Pt 6: Response to C.S. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain”

Guest post by theologian Dr Rob Knowles on The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis:

Part 6:  Response to Chapter 10. Heaven.

Turning now to Lewis’s final chapter, on heaven, then I agree with his point that the issue of the existence of heaven precedes any discussion of whether or not belief in heaven’s existence is escapist. If heaven exists, belief in it isn’t escapism, but realism. Since it is far more rational to assert that only God could create a heaven on earth than it is to assert that mere humanity could create a heaven on earth, then it is modernism’s utopian odyssey that is escapist, not Christianity’s eschatological pilgrimage. Moreover, since our heaven will indeed be a new heavenly Edenic earth, then the motivation to bring about reform isn’t lost to escapism either. We don’t get pie in the sky when we die, so much as a reformed earth. Reformation now becomes all the more assured now that we know that our reforming labours are not in vain.

Lewis is also quite right to argue that if heaven is good, then desiring it isn’t mercenary. Mercenaries serve themselves, but heaven is fundamentally about serving others. So, how can it be selfish to desire not to be selfish? As Lewis rightly argues, only the pure in heart want to see God, and so it is safe to assure them that they will.

I believe that Lewis is also quite right to argue that the desire for heaven is universal. And yet this true point, of course, contradicts Lewis’s other arguments that say that the damned don’t want heaven. Here, again, Lewis projects the demonic onto the human in order to make hell seem more palatable.

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Pt 5. Response to C.S. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain”

Guest post by theologian Dr Rob Knowles on The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis:

Part 5:   Chapter 9. Animal Pain.

Lewis’s chapter on animal pain is very interesting. Since Lewis acknowledges that he is just speculating when it comes to this matter, then we should be gracious in our responses to what he says. To begin with, Lewis argues that vegetables and non-sentient lower animals (e.g. earth-worms) do not feel pain. To me, this assertion seems reasonable since, as Lewis points out, such life-forms have no developed nervous systems.

I am less certain about Lewis’s argument that “merely-sentient” animals do not feel pain and that they react to stimuli a bit like sleeping humans do. That is, in Lewis’s view, in the case of merely-sentient animals, the body reacts to stimuli, but there is no conscious awareness of anything. Lewis defines consciousness as a selfhood or soulhood that recognizes itself as the same beneath the stream of sensations, a bit like a constant river bed beneath the river-water that passes by overhead. Given the distinction, in consciousness, between the river-bed and the river-water (to continue the analogy), consciousness is able to objectify – to an extent – sensory experiences as being “other” than itself, and so is able to “organise” them into a perception of succession, an “experience”, and not just into a succession of perceptions. Since, in Lewis’s view, merely-sentient animals can have a succession of perceptions, and not a perception of succession or “experience” (i.e. they have no consciousness), then they cannot consciously reflect that they are in pain, and so they don’t suffer pain.

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Pt 4: Response to C.S. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain”

Guest post by theologian Dr Rob Knowles on The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis:

Part 4:  Chapter 8 – Hell

In his chapter on hell, Lewis takes the three notions of “destruction”, “eternal torment”, and “privation” and then works them into a systematic unity. This leads to two difficulties. First, Thiselton points out: (a) that the Bible has three traditions in it about hell that seem to contradict one-another: (i) hell is eternal torment; (ii) hell is eternal destruction, or annihilation; (iii) all are saved; (b) that all three traditions have been considered to be “orthodox” in the history of the church, even though “eternal torment” has been the dominant view in orthodoxy; (c) that it would be hermeneutically-premature, given where scholarship has reached, to press these three contradictory traditions into a unity in favour of any one of the traditions, which seems to militate against Lewis’s conclusions.

Second, if Thiselton is correct, then Lewis entirely dismisses one biblical tradition – that of universal salvation. Even if it were right to press all the traditions into a unity then Lewis would still have to press (i) “hell is eternal torment”; (ii) “hell is eternal destruction, or annihilation”; and (iii) “all are saved”, into a unity – along with his emphasis on “privation”.

Some, for example D.A. Carson, are adamant that eternal torment is the nature of hell, and that all who do not believe in Christ go there. Lewis, on balance, seems to favour a kind of qualified annihilationism whilst still holding onto a perspective-dependent notion of eternal torment. Others, such as G. MacDonald (alias R. Parry), reconcile the biblical traditions in favour of “all are saved, but in some cases only after prolonged periods of punishment in hell”.

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Pt 3: Response to C.S. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain”

Guest post by theologian Dr Rob Knowles on The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis:

Part 3:  Response to Chapter 6 & 7 – Human Pain/Appendix by R. Havard (a Doctor)

 

I agree with most of what Lewis says in Chapter 6. Lewis rightly stresses three forms of remedial pain: (a) retributive punishment that is justly deserved; (b) spell-breaking and the redirection of misdirected fallen nature; and (c) proving our God-wrought faith and righteousness genuine to us. In particular, Lewis rightly distinguishes divine retribution and vengeance from evil vindictive passionate revenge – a kind of tabloid Lamech-style brutalism that is evil, self-centred, over-harsh or disproportionate, and seeks only to destroy.

Lewis is also correct to argue that remedial pain is universal, life-long, and unevenly distributed (i.e. complexly, and not simply, related to “just deserts”); and Lewis is correct to argue that remedial pain faces us with a choice: whether in response to it we choose patience, humility and repentance or whether we choose instead to run with the crowd and adopt attitudes of culturally-normal anger and cynicism. Finally, Lewis adds an interesting Appendix at the back of his book which basically shows that most medium term pain has a positive effect on character.

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Pt 2: Response to C.S. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain”

Guest post by theologian Dr Rob Knowles on The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis:

Part 2:

Chapter 4 – Human Wickedness

Chapter 5 – The Fall of Man(kind)

 

Response to Chapter 4. Human Wickedness

Lewis is entirely correct to emphasize the unhappy truth that we habitually deny our sin, or at least its seriousness, and that we deploy self-deceiving means to do so. Lewis is right to emphasize: (a) evil (anti-Trinitarian “Lord of the Flies”-type localist tribal) clique-dynamics that only look evil from the world of the broader public realm; (b) the role of certain sin-denying popular trends in (pretentiously boastful pseudo-intellectual pseudo-wise) psychoanalysis; (c) a reductionist approach to virtue (which stresses a chav-ethics of outwardly-brutal ego-centric drama-triangle sentimentality and victim-aping self-pity); (d) the finger-pointing self-evading blame-projecting strategies deployed within the superficial outward comparisons used by sin-deniers who binary-categorize only others as evil (using terms like “offenders” and “scum”); (e) the evil things said about “nature” and “finitude” as though God (the very paradigm of innocence, more innocent than a baby) were at fault; and, (f), the view that time alone (rather than Christ’s high-priestly work of (re-)consecrating the defiled and unclean) brings about cleansing from sin and guilt. All these emphases – (with my views added in brackets) – are true.

Two points come to mind, however, in response to what Lewis says: (a) Lewis’s use of the notion of “virtue” has more of a classical feel than a biblical feel. One can speak in terms of “the seven virtues” and of the “seven deadly sins”, but in my view there are more biblical ways to speak of “right and wrong”. To speak only classically about “sin and virtue” is itself a liberal sin-denying strategy. (b) There are also more biblical ways of speaking about the ways in which we disguise sin and hide it from ourselves. Lewis is correct to point out some of the contemporary manifestations of sin-denial, but there are strategies of sin-denial that pervade all cultures and that are manifest in the contemporary manifestations of sin-denial that Lewis notes.

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Response to C.S. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain”

Guest post by theologian Dr Rob Knowles on The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis:

Part 1:  Chapter 1 – Introductory

Chapter 2 – Divine Omnipotence

Chapter 3 – Divine Goodness

 

Response to Chapter 1: Introductory

I agree with Lewis’s basic argument that the problem of pain emerges historically, and not philosophically. Suffering is a historical fact, and yet belief in a good all-powerful God is also a historical fact. The problem of pain, as an intellectual problem, simply emerges as the problem of how to understand the co-existence of these two historical realities intellectually.

My main query with respect to Lewis’s argument in his first chapter is that there are many intellectual reasons for holding to the truth of Jesus’ claims, whereas there seems to be more than a little liberal British Bultmannian School Neo-Kantian existentialism in Lewis’s appeals to the supposedly undergirding roles of universal experiences of the numinous and of the moral impulse. Whilst the Bible affirms the experiential, existential, moral, or practical side of revelation and of human existence, the Bible also affirms the cognitive, propositional, conceptual side of revelation and of human life – as part of a broader formative overall revelation in which Christ’s Spirit uses biblical texts relationally to form or build individual Christians and the corporate Church.

That is, Lewis seems to make the veracity of biblical content and formative function too dependent upon the universality of mystical and moral experience. In fact, though, revelatory content and formative function should be held together with, and should constitute criteria of authenticity in relation to, revelatory experience.

One of the big problems in the church today is an experience-centredness that refuses to allow itself to be tested against biblical criteria with content, and against the formative results or fruitfulness of a right relational engagement with the Scriptures – an engagement that is everywhere marginalised in such churches. But Jesus says, “by their fruit you shall know them”, John commands us to “test the spirits” and Paul, following Jesus, makes it quite clear that whilst “love sums up the law and the prophets”, transformation unto love or right-relating comes through a biblical “transformation of the mind”. As Jesus prays, “sanctify them by the truth – your word is truth”.

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Prophecy: “Ad hoc cries of an expressive, diagnostic, or tactical nature, delivered as ‘spontaneous’ mini-messages” it is not!

Some thoughts……

On Prophecy

Broadly speaking, my view is that prophecy is either an anointing of the Spirit or a gift of the Spirit, depending on which form of prophecy is in view.

I believe that the biblical prophets had a unique anointing that nobody else has had since the closing of the canon.

The canon of Scripture is slightly disputed in that 1 Enoch is part of the Ethiopian canon. It is interesting that 1 Enoch correctly predicts the ambiguity surrounding its future reception!  Beyond disputes about the extent of the canon (there is no canonical statement about the limits of the canon!), I am a cessationist when it comes to the anointing of the biblical prophets.

I am not a cessationist when it comes to the gifts of the Spirit, since such a view seems absurd given Paul’s and Peter’s view of the church as a body that grows out of each part doing its work and administering God’s grace in its various forms.

To distinguish between more and less “spectacular” gifts in this respect seems arbitrary, since each part of a body remains important. To say that any gift has ceased is to say that a part of the body has become unnecessary, which is precisely what Paul warns against.

To distinguish between the inaugural and the continuative has some validity: the Scriptures constitute a once-for-all inaugural revelation; but the Holy Spirit relates the Scriptures to us ever-freshly in a continuing manner. However, when it comes to the gifts of the Spirit, the inaugural vs. continuative distinction becomes invalid as stated above, and it is better to speak in terms of anointing (inaugural) vs. gifts (continuative).

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Christianity & Psychotherapy

After listening to a great article of Radio 4’s ‘Beyond Belief‘ and the discussion about the relationship between ‘religion and psychotherapy’ (read: Christianity & psychotherapy), I have transcribed a four minute interview with a Christian Psychotherapist, Tony Yates of Cornerstone, that takes place about half way through the program.  The questions are asked by the presenter, Ernie Rea.

Q. What drew [you] to this particular discipline?

I got into Psychotherapy by coming from a troubled background, going into therapy myself, and then deciding that this might be the way in which I could work in the future with other people who had troubled backgrounds of one sort or another, and who doesn’t, really, one way or another?

Q. You’ve had widespread experience of working with all sorts of people, including Evangelical Christians, who I gather come to you in unexpectedly large numbers?

Every one of my clients, without exception, have come from the Conservative Evangelical wing of the church, or perhaps and Irish Roman Catholic background.  I’ve never had a client from the Liberal wing of the Church.

Q. Well you clearly think it’s indicative of something. Why do you think Evangelical Christians are in need of such therapy?

Because of the way they’ve been brought up; with the best intentions, they’ve been brought up under a regime of a sense of sin and the consequences of sin, which are shame, it’s like a stain on the soul, it’s like you’ve transgressed the laws and expectations of God.

Q  Does that mean that Evangelicals are less aware of the inner subconscious self which is the source of who we are and why we do things?

Much less aware than my secular clients.  It’s almost as though the discovery of the unconscious which happens when they come into therapy, is another world they’ve hardly ever suspected.  They’ve never heard much about Freud, and the discoveries in the early part of the 20th century, or if they have they’ve been warned against it, in the same way that they might be warned against Dawinian Evolution.  So they’ve come trained from childhood, taught from childhood, to look upward rather than inward.  And when they come to Psychotherapy they have to switch their direction from looking upward toward God, the Church and the expectations, inward to what they have repressed in their unconscious.

Q.  Without breaking any patient confidentiality, can you give me one example of the sort of thing that you would encounter?

If you take sex and anger, of course they’re raised, the Evangelicals, to believe that sex before marriage a bad thing.  So they have to grow up in a society that is wall-to-wall promiscuity and pornography, sex is everywhere in the modern world.  They have to grow up inhibiting those expressions, while their hormones are raging.  It must be a bit like sitting on the lid of a cauldron to stop it from over-flowing, and they marry in their mid-twenties, without any prior sexual experience, and they marry someone with the same background.  You can imagine the problems from that.

But much more damaging than repressing sex, I’ve discovered, is repressing the natural appropriate warm expression of anger, so unlike their secular clients, they never have a teenage rebellion, and that’s very damaging.  They can’t challenge their parents belief, because their parents are a little bit like the representatives of God on earth, of the Will of God.  That’s a formidable array of power above a Christian child to rebel against if he dares, and if he does, the mere threat of shame stops them from ever getting there, they just keep themselves repressed so that they don’t have to feel shame.

Gralefrit Comment:

Sadly, Evangelical Christianity has suffered and still suffers from the worst kinds of repression, a reason why:  i) that all the Christian clients above, are from the same Christian tribe (Evangelicalism), and ii) why so many Evangelical churches suffer from abusive and violent  forms of relationships.  It is a branch of Christianity that I am affiliated to, and whilst it is not the whole picture, I have seen its rather crass tendency to illicit a kind of superman-Pharisaical Christianity that isn’t Christianity; or a super-spiritual-man gnostic Christianity.  Both in fact betray the actual Gospel; a Gospel that is, if true [and it is], welcomes the sort of psychoanalytical progress we’ve seen over the past 120 years or so.

It is why theologian Rob Knowles suggests,

“Church members are trained into coming to church without any expectation of growing into ministries of various kinds”; and this is because we have often facilitated “Church cultures of ‘tot-level Sunday-school for adults’ that alienates any Christians or non-Christians who reject infantilization, and that suppress any preaching that brings the maturity-forming, disciple-making power of the Scriptures alive” (Relating Faith, pg. 122-3).

My pal Joe Haward comments in an as yet unpublished paper,

“In psychoanalysis, a person exists through a lack, a split, a fissure. We may have dreams of being complete, and perhaps at a very early point in our lives we felt no lack, no split, no separation, being just one with whatever surrounded us. But as far as we are creatures of language and desire (and to Lacan language and desire are what separates the human from the animal being), we are split beings: split between ‘things’ and ‘words’, between what we want and what we get, between what we feel like and what we look like, between present and past, between what we think we say or want and what we actually say or want (that is between conscious and unconscious).”

GirardAnd now, Rene Girard, at the end of his interview with Steven Berry, published in Reading the Bible with Rene Girard, edited by Michael Hardin (review of this excellent little book coming soon), takes issue with psychoanalysis itself.  In a brief critique of Freud as the one who targeted the father-figure to the degree that the father became the scapegoat of the culture.  Girard argues that this cannot be done in todays more fractured culture, because of the sheer fact of the importance of peers to a child, and so not merely “the father”.  This is why Girard calls Freudian analysis “outdated”, he says,

“Psychoanalysis in a way lives on values that are already outdated.  I have a friend, a good friend, who’s seeing a psychiatrist but he’s also a psychoanalyst.  He said today people use formulas that are unbelievable.  Previously in psychoanalytical theory the Oedipus complex was what you had to fight; now psychiatrists talk about injecting more Oedipus into people.  They don’t have enough meaning; the don’t have enough backbone.  My friend, because we have great discussions, says he thinks it can be a death of mimetic desire, which is the worst thing of all.  I mean, not a death through conquering mimetic desire, but just no more mimetic desire.  I mean a world where there are so many cheap pleasures and no more taboos” pg. 192

If we were to make a link though, between the interview above and Girard, with Protestant anxiety and activism that ensures they need some kind of therapy, Girard makes this wonderful point immediately prior to his Freud comment above, he says,

“I’m taking about some relaxation of tension (with a hurried Christianity), which is a form of charity at the same time toward your fellow man.   I’m talking about an acceptance of good fellowship, joy, and relaxation, which are sometimes a bit missing in modern forms of Christianity, democracy, and so forth, which are never relaxing” pg. 190

Fellowship, joy and relaxation!  Who’d have thought?

I don’t know if psychoanalysis is outdated.  I’m sure it has a lot more to offer, despite Girard’s comments.  Even in his introduction to ‘The Church’s Pastors’ in ‘The Contemporary Christian’, John Stott lists various categories that add to the confusion about what an ordained pastor is.  He writes, “Are they priests, prophets, pastors, preachers, administrators, facilitators, social workers or psychotherapists?” ( emphasis and re-ordering of the sentence mine).  In my brief experience, being a pastor covers all these and then some.  I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or not, it doesn’t feel like it.

However, in his typically brilliant style, G. K. Chesterton makes a telling obervation in his short article ‘A Criminal Head’ in ‘Alarms and Discursions‘.  The first sentence below is only slightly pertinent to this discussion, that “heads” could be “taken to pieces” in more than a surgical manner, thus well worth a look ; the second, pertinent to contemporary debates about the rich and poor, a psychoanalytical treasure trove in its own right:

“In a popular magazine there is one of the usual articles about criminology; about whether wicked men could be made good if their heads were taken to pieces. As by far the wickedest men I know of are much too rich and powerful ever to submit to the process, the speculation leaves me cold.”

Whatever, long may psychoanalysis address what it means to be fully human; long may the Gospel of Jesus Christ speak life and truth to all humanity; and speedily may false versions of a suppressed gospel be exposed for what they are, that the victims of it may be set free to live a life less of guilt and shame, and more of life and joy!

Meadow

 I took this somewhere in Devon

This Present Darkness: A Theology of the Demonic

What follows is a comprehensive set of notes (in list form) by theologian Rob Knowles, of a series he delivered on the paranormal and demonic a couple of years ago.  This is an eye-opening read and one that should temper naive evangelical zeal in regard to the demonic, with a degree of wise caution, coupled with serious biblical insight into its sheer complexity and reality.

When we read in Scripture that “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…” (Ephesians 6:12), Paul is not playing mere religious games.  He sees and he knows.  What follows, is an unpacking of what Paul was getting at, that we too might see and know.

May the sovereign grace and sureness of Christ’s salvation be ever in your heart and mind as you read:

Theology of the Paranormal/Demonic

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How the ‘Temptations of Jesus’ relate to everthing about you, society and the world

My friend, theologian Rob Knowles, who has featured on this blog before, has allowed me to publish his basic outline of the Temptations of Jesus and how they are a paradigm for every Christian disciple of Christ.  PDF available here:  The 3 Temptations of Jesus Christ.

What we will find here, is a profoundly insightful hermeneutical work on something that (big assumption alert) close to all readers of the Bible kind of skim over, and I write this placing myself firmly in that category.

Rob has kicked me up the exegetical backside with this excellent study, and if it’s too long for you to read, I make no apology save that this is one of the very ‘conditions’ that will be exposed in the study.  If this doesn’t get your interpretive juices flowing, I don’t know what will.

I hope you enjoy….

temptation-of-christ

The Temptations of Jesus Christ: Explanation

1. Overview and Preliminary Points
The temptation narratives occur in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke), but not in John, and are only present in embryonic form in Mark. Matthew preserves the original order of the temptations, whereas Luke alters the order because Luke’s focus is often on the temple, and so he wishes to emphasize the temple by putting the temptation that features the temple last. Below, as in the Bible study, we will follow Matthew’s ordering of the temptations.


First of all, we may note that commentators stress that Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus may hint at parallels and contrasts between Jesus’ temptation and that which was suffered by Adam and Eve. If Adam and Eve fail to resist the tempter, with the result that Paradise becomes a wilderness, then the Second Adam enters that wilderness, resists the tempter successfully, and so restores the wilderness to its original paradisiacal condition.


Second, commentators also stress that Matthew’s and Luke’s temptation narratives parallel and contrast with Israel’s testing in their desert wanderings, where many argue for this inter-textual relationship with respect to Mark as well. If Israel were baptised in the Sea of Reeds, Jesus was Baptised in the Jordan; if Israel was then tested in the Sinai, Jesus was then tested in the Negev; and if Israel went on to inherit a Promised Land, and a Ministry (in the case of the Levites), Jesus went on to inherit the Kingdom of God and a Ministry too. The contrast comes in that whereas Israel failed to resist Satan, Jesus succeeded. The desert, then, as a harsh place of testing, is also God’s place of preparation for the reception of inheritance. Israel’s failure to resist temptation delayed – but did not ultimately overrule – God’s fulfilment of divine promise.


Third, in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul parallels the Christian experience with Israel’s desert wanderings. Thus, by implication, Jesus’ temptation experience tells us something about Christian experience too. As we are tempted, so Jesus was tempted. As Israel often failed the test, so we often fail the test. But, if this is so, how can we see ourselves – our failures – in Israel’s behaviour? And how can we see ourselves – our successes – in Jesus’ behaviour? How do the relevant passages of Scripture interpret us?


Fourth, John the Baptist also tells us that Jesus will baptise us “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). But, if fire signifies refinement, or discipline, and if the desert signifies the place where God refines and disciplines us, then we may even draw parallels between seasons of discipline within the Christian life and the temptation narratives. As Jesus was tested for a season, so we – having received a baptism of fire into a season of discipline – after we have “suffered for a little while” will be “made strong, firm, and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10). And St. Peter should know, for he himself was handed over to Satan, the sifter, to be sifted like wheat, where sifting, like fire, is a purification or refinement motif. And if even apostles are handed over to Satan during special seasons of discipline – (and Satan cannot be made to “flee”, even by exorcists, during such seasons) – then will God not hand us over to Satan as well when we need a specific “sifting” kind of discipline? Of course he will! And during such times, will not the devil tempt us in every manner possible? Of course he will!


And, of course, fifth, if Christians experience discipline individually, then churches experience it corporately according to Revelation 2 and 3, as the risen Lord specifically states. The Bible is not individualistic, unlike us modernists, and so can mean groups when we think only of individuals. According to one Old Testament scholar, what would have struck Jesus’ original Jewish audience as hilarious about the rich man deciding to build bigger barns for his grain was the fact that he decided what to do by himself, rather than by taking it to the elders and the community.


In other words, Adam and Eve, Israel, Jesus, individual Christians, and Christian churches all experience baptism, testing, and inheritance. It is a revealed pattern for what spiritual life is. If spiritual life, positively speaking, is love for God and neighbour, then spiritual life, negatively speaking, is about resisting material self-empowerment or “self-feeding” in relation to the physical appetites, about resisting spiritual self-empowerment or seeking to “control God” or god-like power in relation to being rescued from our predicament in this world, and about resisting sociological self-empowerment or seeking to “enthrone self” or “exalt self” socially or competitively, whether overtly or covertly.


To these three temptations we now turn, because we have fallen into them very badly. And as one famous Welshman once said: “There’s no news… like bad news”.

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