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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

No Return Visit for Qaradawi

A Sudden Change of Plan? Posted by Picasa

Youssef al Qaradawi, who is banned from entering the US, will not now speak at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall on 7th August. The controversial Muslim cleric was welcomed into the city of London early this year by the Mayor, Ken Livingstone. Although Qaradawi condemned both the 9/11 and 7/7 bombings his slate is far from clean. He has justified suicide bombings in Israel as "martyrdom in the name of God."

This is totally unacceptable. Why it should be acceptable to politically correct liberals in the west amongst whom Islam is always "misunderstood" to the point of exculpating this and any non-Christian tradition beggars belief. This craven attitude is all the more astonishing bearing in mind Qaradawi's anti-Semitic and homophobic utterances. These do not preclude him from visiting the UK. What does (and should) is his recognition of the legitimacy of suicide bombings in certain circumstances.

There are absolutely NO certain circumstances in which suicide bombings can ever be justified. Trading one atrocity against another is no way to do ethics or build a civilised and humane society. For all his alleged "moderate views" and the perceived need to "build bridges", this man is not welcome here.

Events have moved very rapidly this week. Charles Clarke has now proposed "behaviours" that would render someone "persona non grata." Amongst these are preaching terrorism to the point of incitement and writing articles and websites in that vein. Perhaps Qaradawi judged the wind to have changed. Let's hope so.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Church of England at the Crossroads

Church of England Women Bishops Soon Posted by Picasa

Well, the inevitable has happened. The Church of England at its General Synod Meeting in York has removed the legal obstacles to the consecration of women bishops. BBC Report

Of course, from the vantage point of Orthodox Catholic ecclesiology, women should have been consecrated first. This, of course, is because the primary minister in the Orthodox Catholic Church is the bishop, not the priest. The priest "stands in the place of the bishop" in each parish or community.

Be that as it may, what does this mean for the Church of England? Those opposed to the consecration of women bishops are a substantial minority and they will not give in meekly. Here is a link to the Forward in Faith document arguing for a Third Province, a sort of "church within a church." Reform, the evangelical equivalent is widely reported to be seeking alternative international structures to resist both this and homosexual clergy in relationships. The Church of England hierarchy understandably is trying to do everything it can to stop Anglicanism falling apart. What is the Orthodox reaction to all of this?

(Your correspondent himself writes as a former Anglican priest who left the Church of England in 1994 PARTLY over the decision to ordain women to the priesthood. My position, then as now, was that the Church of England lacked the necessary authority to make this change AND then claim to have a ministry shared by both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches).

Speaking as an Orthodox Christian who has enormous respect for the Anglican Church; after all it formed me in the Christian faith, I have to say that I am terribly saddened by this state of affairs in the Church of England. I am saddened not so much by the consecration of women bishops per se, which I have regarded as inevitable since 1992, but by the very real prospect of multiple schisms. The Christian world can really do without such further splits. Inevitably it will place yet further obstacles in ecumenical relationships between Rome, Orthodoxy and Canterbury.

Doubtless, thousands of women priests and their supporters will rejoice at the prospect of this new ministry opened up to women. What is less clear is what will happen to those thousands of Anglicans who will not be able to accept women bishops but who will be unable to do anything about it when women are in diocesan posts as ordainers of both male and female priests. I just don't see the Church of England allowing the existence of a "church within a church." The choice, likely as not will be clear. Accept and stay or reject and go.

Sometimes I am asked what the response of the Orthodox Church might be to such a situation if approached by priests and people leaving this or any other church? My response is the same as that given to me when I was in that position. Like Rome, we are not interested in "single issue" applicants. There is much, much more to being Orthodox (or Roman Catholic) than any particular position on any point of doctrine or practice. It's a whole deal; the whole package. Some will be ready for that; many will not. Whatever we do will be done with utmost respect for ALL parties involved. If someone follows their religious conscience, who could deny? Conversely, if someone wants a "port of convenience" who would not reject? These are going to be very difficult times for the Church of England and we have no desire to make things any worse. We can certainly pray for all our Anglican brothers and sisters and hold them before God in love.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Bloodied but Unbowed

Bus Carnage Posted by Picasa

Our love, prayers and practical support must now go out to all the victims of the bomb outrages in London today. The resilience and professionalism of the emergency services and the courage of all those caught up in these incidents is sobering and inspirational. Certainly many peoples' lives have been devastated by this mindless violence but we shall stand and prevail against the forces of evil. In so doing we shall relentessly persevere with our brothers and sisters in many affected nations who have their own battles to wage against the forces of terror.

Let's remember why terrorism happens ... to promote in those terrorised the following:-

(1) Confusion, chaos, economic destabilisation
(2) Fear, panic and dread
(3) Anger, lashing out, irrationality

The aim of course is to weaken the "enemy," to disorientate, to expose weak points for a later assault. This is a VERY long term game. If we don't smash the networks via intel as and when we find them (whoever they belong to or act on behalf of) and if we don't address their propaganda points, (Iraq, Palestine etc.) then they will proliferate and continue to push forward their agenda.

The best weapons we have against terror are normality and trust in God. Terror always fails when the fear is resisted and prayerful intelligent resilience confronts every horror with unflinching eye. Londoners have often proved in times past that they are made of "stern stuff" and that solidarity in affliction is unbeatable. This is the costly lesson that these despicable terrorists will now learn.

May God have mercy on us all. May he protect us under the shadow of his wings and in his unfailing love may we all abide. Amen.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Revenge of Malthus? Why Live8 is only Half the Story

Thomas Robert Malthus (1766 - 1834) Posted by Picasa

This 18th / 19th century Anglican priest and economist spoke to his own age and only some of his insights are transferable to ours. His most devastating interpretation of observed human affairs in his Essay on Population (1798 / 1803) remains, arguably, as true today as it did then. Malthus contended that unchecked population growth was always self defeating. Beyond the level of economic sustainability, war and want would always cut back population size. His solution to this problem consisted of a blend of "moral restraint" (now superseded by contraception) and wealth creation, obviating the need for large and early start families.

His prophecies took hold largely in the west where we have indeed seen a stabilisation of the birth rate and a demographic skew toward the elderly. One could argue of course that such a transition has not occurred in the developing world because of a poor social infrastructure and the infancy of middle class aspiration. To some this sounds like special pleading for western bourgeois liberalism. What is of more enduring value in his thought though is the idea that sustainability has its own logic in a world of limited resource. It is in this logic that we see the Revenge of Malthus and the weakness of much of the political rhetoric about world development.

The simple truth (that Malthus would have understood so well) is that this world cannot sustain the lives of 6 billion humans (10 billion in 50 years) in the manner to which the rich north and west has become accustomed. Many people worry about America, Japan and Europe and the disproportionate impact on the global environment and development caused by these wealthy nations. However, soon we shall be shaking our heads at the prospect of India and China thirsting for fossil fuels, SUV's to consume them and carbon emissions in the Far East going through the roof. Maybe Africa will eventually join the party as well ... but nobody will truly be celebrating for long. The Malthusian limit is nearer perhaps than we think.

What Malthus couldn't have envisioned is a world where the limits to growth are as much environmental and ecological as they are economic; although these, of course, are all inextricably interdependent factors. It is this new situation that has wiped out his most favoured solution, making everyone middle class like himself ... small families, industrious, good housekeeping. Even if this was thought desirable it is now hardly possible. Middle class abstention is an indulgence of prosperity, and prosperity costs. Today prosperity costs the world itself, the ultimate sustainability limit.

So, what are the prospects, living as we do under the shadow of the Revenge of Malthus? Note that I am concerned with what I think WILL happen and how we can steer that more positively, not what SHOULD happen by dictat. What should happen is pretty much straightforward; mandatory birth limits, mandatory carbon emission limits ... a lot of other "mandatories." These don't sell well at elections though and in any case I am sufficient of a realist to recognise the dead hand of coercion and political repression lying dormant in such good intentions.

I don't see the developed or the developing world exercising self restraint. So long as we have nations and peoples' pursuing self interest based policies of growth and yet more growth we shall continue to global diminishing returns from an overstretched planet. The Americans and others think that there will be a technological fix for this ... the Holy Grail perhaps of nuclear fusion or genetic enhancement of crop production. What Malthus knew but what many politicians then and since choose wilfully to ignore is that the world itself sets limits on human growth no matter how smart we get at squeezing more juice out of the orange. There still only is one orange at the end of the day. I, therefore, see ahead two stark choices; adapt and down size or die in an environmental catastrophe.

The "adapt and down size" option presupposes a spiritual revolution in world humanity ... a shift to a way of living that embraces self restraint (rather than greed) as a virtue. As a Christian I am bound to say that this is both achievable and fruitful by the grace of God. However, such aspirations will only and can only apply to a subset of the world population. Christianity is a realistic faith and recognises the dangers inherent in such universal utopianism. Whenever humanity has entertained this notion its enablers have always eventually resorted to coercion and that is both unacceptable and unsustainable. Perhaps there is a third option though and one for which many will think this author crazy.

When we look to the natural world and its ecosystems we observe that expanding populations, when they reach their sustainability limit, either implode or seek out new food and land resources. The alternative for us, if we are to continue to grow, lies off planet. The earth just cannot support many more people than we have now. Already we are beginning to see the excitement of exploration moving off world and revealing huge potential in the solar system. The prize in terms of natural resources, outside any planetary gravity well and its energy deficit, lies in and with the asteroids. There are enough primary metals in the asteroid belt to serve humanity for millennia. Terraforming Mars as a human habitat is already seriously being looked at. Truly, the earth is not the end. We have only just begun. Malthus can be defeated ... but only if we think REALLY big.

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