Friday, April 30, 2010

A story of hope

A few weeks ago I wrote about Rom Houben, a brain-damaged Belgian man in a coma for 23 years who began to communicate, and who had apparently been conscious the whole time.

Now the story appears to be not quite as good a story as it first appeared.

Rom is still physically disabled. A speech therapist was holding his finger as he moved from letter to letter to spell out words on a keyboard. More extensive tests have revealed that the therapist had unwittingly been projecting her own thoughts, presented as the patient's.

But doctors still believe he is conscious. "We'll simply have to find another way to him," said the doctor in charge.

Then came news that researchers had discovered how it was possible for patients in a so-called persistent vegetative state to communicate, giving responses to simple biographical questions.

The brain signals for "yes" and "no" are complicated, so a team headed by Dr Adrian Owen of Cambridge and a Belgian neurologist asked a PVS patient to think of playing tennis for "yes", and think about moving around the patient's home - which causes activity in a different part of the brain - for "no."

Using a hi-tech functional magnetic resonance scanner, they picked up the resultant brain activity. The patient's responses were correct every time.

The researchers believe 17 per cent of PVS patients will be able to communicate with doctors.

Then there is the story of Martin Pistorius.

At 12 years old, Martin developed meningitis and tuberculosis of the brain and was left in what doctors said was a vegetative state. His parents refused to consider withdrawing food and water and clung to the hope that he would recover.

In fact Martin was conscious - just unable to communicate. "I was locked inside my body, my brain screaming for relief, feeling overwhelmed and utterly powerless. There were times when I was really, really frightened. All I looked forward to was death."

It was a good day if a fly walked across the ceiling. At least it gave him something to look at.

When he was 26, an aromatherapist who came to give Martin massage "saw something in his eyes" that told her he was conscious. She talked with Martin's parents, who agreed he should be assessed at a specialist centre.

He was asked to gesture to indicate his choice between objects. He couldn't gesture, but they could tell from the way that his eyes focussed that he understood and was trying to respond.

His mother gave up her job to help him. He had intensive physiotherapy and operations to correct deformities caused by his spastic condition. He regained the use of his hands and learned to use a speech synthesiser similar to the one used by Stephen Hawking.

Martin still uses a wheelchair to get around. But he is working as a website developer, studying towards a degree in computer science - and married to a beautiful young lady. They are deeply in love, and looking forward to a long and happy life together.

"Helping people to die" is not the answer. Human life is infinitely precious. Caring, not killing, needs to be the aim.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Will Christians swing the election?

Nine days to go to the election - and the BBC has been asking Will Christians swing the 2010 UK election?

The fact that the question is being asked at all is evidence that something is happening. Christians are waking up. They are recognising that they have a responsibility in the world out there and that they need to make a difference. They are taking an interest in this parliamentary election in a way that certainly hasn't been seen in recent years.

The Christian Party is putting up more than 100 candidates. The Christian Peoples Alliance is putting up a further 18. The Westminster Declaration 2010, upholding Christian belief and Christian conscience, has been signed by more than 38,000 people in just over three weeks.

The Christian Institute, which has had 10,000 copies of its 48-page election briefing downloaded and is posting out 40,000 printed copies this week, says there are three touchstone issues for Christians at this election: religious liberty, the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of human life.

People have suggested Christian voters should find out whether candidates are genuinely interested in moral issues, whether they would put moral issues above party, and whether they seek election for self-interest or in the interests of others.

A number of organisations, like CARE and Christian Concern for Our Nation, suggested Christians should hold hustings - meetings to which parliamentary candidates would be invited so they could be questioned about their stance on moral issues.

More than 260 hustings are now being advertised, which means that they will be held in more than one in three of the total of 650 constituences and hundreds of candidates will be asked where they stand on matters of Christian concern.

Unlike the United States, where candidates for public office are expected to have some Christian background, public confession of Christian faith here has been looked on as political disaster. But things, it seems, are beginning to change.

What difference will the Christian vote make this time? Zoe Dixon, of the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum, said it could make a difference in marginal seats. Elizabeth Berridge, of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, said while there might generally be a low turnout at the polls, some 80 per cent of Christians could be expected to vote.

Meanwhile Scotland's Catholic bishops are urging voters to back candidates who oppose abortion, embryo research, homosexual marriage, homosexual adoption and assisted suicide.

They suggest Catholics ask candidates to answer a questionnaire on these issues, and consider which candidate will best respect their religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

"When you vote, make your faith count," the bishops say.

And according to leaked Government plans, Labour plan a reformed, all-elected House of Lords in which the number of Church of England bishops would be cut by half. The bishops would have a voice, but would be allowed to vote only on specific Church of England legislation.

"In an age where the role of religion in shaping social and moral attitudes is increasingly recognised to be highly significant," said a Church of England spokesman, "the idea of shaping the Lords on a purely secular model would be a retrograde step."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The world's gone crazy

If you need proof that the world has gone mad you would find it in one of the daily newspapers this morning.

It tells how householders in Newcastle-under-Lyme have each been provided by the local council with no less than nine differently coloured containers - irrespective of whether or not they have room to keep them - in which they are required to place their refuse.

A silver bucket is for food waste inside the house, a green bin is for food waste outside the house, a blue box is for glass, foil, tins and aerosols, a pink bag is for plastic bottles and a green bag is for cardboard.

Then there is a white bag for clothing and textiles, a blue bag for papers and magazines, a wheelie bin with a brown lid for garden waste and a grey wheelie bin for everything else.

Another article on the same page tells how children as young as eight have been offered free condoms in the street by youth workers from a taxpayer-funded charity based in Hull.

The mother of a 13-year-old girl who found condoms the girl had been given in the girl's bedroom was fuming. "I feel she is being encouraged to have sex," the mother said.

"My daughter's sexual health is my responsibility. She's my daughter. She's not the Government's daughter, the council's daughter or the youth centre's daughter. They will not care about my daughter if anything happens. It's my responsibility."

Does anyone remember when Britain was Great Britain?

Ready to leave?

According to Bible prophecy, there is going to come a time of tremendous suffering on the earth.

Some people call that time the tribulation; some call it the Great Tribulation. Jesus referred to it as a time of tribulation "such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And if those days had not been shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened" (Matt 24:21, 22).

Those who love Jesus need not worry. According to Scripture, He will return to take them out before that terrible time comes. Says 1 Thess 4:16 - 18: "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

"Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."

Jesus said "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all" (Luke 17:26, 27).

Those verses are generally understood to mean that conditions on the earth when He comes will be similar to conditions in Noah's day, and no doubt that's true. But it's interesting to notice that judgment didn't come until Noah and his family were safe in the ark.

Jesus also said "Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all" (Luke 17:28, 29).

Again, that's understood to mean that conditions at Christ's return will be similar to the conditions in Lot's day. But again it's interesting that judgment didn't begin until Lot and his family had left. Do you remember the angels who came to destroy Sodom told Lot they could do nothing until he and his family were safely out of it? (Gen 19:12 - 29).

We need to be ready for His coming.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Living with an age-old hatred

Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, attended a meeting on Mount Herzl, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, on the eve on Holocaust Remembrance Day last Sunday evening. Others have reported what he said, if only in brief, but I wanted to mention it too.

I. . . visited the Wannsee Villa in Berlin, he said. When I was there, I saw the original invitation for the meeting of high-level Nazi officials, during which they decided on the destruction of the Jewish people. On the invitation that was sent by the Deputy Head of the SS was written: "The chief of the Reich main security office, Reinhard Heydrich, cordially invites you to a discussion about the Final Solution to the Jewish problem. Breakfast will be served at 09.00."

This is how, in an elegant villa on the shore of a pastoral lake, over breakfast and glasses of cognac, 15 men sat and decided how to destroy our people. No one batted an eyelid; no one expressed any doubt regarding the mission, either its necessity or its justness. Immediately after the meal, they began their work to erase the seed of Abraham from the earth.

As I was walking through the villa, moving from document to document, I felt myself becoming filled with helpless rage, and the feeling continued to grow until it became a flood. At the end of the tour, my German host asked me to write something in the guest book. I sat in the chair and the sadness and the anger rose up and started to overflow. And because of the storm of emotions I wrote three words: Am Israel Chai (The People of Israel live).

Tonight at Mount Herzl, I say it again: Am Israel Chai. The people of Israel will continue to live. It re-established its country, gathered its exiles, built its army, settled its homeland and reunited its capital, Jerusalem. . .

Within several decades, the state of Israel has become one of the most advanced countries in the world. Israeli products help cure illnesses and feed millions of people; Israeli developments help irrigate fields and orchards on every continent; and Israeli ideas help save energy in every corner of the globe. Israel is a rich source of innovation for the world and is looking to the future. . .

The historic failure of the free societies when faced with the Nazi animal was that they did not stand up against it in time, while there was still a chance to stop it.

And here we are today again witnesses to the fire of the new-old hatred, the hatred of the Jews, that is expressed by organisations and regimes associated with radical Islam, headed by Iran and its proxies.

Iran's leaders race to develop nuclear weapons and they openly state their desire to destroy Israel. But in the face of these repeated statements to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the earth, in the best case we hear a weak protest which is also fading away.

The required firm protest is not heard - not a sharp condemnation, not a cry of warning. The world continues on as usual and there are even those who direct their criticism at us, against Israel.

Today, 65 years after the Holocaust, we must say in all honesty that what is so upsetting is the lack of any kind of opposition. The world gradually accepts Iran's statements of destruction against Israel and we still do not see the necessary international determination to stop it from arming itself. . .

I call on all enlightened countries to rise up and forcefully and firmly condemn Iran's destructive intentions and to act with genuine determination to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The following morning, sirens sounded in towns and cities across Israel. Traffic came to a standstill. People got out of their cars and stood in silence to remember the destruction of something like six million men, women and children in the most horrific circumstances. After two minutes' silence, sirens sounded again. . . and life went on.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lord Carey takes on the judiciary

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey says senior judges in the UK should be prevented from ruling in religious rights cases because they are biased against Christianity.

He claims that some have made disturbing and dangerous rulings that could lead to Christians being banned from the workplace, and that they should stand down from Court of Appeal hearings involving religious rights to make way for judges with an understanding of religious issues.

Writes Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail: As an insult to some of the biggest wigs in the land, this could hardly be exaggerated.

By throwing down the gauntlet to the judiciary in this way, Lord Carey is mounting a full-frontal challenge to some of those who most influence our society.

The last of several final straws for these clerics
[Lord Carey has the support of other church leaders] was the case of Lilian Ladele, a registrar who was sacked by Islingtron council after she refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies because they were against her Christian beliefs.

Led by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger - the second most important judge in England - the Appeal Court ruled that it was unlawful for her to refuse to do so.

It might be argued that these judges were merely ruling on the basis of anti-discrimination law and that they were right to do so.

But in fact, these judges had discretion to rule in Ms Ladele's favour because the law upholds not one principle relevant to this case, but two - and they compete with each other. For enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights is the right to exercise religious conscience.

Why, then, did the judges in this case set aside the Human Rights Convention, which they normally revere as Holy Writ? Because, said Lord Neuberger, it only protected those religious beliefs which were 'worthy of respect in a democratic society and are not incompatible with human dignity.'

So what the Master of the Rolls effectively seemed to be saying was that Christian beliefs are unworthy of respect in a democracy, and incompatible with human dignity - a truly preposterous claim, since Judeo-Christian precepts
invented the concept of human dignity upon which Western civilisation is based.

Indeed, such a ruling comes very close indeed to criminalising Christianity. For if putting Christian belief into practice is outlawed, it won't be long before Christian believers find
themselves outlawed.

This issue is particularly topical because Gary McFarlane, formerly a Christian relationship counsellor for Relate, is due to appear at the Court of Appeal today to appeal against an employment tribunal ruling that upheld his sacking for refusing to give sex therapy to homosexual couples.

Lord Carey has prepared a witness statement in support of Mr McFarlane, and will back an application by Mr McFarlane's lawyers for the case to be heard by a panel of judges with understanding of religious issues.

Melanie Phillips again: No wonder Lord Carey and his colleagues have been galvanised into militant action. For under the guise of promoting 'tolerance' and 'liberal' social attitudes, anti-discrimination law is deeply intolerant and illiberal.

That's because it has nothing to do with fairness and everything to do with ideology. It is innately on the side of minorities on the basis that they are by definition vulnerable to the majority. So in the hands of the judiciary, it has turned into a fearsome weapon against Britain's mainstream attitudes and faith.

The result is that Christianity is now in danger of being turned into a despised and marginalised creed practised only by consenting adults in private.

Christians are already being forced into renouncing their religious beliefs if they want to remain in certain jobs.

This is simply intolerable in a liberal society where freedom of religious conscience is a bedrock value.

Ironically, news of Lord Carey's stand came the same day that it was reported that the Department of Health will allow female Muslim doctors and nurses to wear long sleeves to protect their modesty - despite the fact that guidance that all staff should be bare below the elbow was introduced after long sleeves were blamed for spreading MRSA.

New guidance says staff can wear long sleeves provided they roll them above the elbow to wash and when on the wards. Those wanting to stay covered on the ward can use disposable over-sleeves. Sikhs are also to be allowed to wear Kara bangles.

Said Shirley Chaplin, the nurse who got into trouble with the NHS for wearing a cross she had previously worn every day for 38 years without problem: "It seems like life is stacked up against Christians these days."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Christianity under siege

Christianity is under siege in this country. Britain's national religion has never been so marginalised and derided, especially by the public institutions that should be defending it.

So says Dr Taj Hargey, imam of an Oxford Islamic congregation and chairman of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, writing in a national daily newspaper. (You can read the full article here.)

The case of nurse Shirley Chaplin, he says, who has been banned by Devon and Exeter NHS Trust from wearing her crucifix while caring for patients, is a graphic illustration of this insidious trend.

Indeed, it is surely an affront to the very concept of religious liberty, which was once regarded as a cornerstone of our democratic, respectful and tolerant nation.

For make no mistake, a new form of virulent secularism is sweeping through society - and its target is Christianity.

I am a Muslim. But even as a non-Christian, I can see all too clearly the shameful way in which Britain's national faith is being eroded. Indeed, banning a crucifix makes a mockery of our treasured right to religious freedom.

With a typically bureaucratic mix of arrogance and authoritarianism, the Devon and Exeter Trust has claimed that the ban is not an attack on Christianity because wearing a crucifix is not an essential requirement of the faith.

But who appointed these quangocrats to pronounce on matters of religious doctrine? What right do they have to lecture a devout woman about her cherished beliefs?

And why can't they accept that Ms Chaplin's deeply religious convictions, which she chooses to express by wearing the crucifix, also inspire her compassionate work in the NHS?

As a Muslim, I am filled with despair at the attitude of our politically correct officials towards Christianity. . .

It is no coincidence that as Christianity is repeatedly attacked, so the social fabric of Britain becomes increasingly frayed. As we lose our strong moral compass, family breakdown and violent crime are at record levels, while our once famous sense of community spirit is evaporating. . .

Without the restraining, selfless morality that ultimately stems from faith, the triumph of either social anarchy or totalitarianism becomes a worrying possibility.

But what is sickening about this case is the PC brigade's outrageous hypocrisy.

For in the public sector, normally so hypersensitive to allegations of prejudice against ethnic minorities, it is unimaginable that bureaucrats would wade in with the same bullying ferocity against a Muslim or Hindu nurse who wanted to wear a symbol of her faith in the workplace. . .

Many schools have been sidelining Christianity, while celebrating other religions, so much so that in some areas we have a generation of pupils who know more about the Hindu festival of Diwali than about the religious meaning of Christmas. . .

These politically correct busy-bodies don't even have the courage to be open about their fanatical loathing of Christianity.

Instead, they often cravenly cite 'health and safety,' that catch-all term so often clutched at by bureaucrats when they want to shut down something they disapprove of. . .

Too often the PC brigade support overt demonstrations of faith by minority religions, while coming down hard on quiet religious gestures by Christians.

This must change. Mutual respect is the only way forward for Britain - and that has to include respect for Britains's ancient Christian civilisation. . .

And it takes a Muslim to tell us this?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sex ed: A last minute hitch

As part of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, the UK Government was set to make sex education from the age of five a compulsory part of the national curriculum for schools.

Decisions on sex education would be taken out of the hands of parents and school governors and placed in the hands of Government officials.

Teachers would be required by law, irrespective of personal conviction, to present homosexual partnerships and unmarried sexual relationships as being on a par with marriage. Religious as well as secular schools would be required to teach children where to get contraceptives and how to access abortions.

The bill also provided what lawyers called a draconian regime for home education, where parents who wanted to teach their children would have to be licensed, there would be regular visits by inspectors and parents could easily lose their right to continue.

No longer. At the end of a Government's term of office, there is always a period of horse trading between political parties so the Government can push through remaining legislation before Parliament rises. It is understood that the Conservatives objected to proposals for sex education and the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to proposals for home education legislation.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls this week dropped the proposals on these two issues so the rest of the bill could go through. One newspaper suggested that he ditched his sex education reforms in a fit of petulance rather than compromise on one of the Conservatives' key demands. Whatever the reason, it was certainly an answer to prayer as far as some people were concerned.

A word of warning though. Labour have promised to being the proposals back in the summer if they are re-elected.

One more thing: the Government recently passed legislation making "incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation" a specific offence. Lord Waddington successfully proposed the addition of a freedom of speech amendment which would ensure people were not taken to court for simply criticising homosexual conduct or expressing the belief that homosexual behaviour is wrong.

The Government tried four times to remove the amendment, but lost in the House of Lords each time.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said that the next Labour manifesto will include a commitment to reverse the Waddington amendment, and Labour would use the Parliament Act to overturn the Lords' decision if necessary.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Persecution for Britain's Christians?

"Are Christians Being Persecuted?" was the title of an hour-long documentary, presented by Nicky Campbell, on BBC TV on Easter Sunday.

Christians in the title, of course, referred to Christians in the UK. The programme looked at cases of Christians being suspended or sacked for offering to pray, wearing Christian symbols or talking about God at work. For 99.9% of its time, it seemed to be trying not to express an opinion of its own: but some of the people interviewed had some interesting views.

"Rights," said Britain's Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, "are a good thing. They arose really in England in the 17th century. . .

"The major question was how can people of strongly conflicting religious beliefs live peaceably together. People stopped saying 'Religious faith is supremely important, therefore everyone should have my religious faith' to saying 'Religious faith is supremely important and therefore everyone should have the right to the faith that they in conscience believe,' and with that one simple move religion turned into a friend of liberty instead of being its enemy.

"That's why it becomes ironic when rights themselves become a threat to religious liberty."

Said the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, referring to religion and secular ideology: "One way in which to understand the tensions around equality legislation is not to think that one is a matter of doctrine and the other isn't.

"Secularism is a doctrine and it can be as forceful and it can be as narrow minded as the worst of a doctrinaire Christian position."

Professor Roger Trigg, of Oxford University, commenting on the case of the Christian registrar at Islington Council who got into trouble for asking not to conduct same-sex civil partnerships, had this to offer: "Principle wise, they were against discrimination, but they were against discrimination of people on grounds of their sexual orientation.

"They weren't, it seems, very concerned about discrimination on grounds of religion. And yet that is just as crucial. It seemed to me in that case there is a balance between two different things; but they didn't see it that way, they just only saw discrimination on one side.

"There is a kind of view among some people that would say if you don't like it, you are free to give up your profession: you must do as you are told.

"I think that kind of overriding of deep feelings of conscience is very dangerous. Indeed I think democracy depends on these deep feelings of conscience; if people actually in democracy are not acting basically in accordance with what they believe is right, it all just becomes a power struggle between people of different ideas, with no idea that anybody is acting for the common good. And that will destroy it."

In the closing seconds of the programme came the programme's verdict: "So, are Christians being persecuted? No, they are not being tortured and killed, like Christians in Pakistan and the Sudan. But a minority believe they are being sidelined and victimised. By the standards of a liberal society, that can feel like persecution."

Some people would think differently.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

He's alive!

Conservative Party leader David Cameron said recently that schools should teach children that homosexuality is normal and that homosexual civil partnerships have as much value as marriage. In an interview with a homosexual magazine, he is recorded as saying that "our Lord Jesus" would back equality and homosexual rights if he were alive.

Apart from the fact that the first chapter of Romans makes it clear that to indulge in homosexual practice is to exchange the normal use for that which is against nature, someone should tell David Cameron that Jesus is alive.

There must be a lot of people who would claim to be Christians who don't believe that Jesus is alive - yet both Christ's crucifixion and Christ's resurrection are basic and essential to the Christian faith.

Now going around saying that Jesus is alive won't make you popular. People will say that you're crazy, that you've gone over the top, that you're taking your faith too seriously. They will try all sorts of ways to explain away Christ's resurrection, although there will still be one thing they won't be able to account for: the fact that the tomb was empty.

The apostle Paul went everywhere preaching that God had raised Jesus from the dead. He explained to the Roman governor Festus that Jesus was alive. "Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?" he asked King Agrippa (Acts 26:8). Why? Because it's important.

"If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus," says Rom 10:9, "and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Better to be saved than to be lost.

Examine the evidence. Recognise that Jesus is alive. Ask Him into your heart and let His love change your life. You won't regret it. Ever.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

When two wills conflict

One English translation of the Bible says that in the days of His flesh, Jesus "offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety" (Heb 5:7). "Because of his piety" doesn't convey a great deal.

I am grateful to Derek Prince for pointing out something that I had not noticed. That phrase in the New International Version of the Bible is translated "because of his reverent submission."

Picture Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew what was going to happen the following day. Did He want to be crucified? He did not. He prayed if it were possible for that ordeal to be taken from Him. But then He prayed "Nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done." Reverent submission means that if my will and God's will conflict, God's will takes precedence.

Jesus didn't have to go to the cross. He told Peter "Do you think that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he will provide me with more than twelve legions of angels?" But He was submitted to His Father's will.

His disciples would not have understood at that time. They would have expected deliverance for Jesus, not death. Sometimes God fails to answer our prayer because He has something better.

So it was here. God ignored the first part of Christ's prayer in the garden because He had something better. He was prepared to sacrifice His Son so that He could have millions more sons and daughters in His family. And Jesus was willing to be sacrificed.

He died that I might live. What sort of love is that?