Article
Comment
4 min read

The harsh reminder of our common humanity

Iran’s latest sanctions on protestors are a harsh reminder of the importance of diversity, solidarity and our common humanity, writes Krish Kandiah.

Krish is a social entrepreneur partnering across civil society, faith communities, government and philanthropy, He founded The Sanctuary Foundation.

A protester holds a red placard bearing the name and image of Mahsa Amini

It has been a year since the widespread protests across Iran sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini. The courageous 22-year-old was killed in prison for refusing to wear the hijab headscarf. To mark the anniversary of her death the Iranian government issued new legislation increasing the punishment to women who are deemed “inappropriately dressed” from a previous punishment of 10 days in prison to a maximum 10-year incarceration sentence.  

According to the World Economic Forum, Iran is ranked 140 out of 144 countries in the area of gender equality. Iran’s current leadership suppresses not just the clothing of women but their voices, skills, perspectives and decisions too. Women choosing to forego the hijab had previously been a way to peacefully push back on the inequality they are facing. This symbolism of resistance is now not only forbidden, but criminal. Even business owners who serve women who are not wearing the hijab are liable for prosecution under the new laws.  

As a father of three daughters, I find Iran’s new laws deeply disturbing.  I cannot even imagine the desperation of Amjad Amini, Mahsa’s father, who this week was put in prison in an attempt to short-circuit any protests of his daughter’s death. He faces not just the trauma of the state murder of his daughter, the risk to his own life and the inability to grieve in peace, but also the devastating consequence of her death on 49 million other women in Iran with the tightening of the very laws his daughter was protesting against.  

It could learn a lot from Jesus who went out of his way to welcome those that others looked down on. 

As a Christian I find these oppressive laws deeply troubling too. One of the most revolutionary marks of the Christian faith is that it recognises the absolute equality and intrinsic value of all human beings. No matter what our age or race or gender or sexuality or nationality or ability or immigration status or political persuasion or faith, all are made in the image of God. I believe it is therefore an essential element of my faith to speak up for the rights of my fellow human beings, particularly when they are being marginalised, tyrannised, dehumanised or disempowered.  

This means the oppression of Muslim women in the Middle East matters to me. Although we come from different cultures, live on different continents and hold different views about God and how to worship him, I believe we are connected by our common humanity.  

Sadly, our common humanity is not always recognised either by Christians or those outside of the church. The church in the UK has too often been guilty as charged for misogynist, homophobic and racist attitudes. It could learn a lot from Jesus who went out of his way to welcome those that others looked down on. He was not afraid to face criticism for spending time with those the religious folk of the time had traditionally mistreated. It is time for the church to follow his example and take a lead in treating everyone with compassion and in standing up for the basic human rights of women, those in the LGBT community, and those from other countries.  

Our common humanity is becoming overlooked too in our polarised world as it further divides over identity politics. There is a developing norm to focus less on the things that unite us and more on what differentiates us. Our latest culture wars are pitting women’s rights against trans rights, telling us that the rights of black people are opposed to the rights of white people, or that the rights of immigrants are at odds with the rights of settled passport-holders. But that is not the way things have to be or should be.  

I believe that the opposite is true: that the world can be better for all of us, that there is strength in solidarity, that diversity is genuinely good for everyone.  

This is why I recently turned up at a campaign calling for the rights of Afghan women and girls to be respected, why I publicly advocate for refugees and care-experienced young people, and why I insisted on greater representation of the LGBT community in my work with government. This is why I offer race and faith literacy training to government bodies, churches and businesses. This is why I have opened up my home to foster children and refugee families. This is why I set up my charity, Sanctuary Foundation, to advocate for those who do not feel safe in their own country. This is why I call the church to action and compassion for all whose rights have been taken away or are being eroded. This is why, in as far as it depends on me, I will champion equality for all.  

And this is why I will continue to be calling on the government to open safe and legal routes for all those who are being oppressed and persecuted in the countries where they live. I would like the government to offer our country as sanctuary to women from Iran whose lives are endangered, whose human rights are being denied. I would like our country to offer asylum and hospitality to those who have had to flee Iran after daring to challenge the brutality of the current regime. I would like our churches to lead the way in warmly welcoming all those from Iran and anywhere else who have never experienced unconditional love and acceptance.  

Article
Belief
5 min read

Dawkins is wrong about the nature of belief

You can’t rejoice in its collapse and like its cultural inheritance too.

Yaroslav is assistant priest at Holy Trinity, Sloane Square, London.

A man sits and speaks, against a background of a bookcase.
Dawkins on LBC.

Richard Dawkins sat in a tree,  

Sawing every branch he could see,  

As he sawed through the branch on which he sat,  

He raged, "It's not fair that I should go splat!" 

I am a recovering New Atheist. I was such a New Atheist that I have a claim to fame: I have given what-for to Anne Widdecombe and the Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja. I was there, as a spotty, greasy haired, angry teenager when Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry socked-it-to the Roman Catholics at an Intelligence Squared debate. The motion was ‘The Catholic Church is a Force for Good in the World’. The question I asked was so poorly formed that the moderator deemed it a comment.  

I was a callow youth. Forgive me.  

I am now not quite so young and not quite so spotty. Now that I am a man, I have put away childish things. I have abandoned atheism and embraced faith in Jesus Christ. I am a priest in the Church of England, fully in favour of the Ten Commandments and the moral framework of the Church. Clearly, I’ve been on a journey.  

So, it seems, has Professor Richard Dawkins.  

The author of The God Delusion, and scourge of many public Christian thinkers and apologists, has recently made some turbulent waves. Having surfed the tides of New Atheism, he now seems to be swimming against the current. He is a proud ‘cultural Christian’. In an interview on LBC he forcefully defended the Christian inheritance of this country: 

“I do think that we are culturally a Christian country…I call myself a ‘cultural Christian’… I love hymns and Christmas carols…I feel at home in the Christian ethos… I find that I like to live in a culturally Christian country…” 

Professor Dawkins went on to clarify (several times!) that he doesn’t believe a single word of Christian doctrine or the Bible. He was cheered by the continued decline in the numbers of believing Christians in this country. This wasn’t his Christianity. He argued that the distinction between a ‘believing Christian’ and a ‘cultural Christian’ is such that one can be both a very firm atheist and a ‘cultural Christian’. He doesn’t want people believing the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection of Jesus, but he does want us to keep our Cathedrals and beautiful parish churches. At first reading this could be seen as positive - an unlikely defender of the Christian faith coming to the rescue of a beleaguered Church.  

It isn’t. 

What the interview demonstrated was that Professor Dawkins doesn’t really understand the nature of belief or the nature of culture. If he did, he would understand a basic principle: culture doesn’t just magically appear and grow. Culture is formed and maintained from fundamental beliefs.  

You can’t have the fruits without the roots. 

Professor Dawkins likes church music. He likes the architecture of grand Cathedrals. He likes living in a society with a Western liberal ethic. All three of these fruits have grown from roots of the Christian tradition, and not just any Christian tradition. They have grown out of the BELIEVING Christian tradition.  

Why on earth would people spend inordinate amounts of time and money building Cathedrals if they didn’t actually believe the worship of God was important? Why would musicians pour out the best of their creativity into sacred music if not for a love of Jesus? Why would they structure our society in a way that sees the care of the poor and oppressed as a fundamental necessity if they don’t take the Sermon on the Mount seriously? 

People don’t die because they quite like a soft cultural inheritance - they die because they believe! 

Professor Dawkins finds himself living in a world that has been so shaped and saturated by Christianity that even our secularism has been called ‘Christian’. He lives in a Christian house. He likes it. Now he thinks he can have it and keep it while seeking to undermine and destroy the very beliefs that are the foundation, the stones, the mortar. 

He can’t.  

You don’t get to demand that everyone build their house on sand, and then complain that it is collapsing…and he does worry that it is collapsing. Predictably, he opened the interview by discussing his qualms about Islam and how he wouldn’t want this country to change from being ‘culturally Christian’ to ‘culturally Muslim’: “Insofar as Christianity can be seen as a bulwark against Islam I think it’s a very good thing.” I find this invocation of my faith offensive - not just because I believe my faith is ‘the truth’ (not just a club for angry atheists to bash Muslims with), but because it is so stupid! 

I use the word advisedly.  

It is a comment from a man who can’t seem to understand cause-and-effect. People who don’t believe strongly in something don’t fight for it. Rejoicing in the collapse of Christian belief while expecting it to protect you from other religions is about as obtuse as an individual can get. The Church grew, and spread, and produced the hymns and cathedrals and ethics that Professor Dawkins loves so much, because of people’s firm belief in Jesus Christ as our Risen Saviour. People died to spread this faith - THIS CULTURE! As Tertullian said: “…the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” People don’t die because they quite like a soft cultural inheritance - they die because they believe! 

It was this realisation that led me to where I am now. I found that everything I cared about flowed from the Christian faith I rejected, so I rejected it no more. I wanted to continue enjoying the ‘fruits’ of my ‘cultural Christianity’, so I stopped hacking away at the ‘roots’ of ‘believing Christianity’. Professor Dawkins is seemingly wilfully blind to this fact: ‘believing Christian’s make it possible to have ‘cultural Christians’. Take away the belief and just watch what happens to the culture. 

“I don’t was to be misunderstood. I do think it’s nonsense.” 

As a believing Christian I respond: can we please have our culture back, then?