Where Christianity is not tolerated

Politically, I share by no means all the views of Tim Farron, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats. I do however deplore the way he was hounded out of that position by the “illiberal elite” who find Christianity hard to stomach and easy to condemn.

I am therefore quoting in full an article published on the website of Christian Concern, an organisation which – among other things – exposes unjust treatment of Christians whose views just don’t fit with the “spirit of the age”. While I may not share all such views, I think it’s important to listen to them.

 

Tim Farron’s resignation as leader of the Liberal Democrats “demonstrates that Christians are simply not tolerated by the illiberal elite”, says Andrea Williams.

In his resignation statement, Farron said that to be leader of the Liberal Democrats and “to live as a committed Christian…felt impossible” to him. He added “we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant society”.

Andrea Williams, CEO of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre, which represents hundreds of Christians mistreated for living out their faith in Great Britain, commented:

“At the Christian Legal Centre we have seen first hand the pressure Christians have been under to conform to the new morality of sexual liberation and radical secularism. From street preachers arrested for quoting the Bible to students thrown off their courses for holding to a Christian view of sexuality, there can be no doubt that the supposedly tolerant society of 21st century Britain is deeply intolerant of Jesus Christ and his teaching.

“Tim Farron’s story demonstrates that even those who accept the liberal political agenda wholeheartedly become targets who are unfairly hounded and bullied. He was forced to answer questions on the morality of ‘gay sex’ and abortion. During the election campaign he had to choose whether to surrender his conscience and forfeit his soul to the intolerant, marauding elite.

“Even though he capitulated, this did not stop the hunt. Today he felt he could no longer lead, and had no option but to resign.

“Tim Farron’s treatment demonstrates that Christians are simply not tolerated by the illiberal elite in positions of influence. This, alongside the widespread reaction to the DUP’s views on abortion and same-sex unions, is further evidence of this anti-Christian morality.

“The vilification of the DUP for its opposition to abortion and same-sex unions and castigation of Tim Farron is shocking and upsetting. If we continue in this crusade of ‘totalitolerance’, we will enter a harsh and conformist world where Christianity will be ‘no platformed’ and eventually squeezed out of every sphere of public life. The elite determines what are toxic unacceptable views. Unless you approve of their ‘new morality’ you are punished. At first comes the loss of privilege, a political position, a place at university, then the detriment: the refusal of a grant and ultimately criminal sanction.

“The history of our nation proves that when Christianity was firmly at the heart of public life there was freedom, prosperity and beauty. The hard atheism that currently dominates our political discourse is cruel and doesn’t tolerate dissent. Tim Farron is another in a long line of casualties. It is time to fight back before it is too late.”

 

Warm feelings in the stomach at poetry festival

The other day I popped into Suffolk Poetry Festival for a couple of hours. It was held at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket, and we got there by train. We left Norwich in blazing sunshine, and by Diss the sky was dark grey and it was pouring with rain. Fortunately, by the time we reached Stowmarket it was sunny again. Poetry is like that.

I read a couple of poems (one of them is printed below) and some tanka authored partly by my friend Joy McCall, who is described in her latest book, Fieldgates (published in America), as “the quintessentially English tanka poet”.

Tanka are Japanese in origin, of course, but Joy is pretty English, and certainly expert in the field of tanka – which in case you were wondering, are five-lined verses with a fixed number of syllables per line. In my case this is 4-6-4-7-6.  Joy’s versions are a little more flexible, which is why she is quintessential, and I’m not.

Actually, she is not only quintessential; she is incredible. Confined to a wheelchair by a road accident some years ago, she is in more or less constant pain and has repeated operations to stave off various kinds of collapse. But she is a prolific poet with enviable spiritual insight. The calm in the midst of the storm, you might say.

At the festival, I read my own tanka, and my wife read Joy’s responses. Joy not only finds travel difficult (though not impossible); she is also too shy to read for an audience; so this was a rare public performance of a tiny part of her work.

Funny things, poetry festivals. As well as readings of poetry and associated lectures and workshops, there was also at least one funny literary sketch, a lovely folk song and assorted monologues, one or two of them inspired. There was also a café run by the Green Party and an anti-Brexit rant in poetic form.

Not that this was a political or exclusive gathering. In fact poetry groups, and by extension festivals, are remarkably uncritical and welcoming – at least in Suffolk. There are no auditions, nor any obvious quality control. This is sometimes irritating but more often gives you a nice warm feeling in the stomach. Or maybe that was the coffee cake from the Green Café.

Unexpected consequences of wrong food

I may be wrong, but I suspect that if I was walking in the city somewhere, minding my own business, and a building fell on me, my wife would attribute the resulting fatality to my not eating the right food.

I know I am not eating the right food, because she tells me so quite often. She herself is eating the right food, which is why she looks about 20 years younger than me and is beautifully formed. No building would dare fall on her. If it tried to, it would undoubtedly miss.

It so happens, sadly, that I like food that is not right. In fact, the way you can tell which food is not right for me is that I like it.

I am not beautifully formed and would like to weigh rather less – an inviting target for a psychopathic building. But I have this strange feeling that if I go over to the bright side and stick to food that is good for me, I will not like it, get bored quickly and probably die (possibly of starvation) way before the building starts to look unsteady.

I am not a particularly fussy eater, but I once had lemon curd tart at school. I didn’t know what it was, went home and told my mother we’d had Vaseline tart, which I think was fairly accurate, taste-wise. I still don’t know what they do to lemons, which I love as a fruit (in small bursts), to make them taste so off-putting when they appear with meringues or drizzle cake. Or tarts.

As for couscous, hummus and tofu, I have doubts as to whether they are really meant to be edible. I could say the same for beetroot, and what is the point of vinegar, except to ruin perfectly good fish and chips?

While I am on the subject (or adjacent to it), pasta, rice and vegetables are not meals: they are things to have with meals, preferably in smallish quantities. This is not as widely known as it ought to be.

I would not like to give the impression that my wife is single-minded. She is funny, clever and laughs a lot, often at herself. So I don’t really mind what she says about my food.

Anyway, there is a slight chance that she would put the building death scenario down to my not getting enough exercise. This would obviously be harder to believe, because if I had been getting less exercise at that precise time I would not have been walking in the vicinity of the fatal building.

Still, I would not dismiss the possibility entirely.

Easter Sky

Is this a crucifixion or a resurrection sky?
Is it the sky he was pinned to like a butterfly
skin running with blood
clouds stained sunset-red?
Or is it the ash-black, volcano-scarred sky
that lets no life through?
Darkness at noon, blank
as a worn-down tombstone,
words weathered away?
Is it the lightning-bright sky
torn apart by splinters of broken law,
channels for tingling spirit?
Or is it the arching white glory of an aching Easter dawn,
transfiguring, clean sheet, reborn?

And if a man walks down the valley and asks
the way to heaven,
does he look up?
Does he stumble as stones roll away?
Is there a lamb in the garden,
or someone praying beneath a tree?
A woman may meet an angel
out of the blue:
bread and wine may be set on rock,
waiting for fire.
Almost anything could happen.

But keep watching the sky.
Soon the stars will sing together
and you may catch a glimpse of the shining, shekinah walls
of the city of God, though not
as you imagined them.
The sky always surprises you.

 

Not so much an article, more a poem. And as it’s Easter, here’s another one…

Houseago exposes new newt atrocity

Henry (Fred) “Shrimp” Houseago, 87, the legendary activist and newt-chaser, has emerged from hiding to attack plans to cripple and exploit motorists in Norwich and elsewhere.

Mr Houseago was once voted the person with the most influence on Norfolk life, narrowly beating Richard “Volcano” Meek, the admired explorer, into sixth place. With the assistance of his former fiancée, Dorothea Goodchild, he conducted a long and genial campaign against the influence of newts on town and country planning, accusing them of conducting a “divisive and deceptive propaganda-driven attack” on the Norfolk way of life.

He is now concerned that one consortium of great-crested newts is making a comeback, sometimes using the name Transport for Norwich, and sometimes the name of a former Leeds midfielder who prefers to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.

He says the newts want all of Norwich, even those roads that are closed – which is most of them – to have a maximum speed limit of 20mph. This is because 20 rhymes with “plenty”, which Mr Houseago describes as “the most unfortunate linguistic coincidence this century”.

He adds: “It will soon escalate, or possibly decelerate. You mark my words, we’ll soon be regaled with ‘Ten is Zen’, and some other so-called genius will be made an MBE.”

Comet-chaser and whole food chef Len “Kissme” Hardy, an old opponent of Mr Houseago, denied that the 20mph project was pointless and a vanity project. He also claimed that public consultation was carried out in order to find out what people wanted, but this suggestion was discounted as “far-fetched” and in some cases “ludicrous”.

Mr Houseago, in a burst of research-led thinking, pointed out that Manchester City Council had abandoned a plan for a city-wide roll-out of 20mph limits because it wasn’t having the anticipated benefits. But Mr Hardy retorted that Leicestershire County Council, which was nearer and therefore more likely to be right, wanted more average speed cameras, regardless of whether they were needed or not. Unfortunately the DfT did not think this was a good idea.

Mr Houseago said it just went to show that even the DfT could be right occasionally.

Meanwhile a newt representing Twenty’s Plenty said there should be no need to ask people whether they wanted things, because newts already knew what was best, and it was a waste of time. “That’s typical,” said Ms Goodchild from her almost inaccessible home in the centre of Norwich.

Are Christians weird, or is Britain getting absurd?

Comedian Tracey Ullman has produced a couple of sketches recently that poke fun at the an attitude to Christianity which seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent in our green and pleasant land.

The first portrayed an applicant for a job who was received enthusiastically until she mentioned she was a Christian, when the interviewers stepped back, thinking she must be weird. The second portrayed a baptism which was going well until the godmother mentioned that she was glad to do it because she was a Christian, when the parents recoiled. Then the vicar revealed that he too was a Christian…

If part of the job of a comedian is to laugh at the absurdities in society, this was spot on. I am aware that not everyone in the UK is a Christian or even believes in God. But it is a country founded on Christian principles, and part of the reason so many people want to live here is that we have a rule of law founded on those Christian principles. The Christian ideas of love, freedom and justice still mean something.

But there are disturbing signs that all this is at risk. This week a Christian MP was questioned by the BBC and by a colleague because she came straight to a parliamentary committee from an Ash Wednesday service, where traditionally a small ash cross is marked on the forehead.

The Spectator reported: “To her credit, she kept her ashes intact, explaining: ‘I think they just thought I didn’t want to be embarrassed – but I was not going to rub it off. Many religions have visible symbols and Christians should not feel any embarrassment in either practising their religion or in the public display of religious symbols.’”

A small thing, perhaps, but the so-called BBC blew it up into a big issue on its website and Facebook site. Why? Would they have questioned the actions of people of other faiths in the same way? I suspect not. It’s more what The Spectator goes on to call the Secular Inquisition, which everyone expects.

More seriously, because it involves the justice system, it is now under question whether preaching Christianity outside of church is permitted – despite the fact that our history shows that the evangelism of people like the Wesleys probably saved the country from violence and divisions in the past.

Two street preachers in Bristol were convicted of a public order offence after the prosecutor claimed that publicly quoting parts of the King James Bible in modern Britain “should be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter”.

He told the court that “although the words preached are included in a version of the Bible in 1611, this does not mean that they are incapable of amounting to a public order offence in 2016”.

He also claimed: “To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth. To the extent that they are saying that the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth.”

It may not be a truth to everyone, but it is a serious claim not confined to 1611, and one that under any realistic  view of religious freedom must be capable of being expressed to others. If it is expressed in an abusive way, that is another matter, and totally out of tune with the actions of Jesus himself. But in this case it was the listeners who became abusive. Were they prosecuted? Of course not.

Do we want to remain a Christian country? I suggest it is essential for the sake of our sanity and security. In the past few weeks a Hindu mob invaded a Christian peace festival in India, beat up the pastor and attacked other Christians; in Egypt some 200 Christian families have had to flee the northern Sinai town of Al Arish, where six Christians were recently murdered and Islamist threaten to ethnically cleanse the area. There are many similar examples from other countries.

Could it happen here? We may scoff at the possibility. But if we go along with the idea that Christians are weird or habitually abusive in their beliefs, we are sliding, and it may be that in the words of Leonard Cohen, “things are going to slide in all directions”.

Some Christians certainly are weird – some people say I am myself – but my beliefs are not, and I do not want to be afraid to express them. At the moment the ignorance of prosecutors and magistrates may simply be mildly alarming – even absurd. But is it just the thin end of a quickly widening wedge?

Man in a room

Once upon a time, a man (though he could have been a woman) lived in an enclosed room. He had everything he needed. It was a large and exciting room, and there was plenty to keep him occupied.

Being an intelligent kind of guy, he investigated every part of his environment and became an expert on it. He developed ways of working out what it was made of, and even where it might have come from – assuming that nothing had changed in the way things worked since the beginning.

He decided that it was very, very old and had come into existence by chance. He invented a theory to explain how this might have happened, although it was not entirely convincing. However, as he pointed out, there was no other theory.

It was suggested to him that perhaps there was something outside the room, but he found this was an unsatisfactory idea, because it could not be tested. In fact, he felt that people who thought such a thing possible were in some way mentally deficient.

He examined the room in great depth and worked out what would happen to it eventually.

He knew that after he was gone some people would find out more about the room, and that was fine. Eventually everything there was to know about the room would be known.

Some people said there were things in the room that he could not detect – perhaps things that could go in and out without his seeing them. He thought this was stupid, because if he had no experience of them, they could not be there.

He wrote many books about the room, and they explained many things about it. But none of them explained why it was there, or why he was there. Or who he really was.

He did not think these were good questions.

One day his room exploded. Nothing survived.

At last the 1984 show – and it may be too late to stop it

When 1984 passed without much sign that George Orwell’s prophecies were coming to pass, we might have been permitted a sigh of relief. But there are signs now that such a sigh would have been premature.

The kind of society envisaged by Orwell is now at the door, and not primarily because of the swing to right-wing politics. It may in fact be time to abandon the terms right-wing and left-wing, because both of them have the capacity to destroy freedom through imposing their own doctrines on people generally.

One of the signs of a 1984 society was the corruption of language, so that words did not mean what they seemed to mean. Today we are stigmatised if we are not “tolerant”. But what does that mean?

It used to mean, in the words of Tim Dieppe, accepting the existence of ideas with which you disagree. “It now tends to mean accepting all other ideas as equally valid, unless you happen to disagree with this meaning of ‘tolerance’ – in which case you are not ‘tolerated’.”

People who believe that there are absolute truths or moral values are often said to be intolerant, though this is not necessarily the case at all. If I believe that certain lifestyles  are wrong, I am just expressing an opinion, and it is impossible to deduce from that how tolerant of other opinions I am. It is even less logical to jump from that to say that I hate those who have a different view.

What we can easily end up with here is a society where those accused wrongly of hating are in fact being hated (and not tolerated) by people who believe they themselves are tolerant and hate-free.

Spooky? What about the idea of equality? Sounds wonderful, but it has come to assume a moral neutrality of all beliefs. Some people believe it is neutral not to believe in God, but in fact that is often just as strong a belief as being a Christian.

The Equality Commission in Northern Ireland prosecuted Ashers bakery for not being willing to make a cake that would promote same-sex marriage – in fact refusing to act against their beliefs, which did not involve hate or intolerance.

Felix Ngole, meanwhile,  was expelled from Sheffield University after posting on Facebook an opinion in support of biblical teaching on marriage. What is that all about? Surely it is intolerance by the university of views that it disagrees with, plus lack of respect for free speech. As Voltaire (an atheist) would have said, even if we disagree with an opinion we should defend absolutely the right to express it.

In the near future holders of public office, such as school governors, civil servants, councillors, parliamentarians, police and judiciary, may be required to swear an equality oath – that is, an oath to uphold British values. If those values require agreement not to express certain views, Christians could be barred from public office. Is this what we want, when our basic freedoms in the UK have grown out of a Christian heritage?

There are other examples of 1984 behaviour – for example “hate incidents”, which the police are obliged to investigate on the basis of one person’s view of something quoted elsewhere. And the agreement between the EU and social media companies like Facebook and Twitter  to take down any posts if “civil society” groups claim they constitute “hate speech”.

This effectively allows lobby groups, including Islamists, to censor opinions they disagree with by getting their members to mass report them.

Tolerance? Hate? Equality?

Confused? You will be.

 

No, you really haven’t got flu

Everyone I know seems to be ill. This is what is known as hyperbole. Sometimes it’s known as flu, or man flu. Other times it’s a bit of a flu. Occasionally it’s flue, but that’s just a spelling problem.

Here are some things you can’t do:

soldier on with flu

fight off flu

go to work with flu

have a bit of a flu

Flu is an extremely debilitating virus which renders you weak, aching and incapable of functioning in any normal way. You usually have to go to bed for a few days, and if you’re not in bed, you’re probably on your way to or from the loo.

Flu is not a synonym for a bad cold or a persistent cough. I am 71, and I’ve had flu twice in my life. It’s not something you forget, and it gets very irritating when people use the word lightly. It’s a bit like blasphemy.

There is no such thing as man flu. There is such a thing as malingering, but women do it too.

You can, if you like, have a flu-like virus, which generally means you’re achey and shivery and have no energy. It’s not good, but it’s not flu.

Why am I so bothered about the misuse of the word flu? Partly because over the years I have been susceptible to colds. I have an upper respiratory tract that is sensitive and easy to drive crazy. When I have a cold, my nose not only streams; it feels as if ants are running up and down it and biting. My eyes are sore and pour out water. My head feels as if it’s in a pressure cooker, and I sometimes have a sore throat too. I really can’t do anything but curl up until it goes away. I can’t read. I can’t watch television.

This is not flu. At worst it’s an upper respiratory tract infection. But it is disabling, which is why I get mildly annoyed by people who “just keep going” with colds and merrily infect anyone in their vicinity – many of whom get much worse symptoms than they do.

There is also the difficulty that if you stay at home with a cold, certain people will look at you askance. What? Just a cold? What kind of wimp are you? Well, since you ask, I’m the kind of wimp who would love to get the kind of mild cold symptoms that you do.

I’m not really whining. It just sounds like it. I am actually very grateful that I don’t get chest infections, or bronchitis, or pneumonia. Not yet, anyway. What I get is not life-threatening –  just very, very unpleasant.

My wife has just had a really nasty virus that generates symptoms of a heavy cold, plus a persistent cough and lack of energy, and which appears to go on and on. This is bad, but it is not flu. I believe the Queen had it, but it was not Royal Flu, though that is how it was described in newspaper headlines.

I understand that: I used to write newspaper headlines for a living. Flu fits nicely into narrow columns and big font sizes. But it is still wrong. Wrong, do you hear me? Wrong.  Just wrong.

Shepherd has shot at Mastermind

Despite huge demand, I am using this opportunity to present you with an excerpt from the Alternative Carol Service at St Augustine’s Church in Norwich. We like to intersperse the carols and readings with figments of our imagination – in this case an episode of Mastermind.

We had this a few years ago, when an angel did quite well. This year a Shepherd tried his luck. It went like this. You may think it loses something in the translation.

Quizmaster:  Please be seated. And you are?
Shepherd: A Shepherd.
Quizmaster:  No, I mean what’s your name?
Shepherd: Shepherd. A Shepherd.
Quizmaster: No, I mean…
Shepherd: My friends call me Andy. Andy Shepherd.
Quizmaster: Oh, I see. And are you sure you’re in the right place?
Shepherd: I think so. I got directions.
Quizmaster: In the e-mail we sent you?
Shepherd: From an angel.
Quizmaster: An angel?
Shepherd: I find they’re more reliable. They don’t crash. Or freeze. Or go astray, like sheep.
Quizmaster: Oh, I see. (Suspiciously) And where did you see this angel?
Shepherd: Outside town. High up.
Quizmaster: I see. All right. Well, you’re here anyway. (Consults card) That’s all right then. And your special subject is?
Shepherd: Sheep.
Quizmaster: Of course.
Shepherd: I know all about sheep.
Quizmaster: Is there a lot to know about sheep?
Shepherd: You’d be surprised.
Quizmaster: I’m not sure…
Shepherd: So we went looking for this manger. I’m not sure this is the place. Do you have a manger?
Quizmaster:  Umm, no. What is a manger, exactly?
Shepherd: It’s a kind of feeding trough. Do you have a feeding trough?
Quizmaster: We have a canteen.
Shepherd: This is a canteen?
Quizmaster: No. This is a studio.
Shepherd: What’s a studio? Never mind. Probably a mistake in translation. Where’s the baby?
Quizmaster: Baby?
Shepherd: The angel mentioned a baby, too.
Quizmaster: I think you may have got a bit mixed up.
Shepherd: No, the angel was quite specific. I remember it clearly. I was keeping watch. Over the flocks. It was already dark.
Quizmaster: So perhaps it wasn’t an angel.
Shepherd. It was definitely an angel. The glory of the Lord, you see.
Quizmaster: The glory of the Lord?
Shepherd: Yes. Quite frightening. At first.
Quizmaster: At first?
Shepherd: Yes. But he told us not to be afraid. So that was all right. And then he told us about the baby.
Quizmaster: I don’t think we have a baby.
Shepherd: (Accusingly) What have you done with it?
Quizmaster: There is no baby.
Shepherd: I’m sorry. But if you’re asking me to believe you rather than an angel…
Quizmaster: I don’t think there was an angel. You must be mistaken.
Shepherd: There were loads of them. A multitude. A host, even.
Quizmaster:  A host of what?
Shepherd: Angels. It’s a collective noun. Host of angels, school of whales…
Quizmaster: I think we’re getting away from your special subject. It was sheep, wasn’t it?
Shepherd: Yes, I know all about sheep.
Quizmaster: Right, then. First question: Do you like sheep?
Shepherd: Of course. All we like sheep.
Quizmaster: That’s a strange way of putting it.
Shepherd: All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned every one to his own way. You must know that.
Quizmaster: It sounds familiar. I’m not sure this is going to work.
Shepherd: Of course it will work. If God does something, it always works.
Quizmaster: If you’re talking about the producer…
Shepherd: Producer?
Quizmaster: We call her God. The whole programme is her baby.
Shepherd: Baby. Right, so you do have a baby?
Quizmaster: (Sighs) We don’t seem to be getting very far.
Shepherd: Look, if the baby’s not here, I’m going to have to go. The angel said I had to find him. I’m sorry.
(Exits)
Quizmaster: Mr Shepherd, you have scored no points, with no passes. You seem to have everything right.