31 Jan

Dying by euphemism

This morning the BBC reported as follows: “Certain communities in Britain are not reporting honour killings to the police.” Which, being interpreted, means, “Some Muslims murder members of their own families.” I confess, I had the impression that, disquieting as this fact is, the number of murders was very few. But police forces have revealed the tally: 2823 murders – sorry, honour killings – in Britain. And there I was – and I imagine many others believed as I did – thinking these appalling crimes were few and far between perpetrated by, to use the cliche, “the occasional bad apple.” But how many bad apples do we count before we discard the whole barrel?

The wickedness is compounded by the fact that these thousands of known murders are not only not reported to the police, but the murderers are being celebrated within the…do we call it “community” or “ghetto”? Not that there is any excuse for unlawful killing, but perhaps we should pause to ask what it is that the victims are doing to deserve – and that’s not the right word either – to be bumped off? The victims are mainly young Muslim girls who have committed the heinous crime of finding a non-Muslim boyfriend.

It is at times like this that I recall former Archbishop Rowan Williams’ suggestion that it would be nice to run a little sharia in our country alongside the traditional British legal system.

What I’d like to know is why the whole country is not in uproar against this scandalous disgrace? First of all because the media choose not to give prominence to the issue. And why not? Imagine the outcry if indigenous white middle class families in the stockbroker belt were slaughtering their offspring on anything approaching this scale. But the principal reason why prominence is not given to this widespread evil is because our rulers and the mass media have conspired in a decision that the overwhelming necessity is that the population at large must not on any account criticise Muslims. There is even a formal term coined to describe such criticism or disapproval: Islamophobia.

Now a phobia is defined as an irrational fear. But there’s nothing irrational about fearing the presence in our country of a minority of perverted religionists who murder the innocent and then rejoice that in so doing they are obeying the will of God.    

28 Jan

Catching up with the pagans

After years of discussion, the Bishops of the Church of England are to set up yet another everlasting talking shop on the ethical issues involved in human sexuality. This new talking shop will take the form of “facilitated conversations” – presumably some sort of improvement on the conversations they have been having all this time. They say: 

“The College of Bishops met on 27th January, 2014 to begin a process of reflection on the issues raised by the Pilling Report. The College expressed appreciation to Sir Joseph Pilling and to all members of the working party for the work they have done on behalf of the Church.  We recognise the very significant change in social attitudes to sexuality in the United Kingdom in recent years.”

We are bound to conclude from this statement that the Bishops intend to be guided in theological ethics and Christian moral doctrine by the mood on the secular street, by what the pagans believe.

Congratulations to them on their commendable open-mindedness! My only complaint is that they do not go further and undertake the wholesale re-writing of Scripture which this policy will necessarily entail. I submit the following as a first draft new gospel which they should be careful to have before them when they begin their “facilitated conversations “:

“Behold, it was said in the old time that the law of the Lord is an undefiled law converting the soul and the gospel of God is an everlasting testimony for the guidance of men. All them that would be followers of the Lord shall go out into the whole world and make all men his disciples, preaching and teaching them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. But Lo, these former things are done away and I say unto thee henceforth thou shalt go into all the world and set up focus groups that thou mayest discern what the will of the people is. And having so discerned the desire of the people thou shalt obey obey it, neither shalt thou depart from it one jot or one tittle lest thou be called the Nasty Church and get reelly, reelly out of touch, and that. Innit? Whatever”

26 Jan

Educashion, Educashion, Educashion

Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools, says he is “spitting blood” over two articles published this week which say OFSTED is not fit for purpose. These articles were produced by what the BBC calls “two right wing think tanks”: Civitas and Policy Exchange. Among the criticisms featured in these pieces was the accusation that OFSTED has retreated to barmy 1960s fashions in educational theory.

This allegation is completely false. In fact, OFSTED has never departed from 1960s “thinking.”

It was Margaret Thatcher, egged on by Sir Keith Joseph, who dreamed up the idea that schools and teachers should be officially inspected. Certainly something had to be done as the schools were being ruined by the socialistic and self-interested policies of the teaching unions, especially that well-paid agitprop brigade the NUT. State schools had been failing for so long that even Jim Callaghan’s government noticed. But of course they were in hock to the unions and so they did little to mitigate a deterioration so severe that it amounted to the wholesale deprivation of our children, and particularly children from less well off families. State education was effectually a form of child abuse, the 20th century equivalent of sending youngsters up chimneys.

The prevailing educational superstition was known as child-centred learning. According to this, all direct attempts by the teacher to inculcate knowledge, to inform – that is actually to do what he was being paid for, to teach – were disdained as authoritarian and right wing. “Fascist” was a buzz word in the NUT – only most of them couldn’t spell it. I was an RE teacher in a secondary school in Bolton in the 1970s and I saw the catastrophic consequences of this policy first hand. It meant that children did as they damn well liked. Many of the heavily-unionised teachers at the time were both ignorant and lazy. My classroom was next to that of the maths master who, hilariously, couldn’t add up his pupils’ dinner money. The system was suffocating and there was no way out, since Crosland, the education minister, had declared his intention to “destroy every f****** grammar school in the country.”

The left wing which claims to be on the side of the working class was thus complicit in the intellectual and social impoverishment of the poor.

What Maggie and Keith had in mind was the introduction of a few basic tests or criteria which would help promote standards and weed out bad practice. The teaching unions and the department of education ran rings around them from the start. And so the proposed inspection system was dead-born, wilfully strangled by ideology and a hegemonic bureaucracy which has grown ever more powerful. State education is as atrocious today as it was thirty or forty years ago. How else to describe it when even the education department admits that more than 40% of our children leave school, after eleven years of full time, free education, unable to read, write or count properly?   

25 Jan

The one true religion, the merciful

The religion of peace and love, Rawalpindi branch,  has sentenced a seventy-one year old Edinburgh man to death for his claiming to be the prophet Mohammad. Mr Asghar is indeed called Mohammad, and he is also a paranoid schizophrenic. His illness was first diagnosed in 1993 and it was made worse when he suffered a stroke in 2000 and he has form when it comes to making outrageous claims – such as that he has been spied on by intelligence agents of Tony Blair and George W Bush – claims immediately refuted by the understanding that Blair is too busy making money to spy on anyone; and Bush doesn’t know what intelligence means. The Pakistan courts have overruled the clinical diagnosis and declared Mr Asghar to be of sound mind. Really? Would anyone of sound mind claim to be the prophet Mohammad?

But this has little to do with persecuting a particular old and very ill man. It is only the latest case in the recent history of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws which are invoked by corrupt practitioners of the said religion of peace and love who covet the wealth or property of Christians and other non-believers and use a twisted legal system to get what they want. This is barbarism in practice and it is widespread over there. For instance, in 2012 Rimsha Masih, a fourteen year old Christian girl with learning difficulties,  was imprisoned after being accused – falsely – of setting fire to pages of the Koran. It strikes me that it’s the Shariah authorities and the crooked Pakistani lawyers who have learning difficulties.

I can understand and sympathise with religious people when they are distressed by what they regard as blasphemous insults to traditional faith. I sympathise because I feel like that myself – every time the Church of England brings out a new revised, alternative form of service containing no Christian content whatever. But I would not seek the death penalty for the numbskull, tin-eared members of the liturgical commission who produce this pathetic stuff. I get aerated whenever – almost every week – a bishop writes in the paper or comes on Thought for the Day to interpret the Gospel entirely in terms of the false, secular gospel of the socialised state. But I wouldn’t wish to put these defaulters up against a wall and shoot them. Well, perhaps just one or two of them now and again, pour encourager les autres.

24 Jan

On not being afraid

What is a person? More generally, what is it to be?

The materialist would tell you that to be is to be a body and that mind or mental functions are mere epiphenomena – side-effects, as it were, of processes which are wholly physical. According to the materialist hypothesis, there is nothing except what is physical. You are your body and you begin when your body begins and you end when your body dies.

There is another view which we can call dualism and this is frequently – erroneously – equated with Christian doctrine: that we are souls and bodies. So, according to dualism, there are in effect two substances: a physical substance and a spiritual substance. Sometimes the soul is regarded as the same thing as the mind. We are asked to believe that the soul or mind (the spiritual thing) is inside the body. But this cannot be, because the only thing which can be inside a physical thing is another physical thing.

Rather we should perhaps regard mind and body as two aspects of the same thing seen from different perspectives. St Paul seems to have believed something like this to be the case as he refers to a spiritual body – in the Greek a soma-pneumatikon.

From the usual perspective of individual consciousness, we tend to think that this individual consciousness – the mind in action, as it were – is the central agent controlling whatever the individual does.

But there is another, more helpful, view which is to be found in Christian mysticism, Sufism, Jewish spirituality, in the Upanishads and in Artur Schopenhauer’s Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung. (The World as Will and Representation) According to this, the person or being uses his mind in much the same way as he uses his body and is thus not to identified with either his mind or his body. This individual being may be termed the person’s soul. Except it is not individual and distinct from other manifestations of being.

All being is one, eternal and indestructible

Moreover, these various mysticisms can be experienced practically, through prayer and meditation. When, for example, I meditate by observing my breathing and discarding all other thoughts as these arise, it is not my mind which is performing this meditation but my being – or soul, if you like. And this being is not distinct from being in general. It is nevertheless what I truly am. Thus whatever happens to my body and my mind – including death – cannot alter the fact that I am part of that universal being which is eternal and indestructible.

This ancient and (to me) very reassuring view can be investigated further by studying the mystical writings of most of the world’s great religions, in the book by Schopenhauer mentioned above and in a clear and most approachable style in Bryan Magee’s Confessions of a Philosopher

Furthermore, from the Christian perspective the origin of all being is the being of God the Holy Trinity. To understand the Holy Trinity we do not, as St Augustine said, need to go outside ourselves. For we are made in the image of the being of God. That is, we may regard the mind as an image of the Father, the Body as an image of the Incarnate Son and the indestructible soul as an image of the Holy Ghost, the means of the Divine Unity: as the Nicene Creed says, the Holy Ghost proceeding from the Father and the Son

These things are true and you can trust them.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost: as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be; world without end. Amen

20 Jan

Divine retribution?

David Silvester has been suspended by the UKIP leadership from his post as an Oxfordshire councillor for reiterating the “nasty” opinion  that the recent floods were a judgement on David Cameron’s passing the “Gay” “Marriage” bill. This seems rather unfair on God’s part. I mean, do we know that only same-sex “partners” had their homes deluged? In any case, the chief perpetrator, Mr Cameron, seems to have escaped unscathed. Perhaps God is just losing his touch? It reminds me of the story about the priest and his lay friend playing a round of golf. The lay friend played a bad shot and exclaimed, “Missed the bugger!” He did the same again a couple of times. The priest said, “Be careful, God will not overlook the sin of swearing!” Next minute, the priest was struck by lightning and fell down dead. And there came a loud voice from heaven, “Missed the bugger!”

I have a little experience in this business of divine retribution.

One Sunday when I was a country parson in Yorkshire, I took the evening off and went for a look around York Minster. There was a huge sign at the entrance to the precinct garden saying TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED. I thought that even cathedral canons might have stretched their charity as far as TRESPASSERS WILL BE FORGIVEN. Another sign said NO CARS NO ENTRY NO DOGS NO BALLS You had to go inside to notice there was plenty of balls. The Minster authorities had lent it to the aisle-dancing lunatics from St Michael-le-Belfrey next door and they were practising some sort of hideous religious rock concert. Litter everywhere. An ice cream half-eaten melting on a 14th century vestments chest. Men hammering away at a stage prop of Noah’s Ark. Everyone shouting. A few youthful tourists were gazing at the glass and stone and playing their transistor radios full belt on Radio Awful. Others exercised recently-discovered lusts of the flesh under the scaffolding. Nothing too terrifying. An American tourist, fat as King Eglon, stood on a pile of 12th century copes to take a flash photograph of the reserved Sacrament. An Englishman gave us a commentary on an ancient statue:

“Ee looks as if ‘ee ‘as an ‘ard on!”

Next day I wrote a caustic piece for The Guardian which I concluded with the line,

“Let’s have a bit more reverence and respect – or else for God’s sake burn it down.”

The following week the Minster was struck by lightning. The popular press surmised that this Act of God was a punishment on the newly-appointed Bishop of Durham for his unbelief. A few days later I received a postcard from the playwright John Osborne saying,

“So God reads The Guardian – how awful!”

By way of polite reprimand, the Archbishop of York had a letter published in The Guardian informing its readers that,

“God does not send down fire from heaven.”

The Guardian had the decency to publish my one-line riposte:

“Tell it to Elijah!”

18 Jan

History As Showbiz

Having produced the most comical misreading of Tudor England – and therefore won prizes for it – Hilary Mantel, for her next stunt, is to publish her insights into today’s politics in her forthcoming book The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.  Nicholas Pearson, her publisher at Fourth Estate, said: “A new book from Hilary Mantel is a treat. Where her last two novels explore how modern England was forged, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher shows us the country we have become.” Forgery is a useful concept for anyone approaching the literary achievements of Ms Mantel

It is difficult to place Ms Mantel in the canon of historical novelists: somewhere a little higher than Danielle Steel perhaps, but rather lower than Georgette Heyer. The best I can do to give non-adherents the flavour is to describe her as the shopping woman’s guide to the 16th century. Strictly come dissolutioning – of the monasteries, as it were. One could hardly conjecture anything more incongrous, surreal and bizarre than such a mind applying itself to the century which gave us the subtleties of Cranmer and the complexities of Martin Luther’s German Christianity. Imagine a version of Die Welt Als Wille und Vorstellung produced by Geoffrey Boycott or an essay on Kant by Jonathan Ross.

Ms Mantel, in her excited prose, represents Thomas Cromwell’s destruction of the religious houses and the confiscation of their wealth as an enlightened and charitable act which led directly to the formation of the modern state. Perhaps it did so lead: but not everyone will count that as a sign of progress or an unmixed blessing. It was the religious houses which for seven hundred years had provided for the nation places of worship and places of work, had administered lands for the tilling, schools for common learning, hospitals for the sick, respite for the dying and prayers for the dead. The enthusiasm of the Reformers took away even that last comfort. Charity was replaced by bureaucracy and previous efficiency by massive neglect. Indeed, Mantel is right to see Cromwell as the prophet of the modern state. And it is the corporate state, the all-powerful state, the nanny state.

Of course, as they say today, she has a right to her opinions. But to see naked incompetence rewarded by literary prizes and critical accolades is to understand just what a falling off there has been. I look forward to The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – Ms Mantel’s next blockbusting bumper fun book

15 Jan

Church bans cross

Should the church ban the cross? Well, consider…

The Liturgical Commission of the Church of England has just introduced a new Baptism service from which are omitted all the old references to sin, repentance, the devil and all his works. But the christening is not merely an irksome prelude to the booze up, the cake and millions of photographs. It is a washing, cleansing rite in which we are sacramentally baptised into Christ’s death. And this reminds us that Christianity is not a nice religion consisting solely of charming nativity plays, Easter lilies and tea and cucumber sandwiches with the vicar. It is about a man being flogged to within an inch of his life, then taken out, nailed to a piece of wood and left to die in the sun. The theologian Don Cupitt long ago complained that Christianity contains “morally repellent symbolism.” Yes, and it does so because the world and human beings contain some morally repellent facts. These facts were traditionally represented by those words about evil, sin and the devil. Remove those words and we begin to wonder what Christianity is for. If Christ died for our sins, shouldn’t mention be made of the reality of sin?

All those Giotto crucifixions – shouldn’t they be burned or at least stowed away in some attic where no one has to look at them? I have an idea: take them out of the churches where they were first installed and put them in an art gallery where people can be charged to come and spout aesthetics over them. Those huge crucifixes, especially in Roman Catholic churches – they’re not very nice either. As for the heartbreak of Bach’s St Matthew Passion or the violence of that nasty Dies Irae from the Requiem – well, they’re just to give church musicians something to do.

By removing sin and the devil from the liturgy, the church has inflicted upon itself a sort of willed psychosis, amounting to a denial of reality. You might say the church has resigned.

I began by asking the question of whether the church should ban the cross. Astonishingly, it has done this already – at least in some places. When I was a country parson in Yorkshire, a decree went out from the Archdeacon of York’s office forbidding the placing of crosses on graves. (I am not making this up) The reason given? “Undue repetition of the supreme Christian symbol is not appropriate.” So the war graves in Belgium and France will have to go too – perhaps pile all those images together in one place as an EU crucifix mountain.

Being scourged and nailed up to die in the sun wasn’t very appropriate either: just necessary.

14 Jan

Snuff movie soap opera

“Hayley,” the transgendered character in Coronation Street, has declared that assisted suicide should be legalised. That’s all right then. So get your coat on gran and we’ll just nip down to the crem and book you in.

Assisted suicide should be legalised, the actress who plays cancer sufferer Hayley has said, as she argues she cannot imagine how anyone can see extreme cases of suffering and be against the right to die. Actually, it’s not just Hayley who issued this pronouncement: Julie Hesmondhalgh who played the part of stricken Hayley agrees: “It’s quite a simple thing for me to offer my support for the right-to-die campaign.” So real life mimics “art” – assuming people can still tell the difference between real life and what happens in the proletarian soaps. Meanwhile, back at ITV they are heftily advertising Hayley’s “tear-jerking death” which will be shown on screen next week. Why should we trust the judgement of a soap star? Well, she’s not only that: she has long been a member of that organisation for evangelical atheists, the British Humanist Association.

Naturally, being a respected TV personality – that oxymoron – Ms Hesmondhalgh does not favour any naff suicide. These things must be finessed. She says, “I have to put the caveat that it has to be properly done. You have to make sure people don’t go around killing elderly people, say just for the inheritance.”

She doesn’t offer any advice as to how this might be avoided.

Radio Four announced today that an opinion poll has indicated most of the general public agrees with the philosophical ethics of Hayley/Ms Hesmondhalgh. Is it only since the doctrinal collapse and theological squalor of the Church of England became terminal that the population of this country began to take its guidance on matters of life and death from the serialised sentimental hysteria of Coronation Street  – rather as we decide how best to “save Africa” as a result of sermons from the plutocracy of rock stars?

In fact there is already a serious and subtle debate about care for the dying. And this is being conducted among those who have responsibility and expertise: doctors, nurses, priests and those who run the truly humane hospice movement. Until the comparatively recent obsession with rights, these profound matters were considered with nuanced sensitivity summed up in the maxim: “Thou shalt not kill but need not strive too zealously to keep alive.” Thus the issue requires sensitivity and not the limitless opportunities for skulduggery which would arise if, cheered on by the square-eyed mob, society were to permit euthanasia and institutionalise it in the legal language of rights.

Care of the dying is not a matter of rights. It is the province of medical and nursing expertise, pastoral care, moral, theological and spiritual insight. We don’t get those virtues in the trivialised, caricature world of the ratings-obsessed TV soap operas.

13 Jan

Fat lot of good

There should be a new national anthem – and perhaps bring back The Beatles to sing it: Getting Fatter All the Time. Grim news this morning from the front line in the nation’s battle against obesity. I’m constantly amazed  at the number and range of the battles going on. There’s the well-known battle with alcohol – chiefly fought by lying on the sofa and downing cans of strong lager. Then there’s the government’s battle against press freedom alongside the decades-long wars against the motorist and the saver. Of course information tends to get lost in the fog of war but here we are fortunate for we have up to date communiques on the fat war provided by the National Obesity Forum. Yes, there really is such a body. Presumably a representatively sizeable body. NOF is chaired by a sort of Nanny McPhee on behalf of the nanny state in the shape of Professor David Haslam. In Dad’s Army we were urged, “Don’t panic!” Nanny McHaslam says we should panic all the time:

“Not only is the obesity situation in the UK not improving…” (Nice line in double negatives Nanny. That should use up a few calories)  “…but the doomsday scenario set out in that report might underestimate the true scale of the problem. There needs to be concerted action. There is a lot more we can be doing by way of earlier intervention and to encourage members of the public to take sensible steps to help themselves – but this goes hand in hand with government leadership and ensuring responsible food and drink manufacturing and retailing.”

The creed of NOF and of all nannying quangos is It is Always Someone Else’s Fault. We are all vulnerable. Even criminals are not to blame for their misdeeds as we hear every day reference to people who are at risk of committing a crime. In the same way, I suppose, that I am regularly at risk of lying too long in bed. Solving the obesity crisis is clearly too much for one nanny. Fortunately, Nanny McHaslam of NOF has –  a little? – helper in Nanny McFenton who is commissar at Fat Association Teaching Sense Organisation (FATSO). Actually, I made that up. He is really Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England. If only it had been Public Health England and Wales – then we could acronymise it as PHEW!  He says,

“Obesity is an international problem.It is a complex issue that requires action at national, local, family and individual level. Everyone has a role to play in improving the health and wellbeing of the public, and children in particular.PHE are committed to helping to tackle obesity through a range of approaches that support action on the local environment to make eating less and being more physically active easier.”

Yes, Commissar McFenton, we must all do our bit for the war effort. That is the everlasting war of bureaucrats on the English language: “play a role…committed to tackling…range of approaches.”

What nobody seems to have twigged is that the war on obesity is a phoney war. It is not being fought to rid the nation of its excess pounds (or stones) but to provide jobs for the nannying quangos themselves. The participants in this war are – besides the bureaucrats – food companies, advertisers, architects of fad diets, health and fitness freaks and government spokes–non-persons out to make their mark. Like the crooks and spivs who profited throughout WW2, they are making a mint.

They all get together in the evenings, thank whatever gods may be for the dogmas of obesity, join hands and sing, “O what a lovely war!”