World AIDS day

Thirty years into the AIDS pandemic, UNAIDS estimates that 33.3 million people globally are living with HIV. This number includes an estimated 2.5 million children under the age of 15 years.The number of people receiving antiretroviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries has increased thirteenfold since  2004, to more than 5 million. However, only 35 percent of people in need of treatment are currently receiving it. Roughly 10 million people cannot get the medication they need.

The Catholic Church is playing its part, operating 117,000 centres to care for AIDS victims throughout the world. 27% global institutions caring for AIDS patients are run by Catholics. The South African Catholic Bishops Conference AIDS office supports projects and programs in Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa, making it one of the largest anti-HIV/AIDS programmes in Southern Africa and active in many of the countries with the world’s highest rate of HIV infection. The Church cares for orphans of the AIDS epidemic, it works to place them in foster homes and helps to support foster families, it runs education and prevention programs for primary and secondary school students, home care and counselling programs for those who are HIV-positive, it provides patient units for the terminally ill who have no-one to care for them and a program to provide drugs to reduce the incidence of mother-to-child transmission.

The spread of HIV is not confined to the developing world. In 2010, 69, 424 people were treated for HIV in the UK, a 6% increase on the number in 2009 (65,292) and a 166% increase since 2001 (26,088). According to the most recent figures of the UK Health Protection Agency, there were an estimated 80,800 people living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2009, of whom 67% were male and 33% female.

A recent review of 14 studies showed that in discordant couples a consistent use of condoms leads to an 80% reduction in HIV incidence.

HIV transmission is reduced by approximately 80% when condoms are used correctly 100% of the time.

80% reduction is good, but it is not enough. Doesn’t everyone deserve adequate protection? There is a method of achieving 100% risk avoidance. Why settle for anything less?  It is World AIDS Day, not World Condom day. There is no such thing as safe sex.

In the meantime we must continue to fight for equal healthcare for all of those affected by the ravages of this dreadful disease.

Stay safe and keep your loved ones safe.

*Sources: The US National Institute of Health & the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Weller SC & Davis-Beaty K (2007), ‘Condom effectiveness in reducing heterosexual HIV transmission‘.

Don’t mention the Bible

I was quite flattered in a seminar the other day to be asked to explain the Catholic position regarding the Virgin Mary. Whilst I have been explicit that I am a practicing Catholic to my fellow students and tutors and corrected a few misconceptions regarding the faith, whenever they have cropped up, I have tried to be as unobtrusive as possible.

Though one could argue that Christians should grasp every opportunity to evangelise, effective evangelisation needs to be appropriate and given that I am attempting to build up friendships with fellow students, this isn’t going to work if they feel wary that every conversation is going to lead to a lecture involving Jesus and the Bible. None of them know, as far as I am aware, that I blog. Also seminars are a time to be discussing that week’s reading and the exchange of ideas and information thus it would be inappropriate and inconsiderate if every single session were hijacked by a tiresome Christian on a mission to convert. I don’t want to garner a reputation for being the class Dot Cotton. I remember the two Evangelical pilots everyone used to dread being rostered with in my flying days. One used to come down to the bar in the evening clutching a copies of various books with rainbows and doves embossed on the front cover and use every pause in the conversation to introduce a Christian theme. Dodging the inevitable “have you asked Jesus into your life” lecture was not the most relaxing way to spend the evening or wind down following nine hours of self-loading freight. The other overtly Christian pilot was summoned to tea and biscuits with the management, after his praying on his knees in the front galley during turnarounds put the wind up the junior crew as did his enigmatic statements such as “sometimes, I just want to point the aircraft in the direction of the Sun, take my hands off the controls and let the Lord take over”

I tend to find that simply living a life of witness, being myself and trying to be faithful, is more effective than real-life hectoring or lecturing. If people find you an interesting and engaging person (not that I am) then they are much more likely to be open to what you might have to say, rather than if they feel that you constantly have an agenda to push. There’s nothing I can say or do, to force or impose conversion upon anyone in any event. That’s entirely down to the Holy Spirit, but what I hope to do, albeit unsuccessfully judging by some of the blog comments, is help people to remain open, to want to search a bit further or simply to see that Catholics aren’t ignorant or brain-washed, that actually what we have to say, even if one vehemently disagrees with it, is thoughtful, intelligent, cogent and coherent.

In the case of explaining Our Lady to a class of mainly 18-19 year olds, I was trying to communicate that she is not, as had been suggested, revered purely because of her virginity. A student had made a connection between a literary character and suggested that she could be seen as “a religious extremist like a Catholic” because “like Catholics she thinks sex is dirty and was attempting to be pure like Mary who is important to Catholics as she is a virgin”. Quite a bit to unpick there, hence my tutor handed it over to me.

After explaining the reasons aside from virginity as to why Mary is important to all Christians, not just Catholics, I made the point that Catholics don’t actually view sex as dirty, quite the contrary, it is something that we are encouraged to enjoy, but it should be in the appropriate context. I deliberately caused both amusement and controversy by highlighting the fact that the previous Pope, Blessed John Paul II had specifically stated (in his book Love and Responsibility) that husbands should ensure that their wives reach orgasm and not be selfish in bed. Hardly the words of a misogynist! “I will have no prudery” he wrote, “I’m dealing with God’s creation”. Cue many aghast expressions and laughter, in amongst which someone stated that it was a load of nonsense, Catholics didn’t want anyone to like sex, due to their opposition of both contraception and abortion. The tutor pointed out the non sequitur, and then asked me to briefly explain further, whereupon I elaborated the reasons behind Catholic social teaching on sex and philosophical reasons for choosing NFP or fertility awareness over contraception.

“That was a very thorough, detached and academic explanation” she said, “well done”, no doubt noticing that my face had gone beet-red. I went for a coffee with some of the class afterwards, when the subject of sex was brought up again. It’s quite a tough one, because whilst I don’t want to be encouraging a group of young people to be sleeping around, suffice to say I remember all too well what it is like to be 18, and a lecture, be it on abstinence or use of condoms is going to prove off-putting and counter-productive, especially to non-Christians, who are expecting me to be quoting the Bible at them every two minutes. So whilst keeping my counsel, one of them said to me “do you mind me asking, you’re really religious and stuff, but you never ever mention the Bible, it’s really weird”. To which my response was, how would she react if I were to mention the Bible. “I’d find it really boring to be honest” she said. “I don’t believe in all that stuff, so I’d think what’s that got to with me? Why should I do what a primitive book written thousands of years ago tells me? I think the Bible is a load of cr*p personally”.

That’s why I don’t mention the Bible, I said. I’m sure I probably should and I’m sure there’s loads of Christian who would insist that it’s a dereliction of duty, but I don’t think it really helps if I’m trying to convince you of something. I do recommend that you should read the New Testament at the very least, because so much of what we are doing is based upon the Bible and you’ll be missing out so much if you don’t read it, but it’s certainly great as background reading and general knowledge if nothing else.

We then moved onto a historical conversation about the content of the Bible and did I think that everything in the Bible was literally true and what parts did I believe and why. Before moving onto an entirely different topic, someone said “but all that other stuff you said, it did make sense. To be honest, I know you’ll probably think I’m really ignorant, but it’s much more interesting cos you don’t bang on about the Bible when you’re explaining things. I found the stuff you were saying about sex and contraception and fertility really interesting. And you obviously like sex a lot and are really experienced and stuff”…

Intuitively it feels like a betrayal not to be mentioning the Bible and no doubt it will be one of the things that I shall be called to account for on the terrible day of judgement. Equally it seems to me that unless one is talking to someone who has at least some scriptural knowledge and/or faith, using the Bible as a basis for arguments or debate, is a total minefield for Catholics. One is either met with “well that’s got nothing to with me, it’s a load of old bunkum” or else people chose to quote mine, my pet hate. Generally when people quote-mine from the Bible, it’s either an attempt to prove what a load of old nonsense the Bible is, full of contradictions, nonsense and a God who likes to smite people at random, or an attempt to prove personal hypocrisy or inconsistency. Deuteronomy and passages pertaining to Mosaic dietary laws being the perennial favourites. Catholics then need to explain that they are not fundamentalists and get into discourse about the magisterium versus sola scriptura, followed by detailed and contextual exegesis as well as explanations on typology and covenantal interpretations, by which time your audience is fast asleep and wishing they had never brought up the passage on shellfish.

If Catholics and Christians want to be taken seriously in the public square in what seems at times to be an aggressively secular culture, then we need to appeal as much to philosophy and ethics as we do the Bible. Of course the Bible must not be ignored and the Biblical case must be made, but only to those who are open and want to hear it. Making biblical arguments for issues which are of crucial importance to society, such as social justice,  euthanasia, abortion and marriage to name but a few, means that many will sadly write them off as irrelevant, illogical and ignorant, why should they be dictated to by a religion that they don’t share? The Bible must be defended as must the fact that one’s faith is grounded in it, but it seems to me that making a case which stands up on its own philosophical and ethical merits is every bit as important and more likely to ensure that one’s voice is heard and listened to. People may disagree, but they cannot doubt the inherent logic in a certain position; when they resort to a “well you believe xyz because of the Bible which is proof you are illogical/stupid/ignorant/brain-washed”, it shows that the case is being put coherently.

The sad thing is that Dot Cotton has a heart of gold and has won the affection of the TV viewing public, her piety cannot be in any doubt. But in terms of evangelisation, they are far more likely to empathise with and emulate the Vicar of Dibley, a Sean Bean loving chocoholic, not averse to a bit of pre-marital bed-hopping. That doesn’t mean we should emulate her behaviour or attitude. As my father always taught me, we should level up not down. But if we need to meet people where they are, we need to accept that sadly for many, that the Bible is an alien text.  The way to introduce it is by the witness of our actions and words, which may then in turn lead people to those of the Holy Spirit.

Beads and bigots

When I’m Queen of the Universe, I will issue a decree making incorrect use of language a criminal offence. It goes without saying that erroneous use of the terms

homophobia and bigot will carry the largest penalties.

We’ve done the homophobia one countless times, but just to recap for those hard of understanding, homophobia is defined by the OED as “an extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people”.

Whilst I am undoubtedly guilty of what Mark Simpson would term the fetishisation of marriage, that doesn’t stem from any aversion, let alone of an extreme or irrational nature. It’s fascinating that in order to qualify as a bona fide homophobe, one’s aversion must be “extreme or irrational”. Common or garden “homosexual sex is a bit ick” wouldn’t seem to cut it according to the OED. I don’t think that there is anything inherently “homophobic” about being averse to sexual acts between same gendered partners. Several friends with same sex attraction have confessed to me that the idea of sex with a differently gendered person revolts or turns them off, the concept being utterly unthinkable. It’s not an irrational feeling in their eyes, it’s simply “the way they are” therefore it is entirely logical that people may well be repelled by the idea of same gendered sex in a similar vein, without necessarily being “homophobic”.

As I’ve said right since the inception of this blog, homophobia or homophobic is simply a perjorative smear, designed to discredit and close down any sensible debate. Much easier to infer that someone is an unpleasant or unsavoury character who should not be given any credence rather than engage directly with the issue. The word has been used so often that it’s now meaningless.

I’ve deliberately avoided discussing the gay marriage issue in theological terms for a few reasons. Firstly, most Christian readers don’t need them explained and secondly, given that for some inexplicable reason I seem to have picked up quite a large following of non-Christians, I don’t think that the Church (Roman Catholic or Anglican) has the monopoly on marriage. I’ve wanted to steer away from the whole “well Christians can have their version and we can have ours” line.

The point is this. Marriage is a public institution that transcends and pre-dates Church and State, neither of whom have the monopoly on it or the power to change it. As marriage is a public institution, proposals that could negatively affect or harm it should be given the same kind of objective analysis as any other issue of public policy. It’s not simply a matter of “fairness” or “forcing religious dogma down people’s throats”. This is why I’ve discussed the issue in broad terms, redefining marriage will have a huge impact upon society.

I was therefore disappointed to note the following comment directed at me on Facebook. “For G-d’s sake, people aren’t still losing sleep about gay marriage are they? Stop rattling your beads in my face. Your backward views should be kept to yourself”. It goes without saying that it garnered several “likes”, no doubt validating the author’s sense of worth and popularity amongst her peers.

I am often accused of homophobia, and “hiding behind the dictionary definition” of the word if I can be bothered to refute it. Apparently it’s quite “lame”. To me the dictionary is important as it defines the common consensus and meaning of a word. Otherwise we all become like Humpty Dumpty and language loses its potency as has indeed happened with homophobia. What is lame is giving someone a perjorative label based on an incorrect and lazy character assumption, or a generalisation. You don’t want gay marriage, it must be because you either hate gays, you are stupid and most definitely because you are religious.

As invective goes it wasn’t particularly powerful, but there are slightly sinister undertones of “anyone who disagrees with me is irrational and stupid and has no right to speak, they must be silent”. I enjoyed the wild imaginings, at no stage were beads rattled in anyone’s faces – bead rattling seems to be becoming quite a common conceit. I can’t say it bothers me really, although I don’t so much rattle the beads, it’s more of a thoughtful fingering, a rolling between one’s thumb and forefinger, but I suspect the subtleties of the rosary are of little interest and not as evocative of the image of a fervent believer in the throes of religious ecstasy feverishly thrusting a rosary into someone’s face.

The delicious irony is that as Cranmer’s Law testifies, people who believe themselves to be of a liberal or permissive bent, love to bandy the word bigot about, when clearly they have absolutely no idea what it means.

I’ll clarify.

“an obstinate belief in the superiority of one’s own opinions and a prejudiced intolerance of the opinions of others”.

Well most of us tend to have some sort of belief that our moral code is the right one, even if that moral code leans towards relativism.

A prejudiced intolerance of the opinions of others? How would that be manifested? Presumably by telling others that they should keep their opinions to themselves? Or calling other’s opinions nasty and stupid? Of course those sentiments may be thought to be justified, but the irony is that by telling someone that they should either shut up, or are a “nasty stupid bigot”, betrays a bigotry all of its very own.

All human beings are bigots but some bigotry is better than others.

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.

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

Cranmer’s Law

Archbishop Cranmer has to be quite my favourite blogger, even if His Grace is something of a heretic *. Today he has defined and articulated the phenomenon to be known hereafter as Cranmer’s Law:

“No matter how decent, intelligent or thoughtful the reasoning of a conservative may be, as an argument with a liberal is advanced, the probability of being accused of ‘bigotry’, ‘hatred’ or ‘intolerance’ approaches 1 (100%).”

This blog was founded upon the precepts of Cranmer’s Law. Fed up with being unable to discuss any sort of moral issue on internet forums without being called a homophobe, hateful, intolerant and subject to personal abuse, I then set up this blog, so that I could discuss things in a reasonable and rational fashion, on my own terms, without constantly being subject to abuse and incorrect labelling in an attempt to personally discredit and shut down debate.

As Cranmer says:

Thus is the level of political discourse in modern Britain: every contentious issue, no matter how worthy of scrutiny or debate, is swiftly closed down with threats of a fatwa or observable character assassination

Indeed. What people have failed to grasp with me, is that on the one level here is someone who appears to be warm, amusing, intelligent, witty and (I hope) kind. When Robin and I became engaged, I was staggered at some of the comments from my former work colleagues. “I can’t believe you’re going out with a vicar, you’re far too much fun”, or “but you don’t LOOK like a vicar’s wife, you don’t wear Laura Ashley, puffa jackets, flowery skirts and you’ve got nice teeth”, or even the staggering “but you’re really pretty and sexy, you CAN’T marry a vicar”. That’s right, because obviously being a clergyman means that one is so utterly dour, devoid of any sort of a sense of humour and generally boring, it is absolutely inconceivable that he may be able to attract a vivacious spouse with a mind of her own. Actually both of us found it rather amusing, particularly given that Robin had some  very beautiful, highly intelligent girlfriends in the past, at least one of them enjoying a high-flying career. Why does a love and desire to serve God in whatever way He may be calling entail a un-prepossessing spouse?

This blog is mine and mine alone, my husband has very little to do with it, other than to occasionally read it although I am careful not to say anything that could reflect badly or undermine any future ministry. What people have failed to understand is that I don’t just toe the party line, so to speak, my views are honestly, avowedly and straightforwardly held, I haven’t been coerced or brainwashed in any way. As a matter of fact, I was a practising and faithful Roman Catholic before my husband. My views just don’t tally with the side of me that appears reasonable, rational, intelligent and fun, therefore if I have not been brainwashed (which some people seem to refuse to believe, it must be the only explanation) then I must be absolutely stark raving mad. There’s something wrong, no “normal, nice or sane” person could be a Catholic, so it’s much easier to write me off as mentally ill, that’s obviously the answer. I must be psycho analysed and stuck into a box in order that I can’t actually challenge anyone or my views be allowed to gain any traction.

This is why we see non-Christians attempting to define Christianity and what they believe it means, in order to deflect the notion that they might in fact be the intolerant ones. Christianity is this vague touchy-feely religion all about being nice to each other and never daring to criticise anyone else or cast any sort of judgement upon behaviour, because that’s “not nice”. Anyone who claims to be genuinely concerned about the spiritual welfare of others is simply using that as subterfuge for their own inherent bigotry or unpleasantness. No Christian who is opposed to same-sex marriage or parenting, women’s ordination or abortion is a nice or likeable person, unless, in my case, they are either mentally ill, brainwashed or both. These views cannot be accepted as being the product of rational thinking and must instead be attributed to deficiency of character.

Cranmer should win the Orwell Prize for his entry this morning. He won’t however. He’s far too much of a “bigot”.

*Note, no-one was more excited than I when Cranmer announced his intention to join the Ordinariate on 1st April. I gave thanks to God, excitedly texted everyone I knew and danced around the kitchen. I still haven’t quite got over it.

The facts about LIFE

As His Grace pointed out on his blog earlier today, Sunny Hundal made a rather outrageous claim about the charity LIFE, describing them as “religious nutjobs”.

It’s amazing what passes for informed political comment these days however I think it is worth highlighting that LIFE are a non-denominational charity with no religious affiliation, therefore his assertion is substantially incorrect as well as being deliberately perjorative. Furthermore LIFE’s former Director of Education was an atheist, which although a strong position of faith, is patently not what is being inferred by the term.

A belief in the sanctity of life is not confined to a Christian position, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism and even Buddhism are all broadly against abortion as a principle, which is precisely why LIFE, though founded on Catholic principles, is non-denominational. I wonder whether or not Sunny Hundal would have the audacity to call a pro-life group consisting of a diverse number of faiths as being full of “religious nutjobs”? I wonder whether or not he would refer to a pro-life group consisting of Sikhs in the same derogatory fashion?

In any event the pro-life/pro-choice debate is independent to that of the theist/atheist debate. There is nothing in the pro-life position that requires one to be a theist, a fact that may be confirmed by looking at the work of Nat Hentoff, a prominent liberal atheist who is an outspoken critic of abortion and euthanasia. The pro-life position is a logical and philosophical concept which is a complementary extension of major religions but does not require a religion in order to be an adherent. To describe the belief that life begins at conception as being an extreme view born out of religious zealotry is an attempt to marginalise millions of people around the globe and deride their belief as being the product of an unsound mind. Not the most open-minded of approaches from a website that defines itself as liberal.

In relation to the point that was being made, LIFE’s counsellors, unlike those at BPAS, are all accredited by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy and are therefore impartial, offering non-directive counselling. There is much misunderstanding and disbelief that a pro-life organisation might be able to provide non-directive counselling. With non-directive counselling you get exactly what is said on the tin. A counsellor will help someone to come to their own conclusion on a matter, to make their own mind up with regards to the best course of action, but will not offer any sort of opinion as to what that decision should be. What a counsellor will do however, is to explore the various perceieved barriers or obstacles associated with any particular course of action, to assist the person in reaching their decision. It is entirely possible that this may be done in a non-directive fashion. Dr Evan Harris recently tweeted that he believed that LIFE would be unable to offer non-directive counselling because “they would never tell a woman that she should have an abortion”, demonstrating that for such a proponent of science and evidence-based policy, he had absolutely no grasp of the concept.

In the context of a woman seeking to explore the best course of action when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, if she believes that there are financial or social barriers to her continuing the pregnancy, these need to be explored; it needs to be ensured that she is aware of any benefits, grants or other financial entitlements that she might be eligible for, i.e. that she makes a decision in possession of the full facts. Equally, she needs to be aware of what the abortion procedure itself will entail.

As the renowned pro-life lobbyist Phyllis Bowman says on her blog today, “BPAS should change its name. It does not ‘advise’ on pregnancy any more than the Mafia advises on “how to grow old gracefully. Moreover, they tell you that their advice is non-directional, at the same time leaving out half the story – all the uncomfortable bits that might put women off the abortion.”

The pro-abort advocates want to make out that this is scare-mongering, however if I were about to undergo a procedure I would want to know about the following possible complications: damage to the cervix leading to prematurity in a subsequent pregnancy, infection resulting in infertility, scarring of the lining of the womb which can cause subsequent prematurity, and the possible long-term increased risk of breast cancer.

It is the case that with any medical intervention that the risks and benefits of any treatment are outlined to the patient. Most surgeons will share x-rays and scans with the patients detailing what they intend to do. A pregnant woman considering an abortion is never shown the scan of the developing fetus, in an act of gross deception. Women should at least be offered the option in order that their consent may be fully informed, why is unacceptable for her to be aware of what stage of development the fetus has reached? Unless a woman is given the whole picture, which does not have to be emotive or directional then her choice cannot said to be fully consensual.

Of course some women will find the idea of mandatory counselling an irritation or an obstacle, having already come to their decision, in which cases the counselling session will be short, however at least it will give them the chance to confirm their decision. It is not a case of treating women like imbeciles, the reality is that at present, abortion clinics, who are set to benefit financially from a woman’s decision to abort, do not help a woman to explore all her options in any depth. As I have said frequently, I found myself  in the position of being coerced into an abortion, Marie Stopes having arranged an abortion for me on the say so of a third party. The doubt as to whether or not to continue with the pregnancy was all the validation required.

Ann Furedi of BPAS, along with the feminist Deborah Orr, are both on record stating that abortion needs to be a “back-up for when contraception fails”, which completely undermines those who claim that abortion is a method of last resort, a decision reached after much soul-searching and thus counselling adds an extra and unnecessary burden to women facing unplanned pregnancies. Abortion is not contraception (clue is in the name: contra – ception), this reasoning shows a flippant disregard for the value of human life and belies the attitude that abortion is always a considered conclusion. If you fall into the category of needing abortion as a back-up then there is an alternative and 100% failsafe method of avoiding conception, one that does not require medical intervention, does not entail the wanton destruction of human life and does not cost a penny.

The assertions that the Dorries/Field proposal constitutes an attempt to restrict abortion services are hysteria. Limiting or restricting abortion is not on the table, simply that women may feel empowered in the choice they are making in full possession of all the facts and that those facilitating those decisions do not stand to make any financial profit from them. It might be that counselling may well give pause for thought and prevent some abortions from going ahead which is not such a terrible thing.

The ardent hardline pro-abort faction are enraged because to introduce mandatory independent counselling goes a small way to getting back to the spirit of the 1967 Abortion Act, which was designed to help desperate women in terrible circumstances, hence the various built-in safeguards, which have now been reduced to a rubber-stamping exercise. Counselling recognises that abortion is indeed grave matter, one concerning life and death and seeks to ensure that a woman is in full possession of all the facts before she makes a decision that could have life-long repercussions.

Feminists who advocate abortion as being a woman’s right to choose, ignore the fact that abortion co-opts misogyny. The fact that every pregnancy is now viewed purely in terms of being a woman’s choice, has meant that many men feel absolutely no responsibility for their resulting offspring or on the other hand are denied any sort of involvement with regards to a child who is genetically theirs.

In the words of Camille Paglia, a noted feminist philosopher: “When it devalued motherhood, Western feminism undermined women’s most ancient claim to dignity.” 

Many people subscribe to Bill Clinton’s mantra that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare”. If this is desirable, then Dorries and Field’s proposal go some way to returning to the spirit of the Abortion Act; a last resort after every single possible option has been explored.

The Swing of the Sea

I was probably rather intemperate in my rant regarding Mrs Dorries yesterday. Rudeness always undermines reason and let’s face it Nadine is something of an easy target. Upon reflection I realised that I had failed to highlight the glaring irony in her diatribe about the Archbishop of Canterbury. Her identification of the spiritual needs of Christians encapsulates the values of the Catholic Church:

 church goers across the country scream out for guidance. A church to lead and one they can follow. They want and need continuity and conformity, basic tenants upon which the church is based.

What could be more explicit than a written set of rules such as we have in the Catechism? Continuity and Conformity are indeed the very precepts of the Roman Catholic Church which follows the traditions handed down from Christ and the apostles. When Nadine stated that church-goers wanted to know Dr Williams’ views on abortion and euthanasia, that they were screaming out for guidance, she was advocating for a strict line on these issues; the Catholic Church is well-known and often criticised for its dogma regarding the sanctity of human life.

The irony is that Nadine Dorries was calling for leadership, for the Archbishop of Canterbury to be explicit in his views, but as I pointed out, his views are simply that, Anglicans must come to their own conclusions on these matters, not being bound by any formal teachings. Dr Williams has spoken out  with regards to how far society has deviated from the spirit of the 1967 Abortion Act, he has not however come down on any side of the debate, not even supporting Dorries’ bid for the reduction in the time limit for abortion, but  instead stated that “clear principles are not going to get you off the hook”.

So the answers and leadership that Nadine seeks from the Established Church in terms of life issues will not be found. I share her frustration, it is incomprehensible that the Archbishop of Canterbury is willing to be politically contentious, willing to upset his flock and give a clear indication and lead on matters of political ideology, but will not state his position when it comes to the lives of the most vulnerable. That is nothing short of tragic.

It puts me in mind of an early poem of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Heaven-Haven, written in 1864, prior to his conversion to Catholicism in 1866 and one of the few poems which survives the holocaust of his early work which he burnt upon entering the Jesuit order as it was “not belonging to my profession”.

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail,
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea. 

Though the poem is ostensibly about a nun taking the veil, it is also read as an Anglo-Catholic poem. The images of nature lyrically and sensuously evoke that which must be renounced, namely the beauty of Anglican patrimony; Catholicism the place of tranquility by contrast to the ‘swing of the sea’ that is Anglicanism which shifts and changes with the tides.

I was right in my original assessment. Behind the emotive rhetoric, Nadine Dorries hit upon an element of truth, although I don’t see her becoming a nun at any time in the near future. To quote another poem of Hopkins on a similar theme, The Habit of Perfection; whilst she is in politics her lips cannot remain ‘lovely-dumb’.

Mad as a box of frogs

Nadine Dorries added her voice to the chorus condemning the remarks of the Archbishop of Canterbury on her blog. Very often I have some sympathy with Mrs Dorries, she is the UK’s answer to Sarah Palin, the politician that everyone loves to deride, her personal reputation meaning that her detractors often don’t take the time to see beyond the muddled, emotive rhetoric, designed for maximum impact, but often with minimum thought or nuance. Today’s blog is a perfect example, with Dorries taking issue on both the content of the Archbishop’s remarks and also that he dared to speak on the ‘wrong’ topic.

She starts by trying to call the Primate of the Church of England’s Christian faith into doubt:

only weeks ago he proclaimed how uncomfortable he had been with the shooting of the mass murderer and most wanted man in the world, Osama Bin Laden. In 2008 we had Sharia Gate. A speech given by the Archbishop which must have deeply offended every practicing Christian in the UK.

Many people were uncomfortable with the execution of Bin Laden. The fifth commandment states “thou shalt not kill” which is why, as Dorries should undoubtedly be aware, many Christians don’t condone either abortion or the death penalty. Dorries certainly seems to support the latter. In any event being uncomfortable with the death of an unarmed man, is not indicative of a lack of Christian faith. Dorries seems to be rather un-subtly implying that Dr Williams is more concerned with Islam than he is his own religion by rather unfairly linking Sharia Gate (when Dr Williams made some equally ill-judged comments stating that Sharia would become unavoidable in this country) with his concern regarding the execution of Bin Laden. The Roman Catholic Church also stated that the death of a man was no cause for celebration.

(His article) was a derogation of his responsibility to lead and unite his flock

Calm down dear. He guest edited a magazine and made some political comments, that is all. It is the role of the Church to offer moral comment on government policy, no matter how unpalatable that may be to those who are of a different political persuasion.

and the most transparent expose yet of the fact that at the top, the Church of England is almost wholly infiltrated and run by people who would regard The New Statesman as their own particular gospel.

Watch out, there’s a communist in every cassock! This is ridiculous paranoia and untrue to boot. The Labour party have somehow managed to infiltrate the Church of England by sending party activists off to theological college and then ordination and then managed to get them elected onto the Synod. That takes some doing. Clergymen are more concerned with the New Statesmen than the Gospel of Jesus Christ? They are all hypocrites and liars, who don’t put the Gospel at the centre of their lives? Rightyho. Whatever you say dear…

There are areas of policy where politics and the church overlap, where debate should be robust and where the church and its Archbishops could speak with authority and have real influence and effect.

Such as those which might involve the poor and disenfranchised. But here’s the nub of the issue. Dr Williams did not speak about those issues which Nadine Dorries would have endorsed and supported her agenda. That’s hardly surprising, Dorries already mentioned the readership of the New Statesmen, so all the Archbishop of Canterbury was trying to do was reach and engage with the readership who would not be inclined to purchase an issue with a heavy pro-life agenda.

MPs and congregations want to know, what does Rowan Williams think of our over sexualised society, or the teaching of abstinence in schools?

Do they? Is that the most pressing issue on the minds of congregations when it comes to what Rowan Williams thinks? Are congregations actually that concerned about what Rowan Williams thinks? With the greatest of respect, church-goers will obviously pay attention to his remarks, but as they aren’t doctrine, they are simply his opinion, there to be noted and thought about, but not infallible pronouncements. I would argue that most people don’t really care about what Rowan Williams thinks about our over-sexualised society, having already come to their own conclusions. Same with abstinence, and in fact never mind most congregations, most members of the population seem to have focussed on the most negative interpretation as to how abstinence may be taught and thus don’t really care what the Archbishop thinks. Are most MPs most concerned about abstinence and the over sexualisation of society? If only.

What words does he have for his congregations on abortion or assisted suicide? What does he have to say about the screening of the documentary to be shown which next week which will shows us a man’s dying moments at a Dignistas clinic in Switzerland? What does he think of embryology research? Silence. Nothing, nada, not a word.

OK I get this and understand the point she’s making. The Church of England’s teaching on abortion and euthanasia is clear, they are pretty much against these practices, although with some room for interpretative hand-wringing. The Church leaders do need to speak more loudly and more frequently against these practices. It is nothing short of a tragedy that the leaders of Christ’s Church remain silent on the issues that affect the most vulnerable in our society. In some ways this is something of a veiled advert for the Catholic Church, although we would like our priests, bishops and archbishops to be more vocal in their defence of the elderly and unborn, often shying away from these uncomfortable topics, at least we have the authority of the magisterium, which is crystal clear on these issues.

Abstinence, abortion and euthanasia are issues that dovetail perfectly with Christian teaching, which is what Dorries is getting at. These issues are however, entirely logical stances to support, which do not require a belief in God. The support of the Church is vital, but the problem is that by linking them with the Church, Dorries makes clear her agenda is predominantly a Christian one, which gives fuel to the idea that abstinence teaching in schools is motivated purely by Christian morality, as opposed to being a good idea in itself. Abstinence makes sense and does not need to be taught within a Christian framework, as might be inferred. If Dorries is serious about getting a decent SRE programme in place, she needs to appeal to more than just the Christian vote or agenda. All these issues are rational ones, reinforced by religious faith, but not necessitating it.

I wonder if Nadine Dorries is interested in the views of the Archbishop of Canterbury on adultery? I know of some who are screaming out for guidance on this issue also.

the retreat of the church from our communities into its own ivory alters, is what has left a void within communities.

Rambling hyperbole. How precisely has the church withdrawn from communities?

A void the Big Society initiative is trying desperately to fill. The coalition, Archbishop, is trying to do the job in which your church has failed and is that maybe what has irked? That the Big Society policy has shone a light over the lazy failings of a rather wealthy established church?

Offensive piffle. How has the Church failed? Is it the Church’s job to prop up the government’s economic policies, to provide social care if the government won’t? Actually the Church provides an enormous amount of community support, from volunteers who visit the elderly and sick, to fund-raising for local causes such as hospices. David Cameron wants to emulate and build upon the model of community support that churches provide, recognising that this is all organised at a local level. The Church of England does not work from the top down; though it is governed by a mixture of episcopal, synodical and also parliamentary authority, it is also highly congregational, in short a unique structure that is very different to that of the Catholic Church. To state that the Church of England has somehow failed, without defining how, is erroneous and to call it lazy, is deeply offensive to all the members of the congregations and clergy that comprise the Church of England. What have these lazy priests, many of whom work longer hours and for considerably less pay, despite being easily as qualified as a city executive, failed to do? What else should the members of the Church of England be doing, other than what they are doing already? The only laziness here is Dorries’ statement of wealth of the Church of England. The Church of England is not some centralised organisation sitting on piles of cash, far from it. Churches cost thousands a week in upkeep, clergy salaries, pensions and houses need to be provided and maintained, not to mention the church schools. Many parishes are desperately struggling financially. To accuse the Church of England of lazily sitting back and doing nothing to tackle the problems of social exclusion whilst wallowing in money is the statement that surely must offend very single member. I’m not one, but I am offended nonetheless, having seen firsthand the selfless dedication and generosity of members of church communities.

church goers across the country scream out for guidance.

Why? How very patronising. They don’t know what to think and need the Archbishop of Canterbury to direct his scattered flock? Is the Bible and the guidance of their local priests and clergy not enough for them?

A church to lead and one they can follow. They want and need continuity and conformity, basic tenants upon which the church is based. That’s why they attend church because otherwise, they may as well stay at home and pray in isolation.

People attend Church because they want an encounter with Christ in the Eucharist, which is not available at home. They want to share in the fellowship of Christ as he commanded.

They want their church leader to reflect the teaching of Jesus and to spread his word into the wider community. To influence policy in the way Jesus would do if he were here today. What people don’t want is an Archbishop hijacking their church as a platform for his own Sharia friendly, socialist, personal political views.

Ah nice, another smear on Dr Williams’ agenda. I’m always wary of the “what would Jesus do” debates. What we do know is that Jesus Christ was the most revolutionary radical person ever to walk this planet. In terms of policy he would amongst other things demand that individuals, corporations and governments do everything possible to ensure that the poor have access to nutritious food, clean water and sanitation, decent housing, good schools, adequate employment and health care. So Dr Williams was well within his remit.

Their Church? The one that is lazy and wealthy? How can the Archbishop of Canterbury “hijack” something that he is already in charge of? Isn’t this something of a contradiction in terms? Which is it, thanks to the Archbishop of Canterbury the church is failing, lazy and wealthy and now he’s taking it over? Surely if the former is true, perhaps his sudden hijack might improve matters? Is every member of the Church of England right-wing? Bit of a sweeping statement. I thought the Church of England had been infiltrated and was being run by socialists already according to her opening statements. Presumably they are very happy to see Dr Williams use it as a platform for his socialist views. In any event anything that any Archbishop of Canterbury says will always be his personal views. He is not a direct sovereign of the Church, he word is not binding law.

The buzz word around Westminster is ‘Who will rid us of this troublesome priest’. The answer is ultimately his flock, as they stay at home week after week. The Archbishop is feeling the effect of true democracy as they let him know what they think of his ridiculous uttering’s, with their feet.

If congregations are down, it is for reasons far more prosaic than folk disagree with Rowan Williams. Most genuine Christians, would not let a leader with whom they may have divergences of opinion, affect their encounter with the divine. Just because one might have some personal disagreement with the political views of a bishop or archbishop, will not affect our desire to deepen in spirituality. Another nonsense banality.

The last time “who will rid us of this turbulent priest was uttered” it resulted in sainthood. Dorries should think on.

I have been loathe to write this because Dorries is one of the few pro-life MPs who we have in Parliament. There is a glimmer of sense and rationality behind some of the rhetoric, once you manage to unpick it. When she comes out with tripe like this, you just want to put your head in your hands and groan. Surely we can do better – we have to. The thought that she is the sole voice of the unborn, terminally ill and elderly in Parliament is profoundly depressing.

The Bailey Review

I took a look at the recommendations of the Bailey Review this morning. As a Christian mother who is concerned that her children don’t pick up unhealthy messages regarding sex and society, the report is of obvious interest. The recommendations are outlined below, together with my comments.

putting age restrictions on music videos to prevent children buying sexually explicit videos, and to guide broadcasters over when to show them

That seems reasonable enough, given some of the hard-core porn type content of certain R&B music videos and some of the lyrics. It’s probably unnecessary however, given that mainstream broadcasters already exercise sensible judgement in terms of what they screen and when. Anyone remember the Girls on Film video by Duran Duran? A highly abridged clip was only ever broadcast. Same with Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I remember the first time that appeared in full on British Television with much emphasis placed on the broadcast time of after 9pm. No trip down the memory lane of ’80s music is complete without a reference to Frankie Goes to Hollywood  and  Relax…Dedicated music channels don’t show explicit videos during the day. I can see the sense in putting age categorisations on music videos, but I suspect it won’t change an awful lot, and often age categorisations only increase the lure and kudos of this type of material. Pop music has always been subversive. My mother was banned from listening to Bill Hailey and the Comets when she was a teen in the fifties. The nuns thought it was “decadent”. I  don’t want my children to be singing “I’m horny, horny, horny, horny” or similar, so for that reason we don’t listen to commercial radio stations.

covering up sexualised images on the front pages of magazines and newspapers so they are not in easy sight of children

What is a sexualised image? Surely what is sexy is in the eye of the beholder? You only need to pay a visit to one of Cologne’s finest pornographers to see what passes as sexy to some is comedically ludicrous. (I should state here, that in my wild days as cabin crew, a very camp young man who decided I needed educating, took me into his favourite shop in Cologne for a giggle.Upon viewing the magazine cover which featured nothing more daring than a young lady in a bikini and an elephant, I erupted into peals of hysterical laughter and was forcibly ejected from the shop by the proprietor for inappropriate mirth. “Eeet iizzz NOT funny, eeez serious artistic erotica”.)

I’ll stop there before I get myself into too much trouble. I do agree that retailers need to ensure that lads’ mags are placed out of eye level of children, it isn’t ideal needing to explain to a 5 year old that the lady on the front of the magazine isn’t about to feed her baby, or why she is wearing long socks and knickers that go right up her bum (that must be painful mummy). Retailers need to implement a voluntary code and ensure that these types of magazines are placed firmly on the top shelf. At present men’s “lifestyle” magazines don’t fall into quite the same category as blatant erotica, hence they are placed in places designed to catch the eye and be accessible. Normally in the checkout queue, to aid impulse purchases.

Some retailers are responsible, others not so, but the notion of a “sexualised” image is highly subjective, and we need to ensure that we don’t go too far in this respect. We don’t want to be photoshopping in extra sleeves, in order that a glimpse of bare flesh may corrupt, as happens in Emirate states.

making every customer make a decision at the point of purchase over whether they want adult content on their home internet, laptops or smart phones, rather than receiving it automatically

At last, an entirely sensible proposition. One that won’t please the pornographers, but the only caveat is that adult content filters can prover incredibly frustrating. We have been banned from accessing well known Christian bloggers, I haven’t been able to view websites containing advice on pregnancy and giving birth and often email will fall into spam filters. Most adults would opt to receive adult content and put their own filters or controls in place. I have no problem with this option being offered, but we need to ensure that no record is kept of who has opted in or out of such controls. I believe it happens in practice anyway, I am with Vodaphone and because I haven’t automatically enabled some widget or other I automatically have an age-restriction on my phone, meaning I can’t access adult material. Fundamentally however, I can’t see a problem with offering people the option. If you  really want your children to be safe on the internet, don’t buy them a smartphone and don’t let them have their own laptop.

retailers to offer more age-appropriate clothes for children and sign up to a code of practice which checks and challenges the design, buying, display and marketing of clothes, products and services for children

Covered this yesterday. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it for your child. We don’t need nanny questioning whether or not this is really appropriate. My sister had a sixth form job working in Laura Ashley and was in receipt of free clothes as part of the job. On wearing a long flowery halter neck dress to school one day, she was sent home to change by Sister Margaret Mary for coming to school attired in “beachwear”. The idea of code of practice that “challenges design” seems rather sinister. How far will they take this. My 7 year old has one of these. Will that be inappropriate as it will be deemed to be foisting a religion upon her?  Why can’t we let the free market rule?

restricting outdoor adverts containing sexualised imagery where large numbers of children are likely to see them, for example near schools, nurseries and playgrounds

OK, we’re getting into the realms of paranoia now. Either a billboard advert is suitable to be seen by children or it isn’t. Isn’t that the role of the ASA? Again what is suitable for children, will vary from person to person. Surely there is already a consensus on the types of advert that are suitable for public display.

giving greater weight to the views of parents above the general public in regulating pre-watershed TV

I really don’t like this one at all. Why on earth should the views of parents be more valid than the views of everyone else? So if you don’t like a certain scene or programme being shown at a certain time on TV, maybe because you were watching it with your delicate Aunt Mabel, your views are not as valid as those with young children. Since when did having children render you more wisdom in terms of  gleaning what may be appropriate viewing material? The moment my baby popped out meant that I can have greater say as to what’s on television? Great. More programmes like the History of Christianity, Scared Music and less football please. That’s what “my” children should be watching. I don’t want my children to be watching scenes with sexual references. That’s why we don’t watch much live TV. That’s what DVD players and now more recently the Iplayer are there for. The advent of technology means that we’re no longer tied to broadcaster’s schedules and there is an argument to be made that the watershed could be obsolete, although I am in favour of keeping it as a general principle. Are our broadcasters not already regulated?

providing parents with one single website to make it easier to complain about any programme, advert, product or service

We have this already. It’s called Mumsnet.

banning the employment of children under 16 as brand ambassadors and in peer-to-peer marketing, and improving parents’ awareness of advertising and marketing techniques aimed at children.

So no more Miss Pears then? I’m struggling to think of any under 16s who are brand ambassadors, but maybe someone down with da kids could tell me. I think most parents are already aware of the effect of advertising on their children, which is why  guidelines have been developed already. My children don’t watch adverts, I like the quiet life. My daughter has seen the “adopt a jaguar” advert in between husband’s surreptious bouts of Stargate, I’ve not heard the end of it. The types of adverts that she does see are not those that are likely to be the cause of  ‘sexualisation’. This last rule seems to be more about curbing advertising aimed at children, which is already the subject of regulation. I can’t see the harm of letting Justin Beiber advertise a can of Coke or whatever.

My daughter has a pair of the dreaded Lelly Kellies. Why? Because they were sparkly, she liked them and had seen her friends wearing them. Absolutely nothing to do with any adverts, or being persuaded that they were the cool brand, she had no idea. She liked them for the product in all their ghastly garishness. They are so obviously a shoe that only a child could like, I have no problem (besides Grandma bought them for her birthday). Shock horror they came with *make up*, i.e. a palate of pastel eye shadow, blusher and lipgloss. She has no idea what to do with make-up, but just possessing it makes her pleased as Punch. The attempts at applying it were a sight to behold, having no idea that blue is not a colour that one would volunatarily use to put one’s forehead. Harmless childhood pleasure, not stemming from sexualisation but a desire to be grown-up, which even the tiniest toddlers posses.

Where the problem with what seem to be over-precocious children lies is entirely with the parents, who perhaps desire a best friend, as opposed to a child. It wouldn’t have been the make-up that was the problem, but had child known exactly how to expertly apply it like an adult; the make-up itself being hardly visible, an extra marketing hook, but as I said yesterday, parents hold all the power in this area.

I am by all accounts a “fundamentalist” Christian, who would wish to bring up her children to wait until marriage for sex and who aims to teach my children conservative messages about sex and society.  I am very keen to keep them safe and prevent them from growing up too soon. But it is not my role to prevent them from growing up, quite the opposite, I wish to help them grow up to be healthy and fulfilled adults able to function as a useful part of society. The way we do that is not by changing society to suit them, but by gradually helping them to adapt to society as it is. If I can keep my children safe from becoming over-commercialised, I would argue that anyone can.

We don’t need illiberal and misconceived legislation which seeks to limit grown-up choices and puts the rights of parents over the rights of everyone else. Children need to learn that the world is often not a nice place and most importantly it does not resolve around them. I often wish that society was more conservative in nature, but the way to do that is not to force it with misconceived legislation.

Advertising and the media is a reflection of society. If this is over-sexualised, then there is a reason why, which goes far beyond a raunchy music video.