Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Hell and the Mean and Exploitative Rich in the Non-Canonical Gospels

August 6, 2019

Leafing through the book The Apocryphal Jesus: Legends of the Early Church by J.K. Elliott (Oxford: OUP 1996) yesterday, I got to the chapter on heaven and hell. The book’s a collection of extracts from apocryphal Christian literature, the Gospels and various lives of the Apostles that weren’t included in the Bible because they were not considered historically reliable by the bishops of the Early Church. Despite being outside the accepted canon of scripture, they were nevertheless widely read and have influenced Christian art and literature. These writings include descriptions of the delights of paradise and the torments of the damned. Most of the torments are for moral offences, like fornication, adultery and homosexuality and failure to live according to proper Christian standards or neglect or rejection of Christianity. It’s grim stuff, and is the type of material and doctrines that now puts people off religion. How can a loving God inflict all these torments on people for all eternity, especially since the sexual revolution of the 1960s? Pre-marital sex is now the norm, homosexuality is accepted and opposition to it is seen as bigotry. It’s a good question, and I’m no fan of the hellfire and damnation preaching myself. As for Hell, I tend to follow the Father Duddleswell attitude from the books about the Irish priest by Neil Boyd. God’s justice demands it exists, but his mercy means there’s no-one in it.

But several of the torments described in these apocryphal books are for the rich and the exploitative. Like some of the people in the Tory and Brexit parties. One of the extracts is from the Acts of Thomas, in which the apostle raises up a dead woman, and commands her to tell what she has seen. And amongst the damned were people hung up by various parts of their bodies, including the hands.

Those hung up by the hands are they who took that which did not belong to them and have stolen, and who never gave anything to the poor, nor helped the afflicted; but they did so because they wished to get everything, and cared neither for law nor right. (p. 191).

In the Apocalypse of Peter, it is Christ Himself who describes the torments of hell, including those reserved for the rich.

‘And beside them, in a place near at hand, upon the stone shall be a pillar of fire, and the pillar is sharper than swords. And there shall be men and women clad in rags and filthy garments, and they shall be cast thereon to suffer the judgement of an unceasing torment; these are the ones who trusted to their riches and despised the widows and the women with fatherless children … before God.’ (p. 194).

In the Apocalypse of Paul, it is this apostle, who is taken by an angel and shown the heaven and hell, including this description of what happens to usurers:

And I saw another multitude of pits in the same place, and in the midst of it a river full with a multitude of men and women, and worms consumed them. But I lamented and sighing asked the angel and said, ‘Sir, who are these?’ and he said to me, “These are those who exacted interest on interest and trusted in their riches and did not trust in God that he was their helper.’ (p. 202).

We now have a government that is packed full of rich, highly rapacious individuals, who really don’t have any thought for the poor, the widows and the fatherless. And all too many of them are connected to the financial sector, like Jacob Rees-Mogg. Mogg and several other Tories come from the Christian right. It’s a pity they don’t read these passages, and those in the Bible itself, urging concern for the poor, the sick and marginalised, and do the right thing.

Which is stopping these exploitative, murderous policies of immiseration and exploitation, and resign!

As an old piece of graffiti in Bristol used to say: ‘Repent of your sins, Maggie Thatcher!’

 

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Anti-Black Racism and the Anti-Semitism Smears

August 2, 2019

Looking back at two of the most notorious instances, where decent anti-racists have been smeared as an anti-Semites, it occurred to me that behind them there’s a very nasty strain of anti-black racism. These two cases were the attacks on Jackie Walker, the vice-chair of Momentum by the Campaign Against Truth and the Jewish Labour Movement, and against Marc Wadsworth by Ruth Smeeth. Both were not only passionate and committed campaigners against all varieties of racism, they were also Black.

Walker is Jewish by descent and faith. Her partner is Jewish, and she sent her daughter to a Jewish school. She is an outspoken opponent of Israeli apartheid, and began attacking it through her activism against its counterpart in South Africa. Because of this some Zionist organisation has apparently identified her as the second most dangerous threat to Israel along with Jeremy Corbyn.

She was accused of anti-Semitism when snoopers from the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism dug up an old Facebook conversation between her and two or three other historians and scholars discussing Jewish financial involvement in the slave trade. Walker made it clear that she was looking at it partly from the angle of being a Jew herself. She said that the Jews involved were ‘my people too’. It’s a legitimate area of historical research, and Jackie has subsequently very ably defended herself by citing studies of this by mainstream, respectable Jewish historians. Nowhere did she claim that the Jews were solely responsible for the slave trade, or even its main investors. She has made it clear that the responsibility for the slave trade lies with the Christian monarchs of the states that engaged in it.

Nevertheless, her words were taken out of context and further distorted, and she was the subject of a vile article in the Jewish Chronicle claiming that she had. This formed the basis for a complaint against her to the Labour party demanding her expulsion. She was also accused of anti-Semitism by the Jewish Labour Movement. They secretly recorded her at a workshop on the proper commemoration of the Holocaust for Holocaust Memorial Day. Jackie complained that she was unable  to work with their definition of anti-Semitism and objected to the way Holocaust Memorial Day concentrated exclusively on Jewish suffering to the exclusion of other groups, who had also suffered similar genocides, like Black Africans. I believe the definition of anti-Semitism to which she objected wasn’t the normal definition that it is simply hatred of Jews as Jews, but the IHRC definition, which conflates it with opposition to Israel. And while Holocaust Memorial Day does mention the holocausts of other ethnicities, there is increasing hostility amongst some Zionists on their inclusion. As Tony Greenstein has shown, the Israeli state is keen to present the Holocaust as a unique phenomenon which targeted only Jews, despite the Nazis’ determination to murder other groups and races, like the Roma and the disabled, not to mention the Slav peoples they intended to enslave and turn into a class of peasant serfs.

Jackie was duly expelled from the party, though not for anti-Semitism, which he accusers couldn’t prove, but on other, spurious charges, like bringing the party into disrepute or some other nonsense. Since then, she has been the victim of sustained, vicious abuse. She has been told that she should be hanged from trees, or killed and her body dumped in bin bags. This is so vile, that she has forbidden her daughters from reading her email, because she doesn’t want to see them upset by the abuse their mother is getting. And amongst these accusations is the claim that she cannot be properly Jewish, because she’s black. Which is itself definitely racist.

Now it seems to me that at the heart of these smears against Walker is the assumption that, as a Black anti-racist activist, she must be an anti-Semite. This is based on the very public comments several decades ago of two leading Black American figures, Louis Farrakhan and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Farrakhan is, or was, the head of the Nation of Islam, the religious movement led by Malcolm X. Although it sees itself as a form of Islam, it is by Muslim standards highly heretical. It’s based around the worship of W.D. Fard, a Syrian immigrant to the US, as God incarnate. It also has elements of those new religious movements centred on UFOs, like the Aetherius Society. Farrakhan claims that he was taken up by a UFO from a mountain in Mexico to an orbiting ‘mother wheel’, where he was told that W.D. Fard and Jesus were alive and well on Venus, where they would direct the future war against Whites.

As well as bitterly hostile to Whites, Farrakhan is also vehemently anti-Semitic. He really does believe that the Jews were responsible for the slave trade. This is definitely rejected by every proper scholar of the subject, including Jackie herself. 

In the late 1980s and 1990s, Farrakhan organised a series of events protesting against the conditions of Black people in America. One of the most spectacular was the ‘Million Man March’, in which a million Black men were to march on Washington D.C. It was supposed to be a men-only event, as the religion has very traditional views on sex and gender roles. Women were supposed to be at home, looking after the children. And it was supposed to be for Blacks only. In the event, the organisers could only reach the numbers they wanted through letting Whites join.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson was a Christian minister, who was also a Black anti-racism activist. He was popular, and at one stage it looked like he might win the Democratic presidential nomination. Eddie Murphy in his stand-up comedy routine included jokes about the shock White racists would get after they drunkenly voted for him as a joke, only to wake up the next morning to find Jackson in the White House. It’s possible that two decades before Barack Obama, America could have seen its first Black president. Jackson’s political ambitions took a nosedive, however, when he began to move close to Farrakhan and made anti-Semitic comments. The most notorious of these was when he called New York ‘Hymietown’ because of its large Jewish population.

It therefore seems very strongly to me that the accusations of anti-Semitism against Jackie Walker were partly intended to recall the real anti-Semitism of Farrakhan and Jackson. The implication there seemed to be that because she dared discuss Jewish involvement in the slave trade, she must share Farrakhan’s odious views. Not least of which is because she’s a Black anti-racist activist, and so was he.

Ditto with Marc Wadsworth. He was smeared by Ruth Smeeth because he caught her passing on information to a Torygraph journo next to her at a Labour party event. She then claimed that he was guilty of using the anti-Semitic trope of Jews as leaders of a conspiracy against her. The lamestream press had a field day with this, repeating this lie and even screaming that he was the Labour activist, who made her cry.

Wadsworth is not Jewish, but he is a committed anti-racist activist. Among his achievements was getting the parents of the murdered Black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, to meet Nelson Mandela. He also worked with the Board of Deputies of British Jews to formulate improved legislation to protect Jews from real anti-Semitic violence after a spate of attacks by the NF/BNP in the Isle of Dogs in the 1980s. He’s very, very definitely not a racist. But truth doesn’t matter to these scoundrels, and they libelled him as such anyway.

Like Jackie Walker.

I think part of the underlying assumption here is that both Jackie and Marc must be racist themselves, because they’re Black. When riots broke out in Black communities across Britain in the first years of Thatcher’s reign c. 1981/2, the Tory press claimed that they weren’t caused by poor social conditions, lack of opportunities, high unemployment suffered by British Blacks, or institutional racism in British society. No! The real reason Blacks in Toxteth, Liverpool, St. Paul’s, Bristol, and Brixton in London, was because they were anti-White racists. And although nearly four decades have passed since then, I think that’s still the assumption, or the implication, behind the accusations against Marc and Jackie. Black anti-racism activists must be anti-White, and anti-Semitic, because of the assumptions and events of over three decades ago.

Meanwhile, it’s noticeable how uninterested in combating racism, or actively racist those making the accusations of anti-Semitism are. the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism has precious little to say about real Fascism and anti-Semitism, preferring to rail instead against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. Margaret Hodge did so little to combat the NF/BNP in Islington, that when the BNP’s Derek Beacon and his storm troopers got onto Tower Hamlet’s council, they sent her a bouquet of flowers. Tom Watson, who has done his best to facilitate these accusations in the Labour party, was a friend of Phil Woolas, who was prosecuted for running an islamophobic campaign portraying Muslims as terrorists. David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group has written on his blog about how the Board of Deputies of British Jews in the 1980s did their level best to prevent Jews from going on anti-racist marches and events like Rock Against Racism. The ostensible reason was that they were afraid Jews would be exposed to anti-Zionist propaganda. But others suspected that the real reason was that the Board did not want them mixing with people from different races and communities. And the respected historian of Jewish community in Britain, Geoffrey Alderman, was put under pressure by the Board in the 1970s to remove from his book his finding that 2 per cent of the Jewish community in the UK voted for the BNP because they hated Blacks and didn’t want their children going to school with them.

Of course, the people making these defamatory accusations of anti-Semitism against decent people don’t confine them to Blacks. They also make them against Whites, and particularly against Jews critical of Israel. These latter, who obviously include Jackie, are subjected to the most vile abuse, which would automatically be considered anti-Semitic if it came from non-Jews. Like some of the comments Tony Greenstein has received by Zionist Jews, telling him that they wish he and his family had died in the Shoah.

But it seems to me that behind the smears of Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth there is nevertheless a very strong undertone of anti-Black racism, a racism that permeates their accusers and the right-wing media, which supported those smears.

 

 

Geoffrey Alderman Accuses Tom Watson of Anti-Semitism for Talking about Christ’s Arrest

July 29, 2019

Geoffrey Alderman, a professor of Jewish history and columnist for the Times and the Jewish Telegraph, has made an official complaint to Jennie Formby accusing the deputy leader of the Labour Party of anti-Semitism. Why? In his Easter message, Watson referred to Christ’s arrest by a squad of Roman soldiers under the direction of the servant of the High Priest. Alderman states that

‘the allegation that Jews were Christ-killers, implicated in if not actually responsible for the death of Jesus, is widely regarded as an anti-Semitic trope’.

He then correctly states that it was condemned by the Pope at Vatican II in the 1970s.

While it’s amusingly ironic to find Watson, who has given so much aid and support to those fabricating false claims of anti-Semitism against decent, anti-racist people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, of anti-Semitism himself, the accusation is wrong and should be denied and rebutted.

Firstly, Alderman is absolutely correct that the accusation that Jews are Christ-killers has been responsible for much prejudice and often horrific persecution of Jews down the centuries. However, this does not mean that the description of Christ’s arrest and trial by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea at the time, are fictional and anti-Semitic themselves. Alderman’s accusation is therefore wrong and should be strenuously denied and refuted.

As Mike has said in his piece about the accusation, all the Gospels state that Christ was arrested by the Romans under the direction of the High Priest, tried before the Sanhedrin, before being passed in turn to Pontius Pilate for judgment. I realise that many people do regard the Bible as completely fictitious, and that there have been books written against the inclusion of the Jewish authorities in Christ’s arrest and execution in order to counter what many believe to be a source of anti-Semitism. These attempts are based on descriptions of the power of the Sanhedrin in the Talmud, which claim that the Temple authorities could not hold such trials and had no power to issue the death penalty for blasphemy unless the name of God was explicitly pronounced. However, while some of the Oral Law is ancient, dating back to the time Ezra according to scholars of Judaism, the Talmud itself was compiled over a period of centuries from the Second Century AD onwards. Jewish scholars have said that there is difficulty in assessing the truth of the passages about the Sanhedrin, as it is not clear which are historically accurate, and which an idealised picture of how the Jewish sages at the time of Talmud’s composition felt it should have operated.

Christ’s execution is mentioned by the Syrian Stoic philosopher, Mara bar Serapion, in a letter that may date from 73 AD. The letter discusses the disasters that befell the Athenians after they executed Socrates, and the Samian after they killed Pythagoras. He asks rhetorically

or what did it avail the Jews to kill their wise king, since their kingdom was taken away from them from this time on?

The ‘wise king’ is believed to be a reference to Christ. See Kevin O’Donnell, Introduction to the New Testament (Hodder and Stoughton 1999) 78.

There is also a garbled reference to Christ’s crucifixion on a charge of sorcery and leading Israel astray in the Talmud, see O’Donnell, above, 78.

Similar events are also recorded by Roman historians. There’s a passage in the Jewish historian, Josephus, I believe, which records how the Sanhedrin brought before the Roman governor a man, who had been prophesying the destruction of the Temple. They demanded the man be executed. Instead, the governor simply had the man flogged and then sent away.

This was an extremely dangerous and politically volatile time. The Temple hierarchy was bitterly resented by many Jews both for the corruption of some of its priests and officials, and their collaboration with Israel’s Greek and then Roman overlords. The books of Maccabees in the Apocrypha records the heroic resistance to Greek rule by Judas Maccabaeus. He and the Jewish people were provoked into rebellion by the attempts of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek general, who ruled the province under Alexander the Great, to stamp out their faith. Mothers were forbidden to circumcise their sons, the teaching of the Law was forbidden and copies burnt and the Temple was turned into a temple to Zeus. Although the Temple was restored and the Jews allowed to practise their faith freely once again, the situation remained tense. There were tensions between the Pharisees, the Jewish sect that stressed absolute obedience to the Law, and which believed in spirits and the resurrection of the dead, and the Sadducees, who did not, and who seem to have been largely aristocratic. Josephus records another Jewish uprising just before the time of Christ, which was crushed with the execution of 19,000 Pharisees.

The Talmud also contains passages, which are believed to date from this time, which rail against the corruption of the Temple clergy and High Priest. One is a heartfelt account by the author of how he was beaten by Boethus, a member of the Temple hierarchy, while other priests and leading officials used their office to extort money from ordinary Jews.

Moreover, it needs to be remembered that Christ and His disciples were almost all Jews. St. Matthew’s is the most Jewish of all the Gospels, and its writer frequently assimilates Christ’s teaching with those of the great Jewish sages. He was therefore part of a Jewish Christian community, which continued to observe the Mosaic Law.

It therefore seems very clear to me that the accounts of Christ’s arrest and trial are historically accurate and reflect the very bloody tensions within 1st century Judaism. And while they have been used to foment anti-Semitism, they are not themselves anti-Semitic. It’s clear reading them that the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate were responsible for Christ’s death, not the Jewish people as a whole.

I went to the same Anglican church school as Mike, and as he says, we were very definitely not taught to hate anyone because they were of a different religion. Indeed, the clergy and Christian laypeople, who taught at the school had a horror of religious violence and bigotry. Mike and his year were taken on visits to a synagogue and mosque. This didn’t happen to my year, but we were taught about Judaism in RE lessons. I also remember going down the stairs just as one of the RE teachers was going up them with a bearded gentleman carrying a menorah and other Jewish sacred objects, presumably to show them to one of the other classes. And some of the older pupils I know were taught about the Holocaust and its horrors.

I also believe that the myth that the Jews were responsible for the death of Christ has largely been laid to rest. Many of the Christians I know have very positive attitudes towards Jews and Judaism because of their religion. Where anti-Semitism does exist, I believe it largely comes from other reasons, like all the stupid, murderous conspiracy theories that try to tell you the Jews hate Whites and are importing Blacks to destroy the White race and enslave gentiles. And so, like Mike, I’m left wondering why Professor Alderman has chosen to accuse Tom Watson of anti-Semitism because of this. And so I agree completely with Mike’s conclusion:

Tom Watson is a wrong ‘un, no doubt. But to demonise him by trying to stir up animosity between Jews and Christians is completely unacceptable and I hope everyone of both religions condemns his words.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/07/29/this-anti-semitism-complaint-against-tom-watson-should-not-stand-up/

 

Priti Patel and the Barbarity of the Reintroduction of the Death Penalty

July 27, 2019

Yesterday, Mike put up a piece reporting that Boris Johnson, the raging, incompetent blond beast now in charge of the government, has appointed Priti Patel as his home secretary. And she supports the reintroduction of the death penalty.

I’m not surprised. Johnson is a man of the Tory hard right, and there’s a section of the British public that has been demanding the return of the death penalty for years. I think support for capital punishment is probably spread between both parties, but I’m reasonably sure it’s much stronger in the Conservatives. This is the party that, after all, tries to project itself as the party of law and order and keeps demanding tougher sentencing for criminals. And that includes the death penalty for murder. It’s clear that Bozza is now very much appealing to that constituency with his appointment of Patel, although he himself won’t say whether he favours it himself.

I very well understand why some people want it back. There are unrepentant criminals responsible for the most sickening crimes, who do make you feel that they should pay the ultimate penalty. Like the Nazis at Nuremberg, who planned and presided over the horrific murder and torture of millions of individuals and the proposed extermination of entire races. Before Eichmann was executed he said something about regret and remorse being for the weak and inferior. Himmler in a notorious speech to the SS at the death camps actually boasted about the horrors they were committing, claiming that it was deeply moral and that though it was hard unpleasant, they would come through it with the moral character intact, still pure. With such twisted morality, such deep evil, you feel that death really is too good for them. And the same with serial killers and child murderers, like the Moors Murderers.

But as Mike showed in his piece, there are very, very strong arguments against capital punishment. Not least is the fact that innocent people have been convicted of murder in gross miscarriages of justice. This was Ian Hislop’s argument in a clip from Question Time he put up in his article, in which the editor of Private Eye mopped the floor with Patel. Hislop said that over the years his magazine had uncovered many such cases, and that if we had had the death penalty, then the people wrongfully convicted would be dead. He also pointed out that if we had it, we would also have turned some very unpleasant people into martyrs. By that, he means the various terrorists that have shot and bombed their way across Britain since the return of Irish nationalist terrorism in the 1970s. And some of those convicted of Irish Republican terrorist offences were victims of the miscarriage of justice. Like the Birmingham Six, who were wrongfully jailed for the Birmingham pub bombings. If these men had been executed for the crime, not only would the British state have killed innocent people, but that fact would have been picked up and strenuously broadcast by the IRA as yet more evidence of British oppression. And the Islamist terrorists responsible for 7/7 and other outrages see themselves as shahids – martyrs for Islam. At one level, executing them would be giving them exactly what they want. And their deaths would be used by the other zealots for propaganda, as righteous Muslims going to their eternal reward for killing the kufar.

All Patel could do in the face of this argument was bluster about being absolutely sure of the accused’s guilt before sentencing. That’s right – judges were obliged to point out to juries in murder cases during capital punishment that if they had any doubt whatsoever, they should not convict. But as Hislop then went to argue, innocent people were still convicted even with the weight of the burden of proof. And then Patel fell back on the old canard that it acted as a deterrent. There’s no evidence of that. A friend of mine, who’d actually read Pierrepoint’s memoirs, told me that Britain’s last hangman had said that in his experience, it didn’t act as a deterrent at all. According to Peter Hitchens, who is very much one of the law and order brigade – he’d like to see people jailed for drunkenness, for example – Pierrepoint changed his mind about this just before he died. But I think the evidence is that it doesn’t. In fact, it seems to encourage violence. I can remember reading in article in one of the papers back in the ’90s – the FT perhaps, or the Independent – that there’s actually a rise in violent incidents around the time of executions in the US. The article said that it was almost as though people felt that if the state could inflict violence, so could they.

I’d also argue that there are some murderers, who should be punished, but who also can be rehabilitated. When I was working as a volunteer at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, some of my co-workers were convicts at the end of their sentence. They were working towards being finally paroled and released back into the community. It was quite an experienced working with these people. Although they were murderers, they weren’t monsters. They were articulate, and often creative and highly educated. Some were so inoffensive, you wondered what circumstances led to them committing their crime. I realise that the people I knew may not be entirely representative. The Museum only took those who were genuinely willing to work there, rather than just exploit the system. And I am not suggesting for a single minute that murder should be treated leniently. I am merely arguing that there are some people responsible for this crime, who can be usefully rehabilitated after their punishment. And there may well be mitigating circumstances in individual cases that should rule out the death penalty.

And sometime, letting a murderer live and contemplate his guilt can be more terrible than simply killing them. One of the priests at my local church in south Bristol was a prison chaplain. He told us once how a murderer in one of the prisons in which he ministered told him one day, that he had no idea how difficult it was for the prisoner to live with the knowledge of what he’d done.

Way back in the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the cleric who wrote the constitution for the Knights Templars, once saved a murderer from execution. He had him taken down from the scaffold. When the crowd objected, he told them he was going to take the man to do something far harder than simply being killed, and led him off to become a monk. This was during the great age of monastic reform, when life in some of the new orders being founded was very hard.

Many of the early Christians under the Roman Empire also had very strong views against the judicial system and its punishments. They objected to the death penalty, because Our Lord had been unjustly condemned to death by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christians had no choice but to adopt and become responsible for the trial and punishment of criminals. But some bishops and clergy remained firmly against it to the end. One clergyman stated that he could not see how any Christian could have a man tortured or sentenced to death, and then lie back in ease and luxury on cushions afterwards. The Christians, who object to the death penalty are heirs to this tradition.

The reintroduction of the death penalty cannot be justified, not least because of the very real danger of wrongful conviction. By appointing Patel, one of its supporters, Johnson has shown how amoral he is in pandering to such vindictive populism. He, Patel and the other horrors in his cabinet are an affront to British justice. Get them out!

Labour MP Richard Burgon Warns that War with Iran Could be Worse than Iraq

July 23, 2019

Yesterday’s I, for Monday, 22nd July 2019, also carried a very important piece by Chris Green, ‘Iran conflict could become ‘worse than Iraq war”, reporting the views of Labour’s shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, on the consequences of war with Iran. The article, on page 6, ran

A full-blown conflict between the US and Iran with Donald Trump in charge as President could prove to be worse than the war in Iraq, a senior Labour MP has warned.

Richard Burgon, the shadow Justice Secretary, said the UK risked being drawn into a conflict between Iran and the US as Mr Trump’s “sidekick”.

Comparing the deteriorating political situation to the build-up to the Iraq war, he said Boris Johnson and Mr Trump could act in concert in the same way as Tony Blair and George W. Bush did.

He called for the next prime minister to focus on “de-escalation” and “conflict resolution” rather than allowing the UK to become “messengers” for the US administration.

“If we end up in a conflict backed by Donald Trump then I think it would not only be comparable with Iraq, in fact it could be even worse than Iraq, and that should really scare everybody,” Mr Burgon told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.

He added: “We need sensible negotiations. We’ve got a really important part of play diplomatically in this. We can use our negotiating weight.

“I think that our government has international respect and this country has international respect in a way that Donald Trump doesn’t.

“I think we need to use that for the purposes of conflict resolution and for the purposes of making sure this doesn’t escalate out of control.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also spoke out about the crisis over the weekend, accusing the US President of fuelling the confrontation by “tearing up” the Iran nuclear deal.

Burgon and Corbyn are exactly right, as I’ve said many times before in posts about the possibility of war with Iran. Iran is like Iraq in that it’s a mosaic of different peoples. Just over 51 per cent of the population are speakers of Farsi, the ancient language of the poet Saadi and the Iranian national epic, the Shah-Nama. But the country is also home to Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, Reshtis, Luris, Bakhtiaris and various Turkic-speaking tribes. Some of these peoples have very strong nationalist aspirations for an independent homeland. The Kurds have been fighting for theirs since before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, while there was also a series of jihads by some of the Turkic nomad peoples, after the Iranian government confiscated part of their tribal lands for settlement by Farsi speakers. The Arabic-speaking province of Khuzestan is also under very strict military control, and conditions in the camps for the oil workers there are similar to those concentration camps. In addition to a very strong military presence, the inmates are kept docile by drugs supplied by the Pasdaran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. While the majority of the population are Twelver Shi’a, there are other religions. Three per cent of the population are Armenian Christians, and there are also communities of Jews and Zoroastrians, the followers of the ancient Persian monotheist religion founded by the prophet Zoroaster/Zarathustra. Tehran also has a church and community of Anglican Christians.

If, God forbid, the US and Britain do invade Iran, the country will descend into a chaos of ethnic violence and carnage exactly like Iraq. But perhaps, due to the country’s diverse ethnic mix, it could even be worse. The Anglican Church in Iran has, naturally, been under great pressure. If we do invade, I’ve no doubt that they will be targeted for persecution, as will the Armenian Christians, simply because their religion, Christianity, will be taken to be that of our forces. They’ll be killed, tortured or imprisoned as suspected sympathisers.

And any war we might fight won’t be for any good reason. It won’t be to liberate the Iranian people from a theocratic dictatorship or promote democracy. It will be for precisely the same reasons the US and Europe invaded Iraq: to seize that country’s oil industry and reserves, privatise and sell to multinationals its state enterprises, and create some free trade, low tax economy in accordance with Neocon ideology. And as with Iraq, it will also be done partly for the benefit of Israel. The Israelis hated Saddam Hussein because he sided with the Palestinians. And they hate Iran precisely for the same reason.

If I recall correctly, Burgon was one of those accused of anti-Semitism, because he said that Israel was the enemy of peace, or some such. It’s a controversial statement, but it’s reasonable and definitely not anti-Semitic. Israel is the enemy of peace. The expatriate Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, very clearly and persuasively argues in his book, Ten Myths about Israel, that throughout its 70 year history Israel has manufactured causes to go to war with its Arab neighbours. It has never been serious about peace. And that’s particularly true about Iran. Netanyahu was chewing the scenery in front of the UN a little while ago, arguing that the Iranians were only a short time away from developing nuclear weapons. It was rubbish, as Netanyahu’s own armed forces and the head of the Shin Bet, their security ministry, told him. In fact, the evidence is that Iran kept to the nuclear treaty Trump accuses them of violating. They weren’t developing nuclear weapons, and commenters on Iran have said that when the Iranians said they wanted nuclear energy to generate power, they meant it. Iran’s main product is oil, and developing nuclear power for domestic use would mean that they have more to sell abroad, thus bringing in foreign cash and keeping what’s left of their economy afloat. And if we are going to discuss countries illegally possessing nuclear weapons, there’s Israel, which has had them since the 1980s. But as they’re the West’s proxies in the Gulf, nobody talks about it or censures them for it. Presumably it’s anti-Semitic to do so, just like it’s anti-Semitic to criticise or mention their ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

I think Burgon, or someone else like him also said that conquering Iran would not be as easy as defeating the Iraqis. The Iranian economy is stronger and more developed – it was under the Shah the most westernised and industrialised national in the Middle East. And its armed forces are better equipped.

I am not impressed by their seizure of our tanker, but I think it’s simply a case of tit-for-tat after we seized theirs off Gibraltar. And despite the noise from the Tories about calming the situation down, there are strong forces in the Trump’s government and the general Republican party agitating for war. Just as I’ve no doubt there is also in the Iranian government.

Such a war would be disastrous, and the looting of the nation’s industries, resources and archaeological heritage would be simply massive theft. And the destruction of the country’s people and their monuments, as happened in Iraq, would be a monstrous war crime.

The warmongers in the Republicans and Tories must be strongly resisted, and thrown out of office. Before the world is thrown into further chaos and horror.

More Nationalist Bigotry from Johnson as He Sneers at EU Leaders

July 21, 2019

Boris Johnson and his supporters preparing for government.

Mike put up a post yesterday reporting some of the recorded view of Boris Johnson on the leaders of various EU countries. In this case, they were Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emanuel Macron and the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. And as you would expect, they aren’t flattering.

Johnson apparently has raised and pondered the question whether Merkel was a member of the Stasi. Well, she does come from the former East Germany. However, I think she’s a Lutheran Christian, in which case the answer is, no, almost certainly not. Christians and other people of faith in the former Soviet bloc were harshly persecuted. It wasn’t illegal to hold services, but if you actually taught the doctrines of your religion in the former Soviet Union, you would be arrested. If you held a religious service in your home, not only would the secret police arrest you and everyone else there, but they’d also demolish your house if you were lucky enough to have a private residence. Some determined Protestants in the former DDR used to worship in the Anglican Church attached to the British embassy. See one of the chapters in the book, Why I am an Anglican, which contains testimony from a number of leading public figures, including Ian Hislop. Though I don’t blame you if his inclusion puts you off. Given the immense suspicion Merkel would have been under if she had been a practising Christian, I doubt very much she was a member of the Stasi.

But this is just a simple nationalistic jibe at her just ’cause she’s German and he doesn’t like her. She comes from the from East Germany, and so, to Boris, that means that she has to me some kind of totalitarian monster. However, as she’s a member of the Christian Democrats, the German equivalent of the Conservatives, he can hardly accuse her of being Commie. Still, I suppose we should be glad that he didn’t fall back on the old sneers and jokes that as she’s German, she must be a Nazi. I really wouldn’t put it past some of the Eurosceptics in the Tory party and peeps in UKIP and the Brexit party to make jokes about the German leaders all being Nazis, all while goose stepping about party headquarters with their fingers under their lips and their hands up in the air in a mock Nazi salute, guffawing and making comments like ‘Don’t mention the war!’ after that episode of Fawlty Towers.

Going on to the French president, BoJo called him a ‘jumped-up Napoleon’. Which surprised me, as I didn’t think Macron was a general in the French army or that he wanted to invade the rest of Europe. He’s a determined supporter of the EU, and as the Eurosceptic brigade are convinced the EU is descended from the plans of Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler to create a united Europe, all under their leadership, of course, it’s probably inevitable that Boris would compare him to the French emperor. Especially as the EU was mooting plans for a common European army. I thought on the other hand, that rather than being a megalomaniac military dictator, Macron was simply a bog-standard Neoliberal desperately trying to promote its policies of unfettered free enterprise and austerity, even though it was wrecking his country’s economy and society.

Johnson also seems to have found Varadkar’s surname difficult to get his head around, leading to another nationalist sneer. He’s reported to have asked why the Taoiseach wasn’t called Murphy like the rest of his countrymen. We’re heading dangerously close to the really offensive racist stereotypes here. He didn’t say it, but it’s close to referring to the Irish as ‘Pads’ and ‘Micks’. The reason why Varadkar has this as his surname is because his antecedents were Indian. It’s a reflection of the growing multiculturalism of modern Irish society. Which Johnson obviously can’t quite get his head around. But perhaps we should be grateful he only made a xenophobic sneer about the Irish, and didn’t say something really racist about Varadkar himself because of his Indian heritage.

The article Mike cites for this states that Johnson is planning a European tour, including Paris, Berlin and Dublin, if he wins the Tory leadership. The snippet Mike includes on his blog says that Johnson might have a few bumps ahead of him. The other EU leaders don’t trust him because of his long history of lying and frequent comparisons of the EU to Nazi Germany. And they don’t like his British exceptionalism, which is demonstrated in the above sneering remarks.

Absolutely not. But then, what can you expect from the man, who, when he was head of the Foreign Office, described the French as ‘turds’? Actually, I’m surprised Johnson, who tries so hard to project an image of himself as someone from the Tory past, didn’t use the 17th-19th century racist term for them, Nic Crapaud, from the French word for ‘frog’, crapaud. I can’t speak French, but I think the word’s pronounced ‘crapo’, which is how I feel about him and all the other Tory candidates.

Johnson was a disaster at the Foreign Office, who seemed determined to make tensions with the Russians even worse than actually soothe them. And in Thailand he opened his mouth and started reciting Kipling’s ‘Road to Mandalay’ in the country’s holiest Buddhist temple. What’s worse, he really didn’t know how that could possibly be offensive to his hosts. He had to be told it was inappropriate by the ambassador.

If Boris gets in, he’s likely to alienate Britain even further from the other European nations as well as other countries around the world. And we’re going to need them as trading partners after we leave the EU. And it’s especially dangerous regarding Northern Ireland. There have already been terrorist outrages in the Six Counties because of the collapse of the power-sharing agreement at Stormont and uncertainty over the border with Eire. The very last thing the people of Ulster and the rest of Britain need is Boris fanning the flames of Nationalist resentment over there even further with racist stereotypes and sneers.

Ah, but I forgot! He’s not bothered about them, because he’s a big fan of Trump. As is Nigel Farage. They believe Trump will give us a good trade deal. But that must include the NHS – Trump has said that nothing must be off the table.

And despite the hollow assurance by the Tories that they’re not going to give it to him, this is precisely what Johnson, Farage and the rest of the Tories and Brexit party want to do.

 

Hindu Nationalist Persecution of Christians in India under Modi’s Government

July 4, 2019

One of the ladies at our church gave a talk on Wednesday about the growing persecution of Christians in India by Hindu extremists, aided and abetted by President Narendra Modi and his squalid Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. This is an important issue for a number of reasons, and needs to be discussed. It’s naturally important to Christians concerned with the persecution members of their faith face in many other countries, but there are other reasons why it is important. It contradicts the view being pushed by the islamophobic right, that Christians are only, or primarily persecuted by Muslims. This is being particularly promoted by the neocons and Christian Zionists, like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, who, it seems, are using it to work up support for Israel and for further western imperialist wars in the Middle East. Although the article was written for Christians, the laws criminalising Christian conversion and the mob violence they face are also part of a general persecution directed at other non-Hindu religious minorities, such as Muslims and Sikhs. Discussing the resistible rise of the BJP two decades or so ago, Private Eye’s ‘Letter from India’ described how the BJP was connected to the militant RSSS, a militant Indian nationalist organisation which was partly modeled on Mussolini’s Fascists, and which was responsible for attacks on Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.

I am also certainly not blaming all Hindus for the actions of the BJP, or trying to attack Hinduism generally. Hinduism is a religion with a bewildering number of deities and sects, and thus has an impressive reputation for pluralism and tolerance. The extremists encouraged by the BJP also target moderate, liberal or secular Hindus because of their support of Gandhi and Nehru’s vision of India as a religiously tolerant, secular nation in which people of different faiths could live together in harmony and peace. The Hindu extremists not only reject this, they also passionately and vehemently despised its founder. A week or so ago one of the columnists in the I published a piece about how shocked they were when they first met a Hindu, who hated Gandhi. The Hindu extreme right despise and vilify Gandhi because they wanted India to be a Hindu state, and believed he had done too much to appease the Muslims.

I am also very much aware that Christian has also been spread through imperialism and military force, and has persecuted non-Christians. I don’t approve of or justify this. Religious persecution is wrong, no matter which religion is doing it.

Christianity in India is very ancient. Before Europeans arrived, there was already an indigenous Indian, Syriac Christian church. The Mar Thoma Christian church of Kerala believe that Christianity was brought to India in 50 or 52 AD by the apostle Thomas, who was martyred in Chennai in 72 AD. In 883 AD Sighelm, an ambassador to Kerala from the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, visited his shrine to present thank offering from King Alfred. Another apostle, Nathanael (Bartholomew) also visited India in the first century, who brought with him a copy of Matthew’s Gospel in Hebrew. Documentary evidence suggests that Christianity had reached India by the early third century AD. By 225 there was a bishop in Baith Lapat, now Shahabad in Northern India, caring for the souls of a Christian community that had been converted by missionaries from Persia and what is now Iraq. The following century, Bishop John the Persian signed the Nicene Creed, which had been drawn up as the formal statement of the Christian faith “on behalf of (the churches) in the whole of Persia, and in the great India.”

The Indian Christian population is 65 million., and comprises about 2% of the population of India, 80% of whom are Hindus. In 2016 there were 348 incidents of persecution in India recorded by the Evangelical Fellowship of India. In 2017 this increased to 736, of which 351 were violent. Many incidents probably haven’t been recorded, and so the true number is probably higher.

The BJP has also passed a series of laws, ostensibly against forced conversion, as part of their campaign against Christianity. These forbid the use of force, fraud or allurement in conversion. I’m very much aware of the term ‘rice Christianity’, dating from the 19th century. This came from the supposed tactics of some missionaries, who promised the starving a bowl of rice if they converted. The use of such inducements to get people to convert is clearly immoral. But the laws brought in against them allow Christians to be falsely accused of these tactics. In September 2017 the Jharkhand state government passed a freedom of religion law, which punishes those guilty of using ‘coercion’ to convert Hindus with three years in prison. Anyone, who wishes to change their faith, has to obtain prior permission from a magistrate. Christians have been subjected to violence and arrest, and churches disrupted because of accusations that they are breaking these laws. But the BJP is determined to roll them out nationally. The opposition party has also moved rightward to compete with the BJP, and there is fears that this will also lead to greater intolerance of religious minorities.

The tactics used against Christians not only include social exclusion, but also assault and attacks and sabotage of church buildings and private homes. They are also subject to boycotts, and a campaign, “Ghar Wapsi” (homecoming) to force Indian Christians to renounce their faith. Two years ago, in January 2017, a 50 year-old Christian convert, Bartu Urawn, and his wife were immersed in a pond by a mob for 17 hours by a mob from their village in order to force them to recant their faith. Urawn refused, dying afterwards from his ordeal. The police, however, recorded his death as ‘natural causes’. Rural Christians are especially vulnerable, and all too often the police arrest the victims instead of the perps.

Many Christians are also Dalits, formerly the untouchables, the lowest-rung of the Hindu caste system, and are considered impure and polluting by the higher castes. There is a quota system to give them access to education and employment, but these quotas don’t apply to Christians or Muslims. They’ve also suffered attacks on their homes, churches, and water sources.

See ‘Courageous faith: India’s pressured christians’ in barnabasaid, March/April 2019, pp. 6-7.

I am also very much aware that the Christian right in several American states is trying to pass ‘freedom of religion’ laws with the same intention as the Hindu extremists in the above article: to exclude religious and secular minorities from political involvement. It hasn’t quite reached the level of the Hindu extremists as described in the above article, but the intolerance of parts of the American Christian right is similar in intensity.

The BJP is, if not Fascist, then certainly fascistic in its extreme nationalism. Indeed, a prayer used by one of the BJP’s allies or constituent organisations is included in an academic textbook on Fascism to illustrate Fascism’s mystical component. The BJP is part of the growth of religious and ethnic intolerance throughout the world. And as the book, Falling Off The Edge shows, a major cause of this tension and conflict is neoliberalism. The doctrine of absolute free trade without any form of government interference means that conditions for ordinary working people across the globe, whether in the developed West or the developing world, has got worse. And as conditions of grinding poverty have increased, so people have turned on minorities as scapegoats for their rage and desperation.

It’s what’s behind the growth of fascism in working class White communities in Britain. And I’ve no doubt it’s also behind the growth of Hindu extremism in India, all encouraged and promoted by Modi. It’s one of the classic tactics of the wealthy elite everywhere to divert opposition away from themselves by claiming that mainstream society is perfect. It’s only ethnic or religious minorities, who are behind all societies problems. Minorities like Jews, Muslims, Christians, Blacks, Asians or gays, depending on the society.

But one thing is absolutely certain: Fascism and intolerance has to be fought everywhere, along with the neoliberal economics that force people into poverty, despair and racism or religious extremism, whatever the colour or creed of the persecutors or their victims.

Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar Joins Gay Pride March

June 30, 2019

Here’s one to make the islamophobes’ heads explode, as well as really irritate the Islamist preachers of hate. Ilhan Omar, a Muslim congresswoman released footage of herself dancing along with the marchers at Pride Day in America on Twitter, with an accompanying message saying what a great time she’d had. It’s in this clip from Sam Seder’s Majority Report.

Seder and his team, including fellow presenter Michael Brooks (off camera) look at the Tweet and make a few appropriate ironic comments skewering the prejudices of the Right. The Republicans and Fascists fear Muslims, because they believe that they’re coming to America in order to undermine American democracy and replace it with Islamic, sharia law. Which bans homosexuality.

And this Tweet clearly poses a problem for the raving islamophobes, who believe Omar’s a part of this conspiracy, because she’s a Muslim woman enjoying herself at an event they believe that she should be railing against.

And so Seder, Brooks and co. make comments about how she’s clearly doing it to implement strict sharia law there, and deliberately presenting herself so that her Saudi masters can target the crowd more accurately.

The video’s entitled ‘Ilhan Omar Implements Shakira Law at Gay Pride’ probably because her attendance at the march and dancing is more like that of pop star Shakira than sharia.

In fact, as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said in her column in the I a few weeks ago, Islam was until very recently far more tolerant of gays, and far less puritanical in many ways than the Christian West. It’s only been in recent decades that the situation’s been reversed, and Islam has become more puritanical and intolerant, while the West has become more tolerant and hedonistic.

Now I’m sure Omar’s very public participation in the Pride events will have upset the hardliners, just as very many Christian political Conservatives are bitterly opposed to gay rights the associated events. But Omar’s just demonstrated that being a Muslim doesn’t prevent someone from being a liberal American or citizen of any other western country. And it may well upset the Israel lobby and its ‘pinkwashing’ of the Israeli state, which tries to present Israel as the only state in the Middle East, where gay people are tolerated, against a hostile and intolerant Islam. And the islamophobes and racist fear-mongers are going to have hard time trying to explain away Congresswoman Omar’s very public show of liberal support for the gay community, and by extension the values of pluralism and tolerance .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prayer for Peace between America, Iran and the Middle East

June 23, 2019

On Fridays, it seems, Trump did something unexpected and pulled back from starting a war with Iran. The past week or so he’s been blaming the Iranians for a series of explosions that have destroyed tankers in the Persian Gulf. Then the Americans shot down an American drone which they claim had entered their airspace. This is naturally denied by the Americans. Trump was all set to order retaliatory action against several Iranian military positions, but cancelled the order. He states he did so because the bloodshed involved – it’s estimated the action would have killed 150 people – was too high. His security minister, Mike Pompeo, however, is still pushing for some kind of war with Iran, and the Orange Generalissimo has said that he’s still willing to use armed force to stop the Iranians developing a nuclear bomb. There are still real tensions, and the very real danger of war breaking out.

I posted up a couple of pieces last week attacking the American right’s warmongering against Iran. As I said, it is a highly authoritarian theocracy, and I don’t doubt that the hardliners in their administration would welcome a showdown with the Americans. They have also shown themselves willing to mount terror attacks, as in the 1980s when they bombed a Berlin cafe used by Kurdish separatists. But it’s total rubbish what Pompeo was uttering about Iran sponsoring al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda are Sunni militants, who hate Shi’a Muslims with a vengeance. As Iran is a Shi’a nation, there is absolutely no chance of any cooperation between them. Quite the opposite in fact. Just like Saudi Arabia, another militant, intolerant Sunni nation, and ISIS would also like to destroy Iran.

If America does invade Iran, it won’t be to liberate the Iranian people. It’ll be for the same reasons Iraq was invaded: to seize their oil, state industries and set up the kind of extreme free trade tariff system that the Neocons want to impose on America. And the results will be the same: mass carnage, sectarian and ethnic civil war, the destruction of the country’s precious antiquities and cultural heritage, the economy will be utterly destroyed. Ordinary folks’ businesses will go under and there will be mass unemployment. Women will lose whatever rights and freedom they have, Christians, Jews and particularly Baha’is will suffer massive persecution as a reaction to the invasion. The public will lose whatever welfare and health services the state provides. And the chaos and instability will spread throughout the region. The Iraq war forced seven million people out of their homes. How many more will be turned into refugees if America starts a war with Iran?

But this won’t matter, as the American war machine will have conquered another country in the developing world. The Americans and Saudis will have stolen their oil, the multinationals the state industries and bonyads, Islamic charitable foundations, and the Israelis will have the destruction of an hostile state.

But fortunately, despite the forces pushing for war, Trump decided against it. Just as Jeremy Hunt has been calling for a deescalation of tensions in the region. And I hope this continues, and sanity prevails against the warmongers.

I found this prayer in The Methodist Service Book (Peterborough: Methodist Publishing House 1999). It’s for the Good Friday service, and calls for peace between the followers of the Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam, where Abraham, known as Ibrahim, is revered as a major prophet. The prayer runs

Eternal God,

bless all who look to Abraham

as the father of faith.

Set us free from prejudice, blindness,

and hardness of heart,

that in accordance with your will and guided by your truth

our life together may be for the glory of your name;

we ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Peace/salaam to everyone at this time, regardless of their religious or non-religious views.

 

 

Radio 4 Series Challenging Stereotype that Religion and Science Are at War

June 12, 2019

According to next week’s Radio Times there’s a new, three-part series beginning on Radio 4 next Friday, 21st June, at 11.00 am, Science and Religion about the relationship between the two disciplines. From the pieces about in the magazine, it attacks the idea that science and religion are at war. The blurb for the programme’s first part, ‘The Nature of the Beast’, on page 131, says

Nick Spencer examines the history of science and religion and the extent to which they have been in conflict with each other. Drawing on the expertise of various academics, he begins by exploring what the relationship says about what it means to be human.

The paragraph about the programme on the preceding page, 130, by Sue Robinson, runs

Are science and religion at war? In the first in a three-part series, Nick Spencer (of Goldsmith’s, London, and Christian think-tank Theos) takes a look back wt what he terms the “simplistic warfare narrative” of these supposedly feuding disciplines. From the libraries of the Islamic world to the work of 13th-century bishop Robert Grosseteste in maths and natural sciences, Spencer draws on the expertise of a variety of academics to argue that there has long been an interdependence between the two. I felt one or two moments of consternation (“there are probably more flat-earthers [believing the earth to be flat] around today than there were back then…”) and with so many characters in the unfolding 1,000-year narrative, some may wish for a biographical dictionary at their elbow… I certainly did. Yet somehow Spencer produces an interesting and informative treatise from all the detail. 

We’ve waited a long time for a series like this. I set up this blog partly to argue against the claim made by extremely intolerant atheists like Richard Dawkins that science and religion are and always have been at war. In fact no serious historian of science believes this. It’s a stereotype that comes from three 19th century writers, one of whom was reacting against the religious ethos of Harvard at the time. And some of the incidents that have been used to argue that science was suppressed by the religious authorities were simply invented. Like the story that Christopher Columbus was threatened by the Inquisition for believing that the world war round. Er no, he wasn’t. That was all made up by 19th century author Washington Irvine. European Christians had known and accepted that the world was round by the 9th century. It’s what the orb represents in the Crown Jewels. The story that Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, in his debate on evolution with Charles Darwin, asked the great biologist whether he was descended from an ape on his mother’s or father’s side of the family is also an invention. It was written years after the debate by Darwin’s Bulldog, T.H. Huxley. A few years ago historians looked at the accounts of the debate written at the time by the students and other men of science who were there. They don’t mention any such incident. What they do mention is Wilberforce opening the debate by saying that such questions like evolution needed to be carefully examined, and that if they are true, they have to be accepted, no matter how objectionable they may be. Wilberforce himself was an extremely proficient amateur scientist himself as well as a member of the clergy. Yes, there was opposition from many Christians to Darwin’s idea, but after about 20 years or so most of the mainstream denominations fully accepted evolution. The term ‘fundamentalism’ comes from a book defending and promoting Christianity published as The Fundamentals of Christianity published in the first years of the 20th century. The book includes evolution, which it accepts.

Back to the Middle Ages, the idea that this was a period when the church suppressed scientific investigation, which only revived with the Humanists of the Renaissance, has now been utterly discredited. Instead it was a period of invention and scientific discovery. Robert Grosseteste, the 13th century bishop of Lincoln, wrote papers arguing that the Moon was responsible for the tides and that the rainbow was produced through light from the sun being split into various colours by water droplets in the atmosphere. He also wrote an account of the six days of creation, the Hexaemeron, which in many ways anticipates the ‘Big Bang’ theory. He believed that the universe was created with a burst of light, which in turn created ‘extension’ – the dimensions of the cosmos, length, width and breadth, and that this light was then formed into the material and immaterial universe. Medieval theologians were also often highly critical of stories of demons and ghosts. The 12th century French bishop, William of Auxerre, believed that nightmares were caused, not by demons, but by indigestion. If you had too big a meal before falling asleep, the weight of the food in the stomach pressed down on the nerves, preventing the proper flow of vital fluids.

The Christian scholars of this period drew extensively on the writings of Muslim philosophers, scientists and mathematicians, who had inherited more of the intellectual legacy of ancient Greece and Rome, along with that of the other civilisations they had conquered, like Persia and India. Scholars like al-Haytham explored optics while the Bani Musa brothers created fascinating machines. And Omar Khayyam, the Sufi mystic and author of the Rubaiyyat, one of the classics of world literature, was himself a brilliant mathematician. Indeed, many scientific and mathematical terms are taken from Arabic. Like alcohol, and algorithm, which comes from the Muslim scholar al-Khwarismi, as well as algebra.

There have been periods of tension between religion and particular scientific doctrines, like the adoption of the Copernican system and Darwin’s theory of evolution by Natural Selection, but the relationship between science and religion is rich, complex and has never been as simple as all out war. This should be a fascinating series and is a very necessary corrective to the simplistic stereotype we’ve all grown up with.