Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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What is the House of Lords for?

House of Lords

House of Lords

Ninety-nine years ago today the British Parliament passed the Parliament Act. It limited the powers of the House of Lords and set up as official the idea that the chamber should be democratized. The Parliament Act 1911 also changed the way the House of Commons operated by reducing the maximum term of that chamber from seven to five years and introducing MP’s salaries (then at £400 p.a.). These Commons measures were along the lines of what the Chartists and others had long been campaigning for: shorter terms to give the electorate greater voice (because we can vote more often), and wages for MPs so that a private income is not needed to take up the political ‘hobby’.

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Persecution or privilege: the Church Defensive

Not PersecutedDuring Holy Week, I had a couple of episcopal moments. On Palm Sunday, six bishops signed a letter in the Sunday Torygraph that didn’t use the word ‘persecution’, but the resulting headlines did, and one sermon I’ve heard since has. Archbishop Rowan felt it necessary to say publically that they should get things in perspective in his Easter Letter: hear, hear!

The next day, on Maundy Thursday, the Bishop of London felt it necessary refute ‘persecution’ claims in his chrism sermon, but then he went on to talk about how Christians have to fight against the discrimination aimed at us and battle the tide of secularism (this clunkily segued into the twice-repeated materialist motto ‘love is not an emotion’).

On Easter Sunday evening, Nicky Campbell brought out a TV documentary asking whether Christians are persecuted. The show gave fairly free reign to those who wanted to ramp up the persecution fears, but also got the sane voices of the Bishop of Oxford and Theos think-tank in there. I quite liked the clear outline of why the persecution fear exists: that it is based on

  1. the complex secularising of hegemony,
  2. increased non-Christian immigration
  3. and human-rights legislation.

Whereas the fearmongers, like Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, would point to the secularisation of society as the cause, and crusade for the re-Christianisation of our public spaces, the documentary’s outline gives us more substantial handles for what is happening.

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POWER2010 and the People’s Charter

POWER2010If you haven’t visited the POWER2010 website and voted for the political reforms you would like to see, please do so. Polls close on 22 February.

A number of political campaigning organisations of  which I am a part are supporting POWER2010. It is part of a desire to put political reform high on the agenda in post-New-Labour Britain. The idea is to choose five policies to put at the centre of the POWER2010 Pledge and campaign for their adoption by the government as a 21st-century Chartist movement. Continue reading


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Establishment and the Church of England

Yesterday I spent the day in Oxford for Affirming Catholicism’s The Established Church: Past, Present, Future conference. The speakers were Nigel Biggar (Oxford professor of moral and pastoral theology), Matthew Grimley (Oxford tutor in 20th-century British cultural and religious history), Mark Chapman (Oxford reader in modern theology), Judith Maltby (Oxford reader in church history), Elaine Graham (Manchester professor of social and pastoral theology) and William Whyte (Oxford lecturer in modern history).

Of these, only Biggar and Graham entered into explicit arguments in support of the establishment of the Church of England, and perhaps did so because they alone specifically dealt with the future of our establishment arrangements. Biggar presented a clear and concise argument for establishment based on political and moral philosophy, while Graham presented a compelling version of the sociological argument from localised social capital. Continue reading


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The Unspoken Constitution

If you’re interested in politics, Stuart Weir and Stuart Wilks-Heeg of Democratic Audit have written a wonderful spoof of our unwritten constitution The Unspoken Constitution.

We, the elite, do not believe in the kind of constitution most other advanced nations have — those that boast a belief in popular sovereignty; with resounding declarations such as ‘we, the people’, and that tend to contain rules about how government should act.

We describe ours as the ‘unwritten constitution’. It is a collection of laws, fictions, powers left over from the old monarchy and powers that we make up as we go along. It allows us to decide what governments can do; and best of all, only we have the power to change it.

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The New Labour project is indefensible

I remember the feeling when Tony Blair became prime minister, Labour came to power and the long, ugly Tory rule that had existed for most of my life was ended. It was May 1997; the weather was good, the cricket was good, the politicians were good. I wasn’t a member of the Labour Party then, but I voted Labour, and was desperate to see the change that Tony Blair promised. Of course, I was naive, but back then we were willing to give Tony a lot of rope as long as he got us in.

There have been many brave and positive achievements by Labour in government since then. Scotland has its Parliament, Wales its Assembly and Northern Ireland has an almost functioning political system that looks unable to return to the violence of the past. Devolution was a bold move that has revived civil society in the smaller members countries of our Union and reconnected them with politics. Continue reading


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Why I’m an Anglican

The main reason why I’m an Anglican is because I’m English, and being C of E is like a national default (at least it used to be, in the days before opting out of organised religion became the new default). That’s it, mundane and simple. As with so many things in life, the original reason for a decision is often pretty mundane. The reasoning and calculated arguments are added later. This is partly a natural evaluation that we do, but it is also an attempt not to look too stupid. We can go to great lengths to justify all sorts of decisions that, in truth, originated by whim of circumstance. Sometimes it’s liberating to be honest about our reasons. I chose my theological college because they served a nice cheeseboard when I visited, and I couldn’t afford the time or train fare to look elsewhere.

This is not to say that the later reasoning is a cover up. It can be, but it is still important to justify why we are where we are. I find this reasoning increasingly important as I find very good reasons not to be Anglican. I hate the Church of England’s ties with Establishment — Elizabeth Windsor as ‘Supreme Governor’, bishops sitting in the House of Lords, and the general societal superiority this tends to create (varieties of exceptionalism and classism). I hate its history of collusion with British empire building. I hate its lack of courage and self-knowledge and the blinkered pettiness it breeds. Continue reading