Since the hideous Paris attacks last week, a point that has been made over and over again is that ISIS (or, Daesh if you want to annoy them) have a strategy of provocation. Their atrocities are designed to ‘sharpen the contradictions‘ by provoking people in Western countries into acts of racism, and provoking Western governments into acts of war. They hope that by sowing division and actually causing human rights abuses against minorities, more Muslims in these countries will become disaffected and radicalised. Journalist Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed has a good analysis of the strategy: Continue reading After Paris, maybe we need to slap ISIS about with Matthew’s Gospel?
Recent weeks have brought us a couple of examples of improbable and extraordinary forgiveness in the face of brutal racism.
Today, the newspapers carry the story of teacher Vincent Uzomah. Of the 14 year old who stabbed him while shouting racists slurs, Mr Uzomah said this:
As a Christian I have forgiven this boy who has inflicted this trauma and pain on me and my family. Our prayer for him is that he will make use of the opportunities and support that will be provided to him to become a changed person who will make a positive contribution to the society.
Personally I think Cameron was trolling us—saying something deliberately controversial in order to provoke the liberal left. The European elections are looming, and I would be willing to bet that precisely the sort of people who are drifting from the Conservative Party to UKIP are the sort of people for whom the whole ‘we are a Christian nation’ schtick would resonate. Its a faux culture war in order to shore up the base. Continue reading We're not a Christian nation and those who say we are are mistaken and dangerous
Jack of Kent has an interesting post about St Luke’s Gospel. He says that the nativity story has been embellished and fabricated to the point where it is simply incorrect… other than the fact that Jesus was indeed born around 4 BC, somewhere in what is now modern Palestine.
Why ‘improve’ on the nativity? Simply put, it makes for better PR, and helps the religion to grow! This mutation of the original facts reminds me of the idea thought that religion is very much like a strand of DNA. The individual elements of the story change and adapt, the better to survive and flourish. Yet throughout, the essence of the story remains.
It was none other than Richard Dawkins who coined the word ‘meme‘ for ideas that grow and evolve, in his famous treatise The Selfish Gene. So I am surprised at the venom with which he and other atheists slag off religion and the preposterous, obviously false claims contained within the Abrahamic texts. If you want the kernel of the Nazarene’s philosophy to survive a couple of millennia of war, disease, natural disaster, shifting borders and mutating languages, then you have to wrap it in parables, fabulism, and sound-bites.* Continue reading Memes, Religion and DNA
Is a church an appropriate place for political messages? There are two aspects to this question. The first is whether activists should protest in a Church. Was the uninvited ‘hooliganism’ of Pussy Riot justified? I cited the example of Jesus himself, who caused havoc in the Temple in what was surely a political as well as spiritual protest (see, for example, Mark 11-15). Continue reading On Politics, Power and the Pulpit
The ‘Innocence of Muslims’ nonsense also raises the questions on the other side of the controversy: should the American filmmakers have published the video? Should they have been are allowed to upload it to YouTube?
First: The principles of free speech are pretty clear cut in this case. The video is pretty awful, but does not call for violence towards anyone. So banning such a video would set a terrible precedent. It would allow the religious to censor criticism of their religion… And God knows, the Christian fundamentalists in the USA would relish that opportunity.
However, the question of whether the authors should have made the video is another matter. I wish they had not. They did it for hateful, disrespectful reasons. It comes from a bigoted mindset, and is designed to provoke and inflame. People who make that kind of art tend not to be very nice, interesting, or intelligent. But, to repeat the key point of the article I wrote about Günter Grass for the New Statesman, To say this is an act of artistic and moral criticism, not a statement on the principles of free speech.
Finally: should YouTube have removed the clip or suppressed it in certain countries? They did precisely this in Egypt, I believe. I think that this might be the most interesting part of the whole affair. On the one hand, YouTube is a private company, with its own Terms & Conditions that are distinct from the law of the land. If it wants to set a higher bar for free expression then I suppose it has the right to do that. On the other hand, YouTube has become so ubiquitous that It has become part of our public square, a shared communal space that is essential for democracy. Perhaps it has to act more like a government than a private company, and take a more permissive attitude to free expression.