Has anyone mentioned Egypt yet? Vast crowds of people are meeting in the streets, calling with one voice for jobs, fuel, hope, fairness, free speech.
Something similar happened to me recently. There was a power cut when I was shopping in Waitrose and everyone left the shop to meet in the streets. We met people who had left Marks & Spencer's for the same reason. We were all anxious and afraid, confronted by uncertainty. What was the meaning of this sudden break in the electricity supply? Fortunately the lights came back on an hour later. The crowds dispersed and I was able to finish my shopping list in Waitrose. This frightening, potentially life changing event, was over.
Not so for the demonstrators in Egypt. Their protests continue. As we see Egyptians demand democracy like we have, an impartial justice system like we have, freedom of speech like we have, healthcare for all like we have, we are reminded that there is more to life than the western obsession with comfort, safety and security. We, and by we I mean you, sleepwalk through life, with no ambition other than to enjoy yourselves. You have no conception of anything beyond your own selfish, pointless little lives, thinking about nothing other than your own material satisfaction.
The only thing you can aspire to, beyond the purely material, is to have an Invisible Magic Friend. Having an Invisible Magic Friend who is infinitely everything, allows you to put the finiteness of your own life into perspective. The Invisible Magic Friend lays down absolute rules about what is good, like stoning to death someone who collects firewood on the day reserved for worshipping him.
Without the Invisible Magic Friend you can't have any standards of goodness and you think about nothing other than your own appetites and egos. If you have any morals at all they're very loose morals.
That's why the demonstrators in Egypt are so inspirational. They're thinking beyond the mundane and fighting for spiritual abstractions like food, justice and democracy.
Would you get out onto the streets to demand all the things that you already have?
President Mubarak of Egypt must be feeling increasingly isolated. Other countries such as Jordan and Syria look on uneasily.
As Bill said to Ben in The Flowerpot Men, "flobba-lobba-dobba-lob", or what goes around comes around. This can be seen in the Trumpton Town Hall Clock, telling the time, steadily, sensibly; never too quickly, never too slowly; telling the time for Trumpton.
The heroes of Watch with Mother often valued the wisdom of age. We revere the likes of Captain Snort of Pippin Fort near Chigley.
Captain Snort is a soldier man,
Scarlet and gold a soldier man.
He'll work a boy as hard as he can,
To turn him into a soldier man.
But paradoxically, it encourages the elderly not to linger. As Sergeant Major Grout said to Captain Snort, "Atten-TION, isn't it about time you retired and let me take over old chap?"
Watch with Mother is full of instances of one series giving way to another. Muffin the Mule gives way to Andy Pandy, which in turn stands aside for Chigley, near Camberwick Green, In Trumptonshire. There is therefore an "orderly transition" as is being hoped for in many Middle East countries.
Sometimes we just know when it's time to go. There comes a point where we know that we have outstayed our welcome, that it's time to move on, that we're no longer relevant or meaningful, that we've said all that we have to say and there's no more to be said, when we find ourselves repeating the same tired, old, outdated platitudes day after day after day.
Perhaps the words of Lady Rosemary to Sir Basil, in The Herbs might be relevant here. "My name is Lady Rosemary,you'll find you cannot fool me. I have eyes both sharp and quick,to help me see through every trick."
Let us hope that President Mubarak has been listening to this broadcast.
Tuesday, 1 February, 2011, 08:09 AM - JamesRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
Has anyone mentioned Antony Gormley recently? It's certainly been a while, so how about I mention his new sculpture in Canterbury Cathedral. It's a model of the human body that looks a bit like Pinhead from Hellraiser, only with a few more nails in it.
A lot of people don't like their bodies, and to be honest if it feels like Antony Gormley's new sculpture, who can blame them. Don't be taken in by the fashion models, the movie stars and the sporting athletes. We can't all look like that. Learn to love your bodies. Caress it, run your hand down your soft, smooth thigh, make it feel wanted. If you're short, fat and baldy with an interesting skin condition, be proud of your appearance.
Gormley's Pinhead stands above the tomb of Thomas Becket, who wore a hair-shirt to make himself feel uncomfortable and stop all those terrible carnal desires. He probably felt a bit like Pinhead himself. I can't imagine where some clerics got such strange ideas from. Saint Paul was a big fan of the human body and was always encouraging Christians to go out and fondle one another.
Clifford Longley, a distinguished Catholic gentleman who talks a lot about religion, Platitude of the Year Winner 2010
There's a lot going on in Egypt. Egypt is an ancient civilisation. So were Greece and Rome - they were ancient civilisations too, but Egypt was even more ancienter. In fact, Egypt may even have invented being civilised.
Which brings me to the 10 commandments which are so vitally important to us in knowing how to be moral. Without a proper set of rules like these, none of us would know how to be moral.
1. There's only one Invisible Magic Friend and it's me. You're not to make any images of me, 'cos I'm invisible.
2. Don't use my name in vain.
3. Set aside every seventh day so that you worship me properly.
Egypt was so civilised that it even had a brief flirtation with monotheism. That's how civilised they were. This was about the same time as Moses, whose birth and death certificates are well preserved. It may be where Moses got the idea for there only being one Invisible Magic Friend, Makes you, think, eh?
After Akhenaten died, Egypt went back to not being quite so civilised again, but despite not being so civilised they still had a list of 42 commandments, "42" being the answer to life, the universe and everything. This has confessions like, I have not killed, or I have not stolen. Sound familiar? Makes you think, eh? Makes you think that maybe these rules didn't come from the Invisible Magic Friend on Mount Sinai, that maybe we just know that they're wrong. No - forget that, it doesn't make you think anything of the kind.
Not blowing people up is also one of the 10 commandments, or at least it would have been if there were high explosives at the time. When some Muslims decided to blow up Coptic Christians, ordinary Muslims went to Coptic churches in their thousands to protect the Christians. Then some other Muslims cut off all contact with the Vatican for asking ordinary Muslims to protect Christians.
Egypt has lasted this long. It'll probably keep going.
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.
Ordinary people are out on the streets in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. We should never underestimate the courage of ordinary people. Ordinary people in the West often do underestimate the power of ordinary people to change things.
Many ordinary people like you, spend a lot of your time trying to prove that you're not ordinary. But really you are just ordinary. Very, very, very ordinary indeed. And being ordinary is contagious. Ordinary people just spread ordinariness among other, ordinary, people.
Philip Zimbardo writes that many ordinary people are actually heroes in waiting. While many conform to the rules in an evil situation, such as the Stanford Prison Experiment, or Abu Ghraib, there are always some ordinary people who resist, who become heroes. The ordinary people who have risked their lives in ordinary street protests are such heroes.
They can inspire ordinary people like me, by which I mean you, to be less ordinary. Take Jesus for example. A perfectly ordinary messiah, part of a perfectly ordinary Invisible Magic Friend. He inspires me to love my neighbour as myself. It's his very ordinariness that makes him so extraordinary.
Perhaps the ordinary people in the Arab world will inspire you to be a bit less average, boring, mediocre and just plain ordinary.
Redditch Borough Council wants to use the excess heat from the crematorium to heat the local swimming pool. What should we Christians think of this proposal? Let's ask Saint Augustine.
Well, obviously we can't ask Saint Augustine. That is to say, we could ask him, but being dead it's very unlikely that he would reply. Although he could reply if he wanted to, due to him being a saint. But what might Saint Augustine have thought, had he still been alive?
We don't know Saint Augustine's actual opinion on using crematoriums to heat swimming pools but we do know what he thought of grand tombs and solemn rights for the dead. He says these are for the comfort of the living and make no difference to the dead, them being dead. Even those torn to shreds by lions, have no need to worry - the Invisible Magic Friend still loves them and will take care of them.
I think therefore we can see that Saint Augustine broadly agrees with my opinion on the matter of crematoriums and swimming pools, or at least he would broadly agree were he able to articulate his views, namely that this is a good thing.
But what of the dead people themselves? What do they think of being used to heat swimming pools, thus lowering costs and reducing the council's carbon footprint? Well we can't know what the dead people themselves think, but I think if we could ask them, they would broadly agree with Saint Augustine and myself.
Friday, 28 January, 2011, 07:22 AM - Not TFTDI usually manage to start the day quite bubbly, energetic and optimistic. It takes a while for the daily chores of life and news of general human stupidity to start grinding me down. This morning, I switched on the BBC World Service and was depressed by the very first thing I heard.
In 2009, American Evangelicals started whipping up anti-gay hysteria in an already homophobic Uganda. They denied any responsibility for the subsequent attempt to introduce the death penalty for some gay offences. They just wanted to "cure" gays, to warn Ugandans of the international gay conspiracy and offer advice on how to protect their children from homosexuals. Kill them? “That’s horrible,” said one of the evangelicals. “Some of the nicest people I have ever met are gay people.”
Last year, a Ugandan tabloid newspaper published the names, addresses and photographs of Uganda's "top 100 homos", accompanied by the simple tag line "Hang them." The threats, intimidation and violence began immediately. Many were forced from their homes by their landlords, afraid that their property would be damaged.
Three activists, David Kato, Kasha Jacqueline, and Onziema Patience, bravely sued the vile little rag and won in Uganda's High Court. It seemed like a small victory against a seething tide of homophobic hatred. Any celebration was to be short lived.
Yesterday, David Kato was bludgeoned to death with a hammer in his own home. He managed to crawl from one room to the next leaving a trail of blood across the floor before dying from his wounds. Police say there's no evidence that the attack was because of David's sexuality. Giles Muhame, the editor of Rolling Stone, condemned the murder, "We want the government to hang people who promote homosexuality, not for the public to attack them."
Meanwhile, here in the UK, two gay men are vilified by the right wing media for doing nothing more than standing up for their rights, while the loathesome bigots who want to treat them as second class citizens are hailed as persecuted Christian martyrs. Equality laws for gays are OK - just as long as you don't actually use them.
Like that twat of an evangelical who can see no connection between his own bile and the violence that follows, the Christians like to claim that they wish no harm to the sinner. They point to radical Muslims who are more outspoken in their condemnation of homosexuality (and Melanie Philips might like to note - yes, we will prosecute Muslims as well).
To the right wing Christian press and bloggers who speak of the "gay agenda", who want to reverse all the progress that we've made in gaining equality over the last few decades, to the Catholic Church, the evangelicals, the Islamists, I say this: every bit of homophobic violence is more blood on your hands. You're every bit as responsible for the death of David Kato as the man who wielded the hammer. And if you think we're going to shut up and go back in the closet because of your poisonous, hate filled, hypocritical LIES, you can just think again.
Thursday, 27 January, 2011, 09:13 AM - HarriesRating 0 out of 5 (Not platitudinous)
In July 1941, a Polish woman, called Antonina, sheltered seven Jews from the Nazis and her fellow Poles. As one survivor wrote, "The goodness of these people cannot be described. It wasn't one day or one minute but two and a half years of fear and suffering."
Antonina is one of 23,000 righteous gentiles remembered at the Holocaust memorial, a Holocaust that was caused by deliberate human choices. Yet it was her own neighbours who had turned on the Jewish community in their village.
Six million Jews along with tens of thousands of homosexuals, gypsies, mentally disabled and political dissidents were murdered. The Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel asked, "For us today, how is one to speak of it? How can one not speak of it?" Words seem totally inadequate, yet we must speak of it in order to remember.
This is what can happen when stereotypes become embedded in a culture, in the case of the Jews, encouraged by the Church. We must beware of similar stereotypes today, especially of Muslims who are often treated as if a few extremists were representative of all Muslims.
During one massacre of the Jews, a baby was being thrown into a well. A woman shouted, "He's not an animal, you know." The baby was spared. Sometimes words can save lives rather than reinforce stereotypes.
Wednesday, 26 January, 2011, 08:58 AM - Akhandadhi DasRating 5 out of 5 (Extraordinarily platitudinous)
I want to talk to you about a recent news story. It's a story of sexism and whether a woman "assistant referee" can really understand the offside rule.
Alternatively, I'd like to talk to you about Karma. You see the universe is a big cosmic computer that adds up all the good things that people do and all the bad things that people do and decides whether to give them a good time or a bad time in their next life.
Obviously a computer programme that analysed and sifts through every single action of every single human being would be immensely complex and some people have dismissed this as ridiculous, but Tesco can already figure out what groceries I buy from my loyalty card, so maybe it isn't as ridiculous as you think. The secret is that the universe does it all automatically. We can be sure of this because a Sanskrit poet said so and they're usually pretty reliable.
On one of my many important business trips to America, I was interrogated over lunch about the NHS. My hosts queried the morality of providing a health service for poor people who couldn't afford proper, private insurance.
Needing some treatment while in France (we Bewilderingly Reverend Lord Bishops do get around you know), I found I was constantly being asked for my credit card before any treatment was given. I found myself pining for the
The NHS is precisely the kind of health service that Jesus offered in the Big Book of Magic Stuff, proving once again that Jesus was, in fact, an Englishman. There was no requirement for expense health insurance like those uncharitable Americans, no demand for credit cards that are so typical of the French, just good British healthcare, free at the point of need.
Jesus, as the all knowing, all loving, Invisible Magic Friend, was happy to cure anyone living in the first half of 1st century Palestine, who could get through the crowds of thousands to actually meet him. Yes, if you were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, you too could have all the benefits of the modern NHS.
Harken therefore to my parting words of wisdom: a paralysed man cannot carry his own stretcher.
Makes you think, eh?