Stay in Europe, to be blessed by Europe: 4 May

May 4, 2016

We Brits should maintain our place in Europe. Staying helps us fulfil our national purpose. Staying supports the vision of peace through economic cooperation. Staying honours the good kind leaders. Leaving Europe means choosing selfish splendid isolation, making us slaves to the money mills of the City of London who have no interest in building good British companies, or good British life.

Britain’s national purpose is to have one foot in Europe and one foot in the Commonwealth. The nations of Europe are our closest neighbours; we have more natural family connections with the Commonwealth. Our athletes compete in the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games. Britain fulfils its destiny when it links Europe and the Commonwealth. Indian leaders mostly urge us to stay in Europe http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-35915389

Exiting Europe would be a decision to stand on our own feet, independent of anyone. We would dwindle, increasingly cut off from both Europe and the Commonwealth. We have to maintain our place, our foot, in Europe, while also seeking stronger ties, economic and political cooperation with the Commonwealth.

Peace through economic cooperation was the founding vision of the European Union. Seeking peace, using economics to pursue lasting peace, especially in mainland Europe. Seeking first the peace that God wants, knowing that other things will follow, as Jesus said. This vision is still good and needs our support. Now that lasting peace in Europe has been achieved, the priority is to see how the vision and the method can be extended beyond Europe. How can peace through economic cooperation be extended to Pakistan and South Africa and Jamaica and Australia? We need to be working on this, inside Europe.

Splendid isolation is selfish. ‘We want to get out because we have been putting in more than we have been receiving,’ is a common exit argument. In other words ‘We don’t want to be net givers, we want to be net takers, or not in the club. We don’t want to use our historic wealth largely derived through our Empire, ie from other nations, for anyone but ourselves.’ Choosing to leave Europe means choosing selfishness. Woe betide us then!

The City of London is not our saviour, but our ruination. Currently a huge number of British based companies are fostered by European leadership and investment. We don’t like to think about this too much. ‘Our’ electricity companies have German, French and Spanish (Scottish Power) ultimate ownership. So do many other companies. Leaving Europe would make it much more likely that these owners would give up, like BMW giving up on recalcitrant Rover.

You would have thought that the substantial Investment Houses of London would be foremost in nurturing good British companies, good British prosperity, over the long term. The reality is that the City focus is not on long term prosperity but on next quarter’s profit. JCB has flourished precisely because it has nothing to do with the stock market. https://rogerharper.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/israel-helping-victims-and-jcb-14-june/  The City of London asset strips for the benefit of the rich of the world. To maintain and develop good companies in Britain we need Europe.

We also need to continue in Europe for American, Canadian, Indian, and especially Japanese owners to continue to nurture companies here. Japanese car plants were built in Britain partly because we are part of the European Union. Leaving Europe would make the Japanese think again. Honda would be the first to leave, with catastrophic results.

Pro-Europe leaders also seem to me a much more likeable, trustable, lot. John Major rather than Nigel Farage, Barack Obama rather than Boris Johnson (both American), our world-leading University Professors rather than our Titled Landowners. By their fruits, by their character, can we see who to follow.

Seeking the peace and welfare of our neighbours, as ourselves, brings blessing. Dwelling in unity, sharing at least elements of a common household, with our brothers and sisters, brings blessing. Seeking to stand on our own selfish feet brings an isolation which may feel splendid at first, but becomes cold and crabby, bitter and bigoted, ineffectual and impoverished.

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Government trying to kill off Sundays: 23 February

February 23, 2016

The UK Government is trying amend the current Enterprise Bill in order to increase Sunday Trading through devolving power to Local Authorities. This will kill off the small remaining space in the week for community rest. UK readers, please write to your MP, especially if they are Conservative, and ask them not to support this sick scheme.

Ill thought-through. The Government’s case is built on forecasts of possible economic benefit, surveys which show a substantial number of people would like their choice of when to shop widened, support for traditional rather than internet shopping, and a proclaimed need for London to compete internationally with other tourist destinations.

The Government give no detailed working of the economic forecasts. They do not demonstrate how the substantial increased salary and energy costs to retailers would be offset by increased sales. Rather, the findings of customer surveys indicate that people do not envisage spending more. People only envisage a wider choice of when to shop for the same amount of goods.

The Government quote no economic evidence. The most obvious such evidence would be from the extension of Sunday Trading for the Olympics. The Government do not mention this, probably because in that period there was a slight decrease in Sunday spending compared to the previous year. The slight decrease coupled with bigger overheads for retailers put pressure on retailers to raise prices. More widely the Government show no evidence that the extension of Sunday Trading so far in this country has led to more sales overall, rather than displacement of sales, or has created more jobs, or has lowered prices. These would be obvious figures for the Government to produce if they exist.

The Government give no evidence that increased Sunday Trading would reduce internet shopping. They could quote surveys of why people use internet shopping, which indicate that not being able to go to a shop before 10am and after 4pm on Sundays is a significant factor. The lack of such evidence probably indicates that Sunday shopping hours are an insignificant factor in people’s choice to shop online. The growth of internet shopping in the UK is much more due to the good, quick, delivery services possible in a nation more compact than others.

The Government take no account of proven economic success. Germany has the most successful economy in the world. Germany also has far less Sunday Trading than the UK at present. If our Government are, as they state, ‘committed to increasing the UK’s productivity’ they should learn from our most productive neighbour.

The Government are saying ‘We guess this will be good economically, but we are giving no evidence to support this view.’

The Government also give no indication of the administration costs of their scheme. Each Local Authority would have to spend valuable time and money consulting, debating and deciding their local rule. They would need to employ people to administer and enforce their policy. Some of these would already be employed, for instance in Trading Standards, but the added workload would be to the detriment of their existing work. The Government have given no costings for all this, hardly a business-minded approach to running our country. The probable reason for lack of costings is that their scheme would add to the administration costs of the country as a whole without bringing any assured benefits.

The Government also give no indication of the environmental costs of their scheme. Our international commitments mean that we must reduce carbon emissions, reduce energy consumption. All Government policies should have this in mind. The Government gives no assessment of the environmental impact of their scheme, while many businesses have to make such assessments for their expansion plans. The probable reason for lack of such assessment is that it would be very difficult to show how the increased fuel use for running shops for longer could be offset.

Hasty The lack of proper evidence and assessment shows that the Government’s scheme is being rushed. The amendment is being added to a Bill in its late stages to enable a quick decision and implementation. The Government are already saying that the changes ‘will’ take effect from the autumn of this year. They disregard the possibility that their scheme may not be accepted in the Commons. The Government state that there will be enough debate in Parliament, while also making sure that the Upper House has no opportunity for such debate.

Devious Before last year’s election, Conservative Central Office wrote clearly on behalf of David Cameron that the Party had no plans to change the existing good compromise on Sunday Trading. No apology has been issued for this misleading.

The Government’s explanation of their amendment begins by proclaiming that not allowing shops to open before 10am of after 4pm on Sundays is ‘stifling.’ This is a clear exaggeration. Their case continues with rhetorical language. and little substance.

The Government’s response to the Consultation last September quotes exact figures for people supporting their scheme and no figures for other views. These other views are dismissed in more general terms. They quote the number of Conservative Council Leaders and Members (misleadingly reported in the Press as Leaders alone) who wrote in support of their scheme, without indicating what proportion of Conservative Council Members this constitutes. 149 such people sound like a substantial number, but not when compared to the greater number of Conservative Council Members across England who declined to offer such support.

One example of such response is from South Oxfordshire District Council who indicated to the Government that they were in favour of the scheme. Their own consultation of local people showed 45% in favour and 56% against. (Their figures! http://www.southoxon.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Sunday%20trading%20hours%20-%20consultation%20summary%20-%20SEPT%202015.pdf ) Other Local Authorities may well have supported the Government Scheme more from Party loyalty than local opinion.

Extending Sunday Trading, in some Local Authorities, would have a greater, visible, impact on our communities than most other Government legislation. It would be a major and noticeable change. The Government should not be seeking to introduce such change through a late amendment in an unrelated Bill.

Harmful to our nation The Government highlight that they are trying to implement a request from shops in Knightsbridge and the West End of London. They make no mention of the rest of the country. As well as adding costs to every Local Authority, their scheme will lead to dissension and division within and between Local Authorities and to confusion as to which shop is open where. Such confusion is likely to put off shoppers.

The Government state that they want to give Local Authorities the ability to prioritise some sectors over others eg high street rather than out of town. The Government want to do this by giving the large retailers what they want and by disregarding the views of convenience store owners. There is a clear mismatch between what they state and what they are proposing. If the Government are concerned to support the high street and smaller traders, they should listen more to the representatives of these sectors and maintain the current compromise.

The Government make no mention of the impact to our society in any terms other than economic. They seem to be unconcerned about anything other than the economic theory of the free market. Sunday as a day of rest, including rest from shopping, is a significant marker in our national life that we humans are more than economic units. Our Government wants to remove this marker.

The detriment of longer Sunday Trading to shop workers and their families has been well expressed, not least by the Union USDAW. Thought should also be given to people who live on or near busy roads who at present relish the comparative quiet early and late on Sundays. If shop workers were working earlier and later, public transport to enable them to travel to and from work would also probably need to be increased, whether the transport workers want this or not. This would add to the overall cost of public transport. Of course this does not apply to London, where there is a full Sunday public transport service already, but the Government should think not only of London.

The Government indicate that they are siding with many large retailers and London shops. They are breaking a long established, well supported, national compromise to favour one interest group based in London.

The Government also seem to be in thrall to free market ideologues. In some ways having a complete Sunday of retailing will make little difference. This is only a matter of a very few hours in a whole week. It is not at all clear that shops would benefit economically. Yet the Government insist on bringing their scheme to the Commons, using up valuable Parliamentary time and energy. A few months ago the Government said, realistically, that they would not take their scheme any further. Now they are pushing it again. It seems that there are some people, connected to the Government, who find even a few hours of respite from retailing an affront to their free market ideology. They must be allowed to sell whenever they want. It is their right. The market, or more particularly the dominant market traders, must not be curtailed in any way.

Please urge your MP to vote against the Government amendment. Better for them to vote for family time on Sundays, for shop workers’ rest, for corner shops, for restricting the carbon output of big stores, for a clear national policy, for our current ‘classic British compromise,’ for national values other than those of the free market.

Roger Harper

Books of 2015: 6 January

January 6, 2016

My 3 favourite books from last year. None are new, only new to me.

Pelagia and the White Bulldog by ‘Boris Akunin’ (2000, translated 2006) An engaging, devious, intelligent, whodunit which takes Christian faith seriously as part of Russian life.

Pelagia is a young 19th Century nun, working under Bishop Mitrofani in a small rural town. She is sent to the estate of the bishop’s aunt, a fanatic breeder of white bulldogs one of which has mysteriously died. Soon there are other deaths, with multiple suspects. Sister Pelagia has to use her quiet observation, her hunches, her ‘English’ physical education training, her looks, her vow of obedience, and her sharp mind.

‘Boris Akunin’ is the pen name of a Russian academic and popular author of Georgian and Jewish origin. It is remarkable that he has chosen to write with knowledge and sympathy about intelligent likeable Christian religious people, as well as notable Christian hypocrites. His Bishop is a charismatic leader in his community who ruminates on how to lead people out of the corrupt law of the jungle and, Akunin writes, succeeds. No doubt this is intended to apply to the 21st Century as much as the 19th. Akunin depicts the Church and its leadership, within society, more than Dickens, Eliot or even Trollope.

Akunin gives us good believable drama: interesting characters in a well-paced plot. I look forward to reading the sequel early this year.

Two Brothers by Ben Elton (2012) The story of Nazi Germany (and, less so, of its Communist aftermath) seen through the story of ‘twin’ brothers brought up in a Jewish family in Berlin.

One brother is adopted and not ethnically Jewish which makes all the difference in the culture of rabid official racism. For a while we do not know which brother is which and we care for both. Elton’s page-turning plot covers all the key moments and developments in the history with painstaking accuracy and believable roles for the main characters.

Two Brothers would be a purely enjoyable, exciting, first class, thriller if the history it portrays was not so grim. At times I needed to put the book down, overwhelmed by the horrors unfolding. I was always glad then to pick the book up again and follow, to the end, the engaging story and the beloved characters.

Reading Two Brothers is the best way I know for anyone to find out what life was like in Nazi Germany. A severe, sensitive, and scintillating story.

The Islamist Ed Husain (2007) Why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left. A fascinating personal account of the attraction, history and danger of political Islamism for a young British man.

Husain achieves the right balance between his own story, thoughts and feelings, and explanation of the ideologies, their history and official responses to them, especially in Britain. His progression from spiritual to political Islam is understandable. His concern for fellow Moslems across the world, awakened especially by searing one-sided publicity of the plight of the Kosovans, is laudable. His grasp of the various schools of thought and practice is comprehensive and he conveys the nuances well. He points out the naivety and probable superciliousness of the British Establishment who turned blind eyes and deaf ears to the growth of political Islamism in the UK. He explains calmly how some people in this country and elsewhere moved on to calling for a Caliphate, long before the emergence of IS / Daesh. He describes how the rhetoric of Islamic brotherhood is belied by the practice of Islamists and how much good, beautiful, longstanding Islamic religious practice is stamped out by the political Islamists.

Husain gives some hope that many others will, like him, make the journey away from IS but, without a stronger moderate Islam, how strong can that hope be?

Paris Attcks: We shall not be moved. Nous restons en place. 14 November

November 14, 2015

After the murderous bombings in Paris what now?

The day after the July 7 bombings I was in London, sitting on a near empty Tune train, pulling into one sparsely peopled station after another. I felt afraid, as did everyone else. There was hardly any talking between us few passengers.

From somewhere inside me came the old protest song ‘We shall not be moved.’ I sang it quietly to myself. ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved.’ The song bolstered my confidence, quietened my fear, strengthened my determination to keep travelling where the bombers had attacked. ‘Just like a tree that’s planted by the riverside, we shall not be moved.’

 The thought of singing out loud came to me. I wasn’t bold enough to do it. Apart from having a notoriously bad singing voice, I worried that the scattered few passengers would think me odd, at least.

 Now I wish I had sung out. Maybe someone would have understood. Maybe it would have helped a fellow passenger as it had done me. Maybe it would even have spread…

 WE SHALL NOT, WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED. We shall not be moved from eating out in our city centres. We shall not be moved from going to concerts and football matches. We shall not be moved from living in a free and open society. We shall not give in to the terrorists’ aim to make us terrorised. We shall act as unterrorised, as normal, as free.

 The public response after the Charlie Hebdo killings was the same. People took to the streets, holding pens. We shall not be moved from publishing and reading satire, of anything and everything.

 Now the French Government is calling people to stay indoors. Communal events are closed. No street demonstrations are allowed until Thursday. Is this the right response?

 I understand the need to keep people safe. Parisians must be stunned by shock. Eating out now, celebrating over food, could feel disrespectful to the many dead and injured.

 Yes, let those who need to stay at home and mourn do so. But, please, let those who want to go out, who want to find and create solidarity, who want to sing ‘We shall not be moved…’ also do so, as they did in Paris and other towns at the beginning of this year.

Please keep the friendly football match between England and France on Tuesday. Maybe the stadium will resound, maybe even in French as well as English: ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved!’ ‘Nous restons, nous restons en place!’

Roger Harper

PS I’ll be at Wembley on Tuesday for the match!

Please look after this migrant: 18 September

September 18, 2015

In June I went to America for a cousin’s wedding. On the way I watched the film ‘Paddington.’ It’s brilliant. After a natural disaster, the young bear is sent to Britain because his family know that British people are kind and welcoming. He stands alone on a London station. ‘Please look after this bear.’ One family take him in. Then adventures begin! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=licqTv20QxM

In America I met the bride’s grandmother, Renate. After years of Nazi persecution she was sent to Britain because her family knew that British people are kind and welcoming. She arrived at Liverpool St station. All the others on her train were collected first. She alone was left – until a woman, who had taught briefly in her home town, came to collect her. Renate’s life began again. She made a valuable contribution to war administration. She married and her husband took her to Canada, then America.

In my parish of Burton Joyce near Nottingham I have heard about the war evacuees. Children from the cities were welcomed here, given homes, given a community. There were many of them and their ways were often different; it was not easy for the locals. People here made sacrifices so children in danger were safe here.

Once again we need, as a nation and as a community to welcome refugees.

We can welcome refugees firstly as guests. Guests live with us, work with us, but they are not members of our national family. Many may, after a while, be able to return home. Others may need in time to become part of our national family. We then teach them our ways, language, history. When they show themselves serious about this, they become fellow citizens.

We also need to cooperate with other nations. We share the responsibility with the rest of Europe. We need also to share with the Commonwealth. Maybe some refugees will be better in Malaysia or Uganda and we can help finance this?

Can this country once again be a place where children, families, are safe again and can begin a new life? Such a welcome would not be easy, but adventures would begin!

Charities helping refugees:

Refugee Council assisting refugees in the UK

https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/donate

Christian Aid assisting refugees in the Middle East and Europe

https://donate.christianaid.org.uk/refugees

Barnabas Fund resettling Christian refugees, initially in Poland

https://barnabasfund.org/osh

Phoenix Community caring for Unaccompanied Minors in the UK

http://phoenixcommunity.org/vulnerable-adults-unaccompanied-minors/

Home for Good arranging foster placements for unaccompanied minors in the UK

http://www.homeforgood.org.uk/get-involved/responding-refugee-crisis

Citizens UK arranging for landlords to register to house refugees

http://www.citizensuk.org/help_find_homes_for_syrian_refugees

Roger Harper

UK Government plans to extend Sunday trading can be stopped: 24 August

August 24, 2015

The UK Government is asking people to give their views on its proposal to give local authorities the freedom to allow longer Sunday trading hours where they want. You can read the full Government rationale at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/451376/BIS-15-359-consultation-on-devolving-sunday-trading-rules.pdf 

Our Government quotes unsupported prediction that extended Sunday trading will bring economic benefit. Keep Sunday Special show how fabricated this claim is: http://www.keepsundayspecial.org.uk/evidence/mythbuster How can shops paying more for staff time, heating buildings for longer, mean that prices will be lower? How can local authorities take on this extra administrative role without diverting stretched resources from other areas? 

Our Government disregards the detriment of extended Sunday trading – social, environmental, spiritual. Allowing this proposal to go ahead means saying ‘Possible economic benefit is all that matters to us as a nation.’ More families will be unable to find time to meet when no-one is working. More carbon will be released into the atmosphere. More people will feel their only worth is economic.  

The present rules on Sunday trading are widely regarded as a good British compromise. The last attempt by Government and large retailers to break this compromise, in 2006, was defeated by a targeted campaign. This year’s attempt can also be defeated. We must not allow a good working compromise to be replaced by division and dissension between and within local authorities.

Please can I encourage UK readers to return the Response, by 16 September, with a clear ‘No?’ https://bisgovuk.citizenspace.com/ccp/devolving-sunday-trading-rules

Please encourage others also to respond. 

To write to you MP go to https://www.writetothem.com/

If you would like to do more, including going in person to the Minister concerned, please comment. 

Roger Harper

PS How strange that this consultation is taking place in holiday season when many UK Christians are already much involved countering the Bill in Parliament to allow Assisted Dying!

Proof of Hades? The Experience of Eben Alexander: 8 July

July 8, 2015

‘Darkness, but a visible darkness – like being submerged in mud yet also being able to see through it… Consciousness, but consciousness without memory or identity – like a dream where you know what’s going on around you, but have no real idea of who, or what, you are… My consciousness wasn’t foggy or distorted when I was there. It was just … limited.’ (p29f)

This was the first part of Eben Alexander’s Near-Death Experience in November 2008 as related in his book Proof of Heaven (Simon and Schuster 2012). His Experience is significant in that his brain definitely had no functioning at all, nor any possibility of functioning. As a neuro-surgeon, he concludes that his brain could not possibly have been giving him the Experience in some kind of hallucination. The only explanation he can see is that his soul was truly experiencing life beyond this life.

Eben calls the place where he first found himself ‘Underworld’ or ‘The Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View.’ ‘… like being a mole or earthworm, buried deep in the ground yet somehow able to see the tangled matrices of roots…’ (p30)

The Old Testament’s answer to the question ‘Where do people go when they die?’ was ‘To Sheol – a place of darkness and semi-consciousness, a gloomy half life.’ ‘…for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.’ Ecclesiastes 9:10 ‘… the underworld was not a particularly important concept for the Israelite writers… Descriptive details are very sparse, but suggest a somnolent, gloomy existence without meaningful activity or social distinction…’ (Philip S Johnston Shades of Sheol – Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament, Apollos IVP 2002, p85) Sheol was synonymous with ‘The Pit’ or ‘The Grave;’ the dead were understood to be half-living down under the earth – very much like a mole or earthworm.

Jesus talked of Sheol with its Old Testament understanding. When the New Testament was written, in Greek rather than Hebrew, the writers used the Greek name Hades as the translation of Sheol. (This is clearest in Acts 2 where Peter quotes Psalm 16.) Hades in the New Testament is the same place as Sheol in the Old Testament.

Jesus spoke of Sheol as a place to which people are brought down, a place of darkness and also a place of affliction. The deeply unpleasant nature of (semi-) existence in Hades / Sheol was one of Jesus’ additions to our understanding of it. Jesus also spoke of ‘the outer darkness where there is weeping wailing and gnashing of teeth’ implying that there may be different sections of Hades / Sheol with different degrees of darkness and affliction.

For Eben Alexander the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View was deeply unpleasant. He was immersed in sound, ‘a deep, rhythmic pounding, distant yet strong … like the sound of metal against metal, as if a giant subterranean blacksmith is pounding an anvil somewhere off in the distance: pounding it so hard that the sound vibrates through the earth, or the mud, or wherever it is that you are.’ (p29) ‘Grotesque animal faces bubbled out of the muck, groaned or screeched, and then were gone again. I heard an occasional dull roar. Sometimes these roars changed to dim, rhythmic chants, chants that were both terrifying and weirdly familiar – as if at some point I’d known and uttered them all myself.’ (p31)

‘How long did I reside in this world? I have no idea… When I was there, I felt like I (whatever “I” was) had always been there and would always continue to be.’ (p29f) Eben Alexander uses the word ‘aeons’ or ‘aeons and aeons’ (in a talk recorded for Youtube) to describe how long he was in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View.

Revelation 14:9-11 describes people in Sheol / Hades in affliction ‘to ages of ages’ (to translate the Greek literally) or ‘to aeons of aeons.’

Although Eben felt like he would always be in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View, he was rescued from it. First came ‘a feeling like I wasn’t really part of this subterranean world at all, but trapped in it.’ (p31) This made the experience worse, the rhythmic pounding more brutal, the faces more ugly and threatening, now with reptilian bodies he could feel rubbing against him. He could now smell a stench of death. ‘Whoever or whatever I was, I did not belong here. I needed to get out. But where would I go?’ (p32)

‘Even as I asked that question, something new emerged from the darkness above…’ (p32) ‘Turning slowly it radiated fine filaments of white-gold light, and as it did so the darkness around me began to splinter and break apart. Then I heard a new sound: a living sound, like the richest, most complex, most beautiful piece of music you’ve ever heard… The light got closer and closer, spinning around and around… Then, at the very center of the light something else appeared… An opening. I was no longer looking at the slowly spinning light at all, but through it. The moment I understood this, I began to move up…’ (p38)

Eben was lifted up out of the darkness, with its brutal noise, into a place of light, colour, and beautiful, permeating, music. He calls this place ‘The Gateway.’ It sounds like Paradise as talked of by Jesus and Christians. The beautiful music, the same as made by the spinning light, came from innumerable immense beings which he calls the origin of the human understanding of angels. The spinning light which rescued him from the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View was, in our terms, an angel.

Jesus proclaimed to John in Revelation 1:18 that He has the keys of death and Hades. Nearly everyone understands these words to mean that Jesus has the authority and power of entry and exit to and from Hades. Jesus also has angels working for Him. When Jesus rescued Peter from prison in Jerusalem, He sent angels. Peter saw angels taking him out of prison, not Jesus, but he understood they were acting on behalf of Jesus, in answer to the fervent prayer being made for him. (Acts 12) Jesus can bring people out of Hades Himself; Jesus can also use angels to bring people out of Hades, as He did with Eben Alexander.

Eben describes fervent prayer for him. Firstly, his own prayer. Just before he became completely unresponsive ‘out of nowhere, I shouted three words. They were crystal clear and heard by all the doctors and nurses present… “God, help me!” ‘(p24) Secondly, the prayer of many Christians, family and friends, including his neighbour, Michael Sullivan, an Episcopal priest. They were asking Jesus to help Eben and Jesus did.

Later Eben returned to the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View and, through remembering the angel and the music, was able again to be lifted out. Then he returned to the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View without being able to be lifted out. This time, however, he was also aware of ‘countless beings … surrounding me, kneeling in arcs that spread into the distance.’ They were murmuring, a quiet version of the same glorious permeating sound of the angels in The Gateway / Paradise. ‘Looking back on it now, I realize what these half-seen, half-sensed hierarchies of beings, stretching out into the dark above and below, were doing. They were praying for me.’ (p103)

Revelation 14:9-11 not only describes people in affliction in Hades for ages and ages, but also ‘the holy angels’ present with the people in Hades.

Together with the angels praying in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View Eben saw faces. ‘Two of the faces I remembered later were those of Michael Sullivan and his wife, Page. I recall seeing them in profile only, but I clearly identified them after my return when language came back. Michael had physically been in the ICU room leading prayers numerous times, but Page was never physically there (although she had said prayers for me too.)’ (p103) Six other faces, saying things, also appeared, faces of people he later identified as his wife, her sister, friends and his son.

In Matthew 16:18 talks about building His Church, ‘and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’ Gates serve to restrict or prevent entry and exit to a place. Jesus is saying here that nothing will restrict or prevent His Church from entering and leaving Hades. As the angels join with Jesus in His mission to seek and to save the lost in Hades, so His people, those called out to belong to Him and His Father, also join with Jesus in that same mission. The Church’s role begins in this life and continues in the next. Even now, Christians, through prayer, can ‘enter’ Hades. The prayer of Christians is heard in Hades.

This ministry to the dead, prayer for the dead, is, doctrinally, most controversial. It has been much abused over the years and was a trigger for the Reformation. Yet, in the simple way Eben describes, we see confirmation of the simple extrapolation of the words of Jesus. The gates of Hades will not, do not, prevail against the Church. Hades cannot keep the Church out. Hades cannot keep the prayers of the Church out.

It is not only this aspect of the nature of Hades / Sheol that seems to be confirmed by Eben Alexander’s Experience, but every aspect. Eben knew nothing at all of the understanding of Hades / Sheol. (Very few people know of Hades / Sheol because people have instead been wrongly taught or have heard about ‘Hell.’ See The Lie of Hell for an explanation, www.laddermedia.co.uk) Eben simply describes what he saw and felt. Even now he seems puzzled by what this Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View is. He coins his own name maybe because he is aware of no other name. His focus in the book and elsewhere is on other aspects of and conclusions from his Experience. He may well be surprised to learn that his Experience ties in so closely with the teaching of Jesus and the Bible about Hades / Sheol. He may also be pleased that the Bible shows clearly that Hades will one day be emptied and disposed of, together with all that is evil, all that works against life and the author of life.

Eben Alexander’s Experience could not possibly have been an experience in his human brain. He sees it as proof of heaven. It also looks remarkably like proof of Hades / Sheol.

Roger Harper

 

 

Voting for high wages not an option: 6 May

May 6, 2015

The UK has long been a low wage economy. But will any political party recognise the problem and address it?

I live near the market town of Southwell, famous for its Workhouse. Built in 1824, it became the model for many others. One problem the Workhouse was addressing was that farm labourers were earning less than they needed to live on. Each parish had the responsibility of caring for the destitute and the burden was unwelcome. (The parishes were given this responsibility after the closing of the monasteries, which, until then, had provided help.) Instead of each parish paying each farm worker a supplement to their wages, a central provision was established where the poor would live and work under strict supervision. Workhouses quickly became intensely feared by working people, and objects of the ire of Charles Dickens and others.

Why were the landowners / farmers not instead told to pay their workers a decent wage? Such interference in the affairs of the well-off was deemed out of the question. Instead of the employers paying more, the burden was shared among all parishioners. Low wages were the accepted norm, with a more or less harsh ‘safety net’ for those unable to live on such wages.

The UK today operates a variation of the same system. Instead of each parish caring for the poor, sometimes united in the provision of a workhouse, our Government cares for the poor. Those on low wages are supported by the general taxpayer through personal allowances and tax credits. Surely it would be better for the employers not to pay such low wages? Why should tax payers effectively encourage and support employers in not paying decent wages?

The standard answer is that companies need to make profits and these profits are more of a priority. Company profits are mostly for shareholders. The interests of the shareholders are deemed more of a priority than those of the workers. Between 1824 and today the landowners and farmers have been replaced by shareholders. The underlying understanding is the same. Low wages are ‘good for business’ ie good for shareholders.

UK shareholders do very well out of this system. The priority of shareholder entitlement to profit means that the UK has the largest and most widening gap between the rich and the poor in the Western world. The Sunday Times Rich List recently elevated the chief shareholders of Primark, Home Bargains, and B&M Bargains to high places in the list. Investors in decent companies, not spectacularly innovative ones, see their wealth increase far more than the wealth of workers is the same companies. The huge wealth of the US investment guru Warren Buffet has been built on this simple understanding. This is great for shareholders but can in no way be deemed to be loving your neighbour as you love yourself.

The widening gap between shareholders and the rest is also not good for the country as a whole. Such inequality is closely correlated to, and probably contributes to, poor health, greater crime, increased unhappiness. (See http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/resources/spirit-level-why-equality-better-everyone)  Our nation as a whole does not benefit. The common good is undermined by what is good for shareholders. Yet our nation subsidises shareholder profits massively through allowing limited liability. Shareholders are allowed to walk away from debts incurred through failed business while enjoying in perpetuity the benefits of successful businesses.

The UK model is not the only one. In Germany all companies have to be governed by a Supervisory Board composed of both shareholders and workers. Strategic decisions are made with the interests of both shareholders and workers in mind. As a result Germany has a high wage economy with much greater local manufacturing, much greater investment in development, and shareholders who are content with their level of return over a longer rather than shorter term.

The UK Government, whatever party is in power, has long encouraged a low wage, high shareholder return, economy. The clearest recent encouragement was the decision by the Tory / Lib Dem coalition to sell the Post Office to shareholders alone instead of investing ownership substantially in the workers, probably alongside shareholders. With workers having no more influence on company decisions than in any other shareholder company, Post Office wages will fall to the level of their competitors while the new shareholders will benefit as do those of their competitors. Post Office workers who cannot manage on the low wages will need Government support. (See https://rogerharper.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/uk-government-promotes-low-uk-wages-15-july/) When Labour was in power over many years a Minimum Wage was introduced at a low level but the basic system of prioritising shareholder returns was left untouched.

I would love to vote for a high wage UK economy at last. But tomorrow that option doesn’t seem to be on offer.

Roger Harper

The Anglican Communion, dominated by extremists: 7 February

February 7, 2015

Anglican extremists? The two words seem incompatible. Except about gay marriage.

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, was talking on Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 26 December. His reply to a question about gay relationships included: ‘It’s something that, as you go round the Communion, and having visited all the provinces, I’m very aware of this, it is seen by many as an absolutely central understanding of obedience to Christ in both directions either in favour or against.’

Some people, our Archbishop says ‘many’, see gay marriage as a Primary Issue. It has to be either promoted or resisted as a matter of priority. Not to promote or resist means disobedience to Jesus. It is impossible for these Anglicans to compromise on this. Here they stand, insisting that they can do no other

How can either camp be so sure that they are on Jesus’ side on this issue, when it is clear to them and to everyone that fellow Christians, fellow Anglicans, disagree strongly with them? The plain fact that not everyone sees things the same way ought to be enough for them to tone down, pipe down, climb down, at least a little. Add ‘but, of course we might be wrong…’ But no! The extreme, either YES or NO must be proclaimed.

Where does Jesus say in the Gospels that gay marriage is either absolutely necessary or absolutely forbidden? Nowhere so clearly. Some of what Jesus said points one way, some the other way. (See the detail at  https://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com/listening-to-jesus/) On what do the Anglican extremists base their differing views of what Jesus is saying?

Paul and Leviticus give the clear impression that we should not develop gay marriage, but their view is not necessarily the view of Jesus for all time and places, notably for this time and place. Jesus said there were other things he had to say which his hearers at the time could not bear. ‘You need to welcome Gentiles to become part of God’s people, without insisting that they keep the whole Jewish Law.’ ‘Slavery is not part of life as God wants it, but something to be outlawed.’ We know now Jesus has indeed said both of these since speaking before his death, Both of these are also against the recorded view of Paul and Leviticus etc. How can the extremists be so categorical that Jesus is or is not speaking about gay marriage in a way that we could not have borne before?

Part of me wants to shout these questions and more to the extremists. ‘Stop being so dogmatic, so blinkered, so arrogant, so extreme! You’re Anglicans for goodness sake. Take yourself with a pinch of salt.’

I am learning, though, that the approach of gentle curiosity is more Jesus-like and more effective. I need to control the anger at both sides callously tearing apart the body of Christ, and, without threatening, invite them to explain. ‘This is an absolutely central part of you being obedient to Jesus. That’s a bit of puzzle to many of us in the middle. Please can you explain it a bit more?’

The conflicting extremes dominate at present. The puzzled middle ground, where even more Anglicans stand, needs to resist and question both extremes.

Maybe Justin Welby can follow up his listening with some questioning along these lines.

Roger Harper

The Qu’ran vs. Jesus: 18 January

January 18, 2015

The Qu’ran has always been at odds with Jesus. We need to live Jesus’ way

Sebastian Faulks wrote in the Times a while ago, as I have quoted before:

‘With the Koran there are no stories. And it has no ethical dimension like the New Testament, no new plan for life. It says “the Jews and the Christians were along the right tracks, but actually, they were wrong and I’m right, and if you don’t believe me, tough — you’ll burn for ever.” That’s basically the message of the book.’

The claim that Mohammed is the last and greatest prophet is in clear contradiction to the claim that Jesus is the prophet who is more than a prophet, God’s Son. The Qu’ran was written partly to correct or contradict the Jesus of the Gospels.

The opposition is clear.

The Qu’ran is intolerant of mockery.

Jesus accepted people mocking Him. Jesus said ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’ Jesus taught people to invite more slaps on the cheek!

The Qu’ran’s enemies are ‘the infidels / unbelievers:’

Jesus’ enemies are not flesh and blood, but unclean spirits, ideologies, systems, ‘principalities and powers in the heavenly places.’

The Qu’ran is militaristic. Before receiving the messages recorded in the Qu’ran, Mohammed was a trader. Afterwards, he became a warrior chief. In the last 10 years of his life, Mohammed either led or sent out 65 military campaigns (according to the Introduction to the English rendition of the Qu’ran published by the UK Islamic Mission Dawah Centre.)

Jesus led no military campaigns. Jesus refused to use violence. Jesus instead allowed himself to be a victim of violence.

The Qu’ran teaches retaliation: ‘There is life for you in retaliation , O men of understanding, that ye may ward off (evil.)’ (2:179) ‘And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.’ (2:191) ‘and fight them until persecution is no more and religion is for Allah.’ (2:192) ‘And one who attacketh you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you.’ (2:194) (Surah 2 is seen by Moslems as a summary of the whole Koran.)

Jesus teaches no retaliation – ever. He tells his followers to love enemies, to pray for those who persecute them, to look to God to bless enemies, change them.

Looking at the history of Christianity and Islam you wouldn’t know that their origins are so different. Christianity followed Jesus faithfully for about 350 years. Then came the great compromise between Christianity and the Roman Empire. Christianity embraced, and restricted, militarism and retaliation. When Islam emerged, it copied and countered a State Religion with a powerful army.

The Christianity of the Crusades, of military retaliation, was far from following the teachings of Jesus. The ‘Christianity’ of the invasion of Iraq, the bombing of IS etc. is far from following the teachings of Jesus.

Christians need to return to the teaching and Spirit of Jesus, especially in responding to terrorist attacks:

No retaliation, ever.

No military response. No relying on weapons, on the ‘security’ industry.

No deeming people evil. People can be infected and misguided by evil but there are no ‘evil people.’

No giving up the freedom to mock and be mocked.

No further restriction on the welcome we give to strangers, despite the differences and the dangers.

Christians need strength, inner strength, not to retaliate, to keep loving. We need strength to fight fear and anger / vengefulness etc. etc.

Christians need to encourage and strengthen each other:

We shall not be moved…

We shall not give up our civic freedoms. We shall not give in to the fear of strangers, of immigrants. We will not cower behind more and more security, more weapons. We will go out into the streets and squares of our towns, lighting candles, carrying pens. We will not be moved from being an open, democratic, welcoming, fair, just society.

Just like a tree that’s standing by the waterside…

To have the strength not to be moved, we need a river to feed into our roots. Europe has never seen a wholeheartedly Christian country, rather various compromises between the State and Jesus. Yet there has been a river flowing from Jesus which has watered, influenced, the roots of Europe. We need to keep drawing from that river.

The Qu’ran has always been at odds with Jesus. We need to live Jesus’ way, now more than ever.