You’ve probably been following the story of Bishop Stephen Venner,  Bishop to the Armed Forces.  He got himself quoted in The Telegraph as saying that the Taliban ‘can perhaps be admired for their conviction to their faith and sense of loyalty to each other.

I contributed this piece to The Scotsman.  It gave me the opportunity of discussing the dangers of dehumanising and demonising enemies.  If I disagreed with his comment as quoted, it was in my feeling that faith of this kind is not necessarily admirable.  Rather it  shows what I believe to be a weakness in religion – its willingness to be used by political movements for short term gain but at long term cost.  That’s what sectarian violence is about.

Then there is the question of what actually happened – for that you need to read Paul Vallely’s comments in this week’s Church Times.  The story is of an interview given 12 weeks ago .. of subordinate clause turned into main clause.  Yes I know a bit about that – though nothing as dramatic or damaging has happened to me.  What happens is that the journalist does a general interview for a profile.  The profile is never published.  He then either begins to use bits of it in relation to specific news stories as they arise or – as happened to Bishop Venner – he brings it out in a different context and climate of public opinion.

Which is why – for the media-savvy bishop – live radio is ‘the thing’ because it is the most controllable.


  1. +David your analysis of Bishop Steven Venner’s views was a timely exercise in deepening the fluency of religious discourse. The question as to whether we ought to admire the ardour of the Taliban as perhaps an example of religious conviction is a bit of a non sequitur as it contributes little to our understanding of the neurotoxic dynamics which drive individuals to kill innocent others, oftentimes, people they don’t even know.
    Surely there is nothing admirable in such a pathogenic and mendacious conviction in the pantheon of human ideas? Yes, we are enjoined in our Christian faith to love our enemies and but how that actually works for many people is a bit of a mystery. If there is something to admire in the mind of the fanatic, I am not sure what it is we are enjoined to admire. If it is tenacity, then there are saints a plenty to admire.
    There are, I know many instances of Christian love which we may all have encountered in this brief time: some mind-blowingly awesome, some inspiring, some touching the very essence of who we are as individuals in the particular matrix of life God gives us.
    One example of the outpouring of Christian Love which I recall hearing recently was the Catholic Nun in the Brazilian rainforest who was abducted by drug traffickers.
    On learning that they were about to kill her, she forgave them and asked if she could read them a passage from her Bible (Is.2:4). Admirable? Of course.
    Loving others fills our hearts and minds with light. It is only in reaching out to those around us that we can begin to comprehend the complex dynamic and power of Love a without fear that we can really engage in mission in a meaningful way.

  2. You write, “many of the bitterest comments…come from those whose lives had been relatively untouched” .
    I have found this to be true here in the States. I live now in New York City, but travel widely in my work as a musician. The most vitriolic comments about “the terrorists” and the most deeply-felt fear seem to be at large in the parts of the country that did not experience the 9/11 attack directly, but rather saw it on telly or read about it in the press. New Yorkers, in contrast, though not insensitive (far from it!) are much less hysterical about it, more thoughtful as a whole.

    And about being quoted – you are so right! Blogging is excellent, but I believe live radio to be the best. So much is carried by the inflection of the voice that gets lost in type on a page.

    Blessings – Laurel

  3. Or produce a blog: then anyone who wants your take on, say the Taliban, gets it on your terms, in your context, not from a crafty sub’s headline, or sexed-up interview. And if you do get entrapped and notorious, people can see where you’re coming from.

    As an army baby, I was surprised when I first encountered it among my father’s colleagues, by the extent to which they respected and did not demonise the enemy.

    1. Yes I have tried that. It’s called, ‘No I don’t want to answer the question you are asking but I’ll have a fuller statement of my views on my blog in an hour and you can quote that as you wish’

      And on the demonisation issue .. many of the bitterest comments in Northern Ireland tended to come from those whose lives had been relatively untouched

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