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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Sleepers Awake!

Legislation is going through Parliament at the moment to make an offence of "Incitement to Religious Hatred." The sense of decency which usually characterises the British temperament in these matters might lead one to assume that this was a rather obvious and uncomplicated matter. However, TV cameras outside the Mother of All Parliaments reveal an unusual assembly of evangelical Christians, atheists, and comedians. All feel that their legitimate freedom of expression would be curtailed by this legislation. The way things look, they may be right.

That was the situation earlier in the day. However, as I write this the vote from the Commons has hit the news. The Government has failed to set the bar on incitement at its preferred lower level of abuse, insult and reckless comment. This is a great relief. There must be provable intent to incite hatred for the law to apply. For the moment we are free to utter offensive comments about beliefs AND the persons holding those beliefs ... so it's open season on Iain Paisley again!

Richard Dawkins recently shared his views with millions of people on TV that "religion is the root of all evil." This deeply offended me as a Christian yet I wouldn't dream of curtailing his right to insult my faith, even recklessly without intention, (were that possible!). Are some opinions to be favoured above others? Who will judge what is insulting and what is not? The person aggrieved? With some over sensitive souls that can be like asking a hypochondriac to judge his own health. Ought we not to have the right to expect a certain degree of robustness on behalf of those who views and beliefs are attacked in public? Are not our deeply cherished freedoms, so dearly won through times of oppression and conflict worth more than the sensibilities of those who have a democratic right of rebuttal and response? Must we really countenance self censorship because we don't want to upset anyone? I really do hope not.

If this was the only example of Government heavy handedness in relation to freedom of speech that would be bad enough, but it is not. It is now unlawful to demonstrate within one kilometre of Parliament and under that law a woman was arrested recently for simply reading out a list of British servicemen and women who had been killed in Iraq. Obviously she was a very dangerous terrorist! The poor woman had actually informed the police in advance. One can only conclude that the Government simply finds contrary opinions to its own policies unacceptable and once again terrorism is a useful cover for that.

The only possible response to this attempt of the State to crack down on our freedoms is to exercise them even more robustly and freely. That will require a sea change in the attitudes of many British people who, frankly, after the 1980's have become politically quite passive. There are signs that many ordinary people are waking up to the threats to our freedoms ranging from legislation such as this to the ever encroaching reach of surveillance technology. Increasingly it is people precisely with beliefs that are leading this reaction. Far from being the opium of the people religion is proving to be its smelling salts. 'Sleepers awake' indeed!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Forthcoming Lecture

Do you live within reach of Manchester?

On Thursday 23rd February, I shall deliver a lecture at the Manchester Metropolitan University on "Orthodoxy and Creationism." (You will gather from the quotes in the last Blog post that we don't approve!)

This lecture will take place in a room in the Geoffrey Manton Building, (check at Reception), Rosamond Street West, off Oxford Road, Manchester, (opposite the Aquatics Centre) from 7.00pm to 9.00pm. All are welcome. A donation of £1 is suggested toward costs but this is not mandatory. Here is a Map Link.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

6 Days? It ain't necessarily so!

As a curtain raiser on a lecture I shall be giving at Manchester Metropolitan University in February, here are some quotes from the Church Fathers directly relevant to Creationism and Intelligent Design.

St. Augustine

"Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds as being certain from reason and experience.

Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.

If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?"

[Saint Augustine, On the Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book 1, Chapter 19]

Other Witnesses Ancient and Modern

“Scripture gives the common name of wisdom to all the earthly sciences and arts generally, everything that the human mind can achieve… for every art and every knowledge comes from God.”

[Clement of Alexandria]

“Just as in subtle musical harmony every string produces a different sound, one high, another low, so also the Artist and Creator-Word, having installed different inventors for various occupations and arts, has given everything in the possession of all those who wish in order to tie us by the bonds of fellowship and love of man and make our life more civilised.”

[St. Gregory the Theologian]

“Every one who has an intellect recognises scholarship as a primary blessing for us. And not only this noble scholarship of our own, which… has as its subject only salvation and the beauty of what is contemplated by the mind, but also the external scholarship which many Christians abhor out of ignorance as unreliable, dangerous and diverting from God”.

[St. Gregory the Theologian]

“external sciences are not without use”

[St. Basil the Great]

“The faith in Christ is not in conflict with the true knowledge, because it is not in union with ignorance”.

[St. Philaret of Moscow]

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