Two Old Men

Tolstoy appeared on my listening list this week, which was somewhat intriguing. Why would Tolstoy appear? But I had been listening to John Lennox, and Tolstoy’s short story illustrated one of Lennox’s brief characterisations of the distinction between true and false religion, between true and false love. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus, which is celebrated by many in the West, but in the East, and so not also for these two old men, for another five weeks, is the evidence of this distinction. The tomb in which he was lain is emptied, and despite attempts to cover up the resurrection it is well attested in history.

Two Old Men: Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s two old men had in their younger years agreed together to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He tells us of their adventures on their way, after Elisha had finally persuaded Ephraim that they must go else they shall become too old to do so. They also faced difficulty and adversity, not always their own. Elisha had set out in thankfulness for the forgiveness that he knew resided in the faith of the Lord Jesus. Ephraim set out in the hope that his obedience and pilgrimage would count him in good stead in the final reckoning.

This is the essence of faith in Jesus. In his death he cried out: Finished! He did everything, and obtained everything, that would be required to make us acceptable to God. When we walk with Jesus we walk knowing that we have already been accepted by God, and so do not need to earn any points. Jesus has enough for all of us. If we try to walk any other way, we are in a continual struggle to earn enough points to become acceptable to God, and are only certain of one thing – failure to earn enough.

John Lennox puts it slightly differently, and use a cook book in his illustration. Tolstoy speaks in the same way. Elisha fails to reach Jerusalem. Ephraim arrives and returns home, convinced that somehow Elisha overtook him on the way.

Chris was born. Christ died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.


Given the changes to the definition of extremism, Coco thought he should examine his own position to check whether or not his views fall under the censorship of any part of the definition now put forward. According to the BBC report:

Under the new definition, which comes into force on Thursday, extremism is “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to:

  1. negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or
  2. undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or
  3. intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2).”

The previous definition, introduced in 2011 under the Prevent strategy, described extremism as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and belief”.

The government says the new one is “narrower and more precise” and will help “clearly articulate” how extremism is “evidenced” in behaviours.

It also says there will be a “high bar” to being classed as extremist and the policy will not target those with “private, peaceful beliefs”.

The opening words are familiar territory to those who are involved charitable activity ‘promotion and advancement’. So, for example the actual doing of education is not charitable, but the promotion and advancement of it is (or at least under the new charity law could be provided it also conferred public benefit). From the very outset then Coco concludes that the new definition of extremism does not include any of the acts which may arise out of an ideology which is based on hatred, violence or intolerance, it merely ostracises the promotion or advancement of such an ideology.  Coco then feels quite safe, it is not what Coco does that matters (unless it infringes other aspects of criminal or civil law), but rather only the seeking to persuade someone else to share the same views that he holds. Perhaps then there is no need to go any further, but Coco wishes to do so, for if Coco has misunderstood the first few words, then there is still a risk that he may fall foul of what is later enshrined in the definition. Even in writing this, Coco wishes to persuade you of certain things, and so promotes and advances ideas with which you may disagree or agree.

The second part of the definition speaks of an ideology which may be characterised by any one of three options: violence, hatred or intolerance. Note the use of or here, only one of these characteristics is required before we move on to the three tests that have been set out. We need definitions here of all three words, for each of the words may be used in common, or specialist ways and in different contexts though carrying the same meaning carry a different force. Coco may well respond violently when asked to partake in the degustation of a tomato sandwich where the bread has been spread with the contents of even a newly opened jar of Nutella, displaying both his hatred of such a combination and intolerance of those who would even consider it, just as much as another Coco would perhaps have recoiled from the wearing of even the most elegant of attires in only purple and pink.

However, to be more serious about the matter, whilst violence may almost always be considered to be a negative activity, hatred and intolerance are not always so, as may be understood from the hideous examples given beforehand. Are hatred and intolerance towards those who cause harm in our society (do not require Coco to try to define what harm may mean here, or to limit its extent) to be denigrated or applauded? Should we not all be intolerant of that which causes harm? The fly-tipper who poisons our drinking water, is he to be hated or loved? Are we to discourage his activity or to encourage it? Coco does not think that he needs to supply the answer to those questions.

Hatred and intolerance are necessary parts, when correctly understood, of the ideologies which allow us to live together. Coco listened to the rant of one who said, quite eloquently in many different ways, but only said one thing: ’I don’t mind it if you are a religious freak, but don’t push it in my face’ all the while pushing her own ideology in the face of those who disagreed with him (the alternating gender of the pronouns is used to indulge the satisfaction of the ignorance of Coco’s publishers).

Moving on however there are some helpful tests which are designed to enable us to understand what kinds of violent, hateful or intolerant ideologies fall within the scope of the definition. It will be clear, Coco opines, from these that the intolerance towards the provisioner of tomato filled Nutella sandwiches does no violence to this definition of extremism, however extreme the culinary landscape of the provisioner. Note again that the tests are not cumulative, it is only necessary to fall under one or any of them to meet the definition.

So, Mr A (and it is only a Mr A who would hold this view) who owns a white van has an ideology that is intolerant of every other road user. He believes that everyone else should move out of the way for him, that it is his right to tailgate everyone who is ahead of him on the road, sounding his horn at them until they move aside to let him past. Providing that he does not talk about this or encourage others on a Friday night to behave in the same way, he is ok. But if he promotes such a view in any way he falls foul of the first test. In terms of the definition: He promotes or advances an ideology based on intolerance, that aims to negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of other [road users]. Is he an extremist? Is the Club of White Van Owners an extremist organisation? Coco must declare a conflict of interest. Coco knows and has known white van owners who are not members of the CWVO.

Supposing the organisation passes the first test, the second is a slightly higher bar. It speaks of seeking to undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights. The use of the term UK does perhaps limit the scope of the article somewhat but not entirely, for the formation of the UK did not overturn any of what had gone before. The formation of the UK built upon what already existed. So, we have to ask, as no definition of ‘liberal parliamentary democracy’ is provided, what is meant by it. But before we do that we have the words undermine, overturn or replace. We presently have a first past the post system in relation to voting for individuals.

In Wales the Senate are seeking to replace that with a system of voting for an organisation rather than an individual. Does that mean that the Welsh Senate is an extremist organisation? It is clear that they are seeking to promote the new system. It is also clear that the new system replaces the current system of parliamentary democracy, though not in the entire UK, so they may escape (which does beg the question of whether if an organisation limits its activities to one of the nations of the UK it can ever fall under this test). Before we apply this test the Senate must also fall under one of the earlier hurdles, is the ideology on which the replacement is based violent, hateful or intolerant? You may or may not be surprised to find that the answers are all yes. It is violent, for it does violence to the current system of voting. It is hateful for it introduces a new system which retains nothing of the old: such an action provides evidence that the old system is hated. It is intolerant, for the new system is to be introduced despite opposition from others. Coco concludes, the Welsh Senate falls under this definition of extremism an extremist organisation. You are free to disagree.

There are others who would seek to undermine, replace or overturn (though they may be quite happy to say undermine, replace and overturn) the current system. Some seek proportional representation. Some seek the abolition of hereditary positions. Some seek a second elected chamber. Some seek their own exaltation. The analysis, which Coco apologises is not comprehensive, of the terms violence, hatred and intolerance apply to them as they do to the Senate.

But we must turn to what is meant by the UK’s system. The current system has historical roots. How far back do we look when we consider what is fundamental to the system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights. Coco offers some possibilities: Do we look back over a thousand years to Alfred who based the system of law in this land upon the Ten Commandments of the Law of God? Or do we look back perhaps only to Charles I? Or is it to those who due to his intolerance overthrew him? Or to the Restoration? Or to 1662 when the intolerance of the State was exhibited for the whole nation to see? Should we look to the system before or after the Glorious Revolution? What of the changes in the 18th century which saw an Evangelical Awakening which saved this land from the kind of revolution seen across the Channel? What of the reforms of the 19th century? There has been a progression in the development of the current system. Some of it has been positive, and some of it has been negative. Are we to seek to better it, or to leave it as it is. Any effort to better it falls under the test of undermine, overturn or replace. Even to refuse to participate in the system, or rather to encourage, promote or advance the ideology that non-participation is a means to do this, will cause the organisation to fall under this test and so be an extremist organisation.

Much of the change over these thousand or so years has been promoted by religious and social changes. The 20th century has seen many changes also some of which have been a disaster for the system. The promotion of the ideology of individual choice comes into conflict with the ideology of mutual respect as may be clearly seen in the parable of the CWVO. The constant call for the balancing of rights is only there because one man’s right is another man’s restriction. If it belongs to you, it does not belong to Coco. Coco must remember that.

Perhaps the greatest hurdle we have is that words no longer mean what they used to mean. The only pronoun of whose meaning Coco is certain is it in this post-modern world. How then can we be sure of the meaning of liberal parliamentary democracy. Our current system is not a different system than that of earlier generations. It is not descended from the earlier forms. It is the same system, though it has, we might say, matured though not in the way of a maturity which endows wisdom, but rather like a cheese or a cask of the distilled wine of Scotland would mature. Do you want strong, mature or extra mature cheese? Is it five, ten or eighteen years you sit waiting by the cask before you discover how great or small the angel’s share was? The maturing, and changing, must and shall continue.

Why ascribe the adjective liberal? What need is there for this? How does it change the meaning of parliamentary democracy? Then we have the use of the word democracy itself. Would the fathers of democracy recognise the system of patronage that we have as democratic? Again, Coco begs leave not to answer the questions for you, dear reader, may find them quickly enough without difficulty. Perhaps you consider that the answers do not matter; perhaps you are right, but should you ever have to stand in court before a judge to defend yourself from the extremist charge, you shall find that the judge holds the view that the meanings of words do matter.

You may also notice the use of and in this second test, which perhaps would put Coco’s previous analysis in the shade. The second test is not whether the ideology would aim to undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy or democratic rights but ratherboth the system and the rights. Coco wonders whether this is merely a drafting error, but given the very careful use of or elsewhere Coco is probably mistaken and the use of and here is deliberate. It severely limits the scope for the test, for it requires the aim to be directed at both the government and the people at the same time. An organisation which seeks only to change the system of government or only seeks to change the rights of the people cannot fall under this test.

The third test though it appears to be a new one, it is a restatement of the others in a different form. It is there, so it seems, to catch those organisations who think that they can be one or more steps removed from the organisations that themselves would fall under tests one or two. An organisation may intentionally create an environment within which others who are intent upon extremist activities may operate and raise the resources that they need without detection.

The definition moves a long way from the old one of 2011, which was open to abuse by many who would wish to silence another for merely expressing a contrary view to their own. It however, as Coco hopes you may understand, raises a new set of questions, and is perhaps too widely drawn. A clear statement of the meanings of the words used is required.

Coco rejoices that the official commentary on, provides better guidance and some examples of what they think the definition means, but notice that whilst paragraph 3 provides examples of what could constitute extremism it is not exhaustive, neither is it part of the definition. It does not qualify the definition, it merely illustrates it. It is open to others to challenge and perhaps expand the range of activities which the definition is intended to cover, as in part Coco has shown is possible here. In other words you may illustrate the definition in different colours.

In the meantime, did Coco pass the test? If you allow Coco to be both Judge and Jury in the matter, yes, of course: Coco passed the test. The question remains, what does passing the test mean? Is it a negative result or a positive result which provides a pass?

The Lord, the most loving and caring, person this world has known, who even when they crucified him called out, Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing, said: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26-27