Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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Lotus rising

Egyptian blue lotus

Egyptian blue lotus

The prominent Egyptian opposition leader Saad Eddin Ibrahim has nicknamed the popular uprising that has taken Egypt by storm the Lotus Revolution (ثورة اللوتس Thaurat el-Lotus). Naming popular revolutions after flowers has been the In Thing since the 2003 revolution that swept Mikheil Saakashvili to power in Georgia was dubbed the Rose Revolution (ვარდების რევოლუცია Vardebis Revolutsia), after his supporters demonstrated against the former president’s opening of parliament while holding roses to declare their peaceful intent. The meme continued with other popular uprisings (most being more-or-less peaceful). Ukraine had its Orange Revolution, which while not a flower (and not the fruit either) is comparable. After the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, Lebanon experienced what is known as its Cedar Revolution (ثورة الأرز Thaurat el-Arz), after the national symbol. Back to flowers, Kyrgyzstan had its Tulip Revolution and Burma its Saffron Revolution (although that was named after the colour of the robes of the Buddhist monks). Briefly back to simple colours, Iran experienced its unsuccessful Green Revolution. Now, 2011 is definitely saying it with flowers, with Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution (تورة الياسمين Thaurat el-Yasmin) and now Egypt’s Lotus Revolution.

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The future or our education — cuts and fees — part 1

Nick Clegg's pledge on tuition fees

Nick Clegg's pledge to do exactly the opposite of what he's now doing.

Tomorrow, Thursday 9 December, the Commons vote on higher-education tuition fees is to be held. A substantial number of Lib Dem MPs, as well as some Tories, are expected to revolt against their leadership and vote against the government or abstain. However, the revolt will probably not stop the bill going through, paving the way for universities and colleges to hike up tuition fees.

Nick Clegg is under particular pressure after making a public, personal pledge to vote against raising tuition fees before the general election. Although his defence has been that a party can only sufficiently carry out its manifesto if it is the sole party of government, this misses the point that the pledge was given personally and absolutely. He also claims that the coalition agreement supersedes the pledge, but the absolute wording of the pledge — to vote against any raise in tuition fees — would make it disingenuous to enter into an agreement that would likely prohibit him and others from fulfilling their pledges. Either the pledge should not have been made or the the coalition agreement should not have been made as is. Finally, in an election broadcast, Nick Clegg, filmed on and around Westminster Bridge and surrounded by a litter of white sheets of paper, railed against the broken promises of New Labour and the Tories. Fair enough, hand up, but the first ‘broken promise’ shown is ‘No Tuition Fees’. This film now stands testament of the gross and absolute hypocrisy of Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems: if you’re going to campaign against broken promises, you have to realise that such a stand means that there is a greater moral imperative that you don’t break your promises. In addition, many who voted Lib Dem did so on the basis of such promises, and such clear cut cases of broken mandates will make the yellow party, which still lost seats in the last election, electorally marginalised.


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On male public intellectuals of the Twitter age and gender (via Alicia)

Alicia’s latest article on her blog Dove Grey Matter touches on Stephen Fry and Farish Noor‘s roles as public intellectuals. Both are well respected for their gentle and humorous elevation of public discourse from dumbing-down. However, sometimes there’s nothing worse than a brainy bloke who has got everyone’s attention. Knowledge is power, and when combined with male privilege is a rich breeding ground for sexism. Obviously, this kind of sexism is a little more sophisticated than a builder’s wolf whistle, but still sees women as objects. Prejudice need not be crude, and can be quite sophisticated, and, just because something, or someone, is clever, it does not stop it, or them, being wrong.

On male public intellectuals of the Twitter age and gender We can trust the public intellectual – the voice of the zeitgeist, so to speak – to be clever, witty, sometimes rather sexy (because they’re clever and witty), and male. Though it seems that lately being male is a crippling impediment to being the voice of the zeitgeist. Recently, Stephen Fry caused the chattering classes to gasp … Read More

via


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Richard Dawkins: devil’s advocate or phantom menace?

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins

I’ve just watched Richard Dawkins The God Delusion on the Mo’ Fo’ channel. Last week we had his Faith School Menace; he’s on a roll!

As a Christian in the liberal tradition I believe we need Dawkins. We may often accuse fundamentalists and biblical-literalists of shoddy thinking, but Dawkins is consistent in demanding reasoned answers for all of religion’s claims. In the same way that the traditional process of declaring a person a saint in Catholicism has used a devil’s advocate to ask hard questions to cut through the wishful thinking and groupthink, Dawkins, rather than being feared or scorned, should be appreciated as one who splashes some cold water on the face of sleep-walking religion.

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We are being cheated about benefit cheats

Clamping down of benefit cheats, those who fraudulently claim government benefits, has been a oft-repeated mantra of the political right in Britain. By ‘right’, I include the neoliberal New Labour project. Much of the mainstream media, not just the usual hard-right press, have merrily chimed in without needing too much encouragement. The usual news item focuses on some benefit claimant who is holidaying on a luxury yacht, or some other eye-catching headline. This follows the usual methodology of the populist right, use an individual story, even hearsay, to illustrate your point.

There have been various government strategies to encourage us to ‘shop the scroungers’, and now the ConDem government will be entrusting the credit-rating agency Experian with tracking down benefit cheats — all performance and profit led.

However, David Osler has posted on the statistics show that benefit fraud amounts to less than 1% of all benefit payments. So, the greater fraud is that perpetrated by politicians and journalists who have vastly exaggerated the problem. In absolute terms, that 1% translates into £1 billion, but even then, as Dave points out, the bank bailout was £850 billion.

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An English anthem?

And did those feet in ancient time

The preface to Blake's 'Milton, a Poem', containing 'And did those feet in ancient time', as coloured by Blake.

Greg Mulholland, Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West, has been watching the footie, and he wants a debate on an English national anthem. It seems he’s got a little annoyed at the use of ‘God Save the Queen’ for the England football team at the World Cup in South Africa.

First off, anthems are rather silly things. Their lyrics are often little more than a admixture of jingoism and romanticist nonsense. However, the things of anthems and flags are important symbols of belonging, as long as we recognise they are the symbols and window-dressing of our identity and not its substance.

Second off, I abhor our current paean to Mrs Windsor because she doesn’t even begin to represent what this country means to most of us. The tune and lyrics are both bad: scrap it along with the monarchy! It also has the problem of having some official status in most Commonwealth realms (those countries that inexplicably keep Mrs Windsor as head of state). New Zealanders, for instance, would have the right to complain that the use of ‘God Save the Queen’ by British or English sporting teams that the anthem is just as much theirs — ‘God Save the Queen’ is the national anthem of New Zealand, alongside the more common ‘God Defend New Zealand’. In spite of my being a Christian, I recognise that ‘God Save the Queen’ bears a certain theological element that is either inappropriate or questionable to a significant number of citizens — being addressed to God, it is a prayer, and can, historically, be said to be a Christian, even Church of England, prayer.

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South Africa and the British concentration camps

I’m loving the World Cup, trying to watch as many matches as I can, and even like the sound of the vuvuzelas! With many others of the English tendency, I watched England’s first match against USA with nervous excitement. ITV prefaced the match with an outdoor broadcast from Roark’s Drift, and Film4 showed Zulu earlier in the day. As much as I have enjoyed the film in the past, it belongs to the odd canon of boys-own British pseudohistory.

The Boer War is a fairly forgotten piece of British Empire history, although ending only a little over a century ago. In the UK we remember Roark’s Drift (mainly because of Zulu), the Relief of Mafeking, Cecil Rhodes and Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouts. It’s far too easy to have this jingoistic comic-book understanding of British history. In some countries, lots of them, the school history books are doctored to instill a nationalistic pseudohistory in the student, but here simple, subtle mass ignorance suffices.

Lizzie van Zyl, victim of Britain's concentration camps.

Lizzie van Zyl, victim of Britain's concentration camps.

Britain began the 20th century with systematic mass murder in South Africa, which involved the invention of the concentration camp. Part of jingoistic history is to make evil other: foreigners are and do evil,which we boldly resist. By editing out the evil from our own history, we end up with an overinflated impression of our moral superiority. This makes it important to remember the evil our country has done.

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