Wednesday, July 11, 2007

When is a bishop like a suicide bomber?

by Thomas Sutcliffe, Independent

Reposted from:

Published: 03 July 2007

authorOn the face of it, the Bishop of Carlisle and the young man who staggered blazing from that Jeep at Glasgow Airport on Saturday afternoon don't have a lot in common. The Right Reverend Graham Dow is a grey-haired man with a twinkling smile, rarely armed with anything more lethal than a crozier.

That wannabe martyr - his 72 expectant virgins currently tapping their fingers impatiently in Paradise - had a head wreathed in fire and a Molotov cocktail in his hand. The Bishop of Carlisle is a diocesan bishop in the Church of England, not a sect commonly associated with acts of terror, while the as-yet-unnamed jihadi is, one guesses, an adherent of Wahabi Islam, a sect which very much is. And yet, on a spiritual level, it seems that they do share one thing. They both believe in a vindictive God.

We already know how this belief was translated into action in the case of that young man at Glasgow Airport. He was prepared to incinerate young children and women and Muslims - anybody, frankly, who was unlucky enough to be on the other side of the entrance doors when he crashed through them. In the infamous words of a Christian zealot - "Kill them all, God will know his own".

The Bishop of Carlisle's expression of retribution took a much milder form: he expressed the view that the recent floods in the north of England were a sign of God's displeasure, not only at our environmental fecklessness but also at our wilful refusal, as a society, to discriminate against homosexuals.

"This is a strong and definite judgement because the world has been arrogant in going its own way," he said. "We are reaping the consequences of our moral degradation."

Some of us are reaping it a lot more directly than others, of course. Take Ryan Parry, a Sheffield schoolboy who was drowned last week. Or Michael Barnett, who got his foot stuck in a drain in Hull and succumbed after a four-hour battle to save him. Quite why these two people, and their grieving families, should have been singled out to bear the brunt of God's judgement isn't clear - and by yesterday afternoon, the Bishop's spokesman was busily back-pedalling. But he didn't explain away the Bishop's remark that the problem with "environmental judgement is that it is indiscriminate".

The logic of this seems to suggest that God is prepared to kill innocent people in order to get his message across. And if the Bishop is right, it isn't just us that God is disappointed with. He's furious with the people of Pakistan, where serious flooding has left 900,000 homeless, and Afghanistan, where 80 have died in recent storms, and Kansas and Texas, too, where floods have devastated communities and left people homeless. Then again, with a killer this "indiscriminate" about collateral damage, only a bishop could be sure what the message is.

Of course, there are important differences between the bishop and the Glasgow attacker. The bishop restricts himself to condoning the actions of a terrorist God, while the human fireball appointed himself as a direct tool of divine wrath. It's hardly a distinction to be sneezed at in these dangerous times. But it's not quite enough to quell the sense that the bishop finds himself in a distant intellectual kinship with the suicide bomber - both worshippers of a God who communicates through the deaths of innocents.


Pick of comments:

4. Comment #53742 by AdrianB on July 3, 2007 at 2:19 am

I thought this was an excellent article as well.

If somebody is prepared to condone the actions of a vindictive God, then it becomes impossible for that person to then condemn the actions of anybody committing atrocities in the name of a vindictive God.

If the Bishop of Carlisle does claim to find the actions of wannabe suicide bombers in Glasgow wrong, then logically the only possible reasons for them being wrong is that they chose the wrong vindictive God.

3. Comment #53740 by dreamcurve on July 3, 2007 at 2:04 am

In other news, Gene Robinson was hit by 9ft freak wave whilst speaking at a gay & lesbian rally about the love of God. Authorities have suggested that top UK bishops infiltrated the rally with SuperSoakers and water bombs. The Archbishop of Canterbury would not give an interview, but released a statement saying that '...while I myself can maintain the view that homosexuality is both acceptable to God and a sin in respect of the more conservative chapter, whom I would not wish to alienate with any argument over absolute truth, it is a well established fact that God moves in mysterious waves [sic] and we should not therefore imply anything from anything that might expose the stupidity of our beliefs.'

1. Comment #53735 by mikebreed on July 3, 2007 at 1:21 am

Someone had to say it, and good for Sutcliffe. He's too gentle on the Bishop, though. The latter's 14th Century outlook is a disgrace, and the ideas he promotes are every bit as repugnant as the ideas of the Wahhabis, even if he doesn't convert them into such direct and dangerous action. The Church needs to come out strongly on this, and condemn the Bishop's remarks. They won't, of course.

2. Comment #53736 by bamboospitfire on July 3, 2007 at 1:25 am

 avatarAn excellent article which reveals the Bishop's pronouncement for what it was - an outrage. Imagine if the airport terrorist had succeeded in killing a boy and a man - both presumably innocent - as the flooding did. Would the Bishop have said "This is a strong and definite judgement because the world has been arrogant in going its own way. We are reaping the consequences of our moral degradation. Of course, the problem with suicide bombing is that it is indiscriminate,"? I don't see why that would be any worse than what he did in fact say.

6. Comment #53753 by Logicel on July 3, 2007 at 3:04 am

 avatarThe bishop restricts himself to condoning the actions of a terrorist God, while the human fireball appointed himself as a direct tool of divine wrath.

Excellent article. The faith connection is enough of a connection between so-called moderates and extremists--non-evidential faith and its touting as a virtue.

In addition, though the Bishop is not advocating direct violence against gays, he is indirectly setting up scapegoats. If and when global warming's deleterious effects grow, there will be a ready group to silence, gays. There will be some panic-stricken and ill-prepared people of faith who will act like dangerous fools, who will be compelled to do hateful and criminal acts based on their faith, in order to appease their God and to save their imaginary eternal souls.

It is important to keep allowing these supporters of religious superstitions to yap and yap and yap, and it is equally important that articulate rational people target and pinpoint the dangerous irrationality lurking behind that stoopid-looking crozier of the bishop's.

8. Comment #53758 by parrja on July 3, 2007 at 3:40 am

Fantastic article. We need this sort of response to every ridiculous statement uttered by the clergy.

10. Comment #53760 by hungarianelephant on July 3, 2007 at 3:47 am

In both cases, they do not speak for the vast majority of religious believers.

Actually Paul, I suspect the bishop at least does.

There is a reasonable argument that doing what we like without regard to natural processes will ultimately result in harm in unpredictable ways. Building on flood plains will put strain on the natural systems and result in occasional serious flooding. (It appears that the flooding in Sheffield would have occurred anyway, but to continue ...) You don't have to believe in anthropogenic global warming to understand that burning up oil stored over many millions of years in a few decades is not the brightest idea.

Most people sense this, but in the absence of the science or philosophy to explain it properly, many religious people fall back on God's judgment as the preferred explanation. And if that leaves difficult questions, such as why a judgemental god cannot direct His wrath more accurately, there is a ready-made, and self-serving, answer: it is not for us to second-guess His will.

I have personally heard the "God's Judgment" argument advanced by apparently reasonable people in respect of each of the following: floods; earthquakes; heatwaves; droughts; AIDS; ethnic cleansing in Bosnia; the diseases affecting successive Lords Chief Justice of England; and I am sure some others I have forgotten.

Which is why articles like this have real value.

20. Comment #53788 by wagnerpe on July 3, 2007 at 6:45 am


We really need to continue to draw these parallels.

25. Comment #53797 by jimbob on July 3, 2007 at 8:03 am

If you think the bishop is nutty, then check out Pat Robertson's site ( to put him in perspective.

As an example, here is the summary from Pat's 2007 prayer retreat:

"In conclusion: Ahead is a year in which we celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the founding of the United States of America. This year will begin with unimagined blessings yet will end, unless there is national repentance and prayer, with unspeakable acts of terror brought about by evil men. Then a great time of worldwide rejoicing in the Lord."

As George Carlin joked about the punitive, vindictive, pestilence-spreading big daddy in the sky "But he loves you!"

28. Comment #53803 by Diplo on July 3, 2007 at 9:22 am

 avatarGreat article! It's heartening to see the broadsheets are, at last, laying into the craziness that exemplifies religious thought patterns. Irrational thinking leads inextricably to irrational acts and this message needs to keep being hammered home.

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