The Spectre of Radical Christian Fundamentalists In Britain

When it comes to the mainstream media in the UK, The Daily Telegraph is about as conservative as it gets. So when it comes to running an article on conservative evangelical Christians, what sort of thing can we expect from the Telegraph? I dare say it would shock American readers.

To help promote long-time Telegraph photojournalist David Modell’s contribution to the Channel 4 TV programme Dispatches, they’ve run a story about his discovery of Christian fundamentalists. You want to scare Brits? Start an article with something like:

“They think society should be built on their beliefs. They claim non-believers are damned.”

Oooooh…. It’s like something out of horror film. Christians who believe they should have an active faith-based input into politics and they think you have to be a Christian to go to heaven. But it’s worse:

“But these radical Christian groups are not in America – they are here and are aiming to change the laws of our land. . .”

So not only are they politically active “born-again types” – they’re in Britain! And I’ve reduced the font size of these quotes from the original, just so you don’t get too frightened. But it gets worse. They even have Christian schools based on this sort of curriculum. What sort of horrible indoctrination is taking place? Well, here’s what David Modell found when he visited one such school:

One little girl has to do a science test. A classroom assistant kneels next to her, takes her hand and says: “We pray, Father, that you’ll help her check all her spellings. In Jesus’s name, Amen.”

The test is multiple choice. Question five is: “God made the world in [BLANK] days.” The options are “five, six or seven”. The six-year-old carefully writes “six”. The right answer.

This scene would be surprising enough if the school were in America’s Bible Belt, but the voices around me are English, and we’re in Bristol.

Can you believe it? Prayer for help with spelling? What is the difference between this and children being trained as suicide bombers by Islamists? David Modell doesn’t think there is any. Besides, you start praying about spelling tests and who knows what you’ll be praying for next? For everyone to play safely and not get hurt during recess? For God to heal people and makes them better? They’ll start believing that God actually answers prayers, and then where will they be? And remember, the worst thing of all is that they are English.

American readers – at least my regular American readers and most non-liberal Christians in the US – will probably still wonder if I am making this up. I wish I was. The school in Bristol using Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum is a frightful thing to secularist, modernist Britain. After all, they, and schools using similar curriculum like the Alpha Omega based school from which I graduated those many years ago, are very mainstream in America. But then again, in America, the idea that Jesus saves is not radical, revolutionary, or dangerous.

David Modell is most worried because these people (remember, not stupid Americans, but actual British people) think the Bible is (shhh….) true. You know, literally true. “Not all evangelical worshippers hold such hard-line beliefs, but the fundamentalists will almost certainly describe themselves as evangelical.”

What’s worse (as if it could get any worse) not only are they teaching their children this stuff, they are getting involved in politics. Modell looks at Christian Action Research and Education (Care) – an organisation featured in the Independent, about which I commented at the end of March. What’s so scary about them?

The organisation’s published doctrinal basis is distinctly fundamentalist and among other things talks of “the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture and its consequent entire trustworthiness and supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct”. In other words, the Bible is the literal truth.

The Bible is trustworthy? Could British people actually believe such a thing? And these people are lobbying Parliament?

Where does David Modell think this is leading? He attends a seminar in Islamic fundamentalism. “But another thing strikes me while listening to [the] depiction of Islam as a dangerous fundamentalist belief: he could be describing the beliefs of the Christian fundamentalists I’ve met.” Yes, Britain will soon be a Taliban-style repressive theocracy. Like America, apparently.

Prayer Wars

The older unnamed child may be getting jealous of his sister doing the prayers at bedtime. There has been friction as to how the Trisagion prayers would be divvied up each night.

The older child has gotten one up on the younger. Except for singing “O Heavenly King” as the introduction to the prayers, they have otherwise heretofore been spoken. Well, the younger child may be able to do subtraction and multiplication at the age of three, but she’s never tried plain chant. The older child started chanting “Most Holy Trinity. . .” and didn’t stop until “O come let us worship and bow down. . .” He turfed his sister out.  She was not well pleased.

Miscalculation

Here’s something to file under “so crazy no one could make this up”.

Pyotr Kuznetsov is the leader of a “True Orthodox Church” in Russia. Just like any group that has to pull out their apostolic succession to prove their validity, any group that has to tell you they are the “True” whatever church are almost certainly not. The True Orthodox Church refuses to eat processed food, believes that bar codes are Satantic symbols, and is convinced the world will end soon. Very soon.

Pyotr convinced his followers that the world is going to end in May of this year. As a result they all went to live in a cave. Except, for some strange reason, Pyotr. The followers barricaded themselves in the cave and wouldn’t come out. But as one bad decision follows another, they didn’t pick a very good cave. The parts that aren’t flooding are collapsing. The authorities have been a bit concerned because some of the followers were children.

Pyotr wasn’t keen on them leaving just because a little thing like the roof falling in on them. He said God had collapsed the cave and to go against God is a great sin.

Fortunately the children have gotten out, as have most of the followers. They are now waiting for the End in Pyotr’s wooden cottage. It tooks months of negotiations to get them out. As part of the deal they have been supplied with a cow. After all, they can’t drink Satanic milk from a carton with a bar code on it.

Pytor isn’t with them. He’s in a psychiatric hospital.

He hasn’t been sent away because of his crazy ideas. Rather, he had a hard time dealing with his realisation that he miscalculated the date of the End of the World. He tried to commit suicide. Being crazy, he didn’t attempt any of the usual methods, like gunshot, hanging, overdose, jumping from a cliff, or slitting his wrists. He was much more inventive. He put his head on a tree stump and started hitting it with a log.

He didn’t hit it enough times, because he survived emergency surgery for this head wounds. Perhaps he knocked some sense into himself.

Moral Backbone and Bankruptcy

I haven’t written anything here about the upcoming vote on the Human Embryology Bill, though I have been commenting at length elsewhere.

Once again there is no lack of vitriol aimed at the Church, especially the Roman Church. So many people don’t want the Church pronouncing upon public policy, as if there was some sort of separation between the two. Since public policy is about choosing right and wrong paths of action and the Church is about instructing concerning which paths of human action are right and wrong, it would appear to the naked eye that this Church is doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing. Secularists seem to be of the clouded view that ethics can somehow be divorced from morality and exist in a vacuum.

When attack the Church, these secularists seems to have no regard for facts. I was looking at a BBC World Service blog which poses the question “Where do you draw the line in scientific research?” and marvelled at usual at some of the comments: “Not wanting the Church to repeat a Galileo who died for saying that the world revolve around the sun.” He was killed for it? Really? (No.) “Let’s not forget the persecution Galileo, Leonardo and other geniuses who dared to challenge the status quo.” Leonardo? When was he persecuted? And who are the other geniuses?

When they run out of facts, they resort to ad hominem. “The faithful are morally and philosophically bankrupt!
They should not have a say!”

Despite all of this, some people are listening to what the Church has to say. In a rare show of moral backbone, even some Catholic members of the Cabinet have revolted. Gordon Brown has been faced with losing a significant number of ministers or backing down and allow a free vote. But given the true moral bankruptcy of the country, he has allies on Opposition benches, possibly including Conservative leader David Cameron. If there is any ethical waffling involved, he can probably rely on the Liberal Democrats as well.

Happiest of Feasts

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
But when she saw
him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
And the angel answered and said to her, “
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”
Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Today is one of the greatest Feasts of the Church. So great, in fact, that I don’t understand why Lent isn’t completely suspended for a day. This is the feast of the Incarnation. Sure it comes to fruition in the Nativity, but this is the day we celebrate that God came to Earth. Today we grapple with the mystery of kenosis. Today the very God of very God, the eternal and incomprehensible chooses the Virgin’s womb for a Temple wherein to dwell.

The incorporeal become corporeal. The Word becomes flesh to dwell among us.

In the midst of all the Easter TV programmes challenging all of the orthodoxies of the Faith, cries of critics and doubters, it is a good thing to rejoice. I also feel sad, because they cannot share the joy. They spend their time trying to dig up ways to prove that Jesus wasn’t really the Jesus of the Gospels. He must be anyone other than who He was, His life told to us by eyewitnesses and faithful transmitted to us by the Holy Evangelists and from them by our Holy Fathers who have gone before us. There must be conspiracies and power plays, intrigue and underhanded dealings. And all of it must be because they knew the story wasn’t true. It was made up much later. Tiresome and sad.

So let us rejoice in the love of God shown to us in the Incarnation. Let us rejoice in so great a salvation.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy
is His name.
And His mercy
is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered
the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from
their thrones,
And exalted
the lowly.
He has filled
the hungry with good things,
And
the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of
His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.

The Acts of the Apostle Code

I’ve been watching a ridiculous piece of Easter television, The Secrets of the Twelve Disciples.

It starts with how Jesus’ family really ran the early Church, but that later this was all washed away. Apparently nobody knows that James was bishop of Jerusalem. You have to “decode” the Book of Acts to figure this out! (I’ve known all along and it is plainly mentioned in Acts 15.) This was all done to remove the Jewish connections to Christianity.

St Paul has his own version of Christianity. As theologian Robert Beckford narrates, “It was his version of Christianity that triumphed. It was his later followers that created and used the stories of the 12 disciples to fit their own purpose.” Of course Paul is as much a Jew as James or any of Jesus cousins were. Beckwith doesn’t explain how this fits in.

Beckford has apparently spent way, way too much time reading Dan Brown novels. It’s the Pauline Conspiracy. Paul created Peter as the Pope, because he needed a link back to the Twelve. But it’s all based on “legendary” materials – Christian inventions. Apparently, nothing written by Christian sources can be trusted as historical. With everything, there are scholars who dispute. For Beckwith it is all about vested interests.

I never did catch what Paul’s vested interests were. They certainly aren’t clear from his writings or the things written about him in the Book of Acts. But then, according to Beckwith it has to be decoded. And the only thing certain is that it isn’t reliable. The only thing that is reliable is Beckwith’s conjecture. After all, scholars dispute.

According to Beckwith, whoever wrote the Revelation “most scholars” agree that it wasn’t the Apostle John. I take that to mean most liberal scholars who have started with the presupposition that whatever the Church has always believed must not only not be true, but must also not be what the Church has always believed. After all, it is the Church who is telling us what it has always believed, and the guiding First Principle is that the Church cannot be believed. Convoluted? Just a bit.

The further along the programme went, the more predictable it got. The men running the Church removed all the women from the story. (Huh? What about the fact that at both the Crucifixion and just after the Resurrection, it was women who were present? Nevermind.) I don’t think he said Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, but that could have been when I went to make a cup of tea.

Most of Beckwith’s accusation and theories are aimed at the Big Bad Catholic Church. Conspiracies and dubious activities abound. See what I mean about Dan Brown? Apparently no one knows about the Thomas Christians in India and this is once again because of the Catholics. (I would have suggested it is because few people in this country know anything of world Christianity, other than caricatures of American evangelicalism.) I couldn’t figure out if he believed the claims of the Mar Thoma tradition, even though the records were destroyed by Portuguese Catholics under orders of the Pope in 1599, or if he disbelieved the claims anyway.

And what re-assessment of the Twelve would be complete without rehabilitating Judas Iscariot? Judas goes from betrayer to hero. I kid you not. He was just getting bad press because of a wrongly translated Greek word and the imagery used in paintings of the Last Supper. Anything else bad about him in the Bible was added later. Conspiracy.

That’s the thing about conspiracy theories: if you go looking for one assuming it is there in the first place, it’s not going to be a surprise when you find one.

Observing the Day

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.

Romans 14:5-6

Today is the Sunday of St Gregory Palamas, unless you are in the Western Church (or just culturally attached to a country historically a part of the Western Church), in which case it is Easter. Even though we are Orthodox, we have been celebrating Easter. This is not because I’m not particularly a big fan of St Gregory and his hesychasm. Rather it is because one unnamed child is in a Catholic school with Catholic (or at least Catholic-influenced) friends, plus Western cultural and Western Christian grandparents with chocolate and cards and presents, Easter fetes, Easter egg hunts – you get the picture. Explaining that we don’t actually celebrate Pascha for more than another month has pretty much fallen on deaf ears. I don’t want to deny that I put this down to bad Ortho-parenting as much as anything.

I’m sure that as we get closer to Pascha, the kids will get reasonably excited again, especially if we come up with more chocolate and gifts.

It seems to go entirely against the teaching of St Paul in Romans that the observance of days is one of the key issues separating parts of the Orthodox from each other (New Calendarists versus Old Calendarists) as well as a sticking point separating the Orthodox and Catholics (though there are a number of others of greater or lesser significance). I know there are much more theologically astute and devotionally pure adherants on both sides who could explain the deep importance of this and it congruence with the Epistle to the Romans. (I don’t think any of them visit this blog, so I doubt there will be any explaining in the comments – though they are welcome.) After all, as Orthodox, we interpret Scripture as a part of the Tradition of the Church. I also know that the dating of Pascha was one of the earliest and most divisive issues in the Church.

So Happy Easter to all of my Western friends, while we Orthodox do a little more omphaloskepsis in honour of St Gregory.