Comments: Bishop Nazir-Ali stirs the pot some more

More like the media stirring the pot once again. They feast on anything that sounds vaguely like a clash of civilisations.

I don't see that any of Nazir-Ali's main points are especially controversial: 1) that aggravated and alienated young males are turning to radical Islam as an attractive option, 2) that the historical culture of Britain is founded in Christianity and the disputes within it, 3) that Christians are commanded to make disciples of all people (without doubt a core evangelical belief), and 4) that with the demise of a strong Christian presence there is a crisis of identity in Britain.

Riazat's piece is interesting. I disagree with Andrew Brown though that questions about Islam necessarily alienate liberals - as we saw with +Cantuar's bungling and ill-framed sharia ideas, liberal opinion was sharply divided. Neither wing of the church is particularly discerning at the moment - naive liberal clergy tend to act as extraordinary apologists for hardline Islam, while conservatives ignore in their polemic progressive Islamic groups such as MECO or BMSD.

Posted by John Omani at Friday, 30 May 2008 at 5:24pm BST

I don't know that they alienate liberals -- I think they push on a very sore spot, because liberals don't know how to answer them.

Posted by Andrew Brown at Friday, 30 May 2008 at 6:19pm BST

I think its an area on which liberals are split, in the sense of political liberals. The problem is that some liberals think that religion deserves a place in the public sphere and public protection. I think they are mistaken and that religious freedom should equate only to the private sphere. Freedom to believe and practice individual personal faith, but no protection for religion as institution and no place for religion as an influence on public life.

Otherwise, there is no liberal case for favouring one religion over another and something like Sharia law can be justified.

Posted by Merseymike at Friday, 30 May 2008 at 6:35pm BST

If I were Riazat Butt, I would be peeved that the Guardian editors lifted a *quote* (by this Paul Eddy character), and turned it into the *headline* of my profile of +Rochester.

It is *Mr. Eddy* who believes Nazir-Ali to be a " Jesus was." A more balanced perspective might indicate "a homophobic, blundering blowhard w/ delusions of (among other things) grandeur". Yes, that's more like it. >;-/

Posted by JCF at Friday, 30 May 2008 at 8:30pm BST

Inside USA constitutional frames, we have a slightly different tilt, alternative to church establishment. Congress can make no law preventing the free exercise of citizen religion, nor any law establishing any particular religious practice.

I think we got to that difficult balance, partly thanks to the existing examples of UK and Europe who had at various times, plenty of examples of various sorts of religious establishment.

My own voice and sense as a believer are much closer to Simon Barrow and Dave Walker, than to Nazir-Ali. But then, I am not even considered a real believer inside too many conservative religious frames, Christian or Muslim or otherwise, and Nazir-Ali could barely recognize me as an equal citizen let alone a equal believer.

Alas, if the established conservative witness is the only option, we are in for considerable further struggle along with further additional declines. Conservative mega-churches in USA may be thickly populated and loud, but they are still indicators of decline to me, not indicators of renewal, revival, or all that much ethical or theological progress. The glowing but false nostalgias so many conservative believers are all so busy, pronouncing so foolishly accurate of our mixed and vexed pasts, is hardly a real or enduring answer to any thoughtful ethical person.

And it is all very odd, indeed, to watch conservative cook-book Islam arm-wrestling over numbers and power and more-literalistic-than-not strictness with conservative cook-book Christianities.

Posted by drdanfee at Friday, 30 May 2008 at 9:48pm BST

"Mr Shafiq said any moral vacuum in Britain was not caused by an eclipse of Christianity, so much as the failure of the Church to transmit Christian values to people."

Indeed. And the Bishop of Rochester, bless his heart, is hardly the best advertisement for British Christianity to broadcast to the benighted masses.

Posted by MRG at Friday, 30 May 2008 at 11:31pm BST

Evangelical Christians such as Nazir-Ali and Eddy and evangelical atheists such as Hitchens and Dawkins are agreed on one thing: the need to convert Muslims. The somewhat inflammatory headlines of the right-wing press about radical Islam filling a moral vacuum, lifted from the first paragraph of the BBC website's piece, and condensed from one paragraph in the Standpoint article, feed the fallacy that radical Islam will one day take over. Not in modern secular Britain. And he doesn't mention the impact of two World Wars on the loss of faith, or of Thatcherite individualism and the gulf between the haves and have-nots on society.

The article makes reference to Islamic Spain where a romantic view of history asserts that the three "Peoples of the Book" coexisted and progressive scholarship flourished, shaming the Dark Ages of the rest of Europe. The bishop omits to mention the full effects of the Reconquista and the eventual crushing of Muslims and Jews under the Reyes Catolicos. He presumably doesn't think this is an appropriate template for dealing with the current "ideological battle" with radical Islam.

The bishop was alone in supporting the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, based on the fallacy that Iraq had WMD. Strange that he doesn't mention this as a contributory factor in the rise of home-grown terrorism.

Posted by Hugh of Lincoln at Saturday, 31 May 2008 at 12:22am BST

I disagree with your praise for Simon Barrow's
piece in the Guardian. It's the usual leftist
political argument that still upholds multiculturalism. He is forgetting that Christians
have been given the command to evangelise.
The Bishop is merely defending the traditional
role of the church to spread the gospel and
to teach Christian values in society.
Simon Barrow's point that the BNP agree with the Bishop's teaching and therefore it must be suspect, is ludicrous. Simon Barrow's Ekklesia
has supported peace workers who themselves have been praised by Islamic extremists. Does that make Ekklesia suspect?

Posted by Reynolds at Saturday, 31 May 2008 at 1:23pm BST


There's evangelizing and there's disrespect. The best evangelizing is living according to the two great commandments; the worst is insisting that everybody else do so.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Saturday, 31 May 2008 at 2:11pm BST

Well obviously, many non-conservative believers have already been evangelized and continue to be so, by conservative believers - and the outcome is that we become even more intentional occupants of some best practice modern intellectual frames, methods, and presuppositions alternative to the most extreme and most forceful of the allegedly special evangelical pieties.

One very bad offer that keeps coming up? Trade a special holiness piety in broad exchange for ethical justice and fairness. A pretty bad deal, no matter how this or that evangelism school pitches it to us, either/or.

I read Simon Barrow's key point asking us: if believers cannot (A) live out their witness ethically in a vigorously fair and above board manner in a culturally diverse public marketplace of ideas and commitments, plus (B) model how to live fairly in peace across our modern differences - then what sort of witness is such a believer truly making?

This point resonates with me as I am past weary of all the false witness going on, occasionally from the left when it gets caught up in its self-righteousness; and almost always consistently from the right which starts off especially presuming its own self-righteousness - most often based on some penal version of how we get reconciled to God in Jesus of Nazareth?

I am already a believer, just not that sort.

So Nazir-Ali can either accept that I differ from his views for conscientious and informed reasons of modern method - or he can keep lumping me in with all the other citizens he globally defines as heathen-pagan-whatever, and keep hammering away on all of us as problem nails because his message is a hammer.

That is bad enough, then when Nazir-Ali tires of hammering us believer nail-people, he preaches to others about us as tetanus-carrying nail-danger-people. Praise this poor and careless witness as gospel evangel if you like, yet it is still just as mean-spirited and fear-mongering and disrespectful of anybody else being fundamentally capable of ethical citizenship (in its own manner) as any of the other similar messages (like ...?).

So far as multicultural life goes in our global villages, surely part of our controversy is that we live across a range of overlapping yet distinctive Christian cultures, no one of which is the total of the kingdom of God? We hammer each other inside, then we turn outside to keep hammering. Not good news.

Posted by drdanfee at Saturday, 31 May 2008 at 2:27pm BST

Pat O'Neill:
Is Jesus command to go into all the world to preach the Good News now coming under the term
"disrespectful" to other faiths? That may be the liberal politically-correct Anglican view, but it was not Jesus' view, and it was not the apostles' view.
The Bishop is being criticised for wanting to spread the Gospel to Muslims. In other words, he's being criticised for defending the faith. Isn't that what a Bishop is supposed to do?
Or is a Bishop supposed to uphold multiculturalism and promotion of other faiths for
fear of being called "disrespectful"? Maybe a weak
man would care about being considered disrespectful. Jesus didn't care. Nor does the Bishop. All credit to him.

Posted by Reynolds at Saturday, 31 May 2008 at 3:53pm BST

Nazir-Ali is tabloid religion for a tabloid press. As TV ran out and I went very late to bed, I finally exhausted TV by hearing one of these cheapest religious programmes say let's pray for Nazir Ali and then managed to slip seamlessly from opposition to abortion to "one flash flood and it's chaos", everything falling apart and then on to if there's no God then where does it all end. It's a sort of despair last gasp religion than can never come to terms with the complexity of society.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 31 May 2008 at 4:42pm BST

Thing of it is Reynolds, many who "evangelize" react to refusal by means of shunning, insulting, condescension, and arrogance. The "victims" of those evangelizing end up feeling anger and hatred towards Christ. That's not just disrepect, it's outright stubborn stupidity and ultimately ineffective in the long run. And who is to temper those who are spreading the gospel, if indeed it is proven that the latter are wrong? What self control is there? Are we using Christ for our message or are we genuinely attempting to lead others towards a Christ-like environment?

Looking admittedly naively across this side of the Atlantic, I'd say your government is doing more of Christ's work than some guy down the river.

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Saturday, 31 May 2008 at 5:10pm BST

"Is Jesus command to go into all the world to preach the Good News now coming under the term
"disrespectful" to other faiths?"

The issue is not evangelism, the issue is how it is done. Do we, as Evangelicals seem to think is appropriate, insult people, deride their faith, call them Satanic, claim they are violent, ignore all the good things about their culture and faith, and loudly threaten them with everlasting flames if they don't accept our beliefs? Or do we respect their traditions, realize that it is a long held belief of the Church that, while God reveals Himself to us in His fullness, He has done so less fully to others? St. Patrick didn't go around insulting the pagan Celts, even though at times he did exhibit "shows of strength" so to speak, to prove the superiority of his God. He respected their indigenous beliefs and showed them how they were misinterpreting the evidence of God they saw all around them. The result is that there are very few Celtic "red martyrs". People don't hate you and want to kill you if you confidently and respectfully express your beliefs to them. But that's the point, isn't it? Treat others with respect and it is far harder to think of yourself as a martyr in some great cause.

Posted by Ford Elms at Saturday, 31 May 2008 at 5:17pm BST

"Is Jesus command to go into all the world to preach the Good News now coming under the term
"disrespectful" to other faiths? That may be the liberal politically-correct Anglican view, but it was not Jesus' view, and it was not the apostles' view."

It is possible to preach the good news without telling your listeners they are heathens, pagans, and damned to perdition unless they follow you...especially when speaking to those of a religion that acknowledges Jesus as one of its own prophets. As I read Acts and the epistles, I don't find much in the way of derogation of other faiths, only espousal of our own.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Saturday, 31 May 2008 at 5:46pm BST

Pluralist: yes, you're quite right, well put.

Posted by Fr Mark at Saturday, 31 May 2008 at 8:23pm BST

drdanfee has understood my main point (which is about discipleship and the vocation of the church) exactly; Reynolds has not, I think, registered it.

Incidentally, I was very careful *not* to say that Dr Nazir-Ali "must be suspect" because the BNP might agree with him - rather, I suggested that the fact they can hijack such rhetoric should give cause for questioning - and I provided a link to an article that I think asks the right questions. To ask questions is not the same thing as to reach glib conclusions, I hope.

Posted by Simon Barrow at Saturday, 31 May 2008 at 8:27pm BST

"Is Jesus command to go into all the world to preach the Good News..."

Reynolds, you do realize that "the ink is still wet" on Matthew 28:19 don't you? The *Early Church* stuck those words into Jesus's mouth! [Sometime after Trinitarian baptism became the definitive way to join the Christian community---and, I suspect, also at the time that those Jews nearby were proving so resistant TO said joining!]

Posted by JCF at Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 4:19am BST

"The *Early Church* stuck those words into Jesus's mouth!"

How is this in any way significant? I have heard this argument over and over: the first person to write down 'x' Gospel didn't write THAT, it was added afterwards. So what? If we are to take as our basic premise that God guided us to recognize what of the ancient writings were inspired by Him and what ones weren't, what difference if the words in say Matthew weren't actually written by Matthew, but were added a few years later by someone else? The inspired nature of the Scripture doesn't come from their being accurate recordings of what happened at such and such a date, after all. Genesis is allegory, but God still made all that is. Jesus didn't say this? Well, we don't know that. What we know is that someone very close to the original witnesses of the events felt this was in the spirit of what had been handed on from the Apostles, and, if we are to believe in Divine guidance at all, God led us to discern these writings as Divinely inspired. The Scriptures aren't some sort of Divine dictation to be accepted as is, but they are also not some manifestation of the politics of their time.

Posted by Ford Elms at Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 8:39pm BST

Perhaps we simply say that the best form of evangelism is to present the Christian Faith as a lived and enlivening faith. This being done others may come to 'ask' what it is makes the difference to the lives of Christians. The problem comes when any faith is so dominant in a geographical or social setting that another faith is never seen in its best light. A voice in favour of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-faith settings would allow for individuals to recognise their 'path to God'. So let's do away with faith ghettos and with evangelical/catholic/orthodox ghettos and allow God to accomplish his saving work.

Posted by Commentator at Tuesday, 3 June 2008 at 11:59am BST

Eddy's motion will not be on Synod's agenda.

(R4 Today Programme 7am news bulletin)

Posted by Hugh of Lincoln at Tuesday, 3 June 2008 at 9:31pm BST

Pitcher's piece reads to me like a man trying desperately to write against his brief. He can't actually say that Nazir Ali is talking balls because Standpoint is transparently an outgrowth of the Telegraph. It's pretty much exactly what the Spectator would be without its consumerist gloss. On the other hand, he's read the piece, so he's at a loss when told praise it. Solution: praise Nazir Ali at the top and point out much lower down when you hope that the editor has stopped reading that if MNA's piece means what it says, it's nonsense.

Posted by Andrew Brown at Thursday, 5 June 2008 at 2:45pm BST
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