And in up to the minute news, last year I married a young Chinese couple in my Church. Both came from wealthy Chinese families, the kind of people we very much like to see in the Church of England. As China overtakes Europe and the US to become the world's industrial superpower, young people in China see Christianity as the modern way of thinking, the way of the future, the bright shining way forward, the religion of bold new ideas, the religion that dares to say: a guy died on a stick to save you from a talking snake.
These prosperous, well educated, young Chinese, recognise Christianity as the fresh, fashionable alternative to the outmoded ideologies of the past. Communism, a cruel, evil way of thinking, where individuals were barred from becoming outrageously wealthy and joining the Church of England, is now seem as the dogma of the past. Christianity welcomes those who have done well for themselves. Jesus frequently condemned communism and encouraged all of his followers to accumulate as much economic capital as possible.
But Christianity isn't only for the fabulously rich. You see, Christianity is the religion that cares. Christianity cares about people, about society, about you. As China's economic power and personal wealth begins to overtake the USA, you'll find more and more Christian preachers there - where the money is.
Sunday, 7 August, 2011, 06:33 AM - Not TFTDI just had to post this picture of a very pretty planetary nebula from APOD. It's central star is now well on its way to becoming a white dwarf.
I got distracted following all the links at APOD about white dwarfs. I used to think these were just stellar left overs that quickly cooled to boring lumps of stuff. Turns out that they take a very long time to cool. In fact they take so long to cool that, given the age of the universe so far, none are expected to have cooled completely. There's speculation that they might even warm planets that are capable of supporting life.
So once the sun has toasted the earth and settled down to its ripe old age, it could, just possibly, give life to a whole new world.
White dwarves aren't the only alien stellar objects where life could survive. Other extremely long lived, stable environments are provided by orange dwarfs and red dwarfs - both of which are far more common in the universe than stars like our sun. These stars live billions of years longer than the sun and so, presumably, any planets in their habitable zones may have a good chance of evolving complex life.
Rev Dr. (hon. Kingston) Dr. (hon. St. Andrews) Joel Edwards, International Director of Micah Challenge, Council Member of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation
Isn't the world economic collapse just terrible. Awful. Tut, tut, tut. It really is very bad indeed. Very bad.
Ireland, Greece and Portugal were bad enough, but now Italy, Spain and even the United States. It's like a toothache that just won't go away. As we sit here in the waiting room of sovereign debt, we hear the wizzing drill of economic hardship only a room away. Except, even the dentists are broke and there are no more dentists.
I won't bore you with complicated graphs, sum and percentages. All you need to know is that everyone is now broke. Your pension is worthless. If you're not already unemployed then you soon will be. You and your family are about to become destitute. It's going to be terrible for you, awful, absolutely appalling.
But cheer up. Look on the bright side. Money isn't everything you know. Look at me, I'm doing all right. During these harsh economic times, we Rev Drs come into our own. Business is booming in the spiritual consolation industry. I can offer you phrases like "spiritual reality" with a perfectly straight face, or even accompanied by a beautifully patronising smile. Everything else has gone belly up. The only thing left is invisible magic stuff.
Happy days are here again,
The skies above are clear again,
So sing a song of cheer again,
Happy days are here again.
Friday, 5 August, 2011, 07:52 AM - PepinsterRating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)
The manufacturer of iPhones has decided that humans are too unreliable and tend to commit suicide under its working conditions. So it's going to replace them with robots.
As robots become ever more intelligent and handle an ever wider spectrum of tasks, the question arises, what will become of we humans? It's a question that science fiction writers have been asking for many decades. Now serious thinkers, such as editors of religious papers, are having to ask the question too.
What makes humans special? It's not intelligence, after all monkeys have learned to bang rocks together, and from there it's just a short evolutionary step to having souls and car keys. There can only be one answer.
It must be love, love, love.
Nothing more, nothing less,
Love is the best.
Other animals that mate for life do it purely on instinct, whereas we tie the knot because we fall in love. Animals don't send flowers or cards or take each other out for dinner. I haven't heard a single animal mother write a poem about her offspring, which just goes to show how rubbish they are at loving. Science cannot possibly explain any of this, therefore it must come from the Invisible Magic Friend.
Maximilian Kolbe, a Catholic, sacrificed himself to save a fellow prisoner in Auschwitz. No animal has ever sacrificed itself to save another. Love like that was only ever shown by human beings in any of the major concentration camps.
Saint Paul, the Pope and various poets all thought love was really important. Such unanimity of opinion on the subject just proves how right I am.
I was talking to some people, American people, American people who were priests, American people who were Lutheran priests, American people who were Lutheran priests staying at Iona.
They complained that politicians in America are so dogmatic. They're completely intransigent, causing all debates to be polarised along ideological lines. They just can't admit that their way of thinking could be wrong, no matter how much evidence is presented to them. They just argue on and on and on about who is right, never compromising on what they believe to be principal. I can't think of any other body of thought that behaves in this ridiculous, unproductive fashion, said the American Lutheran priests.
And I don't just mean Republicans, Democrats do it as well. It just so happens that my totally non-partisan and apolitical example happens to be of a Republican. Rick Scott is the Governor of Florida and the founder of the largest private for-profit health care company in the U.S.. In a state bedevilled with unemployment and lack of health insurance, he refuses to apply for federal grants. The government helping sick people for free is decidedly un-American. What are the unemployed, the ill and the poor supposed to do in Florida? Radio 4 listeners, do not vote for the Governor of Florida, or anyone from the other party who leaves the poor, the ill and the unemployed without any help.
There's a story about Jephthah who promised the Invisible Magic Friend that, in return for a successful genocide against the Ammonites, he'd round it off by killing whatever greeted him on his return. Unfortunately it was his daughter, but since his honour was at stake, he had no choice but to slaughter his daughter. I think you can see that this is exactly the same as the Governor of Florida.
Isn't it curious how ideology and theology are both ologies?
What I did on my holiday.
We went to Norway and saw all the crinkly bits around the fjords. We saw lots of snow and ice and some great big mountains. The people were really nice too, despite the fact that we didn't look traditionally Norwegian. They weren't at all like Anders Behring Breivik.
Meeting different people helps you to realise that different people aren't really different. You realise that there's a bit of the Invisible Magic Friend in everybody, although which bit is not entirely clear. It turns out that the people of Norway are not all terrifying, hate filled xenophobes after all. This is the kind of thing you discover when you travel to distant lands. I very much recommend people going to Norway to see for themselves.
When we wanted to extend the Sikh Gurwara in Southfields, we were subjected to all sorts of campaigns of hatred. Then we decided to do some public relations, knocking on doors, inviting people to our temple and giving them some of the lovely food that we normally share there. It turned out that most people were really nice after all.
So you see, if we all just talk and respect one another we can all learn to just get along.
Shaikh Abdal Hakim Murad, Muslim Chaplain Cambridge University (the Shaikh formerly known as Tim Winter)
Tuesday, 2 August, 2011, 07:50 AM - MuradRating 5 out of 5 (Extraordinarily platitudinous)
Happy Ramadamadingdong everybody! Yes it's that favourite month that all Muslims so enjoy. A quarter of the world's population is Muslim you know, many whether they want to be or not. That's far more then there are of you, whoever "you" are.
Now, I don't want to sound smug, or self-satisfied, or in any way holier than thou, but we Muslims, who are a quarter of the world's population you know, fast during daylight hours during the holy month of Ramadan. We're generally holier than you anyway, but during the holy month we're even holier than normal. By fasting, we show our ability to exercise restraint, to demonstrate our self control. We don't indulge in gluttony and give in to base temptations as you undoubtedly do. My body is a temple for my invisible magic bit.
In our pious, ascetic way, we demonstrate our virtue, while you, whoever "you" are, continue to alternate between binging, dieting and other eating disorders. Far be it from me to lecture you, but don't you realise there are people starving in this world? Yes, some are starving due to the breakdown of secular government and warring between rival Muslim warlords, but we're a quarter of the world's population - there's plenty more where they came from.
As a certain well known prophet once said, "Moderation in all things, although if you happen to come across any unbelievers..." I'd just like to add the word "sober", as that's just one more way we, who are a quarter of the world's population you know, are better than you.
And now for just one last completely unfounded and irrelevant assertion: you are completely dependant on the Invisible Magic Friend.
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, 08:02 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, 07:08 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?