In an increasingly unbelieving world of humanism and secularisation, not to mention the jarring dissonance of a sharia-compliant caliphate and all the fuss over women bishops, religion has become a turn-off. God is bothersome: atheism rules the new enlightenment and Dawkins reigns supreme. Mention the Bible or Church, and eyes glaze over. But say “biblical epic”, and something numinous energises the spirit. You might not believe in the irruption of God into the affairs of man, but you will surely be drawn and compelled to all that is theatrically holy. Even Professor Dawkins might admit to being mystically gladdened by the ancient legends of transcendence and omnipotence. Continue reading →
“Fascinating Twitter exchange between @MoAnsar and @Adrian_Hilton on education,” tweeted the BBC’s Nicky Campbell during a rather disheartening dialogue I was having with everyone’s favourite Muslim social commentator.
And fascinating entertainment it may very well have been for the steadily-swelling Twitter crowds who were gathering to RT, ‘favourite’ and butt in on the commotion. But educationally enlightening it was not. And I wouldn’t be writing about it now but for the peculiar fact that Mo Ansar hastily deleted a whole string of his tweets when he realised that he was being monitored not only by his adoring fans, but also by the eminent historian and author Tom Holland. Continue reading →
Daniel Hannan “bestrides the Atlantic like a majestic combination of Winston Churchill and Piers Morgan,” says Boris Johnson on the dust jacket of this book. The precise form of that disquieting chimera troubled my mind as I began to read the Introduction. But because Boris is an astute appraiser, judicious classicist and discerning patron, I settled down to what he promises will be a feast of anthropological scrutiny, philosophical insight, political polemic and epigrammatic anecdote.
And that is exactly what you get – a narrative survey of a thousand years of evolving liberty expressed in page after page of clear-headed contemplation and premium prose. Hannan’s essential research question is: ‘What made the Anglosphere miracle possible?’, and the answer, in short, is to be found in the peculiarly English conception of liberty which incrementally defined an island nation, helped shape an empire and still interrogates the world. We obviously weren’t the first to free captives: that dispensation is found throughout classical antiquity. But the English and then the British were foremost in the conceptualisation of the principles of self-determination – individual rights, private property and personal liberty – which led inter alia to the common law, jury trials, religious pluralism, representative democracy, free markets, the rule of law and the abolition of slavery. Continue reading →
“The archbishop / Is the King’s hand and tongue; and who dare speak / One syllable against him?”
So asked Sir Thomas Lovell in conversation with Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII.
We know, of course, how things turned out for that King’s ‘hand and tongue’ under the next Queen – ‘Bloody’ Mary.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, architect of the Church of England’s XXXIX Articles and author of the vernacular Book of Common Prayer, went on to have a great many syllables spoken against him, principally by those who were suddenly aware that royal patronage had shifted, religion reverted, and those whose theology and beliefs were once in favour became the new outcasts and heretics – ‘a pestilence/That does infect the land’. Such is the ebb and flow of spiritual myopia and religious fanaticism. Continue reading →
I wrote some time ago of Halima (not her real name) who was one of my delights to teach. I’d identified her as ‘Gifted & Talented’ after just one lesson when she came to me in Year 10. She loved philosophy and was captivated by politics and theology, especially issues relating to the Middle East. She also had a flair for public speaking and a charisma for debating which frequently left her peers floundering. I always remember intellects like hers, not least because they made getting out of bed in a morning so much more worthwhile. She told me at one point that she wanted to go into politics: I’d helped to nurture a little future Aung San Suu Kyi. Brilliant.
Then, one day, she arrived at my class wearing a hijab. Nothing wrong with that: hundreds of girls in the school wore one, and seemed very content to do so. But Halima was no longer arguing or debating; in fact, she was scarcely speaking. This went on for quite a few weeks; neither her form tutor nor head of year could elicit anything from her as to why her demeanour had changed so profoundly; why she was suddenly so sad and withdrawn. And neither could I, until one parents’ evening when her father and elder brother came to see. In front of Halima, they began to explain to me how this straight-A* student was such a disappointment to them: all she talked about was religion and politics – men’s things – and she showed no respect for them or interest in getting married and being a doctor – the imminent life they clearly had planned for her. I listened politely, trying very subtly to reason with them by drawing attention to Halima’s outstanding grades. She became visibly upset as I made the defence. Her father scolded her, told her she was a disgrace, and they moved on to their next appointment. Continue reading →