Happy Maundy Thursday everyone! Yes it's the day we've all been looking forward to, when the Queen performs the ritual of washing poor people's feet. Of course she doesn't do that any more. That sort of thing would be alright for Jesus, but it's not really appropriate for the head of the Church of England and head of state.
Some people think of rituals as being empty and meaningless but there is another side to rituals. They can show us a different world, where the powerful do something lowly, like washing a poor person's feet. That's why the Maundy Thursday ritual would be really meaningful if we actually did it.
"Maundy" comes from the Latin for "new commandment." The new commandment was this: be nice. What could be nicer than for the powerful to wash the poor's feet? This is the kind of ritual, the kind of tradition, that had it been performed for the last 400 years, would be really meaningful.
So, given that Her Majesty can't be expected to wash people's feet, who should? People that we all hate or, at the very least are extremely jealous of, would be good. Bankers, CEOs,
Hurry on along to the Tate Modern where you can see Damien Hirst's exciting new exhibition for the fantastic, value price of only £15.50 (concessions available). You'll be able to buy your very own rolls of Damien Hirst wallpaper for only £250 each. That's right, for only a few thousand pounds, you can turn an ordinary, dull, bedroom into a work of art! Don't forget to keep the off cuttings.
But that's not all, David Hockney has an almost as good exhibition at the Royal Academy, at the equally fantastic, knock down price of only £15.50 (concessions available). In the gift shop you'll find a wide array of David Hockney books, prints, catalogues, mugs, designer bags and serving trays, some for as little as £195.
Even better still, why not round off your day with a large collection of wrinkly, unflattering portraits by Lucian Freud, for the amazing price of only £15.40 (concessions available). Don't forget to visit the National Portrait Gallery shop where you'll find even more limited edition prints, books and souvenirs.
Anyone would think big art had become big industry, but I refuse to be cynical about these things. It's all too easy to be cynical about art, but many of these artists only sell exorbitantly priced trinkets as an ironic statement on modern day, grubby commercialism, which is all most of you seem to think about these days. Big art, like big religion, isn't really about money, but about raising people's awareness, and being able to join in on arty conversations at dinner parties. If you're the kind of person who queues for hours to buy plastic replicas of jewel encrusted skulls, then religion is definitely for you.
Alternatively, you could visit any of hundreds of galleries around the country, where entry is usually free, and buy an original painting that you actually like by a struggling local artist.
There are lots of new Titanic exhibitions and museums for people to go and see. For those of you who haven't heard, Titanic was the largest ship in the world in her time, but sank on her maiden voyage.
There were three classes of passenger, first class paid £79 per ticket, second class £13, and third class £8. You certainly got what you paid for in those days, with survival rates in the three classes of 60%, 40% and 24% respectively.
An inquiry concluded that excessive speed was to blame. It didn't feel the need to call any second or third class passengers to give evidence.
That seems shocking to us today and is an indicator of how our moral sense has improved in the last century. We are not less moral than we were. We are far more aware of issues like bullying, racism, poverty and corruption than we were in the past, when people worshipped the Invisible Magic Friend more.
As the Titanic sank, the bandsmen played the hymn, "Nearer my God to Thee." People found great comfort in drawing near to the Invisible Magic Friend in those days, especially if they were travelling third class.
Tuesday, 3 April, 2012, 04:04 AM - TFTDAfter his principled decision to resign as Canon chancellor of Saint Paul's, Giles has been reduced to writing articles for the Guardian. Despite rumours of various bishoprics being on offer, he's opted to become parish priest of St Mary, Newington, just up the road from Kennington Park.
According to achurchnearyou,
worship at St Mary Newington has been firmly within the Catholic tradition of the Church of England.
Hmmm... a little surprised that that is Giles' cup of tea. Anyway, I'm sure everyone here wishes Giles well in his new parish.
Monday, 2 April, 2012, 12:34 PM - Not TFTDA few weeks ago, Melvyn Bragg, for no obvious reason, suddenly had a go at Richards Dawkins. Melvyn Bragg is a broadcaster that I've always hugely admired. His consistently fascinating series, In Our Time, is one of the jewels of British broadcasting. Part of it's success is his own reputation as being unbiased and having no obvious axe to grind.
I assumed this particular attack on uncle Richard was a one off, a soon to be forgotten lapse of judgement, but no, he's at it again. As is usual in most attacks on Dawkins, it's mostly name calling, and as we'll see, irony of ironies he accuses Dawkins of ignorance (that's original!).
The shallowness of Bragg's "arguments" are quite astonishing. Asked about the evil done in the name of religion:
Men lusting for power caused a terrible thing to happen...[snip] I agree with you, in the name of religion. In the name of anything they can get their hands on. In the name of ideology...[snip]. There’s nothing religious in the name of Genghis Khan. Twenty million people were killed in the Middle Ages… There was nothing religious about that. Pol Pot I don’t think was particularly religious, I don’t think Mao was, either.
What on earth has that got to do with it? We don't have to worry about medieval warlords or communism much more here in the West. The point is religion causes people to do bad things and religion is still around, worse, it continues to exercise considerable influence. Does Bragg think the 911 bombers were after power? What about contraception, gay rights, stem cell research? Is Bragg saying we should just shut up and let religion have a free hand? And if medieval warlords or communism were still around in Europe, is he saying we shouldn't attack them because other people do terrible things too?
Lord Bragg said the King James Bible gave to the English-speaking world the basis of its language; was the instrument by which “the greatest abomination of mankind”, slavery, was abolished; helped create modern democracy by arguing against the divine right of kings; and was the greatest empowerer of women in the 19th century.
On Richard Dawkins, he said the prominent atheist misunderstood the effect of the Bible on slaves by saying that it was used to pacify them.
“What happened to slaves is they took hold of it and turned it into liberation theology,” Lord Bragg said.
“He (Professor Dawkins) was completely ignorant, he didn’t do his research.
He forgot to mention that the KJV was behind the invention of the internal combustion engine and the elimination of polio. I hardly know where to begin. First, I've heard Dawkins say many times that the King James Bible was of enormous cultural significance and needed to be taught as a work of literature. Liberation theology for slaves? WTF? I can only presume that Bragg hasn't actually read the Bible. I'll let everyone else fill in the gaps on democracy, slavery and women's rights (maybe Bragg can explain it to all the women bishops).
Bragg saves the real humdinger for last though.
Galileo was a serious Christian. So was Kepler, so was Isaac Newton – people who dwarf Dawkins
That's the kind of argument I was hearing 20 years ago on old fashioned bulletin boards from people who'd never seriously engaged in debate about religion before. I'm pretty amazed that there are serious people around who still think that constitutes a point worth making. I'm utterly speechless that Melvyn Bragg is one of them.
And he accuses Dawkins of ignorance!
And in Argentinian sports news, River Plate beat Boca Juniors 6-5 in their Superclásico match three weeks ago. I was there and the Boca Juniors were stunned that they did not win when they thought they had the right to win.
The John Bell American tour then moved on to the United States, where a lot of the "Grand Old Party" as the Republicans think of themselves, are looking forward to winning the presidential election later this year. They too think they have a right to win. With such leading candidates as Mitt Romney, a man with admirably flexible opinions, and Rick Santorum, a man with no flexibility whatsoever, who can blame them.
But it's not just sports fans and politicians that think they have the right to be heard without criticism, religious leaders do too. Some even think they should have a reserved slot on the radio where they can talk, uninterrupted, every morning at just after 7.45 in the morning.
They're precisely the sort of people who had Jesus executed. They think they know all there is to know about the Invisible Magic Friend. When the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend comes along and tells them the truth, they can't handle the truth. He's not the genocidal, Jewish maniac god that the Chief Rabbi told you about last week. He's actually the god of peace and love and all things cuddly.
You can trust me on this, I know all about the Invisible Magic Friend.
Sunday, 1 April, 2012, 04:56 AM - ClemmiesWe only have three official contenders this month - lots of nearly rans, but only three who got the magic 5 out of 5.
First out of the starting gate this month was Rev Canon Angela Tilby. This one was a classic case of "I've got nothing against The Gays, BUT..."
Canon Tilby was followed by the mountain climbing, Antarctic exploring, round Britain jet-skiing, Himalayian paragliding, lizard eating, urine drinking, SAS instructor and Chief Scout who's found Jesus, Bear Grylls. Bear wanted us to know that helping others was a good thing. No honestly, it is, Jesus said so.
Then, for the umpteenth year in a row, Lord Sacks told us all about Passover. The horrific gunning down of some Jewish schoolchildren had to be shoe-horned in at the last moment, but he basically managed to talk about just Passover anyway.
I'm not really terribly impressed with any of these contributions, so I've decided to look a bit further afield this month. It's been pointed out several times that I don't stick strictly to the meaning of the word "platitude" - something so obvious as to be almost meaningless, yet presented in a tone that intends it to be profound. While clerics, and TFTD presenters in particular, are often guilty of this, they're not the only ones. Politicians are pretty good at stuffing their speeches with platitudes too.
There's one politician in recent times who has really spouted nothing but endless platitudes. I'm referring of course to Aung San Suu Kyi. She goes on and on about democracy, freedom, liberty, free speech, human rights, peace and all the other platitudes that a politician seeking election comes out with. I know there may be a bit of a lack of some of those things in Burma, but now and again it would be nice to hear something from her that was a bit less like a sermon and a bit more about the practical details of running a nation state. The fact that she's such a frequent favourite of TFTD presenters only reinforces this impression.
So for her constant, hectoring, shrill speeches about democracy, this month's Clemmie goes to Aung San Suu Kyi.
It's fifty years since the publication of Silent Spring. This warned us that if we don't start working with nature, soon there won't be any nature left.
Fifty years on and insecticides are killing all the bees. No bees means no pollination of crops. No pollination of crops means no food. Once again, if we don't start working with nature, soon there won't be any nature left.
Has anyone mentioned the Garden of Eden lately? Thought not. Anyway, it all started in the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden is a parable since we now know that it definitely didn't happen. It's a parable about Adam being tempted by a talking snake into eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. It's been downhill ever since, with humanity working against nature to the point where there's no nature left, except for one brief interlude by the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes who planted some gardens by the sweat of his brow.
Adam, from the fictional Garden of Eden, was a bad gardener who set us all on the path against nature. Fortunately Jesus came along and rose from the dead. This repaired the damage done by the fictional Adam. In fact Jesus was so good at repairing the damage done by the fictional bad gardener that he was even mistaken for a gardener. That's why Mary Magdalene told him to stop loafing about and get on with his work.
So Jesus made everything better and we don't have to worry about working against nature until there's no nature left any more. Except that we do because that's what I started off telling you.
Anyway, next week is the anniversary of Jesus rising from the dead, which is great news for environmentalism. Hurrah!
The big Jewish festival of Passover is well under way now. This is a feast that's all about children. I'm sure you're all having a great time celebrating the mass slaughter of Egyptian children. It's a time when we get the youngest child to ask questions such as "Why is our Invisible Magic Friend real when everybody else's is just made up?"
It's thanks to Jews having families, families with children in them, that we've survived as a culture. Despite many persecutions over the centuries, we've gone on having families with children in them.
45 years ago I heard someone say something bad about families. That was very wrong. I still think that was very wrong. Families are good things. Just look at all those people who went rioting last year. That's because they weren't part of families. Good Jewish children didn't go rioting, because they had families.
As Big chief Rabbi of one of the oldest, yet youngest, civilizations, let me give this advice to younger civilizations: if you want to be as successful as we have, have children. I can't emphasize this enough: children are so important. Won't someone please, please think of the children.
The Egyptian civilization didn't look after their children properly and look what happened to them.
From Norwich, it's the bishop of the week, Illustriously Reverend Graham James, Lord Bishop of Norwich
It's becoming increasingly difficult to buy a meal with the Prime Minister and keeping it all hush-hush. What no one denies is that having a meal together is a sign of warmth and friendship, or at the very least, a six figure sum of money.
Sometimes an occasion is ruined by the person who insists on foisting their opinions on others. They talk right over everyone, never letting anyone else express an alternative point of view. It's almost as if they think they have some god-given right to be heard to the exclusion of everyone else at the meal.
Communal meals - I wonder where I'm going with this? Let me see, I'm a bishop talking about communal meals, I'll bet you can't guess what particular Christian communal meal I might be about to talk about. I can just imagine you all, sitting out there, the anticipation building to a frenzy, wondering what Christian communal meal I'm going to mention.
OK, I'll put you out of you're misery, it's the Eucharist! The Mass! Holy Communion!
I was at a communal meal that wasn't the Eucharist, the Mass, Holy Communion. I overheard a poor man telling a rich man how difficult it was being poor. The rich man replied by telling the poor man how difficult it was being rich.
This is what we need: rich meeting poor over a friendly chat. We need more poor people paying six figure sums to have a chat with the PM.