“Does she expect everyone else to be bound by His law too?”

Given the Protestant reformation was an often bloody pre-requisite for the political, economic and technological gains for the Enlightenment, Iris Robinson seems an unlikely recruit to Benedict’s crusade to re-invigorate the spiritual well-spring of Western secular life. Or the Un-Enlightenment, as Pete prefers to call it. But that’s close to how Alex Kane describes the politics of a lawmaker who takes literal instruction from the book of Leviticus in his Newletter News Letter column on Monday.By Alex Kane

Iris Robinson is entitled to her opinion. As a Christian she has a duty to ensure that her belief is reflected in both her actions and her words. But she is also a very astute politician, who enjoys and actively seeks publicity and profile. No-one is forcing her to go on the Nolan Show or issue press statements. No-one, least of all the DUP’s press office, is insisting that she gives us the benefit of her view on homosexuality, or that “government is ordained by God and is bound to uphold His laws.” If she really does believe that, then perhaps her next manifesto should detail those laws and set out the series of Private Member’s Bills required to enact them.

The problem for Mrs Robinson is that she appears to want the best of both worlds. On the one hand she is telling us that the government has a responsibility to uphold God’s law morally (a law that is to be found in the Bible); and on the other she takes the line, “To say I have no right to express an opinion is a most bigoted view. How dare anyone say I cannot speak my mind just because my husband is First Minister–are they trying to drag us back to the dark ages when women were not allowed to express a view?”

Actually, Iris, your critics are just pointing you towards the Bible and, in particular to1 Timothy 2: 11-14, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” Indeed, the Old and New Testaments are littered with instructions that women be viewed and treated as inferior to men. The argument that still rages within the Church of England and Roman Catholicism about the ordination and role of women stems from competing interpretations of those instructions. I seem to remember a dispute last Christmas when one Presbyterian Church didn’t want another Presbyterian minister in their pulpit, because the minister concerned happened to be a woman! And the arguments aired in the News Letter’s letters page at the time turned into a battle of interpretations.

Mrs. Robinson had a Platform piece in this newspaper on Saturday—The UK is what it is thanks to Christianity. She singles out William Wilberforce (a hero of mine, as it happens) for particular praise. He deserves the praise, because the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act is one of the most important pieces of legislation to have been passed. Ironically, some of his most bitter and vocal opponents used the Bible as the source and authority for their opposition. It was pointed out to him that there wasn’t one verse of the Bible which prohibited slavery—yet very many which set out the regulations for it. In the passages in Exodus setting out the Ten Commandments, the requirement to keep the Sabbath special applies to “you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave.”

It was a line of thought that was to re-emerge when President Lincoln set himself to the abolition of slavery in America. Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, claimed; “Slavery was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelations.” A century after the Civil War, in the 1960s, many born-again Christians were deploying the Bible in their opposition to civil rights legislation, feminism and general liberalism. A recent poll indicated that a majority of those who supported the US invasion of Iraq regarded it as a “Godly mission” to defeat “the enemies of Christ.”

In the name of Christianity some of the world’s greatest writers, thinkers, artists, inventors and scientists have been persecuted, imprisoned or killed. In the name of Christianity people were tortured, hung, serially abused and deported for very minor crimes. Whole nations were ravaged in the quest to “conquer and save for Christianity.” Protestantism was embraced by Henry viii when he needed an exit strategy for a marital problem. The Christianity which Mrs. Robinson hails as the shaper of the United Kingdom is founded upon Protestantism—which is merely one variety of that Christianity. On most of the big issues of science and intellect the Church (be it Protestant or Catholic) has got it wrong. Worse than that, it deliberately suppressed evidence and vilified individuals, rather than have its own God-based authority challenged or undermined.

Regular readers will know that I am an atheist. I spent many years reading the Bible. Indeed, I keep a copy close to hand. My personal difficulty was that I couldn’t reconcile what seemed to me to be the contradictions contained within it. And nor could I reconcile the Creationist claims with evidence which was contained in “properly” scientific journals. I also had enormous difficulty when I tried to make up my mind in the ongoing debates between professing Christians who use different Biblical quotes to either support or oppose a position. So, in the end, I abandoned any pretence of a belief.

That said, I have no real axe to grind against those who can make sense of the contradictions; or who seem to get around the problem by joining a particular sect with a particular interpretation. I have also written that I have a certain degree of envy for those who do have “something higher” to cling to when life is difficult. Atheism is a very lonely place when you have lost a child through miscarriage or watched a close friend die after being knocked down by a drunk driver.

So, if Iris Robinson, a public figure with a very clear personal and political agenda, wants the institutions she is elected to, to be bound by and promoters of God’s law, then I would like her to tell us what those laws are and which ones she wants obeyed to the letter. It strikes me that she has adopted a very pick-and-mix approach to what is a fundamentally important matter: keen to tell the rest of us what is expected of us in the great scheme of things, yet prepared, herself, to choose which particular Biblical quotations and instructions apply to her.

If the Bible is, as she seems to believe, God’s law, does she consider herself to be bound, unquestioningly and unequivocally, by all of it? And, if she also believes that there is only one God (Protestant, I presume) does she expect everyone else to be bound by His law too? Her answers to those questions—and she, after all, kick-started this debate—would certainly throw a new light on her real views of both the Belfast and St. Andrews Agreements.

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  • ggn

    Pretty good piece in my humble opinion.

    Quite clear and balanced and free of hysteria.

  • Driftwood

    Sums me up pretty well, and a lot of others I would hazard a guess. Well said Alex.

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    Well said Alex I whole heartedly agree.

  • DC

    “and she, after all, kick-started this debate—would certainly throw a new light on her real views of both the Belfast and St. Andrews Agreements.”

    This is interesting, is Alex Kane asking whether the very agreements made would compromise her religous theology to the point that working under power-sharing should therefore be very morally inappropriate. This stance should be a given now we know so clearly her fundamental belief in upholding Biblical morals.

    So, a very good question posed by Alex Kane, how apt it is:

    Adherence to biblical morals juxtapose this with arguably a morally corrupt political peace process agreement, resulting in her position as MLA and that of her husband, heading up the very edifice open to moral questioning re terrorist life-takers in government.

    Morally corrupt you would imagine it to be in Iris’eyes; it is certainly not my view of Northern / Irish political history.

    Power is the key as ever, Iris cant and wont resign herself because she loves the privilege afforded to her as a result of her democratic position, which of itself rides over the very values she sees fit to push on to others. Iris should therefore be considered as a hypocrite and with her views on integrity of belief once compromised should leave her vulnerable to both spiritual and political ridicule.

  • Rory

    While Alex Kane argues, quite reasonably in my view, that “If she really does believe that, then perhaps her next manifesto should detail those laws and set out the series of Private Member’s Bills required to enact them” it might reasonably be counter argued that Robinson, by virtue of the very outspoken nature of her comments and the subsequent publicity generated by them, has put and continues to put her views before the electorate and that her election would illustrate her constituents’ agreement with those views.

    Which, I suppose, places the ball firmly at the feet of the good citizens of Ards. How they play that at the next electoral opportunity might well stamp out their own reputation for a very long time. An imaginary dialogue in the household of polite Ulster society in the future might go something like this:

    “Mother, I would like to invite a new friend to dinner.”

    “A friend, dear? From where?”

    “From the Ards Peninsula, mater.”

    “The Ards Peninsula, darling? I don’t think so. Not our sort of people.”

  • Napoleons nose.

    The bible is a mistake, all anyone can take from it is the way to salvation, the problem for Iris is that she is a fundamentalist and takes it literally. If you do that then you will end up with the contradictions that Alex has encountered and either make a choice to walk away or stick wiit and do the best you can. As he says, atheism is a very lonely place.

    I don’t think any person, christian or otherwise would expect Iris to shut up, simply becuse she is a woman. Infact one way to look at it is to see that she is arguing for a more moral society, she has simply gone about it in the wrong way.

    Enough of slamming Iris. she thinks homosexuality is wrong perhaps she thinks it goes against nature, and she thinks abortion is wrong. Theres nothing wrong with those views for someone of her generation. What Alex is arguing is nothing more than semantics, and it’s been said before by many others who have pointed out passages in the bible in this debate. I think gonzo did it on this very blog.

    Alex is a good writer, but this time, he’s really only stating the obvious. Maybe he had a slow day…..

  • Mick Fealty


    I think Gail Walker’s piece covers your horsing off into yet another besides the point tangent: http://tinyurl.com/54pek6.

  • James

    Grrrr…it’s News Letter, not Newletter or Newsletter or anything else.
    Ok, rant over.

    Great column from Alex Kane – poignanatly honest about life as an atheist when life goes wrong.

    If only Iris’s weekly column had been as honest and insightful, maybe it would still be in existence…

  • Harry Flashman

    Any truth in the rumour that SO’T is being renamed [b]irisrobinson.com[/b]? It now appears that every second thread concerns the woman, what exactly is the obsession?

    Is hearing a politician express honestly their political opinions, opinions that would have been regarded as utterly unexceptional a mere few years ago, such a shock to our system that we go into apoplexy when we encounter it?

    I have now concluded that Tony Blair’s biggest crime was the destruction of normal political discourse in the UK.

  • Napoleons nose.

    Maybe the N Irish have a problem with women in politics. Catriona (deservedly) got roasted, now its Iris, before that Monica mc williams and remember the treatment of the womens coalition? Those old ‘cows’?

    We really need to get over the fact that women are in positions of power now……

  • DC

    Here Nose, DUP politicians in a little cohort previously chortled to such women in local politics about how it would be best going back home to ‘breed for Ulster’.

    Save us the spin.

  • DC

    Here Nose, DUP politicians in a little cohort together previously chortled over to such women in local politics about how it would be best to just go home and ‘breed for Ulster’.

  • Mark Simpson

    The issue is bigger than Iris Robinson.

    I didn’t hear the programme but the Belfast Telegraph says that Sammy Wilson, speaking on BBC Radio Ulster… “would not confirm or deny if Mrs Robinson’s views on homosexuality are the views of the DUP.”

    This is a very serious issue.

  • Traditional_Unionist

    I say we leave Iris to it

    It wasnt that long ago that her and the rest of the DUP claiming God would not let them sit in government with SF/IRA. when we all know the real reason they wouldnt do it was because they werent top dogs in unionism. when they got the top position they were straight (excuse the pun) in there

    They use God to suit themselves, they use him, they don’t follow him.

  • Turgon

    Alex Kane is someone whom I always enjoy and his honest atheism is actually quite attractive in some ways even to a fundamentalist. Certainly it is a position to be respected.

    Although I do not pretend to be a theologian Iris Robinson’s views do seem extremely confused and lacking any intellectual coherence even amongst fundamentalists.

    To say that God regards sin as an abomination is correct. He is opposed to all sins not merely homosexuality but sex outside marriage, not merely sexual sins but also greed, lying, gossip, slander. The list goes on and on and is a list I for one break every day.

    Christians believe that as such there is no way they can please God: their righteousness is as filthy rags. So seriously do we believe that God takes sin that He had to allow the death of himself in the form of His Son in order to cleanse man (and woman)kind of sin.

    In view of that Christians need to be very careful about condemning the actions of non Christians remembering also that we believe that we have been saved through Grace and through absolutely no merit of our own. All we supplied was the sin which made Christ’s sacrifice necessary.

    Christians need to be very careful in lecturing others about God’s law. It is debatable to what extent Christ or Paul or anyone else wanted those outside the church to obey “God’s Law”. In Christian times “God’s Law” is essentially for the Christians.

    Many secular codes have been influenced by Christianity (and other religions) but that is only in general terms. Christians should have more important things to worry about (like attracting people to Christianity) than what non Christian men (or women) may do in private.

  • Garibaldy

    It’s called silly season Harry.

    Good piece I thought, although I spare everyone the arguments over whether the Reformation really is responsible for everything Mick said it was.

  • Mick Fealty

    Write us a post on it Gari, and we can start another thread with it?

  • Garibaldy


    Here is a thread on a Myers column that looks like it might be relevant. Tolerant, European Secular Christian Order seems to be his big thing now.


    I’ll do it at some stage if you’d genuinely like me to, but I won’t have time for a while.

  • DC

    From the News Letter in 2002:

    ‘Mr Robinson condemned equality rules for forcing the government to waste time consulting with ‘lesbians from Lenadoon’ – remarks that were branded both sexist and sectarian.

    The News Letter sympathises with Mr Robinson’s view – that departments have to spend time and money keeping fringe groups informed about issues of no relevance to them.’


  • DUP Voter

    leave Iris alone

    She’s perfect!

  • joeCanuck

    Well said, Turgon.
    It’s nice to hear another Fundamentalist speak out against Iris’ narrow point of view. I am sure there are many who share your thoughts.

  • McGrath

    > Effective Government or Bible Thumping?

    > Err, Effective Government please!

    > Sorry, we our out of Effective Government for the foreseeable future.

    > Err, why is it on the menu then?

    > Not really sure, now move along. Next please.

    “But she is also a very astute politician”. I laughed at that one. No she is not, like many others in NI, she sough election to impose her personal views for selfish reasons.

  • It’s good to see the local LGBT community fighting back. I haven’t seen this sort of unity and determination since the anti-Pride protests of a few years ago and this time it is better organised and focussed.

    Iris has guaranteed the biggest ever turn-out at this year’s Belfast Pride festival, which kicks off on Saturday.

  • … Iris Robinson’s views do seem extremely confused and lacking any intellectual coherence even amongst fundamentalists.

    Huh? Did nobody else see that?

    “intellectual coherence”, and “amongst fundamentalists”!

    Turgon, there is NO ‘intellectual coherence’ amongst fundamentalists, or any other Christians. It is a ludicrous, childish superstition. It has NO relationship with the intellect – it is an illogical and irrational belief in the supernatural. Please don’t try and slip little falsehoods like that into the conversation.

  • Garibaldy,

    Re Myers “Tolerant, European Secular Christian Order“, did you not get it? He is subtly promoting a certain large supermarket chain.

    The Irish Indo inadvertently made that clear – they have some wierd software that creates automatic hyperlinks when capitalised nouns appear in the text, so of course Myers’ TESCO abbreviation led straight to, well, Tesco.

  • percy

    One thing you can say with certainty
    Iris Robinson would be sacked on the spot by the Tories, Labour or LibDems if she belonged to those parties and spoke out against gays.

    Yet in NI its a badge of honour for her amongst her supporters.

    GB and NI out of sync on many social and moral issues?

  • Mick Fealty

    Again DC, I refer you to the Gail Walker piece. She has a mandate, and one that is fairly attractive across the board. That some find it offensive is not a problem. It happens in democracies. Atomising people at the wheel of a mobile bomb whilst holding their families to ransom is pretty offensive to some, but morally defensible to others.

    But Kane asks very precise questions about the role of religion in secular politics, and in particular of Mrs Robinson’s (a woman with her own mandate and a potentially powerful position in the Assembly) settled view on that. That’s not silly season stuff, it goes to the heart of the question of where there is a de facto separation of church and state democracy, or not.

  • percy

    The other question is:
    Why does Iris want to belong to a UK Union set-up with which she has such disagreement, surely the ROI has more sympathy with her views on abortion and homosexuality.
    Though on the latter point I beleive the ROI is as tolerant of gays as GB. Not 100% sure though.

    Maybe it’ll be all over when the Scots go independent anyway?
    You can’t belong to a union to which there is no Union.
    apologies Mick, thread merging a bit here 😉

  • ggn

    ““Does she expect everyone else to be bound by His law too?”

    Yes. Because fundamentalism really isnt about believing that you are completely right, which requires alot of faith, it is more the belief that everyone else is simply wrong, thus making there views ilegimate.

  • Turgon


    I am sorry to disagree but my view of fundamentalism is that it involves believing the fundamentals of one’s faith and adhering as strictly as possible to them. What others do is as far as I am concerned usually their own business.

    Incidentally I do not believe I am completely right. I believe that God wants me to believe the things I do and try as hard as possible to adhere to them. He may well ask others to believe different things.

    I accept I may be in a minority and some might well not accept that I am a fundamentalist at all. Others may just hate me as one anyway: or for my other equally unacceptable secular views.

  • Conquistador


    Is it just christians who you’ve decided are all chronically stupid or does your contempt extend itself to other faiths?

  • Conquistador

    Is it just christians who you’ve decided are all chronically stupid or does your contempt extend itself to other faiths?

    The lot.

  • Driftwood
  • Conquistador


    What we should do is set up some sort of camp where we could concentrate these people. Lock away anyone with the slightest flicker of deistic belief and perhaps work them to death whilst feeding them very little.

    Then the world would be free from all ills

  • Dave

    “So, if Iris Robinson, a public figure with a very clear personal and political agenda, wants the institutions she is elected to, to be bound by and promoters of God’s law, then I would like her to tell us what those laws are and which ones she wants obeyed to the letter.”

    Is that really necessary? What does he propose to do with the list? Monitor her actions to see if she keeps to her word? If so, then why doesn’t he start with the one she has made her primary attention-getter, i.e. homosexuality. We know she is against it, so Alex should have enough to keep himself busy with there. If he finds that she has imposed “g-d’s law” in that matter, then he can ask her for that list at that point. Clearly, he would then have reasonable grounds for assuming that she meant more than that she would live by her moral code. While it might be the logical outworking of this witch-hunt, religious beliefs are not a grounds for discrimination or barring people from holding public office.

  • Garibaldy

    Horseman, I did spot that. But I thought the notion of a secular Christian order was one worth flagging up here.

  • graduate

    I’ve missed most of this cos I’ve been lucky enough to be away for this part of the silly season. It strikes me that Iris is doing a couple of things-
    1. DUP HQ are tacitly allowing these statements to keep the right-wing fundamentalists happy (those who may otherwise break away from DUP)
    2. Trying to irritate her hubby for not giving her a ministerial post in her own right (never overestimate domestic discontent for its ability to cause havoc cf Henry VIII!)
    I reckon the boys in Dundela are quite happy to see News Letter at present but one thing I do worry about is that newish DUP voters and supporters who belong to the more liberal and secular wing and don’t fit the tradiitonal profile may be getting a bit twitchy at some of these pronouncements (to put it mildly). Certainly it concerns me and I’ve supported DUP since I was a kid, but I’ve never subscribed to their theological viewpoint.
    I believe that the Ten Commnadments are pretty good indicators in any langauge of a way to live and all major religions have some similarity on these points. I’m not a church-goer, I htink they helped contribute greatly to our problems int he past and abbrogated their responsibilities on more than one occasion. I do however believe in God or a divinity and for once I agree completely with Alex Kane and please can we have complete separtion of Church and State. the Ten Commandments are good because they’re good, not because they’re supposedly the Word of God.

  • DC

    “She has a mandate, and one that is fairly attractive across the board. That some find it offensive is not a problem.”

    I never disputed her mandate neither her position gained prior to this strong stance; however, the point about adherence to morals throws up contradictory messages that must annul much of the value in what she says.

    The question in Northern Ireland, from where she derives her mandate, Mick, is not about the mandate in particular, but instead the form of persuasion and style of arguments that she uses as a means to sustain it.

    Whether Iris could enact much of her prejudices in legislation is highly questionable, but it is about her own actions, which must be guided by similar biblical demands, outside of this Committee context that needs focused on too.

    What Iris thinks personally has at Westminster legislative safeguards that protects people from the thrust of what she has said and wishes. She cannot be pulled up institutionally for what she said, fair enough; but there will be those that view her words as verbal comfort in the confusion of a very complex world, when actions may be taken at street level, probably by the drunken non-religious, who might lash out in place of any sexually restrictive legislation.

    In Iris’ case it is two-fold. Firstly, it is not so much about the distinction between state and religion but the extent to which she is of her own accord prepared to fully commit to her own stated religious views with integrity.

    Secondly, valid points which question this have been made and show that, yes perhaps, in terms of ‘the democracy’ Iris is willing to be legislated over, and against, on issues, but still gives out prejudices that suits some chosen, select paragraphs of the bible.

    Is Iris prepared to accept other guidance in the bible and how can this be reflected de facto, especially at Stormont where she draws down money while operating in contrast to longstanding political views that requires doing business with certain morally questionable people, at least in her eyes!

    Surely if it means so much to her perhaps then she should leave democratic politics as it doesn’t reflect her own particular line of interest. I think it is the power and the limelight that she craves so badly and these two things must of themselves be morally questionable then? You would think that she would not be able to be carry on as a politician as the obvious concerns with breaching her own seriously fixed life views would be too much put up with mentally.

  • Brian walker

    Alex Kane’s piece has eloquence and integrity indeed. The pity of it is, it might have been written in 1908 or even 1888, when these struggles were being waged in the wider world. In my youth in the 60s, we were at it (sorry, and we were arguing too), mounting anti- confessions for sins real and imagined, to drive the unfortunate fundamentalists to tears of frustrated evangelism. In that brief interlude of comparative liberality and gleeful superficiality misnamed the O’Neill era, we were sure we’d won. That big odd bloke Paisley was so Jurassic. And for 40 odd years we were righter and righter and much good did it do us. About everything else, we were so wrong. And now it’s deja vu and times remembered. But this time, we have to do much, much better against higher odds. Look at the new establishment and weep ye Gods. Having wept, let’s get on with it.


    Well said Mr Kane, straight to the point, no faffing about.

  • Napoleons nose.

    A little comedy. Iris goes on a trip to Iran…from Ian dales blog.


  • Mustapha Mond

    “What others do is as far as I am concerned usually their own business.”

    There is a duty to warn people though. Doe’snt matter if they laugh at you.

  • jone

    A splendid quote from Eady’s Max Mosley judgement:

    “Everyone is naturally entitled to espouse moral or
    religious beliefs to the effect that certain types of sexual behaviour are wrong or demeaning to those participating.

    That does not mean that they are entitled to hound
    those who practise them or to detract from their right to live life as they choose. “

  • barcas

    This Wikipedia entry might have appeared in Slugger, previously, but it might still be of interest to Iris in her witchunt.

    “Homosexual accusations

    During the 1690s rumours of William’s homosexual inclinations grew and led to the publication of many satirical pamphlets. He had several male favourites, including two Dutch courtiers to whom he granted English dignities: Hans Willem Bentinck became Earl of Portland and Arnold Joost van Keppel was created Earl of Albemarle. These close relationships with men and the lack of mistresses led William’s enemies to suggest that he preferred homosexual relationships. William’s modern biographers still disagree on the veracity of these allegations, with some insisting that they were figments of his enemies imaginations and others suggesting that there may have been some truth to the rumours.

    Bentinck’s closeness to William aroused jealousies, but some modern historians doubt that there was a homosexual element about their relationship. The same could not be said for Keppel, who was 20 years William’s junior and strikingly handsome, and had risen from being a royal page to an earldom with suspicious ease. Portland wrote to William in 1697 that ‘the kindness which your Majesty has for a young man, and the way in which you seem to authorise his liberties … make the world say things I am ashamed to hear’. This, he said, was ‘tarnishing a reputation which has never before been subject to such accusations’. William replied, saying, ‘It seems to me very extraordinary that it should be impossible to have esteem and regard for a young man without it being criminal’.

    Shades of Oscar Wilde I suggest.

  • Rory

    Mention of Max Moseley prompts me to inquire if anyone knows of the rumor that he is to establish a community mobile door-to-door SM therapeutic service to be called, Weals on Wheels?

  • Garibaldy

    Given the presence of prostitutes at the S&M;session, shouldn’t that be Common Weals on Wheels?

  • Peat Blog

    “20 years William’s junior and strikingly handsome, and had risen from being a royal page to an earldom with suspicious ease.”


    It would be interesting to know how old William was when this happened. Homosexuality is one thing but child abuse is another…

  • barcas

    Peat Blog

    Apparently, William was 20 years older than van Keppel, William having been born in 1650 and Keppel in 1670.

    In 1695, at the age of 27, Keppel became Groom of the Bedchamber and Master of the Robes.

    In 1696, at the age of 26, Keppel became Baron Ashford of Kent and Viscount Bury in Lancashire.

    On 10th February, 1697, at the age of 27, William made him Earle of Albermarle, Viscount Ashford and Viscount Bury.

    That is the information I have and one can see that Keppel’s rise in the world was quite swift. William was also, by the way, a generous patron to Keppel.

  • Peat Blog



    It seems like it was nothing more than a father and son type relationship between consenting adults…

    However, with all this innuendo it would have made great material for a Carry On film; Kenneth Williams as Big Will.