Comments: opinions at the weekend

"A society that does not allow crosses or veils in public is a dangerous one"

It may be that Rowan Cantuar's Times piece was headlined by an editor, but nevertheless, the fact that he makes the conflation "visible public signs of religion...crosses around necks, sidelocks, turbans or veils" prompts me to cautiously comment negatively.

In the "Veil Controversy", I think a problem has arisen, merely in translating *niqab* as "veil". The word veil, in the West, contemporarily suggests the diaphanous (virtually transparent) bridal garment, which only appears (if then) at the beginning of a wedding, and is lifted before the end of the ceremony, remaining up thereafter.

As a garment, the niqab may be more properly viewed as a *mask*, the wearing of which (intentionally or no) *conceals the wearer's identity*.

As such, many, many cultures, on the basis of tragic socio-political history, have implicitly or explicitly banned the (public) wearing of masks (outside of ritualized, semi-private "costume" gatherings---or for authorized medical purposes, such as in surgery). The history of the mask is one of violence and other lawlessness (bandits, insurrectionists, hate groups like the KKK).

Therefore, I believe it wrong to *automatically*, as the ABC does, equate the niqab as just another "visible public sign of religion".

Rather, I believe that the burden of proof is on (the niqab's propents in) the Muslim community, to demonstrate WHY they should have a *right to be masked*, in a way that no other community obtains.

Maybe they can make this case, and maybe they can't. But I don't believe simplistic endorsement of ANY behavior, merely because it is a "visible public sign of religion" (the Klan claims to be a religion too, FWIW), helps the cause of true interfaith/multicultural harmony. We must go deeper than that.

Posted by J. C. Fisher at Saturday, 28 October 2006 at 7:58pm BST

Theo Hobson's comments are consistent with other contemplations around the net. There is an exploration of how to have a faith that is true to the intent of the bible, whilst being part of a broader pluralistic world. There is the tension of how to run ourselves versus how we are influenced or contained by others to how we influence or contain others.

The latter links directly into Rowan Williams' piece, which left me wondering whether he has yet taken the time to step back and contemplate the dynamics of China in terms of the broader Anglican Communion?

One thing that struck me was that many of his concerns about his visit to China applies within the communion itself e.g. "Before the visit to China, we were told that we should see only what the Government allowed us to, and that we would be conscripted into a propagandist agenda that ignored the continuing repression of religion." We are seeing in some dioceses that the heirarchy will not allow certain items on their synod agendas as the matters are "already closed". The same dioceses have strict quality controls to ensure a consistent and appropriate theological presentation, with sanctions on leaders who stray too far and editorial controls over what may be published. Reinforced by a culture of "approved" texts or authors (or worse black-listed texts and/or authors); which can degenerate to a requirement to regurgitate reading lists to pass their theological college courses; which effectively stifles anything that questions or expands on the existing paradigms. Rowan's statement "The rhetoric of encouraging religious co-operation with the goals of national renewal is here to stay." could apply as easily to China or to such dioceses.

The expression "physician, heal thyself" comes to mind. Again, the exhortation that we should be looking to model that which we would want the secular states or other nations to apply.

How to handle some of internal tensions can be illuminated by asking how we are treating the minority or the innovators or the troubled. If souls asked "If this were done to to Christians in China or Muslim nations, how would we feel about it?" If we would be bringing up prayer points of concerns about repression or mistreatment, then we obviously are on the wrong tack. Further, if we can demonstrate and model how to handle diversity and pluralism both within our communion and with the broader society, then we can become role models for both secular and other faiths to consider copying the best of our traditions and experiences.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Saturday, 28 October 2006 at 8:57pm BST

The comments JC makes about veils could apply to people who wear crosses or other religious symbols too. Some of the most sanctimonious people I've ever known were diligent in the wearing of their crosses.

The comparisions to Klu Klux Klan are interesting, in that their uniform was partly to hide identity but implicit in its wearing was a statement of hatred towards blacks. Same as the wearing of the swatzika was a statement by Nazis of hatred towards Jews (and others).

A rabid element within any religion should not justify insulting the whole of the religion. Again, if we are going to do it to others then we have to tolerate that they will do in kind to us.

Once again, we come back to a principle that we should do unto others what we would wish done unto ourselves. And to up the ante in terms of an earlier deprivation debate, if we are prepared to tolerate an injustice to others then we should be prepared to tolerate injustice to ourselves.

One element of justice is in dignity and freedom of expression. There needs to be a baseline standard that applies and is available to all, not just to some. Because the minute a standard is inequably applied you can guarantee there will become a caste to whom the inequity will evolve into institutionalised slavery and/or classes of citizens.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Sunday, 29 October 2006 at 6:21am GMT

In The Times Stephen Plant accuses critics of Evangelicals of double standards, criticising Evangelicals both for being both and for being a-political.

Well, that comes out of the double-speak of the self-designation.

Either Evangelicals are a late 17th century branch of Calvinism, which is strongly political for religious reasons, or they are a late 17th century branch of Pietism, which is a-political for political reasons.

They cannot have it both ways.

(You all know the Lutheran stand, that every mixis of Church and State will do irretrievable damage to both).

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Sunday, 29 October 2006 at 9:21am GMT

Goran, I am glad you chose to cover this material. My first posting was 424 words and that necessitated leaving some things out. I concur that it is not appropriate for evangelicals to want it both ways.

Much of my contemplations yesterday were how the churches had evolved to the point that there was contempt for the earth and its inhabitants. (Obviously forgetting that Moses was barred from the Holy Land for striking the earth and Jesus refers to the earth as God's footstool (Matthew 5:35)) Further that there must be a theological paradigm that justifies indifference to systemised impoverishment, weapons of intimidation against civilian populations (including sanctions), repression and censorship, elitism and exclusionism. These paradigms have allowed the earth to become more and more polarised between the "haves" and "have nots" with the disparity becoming more disgusting by decades.

The disgusting place we find ourselves in is a result of cumulative decisions. In large part that is because somehow one interpretation of the bible became the sole legitimate interpretation; with any other interpretation being slandered as being from the "evil one" or prophet/esses of Baal. (We have witnessed people accuse us of this within TA and been referred to evidence of this slander on other forums).

These unchallenged paradigms make poverty inevitable, repression inevitable, self-justification and protection (at any cost) inevitable. This unbalanced extremist theology inevitably leads to genocide and institutionalisation of the attempts to genocide "unsuitable" elements. Genocide not just meaning the physical death of a body, but also the cultural death to a group.

Thus this form of hypocritical repressive theology will not be allowed to continue as a legitimate form. Unchallenged, it is a form of theology that makes holocausts inevitable, and must therefore be balanced by a robust theology that monitors and puts in place checks to contain excessive zealotry.

We don't need to hark back to texts or origins, other than to understand where such theology evolved from and to understand how excessive puritanism can manifest. We can judge by the evidence that is before us, go look at your local waterways or slums.

Their attempts to control and justify through textbooks is their condemnation not their salvation. Luke 11:48-53 applies as much to these souls as it did to those who challenged Jesus.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Sunday, 29 October 2006 at 4:18pm GMT


If your comments were aimed at evangelicals then they are untrue and offensive. You obviously haven't heard of Tearfund as one small example! But then that follows on from a post that trys to compare religious debate in Brtian with persecution in China. I'm not too bothered if you want to be offensive to Evangelicals with your spiteful and ignorant comments but please consider your inappropriate comments about the suffering church again

Posted by Dave Williams at Sunday, 29 October 2006 at 9:26pm GMT


My comments do apply to some evangelicals, and these are based on real experiences and historical evidence. If there are souls who are insulted, it is because they are guilty of insulting behaviour.

The moderates already know that I do not consider all evangelicals to be of this ilk, I consider myself to be an evangelical. Its just that the group who is insulted does not acknowlege my legitimacy.

Better to be hated by oppressors than seen to justify oppression.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Monday, 30 October 2006 at 10:00am GMT

"The comments JC makes about veils could apply to people who wear crosses or other religious symbols too."

I don't agree, Cheryl. Veils conceal one's identity, other religious symbols do not. There is great danger in allowing members of the public to go about their daily affairs masked. As has been stated, many Western societies, including that where I live, have found it necessary to prohibit their citizens from doing so, and, at least in our case, the masking was not a statement of any minority status. What's more, women are only masked in certain Muslim societies, generally those which are more oppressive to women. I would argue that masking of women is a cultural issue, not a religious one, and that in this instance, the needs of the society supercede the needs of members of a particular cultural minority.

Posted by Ford Elms at Wednesday, 1 November 2006 at 9:27pm GMT


How does the masking affect the needs of society? Masks are not the only way to dissemble one's identity. There is plastic surgery, hair styles, beards and moustaches, stage makeup, deliberate changes in posture.

I feel a need for more clarification on what you are saying. Maybe some situation examples would help? How or where is masking a problem?

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Thursday, 2 November 2006 at 1:56am GMT

Where I come from, it used to be a tradition at Christmas time for people to dress up and go around the streets accosting people with what for the day was the equivalent of Nerf balls. It was all meant to be good holiday fun, and was a survival of a medieval British custom. It also led to a great deal of petty crime, pickpocketting, assault, that sort of thing, and eventually had to be banned. It was over a century ago, so many don't even know such a thing existed. If one covers one's face, one can do many things and not be identified. A pious Muslim wouldn't dream of such a thing, but how do you know that a person in a mask is pious, a Muslim, or even a woman for that matter? People can find other ways to conceal their identity, it's true, but few as easy as simply putting on a mask. We aren't talking about respect for religion here, millions of pious Muslims don't cover their faces. And there are many areas where cultural arguments fail as well. I feel this is one of those areas.

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 2 November 2006 at 5:15pm GMT

Ford. I can understand your sentiments, but the area is very emotional.

I do not approve of extremism e.g. throwing acid in the faces of women who do not wear veils. Nor do I agree with forced conversions (either with actual force, the threat of force, or through legal and/or economic sanctions). There are people (in all camps) who have made it their life mission to be the whining victim advocates on behalf of whatever group they represent. There are other people who choose to stir up the pots of dissension and intolerance as that it makes it easier pickings to gain access to souls to satisfy ungodly lusts (profits, sex and violence spring to mind).

However, I think on the scale of problems that we are dealing with, the wearing of veils is minor compared to some of the other issues. I also think it is a red herring.

If we start fighting with the Muslims, then the bullies in our own church can argue that we don't have to fix our problems and need to put them aside for "the greater good". Again, I can think of other entities that are guilty of stirring up dissension and conflict to justify putting aside human rights and civil liberties on exactly this same pretext.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Thursday, 2 November 2006 at 9:20pm GMT

I agree the wearing of veils is a small issue. I just didn't, and don't, agree that covering one's face is the same as wearing a cross or Magen David, or other religious symbol. There are implications both ways, of course. For example, it would likely be quite traumatic for someone who has covered her face in public all her life to have to go about uncovered. I don't buy, however, that it is a religious issue, since many Muslim women don't cover their faces at all. I'm with you on the issue of extremism.

Posted by Ford Elms at Friday, 3 November 2006 at 12:29am GMT

Ford, I liked the compassion in your last posting and am glad that we are in agreement against extremism. To succeed against the battle against extremism, we need to understand the underpinnings that evolve into extremism. One of the things about extremism is that souls are often very fearful or have a "high control" need. They want the world to be moulded into a form that makes them feel safe, and they want the world to agree and mutually hate that which makes them feel unsafe.

This then leads to the questions of tolerance and diversity. A "high control" soul can not cope with souls who do not co-operate with making manifest their vision of safety and order. In highly fearful states they will go so far as to attempt to expunge or destroy that which seems to make manifest their fears. Expunging might simply mean banning arts or women from put public exposure; to ejecting "unclean" ethnic groups or manifestations from within one's sphere of influence (refugees and burning of buildings here), to seek and destroying the "unclean" elements from all of creation (war, terrorism, invasions here).

To make a stand agains this kind of extremism necessitates taking an ideological position that could be argued in a court of law. If extremist ideology is intolerance, suppression and desecration; then the ideological counterweight is tolerance, inclusion and reverence.

This then means that we accept diverse expressions of souls faiths and variances within faiths and other philosophical streams. The underlying premise being: "Does the souls' behaviour and tenets honor "live and let live"?"

If the behaviour/tenets causes a danger to the soul or others around them, then the responsibilies of the community come into play. However, the community must in turn respect the rights of the individual as nations are built on the fractal pattern of individuals and how they relate to their families and each other.

That means we will have diversity between and within faiths. That means we will have Muslims in full head dress, the Amish, Hindus, rabid atheists, orthodox and liberal. To target one group for reform, or deny their dress code, is a very difficult line.

There are good arguments against masks, but we need demonstrate an attunement to the needs for diversity, and understand God often gives us conundrums with no easy answers. It helps to acknowledge that, and not give blanket statements, lest we be seen to be phobic against one particular group.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Friday, 3 November 2006 at 9:46pm GMT
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