Happy four weeks to go 'till Christmas everyone!
You know that bloke in the high street with a sandwich board saying "repent, the end is nigh," well, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Phew, what a complete religious nutter. He's as bad as an environmentalist." But he's right, the end really is nigh.
The true meaning of Christmas is that Christ is going to return any day now and judge us all. Father Christ is going to appear at the foot of your bed in a blaze of glory and say, "Have you been good little boys and girls? Or have you been naughty?" All the good little boys and girls will get lots of lovely eternal life and get into heaven, but all the naughty ones get eternal damnation with demons sticking red hot pitch forks where you'd really rather they didn't.
You can always cast yourself down before Father Christ and plead for his infinite mercy. A bit of grovelling certainly won't do you any harm when you consider the alternative, but on the whole rules is rules. You had your chance and you messed it up. See if you're laughing at us Christians then, eh?
On judgement day, tyrants will be overthrown, even in Syria and the Eurozone economic crisis will be solved. There, that's one of the most tenuous connections to the news, ever, out of the way.
And don't think you can get away from either the rampant commercialism of Christmas or judgement day by going on a nice, relaxing cruise. Father Christ knows where you are and will judge you anyway.
Like I said, happy four weeks to go 'till Christmas everyone!
Saif Gaddafi has been captured.
I think he should have a fair trial.
Giving people a fair trial, even when they are nasty, horrible people, shows that the rule of law is working.
Jesus thought people should have a fair trial, which pretty much ends the need for any further argument on the subject.
Now to pad that out for 3 minutes.
Those who live by the sword die by the sword.
Jesus said that.
He said it in the garden of Gethsemane.
"People who live by the sword die by the sword," he said, in the garden of Gethsemane.
What he meant by this was, people who live by the sword die by the sword.
People who don't live by the sword might not die by the sword and might, in general, be exposed to less violence.
Not living by the sword and dying by the sword, and being exposed less to a cycle of violence as a result, is a necessary condition to ensure the rule of law and fair trials.
To all you Radio 4 listeners out there who don't believe in fair trials, I'd just like to mention Saint Augustine.
(He was a bishop in Roman North Africa you know. Not many people know that, so I thought I'd just throw that little factlet in there. It helps pad things out a bit, otherwise I'd never get this rather obvious and unoriginal idea to sound as if it were the product of some unique scholarly insight.)
He thought fair trials were a good idea too.
Him and Jesus.
Him and Jesus and me.
Just how many people do you need to tell you that fair trials are a good idea before you'll accept that fair trials are a good idea?
Even Saif Gaddafi should have a fair trial.
Goodness, is that 3 minutes up already? I had so much more I wanted to say.
Sumptuously Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron Reverend Lord Richard Harries, Baron Pentregarth, Gresham Professor of Divinity, Baron, Bishop, Professor, Lord...
Gaddafi is dead - somewhat muted hurrah!
In an ideal world he would have been tried for his crimes and given an opportunity to defend himself, but toppling a tyrant isn't easy and we can understand if he somehow accidentally got shot in the process.
We humans have an inherent sense of justice and fairness that no other animal has. It clearly couldn't have evolved so it must be because we are made in the image of the Invisible Magic Friend. Of course the Invisible Magic Friend is perfect and everything he does is just brilliant. We're not quite that good. We're frail and weak and flawed and imperfect and just hopelessly useless and drab and awful. When he was making us in his image he obviously made a few mistakes. No, that can't be right, forget that bit.
The Big Book of Magic Stuff is just full of cries for the Invisible Magic Friend to provide justice. As a Sumptuously Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron, let me just assure you that he fully intends to do that some day. Don't let the fact that he hasn't done it in the last two and half thousand years in any way put you off. Jews, Christians, and I'll even include Muslims, all believe that the Invisible Magic Friend is going to bring perfect justice into the world any day now - a year or two tops.
In the meantime, we confused, mistaken, utterly rubbishy humans will just have get by as best we can. Even though we don't live in that ideal world where tyrants are brought to trial, I'm sure those who have suffered under Gaddafi's ruthless regime, those who have needlessly lost loved ones as he desperately made everyone fight to the bitter end, will probably feel a small sense of justice this morning.
Wallopingly Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron Reverend Lord Richard Harries, Baron Pentregarth, Gresham Professor of Divinity, Baron, Bishop, Professor, Lord...
I'd like to start by discussing clowns, the relevance of which will shortly become apparent. Georges Rouault liked to paint clowns - clowns and judges.
It isn't easy being a judge, having to judge things. It isn't easy being a juror either, having to judge things. That's the difficult task that the judges in the Amanda Knox appeal had to do. It couldn't be easy, faced with a mass of contradictory evidence, to decide on guilt or innocence. They decided to go for innocence, so the only person left in prison for the crime is the black guy.
Jesus said not to judge others. Some think this means that we shouldn't judge others, but as with anything in the Big Book of Magic Stuff that doesn't make sense, this is not meant to be taken literally. What Jesus meant, and I can speak for Jesus on this as I'm a Wallopingly Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron, is that you can still judge guilt or innocence, but you can't judge the moral worth of a person.
Just because a person was caught red handed stealing all the handbags from a grannies' day out, does not necessarily make them a bad person. You don't know what pressure that person was under. Can you honestly say that, given the opportunity to steal grannies' handbags you wouldn't do the same? Well can you?
We, and by "we" I do of course mean "you", are weak, frail, fallible creatures, made in the image of the Invisible Magic Friend, except that we are weak, frail and fallible. We are certainly fit enough to judge guilt or innocence, certainly fit enough to deprive someone of their liberty for the rest of their lives, or even send them to their deaths. What we are not fit enough to do is to think harshly of them. Only the Invisible Magic Friend is allowed to do that.
John Murray made a promise to WPC Yvonne Fletcher, as she lay dying from gunshot wounds fired from the Libyan embassy in London. He promised that those responsible would be brought to justice. It has taken 27 years, but now, with the new Libyan regime in place, he is the closest he has ever been to fulfilling that promise. To do it, he must place his trust in strangers.
This is a bit like Saint Paul joining the early Christians, except that Saint Paul wasn't a stranger to them, and he was changing sides from being a persecutor to one of them, which isn't happening here, and this is about fulfilling a promise, which didn't happen in the case of Saint Paul, but I think you can see that otherwise it's exactly the same, which is why it's so helpful in understanding the otherwise inexplicable story of Yvonne Fletcher.
From Norwich, it's the bishop of the week, Bewilderingly Reverend Graham James, Lord Bishop of Norwich
Dictators are toppling all over North Africa. They're not toppling in Zimbabwe however. Robert Mugabe, a member of a totally different branch of Christianity, and therefore nothing to do with us, recently lost one of his political rivals in an "accident" - this tends to happen to his political rivals rather a lot.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is going to Zimbabwe next month, so that should sort things out. As well as sorting out Mugabe, he'll also want to deal with the renegade Anglican bishop, and full time Mugabe supporter, Nolbert Kunonga who likes to beat up Anglican priests for a hobby.
People seem to understand the concept of "justice" even when there is very little of it in their society. Anyone would think it was instinctive.
It says as much in the Old Tasty mint. Right there in the Psalms it says, "Oh your mighty incredibleness, could we have some justice please? It's just there hasn't been a lot of it about lately and if you could give us just a little bit, we'd praise you even more - not that we weren't going to praise you an awful lot anyway."
So there you have it, it says in the Big Book of Magic Stuff that people yearn for law and order, so it must be true.
Politicians and commentators are very much into "gangs" at the moment. They think they may have had something to do with the riots. The Hon Sir Gerald Kaufman MP, who got the taxpayer to pay for his £9,000 Bang and Olufsen TV (not one of those grubby Samsungs grabbed by a teenager from Comet in the high street) asked how they could be "reclaimed by society". The PM's even getting advice from America because no one in the police, the probation service or social services here in the UK know anything about gangs.
I used to spend a lot of time in young offenders institutions, scout troops, boys football clubs, YMCA and so on. One youngster told me that the gang gave him what he needed: respect, a sense of worth and something to do - robbing, threatening, thieving, shooting - that sort of thing. In an era when there are few low skilled jobs available, crime was still one profession that required relatively few academic credentials. Here was something where he could be truly successful - he told me from his prison cell.
I just want to make it absolutely clear that I'm not one of those namby pamby liberals who wants to be soft on thugs. Get 'em inside I say, where they can spend long periods of time, confined with other testosterone fuelled teenagers - and that's just the girls. That'll teach 'em. Perhaps they can be visited by the occasional Rev Canon Dr.
What the riots show is that the fate of these young people is intimately connected to the rest of society. We ignore or abandon them at our peril.
Jesus, the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend, shook his bling covered fist and famously said, "Don't be disraspectin da Chrischin gang, innit!"
It's perhaps not the best time in the world to be asking for improved prison conditions, but we really should be looking to improve prison conditions. Prisoners in Wandsworth are routinely bullied and confined to their cells for 22 hours a day. Even prisoners should be entitled to certain basic standards of decency and dignity.
Most of us instinctively know what is right and wrong. We don't need reward or punishment, or to have someone watching over us (such as the Invisible Magic Friend). Our own sense of self worth is sufficient to make us behave in a socially acceptable way.
When Jesus told sinners to stop sinning, he would often join them for dinner and generally make themselves feel comfortable and good about themselves. He gave them the sense of self worth that they needed in order to reform their character. If Jesus did it then it must be right. I'm sure telling you what Jesus did really serves to reinforce my point that in order for people to behave well they need to be motivated to do so.
Failure to grant dignity and decency to prisoners removes any chance to motivate them towards rehabilitation.
Jesus says so.
You may have heard about the Catholic practice of Confession. This is where you go into a little box behind black curtains and tell the priest all your dirty little secrets. Because your are dirty, very dirty indeed. The priest is bound to keep all your very dirty little secrets, secret, and as we all know, Catholic priests have turned out to be exceedingly good at keeping certain secrets.
Some Irish politicians now want priests who learn about child abuse in the confessional to pass the information to the police. They seem to think that protecting children is some how more important than religious privilege. Well dream on folks, it ain't gonna happen. Priests would rather die than tell about people's dirty little secrets. You'd have to put every priest in Ireland behind bars and then where will we be?
Jesus forgave absolutely everyone, although he might have mentioned something about millstones and the bottom of the sea in connection with harming children. I'm sure he forgives priests who molest children, and if the Invisible Magic Friend can forgive them, you should too. The penitent has to be really, really sorry - as sorry as the Catholic Church is constantly saying it is - yes, that sorry - for the the priest's magic power of absolution to work. Sure, the child molester might go on to hurt another defenceless child, but are you seriously suggesting that the Catholic rule book should be superseded just because of that?
Sometimes the priest might tell the penitent that they have to go to the police. Sometimes not. It depends how they feel really. I'm sure we can trust the priest to use their own professional judgement in these matters. They've always turned out to be very reliable in the past.
Shaikh Abdal Hakim Murad, Muslim Chaplain Cambridge University (the Shaikh formerly known as Tim Winter)
The atrocity in Norway, committed by Anders Breivik, continues to shock, not least because Breivik seems to show no remorse for killing over 90 people, many of them youngsters.
But let's not talk about him. Let's talk about someone on the other side of the world who killed anyone he thought looked Muslim. Mark Stroman was executed last Thursday, despite the pleas of one of his victims. After the shooting, Rais Bhuiyan went on his pilgrimage to Mecca, the city that's being racking in money from pilgrims since even before the time of a certain well known prophet. Transformed by this transformative pilgrimage, Rais was filled with warmth and love and goodness, put there by the Invisible Magic Friend.
That's what the Invisible Magic Friend does - he puts warmth and love and goodness in people. He put it in Adam, whom you'll recall was the first human. I'm not sure if he put it in Eve or not, so let's not mention her, but he definitely put it in Adam. I know this because it says so in one of the nice bits of our Big Book of Magic Stuff.
So let's all pray to the Invisible Magic Friend that Breivik shows repentance. If you close your eyes and pray really, really hard, it is bound to happen.