Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rt Rev Stephen Venner: “The Taliban can perhaps be admired for their conviction to their faith and their sense of loyalty to each other.”

The Bishop to HM Armed Forces has been castigated, mocked and pilloried for making this comment, which was just one sentence in a lengthy interview. In isolation, it appears crass and insensitive: one MP accused him of offering ‘'comfort and succour to our enemies’' with his remarks, and another criticised him for not talking about the loyalty and boosting the morale of our troops.

Unsurprisingly, the Bishop has found himself besieged by a media which is incapable of digesting anything more than a trite soundbite, and scorned by those journalists who are bound by their own bigoted prejudice that nothing good can come out of the Church of England. And so there are puerile histrionics and shrieks of horror that an Anglican bishop would ever have asked if the Nazis could be admired for their conviction. And we move directly to reductio ad Hitlerum, as Godwin’s Law is manifest once again, and self-righteous hyperbole seeks to constitute the final word.

The Bishop said: “We’ve been too simplistic in our attitude towards the Taliban.”

He explained: “There’s a large number of things that the Taliban say and stand for which none of us in the west could approve, but simply to say therefore that everything they do is bad is not helping the situation because it’s not honest really. The Taliban can perhaps be admired for their conviction to their faith and their sense of loyalty to each other.”

The Bishop was actually not saying anything different from what the Foreign Secretary said earlier in the year.

But Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander in Afghanistan, said the bishop was being naïve. He said: “We clearly need to understand our enemy but that is more of a military issue rather than a religious one... There are many who will not be persuaded. Their central creed and ethos is about violent oppression which comes from a politics of extreme religion that has very little to commend it in terms that we would recognise or appreciate. In many ways it is a mistake to compare their faith of extreme holy war with the kind of religion of peace and understanding that the bishop follows. They certainly wouldn’t show understanding of his faith.”

The Colonel fundamentally misunderstands Christianity: we do not show peace and understanding to our enemies on the basis of reciprocity: loving others is not conditional on getting some love back. And his assertion that this is more of a military issue than a religious one is naïve: to ignore the fount and inspiration of the ‘politics of extreme religion’ is to risk making the Iraq mistake all over again.

One may simultaneously both despise and admire: one may hate and love, loathe and respect. There is no doubt that the Taliban have been responsible for public beatings, amputations and executions and have launched bomb attacks on the civilian population in Afghanistan. But these are people – men and women, husbands and wives, bringing up children in tightly-knit families in accordance with the patterns of a belief system which have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries.

One cannot change this with bombs and bullets.

There is no doubt that they believe they are fulfilling the purposes of God: they are at war with the Crusaders, and wish to die a martyrs death to spend eternity with 72 virgins in everlasting happiness. They are dying in the noblest of causes in the hope that their reward will be bountiful. Sadly, they are ignorant of the fact that the Qur’an makes no mention of 72 virgins anywhere in any sura.

They are victims of a religio-political lie: they are brainwashed to self-sacrifice in the name of Allah for the cause of the Caliphate.

And the bishop simply sought to remind us that it is ‘unhelpful to demonise them’. He adds: “We must remember that there are a lot of people who are under their influence for a whole range of reasons, and we simply can’t lump all of those together. To blanket them all as evil and paint them as black is not helpful in a very complex situation.”

By drawing attention to the Taliban’s conviction to their faith and their sense of loyalty to each other, the Bishop is following the example set by St Paul at the Areopagus, where he proclaimed:

"Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'

"Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone — an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject." At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.


This is a model for proclamation. St Paul does not condemn their idolatrous false religion: he begins by commending their ‘conviction to their faith’. By employing the language of reason and invitation rather than reproach and condemnation, he offers the Church a model for proclamation in our own ‘multi-cultural’ time. He quotes the Greek poets and sees the light within their philosophy, and he builds on this to articulate the name of the God who is the source and destination of their quest for salvation.

If Greek philosophy can be a legitimate discourse for evangelism, then so can Islamic theology, however perverted a particular interpretation may be. If St Paul were to preach to the Taliban today the God of love who sent his own son to die in order that we might live, he might well have begun with their ‘sense of loyalty to one another’.

Of course, we are at war. Perhaps the Bishop’s discourse might have been better received and articulated during peacetime. But Cranmer cannot help wondering why this single sentence has circumvented the world, causing so much pain, offence and grief, while a far more important observation by the Bishop went largely unreported.

He said the Government has ‘a moral duty’ to ensure that the army is properly equipped.

Perhaps we might hear a little more about the Government’s moral deficiency in this respect. Or perhaps a few journalists might like to commend the Bishop for pointing this out?

20 Comments:

Blogger English Viking said...

The Apostle Paul was not espousing the insane. multi- cultural and ecumenical rot we hear so much of today, as your post seems to indicate that he was. He was talking about 'THE UNKNOWN GOD', the God that most men of that day would admit existed and was creator, but also recognised that they did not know Him. He did not commend them for their idolatry to a named 'god', such as Diana (or allah), but rather pointed out to them that the days of God's 'winking' at these matters were over and they were commanded to repent, as should all idolators today, including the Taleban.

15 December 2009 at 09:03  
Blogger Brian, follower of Deornoth said...

That he is saying the same things as the Foreign Secretary is not, I think, much of a defence.

15 December 2009 at 09:33  
Blogger I am Stan said...

One may simultaneously both despise and admire: one may hate and love, loathe and respect.

I agree absolutely your Grace,know your enemy,their strenghth`s and weaknesses and passions,the media are doing their usual shrill,patriot bandwagon jumping nonsense witch is a disservice to the public, as I believe most people are perfectly capable of discerning the difference between supporting and respecting.

Shame he had to apologise,shame we are in a seemingly unending conflict,shame on the media,shame that death is triumphant and we all speak the language of war and hate,shame all round.

15 December 2009 at 09:45  
Anonymous eeyore said...

Your Grace's powerful and capacious mind turns to St Paul when discussing the Taliban, and for good reason. The Apostle, who murdered for one belief and died for another, must have been a man with supreme confidence in his own opinions, regardless of what they were or how frequently they changed. That they were his seems to have been enough for him. At the opposite pole to this bloody-minded Talibanesque certainty might be placed Bertrand Russell. When asked if he would die for his beliefs he replied "Certainly not. I might be mistaken."

15 December 2009 at 09:46  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace,

Magisterial!

15 December 2009 at 09:51  
Anonymous Knighthawk said...

Your Grace,

St Paul was invited to the Areopagus by people who were interested in hearing about his “strange ideas” and wanted to know what they meant. He was not dealing with closed minds and an intransigent world-view.
In Matthew 7:6 we are warned about the need for discernment concerning those we attempt to reason with lest the message be trampled and and the messenger eliminated.

15 December 2009 at 10:24  
Blogger Revd John P Richardson said...

I am glad to read that Colonel Richard Kemp is a former commander in Afghanistan, not the current one. As anyone who reads the postings of Canon Andrew White, the 'vicar of Baghdad' will know, one of the important things that the Americans eventually grasped in Iraq was that the conflict was essentially religious, not (simply) 'military' (as if any enemy is simply a military enemy).

Perhaps they were able to grasp this because American culture is so openly religious. English culture is avowedly 'unreligious' which is one reason why the conflict which began in Northern Ireland in 1969 dragged on for so many years. The English political establishment, and the Westminster Parliament, never understood the role of religion in Northern Ireland and tried to treat the whole thing as a secular social conflict. It was not, and their failure to understand that frustrated their efforts to resolve it.

We will no doubt make the same mistake in Afghanistan if we don't learn as quickly as the Americans.

15 December 2009 at 10:26  
Blogger The Anti Christ said...

The dead horse is bleeding from fresh wounds Your Grace. Such is the nature of what is. I personally thank you non the less. These are difficult times.

15 December 2009 at 10:52  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace,

Could not Bishop write a prayer like the Chaplain did for Patton?

“Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations.

Amen."

Third Army December 8, 1944

And another thing Your Grace; has it not crossed the Taliban’s mind that a mere 72 virgins for all eternity is pretty poor?

15 December 2009 at 10:52  
Blogger The Anti Christ said...

The currency of the perverted mind is virgins. This is a culture of beheadings, stonings, honour killings, suicidal terror, fixation with young bodies, disregard for female liberty, totalitarian religious extremism in all its worse possible forms.

It's not too difficult to see why St Paul headed West and not East really. It was bad enough converting the Gaulish dunderheads, never mind this band of medieval tribesmen.

15 December 2009 at 11:14  
Anonymous Stuart said...

But Cranmer cannot help wondering why this single sentence has circumvented the world, causing so much pain, offence and grief

And this is the most worrying aspect of a disturbing post.

15 December 2009 at 11:35  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Stuart and His Grace do concur upon an interesting observation:

‘’But Cranmer cannot help wondering why this single sentence has circumvented the world, causing so much pain, offence and grief…’ and may I add delight, to our enemies?

That single sentence (admittedly taken out of context) confirms the ‘prejudices’ of the church’s enemies both domestically and in the Moslem world.

The church’s domestic critics see her on the side of a ‘foreign god’ because of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sympathy for Sharia law and his Left-liberal views that undermine and overthrow the faith of many. Our enemies are delighted for the same reason confirming in their collective mind that the leaders of the church admire Islam for being strong and Christianity as weak: ‘The Taliban can perhaps be admired for their conviction to their faith and their sense of loyalty to each other.’

In other words, if only Christians could be like that.

15 December 2009 at 11:49  
Anonymous Stuart said...

D Singh In other words, if only Christians could be like that.

Ah, very insightful, well pointed out!

15 December 2009 at 11:54  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While we all sit in our leather office chairs, and philosophising and hypothesising on the nuances of Paul's argument to the Greeks and its comparison to Taliban. I do wonder if our troops are enjoying the luxury of debate. I do wonder if they can see the argument for admiring the Taliban comvictions of faith, or whether they are too busy fighting the bastards!!

15 December 2009 at 12:09  
Blogger I am Stan said...

I do wonder if they can see the argument for admiring the Taliban comvictions of faith, or whether they are too busy fighting the bastards!!

The few soldiers I know tell me there is a respect between warriors...I think a respect only they as combatants can fully understand.

15 December 2009 at 12:36  
Blogger Beware of Geeks bearing GIFs said...

Your Grace,

"They are victims of a religio-political lie: they are brainwashed... "

Aren't we all really, if all we feed our minds are the dreadful biased bilge emitted from our TVs and newspapers?

We seem to have turned into a nation of zombies, where we repeat, avec passion the soundbite du jour without actually thinking for ourselves?

15 December 2009 at 14:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your Grace
Thank you for the article, though in the sound-byte society I also want to add that most Muslims are not terrorists, and that there are terrorists and individual acts of terrorism or terrorising acts by different countries and in the name of different religions or non-religions or causes - and that we as Christians who are into truth struggle if we are not near the disputes to know what is true and what is not when things are reported (and I am not blaming most journalists here).

15 December 2009 at 14:14  
Blogger Demetrius said...

Know your enemy? If it is thought politic to avoid admitting what is involving in countering an enemy it is no help to understanding what might happen or how victory might be achieved. We have made this mistake before in our history. On one occasion we lost and the result was the USA.

15 December 2009 at 17:35  
Blogger JPT said...

I think he had a point.

15 December 2009 at 19:44  
Anonymous len said...

Muslims are deceived into thinking they are serving God. In the Koran Allah commands Muslims, "Take not the Jews and Christians as friends 1 Surah 5:51, A1 Hi1-a1i, v. 54, Jusuf a1i), so Allah is not the God of the Christians . In the hadith, Muhammad himself said, "The last hour will not come before the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Muslims kill them" (Mishkat al Masabih Sh. M. Ashraf, 1990, pp. 147, 721, 810-11, 1130, etc.). Islam's god hates the Jews; the God of the Bible loves them as His chosen people! Allah is very clearly not Jehovah, Elohim, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the God of the Bible!
So who is Allah?

16 December 2009 at 21:08  

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