Dawkins, Scholl, Syria, Archers

What has Professor Richard Dawkins, Fraulein Sophie Scholl, the recent turn of events in Syria and the long running Radio 4 soap, the Archers, got to do with each other? Not a lot, even for one that often tries to relate things that seem to be unrelated! Yet all these stood out for me, yesterday, in one way or another, in the daily, various media feeds that comes my way and which subjects I have blogged about in the past. In each case, I felt these warranted at least a new bite size blog posting and decided this time to combine the four all into one. The challenge for the readers is to spot any connection.

Richard Dawkins is one of the new breed of militant atheists that make a good living from doing down religion. The article posted yesterday titled: “Ignorant’ Christians are holding back science”, started off by saying “American Christians are an uncultured, ignorant almost majority who are holding back scientific progress … it was a wonder that America is the leading scientific nation despite having this incubus around its neck of an uncultured ignorant almost majority.” His worst criticism was directed against those of a more fundamentalist ilk, especially those casting dispersions on evolutionary ideas. It is not my purpose here to discuss evolution or fundamentalism, which I have done in previous posts, but rather to challenge Dawkins assertion that appears not to be backed up by evidence. It is true that some Christians are anti science but it is also true that in surveying the history of science many of those who have contributed most to scientific progress have been Christians and, moreover, a true biblical understanding would encourage one in the area of scientific endeavour. I have said when advising young people that the two careers I would put at the top of the list is that of business enterprise and scientific research and development. I am confident there many Christian believers doing science, though would there were more. Regarding true religion and good science, they are both about seeking out truth but in different areas. Science is about trying to understand how the universe functions and religion is about understanding why. There is no incompatibility; rather the two should be seen as complementary.

Sophie Scholl was an amazing young woman who died aged only 21, in 1943, executed for treason by the Nazis for her active resistance to Nazism, even if this was only of a peaceful nature e.g. through the distributing of pamphlets. I discovered the full film “Sophie Scholl – the final days”, available on YouTube, which I watched and was much moved. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is one of the subjects of history that particularly interest me. In recent years, I rediscovered Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who also organized resistance and like Scholl paid the ultimate price. How many Germans saw the evil that Nazism was, who can say, but few were prepared to put their lives on the line, and most just went along with it, even when not sympathetic. Those like Scholl who did resist we rightly honour. I suspect we are moving into times when passive resistance may become a real possibility if we are to do what is right and oppose what is wrong. Two stories that came out yesterday were the Pope’s visit to a marriage registrar who lost her job for not marrying same sex couples and the magistrate that also lost his job for having the temerity to pay part of the fine he had to impose on someone who happened to be a victim of a broken system. As I survey all sorts of injustices, here and abroad, I wonder if the time will come when I will need to stick my head above the parapet and not just say enough is enough but also to do something about it.

Syria these days is not far out of the news. In the latest development we learn of Russian involvement in attacking supposedly ISIS strongholds in the country and propping up the corrupt and oppressive regime of President Assad in the meantime. The Assad regime is one western powers (USA, UK, etc.) have said they want to be deposed in favour of a regime that is less corrupt and less oppressive. Yet the West is also alarmed by the recent and enormous advances of ISIS and are as keen, if not keener, to see these reversed. It is also worth noting this is part of a bigger Middle East development, including what is happening in countries like Iraq, Iran and Israel. The instability we are now seeing is partly as a consequence the Iraq War and the Arab Spring, whereby a vacuum has been left demanding to be filled, and sadly some of it has been by radical Islam. Meanwhile, large numbers of innocent people suffer and the question of how we can help in the West, which government tries to avoid answering, is a pressing one. There are many aspects of what is happening that I do not understand and solutions I don’t have but that is no excuse for not attempting to do so nor ignoring an appropriate response. I asked a friend who shares my concerns, yet without always agreeing on how to tackle the many issues, to share his perspectives, and he has done so:

“Assad and ISIS. Notwithstanding discussion of the involvement of certain agencies in installing and supporting Assad and creating ISIS as a guerrilla force across the Middle East, it has to be noted that neither is actually wanted, nor politically represents the people of the region so they are a dictatorship and a terrorist organisation and it is important that these distinct terms are used. On the subject of Assad, he is dangerous and has been propped up on occasion by the U.S., Europe and Russia to ensure that we do not repeat the horrific failures of regime change. ISIS are a terror organisation of around 110,000 people who have been radicalised and come from many other organisations. They are currently waging 5 very large terror campaigns within the region of the gulf and therefore, any idea that there is a threat of a mass infiltration of the west is so overstated as to make it irrelevant so we really are not defending our own borders. One final point on ISIS, they do not represent Islam nor Muslims and showed this when destroying and defiling historic sites of significant Islamic pilgrimage.

The question of diplomacy is a difficult one. The attacks by initially the French followed by an arm wrestle between the U.S and Russia coupled with Cameron’s threat have failed in any type of diplomatic process. The people at the heart of the region now under siege have not been invited to the table. There is a word of mouth offering that Assad has asked Russia to commit to air strikes within Syria but this is only what Vladimir Putin has intimated to Barack Obama and there is no confirmation that this is the case. Also, this is not an act of combat, blanket air strikes cannot be considered combat for 2 reasons and the first is that air strike alone is indiscriminate and cowardly and secondly combat generally involves 2 sides who are both aware of whom they are competing against. It is clear, until representatives of all interested parties have been invited to a negotiating table, the diplomatic option has not been explored in any meaningful way.

This to me is the most important part of my work on this issue. The UN refugee commission has clearly stated that should the situation in Syria continue, the displacement and statelessness of the migrating refugees we are seeing now will really look like a very small issue. Their estimate is that 5,500,000 further people will be forced to become refugees. This is supported by many UK charities and Oxfam puts the figure much higher by adding in the irreparable damage likely to be caused in neighbouring countries. There has been very little interest shown by France in taking in the refugees and the first, albeit limited, strikes were by the French Air Force. Similarly, while Germany, Sweden, Eastern Europe and Turkey have responded very positively, the U.S. and Russia who are perpetuating this conflict without real mandate, they are clearly showing that they have zero responsibility for any of the refugees their acts of war are creating. It is a total mess and shows that where oil and arms interests overarching the interests of populations, money talks and refugees walk and walk and walk. This is the bitterly ugly side of capitalism and of superpowers. One interesting point to note which I picked up at a meeting the other day and confirmed with a friend from cities of sanctuary who has worked closely with refugees from conflict for 30 years, many of those seeking to enter Europe are doctors, nurses, teachers and lawyers and therefore bring much needed skills and also, a poll amongst refugees stated clearly that most did not wish to receive benefits but rather to work in whatever trade they could do, provide labour for their adopted nation and pay taxes.”

 The Archers is the long running daily Radio 4 soap that I have followed since my teenage years. I try to make a point of catching up on all the episodes, made easier these days because of Internet podcasts. I have to admit some of the story lines are banal or trivial and are not of much interest. However, two recent Archers happenings especially got me excited and thinking. One relates to the final cricket match of the season for the Ambridge cricket team, where there was an altercation between its star batsman and the captain, bringing out many real issues relating to conflict and nasty people who stir the pot. The other relates to a daughter taking her mother from the nursing home, where she was staying, to live in her home. The mother was frail and showing signs of dementia, but for a brief moment was extremely lucid and participated in lovely piece of mother daughter bonding. Then she went to sleep in the car and never woke up! While the silliness is seen by the self-recriminations the daughter felt, my verdict was – what a wonderful way to go!

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