Jesus said that one of the signs of the End and of his return would be that “many will turn away from the faith” (Matt 24:10). Is that beginning to happen today?

Religion “does more harm than good”

The majority of UK citizens now believe that religion does more harm than good. The Huffington Post discovered that only 25% of British people think religion is a force for good. Professor Linda Woodhead (Professor of the Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University) commented “This confirms something I’ve found in my own surveys and which leads me to conclude that religion has become a ‘toxic brand’ in the UK.”

Another survey revealed that only 7% of British people included religion as one of their three main personal values. It was in 11th position after respect for human life, human rights, peace, equality, rule of law, individual freedom, democracy, respect for other cultures, tolerance and self-fulfilment. It is interesting that in the European Union as a whole religion came bottom of the list of values. In most EU countries religion was not seen as an important value (with the exception of Malta and the Republic of Cyprus).

British Social Attitudes (BSA) surveys discovered a large increase in the number of British people who say they have no religion: 31.4% in 1983, 36.8% in 1993, 43.4% in 2003 and 50.6% in 2013. BSA also asked people over a period of 13 years about “Attitudes towards whether being Christian is important for being truly British.” Those who thought it was not very important or not at all important formed a majority of 64.5% in 1995, 64.9% in 2003 and 75.1% in 2008. The percentages saying it was very important were 19.1%, 15.6% and 6.2% respectively.

A study recently published by the UCL Institute of Education found that 54% of men said they were atheists or agnostics and 34% of women.

It is interesting to note that America is becoming less Christian with church membership static or declining. Americans born between 1982 and 2000 are the least religious generation in US history and they are becoming less religious as they get older.

Growing ignorance of the Christian Faith

The Bible Society discovered that:
• 25% of children have never read, seen or heard the story of the Nativity.
• 43% of children have yet to hear, see or read about the Crucifixion.
• 29% of children don’t know that the Nativity story is part of the Bible.
• 30% of secondary school children (aged 12-15) did not know the Nativity story appears in the Bible.

On the other hand, this ignorance can show itself in more creative ways. One firm produced a “British Christmas Jumper” which bears Christmas trees plus symbols of Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Sikh, atheism, Chinese philosophy and also the peace sign. The firm commented: “Britain has never been more multicultural, so we thought we’d create a Christmas jumper with a twist. We think everyone should be able to wear a British Christmas Jumper and celebrate the festive season – however they wish, no matter what their colour, creed or culture.”

Church Decline

Dr Peter Brierley recorded in June 2014 that the number of churchmembers in the UK in 2013 was 4.5% fewer than in 2008. Professor David Voas of the University of Essex wrote: “Two non-religious parents successfully transmit their lack of religion. Two religious parents in Britain have a roughly 50/50 chance of passing on the faith. The generation now in middle age has produced children who are only half as likely as they are to attend church, to identify themselves as belonging to a denomination, or to say that belief is important to them. Institutional religion in Britain has a half-life of one generation, to borrow the terminology of radioactive decay.” In the same year another survey discovered that 69% of the UK population do not trust religious institutions. The church came in 7th position after the NHS, police, social services, local authorities, judiciary and government/parliament. It is, of course, highly probable that the scandals about child sex abuse in a church context have contributed to this.

Secularisation

Assemblies

The National Governors’ Association has called for an end to Christian assemblies in state schools because they are “meaningless” for non-Christian children and because staff are “unable or unwilling” to lead them. The NGA claims that schools are “not places of worship but places of education” ignoring the fact that education should surely include experience of Christian worship which is important in itself and vital to an understanding of British history. The Church of England commented that stopping assemblies would “deny children the opportunity to experience something they wouldn’t experience elsewhere in their lives”.

Faith schools

An Opinium poll for the Observer found that 58% of UK residents believed faith schools should lose state funding or be closed down. Matthew Taylor, chair of the Social Integration Commission said that segregation between people of different classes and ethnic groups is being increased because of the increasing numbers of faith schools. He called on governors to publish regular reports on how pupils are mixing with other groups in society. One of the serious trends in society is that policies with laudable aims can easily lead to unintended damaging consequences. Of course, contact between different faith groups is a good thing but it can easily lead to pressure to avoid appropriately expressing important religious views for fear of causing offence to other groups. This leads to an undermining of religion.

The Church of England responded to Taylor by saying that former Chief Rabbi, Dr. Jonathan Sacks, went to Church of England primary and secondary schools and commented: “We Jews were different and a minority. Yet not once was I insulted for my faith.” In Birmingham some Church of England primary schools have an almost 100% school roll from Muslim families, serving children from local communities in the inner city.

Church Establishment

In April 2014 Yasmin Alibhai Brown wrote in the Independent, calling for an end to the establishment of the Church of England: “Religion is a vital part of a decent, civil society. When archbishops speak up for the poor (and irritate Iain Duncan Smith), when rabbis offer support to asylum-seekers, when Sikh priests give food to the hungry in their temples, when Muslim imams encourage charity, when faith leaders oppose state violence, they are the nation’s conscience. But, bit by bit, religions are demanding special rights and dispensations, and with well-honed piety are emasculating human rights, equality and autonomy. (They actually use the concepts of human rights and equality to get their own fiefdoms, segregation and legal adjustments.)”

However, she concluded: “This column is a song for secular democracy – the only fair, safe and universalising governance system. America, hyper-diverse and the most fiercely Christian nation in the West, is a secular state. Yes, we can be, too. And must be.”

Nick Clegg also called for disestablishment. Arun Arora, director of communications for the Archbishops’ Council responded: “Critics of establishment commonly fail to understand the duties of establishment where priests serve all the people in a parish and not simply their congregations. It certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But also, gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.”

It is interesting that Anil Bhanot, managing director of the Hindu Council UK, also responded, saying disestablishment would “weaken British democracy” and undermine the voice given to faith groups by policy makers.

Mary Warnock commented: “I would not like to live in a country that was entirely secular. As long as no one is in a position to tell me how to interpret it, or that I must believe in the literal truth of holy writ, then I like there to be an established church, a repository of a long-shared cultural heritage, with a ceremonial function, and a source of genuine belief for many people, of whom I am not one.”

David Cameron’s controversial commitment to “Christian values”

David Cameron (who, of course, has upset the church with some of his reforms) reiterated his commitment to “Christian values” in his 2014 Christmas message. Earlier in the year he had written in the Church Times: “I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives. … Being more confident about our status as a Christian country does not somehow involve doing down other faiths or passing judgement on those with no faith at all. Many people tell me it is easier to be Jewish or Muslim in Britain than in a secular country precisely because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths, too.”

In response, various well-known humanists wrote to the press objecting to his saying that Britain is a Christian country: “Apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established Church, Britain is not a ‘Christian country.’ Repeated surveys, polls and studies show that most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities … We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives, and we are a largely non-religious society. Constantly to claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society. Although it is right to recognise the contribution made by many Christians to social action, it is wrong to try to exceptionalise their contribution when it is equalled by British people of different beliefs. This needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates that are by and large absent from the lives of most British people, who do not want religions or religious identities to be actively prioritised by their elected government.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury responded to the secularists’ letter by saying: “Judging by the reaction, anyone would think that [David Cameron] had at the same time suggested the return of the Inquisition (complete with comfy chairs for Monty Python fans), compulsory church going and universal tithes.”

There was also controversy over a backbench bill that will enable local councils to have prayers before its meetings. The National Secular Society had taken Bideford Council to court over the matter. Cameron had appointed Eric Pickles as Faith Minister in August 2014 in succession to Baroness Warsi. His job is to work with religious and community leaders “promote faith, religious tolerance and stronger communities within the UK.” He facilitated the progress of the bill.

The Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury said: “Christianity is the single most important element in England’s history. From our legal system to our constitution, it is at the very foundations of national identity. There is a danger of airbrushing this from our memory and the intolerant secularism that we are seeing expressed does not allow for acknowledgement of that contribution and its importance to our present life.”

Charles Moore summarised the Christian contribution to Britain: “The United Kingdom has been explicitly Christian for more than a thousand years. Its monarchy, Parliament, morality, law and education; its flag, national anthem, key texts, much of its literature, art and architecture; its health care, many of its charities and endowments, public holidays and festivals, the structure of its week and its place-names – all these and many more are Christian in origin.”

Is Britain still a Christian country?

The historian Simon Schama (himself Jewish) believes Britain is becoming more religious. He said recently: “My generation grew up thinking that religion was completely marginal to British life, which, as for the rest of the world, has been proved more and more wrong. We were arrogantly isolated from that, thinking religion was just an ornamental part of Britishness. Now look at the success of the Alpha Evangelicals, how important Christianity has been to the community of West Indians, the huge place of Islam. Britain is becoming a more religious place, not less.” A poll conducted by OnePoll in April 2014 found that 35% of non-religious people in Britain believe in God and 43% of them pray at times. Also 32% want a religious funeral.

In 2013 the European Social Survey published the results of a 2012 survey on the question: “Regardless of whether you belong to a particular religion, how religious would you say you are?” The results were as follows and show more people regarding themselves as ‘highly religious’ in 2012 than in 2002:

Religiosity score  2002  2004  2006  2008  2010 2012
Low (0-3)              39.7   39.9    46.0    45.9    47.1   44.8
Medium (4-6)       36.1    34.6    31.2     30.5   29.9   29.1
High (7-10)           24.2   25.6    22.9     23.6   22.9   26.2

A 2013 Theos survey reported that:
• 61% of non-religious people believe that “there are things in life that we simply cannot explain through science or any other means.”
• 59% of non-religious people believe in the existence of some kind of spiritual being.
• 52% – think spiritual forces have some influence either in the human world or the natural world.
• 51% believe “prayer works, in the sense that it makes you feel more at peace”.
• 30% believe in God “as a universal life force.”
• 30% believe in spirits.
• 25% believe in angels
• 39% believe in the existence of a soul
• 38% think prayer could heal
• 32% believe in life after death
• 26% believe in heaven
• 16% believe in reincarnation
• 13% believe in hell
• Only 25% of the non-religious – agree with the statement “humans are purely material beings with no spiritual element”.
• 17%) of people said that prayer works “in the sense that it can bring about change for the people or situation you are praying for.”
• 13% of people say they prayed “daily or more often”, 8% say they prayed a few times a week and 34% said they prayed occasionally.
The Report went on to comment: “For all that formalised religious belief and institutionalised religious belonging has declined over recent decades, the British have not become a nation of atheists or materialists. On the contrary, a spiritual current runs as, if not more, powerfully through the nation than it once did.”

It is also a fact that a substantial amount of belief in the supernatural is more superstitious than Christian. A survey conducted by OnePoll on the 27 March 2014 found that belief in the supernatural and superstition ran at 55% against 49% believers in a God. The most popular supernatural beliefs were in ghosts (33%), a sixth sense (32%), UFOs (22%), past lives (19%), telepathy (18%), the ability to predict the future (18%), psychic healing (16%), astrology (10%), the Bermuda Triangle (9%), and demons (8%).

60% of people in the UK think of themselves as Christian, which is more than go to football matches. 23% say they are very or fairly religious. 55% say they believe Britain is a Christian country. 58% say they think Britain should be a Christian country and 50% agreed with David Cameron’s comments on the subject. Also, whereas 39% of people in 2011 agreed that “God created the earth and all life on it”, the percentage in 2014 was 41%.

British Religion in Numbers published a helpful survey of polls ranging back to 1965 over opinions as to whether Britain is a Christian country:

On the question: “Is Britain a Christian country?”

% Agency                      Agree   Disagree   Don’t Know
3/1965 NOP                   80          19                 1
12/1989 Gallup               71           21                8
4/2007 YouGov               39          51                9
12/2007 YouGov             43          57                0
11/2010 ComRes            50          47                3
2/2012 YouGov               56           33               11
4/2014 YouGov               55           33               12
4/2014 ICM                    56           30               14

On the question: “Should Britain be a Christian country?”

% Agency                 Agree   Disagree   Don’t Know
1-2/1968 ORC            81         15                   3
3-4/1984 Harris          67         31                   3
6-7/1987 Insight         69         22                   8
2/2012 YouGov          61          22                 18
4/2014 YouGov          58         23                  19
Linda Woodhead said recently: “In culture and institutions Britain is more Christian than not. What is happening is that people are leaving the churches, not faith.”

The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, commented: “The evidence is overwhelming that most people in this country by a very substantial margin have religious belief in the supernatural or a deity. To that extent atheism doesn’t appear to have made much progress in this country at all …Our state, its ethics and our society are underpinned by Christian values.” He added: “As I go around and look at the way we make laws, and indeed many of the underlying ethics of society are Christian based and the result of 1,500 years of Christian input into our national life. It is not going to disappear overnight. They (the atheists) are deluding themselves.” He also said that he believed people were hesitant to express their religious beliefs because of the “deep intolerance” of religious extremist in British society.

Lord Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, said: “A Christian nation can sound like a nation of committed believers, and we are not that. Equally, we are not a nation of dedicated secularists. I think we’re a lot less secular than the most optimistic members of the British Humanist Association would think … A Christian country as a nation of believers? No. A Christian country in the sense of still being very much saturated by this vision of the world and shaped by it? Yes.”

Professor David Voas commented: “There is general agreement that young people increasingly do not regard themselves as belonging to a Christian religion, much less practise it. What is still debated is whether they are prone to ‘believing without belonging,’ in the phrase popularised by the sociologist Grace Davie. Many other scholars echo the view that religiosity is being transformed, not eroded. They point to the persistence of supernatural belief and the relative popularity of ‘spirituality.’ Levels of atheism have not grown a great deal in the past 30 years, and stand at under 20% … people are just less likely to associate with, or relate to, a particular religion.”

Conclusion

The serious decline in church attendance in many places is, of course, a cause of real concern. Although it may seem that there is a massive turning away from the Faith (which will happen in the End Times) the reality is more complicated. It is instructive to keep a sense of history in this matter. An 1851 survey showed only 40% of the population were in church or chapel on any one Sunday. In 1881 another survey showed that only about 33% of the population were attending. So organised religion, although much more important in those days was in decline even then. The Faith will not die out. Spiritual renewal will come. But turning away from the Faith will also happen, as Jesus predicted.

 

Jesus said that wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilences etc., were “the beginning of birth-pains” of the Messiah (Matt 24:6-8), i.e. early reminders that he would return to deal with injustices and suffering of the world. Global warming fits into this category of “the beginning of birth-pains” of the Messiah.

Global warming sceptics

There are, of course, people who deny that global warming is happening, for example Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, many members of the US Republican Party and the Wall Street Journal. Nigel Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation also does so. According to press reports in September 2014 the GWPF is secretly funded by the Institute of Economic Affairs which is itself funded by fossil fuel companies which have a vested interest in denying global warming.

On the other hand, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, which have cast doubt on global warming in the past, have now changed their tune and accept that it is happening and human beings play a role in it.

One argument against global warming is the claim that warming has been on pause in the last 15 years. However scientists point out that, whereas global warming has slowed down, there has still been a rise of 0.2℃ over the last 15 years. They also point out that a reason for the slowdown is that excess heat is being stored in the Atlantic and Southern Oceans and that a natural ocean cycle will cause the temperature to rise in around 15 years’ time. The Pacific may also have a similar role. Trade winds help the oceans to absorb heat into an area 100 -300 metres below the surface. These trade winds are likely to drop in some years’ time (probably soon after 2020) which will facilitate the heat being released. Scientists also point out that volcanic eruptions spread particles into the atmosphere which reflect the sun’s heat back into space, thus acting against global warming.

The fact is that the World Meteorological Organisation has reported that 13 of the 14 warmest years have occurred since 2000 and each of the last three decades has been warmer than the previous one, with 2001-2010 the warmest on record.

The WMO also reported that concentrations of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere increased faster in 2012-13 than at any time since 1984. They were 142% of pre-Industrial Revolution levels. Methane was 253% and Nitrous Oxide 121% of pre-industrial levels, both of them greenhouse gases. The seas are becoming more acidic at a greater rate than for 300 years.

The effects of global warming

It would be a mistake to put all the extreme weather and other disasters (floods, hurricanes, drought, heatwaves, etc) down solely to global warming. The world population has doubled since the 1970s and many expanding cities are either built on the coast or on flood plains. Some scientists are considering declaring 1950 to be the start of a new geological age called the Anthropocene which refers to the human domination of the planet. It has been characterised by dramatic population increase and industrial development leading to great pollution and waste. Pollution is said to cause 1 in 8 human deaths. The so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a floating ‘island’ of rubbish – is said to be twice the size of the United States. Forests have been cut down, oceans over-fished and many species becoming almost or actually extinct. This will all be evident in the sediments which will form the rocks and fossils in the future.

However, climate change is predicted to have serious effects:

Extreme weather: Hotter air holds more moisture which will lead to extreme precipitation, and, of course, water expands as it grows warmer which will lead to flooding. This can be linked with melting ice caps. Also the Amazon rainforest, the “lungs of the earth” is drying out making it vulnerable to massive forest fires. In 2005 and 2010 it became a net producer rather than an absorber of Carbon Dioxide.

Hunger: because of reduction in food production and increasing prices.

Heat-related deaths: The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health points out that “many countries experience annual heat-related and cold-related deaths associated with current weather patterns.” It added that “heat-related deaths would be expected to rise by around 257% by the 2050s.”

Violence: because of growing poverty and hunger and resulting migration. The 2014 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report stated: “Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger.” It is also obscene that half of the world’s wealth is owned by 1% of the population. The US Center for Naval Analyses Military Advisory Board, described climate change as a “catalyst for conflict.” It claims that it “will aggravate stressors abroad, such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence” as “massive floods, water shortages and famines … are expected to hit and decimate unstable nations.”

Water shortage and flooding: experts are speaking of the 21st century being characterised by “water in the wrong place” – a lack of drinking water in some places and flooding in others. Water tables are falling in every continent. Arctic ice is disappearing much faster than scientists expected. Flooding in Europe is likely to double by 2050. Dame Julia Slingo, chief scientist at the Meteorological Office, said that in early 2014 the UK had seen the “most exceptional period of rainfall in 248 years.”

Ocean acidification: because of absorption of carbon dioxide. This will lead to a shortage of fish for those dependent on it as a food.

Extinction of species: In 2007 the IPCC suggested that 20 to 30% of plant and animal species faced an increased risk of extinction this century if the planet keeps warming. The wildlife population is less than 50% of what it was 40 years ago and valuable habitats are being destroyed.

John Kerry US Secretary of State said in February 2014: “Climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps even the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”

Attempts to combat global warming

Various methods have been suggested, for example:

Reflecting sunlight back into space: This could be done by spraying sulphate particles high in the atmosphere, whitening low clouds by spraying salt water above the oceans, thinning high cirrus clouds to allow more heat to escape from the earth, whitening the ocean surface to reflect more sunlight by generating microbubbles or covering deserts with shiny material. However a study in November 2014 showed that these methods would cause worse floods and droughts for billions of people.

Extracting Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere: This would require burning many plants and trees in power plants and capturing the Carbon Dioxide from them. It would require the planting of huge numbers of trees. This would be very expensive.

Climate Change talks

At the talks in Lima at the end of 2014 every country committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. There is, however, much more to be done and commitments are not always worked out in practice.

A call to action

As always, when considering events and trends which fit into the category of “the ‘beginning of birth-pains’ of the Messiah” we should seek to do whatever we can to counteract the harm involved. Desmond Tutu, writing in The Observer in September 2014, said: “Never before in history have human beings been called on to act collectively in defence of the Earth. If we don’t limit global warming to two degrees or less we are doomed to a period of unprecedented instability, insecurity and loss of species. The most devastating effects of climate change – deadly storms, heat waves, droughts, rising food prices and the advent of climate refugees – are being visited on the world’s poor. Those who have no involvement in creating the problem are the most affected, while those with the capacity to arrest the slide dither. Africans, who emit far less carbon than the people of any other continent, will pay the steepest price. It is a deep injustice.”

He then went on to call for a boycott of events, sports teams and media programming sponsored by fossil fuel companies; demand that their advertisements carry health warnings; ask our religious communities to speak out on the issue from their various pulpits, etc.

It remains to be seen if global warming becomes the global nightmare it has the potential to be. In the meantime it fits into this category of “the ‘beginning of birth-pains’ of the Messiah” alongside wars, famines, earthquakes and pestilence.

This article contains an update to my main paper “Discrimination against British Christian” which is on our Christian Teaching Resources website at

http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/DiscriminationAgainstBritishChristians.pdf

UPDATE 2 March 10th 2015

Oppression of Christian schools

Because of an incident of extreme religious views being taught in a British school there is now an emphasis on schools encouraging knowledge of other religions and tolerance – what are called “British values.” This is a good thing but it has led to most unhelpful results. A Christian school has been told it must invite a Muslim imam to take collective worship. The government seems unaware that many Christians would be willing to accept an imam coming to talk about Islam and answer questions but would have conscientious objections to their children being obliged to be led in Muslim worship. The right of a Christian school not to have Muslim worship must be protected (just as a Muslim school must have the right to refuse to have Christian worship). Schools are being required to “promote” other religions. If this means to learn about them, that is acceptable. But if it means a Christian school has to promote another faith as equally true to Christianity, that is a gross infringement of religious freedom.

Oppression of Christian organisations and individuals

A recent survey by the Evangelical Alliance found that 53% of British Christians believed they thought that they could get into trouble for saying what they believe in a work or professional context.

This article was written in December 2014. Since then we have seen the rise of populism and nationalism. But it would be a mistake to think that this will replace globalisation in our modern global village. There was a growth in nationalism and populism in the 1930s, which led to war and was followed by strong moves towards globalisation. Globalisation will not go away.

 

Globalisation is a fact of life. We live in a global village. But, as always, we need to try to be sure of our facts. There is much debate over the effect of globalisation.

Many say globalisation is the end of the nation state

The idea that globalisation is rendering the nation state irrelevant is held by many people, including scholars. Nation states no longer control financial exchange rates. The world economy or regional economies have taken over. Modern communication enables the movement of huge amounts of money around the world in a moment. International firms can be based in one country, manufacture goods in another, keep their capital in another and hire people in another depending on what seems most advantageous to them.

Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Union made a controversial speech in 2010 in which he said that “the time of the homogenous nation state is over … In every member state, there are people who believe their country can survive alone in the globalised world. It is more than an illusion – it is a lie … The biggest enemy of Europe today is fear. Fear leads to egoism, egoism leads to nationalism, and nationalism leads to war … Today’s nationalism is often not a positive feeling of pride in one’s own identity, but a negative feeling of apprehension of the others.”

Dr Myrto Tsakatika, Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Glasgow presented a paper in 2002 about the legacy of the “Monnet Method.” Jean Monnet was one of the founding fathers of the European Union. Dr Tsakatika described how Monnet worked on the principle that economic and other close co-operation in the EU would lead to “the inexplicit and gradual redirection of competencies from the national centres to a European centre, in the process of which vague amounts of sovereignty would pass from one level to the other.” To put it very simply, through economic and similar co-operation members of the EU would ‘sleepwalk’ into political union. This shows the possibility of the world drifting into globalisation in a way which could undermine democracy.

Prof Jean-Marie Guehenno wrote a book entitled The End of the Nation-State in which he wrote that we are in a new age of economic globalisation and worldwide information technologies. This new age makes boundaries irrelevant. Instead of nation states he believes in a network of networks.

Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery wrote: “The multinational economy, the social media, the fight against deadly diseases, the civil wars and genocides, the environmental dangers threatening the entire planet – all these make world governance imperative and urgent – yet this is an idea whose realization is still very, very far away.”

In December 2102 the US National Intelligence Council produced a report entitled “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds.” In passing, it is interesting to note that it refers to events which could cause worldwide disruption:
• Severe Pandemic with millions dying within months
• Much more rapid climate change
• Euro/EU collapse
• A democratic or economically collapsed China
• A nuclear war or weapons of mass destruction/cyber attack
• Solar magnetic storms which knock out satellites, the electric grid, and many sensitive electronic devices.
• A collapse or sudden retreat of US power which would probably lead to global anarchy.

It goes on to predict possible world scenarios in 2030. Firstly, it includes the possibility of large scale conflicts leading to a “complete breakdown and reversal of globalisation.” Secondly, it includes the possibility of the US, Europe and China co-operating to stop a large scale conflict “broadly leading to worldwide cooperation to deal with global challenges.” Thirdly, it includes the possibility of a world where inequalities dominate leading to political and social tensions.

Finally, it describes the possibility of “a Nonstate World.” It adds: “In this world, nonstate actors—nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), multinational businesses, academic institutions, and wealthy individuals—as well as subnational units (megacities, for example), flourish and take the lead in confronting global challenges. An increasing global public opinion consensus among elites and many of the growing middle classes on major global challenges—poverty, the environment, anti-corruption, rule-of-law, and peace—form the base of their support. The nation-state does not disappear, but countries increasingly organize and orchestrate “hybrid” coalitions of state and nonstate actors which shift depending on the issue …. Even democratic countries, which are wedded to the notion of sovereignty and independence, find it difficult to operate successfully in this complex and diverse world multinational businesses, IT communications firms, international scientists, NGOs, and others that are used to cooperating across borders and as part of networks thrive in this hyper-globalized world where expertise, influence, and agility count for more than ‘weight’ or ‘position’.”

Robert Kaplan, who was a member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, wrote in 1994 about the “increasing erosion of nation-states and international borders” in much of the developing world. It is caused by “disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations” (often caused by environmental factors such as deforestation, soil erosion, water depletion, air pollution and rising sea levels). He spoke of “the withering away of central governments, the rise of tribal and regional domains … and the growing pervasiveness of war.”

He says that the world has been moving from nation-state conflict to ideological conflict and then to cultural conflict. The real borders are seen as those of culture, religion and tribe and they do not coincide with existing state borders. So, for example, much of the Arab world will undergo alteration, as Islam spreads across artificial frontiers. It is interesting that he adds that “Israel is destined to be a Jewish ethnic fortress amid a vast and volatile realm of Islam.”

Immanuel Wallerstein who was Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, believes that the nation-state system no longer works and that it will break down in the next 25 to 50 years and there will be a time of great conflicts and disorder.

Others say globalisation won’t eradicate the nation state

On the other hand, Professor Kenneth Waltz calls globalisation “the fad of the 1990s” and points out that ‘globalisation’ is leaving out most of Africa and The Middle East. He claims that there was no greater economic interdependence in 1999 than in 1910. He added “The range of government functions and the extent of state control over societies and economies has seldom been fuller than it is now.”

Martin Wolf, associate editor and chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, writes: “Contrary to one common assumption, the modern form of globalisation will not spell the end of the modern nation-state.” He adds: “Globalisation does not make states unnecessary. On the contrary, for people to be successful in exploiting the opportunities afforded by international integration, they need states at both ends of their transactions. Failed states, disorderly states, weak states, and corrupt states are shunned as the black holes of the global economic system.”

Professor Peter Drucker writes: “Since talk of the globalisation of the world’s economy began some 35 years ago, the demise of the nation-state has been widely predicted. Actually, the best and the brightest have been predicting the nation-state’s demise for 200 years, beginning with Immanuel Kant in his 1795 essay “Perpetual Peace,” through Karl Marx in “Withering Away of the State,” to Bertrand Russell’s speeches in the 1950s and …Despite all its shortcomings, the nation-state has shown amazing resilience … So far, at least, there is no other institution capable of political integration and effective membership in the world’s political community. In all probability, therefore, the nation-state will survive the globalisation of the economy and the information revolution that accompanies it. But it will be a greatly changed nation-state, especially in domestic fiscal and monetary policies, foreign economic policies, control of international business, and, perhaps, in its conduct of war.”

He added: “There is certainly need for moral, legal, and economic rules that are accepted and enforced throughout the global economy. A central challenge, therefore, is the development of international law and supranational organizations that can make and enforce rules for the global economy.”

What, then, is the effect of globalisation?

We have noted that the idea that globalisation is leading towards the end of the nation state is controversial. But it is clear that globalisation is going on. The real controversy is about how much it has undermined the sovereignty of the nation state. Despite what Kenneth Waltz writes, it seems clear that there is growing interdependence between nations and there has been a growth of transnational and international organisations. There is also an increasing amount of international law. Modern communication and travel have made the world a global village.

Professor Dani Rodrik writes that the idea that globalisation has condemned the nation-state to irrelevance is a myth. It was national governments who bailed out the banks in the 2008 financial crisis. National governments are re-writing the rules on financial market supervision and regulation. He adds: “Indeed, the erosion of the nation-state ultimately does little good for global markets as long as we lack viable mechanisms of global governance.”

However he continues: “We should not entirely dismiss the likelihood that a true global consciousness will develop in the future, along with transnational political communities. But today’s challenges cannot be met by institutions that do not (yet) exist. For now, people still must turn for solutions to their national governments, which remain the best hope for collective action. The nation-state may be a relic bequeathed to us by the French Revolution, but it is all that we have.”

Jayantha Dhanapala, who was Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs at the United Nations, writes: “Globalisation is an ongoing process, not a completed condition. Against the grand tapestry of history, it has arguably just started. It has grown from a purely economic or technological concept and now implies evolutionary change on a cultural dimension as well. Information communicated through modern print and electronic media is not just affecting commerce, but shaping world-views, relations inside families, and attitudes of citizens to the state. The process, however, has still not significantly touched an extraordinary proportion of humanity and hence has not yet truly earned its title, globalisation …. Nor has globalisation ushered in a golden age of world peace. In the decade since the end of the Cold War, over five million people have been killed in armed conflicts around the world — that is about a million more than the entire population of the state of Colorado. Today, the world is now spending around $800 billion on defence expenditures, over 90 percent of the levels spent during the Cold War. There also remain an estimated 30,000 nuclear weapons that, if used in a global conflict, could eliminate all the various gains of globalisation in just a few minutes.”

Professor Richard Brinkman wrote: “It appears arguable that “[w]hile the nation-state is far from finished, there is good reason to doubt that states hold the monopoly power within the politics of globalisation” (Holton 1998, 106-07). This is not to deny that currently the sovereignty of the nation-state is on the wane and while not dead is experiencing decline.”

How should we regard globalisation?

It is not necessary to see all trends towards world government as part of some sinister conspiracy but it could lead to oppressive results. As Dr Seth Baum, Executive Director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, says: “A global government might begin benevolent, but it could turn sour, even becoming the oppressive disaster that the conspiracy theorists fear. And if it does, there would be no other government out there to keep it in check … if we do end up with an oppressive global government, it would probably follow from an initial, benevolent global government.”

The possibility of world government being oppressive and undemocratic is one of the main concerns and we are seeing growing power of the state over its citizens. Martin Wolf writes: “Ironically, the technology that is supposed to make globalisation inevitable also makes increased surveillance by the state, particularly over people, easier than it would have been a century ago. Indeed, here is the world we now live in: one with fairly free movement of capital, continuing (though declining) restrictions on trade in goods and services, but quite tight control over the movement of people.”

Threats to Democracy: Surveillance

Recent developments are a cause of concern. One report is that MI5 and GCHQ have been allowing their staff to intercept communications between clients and their lawyers. Yet the right to confidentiality between client and lawyer is one of the most long-standing and has always been regarded as inviolable in English law.

In September 2014 the UN received a report from Ben Emmerson QC the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. It stated that the fact that intelligence and law enforcement agencies could have access to the communications of every internet user “amounts to a systematic interference with the right to respect for the privacy of communications, and requires a correspondingly compelling justification.”

The report stated that “Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is the most important legally binding treaty provision guaranteeing the right to privacy at the universal level. It provides that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home and correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation”. It further provides that “everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

Emmerson goes on to say: “The suggestion that users have voluntarily forfeited their right to privacy is plainly unwarranted … It is a general principle of international human rights law that individuals can be regarded as having given up a protected human right only through an express and unequivocal waiver, voluntarily given on an informed basis. In the modern digital world, merely using the Internet as a means of private communication cannot conceivably constitute an informed waiver of the right to privacy under article 17 of the Covenant.”

He concludes: “The prevention and suppression of terrorism is a public interest imperative of the highest importance and may in principle form the basis of an arguable justification for mass surveillance of the Internet. However, the technical reach of the programmes currently in operation is so wide that they could be compatible with article 17 of the Covenant only if relevant States are in a position to justify as proportionate the systematic interference with the Internet privacy rights of a potentially unlimited number of innocent people located in any part of the world. Bulk access technology is indiscriminately corrosive of online privacy and impinges on the very essence of the right guaranteed by article 17.In the absence of a formal derogation from States’ obligations under the Covenant, these programmes pose a direct and ongoing challenge to an established norm of international law.”

At around the same time, the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, addressed the Tory Party Conference about the danger of Islamic State militants even seizing nuclear weapons. She said she wanted to revive the Communications Data Bill requiring companies to keep records of people’s internet, email and mobile phone activity, but not their contents, which was abandoned by the government in 2013. Commenting on that Bill, Dominic Grieve, ex-Attorney General, said: “Any restriction on freedom of expression of individuals outside the criminal law is something that has to be approached with very great caution.” Also David Davis, the former shadow Home Secretary said: “These are quite incredible powers to limit democratic rights, rights that people have had for 200 years in this country. It will have real trouble both getting through the House of Commons and indeed real difficulty standing up in front of the court.” It is disturbing, therefore, that the government is persisting in trying to pass such a bill into law.

In July 2014 the House of Commons approved The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill which 15 academic experts in technology law, in a letter to MPs, described as “a serious expansion of the British surveillance state.”

Andrew Caplen, President of the Law Society, commented: “We are concerned that introducing emergency legislation does nothing to enhance the rule of law or address the fact that we are increasingly becoming a ‘surveillance society’.”

In June Vodafone, revealed the existence of secret wires that allow government agencies to listen to all conversations on its networks, saying they are widely used in some of the 29 countries in which it operates in Europe and beyond.

Tony Porter, the UK government’s Surveillance Commissioner, commented on the 50,000 government controlled roadside cameras: “There is a very real risk that if systems aren’t adhered to, innocent members of the public could be put at risk of having their privacy impacted upon… There are other concerns that have been expressed … the large data-grab of information and the period of retention of that information.”

So, alongside the development of globalisation we have governments challenging established norms of international law by their sweeping surveillance programmes.

Threats to Democracy: Changes in world politics

In September 2014 Amol Rajan, editor of the The Independent, wrote an editorial in which he said “We have entered a post-American age. Two of the biggest and best ideas that the United States has stood for – liberalism and democracy – are in retreat around the world.” He continued that since the late 20th century “Democracy has taken a pounding. Illiberal powers such as China and Russia are in the ascendant; the Arab Spring was a crushing disappointment; Turkey’s increasingly despotic leader has left Indonesia as essentially the last big Islamic democracy; and a deep antipathy towards political elites has taken hold in Britain, France and America, making governing them very difficult.”

Threats to democracy: Political use of the threat of terrorism

There is, of course, a serious threat of terrorism but there is also a danger of such a threat being used, deliberately or unintentionally, to undermine the rights and freedoms of law-abiding citizens. In 2010, the all-party parliamentary committee on human rights concluded the following: “Since 9/11, the government has continuously justified many of its counter terrorism measures on the basis that there is a public emergency threatening the life of the nation…we are concerned that the government’s approach means, that in effect, there is a permanent state of emergency and that this inevitably has a deleterious effect on the public debate about the justification for counter terrorism.”

Conclusion

The main problem with world government, however positive the motives for setting it up, is that “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The Corruption Perceptions Index 2014 published by Transparency International “paints an alarming picture. Not one single country gets a perfect score and more than two-thirds score below 50, on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). Corruption is a problem for all countries.” The UK gets a high score (78) but there have been stories of corruption in the Westminster Parliament in recent times. We have noted the dangers inherent in growing surveillance, and in seeking to combat the threat of terrorism. We have also seen that illiberal powers such as Russia and China are in the ascendency.

It seems clear from the teaching of Scripture that, however altruistic their motives may be for setting it up, human beings cannot be trusted with world government. The trend towards it in our global village can be seen as preparing the way ultimately for the Antichrist. We have looked at both trends towards and hindrances to world government but conclude that in the long term the trend towards it will dominate. Despite current controversies and Euroscepticism it does seem possible that, in the long run, the “Monnet Method” (drifting into globalisation in a way which could undermine democracy) could prove successful, even on a global level, driven by the need to co-operate over economics and security etc.

Persecution is one of the signs of the End Jesus speaks of in Matthew 24

PERSECUTION – THE PRESENT SITUATION

80% of all acts of religious discrimination are against Christians according to the International Society for Human Rights (a secular group).

Christians are persecuted in 139 nations (about 75% of the world) according to the Pew Research Center (compared with Muslims in 90 countries and Jews in 68 countries).

Open Doors, which supports persecuted Christians around the world, said in 2013 it had documented 2,123 “martyr” killings, compared with 1,201 in 2012 but that there were probably more. Other Christian groups say the figure may be up to 8,000. (One group claims there are 100,000 a year but this figure has been disputed).

Lord Sacks, former Chief Rabbi, said in the House of Lords that attempts to wipe out Christianity in parts of the Middle East and the killing of Christians across much of Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia amount to the “religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing” and is a crime against humanity.

Pope Francis said “I am convinced that the persecution against Christians today is stronger than in the first centuries of the Church.”

In April 2014 David Cameron said: “It is the case that Christians are now the most persecuted religion around the world. We should stand up against persecution of Christians and other faith groups wherever and whenever we can.”

In the Middle East there is very widespread and terrible persecution of Christians. The so-called Arab Spring has become a Christian Winter. Christians are worse off in Iraq than under Saddam and in Syria than under Assad (before the war). Some of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East have been destroyed. In August 2014 Christians fled from Mosul, the largest Christian town in Iraq, when Isis conquered it. It had a population of 60,000 Christians.

Open Doors now ranks Iraq as No 4 on the list of 50 countries where Christians are under greatest pressure. It commented: “Christians in Iraq are on the verge of extinction. Large numbers of persecuted Christians have fled abroad or to the (until recently) safer Kurdish region, where they face unemployment and inadequate schooling, medical care and housing. The church faces many challenges – members being killed or abducted, and a lack of capable leaders.”

In October 2013 the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning violence and persecution against Christians in Syria, Pakistan and Iran.

In China, Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, says (hypocritically) “Over the past decades, the Protestant churches in China have developed very quickly with the implementation of the country’s religious policy. In the future, we will continue to boost the development of Christianity in China. The construction of Chinese Christian theology should adapt to China’s national condition and integrate with Chinese culture.” The truth is that China is alarmed by the growth of Christianity in some areas and, as usual, wants to suppress or control it.

OPPRESSION

The church in the West is not experiencing persecution but there are disturbing trends. It is important to remember that sometimes actions taken for good motives can have seriously bad effects.

Oppression of Christian schools

For example, because of an incident of extreme religious views being taught in a British school there is now an emphasis on schools encouraging knowledge of other religions and tolerance – what are called “British values.” This is a good thing but it has led to most unhelpful results. A Christian school has been told it must invite a Muslim imam to take collective worship. The government seems unaware that many Christians would be willing to accept an imam coming to talk about Islam and answer questions but would have conscientious objections to their children being obliged to be led in Muslim worship. The right of a Christian school not to have Muslim worship must be protected (just as a Muslim school must have the right to refuse to have Christian worship). Schools are being required to “promote” other religions. If this means to learn about them, that is acceptable. But if it means a Christian school has to promote another faith as equally true to Christianity, that is a gross infringement of religious freedom. Many Christians do not regard other religions as equally true to Christianity. They regard Jesus as the divine Son of God and only Saviour. Their right to that belief must be protected. At the same time they should promote understanding of and tolerance for other religions. Tolerance does not mean agreement but respect for those with whom one disagrees. For many Christians, to tolerate another religion means disagreeing with it in various important matters but nevertheless showing respect for its adherents.

To threaten Christian schools with downgrading or even closure because they do not actively promote other religions, including inviting leaders of other faiths to take assemblies, is oppression.

Oppression of Christian organisations and individuals

From time to time reports emerge of Christian organisations in universities being stripped of recognition because they will not open their leadership to non-Christian students. This means they lose free use of university meeting rooms and university funding. Currently this is happening at California State University but it has also happened in the UK. To require Christian organisations to be open to being led by non-Christians is not only ludicrous but intolerant and oppressive.

A recent survey by the Evangelical Alliance found that 53% of British Christians believed they thought that they could get into trouble for saying what they believe in a work or professional context.

The danger in all this is that the time could come when Christians are effectively forbidden to express and act upon very important aspects of their faith.

 

The Global Peace Index measures peace in 162 countries, covering 99.6% of the world’s population, and has discovered that since 2008, 111 countries have deteriorated in levels of peace which goes against the trend of a reduction in conflict since the Second World War. There are only 11 countries in the world free from conflict. 500 million people live in countries at risk of instability and conflict, 200 million of whom live below the poverty line. Trends in war are shifting from hostility between states, to a rise in the number and intensity of internal conflicts.

The UN Refugee Agency said that in 2013 there were 51.2 million refugees (16.7m), asylum seekers (1.2m) and internally displaced people (33.3m). The figure has exceeded 50 million for the first time since World War II.

The “Islamic” State

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said of the Islamic State: “This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated.”

Theresa May, when Bitish Home Secretary in September 2014, said: “If [Isis] succeed in firmly consolidating their grip on the land they occupy in Syria and Iraq, we will see the world’s first truly terrorist state established within a few hours flying time of our country. We will see terrorists given the space to plot attacks against us, train their men and women, and devise new methods to kill indiscriminately. We will see the risk, often prophesied but thank God not yet fulfilled, that with the capability of a state behind them, the terrorists will acquire chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons to attack us.”

David Cameron commented: “We are in the middle of a generational struggle against the poisonous and extremist ideology that I believe we will be fighting for years and probably decades.”

The Islamic State has captured advanced artillery, armoured cars, battlefield tanks, anti-aircraft guns and American low altitude FIM92 Stinger manpads (man-portable air defence system). It also has three Russian-built MiG jets. In addition it took control of a large chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad, which contained remnants of 2,500 degraded chemical rockets filled with the deadly nerve agent sarin and other chemical warfare agents. Bodies have been discovered which have no bullet wounds but only “burns and white spots” which indicate the use of chemical weapons.

ISIS documents have been discovered which show the organisation aims to capture nuclear weapons from Iran.

It is now the case that extreme Islamist organisations control an area the size of Britain in western Iraq and eastern Syria. Then there is Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia. Boko Haram is a similar organisation to ISIS in Nigeria.

Radicalisation

One very disturbing factor is the radicalisation of young Muslims, including from western nations, which leads them to join organisations like ISIS. In June 2014 Richard Barrett, former Head of Counter-terrorism at MI6, warned that some 300 foreign fighters from Syria may now be back in the United Kingdom.

The internet is an important new factor. One jihadist website has a slogan “Half of Jihad is Media.” Fundamentalist Sunni jihadists broadcast their propaganda daily through satellite television stations, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Hence they are never short of money or recruits. Hate preachers have huge followings on YouTube.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan

One of the problems is that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have encouraged jihadism but they are important allies of the US. Saudi Arabia is a huge market for American arms. Wikileaks released a cable by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton which said: “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan] and other terrorists groups.” The 9/11 Commission Report revealed that Saudi donors were the main financial support for al-Qa’ida but 28 pages of the report relating to Saudi involvement have never been published.

A new Cold War?

Another disturbing factor on the world scene is the growing tension between Russia and the West. This has, of course, been precipitated by the crisis in Ukraine.

Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, without naming him, says that Vladimir Putin (a member of the Orthodox Church) is “under the action of Satan” and is heading for “eternal damnation in hell.” President Obama has pledged $1billion to aid European defence despite warnings from Russia that any build-up of forces in Eastern Europe could lead to an arms race and a new Cold War. Obama responded: “We are interested in good relations with Russia. We are not interested in threatening Russia” but tensions continue.

Nuclear war by accident?

There have been disturbing revelations about the dangers inherent in the possession of nuclear weapons. General Lee Butler, former head of the US strategic air command which controls nuclear weapons and strategy once said that we have survived the nuclear age “by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”

This year it was revealed that in January 1961 an American plane carrying two nuclear bombs broke apart in flight dropping the weapons in North Carolina. Both bombs were knocked into ‘armed’ mode as they fell. The second bomb went through six of the seven steps to detonation and only damaged cables prevented that happening.

In 1980 a worker was carrying out routine maintenance on a nuclear missile silo in Arkansas. He dropped a spanner and ruptured the missiles fuel tank. Nine hours later the missile exploded, sending the warhead 50 yards away. Fortunately the safety devices worked.

In 2007 six cruise missiles with live nuclear warheads were flown from North Dakota to Louisiana without authorisation. The loaders confused dummy warheads with the real thing.

The problem is that the accidental detonation of a nuclear missile could cause nuclear conflict. The BBC revealed in September 2014 that in 1983 Russia’s early-warning systems registered a missile strike from the United States, and Russia’s nuclear system went onto the highest-level alert. Fortunately, Stanislav Petrov, the officer on duty, decided to disobey the protocol which required a nuclear retaliation. He was reprimanded.

In 1995, after the Cold War had finished, the Russians mistook a Norwegian research rocket for an American ballistic missile. Boris Yeltsin was two minutes away from launching retaliatory nuclear missiles, when the Norwegian rocket fell into the sea.

The turbulent Middle East

Margaret MacMillan, Professor of International History at Oxford University, has recently said that the Middle East is the modern equivalent of the Balkans where World War I was sparked off. She wrote that “A similar mix of toxic nationalisms threatens to draw in outside powers as the US, Turkey, Russia, and Iran look to protect their interests and clients.” She added that if Iran developed nuclear bombs it “would make for a very dangerous world indeed, which could lead to a recreation of the kind of tinderbox that exploded in the Balkans 100 years ago – only this time with mushroom clouds.” Her warning was: “Now, as then, the march of globalisation has lulled us into a false sense of safety. The 100th anniversary of 1914 should make us reflect anew on our vulnerability to human error, sudden catastrophes, and sheer accident.”

Amoral Robowar

Another disturbing fact is the development of sophisticated killer robots. Robots, of course, do not have any moral revulsion against unnecessary killing and could not be programmed with any means of reconciliation. The Americans have developed the Unmanned Ground Combat Vehicle or UGV which could decide to attack, using a roof-mounted machine gun, without human intervention. They also have drones, which have already killed thousands of people. The South Koreans have developed a robotic sentry which can detect a human up to two miles away and can fire a machine gun or a grenade launcher. Hopefully the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons will lead to a global ban on autonomous weapons.

Christians should first and foremost pray and work for peace and care for victims of war. But we should also remember Jesus’ answer to the question “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” War is not a sign of the imminent End of the Age and Return of Christ but it is a reminder of and pointer towards the End. Sadly, war is still very much with us and could become much worse, not least with terrorists obtaining sophisticated weapons.

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See my main writings on Eschatology  (the End Times: the Return of Christ, Judgment, Heaven etc) at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/eschatology.html for both a Full (more detailed) Version and a Summary Version.

Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple and the disciples asked him “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3). It seems clear that Jesus spoke of signs of the end of the age in much of the chapter. Initially he speaks of what I call preliminary, repeated signs or reminders of the end. They are like recurring motorway signs pointing towards a distant destination. One of them is “pestilences” (Lk 21:11).

So, Jesus teaches us to take notice of “pestilences” as a reminder of the end. Obviously, our first concern is what we can do to help those affected by them. But we should also remember they are reminders!

Ebola

Ebola is “the most severe, acute health emergency seen in modern times,” said Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization in October 2014. She added that it is a “crisis for international peace and security” and added “I have never seen a health event threaten the very survival of societies and governments in already very poor countries. I have never seen an infectious disease contribute so strongly to potential state failure.”

Others have accused her of alarmism. One such is Ruth Schuster, an Israeli journalist. She points out that whereas several thousand people have died from Ebola, 35 million are infected by HIV, 130 million for hepatitis C and 300 million for hepatitis B. In 2013 1.5 million died of AIDS, over a million from viral hepatitis, and half a million from flu. But then she writes: “The next generation of virologists and immunologists needs to be prepared because in this age of jet travel, a contagious disease could devastate the human species. The flu pandemic of 1918 killed 20 million to 40 million people and that’s before people and their germs were casually climbing onto planes.”

The UK International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, reported that ministers were shocked by the US public health institute that 1.4 million may be infected by Ebola by January 2015 if it is not checked.

Certainly, the Ebola crisis is a solemn reminder of the dangers of “pestilences” in our global village. But it isn’t the only reminder in the news. There have been alarming recent reports about dangerous lapses of security at laboratories containing lethal viruses.

Dangers from laboratory experiments and security failures

In September 2014 scientists discovered old vials containing smallpox, ricin, plague and botulism between 60 and 100 years old in a US laboratory. They were not stored in accordance with security regulations. In July 2014 6 vials of smallpox viruses were found in a cardboard box in a Maryland laboratory. The same month anthrax was discovered in unlocked refrigerators (or refrigerators with a key in the lock) some in an unrestricted hallway. Some anthrax containers were missing and had to be found. Some 75 scientists in Atlanta may have been exposed to anthrax because proper procedures were not followed. Samples were transferred to laboratories not equipped to deal with them.

Professor Yoshiro Kawaoka has been researching mutated forms of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic flu virus. He has been accused of risking creating a new pandemic not least because his laboratory does not have adequate biosecurity. Kawaoka has also created copies of the virus which caused the deadly Spanish Flu pandemic which killed some 50 million people in 1918.

Robert Kolter, professor of microbiology at Harvard Medical School, was quoted as saying: “The scientists doing this work are so immersed in their own self-aggrandisement, they have become completely blind to the irresponsibility of their acts. Their arguments in favour of such work, i.e. increase ability for surveillance, remain as weak as ever.”

Antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’

David Cameron spoke to the press about the emergence of untreatable bacteria. He said: “This is not some distant threat, but something happening right now … If we fail to act, we are looking at an almost unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back into the dark ages of medicine, where treatable infections and injuries will kill once again. That simply cannot be allowed to happen and I want to see a stronger, more coherent global response.”

Dr Keiji Fukuda, the World Health Organisation’s assistant director general for health security said that unless adequate international action is taken, once-beaten diseases will re-emerge as global killers and common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades will once again kill people. It is regarded by experts as a threat equal to climate change and global terrorism.

We need to pray for those affected by disease and for those seeking to combat these dangers. But we should also note that pestilences are a reminder of His coming and the end of the age. There will be no pestilences in the new heaven and new earth..

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See my main writings on Eschatology  (the End Times: the Return of Christ, Judgment, Heaven etc) at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/eschatology.html for both a Full (more detailed) Version and a Summary Version.

 

 

When I was working in Jerusalem I became very concerned about the need, pain and fears of both Israelis and Palestinians. My concern for Israelis had predated our move to Israel but I learnt a great deal about the Palestinians whilst we were there. I was CEO of a ministry to Jewish people and became convinced that fostering reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians was a major spiritual responsibility. Hence I started circulating an email newsletter which seeks to encourage Christians to pray in an informed and unbiased way. During my time as Rector of Christ Church, in the Old City of Jerusalem prayers for reconciliation, justice and peace became very prominent. This did not endear me to some of my more right wing Zionist colleagues and others.

I disapprove of some manifestations of Christian Zionism. But equally I disapprove of some manifestations on the pro-Palestinian side. It is from this background that I write to make strong criticism of the recent statement by the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches entitled “Christian Presence and Witness in the Middle East.” It was circulated at the end of May 2013 after a meeting at the Notre-Dame du Mont Monastery in Lebanon.

This statement shows extensive support for the Palestinians in their needs, which is good. However:

It shows great insensitivity against the background of the  history of Christian anti-Semitism

It includes the statement: “We believe that the Gospel calls us always to love God and love our neighbours and all people, as did Jesus Christ, the revelation of divine love. In Him, the whole of humanity is reconciled and united in the bond of God’s plan of salvation.” But it does not show such an attitude towards Jewish Israelis. It mentions that “Christians, Muslims and Jews all experience the destructive effects of [current negative] trends.” It also recommends “engagement with Jewish partners also working for peace and justice.” But these 22 words are the only positive references to Jewish people in the whole 2,600 word document.  There is, however, strong condemnation of Israel. Is the WCC not aware of centuries of Christian anti-Semitism which undermines the credibility of the church with respect to the Jewish people? Is it not aware of Jewish sensitivities? Does it not understand that such a biased statement will cause damage to Christian-Jewish relations?

The report states: “Christians must reject Islamophobia, which mischaracterizes Islam as an undifferentiated whole, and undermines decades of cultivation of co-operation with Muslims, and must refuse the temptation to amalgamation, generalization, and sensationalization of our Muslim brothers and sisters.” I agree with that statement. But where is the equivalent statement about anti-Semitism, which is very much alive and well in the world today?

It shows insensitivity to Israeli insecurity

The report speaks of : “The persistence, after sixty-five years, of continuing dispossession of Palestinian people—Christian and Muslim alike—from their land by Israeli occupation, continuing settlement of land inside the 1967 borders by a nation empowered by overwhelming military strength and external alliances and influence….”  This is an important statement. The current Israeli government is not acting properly with respect to the Peace Process.

But where is the statement about the threat which Israel feels because of anti-Semitism, persecution over the centuries, the Holocaust and threats from some of its neighbours, especially Iran and groups like Hezbollah and Hamas which are dedicated to its destruction?

It makes Israel a scape-goat for the problems of the Middle East

The report states: “Palestine continues to be the central issue in the region.  Resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestine in accordance with the UN resolutions and international law, will greatly help resolving the other conflicts in the region.”   “Jerusalem today is an occupied city with a government which has adopted discriminatory policies against Christians and Muslims alike.”

It is quite incredible that the report doesn’t make a more balanced statement including the Arab “Spring” with all the ensuing problems, the Syrian civil war, extreme Islamists, Iraq with its serious problems and Iran with its nuclear intentions. Instead it just says: “This is a time of crisis with special intensity here in the Middle East … an intensification of religious tribalism, increasing fundamentalism in many of the world’s religions, dispersion of the influence of radicalized Islamist groups.”

It is also totally insensitive and biased to say the whole of Jerusalem is an occupied city. The report actually states: “Jerusalem today is an occupied city.”.

It makes an uninformed and insensitive blanket condemnation of Christian Zionism

I attended a week’s conference in Jerusalem on “Christian Zionism” organised by the Sabeel Palestinian Liberation Theology Movement (which takes a theological approach to political liberation for the Palestinians). I listened carefully to the speakers but could not recognise the “Christian Zionism” they were describing. It certainly didn’t describe my views which would be regarded as moderate Christian Zionist. I began to realise that they were describing extreme Christian Zionism in the United States, with which I would have serious disagreements.

The report says: “Christians who promote “Christian Zionism” distort the interpretation of the Word of God and the historic connection of Palestinians—Christians and Muslims—to the Holy Land, enable the manipulation of public opinion by Zionist lobbies, and damage intra-Christian relations.” I totally deny all those accusations as would many Christian Zionists.  The WCC which is supposed to be knowledgeable about and tolerant of all the different Christian traditions has shown its lack of research and dialogue, its ignorance and its prejudice about Christian Zionism.

The report calls on the WCC to “Convene the spiritual and academic resources of the WCC and ecumenical partners in consultations to address Christian Zionism, disclosing its sources, its use as a political weapon against the Palestinian people, and its effects on intra-Christian relations.” I suggest they discuss with moderate Christian Zionists who are very careful in their interpretation of Scripture and very concerned for the strong biblical emphasis on justice, including for the Palestinians.

Ignores the Messianic Believing (Jewish Christian) community

The report speaks of Christians in the Middle East but it totally ignores the significant and growing Messianic Movement in Israel. (These are Jewish believers in Jesus). Yes, sometimes believers in Jesus can be oppressed in Israel. But this omission is typical of this report which only pays token respect to the Jewish people.

The New Testament teaches that God still has a purpose for the Jewish people and that this will involve them in a massive turning to their Messiah and ours, Jesus Christ, in the End Times. This will have a major impact on the world but will lead to persecution (for both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ). The church should therefore avoid anything which will hinder Jewish people coming to Christ. Fair criticism is acceptable but the insensitivity and bias of this report is not.

I pray for justice for the Palestinians and security for Israel. I encourage prayer for both sides of this conflict, because God loves both people groups and wants the best for them.

However I suggest that the best destination for this report is the shredding machine.

There are many wrong attitudes throughout the world towards Israel:

  • Anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish prejudice) – the only explanation for this huge phenomena is that it is demonic.
  • Lack of compassion for the Jewish people (not understanding the effect of centuries of persecution, much of it from the church).
  • Uncritical support (the idea that Israel is always wonderful and can do nothing wrong).
  • False eschatological views (the idea that God will deal with Jewish people totally separately from Gentiles, and on the basis of the Law, not faith in Jesus).

I have given the subject much thought and prayer over many years

  • I was General Director of the Churches Ministry among Jewish People for 7 years and on its Council for 20 years.).
  • Over the years I have met and discussed with many Jewish people, sharing in their needs, pains and fears.
  • I have also met and discussed with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, sharing in their needs, pains and fears.
  • I have met and discussed with many Christian Zionists, some of whom had extreme views.

God has not simply replaced the Jewish people with the church, his calling of them is irrevocable.

  • See Romans 11:1-2, 28-29 “I ask then: did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew … As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.

God still has a purpose for the Jewish people in Jesus.

  • “All Israel will be saved” (through Jesus) when “the full number of Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25-27).

The return of the Jewish people to Israel is prophetically significant.

  • However controversial it is and however much Israel fails the Lord, the Old Testament foretells a worldwide return in the Last Days (see Isa 11:11-12; 60:4, 9, 21-22; 61:4-5; Jer. 3:12-18; 23:7-8; Ezek. 38:8, 16; 39:25-29; Joel 3:1-2, 17-20; Amos 9:14-15; Zech 12:2-3, 10-11; 14).

The regaining of Jerusalem is an End Times sign

  • The NT assumes knowledge of the OT which does speak of a worldwide return of the Jewish people to the land so there are not many references to it in the NT, but here are two.
  • Jesus says the end of Gentile rule over Jerusalem is a sign in Luke 21:24 “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
  • Jesus does not disagree with the disciples when they speak of the kingdom being restored to Israel (Acts 1:6-7) “Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

We must oppose anti-Semitism and be compassionate towards the need, pain and fears of Jewish people.

  • Memories of persecution and especially of the Holocaust are very strong. Israelis fear the loss of the land because of all that, whatever their military strength.

However, God loves the Palestinian people as much as anyone.

  • He wants the best for them
  • He wants them to be treated with dignity and justice, which is all too often not the way they are treated by the Israeli government.

The Torah (Law) commands Israel to love the Palestinians.

  • This teaching is about foreigners (non-Jews) in the land and applies to the territories under Israel’s control. It is particularly relevant to Zionists who believe the Palestinian areas should be and remain Israel proper.
  • The Lord loves and defends the foreigner (Deut 10:18-19; Psa 146:9).
  • The Lord forbids Israel to ill treat, oppress or deprive the foreigner (Ex 22:21; 23:9; Deut 24:14, 17; Jer 7:6-7; 22:3; Ezk 22:7, 29; Zech 7:10).
  • Anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner is strongly condemned (Deut 27:19; Mal 3:5).
  • The people of Israel must love foreigners as they love themselves (Lev 19:33-34).
  • Israel must provide for needy foreigners (Lev 23:22; Deut 24:19-21; 26:12; Ezk 47:21-23).

The Palestinians are responsible to act justly with respect to Israel, which is all too often not the case.

There are two attitudes we need to avoid:

  • An excessive appreciation of Israel:
    • I know what it is to have a deep love and a profound concern for Israel. It first happened to me in 1983 and I believe it is God-given. But the danger is that it leads to an uncritical and very biased support for Israel – ‘Israel can do no wrong.’

     

    • A unconsciously anti-Semitic carping criticism of Israel:
      • This can be deemed to be a proper concern for justice for the Palestinians. There is such a thing as righteous anger over injustice but this isn’t it. Katrina Lantos Swett wrote recently: “While no country is beyond reproach, when criticism includes language intended to delegitimize Israel, demonize its people, and apply to it standards to which no other state is held, we must call it antisemitism” (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/31/disturbing-persistence-antisemitism-europe).

There are two attitudes we need to have:

  • A true friend will be a critical friend and will share constructive criticism
    • I want to be a true friend of Israel (and also of the Palestinian people).
  • We must always listen to both sides of the story
    • Anyone with any experience knows one must listen to both sides of a story, however convincing one side is. This is true in the realm of personal relationships. It is true in the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Both sides use propaganda. Both sides can make overwhelmingly convincing cases.

Why have I stressed attitudes to Israel and the Palestinians?

  • Because, although the re-establishment of Israel is an End Times sign, I cannot talk about it without compassion for both people groups, not only for reconciliation, justice and security but also for them to come to know Jesus. It may surprise you to know that many Jewish people think Christian Zionists are only interested in them eschatologically because they will be killed in the Battle of Armageddon. We need to show that is not our position

 

When we lived and ministered in Jerusalem we met many wonderful Christians of many different denominations both living in the land and from many other nations. There is a rich Christian kaleidoscope in the Old City of Jerusalem, where we lived, and in places like Bethlehem and Nazareth. It was a wonderful experience to go round to a different church every evening for two weeks for united prayers for peace, mainly with Palestinian and other Arab Christians.  It was moving to meet with the same people for a Unity Week service on the site of the Upper Room.

But there are real problems facing Middle East Christians. Almost half of Iraqi Christians have fled the country since the first Gulf War, most of them since the invasion in 2004. It is almost unbelievable that the Bush-Blair coalition was ignorant of the crucial role of religion in Iraq. Now, partly because of the highly publicised threats to burn the Koran on the part of the foolish American pastor, there is even more persecution of Christians.  Half of Lebanese Christians have left the country. Coptic Christians in Egypt now form less than 10% of the population. Jordan has a record of protecting Christians but they are only 6% of the population. Then, of course, Christianity is banned in Saudi Arabia.

In Israel many of the local Christians are Palestinian and so experience the pain and fears of the Palestinian people.  One piece of good news is the remarkable growth of Jewish Christians in Israel, who normally call themselves Messianic Believers.

Although there are many supporters of both Israeli and Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land – I am one of them – there are those who have polarised. Some, fired up by a legitimate concern for justice, fall into the injustice of being pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel. Such people need to be careful of unconscious anti-Semitism. They harm the Christian cause in Israel.

Others are Christian Zionists, people who believe God hasn’t finished with the Jewish people and has brought them back to a safe homeland after the centuries of anti-Semitism and the horrors of the Holocaust. I accept a moderate form of Christian Zionism myself, alongside a passionate concern for justice for the Palestinians and peace in the Holy Land.  However, some Christian Zionists are a pain. We ourselves suffered from some of them – expatriates – who made trouble because they wanted us to soft-pedal evangelism lest it upset the Israelis. Mind you, some of them were more concerned that they didn’t lose their visas than they were that Israelis should be won for Christ. I was well aware we were walking on egg shells, but there didn’t seem to me to be much point in being there if we weren’t doing sensitive evangelism, especially as I was General Director of a 200 year old evangelistic ministry in Israel.  There was also trouble because we stressed reconciliation (which, of course, is at the heart of Christianity). These folk – again expatriates – were afraid we’d become anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian.

Perhaps, therefore, you can understand my negative reaction to a recent news story. Christian pilgrims from the US, Canada and Finland joined with right wing Israeli settlers to celebrate the resumption of settlement building on the West Bank (which threatens the peace process).  They rattled tambourines and released thousands of blue and white balloons, the colours of Israel’s flag, into the sky. They also waved banners reading: “We love Israel.” One young Canadian Christian said in an interview: “We knew this was happening today, and we wanted to stand in support for all of Israel and God’s land. We love the Israelites, we love God’s way.”  When asked if she supported a land for the Palestinians, she admitted she was “not familiar” with the politics.

This sort of misplaced Christian fervour confirms the idea widespread in the Middle East that Christianity is a western religion, when, of course, it originated in the Middle East. It adds to the burden of our Christian brothers and sisters there.