One of the great things about being a priest is that you get to see so many people die. There's nothing I enjoy more than watching one of my parishioners die. Of course it's not the way it used to be. Parishioners used to die at home, often in excruciating pain. Now they're taken to a hospital, drugged up to their eyeballs and connected to the machine that goes ping!
There's a popular misconception about Christianity and death. Non-Christians naively assume that when we die, we think we just "pass on" in a sort of disembodied form, floating around like a ghostly, eternal Giles Fraser. As a Rev Canon Dr, let me just assure you that this, rather theologically simplistic view of death, is completely wrong. When you die that's it, kaput, finito, you are an ex-person, you have ceased to be. I doubt if you'll find any Christians who have ever thought otherwise.
Today is Ash Wednesday (that's today's news from an ethical perspective), when we Christians are reminded that we are dust and back to dust we shall return. Now all this talk of your inevitable, imminent demise may seem a tad depressing. Not a bit of it! Would you really want me going on and on and on? That's pretty much all that science has to offer you, which just goes to show how rubbish science is. Just imagine - no more beautiful, poignant, parishioners' deathbed scenes.
When sophisticated theologians like Boethius and Augustine speak of "entering eternity" they're talking about something much bigger than the current you. I mean really big. You wouldn't believe how mind-bogglingly, stupendously, unbelievably big. Much, much bigger than this poxy, cramped, boring little universe that we're trapped in. It'll be all so big and mystical and transcendental and eternal and stuff, and not at all like just "passing on".
Tuesday, 8 March, 2011, 09:08 AM - SinghRating 2 out of 5 (A little platitudinous)
Sizeable minorities are common in many countries, as we see from the fleeing migrant workers in Libya. With that tenuous connection to the news out of the way, let's talk about me.
I'm flying off, first class, to an important meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, where I'll be describing the experience of minorities in Britain to many eminent people in that distant land.
Estonia is struggling with the problem of integrating several groups of slightly different white Europeans. They're doing all the right things, passing laws that prohibit discrimination, but despite this, indigenous Estonians continue to earn more. That's why they've invited me to go and tell them all about ethnic minority media.
Minority media helps preserve the cultural cohesion of a minority. The downside is that it maintains the cultural cohesion of the minority. In Britain, the language of our scripture is Punjabi, yet later generations are more comfortable with English. We want our children to understand their cultural heritage, yet continue to speak English.
I think it would be a really good idea if we expressed our scripture in English.
I'm not going to mention any of the Gurus today. Now where did I put my passport?
The wakeup tunes for the last two days of Discovery's final mission have been selected, starting today with the theme from Star Trek. There's lots of space news this week. Yesterday Patrick Moore celebrated the 700th edition of The Sky at Night, and Brian Cox [Ed - grrrrr... bloody Brian Cox] started his new series Wonders of the Universe. There are also books to be published about whether our universe is one of many: the multiverse.
Putting people in space is a dangerous business. It was on this day 25 years ago that the crew compartment of the shuttle Challenger was located on the ocean floor. Yet the message of Star Trek, to boldly go where no one has gone before, is a basic human instinct. The science fiction series portrayed a hopeful vision of the future, where science had solved many of humanity's problems, and useless things, like religion, were a thing of the past.
But enough of all this talk of science, it's time to talk about the Invisible Magic Friend. Yuri Gagarin may have said he wasn't up in space, but James Irwin said he was, so there. As a Rev Dr Dr Prof, I think science is a really good thing.
[Ed - at this point someone in the Radio 4 control room had evidently had enough and we were treated to 5 seconds of the most delightful silence.]
Science is a gift from the Invisible Magic Friend, which just goes to show how incredibly useful the Invisible Magic Friend is, and how wrong Star Trek was.
Sunday, 6 March, 2011, 09:08 AM - ClemmiesHas anyone mentioned it's nearly Lent yet? The Mostly Irrelevant and Imminently Eminent Archbishop Vincent Nichols has. He says we, and by we he means you, should return to giving up something for Lent. I have thought hard about this and after much prayer and reflection have decided to follow the good archbishop's advice. I am therefore announcing that, as of Weds 9th March, and for all of the days that follow, until Easter Sunday itself, I will give up listening to Pause For Thought on Radio 2. This shouldn't be too hard as I never listen to it any way. Who knows, this might even become a lifetime habit.
We have three strong contenders for February's Clemmie. I could mention a whole bunch of potential runners up, but I'm not going to as this would have to include Rabbi Lionel Blue and certain people get a bit uppity when I hint at the merest suggestion of a possibility that everyone's favourite Rabbi has been in any way platitudinous.
First out with a 5/5 was Rev Angela Tilby, Vicar of St Bene't's Church, Cambridge. Rev Angela explained that she knew exactly how the protesters in Egypt felt because she suffered a power cut at her local Waitrose. They've got an Invisible Magic Friend which is why they're prepared to get out onto the streets and demand something spiritual.
Next we had the Illustriously Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron Reverend Lord Richard Harries, Baron Pentregarth, Gresham Professor of Divinity, Baron, Bishop, Professor, Lord...
God's laws are always the best laws. You may think human laws are OK, but in the end they're just rubbish compared to God's laws.
And finally, Rev Dr Dr Prof David Wilkinson, Principal of St John's College Durham. People of faith have hope, community and health, they flourish in life, are open to change and are so much less selfish than everyone else.
These are all virtues ascribed to people of faith in previous TFTDs. I really don't think just shovelling them all together so blatantly is particularly clever. It certainly shouldn't be encouraged and on this ground I'm going to disqualifying him from this month's award. Besides, he forgot to mention how modest they were.
Lord Professor Bishop Baron Reverend Richard Harries was a fair effort, but really nothing more than average from an academic of such distinction.
So as compensation for the trauma suffered at Waitrose, and in recognition of the fact that she manages to soldier on despite having a church with two apostrophes in its name, this month's Clemmie goes to Rev Angela Tilby, Vicar of St Bene't's Church, Cambridge.
Sunday, 6 March, 2011, 08:59 AM - ClemmiesWe, and by we I mean you, forgot all about last month's Clemmie. Naturally I didn't forget and was just waiting to see if one of you would remind me, which you didn't. I expect you were all just caught up in the excitement of the Platitude of the Year award, which is understandable. I want you all to know that I forgive you.
Rev Dr Giles Fraser, Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral started things off splendidly. Where do Africans get these bizarre, irrational, superstitious beliefs about witches from? I mean it's like something from the Dark Ages. It's not as if the Big Book of Magic Stuff tells you that you shall not suffer a witch to live or anything. If only people would adopt a sensible religion, like Christianity.
Then there's Shaikh Abdal Hakim Murad, Muslim Chaplain at the University of Cambridge. I'm not sure if Shaikh Abdal Hakim Murad is eligible to be included or not. The first two minutes were an entirely sensible reflection on the teaching of history in our schools. Then in the last minute he completely lost it, telling us that it's all because of the lack of morality and if only people read more from their various Middle Eastern Big Books of Magic Stuff they'd understand a lot more about British history. I'm not entirely sure that he was even being serious. But then I find that with most TFTDs.
Akhandadhi Das, a Vaishnav Hindu teacher and theologian abandoned all attempts at subtlety or moderation. Normally TFTD presenters do their best to hide the more embarrassingly silly bits of their beliefs. Akhandadhi Das was having none of it. The universe is actually a great cosmic computer that adds up all the good and bad Karma, ready for the next life. And if that seems unlikely then just remember that Tesco can add up all your rewards from your grocery bill.
For perhaps the most egregious display of totally ga-ga wooiness ever heard on TFTD, Akhandadhi Das is far and away the worthy winner of the January Clemmie.
Saturday, 5 March, 2011, 09:33 AM - JenkinsRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
Plain speaking is better than obfuscating verbosity. Whether it's advice about avoiding alcohol with medicine, or a portable incident room described as a "conference demountable unit", it's important to use the simplest language possible to convey your meaning.
That's why people turn to Christianity for answers. You won't find Christianity beating about the bush, with lengthy theological or philosophical discussions about what's right and wrong. It's a just a plain, simple, self-consistent, non-contradictory set of rules, a few thousand pages long, as set down in the Big Book of Magic Stuff.
Take the ten commandments for instance, there's no ambiguity there: there's only one god and you're to worship him properly... or else...
Jesus on the other hand didn't like to to give definite answers. He preferred to waffle a lot and leave it up to everyone else to try and figure out what he was talking about. That's why people turn to Christianity, because it's so non-prescriptive and not just a matter of following a book of rules.
There's only one rule: all you need is love.
Should we have an ethical foreign policy? Buddhism says we should.
In my gap year I visited Romania. It was a desperately poor country, with shortages of most essential items. So I went there to help out by providing them with bibles. Then I visited Nepal, another desperately poor country in sore need of bibles.
Of course we Christians are used to being persecuted. There has never been a place in the world, or a time in history, when we were anything other than a plucky little minority faith, struggling to bring truth and justice, oppressed by the rich and powerful.
Jesus, the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend, told us in the Big Book of Magic Stuff to expect as much. "Telling the truth about me being the Invisible Magic Friend isn't going to make you popular, so go out there and enjoy a jolly good persecution."
Jesus himself was incredibly tolerant, of thieves, cheats, liars and people who didn't have sex according to the rules of the Big Book of Magic Stuff. That's why Christians are so much more tolerant than everyone else. It's why, throughout history, Jews and other minority beliefs have always flocked to Christian lands, where they knew they would be welcomed and given the religious freedom denied them elsewhere. It's why Christians abolished the slavery being practised by other Christians. It's why Christians have fought so hard to defend the rights of homosexuals, the ungrateful bastards.
Yet here we are again, despite all our tolerance, being persecuted once again. Homosexuals forced Catholics to close their adoption agencies. The agencies had no choice. They had to protect the children in case a homosexual accidentally stepped through the door. Who knows what horrors a homosexual might have inflicted on innocent young children. There was nothing else they could do.
Another pair of poor, persecuted Christians have now been banned from fostering children, simply because they wanted to tell homosexual children that they were evil and would burn in hell. I mean, who could possibly object to that? It's political correctness gone mad!
We Christians never put rules before people. Just as Jesus told us to, we don't consult a book of rules to determine a person's worth. If only secular society could be as tolerant and understanding as we are.
Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic Studies and Public Understanding and Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam, University of Glasgow
"Should I stay or should I go?" asks Colonel Gaddafi. Based on his talk of blood of martyrs and fighting to the bitter end, it sounds like he intends to stay. Some say he is mad, delusional, but then he's always been mad and delusional, it never stopped us doing business with him before.
The current talk of military intervention is probably unhelpful and likely to alienate the very people it is intended to help. For once, we have to put aside our vested interest in oil and let the people of the region find their own answers.
The people of Libya are not uniting under an Islamic flag, they are not shouting anti-western slogans. This is not a religious revolution. Instead they are fighting for the biggest idea that the West has sold them: freedom.
Tuesday, 1 March, 2011, 08:53 AM - ButlerRating 2 out of 5 (A little platitudinous)
It's the biggesht newsh story in reshent times (hic!). The EU hash given prophylactic geological shtatus to Cornish pashtries. They musht be made in (hic!) in Cornwall and they musht be crimped at the side. Great! But one famush Cornish tasty maker is leading the revolt. She is indignant, defiant - for generations her Cormish pantsies have been crimped at the (hic!) at the top, and that'sh eshactly where the crimp is going to shtay. It'sh a matter of prince-apple.
You wanna know what'sh wrong with mattersh of prinshiple? I'll tell you what'sh wrong with matters of prinshiple (hic!). People get things all outta proporshun using mattersh of prinppiple. They fall over hedges with neighbours and shtuff. People even fights warsh on a matter of prim-nipple. Don't get me wrong (hic!), I've got nothin againsht people with prim-nipples. Some of my best friends have prim-nipples, you just gotta keep things in proportion, that'sh all (hic!).
George Bernard Shaw said you'll never find an Englishman... woman... person... Scotch and Welsh 'n the other lot? And another thing. Do want to know what Jesus said? He said "Woaaaa to you, you Fairy-seas, you.". That'sh what Jeshus thought about prinshiples. So there. (Hic!)