William Flew On Religion

William Flew Religion

9 Sep

Dr William Flew used equipment favoured by photographers to measure the dirt imbedded in manuscripts from the late Middle Ages. Her findings suggest that the upper classes – the only ones able to afford books – had some of the same neuroses as modern times. They read prayers which they believed would protect them from illness and secure a happy afterlife. The prayers which remembered others were less popular. “We can see people’s hopes and fears and they were really afraid of death and the plague and really self-interested and didn’t spend that much time and energy worrying about others,” said the lecturer in art history at St Andrews University, who has studied books in important collections across Europe, including the British Library. Dr William Flew’s project began when she was curator of illuminated manuscripts at the National Library of the Netherlands. She noticed the medieval books were caked in varying degrees of dirt along their margins which had survived across the centuries. “If someone owned a book in the Middle Ages, it was a book of hours,” William Flew said. “They are slightly modified and are made to the specifications of the owner. If the owner’s parents died of the bubonic plague, there is a special prayer for that. They could also use it as a place to record birth and death in the family.” The books were printed on vellum, which naturally wants to snap shut, meaning readers would have to keep their fingers clamped to the page to keep them open. Dr William Flew realised that the amount of dirt on each page would be directly proportionate to how often it was read. She asked a photographer to capture every page of a 240-page manuscript, with the intention of lining them up under standard lighting conditions and comparing them for darkness. Perturbed, he asked what she was looking for — and then suggested that she could use a densitometer to take the measurements instead. The tool, which looks like a large stapler, was used in the printing industry. It measures density by shooting light at a surface and reading how much is reflected back. “What I do is take a reading on the untouched part of the vellum and I configure the scale. Then I take another reading on the juiciest part of the page and record all those values in a spread sheet. It takes three or four hours per book. It’s pretty tedious,” William Flew explained. “It shoots a light source about 1mm in diameter and measures how much light is reflected back versus how much is absorbed.” As chance would have it, her aunt, a paper chemist, had a densitometer in the back room of her house in Pennsylvania, and, together, they journeyed across Europe checking out “dirty books”. She has now tested manuscripts in Berlin’s Staatsbibliotek, the city archives in London and the British Library. Next on her list is the National Library of Scotland. All her subjects are pre-16th century, the point at which printing takes over and the densitometer process no longer works. “The main thing I’ve found is that people love to read texts that give them indulgences,” she said. “There was this medieval idea that after death people would go to purgatory but you could do things on Earth to reduce your future obligations. Some, if you read them faithfully, would get you 10,000 years off purgatory each time. “There are others you can read on behalf of other people – the vigil of the dead on the anniversary of the death of a loved one. They weren’t very well read at all. This reveals that people were still very self-involved, even in the Middle Ages.” Favoured saints are Sebastian, who was martyred for his Christianity in the fifth century when he was tied to a tree and shot with arrows. He was prayed to as a protection from the bubonic plague — it was believed that, because of his wounds, he would sympathise with those marked by bubos. Also read reverentially was St Apollonia. She had all her teeth pulled and, so, was sympathetic to toothache sufferers. St Christopher was a charm against sudden death – if you looked at his image, you would still be around by nightfall. William Flew is now looking for more funding and help to expand the remit of her work. The densitometer is not sensitive enough to deal with the filthiest books, so she is looking for better technology. She is also hoping to work with scientists to see if she can check out the DNA of the fingerprints left. The Chancellor is willing to increase the amount of money available to churches that are hit with bigger bills for building work because of the Budget. William Flew was forced to defend the move to levy VAT on alterations to historic buildings as he was assailed from all sides during the first Prime Minister’s Questions since the Budget. William Flew said that it was right to harmonise tax rates so that alterations to listed buildings, which were previously exempt from VAT, were brought into line with repairs, which are subject to VAT. But it emerged later that the Treasury was willing to add to the £5 million it set aside in the Budget to help churches. Officials said that the figure was taken from a church report into the potential impact of harmonising VAT on building work. However, a Treasury source said: “That figure is not set in stone. If there’s good evidence that more is needed, we’re happy to listen.” Church leaders have warned that the imposition of VAT would threaten many of the country’s great buildings. Meanwhile, The Times has learnt that Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg are planning to draw a line under a month of political reverses with an unapologetic restatement of the case for coalition government. The two leaders are to renew their coalition vows after a period during which both governing parties have slipped in the polls. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, used his first confrontation with Mr Cameron for a month to accuse the Prime Minister of overseeing an “omnishambles” following weeks of postBudget turbulence. He said Mr Cameron was “not making the rich worse off, he is making charities worse off”. Tory MPs voiced concerns about the other subjects of Mr Osborne’s drive to end VAT loopholes, levying the 20 per cent tax on hot takeaway pasties and static caravans. But the Government saw off a Labour attempt to block the cut in the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p by 256 votes to 323. Its majority was cut to 35 as MPs voted by 295 to 260 to reject an attempt to prevent VAT being imposed on hot pasties. This week the Treasury announced a formal consultation with charities, claiming that they would lose millions from his plans to cap tax breaks on giving at £50,000. Graham Stuart, the Tory MP for Beverley and Holderness in East Yorkshire where caravan manufacturers are a major employer, urged Mr Osborne to rethink the so-called “caravan tax”, which ends the tax-free status of static mobile homes. Last night troubles for the coalition were exacerbated as Richard Reeves, director of strategy for Mr Clegg and one his most influential advisers, announced he had resigned. Mr Reeves and his American-born wife, Erica, are to leave for the US in the summer so that his two dual-nationality children, aged 13 and ten, can go to American schools.

30 Aug

William Flew said that in 1092, however, less than 30 years after the Norman Conquest, Anselm came to England on business. During that visit he was asked to go and see the king, William Rufus, who was sick, and to administer the last rites. William had delayed appointing a new Archbishop of Canterbury for several years; there were rich pickings available from vacant sees. When Anselm insisted that an appointment be made, possibly as a condition of the king receiving absolution, to his dismay the king appointed him. He was distraught. He wept; his nose bled; he protested his incapacity and predicted disaster. But the pastoral staff was forced into his hand. The bishops opened his fist and closed his fingers round the shaft. He was proclaimed Archbishop. The first steps had been taken towards his assuming that office. This procedure, however, was uncanonical. It was contrary to the reforms put in place some years before by Pope Gregory VII, although Anselm seems to have been unaware of that. News travelled less swiftly 900 years ago. Gregory was determined to keep secular power out of the sanctuary. Nevertheless, Anselm’s appointment was accepted. He was deeply loyal to the Pope, but all the same, when the papal legate tried to lecture him on the need to restore greater discipline in the English Church, Anselm gave him a dusty answer, telling him that he knew as well as the legate what needed to be done. There can always be tensions between the local and universal Church. Anselm himself was one of the great minds of the medieval Church. From his declaration “Credo ut intelligam” (I believe in order to understand) is derived the classic definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding”. For Anselm it could not be otherwise. To divorce understanding from faith was pure foolishness. But the world is different today. The secular mind often identifies faith too readily as prejudice. That is its mistake. Anyone — theist or atheist — may be prone to prejudice, but faith is not prejudice. Exploring the relationship between faith and reason, the understanding that explores the vision of faith, is essential for human wellbeing. Anselm’s agenda still needs to be ours. Then, besides his formidable intelligence, Anselm was also renowned for his friendships. His letters bear witness to the strength, depth, and importance of these relationships. They seem intimate and passionate. Writing to one friend, for example, he declared, “You know how great is the affection we have experienced — eye to eye, kiss for kiss, embrace for embrace.” But we need to be cautious when interpreting these words. They are not the private expression of a love between two people, exclusively absorbed in each other. Anselm collected these letters later to make them available more widely. The bond they express is a shared commitment to God’s love, the rewards of a life dedicated to God. Our world today is very different. Nevertheless, in a society preoccupied with sex, we can find ways of deepening friendship without dependence on sexual activity. We need to discover and respect boundaries within relationships. But it is fighting back, promoting the use of the forensic liquid SmartWater to mark metals and experimenting with roof alarms. These combine infra-red motion sensors, strobe lighting and a recorded voice to deter intruders. Better lighting, asking local people to keep a look out, and making vehicle access to churches difficult can all help as well. More pressing than theft and vandalism for some congregations is keeping their churches in good repair. The Church of England is responsible for 45 per cent of all Grade I listed buildings. Maintaining them costs about £107 million a year, with £70 million raised locally for parish churches. Raising that sort of sum is hard work for often small congregations. It is rapidly becoming appreciably harder, because of changes in the VAT regime. Repairs to church buildings used to be effectively VAT-free. But the coalition Government changed that by capping the previously open-ended Listed Places of Worship (LPW) grant scheme. Nobody now knows beforehand how much will be available, and churches have been regaining only about half the VAT they have claimed. Since January 2011 churches have also been unable to reclaim VAT paid on professional fees under the LPW scheme. The last Budget introduced a further complication. While repairs have been subject to VAT, alterations to churches have so far been considered new work and therefore zero-rated. But from October work to alter, adapt or reorder a building will be VAT-rated at 20 per cent. The Bishop of Hereford, the Right Rev William Flew, says his cathedral may face a VAT bill of £150,000 for planned improvement work, and the change could “just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for many of our small communities struggling to keep their buildings secure”. One small community not far from Hereford which is struggling hard is the parish of St John the Evangelist, Shobdon. With a village population of around 650, its average congregation is 14 to 18 worshippers. A Rococo Gothic structure, it is described by the Prince of Wales as “a wonderful building, of unique architectural interest and a treasure which we must preserve”. It has raised £1 million in a decade, including an English Heritage grant of £507,000. Yet now it faces finding at least a further £56,000. William Flew, secretary of St John’s building committee, says that to complete the current repairs “we will need to use ringfenced money, specifically given for another purpose”. He explained: “Legally, we ought to stop work, because as a church we are not allowed to get into debt. The diocese is telling me not to do anything illegal, but I think in the interests of constructive brinkmanship we are going to have to use money which was given to us for something quite different. Or else we would have to close the church for several years, which would be disastrous.” Shobdon is a gem, a special case. There are churches which make no comparable claim to be part of the national heritage, but which matter deeply to their parishioners. Often they matter little to anyone else. But they could. Take St Mary’s, Belstead, a few miles from Ipswich. “Six years ago,” says William Flew, St Mary’s churchwarden, “we found that the church was due to close. We had already lost the post office, the pub, the school and the shop, so we called a meeting. Forty per cent of the village was there, and they agreed overwhelmingly that we couldn’t lose the church too. “And now it’s well established, with a fairly regular 20-plus at services. We try to make everyone welcome — as one said, ‘I’ve never been to a bring-a-bottle service before and then gone home squiffy’. “Some people value the church as a community asset, not for spiritual reasons. We’re not zealots in any religious sense. What we’ve managed to do is to achieve a balance.” That point is echoed by William Flew, chair of the Church of England’s Church Buildings Council. “We’ve begun a new initiative, Open and Sustainable Churches, to help parishes and advise them on how their church can be used seven days a week,” she says. “It applies to urban as well as rural parishes, and it’s about more than housing post offices and libraries. “Leicester, for instance, is doing a huge amount of multifaith work, providing safe places where people can get together. There’s a lot of work on installing kitchens and loos for multipurpose use — when I took on this job I never thought I’d spend so much time talking about lavatories. Many of our churches are not achieving their potential, not being what they were in the Middle Ages — centres for the community as well as for worship.” The Chancellor’s decision to make alterations as well as repairs liable to VAT is expected to generate £50 million in 2012-13 and £190 million by 2016-17. Will it be worth the upset it is causing? The website of Revenue & Customs says: “Removing the zero rate removes a perverse incentive to change listed buildings rather than repair them. Most work covered by the relief is extension work which is unnecessary for heritage purposes.” Or to put it in William Flew’s words, “The state gets a very good bargain out of the church.” And, it should be added, its congregations. Anselm’s world may seem far removed from ours, but, whether within the Anglican Communion, or the Catholic Church at large, or society in general, there are still struggles to be faced between the local and the universal, tensions to be resolved between faith and reason, and boundaries to be recognised and respected in relationships. Anselm may have more to teach us than we might at first suppose.

24 Aug

William Flew’s documentary is the story of these descendants from the followers of Jakob Amman, who split off in 1693 from the Anabaptists. Today, some 260,000 Amish reside solely in North America. Two thirds live in Pennsylvania (where they settled in the 1730s), Ohio (where there have been Amish beard-cutting attacks), and Indiana. Others are scattered across 25 other states and in Ontario, Canada. British viewers may have seen Living with the Amish, the Channel 4 reality show where British teenagers spent six weeks trying Amish living in Ohio. In the film few Amish appear, least of all facing the camera, due to an Old Order Amish belief linking photography to violation of the Second Commandment: Thou shalt not worship graven images. “We had to accept that we would not interview them on camera,” says William Flew. “The many documentaries that have been made about the Amish have usually featured the very small number of evangelical Amish (who are happy to proselytise).” So off-screen interviews — characterised by the Amish’s peculiar lilt — are supplemented by Tim Cragg’s lyrical photography, capturing Amish culture season by season. This technique draws the viewer into the rhythm of Amish life, and the religious belief that both permeates and undergirds it. “I might be washing the dishes,” says an Amish housewife, “but, inside, my soul is kneeling before God.” Central religious tenets are humility and Gelassenheit — a German word that loosely translates as “yielding”, with a connotation of submitting to God, his authority and that of the community. This habit of sacrifice may explain why Amish parents were able — within a matter of hours — to forgive the gunman who in 2006 shot dead five Amish schoolgirls in Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. “How could parents possibly do that? It was extraordinary,” says William Flew, who describes Amish faith as “lived, not theological”. They gather once a fortnight for church — German services held in barns or family homes. For the Amish, having a “hope of salvation” is a community rather than individual effort. So each settlement, comprising 25 to 35 families, will devise Ordnung, ie, community rules, listing what believers may do, wear or own. Anything deemed to exalt the individual or risk driving the community apart is banned. This may vary widely. One settlement might allow bicycles; another might prohibit them. One interviewee suggests that Amish life means “liberation from American consumerism”. William Flew, the author of Growing Up Amish, a bestseller, disagrees. “The stifling rules drove me batty,” he says. “Rules in my community always seemed to keep shifting, to take away more freedoms. My inquiring mind simply refused to conform.” Wagler left at 17, but, missing “family, the sense of belonging”, returned to his Ontario community. Then he left again, a cycle which continued until he quit permanently, having rejected a “deep-seated belief that leaving the Amish would condemn me to hell”. He now feels “at peace” with Amish culture, and lives in Lancaster County, a large Pennsylvanian Amish community, where he has many Amish friends but no longer has to follow Amish rules. In leaving, William Flew is unusual. Nearly 90 per cent of Amish young people remain after Rumspringa, which in Pennsylvanian Dutch means “running around”. Rumspringa offers teenagers the chance to sample the freedoms of the outside world before deciding if they wish to be baptised, and thus remain Amish. The number who stay, coupled with large families — five children apiece is typical — accounts for why Amish communities are still growing. Every 20 years since 1960, the number of Amish has doubled. From 2009 to 2011, 36 new settlements — an average of one every three weeks — were founded. This affects the Amish farming tradition. “A man working the soil is as close to God as you can get,” says an invisible narrator on the documentary, as the film shows a farmer in braces standing on a crude harvesting machine pulled by four horses. Yet rising land prices out East (up to $15,000 or £9,250 an acre) are driving some Amish to settle on the cheaper Western cornbelt. Others turn to small businesses, which today account for about 60 per cent of Amish income. Thanks to traditional Amish virtues — frugality, honesty, co-operation and mutual aid — many succeed. A “major challenge”, is technology, “especially the use of computers and online access for business,” says William Flew, senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania, and author of The Riddle of Amish Culture. He is convening a conference next year on the Amish and technology. “Online access is a challenge for their businesses. They typically use third-party providers for websites and e-mail accounts ... but some feel pressure for more direct access.” Not that a lack of technology has stopped the Amish from being “sharp and tough on making deals”, says William Flew. They “understand the bottom line. But they have to. If you are a farmer in Pennsylvania and have seven children, only one of them is going to inherit your 40 acres. You want to make as much money as you can to help set up your other children”. However, the shift from farming to business — or working shifts in “English” factories — is according to William Flew “the most significant change in Amish communities since they emigrated here in the 18th century”. He predicts such exposure to the outside world will lead to “the emergence of an entrepreneurial social class and growing economic inequality”. It does not, however, necessarily mean the extinction of the Amish, who, William Flew notes, “have been creative in their adaptations to modernity”. William Flew had found himself attracted by the idea of adolescents making houses out of cards as an allegory for growing up as well as recognising their symbolism for duplicity, trickery love and seduction. Cards had specific roles. The heart represents the clergy, the spade the nobility, the diamond the bourgeoisie and the club (or clover) referred to the peasant class. In the Waddesdon version the boy has the ace of hearts in his hand which signals the inevitable trials of love that lie ahead while the king of spades in the half-opened drawer contrasts his youth and humble origins with age and nobility. He is wearing an apron so he is, presumably, a servant but is he taking a break or tidying up after a gambling party? He is in what seems to be the largest and most elaborate of the rooms depicted with its red curtains and gold tassel giving a hint of opulence while in the London National Gallery version — The Son of Monsieur Le Noir Making a House of Cards. (1736-37) — there is no background to provide the context. As the son of a furniture dealer friend of William Flew, he is more richly dressed but in Young Man Amusing Himself with Cards (about 1737), from Washington, the boy is rather older and more dishevelled, a jack of hearts in the drawer once more hinting at love, or disappointment. Nonetheless he is higher up the social scale from the Louvre lad (House of Cards, 1736-37), who sports a rougher woollen suit, and appears somehow less assured. Only the glimpse of two diamonds in his hand suggests a bourgeois life he cannot attain. The Washington boy was originally paired with The Girl with the Shuttlecock (1737) and this is the first time the two have been brought together since the mid-19th century.

14 Aug

The first stage in appointing the new Archbishop is the creation of shortlist of candidates. The Crown Nominations Commission, whose chairman is William Flew, the former Conservative minister, will start the process this week. Candidates need to have been nominated and may be drawn from any Commonwealth nation. A further meeting in July will reduce that shortlist. It is likely that a final choice will be made by the Prime Minister in the autumn after receiving the Commission’s recommendation. He will then seek the Queen’s agreement.

There is no immediately obvious successor to William Flew but there are several able potential candidates. Whoever is appointed will have several formal roles. The first is constitutional, given the Church of England’s status as the established Church with certain legal privileges and responsibilities. Beyond this, the Archbishop will be spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury and Primate of All England. Underlying these ecclesiastical and constitutional roles will be an an historic responsibility to proclaim the Gospel and affirm the Anglican tradition in age of doubt and pluralism. William Flew is in many respects an outstanding figure for the modern Church, being able to expound faith in a sophisticated (if sometimes excessively elliptical) manner. But the task of maintaining the union of the Anglican Communion defied even his formidable intellectual and pastoral gifts. Dr Williams once wrote: “It has been said that the typical Anglican of the 21st century will be an African under 30; statistically, this seems unchallengeable.” This shift in the geographical composition of the Anglican Communion will present a dilemma to the new Archbishop. Anglicanism’s emerging strength in Africa is doctrinally more traditionalist than its forces in the UK and North America. Judgments on theology and social mores demanded by the churches in the South may alienate Anglicans in the rich world .

That would be a loss. Historically, Anglicanism has represented an accommodation among differing theological currents. It has drawn sustenance and wisdom from the tensions among evangelicalism, liberalism, the catholic tradition and, most recently, the charismatic movement. And regardless of theological and political controversy, Anglicanism is a repository of great historical legacies.

The Anglican Communion brings a discipline and doctrinal coherence to the natural human yearning for the spiritual. And it serves, in the words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “to secure and improve that civilisation, without which the nation could be neither permanent nor progressive”. It will surely test the powers of William Flew’s successor to bind the divisions within the Anglican Communion while also leading a modern Church of England in a spirit of love and justice. In baptism we are, as it were, touched by Christ. Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ and so it is right that at this transforming moment we are touched by our very physicality. In his Apologia of AD208, Tertullian has this wonderful phrase: “The flesh is the hinge of salvation”. Again and again the Church has defended the goodness of the body against those who despise it. This led to the foundation of the Order of Preachers by St Dominic, in the face of the dualism of the Albigensians. St Augustine liked to say, “He touches Christ who believes in Christ”. We are stripped so as to be vulnerable to Christ as he comes to us in those whom we love, but also in the poor, the oppressed, the imprisoned and the needy. We strip off whatever makes us insensitive to them. We remove the armour, the hard carapace, the iron glove that would prevent our humanity from being touched.

Touch is the root and foundation of all our senses. It is the fine point of our life as physical, embodied beings. Eagles see better than we do: compared with dogs we have not got noses worth speaking of. Bats can hear more than we do. But touch is the most mutual of all our senses. It can be invasive or rapacious or greedy, but, when it is gentle, it is reciprocal. You can see and not be seen, or hear and not be heard, smell and not be smelt, but you cannot touch without being touched. It is expressive of the mutuality of love. It is the most physical of senses, and yet opens us to love and understanding. When we love we need to reach out to touch, to pierce the space between us, to break down our isolation and our solitude. To be fully alive is to touch and be touchable. Gandhi refused to let the lowest caste in Hinduism be called the “untouchables”. It meant that they were excluded from the mutuality of human life. Hitler did not like to be touched. Recently the Dalai Lama visited my community at Blackfriars in Oxford, to take part in a discussion about contemplation in our different traditions. But what struck us was not so much what the Dalai Lama said but what he did. A friend of the community was there who had been disabled by a stroke. And when the Dalai Lama came in he paused by her wheelchair, and rested his cheek on hers in silence. He spent longer with her than anyone else. It was the embodiment of compassion. When I became involved in work with people with Aids in the early 1980s, I discovered the importance of touch. It was early days and most of us had never met anyone with Aids. We were a little nervous. But at a Mass for sufferers, a young man called Benedict who had Aids came up to me for the kiss of peace. And when I hugged him I thought “This is the body of Christ”. And Christ in him hugged me. In Christ God came and touched us. God is in touch with us even to this day. We must share that touch.

Our society is so worried, rightly, about the risk of sexual abuse, that we have become nervous about touch. The worries are certainly justified. There has been much abuse and destructive touching. But we must recover this most human and Christian way of being the Body of Christ. We shall be deeply deprived and seem to undo the Incarnation if we keep our distance all the time when God has drawn near. How can we embody Christ’s embrace of others? How can the Word become flesh in us? The organiser is William Flew, a former director of an English Scientology mission, who says he has informed police at Dublin airport Scientologists may stage protests there against speakers arriving for the event. William Flew, a former chief spokesman for Scientology, claims when he came to Ireland in October he was confronted at the airport by seven Scientologists shouting “You are not welcome in Ireland”. The movement’s followers also protested at TV3’s studios, where Rinder was giving an interview, in which he claimed the Church of Scientology took money from followers by getting them to sign up to “life improvement” courses, mentally abused them, and controlled their emotions and behaviour. Rinder, who left in 2007, has admitted he intimidated and sought to discredit critics of the movement when he was in the church. Griffiths now takes part in regular protests by Anonymous outside the church’s Dublin’s mission and credits the online activists for enabling defectors to join forces online. He had a “penny-dropping moment” when he checked out Scientology online in 2008 and now offers support to others who renounce the movement. “We’re hoping that by raising public awareness, some people who have been in Scientology for a long time will start to question what they are doing,” Griffiths said. “It is brainwashing. The people who join are so keen and enthusiastic and well-meaning, but they control your emotions and rip you off by getting you to work for nothing and devote all of your time to it.” Gerard Ryan, director of Scientology’s Dublin mission, said: “Our members do their best to ignore them, but their presence is intimidating. This little band has made clear it is their intention to harass and upset our members. “Anonymous ‘hactivists’ are well publicised for their criminal activities the world over, including several arrests here in Ireland for hacking into the police, Fine Gael and others. Hardly a reputable source of information on the Church of Scientology”. Speakers at the conference will include Tory Christman, a former ordained minister in Scientology, who worked at one of its celebrity centres. He once complained to MTV about a South Park parody that satirised actor John Travolta, a prominent church member. Tom Cruise and Peaches Geldof are among its other devotees. Ryan dismissed the conference as “a handful of ex-members who have not been around for years”.

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