Rev Dr Michael Banner, Dean and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge  
Wednesday, 30 March, 2011, 08:10 AM - Democracy, Banner
Rating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)

News just in: 1500 years ago, the Roman Empire departed from Italy. This was a real shame. As empires went, it really was a jolly nice empire. "What shall we replace it with?" asked Saint Benedict, as he sat around being saintly. "I know, let's all go and live in monasteries!"

The saintly Saint Benedict hurriedly set about inventing a rule for his monasteries. Each one had to have someone in charge, he would be called the abbot. When making a big decision though, the abbot had to consult with the whole community, even with the people who were the most insignificant. This was because the Invisible Magic Friend could put a useful thought into the heads of anyone, even insignificant people.

As we read the rule of Saint Benedict, as one surely does on a regular basis, we are struck by what a very good rule this is. It really was a revolutionary idea: rule by a benign dictator who must listen to the common people. As a Rev Dr, let me just assure you, that this was clearly a recipe for a contented and peaceful existence - much better than the Roman Empire.

At this point I'd just like to mention the story of the pirate brought before Alexander the Great. "What do you think you're doing?" asked Alexander. "Same as you," said the pirate. "Except I do it with one boat, so I'm called a pirate. You do it with a navy, so you're called an emperor."

As we see riots in the streets, we see how rubbish democracy is compared to the wise rule of an abbot.

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Reverend Lucy Winkett, Rector of St James Piccadilly, just down from Fortnum and Mason  
Tuesday, 29 March, 2011, 07:38 AM - Democracy, Winkett
Rating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)

Saturday was quite a day at St. James, near Fortnum and Mason. There was the good natured, family friendly, really rather jolly march against the imminent savage spending cuts, which I have to say I was quite enjoying. There were people from London, Birmingham, Leeds, Cardiff, Aberdeen, York, Burnley, Taunton, Bristol, Lancaster, Glasgow, Colchester, Norfolk, Preston, Telford, Ipswich, Newcastle, Swansea, Southampton, Coventry, Nottingham, Blackpool, Stoke, Lincoln, Hamilton and other places too.

Then there was the extremely well organised band of anarchists, dressed in black, with black scarves across their faces. They threw a can of paint at the bank and let off firecrackers, which I found quite disturbing. People hiding their faces is something that I find deeply unsettling. (Unless it's for religious reasons of course - that's perfectly OK.)

What is the distinctive Christian response to this rabble of rowdy rebels? It is to say words like, ethical, peace, justice, poor, faith, service, disadvantaged, dignity. The great Christian tradition is one of debate, of tolerance for competing views. I don't think wearing a scarf across your face is being very Christian at all. People who throw paint at banks should do so proudly and openly, not behind the mask of anonymity, at least until they graduate and actually go work for a bank.

In these difficult times, with many facing hardship and insecurity, it's important that we have an open political debate and not waste our time discussing violent protest. That's why I've chosen not to mention them at all today.

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Clifford Longley, a distinguished Catholic gentleman who talks a lot about religion, Platitude of the Year Winner 2010  
Monday, 28 March, 2011, 07:52 AM - Longley
Rating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)

Saint John's Gospel says that Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be made of the whole world. Or was it Saint Luke's. No, I think I'll go for Saint John's, with its particularly fine and detailed account of Jesus' early life.

The great thing about this is that we can date Jesus' birth to 6 CE when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Except that means he couldn't have been born in the time of Herod, as it says in Matthew, because he died in 4 BCE. Not to worry, I'm still going for Luke's version... er... I mean John's. It's such a shame the Romans never kept their census data, then we could have the exact details.

Name: Jesus Christ (aka The Messiah)
Mother: Mary, Mother of the Invisible Magic Friend
Father: The particularly invisible bit of The Invisible Magic Friend (foster father one Joseph of Nazareth)
City of Birth: Bethlehem
Date: 4BCE, or possibly 6 CE
Witnesses: three wise men, some shepherds and assorted choirs of angels

The really important thing about this census is that everyone had to return to the city of their birth, no matter where they were in the Roman Empire at the time - a policy that was widely welcomed by inn keepers and the donkey hire trade, but led to almost complete economic collapse everywhere else. Unfortunately, this wise policy has not been followed by the current government census. How are we to learn about community, society, without everyone returning to the city of their birth?

That's not the only problem. Take the "Religion" question. I had to put Christian, as if Catholic and Church of England were even remotely similar. How are we going to find out really important information, like who the top church is? How are we going to claim loads more government cash, on the off chance that the Catholic Church would have come out top?

Being part of a community is so important. The Invisible Magic Friend, or alternatively "evolution" for all those literal minded bloggers out there, made us as a social species. Although let's not forget the Nazis were social too, so we still need churches, like mine, to reign in such hierarchical, dogmatic, irrational, fascist tendencies.

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Rev Rob Marshall, an Anglican Priest  
Saturday, 26 March, 2011, 08:27 AM - Science, Marshall
Rating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)

The iPad2 is here. Isn't it wonderful? People were queuing outside, early in the morning, to get hold of this latest piece of technological wizardry. I wouldn't be that geeky myself of course, but this beautiful new tablet computer, is so elegant, so seductive, so light and delicate, all other, inferior, hardware manufacturers are racing to try and keep up with it. You can move things around on its touch sensitive screen without a mouse!

But the iconic iPad is not the only alluring tablet style device. Amazon have their amazing Kindle. It's said that even Norman Lamont has one, and if that isn't a recommendation I don't know what is.

The Church, always keen to take advantage of technological innovation, can even use ebook readers on the altar to say the mass, touching, rather than turning the pages. Isn't that just fantastic!

This isn't the first time sacred text, held on a tablet, have appeared on an altar. The tablets of stone containing the ten commandments got there first. The ten commandments weren't quite as light as an iPad and there was certainly a bit less flexibility in terms of reading material than modern ebook readers. On the other hand, contrast was great and there was no need for regular recharging. You could look on them as a sort of iPad beta. Nevertheless, I still have no hesitation in recommending all Apple and Amazon electronic products and services, available at surprisingly reasonable prices.

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Rhidian Brook, writer, celebrity and Christian  
Friday, 25 March, 2011, 09:01 AM - Science, Brook
Rating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)



Climate change is much in the news again. Well, no, not really, but me and one of many friends, a fellow expert on the subject, were discussing the issue down the pub. I won't say what side of the debate I was on. After all, this slot is all about preserving mystery and we wouldn't want to do anything so rash as to express a definite opinion.

I offered a statistic to back up my argument that my friend later showed could not be correct. I struggled with the data because it didn't support my preconceived ideas. This is what it's like when you're trying to find the truth, you have to examine data on both sides of the argument. You have to be sure that you're data is reliable.

When I watch the excellent "Wonders of the Universe", by that supremely photogenic and talented physicist, Prof Brian Cox OBE, I find I have to engage my celebrity, Christian, writer's brain. We learn, as he stands at the top of a mountain in the Himalayas, why Hindu creation myths are wrong, or, as he stands at the top of a mountain in Chile, how his greatly inflated air-miles account results in the bending of spacetime. But I have to use my imagination to try to understand a universe with a trillion trillion galaxies in it.

We have to be wary of mere facts. Facts can be terribly irritating and often get in the way. That's why I've decided to remain friends with my friend over climate change, despite all his irritating facts. Facts by themselves do not always lead to understanding.

Take the Book of Job, for example. Here, the Invisible Magic Friend reveals a stunning amount of data about how stars sang tunes with angels and how he holds conversations with abstract astronomical alignments. It's a reminder that, no matter how many facts we have, the Invisible Magic Friend always has more.

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Reverend Rosemary Lain-Priestley, Dean of Women's Ministry in central London  
Thursday, 24 March, 2011, 08:22 AM - Gibberish, Priestley
Rating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)

Yesterday was the budget, which brings me neatly onto the subject of spirituality. Can we really control how spiritual we are? It's a question that is often asked and the answer is, no, you can't. People who aren't as spiritual as me are just less well tuned to spiritual reality. It's not really their fault, they just can't help it. They don't understand about spiritual energy and stuff.

We can see this when Nicodemus asked Jesus,

"How do you do all those impressive magic tricks?"

Jesus could have just said, "It's because I'm the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend," but instead decided to launch into a terribly profound but rather long rant about spiritualness, being born again, being raised up and where the wind goes.

So what can those of you who aren't as spiritual as me do? Well, it's important that you remain open minded. If you're not very spiritual, try being a bit less close minded than you obviously are at the moment. If you try lying back with a completely open mind, not thinking about anything at all, eventually the Invisible Magic Friend will fill the void and you'll be able to give people the kind of useful advice that I'm giving you now.

Aren't we lucky that we had the budget yesterday? Otherwise I wouldn't have had the opportunity to tell you all this.

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Rev Dr Giles Fraser, Grumpy Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral  
Wednesday, 23 March, 2011, 08:18 AM - Fraser
Rating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)

I hate the way the King James Bible is being represented as some sort of example of Englishness. People just keep going on and on and on about the King James Bible. I wish people would just shut up about the King James Bible. I mean what's so special about the King James Bible? Even at the time, people thought the King James Bible was old fashioned. I mean it's just rubbish, I don't know why anyone bothers about the King James Bible. All right, I'll admit the King James Bible, that people keep going on about, has some cute turns of phrase, but that's about it. The King James Bible is more about nostalgia for a long lost Jacobean monarchy that we mostly chopped the heads off and then spent a century fighting against.

Bits of the King James Bible were used by Handel's Messiah, which is alright I suppose, so long as people don't keep going on about it. What I really object to is the King James Bible being the official bible of the English Defence League, or of Midsummer Murders, the village with the highest murder rate in the world, but which, worse than that, doesn't have any black people in it, not even as murderers.

The fact is, the bible is the the most multi-cultural book there ever was, with detailed instructions about how not to intermarry with other cultures and how to exterminate them if they try to tell you about their false gods.

I don't know how many times you need to be told this, but as a representative of the official Church of England, the Invisible Magic Friend is not English. He's not even British.

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Dr Indarjit Singh CBE, director of the Network of Sikh organisations  
Tuesday, 22 March, 2011, 08:49 AM - Lessons of history, Science, Singh
Rating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)

History is the most boring possible subject. Alternatively, history is the most interesting possible subject. It all depends really. Some think we should only teach European history because nothing very interesting ever happened anywhere else. Others think we should teach history from some other places as well. India might be a good choice.

Guru Nanak, just to pick an example at random, was a historical character from India. He was a contemporary of Martin Luther and had pretty much the same idea: religion has made a complete mess of people's lives, what we really need is a new religion. Not that the old religions, Islam and Catholicism, were that bad. I mean I wouldn't come on here on Radio 4 and say that those religions were utterly bad and awful, that they were too rigid, stifling and dogmatic. No, I wouldn't say that at all. You'll just have to infer it indirectly from the fact that my religion is so much better.

Meanwhile, Copernicus is credited with discovering that the earth goes round the sun, but Indian astronomers knew that long before. Guru Nanak was also a brilliant scientist. He knew all about other solar systems, other galaxies and the multiverse. In fact, I don't know why modern scientists don't just consult the Gurus, it would save an awful lot of time and money.

Now somehow I have to link this rather rambling speech to a current news story. Let's use the one about the Tornado pilots whose mission required a 3,000 mile round trip. They got to their target and found some civilians in the way, so they turned back without firing a shot. That is precisely the sort of thing a Sikh would have done. Which just goes to show how brilliant being a Sikh is.

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A History of Democracy 
Monday, 21 March, 2011, 04:47 PM - Not TFTD, Murad
While I'm doing the dishes I usually listen to something on my laptop. One of my favourite sources is the "In Our Time" archive. Today, I selected the edition from 18 Oct 2001, a history of democracy. This featured a couple of academic specialists in politics and history, and for some bizarre reason, Tim Winter, aka Shaikh Abdal Hakim Murad - then the assistant Muslim Chaplain at the University of Cambridge. His contribution to the programme went something like this.

Bragg: Does it say anything about democracy in the Koran?

Winter: No, not really.

Bragg: Muslim scholars translated the works of the Greek philosophers, including ideas about democracy. Did the Islamic world adopt any of these ideas?

Winter: No, not really.

Bragg: These ideas about democracy influenced European thinkers like Hobbes and Locke. Was any of this taken up by the Islamic world?

Winter: No, not really.

Bragg: Well, thank you everyone, next week...

It felt a bit like having TFTD rudely interrupting a much loved radio programme.
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Appallingly Reverend James Jones, Lord Bishop of Liverpool and Bishop of Prisons  
Monday, 21 March, 2011, 08:31 AM - War, James Jones
Rating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)

Has anyone mentioned Just War Theory yet? Thought not. Well it's a good job I'm here then.

As the Church of England's official military strategist, I'd just like to point out that there's a danger that the action in Libya will be seen as just another western intervention to secure oil supplies. I bet nobody's mentioned that yet, but then that's the kind of uniquely keen insight that you get when you see western bombardment of Colonel Gaddafi's forces from a faith perspective.

Well, this time, it's definitely not all about oil, as can be seen from the unanimity of Western opinion on the issue (except Germany, who for some reason never seem to want to go to war these days). Even quite a few Arab states were in favour of it, until they realised that this involved attacking things. Qatar is really getting into the spirit of things, joining the West to support the rebels in Libya while sending troops to crush dissent in Bahrain.

Another important part of Just War Theory is that there's got to be an outcome. The outcome in Libya is that there'll be a stalemate, or an uprising, or a partition, or a regime change, or a rebel victory - but there'll definitely be an outcome.

I find it very encouraging that military officers have a conscience. This is no accident you know. They were given it by the Invisible Magic Friend so that they'd have a moral compass as well as satellite navigation for their bombs.

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