Working to educate the youth

Doug Harris, member of the <a href="http://www.reachouttrust.org/">Reachout Trust</a>, explains the

My job, simply put, is to convince as many people as possible that cults and occult practices are potentially dangerous. It's obviously not your typical nine-to-five gig. Recalling my childhood daydreams of what I would do when I grew up, this certainly wasn't even on the list.

Just how I got to this point began in the early 1980s when Reachout Trust was born, initially to “reach out” and provide help to local people who had suffered as a result of their being involved with one cult or another. However, in just a few years we had expanded geographically and also philosophically. We ultimately realised that we needed to help those still involved in occult practices.

The creation of Reachout Trust drew responses from a few young people who realised that they needed to be free from the spiritual powers that had trapped them, and could achieve that freedom by turning to the greater power of the God of evangelical Christianity.

Since then, the work of Reachout Trust has often been maligned as being negative and hopelessly idealistic, but we maintain that what we do is positive; we help people find a better life. Also, what some people consider idealist rhetoric is actually some very sound advice that has helped many people. Nevertheless, there are an increasing number of young people today, who do not or will not accept this.

At first, this rejection was perplexing. We were, after all, trying to help them, but all they wanted to do was criticise and contradict us. However, over the years we have come to understand why young people are often hard to reach. Throughout their largely secular and media-influenced lives, they have not received any clear Biblical Christian education. They have instead been bombarded, or at least showered, with various aspects of the occult and other do-it-yourself religions. How can they understand and accept a message that has not been on their radar during their formative years?

Keep in mind that we are not accusing parents of falling asleep on the job. Starting in primary school nearly everyone warns his or her children about with stranger danger and the risks associated with playing near railway lines. As children grow the dangers of drugs and promiscuous sex become relevant. All this amounts to one big list of prohibitions, a list of what not to do. Yet is this advice perceived as negative? Certainly not! Then why shouldn’t we, in a similar vein, share information on the dangers of the occult, which can also yield negative consequences?

Unfortunately, such a warning is seen as too religious, and is discarded in favour of a more liberal stance on youthful experimentation. Most young people, however, do not content themselves with just a small dabble into the occult. They start to wade in to the excitement, intrigue and mystical paths that are explained in magazines, TV interviews and, of course, the Internet.

This is the struggle that Reachout Trust has been increasingly facing for the past 25+ years. It certainly isn’t going to get any easier and as long as society continues to label our efforts and intolerant and conservative.

Should we give up? Certainly not; that is the worst thing we can do. We will adapt to the situation in which we find ourselves, speak with a reasonable and considerate voice, make clear well-constructed arguments and continue to educate all those who will listen on the dangers of the occult. We will, in the same way, seek to show that there is a far safer way to experience spiritual enlightenment: through the tried-and-tested beliefs of the abundant life in the Jesus Christ of evangelical Christianity.

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Emmanuel Macron: a populist eruption from the liberal centre

The French presidential candidate has been compared with a young Tony Blair.

The French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron came to town this week to meet Theresa May and address the London French community, whose votes he was chasing. In our age of extremes, Macron, who is 39, is that rare thing – a populist eruption from the liberal centre. A former merchant banker and economy minister in the failing Hollande Socialiste administration, he represents En Marche! (“Forward!”), which is less a party than a movement. His sudden rise would not have been possible in Britain, which is part of the stability and attraction of the parliamentary system but also its frustration.

Don’t be shy

I met Macron on Tuesday afternoon when he took questions from a small group of journalists at Central Hall Westminster. He is small and dapper, with short hair and a strong, straight nose. Because of the collapse of the Socialistes and the struggles of the discredited conservative contender François Fillon, Macron has emerged as the great hope of liberals and perhaps as the candidate to stop Marine Le Pen seizing the presidency. Unlike the Front National leader, Macron is an unashamed liberal globaliser in the model of Nick Clegg or a younger, less tormented Tony Blair. He is a passionate advocate of the EU and of the eurozone and, as a result, is under attack from the Russian media. He has been accused of leading a double life – his wife, whom he met when she was his schoolteacher, is 20 years older than Macron – and of being unwilling to admit that he is gay, or at least bisexual. His response to the Russian attacks was, he said, “to disclose the manipulation and kill the rumours”.

The far right in France has caricatured Macron as being “globalisation personified”, about which he is relaxed. In conversation, he criticised David Cameron’s referendum campaign. “His message was ‘Yes but . . .’ That is not the answer to ‘No’. I defend Europe and the four freedoms of the EU. If you are shy, you are dead.”

Not all relative

On Sunday, I received a text from one of my cousins. “The Lincoln City manager and his brother, the assistant, are called Cowley,” he wrote. “His father looks a bit like your father. Any relation? They are from Essex.” I am also from Essex, born and brought up in Harlow new town, which turned 70 this year. But I had to disappoint my cousin. My father was an only child, as was his father, so it’s highly unlikely that these Cowley brothers are even distant relations of mine.

Toast of the county

I already knew about the brothers, having been alerted to them by my seven-year-old son, who is a sports data enthusiast. Last season, Danny Cowley and his younger brother, Nicky, were working as teachers in Essex while coaching Braintree Town at weekends. This season, they have led Lincoln to an FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal, making them the first non-League team to reach the last eight in more than a century. Lincoln are also at the top of the National League (English football’s semi-professional fifth division) and in the quarter-final of the FA Trophy, the premier non-League cup competition. The Cowleys are reported to be subsisting on a diet of toast and Marmite as they rise early each morning obsessively to study videos and analytics and prepare for the next match. They have introduced a new spirit of openness at the previously moribund club: fans watch training sessions and attend press conferences.

It’s nonsense to believe, as some do, that only those who have performed at the highest level have the authority to coach the best. Wenger, Mourinho, Sven-Göran Eriksson, Roy Hodgson, André Villas-Boas: none of them were even remotely successful players. Asked once to explain his accomplishments, Mourinho said: “I’ve had more time to study.” More English coaches – so few of whom are working in the Premier League – would do well to follow his example.

It will be fascinating to see how far the Cowley brothers progress in the game. Whatever happens next, they have reanimated interest in the FA Cup and given the resilient yeomen of Essex a small boost.

Ignore the huckster

Boris Johnson accused Tony Blair of “bare-faced effrontery” for having the temerity last week to deliver an anti-Brexit speech, which itself was an act of bare-faced effrontery. Johnson is a huckster and narcissist whose vanities have been grotesquely indulged for far too long by his cheerleaders and paymasters in the media. (A standard question to Johnson when he was mayor of London: “You do want to be prime minister, don’t you?”) No one should take anything Johnson says remotely seriously. Should the same be said of Blair?

Yes, of course he is the author of his own misfortunes and many will never forgive the former Labour prime minister for the Iraq catastrophe. Yet of all the politicians I have spoken to in recent times, Blair was the most intellectually nimble and the most alert to the defining complexities of the present moment. As he demonstrated in his speech, he also understands better than most why, in an age of intensifying ethnic nationalism, the parties of the left are failing across Europe, none more so than the British Labour Party, which looks as far away from power as it did after the 1931 election.

Journey to the centre

As an energetic and charismatic liberal, Macron has been likened to the young Tony Blair. Can he seize the progressive centre, as Blair did, and destabilise the old binary divisions of left and right? “The anti-European and anti-globalisation extremes are winning elections,” he said, in a veiled reference to Donald Trump and the vote for Brexit. “But we don’t have the same political cycles as the others. It’s time for France to do the opposite.” With that said, he thanked his interlocutors and was hurried off for a meeting with another Essex man, Philip Hammond, pursued not by a bear but by the journalist Robert Peston. 

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit