Government to introduce 'square circles'

Squaring the circleChristian Concern announces that the government’s latest Political Correctness:

Following the news that homosexual marriage is to be introduced, the government is now proposing to introduce square circles.

The Deputy Minister for Shapes commented: ‘It is time that we gave true equality to circles, not only to rectangles. Why shouldn’t circles be considered square?’

Brilliant! There are links to various relevant stories. See also the comment by Nunos about chalk and cheese.

Thanks to a Facebook friend for the link.

Christians and Politics: Williams and Whitefield

I thank the publishers for sending me a review copy of The Politics of Witness by Allan R. Bevere. When I have time I will be reading and reviewing it, especially in the light of the discussion relating to my post Is every Christian in politics a “Dominionist”? But I am likely to be too busy to do this for the next few days.

Meanwhile I have a couple of links and quick thoughts to share on the subject of Christians in politics.

Archbishop Rowan WilliamsRachel Marszalek, newly ordained in the Church of England, reports on a visit to her diocese by the “notorious” Archbishop Rowan Williams. Part of her post is about a talk by the Archbishop “Making a Witness in the Public Square”. Here are some of his words as summarised by Rachel:

When you come into the body of Christ, you are to be loyal to God’s vision for the human race, over and above ethnic, National and even, swallow hard, family loyalties. It calls you also to be loyal to something that has not yet happened. For the Roman Empire this was seen as a rival claim. But we can not be loyal Roman citizens and in choosing not to be, death was the consequence for some. Christians work out a theology of citizenship which means that the country itself can not be treated as a god. …

The Roman Empire got it wrong in seeing Christianity as a rival claim. But the church was a great, big organisation. It was one legal system against another. The church has to step back and not compete for territory.

Rowan anchored much of what he spoke about in the work of William Stringfellow… Rowan quoted from ‘Conscience and Obedience,’ written in the late 1970s. …

When is it right not to obey the law, asks Stringfellow…when the law seems to be going in the opposite direction to God’s vision. Stringfellow proposes vocal advocacy – we do this and we take the consequences. Civil disobedience is not something Christians should never consider. We have to be able to say to the state – by what authority can you do this if it defies a Godward direction?

What can I say? Rowan Williams clearly wouldn’t endorse the kind of conservative Christian involvement in US politics which has been much discussed, and misrepresented, in recent weeks. But he would also reject the idea that Christians should keep out of political discussions and retreat to their own communities. These are thoughts I will bear in mind as I read Bevere’s book.

George WhitefieldMeanwhile Scot McKnight writes about Politics and Religion, the American Odyssey. A large part of this post is a discussion of the role of George Whitefield in pioneering Christian political action in North America. He finishes with some questions about how far Whitefield’s example can be followed today (emphasis as in the original):

Many may be uncomfortable with Whitefield’s attention to political issues in England and the USA, but there’s a big question here we need to discuss: Can a Christian pastor completely ignore the political? While the Anabaptist vision, as compared with the Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed views, may prefer more separation from the State and political issues, can the Christian preacher ever avoid the implications of the gospel for politics?

I will ponder these questions, and maybe some time I will attempt to answer them.

Not a Christian blogger, a blogger who’s a Christian

Kurt Willems writes I’m not a Christian blogger, I’m a blogger who’s a Christian. I would say the same, and echo Kurt’s reasons for saying it.

I’m not a Christian blogger, I’m a blogger who’s a ChristianMost of my posts on this blog include some kind of explicitly Christian material, about the Bible, Christian teaching or my own beliefs. My last few posts, for no particular reason, have not done so. My primary purpose in blogging is not to promote the Christian faith, although I am happy to do so – and my series Follow Jesus does have this purpose. I blog mainly to express and discuss what is important to me, and a lot of that does concern my faith.

Meanwhile I am working, or at least thinking of working, on more explicitly Christian posts. So watch this space.

Is there an alternative to Palestinian statehood?

Flag of PalestineToday, as the BBC confirms, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to apply to the United Nations for membership, and the United States is expected to veto this bid. Nevertheless the campaigning organisation Avaaz is continuing to appeal for support for the application. In an e-mail this morning (I can’t find the text on the Avaaz website but there is a copy online here) this is part of the argument they make:

growing numbers of Palestinians are giving up on two states and deciding to embrace a long term struggle — one they liken to South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle — for a single secular democratic state with equal rights for all ethnicities and faiths.

This, Avaaz implies, is a bad thing, a movement which should be undermined by granting to the Palestinian territories immediate statehood and separation from Israel.

But why? Does Avaaz really think that “a single secular democratic state with equal rights for all ethnicities and faiths” is a bad thing? Would it really be better to divide the country permanently on ethnic and religious lines?

Avaaz also notes that this would be “effectively the end of Israel as a Jewish state”. True enough. But it would not be the end of Jewish presence and influence in the land. Currently there are just more Jews (about 5.5 million) than Palestinian Arabs (about 5.3 million) living in Israel and the Palestinian territories taken together. That balance might change if Palestinians “return” from neighbouring countries – but then more Jews might move to a peaceful new nation, and any law of return would have to be even-handed. In practice neither side would be able to dominate the other.

So could this solution work? Of course it would not be easy to resolve decades of conflict and bitterness. But the comparison Avaaz makes with South Africa suggests how this could be done, through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Also a single state is more likely to succeed if it is a federal one, with large degrees of self-government for the continuing Jewish and Arab majority areas.

There are of course many obstacles to be faced before such a solution could be agreed, not least the probable strong opposition of extremists and religious fundamentalists in Israel and among the Palestinians – not to mention in America. However, those of us who are politically moderate and believe in the separation of the state from organised religion should see this as the most desirable long term outcome. But it will be jeopardised by any continuing moves to institutionalise the division of the land.

I support most of Avaaz’s campaigns. But in this case I believe they have got it wrong, and those like President Obama who reject full Palestinian statehood have the best policy.

Neutrinos in Italy break light speed limit

An Italian autostradaThe BBC, amongst many others, reports that neutrinos, sub-atomic particles, have been found to travel across Italy faster than the speed of light. At least, they break that ultimate speed limit for part of their journey from CERN, across corners of Switzerland and France and along half the length of Italy, to Gran Sasso, a large mountain to the east of Rome. I’m sure that in precise Switzerland they wouldn’t dare to break a speed limit. But in Italy, as I have discovered from experience, no one takes any notice of speed limits. So I reckon that in Italy the neutrinos have learned, as I have, to drive like Italians!

Not that it saves them much time. Speeding usually doesn’t. According to the Reuters version of the story, they reach their destination just 60 nanoseconds sooner than expected. Was it worth it? Well, in those 60 billionths of a second my computer can perform 136 operations, not completely negligible. But then most men who drive too fast do it not so much to save time as to show off their manliness. Don’t ask me why women drive too fast, as my answer may offend! Neutrinos, as their name suggests, are neutral or neuter or something, so I have no idea why they would want to travel faster than light.

For some alternative thoughts on what these neutrinos are up to, see Archdruid Eileen’s thoughts Faster than a speeding neutrino, and my comment on them.

The Turkish Apostrophe

Tim Chesterton offers a “rant” about misplaced apostrophes in English – see also my comments there. In recent years I too have noticed increasing misuse of these little punctuation marks. Now I don’t like to be over-prescriptive about language, which should be about how people actually speak and write, not about how some elite says they should do so. But I do get annoyed by elementary errors in spelling and punctuation. I agree with Greg McFarlane’s points, if not his tone, in a guest post today at Problogger There Are 3 Thing’s Wrong With This Head Line:

When your posts are loaded with spelling and grammar mistakes, you’re telling your readers one or both of two things:

  1. I can’t be bothered to learn the language I’ve chosen to communicate in.
  2. My content is so vital and compelling that its form is unimportant. …

In 2011, with so much of the world’s knowledge available to any of us, it’s astounding that there exist bloggers who’ve advanced past adolescence yet still don’t know that plurals don’t take apostrophes.

Writing plurals with apostrophes is only one of the errors which I seem to see more and more often, but it is an interesting one. According to Wikipedia, for what it is worth,

It is generally acceptable to use apostrophes to show plurals of single lower-case letters

– but in no other cases. A Turkish apostrophe on a road signThe unnecessary apostrophe in other plural’s is sometimes called the greengrocer’s apostrophe, because of its common use with fruit and vegetable’s.

Interestingly, this apostrophe seems to appear most frequently in the plurals of proper nouns of some kind – or at least of nouns written with a capital letter, as in the deliberate error “Thing’s” in McFarlane’s post title. I regret picking on Kurt Willems and his excellent Pangea blog, but the following was something of a distraction from his otherwise great review of The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight:

the Gospel’s are designed to have these elements as their focal point.

Where did this popular misconception come from that an apostrophe should be used before the plural suffix on a proper noun? Strangely enough this follows regular practice in Turkish, as described by Wikipedia:

In Turkish, proper nouns are capitalized and an apostrophe is inserted between the noun and any following suffix.

Other languages use apostrophes before suffixes added to foreign names, but Turkish seems unique in using it also with local words used as proper nouns. Could this usage have been borrowed into informal English from Turkish? This seems unlikely, but is not impossible.

Well, whether or not that is where it came from, that is where it should go. The Turks are welcome to their apostrophes, but in English they should be restricted to contractions and possessive endings.

"Miracle babies" pastor to be extradited

Pastor Gilbert DeyaThe BBC reports: ‘Miracle babies’ pastor to be extradited to Kenya:

An evangelist who claimed to have created miraculous pregnancies through prayer is to be sent back to Kenya to face child abduction charges.

I wonder, did Pastor Gilbert Deya really claim to have created something? Or did he claim that God did something in response to his prayer, and were his words misrepresented by a sub-editor?

The report continues:

Infertile or post-menopausal women who attended his church in Peckham, South London were told they would be having “miracle” babies.

But the babies were always “delivered” in backstreet clinics in Nairobi. …

“The couple went to Africa, came back into the country with a child that the authorities found out was not theirs through a DNA test.”

Pastor Deya’s response:

The miracle babies which are happening in our ministry are beyond human imagination.

It is not something I can say I can explain because they are of God and things of God cannot be explained by a human being.

Well, God can do miracles like this, and if he creates a baby it doesn’t have to have its parents’ DNA. After all, on the orthodox Christian understanding of the Virgin Birth Jesus must have had different DNA from his single biological parent – but, as I argued a few years ago, there may be more to that story than meets the eye.

But the evidence in this case seems to suggest that the babies in fact came from Kenyans unrelated to the childless couples. The child abduction charges are arguably not serious because the real mothers were very likely willing to give up their children for adoption, although clearly the legal formalities were not completed. What is serious, although perhaps not technically criminal, is the way in which Pastor Deya apparently deceived people into believing in miracles.

I know some of my readers here think that I believe too easily in claims of miracles made by preachers and evangelists. What I have always said is that we should look for evidence, and that if none is available either way we should not reject the claims of our Christian brothers and sisters or call them liars. In this case, however, there does seem to be clear evidence of deception. And so it is right that the minister be discredited, and be punished for his criminal activities.

Announcing Gentle Wisdom International

The Earth seen from Apollo 17Gentle Wisdom has gone international! The .uk suffix has been dropped from its URL, which is now simply, with an optional www. prefix. The old URL and old links to individual posts should still work, with redirection to the new locations. But I would recommend updating links in blogrolls etc.

The blog is now also hosted “internationally”. I bought an “unlimited” hosting plan with a US-based hosting company,*, which includes the new domain name. That is one reason for the change.

It also makes sense for Gentle Wisdom to have a more international identity as currently less than 20% of visits here are from the UK, and nearly 60% are from the USA. But this will continue to be a British based blog, written in British English (but a few Americanisms might slip in) and offering a British perspective even when commenting on other countries’ affairs.

I hope that yesterday’s work in progress is now complete. If you notice any problems, please let me know by a comment here or through the contact form.

* This is an affiliate link. So if you are looking for hosting, please click on it, or here, or on the sidebar ad, and I will receive a commission when you sign up.

Work in progress

Work in progressI am working on some upgrades to this blog including a move to a new server. This means that for the next day or two it may, at least intermittently, be unavailable or closed to comments. Apologies for any inconvenience.

Watch this space for announcements about the changes when they are complete.

Is every Christian in politics a "Dominionist"?

US Capitol Building at nightI read Joel’s review of The Politics of Witness by Allan Bevere (I have not read the book) in the light of his strident attacks on so-called “dominionism”. I was glad to see Joel’s agreement that Christian involvement in right-wing politics should be judged by the same standards as Christian involvement in left-wing politics. The post opened up for me the question about whether Christians should be involved in politics at all, of whatever colour. In the words of the alleged “dominionist” Peter Wagner:

The rules of the democratic game open the doors for Christians … to move into positions of leadership influential enough to shape the whole nation from top to bottom.

But is it evil “dominionism” for Christians to move into these positions of political influence? Here is the comment I made on Joel’s post, which he has yet to respond to despite having posted at least eight times since that post:

I guess there is an issue here which I still need to resolve with you. Does Bevere help us to resolve it?

Is it right and good for Christians to get involved in politics? If it is right, in what way? Is it wrong, for example, for a Christian to stand as President, because by doing so he or she is “bent on taking over the American Government in the name of God”? Or what about standing as Congressman or Senator? Or is it only wrong if he or she does so as the representative of some kind of Christian organisation? What, then, if the group is not explicitly Christian but its policies and nearly all its members are Christian? What if that group is the one of the two main parties, and the candidate has won that party’s support for more or less Christian policies?

Or if all Christian involvement in politics is wrong, what is the logic and what are the consequences of Christians, even if in the majority, handing over all the business of governing to non-Christians?

Do you have answers to these questions? Does Bevere? After all, they strike at the root of our rather fundamental disagreement about “dominionism”.

Joel doesn’t seem to have any answers, at least yet. Does anyone else reading this?

My own position is clear: it is right and proper for us Christians to be involved in politics at all levels, provided that we use honest and democratic means to do so. Indeed this is what I have done myself, at a low level. If any Christians do gain power, they will naturally want to use that power to promote policies generally in line with their faith, but they should not use it to oppress others or to enforce Christian practice or morality. I do not believe that any church as an institution should be involved in politics or endorse any candidate. I would consider Christian political parties legitimate, but at least currently here in the UK I would not choose to promote one.

The alternative to Christian involvement in politics would be, it seems to me, to hand over our nations as gifts to the powers of evil – either to liberal secularists or to fundamentalists of other religions. Is that what Joel and his fellow anti-dominionists want?

So it is interesting to see that Joel has also provided evidence which could suggest, at least to conspiracy theorists, that the Dominionismism conspiracy is an Islamic plot to undermine Christianity and present the USA to those powers of evil. He quotes from an article Exposing religious fundamentalism in the US published by Al Jazeera, best known as apologists for Osama Bin Laden and friends, which claims that

The US media has been downplaying a radical Christian theology that is increasingly influential in the Republican Party.

In fact what happened is that some in the US media, such as Lisa Miller of the Washington Post, realised that other media reports had been grossly overblown and inaccurate, and offered much more balanced analysis of the issues. But this new analysis did not suit the Islamist agenda, and so not surprisingly Al Jazeera weighed in with its own detailed but tendentious article. At least they did manage to lay to rest the lie that Peter Wagner is anti-democratic with this quote from him:

If a majority feels that heterosexual marriage is the best choice for a happy and prosperous society, those in the minority should agree to conform – not because they live in a theocracy, but because they live in a democracy. The most basic principle of democracy is that the majority, not the minority, rules and sets the ultimate norms for society.

Indeed, although the Al Jazeera article is right to balance this with a mention of minority rights which even a majority should not take away.

Now I accept that some Christians in politics have put forward extreme policies which I find highly distasteful. That is their right in a free and democratic society – although when it comes to recent horrors such as the call to let uninsured patients die I don’t see how such policies can be reconciled with any form of Christian faith. But the existence of such abuses on the right, and perhaps also on the left, is no argument for Christians to keep out of politics. Instead what is needed is for large numbers of sensible Christians with moderate policies to get involved, to defeat by democratic means both the extremist Christians and the secularists, and to acquire the influence needed to mend the world’s broken political systems and governments.