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The terrorist attacks in Paris, and the definition of fundamentalism

16 January 2015


From the Revd R. C. Paget

Sir, - As an Arabist for more than 40 years, and one who left Syria just a few weeks before the insurrection, I am deeply concerned about the highly misleading pronouncements by senior politicians and clergy on the nature of Islam and its goals.

Recent events in Birmingham schools and in France ought to alert us all to some of the unpalatable realities about both mainstream and extremist Islam: refusing to be open and honest about these things does the people of this country a great disservice. It is time to dispel some of the myths, lest we unwittingly create a nightmare for future generations: it is not the time to worry about political correctness, to turn a blind eye, or to mistake the Anglican sin of niceness for true compassion.

While there are many different sects within Islam, their majority world-view is an all-encompassing one that has no word for "secular" in its politics: democracy is simply a tool through which they hope one day to secure, simply by numbers, a vote to replace it with theocracy.

Western pluralism is, again, something of which to take advantage for the time being; and witnessing the demise, largely from libertarian rule, of Western society - break-up of the traditional family, teenage pregnancies, alcohol abuse, etc. - they see the social and legal order of patriarchy and sharia as the antidote. And then there are the extremists!

That we all know and respect decent and well-meaning Muslims from a variety of sects does not mean that we should be naïve about the consequences of introducing sharia principles in finance and law, the true agenda of mainstream Islam, and its attitude to unbelief and apostasy, or the choices that our "good Muslim" friends will one day be coerced to make by their fellow Muslims.

The Vicarage, Brenchley
Kent TM12 7NN


From the Revd Paul Cowan

Sir, - I AM against all extremism, terrorism, violence, and killing, especially in the name of God.

I AM for doing unto others as I would wish them to do to me.

I AM for respecting and trying to understand the faith of others.

I AM for the marginalised, the ethnic minority, and the outcast in our society.

. . . Am I Charlie?

Paul Cowan
Church Office
St George the Martyr
Wash Common
Newbury RG14 6NU


From Janet Leythorne

Sir, - There is no condoning the terrorist attacks in France last week. But would they have happened if the publications of Charlie Hebdo had been less unkind?

Being hurtful not only causes pain and distress, but often provokes retaliation, particularly in this case in the minds of those already angry at the killing of tens of thousands of innocent Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan by Western attacks.

Freedom of the press means that what Charlie Hebdo published was lawful. Was it necessary? It has already caused tragedy, and there is more to come. St Paul said that it is better not to eat meat offered to idols if by so doing one upsets or offends. Does not the same principle apply here?

Alexanders, The Cliff
Arbor Lane, Pakefield NR33 7BQ


From Mrs Viven Moores

Sir, - Next week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Would it not be better to have a week of prayer for Inter-Religious Peace and Understanding? Isn't prayer for unity among Muslims far more urgent today than prayer for unity among Christians?

Vivien Moores
4 Redwing Road
Bury BL8 4ET


From Mr Gordon James

Sir, - I have long thought of myself as an old-fashioned liberal Anglican: in favour of women's ordination and gay marriage, convinced of the uniqueness and divinity of Jesus, while being unconvinced that God intends to condemn all non-Christians to eternal torment. It seems I am mistaken. Under two of Professor Koopmans's three criteria (News, 9 January), I am a fundamentalist.

As a lay preacher, I constantly draw on the Bible and the wisdom of the Church over the ages to question and problematise current assumptions and unexamined traditions, referring back in particular to the life and teachings of Jesus and of the New Testament authors. If that is returning to the roots of Christianity, then I am convinced that we should do this. This doesn't mean that I believe that the 21st-century Church should or could become the first-century Church.

It is Professor Koopmans's third criterion that most concerns me, however. "The rules of the Bible [the Qur'an] are more important to me than the laws of [survey country]." Yes, they are. Not in detail, but in general. To say "no" would be to assert that, should Parliament ever enact a law condemning all Jews to death in gas chambers, that law would take ethical priority over God's prohibition of murder. Every challenge to constitutional evil, from the slave trade to the denial of votes for women, comes from people with a commitment to a law higher than the law of the land.

Often, the higher authority appealed to is God, but it may be an abstract principle, such as human rights. Indeed, establishing the law of the land as the ultimate ethical standard is incompatible with democracy, since there would be no standpoint from which the legislative status quo could be subjected to a critique, and thus no need ever to change it.

A few weeks ago, we celebrated the festival of Christ the King, a festival inaugurated in the face of growing nationalism and totalitarianism in Europe in the early 20th century. To acknowledge Christ as King is to reject the doctrine that any government has an absolute right to enact whatever law it chooses, however oppressive or evil, and to assert that human beings retain the right to dissent from, and even to resist, the dominant ideology. If bombs and bullets persuade us to abandon these freedoms, then we will have surrendered very liberties we claim to defend.

Gordon James (Reader)
4 Lincoln Place, Macclesfield
Cheshire SK10 3EW


From the Revd Tom Brazier

Sir, - I was saddened by your report last week of a survey that contrasts Christian and Islamic fundamentalism.

We have come to understand the word "fundamentalism" to mean religiously motivated hatred, a concept that we rightly reject. There is, however, a prior and deeper understanding of the word which is about following the basic or fundamental principles of a discipline. In this sense of the word, Christians should, indeed, be fundamentalist.

This kind of fundamentalism results in self-sacrificial love as opposed to other-sacrificial hatred. We tend to recoil equally strongly from self-sacrifice as we do from religious hatred; so it is imperative that true Christian fundamentalism receive as much encouragement as possible.

The survey, itself, fails to grasp the true nature of Christian fundamentalism. It asks respondents to agree or disagree with three statements to ascertain whether they are fundamentalist.

The first, "Christians should return to the roots of Christianity," is surely one that all Christians should affirm (the root in question being Jesus, and we all as sinners needing to return to him); but only 21 per cent did.

The other two statements, for a true Christian fundamentalism, are surely meaningless. "There is only one interpretation of the Bible and every Christian must stick to that" is far too narrow. A Christian fundamentalist can respond only that the Bible is far too varied and deep for any such simplistic statement, or its converse, to make sense.

Finally, to the third statement, "The rules of the Bible are more important to me than the laws of [insert country]," a Christian fundamentalist can respond only that presuppositions about the Bible's being a rule book fly in the face of the epistles to the Romans and Galatians, which argue that all rules - religious or secular - are a distant second best to a life of freedom in Jesus.

We should deeply lament both the desperate paucity of Christian fundamentalists (21 per cent) and the tragic misunderstanding of fundamentalism as hatred rather than love.

38 Brancepeth Road
Tyne & Wear NE38 0LA

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