FaithWorld

from John Lloyd:

In Britain, a summer of quiet revolution

The British Isles are sentries in a turning world. The monarchy, pageantry, the mediaeval House of Lords, titles, accents, the established Church of England with the Queen at its head -- they all give the adroit illusion of continuity and the primacy of tradition over change.

But this summer there are diverse changes modernizing the Isles. These revolutions, small and large, will not be reversed, and will contribute significantly to a redefinition of what it is to be British (and Irish). The illusions of tradition will remain, as diligently served as ever. The core is hollowing out.

These changes are not unique to these wet and windy islands. But it’s more remarkable because for many centuries Britain and its offshoots punched above their weight, making history and creating (or inventing) traditions. The French are famed for having a beautiful and mostly efficient country and for grumbling furiously about it. The British change everything all the time, and worship the old customs whose essence they have long since destroyed, or are destroying.

Ireland, the smaller and much younger of the two sovereign states on the Isles, found its independence in the 1920s. That independence was fought for so hard in part because its majority religion, Catholicism, had been treated as an inferior, even a treacherous, affiliation for centuries. The Republic came into independent statehood with its religion militantly at the forefront of national, social and cultural life.

But the Church’s role in Irish life has been diminishing for some time; it has been dealt another blow. Last week, Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s government passed a law allowing abortion when a woman’s life was in danger. The measure provoked princes of the church to threaten Kenny (who’s a devout Catholic) with excommunication and saw him lose his Europe Minister in a resignation of principle. The law dilutes, but does not reverse, a ban that has seen some dozen women leave for the UK every day for abortions. Some reformers have protested it did not go far enough, but it’s a breach in a so far adamantine wall. Kenny has twice faced down the Catholic Church. Ireland is no longer what it was in its post-revolutionary years, and remained for decades after -- a quasi-theocracy. It’s fully secular.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Austerity is a moral issue

Security worker opens the door of a government job center as people wait to enter in Marbella, Spain, December 2, 2011. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

In the nearly five years since the worst financial crash since the Great Depression, the remedy for the world’s economic doldrums has swung from full-on Keynesianism to unforgiving austerity and back.

The initial Keynesian response halted the collapse in economic activity. But it was soon met by borrowers’ remorse in the shape of paying down debt and raising taxes without delay. In the last year, full-throttle austerity has fallen out of favor with those charged with monitoring the world economy.

from John Lloyd:

The moment for Irish unity is nearly over

The latest “troubles” in Northern Ireland began 45 years ago, and though much reduced, sometimes to invisibility, they are not over yet and will not be for some time. Protests over the Republican-dominated Belfast Council’s decision to fly the Union Jack just on certain days happened again over the weekend, if smaller and less violent than in the past few weeks.

This is what can happen after more than a century of demand for Irish independence: violence, on both sides, takes time to lose its attraction, and its adherents. Yet the bid for Irish unity, which from the late sixties to the late nineties was written almost daily in blood, has failed. Now, as we’re witnessing what may be its long withdrawal from politics, republicanism may not have another chance.

Sinn Fein, for nearly all of its life a front organisation of the IRA, has made an accommodation with unionism. Its two leaders, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness – respectively once heads of IRA brigades in the seventies and eighties – have not just implicitly accepted the partition of the island, but have called for the nationalist community to work with the police (whom they previously sought to slaughter). They have also denounced those republicans who carry on terrorism under the name of the Real IRA as ‘traitors to Ireland.’ In a much quoted observation, the historian Paul Bew quipped that “the IRA is too intelligent to admit that they have lost and the Unionists too stupid to realise they have won.” This is what the 1998 Belfast Agreement brought.

Hizb ut-Tahrir urges Pakistanis to take to the streets for Islamic rule

(A protester pokes his head through a banner during a demonstration by members of Hizb ut-Tahrir outside the Syrian embassy in central London, May 7, 2011/Andrew Winning)

Hizb ut-Tahrir, a global Islamist party banned in many Muslim states, said on Friday Pakistanis should take to the streets to call for Islamic rule and join a campaign to end subservience to Washington that was advancing “from Indonesia to Tunisia”.  The party, which says it is non-violent but is accused by some analysts of seeking a coup in Islamabad, added that “powerful factions” in Pakistani society including the military should also take part, but violence had no place in its work.

Hizb ut-Tahrir won international attention when Pakistan’s army said on June 22 it was questioning four majors about alleged links to the party, following the arrest in May of a brigadier suspected of having such ties. Brigadier Ali Khan, whose lawyer has denied the allegations, was the highest-ranking serving officer arrested in a decade. The Pakistan army is under pressure to remove Islamist sympathisers in its ranks after U.S. forces found and killed Osama bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad on May 2.

Archbishop of Canterbury attacks UK government policies as radical

(Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at Canterbury Cathedral, April 4, 2010/Toby Melville)

Britain’s coalition government has embarked on “radical, long-term policies for which no one voted,” causing anxiety and fear, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said in an article on Thursday. The comments are his most outspoken against the year-old Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.

“With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted,” the spiritual leader of the 80-million strong Anglican Communion wrote. “At the very least, there is an understandable anxiety about what democracy means in such a context.”

Beyond bin Laden – Britain’s fight against violent Islamist radicalism

(Muslims hold placards as they march towards the U.S. embassy in London May 6, 2011/Suzanne Plunkett)

In a community centre in the British Midlands, 12 teenage boys — all of south Asian descent — watch intently as Jahan Mahmood unzips a canvas bag and pulls out the dark, angular shape of a World War Two machine gun. He unfolds the tripod, places the unloaded weapon on a table and pulls back the cocking handle. The boys crane forward. Mahmood pulls the trigger; a sharp snap rings out.

It’s two days since the killing of Osama bin Laden, and Mahmood, a local historian, is taking his own stand against global militancy. His show comes with a dose of education: a lesson in how Muslim and British soldiers fought together to defeat the Nazis. His methods are unconventional, but Mahmood believes they help address a weakness at the core of British counter-terrorism policy.

Heaven is a fairy tale, says British physicist Stephen Hawking

(Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking speaks at Perimeter Institute For Theoretical Physics in Kitchener, Canada, June 20, 2010/Sheryl Nadler)

Heaven is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark, the eminent British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking said in an interview published on Monday. Hawking, 69, was expected to die within a few years of being diagnosed with degenerative motor neurone disease at the age of 21, but became one of the world’s most famous scientists with the publication of his 1988 book “A Brief History of Time”.

“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first,” he told the Guardian newspaper. “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

UK Catholics urged to shun meat on Fridays

(Fish and chips in London, 31 July 2010/Javier Vte Rejas)

Britain’s Catholics have been urged to make more effort to follow religious custom and abstain from eating meat on Fridays, potentially boosting sales of fish.

Church law required Catholics over the centuries to comply with this abstinence as part of Friday penance, the day set aside for special prayer and fasting to mark the day Jesus died. Traditionally Catholics have opted to eat fish instead, though a combination of new church guidance and changing eating habits has eroded this habit.

Now the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales wants to re-establish the practice of Friday penance and its abstinence from eating meat as a symbol of a simple shared act of self-denial.

Archbishop of Canterbury voices unease over bin Laden killing

(Britain's Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, at Lambeth Palace in London September 17, 2010/Chris Ison)

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the 80-million strong Anglican Communion, has said the killing of an unarmed Osama bin Laden left a “very uncomfortable feeling.” Rowan Williams said the different versions of events coming out of the White House “have not done a great deal to help here.”

Bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces early Monday during a raid on his home at Abbottabad, a garrison town near Islamabad in Pakistan.

Archbishop of Canterbury praises “unpretentious” Kate and William

(Britain's Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton watch a demonstration by students, during their visit to the Darwen Aldridge Community Academy (DACA), in Darwen, northern England April 11, 2011. A large crowd of well-wishers braved a downpour in northern England on Monday to cheer Prince William and Kate Middleton as they took part in their final official engagement before their wedding. REUTERS/Adrian Dennis)

(Britain's Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton in Darwen, northern England April 11, 2011/Adrian Dennis)

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who will marry Prince William and Kate Middleton next week, said on Thursday he had been struck by their wedding preparations, describing the couple as courageous and unpretentious. Rowan Williams, spiritual head of the Church of England, praised the couple’s “simplicity” and the way they had dealt with the build-up to next Friday’s wedding, which is set to be watched by an estimated two billion people worldwide.

“I’ve been very struck by the way in which William and Catherine have approached this great event,” Williams said in a short film released by his Lambeth Palace office, adding it had been a “real pleasure” to get to know the couple. “They’ve thought through what they want for themselves, but also what they want to say. They’ve had a very simple, very direct picture of what really matters about this event.”