Saturday, April 04, 2009

Sex, violence, and the trouble with Islam

Exactly a year ago, the man 'tipped to be the next Archbishop of Westminster' gave an interview to The Times, with the above title. It gives an insight into the religio-political thoughts of the man who is now the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales - one of the most important dioceses in the entire Catholic world. Cranmer reproduces it in full:

On Wednesday afternoon in Birmingham a young Muslim woman found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The doors of St Chad’s Cathedral opened and hundreds of men surged out, their yellow robes flapping in the sunshine. She, in black robes, glanced back, alarmed, and broke into a run.

She had better keep running. Last out was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, agitator-in-chief and hot tip to be the Church’s next leader in Britain. He had just blessed the priests of his diocese, urging them to fight a culture that he said was becoming “aggressively antireligious”.

Name a controversy where politics and religion meet and invariably the Archbishop’s name pops up. Faith schools? It was he who forced the Government to back down on admissions quotas. Gay adoption? His views made him the liberals’ punchbag.

So why, we asked as we met after the service, did he think that Britain had become so antireligious? He thought for a moment and his gentle Liverpudlian accent at first beguiled us to the strength of his opinions. It turns out that it is the Muslims’ fault, because the unease the West has with them gives other faiths a bad name.

“The acts of terrorism have shaken people’s perception of the presence of faiths in this country and around the world and I just wish there was a bit more differentiation in the reflection about the role of faiths in society.”

Some politicians jumbled all faiths into one. “Sometimes the anxieties that are expressed around faith schools are actually to do with Islamic schools. And when you press a politician they say, ‘Well of course we don’t mean Catholic schools and we don’t mean Church of England schools’, but they still hesitate to move away from the umbrella phrase of faith schools.

“Then there are others who relish this opportunity to say, with aggression, religious faith is a corruption of human nature and we would be better off without it.”

The Archbishop thinks that Islamic schools must integrate into the state system. He explains with a provocative thesis on life in Britain today.

“The deep roots of our contemporary secular culture lie in Christianity and there is, in Christianity, an instinctive understanding about the notion of the rights of the human person.

“There is now a clear understanding that politically democracy is the best way of organising the use of power in this society. There is, devolved from Christianity, a notion of justice and courts, of the police and supervision of society, of hospitals and of education.

“All of these things come, if you like, from the root of the Christian heritage of Europe and of this country. But Islam is a newcomer and therefore the whole process of welcoming and integrating and understanding needs to be far more explicit and far more open and far more measured. At the same time, society without its roots will lose some of those qualities.”

Did he believe that Islam threatened those deep roots? “I think it remains to be seen.”

Phew! This bishop is not afraid of controversy, and in Birmingham, too, with its large Muslim population. “There are real signs, I believe, certainly through the central mosque [in Birmingham], of Islam trying to understand what it means to live out of an Islamic society and in a secular, multi-faith society. That is a long process.”

Put in the context of the riots provoked when the Pope cited a Byzantine emperor’s belief that Islam was evil, it is hard to gauge his intentions. Is he naive? Or braver than politicians who preach the benefits of multiculturalism without admitting its problems?

He is no stranger to politics. He was one of the bishops behind a Catholic preelection manifesto in 1996 that, with its emphasis on social justice and minimum wage, was interpreted as backing Tony Blair. So did Labour deliver? The Church had no political allegiance, the Archbishop said. But “. . . it seems to me it is very difficult to hold together an agenda which is based on a coalition of special interest groups. There is a need in political life to dig deeper and find the foundations, aspirations and values. My sense is that broad fundamental platform, with its moral values, had been neglected.” That sounded like a “no” to us, but he had not finished. “To me, one of the most remarkable features of the last ten years is the number of new criminal offences that have been created. I read somewhere that we are talking over 700 new offences. Now that speaks to me of a moral vacuum.

“If you’re trying to replace some shared moral values, a sense of conscience is something that pulls us together. If you try to replace that with legislation, you run the risk of not building on a strong foundation.”

He elegantly declined our invitation to back David Cameron, but suggested that the Tory leader might be on the right track. “Some of the Conservative Party’s thinking about the family, about the responsibility of parents, about how we build a community and all the pressures that a family is under have to be responded to.”

When he was a boy he wanted to be a long-distance lorry driver, but as a teenager he started to have private, unwanted, urges to become a priest. “I’d gone to watch Liverpool and stand on the Kop at Anfield, and say to God, ‘Why don’t you just leave me alone? Why can’t I just be one of a crowd?’ ” We asked if this gave him any insight into the isolation felt by teenagers wondering whether they were gay. He didn’t take offence. “I think there must be some similarities, yeah.”

But he added that when he confided in a priest he was told that he had a choice. “It’s my understanding that somebody who grows into an awareness of their sexual orientation doesn’t have a choice,” he said.

This idea of gay men being born not made is refreshingly modern, especially after he struggles through a tortuous defence of the Church’s position on gay adoption: that if, in extraordinary circumstances, it is better for a child to be in a single-sex household, it would prefer the child to be brought up by a single parent, gay or not, rather than a gay couple.

He said that he had no regrets about the celibate life. Yet he sells God — and there is no other way of putting this — by making him hot. As he had told the congregation that day: “The Almightly awaits our ‘Yes’ just as much as a young bridegroom awaits the yes of his bride . . . He longs to draw us to Himself.” They should “be filled” by God, “with the recklessness of lovers”.

Steamy stuff. The Archbishop insists that faith should be physically passionate. “Why not? The crucifix is pretty physical, a physical expression of love. In that sense religion is not so abstract. It’s maybe not physical in a genital way, but sex is more than intercourse, it’s the whole thing that says we two belong to each other.”

He worked with Cardinal Basil Hume for many years. “He was actually a very good politician. He knew when to keep quiet. I’m not always sure I’ve learnt that yet.”

Would he like to be Pope? He laughed. “No thank you!” Would he like to follow Cardinal Hume to become Archbishop of Westminster? “No thank you!” But what if he were asked? “That’s a different question. I do what I’m asked.”

Heaven may not be stuffed with politicians, but Cardinal Hume, looking down, would be proud.


Anonymous Maturecheese said...

Your Grace,

I'm CofE but glad to see a Christian church leader with a strong sense of leadership. I hope he takes on the political leadership of this country over the issue of Islam. This is a Christian country, built on Christian ethics and Islam must always come second to it here. This is a message that needs hammering home and I wish the Archbishop of Birmingham all the best in his endeavours.

4 April 2009 at 12:16  
Anonymous Hank Petram said...

“Render under Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God that which is God’s.” That idea is anathema to Islam, I read somewhere not long ago. I don’t remember who said it; it wasn’t Archbishop Nichols, but what he says in this interview amounts to the same thing, expressed more politely.

4 April 2009 at 12:45  
Blogger John Maszka said...


I'm doing research on terrorism, and I've put together a pre-survey questionnaire that I'm circulating in order to get feedback on what a non-biased (non-western, non-white) survey might look like. The final survey will go out later this year.

The survey can be accessed at

Would you post it, and possibly circulate it? I’m very interested in incorporating the views of women, non-whites, and people living outside of America and Western Europe.

I'd appreciate it.

Take care,

John Maszka

4 April 2009 at 12:55  
Anonymous len said...

Forget Islam,
I have recently heard that 75% of children brought up in a christian home will loose their faith during the first year of attending university.
The reason? They are taught evolution!
Their tutors apparently regard these christians with scorn, call them idiots, and say they will knock christianity out of them! The enemy within the gates is far more dangerous than the enemy outside!

4 April 2009 at 14:30  
Blogger Gnostic said...

The Archbishop sounds like a decent bloke. I hope he continues to lead his flock with such conviction.

4 April 2009 at 18:02  
Anonymous Joshua said...

I enjoyed Cranmer. I have been out all day and have no energy to interact, but much appreciated.

4 April 2009 at 20:00  
Anonymous Preacher said...

Len, don't listen to the foolish boasts of men, who are only wise in their own eyes & have learned to believe a lie. Shame on them. Tell the kids the truth, be bold, there's nothing that compares with a proffesor or tutor having to climb down & admit He/She is wrong in front of their students, (although I don't think most would be honest enough to do so!)& admit that there is a Creator God & Jesus is Lord. Now that takes COURAGE.

5 April 2009 at 02:14  
Blogger IftikharA said...

The demand for state funded Muslim school is in accordance with the law of the land. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school. Let native teachers educate their children their values and let the Muslim teachers teach their values to their children.

According to a study, Uk has the highest level of teenage binge drinking, drunkeness,unprotected sex among girls aged 15 and 16 and alcohal-related problems in Europe.

Muslim schools are not divisive, they develop a strong sense of identity, self-esteem and sel-confidence. Muslim schools are preparing children to face the challenges of life in modern Britain and to also contribute in positive way to wider society. They are promoting tolerance and support the spiritual, moral, social, linguistic and cultural development of pupils. Muslim schools continue to improve in their GCSE results. For the third consecutive year, Muslim schools advanced on their previous results and surpassed the national average. All Muslim schools are oversubscribed. In state schools, Muslim children are victim of racism and bullying. According to DCSF, 56% of Pakistani and 54% of Bangladeshi children has beern victim of bullies.

In the 60s and 70s, Muslim parents were happy to send their children to state schools, thinking their children would get a much better education than back home. Then little by little, the overt and covert discrimonation in the system turned them off. They grew conscious of the failure of the school system and of hostility from the school system for Muslims. Muslim parnets would like their children to recieve western eduucation with Islamic ethos. They want boys and girls segrated and girls to wear viels. There are 15 areas where Muslim parents find themselves ofended by state schools.

I set up the first Muslim school in 1981 in East London and now there are over 130 Muslim schools and only ten are state funded. There are hundreds of state and church schools where Muslim children are in majority. In my opinion, all such schools may be designated as Muslim community schools with Muslim teachers as role models.
Iftikhar Ahmad

5 April 2009 at 11:11  
Anonymous Hank Petram said...

There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.

Segregation is abhorrent.

5 April 2009 at 14:08  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

However a Papist idolator sprinkles his speech with platitudes of a Christian nature, he is still a servant of the Pope, and thus, as they are the power behind the Bishop of Romes seat, the Society of Jesus, the paid assasin brigade of the Vatican. Antiabortion - Antisodomite - Antimuslim? So are many Hindus.

12 April 2009 at 03:46  

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