Sunday, 11 October, 2009, 11:00 AM - ClemmiesEr... hem... (cough) (cough) (shuffles empty papers on desk)
Some of you will be aware of a little event coming up at the start of next year. Secularist of the Year honours someone who has contributed significantly to the cause of secularism in the previous twelve months. Illustrious as this prize may be, I am now able to announce that an even more prestigious and sought after accolade will be presented at the same event. The very first Platitude of the Year Award will be made to the Thought For The Day presenter who has, in the opinion of this esteemed organ, made the most platitudinous, banal, vacuous, bizarre or simply inaccurate comment in the preceding year's God slot on the Today Programme.
Naturally, the competition will be stiff. Not only will all the monthly Clemmie winners and runners up be eligible, but any TFTD presented throughout 2009 can be nominated for the award. There will be a real prize, presented by me, Rev. Dr. Peter Hearty, who will manifest himself in person for the occasion (wearing appropriate and tasteful clerical garb). In the unlikely event that the winner chooses not to attend, the prize will be donated to the NSS Shop.
I wish to shower Blessings upon Clemmie for inventing our monthly Clemmie award and another member of my flock of sheep, Roger Scotford, who both suggested that an annual award ceremony should take place and generously agreed to fund the prize.
Brian here, in Southampton, an associate lecturer at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity where we envision and equip Christians, and the leaders, churches and organisations that serve them, with the biblical framework, practical resources and models to engage biblically, relevantly and vigorously with the issues they face in todayís world. Hi.
People are being encouraged to join in The Great Nut Hunt to track down the hazel dormouse. This is a good thing. It helps us find out more about an endangered species and also helps us to slow down and become more aware of our surroundings.
Last week I went on a retreat where I learned to slow down and become more aware of my surroundings.
As a famous spiritual person once said, "You all need to slow down and become more aware of your surroundings."
And as a famous poet said, "I'm becoming more aware of my surroundings. My, it's good to be alive madam, what can I do for you?"
As Rowan Williams once said "Slowing down, as in an approach, asymptotic to the ethereal, such as to increase one's sense of acute sensory accommodation, to the extent, epistemologically speaking and with a view to both physical and metaphysical conscious knowledge..."
Happy nut hunting everyone!
Formidably Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron Reverend Lord Richard Harries, Baron Pentregarth, Gresham Professor of Divinity, Baron, Bishop, Professor, Lord...
I have spent much time of late, wringing my hands and furrowing my brow, worrying whether I should send more US troops to Afghanistan. If I commit more troops then I run the risk of another Vietnam. If I withdraw then Afghanistan could be overrun with religious nutters who uncompromisingly follow the rules of their ancient holy book.
Proper religion, my religion, has never tried to impose itself on anyone. It relies entirely on persuasion and is not dependent on authority, grand sounding titles, or state support. Jesus, being the Invisible Magic Friend, realised however that force against religious nutters was sometimes necessary. A point that he emphasised over and over again. "Blessed are those who use military force against religious nutters," He said and, "We should only invade them when we're bigger than them."
It turns out that the war that we all thought would be such a jolly war eight years ago, is turning out to be not very nice. People, including white people, are getting killed. What is the right thing to do? I don't know, which is why I'm on here today, telling you at length that I don't know.
As with all matters of military policy, we naturally turn to theologians for the answer. Doubtless you are all aware of that towering figure of 20th century theology, Reinhold Niebuhr, whose thinking has done so much to shape the world we live in today. He invented some of the most wonderful prayers for war that have ever been offered to the Invisible Magic Friend, "Thank the Invisible Magic Friend that it's someone else who's being bombed to hell."
I could go on and on and on, telling you that these are very difficult decisions with no easy answers. I could go past the two minute thirty mark, past the 2'45" mark, even past the three minute mark. Formidably Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Barons - no ordinary reverend looks like it, or lasts like it.
Shhhhh.... I'm whispering very, very quietly in case the BBC's Holy Department of Religion hears me not talking about the Invisible Magic Friend.
A book about Thomas Cromwell has won this year's Man Booker prize. The book really hasn't received enough publicity yet, so I think it deserves an airing on TFTD. Anyone who's been watching The Tudors, stopwatch in hand, counting the seconds before the latest actress has to do what is absolutely essential to the script, will be disappointed by the lack of raunchy romps and naughty goings on.
Thomas Cromwell was not, I repeat not, the same as Oliver Cromwell. Tut, tut, tut, this sort of ignorance of history is all too common these days. Thomas Cromwell got his head chopped off by a king and not the other way around. So much of modern England has roots in his time, because history rarely misses out centuries and tends to have to go through them in order to get to the present.
Religious differences exist today, just as in Oliver... er, I mean Thomas Cromwell's time. Which just goes to show how relevant religion remains. Perhaps, if we could learn from the destruction that religion has wrought in the past we could leave something useful for the future?
Wednesday, 7 October, 2009, 08:30 AM - Akhandadhi DasRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
What does one do after a long and productive working life as a Hindu Theologian? One retires of course, to do something more interesting. No more dreary 9 to 5 theologising. I'll be free to dream again, to become fully fulfilled spiritually and pursue my childhood ambition to become a fireman, an ambition so mercilessly crushed by the grim reality of being a Hindu Theologian.
This is all explained in Hindu Theology and the mystic and exotic sounding word Varnashram. This describes the four stages of life: very young, not so young, not young at all and couldn't really care less any more. Combined with the four callings: things, other things, different things and of course, being a spiritually fulfilled fireman, this forms a matrix of things. This matrix defines a list of responsibilities to people, other people, more people and the other people not already included in this list.
The exhaustive intellectual demands of the modern Hindu theologian, creating list after list after list of combinatorial possibilities of Sanskrit words, means that we traditionally have to retire at 50 to live in the forest. However, a shortage of forests in central Cardiff, not to mention the inconvenient lack of Indian takeaways in your typical forest, means I can retire to become a fireman instead.
If you haven't had your first mid-life crisis yet then you've got something to look forward to. One day you'll wake up and see how useless and pointless your small, worthless life has been. The inconsequentiality of your job and all that hard work will suddenly hit you. God, I'm so depressed. All that Hindu Theology I've discovered. Wasted. All those years when I could have been a fireman. I won't be wasting my retirement watching daytime TV, like most non-Hindus do. I'll be making up for lost time sliding down big shiny poles and rescuing kittens in distress.
Oliver McTernan here, from the NGO Forward Thinking, a proactive, demand-driven, facilitative organisation that works to promote in the UK greater understanding and confidence between the diverse grassroots Muslim communities and the wider society including the Media and the British establishment, to promote a more inclusive peace process in the Middle East, and to facilitate a global dialogue between the religious and secular worlds. Hi.
The Irish acceptance of the Lisbon treaty brings Britain's future in Europe back into debate. Being the well travelled, cosmopolitan sophisticate that I am, I'm naturally sympathetic to the European ideal. But I can understand why little people like you, who may not have the breadth of understanding that I have, might be suspicious of President Saint Tony of Bliar and his multi-nation bureaucracy. Fear not, people of England (and any other bits of Great Britain and Northern Ireland who may be listening). Much of what you now consider English (or any other bits) actually came from Europe. You have forgotten Subsidiarity.
This is the principle, invented by the Catholic Church and seen at its best in that splendid institution, that all authority comes from a society of individuals. The Catholic Church has demonstrated through the ages that democratic accountability, local decision making and informed debate are the only ways to run a church. You won't find an unelected, self selected, authoritarian, hierarchical, undemocratic elite running the Catholic Church behind closed doors any more than you will in the European Commission. You have no more to fear from President Saint Tony of Bliar than you do from the Pope and his Holy Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Homer Simpson says the Bible doesn't have any answers. He is of course entirely correct. However the Bible does say that you should look after widows and orphans. Obviously this is not meant to be taken literally and refers to all manufacturers of dairy produce. In particular, it means that you should be nice to poor people. I know this because I'm sure that's what it means.
The modern theological term, "preferential option for the poor", means "be nice to poor people". From this profound insight we learn that we should be nice to poor people. Not everyone works in the city or has been able to find work as a distinguished religious commentator. All you people who are not nice to poor people should read the bible more, from which you will deduce that you should be nice to poor people. Except poor people that the state is nice to. They are disabled benefits scroungers who deprive you of your biblical right to be nice to poor people and are subhuman trash that you should spit on.
So you see the Bible actually does have answers for everything and what I said at the start was really just a rhetorical device to make me sound like a modern, reasonable, sceptical, non-Bible thumper.
Sunday, 4 October, 2009, 07:57 AM - Not TFTDThe Catholic Church in Africa is acutely aware of our continent's many and severe problems: war, hunger, disease, especially HIV infection, religious and tribal rivalry. With a view to addressing these manifest problems and inspired by the Holy Spirit and the example of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Synod of African Bishops therefore resolves as follows.
- To educate Catholic congregations and make available to them, sensible family planning methods.
- To encourage the use of condoms as the most effective proven method of preventing HIV infection.
- To uphold a woman's right to choose when and if to bear children.
- To give women equal rights and an equal voice both within the ministry of the Church and without, to the extent of all priestly offices of the church.
- To recognise that the vow of celibacy taken by priests is an unreasonable and largely unattainable goal and that priests should therefore be free to marry and have the same healthy and enjoyable partnership as all God's children.
- To ensure that, where a priest abuses his or her position of trust and is accused of abuse of any child, that that priest will immediately be handed over to the civilian authorities and the civilian authorities shall be given the full cooperation of the Church. The safety and rights of the victim will, in all circumstances, come before the reputation of the Church.
- To celebrate love in all its forms whether heterosexual or homosexual and to ensure that equal rights and opportunities are enjoyed by all.
- To make the Church more democratic and accountable to its members.
- To make it clear that no human being, or institution comprising human beings, is infallible and to humbly apologise for past wrongs.
- To welcome people of all faiths and none, recognising that all people are equal and that no sacraments or special prayers are needed to be a good person deserving the same respect as any other.
Well done Rio! But saying you're going to do something and doing it are very different things. Look at the problems London is having sorting out transport. Obviously, people as important as the International Olympic Committee can't be expected to slum it for two whole weeks in the East End of London where the games actually are. So they've block booked the Dorchester, thus making it necessary to reserve all the roads between Hyde Park and Stratford for their exclusive use.
We always get these little problems when we take on commitments. As the bishop used to say to me. "Why did I agree to do this? Have you any idea how much work is involved in a hard day's bishoping?" As the poet said, "Why did I become a poet? Have you any idea how much work there is in a hard day's poeting?" Saint Paul agreed. "Why did I agree to do this? Have you any idea how much work is involved in a hard day's monotheistic religion founding?"
And cynicism is a bad thing.
Faith in people, by which I mean faith in the Invisible Magic Friend is a good thing.
Join me next week for some more random, disconnected good and bad things.
Let's talk about the tragedy unfolding in Indonesia. Was that enough? Good.
There's a big Jewish festival coming up! Gosh there's so much to say. We'll be going to live in our holy huts, being holy for a couple of days. It recalls the 40 years the Jewish people spent wandering in the desert, because the one thing the Jewish faith doesn't do is dwell on the past, even a fictional one.
Why do bad things happen? Why isn't the Invisible Magic Friend nicer? Our holy huts offer no easy answers. In fact they offer no answers at all. It's all about deluding ourselves that the Invisible Magic Friend loves us, despite all the evidence to the contrary. It's about sticking our heads in the sand and denying the obvious. It's about pretending that the resilience of the human spirit is predicated on a belief in the supernatural. In other words, it's all about faith. That's why we have to go live in our huts for a couple of days. See?
The Invisible Magic Friend isn't going to come and provide assistance to the people of Sumatra. Anyone who thinks that is just being silly, but let's hope He's there anyway, which He is, looking around at the devastation He has brought, safe in the knowledge of a job well done.