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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Rev Roy Jenkins, Baptist Minister in Cardiff  
Saturday, 19 March, 2011, 10:04 AM - Justice and mercy, Jenkins
Rating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)

What's going to happen to Gaddafi's inner circle? Will they go or will they stay? As Kate Adie points out, many are as afraid of the dictator as everyone else is of them.

One day they may have to answer before a court of law, to face judgement. I bet you can't guess where I'm going with this. Ooooo! It's going to be such a surprise when I get there, but let's keep up the suspense.

Meanwhile, in Japan, we see humanity at its best, as workers at the stricken nuclear plant, brave the radiation in order to bring it under control. Others have been less brave, abandoning 128 pensioners at their nursing home within the nuclear plant's exclusion zone. They're going to have to be judged as well.

Yes, it's time to reveal my big surprise! According to the Big Book of Magic Stuff, the Invisible Magic Friend will judge you all in the end! So pray that the Visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend does not put you to the test, because you'll probably fail and end up being sent below.

I bet you weren't expecting that.

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Rhidian Brook, writer, celebrity and Christian  
Friday, 18 March, 2011, 08:39 AM - Brook
Rating 5 out of 5 (Extraordinarily platitudinous)

Happy Red Nose day everyone! Just to show you all how game for a laugh I am, I'm wearing my red nose for all to see here on the radio. Obviously I had to make a donation to get my red nose, but that's just the kind of charitable people that we celebrity, Christian writers are.

Comedy is so important. It's equally vital not to over-analyse comedy, regarding it as a sociological phenomenon, used to bond people in the face of the shared tragedy of their miserable human existence. The essence of comedy is sadness and tears, possessing a reality that transcends the unfortunate curse of the human condition.

And on that lighter note, thank goodness we Christians can laugh at ourselves and don't take the whole thing too seriously. Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I'm going to say that Jesus would've made a great stand up comic. And you'd be right! The Gospel is just one huge barrel of laughs from beginning to end. I mean, born in a pig sty, what's that all about, eh?

Then there's that bit where he's treated as the Messiah! Oh, please, stop, my sides were aching with laughter. What about that bit in the garden of Gethsemane? I nearly wet myself, the tears were just pouring down my cheeks.

Who can forget all those wonderful jokes he told. They didn't have anything as crude as a punchlines, obviously, it was the way he said them. All that talk about virgins and demons, rich men and camels - it was that dead pan delivery of his that made everyone think he was being serious - pure comic genius!

That's why Comic Relief is just like the Gospels, a truly spiritual experience in the fine tradition of the Gospels.

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Reverend Rosemary Lain-Priestley, Dean of Women's Ministry in central London  
Thursday, 17 March, 2011, 08:56 AM - Morality, War, Priestley
Rating 2 out of 5 (A little platitudinous)

Should we interfere in Libya or not? Should we establish a no fly zone, with our non-existent aircraft carriers, to prevent Colonel Gaddafi from bombing his own people? Gaddafi himself has challenged the British government, "Are you our guardian? By what right?"

The West's policy on intervention is inconsistent, to say the least. Afghanistan and Iraq have hardly been shining triumphs, while the West did virtually nothing to prevent the horrors of the Rwandan genocide.

Thomas Aquinas set out the conditions he thought must be met for a "just war". It must protect people from unnecessary suffering. Civilian casualties must be minimised. There must be a just cause - greed, revenge or self interest don't count. There must be a strategy for post war reconstruction.

The moral and ethical implications are complex and profound, but on the whole, I say, yeah, let's bomb the hell out of them!

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Rev Dr Giles Fraser, Grumpy Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral  
Wednesday, 16 March, 2011, 08:31 AM - Gibberish, Fraser
Rating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)

Charlie Sheen, drugs, we are interested, twitter, Guinness Book of Records, social media, A.S. Byatt, The Guardian, decline in religious belief, nothing left, no place in the world. Who are we? Where are we? What are we? Social media, mirror, identity, tragedy, Sheen, be noticed to exist, spiritual, Lent, denial, alone, friends, foes, Jesus, wilderness, forces beyond our control, A.S. Byatt, poem, deeper reality, Invisible Magic Friend, exist, love, hold together, Invisible Magic Friend, Lent, hard.

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Rev Dr Dr Prof David Wilkinson, Principal of St John's College Durham  
Tuesday, 15 March, 2011, 08:42 AM - Evil, Science, Wilkinson
Rating 5 out of 5 (Extraordinarily platitudinous)

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.

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Dr Indarjit Singh CBE, director of the Network of Sikh organisations  
Monday, 14 March, 2011, 08:38 AM - Be nice, Singh
Rating 4 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)

Isn't the earthquake, the tsunami, the virtual destruction of entire towns and the explosions at the nuclear plants in Japan just terrible. Japan knows all about the dangers of radiation after having had two atomic bombs dropped on it. Radiation can be very dangerous you know, even to unborn children.

Most people are undoubtedly having emotions about this: sympathy for those who have lost dear ones or homes, worry for those still trapped in the rubble. There is the desire to blame someone. They might like to blame those who design and site nuclear power stations, for example.

This is where the Japanese could do with some Sikh teaching. Sikh teaching teaches that we should deal with consequences rather than causes. If only the Japanese people would take this to heart at this terrible, terrible time, I think things would be so much better. This reminds me of the eigth Guru, who was summoned to Delhi, aged seven, contracted smallpox and died.

Nature can be very beautiful, but also very terrible. Fortunately the Japanese are very well organised, holding regular exercises about what to do during an earthquake. This is in accordance with Sikh teachings and a famous poet whom I'm sure needs no introduction from me.

Other countries are sending extra help to Japan. This is something that i find very encouraging, that others are willing to help. This is also in accordance with Sikh teaching on how to respond to natural disasters.

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Catherine Pepinster, editor of the Catholic newspaper, The Tablet 
Saturday, 12 March, 2011, 08:32 AM - Evil, Gibberish, Science, Pepinster
Rating 5 out of 5 (Extraordinarily platitudinous)

Yesterday we saw what happens when tectonic plates shift.

Has anyone mentioned Ash Wednesday yet? We had Ash Wednesday just three days go. That's when we Christians get ashes put on our head to remind us that we'll return to dust. The same words are used on Ash Wednesday as in we Christians' burial service, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Ash Wednesday marks the start of 40 wonderful days of penance and reflection before the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend rises from the dead, which is just brilliant.

There must have been a lot of ash in Japan yesterday, which again reminds us of Ash Wednesday, and there'll be lots of burials, where Christians mention ash too!

T.S. Eliot, a famous Christian, wrote a poem about Ash Wednesday you know. Ash Wednesday is a really good poem as it mentions the Invisible Magic Friend a lot. It's about someone who struggles to find faith in the Invisible Magic Friend. I say "find faith" rather than "believe a bunch of irrational, superstitious bunkum" because it sounds much nicer. What a terrible struggle that must be, to struggle for faith, not to have the clear, unambiguous insight that I have.

Many people yesterday in Japan, only three days after our Christian festival of Ash Wednesday, will have prayed to the Invisible Magic Friend to save them. Others will have foolishly raged at the Invisible Magic Friend. How could he allow such a terrible thing to happen, only three days after the Christian festival of Ash Wednesday, they will ask? As if they shouldn't be destroyed by the power of nature just like everyone else. How very selfish and small minded of them.

The explanation of this is really all quite simple. You see the Invisible Magic Friend invented thermodynamics, plate tectonics and the laws of physics and chemistry. Then he gave us our brains and left us to figure out how that gives rise to earthquakes and tsunamis, so that we can understand what's killing us.

Doubtless, as people were crushed, drowned, burned or torn apart yesterday, only three days after the Christian festival of Ash Wednesday, they were thinking about the Invisible Magic Friend and why it is there are some things that we just don't understand, and perhaps that is the greatest mystery of all.

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Christian couple NOT banned from fostering 
Friday, 11 March, 2011, 09:46 AM - Not TFTD
Frankyv pointed out the interview on yesterday's Today Programme with Paul Diamond, the barrister bringing the claim on behalf of the Pentecostal Christian couple Eunice and Owen Johns, and Lord Falconer. Lord Falconer's comments seemed at odds with the lurid headlines that have spread across the world and the increasingly hysterical rants of prominent Christian bloggers.

The full judgement in the case is available online, so I decided to have a quick read. There's a lot of information in the judgement, which it turns out has been highly selectively quoted by the press (what a surprise!). The bottom line however is that Eunice and Owen Johns have not been banned from fostering children.

As paragraph [21] makes clear "there has been no decision [by Derby City Council]; the 'decision' taken on 10 March 2009 over a year before the application was issued was merely a decision to defer a decision."

The judges repeatedly stressed that they were reluctant to make any judgement at all in the case and indeed concluded (paragraph [109]) "that we should make no order" in the case.

It also became clear that there was more than the couple's beliefs that were a concern. When asked how he would deal with a potentially gay child, Owen responded by saying that he would "gently turn them round" [7]. Other matters included

[62]...who would care for a child who was likely to be there at weekends when the claimants were at the two church services they attended on Sundays, the indication that they would not take a Muslim child in their care to a mosque, and their availability in a wider sense because of the pressures of their work and other commitments.


The judges make it quite clear that religious discrimination is completely unacceptable [98] and that neither Derby City Council or the court are attempting to do so.

[34] No one is asserting that Christians (or, for that matter, Jews or Muslims) are not 'fit and proper' persons to foster or adopt. No one is contending for a blanket ban. No one is seeking to de-legitimise Christianity or any other faith or belief. No one is seeking to force Christians or adherents of other faiths into the closet. No one is asserting that the claimants are bigots. No one is seeking to give Christians, Jews or Muslims or, indeed, peoples of any faith, a second class status. On the contrary, it is fundamental to our law, to our polity and to our way of life, that everyone is equal: equal before the law and equal as a human being endowed with reason and entitled to dignity and respect.

[106] ...it is not the defendant's position that the majority of the population is to be excluded from being approved for fostering because of their Christian beliefs. ...the defendant has approved foster carers who are "very committed Christians who hold to orthodox beliefs and devout Muslims who are similarly committed to their religion"


All that has been said is that

[97] ...The local authority is entitled [emphasis mine] to explore the extent to which prospective foster carers' beliefs may affect their behaviour, their treatment of a child being fostered by them.


In short, they have not been banned from fostering children because of their beliefs. They have not been banned from fostering children at all. There is no blanket ban on Christians fostering children. There is no court order in this case. The most the judges can be said to have concluded is that a couples views on homosexuality may be taken into account.
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