Behold the Meme…

Here’s another of those mindless memes that seems to be doing the rounds on social media, one that is much more informative about the mindset of its creator, than it actually is about it’s target – that baneful force for evil, otherwise known as religion.

Secular_Bigotry

We’re pretty used now to the empty aphorisms of the new atheism, but this one is such a concentrated bubbling brew of ignorance, bile, extra-added ignorance with cheese on top and monumental hypocrisy, that it’s actually quite difficult to know where to start in commenting.  Perhaps the serious point is that, the kind of intellect which generated this nonsense is so deprived of functioning critical faculties, that it is actually safer to assume that the text on the page is simply a random assemblage of pixels delivered by a room-full of monkeys hitting typewriters with mallets over several billion years.  Yes, that would make much more sense than what we actually find written in the meme.  However, this stuff gets repeated sufficiently on social media to leave the nagging impression that someone out there must take it seriously – so it’s worth highlighting toxic garbage when one encounters it.

I don’t hate religion” says the author, but then goes on to say that he hates a whole bundle of pet peeves, pretty much all of which are the standard pejoratives levelled at religious belief via the scattergun of the new atheists.  So, even the title is meaningless, for these days it is impossible for any Christian to hold consistently to his or her beliefs without this kind of accusation, which apparently bypasses the intellect, so swiftly and easily does it attain meme status.

The author also hates “self-righteous condemnation” and “patronising condescension” andreligious hypocrisy and arrogance“.  Last time I looked, religious people hadn’t exactly cornered the market in these unlovely characteristics, and it does seem as if the author is giving himself a free pass for exactly those same crimes, judging by his tone of sneering put-down.

He hates “religious justifications for atrocities” but remains quite silent on the mendacious secular justifications for industrialised abortion, claiming some 894,000 lives so far this year (2017) in the USA alone.  Compared to this, murder by gun crime (USA) runs at a mere 1.24% of this astounding figure – and there are those lobbyists who get all uppity about that.  As well they should.

He hates “religion in politics” but I’m willing to bet that he likes human rights legislation, which has its origins in the Protestant Reformation, and that he’s very happy with politics in religion, insofar as external political lobbying seeks to intrude into Christian practice and secularise it.

He hates “religion disguised as science” but it does sound a little as if he is profoundly uninformed about the historic Christian foundation for modern science, giving rise, as it does to a worldview which makes the doing of science rational.  Christians were doing the philosophy of science, and cataloguing and exploring the natural world for centuries before Dawkins came along and grabbed all the toys for himself and his mates.

I love it that he hates “zealotry’s ignorance of its own scripture’s content and context“.  Having spent years of my life, debating with atheists who relished flourishing a favoured source of textual embarrassment in my face, without even the faintest hint of a suggestion that context was even a valid concept, this feels like the pot calling the kettle black.  Perhaps the author has spent an unfortunately long portion of his life surrounded by empty-headed fundamentalists, but, frankly, this is poor fare – and sets the bar low for any kind of informed discourse.

That’s a whole lot of hate, packed into one little meme.  I note, in closing that he also hates “hellfire“, and would comment that if there is a just God, and if there is something like a Judgement, then however this chap feels about it is going to be immaterial.  But, thankfully, we’re at that time of the year when celebrating Christmas allows us to focus on much more positive values – of the coming Christ, the angel tells us ‘”and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us)’ (Matthew 1:23).  Christianity has always been about rescue and redemption, rather than about hating things.

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Parris’s heaven and hell

Matthew Parris’s Comment piece in The Times on the 4th November is an intriguing one:  “Heaven and Hell have no place in the Church“.  Mr Parris is an interesting atheist.  He self-identifies as a Protestant atheist, and clearly has a sneaking admiration for Luther – and he writes again in this article, as he has written before, of the generally positive and constructive work of missionaries in Africa.  This is always a refreshing change to the garbled and revisionist mantras of colonialism and racism parroted ad nauseam by the liberal pundits.

But Mr Parris doesn’t like the biblical concepts of heaven and hell.  Like those cohorts of liberal scholars whose worldviews have been largely subsumed by naturalism, he wants to declare the very idea of such places or states as anomalous in a bright, shiny new Enlightened World.  What he wants is a kind of pick ‘n mix, secularised Christianity, one designed to appeal to his own recondite palate.  Well, he won’t be the first to want such a thing, and he certainly won’t be the last.

On which, a few meandering thoughts…

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Coalbrookdale by Night by Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, 1801

Mr Parris speaks of ‘the church’ as a repository of such unmodern concepts as heaven and hell, but even that terminology is question-begging.  If he wishes to take the care to shop around, there are clearly institutions which have already conducted the kind of radical editing of dogma of which Mr Parris would no doubt approve – indeed, the hollowing-out process would presumably leave very little source of offence for the most liberal of minds.  And, as an added bonus, God Himself is something of a stranger, the clockwork of liturgy, bells and smells continuing on a kind of autopilot without Him.  These are churches where atheists with Mr Parris’s sensitivities may reside happily, with their intellectual ease unviolated by inconvenient truths.

killingfields

Killing Fields Memorial, Cambodia

Of course, ‘the church’ should not be singled out as uniquely the cause of offence in this respect.  If one has eyes to see, the evidences of hell, at least, trip us up at every turn.  After all, human beings are past masters at taking some kind of idea – let’s call it Utopia – and turning it into Mordor.  Mr Parris’s article includes a detail from a quaint imagining by Hieronymous Bosch, but you don’t need to waste time and energy in inventing this kind of imagery.  You just need to open your eyes: the ‘satanic mills’ of the industrial revolution, the violence of the French Revolution (all in the name of the new rationalism), the industrialised butchery of WW1, Hitler’s Final Solution, the body count from Russian and Chinese Communism, the inexorable rise of human slavery in the modern world (40,000,000 victims currently)…  Human beings appear to have little problem in imagining hell, and even less difficulty in creating it.  Our difficulty lies in the matter of justice.  At least the biblical doctrine is based upon the whole idea of a just God who, one day, will hold each individual human being accountable for their own personal wickednesses.  I suspect that Mr Parris’s problem in this area has less to do with the idea of hell, and rather more to do with a God who embodies justice in the purest and most absolute form, and has the authority over our final destination.

To support his position that heaven and hell are redundant and obsolete concepts that may cheerfully be trashed, Mr Parris refers approvingly to two Thought for the day broadcasts, where the contributors made no mention of these ideas whatsoever.  In so doing he ignores the well-known fact that the Beeb’s editorial policy in such matters is designed to result in a Thought which is, generally speaking, the perfect embodiment of the word ‘anodyne’.  Inevitably, as one reflects on such a line of thinking, one is taken back to Fawlty Towers:

Basil: Listen, don’t mention the war! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right. [returns to the Germans] So! It’s all forgotten now, and let’s hear no more about it. So, that’s two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering, and four Colditz salads.

Of course, Jesus did not spend his entire ministry just talking about heaven or hell.  He covered many subjects which affect us in the here and now, which (at least based upon the comments in this Comment piece) Mr Parris might seem to approve of.  But he did speak about hell – not in a vengeful, threatening manner, as a kind of bludgeon to coerce submission, but rather as a kind of concerned, loving warning.  After all, it’s not unreasonable to surmise that the Son of God knew what He was talking about.

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‘Shutting down’ the anti-abortion argument

toiletNot long ago, it was all over social media – that is to say, Patrick S. Tomlinson’s ‘unanswerable’ argument against the pro-life position that human “life begins at conception”.  You can read all about it here:  it is not entirely a surprise that papers such as The Independent went large on this one.

It is, in many respects, the kind of line of argument much beloved of the new atheists, because it is simplistically and brutally binary in its nature, ‘apparently’ permitting only one of two responses – but the important thing to note is that those answers are entirely contrived and circumscribed by the nature of the hypothetical question.  It is a kind of argument which relieves the respondent of the arduous task of actually thinking about the issues, and therefore encourages precisely the kind of response that Mr Tomlinson claims is the norm.  A little further down The Independent’s article, we are made privy to more of his tweets which take the form of casual flourishes of ad-hominism, intended to make anyone taking issue with his approach feel somehow subhuman.  If the respondent feels unable to answer the dilemma according to Mr Tomlinson’s prescription, then that person is “dishonest”.  Behold the new dialectic.

But this particular craps table has been rigged from the outset, and I would guess, intentionally so. (You should read the article to get a sense of the flow of the argument, such as it is, as I will not reproduce it here).  There are, in fact, several lines we might explore, rather than find ourselves constrained by Mr Tomlinson’s set of rules – for this is like a game of tennis where, irrespective of whether your serve is inside or outside of the line, you lose the point.  I have not referred to any additional external sources here, so these are just my initial thoughts:

  1. The entire scenario proposed by Mr Tomlinson already presupposes the commoditisation of human beings.  Many of those deep-frozen embryos are inevitably destined for the incinerator, simply because of the nature of in-vitro processes, so it does not matter whether they are saved from the fire or not.  This would tend to rig the decision in favour of saving the five-year old child;
  2. Mr Tomlinson argues (in one of his insightful tweets) that “A human child is worth more than a thousand embryos. Or ten thousand. Or a million. Because they are not the same, not morally, not ethically, not biologically.”  Well, that’s an intriguing line of thought, but one wonders where it comes from – perhaps his imagination is as fertile as his imaginary clinic.  Of course, a five-year-old child may tweak more at our heartstrings than a newborn, whose distance from an embryo is merely one of chronology, and physical location.  Given that Mr Tomlinson clearly lives in his own simplistic moral universe, where only binary choices apply, then it seems to me that the only sane answer is to consign both the child and the embryos to oblivion and head for the exit.  In this kind of world, the only person whose value you can be sure about is yourself.  The adult human and the five year old are “not the same” in the sense that Mr Tomlinson is using those words (assuming that his choice of words means anything at all);
  3. Of course, there are real problems with the “not the same” line of argument.  When the genetic marker for Downs Syndrome is detected in the foetus, the medical argument for abortion is never, ever about how this is going to affect the developing baby in the womb.  No, the most powerful and emotive arguments brought to bear on the parents are invariably about the life of the child once it is born.  That is to say, the very proponents of abortion will use completely the inverse argument when it suits them – it is assumed by those favouring termination that life post-birth is a continuity of what went before in utero;
  4. Mr Tomlinson’s hypothetical challenge breaks down at other points too:  the analogy of danger from fire is all-too passive for this context, for it implies that the five-year-old is in as much danger as those stored embryos.  But we are talking here about abortion, where (unless Peter Singer and his acolytes get their way), five-year-olds are never going to be placed in such a position – and if they are, then the moral argument in favour of their nurture and protection takes a very different form.  Fire may be an undiscriminating cause of death, but the abortion clinic is far from being that neutral – it’s agents aim to destroy foetuses, frequently by means of brutal and destructive procedures.  If Mr Tomlinson’s analogy involved that five-year-old child being incarcerated in a facility staffed by cannibalistic butchers, armed with sharp knives, perhaps that might be more realistic?
  5. And finally, and rather obviously, life does not necessarily consist of these simplistic binary choices.  Perhaps it is possible to save both the child and the embryos – or perhaps neither of them.  In Mr Tomlinson’s hypothesis we’re told that only one choice is possible, but in the real world, we’d never be privy to that information, and would simply do the best we can, probably under duress.  Pro-abortionists seem to have plenty of past form in erecting these kinds of either/or hypotheticals, usually predicated on the most extreme scenarios – whereas real life is both much more messy and prosaic at the same time.  I kind of get the tactic, which is to pin the issue on a knife-edge in order to force a kind of unconsidered response – but that’s hardly an honest way of engaging, is it?

If Mr Tomlinson’s original post received 60,000 ‘likes’ and 30,000 retweets in a week, and if it merited republishing a la The Independent, then this seems indicative of a kind of cultural regress which I sincerely hope may be close to bottoming out, as it seems difficult to imagine that we could venture much further down the toilet without flushing our essential humanity away entirely.

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The end of a conversation

AmazonEnd2

The last message from an Amazon Discussion participant

My lament over the closing of the ‘Amazon Discussions’ is probably a tad hypocritical:  I had, for quite some time, found them to be a microcosm of all that is worst about the current state of public discourse.  To be sure, there were some folks of an atheistical or religious disposition who were determined to maintain a civil basis for discussion, but they (we!) were by far the minority.  A perturbing majority of atheists hunted in packs, their primary aim being to shut down discussion, using the most brutal means possible.  Given their worldview, it was impossible for any dissenting individual to have either integrity or a functioning intellect.  The theists responded in increasing desperation, and almost inevitably any conversation descended into an exercise in vituperation, regardless of how promisingly it may have started.

I spent some time, in the good old days before my cynicism quotient was filled to the brim, attempting to argue that, even if one did not respect an ideology or a set of beliefs, one should nevertheless respect the person, and treat them accordingly – at least if there was to be any possibility of rational discourse.  Those of us from a theistic background seemed to instinctively understand that principle, because this is how we generally conduct ourselves within Christian community, even if we have profound disagreements.  For most atheists on the forum, it was as if I was speaking a foreign language.  The default framework for engagement is now one of profound disrespect for the individual, our secular ‘liberal’ culture showing precious little tolerance for dissenters.

However, I am sad to see that Amazon has closed their Customer Discussions facility.  J A Foxton’s closing comment “.” is the final contribution to a series of 2,686 interactions on a particular issue, spread over several years.  You could perhaps argue that a fair proportion of this had little value, or that some of it was downright toxic, but it did represent a trajectory of discourse that has now, apparently, evaporated into the ether.  There is no way of picking up the thread with Mr Foxton, and it seems a pity that so much intellectual effort, polemic, and articulation of arguments has simply vanished without trace.

But that, in itself, is simply a nod towards the prevailing mantra of materialism.  Thousands of years of human history and cultural advancement will one day simply be obliterated by one kind of cosmic event or another.  Even the painstaking analysis and reconstruction of our own past, spread over centuries of historical and archaeological investigation, will be consigned to the same dustbin.  Our efforts in the direction of the kind of value-judgement which allows us to distinguish between The Duomo in Florence or the Gas-chambers of Auschwitz will all, ultimately, vanish like the morning mist because everything is just some kind of reorganisation of atomic particles, nothing more.  And in the vacuum of the kind of dead space posited by atheism, those myriads of human voices will not even be audible as a kind of echo.

Thankfully, the Christian has a reason to look beyond such nihilism.  In Luke’s meticulous historical account of the life of Christ, he reports the last exchange of words between Christ, and a criminal crucified with him (Luke 23:42-43).  The latter, recognising that Jesus is both just and innocent, asks only that he be remembered – to which request Jesus gladly responds in a way that is over and above any reasonable expectation.  Amazon may rehearse the oblivion posited by materialism, but that key human drive to be remembered, to have significance, is fulfilled only in Christ.

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Atheist Memes #5: Christian Prayer

Sam Harris, in his disquietingly inadequate take on the atheistic reinterpretation of morality, includes a somewhat odd aside on the unacceptably high levels of homelessness in Los Angeles (The Moral Landscape, p70).  Sam is outraged that American culture is apparently incapable of mustering sufficient resolve to deal with this moral problem.  Given that his book is essentially about why it is that we don’t need God to be good, I was left wondering about who it is who was trying to make a difference for homeless people in LA.

So, I spent a happy evening reviewing the websites of all the agencies currently active in LA, providing support to homeless individuals.  I found that some 76% of all agencies addressing this problem (at that time) were either overtly Christian, or represented bodies which were Christian affiliates.  Sam’s aside supplies yet another evidence that Christian agencies are disproportionately high contributors to resolving societal problems – but you wouldn’t always be aware of that when listening to the utterances from our secular overlords.

For this reason, the kind of meme which is relentlessly reposted by atheists on social media is something of an irritant.  Here is the link to a typical example of this satire in the ‘Rochdale Herald‘. This particular one seems to have been reused to the kind of degree which is highly suggestive of either a pathological desire to misrepresent, or a kind of complacency with ignorance.  Clearly, the intention is to suggest that not only is prayer useless, but furthermore it’s the only thing that Christians have to offer when a crisis comes.  It does not take a great deal of effort to expose the fallaciousness of both ideas:  for example, Christian NGOs were in Barbuda by the 8th September with planeloads of relief supplies, not merely the ’empty’ aphorisms contained within the practice of prayer.  Whatever else prayer achieves in practice, it seems to be a necessary component in galvanising the Christian community to make a real difference on the ground.

And, thankfully, there are other sources which would tend to support this view.  Here, for example, is an article in the Washington Times.  Admittedly, it’s prime focus is on the relief supplied to victims of Hurricane Irma on US home territory – but the suggestion is that 80% of that aid is coming from Christian groups.  Note what I am not attempting to argue here:  I am not suggesting that Christians are better or quicker or more effective when it comes to dispensing practical aid, when compared to secular agencies – but that our commitment to the practicalities is not somehow negated or diluted by the fact that we also believe in the power of prayer.  Indeed, you could argue that Christians are punching above our weight when it comes to practical social action, if you believe what the secular media say about the decline in our numbers.

And this same principle is repeated endlessly wherever you look:  Trussell Trust’s work with food banks, Street Pastors providing a voluntary, caring solution to the phenomenon of binge-drinking.  In Cardiff where I live, there’s an active alliance between churches, providing for the homeless, and we have a new Christian charity seeking to rescue and protect trafficked people, supplying them with alternative employment.  I have yet to see any organised group of well-motivated atheists appearing on the scene to tackle these social ills, and perhaps if they were actually doing something, I’d be less inclined to take exception to the kind of mendacious drivel put out by the Rochdale Herald.

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The Regulated Person

People will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

(Aldous Huxley)

A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece about the nature of regulation.  At that point, I was concerned about some FB memes which were doing the rounds, and I wanted to explore some aspects of the characteristics of the thing.  As I review the article, it strikes me that it may have been an exercise in understatement:  I’d now like to take the subject a little further, and think about the impact on real, live, human-beings.

Firstly, by way of restating my credentials, I need to make clear that this subject is close to my heart.  I have dedicated 34 years of my life to working within what is the most tightly-regulated sector within the UK economy, one where the people who earn the real money are the Regulators, and where the burden of risk falls upon the regulated class.  For the innocent and unwary person, this is the virtual reality where I eke out my existence in the shadowlands of a kind of bureaucracy that even George Orwell or Aldous Huxley never anticipated.

Few would deny that in the UK we live within a wholly secularised State, and have been doing so now for several decades.  A few visible echoes of a Christian past linger on, like a post-prandial burp, but largely they are confined to some eccentric modes of dress, and some drafty old buildings with thermometers standing outside.  That is not to say that Christianity is out for the count – in some respects, it is flourishing authentically, just not on the radars of our secular overlords.  Within the culture at large, the model of secularism has morphed from one which accepted the necessary tensions between sacred and secular, to one which sees the former as having no place at all within the public space, and sees suppression as the only way forwards.  Alastair Campbell, back in 2003, famously interrupted Tony Blair to assert that “We don’t do God”:  he may be reviewing that position now, but the phrase was accurately interpreted to describe the current model of secularism.  “We don’t do God” is the mantra which supports modern secular ethics – a return to a kind of rejigged Enlightenment utopianism that tells us that human beings are basically good enough without God, and can rely on our own profound secular insights to distinguish between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

It is against this cultural backdrop that we are observing the rise and rise of regulation, apparently as a solution to everything.  Regulation – at least in its current monolithic form – appears to be, uniquely, a secularist project.  On the one hand, the ruling classes tell us relentlessly that we don’t “need God to be good”, and on the other hand they are intent on regulating every possible aspect of our lives.  Scratch the surface of Western civilisation, and bureaucracy pours out like a flood: the same people who casually denigrate the abbreviated moral frameworks in the Old Testament will incontinently spew forth illiberal laws and restrictions without, apparently, recognising the essential contradictions at the heart of their polemic.  God’s laws granted human beings a certain dignity (and accountability) in disobedience: the secularists are intent on locking us down for good.  The only winners are those who write the legislation, or those who, by some superhuman effort, are able to play the game more effectively than the rank and file.

My own experience within the financial services marketplace has been salutary, but I doubt if the fundamental nature of the thing differs from any other sector which has become subject to creeping bureaucracy.  Here are some of the key characteristics:

  • regulation doesn’t recognise a ‘truth’ or ‘facts’ outside of its own operational worldview – indeed, it frames and perpetuates a version of reality which, ultimately becomes entirely all-encompassing;
  • regulation is driven by an ideology, one which is self-perpetuating, and recognises no valid alternatives – or, at least, does not accord them equal status;
  • the interaction between ‘regulator’ and ‘regulated’ is therefore largely a one-way trade.  Generally speaking, the best one can expect is an amelioration of what otherwise would be draconian;
  • the bodies established for the purpose of regulation are generally unaccountable in their operations;
  • values and principles become disembodied, amorphous things – and the denaturing process means that they come to mean only what the regulator wants them to mean.  This subverts normal human relationships – we think we are talking about the same thing, and discover to our horror that we were not even equal participants in the same conversation;
  • regulation purports to be something that it is not – namely, joined-up, consistent and egalitarian.  None of these things are true in practice – enshrined at the core are dysfunctionalities that make their presence felt, usually at huge cost to the regulated class.  This is the kind of thing that the Old Testament prophets would have described as ‘idols’;
  • in practice, the regulated constituency live in a condition of subserviency upon the regulator.  Our diaries and activities are circumscribed by their agendas, our standards and procedures are subject to their rules, our budgets are entirely constrained by their appetites for fees  – and they have voracious appetites.  Where the regulator is unprepared to pronounce upon a matter, the regulated would be foolish to venture.  In short, we become passive, dependent, hesitant, erring continually in the direction of not doing a good thing, if there is some regulatory doubt about the matter.  And regulators excel at ambiguity.

In practice, regulation becomes another nail in the coffin of human dignity, conditioning us to follow our God into the oblivion prepared for him by those clever secularists.  Any intellectual engagement which is not prescribed by the regulatory authorities is regarded as worthless.  Anyone who has studied the atheistic subversion of modern science will identify the trend:  ‘scientism’ describes an ideology which treats all other disciplines as at best subsidiary to scientific method, and at worst as having no value at all.  Exactly the same kind of ideology is playing out here – one which disenfranchises all human insights and intellectual engagements, outside of the reductionism of regulatory reality.

From a Christian perspective, one would describe this kind of phenomenon as ‘cultic’.  Regulation gives the lie to the secularist’s claims that a culture can function happily without God, and in effect imposes a form of indentured servitude upon beings created in the image of God.  At least, in the Old Testament, the slaves were released in the Year of Jubilee…

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Iconoclasm Old and New

iconoclasts

In late January 1522, the good townsfolk of Wittenberg  jumped the gun on the city council, and removed images of the Virgin Mary from the churches, as contrary to the Second Commandment.  Andreas Bodenstein von Karlsbadt, a colleague of Luther, had been attempting to identify a more moderated approach to these artefacts of Romanism, and was working with the authorities to draw up a plan – but the people had had enough.    When one examines those core themes which characterised the Reformation, it is apparent that there were several which were simply an affront to the populace – the corruption of the clergy, the usurpation of biblical authority, the abusive nature of some late medieval practices and the disenfranchisement of ordinary believers when it came to learning and understanding.  For a growing number of theologians, the Reformation was as much about Sola Scriptura and Sola fides as it was about rejecting spurious papal authority, and rediscovering a purer form of church order.

We get our word ‘iconoclasm’ from this practice of the public ridding itself of cultural artefacts which were representative of a kind of present bondage.  Similar, semi-spontaneous protests were soon happening right across Europe – time and again, the mob got there before the authorities had finished their planning, as in Basel (1529), Bern (1528) and throughout Scotland (1559).  Jean Calvin, one of the leading reformers repeatedly condemned this kind of destruction, but nevertheless, it carried on.  Indeed, you could argue that there was a considerable weight of nuanced, theological thinking behind it, generated by the likes of Farel, Viret, Zwingli and Calvin himself – all of whom had critiqued the faulty presuppositions behind the burgeoning Catholic market in relics and the paganism underpinning the cult of Mary.

These days, iconoclasm has a bad name.  In the vernacular of secularist historiography, these events of the Reformation tend to be treated as a rather joyless, primitive act of cultural vandalism perpetrated by unsophisticated reactionaries who can only maintain one idea in their heads at any given time.  Atheists who would be reluctant to waste mental energy considering the metaphysical or theological background, are usually quick to disparage such actions.  The Guardian decried this phenomenon in 2001 when the Taliban were busy demolishing those huge Buddhist statues in Afghanistan.  Another  media source expressed similar views when ISIS set about a similar eradication of cultural artefacts in Iraq.  And what’s to argue about here?  I am no Buddhist, and the history of Nineveh is hardly a cheering, uplifting little tale, but I see the need for all cultures to retain a connection to their own history, otherwise we are cast loose in a vacuum, without significance or context.  I do not need to like, or approve of, an artefact in order to find relevance.

Which is why I cannot quite get my head around the sudden, overnight toppling of Confederate statues in the USA.  It is as if a dam has burst, and these things which form a kind of silent reminder of the complexities of US history are coming down all over the shop.  Typically, the justification for the cultural vandalism takes the form of some kind of articulation of racism grievance, but this seems to represent a modern attempt to impose a kind of reductionist morality on our own past.  The individuals represented in those statues were on the losing side, not just of the Civil War, but on the moral issue of slave ownership.  Nevertheless, some 70% of South never actually owned slaves, and the general population were galvanised as much at the time by the impositions of central government – so the destruction of cultural artefacts must be a painful experience for those descendants of Confederate families which now fall foul of this new kind of binary view of moral issues.  Morality isn’t a switch that you flick to enforce conformity with whoever is currently in the ascendancy.

Back in Calvin’s day, one had a thoughtful and systematic theological reflection underpinning the impetus to peel back the accretion of pagan overlays which had all-but obscured the simplicity of the Christian message.  And you also had the voices of moderation, seeking to restrain the mob.  But right now, you don’t have either of those factors in play.  You simply have the mob.  The leftwing media, swift to condemn the iconoclasm of Taliban and ISIS, simply mutter their approval and parrot the usual reductionist formulae about racism.  Of course, if you don’t like a statue, toppling it isn’t the only answer – Seattle’s sixteen-foot statue of Vladimir Illych Lenin, a truly evil human being,  responsible for more human misery than the entire Confederacy combined, remains standing, despite the sensitivities of modern morality.  Only, periodically, someone applies a new coat of red-paint to his hands.

In closing, I’m reminded of something I wrote back in 2014.

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