But few mentioned the dramatic core of the service she chose – the sharing of bread and wine and the anticipation of that eternal feast to which all are called. And it was here, in this, the religious part of the service, that Cilla was not a celebrity standing before an audience, but a human being standing naked before God. There is a basic democracy in this aspect of religion that is often absent from the secular funeral.
The equality of humanity is served by being stripped naked before an all powerful believe-in-me-and-you-won’t-suffer-in-hell supreme being that is beyond questioning by us mortals why we are essentially unequal in natural abilities, health and circumstance. As Paul wrote, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?”
Democracy is not present in us all being stripped naked before the one that rules us all in death. This is the apologia for the celestial dictatorship which judges against us that would dare to question their divine authority, one given to priests to lecture secularists about their memorials for the dead. The fear of death, of the undiscovered country, is the last sanctum of religion. The last roll of the dice for Pascal’s Wager, of what if there is a maker to be met?
…The secular memorial service began as something for important statesmen and was then adopted by the increasingly Godless bourgeoisie as a way of celebrating their personal achievements. But it’s often poorly designed for those of us who are not a part of the great and the good.
Or did not want the church, which offered fees to say prayers to reduce the suffering of loved ones in purgatory or to prey on widows by suggesting how helpful for the deceased if they were to give a donation, or persecuted fellow free thinkers through the ages anywhere near their corpse. Such was the fleecing of the poor, unable to make their way in this life, to at least get a better start in the next by passing copper and silver to the clergy. Thus was “the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate/he made them high and lowly and ordered their estate” in All Things Bright And Beautiful. Your place as celebrity or otherwise was so ordained “as a part of some cosmically wider story” that Fraser does not point out in his piece. But then again maybe God does nothing, like almost not being there at all.
Fraser mentions what if the deceased was a total shit. You cannot say anything bad about them apparently at a memorial service whilst religion is ready to say how wretched, worthless and devoid of meaning we all are without God’s forgiveness – thus celebrities are equal with their audience in the cosmic story. We are all shits really, but through Grace, Christianity offers to make of us manure that our souls will bloom out of.
When you die religion is desperate to have the last word. It is more important we have the last laugh at its pretensions, and celebrate life which is so fragile, so delicate and so short. Make it beautiful, make it count.
The new Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron refused to say whether homosexual sex was a sin according to his theological views, in an interview. Whilst his statements regarding secularism were welcome, it felt more like a smokescreen to obfuscate his own views on homosexuality. There are past statements of his, which I consider after looking at the interview, which strongly suggest he holds fundamentalist views regarding the Christian faith, from the efficacy of Christian faith healing to Christianity being the complete and only truth with no middle ground. It adds up to someone whose appeal was being outside the coalition government, but was not the right person to lead a liberal political party in modern Britain if he still holds these views.
Tim Farron should be used to questions regarding his views on homosexuality. He even chatted to me on twitter regarding them.
Since then he has been duly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats on the 16 July 2015 – by one third of eligible voters. He went off message the next day, deciding to talk vaguely about what faith meant to him and accusing the media of fixating on him in a way other leaders had not been. Rather than hitting the floor running, he hit the deck on the evening Channel 4 News programme.
The question was whether homosexual sex was a sin. The wording is important; because some will stress being a homosexual is of itself not a sin (neglecting to say the sex is). He started well enough – religious views are one thing, but secularism and freedom mean they should not be imposed on others via law. As a political leader, his public liberal values matter more than his personal religious views – that is liberalism. A much stronger argument would have been sin is never a reason to legislate or how you should vote in parliament. It is the welfare and freedom of the people that should matter when voting. Not imposing your personal religious conviction via the law on others.
Cathy Newman pushes him a second time to answer the question personally as a Christian: is homosexual sex a sin? Warning lights should have been flashing in his brain – any answer he gives will still be seen as the leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Isabel Hardman had already sounded the alarm that very morning, blogging on Farron’s Radio 4 Today interview with John Humphrys, regarding prayer:
“A sensible approach might be to assume, even if it seems unkind, that every worldview is worthy of suspicion and scrutiny, and that it’s not just some chap in the Lib Dems talking to someone who may or may not exist in the sky who should be grilled about his fundamental assumptions, but everyone who expresses an interest in making big decisions on voters’ behalf. Yes, we should be suspicious of Tim Farron’s Christian worldview – but only in so far as we suspect everyone’s funny jumble of beliefs and assumptions.”
Farron’s answer to Cathy was that as a Christian, whether you think someone is committing a sin is irrelevant given we all are sinners. Matthew 7:3-5 is referenced:
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
His answer also suggested that homosexual sex is a sin no more than other sins. Cathy Newman asks a third time her question, referencing Leviticus 18:22 how serious a sin it is:
“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is [an] abomination.“
This is the same bible book that also calls eating prawns and “every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth shall be an abomination; it shall not be eaten.”
They are literally abominable commandments, but you might be left thinking it is simply do not do – if you have not read it. The real kicker which Cathy Newman could have referenced in full is Leviticus 20:13:
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
Farron tries to distance himself from answering any particular verse in the bible, saying his Christianity is based on him believing what Jesus claimed to be. This leaves more questions regarding who Jesus is for Tim. Was Jesus the one to judge us, as he said, and how will homosexual sex be judged, even within the context of same sex marriage? Or the one that said he did not come to break the law but to fulfil them, ones like in Leviticus?
When Newman counters, pushing for a third time the question, that Leviticus is not exactly Liberal values (it helps to mention why: because it says you must kill people for gay sex), Farron argues that a previous leader, the late Charles Kennedy who was a Roman Catholic, did not go through the sort of questions he is regarding his faith. I will mention in the next section he has himself to blame because he has made plenty of faith claims regarding public policy to make such questioning legitimate.
Regarding Charles Kennedy, he was absent for the repeal of Section 28 (which forbade the intentional promoting of homosexuality by local authorities, and forbade promoting the acceptability of homosexuality in schools) in March 2003. In 2008, he voted against a bill which would have boosted access to IVF treatment for lesbians. He did though vote in favour of same sex marriage and equalising the age of consent. Both he and Tim Farron are considered to have voted moderately for equal gay rights, according to “They Work For You” website. Just as Norman Lamb, the other contender for the leadership this month, scored. Due to being absent from certain stages of the bill on Same Sex Marriage (Lamb away working in a Ministerial capacity, Tim Farron choosing to abstain having voted previously for Same Sex Marriage as wanted trans issues considered), their rating ended up being scored as moderate.
Farron ends his interview with Newman calling for religious tolerance, and that promoting liberal values is compatible with being a Christian. Thing is, as Hardman wrote earlier, we need to be suspicious about any underlying assumptions and beliefs politicians have. No one gets a free pass; maybe Charles Kennedy should have been asked about missing the Section 28 repeal vote (even Pink News misses mentioning that in their obituary of him).
Pink News have noticed what The Times claimed about “illiberal” Tim Farron: “An evangelical Christian since his teenage years, he believes that every word written in the Bible is literal truth, that God has a precise plan for all of us and that heaven and hell are physical entities to which all of us are consigned after death. … Mr Farron’s consistent failure to embrace the quintessentially liberal idea that every person has equal moral worth should trouble his party.”
Which is why presumably he did not want to focus on Leviticus – for every word is literally true. Why did Cathy Newman not mention those having gay sex “shall surely be put to death,” and asking was this sanctioned by the God Farron prays to? For what matters to me is not that the bible considers it a sin, or even an everlasting reason to be in hell. It sanctions you being killed because of it right now.
We live in a world where Gay people are still killed, tortured, and imprisoned. This was a chance for Tim Farron to shout from the rooftops that no holy text can ever justify throwing gay people off them to their deaths. He failed miserably to do so, having said in his acceptance speech the day before about standing up for minorities.
I am not for one second suggesting Farron thinks gays should be killed – he has campaigned against Uganda’s treatment of homosexuals for example, and I think he has changed his political views on gay marriage possibly because of his liberalism (just in time for the leadership). This line of questioning all matters because of past statements by Tim Farron that suggest he holds Christian Fundamentalist views.
When Religious Views Impacts Politics
“Abortion is wrong. Society has to climb down from the position that says there is nothing morally objectionable about abortion before a certain time. If abortion is wrong it is wrong at any time.”
“Christianity, I am convinced, is not ‘a bit’ true. It is either not true, or it is so compellingly utterly true, that almost nothing else matters … There is no middle way.”
You can read more statements like those above by Farron, that last one in 2013, in Catherine Bennett’s article “When politicians do God, no wonder we have doubts” where she made the observation “Are liberals soon to be represented by a man who can make the average Anglican bishop sound like late-period Christopher Hitchens?”
It is a fair comment, when you consider that Tim Farron said that the Advertising Standards Agency should not rule on the efficacy of faith healers claims to heal the sick.
With two other MPs in 2012 he demanded: “the Advertising Standards Authority to produce ‘indisputable scientific evidence’ to say that prayer does not work – otherwise they will raise the issue in Parliament.” Read Martin Robbins for a thorough roasting of the MPs letter
The saving grace perhaps for Tim Farron is that he is not tainted by association with the coalition government of 2010-15. He called himself an outsider – to rebuild the party I still feel this gives him an advantage over Norman Lamb with the electorate. That is why I think he won despite all these things being mentioned during the leadership campaign. The problem is his past views place him on the outside of rationality. That calls into question his leadership on policy issues where his fundamentalist views may be at odds with those of a liberal party leader.
My twitter feed suggested a few secularists that had voted for Farron had been unaware of his past views. I must confess, it was news to me too, and I had not seen people discussing it on twitter till after the post election interview with Cathy Newman. Maybe Lamb would have benefitted from a longer campaign, but he was unable to bring it up himself without countering Farron’s charge that this was intolerance of religious people in public life.
During the 2015 leadership, the question of Tim Farron’s Christian views came up on LGBT issues. Andrew Page asked:
“In January 2007 Tim Farron told the Salvation Army newspaper, “The War Cry” that “the Bible is clear about sexuality of all sorts” and “the standards that define my personal morality as a Christian are not the standards of public morality”. This seems to suggest that he thinks homosexuality is a sin, but that his personal view shouldn’t stand in the way of pro-equality legislation.”
Tim Farron:” I would say – for all minorities in the UK – equalities legislation passed in the last 10 to 20 years has been a huge step forwards. Whilst I am and will remain a committed Christian, I take the same approach as Charles Kennedy did – I hold my faith firmly but impose it on no one. I am running to be leader of the Liberal Democrats, not to be Archbishop of Canterbury (which is lucky given that I believe in disestablishment of the Church of England!).”
Norman Lamb: “…As liberals, we should always be consistent in arguing for the separation of Church and State – both structurally, and in the way we make our laws. As a political party, and as individuals, we must consistently champion liberal values – values which enshrine our freedom to worship as christians, as muslims, or indeed to believe in no god at all.”
In a tolerant and open society, individuals should always be free to talk about their faith (or lack of one) as long as they make very clear the distinction between their personal view, and the approach they take as a Liberal Democrat political figure. But in doing so, we should never imply that Christianity is somehow illiberal, or that Christians are not welcome in our party.”
A Born Again Secularist?
Norman Lamb raised treating distinctively a Liberal Democrat political figure from their personal Christian view, the wearing of two distinct hats at different times. The fear is wearing would be made easier by being two faced (Copyright Yes Prime Minister). How can you lead wholehearted on liberal issues when you personally are against them. I want someone that believes in liberalism, not someone that has to compartmentalise them before they can lead their party on liberal issues. It is legitimate to ask what someone in public life believes, for belief can shape the political agenda they will advocate and how they will react to one set by the government.
When I mentioned his past voting record on gay marriage and the need to prove himself, he replied to me “so I have since then to show through deeds too.” As the new leader of the Liberal Democrats he is now best placed to visibly show by deeds. He will need to do a lot better than that Channel 4 interview. The honeymoon period on his election is already over before the consummation of the marriage ever took place. Yet he still feels he has been screwed by a fixated media.
In “Liberal Democrats Do God” he stated “The kind of things we do to reject God’s rule over our lives differs from person to person, but the desire to push God out of our lives is the same for everyone.” Will the same Tim Farron put his view of God to one side when pursuing a liberal agenda or does he still think faith healers can say they have the power by God to heal those gullible enough to believe in such charlatan claims?
The Liberal Democrats need a leader with a clear vision of promoting liberal values against a majority Conservative Government. They do not need a prophet, though they may well be hoping for a miracle come 2020.
Metaphorically Tim Farron will have to move heaven and earth, and show that he can resolve the two during his leadership.
The photo above comes from this Daily Mail article on Tim Farron in March. Tim informs us that God knows every hair on our head, as the bible tells us.
Egyptian poet Fatima Naoot threatened with imprisonment, for saying the intended sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham was a nightmare and the sacrificing of animals during Eid Al-Adha is a massacre. Yet that story, and notion of child sacrifice, needs to be heard.
One way to prevent criticism of religion is to call it insulting, offensive and blasphemous. To even suggest that your criticism is designed to cause violence and discrimination against others. That is an easy charge to dismiss – no one should be killed or discriminated on account of religion. Also religious people can make the same observation. Criticising religion, its stories, characters and figures is not the same as demonising and dehumanising people as a group. Conflating the two is sophistry, which we have seen too many times to prevent the free speech of others that challenge supposed orthodoxy.
For there comes a point where the tenet of a faith, like Abraham being so willing to obey God that he would kill his son for Him, must be challenged for the idea that it perpetuates. Abrahamic faiths celebrate this moment, with the hand holding the blade raised ready to obey, as the love of Him even before the life of their own child. Your child must be expendable to God.
Egyptian poet Fatima Naoot is appearing before the courts for making this observation of how Islam commemorates the intended sacrifice:
“Happy massacre,” Fatima Naoot wrote on her Facebook page in October during Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast of sacrifice.
Animals are slaughtered during Eid to commemorate the willingness of Abraham to fulfil God’s command to sacrifice his own son, although in the end God provided him with a sheep.
“Massacre committed by men over the past 10 centuries and followed by men each year with a smile,” Naoot wrote at the time.
“Annual massacre observed because of a nightmare of one (prophet) about his son… ,” she wrote in Arabic.
“Although the nightmare has passed for the prophet and his son, each year helpless animals pay with their lives the price of this sacred nightmare.” [France 24]
It is a nightmare that religion continues to remember. Whether the ritualistic slaughtering of animals (Eid), that the first born of Egypt were sacrificed to deliver the Sons of Israel (Passover), or that God’s Son was sacrificed to deliver humanity (Easter). It reverberates in the consciousness of Abrahamic religious culture throughout the world.
We do not dwell on the terror of a blade reflecting the rays of the sun, as a son contemplates his last sunrise. Nor the screaming of Egyptian parents holding their lifeless child. All because a God that could part the Red Sea for Moses, and make the Sun stand still for Joshua to slaughter a routed enemy, could not whisk his chosen people away. He could kill children on mass, with the angel of death, no problem. Angel of transportation was a wing and a prayer too far.
Do we think of the drenched cold sweated Jesus beseeching God to remove the burden of crucifixion on his last night? Maybe we could imagine Isaac doing the same, as he is led to his intended place of execution. Instead Christianity is grateful for the suffering that Jesus went through. His death saved you with his blood, from his nailed hands and feet, made you clean. As he gave up his spirit you were no longer tainted by original sin. This is your good news: to rejoice in the torture of a human being to death, to bathe in the blood of the lamb. Hallelujah indeed. Not in my name would anyone have to do that for me.
To believe any of this is historically true is a nonsense. To want this to be theologically true and ordained by God is twisted by any ethical standard. For here is the bitter irony for those pro life agitators outside abortion clinics. Real child sacrifice rituals in human history had an impact on your holy texts, and you cherish the concept as part of your modern faith. It is even possible that some versions of the original story had Isaac killed, that it was carried through as God had commanded. For the love of God would you do this? Or would you repeat Hitchens to anyone that demanded it of you “no, fuck you!” as the righteous answer.
Fatima Naoot saw no contradiction to her faith calling out that moment as a nightmare, and the ritual animal slaughter as a massacre. Yet she faces up to three years in prison for contempt of Islam, promoting sectarianism and disturbing the public peace. Because she dared to speak the truth about killing animals, and anyone ordering a father to kill his son.
[Human rights groups] also say those seen as offending Islam have been targeted by the state and jailed on charges ranging from blasphemy to contempt of religion – but say this has been happening since the 2011 overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, not just since Mursi was deposed following mass protests.
The country’s courts convicted 27 of 42 defendants accused of contempt for religion in 2011-2013, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. [Reuters]
Religion has stories which are the product of it’s time. I live in a country where my freedom of speech allows me to say what I will about religion, without holding back. The nightmare today is so many in the world lack that freedom in matters of religion.
That is a misery for the world. Too many side with the offended and not with the Fatima Naoot and Raif Badawi of this world. Let alone a Charlie Hebdo cover of Mohammed crying, which the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation deemed an “extreme act.” Satirists of religion are the extremists, just as atheists are terrorists, to Saudi Arabia where the organisation is based. A country where they behead and flog liberals and apostates, oppress violently the Shia minority viewing them as to be hunted down and killed. A policy they have done much to regionalise. No God cries out to them to sheath their blade.
The British government in turn shows it’s friendship to the House of Saud, by lowering the flag on the death of it’s King. Their allies want the oil to flow, and let the blood spilt as clerical jurisprudence wash away. The British government has shown this by deciding now is a good time to send civil servants to assist with the Saudi Arabian prison system, as a commercial undertaking, but giving no assurances they will uphold human rights or not take part in facilitating their breach.
If faith sets you free, it has to let those that question your belief be so too. Yet, if God can make Abraham holy by being prepared to kill his son for him for no reason, what chance do poets, bloggers, or cartoonists have when they offend devout religious sensitivities? When our own secular governments are prepared to do business and even condone the theocratic system that incarcerates them, the need for us to stand up for freedom of conscience is even more pressing.
This might mean being less free with your offence, as you try to prove that you love God more than your own children. Too many are losing their freedom because of this. Instead, be more vocal for the freedom of religion and free speech which protects what the devout and what the infidel have to say as equal citizens. Let the story of Abraham and Isaac tell you that today no child should be made to suffer for the faith of their parent.
For the love of God love your children more, and teach them that they are free to make up their own minds on religion. Make that the world they will inherit.
The sun is blazing down as you work the field, and having a drink of water you offer some to another labourer. They refuse to be served by you, stating you are unclean as a Christian. Further, they suggest you purify yourself by a ritual to convert to islam. Your kind gesture rudely rebuffed, you make a comment about The Prophet …
The Supreme Court of Pakistan will now decide whether the death sentence for blasphemy will apply to farmworker Asia Bibi, who has already been beaten by a mob. Forget the shambles of a trial that cannot even repeat the allegation for fear it corrupt the soul of the Islamic nation, or the souls of those present may burn a little longer in hell.
Blasphemy laws should not exist in any form. They are the product of the insider outsider distinction that religion uses to divide people. To entrench state control on the way citizens think and behave about religion. No one is free to understand the Nature of God, when the courts will rule on your thoughts and punish you for them.
The condemnation should be loud not just for the sentence of death on Asia Bibi, but that Pakistan has a blasphemy law. Yet the voices raised even to reform the law are met by the sound of a gun. Governor of the Punjab Province Salman Taseer took an interest in Bibi’s case. He was assassinated by his own bodyguard for doing so.
Nearly 90% of the media in Pakistan has spoken out against this. I have watched talk shows, spoken to anchors, read numerous columns and opinions, and barring those with a deliberate agenda, not just every media person but also guests on talk shows have openly condemned the Blasphemy Law. They all say it should be amended, which is something which has been the most encouraging result of my move. Because I took a stand, many people have lined up and taken a stand and that, in turn, will empower judges and law-enforcement agencies to the extent that they may not bow to pressure. I think that now a policeman registering a case of blasphemy or a judge hearing a case will investigate before registering or at least think twice before hearing such as case.
In this situation nothing less than solidarity with those trying to abolish the blasphemy law and the victims of the legal system is vital. Bibi may have to wait a further three years for the Supreme Court to rule. She was incarcerated in 2010.
It is tempting to suggest the fundamentalists are running Pakistan, not least when they openly celebrated the bodyguard’s murderous actions. They are running rings around a political establishment that dare not take them on. As Taseer remarked in the above interview:
The real problem is that the government is not prepared to face religious fanaticism head on. This also gives us a bad name in the world.
Stand with the people of Pakistan determined to take their country back from fundamentalists.
They face the mob, bullets, and the courts. The least we can do is voice our support. Or our silence will be complicit in the actions of fanatics.
Alan Henning was moved to try and make a difference. He gave up Christmas with his family that he might take supplies to help people suffering in Syria. Yesterday it was reported that ISIS carried out their threat to execute him.
On Eid Mubarak they sacrificed a man that had dedicated himself to humanitarianism. He is not the first, nor it seems will he be the last. Militarily this is a tactic to reduce aid to besieged people. ISIS make great play that they can provide for people in their terroritry. How much easier to make cities fall to them, because aid agencies dare not operate?
I will not let such evil people treat me like a puppet on a string. Yet when discussing such matters on twitter it was clear people wanted to say Islam was bad. Unlike Christianity. The Koran promoted violence against infidels. The bible does not.
@mehdirhasan yet no concern for the bible calling on unbelievers and gay people to be killed. Its not the book it's the readers … #ISIS
The problem is the reader taking from “their Book” the permission to do violence, slavery, and rape. While these verses remain, evil people will use them as stated, out of context or not in relation to other commandments and commentary, to carry out religious zealotry.
The Spanish Inquisition was religious. The belief that they were saving souls by consuming the flesh with fire, or purifying via torture was not a cover for psychopaths and sadists. They believed it. For the sufferings on earth were nothing compared to the eternal torment of everlasting hellfire. (I have not read Aaronovitch’s review but suspect he makes a similar point from his tweet).
Just as Karen Armstrong makes light of the religious aspect then, she and others are doing so with ISIS now. Some will be doing this to prevent the hatred and persecution they fear Muslims would suffer in the UK. Others that religion is always peaceful, and violence when committed has nothing to do with it. That it is a smokescreen for other motives.
A nuanced position recognises that the chicken or the egg debate to the scripture/violence link misses that both feed into each other in their own ways. Breaking the cycle matters more than blame games, apologetics, and false statements as I debunked above.
ISIS really do believe they are fulfilling a religious edict to create a caliphate and that their means are sanctioned by defensive Jihad. A counter narrative is useful, but do not for one second think they are insincere about this. They are in deadly earnest.
What helps is seeing the bigger picture. Religious extremism is on the rise. Together we have to tackle it. Let us start by being accurate about the problem.
Do not give in to terror. In memory of Alan Henning remember that compassion can also move humanity.