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Archive for the ‘Faith and Politics’ Category

I am in despair about the Paris shootings. With each attack on an individual, an organisation or a government by Islamic ‘terrorists’ I become more fearful for the very future of world peace.

That sounds dramatic, but each attack is a wedge driven more deeply between Muslims and Christians, between the Western world and – I know I generalise here – The Middle East and Africa.

I put the word terrorists in quote marks because I’m feeling less inclined to use that word to describe the religious maniacs who think it is a good thing to kill people who do not believe or think like they do. To me, a terrorist has a more political or nationalistic meaning.

Some of my atheist friends point out that Christianity has a lot to answer for: Crusaders fought Muslims in Spain & North Africa; in the 16th & 17th centuries variations of Christian doctrine were an excuse for umpteen European wars; the enmity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland was the subject of many a news bulletin while I was growing up; differences of faith were behind the break-up of what we once called Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Fundamentalism is a curse, in any religion. I know there are ‘Christians’ in Africa who think gay people should be imprisoned or killed. But they are wrong and true Christians tell them so.

So what are Muslim communities and the Governments of Muslim countries doing to stop Islamic fundamentalists from killing people in the name of Allah? Are Muslim leaders out on the streets preaching tolerance of other faiths and of other views? Condemnation of the Paris murders is welcomed, but where is the active leadership, the organised youth programmes, the re-education and – yes – even punishment of the fundamentalists in their own society?

If they don’t step up to the plate I fear it will not be long before Muslim communities in Britain feel the backlash from the behaviour of their ‘brothers’ and our tolerance of other races and faiths is replaced by suspicion, fear and hatred towards all Muslims. And that’s why I despair.

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Last time I posted I said the Rev Fred had resigned to become a hospital chaplain; something he now admits was influenced by the frustration of trying to look after 6 parishes on a half-time stipend, but with full-time red tape. (Apparently dealing with death and grief as a hospital chaplain is less stressful, and pays better. Who knew?)

So the Rev Keith joined us a few months ago and has already delivered some arresting sermons: he speaks fluently, with barely a note, a huge improvement on some of the interregnum vicars who read a prepared statement from the pulpit… The congregation has warmed to Rev Keith’s natural, heartfelt preaching style, and to his informal approach. But a few feathers were ruffled this morning.

This morning he spoke about the Gaza/Israel conflict “with a heavy heart” but no apology. He mixed religion and politics, nailing his colours to the mast as a Christian supporting Arab people in their desire to live in the land that we used to call Palestine, in the face of Jewish people who believe all the land is theirs by divine right.

Keith even gave us each a hand-out showing maps of that land as it was in 1946 before the establishment of Israel, as it was under the United Nations plan in 1947, again in 1967 and in 2010. The graphics were… well, graphic, and thought-provoking, showing the ever-growing amount of land settled by Israel and the dwindling amount of land that Palestinians are allowed to live on.

The Rev Keith’s empathy for the people he has met in Gaza, on the West Bank and the ‘Holy Land’ (oh, the irony!) obviously influenced his talk this morning. I could not agree with all his points. And I am braced for mutterings from parishioners who disagree with him, or who think that regardless of his view, he should not mix religion and politics.

But why not? When politics results in destruction and death, should Christians not speak out?

I came home and spent hours googling around the conflict, reading some online newspaper articles, the controversy about Jon Snow’s report that wasn’t shown on C4 etc. I also scrolled down to read some of the hundreds of comments posted by readers, and by non-readers who are the sort of people who post comments regardless…

And the diametrically opposed ‘facts’, the completely contradictory historical ‘truths’ and the century upon century of hatred is there for all to see. It’s incredibly confusing and depressing. Who is right? Who is telling the truth? Who did what to whom a thousand years ago?

I am not a historian. Or a theologian. I do not know who did what to whom 20 years ago, let alone 1,000 years ago. And I do not know how far allied guilt over what happened to Europe’s Jews in WW2 has affected relations with the nation of Israel for the last 60 years.

I do not know if the people of Gaza support Hamas. I do not know if Hamas fires rockets from close to UN schools. But even if Hamas is doing that, it does not matter. Because NOTHING, nothing at all justifies Israel’s daily bombardment of tens of thousands of people who are penned into Gaza. And nothing justifies the killing of octogenarians, of mothers and of children.

So I’m going to mix religion and politics and ask my MP and David Cameron to condemn what Israel is doing. And more importantly – and probably with more effect – I’m going to pray.

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I am very conflicted by the vote on gay marriage with a capital M. And I am dismayed that anyone not in favour of it is being pilloried, called homophobic or a religious nutcase. Ask me if I believe in equality, diversity and fairness and I’ll put my hand up straight away. Marry divorcees in church? Why not. Gay vicars? Not a problem. Women bishops – please God! My beloved brother is gay, I have gay friends and I know couples in civil partnerships who have adopted children.

However, I’m struggling with this one. It has (I think) very little to do with my faith and much more to do with a thousand years of cultural understanding. And biology. There is no getting away from the fact that a man and a woman are designed to fit together physically, with the biological imperative of conceiving children. Whichever way you look at it, whether you’re of the Adam and Eve persuasion or fan of Darwin, men and women fit. That’s the biblical and the biological idea of perfection.

However much you Google it, and however deeply you research it, the world’s understanding of marriage is based around the union of a man and a woman. I know Wikipedia is far from perfect, but I note that it currently says “the institution of marriage pre-dates recorded history” and details several examples of cultural approaches to marriage, all of which relate to the union of a man and a woman. More recently (?!), the etymology of the word can be traced through the 13th century English word ‘mariage’ back to the Old French verb ‘marier’ and ultimately to the Latin word ‘maritare’.

So, for 1,000 years the world has used the word marriage to describe the union of a man and woman. And for thousands of years before that, as far as anthropologists can tell, society has recognised the union of a man and a woman in relation to having children. That’s why I think it is wrong for a relatively small group of people to hurriedly re-define marriage through this vote. Such a fundamental change, seeking to stretch to a new understanding, after a nano-second of debate, thousands of years of cultural programming is … arrogant. Sadly, few members of the House of Commons are deep thinkers and the potential ramifications – particularly for any individual or organisation that holds an opposing view – have not been adequately considered. I am sure that conservative religions uncomfortable with gay marriage will be lightning conductors for litigation, because it will not be long before someone, or something (probably the National Secular Society), will seek to test the Church of England’s supposed immunity.

And what, anyway, is the legal difference between a civil partnership and a marriage? There does not appear to be any. According to the BBC news website “it offers the same legal treatment as marriage across a range of matters, such as inheritance, pensions provision, life assurance, child maintenance, next of kin and immigration rights.”

I can understand why gay couples want to be able to call themselves married. Clearly, they want their relationship to be seen to be as valid as a relationship between a man and a woman. And in more than legal terms (otherwise a civil partnership, which delivers on that, would be sufficient). And it isn’t about being married in church, because most gay people seem to accept religion’s right to opt out. There is something intangible, unquantifiable, mystical, special, about the word itself. And gay people want those attributes too.

But is it right that a marriage between two men (or two women) should be seen as the same thing as a marriage between a man and a woman? I don’t think it is. It is inherently different, and the differences are both physical and cultural.

I am a single woman. I am sorry that I did not find a man to love (who loved me back) and that I therefore did not have babies, because I am sure that the closest thing to Heaven on this earth is a loving marriage blessed by children. I rather think that is God’s ideal for us too. And so I accept that I fall short of that ideal.

I cannot put myself into the intellectual and emotional shoes of a gay man or gay woman, but it seems to me that a gay ‘marriage’ – no matter how loving, how legally respected and how valid – is different from the marriage between a man and a woman who have the potential to create children. Equal, yes: I am absolutely on your side there. But different. And that’s why I’m sorry that the word, which has been understood, respected, celebrated and instituted for thousands of years, has, overnight, been re-defined by a couple of hundred well-meaning, but often wrong-headed, individuals in Parliament.

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