Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Letter to Robert Jenrick objecting to Westbury Waste Incinerator Plant

The Rt. Hon Robert Jenrick MP
Secretary of State
Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government
2 Marsham Street,

 Dear The Rt. Hon Robert Jenrick MP,

We are writing to object to the granting of planning approval for the Waste Incinerator plant at Northacre Industrial Estate, Westbury by the Strategic Planning Panel of Wiltshire Council in June 2021. This was despite over 2000 objections made by local residents, as well as opposition from Westbury Town Council and seventeen other neighbouring town and parish councils.

Many people living in the Westbury already suffer with chronic health problems. Cancer and lung condition deaths are higher here than across Wiltshire. Poor air quality has been exacerbated by HGVs being diverted from Bath onto the A350 through Westbury.

The incinerator would mean an estimated additional 20,000 truck journeys a year around the town. Smoke belching from the incinerator chimney would make the situation even worse, further damaging the health of Westbury residents.

Arla Foods (Westbury) Ltd are so concerned about the impact of the plant on air quality that they have threatened to close their dairy if the waste incinerator is allowed to go ahead, resulting in the loss of at least 250 jobs.

The incinerator will increase CO2 emissions, flying in the face of the government’s Climate Emergency Commitments. The children and young people of the town deserve better than to have their lives blighted by growing up in the shadow of this environmentally disastrous development.

I understand our local MP The Rt. Hon Dr Andrew Murrison has written to you asking that you ‘call in’ the decision of the Strategic Planning Panel for review. In the light of overwhelming local objections, I would ask that you overturn planning approval for siting a waste incinerator plant in Westbury, where it is certainly not wanted.  

Yours sincerely..... 

Thursday, July 08, 2021

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, by Carl R. Trueman

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: 
Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism and the Road to Sexual Revolution,
by Carl R. Trueman, Crossway, 2020. 434pp, Kindle edition 

The other week Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick was interviewed on Times Radio. It's the job of journalists to put government Ministers on the spot by asking them tricky questions. But the nature of what constitutes a 'tricky question' changes. In this case Jenrick was quizzed on whether he agreed with his colleague, Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary that you need to have a vagina to be a woman (see here). The Housing Secretary replied, 'I think there's a matter of biology, of course, what is a woman. I mean absolutely, I agree with Liz Truss. That's the point that she's made in the past.' Given the constraints of collective responsibility, how could Jenrick say otherwise? He knew, however, that a trap was being set and not wanting to offend the perpetually offended trans lobby, the minister qualified his words saying, 'Undoubtedly, of course we want to ensure that those people who are trans can live their life comfortably. I want everyone to be able to live their life the way they want to and be happy and to find love wherever they can do.' 

Expressive individualism 

You may be wondering how on earth we got ourselves into a position where journalists put government ministers through their paces by asking them whether women have vaginas. Since when did the basic facts of biology become a matter of political debate? Charles Taylor speaks of the 'social imaginary', a set of underlying assumptions that make beliefs plausible at any given time. In a less secular age faith in God was part of the 'social imaginary'. While a minority may have dissented, most people assumed the existence of a divine being and lived their lives accordingly. Now, not so much. These days the 'social imaginary' is limited to the immanent frame, haunted only on occasion by the sense of a transcendent realm. Similarly, the idea that a man can become a woman and just as much a woman as someone who was born female would have been regarded as nonsense until relatively recently. But now it is part of the 'social imaginary' and to dissent from that view is to attract accusations of 'transphobia', which Robert Jenrick for one was so keen to avoid

In this book Carl Trueman sets out how the 'social imaginary' of the Western world lent itself to the belief that a man can become a woman, or vice versa. Transgender ideology didn't emerge from nowhere. The writer traces its roots back to the 18th-century Romantic movement. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was the father of Romanticism. He held that people are born free and innocent, but are corrupted by society which imposes its oppressive values on the individual in order to force to them into conformity with accepted standards of behaviour. English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley agreed. He wanted to break free from from societal norms that were based on monogamous marriage so he could practice sexual self-expression. That was the only authentic way to live, free from outward constraints. The Romantics expected society to uphold basic moral values for the good of everyone concerned, but the emphasis was on the psychological fulfillment of the individual. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson might call it 'cakeism', a case of  'having one's cake and eating it'. The Romantics granted the benefits of Christian ethics for society as a whole, but reserved the right to transgress the elements that hindered their self-expression. Friedrich Nietzsche saw things more clearly. If God was pronounced dead, then faith-based values ceased to have any validity. Heroic self-invention is the only way forwards. Add Karl Marx and Charles Darwin to the mix and all sense that human beings are distinct creatures with a nature bestowed upon them by God is lost. We are plastic people in a fluid world. 

Then along came Sigmund Freud to sex things up a bit. He basically thought that everything is about sex. Society enforces the suppression of the sex drive of the individual by insisting that desire is channelled through monogamous marriage. That may not necessarily be a bad thing, but if marriage is simply a social construct, people are free to deviate from its constraints if they wish. Freud had no time for belief in God, rendering marriage as a 'divine ordinance' meaningless. Taking their cue from Freud, Marxist thinkers such as Herbert Marcuse began to see patterns of oppression more in psychological than economic terms. People with sexual proclivities that deviated from the norms of society weren't so much 'depraved deviants' as victims of heteronormative oppression. 

The Romantics taught the primacy of psychological self-expression over and against the norms of society. Freud emphasised the primacy of the sexual in the realm of psychology. Marx argued that rather than being a fixed entity, human nature is shaped by the economic tides of history. Industrialisation had a profound effect on how society viewed the role of women. The rise of the machines meant that women as well as men could be employed in factories, eroding traditional gender-based distinctions. Modern medicine has made further erosion possible. Men may be given female sex hormones. They may submit to sex change surgery so that the body of a natal male is refashioned to resemble that of a woman. (DNA and internal reproductive organs aside). Expressive individualism demands that if a man feels he is really a woman, but trapped in the wrong body, his psychology trumps his biology and his gender identity must be validated by society. 'Trans women are women', get over it. 

That's what you get when the 'social imaginary' is the product of expressive individualism. Robert Jenrick's nod towards trans ideology cited earlier is a perfect case in point, 'of course we want to ensure that those people who are trans can live their life comfortably. I want everyone to be able to live their life the way they want to and be happy and to find love wherever they can do.' In this context the idea that sex is immutably rooted in biology and that biology should have something to say about sexual expression is regarded as oppressive. 


And so it is that in England the LGBT pressure group 'Educate & Celebrate' seeks access to schools so it can advance its mission to 'smash heteronormativity' (see here). Children are taught they can choose whether to be a boy or a girl, based on how they feel inside. Expressive individualism for kids. But there are pushbacks, especially from feminist groups whose whole outlook is based on women being oppressed by a patriarchal society on the basis of sex differences. Feminists resent the downgrading of their biological reality by men who demand to be recognised as women. They are also outraged that biologically intact males who identify as female are given access women's toilets, prisons and refuges. Parents are alarmed when it becomes apparent that their children have been exposed to the kind of trans propaganda promoted by groups such as 'Educate & Celebrate'. Even that bastion of 'muscular liberalism', Ofsted is now concerned about the influence of lobby groups on sex education in schools (see here). 

Adding the 'T' to the LGB lobby has also resulted in tensions. The gay lobby traditionally fought for rights on the basis that people don't choose to be gay or lesbian. Sexual identity, they claimed, is fixed and society should't regard same-sex attracted people as deviants who should be made to conform heterosexual norms. Trans ideology promotes the idea that sexual identity is not fixed, but fluid. If they wish, people should be able to identify as a gender that is different to their birth sex. 'Trans women are women' and woe betide anyone who says otherwise. But lesbian sexuality is based on attraction to people of the same sex, not male-bodied people who identify as women. The LGBT lobby group Stonewall is being dropped by government departments because of its attempts to silence gender critical voices and the misleading advice it gives on the Equality Act with regard to female-only spaces etc. (see here). 

True identity 

In an Unscientific Postscript Trueman looks at how things may pan out in Western culture, captured as it has been by expressive individualism. With the trans lobby labelling gender critical feminists as a bunch of no good 'TERFs' (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists), intersectionality isn't exactly providing a recipe for a more harmonious society. Free speech and with it freedom of religion is likely to come off worst when Christians voice their opposition to the LGBT agenda. After all, the 'heteronormativity' represented by traditional Christians is part of the problem and we can't have people voicing opinions that would disturb the phycological wellbeing of others. But we must stand firm and not allow the world to press us into its mould. Contra expressive individualism, people are not free to create their own identity. Human identity is a given thing, rooted in our being made in the image of God as male and female. Marriage can't simply be redefined so as to ignore that reality. The identity of the believer is not located in their sexuality, or gender identity, but in Christ. Our task is to preach him and all things in relation to him, Colossians 1:28-29. 

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Methodism: 'an alien place for conservative evangelicals'

As a boy I used to attend the local Wesleyan Methodist Chapel Sunday School. I believe the work has since closed, but when I was a kid a good number of children used to attend 'Aunty Betty's' Sunday School meetings. I can't recall much of what we were taught, but the lessons were Scripture-focussed. Bible stories mainly, rather than clear presentations of the gospel. I have no lingering impression of the Way of Salvation ever being explained to the children. The Christmas Nativity Play was an annual highlight, as parents would also attend. I have a vague recollection of being a shepherd; decked out in a dressing gown and with a tea towel on my head that was kept in place by one of those snake-buckle belts that were all the rage in the 1970s. 

So much for my youthful brush with Methodism. Todays' Methodist Church is a far cry from anything 'Aunty Betty' would have recognised, let alone John Wesley. Yesterday The Times newspaper reported Methodists to allow same-sex weddings. Members of the Methodist Conference voted on a motion that marriage could be defined as a union between "two people", rather than only between "one man and one woman". The vote to redefine marriage passed with 254 in favour to only 46 against. Methodists leaders expressed concern that a significant minority of 'traditionalists' might leave the grouping over this matter. Opponents of same-sex marriage were assured that there were safeguards in place that would allow them to opt out of performing same-sex weddings.  

One evangelical minister responded, "There's a real sense that the Church has become an increasingly alien place to be a conservative evangelical, and there is a sense that the Church is on a direction of travel which many over the course of this next year or two will probably feel unable to sustain". (See this report in Christian Today). A request that evangelicals be allowed to leave Methodism with their church buildings and assets was quite predictably rejected. Evangelicals are none the less weighing up their options.

Methodism was born of the 18th century Evangelical Revival. Methodism had two main branches, those who followed the Calvinistic teaching of George Whitefield and others who came under the influence of the Arminian John Wesley. The Methodist Church of today had its genesis in Wesleyan Methodism.  Whitefield and Wesley had their doctrinal disagreements, but they were united in the basic elements of evangelical belief. The historian David Bebbington has identified four defining characteristics of evangelicalism
  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus
  • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity
The vote of the Methodist Conference to allow same-sex weddings didn't come from nowhere. In his Wesley and Men Who Followed (2003, Banner of Truth Trust), Iain H. Murray tells the story of how Methodism gradually drifted away from its evangelical origins. Certainly 'Biblicism' as defined by Bebbington is no longer the default position of the Methodist Church.  John Wesley was ready to be called a 'Bible bigot'. Many of today's Methodists would probably run a mile to get away from any such label. But that is nothing new. In 1965 Donald Soper was president of the Methodist Conference. Far from being a 'Man of One Book', he held that the Scriptures 'represent an incubus' and proposed a one-year ban on Bible reading. 

Around the same time Leslie Weatherhead argued that, 'William Temple was just bas inspired as Paul and T. S. Eliot more inspired than the Song of Solomon'. Weatherhead was especially opposed to the deity of Christ and his substitutionary atonement. Commenting on the text, 'Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins' (Hebrews 9:22), the Methodist leader countered, 'In our modern view this is simply not true.' Old fashioned Methodists were left asking, 'Was John Wesley deceived? have our hymnwriters been deceived in their immortal songs? Was Saul of Tarsus deceived? Have we all been deceived?' (See Wesley and Men Who Followed, p. 257-258). 

In his 1966 address, Evangelical Unity: An Appeal. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones asked, 'Are we content, as evangelicals, to go on being nothing but an evangelical wing of a church?' At least since the 1960's evangelicals have been a minority group within the Methodism. Liberal thinking that is happy to accommodate itself to contemporary opinion has prevailed. The overwhelming vote in favour of redefining marriage is merely a symptom of a deeper doctrinal and spiritual malaise. The leadership of the Methodist Church has long sold the pass when it comes to the authority of Scripture and basic gospel truths such as the deity of Christ and his penal substitutionary death. How can evangelicals continue stand shoulder to shoulder with leaders who have departed from the gospel? 

Yes, 'traditionalists' within Methodism may be granted an 'opt out' when it comes to performing same-sex weddings. At least for now. But wouldn't it be better for people who are committed to the gospel to opt out altogether from a church grouping that takes its lead from the spirit of the age, rather than the authority of the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures? Separation will be costly, but separation need not mean isolation for evangelical Methodists. The call is for them to come out and come together with other gospel churches who stand for the truth in these days of compromise and confusion.