Has anyone mentioned the Olympics and the Golden Jubilee yet? No? Good job I was here then.
There'll be lots and lots of people looking at Britain during the Olympics and the Golden Jubilee. The big question they'll all be asking themselves is, what religion are they? And the remarkable thing that they'll find, almost unique to Britain and virtually every other secular Western democracy, is that we have lots of religions. Even better still, all these religions get along quite happily with one another, except for Northern Ireland and Scotland. I know, isn't it remarkable! Different religions living (mostly) peacefully side by side. It's so remarkable that it's worth remarking about.
This is because of all the hard work we've put into all our inter-faith meetings and their delicious Halal buffet lunches. It has nothing to do with the fact that hardly anyone cares about religion any more and we all have to band together to ensure that we aren't even more irrelevant than we're rapidly becoming. You can be absolutely certain, that if religion ever came to dominate the public discourse again in this country, it would do so in a tolerant, polite, civilised and totally non-violent way.
If there's one thing that Britain can be rightfully proud of, it's that it's not Nigeria, or Kenya, or Egypt, or Pakistan, or any of the other countries around the world where religion is still considered important.
The trouble with all these countries is that religious people are religious full time. Here in Britain we've learned only to be religious part of the time. The rest of the time we're just like normal people. We have jobs, hobbies, civic duties and clubs where we can meet each other, get to know one another and see beyond the heretic or infidel who's standing in front of us.
So you see, Britain has a really important lesson that it can teach the rest of the world: the less religion there is, the happier and less violent a nation becomes.
Sunday, 8 January, 2012, 10:12 AM - ClemmiesThe highlight of the platitudinous year is almost upon us. Once again, the conclave assembles to elect a new Platitude Of The Year winner. Who will succeed such worthies as Clifford Longley, the POTY 2010, and the Bishop of Liverpool, our POTY 2009?
As in previous years, we have a strong field of contenders. So without further ado let us press on with the exciting summary of the twelve best platitudes of 2011.
With an absolutely superb start to 2011, Akhandadhi Das abandoned any pretence at being sensible and went straight for the cosmic woo vote. The universe is really a giant cosmic computer that adds up all the good and bad things we do before deciding what sort of life we're going to have next time around. This is not too implausible as the Tesco computer can already add up loyalty points.
February maintained the same high standard as Rev Angela Tilby explained that she understood exactly how the Egyptian protesters felt as she herself had suffered a power cut at the Cambridge branch of Waitrose.
A potentially very strong contender came in March's Clemmies as Rhidian Brook explained that Jesus was one of the funniest stand up comics ever, with all those hilarious New Tasty mint jokes.
John Bell echoed the words of our 2009 winner. He raised the serious and ugly question of religious sectarianism in Scotland. Fortunately, the good Rev has the perfect solution: more religion!
With a very similar theme Rob Marshall explained how important religion was in sustaining people throughout the Balkan conflicts, not to mention causing them.
And of course, POTY just wouldn't be POTY without a contribution from Anne Atkins. In an absolutely delightfully wacko contribution, dear AA pointed out that the Space Shuttle reminds her of Jesus. You've really got to hand it to Anne. Very few TFTD contributors would have the sheer audacity to say something like that with a straight face.
Before you begin to think that the Catholics are just going to throw in the towel this year, Catherine Pepinster revealed that the seal of the confessional is absolute and is much more important than something as trivial as protecting children. Besides Jesus forgave everyone anyway, so isn't it about time we started seeing a bit of forgiveness for abusive priests? After all the Catholic Church is very sorry for what happened.
Unusually, Rob Marshall won a second Clemmie in 2011. In a single TFTD, he managed to cover all of the following, any one of which would probably have made him a winner.
1. Young people wouldn't go rioting if they were Christian.
2. Isn't Pope Benedict just fantastic?
3. Russell Brand thinks things should be more spiritual.
Rob really did pull out all the stops in 2011. He could well be one to watch.
Rev Dr Dr Prof David Wilkinson took the interesting discovery that neutrinos might be able to travel faster than light and explained that this is exactly the way theology operates: performing experiments, gathering data, testing hypotheses and adjusting theories to match the evidence. Except for not doing any of those things. This was a clear winner in September just for its plain 100% wrongness.
The only contender in October, but a worthy winner nonetheless, was Joel Edwards, who lambasted secular society for failing to keep up with the Church's enlightened views towards women.
Rob Marshall isn't the only presenter who made a second stab at the top prize last year. Anne Atkins made one of the most astonishingly incoherent presentations ever. Even now, after months of digesting her three minutes of totally unintelligible gibberish, her point remains as obscure as ever. Whether complete gibberish in itself is sufficient to win the POTY, only time will tell.
Ringing out the old year and ushering in the new Baron Jonathan Sacks retold the brave tale of Jewish freedom fighters and their desperate fight against the mad king Antiochus IV, who was so mad that he wanted to take away their freedom to chop bits off of baby boys' winkles. A noble and inspiring tale of one small group's fight for the freedom to impose their religion on everybody.
Several commenters throughout the year suggested that surely, surely, we had already found the POTY 2011. As you can see, the skill, inventiveness and total whacko, down-the-rabbit-holeness of TFTD should never be taken for granted. As always, I am open to persuasion, prayers and bribes as to who should win the coveted 2011 POTY. Whose name will finally appear on this, unique, expensive and extremely tasteful certificate?
Brian here, in Southampton, an associate lecturer at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity where we envision and equip Christians and their churches for whole-life missionary discipleship in the world, seek to serve them with biblical frameworks, practical resources, training and models so that they flourish as followers of Jesus and grow as whole-life disciplemaking communities. Hi.
Am I talking nonsense? Does what I say often sound like gibberish? Do I sound as if my reasoning is confused and my grasp of logic tenuous? Thanks to those clever scientists we now know why. As we head towards middle age, we soon go into rapid mental decline.
I once had a razor sharp mind that could slice through superfluous detail and get to the heart of any argument. My analytical powers knew no limit. I was able to discern in a flash, myth from reality, delusion from fact, false invisible magic stuff from real invisible magic stuff. Sadly, as I find myself in my late forties, my faculties are not what they were. Lines are becoming blurred. What was once clear as day to me, is now fuzzy and indistinct. I am beginning to fear that my best days are behind me and I now face the inevitable decline where perhaps I won't even be capable of being an Associate lecturer at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
But even as I look back on the dazzling achievements of my past, still, even in the muddled cloud of my impending decrepitude, there are things to look forward to. As my once firm grasp of reality begins to fade, I will transform and become ever more spiritual. As the tyranny of hormones and ambition evaporate before my bespectacled eyes, as I more and more simply enjoy being on a planet that goes on forever spinning beneath my feet, as my medicine cabinet continues to grow in size, as I find I can get away with ever more outrageous bad manners, the true me begins to emerge.
As St Paul said, weakness is strength, up is down, black is white and I really need to get my prescription changed.
Assisted dying is in the news today. This is one of those issues where people don't listen to one another. My own position on this is irrelevant. It just so happens that I think this will result on pressure for relatives to stop being a burden. It doesn't matter that I don't think this is a matter of personal choice, as if you ought to have some sort of say in how and when you die. I mean, how many of your choices in life have turned out to be disastrous, eh? All that is by the by, I'm not here just to put my own personal point of view on why assisted dying is wrong, the start of the slippery slope.
Others argue, or a purely practical basis, that in order to relieve suffering, a person should be allowed to slip away a few hours or minutes earlier.
You'll notice that I haven't mentioned any of the compelling theological arguments that are available to show why this is against the divinely instituted order of the Invisible Magic Friend. I'm beginning to realise that these can sometimes be just a tad counter productive.
More importantly, there are atheists and unbelievers out there who agree with me that assisted suicide is evil and must be resisted at all costs. Just because the Church has consistently been the largest block to reform in this area, is no reason to take a them-and-us approach. Atheists of the same opinion can work with us on this and Christians who believe in freedom of choice can be dammed to hell along with all their unbelieving friends.
Thursday, 5 January, 2012, 08:05 AM - James JonesRating 1 out of 5 (Not platitudinous)
Two of the murderers of Stephen Lawrence have been jailed. It has taken nearly 18 years to bring them to justice.
The case has similarities to that of Anthony Walker, savagely murdered with an axe to the head, here in Liverpool.
Liverpool and London both made fortunes from the slave trade that did so much to institutionalise racism in Britain. Even today it seems, people in both cities are still hated because of the colour of their skin.
Let's look forward, along with the grieving parents of both teenagers, to the day when racism in Britain is a thing of the past.
Why do women want their breasts enlarged and men want them reduced? Everyone wants to look younger and sexier these days. It wasn't like that in the past, when the technology was unavailable.
It's all the EU's fault.
Now I'm not against surgery after breast cancer. That's good cosmetic surgery and I think it's perfectly acceptable, but all these other boob jobs, and nose jobs and botox injections and everything else, well, it's just a huge industry, isn't it?
I was watching this quiz programme on the telly the other day and you wouldn't believe the number of people that wanted to use the prize money to get cosmetic surgery. I mean, what sort of people watch programmes like that? Then there are all the extreme makeover programmes that we're all forced to watch all the time. I just never seem to stop switching the TV on and flicking through channels until I find one.
Now I know what some of you are going to say, the Christian Church doesn't exactly have a strong track record on the treatment of women. Which is precisely why I've been invited on here to talk about it. Holding up a virgin mother as the pinnacle that all women should aspire to and then berating them when they fail to match it, is, some say, a trifle unfair.
Moving on. All women (and men) are made in the image of the Invisible Magic Friend, and the Invisible Magic Friend never got a boob job, did he? So it stands to reason that we, and by we I do of course mean you, don't need one either.
Now I don't mean to gloat, or tut, or seem unsympathetic, or say I told you so or anything, but not only have all these people gone to all that expense, but now they've put their health at risk too.
Has anyone mentioned the Olympics or the Golden Jubilee yet? No? Well I'm not going to either.
Did anyone see Great Expectations on the telly over Christmas? It was really good!
Dickens was a really good writer and this year sees the bicentenary of something or other connected with him. As well as being really, really popular, Dickens' works are also very strong on morality. No honestly, they are. If you want to be moral, you could do a lot worse than read Dickens. And the great thing is, even if you don't have an Invisible Magic Friend, you can read Dickens to learn how to be moral.
The central character of Great Expectations is Pip, who wants to be a gentleman, but he learns that personal virtue is more important and then the book ends. I just want to throw in the word "didactic" at this point. That should get even a few Radio 4 listeners searching for their dictionaries.
Another character is Miss Haversham. She's an elderly spinster in a wedding dress, who we associate with decay an putrefaction. Putrefaction's not a very nice word to associate with anyone, even Miss Haversham, but I'll use it anyway.
This is all very moral. It's also Art.
It's also Karma, which is the belief that things affect other things, but you can read Dickens and learn to be moral even if you're not a Buddhist. In fact, you don't have to have any religion at all to read Dickens and learn to be moral. Even secular people can read Dickens and learn to be moral.
Morning prayer begins, "The night has passed and a new day lies open."
What a wonderful sentiment that is. It suggests that the night has passed and a new day lies open. We could say something similar about the new year, the old year has passed and a new year lies open. This too suggests that an old year has passed and a new year lies open.
Of course, things in the past affect things in the future. It is the way of things. But not all things in the past affect all things in the future and there are some things in the future that we can still change, even though there remain some things in the past that will affect the future and that we have no control over.
The writer of Ecclesiastes, a grump middle aged cynic, goes on and on about how nothing ever changes. Well, as I have just shown, things do change, because there are things in the past that do not affect things in the future and so there are things in the future that we can change, even though there are some things in the past that do affect some things in the future, although not all of them.
When we were young, a long long time ago now, the world was full of possibilities. Then we ended up in some dead end career, got married, got a mortgage and settled down to the daily, depressing, endless grind that became our unfulfilling and ultimately pointless life. Just as Ecclesiastes says. Don't you wish you could have a more exciting career, that you could abandon your family and be free again? I know I do.
But wait, some of us can pray to the Invisible Magic Friend! And in praying to the Invisible Magic Friend we become, in an ambiguous and unspecified but nevertheless very real sense, free to gain more knowledge, more understanding, to do more good.
Thanks to the fact that I pray to the Invisible Magic Friend, I am able to be optimistic about the future and wish you all a very Happy New Year. The rest of you will just have to collapse in a depressing, paralysing heap as you contemplate the economic woe or the wearisome drudgery of your inane, irrelevant existence.
Sunday, 1 January, 2012, 08:06 AM - ClemmiesHappy New Year everyone!
Time to award the last Clemmie for 2011 and complete the select group of presenters who will be eligible for the Platitude Of The Year (POTY) 2011.
I know, the excitement's just unbearable, isn't it?
We've only got four contenders this month, but I think you'll all agree, what may be lacking in quantity is more than made up for in quality.
First out of the starting gate this month was our old friend Clifford Longley. Clifford put in a very respectable performance. He explained how David taking on Goliath and then going on to be hereditary autocratic dictator for life was a perfect metaphor for the Arab Spring. The time for being good has finally arrived, Clifford announced.
Baron Jonathan Sacks gave a spirited retelling of the noble war for freedom that the Jews fought against the mad king Antiochus IV. Mad old Antiochus banned the Jews from chopping bits off of baby boys' penises. Yes, that's how mad he was. The Jews bravely fought against the evil Hellenic ideas of religious pluralism and returned to the freedom of only allowing one god in one temple, with the right to chop bits off of baby boys' penises whenever they liked, which was always.
The month ended quite splendidly with two extraordinarily platitudinous thoughts. On new year's eve, eve, we had the Archbishop of York. The dear Archbishop treated us to a charmingly confused jumble of incoherent ideas. He threw in one assertion after another in the delightfully naive belief that simply saying something is true, makes it so. He even managed to slap down a perceptive child who had seen through all his religious hogwash.
Then, on the last day, of the last week, of the last month, of the last century, of the last millennium, we got the Celebrity Christian Writer himself. As we have come to expect from a Christian writer of such celebrity, this was no ordinary platitude, this was a work of literary art!
First, the whole platitude was framed in the third person, cleverly allowing the author to seem detached and uninvolved in the unfolding narrative. There were healthy doses of literary references, of course. The whole ensemble was crowned by a final quote from the Bible, which he freely admits he hasn't read and so just flicked to the last few pages to see how it ended. There he found a quote of such perfection, such intensity, such finality, that his description of it included everything, absolutely everything, except accuracy.
So, who shall receive the final Clemmie of 2011? I really wanted to give it to the Archbishop of York. The dear old soul doesn't get on very often. His belief that churning laudable ideas and religious assertions together constituted some sort of insight, was really quite adorable. However, the heart cannot rule the head when it comes to something as important as the Clemmies. We have to ask ourselves, if this had been delivered by Anne Atkins or Clifford Longley, would we consider it worthy of such an honour? Sadly, seen in this light, the answer has to be no.
Turning to Clifford. Yes, as I say a respectable performance, but no more than we would expect from the Platitude of the Year 2010 winner.
Which brings it down to a straight fight between Rhidian Brook and the Chief Rabbi. You can probably guess where I'm going with this. Much as I admire Rhidian's uproariously funny attempt to created profundity, wrapped in a work of art, there can surely be no doubt who gets the year's last Clemmie.
For that bold Jewish fight for the freedom to suppress all other religions and chop bits off of baby boys' penises, the final Clemmie of 2011 goes to The Big Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, Baron Aldgate.
What an inspiration to freedom fighters around the world that will be. Well done Jonathan!
There was once this man. No, honestly there was, I knew him well. He's not at all a literary fiction designed to embody certain characteristics that tend to typify people about this time of year, and this year in particular, and that you might expect from such a celebrated author as myself.
Anyway back to this man. He was able to mention the latest fad in mass TV programming and quote G.K. Chesterton. He could mention financial terms and even knew what some of them meant. This was a man to be reckoned with, a man as well read and well informed as, oh, me for example.
Now this totally non-fictional man who isn't me and that I know well, was useless at keeping new year's resolutions. He'd resolved to read the Big Book of Magic Stuff from cover to cover but rapidly got bored by its tedious, contradictory, often badly written and largely irrelevant prose. In these difficult economic times, he was determined to find a resolution that even he could keep. He decided to quote Mark Twain and a phrase from Robert Burns made famous by John Steinbeck. He even managed to squeeze in a passing allusion to Dickens, just to remind you how well read he was.
His set of resolutions was a blank page (a somewhat overworked metaphor you might think, but he probably wasn't as advanced in literary craft as a celebrity, Christian writer like myself - or alternatively, he couldn't be bothered to waste an original metaphor on a radio slot where he didn't get paid).
He consulted the great god Google. (Did you hear that? I managed to combine the idolatry of false gods with our dependence on technology. Oh, I'm on fire today, or rather he
He turned to the last paragraph of the last page of the last book of the Big Book of Magic Stuff, and there...
Well, no, actually it's not the last paragraph, it's verse 4 out of 27. It's almost certainly not the last page because there is no standard page layout, and it isn't even the last chapter, as there's one more chapter to go in Revelation before it appears. I just knew some nerdy, scientific type, with their obsession with "accuracy", would go look it up and make a big deal about it. You're so predictable. It's called artistic license, you wouldn't understand.
Anyway, it says in the Big Book of Magic Stuff, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
And he ended the last Thought for the Day, on the last day of the year, with a phrase that was intended to be profound, but was instead hilariously platitudinous.