It hasn't been easy being a gay rabbi for the last 40 years - 25 of those years spent happily with my partner. There's much talk about whether gays should be allowed to adopt straight children, but at least it is talked about. I had the opposite problem as the gay son of straight parents. I grew up in a world overwhelmingly straight, constantly having to hide who I was, forever afraid of scandal or blackmail. Many were driven to breakdowns or even suicide, which I tried myself.
Religion still has much to learn about sex and gender issues, but it also provides a spiritual escape, giving courage, reminding us that there is more to life than our sexuality.
As we grow older we face other problems. What care home will accept us as a couple? We need to ensure we are civil partners so that we won't be excluded from our partner's funeral, as so often happens.
Humour helps. Two ancients hold hands looking into the distance. "We should get ourselves civil partnered," one say. "Yes, but at our age, who will have us?" comes the reply.
Thousands of people around the world will be huddling around their internet connections this morning listening to me in far away places, stranded because of the airport flight ban. Because we all know, that the one thing we can't miss while being trapped far from home, is Thought For The Day. Many will be thinking they would be especially disappointed to miss me, Shaikh Abdal Hakim Murad, who has been unjustly absent from the airwaves for so very long.
Isn't the volcano just amazing - a great fiery hole in the ground, evoking primeval fears and causing untold disruption. Many of you won't even have noticed when it last erupted in 1821. Nowadays, those clever scientists with their measurements and their computer model thingies can predict where the ash from the cloud will go and where to avoid sending planes. But despite all their cleverness of inventing jet engines that send people half way around the world, and despite being able to monitor and predict the track of tiny pieces of ash, they're not that clever that they can build jet engines capable of flying through the plume of a volcano, which just goes to show how useless and rubbish science is.
On a more positive note, the Koran says that the Invisible Magic Friend gave us this nice friendly biosphere, sitting precariously between the molten magma below and the freezing cold of space. Wasn't that nice of him?
My two daughters dragged me into a trendy shop in the King's Road where I saw a t-shirt that shocked me. Shocked me I tell you, shocked me! The logo offered sex for drugs and in terms that a nice vicar like me simply couldn't repeat on a polite show like this.
Mumsnet has recently started a campaign to ban padded bras for young girls and high heels for eight year olds. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who I think is a very good Archbishop, put it well when he warned that our whole culture has started grooming children for sex. (And if you're listening to this archbishop, if you do happen to have any spare bishoprics lying around - it doesn't have to be anything spectacular - a suffragan bishop in an outlying London borough would do.)
I can tell you now that the Invisible Magic Friend doesn't want a culture where children are being groomed for sex. We know that this is a bad thing because Jesus said so and who's going to argue with Jesus? As I saw my daughters playing in the warm spring sunshine yesterday, I thought to myself, "I really must remember not to let my children become prematurely sexualised, because Jesus said that was wrong."
Sunday, 18 April, 2010, 07:49 AM - Not TFTDRating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)
I want to talk to you today about the very serious decline in standards by the British judiciary. One after another we have seen the traditional rights of Christians trampled into the dust. Whether it's our right to flout health and safety regulations, to harass workers and customers who haven't yet realised how brilliant it is to be a Christian, or to persecute homosexuals (who seem to think that their right to be treated as human beings is in some sense more valid than our right to be bigoted), we see judges blatantly not doing what we tell them to. What's the point of being Christians if we're not allowed to treat somebody as being inferior?
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that if this goes on then there will be riots in the streets, a complete breakdown of family values and total and utter anarchy throughout the British Isles. I see no alternative but to have a specially chosen panels of judges who will sit on cases involving Christians. These judges should be proper Christian judges who can be relied upon to let their personal faith interfere with their public duty. These fine, upstanding Christian judges can then carefully consider the religious implications of the evidence set before them, before delivering a judgement that I approve of.
This constant haranguing of we Christians, telling us that we have to obey the law like everyone else, that we have to treat everyone equally, just won't do. We're special. This is the start of a very slippery slope. Before you know it, they'll be telling us we can't own slaves, tax unbelievers or burn heretics. And where will we be then?
I watched the interactive debate on Thursday night between the three party leaders. Election time is a test for voters as much as for politicians. We have to assess their fiercely competing claims and decide who should run the country.
Something similar is true of religion. The Kalamas people had this problem when visiting preachers all said that they were right and that everyone else was wrong. The Buddha gave them the following advice.
Don't rely on scripture, on tradition, on popular understanding, on abstract argument not backed by evidence. Instead, use evidence from your own experience or those of people you trust to assess the claims of those who say they possess truth. Question them and don't simply accept them at face value.
Friday, 16 April, 2010, 04:50 PMOver the years, I have read various attempts by Christians and Muslims to reconcile the idea of a omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and omnibenevolent God with an apparently arbitrary world where the innocent suffer as much and sometimes more than the guilty, eg:
1. A perfect world would be boring and unchallenging. [If we were perfect, we couldn’t be bored, and as we have no opportunity to live in a perfect world there is no way we can know whether it would be preferable to the one we are in. In any case, this argument assumes that God had only two options – either to make the world perfect or leave it as it is, but if he is omnipotent there are thousands of possibilities - he could have chosen, for example, to construct a world without earthquakes and/or make human beings kinder, less aggressive or territorial, without making them perfect.]
2. We are all fallen creatures as a result of our distant ancestors’ disobedience to God, and therefore suffering is inevitable. It is possible that some of us may be saved through the blood sacrifice of Jesus and enjoy everlasting bliss in the hereafter, but meanwhile we have to put up with this life which is a vale of tears. [The concept of ancestral sin being passed on to future generations is extremely questionable morally and ethically, which is why many Christians today tend to sideline it, but without original sin the central doctrine of Christianity – ie, the vicarious expiation by Jesus Christ for that sin – is rendered meaningless. We may also question why God set up Adam and Eve to fail, and why he demanded such a terrible price for the sin he knew in advance would be committed.]
3. Suffering is the inevitable price we pay for free will. [Only a proportion of human suffering is willed. Natural disasters, disease, hereditary illnesses, for example, have little or nothing to do with the exercise of free will. Anyway how much ‘free will’ do humans have in practice? Over many major events of their lives such as being born, genetic inheritance and ageing they have none. Those in the Third World who are poor and dispossessed, with no access to education, health care or even life’s basic necessities have even less. Has a new-born baby got ‘free will’? And is ‘free will’ compatible with an all-seeing, all-knowing God who knows in advance the choices we will make?]
4. Suffering gives the better off the chance to help and show compassion towards the less better off. [Morally this argument is as shot full of holes as a sieve. While it might be great for the better off, what’s in it for the sufferers to be used in this way? And it’s not as though compassion can be spread evenly like butter – some receive no help or consideration whatever. And couldn’t the same result could be achieved with far less suffering?]
5. We don’t know why we suffer, but we can be sure it has a purpose and is part of God’s plan. In the fullness of time we will know God’s purpose/plan and our tears will be washed away. [This is the equivalent of an adult still believing in Father Christmas – wishful thinking and self-deception carried to the ultimate limit.]
If you have ever tried writing fiction, you know one of the most important things you have to do is to make your characters convincing. You would find it hard, for example, to create a convincing character out of someone who you insisted was wise and compassionate, but who chose to spend their time torturing people they had kidnapped, and enjoyed seeing their pain and suffering. Or who witnessed the torture but chose to do nothing about it even though s/he had the power to intervene and stop it. The only way you could do it would be to create a Jekyll and Hyde character with a split personality. The Christian God is not a convincing character, even as fiction, and as far as I am aware no one has as yet suggested it has a split personality.
Volcanically Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron Reverend Lord Richard Harries, Baron Pentregarth, Gresham Professor of Divinity, Baron, Bishop, Professor, Lord...
Those clever scientists have gone and done it again. They've transferred DNA from a fertilised egg to another egg with working mitochondria. Hurrah for science! As an expert on theology, I was part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority that allowed all this to happen. So hurrah for (correct) theology.
Of course some people have a different theology. The Roman Catholic Church, that great moral conscience of the nation, think every sperm is sacred. I do, of course, totally respect this wrong idea. Complete and utter respect for such nonsense, no question about it. I wouldn't dream of disrespecting an idea that assigns the same rights to a bunch of cells as to a mature human being. I really couldn't be more respectful about such a laughably silly notion that ignores the welfare of the born in favour of the unborn. I'm just full of respect for an organisation that forgets that it is quite natural for humans to use their Invisible Magic Friend given minds to interfere with nature.
Did I mention that I respected them?
Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic Studies and Public Understanding and Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam, University of Glasgow
There's been another terrible natural disaster, this time in China. As we watch the heart-rending images of the dead and suffering, some will ask where will we get the clothes, blankets and tents to protect the survivors? How will we secure fresh water and food supplies? Are the roads in a good enough state to allow search and rescue and medical teams access? But I want to ask the academically fascinating and far more pressing question, "Why did the Invisible Magic Friend do this to them?"
It is a question that has been asked by philosophers, theologians and highly trained Islamic scholars for thousands of years. Some say there is a contradiction here between the seemingly random infliction of pain and death and the fact that the Invisible Magic Friend is the friendliest friend that ever there was.
Of course, in these enlightened times, we know that earthquakes are caused by the shifting of tectonic plates and that the exact timing of these shifts is currently unpredictable. This just goes to show how rubbish science is and how comforting religion and the Invisible Magic Friend can be for the helpless and the desperate, especially in largely atheist China.
So the question now becomes, why did the Invisible Magic Friend put us on a planet with tectonic plates? Does he get some sort of a kick out of watching all the misery that it causes? No, of course not. The Invisible Magic Friend is a great big warm cuddly, fluffy friend who would never hurt a fly. Take it from me, I'm Professor of Islamic Studies and Public Understanding and Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam, University of Glasgow, so I should know. The reason is really quite simple and I'm surprised no one has mentioned it before. The reason he causes all this suffering and injustice is so that we, the people who are unaffected, can feel sorrow and pity for the victims.
Awwwww, wasn't that nice of him!
Wednesday, 14 April, 2010, 08:30 AM - SinghRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
There's a big Sikh festival today. Happy Vaisakhi everyone! It was on this happy spring festival in 1699 that the last Sikh Guru finally declared Sikhism as a proper standalone religion. He believed that all people, regardless of their Invisible Magic Friend, should be allowed to worship freely, even if they weren't Sikhs.
This may not seem that strange to you, but the Guru's own father was beheaded (by people of another famous religion that we won't mention by name) for suggesting just this.
Sikhs believe in equality and we believed this before most other people believed this, which just goes to show what a great religion Sikhism is. You'll also find that Sikhs do a lot of charity work, which again just goes to show what a great religion Sikhism is.
To be a proper Sikh you need to look like a Sikh. This consists of the following.
1. Not cutting your hair.
2. A comb, because your uncut hair is going to look very messy without one.
3. A sword, for not cutting your hair with.
4. A bangle, which is essentially independent of not cutting your hair.
And last but by no means least.
5. Holy underwear.
And of course equality, charity etc. etc.
Tuesday, 13 April, 2010, 08:16 AM - Rabbi Lionel BlueRating 2 out of 5 (A little platitudinous)
Good morning John, good morning Sarah and good morning to you all.
Well, Passover has passed over once again and it was very nice. I stayed with a very nice, very wise woman who accepted me and my partner as part of their family.
But I need more than ritual, I need the Invisible Magic Friend Direct. Last time, I explained the spiritual aspects of eggs. Today, I want to explore the spiritual aspects of railway stations.
Railway stations are full of people. People doing things. Some people come. Some people go. Some queue for tickets. Some stand up. Some sit down. Some stand up to let others sit down. I sit down and then stand up. Then I sing a little tune and wave my stick about. I watch the Invisible Magic Friend move from person to person as they do spiritual things like buy tickets.
Long, long ago, I remember granny telling me about a Rabbi who bumped into Elijah at the local fair. Elijah liked to hang out there among the traditional toffee apples, candy floss and goldfish in a bag that mysteriously die the next day. It reminded him of being alive in Israel 3,000 years ago, apart from the toffee apples, the candy floss and the goldfish.
"Who here is worthy of eternal life?" asked the rabbi. Elijah pointed to some buskers. "What do you do?" the rabbi asked them. "Oh, we just make people laugh and feel good."
And there you have it. The answers to everything you need to know about Passover, the Invisible Magic Friend Direct (available from all good railway stations) and what buskers at fairs are for.