ‘well placed’ to weather the economic storm. One of them is manifestly lying, or being recklessly deceitful.

And if Mr Darling has not gone by Christmas, the Prime Minister will have.

The essence of Mr Darling’s bleak assessment is that the UK is facing its ‘worst economic crisis in 60 years’. He therefore admits that Labour’s recession is about to be worse than anything seen under Margaret Thatcher or John Major. He told The Guardian that the economic downturn would be more ‘profound and long-lasting’ than most people had feared. And he acknowledged that voters were angry with Labour's handling of the economy, with house prices falling at their fastest rate in 18 years, and, according to one Bank of England economist, unemployment set to hit 2 million by Christmas.

This is indeed a New Labour ‘bust’ which Gordon Brown claimed to have eradicated from the Treasury’s lectionary. The economy is at zero growth, and building firms and retailers are making people redundant. And the Chancellor says he has ‘no idea’ how serious the credit crunch would become.

But ‘credit’ and ‘crunch’ are two easy words for any politician to spout. Yet they amount to people’s homes about to be repossessed. They are people’s jobs, children’s welfare, and families’ harmony. While this government is obsessed with figures and statistics, the real human cost lies in the redundancies, hardship, divorces, alcohol and drug dependency, alienated children, increased crime, and the interminable and inescapable cycle of social breakdown that this government has singularly failed to solve.

And Cranmer finds it interesting that this same credit crunch which had its origin in the United States leaves them with 3.3 per cent growth in the last quarter while the UK is at 0 per cent. It is one thing to blame others for one’s woes, but when the others are faring somewhat better, the blame must lie nearer home.

As the nation’s most vulnerable decide whether to heat their homes or eat this winter, the Chancellor might just consider that these are moral issues. God cares for the poor, the oppressed, and the underdogs in society. He pours his wrath upon those who corrupt justice or create economic machines designed to provide more wealth for the wealthy and deprive the poor. The story of Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21 establishes that authorities are not free to pursue any policy they please or to ride roughshod over the rights of the poor.

Northern Rock? 10p tax band? Increasing business taxes? The loss of Inland Revenue data discs? Soaring fuel costs?

There was a time when chancellors were man enough and possessed sufficient moral fibre to take responsibility and resign over such fiascos.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin for vice president – an inspirational choice

Cranmer is rapturous that Senator McCain has selected Sarah Palin to be his vice presidential candidate, no doubt swayed by the many effectual fervent prayers of the faithful. She is in her mid 40s and really quite beautiful. But it is not for her aesthetic qualities that Cranmer is delighted by the choice (though they help), but because this remarkable women manages to combine having a large family (five children – one with Down’s syndrome) with a successful career, first as Mayor and then as Governor. Her eldest is in the army, and her youngest is still mewling and puking. She can clearly multi-task, being adept at running Alaska, carrying a baby and bringing up a family simultaneously.

And Governor Palin is a Protestant Evangelical Christian. Moreover, she is strongly ‘pro-life’, not like the à la carte Catholic Joe Biden who supports abortion. It will be difficult for any ‘pro-choice’ group to attack her on this, not least because she lives every day with the very real difficulties of bringing up a Down’s child – a child which the vast majority of pro-choicers would have denied the right to life. And not only is she pro-life; she is pro-marriage, hunts, fishes, and enjoys dog sledding and drilling for oil.

While she has an undoubted reputation for reform - indeed, she has been called the American Thatcher - it cannot be ignored that the principal qualities she will bring to the Republican campaign are enhanced by her being a young woman of conviction. She is the very antithesis of the old man of relativity, Joe Biden.

A female Republican VP candidate is every bit as progressive as a the Democrats’ Afro-American presidential candidate. Both give a nod to the next generation, and both are the embodiment of change. She neutralises the Obama 'minority' narrative, and also neutralises his youth appeal. She is three years younger than Senator Obama but, unlike him, she has executive branch experience: she heads a highly successful state government and maintains personal approval ratings in excess of 80 per cent.

Cranmer is convinced that this will assure John McCain of victory in November. Not least because her candidacy rather trumps Senator Biden’s bid for the Catholic vote, the majority of which went to President Bush in 2004. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

‘Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life...

‘You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish...

‘The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation...

‘Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being...’

So how will Roman Catholics vote?

A few weeks ago, a survey across a broad spectrum of opinion revealed that, for the first time in US history, a majority were of the opinion that churches should stay out of politics. The results suggest a potentially significant shift among conservative voters in particular. In 2004, 30 per cent of conservatives said the church should stay out of politics while today 50 per cent of conservatives today express that view. Conservatives are now more in line with liberals when it comes to their views on mixing religion and politics.

And yet while there is a constitutional requirement for the separation of church and state, there is still a very significant contingent – made up largely of Roman Catholics and Evangelicals - who do not believe in the separation of faith and politics. And since, for the majority of these, the issue of abortion outweighs all others, it is most certain that they will now flock to the McCain-Palin ticket.

Barack who?

Ken Livingstone’s tacit support for Islamist terrorism

It was revealed earlier this week that Ken Livingstone is to work as a ‘consultant’ for Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The BBC noted that he has ‘long been a supporter of Mr Chávez’ and that he was ‘proud and honoured’ to become part of his team. No doubt the appointment of Mr Livingstone to the Venezuelan payroll is pay-back for the £12 million windfall President Chávez received from Mayor Boris Johnson as compensation for cancelling Mr Livingstone’s oil deal.

But this is not simply about a common anti-American, pro-Islamic, left-wing ideology on transport and tourism. Mayor Johnson is right that many Londoners were ‘uncomfortable’ with the deal, but he never really explained why.

It seems that Ken Livingstone is not the only one to enjoy ‘close ties’ with Venezuela; they are also enjoyed by the Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim terrorist organisation Hezbullah, which is reported to be building terror strongholds in the country. The LA Times says that experts on international terrorism fear that Venezuela will soon become a base for terrorist attack initiatives in light of the tightening of ties between the South American dictatorship and both Iran and Hezbullah.

Agents of Hezbullah and the Revolutionary Guard of Iran ‘have allegedly set up a special force to attempt to kidnap Jewish businesspeople in Latin America and spirit them away to Lebanon, according to the Western anti-terrorism official. Iranian and Hezbollah operatives traveling in and out of Venezuela have recruited Venezuelan informants working at the Caracas airport to gather intelligence on Jewish travelers as potential targets for abduction.’

The Bush administration, Israel and other governments worry with some justification that ‘Venezuela is emerging as a base for anti-US militant groups and spy services, including Hezbollah and its Iranian allies’.

‘Several joint Venezuelan-Iranian business operations have been set up in Venezuela, including tractor, cement and auto factories. In addition, the two countries have formed a $2-billion program to fund social projects in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America. Those deepening ties worry U.S. officials because Iranian spies around the world have been known to work with Hezbollah operatives, sometimes using Iranian embassies as cover, Western intelligence experts say.’

It is widely known that Iran has been involved in terrorist attacks in the region, not least on US and Israeli embassies, and that attempts are being made to undermine democracy. The terrorists raise money through cocaine-smuggling and are reported to send profits to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

But none of this is actually new, and it makes one wonder why Mr Livingstone is ‘proud and honoured’ to be associated with such a regime. President Chávez is known to make frequent visits to Syria and Iran, and one can tell much about a man from the company he keeps. Quite why he is content to facilitate the advent of Shari’a law into South America is unknown, unless they are simply united by the common enemies of the US, Israel and those who are allied with them. Perhaps Mr Livingstone considers an Islamic theocracy a small price to pay for the opportunity to undermine or eradicate everything he despises. And if he could not achieve his Marxist utopia in London, why not Caracas?

No true democrat and no politician with integrity could associate himself with those regimes which disseminate or lend support to the terrorist message that brings only chaos, death and untold misery to millions. Yet in associating with those who preach the Islamist message of hate, Ken Livingstone is simply being true to form. And since the people of London deserved better, and will undoubtedly feel more than ‘uncomfortable’ by these revelations, the hand of God might just have been on Mayor Johnson’s victory.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Obama - I Have A Dream

Senator Obama, the first African-American presidential nominee of a major US party, delivers his convention speech on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’. And people are comparing the two moments, persuaded, as they appear to be, that the senator is the best political orator in a generation. As he enters onstage, he is widely expected to walk on water. He will speak from an elaborate columned platform resembling a miniature Greek temple, and so the cult of Obamania shall be inaugurated.

Cranmer has been sent an advanced copy of the senator’s speech, which somewhat apes Dr King’s ‘dream’ theme. It is replete with political insight, spiritual conviction, economic strategy and foreign policy nous. It is a most impressive presidential bid, and one which will present Senator McCain with considerable challenges:

Friends, Americans, Countrymen.

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I'll cross the stream - I have a dream

I have a dream, a fantasy
To help me through reality
And my destination makes it worth the while
Pushing through the darkness still another mile
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I'll cross the stream - I have a dream
I'll cross the stream - I have a dream

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I'll cross the stream - I have a dream
I'll cross the stream - I have a dream

This is all one gets from Senator Obama - warm wishes and nice words. Doubtless he does believe in angels, and indeed that they help him cope with the slings and arrows of political fortune. But Cranmer is quite sure they will not be fixing the election for the Democrats, and he is equally sure that Senator Obama will not lead Americans to the Promised Land.

Senator Biden excommunicated

It all sounds so utterly mediaeval, but the Archbishop of Denver has indeed ‘warned’ Senator Joe Biden not to take communion. And at the same time the Archbishop of Washington has publicly rebuked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for ‘misstating church history’. She has also been reprimanded by Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, who said Ms Pelosi ‘stepped out of her political role and completely misrepresented the teaching of the Catholic Church in regard to abortion’.

While there are many who would assert that a ‘pro-choice Catholic’ is as oxymoronic as a ‘gay Muslim’ - notwithstanding that there are manifestly numerous adherents of both – the principal contention is that both Ms Pelosi and Senator Biden are waving their Roman Catholic credentials ‘in a bid for swing voters’.


Is that not precisely what politicians in representative democracies have to do? Does the process not demand that they be all things to all people? How otherwise do they ever secure a majority, win sufficient votes to form a government, or persuade people to coalesce around their ideological cause if they do not parade their singular characteristics and loosely-held convictions, however mutually exclusive and contradictory they may be? When Senator Obama introduced Joe Biden as his running mate, both men made a point of mentioning Senator Biden’s Catholicism. It is manifestly true that Senator Obama has struggled to win over Roman Catholics, 52 per cent of whom voted for President Bush in 2004.

But the problem seems to be one of politicians playing pope. It is one thing to acknowledge the official teaching of one’s church whilst demurring to it; it is quite another to state that one’s church has got it wrong. This appears to be Ms Pelosi’s sin. She has appealed to the role of individual conscience: "God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions," she said. But this has been countered by one theologian, who insists that Ms Pelosi’s conscience ‘must be formed by Catholic teaching and philosophical insights’: she may not articulate ‘a personal opinion’ that she ‘came up with randomly’.

The allegation is that Ms Pelosi ‘claimed to be an expert on the church’s abortion stance’. She said: “As an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And St. Augustine said at three months. We don’t know.”

She is talking of Augustine’s discourse on the ensoulment of the foetus, which is manifestly theological conjecture.

But Archbishop Donald Wuerl said the teaching has never changed: “The current teaching of the Catholic Church on human life and abortion is the same teaching as it was 2,000 years ago. From the beginning, the Catholic Church has respected the dignity of all human life from the moment of conception to natural death.”

Cranmer believes this to be something of an overstatement, and somewhat aggrandising the status of the Roman Catholic Church. An archbishop really ought to know that at the time when Jesus was appointing Peter as the first pope, the issue of abortion was not part of the doctrine of the Church, and neither was it an issue centuries later during the earliest ecumenical councils. And just because a doctrine may have been held 2000 years ago, it does not make it immutable. If that were the case, Roman Catholics would still be flat-earthers who believe that the sun revolves around the earth. Rome does not have an infallible canon of teaching going back 2000 years, not least because the doctrine of infallibility was only proclaimed in 1870.

So Ms Pelosi does have a point when she says that such issues have been a subject of dispute, and she simply rejects her church’s settled position on abortion. Senator Biden, despite insisting that he is a 'committed Catholic', also disagrees with the catechism, as evidenced by a 2006 interview during which he said: “That debate in our church has not morphed, but changed over a thousand years. It always is viewed by the church as something that is wrong, but there’s been gradations of whether it was wrong. You know, from venial or mortal sin, as we Catholics say, and versions of it.”

But this view has raised the ire of Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, who has previously expressed the opinion that neither John Kerry nor Rudy Giuliani should receive communion. He said of Senator Biden: “I presume that his integrity will lead him to refrain from presenting himself for communion, if he supports a false ‘right’ to abortion.” And of Ms Pelosi, he said she was ‘a gifted public servant of strong convictions and many professional skills. Regrettably, knowledge of Catholic history and teaching does not seem to be one of them’.

But, in the absence of a papal bull, Ms Pelosi is of the opinion that these excommunications are ‘regional’ (which is itself a challenge to her church's claim to catholicity). She said: “It depends on the bishop of a certain region and, fortunately for me, Communion has not been withheld and I’m a regular Communicant, so that would be a severe blow to me if that were the case.”

There appears to be more than a few American Catholics with Protestant attitudes. And, whilst disagreeing with both the senator and the House Speaker on the issue of abortion, Cranmer would like to encourage them in their assertion that their consciences are their own, and the sundry bishops and archbishops should leave the believer to answer to God. Whether or not someone is allowed to receive communion is between them and the Lord: it is for them to search their own hearts.

It is written that a man ought to examine himself before he eats the bread and drinks of the cup (1 Cor 11:28). The bishops’ intervention into the realm of the political is humiliating the politicians and using transubstantiation as a tool of democratic manipulation. Let him who is without sin withhold the first wafer.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cardinal criticises EU attitude to religion

Amidst the murmurings of a possible second referendum in the Irish Republic in order that the Irish people be given another opportunity to deliver the right answer, the Roman Catholic Primate of All-Ireland, Cardinal Séan Brady, has suggested that ‘EU hostility to religion may have prompted some Irish voters to reject the Lisbon Treaty’.

He is of the opinion that ‘a succession of anti-family, anti-life and other anti-Christian decisions by Brussels has made it more difficult for committed Christians to maintain their instinctive support for Europe in the Lisbon Referendum’, and he urges the EU ‘to review its pragmatic attitude that compromises essential human, moral and social values’.

He criticised the EU for ‘promoting secularism at the expense of the Christian heritage of the vast majority of its member states’ (vast majority? Is it not all?), and he warned that further progress along these lines will have ‘inevitable political and social consequences’.

He has called for the EU ‘to review its prevailing pragmatism that results in Christians being denied the right to intervene in public debates, or at least having their contribution dismissed as an attempt to protect unjustified privileges, such as the right to employ supporters of the Christian ethos of institutions like schools’.

He said the same might be said of controversies over stem cell research, the status of same sex unions, the primacy of the family based on marriage, and the culture of life. Complaining that Irish media are so secular, Dr Brady also warned that the founding ideals of the EU could not succeed unless public debate in Ireland reconsidered more strongly our traditional moral values.

And this has spurred the all-so secular Irish Times to respond, and it does so quite forcefully.

In an article entitled ‘Cardinal's EU critique points to a reluctance to play by rules’, Ronan McCrea refers to the Cardinal’s ‘alarming ignorance’, ‘serious misconceptions’, and his denial of the reality of pluralist democracy. Mr McCrea wonders why the Cardinal ‘finds it disturbing and offensive for the church to accept the criticism and duty to justify one's beliefs that is the lot of all other participants in public debate’. The rebuttal continues:

‘The cardinal complains that: "It has not been unknown . . . for individuals to have to defend their right to hold political, public or legislative office within EU institutions while professing a public commitment to their Christian faith, sometimes against very public and hostile challenge."

‘This is presumably a reference to Rocco Buttiglione, whose sexist and homophobic views, which Buttiglione ascribed to his Catholicism, made him unfit in the eyes of the European Parliament to be justice commissioner (a portfolio that includes anti-discrimination).

‘Assessing the opinions of appointees to powerful political offices is, however, really a rather unremarkable thing for a parliament to do. Those who held racist, sexist or other discriminatory views on bases other than religion would have been equally opposed by parliamentarians.

‘The cardinal has not made clear why religion should get a free pass in this regard and how political choice and accountability could be maintained if such a pass were given.

‘Cardinal Brady further suggested that to question the views and opinions of nominees for public office ended up with Christians "being denied the right to intervene in public debates or at least having their contribution dismissed as an attempt to protect unjustified privileges".

'There is a very big difference between being asked to justify one's views and being opposed by those who hold opposite beliefs on the one hand, and being denied the right to participate on the other. It is particularly strange for this accusation to be made in the context of the EU, which has set up a programme of structured dialogue specifically for religious organisations, in which the Catholic Church has taken a leading part. Other kinds of organisations have not had such special facilitation and have had to take their place amongst civil society in general.
Indeed the Lisbon Treaty has been criticised as granting too much privilege to religious bodies in this regard.

‘The cardinal also referred implicitly to a series of EU decisions that he felt contradicted the institutional, social and political aims of the church saying: "Successive decisions which have undermined the family based on marriage, the right to life from the moment of conception to natural death, the sacredness of the Sabbath, the right of Christian institutions to maintain and promote their ethos, including schools . . . have made it more difficult for committed Christians to maintain their instinctive commitment to the European project."

‘Here, the cardinal is simply wrong. The European Court of Justice has repeatedly upheld restrictions on Sunday trading as a cultural choice that member states are entitled to make. The EU has refused to require the introduction of abortion and the Citizenship Directive of 2004 did not require any member state to introduce gay marriage or civil unions.

‘Most strikingly, in directive 2000/78 the union actually granted exemptions to religious organisations in respect of anti-discrimination legislation, which it did not grant to any other organisations. The exemptions allow religious employers to require employees to adhere to their ethos even when it is discriminatory to do so.

‘More disturbing than his lack of information in relation to the union's approach to these matters is Cardinal Brady's instinctive opposition to the notion that religious bodies should have to account and argue for their beliefs and legal privileges in the same way as everybody else.

‘The EU has, in fact, granted religion a privileged position in public debate and EU law has in the area of employment given religious bodies exemptions and privileges that it has withheld from other organisations.

‘However, as a political organisation committed to democracy, the EU cannot exempt candidates for public office from being criticised or rejected on the basis of beliefs and opinions that may be religious in nature, but that may also affect the decisions they would make in office.

‘A democracy has a duty to make laws in the interests of all. As an entity whose population is religiously diverse, the EU cannot legislate purely on the basis of the theological convictions of a single faith without violating this duty. Furthermore, in democratic public life, individuals must account for their beliefs and will inevitably be criticised for them.

‘The Cardinal has effectively characterised the imposition on religious bodies of the duties to accept criticism and provide justifications for their political demands as tantamount to excluding religion from public life. Such a resistance to playing by the rules that govern the behaviour of all other organisations in political life would seem to indicate that the Catholic Church still has some way to go in reconciling itself with pluralist democracy.’

And yet Mr McCrea fails to explain (or acknowledge) the historical theological movement in Europe which has permitted such religious diversity to flourish. It is the duty of the EU to sustain the religious foundations of that liberty, not to subsume them to nebulous notions of neutrality under the pretext of equality in the name of fraternity.

If Christianity has provided the European Empire with its liberty and its concept of justice, it would be rash indeed to cease to legislate ‘purely on the basis of the theological convictions’ of that single faith.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Will David Miliband be the UK’s first atheist prime minister?

This was the question posed by AC Grayling, one of the foremost philosophers of the postmodern age, with The Guardian reasoning that ‘in this climate of quarrels between religionists and secularists, there are very many reasons to hope for a non-believer at No 10’.

And so Mr Grayling begins:

When Labour cabinet members were asked about their religious allegiances last December, following Tony Blair's official conversion to Roman Catholicism, it turned out that more than half of them are not believers. The least equivocal about their atheism were the health secretary, Alan Johnson, and foreign secretary David Miliband.

Cranmer could give the whole article a good fisking: it is begging for it. But there is something woefully inadequate about it that causes one to question whether Mr Grayling is even half the philosopher he is cracked up to be.

His first mistake is in taking Labour Cabinet members at their word. Would you believe anything they said? Would you have believed Tony Blair's protestations that he is a committed member of the Church of England? Or Gordon Brown on his Christian convictions? And if not, why would you believe David Miliband? He manifestly now has just one agenda, and that is to become prime minister. For that, he needs to be a figure of unity. And since religion divides, it must be eradicated.

And Mr Grayling considers this a good thing, because ‘Atheist leaders are not going to think they are getting messages from Beyond telling them to go to war. They will not cloak themselves in supernaturalistic justifications, as Blair came perilously close to doing when interviewed about the decision to invade Iraq.

Perilously close to doing? Why perilous? Is it not better to be subjecting one’s discernment to a higher moral worldview than to frame the world according to one’s own morality? Is it not better to be ‘getting messages from Beyond’ rather than getting them from the White House?

’Atheist leaders are going to be more sceptical about inculcating sectarian beliefs into small children ghettoised into publicly funded faith-based schools, risking social divisiveness and possible future conflict. They will be readier to learn Northern Ireland's bleak lesson in this regard.

This is such puerile reasoning that Mr Grayling appears to have reverted to GCSE philosophy. Like Dawkins, he is blind to the militant sectarianism of Atheism; ignorant of the force for good that true religion has always been (and Cranmer said true religion). Faith-based schools have historically worked in the UK, and they continue to surpass their ‘secular’ counterparts in exam results. Far from being socially divisive, the students who leave them are by and large forces for social cohesion and are frequently more respectful towards their fellow human beings and of authority and tradition.

Atheist leaders will, by definition, be neutral between the different religious pressure groups in society, and will have no temptation not to be even-handed because of an allegiance to the outlook of just one of those groups.

Neutral? Is Mr Grayling not familiar with Rawls for Dummies? There is an evident dilemma in seeking neutrality of political effect because intrinsic to the pursuit of any policy is the likelihood that it will have a detrimental effect on at least one conception of the good (not least the Church of England) to the manifest benefit of another. There are manifestly circumstances in which it is inappropriate to act neutrally, not least where there are not even prima facie reasons to be neutral. Indeed, Mr Grayling ought to consider that there is no neutrality to be had because neutrality needs as much justification as any other position.

Atheist leaders are more likely to take a literally down-to-earth view of the needs, interests and circumstances of people in the here and now, and will not be influenced by the belief that present sufferings and inequalities will be compensated in some posthumous dispensation. This is not a trivial point: for most of history those lower down the social ladder have been promised a perch at the top when dead, and kept quiet thereby. The claim that in an imperfect world one's hopes are better fixed on the afterlife than on hopes of earthly paradises is official church doctrine.

Actually, posthumous dispensation has been the most persuasive inspiration to good works in the history of mankind. Cranmer cannot see a Wilberforce or a Shaftesbury being ‘driven’ by Atheism. No, they were imbued with a divine and righteous anger which gave them a mission to pursue justice. Mr Grayling may be content to pour scorn on ‘official church doctrine’ but he then preaches the gospel of Marx, seemingly unable himself to learn the lessons of very recent history.

Atheist leaders will not be tempted to think they are the messenger of any good news from above, or the agent of any higher purpose on earth. Or at very least, they will not think this literally.

Really? Mr Grayling ought to try telling that to the millions who died in order that Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot could construct their earthly atheistic paradises. Atheists have been responsible for some of the most appalling barbarism in the history of the world, but it is convenient for Mr Grayling to ignore this. Of course, they were not the messengers of some ‘higher’ power, but the agents of their own conviction, and that propensity to unaccountable infallibility is far more dangerous indeed.

But then we come to Mr Grayling’s central thesis:

Best of all, if David Miliband becomes prime minister, the prospect of disestablishment of the Church of England will have come closer. This is a matter of importance, for two chief reasons. The first is that the CofE's privileged position gives other religious groups too much incentive to try sharp-elbowing their way into getting similar privileges, such as the ear of ministers, tax exemptions, public funding for their own sect's faith schools, and the big prize of seats in the legislature.

Secondly, the CofE has far too big a footprint in the public domain, out of all proportion to the actual numbers it represents: just 2% of the population go weekly to its churches. Yet it controls the primary school system - 80% of it - and a substantial proportion of the secondary school system, with dozens more academy schools soon due to fall under its control. It is entitled to have 26 bishops sitting in the House of Lords, plus a number more who have been made life peers on retiring; and it has the automatic ear of government - do not suppose that if Rowan Williams phones No 10 he is told no one is at home.

For all its faults, and they are legion, the Church of England embodies something of the psyche of the English people. It may be that 2% of the population attend, yet, according to the last census, 70% of the population acknowledge a cultural affinity with what it represents.

The genius of Anglicanism is that it seeks to reconcile opposed systems, rejecting them as exclusive systems, but showing that the principle for which each stands has its place within the total orbit of Christian truth. Beneath the surface is the feeling for the via media which is not in its essence compromise or an intellectual expedient but a quality of thinking, an approach in which elements usually regarded as mutually exclusive are seen to be in fact complementary. These things are held in living tension, not in order to walk the tightrope of compromise, but because they are seen to be mutually illuminating and to fertilise each other.

This is the ‘living tension’ which was first advocated by Hooker, who was opposed to absolutism in both church and state and an exponent of conciliar thought. This ensures that the laity, clergy and bishops all participate in guarding against autocracy in the state through a system of checks and balances that in many ways apes the parliamentary process. If authority is dispersed, spiritual tyranny is prevented. The similarities between the synodical and parliamentary procedures are unsurprising when both expressions of representative government have a common root in mediaeval political thought.

Notwithstanding this, Mr Grayling is persuaded that ‘Having a statedly atheist British prime minister makes it more likely that the functional secularity of British life and politics, the foregoing exceptions noted, will become actual secularity. Secularism means that matters of public policy and government are not under the influence, still less control, of sectarian religious interests. The phrase "separation of church and state" does not quite capture the sense in which a genuinely secular arrangement keeps religious voices on a par with all other non-governmental voices in the public square, and all the non-governmental players in the public square separate from the government itself. It means that churches and religious movements have to see themselves as civil society organisations like trades unions, political parties, the Scouts, and so on: with every right to exist, and to have their say, but as self-constituted interest groups no more entitled to a bigger share of the public pie of influence, privilege, tax handouts, and legal exemptions than any other self-appointed interest group.

Sadly, he is blinded to the religious nature of secularism, and the faith position of Atheism. Militant secularism is an inviolable political creed and Atheism itself seeks to propagate an absolutist worldview and infallible doctrine as repugnant as any it seeks to repudiate. Should David Miliband ever become prime minister, one might expect a peerage for Mr Grayling in order that he might focus on the elimination of the 26 bishops who sit in the House of Lords and the eradication of the Christian foundations of the nation and its constitution. And then he can spout his two-dimensional dogma and preach the gospel of Grayling to his heart’s content, while all the time, covertly and quietly, a far more militant and infinitely more dangerous spiritual power awaits its moment.

And if David Miliband's Atheism is the most laudable attribute that AC Grayling can proffer as commendation for the top job, God help us.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Gold medal winning countries in the 2008 Olympics by religion

For entertainment purposes only, Cranmer has analysed the Olympic medals table by each nation’s religious culture. He could have done it for the whole medals table, but by limiting it to Gold medals only, the ‘Best in the World’ is more evident. Cranmer wishes to emphasise that this has nothing to do with the expressed devotion of each athlete, and neither does it constitute any attempt to assess sporting achievement in proportion to sincerity of devotion: it is an analysis by the predominant religion of each country by cultural expression or expressed adherence.

The categorisation of each country was drawn mainly from on-line surveys, including information from Wikipedia, and is not therefore in any sense scientific. Cranmer has not subdivided Islam or Buddhism into their denominations, and Sikhism does not appear as a distinct faith, being subsumed to the dominant Hindu culture of India. Where there was a close 50/50 division in statistical data (which only occurred in two Christian nations), Cranmer generously and benevolently gave the benefit of the doubt to Rome. Where it was less close division, regrettably the lesser religion (by number, not merit!) had to give way to the greater.

Of course, statistics may be presented to show almost any desired outcome, but this table showing the number of gold medals per nation rather speaks for itself.

The Gold-medal-winning religions of the world are therefore:

Christian 210 (70% of the gold medals won by 33.06% of the world*)
Buddhist 68 (23% won by 12.24%)
Muslim 9 (3% won by 20.28%)
Shinto 9 (3% won by 0.04%)
Atheist 5 (1.6% by 14.27%)
Hindu 1 (0.3% by 13.33%)
*Worldwide percentage of adherents by religion courtesy of Wikipedia.

And of these:

Protestant 120 (57% of the 'Christian' gold medals won by 36% of Christians**)
Orthodox 46 (22% won by 11%)
Roman Catholic 44 (21% won by 53%)
**These are roughly estimated figures based on those given for denominational adherence found in The World Christian Encyclopedia.

Or, if readers and communicants prefer:

All of which goes to show the he who honours the Lord, He will honour.


His Grace is assured that tables which rank medals by Head of State have Her Majesty way ahead of Hu Jintau and George W Bush or any other professing ruler of any spiritual or temporal empire. So the Supreme Governor of the Church of England is also Supreme Governor of the World when it comes to Olympic gold medals.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

US Roman Catholics debate the relationship between abortion and politics.

Cranmer is a little pressed for time today, and reproduces this LA Times article in its entirety:

"Pope Benedict XVI has bestowed a key position on an American prelate who was the leader of a faction in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that believes Catholic voters should judge political candidates primarily by their views on abortion. With a presidential election looming, supporters of the separation of church and state can hope that the appointment of Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis as the head of the Vatican's supreme judicial body will defuse the controversy in the church about single-issue voting.

"Burke, an icon of conservative Catholics, is best known as the prelate who announced in 2004 that he would deny Holy Communion to Sen. John Kerry, then the Democratic presidential nominee, because he was pro-choice. Burke's insistence that voting for pro-choice policies is the equivalent of procuring an abortion, and thus disqualification for the sacraments, puts him at one pole of a debate within the U.S. hierarchy. Now in Rome, he reiterated this view this week in a magazine interview.

"At the other pole are churchmen such as Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles and Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, who has been savaged by conservative Catholics for refusing to bar pro-choice Catholics such as Kerry and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from the Communion rail. Asked how he would respond to Catholic politicians who support legalized abortion, Wuerl replied: "Teach. That is what Jesus did."

"Whatever the theological validity of Wuerl's approach, it is consistent with John F. Kennedy's description of the relationship between church and state in his historic address to Protestant ministers in Houston in 1960. Kennedy said: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the president -- should he be a Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote."

"The debate within the U.S. church over the relationship between abortion and politics extends beyond the issue of Holy Communion for pro-choice politicians. Some bishops believe that Catholic voters should impose an abortion litmus test when they go to the polls; others argue that abortion is only one issue among many, including whether a candidate embraces the church's opposition to capital punishment and racial discrimination.

"The struggle among bishops over this question has resulted in a compromise election guide for Catholic voters. It declares: "As Catholics, we are not single-issue voters. ... Yet a candidate's position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support." That prudent and nuanced view could become especially important if Barack Obama or John McCain chooses a pro-choice Catholic as a running mate. If that occurs, it will be helpful for all concerned if Burke is too busy at the Vatican to enter the fray."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama-Biden presents a dilemma for Roman Catholics

Senator Joe Biden, 65, has twice sought the White House himself. He has immense experience in defence and foreign policy — areas in which Senator Obama fares relatively poorly in the polls compared with Senator McCain – but he is a Roman Catholic with a long record of liberal voting, and a long-standing supporter of Roe v. Wade and a woman's ‘right to choose’.

His selection poses a major challenge for American Roman Catholics. A pro-abortion Catholic choice as a vice presidential candidate may offend and alienate very many Christians for whom the sanctity of life and the belief that life begins at conception are articles of faith.

The American bishops have made clear that Roman Catholic political leaders must defend the dignity of every human person, including the unborn. But Senator Biden's tenure in the United States Senate has been marked by steadfast support for legal abortion.

In 2004, John Kerry's support for abortion sparked a nationwide controversy over whether Roman Catholics who support legal abortion can receive Communion. The debate was re-activated in 2007 when several bishops criticised Rudy Guiliani, also a pro-abortion Roman Catholic.

The Obama campaign will now have the very considerable problem that everywhere Senator Biden campaigns, the media will be church-watching to see if he can find a priest who will permit him to receive the host. Whilst the private/public division has so far pertained - the notion that politicians can personally and privately oppose abortion whilst refusing to pass laws protecting the unborn - the increasingly widespread view is that this is a manifest hypocrisy.

Bishop Saltarelli, the senator’s own bishop, said: "No one today would accept this statement from any public servant: 'I am personally opposed to human slavery and racism but will not impose my personal conviction in the legislative arena.' Likewise, none of us should accept this statement from any public servant: "I am personally opposed to abortion but will not impose my personal conviction in the legislative arena’."

He has made it clear that pro-abortion Catholic politicians should refrain from receiving the Eucharist. He said: “The promotion of abortion by any Catholic is a grave and serious matter. Objectively, according to the constant teaching of the Scriptures and the Church, it would be more spiritually beneficial for such a person to refrain from receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. I ask Catholics in this position to have the integrity to respect the Eucharist, Catholic
teaching and the Catholic faithful."

The American bishops have instructed Roman Catholic voters to consider many issues, but have characterised the defence of human life as 'foundational' and have explained that the issue has a special claim on the conscience of the Catholic voter. This means that a political candidate like Senator Biden, because of his strong support for abortion rights, is unworthy of support despite his views on other issues like defence, health care and the economy.

And let us not pretend that this is only a problem for America’s Roman Catholics. The Evangelical contingent – the ‘Religious Right’ - in the United States is a hugely influential and highly vocal contingent. Senator Obama might just have handed the White House to Senator McCain (though Cranmer has never doubted that this will be the outcome of this contest). The choice may have given the world's leaders someone to phone at 3.00am, but the experience of the vice president ensures that it is he who will be on the other end of the line, undermining the president at every turn. Senator Biden does not plug the gaps in the Obama quest to become the most powerful political leader on the planet; he draws attention to them. And neither man will have the blessing the most powerful religious leader on the planet. If Senator McCain chooses his running mate wisely, it is he who will be annnointed.

Friday, August 22, 2008

UK Muslim demands shari’a-compliant sentence

Noreen Shah is a most devout Muslim. So devout, in fact, that she has falsely claimed more than £10,000 in benefits whilst having £20,000 safely stashed away under her mattress.

Having found her guilty of obtaining money by deception, the court was looking to impose a punishment in the form of a ‘high level community order’ (community service).

But Dacorum Magistrates Court’s bench, chaired by Sandra Caldwell, was informed that because of Mrs Shah’s religious beliefs, the proposed community order ‘could cause difficulties’ if she had to work alongside men. She was perfectly content to work in an all-female environment, but insisted that her faith forbade her to work alongside men.

So devout is she to the cause of Allah, that she could not be punished in the same manner as other British citizens. No, she had to retain her purity and modesty.

One wonders if she only extracted monies from female employees of the benefits agency, or permits herself to be served only by female employees of the post office.

Her defence lawyer, one Mr Bashir, informed the court that Mrs Shah is a pillar of Islam the community, and voluntarily works at the Watford Mosque to ‘further the children’s Islamic education’.

What a role model she must be.

This, he insisted, along with her ‘religious objections’ to community service, meant that his client deserves a conditional discharge.

But a report into her crime also recommended a curfew, yet the court was told that this was ‘not appropriate’ with the Muslim festival of Ramadan approaching.

Mr Bashir said there would be night-time activities in the local mosque that she would miss out on. And so devout is she, that to miss out on these revels would cause her irreparable spiritual damage.

A few professing Christians ought to try this one on the approach to Christmas: ‘You can’t put me in prison – it will ruin my enjoyment of the Turkey and I’ll miss the Dr Who special (not to mention the "night-time activities")’.

But the chairman of the bench was having none of this nonsense, and sentenced Mrs Shah to a 12-month community order with 120 hours unpaid work, and awarded prosecution costs of £550.

Does Mrs Shah not realise that in certain Islamic countries she could have lost a hand and even her life for the crime she committed? And here she is professing her absolute devotion to her god and insisting that British courts respect her pious hyper-sensitivities.

To his credit, Rashid Choudhrey, one of the trustees of the Watford Mosque, said that he knew nothing in the Islamic faith to prevent Mrs Shah carrying out unpaid work alongside men: “Islam does not forbid her. My understanding is that if you commit a crime, you take the punishment,” he said. “If you are that religious you should not commit the crime anyway. If you are that God fearing, why would you want to take money away from other people that need it?”

And on the curfew, he said that it would have been ‘an ideal sentence’ as Ramadan ‘like being on a curfew anyway’.

It is good to know that there are anti-dhimmi magistrates and mosque leaders who are prepared to dismiss this politically-correct and culturally-alien nonsense. That there is one law in England & Wales, and that all citizens are equal before the law, are cornerstones of the British Constitution. If Mrs Shah is not happy with this, Cranmer is happy to pay for her plane ticket to a land which she may find more culturally conducive to her demands.

Sarkozy: ‘Lisbon treaty would have helped in Georgia crisis’

They never miss a trick, do they? According to Le Président de la République, the Lisbon Treaty would have given the EU ‘the tools it needed to handle the Moscow-Tbilisi war’.

And what would these ‘tools’ have been, precisely?

Everything which HM Government denies is on the cards.

He specifically refers to the ‘High Representative for Foreign Affairs’, endowed with ‘a real European diplomatic service and considerable financial means in order to put decisions into force in coordination with member states’.

This is nothing short of a unified foreign policy, usurping those of national governments, permitting the Union to speak with one voice whilst muting the individual voices of each member state, irrespective of their unique issues of national security or foreign policy interests. According to President Sarkozy, the role of the ‘President of Europe’ in such circumstances would have been to act ‘in close consultation’ with heads of state.

That’s nice. The UK might be consulted by the President, but, rather like the Central Bank, national governments would be unable to make demands or assert any influence.

EU Observer notes: ‘This would very much put the President in the foreign policy field. It would also foresee a formal hierarchy among member states as it would give priority to those considered most affected. This kind of scenario has been predicted by some smaller member states who fear that the president would have an all-powerful role, reducing the say of certain governments, although the working principle of the bloc is that member states are equal.’

Well, in the EU, some are more equal than others, and thus it ever was.

The Treaty of Lisbon is the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom as a key player in international politics, and it constitutes a negation of the defence of its global interests. The British Empire forged links and secured interests throughout the world, and many of these are sustained through the British Commonwealth. It has been the mechanism by which parliamentary government, legal and financial systems, the English language and the Christian faith have spread throughout the world. While it has occasionally erred, British foreign policy has historically been a manifest force for good in the world. Yet it is to be subsumed to the nebulous and undefined ‘aims and objectives’ of the European Union.

And since most of the strategic interests of the UK are antithetical to those of the EU, one can only wonder at which nation the aims and objectives of the Union shall eventually find a high degree of synonymity.

Church petitions for Welsh Olympic team

As previously surmised, the forces of devolution are gathering apace and the church is complicit. The campaign for a Welsh team in the 2012 Olympic Games has been stepped up with the launch of a national petition to the Welsh Assembly.

Someone ought to tell the church in Wales that this is not a devolved competence, though there is no telling where the agitation might lead.

The petition is by one Dr Geraint Tudur, general secretary of the Union of Welsh Independent Chapels, who declares: ‘We call upon the National Assembly for Wales to ensure that a team from Wales competes in the 2012 Olympic Games, and every subsequent games thereafter.’

What is it with these Christians? Do they not realise that they are wasting their time in their preoccupation with leeks and thistles? Their citizenship is in heaven, and the Lord is not overly concerned with a liberation theology to address Welsh or Scottish subjugation.

Dr Tudur renewed the call for national representation on the world stage ‘following the Red Dragon banner ban in Beijing’ (Cranmer must have missed it). The Union of Welsh Independent Chapels has already asked the National Assembly Government to press on the IOC to allow Wales to compete as a nation in its own right in the London Olympics. "If you think that Wales has a right to exist as a nation on the world stage, I would urge you to sign this petition," said Dr Tudur. "The campaign to ensure that our athletes can compete under the Red Dragon in London begins here and now."

But the call may have less to do with Welsh patriotism than with the deep unease amongst chapel members about the loss of around £100m in grants to Welsh charities and societies due to the escalating cost of the 2012 games.

The petition runs until the end of October 2008, and Cranmer urges no-one to sign.

Do they not realise that if Wales were competing independently as a nation, it would presently be languishing somewhere around the 40th position? Scotland would be around the 20th position, but England would still be soaring.

And united, Team GB presently stands at third.

The Olympics vindicate the Union.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Noah’s flood and Labour's destruction

Given the atrocious summer weather, Cranmer has been sent this apt piece, without acknowledgement of the source. If it is an infringement of copyright, he would like the author to know that has more important things to think about:

In the year 2008, the Lord came unto Noah, who was now living in England, and said:

“Once again, the earth has become wicked and over-populated, and I see the end of all flesh before me. Build another Ark and save two of every living thing along with a few good humans.”

He gave Noah the blueprints, saying: "You have 6 months to build the Ark before the rains commence and they will last for 40 days and 40 nights."

Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his yard - but there was no Ark.

“Noah!” the Lord roared. “I'm about to start the rain! Where is the Ark?”

“Forgive me, Lord,” begged Noah, “but things have changed. I needed a building permit. I've been arguing with the inspector about the need for a sprinkler system. My neighbours claim that I've violated the local planning laws by building the Ark in my back yard and exceeding the height limitations. We had to go to Planning Appeal for a decision.

“Then the Department of Transport demanded advanced payment for the costs of moving power lines and other overhead obstructions, to clear the passage for the Ark's move to the sea. I told them that the sea would be coming to us, but they would hear nothing of it. Getting the wood was another problem. There's a ban on cutting down local trees in order to save the spotted owl. I tried to convince the environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the spotted owls - but no go!

“And when I started gathering the animals, an animal rights group sued me. They insisted that I was confining wild animals against their will and violating their rights. They argued the accommodation was too restrictive, and it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in a confined space. Then the Environment Agency ruled that I couldn't build the Ark until they'd conducted an impact study on your proposed flood.

“I'm still trying to resolve a complaint with the Human Rights Commission on how many minorities I'm supposed to hire for my building crew.

“Immigration is checking the nationality status of most of the people who want to work, insisting that I employ Poles and Romanians and no-one from the British Commonwealth.

“The trades unions say I can't use my sons. They insist I have to hire only Union workers with Ark-building experience.

“To make matters worse, HM Customs seized all my assets, claiming I'm trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species.

“So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least ten years for me to finish this Ark.”

And the Lord took pity upon Noah. The skies cleared, the sun began to shine, and a rainbow stretched across the sky. Noah looked up in wonder and asked, “You mean you're not going to destroy the world?”

'No,' said the Lord.

“New Labour beat me to it.’

Muslims in the Olympics

Possibly not since Eric Liddell refused to compete on the Sabbath in the 1924 Olympiad has there been such an overt expression of religious adherence at any Olympic Games. In Athens in 2004 Ruqaya Al Ghasara of Bahrain, a devout Muslim, was the first athlete ever to take part in an Olympics wearing a hijab. This year she won her heat of the women’s 200m sprint, despite being clothed head to foot.

One may baulk at a Muslim woman wearing a hijab (albeit sporty and streamlined) for reasons of modesty, whilst squeezing her muscular frame into skimpy, tight and revealing lycra. But Ms Al Ghasara is of the opinion that the Hijood (as it is known) has improved her performance.

'It’s great to finally have a high performance outfit that allows me to combine my need for modesty with a design made from breathable, moisture-controlled fabric,” she said. “It’s definitely helped me to improve my times being able to wear something so comfortable and I’m sure it will help me to give my best performance at Beijing. I hope that my wearing the hijood sports top will inspire other women to see that modesty or religious beliefs don’t have to be a barrier to participating in competitive sports.”

In 2004, Ms Al Ghasara defied objections from fundamentalists in her village to take part in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

This must be a case of ‘she who honours Allah, he will honour’.

Cranmer shall be doing analysis of the relative performances of the world’s main religions when the Games are over. Notwithstanding the superlative performance of Buddhist-dominated China, the culturally-Christian countries (Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox) are presently way ahead, and the Muslim lands are presently way behind.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1Cor 9:24-27).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Jewel of Medina - censored

First it was the publication of The Satanic Verses, a novel by Salman Rushdie, which resulted in a fatwa placed on the life of the author by the Ayatollah Khomeini. The fatwa resulted in at least one attempt on the life of Mr Rushdie, and the book consequently sold in its millions.

Things went relatively quiet for a while, mainly until the Danish cartoons about Mohammad which elicited threats of violence, then caused actual violence, and led to demands for censorship. The Danish cartoonist, not to mention the newspaper and its editor, have since become internationally known, and circulation is very healthy indeed

But now there is a novel by one Sherry Jones – The Jewel of Medina – about Mohammad’s relationship with his youngest wife Aisha, to whom he was betrothed while she was around the age of six, and whom he married when she was around the age of 11. It is somewhat racy, and Cranmer has read an excerpt which is certainly on the peripheries of literary pornography, but the Wall St Journal tells us that the publisher, Random House, abruptly called off publication of the book (someone should tell Amazon). ‘The series of events that torpedoed this novel are a window into how quickly fear stunts intelligent discourse about the Muslim world. Random House feared the book would become a new "Satanic Verses," the Salman Rushdie novel of 1988 that led to death threats, riots and the murder of the book's Japanese translator...’

But it was not any objection by radical Muslim clerics which have caused Random House to withdraw from the deal, but an American academic: ‘In April, looking for endorsements, Random House sent galleys to writers and scholars, including Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin. Ms. Jones put her on the list because she read Ms. Spellberg's book, "Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of 'A'isha Bint Abi Bakr.

‘But Ms. Spellberg wasn't a fan of Ms. Jones's book. On April 30, Shahed Amanullah, a guest lecturer in Ms. Spellberg's classes and the editor of a popular Muslim Web site, got a frantic call from her. "She was upset," Mr. Amanullah recalls. He says Ms. Spellberg told him the novel "made fun of Muslims and their history," and asked him to warn Muslims.

‘In an interview, Ms. Spellberg told me the novel is a "very ugly, stupid piece of work." The novel, for example, includes a scene on the night when Muhammad consummated his marriage with Aisha: "the pain of consummation soon melted away. Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion's sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life." Says Ms. Spellberg: "I walked through a metal detector to see 'Last Temptation of Christ,'" the controversial 1980s film adaptation of a novel that depicted a relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. "I don't have a problem with historical fiction. I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history. You can't play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography."’

It then seems that the Islamic blogosphere swung into action, for the very next day a blogger known as Shahid Pradhan posted on a Web site for Shi’ite Muslims – ‘Hussaini Youth’ - under a headline, ‘upcoming book, “Jewel of Medina”: A new attempt to slander the Prophet of Islam’.

This was swiftly followed by a seven-point strategy to ensure ‘the writer withdraws this book from the stores and apologise all the Muslims across the world’.

And so Random House has done, to its great shame, and to the dishonour of the founding principles of the Constitution of the United States of America.

There is manifestly no freedom of speech or freedom of expression where Islam is concerned: there is a de facto unwritten blasphemy law in operation throughout the Western world.

But if this is the response to a positive portrayal of Mohammed’s love life, what would be the response to the story of his other wives and concubines, especially those of Jewish heritage? What would be the response to the telling of the tales of systematic genocide, beheadings, barbarism and butchery; to the stories of children raped and sold off into slavery; to the gang rape of wives and daughters; to the looting and destruction of property; to the forced conversions on pain of death?

It is all in the Qur’an.

Cranmer awaits the film. The response to ‘The Life of Brian’ will seem like a comparative walk in the park. The distributors would not need to spend a penny on marketing or promotion, for the news would spread like wildfire. It would be a marketing strategy to die for.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Team GB? What of Northern Ireland?

As David Cameron moves to ‘normalise’ the politics of Northern Ireland by absorbing the UUP, it is curious that no-one has sought to normalise the nomenclature of British athletes in Beijing, or to assert that the Olympic team represents the nation state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and that ‘Team GB’ is affront to the loyal British people of Northern Ireland, of which there are very many indeed.

According to Reuters, the Prime Minister is hailing the most excellent performance of the UK in the Olympics. He is, of course, doing no such thing. The UK does not feature as a nation in any Olympics literature or performance table, being referred to only as Great Britain or ‘Team GB’. This is curious, given that the official name of the team under the IOC is ‘Great Britain and Northern Ireland’. In addition, the national Olympic committee is the ‘British Olympic Association’, thereby incorporating Northern Ireland, and the national anthem played after each resounding success is that of the United Kingdom – God Save the Queen (with no dispensation for atheists or republicans).

There is no political entity called Great Britain. Within the UK may be found the entities of Scotland, England (,/&) Wales, and Northern Ireland, but ‘Great Britain’ is only part of the UK, and just one of the isles from which members of ‘Team GB’ hail.

In Barcelona and Atlanta, British competitors were always announced as 'representing Great Britain and Northern Ireland'. There seems to have been a change, doubtless to pacify the sensitivities of the Irish, and all mentions of Northern Ireland have disappeared. Interestingly, the official announcement in French for the ‘Team GB’ cycling sprint gold medal was ‘Royaume-Uni’, but possibly only because the French refuse to refer to the island across La Manche as ‘Great’.

According to the International Olympic Committee's existing charter, ‘the Olympic Council of Ireland represents the whole island of Ireland.’ Apparently, it was former Irish IOC member and IOC president Lord Killanin who ensured that the OCI was responsible for all 32 counties on the island of Ireland. The OCI charter giving it full responsibility for all of Ireland ‘was agreed by former IOC president Avery Brundage and then re-enforced by Killanin when he became president’.

Attempts by the BOA to change their charter with the IOC to include the words Northern Ireland have not succeeded. So the OCI sends a team representing Ireland and the BOA sends one representing GB.

Doubtless to the delight of Sinn Féin, Olympic sports are organised on an all Ireland basis. While Northern Ireland athletes can compete for either team, they generally go with the Irish teams as inclusion is less competitive. Thus there are distinct and separate Ireland and GB teams: Ireland uses the tricolour and national anthem of the Republic, and GB flies the Union flag and sings the national anthem of the UK.

Of course, most of ‘Britain’s’ sporting success in Beijing is really that of the English, but one dare not mention that. While the Scottish media hail the occasional medal for the occasional Scot* as a great and victorious triumph for Scotland, when the English win, it is never for 'Harry, England and St George', but for for Britain and the British.

One wonders if by 2012 ‘Team GB’ will exist at all, or will that be the year of the first Olympiad with teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England? Might it just possibly be the year we bid farewell to Great Britain?

*Not at all to detract from truly Olympian accomplishment of Chris Hoy.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Oath of Allegiance and the Crown-in-Parliament

As thousands begin to have their homes repossessed or lose their jobs; as the ‘credit crunch’ bites and interest rates rise in the economic downturn; as teenagers are stabbed to death on an almost weekly basis; as women are raped, children abused, and the elderly prepare to freeze to death over the coming winter, it seems that 22 MPs have chosen to dedicate their time and effort to demanding repeal of the oath they are obliged to swear in order to sit in Parliament – a declaration which has been sworn by those joining or returning to Parliament for more than 500 years.

Shame on them. And shame in particular upon the professing Conservative, Peter Bottomley, whose name appears among the sundry second-rate Socialists and irrelevant Liberal Democrats, thereby permitting the proposal to be labelled ‘cross-party’. Loyalty to the Crown must be the very least one might expect from a Tory, and the appearance of the name of a professing Conservative on this motion serves to remind us that there are traitors in our midst.

The wording of the oath has been much amended over the centuries, but currently reads: 'I swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.' Atheists are allowed to replace ‘Almighty God’ by saying that they 'solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm' their allegiance.

The campaign group Republic is planning a legal challenge, saying the current rules ‘discriminate against Catholics, Muslims, Sikhs and members of other religions who object to swearing allegiance to the head of the Church of England.’ It also breaches the human rights of those who have 'firmly held beliefs' against the monarchy. Republic spokesman Graham Smith says: 'It is vital we challenge these offensive and discriminatory oaths of allegiance. They are completely out of date.'

The moment words like ‘offensive’, ‘outdated’ and ‘discriminatory’ appear, and appeal is made on the grounds of ‘human rights’, it is inevitable that the EU will be the final court of appeal. But Cranmer is yet to hear from any British ‘Catholics, Muslims, Sikhs’ (has Republic discriminated against Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Jedi Knights?) who have a problem taking this oath.

And where does such reasoning end? The next step will be a demand for an alternative national anthem, for how can atheists or republicans stand and sing ‘God save the Queen’?

But Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, who is spearheading the campaign, asserts that this ‘is a matter of democracy’. He says, ‘I'm put here by my constituents and it's to them I owe my allegiance. Taking the oath to an unelected person is a nonsense.'

Yet Norman Baker and the other 21 MPs, not to mention most of the media, have got it quite wrong. This is not an oath which demands allegiance to an ‘unelected person’ - the Queen – an individual, but to the Crown – an institution which is the embodiment of British State, the Constitution and the Rule of Law. It has been the means by which all those who have sought to subvert the state and assassinate the Monarch (quite literally) have been kept out of Westminster. As terrorists like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness refused to swear the oath of allegiance to the Crown, they were legitimately barred from taking their seats at Westminster. To abolish the oath, or, as Mr Bottomley would have it, to make it optional, would be the end of the Crown-in-Parliament, and would lead inexorably to the end of Constitutional Monarchy.

The tensions between Crown and Parliament appear to surface every few centuries or so, and the Constitution adapts to accommodate the latest demands. The oath of allegiance has historically been sworn by MPs, judges, church leaders, the military and police officers, but now it is deemed to breach ‘human rights’. Instead, the Commons and the Lords should be permitted to swear allegiance to their 'constituents and the nation'.

It is difficult to believe that the very bodies which are ignoring the oath made by Her Majesty to Almighty God to govern her people ‘according to their laws and customs’, and which are denying their constituents a referendum on the EU Constitution, have any regard at all for either their constituents or their nation. The Sovereign is apolitical, unpartisan, and the embodiment of the sovereignty of the nation, for she is the ultimate defender of the rights and liberties of the people, in whom sovereignty ultimately resides.

Those MPs who have a problem with the oath understand little of history, less of the Constitution, and nothing of the political philosophy of sovereignty. The oath is not a mere form of words to subject the Commons to the Monarch, but it serves to remind those who govern us that they are themselves accountable not merely every four or five years to their constituents, but daily to the Crown and to Almighty God. The oath constitutes one of the precarious checks and balances in the exercise of power, and serves to mitigate against the ‘elective dictatorship’ which would otherwise be absolutely omnipotent for its term of office.

But this is not the first time the complex relationship between the Crown and Parliament has been scrutinised in the context of the EUs ‘Charter of Human Rights’. The Act of Settlement has been subject to objection for violations on the grounds of its ‘anti-Catholic’ provisions, and is now ‘subject to the Commission’s tolerance’ - i.e. it can stand for the present, but is under review.

It is kind and benevolent indeed for our masters in Brussels to tolerate the British Constitution.

All of these developments fly in the face of the Queen’s promise ‘to maintain to the utmost of (her) power the Laws of God, the true profession of the Gospel and the Protestant Reformed religion established by law’, and her added assurance, with Bible in hand: ‘The things I have here before promised I will perform and keep. So help me God.’ In swearing this, she committed herself and the Crown-in-Parliament to uphold the supremacy of Scripture. Thus every Member of Parliament swearing their Oath of Allegiance, while not being constrained in their individual conscience to profess the Christian faith, is certainly declaring their commitment to defend biblical Christianity. Allegiance to the Crown must, at the very least, demand a defence of the oaths and promises the Monarch makes to his or her subjects, for, unlike other European nations with monarchies, the British Throne is not merely a symbol of popularity or an ingredient of constitutional ceremony with minor political functions, but the maintaining legal foundation of biblical Christianity.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Wars and rumours of wars

Cranmer returns to once again warmly embrace his readers and communicants. But he finds that the world has descended into chaos. There are not only wars and rumours of wars, but the United Kingdom is presently a very respectable third in the Olympics medals table, and David Cameron has become a world class statesman. Some things have remained constant – the Prince of Wales has prophesied a genetically-modified apocalypse, and the Archbishop of Canterbury has been vilified for saying that homosexual partnerships are ‘comparable to marriage’. Well, of course they are. Dr Williams is comparable to a fruit fly, sharing with it, as he does, 95 per cent of his DNA. And Cranmer is comparable to The Ashes, for he even plays in opposite hemispheres. One can compare any two entities - and even nonentities (let us not forget the Prime Minister) - and the process of comparing and contrasting will yield a myriad of similarities and differences. And yet the poor Archbishop is not able to say anything at all these days without it being warped by the media or misrepresented by those vultures which are salivating at the thought of picking over the bones of the Church of England (even as they are doing over those of poor Cardinal Newman). Yet still there is no carcase, and the decidedly un-political Dr Williams may yet be shown to have pulled off a distinctly diplomatic if not political triumph, and no-one really cares any longer for the theology.

Cranmer could talk much of his repose, but he shall not. Except to say that so many English travellers today seem to keep busy by doing as much as possible, but they enjoy and understand so little. The point of travel is to observe and experience foreign sensations which both nourish and refresh: they are to be enjoyed in and of themselves. And as the repose is celebrated in a way that is impossible in busy, frantic England, it is possible that one might even say High Mass for a third bottle of burgundy.

Jet-lag permitting, Cranmer looks forward to bringing once again his daily devotions, and he thanks his readers and communicants for playing so nicely while he was away.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Cranmer’s Pulpit No XIII

July was a record month for Cranmer, with 27,791 unique visitors and 30,457 page views. He thanks his readers and communicants for their faithfulness and loyalty. His Grace has been blogging continuously since he was resurrected in April in the year of Our Lord 2006, since which time he has racked up over half a million hits from 192 nations across seven continents of the world. Ashes do not ordinarily require periods of recuperation or repose, but, in truth, His Grace is weary, and he must seek the tranquillity of a quiescent state. His spirit is willing, but his ash is weak.

In the stillness of the coming days, he shall lie down and rest in order to prayerfully reflect upon his future, and what form, if any, this might take. Having no corporeal state, he shall not be indulging in the pleasures of the flesh, but considering spiritual and material ways and means.

In the meantime, in perpetual commemoration of the spiritual liberation afforded by his own pulpit experience with the Provost of Eton, Dr Henry Cole, His Grace is pleased to offer this ‘Cranmer’s Pulpit’ to his communicants for the raising of whatever religio-political or politico-religious concerns they do so wish (intelligently and eruditely, of course).

He would also like to point out that that next month sees the publication of the 2008-9 Guide to Political Blogging in the UK. Cranmer cannot compete with the big beasts and never intended to. Blogging is their full-time occupation and principal means of remuneration. And neither will he compete with the likes of Sky who are offering free pornography to those who vote for its own political blog. Such manipulative strategies undermine the integrity of Mr Dale's blogging lists, which are already subject to a certain subjectivity and bias.

If readers or communicants wish to vote, they are encouraged to send their Top 10 political blogs to, by Friday August 15th. The conditions of entry are here.

Cranmer’s own top political blogs are essentially his regular reads, which are listed on the right alphabetically.

He wishes his readers and communicants well over these coming weeks, and humbly seeks your prayers and intercessions as he communes with himself and the Lord, contending with the world, the flesh ash and the devil.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Cardinal Kasper: Rome’s recognition of Anglican orders is ‘definitively blocked’

This is curious, because Cranmer thought the matter had been dealt with definitively in the Bull Apostolicae Curae issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1896. He declared in no uncertain terms that ordinations conducted with the Anglican rite introduced by Cranmer in 1550, which replaced the medieval rituals which had thereunto been used in England, are ‘absolutely null and utterly void’. And he implored those who sought orders to return to Rome where they would find ‘the true aids for salvation’.

If Anglican orders were null and void in 1896, they must still be so today, so Cranmer is a little puzzled as to why the Cardinal mentioned this at all. Indeed, the ‘absolutely’ and ‘utterly’ did not even leave room for much ARCIC debate on the matter.

But, unlike the abruptness of Pope Leo XIII, or the downright rudeness of Cardinal Dias, Cardinal Kasper assured the Anglican bishops that he was addressing them ‘as a friend’, and he wished to speak with ‘the frankness which friendship allows’.

And so, in the spirit of Lumen Gentium, he praised ‘the great and wonderful Anglican cathedrals and churches the world over’, along with ‘the old and famous Colleges in Oxford and Cambridge’; and he spoke in admiration of the ‘marvellous Evensongs’ and ‘the beauty and eloquence of Anglican prayers’; and then he turned to Cranmer (though he did not mention him by name), and expressed his deepest appreciation of the ‘fine scholarship of Anglican historians and theologians’.

Or perhaps he was referring to Newman, for he expressed the hope that there might emerge in the Anglicanism of today a new Oxford Movement - the movement of return to the tradition of the Apostolic Church inspired by Cardinal Newman.

And he expressed this hope along with his exhortation for the Anglican Communion to remain united – each province in communion with the other. Yet the two aspirations may now be absolutely and utterly mutually exclusive, and one wonders why the Cardinal does not see this. He said: “...the ordination of women to the episcopate effectively and definitively blocks a possible recognition of Anglican Orders by the Catholic Church.” And since there are so many traditionalists within the Anglican Communion who accord with this, it is difficult to ignore the subtle but evident allusion to the call of Pope Leo XIII that they should return to Rome where they would find ‘the true aids for salvation’.

Let us not forget that the Cardinal is the head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. For him, all ecumenical roads lead to Rome. So Cranmer wonders if he may address His Eminence also as a friend, for he wishes to speak also with the frankness which friendship allows.

His Eminence referred to ‘anthropological and biblical hermeneutical questions which need to be addressed’, but chose to focus on the relatively peripheral issues of gender and sexuality.

Cranmer would like to graciously and humbly bring to his attention the recent (though by no means revelatory) observations of the Bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Australia. While the principal differences between the Roman Church and the Anglican Church have seemingly been reduced to the possession of a penis in the pulpit, or what two consenting men do with their penises behind the pulpit, Bishop Robert Forsyth went on the offensive. He said to the Pope that there indeed remained ‘very great and significant differences’ between the Anglican and Catholic churches, ‘including, if I may say so, even your very office.’

The bishop said he had been inspired by the Pope's exhortation for Christians to see one another as brothers. And he was joined in this protest by the Dean of Sydney Cathedral, the Reverend Phillip Jensen, brother of Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen, who refused to meet the Pope during his visit because ‘there is nothing in modern Roman Catholicism that reduces our need to protest’.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald , he objected to ‘Roman Catholic claims to authority’ and ‘the enormity of the claims of the Roman Catholic Church’, referring specifically to Papal infallibility and the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. He wrote: ‘We object to the Pope claiming to be the Vicar of Christ. We reject all claims to authority that imply the insufficiency of Scripture. We reject any implication that Jesus’ work on the cross was insufficient, or requires some other mediator.’

In answer to these claims and more, the Dean of Sydney Cathedral quotes from the 39 Articles: ‘The Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith’.

It is heartening indeed to hear that there are still Protestants in the Anglican Communion. And, in a true spirit of ecumenism and friendship, Cranmer hopes that Cardinal Kasper or Pope Benedict will extend an invitation to the Dean to address their next gathering (should they occasion to hold one) when he might be able put an ‘Anglican position’ on their deliberations, with all the frankness which friendship, of course, allows.
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