And in the news this week, we've just finished a big Sikh festival. Happy Vaisakhi everyone! We got the most splendid weather for it this year and everyone had a jolly good time.
Vaisakhi is the traditional Sikh spring festival. It is also the time when Guru Gobind Singh revealed to us his special underwear and that all good Sikhs must wear special underwear from then on. In our previous, barbarous, state, Sikhs were completely unaware of the benefits of special underwear.
Guru Gobind Singh taught that we are all part of one human race. That's why we have to dress differently, so that everyone knows that we are people who believe we are all part of one human race. He also said that we had to live by ethical values. Up until then Sikhs had all lived by unethical values. There also had to be lots of healthy sporting games between young men, where they would test their physical fitness against one another in a totally non-homoerotic way.
But as I grow ever more aged, I have come to believe that we ought to spend more time looking after the elderly, rather than the young. There aren't all that many young people around these days, so I don't see why everyone has to make such a fuss about them. I'm beginning to discover that Sikhs grow old just like everyone else, despite having special underwear. That's why we Sikhs have started teaching Sikhs how to live a healthy old age. There are physical fitness sessions which are even less erotic than the non-homoerotic physical fitness tests for young men.
Guru Gobind Singh told us to confront religious oppression, by which he clearly meant that we must have health and fitness lessons for the elderly in British Gudwaras.
And that is today's news from a faith perspective.
Sir John Vickers Banking Commission Report has decided that something must be done to fix Britain's broken banking system, but not so much that it will scare the banks away. The banks have threatened to go ruin someone else's economy if they're not allowed to keep using depositors' money to play roulette with.
I'm here to give you a Faith Perspective on trading derivatives and other exotic financial instruments. The Big Book of Magic Stuff suggests, in a very tentative way here and there that all profit from lending money is completely wrong, in all possible circumstances whatsoever, but we don't really bother with all that any more.
The Christian response is that rich city bankers should come and meet some poor people at one of our organised "Meet a Poor Person" days. Up and down the land, we've searched for the very best examples of poverty, ready to present to any willing banker looking for somewhere to spiritually invest their bonus. £1 million will fund a homeless shelter in the North East. £2 million will almost guarantee that you get through the eye of the needle, and £3 million will fund several parish priests' pensions for life.
So how about it you bunch of bankers, why not hurry on down to St James Piccadilly, handy for Fortnum and Mason, and meet a poor person today.
Monday, 11 April, 2011, 04:16 PM - TFTDFor many years now, Mutt, who regularly comments here, has looked after the BBC's TFTD audio clips and transcripts. Mutt used a delightfully simple system of URL construction that allowed me to add links even before they became available.
I'd just like to say a big Thank You to Mutt for all your hard work over the years (and of course for setting up the POTD Twitter feed).
Mutt is no longer responsible for the TFTD clips. Under the new, improved, system, TFTD clips will be available directly from the Today website. At the moment these seem to be running three or four days behind. (Those of you who used to grumble about Mutt not putting clips up at weekends, or taking a few hours to do them during the week, might begin to appreciate now just how well served we were by Mutt.)
If things continue this way then you won't get to read or listen to a TFTD until several days later unless you pull up the Today Programme and try to find it approximately 1 3/4 hours into the programme.
On the plus side, the new arrangement provides a pretty picture with each clip, which lazy old Mutt certainly never used to bother with. It seems to be the same pretty picture for every clip, but then it really is a very pretty picture indeed.
Martin Rees, who in case you haven't heard of him, is the Astronomer Royal and former president of the Royal Society, has been criticised for accepting this year's Templeton Prize. He has won the prize for his exceptional contribution to spirituality. Rees was asked why, as an atheist, he went to church.
"Well it's all part of tradition you see. We really do have the most splendid choir at Trinity, rated one of the best in the world and the chapel itself is very pretty. The clergy always dress up in the most splendid robes and sometimes they spread a lot of smoke around, which really adds to the atmosphere."
I think we can all see that Prof Rees is a most deserving winner given such an exceptional contribution to spirituality. His understanding of theology is clearly profound.
This is where so many of the shrill, loud and really not very attractive atheists get it all wrong. They keep wanting it all to make some sort of sense. It is, in fact, idle ritual, completely devoid of any real meaning. Once you grasp this essential reality, that it's just a community social occasion that makes no claims about anything in particular, many people are able to relax and enjoy the ambience that so many of our parish churches provide.
The Church really comes into its own at times of great joy or sadness. On the day when we commit ourselves to a future with our partner, or say goodbye to a loved one, what better way to do so than with a meaningless ritual conducted by a man in a dress.
Then we come to morality. Now there is, of course, no question that atheists can be just as moral as more holy people. No doubt about it. Hardly worth mentioning, but the Big Book of Magic Stuff Part II, is just full of stories about how to be moral that atheists don't learn about. This is why it is so important to send your children to Church schools. Naturally you will have to become a devout Christian to do this, but that is a small price to pay so that we can
Once children have gotten used to all the pointless readings, strange hymns fully of empty words, and people talking vacuous nonsense, they will be fully prepared for a life that will continue to be enriched by paid clergy. Who knows, maybe one of your children will one day accept £1 million for making an exceptional contribution to spirituality.
It's going to be a lovely sunny weekend. If you're like me, with ginger hair and freckles, you'll be spending it safely indoors, away from all that horrid sunshine. But not everyone is so sensible when it comes to dangerous ultraviolet radiation. Many teenagers use a sunbed every week, risking skin cancer in later life - all so that they can look healthy and tanned.
People have between 12 and 20 feet of skin. This would be even more useful if they had it in square feet so that it could cover a finite area. It is composed of about 70% water with most of the rest being protein. What a useful thing Thought for the Day is. Not only do you get the weather forecast, you also get scientific information about skin cancer and the composition of skin.
Skin gets mentioned in the Big Book of Magic Stuff. Bones get mentioned too. They even get mentioned together. The Big Book of Magic Stuff reminds us that our skin and bones are only temporary vessels that hold us before we go on to the afterlife. As an Anglican priest, let me just assure you that this definitely exists, despite what Rev Dr Grumpy Giles Fraser says.
And now, a brief song by Neil Young that mentions skin. It also mentions God and religion, which makes it a very good song.
Amazingly Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron Reverend Lord Richard Harries, Baron Pentregarth, Gresham Professor of Divinity, Baron, Bishop, Professor, Lord...
Friday, 8 April, 2011, 07:54 AM - HarriesRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
It's a lovely, bright sunny spring morning. Let's talk about golf and the masters tournament at Augusta. Tiger Woods says he still believes in himself. That's a fine example of that typical American optimism - the can-do attitude that makes America top nation.
Now let us turn to Christianity and be gloomy. Let us remind ourselves what sordid, flawed, weak, immoral beings we, and by "we" I mean "you", are. Let us recall that for every advance in science, such as the elimination of smallpox, or the invention of MRI scans, there is a downside that will doom us all. Let us recall the horrors of the World War part I.
The Big Book of Magic Stuff reminds us that we are all frail, empty and useless.
Enjoy the rest of the day.
The government has announced its plans to increase social mobility. Social mobility is so important, but there is only so much governments can do. Previous governments created the kind of grammar school that I went to, but they're mostly gone now.
Where are the disadvantaged going to get that kind of opportunity today? I was fortunate, I had good parents. Many people have bad parents, which is a shame. My parents wanted me to be something better, and look at me now, Chief Rabbi, Baron Aldgate and a Dr Dr Dr Dr Dr Dr Dr Dr. I've been doctored more times than many of you will have been to Buckingham Palace.
It's often said that it's not what you know but who you know. In other words, you can be the most brilliant, gifted young genius in the country, but if you don't catch the eye of people who are really important you will remain mired in obscurity. You'll be an anonymous nobody, a reject, a worthless, ignominious failure.
Nowadays, where can nobodies, who otherwise have no access to people of quality, mix with their betters and seek to promote their own social advancement? Where else but in our places of worship! Talent may no longer get you into the best school, but you can come along to my synagogue where you will be free to ingratiate yourselves with those who possess the power and the patronage to see you good. Smile at us, make us laugh, flatter us, tell us how wise and generous we are. Do us the odd little favour here and there and who knows what favours we might bless you with in return.
The Big Book of Magic Stuff Part I, when it's not commanding genocide or national enslavement, tells the rich and the powerful to take pity on those who are not our social equals, so sometimes we will.
Those clever scientists have discovered five new genes associated with Alzheimer's. Jolly good for them. Well done. I really am the most awfully big fan of scientists discovering things like this. Who knows, maybe they'll be able to find new treatments or even a cure.
In the meantime, many of us will have to deal with dementia as we look after loved ones with the disease. A colleague, whose mother recently died, said that she had really died a long time ago. The person that he had once known had slowly faded as dementia gradually took its toll. My colleague was of course quite wrong. They may have forgotten who you are, or indeed who they are, but that doesn't mean they've completely forgotten everything. They may still have occasional brief glimpses of who they once were.
There's no record of what the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend thought about dementia, but he did like to meet lepers, which is a similar sort of thing. I think we can safely say that Jesus would have enjoyed looking after people with dementia, or at least if he got bored doing that, he could always take the easy way out and just cure them.
Those of you looking after relatives with dementia should follow Jesus' example, or at least, the example he would have shown had he had the opportunity to do so. Do not discount the people you care for every day of the week, every week of the year, because of their disease. As a Rev Dr, and Dean and fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, let me just assure you that they are still very much human beings.
Nuala Kerr, the mother of the murdered Northern Ireland policeman, Ronan Kerr, has appealed for Catholics not to be deterred from joining the police force. "We don't want to go back into the dark days again of fear and terror." It was a brave thing to do in the midst of her grief and, doubtless, the last thing she expected to be doing on Mothering Sunday.
Her appeal for calm contrasts starkly with the hate filled bigotry of Pastors Terry Jones and Wayne Sapp with their Koran burning media event and the even more religiously insane, murderous rioting Muslims in Afghanistan. (Although I'd rather not place too much emphasis on the religiously insane, murderous rioters - they're just a bit too murderous - I'd rather target the idiotic Christian pastors).
It matters what you say about religion. So all you folk out there who think it's just fine to say what you like about religion - you just watch it.
Clifford Longley, a distinguished Catholic gentleman who talks a lot about religion, Platitude of the Year Winner 2010
All of a sudden, we see uprisings in the Arab world in support of such Western values as democracy and human rights. This has left us all to re-examine our prejudices, and by "our" prejudices, I do of course mean "your" prejudices. Most of you thought that Islam was anti- democratic. In fact, many young Muslim men tell me, the Koran is just packed full of useful hints and tips on achieving and maintaining democratic accountability - so many that I don't have time to quote any of them.
And even some women are in favour of Islam too.
Interesting as the struggle for democracy throughout North Africa, the Gulf states and the Middle East is, let's talk about something even more important: the Catholic Church. Fifty years ago you wouldn't have recognised the Catholic Church - a secretive, male dominated, authoritarian, hierarchical, conservative, dogmatic institution, the Catholic Church of those days was light years away from the open, transparent, liberal, democratic organisation that we all know and love today.
It took a mere decades after the second Vatican council, for the Catholic Church to single handedly bring down the various fascist dictators that for some reason it seems to have been associated with throughout the 20th century.
Perhaps what we see today is the start of an Islamic enlightenment, very much like the European enlightenment that the Catholic Church so welcomed and was such an integral part of. Let us hope that the recent, staggering transformation of the Catholic Church, which has so amazed the world, will act as an inspiration for the enlightenment of the Arab peoples.