The culture of death

It’s never very far away, that opportunistic nihilism, venturing forth under cover of COVID-19 in order to bulk up its trophy-bag.  Whilst the NHS and even the Government, are beavering away to save as many lives as possible, it is odd to think that there are organisations that exemplify radically different ideological commitments.  BPAS, one of the biggest providers of abortion services in the UK, has (according to media reports) been agitating for perhaps the biggest liberalisation in the regime, since 1967.  And, very likely they’ll succeed, given that our attention is quite naturally focused on sustaining and protecting life, rather than snuffing it out.

And, last Saturday, as I opened the little plastic bag that contained my weekend newspaper supplement, what should drop out, but a flyer promoting the services of ‘Dignity in Dying’ (DID), the ultimate expression of cultural nihilism.  The usual pampered celebs looked earnestly out of the leaflet, attempting to convince us that, only through the administration of a lethal cocktail of barbiturate and anti-emetic, we may have any hope of preserving our ‘dignity’ whilst we transition to another plane.  This is a strange concept to get one’s head around, not least the fondness for toxins which are ordinarily utilised on Death Row… or that lifetimes of indignity and insult are somehow exacerbated by a particular kind of indignity associated with the act of dying.  It is a sad fact that, for many of us, the process of dying is hard work indeed, but it is far from clear that human beings die without dignity, unless they have been successful in badgering their physician to turn poisoner.  That badgering process continues relentlessly behind the scenes, even as we build new hospitals with the intention of savings lives.

To slightly adapt Richard Dawkins, ‘Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually-fulfilled nihilist’, but it would actually be quite unfair to disproportionately pin the blame on Darwin.  After all, he came as part of a long line of Enlightening heroes – Diderot, Condorcet, Godwin, Shelley, Fourier, Erasmus Darwin, and then – just a little later, Schopenhauer, Havelock Ellis, Freud, Lenin, Marie Stopes, Margaret Sanger, Willhelm Reich…  Our culture has been systematically softened up to the sheer futility of naturalism, and as John Carey demonstrates persuasively in his 1992 book, The Intellectuals and the Masses, the literary intelligentsia apparently fell over themselves to promote the culture of death for those they despised.  Marie Stopes and Margaret Sanger lobbied hard for contraception and abortion liberalisation, not primarily in order to emancipate women, but in order to limit the breeding potential of the lower-classes.  There is an elitism baked-in to the culture of death.

It is the enthusiasm for these variants of eugenics which quite catches one’s breath.  José Ortega, in his 1930 book, The Revolt of the Masses was clearly dismayed by European population growth which had produced ‘a gigantic mass of humanity which, launched like a torrent over the historic area, has inundated it.’  H. G. Wells echoed that opinion, decrying ‘the extravagant swarm of new births…as the essential disaster of the nineteenth century’.  Nietzsche, in Thus Spake Zarathustra, similarly deplored the proliferation of the ‘rabble’, W. B. Yeats recommending his writings as ‘a counteractive to the spread of democratic vulgarity’ and George Bernard Shaw nominating this book very highly.  Much, much earlier, Flaubert, writing in 1871, stated that ‘I believe that the mob, the mass, the herd will always be despicable…one could not elevate the masses, even if one tried.’  The Novelist Thomas Hardy, writing in 1887, expresses this developing perspective somewhat crudely:

You may regard a throng of people as containing a certain small minority who have sensitive souls; these, and the aspects of these, being what is worth observing.  So you divide them into the mentally unquickened, mechanical, soulless; and the living, throbbing, suffering, vital, in other words into souls and machines, ether and clay.

This is Gnostic Dualism playing for all its worth, whilst wearing the garments of Modernism – and those crafting the message of nihilism for the masses, are not just the ivory-tower academics.  D. H. Lawrence, perhaps the major English disciple of Nietzsche (according to Carey), in his 1923 novel, Kangaroo, describes the majority of the world’s inhabitants thus: ‘The mass of mankind is soulless…Most people are dead, and scurrying and talking in the sleep of death.’  In his 1922 work, Fantasia of the Unconscious, whilst reflecting on the condition of modern man, Lawrence  feels able to say ‘Three cheers for the inventors of poison gas’ and writes in a letter in 1908 about his vision for disposing of society’s outcasts:

If I had my way, I would build a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace, with a military band playing softly, and a Cinematograph working brightly; then I’d go out into the back streets and main streets and bring them in, all the sick, halt, and the maimed; I would lead them gently, and they would smile me a weary thanks; and the band would softly bubble out the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’.

That Lawrence appears to be alluding to John 5:3 in support of his imagined programme of mass-eugenics, and then sugar-coating the lethal pill with some uplifting Handel, seems suggestive of a desire to commend these ideas with some kind of religious veneer:  a veneer with a sneer that will fool the credulous masses.  For those intent on encouraging their inferiors to follow-through the implications of naturalistic futility, the justifications need only be minimally plausible.  The spurious allusion to ‘dignity’ being conferred by a lethal cocktail, the ‘not wanting to be a burden to family’, and the loss of oases of hope in a secular wasteland – all of these combine to do the trick, when fostering the culture of death.

Thankfully, the nobility, self-sacrifice and care displayed by our nurses, doctors and ancillary workers convey a very different set of values, that all of us should aspire to.

 

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For times such as this (1)

My friend Brent Lyons has been writing a series of articles, flowing out of his research work, on the topic of anxiety.  This seems an eminently relevant focus, and you can access his blog, Philosophy Pub, from the blogroll at the foot of this screen.  Brent was a fellow M.A. student at Biola University, and created a Pub in his own home, which became a venue for folks to come to drink beer and debate philosophy together.  He is now pursuing a doctorate at Oxford.  In these days of social distancing, the great idea of Philosophy Pub is being kept alive via his blog – we look forward to the day when it can restart with real people and real beer.  But the ideas remain the living reality.

In the meantime, my contribution is a little more modest, aimed at encouraging Christians who have been used to being part of a living, breathing, caring community, and now perhaps wrestling with the challenges brought about by COVID-19.  Here’s an extract from the closing section of Anthony Esolen’s excellent book, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture:

“….Keep it in mind.  Say to yourselves and your children, “We have been marked with the character of Christ.  Not by our nature and not by our efforts, but by the grace of God we sinners have been marked as new creations.  We must not walk in darkness anymore.

“We have been marked with the character of Christ.  We will not play the futile games of the world.  We will not fornicate, we will not divorce, we will not snuff out the lives of our children, we will not seek to filch the pleasure from sexual intercourse while neutering its effect.  We will not put our money in the collection basket for what is lewd or obscene.  If we fall, we will confess our sins and repent and bear the just chastisement.  But we do not want these maddening lusts.  We have other ways, much more human ways, to entertain ourselves.

“We have been marked with the character of Christ.  We will not play the futile games of the world.  We take care never to lie, never to mislead, never to commit the sin of detraction against our brothers.  We check ourselves against parroting the lies of others.  We refuse to wrest words away from plain reality.  We will not inflate our language with vague abstractions so as to hide from ourselves and others what we are really up to.  We will not turn words into totems, falling down before them, and begging ‘democracy’ or ‘equality’ or ‘inclusivity’ or whatever may be the current mumbo-jumbo to save us.  We do not want to be foolish, so we do not speak the patois of those who have been fooled.  We will not pretend to know what we do not know, or, what is more common in an age of government surveillance and force, to pretend not to know what we do know, not to see what we see.

“We have been marked with the character of Christ.  We will not play the futile games of the world.  We do not have other gods before God.  We refuse to place our hope in magic ‘science’, which amounts to placing our hope in scientists, who are men as we are: frail, vain, ambitious, stubborn in error, prone to going along with the herd, eager for power over others, apt to believe themselves wiser than they are.  We will respect knowledge of the natural world exactly as such knowledge warrants, no less and certainly no more.  We do not place our hope in magic ‘democracy’, or magic ‘government’, or magic ‘equality’, or magic ‘gender inclusivity’ or any other wave of the wand and rabbit pulled out of a top hat.  We will honour legitimate authority, and we will obey just laws, but we will not bend the knee before knaves, ruffians, shrews, whores, butchers and fools.

“We have been marked with the character of Christ.  We will not play the futile games of the world.  We take care not to lay up for ourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust corrupt and thieves break through and steal.  When we ask ourselves what we want to be, the first thing we think of will not be what we will do to earn a salary.  We will not make our families pay for our ambition.  We will not make ourselves slaves to avarice.  We will not make Sunday an asterisk in the week, the blip in between the supposedly real days of work.  We keep holy the Lord’s Day, not the weekend.

“We have been marked with the character of Christ.  We will not play the futile games of the world.  We honour the good, the true, and the beautiful.  We do not envy them, we do not reduce them to mere words, we do not sneer at wise judgements and call them mere opinions.  We do not run after the popular, which in the blink of an eye will have fallen into oblivion.  We do not indulge ourselves in slovenliness and call it honesty.  We will not praise what is drab and ugly and call it avant-garde or edgy or courageous.

“We have been marked with the character of Christ.  Everything we do must bear that same character, even if sometimes in a light and gentle way.  Our play, our work, our family life, our reading, our schools, our dances, our flirtations, our care of the sick, our neighbourhoods, our bearing of children, our last moments as we bid the world farewell – everything.

“We must be clear about this.  The world around us is not Christian.  It is not even sanely pagan.  It is quite mad and quite unhappy.  We cannot minister to them by appearing to be pagan or by making ourselves half mad and half miserable.  We can minister to them only by being sharply distinct.  Those in the world who are weary of its broken promises will not listen to us if we speak the language of the world.  They are longing for a different language entirely – the real language, which will restore to them the world’s lost beauty and goodness and point them towards what is beyond the world.  They do not want us to stretch ourselves out lazily among them.  They want to join us on the way.”

(Esolen, Anthony.  Out of the Ashes, Rebuilding American Culture (Washington DC, Regnery Publishing, 2017), pp186-188).

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The passing of great minds

It was a sad moment to learn of the death of Gertrude Himmelfarb at the end of last December, at the age of 97.  A leading Jewish intellectual, Himmelfarb (known also as Bea Kristol), was an influential writer and lecturer, famous especially for her analysis of the varied outworkings of enlightenment thinking in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Her seminal 2004 work, The Roads to Modernity is an eminently readable analysis of the key differences between the British, French and American ‘enlightenments’.  And, contrary to how some thinkers have liked to portray the Enlightenment period, usually in support of a secularising agenda, the diversity of thought and approach is truly breathtaking.  In our present age, when ‘diversity’ is celebrated to the extent that it has been invested with quasi-religious significance, one would perhaps expect greater respect for those perspectives which do not neatly fit a reductionist imperialism.  But no, that is far from the case.  All moralities, all values systems must be ground small through the sausage machine of progressivism, so that, in the end, they all conform to the new agenda.

Himmelfarb is remarkable in the way in which she narrates, analyses and critiques history and culture.  The Roads to Modernity pulls off the challenging feat of managing to categorise these three distinct versions of ‘the enlightenment’, without miring the reader down in the minutiae of her workings.  The Endnotes provide a copious logging of  the granular historical detail, and suggest many useful sources for further research – such as the penetrating analysis of Alexis de Tocqueville, who took back to France the understanding gained by his studies of the enlightenment in Britain and America (in The Old Regime and the French Revolution, (French edition, 1856)).  There is much in his writing which presages what the EU would later become, deriving its culture from a very particular expression of enlightenment thought.

Rather less accessible amongst Himmelfarb’s writings is On Looking into the Abyss, subtitled Untimely Thoughts on Culture and Society.  This is a series of essays, published in 1994, where she ‘deconstructs literary deconstructionism’, a product of liberal elitism which has rampaged through the universities like Coronavirus, dismissive of intellectual quarantines.  The book is a very useful introduction to the views of the leading academic promoters of deconstructionism (Paul de Man, Richard Rorty et al), demonstrating the classic outcome when ideology confronts reality: reality must be changed so that it conforms.  As Himmelfarb draws out the obvious conclusions from this perverse way of interacting with the world (far, far removed from any concept of empiric rationalism), one encounters those pithy comments which justify the purchase of a book like this:

What happens to our respect for philosophy – the “love of wisdom”, as it once was – when we are told that philosophy has nothing to do with either wisdom or virtue, that what passes as metaphysics is really linguistics, that morality is a form of aesthetics, and that the best thing we can do is not to take philosophy seriously?

Of course, Himmelfarb’s concern ranges far beyond the abstruse context of academic novelty, because she has seen these toxic intellectual seeds bearing new fruit, notably in the ‘demystification’ and ‘deconstruction’ of the Jewish Holocaust.  If you did not view it at the time, may I warmly recommend David Baddiel’s recent BBC documentary on ‘holocaust denial’?  This neatly encapsulates the dangers that arise when a culture begins to lose its ability to interact rationally with its own history, when synthetic narratives are first of all constructed, and then peddled by a liberal media and then (eventually) imposed upon a population.  Baddiel is left scratching his head over the sheer baseless, crass and self-indulgent ridiculousness of the views that he encounters.  He is quite right to see this phenomenon as a component of the current upsurge in antisemitism, but the same principles apply equally to the other ways in which the progressives seek to impose ideological blinkers on the population.

In The Road to Modernity, Himmelfarb documents the disparaging ways in which the elite (the Philosophes) regarded the masses.  They shut down Church-run schools and did not replace them.  Rousseau said that education was “too important” to be left to “mortal fathers” (reminding one of the current trend to close down home-schooling).  The people were “uneducable” because they were too unenlightened (unlike the Philosophes), they were mired in the prejudices and superstitions of religion.  Whilst most Enlightenment thinkers opposed teaching the peasants, the Church favoured it.  Diderot criticised the hôpitaux (run by the church) and D’Holbach was critical of the British Poor Laws, in much the same way he was critical of any religious, charitable foundation.  One does not need to look far to find recurrences of this kind of outlook amongst modern secularists, like the lingering after-effects of a dodgy vindaloo.

For anyone serious about understanding our times, and seeking to make sense of them, Gertrude Himmelfarb is well worth reading.  And her work contrasting the contributions made by both the Clapham Sect and the Bloomsbury Set demonstrates very clearly that intellectual engagement is indeed a moral pursuit.

Postscript

Irwin Stelzer has written an affectionate tribute to Gertrude Himmelfarb in Standpoint Magazine.

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The Christian origins of Western Science

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 16.56.00One of the joys of Christmas has been receiving as presents books that have lurked enticingly on my Wishlist for the last year.  One such is Adrian Tinniswood’s excellent history of The Royal Society, subtitled ‘& The Invention of Modern Science’, published by Apollo Books in 2019.  This is a beautifully-produced volume, full of helpful illustrations, and I’ve not been able to put it down since opening it on Christmas Day.

The Royal Society received its charter from Charles II in 1660, but had grown quite naturally out of  an association of academics and laymen which shared a common interest in experimental science.  It was the first British organisation to be created for that purpose, and it represents the formalisation of science as a specific endeavour, rather than as a loose and disparate collection of individual activities any of which might qualify, somehow, as ‘scientific’.  In his book, Tinniswood  traces the process which brought the twelve founding fathers of the Royal Society to this point, and in an appendix, he helpfully lists them for us:

  • William Balle (1631-90), astronomer;
  • Robert Boyle (1627-91), natural philosopher;
  • William Brouncker (1620-84), mathematician;
  • Alexander Bruce (1629-81), landowner;
  • Jonathan Goddard (1617-75), physician;
  • Abraham Hill (1633-1722), merchant;
  • Sir Robert Moray (1608-73), soldier & courtier;
  • Sir Paul Neil (1613-86), courtier;
  • Sir William Petty (1623-87), political economist & physician;
  • Lawrence Rook (1622-62), astronomer;
  • John Wilkins (1614-72), natural philosopher;
  • Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), astronomer & architect.

There would be many others to follow, and some exceptionally grande fromages, such as Sir Isaac Newton, but it is helpful to remember that these were the men who founded and framed the objectives and methodologies of the new Society.  Tinniswood emphasised that these men were in full agreement that ‘religion and politics’ were off the table for their discussions – this was, after all, the Restoration period, when Britain was seeking to recover its sense of identity and balance, following the Republic under Cromwell (who had been active in promoting the natural sciences).  But to present this as somehow a secular initiative would be to miss the point entirely.  The author emphasises that many of these men were in fact Puritans – they were as at home writing and reading theology as they were pursuing their scientific endeavours.  John Wilkins had a reputation for unusual tolerance in such an age, attracting the most brilliant students around him, and becoming perhaps the most noted exponent of experimental philosophy.  He wrote extensively on theology, was later consecrated Bishop of Chester and was arguably the driving force behind the whole initiative.  Robert Boyle was an evangelical Christian, and Tinniswood tells us that he was actually the most distinguished scientist amongst the founders.  Sir Paul Neil was a devout Anglican, Lawrence Rook an eminent divine.  In their writings, they demonstrate that it is a theistic worldview which drives the impetus and expectations for scientific method – they proceeded on the basis that the universe is governed by rational, predictable, discernible laws, and that the different branches of the sciences would and should relate to each other, due to the overarching design of the Creator.  It is, in fact, difficult to see how science, as we know it, could have arisen out of any other soil than this.  Indeed, it did not.

This history is important, as it provides a valid counterbalance to the childish polemic put out by the current proponents of the atheistic fiction that somehow ‘science’ and ‘religion’ have always been at each others’ throats.  I have listened to Richard Dawkins explaining, with every semblance of gravity, that these scientists were, in reality, sceptics, who kept their atheism hidden away under the camouflage of piety, lest their exposure (in a culture of religious bigotry) deprive them of the opportunity to ‘do science’.  No doubt there were sceptics at that time, men and women who merely paid lip-service to the outward forms of religion, and clearly there were founding fathers of the Royal Society where it is not possible to detect the explicitly-affirmed Christian beliefs which were undoubtedly held by many, as I have identified.  Indeed, there are evidences of associations with the philosophy of Hobbes, Descartes and others, which could quite well have influenced a person’s worldview in entirely the opposite direction.  Men such as Sir William Petty were not distinguished by their religious views, but rather by their political choices at the time of the Cromwellian settlement.

Certainly, the Dawkinsian Illusion of the persecution of the honest scientific sceptic seems to have little basis in fact – as is the case with the old and hackneyed argument that Christians were, somehow, reluctant and late adopters of scientific method.  The evidence is, instead, that devout Christians were at the forefront of the whole enterprise, men who saw no conflict whatsoever between the two avenues of enquiry (theological or scientific).  That our children are clearly being systematically taught this fatuous pap does bring to mind the memorable, though clearly misdirected, Dawkinsian use of the term ‘child abuse’, which he applies to indoctrination (Chapter 9 of The God Delusion).  Pots, kettles, and all of that…

All of which provides an interesting contrast with the 2016 annual conference of the Royal Society,  entitled ‘New Trends in Evolutionary Biology’ where there was general acknowledgement that the neo-Darwinian consensus is bust, underscored by the opening address from the Austrian evolutionary biologist, Gerd Müller.  Whilst it may have been gratifying to have these fatal flaws in the model confirmed, the reality is that they have been there, in plain view for many decades.  The founding fathers, operating from a broad theistic consensus would barely have raised an eyebrow over such matters, but their devoutly atheistic successors found themselves overcome with angst, eye-rolling and partisanship, according to eyewitnesses.  Richard Lewontin’s mantra about never allowing the divine foot to prevent the closure of the ideological door on the very idea of God, is the rule where materialism has already closed the mind.

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On the value of courses

Explore

I have the privilege of being part of a team at Highfields Church which has been running Christianity Explored (CE) courses, thrice-yearly, for the past twenty years.  CE, or as we like to call it at Highfields, Explore, is a very focused, seven week amble through Mark’s account of the life of Christ, with the very specific goal of addressing three overarching questions:  Who is Jesus?  Why did he come?  And what does that mean for me?

As you can imagine, over that kind of period of time, we’ve seen folk coming along from pretty much all walks of life, every imaginable background, and the widest range of nationalities.  It hasn’t worked for everyone – there have been those for whom the very idea of discussing Mark’s narrative was a step outside of their comfort-zone.  But for those prepared to treat the text as in some way authentic, something quite remarkable has happened:  the living Christ walks off the pages and becomes a real Person, to be encountered, rather than an archaic idea.

We’ve been through phases over the years.  One year, we had a sudden influx of medics.  Another year, an ensemble of musicians.  Another year,  a cluster of Chinese visitors, all clicking away on their electronic translators.  Sometimes, they’ve turned up in large groups, so we’ve struggled to cater for demand, and sometimes we’ve run the course on a one-to-one basis because an individual was eager to discover who Christ is for themselves, and couldn’t wait for the next scheduled course.  And always, always, a steady trickle of folk who ‘get it’ and commit their lives to Christ – so many, in fact, that years ago we simply stopped counting.

These days, churches like ours work hard to provide easier access for people who want to engage with Christian truth in their own ways, which means more flexibility, and alternative approaches and venues, rather than a bigger, more collective focus.  And yet, that bigger thing is what Christianity is actually all about – being part of a living community, in relationship with Christ.  A community where people from utterly disparate backgrounds live, learn and share together, rather than embodying the kind of fragmentation which is becoming normalised within Western culture.  Christianity has never been about that kind of individuation, and Explore therefore provides a framework for a kind of miracle, one where people share truth with each other, and find themselves changed by it.

In a few days time, the calendar switches over to 2020.  Sounds like a year for a whole new vision – why not give Explore a chance?

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Whence human rights?

So, Dr. David Mackereth has lost his employment tribunal hearing over his refusal to use ‘transgender pronouns’ in his professional capacity (26 years as an A&E Doctor).  As always, these judgements make for fascinating reading, if only to demonstrate the profound historical ignorance of those making the judgements, other than the very particular field of case-law.

The text of the judgement (follow the link above) is a turgid piece, and includes references to just about every piece of EqA and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights & Fundamental Freedoms which might be conceived to be relevant.  And, as is so invariably the case, the degree of unwarranted presuppositionalism implicit in the DWP case against Dr. Mackereth is palpable throughout:  in a very early paragraph (7), we read that the DWP’s briefs “argue that at the heart of those beliefs (Dr. Mackereth’s) is intolerance towards transgender people, and that a refusal to respect the dignity of transgender people and their preferred form of address is incompatible with human dignity and conflicts with human rights.”

Since that forms the essence of the DWP case against Dr. Mackereth, it is worth pausing to unpick it a little.  Firstly, there is the assumption that, because Dr. Mackereth holds to a consistent set of mainstream Christian beliefs, then those beliefs must be prejudged to be ‘intolerant’ if they fall foul of a relatively recent phenomenon.  Right now, that’s transgenderism, but we won’t need to wait long before the next ideological bus arrives, as they now seem to be daisy-chained together.  There is, apparently, little appetite amongst our legislators and politicos to try and understand why those beliefs form a coherent worldview, and why it would be impossible for such Christians to treat orthodoxy as a smorgasbord, from which we should pick and choose, depending upon the latest politically-correct cultural fad.  And secondly, we see very clearly this new fetish of defining ‘intolerance’ in relation to very narrowly-defined groups pursuing their own agendas, rather than within the wider context of ‘normal’ human interactions.  The above extract from the DWP submission shows that the line of argument moves immediately from ‘transgender people’ to ‘human dignity’, as if this new sub-sub-sub-grouping has a much bigger slice of the human rights cake than other groups, who are now deemed to be passé.  And, it is worth noting in passing,  that this functional definition of human dignity appears to affix it to the issue of transgenderism, rather than the individual human-being.  What if the person ultimately refrains from his mission of self-vandalism?  What if, thirty years later, she desperately regrets the whole exercise and attempts to turn back the clock?  Is such a person now of less dignity?  We need to be sure of our definitions: the gathering evidence of profound regret and damage, after the event, requires us to have workable answers, rather than just cave into the shrill noise of dysphoria.

This has less to do with workable legal definitions, and more to do with a game of Poker.

That Dr. Mackereth lost his case is hardly a surprise in the present culture.  What is of more concern are Judge Perry’s Further Findings & Conclusions:

  • Para 197:  “Irrespective of our determinations above, all three heads, belief in Genesis 1:27, lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgement are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others, specifically here, transgender individuals.” (punctuation as per original), and
  • Para 231: “We accept Dr. Mackereth’s account that his beliefs…are inherent to his wider faith…  In so far as those beliefs form part of his wider faith, his wider faith also does not satisfy Grainger.”

‘Grainger’ refers to the case of Grainger v Nicholson (Para 157) which attempted to set limits on the definition of ‘philosophical belief’, in order to constrain the provision of freedom of religion.  I am not, here, commenting on the validity of Grainger, but simply pointing out that this ruling argues that the problem is Dr. Mackereth’s “wider faith”, not simply the narrower conclusion that, from the State’s perspective, his view of transgenderism is bigoted and intolerant.  It’s the “wider” faith, folks, that’s the real problem here.  Wake up, Christians!

Now, I’m not done yet, so bear with me please.  This case is about ‘human rights’, according to the DWP, rather than about a man’s principled objection to parroting nonsense.  And when the term ‘human rights’ drops volubly and incessantly from the lips of a myriad of disaffected protest groups and their political allies, they have in mind a particular source for those rights, namely secular, Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment sources.  It’s an old and popular narrative, frequently brought out and burnished lovingly by the secular left, and especially by those europhiles who delight in arguing that Brussels is the true foundation of such rights.

It is, of course, Tommy Rot.  That key Enlightenment text, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen did not spring into existence ex nihilo in France, in 1789.  Something bigger, weightier, more substantive, preceded it.

The academic literature on the topic of the origins of human rights is rich and comprehensive:  the idea of (natural) human rights was explicitly formulated and frequently used by canon lawyers in the 1100s.  The concept of human rights is employed “almost incessantly” by the early Calvinists, says Nicholas Wolterstorff, whose own magnum opus, is an absolute barnstormer on the topic.  David E. Aune, in his essay Human rights and early Christianity, takes us much further back to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul.  The imago Dei (image of God) in Genesis 1:27 that the DWP finds so intolerant and subversive of human rights is, in the end, the ground and basis for those rights.

Judge Perry is, in effect, cutting off the very branch that he is sitting on.


For further reading:

John Witte, Jr, The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion, and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 2010)

John Witte, Jr. & Frank S. Alexander (Eds), Christianity and Human Rights, An Introduction (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 2012)

 

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Regrets, I’ve had a few

I function, currently, within a strange kind of hinterland that exists near the zone we call ‘retirement’.  This consists of reduced hours, the handing over of responsibilities, a kind of tentative dalliance with this new state of being, whilst at the same time continuing to do much of what I have been doing for most of my professional life.  It is like being indefinitely poised at the ‘event horizon’ of a black hole, contemplating the drastic imminent redefinition of existence, whilst still able to view an uninterrupted retrospective vista.  It is not an altogether unpleasant state of being, but, for those predisposed to morbidity, it does invite the almost endless reshuffling of regrets as one contemplates the historic nature of life’s choices, events and opportunities.

At such times, atheism seems a profoundly unforgiving worldview, even if it were a valid one, which (of course) it isn’t.  Lost opportunities at University, leading to the early forsaking of a cherished dream can clearly not be recaptured.  Personal failures may have led to unhappy outcomes which, due to circumstances, can now never be resolved.  Deeply-held vocational aspirations, long frustrated for reasons that are never clear, are reluctantly relinquished.  Even the idea of opportunity fades as an element of one’s expectations of life.  And then there is anno domini, the relentless ticking of the body clock, with all the inevitable, incremental augurs of dissolution.

Atheists in the mould of Bertrand Russell might wish to respond by shouting into the night (perhaps hoping that his Celestial Teapot might hear them) but it’s a night where there is nobody there to listen, and it is questionable whether a universe, preoccupied with the ephemeral nature of its own material existence, even registers our presence.  The inexplicable and inconvenient fact of our own self-awareness brings with it the sheer futility of knowing that, ultimately, it makes no difference.  How do we know that the colourful pebble, retrieved from Newgale beach, isn’t having a better time than we are?  How do we even know what a ‘good time’ looks like, now we are told that even the most fundamental human attributes are merely social constructs, and are therefore 100% plastic?  So there’s yet more detritus in the ocean of human experience, making such questions infinitely more murky, and answers elusive.

The atheist assumes a kind of bravura about such matters, casting those of a religious bent as rather weak, delusory individuals who mask the symptoms with Marx’s opiate, rather than courageously, honestly and atheistically confront reality. But not all of us want our lives to play out as extras in the final scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and it is questionable whether Eric Idle’s catchy tune is any less of a mask when the chips are down.  Indeed, telos, in the Christian experience, grabs us by the hand, marches us firmly away from temptations towards narcissism, and invites us to consider aligning our goals with the Person of Christ, the Man of History, whose foot is in eternity.  From this perspective, life becomes a purposeful journey, rather than a narrative of decline, because it has a sure destination.  And our arrival at that destination doesn’t depend upon our social circumstances, or personal abilities and qualities, or some random winning-the-lottery type event.  It depends upon the integrity, authority and power of Jesus Christ, the kind of power manifested in his resurrection.

Atheism has no answer to the bungles of the past, other than an appeal to a kind of ‘grin and bear it’ outlook:  “When you’re feeling in the dumps, Don’t be silly chumps, Just purse your lips and whistle — that’s the thing!” sings the Eric Idle character, epitomising a secular culture where ‘My Way’ (Sinatra) has become a favourite funeral song.  The Christian looks back and sees, even in the worst moments, God weaving something remarkable out of the mess of our past, and that, crucially helps as an antidote to our natural anxieties about the future.  The kind of God who can pull off that feat, is worth walking with into the unknown.  ‘His way’ is the antidote to regret, whereas ‘My Way’ is just a recipe for despair.

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‘Looking back’, Newport, Pembrokeshire

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