16 Dec

Black theology: Serena and the Gee-gee

If you were invited to vote for sports personality of the year, would you cast your ballot for Serena Williams or a champion racehorse? This was the issue discussed in this morning’s Thought for the Day by Robert Beckford, professor of theology at Canterbury.

Like Serena Williams, Professor Beckford is black. I don’t know the colour of the champion racehorse.

He was brought up in in the Pentecostal church and says that his “white, middle-class” religious education teacher “turned me on in a big way to RE and sowed the seeds to think about religion and culture”, while his Communist maths tutor introduced him to politics and the work of Malcolm X, who is still a hero.

After a “year in the community”, Beckford became Britain’s first tutor in black theology.

I find this a bit fishy. How can there be such a subject as black theology when the Bible says that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, bond nor free? Like Professor Beckford, I am qualified to teach theology. Unlike Professor Beckford, I am white. Imagine the reaction if I were to set up a department of white theology. The message of his TFTD – insofar as I could discern it – was that everyone ought to vote for Serena rather than the horse – because a vote for her would show that you were the sort of person who believed in the coming of Christ in the flesh, while a vote for the horse would get you classed as a Gnostic.

This was quite the barmiest TFTD I’ve heard in forty years

I’m only surprised that The Today Programme’s racing tipsters did not predict that, after his eccentric performance on TFTD, Professor Beckford would go on to win the 2.30 at Plumpton – and so prove that he isn’t a Gnostic.

23 Sep

The Holy Stuntman

How’s this for a slice of ostentatious humility? When Pope Francis arrived in the USA yesterday, he declined a limousine and opted for a modest Fiat saloon. Mind you the number plate was SCV-1 – that’s Status Civitatis Vaticanae which, being translated, means, “I’m Number One.”

I forgot to mention that, before he left Cuba, he treated us to a Lady Diana moment when he called for “A revolution of tenderness.”

Will it be a universal revolution, though? I don’t think so. It presumably won’t include successful businessmen, for earlier the Pope referred to capitalism as t”the dung of the devil” – thus showing us something of the dung of historical reflection: for it is the dung of capitalism which has raised more people out of poverty than any other economic system in history.

But back to the stuntman.

Isn’t there something in the Gospels about the sin of parading one’s self-denial? I was thinking of the Pharisee who said, “I am not as other men. I fast twice in the week. I give tithes of all I possess.”

And then those words of Our Lord to his disciples:

“When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites…” He was criticising those who make a show of their good works.

This Holy Stuntman Pope resembles Uriah Heep. I can just hear him saying, “Oh do look – there is none so ‘umble as me!”

02 Sep

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned

Pope Francis has announced that he will allow priests to absolve women who have had abortions if they seek forgiveness during the forthcoming Holy Year of Mercy. The Pope said he will permit priests “the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it” during the special year which will begin on 8th December – the Feast of the immaculate Conception.

He added, “I am well aware of the pressure that has led women to this decision and I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal.”

I find this confusing. The Pope seems to be saying that the pronouncement of the forgiveness of a particular sin – abortion – has not always been in the capacity of every priest. The Bible says that Jesus ordained his disciples. “Then said he unto them again, Peace be unto you; as the Father hath sent me, even so send I you. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, the are retained.” (St John 20:23)

And ever since Our Lord’s commission, every priest has the authority to forgive all sins, mortal as well as venial, including the sin of procuring an abortion. Except one: the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. (St Mark 3:29). And the only reason why that sin cannot be forgiven is because it is not possible sincerely to confess it: for blasphemy against the Holy Ghost effectually involves a person in praying, “Evil, be thou my good.”

Surely the Pope, of all people, understands that all his priests have the authority to forgive sins?

So what’s going on?

The Pope’s announcement is a political gesture by which he has fired a salvo across the bows of his traditional bishops.

This is the back story…

Last October the Pope inaugurated part one of a Vatican Synod in which he hoped his bishops would agree with his proposals for a relaxation of the rules concerning sexual ethics in such matters as homosexuality, abortion, divorce and remarriage. But he met considerable opposition and so next month, when the bishops reconvene for part two of the Synod, the Pope is going to have another try to institute his “reforms.”

All the signs are that he will once again face strong opposition from traditionalists: that is from the authentic Catholics

06 Aug

God, what a prayer!

Can you imagine, even for half a minute, anyone actually sitting down and composing this:

God, you are the Father of all the families of the earth,
and call the nations to live in peace and unity.
We remember with sorrow the devastating destruction and death
unleashed on this day upon the city of Hiroshima,
and later upon the city of Nagasaki.
We pray for the people of Japan,
and all whose lives are disfigured by war.
We pray for ourselves,
the often unwise stewards of the powers of the universe.
Transfigure the lives and cities scarred by conflict
by the revealing of your glory
and move us by your uncreated energies
to advance your sovereign purpose of peace.
This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ,
our light and our salvation.

It is the Church of England’s official prayer for Hiroshima. What a nerve they must have to talk to God like that! The first line is at best offensive and at worst blasphemous. Notice, the utter lack of reverence, the failure to indicate the great inequality that separates our existence from God’s existence. The eternal maker of all that there is, the sun, the moon and the stars is addressed in a perfunctory manner. What upstart could think to begin speaking to the Almighty with, “God, you…”? You wouldn’t talk to a dog like that.

The model for formal prayers is the Collects in The Book of Common Prayer, and no one trying to frame words of thanksgiving or petition can afford to ignore the Collects, masterpieces in miniature all of them. The first thing to notice about the Collects is that they establish a proper courtesy by regarding God as infinitely greater than ourselves; “Almighty and ever-living God…” for instance. “O Lord and everlasting Father…” Or “Blessed Lord…”

Next the Collects do not presume to tell God his business; “God, you.” God’s activities are referred to by means of subordinate clauses: “Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning.” To say the least, this is astonishingly beautiful. It is also polite. How would the illiterate, self-elevating thug who produced the prayer for Hiroshima have begun that Collect of thanksgiving for the Scriptures?

We know, because he has himself provided the model: “God, you wrote the Bible.” And then the prayer is a confusion of notions and sentiments with heavy words all rushing together: “families…nations…peace…unity…sorrow” and so on, so that the worshipper is not helped to focus attention on a theme.

And what is the sentiment of the prayer? This – insofar as it exists – is evasive and imprecise. I can imagine someone sincerely writing that we remember Hiroshima with penitence – because he believes we were wrong to drop the bomb. I can imagine someone else praying, “We remember with thanksgiving” – because the dropping of the bomb shortened the war and saved many lives. But sorrow only reveals the prayer as muddled, inarticulate and indecisive.

And – because the bomb was dropped on the Feast of the Transfiguration – there is this cack-handed attempt to weave together banal contrasts: disfigure, transfigure, powers of the universe, uncreated energies.

Just when you think the church’s liturgists couldn’t get any worse, they discover new depths of incompetence whereby God is insulted and mocked.

05 Aug

Brighter than a thousand suns

“And Jesus was transfigured before them; and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light” – (St Matthew 17:2)

“The atomic bomb – brighter than a thousand suns”  – Robert Jungk

Is it only a fearful coincidence that the feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord and the dropping of the atomic bomb are on the same day, 6th August? C.G. Jung thought not. With the physicist Wolfgang Pauli, Jung developed a theory: Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle. This was meant to throw light on parallel events, neither caused by the other, yet they seem to relate to each other.

I don’t know what to make of this as a theory, but there’s no denying that some coincidences are very striking and this leads people such as Jung and Pauli – men of utterly different temperaments and inclinations – to suggest that they are somehow meaningful

Of course, back on the ground on the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb, we are regaled in all the usual quarters with remonstrations about the horror of war. As if we didn’t know that war is horrible. But what war, when, where and how?

In the Potsdam Declaration of 26th July 1945, the US told the Japanese government that the alternative to unconditional surrender would be “prompt and utter destruction.”

The Japs knew they were bound to be defeated – not just by the massive naval and air forces deployed against them by the Americans, but by the imminent invasion of one and a half million Soviet soldiers.

Consider: if the Americans had been obliged to fight the Japs island by island, it is estimated that it would have cost them more than half a million lives

What rational and humane president – such as Truman certainly was – would elect for a policy that meant he had to write letters of condolence to 500,000 mothers and widows?  

Consider the blame that would naturally have been attached to him if he had not used every means and every weapon in his armoury to end the war as quickly as possible.

The Japs were told straight that their refusal to surrender would mean “…the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.”

And, by the way, it was the Japs who started it all: the USA was always fighting a defensive war after the attack on Pearl Harbour. Moreover, the Japs fought in an especially cruel style: their treatment of prisoners of war was despicable and their sadism infamous.

I do not need to be told that war is terrible. I am not impressed by emotive arguments which amount to nothing more than looking again at the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima and being asked to hold up my hands in horror.

I know that waging war is a terrible thing to do. I also know that sometimes it is the right thing to do. And it was right in the Far East in 1945

16 Jul

Che Guevara among the fishermen

Pope Francis has been taken to task. Asked why he had rarely spoken of hard-working, tax-paying families, instead concentrating on the marginalised and poverty-stricken, he said: “You’re right. It’s an error of mine not to think about this,”

Well, it would indeed be nice to see him take a few minutes off from his effusive rhetoric about the picturesque poor. True, Jesus commanded his disciples to care for the poor, but his attitude towards poverty was rather more complex than that of Guardian-reading sentimentalists. Jesus actually called the poor blessed. Why? “Because theirs is the kingdom of God.” And when he was anointed with expensive ointment, a Guardian-reading disciple protested, “This ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.”

Jesus replied, “Ye have the poor always with you, but me ye have not always.”

That wasn’t very Christian of Christ, was it, Francis?

Jesus also said that it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven, the province of the poor. So you would think that the Pope might be led to have sympathy for the rich and spend more time and effort helping them in their hard task of entering the kingdom.

Francis’ predecessor Benedict XVI is one of the greatest theologians since St Augustine. Francis –  great self-publicist as he is and a close friend of vox pop – is no theologian. But he must have attended Sunday School when he was a nipper. There he would have read, or had read to him, the Gospel stories in which Jesus has much to say about the poor, but where he is also seen spending much time with the rich and influential.

He eats often in the houses of rich Scribes and Pharisees. He also eats with “publicans and sinners.” But when we hear that word publican, we should not imagine that it connotes a scene in which Jesus likes to go out of a night with his disciples – the lads – for a few pints at The Rose & Crown in downtown Capernaum. The publicans were not landlords. They were public servants – actually tax-gatherers for the occupying Roman power. Naturally, they were loathed by the poor.

Jesus loved the poor? Of course he did. But he also loved those well off enough to put on a wedding that lasted ten days, attended by numerous guests. Not only did Jesus attend the wedding – with the lads – but when the wine ran out, he created a further 180 gallons of the stuff.

The Son of God who said, “Blessed are the poor” also said, “I am come that ye might have life; and have it more abundantly.”

The Pope and just about every bishop and clergyman you have ever heard are so fond of preaching that mawkish Christmas sermon about Jesus being born into poverty in a stable. As if the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity had been a lesser condescension if he had been born Mayor of Tunbridge Wells.

He wasn’t born into poverty. His earthly father was of the house and lineage of King David. Joseph was an established craftsman and a member of the middle class,

We know the Pope is a Catholic – but does he read the Bible? 

02 Jul

The Bible and other rubbish

The house of bishops in the Episcopalian Church of the USA  has voted to alter its canons to remove the stipulation that marriage must be between a man and a woman. By this ECUSA has repudiated biblical teaching and indeed the 2000 years old doctrines of the church. The scriptural definition, which is also an injunction – what in better days we called a commandment – “A man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife” is thus rendered null and void. The Bible says, “Male and female created He them.” Don’t be ridiculous! Don’t be so unprogressed. The Bible was in the wrong for millennia. Thank goodness – do I really mean goodness? – that the liberated lights of ECUSA have now come to put things right.Nowadays we know that male and female are only social constructs. You are what you say you are. You can do whatever you want to do. And to hell with both the biological evidence and the authority of scripture.

Well, that’s all happening in America, so it doesn’t affect us, does it? But it does, because the Church of England and ECUSA are in communion. So I suppose the Archbishop of Canterbury is very upset and angry over ECUSA’s apostasy. Surely the Archbishop will leap to defend the age-old biblical teaching and denounce this un-Christian innovation? I can just hear him saying, “What you have done is an abomination and contrary to the word of God.”

Actually, I have just read  Dr Welby’s official response on the Church of England website. He says, “We must respect the prerogative of The Episcopal Church to address issues appropriate to its own context,”

That’s socking it to them Justin! Attaboy – you tell ‘em! There’s leadership for you. There’s the prophetic word of judgement from the Primate of All England.

I bet the prophet Isaiah himself wished he had coined that ringing condemnation: “…address issues appropriate to its own context.” That would really have made the hearts of the heathen quake.

In truth, what we are hearing in this latest Archiepiscopal pronouncement is only confirmation of the fact that, as a moral and spiritual authority – you might say as a church – the C. of E. has resigned. Its long history of speaking truth to power and of being the conscience of the nation is finished. The bishops, the clergy and the General Synod now exist only to endorse the rapidly-changing nostrums of secular society. Not only is this the way things are, it is, according to Welby’s predecessor Rowan Williams, the way things ought to be. In one of his last sermons before he retired, Williams told us, “The church has a lot of catching up to do with secular mores.”

It makes a change, I suppose, from St Paul’s “And be ye not conformed to this world.” (Romans 12:2)

But what did St Paul know? He was all, like, so biblical. He’d never make bishop in the enlightened church of today in which what were once defined as mortal sins are now exciting new lifestyle choices.

We have despised the word of God and effectually re-written the Bible in those places where it tells us things we don’t want to hear.

The worldwide Anglican Church should know that there is a destiny in store for those who do that: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life.” (Revelation 22: 18-19)   

16 Jun

Laudato si

Pope Francis is proving to be a nippy mover. Following his encyclical denouncing capitalism, he has written to us all again in a long letter about climate change and what he refers to as “the planet.” Well, he was wrong to condemn capitalism which is the single economic system to have raised more millions out of poverty than all the other systems ever tried. Perhaps the Holy Father can make up for his earlier mistake in his new letter? And, contrary to popular opinion, the Pope is not infallible except when speaking ex cathedra on matters of dogma.

It’s a gloomy read. Climate change is a catastrophic threat to our well-being, and even to our survival, and most of it is our own fault.  He adds, “The Earth is protesting for the wrong that we are doing to her, because of the irresponsible use and abuse of the goods that God has placed on her. We have grown up thinking that we were her owners and dominators, authorized to loot her. The violence that exists in the human heart, wounded by sin, is also manifest in the symptoms of illness that we see in the Earth, the water, the air and in living things.”

Is it really as bad as all that?

No, not really. The prophets of doom themselves in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – whose non-scientist chairman is a committed climate alarmist – reckon that global warming has latterly been occurring at the rate of 0.05◦C per decade. Effectually, there has been no warming for the last fifteen years.

Leave aside for a moment the apostles of the new secular religion of man-made apocalypse and instead bring on the experts and some facts. Professor Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, writes, “In the constant media barrage of possible greenhouse-related catastrophes, almost any event is now linked to climate change. We should not spend vast amounts of money to cut a tiny slice off the global temperature when this constitutes a poor use of resources and when we could use these funds far more effectively in the developing world.” For saying this, Lomborg has had death threats from the new politically-motivated apocalypticists. Other scientists who do not toe the global warming-is-happening-and-it’s-all-our- fault line have received the same. There are plenty of dissenters. A whole regiment of senior climatologists and meteorologists wrote to The Times last year to complain that they couldn’t get their research findings published – because they disagreed with the maniacal orthodoxy.

If we enjoy a warm spring, the fanatics and obsessives put it down to global warming. If we have an extra cold winter, they tell us it’s a result of global warming. If my nose feels cold or you get an attack of the gout, it will be owing to global warming. The same explanation will be given if England retain the Ashes – or indeed if we lose them. In short, global warming has taken upon itself the character of a fundamentalist religion. And it is the nature of such religions that nothing, but nothing, is allowed to count against them.

I can remember the 1950s and 1960s, colder decades, when the experts confidently threatened us with an imminent ice age. The records over the millennia show that the one thing we know for certain about the climate is that it is constantly changing. The regular cycle of climate change on earth is a series of ice ages interrupted by short periods of temperate weather. There are many eminent geographers and geologists, who have not swallowed the propaganda about global warming, and they tell us that actually we are overdue the next ice age.

Even in the period we call modern history, there have occurred much bigger climate changes than anything we are seeing now. Parts of the 18th century were much colder than today. Dickens speaks of times when the Thames froze over for weeks on end. Whereas in the 9th century, there were vines growing in Greenland. Are we to suppose that the warmth which produced vines at such a northerly latitude was owing to Vikings driving around in four-by-fours? Why do you think Greenland was so called? Because a thousand years ago it was fertile. Since then we have had global cooling. How do you think Hannibal got his elephants over the Alps – with skis and crampons? No, only because in his day there was hardly any snow or ice in southern Europe. Incidentally, the Greens are notorious for getting their predictions wrong. Again I can remember the oil crisis of the 1970s when they told us assuredly that the world would have finally run out of oil by the year 2000. Wrong again, spectacularly.

Furthermore, Global warming is reckoned to be caused by two gases: methane and carbon dioxide. The fact is that the amount of methane in the atmosphere has actually reduced in recent years. And, within the margin of error, levels of carbon dioxide have remained the same. Carbon dioxide is a gas necessary to sustain life on earth and most of it comes from plants and human exhalations. Actually, warming is good for us: there are far more deaths from cold than from heat and, given the chance, people migrate to warm countries.

Why is there this obsession with global warming, this fierce insistence that it is happening and that it is our fault? First, it’s a nice little earner for the university laboratories. Governments have been persuaded by the Green lobby that global warming is happening and so they are chucking money at research departments that will tell them what they want to know. After the fall of Communism, the Left has adopted pretended care for the environment as a stick with which to beat big business. Global warming is happening, they say, and it’s all the fault of the nasty capitalists. Green is the new Red. Strange how people who say they care for the environment deface it with useless wind farms.

The global warming apocalyptics is in reality a new totalitarianism. The government and the BBC will not even discuss climate change. Those who dispute it are shamefully called “deniers” – which is meant to compare them with Holocaust deniers. The former Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, says sceptics are dishonest and “wilfully ignorant,” and Prince Charles calls them “headless chickens.”

As Lord Lawson of Blaby has written, “There are hundreds of millions of people in dire poverty, suffering malnutrition, preventable disease, and premature death. Asking the poor to abandon the cheapest available sources of energy is asking them to delay the conquest of malnutrition, to perpetuate the incidence of preventable disease, and to increase the numbers of premature deaths.

“Global warming orthodoxy is not merely irrational. It is wicked.”

I don’t expect this Leftie Pope Frank to be hearing many confessions from penitent members of the IPCC

23 Oct

There is no justice

Harry Roberts, jailed for his part in the murder of three policemen in Shepherd’s Bush in 1966, is to be released. Police unions and some newspapers have expressed their outrage.

Others are saying Roberts has “paid his debt to society” and so it is right to free him and they add that he poses no threat to the public. Roberts’ release is an insult to the families of the victims and it indicates a betrayal of society’s contract with its law-enforcers.

But all this is to miss the point.

Whether he is a threat to the public or not has nothing to do with the matter. Of course public safety is part of the policeman’s job, but this consideration must be kept quite distinct from the main consideration which is justice. One purpose of a jail sentence is to lock the criminal away so that he can do no further harm. Another purpose is his hoped for rehabilitation. But the main reason for putting an offender in prison is because the judge determines that the sentence fulfils the demands of justice.

The notion that he has paid his debt to society is simply false. A murderer can never be said to have paid his debt to society no matter how long he remains in jail. The murderer used to pay the ultimate price which was the forfeit of his own life because he had taken the life of another.

That is the only justice possible in the case of murder.

A life sentence – which should, and when the death penalty was abolished, we were promised it would – mean life. A whole life sentence is actually an act of mercy: for the murderer deserves death. The punishment should fit the crime. Everyone knows this: it is intuitive. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. This doctrine is itself an act of mercy and restraint, for it means only one eye for one eye or one tooth for one tooth. It is meant to curb excessive lust for revenge – the sort that would not stop at hanging the murderer but attempt to kill his whole family and burn down his house.

The fact that there is no death penalty for murder demonstrates that we live in a society which is fundamentally unjust.

After the injustice, the baloney…

We are told by the Parole Board that released murderers are “subject to the strictest controls” and that their lives are “managed” by Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA). These are not to be trusted, as proved by the fact that the number of freed murderers who go on to kill again is not negligible and, as successive spokesmen for the Home Office have been forced to admit, many escaped or freed criminals have simply been “lost.”

Roberts’ release means there is no justice.

And it is not consoling to understand that one lives in such a realm.

19 Oct

Is the Pope a Catholic?

Pope Francis nil; Believing bishops three…

If theological ethics were football, that’s about the result of the Vatican Synod on human sexuality. The Pope began his occupancy of the See of St Peter by sending out a questionnaire to all the world’s catholics asking them what they believe and what they would like the church to teach them.

It was a novel approach coming, as it did, from an historical and hierarchical institution.

Francis was hoping the bishops would support his desire to alter the church’s teaching on sexual morality. When, by a clear majority, the bishops refused, poor old Frank sounded quite miffed, denouncing, “…hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God.”

In other words, God forbid that bishops should take the Word of God as revealed in Scripture as in any way authoritative for the forming of their opinions.

I can’t imagine what the Synod’s discussions were all about. What is there to debate? The church has held the same truths about sexual morality since New Testament times. If it is supposed that this teaching has been in the wrong for 2000 years, on the basis of what is it proposed to amend it?

But what’s the back story, the real agenda?

Simply and horrifically this: The socialist, moral radical Francis is the Vatican Establishment’s revenge for the last two Popes – the courageous, vigorous John Paul II and the saintly scholar Benedict XVI. These men were two of the most gifted and capable Pontiffs in the history of the church

And they actually believed the Christian faith. The Vatican Establishment doesn’t believe it. They are modernisers and secularists in thrall to the libertarian ethics of the metro-political elite. And they use all the tactics of that elite. The Synod has said No to their demands. But they will be back after a year’s wrangling and infighting in incense-filled rooms. That’s what modernisers do. They won’t let it rest until they get their way.

Is the Pope a catholic?

Not much of one.