This time of year usually spawns some silly tabloid stories about the history, literature or archaeology of Jesus' time - the kind of thing that might test the faith of the more weak willed Christians. Fortunately, proper Christians like me pay absolutely no attention to such discoveries.
This year though, things have been different. The papers have been full of the painful revelations in another Church. It gives me no sense of satisfaction to raise the subject yet again. Far be it from me to gloat over the discomfort of the Church that we created the Reformation to get away from. I'm not going to say "we told you so" or anything like that. No, past differences are forgotten. All water under the bridge. No need at all to mention the worldwide wave of child abuse covered up by a sexually frustrated hierarchy that must preserve its own authority at all costs because their faith relies on it. Wouldn't even dream of mentioning it. After all, the Vatican has shown real humility over the issue.
Easter is a time for all Christians, especially proper ones, to celebrate. Christ's death and resurrection has banished and defeated death. Although I have to admit that an awful lot of people do still die. In fact the vast majority, possibly even all of them, seem to die eventually. Despite this, I think we can still have full confidence in Jesus' teaching. Just look at his prediction that the meek would inherit the earth for example.
But let's not get too carried away. As the Pope (the guy that heads that infamous child molesting Church) said, "Christ's resurrection from the dead wasn't magic you know."
Sunday, 4 April, 2010, 02:56 PM - ClemmiesIt has been a bumper month for platitudes. In fact my cup so overfloweth with platitudinousness this month that I hardly know where to begin. But before we go on to look at some of the highlights, I want to wag my finger at John Bell of the Iona Community who got 0 out of 5. That simply isn't good enough John. It is nowhere near the standard we expect from Thought For The Day. You're just not trying.
Now, with that little unpleasantry out of the way, let's look at some of our more respectable performers. There was a very good batch of 4/5s that normally would have stood a very good chance of being up for the award - in any normal month that is.
Rev Dr Dr David Wilkinson Informed us that Darwin was wrong about God and suffering. He doesn't know what the right answer was but the conclusion that there is no loving God has to be wrong.
Another Rev Dr Dr, Joel Edwards, reminded us who the true vicitims of the Catholic sex abuse scandal are: Christians. Oh, how they are persecuted!
Anne Atkins was on form this month. even her weakest contribution was awful: that when God answers your prayers it proves he exists.
The Chief Rabbi told us that Jews can understand and empathise with other people's suffering because of their enslavement by the Egyptians 3,000 years ago. Which is remarkable when you think about it, especially since it almost certainly never happened.
Rev Dr Giles Fraser came up with one of the most original arguments for the existence of God that I've ever heard. Orthodox icons are really nice, therefore God exists.
None of these contributions, outstanding as they are, can compare with our 5/5s this month. I think it's only fitting that all three of them have already been recognised in the 4/5 category.
Rev Dr Giles Fraser explained why theology was such a lot of nonsense. Like abstract art, it was because people try to think about it and get answers from it. Theology has its own internal beauty that makes perfect sense as long as you don't think too hard.
The Chief Rabbi, in a second shot at the title this month, argued convincingly that religious massacres have nothing to do with religion and are, in fact, evolution's fault.
Then there was everyone's favourite vicar's wife, Anne Atkins who, with devastating logic, pointed out that Jesus had to be God because the Bible said so.
All of which leaves me with a problem. with so many outstanding entries how do I pick one above the others for this month's Clemmie. I've therefore decided to make a joint award this month to be shared by Giles Fraser and the Chief Rabbi. Well done both of you. It's probably too much to hope that standards this high can be consistently maintained, but I will pray to the BBC's Holy Department of Religion for you.
But we're still not finished. Although His Holiness is not eligible for the Clemmie (at least, not this month), I think some recognition is needed for his Irish "not-an-apology" letter, in which he says the Catholic abuse cover up is all the fault of secularists, liberals, homosexuals, the media, the Illuminati... And the way to make things better is to go to Catholic Church more and spend some more time with your priests. Having scored millions out of five, I feel it is only right and proper to give a special Lifetime Achievement award to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Well done, your holiness, long may you continue to spout heartless, hypocritical drivel.
Happy nearly Easter everyone! Although I have to admit, as a Catholic, I'm feeling a bit down at the moment. Tonight we celebrate the moment when Jesus definitely rose from the dead and so saved us all. Peter, the first Pope, from whom the Catholic Church derives its superior and infallible moral authority, must've felt dreadful when he realised that his friend and teacher was alive again. "Oh no," he thought. "I denied him three times, meeting him again is going to be so embarrassing."
We all prefer to just run away when we make embarrassing little social faux pas like that. It's the same with institutions too, even superior and morally infallible ones like the Roman Catholic Church. The Church has been caught red handed, systematically covering up child sex abuse on a worldwide scale, thinking always of itself, protecting its reputation and assets and doing everything it could to silence its vulnerable victims. It is so embarrassing and will really spoil Easter for many of us this year.
Fortunately the Church has finally admitted the whole thing. It is no longer in complete denial, lashing out at the media and anyone else who dares to point out its crimes. Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the last remaining cardinal in the British Isles who remains untainted by the scandal*, has even said he was "Sorry that a very small minority of priests have raped your children. It's time for forgiveness now."
It has vowed to change, to adopt a a more open, transparent and democratic form of governance. Priests will be allowed to marry, gay and women priests will be welcomed. The old authoritarian style has been cast aside and the Church has finally accepted that it is capable of error. Checks and balances will be put in place to oversee the entire Catholic hierarchy, including the Pope and his cardinals.
And in related news, it has been reported that pigs can now fly.
*Edit - I tell a lie. Cardinal O'Brien also failed to report abuse to the police. Turns out that this was happening at my old school, Blairs College, while I was there. I knew the priest who was found guilty, Desmond Lynagh. Fortunately I didn't know him that well. When he was found out, they moved him to Stirling University, where I also just happened to be studying.
Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dr Richard Chartres KCVO, Lord Bishop of London (the THIRD most senior bishop in the Church of England!), Privy Counsellor, Prelate of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Dean of the Chapels Royal, Honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple, Liveryman of the Merchant Taylors' Company, Honorary Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Weavers, Chaplain of the The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, Chairman of the Ecumenical London Church Leaders, Chairman of the Church Buildings Division, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Church Commissioners, Chairman of the Trustees of St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace
I must say, presenting Thought For The Day is a considerable improvement over my last appearance on the Today Programme.
Happy Good Friday everyone! It's that jolly time of year again when we remember Jesus being horribly tortured and executed. And while we're on the subject of mutilation and agony, I'd just like to say something about volunteering. The second lump of the Invisible Magic Friend volunteered to sacrifice himself to all the lumps of the Invisible Magic Friend (although they are in fact just one lump). I think we can all see that this was the only rational way to prevent the Invisible Magic Friend from condemning us all to eternal torture for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge on the advice of a talking snake and so committing the original sin which has been passed down through all generations of humanity and of which we are all guilty. So if Jesus could volunteer to do all that, I think you could do a couple of hours at the charity shop once a month.
Barry and Margaret Mizen, after the murder of their son, volunteered to support other victims of crime. You should volunteer because Jesus told you to volunteer. Not in so many words of course. He didn't say from the cross "I think you should all spend so many hours a week giving some time to voluntary organisations because this will help improve people's lives and you'll feel better in yourself for having done so." No, what he said was "Woman behold thy son," which I think is pretty much the same thing really.
It's now time for me to say the word "spiritual".
Thursday, 1 April, 2010, 09:19 AM - James JonesRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
Today is Maundy Thursday, when the Queen, who is the head of my church and therefore England's top believer, gives her Maunday Money to 84 Maundy pensioners, who would otherwise be maundiless. The grateful Maundy pensioners then take their 40 groats of Maundy money and go to buy a Maundy old sliced loaf, or alternatively auction the much sought after, specially minted Maundy coins to collectors.
Jesus celebrated Maundy Thursday by washing his disciples' feet. This is the true meaning of "community". "Go forth in the name of the Father, Me and the Holy Ghost," he commanded them, "and form ye communities of feet washers wherever you may go." This is how we can reinvigorate the disillusioned youth of today, by getting everyone to wash each other's feet and build a true sense of community.
The Queen no longer washes the feet of her subjects. That was OK for Jesus but it's not the sort of thing we do in the Church of England these days. The Duke of Edinburgh will, however, read the story of the Jesus' feet washing incident, just to remind the peasants how humble they should be.
Thursday, 1 April, 2010, 06:44 AM - Not TFTDOver the years I've done my fair share of criticising religion. I've laughed at their absurd claims to moral superiority. I've mocked clerics' self-styled titles and pomposity. I've ridiculed the inconsistency of the Bible. Yet despite all of this, aspects of my Catholic upbringing have continued to nag the back of my mind, worrying me that there might not be a grain of truth in all the beliefs that I've rejected.
Then there are all the good works of religion, encompassing everything from the Salvation Army soup kitchen to Christian Aid. These should not be idly dismissed. Many desperate people, who otherwise would have no one to turn to, rely on these organisations to provide hot food in their stomachs and a roof over their head for the night. It is these charities, where people give time and money to look after the less fortunate, that has led me in recent months to reconsider my views of faith based ideals in general and Christianity in particular.
Reading the Gospels afresh, I find myself drawn to the character of Jesus. His essential humanity, his pacifist leanings, his obvious concern for those around him, strike a chord with me that I find very compelling. There is a basic human decency and tolerance to Jesus' teaching that seems at odds with the wealthy, powerful and conservative forces of the modern Church. Jesus himself was a radical, an anti-establishment firebrand who irked the religious authorities of his day and paid the ultimate price for doing so.
The historicity of Jesus is often overstated, especially by the likes of Anne Atkins and her ilk. Yet something happened in first century Palestine, sparking a movement that spread rapidly across the Roman world, a movement that within a few short centuries had displaced the ancient pantheon of the Graeco-Roman gods. I believe the simplest explanation for this is the existence of a real historical Jesus, a charismatic preacher who enthused a generation of religious zealots, whose inspiration was sufficient to convert even ardent critics like Saul of Tarsus.
I hope it goes without saying that I don't believe in all the miracles. Nor do I believe all the narratives added to the Jesus story in an obvious attempt to satisfy Jewish messianic prophecies. However, at the core of Jesus' teaching is a simplicity, an asceticism that avoids being puritanical, that I find overwhelmingly attractive. I've always thought that a truly Christian faith, that strived to adhere to Jesus' teachings while rejecting all the supernatural trappings, could be a vital force for good in the modern world.
With this in mind, I put in an offer on the former Saint Thomas' Catholic Church, Southend and the offer has been accepted. I intend to form a new congregation there, starting immediately, with the Church renamed to "Church of the Wisdom of Jesus". There will be no predefined dogma and services will be open to everyone of all faiths and none. The only central tenet will be a desire to better understand the teachings of this extraordinary man. I'm hoping to build a real community there that will be at once sceptical, yet open minded and generous.
I am, however, in urgent need of donations. Although the walls and roof are in generally good condition, the Church interior has been gutted. There are only three pews and the magnificent early 20th century Norman & Beard organ is in a terrible state of disrepair. With a bit of help, I think the Church can soon be restored to the glory days of its past but it will take time, hard work and a lot of money. So I'd like to invite you all there this Sunday at 10am for the first service. Hymns will be traditional. Please help to spread the word.
I'm just back from my 6 month tour in Afghanistan where we've been fighting off religious nutters. Not everyone will be celebrating Easter with their families. The loved ones of many fallen comrades will celebrate this Easter alone.
In some ways, serving in the forces is like the Christian calendar at this time of year. There are the sacrifices of Lent, the pain of Holy Week and the celebrations of Easter.
Days before victory in Iraq, on Palm Sunday, we were greeted by villagers placing palm leaves on the ground before us. I helped many of the soldiers make sense of the situation. I didn't tell them that they were risking their lives for the lying agenda of imperialist American neo-cons who were going to make a fortune out of the war and an idiotic poodle of a Prime Minister who wouldn't know the truth if it fell on top of his head but was still a really nice bloke because he was a Christian. Instead, I pointed to the burning oil fields and said, "Look, that's just like in the Bible."
Aren't Orthodox icons really nice? The traditional Easter icon is of Jesus standing over the pits of hell. Jesus says, "Sorry for putting you here, it must've been terribly inconvenient," and offers a helping hand to those he's decided to save, while leaving all the sinners to justifiably burn forever. Isn't that just truly inspirational?
Of course, hell isn't an actual place, with fire and smoke and darkness and huge physical suffering, like we used to tell you for centuries. No, no, no. In the modern church, hell is a kind of mystical, insubstantial, mysterious, blurry sort of woo-woo type thingy. Yesterday, on the other hand, the Moscow underground was a place of fire and smoke and darkness and huge physical suffering. And it wasn't Jesus pulling people out, but fire and police and ambulance people, risking their own live to help others.
Anyway, back to the really important subject of icons. I look at icons and I think, "Gosh, wouldn't it be nice if all that were true?" As you can see, this is not the result of "logic" or "rationality" or even "common sense", all of which are grossly over valued. People who go around deluding themselves with their so called "evidence" and their illusory "deductive logic" need to look at some icons and say "Gosh, wouldn't it be nice if all that were true?". Then, like me, you can imagine life after death and build up a whole theology imagining it was true. Then when you say it often enough, "It is true. It is, it is, it is." you'll eventually come to believe that there really is a life after this one and that's were ultimate truth lies. Just like yesterday's suicide bombers.
Monday, 29 March, 2010, 08:19 AM - JenkinsRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
Happy Holy Week everyone! This is the biggest week in the Christian calendar and it's so relevant today. You see Jesus was betrayed. No, honestly, he was. Betrayed by Judas for thirty pieces of silver. Of course, being God, Jesus knew he was going to be betrayed. He knew Judas would betray him from the moment he said "How would you like to be an Apostle Judas?" In fact he knew Judas would betray him from the moment he created him and so knew that Judas would have to spend eternity in damnation as a result. Talk about drawing the short straw!
Anyway, back to betrayal. Jesus being betrayed is so relevant today because lots of people are being betrayed. Politicians are betraying voters by all being the same. Moscow commuters are being betrayed by being blown up. (How's that for last minute topicality?) Religious institutions are betraying children by raping those in their care - not mentioning any names mind you. And while we're not mentioning Catholics, I'd just like to point out that I'm not a Catholic. That's a totally different type of Christianity, not the same thing at all. We don't associate with other Christian sects when they're embroiled in a disgusting scandal. It's only when they're being nice that we're one big happy Christian family who can take credit for each other's good works.
And it's not just people doing the betraying who are betraying people. Other people are betraying people too by not standing up for those who have been betrayed. Again, not mentioning any names. I wouldn't want to be accused of spreading petty gossip or idle tittle-tattle about trivial, unimportant things.
So there you have it. The best week of the year, where Jesus gets horribly tortured and killed, Christianity at it's best (that's my sort of Christianity, not the other sort that we're not mentioning this week).
Saturday, 27 March, 2010, 08:51 AM - PepinsterRating 2 out of 5 (A little platitudinous)
I was fortunate enough to visit St Walburge's church where I was able to enjoy its peaceful silence, uninterrupted by the distraction of worshippers. This magnificent church has the misfortune to be set in Preston. The surrounding houses have all been demolished and the population had the good sense to get out. Phew, what a dump.
But St Walburge's is not the only part of the Catholic Church to be silent lately. It appears that several bishops... well quite a few bishops... well rather a lot of bishops actually... ok most of them... oh, alright then, all of them have been covering up child sex abuse by Catholic Priests all over the world for at least the past 50 years. It got so bad in Ireland that the Pope had to issue an unprecedented personal apology that everybody in Ireland made such a mess of things and if only they went to church more often this would never have happened and it's all the fault of secularists anyway and why does everybody keep picking on him? Other hierarchical worldwide churches do it too. The whole media have got it in for him and everything is just so unfair!
Fortunately the Catholic Church in Britain, after a mere 2,000 years of being morally infallible, has decided that this is not good enough and in future, paedophile priests should be subject to the same law of the land as everyone else.
Meanwhile it's nearly Palm Sunday, followed by Maundy Thursday, Good Friday (being "good" because Jesus got crucified on it), Holy Saturday and finally, the holiest day of all, the feast day of the goddess Eostre.
So it's business as usual for the Roman Catholic Church.