Monday, 29 February 2016

The Telegraph: How do Brexiteers justify the claim that the EU will give us a good deal when we leave?

The Telegraph: How do Brexiteers justify the claim that the EU will give us a good deal when we leave?

by Rupert Myers

"Apparently, the eurocrats are poised to work speedily in the British interest, but only if we do the one thing designed to put their noses out of joint. Stay, and we’ll remain part of the immobile super-tanker that is the European Union, bound to a system which never gives us what we want. Leave, and they’ll do precisely what we ask them to do in record time. No lost decade of growth and productivity.

If I were a eurocrat set on creating a federalist super state, which is apparently what they all are, despite the UK’s negotiated special status excluding us from an "ever closer union", then I’d use the example of Brexit to set a pretty off-putting precedent. For the version of the EU described by its loudest critics, the way to ensure ever closer union for the remaining countries is for Britain to suffer pain. Of course they wouldn’t be acting in their own economic interest, but we know that countries don't always act rationally – France’s President Charles De Gaulle was dead-set against the UK joining the common market. What does it say about Brexiters if they think the EU is dreadful with us in it, but cheerfully accommodating and efficient when we have gone?

Leave campaigners are muddled on the EU. They can make a case for an independent UK being worth the economic price of lost productivity, jobs and growth. Splendid isolation and an independent future may, for many, be worth the cost of years spent renegotiating our position with the European Union, but they can’t have it both ways. Brexiteers need to argue their case on the basis of years of painful negotiation, or accept that the EU isn't as bad as they claim."

Sunday, 28 February 2016

The Importance of Inerrancy, by Vic Reasoner

Vic Reasoner, The Importance of Inerrancy: How Scriptural Authority has Eroded in Modern Wesleyan Theology 2013 Fundamental Wesleyan Publishers

In the 1970s and early 80s, the 'Battle for the Bible' was fought in Evangelical seminaries and denominations in the USA. This fight was between those who defended the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy and those who questioned it. Harold Lindsell was the self-appointed leader and defender of the Inerrantist movement. The conservative party were largely the victors, to some extent making Biblical Inerrancy the unquestionable orthodoxy in American Evangelicalism. It's hard to imagine now that at one time, the Southern Baptist Convention had a progressive faction with a liberalizing tendency in its seminaries. However, the Inerrantists had little success within the Wesleyan-Arminian denominations. There is little commitment to the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy within this tradition.

In this short book, Vic Reasoner calls on Wesleyans to return to the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy. He argues that this doctrine is vitally important and he argues that it was endorsed by the early Methodists. While many Wesleyan-Arminians claim Inerrancy is not part of their tradition, Reasoner believes they are in error on this point.

I think Inerrancy is an important doctrine and I am glad Reasoner has called on his fellow Wesleyans to embrace it. I wish there were more Vic Reasoners in Catholicism who would challenge the lack of fidelity to magisterial statements affirming Scriptural Inerrancy. Reasoner does not, however, go into the difficulties in defining Inerrancy once we take into account the cultural context and genre of the Biblical texts. He thinks the theory of evolution is being 'buried' by the advocates of Intelligent Design, which I think is a little over-optimistic given the problems with the Intelligent Design approach. He also insists that the days of Genesis 1 are 24 hour periods. Very well, that is a defensible position, but he does not say how he reconciles this with the scientific evidence for the antiquity of the Earth. Does he believe in a Mature Creation? Does he believe the geological strata formed in a global flood, as Answers in Genesis claim? Or does he advocate the Gap theory or Sailhammer's Promised Land interpretation?

I would suggest their may be a deeper reason why Inerrancy is not widely held among Arminians. I suspect it comes down to the problem of Biblical Inspiration raised by a low view of divine sovereignty. This is a problem that always troubled me when I was an Arminian. When we affirm Verbal Inspiration, we are affirming that the words of Scripture are 'God-breathed,' that they are the very words that God has chosen. However, we are not saying that they are dictated, but we maintain they are the words that have come from the authors. A mature statement of verbal inspiration affirms both the divine and human side of Inspiration. The problem for the Arminian is that this means that God must have determined not only the authors' thoughts which produced these words, but also the circumstances that produced those thoughts. Thi means that God is sovereign over a good deal more than the Arminian is usually willing to affirm! This is a problem that I have never seen honestly addressed by Arminians who uphold Verbal Inspiration.

God Without Passions: A Primer, by Samuel Renihan

Samuel Renihan, God Without Passions A Primer: A Practical and Pastoral Study of Divine Impassibility, 2015 Reformed Baptist Academic Press

I was once having a picnic with some Evangelical friends from my old church. A lady whose husband had been a church planter and pastor at one time sat down on my picnic blanket. She was amused that I insisted on everybody sitting on my blanket taking off their shoes or flip flops (It was lovely soft wool- I didn't want it getting ruined or dirtied). Anyway, she was a deep thinking lady and I got talking to her about the doctrine of God's impassibility. She seemed uncomfortable with the idea. I explained that if God does not change, then He cannot experience emotion. She said "Perhaps then we need to define emotion not as we experience it but as something that God experiences unchangeably?" I replied "Yes, but then you are defining emotion as something other than emotion."

The doctrine of Divine Impassibility is not going to be popular in our sentimental age, when Christians want a God who is cuddly and not too different from us. This seems to be the case in the Reformed camp too, especially the Reformed Baptists, who are influenced by the sentiments and currents of popular Evangelicalism. The Calvinists took a strong stand in the controversy over Open Theism, yet in rejecting that historical and doctrinal aberration, many of them, such as John Frame and John Feinberg did not wholeheartedly embrace all the doctrines of Classic Theism. There has been some resistance to the doctrine of Divine Impassibility among Calvinists, despite its presence in the Westminster and London Baptist confessions (not to mention its Patristic foundations). A while ago, I wrote a review of God is Impassible and Impassioned, by Rob Lister. Lister attempted to offer a modern defence of the doctrine of Impassibility, but he ended up re-defining the doctrine to say that actually God does have passions, He just manages to keep them under control. Renihan's short introduction to the doctrine of Divine Impassibility is therefore a much needed book.

Renihan argues that when interpreting Scripture, we need to prioritise what the Bible says about God's being over what it says about His actions. The Bible affirms God's unchangebleness, therefore statements about God that imply change, whether statements about 'divine repentance' or changes of emotional state must be interpreted very carefully. Our author argues that emotional affections imply both change and dependence, therefore they cannot be applied to God. He makes the important connection between this doctrine and that of Divine Simplicity.

Drawing out the pastoral implications of Divine Impassibility, he argues that this doctrine will enable us to have a much greater confidence in God, in His character, his faithfulness and the power of His saving work in Christ. I hope that plenty of Evangelicals will read this book. I think Catholics would benefit from it too, as they may also be lacking in awareness of this aspect of their theology.

One interesting point: Renihan makes reference to the twenty-one Coptic Christians who were murdered by ISIS. He says they are 'at home with the Lord Jesus.' Does he not then regard those men as idolators who believed a Gospel of works-righteousness and therefore in hell? I have noticed that a lot of Evangelicals, particularly Calvinists, will readily declare that Catholics and Orthodox are not true Christians and then when they hear about Catholics and Orthodox being persecuted by Muslims, they switch to regarding them as true Christians.

I am grateful that this Reformed Baptist theologian has made a Biblical case for the vital doctrine of Divine Impassibility. However, I am not sure that the Biblical data he presents is exegetically watertight. If it were not for the strong witness of tradition for this doctrine, would theologians really find this doctrine in the Bible? It was the tension between the theological importance of classic theism and its lack of definitive Biblical support that made me see the importance of tradition, and thus consider the claims of the Catholic Church. Maybe seeing the beauty of classic theism will awake other Evangelicals to the Patristic and Medieval tradition.

The Economist: The real danger of Brexit

The Economist: The real danger of Brexit

The Brexiters’ case is that Britain is held back by Europe: unshackled, it could soar as an open economy that continued to trade with the EU and all round the world. That is possible in theory, but as our briefing (see Briefing) explains, it is not how things would work in practice. At a minimum, the EU would allow full access to its single market only in return for adherence to rules that Eurosceptics are keen to jettison. If Norway and Switzerland (whose arrangements with the EU many Brexiters idolise) are a guide, the union would also demand the free movement of people and a big payment to its budget before allowing unfettered access to the market.

Worse, the EU would have a strong incentive to impose a harsh settlement to discourage other countries from leaving. The Brexit camp’s claim that Europe needs Britain more than the other way round is fanciful: the EU takes almost half Britain’s exports, whereas Britain takes less than 10% of the EU’s; and the British trade deficit is mostly with the Germans and Spanish, not with the other 25 countries that would have to agree on a new trade deal.

The Leave campaign keep repeating the myth that Europe imports more to us than we do to them. It is false and misleading.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Guardian| The Brexit campaign is wrong: the UK is already a sovereign nation

The Guardian| The Brexit campaign is wrong: the UK is already a sovereign nation

by Jonathan Freedland

"Besides the map, there is the clock. Today’s world is very different from the 17th and 18th centuries, when the notion of state sovereignty first took root. National independence is more abstract, less absolute in the age of international interdependence. Britain can no more be sovereign alone in the face of global terror, mass migration or climate change than Canute could be master of the waves. Now the world awards strength to those who combine their muscle. Even the mighty US, spanning a continent, cannot get all it wants alone.

The Financial Times’s Philip Stephens wrote this week that “the castaway alone on a desert island may be sovereign over all she or he surveys”, but is also “impotent”. A vote to leave the EU would certainly give an instant sugar rush that would feel a lot like an assertion of sovereignty. But a sovereign nation understands that to share what it has in order to get more can be not an act of weakness – but of great strength."

A Primer on Dispensationalism, by John Gerstner

John H. Gerstner, A Primer on Dispensationalism, 1982 Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.

Dispensationalism is a system of Evangelical theology that holds that Christ's return is Premillennial and makes a consistent distinction between God's program for Israel and God's program for the Church. This is the view of most sensational 'end times' books and of those who expect the 'rapture' of the Church. As a Protestant, I was an enthusiastic Dispensationalist and for my PhD thesis, I examined the life and work of John Nelson Darby, who introduced this system of theology.

This book, by Reformed theologian John Gerstner is a critique of Dispensationalism from a Calvinst perspective. It is a somewhat harsh critique and it has been argued by many that he does not fairly represent the views of those he is criticizing. In particular he makes the accusation that Dispensationalism teaches two ways of salvation, one for the Church and one for Israel. I think this charge is untrue. I don't think Dispensationalists have always articulated themselves well, but I think the difference in salvation is a matter of sanctification, rather than justification (for Protestants, justification and sanctification are two vitally different acts, while we Catholics, to grossly simplify things, would say they are two aspects of the same thing).

Gerstner also accuses Dispensationalists who profess to be Calvinists of being crypto-Arminians. I think this charge is also wrong. I was not unhappy to be called an Arminian when I was a Dispensationalist. I considered Dispensationalists such as Ryrie and Chafer who were moderate Calvinists to differ from myself on election and predestination. Calvinistic Dispensationalists often try to muddy the waters and make imprecise statements on the subject, but they are Calvinists, if weak Calvinists. They sometimes try to claim that one must affirm both sovereignty and free will and thus be both Arminian and Calvinist. However, in doing so they basically affirm Calvinism. There is no middle ground between monergism and synergism. Either one believes in unconditional election or one does not. Either one holds that God has chosen some to salvation without regard to foreseen faith or one denies this.

Gerstner accuses Ryrie of being antinomian. I think he is right, but he never actually quotes Ryrie's books to show that this is true and how exactly Ryrie is antinomian. I think that is a little unfair.

It is interesting that Gerstner spends most of this book discussing soteriology, rather than eschatology, which is often thought of as central to Dispensationalism. I think Vern Poythress did a much better job of critiquing Dispensationalism in Understanding Dispensationalists. I wouldn't recommend reading this without also reading the best works of Dispensationalists themselves, such as those of Ryrie and Pentecost.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Defending Sweatshops

The clothing industry gets attacked a lot, but it plays a vital role in transforming the lives of the poor in developing countries. Found on the Adam Smith Institute blog.

ConservativeHome: Why Corbyn would be wrong to abandon Trident

ConservativeHome: Why Corbyn would be wrong to abandon Trident

by Philip Dunne

"First, it is about realism. We all desire a world free from nuclear weapons. But unilateral disarmament does not mean a safer world.

We’ve reduced our nuclear forces by well over half since the height of the Cold War. By the mid-2020s, we’ll have reduced our stockpile to no more than 180 warheads.

Yet despite our honourable intentions, a resurgent Russia repeatedly rattles its nuclear sabre while North Korea already this year exploded a bomb and fired a ballistic missile in defiance of the international community.

And the dangers we’re facing are growing in complexity, diversity and scale. We can’t predict the threats of next week, let alone what will happen in the 2030s, the 2040s and the 2050s. Disarming now would be a reckless gamble with our national security that would play into the hands of our enemies.

My second point is that the deterrent works. It wasn’t designed to stop Daesh atrocities but to prevent nuclear blackmail and major war. Well, we haven’t had a major conflict in 70 years, nor has a single country under the nuclear umbrella been invaded."

The Telegraph: Those saying we should leave Europe are infected with madness

The Telegraph: Those saying we should leave Europe are infected with madness

by Dan Hodges

For Out to win they know they must first destroy reason. They must convince a majority of mature, rational British adults that we should withdraw from our largest, most profitable trading block just at the very moment the world is teetering on the brink of another global recession. They know they must convince them of the wisdom of turning our back on our most important diplomatic partnerships just as Vladimir Putin is casting his malign eye westwards. They know they must convince them the Britain should attempt to face – in isolation – the most significant refugee crisis and terror threat since the war.

And so to do that, they are trying to spread the contagion. Not though rational argument. No, actually, through fear. But simply by trying to drag an entire nation through the looking glass. To convince us all to see the same upside down world they see whenever the hear the name “Europe”.

Perhaps not exactly a polite article, but Dan Hodges nails it on the head. There is something utterly unreasonable and irrational about those thundering for Brexit.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Guardian: Message to Michael Gove: this deal is binding, and it’s the best Britain will get

The Guardian: Message to Michael Gove: this deal is binding, and it’s the best Britain will get

"Even before these negotiations, Britain enjoyed a raft of opt-outs: from the euro to the Schengen agreement, from justice and home affairs measures to working-time safeguards. Many of these are deeply resented by other European governments. Despite this, the EU has now gone even further by creating a new form of “special status” membership for the UK.

I was therefore gobsmacked that the London mayor, Boris Johnson, not only refused to back his leader but went so far as to claim that Britain should vote no in the upcoming referendum, in order to strengthen the UK’s negotiating position post-referendum. As a Belgian I have an ingrained appreciation of surrealism, but Johnson’s strategy is beyond surreal: it is ludicrous.

First, a no vote on 23 June will be seen by the rest of the EU as an unqualified rejection by the UK of Europe. Instead of spending time discussing a collective response to the refugee crisis, or preparing fresh economic sanctions against Russia for its disgraceful actions in Syria, Europe’s leaders have instead spent many months attempting to redefine Britain’s membership. There is simply no appetite on the continent for another protracted renegotiation. If Johnson doesn’t believe me, he should come back to Brussels – a town he claims to know well – and ask around."

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Naturalis Historia: An Armadillo Test Case of YEC Post-flood Dispersal Speed

Naturalis Historia: An Armadillo Test Case of YEC Post-flood Dispersal Speed

"Surely YECs would not predict a priori that armadillos would be found only in the New World if the ark landed in heart of the Old World. But our observational science – what Ken Ham says we should use – provides no evidence that armadillos have lived anywhere else. Remember there are no fossils and no other evidence that armadillos of any kind have every lived anywhere but in South and North America.

Imagine what the migration of a small mammal across the world would have been like. Any animal who would have made this 12,000+ mile migration would have encountered many obstacles including rivers, mountains, deserts, and colder climates. A small armadillo would have no interest in climbing over the Himalaya Mountains or forging the many large rivers of China, braving the cold regions of the Bering land bridge from Asia to Alaska, crossing the many rivers in North America and trekking through the tropical forests of Central America. Any wildlife biologists who has spent any time observing animal migration would tell you that it would take tens – and probably hundreds – of thousands of years for a small mammal population to accomplish this type of geographical dispersal if it could happen at all."

Young Earth Creationism has some really big problems...

The Guardian: Pity the poor Brexiters – they could win yet still lose

The Guardian: Pity the poor Brexiters – they could win yet still lose

by Rafael Behr

Any workable application of a Brexit vote would end up looking like a partial reconstruction of EU membership. Then each segment of the coalition for leave would feel betrayed, one by one. The Tory libertarians would complain that not enough regulation had been scrapped; the hard left would find corporate capitalism still rampant; Ukip nativists would see no sudden restoration of ethnic homogeneity to the streets. The disparate pot of resentments, heated and stirred through the long campaign against “Europe”, would break and its contents flow into other political vessels and causes.

Catholic Herald: Head of Ukrainian Catholic Church consoled by Pope’s words

Catholic Herald: Head of Ukrainian Catholic Church consoled by Pope’s words

The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church said he was consoled by Pope Francis’ words of understanding and tenderness after he expressed the disappointment of Ukrainians with a joint declaration signed by the pope and the Russian Orthodox patriarch.

The Pope’s remarks were “truly the opening of the doors of mercy,” said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow signed a joint declaration in Cuba on February 12 and, in an interview the next day, the archbishop said it contains unclear statements on the war in Eastern Ukraine and on the identity of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. He also said his people were deeply disappointed in the declaration’s wording.

Responding on February 17 to a reporter’s questions about the archbishop’s critique, Pope Francis said everyone has a right to his or her own opinions about the declaration and the archbishop’s criticisms must be read in light of the experience of Ukrainian Catholics.

Parts of the joint deceleration were certainly disappointing, but it's important to bear in mind this was the first meeting between Rome and Moscow. Establishing just a little common ground was an important step.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Future of the Kingdom, by Martin Wyngaarden

Martin J. Wyngaarden, The Future of the Kingdom in Prophecy and Fulfillment: A Study in the Scope of 'Spiritualization' of Scripture, 1955 Baker Book House

For some reason, I thought before buying this, that it's author was a Mennonite. It turned out that he was Reformed (the Dutch name might have been a clue..). This is a critique of Premillennialism, the belief that Christ will establish on Earth a thousand-year kingdom upon His return. Wyngaarden identifies the key texts of Scripture relating to our Lord's kingly office and His kingdom and demonstrate that they should not be interpreted as a literal Earthly kingdom in the future, but have a present spiritual fulfillment. This was written in the 1950s, when radio preachers had made Premillennialism a central part of the Evangelical/ Fundamentalist scene in America.

Wyngaarden was an Amillennialist who saw the millennium of Revelation 20 fulfilled in the Church Age. However, his book is more of a negative critique of Premillennialism than a positive exposition of the Amillennial view and its understanding of the kingdom. As a Postmillennialist, I would have liked to see Wyngaarden addressing the implications of the kingdom, both spiritual and cosmic.

This is an important and useful book, though I found it a little dry.

The Telegraph: Sorry Boris, a vote to leave means we leave

The Telegraph: Sorry Boris, a vote to leave means we leave

by Alan Renwick

"This gets to another political problem: the two-year limit and the requirement for unanimity to extend that limit make the UK’s negotiating position in this scenario very weak.

And if our membership lapses with no deal done, we are obliged under World Trade Organisation rules immediately to impose tariffs on our trade with EU countries. That harms us much more than it harms many of those countries. There is no guarantee in this situation that the UK could strike a better deal at all.

The same problems apply to the idea of choosing at a second referendum between the negotiated Brexit terms and continued membership. The UK has no clear legal right to reverse its initial decision. A way of fudging that might be found. But it would require unanimous support of the 27, which squeezes the UK’s power to bargain for a decent deal.

In short, a vote to leave is a vote to leave. Anyone who says otherwise is playing with fire."

Catholic Herald| US bishop challenges Catholics to combat ‘ugly tide of anti-Islamic bigotry’

Catholic Herald| US bishop challenges Catholics to combat ‘ugly tide of anti-Islamic bigotry’

In his remarks, Bishop McElroy exhorted Catholics “to recognize and confront the ugly tide of anti-Islamic bigotry” in the United States, to actively seek relationships with Muslims on a personal level, to accompany the Muslim community as it wrestles with religious liberty issues, and to join with them “to witness to and fight for” a Middle East where Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities can coexist peacefully.

Bishop McElroy said US Catholics should view with repugnance the “repeated falsehoods” that Islam is inherently violent, that Muslims seek to supplant the US Constitution with sharia law, and that Muslim immigration threatens “the cultural identity of the American people.” Such claims, he said, are strikingly reminiscent of the anti-Catholic bigotry that was once prevalent in the United States.

However, the bishop’s denunciation of prejudice does not signify a denial of the reality of terrorism.

“I want to underscore that it is not bigotry to fear or to combat the violence and terror which some Muslims in the world have unleashed in the name of faith,” he explained, while acknowledging that some Christians also have attempted to use their faith to justify acts of violence.

Catholic immigrants to the USA have been victims of bigotry and prejudice in the past, so it's great to hear a Catholic bishop challenging Islamophobia.

The Washington Post: What right-wing commentators got wrong

The Washington Post: What right-wing commentators got wrong

by Jennifer Rubin

"The right-wing media bubble — including talk radio hosts and cable TV talking heads — haa done much to contribute to Donald Trump’s rise. And I don’t just mean obsequious Sean Hannity interviews or talk radio cheerleading of Trump last year. (That would be reason enough to conclude these entertainers are injurious to the conservative movement.) No, they’ve been telling us for years that the sine qua non of conservatism is opposition to immigration. (It’s ridiculous on its face, since robust immigration and free trade are the essence of free-market economics, but it is too much to demand intellectual honesty from these voices.)

In fact, these xenophobic voices are loud but in no way represent the concerns of Republicans. Exit polls in early contests have shown again and again that immigration ranks far below the economy and national security in importance. In South Carolina, only 10 percent said immigration was the top issue; the economy, national security and government spending ranked in the high 20s to low 30s. In New Hampshire, immigration was named as the top issue for 15 percent; the other issues were named by between 24 and 33 percent. In Iowa, those numbers were 13 percent and 25 percent to 32 percent, respectively."

The Feast of Saint Polycarp

God of all creation, who were pleased to give the Bishop Saint Polycarp a place in the company of the Martyrs, grant, through his intercession, that sharing with him in the chalice of Christ, we may rise through the Holy Spirit to eternal life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

St. Polycarp, pray for us and for all bishops.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Biblical Evidence for Catholicism| St. Alphonsus de Liguori: Mary-Worshiper & Idolater?

Biblical Evidence for Catholicism| St. Alphonsus de Liguori: Mary-Worshiper & Idolater?

Far from Len’s charge that Catholics place Mary above God; we believe that this was God’s chosen method; it was His will. God can do whatever He wants to do. He could have chosen to make all the light which reaches the earth from the sun bounce off the moon and come to us as moonlight. Likewise, He can choose to distribute His grace through Mary, as the creaturely moon which merely reflects His Divine sun. Why should the very notion be thought “impossible” or “blasphemous”? Again, one can agree or disagree with the theological belief of Mary Mediatrix, but Len’s accusations go far beyond that. He is claiming that Catholics make Mary a goddess, above even Almighty God. This is sheer nonsense.

The Telegraph: Boris Johnson's best bet for being PM is Britain voting to stay in the EU

The Telegraph: Boris Johnson's best bet for being PM is Britain voting to stay in the EU

by Hugo Dixon

"Maybe it is because of all this that Boris is seemingly hedging his bets. His article contains the following curious sentence: “There is only one way to get the change we need, and that is to vote to go”. This could be taken to mean that Boris doesn’t really want to Leave; he just wants us to vote to Leave and then to have another crack at negotiating better terms to stay.

That doesn’t seem a sensible course of action. But if Boris really thinks that it is, he should say so openly. The time for Delphic utterances is over.

Boris should also be open with the British people about the risks they are running by voting to Leave. Such transparency would be in his best interests, even if it cut the chance of a Brexit.

If the people voted to Leave, it would be harder for them to complain that the new prime minister had sold them a pup. And if they voted to Remain, Boris would still be the darling of Tory eurosceptic right and so well placed to take over from David Cameron when he eventually resigns. Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat would be better than following in Pyrrhus’ steps."

The Telegraph: Boris Johnson has just blown his first audition to be prime minister

The Telegraph: Boris Johnson has just blown his first audition to be prime minister

by Dan Hodges

The reason Boris has failed the first major test of his suitability for the highest office in the land isn’t the way he announced his backing for Out. Our how long he took to reach his decision. Or even why he reached his decision.

It’s that he took the easy decision. And he took the wrong decision.

Everyone knows that Boris Johnson is a populist politician, and a popular politician. He reaches across party lines. He is engaging. He makes people laugh. He has the capacity to laugh at himself. He can tell a cynical electorate what they want to hear, in a language they can understand.

But being prime minister is not always about telling people what they want to hear. Or making them laugh. Or leaving them with the impression that “he’s one of us”. Sometimes it involves telling the awkward truths. Telling them things they don’t want to hear. Leading them to places they don’t want to go.

This was Boris Johnson’s opportunity to demonstrate he has the courage to occasionally take the path less travelled. Instead he has chosen to again follow the sound of the cheering Eurosceptic crowd.

I am now officially backing George Osborne for the next leader of the Conservative Party.

The Independent: David Cameron openly ridicules Boris Johnson over leaving the EU and attacks his leadership ambitions

The Independent: David Cameron openly ridicules Boris Johnson over leaving the EU and attacks his leadership ambitions

“I am not standing for re-election,” he Mr Cameron said, apparently a veiled reference to Mr Johnson’s leadership ambitions.

“I have no other agenda than what is best for our country. I'm standing here telling you what I think.”

Mr Cameron also ridiculed Mr Johnson’s ambiguous apparent suggestion in a recent newspaper column that voting to leave could lead to a better deal for Britain in Europe.

“We should also be clear that this is a final decision,” he told MPs, arguing that a second renegotiation was “not on the ballot paper”.

“I won’t dwell on the irony that some people who want to vote to leave apparently want to use a leave vote to remain. But such an approach also ignores more profound points about democracy, diplomacy and legality.”

I love Cameron's bold response to Johnson's cynical decision. The London Mayor will not be able to shake the accusation that his decision to back Leave was insincere.

I'm also glad that Cameron tackled the argument that voting Leave could mean a second referendum on a better deal. That claim is wrong on so many levels. If the European leaders were not prepared to give Cameron a better deal to stay, they are not going to give Johnson or Gove a better deal to leave with. Furthermore, given that most of the British public has no real interest in this referendum, they are hardly going to vote for another referendum. That idea is more likely to make people vote Remain just to get the whole wretched business over and done with.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Mussolini, by Nicholas Farrell

I once met a lady from Turn in northern Italy. She was fairly right-wing and was a supporter of Berlusconi. She was also very talkative, one of her favorite subjects being how much she despised southern Italians. Making conversation, I mentioned that I had recently read a book on the Gran Sasso raid, when German paratroopers freed Mussolini from captivity. She replied by expressing admiration for Mussolini and that his one big mistake had been to go to war on the side of Hitler. At the time, this comment came as I surprise to me. I had thought that expressing admiration for Mussolini would be anathema as it would be for a German to express admiration for Hitler. It seems that there is still a feeling of admiration among many Italians for Mussolini, even though the Left has ensured that this cannot be done in public without controversy.

In this revisionist biography, Nicholas Farrell offers us a new perspective on the life of Mussolini, attempting to show why the great dictator inspired such feelings of passion and admiration in so many. This is by no means a whitewash, but it attempts to portray Il Duce in as positive a light as possible. Nicholas Farrell himself is certainly not a Neo-Fascist; his politics are Centre-Right.

Farrell introduces us to Mussolini as son of a blacksmith and a poor school teacher. His humble childhood seems to have been remarkably violent by modern standards. His father was a deeply committed socialist activist who was arrested several times for his activities and Mussolini quickly adopted the same socialist stance. He also followed his mother into a somewhat turbulent career as a schoolteacher, before going into journalism, writing for various radical newspapers. This led to his embarking on a public political career.

The First World War was a turning point in Mussolini's political thinking. He was troubled by Italy's stance of neutrality at the start of the war and the failure of Italy's socialists to fully commit themselves to supporting the war against Germany and Austria. He came to value nationalism over socialism and to believe that national interests should take precedence over narrower class interests. This led to his break with the Socialist movement as his involvement with the ex-army squads who were calling themselves Fascists. Mussolini came to become the leader of this new nationalistic movement. The legendary March on Rome brought Fascism into power, with the King Victor Emmanuel appointing Mussolini as prime minister. Farrell spends some time analyzing the rationale behind this decision. Italy's subsequent development into a Fascist led dictatorship was, in Farrell's opinion, to a large extent the result of a weak and disorientated opposition rather than Mussolini's deliberate design.

In one of many criticisms of the Italian Left in the book, Farrell accuses the Left of distorting history by ignoring the large extent to which Italy embraced Mussolini and Fascism. As the Left regards Fascism as the embodiment of evil and is unwilling to regard the Italian people as evil, it must either view Fascism as forced on Italians or else view Italians as having been brainwashed. However, neither of these fits the picture. The uncomfortable truth for the Left is that Italy welcomed the Fascist regime. Not only was Mussolini loved in Italy, Farrell offers evidence that he was widely admired across Europe and in America too. Fascism was seen by many as an effective movement in opposition to Communism and as a way of finding a middle way between capitalism and socialism. Prior to Mosley's British Union of Fascits, Winston Churchill, who was himself an admirer of Mussolini, was seen by some as having potential to lead a British Fascist Movement. At this time nobody associated Fascism with the ideological excesses of Hitler's National Socialists (except for Hitler who saw Mussolini as a role model and inspiration).

Fascism was by no means sweetness and light. Plenty of political opponents of Fascism were locked up and some were executed. However, Mussolini did not unleash on the Italian people a reign of terror. Our author points out that the pre-war victims of Fascism were small in number compared to those of Nazi Germany, Stalin's Soviet Union or Franco's Spain. Arguably, Mussolini's Italy was a lot less brutal than the average US-backed South American junta in the 1970s and probably less brutal than every regime in the Middle East today. Farrell is certainly critical of Mussolini's economic policy, arguing that in the long run, it was unsustainable.

In terms of foreign policy, Fascist Italy's policy had been to check the advance of Nazi Germany, in particular, to prevent unification of Germany with Austria. Farrell details the failure of Mussolini to engage France and Britain in forming a united front against the Germany. Italy's relations with other nations shifted with the war in Ethiopia. Farrell offers an interesting perspective on Italy's invasion of Abyssian, arguing that the Ethiopian empire was a wretched and brutal slave state that did not deserve any sympathy. He argues that Britain and France had two sensible choices, either to accommodate Mussolini's Abyssinian ambitions or else to impose fuel sanctions and to block Italy's access to the Suez canal and thus force him to desist. Instead, they chose to impose weak sanctions that allowed Italy to continue with her invasion while destroying relations with France and Britain. Italy was effectively pushed into the arms of Germany. Our author argues that Britain should have tried to appease Mussolini who was the lesser menace in order to stop Hitler, who was the greater menace. Instead British politicians chose to appease Hitler while opposing Mussolini. Hitler deeply admired Mussolini and welcomed alliance with Italy. Mussolini had only contempt for Hitler, but reluctantly made friends because alliance with France and Britain had ceased to be an option.

Catholic conservatives will be pleased with Farrell's comments on the Spanish Civil War. He shows the Republican side to be a gang of Communist thugs who are not deserving of the sentimental adoration they still receive today. I have heard from some sources that Mussolini persuaded Hitler to get involved in the Spanish Civil War, but Farrell says that both men independently sided to get involved for similar reasons.

The introduction of anti-Semitic laws in Italy, was not in Farrell's view, a result of alliance with Germany. Previously many Jews in Italy had strongly supported Fascism. There were many Jews in the National Fascist Party. He asserts that Mussolini was himself in no way anti-Semitic. He argues that the laws were an expression of Mussolini's ideological struggle against things he perceived as bourgeois. In the Duce's mind, Jewishness was a cultural form of un-Italian bourgeois culture. I am not sure I find this altogether convincing, as it does not explain why the laws applied to Jews who had converted to Catholicism. Our author provides evidence that during the Second World War, Mussolini was appalled by the Nazi's genocidal actions towards the Jews. He argues that Mussolini and the Fascist regime actually saved the lives of many more Jews than they are given credit for. Catholics will be especially interested in Farrell's defence of Pope Pius XI. Pius XI has been criticized for failing to speak out against the Holocaust, but our author argues that such a move would have done nothing and ignores the pope's behind the scenes actions in saving Jewish lives.

As the Italian lady I mentioned said, it was the war that proved to be Mussolini's Waterloo. For all that Il Duce had tried to militarize the country, Italy was simply unready for war. Farrell argues that the start of the Second World War proved a terrible psychological dilemma for Mussolini. He had detested the initial neutral stance of Italy during the First World War, yet he now found himself trying to take that same stance in the new conflict. In the end, his heart overruled his head and he entered the war. Yet Farrell points out that staying out would have had it's risks, as a victorious Germany would not have looked kindly on an Italy that chose to stay neutral. Coming to the details of Italy's war actions, he argues that the Italian invasion of Greece was the greatest tactical mistake of Mussolini.

Hitler's focus during the war was the eastern front against the Soviet Union. Despite Mussolini's pleas, the sphere of conflict in the Mediterranean did not interest Hitler and Italy was left to be the Third Reich's southern frontier guard. Mussolini came under increasing pressure from his subordinates to pull out of the war and to seek peace with the Allies. Our author says that Mussolini well understood how poorly the country was faring, but was aware that if he made peace with the Allies, he would be faced with a German invasion. Mussolini did not want the fate of Poland or France to fall on Italy. As a result of his hesitancy, Mussolini was removed by the king, backed by a conspiracy of senior government figures. Farrell is scathing about the conspirators, particularly Badoglio, the Fascist general who replaced Mussolini as prime minister. The overthrow of Mussolini was a disaster in our author's opinion, as it resulted in Italy being invaded from two sides and plunged into a brutal civil war.

Mussolini was freed from incarceration by the Germans and given the opportunity to administer a puppet regime in northern Italy. Farrell says he was reluctant to accept this, but knew that Italy would be treated far worse if he refused. The Italian Social Republic provided Mussolini with the brief opportunity to go back to first principles of his socialist roots. However, by this time he had little power and the Germans were calling the shots in the Salo Republic.

Again, Farrell attacks the mythology of the Italian Left. He argues that the partisans did not liberate Italy; they merely assisted the allies. He portrays the partisans as pretty nasty bunch, dominated by a Communist leadership and no less brutal than the Fascists who collaborated with the Germans. The brutality of the partisans was demonstrated when they shot the captured Mussolini and his mistress without trial. Our author is disgusted by the decision to shoot Clara Petacci, a woman who had committed no crime whatsoever.

This is a very detailed biography which sheds a fascinating light on one of the chief 'villains' of the Twentieth Century. The picture I get is of a man who was aggressive, vain and selfish, but not a man who was cruel or hateful. There are things to be admired about Mussolini. The depth of his vision for Italy, his fervent patriotism and his understanding of the materialistic vacuity of socialism. He was at heart a republican and yet he was able to maintain an effective working relationship with the king until his dismissal and arrest. He was anti-clerical, yet he was able to make his peace with the Catholic Church and his legacy lives on in the independence of the Vatican State, his lasting achievement.

New Statesman: The global case for staying in the EU

New Statesman: The global case for staying in the EU

by Charles Grant

"The slowing of the EU’s geographical expansion has weakened the Union’s ability to influence its neighbourhood. Given that its membership had risen from 15 to 28 countries between 2004 and 2013, and given the unappealing character of potential members such as Serbia, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova and Ukraine, this slowdown was inevitable. Nevertheless, the EU’s failure to put sufficient energy and resources into its neighbourhood policy has contributed – together with many other ­factors – to the instability afflicting parts of eastern Europe and the Arab world.

Given all these problems, it is not surprising that defending the EU has become an unfashionable cause. Nor that celebrated historians have started to draw on historical analogies to predict the Union’s demise. Writing in these pages (6 November), Brendan Simms and Timothy Less argued that, just as Austria-Hungary, the USSR and Yugoslavia had disintegrated, so the EU, another “attempt to create a supranational entity”, was likely to go the same way. And Niall Ferguson wrote in the Sunday Times in November: “Like the Roman empire in the early 5th century, Europe has let its defences crumble . . . As Gibbon saw, convinced monotheists pose a grave threat to a secular empire.”

Although the EU is a long way from disintegrating, its weakness and unpopularity matter for all those who care about the West, its values and its contri­bution to global order.

An effective EU is an essential component of a strong West. The Union has brought peace and stability to its own members and much of the European continent. It is a beacon of Western values – democratic government, the rule of law and market economics – and does its best to make its neighbours respect those values, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. The EU is a muddled and messy organisation but is in essence a community of law, and its chief mission is to spread the rule of law.

The EU can act alone or in alliance with the US, often tempering the unilateralist instincts of the Americans. Indeed, without the EU, the West would be a much more American concept – with important satellites such as Britain, France, Germany and Japan following in the Americans’ wake – than it is today."

A very realistic article. It acknowledges that the European Union has problems, yet demonstrates the vital importance of the EU in the world today. I particularly liked the example Grant offers of the success of the EU in addressing Somali piracy.

BBC News| US election 2016: Jeb Bush drops out of Republican race

BBC News| US election 2016: Jeb Bush drops out of Republican race

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush has dropped out of the Republican race for US president after failing to rank high in the first three state contests.

He came a distant fourth in Saturday's South Carolina vote, which was won by billionaire estate mogul Donald Trump.

"Today I am suspending my campaign," an emotional Mr Bush told his supporters.

Once a favourite mainstream candidate for the Republicans - and brother and son to two US presidents - Mr Bush saw his campaign flag in recent months.

I feel very sad about this. Jeb would have made a great president.

Shame on Marco Rubio for stabbing him in back by running against him. Rubio would be better than Trump or Cruz, but running against his former mentor shows he has more ambition than trustworthiness.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Guardian: Here’s how to argue with a Brexiter – and win

The Guardian: Here’s how to argue with a Brexiter – and win

by Timothy Garton Ash

"It’s also vital to national security. Our highest-ranking soldier, Field Marshal Lord Bramall – no starry-eyed Europhile – warns that if we left, “a broken and demoralised Europe just across the Channel” would imperil our security. If we stay, we can be one of the leaders of a European foreign policy that addresses the root causes of problems such as Middle East refugee flows. Vladimir Putin and Marine Le Pen want us to leave. Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and all our traditional friends, in Europe, North America and the Commonwealth, want us to stay. Need I say more?

Brexit would be disastrous for Ireland. The former Irish prime minister John Bruton says it would “undo much of the work of the peace process and create huge questions over borders and labour market access”. There are more than 380,000 Irish citizens living in Britain, who do have a vote in this referendum, and millions of Brits (including me) with Irish ancestry. If you care about Ireland, vote to remain.

Scotland would leave the UK. If you care about that, vote to remain."

The Independent: Why yesterday was a very bad day for the Out campaign

The Independent: Why yesterday was a very bad day for the Out campaign

Cameron may only have had three hours sleep in the last 36 hours but when he emerged to sell his EU renegotiation deal after marathon talks in Brussels he was impassioned, articulate and made the case for Britain to remain in the EU in a manner that no other pro-European has yet managed to achieve.

His rhetoric was soaring as he made the 'big picture' arguments of security, economic prosperity and history to explain why he would be putting his “heart and soul” into the campaign to stay in. Even cynical journalists who've followed him for years were impressed.

As this article points out, Michael Gove coming out as 'Out' is not much of a coup for the Leave campaign. He's not a terribly popular figure. If he couldn't sell his educational reforms to the public, I doubt he's going to be successful at selling the case for Brexit.

I remember Polly Tonybee engaging in a head to head debate with Gove on television years ago. She pointed out that as soon as Gove started talking about the EU, his eyes went wild and he came across as a little bit bonkers. She was right. As soon as Gove starts lecturing people about the evils of the EU, the public will switch off.

The Feast of Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto

O Almighty God, who willest to be glorified in thy Saints and didst raise up thy servants Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto to shine as lights in the world: Shine, we pray thee, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may shew forth thy praises, who hast called us out of darkness into thy marvellous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore Thee profoundly. I offer Thee the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences by which He is offended. By the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary I beg the conversion of poor sinners.

Blessed Francisco and Jacinta, pray for us and for Portugal.

The Deal You Wanted

An Excellent New Deal for Britain

BBC News: EU deal gives UK special status, says David Cameron

David Cameron says a deal struck with EU leaders will give the UK "special status" and he will campaign with his "heart and soul" to stay in the union.

The agreement, reached late on Friday after two days of talks in Brussels, gives the UK power to limit some EU migrants' benefits.

It also includes a treaty change so the UK is not bound to "ever closer union" with other EU member states, he said.

The Eurosceptics will dismiss this deal, but it's certain that they would have dismissed whatever deal Cameron brought back. Nothing except exit would be good enough for them. The question is whether, in the event of Britain voting to leave the EU, they would be able to get a decent exit deal from the EU leaders. It seems pretty doubtful.

David Cameron has once again shown that he is one of the greatest political figures of our age.

Friday, 19 February 2016

The Guardian: Sorry Boris, this referendum is bigger than you

The Guardian: Sorry Boris, this referendum is bigger than you

by Rafael Behr

This is a collective climbdown by a generation that has gamed casual anti-European sentiment for tactical advantage. It isn’t clear whether they always knew deep down that Britain was better off in the EU or have reached that understanding recently. Perhaps something in the experience of running Downing Street, the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Home Office concentrates the mind on pragmatic Euro-engagement. Brexiters will say that Cameron and co have been captured by Europhiliac officials, or that a corrupt elite is just perpetuating its privileges. But it is also reasonable to imagine that experienced secretaries of state have some insight into what is best for the country that, say, Nigel Farage, minor party leader and failed parliamentary candidate, lacks.

This too will prey on Johnson’s mind. He does not want to be on the side of the mavericks and also-rans. His trajectory through public life, impressive by many accounts, disappoints his vanity. His first parliamentary career was stalled by gaffe and scandal. His two terms as London mayor leave a thin legacy. His return to the Commons has been unremarkable, and his efforts at wooing colleagues underwhelming. He treats MPs to takeaway curry in tinfoil boxes, while Osborne hosts catered dinners in Downing Street’s state rooms. One guest at a Team Boris reception describes it as a gaggle of “people who feel rejected and passed over” by Cameron.

So Johnson is using the referendum to bolster his credentials as a contender. He hoists himself on to the fence for maximum attention before jumping to one side with a show-stopping crash. The strangest aspect of this spectacle is that anyone in the Tory party should go along with it. The idea that the mayor of London has some privileged right to pass judgment on Cameron’s EU deal, that his opinion matters at all when his motives are so flagrantly self-aggrandising, is absurd.

Great article on Boris' will he?/ won't he? dilemma. There is a more positive side to this. That is that Boris Johnson as mayor of London was a great pragmatist, who was willing to work with both sides of the political fence. Boris the Pragmatist should be calling for us to work together with our European partners, not drifting off into a Little England fantasy.

CTS Handbook of Prayers

Handbook of Prayers, 2011 Catholic Truth Society

I suggested in my review of The Little Flower Prayer Book that prayer manuals of that sort ought to contain a basic form of morning and evening prayer as a way of introducing the Liturgy of the Hours to the laity. The Catholic Truth Society's Handbook of Prayers does this! This takes the form of a sort of sample, with the inclusion of morning prayer for Monday Week 1 and evening prayer for Wednesday Week 1. This is a positive move, though readers are likely to get weary of repeating those psalms and canticles daily. Hopefully they will be encouraged to buy either the Shorter Morning and Evening or Daily Prayer from the Divine Office.

This is an attractive volume in an imitation leather cover. It was originally published by Midwest Theological Forum. Most of the prayers in this book are given in both Latin and English, which will please traditionalists.

The introduction offers some general advice about how to be a good Catholic, explaining some basic doctrines and practices. A large chapter of the book concerns prayers said at mass. I am always a bit surprised when prayer manuals contain the liturgy for the Eucharist, as Catholics are just as likely to own a missal as to own book like this. I was also surprised that a book presumably intended for laity contains a lot of prayers that are said by priests. The final chapter contains various blessings, including to my surprise, a rite for blessing a Christmas tree. A wide selection of devotions to Our Lady are contained in this book, as well as devotions to Saint Joseph. However, there are no prayers to other saints.

This is an attractive and useful prayer manual. I think on the whole, CTS have done a good service in publishing this.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The Telegraph: Vladimir Putin is dancing around us with ease – we must send troops into Syria

The Telegraph: Vladimir Putin is dancing around us with ease – we must send troops into Syria

by Hamish de Bretton-Gordon

"It is pretty clear that Putin has wrestled the initiative from the West and is calling all the shots. On the ground he would now appear to be strengthening the Syrian Army with Russian troops and expertise which he should be made to bring to bear now on Isil and not the moderate opposition. However, it is equally clear that unless the international coalition and especially Nato, including the UK, also get involved, the Russian solution will pervade across Syria and Iraq, and Pun’s influence in the Middle East, hitherto the preserve of the US and its Allies, will be dominant.

There is universal agreement that the comprehensive defeat of Isil is in the world’s best interests and that coalition air power alone will not bring this about. Isil's desire for a caliphate and this determination to hold ground is their Achilles' heel, which sets them apart from terror groups like AQ but makes them no match for the sophisticated armies of the West. The 40,000 Isil fighters, fanatical but poorly trained and equipped, currently fighting conventionally, are no match for Western ground forces supported by air power who should be able to defeat Isil militarily in weeks rather than months. It is likely that indigenous ground troops currently opposing Isil will take months if not years to do this if not directly supported by Western "ground power"."

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

ConservativeHome: Gove’s prisons revolution should increase their use

ConservativeHome: Gove’s prisons revolution should increase their use

by Peter Cuthbertson

Some attack prison for its high reoffending rates. They are right that no one should be complacent about the hundreds of thousands of victims of reoffending each year.

But they are flying in the face of reality if they single out prisons. Reoffending is a huge problem for the whole criminal justice system. The reoffending rates for criminals who receive community sentences, fines, suspended sentences and discharges are similarly depressing.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Genesis Unbound, by John Sailhammer

John H. Sailhammer, Genesis Unbound: A Provocative New Look at the Creation Account, 1966, 2011

In this book, Old Testament scholar John Sailhammer articulated a radical new interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis which saw the chapter as focused not on the creation of the entire planet, but on the Garden of Eden, which Sailhammer identified with the promised land of Canaan.

Similar to the classic Gap Theory, Sailhammer distinguishes between the creative work of Genesis 1:1 and the creative work of the six days. He agrees with the Gap Theorists in seeing the entire cosmos as being completed in Genesis 1:1. However, he does not see a ruin and reconstruction in the rest of the chapter. He argues that Bible translations have misled readers with the phrase 'formless and void.' He claims they have been influenced by the Hellenistic idea of primordial matter. Instead he translates it as 'uninhabited and waste.' Pointing out that the Hebrew word of Earth can be translated as 'land,' he makes the case that the six days concern not the creation of the planet, but the preparing of the Garden, the original land of Israel as the home of humanity.

With its focus on the Garden of Eden, Sailhammer's view is similar to the cosmic temple view of John Walton. However, he differs from Walton in seeing Genesis 1:1 as a distinct creative act, where Walton sees the first verse as a summary of the rest of the chapter. Both views have an affinity with the idea articulated in Stephen Webb's Dome of Eden.

The popular Evangelical writer and preacher John Piper is well known for his acceptance of Sailhammer's view of Genesis. He believes it provides for an ancient creation of Earth and a recent creation of humanity. The problem is that science seems to point us towards not only an ancient Earth, but a prehistoric origin of humanity. What do we do with the evidence for early and prehistoric evolution of humanity? Sailhammer gives us a way of handling an ancient cosmos, but does not give us any answers regarding controversies about human origins.

The advantage of Sailhammer's view is that it enables us to take the days of Genesis 1 as literal 24 hour periods. It also ties Genesis 1 into the covenant purposes of God which come out in the later chapters of Genesis. I am not sure I go along with all of Sailhammer's exegesis, but I think he is on the right lines in this book.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

The Telegraph: Why Australia wants Britain to stay in the EU

The Telegraph: Why Australia wants Britain to stay in the EU

by Wayne Swan

"There are many in British politics who make the passionate and articulate case that a strong alliance with the Commonwealth, and with the English-speaking countries in particular, could be a viable alternative to the EU. I cherish and value the Commonwealth of Nations. It allows countries with a shared history to retain a link and to work together in pursuit of goals like greater democracy and ending extreme poverty. But the Commonwealth cannot be a replacement for the European Union. Turning the Commonwealth into a free trade area with harmonised regulations and a common trade policy is not on the agenda.

And it is wrong to say that the EU holds back UK-Commonwealth trading relations. UK trade with the Commonwealth has risen while being in Europe. It is a false choice to suggest that Britain can only have one or the other. Those who advocate using the Commonwealth as a replacement for the EU are guilty of gazing through misty eyes to the past rather than focusing clearly on the future."

ConservativeHome: This Conservative Government’s foreign policy has already marked a break from the Coalition’s

ConservativeHome: This Conservative Government’s foreign policy has already marked a break from the Coalition’s

by Mark Field MP

"In this fresh parliament, we have already made a distinctive break from the preceding five years. We have committed ourselves to spending two per cent of GDP on defence for each of the years to 2020 (a key NATO pledge previously ducked), the development budget has been maintained and more money is being dedicated to the work of our security services. October’s Chinese State visit firmly restated Conservatives’ commitment to Britain as a global trading nation. We were finally able to pass a decisive parliamentary vote for cooperative action in Syria, and now lead a reform agenda in the EU which could make way for two-tier membership.

In taking these lines, I suspect the Prime Minister is broadly in tune with the instincts of the public. British people appreciate the complexity of modern foreign affairs. They wish the UK to continue to play a prominent role in international diplomacy, maintaining our membership of NATO and place on the UN Security Council. They complement our historical Commonwealth links with a huge array of international connections of their own built from business and travel experiences as well as increasingly diverse family ties. They are proud of Britain’s global cultural influence. But they remain as suspicious and sceptical as ever of grand projects and short-lived successes, acknowledging the limits of our ability as a mid-tier nation to mould outcomes.

With our historical relationships, military and aid resource, and cultural and economic clout, the UK is now uniquely placed to articulate a more patient, reform-minded and flexible approach to international affairs. This will involve utilising the resource of our Armed Forces, Foreign Office and DfID in a much more coordinated way but also the skills and expertise of our many and varied professionals – lawyers, financiers, tech experts and educators."

Fr Hunwicke's Mutual Enrichment: Roman Primacy and Cuba

Fr Hunwicke's Mutual Enrichment: Roman Primacy and Cuba

There is so much that is better than good in the Declaration of Cuba that it seems churlish to carp. But ...

A Time of Prayer

A Time of Prayer, 2005 Catholic Truth Society

This booklet from the Catholic Truth Society offers a very basic form of the Liturgy of the Hours. It has a Psalm to say for each day of the week, as well as the Gospel canticles for morning and evening, seasonal Psalms and a few concluding prayers. There is also a simple form of compline.

I'm not sure that it would have hurt to have included some more pages to provide a different Psalm for morning and evening. Repeating the same Psalm in evening prayer seems a bit limiting. I also don't know why the publishers have left out the invitary, Psalm 94.

This is very basic and I am sure those who buy this will want to go on to purchase Shorter Morning and Evening Prayer, if not Daily Prayer from the Divine Office. However, for all it's limitations it is nice to see the Catholic Truth Society encouraging the laity to get into the Liturgy of the Hours.

Naturalis Historia| A Tale of Taphonomy: Clam Shrimp Fossils and the Age of the Earth

Naturalis Historia| A Tale of Taphonomy: Clam Shrimp Fossils and the Age of the Earth

Until creationists can come up with an even remotely plausible scenario for the details in the fossil record observed by people like this student they should not be expected to be taken seriously. They claim that a global flood is a better explanation for the observed data. However, their claims about the fossil record don’t mean much to anyone that has experience with it. A viable hypothesis has to be able to accommodate new data that are being generated each and every day. An ancient Earth with a dynamically evolving land surface can easily accommodate all the characteristics observed in these clam shrimp fossils.

Catholic Herald| Full text: Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill’s joint declaration

Catholic Herald| Full text: Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill’s joint declaration

16. The process of European integration, which began after centuries of blood–soaked conflicts, was welcomed by many with hope, as a guarantee of peace and security. Nonetheless, we invite vigilance against an integration that is devoid of respect for religious identities. While remaining open to the contribution of other religions to our civilization, it is our conviction that Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots. We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition

Friday, 12 February 2016

Handbook of Novenas to the Saints

Glyn MacNiven-Johnston and Raymond Edwards, Handbook of Novenas to the Saints: Praying for Needs and Graces, 2010 Catholic Truth Society

This booklet from the Catholic Truth Society is a nice collection of novenas to saints that covers most of the Christian year. It includes a broad range of saints from Saint Thomas Aquinas to Saint Josephine Bakhita. It does not include any novenas to Our Lady.

The American publication, Treasury of Novenas contains long novenas to be repeated over nine days. However, this booklet uses a different format, with nine short prayers to say over nine days. Each one reflects on a different aspect of the saint's life.

CTS have done a good job of presenting this aspect of traditional Catholic devotion here.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Telegraph: Expats are being frozen out on Europe

The Telegraph: Expats are being frozen out on Europe

by Alex Taylor

If Britain does withdraw from the EU, two million of us will be stranded and no longer have equal rights as the citizens of the countries we live in – overnight. Other EU countries are not going to grant hundreds of thousands of us nationality. We are UK citizens and yet very proud to be Europeans, our lives having been greatly enhanced through free movement. All of a sudden it seems more than likely that we will lose a lot of our rights, and find ourselves in a legislative limbo. It would be nice if someone would mention us!

I doubt we will see a mass deportation of British expatriates from European countries, but Brexit could have an impact on their access to pensions and healthcare. Furthermore, the option of moving to France or Spain could get restricted for those considering it in the future.

The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

Grant us, O merciful God, protection in our weakness, that we, who keep the Memorial of the Immaculate Mother of God, may with the help of her intercession, rise up from our iniquities. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us, for France and for all who are sick.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The Case for the Resurrection, by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona

There are plenty of Evangelical apologetic books that present the evidential case for the Resurrection, but this one is certainly one of the strongest and most tightly presented. The authors argue from a minimal facts approach, which grounds the argument in basic facts that can be agreed upon by historians without acknowledging the inspiration or infallibility of the Gospel accounts. This is really thorough, particularly in it's handling of objections.

Presenting this evidence can be tricky in practice. No matter how overwhelming it may seem to the believer, your typical unbeliever will be resistant. Habermans and Licona offers some useful advice about exactly how this evidence should be presented to unbelievers. They emphasise staying focused and sticking to the subject.

Classic Apologists would contend that the evidence for the Resurrection cannot easily be accepted by unbelievers without acceptance of the theistic worldview. The authors seem to make some concession to this point of view and provide a chapter that offers arguments for the existence of God.

A point of interest to Catholics; the authors say that James, the brother of the Lord was an unbeliever until after the Resurrection. They therefore assume that he was a different James to the apostle James, Son of Alphaeus. They presumably hold, contrary to Catholics, that brother can only mean a sibling and not a cousin. There are some Protestants who identify this James with James, the Son of Alphaeus, while still denying the perpetual virginity of the Mother of Our Lord and holding she had other children by Joseph.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Vox: Marco Rubio's comments about Muslims are getting to be almost as frightening as Trump's

Vox: Marco Rubio's comments about Muslims are getting to be almost as frightening as Trump's

Trump's message is that Obama went to the mosque because he is personally foreign or Muslim, or sympathetic to Islam, and Trump is on record as saying that Muslims should be treated with suspicion and fear and barred from entering the country.

Rubio's message is that Obama went to the mosque because he has an agenda to "pit people against each other" and to divide Americans "along ethnic lines and racial lines"; that this constitutes or contributes to a climate of hostility against Christians.

Rubio further seems to be suggesting that anti-Muslim bigotry is a non-problem on par with sports rivalries; and that challenging this bigotry somehow undercuts the effort to address "the bigger issue," which is "radical Islam," and that this is the real threat.

Rubio's implied message is not just that anti-Muslim bigotry is overstated, but that efforts to combat bigotry are worrying because they "divide" Americans and because they enable the "radical Islam" that threatens Americans — and which Rubio has previously said credibly threatens the destruction of the United States itself.

Rubio did not explain why giving a speech against Islamophobia is in tension with the "bigger issue" of defending against radical Islam. But it does not take tremendous imagination to hear the dog whistle that accommodating equal rights for American Muslims will somehow hurt our effort to track down terrorists, which itself suggests that all Muslims should be treated as second-class citizens.

If you want to be sympathetic, you could argue that Rubio sees combating Islamophobia as an unnecessary distraction. But unless you assume that all Muslims are at least potentially linked to "radical Islam," or that Islamophobia is a useful tool in fighting terrorism, it's not clear why Rubio sees the two issues as connected. The sympathetic reading doesn't look much better here.

At one point I thought Rubio was quite an appealing candidate, but I find I don't trust him. He's inconsistent and he seems too ready to pander to the xenophobia of the American Right. After making these comments, Rubio really needs to visit a mosque to demonstrate that he cares about Muslim voters.

Regarding the comments made here, they are the sort of comments that can be quite regularly seen in right-wing discourse about Islam. On the one hand, conservative writers want to say that Muslims should not be the victims of bigotry, yet on the other hand they seem more ready to criticise those who are concerned about Islamophobia. I think it comes down to a lack of moral courage. Conservative writers and politicians fear that if they start talking about Islamophobia, they will be accused of being liberal.

Defining Inerrancy, by J.P Holding and Nick Peters

When I was at university, I read James Barr's book Fundamentalism, a classic attack on Evangelicalism. I remember he made an interesting comment about Evangelical Bible scholars, such as Donald Guthrie and I.H. Marshall. He suggested that if Evangelicals actually understood the methodology of their own scholars, they would regard them as heretics. This is almost certainly still true today.

The cover of this book is the mirror image of Defending Inerrancy, a book by Norman Geisler. To a large extent, Defining Inerrancy is a reply to the views expressed by Geisler in Defending Inerrancy. At one time Norman Geisler was one of my favorite writers, but Holding and Peters show him to have acted like a bully, sabotaging the careers of various scholars he considered suspect, most famously in his campaign to get New Testament scholar Robert Gundry expelled from the Evangelical Theological Society. In a foreword, renowned Biblical scholar Craig Blomberg details some examples of Geisler's mean-spirited behaviour.

Peters and Holding outline a debate in Evangelical scholarship, between contextualizers who believe that interpretation must take into account the full implications of literary context and genre and traditionalists, who insist tht every apparent factual statement in Scripture must be taken as historical. This is a reminiscent of the 'Battle for the Bible' that took place in Evangelical seminaries in the 1970s. The difference is that the contextualizers maintain that they hold to the full inerrancy of Scripture, even if they believe it may contain elements of fiction or non-factual statements in places.

The traditionalists maintain that they are upholding the right use of historical-grammatical interpretation, however, our authors argue that by failing to make use of the implications of literary and genre criticism they are isolating the texts from their historical context and imposing their own subjective interpretations on the texts. If the traditionalists can make use of lexicons in trying to understand the Word of God, why can they not make use of the the literary and cultural background of the Old and New Testament?

I think Holding and Peters offer a valuable contribution in showing the failure of Evangelicalism's leaders to engage with Biblical scholarship. However, I don't think the book quite does what it says on the tin. Our authors never actually define inerrancy. They say they hold to it, but it would be easy to accuse them of paying lip service to the doctrine. I would have liked to see them offering a positive explanation of how they understand inerrancy and it's importance for them. They show some ambivalence about the value of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. They could have said a little more about that. Some of the more liberal Evangelicals would suggest that if inerrancy can be reconciled with views like those of the contextualizers, it might not be all that meaningful or helpful a concept. Holding and Peters would have done well to respond to this line of thought.

The authors accuse Norman Geisler of trying to set himself up as a kind of Protestant pope, issuing arbitrary decrees on what Biblical interpretations are acceptable and which are not. To my mind this brings up the whole problem of Sola Scriptura. Evangelicals say that Scripture is their ultimate authority. Yet in practice their ultimate authority comes down to their own opinion of what Scripture teaches, or what the latest Scholarship teaches, or what their denominational confession says Scripture teaches. The Catholic on the other hand, has a sure guide to correct doctrine in Tradition and the teaching of the magisterium. In those areas where no specific interpretation of Scripture is mandated by the magisterium, such as the interpretation the days of Genesis chapter 1, the Catholic is free to hold his own opinion or to look to the latest scholarship.

The Guardian: Brexit donor's company spells out risks of quitting EU

The Guardian: Brexit donor's company spells out risks of quitting EU

The multi-million-pound business run by a key donor to Vote Leave – the group campaigning for Britain to leave the EU – has warned potential investors that its profits and ability to move workers and capital around the world could suffer from a British exit from the European Union.

A series of warnings about a possible “Brexit” are contained in a prospectus for sale issued by the financial trading business CMC Markets, founded and still run by the leading Eurosceptic businessman Peter Cruddas. The document, to which all directors of the company – including Cruddas – signed up last month, will be a severe embarrassment to the beleaguered Vote Leave operation.

The whole 'Brexit' movement is a joke.

Theologians, Inc: A Rather Simple Concern

Theologians, Inc: A Rather Simple Concern

Simplicity is, then, according to Aquinas, Gilson, Franks, Barth and Sonderegger, a smashing of the conceptual idols. If God is God, and if divine simplicity is a way of stating that God is God, then the doctrine of divine simplicity is concerned with guarding against any and all graven images, conceptual or otherwise. Simplicity draws out the radical distinction between God and creation in order guard against predicating mere human concepts of God. Perhaps I can even be a little more radical here. I stated in the opening of this post that any doctrine of simplicity that wasn’t concerned with guarding against idolatry would fall short of the criterion for a proper doctrine of simplicity. But we can see now that any doctrine of simplicity that isn’t fundamentally concerned with guarding against idolatry is, itself, a form of idolatry.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

National Review: Pope Francis and the Russian Patriarch Will Meet, as Ukrainian Catholics Watch and Wait

National Review: Pope Francis and the Russian Patriarch Will Meet, as Ukrainian Catholics Watch and Wait

by George Weigel

Thus one hopes that Pope Francis, in his private conversations with Patriarch Kirill, will insist that religious freedom is a prerequisite to the rebuilding of Christian culture in societies deeply wounded by the hyper-secularist Communist past, and to meeting the challenges posed today by the siren songs of a secular, libertine, materialist future. On this front, Francis could both defend his own and suggest a pathway toward a better Russian 21st century by citing the example of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church: a vibrant religious community, formed and sustained by the spiritual treasures of the Christian East, that has embraced religious freedom and is all the stronger for having done so, both spiritually and in its impact on society.

The Guardian: David Cameron got a good deal on the EU. Just look at the fine print

The Guardian: David Cameron got a good deal on the EU. Just look at the fine print

by Martin Kettle

"So, why has Cameron been put through the wringer? The answer is simply that the anti-European press is appalled that a Conservative government is about to recommend staying in Europe. The cocktail of fury, pomposity and hyperbole that reached a climax in the Daily Mail’s preposterous but historic front-page cry “Who will speak for England?” isn’t practical or rational but visceral.

Behind it, though, is something genuinely significant. For a generation of rightwing Conservatives, press owners, editors and writers, whose post-imperial worldview was hardened into dogmatic Europhobia in the Margaret Thatcher era to which they dream intoxicatedly of returning, the EU referendum is a climactic opportunity to stop all the clocks and return to an imaginary 1940, Daily Mail version. Cameron threatens to deny them that moment.

So it is possible to see this week’s extraordinary scenes on several levels of reality, though they all lead to the same immediate conclusion. Most basically and fundamentally, the EU referendum is about improving the practical ways in which Europe and Britain can make their mutual dependency work best. For this reason alone, Cameron should be supported.

On another level, the referendum is also about the trajectory of the modern Tory party, whose pragmatism remains vulnerable to the anachronistic heresies about British greatness laced with small state liberalism that Thatcher bequeathed to her successors. Even non-Tories have a dog in this fight. Once again, with all the necessary caveats, his name is Cameron."

Friday, 5 February 2016

New Statesman: No, feminists aren’t scared to write about the Cologne attacks

New Statesman: No, feminists aren’t scared to write about the Cologne attacks

by Helen Lewis

"As a feminist, I am opposed to all sexual harassment. It is a crude but effective weapon for making women feel that they are not welcome in public spaces and in public life more generally; I’ve been writing on and off for five years about internet abuse and how that puts off women from participating in discussions online.

Yet, for many, that simply won’t do. It is not enough to say that misogyny comes in many forms, and is depressingly ­universal across cultures and history. We have to cordon off the Cologne attacks; erect a little white tent around the crime scene and give thanks that we are safely outside it. Ah, how blissful it is, here on the outside, where the person most likely to kill a woman is her intimate partner, and where 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped every year.

And that brings me to the other reason I didn’t want to write about the Cologne attacks. All the people who piously enquired as to whether I, as a feminist, had “anything to say” about them didn’t really care whether I did or not. They wanted me to say what they wanted to hear: that Muslims are uniquely sexist, and that letting in refugees from Muslim-majority countries will mean rolling back women’s rights and importing the worst excesses of sharia law to the streets of Coventry. Unless Western liberals wake up, Islamists will be chopping off hands outside Pret A Manger by 2018."

The Heavy Anglo-Orthodox: Does Hermione Granger have an Emma problem?

The Heavy Anglo-Orthodox: Does Hermione Granger have an Emma problem?

"Last year, in the Cameron Crowe movie Aloha, Emma Stone (a white actress) was cast in the role of a character named Allison Ng, who was supposed to be part-Chinese and part-Hawai’ian. This casting caused an immediate, outraged backlash amongst Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders, and hapa haoles in particular against the movie, both because it continued a long and dishonourable tradition of Hollywood whitewashing, and because it contributed to an erasure of Asian identity in American filmmaking. (Cameron Crowe subsequently posted a rather limp-wristed apology for his casting choice, against which there was, unsurprisingly, another backlash.)

What does this have to do with Harry Potter, you ask, gentle readers? Well, the casting of black actress Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger in an upcoming theatrical production, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has also sparked a backlash (on account of Hermione Granger’s ostensible whiteness) and a counter-backlash, into which fray stepped the voice of the author herself on the side of the counter-backlash, saying that Hermione’s ‘white skin was never specified’, and that she ‘loves black Hermione’.

Here’s the thing. I object to Hollywood whitewashing myself, and because turnabout is fair play, I support Noma Dumezweni’s casting in the theatrical production and tend to think it’s a good idea. What I object to is that Jo Rowling has now managed to position herself as the Cameron Crowe of her own work. She may indeed ‘love’ black Hermione with a meddling managerial Rawlsian kind of ‘love’, but clearly she doesn’t respect black Hermione, and that’s kind of troubling. What do I mean when I say she doesn’t respect black Hermione?"

Guardian: How did the UN get it so wrong on Julian Assange?

Guardian: How did the UN get it so wrong on Julian Assange?

by Joshua Rozenberg

"It must be appalling to find yourself subjected to arbitrary detention. You would have no power to challenge said detention. You would have no idea when, if ever, you would be set free. And that concept is reflected in the first of five definitions offered by the UN working group on arbitrary detention: “when it is clearly impossible to invoke any legal basis justifying the deprivation of liberty”.

But that was not the reason they gave for their opinion that Julian Assange has been arbitrarily detained in the Ecuadorian embassy. His detention fell foul of their third definition; when “non-observance ... of the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial ... is of such gravity as to give the detention an arbitrary character”.

That opinion was backed by three of the five members of the working group. A fourth felt she could not take part because she, like Assange, is an Australian. So it fell to the fifth member of the group, Vladimir Tochilovsky, to point out the flaw in the majority’s reasoning.

They had assumed that Assange had been “detained in the embassy of Ecuador by the authorities of the United Kingdom,” the Ukrainian lawyer wrote. In fact, the Wikileaks founder had fled bail in June 2012 and used the embassy “as a safe haven to evade arrest”. Fugitives often do that, Tochilovsky pointed out. But “premises of self-confinement cannot be considered places of detention for the purposes of the mandate of the working group”.

That is so self-evidently true that it seems hard to believe the majority could have been persuaded otherwise. Assange has always been free to leave the embassy at any time."

Naturalis Historia: Ken Ham’s Biblical Evolution? I Have a Book That Says Otherwise

Naturalis Historia: Ken Ham’s Biblical Evolution? I Have a Book That Says Otherwise

Two years ago Ken Ham very publicly promoted what he believes is a biblical model of evolution to explain the diversity of life on Earth. I have a book before me that provides compelling evidence that his model of evolution is wrong. That book is the Bible. For those that follow young earth creation literature nothing that Ken Ham said in his debate with Bill Nye was surprising but I suspect that most of the national audience was surprised to hear how Ken Ham talked about the origin of species. He talked about a Biblical creation model of the earth’s origins but when it came to the origins of species he might as well have called his view biblical evolution.

New Statesman: The Out campaign’s problem is that it can’t agree on what life after Brexit looks like

New Statesman: The Out campaign’s problem is that it can’t agree on what life after Brexit looks like

by George Eaton

"The great defect of the Out campaign is its inability to agree on what a post-EU future looks like. For libertarians such as Ukip’s sole MP, Douglas Carswell, it lies in the UK becoming a Singapore of the West: a lean, free-trading state that is bracingly open to capital and migration. For others such as his party’s leader, Nigel Farage, the ideal is “fortress Britain”: an isolationist state that regains control of its borders. This intellectual schism has been formalised in the Judean People’s Front-style split between Vote Leave (Carswell) and Leave.EU (Farage). Though it is the former that is likely to be designated by the Electoral Commission as the official Out campaign, some fear that the divisive Ukip leader – a 15 per cent politician, not a 50 per cent one – will become the face of Brexit."