On Charlottesville and home again

The horror of Charlottesville for American friends was the visibility of things they had believed and hoped were confined to history. Is there anything similar in recent UK history? Unfortunately, yes. Do we have examples in recent times of people introducing explicit Nazi language and images into our political discourse? Yes. Katie Hopkins, a journalist who has written for many of our most popular press outlets, casually tweeted about the need for a ‘final solution’ recently—it was too much for one of her media employers (LBC), but she still writes for the British press. In a very similar vein, this week Trevor Kavanagh, the former political editor of our best-selling daily newspaper, wrote an article depicting ‘The Muslim Problem’. Kavanagh is a very...

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On Charlottesville and home

Today was the first day of the new school year here in Fife. Two of our daughters attend a school named ‘Madras College’, where our church congregation also happens to meet of a Sunday morning. It is a very ordinary state-funded Scottish high school which, like many thousands of British institutions, owes its odd name to an old connection with someone involved in the Empire. Most of its buildings in desperate need of replacement, although there is one fine quadrangle of great architectural merit and real note. I have forborne from commenting much in public on the—horrific—scenes enacted last weekend in Charlottesville, VA, scenes sparked by the intention to remove a monument to someone who was revered by his contemporaries, but has been judged more harshly by...

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A conservative case against ‘conversion therapy’

I was on holiday when the Church of England General Synod met, and so I followed events with even less interest than I, as a Scottish Baptist, usually do. On my occasional scans of my social media feeds, however, I saw a certain amount of interest in a motion proposing that the Synod condemn ‘conversion therapy’, the practice of seeking to change the orientation of lesbian or gay people to make them straight. I was far enough away to have nothing interesting to say about the motion or the debate, but noticing it made me think once again what a deeply strange practice ‘conversion therapy’ in fact is. For the sake of the following argument, let us agree—briefly—to assume the best possible conditions: that there is no doubt that a traditional Christian account of...

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John Webster, a year on

Today is the anniversary of John’s death. His widow Gloria did me the honour of asking me to speak briefly at the memorial service we had for him here in St Andrews, led wonderfully by Rowan Williams. This is what I said then: In a memorial written the day after John’s death, the American theologian Fred Sanders wrote of discovering a note he had written to himself in his first year of teaching: ‘Teach theology as if John Webster is right about what theology is!’ The legacy of the greatest scholars, in the humanities at least, tends not to be a discovery within their discipline, so much as a rediscovery, or a reconfiguration, of their discipline. John Webster left us many great works of theology, but through them all, he gave us a new vision of the great...

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Fasting from voices like mine

My Lenten discipline this year will be fasting, as far as I can, from voices like mine (white, male, Western, straight, able-bodied, cisgendered). The idea came talking to a colleague about the problem of gender imbalance on our reading lists. She (rightly, of course) stressed intentionality, which got me thinking about process. If I am writing an entire new module, I will think intentionally about reading lists, but I’ve done that once in the last three years. Far more often—like, more weeks than not—I give ad hoc advice. A student or colleague asks ‘what’s good on X?’; I reply with stuff that’s in my head. Most of the time, the authors I mention are all white, male, Western, straight, able-bodied, cisgendered (Can I offend against all aesthetic...

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U.A. Fanthorpe, Not the Millennium

Wise men are busy being computer-literate. There should be a law against confusing Religion with mathematics. There was a baby. Born where? And when? The sources mention Massacres, prophecies, stars; They tell a good story, but they don’t agree. So we celebrate at the wrong midnight. Does it matter? Only dull science expects An accurate audit. The economy of heaven Looks for fiestas and fireworks every day, Every day. Be realistic, says heaven: Expect a miracle. From U.A. Fanthorpe, Christmas Poems (Enitharmon Press, 2002), p. 61

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