Gavin Ashenden: Revelation or Revolution?

Gavin Ashenden has found himself in the news recently, and you are shortly to hear him say so. Earlier this year he resigned his position as Honorary Chaplain to HM The Queen in order to be able to speak out more freely against the direction the Church of England was taking. The specific trigger for that resignation was the permitted reading from the Koran in St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow. He later explained that strict Muslim doctrine could hold that the reading transferred ownership of the cathedral to Islam (I hope I’ve represented him accurately there) .

Here he is making a speech direct to camera. It is worth bearing in mind that this was published on YouTube in March, since when much more has happened along the lines he explores.

In his opening he describes himself as speaking here as if to friends. I can think of no better mindset for making most speeches. He goes on to apologise for speaking off the cuff with no notes, asking us to make allowances for the inadequacies of that. Regular readers of this blog will know that I regard the speaking with no notes as having no inadequacies, indeed quite the contrary if you know how to structure your material for the purpose. Speaking without notes lends a sense of spontaneity, sincerity, and command of the subject that more than compensates for any occasional haltingness in the delivery. Audiences love it.

Ashenden conveys sincerity all the way through this.

Revelation or revolution. What an excellent Face for a speech! If I had trained him I should already be emailing my congratulations.

I find myself riveted by his discussion of the ordination of women into the priesthood and episcopacy. My mind flies back more than twenty years to when it first began in the Anglican church and I interviewed, for a radio programme, someone who was a high-profile objector to it. His reasoning was so puerile that I have casually dismissed objections ever since. I now castigate myself. Had the matter been more central to my life perhaps I’d have been less intellectually idle. Ashenden’s reasoning is on a different plane, whether or not I agree with it.

He moves on into matters like gay marriage and gender fluidity, and concludes with the only appropriate closing for a talk like this: The Lord’s Prayer.

I am left rather stunned! As a devout doubter, who attends church mainly for the spiritual refreshment of the rituals, whose relationship with his maker is at odds with many of the teachings of the church, I have been fed with much reflective material. I am by nature a contrarian, constantly challenging fashionable pieties, but this goes deeper.

Not least I may have a clue towards the conundrum that was gay marriage. Whence and why did it materialise? Not being gay myself, I studied the reactions of gay friends to it at the time. There had been no build-up of irresistible opinion groundswell causing our political representatives to grant it: it just appeared, ready packaged, conferred from above. A little research at the time revealed that it was probably an edict that emerged from the United Nations and was imposed on the world with astonishing haste. Why?

Look at its effect. It surprised all the gays I know who had not asked for it; but now that it was there many were delighted to take advantage of it – and who is to blame them? Personally I shrugged and wished them good luck – though I was puzzled by this conundrum. Why was it imposed, unrequested? It caused social division, creating a new, synthetically created, controversial extra layer to PC. Overnight. Suddenly anyone who didn’t pay deafening lip-service to it was beyond the PC pale. Divide and defeat?

And it is now dividing the church. And it has been joined in the past few days by this gender fluidity thing in very similar undue haste. The way that is being handled, by both Government and Synod, is a model of ham-fistedness. You have to work very hard to do things in a manner that is going to damage society’s cohesion this effectively. It almost feels like sabotage.

Hmmm!

Ashenden has fed me with cause to reflect.

 

 

Mordechai Kedar’s history of Islam

I do not know.

Wisdom begins with those words. I picked up that nugget from Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev who has been featured on this blog several times, and whose first posting in April ’13 is by far the widest-read of all my postings – nearly two years later barely a day goes by without its being viewed.

If you start by acknowledging to yourself that you do not know, questions automatically spring up; and surely we all have questions concerning the activities of militant Islamists around the world. The questions usually begin with “why”.

  • Why do militant Palestinians apparently believe they are at liberty, with honour, to renege on every peace deal they make with Israel?
  • Why do Islamists routinely burn Christian churches and murder Christians in barbarous ways?
  • Why do Islamists think it justifiable to fly aeroplanes into skyscrapers in the name of a religion whose name means ‘peace’?
  • Why do the theocratic rulers of Iran deem it respectable to declare an aim to destroy the Jewish race?
  • Etc. ad tedium.

In my previous post we saw Dr Mordechai Kedar speaking in November 2012, and I stated that six months later he made another speech in which he more clearly laid out Islam’s history from his viewpoint. Here it is.

I shall wear my rhetor hat just long enough to observe that beginning a speech with nearly a minute of ‘thankings’ is not good speaking practice – yes, actors do it at the Oscars which makes my point because actors tend to be lousy public speakers. Having watched this speech several times, and also done a little research into Dr Kedar, I conclude that he felt strongly compelled to issue these thanks. Also there is really nowhere else in this speech to put them. So the bottom line  is, don’t do it unless you absolutely have to. Kedar had to.

Rhetor hat off.

Watch this speech and you find those ‘why’ questions very liberally supplied with very plausible answers. Essentially, it would appear, the mere existence of Judaism and Christianity represent an affront because they give the lie to Islam’s claim to have existed for centuries before it actually did.

Is Kedar right?

I do not know.

His version fits a great many current observations very well. It obviously is considerably more complicated than can be told in less than a quarter of an hour, and Kedar said in the speech covered in my previous post that he could speak on the subject all night, but it is very plausible. If this were a scholarly paper there would be a bibliography that we could follow to check details, but it isn’t. Let us just now, however, work with the supposition that he is right. As any seeker after truth knows, every question answered always throws up dozens of other questions. The science is never settled: the whole truth is never found.

Here are some questions that were not in Kedar’s brief but nevertheless need addressing.

  • Why do the western mainstream media routinely take the Palestinian side when they renege on their peace agreements?
  • Why do universities in western democracies think it justified to treat as a pariah the country with the only operating democracy in the middle east?
  • Why are western governments such abject apologists for Islamism?
  • Why is every Islamic atrocity always greeted within minutes by a public pronouncement from some politico-jerk bending over backwards to paint Islam as the victim and warning of “Islamophobic backlash” when such a thing never happens?

I do not know.

Mordechai Kedar tries to explain.

Unspeakable acts are daily reported being perpetrated, in the name of Islam, upon Christians in the middle east and north Africa. We read of kidnap, mass rape, beheadings and burnings. The word that constantly assails me is, “Why?”

In my perpetual search for speeches of interest I recently found two by Mordechai Kedar, and I want to examine both. Today’s was delivered in November 2012 in the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem to a symposium called The Present and Future of Christians in the Middle East. Dr Kedar is a noted scholar and lecturer in this very subject, so as well as scrutinizing his speaking skill I am eager to learn what he has to teach.

This speech is more than two years old, yet begins with a heart-stopping episode which is brutally topical this week. Kedar shows a video clip of a Muslim preparing to behead a Christian. He mercifully stops the video before the actual act, but informs us that the video itself does not. He summarizes this opening with the words, “Welcome to the Arab Spring”.

So begins a history lesson. I thought I knew a little about all of this, but I knew nothing. I now know a little. I invite you to watch the video and join me in knowing a little.

He has notes, but he barely looks at them. His focus and attention is exactly where it should be, on his audience and how well it is absorbing his message. He is shooting from the hip. His audience engagement is almost total.

Almost? Yes, because there remains one small item that turns out to be separating him from totality of engagement. He tells us more than once that he is going to address the question of why all this is happening, and starts by teaching us the origin of the Coptic Christian church of Egypt and the intriguing and plausible theory of the etymology of the word Copt. And then, at 6:20, something small but significant happens. He removes his spectacles. That is the symbolic moment that his audience engagement becomes total. That is the moment he really gets in the driving seat.

That is also the moment that I begin not to care about the quality of his speaking and simply want to listen.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned that there are two speeches by Dr Kedar that I want to examine. I was torn over which to look at first, and decided on this chiefly because it was delivered first – around six months before the other. The other nevertheless is much clearer on the history. I will return with the other one in a day or two.

Peter Hitchens lays into his opponents

The third speaker in favour of the motion This House Believes in God in the debate at the Oxford Union, was Peter Hitchens. He hates this argument – he told us so.

“I hate this argument!” That’s his high-impact opener. And he stokes the impact by explaining that he has to defend a philosophy of love while kicking his opponents in the crotch. Did he assume that humour centred around genitalia would be a sure-fire laugh with an undergraduate audience?  Probably, and he was right.

That is not the end of the beginning. He now appears to get seriously offensive about his opponents but defuses it all with a twist that I won’t spoil for you. Again he is rewarded with a laugh. The twist has a half-hidden facet that partly re-establishes the offence, though the nature of the laugh suggests that most of the audience did not notice.

The endorsement from the market (the laugh) reassured me, because I had this down as a good opening. It was brave, because it was enacted through his (barely visible) hump and only a slight error in timing would have harpooned it; but he knows what he is doing. In his newspaper column and blog he carefully maintains a reputation for bellicosity, and this sort of knock-about insult is his meat and drink. On the quality of argument so far offered by his opponents he pours a measure of scorn that teeters on the lip of argumentum ad hominem, but uses schoolboy language to neutralise the sting. It’s clever.

When he reaches the serious stuff, introduced with a reading from the book of Job, he makes the point that no one can prove, or otherwise, the existence of God; it is a matter of belief, and belief is a matter of opinion, and opinion is a matter of choice. He chooses to believe in a concept that maintains order in what otherwise is chaos. In the process of delivering this reasoning he gets bellicose again with his opponents, casting serious aspersions on their motives for choosing to believe what they do.

At times in the process he does slip into ad hominem, and again he finds a way to pull the sting. Someone in the audience wants to ask a question, and he declines to surrender the floor, “No, not just now. I’m about to finish, and I’ve decided to give them a Christian kicking.” It’s a beautifully oxymoronic ad lib and the audience loves it.  Speaking of ad lib, he shoots the entire speech from the hip. The only time he turns to paper is for the biblical reading. This guy is good.

Nevertheless I need to say something about his enunciation. Let us return to his opening sentence – “I hate this argument.” The word ‘argument’, after its first syllable, disappears. Hitchens commits a diction error that goes like this…

All multi-syllable words have a prosodic rhythm that stresses some syllables and relegates others to relative insignificance. Face to face it doesn’t matter, because we hear enough to understand. In a large hall we instinctively raise the volume on the important syllables, but being used to leaving the other ones to fend for themselves we forget them and they easily get lost. We need to bring up the relative volume on all syllables. I have a short chapter on this in The Face & Tripod, and cover it in greater depth in Every Word HeardIt is a widespread error that Hitchens commits often, and is very easily fixed.

Speaking of chapters in The Face & Tripod, did you notice the degree to which he kept fiddling with that pen?  If not he may have proved the point with which I conclude the chapter on Mannerisms.

If I may doff my rhetor hat, I’d like to say that what I found particularly appealing about this speech was that he returned to the motion. The word ‘existence’ was crucially not in the motion though too many speakers treated it is if it had been, subtly changing (and infantilising) the nature of the argument. “I believe in God” does not mean the same as “I believe in the existence of God”.

There are on YouTube other debates about God. One such between Peter Hitchens and his late brother, Christopher, is good stuff! Neither takes prisoners. I shall have to address it one day on this blog.