Every 5 minutes a child runs away from home or from care. That's 100,000 a year. A quarter are forced out. On the streets they are vulnerable to predatory adults and the false escapes of drink and drugs. I was so outraged by these scandalous statistics, this wanton disregard for the welfare of children, that I decided that enough was enough, I just had to do something. So I immediately grabbed my coat, dashed out of the door and headed straight for a museum.
The Museum of Childhood was full of happy, smiling children in neatly pressed school uniforms. I breathed a huge sigh of relief - no street urchins dressed in rags, surrounded by empty tins of Tennents' Super here. I was reminded that children take a special delight in the world around them, especially when it's filled with toys.
I was also reminded that real Christianity, true Christianity, my Christianity, likes to enjoy itself. We're not like certain dour faced puritans, such as... well we all know who they are, no need to name names - so-called "Christians" that don't want to have priests and bishops with lots of shiny gold threaded vestments and great big flowing capes with pointy hats and big ornamental poles to carry around.
Jesus, the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend, said we needed to be more like children. Unfortunately, some children are being prematurely sexualised and made to think as adults by adults who want to be more like children... so Jesus was obviously wrong about... er, just forget that bit.
Anyway, we should be very, very angry indeed about the mistreatment of children. Won't somebody please, please think of the children!
I want to talk to you today about the art of Ai Weiwei. Which brings me on to religion. Religion is very much like art. It is subversive, not at all part of the establishment. It asks all the difficult questions and even makes up some answers.
Believe it or not, there are control freaks out there who want to tell you what to think. That is why they are so afraid of religion. When you have a religion you are free to think what you like. Free, FREE, FREE I tell you! You are free to have an Invisible Magic Friend. Free to ask, what if there is more than this world? Eh? Eh? What if? Eh? Makes you think, eh? A famous poet asked that, so there. What a disappointment it would be if this dull, uninteresting universe was all there was.
I am free to have random thoughts rattling around in my Rev Dr brain. That's what makes me so dangerous. That's why "they" want to suppress me, to prevent me from coming on Thought For The Day. But they will not succeed. Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better.
And in conclusion, that's what the art of Ai Weiwei is all about.
Wednesday, 20 April, 2011, 07:38 AM - FraserRating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)
Has anyone mentioned Easter yet? Happy Holy Week everyone! And now let us be miserable and grumpy and reflect on the loathsomeness of being human. As James Alison famously said, "It's just great being a gay Catholic priest."
Do you know what those cheering crowds who welcomed the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend into Jerusalem did? Do you know what they did? Do you? I'll tell you what they did, just in case you don't know. They handed him over to the rotten Romans to be crucified. That's what they did. It was so mean and horrible and rotten and I just hate them. They were all such hypocrites and if there's one thing I can't stand it's hypocrisy. Which is a shame because everyone's a hypocrite. You're all hypocrites, every last one of you. Even I'm a hypocrite. I just can't stand all this hypocrisy. It's all so hypocritical.
The Press are all hypocrites too. Yes, Humphrys, you included, well may you hang your head in shame. They go around, sticking their noses into celebrities' secret places, sniffing out all the dirt. Then we go and read it and learn what a bunch of hypocrites they all are. Oh, I feel so dirty.
So where is the joy in all this? The joy is to recognise what a lowly, cowardly, hypocritical sinner you are. Shout it out loud. I AM A HYPOCRITE! Go on, you know you want to, you disgusting hypocrite you. Yes, I knew you were all along. As a Christian, it doesn't surprise me in the least to discover your true nature. Thank the Invisible Magic Friend we've got his resurrection to look forward to, that, and all that lovely chocolate.
Wednesday, 23 March, 2011, 08:18 AM - FraserRating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)
I hate the way the King James Bible is being represented as some sort of example of Englishness. People just keep going on and on and on about the King James Bible. I wish people would just shut up about the King James Bible. I mean what's so special about the King James Bible? Even at the time, people thought the King James Bible was old fashioned. I mean it's just rubbish, I don't know why anyone bothers about the King James Bible. All right, I'll admit the King James Bible, that people keep going on about, has some cute turns of phrase, but that's about it. The King James Bible is more about nostalgia for a long lost Jacobean monarchy that we mostly chopped the heads off and then spent a century fighting against.
Bits of the King James Bible were used by Handel's Messiah, which is alright I suppose, so long as people don't keep going on about it. What I really object to is the King James Bible being the official bible of the English Defence League, or of Midsummer Murders, the village with the highest murder rate in the world, but which, worse than that, doesn't have any black people in it, not even as murderers.
The fact is, the bible is the the most multi-cultural book there ever was, with detailed instructions about how not to intermarry with other cultures and how to exterminate them if they try to tell you about their false gods.
I don't know how many times you need to be told this, but as a representative of the official Church of England, the Invisible Magic Friend is not English. He's not even British.
Charlie Sheen, drugs, we are interested, twitter, Guinness Book of Records, social media, A.S. Byatt, The Guardian, decline in religious belief, nothing left, no place in the world. Who are we? Where are we? What are we? Social media, mirror, identity, tragedy, Sheen, be noticed to exist, spiritual, Lent, denial, alone, friends, foes, Jesus, wilderness, forces beyond our control, A.S. Byatt, poem, deeper reality, Invisible Magic Friend, exist, love, hold together, Invisible Magic Friend, Lent, hard.
One of the great things about being a priest is that you get to see so many people die. There's nothing I enjoy more than watching one of my parishioners die. Of course it's not the way it used to be. Parishioners used to die at home, often in excruciating pain. Now they're taken to a hospital, drugged up to their eyeballs and connected to the machine that goes ping!
There's a popular misconception about Christianity and death. Non-Christians naively assume that when we die, we think we just "pass on" in a sort of disembodied form, floating around like a ghostly, eternal Giles Fraser. As a Rev Canon Dr, let me just assure you that this, rather theologically simplistic view of death, is completely wrong. When you die that's it, kaput, finito, you are an ex-person, you have ceased to be. I doubt if you'll find any Christians who have ever thought otherwise.
Today is Ash Wednesday (that's today's news from an ethical perspective), when we Christians are reminded that we are dust and back to dust we shall return. Now all this talk of your inevitable, imminent demise may seem a tad depressing. Not a bit of it! Would you really want me going on and on and on? That's pretty much all that science has to offer you, which just goes to show how rubbish science is. Just imagine - no more beautiful, poignant, parishioners' deathbed scenes.
When sophisticated theologians like Boethius and Augustine speak of "entering eternity" they're talking about something much bigger than the current you. I mean really big. You wouldn't believe how mind-bogglingly, stupendously, unbelievably big. Much, much bigger than this poxy, cramped, boring little universe that we're trapped in. It'll be all so big and mystical and transcendental and eternal and stuff, and not at all like just "passing on".
Six people are on trial in Ghana for burning an old woman to death as a witch. For some reason, this evil, superstitious nonsense persists. I'm an honorary Canon of a Cathedral on the border of Ghana and I can tell you that these primitive, illogical beliefs are widespread.
If only these people would become proper Christians who only believed in the correct invisible magic stuff, then they could be cured of these irrational and dangerous beliefs. Thinkers, and I include Catholics in that, have concluded that bad religion, like belief in witchcraft, is really just a form of social bonding that works by isolating those who are different and holding them up as scapegoats. This is not something that is ever done by good religions like Christianity.
Jesus never advocated burning witches. He was a bit of a rebel against the old religion, even if he did say that not one word of the law should be overturned.
Where some people get all this nonsense about witchcraft from completely escapes me.
Seventy years ago today, 22,000 incendiary bombs were dropped on the City of London. At it's height, 300 bombs per minute dropped around Saint Paul's, the cathedral that I happen to be Canon Chancellor of. There were 28 direct hits and so many fires that Ed Murrow prematurely announced on CBS that the building was lost.
Saint Paul's, where I am Canon Chancellor and which really is one of the "must see" attractions for any tourist visiting London, survived, even though many buildings around it were reduced to rubble. One of the great icons of London stood defiant against the Nazi bombs.
This is only one small chapter in the long and glorious history of Saint Paul's Cathedral, Canon Chancellor of which I am and which is open daily from 8.30 am to 4.00 pm. It's survival of the blitz was a symbol of hope to all people of faith (people without faith just looked at it and said "yeah, whatever" ). Nor is this the naive hope of the hopelessly deluded, it is the good, brave, British hope of the undefeated, the defiant. Just like religious faith, it's about not giving in to reality.
Christopher Wren, who built Saint Paul's, whose Canon Chancellor I am and where children's tickets are available from only £4 (Adults £12.50 with a whole £1 reduction for senior citizens), found a piece of masonry from the medieval Saint Paul's. It had the single word "resurgen", or "I will rise again" on it. The Cathedral did rise again, just like the resurrection at the heart of the Christian Faith which I now believe in again thanks to my recent successful therapy sessions.
Saint Paul's, Chancellor Canon whereof I am, remains a symbol of faith and hope and has a large and well stocked gift shop full of a wide range of books, CDs, DVDs, jewellery as well as a series of commemorative prints and stationery to suit all tastes, many of which are also available for purchase online.
(Oh yes, and 160 people died and 500 were injured in the raid.)
Tuesday, 21 December, 2010, 09:03 AM - FraserRating 2 out of 5 (A little platitudinous)
And in the big news today, my wife got a free taxi ride from Euston to Saint Paul's, where I'm Canon Chancellor and Lucy Winkett isn't, at 3 o'clock in the morning. The driver said it was his "Christmas good deed".
The book On Kindness asks why people are so suspicious of kindness. We expect everyone to be selfish and think kind people must have something wrong with them. The authors argue that Christianity hijacked kindness, rather than see it for what it is, a natural part of humanity.
Hobbes thought that acts of kindness were really just acts of selfishness, doing good because it made us feel good. So kind people are really just selfish people and the taxi driver was actually an evil, greedy swine for helping someone.
These "anti-kindness" people, think they are realists, but it's the other way around. Portraying ourselves as innately selfish is a way of distancing ourselves from kindness, because in order to be kind, someone else must be vulnerable and vulnerability in others implies vulnerability in ourselves. We yearn for the kindness of others, but fear rejection and so choose to categorise everyone as selfish.
Fortunately, the taxi driver mentioned Christmas, so there's no need for me to find some other excuse to talk about it. The true meaning of Christmas is the kindness of a mother to her child and the dependency of the child on its mother. Kindness cannot exist without vulnerability. It is pretending that we are all selfish that is unrealistic. We must face the possibility of rejection with courage in order to keep kindness alive.
I think we can all agree, this is precisely what Christianity is all about.
And the therapy's going very well, thank you. Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better.
Has anyone mentioned Advent yet?
You might think you're having a busy time trying to sort out the Christmas shopping, just imagine what it's like for me. I've got week's worth of complex theology to get through. You've no idea how much theology I have to wade through as a busy Canon Chancellor in the weeks before Christmas.
What many people forget is that Advent isn't just about looking forward to the coming of the baby Jesus, who doesn't really appear on Christmas day because that all happened thousands of years ago. The true meaning of Advent is in looking forward to the second coming of Jesus.
Obviously I don't actually believe in the second coming of Jesus, just as I don't actually believe in most traditional Christian teaching, that's for people who are much less theologically sophisticated than myself.
I suppose I better mention something to do with the news. Julian Assange is a bit like Jesus Christ, as he exposes all the crimes and hypocrisies of world governments. And now back to the second coming.
As the psalmist says on the day of judgement, "Did you really have to bring that up. I am so embarrassed." Or as Saint Paul so wittily remarks, "You're all screwed."
What people who are less theologically sophisticated than me don't seem to realise is that the day of judgement isn't all about thunderbolts and anger, it's about that tear of disappointment running down your mother's cheek, just before you're condemned to eternal punishment.
But judgement is good. Without someone to spy on you and judge you, you'd all just run around doing what you like, because you're like that, basically immoral, selfish and cruel. Without the threat of eternal punishment, nothing matters and nothing counts for anything.
With such an utterly negative view of humanity is it any wonder that I need psychotherapy? I mean wouldn't you if, despite your enormous theological sophistication, you didn't really believe in anything, including your fellow human beings?