The Reverend Professor Martin Henig
How would you describe yourself in terms of religion and belief?
Liberal Anglo Catholic with strong ecumenical and interfaith interests.
Is this the tradition you were brought up in? What made you stay with or choose it as an adult?
I wasn’t, I was brought up in a very relaxed way as Liberal Jew. But I’ve always believed in God, the prophets were always important to me. Most of my friends were Anglican and in one or two cases Roman Catholic, and it just sort of grew on me, it was not something I felt any particular tensions about. But I remember my mother saying to me once when I tried to claim that I needn’t go to school on some holiday, I think it was Ascension Day or some occasion like that ‘Well, it’s all the same God you know!’ Basically, you’re going to the service and it’s the same God.
Would you say that Great Britain is an equal and tolerant society, particularly in relation to religion and belief?
Yes, it’s not perfect, but it’s as near as one is going to get.
Are there any challenges for you living in accordance with your beliefs, and if so are they social, legal or political in nature?
The only area really, and it’s something that I feel about very strongly, is in connection with animals. I believe that animals are part of creation and we shouldn’t harm them, either in church functions or the wider world. A lot of people don’t really take that on board, and I would say that that is the only area. My attitude to animals does have a strongly religious element to it.
How do you regard the HRA and greater general awareness of human rights in the UK? Has it been a positive or a negative thing?
It’s been positive. It has meant that attitudes which have been anti-women or anti-gay in the past are now regarded as reprehensible and people cannot insult others because of their colour or ethnicity without falling foul of the Law. I think that the Law has improved society and the way that people regard each other; there’s been an improvement and the Act has certainly helped.
How does Anglicanism/Christianity regard human rights? Has it made any positive contribution towards them?
In some ways I think it has. It has had a grim history, even with regard to slavery, but has come to have a positive stance on human rights. It’s sometimes been a bit slow on the uptake, for example in regard to women’s rights. There are parts of the church which haven’t taken this on board and I think are taking refuge in rather outdated views. One area where they certainly haven’t and are well behind the state is with regard to gay and lesbian rights. Particular in regard marriage, and they have put themselves in a very difficult position. I think that a lot of priests are now in a very difficult position with a church which is restrictive and is using prejudice to a quick shocking extent. One hopes that there will be a change. Some areas of the church have taken this on board, like the Episcopal Church in America, but the Anglican Church here is a long way behind that.
How do you regard religious bodies being permitted certain exemptions from discrimination law?
I think that this is thoroughly wrong. Jesus was quite clearly against discrimination and I don’t think that any religion should claim an exemption from what are in reality the human rights of others. It seems to me to be a contradiction of what religion should be about.
Is living in a Parliamentary democracy a good thing? Is there any other system of government which you would prefer?
I think that it is a good thing. Of course there are other systems you might have, you could have direct democracy, but that often doesn’t work because prejudice can come into play. I think that our system is better. I think that maybe we should have a more proportional system of representation, but by and large I think that it’s a good system.
Do you believe that you have a moral obligation to vote?
I do. Because it means that albeit in a small way, one is participating both at a national and a local level. It helps to give one a stake in what is going on. Certainly, if you don’t vote I don’t see how you can complain because you’ve opted out.
Given that the House of Lords has a role in making and changing law, does it concern you that its members are not elected?
I think that it’s actually quite a good thing having people who can be regarded as having certain wisdom and have a corrective voice on the Commons. Although I think that it shouldn’t just be bishops, I think it is quite an idea to have a certain number of religious leaders, and perhaps also academic leaders, people who are well known in industry and the Arts. So that there not simply a chamber which clashes with the Commons and where you get the kind of problems you have in the United States with two elected houses.
Do you think that the Lords Spiritual have a continuing role in their current form?
I think that on the whole they’ve had quite a wise voice and some of them have been very good indeed. Whether with so many other religions in the country you could have fewer of them and perhaps some representatives from other faiths as well I don’t know. But I think it’s good that the House of Lords has them there, particularly as we have an established church. I think that there should be some bishops there.
How do you feel about the fact that some decisions which effect the UK are made by the the devolved assemblies in Wales and Scotland?
I believe strongly in devolution. I think that the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments are absolutely excellent and we should have something similar for England, or perhaps something more regional. I think that the different focus helps to ensure that people are properly represented.
What responsibilities do you think that people with power owe to society as a whole?
I think that they owe a sense of fairness to society, they should be servants of society, and they shouldn’t be milking the system for their own benefit. It should be vocational really. As a priest I regard these as equal things being a politician, you should have a vocation to serve.
What duties do all citizens owe to the rest of society?
They have a duty to make things run more easily and I think that everyone can make personal judgments which make life for others better, whether that is picking up litter in the street or trying to assist individuals with problems. It’s simply a matter of neighbourliness.
Do you think that our political leaders in parliament are a reasonable and proportional representation of society as a whole? If not, should anything be done to address this?
I think that these things are improving but not quite there. I think that women are underrepresented in some parties more than others probably. And minority groups are underrepresented as well. I think that a large number of people have had a similar education…..the preponderance of prime ministers we’ve had from Oxford. That does create problems for understanding people who don’t come from that background that we might not have if there was more of a mixture, but I don’t know how you legislate for that. But it is something we should be aiming at.
Would you say that practising Anglicans are proportionately represented?
I think so, sometimes of course one’s not aware. But where you do have politicians speaking as Anglicans, it does come out that their faith is an important factor. It probably does reflect society……of course some of the people in Parliament would say ‘Church of England’ but whether they are active is another matter, but again, like the general population I expect.
In your personal interaction with public authorities have you felt that your personal beliefs have been respected and where appropriate accommodated?
Yes, I’ve never had any problems at all.
Is it important for you to always act within secular law, are there circumstances which might justify of necessitate breaking human law?
Yes, I think that there can be. When I was young I marched against the bomb and I can see myself doing things like that again, perhaps with the badger cull. I think that there are a lot of situations in which high minded people might be on the edge of breaking the law, but not in ways that would be morally wrong. It would be true to say that there were a few grey areas.
Would you say that the Rule of Law is applied equally to all UK citizens? Are there some groups which receive either preferential or prejudicial treatment?
There are things that worry me. I think that for the rich it can be easier to get justice, because if you’ve got pots of money you can spend it on lawyers. Whereas if you are poor the assistance you get for a case is not really adequate, and I think that without it really meaning to be it is weighed in favour of those with money and probably education. I suspect that this is something which weighs quite a bit with lawyers too.
How do you feel about the general trend over the last 15 years towards an increase in police powers and surveillance?
At the moment I don’t think that there is a threat to liberty, but it is something that needs considerable vigilance. At the moment there are major problems, but there do need to be bodies which monitor how the powers given to tackle them are use. And I think that it should be targeted at where there is real threat, not towards minor things which people might have done wrong.
Are there any ways in which you find the law at present restrictive?
No, if one was a driver one might drive faster if there wasn’t a limit, but as I’m not this doesn’t apply to me. I don’t find the law personally restrictive.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I think that what is needed is a greater interfaith element, bringing together people of different faiths in connection with law and society. That would help us to become a more just society, one which is not necessarily more homogeneous in that everyone is doing the same thing, but one which is more inter-linked so that everyone feels that they have the same sort of stake in it. One needs to involve everyone to a much greater degree. I wonder whether one could ask these questions of someone who was not highly educated, felt disenfranchised, or didn’t vote. The challenge is getting at those people and letting everyone feel that they have a real stake.
Martin was born 22 March 1942 at Harrow, Middlesex, England and brought up in north-west Middlesex and educated at Merchant Taylors’ School, St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, the Institute of Archaeology, University of London and Worcester College, Oxford.
In a long career in archaeology mainly studying Roman art, he lectured and taught mainly in Oxford University and has published widely on Roman Britain, Roman sculpture, and Greek and Roman engraved gemstones. He was editor for 23 years of the Journal of the British Archaeological Association, from 1985 to 2007 and is now a vice-president of the Association and continues to take an active part in the Association’s work Between 1997-2009 he was a Supernumerary Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford and is still a member of Common Room of the college and in 1998 he was awarded a higher doctorate, a DLitt ,by Oxford University for my publications. In 2007 he was presented with a Festschrift by various friends (Pagans and Christians – from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Papers in honour of Martin Henig, presented on the occasion of his 65th birthday, edited by Lauren Gilmour. BAR International Series 1610, 2007) which contains a complete bibliography of his writings to that date.
Outside Archaeology, He was ordained six years ago and now serve as assistant priest serving in the Osney benefice in west Oxford. He has a major interest and his centre of mission within the Church lies in the field of animal welfare and animal ethics and was a founder member of Voice for Ethical Research in Oxford, a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, and is vice-president of the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals. He believes care for the whole of creation should be at the very centre of Christianity and embraces the Eastern concept of Ahimsa which implies a Vegan lifestyle wherever possible . He is also strongly committed to the full equality and acceptance of lesbian, gay and transgendered people within the church including equal rights with regard to blessings and marriage and is a member of the Lesbian,Gay and Transgender Christian Movement. All matters of justice are, to him, inter-related.