In this year's Reith Lecture, Aung San Suu Kyi talks about personal freedom. We are prepared to go to great lengths to achieve freedom, enduring suffering and even death in the process. But why do we want to be free? Why don't we all just want to sit around waiting for someone else to tell us what to do? Why do we want to do the things that we want to do?
Darwinian evolution, on which I am an acknowledged expert, has no explanation for this. Science predicts that we ought to want to do what we don't want to do. Nor is it just a function of society. Remarkably, it turns out that many non-white people want to be free to do the things that they want to do as well.
Some religions seem to restrict freedom, but not Hinduism. For Hindus, freedom is at the very heart of their religion. That's why we invented the caste system. Hindus, while investigating Invisible Magic Stuff, discovered the reason why we want to be free to do the things we want to do, rather than being free to do the things we don't want to do. Having discovered this reason, they wrote it down in one of our Big Books of Magic Stuff, of which we have many.
This is the reason why we want to be free to do the things we want to do, rather than being free to do the things we don't want to do. The reason is this. Truth is life and life is truth, which is consciousness. Just as freedom shines from the sun, so truth shines from light, which is absolute, and I include animals in this. This deep spiritual knowledge liberates us and makes us free. The Force is strong in all of us. Free and eternal it is, yes, primal it is. Think I, therefore not am I. Freedom this explains, yes.
May the Force by with you.
Tuesday, 28 June, 2011, 08:37 AM - JamesRating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)
And in today's reflection on the news from a faith perspective, I'm going to be meeting some future priests today! Why do people still want to become Church of England clergy? Is it the comfortable accommodation? The guaranteed pension? The constant invitations to weddings, wakes and other ceremonies with tea and sandwiches? The fancy dress? The Church of England is certainly not fashionable or glamorous. As churches go, it's one of the dullest there is. You wouldn't believe how drab and uninteresting the Church of England is.
Like teachers, lawyers and doctors, priests are professional people with a vocation, a calling. Teachers have a calling to pass on learning, lawyers have a calling to squeeze as much money out of their clients as possible, doctors have a calling to heal the sick. It's the same with priests. Not everyone wants some amateur humanist performing their funeral, eating their cucumber sandwiches and sipping their Earl Grey. They want a fully trained professional who knows how to hold a sandwich properly, who knows how to sip tea without making those horrible slurping noises, who doesn't get nervous around fine bone china tea cups.
Church of England priests do all this because they love their jobs. They don't do it for the money or the prestige, or the fact that they get to come on the Today Programme and tell everybody that they don't do it for the money or the prestige. It's such a shame that the people who do things simply for the sake of it aren't appreciated any more. The word "amateur" should be cherished and celebrated... er... except in connection with funerals, where you definitely want a trained professional and not some clumsy amateur who just does it because they like doing it.
And in the news headlines today, it's Durham University open day! Happy Durham University open day everyone! If you're a prospective university student, with all those lovely fees to spend, why not come along to Durham University open day and learn all about Durham University, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the country. Only a few shorts years from now you'll be receiving your degree in the splendid surroundings of the magnificent Durham Cathedral, a privilege unique to Durham University - shaped by the past, creating the future.
If you're wondering, why go to university? What are universities for? Well, universities used to be about being more Christian. But don't worry if you're not into all that, if that isn't you're "thing", because here at Durham University, whose open day is today and to which you are all most welcome, we teach and do research in the full range of both academic and vocational subjects. Here at Durham University, we equip you to meet the future, whatever your chosen field.
Centrally located, with its intimate collegiate nature yet cosmopolitan outlook, Durham University is the university that Jesus would have chosen. Like Jesus, Durham University, is concerned with developing the whole you. We'll see to it that you turn out properly spiritual as well as properly educated. As one of our low paid cleaning staff said, "These kids are the future."
So why not come to Durham University - an eminent source for good.
Sunday, 26 June, 2011, 08:54 AM - Not TFTDIt has been brought to my attention that there is a serious lack of intelligent religious humour these days. Comedians have been failing in their sacred duty to challenge suppositions and de-construct prejudices, resorting to ridicule of the same tired old stereotypes of religion. When will we see an end to this silly schoolboy humour that talks about "imaginary friends" and "sky pixies." Where are the jokes about how hilarious it would be if their really wasn't an Invisible Magic Friend?
This is a topic that requires much investigation. All I can say is, thank the Invisible Magic Friend someone is doing serious research on the topic. Who knows where this constant ridicule of religion will lead? It is entirely possible that if clerics and religious bodies are laughed at every time they open their mouths, that religion itself might stop being taken seriously, and then where will we be?
Why can't these so-called "comedians" take a leaf out of religion's book? Take Pope Benedict's vastly amusing UK tour last year. Observe the subtlety of his puns, the lack of sweeping generalisations in his wit, the accuracy and infallibility of his social observations. Even Muslim youths could teach contemporary comics a thing or two about how to tell a good joke. Oh, I laughed until I cried!
Thankfully, no one on this site ever unjustifiably portrays religion as self serving, intolerant or just plain stupid. I know I can rely on you all to continue to give religion the level of respect that it truly deserves.
Brian here, in Southampton, an associate lecturer at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity where we envision and equip Christians and their churches for whole-life missionary discipleship in the world, seek to serve them with biblical frameworks, practical resources, training and models so that they flourish as followers of Jesus and grow as whole-life disciplemaking communities. Hi.
The think tank, Google Ideas, is bringing together gangsters, religious extremists and Nazis to discuss what they all have in common. Well, I could have told them that - they want the same as all of us, a good fight. Let's face it, deep down, aren't we all insane religious fundamentalists? Who of us, in an idle moment, hasn't felt like flying a plane into a skyscraper, or blowing up an underground train? Which of you can honestly say, that you haven't wanted to capture a rival gang member, beat them to a pulp and slash their face with a razor blade? I certainly know I have.
Perhaps though, we have forgotten exactly what it is that we want to be violently psychopathic for? Some people give up and just don't bother fighting anyone. They despicably and lazily spend their time watching telly, not bothering anyone - the swine. This is where the Big Book of Magic Stuff is so useful. In Saint John's Gospel (in my opinion one of the very finest Gospels) Jesus says, "Don't be a violent psychopath, think about ME!"
In this way, most Christians avoid being violent psychopaths most of the time. And since Mother Teresa, whom we all admire so much, hasn't been quoted for a while, let's end with her words, "I'll give you a good fight."
Devastatingly Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron Reverend Lord Richard Harries, Baron Pentregarth, Gresham Professor of Divinity, Baron, Bishop, Professor, Lord...
I saw a young man the other day with a toolbox and an absolutely massive spirit level, of which he was justly proud. I had to admire such a long, straight tool. Compared to my own, somewhat less impressive tool, his was indeed very desirable. I couldn't help wondering what feats he had achieved with such a tool, the many customers satisfied by this young carpenter's strenuous erections.
Stanley Spencer painted a picture of Christ carrying his cross, surrounded by carpenters carrying ladders. Christ was a carpenter too, like the other carpenters carrying their ladders, the tools of their trade. Christ's cross was his tool, long and hard like the young man's tool, which he used to proudly save us all from being condemned by him.
But not everyone has a useful trade like a carpenter, or a bishop, or a messiah. Some people don't have any trade or useful employment of any kind. This does not mean that their tools lie unused. Many unemployed or retired people use their tools freely, to the delight of others. As Philip Larkin once said, as soon as you arise in the morning, reach straight for your tool. Saint Paul was quite explicit too, make your tool available to all.
The carpenter's erections, no matter how proud, are merely functional. Using your tool to freely benefit others is an art.
Something amazing is being uncovered in South East Turkey. Ancient temples, that pre-date Stonehenge and the pyramids by thousands of years, have been excavated. Huge, carved stone pillars, built without the use of wheels, metal, or agriculture, lie in concentric circles.
Organised religion, in the sense of proper modern religion with bishops and priests and other important people, was once thought to have been established only after humanity had given up their hunter-gatherer existence. Bishops chasing after antelopes wouldn't be terribly useful, would they? These temples suggest that organised religion did arise while humans were still largely nomadic - so the picture of bishops chasing antelopes isn't that silly after all.
In the Göbekli Tepe temples, we see the very beginnings of civilisation, the long road that would eventually lead to cities, nations, cathedrals and Fortnum and Mason. We see that humans have always had the desire to build what would fill people with awe, making them awful. It is human instinct to seek invisible magic stuff, which would be pretty silly if there weren't invisible magic stuff.
And yet, there are some who mock invisible magic stuff, even though we have these vast stone pillars from 11,000 years ago. Even at the very earliest stages of human civilisation, people travelled hundreds of miles to see these great carved monuments. It all goes to show, that from the very earliest of times, humans really knew how to build a tourist attraction.
Wednesday, 22 June, 2011, 08:36 AM - JenkinsRating 5 out of 5 (Extraordinarily platitudinous)
Oh, how we all laughed. The vain and the not-quite-so-beautiful being kicked off the beautiful people's dating site. Those of us who aren't at all vain thought it the biggest joke of the week.
But there's a serious point to all this. Don't we all avoid old, ugly, disabled or stupid people? I know I certainly do, so I expect you must as well. You see, what all you superficial Radio 4 listeners don't seem to recognise is that beauty is only skin deep, it doesn't last forever, youth passes, beauty fades, it's what inside that counts, true beauty is found in God alone. You must stop seeing things in terms of clichés.
Saint Peter didn't write much, but he did take a keen interest in women's cosmetics. He thought beauty was only skin deep too. Oh, and by the way, they should submit themselves to their husbands, who usually know best when it's time to be beautiful.
Take Mother Teresa. She wasn't beautiful on the outside. No one looked at Mother Teresa and said, "Wow, where have you been all my life?" No, let us be honest, Mother Teresa was old and ugly and not at all attractive to we hot blooded males. But she had lots of inner beauty. She realised that suffering was good for you. It brought you closer to the Invisible Magic Friend that she'd long ago stopped believing in.
Wednesday, 22 June, 2011, 07:27 AM - Not TFTDI don't make many regular charity contributions because I have no income at the moment. However, when one prominent charity advocates boycotting others then I feel I have to make it clear that I don't support their tactics.
I'm all in favour of minimising animal suffering and minimising their use in medical research wherever possible - who wouldn't be? I'm all in favour of banning Halal and Kosher slaughter. But some research has no choice. Animal Aids's call to boycott various worthy charities will anger many who have lost loved ones to cancer or had to look after those suffering Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.
So in defiance of their call for a boycott. I've made small donations to the following.
Cancer Research UK
Britsh Heart Foundation
I won't be donating to Animal Aid.
From Norwich, it's the bishop of the week, Swashbucklingly Reverend Graham James, Lord Bishop of Norwich
A recent study suggests that women need to speak more forthrightly in the testosterone filled environment of British board rooms. There is also evidence to suggest that women are less risky investors.
It's not so much this alleged male/female divide that should concern us. As a Swashbucklingly Reverend Lord Bishop, what bothers me is that aggressive, spontaneous style of leadership is regarded as decisive and strong, when more thoughtful, questioning management is thought of as weak and dithering.
Jesus, the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend, sometimes chose a male style of leadership and sometimes a female style. It all depended what sort a mood he was in really. "I'm God, so you just do what I tell you to," he would sometimes say. At other times he preferred to maintain his air of mystery and ineffableness by answering a question with a question and not really saying anything. Then there was his famous self deprecating style. "I'm such a lousy visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend," he would say. "I'm not at all sure I'm going to be any good at dying to save the world."
We need more leaders like Jesus in our investment banks.