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.
Sunday, 3 April, 2011, 09:21 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, 07:47 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, 03:23 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, 08:03 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.