Christian

Nick Griffin is in no sense a Christian. So he should shut up and stop pretending he speaks for Christian Britain

Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, has been appearing on television telling us that ‘foreigners’ must accept ‘Christian’ values. Buoyed up by (at the time of writing) the first BNP European parliamentary seat, he is telling people that they are no longer welcome in this country unless they do.

But the truth is, Nick Griffin is not a Christian, and he appears to have very little idea of what a Christian is like. I’m left wondering if he has ever met a Christian, and, if he has, has ever taken the trouble to ask them what they believe.

Lots of people of Griffin-like persuasion try to hide behind the argument that the Bible ‘can be interpreted in lots of ways’. But this is utter rubbish, and people who make this kind of argument show that they really have little interest in interpreting the Bible at all.

A bit less than 2,000 years ago a man called Jesus, from Nazareth, announced an entirely new deal. His teaching included love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, keep forgiving. His illustrative stories includes the famous story of the Good Samaritan — deliberately constructed to challenge deep seated racism. He mixed with the outcasts of society.

Not long afterwards, the followers of Jesus were named ‘Christian’ — initially a derogatory term. It was more than three hundred years before Christianity was accepted as a state-recognised religion. In its formative years, Christianity made no claims to ‘own’ any state or country.

If Griffin had bothered to read the New Testament, he would find a book which urges that we do not judge each other, but he would also find a book which both judged and condemned everything that he stands for.

Normally, on that basis, I would not presume to accuse or judge any politician on Christian standards. But by presenting himself as a voice for ‘Christian values’, Griffin brings himself under the full and heavy condemnation reserved by Jesus of Nazareth for hypocrites.

Griffin, you do not speak for us, we utterly repudiate what you stand for. In future, simply cease from trying to attribute your racist rubbish to anything connected with Jesus Christ or the faith he founded.

Are single issue parties the answer? Not exactly…

Next month’s European elections could see voters turning to small parties in record numbers, says the BBC

It’s time for the Euro elections, and England (particularly — other parts of the Union are better at this) has never quite made up its mind as to whether the Euro elections are to be taken more or less seriously than Eurovision. Single issue parties come and go. Remember the Referendum Party? The Common Good? Respect? (Whatever happened to them?) Perennial favourites are back, of course: UKIP and the Greens accounting for right-wing and left-wing, under the guise of being about something important. But our most popular single issue party, the Official Monster Raving Looney Party, seems to give Europe a miss. Maybe they don’t take Europe as seriously as the others do. This time we have some new ones — English Democrats, the Jury Team, No2EU, Fair Play Fair Trade Party, Libertas, Mebyon Kernow, Animals Count, the Alliance Party, the Pensioners party, the Roman Party, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, Socialist Labour Party, The Peace Party, Wai D, Yes 2 Europe, and the Christian Peoples Alliance.

That’s an awful lot of parties.

For a few years, we took a stand at the Greenbelt Festival with the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum. Generally speaking, we were there in a tent with about 100-200 organisations represented, all trying to have some impact through politics. They ranged from major charities through to one man bands. A few of them eyed us with suspicion, while others told us how hard it was to get the major parties to take them seriously. In some cases, they both eyed us with suspicion and told us the major parties wouldn’t take them seriously.

There are basically three kinds of single issue politics. One is temporary but important. One is well-meaning but fairly useless. One is dangerous and dishonest.

Joanna Lumley’s campaign for the Gurkhas is the most recent in a long line of highly focused campaigns on a single issue which attract cross-party support, achieve their goal, and then disappear. Lumley is not looking to form a Gurkha’s party, or to propel herself into parliament by this means. She identified an injustice which meant a lot to her (her father had fought alongside the Gurkhas), and invested her profile and talents working with the legitimate owners of the issue — the Gurkhas themselves. This is the first kind of single issue politics, and it plays an important role in British society. But, very, very rarely does such a cause form a party and stand at elections. Its strength is that it can work with the existing politicians for something which is evidently right.

Fair Play Fair Trade, Animals Count and the Peace Party are examples of the second kind. They raise a legitimate social issue. But, in fact, their involvement in the election does nothing to take their agenda forward. At best, they achieve nothing. At worst, they switch off the people who actually do get elected from doing anything about it. At the 2001 General Election, for example, I, as a very green first-time candidate, attended a meeting about asylum seeker rights — something about which I care passionately, though it’s not a popular issue with most people. It didn’t take long to realise that everyone else present was from one of the extremist parties, and the meeting had been organised to demonstrate that only they cared about asylum seekers. They did their best to make me welcome, but they didn’t conceal very successfully that the only reason they had invited me (and others, who did not attend) was in order to be able to say ‘we invited the main parties, but they weren’t interested’.

Then there are the parties that put forward a single issue, but are actually about something entirely different. I grew up believing that the Green party was a party of environmentalists. It was only when I started meeting them that I discovered they (at least in Britain) are actually an extreme socialist party that attracts attention and votes by flying the Green flag, but are closed to any form of environmentalism which does not tally with their underlying philosophy. If you want to save the planet, join Friends of the Earth instead. A number of the ‘save the NHS’ parties are run by people who had no previous contact with the NHS, except as patients, until they decided that the closure of a local hospital was an ideal issue on which to sell their party. Some of these are more honest than others. I believe that the Greens do care about the environment. On the other hand, every piece of literature I’ve ever seen from the BNP attempts to present a single issue, such as law and order, as their real concern. You have to read a long way down many of their pieces before you discover what they are really about.

Single issue campaigns are part of the warp and woof of British democracy. Single issue parties are the electoral equivalent of dithering: when it’s too hard to choose, perhaps because of a crisis of the kind we have seen over MP expenses, many people opt for them because they feel they have a duty to vote, and want to vote for something else, anything else.

But when these single issue parties have been elected, as with UKIP and the Greens at the last Euro elections, and as with the BNP and Respect on some councils, and, for George Galloway, in parliament, their record is depressing. Aside from going on Big Brother, it’s very hard to spot anything that Galloway has actually done since being elected as a Respect MP. UKIP lost their party leader swiftly, and lost another MEP to a benefits-fraud conviction, and have probably the worst voting record of any party in any European country. The Greens have not engaged in any positive dialogue which has generated any change that would not have happened if they had not been there. Although the BNP have failed to secure seats in any of our parliaments, their European cousins, Vlaams Blok in Belgium and LPF in the Netherlands, actually gained enough seats to form governments. But their governments quickly collapsed, because they lacked the consensus to put into practice their underlying racist policies, and they had no other policies on which to base an administration.

Hand wringing is all very well. No one can deny that many of our mainstream politicians have let us down badly, not just over the last couple of weeks, but over the five, ten or twenty years since they were first elected. But, like it or not, real politicians in real parties are in it for the long haul, and when all the bluster of scandal and election are over, they sit down together and work out — often across party boundaries — how to get the best deal for the public who elected them. They certainly don’t always get it right. But their record is infinitely better than the hand wringing or single-cynicism parties that surface especially at Euro elections.

Bus atheism revisited

As I predicted, the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that the bus advertising ‘there’s probably no God…’ is an expression of an advertiser’s opinion, and not capable of objective substantiation. Good for them. Any other ruling would have put bus advertising for Alpha Courses and other Christian events into danger, and would have set us on a course of censorship of freedom of thought which would have been far worse for all concerned than any offence caused by the advertisements.

But the ruling itself is, in a philosophical sense, a slap in the face for the advertisers. The ASA has effectively ruled that the claim is unfalsifiable, and therefore empirically meaningless. Such a ruling wouldn’t bother Christians too much, since they (that is, we) argue that empiricism is an insufficient tool for exploring the existence of God. But for the likes of Richard Dawkins, who have built their public personas on arguing that empirical evidence (remember that Doctor Who? episode?) is the measuring rod, the bus is travelling in the wrong direction.

I did urge that Christians should not contact the ASA to complain. But I knew that Stephen Green of Christian Voice would. I suspect the Dawkins-ites were rather counting on it, and were counting on the ASA ruling against the complaint.

Of more interest is Ron Heather’s decision to refuse to drive a bus with the advertisement on it. This has prompted a storm of bloggers and commentators arguing that he should have no right to refuse, and that advertisers should be allowed to put anything they like on buses, with no come back. Actually, this indicates a lamentable lack of understanding of how bus advertising works. CBS Outdoor, who sell the majority of the UK’s bus advertising, will send you quite a long list of things you can’t put on your advertisements. This includes lingerie, and any writing that looks like graffiti (I suspect because bus companies are worried it might prompt vandalism).

But Ron Heather’s decision to risk his job for the sake of a principle has gained grudging respect from most people. Whether or not you agree with his point of principle, you have to accept that for a man to put his job on the line for his beliefs is a welcome return to courage and conviction in the public arena. Of course, many people have instantly leapt in to accuse him of hypocrisy (the standard charge against Christians, whenever you can’t really think of something more substantial), but the explanations of just why this constitutes hypocrisy are sufficiently far-fetched to rebound more on the heads of the accusers than of the accused.

Considering the campaign again, I think it will eventually backfire heavily for its sponsors. It is achingly asking for the riposte “but why take the risk?”, bringing about echoes of Pascal’s Wager, a famous (although, in fact, insufficient) argument against atheism that seems to annoy atheists more than any other.

Imagine that you saw any of the following advertisements:
“The speed camera probably isn’t loaded”
“You probably won’t die in a car crash”
“You probably did turn off the gas”
Telling someone that something probably won’t happen doesn’t stop them worrying about it. Quite the contrary. And, if the millions of lottery ticket buyers are anything to go by, telling someone that something they very much hope for is unlikely to happen does nothing to stop them hoping.
If “there’s probably no God” is the strongest statement that, on reflection, atheists dare to make in public, then they have moved a long way from the certainties implied in their name.
To paraphrase a quote from the Psalms: “The fool says in his heart ‘there’s probably no God'”. Ouch.

Atheist buses deny existence of God. So what?

The long promised atheist buses have gone onto the streets of London, touting the message: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”. The planners of this campaign faced some criticism from their own side, who wanted a stronger message. But it appears that fears that it might breach advertising codes softened it.

Actually, I’m fairly certain even the message they’ve chosen would breach the normal guidelines applying to products, though, I, for one, will not be complaining.

How’s that, you ask? Essentially, if it were a product, the advertisers would have to prove their claim that ‘God probably doesn’t exist’. But in order to prove this, they would have to find some way of quantifying ‘the probability that God doesn’t exist’. Being as there is no ISO standard on the probability of the existence of a deity, this would be tough to prove. Atheist leaders may be hoping that they get the same dispensation as the phrase ‘probably the best lager in the world’, but that was clearly a joke, and this clearly isn’t.

In reality, they are probably (and I mean a measurable probability) quite safe, because the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) doesn’t intervene on issues of a political nature, and takes a nuanced position on religious offence. More importantly, they aren’t selling a product.

I suspect, though, that half of the aim of this campaign is to spur hordes of Christians (and others) to complain vociferously. If you are a person of faith, let me urge you not to give Richard Dawkins and his crew the satisfaction. In advertising terms, it’s not very probable that this ad will achieve anything other than prompting complaints. For a start, it’s too long: the eye takes in typically 18 letters in one go, which is why bus adverts, bill-boards and newspaper headlines are usually no longer than that. Most advertisers work to the old adage ‘AIDA’, standing for ‘attention, information, decision, action’. A good ad is generally considered to have an attention getter, some informative content, something that makes you decide to buy the product or service, and a call to action. The good folks at the ASA did some research a few years ago, where they discovered that messages which work in the UK are first of all informative, then clever, and, finally, enter popular culture. In my own experience, the three other things which make or break an ad are clarity (do I get the message?), credibility (does it sound believable?), and relevance (do I care?).

The British Humanist Association may be very good at representing its members, but (my personal view) probably not going to be getting calls from other voluntary organisations asking for advice on campaigns. This is an ad which will only appeal to people who already agree with it, and (again my view) quite a few of those will be embarrassed by it. Of course, they won’t be admitting that, and certainly not to me. Well, probably not, any way.

If you’re a Christian, and have been embarrassed in the past at well-meant but unappealing church adverts, take some consolation from the fact that the other side are now facing the same thing.

PS: If you’re interested in actual debate on the existence of God, you can catch the video they shot of me (and others) at the Cambridge Union autumn 2007, on the motion (which was defeated) This House Believes that God is Dead.

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