Monday, 23 April 2018

William Cecil - a proto-feminist?

William Cecil, effectively Queen Elizabeth 1st's Prime Minister, the patriarch of many well known people today, tasted bitter personal loss, movingly expressed in the long essay he wrote on the tombs of his brilliant wife Mildred and his daugher, Anne de Vere, in Westminster Abbey. Mildred was very reformed and he highlights her learning, faith and charity, as the daughter of Edward VI's tutor.   How many men write like this about women even today?


Mildred and Anne, tomb Westminter Abbey with Cecil's long essay, incribed around them
By unknown - http://www.kateemersonhistoricals.com/TudorWomenC-Ch.html, Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30778724 
"Mildred, first born daughter of the noble Lord Anthony Cooke, Kt. a
man of virtue and distinguished learning, a noble Maecenas to all men
of letters; her mother was the Lady Anne, daughter of Lord William
Fitzwilliams, Kt.: celebrated and high born because of her parents'
ancient pedigree, tracing its descent from many of the noble families
of the realm, she was no less famed and exceedingly praised by all the
learned for her erudition, combined with her steadfast profession of
the Christian faith, and her singular knowledge of the Greek and Latin
tongues, which knowledge she received solely at the hands of her
father, who instructed her. She became, in her 20th year the wife of
Lord William Cecil, Lord of Burghley, and afterwards, by reason of her
husband's being ennobled with the title of Baron of the realm, she was
created Baroness of Burghley and bore him many children, but three
only who attained maturity: that is, Anne, Robert and Elizabeth".

Under here (mine eyes are full of tears, my spirit oppressed with the
greatest grief) appear the likenesses of two illustrious women, who,
while they yet lived, were most dear to me, far beyond the whole race
of women kind. 

Should anyone seek to know who is this old man kneeling here, grey
headed, venerable, girt about with his parliamentary robes, Knight of
the Order of the Garter: and who are these two noble ladies,
splendidly attired, and who these kneeling at their heads and feet; he
will discover all these things from the following words of the old
man, and from the inscriptions appended to each.

She whose likeness is below was - alas, was - my Mildred, my wife,
dearest above all: the other, mine too, was my most beloved daughter.
Mildred became my wife in the year of Our Lord 1546 and lived
with me constantly and harmoniously for 43 years, and she shared all
my fortunes in times good and bad, throughout the reigns of kings
Henry VIII and Edward VI, and queens Mary and Elizabeth (who still
felicitously holds sway); she bore me many children but three only
reached maturity, namely two daughters, Anne and Elizabeth, and one
son Robert. 

But it was my daughter Anne who was ever my darling: given
in marriage to Edward Vere, most illustrious Earl of Oxford, Lord
Great Chamberlain of England, she became, by virtue of this marriage,
Countess of Oxford, and bore to her husband more than a few sons, none
of them long surviving, and three daughters yet living, whose
likenesses are to be seen, kneeling at their mother's head. The first
is Lady Elizabeth, the second Lady Bridget, the third Lady Susannah.
This my daughter Anne lived from a tender age amidst abundant and
universal acclaim, both at Court and at home, a maid most modest and
virtuous, a wife without fault for her husband. At last, to the great
grief of myself and her mother, she was untimely snatched away from us
and yielded up her spirit to God who gave it; her soul once restored
to God, my wife and I, with many tears, saw to it that her body should
repose beneath this monument of stone. 

But mother followed hard upon...

daughter; although I never think earnestly upon her without tears, yet
certain things suggest themselves which in passing small degree seem
to assuage my grief: namely, when I call again to mind how, throughout
the whole of her life, she was conversant with sacred literature, and
the writings of holy men, and especially those Greeks such as Basil
the Great, Chrysostym, and Gregory Nanzianus, and others of their ilk.
Yet most comforting to me is to recollect how great were the benefits
that she conferred in secret upon the learned, how great her deeds of
pity towards the poor: (which things are more apparent to all after
her death than they were during her life...

...how, moreover, she endowed colleges in either university with
monies, and bequeathed sums in perpetuity for the m aintenance of
scholars, particularly at the college of St John the Evangelist at
Cambridge; (and how) also she was so deeply concerned for the upkeep
of the needy in the towns of Romford (whence her family had its
origin), and Burghley, where is our ancestral seat, that she saw to it
that on the first Sabbath day of each month provisions and money were
always distributed to the poor, especially to needy widows and orphans
of Burghley, and that frequent discourses were delivered there upon
the Word of God. She also decreed that, in each of these aforesaid
towns, a considerable sum of money should be distributed every two
years in perpetuity for the benefit of poor mechanicals [poor
labourers]. After these and many other outstanding services of like
kind to God and country, to me her husband, to her children, to the
learned, and to the poor, she freely rendered up her soul to God in
her climacteric year, that is to say, her 63rd, on 4th April in the
year 1589. I, as husband and father, thought fit that her body should
join that of our daughter Anne, shortly before laid to rest beneath
this stone, that they should be preserved together, in hope of
resurrection.

But to what purpose do I continue? I shall make an end of words of
lamentation, saying only this, that this sight is to me so full of
woe, that, although those sweet children who remain to me, so full of
promise, offer some degree of solace, yet neither these four, so dear
to me as they are, nor my beloved eldest son, Thomas Cecil, nor all
his descendants yet living, grandsons and granddaughters numbering
eleven in all, to whom I also add the little boy William Pawlett, son
of my granddaughter Lucy Cecilia by William Pawlett, son and heir of
the Marquess of Winchester - none of these will ever efface the grief
which, for me, pertains to this spectacle"

The virtuous Lady Mildred Burghley lived to the age of 63 and left
many a testimony of her piety towards God, her charity to the learned
and the poor: deeds which, while she lived, she concealed under the
names of other good persons, but which then were known in the presence
of God, and now, her life being over, without any doubt are surely
laid up for her in heaven. She met her death on the 4th April 1589 at
the home of her husband, Lord Burghley, in Westminster."

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Why did Jesus give his mother to John?

One of the last or 'Seven Words from the Cross' was the commandment of Jesus to two people standing at its foot:  to his mother and to his Apostle, John:

"Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19 v 25-27)"


Buhl Altarpiece of The Crucifixion
In effect, Jesus said to his mother 'Go and live permanently with John'. He commanded John to financially and emotionally take care of her, like he would his own mother, for the rest of her life. John's Gospel says that this arrangement took place. This is a mystery because Mary had other children, four sons and a number of daughters, called the family of Jesus, in scripture, which some Catholics find hard to accept - but it is 'there', in black and white.  His brothers were James, Joseph, Simon and Judas and his sisters were not named. There seems to be a later historic text, mentioning the family of Jesus and land they owned:  his was a family who had a direct line of descent from King David. They could have been of interest to the Romans and, politically, an ongoing threat.

Mary, at the Cross, would have been at least forty five years old. She was at least twelve when she gave birth to Jesus, though she could have been as old as sixteen. Jesus was thirty three, so she may have been nearer fifty. She was a crucial part of the Divine Plan of Redemption and a direct descendant of King David, herself. At the start of the ministry of Jesus, she had wilingly, or half willingly, sided with the younger brothers of Jesus, who, St John's Gospel says 'did not believe in Him'. At one point, she and they went to try to force him to give up His ministry and come home with them to Nazareth, telling people he was 'out of his mind' i.e. mentally ill.  Jesus repudiated them by saying that his real mother and brothers were those who did the will of God. Clearly, at that point, they were not doing it and he treated them as he did Peter, with a "Get-behind-me-Satan" type of statement.

John was a very gracious Apostle. The words 'loving and kind' spring to mind, judging from the text of his wondrous Gospel which is, to my mind, the greatest written text in the world. His Epistles show he was very gracious to the women, starting letters with most unusually warm words, such as 'Beloved Lady' etc. What is less well known is that John was also the first cousin of Jesus, the son of Salome, the sister of Mary. He and his brother, James, another one of the Twelve, were the emotional 'sons of thunder', the loving, inventive and mildly critical nickname for them, coined by Jesus. Therefore, John was directly descended from King David and in the royal line. Salome, his mother was still alive, and with her sister, Mary, at the Cross, along with Mary the wife of Clopas. The sisters must have been clinging together, in traumatised shock and grief.

Jesus was saying to his mother "Go and live with your sister, Salome and her son John, my beloved disciple, for whom I will provide and who will provide for you. In this way, you will know that I am still providing directly for you, through him, as your enduringly faithful eldest son".

If the nuclear family means everything today, it was different in those times. The extended family was just as important and a necessary social support system. Jesus may have been thought to be with Salome and John, i.e. his close extended family, when he went missing on the way from Jerusalem, when he was twelve.

The key question is why did he not give Mary to one of his brothers? He also had an unknown number of almost certainly married sisters, as everyone was married then, excluding him. The reason may be that their level of faith was the issue at that point. Clearly, Mary was very close to her sister, Salome and to John who was the only Apostle, as far as we know, faithful at the Cross, and probably there, officially, as a male blood relative. The Cross was an experience that deeply bonded this family group.

Jesus knew the whole story of his family, past present and future. His brother James who came to faith after the Resurrection, became leader of the Jerusalem Church and was martyred. There is a suggestion (I am unsure where) that he was a trained priest. Maybe Mary actually preferred to be with her sister Salome and John, based on the Lake of Galilee and later elsewhere? They were both faithful Christians with a proven track record of courage, utterly loyal to Jesus and Mary. There is a tradition that John became Bishop of Ephesus, the messianic church that the preaching of Paul helped to build, after Mary died in Judea, which included Jerusalem and Galilee.   There is another strand that claims she went to Epehesus, with John, and died there.  There is a House of The Virgin Mary. The truth is 'no one knows'.

Whatever the case, one can be certain that Jesus ensured that Mary felt completely safe, cared for, fully honoured and respected as the 'highly favoured and blessed' woman she was. St John, after all was the one who really knew who the identity of Jesus in the eternal and divine scheme of things.  He wrote "In the beginning was The Word and the Word was with God...and the Word was God."

The Apostle John lived to a great age and does not seem to have been martyred, but ended up as a very old man, on Patmos, a Roman penal colony near Epehesus, possibly around 80 AD. Mary may have lived a long life too, but she may have been in Heaven by then, having been born around 16 BC. Life was generally much shorter in the ancient world. Most of all of the rest of the Apostles were dead by then, having died violently, relatively young.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

2 Corinthians 4 - 'The human body is like a melting snowman'

Sermon by Rev Angus MCleay, Rector of Sevenoaks Parish Church (based on my own personalised notes) 2 Corinthians 4: 7-18 

In this age of the false 'health and wealth' gospel, life, even for Christians can feel cold and hard.  Believers who are suffering can ask themselves: "Is something wrong? Have I missed something crucial in my walk with God?"  The answer is no.  Suffering is not a sign that something is wrong but an essential part of:
  • showing the power of God in weakness
  • turning evil to good
  • showing the power of the Resurrection
  • preparing the faithful for Heaven
'We have this treasure in pots of clay'
St Paul says that the Gospel is a treasure like The Crown Jewels but it is displayed in the body which is like 'a pot of clay'.  The Roman world was filled with clay pots which now line the shelves of museums, row upon row  They were the world's first mass produced, cheap product. Romans carried olive oil around in them, used for lighting, cooking and cleaning. They broke easily and their modern equivalent is a plastic bag, or plastic wrapper. So this priceless treasure is not conveyed in the modern equivalent of a Securicor van but in a plastic bag, which is the bodies of believers. The fact is that the human body (mostly water) is disposable, but it is very visible. We notice it even if it is both complex and fragile.  The reason for putting The Crown Jewels (The Gospel) in a human body/plastic wrapper is to display it, not to lock it up unseen behind walls and bars. In this way, the Gospel gets out and about in the world and can be easily examined and considered.

Carrying death around with us
St Paul, like some of us, was often perplexed at what God was doing to him through adversity and suffering - but he was not depressed about it, nor destroyed by it.  Why not? He was carrying about in him 'death' emotionally, physically and spiritually (The Cross). He had suffered a lot since meeting with Christ on the road to Damascus - beatings, marginalisation, betrayals by brethren, his own illness. Did he fully realise that he was there to serve God through his mighty letters? Nevertheless, he was also carrying 'life', the ever renewing inner life of the risen Jesus which meant that this 'death' was daily overcome by a tremendous living force: the power that raises the dead.

                                                                                                                          
There is attraction in weakness
What does one see when one looks at someone competent, confident, handsome and strong?  We see them and their human glory.  When we look at someone who feels their frailty and admits it, we see the power of God in their life working to sustain them.  Our weakness is attractive because no one wants the Gospel preached to them by superman and superwoman. We are more convinced by people to share how the Gospel worked for them in their weakness.  It is 'evidence'.  

Evil turned to good
In 1993, a church in South Africa was blown up by a terrorist bomb.  Instead of the glorious outreach they had hoped for, the church suffered death and attack. It felt itself to be 'a plastic bag'.  But hundreds of people became Christians at the funerals of the dead and in the subsequent years, God turned evil to further good.  This revelation came via pain, just as the revelation of who Jesus was came through extreme pain. Jesus was glorified only on the Cross. The inner story of the Universe is that weakness leads to resurrection  and glory - which could be the story of many lives which overcome illness, grief and adversity through faith.  We are like bearers of the NT story, in our frail human bodies.

Melting snowman
So suffering is not 'our train derailed, and off the tracks'.  It is necessary preparation for Heaven and glory, for wholeness and full knowledge.  The body is like a melting snowman, with failing brain and physicality but as this deconstruction proceeds until we die in this world, we are step by step daily nearer to seeing the face of the loving and faithful One who walked through all this with us. That face belongs to Jesus Christ.

Photo - attribution
The Crown Jewels copyright 
By United Kingdom Government - Illustrated       
Magazine, 13 December 1952, p. 14. Copyright label: "CROWN                                                                                                                                                        
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Film Review - 'The Darkest Hour'

The Darkest Hour is already breaking box office records. Opening this weekend in the UK, it was my first experience of being in a completely full cinema.

Gary Oldman, a Shakespearean actor, who looks nothing like Winston Churchill in reality is almost his double in the film due to prosthetics, clothes, wigs and a mastery of some of his mouth and hand movements. He perfectly impersonates his voice, strengths, his weaknesses. Of course, he utters Churchill's own memorable, inimitable and sometimes obscene words.

Brian Cox played Churchill, in a lower budget film, Churchill (2017) with Miranda Richardson as Clementine, about the Normandy landings. It is a second episode to his film, but it is not as good. In this film, Kristin Scott Thomas is a sympathetic Clementine Churchill who was probably the most noble-looking Englishwoman of the 20th century. One wonders what modern actress could fully convey her aristocratic style, but Scott Thomas does a good job.  She offers an insight into how she raised Winston out of his regular bouts of depression, with confident, encouraging and loving words. Real life Clementine's gentle delivery in this short film supports this.

In The Darkest Hour, with a much bigger budget, Gary Oldman is more subtle and more moving than  any other Churchill that I can recall. Frankly, in a scene where he is consulting ordinary people, it is difficult not to drop a tear or two. After all, Winston did say, but not in this film, that the British people were 'the lion' and he just gave 'the roar'. In his speech to the US Senate in 1943, Churchill said that his father, Randolph, told him to consult and listen democratically to the British people (who they both felt were to be fully trusted) above all else.

The plot is tight and can be universalised to many individual situations, such as when one is championing an unpopular topic, Christianity or one faces very hard times of marginalisation, swimming fully against the tide of majority opinion, false belief, fashion or low credibility. It is still highly  relevant, in less dangerous political times. The musical score is very effective, replete with drum beats about danger and time fast running out and poignant strings describing feeling, fear and sadness.

In The Darkest Hour, Winston knows himself to be a man of conviction if sometimes poor judgement with hidden 'baggage' and a cluster of disabilities. He is shown as entirely alone, already unfit and growing old, in 1940. The daft German propaganda was that he was an 'old drunkard'. Against the slurs and unpopularity in his own party, he has to hold the line politically, while his weak and slippery Conservative colleagues ignominiously connive and then collapse, in the face of the reality of Hitler's character, ambition and tyranny.

The ‘enemy’ is clearly not just Hitler but a Conservative party filled with confused, wounded and contradictory appeasers, who verge, in retrospect, on complete lack of belief in their countrymen and border on cowardice, even treachery. The most confusing of them is Viscount Halifax, desperate for peace, even though he signed the misguided petition urging Lloyd George to give Germany the severest terms of peace, in 1919. In 1940, he wanted peace at any price, peace in our time but two wrongs cannot make a right. The lesson of this film and World War Two is that there are some things which cannot be compromised, even for imagined peace and ease, though neither was likely via surrender in 1940. These things are democracy and freedom. It is also worth knowing that Britain could not have proclaimed itself a neutral country, as the neutrality of Belgium had already been overrun by the Nazis. Winston finally roars at his contradictory if pious, Anglo Catholic colleague, Halifax: “You cannot reason with A TIGER when your head is in its MOUTH!”.  He then posts him, out of the way, to the Embassy in Washington, for five years.

On 15 May, five days after the Nazi invasion began through the Ardennes, French Prime Minister Reynaud contacted Churchill and famously remarked, "We have been defeated... we are beaten; we have lost the battle....” So the film starts with the resignation of Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister and the appointment of Churchill, which Labour apparently achieved, having no faith in arch-appeaser, Lord Halifax. Due to Chamberlain’s and others’ refusal to re-arm during the 1930s, when the public did not want another war, the Army was weak. But appearances were deceptive. In fact, Hitler only had a semi-modern army with a veneer of terrifying Panzer forward divisions. Many of the German infantry were aged over 40, barely armed and untrained, conveyed into France in horse drawn carriages. Their single but critical strategic advantage was radio contact between tanks and brigades.

The film focuses on a number of political earthquakes, the first being the biggest shock of Winston Churchill’s entire life. This was being told by the French, having been outflanked on the Maginot Line, that they lacked a ‘Plan B’. Reynaud, the French PM met Churchill twice in May 1940 to give him the news and to tell him that France would sign a peace deal with Germany, which in fact, saved millions of French lives, but left poor old Britain to fight on, alone, unsupported by America but supported by faithful Australia, Canada, New Zealand and India.

At this stage, Churchill told Reynaud that he did not altogether rule out talks with Mussolini, who was not yet in the war. The latter took Italy into war on the side of the Hitler one month later. These few days in May 1940, while secretly, the Cabinet were weighing up peace or war was the War Cabinet Crisis and the film dramatises it in detail. Lord Halifax favoured what was euphemistically described as ‘The Reynaud Option’, approaching the Italians to see if acceptable peace terms could be negotiated by giving up some British territories. Halifax was eventually overruled by Churchill. But in the film, Winston first directly consults the British people, in an unorthodox manner, and he gains support from another, higher level. Whether either event actually happened is another matter. What did happen, which was not shown in the film, was that millions of people were praying, called by King George VI to do so, and, in my view, their prayers were answered in the miracle of Dunkirk evacuation which, as the film clearly shows, saved Churchill, politically. This film claims that the ‘little rescue boats’ in the evacuation were one of his better ideas.

The Darkest Hour is suitably shot mostly in the dark Cabinet war room bunker, or a mock up, as befits a period of unveiled evil, fear and gloom. There are some credible scenes shot at his home Chartwell, possibly even in his modest bedroom. The whole struggle puts into sensible perspective the internal Tory party divisions today, over Brexit.

The film is clearly a 'tour de force' that crosses the line from non-fiction into universal meaningfulness, and, by means of Churchill's own words, into the realms of actively energising those fighting alone for any ‘lost cause’. As Churchill says in the film, a lost cause is “the best kind”....

There is room for one more film on this topic. In my view, it should feature the Cabinet War Room, Winston waging war on weak politicians, self-sacrificial scenes relating to Dunkirk, the little boats, the religious mind of the King and the people praying and being filled with resolve. That would be the whole truth about ‘the darkest hour’. It could be called 'The Finest Hour'.

Monday, 1 January 2018

The trouble with the world in 2018

Our blessings in Britain range from our own currency, freedom, jobs and democracy to access to concerts and the internet. In addition, in this demi Eden, we have:
  • Gulf Stream weather which is mild compared with mainland Europe 
  • Deciduous trees - the most beautiful in the world 
  • Verdant gardens and public footpaths 
  • Singing birds and affordable pets to cherish and commune with 
  • Thousands of caring charities and voluntary associations (which other countries do not) supported by the world's most generous givers 
  • A romantic coastline 
  • Delightful and quirky little shops 
  • More books than any other nation (and we read more) 
  • A justice system above corruption 
  • A rich language, the largest in the world, which is the transglobal language 
  • Chatty unarmed (and sometimes armed) policemen 
  • Brave emergency services and military, protecting us 
  • Many theatres and a great history, notable for characterful buildings and towns of great age 
  • Gifted trained writers, musicians and artists 
  • Lively wits.
There is also much that is wrong and can be summed up as: a truly divided nation, dysfunctional families, confrontational politics, a national dialogue that largely only reflects the concerns of the fortunate, high levels of divorce, large numbers taking Prozac, high prices for basic homes, too many lonely people (especially the elderly and longer term ill), child abuse and cruelty, homeless people, food banks, lack of prospects for the disabled and long term ill, high levels of debt, hospital waiting lists, dumbing down, dead churches, blatant hypocrisy and discrimination against women e.g. in certain churches. There are also many institutions which seem to perpetuate rewarding the wrong people, those who do not ‘rock the boat’ but are ambitious for themselves. Although plenty of British people are warm and lovely, like people everywhere, a minority can be unpredictably spikey, arms’ length, snobbish, proud, sneering, patronising, bullying, judgemental, hostile, cold and ill-mannered (even those one is blood related to). There is also increasing anti-Christian hatred in public, which is hatred of God, who has given all these valuable gifts to a Christian country.

This New Year I have vowed to see things in the light of The Fall of Man. This priceless understanding, from the Gospels, explains a lot about life that leaves one with a sense of deep inner disappointment, incomprehension and, sometimes even rage. Without the Fall of Man (the doctrine of Man's free will), things would be heavenly: smooth, loving, mutually fruitful and fair. Instead, they have got infected with selfish ambition and rebellion against God (the spirit of ‘I did it my Way’) which the Bible calls 'sin' which includes:
  • Jealousy, egotism, narcissicm, lust, greed, coveteousness, idolatry, pride, contempt, lack of respect, sexism, racism, bad manners, ingratitude
  • Illicit desires, drug addiction, irresponsible drunkenness, crimes, violence
  • Rampant materialism, ideologies, love of money and status. 
On top of that is the challenge of undeserved illnesses (illness is also linked to free will), including mental illnesses which can negatively affect behaviour. A small minority of people seem to have or develop 'narcissistic personality disorder' but no one is sure whether this is an amoral, untreatable condition or a disability. They reportedly do not respond to kindness, just superior power. The truth is that we need to reclaim our country (and the world) from The Fall of Man and we are commanded to do 'good works' (which usually treat the symptoms, not the cause). Some secular liberals talk as if they have the power to change flawed human nature - which they do not. They can only introduce new laws and more public accountability, which may restrain evil, but can just drive it underground.  It costs a lot. New laws and temporary 'social work sticking plasters', cannot change Mankind's sinful heart.  Think of the horrifying misuse of the internet, today.... Nevertheless, we are called to do small acts of kindness which go a long way.

The fact is that The Adversary, The Prince of this World, is not going to give up this country without a fight and has servants everywhere, perpetuating or abusing a system in which they think they have a vested interest, though, surprise, surprise, the Prince of this World does not actually reward his servants (unlike God).

One can free oneself from the grip of The Fall of Man, psychologically, but actually reclaiming what is rightly His can only be achieved by Jesus Christ who overcame sin, pain and evil, on the Cross. For that divine rescue, we should be earnestly praying, while recognising that this world is under God's divine condemnation. Jesus came to rescue and heal only a section of it i.e. the part that humbles itself, repents and believes in Him. 

This is why Christians are called to 'go out like sheep among wolves' and proclaim Him 'Lord' in 2018.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Is the BBC biased or not?

Yesterday, The House of Commons debated whether the obligatory BBC licence fee which supports programmes like the 'Blue Planet' and wonderful comedies like 'Upstart Crow', along with Radio 3 and the Proms should continue. They had to debate this due to an online petition signed by many people: "Abolish the tv licence, it shouldn't be a legal requirement" (E-petition 170931 and 200239) 

Overall, the MPs who spoke love the BBC, but only a few speakers got the hidden 'message' in the E-petition that triggered this debate, a probable protest at 'BBC bias'. One MP, Julian Knight (Solihull), who had worked for the BBC tackled the bias issue and shared the following insights:
  • if there is bias at the BBC it is cultural bias coming from the editorial and creative staff themselves
  • it is not due to active bias in the editorial process
  • the majority of those working for the BBC hold globalist, left-wing views, a problem of biased recruitment of certain types of people with 'Guardian reader' worldviews
  • a small minority, who are not Guardian readers, meet up by the coffee machines and 'whisper together' ....
  • the only newspapers in the BBC news editorial meetings are the Financial Times and the Guardian
  • the BBC's overriding aim is impartiality
  • the 'despite Brexit' phrase used on BBC News is being corrected, in updated producer guidelines. It was due to the shock felt by most BBC staff on 23 June 2016 about Brexit.  
One can see BBC newscasters' saying 'despite Brexit' as not being incorrect in itself. Everyone expects some short term negative effects from leaving the EU. However, only people who voted Remain would actually say it, because Leavers tend to consider wider issues than economics.

The challenge is whether the theoretically 'balanced' BBC can recruit in a balanced way from among the full range of creative people (including creative Christians) for mainstream, high profile roles? 

The relevant text of Mr Knight's speech is quoted here:
BBC bias has been mentioned today. I have never believed that anyone has a meeting at the BBC and says, “We are going to be biased today”. No one ever does that. It is below the line—it is a cultural thing, because there are people with similar mindsets and from similar background s. I remember in news meetings being struck that the two newspapers on offer were The Guardian and the Financial Times, and that was it. They were the news sources and leads for the day. I did not ever quite 'get' the idea of story generation coming from a newspaper; it seemed behind the times, particularly in a 24-hour news environment. The Hon. Member for City of Chester said the BBC was “full of lefties”, but there were some right wingers, some Tories, in there—I was one. We had to keep it rather quiet and sometimes meet by the coffee machines, to whisper our disapproval at certain news lines.
There is a real longer-term difficulty with BBC impartiality, which it is reviewing right now as part of its producer guidelines. It is important that it does not over-editorialise and bring in too much comment. 
There is also what I call the “despite Brexit” coverage of economics stories. That does not come from people thinking that they need to do whatever they can to frustrate the will of the British people—that is not the way it has been thought about. Many people in the organisation felt a certain way about the referendum. Quite rightly, they realised that they needed to double down on impartiality at election and referendum times, as my Hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) mentioned, particularly after the criticism that they had following the Scottish referendum. They made a point of being utterly straight. I think many felt a sort of collective guilt that at the time of the referendum, that they could have explained the difficulties that would ensue from areas such as our trading relationships or the differences between the single market, the customs union and things such as European Free Trade Association, but did not explain them enough. That guilt came across in the “despite Brexit” coverage that we had for several months. I have seen a bit of a turning of the dial on that recently. From conversations I have had with people at the BBC, I think they were aware that it was happening but they did not quite know how to pull it back. They have done so now, and it has improved considerably.



Sunday, 19 November 2017

Advent is for Christ, not chocolate

Advent, the start of the Church year, the period of early December to Christmas is my refuge, much enjoyed by other churchgoers, from Christmas commercialisation. Now we see a new trend for non-religious Advent Calendars. These are filled not with scenes of wisemen, stars, farm animals, donkeys but mini perfumes, make-up, dog treats and chocolates. Some of these cost in the region of £200. There are stacks of chocolate-filled ‘Advent calendars’ in my local supermarket, costing upwards of ten pounds for chocolate weighing barely more than a large bar: not a good bargain for the consumer. More waste paper, more sugar, more looting of Christianity, for profit. What has this got to do with the real St Nicholas of Smyrna?

Eric Fromm identified the core of modernity as the ‘syndrome of decay’ or ‘necrophilia’, the urge to destroy everything meaningful and to crush true life, to turn everything into mechanics without meaning. It is the mechanistic mindset of those unconsciously serving the anti-life force (usually but not always in the form of profit and greed) attempting to make everything the same as it is - and controllable.

Necrophilia is obsessed with destruction, death, dehumanising everything - in order to crush diverse, unique and fascinating life. Necrophilia seeks to transform the organic into the inorganic, to approach life mechanically, as if all people were ‘things’. So all living processes, feelings and thoughts are transformed into the material. What could more transform an idea into a thing than to turn a deep spiritual wonder into a little bite of chocolate, produced by the sweat of the brow of the workers of West Africa?

Perverting goodness, even the whole of Christmas for shareholders' profit, not caring whether it destroys the divine magic is necrophilic. We all know that eating sweets is bad for the body and probably kills you earlier, so what connection has this with the massively pro-life coming of the Light of the World in the ever amazing Incarnation? People, many already overweight, put on even more pounds at Christmas from over-indulgence. Now, that damaging process is starting three weeks early! Turning what is spiritual into what is bodily is integral to Fromm’s definition of ‘necrophilia’.  The aim or necrophilia to kill us all - earlier than otherwise.

Its opposite is ‘biophilia’ : the love of life and the desire to support and promulgate it. What could be more biophilic than The Nativity Story? My advice is be a biophile this Advent and buy an advent calendar with Bible verses.  Resist the star not of Bethlehem but death, by staying thin.

For more on necrophilia and biophilia, see Eric Fromm's book:
Some of his other titles: