I read a book once where two people dreamed of peace in the Middle East. It was really very good, so I read it again.
Meanwhile, the chances of peace in the Middle East are not improving as relationships between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu drop to new lows. The Israeli government thinks it should be able to build as much as it likes in East Jerusalem, because it's theirs - the Invisible Magic Friend gave it to them 3,000 years ago and anyone else who just happens to live there at the moment are trespassers and should go away. President Obama, who doesn't think stories about the Invisible Magic Friend should influence government policy, thinks otherwise.
For some peculiar reason, in our own leadership debate the other night, no one seemed very keen to express an opinion on the subject. Strange, since British policy has always been so helpful in the past.
The Holy Land is held sacred by Jews, Muslims and of course we Christians. Like our fellow believers, we always hold its sanctity in the greatest respect. History shows that little disputes like this, involving simultaneous disagreements of religion, land and culture, are easily resolved if only leaders will just get around the table and have a nice cup of tea.
So our own leaders' reluctance to get involved is all the more mysterious.
Titanically Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron Reverend Lord Richard Harries, Baron Pentregarth, Gresham Professor of Divinity, Baron, Bishop, Professor, Lord...
Friday, 23 April, 2010, 07:15 AM - HarriesRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
Happy Saint George's day old boy! Saint George is the patron saint of England on account of him being a Palestinian dragon murderer. For the same reason he is also patron saint of Aragon, Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, and Russia.
But what does it mean to be English? Well, cricket, warm beer and war with France, naturally. It may come as a surprise to many, but being English does not occur naturally. We're not "born" English - well, we are, or at least some of us are. The point is we can change what it means to be English. That's why warm beer is optional now, whereas cricket and war with France still remain fairly popular.
I think the First Letter of Saint John puts it rather well, "I don't know what it means to be English, or what it will be to be English, but Jesus will be back any day now and he'll be able to tell us."
Thursday, 22 April, 2010, 06:56 AM - TilbyRating Unrated
As today was effectively a eulogy for a friend, there will be no POTD today.
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, 06:49 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, 03:50 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?