The world should be watching

If you thought the case of Troy Davis was unfair, take a look at the case of Yousef Nadarkhani in Iran. This has yet to be covered by any mainstream media outlets and so far Twitter has seemed rather lack-lustre. Have we all contracted  death penalty fatigue?

Yousef Nadarkhani has done nothing wrong. He was arrested when attempting to register his church. For starters Pastor Nadarkhani is not even guilty of apostasy (converting from Islam).  A court has ruled that he was not a practicing muslim, yet is guilty by very nature of his muslim ancestry. Even if one extends the definition of apostasy to accept that genetic inheritance entails automatic cultural inheritance, regardless of whether or not one has been brought up in the faith that your forefathers practiced, it still is not illegal under Iranian law. Pastor Nadarkhani has been sentenced via a loophole in the law, under a fatwah issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, the man who decided that Salman Rushdie must die for writing a book.  He was initially charged with protesting, but the charges were later changed to apostasy. His lawyer, Mr Mohammed Ali Dadkah, a prominent defender of human rights, is also in trouble; he has been sentenced to nine years in jail and a ten year ban on practicing law or teaching at a university for “actions and propaganda agains the Islamic regime”.

Perhaps we are more accustomed to breaches of human rights in countries that don’t operate under a Western democracy? Perhaps we think that protesting is futile? Perhaps we are culturally racist, we have lower expectations of those with differing beliefs, despite the fact that we share a common humanity? Whatever the reason, we need to pray for Pastor Nadarkhani and his family.

At this point the need for action is far more pressing than a dissemination of why no-one in the Western world seems remotely interested. I have sent a carefully and courteously worded email to the Iranian embassy. Please feel free to C&P the text into this link and do the same.

Dear Your Excellency, the Ambassador of Iran,

I write to express my concern with regards to the latest developments in the case of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani who faces imminent execution for his refusal to recant his Christian faith.

It is my hope that the Iranian judiciary will cease to pursue their current course of action against Pastor Nadarkhani and will acquit him of all charges. His execution would put Iran in breach of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which Article 18 includes a provision for the right to “have or adopt” a religion. This has been interpreted authoritatively by the UN Human Rights Committee as including the right to change one’s religion.

As I am sure Your Excellency is aware, Iran’s constitution sanctions Christianity as a legitimate minority faith and asserts that Christians are allowed to freely carry out their religious rites. Article 23 states that no-one may be “reprimanded simply because of having a certain belief”.

If Pastor Nadarkhani were to be executed, it would constitute a gross miscarriage of justice on grounds on violating his basic human rights, particularly when he is not in contravention of any domestic or international law.

I would be extremely grateful if you could pass this appeal for justice for Pastor Nadarkhani to the relevant officials of the Iranian government, as a matter of urgency. Pastor Nadardkhani must be released to his family immediately.

I should like to thank you for your prompt action in this matter.

Yours faithfully

The other thing you can do is telephone the Iranian embassy on 020 7225 3000 to express your concern and support. You can also try 020 7937 5225, if you are unable to get through. Please fill in this form, to let the campaign know how you got on. And keep praying. Let’s storm heaven on this one.

Theology and evolution

Cristina Odone had an interesting conversation with Richard Dawkins in last week’s Guardian.

There’s quite a lot to pick out, Cristina seems to be on a mission to please Richard Dawkins, no mean feat and whilst I would agree that an aggressive approach is counter-productive when engaging in dialogue with non-Christians, I think we all need to learn that affability should not supersede doctrine. In Cristina’s attempt to appear reasonable and open-minded she overlooked a few key points.

Whilst alluding to the creation myths, Odone states that our children are now being taught about religion in a metaphorical way. Actually this way of thinking is not particularly new, in the forth century, St Augustine of Hippo, one of the great doctors of the Church, held that Genesis must be read allegorically or figuratively and was not a literal account. He even wrote a book, The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, in which he expounded the theory that the six days laid out in Genesis was a logical framework, not a specific passage of time. According Augustine we should remain open-minded about the creation story and prepared to change our interpretation as new information became available. One can surmise that Augustine probably would not have had much time for the literal creationists who seem to be prominent in American politics.

“It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.”

Writing to the Pontifical Academy in 1981, the Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote the following:

“Cosmogony and cosmology have always aroused great interest among peoples and religions. The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer. The Sacred Book likewise wishes to tell men that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and make-up of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven.

So whilst Odone is correct in terms of creation being taught metaphorically, this certainly isn’t a new or modern development, and one might hope that in a Catholic or Church of England school, religion is not taught metaphorically per se. Jesus is a verified historical figure and not a literary metaphor.

Dawkins remains unconvinced, stating that one has to decide which bits of the bible are metaphorical and that he would like to consult further with a catholic theologian. He has been invited to debate with Dr William Lane Craig on several occasions, most recently at the “Is God a Delusion” lecture at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford on 25 October, but has so far refused the invitation. I am sure that there are plenty of Catholic theologians with both a small and a capital C who would be only too pleased to answer his questions nonetheless, so do feel free to invite them to contact Professor Dawkins.

The aspect of the conversation that concerned me the most was Odone’s pronouncement on birth control.

Look at birth control. The pope has said there are no ifs or buts, this is doctrine – we must never use birth control. But how many Catholics do you think go to confession and say, “I’m sorry, I’ve used birth control”? Well here we are, and this is part of the evolution of theology.

Though I sometimes find myself agreeing with Cristina, I found this remark incredibly disappointing. On a technical note, whilst attempting to engage with Dawkins and use his terminology, she applies the concept of evolution to theology. Actually evolution is an erroneous term when discussing theology, as evolution implies that a doctrine becomes obsolete or defunct and is replaced by something superior. A more accurate way of conceptualising how theology may change, would be to think about organic growth, not replacement. One of the things that attracted me back to the Catholic Church is the fact that doctrine is always intellectually coherent and logical – never contradictory. Doctrine is not policy and subject to changes on the whim of public opinion. Doctrine is never replaced with something completely contrary, rather it grows organically as our scientific understanding increases. Changes are always consistent with what has gone before.

Odone implies that Catholics are using birth control and not confessing it, therefore the theology has changed or evolved. I’m not quite sure that I understand her thinking. Disobedience is not the same as organic growth is it? Either fewer instances of that sin are occurring, or as Odone suggests, more people are considering that it is no longer a sin to use birth control. Sorry Cristina, but it is. Doctrine doesn’t change along with public opinion. One cannot assume Cristina is correct, and I would doubt that she is, after all how does she know, has she conducted a study of penitents or is she judging by social chatter? She has absolutely no way of gauging what people are saying in the confessional unless she has somehow managed to persuade confessors to break the seal for her back of an envelope calculations, so this is pure speculation. Supposing her assumptions are correct then this does not mean that the doctrine is misguided, simply that people need a reminder. Fewer people may be confessing all sorts of different things, I might not think that coveting my friend’s gorgeous new Mulberry handbag constitutes a sin, after all it is beautifully soft leather, highly on trend and just well, gorgeous, it’s perfectly natural that I would want one too, but it’s still every bit as unhelpful spiritually, no matter how normal or understandable.

Comments like this are incredibly unhelpful to normal Catholic women like myself. Although the physical practicalities of Catholic family planning take a little getting to grips with, the teaching itself is wonderful. We need to hear more women advocating NFP, shouting out the benefits, of which there are many, talking about how chastity (behaving in a sexually appropriate manner towards another, not to be confused with celibacy) within a marriage is a great thing. We need women to be honest about NFP, to extol its virtues, not buy into the whole contraceptive mentality which is fundamentally misogynist in nature. When Cristina Odone and her ilk makes comments such as this, it sells out ordinary catholic women trying to live lives of faith and witness. When I was having difficulty with getting to grips with it last year, so many people attempted to claim that catholics don’t really use it, are not expected to use it and its only extreme fundamentalists who attempt to observe church teaching. The reality is different; all the catholic women I know could not be described as fundamentalists or even traditional catholics and they find far from detracting, NFP enhances and improves communication and intimacy within a marriage.

As a high profile and influential Catholic, Cristina Odone risks reinforcing existing error as well as leading people into sin. Sometimes I wish we could have more authentic female catholic voices in the media and not just the privileged catholic aristocracy. As a mother juggling three young children with a full-time degree and recovering from 2 cesarians in as many years, we are not able to consider adding to our family at this time and yet I am able to manage perfectly well with NFP. Furthermore I am not ruling out adding to my family in a few years time, despite the fact that our household income is under half what Cristina spends on school fees. It’s called being open to life.

This could have been a great opportunity for apologetics, but in an attempt to placate the implacable, she ended up reinforcing the same old negative perceptions. I’m sorry she finds the teaching on birth control unacceptable. Perhaps, like Dawkins she needs to consult with a catholic theologian, as well as a passionate advocate of NFP. Can someone give her my number?

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth

It’s strange isn’t it? When swearing an oath, the British legal system requires the use of a Bible to act as a guarantor of truth. Yet when texts from that very book relied upon by the police and our entire legal system are publicly displayed in a  Christian Blackpool cafe, the owner is threatened with arrest and a public order offence.

Though I am not a fan of unnecessary and vexatious litigation, I do hope that Jamie Murray continues to play his DVDs.


Fluffy goodness

As promised, here’s Felicity sporting a rather Evangelical nappy.

I found a website with embroidery suitable for Church linen but am wondering whether a nappy embroidered with an alpha and omega symbol would be entirely appropriate?

In the meantime, any suggestions for snazzy designs are welcome.

How about a “Catholic Voices” nappy, a papal flag or the SPUC logo?



Bead rattling baby bigot

“Indoctrination “. Start them early. How do you like our reusable nappies? We had this one made for Imogen’s Baptism. There’s another one, that says “Jesus Loves You”. I’ll post a photo shortly.

Poor baby. Fancy. Having its parents beliefs imposed on it like that. Absolutely shocking. As David Beckham once said “We’re definitely going to get Brooklyn Christened, but we don’t know into which religion”.

Front of nappy
Back of nappy

I’m a male hippopotamus

Further to last night’s post, further detail has been released regarding the prospect of gay marriage. The Guardian sets the tone for the proposal, by claiming that marriage is a “right”, that is currently “denied”.

Marriage, certainly as Christians understand it, is not a “right” that may be granted to some and withheld to others, but a gift, a blessing or vocation. I alluded yesterday to the complementarity of marriage, which confers a set of benefits both physical and spiritual upon a couple. Sexual complementarity between men and women makes the giving of life a feature of marriage, and children are featured in both the C of E and Catholic wedding ceremonies.

Here is the preface from the Book of Common Worship of the Church of England:

The gift of marriage brings husband and wife together
in the delight and tenderness of sexual union
and joyful commitment to the end of their lives.
It is given as the foundation of family life
in which children are [born and] nurtured

That is not to say that married couples must have children in order for their marriage to be considered valid, but they must at least be open to the possibility. Technically a Church of England vicar could refuse to marry a couple who refused to entertain the concept of children because otherwise they would be unable to spiritually respond to this section of the preface. It is no different to a priest refusing to conduct the baptism of a child whose parents openly state that they have no intention of bringing up the child in the Christian faith. A Christian marriage must be open to the possibility of children and is defined as the union of a man and a woman.

What this exercise seems to be all about is an exercise in semantics; the government redefining marriage as a private arrangement between two individuals which should be open to all. This has come about due to the secular nature of a civil partnership ceremony which must include no hymns of Bible reading, in order to make the distinction between the civil and religious aspect of marriage. Campaigners therefore argue that civil partnerships are viewed as inferior to marriage, due to this difference in language, despite the fact that they confer identical benefits upon a couple.

What seems more sensible is for this ban on spiritual readings to be lifted from all civil weddings and civil partnerships which has always seemed nonsensical and utterly restrictive. It is not for the state to decide the manner in which a couple wish to celebrate their marriage or civil partnership and if a couple wish to have particular reading from the Bible, or even the song “Angels” by Robbie Williams, which I understand is currently banned, then that is entirely a matter for them. No-one has copyright on the Bible or any other religious texts and it is certainly not for the state to prescribe what is acceptable.

In terms of making gay marriage only applicable in civil ceremonies, this seems an impossible ideal. As I noted last night, Church of England ministers are technically  “clerks in holy orders” and thus must obey the civil laws of the land. There is nothing to stop a couple from claiming a religious ceremony as their right and attempting to take an individual vicar or the Church to court on the grounds of discrimination. The Church of England would need to re-write its entire marriage liturgy.

Of course the Guardian takes the inevitable line that the lovely liberal religious denominations are all clamouring for gay marriage and it is only the hardline fundamentalists  “Conservative Evangelical Groups” who are “demanding” protection against legal action for refusing to host civil partnership ceremonies.  This is not an unreasonable request. Why should Parliament or a government on a popularity drive be able to dictate and re-define sacred religious rites? There has been a flurry of litigation from people who feel that their religious freedoms have been impacted by equality laws and the courts have not proven sympathetic. This seems like another obvious case of conflicting rights and freedoms, the so-called right of a gay couple to marry in a venue or at a service of their choosing, versus the rights of a religious institution to refuse a sacred ceremony.  Objection to gay marriage is not a fundamental or extremist Christian point of view, no matter how many attempts are made portraying it as such.

I anticipate this post will attract the inevitable meaningless accusations of homophobia, which is probably why you won’t see many Christian blogs discussing this issue. We’re all too scared of being called the h-word or being thought of as nasty mean Christians who hate gay people and it is this fear which will entail the true meaning of marriage being swept away as it is emptied of its meaning. Marriage is more than a celebration of feeling, it is a specific set of promises, spouses don’t simply celebrate being in love with each other now, but promise to love each other, from this day forward, a marriage, regardless of success or failure has a huge impact upon the couple, their children and those around them, as well as entire society.

There is nothing to stop gay partnerships from achieving equal civil rights and thus this is all about attempting to put the oxymoron of gay marriage on the same moral footing as the tautologous hetrosexual marriage. Gay couples will always face religious opposition to their union and thus by getting the semantics formalised, this is one step further to the definition of religious views as bigotry as opposed to the result of a an authentic and rationally held faith. Though not intended there is no doubt that this will further marginalise Christians, who will be afraid to express any opposition and who will have the secular definition imposed upon them.

I am not concerned with the vows that two individuals may want to pledge to each other, nor their living or financial arrangements, or indeed whether or not they wish to have a religious reading at their partnership ceremony. That is entirely a matter for them as consenting adults. Gay couples may be concerned that their unions may not be thought of equally. Civilly they already treated as equal, religiously they are not, and no amount of legislation will be able to change this, no matter how much it tries, hence to some extent this is all rather pointless.The governments may call gay partnerships marriage all they like, just as they  can call me a male, a hippopotamus or a homophobe all they like. It doesn’t automatically follow that I am one.

If it ain’t broke

So according to Tim Montgomerie, the government will shortly announce plans to introduce same-sex marriage. Without knowledge of the full facts or plans, it is difficult to comment but a few thoughts spring to mind.

  • What will happen to those already in civil partnerships? Will yet another ceremony be required? In the highly unlikely event that I was in a civil partnership, I would be mightily irked by the prospect of needing to “upgrade” and any subsequent fees.
  • Where does this leave civil partnerships? It has been suggested that perhaps civil partnerships will be extended to opposite sex couples, in order to achieve “true equality”. What on earth is the point? What are the discernible differences between marriage (given that one may have an entirely civil service) and civil partnerships?
I have to confess to being concerned by this attempt to empty marriage of its meaning. Marriage is a union that exists in all cultures. It is not just a private arrangement between two individuals. The Catholic Church in particular sees marriage as a holy vocation, and other Christian denominations hold it in equally high esteem. Genesis makes clear that marriage and sexuality are gifts from God given for our benefit and for the procreation of children. Marriage is a channel through which God’s grace flows to a couple and their offspring. The Catholic Church understands marriage between a baptized man and woman to be a sacrament, a visible sign of the grace that God gives them to help them live their lives here and now so as to be able to join him in eternity. Marriage is social as well as religious, but the religious aspects are just as important to all practicing Christians. The Bible repeatedly compares the relationship between man and wife to that between God and Israel ( Hos. 9:1) or between Christ and his Church ( Eph. 5:21-32).
Since the Church sees marriage as holy, it believes it must be treated with reverence and respect. It also recognizes that marriage is basic to the health of society and therefore a public institution that must be defended against harm. Consequently, proposals that could harm the institution of marriage such as offering civil partnerships must be subjected to the same sort of objective analysis that we give any public policy question. If civil partnerships are the same as marriage, then what is the point in them continuing to exist, other than to devalue marriage itself? The problem is that if marriage just becomes an expression of private temporary states and not a social institution with a real meaning, connected to biological realities, (though of course that is now being overcome with same sex surrogacy and IVF, which presents a whole new set of ethical dilemmas), then surely in the interests of fairness and equality, polyamorous marriages should be permitted? Why can’t groups of men be allowed to marry groups of women? Why can’t a brother marry a sister, or a man marry his cat, a geek his x-box, if marriage has absolutely nothing to do with children, but is simply based on romantic feelings and attachments in the here and now?
It is this devaluation of the institution of marriage that will be of concern to Christians, as opposed to the private, financial and romantic arrangements of individuals. I should imagine that most conscientious Catholics will refuse to refer to the oxymoron of gay marriage as such, a marriage being a particular sacrament reserved for an opposite-sex couple. Catholic priests will not have too much of a headache circumventing the marriage laws. There is an important legal distinction between Catholic priests and Church of England vicars, the latter being known as a “clerk in holy orders”. A Catholic priest has to apply to the relevant civil authorities in order to be able to perform the legal formalities and therefore if he was stripped of this function, due to vexatious litigation which would seek to compel him to conduct a gay marriage ceremony, this would not present a problem in as much as a registrar could presumably be brought in to witness the legal formality of the signing of the register.
It becomes much more problematic in the Church of England whereby the priest “is a clerk in holy orders” and is therefore compelled to obey the law of the land in these matters.If gay marriage is to be introduced it will require a whole new liturgy and perhaps more worrying is the imposition of an entirely new set of beliefs upon the Anglican Communion by Parliament, one that is not in concord with its existing precepts and values. I suspect the answer will be along the lines of divorcees – gay marriage will be something of a postcode lottery, whether or not a priest will conduct a same sex marriage service will be down to individual discretion, although it won’t be long before one gay couple, disappointed at being denied the chocolate box church setting will seek legal redress on the basis of “equality” and much talk will be had about discrimination and the denying of services. Vicars who wish to exercise religious freedom of conscience, who are unable to exercise sufficient mental contortions to be able to justify setting aside 2,000 years of sacred scripture and tradition, will be labelled “fundy bigots” who wish to do harm to people and no doubt this will go all the way up to the European Courts of Human Rights.
My feeling, perhaps unfairly, is that the Church of England will, once again, seek to be all things to all men (and women) and will thus do itself a huge pastoral disservice as a result. I take no pleasure in this, I still retain a huge affection for the Church of England and feel the pain of disunity acutely. If the C of E does seek to formalise gay marriage, eventual re-union seems an ever more impossible goal.
David Cameron is treading a very rocky road here, balancing the demands of his Liberal Democrat coalition partners and desperate to regain his standing in the opinion polls. It is unthinkable that a Tory government could well be responsible for disestablishment, for this is the only way in which this conflict may be satisfactorily legally resolved.
My personal feelings are that civil partnerships seemed to be working well as they were. Gay marriage seems to be nothing more than an expensive exercise in semantics, a costly Conservative Party crowd pleaser and one that leaves many Christians more politically disenfranchised and marginalised than ever before.