Evil is a word that we don't hear much today. Somehow the word "evil" has gone out of fashion, perhaps because it is so closely associated with the Church, although I can't think why. The horrific tale of Jaycee Lee Dugard is all too familiar to we priests. Even as a young and innocent priest, not yet corrupted by the ways of this wicked world, I was immediately thrown into the world of child abuse within the family. A young woman came to have her baby christened.
"Have you chosen a name for the child?"
"Tell me, when you were young, were you molested? Was your father a violent man? Did he rape you repeatedly? You can trust me, I'm a priest. I wear a long black frock. I promise I won't tell a soul, except possibly on national radio. Tell me all the lurid, shocking details."
Now you may characterise such behaviour as the product of a warped personality, of someone who has acted outside the bounds of morality, as someone who can no longer tell right from wrong, who cannot empathise even with their own daughter's suffering. Indeed, some might say this is the very definition of evil, but I say this is much worse. As a Reverend Canon Doctor, an Anglican Priest and an expert on ethics, I have to tell you that the only word for this behaviour is evil. I cannot emphasise enough to Today listeners that this is not best parenting practise. Do not, I repeat not, rape your own daughters. This is very bad behaviour indeed. And if you are the wife of a violent, sadistic husband, who regularly satisfies his own lustful pleasure at your children's expense, do not, I repeat not collude by turning a blind eye. Seek out someone responsible and trustworthy immediately, such as your nearest Reverend Canon doctor.
Monday, 31 August, 2009, 08:30 AM - Rabbi Lionel BlueRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
A very happy Bank Holiday to you Justin and to you Jim. Last week... oh and a happy Bank Holiday to you all. Last week I explained to you what was wrong with everybody else's religion. There's rather a lot of shouting and fighting over holy places and all that sort of thing. Real religion, true religion, my religion, is having a chat with the Invisible Magic Friend.
How are you today Invisible Magic Friend?
I'M ETERNALLY AND INEFFABLY GETTING ALONG SPLENDIDLY THANK YOU.
Yes, I thought so Fred. You don't mind if I call you Fred do you?
I HAVE MANY NAMES: ALLAH, JEHOVA, ELOHIM, ADONAI, JESUS, VISHNU. I AM THE LORD OF HOSTS, THE ROCK OF AGES, THE ALMIGHTY, THE CREATOR, THE DESTROYER OF WORLDS, THE MOST MERCIFUL...
Yes Fred. Marcus Aurelius didn't believe in you, you know?
THE PLEASING AROMA OF HIS BURNING FLESH IS AS SWEET PERFUME TO ME, THE LORD OF ALL, THE BENEFICENT, THE ALL KNOWING, THE ALL SEEING, THE MOST JUST, THE MOST WISE...
Now Fred, I need you to stand by me and prop me up during my after dinner speech and make sure I don't fluff my lines. Can you do that for me?
I AM ALL POWERFUL. THE HEAVENS BOW DOWN AT MY COMMAND. MY EVERY WILL IS LAW. THE STARS TRAVERSE THE SKY AT MY BIDDING. I SMITE THE UNJUST AND IMPIOUS...
Oh and Fred, can you look out for Aunt Ethel, she's having her hysterectomy today.
Monday, 31 August, 2009, 06:09 AM - Not TFTDI'm sure you're all aware of the imminence of The Rapture. While people as holy as myself (including all my clones) have nothing to fear from Christ's second coming, many of you damned heathens out there are, unfortunately, beyond redemption. However, as an expression of just how kind and loving we Saved people are, we're going to allow all you cross dressers, gays, unbelievers, smokers or people who just happen to be born into the wrong religion, the opportunity to actually do something useful in your remaining, tortuous time left on earth. You can now look after out pets during the time of Tribulation. This final act of love won't do your eternal soul any good, but at least you'll have something warm and soft to cuddle up to while God's horrific but righteous wrath is poured fourth upon you.
So sign up and do your bit today.
[Ed. With thanks to NSS News for this delightful little story.]
Saturday, 29 August, 2009, 08:28 AM - JenkinsRating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)
Are you lonely? Have you lost the love of your life who gave you so much happiness? Are you isolated from all other human companionship? Have all your former friends and colleagues abandoned you? Then never fear - the Invisible Magic Friend is here.
As with all other difficult social and personal problems, we naturally seek the advice of a theologian. Theology's proven ability to provide effective solutions to all of humanity's problems has been demonstrated repeatedly through the centuries. Paul Tillich was a great 20th century theologian. He added so much to our knowledge of invisible magic things, to the great benefit of all mankind. He said that "loneliness" means being alone, whereas "solitude" means not being with anyone, words which I'm sure are a great comfort to all you sad, lonely, friendless, unwanted rejects out there who have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning than listen to me telling you all this.
At this time of your life, when you are most vulnerable and would gratefully accept the attention of any slimy snake oil salesman, I'd like to encourage you to turn to Jesus. Jesus knows the pain of being alone. It isn't easy to turn to Jesus, but then if a 17 year old has the courage to sail single handedly round the world, then surely you can muster the courage to turn to Jesus. Do you have less courage than a 17 year old? So rejoice in your solitude. Celebrate the fact that the death of all your friends and loved ones has given you more time to pray to Jesus. Take comfort that he can do for you what the Invisible Magic Friend did for him - absolutely bugger all.
As there's no actual news in the world today, let's use TFTD's favourite fall-back and talk about the telly. Big Brother is coming to an end. I've been watching this dreadful programme for years. It's awful. I can't count the number of hours I've wasted watching this pathetic, voyeuristic, melting pot of dysfunctional wannabes. In all the years I've been glued to the set I don't think I've advanced an inch spiritually. It's soul destroying, demeaning drivel, packet with spiritually shallow misfits. It's like a modern day freak show. We really could do with something a bit more exciting to watch at the Iona Community. I can't tell you how glad I am that I'm not going to be forced to watch Big Brother any more. As Channel 4 tries to find the next mass market audience, I'm sure it will replace this binge television with something tasteful, educational and morally uplifting. The sort of high quality, intelligent show that mass market television is renowned for. The TV programme Jesus would make.
Richard Poncher is to lose his place in the crypt that he shares with Marilyn Monroe, although there are reports that the buyer is getting cold feet (just a little Professor of Islamic Studies joke - tee hee). Richard Poncher's wish to be buried there is being cast aside by his widow who would rather go on living in her $1.6 million Beverly Hills mansion. Thanks to Mrs. Poncher you too could get to spend "eternity with Marilyn Monroe", or at least, until someone richer takes your place.
This story tells us that Richard Poncher believed in life after death, as in fact does everyone. We Muslims believe, or at least, hope, well it might be true, I mean anything might be true, well it's not impossible that our souls live on in heaven with the Invisible Magic Friend. Unless you're an unbeliever of course, in which case you still get to live forever, except it's in everlasting torment with demons poking red hot pokers up your backside while pouring molten lead down your throat.
With all the evidence we have of people returning to tell us it's all true, I think we can safely say this is a lot more than just wishful thinking. Which is just as well. Have you any idea what a rotten life it is being Professor of Islamic Studies and Public Understanding and Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam, University of Glasgow? God, it's so dull! Dull and boring and dreary and just mind numbingly awful! Even doing TFTD is more exciting. Things are bound to be better than this in the next life. I mean, what if there were nothing? It'd mean I'd wasted my entire life, devoting it to a study of complete nonsense. My goodness, it would almost be funny, wouldn't it?
Justice. What is justice? Was the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, just before new evidence was about to be presented at his appeal, just? The Libyan was, after all, convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, after the initial suspect, Iran, turned out to be a useful ally in the First Gulf War. The jury came to their decision after hearing all the evidence. (Except the bit about the break in at Heathrow airport the night before, the principal witness having identified him after seeing him in a magazine and the persistent rumours that the witness was paid a large sum of money to give evidence.)
What does the Invisible Magic Friend's Big Book of Stories have to say about justice? If we look at the nice bits, discounting the murder, jealousy, mass slaughter, intolerance, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia and general pettiness (and that's just the Invisible Magic Friend), there are many, many stories of justice - so many, in fact, that it would be pointless to mention any particular one of them.
As Prohibitively Reverend Lord Bishop of Liverpool and Bishop of Prisons, it's not my job to publicly express an opinion about the release of a prisoner on compassionate grounds. It would be quite inappropriate for me, a leading Christian cleric, to condemn compassion and forgiveness of this callous, murderous, terrorist. You won't catch me saying that he should be allowed to rot to the last of his days in a Scottish gaol. I'll simply point out that justice is best served when it helps reconcile the perpetrator with his victims, and his victims aren't very happy at all.
The evil, vicious BASTARD!!!
When I was young, I hatched a plan to make millions by writing pretentious nonsense and getting gullible people to buy it. This is called earning your living. Of course I don't really care for money. It's all rather vulgar and working class to talk about such things. That's why the lottery is a SIN! That and sex, but more so the lottery, especially when I don't win it. It's as bad as slavery. It gives money to undeserving people rather than giving it to me. Speaking from a faith perspective the lottery should be abolished. That's what Christianity's really good at - abolishing things. People should work by the sweat of their brow to earn their money, like me, slaving over a hot typewriter from sunrise to sunset, spreading my wisdom among the common people, working hard to earn my poor crust of bread. Socialism (a kind of communism that allows Invisible Magic Friends) is a good thing. It was invented by Christians to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor and humble, to honest working folks like me. Long live the revolution Christian comrades!
Monday, 24 August, 2009, 08:12 AMRating 2 out of 5 (A little platitudinous)
Good morning Ed, good morning whatsisname and good morning to you all.
Many, many, many years ago, when the world was not yet fully formed and everyone had hot buttered crumpets for tea, mama asked if religion would make me a better person. I had a room mate at Oxford once you know? Let's ask the Invisible Magic Friend what's gone wrong with all his worshippers. Why do they keep spreading hatred, violence and death against one another? Invisible Magic Friend, you're so big and good and jolly nice, and we're such lowly, crawling maggots.
YES, THAT'S ABOUT RIGHT.
Yes, I thought so. There's a big Jewish festival coming up you know?
YES, I KNOW, THERE'S ALWAYS A BIG JEWISH FESTIVAL COMING UP.
Tell me, Invisible Magic Friend, do we kill each other because, in reality, we have created you in our own image as a totem of tribal affiliation, thus delineating one group of humans from another whom we can then regard as less virtuous than ourselves and deserving of your wrath which we then proceed to provide?
I thought so. And are you in fact just a mythical ideal, providing an emotional crutch in an uncertain world, invented to solve all our problems and answer all our questions but actually achieving neither?
Well, it's nearly time for bed, just time for a quick joke about a man who left a service in the middle of the preacher's talk, claiming that he needs a hair cut, but unfortunately I've forgotten the punch line. Good night Invisible Magic Friend.
Sunday, 23 August, 2009, 07:58 AMThis is brilliant! Before I get carried away, I should point out that this isn't my idea. It's actually Joe Felsenstein's over at Panda's Thumb, but it's such a brilliant idea that it deserves to be plagiarised and plagiarism really is the sincerest form of flattery.
William Dembski, you'll recall, is one of the modern founders of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement. He concentrates on Information Theory and generally sets out to prove that there's more information in biological systems than could possibly be accounted for by natural mechanisms.
Together with Robert Marks, Dembski has just published a paper in a respectable Computer Science journal(1). Dr. Dembski is so chuffed with this that he's done a special blog entry to tell the world all about it. Unfortunately he's "grown weary of these quibblings and thus shut the comments off." Dembski claims this is a pro-ID paper, but as Joe Felsenstein ably points out, Dembski has actually succeeded in demonstrating precisely the opposite.
The paper starts from something called the No Free Lunch Theorem. This states that, if you have a whole bunch of data that you know nothing about, and you want to find a specific data item, then you can't do any better than a random search. Of course, in real life, we perform successful searches in databases and on Google all the time. This is because we have indexes that let us do things like tree searches or binary chops. The indexes and the associated algorithms provides us with extra information about the data we're searching. What Dembski and Marks have done is provide us with a way to measure how much information has been added by a search algorithm's knowledge of the data. Anything that lets you measure something in Computer Science is always a good thing in my books, so hooray for Dembski and Marks!
They then go on to provide several detailed examples of their new measure in use. In particular, they apply it to genetic search algorithms. At this point all the biologists get hopping mad and shout things like "evolution is not a target based search" and "the data space is dynamic, not static", but as I'm closer to being a Computer Scientist than I'll ever be to becoming a biologist, I can just stick my fingers in my ears and ignore the biologists. Dembski and Marks' use Richard Dawkins' famous example: try to find
among all possible strings of equal length. Monkeys banging at a typewriter would take roughly
goes to find this string. However if we start with a random string and select the "best" match out of a few random mutations, we can reduce this to the order of
A considerable improvement. Take the ratio of those two numbers and then take the log base 2 of the result and you have Dembski and Marks' measure of the information content added by the algorithm. ("Information" in Computer Science always involves taking logs of things). Where did this extra information come from? The extra information is provided by the selection mechanism, in this case it came from the intelligent designer: Richard Dawkins. What about in the natural world (not that Richard Dawkins isn't natural)? In nature, selection isn't performed by a single individual but by the entire environment. What Dembski and Marks have very convincingly demonstrated is that a mindless genetic search algorithm can extract information from the environment and encode it in biological genomes - with no designer in sight. In other words, they've just disproved ID, either that or they've proved that Richard Dawkins is God.
So once again, hooray for Dembski and Marks!
1. Dembski, W.A., Marks, R.J., Conservation of Information in Search: Measuring the Cost of Success, IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics - Part A: Systems and Humans, 39(5), pp.1051-1061