PHILIPPA TAYLOR looks at the staggering numbers behind 50 years of the Abortion Act in the UK
The Abortion Act reached its 50th anniversary in late October. In these last 50 years almost nine million unborn babies have been aborted in England, Scotland and Wales. That figure has, of course, also impacted the lives of nine million women, some of whom are celebrating this anniversary of the Act but many of whom will instead remember and regret their abortion(s) and the harm each one brings to both mother and child.
This 50th anniversary … has been a time for commemoration of nine million unborn children who have silently disappeared
While I strongly believe there are two victims for every abortion, for now I deliberately focus on the unborn victims, not the women, and the almost incomprehensible scale of destruction of innocent lives. Nine million lives lost is a truly staggering figure.
It is more than all the students currently at schools in England
It is more than the population of Austria
It is more than the population of New York City
It is more than the combined population of the 22 largest cities in the UK after London
It is more than 10 per cent of the entire UK population
Incredibly, that number of lives lost is higher than the combined populations of Scotland and Wales.
Let’s break the figures down a bit more.
On current abortion rates, every year we lose more lives than could fill three London Olympic Stadiums (approximately 200,000 per year).
Every month we lose the equivalent of 11 Titanics (over 16,000 per month, since 1992).
We lose many more than the number of people who died in the 9/11 attacks every week in England, Wales and Scotland (3840 per week).
And every day the number of unborn babies who are aborted would completely fill an Airbus A380 (approximately 550 per day).
These are illustrations of the numbers of lives lost. Imagine the difference in England, Scotland and Wales if those were all alive today? Which brings me to Northern Ireland where, in a poignant and striking contrast, there are an estimated 100,000 people who are alive today because they do not have the 1967 Abortion Act, but have a different law.
In other words, one in 10 people aged under 50 in Northern Ireland are alive today because of the more restrictive law on abortion that exists there. This number could fill Northern Ireland’s national football stadium five times over. Each one a precious, valuable human being who is alive today, but would have never have had the chance of life if they lived elsewhere in the UK.
An anniversary is a time for stopping to remember something either very special, or very sad. It is either a celebration, such as of a marriage or a special birthday, or it is a time to commemorate a tragic event, such as a death.
I for one know which this 50th anniversary has signified: nine million innocent lives lost. For me it has been a time for commemoration of nine million unborn children who have silently disappeared.
At the Christian Medical Fellowship, we prepared a short video to mark the anniversary. Please take a minute or two to stop and remember, by watching this video.
Philippa Taylor is Head of Public Policy at Christian Medical Fellowship. She has an MA in Bioethics from St Mary’s University College and a background in policy work on bioethics and family issues.
Contemporary Germany may be the European leader, but the Berlin Wall still casts a long shadow over the country’s economic, political and spiritual landscape.
BY GAVIN MATTHEWS
“Germany’s neighbours have nothing to fear from its new-found strength. Berlin does not want to dominate Europe, but to exercise leadership … something that will be essential in a post-Brexit world.”
Josef Janning and Almut Möller (European Council on Foreign Affairs)
German strength today is built on its size, economic performance, and political stability. More than 80 million people live in Germany, making it the largest nation in Europe. While the figures for both total GDP, and GDP-per-capita vary between different calculating bodies, there is unanimity in their reporting that Germany is the economic leader within the EU. Several of the world’s richest and most well known corporations are German, such as Volkswagen, Allianz, Siemens, Deutche Bank, BASF, ThyssenKrupp and many more. In 2017, the German economy has exhibited strong growth, in exports, industrial production, manufacturing, and factory orders, and is now outperforming other advanced economies in the global recovery.
Internally, however, economists continue to observe that despite federal spending to stimulate the states which once formed the GDR, the old ‘East Germany’ still lags behind the West. While state economic stimuli continues to flow eastwards, internal migration moves in the opposite direction, especially of the young and the entrepreneurial. The ‘West’ outperforms the ‘East’ in wealth, health, life expectancy, productivity and consumption. Perhaps only in education do the states of the former GDR lead the way.
It was the implosion of the Soviet system which led to the reunification of Germany in 1990. Since then, it has been a stable federation of 16 states (“Länder”) of significantly varying sizes – there are over 18 million Bavarians, but only just over 1 million found in Saarland. The Federal Government, with its chancellor and bi-cameral legislature, has some parallels with the US Constitution, and controls all matters of defence, foreign policy and currency. Virtually all other powers are retained by the Länder, including most tax-raising responsibilities.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), suffered a drop in popularity during the migrant crisis, running into 2016. Pundits at one stage even suggested that she might not even seek re-election in the autumn 2017 poll, however successes in “this year’s three regional elections have restored Mrs Merkel to pole position in German politics”.
On the international stage, Merkel’s European leadership has been consolidated by: (i) the defeat of Le Pen in the French elections ensuring a solid Franco-German relationship; (ii) Brexit; and (iii) the arrival of a more provocative and eccentric incumbent in the White House. There is now the widespread expectation that Merkel can win in September, extending her chancellorship at home and maintaining her influence as the “alternative leader of the free world”. Precisely what her anticipated victory will mean at home depends on the make-up of any post-election coalition, which is the norm in German elections.
Migration has been the most divisive and politically sensitive issue of Chancellor Merkel’s current term in office. She has pointedly made Germany a welcoming place for vast numbers of refugees. For her, this seems to have been a matter of conscience and conviction. German politics is inevitably conducted against the collective memory of the 1930s, and Merkel has actively promoted a racially and culturally diverse, welcoming Germany, in contrast to the horrors of the past. The ensuing cultural friction from the high levels of immigration is something the far right has sought to inflame and use to further its political agenda.
Immigration peaked in 2015-16, with Germany receiving the most asylum seekers of any European nation. So significant was Germany’s share of the influx into the EU, that its historic trend of population decline was actually reversed that year. About 200 city mayors from Westphalia wrote to Chancellor Merkel saying that they were “overwhelmed” with migrants and “seriously concerned for our country”. Pressure on Merkel has since eased with a sizeable reduction in immigration rates, coupled with the development of a significant emigration trend.
The tensions around immigration centre on two issues: crime, and the influence of Islam. In both cases, journalists and politicians who are resistant to immigration promote figures which are far higher than those from Liberal sources. Right-wing writers claim that, “10 per cent of young German males are Muslim”, while liberals say, “the [total] number of Muslims in Germany is way lower than people think” – only around 5 per cent of the total population.
Crimes involving immigrants in Germany have made headlines repeatedly over the last few years. The sexual assaults on women, committed by immigrant men, have been well reported, as was the jihadist attack on the Berlin Christmas market in December 2016, which killed 12 people. Less heavily reported have been the attacks upon immigrants. Official figures suggest as many as 3500 such attacks occurred in 2016.
Government responses have included both strong denunciation of such assaults, and prosecutions. Coupled to this have been legislative attempts to limit the wearing of the Burqa by civil servants at work, along with a 10-point plan to define “national identity”. The fact that a large majority of Turkish citizens living in Germany voted to endorse President Erdogan’s curtailment of Turkish democracy highlights the significant cultural differences between most Germans and many of the recent arrivals. This continues to cause concern across the country.
Germany today treads a wise and careful line in terms of handling its history. The crimes of the 1930s and 40s are not ignored, downplayed, justified, or excused. The impressive Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (pictured), in the heart of Berlin epitomises the way the country deals with its past.
Culturally, Germany today is a highly secularised society. One poll suggested that Germany is the third most atheist nation in Western Europe. The loss of the traditional values associated with Christianity is also seen in the decline of the churches, widespread acceptance of abortion, and the largest “gay/LGBTI community in Europe”.
Research over the last decade has revealed that the health of the churches continues to be far worse in the former East Germany than in the West. The East continues to exhibit far higher rates of those calling themselves Vollatheisten, “full” or “committed atheists”. If the former East Germany was counted as separate country, it would be one of the most secular states in the world, where public declaration of Christian faith can still receive a hostile reception. The fact that the massive church decline which began under the eye of the Stasi, continues amongst the youngest sections of ‘East German’ society today, is of great concern to the churches.
Elsewhere, state persecution is sometimes blithely seen as a cure-all for churches, as in Tertullian’s noted formula: “The Blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The GDR demonstrates that Christians should not naively assume that such a loss of religious liberties in their context will automatically reverse their numerical decline and restore their vitality. In the GDR, such harassment did not dynamise the church, but decimated it, with few signs of recovery decades later.
Oliver Ahlfeld, of the Evangelischer Gnadauer Gemeinschaftsverband, reports that the German churches have yet to fully adjust to their minority status in society, and need to overcome their divisions in order to preserve their witness in their culturally resistant context. He believes that most German Christians are “too busy, too rich, and too secure in their everyday lives” to impact Germany with the Christian gospel. “I am praying that this will change, and I do not expect the changes to be quick; but maybe the next decade will contain some surprises,” he adds.
Contemporary Germany may be the European leader, but the Berlin Wall still casts a long shadow over the country’s economic, political and spiritual landscape.
The only way the Reformation could possibly not still matter, says MICHAEL REEVES, would be if beauty, goodness, truth, joy and human flourishing no longer mattered.
Some 120 years after the Reformation got going, some 120 scholars assembled in Westminster to write the necessary documents for a reformed church in England. The first question and answer of their Westminster Shorter Catechism is a beautiful, prize flower of Reformation thought:
What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
The glory of God and enjoyment of him: these inseparable, twin truths were guiding lights for the Reformation. The Reformers held that, through all the doctrines they had fought for and upheld, God was glorified and people were given comfort and joy.
Through justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ, God was glorified as utterly merciful and good, as both supremely holy and compassionate – and therefore people could find their comfort and delight in him. Through union with Christ, believers could know a firm standing before God, gleefully knowing him as their ‘Abba’, confident that he was powerful to save and keep to the uttermost. Without a priestly hierarchy detached from the world, believers could all call each other ‘brother’ and ‘sister’, living every part of life for the kind Father they had been brought to enjoy. It has been our belief in this book that the Reformers were right in this, and therefore the Reformation still matters, for through these truths lives can still blossom and flourish under the joy-giving light of God’s glory.
FEAR AND PRESUMPTION
A good test case of this can be seen in how differently Roman Catholic and Reformation theologies thought of our assurance of salvation. Can a believer know they are saved?
On the side of the Reformation, the Puritan Richard Sibbes argued that without such assurance we simply cannot live Christian lives as God would have us. God, he said, wants us to be thankful, cheerful, rejoicing and strong in faith: but we will be none of these things unless we are sure that God and Christ are ours for good. “There be many duties and dispositions that God requires which we can not be in without assurance of salvation on good grounds. What is that? God bids us be thankful in all things. How can I know that, unless I know God is mine and Christ is mine? … God enjoineth us to rejoice. ‘Rejoice, and again I say, rejoice,’ Philip, iv. 4. Can a man rejoice that his name is written in heaven, and not know his name is written there? … Alas! how can I perform cheerful service to God, when I doubt whether he be my God and Father or no? … God requires a disposition in us that we should be full of encouragements, and strong in the Lord; and that we should be courageous for his cause in withstanding his enemies and our enemies. How can there be courage in resisting our corruptions, Satan’s temptations? How can there be courage in suffering persecution and crosses in the world, if there be not some particular interest we have in Christ and in God?” 
Yet the very confidence that Sibbes upheld as a Christian privilege was damned by Roman Catholic theology as the sin of presumption. It was precisely one of the charges made against Joan of Arc at her trial in 1431. There, the judges proclaimed: “This woman sins when she says she is as certain of being received into Paradise as if she were already a partaker of … glory, seeing that on this earthly journey no pilgrim knows if he is worthy of glory or of punishment, which the sovereign judge alone can tell.” 
That judgment made complete sense within the logic of the system: if we can only enter heaven because we have (by God’s enabling grace) become personally worthy of it, of course nobody can be sure. By that line of reasoning, I can only have as much confidence in heaven as I have confidence in my own sinlessness. But while such thinking made sense in Roman Catholicism, it bred fear, not joy. The need to have personal merit before God left people terrified at the prospect of judgment.
You can still feel it when you see a medieval fresco of the Last Judgment; you can hear it in the words of the Dies Irae that would be chanted in every Catholic Mass for the Dead:
“Day of wrath, day that will dissolve the world into burning coals … What am I the wretch then to say? What patron I to beseech? When scarcely the just be secure. King of tremendous Majesty… do not lose me on that day … My prayers are not worthy, but do Thou, Good (God), deal kindly lest I burn in perennial fire.”
It was exactly why the young Luther shook with fear at the thought of death, and why he said he hated God (instead of enjoying him). He could not be thankful, cheerful, rejoicing and strong in faith, since he believed only in God as a judge who was against him. It was a view of God reinforced by a carving he would pass underneath every time he entered the city church in Wittenberg: “On a stone relief above the entrance to the cemetery surrounding the church, Luther saw, carved into the mandorla (an aureole shaped like an almond), Christ seated on the rainbow as judge of the world, so angry the veins stand out, menacing and swollen, on his forehead.” 
With his discovery that sinners are freely declared righteous in Christ, that all changed. No longer was his confidence for that day placed in himself: it all rested on Christ and his sufficient righteousness. And so the horrifying Doomsday became for him what he would call “the most happy Last Day”, the day of Jesus, his friend. The consolation it brought to all who held to Reformation theology was captured perfectly in the striking wording of the Heidelberg Catechism’s question and answer:
What comfort is it to you that Christ will come to judge the living and the dead?
In all my sorrow and persecution, I lift up my head and eagerly await as judge from heaven the very same person who before has submitted himself to the judgment of God for my sake, and has removed all the curse from me. 
Comfort in Christ for the struggling believer: that was the theology of the Reformation.
What happens to us after death was no sideshow issue for the Reformation. Luther’s very first skirmish – that October day in 1517 when he nailed his 95 theses to the church door – concerned purgatory. Purgatory provided relief for the problem that nobody would die righteous enough to have merited salvation fully. It was (and is) often viewed as a halfway house between heaven and hell – nowhere near as good as heaven, but not so bad as hell – but purgatory was meant to be a place exclusively for the saved. It was the place where Christian souls would go after death to have all their sins slowly purged from them. Through time in purgatory, sinners would be purified and made finally fit for heaven.
The doctrine of purgatory had got into full swing in the late Middle Ages, and fear of the place began to spawn a vast purgatory industry. Prayers and masses would be said for souls in purgatory, and special ‘chantries’ were founded, with priests dedicated to saying those prayers and masses for particular fortunate (wealthy) souls. And then, of course, there were indulgences: awards of merit handed out by the church to those who had earned (or bought) them. These indulgences could ‘top up’ an individual’s own personal merit before God, so fast-tracking them through purgatory, or even allowing them to leap-frog purgatory all together (with a ‘full’, or ‘plenary’ indulgence). It was an indulgence-monger, Johann Tetzel, who stung Luther into action with his blood-chilling religious marketeering. According to his notorious jingle, “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs”.
None of this has really disappeared from modern Roman Catholicism. The Catechism of the Catholic Church still affirms belief in purgatory and indulgences. Indeed, when Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the last things, he gave more pages to considering purgatory than to heaven and hell combined. And why not? When justification is thought of as a process of growth in righteousness (as it is in Roman Catholicism), purgatory and indulgences make sense. Without the righteousness of Christ given to us, how else can anyone be righteous enough for heaven, unless they have much more time to grow than this short life affords?
But to the Reformers, purgatory quickly came to symbolise all that was wrong with the Roman Catholic view of salvation. John Calvin argued clearly and bluntly that, “purgatory is a deadly fiction of Satan, which nullifies the cross of Christ, inflicts unbearable contempt upon God’s mercy, and overturns and destroys our faith. For what means this purgatory of theirs but that satisfaction for sins is paid by the souls of the dead after their death? Hence, when the notion of satisfaction is destroyed, purgatory itself is straightway torn up by the very roots. But if it is perfectly clear from our preceding discourse that the blood of Christ is the sole satisfaction for the sins of believers, the sole expiation, the sole purgation, what remains but to say that purgatory is simply a dreadful blasphemy against Christ?” 
His logic is simple: purgatory strips Christ of his glory as a merciful and fully-sufficient saviour; it also destroys any confident joy in us. No joy, no glory: it went entirely against the grain of Reformation thought, which cared so passionately about those twin prizes.
A PROTESTANT PURGATORY?
And yet. While Protestants have almost unanimously been averse to the idea of purgatory since the earliest days of the Reformation, things are changing. One of the darlings of modern evangelicalism, C. S. Lewis, was as winsome as ever when he turned his pen in support of some form of purgatory in The Great Divorce and Letters to Malcolm. He and others have made many think again with arguments that are as revealing as they are appealing.
Jerry Walls has assembled what is probably the most thorough case for a Protestant acceptance of purgatory, and his argument is worth hearing. Walls actually agrees with Calvin’s classic argument against purgatory, but suggests that there is another way to think of purgatory without falling foul of Calvin’s anathema. That is, purgatory could be thought of not as a place to pay off any remaining debt uncovered by the blood of Christ, but instead as a place where those who are already forgiven might go on to become fully holy and so fit for heaven. In other words, purgatory should be seen, not as a place of punishment, but as a school where the taste for holiness is cultivated such that graduates might fully enjoy heaven, instead of feeling out of place. There in purgatory, Christians will not get more forgiven (their forgiveness is complete), but they will get acclimatised to the holy atmosphere of heaven.
To illustrate, both Jerry Walls and C. S. Lewis turn to John Henry Newman’s poem, The Dream of Gerontius, the account of a soul’s journey from death to judgment and then purgatory. Near the end, the soul approaches the throne of God (and in order to appreciate the pathos of the moment, it is worth listening to Edward Elgar’s musical rendition of The Dream). At that point, the full orchestra blares out the terrifying holiness of God and in pitiful strains the soul cries out to be sent away to purgatory, unable to bear the dazzling brightness of God’s presence.
“Take me away, and in the lowest deep
There let me be, And there in hope the lone night-watches keep,
Told out for me.
There, motionless and happy in my pain,
Lone, not forlorn,—
There will I sing my sad perpetual strain,
Until the morn.
There will I sing, and soothe my stricken breast,
Which ne’er can cease
To throb, and pine, and languish, till possest
Of its Sole Peace.
There will I sing my absent Lord and Love:— Take me away,
That sooner I may rise, and go above,
And see Him in the truth of everlasting day. “
Now, Lewis and Walls may have sidestepped Calvin’s volley, but there remains something entirely incompatible with Reformation thought here. True, purgatory is not now meant to finish off the work of the cross in securing our atonement. The problem is to do with some of those other basic questions we have seen raised by the Reformation: What does God give us? Himself, or some other thing called ‘grace’? What is our new life? Knowing him, or being enabled by him for something else? Here in The Dream, the soul thinks (and we are clearly meant to agree with it) that holiness and transformation will best happen away from the presence of God. There, ‘lone’ and ‘absent’ from the Lord, self-soothing, the soul believes it will best mature. Apparently absence makes the heart grow fonder, even in eternity.
The soul’s logic is at complete odds with all we’ve seen, that we find our joy and we find ourselves transformed through our communion with God, by glorying in him. Our sanctification is not something God ever enables from a distance, with hands off. We find ourselves “transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory” precisely as we “contemplate the Lord’s glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Finally, when he appears, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
The soul claims to be ‘happy in my pain’, but the overwhelming tone of what it cries is one aching, stricken, ‘sad perpetual strain’. That is where any purgatory must leave it: belief in purgatory brings sadness and discomfort. Reformation thought, on the other hand, always sees joy found in the glory of God. True happiness is found pressing into (not away from) the brightness that purifies and heals.
S. D. G.
What the Reformers saw, especially through the message of justification by faith alone, was the revelation of an exuberantly happy God who glories in sharing his happiness. Not stingy or utilitarian, but a God who glories in being gracious. (That is why dependent faith glorifies him, according to Romans 4:20.) To steal from his glory by claiming any credit for ourselves would only steal our own joy in so marvellous a God.
And the glory of God, Calvin believed, can be seen not just in justification, the cross and the face of Christ: the whole world, he argued, is a theatre of God’s glory.  Throughout creation we see the sheer largesse of the creator: “Now if we ponder to what end God created food, we shall find that he meant not only to provide for necessity but also for delight and good cheer. … In grasses, trees, and fruits, apart from their various uses, there is beauty of appearance and pleasantness of odour [cf. Gen. 2:9]. For if this were not true, the prophet would not have reckoned them among the benefits of God, ‘that wine gladdens the heart of man, that oil makes his face shine’ [Ps. 104:15 p.]. … Has the Lord clothed the flowers with the great beauty that greets our eyes, the sweetness of smell that is wafted upon our nostrils, and yet will it be unlawful for our eyes to be affected by that beauty, or our sense of smell by the sweetness of that odour? … Did he not, in short, render many things attractive to us, apart from their necessary use?” 
That is why Johann Sebastian Bach, when satisfied with his compositions, would write on them ‘S. D. G.’ for Soli Deo Gloria (‘Glory to God Alone’). For through his music he wanted to sound out the beauty and glory of God, so pleasing both God and people. The glory of God, he believed, gratuitously rings out throughout creation, bringing joy wherever it is appreciated. And that is worth living for and promoting.
In fact, wrote Calvin, that is the secret of happiness and the secret of life. “For whatever the philosophers may have ever said of the chief good, it was nothing but cold and vain, for they confined man to himself, while it is necessary for us to go out of ourselves to find happiness. The chief good of man is nothing else but union with God.” 
Against everything we are told today, happiness is not found in ourselves, in appreciating our own beauty or convincing ourselves of it. Deep, lasting, satisfying happiness is found in the all-glorious God. All of which is really just another way of saying:
What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
JOY AND GLORY STILL MATTER
The only way the Reformation could possibly not still matter would be if beauty, goodness, truth, joy and human flourishing no longer mattered. We have been made to enjoy God, but without the great truths that the Reformers fought for which display God as glorious and enjoyable, we will not do so. Seeing less of him, we will be lesser and sadder. Seeing more of him, we will be fuller and happier. And on that note, we should leave the last words to John Calvin. This is why the Reformation still matters: “it will not suffice simply to hold that there is One whom all ought to honour and adore, unless we are also persuaded that he is the fountain of every good, and that we must seek nothing elsewhere than in him. … For until men recognise that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him — they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him.” 
The Crescent, the Cross and the collapse of a civilisation.
By DAVID ROBERTSON
It was a wonderful statement from the former Lutheran pastors daughter.She wanted her country to welcome in the refugees from the conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. Not for her the paltry 20,000 over five years that the United Kingdom promised to take. No, Mrs Merkel was prepared to take as many as wanted to come – and they did. Over 1 million were registered in Germany during 2015, four times the number that came in 2014.
And Germany is not the only country to welcome these refugees with open arms. Sweden has the highest proportion with 1575 per 100,000 population. Followed by Hungary, Austria, Norway, Finland and then Germany. France, Ireland and the UK are the least welcoming. Where are the refugees coming from? Syria is the largest source but is followed by Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, Albania and Pakistan. There are also significant numbers from Nigeria, Serbia and Ukraine.
But Chancellor Merkel’s largesse has turned somewhat sour – the New Year attacks in Cologne being one sign that the dream of a fully integrated Europe taking millions of the worlds poor and conflict victims, is in danger of turning into a nightmare. Denmark has introduced confiscation of goods; Sweden is sending back 80,000 asylum seekers and right wing anti-immigrant parties across Northern and Western Europe are set to make political capital.
As Christians reflect on this we need to do so without the sound bites that make a complex situation, simplistic. It is as foolish to claim that the Völkerwanderung of 2015 (on-going into 2016) is just simply an Islamist plot to take over Europe, as it is to assume that Europe is a Disneyland that can absorb every refugee and economic migrant without significant cost and change. As we reflect upon this, let us first of all identify the problem.
1. Secular Europeans do not understand nor comprehend that not everyone in the world shares their worldview.
Despite protestations to the contrary most liberal secular Europeans believe that their worldview and value system is at the top of the evolutionary tree. Self proclaimed ‘progressive’ countries regard other countries, especially religious ones, as being backward and regressive.
They also believe in the innate goodness of human beings (apart of course from those held back by religion) and that most people who come to Europe will immediately grasp the superiority of liberal values and want to ‘progress’ into this secular Nirvana. It therefore comes as a great shock when many of the immigrants refuse to immediately bow down to what are considered self-evident values and norms.
The historian Niall Ferguson warns that European hubris and pride is similar to that which preceded the fall of the Roman Empire.
“Like the Roman Empire in the early fifth century, Europe has allowed its defences to crumble,” Ferguson writes. “As its wealth has grown, so its military prowess has shrunk, along with its self-belief. It has grown decadent in its shopping malls and sports stadiums. At the same time it has opened its gates to outsiders who have coveted its wealth without renouncing their ancestral faith.”
The Roman Empire was complacent, thinking it would always exist. The European secular elites have forgotten from whence they came and are living on borrowed time in a fanciful world where they are the masters and everyone wants to be like them.
2. Secular Europeans do not understand that religions are different.
In their narrative all religions are and must be the same. Therefore they must all be treated the same.
At its mildest level the ‘neutrality’ of the secular state means that all religions will be tolerated provided they have little or no influence in public policy. Privatised religion is to be regarded as a private club, much as a golf club, line dancing society or ‘Trekkie’ group.
But in the stronger sense the myth of all religions being effectively the same results in misunderstanding, intolerance and the view that if one religion is dangerous then they must all be treated as such.
Thus in Britain there is a problem with extremist Islamic infiltration of some schools, and so the British government proposes measures which will result in Christian youth camps and Sunday schools being inspected! In order to limit the Islamic extremists, freedom of speech must be limited for all, in order to appear fair.
3. Secular Europeans do not understand their own Christian heritage
The more militant and ideologically driven secularists see the Islamist threat as an opportunity. The following was posted on a leading UK Secularist website at the beginning of 2016 – “We must confront terrorism and extremism on all fronts but we can’t very well ‘confront Islamism’ unless we confront Christianity as well I’m afraid and every other religion come to that. If we are to confront bigotry and lies and indoctrination then this applies to Christianity far more in this country than it actually does to Islam and is, sadly, still a woven in part of the fabric of the nation.”
Although some, like Richard Dawkins who recently warned that removing Christianity might result in something far worse coming in, are beginning to reassess the situation, not many are prepared to see that the rejection of Europe’s Christian heritage is the source of the problem.
4. Secular Europeans do not understand Islam
It is not just the militant secularists who see an opportunity. So do the fascists and racists of the far right. Most of us do not want to be considered racist and so we speak of Islam as a religion of peace and have invented yet another phobia to add to our growing list – Islamaphobia. The trouble is that both the racists and the apologists for Islam are making the category error of confusing race with religion.
But Islam is not a race. Nor is it just a religion – at least in the sense of the privatized notion of religion held by the secular liberals. It is also at heart a deeply political system that does not recognize the separation between church and state that has been at the very heart of modern European civilization. There is no Muslim country in the world that grants freedom of religion or real freedom of religious expression to its citizens.
I spoke at a ‘liberal’ Islamic institution whose aim is to encourage Middle Eastern Muslims in PhD work with a more ‘liberal’ Islamic perspective. My subject was ‘the Muslim doctrine of tolerance’. I asked the students if they thought that the state should punish Muslims who left Islam. To my complete astonishment whilst only one thought that apostasy should be punishable by death, all the others thought that imprisonment or fines should be enacted by the State. This was meant to be the liberal version of Islam!
Even in Europe it is very difficult for many Muslims to convert or change their faith. I have been involved in situations where police protection has been required for such, and indeed they have been compelled to move away from their hometown because of the threats to their life.
SO WHAT SHOULD BE THE CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO THIS CRISIS?
Stricter immigration controls may be part of the answer but they are not the solution. We have a responsibility to help asylum seekers and genuine refugees. Nor is it right to descend to the level of keeping out Muslims – such an action would only fuel the grievances already felt by many. We cannot rely on our secular humanists to run the State based on their liberal delusions and these misunderstandings of both Islam and Christianity.
In the 4th and 5th Centuries Augustine, bishop of Hippo in North Africa, faced up to a similar crisis when Rome was threatened with the Barbarian hordes. He wrote his magnificent ‘’The City of God’ which looked at the relationship between secular and religious authorities. Rome fell. And two centuries later North Africa and eventually much of Europe fell to the Islamic warriors. But the Church continued.
The survival of the Christian church then did not depend on the survival of Rome or Carthage. The survival of the Church today does not depend on Europe. But the survival of Europe as we know it certainly depends on the Church. Not the weak pathetic secular humanized version of Christianity that merely apes the fashions of the liberal elites, nor the fascistic ‘white Christian’ supremacist of the right wing groups currently gaining so much traction. We need a robust, biblical, Christ centered, open, compassionate and robust church.
If the Lord in his mercy does not grant such a revival and renewal, then Christian Europe is finished, and it will be replaced, not by the secular nirvana of the liberal fantasists, but rather by either the fascism of a totalitarian religion, or the fascism of a totalitarian State.
In the 20th Century Europe almost destroyed itself in two great wars, but was spared and eventually flourished. We pray that in the 21st we will see not more great wars and instead that there would be peace and prosperity. But in order for that to happen we will need to see the spiritual and ideological battle won.
David Robertson Assistant Director, Solas Centre for Public Christianity
Welcome to the fifth issue of Solas, the magazine that continues to grow and develop! This month, we have the usual range of articles, from politics and ethics, to arts and culture. The main theme is on bioethics, which for some people, at first glance, might not seem all that important until you realise that it really is a matter of life and death.
Recently, I have been reading a fascinating old book by the atheist philosopher-turned-Christian, C.E.M Joad, The Recovery of Belief (published in 1952). He asserts that the “progressive” atheistic view of humanity results in an arrogance and hubris that will inevitably be self-destructive. “Having raised himself by dint of his own efforts from the level of the animals, he will probably continue to evolve into something greater than himself (Nietzsche, it will be remembered, was still praying of the Superman). Man, in fact, is the highest expression of the spirit of the universe, a spirit which will one day, if it has not done so y et, raise itself in and through his agency to the level of the divine. God, in fact, as Alexander suggested, is waiting to be evolved by man’s efforts. When he arrives, he will be man’s handiwork and man’s descendant.”
It has ever been thus.
It is a short road from the temptation of the devil in the garden – “you shall be as gods” – to the modern arrogance of a humanity which thinks we are the top of the evolutionary tree and can only get better.
Joad became a Christian after observing the inhumanity of humanity in World War Two. The horrors of that war were caused and facilitated by philosophies which believed in the inevitable progress of humanity, the bankruptcy of religion and the emergence of Superman. Another atheist philosopher, John Gray, cites Lewis Namier: “Hitler and the Third Reich were the gruesome and incongruous consummation of an age which, as none other, believed in progress and felt assured it was being achieved.”
After both World Wars, that turn-of-the-century confidence in the inevitable goodness and progression of humanity took a hit. But it appears that as we move on we forget our history and so seem doomed to repeat it. Christians are the ultimate humanists because we recognise that humanity without God becomes inhuman. As humans exchange the glory of the God in whose image we are made, for the lie that we shall be as gods, we end up as dehumanised animals.
In this month’s issue, Dr Calum MacKellar tells us about the return of eugenics to Europe; Gavin Matthews gives us some fascinating statistics about how we value human life (which in Christian terms is much more than a statistic); and Dr Megan Best has a wonderful article on how we seek to control dying, as we are seeking to control birth. She sums up the whole situation well: “I wonder if our community discussion about euthanasia is not so much about pain control as a desire to control dying itself. We do not need a ‘right to die’ – death is coming to each of us all too predictably, and modern autonomous man is not ready. We have lost our traditions, we don’t know how to die, we have lost our vocabulary to discuss the existential questions which death demands of us – why are we here, what is it all about, where are we going?”
As humans exchange the glory of the God in whose image we are made, for the lie that we shall be as gods, we end up as dehumanised animals.
Nola Leach makes a strong case for better palliative care, and John Dickson talks about our reaction to the elites’ attmpt to redefine marriage. It is beyond irony that the article he posted was censored by Facebook. It appears that the elites don’t like any challenge to their worldview (one of the reasons that Solas exists!).
This is, as always, an international issue of Solas. Gordon Menzies reflects on democracy and Donald Trump; Jeff Fountain on the freedom of the Dutch Republic; and Christine King on Christians in France. At a time of crucial importance for the European Union, Guy Brandon gives us some thoughts on a new vision for the EU.
Among our usual array of arts and culture articles, Susan Mansfield gives us insight into the work of the 16th century Dutch painter, Hieronymus Bosch; Mark Hadley makes the case for using Emojis; and there are book reviews by Gavin Matthews of The Varieties of Religious Repression, and Edward Manger of Faith in the New Millenium, the Future of Religion and American Politics – both dealing with vital topics. Such variety in one issue!
Solas is not a magazine where you will find you agree with every word written! It is designed to stimulate you to think, challenge you to pray and inspire you to action. Get yourself a cup of coffee (or whatever your favourite beverage is), sit down in peace and quiet and, as Augustine was told, “Tolle lege” (take and read).
As always, your comments and feedback are much appreciated. We are almost entirely dependent on subscriptions and our best advocates are those who already subscribe and enjoy. Use the magazine Facebook page – facebook.com/solasmagazine – to spread the word!
David Robertson Asst. Director, Solas Centre for Public Christianity
DR CALUM MACKELLAR considers the ethics of the editing of human genes in the creation of embryos.
THE word “eugenics”, which is derived from two Greek roots “eu” (good) and “genesis” (birth), describes selection strategies or decisions aimed at affecting, in ways which are considered to be positive, the genetic heritage of a child, a community or humanity in general. It was the Englishman, Sir Francis Galton, who coined the term “eugenics” in 1883, as he sought to implement into human beings selection procedures for inherited characteristics which had already been used with success in animal breeding programmes.
“If we don’t play God, who will?”
At the beginning of the 20th century, eugenic ideas were actually being considered by many prominent people, such as Theodore Roosevelt who became United States President in 1913.
Sir Winston Churchill, wartime Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was openly disappointed when Britain resisted eugenic action on the grounds of civil liberties. In 1910, he wrote to the then-British Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, expressing his support for legislation that proposed to introduce a compulsory sterilisation program in the UK, saying: “The unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feeble-minded and insane classes, coupled as it is with a steady restriction among the thrifty , energetic and superior stocks, constitutes a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate … I feel that the source from which the stream of madness is fed should be cut off and sealed up before another year has passed.”
It was only because of a deep aversion towards the atrocities implemented by Nazi Germany, that eugenic ideology was put on hold for so many years. But with the consequences of such abuse now becoming an ever-fading memory, pressure is now returning for a new eugenics. For example, American Nobel Prize laureate and co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule, James Watson, wrote in 1995: “But diabolical as Hitler was, and I don’t want to minimise the evil he perpetuated using false genetic arguments, we should not be held hostage to his awful past. For the genetic dice will continue to inflict cruel fates on all too many individuals and their families who do not deserve this damnation. Decency demands that someone must rescue them from genetic hells. If we don’t play God, who will?”
Even as recently as 2015, a headline in the UK Daily Telegraph newspaper stated that: “Eugenics need not be a dirty word – instead, it could be lifesaving technology.”
This push towards a new eugenics is also being encouraged in the UK by the acceptance, in 2015, of gene-editing procedures in human embryos for research whereby specific variants of genes are edited by removing or inserting genetic material into cells.
It is true that not all gene-editing procedures are eugenic in nature. For example, if the editing takes place on a mature embryo in order to address a genetic disorder, this can only be seen as a positive development. Such applications would not raise many new significant ethical problems, apart from safety.
But if a genetic modification takes place either (1) on the sperm and egg cells before they are used or (2) during fertilisation, such as in the formation of a one-cell embryo, a new individual who would not otherwise have existed, is being created. This has a clear eugenic element since a new individual would exist and not another (who may for example have had a genetic disorder). What is being proposed, therefore, is not a form of therapy. No existing person is being treated or cured for a disorder. Instead, it is making sure that certain persons are not brought into existence. This is because any individual brought into existence through these procedures would be a very different person from the one who would, otherwise, have existed with the genetic disorder.
What is being proposed, therefore, is not a form of therapy. No existing person is being treated or cured for a disorder. Instead, it is making sure that certain persons are not brought into existence.
Of course, it is possible to ask what is ethically wrong in making sure that only healthy and not disabled children are brought into existence. Why not make sure that children who will have a short and difficult life of suffering are not brought into existence, especially if it becomes possible to undertake such a procedure without the destruction of any embryos?
In response to these questions, it must be recognised that it is difficult to see how parents can decide not to have certain kinds of children, without making a judgment that some children are less desirable. It follows, that when parents make a decision that only a certain kind of child should be brought into existence, based solely on genetic factors, this can only mean making a eugenic choice and preferring one child over another. In other words, this decision contradicts the important principle that the lives of all human beings have the same worth and value, regardless of their state of health.
Indeed, if “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity”, as stipulated in Article 1 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, how can a choice between two supposedly equal future persons be made?
Suggesting that choice should be available to make sure that certain kinds of children are not brought into existence, may also mean that there is such a thing as a “life unworthy of life” in society As the international legal ethicist Roberto Andorno explains: “In reality, eugenic ideology presupposes stepping from a ‘worthiness of life’ culture to a ‘quality of life’ culture. In other words, to the idea that not every life is worthy of being lived, or to put it more bluntly, that there are some lives that do not have any worth.”
It is impossible not to have much sympathy for parents who have children affected by severe disability and suffering.
Moreover, the despair and desolation of parents whose children have died because of a genetic disorder is profound and long lasting. But, when talking to these parents, it is always the disorder and not the very existence of the child that has been the cause of so much heartache. Moreover, none of the parents say they would have wanted to exchange their child for another, healthier one.
But if intentional eugenic selection through gene editing was made possible, it would in the words of the 2015 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Bioethics Committee, “jeopardise the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life.”
Moreover, if parents decide to avoid having a child affected by a serious genetic disorder, the indirect message given to persons who have already been born with the same disorder is that they should also not have existed. This is clearly discriminatory and would undermine the inherent equality of all human persons.Because of this, it is unfortunate that the UK has decided to ignore the lessons of history in its acceptance of eugenic genetic editing of early human embryos, which undermines its reputation as a responsible civilised state. It is also extremely regrettable that it is continuing its solitary path in Europe of disregarding international law on the matter, such as the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which asserts in Article 3 that, “In the fields of medicine and biology …the prohibition of eugenic practices, in particular those aiming at the selection of persons”, must be respected.
Dr. Calum MacKellar Director of Research, Scottish Council on Human Bioethics. As well as being a member of a UK National Health Service Research Ethics Committee in Edinburgh, he is a Fellow with The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity. Since 2010, he has also been a Visiting Lecturer and Visiting Professor in bioethics at St Mary’s University in London.
It’s time to stand against atheist agenda and regain the vision for education in Europe. BY DAVID ROBERTSON
The former British prime minister, Tony Blair, once issued the mantra “education, education, education”. At least he recognised how important the subject is. In this he was echoing the priorities of John Knox who declared that where there was a church, there should be a school, thereby laying the foundation for an education system that was the envy of the world.
As a result, Scotland became known as the land of the people of the book, and exported engineers, military leaders, politicians, doctors, teachers and missionaries all over the world. And it was not just Scotland – everywhere Christianity spread in Europe, it brought education. The Reformation resulted in the establishment of universities and schools wherever it was successful. But how things have changed.
The current narrative is that it is now religion that is holding back education and that the more educated you are, the less likely you are to be religious. We have moved to a situation where education is seen as a means to get rid of religion, and where state education systems are increasingly being used to indoctrinate children into a liberal secular humanism and to socially engineer children for their future roles in society. Education is now seen as the primary means to advance an atheistic secularist agenda.
In Birmingham, England, concern was rightly expressed at how some Islamic groups were using the state education system as a “Trojan Horse” to inculcate Islamist ideology within society. But we are missing the bigger picture. A relatively small group of elitist secularists are also using the education system as a Trojan Horse to inculcate their ideology upon an unsuspecting populace. The results are catastrophic, at least in my country, Scotland.
“A relatively small group of elitist secularists are … using the education system as a Trojan Horse to inculcate their ideology upon an unsuspecting populace. The results are catastrophic …”
All is not well in Scotland’s education system. There is a real and well-founded concern about declining standards, lack of aspiration and above all, a kind of educational apartheid which means that if you are rich enough you can either send your child to a private school (as do one-third of parents in Edinburgh) or buy a house in the catchment area of a “good” school. The lack of parental involvement, the remodelling of schools into centres for social engineering rather than education, the low morale amongst many teachers, and the obsession of politicians with figures and targets, are all indications of a struggling system.
What has gone wrong? AA Hodge, the former principal of Princeton Seminary, gave a fascinating lecture to women’s groups in the 1880s that helps us understand. “The tendency [of those who promote public education] is to hold that this system must be altogether secular,” said Hodge. “The atheistic doctrine is gaining currency, even among professed Christians and even among some bewildered Christian ministers, that an education provided by the common government should be entirely emptied of all religious character … it is capable of exact demonstration that if every party in the State has the right of excluding from the public schools whatever he does not believe to be true, then he that believes most must give way to him that believes least, and then he that believes least must give way to him that believes absolutely nothing, no matter in how small a minority the atheists or the agnostics may be. It is self-evident that on this scheme, if it is consistently and persistently carried out in all parts of the country, the United States system of national popular education will be the most efficient and widespread instrument for the propagation of Atheism [naturalism, humanism, etc.] which the world has ever seen.”
Hodge’s warning was true for the United States of the 19th century. It has come true in the Europe of the 21st. Under the guise of secularism and “equality” the education system is being used to indoctrinate children into an atheistic worldview.
Recently, I visited fourth-year students at a local high school, in order to speak about science and Christianity. The pupils were openly aggressive (apart from a couple of Muslims and one Christian) suggesting that only ignorant people believed in God, and that was just because of their culture and family. When I asked how many of them had parents who believed – or friends, or teachers – they all responded that there was virtually no one. They did not see the irony of their claiming that belief only came from culture, family, education, when it was clear that their unbelief came from just precisely that. It was not a product of reasoned thought, evaluating evidence or reflecting on different worldviews. They had been indoctrinated in such an effective way that they did not see that they had been indoctrinated!
And make no mistake. This is what the fundamentalist atheist secularists such as Richard Dawkins are doing. This is a battle. It used to be thought that children were born with a “tabula rasa”, a blank slate. Whilst the notion that people are born atheist is still an argument you will hear in more ignorant circles online, most psychologists accept this is not the case. Indeed, Dawkins cites Dorothy Kelman who argues that children are born creationists and need to be educated out of it. He also argues that bringing up children in a particular faith can be worse than child sexual abuse. “Horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing up the child Catholic in the first place” – a claim he made in front of an audience of Dublin intellectuals that was greeted with loud applause.
Dawkins then goes on to cite with approval, the psychologist Nicholas Humphreys: “Children, I’ll argue, have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas – no matter who those other people are … So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or to lock them in a dungeon.”
The notion that keeping children away from religion will somehow save the world is a fanciful one which ignores logic, common sense and human history. As regards the latter, I am reminded of an asylum seeker in the Netherlands whom I met a few years ago. She was an educated doctor from Azerbaijan who had experienced the horrors of religious ethnic cleansing, having been forced from her country by Muslim fundamentalists. You would expect that having experienced the evil effects of some religion she would have been supportive of Dawkins’ point of view. But when I discussed it with her she completely disagreed.
“We spent 70 years,” she told me, “70 years when we were not allowed to be taught about God. We lived in an atheist state where only atheism was taught. They even tried to ban God from our homes.” The results were all too clearly seen in the atheist Soviet Union. The philosophy, presuppositions and ideas of fundamentalist atheistic secularism have been tried and found wanting.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
There is no reason why we just have to accept the atheistic secularist agenda as the default one. Perhaps we need to go the human rights route? The United Nations Charter on Human Rights declares, in Article 26, that “everyone has the right to education” and that “education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages”. It also states, as an absolute principle, that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children”.
The European Convention on Human Rights Protocol 1 Article 2, states “in the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and teaching, the state shall respect the rights of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions”.
Christians need to stand for this human right. Not just for our children and ourselves, but for all the people of Europe. In some areas, of course, this is already happening. In the Netherlands, for example, there are three main education sectors: state, religious and non-denominational independent. More than two-thirds of government-funded schools are independent, most of them Catholic or Protestant. In order to receive such funding these schools must have more than 260 pupils, have licensed teachers, and cover an agreed curriculum and standards. Why could such a system not exist in other countries? In this respect the Dutch churches have remained far truer to their heritage than many other European churches.
It is important to note that Christians are not just concerned with protecting our own children. We want to serve the poor. If churches were allowed to return to the vision of John Knox (where there is a church, there should be a school), then a huge army of volunteers and resources would be unleashed for the good of all, not just the privileged few. Christians build and support schools. Atheistic secularists take them over, cuckoo like.
“It is important to note that Christians are not just concerned with protecting our own children. We want to serve the poor… Christians build and support schools. Atheistic secularists take them over, cuckoo like.”
One example of faith-based schools helping rather than hindering the poor is seen in the Catholic system in Scotland. Anthony Finn, professor in education at the University of Glasgow, examined 99 school inspection reports between 2012 and 2014. He found that 51 per cent of inspection outcomes in Catholic schools were rated “excellent” or “very good”. This compared with 30 per cent in non-denominational schools. While 36 per cent of inspections in non-denominational schools were graded “weak” or “unsatisfactory”, in Catholic schools the figure was 13 per cent. Many of these schools were in socially deprived areas.
But is this not a recipe for division? No – it is an argument for diversity. Those who argue for a state-imposed uniformity really want a one-size-fits-all education, just as long as it is their size. They want to exclude Christianity from the classroom and thus use the education system to impose their own particular doctrines. The results are proving devastating.
“Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education”(Bertrand Russell). A limited education which is more about preparing people for jobs and social engineering, is leading to an increasingly dumbed-down society. Instead of tolerance, diversity of views, and people being allowed to question, our Western educational establishments are being taken over by an authoritarian, feelings-based irrationality that seeks to squash any dissent from the doctrines of its faith (the first of which is that it is not a faith and does not have any doctrines!). It is as though some mixture of Brave New World and 1984 is being used to create a workforce that dare not question the new all-powerful Liberal establishment. The Australian comedian Neel Kolhatkar sums it up brilliantly in his Youtube clip entitled “Modern Educayshun”
I do not want a Stalinist system which bans Christianity from school and home. Nor do I want an American secularist model that leaves the wealthy and middle class to send their children to private schools (often based on Christian principles) whilst often allowing the poor to rot in an under-funded state system based on a poor philosophy of education. Teaching children on the basis of Christian principles of love, mutual respect, inquiry, truth and justice is not abuse. Denying children the opportunity to a decent education because of the bias of your philosophy – that is abuse.
“Teaching children on the basis of Christian principles of love, mutual respect, inquiry, truth and justice is not abuse. Denying children the opportunity to a decent education because of the bias of your philosophy – that is abuse.”
An open education system, where Christianity has its full rights in the post-modern marketplace, would be of great benefit to the whole of Europe. But will the fundamentalist ideology of the secular humanists even contemplate allowing it?
We call upon the governments of Europe to recognise the value of Christian education, to establish a voucher system or equivalent, and to come out of the corporatism of the mid-20th century, into the progressive enlightenment of the 21st. Set education free and give parents real choice.
We also call upon the churches to start taking education seriously again. To pray, think, act, invest resources and look for the highest quality education for all. It’s time for Christians in Europe to regain the Christian vision for education in Europe, as explained by Vishnal Mangelwadi in The Book That Made Your World: “In the absence of a coherent worldview, secular education is fragmenting knowledge. Unrelated bits of information give no basis to grasp a vision like Comenius’s to change the world through education. The secular university knows no Messiah that promises a kingdom to the poor, the weak, the sick and the sorrowing destitute.”
Note: The 2013 Solas Conference was on the role of Christianity in Education. Mike Reeves, Sinclair Ferguson, Luc Brussiere and I all gave talks on various aspects of education. You can find out more about these talks on the Solas website: solas-cpc.org
Solas book editor GAVIN MATTHEWS talks to acclaimed Christian apologist ALISTER MCGRATH about his new book, Inventing the Universe.
Tell us about Inventing the Universe. What is it about, why did you write it, and who is it for?
I wrote it because I wanted to explain the kind of journey I made from being an atheist who thought that science explained everything, to being a Christian who sees science as filling in parts of a picture, but who sees that there is a bigger picture as well. So I am writing this for anyone who is interested in the whole area of science and faith, particularly for scientists who are Christians who want to articulate the way they think more clearly, or for other people who just want to know that there are ways of holding science and faith together.
Something of an intellectual autobiography as well, then?
Well, it is actually, yes! I’m saying that over a 40-year period, this is what I have come to think. This is what I have found my way towards, and if it helps others, I’ll be delighted!
In the book you refer to the “warfare model” of Science versus Christianity. Why do you think that it has come to dominate the public discourse, and created such a problem for allowing Christian apologeticsto gain a fair hearing?
I think it’s become a defining narrative or our culture. In part, because it has been propagated by a media who tend to just repeat what everyone’s said in the past. But more importantly, I think New Atheism has made this conflict narrative normative. I think that when you have very influential cultural figures supporting this, it’s quite difficult to break that stranglehold. And so we need to tell a different story and show that it makes more sense and that it’s much more exciting and attractive.
How can we help people to hear Christian apologetics when their ‘plausibility structure’ has already told them that what we are saying is irrelevant?
Well what I think you need to do is to say, ‘look, here is a narrative which has been suppressed. Here is a way of thinking that people are trying to drown out’. They find it threatening, they find it challenging, and we need to say that they may not like it but they’ve got to hear it. They owe it to us to give us a hearing. I think that is something we need to say. CS Lewis, in his sermon The Weight of Glory, says that the dominant narrative in our culture is, ‘what you see is what you get’, and he says we have been ‘entranced’ by that, and we need to break that spell! And then he says the way of breaking a spell is by casting a better spell. What he means is presenting Christianity in an attractive, intelligible and an imaginatively compelling way, so that people stop and say, ‘we’ve got to think about this’. And we haven’t done that very well.
And the media is captured by the conflict model, which prevents people like you being heard at the public level, I suppose?
It’s become the dominant media narrative. Charles Taylor’s book, The Secular Age, talks about how this happens. The difficulty is that once a narrative takes root, anyone who contradicts it is seen as being irrational. And Taylor says that once that mindset develops it’s very hard to break it. We’ve got to see ourselves as a counter-culture, a fifth-column, (or something like that). We are subversives who are challenging the dominant narrative, firstly because it’s wrong, but secondly, because we’re pressing a much more meaningful and exciting narrative.
And your book is doing that?
Well, it’s a small step in that direction. Scholarship disproved this ‘conflict narrative’ a generation ago, but it’s taken ages for it to filter through to the media, who keep on repeating this old-fashioned, outdated approach.
The book made a lot of scientific ideas accessible to a non-scientist like me, which I found exciting.
Well, it is written for a general audience, although I think scientists will particularly like it. I’ve just been debating a leading British humanist and physicist, and actually we had an incredibly civil and interesting conversation, because basically my science is right! That makes it much harder for atheists to write it off. If you do that, it gets a really good conversation underway.
Interesting that you were speaking to a physicist. Is it harder to be a biologist who is a believer than a physicist?
I think the answer is ‘yes’, and that’s partly because if you think of someone like Richard Dawkins, biology has been ‘weaponised’, whereas physics has not. If anything, physics is going in the other direction. Physics is generally supportive of a theistic worldview. Biology, precisely because (if it’s interpreted in a certain way) seems to be anti-theistic, it is being seized upon and made into the weapon of choice by those who want to continue the conflict narrative and offer an atheist apologetic.
The idea of ‘multiple maps’ is important in the book. What are they?
What I mean is, science gives us one bit of the big picture – religion gives us another bit. We want to see the whole, and that means we need to recognise that science is going to tell us some things, but not others. You can approach things from only one perspective but that’s simply unacceptable because you leave out massive things like the issue of meaning, the issue of value and so on. The idea of ‘multiple maps’ ensures that you have a full palate of colours to do justice to the richness of the world, our experience and so on.
So ‘multiple maps’ challenges Christian fundamentalists, too?
Absolutely! What they’re doing is locking themselves into a very small area and are not able to dialogue with anyone beyond that. The method I’m adopting is a wonderful platform for apologetics because it is saying, ‘look, we can talk and have a very good conversation’. Christianity has a marvellous contribution to make, it cannot be ridiculed, it cannot be ignored; there is something very significant here which needs to be heard.
If ‘multiple maps’ are an important idea in the book, ‘scientism’ seems to be the major target. What do you mean by ‘scientism’?
Scientism is a non-scientific viewpoint which says that science answers all meaningful questions. So, science tells us what the meaning of life is, it tells us what is good and what is bad. Sam Harris, in his book The Moral Landscape, takes that line. My point is simply that this is an abuse of science! Science is science, you’ve got to make sure that you respect it, not convert it into something else. When science is done properly it has limits, and that is the best way of preserving its identity, its integrity. I am protesting strongly against those scientists who exaggerate the explanatory capacity of science.
So why does scientism persist?
It’s partly a power play because some scientists feel threatened by cultural developments which they see as marginalising themselves. But the real answer goes back to that conflict narrative. It sees intellectual history as a trajectory from the dark ages, to a modern, enlightenment period in which reason and science are the drivers of progress. Therefore, science is the guarantor of rationality and progress, and anything else, such as religion, is seen as backward and unhelpful. However, that is a worldview, not an empirical observation. That is the imposition of a worldview which science is being ‘weaponised’ to consolidate.
You write books faster than I can read them.Where is your research taking you next?
I get excited by things and love writing about them! Well, the next big book is going to be about human nature. It is going to be looking at scientific, cultural, and philosophical insights, and argue that there is a big problem in the naive enlightenment view of humanity, which still dominates Western culture, but there’s a better way of looking at it. It will be very sympathetic towards traditional Christian ideas of ‘The Image of God’ and sin and so on. So it will be absolutely rigorous, but at the same time it will bring a perspective which often isn’t heard. There is a major discussion underway right now about human nature that is essential to many political, social, and religious debates. It will be published around Easter 2017.
Alister McGrath is the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University, and Fellow of Harris Manchester College, Oxford. He is the author of many academic and theological works, as well as the bestsellingThe Dawkins Delusionand his acclaimedCS Lewis – A Life.
Inventing the Universe, by Alister McGrath, is printed by Hodder and Stoughton and is available from leading bookstores and online, for £20.
War correspondent Michael Ware talks to Solas reviewer MARK HADLEY about his new documentary that details his descent into the darkness that is al Qaeda and Islamic State.
RELEASE DATE: November/December 2015
He is as Australian as they come and during our interview I get a sense of the “down under” jocularity that must have helped carry Michael Ware through the worst horrors the Middle East has to offer. After more than seven years as a war correspondent and bureau chief living in Iraq, Ware has decided to release a documentary on the dark heart of the Middle East called Only The Dead. However, he freely admits that he is as much a part of its story as the terrorists he chronicles.
“In one sense this story takes place in the pre-history of what we now call the Islamic State,” Ware relates over the phone. “But the focus of the narrative are my dealings with the man who created the Islamic State and what my pursuit of him not only revealed about the war itself, but what it revealed about me.”
Ware’s experience is hard to overrate. He began his war correspondent years reporting on the Indonesian invasion of East Timor for Time magazine in 2000, before transferring to Afghanistan to follow the United States hunt for al Qaeda. From 2003 onwards, he followed American troops right into the heart of Baghdad with the onset of the Iraq War. There, he began reporting for CNN as well as becoming Time’s Baghdad bureau chief.
Ware is one of the few mainstream reporters to live in Iraq near-continuously since before the American invasion, so it’s not surprising he also worked hard to cultivate contacts with Kurdish fighters and the Iraqi insurgency. This, he says, exposed him to a type of virulent religion that even then he realised would have far-reaching implications. “It was like being able to see our future unfold right then and there in front of me,” he tells me. “I could see from what was going on around me that this kind of militant Islam was going to keep impacting upon us, not just in that region but around the world for generations to come.”
Only The Dead is pieced together from the horrors Ware witnessed and filmed during those times, though it doesn’t aim to pass judgment on the conflict itself or even most of the combatants. First and foremost it is an examination of Ware’s own descent into the evil he was reporting on. His profession leads him to become a bloodhound for bad news. As the Gulf War and insurgency years unfold on screen, we witness his relationship with Islamic fighters deepen until he eventually becomes a go-between for the infamous al Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his horrific media campaign. The result is not only a terrifying revelation of the barbarous acts taking place but the transformation of the very normal people caught up in them, including the narrator: “I felt [Zarqawi] had made me complicit somehow in his war. [But] if he was obscene, the dark idea of him was becoming perverse.”
Only The Dead is both riveting and revolting; a film that should be viewed with extreme caution, but viewed nonetheless. The European community continues to reel from the consequences of an ongoing conflict that has displaced millions, recruited the vulnerable to participate in horrific acts and given rise to stunning human rights abuses. In that respect, Only The Dead’s disturbing images have little new to offer. Terrorist and news organisations alike have already colonised the internet with equally disturbing pictures. However, what Ware offers is a spiritual dimension on the conflict that is barely mentioned in the mainstream media.
‘The result is not only a terrifying revelation of the barbarous acts taking place but the transformation of the very normal people caught up in them’
Thinking back on the daily exposure to death and mayhem, Ware says it’s extraordinary what one can become accustomed to. War became his norm. “I found a hidden darkness lurking in my soul that I never knew I had, and that’s what we hope is the broader conversation that comes out of this film,” he says. “This is an opportunity for all of us to look at that human condition, that light and that dark that dwells inside each and every one of us.”
Only The Dead takes its name from a quote variously attributed to General Douglas MacArthur and Plato, but most likely the work of 20th century philosopher George Santayana: “The poor fellows think they are safe! They think that the war is over! Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
Ware uses the thought to reflect on humanity’s seeming inability to leave violence behind. His narration wonders whether we will ever be able to move beyond the sort of inhumanity that characterised the Taliban, al Qaeda and now the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). It’s not just the perpetrators or the victims who are transformed by such extreme violence, but those who report on it, and even we who watch it. Ware contemplates his years of concentrating on Zarqawi and concludes the terrorist’s atrocities wore away at his soul, reducing his essential humanity: “Zarqawi’s men kept on fighting, the dark idea he had unleashed too powerful to contain. He showed us recesses in our hearts we didn’t know we had. I was just so twisted up inside. At some dark hour I became a man I never thought I’d be.”
Ware reached this conclusion when he found himself filming the slow death of an Iraqi insurgent who had been wounded by US Marines. His unrelenting camera work testifies more than his words how unconcerned he had become. With intense sincerity he tells me on the telephone: “We need to acknowledge this darkness within the human soul because only by coming to some understanding of it can we ever truly hope to embrace the light.” As a Christian I can’t help but agree. Jesus would have said only those who know they are sick welcome the doctor. But Ware’s experience with al Qaeda has also left him with a distinct conviction about where the root of the documentary’s darkness lies.
“One of the greatest killers in the world is T.B. – true believers,” he tells me. “It’s not Islam that has a problem, it’s absolutism. Anyone who believes so firmly in the righteousness of their own ideas that no new information or evidence can change that blinkered view …” his voice trails off, his frustration evident. “These are people you cannot negotiate with.”
“We need to acknowledge this darkness within the human soul because only by coming to some understanding of it can we ever truly hope to embrace the light” – Michael Ware
Ware is not the first person to point to fundamentalists as the authors of some of history’s darkest chapters. Look beyond the Iraq War to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Europe’s Thirty Years War, the Crusades … and you can start to see why some people think religion in particular makes people angry. As Christians we might instinctively rise to defend the charge by pointing to the many good things believers have done in God’s name. However, we’d do well to consider that religion was the primary motivation for the zealots who opposed Jesus.
In the Gospel of Mark, the Pharisees come into conflict with Jesus over a number of specifically religious questions like fasting and forgiveness, with the flashpoint becoming appropriate behaviour on the Sabbath. Jesus heals a man with a shrivelled hand, telling the Pharisees the laws they were obsessing over were supposed to reflect the character of God, not become gods in themselves. “Which is lawful on the Sabbath,” he asks them, “to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they will not answer because they are more dedicated to their rules for worship than the mercy of God. In fact, Jesus’ refusal to submit to their religion raises in them a level of anger that rises to murder: “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” (Mark 3:6 NIV).
Only The Dead makes it abundantly clear that the association between offended religion and murderous rage is still very much with us. Ware narrates that Zarqawi’s worst atrocities were perpetrated in the name of laying what would become the foundations of ISIL. Yet we don’t have to go to Syria to discover offended religion resulting in anger. A friend of mine was recently conducting a Christmas service at his church where he had the opportunity to preach the Gospel to hundreds of non-Christians. Afterwards, he was returning to the vestry thanking God for the opportunity, when he came across a group of deeply upset women from the church. They were angry to the point of tears because a few verses had been left off the reading of a traditional passage of scripture.
Ware suggests that any religion – Islamic, Christian or otherwise – that is so closed it cannot listen to reason is a dangerous belief system. Jesus would agree. The fundamentalists of his day missed the Saviour of the world because they could not see beyond teachings taught by men. When we elevate our practises above what God actually requires of us, we not only risk destroying ourselves, we invite the sort of self-righteousness that eventually saw Jesus nailed to a cross. Only The Dead is a tale we should certainly take caution from. Religion that is unfettered from grace is indeed a real danger, for ISIL, the secular West and for us.
Removing religious education from schools condemns our children to ignorance about a key dimension of human life.
By JOHN DICKSON
IF a devout group of naysayers get their way there will come a time, soon, when there won’t be any sympathetic religious instruction in our schools. It’s time for those who know the positive benefits of religious education — the parents, teachers, and principals — to speak up before a dreadful decision to cut programmes across Europe is made.
None of us wants our children proselytised. That’s a given, and religious education programmes should never be set up to convert anyone. At the same time we do want our kids to learn a bit about the story of the Bible, the life and teaching of Jesus, and the ethics that shaped much of our world. To deny children this is to deprive them of their own cultural backstory.
I speak as a Christian but I am sure my Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i, Hindu, and Buddhist neighbours will be able to read my argument through their own lens. Few things are more culturally influential than religion.
The main arguments against sympathetic religious education miss the mark. Some of the naysayers cite anecdotes of kids going home to mum in tears after a scripture teacher’s insensitive remark about sin, or their denial of Santa, or because a piece of literature was handed out that does drift into proselytising. This can, and should, easily be fixed with better protocols and training.
Others climb the secular high-horse and intone about the separation of church and state as if we were living in the United States. But much of Europe’s roots lie in a more sensible “soft” secularism: Religion should neither be imposed nor excluded. Well-conducted religious education programmes reflect this balance perfectly. It is available but voluntary, and ethics classes offer an excellent alternative.
Others suggest religious education creates divisions. After all, it has the word “religion” in it. But there’s no evidence of that. It isn’t even intuitive. Dividing students into school houses, sports teams, grades, reading levels, boys and girls, and religious education tracks, is perfectly normal and healthy. These kids will grow up in a society that includes people of all faiths and none. Shouldn’t they learn to navigate the vibrant differences of our pluralistic society? Religious education has an added built-in safety mechanism, since each religion’s curriculum teaches respect for all.
Finally, some anti-religious education campaigners propose what they call a“neutral’’ approach where the teacher, rather than volunteers, takes kids through all of the world religions as part of the curriculum. It sounds plausible but in reality is unworkable. With everything else teachers have to know and do, they are never going to be able to understand the Bible as well as, say, the middle-aged mum from the local church who’s been reading scripture for decades. And that’s just the Christian text. Imagine insisting teachers learn the vast intellectual traditions of the Talmud, the Upanishads, the Tripitaka, the Quran and Hadiths.
Religion is one of the most significant features of culture through the ages and parents should be able to allow their kids to give it a sympathetic hearing in a trusted environment.
Dr. John Dickson Author, historian and founding director of the Centre for Public Christianity in Sydney. A version of this article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph (Sydney).