The jailing of Frances Inglis for a so-called "mercy killing" and the release of Munir Hussain, also as an act of "mercy" bring into question the balance between justice and mercy.
Some see the application of justice as the pitiless adherence to a strict book of rules, with no room for flexibility. Mercy is just a load of emotional twaddle for weak willed softies.
Martin Luther thought the Invisible Magic Friend had to be a merciful god, because a just god would burn every single one of us, and it'd still be too good for us, miserable bunch of useless, unworthy sinners that we all are. Portia from the Merchant of Venice agreed with him, so he must be right. Right?
Wrong! Mercy is granted by the powerful to the powerless and let me just tell you, the powerless don't want mercy, then want criminals hung up by their genitals. They want them poked with red hot irons. They want to hear the screams of those who violate parking regulations as they beg for mercy. As a Rev Dr and Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral let me just assure you that it says somewhere in the Psalms that the Invisible Magic Friend applies the rule book regardless. No matter what your circumstances, no matter how you've lived the rest of your life, if you've broken one of those rules then your stuffed.
Would you pay more for a long and happy life than for a foreign cruise? It's a tough one. But be on your guard. As election time approaches, politicians will offer you all sorts of gifts and bribes in order to get your vote. No, honestly, they will, so just be careful.
These days, in our valueless, materialist society, people seem to think they're entitled to all sorts of things: food, shelter, education, health care. You name it and you grubby little hedonists will vote for more of it. This is what that famous theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called "The Transvaluation of Values", thus proving once again the vital and practical value of theology in the contemporary world.
It's like that time when the Invisible Magic Baddy showed Jesus the whole world from the top of a mountain (for the Earth was flat in those days). Jesus refused to worship the Invisible Magic Baddy. "No thanks," he said. "I'm more into being worshipped myself. I'll just go and tell everyone I'm God."
So which will it be? Will you be tempted by politicians' promises to improve your life, or will you be good like Jesus and go around telling everyone to worship you?
Poor old President Obama. He's been in office for a whole year and he still hasn't found an environmentally friendly alternative to oil, stopped global warming, brought an end to war and poverty, or stabilised the world financial system. People are getting pretty impatient, as the opinion polls show. Perhaps we should just be a bit more realistic in our expectations and realise that Obama is but a man. He's not a superhero. The Invisible Magic Friend told the Israelites that kings would mean nothing but disappointment for them. It would mean foreign wars and taxes - evils that seem to be unique to that form of government.
On the other hand, as a writer, celebrity and Christian let me just assure you that Jesus was a superhero. He was the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend. When he too turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, that wasn't because he promised more than he delivered but because we were all just rubbish at believing in him. I know, I read it in a book written by someone who said they'd been told it by someone who had seen and heard things.
So remember, modern day politicians, if you want your followers to be crucified, you've got to be prepared to go there first.
Tuesday, 19 January, 2010, 01:42 PM - WinkettRating 2 out of 5 (A little platitudinous)
Did you know, more people live in cities than don't live in cities? Yes, that's a fact. Cities come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and have all sorts of people in them: entrepreneurs, sexual deviants and canon precentors. The great cathedral builders thought to themselves, "What we need is a really, really big building that our Invisible Magic Friend can live in, even though he is already omnipresent. Then we can have canon precentors and live in a proper city."
But not all cities are ideal. It's possible for a homeless person to sleep on the steps of an empty building. The ideal city is properly described in the Big Book of Magic Stuff, in the Revelation of Saint John the Inebriated. In this ideal city there are no utility bills. Isn't that just fantastic! Unfortunately not everyone gets to go in.
Which brings me finally to the city of Port au Prince. Haitians really need our help just now, so please give generously. Which may leave you wondering why I didn't just say that in the first place.
I'll begin as usual by listing the problems that I have no control over: global warming, the financial crisis, the disaster in Haiti. My only advice is to give first and pray later. As I wait in yet another hospital room, I agree with my nurse that nurses are entitled to three year degrees rather than two year diplomas. Yet much of a nurse's work depends on kindness and you can't teach kindness in a degree programme. Isn't that right Invisible Magic Friend?
YES, THAT'S RIGHT LIONEL.
I told them that their monster machine squeaked and needed some 3 in 1 oil. They recorded birdsong as background music and found a teddy bear for a little boy to see when he woke up. Remember how it felt when others were kind or unkind to you. You can't like others unless you like yourself, so be kind to yourself and remember how it feels when you've been either kind or unkind to others.
Well it's nearly time for bed. Good night Evan, good night Justin, good night Invisible Magic Friend.
GOOD NIGHT, LIONEL.
"Avatar", a film so plagued with clichés that it has been accused of plagiarism from multiple quarters portrays the lush idyllic planet, Pandora, living in harmony with its people. A bit like the Garden of Eden myth, whose prevalence in so many cultures means it's probably true and so we might as well pretend that it is true and base our morals and actions on it anyway.
Pandora meant "all gifted" to the Greeks. Fortunately we can ignore the Greeks because they worshipped a whole bunch of non-existent gods. James Lovelock invented the idea of the Earth as Gaia, a dynamic system that acts to sustain life. Fortunately he's just a bit of an oddball scientist, so we can ignore him too.
What we can't ignore is the garden of Eden myth, because that tells us that the Invisible Magic Friend gave us dominion over the earth - he put us in charge. We now realise that this does not mean, I repeat does not mean we can mine every rock, pollute every river, pump every last drop of oil and fill the air with every gram of carbon we can burn. No, this is not what "dominion" means. We now know that the word "dominion" means "be environmentally friendly" and actually that is what the bible has been telling us all along. So it's a good job we had the bible there otherwise we might have gone and done all sorts of horrible things to the planet.
As if it weren't enough that the Big Book of Magic Stuff has been telling you to reduce your carbon footprint for thousands of years, the pope says so too. And what is the biggest threat to the environment these days? Who is it that goes against the papally ordained natural order more than anyone else? You got it - those dirty, sinful, baby-hating gays. Naturally we love gays, but we cannot forgive what they are doing to populations of humans all over the planet. We're down to our last 7 billion people. Think of the damage to the environment if gays keep going against nature like this?
Oh, and wasn't the disaster in Haiti just terrible. That's what you get for going against the Invisible Magic Friend and not having proper building regulations.
"Theodicy" was invented by Leibniz, a good, Godly, philosopher, to explain why a merciful God allows so much suffering in the world. This word comes from the Greek roots: Theos, meaning God and, idiocy. According to Leibniz things could've been much worse. Oh, you have no idea the chamber of horrors that God chose for humanity on the first few drafts. It makes the odd natural disaster killings thousands and destroying millions' more lives look like a walk in the park, So you just be grateful God was persuaded to add as many nice bits as possible,
Voltaire, a cold, soulless, rationalist philosopher, said Leibniz was talking rubbish. He satirised him as a fool and condemned Theodicy as a sick joke, always trying to get God off the hook. Voltaire may have thought believers were idiots, but I still believe and I'm a Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, so obviously there's a bit more to it.
I have no easy answers to all these difficult questions. The simplest answer, that the Invisible Magic Friend doesn't exist, is obviously wrong. That would mean I had devoted my life to nonsense and would be ineligible for a clerical pension in a few years time. Instead, I think we should stop thinking rationally, and go beyond that to a world of deeper meaning. When you stop thinking about problems they usually just go away of their own accord.
So Invisible Magic Friend, please be nice and help the people of Haiti, who for some very good reason you have chosen to visit with death, misery and destruction on a colossal scale, and accept this candle from me so that I can worship you, your incredible mightiness, and ask you to help those who are so small. It makes me feel so much better.
Having a rational argument at times like this is in such bad taste.
Wednesday, 13 January, 2010, 08:36 AM - Not TFTDTomorrow morning I'll be going through the traditional pre-holiday ceremony of panicking at the airport, trying to figure out where I put the passports, suddenly realising that I've put my toothpaste in the wrong bag and that it now needs to be destroyed by security, all while trying to push a wheelchair and persuade our luggage to go in roughly the same direction as us.
There will therefore be no Platitude Of The Day from me tomorrow. I hope some of you will pitch in to make up. For the next week and a bit I'll be in Florida so POTD will probably arrive a little later than usual (assuming BA manage to re-unite me with my laptop adaptor).
Wednesday, 13 January, 2010, 08:33 AM - BrookRating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)
The Big Book of Magic Stuff tells us that people who don't give all their money to the church and then tell lies about it, get struck down dead by the Invisible Magic Friend and almost certainly don't go to heaven. This is called being moral and it's why there are so few liars in the world today.
The affairs of Peter and Iris Robinson remind us just how despicable being a hypocrite is. But even more hypocritical are people who go around having a go at hypocrites when they themselves are being hypocritical and pretending to be holy. I often find myself saying one thing and doing another, and when I say "I", I do of course mean "you".
Jesus invented hypocrisy. Being a native Aramaic speaker he naturally picked a word based on Greek to express the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders of the time. "Don't do as they do, " he said. "Don't call yourself Rabbi or Father or Teacher," which is why Christian clergy don't have impressive sounding empty titles like that. Christianity's all about getting rid of hypocrisy.
Every time I'm (i.e. "you're" ) hypocritical we lose some "grace". Grace is the magic currency that you can't see but that definitely exists. You can get some grace back by not living a lie (this is called being "honest" and I commend it to Radio 4 listeners). The aim is to end up with a positive balance of grace. As a famous writer, celebrity and Christian, let me just assure you that Somerset Maugham (a writer who was nearly as famous as me) was spot on when he observed that being a hypocrite was a full time job.
Tuesday, 12 January, 2010, 08:58 AM - WinkettRating 1 out of 5 (Hardly platitudinous at all)
Many old people are going around deliberately eating and living healthily and so living to a ripe old age. As a result we're getting more and more old people. The government has decided that we can't afford to have them sitting around in rest homes watching daytime telly. Instead, they're going to be allowed to not retire. From now on we're all going to be allowed to work until we drop.
Coincidentally, there were old people in the bible too. They didn't sit around in rest homes all day watching telly, which goes to show that we shouldn't leave old people sitting around all day in rest homes watching telly.
We must never forget that retired they may be but they are not redundant. There are former builders, pilots, doctors and some were even priests. You really do need to remember that old people are people too.