28 April 2021

Abdullah Onar, architect

Abdullah Onar at his office, 1957

My father's best childhood friend was a Turkish Cypriot named Abdullah Onar (1929-2019) who came from a neighbouring village in the Karpas Peninsula. He became an architect who designed many buildings in the island. He was also a competent artist, some of whose works I have posted below. I recently came into contact with his great-grandnephew who lives in England, and I quickly discovered that we are distant DNA cousins, which likely means that Abdullah was related to us as well.

22 April 2021

Dampening the culture wars: a review

My series on Dampening the culture wars is now complete. Here is a review of the entire series for those wishing to read it from start to finish:

  1. How to get along while agreeing to disagree

  2. The features of power-sharing

  3. What is to be done?

  4. What is to be done? continued

  5. The Netherlands

  6. Lebanon

  7. Belgium

  8. Canada

  9. Cyprus

  10. The United States of America

  11. Concluding remarks

 I will likely be returning to this topic in future, but this is all for now.

21 April 2021

How does politics shape the way we see the world?

Some weeks ago Andrew Bertodatti, of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, interviewed me on the subject of my Political Visions and Illusions: How does politics shape the way we see the world? This was posted yesterday. Here is an excerpt:

How do you suggest believers approach public justice? In your view, what is the source of our disagreements about what justice requires?

There are two sources of our disagreements. First, we may disagree on basic principles of justice, in which case it may be that we have been negatively influenced by the redemptive stories told by the secular ideologies I treat in my book. Perhaps we have become Christian socialists, or Christian nationalists, or some such. A major reason for my writing this book is to move believers into examining themselves to see whether they are in fact accepting an unbiblical redemptive narrative and whether this might be adversely affecting their approach to political life.

20 April 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 11: Concluding remarks

My motive in writing this series has been to explore the ways in which people in leadership, representing diverse and potentially antagonistic communities, have undertaken to co-operate for political purposes. In the 1960s and '70s such arrangements were grouped together under the general rubric of consociationalism, a term borrowed from the writings of 16th-century political philosopher Johannes Althusius, whose Politics represents a minority pluralist stream in the modern age, otherwise dominated by a monistic emphasis on undisputed sovereignty. We noted at the outset that Sir Bernard Crick famously defined politics as the peaceful conciliation of diversity within a given unit of rule. All politics presupposes diversity in some measure: a diversity of political philosophies, a diversity of prudential judgements on practical policy issues, a diversity of legitimate interests, and so forth. But sometimes this diversity is of such an extreme nature that it threatens the ability of the system to accommodate it within a single framework. This is where a consociational arrangement can play a significant role.

Prince Philip's long life and Christian faith

My regular column in Christian Courier was posted yesterday: Prince Philip's long life and Christian faith, subtitled, "From a troubled childhood to the longest-serving prince consort." An excerpt:

Baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church, Philip converted to the Church of England at the time of his marriage to Princess Elizabeth in 1947. At the same time he was granted several titles, most notably Duke of Edinburgh.

The writers for The Crown suggest that Prince Philip flirted with atheism in his younger years, but former Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, claims to The Yorkshire Post that Philip discussed with him freely his and the Queen’s shared rootedness in the Christian faith: “Of course, the Queen and I are so strong in Jesus Christ.” His remarkable mother, Princess Alice, had founded an order of Orthodox nuns in Greece, spent the war years sheltering Jews during the German occupation, and ended her life at Buckingham Palace with her son and daughter-in-law. Her presence in Philip’s life likely had an impact on his own faith. Nevertheless, he was known to be inquisitive about other religions and was interested in fostering interfaith dialogue.

Read the entire column here.

15 April 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 10: the United States of America

Thus far we have examined several countries, most of which have attempted in large or small ways to bridge the chasms separating distinct communities within a single polity by formulating practical means of sharing power at the level of leadership. In the Netherlands the cleavages were religious and ideological. In Belgium they started out religious/ideological but shifted to linguistic after the Second World War. In Lebanon the cleavages were religious—or sectarian, as some prefer. In Canada the cleavage was primarily linguistic, with elements of religion and ideology thrown in. In Cyprus the cleavage was ethnic and religious, greatly exacerbated by nationalist ideology.

Now we turn to the United States, which, over the past two generations, has become increasingly divided along ideological and religious lines. In this respect, the United States, which once stood aloof from the trends affecting Europe, is coming to resemble France in the wake of the Revolution and ensuing Napoleonic debacle.

09 April 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 9: Cyprus

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, located off the coast where Asia Minor turns into the Levant. It has been a crossroads of virtually all the imperial powers in the region, having been controlled successively by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Lusignan dynasty, the Venetian Republic, the Ottoman Turks, and finally the British, before receiving independence in 1960 as a member state of the Commonwealth of Nations. The population of Cyprus is overwhelmingly Greek-speaking, with the Greek presence in the island dating back nearly 3,000 years. The population has, of course, fluctuated over the centuries and is currently estimated to stand at just over 1 million. Around half a century ago, the island had around 650,000 people of whom 80 percent were Greek-speaking and Orthodox Christian, and just under 20 percent Turkish-speaking Sunni Muslim. The Turkish-Cypriot community was a remnant of the centuries of Ottoman occupation between 1571 and 1878.

In 1878 Great Britain received administrative control over Cyprus as part of the settlement that ended the Russo-Turkish war of the previous year. The first British colonial high commissioner was Sir Garnet Wolseley (1833-1913), who had put down the Red River rebellion in Canada nearly a decade earlier. From 1878 until 1914, the island's residents remained nominal subjects of the Ottoman Sultan, but when Britain entered the Great War against Turkey, she annexed it outright, lest its residents be considered enemy aliens. Cyprus became a Crown colony in 1925. My father was born there three years later and grew up in the Greek Orthodox community, although he had Turkish Cypriot friends, including a boy born exactly one year after he was. This man remained one of his best friends throughout their long lives.

06 April 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 8: Canada

Ordinarily we wouldn't think of placing Canada in the category of consociational arrangements, and for the most part we'd be right. The Westminster system of cabinet government seems tailor-made for a polity characterized by a high degree of internal homogeneity, which Canada obviously is not. The current British system, on which Canada's is based, developed gradually over the course of many centuries without the guidance of a constitutional document but under the accumulated deposit of a large number of statutory instruments, including the following:

  • Magna Carta (1215)
  • Petition of Right (1628)
  • Habeas Corpus Act (1679)
  • Bill of Rights (1689)
  • Act of Settlement (1701)
  • Reform Act (1832)
  • Various acts expanding the franchise (1867, 1884, 1928)
  • Life Peerages Act (1958)
  • Scotland Act (1998)
  • House of Lords Act (1999)

05 April 2021

England and the 'peculiar institution'

Recently I read an abridged volume of Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, which were published between 1765 and 1769 in four books, titled Of the Rights of Persons, Of the Rights of Things, Of Private Wrongs, and Of Public Wrongs. Blackstone's Commentaries were hugely influential on the American founders, who drew on his analyses as they were establishing their new federal republic in North America. (Blackstone appears to have been less influential in Canada. I find only two references to him in the parliamentary debates leading up to Confederation in 1867, and one of these is negative.) Yet one area in which Blackstone was not followed consistently was on slavery.

01 April 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 7: Belgium

These days when we hear of Brussels, we think, not of the kingdom of Belgium of which it is the capital city, but of the European Union and its institutions, many of which are located here. When Europeans complain about Brussels, they generally have in mind faceless "Eurocrats" whose decisions are often seen as needlessly interfering with their lives and livelihoods. But Belgium as a country, so often overshadowed by its better-known capital city, merits examination as an historical example of consociationalism, and one whose character has shifted over the past century, as language has come to supplant religion and ideology as the principal line of cleavage in its divided populace.

Belgium became independent almost by accident. For centuries its fate was tied to that of the remainder of the lowlands of northwestern Europe, a part of the Holy Roman Empire that passed into the hands of Spain in 1556. While the Dutch revolt beginning in 1568 sent shock waves throughout these provinces, the Spanish Habsburgs under Philip II managed to retain control of the southern provinces, cut almost in two by the episcopal principality of Liège, a collection of ecclesiastical lands over which the Bishop of Liège exercised political rule. In 1714 the Spanish Netherlands passed into the hands of the Austrian branch of the Habsburgs, who retained control until they were dislodged by the French Revolution.

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