A couple of politicians have been trying some "blue sky thinking". Steve Hilton thinks maternity leave should go. Maurice Glasman wonders if Labour's immigration policies have fuelled the far right.
This sort of out-of-the-box, anything goes thinking is precisely what theology is all about. It's about seeing the big picture, the full context, the grand scheme, our true place in it all, and filling it with invisible magic stuff. It's about the invisible Magic Friend becoming visible. Big ideas like that. I mean really, really big, original ideas like that. No one had ever thought of the Invisible Magic Friend becoming visible before Christianity. That's the sort of practical, down to earth, life changing, explosive idea that only theology can
So hurrah for politicians who think the unthinkable like theologians do. We need more of that type of thinking in parliament.
Sunday, 31 July, 2011, 09:02 AM - ClemmiesLet us begin this month by giving thanks unto the Invisible Magic Friend, who sourceth all platitudes, for the wondrous bounty that he hath bestowed upon us. May we be worthy of the wisdom that thy Holy Department of Religion hath seen fit to deliver unto us.
Ah - men.
Thanks also to you, my faithful flock, for your many comments and for your prayers to sustain me as I attempt the arduous task of selecting this month's winner. In a department store filled with the most exquisite crockery, it is my unenviable task to choose the Holy Grail.
Given the quantity and unusually high quality of this month's offerings, I have decided it will be necessary to apply strict criteria. Each will be marked out of five on originality, profundity, wit, style and the presenter's delivery in evening dress. I want to stress to all the participants that although there can only be one winner, all can stand proud and erect in this orgy of platitudes.
We begin the month with the superb Clifford Longley and his plea, "Won't somebody please think of the children's children's children's children." The Vatican, it appears, is concerned about how the planet will cope with a never ending, exponentially rising population.
A relatively rare contender, Rev Lucy Winkett just wanted to point out that the scandal at News Corporation is all your fault.
In his second contribution this month, Clifford Longley wanted us to know what a nice guy Rupert Murdoch is and how well he gets on with the Pope. News International - nearly as nice as the Catholic Church.
All of our daily platitudes contain a healthy dollop of gibberish, but it takes a special talent to make the entire thing gibberish. Akhandadhi Das began with a short mention of the famine in Africa, before launching into the most splendidly unintelligible gibberish I think I've ever heard. Every sentence was perfectly coherent and beautifully crafted, yet intensely soporific and meaningless in a way that only the eastern mystical tradition can achieve.
In his first contribution this month, Rhidian Brook revealed that all power comes from... oh, let me see where does it come from... I wonder where... oh, yes, I remember, all power comes from the Invisible Magic Friend.
Clifford Longley just kept on going this month. As a Catholic, he just wanted to remind us that guilt works.
In his first contribution this month Joel Edwards pointed out that all morals come from the Invisible Magic Friend. It's an old theme, but when it's expressed in such unembarrassed starkness, I think it deserves a mention.
Rhidian Brook wasn't content in praying to the Invisible Magic Friend for power, he also wants us to pray for "discernment". You see, once you have some discernment you'll have some discernment and then you'll be able to discern things. So there. It's a rather nice example of a particular type of logical fallacy, where someone thinks that knowing the word for something somehow imparts knowledge about the something over and above the word for the something - or something.
Despite fellow Catholic Clifford Longley's three stabs at the prize this month Catherine Pepinster wasn't going to throw in the towel. If it's a choice between a priest revealing child abuse to the police and breaking the seal of the confessional, the priest will never reveal the child abuse (in the finest tradition of the Catholic Church it must be said). On the one hand, we have a young, innocent, human being, at risk from protracted physical and mental harm, and on the other you have a rule of the Catholic Church. I mean, it's a no brainer, isn't it?
Joel Edwards popped in at the end to tell us that the famine isn't the Invisible Magic Friend's fault. It isn't. Nope. It's not his fault. No.
Naturally, it has caused me great strife and tribulation to be forced to choose among these many fine platitudes. Clifford Longley came first in the evening dress category, with three stylish designs that I'm sure that nice Mr. Murdoch would have appreciated. Joel Edwards managed some respectable scores but lost out on originality. Akhandadhi Das sounded the most profound and therefore I'm sure he was, but there was a complete lack of wit and his evening dress was particularly uninspiring. Rhidian Brook was exactly the opposite, charming us with his wit and his style, but failing in the profundity category, due in part to pretty much everything he says being a non-sequitur. Lucy Winkett did well in all categories but somehow was missing that vital spark that makes a truly awful platitude.
That leaves only one other contributor. Yes, the Catholics have done it again. Catherine Pepinster, with her complete callous disregard for the harm to innocents, has shown us once again why the Catholic Church has the position of moral leadership that it has today.
Dare I tempt fate by suggesting that this might be our Platitude Of The Year (POTY). Or is there a TFTD presenter out there who can do better?
Rev Dr. (hon. Kingston) Dr. (hon. St. Andrews) Joel Edwards, International Director of Micah Challenge, Council Member of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation
Saturday, 30 July, 2011, 08:08 AM - EdwardsRating 5 out of 5 (Extraordinarily platitudinous)
I just want to make it absolutely clear, the drought in the Horn of Africa is not the Invisible Magic Friend's fault. As we look at the terrible pictures of human suffering, it's important to remember that it's not the Invisible Magic Friend's fault.
Crowds of jubilant atheists are jumping up and down pointing fingers at the starving shouting, "Where's your Invisible Magic Friend now? Eh? Na-na-na-na-na," because they will use any tragedy, no matter how enormous, to promote their cause - as they do constantly on this very programme. Well, it isn't the Invisible Magic Friend's fault!
It may be that the area has been torn apart by warring religious crazies who have inhibited good government and have driven out the aid agencies, but it's not the Invisible Magic Friend's fault. There's a story in the Old Tasty mint of a famine in Egypt, but that worked out OK because they worshipped the correct Invisible Magic Friend, therefore the current famine isn't the Invisible Magic Friend's fault.
Only good things are the Invisible Magic Friend's fault. Bad things are caused by people. This is a bad thing therefore it isn't the Invisible Magic Friend's fault. Yes, people are dying daily in their thousands, but what's really important here is to remember that it isn't the Invisible Magic Friend's fault.
Did I mention that it isn't the Invisible Magic Friend's fault?
You may have heard about the Catholic practice of Confession. This is where you go into a little box behind black curtains and tell the priest all your dirty little secrets. Because your are dirty, very dirty indeed. The priest is bound to keep all your very dirty little secrets, secret, and as we all know, Catholic priests have turned out to be exceedingly good at keeping certain secrets.
Some Irish politicians now want priests who learn about child abuse in the confessional to pass the information to the police. They seem to think that protecting children is some how more important than religious privilege. Well dream on folks, it ain't gonna happen. Priests would rather die than tell about people's dirty little secrets. You'd have to put every priest in Ireland behind bars and then where will we be?
Jesus forgave absolutely everyone, although he might have mentioned something about millstones and the bottom of the sea in connection with harming children. I'm sure he forgives priests who molest children, and if the Invisible Magic Friend can forgive them, you should too. The penitent has to be really, really sorry - as sorry as the Catholic Church is constantly saying it is - yes, that sorry - for the the priest's magic power of absolution to work. Sure, the child molester might go on to hurt another defenceless child, but are you seriously suggesting that the Catholic rule book should be superseded just because of that?
Sometimes the priest might tell the penitent that they have to go to the police. Sometimes not. It depends how they feel really. I'm sure we can trust the priest to use their own professional judgement in these matters. They've always turned out to be very reliable in the past.
How should we respond to lots of tragic news, like the death of Amy Winehouse, or the massacre in Norway, or the famine in Somalia? There's just so much of it.
One way to respond is with words. "Histrionic" is a good word. Another good word is "calibrate". "Inure" is pretty good too. How about "vicarious"? Oh, yes, I'm really on fire today, but then what else would you expect from a celebrity Christian author such as oneself. Oh, wait, wait, wait 'till you hear this one: "insouciant"! Wow, what a word!
Amazing as all these amazing words are, it doesn't get us much closer to knowing how to deal with tragic news. I'd just like to mention Evelyn Waugh at this point and his portrayal of an inept foreign correspondent in his comic novel, Scoop. It's the kind of thing a well read celebrity Christian author such as oneself does. But even this doesn't get us any closer to knowing how to deal with tragic news.
In order to to know how to deal with tragic news, you need to pray to the Invisible Magic Friend for something called "discernment" (a beautiful word, I'm sure you'll all agree). "Discernment" is the ability to know how to deal with things. Once you have the ability to know how to deal with things, you'll know how to deal with things and that is the secret of knowing how to deal with things.
Jesus, as the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend, didn't have to pray to himself for discernment, as he already had lots of it. In the wake of things happening, Jesus very often did or said nothing. This was because of his ample supplies of discernment, or possibly because he just couldn't think of anything clever to say. Or possibly he trusted in the very moral universe we live in. Some universes are rather immoral, but fortunately we live in one that knows how to behave itself in polite company.
Shaikh Abdal Hakim Murad, Muslim Chaplain Cambridge University (the Shaikh formerly known as Tim Winter)
The atrocity in Norway, committed by Anders Breivik, continues to shock, not least because Breivik seems to show no remorse for killing over 90 people, many of them youngsters.
But let's not talk about him. Let's talk about someone on the other side of the world who killed anyone he thought looked Muslim. Mark Stroman was executed last Thursday, despite the pleas of one of his victims. After the shooting, Rais Bhuiyan went on his pilgrimage to Mecca, the city that's being racking in money from pilgrims since even before the time of a certain well known prophet. Transformed by this transformative pilgrimage, Rais was filled with warmth and love and goodness, put there by the Invisible Magic Friend.
That's what the Invisible Magic Friend does - he puts warmth and love and goodness in people. He put it in Adam, whom you'll recall was the first human. I'm not sure if he put it in Eve or not, so let's not mention her, but he definitely put it in Adam. I know this because it says so in one of the nice bits of our Big Book of Magic Stuff.
So let's all pray to the Invisible Magic Friend that Breivik shows repentance. If you close your eyes and pray really, really hard, it is bound to happen.
The USA owes $14,300,000,000,000.
I'm not an economist. I don't spend my time reading economic theory or calibrating computer models of the economy. I barely know anything at all about economics. In fact, what I know about economics, you could right on the back of a match box. That's why I'm going to talk to you about economics.
US government debt is exactly the same as Adam and Eve. That's where it all started and it's been down hill all the way since then. I don't wish to sound grumpy or anything, but everything just keeps getting worse and worse and worse 'till everything's just completely awful and unimaginably terrible. Original sin is not about humanity's fall from grace and its loss of innocence, necessitating the second bit of the Invisible Magic Friend sacrificing himself, as some deluded Christians may have erroneously informed you. Original sin is about government debt, and as sins go, US government debt is about as sinful as it gets.
Adam and Eve weren't happy with the GDP of the Garden of Eden. They had to borrow fruit from the tree of knowledge, fruit that they couldn't possibly repay, leaving it to future generations to service the debt. Enough is enough. There are limits to economic growth. We need fewer jobs, less production and overall economic stagnation and contraction. That is the only sure fire way to pay our debts, increase happiness and ensure the general well being of the human race. (Oh, by the way, in the resulting economic depression, I'll still be getting paid, so feel free to come and see me if you want some spiritual comfort while your family starves.)
Government debt is money that we have borrowed from our children. Won't someone please, please think of the children.
The USA now owes $14,300,005,000,000.
Monday, 25 July, 2011, 08:49 AM - BillingsRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
It used to be far left extremists who were responsible for terrorism. Then some people who didn't properly understand Islam, hijacked the Religion of Peace to use it to justify terrorism. Now it seems, it is the far right's turn, this time claiming to uphold Christian fundamentalism.
In blowing up government offices in Oslo and shooting teenagers in cold blood on Utoeya island, Anders Behring Breivik attacked both the current leadership of Norway's Labour Party and its next generation leaders.
This reminds me of Jesus, who fought the Invisible Magic Baddy in the desert for 40 days. I think the relevance to Norway's worst massacre since World War II is clear.
I know lots of young people have died, but what's really important here is that Christianity doesn't get represented as a violent, intolerant religion. We really stopped being violent quite some time ago and quite a few have even given up being intolerant. We can't have people who don't understand Christianity properly doing what the people who didn't understand Islam properly did. Some of them actually thought that Jihad was meant to be taken literally as a fight for Islam, rather than a deep inner struggle. They failed to realise how Islam deeply innerly struggled all the way across Arabia, the Middle East, the Far East and North Africa in the 7th and 8th centuries.
That's why it's really important to explain to people that Breivik's Christianity isn't real Christianity, it isn't true Christianity, it isn't my Christianity.
Sunday, 24 July, 2011, 08:31 AM - Not TFTDRating 1 out of 5 (Not platitudinous)
It is fair to say that after the Ryan and Murphy reports, Ireland is, perhaps, unshockable when it comes to the abuse of children. However, the Cloyne report has proved to be of a different order because for the first time in this country a report on child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago. In doing so the report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection and elitism that dominates the culture of the Vatican to this day. The rape and torture of children were down-played or managed to uphold the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and reputation. Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St. Benedict’s “ear of the heart”, the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a Canon lawyer.
Clericalism has rendered some of Ireland’s brightest and most privileged and powerful men either unwilling or unable to address the horrors cited in the Ryan and Murphy reports. This Roman clericalism must be devastating for good priests, some of them old, others struggling to keep their humanity, even their sanity, as they work hard to be the keepers of the church’s light and goodness within their parishes, communities and the condition of the human heart. Thankfully for them and us, this is not Rome. Nor is it industrial school or Magdalene Ireland, where the swish of a soutane, smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish Catholic world. This is the Republic of Ireland in 2011. It is a republic of laws, rights and responsibilities and proper civic order where the delinquency and arrogance of a particular version of a particular kind of morality will no longer be tolerated or ignored.
Through our legislation, through our Government’s action to put children first, those who have been abused can take some small comfort in knowing that they belong to a nation - to a democracy - where humanity, power, rights and responsibilities are enshrined and enacted always for their good; where the law - their law, as citizens of this country - will always supersede canon law that has neither legitimacy nor place in the affairs of this country.
The then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said: “Standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church”. As the Holy See prepares its considered response to the Cloyne Report, I want to make it clear, as Taoiseach, that when it comes to the protection of the children of this State, the standards of conduct which the Church deems appropriate to itself cannot and will not be applied to the workings of democracy and civil society in this republic - not purely, or simply or otherwise, because children have to be and will be put first.
Rev Dr. (hon. Kingston) Dr. (hon. St. Andrews) Joel Edwards, International Director of Micah Challenge, Council Member of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation
One of my more knowledgeable American Christian friends asked me if Britain still had an empire. I explained that we have things that are even better than that. We have a Commonwealth, that every four years has some games that nobody pays any attention to. We have the monarchy that is universally loved and will some day enjoy King Charles III. Oh, yes and we've got democracy and stuff. He congratulated me on our success at the Battle of Trafalgar and asked me to convey his regards to that nice Mr. Dickens.
Back when we still had an empire, part of that empire was in Kenya. Now some of the people who were in that part of the empire are being allowed to sue Britain for their brutal treatment back then. This is a moral as well as a legal argument, and where do all morals come from? They come from the invisible Magic Friend of course!
In the good old days, when nations had proper absolute hereditary monarchies and none of all that democracy rubbish, the Invisible Magic Friend made King David king. King David was the bestest, most brilliant king there ever was (although there was that little sleeping with one of his soldiers wives, then having him killed and the Invisible Magic Friend killing his baby son in revenge incident - but apart from that he was just fantastic).
It's because of the Invisible Magic Friend and his brilliant morals that he gave us that we're all so shocked by the atrocities in Norway. The Invisible Magic Friend is just great isn't he? And that's why there needs to be justice for Kenyans.