Finding Common Ground After The Election!

It’s 12th December and I’m writing this letter on the day of the General Election! Although it may have been interesting to write after the Election and once the result is known, I thought that perhaps it might be fairer and more helpful to write a comment before we do so! Because it seems to me that one of the things that the election has drawn out and made clear is just how divided we are as a nation! It’s not just simply a case as to whether one voted Labour or Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Brexit or Green – the divisions in our society are much broader and deeper than that; whether one voted for ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’; whether you be rich or poor; privileged or disadvantaged; old or young; male or female; employed or unemployed; from the north or the south; socially conservative or liberal; married or not – and all these things challenge and shape our perspective. Not only this but despite the fact that our parliamentary system isn’t supposed to be presidential, the focus was very much on personalities rather than policy – with some of the language used being vile and abusive. So where can we find unity and how can we develop trust?

It’s interesting to note that the BBC wrote an article entitled Crossing Divides – What unites us: 10 reasons why we’re not a divided nation, in an attempt to find and construct a new sense of unity, being:

1. Being faithful to our partners
2. The principle of equal pay
3. Viewing a woman’s role as no longer in the home
4. Seeing gay relationships as “not wrong at all”
5. Supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion
6. Trusting science and scientists
7. Believing in the NHS
8. Believing the Royal Family is important
9. Thinking climate change is at least partly caused by humans
10. Loving David Attenborough, health charities, Heinz, Lego, Google Maps and Malteasers

Whilst the majority of Britain’s may agree with some of these attitudes, it only takes a moment to appreciate that not everyone will agree with all of them, particularly those of a more traditional, socially conservative or religious persuasion. Perhaps in truth this list reflects more of a ‘wish list’ held by those who run the BBC.

For as John Stevens an online commentator observes ‘unity cannot be established or maintained on the basis of values and attitudes that do not in fact capture the hearts and minds of the vast majority of the people’ and I would like to add that it cannot be imposed upon us either.

The Christian will immediately recognise that what we need is a higher narrative, something that looks beyond our immediate, narrow and somewhat self-absorbed (and perhaps selfish) perspective and gives us a new standard and guide to live by, something that transforms our hearts and minds for the better. No one is saying that the Church is perfect or that it can’t ever make mistakes or disagree, but it does have a larger vision than that presented by party politics and a common framework by which it can promote reconciliation and encourage unity and trust within itself and the wider community. A kinder, gentler politics always has to begin with us as we try to serve one another in the loving manner that Christ served us, and I’d like to encourage you all to give it a try.

May I wish you all a very happy and peaceful new year.


“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3.5-6


 

Fake News, Brexit And ‘The Prophets Of Doom’

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Long before Donald Trump coined the phrase ‘Fake News’ (dismissing whatever is inconvenient), British politicians were juggling with ‘spin’ and ‘spin doctors’, as certain individuals or political parties tried to get their own political message across in the most favourable way possible, whilst portraying competing projects, events and points of view negatively. ‘Project Fear’ is perhaps one of the most recent and prominent examples of this where politicians favouring a ‘no deal’ Brexit consider the arguments presented by Remainers as scaremongering, whereas those in favour of remaining portray Leavers as chasing after unicorns and duping the public (arguing therefore that many of those who voted to leave didn’t really understand the implications of what was put before them). Naturally, this is seen as patronising twaddle by those who voted ‘leave’. All of this has been magnified by television, social media and the internet to fever pitch. However, the stakes have been significantly raised by Conservative politicians each vying to be the next Prime Minister with many leaning towards a harder or no-deal Brexit in the light of the recent European elections. But this has caused many on the opposition benches and those wanting to remain in the EU to highlight all the more fervently the perils of a no deal Brexit and falling off the so-called ‘cliff edge’.

The problem is of course that we are not homogeneous human beings – we all come to life with our own particular values and perceptions, but in the game of politics, many of our politicians are deliberately selective, trying to promote their own particular viewpoint or party-line to gain some sort of party or personal advantage. It’s therefore very difficult for members of the general public to ‘see the wood for the trees’ and discern the impartial truth. The BBC may try to give us its own ‘reality check’ but many people are still wary of fake news and ‘media spin’ and therefore find it hard to discern fact from fiction. Surveys repeatedly demonstrate that people want honest politicians but discerning the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is very hard.

With so much at stake it’s becoming increasing important that we should trust the politicians who represent us – and honesty is paramount, because it’s honest and transparent politicians who garner the greatest trust and respect. As someone who the Bible describes as being ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14) it’s not surprising that Jesus encouraged his disciples to be equally open and honest, advising them not to make promises that they can’t keep but urging them to simply, “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5.37). Biblically speaking it’s not just cleanliness which is close to godliness but truthfulness, whereas lies and deceit generate confusion and are much more likely to be destructive. So let us do our best to discern the fact from the fiction, the fake news from reality and when it comes to determining our future, let us call for less political spin and more honesty and truth from our politicians and then vote for those who do so.


He whose walk is blameless … speaks the truth from his heart. Psalm 15.2


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Are You A ‘Fully Educated, Free Thinker Who Doesn’t Believe In Fairy Stories’?

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Many of you will be aware that Twitter is a wonderful way of sharing news and views across social media, listening to and engaging with debate – but it can also be a means by which people can easily fire off salvoes designed to ridicule, shut down and squash others with whom they disagree. One such example came in a discussion about religion and atheism generated by the popular and well know atheist Richard Dawkins. As the discussion unfolded, one atheistic contributor simply tried to lambast his religious ‘opponent’ with the phrase ‘I’m highly educated thanks. Far too free thinking to believe in your fairy stories’. The problem is of course that the implications behind this statement are simply wrong on so many levels, and yet tap into so many common misconceptions about people of faith (particularly Christians) by those who aren’t remotely religious.

Firstly, it implies that religious people can’t possibly be ‘bright young things’ with an education. They must be stupid to hold a religious perspective in the light of modern day science and ethics. How can you believe in a creator God who made the word in 7 days in the light of Darwin, ‘the big bang’ and evolution? Or in a loving God in the light of so much evil and innocent suffering? At first glance these questions may appear to be problematic, but in reality, they aren’t so difficult when one appreciates the difference between science and theology. Very simply put, one tends to look at ‘how’ the world is as it is, the other looks at ‘why’. This is why the dilemma between faith and science is often a false one, as evidenced by the large number of Christians with science degrees!

Secondly, the statement suggest that religious people are often brain-washed or blinkered in their thinking because of their religious faith and perspective. Of course this can happen in some extreme circumstances, but equally Christians believe that intellect is a gift of God. God has given us freedom of thought and mind and therefore he expects us to use it. Train and ‘prepare your minds for action’ says the Apostle Peter in his first epistle (1 Peter 1.13) and there is much encouragement in the scriptures about being wise and discerning. Ironically, a lot of so called ‘free-thinkers’ – simply don’t! They merely go with the flow and follow the fads and fashions of society without ever really thinking through the implications of their non-religious world view. They simply accept it as being bright, right, sophisticated and clever – but what if it isn’t?

Finally, the statement sarcastically implies that believing in God is rather like believing in fairy stories with the assumption being that it’s all made up, ‘pie-in-the-sky’, myth and legend. Surprisingly, the vast majority of Christians don’t believe in fairy stories either, so how can they be so sure that their belief in God isn’t unreasonable? Well, that’s because Christianity invites the individual to study the evidence – once one understands that the Bible is written in a wide range of literary genres (narrative, history, poetry etc) springing from a wide range of historical contexts backed up with historical data and eye-witness testimonies, then the evidence starts to speak for itself. Famous authors such as C.S Lewis (Mere Christianity) and Frank Morrison (Who Moved the Stone?) started out as committed atheists but found that upon close inspection the evidence for Christianity was overwhelming. From a Muslim perspective Nabeel Qureshi’s Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is another good example.

So I suppose the question is, are you as a fully educated, free thinking person willing to study the evidence?

Consider this! If someone could provide reasonable answers to your most significant questions and objections you have —reasonable to the point that Christianity seems true beyond a reasonable doubt—would you then become a Christian? If your honest answer is no, then your resistance to Christianity is emotional or volitional, not merely intellectual. No amount of evidence will convince you because evidence is not what’s in your way — you are!


The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. Psalm 111.10


god-vs-atheism

Can Intolerance Be A Virtue?

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Recently, Newsnights Emily Maitlis discussed a report that had been published by the independent cross-party think-tank Demos as part of their At Home in One’s Past project. The title may sound fancy, but in a nut-shell it was trying to gauge public opinion about how people viewed modern British Society and culture by inviting people to reflect upon a series of typical statements (sometimes provocative) heard in modern society. The focus groups in question contained a diverse mix of citizens by age, socio-economic status and ethnicity. However, the vast majority of participants were white British people over the age of 55 and although the survey covered a wide range of areas those relating to cultural identity were particularly interesting. The common view was that all participants wanted to be treated with decency and fairness and took great pride in the fact that Britain was on the whole a fair and just society. However, participants also reported (and I quote) “feeling that British politics and the media now focus too heavily on the rights and needs of minority groups, and that there is an absence of ‘fair exchange’ of tolerance between minority groups and dominant White British, Christian Culture – which is expected to constantly adapt” (end quote). The report stated that Political Correctness was widely seen as having been overextended to such an extent that it was now not only hindering free speech and open debate but quickly changing British culture to the regret of our older citizens. One of the interviewees on the television programme reminded us quite rightly that we should be careful about the things that we say because our words have consequences, but another argued that the mood had changed to such a degree that people were reluctant to speak their mind because they were afraid of the backlash that their ‘out-of-step’ and perhaps traditional views might create. In other words, the ‘fair exchange of tolerance’ wasn’t working towards those who had suddenly discovered that their traditional values weren’t currently popular or mainstream.

So, what is tolerance and to what extent can it be described as a Christian virtue? The Cambridge Dictionary describes tolerance as ‘the willingness to accept behaviour and beliefs that are different from your own, although you might not agree with or approve of them’, but Don Carson in his book The Intolerance of Tolerance has noted how in recent times there has been a subtle shift from defending the rights of those who hold different beliefs to affirming all beliefs as equally valid and correct in which case it becomes increasingly difficult to say, ‘I disagree with you’.

Many would applaud such Christian values as ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Luke 10.27) or ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’ (Luke 6.31) which would seem to support a mutual sense of love and respect for one another, but statements such as these can’t be used to imply that anything goes or that there is no difference between right and wrong. In fact, most people including Christians should be prepared to passionately defend what they believe even if this appears on the surface to be intolerant to those who assume the cultural norm – not just in matters of fairness, social equality and justice but in matters of faith such as ‘salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4.12). People have every right to disagree with this statement but they have no right to suggest that it shouldn’t be viewed or aired for that would be equally intolerant and contrary to free speech, our traditional British values and Christian heritage.


“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage— with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Timothy 4.2