Friday, 31 August 2007

'To spend too much time in studies is sloth'

It's been a rather longer break in posting than I'd hoped, because of how busy my summer's been. Venezuela was truly excellent, if exhausting and challenging. Full news of that shall follow shortly, when my travel journal notes are written into a brief tome.


More recently, I've been to Greece: it was absolutely amazing! We were on the island of Samos, home to Pythagorus, a stone's throw from Turkey. Have a look at some pictures, which might suggest the atmosphere:

Sailing! The RS Feva, front, and the Laser Pico back.

Both are really single-handed vessels. (And yes, the Pico's ahead...)



My father dancing with Lydia (aged 5)

The only problem was Father's attempts to speak Greek. Including his highly audible counting of lengths in the swimming pool, which caused no little mirth.

More analytical and philosophical posts to follow soon.....

Thursday, 19 July 2007

There will now be a short pause...

I'm afraid you'll have to wait a while for another blog post: I'll be busy in Venezuela. We're going to be having a great time (I hope) with a couple of treks, including one up a table-top mountain. We'll also see the Angel Falls, and help to build a school.

So keep blogging, and I'll read them when I get back. My next update will be on the 19th August, plus the day or so it takes me to read Harry Potter 7 when I return...

P

Monday, 16 July 2007

A narrative tale

For once, I'm going to give an account of my activities, albeit briefly:

  • Thursday's Prom was excellent: my thanks to Greg for organising it at great personal effort and also great personal risk, as we all discovered.
  • The post-prom do was also superb: my thanks to Nick for hosting it, and for all those who were also there for being such great company.
  • Friday had the Head's 'leaving do' in the evening. It was an amazing honour, we discovered, to be asked to play. But it was a really, really moving event, emphasising why I love the school so much. What other school could claim so brilliant an ethos as to perform the Frampton of the Opera?
  • On Saturday, Greg, Francis and I played for my church's fund-raising concert with Southend Young Singers. It was an amazing concert, and excellent fun to play in as well. My thanks to Greg and Fran' for playing!
  • On Sunday, the Lassalian's tea was stunningly enjoyable. The best company, the best food, and a beautiful sung Evensong. The tea deserves special mention: tea, scones, crumpets, cake. I still can't fittingly describe it. So accordingly, my thanks to our hosts for a brilliant afternoon.

So why have I troubled you with a post best suited to the Oscars? Simply this: it made me really appreciate once more the pleasure of good company. We are so lucky to have companions with whom we can spend time. The last week has really brought home to me again how brilliant that is!

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

I have now prepared my arguments for the debate in which I am partaking on Sunday morning before our church's young people. The debate is on the role of women in the church - whether they should lead. I'd like to show them to you now for your scurtiny and suggestions, and purely for interest's sake.

Do bear in mind the Baptist attitude towards positions of leadership. I've avoided anything priestly, so don't expect to see the In persona Christi arguments, and the like, or the force of Sacred Tradition. Whilst I hold them to be powerful arguments, my audience would need some persuading. Accordingly, they are omitted, along with any other relevant Catholic theology (I hope). Nonetheless, much has been used from the work of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and its 1976 publication, Inter Insigniores.

Debate on the Role of Women in the Church


The arguments against women serving as church leaders are essentially divided into several parts, as follows:

· The example of Christ.
· The example of the Apostles and the early Church
· The teachings of Paul in his New Testament letters.

With each part, I have listed the key arguments and Scriptural quotations, with a brief explanation, below.

The example of Christ

1) Jesus did not call any women to become part of the Twelve. In doing this, he was not simply conforming to the standards of his time; throughout the New Testament, we see how dramatically he broke with the Jewish custom in his attitude towards women. Examples of this include:
· Talking in public with a Samaritan woman (Jn 4:27)
· Ignoring the legal impurity of the woman who had suffered from haemorrhages (Mt. 9:20-22)
· Allowing sinful women to approach him. (Lk 7:37-50)
· Pardoning the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:11)
· Teaching of the equality of rights and duties of men and women in marriage (Mk 10:2-11; Mt 19:3-9)

2) The role of the twelve Apostles was different from those of the other disciples: they were to be the leaders of the church. Jesus’ disciples included many women very close to him: ‘Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others.’ Yet these disciples were not – and never became – apostles.

3) Contrary to Jewish custom it is women to whom Christ entrusts the message of his Resurrection. Their role in telling the Apostles of the Resurrection was against custom because the Jewish mentality did not give women the authority to witness great events.


The practice of the Apostles

1) The apostles kept faithful to Christ’s attitude. Even though Mary had a privileged place amongst the disciples, she was not invited to replace Judas as an apostle. Instead, Matthias – unmentioned in the Gospels – was chosen.

2) When they apostles went beyond the Jewish world and worked within the Greek and Roman cultures, they maintained their stance against women in leadership. In the Greek culture, women were often priestesses in the cult of Greek deities. Greek feminism was strong. Nonetheless, the Apostles maintained that women could not have authority. Thus it cannot simply be because of the Jewish culture that they took such a stance.

3) Paul was assisted in his ministry by many people. Some were men, some were women. Examples of the women are found in Romans 16:3-12 and Philippians 4:3. Yet they were not leaders. This is seen in the original Greek text:
· The Greek text gives three types of ministry: episkopos, presbyteros, and diakonos, meaning overseer (or bishop), elder, and deacon, (or servant). The overseers and elders were figures of authority. The deacons – servants – had responsibility, but not authority.
· The woman described in Romans 16, Phoebe, was a deacon, not a leader. No woman was made to be an overseer or an elder.
· Similarly, Paul has two ways of referring to his colleagues. One is ‘my fellow workers’, which he uses of men and women; they are helping him in his work. Another is ‘God’s fellow workers’, used only of Apollos, Timothy and himself. This has been taken by many leading Biblical scholars to show the distinction between the ministry of leading the Church and the ministry of working in it. The leading is only done by men in the New Testament.

The teachings of Paul in his Letters

Paul’s letters are very important to the role of women. These are a few key verses from his letters:

Galatians 3:28
‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’
This is the great ‘equality’ verse of the New Testament, used by many to suggest an equality of roles in the Church. But is this correct? If so, it contradicts the other teachings of Paul:

1 Corinthians 11:3
‘But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ’

As well as equality, Paul talks of a hierarchy as the best way of human living. Respecting and loving each other as equals, the husband is to exercise authority over his wife? Is this compatible with Galatians 3:28? It is only compatible if ‘equal’ does not mean ‘the same’ in Paul’s teaching.
The same ideas are seen again in Ephesians:

Ephesians 5:22-24
‘Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband d is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church…Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, subject to their husbands.’


Again, men are given authority over the woman. Why is this so? The answer is given in the famous verse in 1 Timothy on the subject of women teaching in church.

1 Timothy 2: 11-14
‘Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.’

Those supporting women in leadership often take this verse as contextual, or as part of Paul’s dislike of women. To suggest that Paul is sexist is wrong, because Paul was in favour of equality – he wrote Galatians 3:28. Even so, he taught that women could not have authority over men in church. Was this contextual?

We have already seen that the Greek culture in Ephesus had female priestesses, and so were used to having women teach. It cannot therefore be that Paul banned them leading because they would not have the respect of the men. The reason Paul gives is that it is because of Eve’s actions in the Garden of Eden. This is not a contextual reason for Greece in the first century, but a reason from the dawn of time. Thus, the argument still applies today.

The point is that unless ‘equal’ mean ‘interchangeable’, equality means nothing for the role of women as church leaders.

This is a counter-cultural message, like most of the New Testament. We are called to uphold God’s Creation of male and female as a complementary partnership, not as a uniform ‘equality’.

‘The questions are delicate: it is necessary to aim for a system where both men and women contribute effectively, in order that both men and women bring their own riches and activity in building a world, not levelled and uniform, but harmonious and united according to the design of the Creator’

Thursday, 5 July 2007

An Inclusive Gospel?

THE VISION OF CHRIST that thou dost see
Is my vision’s greatest enemy.
Thine has a great hook nose like thine;
Mine has a snub nose like to mine...
Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read’st black where I read white.
(i)

Recently, over on 'Me and My Biretta', Greg wrote very well on the question of why he shall 'remain an Anglican'. However, on 'the issue of gays and women', he wrote one thing that I'd like to question. It was this: 'it would be a bit weird to proclaim an inclusive Gospel for an inclusive Church and say "no" to half the population'. I won't go into too much depth about the specific issues to which he applies such an argument, but I do wish to question the argument itself.

An inclusive Gospel

The idea of an inclusive Gospel is a favourite of the Liberal movement, and with good reason. Christ is seen to be a very inclusive figure, in contrast to the Jewish community. He spoke with a Samaritan Woman (S. John 4), and visits the house of sinners, such as Zacchaeus, an immoral tax collector (S. Luke 19). Moreover, Christ himself says: 'the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.' (ii)

This inclusive Gospel is continued in the Epistles of the Apostles: 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' (iii) The equality of gender, of race and of social status is conclusively affirmed: the Gospel of Christ is equally open to everybody.

Challenging the 'inclusive' Gospel.

It can be seen, therefore, that the Gospel is open to all, without a shred of prejudice. But does this make it 'inclusive'? I contend that it does not, and rather that it is in fact a 'divisive' message. I'll take the evidence is certain sections:

The teachings of Christ

'Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel."' (iv)

The coming of Christ splits the history of the world cleanly into two parts, both in secular and theological terms. The first question is whether the 'Gospel of God' which Jesus preached is inclusive or not. The 'Kingdom of God' (or 'of Heaven') is, as I read, a complex phrase. The Greek, basileia, is an active noun, perhaps better translated to sovereignty: the active reign, rather than the monarchical institution. Origen called Christ the autobasileia - Himself a physical embodiment of the Kingdom of God.(v) Thus Christ's Incarnation is a visit to earth of a divine authority.

This authority is used quite dramatically. The first event which springs to mind is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats: 'All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.' I would suggest that this is clearly a divisive message. The division is emphasised by the differing rewards of the righteous and the unrighteous.

'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.' (vii)

Where there is truth, there is falsehood; where there is life, there is death. Christ claims to be 'the truth' and 'the life'. Not 'a truth', nor 'a life' but 'the truth' and 'the life': there is no other alternative. Christ is the exclusive answer. As He says: 'No one comes to the Father except through me.' As was later written in 2 John, 'Whosoever... abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God' (viii).

The apostles' teaching.

'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' (ix)

This verse should also be examined. It is incontrovertibly true that this verse teaches of the importance and correctness of equality. But is it 'inclusive' in the modern sense of the word? The very same Apostle wrote the verse condemned by many as sexist: 'I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.' (x) What this tells us is that - unless S. Paul contradicts himself - equal does not mean the same. The verse must be looked at in the broader context of the Apostle's writing: a text without a context is a pretext, as has often been said.

The second thing to remember is that S. Paul limits this equality to Christians. The equality only applies 'If you belong to Christ' (v. 29). This is important given many modern interpretations.

Conclusion

The conclusion to be drawn is that the Gospel is not inclusive, but divisive: Christ comes 'to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire' (xi), as well as to separate 'the sheep and the goats'. Whilst there is to be no discrimination as to who can come to Christ, the difference between those who have and those who have not is great.

This is not a message which is popular or comfortable in our times. But then, neither is the fact that we are all sinners. Humility is rarely the order of the day in 2007. However, C S Lewis wrote powerfully on such problems:

I wish it was possible to say something more agreeable. But I must say what I think true. of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing... In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it.' (xii)

'Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovia per una selva oscura
che la diritta via era smarrita'



References
(i) The Everlasting Gospel, William Blake.
(ii) S. Luke 19 v. 10
(iii) Galatians 3 v. 28
(iv) S. Mark 1 vv.14-15
(v) Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI.
(vi) S. Matthew 25 vv. 31-36
(vii) S. John 14 v. 6
(viii) 2 John v. 9
(ix) Galatians 3 v. 28
(x) 1 Timothy 2 v. 12
(xi) S. Luke 3 v. 17
(xii) Mere Christianity, C S Lewis.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Gaza again

So, the captors have finally released Alan Johnston, meaning - amongst other things - that I no longer have to struggle to put the banner at the bottom of this blog. It's brilliant news, and I'm really pleased to see a positive headline for once, especially in so deserving a cause.

But what does this mean for Gaza? Well, its best journalist is free again. Will he work there still? I hope so, but I wouldn't blame him for choosing otherwise, especially given his family's concerns. But what does it mean for Hamas? It's an enormous propaganda success: one of the very highest order. It is no coincidence that Alan Johnston was taken to the home of the Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, sacked recently as PM. The propaganda message is enormously clear: that Hamas is in charge of Gaza, and that they can keep control in a respectable manner. Moreover, that in doing so, they have achieved what others cannot. So the question is this: when does a coup become a revolution?

Friday, 29 June 2007

All change!

So, the exams are finally finished, and I need to work out what to do with all of my time again, other than listen to music and watch tennis. It reminds me muchly of what Tony Blair said. I like him much more now that I don't have to hate him being a Labour MP. He was a good, reasonably R-W PM. I remain gravely worried about the 'constitutional reforms' Jack Straw is announcing today. The chap who introduced the Lords Reforms a few months ago now runs our constitutional affairs. Not encouraging.

Anyway, I digress: what did Tony Blair say about Thursday? He said that it was the little things which were most noticed: that life was good, and it was right to retire, but also that all of those annoyances and pleasures which had been a staple figure for a decade had gone. And that, he said, felt strangest.

It's the same with me. Watching tennis and pondering what to blog about is lovely: I don't have to work. But at the same time, there's an emptiness: that bit where I used to feel guilty for not working is gone.

Ah well! It's all change, and I hate change. To compound the situation, some idiot's got a party this evening which I don't really want to go to.

P

Friday, 22 June 2007

A little introduction

I have recently received a few requests (and contrary requests) to give you all a little mini-series of legal posts. I know more of the law than I do of other issues, so I'd be happy to oblige. Somethings, however, will require a reasonable knowledge of the way our legal system works, and how others do. So, without further ado, here's an introduction to our legal system and that most brilliantly British master-piece, the Common Law system.


Trials


Before we go back to the origins of our current system and its nature, we may as well deal with the Courts. In Britain, we have separated legal systems. Scotland works differently from England and Wales, with a separate legal system, separate body of professionals, and of courts. The only Court in England which has jurisdiction over Scotland is the House of Lords, which is a UK-wide body.

The European systems use a different system of trials than we do: they have inquisitorial judges. We have judges who are umpires, and judge what is presented to them. On the continent, the judges are investigators, and are involved in more than simply what is presented to them. We, on the other hand, have an adversarial legal system. It applies the Socratic principle that the truth is best determined by weighing up the most powerful arguments on either side. In essence, advocates are hired to make a sides case, pick holes in the other side's case, and then the judge or jury decide which is true. It's a blunt but reliable trial method. The European systems use one slightly different: they have inquisitorial judges. We have judges who are umpires, and judge what is presented to them. On the continent, the judges are investigators, and are involved in more than simply what is presented to them.


Types of Law

It is very important to clarify the three broad types of law. This is generalised, but essential. First is Criminal law. You commit a crime, you are prosecuted. This is judged in a criminal court, by Magistrates or Judge and Jury. (We'll deal with the different courts in a moment.) The state considers crime its own responsibility, not simply that of the victim.

Second is private law. This is commonly called civil law, from its common reference to civil procedures, when one citizen sues another. Negligence, contracts, damages and divorces all fall under the civil, not criminal jurisdiction. Civil cases are dealt with by different courts to Criminal cases.

The third - less well-known - element is public or constitutional law. This includes our constitution, the balance of power, the rule of the state, and administrative law, such as planning procedures and the like. Public law cases rarely come before the courts, but are increasingly.


The Courts

As in any country, Britain has a hierarchy or Courts. There are, as I outlined above, almost completely separate systems for the different types of law. What follows is a simplified version of the system, which will be sufficient for our present purposes:

Criminal Law


95% of criminal cases are dealt with by Magistrates' Courts. Magistrates are laymen, instructed by legal experts, who decide the facts and apply the law. The court is usually comprised of a bench of 3 Magistrates, but could be comprised of a single District Judge: a legal professional.

Cases which are of sufficient gravity or are particularly controversial will merit a Crown Court hearing. This is the stereotypical court: barristers, a Judge, and a Jury. The judge decides points of law, sentencing, and 'umpires' the trial: the Jury decide the facts.

The distinctions are well described by Wikipedia:

Offences are of three categories: indictable only, summary and either way. Indictable only offences such as murder and rape must be tried on indictment in the Crown Court. On first appearance, the Magistrates must immediately refer the defendant to the Crown Court for trial, their only role being to decide whether to remand the defendant on bail or in custody.

Summary offences, such as most motoring offences, are much less serious and most must be tried in the Magistrates' Court, although a few may be sent for trial to the Crown Court along with other offences that may be tried there (for example assault). The vast majority of offences are also concluded in the Magistrates' Court (over 90% of cases).

If one side wished to appeal against a trial decision, there is a system of appellate courts. the Crown Court hears appeals from Magistrates' Courts.

The next step is where it gets complicated, but to keep it as simple as possible, appeals from cases first heard in the Crown Court (where the Crown Court is the 'Court of first instance') are heard by the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) by three Lords Justices. They decide points of law, problems with trial procedure, and assess new evidence. They can quash convictions, order re-trials, or change sentences. The Dando murder case has just been referred again to the Court of Appeal, on grounds that there is new evidence. Where the Crown Court was hearing an appeal from a Magistrates' Court, further appeals go to the High Court for appeal (see Civil courts, below), then to the House of Lords.

Appeals from the Court of Appeal will reach the House of Lords, or rather the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. This comprises 5 Law Lords. This is the senior court of appeal. After this, only the European Courts or legislation can change a result.


Civil Courts


Many minor civil cases are heard in the County Court. This is the workhorse of the civil system. It deals as the court of first instance with all claims of less than £50,000, and includes the Small Claims track, known colloquially as the Small Claims Court. The famous recent cases of bank charge reclamation are County Court cases. they are heard by a District or Circuit Judge.

The court of first instance for major Civil cases is the High Court, which also hears appeals from the County and Crown Courts. The High Court is divided into divisions:

  • The Queen's Bench Division, which deals with two distinct types of case. The first is that it deals with contracts, personal injury, and negligence. It is also a supervisory court. The QBD will hear appeals from lower courts.

  • The Chancery Division deals with business law, trusts, land law, company law, and other such issues.

  • The Family Division deals with divorce, medical treatment, children and wills.

High Court cases are heard by High Court Judges. There are no juries.



Civil appeals from the High Court go to the Court of Appeal (Civil Division), once again heard by three Lords Justices. Further appeals again reach the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords.

Last of all, the Divisional Court, part of the High Court, hears mostly Judicial reviews: a recent innovation allowing people to dispute executive government decisions, both locally and nationally.


There: I think I've managed them all! Here's a handy diagram in case your head has just exploded like mine did:

I'm conscious that I've already included an awful lot of information, so I'll leave the second bit until a later point. Hope you got it all. if not, ask and I'll be happy to clarify.

P

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Gaza

It is fitting today to comment upon the situation in Gaza, but, given the fact that I've not yet done sufficient French revision, I shall have to be relatively brief. Some time ago I wrote a similar post on the palestinian Problem. I expressed hope that the air strikes on Palestine by Israel would bring the Palestinians together. Unless you live in a hole, you'll know that it has not. But given the significance of today for Gaza, I'd like to share a few thoughts with you.

Hamas and Democracy

The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has dissolved the Hamas-led Palestinian authority. To us sensible Brits, this seems at first the right move. Their militants have been fighting in the street, and they don't even move to separate themselves from rebels. A state of emergency is reasonable, one might well say. However, it does raise huge problems. The first move of the USA was to recognise the new government, and to condemn Hamas. This is only to be expected. The USA hadn't recognised Hamas's administration, on the grounds that it was terrorist. The logic, however, is worryingly wobbly. Terrorism is unacceptable to the US because it is not democratic: it is the military subversion of government. Yet Hamas were elected by free and fair elections, partly in protest against Fatah's corruption. This has not been questioned. I think it will remain unquestioned. Is that really the right mindset?

Violence

That question having been raised, however, we must look at another issue. Surely there is no place in politics for the existence of an Authority (not a government) which calls for the utter destruction of another state. Unfortunately, for me to hold that position would be somewhat naïf. China does not recognise Taiwan, for example. More worrying still, however, is the utter violence that we've seen. The Palestinians are brawling awfully. We have simply been witnesses to one of the bloodiest coups in recent history, trying to oust a political faction which still has power - the President is from Fatah, so co-operation and compromise are necessary. Palestinians have killed each other in the streets, even whilst they were being bombed by the Israelis. Can we entrust to them the running of their own state? Unlikely. Can we trust them to keep peace in the Middle east? Certainly not.

Alan Johnston

Today marks 100 days since the BBC journalist was taken in Gaza. he's a great man, as you will all have heard! I'd exort you to petition with God and the PM et al to secure his release. Interestingly, though, Hamas have made a good political move from this. They have asserted what new authority they have over Palestine to attempt to secure his release. Today they have even promised that they will consider it their responsability if no progress is made. That's more than anyone else has done. It's most laudable. This is quite probably why hamas have made the move. Nonetheless, it does make them more than mere terrorists. If they begin to act as a responsible government, I think - given their democratic mandate - it might just be right to accept them.

Alan Johnston banner

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

The Pulley

Plenty for me to talk and rant about, but you'll have to wait a little longer I'm afraid. So I'll leave you with a fitting poem I discovered whilst working yesterday:


The Pulley

When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blesings standing by;
Let us (said he) pour on him all we can:
Let the world's riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.

So strength first made a way;
The beauty flow'd, then wisdom, honour, pleasure:
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone of all his treasure
Rest in the bottom lay.

For if I should (said he)
Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.

Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness:
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.

George Herbert

Friday, 8 June 2007

A bowl of Petunias, anyone?

For some time, Justitia has been calling me to tell you a little more of current legal issues. Hopefully we'll see a few of them. First of all, though, current legal affairs. Civil liberties and terrorism are once again lowering their heads for the charge.

The proposals

Gordon Brown and John Reid have had a good time of announcing some anti-terrorism proposals recently. Presumably because the political world is on stand-still until the 27th June.

Detention without charge

Heading up the proposals once more is the wish they share to extend the time that one can be held (under anti-terror laws) without charge to more than 28 days. This means that someone, at the moment, can be held for a month without being formally accused of any crime. That in itself is highly questionable. What happened to the principle of not imprisoning someone without a trial?

This principle was first set down in 1215, in our famous Magna Carta:

XXIX. Nullus liber homo capiatur, vel imprisonetur, aut disseisiatur, aut utlagetur, aut exuletur, aut aliquo modo destruatur, nec super cum ibimus, nec super cum mittemus, nisi per legale judicium parium suorum vel per legem terre.

(XXIX. No Free man shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.)

Magna Carta is perhaps too often quoted by our civil rights movements. But it is important because of one fact: it is the first set of laws stipulating how our country should be run: it is our first attempt at limiting the power of the State. It worked: ever since, we've not had a police state. There have been a few hiccups here and there, but we've been free from Soviet/Nazi-style oppression. I'm very concerned about this lengthening of detention without charge. Very concerned indeed.

Post-charging questioning

Another proposal is to allow police to question a suspect after they have been charged. Now this sounds, at first, to be a sensible move. Why should the police have this artificial barrier to questioning? Thinking about it further has perturbed me increasingly, though. Consider the principles involved. When a person is charged with a crime, that means that a prosecution will (probably) occur. It means that the prosecutors have sufficient evidence to proceed with a trial with the probability of a conviction. That means that they must be convinced a Jury could be sure of the person's guilt. In terrorism offences, when a person is charged, they will generally appear before a Magistrate, plead 'not guilty', and proceed to a Trial by Jury and Judge in the the stereotypical court-case. This will happen a lot later.

Such changes in the law as are proposed would change all of that. For 3 months, a person could be held in police cells, then charged. Then he could be questioned further - (for how long?) - before appearing before a court. This will lead to a trying time for the accused - he could be questioned by police daily for months before appearing in court whilst they try to scrape together the evidence to have a chance of conviction. Of course, I am presenting the worst-case scenario - or at least a bad one. But we cannot assume we'll only arrest terrorists. Think of the police shooting of the innocent Asian chap in Forest Gate last year.

The Control order furore

All of this could possibly be tolerated if it weren't part of a wider worrying trend away from a free society. The worst part, I think, has been the row over control orders. Control orders are used when there is insufficient evidence to try someone, but the government believes them to be a terrorist. They're often similar to house arrest. Recently, 3 men on control orders absconded. John Reid's reaction was nauseating:

"They were brought in because the courts prevented the government from jailing people who were believed to be terrorists...we were stopped from jailing them because we didn't have the evidence to convict them here."

Can Dr Reid be serious? Are we to accept that control orders - questionable in themselves - don't work? And are we to accept his excuse - that the House of Lords, that august body (and seemingly more concerned with democracy than the government) had told him it was illegal to bang people up in jail without trial? It really does defy belief.

But what shocks me most is that no-one's kicking up a storm in our slow but steady slip towards a police state.

P

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

The Moral Law: (Ten Theses)


Some time ago, I wrote a post containing 'Twelve Theses', searching for a Universal Truth. Now, in time-honoured fashion, I present a sequel: a set of Theses demonstrating - I hope - the existence of a Universal Moral Law and considering the consequences of such a conclusion. I would love you to dispute it with me.

Two notes I would add, however before I start:

Once again, I will use the terms 'Thesis' - a proposition to be discussed, and 'Scholium' - a marginal note or explanation to the Thesis.

Gavin: do try to read this one....

Morality


THESIS I


In everyday life, there is a basic moral standard to which everyone implicitly agrees. How can this be seen? When one argues, there is never a debate over the definition of 'correct' actions.


If a man accuses me of breaking a promise with him, what do I say? I do not say 'It doesn't matter if I did lie to you and break my promise'. What I do is that I try to prove that I never promised anything to him, or I in fact promised something else, or that there are extenuating circumstances which excuse me from my promise.


Another example is theft: if a man walks into my house and steals the computer, I will say 'What are you doing? That's my computer!', or more vehement words to that effect. If he replies 'So what, I want it', one would think him very strange, if not insane. He is in fact much more likely to run.


Note: In this argument, I hope to use everyday examples. Paedophilia, rape and murder are much stronger examples of utterly 'deplorable' actions. I'll leave you to consider their influence of the question, at least for the moment.

THESIS II


Such actions are not a matter of personal commodity. Whilst a promise broken is inconvenient, it is not the inconvenience which causes the anger we feel. There is a sense of abstract 'propriety' which has been broken. For example, if someone beats me to a seat, I am disappointed. But I do not feel angry at the fact that he has 'stolen' my seat. Yet if he takes the seat from me, by force or deception, I am angry. Similarly, if someone trips me up accidentally, I am not offended, though I be bruised. Yet if he tries deliberately to trip me, I am angry, even if he fails and I am not hurt. The 'propriety' contravened is not a matter of personal interest, but of something more absolute than that.


THESIS III


Similarly, a recognition of such 'proper' actions is seen through our consciences. If I lie, I feel guilt. Like any inter-personal argument, I will often try to make excuses. The ability to make excuses requires a knowledge of the rules we have contravened. Our perception of the Moral Law is innate.


Scholium:


It might be suggested that this morality is innate because it is a question of one's own will. It has been suggested that our moral conventions are essentially individual, and thus there is no absolute moral law. We are limited by what we are content to do. Yet this cannot truly account for the nature of our morality. Such a morality is no limitation at all. A gaoler who imprisons himself with the keys to the cell is not imprisoned; a man who limits himself according to his own ideas is not truly limited t all. Further more, what role does guilt play in such an answer? If I do only that which I am comfortable with doing, why should I ever act in such a way as to feel guilty? All too often I know that I will feel regret before I take such actions. Yet I still act, and feel remorse. Thus one's own will cannot account for the moral law that exists innately.


THESIS IV


This innate Moral Law is also universal. It is seen in all times and all places, in various forms. Why should we assume that it changes due to different geographical or temporal positions? Humans are human, regardless of race, colour, creed, or epoch.


Scholium
:


This is perhaps the most controversial of the Theses so far. Thus it requires some particular attention.


The first objection raised to it is that the 'Moral Law' is merely a social convention which we learn from our parents. The objectionable word here is 'merely'. The Moral Law is a fundamental part of civilised society and that society's conventions, because we cannot have civilisation without it. And we do learn it from parents and teachers. We learn the 2 + 2 = 4 from our teachers. Yet that does not mean that it is only there because we learn it. The laws of mathematics exist without humans: if a squirrel has 2 nuts in each hand, he still has 4 overall. Similarly, if I were born alone on a desert island, morality would still exist, whether or not one was taught it. Whether or not it would be used, it would still exist.


The second objection is that the moral law is demonstrably different in different times and places. This seems absolutely to disprove my Thesis. It is called cultural relativism, and is very popular indeed. However, there are several flaws.:


Firstly, the differences between cultures are not as large as many proponents of such a theory would have us believe. Western and eastern cultures have different definitions of what is acceptable. This is true. But try to imagine what a culture would be like with a completely different morality. One where cowardice in battle was rewarded with golden medals, or where disloyalty and betrayal of one's friends was seen to be the apotheosis of 'goodness'. Such examples simply do not exist.


What we have instead are cultural differences on how to fulfil the universal moral law. Some societies permit a man to take only one wife. Some say two, three, or even many more. Yet all agree that a man cannot have any woman he pleases.


Furthermore, there always remains the problem that accepting different morality differing moral judgments. Let us assume that there are different moral standards for different societies. The Holocaust, then, becomes absolutely acceptable. The Nazis believed the Jews were deplorable scum, and inferior humans. Thus they killed them off. It is perfectly right for them to do so. It is also perfectly acceptable for a foreigner to rape, abduct and murder a three-year-old girl, because he has a different morality to us. It is exactly the same as if he had saved her from drowning.


It is right to accept that different cultures strive towards the Moral Law in differing ways. Yet it is not right to say that the whole Law is different.


THESIS V


If humans perceive this Universal Moral Law, they also break it often. It is not like the laws of nature such as gravity. When a stone is thrown, it falls. And when a human eats nothing for too long, they will die. Such laws cannot be disobeyed. yet the Universal Moral Law can be. This means it must be treated differently.


THESIS VI


Since we do not obey the Law, it cannot be a human invention. Humanity cannot be the origin of a Law which it proves itself always incapable of fulfilling. Neither can we have invented it as an 'ideal' to strive for, despite failings: if it were, where would the inspiration for that ideal come from?


Scholium
:


Just as a stone has no control over gravity, we have no control over the stipulations of the Moral Law. The difference is that we can choose whether or not to obey it. We never choose to feel guilt.


THESIS VII


Morality is not a question of science, or of mathematics. There are two alternative origins for such a Moral Law, since it cannot be human. The first is the almost Platonic idea that the moral absolutes we perceive are ideals which we try to bring into daily life. They are timeless, unchanging, and uncaused.


However, such a theory leaves much to be desired. Firstly, why is there a compulsion for us to follow these abstract, timeless, unchanging ideals? If such a theory is to be used, some additional explanation must be given to tell us quite why we feel the presence of unworldly ideals every day. Secondly, how do they become part of our daily life? What is it which means that humans are moral creatures, when cabbages are not? For this to be explained, the unchanging ideals would have to show an interest in humans specifically. That is an absurdity, since an ideal is abstract. Abstract things cannot have emotions.


The second answer is theism. A theistic solution means that there is compulsion to follow the Moral Law. If a god created us, he can command us. Secondly, theology always includes punishment for wrong-doing and reward for goodness, be it a paradisaical or tormented after-life, or reincarnation as a greater or lower being. Thirdly, there is an easily notable link between the Moral Law and our lives: we are commanded to obey, whether we do or not. This is the better course by far: it gives us a power and a cause behind our observations, whereas the 'Platonic' view merely refuses to yield itself to questioning.


The consequences of our conclusions


Do not start to think that I'm going faster or further than I am. I have not yet reached a religious viewpoint, let alone concluded that we need the viewpoint of any particular religion. We have simple established - if I am right thus far - the presence of a Being beyond and greater than ourselves (a god, if we like) who has set out this moral code. Here then, we have the next group of Theses, dealing with consequences:


THESIS VIII


What can we learn of the 'god' from our observations? Firstly, that it is a brilliant artist: the Universe is beautiful. Secondly, we can conclude that it is not gentle towards mankind: the Universe is a cruel and terrible place at times. Flowers and earthquakes are respective examples. The third piece of evidence is the Moral Law. This re-affirms our judgment that 'god' is not a gentle being. The law is as incontrovertible as nails. It is not easy to fulfil. It is impossible to fulfil utterly. Yet we must also conclude that this 'god' is fundamentally 'good': that is, it is extremely interested in fair play: justice, kindness, courage, truthfulness, etcetera.


This God must also be a 'person', in order to fulfil the requirements of the seventh thesis. If it were not, it could not command, create, or punish and reward us. An impersonal God is little more than an abstract ideal with a different name.


THESIS IX


If we are right thus far, we should be very afraid indeed. We have ascertained that there exists a 'God' who has created us and has authority over us. We have ascertained that He has established a Universal Moral Law for humanity which we must all follow, and that he can punish us if we do not. And we have ascertained that we cannot follow the Law utterly. So this absolute 'Goodness' that is God must hate much - if not most or even all - of what we do. Thus, as C S Lewis put it, 'God is the supreme comfort, he is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from... Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger - according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way'.


THESIS X, also CONCLUSION


In choosing to approach the question of religion this way, we see the questions that any set of beliefs must answer. How they answer them is an entirely different question which I will not attempt. You cannot truly attempt to understand any religion until you understand the state of mankind that it appeals to. As one atheist put it, 'if there are objective [moral] values, they make the existence of a god more probable than it would have been without them'. We must accept a universal morality because it demonstrably exists, and life is absurd without it. This provides an important pillar in the argument for God's existence.


"Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought. "

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Martin Luther

I really like some of Martin Luther's work. Much of what he wrote is pure genius. So I thought I'd share a snippet with you:

"Men have broad shoulders and narrow hips, and accordingly they possess intelligence. Women have narrow shoulders and broad hips. Women ought to stay at home; the way they were created indicates this, for they have broad hips and a wide fundament to sit upon, keep house, bear and raise children."

P

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

An Update


"Judges fail to back new ministry



Lord Phillips is concerned about the independence of the judiciary

Senior judges have refused to back government plans to set up the new Ministry of Justice, it has emerged.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, told MPs it had proved impossible to reach a deal with ministers.

The judges fear their independence will be compromised as the Lord Chancellor takes responsibility for prisons and probation as well as courts.


The Conservatives have urged the government to sort out what they called a "serious constitutional problem".

Shadow Constitutional Affairs Secretary Oliver Heald said: "This represents a very serious constitutional problem, and a situation which requires prime ministerial intervention, whether by Tony Blair or Gordon Brown.

"They should not be going on roadshows. They should be sorting out this serious issue."

Pressure

The government says it will push ahead with splitting of the Home Office in two - creating a new Ministry of Justice (MoJ) - even if it cannot get backing from senior judges.

Senior judges fear the new ministry, which took on responsibility for prisons, probation and sentencing policy from the Home Office on 9 May, will place less emphasis on the courts.
They are also concerned they will come under pressure to make decisions based on prisoner numbers and other non-judicial factors.

Lord Phillips said creating the MoJ move - which he told MPs he first learned about in an article in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper - would cause a "serious constitutional problem".

He wants an inquiry into the issues raised by the new ministry - and he called for "constitutional safeguards" to ensure the continued independence of the judiciary.

"We have now reached the firm view that there is a need to have a fundamental review of the position in light of the creation of the Ministry of Justice," he told the Constitutional Affairs Committee.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, had hoped to reach an agreement but he told the judges a number of topics were off limits, including the executive agency status of HM Courts Service and the possibility of ring-fencing its budget.

Sticking point

Lord Phillips told the committee: "We've tried very hard to reach an interim agreement to tide over the period that will elapse before a review, and any implementation of it can take effect."

He said the Lord Chancellor did not agree there was a need for a review.

"This has become a fundamental difference between us," he told the committee.

A particular sticking point was the executive agency status of the courts in England and Wales, he said.

The judiciary's chief negotiator on the working group, Lord Justice Thomas, said they wanted to secure a review of the current position, adding: "We wouldn't have thought it was an awful lot to ask."

Following the split, the Home Office will be left to concentrate on dealing with terrorism, security, immigration and policing. "

Life

"I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again."

Sunday, 20 May 2007

The Middle East

The answering hills of Palestine
Send back the glad reply.

The Palestinian Problem

I'm sure you all know of the general problems of Palestine and Israel. But what may have escaped your notice is the sudden revival of fighting in the past few days. Here's a synopsis: over the past week, numerous ceasefires between the rival Palestinian factions have been declared and broken. Palestinian militants have begun strikes on Israel once more, and thus Israel has begun retaliatory attacks.

After a six-month period of relative peace and stability, the violence has started again properly. More than 20 have been killed by Israeli air-strikes launched in retaliation to the scores of rockets which have struck Israeli towns.

The real violence, though, is actually between the Palestinians. There are two groups of Palestinian militants and politicians: Fatah and Hamas. Fatah was instrumental in the fight against Israel for a degree of independence, but have at least officially renounced arms. When they started to compromise, Hamas took over, as a much more extreme militant group. Unlike the IRA and Sinn Fein, Hamas doesn't even pretend to have any separation between terrorists and politicians. They belong to the same group. This has led the West to cease aid to Palestine, but that's a different story.

In Palestine at the moment, the President is a member of Fatah. But Hamas won the recent elections. Since then, there has been a fraught and bitter power-struggle between the two rival groups. Thus, Fatah gunmen are loyal to the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas; Hamas gunmen to the Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniya.

Yet the solution is not even that simple. The politicians do try to work together. They have a 'unity government', and have declared many cease-fires this week. But their militant 'followers' don't follow too closely. According to the UN, more than 150 Palestinians have died and more than 650 have been wounded in internal violence since the beginning of the year. In the past week, 40 have been killed. On Tuesday, 500 Fatah loyalists rejoined police ranks after military training in Egypt, amongst the growing violence. And the violence has continued to grow.

So what can we actually do about this crisis? For once, I do not think we can do anything at all. I think that for once, the blame lies squarely on the side of the Palestinians. Perhaps His Eminence would disagree. But how can any progress be made when Gaza is in such chaos? Consider the situation, as described by the honourable BBC:

Gaza is not an easy place to live at the best of times.

One of the most crowded areas of the world, where unemployment is high, people are poor and the economy crippled by an international boycott and Israel withholding desperately-needed Palestinian tax-revenues.

More than 50% of Gazans are 17 years old or younger. Most feel they have no prospects at home but no way to get out.

Foreign powers control all of Gaza's borders; opening and closing them at will. Gaza is also awash with illegal weapons.

This is an ongoing, explosive mix of internal and external pressures, all of which need to be addressed.

In this situation, there is nothing to do but to rally round and get on. And I don't mean get on with one's own life. I mean get on with one's neighbours. If a country is in chaos and crisis, co-operation is needed. If the Tories and Labour declared a civil war, would that save the Pensions fund? Altogether unlikely.

Perhaps it will be that the air-strikes will help the Palestinians work together in the face of a common foe. But that can only be cold comfort.

Alan Johnston banner

Monday, 14 May 2007

Madeleine

In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines,
lived twelve young girls in two straight lines;
They left the house at half-past nine...
The smallest one was Madeline.

I remain increasingly perturbed by the press coverage of the plight of young Madeleine McCann. For those of you who have spend the last ten days living either under a hole or in Shoebury, she's a young girl abducted last week from her holiday apartments in Portugal whilst her parents were at dinner. I pray you will forgive for being controversial, but I have a few concerns...

Where were her parents?

I admit that I know little of parenting. But what has been said to me by many adults is that they would never have left her alone in an apartment on holiday. I questioned Mother as to whether it was reasonable to force parents to plan their holidays on the assumption that there was an abduction threat all the time. her answer shocked me: "yes". I wouldn't have left them alone for fear of illness of accident. But the media hasn't questioned their actions. It;s just all sympathy.

What's the fuss?

My other major concern is the media attention on this one case. Tragic abductions happen. So do tragic murders. So do tragic rapes. Do all of them achieve the same media attention: headlines every day for over a week?

A few examples:
  • Today, two men have been arrested over the murder of a 15 year-old in London in February.
  • Today, a powerful bomb blast in Pakistan has killed at least 24 people.
  • Today, ten have been killed in Gaza in factional fighting, whilst the sides arm themselves rapidly.
  • Today, ethnically-motivated violence has claimed at least two lives in Assam, in Northern India.
  • Today, it has emerged that the Angolan Government has unlawfully evicted thousands of its poorest citizens, leaving them utterly destitute.


I do not wish to say that we should not be concerned for Madeleine, and for her family. The story is tragic. Yet it is only one life. I have mentioned 37 dead and thousands ruined - today. And I suppose I should add the 45 killed in Makhmur, in Iraq. And the 10 in Iraq.


So why is it that Madeleine has a reward of some 2.5 million, donated by celebrities? I do not wish to criticise either the celebrities or the reward system. But the answer is that it's caught the public imagination. Just like the Soham Murders. Just two deaths.


What we should do is recognise the others' suffering. As Nick wrote, it is not that Madeleine and her family do not deserve news, attention, care, concern, and support. But so many others do as well. We must have more perspective.


I'd like to leave you with a summary given earlier this year. No prizes for guessing it's provenance, except a pat on the back if you do. I've italicised the places and situations for your notice:


"How many wounds, how much suffering there is in the world! Natural calamities and human tragedies that cause innumerable victims and enormous material destruction are not lacking. My thoughts go to recent events in Madagascar, in the Solomon Islands, in Latin America and in other regions of the world. I am thinking of the scourge of hunger, of incurable diseases, of terrorism and kidnapping of people, of the thousand faces of violence which some people attempt to justify in the name of religion, of contempt for life, of the violation of human rights and the exploitation of persons. I look with apprehension at the conditions prevailing in several regions of Africa. In Darfur and in the neighbouring countries there is a catastrophic, and sadly to say underestimated, humanitarian situation. In Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo the violence and looting of the past weeks raises fears for the future of the Congolese democratic process and the reconstruction of the country. In Somalia the renewed fighting has driven away the prospect of peace and worsened a regional crisis, especially with regard to the displacement of populations and the traffic of arms. Zimbabwe is in the grip of a grievous crisis...

Likewise the population of East Timor stands in need of reconciliation and peace as it prepares to hold important elections. Elsewhere too, peace is sorely needed: in Sri Lanka only a negotiated solution can put an end to the conflict that causes so much bloodshed; Afghanistan is marked by growing unrest and instability; In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authority, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees. In Lebanon the paralysis of the country’s political institutions threatens the role that the country is called to play in the Middle East and puts its future seriously in jeopardy."

P

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

A Trio of Twits

It seems to me that our political scene is the domain of fools and system breakers. I'm feeling intolerant this evening, so I'm going to criticise three members of Parliament: - One a commoner, and two 'Lords'.

Cameron

Our illustrious leader of the 'Conservative Party'. There's something about his face that evokes in me the sense of his policies: soft and useless. Many of you will now be surprised that I'm criticising a Tory. I'm not. He's not a Tory. He simply calls himself a Conservative. What policies has he come up with so far?


That one left me struggling to think. He's not suggested tax breaks. He's not suggested a harsher law and order policy. He's not opposed the iniquitous reforms to the Lords. All he seems to have done is given us rhetoric. And told us to hug a thug. Clever man. You'd have thought he went to the University of East Sussex!

The Lawyers

Where do I start? In our country, the independence of the legal system is very important indeed. Yet it must be responsible to Parliament. So a member of the Government should oversee the judicial system. That makes perfect sense.

What was wrong with our system before? It worked for hundreds of years! The Crown - then the PM - appointed the Lord High Chancellor - the head of the judges - and also appointed the Law Officers of the Crown - the most important of whom is the Attorney General.

I was asked this week whether that was not an absurd system. Simply, it's not. I would favour a Lord Chancellor appointed by the senior judges. But that would be highly undemocratic. So in a democracy, it makes sense that a democratically appointed expert appoint the judges.

But it's all gone horribly wrong. Why? Well, let us have a look at the noble and learned Lords, Lord Falconer of Thoronton L.C. and Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General. One is the old flatmate of the P.M. He was appointed after the PM's old pupil-master, Lord Irvine of Lairg, was ousted from his post for speaking out against the Government. Independant judiciary? Not of course, that I believe it to be a case of 'jobs for the boys'. But it could be perceived as such. This would be a disaster - one must have confidence in our legal.

So what about the other chap? Lord Goldsmith. As the Attorney General, he has the final decision on whether prosectutions are launched. So the cash-for-honours scandal may well come down to him. And he's refused to stand aside if it does. The problem is that he's a Labour donor. And a peer. Same problem there then. No confidence.

So what's the answer? Blame the Labour Government for pulling it apart. No we have a Lord Chancellor who's not a judge, and will become just a Minister for Justice with a poncy title. And an Attorney General who few trust. And a Supreme Court Act, spending millions of pounds creating a Supreme Court tgo do the same job as the House of Lords does at the moment.

They say politicians use activity as a replacement for achievement.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

A General and Unacademic Rant

I've just spent hours this evening filling in my student loan application. For them to give me some money for some tuition fees. And the website - I did it online - is ridiculously ponderous. I dislike filling in details four times muchly. Is it not what computers are there for? To extrapolate and to make things easier. Ah well.

I would advise any teachers happening to read this to look away now: don't read the next paragraph.

Takky. I'm actually seriously vexed. Much more so than usual. I was considering early talking to PTC about him. You all know the grounds. But I'm worried. And the school should know.

Safe again!

On a more positive note, I realised that it's Tuesday today. And I dislike Tuesdays. Which means tomorrow's Wednesday. I like Wednesday. So I'm pleased.

As you may have noted, I'm absolutely shattered.

P

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

It's a fine line....

This blog war is becoming increasingly heated (Francis and Greg). Possibly a good thing. But it makes it incumbent upon me to state fully - rather than just in replies and comments - where I stand. But before I do, I'd like to establish the parameters of my comments:
  • These are my beliefs. They do not have to be yours, nor will I judge you for differing. That would be contradict the fundamental principles of the faith of which we are discussing fine details.
  • This post is written in an amicable, if serious tone. Ecumenism is a duty of the Faithful, and we must follow it. More of this later....
Denominational Relativism

The theme of my blog posts - attacking relativism in all of its forms - is becoming more pronounced than I hate expected. No matter. It seems that many commentators in this debate seem to hold to what I'll call 'denominational relativism': that is, that all denominations are equally good and valid. This is the principle that Greg launched the first strike at. His comments were thus:

"it doesn't matter which kind of church you go to because they're all the same... Sorry, it does. Non-denominationalism is worse than Protestantism....Why am I not a Quaker? Because they're Unitarians, which is heresy........"

I'm not happy with the statement that one set of beliefs is 'worse' or 'better' than another. That sounds judgmental, which we must avoid. Nonetheless, it is necessary to say that the different sets of beliefs are not equally true. Follow the argument with me:
  • True relativism is incompatible with the Christian Faith. The statement 'there is no truth' denies the existence of Christ, since He is Truth (cf St. John, 14 v 6: "I am the way and the truth and the life.")
  • Thus truth as an absolute exists.
  • Therefore, the statement 'Mary was Assumed into Heaven' is either true, or it is false. It may be partly true, or partly false, but it cannot be true and false at the same time. I take that example as a very Catholic statement which the Protestant churches reject utterly. But there are many others
  • Thus the Doctrine of the Assumption must either be right or wrong.
  • Therefore, denominational relativism cannot be correct.
  • This means that denomination is important.


The importance of this question


This is where I get onto ground in which - perhaps - I express those beliefs stemming from my Protestant upbringing.


What really matters in one's Faith is this 'relationship' issue. Now I don't deny the importance of the other issues, but the God's Love is the crucial bit. As the Holy Father wrote in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, the statement ‘I have come to believe in God’s Love’ is the fundamental statement of the faith.

That’s the bit that’s necessary for salvation. If we love God, we are saved. ‘Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (The Acts of the Apostles, Ch 2 v 21). But it’s not simple: in the second epistle of St John, it is written: ‘And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment: That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it… Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.’

Thus it’s written in Sacred Scripture that love of God means following His Commandments. Given that they must be absolute – not relative – we thus need to find out – and follow – what these Commandments truly are.

Now some Commandments are easy to find. ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ for example. Hard to follow, but easy to recognise. Others are harder to find, and much more controversial: what of these? These ‘peripheral’ questions may not of the first importance, but they are still enormously important by general standards. It’s just that the importance of Faith is beyond reckoning.

Scriptural Comments

Francis raises Scriptural quotations to support his concerns for this blog war. The first is from the Gospel according to St. Matthew: Chapter 7: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else's eye and pay no attention to the plank in you own eye?”

I would dispute the relevance of this passage to the question of denominational disagreement. We are not judging others. At least we should not be. We are simply guiding our brothers to better their faith, in the way we perceive that they should. This is in complete according with Pauline teachings: that we should correct errors amongst the Faithful. Incidentally, I do not mean to do so myself with any authority. I simply believe that there exists an authority with the power to do so. The ‘questionable’ existence of such Petrine Authority really underpins this whole debate.

The second important issue Francis raises is: "Keep reminding God's people of these things. Warn them before God against quarrelling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.' (2 Timothy 2, 14-15)" This is perhaps a more threatening problem that we face. But, put simply, we must always make sure it's not petty quibbling over terms, but is of at least some importance. I suggest that the above reasons make such a discussion as this legitimately important.

I would also agree with Francis that no denomination is utterly perfect. it never will be, because it has humans in it. But we must not accept our imperfections as a fact of life. We must strive to root them out one by one, in order more efficaciously to further God's work.

Conclusion

The problem, put simply, is that denominational relativism seems to me to be incompatible with Biblical teaching. That means that even protestants cannot truly accept it. After all, they cannot surely accept the truth of Catholicism and remain Protestants. We become hazy, doctrinally impure Christians, at great risk of losing the faith for the sake of unity. After all, why not be united with all of the other religions? That would get the Church to be larger and more united....


Ecumenism: a duty of the Church

That’s the negative bit out of the way. Now to be positive. Ecumenism is a duty of the Church of God. This was re-iterated in Pope John-Paul II’s encyclical, Ut unum sint (That they may be one). As such, I hope none of the Catholic side in this argument will dispute what I am about to say:

Simply speaking, the challenge of ecumenism is to work together in spite of what differences there are, whilst simultaneously resolving those differences. How can we achieve such an impossible task?

St. Paul wrote: ‘Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.’ (1 Corinthians, Chapter I, v. 10)

Nonetheless, it is possible to take unity too far. We cannot agree with those who err. We cannot give ground on truth in order to be united. This is not what St. Paul says should happen. He says that we should be ‘perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment’. One can unequivocally state that this must be the correct judgment. It is nonsense to suggest that St. Paul would suggest it is better for us all to be heretics than to guard the Faith in its pure and proper form. How do we reconcile co-operation with correctness?

The answer, according to the encyclical, is prayer and grace. I wish to share with you two quotations, from the introduction and conclusion to the document:

"Nevertheless, besides the doctrinal differences needing to be resolved, Christians cannot underestimate the burden of long-standing misgivings inherited from the past, and of mutual misunderstandings and prejudices. Complacency, indifference and insufficient knowledge of one another often make this situation worse. "

"I am reminded of the words of Saint Cyprian's commentary on the Lord's Prayer, the prayer of every Christian: "God does not accept the sacrifice of a sower of disunion, but commands that he depart from the altar so that he may first be reconciled with his brother. For God can be appeased only by prayers that make peace. To God, the better offering is peace, brotherly concord and a people made one in the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit".
At the dawn of the new millennium, how can we not implore from the Lord, with renewed enthusiasm and a deeper awareness, the grace to prepare ourselves, together, to offer this sacrifice of unity?

I, John Paul, servus servorum Dei, venture to make my own the words of the Apostle Paul, whose martyrdom, together with that of the Apostle Peter, has bequeathed to this See of Rome the splendour of its witness, and I say to you, the faithful of the Catholic Church, and to you, my brothers and sisters of the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities: "Mend your ways, encourage one another, live in harmony, and the God of love and peace will be with you ... The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Cor 13:11,13)."


Monday, 30 April 2007

The Problem with Protestantism: an insider's view

I decided to publish this post in light of the blog war looming over chez Greg. As I member of a non-Conformist church, I am allowed to give such a rant. I would warn others, however, that I would disagree vehemently with those who take it much further than I do.

The problem is well stated by the Baptist Union's Declaration of Principle

'1) That our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Scriptures, and that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws'

My concerns

My problems with such a principle of religious self-determination run very deep indeed. I shall examine them below:

Relativism
Those of you who frequently read this blog will notice a recurring theme here: relativism is one of my pet hates. Read my other post on Truth if you wish to see quite why. But this principle of 'liberty to interpret His laws' is very much part of the relativist affectation which rots our society from the core. Since we are working for the purposes of this post inside the grounds of the Christian Faith, we must accept relativism to be unacceptable. 'His laws' are very much a question of one truth only. Thus what we say these truths are are very important. There should not be room for dissent. Whilst we cannot force belief, we should at least acknowledge that God's law is absolute. Such a Declaration of principle does not do that.

Modern Issues
The problems are best illustrated when we take examples where the 'churches' differ.
  • The most controversial topics at the moment involve the qualifications required to join the Priesthood. The Church of Rome states that one must be male. The Church of England does not. Are female priests sacramentally valid? Being a conservative, I'd say that they're not. Would others agree?
  • Can a church re-marry a divorcee? The established churches rightly refuse to do so. This is perhaps a more clear cut example. "Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery". Doesn't really leave much wriggle-room. Yet my church - in interpreting God's Laws themselves - permits this. How?
  • We also seem to deny the Universality of Baptism. For those of you not versed in Church Doctrine, this means that all baptism is valid. Except our church encourages people baptised as infants 'to prayerfully consider [split infinitive] the New Testament teaching about baptism in the hope that they will follow our Lord's example in this matter'. But what the church ignores is that that self-same New Testament teaching states that baptism is a requirement for the forgiveness of sins. Without Baptism, there can be no salvation. that is the teaching. We imply by suggesting re-Baptism (what a concept!) that the first was not valid. If this is so, then according to 'our' beliefs, all Roman catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox Christians, Methodists, Presbyterians and all other infant-baptism supporting denominations are condemned to hell. Excuse me for questioning my church's leadership, but is this not a little ridiculous?

The solution

As I perceive it, the solution requires an absolute authority over the Church. Obviously, we have Christ at the head of the Church to fulfil that role in the greater scheme of things. But who is to say what Christ's rules are? That is the problem we started with. What we need is some lovely biblical evidence of Christ conveying upon a human His authority over the Universal Church - so that that human may officially state Christ's law, being shown the Truth by the Grace of God. Try this one:

"Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

These words of Christ to St. Peter are often quoted in defence of Papal Authority. St Peter - who led the Church for years in Rome until his crucifixion - was commissioned by Christ - above all of the other Apostles - to lead His Church. Some areas of it I'd like to highlight:

  • "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" - This means that either God will be bound by St. Peter's mistakes, or St. Peter will not make a mistake.
  • "this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven." - This solves the above question: God reveals His law and truth to St. Peter in order that it may be correctly taught to the Church, which rests upon the shoulders of St. Peter.

Thus, the only tiny leap of logic we need to be Papists is to accept that the Bishop of Rome bears the authority of St. Peter. Why do I believe this must be inevitable? Christ's church is eternal: thus Christ would not have instituted authority to last only some 33 years until St. Peter's death. No: it must be more long-lasting than that, or else Christ might have well just given us another long sermon instead. If we need a source of Petrine Authority, who else can we turn to but Rome?

That's the inevitable answer I painfully reached many months ago. It dragged me kicking and screaming - at first - into mainstream Catholic beliefs.

We cannot have relativism. Protestantism is a beautiful idea. But it simply will not work on Earth. We must have the Church led by someone. And someone who cannot err.

Let all follow the Bishop, as Jesus Christ follows His Father.

St Ignatius of Antioch, (107AD)

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Truth: An Intellectual's Apology VIII

First of all, I must give you all my apologies for having not written in quite so long. We've had computer shortages and work overload here, so I've had to take a wholly undesired break from my writing. Fear not, however: I have no intention to become an infrequent poster, so shall continue now much as before. And Gavin: go and read the whole of that post. You've had long enough to get round to it! So I thought I'd return to my apologetics.

Truth

Many of you will have read my previous, rather dry post (Gavin!!!), concerning the quest for one absolute truth. Its underlying supposition is that truth exists. To me, that's fairly incontrovertible. After all, the statement 'truth does not exist' is a contradiction: it cannot possibly be a true statement. On the other hand, the statement 'Today is Sunday' is true. At least at the time of writing. Just like the one 'Tomorrow I have my A-level French Oral exam. Argh!'.

Relativism

You'll be glad to know that this post concerns applied theory, rather than the theory itself. For anyone who might not know, relativism is a philosophy based on the idea that 'truth does not exist'.

The problem with it is that it paralyses us. It comes from the decent idea of respect for each other, and for others' opinions and beliefs. Yet, increasingly, respect means that we are loosing the right to differ. So what does this mean in action?

The best example can be seen from earlier this year: the good old 'Sexual Orientation Regulations'. I shall avoid my temptations to indulge in homoscepticism - the problem is what Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor (what a name) called the birth of 'a new morality'. In refusing to give Catholics - and other doctrinally pure Christians - the right to exemption from what they perceive to be sinful legislation, the Government has over-ruled our right to religious freedom. Essentially, we now have a situation where by Religion is fine, unless you happen to believe it so strongly that you believe others to be wrong. Essentially, the Catholic Church has been instructed that - in its secular affairs - it must conform to the majority rather than to its own beliefs.

"Stop Press"

Whilst taking a break from writing, I discovered a pleasing article on the BBC website, about the impending re-introduction of the Tridentine Rite. Whilst this is pleasing, the general public's reaction to it is less so. Apart from the anti-RC rants that the page has received, the concern seems to be focusing on one part of the Good Friday liturgy: praying for the Conversion of the Jews.

Here, I am pleased to be able to consult my ancient Saint Andrew Daily Missal - useful once more - to tell you off the offending passages. After having prayed for 'the holy Church of God', 'our most Holy Pope N', 'all bishops, priests, deacons, sub-deacons, acolytes, exorcists, lectors, porters, confessors, virgins, widows, and for all the holy people of God', 'all rulers of States, their assistants and authorities', 'our catechumens', forgiveness from sin 'heretics and schismatics', we reach this:

"Let us pray also for the faithless Jews: that our God and Lord would withdraw the veil from their hearts: that they may also acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ...
Almighty and eternal God, who drivest not away from Thy mercy even the faithless Jews: hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people: that acknowledging the light of Thy truth, which is Christ, they may be delivered from darkness."

Following this is prayer for 'the pagans', and for their general salvation.

Now this is perfectly reasonable. according to Christian belief: indeed, it's very good of us to be concerned for the salvation of others: it is what we are all called to strive for daily. So why do people scream and shout? Jewish sources have called it 'anti-Semitism'. Hang on a second, please. Since when was it racist to say that, as Christians, we believe that others should believe in Christ?

Simply, since relativism took hold. As it has in some 'churches'. Except that they call in 'inclusivism' there. (Incidentally, I find it amusingly ironic that the closest approximation to 'inclusivism' of my spell-checker is 'anglicanism'....)

I take solace from the recent words of the Holy Father: 'Truth is not determined by a majority vote'.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

'I think therefore I am. I think.' (The Twelve Theses)

I thought I'd head off on an interesting tangent for my next post. It's a question, as you may have guessed from the title, of existentialist philosophy. I'd only read if it you're happy to tear it apart. Because I'm hardly in my area of expertise. If you'd like to read an interesting little known work of philosophy, from which some of the better phrased ideas (the quotations) below are drawn, try ST Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, at Chapter XII.

Cogito ergo sum

The venerable Descartes came up with this very famous little bit of philosophy. Whether or not Descartes intended it to be so, his 'I think therefore I am' has been taken by many people to be the defining truth of philosophy, proved beyond all doubt. This irritates me, for the following reason. Enjoy deciphering it:

'The Cartesian Cogito, ergo sum is objectionable, because either the Cogito is used extra Gradum [that is, absolutely] and then it is involved in the sum and is tautological, or it is taken as a particular mode or dignity, and then it is subordinated to the sum as the species to the genus, or rather as a particular modification to the subject modified; and not pre-ordinated as the arguments seem to require. For Cogito is Sum Cogitans. This is clear by the inevidence of the converse. It may be true. I hold it to be true... but it is a derivative, not an immediate truth.'

The Dummy's summary of this is that 'I think, therefore I am' presupposes the existence of 'I', or else the observation necessary to begin 'I think', requires its conclusion to be true.

An alternative

What I'd like to do is establish an alternative to Descartes. It draws heavily on the work of Coleridge, as well as other philosophers, and a little of my own thoughts. Thus I shall present it logically, and with quotation. The format is his; many of the points are his. But I affirm them, and add to them. I won't separate my work from his - there are simply my additions. Do work through it with me.

[Two terms I shall use: a Thesis is a proposition, a scholium a marginal note for explanation. These too are unoriginal, but I like them. I shall therefore adopt them]

PREMISE

I shall assume here, that truth exists. I believe it does. No universal truths are assumed. All that is required is a truth such as 'I had lunch today'. That will suffice. [My lunch was lovely, incidentally]

THESIS I

'Truth is correlative to being. Knowledge without a correspondent reality is no knowledge; if we know, there must be something known by us. To know is in its very essence a verb active.'

THESIS II

All truth is either 'mediate' or 'immediate'. If a = b and b = c, then a = c. A 'mediate' truth is one which is dependent upon another truth or truths, in this case, a = c. The first two statements are 'immediate' truths - at least in this example. They are the basis upon which we work. You may recognise an allegory - from Coleridge - that I have used before:

'Scholium
A chain without a staple, from which all the links derived their stability, or a series without a first, has been not inaptly allegorised, as a string of blind men, each holding the skirt of the man before him, reaching far out of sight, but all moving without the least deviation in one strait line. It would be naturally taken for granted, that there was a guide at the head of the file: what if it were answered, No! Sir, the men are without number, and infinite blindness supplies the place of sight?

Equally inconceivable is a cycle of equal truths without a common and central principle, which prescribes to each its proper sphere in the system of science. That the absurdity does not so immediately strike us, that it does not seem equally unimaginable, is owing to a surreptitious act of the imagination, which, instinctively and without our noticing the same, not only fills at the intervening spaces, and contemplates the cycle as a continuous circle giving to all collectively the unity of their common orbit; but likewise supplies by a sort of subintelligitur the one central power, which renders the movement harmonious and cyclical. '

THESIS III

What we need, therefore, is an absolute truth. We require the guide for the string of blind men; we require a staple for the chain. We need a certainty, which is not itself dependent upon a previous truth. We need a truth self-grounded, seen by its own light. Simply, we need something that is, simply because it is. (For those versed in technical terms, I believe the phrase is 'a priori')

Scholium
This is aptly illustrated by the world of mathematics. Logic - both in philosophy and mathematics is a construct dependent upon axioms such as the mathematical ones set down by Euclid. One of these, for example, is that if a = b and b = c, then a = c.

THESIS IV

There can be only one self-grounded truth. If there were many, they would be inter-dependant. If there were two, for example, they would refer to each other. Thus one would require the other - in order that its equality is proven. Thus it is not self-established, as Thesis III demands.

THESIS V

Such a truth as this cannot be any tangible object or 'thing'. Each 'thing' is what it is as a consequence of the existence of some other thing. I limit this to 'tangible' objects - corporeal things, as it were, and most abstract nouns also - because that's all we know of definitively.

Scholium I
Tangible things cannot be definite because they require a cause: life requires a 'parent', as it were. Inanimate objects require something - a force or person or phenomenon - to create them as they are.

Valid objections have been raised about the use of the word 'create' here. It is used in the sense of creating them as the exist at the moment. A mountain is known to be a mountain because of its shape and general identity. Such an identity is what we require, since we are talking of a truth self-grounded.

Thus the self-evident truth cannot be an object because such an object would require firstly the particles to form it as we know it; secondly, they would require some other factor to form such particles into their present shape.

Why can this truth not simply be the whole universe? All the atoms in existence? Such a hypothesis falls below the second requirement. It does not explain how they have come to exist in such a fashion as they do now.

Scholium II
Each thing perceived presupposes a perceiver. Everything observer requires something to make an observation. Thus the principal truth cannot be found in a subject - contra-distinguished from an object - because a subject needs an object by definition.

THESIS VI


Such a truth - one which 'is because it is' seems ultimately to be the cause of our self-consciousness. Our high-level sentience - that of philosophy and art and science, above that of animals - must be linked logically to this truth. I shall henceforth express the truth as SUM - I am - since it exists only in itself.


Why do I affirm this to be the cause of our self-consciousness? In one's examination of oneself the subject and object are merged into one. This could be called a 'self-duplication', since one fulfills two categories simultaneously.


THESIS VII


If I thus know myself only through myself, can one require any other mediate truth? Existence as an immediate truth must - if it can be thus taken at all - require the 'existence' to be the existence of an intangible self-consciousness. My corporeal existence, under Thesis V, cannot fulfill the required characteristics of the truth we search for.


However, our 'spirit' - if I may use that term to describe what I have mentioned above - is involved in the corporeal existence. We cannot work on the assumption that 'spirits' exist without their bodies. To do so would require the existence of an unproved 'spirit plane' - be it heaven or another plane of existence, or any other such idea. Thus the human 'spirit' is involved in our corporal nature.


Therefore, even our self-consciousness implies by necessity an act, or will, to cause it. Thus our quest for the absolute truth is to begin again.


THESIS VIII


What is in its origin objective is thus necessarily finite. Therefore, since the spirit is not originally an object, it is not itself finite. Our spirit is, being involved in the bodily existence, which is objective.

I would observe, however, that the concept of spirit is not necessarily limited to our own 'spirit'.


THESIS IX


Given that the truth cannot be corporeal, and must merge subject and object, a spirit entity is what we must look for. Our principium commune essendi et cognoscendi [common principle of being and knowing] must be a will, a primary act of self-duplication, which is the immediate truth of transcendental philosophy.


THESIS X


Thus it has been shown that the truth required in philosophy is one of self-consciousness alone. This is what Descartes comes close to - perhaps he truly means this, but others have corrupted his work: I know not. We are not investigating an absolute principium essendi [Principle of being]; for then many valid objections might be raised against our theory; but an absolute principium cognoscendi [Principle of knowledge]. The two are linked: by discovering the principle of knowledge we allow ourselves to progress to the greater questions. Unless we know how we know, we cannot know anything.


THESIS XI


We require, therefore, a self-consciousness which exists by definition.

'Scholium

If a man be asked how he knows that he is, he can only answer, SUM QUIA SUM [I am because I am]. But if (the absoluteness of this logical certainty having been admitted) he be again asked, how he, the individual person, came to be, then in relation to the ground of his existence, not to the ground of his knowledge of that existence, he might reply, SUM QUIA DEUS EST [I am because God is], or still more philosophically, SUM QUIA IN DEO SUM [I am because I am in God].


But if we elevate our conception to the absolute self, the great eternal I AM, then the principle of being, and of knowledge, of idea, and of reality; the ground of existence, and the ground of the knowledge of existence, are absolutely identical, SUM QUIA SUM;* I am, because I affirm myself to be; I affirm myself to be, because I am.'

*It is most worthy of notice that in the first revelation of Himself; not confined to individuals; indeed in the very first revelation of his absolute being GOD at the same time reveals Himself, and also the fundamental truth of knowledge and philosophy, and that the two are one and the same.

THESIS XII - also CONCLUSION


In this way, philosophy passes into religion. I consider this to be a useful argument for the necessity both of truth and of God. We begin with the 'I KNOW MYSELF', in order to end with the absolute 'I AM'. We proceed from the self, in order to lose and to find all self in GOD.