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.
Sunday, 3 April, 2011, 10:21 AM - ClemmiesThis has to be one of the most platitudinous months ever. It tailed off a little bit towards the end, but even the BBC's Holy Department of Religion and More Religion can't be expected to maintain the pace of platitudinousness set at the beginning of the month.
Everyone's favourite vicar's wife, Anne Atkins, started the ball rolling with yet another rant about poor persecuted Christians, how the Catholics had to turf all the orphans out into the streets in case they came in contact with a homosexual, and how it was Christians that invented gay rights anyway.
Rev Dr Dr Prof David Wilkinson, the man who gave up astrophysics for theology, claimed that science is a gift from the Invisible Magic Friend.
Rev Grumpy Canon Dr Giles Fraser made the astonishing admission that there is no life after death - something that I'm sure will come as quite a surprise to many Christians. Which made it all the more puzzlingly that he seemed to enjoy watching people die so much.
In her second entry this month, Anne Atkins produced one of her now standard unintelligible mixes of Shakespeare and the Bible. This time it was something about royalty being like Jesus, or something. I think I prefer her when she's just obnoxious.
Catherine Pepinster delivered her pre-prepared musings on the significance of Ash Wednesday, only slightly modified to mention the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which after all has so much in common with Ash Wednesday.
With his second entry this month Rev Dr Dr Prof David Wilkinson informed us that what the people of Japan really needed after an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear melt down, was a good dose of Christianity.
Then we had Rhidian Brook's remarkable claim that Jesus was the greatest stand up comic of all time and really he was just having a bit of a laugh. Ironically, Brook delivered the whole thing in the kind of dreary monotone that would have made Clement Freud proud.
Brook's contribution has strong competition from Fraser's admission that when we die, we die, and Wilkinson's recipe for restoring disaster ridden Japan, but on the whole, out of this holy trinity, I think Brook just manages to grab the "God the Father" slot and claim this month's Clemmie.
Happy day before Mother's Day! I would have wished you happy Mother's Day on Mother's Day but we don't do Thought For The Day on Sunday, which is when Mother's Day is, as we all have far more important things to do on a Sunday.
Many of us either have, or have had a mother. I'm a big fan of mothers. Aren't they just fantastic? They really do the most splendid job. Without mothers we wouldn't have children and aren't children just fantastic too?
But let us look past the secular, and therefore rather superficial, tradition of sending your mother cards and flowers, taking her out to dinner and basically just treating her for the day. As we do so, we naturally turn our thoughts to something more profound: to Jesus. Jesus had a mother you know. She was called "Mary" and she was the best mother there ever was. You may think your mother is just great but actually she's complete rubbish compared to Mary.
Mary didn't have a midwife at Jesus' birth, but that's OK because she was just such a fantastic mum and Jesus was the Invisible Magic Friend. Sadly, many mothers don't have midwives, which is a great shame. Ordinary mothers, ones who aren't giving birth to the Invisible Magic Friend, could very well be killed by the Invisible Magic Friend during childbirth. So they had better make their peace with him before giving birth.
news of an important new development in genetics. This could be the cure that millions have been hoping for.
Scintillatingly Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron Reverend Lord Richard Harries, Baron Pentregarth, Gresham Professor of Divinity, Baron, Bishop, Professor, Lord...
Friday, 1 April, 2011, 08:47 AM - HarriesRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
Who can forget the BBC's unforgeable spaghetti harvest hoax. Happy April Fools' Day everyone!
We Christians, just like everybody else, are always game for a bit of harmless fun. But there is, of course, a serious side to April Fools' Day. Chaucer mentions it and Shakespeare mentions fools, which is one of the words in April Fools' Day. This all just goes to show what a serious business being a fool is.
April Fools' Day originates in the hilarious, topsy-turvy world of Christianity. Christianity is just full of fools. Take Saint Francis of Assisi - he went around chatting to birds. Then there was Saint Paul, one of the biggest fools that Christianity ever produced.
Jesus started it all, with his April Fools' Day prank, saying that the last would be first and the first last. It's so true. You know the kind of thing, you've arranged a dinner party with a top table for your important guests, and less prestigious places for the various riff-raff that always turn up to these social occasions. Your important guests are just about to sit down when someone really important turns up, a Lord Prof Baron Bishop for example, and you kick the not-so-important-after-all-people down to the rubbish tables.
As a Scintillatingly Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron, I'd just like to remind you that April Fool's Day is a serious day, when you should all practise a little more humility.
Friday, 1 April, 2011, 04:23 AM - Not TFTDIn a breathtaking change of attitude, The Guardian has today abandoned its long held association with republicanism and become a vocal supporter of the monarchy.
Prince William has shown that he can be a new kind of king. That is why, in a significant change of course, we today pledge our full-throated support for the British monarchy.
They finally seem to have realised the advantages of a hereditary head of state.
As The King's Speech so vividly reminded us, there are times when only the calming leadership of a hereditary monarch will do
And it seems they'll be joining the rest of us in organising a street party for the royal wedding.
But in this era of austerity, couldn't we all do with being a bit more "happy and glorious"? Few things, after all, are as likely to lift the spirits of Britain's embattled public sector workers or benefit claimants than the sight of Kate Middleton's sure-to-be-spectacular wedding dress.
This is truly one of the most astonishing Guardian editorials ever.
(Then check the date before you choke on your cornflakes).
Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic Studies and Public Understanding and Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam, University of Glasgow
Thursday, 31 March, 2011, 09:03 AM - SiddiquiRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
Fabio Capello only needs one hundred words to manage the England team. Words like "renegotiate my contract before putting in a dreadful performance at the World Cup" come to mind.
The Oxford English Corpus has a list of the one hundred most common words. "The" is number 1. "Us" is number 100. "Take" is at number 60, while "how" is at number 85. Interestingly, "would" is at number 37.
Being able to speak to a wider audience than footballers, requires more than 100 words. In order to express the sort of nuanced, complex arguments that one must deliver on Thought for the Day, for example, one needs a far more advanced command of a language. That is not to say that this can only be done in one's first language. I was listening to the prime minister of Qatar the other day and I must say he had a beautiful speaking voice.
Being able to speak more than one hundred words is very important. My mother didn't know enough words, something that I felt at times may have held her back. Conversely, I like to teach my children Urdu so that they will have some insight into their grandparents' culture.
Sometimes you don't even have to understand a language. Arabic is the language that the Invisible Magic Friend speaks, so just muttering bits of the Koran in Arabic will make you holier than you would otherwise be. The disadvantage of this approach, is that nobody knows what they're muttering about.
News just in: 1500 years ago, the Roman Empire departed from Italy. This was a real shame. As empires went, it really was a jolly nice empire. "What shall we replace it with?" asked Saint Benedict, as he sat around being saintly. "I know, let's all go and live in monasteries!"
The saintly Saint Benedict hurriedly set about inventing a rule for his monasteries. Each one had to have someone in charge, he would be called the abbot. When making a big decision though, the abbot had to consult with the whole community, even with the people who were the most insignificant. This was because the Invisible Magic Friend could put a useful thought into the heads of anyone, even insignificant people.
As we read the rule of Saint Benedict, as one surely does on a regular basis, we are struck by what a very good rule this is. It really was a revolutionary idea: rule by a benign dictator who must listen to the common people. As a Rev Dr, let me just assure you, that this was clearly a recipe for a contented and peaceful existence - much better than the Roman Empire.
At this point I'd just like to mention the story of the pirate brought before Alexander the Great. "What do you think you're doing?" asked Alexander. "Same as you," said the pirate. "Except I do it with one boat, so I'm called a pirate. You do it with a navy, so you're called an emperor."
As we see riots in the streets, we see how rubbish democracy is compared to the wise rule of an abbot.
Saturday was quite a day at St. James, near Fortnum and Mason. There was the good natured, family friendly, really rather jolly march against the imminent savage spending cuts, which I have to say I was quite enjoying. There were people from London, Birmingham, Leeds, Cardiff, Aberdeen, York, Burnley, Taunton, Bristol, Lancaster, Glasgow, Colchester, Norfolk, Preston, Telford, Ipswich, Newcastle, Swansea, Southampton, Coventry, Nottingham, Blackpool, Stoke, Lincoln, Hamilton and other places too.
Then there was the extremely well organised band of anarchists, dressed in black, with black scarves across their faces. They threw a can of paint at the bank and let off firecrackers, which I found quite disturbing. People hiding their faces is something that I find deeply unsettling. (Unless it's for religious reasons of course - that's perfectly OK.)
What is the distinctive Christian response to this rabble of rowdy rebels? It is to say words like, ethical, peace, justice, poor, faith, service, disadvantaged, dignity. The great Christian tradition is one of debate, of tolerance for competing views. I don't think wearing a scarf across your face is being very Christian at all. People who throw paint at banks should do so proudly and openly, not behind the mask of anonymity, at least until they graduate and actually go work for a bank.
In these difficult times, with many facing hardship and insecurity, it's important that we have an open political debate and not waste our time discussing violent protest. That's why I've chosen not to mention them at all today.
Clifford Longley, a distinguished Catholic gentleman who talks a lot about religion, Platitude of the Year Winner 2010
Monday, 28 March, 2011, 08:52 AM - LongleyRating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)
Saint John's Gospel says that Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be made of the whole world. Or was it Saint Luke's. No, I think I'll go for Saint John's, with its particularly fine and detailed account of Jesus' early life.
The great thing about this is that we can date Jesus' birth to 6 CE when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Except that means he couldn't have been born in the time of Herod, as it says in Matthew, because he died in 4 BCE. Not to worry, I'm still going for Luke's version... er... I mean John's. It's such a shame the Romans never kept their census data, then we could have the exact details.
Name: Jesus Christ (aka The Messiah)
Mother: Mary, Mother of the Invisible Magic Friend
Father: The particularly invisible bit of The Invisible Magic Friend (foster father one Joseph of Nazareth)
City of Birth: Bethlehem
Date: 4BCE, or possibly 6 CE
Witnesses: three wise men, some shepherds and assorted choirs of angels
The really important thing about this census is that everyone had to return to the city of their birth, no matter where they were in the Roman Empire at the time - a policy that was widely welcomed by inn keepers and the donkey hire trade, but led to almost complete economic collapse everywhere else. Unfortunately, this wise policy has not been followed by the current government census. How are we to learn about community, society, without everyone returning to the city of their birth?
That's not the only problem. Take the "Religion" question. I had to put Christian, as if Catholic and Church of England were even remotely similar. How are we going to find out really important information, like who the top church is? How are we going to claim loads more government cash, on the off chance that the Catholic Church would have come out top?
Being part of a community is so important. The Invisible Magic Friend, or alternatively "evolution" for all those literal minded bloggers out there, made us as a social species. Although let's not forget the Nazis were social too, so we still need churches, like mine, to reign in such hierarchical, dogmatic, irrational, fascist tendencies.