Promoting Interfaith – How not to do it!


A recent Church Times headline read

Canon Goddard apologises for Muslim prayers in his church

Interfaith relations have been dealt a huge blow.

In the article the Bishop of Southwark is quoted:

A spokesperson said: “The Bishop of Southwark takes very seriously his responsibility to uphold the teaching of the Church and to work within its framework of legislation and guidance.”

On Tuesday, the spokesperson said: “Whilst it is very important to build good interfaith relations, it is clear that an act of worship from a non-Christian faith tradition is not permitted within a consecrated Church of England building.”

Further clarification was provided on Wednesday: “Canon B1 sets out what services can be used in the Church of England:  these are the Book of Common Prayer or those authorised or commended through the appropriate processes. This does not include services from another faith tradition.”

Oh dear!

The Rt Rev Christopher Chessun has surely set back interfaith relations back a long way. OK, let’s run with the letter of the CofE rules, however outdated they may be, and accept that Canon Goddard was wrong why go so public with the admonition? Surely the matter could have been dealt with over a cup of tea, in private and very well away from the prying eyes of the media, even the religious media. Words on these lines would have sufficed: “We can’t turn the clock back. What’s happened as happened, There is nothing to be gained by crying over spilt milk, but don’t do it again, my son.”

I am mindful of a column written by a Canon Eric Woods, whose views are probably diametrically opposed to those of Canon Goddard. He wrote of the “Islamification” of our country. I for one made a formal complaint, correctly through the Diocesan offices. The Rt Rev Nicholas Roderick Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury, also refused to make a pot of tea, take Canon Woods to one side and suggest temperance in sensitive times when the country’s established church needs find ways of building bridges.

In their respective ways these two Bishops may have affirmed the Church of England’s inherent “institutional Islamophobia” – that is its fear of Islam arising from ignorance.

I struggle with Bishop Chessun’s ruling in particular. What constitutes a different faith? I have a Methodist background. My home is bounded both by an ailing CofE parish church and an ailing Methodist church. The parish church is very “low church” and for as long as I can remember both churches have held regular joint services. Does the letter of canonical law allow ministers from a non-conformist faith to lead prayers on Anglican premises? Are or have exceptions been made? If they have, is there a case for doing likewise to embrace Islam?

But in reality where do you draw the line? I know of one cathedral where Muslims are made to feel very welcome but they should be excluded if their thoughts and prayers turn to “another God”. How would one identify Muslims who wear western dress?

Sadly, it does not stop there. One of the Queen’s chaplains has attacked Islam in recent days and not only attacked it but very defended his stance after criticism.  A robust but figurative rap on the knuckles would have been in order here.

If these were the actions of a small minority of rogue Anglican vicars it would be easy to brush the incidents to one side but the individuals either hold high office within the Church of England and the “establishment” or are very highly respected for their past work. You cannot get much higher than the rank of bishop. Where are the most senior bishops?

The Rt Revs Chessun and Holtam may well not have thought through the impact of their interventions, or have been badly advised by their administrative support. That’s sad. We have pretty a Islamophobic media – again I use the term phobia in its literal sense of fear (typically from ignorance) – that delight in having pops at Islam whenever they can.

When will the established Church not realise that it has to take one of the lead roles in improving our understanding of Islam.

It could start by teaching Anglicans that Muslims revere Jesus and his mother Mary. They teach the immaculate conception. Arguably they teach that Jesus is the son of God because we are all children of the One Creator, the One God and that we are all brothers and sisters of One Global Family – even if we squabble rather a lot.



Why would I have been blocked by the RSPCA?

I have been openly critical of the a RSPCA’s stance on non-stun slaughter and tweeted a reference to Animals Aid’s covert filming inside slaughterhouses. It’s last hit was a facility where non-stun slaughter for the halal is practised. Animal Aid claims that it did not know that at the outset (posing the question; how do they select their targets?) and seemingly is not playing religious politics.

@RSPCA_official has blocked my Twitter account. It can no longer see what I write. What is the RSPCA trying to avoid?

Animal Aid has now “hit” ten slaughterhouses – only one being halal. Nine facilities killed with prior stunning. Of those nine two were approved by the Soil Association and one was accredited under the RSPCA Freedom Foods scheme. All three would be considered “high welfare status” facilities.

The Animal Aid “hits” are too random to be considered to provide a reliable picture of slaughterhouse practice generally. They film for only a few days and who knows whether or not they were “lucky” to have caught the untoward incidents that make the  news media and are amplified thereafter.

What we can conclude, however, is that things go catastrophically wrong even in the nest run facilities, without or without stunning.  Questions have to be asked about slaughterhouse welfare right across the board. No structure exist for systematically collecting data of welfare practice. I tell a lie. Defra started an audit procedure in 2011 with one repeat in 2013. It collects data on a set week in September – in essence ensuring slaughter operators know well in advance when they are being formally audited.

This tells me that no one can say with any certainty how good or how bad practices are either across the board or at individual abattoirs. Data on the frequency of non-stun practice is not collected routinely – suggesting that in government (not parliament) circles there is no overwhelming concern that the welfare of non-stun slaughter is a bigger issue than across the entire industry. Of course it could be that ministers are merely burying their heads in the sand. It’s better not to collect data than collect information and ignore it.

One way to monitor standards continuously would be to mandate the installation CCTV. There is no appetite to do so to date.

Frankly I do not believe that the @RSPCA_official (nor @Britishvets) actually have robust evidence to support their joint political cause. It (or they) cannot robustly defend their case(s).

I have written to the RSPCA Chairman (via the website). Here is a copy of the letter. I am not expecting a response.

For your Chairman’s attention

Dear Mr Tomlinson

This is a formal complaint prompted by your blocking my twitter account.

As you will be aware if this reaches you I have been critical of your charity’s campaign opposing non-stun slaughter. Frankly the more I think about this the more I am coming to realise that we are not having an informed debate.

Veterinarians do not train to slaughter and it’s counter-intuitive. Now these days most Brits are pretty much disconnected from the source of the meat we consume. Not even farmers have the full involvement that my late father had. In his day many farmers killed their animals on the farm. I gather small animals were not stunned and merely slipped away. There has been no on-farm slaughter for meat for sale for half a century. Many farmers are now not necessarily engaged with the slaughter process.

Dr Temple Grandin says that when non-stun slaughter performed correctly animals do not recoil from the cut. She is an expert as they come. Intuitively this is surely so. At least for small animals whatever sensation animals feel is delayed and unconsciousness must be quick. If not immediate, our own personal experiences of a rapid drop in cerebral blood pressure suggests sense of lightheadedness. Pain? what type of pain? A good shechita/dhabiha cut, an incision actually causes very little tissue damage and no collateral damage. Internal organs do not have pain receptors. Indeed, pain receptors are stimulated but what sort of pain. Intuition suggests it may not be unbearable – nothing like the pain from mis-stunning.

You are not going to be moved by my science but I am curious to know why you would block twitter accounts that oppose your political views. I am now free to criticise with impunity while you have denied your own right of redress. You won’t be aware of my comments.

Just saying

Lost in translation – what is death?

Several years ago my reading pointed me to a suggestion that in a theological context the words “death” and “dead” were often used symbolically  rather than literally. I was interested in the concept but didn’t expect to be blogging anything related to it. I wasn’t then taking my interest in the ancient history and history of religion too seriously. The political climate was also very different.

I am writing this within a year of the emergence of ISIS or ISIL or DAESH, which is a terrorist group that claims to want to  establish an Islamic caliphate. Islamic it surely isn’t. Why? In essence Islam is based on living in harmony with  nature. One of Islam’s underlying principles is that of doing no harm to living beings. This is a sentiment shared by all religions emanating from the Middle East and Asia. The Internet is awash with pictures and videos of horrendous cruelty to fellow humans. These include burning and beheading.

It’s not only ISIS but other Islamic societies that do so. We hear of people literally being stoned to death in a number of Islamic countries. Death is penalty for blasphemy. Blasphemy is taking God and his prophets and Islam in vain. But hang on a moment, was not blasphemy a crime in many western Christian societies until fairly recently?

This blog was prompted by an article by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali and published in standpoint in March 2015.

My understanding is that Islamic penalties can only be applied to people who have “signed up” for them. There is a similarity with Masonic penalties, which are gruesome to say the least but are clearly symbolic because sworn an oath not to divulge what few “trade secrets” Freemasonry may have one should not divulge them. Masonic ritual is allegorical and symbolic.

Without giving too much away the basis of Craft Freemasonry is a “symbolic” death and rebirth. In Christianity we have the concept of the “born again Christian”. We also have a concept of “life after death”. But what is death?

My original reading pointed to the concept of death meaning “being outside a community”. It was pointing to a person who was not signed up to or accepting the rules or beliefs or ideals of a community. They were spiritually dead. One example given was that of Lazarus who was not physically dead but was spiritually or morally dead but he was persuaded by Jesus to see the wisdom of the community rules. He was admitted and was “raised from the dead”.

If we reverse the concept we arrive at the situation whereby a member of the community either breaks its rules (e.g. a wive, who may have been seen as property, may have been unfaithful) or  denounces the accepted rules of the community (an apostate) will be ejected from the community and thereby be sentenced to death – that’s a symbolic death. One way of warding people off and protecting the community may have been to throw stones at them – hence “stoning to death”.

We can look at this concept of “death” in another way. Once we have signed up to the rules of our community we are raised from the dead and the life we are living now is “life after death”.

I am merely promoting a concept here. There are for sure many practices undertaken, as it were, in the name of religion whose origins have long since been lost in history. Our written history really only begins with the founding of the civilisation in Sumer and the fertile crescent bounded by the rivers Euphrates and Tiger – now part of Iraq – but many then current practices would no doubt have been passed down by the oral tradition. There were taught by rote. There were good and bad ways of doing things – for example preparing meat to eat, ensuring hygiene and even chosing animals whose provenance one knew (so no bush meat, for example). Clearly, as with the party game Chinese Whispers, over the years information and detail have been lost. I guess even today some people like merely to told how to do some things and do not want to get bogged down with reasons. Knowledge is degraded.

The other source of knowledge degradation is a problem of translation. No two languages have dictionaries or lexicons that translate word for word. Translations will invariably reflect the translator’s understanding of a concept, especially if it is allegorical, and interests – as indeed does this blog. Thus much gets “lost in translation”.

Returning to ISIS and its beheadings. Two thoughts occur.

  1. Punishments can only be served on people who are “signed up” to them. They cannot be applied to outsiders or non-believers.
  2. If beheading were ever to be a reasonable punishment there would actually be a humane way of doing it – probably the guillotine or someone weilding a very heavy axe to ensure instant death. The pictures on the Internet suggest the use of a very un-Islamic method of execution.

I have promoted a concept here and invite those better qualified than I to comment and take the ideas for if they are found reasonable.