Friday, 23 November 2012

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Women Bishops: why faith should be done properly or not at all.

Faith is an intensely personal and private matter. One man's meat can quite literally be another's Leviticus chapter eleven verse seven. For generations and even before the Edict of Worms in 1521, the devout merrily set about burning, beheading and excommunicating each other at the slightest provocation, while legislators and politicians struggled to keep up with who was (quite literally) 'hot' and who was not. 

England itself experienced well over a hundred years of 'to-ing and fro-ing' between the Roman Church and the voguish delights of Anglicanism, involving civil wars, banned Christmases and the murder of Carthusians before finally settling on the Protestant faith. With the passing of the Stuarts, things settled down, but the argument was not fully settled. As you no doubt know, one of the first acts passed by the Parliament of William and Mary in 1689 was the Toleration Act, which granted 'liberty of worship' to all Protestants (except quite rightly the Unitarians) but no mercy to Roman Catholics, who remained enemies of the state for the best part of nearly two hundred years.

There is a good case to argue, that Anglicanism from its very inception was a 'middle class' faith, with all the trappings and preoccupations of that particular social group. It shied instinctively from the grandeur and cerebral delights of the older church and has fussed ever since over the form of things. It reminds one in many ways of the sort of people who, having come into money, worry about whether it is correct to say 'pardon' or 'what' and wring their hands at the thought of being introduced to a Cholmondeley. While Catholicism, like aristocracy, sensibly refused to budge one inch from its sacred beliefs, from the late eighteenth century onward, the Anglican Church became desperate to please. Over the years we have heard of English Bishops questioning Genesis, wondering aloud whether Jesus was the product of a virgin birth, saying 'sorry' for the unpleasantness at Tyburn and regretting the glories of Empire.  Indeed, as recently as 2008 the Church of England was apologising to the very firmly deceased Charles Darwin, for not having taken the trouble to fully listen to his hair-brained theory that we are all descended from baboons.

Which brings us - and I hope you are still paying attention at the back - to the decision yesterday by the General Synod to refuse the ordination of women Bishops.

The Bible is very clear on the matter of women priests. It is written in the first book of Timothy verse 2 chapter 12:  διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ.* Of course there are some who argue that these texts were written at a 'different time' and that we are living in the 'modern age'. The problem with taking that approach to faith, is that if one keeps changing things, one takes the very real risk of throwing the newly baptised infant out with the holy water. The very point of Christianity and indeed all other faiths is that they are written in stone. 

In this respect Christianity has long reminded one of Monarchy. One should either do it properly or not at all. The word of God, is the word of God. If said God had wished his Bishops to be women, he would have made it very clear that they should be so. If the English Church is to survive it should resist the temptation to 'modernise' and perhaps spend more time reading its sacred texts and less time waving its hands about to rock music and shaking a 'tambourine'.

*I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over a man, but to be in silence. 

Monday, 19 November 2012

Quo tendimus interretium? How an internet Magna Carta could mean the end of 'trolls' and bad spelling.

Some months before the general election a tiresome blog, purportedly written by 'Jacob Rees-Mogg' appeared on the internet. This badly spelled, clearly fictional nonsense, was widely assumed to have been written by myself. It was in fact the work of a student at Bath 'University'. After considerable cost, my lawyers managed to track this chap down and make him sign an affidavit agreeing to cease publication of this irreverent drivel. One hoped that the message would 'get out' and that my experience of 'lampoon by internet' was over; unfortunately it was but the beginning. Over the ensuing years a cacophony of fake twitter accounts, blogs and even 'Wikipedia' entries rang forth from the web. Of these assaults, the 'Wiki' nonsense was perhaps the most distressing. This so-called 'encyclopedia' at various times described me as a 'world expert on lettuce', a champion beer barrel roller, a founding member of the Keynsham 'Hell's Angel' chapter and an authority on the life of 'Nick Kershaw'. I confess that prior to this last 'alteration' I had never heard of Nick Kershaw, let alone been troubled with the details of his life. 

Almost every innovation in history has brought with it a cavalcade of annoyance to those in positions of power and influence. From the moment Ts'ai Lun, a first century eunuch in the Chinese Emperor's court, invented paper it caused chagrin. The new medium, cheap, flexible and durable, was perfect for spreading tittle-tattle and Lun himself was eventually hoisted by his own petard. Implicated in court intrigue, he was moved to dress in his finest silken robes and drink from a poisoned chalice. I confess that in my darker moments, I have occassionaly wished that 'internet trolls' would take a leaf out of the irksome eunuch's book.

The invention of 'social networking sites' coupled with a growing 'work from home' culture and increased unemployment, has created a 'fish-wife' phenomena wherein millions of time rich individuals can lean on a virtual garden fence and exchange slander, rumour and 'ideas'. Where once opinions were the preserve  of trained 'journalists', politicians or mutually agreed 'sui generis', now anyone with a computer and fingers to type is able to express an idea, write a sentence, or abuse those who can. 

Melanie Phillips has described this phenomena as tantamount to 'a sadistic mob rampaging across the web' and certainly I could not put it better myself. Those familiar with the 'twittersphere' have long sensed that there was a 'McAlpine' moment coming. As the good Lord has now had his name cleared and is very sensibly pursuing anyone who 'retweeted' this libelous nonsense with extreme intolerance, we might now pause, reflect and ask quo tendimus? Or where do we go from here?

It is clear that the 'internet' can no longer be covered by acts of law. The Rubicon has been crossed and we are in need of something much greater. An electronic 'Bill of Rights'; a 'Magna Carta' for the technological age. I have yet to thrash out the articles of this grand project and would welcome ideas from anyone with expertise, but most sensible people would probably agree on the core principles:

  • An end to anonymity on the internet;
  • A stricter adherence to the rules of the land in which the 'author' is writing or in which his words might be read;
  • The introduction of a licensing system for bloggers or those engaging in social media. Users could perhaps start with three 'points' and lose them should they act without due diligence or care; once lost the person in question might be banned or forced to take a test before 'logging on' again;
  • Stricter rules about who can blog or tweet and a tightening of regulations pertaining to persistently poor spellers;
  • Internet courts, where legal issues relating to the web could be quickly decided by 'web magistrates' and justice meted out.
There may be those among you who feel this to be an over-reaction. There may be those who have yet to suffer the fall out from a 'twitter storm' or the dreadful public humiliation that comes when one is told one is 'trending'. To such people I say hodie mihi, cras tibi. To the rest I bid good day.