Posts Tagged ‘Quakers’

17th Century Quaker Statement of Right to Freedom of Religion

October 30, 2019

I found this Quaker declaration of the freedom of religion in Documents of the Christian Church, selected and edited by Henry Bettenson, 2nd edition (Oxford: OUP 1963). It’s taken from The Chief Principles of the Christian Religion, as professed by the people called the Quakers, drawn up by Robert Barclay in 1678, and published in his Apology for the Quakers. Proposition XIV, Concerning the Power of the  Civil Magistrate in Matters purely Religious and Pertaining to Conscience, runs

‘Since God hath assumed to himself the power and dominion of the conscience, who alone can rightly instruct and govern it, therefore it is not lawful for any whatsoever, by virtue of any authority or principality they bear in the government of this world, to force the conscience of others;… provided always, that no man, under the pretence of conscience, prejudice his neighbour in his life or estate; or do anything destructive to, or inconsistent with, human society; in which case the law is for the transgressor, and justice to be administered upon all, without respect of persons.’

(p. 256).

It’s almost incredible to think that this was written in the 17th century, and that nearly 3 1/2 centuries later there are still countries in this world that don’t recognise it. Countries like Saudi Arabia, North Korea, China and Russia. In Saudi Arabia only Wahhabi Islam is permitted, and Shi’a Muslims viciously persecuted. A few years ago they also passed a law declaring that atheism was terrorism even without any violence or threats of violence being made. Russia is far more tolerant of religion than it was under Communism, when it was a persecuting atheist state. But even now, some religions are declared to be illegal. This includes not only extremist sects and beliefs, like Islamism, but also the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I admit they can be a pain when they come knocking on your door sometimes in their zeal to spread their version of Christianity, but a dangerous, radical extremist group? When, and to whom? The Nazis also persecuted them, because they wouldn’t accept Hitler as a secular Messiah.

It’s a disgrace that in the 21st century, freedom of religion and conscience still needs defending from persecutors across the world.

Scientists Demand Outlawing Teaching of Creationism in Wales

September 6, 2019

Here’s a different issue to Brexit and the Tories, but one which, I think, also raises profound questions and dangers. According to today’s I for 6th September 2019, David Attenborough has joined a number of other scientists backing a campaign to ban the teaching of Creationism as science in Welsh schools. The campaign was started by Humanists UK. The article, titled ‘Attenborough calls for creationism teaching ban’, by Will Hazell, on page 22, runs

Sir David Attenborough is backing a campaign urging the Welsh Government to outlaw the teaching of creationism as science from its new curriculum.

The broadcaster is one of dozens of leading scientists to sign a letter calling for evolution to be taught at primary level as well as an explicit ban on teaching creationism as science.

Humanists UK, which organised the letter, claims the draft national curriculum does not teach evolution until ages 14 to 15.

The letter reads: “Pupils should be introduced to [evolution] early – certainly at primary level – as it underpins so much else.

“Without an explicit ban on teaching creationism and other pseudoscientific theories as evidence-based, such teaching may begin to creep into the school curriculum.”

In 2015, the Scottish Government made clear that creationism should not be taught in state schools, while in England, state schools – including primaries – have to teach evolution as a “comprehensive, coherent and extensively evidence-based theory”.

The new Welsh curriculum, due to be rolled out in 2022, set out six “areas of learning and experience”, including science and technology.

A spokeswoman for Wales Humanists said it “could allow schools much more flexibility over what they teach”. “This is very worrying, as it could make it much easier for a school to openly teach creationism as science,” she added.

But a spokesman for the Welsh Government denied the claims, saying: “It is wholly incorrect to claim that evolution will only be introduced at 14 to 16.

“We believe that providing children with an understanding of evolution at an early age will help lay foundations for a better understanding of wider scientific concepts later on.”

Both Mike and I went to an Anglican comprehensive school, which certainly did teach evolution before 14 or 15 years of age. In the first year I can remember learning about the geological history of the Earth and the formation of the continents. We were also taught evolution, as illustrated by the development of the modern horse from ancestral species such as Eohippus.

Theories of Evolution before Darwin

I am also very much aware that the history of religious attitudes towards evolution is much more complex than the accepted view that Christians and other people of faith are uniformly opposed to it. One of the first books promoting the evolution of organisms from simpler ancestral forms was written by Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin’s grandfather. Erasmus Darwin was part of the late 18th century scientific group, the Lunar Society, who were the subject of book, The Lunar Men, published a few years ago by the British writer and academic, Jenny Uglow. I think Erasmus was a Quaker, rather than a member of a more mainstream Christian denomination, but he was a religious believer. In his book he argued that the evolution of different organisms made the existence of a Creator ‘mathematically certain’. Erasmus Darwin was followed in turn by the great French scientist, Lamarck, who published his own theory of evolution. This was highly influential, and when Darwin was a student in Scotland, one of the lecturers used to take him and the other students to a beach to show them the shells and other fossils showing the evolution of life. And one of the reasons why Darwin himself put off publishing his magnum opus, The Origin of Species for so long was because of the reception of another, preceding book on evolution, Joseph Chambers’ Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. Chambers’ book had caused a sensation, but its arguments had been attacked and refuted on scientific grounds. Darwin was afraid this would happen to his own work unless he made the argument as secure as possible with supporting facts. And he himself admitted when it finally was published that even then, the evidence for it was insufficient.

The Other Reasons for Darwin’s Loss of Faith

Darwin certainly lost his faith and it’s a complete myth that he recanted on his deathbed. But I think the reasons for his loss of faith were far more complex than that they were undermined by his own theory, although that may very well have also played a part. Rather, he was disturbed by the suffering in nature. How could a good God allow animals to become sick, prey on each other, and die? I might also be wrong here, but I think one of his daughters died, and that also contributed to his growing atheism. As you can understand.

Christian Acceptance and Formulation of Theories of Evolution

At the same time, although Darwin’s theory did cause shock and outrage, some Christians were prepared to accept it. Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, when he debated T.H. Huxley on Darwin’s theory, opened the debate by stating that no matter how uncomfortable it was, Christians should nevertheless accept the theory if it were true. And after about two decades, the majority of Christians in Britain had largely accepted it. One of the reasons they did so was theological. Some of the other theories of evolution proposed at the same time suggested that evolution was driven by vital, supernatural energies without the direction of a creator. The mechanistic nature of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection rebutted the existence of these non-materialistic forces, so that Christians could still believe that God was in charge of the overall process.

In the 1840s in Britain, Samuel Baden-Powell, a professor of Mathematics at Oxford, proposed a view of evolution that attempted to prove that it was driven by the Almighty, by comparing it to the manufacturing process in factories. In 1844 the Polish writer, Juliusz Towianski, published his Genezis z ducha – ‘Creation through the Spirit), an explicitly religious theory of evolution. He believed that God had created the world at the request of disembodied spirits. However, these were given imperfect forms, and since that time have been striving to ascend the evolutionary ladder back to God through a process of transformation and catastrophe. By the 1900s in many Christians eye evolution had become an accepted theory which posed no obstacle to religious faith. The term ‘fundamentalism’ is derived from a series of tracts, Fundamentals of Christianity, published in America in the early 20th century. This was published as a response to the growth in religious scepticism. However, it fully accepts evolution.

Scientists Against Evolution

The Intelligent Design crowd have also pointed out that rather than being the sole province of churchmen and people of faith, many of Darwin’s critics were scientists, like Mivart. They objected to his theory purely on scientific grounds.

Creationism, Christianity and Islam

If the history of the reaction to Darwin’s theory is rather different than the simplistic view that it was all just ignorant religious people versus rational scientists, I also believe the situation today is also much more complex. A decade ago, around 2009 when Britain celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of the Species, there was a determined attack on Creationism, particularly by the militant New Atheists. Some of this was driven by anxiety over the growth of Creationism and the spread of Intelligent Design. This was framed very much as combating it within Christianity. The problem with that is that I understand that most Creationists in Britain are Muslims, rather than Christians. There was an incident reported in the press in which one Oxford biologist was astonished when a group of Muslims walked out of his lecture. This was Steve Jones, who presented the excellent Beeb science series about genetics and heredity, In the Blood back in the 1990s. One male student told him frankly that this conflicted with their religion, and walked out of the lecture hall, leaving Jones nonplussed. The far right Christian Libertarian, Theodore Beale, alias Vox Day, who really has some vile views about race and gender, caustically remarked on his blog that this showed the powerlessness of the scientific establishment to opposition from Islam. They were so used to Christians giving into them, that they didn’t know what to do when Muslims refused to cave. That said, I would not like to say that all Muslims were Creationists by any means. Akhtar, who led the demonstrations against the Satanic Verses in Bradford in the late ’80s and early ’90s, angrily declared in one of his books that Salafism – Islamic fundamentalism – did not mean rejecting evolution, and he could point to Muslims who believed in it.

Scepticism Towards Evolution Not Confined to the Religious

Another problem with the assumption that Creationism is leading to increasing scepticism towards evolution is that the statistics seem to show the opposite. Back around 2009 there was a report claiming that 7 out of 10 Brits didn’t believe in evolution. One evolutionary biologist was quoted as saying that this was due to the marginalisation of the teaching of evolution in British schools, and demanded that there should be more of it. Now it might be right that people don’t believe in evolution because of its teaching or lack therefore in British education. But this was the same time that the New Atheism was on the march, led by Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. This was supported by statistics showing that Christianity and church attendance was well in decline in this country. According to the stats, although many people identified as Christians and about 70 per cent at the time declared they believed in God, the actual number who go to church is far smaller. Only a few years ago further polls revealed that for the first, atheists were in the majority in this country. The growth of disbelief in evolution can’t simply be explained as the product of Creationism, whether Christian, Muslim or whatever.

Atheists and the Problem of Persuading Creationists to Accept Evolution

There’s also the problem here in that, however, well meant Humanists UK’s campaign may actually be, at one level they and Richard Attenborough are the last people, who should be leading it. They’re atheists. A few years ago Attenborough was the subject of an interview in the Radio Times, in which he photographed chatting with Dawkins. He was also quoted as saying that he had stopped believing in God when he was child, and at school he used to wonder during services how anybody could believe in such rubbish. He’s not the first or last schoolkid to have felt that. But it does mean that he has a very weak personal position when dealing with Creationists. Many Creationists object to the teaching of evolution because not just because they think it’s unscientific, but because they also believe that its a vehicle for a vehemently hostile, anti-Christian or simply irreligious and atheist political and intellectual establishment to foist their views on everyone else. A campaign insisting on the teaching of evolution by an atheist organisation like Humanists UK will only confirm this in their eyes.

Anti-Creationist Campaigns also Attacking Reasoned Critique of Materialist Views of Evolution

Another problem with the campaign against Creationism is that is leading scientists to attack any critique of the contemporary neo-Darwinian theory or materialist views of evolutionary. Gordon Rattray Taylor, a former Chief Science Advisor to the Beeb and editor of the Horizon science series, himself published a detailed critique of conventional evolutionary theory, The Great Evolution Mystery, shortly before his death in 1981. He states in it that he doesn’t want to denigrate Darwin, but he concludes that it is not so much a theory, as a subset of greater theory that has yet to be formulated. He also quotes another evolutionary biologist, von Bertalanffy, who said

‘I think the fact that a theory so vague, so insufficiently verifiable … has become a dogma can only be explained on sociological grounds’.

Rattray Taylor himself concludes

Actually, the origin of the phyla is not be any means the weakest point in the Darwinian position. Many facts remain inexplicable, as we have seen. Modern biology is challenged by ‘a whole group of problems’ as Riedl remarks. Now, however, the attempt to present Darwinism as an established dogma, immune from criticism, is disintegrating. At last the intellectual log-jam is breaking up. So we may be on the verge of major advances. The years ahead could be exciting. Many of these advances, I confidently predict, will be concerned with form.

It is unfortunate that the Creationists are exploiting this new atmosphere by pressing their position; this naturally drives the biologists into defensive attitudes and discourages them from making any admissions.

Evolutionists have been blinkered by a too narrowly materialist and reductionist approach to their problems. But the trend of the times is away from Victorian certainties and Edwardian rigidities. In the world as a whole, there is growing recognition that life is more complex, even more mysterious, than we supposed. The probability that some things will never be understood no longer seems so frightening as it did. The probability that there are forces at work in the universes of which we have scarcely yet an inkling is not too bizarre to entertain. This is a step towards the freeing of the human mind which is pregnant with promise.

Conclusion

This is an effective rebuttal to the charge that challenges to materialist conceptions of evolution are a science-stopper, or that they will close minds. Rattray Taylor’s book was published in 1983, 36 years ago. I have no doubt that it’s dated, and that scientific advances have explained some of the mysteries he describes in the book. But I believe he still has a point. And I am afraid that however genuinely Humanists UK, Attenborough and the scientists, who put their name to the letter, are about making sure Welsh schoolchildren are scientifically literate, that their efforts are also part of a wider campaign to make sure materialist views of evolution are not challenged elsewhere in society and academia.

European Federalism, the EU and the German Resistance to Hitler

February 28, 2019

The rabid Eurosceptics of UKIP, the Leave campaign and various other groups frequently claim that the EU is the product of Nazism. James Goddard, the noxious, racist leader of the British ‘Yellow Vest’ movement, was filmed last week screaming ‘Nazi’ at Anna Soubry for her support of the Remain vote and a second referendum. He’s one of those, who believe that the EU really does owe its origin to the Nazis, and screamed this at Soubry as he subjected her to abuse. Well, Soubry is far right, but because of her contemptible attitude to the poor and refusal to hold a bye-election along with the other members of the Independent group. But she’s not a Nazi for supporting the EU, and Goddard and others, who believe that the EU was somehow spawned by Hitler and his thugs are simply wrong.

I was taught at school when we studied the EU that it had its origins in a series of economic arrangements creating free trade zones between France and Germany, and then Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, which were intended to stop the rise of such destructive nationalism and prevent further European wars. And the idea of a European parliament or federation to preserve peace long predates that. The Quaker William Penn in the 17th century wrote a pamphlet recommending a European parliament as a means of securing peace after the horrors of the 16th and 17th century wars of religion, including the Thirty Years’ War, in which 1/5 of the German population starved to death. In the 18th century, the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote his The Peace of Europe, recommending a European federation, again as a means of stopping war. In the 19th century, the Italian revolutionary Mazzini also believed in a European federation as a means of guaranteeing peace.

Germany, with France, is one of the two mainstays of the EU. And while the EU has allowed Germany to dominate Europe economically, to the disadvantage of other nations, like the Greeks, that’s not why the German people support the EU. They support it because they genuinely believe it is needed to prevent the resurgence of militant nationalism, like that of the Nazis.

It also seems to me that some of this attitude goes back to the wartime Kreisau Circle, a movement of socialist and bourgeois intellectuals and anti-Nazi clergy, who met on the estate of the nobleman, Count Helmuth James Moltke in Kreisau in Silesia. They were determined to find a way to end the Nazi dictatorship and create a more just European order which would prevent such tyrannies ever returning. And this included a united, federal Europe. The German historian, Karl Dietrich Bracher, discusses the group’s ideas in his book, The German Dictatorship (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1970). Their ideas of a federal Europe are described on pages 544 -45. He writes

At the centre of the discussions of this multifaceted group were the internal reforms, the basis of the new post-Hitler order. The approach to foreign policy mentioned earlier points up the unique qualities but also the limitations of the Kreisau Circle: the break with nationalism; the movement towards a European internationalism rejecting both the French hegemony of Versailles and the old and new ideas on German hegemony; German-French and German-Polish understanding in the place of disputed territorial demands. These ideas were largely the work of the Socialists (Haubach, Leber and Reichwein); Leber had consistently maintained that the principles of economic cooperation and democratic domestic policy must also govern international relations. But Moltke and his friends, also departing from the historico-political traditional ideas of their class, spoke of the Europeanisation of political thought and of the need for revising the idea of the state as an end in itself. The problem of East German and East European nationality policies gave rise to the idea of a supranational, federalist solution. Moltke quite early had devoted himself to the problem of the minorities. This formed the basis on which cooperation with exponents of Socialist, internationalist concepts could be worked out. In some respects Moltke went even further by raising the seemingly utopian idea of the division of Germany and Europe into small, self-administered bodies. This type of radical federalism, which invoked the sovereignty of a European federation, meant a revolutionary break with nineteenth- and twentieth-century modes of thought, according to which the defence against ‘particularlism’ and support for the national unitary state was the highest law.

The practical proposals of the Kreisau Circle lagged far behind such radical models. But even more ‘realistic’ supporters of a moderate national idea like Trott zu Solz made the preservation of the existing states dependent on a restricted sovereignty in favour of a European federation. While Moltke represented the most consistent moral and legalistic position and was highly critical of appeasement and its disregard of international principles of law in favour of national revisionism. Trott believed that concessions to the traditional national principle were indispensable. But in 1938 he, too, unlike Goerdeler, came out for the 1933 borders and against territorial claims; central to his idea of Europe was German-British cooperation. Beyond that, Trott expressly stressed the role of the working class, in which ‘a strong tradition of international cooperation and rational politics’ still lived on. Apparently he had in mind in particular the example of the United States, and he visualised a unified Europe with a common economic policy and citizenship, a ‘joint highest court’, and possibly also a European army. Leaving aside the question of whether or not some of the visionary details were realistic, the basic idea of a non-nationalist Europe in which neither a strong France nor a strong Germany would tip the scales offered a more constructive vision of the future and also more persuasive alternative to Hitler than the regressive ideas of Goerdeler. (My emphasis.)

This, I think, is where some of the origins of the EU lie. And definitely not in Nazi propaganda about a European union of states under German domination to fight communism. When Goddard, the Kippers and the other anti-EU fanatics spout that the EU was created by the Nazis, they’re flat out wrong. And revealing their own poisonous ultra-nationalism in the process.

Beeb’s Newsnight Brings on Actress and Internet ‘Pastor’ to Promote May’s Brexit

November 30, 2018

More Tory bias from the Beeb, which is now angling to be the channel that hosts the debate between Tweezer and Jeremy Corbyn. On Monday, 26th November 2018, Newsnight held a studio debate over Brexit. Taking the government’s side was Lynn Hayter, wearing a dog collar, who, we were informed, was a vicar. She declared that she had been a Tory all her life, and believed the government was far better informed than we are, and so backed May.

However, the people on the Net, including Evolve Politics, soon found out that Hayter wasn’t quite what she appeared. She was an actress, who had appeared in various bit parts in EastEnders, Dickensian, The Dresser and The Chronicles.

As for being a vicar, well, no, she wasn’t. She was the Pastor of an internet church with a congregation of 69. The Rev Stevie pointed out that Pastor just meant that she was head of a church, which anyone can set up without any official registration or accreditation. And her church was ‘Seeds For Wealth Ministries’, which describes itself as a religious organization which can help people “realize, release and walk into your financial freedom in Christ. To Educate, Equip and Empower the saints.” Yes, it’s more Prosperity Gospel.

This is the name given to the type of theology which appeared in the 1980s, along with Thatcherism, Reaganomics, Yuppies and all-out corporate greed. It’s best described as a Gospel for the rich. In my experience, it’s mostly been pushed by the Evangelical, non-denominational churches. You know, the type whose members say they’re just ‘Christians’, as against all the other churches from Roman Catholics, the Orthodox churches, right down through Anglicanism, Methodism, Lutherans and the Reformed churches as all counterfeit. The idea is that if you’re a Christian, God will reward you with wealth and material goods. There’s also a New Age, pantheistic version, called Prosperity Consciousness, pushed by Deepak Chopra among other snake-oil merchants.

The Rev. Jim Bakker was also peddling this pernicious nonsense in the US before he got sent to the slammer for financial irregularities at his church. Apart from the fact that he was also having affairs with various female members of his congregation. Bakker was released from jail a few years ago, and wrote a book, denouncing Prosperity Gospel as a heresy. One of the priests at my local church here in Bristol had zero time for it. He was a prison chaplain, and he was disgusted with the way the Pastors preaching this stuff turned up, and promised the inmates that when they got out they’d have expensive cars, good housing and loads of money. But when the cons were release, they’d find there was no car, no fine house and no money waiting for them. And then somebody from the mainstream churches had to clean this psychological and theological mess up after these dodgy Pastors had done their pernicious work.

Christ doesn’t promise His followers wealth and possessions. He promises that the Lord will listen to their prayers, but He consistently condemns the rich for their greed and neglect of the poor, and champions the poor against them. As did the prophet Amos in the Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible. Other passages in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments also praise the poor against the rich, like this verse from the Psalms, which used to be recited during Evensong in the Book of Common Prayer.

He hath exalted the humble and meek
The rich he hath sent empty away.

Not a verse that would appeal to the Prosperity Gospelers, I would imagine. And some mainstream theologians will argue that Christ had very different intentions for His community and its moral life, which was at 180 degrees to the materialistic values of Roman society. As demonstrated by Christ Himself washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, this was supposed to be a faithful community where indeed to be the first was to be the last, whose leaders were meant to serve their followers in humility, as against the kings and princes of the Roman world, who lorded it over their peoples. In fact the morals of the early Christian church were so different from that of the pagan Roman world that one Christian writer has talked about ‘the Christian Revolution’.

Back to Lynn Marina Hayter, Newsnight responded to these revelations by saying that

Claims that Lynn appeared on #newsnight as a paid actor are false. Lynn is a pastor and was a genuine participant of our Brexit debate. She carries out work as an extra using her middle name but this is not relevant to the capacity in which she appeared.

But Mike on his blog rightly described her as

So: Not a genuine priest, if by that we mean a member of a recognised church. But a genuine actor, and one known to the BBC. And the BBC is unlikely to admit trying to deceive us, so we have reason to doubt its claims.

And the internet made great sport of the fact that anyone can get themselves ordained as a Pastor over the Net, including George Galloway. Galloway described himself as ‘Monsignor’ George Galloway, parish of nowhere, diocese of Brigadoon. In this respect, Hayter’s credentials as a member of the clergy remind me of one of the characters in the Illuminatus! conspiracy novels by Michael Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, who sends out to people cards declaring that they are a genuine Pope or ‘Mome’, according to gender, and so should be treated right.

Tom Pride and others argued that such deception was a matter for resignation, and destroys any confidence that the Beeb is impartial. And Brexitshambles made the point that this was only one such incident. They said

Week after week we have a procession of scam artists appearing on @BBCNewsnight @bbcquestiontime and @SkyNews under the guise of audience participants or official commentators from opaquely funded lobbyists masquerading as educational charities….who checks these people out?

And Mike concluded his article about it by stating that following this, he doesn’t think the BBC will be at all impartial if it wins the decision to host the debate between Tweezer and Corbyn.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/11/30/the-strange-tale-of-the-vicar-of-brexit-why-the-bbc-shouldnt-host-the-brexit-debate-part-1/

As for Prosperity Gospel, I would strongly advise anyone with a Christian faith, or feels a calling towards Christianity, to give this fraudulent theology a wide berth. It’s not traditional Christian doctrine and the churches pushing it are, in my experience, very right wing. They do want the welfare state destroyed and the NHS privatized. And I’d go so far as to say that the Pastors running this theology are scamming people.

For proper spiritual nourishment, go instead to one of the mainstream churches, like the Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Reformed, Quakers, whichever church, doctrinal theology and form of worship appeals to you. But make sure they teach the traditional Christianity doctrine of genuinely taking care of the poor. The Non-Denominational churches despise the traditional churches in my experience, saying that they teach ‘a social Gospel’. Well quite. This means that they hate them because they’re socially engaged, with a left-wing view of empowering the poor and minorities through state action.

If you go to a church that tries to tell you that joining them will make you rich, and you shouldn’t use the welfare resources of the state, walk out, and go to someone better.

There are plenty of churches, which are working to transform our world for the better, which haven’t swallowed and thoroughly reject this Thatcherite rubbish.

Maggie Cousins – the Racist Defender of Labour’s Racist NEC

November 16, 2018

One of the things that is very clear from Mike’s kangaroo court hearing is that Mike is no racist. He never was, and never will be. And growing up in the 1980s when the NF was once again seeking power, racism was attacked by a new generation of Black activists and Black politicians took their place as Labour MPs, we became very conscious of this issue and the need to combat it everywhere and every time it arose. One of the subjects Mike tackled in his attack on the false claims of anti-Semitism levelled against other Labour party members, was the racist abuse directed at Jackie Walker, the vice-chair of Momentum. Walker had attended a Holocaust Day training workshop organized by the Jewish Labour Movement, formerly Paole Zion, the British branch of the Israeli Labour party. She had then committed the unpardonable sin of objecting to the workshop’s exclusive focus on the suffering of the Jews to the exclusion of other groups, who have also suffered genocide. Her comments were secretly recorded, she was accused of anti-Semitism, and suspended from the party.

It is a farcical, shameful accusation from hypocrites and moral nullities. Walker is Jewish and a woman of colour. Her father was a Russian Jew, and her mother a Black American civil rights activist. They met during a civil rights march. Both sides of her family thus know only too well the reality of bigotry, racism and violent intolerance. After her comments were leaked, she suffered further racist abuse from those pretending to be the opponents of anti-Semitism. Mike discussed this in one of his posts, and the faceless Stalinists of the party bureaucracy accused him in turn of anti-Semitism. The NEC dismissed Mike’s concerns out of hand, and made a pompous statement that Mike’s very mention of the issue was

grossly offensive to those the Party seeks to represent particularly the Jewish community. Comments like these have had and continue to have a serious impact on the Party’s position as an inclusive organisation, which stands against antisemitism.

and ‘dismissive of anti-Semitism’.

Utter bilge!

Mike and some of the Jewish bloggers have shown the vile tweets directed at people like them on Twitter by Zionists, who very much claim that the focus should only be on the Jewish Holocaust. And the racist abuse suffered by Walker herself was appalling. Among the insults hurled at her was the charge that she couldn’t be Jewish, because she was Black. This is despite the fact that there are African Jews, of which the Falashas are probably the best known. Indeed, the Bible records that one of Moses’ wives came from Cush, which is now part of modern Ethiopia. There have been a number of documentaries and pieces by journalists exposing the violent racism in Israel against Black Africans, including Jews of Ethiopian heritage, who have come to Israel. Furthermore, the transatlantic Zionist right, or at least elements of it, also take the view that only Jewish suffering must be commemorated on Holocaust Memorial Day. Kathy Shaidle, an extreme right-wing Canadian Conservative/ Republican activist made that very clear on her blog, Five Feet of Fury. She took particular ire at Bernie Farber, the head of the main Canadian Jewish organization. Because Farber was a decent man, who felt Jews should sympathise and show solidarity with all other marginalized and persecuted groups. When Darfur in the Sudan was attacked and its people killed and rape by the Islamist Janjaweed militia, Farber organized a ‘Shabbat for Darfur’, a day of fasting and prayer in the Jewish tradition. Farber also had the temerity to take part in gay pride march to show his solidarity with Canada’s gay citizens. And Farber’s not alone in his views. As one left-wing, anti-racist Jewish activist said, to be a Jew is always to support the oppressed, never the oppressor.

There is no question that in making this accusation, the NEC were very much supporting racism. Mike makes that clear in his blog post about this issue, and condemns it as disgusting.

And when Mike argued against the accusation, posing awkward questions of his own, Cousins interrupted to prevent those presenting the accusations from answering. And when Mike succeeded in getting them to answer, it was clear why Cousins was so keen not to let the presenter answer the questions: she couldn’t. You can read Mike’s account of this over at his blog, at
https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/11/15/labours-ruling-committee-is-racist-the-evidence-is-undeniable/

Nor is Mike alone in finding the NEC’s and Maggie Cousin’s persecution of decent members of the Labour party under the pretext of combating anti-Semitism racist.

Jackie Walker made the same accusation in an event in Islington in May this year, 2018, which was part of a tour of the country by Marc Wadsworth, supported by the comedian Alexei Sayle, and Jackie Walker and others, including a number of Black anti-racism activists. Marc Wadsworth was the Black anti-racism campaigner, who was himself smeared by Ruth Smeeth and a complicit Tory press as an anti-Semite because of a remark he made about her passing on information to a Torygraph hack at Labour party meeting. Wadsworth didn’t know she was Jewish and made no reference to Jews in his comments. But Smeeth, a Zionist and Blairite, smeared him as an anti-Semite anyway.

And as with Walker, it’s a charge that is utterly ridiculous. Wadsworth was a dedicated campaigner, one of his whose achievements was getting the parents of the murdered Black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, to meet Nelson Mandela. He had also worked closely with the Board of Deputies of British Jews in fighting the BNP in the ’80s and ’90s after a series of anti-Semitic assaults in parts of London. He is very, very far from being an anti-Semite. But he was a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, and so the Blairite and Zionist right of the party chose to smear him in the campaign to topple the Labour leader.

And presiding over the kangaroo court that smeared him as an anti-Semite was – yes, you guessed it! – Maggie Cousins.

The three other Black speakers that evening were also concerned about the racist persecution of the Windrush generation, and anti-Black racism within the Labour party. They claimed that the report by Shami Chakrabarti on racism with in the Labour party, had been ignored when it came to other races. One of these speakers, Angela Lee, a presenter on the Genesis channel, was particularly concerned about low expectations of Black children and the higher rates of expulsion for them in schools, including those in Islington. See http://islingtontribune.com/article/the-muddle-around-a-conflict-within-labour

Cousins is a hard-right Zionist, but she isn’t a member of the Jewish Labour Movement or Jewish Voice for Labour on the other side, and so she masquerades as being impartial.

As for Zionism, non-Zionist Jews like Tony Greenstein and David Rosenberg have argued very strongly and convincingly that it is itself a deeply and perniciously racist ideology. It is anti-Semitic, in the sense that it is a capitulation to anti-Semitism. Its founder, Theodor Herzl, believed that anti-Semitism could not be overcome, and that Jews’ only hope lay in creating a state of their own, for which they should co-operate with anti-Semites. He thus praised Arthur Balfour, for passing the Aliens Act against eastern European Jewish immigration to Britain, as well as the British Brothers’ League, a racist organization campaigning against such immigration. The Zionist organization in Nazi Germany fully supported the racist Nuremberg Laws at the time other Jewish organization were campaigning against them. Its newspaper, the Judischer Rundschau, even told its readers that they should wear the yellow Star of David forced on them by Nazis with pride. Chaim Herzog opposed the kindertransport, which evacuated Jewish German children to Britain. He stated he’d prefer it if nearly all of the Jews in Germany were exterminated, if only a few went to the Jewish settlements in Palestine rather than the majority were saved by going to Britain. In Hungary, Rudolf kasztner made a deal with the Nazis to send some tens of thousands of Jews to the death camps, on the condition that some might be spared to go to Israel.

And Israel is still making alliance with real Nazis and anti-Semites, praising the far-right regimes in Poland and Hungary, and hosting British and American influential far right figures like Stephen Bannon, Richard Spencer and Tommy Robinson. And they have the same vile opportunism towards genuine anti-Semitic atrocities. After the Pittsburgh massacre last weekend, the Israeli ambassador to America claimed the rise in anti-Semitism in America was partly due to ‘left-wing activism on campus’. This was a coded attack on the BDS campaign, amongst other things. He also urged Jews to move to Israel.

The shooter had chosen the Tree of Life synagogue, because they were active helping asylum seekers come to America through a Jewish charity. An Israeli rapper notorious for his Fascistic lyrics odiously declared that you couldn’t blame the shooter and those like him, because they were fed up of liberal Jews interfering in their country’s politics.

Utterly, utterly repugnant.

There is also a very strong streak of what would be rightly seen as anti-Semitism if it came from gentiles in Zionist attacks on Israel-critical Jews. They are viciously attacked as ‘kapos’, with some wishing that their families had died in the Holocaust.

And David Rosenberg on his blog, Rebel Notes, has posted his account of how the Board of Deputies of British Jews in the 1980s was strongly opposed to Jews going on anti-racist marches when they were to protect and defend other racial groups. Thus meetings of Jewish anti-racists had to be held in venues like Quaker Meeting Houses because many synagogues closed their doors to them. The official reason was that the Board was afraid Jewish marchers would be exposed to anti-Zionist propaganda. But some left-wing campaigners believed the real reason was that the Conservative Jewish establishment wanted to keep them away from the Left.

And this is apart from Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians, its imprisonment of them in a system of apartheid and slow, ethnic cleansing. None of which can be defended, which is why Israel’s advocates smear those, who criticize it as anti-Semites.

This is what Cousins and Labour’s NEC are supporting: a vicious, hypocritical and persecutory ideology and state, which attacks real anti-racists and opponents of anti-Semitism. It is an ideology, who strongest advocates in Britain have never wanted British Jews to involve themselves in the struggles of other ethnic groups for equality and dignity. The Israel lobby in the Labour party wishes the genuine sufferings of Blacks in history to be ignored, rather than commemorated with that of the Jews. And for the marginalization of Labour’s Black members and those in Labour-run councils to continue in silence. Ken Livingstone was also concerned about Black representation in the Labour party. It’s in his book, Livingstone’s Labour. Which may well be another reason they smeared him as an anti-Semite.

So perhaps it’s about time we fought back, and named Cousins and the NEC for what they are, and tell them very firmly what we tell the BNP, National Action, the EDL and the rest of the thugs and bully-boys of the Far Right:

Off Our Streets, Fascist Scum!

Books on Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean Archaeology

December 30, 2017

A few months ago I got through the post the 2017 archaeology catalogue for Eurospan University Presses. Amongst some of the fascinating books listed were several on the archaeology of Black communities in America and the Caribbean. As you’ll see, they’re at prices well beyond what ordinary readers can afford. They’re really available only to the rich and academic libraries. If you’ve got access to one near you, then I recommend you try to borrow it from there. Some universities do lend to members of the public in the summer holidays when most of the students have gone home. It might also be possible to get it on interlibrary loan, although this can also mean a long wait and isn’t cheap either. The last time I enquired about it at Bristol, I was told the price was £5 per book. Which means that if you want to borrow more than one, it can become very expensive very quickly. Dam’ Tories and their cuts! I don’t know, but it may also be that some of these books may be available in PDF form over the Net at a cheaper rate. This isn’t mentioned in the catalogue, but it might be so. Alternatively, you could see if there are secondhand copies on Amazon. On the other hand, it might be worth waiting to see if a paperback edition comes out, which may be cheaper.

Here are the books I found interesting, and the blurbs for them in the catalogue.

Archaeologies of African American Life in the Upper Mid-Atlantic, edited by Michael J. Gall & Richard F. Veit
9780817319656 Hardback £74.50

Provides insights into the archaeology and cultural history of African-American life from a collection of sites in the northeastern US. This volume explores the archaeology of African-American life and cultures in the Upper Mid-Atlantic region, suing sites dating from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries.

University of Alabama Press.

Before the Pioneers: Indians, Settlers, Slaves and the Founding of Miami, Andre F. Krank, 9780813054513, hardback £18.50

Formed seemingly out of steel, glass, and concrete with millions of residents from around the globe, Miami has ancient roots that can be hard to imagine today. This work takes readers back through forgotten eras to the stories of the people who shaped the land along the Miami River long before most modern histories of the city begin.

University of Florida Press.

Honoring Ancestors in Sacred Space: The Archaeology of an Eighteenth Century African Bahamian Cemetery, Grace Turner, 9781683400202, hardback £79.50.

Throughout life, black Africans in the Bahamas possessed material items of various degrees of importance to them and within their culture. St. Matthews was a cemetery in Nassau at the water’s edge – or sometimes slightly below. This project emerged from archaeological excavations at this site to identify and recover materials associated with the interned before the area was completely redeveloped.

University Press of Florida.

The Rosewood Massacre: An archaeology and History of Intersectional Violence, Edward Gonzalez Tennant. 9780813056784, £84.95.

Investigates the 1923 massacre that devastated the predominantly African American community of Rosewood, Florida. The author draws on cutting edge GIS technology, census data, artefacts from excavations, and archaeological theory to explore the local circumstances and broader socio-political power structures that led to the massacre.

University Press of Florida.

Simplicity, Equality and Slavery: An Archaeology of Quakerism in the British Virgin Islands, 1740-1780, John M. Chenoweth, 9781683400110 hardback, £79.50.

Inspired by the Quaker ideals of simplicity, equality, and peace, a group of White planters formed a community in the British Virgin Islands during the eighteenth century. Here, the author examines how the community navigated the contradictions of Quakerism and plantation ownership.

University Press of Florida.

These books sound very interesting. There have been a lot of research into the homes and communities of Black Americans over the past couple of decades. They’ve been excavated in New York, and also the slave communities owned by the Founding Fathers, like Benjamin Franklin. In the case of excavating cemeteries, it’s obviously a particularly sensitive area, and the archaeologists involved have obviously had to be particularly careful in their negotiations of the host Black community and the surviving relatives of the deceased. As you should when excavating any human remains.

From what I gather from reading elsewhere, cemeteries and burial grounds are of particular importance in Afro-Caribbean culture, where it’s associated not only with personal heritage and family history and identity but also occupation of the land.

I remember correctly, the 1923 Rosewood massacre was White supremacist pogrom against the Black community in Rosewood, their politicians and their White supporters and allies. This was before McCarthyism, when the American Left was still very strong, and the Republican party the more left-wing of the two main political parties. The town’s mayor was Black, and the town council included Socialists. Even the Republicans issued a statement condemning the treatment of the poor, the corrupt corporate politics keeping them there, and declaring healthcare and education a right. Obviously the Conservatives and the Klan really couldn’t tolerate that, and stirred up resentment until it boiled over into organised violence.

As for the Quaker plantation in the British Virgin Islands, the Quakers very early denounced and condemned slavery as fundamentally opposed to their principles. John Fox, the sect’s founder, denounced and by their laws no member could own slaves. Nevertheless, the acceptance of slavery was so deeply ingrained in European society, that its rejection was not easy for many to accept. And although they were condemned from owning or dealing in slaves, some Quakers did make their cash through supplying the slave ships. If you want to know more about the Quakers, their ideals in this period, then I recommend you read David Dabydeen’s history of the Quakers in the 17th and 18th centuries, Sugar and Slaves.

Czech President Threatens Journalists with Fake Kalashnikov

October 25, 2017

More from Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian of The Young Turks on the rising threat to freedom of the press around the world. In this clip they report on and discuss the behaviour of the Czech President, Milos Zeman, who turned up at a press conference waving around a replica gun which had ‘For Journalists’ written on it. Zeman himself hates the press, and in the past has described them as ‘manure’ and ‘hyenas’. At a meeting with Putin in May, he joked about how some of them deserved to be ‘liquidated’. As Uygur points out, there is very strong evidence that Putin has had journalists murdered, so that joke really isn’t funny. Zeman, you will not be surprised to know, is also a colossal Islamophobe. He has said that Czechs need to arm themselves against a coming ‘superholocaust’ against them, which will be carried out by Muslims. Uygur comments drily, ‘Who knew there were so many Muslims in the Czech Republic, and they were so powerful?’

Zeman’s gun-waving comes after the death of a female journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb in Malta. Galizia was dubbed a ‘one-woman WikiLeaks’ for her dogged pursuit of uncovering stories of corruption. She was killed a week after revealing that Joseph Muscat, the Prime Minister of the island nation, had been involved in offshore companies and the sale of Maltese passports and payments from the Azerbaijani government.

Clearly, Malta isn’t anywhere near the Czech Republic, but her death was reported there. And the president, Zeman, thinks so little of the murder of journalists that he ‘jokes’ about it by waving replica firearms around at the press. Uygur also states that the Czechs have just elected a new prime minister, who is the millionaire head of a populist party. He predicts that this won’t end well.

This is clearly a story from a small nation in the EU, but it shows the way journalistic freedoms are being eroded all over the world. The Young Turks point out that democracy isn’t just about voting – it’s also about the freedom of the press and conscience – and this is what has makes Western democracy so great. The Young Turks have also covered the prosecution of journalists and political opponents of President Erdogan in Turkey, and the persecution of another crusading journo in Azerbaijan itself. As well as the attempted assassination of another Russian journo, who was suspiciously stabbed a madman two weeks after the Putin media declared her and her radio station an agent of America.

About ten years ago, John Kampfner wrote a book, Freedom for Hire, in which he described how countries around the world, from France, Italy, Russia, Singapore and China, were becoming increasingly dictatorial. And we in Britain had no cause for complacency, as he described how Blair had also tried to muzzle the press, especially when it came to the Gulf War. The web of corruption Galizia uncovered was so widespread, and went right to the top, so that Malta was described by the Groaniad yesterday as ‘Mafia Island’.

As for the Czech Republic, after Vaclav Havel its post-Communist presidents have been extremely shady individuals. I can remember reading one travel book on eastern Europe, which discussed how his critics had disappeared or been murdered. And following the Fall of Communism, there has come a series of reports and scandals about rising racial intolerance there. The target of much of this is the Roma. It has been reported that the Czech medical service routinely forcibly sterilised Gypsy women in order to stop them having children, and members of various political parties have called for either their expulsion or their extermination. I am not surprised by the Islamophobia, as a little while ago Counterpunch carried a story about one of their contributor’s meeting with a Czech politician, who had very extreme, right-wing views, including a deep hatred of Muslims. There also appears to be an undercurrent of anti-Semitism in the country as well. A few years ago, the BBC’s programme, Who Do You Think You Are, explored Stephen Fry’s ancestry. As Fry himself has said many times on QI, his grandfather was a Jewish Hungarian, who worked for a sugar merchants. It was through his work that he met Fry’s grandmother, who was a member of Fry’s, the Quaker chocolate manufacturer, and settled with her in England. Thus he fortunately survived the Holocaust. Fry travelled to Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic, tracing the movements of his ancestors in the course of their work through the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Fry was, understandably, visibly upset and shaken when he found out just how many of his grandfather’s kith and kind had been murdered at Auschwitz.

He was also very unimpressed by the attitude of some of the Czechs he spoke to in his quest. He quoted them as saying that ‘it is very curious. They knew the Holocaust was coming, but they stayed here anyway.’ He was justifiably outraged at the implication that somehow the millions of innocents butchered by the Nazis wanted to be killed.

It’s possible to suggest a number of causes for the rise in Islamophobia. You could probably trace it back to historic fears about the Ottoman Empire and the conquest of the Balkans by the Muslim Turks in the 15th century. The Ottoman Empire still sought to expand in the 17th century, when its army was just outside the gates of Vienna. It was defeated by Jan Sobieski, the king of Poland, and his troops. The Ottoman Empire persisted until it finally collapsed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, amidst a series of bloody massacres. The majority of these were blamed on the Turks, and specifically the irregular troops, the Bashi-Bazouks. It was their massacres that led to Gladstone calling for Turkey to be thrown ‘bag and baggage out of the Balkans’. But other journalists in the Balkans at the time also noted that the Christian nations, like the Serbs, were also guilty of horrific mass slaughter, but that this went unreported due prevailing Western prejudice.

Part of it might be due to the Czechs being a small nation – there are about four million of them – who have had to struggle to survive against domination by larger neighbours. Their medieval kings had invited ethnic Germans into the country to settle and develop their economy. This led to the creation of what became the Sudetenland, the areas occupied by ethnic Germans, and there was friction between them and the native Czechs. This friction eventually exploded into open conflict in the 15th century in the wars following the attempt of Jan Hus to reform the Roman Catholic church. Czech nationalism was suppressed, and Moravia and Bohemia, the two kingdoms, which became Czechoslovakia, were absorbed into the Austrian Empire. The Czechs and Slovaks achieved their independence after the First world War, but the country was conquered by the Nazis during World War II, and then ‘liberated’ by Stalin. It was then incorporated into the Communist bloc. When Anton Dubcek, the president, attempted to create ‘Communism with a human face’, introducing free elections and a form of market socialism, the-then Soviet president, Anton Dubcek, sent in the tanks to quell the ‘Prague Spring’.

Other factors also include the wave of immigrants from Syria and North Africa, that forced their way through the various international borders to come up through Greece and Serbia in their hope of finding sanctuary and jobs in the West. The Counterpunch article stated that there was a real fear that they would turn east, and swamp the small, former eastern bloc nations like the Czech Republic.

And these racial fears are being stoked throughout the former eastern bloc by the poverty and misery that has come with capitalism. The peoples of the former Communist nations were led to believe that the introduction of capitalism would create employment and prosperity. This has not occurred, and the result has been widespread disillusionment. Counterpunch also ran another article, which quoted the statistic that 51 per cent of the population of the former East Germany had responded positively to the statement that ‘things were better under Communism’ in a poll, and wanted Communism to come back. Similar statistics could be found right across the former Communist nations of eastern Europe.

Now, faced with rising poverty, unemployment and inequality, made worse by neoliberalism, the old fears of racial domination and extermination are rising again, and being exploited by ruthless, right-wing populists. So there are a series of extremely nationalistic, Fascistic governments and parties in Hungary and the Czech Republic. Just like in western Europe there’s Marine Le Pen’s Front National and Germany’s Alternative fuer Deutschland, and Donald Trump and the Alt Right in America.

And across the globe, ruthless, corrupt politicians are trying to curtail freedom of speech and the press, in order to preserve their power. Hence the rising racism, Fascism and violence towards ethnic minorities and the press. These freedoms are at the core of democracy, and have to be defended for democracy to work at all, and governments held accountable by their citizens.

Raouf Halaby on Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ as Great Banned, Anti-War Book

September 29, 2017

There’s a great piece over at Counterpunch today by their contributor, the academic Raouf Halaby, on a celebration of banned books. One of the librarians at a local university celebrated Banned Books Week by holding a Banned Books Read-Out in the college amphitheatre. Students and teaching and non-teaching staff were invited to choose a banned book, and read from it for ten minutes. The librarian also provided 100 banned books from the university library to help people decided and participate.

Halaby himself chose Kurt Vonnegut’s SF novel, Slaughterhouse Five because of its powerful anti-war message, a message that is unfortunately still very pertinent five decades after he wrote it. The novel was written against the Vietnam War, and is about a man, who comes unstuck in time, going backwards and forwards into the past and future, but returns to 1945 and the infamous bombing of Dresden, before ending up in an alien zoo. Vonnegut himself had been an American squaddie during World War II, and he and his fellows were in Dresden when it was bombed. They had been captured as P.O.W.s, and were imprisoned in a converted abattoir called ‘Schlachthof Funf’ – ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ – during the bombing. Vonnegut was a great master of irony and black humour, and I’m very sure he saw the dark humour in having been saved from a bombing raid that killed an entire town while shut up in a slaughterhouse.

Halaby states that his mother was a quaker, and that’s possibly where he gets his anti-war ideas from. But he was a soldier, and dedicated his reading of Vonnegut’s great work to some of his army buddies, who were killed in Vietnam. As for the book’s continuing relevance today, he writes

For my ten minutes, I selected Kurt Vonnegut’s acclaimed Slaughterhouse Five for the following reasons: 1. Since the end of WWII the U.S. has waged war on the Korean Peninsula, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and at least half a dozen more countries around the globe. 2 Ken Burn’s Vietnam documentary has, at long last, forced us to engage in some serious soul searching, and a much needed conversation about the many lies, mistakes, and atrocities of this war, thus providing an opportunity to reach out to the hundreds of thousands who served in Vietnam as well as those who opposed the war and helped bring it to an end. 3. The U.S. is still using its superior military power, a disproportionate, scorch earth power that incinerates thousands of precious lives in faraway lands, and a power that pulverizes entire nation states. 4. Recent threats of unleashing the “fire and fury” of nuclear weaponry poses a grave danger to humanity. 5. Innocent civilians seem to always be in the sights of machine guns, missiles, and now, drones and MOABs . 6. Those who order soldiers to wade into the hades of military adventures do so under the guise of national security; waging a war is, after all, a pernicious flag-waving pathway to furthering political careers; gullible voters continue to buy into war snake oil. 7. And finally, I have seen firsthand the ravages of war and the devastating effects wars have had on individuals, communities, nations, and regions. I have inherited my mother’s Quaker values.

Much of his article is a long passage from the book, presumably the one he read out, describing the author’s experience in Dresden and their imprisonment in the slaughterhouse, and how it shows the brutality and inhumanity of war. All war. And makes the case that ordinary bombing with conventional weapons can kill as many people as nuclear bombs. A bombing raid on Tokyo with ordinary bombs one night killed 84,000 + people, while 79,000 + people were incinerated at Nagasaki. Not that this makes nuclear weapons any better, and they’ve gone on to vastly outstrip the destructive power of conventional weaponry. He also makes the point that war is evil, but the people, who commit the acts of mass death may be perfectly normal, otherwise decent people.

See: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/09/29/dont-let-them-ban-our-books/

I don’t know if Vonnegut’s book was ever banned, though I don’t doubt that it’s anti-war stance and biting satire was extremely unpopular amongst the right and the military. It was so popular, that it was made into a movie in 1972, though critics like John Clute have said it does not equal the book. Vonnegut passed away a few years ago. However, he was still a trenchant critic of American politics and society right to the end. I remember reading a newspaper article in which he made his opinions of George W. Bush, then the US president, very clear.

Roger Williams’ Arguments against Religious Persecution

November 22, 2016

This weekend I put up a piece about the arguments for religious toleration advanced by William Penn, the great Quaker apologist and founder of Pennsylvania. Penn believed passionately in religious toleration, and was himself, along with one of his fellow Quakers, imprisoned and tried for his religious beliefs. His trial, and the way it violated the natural liberties of the English people, were the subject of one of the three pamphlets he wrote attacking religious persecution.

One of the other great champions of religious freedom in the 17th century was Roger Williams. Williams was an English Puritan, who fled persecution in England to make his home in the new colony of Massachusetts in 1630, where he intended to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity. However, his own refusal to become part of the church establishment resulted in his conflict with the authorities there, and he was expelled three years later. He went on to become one of the founders of another colony, Rhode Island. He returned to Blighty in 1643, seeking to acquire a royal charter for the new settlement. Back in England, he became heavily involved in the debate over religious toleration, writing his classic work on it, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution. Parliament responded by having it burnt by the public hangman in August the following year. Williams left England, but returned to the country of his birth in 1652, leaving once more two years later. During this later sojourn in England, he wrote a sequel to his book, The Bloody Tenent Yet More Bloody. David Wootton in his comments on Williams and his works states

Williams has long been regarded as one of the first exponents of what were to become central principles of the American constitution: the sovereignty of the people and the separation of church and state.

David Wootton, ed., Divine Right and Democracy: An Anthology of Political Writings in Stuart England (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1986) 215.

Wootton’s book contains extracts from The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, including the following passage, where Williams lays out the main themes of his argument.

Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience, Discussed, in a Conference betweene Truth and Peace

Syllabus:

First: That the blood of so many hundred thousand souls of protestants and papists, spilt in the wars of present and former ages for their respective consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Secondly: Pregnant scriptures and arguments are throughout the work proposed against the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Thirdly: Satisfactory answers are given to scriptures and objections produced by Mr Calvin, Beza, Mr Cotton, and the ministers of the New England churches and others former and later, tending to prove the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Fourthly: The doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience is proved guilty of all the blood of the souls crying for vengeance under the altar.

Fifthly: All civil states, with their officers of justice, in their respective constitutions and administrations, are proved essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the spiritual, or Christian, state and worship.

Sixthly: It is the will and command of God that, since the coming of his Son, the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-Christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries; and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in soul matters, able to conquer, to wit, the sword of God’s spirit, the word of God.

Seventhly: The state of the land of Israel, the kings and people thereof, in peace and war, is proved figurative and ceremonial, and no pattern nor precedent for any6 kingdom or civil state in the world to follow.

Eighthly: God requires not an uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced on any civil state; which enforced uniformity, sooner or later, is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus his servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls.

Ninthly: In holding an enforced uniformity of religion in a civil state, we must necessarily disclaim our desires and hopes of the Jews’ conversion to Christ.

Tenthly: An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.

Eleventhly: The permission of other consciences and worships than a state professes only can, according to God, procure a firm and lasting peace; good assurance being taken, according to the wisdom of the civil state, for uniformity of civil obedience from all sorts.

Twelfthly: Lastly, true civility and Christianity may both flourish in a state or kingdom, notwithstanding the permission of divers and contrary consciences, either of Jew or Gentile.

I realise some Jews and Muslims may object to the tone of his comments about them, that they are somehow a threat to the Christian community and Christians should endeavour to convert them. Nevertheless, the points Williams is trying to make are good ones: provided that everyone in a community obeys the same laws, it doesn’t matter what their religious opinions are. In the case of the Jews, the underlying point can be stated more generally: no non-Christian will want to convert to that religion, if it offers them and their people nothing but persecution and hate.

It also needs to be pointed out, that Williams was writing at a time when the Turkish Empire did represent a militant threat against the states of Christian Europe, which Williams would have been acutely aware of. It can’t be argued against his demands for religious freedom and pluralism, that he was living in a more peaceful time.

I’ve put this up because this is one of the founding documents of the great American tradition of religious freedom and tolerance, from one of the Puritan divines who also was one of the great pioneers of American democracy. This is now threatened by Trump and his proposed registry for Muslims. As I pointed out yesterday, this violates the argument for freedom of conscience argued on Christian theological and scriptural grounds by William Penn, just as it violates Williams own arguments on the same grounds for religious toleration.

Trump’s claim to be protecting Americans through this registry not only violates due process, as George Takei, Star Trek’s Mr Sulu, made clear, it also violates the essential theological principles on which America as a tolerant, democratic, Christian nation was founded. If the religious Right are supporting his motion for this registry, then they are showing a complete ignorance and contempt for one of the cornerstones of American and British Christianity and liberal democracy.

William Penn on Religious Toleration

November 18, 2016

William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, was a Quaker and an ardent campaigner for freedom of conscience. He wrote at least three pamphlets arguing for it, The People’s Ancient and Just Liberties Asserted of 1670; The Great Case of Liberty and Conscience (1670) and A Perswasive to Moderation to Dissenting Christians (1685). They’re collected, along with his other writings, in The Peace of Europe, The Fruits of Solitude and Other Writings, edited by Edwin B. Bronner (London: J.M. Dent 1993). Penn argues for freedom of conscience on scriptural, theological, and historical grounds, as well as citing cases of contemporary religious toleration amongst the states in his day, where religious diversity had not caused civil dissension and war. This included the various Muslim empires, which he noticed also were characterised by different sects, all of which apparently lived in peace. He particularly felt that religious persecution was not something Christians should do. Not only was it positively forbidden by scripture, in his opinion, it was unnecessary. Christianity did not need the use of force to prove its truth. Furthermore, the use of force was actually self-defeating, as it caused people to despise, rather than respect Christianity.

Here’s a couple of passages that struck me as particularly acute, though all of the arguments in The Great Case of Liberty and Conscience are worth reading, as one of the arguments for toleration is the peaceful coexisting of Christians and Muslims in Spain under Charles V. This didn’t last long, as they were expelled in the 15th century under Ferdinand and Isabella. Nevertheless, it is important and acutely relevant to today that Penn had no doubts that Christians and Muslims could live together peacefully without religious coercion.

11. It ever was the prudence of the wise magistrate to oblige their people; but what comes shorter of it than persecution? What’s dearer to them than the liberty of their conscience? What cannot they better spare than it? Their peace consists in the enjoyment of it: and he that by compliance has lost it, carries his penalty with him, and is his own prison. Surely such practices must render the government uneasy, and beget a great disrespect to the governors, in the hearts of the people.

12. But which concludes our prudential part shall be this, that after all their pains and good will to stretch men to their measure, they never will be able to accomplish their end: And if he be an unwise man that provides means where he designs no end, how near is he kin to him that proposes an end inobtainable. Experience has told us, 1. How invective it has made the imposed on. 2. What distractions have ensued such attempts. 3. What reproach has followed to the Christian religion, when the professors of it have a used a coercive power upon conscience. And lastly, that force never yet made either a good Christian, or a good subject. (p, 171.)

3. Unity, (not the least, but greatest end of government is lost) for by seeking an unity of opinion (by the ways intended) the unity requisite to uphold us, as a civil society, will be quite destroyed. And such as relinquish that, to get the other (besides that they are unwise) will infallibly lose both in the end. (p. 172).

In short, what religious, what wise, what prudent, what good natured person would be a persecutor; certainly it’s an office only fit for those who being void of all reason, to evidence the verity of their religion, fancy it to be true, from that strong propensity and greedy inclination they find in themselves to persecute the contrary; a weakness of so ill a consequence to all civil societies, that the admission of it ever was, and ever will prove their utter ruin, as well as their great infelicity who pursue it.

And though we could not more effectually express our revenge than by leaving such persons to the scope of their own humours; yet being taught to love and pray for our persecutors, we heartily wish their better information, that (if it be possible) they may act more suitably to the good pleasure of the eternal just God, and beneficially to these nations. (p. 185).

Penn was aware of the counterargument that by arguing for freedom of conscience, he was also arguing for religious Dissenters to be able to attack and murder everyone else, and deals with it in the following passage:

Object. 3. But at this rate ye may pretend to cut our throats, and do all manner of savage acts.

Ans. Though the objection be frequent, yet it is as foully ridiculous. We are pleading only for such a liberty of conscience, as preserve the nation in peace, trade, and commerce; and would not exempt any man, or party of men, from not keeping those excellent laws, that tend to sober, just and industrious living. It is a Jesuitical moral, to kill a man before he is born: first, to suspect him of an evil design, and then kill him to prevent it. (p. 175).

Trump’s embrace of Fascists and anti-Semites, and his automatic suspicion of all Muslims, as somehow a threat to America, is here explicitly condemned by one of the very first founders of America, and a leading figure in the centuries-long campaign for freedom of conscience in Britain. Penn was one of the founders of the great American tradition of religious liberty, a tradition which Trump is determined to attack and uproot. He must not be allowed to do so.