Isn't the devastation in Japan just terrible? It really is very bad indeed. It's not the first time very bad things have happened though. In Lisbon, on All Saints Day in 1755, something very similar happened: a massive earthquake followed by a tsunami. Lots of people were killed or maimed or left homeless, but rather more importantly, all the city's churches were destroyed.
People were quick to pass judgement then too. Voltaire said "There is no God." Rousseau said we should all go and live in the countryside and wear flowers in our hair. Kant said, "Let's start The Enlightenment." All of these were short term, knee-jerk responses with no long term consequences. This just goes to show the futility of being quick to pass judgement.
Similar things are happening now. People ask, should we really build four nuclear reactors right next to one another on top of a major geological fault? Should we invest in better tsunami warning and defence systems? These are the kind of predictable, unhelpful question that are now being raised.
As a Rev Dr Dr Prof, let me just assure you that what the people of Japan really need are more long term answers, Christianity for example. Christianity explains why all this happened. It's because the good and benevolent Invisible Magic Friend created you free, Free, FREE I TELL YOU! Free to be drowned, crushed, burned and torn apart. Free to loose your homes, your loved ones, your limbs. Free to rebuild all you have lost after almost total devastation. Wasn't that good and benevolent of him?
Not only does Christianity explain all that has happened, it tells we Christians to follow the example of the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend and feel compassion for all the free people of Japan.
The wakeup tunes for the last two days of Discovery's final mission have been selected, starting today with the theme from Star Trek. There's lots of space news this week. Yesterday Patrick Moore celebrated the 700th edition of The Sky at Night, and Brian Cox [Ed - grrrrr... bloody Brian Cox] started his new series Wonders of the Universe. There are also books to be published about whether our universe is one of many: the multiverse.
Putting people in space is a dangerous business. It was on this day 25 years ago that the crew compartment of the shuttle Challenger was located on the ocean floor. Yet the message of Star Trek, to boldly go where no one has gone before, is a basic human instinct. The science fiction series portrayed a hopeful vision of the future, where science had solved many of humanity's problems, and useless things, like religion, were a thing of the past.
But enough of all this talk of science, it's time to talk about the Invisible Magic Friend. Yuri Gagarin may have said he wasn't up in space, but James Irwin said he was, so there. As a Rev Dr Dr Prof, I think science is a really good thing.
[Ed - at this point someone in the Radio 4 control room had evidently had enough and we were treated to 5 seconds of the most delightful silence.]
Science is a gift from the Invisible Magic Friend, which just goes to show how incredibly useful the Invisible Magic Friend is, and how wrong Star Trek was.
What makes people happy? Happiness is of course a complex issue whose complexities I'm not going to discuss, but the Understanding Society survey suggests that married couples, married for less than five years and with no children, are the happiest people of all, although Oscar winners are also happy.
But what else makes people happy? I wonder what it could be? Let me think now, what could be a sure fire way of ignoring all the world's problems? Hmmmm, oh yes, I remember, did you know that having a religion makes people happy? It doesn't even have to be the true religion, like Christianity, any religion will do, no matter how nutty it is? If there's anything guaranteed to help you forget all about this world's troubles, it's to imagine that everything will all be sorted out later in magicland. It's so much more useful than mindless delusion. A famous theologian agrees with me, so I must be right.
I suppose it's because we people of faith have hope. Those of you who don't have an Invisible Magic Friend obviously don't have any hope. You have to rely on people sorting out their own problems and we all know what a waste of time that is! People of faith also benefit from a strong sense of community and a healthier lifestyle.
Just telling people to "don't worry, be happy", can be quite irritating. As one of my favourite hip hop bands says Damn if I say it you can slap me right here (Get it) lets get this party started right, Right on, c'mon.
But it's not just that people of faith have hope, community and health, it's also that we flourish throughout life, are open to change and are so much less selfish than everyone else. We get this through knowing the beauty, goodness and wisdom of the Invisible Magic Friend.
So despite being married 19 years, having two children and no likelihood of an Oscar, I'm off to do a bit of flourishing today. How sad it must be for those of you who are not in my happy state? Excuse me while I stick my fingers in my ears and go "La, la, la, la, la..."
Isn't Aung San Suu Kyi just fantastic? She's stuck to her pacifist Buddhist principles throughout her long campaign for democracy in Burma. Her Buddhist principles are completely different from the Buddhist principles of the Burmese generals, whose Buddhist principles largely seem to consist of brutally holding on to power at all costs.
Her many critics, such as, well... er... ...they're just too numerous to mention by name, say that maybe if she hadn't been so pacifist, things would be better for Burma by now. Perhaps if she'd led an armed insurgency - regularly blowing up government buildings - that kind of thing, the military leaders would have handed over power to an elected civilian government by now.
Aung San Suu Kyi may not have military power, but like Mandela and Rosa Parks before her, she carries tremendous moral authority and this in itself can bring about change.
Sometimes change happens quickly. Sometimes it doesn't. It can happen overnight or it can take decades. It all depends really on the rate at which change is happening. We won't know how fast change is going to happen in Burma until after it has happened. We'll just have to wait and see whether it's going to be fast change or slow change. But we know from her Buddhist philosophy (this is the good Buddhist philosophy and not the bad Buddhist philosophy of the generals, which probably isn't proper Buddhist philosophy at all) that change definitely happens eventually.
Jesus, who was the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend and therefore an authority on the subject, thought that peaceful change was a good thing too. This reassures me that peaceful change is a good thing, otherwise I wouldn't be so sure.
Aung San Suu Kyi's way of doing things is as recommended by Jesus and good Buddhist philosophy, and this gives us hope that she will succeed.
This lady is determined to bring about change the right way and for that I am both thankful and inspired.
Today, I want to tell you about the experiments being done by the Large Hadron Collider and why the Invisible Magic Friend is so very relevant to this.
But first, as a Reverend Doctor Doctor, let me just assure those Christians out there, who may be worried about those pesky scientists meddling in things that you do not understand, that this is not a case of scientists playing the Invisible Magic Friend. The energies are in fact far lower than those of the Big Bang and so there is very little danger of us accidentally creating new universes.
The LHC has got bored just banging hadrons together and has moved onto lead ions. They're hoping to create a new state of matter, called a quark-gluon plasma, last seen in the instants after the creation of the universe. This, it is hoped, will provide insights into the strong nuclear force, that was kindly provided by the Invisible Magic Friend in order to hold protons and neutrons together.
One Christian teenager, with the ravenous curiosity so typical of his kind, asked me "Why would anyone want to know all this rubbish anyway?" It was a good question. I explained that pure science research has always led to new applications long after the initial scientific discoveries. He replied "Yes, but we've already got iPhones and we know that everything else is held together by the Invisible Magic Friend, so what's the point?"
It was at this point that I found it necessary to draw upon my expertise in theology. You see, the Christian Invisible Magic Friend, as the young teenager had so eruditely explained, holds every quark and electron in place, making sure it continually obeys his laws. He thus invites us to guess how he does it.
"GO ON, SEE IF YOU CAN FIGURE OUT THE LAWS OF NATURE. I'LL EVEN THROW IN THE ODD BIT OF REVEALED SCRIPTURE THAT'S COMPLETELY WRONG BUT THAT YOU CAN ALWAYS TAKE FIGURATIVELY ONCE YOU REALISE. A FEW MIRACLES NOW AND THEN SHOULD THROW YOU OFF TRACK A BIT AS WELL."
We thus see that science and Christianity are in perfect accord and that scientists pursue their goal in an effort to better understand the ways of the Invisible Magic Friend.
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” saw tens of thousands of people express a desire to see a return to a more measured discourse in American politics. We can disagree with our opponents without demonising them.
This reminds me of religion. We have to keep our discussion of religion sane and rational and level headed. There are people out there who express their religion through hatred, burning Korans or attacking others' sexuality. I'd just like you to know that these aren't mainstream Christians. They're just the wacko, off message, lunatic fringe. They're not proper Christians, like me.
There are even people out there who actually mock religion, I can't think why.
Saint John's Gospel, generally agreed to be one of the very best Gospels, says that Jesus was really nice. You can trust Jesus and proper followers of him, like me. There have been some really good Christians, like Martin Luther King, and me.
I had a debate with lots of agnostics, humanists, Muslims and Christians about whether God existed or not. It was a really nice debate, where everyone was really nice to each other. And the great thing about that debate was that I certainly haven't changed my mind.
T.S. Eliot said the world would end not with a bang but a whimper. Turns out he was right. Scientists have just discovered that the universe will expand forever. So ultimately the whole of the cosmos is pointless and futile and all your pathetic little lives are just worth nothing.
Unless you're a Christian that is. Those of you who aren't Christians and have managed to struggle out of bed to hear me this morning, are doubtless consumed with the meaningless of it all. You get up in the morning and think, oh no, not another day in this irrelevant existence. We Christians however, not in any way wishing to sound smug or arrogant, bounce out of bed in the morning, full of certainty about or specialness in creation. As a Rev Dr Dr, let me just assure you that our quite rational belief in the risen Lord and the bountifulness of His bigness, transforms our understanding of the world, giving our lives meaning and purpose and direction that all you lesser people of the wrong, or no, religion cannot possibly have.
And now, as a mark of the humility and uncertainty so characteristic of we Christians, a short quote from Paul Gascoigne, "I never make predictions and I never will."
A Level results come out this week and we'll be working hard at St John's College Durham, one of the oldest and best theological colleges in the country, to select the very best minds capable of doing justice to our rigorous programme of theological study.
With more and more students getting three A's every year, there will be the inevitable outcry that exams are getting easier. As a Rev Dr Dr, let me just assure you that, judging by the quality of our theology students, this is simply not so. This is something that I wish to thank the Invisible Magic Friend for, and so we move effortlessly from the subject of academic attainment onto my real subject for this morning: thanking the Invisible Magic Friend.
There's not enough thanking of the Invisible Magic Friend going on these days. For example, no one thought to thank the Invisible Magic Friend for David Beckham who so selflessly and for so little reward, laid down his career for Harry, England and Saint George.
Jesus constantly thanked the Invisible Magic Friend, that is himself, for everything he had done for himself. If it was good enough for Jesus then it ought to be good enough for you. So I'd like to thank the Invisible Magic Friend right now for my son. He was ill once, but thankfully the Invisible Magic Friend sent an ambulance. Thanks to the efforts of the paramedics and doctors, the Invisible Magic Friend made him better and he is still better today. Maybe he'll want to study the difficult and logical subject of theology when he gets his A Level results.
And now, a little academic joke about students. As our chancellor said at the graduation ceremony this year, "I'm sure many of you have had to work hard, but I'm also sure that many of you have been hard work."
(Titter, titter, titter.)
A very fast runner has just beat another very fast runner. This brings me neatly onto the Olympics, which will be here any year now, and where these two very fast runners may well run against each other very fastly.
There's a fine tradition of calling for an Olympic Truce during the period of the games. It was called for the Beijing games, for the Athens games, and for every Olympic games since 1996. Another tradition, lasting just as long, is that every country at war has completely ignored the truce. But this time it could be different.
Wouldn't it be just fantastic if Sunni and Shia in Iraq came together and gave each other cuddles? Just think how wonderful it would be if the Taliban stopped cold bloodedly executing doctors for a couple of weeks? Somali Islamist groups, so renowned for their admiration of sporting events, could lay aside their arms and preach peace and tolerance for all.
If we're to achieve universal world peace, the time to start is now. Christianity, which is the religion of peace, has been preaching peace for 2,000 years now, and just look how few wars there's been in all that time. Now's the time to start the diplomatic efforts to stamp out those few remaining little local difficulties around the world, that mostly seem to involve that other great religion of peace.
Wouldn't it all be so nice if everyone was at peace, and people were good and peaceful and there weren't any wars any more. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all just get along?
Or am I just being naive?
Why does a loving God allow such suffering? It's a hard question. It's a very, very, very, very hard question. People have been asking it since time immemorial. There have been lots of attempted answers by many clever people over the generations.
Charles Darwin took the easy, simplistic, naive, childish way out and concluded that there was no loving God. Yet for some bizarre, inexplicable reason, Darwin continued to contribute to Christian charities doing good work. Crazy, eh?
Those of us who are better trained in theology than either you or Darwin, continue to struggle with the problem of suffering created by a good God. So what is the answer? What does modern theology, with it's razor sharp logic have to say on the subject? As a Rev Dr Dr and Principal of St John's College Durham, let me just assure you that Darwin was wrong. I haven't a clue what the actual answer is but I do know that Darwin's easy, simplistic, naive, childish way out can't possibly be the right answer.
Moving on, don't forget to donate to the relief effort.