Sunday, March 26, 2006

Books read in March (7)

1. Hunter Davies' Lists: An Intriguing Collection of Facts and Figures
by Hunter Davies

A great collection of trivia which could serve as a good sourcebook for quiz masters. Fun to read and to tax your friends with . Find out when the bra was invented. Enjoy last words and strange epitaphs.
One small criticism. Some of the items will date quickly so read now.

2. Earthly Powers: The Conflict Between Religion and Politics from the French Revolution to the Great War
by Michael Burleigh

A fine history of religion in Europe from the horrors of th French Revolution to those of the trenches of the first World War and its influence on politics, particularly the rise of nationalism.

He writes well and with great breadth of learning. You need to have a dictionary to hand. He is no bland academic pretending to an objective neutrality. He is scathingly critical of received Marxist views of history.

He concentrates on the big players, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and Italy. Presumably he sees these as the significant participants. This I believe leads to one glaring omission, The Netherlands, and the Protestants there who gave the best critique of the Enligtenment and the revolution it produced. Groen van Prinsterer and Abraham Kuyper are never mentioned. Their Anti-Revolutionary Party whose ground breaking alliance with the Catholics led to Kuyper becoming Prime Minister is ignored. Yet the influence of Kuyper continues today beyong his home country. By contrast Burleigh tells us about many people seemingly forgotten by all.

One final minor quibble. Describing English dissenters as going form being sects to churches sounds to me like Anglican prejudice unless the author thinks that sects grow into churches when they enlarge.

But this is a superb history to impove one's understanding of European history.

3. Disraeli by Edgar Feuchtwanger
The first book I read in this series was on Oliver Cromwell. There the book was dealing with a man whose reputation has always been a matter of controversy for he bestrides the history of his age like a colossus.
Disraeli is one of the two great Prime Minister's of the Victorian age but he is no Cromwell. If anything he remains in the shadow of his nemesis, Gladstone. As well as being of different parties, they were me of great contrasts in terms of origins as well as principles. This book is more of a short biography rather than an analysis of a controverted reputation.

Having read this biography,one may conclude that Dizzy's one guiding principle was his own career.He had been baptised in infancy but his adherance to Christianity seems to be one of convenience. If he had stayed with his origins he could not have been an MP let alone become PM. he had to fight anti-semitic prejudice so his rise is remarkable. He did not have the education or family finances of Gladstone. He did not have his passion for Christian faith either. His espousal of the low church and Evangelicals seems to be more an oppostion to Gladsone's Tractarianism more than principle. So in the rest of life, Dizzy seems the supreme political pragmatist, wheeling and dealing to keep solvent and rise up to the top of the slippery pole.

He started out as a novelist. As a writer he is certainly a better seller than the turgid and prolix Gladstone whose writng was theological rather than fiction. As a speaker he does not have the Grand Old Man's reputation but he was certainly a telling debater.

He married for money but enjoyed a happy union with a wife who could be embarrassing. He certainly had a happy relationship with his queen. Flattery he laid on with a trowel making her Empress of India.

A remarkable man. A great Victorian and perhaps the first really pragmatic politician.

4. The Great Plague in London in 1665 by Walter George Bell

In 1665 London probably has a population of half a million. It is likely that 20% perished in the plague. That is deaths equivalent to over three times the population of England's second leargest city of the time, Norwich. The rich fled with king and court. Ordinary people stayed and died at the rate of up to 1000 a week. Insanitary conditions and total ignorance of the cause of plague helped it spread. The heroes were the ministers recently ejected from the Church of England who steyed to care for the sufferers.

This is an horritic account of times hard to imagine in their tregedy. Lots of figures and not really a gripping read . This was worse than the blitz, pandemic flu or AIDS.

5. Cassell's Humorous Quotations - Nigel Rees

Qutations are my hobby as you can see at 

This is the best book of humorous quotations I have come across., much better than Oxford's offerring. Rees is well known from Quote Unquote and a lot from that programme finds its way here in both the quotes and the footnotes. I have never come across a quotations book with such an overload of food and quote disease. The notes are often many times longer than the quotes. That is actually helpful as the history of a quote is ofter given in detail. Most highl recommended.

6. The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

I really enjoyed this account of a family that by Afghan standards seems well to do. What hit me was the devastation that the country has suffered and the totally male dominated family life portrayed.
It is not without a certain appeal to a male of chauvinistic patriarchal tendencies, but who would want to be an Afghan woman?

They suffered most terribly under the Taliban but still their life is portrayed as one without anything a Western person would recognise as freedom, especially in the most important thing in a woman's
life, the choice of a husband. Young girls are married off to old men as second or third wives, often for mercenary motivation. Male honour is everything. Woe betide the girl who does not show the
bloody proof of her viginity on the wedding night. Death may result from sexual impropriety. No going out unless covered head to toe and accompanied by a male relative. Women valued only for
child bearing and caring for the men's demands. An older first wife is not treated equitably by her husband.

Here the head of the house is king. No-one crosses him. If they do they are shunned or punished. The concepts of mercy or forgiveness seem foreign to the bookseller. His treatment of the carpenter
who steals from him is brutal. His family seem to fear, never love him.

I hope to visit friends in Kabul this year. I trust I will find some happier Afghan families.

This book is well written but saddening. One feels for what unchallenged Islam has done in this society.

7. The Age of Empire, 1875-1914 ~E.J. Hobsbawm

The third in this series by the Marxist historian. He is not a gripping writer of history.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Grandson Zachary

At last, the fouth grandchild is a boy. The line is safe and we can hope for another generation of preachers. We have five so far. A dear friend in the P.C.U.S.A offered to ordain one of the girls but I said it was not the same.

Only champagne good enough to wet his head, though grandad also had a favorite malt also.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Euphoric Grandfather

Zachary John Weeks our first grandson, fourth grandchild.

Born Ashford hospital Kent to Elizabeth and David.

2 45 pm by C section.

9lb 6oz a whopping Weeks.

The line is safe for the 21st century!

Thanks be to God!

If I'd realised how much fun grandchildren were, I'd have had them
first!-- Faith Myers

Off to see him today so tomorrow there may be a photo here.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Coins and Kings

God has a wry sense of humour. I am reminded of it by two letters on our coins, FD. They stand for the Latin,Fidei Defensor, Defender of the Faith. The title was granted to Henry VIII by Pope Leo in 1521 as a result of the book, "Defence of the Seven Sacraments." The king had taken part in the composition of this reply to Luther"s "Babylonian Captivity of the Church." He took all credit for authorship and his reward was a papal title to rival those of continental monarchs. It was not intended as an hereditary title but the heirs of Henry still hold the title as witnessed by our coins. They have sworn the Coronation Oath to uphold the Reformed Protestant Religion but are pleased to keep their papal title. Prince Charles said that he would prefer to be defender of all faiths. Subsequent clarification from the Prince stated that he did not wish to challenge the constitutional position of the Church of England of which he will one day, God willing, become Supreme Governor. The Archbishop of Canterbury assured the public that there was only one constitutional requirement for the Prince to be crowned king, he has to be the legitimate child of the sovereign. Questions of personal faith or morality are not constitutional impediments.

A televised documentary about the Prince reopened the debate about the establishment of the Church of England. Curiously, little is said about the other established church north of the border but there is public debate on whether Christianity should have a privileged constitutional position.Evangelicals Now has had articles, notably from the late Herbert Carson, on the unbiblical status of an established church. In AD 313 the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, professing to be a Christian , issued the Edict of Milan giving full legal tolerance to Christianity. Ever since believers have been divided as to the benefits of Christianity being recognised as special by the state. Originally the Romans had given special tolerance to the Jewish religion and Christians were a Jewish sect. The followers of Jesus lost their privileges when they were expelled by the synagogues . Their subsequent refusal to offer incense to the Emperor as a god was costly. It won for many the martyrs crown. From AD 313, Christianity recognised by the Emperor, meant an end to official persecution. Confiscated property was returned, clerics received special exemptions from civic office and bishops were granted civil jurisdiction. Soon however shepherds of Christ's flock became princes of the church. Bedecked in purple, the imperial colour, they were to sit on thrones. A cathedral is the place of a throne, not a sheep fold. The down side of the establishment of Christianity is well documented as it affected the church.

Most of the current debate in the Church of England is about how wrong it is for the Crown through Parliament to have influence over the appointment of bishops, and for ungodly parliamentarians to legislate for the church. Presbyterian Scotland does not seem to have such problems having dispensed with the servicesof an episcopate. While an establishment for England like the Scottish model has been suggested I have yet to hear the Anglican case for a presbyterian church of England. That was offered by the Westminster Assembly 350 years ago but did not find favour even then when there was neither king nor bishops to remove.

Many but not all Evangelicals favour disestablishment. Some Anglicans want it. Secularists certainly favour it. A strong opinion opposed to any change appeared in The Times . Rabbi Dr. Julian Jacobs, then the Chief Rabbi's representative on interfaith relationships, wrote that disestablishment would be a major step towards the secularisation of Britain and would reduce religious tolerance. He believes that modern Britain has a unique record of religious tolerance. Establishment embraces diversity and embodies the central role of faith in the life of the nation. If that is removed all faiths will suffer and be equally marginalised in a new secular state. After the role of religion is reduced what follows is a reduction in the value of human life.

Chesterton said that when man ceases to believe in God he does not believe in nothing but in anything. Proponents of disestablishment forget that to disestablish Christianity is not to establish nothing. Humanistic secularism would be enthroned as supreme arbiter. I believe that the state needs establishment far more than the church. I have never been a member of an established church but as a christian active in politics I value the fact that we are constitutionally a Christian country. Parliament opens each day with prayer, an acknowledgement that legislators are not autonomous. They should not make up the laws as they go along but discover the will of God for civil government. In the borough where I was a councillor the Mayor's chaplain prays for the councillors when the council meets. One year I protested to the mayor when he decided not to have a chaplain. I missed the reminder that councillors are responsible to a higher authority than the mayor or the electorate.

Most of all Christians should argue for the continuing special place of Christianity simply because it is true and other religions are false. The gospel does not need state approval or toleration. The King of Kings reigns over all earthly rulers. They should confess Christ as his ministers in public office. The outworking of the truth of our faith has given true religious liberty in Britain. It was a struggle in which many lives were lost for the crown rights of the redeemer. Men like Samuel Rutherford contended for the sovereignty of Christ over not only the church but rulers too. His book "Lex Rex", would have cost him his life at the Restoration had not God taken Rutherford home to Emmanuel's land.

Christian liberty is worth defending. It is an inheritance not to be despised for a bowl of secularist tolerance. Liberty is more than toleration. Christians should not be content with mere toleration in a secularist state. They should continue to contend for that truth affirmed in the coronation service when the monarch receives the orb. The archbishop reminds the new ruler that Christ by his cross rules the sphere of the world.

Our coins bear two other letters, DG, Deo Gratia, by the grace of God. The truth of the gospel is also on our coins. By the grace of God kings reign. May the Prince of Wales truly bow before the God who is there and be a defender of true faith. By a continuance of a Christian heritage there will be true religious liberty for all.

Graham J Weeks

Unaccustomed as I am to defending the Prime Minister .....

... I really must protest at his mishandling by our secularist biased media. Blair says he prayed before deciding to go to war. Good for him. He professes to be a Christian. So should he not pray?

But the media equate this more with divination than seeking guidance or confirmation of a rational decision. Mention God and the world thinks we are in the realms of irrationality and delusion.

Who did ITN put on first to comment when the news broke? Not one of the many church leaders critical of the decision who might have been able to give constructive criticism of Tony's prayers. No, it was someone from the National Secular Society. You do not need the gift of prophecy to know their line.

Mr Keys, the founder of campaign group Military Families Against The War, says on the BBC website, "God doesn't come into this at all. We want to believe that
our loved ones died for a justified cause, not some delusional religious cause."

There it is. If the PM prays he is delusional.

Then there is the criticism that this will lead Muslims to believe the war is a Christian crusade. Well if they are so ignorant as to believe that it is not because Blair or Bush prays. Saddam was a godless tyrant who did not rule in the name of Islam. You may argue the war was about oil or economics not tyranny. Wars usually are. But to think it was about religion can only come from the ignorance of an Islamic mindset which cannot distinguish the political from religion. Of course the Muslims prefer to resurrect the ghosts of the crusades rather than face up to the tyrannies that characterise the Muslim world.

But secularist or Muslim, a deluded mind leads them astray.

I rarely defend Blair but here I admire him. Not because of the decision but because he has shown he is not a secularist.