Six people are on trial in Ghana for burning an old woman to death as a witch. For some reason, this evil, superstitious nonsense persists. I'm an honorary Canon of a Cathedral on the border of Ghana and I can tell you that these primitive, illogical beliefs are widespread.
If only these people would become proper Christians who only believed in the correct invisible magic stuff, then they could be cured of these irrational and dangerous beliefs. Thinkers, and I include Catholics in that, have concluded that bad religion, like belief in witchcraft, is really just a form of social bonding that works by isolating those who are different and holding them up as scapegoats. This is not something that is ever done by good religions like Christianity.
Jesus never advocated burning witches. He was a bit of a rebel against the old religion, even if he did say that not one word of the law should be overturned.
Where some people get all this nonsense about witchcraft from completely escapes me.
People just don't seem to be able to live without their technology these days. Everyone's on their computer on Facebook or twitter, or they're texting on their mobile phones. A Rutgers university professor asked 82 students to switch off their phones for 48 hours. Only 12 succeeded.
Contrast this with the two charming families who stayed with me over Christmas, whose young children made their own entertainment. They played games, laughed and ran around without any technological assistance of any kind. This just goes to show that you don't need expensive computer games to enjoy yourself.
This is what Jesus meant when he said we should be like little children, we should stay off Facebook and twitter. Blessed are those who texteth not, for they shall have lower Pay As You Go bills. Should we encourage this natural curiosity of children, given to us by the Invisible Magic Friend, or should we chain children to a computer desk as soon as they are born? Hmm, that's a difficult one.
I've had cause to complain about excessive mobile phone use in the past, but people don't seem to have got the message and are continuing to use electronic gadgets. Why, oh why, oh why, will parents not realise that love does not mean giving the latest mobile phone to their offspring? Won't someone please think of the children?
It's the New Year, a time when we think about the future, but also about the past and how the past affects the future. We may have regrets about the past and be optimistic about the future, although some cynics have regrets about the future and are optimistic about the past.
The New Year is a very spiritual thing involving lots of complex theology about the past and the future and how the past leads to the future. It's about creation renewed, about resolution, transformation of the past into the future, a new heaven and a new earth, a new commandment.
Jesus thought the future was very important, so it must be. He also thought the past was very important too because the past leads to the future and he didn't come to abolish the past or abolish the future. The past is critical to the future because without the past there cannot be a future.
Early Christians learned from the past and had faith that there would be a future. Love endures in the future and is not weighed down by the negativism of the past. A famous Catholic theologian said not to ponder the failures of the past but to trust that the invisible Magic Friend would make the future better.
So as 2011 gets under way, why not resist your natural urge to cynically wallow in depression about the past, where you were such a miserable failure, and be optimistic about the past leading to a bright new future.
Reverend Nicholas Papadopulos, Vicar of St Peter's Church, Eaton Square, handy for Belgravia and Knightsbridge
Friday, 31 December, 2010, 08:31 AM - PrayerRating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)
DON'T PANIC! DON'T PANIC! There are only 16 hours left in 2010 in which to pray! If you get down on your knees right now you can still get some really useful praying in before the parties start. There's the Our Invisible Magic Friend who art in Heaven - that's a really good prayer, given to us be the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend himself. Then there's the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed, with or without the Filioque, the Chalcedonian Creed and the Athanasian Creed - all of them, truly fantastic creeds.
The two occasions I remember most in 2010, were at two men's deathbeds. Their careers and lives behind them, they lay there surrounded by friends and family. Scarcely able to be heard and certainly in no position to object, I held each man's hand and began to utter, Our Invisible Magic Friend. Their expressions instantly changed and they began to mutter insensibly, no doubt grateful that some of their last dying moments, their last time alone with their families, their last chance to express their love, could be interrupted for the important task of a bit of last minute praying.
I'm sure you have many worthy New Year's resolutions that you intend to keep. Let's make praying to the Invisible Magic Friend one of them.
Happy New Year.
His Eminence, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Cardinal Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria sopra Minerva
Thursday, 30 December, 2010, 09:26 AM - GibberishRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
Isn't music just wonderful? I play the piano you know? Yes, yes, I have many happy memories of going to piano recitals. During the war pianists used to travel around the country playing music on the piano so that we could all hear the music. This is all so different from today where pianists travel around the country playing music on the piano so that we can all hear the music
Who can forget the wonderful Christmas Truce in the trenches of 1914, where ordinary soldiers from either side sang Silent Night together. This inspirational singing so delighted the British high command that they declared fraternisation with the enemy to be treason and ordered that they would all be shot if they did it again. Soldiers were forgetting about whatever the first world war was about.
Pope John Paul II, still a lowly cardinal like what I am, invited all the English bishops round to his place. The Polish bishops sang a dignified medley of traditional Polish folk music to which we responded by lifting our cassocks and entertaining the future pope with a round of "Knees up Mother Brown" and "I'm just a girl who can't say no".
Music is so terribly spiritual. I love to hear the angelic soaring tones of Bach, Mozart, Handel, Elgar, Snoop Dogg or Lady Gaga, any of which could send me off to the next life. A famous poet said something about death and music once.
So it's time to tune your instrument, which I say, not as a euphemism, but as an allegory of life. Make sure your euphonium plays the song you would like it to play. You are the euphonium player, you are the euphonium.
Seventy years ago today, 22,000 incendiary bombs were dropped on the City of London. At it's height, 300 bombs per minute dropped around Saint Paul's, the cathedral that I happen to be Canon Chancellor of. There were 28 direct hits and so many fires that Ed Murrow prematurely announced on CBS that the building was lost.
Saint Paul's, where I am Canon Chancellor and which really is one of the "must see" attractions for any tourist visiting London, survived, even though many buildings around it were reduced to rubble. One of the great icons of London stood defiant against the Nazi bombs.
This is only one small chapter in the long and glorious history of Saint Paul's Cathedral, Canon Chancellor of which I am and which is open daily from 8.30 am to 4.00 pm. It's survival of the blitz was a symbol of hope to all people of faith (people without faith just looked at it and said "yeah, whatever" ). Nor is this the naive hope of the hopelessly deluded, it is the good, brave, British hope of the undefeated, the defiant. Just like religious faith, it's about not giving in to reality.
Christopher Wren, who built Saint Paul's, whose Canon Chancellor I am and where children's tickets are available from only £4 (Adults £12.50 with a whole £1 reduction for senior citizens), found a piece of masonry from the medieval Saint Paul's. It had the single word "resurgen", or "I will rise again" on it. The Cathedral did rise again, just like the resurrection at the heart of the Christian Faith which I now believe in again thanks to my recent successful therapy sessions.
Saint Paul's, Chancellor Canon whereof I am, remains a symbol of faith and hope and has a large and well stocked gift shop full of a wide range of books, CDs, DVDs, jewellery as well as a series of commemorative prints and stationery to suit all tastes, many of which are also available for purchase online.
(Oh yes, and 160 people died and 500 were injured in the raid.)
Tuesday, 28 December, 2010, 09:02 AM - EnvironmentRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
Fifty years ago, I read that Bertrand Russell had been jailed for organising mass acts of civil disobedience against the bomb. Thus inspired I decided to walk to all the then four nuclear capitals. Everywhere I went I was greeted by friendly faces, kindness and friendship. Each of the leaders of the nuclear powers received me graciously. When I asked them never to build any more nuclear bombs, and to get rid of their existing ones, they smiled and said they would think about it before pointing me in the direction of the next city.
What I learned most from my walk was the connectedness between indigenous peoples and the great earth mother goddess. We are all one, the people, the sky, the birds, the mountains, the forests, the rivers, the deer, the earthworm, the tiger, the storm, the volcano, the earthquake, the flesh eating bacteria - all are one. In the great mid-Western plains, I sat in a teepee with a young man of profound, ancient wisdom and primeval dignity, who had opted for a simpler life and who subsequently died due to lack of an appropriately profound, simple, ancient medical intervention. This wise intelligent way of life has much to teach us about living in harmony with nature, of which we are all part.
Today, nuclear proliferation is everywhere. Some might say that my 8,000 mile walk was therefore a failure. Not at all, I say. If I hadn't walked to all those cities, the Environmental movement, with its campaigns to oppose atmospheric Chloroflourocarbons and man made global warming would never have happened.
We are all connected and interdependent. So excuse me while I take the car from this radio studio where I have broadcast to thousands. There are trees in desperate need of a hug.
Monday, 27 December, 2010, 09:25 AM - TilbyRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
Words are so important, especially truthful words. There are words at the beginning of Saint John the Evangelist's Gospel (as opposed to Saint John the not an Evangelist, who didn't write a Gospel and therefore doesn't get called an evangelist). There are words like "The Word was with the Invisible Magic Friend, and the word was the Invisible Magic Friend". This is all very theological and stuff. It's because the Invisible Magic Friend doesn't want to be mysterious that we have all this theology about him being a Word.
Just before Christmas, two famous journalists died. Brian Hanrahan and Anthony Howard were both dedicated to words, especially truthful words. We used to say a prayer that people who talk or write a lot of words would be guided by the invisible Magic Friend, who always uses truthful words.
We need more journalists who speak the truth, but we also have to be able to listen to the truth, to absorb facts, like Saint John's Gospel. There's too much argument that is simply emotional, designed to play to our prejudices, instead of giving us good, reliable information, like Saint John's Gospel, which never resorts to hyperbole or exaggeration.
Good journalism should challenge us like Saint John's Gospel does.
His Infallible Holiness, Reichsführer Benedict the Umpteenth, Archbishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Successor of Saint Peter, Pontifex Maximus, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Sovereign of the Vatican, Servant of the Servants of God and all round best guy in the whole wide world
Friday, 24 December, 2010, 09:51 AMRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
(Tezting, tezting. Dast speaking zis zoftly zound too kreepy? Nein? Dast goot.)
Heil der my zittle Englander folks oom I iz very very fond of. Izt me, mein Holiness. Ve are preying on zu all, especially zoes non-Catholiks vich do not recognize uz as der top boss man unt all round szwell guy. Ve prey ont zur familiez, unt ve ezpecially prey ont zur children, ze little teazers. Unt ve prey unt anyvon ist zick or ist totally dependent on uz.
Ve gives zanks tu ze Invizible Magik Freund für all iz goodnez to uz, coz ve is doing very very vell zank you.
Chriztmaz greetingz to zu all, unt indeed to all peoplez throughout mein vorld, as ve avait ze return ut ze little baby Jesuz. Ze baby Jesuz vost born in Bethlehem. Zu can be zure of siz as ve are telling zu siz unt ve ist intfallible.
Ze little baby Jesuz brought ein liberation to ze vorld, (nicht ein Liberation Theology ist ein very very bad unt commie unt strictly verbotten). Das Juden vost expekting unt great military führer. Vell, vould zu Adam unt Eve it, ze Invizible Magik Freund zent unt poor carpenter inztead. Jesuz brought uz freedom unt ein Catholik Church, unt me as ze head of itz, unt ein catechism, unt ein Canon Law vich muzt be obeyed vizout question!
Jesuz ist ein überführer fur ze vorld. Iz cruzifiction zaved zu all unt everyzine haz been very much better zinze then, vif no vars, or cruelty or perzecuzion or anyzine like zat. At leazt not againzt any von who matterz.
Zo, az ve ponder zis great myztery of ze hope unt ze light unt ze good newz zat zu ich free to do az ve tell zu to, may ze graze of ze Invizible Magik Freund be upon zu all. May zu all haz unt very peazeful unt joyful Chriztmaz, zittle Englanders peoplez and may ze Invizible Magik Freund blez zu all.
(Voz at OK? Ve do our very very bezt not to mention ze condoms, or ze homozexual people or ze baby murderers or ze zecularists. I zink itz go very well.)
That naughty Telegraph has been getting more Liberal Democrat ministers to say bad things about the Tories. They tried to get the Tories to say bad things about Liberals, but they all remained perfectly discrete and polite and think the Liberals are just wonderful.
Disagreements among politicians, even those in the same government, are inevitable. Collective cabinet responsibility says that ministers argue for their point of view but back whichever view emerges as the government consensus. If they cannot back it, then they resign.
Politicians are not alone in this. Others sometimes have to support decisions that they may disagree with. Parents and teachers will often support one another even though they may have private qualms about things. They do this for the sake of consistency. But we are not children or pupils and we should expect both disagreement among cabinet members and a willingness to support one another once a decision has been made.
Disagreement, in a mature way, is a healthy sign of democracy. Sadly, it is a lesson that many religious people have yet to learn. For many, devotion means intolerance, and tolerance means lack of commitment. The opposite should be true. We should be able to argue our case without condemnation of opposing points of view.
Let us hope that collective responsibility has not been damaged by the recent revelations. Learning to disagree well is a value worth learning, practising and defending.