Isn't what's happening in Syria just terrible? All this brutal dictatorship and gunning down of people. Tut tut.
In this brutal dictatorship there will be some people who are brutal and dictators. We call these people "wicked" people. But it is important to realise that not all the people of Syria are wicked. Some are not wicked at all. They are mostly being shot. Most people are only slightly wicked, going along with the regime for fear of being shot.
Doubtless the people of Syria will recall the words of the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend, as given to us by the real Big Book of Magic Stuff, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." To everyone in Syria who is listening to the Today Programme, do not be confused by the latter part of this saying from Jesus. As a Rev Canon Dr and an Anglican priest, let me just assure you that what it means is this. The people who thought they knew what they were doing when they crucified Jesus, didn't really know what they were doing. If they had known that they were crucifying Jesus then they would have known what they were doing and there would have been no need for Jesus to tell the other bits of the Invisible Magic Friend that they didn't know what they were doing.
Let us not be too hard on the people of Syria who are a little bit wicked, but not a lot. Haven't we all gone along with a brutal dictatorship from time to time? It's just human nature to shrug our shoulders and say, "Well it's only a little bit brutal and not all the time. There's no need to get all revolutionary and shot at, is there?"
Now you're gonna get yours Ratko Mladic, you BAS***D! You EVIL F***ING BAS***D!!
You might think we Buddhists sit around all day meditating, wearing sandals and burning joss sticks. You might think Buddhism is the cuddly teddy bear of religions. Well, let me just tell you, my granddad died in a concentration camp because of EVIL F***ING BAS***DS like you, you BAS***D!!! Now you're getting you're karma. That's right, The Force is gonna get you.
You have caused a great disturbance in The Force and things cause other things. Good things cause goods things and bad things cause bad things. Now bad things are gonna happen to you because of all the bad things you did. You should have known that once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
Good karma always triumphs in the end. Don't mess with Buddhists, for my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. You BAS***D!!!!
From Norwich, it's the bishop of the week, Flamboyantly Reverend Graham James, Lord Bishop of Norwich
After 10 years, several hundred thousand lives lost, several trillion dollars spent, Osama Bin Laden is finally dead. Many people have been out partying and generally having a good time celebrating his death, something which I find in very poor taste.
It's not very fashionable to talk about "sin" these days, so I won't. The last thing I want to do is appear unfashionable. So let's talk about "evil" instead. It seems to be perfectly acceptable to describe people as evil these days and not at all unfashionable. Newspapers often refer to murderers or paedophiles as "pure evil." This is a theological claim, so I presume these headlines are drawn up by the papers' resident theologians, illustrating once again the vital importance of theology in everyday life.
This brings us to the important question: was Osama Bin Laden the personification of pure evil? Note that being the personification of pure evil is more than just being bad. On the scale of badness, being the personification of pure evil is as bad as you can get. This is more than forgetting your anniversary bad. It's more than not going to church on Sunday bad. It really is very bad indeed. It's so bad, that as soon as you get out of bed in the morning, you start looking for evil things to do, because you're just so bad.
To answer this question we turn to Saint Augustine, everyone's favourite 5th century Carthaginian theologian. Through his detailed theological investigations, Saint Augustine was able to discover that evil is caused by people being free to be evil. It's not a tangible thing. You can't go down to the shops and ask for half a pound of the best pure evil. Evil is caused by people doing evil things. That's what evil is.
If Osama Bin Laden was the personification of pure evil, then he just couldn't help doing evil things. So we shouldn't think of Osama Bin Laden as being the personification of pure evil. He was secretly a little bit good, but occasionally decided to do something that was pure evil.
Let us not gloat over Osama Bin Laden's death. Instead, let us pray to the Invisible Magic Friend, that some good will come from the death of this occasionally pure evil man.
Isn't the devastation in Japan just terrible? It really is very bad indeed. It's not the first time very bad things have happened though. In Lisbon, on All Saints Day in 1755, something very similar happened: a massive earthquake followed by a tsunami. Lots of people were killed or maimed or left homeless, but rather more importantly, all the city's churches were destroyed.
People were quick to pass judgement then too. Voltaire said "There is no God." Rousseau said we should all go and live in the countryside and wear flowers in our hair. Kant said, "Let's start The Enlightenment." All of these were short term, knee-jerk responses with no long term consequences. This just goes to show the futility of being quick to pass judgement.
Similar things are happening now. People ask, should we really build four nuclear reactors right next to one another on top of a major geological fault? Should we invest in better tsunami warning and defence systems? These are the kind of predictable, unhelpful question that are now being raised.
As a Rev Dr Dr Prof, let me just assure you that what the people of Japan really need are more long term answers, Christianity for example. Christianity explains why all this happened. It's because the good and benevolent Invisible Magic Friend created you free, Free, FREE I TELL YOU! Free to be drowned, crushed, burned and torn apart. Free to loose your homes, your loved ones, your limbs. Free to rebuild all you have lost after almost total devastation. Wasn't that good and benevolent of him?
Not only does Christianity explain all that has happened, it tells we Christians to follow the example of the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend and feel compassion for all the free people of Japan.
Yesterday we saw what happens when tectonic plates shift.
Has anyone mentioned Ash Wednesday yet? We had Ash Wednesday just three days go. That's when we Christians get ashes put on our head to remind us that we'll return to dust. The same words are used on Ash Wednesday as in we Christians' burial service, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Ash Wednesday marks the start of 40 wonderful days of penance and reflection before the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend rises from the dead, which is just brilliant.
There must have been a lot of ash in Japan yesterday, which again reminds us of Ash Wednesday, and there'll be lots of burials, where Christians mention ash too!
T.S. Eliot, a famous Christian, wrote a poem about Ash Wednesday you know. Ash Wednesday is a really good poem as it mentions the Invisible Magic Friend a lot. It's about someone who struggles to find faith in the Invisible Magic Friend. I say "find faith" rather than "believe a bunch of irrational, superstitious bunkum" because it sounds much nicer. What a terrible struggle that must be, to struggle for faith, not to have the clear, unambiguous insight that I have.
Many people yesterday in Japan, only three days after our Christian festival of Ash Wednesday, will have prayed to the Invisible Magic Friend to save them. Others will have foolishly raged at the Invisible Magic Friend. How could he allow such a terrible thing to happen, only three days after the Christian festival of Ash Wednesday, they will ask? As if they shouldn't be destroyed by the power of nature just like everyone else. How very selfish and small minded of them.
The explanation of this is really all quite simple. You see the Invisible Magic Friend invented thermodynamics, plate tectonics and the laws of physics and chemistry. Then he gave us our brains and left us to figure out how that gives rise to earthquakes and tsunamis, so that we can understand what's killing us.
Doubtless, as people were crushed, drowned, burned or torn apart yesterday, only three days after the Christian festival of Ash Wednesday, they were thinking about the Invisible Magic Friend and why it is there are some things that we just don't understand, and perhaps that is the greatest mystery of all.
The clocks go back tonight, ushering in the dark nights.
The Celtic festival of Samhuinn gets celebrated tomorrow. Pagans will light fires and cast spells to prevent evil spirits from crossing between worlds on the day when the border between them is at its thinnest. They do this to protect us all from what lurks on the other side and also because they get to dance around naked together in the woods.
This has led to our modern festival of Halloween, or "All Hallows Eve" as it is more properly called. I have no problem with "Halloween", no problem at all. Doesn't bother me in the least. In fact, it bothers me so little, that I don't even know why I'm mentioning that it doesn't bother me.
So, unbothered as I am, let's move on to discuss the end of summer and the approach of winter, the passing of the light and the descent into darkness, of good and evil, of justice and the opposite of justice, of this world and the next world, of these really, really, deep spiritual questions that have haunted mankind since before the incarnation of the Invisible Magic Friend that definitely happened, of mystery and faith, of the souls of our ancestors and our ancestors' ancestors, of all kinds of mystical, magical woo-woo sort of stuff.
This is precisely the kind of thing that Jesus and John were talking about.
Alternatively, it might just be that the tilt of the earth's axis means that the northern hemisphere now points away from the sun.
WE HAVE HEARD THE MOST WONDERFUL STORIES OF HUMAN COURAGE AND FAITH FROM THE 7/7 INQUEST. YET THIS CANNOT OVERCOME THE CARNAGE AND HORROR OF THE BOMBINGS THEMSELVES, AN ACT OF PURE EVIL COMMITTED BY RELIGIOUS MANIACS THAT THOUGHT THEY WERE GOING TO HEAVEN. I MYSELF HAVE FOUND MYSELF IN A TUBE TUNNEL, STOPPED AT A SET OF LIGHTS, WONDERING WHICH OF THESE MANY BROWN PEOPLE MIGHT BE A CRAZED RELIGIOUS FANATIC.
NOW, WITH THE THREAT OF MUMBAI STYLE ATTACKS IN THE UK, WE HAVE POLICE BEING ARMED AND TRAINED BY THE SAS. IT REMINDS ME OF SOME OF THE LESS CIVILISED PARTS OF THE WORLD WHERE PAPA USED TO WORK.
WITH ALL THIS EVIL LURKING IN THE WORLD IT IS ENOUGH TO MAKE YOU WANT TO SCREAM. BUT YOU MUST NOT SCREAM. YOU MUST FACE EVIL AS JESUS, WHO WAS THE INVISIBLE MAGIC FRIEND, FACED EVIL. FOR EVIL TO PROSPER ALL IT TAKES IS FOR GOOD PEOPLE TO DO NOTHING. SO TO OVERCOME EVIL YOU MUST DO GOOD, DO GOOD, DO GOOD I TELL YOU!
THERE'S THE FAMOUS STORY OF SAINT FRANCIS DE SALES, WHICH I'M SURE NEEDS NO RECOUNTING SO I SHALL NOT TELL IT TO YOU.
WE ARE ALL AFRAID OF DEATH. EVEN THOSE OF US WHO LEAD GOOD, HOLY LIVES, DO NOT WISH TO JOIN THE INVISIBLE MAGIC FRIEND IN ETERNAL HAPPINESS. YOU COULD DIE ANY MOMENT NOW, SO MAKE SURE YOU ALWAYS DO GOOD FOR YOU DO NOT KNOW THE DAY OR THE HOUR.
AS SAINT PAUL SO ELOQUENTLY PUT IT, EVEN THOUGH YOU JUST WANT TO SCREAM AT ALL THIS EVIL, DO NOT BE AFRAID. DO GOOD! DO GOOD! DO GOOD!
We all turn to Terry Eagleton to tell us what MacBeth, and indeed everything else, is about. Eagleton has changed his mind. As a young Marxist literary critic, Eagleton saw the three witches as revolutionaries, libertarians who attacked the established political order. Now, as a slightly older and wealthier Marxist, Eagleton has no time for the witches. They're nihilists that care about nothing and champion destruction for its own sake. They rubbish everything and add nothing, much like some blogs do.
Gnostics, who were wrong Christians, thought that matter was evil. Good, proper, right, orthodox Christians like Saint Augustine and me, realised that evil is nothing - it is the absence of anything. It's vacuous, empty and meaningless. That's why Christianity never mentions the devil, or demons or anything like that, since they would be the embodiment of evil and therefore something, not nothing. Some enraged lunatic wielding a chain saw is therefore not evil. The third reich, the inquisition, the gulags and the killing fields, since they actually existed, were not evil.
This is the kind of insight into the nature of evil that only Terry Eagleton, Saint Augustine and me can bring.
So in conclusion, remember to use your vote wisely this polling day.
Happy Workers' Memorial Day everyone!
Three words are guaranteed to provoke scorn: Health and Safety. But health and safety are important. There were 27,000 major injuries at work last year, including 180 deaths. One of those deaths was a young farmer, Andrew, crushed between two tractors. Before he died he etched another three words, addressed to his father, on one of the tractors, "I love you."
We live in a risky world, full of accidents and tragedy. So why did the Invisible Magic Friend make it that way? Eminent theologians have carefully investigated this problem for centuries, employing all the power and insight that theology has to offer, and have come to the conclusion that we haven't a clue. So in the absence of an answer, here are some guesses. For one, it gives me lots of moving, personal stories that I can exploit on slots like this to push religion. Second, it means we have freedom. We are all free to be killed or seriously injured at work. This just goes to prove how really loving the Invisible Magic Friend is.
But the Invisible Magic Friend did not leave us without guidance. He gave us practical rules to follow, like "Worship me every Sabbath" and "Don't worship anyone but me" and "Don't take my name in vain you 'orrible little creation" and "Don't covet your neighbour's ass." If you follow these simple rules then you are almost certain not to be crushed to death by tractors.
Some people like to ignore these rules because they want to go around being sinful and wicked and ungodly and militantly secular. They think that going to B&Q on a Sunday is more productive than a good day's worshipping, but don't worry, they'll burn in hell forever for it.
So in conclusion, the Invisible Magic Friend loves you, even the ones that he unfortunately has to burn in hell forever.
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!