Alf McCreary, The Queen and The Dalai Lama

When Tony Blair became British Prime Minister his popularity and reputation grew rapidly thanks to the efforts of one man – Alister Campbell – who became known as his ‘spin doctor’. Mr Campbell made sure that the press and media were kept fully informed about all that would enhance the standing of Mr Blair with the citizens of the United Kingdom and even further afield.

Well, if the Dalai Lama ever needs his own ‘spin doctor’ then he should seriously consider Alf McCreary, ‘Religion Correspondent’ with the Belfast Telegraph. In November 2005 the Dalai Lama paid a return visit to Northern Ireland and any reader of the Belfast Telegraph would be entirely without excuse if they claimed to be unaware of his visit.

Each Saturday in the Belfast Telegraph Mr McCreary authors a page entitled ‘This Life’ and it is usually made up of a lead article and perhaps one or two smaller items. On consecutive Saturdays [19th and 26th November] the lead article for each ‘This Life’ page was devoted to the Dalai Lama. One article was called ‘A welcome visitor’ and the other ‘The Dalai Lama and an Ulster “Blackman”’ [the term ‘Blackman’ refers to a member of a particular fraternal organisation and has nothing to do with race or colour].

As well as these Saturday features I also noted two other published articles by Mr McCreary – ‘Dalai Lama sees peace project’ [Belfast Telegraph: Tuesday 22nd November] and ‘Packed pews for the Dalai Lama’ [Belfast Telegraph: Wednesday 23rd November]. Mr McCreary’s admiration for the Dalai Lama was very evident throughout his writings, as these extracts from his articles will illustrate –

‘The latest visit to Northern Ireland of the Dalai Lama which begins tomorrow is most welcome. He is a truly international figure whose presence among us will be yet another reminder of the diversity of religion, as well as the range of peace-making efforts taking place around the world…Officially the Dalai Lama is referred to as ‘His Holiness’ though following one of my previous references to him in this newspaper I was chastised by a local minister who accused me of implying that he was a ‘living God’. I was implying nothing of the sort. It was merely good manners to refer properly to men (or women) of the cloth- whether pope, primate, moderator, bishop, archdeacon or plain ordinary reverend’ [Belfast Telegraph: 19 November] [Cecil’s comment: Perhaps Mr McCreary should meditate upon 1st Samuel 2:2 “There is none holy like the Lord; for there is none beside thee, neither is there any rock [Popes, supposed successors of ‘Peter the rock’ please take note] like our God”].

‘The Dalai Lama continued his visit to Northern Ireland today by watching young people from different schools taking part in a cross-community basketball scheme…It was part of the One Small Step campaign…to help break down barriers…He said yesterday…that he had come to Northern Ireland to lend his support to those seeking peace and reconciliation…The Dalai Lama was due to end his three-day visit to Northern Ireland today by attending a public inter-faith service in St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast ‘ [Belfast Telegraph: 22 November]

‘The Dalai Lama was given an enthusiastic reception from a packed congregation in St Anne’s cathedral in Belfast last night during the final event of his three-day visit to Northern Ireland…The Dalai Lama was welcomed by the Dean of Belfast, the Very Reverend Dr. Houston McKelvey and at the end of the multi-faith service, the Dalai lama was given a standing ovation…The colourful service, which included a reading by Ronald Appleton QC, a member of the Jewish Community, concluded with a period of meditation and silence to mark the Dalai Lama’s departure’ [Belfast Telegraph: 23 November]

‘When was the last time you heard of a church being locked because too many people wanted to get in? It happened this week at St Anne’s Cathedral, in Belfast, when a much greater than expected congregation turned up to greet the Dalai Lama…In an age when many Christian churches are half-empty, it was encouraging to see Belfast Cathedral brimmed to overflowing with people of different denominations and faiths [Cecil’s comments: The following words of Scripture seem rather appropriate. The Lord Himself said in John 5:43 “I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not; if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive”]…I felt there was a genuine atmosphere of reverence and of spiritual sharing…Was this an important statement of religious solidarity in a secular world or merely a one-ff event? It was certainly a significant piece of social and religious history in the making…Dean McKelvey was right to welcome the Dalai Lama and the others to “an act of Christian hospitality in a sacred place”. Happily the Dalai Lama was given the enthusiastic welcome he deserved from such a wide representation of religious life in Northern Ireland. He really is a remarkable figure as well as a world statesman…I was impressed yet again by his warmth and homespun wisdom…We could all learn a lot from the Dalai Lama’ [Cecil’s comments: Perhaps I could point out to readers that Alf McCreary, as well as being the ‘Religion Correspondent’ for the Belfast Telegraph is also an Ordained Elder in a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. His welcome for and appreciation of the ‘wisdom’ of the Dalai Lama reminded me forcibly of the words of Isaiah 5:20-21 “Woe unto them who call evil good and good evil; who put darkness for light and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them who are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight”!]

In the wake of all these eulogies to the Dalai Lama and also in the light of a short article Mr McCreary had written about the Queen and that was included in his ‘This Life’ page of 19 November I sent the following letter to the Belfast Telegraph and a slightly edited version of it was published in the Belfast Telegraph of Saturday 3rd December –

Dear Editor,

Alf McCreary’s ‘This Life’ page [19 November] was most confusing. In one article he writes ‘She (The Queen) said “The Christian Church can speak UNIQUELY to that need (for ‘that which endures and gives meaning’) for at the heart of our faith stands the conviction that all people, irrespective of race, background or circumstances, can find lasting significance and purpose in the Gospel of Jesus Christ”…Not for the first time I say with sincerity “God save the Queen”.

As a Christian, who accepts the bible’s definition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, how that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures and he was buried and he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” [1 Corinthians 15:1-4] and who believes the bible’s assertion that only “the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” [Romans 1:16] I would endorse Mr McCreary’s commendation of the Queen’s statement.

However, in his article ‘A welcome visitor’ he then commends the Dalai Lama in these words “all of us would do well to take to heart the views of the Dalai Lama who once told the World Congress of Faiths that he believed in a variety of religions rather than in just one philosophy…Each religion has certain UNIQUE ideas or techniques and learning about them can only enrich one’s own faith. Now that sounds like a REAL spiritual leader for our modern world”.

The Lord Jesus Christ said UNIQUELY of Himself “No man cometh unto the Father but by me” [John 14:6]. That resonates with the Queen’s statement but rubbishes the Dalai Lama’s statement but with biblically identified “double-mindedness” [James 1:8] Mr McCreary glowingly endorses both contradictory statements.

As for Mr McCreary’s question ‘I wonder how many local clerics might be unwilling to share a public platform with a holy man from another faith?’ the answer will be those who obey the bible’s instruction in 2 John 10 “If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine (‘the doctrine of Christ ‘ verse 9) receive him not into your house neither bid him Godspeed”.

This failure of Mr McCreary to understand the teaching of God’s Word on the uniqueness of Christ and true Christianity was well illustrated in his further article [‘This Life’: 26 November] when he wrote of the ‘service of meditation’ in St Anne’s Cathedral and said ‘I felt there was a genuine atmosphere of reverence and of spiritual sharing. There were contributions from the Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Bah’ai, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish and other faiths…It was so refreshing’.

When it comes to ‘spiritual sharing’ God’s Word states, “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?…Come out from among them and be ye separate saith the Lord…and I will receive you?” [2 Corinthians 6:14-17]. These biblical truths are ‘sobering’ not ‘refreshing’ and they really are something for Mr McCreary to ‘meditate’ upon.

Cecil Andrews –  ‘Take Heed’ Ministries – Ballynahinch

Cecil Andrews – ‘Take Heed’ Ministries – 8 December 2005