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.

IMG_1797

‘Looking back’, Newport, Pembrokeshire

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Modern-Day Slavery in Britain

If you have not watched the recently-screened Panorama documentary, on the topic of organised slavery in the UK, then you really ought to.  It’s not a pleasant experience, because it tells us a lot about the unwholesome practices which are apparently now widespread within our culture – but it is also somehow redemptive and uplifting at the same time.  [The programme is still available on iPlayer as at today’s date]

The documentary covers ‘Operation Fort‘, the biggest ever investigation into slavery in Britain, being conducted in the West Midlands.  The detectives and other investigators involved in this exercise are highly impressive individuals, as are the barristers and lawyers who take the case to court.  Whilst it is hugely reassuring to see dedicated professionals of such quality pursuing this profound evil to the bitter end, the less palatable implications are that this vast case is just the tip of the iceberg.  As the detectives were following up their own leads, they accidentally encountered other slavery gangs operating in the same territory, and did not have the resources to pursue them.  One house, entered as they sought a suspect who had already escaped back to Poland, contained multiple trafficked people in each room, with no heating and no lighting.  It was heartbreaking.

The slavery trade has its root in the Europe that never features in the average europhile’s glowing perspectives.  The victims of it are desperate to escape from their privations, and find, when they get here, that they are now the captives of their own countrymen whose criminal enterprises have somehow remained under the radar.  It seems that the UK is the destination of choice for slave traders who live the life of riley, with no apparent means of support, skipping back to their own countries when they discover they may have come to the notice of the authorities.  It is to be hoped that Operation Fort may be the beginning of something bigger – it certainly needs to be, but the underlying message of the Panorama documentary was that this kind of enforcement action is relatively rare.

It is unsurprising that, lying behind and prior to the police investigation, was the work being conducted on the ground by Christian organisations.  The QC representing the victims described their work as providing the corners and borders for the jigsaw puzzle which the investigators were subsequently able to put together.  Those Christian components, which helped draw attention (in this case) to the scale of the problem, consisted of Hope for Justice and Centrepoint Church.  And, once the victims had either escaped, or been rescued from slavery, they were supported by the Salvation Army.  These are the organisations and individuals which militant secularists are attempting to exclude from any significant role in public life in the UK, and yet without them, the victims may well still be consigned to a miserable captivity.

Freeing slaves was always at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.  His very first sermon, recorded in Luke 4:18-27, is based upon quotations from the Psalms and Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

And locally, in Cardiff, there are other followers of Christ, seeking to be faithful in following this aspect of His mission.  One such charity, punching well above its weight, is RED: Community – I encourage you to get behind this initiative, and others like it.  It is continually under-resourced, given the scale of the challenge, and heavily dependent upon volunteers – but there is a pressing need to rescue and care for these damaged and exploited individuals who have been as much let down by politicians who are taken up by their own grandiose rhetoric, as they are victims of the slavers.

There is a happy ending to Operation Fort.  Sixty slaves of this single criminal organisation were vindicated, and their oppressors went to prison.  But that is just one example.

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Well, it’s been five years

IMG_1682It is not the kind of milestone that any parent relishes the idea of – on July 26th, we passed the fifth anniversary of Greg’s departure from this world.  It’s not an event which one even feels comfortable about remembering, yet as the day approaches, every year it looms just as large, just as ominous, just as significant.  It is the one thing, on the one day, that one is forced to confront.  There is to be no tiptoeing around it.

In ‘normal life’, one gives flowers to family and friends who are celebrating, or to those who have suffered in some way and need a little beauty to lift their spirits.  I am not sure that Greg ever had much regard for flowers, and would have regarded such an inappropriate gift with a wry smile.  In any case, he is beyond either appreciation or amusement now – but it is all we can think of, fresh flowers culled from our own garden and lovingly arranged by Mags.

It is an intriguing activity, this ‘dressing of the grave’.  There is some minor, transient satisfaction, in cleaning the grime off the tombstone, in removing long-decayed floral tributes, and installing something colourful and vibrant.  But if one feels that this will make one feel better, that notion is swiftly dispelled: there is actually only one thing which would do that, and it’s the one thing which is not available.  It forms the substance of many dreams, after which one can taste the disappointment as one wakes up to a new Greg-less day.

I notice, as we perform our ministrations at the graveside that nothing has changed.  Well-meaning friends were quick to tell us that “time is a great healer”, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Whilst one does not comport oneself with a kind of self-conscious melodrama, nevertheless this is something you don’t shrug off somehow, as if the mere passage of time has a kind of magical leaching effect on one’s memories.  Greg’s dissatisfaction with living was a direct product of the indoctrinations and vacuum at the heart of aggressive secularism, the kind that grooms our children for lives without telos.  That same ideology displays its essential inadequacy as we pass this latest milestone, for it is apparent that nothing material could fill the void – it is personhood which is absent.

I am not sure how other parents, in similar circumstances, cope with this.  There are times when I am not even sure what coping looks like.  We were unable to hold onto Greg, and I guess that ultimately all those we love the most will escape us – the sense of tearing damage is not a material thing, but arises out of the miracle of personhood.  After five years, I am as devoid of answers, but I am grateful that we have a faithful God who holds us fast.

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The right to one’s own beliefs

The Court of Appeal hearing for the Felix Ngole case was heard in the Royal Courts of Justice on the 12th & 13th March 2019.  The case reference is C1/2017/3073 and the transcript was licensed and released under the Open Government Licence 3.0 with the consent of Felix Ngole.  For anybody interested (and concerned) about the right to freedom of belief, the transcript makes for fascinating reading.  The submissions of Mr. P. Diamond (representing Felix Ngole) and Ms. S. Hannett (representing the University of Sheffield) were heard by Lord Justice Irwin, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and Sir Jack Beatson.

For those who need a reminder, the background to this case is that Felix Ngole, a social work student at Sheffield University was first disciplined, and then dismissed from his Degree course, following the anonymous receipt of copies of some FaceBook posts, where Felix had chosen to engage online with some people who were attacking a US county clerk, Kim Davies, withdrawing from that discussion when he felt that it had degenerated into name-calling and abuse.  Someone had taken the trouble to go back through his FaceBook feeds in order to craft a case against him, one that the university authorities took very seriously, despite Felix’s exemplary academic track-record, and despite the absence of any direct evidence that he had ever behaved in a manner that might be interpreted as discriminatory towards others.  Felix is a Christian, and the topic at the heart of the FaceBook discussion was same-sex marriage.  Clearly, in the contemporary context, this is indicative of a battle of worldviews, but the transcript reveals a great deal of how the issue of toleration is working in practice.  The two days of the Appeal hearing amount to 99 pages and 43 pages respectively, so please forgive me for attempting to summarise some of the key points – the transcript is public domain, and immensely readable, so you can check for yourself.  Here then are some of the key themes:

(1) Mr. Diamond, representing Felix, from the outset places this case within the broader context of our freedoms and their interaction with the demands of the State – our own rights to freedom of belief and the articulation of that belief.  We do not need to look very far to observe States which have a profound allergy to such freedoms.  Equally clearly, Ms. Hannett is keen to restrict the entire scope of the consideration to this single context, that of social work.  She argues that it is a ‘special case’, quite separate from any other professional context, but nowhere supplies any basis for that assertion – it merely hangs in the air.  Not surprisingly, the Lords Chief Justice raise the prospect of multiple other professional contexts which might be caught if Sheffield University win the Appeal.  All of us can see that the erosion of hard-won liberties continues incrementally, if such matters are only considered on a piece-meal basis.

(2) There are undercurrents to the original case which suggest that it has proceeded on the basis of some muddying of the waters.  The original communication to Felix summoning him to a disciplinary meeting did not specify the reason.  When pressed, the University would not disclose the reason.  The accuser was always anonymous.  Later on, it was found that the notes of the meeting had been destroyed.  It seems clear from the transcript, that Felix had asked for clarification as to how he might better manage the sensitive intersection between belief and his professional role, and made very little progress in that direction.  An independent witness, there to support Felix, attests to this lack of clarity throughout.

(3) One chilling aspect which emerges from the narrative is how little the University authorities understand about people like Felix, orthodox Bible-believing Christians.  It is not just that they do not like Christian belief, they consider it inherently discriminatory, and they have no understanding of why such belief may hold together, what justifies it, how it applies consistently.  There is a profound ignorance at a fundamental level, but nobody cares about that – the enforcement of the secular mindset has done its work.  Instead of any nuanced, two-way reasoning of the issues, the onus is on Felix to understand the alternative worldview and accommodate himself wholly to it.  This is what totalitarianism looks like in practice.

(4) One word or theme which is prominent in the transcript is the word ‘ambiguity’.  At times, the text suggests that the problem is not Felix’s beliefs per se, but rather that he chose to express them.  This seems to be an inadequate emphasis – all of us are, in some sense, the product of our belief-systems, in terms of the ways in which we choose to live our lives.  The only difference between a muzzled Felix, and a Felix summoned to a disciplinary hearing, is where someone else has identified him as holding those internalised beliefs.  And the one thing which makes that difference is some kind of communication, so those beliefs are now out in the open.  Apparently, Prof. Marsh, who presided over Felix’s dismissal from the Degree course is not subject to this kind of limitation, and is publicly active in LGBTQI++ matters.

At other times, the argument revolves more around how he expressed himself, whether Felix articulated his views moderately, or robustly, or via quotations from the Bible.  Bear in mind that the context (here) for such expression is only where another person asks for a direct explanation, rather than the alternative scenario of a bigot who sought to impose his views on all and sundry.  It was accepted by the University that such a situation would never have described Felix who had always been courteous and considerate towards others, including same-sex couples.  Methinks that this aspect is something of a red-herring: it would not have mattered how carefully or lovingly Felix articulated his beliefs – once they were out, so would he be.

Ms Hannett draws what seems to me to be a quite naïve and unrealistic distinction between ‘posting on FaceBook’, and ‘preaching in a Church’ (Felix is a lay-pastor).  In her dichotomised world, the first is unacceptable, whereas the latter is (barely) acceptable.  There is enough equivocation in the text to render even that interpretation suspect, but even so, it will not work.  For church sermons get listened to (by many), broadcast, and then put on the interweb.  And, as most of us now know, some atheist activists are visiting churches to record or note sermons so that they may ‘out’ people that they wish to get rid of, from our universities and colleges.  In practice, there is no distinction to be drawn between the ‘private’ discourse within the walls of a church, and the ‘public’ discourse of social media.  All is one, and the clear lesson we are to draw from Ms Hannett’s argument is that Christians have nowhere to hide, and will be pursued into our ghettos, no matter how inoffensive and quiet we try to be.  This hints very strongly in the direction of ‘thought-crime’ being the real offender, so Ms Hannett’s protestations about not judging Felix for his beliefs ring somewhat hollow.

In closing…

We await the judgement from this Appeal, but what is left hanging in the air is the precious idea of toleration.  As a multicultural, multi-faith society, we have to learn to tolerate each other, otherwise the word might as well be excised from the dictionary.  To seek to argue that one particular worldview trumps another is simply to subvert the very idea of equality, and reduce everything to some kind of power-play.  That’s where we’re headed unless someone in authority peers over the brink, and perceives the nature of the destination.

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