Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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Christmas carols are embarrassing

Bishop Nick Baines

Bishop Nick Baines

Advent is begun, and Christmas approaches. I’m glad to see that Nick Baines, Bishop of Croydon, has a book out called Why Wish You a Merry Christmas?: What Matters (and What Doesn’t) in the Festive Season. I came across the book via a piece in our nation’s favourite jolly reactionary rag, the Current Bun. The article has attracted a few nasty comments, which mostly revolve around being incensed (!) that someone who ought to be a bastion of green-and-pleasant warm-beer England has turned-coat and attacked, shock-horror, Christmas carols.

However, the bishop is voicing quite rationally the problems of infantilised religion, a phenomenon faced most clearly every Christmas. It is only natural that those who enjoy looking at pictures of women’s breasts on page three of the Sun, also appreciate infantilised religion. Continue reading

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When cuts happen to churches

The leadership of all three major parties say that cuts are needed. New Labour promises ‘necessary’ cuts, the LibDems ‘savage’ cuts and the Tories are planning to rip public spending to shreds. Many of us point out that cutting public spending will hit the most vulnerable the hardest, and point out that priority changes and long-term, interest-bearing investment should be fully considered before cuts (even instead of cuts).

So, you might expect a Church of England diocese to place pastoral and mission concerns at the forefront of its priorities on a tight budget. However, the Diocese of Winchester, under the leadership of outspoken homophobe Bishop Michael Scott-Joynt, has just passed some particularly savage cuts. Continue reading


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The hills are alive with the sound of adhan!

Steeple and minaret

Steeple and minaret in Wangen bei Olten, Solothurn, 7 August 2009 by Michael Buholzer

This coming Sunday, 29 November, the citizens of the Swiss Confederation vote in referendum whether to ban the building of minarets. The referendum was constitutionally triggered by a successful public petition launched by the Schweizerische Volkspartei (SVP), a right-wing party with around 23% of the Swiss popular vote and the largest party in the Nationalrat. However, the ‘no’ vote is being urged by the three other main parties and the leaders of Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups across the country.

A major plank of SVP domestic policy is a belief that the country is experiencing Überfremdung, and become ‘overly foreign’. Quite similar claims are trolleyed out by British tabloids on a regular basis, and it is now the general policy of the BNP, becoming that of Ukip and has some resonance in Tory rhetoric. The SVP’s public platform on Überfremdung won them a surge of votes and a new raft of seats in the Nationalrat in the general election two years ago.

Switzerland’s Muslim population is surprising large, around 4% of the population. Back in 1980, their number was less than 1%. Such rapid demographic change is clearly a shock to a small, conservative country. Some have taken Swiss citizenship and other naturalised. Turkish, Albanian and Bosniak migrants are the largest Muslim ethnic groups, the latter two groups a result of Balkan civil wars during the 90s. Concentrations of the Muslim population are found in the large cities of Zürich, Geneva and Basel, but, unlike the UK, the Muslim population of Switzerland is fairly evenly distributed throughout the country. Continue reading


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Ukip adds islamophobia to its official policy

Today, the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) announced the election of Malcolm Pearson (who goes by Lord Pearson of Rannoch due to the feudal nature of our political system) to replace Nigel Farage as its leader.

Farage resigned in order to focus on his personal campaign to win election to the House of Commons. I find this entirely in keeping with the self-serving nature of many key figures in Ukip. Farage had been entirely successful in making Ukip appear a single-issue party focused on pure, unadulterated euroscepticism. Although personally a europhile, I see the vital need for a new beginning, a rethinking, of the European project, that it embody the best principles of our continental commonality. Farage is a slippery character, wanting his party not to be seen as unduly right wing. When Ukip members were bigoted, racist or sexist, Farage would say that were merely acting in their personal capacity and not speaking for the party. This included Pearson’s invitation to Geert Wilders to show his islamophobic shock-doc at the House of Lords (first time round improperly blocked by Jaqui Smith, then Home Secretary). Continue reading


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Praising the philosophers: our place in religious intolerance

Tomorrow, 25 November, is the feast of St Catherine the Great Martyr of Alexandria (ἡ Ἁγία Αἰκατερίνη ἡ Μεγαλομάρτυς της Ἀλεξάνδρειας, hē Hagia Aikaterinē hē Megalomartys tēs Alexandreias). It is also the commemoration of Isaac Watts, famous hymnwriter, in the Church of England calendar (and surely those of other churches too).

Icon of Catherine of Alexandria

13th-century icon of St Catherine from Mt Sinai

Popularly, Catherine is associated with her eponymous wheel that makes it gyratory appearance at fireworks displays, symbolising the first attempted means of her martyrdom. Her legend tells of a young virgin woman who contended in dialogue with the pagan Emperor Maximinus Daia (308–13), successfully converting to Christianity his wife and courtiers, countering their philosophical arguments. The frustrated emperor ordered her tortured to death on the breaking wheel, which broke when she touched it, and so she was beheaded. Angels carried her body to Mt Sinai, where her tomb now lies. Continue reading


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Gaza’s gas and Blair’s bartering

Gaza Marine gasfield. © Copyright Michel Chossudovsky, Global Research, 2009

Gaza Marine gasfield. © Copyright Michel Chossudovsky, Global Research, 2009

For nine years a slow and painful discussion has been going on. The people of Gaza, oppressed and frustrated (over 70% of the population of the Gaza Strip are UN-registered refugees), have an offshore gasfield in their territorial waters estimated to be worth at least $4 billion.

In 1994, the Gaza–Jericho first agreement (withdraw of the Israeli Defence Force from Gaza) allocated the territorial waters of the coast of Gaza to an extent of twenty nautical miles as territory of the Palestinian Authority. However, the other side of the agreement was that Israel retain full security control over the area.

In 2000, British Gas, whose product I burn to keep warm here, discovered the Gaza Marine gasfield. British Gas received its licence to explore the Gazan coast not from its owners in accord with the 1994 agreement, but from the Israeli government. It looks like the Israeli government had timed things so that the gas exploration licence would be granted before formally handing the waters over to the PA, to keep Israel ‘in charge’ of the resources. Since the gas discovery, IDF gunboats (made in Britain) have been active in the waters, destroying Gazan fishing industry by forcing fishing boats to return home (as reported by Amnesty International: 15 fishermen killed, over 200 injured). It is clear that Israel considers that the gas is theirs. Continue reading


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Memorable musical moments meme

Doug Chaplin has tagged me on this one. It’s a bloggers (though I’m still not so sure I am one) chain-letter. The meme asks us to share eight memorable musical moments, not favourite pieces, but the moments in which music combined to create memory. The rules are 

Think of eight memorable musical moments, not necessarily all time favourites, but those when, for example, you felt compelled to wait in the car when listening to this amazing song on the radio because you just had to know who it was by. Or the piece you heard on the tv in a drama that drove you straight onto iTunes to download… (remember once we spent the princely sum of 6s 8d on a vinyl single?!). Optional details for each song give where, why and Spotify or youtube links …

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