Brian here, in Southampton, an associate lecturer at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity where we envision and equip Christians, and the leaders, churches and organisations that serve them, with the biblical framework, practical resources and models to engage biblically, relevantly and vigorously with the issues they face in today’s world. Hi.
Has anyone mentioned the 2012 Olympics yet? We'll soon find out what is to become of the Olympic Stadium. West Ham want to keep it as it is, so that they can host athletics events as we promised when we made the bid. Spurs want to buy it so they can tear it down and build a new stadium. That would make it one of the most short lived Olympic stadiums ever.
Berlin still has their 1936 Olympic stadium. It's a building that stands for something because there, Jesse Owens famously infuriated the Führer by winning four gold medals.
Speaking of Olympic stadiums, Cathedrals are really popular too. They're so big and architectural and have so much space in them, and people just come and wonder in awe at them. It's not just because they're so big and architectural though, it's because, like the Berlin Olympic stadium, or the 2012 Olympic Stadium if Spurs don't knock it down, they stand for something. People understand that it can be so peaceful in a Cathedral when it's not full of tourists understanding how peaceful it would be if they weren't there.
As Saint Peter famously said, people are like living stones except they're organic and tend to move about more. It's people, people, that give buildings meaning. Just as Jesse Owens gave the Berlin Olympic stadium meaning, so all the tourists make cathedrals peaceful by not being there.
In the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, Tube passengers were nervous. Police had begun shooting people on sight who had a slightly brown appearance and fellow passengers would edge away from any young Muslim wearing a rucksack.
Although people's wariness was understandable, it was unfair to consider all Muslims suspect, the vast majority of whom oppose terrorism as much as anyone else.
Baroness Warsi has warned that Islamophobia has passed the "dinner table test", where it is now acceptable in polite society to stigmatise all Muslims.
We Catholics know all about this because of our own persecution. But we gradually learned to stop saying the rosary in the high street and dropping to our knees every time a priest walked passed. We recognised that the other people's (wrong) beliefs and their unwillingness to obey the commands of the Pope, would just have to be accepted, for the moment. In this way we gradually integrated into society.
This was helped by the change in policy of the Vatican. By the 1960s, they had realised that democracy was a good thing and were well on the way to supporting human rights and even religious tolerance. That's how advanced Vatican thinking had become!
So it's important that dialog with Muslims continues.
While on the subject of the Pope, when the Pope was in Britain, he said that religion was so important. We have so many useful things to explain to the rest of you, that you all get so wrong.
Last night I saw a young Muslim woman struggling to get two babies and a pushchair onto a train. Two women immediately came to her aid. Momentarily putting religion aside, they were spurred on by their empathy for the Muslim woman, inspired by their common humanity.
God, I'm so depressed. I can't tell you how drearily, despairingly, desperately, dejectedly, despondently depressed I am. You can even tell from the monotonic, lethargic tone of my voice how depressed I am. Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to do three minutes on the cure for depression.
A serious scientist has written an equation for it. It involves things like debt and salary, which, being a celebrity Christian writer obviously don't apply to me, but I'm still depressed.
Maybe the answer is more exercise, lose that seasonal gain in weight, up my serotonin levels. God, the very thought of it all is sooooo depressing.
Maybe I should just give up and indulge myself and feel even more of a miserable, worthless, hopeless failure.
Maybe it would simply be better not to have the great towering ambitions that people like me tend to have. Maybe I should be content with the more modest aims of little people.
The author of Ecclesiastes knew all about it, "Life? Don't talk to me about life." As the psalmist so famously said, "God, I'm so depressed."
The real antidote to depression is to lay all my troubles at the feet of the Invisible Magic Friend. That'll cheer me up. Yeah, sure, that'll definitely work. I can feel myself cheering up already. No, honestly I can.
So, in the spirit of passing on a little good cheer, let me quote from Woody Allen, who spoke thusly.
"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly."
There, that lightened the mood a bit, didn't it?
Rating 5 out of 5 (Extraordinarily platitudinous - final minute)
The campaign group Better History says we need some better history. Hardly any kids study history any more and those that do tend only to get disconnected studies of more recent history. There are no grand narratives to tell a national story.
It's partly the fault of History faculties that want to research serious history instead of focusing on popular history. So teachers don't focus on kings and queens any more. They say that kids can't relate to kings and queens, whereas 20th century totalitarian dictators are much easier to relate to.
As a result 10% think that Stonehenge was built by Queen Victoria and half think that Hadrian's wall was built to separate the English from the Scots.
It's nonsense to say that children can't relate to kings and queens. We only have to look at the success of the TV series Merlin or the Lord of the Rings films to see how popular these subjects are. There's similar political correctness gone mad when teaching British history to ethnic minorities.
The real problem is that people don't want to think about big ideas, like morality, any more. They just want to wallow around being immoral all over the place. Morality is the same as history, so there's no problem changing the subject. And where do we get morality from: religion.
Religion has got hundreds of fantastic stories of patriarchs and prophets, which are just like kings and queens, only without the queens, and most of the queens that there are are evil, seductive baddies. Yes, by studying the ancient history of the Middle East and the Arabian peninsula, children can get a real sense of feeling for how Britain got to where it is today.
Mammothly Reverend James Jones, Lord Bishop of Liverpool and Bishop of Prisons, Platitude of the Year Winner 2009
Business is booming, manufacturing output is up, sales are growing and private sector wealth creation is on the rise. This is good news for Liverpool, the city that I am bishop of, as it means more jobs to replace the public sector jobs that are about to disappear.
So with wealth creation being such a good thing, it was surprising to hear the Barclay's Chief Executive, Bob Diamond being quizzed on whether it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of the Invisible Magic Friend.
Those who are less schooled in theology than myself, probably completely misunderstand this simple statement by Jesus. They think that it means that is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. That's not what Jesus meant at all when he said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.
Allow me to explain.
To the Bedouin people, a camel is a much treasured possession, a source of transport, whose skin provides warmth, milk provides nourishment and dung provides fuel. So when Jesus compares a rich man to a camel, he's really saying "Look how fantastically useful rich people are. Aren't they just great? Let's have lots and lots of lovely rich people." That whole camel and the eye of the needle story is just the Invisible Magic Friend's way of telling us that bankers make excellent beasts of burden and a reliable source of dung.
Monday, 17 January, 2011, 03:08 PM - TFTDThanks to Mutt, who understands all this technology stuff (I'm so glad somebody does), you can now follow Platitude Of The Day on Twitter.
As this post will appear there shortly, you'll be able to go there, to follow the link here, to follow the link there, to follow the link here...
Monday, 17 January, 2011, 08:32 AM - BillingsRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
An alien visitor observing Earth for the first time, might wonder whether religion was a good or a bad thing. In Egypt Copts live in fear of Muslim extremists. Things aren't much better in Nigeria.
Of course, not every conflict is religious. Some are political, or ethnic, or tribal. It just happens to be a coincidence that everyone on one side is a different religion from those on the other. There are even violent events that don't involve religion at all. Take the Tucson shootings. As far as we can tell, there was no religious motive involved at all. So if religion doesn't cause all the violence in the world, it can't be all that bad, can it?
Then there was that wonderful speech by President Obama. He mentioned the Invisible Magic Friend quite a lot, as is required by an American President. He mentioned the good work of those who died, some of whom were religious. He even mentioned a lot of things that even faithless people, like agnostics, could agree with.
So our alien visitor would probably return home with mixed messages. Religion makes people good and charitable and brings people together, except in Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan, Palestine, Pakistan, Northern Ireland...
Sunday, 16 January, 2011, 09:24 AM - ClemmiesIt's coming close to the time when a successor will have to be chosen to Right Rev James Jones, Lord Bishop of Liverpool and Bishop of Prisons. As the excitement mounts, the airwaves are ablaze with frenzied, celebrity speculation on who will be deemed worthy to uphold the standard set by the Platitude of the Year 2009 winner.
Unlike last year, there is no physical prize to be awarded. It is a purely spiritual occasion this year, but the award is no less prestigious nonetheless. Indeed, given the frequency with which TFTD presenters admonish our base materialism and uphold the bright, shining, light of spiritual virtue, one could argue that not having a prize is in fact a better prize than having a prize. The things of this world wither and decay, whereas the honour of being Platitude of the Year winner is eternal.
And so, it is time to list the candidates in no particular order. If presenters would care to send in photographs of themselves in evening wear (vestments in the case of clergy) and swim wear (especially Anne Atkins), I would be delighted to add them next to their names below.
John Bell is our most recent Clemmie winner for his single sentence, "The Holy Spirit is not a private poltergeist but a revealer of public truth." Such syntactically splendid gibberish, worthy of Lewis Carol at his best, doesn't just happen by accident. But whereas Lewis Carol's nonsense was inspired genius, TFTD nonsense is quite the opposite. It takes years of training to create a mind so mushy that it can assemble words into something so apparently meaningful.
November saw the superb Clifford Longley at his very best. quoting from Cardinal Newman:
"The Catholic Church holds it better for the Sun and Moon to drop from Heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die from starvation in extremest agony … than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse."
A splendid example of how clinically insane the entire Catholic Church is. He also won the September Clemmie with two contributions that were really just part I and part II of the same contribution. Part I explained that everyone agrees with the Catholic Church on just about everything, so why are Catholics so persecuted. Part II admitted that there were a few things that people disagreed with Catholics about and it was all their fault, mainly through being British.
As if two Clemmies aren't enough, Clifford romped home in May with his spectacular claim about how gay friendly the Catholic Church is.
Not to be outdone by her fellow Catholic, Catherine Pepinster was keen to point out that Catholic education is not about indoctrination, but about broadening the mind. Ms. Pepinster had a second go when she lamented all that prehistoric sinfulness. Despite a strongly contested month, this was sufficient to take the August Clemmie.
Richard Harries won the October Clemmie on the basis of two good, solid contributions. First, while other presenters were content to simply drop smug hints, our Bishop Baron Professor Lord displayed no such timidity and boldly asserted that it was the Invisible Magic Friend who really saved the Chilean miners. Then, to be absolutely sure of clinching the October award, he threw in a tried and trusted favourite about how much better Britain used to be when it was religious.
But this was not his only win in 2010. In February, with an extraordinary bout of clerical navel gazing, his lordship wondered who the Church might be discriminating against and persecuting today and came up with... no one.
Tom Butler was really the only candidate for the July Clemmie as he pondered why the 7/7 bombers had done it. Why? I mean why? What could possibly drive someone to such rage that they blow themselves up along with a whole bunch of innocent passengers. I mean why?
Akhandadhi Das gets a look in thanks to winning the June Clemmie. He dismissed any possible scientific explanation for loneliness, because scientific explanations just demean and dehumanise things. He had his own explanation: it's because you have an invisible magic bit.
April saw Shaikh Abdal Hakim Murad give us his views of the science of Stephen Hawking. Hawking has warned that we would be wise to stay well clear of those hungry aliens. The good Shaikh pointed out that alien life is totally improbable, and therefore impossible, and therefore the Invisible Magic Friend didit uniquely here on Earth, and what does Stephen Hawking know about science anyway.
March saw a field so strong, that a joint award was made. The Chief Rabbi argued convincingly that religious massacres have nothing to do with religion and are, in fact, evolution's fault. Meanwhile Rev Dr Giles Fraser explained why theology was such a lot of nonsense. Like abstract art, it was because people try to think about it and get answers from it. Theology has its own internal beauty that makes perfect sense as long as you don't think too hard.
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is eligible this year thanks to his Christmas Eve contribution. However, that turned out to be just him wishing everyone a Happy Christmas in a slightly creepy German accent. There are no end of other reasons why Pope Benedict should qualify for Platitude of the Year, but he is specifically nominated for his letter of (not) apology to the Irish people for the repeated, systematic abuse of the nation's children. He manages to blame just about everyone: secularists, liberals, homosexuals, the media, the Illuminati, the Irish, everyone but himself and the Catholic Church.
The final contender was our very first winner in 2010. In a classic case of a post rationalised attempt to invent a causal relationship to explain a correlation that doesn't really exist, Rev Angela Tilby explained why the drop in church attendance was responsible for a drop in the number of people voting.
So who will it be? The smart money's on the Catholics this year and there's already a strong bookies' favourite out there. As always I'm open to persuasion, flattery and outright bribery to ensure that your favourite candidate wins.
The winner will be announced next Sunday. In the meantime, if you want to recall some of the other highs, and lows, of the past year, simply browse the "clemmies" category.
Everyone's been saying that it's floods of biblical proportions. That's just ridiculous. The Big Book of Magic Stuff clearly states that the floods covered the whole earth, higher than the highest mountains. There are lots of flood stories from around then so it must be true, even if the Egyptians, who had just finished building the Great Pyramid, didn't spot it.
The great flood, that the Egyptians never noticed, just proves that Creation is powerful and humans are vulnerable. I say "Creation" rather than "nature", because creation implies an Invisible Magic Friend to create it all, whereas "nature" sounds a bit sciency and not needing much faith or anything.
But don't worry people of Brisbane and people of Brazil, I have been praying for you! Your faith in the Invisible Magic Friend will get you through. I'm not bothered about the floods in Sri Lanka though - they're the wrong faith.
Humans with faith can display courage, bravery and resilience but in the end Creation is unbelievably powerful, even though the Invisible Magic Friend is very believably powerful.
The Old Tasty Mint speaks of floods, power, creation, devastation, war, challenge, deep waters, more challenge, death, vulnerability, shock, more vulnerability, even more challenge. This is exactly what happened in Brisbane and Brazil where the power of Creation has unleashed floods, power, creation, devastation, war, challenge, deep waters, more challenge, death, vulnerability, shock, more vulnerability, even more challenge.
You think you're all safe and hunky-dory, but any minute now Creation could unleash floods, power, creation, devastation, war, challenge, deep waters, more challenge, death, vulnerability, shock, more vulnerability, even more challenge. So you just quiver in fear before the Invisible Magic Friend. As long as you've got faith and courage, but especially faith, you'll get through it - except the ones who don't of course.
The role and place of faith in understanding that positive tension between God, Creation and individual freedom becomes ever more apparent.
Mark Kennedy, the police officer who infiltrated environmental protection groups, has said he is sorry for betraying his friends.
Why do people feel sorry when they do wrong? Bertrand Russell thought morality came from peer pressure. Being an atheist, he was of course completely wrong. That was precisely how Nazi Germany started. Let's just keep that Nazi/atheist association firmly in our minds.
No, feelings of right and wrong seem to be part of our very being. Martin Luther, someone who had only just recently stopped being a Catholic and so has a chance of being occasionally right, put it clearly when he said "I can do no other."
We Catholics have a thing called a "conscience". Ever since Vatican II pointed out that having a conscience was a good thing, we Catholics have been obliged to consult our "conscience" when we find ourselves facing a moral problem. Unlike other religions, we don't automatically think whatever the Pope thinks, or consult our catechism to decide whether abortion, contraception or gayness is wrong. That's why there's such a wide variety of opinion among Catholic bishops on these matters.
When we consult our "conscience", what we're actually doing is consulting the Invisible Magic Friend. We know this because a hymn says so.