Category Archives: political spin

Gaza – a hostage situation

Gaza is a tragedy – yet the question of how to respond is complex.

One of the hardest questions in morality is how to respond to the criminal who is holding hostages. Do you just give in to their demands? Don’t be deceived here: that’s what happening in Gaza; rather than use the opportunity of de facto independence to work towards a viable country – and there are a LOT of countries with a lower population than Gaza’s – Hamas choose to put its efforts into terrorism. The result: several wars, massive destruction and an ecological crisis. Hamas has controlled the area for 12 years – it is responsible for the mess; in effect it is weaponizing the civilian population – as the Arabs have been with the refugees from 1948. If the resources that have been expended by Hamas in building tunnels, rockets, fire kites etc had been put into the creation of desalination plants, then the present ecological crisis could have been avoided.

‘Rights’ can only exist when there is a body who is responsible for their provision. In the case of Gaza no such body exists, and there are many other parts of the world where things are worse. Yemen is similarly approaching unlivability; the difference of course is that it’s so dangerous there that it is not being reported on.

The blockade consists of two elements:

1) The people can’t leave. Given that noone wants them, that’s inevitable. They have no where to go peramanently. But note substantial numbers enter Israel every day for work; there’s a large crossing that does that.

2) Cargo. Clearly given the propensity of Hamas to use any and every opportunity to attack Israel, it is not reasonable to expect free access to the territory for whatever the terrorists want to import. People who demand this are clearly aiding and abetting terrorism.

Gaza is merely one of many humanitarian disasters across the globe, many involving vastly larger numbers of people. It is to the credit of the Israelis that the environment is safe enough that Western journalists to report freely on the situation. By contrast:

Syria
Yemen
Darfur
Central African Republic
Boko Haram’s Nigeria
Eastern Congo
South Sudan
Myanmar
Tibet

are all territories where western journalist are excluded, and any amount of suffering, as criminals fight for control, persists. Buying into the Arab gameplan and focusing on this situation to the de facto exclusion of the others is deeply flawed. Supporting terrorist organisations should always be a no-no. God command submission to the lawful authorities; to do otherwise is to rebel against Him. As Christians we are called to obey what God has commanded; endorsing the behaviour of other rebels is to endanger both them and even ourselves spiritually.

Meanwhile Hamas has rejected medical supplies from Israel: ‘The Supreme Committee of the Great Return March said Wednesday the Palestinians would not accept medicine “from the murderers of our people.”‘ If that’s not sinful abuse of power, I don’t know what is.

Yes, millions are being held hostage in Gaza. Yes, Israel is not perfect. However overall the suffering of the hostages is result of the choices of Hamas. That people made desperate by those evil actions are being recruited by their abusers to make their plight worse goes to show the depth of the evil.

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A challenge to the claims of free trade

This Economist blog does a good job of presenting the arguments for free trade. However the repeated mantra ‘remember the pie is bigger’ begs the question of whether the measurement of the pie is actually accurate. GDP does capture some elements of economic well being; however its failure to adequately reflect:

the damage to well being of the lack of secure jobs;
the destruction of community, including mom and pop enterprises destroyed economic change;
the costs of additional infrastructure from shifts of population caused by free trade;
the decay of redundant infrastructure in abandoned places;
increased housing costs in the areas of economic expansion;

means that the assumption that the pie is really bigger is questionable. Add in the extra taxes needed to pay to ease the pain of the transition…

Trump and Brexit voters are on the receiving end of these effects, and have articulated their response by their votes. The economics establishment – fixated on GDP and failing to measure the costs of these other effects – is in denial that they have any reason for their complaints.

To explore one example in more detail:

If I am born and grow up in a town with an established, prosperous industry which will offer all comers a reasonable wage in exchange for a reasonable amount of work, then that has a capital value to me. I also have the value of the network of relationships that I have built up when growing up: ‘friends and family’ – so that when I have personal crises, have children etc., I have these people easily available to provide meaningful support (think people cooking for my family when a new baby arrives, babysitters, company in the pub).

However if the industry is destroyed by free trade, I immediately lose the security its job guarantee offers. I progressively lose the network of friends as they are forced to move to new areas where they know noone. If I move away, my children will seldom see their grandparents or other members of their extended family. The direct cost is that I have to pay for babysitters; the indirect cost in terms of additional mental health expenditure is less easy to see…

Of course the people at the top of the economics profession have no experience of these things, as they undoubtedly moved to go to university, and probably did again to do their further studies and then for their tenured posts. With no experience of the benefits of that sort of community, they inevitably ignore those costs when applying their calculations of the size of the pie – and then call those who oppose free trade on the basis of these sorts of losses of ignorant.

Tactics in the culture wars…

William Booth complained that the Devil had all the best tunes – and promptly wrote Christian lyrics for some. At present those of us opposed to the pro-gay agenda which is so prevalent in many churches are faced with the ‘Inclusive church’ tag, which leaves us appearing otherwise. We must do better. ‘Inclusive church’ is a great tag, and when the gay agenda is appended to other, wholly uncontroversial inclusions such as disabled people, the tag become hard to resist. Yet resist we must; so the adoption of a suitable alternative tag could be helpful.

Four possible contenders spring to mind:

1) ‘Confessing church’ was the label adopted by the resisters to Hitler in the German Lutheran church. To adopt this would be surely be a step too far; we are not yet facing substantial persecution, and the evil of our society is less blatant, though the number of abortions does point to a similar scale of destruction; let us respect Godwin’s law and avoid parallels with the Nazis.

2) ‘Faithful church’. This picks up the phrase from Jude where we are told to ‘contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’. ‘Faith’ is a positive buzz word – even though in practice it implies no actual content; Prince Charles’ ambition to be ‘Defender of Faith’ exemplifies this. Sadly therefore the tag would probably be too easily adopted and therefore subverted by our opponents.

3) ‘Obedient church’. This perhaps goes to the heart of the debate; are we being obedient to what God has said, or are we seeking to bend the word of God to allow ourselves to do what we want? Sadly of course prioritising obedience is an emphasis that fits badly with much church ideology today; whilst this might be a barrier, it’s perhaps one that we should welcome. And of course much of the motivation for the LGBT person who chooses a celibate lifestyle is obedience, so we would be implicitly celebrating that choice.

4) ‘Loving church’. If we believe that having gay sex is inherently sinful – as is all fornication – then the loving thing to do is to be up front about it and challenge it. It may also generate questions about what we mean, in a way that the others probably wouldn’t. It would also act as a challenge: beyond the gay issue are we, as a church, worthy of the title ‘loving church’. Given that part of the experience of gay, single, people in many churches is that the church is NOT loving, it’s a challenge which church members may need to hear. Sadly however the way in which ‘love = sex’ is so standard in our society, the term may be unhelpful.

There are no easy solutions therefore – but it’s an issue that is worth consideration; having a ‘flag’ around which the opponents of the gay deception can rally, given the way in which the church is losing the battle, may be helpful. I suspect ‘obedient church’ is the right choice, but it would be good to at least see the conversation starting.

Functional hell, functional heaven and a functional saviour

In our sermon this morning the preacher introduced us to the idea of this concept. The idea is that we have things that are functionally our hell – the thing we most want to avoid, whether presently experienced or merely feared – and functional heaven – being released from that functional hell thing we most want to achieve. We tend therefore to look for a ‘functional saviour’ – someone or something that will save us from our functional hell and grant us access to our functional heaven.

The problem is that if these hells and heavens are the most important things in our lives, then they become the root of idolatry in our lives, and the functional saviour will be what we worship in the sense of being willing to do anything to achieve the freedom from this ‘hell’ and gain entry into ‘heaven’.

True Christianity is about recognising that God offers us salvation on HIS terms, not on the basis of what we want. Thus His priority is to save us from Hell – but that’s not the same as saving us from our functional hell, which may well be the place where He wants us to learn holiness for a time – which may be the rest of our life. This is HARD. We are always inclined to believe the claim of the Enemy that God doesn’t really want the best for us, but is making us suffer for His entertainment. So we need to be very cautious about what our priorities really are, and ask God to work with us to reveal when we are getting it wrong – as we often will.

But this analysis also helps bring other issues into sharper focus. For example the ‘social gospel’: one late 19th century presentation of it expressed it like this: ‘If cleaner streets, better housing and sweeter homes do not come within the scope of our aims, neither will those who are convinced of their right to these things come within the shadow of our places of worship’. Given that at the core of the gospel is the call to forgo all ‘rights’ except to be children of God, then we are not able to affirm their ‘right’ to these things. Yet of course we want to see them happen – but not at the cost of it being the only focus of what the church does, which is where the danger lies. At its most extreme this logic sees Christians endorsing the violent overthrow of regimes that are as nothing compared with the crudities of the Roman Empire, which the bible clearly indicates was to be accepted as ‘ordained by God’. Of course right involvement in politics with a clear set of policies may be what some Christians are called to, and we need to welcome this IF it is God’s call on a person’s life. But we must actively question such a calling because its effect is likely to make it harder for the person’s political opponents to hear the gospel. However if it is, then we should endorse it clearly.

This analysis also helps in understanding the attraction of the prosperity gospel. To the extent this promises God’s help in avoiding many functional hells, be it poverty or ill health, the danger is that the prosperity message is what is attracting the person to the church, not engagement with God for themselves. If that happens then there is a serious problem; a functional saviour is being offered, rather than our Lord Jesus. Of course it may be God’s blessing to heal people’s diseases and provide them with prosperity in order to serve Him, but the commitment to God must come first. And if the message of the evangelist is that these things WILL follow, then he is lying; this side of heaven there are no absolute promises about what we will experience.

But of course we must start by looking for the plank in our own eye: what is your functional hell and heaven.

Politicians’ spin – an example dissected

As a remain supporter, I am deeply saddened by the revelation of the breakdown in trust between the voters and politicians that the referendum has dramatically. However when politicians persist in retailing as facts aphorisms that are misleading, if not actually untrue, it becomes understandable why this attitude has arisen.

In a Guardian article entitled ‘Ignoring immigration doesn’t work. Here are five reforms remain can sign up to’, Yvette Cooper made the comment, heard frequently elsewhere: ‘For centuries Britain has benefited from the dynamism and hard work of those who have come here from abroad’. The reality is that until 1945 immigration to the UK was negligible. A summary history of immigration to Britain gives the statistics, revealing a very small amount of migration over the years. So yes, there have been immigrants over the years who have blessed this country by what they have contributed. This does not however justify the conclusion that we must welcome mass immigration – yet that is her conclusion.

In what sense do immigrants offer dynamism and hard work? Immigrants probably are more dynamic than the locals. This is perhaps inevitable; they are people who have made the effort to move country, so are likely to be showing more initiative than the locals. This is usually regarded a plus, though in challenging the traditions of the host culture they may do damage. We may also face a diminishing returns; whilst the injection of extra dynamism may be helpful, later migrants will be less able to achieve. And we need to recognise the damage done to the sending country in seeing their most dynamic citizens taking off for pastures new.

What is less acceptable is the phrase about ‘hard work’. This does seem racist; the lazy locals are being shown up the incomers. Again it challenges the culture of the host community; if it has settled for a certain pattern of working as acceptable, the disruption by harder working newcomers IS damage to the local culture.

So perhaps the statement should read: ‘In the past, a small flow of migrants has disproportionately contributed to our economic development, at a time when their impact more broadly was very small. (in such areas as housing, infrastructure and demand for government services). On the basis of this I want to suggest that the large scale immigration of the past 20 years, that is likely to continue indefinitely. is a good thing.’

Ms Cooper’s original statement is, strictly, correct as she frames it. Once however it is explored, its flaws become clear. That such spin is routinely used to befuddle the electorate is why we hold our politicians in contempt. We are now reaping the consequences of this persistent self serving inexactitude (aka dishonesty…).