Having recently read the Hamas Charter I can understand how gullible young idealists can be attracted by the call of unconditional commitment to what is none the less an abhorent and obscene cause. In the face of such a call the government’s negative efforts to combat extremism and radicalisation are not only futile but – in the very nature of things – counter productive. Once committe to a cause idealists are not only undeterred but thrive on opposition.
I can testify from personal experience of the – albeit very different – cause of nuclear disarmament. Nothing was a greater moral booster than the arrival of Defence Secretary Michael Hesseltine, complete with flack jacket, on the scene of anti-nuclear protests at Molesworth air base.
Be that as it may, if negative efforts to combat extremism are unlikely to deter those committed to the cause, they only serve to glamorise it for those still looking for a purpose in life.
If the challenge of Islamist extremism is to be met and overcome, as surely in the face of ISIS it must, it will not be through negative propaganda or even tighter and tighter security measures – necessary as they may be in the short term – but by the challenge of a better and worthier cause.
I firmly believe that the Islamist movement sprang initially from a revulsion to the materialist, consumerist decadence of Western society and flourishes under the continued commitment of Western Society to those values. At the time of the Twin Towers calamity I remember preaching that I believed it to be a wake-up call, a call to repentance, and I know that many shared that conviction. The call was ignored and we reap the fruits today.
My prayer is that it may yet not be too late – it wasn’t for Ninevah. Western civilisation had its roots in Christianity although with Constantine it quickly lost its way. With the greatest respect to my Jewish, Moslem, Hindu, Atheist friends – and those of all other faiths and none – I firmly believe that a return to those roots is the only answer to the challenge, the threat, that we face today. That is not to say that I think everyone should be a church-attending, card carrying Christian, but that whatever our faith, or none, our society should be based on the values testified to by Jesus of Nazareth, values of justice especially for the underprivileged and marginalised and selfless care for the neighbour, a society best expressed in the beutiful Hebrew word often on the lips of Jesus himself – SHALOM.
I was happily walking towards Burderop Down en route to Barbury Castle when I felt something soft nuzzling my hand. Assuming there must be another walker coming with a friendly dog I turnsed to pat it only to find that it was not a dog but a cow – or large calf. After exchanging friendly greetings I turned to continue my walk. But when I felt a more insistent nudge to my hind quarters delight at the encounter melted into apprehensiveness. Turning again I was now alarmed to find a whole herd closely following my new aquaintance. What had begun as a friendly encounter was fast becoming a confrontation. Not quite sure what to do I raised my hand in a forbiding gesture and uttered in what was meant to be a friendly but firm tone the words “No! Go back!” I then continued my walk at a rather faster rate than hitherto. After about 100 yards I dared to look back and was relieved to find the heard contentedly grazing some hundred yards away.
How much, I wonder, did that cow understand. I don’t imagine it spoke English but did it really understand from my gesture and tone of voice that enough was enough and it was time to call a halt to the encounter or was it just coincidence that it chose not to continue.
A recent article in the Financial Times (where else?) reports that Britain has decided to include prostitution and illegal drugs in its official national accounts. This it is claimed will add a “£10bn boost” to the measurement of the nation’s economy, adding “up to 5 per cent to the UK’s gross domestic product.” Joe Grice, chief economic adviser at the Office for National Statistics is reported as saying that “These improvements are going on across the world…”. The statistics themselves are shocking enough but that they should be taken as a measure of the nations economic health is shameful beyond belief. It is a most shocking illustration of the depths to which the worship of Mammon can take us. It seems that when the economy is the ultimate measure of Britain’s health all questions of morality go out of the window.
There’s a hole in the bucket of our modern hi-tec society.
Let me explain. I woke the other morning to find the battery of my mobile phone flat. I was away from home and had forgotten my battery charger.
Meditating on this I realised that modern technology has virtually disenfranchised me in the sense that without it, without a credit or debit card and access to the internet I could barely exist.
Some time ago I received notice of a hospital appointment which included the words “… it is hospital policy to send Outpatients an automatic reminder in the form of a text message. All you have to do is to give us your mobile phone number.” I searched those words in vain for an “if” . It wasn’t there because it wasn’t necessary. I was a human being therefore I had a mobile phone. Human beings have mobile phones just as they have ears. They are an attribute of the species homo sapiens. There might be doubt about the sapiens but the phone was beyond question. As far as the hospital management is concerned patients without mobile phones no longer exist, they are obsolete, off their radar.
I began to think it would be an interesting experiment to try living for a month without a credit or debit card and access to the internet, but quickly realised that it would be virtually, if not absolutely, impossible. I might just get by with a bit of hard cash but how would I get that? My bank looks after the cash for me, But, even assuming they kept the cash in their safe and held a record of it in their ledger rather than depending on an electronic accounting system, how would I get there? The nearest branch of my bank is over six miles away. There is a bus but that would require cash for the fare. I have a senior bus pass but that is virtually a credit card which needs to be validated electronically. I could just about walk to the bank in a day and at least I would then have the fare to get home. But at 84 how long will I be able to do that.
Without internet access how could I share these thoughts anyway, so why bother. Well, I could write a letter to the local paper using a pen and ink – remember that black stuff you used to get in a bottle from the stationers in exchange for a few of those metal disks that are themselves fast becoming obsolete. So that takes me back to square one. How do I get those disks.? My bank is looking after them, There’s a hole in the bucket…
The psalm for Ascension day, Psalm 47, pivots on the three words, “God is King”.
I am reminded of the days when I worked in the accounts section of a local government housing department still using an old, manual accounting system. Each Friday morning the office would echo to the sound of the basic principle, “Cash is king”.
That phrase throws a twofold light on the words of the psalmist.
“Cash is king”meant that you must get the cash right first and everything else must be brought into agreement. Similarly, to say that God is king implies that God comes first and all else must be dictated by our understanding of God.
More significantly the phrase raises the question who or what is king, in our world, in our lives? “Cash is king” is a sound enough rule for accounting but disastrous when transferred to life in society. Yet that is precisely what we see in our world today, Cash and all that it represents, consumerism, materialism, is so often the ruling principle, dictating how we live and what we do individually and socially. Much of our lives are lived in the kingdom of cash.
But Jesus of Nazareth shows us the possibility, the reality, of a different kingdom, not some future “pie in the sky” but an alternative alongside the kingdom of cash, and every day, every moment we are faced with the choice of which kingdom determines our decisions.
The risen Christ said to Mary of Magadala I am going to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God. However we understand the ascension it is surely an assurance that the kingdom of cash is a sham and ultimate sovereignty is with the God who has shown himself to us in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth.
“Father forgive” - spoken by a man dying in agony on a cross of the people who put him there.
Surely two of the most difficult, yet most important words in the Bible. Almost daily it seems we hear of the most awful atrocities inflicted on innocent people, examples of man’s inhumanity to man. The capture and enslavement of 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria comes to mind but one could think of countless others. Faced with such atrocities one can understand the bitterness, even hatred, that the victims might feel towards those who have wronged them. How dare I, who have never experienced such victimization, blame them, lecture them on forgiveness.
Yet the hard truth is that ultimately such forgiveness is the only hope for our broken world. The one who taught us to pray “forgive us…as we forgive” also taught us to pray “Your kingdom come” and the latter will come when we have learnt to master the former.
It is the only hope but thank God it is our hope through the example of the many who have had the grace to show that such forgiveness is possible.
The Theos Think Tank comments on an academic paper suggesting that- ” policies backed by those on higher incomes have a higher chance of being adopted, compared to those supported by middle income earners. The support of business interest groups also increases the chances of a policy being adopted, while the support of mass based interests groups has no effect”
If so this is truly alarming.