I’m enjoying writing regular articles for Premier’s Unbelievable ministry, the apologetics forum hosted by Justin Brierley. A recent discussion on tribalism and the culture wars got me thinking about the church’s own tribal behaviour – and what we should do about it! Take a look here.
Author Archives: freelanceheather
Does the West’s individualism distort Christianity and its deconstruction?
I’ve had some interesting feedback from a recent article on Western self-centredness and the ‘deconstruction’ movement that I wrote for Premier’s Unbelievable, a great apologetics and debating outlet. Take a look – it’s a reflection on a recent debate between someone who is “deconstructing” their Christian faith and someone who is more orthodox. Michael Gungor, the deconstructionist, has responded on twitter if you want to get involved in the discussion.
Digging into the Census results on religion in England & Wales
I was asked to do an analysis of the recent Census results for Christianity magazine, beyond the typical headline of ‘Christianity declining’ etc. I think I show that it’s a lot more complicated than that – take a look here. Perhaps the decline has already happened, and our spiritual state is actually improving? It’s not clear. One thing is clear – we need to look outside the West and learn from others about how to grow in faith.
Shia LaBeouf’s faith
I have just written for Christianity magazine on Shia LaBeouf’s recent conversion to Catholicism, which he talked about with Bishop Barron and is posted on YouTube. It’s well worth a watch, but hopefully you can catch the highlights in this article.
For what it’s worth, I think he’s being genuine. With addiction and his other issues, relationships with God can be very tumultuous. I hope and pray he will grow in faith and love.
Beauty and pain
I’ve been writing more for Christian Today lately, but I’m slow at putting them on here. Apologies! Here is one of the recent articles, exploring beauty, attractiveness and how we value ourselves, through a sad recent story from a supermodel. Take a look!
Challenging euthanasia with love
Apologies this is a little late, but I recently wrote on the subject of euthanasia for Christianity magazine. In the UK it’s big news as there are various attempts to legalise the practice. And campaigners are worried that there is increasing support within politics.
Christians have traditionally been against euthanasia, so I wrote about some of the arguments, but also called for action in order to help those who might wish for euthanasia. I don’t think we should treat them any differently from anyone who is feeling suicidal – we should look for ways to support and help those involved and show them how much we value their lives. Have a read here.
What does the UK church really think about abortion?
I wrote a front cover piece for Christianity magazine on the issue of abortion – the first time I’ve really grappled with the subject. While writing it I did change my mind – it’s always interesting when that happens! I think I’d seen it as a bit of a lost cause, as the public is so pro abortion. However, I now feel more motivated to address the issue – with compassion. Take a look at the article here.
One important thing I learned. If you have had an abortion or played any role in one, or if you are pregnant and considering it, then there is a lot of help and support out there for you, without judgement. Feel free to comment here and I will try to signpost.
When Christian heroes turn out to be bad guys
I wrote this piece following the shocking news about Jean Vanier’s abusive behaviour – a man who used to be described as a ‘living saint’. Many other Christian leaders have been found wanting in recent years. Such news often deeply discourages us if we were inspired by the good deeds of this person in the past. I wrote this piece arguing that Christian ‘celebrities’ aren’t the best examples of our faith – something I know all too well, as a Christian journalist who interviews them! Instead let’s focus on the people we actually know in the communities we live in.
Let me know what you think…
Hi everyone. Apologies for being quiet. Recently I’ve been going to Catholic Mass, and I’m learning more about Catholicism at the moment. I wrote about it a little for the Catholic Herald, take a look…
Health, fitness and the Instagram revolution
Hi everyone! I wrote an article for Christianity magazine recently, about how ‘health and fitness’ has become a ‘trend’ on Instagram. Check it out here! There are are reasons to be concerned about it, though social media can inspire us, too. It made me reflect on how lucky I was to grow up in an age when image and media influence was more limited.
A few tips for small orgs on dealing with the press
The past week I’ve been working on a news story that required contacting small Christian charities for their opinions. This took me back to days when I was doing this more often and finding the experience a tad frustrating. Anglican dioceses often had some particularly interesting media strategies… perhaps I’m impatient because I used to deal with large, well-funded corporate PR teams. However I thought of a few tips to help a small charity serve journalists better – which could lead, hopefully, to more awareness of the charity in the media and the wider community. If you’re doing something great, it’s worth trying to let people know about it!
- Respond to a journalist’s query as soon as possible, even if just to find out more, or to tell them that you won’t be able to comment quickly. Aim to reply within two hours and have any comment ready within 24 hours. If there’s only one person who can talk to the media, make sure there’s someone else who can take calls in their absence or when on holiday.
- If the only means of contact on your website is a contact form, general email address or phone line with an answering machine, make sure they’re checked regularly and the people who check them know they should pass on a media query quickly.
- It is probably wise to be cautious with journalists, before you know what they’re after. However avoidance is not the best strategy.
- If you are interviewed and you want to check your quotes before publication, be aware that some publications don’t allow journalists to do this. Check facts rather than trying to self-censor or change what you said into corporate gobbledegook. For example, if the journalist (accurately) quotes you saying, “I don’t like hymn books, they’re outdated,” don’t try to change this to “hymn books can be a wonderful addition to a multi-media offering in a dynamic congregation that is reaching out to all generations in the local context, though complementary digital vertical offerings can best serve some sections of our situated population.” Journalists, and readers, tire of double-talk – if you don’t want to say something clearly, best not to say anything.
- In other words, statements are best given with as little corporate speak as possible, saying what you mean as plainly as possible.
- Don’t say anything ‘off the record’ without checking what the journalist means by this. It usually means (to the journo) that the information can be used, but you won’t be quoted by name. It doesn’t mean the information won’t be used at all.
In a nutshell, there’s not much point in spending several days getting approval for a long, carefully crafted and nuanced statement if a) it’s not saying anything comprehensible or interesting or b) it’s too late. Either way, the journalist won’t use it.
But, the media can be a great way to get your ideas and your actions across to the wider public. You don’t need expensive PR agencies – some are terrible, anyway! Some of the best PRs I’ve known have been one-man bands – they’re just very good at understanding what journalists (and their employers) need, and supplying accordingly. And if you deal with one query well, it’s likely the journalist will come back to you in the future.
Media folk – feel free to comment with your suggestions…
A critique of a Christian book on domestic abuse
I was asked to review a recently published book about domestic abuse by a feminist campaigner, Natalie Collins: “Out of control: couples, conflict and the capacity for change”. I was troubled by my impression of this book, because this is such an important issue, and the book does have some good and useful aspects. However its adoption of radical feminist ideology and the information it uses to argue for a this stance are questionable, in my opinion. I’ve gone into more detail on the Premier Christianity blog.
There is a lot of statistics and research cited in the book, though often from newspaper articles and reports rather than academic research. So I started to check the citations and investigate to find out how well the information has been represented.
To fact-check a whole book would require three books to do so. And no book, nor article, is perfect. However I give a few examples here because they were used to argue for quite an extreme position. I do not believe that the ideology promoted in the book is justified by the research and statistics used. I believe that a more even-handed look at the relevant data and research would be cautious about using an ideological model such as radical feminism to explain the causes of abuse or identify solutions.
Fact-checking selected stats in ‘Out of Control’:
- The book states: “Research has found that far from being small, shrivelled up, old and ugly [does anyone really believe this?], it is well-educated and highly paid women who are much more likely to be subjected to abuse than lower paid women, particularly if they earn significantly more than their partner.” I don’t think this is a good representation of what the newspaper article cited says, and the research itself isn’t cited.
In any case, there’s plenty of information to bring it into question. A 2015 Office for National Statistics report that is used elsewhere in the book also contradicts this claim. It states: “Women with a degree or diploma were less likely than women with other qualifications or no qualifications to be a victim of any domestic abuse in the last year,” and “women living in the lowest income households (less than £10,000) were much more likely than those within higher household income brackets to have experienced any domestic abuse in the last year.”
- In a chapter that gives horrifying details of sadistic abuse, Natalie says: “You may think the abusive behaviour listed here is extreme. Something that few women are subjected to. Sadly, that is not the case.” She cites 2014 Office for National Statistics numbers that “30% of women have been subjected to this kind of abuse.” She doesn’t mention the figures for men.
In fact, the previously mentioned ONS report says: “27.1% of women and 13.2% of men had experienced any domestic abuse since the age of 16, equivalent to an estimated 4.5 million female victims and 2.2 million male victims.”
However – this definition of domestic abuse includes abuse from other family members, as well as partners. If the report gives the lifelong figures for partners only, I can’t find them.
For abuse from partners only in one year, the ONS says: “6.5% of women and 2.8% of men… reported having experienced any type of partner abuse in the last year, equivalent to an estimated 1.1 million female victims and 500,000 male victims.”
Of these: “Female partner abuse victims were more likely to experience non-physical abuse (emotional, financial) (63%) than to experience physical abuse such as force (29%), or threats (45%). Male partner abuse victims were also more likely to experience non-physical abuse (56%) than force (37%), or threats (31%).”
So 319,000 women and 185,000 men said they had had experienced physical abuse from a partner during that year – in other words, just over one in three of the people who reported physical abuse from a partner in this survey were male. The book says that the “one in three” statistic is incorrect.
- The book uses the shocking data that of girls aged 13-17, 72% said they had experienced emotional violence. However, the NSPCC report cited says 51% of boys reported the same.
This definition of ‘emotional violence’ included ‘made fun of you’ and ‘shouted at you’. Other forms were rarer: 11% of girls and 4% of boys said a partner had threatened them with violence to do something they didn’t want to do; 1% or less of both sexes said they’d experienced this regularly. 30% of girls and 13% of boys had been told who they could see and where they could go by a partner: 7% of girls and 3% of boys said this had happened regularly.
- Clearly the above statistics show a gender difference in victims of domestic abuse. But is it enough to justify the author’s decision to exclude men from the statistics she uses the book, which she says is a “pragmatic decision based on the vast majority of situations where someone chooses to perpetuate domestic abuse”?
She cites ONS statistics to suggest a bigger gender gap: for example, that 44% of female homicide victims compared with 6% of male victims are killed by their partner or ex-partner.
The use of homicide statistics to discuss the incidence of domestic violence is questionable, but this is also a misleading representation of the numbers, because overall in any one year, more men are killed than women: elsewhere in the recent ONS 2015 report it records that just under two-thirds of homicide victims were male.
In fact, the ONS says 81 female victims aged 16 or over were killed by their partner/ex-partner; 19 men were killed by partners or ex-partners, in the year ending March 2015. So, one in five people killed by their partners were male.
Natalie cites a campaigner who claims that women who kill male partners are “nearly always” victims of his violence or abuse. There is no evidence given to support this claim.
- There are a range of ‘treatments’ that have been designed for perpetrators of domestic abuse. But only one is mentioned favourably in the book, an approach that uses gender-based, feminist principles to re-educate men and according to Natalie, “challenge their beliefs of ownership and entitlement”. She describes this method as “proven to be effective.”
She cites a blog, but these statistics are from a report with claims of startling improvements: 30% of the women said that before the training, their partner had made them do something sexual they didn’t want to do; afterwards, none experienced it. Before the programme, 87% of the women reported that they’d been slapped, pushed or had something thrown at them; after the programme only 7% reported this.
Sounds dramatic, but upon investigation, again, sadly these statistics do not “prove” anything.
The study compares what a group of women say about their partners, before and after this feminist re-education. But in the “before” group, the statistics included between 94 and 97 women; the ‘after’ group had between 61 and 62 women.
In other words, it’s possible that the third of women who had been forced to do something sexual had all dropped out. There’s no way of knowing from what’s said in the report, which is why another academic described these particular statistics as “useless”. Research that has been published in a reputable academic journal would carefully apply statistical tests to try to discern the significance of the results. This is not present in this report.
Sadly, other analyses of treatment programmes for male perpetrators, that is more thorough in comparing ‘like with like,’ found that feminist programmes such as these, as well as other kinds of ‘treatment’ such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), show only a small effect in reducing violence against women.
- For traumatised victims of abuse, the book claims that CBT, talking therapy, and prescriptions drugs “doesn’t work”, whereas EMDR and the ‘rewind technique’ does. She cites Dutch psychiatrist Bessel Van der Kolk’s interesting book for these opinions. He has an unusual perspective about trauma, and promotes yoga as a treatment.
For the sake of those who need help – therapists trained in CBT or ‘talking therapies’ can be trained in the “rewind technique” or EMDR, and people vary in what they find helpful. So please don’t be put off. Therapists may have a range of techniques that you could find benefit from.
But I am confused as to how Natalie comes to her conclusions on the basis of the book she has cited to justify them.
To use Van der Kolk’s own words:
“finding words to describe what has happened to you can be transformative, but it does not always abolish flashbacks or improve concentration, stimulate vital involvement in your life or reduce hypersensitivity to disappointments and perceived injuries.”
He also notes:
“There is no one “treatment of choice” for trauma, and any therapist who believes that his or her particular method is the only answer to your problems is suspect of being an ideologue rather than someone who is interested in making sure that you get well.”
Such issues are a tiny snapshot of all of the research and studies published on the subject of domestic abuse, or trauma for that matter. There is plenty more information that could be used to argue for various positions on the causes and solutions. Such is the case for any kind of research into social issues: I believe that caution is the best policy.
As I say in the main blog for Premier Christianity: I believe there is much to learn from what Natalie says about what churches should do practically in situations of abuse. However, I hope this aspect of what she is saying can and will be disentangled from her ideological positions.
Stop worrying about new atheism, and start watching ‘woke’ atheism
I wrote a blog for Christianity magazine on the tenth anniversary of the ‘atheist bus’ campaign. This milestone made me think about how much has changed since then. While ‘new atheism’ seemed to be a threat to many Christians at the time, it’s since died down. But ‘woke’ atheism, or identity politics, that I’ve written about a few times recently, has surged in that time – and I think this is a trend that the church really needs to address.
Peacemaking, not politics, is what we need right now
The bitterness and rage that has followed the US mid-terms should make all Christians pause and reflect. Particularly if we are feeling those emotions towards the other political ‘side’. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the particular political issues, Jesus did not call us to be political prophets, righting the wrongs of the world. He called us to love, and he prayed for his church to be united. I wrote a blog for Christianity magazine to expand on these ideas.
Apologies & are you confused by identity politics? And should Christians get involved?
I really apologise for not updating this blog more regularly. I have been writing now and then for Christian publications, but not noting so here…
The most in-depth piece I’ve written in recent months was about identity politics for Christianity magazine. Take a look here.
The aim was two-fold: one try to describe the phenomenon for those who are bemused by it all. Secondly was to ponder on whether Christians should be involved. Huge subjects for a short magazine piece, but really important ones… let me know what you think.
Steps towards Zero Waste in cosmetics and the day to day
I haven’t written much on the ‘simple life’ stuff lately, partly because I’ve moved and it’s harder to do in my new home! However what I have been focused on is moving towards zero waste living. I’d previously been doing this, but I’m happy to see it’s now got a name and a bit of a movement – google it and you should find other ideas. However here are some of the steps I’ve taken:
- while more fresh fruit and veg, deliberately avoiding the kind that is wrapped in plastic, unless it’s in the ‘reduced’ section and about to go out of date.
- carrying around a travel mug and/or reusable coffee cup, particularly to my new church where they use paper cups, but also when out and about. (Though I’m thinking about giving up coffee tbh)
- changed shampoo, conditioner and body wash for ‘soap’-like blocks from Lush Cosmetics. There is minimal paper wrapping that is optional, and no plastic.
- For moisturiser, I’m using up some old almond oil, but I’m going to shift between a mixture of Lush massage bars and their hand/body lotions that come in black plastic tubs that they recycle themselves.
- carrying reusable bags everywhere.
- at work when they are putting on events, committing that I’ll do the washing up rather than using disposable plates and cups. Though, the last time I did this, I was running the event and someone washed up before I could get round to it…
One of the problems with modern environmentalism is that it looks for ways to ameliorate the effects of our current practices, such as offering recycling. But much stuff put into recycling bins don’t get recycled. The real solution is to reduce consumption and stop producing so much waste.
Russell Brand, Christianity & the postmodern generation
I wrote a quick blog about Russell Brand’s podcast with Alister McGrath today… take a look! I empathised a lot with Brand because his position isn’t that dissimilar to mine about 10 years ago.
Has government become our god?
Politics has certainly got interesting recently… but there’s an underlying trend that is alarming me. And that is, we are putting a lot of hope in it that I think should be put in god, and we’re putting a lot of responsibility on it that should be put on ourselves. Here’s a blog I wrote for Christianity magazine on this, but I think there will be more to come.
What should Christians think about blasphemy laws?
I wrote this shortly after a weekend news story (from experience, read ‘speculative) about Stephen Fry being investigated for blasphemy in Ireland. I’m for free speech, and more importantly, free dialogue with people who have these views. They’re often not presented in the mainstream press with the alternative point of view.
Is politics part of the church’s mission?
Apologies for the long delay since my last post. I actually spent several months researching this article on politics – it felt a very important subject and I wanted to make sure I was doing it justice. It’s been on my mind a lot following Brexit and Trump. Many Christians, especially those in the ‘elite’ of the church in this country (eg media, heads of denominations etc), passionately think that Christians should get involved in politics, and are often quite left-wing. The reverse is the case in the US, obviously. But is this what Jesus wants? The article explores this question. It helped me to make up my mind on the subject, but I hope I am being fair to all sides. Let me know your thoughts!