Posts tagged ‘religion’

And rest

Celestina Mba is, ostensibly, a Christian and, because of her faith, believes that being asked to work on the Sabbath is an anathema.

Employed by Merton Council in 2007 as a care worker in a residential care home for disabled children, she quit her job in 2010 because she felt she was being pressured to work on Sunday. Mba sued the council for constructive dismissal but in February 2012 the employment tribunal ruled against her. She is now going to the Court of Appeal where her lawyers will argue that “an employer has a duty to ‘reasonably accommodate’ the beliefs of a Christian employee”.

Now I’ll freely confess that I’ve forgotten almost everything I ever learnt about Christianity (and indeed every other religion) but thanks to the modern miracle that is the internet I can look up the commandment in question (or at least the current English translation of it) and whilst it does mention resting on the Sabbath, it reads (to this secular individual) more as an instruction to rest after your labours of the other six days. Sensible, if hardly earth-shattering, advice.

Thus, assuming that Mba’s employers didn’t ask her to regularly work all week, I can’t see the problem with her occasionally having to work Sunday rather one of the other six days of the week. I honestly can’t see that the Almighty she believes in really cares which day of the week she rests and devotes to him.

It is this quote from before her 2012 tribunal though which makes me question her and her faith:

“But I always told my children that if they came between me and God that I would always choose Him. I felt the same way when I had to choose between a job and worshipping Jesus.”

If I were her God, I’d say to her that she’s got that the wrong way around.

On women bishops

On Tuesday the Church of England (CofE) did, as we know, reject the idea of promoting women to its middle management layer (despite having had several as Chairman of the Board) because, although the majority voted in favour, the necessary threshold wasn’t quite reached.

Ordinarily I couldn’t care less about the membership and management structures of clubs of which I am not a member – with the exception of the odd midnight mass I parted company with the CofE over two decades ago – but, with 26 members sitting in the upper chamber of parliament and thus able to influence legislation, the CofE is hardly your normal private members club.

Given then that I and everyone else in the country is in some way affected by their actions, I have, as the Americans say, some skin in the game. I do therefore wonder why this branch of the state is allowed to maintain such a mindset when the state forbids other public organisations from doing so?

If however the CofE disestablishes itself from its parasitical host body then I will happily defend their right to be as 16th Century in their attitude to women as they please.

Rowan Williams fantasies again

Given that an orgy of stupidity has been in progress in and around St. Paul’s Cathedral for just over two weeks now it is somewhat surprising that it has taken the Church of England’s CEO, a man given to saying foolish things, this long to open his mouth and insert his foot.

However presented once more with the pulpit of the MSM (in this case in the shape of the Financial Times) from which to preach, the Archbishop of Canterbury has gratefully seized the opportunity to do just that and did, yesterday morn, issue a sermon.

If his article was full of waffle about what has been going on at the Cathedral then we could – and would – quite happily have ignored him. However as he couldn’t help but slip in his opinions on matters temporal, viz banking and economics, he once again needs to be taken to task.

There is help to be had from a bold statement on our financial situation emerging last week from the Vatican. This document, from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, is entitled ‘Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority‘. It contains, along with some sharp critical analysis a rather utopian vision of global governance and regulation. But, more importantly, it offers three quite specific recommendations that seek not to change everything at once but simply to minimize the damage of certain current practices and assumptions in the immediate future.

Ah, so it turns out that Williams hasn’t had an original idea (perish the thought) and is instead taking his lead from the Vatican. That is, surely, more then enough reason to have Brenda, as Chairman of the Board, send him to the Tower so that he might consider the error of his ways…

His future, or lack there of, aside what are the papist ideas which he wishes us to consider?

One is something we have now heard clearly from many sources – a plea now endorsed by the Vickers Commission that routine banking business should be clearly separated operationally from speculative transactions. The rolling-up of individual and small-scale savings into high-risk and high-return adventures in the virtual economy is one of the more obvious danger areas in the light of recent years. Early Government action in this area is needed.

Remind me, how much did the ‘casino’ arm of Northern Rock lose? How much did the retail arm of Lehman Brothers lose?

A second plea is for the recapitalization of banks with public money to be accompanied by obligations on the banks to help re-invigorate the real economy.

No and no. No bank should have been propped up by the poor bloody tax payer, being instead allowed to fail. Savers would have been fine up to the tune of £35,000 and investors, as is the case with any failed business, would have lost out. However what’s done is done there (sadly) but why should these newly acquired state assets be forced to lend money? You can’t re-capitalise them, thus allowing them to rebuild their balance sheets, yet expect them to lend money to all and sundry once again.

But the third suggestion is probably the most far-reaching. The Vatican statement strongly backs the proposal of a Financial Transaction Tax – a ‘Tobin Tax’ or, popularly, a ‘Robin Hood Tax’ in the form in which it has been talked about most recently. This means a comparatively small rate of tax (0.05%) being levied on share, bond, and currency transactions and their derivatives, with the resulting funds being designated for investment and development in the ‘real’ economy, domestically and internationally. The modest rate of taxation conceals the high levels of return that could be expected (some $410bn globally on one estimate).

I don’t know where the Archbishop is getting those figures from but even if we give him the benefit of the doubt and say that it isn’t a retired tax accountant from Wandsworth, that $410 billion is a rather high number. Using the 2010 GDP figures we can see calculate that the $410bn figure is 0.65% of the total, which is somewhat above the theoretical 0.05% tax rate given.

Thankfully, via Clifford Chance, who have looked at the EU’s own analysis, we have some more realistic figures available to us:

The Commission paper estimates the tax itself would raise €16bn to €43bn, but the figure is very dependent upon the degree of dislocation, and previous reports suggest the Commission’s original estimate was €10bn. Revenues would be shared between Member States and the EU (partly reducing national contributions).

The Commission does not however estimate the reductions in receipts from other taxes. Stamp duty revenues are currently quite significant – £4bn in the UK alone. Add to this reduced corporation and personal tax receipts – the Commission’s impact assessment anticipates a reduction in economic output of almost 1.8% – and it seems likely the revenue effect of the FTT will be negative.

The FTT is therefore perhaps the first tax in history which is being proposed in the knowledge it will reduce tax revenues.

A tax that loses use money? That’ll scupper any chance of more money for government ‘investment’ then, won’t it?

Other commentators such as Charles Orton-Jones and Tim Worstall also agree, pointing out the cost of this will be passed on to you and I as customers, employees and shareholders as well as the potential loss of jobs (and thus tax revenues) if banks, hedge funds and other such financial companies decide to relocate to less hostile climates.

In conclusion I therefore repeat to the silly old fool the advice I gave him back in April

May I kindly suggest to the Archbishop that he sticks to his job and doesn’t stick his head above the parapet again unless he has actually thought about what it is that he is saying?

in the hope that this time he will take it? However as I doubt he will I look forward to filleting his twaddle the next time he decides to place his foot in his mouth.

Marriage revisited

The subject of marriage is once again in the spotlight after Lynne Featherstone, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Equalities (and not, as the Telegraph described her, ‘Equalities Minister’), used her speech to the Liberal Democrat Conference to announce:

We are a world leader for gay rights, but as this conference made clear last year with your call for equal marriage, there is still more that we must do.

That is why I am delighted to announce today that in March, this Government will begin a formal consultation on how to implement equal civil marriage for same sex couples.

And this would allow us to make any legislative changes necessary by the end of this Parliament.

Civil partnerships were a welcome first step – but as our constitution states, this party rejects prejudice and discrimination in all its forms.

And I believe that to deny one group of people the same opportunities offered to another is not only discrimination, but is not fair.

Predictably this idea has gone down like the preverbal lead balloon with the Christian religious traditionalists/fundamentalists* with commentators such as the likes of His Grace frothing at the mouth and saying that religious marriage is nothing to do with politicians. Strangely I agree with him, but not, I think, for the same reasons as I would go further and say that the State has no place in deciding who can – or indeed cannot – marry.

However, as with so much these days, we are starting from a point in the UK where what should be a simple contract between the involved parties has instead been heavily influenced by both religion and State for many hundreds of years.

Wikipedia tells us that:

A requirement for banns of marriage was introduced to England and Wales by the Church in 1215. This required a public announcement of a forthcoming marriage, in the couple’s parish church, for three Sundays prior to the wedding and gave an opportunity for any objections to the marriage to be voiced (for example, that one of the parties was already married), but a failure to call banns did not affect the validity of the marriage.

Marriage licenses were introduced in the 14th century, to allow the usual notice period under banns to be waived, on payment of a fee and accompanied by a sworn declaration, that there was no canonical impediment to the marriage. Licenses were usually granted by an archbishop, bishop or archdeacon. There could be a number of reasons for a couple to obtain a license: they might wish to marry quickly (and avoid the three weeks’ delay by the calling of banns); they might wish to marry in a parish away from their home parish; or, because a license required payment, they might choose to obtain one as a status symbol.

There were two kinds of marriage licenses that could be issued: the usual was known as a common license and named one or two parishes where the wedding could take place, within the jurisdiction of the person who issued the license. The other was the special license, which could only be granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury or his officials and allowed the marriage to take place in any church.

To obtain a marriage license, the couple or more usually the bridegroom, had to swear that there was no just cause or impediment why they should not marry. This was the marriage allegation. A bond was also lodged with the church authorities for a sum of money to be paid if it turned out that the marriage was contrary to Canon Law. The bishop kept the allegation and bond and issued the license to the groom, who then gave it to the vicar of the church, where they were to get married. There was no obligation, for the vicar to keep the license and many were simply destroyed. Hence, few historical examples of marriage licenses, in England and Wales, survive. However, the allegations and bonds were usually retained and are an important source for English genealogy.

Given the period of history in question, I suppose it is not a surprise that the Catholic Church attempted such a complete and total power grab. Prior to then marriage had been considered a private affair but once the Church had had its way it became a religious arrangement – the echos of which are still present today.

The Church though did not thoroughly subjugate the institution of marriage within England and Wales until 1753 when the State, perhaps pressured by the (by this time) Church of England (CoE), passed what is known as Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act. This conjoining of the country’s two most powerful bureaucracies of the age formalised the previous arrangements for everyone except Jews and Quakers (although it stopped short of ensuring the legality of their ceremonies).

(As an interesting footnote, because the Act was not binding in Scotland, the rise of Gretna Green as a place of elopement can be traced to this Act. That and the building of a toll road which passed nearby.)

For the CoE though this enshrining of its wishes into Law can also be considered the high water mark in terms of their control over the institution of marriage.

Less than 100 years later, the Marriage Act of 1836 restored the ability of people to get married outside of the influence of the CoE, legalising civil marriages and allowing ministers from other Christian denominations to conduct legal marriages. The then Bishop of Exeter was so outraged by this idea that he denounced the bill in quite strong terms:

…a disgrace to British legislation. (It) is pretended to be called for to prevent clandestine marriages, but I think it will greatly facilitate such proceedings. Not solemnised by the church of England, may be celebrated without entering into a consecrated building, may be contracted by anybody, and will be equally valid, whether it takes place in the house of God, or in the house of a registering clerk, one of the lowest functionaries of the state. The parties may take one another for better and for worse, without calling God to witness their plighted troth. No blessing sought; no solemn vows of mutual fidelity; no religious solemnity whatever…

The follow up act of 1949, reconfirmed much of what already existed but banned under 16s from getting married. Thus the state of play today is that:

…a couple has a choice between being married in the Anglican Church, after the calling of banns or obtaining a license or else, they can give “Notice of Marriage” to a civil registrar. In this latter case, the notice is publicly posted for 15 days, after which a civil marriage can take place. Marriages may take place in churches other than Anglican churches, but these are governed by civil marriage law and notice must be given to the civil registrar in the same way. The marriage may then take place without a registrar being present, if the church itself is registered for marriages and the minister or priest is an Authorised Person for marriages.

(As an aside, did you know that it is illegal in the UK to marry between 1800 hrs and 0800 hrs? The Freedom Bill (remember that?) will, if it ever passes, remove this restriction.)

And there you have it, an institution which, for all practical purposes, dates back to when the first caveman hit the first cavewoman over the head with a club and carried her back to his cave is now all neatly controlled by the State with a bit of a sweetener to keep the official Christian sect of the country happy.

It is thus possible to see why the CoE, having once joined forces with the State when it was the bigger beast, now complains bitterly when its secular successor announces changes to the civil side of the equation as they realise that their bone will be taken away next. If the CoE really wants to retain what little power it has left in the matter then it should be actively campaigning for disestablishment. This would allow it to revert back to its original status as an outsider. However their attachment to the State is so great that I can’t honestly see it happening – which means that they are condemned to suffer along with the rest of us. Quite ironic really.

Meanwhile the fact that the controlling monolith is considering (assuming this consultation is anything other than a formality) opening up the definition of marriage is to be applauded. That it will still retain control afterwards is not.

What it should do is get out of the game altogether and leave it up to the individual to marry in whatever combination of numbers and/or genders that takes their fancy under whichever rules they do so choose. Together with disestablishment this would leave the CoE, as a private organisation, free to impose its own restrictions on those who wish to use its facilities and membership. Then, if members of the CoE object to a particular policy (such as banning gays or lesbians from having a religious wedding service) they are free do what has happened every other time there has been a fundamental policy disagreement within the Christian Church: Schism.

* delete as you consider appropriate

An Easter Fantasy

Invited to fill the Thought for the Day spot on the Today show on Radio 4 on Maundy Thursday, the Archbishop of Canterbury (for the moment Rowan Williams) took the opportunity to preach about charity.

Starting from the traditional Maundy Thursday rite of washing the feet of the poor Williams said that it exists to remind the powerful

… that power constantly needs to be reminded of what it’s for. Power exists, in the Church or the state or anywhere else, so that ordinary people may be treasured and looked after, especially those who don’t have the resources to look after themselves.

Ordinary people may be ‘treasured and looked after’? Really? If by that he means that I shouldn’t have to worry about being persecuted by an overwhelming state and/or religion then I can agree with him. If however he thinks it means a religion and/or state has the right to protect me from myself than he can take a log walk off of a short pier. Ordinary people don’t need to be looked after, they mostly just want to get on with their lives with as little interference as possible from do-gooders who think they know better.

And those who don’t have the resources to look after themselves? Before anyone calls me a heartless cow, can we please differentiate between those who are unable to help themselves and those who choose not to? The former should be supported (and I hope that I will be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees on that) whilst the latter shouldn’t be. If you choose to opt out of taking responsibility for yourself I don’t see why I or anyone else, indirectly via either state of religion, should support you.

He then goes on to extend this thought with the following suggestion:

What about having a new law that made all cabinet members and leaders of political parties, editors of national papers  and the hundred most successful financiers in the UK, spend a couple of hours every year serving dinners in a primary school on a council estate? Or cleaning bathrooms in a residential home? Walking around the streets of a busy town at night as a street pastor, ready to pick up and absorb something of the chaos and human mess you’ll find there especially among young people?

Seriously? I know that my English, first language or not, isn’t brilliant but I could have sworn that charitable activities are voluntary acts, done by people who want to help rather than being forced to do so by an overarching state because otherwise they will be punished in some way – not that he indicates what sort of consequence he envisages for disobedience.

Lets go back to his list of potential ‘charitable’ acts though. Serving dinners in a primary school? Cleaning bathrooms in a residential home? I think we call those two activities jobs. Minimum wage jobs they might be but they are still paid employment so where is the sense in wanting people to do them ‘voluntarily’? Is he really advocating reducing the potential employment activities for the unskilled end of the workforce? That doesn’t strike me as particularly charitable.

It is only the last example that can be accurately described as a voluntary activity and if people wish to do that then more power to their elbows. The uniformed social workers (police) who usually have to deal with the violent and rowdy or incapable drunks will probably welcome the assistance.

The muddled thinking moves towards a conclusion with this pair spectacularly unthought through sentences:

I’ve no doubt some of our public figures do this sort of thing privately, and good for them.  But maybe having to do it, to do it in public and not to be able to make any sort of capital out of it because they had no choice?

If someone is doing good deeds privately then they are deliberately choosing not to make any capital out of it, thus making a lie of the second. If people were forced to do their charitable deeds in public then I can foresee it turning into nothing more than a glorified photo-op in the case of several people, such as politicians and ‘celebrities’. Anyone else remember a certain catwalk model’s community service? Turned into fashion shoot if I recall correctly.

Well, perhaps that’s just a nice fantasy to mull over during the holiday weekend.

And long may it remain so! Forcing people to do charitable acts will just result in resentment on the part of those forced and thoughts of ‘only here because s/he has to be’ on the part of the recipient. Coercion would not be acceptable in any other job so why should it be so because you happen to be rich or ‘powerful’?

May I kindly suggest to the Archbishop that he sticks to his job and doesn’t stick his head above the parapet again unless he has actually thought about what it is that he is saying?