Concerns here are not only about the replacement of democratic national governments by remote world government but also about the danger of oppression inherent in world government.

 

Reaction against globalisation

 

Supporters of globalisation point out its economic benefits. However global economic growth has fallen from 3.5% to 2% since 2008. Also there is an awareness of rising inequality, e.g. the wealthy pay less tax proportionately than the poor. The banks have been producing money which, instead of funding wages and job growth, has found its way into the assets of the rich and is pushing up prices. In Britain, whilst wages rose by 13% the stock market rose by 115%. World trade talks have been disappointing and the issue of immigration has come to the fore. Globalisation has produced a volatile economy. Industries, jobs and careers which used to be secure are no longer.

 

In fact, there is a growing trend against globalisation, and in favour of nationalism, led by right-wingers such as Donald Trump. Experts say that ISIS wants to induce western countries to become more right wing, nationalist, intolerant and xenophobic so that many citizens turn against Muslims, and therefore encouraging greater radicalisation, providing more terrorists and suicide bombers. Closer economic integration is seen as to some degree incompatible with national sovereignty and national democracy. There is a growing anti-establishment movement. Successful re-election of existing political leadership has virtually halved since 2008. Brexit is one evidence of a reaction against globalisation.

 

On the other hand, many issues call for close global co-operation, e.g. terrorism, global warming, world poverty and undermining of human rights. Also economists warn that anti-globalisation will worsen the global economic slowdown we are experiencing.

 

Despite the current reactions against it, the trend towards globalisation will not go away.

 

Disturbing definitions of ‘non-violent extremism’

 

This is one of the most serious areas of concern and could lead to government oppression, including over those (including Christians) who teach conservative values.

 

Britain is at the forefront of preparing legislation to prevent violent extremism. Theresa May, now prime minister, has been a leading figure in this process. Yet the government proposals have been subjected to very serious criticisms. In July 2016 the Joint Committee on Human Rights found that the proposals:

  • gave “no impression of having a coherent or sufficiently precise definition of either ‘non-violent extremism’ or ‘British values’”.
  • Would give the authorities “wide discretion to prohibit loosely defined speech which they find unacceptable”.
  • would “potentially interfere with a number of human rights including freedom of religion, expression and association”.

The committee also said that the government assumed “that there is an escalator that starts with religious conservatism and ends with support for jihadism”. They expressed “very grave” concerns about proposals to compulsorily register out-of-school education settings, such as church youth work. It said this could penalise Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews and others who have conservative religious views but do not promote violence.

 

Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton warned that Sunday Schools and other church groups could still face inspections by the school regulatory body Ofsted. Several MPs have warned that the legislation could be used to target Christian groups that teach marriage is between a man and a woman.

 

Simon Cole, Chief Constable of Leicestershire, said the plans risked creating thought police – judges of “what people can and cannot say.” Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland, said the definition of extremism as “the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs” could be used against those who oppose the government, believe the monarchy should be abolished or disagree with same-sex marriage. He added that it would only be a matter of time before the powers are used in a way for they were never intended.

 

Commenting on the government emphasis on “British values”, the Bishop of London said: “The business of the State is to ensure that the living traditions in our pluralist society have space to flourish without the State itself being drawn into the role of an ideologically driven Big Brother, profligate with ever more detailed regulation.”

 

In February 2016 a Hampshire school called the police after a 15 year old pupil viewed the UKIP website on a school computer. He was interviewed by police for viewing “extremist views.”

 

The Scottish Government Named Person Scheme

 

In a very disturbing move, the Scottish Government proposed to assign a state guardian to monitor every child’s ‘wellbeing.’ This would undermine the parent-child relationship. It would also allow public bodies to share sensitive private information about children and parents without their knowledge or consent. Christian parents would be particularly concerned that such a system would undermine the Christian upbringing of their children.

 

Fortunately, in July 2016 five judges of the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the scheme was unlawful. However it is a cause of deep concern that the Scottish Government ever embarked upon this oppressive course of action and it shows the danger of such ideas being repeated in the future.

 

 

Alongside seeking to take seriously biblical teaching on eschatology it is instructive to take notice of what is sometime called secular eschatology, i.e. secular predictions by scholars of serious disasters which the future could hold. Global warming is one such.

 

Scientists have warned that there would be a climate crisis in the second half of this century but there are warnings that the crisis is already here. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 143% since pre-industrial times. 2016 is likely to be the hottest year ever measured. 2015 broke the record for temperature as did 2014. In fact 15 of the 16 warmest years ever recorded have occurred this century. Arctic ice now covers a smaller area than ever recorded. Because of unusual thawing of ice in Siberia the bodies of animals which died in the 1941 anthrax epidemic have caused an anthrax outbreak. There have also been very serious droughts in India and bleaching of coral reefs.

 

Although thermometer records only go back to 1880, scientists are able to examine ice cores, corals and tree rings showing the earth is at its hottest for 5000 years. But CO2 levels are the highest for almost a million years. Prof Stefan Rahmstorf, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany says the rate at which humanity is emitting CO2 is the fastest for 66 million years. CO2 is the main cause for the extreme weather in 2016 but scientists also say that about one fifth of the temperature rise in recent months is due to El Nino (the climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean which goes through cyclical changes).

 

Rahmstorf added: “What is happening right now is we are catapulting ourselves out of the Holocene, which is the geological epoch that human civilisation has been able to develop in, because of the relatively stable climate. It allowed us to invent agriculture, rather than living as nomads. It allowed a big population growth, it allowed the foundation of cities, all of which required a stable climate.”

 

A 2014 report by the Royal Institute of International Affairs said the global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined.[1] The author stated: “Preventing catastrophic warming is dependent on tackling meat and dairy consumption.” That is hardly a popular warning!

 

Europe will experience extreme weather causing severe wildfires, river floods and windstorms. The UK government has hopefully woken up to the fact that severe flooding is likely to recur.

 

Greenhouse gases have caused the Indo-Pacific Warm Pool, the largest area of warm water in the world, to increase in size and temperature. This has led to five small islands in the S Pacific disappearing. The pool is known to oscillate in size and temperature over a 20-year period but researchers have discovered that it has grown by one third in size and 0.3C temperature in the last 60 years. Because it is so big (9000 by 1500 miles) this has a huge effect. Scholars have said only 12-18% of the temperature rise has been caused by this cycle and the rest by global warming.

 

The Antarctic Ice Sheet covers almost 5.4 million square miles at the South Pole and contains about 61% of all the fresh water on Earth. The effect of global warming on this ice could raise sea levels by almost three metres.

 

In 2015 thousands of people died of heatwaves in Europe and Asia. Scientists predict that if the temperature reaches two degrees above pre-industrial level some countries in the Middle East and N Africa could experience daytime temperatures of 46C by the middle of the 21st century. Prolonged heat waves and desert dust storms could render some regions uninhabitable. One study predicts that by 2100 temperatures in countries like Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain could occasionally reach 74-76C which could cause fatalities.

 

In 2009 The Lancet medical journal published a report commissioned by University College, London which predicted that global warming could so affect the quality of food that between 300,000 and 700,000 people could die each year by 2050. In particular they predicted that by 2050 climate change would seriously reduce the amount of fruit and vegetables and processed meat. They called climate change the greatest threat to health in the 21st century due to floods, droughts and increased infectious diseases. They added that it could reverse 50 years of progress in medicine.

 

The World Economic Forum recently published a report by 750 experts which saw climate change as the biggest threat to the global economy. Cecilia Reyes, the Zurich Insurance Group chief risk officer, said: “Climate change is exacerbating more risks than ever before in terms of water crises, food shortages, constrained economic growth, weaker societal cohesion and increased security risks.”[2] The World Bank said that 100 million people could slide into extreme poverty because of climate change, in addition to the 703 million who are already in extreme poverty. Global warming leads to crop failures, natural disasters, higher food prices and the spread of waterborne diseases, creating poverty.

 

The Paris Agreement to tackle global warming

 

In December 2015 177 nations agreed to try to prevent the world’s average temperature rising more than 1.5C above the pre-industrial level (it is already 1.3C). They will set targets every five years after the agreement comes into force in 2020. But analysts have said that the measures they have actually agreed so far would mean a rise of between 2.6C and 3.1C by 2100. This, of course, breaches the 2C limit beyond which scientists have predicted there will be catastrophic and irreversible droughts, floods, heatwaves and se level rises.

 

The rich countries promised to provide $100bn (£66bn) to help poorer countries switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy and to protect them against dangers such as increased flooding.

 

The agreement also includes aiming at having “net zero emissions” during the second half of the century. This means that any CO2 produced would need to be captured and disposed of or offset by planting huge numbers of trees. However, in a joint letter to the press, British climate experts[3] stated: “This involves rapidly growing trees and grasses faster than nature has ever done on land we don’t have, then burning it in power stations that will capture and compress the CO2 using an infrastructure we don’t have and with technology that won’t work on the scale we need and to finally store it in places we can’t find.”[4]

 

Already Ban Ki-moon’s climate change envoy has accused the British and German governments of backtracking on the agreement by providing subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. It is also not encouraging that Theresa May has abolished the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is due to meet in Geneva this month (August 2016), to discuss ways to implement the Paris Agreement. Scientists are talking of the need to close down all coal-powered power stations by 2025 and to abolish the combustion engine (petrol/diesel engines) by 2030.

 

Professor Chris Field, of Stanford University, said that the 1.5C goal looks impossible or very, very difficult and he warned that closing down fossil fuel plants before renewable alternatives are established would mean there would be insufficient energy and people would suffer.

 

Many scientists say the only hope is to develop new techniques of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere as most of the current possible techniques are unworkable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] ‘Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector – Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption’, December 2014.

[2] http://www.policyconnect.org.uk/appccg/news/economists-label-climate-change-biggest-threat-global-economy

[3] Professor Paul Beckwith, University of Ottowa, Professor Stephen Salter – Edinburgh University, Professor Peter Wadhams – Cambridge University, Professor James Kennett of University of California, Dr Hugh Hunt – Cambridge University, Dr. Alan Gadian -Senior Scientist, Nation Centre for Atmospheric Sciences, University of Leeds, Dr. Mayer Hillman – Senior Fellow Emeritus of the Institute of the Policy Studies Institute, Dr. John Latham – University of Manchester, Aubrey Meyer  – Director, Global Commons Institute, John Nissen –  Chair Arctic Methane Emergency Group.

[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/cop21-paris-deal-far-too-weak-to-prevent-devastating-climate-change-academics-warn-a6803096.html

The Global Peace Index 2016 reported that there are only 10 countries in the world which are actually free from conflict (Botswana, Chile, Costa Rica, Japan, Mauritius, Panama, Qatar, Switzerland, Uruguay and Vietnam).. This is worse than at any time in the last ten years. In some countries the conflict is the threat of terrorism and acts of terrorism.  The troubles in the Middle East, the huge refugee crisis and terrorism mean that 2016 is less peaceful than 2015 and considerably less than 2008. Political instability has worsened in 39 countries from 2015 to 2016.

 

Nuclear Terrorism

 

Terrorism is, of course, a serious threat. But nuclear terrorism is a huge threat. The Luxemburg Forum for Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe met on June 7th-8th 2016 and warned that ISIS is actively trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Moshe Kantor, head of the Forum, said: “ISIS has already carried out numerous chemical attacks in Syria. We know it wants to go further by carrying out a nuclear attack in the heart of Europe. This, combined with poor levels of security at a host of nuclear research centres in the former Soviet Union, mean the threat of a possible ‘dirty-bomb’ attack on a Western capital is high.”  The Brussels suicide bomber brothers Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui had originally planned an attack on a nuclear site in Belgium and filmed the routine of the head of the country’s nuclear research and development programme. Isis member Salah Abdeslam, a suspect in the Paris terrorist attack, also had nuclear files stashed in his flat

 

Former MP Des Browne, said at the Forum: “It isn’t that hard to build a ‘dirty bomb.’ They may not kill that many people with such a bomb, but the effect on the environment, the infrastructure and the psychological impact on people would be devastating. They can also use cyber warfare to target a nuclear facility.”

 

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists comments on what nuclear terrorism really means.[1] It says it would be difficult for terrorists to acquire and detonate a nuclear bomb. But they could “set off a ‘dirty bomb,’ a weapon made of radioactive material attached to conventional explosives, sometimes referred to as a radiological dispersal device or RDD. Executing this scenario would be so easy that many experts are surprised it hasn’t happened already.” Alternatively, they could sabotage a nuclear facility.

 

The Bulletin points out that there are thousands of sites in over 100 countries which contain the sort of material required for a ‘dirty bomb.’ The International Atomic Energy Agency reports 2,734 incidents of radioactive material being lost, stolen etc., between 1993 and 2014.

 

Between 2010 and 2015 the FBI foiled plots by five criminal gangs to sell nuclear material to ISIS. The problem is that some of Russia’s huge store of radioactive materials have reached the black market. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani scientist who helped develop Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, confessed in 2004 that his network had sold nuclear know-how on the black market to states such as North Korea and Iran. In 2015, India’s defence minister warned that Isis could obtain a nuclear weapon from “states like Pakistan.” Isis has also claimed it could buy its first nuclear weapon but that is unlikely.

 

President Obama has warned of the danger of a terrorist nuclear attack. At a nuclear security summit in April 2016, he said: “Just the smallest amount of plutonium – about the size of an apple – could kill and injure hundreds of thousands of innocent people. It would be a humanitarian, political, economic and environmental catastrophe with global ramifications for decades. It would change our world. So we cannot be complacent. We have to build on our progress.”

 

The UK Office for Nuclear Regulations said in March 2016: “The threat of terrorism in the nuclear sector will continue to be managed proportionately and effectively through national and international capabilities. The capabilities of potential adversaries to operate in cyberspace will continue to grow.”

 

Nuclear Powers

 

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reports that there are some 15,850 nuclear warheads spread between nine nations: Russia (7,500), USA (7,200), France (300), China (250), UK (215), Pakistan (100-120), India (90-110), Israel (80) and N Korea (less than 10). China, France, Russia and the UK are either developing or deploying new weapon systems. Obviously, an extremist state like N Korea is a real danger as it develops nuclear weapons.

 

Moshe Ya’alon, who was the Israeli Defence Minister, said: “We see signs that countries in the Arab world are preparing to acquire nuclear weapons, that they are not willing to sit quietly with Iran on brink of a nuclear or atomic bomb.” He did not provide evidence but it is well-known that Israel spies on the military activities of Islamic countries.  

 

China

 

There are tensions between China and the US. The US has hypersonic glide missiles capable of hitting China in less than an hour. China is prepared to send submarines armed with nuclear weapons into the Pacific for the first time.

Jeffrey Lewis, Director of the East Asia Non Proliferation Programme commented that there is a danger of the two sides fatally misunderstanding each other’s intentions.

 

China has also deployed surface-to-air missiles on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

 

Russia

 

In May 2016 General Sir Richard Shirreff, who was NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe between 2011 and 2014, said that an attack on Estonia, Lithuania or Latvia – all NATO members – was a serious possibility and that the West should act now to avert “potential catastrophe”. He warned of the danger of nuclear war and pointed out that Russia had invaded Crimea, Georgia and the Ukraine.

 

North Korea

 

N Korea has recently threatened China with a “nuclear storm” because of its involvement in UN sanctions against N Korea. It also threatens the US but could probably not currently launch a successful attack. The problem is that N Korea is constantly trying to upgrade its nuclear capabilities.

 

Jesus predicted “wars and rumours of wars” but these are not signs of the End. Rather they are “Birth pangs of the Messiah” – reminders that he is coming back (See http://christianteaching.org.uk/blog/eschatology/birth-pangs-of-the-messiah/).

 

Pray that the Lord will have mercy and protect the world from nuclear attack.

 

[1] http://thebulletin.org/what-does-nuclear-terrorism-really-mean9309

Some British Christians who believe God still has a purpose for the Jewish people, oppose remaining in the European Union because they believe the EU is much less favourable towards Israel than Britain is.

 

A Israeli view

 

Ironically, there is a strong hope in Israel that the UK will remain in the EU.  Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli journalist, wrote in the “Jewish Chronicle on-line” in March 2016: “Israel does not want to lose Britain – one of its more dependable allies – as a strong voice arguing its case in Europe. Whatever the diplomatic differences between London and Jerusalem, Israel has usually been able to rely on whoever is occupying Downing Street, as well as other senior cabinet ministers, to fight its corner. Post-Brexit, Israel would have less backing in Europe. Notwithstanding occasional disagreements, David Cameron is uniformly seen as one of the most pro-Israel British prime ministers, and has a very good relationship with Mr Netanyahu. The Israeli government would not like to see his downfall following a referendum vote.”[1]

 

Similarly, an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz in April 2016 stated: “A Britain outside the EU means Israel will lose an important insider voice and critical traction in the shifting and sometimes hostile EU debates about what policies to adopt toward Israel.”[2]

 

Ilene Prusher, another journalist at Ha’aretz, referred to the UK as “one of the world’s friendliest countries to Israel.”[3]

 

A 2014 BBC World Service Poll discovered that 50% of Israelis have a friendly attitude towards the UK.[4]

 

Is the UK more positive to Israel?

 

It is certainly true that the current UK government is particularly positive towards Israel which is why some Israelis regard the UK as more positive than the rest of the EU and one of its strongest allies. In March 2016 the UK abstained on two UN resolutions on Palestinian rights. It applied pressure to the Palestinians to remove reference in the bill to constructing a list of firms which trade with Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory and warned that retaining it could affect aid to the Palestinian Authority. When the Palestinians refused the UK also abstained on another resolution about accountability and international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In October 2015, the Conservative Party said that the government would introduce “new rules to stop politically-motivated boycott and divestment campaigns by town halls against UK defence companies and against Israel”.

 

The EU, however, tends to be less positive towards Israel. For example, in October 2015 France presented a Security Council resolution on behalf of the Palestinians calling for international observers to be deployed in Jerusalem. Israel and the US opposed it.

 

On the other hand, there is a great deal of negative opinion about Israel in the UK. Recent polls have discovered that:

  • 66% of the British surveyed have a “generally negative” view of Israel.[5] This was the highest “generally negative” view in Europe. Only Spain equalled the UK figure.
  • A year later a similar service found 69% of British people have a negative view of Israel.[6]
  • Israel, along with North Korea, ranks third behind only Iran and Pakistan for “negative influence” in the world.[7]
  • 4% of British people polled agreed with the statement that “Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians….”[8]
  • 9% of British people agreed with the statement that “considering Israel’s policy I can understand why people do not like Jews…..”[9]
  • Israel was top of the list of 24 countries where people would “least like to live”.[10]
  • It was also the country considered by those questioned to be the “least deserving of international respect”, and also thought to be among the world’s “least democratic countries”[11]
  • two thirds of British people think that ordinary Israelis reject the idea of a Palestinian state.[12]
  • two thirds of British people think that Israel has never offered to give up land for peace.[13]

 

A 2014 YouGov poll asked people which side they sympathised with in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. 27% of Britons said the Palestinians compared with 18% of French. 12% of Britons and 11% of French said Israel.

 

In 2001 Conrad Black, a member of the House of Lords, strongly criticised the attitude of some British papers towards Israel: “The BBC, Independent, Guardian, Evening Standard and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are rabidly anti-Israel.” He also wrote that “wittingly or not, are stoking the inferno of anti-Semitism.”

 

Britain’s attitude towards Israel is clearly mixed. Public opinion is often negative but Israelis deem the British government to be more positive towards Israel than the EU.

 

The 2014 BBC World Service Poll found that:

  • 64% of the population of France
  • 61% of the population of Spain
  • 67% of the population of Germany
  • 72% of the population of Britain

were “mainly negative” to Israel’s influence.[14]

 

What is the EU attitude towards Israel?

 

Israel has had a special economic relationship with Europe since the 1960s and signed an economic agreement with the European Economic Community in 1975. In 1996 Israel and the EU signed a trade and cooperation agreement. Also in 1995 Israel was accepted as the first non-European member of EU’S Fourth Framework Research and Development programme. Europe is Israel’s largest trading partner.

 

However, one factor is that the EU practises realpolitik – an approach based on practical rather than moral considerations. So it seeks to maintain a good relationship with Arab countries despite the lack of democracy, civil liberties, oppression of women etc., in these countries. This approach can, of course, strengthen an anti-Israel approach.

 

The UN Human Rights Council has virtually passed more resolutions condemning Israel than it has on the rest of the world combined!  In July 2005 Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the UN, commented: “Europe’s voting record at the United Nations shows a longstanding anti-Israeli bias. Every year the UN General Assembly passes between 18 and 22 anti-Israeli resolutions. …. The Europeans abstain in some cases, but mainly support these resolutions …” He added: “The European collective is frequently neutral on issues at the UN. Then often in meetings of the EU diplomats the French ambassador tries to break the consensus and move the entire group in an anti-Israeli direction. Rather than pressure France, the Europeans tend to be dragged along with its position. Therefore, France plays a particularly negative role in the formation of an anti-Israeli European position at the UN.”[15]

 

Allison Kaplan Sommer, an Israeli journalist writes:When asked by Israel for an explanation of their votes, the Europeans say they feel a responsibility to balance the pro-Israel stand of the United States and to defend what they believe is a distinction between armed struggle and terrorism.”[16]

 

Conclusion

 

Influenced by the media, a high percentage of the British population holds negative views towards Israel, sometimes in excess of the percentage in other EU countries. However, because the current UK government is quite positive towards Israel it is viewed by Israelis as one of the more friendly countries and they hope it will stay in the EU to counteract the anti-Israel views held by members, particularly France.

 

 

 

 

[1] Anshel Pfeffer, “Why Israel wants Britain to stay firmly inside the EU,” Jewish Chronicle on-line, March 3rd 2016

[2] Jacques Lafitte and Denis MacShane, “Why a British Exit From the EU Should Worry Israel” Ha’aretz 04.04.16

[3] http://time.com/3506269/israeli-palestinian-conflict-british-vote/

[4] BBC World Service Poll 3rd June 2014. See http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/country-rating-poll.pdf

[5] BBC World Service public opinion survey, 2011

[6] BBC World Service Survey May 2012

[7] Ibid.

[8] Friedrich Ebert Stiftung survey results, April 2012

[9] Ibid.

[10] January 2005 Daily Telegraph YouGov Poll.

[11] Ibid

[12] Populus poll – May 2011

[13] Ibid.

[14] BBC World Service Poll 3rd June 2014. See http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/country-rating-poll.pdf

[15] http://jcpa.org/article/europes-consistent-anti-israeli-bias-at-the-united-nations/

[16] http://bama.ua.edu/~afi/monthly_article.htm

Some British Christians seem to imply that the UK’s Christian heritage will be undermined by remaining in the EU. It would be naïve to ignore the fact that the political leadership of the EU, like all political leadership might go wrong, or become undemocratic. But it is not true to say that the EU is less Christian than the UK. In the following statistics many of those claiming to be Christian may, of course, not be practising. Nevertheless the comparison of percentages in the various countries is useful in answering the question “Is the UK more Christian than the rest of Europe?”

 

According to the 2011 Pew Forum, the percentage of people calling themselves Christians in a number of other countries is greater than in the UK. The UK had 72.6%. Italy had 85.1%, Spain 78.6%, Greece 89.5%, Ukraine 83.8%, Poland 94.3% and Romania 99.5%. Other countries included Germany with 70.8% and France with 63%.[i]

 

A 2012 Eurobarometer Poll found that 72% of EU population call themselves Christians.

 

A 2010 Eurobarometer Poll found the following percentages of population don’t believe there is “any sort of spirit, God or life force”

Greece 4%

Poland 5%

Italy 6%

Austria 12%

Portugal 12%

Spain 19%

Denmark 24%

UK 25%

Germany 27%

Netherlands 30%

Sweden 34%

France 40%.

 

Some British Christians point to the rich Christian tradition of the UK but don’t seem to realise that other EU countries also have state churches.

 

England has an established state Christian Church, the Church of England, of which the Queen is the supreme governor on earth and similarly Scotland has the Church of Scotland. But the following EU countries also have state churches:

Armenia (Orthodox)

Denmark (Lutheran)

Finland (Lutheran and Orthodox)

Greece (Orthodox)

Greenland (Lutheran)

Iceland (Lutheran)

Liechtenstein (Catholic)

Malta (Catholic)

Monaco (Catholic)

Switzerland (Catholic and Protestant according to canton)

Vatican City (Catholic)

 

Norway had a state church until 2012 but the monarch must still be a Lutheran. Sweden ceased to have a state church in 2000. The Spanish state church was disestablished in 1978. Austria has no state church but regards the church and state as partners.[ii] Germany and Italy have no state church. France and Belgium are secular.

 

The issue isn’t whether the UK is more Christian than the EU but rather that the whole of Europe needs an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Revival.

 

[i] Global Christianity – A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population, Dec 2011. See http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/19/global-christianity-regions/

[ii] http://www.austria.org/religion/

So, yet another report of the dramatic decline of Christianity in the UK has emerged in May 2016. It was based on British Social Attitude surveys from the last 30 years and showed that in 2014 48.5% of the population claim they have no religion (compared with 25% in 2011). On the other hand 43.5% claimed to be Christians. Stephen Bullivant, senior lecturer in theology and ethics at St Mary’s Catholic University, said that 40% of people raised as Anglicans have abandoned their faith. Another report by ScotCen Social Research said that 52% of Scottish people claimed to have no religion compared with 40% in 1999.

 

A YouGov report in March 2016 said that only 41% of British people who claim to be Christians say they definitely believe in a Creator and 18% said they didn’t. Also 44% of British “Christians” believe in heaven but only 27% believe in Hell. In 2015 YouGov found that only 55% of people claiming to be Christian believe in God.

 

One thing is clear from these figures. Many British people claiming to be Christian are not really Christians. Part of what is happening is that fewer British people are claiming to be Christian when they aren’t. Many people who were not involved in the church superficially regarded themselves as “C of E” but that rather irrelevant practice is now dying out. This is hardly a decline in Christianity but more a facing up to reality.

 

A recent editorial in The Guardian stated: “This decline in self-identification probably has very little to do with belief. The people in the pews have always been heretics with only the vaguest notion of what official doctrines are, and still less of an allegiance to them. The difference is now that they are outside the pews, even if they still hold the same vague convictions about a life spirit or a benevolent purpose to the universe.” There is some truth in that.

 

In its Statistics for Mission 2014 the Research and Statistics Department of the Archbishops’ Council reported that in 2014, the worshipping community of the Church of England was 1.1 million people, of whom 20% were aged under 18 and 29% over 70.  It also said: “Most measures of attendance show a similar trend: a steady decline of 10-15% over the past decade, although adult weekly attendance is down by 7% since 2004. However, I would urge caution when considering trends. Some questions, such as the usual Sunday attendance, have been asked in almost the same way for many years. Others have changed, to reflect changes in church activity or the evolving interests of those using the data; these changes potentially make it difficult to compare figures from year to year.”

 

In his recently published book “The Invisible Church” Dr Steve Aisthorpe, a mission development worker for the Church of Scotland, writes: “Changes in wider society and in the practices of Christian people mean attendance at Sunday morning worship can no longer be seen as a reliable indicator of the health and scale of Christian faith. There is decline in Christian faith in Britain, but it is considerably smaller than previously assumed.”

 

It was interesting to read in the same Guardian editorial comments about the effects of the serious decline of Christianity in the UK: “Such an enormous change is bound to have implications for the rest of us. A post-Christian Europe will of course have a morality but it won’t be Christian morality. It will likely be less universalist. The idea that people have some rights just because they are human, and entirely irrespective of merit, certainly isn’t derived from observation of the world. It arose out of Christianity, no matter how much Christians have in practice resisted it. Although human rights have become embedded in our institutions at the same time as religious observance has been in decline, they could become vulnerable in an entirely post-Christian environment where the collective memory slips from the old moorings inherited from Christian ethics.”

 

It is important to keep a sense of perspective on the decline of church attendance in the UK etc. Canon Giles Fraser wrote recently in response to the recent statistics: “In 1900 … there were 8 million Christians in Africa. Now there are 335 million. And the growth rate continues to accelerate. God wasn’t dead. God was reborn. Indeed, far from being the century in which religion went away, … the 20th century was numerically the most successful century since Christ was crucified … By 2010, there were 2.2 billion Christians in the world …, 31% … of the world population … The secularisation hypothesis is a European myth, a piece of myopic parochialism that shows how narrow our worldview continues to be.”  He adds that projections from the Pew Research Center show that by 2050 the number of Christians will have grown to near 2.9 billion.

 

Fraser puts the decline in church membership down largely to Western individualism “we in the west are less and less a society of joiners. And religion begins not with the metaphysics but with the taking part – belonging preceding believing. Which is why the communitarian spirit of religion is declining in places where liberal individualism thrives.”[1]

 

The Church and Sexual Behaviour

 

Speaking on sexual morality is by no means the most important subject on the church’s agenda. But it has become an issue which will do more damage to the church than most others, not least because it is so important in society. The main damage is caused by the church compromising biblical teaching. However, on the other hand, in so far as the church reaffirms biblical sexual morality, it will make itself unpopular in society and create barriers to its witness.

 

The above-mentioned Guardian editorial commented on the report that there are now more irreligious people than Christians in England: “Over the last 50 years ‘religion’ has come to stand for the opposite of freedom and fairness. This is partly an outcome of the sexual revolution and of the long and ultimately futile resistance to it mounted by mainstream denominations. ‘The religious’ now appear to young people as obscurantist bigots whose main purpose is to police sexuality, especially female sexuality, in the service of incomprehensible doctrines. Institutional resistance to the rights of women and of gay people was an exceptionally stupid strategy for institutions that depends on the labour of both. But the Church of England was so much a part of the old imperial state that life in post-imperial Britain was never going to be easy.”

 

We Christians have to take that comment seriously. That is how many people see us. The devil has used the liberalisation of sexual behaviour to marginalise the church. Should we therefore keep quiet about sexual immorality or even give way to modern liberal views? Not at all, although it should not be the most important subject the church addresses.

 

The snare of seeking popularity

 

All too many Christians think we are meant to be popular and that this is the way to win people to faith. But Jesus said: “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt 10:22). He adds: “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. ‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23). He goes on: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me” (John 15:18-21). So, being hated and rejected is meant to be an on-going experience of committed Christians (although we should not, of course, fan such hatred by insensitive or unwise words and actions). We do not belong to the world, says Jesus, because he has chosen us out of the world. Therefore the world hates us.

 

Jesus also says this rejection and hatred will be a sign of the End Times: “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:9-13).

 

Obviously, we shouldn’t go out of our way to be unpopular or do unnecessary or wrong things which cause people to reject us. We should (prayerfully) choose our battles. However, we are not to compromise on important matters, in order to try to win unbelievers. Even if we succeeded in being popular with unbelievers we would find they still regarded us as irrelevant.

 

Yet the church is doing this. The Church of Scotland has just decided that local churches can appoint a Minister who is a partner in same sex marriage. That, of course, is completely contrary to God’s Word. But the context is that Church of Scotland Ministers are not allowed to take same sex weddings. This adds ludicrous hypocrisy to the situation.

 

The Principal Clerk to the General Assembly, the Very Rev John Chalmers said the church was not changing the theological definition of marriage (which, of course, says same sex marriage is wrong) but allowing congregations to opt out if they want a minister who is in a same sex marriage. In other words, he is saying we are still calling sin sin but we are officially allowing congregations to sin if they want to! This makes the church a laughing stock.

 

In April 2016 archbishops of most of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion met in Zambia for the Anglican Consultative Council. Only Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda were unrepresented. The Archbishop of Canterbury had to use all his diplomatic skills because the ACC was facing the possibility of a major split over the US Episcopal Church approving same sex marriage. He said that the Episcopal Church had changed the “basic understanding of doctrine, ahead of the rest of the Communion and without consultation.” Again this statement can give the impression that eventually the whole of the Anglican Communion will eventually accept same sex marriage – the current problem being that the Episcopal Church hadn’t waited for all the others to catch up and agree with them.

 

In the end a major split was avoided by the Episcopal Church only being allowed a limited role in the ACC for the next three years. The Archbishop said: “We are not sanctioning them. We do not have the power to do so. We simply said, if any province, on a major issue of how the Church is run or what it believes, is out of line, there will be consequences in their full participation in the life of the Communion.” The agreement stated: “It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”

 

It is reported that eight of the 38 provinces are open to accepting same-sex unions: the US, Canada, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, South India, South Africa and Brazil.

 

Misleading compassion

 

It is wrong to reject homosexuals as people and if we have done so we need to apologise. The church has been doing this or rather over-doing it. I fully support an apology where necessary but not such repeated apology that it gives the impression the church has unofficially changed its mind on homosexual behaviour. The latest unhelpful example is from the Church in Wales. It apologised unreservedly for the church’s prejudice towards gay and lesbian people. Fine. But then the Archbishop of Wales adds: “We are not ready, as a church, to take the step of authorising same sex marriage.” This comment conveys to society “We won’t get away with authorising same sex marriage at the moment but just wait and we will.” Other churches have conveyed the same message and society clearly believes the majority of the church privately accepts not only homosexual behaviour but also same sex marriage, but will take some time to find the courage to say so.  This is hugely damaging to both the church and society. The church must accept serious responsibility for encouraging the radical liberalisation of sexual morality in society. And we will answer to God for it.

 

Little wonder that a January 2016 YouGov poll found that 45% of those claiming to be Church of England approve of same sex marriage and only 37% believe it is wrong. Three years earlier the figures were 38% and 47% respectively. 56% of the general public favour same sex marriage and 27% oppose it.

 

The church has to decide which of two signs of the End Times it will be: an obedient church hated by many in society or a compromising church which is departing from the faith or deceiving people by false teaching (Matt 24:9-13).

 

[1] Giles Fraser, The world is getting more religious, because the poor go for God, The Guardian 26 May 2016.

 

In view of the pending UK referendum on whether to stay in the European Union, this is an important subject. However, many Christians think that the EU is even more important in terms of the End Times. Sadly, there is a great deal of misunderstanding and even misrepresentation as well as paranoia on the subject. Here is a brief outline.

 

MISUNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT THE EU

 

The antichrist spirit?

 

For example, one favourite ‘quotation’ amongst those who are suspicious about the EU vis a vis the End Times is attributed to Paul-Henri Spaak, former Belgian Prime Minister and President of the Consultative Assembly of the

Council of Europe nearly 50 years ago. The ‘quotation’ is: “We do not want another committee. We have too many already. What we want is a man of sufficient stature to hold the allegiance of all people, and to lift us out of the economic morass in which we are sinking. Send us such a man and, be he God or the devil, we will receive him.”

 

For some people that shows the antichrist spirit behind the EU. The problem is that, like other people, I have never been able to find proof that Spaak (or anyone else) actually said this. Yet dozens of Christian websites quote it.

 

The Tower of Babel?

 

People worry about the Louise Weiss Building in Strasbourg where the European Parliament meets. It is a circular building which looks unfinished. Some have said that it looks very much like the Tower of Babel and that it is modelled on a painting of the Tower of Babel painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in about 1563. There is a remarkable similarity between the two although others have said it is based on the model of Roman amphitheatres. However we must not be paranoid about this. Even if it is modelled on the Tower of Babel the likelihood is that it was to symbolise the idea of the (European) nations coming together in contrast to the nations being divided in the Tower of Babel story.

 

Obviously, to think that we can reverse what God did over the Tower of Babel is a serious sin of arrogance, which is the very sin associated with the story of the Tower of Babel. However, if the image is of the Tower of Babel, I suspect that those responsible hadn’t thought that through. It is likely to be a superficial attempt to portray nations coming together rather than being divided. Bear in mind that many people today would think that the account of the Tower of Babel is not literal.

 

I respond similarly to an EU poster which shows the Tower of Babel and the caption “Europe: Many tongues, one voice.”

 

Pentagrams?

 

Some point out that the eurostars on the EU flag and the above-mentioned poster are pentagrams and pentagrams are used in witchcraft. However the eurostars are 5-pointed stars, not pentagrams (there is a difference). There are 5-pointed stars on the flags of many countries (47 to my knowledge). It is therefore not necessary to read anything sinister into the eurostars. Some Protestants think that the 12 golden eurostars are related to the Virgin Mary because she is often depicted with a halo of stars.

 

The prostitute riding the Beast of Revelation 17?

 

Others have worried that there is a bronze statue of a woman riding a beast outside the Council of Europe building.  The image of this has been used on EU postage stamps, the euro and elsewhere. They fear that this is a representation of the vision in Revelation 17 of the prostitute riding the scarlet beast symbolising the godless world system. However this is actually based on the Greek myth of the maiden Europa riding the bull. It is not an official symbol of the EU but obviously has some artistic relevance.

 

A pagan anthem?

There is also some concern about the European Anthem “An Ode to Joy” which is based on the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. It is based on a poem by Friedrich Schiller which is about all men being united in brotherhood by entering the shrine of a goddess. However, to regard this as sinister is extreme since the European Anthem only uses the music and not the lyrics.

 

666?

I can also add that the seats in the European Parliament are numbered and they include seat number 666 which some claim is left vacant. However this claim is not true.

 

Is the EU the new Roman Empire?

 

A few years ago Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business editor of the Telegraph, wrote an article entitled “Art show sees Europe as ‘new Roman Empire.’” He reported that one title used at the EU exhibition was “Roman Empire returns.” It predicted that the EU would become the premier superpower and that “the euro will break the ‘overbearing monopoly of the dollar’ by 2010 as China and India switch their reserves to punish America for its ‘stratospheric deficit’ which, of course, didn’t happen.

 

He did add: “the display is not a formal expression of EU policy but it captures views that can be heard every day in the corridors and canteens of the Union’s institutions.” But he doesn’t say how many people in the EU institutions say this so it is misleading and difficult to substantiate. However such an article confirms the fears of those who are paranoid about the EU. In actual fact the official description of the exhibition said it gave a history of European political representation, diagrams about the EU structure and then speculated on its possible future. “The story closes somewhere in the 2020s, in a speculative conclusion on Europe’s possible future(s).[1]

 

Does the Bible predict a revival of the Roman Empire?

 

Many interpreters believe that the Book of Revelation predicts a revival of the Roman Empire in the End Times. Some of them see this End Times revival of Roman Empire as related to the establishment of the European Union and believe the EU will have a major role in the rule of the Antichrist. They base their belief in the revival of the Roman Empire on the following arguments:

 

  1. Daniel prophesies the rise of four empires (in one passage symbolised by four beasts) which these interpreters see as Babylonia (which ended in 626BC), Medo-Persia (626-330BC), Greece 330-63BC and Rome (which began in 63BC). The fourth “beast” (Rome) “had ten horns.” Some interpret the horns as referring to Rome’s immense power. The number ten often symbolised completeness and horns symbolised strength. Others see the horns as ten kings or kingdoms because the horn can symbolise royal power. (See Daniel 2:41-44 which uses different symbolism to describe the same thing and Daniel 7:3-7).

 

  1. The Book of Revelation also prophesies the coming of a beast in the End Times with ten horns which had great power and authority. “The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast.” (Rev 13:1-3). The symbolical beast is also said to have seven heads. It interprets the ten horns as ten kings and the seven heads as seven hills (Rome was built on seven hills). Many interpreters see Revelation here predicting an End Time revival of the Roman Empire. See Rev 13:1-3 and 17:3-11.

 

John Walvoord gives further reasons for expecting the revival of the Roman Empire and I will critique each of them:[2]

 

  1. It is unthinkable that prophecy would not include the Roman Empire which was the greatest empire in history.

 

This is a good point. It seems clear to me that the fourth empire predicted by Daniel was Rome.

 

However some interpreters say that the ‘beast’ in Revelation 13 is not the same as the fourth empire in Daniel 2 because the ‘beast’ is a combined version of the first three of Daniel’s ‘beasts’ (empires). It is a Leopard-Bear-Lion (“resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion”). However it should be noted that Daniel speaks of the first beast as a lion with the wings of an eagle (7:4) and the third beast as a leopard with four wings (7:6) so there is some combination (of animal and bird) in them. Hendricksen says: “This composite beast cannot symbolize merely one empire or government. It must indicate all antichristian governments.”[3]

 

  1. The two legs of the visions of the fourth empire in Daniel 2 represent the eastern and western divisions of the later Roman Empire.

 

However, some interpreters disagree because the western ‘leg’ (the Western Roman Empire) disappeared almost a thousand years before the eastern ‘leg’ (the Byzantine Empire or the Eastern Roman Empire). Also the Byzantine Empire became isolated from Europe. Others add that the prediction in Revelation will not be fulfilled by a revival of the western ‘leg’ of the Roman Empire (including the EU) because Europe is not strong enough to become a politically and militarily dominant world power. Some, though, may respond that this situation might change in time.

 

  1. The centre stage of the End Times is the Middle East which is in the territory of the Roman Empire.

 

This is true but the Middle East can’t be limited to the Roman Empire. It is dominated by Muslim nations. The

Ottoman/Turkish/Islamic Empire controlled much of SE Europe, most of the Middle East, and parts of North Africa. This empire saw the development of four Islamic Caliphates (political and religious systems of governance). Some interpreters point out that the Bible always centres on Jerusalem not on the West. Hence, they say, the idea that Scripture predicts a revived Roman Empire based in Europe is a foreign concept to the Bible. The End Time empire must rule over or directly affect Jerusalem.

 

  1. The first part of the biblical prophecy was clearly fulfilled so we should expect the last part (the ten horns etc) similarly to be clearly fulfilled in the future.

 

So, it is argued, there will be a ten-nation confederacy within the bounds of the ancient Roman Empire (which extended from the Euphrates to N Africa and Europe). There will be a “strong man” who will unite the empire and eventually it will take control of the whole world. Mounce writes: “There is little doubt that for John the beast was the Roman Empire as persecutor of the church. It was that spirit of imperial power which claimed a religious sanction for its gross injustices. Yet the beast is more than the Roman Empire. John’s Vision grew out of the details of his own historical situation, but its complete fulfillment awaits the final denouement of human history. The beast has always been, and will be in a final intensified manifestation, the deification of secular authority.”[4]

 

Revelation also describes a symbolic woman riding on the ‘beast’ and she is called “Babylon the great, the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.” Some say this symbolises Rome in its opposition to the church. Others say it symbolises the godless world system.

 

However other interpreters think that the ‘beast’ of Revelation 13 and 17 will be the Islamic empire – a reincarnation of the Ottoman Empire (which once was, then was not, then was again Rev 17:11). They say that the ten toes of Daniel’s vision of the statue (Dan 2) can be an altogether different kingdom from Rome, which seems possible. They also point out that the fourth ‘beast’/kingdom of Daniel 2 and 7 is predicted as totally crushing the empires which preceded it. Yet Rome never did this. It did not take over all the geographical areas of the Babylonian, Medo-Persian and Greek empires. But the four Islamic Caliphates between 661 and 1924AD did cover the whole of those geographical areas. Irrespective of the interpretation of Daniel and Revelation, the idea that Islam should play a major role in the End Times seems more than credible.

 

Some of a more Protestant position think the power of the Pope and the Catholic Church will be part of the revival of the Roman Empire. One very old commentary I have comments on the scarlet beast and the woman wearing scarlet: “It is applicable in the description of papal Rome, because it is the favourite colour there … It is remarkable that nothing would better represent the favourite colour at Rome than this, or the actual appearance of the pope, the cardinals, and the priests in their robes, on some great festival occasion.”[5] This is rather naïve fanciful interpretation. More modern Protestant commentators tend to interpret it as an ecumenical apostate church.

 

I do not find the arguments that the Bible predicts a revival of the Roman Empire convincing. The idea that it could be a Muslim Empire seems more credible because of the history and current developments of the Muslim world. However this is not clear in the biblical text.

 

What should be our attitude towards the European Union?

 

I have written that I do not find the allegations of sinister EU symbols etc., convincing. Nor do I find the idea that the Roman Empire will be revived, with the EU at the heart of it, convincing. But that does not mean I have no concerns about the EU. The Bible certainly foretells an End Times anti-christ world dictatorship and we should remember that actions and trends initiated for good reasons can ultimately go wrong and have bad results. We are aware of the quotation “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It would seem that in the future various centres of political power in the world may combine to form a world government (or may collapse with catastrophic results necessitating a world government).

 

However we must remember that the EU was set up for good reasons, and has led to some very good results, not just economic advantage:

  • Maintaining peace in what had been a war-torn continent – and it has succeeded.
  • Promoting democracy and human rights in 28 countries.
  • Sending peacekeepers to trouble spots elsewhere in the world
  • Co-operating closely on crime (and more recently terrorism).
  • Giving twice as much aid to developing countries than the US.

 

However, whilst being grateful for these (and other) benefits we must remember the dangers which come with power. It is clear that there is a strong desire to move towards full political union amongst the countries which have accepted the euro. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 changed the European Economic Community into the political European Union. Full political union could have negative as well as positive effects. This has to be taken seriously. Some Christians will feel that the dangers in the EU growing ever closer (together with its present imperfections) warrants voting against Britain staying in the Union. Others will conclude that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, especially now David Cameron has negotiated that the UK will not be drawn into further political integration.

 

 

[1] http://st-ar.nl/image-of-europe-2/

[2] John F. Walvoord, President, Dallas Theological Seminary, The Nations in Prophecy, https://bible.org/series/nations-prophecy

[3] W Hendricksen, More than Conquerors, Tyndale Press London 1962, p. 146.

[4] Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, New International Commentary on the NT, Eerdmans Grand Rapids 1977 p 251

[5] Notes on the NT, Albert Barnes, London 1851, vol XI p. 415

Some Christians believe that the European Union is significant in teaching on the End Times and will be the context of the revival of the Roman Empire. But is this correct?

In view of the pending UK referendum on whether to stay in the European Union, this is an important subject. However, many Christians think that the EU is even more important in terms of the End Times. Sadly, there is a great deal of misunderstanding and even misrepresentation as well as paranoia on the subject. Here is a brief outline.

MISUNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT THE EU

The antichrist spirit?

For example, one favourite ‘quotation’ amongst those who are suspicious about the EU vis a vis the End Times is attributed to Paul-Henri Spaak, former Belgian Prime Minister and President of the Consultative Assembly of the

Council of Europe nearly 50 years ago. The ‘quotation’ is: “We do not want another committee. We have too many already. What we want is a man of sufficient stature to hold the allegiance of all people, and to lift us out of the economic morass in which we are sinking. Send us such a man and, be he God or the devil, we will receive him.”

For some people that shows the antichrist spirit behind the EU. The problem is that, like other people, I have never been able to find proof that Spaak (or anyone else) actually said this. Yet dozens of Christian websites quote it.

The Tower of Babel?

People worry about the Louise Weiss Building in Strasbourg where the European Parliament meets. It is a circular building which looks unfinished. Some have said that it looks very much like the Tower of Babel and that it is modelled on a painting of the Tower of Babel painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in about 1563. There is a remarkable similarity between the two although others have said it is based on the model of Roman amphitheatres. However we must not be paranoid about this. Even if it is modelled on the Tower of Babel the likelihood is that it was to symbolise the idea of the (European) nations coming together in contrast to the nations being divided in the Tower of Babel story.

Obviously, to think that we can reverse what God did over the Tower of Babel is a serious sin of arrogance, which is the very sin associated with the story of the Tower of Babel. However, if the image is of the Tower of Babel, I suspect that those responsible hadn’t thought that through. It is likely to be a superficial attempt to portray nations coming together rather than being divided. Bear in mind that many people today would think that the account of the Tower of Babel is not literal.

I respond similarly to an EU poster which shows the Tower of Babel and the caption “Europe: Many tongues, one voice.”

 Pentagrams?

Some point out that the eurostars on the EU flag and the above-mentioned poster are pentagrams and pentagrams are used in witchcraft. However the eurostars are 5-pointed stars, not pentagrams (there is a difference). There are 5-pointed stars on the flags of many countries (47 to my knowledge). It is therefore not necessary to read anything sinister into the eurostars. Some Protestants think that the 12 golden eurostars are related to the Virgin Mary because she is often depicted with a halo of stars.

The prostitute riding the Beast of Revelation 17?

Others have worried that there is a bronze statue of a woman riding a beast outside the Council of Europe building.  The image of this has been used on EU postage stamps, the euro and elsewhere. They fear that this is a representation of the vision in Revelation 17 of the prostitute riding the scarlet beast symbolising the godless world system. However this is actually based on the Greek myth of the maiden Europa riding the bull. It is not an official symbol of the EU but obviously has some artistic relevance.

A pagan anthem?

There is also some concern about the European Anthem “An Ode to Joy” which is based on the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. It is based on a poem by Friedrich Schiller which is about all men being united in brotherhood by entering the shrine of a goddess. However, to regard this as sinister is extreme since the European Anthem only uses the music and not the lyrics.

666?

I can also add that the seats in the European Parliament are numbered and they include seat number 666 which some claim is left vacant. However this claim is not true.

Is the EU the new Roman Empire?

A few years ago Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business editor of the Telegraph, wrote an article entitled “Art show sees Europe as ‘new Roman Empire.’” He reported that one title used at the EU exhibition was “Roman Empire returns.” It predicted that the EU would become the premier superpower and that “the euro will break the ‘overbearing monopoly of the dollar’ by 2010 as China and India switch their reserves to punish America for its ‘stratospheric deficit’ which, of course, didn’t happen.

He did add: “the display is not a formal expression of EU policy but it captures views that can be heard every day in the corridors and canteens of the Union’s institutions.” But he doesn’t say how many people in the EU institutions say this so it is misleading and difficult to substantiate. However such an article confirms the fears of those who are paranoid about the EU. In actual fact the official description of the exhibition said it gave a history of European political representation, diagrams about the EU structure and then speculated on its possible future. “The story closes somewhere in the 2020s, in a speculative conclusion on Europe’s possible future(s).[i]

Does the Bible predict a revival of the Roman Empire?

Many interpreters believe that the Book of Revelation predicts a revival of the Roman Empire in the End Times. Some of them see this End Times revival of Roman Empire as related to the establishment of the European Union and believe the EU will have a major role in the rule of the Antichrist. They base their belief in the revival of the Roman Empire on the following arguments:

  1. Daniel prophesies the rise of four empires (in one passage symbolised by four beasts) which these interpreters see as Babylonia (which ended in 626BC), Medo-Persia (626-330BC), Greece 330-63BC and Rome (which began in 63BC). The fourth “beast” (Rome) “had ten horns.” Some interpret the horns as referring to Rome’s immense power. The number ten often symbolised completeness and horns symbolised strength. Others see the horns as ten kings or kingdoms because the horn can symbolise royal power. (See Daniel 2:41-44 which uses different symbolism to describe the same thing and Daniel 7:3-7).

 

  1. The Book of Revelation also prophesies the coming of a beast in the End Times with ten horns which had great power and authority. “The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast.” (Rev 13:1-3). The symbolical beast is also said to have seven heads. It interprets the ten horns as ten kings and the seven heads as seven hills (Rome was built on seven hills). Many interpreters see Revelation here predicting an End Time revival of the Roman Empire. See Rev 13:1-3 and 17:3-11.

John Walvoord gives further reasons for expecting the revival of the Roman Empire and I will critique each of them:[ii]

  • It is unthinkable that prophecy would not include the Roman Empire which was the greatest empire in history.

This is a good point. It seems clear to me that the fourth empire predicted by Daniel was Rome.

However some interpreters say that the ‘beast’ in Revelation 13 is not the same as the fourth empire in Daniel 2 because the ‘beast’ is a combined version of the first three of Daniel’s ‘beasts’ (empires). It is a Leopard-Bear-Lion (“resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion”). However it should be noted that Daniel speaks of the first beast as a lion with the wings of an eagle (7:4) and the third beast as a leopard with four wings (7:6) so there is some combination (of animal and bird) in them. Hendricksen says: “This composite beast cannot symbolize merely one empire or government. It must indicate all antichristian governments.”[iii]

  • The two legs of the visions of the fourth empire in Daniel 2 represent the eastern and western divisions of the later Roman Empire.

However, some interpreters disagree because the western ‘leg’ (the Western Roman Empire) disappeared almost a thousand years before the eastern ‘leg’ (the Byzantine Empire or the Eastern Roman Empire). Also the Byzantine Empire became isolated from Europe. Others add that the prediction in Revelation will not be fulfilled by a revival of the western ‘leg’ of the Roman Empire (including the EU) because Europe is not strong enough to become a politically and militarily dominant world power. Some, though, may respond that this situation might change in time.

  •  The centre stage of the End Times is the Middle East which is in the territory of the Roman Empire.

This is true but the Middle East can’t be limited to the Roman Empire. It is dominated by Muslim nations. The

Ottoman/Turkish/Islamic Empire controlled much of SE Europe, most of the Middle East, and parts of North Africa. This empire saw the development of four Islamic Caliphates (political and religious systems of governance). Some interpreters point out that the Bible always centres on Jerusalem not on the West. Hence, they say, the idea that Scripture predicts a revived Roman Empire based in Europe is a foreign concept to the Bible. The End Time empire must rule over or directly affect Jerusalem.

  • The first part of the biblical prophecy was clearly fulfilled so we should expect the last part (the ten horns etc) similarly to be clearly fulfilled in the future.

So, it is argued, there will be a ten-nation confederacy within the bounds of the ancient Roman Empire (which extended from the Euphrates to N Africa and Europe). There will be a “strong man” who will unite the empire and eventually it will take control of the whole world. Mounce writes: “There is little doubt that for John the beast was the Roman Empire as persecutor of the church. It was that spirit of imperial power which claimed a religious sanction for its gross injustices. Yet the beast is more than the Roman Empire. John’s Vision grew out of the details of his own historical situation, but its complete fulfillment awaits the final denouement of human history. The beast has always been, and will be in a final intensified manifestation, the deification of secular authority.”[iv]

Revelation also describes a symbolic woman riding on the ‘beast’ and she is called “Babylon the great, the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.” Some say this symbolises Rome in its opposition to the church. Others say it symbolises the godless world system.

However other interpreters think that the ‘beast’ of Revelation 13 and 17 will be the Islamic empire – a reincarnation of the Ottoman Empire (which once was, then was not, then was again Rev 17:11). They say that the ten toes of Daniel’s vision of the statue (Dan 2) can be an altogether different kingdom from Rome, which seems possible. They also point out that the fourth ‘beast’/kingdom of Daniel 2 and 7 is predicted as totally crushing the empires which preceded it. Yet Rome never did this. It did not take over all the geographical areas of the Babylonian, Medo-Persian and Greek empires. But the four Islamic Caliphates between 661 and 1924AD did cover the whole of those geographical areas. Irrespective of the interpretation of Daniel and Revelation, the idea that Islam should play a major role in the End Times seems more than credible.

Some of a more Protestant position think the power of the Pope and the Catholic Church will be part of the revival of the Roman Empire. One very old commentary I have comments on the scarlet beast and the woman wearing scarlet: “It is applicable in the description of papal Rome, because it is the favourite colour there … It is remarkable that nothing would better represent the favourite colour at Rome than this, or the actual appearance of the pope, the cardinals, and the priests in their robes, on some great festival occasion.”[v] This is rather naïve fanciful interpretation. More modern Protestant commentators tend to interpret it as an ecumenical apostate church.

I do not find the arguments that the Bible predicts a revival of the Roman Empire convincing. The idea that it could be a Muslim Empire seems more credible because of the history and current developments of the Muslim world. However this is not clear in the biblical text.

What should be our attitude towards the European Union?

I have written that I do not find the allegations of sinister EU symbols etc., convincing. Nor do I find the idea that the Roman Empire will be revived, with the EU at the heart of it, convincing. But that does not mean I have no concerns about the EU. The Bible certainly foretells an End Times anti-christ world dictatorship and we should remember that actions and trends initiated for good reasons can ultimately go wrong and have bad results. We are aware of the quotation “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It would seem that in the future various centres of political power in the world may combine to form a world government (or may collapse with catastrophic results necessitating a world government).

However we must remember that the EU was set up for good reasons, and has led to some very good results, not just economic advantage:

  • Maintaining peace in what had been a war-torn continent – and it has succeeded.
  • Promoting democracy and human rights in 28 countries.
  • Sending peacekeepers to trouble spots elsewhere in the world
  • Co-operating closely on crime (and more recently terrorism).
  • Giving twice as much aid to developing countries than the US.

However, whilst being grateful for these (and other) benefits we must remember the dangers which come with power. It is clear that there is a strong desire to move towards full political union amongst the countries which have accepted the euro. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 changed the European Economic Community into the political European Union. Full political union could have negative as well as positive effects. This has to be taken seriously. Some Christians will feel that the dangers in the EU growing ever closer (together with its present imperfections) warrants voting against Britain staying in the Union. Others will conclude that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, especially now David Cameron has negotiated that the UK will not be drawn into further political integration.

Is the UK more Christian than the rest of Europe?

Some British Christians seem to imply that the UK’s Christian heritage will be undermined by remaining in the EU. It would be naïve to ignore the fact that the political leadership of the EU, like all political leadership might go wrong, or become undemocratic. But it is not true to say that the EU is less Christian than the UK. In the following statistics many of those claiming to be Christian may, of course, not be practising. Nevertheless the comparison of percentages in the various countries is useful in answering the question “Is the UK more Christian than the rest of Europe?”

According to the 2011 Pew Forum, the percentage of people calling themselves Christians in a number of other countries is greater than in the UK. The UK had 72.6%. Italy had 85.1%, Spain 78.6%, Greece 89.5%, Ukraine 83.8%, Poland 94.3% and Romania 99.5%. Other countries included Germany with 70.8% and France with 63%.[vi]

A 2012 Eurobarometer Poll found that 72% of EU population call themselves Christians.

A 2010 Eurobarometer Poll found the following percentages of population don’t believe there is “any sort of spirit, God or life force”

Greece 4%, Poland 5%, Italy 6%, Austria 12%, Portugal 12%, Spain 19%, Denmark 24%, UK 25%, Germany 27%, Netherlands 30%, Sweden 34%, France 40%.

Some British Christians point to the rich Christian tradition of the UK but don’t seem to realise that other EU countries also have state churches.

England has an established state Christian Church, the Church of England, of which the Queen is the supreme governor on earth and similarly Scotland has the Church of Scotland. But the following EU countries also have state churches:

Armenia (Orthodox), Denmark (Lutheran), Finland (Lutheran and Orthodox), Greece (Orthodox), Greenland (Lutheran), Iceland (Lutheran), Liechtenstein (Catholic), Malta (Catholic), Monaco (Catholic), Switzerland (Catholic and Protestant according to canton) and of course Vatican City (Catholic).

Norway had a state church until 2012 but the monarch must still be a Lutheran. Sweden ceased to have a state church in 2000. The Spanish state church was disestablished in 1978. Austria has no state church but regards the church and state as partners.[vii] Germany and Italy have no state church. France and Belgium are secular.

The issue isn’t whether the UK is more Christian than the EU but rather that the whole of Europe needs an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Revival.

[i] http://st-ar.nl/image-of-europe-2/

[ii] John F. Walvoord, President, Dallas Theological Seminary, The Nations in Prophecy, https://bible.org/series/nations-prophecy

[iii] W Hendricksen, More than Conquerors, Tyndale Press London 1962, p. 146.

[iv] Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, New International Commentary on the NT, Eerdmans Grand Rapids 1977 p 251

[v] Notes on the NT, Albert Barnes, London 1851, vol XI p. 415

[vi] Global Christianity – A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population, Dec 2011. See http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/19/global-christianity-regions/

[vii] http://www.austria.org/religion/

When Jesus was asked about signs of his return he included pestilences but made it clear that these were not a sign that that the End is near but what he called “the beginning of birth pains [of the Messiah]” – a reminder of and pointer towards the End.  Hence we should take note of them whilst praying for and helping those affected by them

The danger of man-made pandemics

 

There is concern amongst scientists about the danger of man-made pandemics.  Filippa Lentzos, a senior research fellow in the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine at King’s College London wrote about it in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in December 2014.[1] She pointed out that scientists are “tinkering with viruses to make them more deadly and more able to spread.” During the Cold War this was done in order to use them in biological weapons. But now it is done for “gain-of-function” experiments. These are experiments which enhance bacteria or viruses, giving them functions not found “in the wild” so that scientists can assess the danger of pandemics. There is real concern that such enhanced bacteria or viruses could escape and actually cause a pandemic. For example, scientists have created an enhanced avian flu which can spread between mammals, not just birds.

 

Then there is the problem of mistakes made by laboratories. In 2015 the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah mistakenly sent live anthrax to commercial labs in nine states – California, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas and Wisconsin – and South Korea. Gigi Kwik Gronyall, a senior associate at the Center for Health Security at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, said that such mistakes are “a problem that happens pretty regularly.” In 2014 it was reported that high-security British laboratories handling very dangerous viruses and bacteria have reported over 100 accidents in the previous five years.

 

The effect of climate change

 

The World Health Organisation has stated that “climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.”[2] However other experts regard this as a conservative estimate. Even the warming of the oceans can cause an algal bloom (a rapid increase of the number of algae) which can cause infections to humans.

 

The effect of increased population movement

 

The increased global movement of refugees and others will clearly also spread infectious diseases. The WHO warns that Zika is spreading across the Americas and epidemiologists warn this could lead to 4 million cases per year over the continent. An article on Ebola in the science journal ‘Nature’ in January 2016 said: “there are other lethal viruses that could cause as much suffering as Ebola has in West Africa, or even more. This outbreak has demonstrated that the world is much more vulnerable to global epidemics than anyone realized two years ago.” It warned that “The world isn’t equipped to deal with international public-health crises, especially in poor countries.”

 

Failure to cope with epidemics

A recent UN report has warned that a global epidemic far worse than Ebola could kill millions because the world is not prepared to deal with such epidemics. The UN panel on the subject said that the World Health Organisation should set up a center for emergency response and that this centre “must have real command and control capacity” with the best surveillance technology. Countries must comply with this.[3]

 

There is real concern that the US declared measles eradicated in 2000 but by 2014 the country had 667 cases from 27 states. The question has been raised that if the US can’t prevent the spread of an easily preventable disease that “was eradicated” what hope is there of preventing more serious diseases?

 

Dr David Nabarro, the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy on Ebola, warned the world to prepare for more major outbreaks of diseases which can pass from animals to humans which he said were a “local and global threat to humanity”. He added that climate change was increasing the range of disease-carrying mosquitoes, causing a threat to millions more people from malaria, dengue fever, etc.

 

The effect of antibiotic resistance

 

The growing resistance to antibiotics is a huge threat to human health. It is estimated that some 25,000 people die every year in the European Union from infections caused by bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics and this could grow to 390,000 by 2025. Experts are warning that this could lead to routine operations becoming fatal and many drugs becoming ineffective. It is estimated that resistance to antibiotics could lead to 10 million deaths per annum by 2050. Some calculate this could cost the global economy $100 trillion.

 

 

[1] http://thebulletin.org/preventing-man-made-pandemic7856

[2] Fact Sheet No 266 Sept 2015. See http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/

[3] http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/HLP/2016-02-05_Final_Report_Global_Response_to_Health_Crises.pdf

The failed Arab Spring

It was in January 2011 that the “Arab Spring” began with the ousting of the President of Tunisia. The overthrow of repressive regimes throughout the Middle East was inspiring. But now, five years later, Islamic State is creating mayhem. There are civil wars in Syria and Yemen. The Sunni-Shia conflict has increased in Iraq which has been destabilised further by the civil war in Syria. There are authoritarian governments in Egypt and Bahrain and the Tunisian government is becoming more dictatorial. The Libyan central government has collapsed. Turkey is attacking the Kurds across its border in Iraq and Syria. Then there is the huge number of migrants fleeing the conflicts.

One of the causes of the failure of the Arab Spring has been the fact that the removal of dictators has not been followed up by the establishment of democracy and a trustworthy state. The Islamic movement was seen as the means for opposition. Initially, the west failed to see that the opposition in Syria and Iraq was becoming dominated by extreme Islamists.

So the Middle East has become more unstable than for at any time in the last century.

The colonial background

One of the factors which has caused tension in the Middle East and which drives the extreme Islamists is what the colonial powers did back in 1916. Britain and France secretly agreed to divide up the old Ottoman Empire between them. They created modern Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine without regard to the people groups and religious affiliations. This did not go down well with the Arabs and led to distrust of the West.

More recently the Western powers have not supported various Middle Eastern countries as well as they should. During the Cold War the US and the Soviet Union supported weak regimes because their collapse could have given an opportunity to one side or the other. That need is no longer relevant. So there are numerous conflicts in the region.

Christianity disappearing

A report has been published by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), entitled “Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith 2013-15.” In it John Pontifex, ACN Head of Press and Information, said: “A cultural genocide of Christians is erasing the presence of faithful from large swathes of the Middle East, the very heartland of the Church. Far from laying the entire blame for persecution against Christians at the door of extremist Islam [the report] demonstrates that many of the problems stem from non-Muslim extremist – nationalist – faith groups and historically communist totalitarian regimes.” The Middle Eastern countries where Christians are most at risk include Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria.

Saudi Arabia

I have written elsewhere about the secret agreement between the UK and Saudi Arabia to ensure that both countries are on the UN Human Rights Council. Yet Saudi Arabia has a bad human rights record and executes one person every two days, normally by beheading. When Malcolm Rifkind, the former Foreign Secretary, was asked if the UK should be urging the Saudis to reform their policies he responded: “That is not the way the world works. You can’t just trade with the countries you approve of, otherwise you would be ruling out trade with China, Russia, and probably three-quarters of the world.” However, that should not involve the UK doing such things as helping Saudi Arabia to be on the Human Rights Council. Little wonder that The Independent carried an editorial in January 2016 which stated: “Britain’s policy towards Saudi Arabia is a disgrace.”

Syria

Saleh Muslim, a Syrian Kurdish leader, warned that if Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, is defeated by the rebels it would be a world calamity because they are dominated by Isis and al-Qaeda terrorists. Yacoub el-Hillo, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Syria, warned that because of the conflict in Syria “Europe will be faced with a refugee situation similar to the one that led to the creation of [the UN Refugee Agency] UNHCR in 1950”.

Egypt

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of Egypt, is becoming increasingly dictatorial. There are 40,000 political prisoners in Egypt, half of them supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and many of them sentenced to death. This has encouraged extremists like Isis. Sinai is now as much under Isis control as Egyptian control.

Iran

Despite the agreement that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons (for 10-15 years), it is still a threat. Many countries don’t trust the Iranian regime. Iran backs Assad’s government in Syria, as well as Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, both of which do not accept the legitimacy of Israel. It also backs the Shia Muslim rebels in Yemen. The new freedom which Iran now enjoys could provoke a major Sunni versus Shia conflict throughout the Middle East. This could lead Saudi Arabia and Egypt into a nuclear arms race. Iran’s antagonism to Israel continues with Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan calling Israel “the world’s centre of evil, espionage and warmongering.”

Conclusion

The Arab Spring has turned into the Arab Winter. There is great instability and ominous rivalry. Amongst the many innocent people who are suffering from the situation in the Middle East are millions of Christians. We need to pray for them and for the Middle East generally.