We have moved from disallowing expression of the non-mainstream to actively coercing expressions of orthodoxy


Attacks on the freedom of expression have been plentiful over the last two decades. Slowly but surely a greater and wider variety of words and expressions have been deemed off limits. This is nothing to be pleased about for the right to say things that others don’t like is a longstanding, hard won right in this country. I have spoken at length about this here, here and here among many other posts which you can search on this blog easily enough.

Today, however, events have taken a sinister turn indeed. For no longer is free speech simply inhibited (as if that is not bad enough), we are moving into the era of the coerced orthodox utterance. We are not merely being told what we cannot say, we are now being told what we must say on pain of prosecution. It is no longer enough to only avoid saying the wrong thing, we are now being forced to say the right thing irrespective of whether we believe it or not. Orwell’s 1984 is well and truly here.

Today, the Court of Appeal in Belfast upheld the previous ruling against Ashers Bakery in what has been termed the ‘gay cake’ case. You can read more details here and here. You can also read reports in the mainstream media in today’s Guardian, BBC, Telegraph and Independent.

The case has centred on whether it was acceptable for Asher’s Bakery to deny their service to Gareth Lee who requested a cake with the message ‘support gay marriage’. Mr Lee claimed that the service was denied because he was a homosexual. Ashers argued that Mr Lee’s sexuality bore no relevance to their decision. They maintain that it was the message on the cake itself, which would have contravened their own deeply held beliefs, that led them to reject the order. They similarly argued that to bake the cake with this message would be to endorse the message which is at odds with their conscience. At heart, the case is about whether a service provider should be forced to endorse a statement utterly at odds with their own beliefs or whether it was acceptable to turn down such business. Today’s judgement ultimately means the former.

During the course of the case, Ashers received backing from the Northern Ireland Attorney General, John Larking QC, as well as prominent gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. Mr Larkin stated:

I say very clearly, if it was a case where Mr Lee had been refused some of Ashers’ excellent chocolate eclairs because he was gay or perceived to be gay I would be standing on the other side of the court.

But it’s not about that, it’s about expression and whether it’s lawful under Northern Ireland constitutional law for Ashers to be forced … to articulate or express or say a political message which is at variance with their political views and in particular their religious views.

Peter Tatchell was similarly clear when he argued:

The court erred by ruling that [gay customer Gareth Lee] was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and political opinions. His cake request was refused not because he was gay, but because of the message he asked for.

There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order. Despite this, Judge Isobel Brownlie said that refusing the pro-gay marriage slogan was unlawful indirect sexual orientation discrimination.

Responding to the ruling, Daniel MacArthur of Ashers Bakery stated:

If equality law means people can be punished for politely refusing to support other people’s causes then equality law needs to change.

We had served Mr Lee before and we would be happy to serve him again. The judges accepted that we did not know that Mr Lee was gay and that he was not the reason we declined the order. We have always said it was not about the customer, it was about the message.

The judges hearing the case said that it did not follow that simply icing a message on a cake meant you endorse the message thereon.

The significance of the case clearly extends well beyond what one must ice on a cake. As it stands, the ramifications are far reaching and extremely troubling. It would not be remotely surprising to soon find a series of highly provocative requests to a multitude of service providers seeking inflammatory messages that cannot be refused. Can we imagine a Jewish clothing manufacturer being forced to print t-shirts expressing denial of the Holocaust? Is a Muslim baker to be forced to print incendiary pictures of Mohammad? Where exactly are the parameters of what one is forced to endorse?

What is more, the issue has moved on. It is deemed not enough to simply keep silent on any views that are contrary to mainstream orthodoxy. This case shows that we are now moving towards forcing individuals to express utterances with which they deeply disagree. We are no longer just inhibiting people from saying whatever they want (which is quite wrong enough) but now force them to say and endorse precisely what they do not believe, even that with which they manifestly disagree. This is not equality – it is tyranny and suppression.

The ruling has troubling consequences for free expression. I share entirely the view of the Attorney General. There is no excuse for refusing service to somebody simply because of who they are, their sexuality, race, political or religious views. However, to force people to write messages and endorse slogans with which they deeply disagree is to set a troubling precedent that will affect far more than a few provincial bakers. It will have ramifications for us all and will mean there are no utterances which we will not be compelled to supply.

It is very easy to look at any of these individuals and take sides based on the views with which we sympathise. But this is not simply about whose views you share, the issue is about freedom of thought and being coerced to endorse what we simply do not believe. Whether it is Liverpool fans being asked to make t-shirts saying buy The S*n (a move I wouldn’t put past Kelvin MacKenzie) or Muslims being asked to endorse the sale of pork, all of us know of views that would cause us great distress at being forced to speak or endorse against our will. If these, and many other such scenarios, trouble us then this Ashers ruling is surely no less inequitable, unjust and should not stand.

Five problems with blanket historic pardons


It is being reported that the government intend to offer posthumous pardons to gay men who were convicted historically for sex crimes. The Ministry of Justice has said they will partially follow Lord Sharkey’s recommendations in amending the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. Rather than investigate individual cases or single out any particular individuals, the government will offer a blanket pardon for all those convicted of previous sexual offences that would now be considered legal. You can read reports in The Guardian, Independent, Telegraph and BBC.

Whilst many seem to welcome this move, it is not without its problems. I should point out here that my concern has absolutely nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of the existing law. My issue is specifically with this particular use of the posthumous pardon. And I think it is an issue for at least five reasons.

It is a misunderstanding of the nature of pardons

Traditionally, posthumous (or, even, antemortem) pardons were granted to those who were wrongly convicted of the crime with which they were charged. The case of Derek Bentley is a good case in point. Bentley was considered to have been wrongly (or, at least, unfairly) convicted of murder, and received an official pardon in 1993. Posthumous pardons are not generally for those who, though rightly convicted under the laws of the time, we have come to view as innocent according to our modern social mores which are reflected in current law.

The move by the government to posthumously pardon all those previously convicted of sexual offences, even though we may agree that they never should have been convicted, is a misuse of the principle of a posthumous pardon. As social attitudes change, as do the laws that inevitably reflect them, it is quite natural to look back and consider certain convictions as wrongful. This, however, is best reflected in changes to existing law not in posthumous pardons that were, according to the laws and attitudes of the day, entirely right and legitimate.

It is partisan and unfairly applied

It does not seem unreasonable to ask why those who commit some historic crimes are given blanket pardons because of shifts in our attitudes whereas others are not. What is it about homosexual men being convicted of sexual offences that warrants unquestioning pardon but no such pardon is forthcoming for those historically convicted of heresy, blasphemy and attempted suicide? In all these other cases, we have changed the law to reflect the fact that we no longer believe rejection of particular religious views, or a desperate person seeking to take their own life, are worthy of prison. We have not, however, trawled the annals of history to pardon all those convicted of such things, irrespective that our view has since changed on the rightness of seeking conviction in these cases.

And, of course, how could we ever apply posthumous pardons this way? We would forever be rewriting history. Unless we are inclined to offer posthumous pardons to every single person convicted of anything we now deem lawful, does it not seem a little inconsistent to single out those convicted of historic sexual crimes?

It attempts to rewrite history

Anybody who has ever studied history will know that historic events are rarely a reflection of the world as we would like it to be. Given this, in broad brush terms, there are two approaches we can take. Either we assess history on the terms in which it happened, and draw appropriate lessons from it, or we attempt to sanitise history for a more palatable take on how things were. A good case in point is the #RhodesMustFall campaign going on around Oxford.

Posthumous pardons of this sort not only miss the point of the posthumous pardon, they are an attempt to sanitise bits of history that we don’t like. The truth is that people like Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing were correctly convicted according to the laws of the day. Now, we may not like those laws – we may even consider them draconian and wrongheaded and are delighted they have been repealed – but it doesn’t change the historic reality that the convictions were correct according to the laws in place at the time. To offer a posthumous pardon is to say the judge and jury at the time misapplied the law. The truth of the matter, unpalatable to us as it may be, is that they did not.

It is nothing more than virtue signalling

We live in troubling days. It is no longer acceptable to merely do the right thing, one must evidently think and believe the right things too. Not only must we think and believe the right things, we must visibly display that we so think and believe them. If we do not, we are put on trial by the liberal elites who have so determined what right thinking people ought to believe.

Such an approach has given rise to virtue signalling. Virtue signalling is the empty, platitudinous attempt to show that one believes the right things and so ingratiate oneself to one’s audience. The great shibboleth of our time is homosexual rights. Those who do not affirm homosexuality without question, support gay marriage and seek to advance it at all possible opportunities are considered illiberal, unloving, unthinking, bigoted and other such pejoratives. Very few MPs were openly against the introduction of gay marriage and those who were very quickly have to recant or explain themselves carefully to recover any political credibility (one is put in mind of Stephen Crabb as a pathetic case in point).

To offer posthumous pardons to those convicted of historic sexual crimes is nothing more than virtue signalling to ingratiate oneself to liberal media elites who so drive public opinion. It is a move does nothing, in reality, for people like Wilde and Turing who have long since died. Nor does it do anything for the living since such laws have long since been removed from the statue book and, whatever stigma may still attach to the issue, it most certainly does not flow in any way from the convictions of historic figures for these now archaic crimes.

What is unfortunate is that in offering this empty gesture, another message is clearly sent. If all historic crimes were equal, if we repeal laws we no longer believe to be a problem but never posthumously pardon those rightly convicted according to the laws of the time, there would be no issue. Society, and our ever changing law, would move on and we would all recognise that those historically convicted were unfortunate enough to live in another era where such things were deemed punishable by law. Sadly, in offering a blanket posthumous pardon for some historic crimes and not others, we simultaneously send the message that homosexuals convicted due to different social mores were wrongly convicted whilst the masses of Protestant and Catholic martyrs put on trial, under attitudes similarly alien to contemporary thought, were rightly burnt at the stake. It is all very well seeking to manifest the right virtues but there seems to be no recognition that such a move sends an inadvertently unpleasant message to all those convicted of other things we no longer consider just and equitable.

It distracts from the real problems facing the country

If this move to posthumously pardon is of no genuine benefit to the dead, and of no actual value to the living, why on earth are politicians proposing it? There are two primary reasons that spring to mind. First, as noted above, it sends a signal that they manifest the right virtues. They think and believe all the right things and so ingratiate themselves to those they believe matter. But second, it distracts from the pressing issues facing the country.

Let’s be honest, what is to lose here from a party whose own leader recognises have a tendency to be ‘the nasty party’? An empty pardon, signalling the right virtues, will go some way to undercutting that view. All whilst actually doing nothing of value for anybody. What better way to distract from their austerity plans, their freeze on funding departments, refusal to plug the funding gap in the health service, plans to limit benefits to those who desperately rely upon state help and refusal to do anything for refugees clamouring to get into the country. Likewise, the SNP have sought an amendment suggesting a blanket pardon for the living (dubbed the #TuringBill). Aside from the obvious problem of potentially pardoning those who in no way ought to be, like the Tories in England, this is simply a way to stop proper scrutiny of their own policies in Scotland. It takes up parliamentary time and diverts attention away from real, live issues. If homosexual rights are the great shibboleth of our time, how easy it is to stir up faux-hysteria and earn some brownie points by doing absolutely nothing.

Does anybody really believe this move is genuinely the most pressing issue facing the country? Yet, read the papers, and this utterly valueless bit of gesture politics has garnered more support and space than many pressing social issues directly affecting a much wider proportion of people in tangible ways everyday. It seems unfortunate that there are groups and individuals so wedded to the idea of the primacy of sexual rights in public life, the belief that it is the virtue to trump all virtues, that this thinly veiled attempt to distract from meaningful issues is being lauded as a progressive and vital step forward. Surely we can do better than pretend this meaningless gesture represents some great leap forward. It does seem to be an attempt to distract from what really matters and, what seems saddest of all, it does seem to be working.

When pragmatism overtakes scripture



Tim Challies posted an excellent piece on the elements that are all too often missing in the modern worship service. You can see why he believes losing them is a problem, here. I was particularly taken, and entirely agree, with his concluding comments:

I am convinced that most of these elements have gone missing for pragmatic reasons—they do not accomplish something the church leaders wish to accomplish in their services. Instead of searching God’s Word to determine what elements should or must be present in a worship service, leaders are judging elements by whether or not they work (according to their own standard of what works). Yet each of these elements represents a significant loss because each in its own way expresses obedience to God and brings encouragement to his people.

Sadly, this is an all too common approach to church leadership as a whole. It is not confined only to the ‘seeker-sensitive’ folk who believe bringing unbelievers through the doors – irrespective of what is actually done in the meeting itself – is the raison d’être of the church. It is a problem that extends well beyond the worship service itself. It is a pernicious approach to church that waters everything down to ‘whatever works’, irrespective of what God’s word has to say on the matter.

The essential problem with pragmatism in the church context is that it reduces all matters to their practical consequences. Even moral issues of right and wrong are determined as such, by the pragmatist, in terms of whether the outcome was desirable (and then only the outcome they subjectively believe is desired). The pragmatist argues if it works, it must be right and if it doesn’t, then it is wrong.

But as John MacArthur rightly points out:

when pragmatism is used to make judgments about right and wrong, or when it becomes a guiding philosophy of life and ministry, it inevitably clashes with Scripture. Spiritual and biblical truth is not determined by testing what “works” and what doesn’t. We know from Scripture, for example, that the gospel often does not produce a positive response (1 Cor. 1:22, 23; 2:14). On the other hand, Satanic lies and deception can be quite effective (Matt. 24:23, 24; 2 Cor. 4:3, 4). Majority reaction is no test of validity (cf. Matt. 7:13, 14), and prosperity is no measure of truthfulness (cf. Job 12:6). Pragmatism as a guiding philosophy of ministry is inherently flawed. Pragmatism as a test of truth is nothing short of satanic.

As Tim Challies elsewhere helpfully points out:

Since the time of the Reformation, Protestants have affirmed the doctrine of Sola Scriptura which teaches that the Bible alone is to be our standard of morality and truth. This standard is rooted in the early church and, of course, in the Bible. It has always been a fundamental teaching of Protestantism. Sola Scriptura was the foundational doctrine of the Reformation – the doctrine upon which every other doctrine was built.

Pragmatism and Sola Scriptura must stand in opposition as each claims to be the key to determining truth. As Christians we need to decide if we are going to depend upon Scripture as the absolute standard of truth or if we will determine truth by consequences. Though we would be hard pressed to find a Christian who says “I believe in pragmatism” the philosophy manifests itself in the Christian world in many different ways. Though people affirm Sola Scriptura with their mouths (or doctrinal statements) they often deny it with their actions.

And this is the heart of the issue. The Bible says one thing but the crowd, the results, the increase in the weekly giving all point to something else simply working better. Do we, therefore, hold to scripture despite the dent to our membership rolls and church finances or do we ignore scripture because ‘the results’ tell us God got it wrong?

I’m not quite a fully paid up regulative principle sort of guy. I think right and wrong (both in and out of the church) are determined by a very simple formula:

  1. If God says we must do something (or such can be determined by ‘good and necessary consequence’), we must do it
  2. If God says we must not do something (or such can be determined by ‘good and necessary consequence’), we must not do it
  3. If God neither says we must or must not do something (either explicitly or by ‘good and necessary consequence’) we have liberty to do or not do it

It is a formula that seems a credible response to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Yet, even in good confessing Evangelical churches this is routinely ignored.

The Lord is very clear on the importance of evangelism (cf. Mt 28:18-20; 1 Pe 3:15). This would seem to fall into the bracket outlined by #1. Yet how often is evangelism sidelined because it might make folk uncomfortable? Sure, we’ll call sinners to repentance just not anywhere they might be likely to hear it and, worse yet, offended by anything that doesn’t openly affirm them and all their choices. How bold we are in our pulpits on a Sunday, more muted and cautious in our church-based evangelistic events – where we control the guest list but daren’t spook the horses – and downright evasive and equivocal outside the sanctuary of our four protective, and largely private, church walls. Why so? Pragmatism tells us such people will not return, will be turned off, may cause a scene if we dare to do what God asks of us.

What about the never ending fights over hymns ancient and modern. God nowhere commands the sole singing of centuries old dirges any more than he demands us to sing only repetitive, saccharine and banal songs penned in the last week. The age and style of our music is surely one that belongs under #3 (what some called adiaphora, or ‘indifferent things’). Yet quarrels and bickering are rampant, very often due to pragmatism. It is the view that a significant section of our folk will leave if we get rid of the older hymns or the belief that nobody new will possibly join unless we focus on the contemporary and up to date. But does God not judge harmony among the brethren of greater import than style and age of our songs (cf. Ps 133:1; Rom15:5-71 Cor 1:10; Jm 4:1)? In many cases, we have made the pragmatic choice of making the unsaved, non-member the de facto worship leader. What we perceive to be the things that may put them off, or bring them in, becomes the arbiter of what we do and why we do it.

The perniciousness of pragmatism prowls around every corner. Why do so many neglect the biblical model of church leadership, the plurality of co-equal elders? Because the CEO business model is seen to work. Why do people very often end up overemphasising even good things (like pastoral care, evangelism, prayer, teaching) to the detriment of other equally good and right things (like pastoral care, evangelism, prayer, teaching)? It’s because pragmatism tells them it works. Many pastors have stories of people saying we need less [X important thing] and more [X similarly important right thing]. Usually the drive behind that is someone, somewhere kicking off that the first X is being overemphasised over the second. Why does someone raising a fuss determine what we do? Because pragmatism tells us everything will be quieter, calmer and easier if we just do it. And, if we’re honest, isn’t that so often what we all really want?

Where was pragmatism when Noah built his ark? Where was pragmatism when Moses aligned himself to God’s people? Where was pragmatism when Joshua stood before the walls of Jericho with nothing but trumpets and glass jars? Where was pragmatism when David fought Goliath with a stick and a sling? Where was pragmatism when Elijah stood against the prophets of Baal believing he was the only believer left? Where was pragmatism when Daniel and his friends sought not to defile themselves with the king’s food nor to give up his daily prayers with all its consequences? Where was pragmatism when Jeremiah preached for forty years without success?

Pragmatism, according to Hebrews 11, amounts to the opposite of faith. And as the writer to the Hebrews makes very clear: ‘without faith it is impossible to please him’ (Heb 11:6). Pragmatism says the results are what matter. That’s just another way of saying what I think best is what matters. That is, of course, another way of saying God has got it wrong, especially when the results I think matter come by doing the opposite of what God says matters. Our faith cannot operate in a world of pragmatism because it leaves no room for the working of God over and against what we think must obviously work.

All of that is to say, any argument that begins with ‘but I just know what works’ or ‘I’ve seen it done that way and it really is effective’, that does not take into account what God actually says on the issue, is to run contrary to faith. If the writer of Hebrews is correct, without faith it is impossible to please God, an operative principle of pragmatism is displeasing to God. If pragmatism is against faith, and is actively displeasing to God, it is surely a cancer to the church.

A sad story reminiscent of Oldham


In today’s Guardian is a story about ten men from Rotherham, currently in court charged with violent disorder due to a clash with a far-right group. The men were attending an anti-fascist demonstration in Rotherham town centre following the death of an 81 year-old Muslim man. On the same day, Britain First staged a protest – one of a number of far-right demonstrations in the town following the child abuse scandal linked to a segment of the Pakistani community (1). The prosecution do not deny that the far-right group provoked the men with vile racist abuse and were the initial physical aggressors. However, having started a fight and found themselves outnumbered, the prosecution allege the men went beyond what could reasonably be considered self-defence. The trial is ongoing.

The case is an interesting one because it mirrors something very close to my own town. Oldham, like Rotherham, was implicated in child sex abuse scandals linked with a section of the Pakistani community. Indeed, there was a link between the rings in Rotherham and Oldham. Just like Rotherham, we too have found Britain First staging demonstrations in the town centre.

Every month, Oldham Bethel Church go into Oldham town centre for an Open Air. At our most recent meeting, on our arrival, we were greeted by the sound of militaristic music, skinhead men dressed in stereotypical far-right garb and a large banner stating, more than a little provocatively, ‘No more mosques’ whilst handing out similarly inflammatory printed materials containing some choice headlines. Whilst there were no fights (as far as I’m aware), there were more than a few raised voices from both White and Asian locals. Local police soon came along to act as ‘a presence’ after Britain First members provoked reactions from passersby and subsequently filmed any infuriated response in a bid to suggest they were the victims of local aggression.

Most troubling of all, Britain First were claiming to be a Christian group. As we were conducting our Open Air, more than a few (rightly) concerned people asked whether we were linked. It did give us a good opportunity, not only to distance ourselves from Britain First, but to share the true gospel of Jesus Christ that transcends the boundaries of race (cf. Galatians 3:28). Incidentally, this same weekend also saw local Jehovah’s Witness and Mormon groups out in the town. It brought home the importance of being a public gospel witness in the town, sharing the truth of what the Bible actually teaches and speaking in a winsome way to those who actually want to engage rather than seeking to provoke and impose views on others.

As I write this, I am watching a documentary called Americas Hate PreachersI rather suspect those included represent exactly the kind of image conjured up when people think of street preachers. Such people ought to be called out for exactly what they are. They neither preach the true gospel nor represent the person of Jesus Christ. They exist only to provoke and ignore the grace of God, choosing to focus only on his wrath and justice, an overemphasis ironically shared by the many Muslims with whom they take such issue. They use vile language, ignoring Colossians 4:6 and Ephesians 4:29, and teach a legalism that condemns other ‘sinners’, a label they believe does not apply to themselves (contra 2 Corinthians 3:6; 1 John 1:8-10).

Whilst we should not shy away from speaking about the reality of sin, we must surely be clear that we all – Christian and non-Christian alike – fall short of God’s glory (cf. Romans 3:23). Whilst we should be clear that God is indeed a God of justice, the gospel is nonetheless a message of grace. Note what the apostle John says:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16f)

As the apostle Paul puts it:

if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:9-13)

As he goes on to explain:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-17)

This is why preaching the gospel is vitally important. As Paul said, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith”.’ (Romans 1:16f). It is why not only preaching is important, but preaching what is truly in the Bible. That gospel which transcends boundaries of race and relies not on legalistic law keeping but the grace of God.

Soli Deo Gloria


  1. Note there is no suggestion that this is a problem unique to the Pakistani community nor that most Pakistanis are in any way engaged in such things. It is just the case that these particular scandals were linked to a segment of the Pakistani communities in the respective towns.

Can somebody please explain the difference to me?


Today’s Guardian carries a report concerning one Kevin Wilson. Back in December 2015, Wilson was sentenced to life in prison for attacking his heavily pregnant girlfriend and killing their unborn baby. The paper reports:

At the Old Bailey in December 2015, teaching assistant Kevin Wilson, 23, was convicted of child destruction and causing grievous bodily harm to Malorie Bantala.

Wilson was later jailed for a minimum of 16 years after a judge heard that he took matters into his own hands after Bantala refused to have an abortion.

Judge Mark Lucraft said it was a “cowardly, vile, callous attack”, which resulted in the healthy 32-week-old boy being stillborn, and Bantala needing life-saving surgery.

The paper goes on to state:

They kicked and stamped on Bantala’s stomach as she lay curled up on the ground, desperately trying to protect her unborn child with one hand.

Bantala, who lost six pints of blood and had two fingers broken, immediately told police her child’s father was responsible, saying: “He doesn’t want the baby.”

She described her innocent son, Joel, as the “real victim”.

“The moment Joel died inside me I lost everything, literally. Life as I knew it no longer made sense.”

Whilst an attack on anybody is a horrible crime, the judge – and, indeed, the paper – were in no doubt that the life sentence handed down to Wilson was specifically a result of the purposeful killing of the unborn child.

The euphemistically titled ‘child destruction’ is infanticide by any other name. The crime is defined thus: ‘the crime of killing an unborn but viable foetus; that is, a child “capable of being born alive”, before it has “a separate existence”‘.

Following yesterday’s comments re Peter Singer (see here), can somebody please point out the difference between this and standard abortion? Whilst I recognise the phraseology of the law would permit the killing of a non-viable foetus – the tipping point of which would usually be viewed as 28 weeks – plethora of examples exist of children surviving earlier births. Can somebody explain how this issue is any different to the termination of those who, though under 28 weeks, have a perfectly good chance of survival?

In the case of the disabled, the issue is even more stark. The disabled can be killed in utero right up to birth. Given that the definition of ‘disabled’ incorporates a far greater number of people than ‘not viable’, can somebody explain how this example of ‘child destruction’ is any different to the daily destruction of children in the womb with disabilities as minor as cleft palates?

If Malorie Bantala, seemingly in accord with the reporting of the Guardian newspaper, ‘described her innocent son, Joel, as the “real victim”’, if he was indeed her son – not simply a foetus – and if this was the murder of a child (as sentencing suggests), is it just me or does anybody else sense the cognitive dissonance at play?



Peter Singer, utilitarianism and the problem with after-birth abortion

Peter Singer has long been known as a leading philosopher advocating utilitarianism. Here, Sally Phillips speaks with Frank Skinner about a documentary in which Singer features. Specifically, his views on the disabled are under scrutiny (Phillips has a downs syndrome son and has been a vociferous campaigner for disability rights).

She notes that Singer believes there is no moral difference between an embryo and a child at the age of three. He argues that nobody has the right to life and, if we can terminate children in the womb, to end the life of a three year old who does not have sufficient self-awareness is perfectly acceptable. In fact, Singer deems those without adequate self-awareness as non-persons who are of less value and worth than animals with, in his view, a great self-awareness. Sadly, none of this is especially new (see here).

Let me start with where Singer is absolutely correct (around 3:10 on the video). He is quite right that the sanctity of life is a religious idea that has ‘no defensibility outside of religious views’. On the Atheistic/Agnostic/Humanist views, there really is no reason why anyone ought to be able to live or otherwise. One person’s views, opinions and principles are just as valid as another’s. There is nothing to ground our morality – it is, at best, cultural but, more likely, simply subjective. We may offer subjective reasons, or utilitarian principles (which are ultimately subjective – who is the arbiter of the greatest good?), but there is no ultimate reason why any view or belief is right or wrong, including the right to life.

The Judeo-Christian view uniquely offers the concept of the imago dei. The right to life is not a matter of God’s simply saying so, as in many other religious worldviews, it is a matter of God’s very design. He created human beings in his own image and thus imbues them with something that inherently distinguishes them from animals, whether severely disabled or not. The reason why those in the Judeo-Christian tradition can defend the sanctity of life is not simply because God says life is sacred (though he does and so it is). It is because every human being reflects something of God himself. God specifically links the seriousness of taking life to the concept of imago dei in Gen 9:6.

At the end of the discussion, both Phillips and Skinner agree that Singer’s ‘cold, calm logic’ is ‘hard to fault’. Certainly there is a logic to the view that says the termination of children in the womb is of little difference to the killing of children up to the age of three. There is an even straighter line from the ability to terminate disabled children in the womb up to birth  and the view that disabled children can be killed after birth (non-disabled children cannot be terminated after 28 weeks forcing us to draw the only conclusion possible, the disabled are not viewed equally or equally valued in the eyes of society). So there is a certain, almost consistent, logic here.

But here is where the logic begins to fail. If it is true that persons are determined by their self-awareness and their value determined by the greater good (leaving aside the thorny issue of who determines what ‘greater good’ actually is), then to limit termination to disabled people up to the age of 3 is entirely inconsistent. In this country we say the age of criminal responsibility is 10 (we are considered draconian by the rest of Europe). If that is true, then we have determined that those under the age of 10 lack the self-awareness to understand the implications of their moral decisions. So, to be consistent, Singer really ought to advocate the ability to kill anyone – disabled or otherwise – up to the age of 10.

However, consistency pushes us further. We have determined as a society that there are many aspects of life that are unsuitable for children. We have established that they lack the moral ability and self-awareness to able to handle all sorts of things. This means consistency really ought to permit the ability to kill anybody under the age of 18 as they are not fully self-aware. If they lack full self-awareness, and they are of limited value to wider society, should all under-18s not be bumped off unceremoniously too?

But things must surely go further. If value and self-awareness are the primary concerns, how self-aware and valuable must we be to avoid being deemed surplus to requirements and immediately snuffed out? Should the brash and gauche be killed for lacking full self-awareness? What about the intellectually inferior? Each group we remove en masse means we create a new bottom caste who immediately become the new ‘least valuable’ group. Before long, are we not left with only one person who is simultaneously both most and least valuable?

The reason why most people baulk at even the softer end of utilitarianism is because, as a society built on Judeo-Christian values, there are a whole range of values we take for granted as correct and consider self-evident (see Tom Holland on this very issue here). These were not formed in a vacuum but over centuries of Christianity as the dominant cultural force. The problem much of Western Europe now faces is, as a society that has broadly rejected the Judeo-Christian framework but wishes to uphold many of its values, what basis have they got upon which to enforce them?

Everything is providence


‘The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps’ – Proverbs 16:9

The Bible is pretty clear on the sovereignty of God. Would that there was no need to defend it given the clarity on the issue scripture affords. Yet the likes of Molinism, Arminianism and Open Theism – to a lesser or greater degree – undermine the doctrine of which Spurgeon said:

There is no attribute of God more comforting to his children than the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, they believe that Sovereignty hath ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all.

But one doesn’t want to defend God’s sovereignty here, there really is no need (just read the Bible). I am more interested in the related concept of God’s providence.

Providence is the natural outworking of sovereignty. If sovereignty is to do with the range of God’s rule, providence is the outworking of that rule. Sovereignty relates to the divine control of God; providence is how God works out his divine control in practice. If God is in control of all events (sovereignty) then the circumstances we find ourselves in must have been divinely ordained (providence).

There is a common strain of Christian thought that wants to know ‘God’s will for my life’. The logic is thus: (1) God has a plan for my life; (2) To honour God I must act in accord with his will; (3) Therefore, I must discern and act within the will of God.

There is a rightness of this type of thinking. Where God has expressed his will, it is certainly not honouring to him to actively disregard it. There is nothing glorifying about flagrantly disregarding God’s expressed will which we have in his word. Where the logic errs is in failing to recognise that there are two sides to God’s will: expressed and providential. His expressed will is that which he commands in his Word; his providential will is all that he brings to pass in the world. To ‘know God’s will for my life’ is to look in his word and seek to act in accord with it whilst recognising, in the ordinary course of things, God’s ultimate will cannot be thwarted.

This leads on to my point: everything is providence. If God is in control of all things, and he ordains all events, is it possible to act outside of his will? Surely the answer must be ‘no’. Certainly we can act against his expressed will (e.g. Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery or the unjust crucifixion of Jesus) but we cannot act outside his providential will (e.g. Joseph becoming supreme governor and Jesus purchasing salvation and rising from the dead). It means all things are providential and we cannot act outside of God’s ultimate will.

So how do I know what God would have me do in any given circumstance? There are three things to consider:

  1. Read his word. Does God give any expressed guidance as to his will? If yes, make sure you act in accordance with it.
  2. Use your mind. If God is control of all things, he is also in control of our volition. If God guides primarily through his word, he surely also guides through our will and volition. If he knows how we will act in any given circumstances, it follows that – once we have considered his expressed will – we can weigh up what seems right to us.
  3. Consider your circumstances. If God ordains all events, does it not seem likely that he will place us in particular circumstances – knowing our own volition – that will cause us to act in accordance with his will? He will close certain doors we might otherwise think viable and open those that seem credible in the circumstances. Using both our minds and circumstances, the Lord knows what we would choose in any given circumstances and places us where we will act in accordance with his ultimate will.

The basic point is this: to act within God’s will, just do something. If everything is within God’s control, then everything is providential. If everything is providential, then it is impossible for us to act outside of God’s ultimate will. If God’s ultimate will cannot be thwarted, and he guides us through circumstances and volition, then simply acting in accordance to whatever seems appropriate in the circumstances means we are surely following God’s plan for our life.

Whatever God’s will for your life may be, simply acting as seems right in your circumstances means you will be acting in line with God’s will for you. Although we may act against God’s expressed will, everything is essentially providence.