Everyone agrees that selling goods and services that people want, and making a modest profit in doing so, is needed in a healthy, productive economy. However, some people now get paid far too much. Many chief executives now get paid nearly as much as film stars and footballers. Meanwhile, really useful people like teachers, doctors and vicars hardly get paid anything by comparison. Handing out these huge sums of money to the alpha-male in the boardroom has gone too far.
How are we going to fix this? Naturally, we turn to theology for the answer. Now, I know that many of you think that religion is at least partly responsible, always identifying the Invisible Magic Friend as an all powerful man that we must worship and obey. My response to that is that we should ignore it. Let's concentrate instead on what religion ought to be rather than what it is.
Blah, blah, blah, mystic, blah, blah, divine, blah, blah, blah, loving, blah, blah, blah, blah, trust, ...
My word is my bond.
Has anyone mentioned the Olympics yet? There's only 199 days to go, so I think it's important that I point them out to you, otherwise you might not notice.
That's why the Cabinet met at the Olympic site yesterday and David Cameron said, "Hey look at me, I'm at the Olympic park. Isn't that just great?"
I took a bus out to the Olympic park the other day and I can confirm that it really is there. Not only that, but there's a fantastic new shopping centre as well. The people of Stratford, East London, are now really happy and contented. Anyone who says otherwise is just one of those horrible cynics who can safely be ignored.
The really important thing about the park is it's legacy, like giving the local kiddies somewhere to splash around and have some fun in.
But "legacy" does not just mean buildings. It is much more than that. It is something that is hard to define, is much more intangible. What is the word I'm looking for? Let me see. Ah, yes it's SPIRITUAL!
Did someone say "spiritual"? That reminds me of the wisdom books of the Old Tasty mint. The wisdom books wisely speak of the wisdom of maintaining our faith legacy. Those who wisely maintain the wisdom of their legacy of faith are known as wise people, say the wisdom books. As it wisely says in one of the wisest of the wisdom books, "Those who wisely maintain the wisdom of their legacy of faith are wisely wise and full of wisdom, but those who foolishly discard the wise wisdom of the legacy of faith are full of foolishness and are fools."
Are you believing what I'm believing? Are you wisely wise as the wise wisdom book proclaims? Or have you foolishly discarded the wise legacy of faith and become a fool?
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.