Rev John Bell of the Iona Community  
Tuesday, 23 August, 2011, 07:21 AM - Democracy, Lessons of history, Bell
Rating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)

I've got a Big Idea. Here's my Big Idea, which is mine, belonging to me and which I invented. This is what it is, my Big Idea.

The people of Libya should be allowed to set up their own government.

There, that is my Big Idea, that I invented and that is mine.

Other people in the past have set up their own governments. The East Germans set up their own government by having the same government as the West Germans. The Russians set up their own government after they'd let go of all the other bits of the Soviet Union. South Africans set up their own government without killing all the whites. They were able to do that because they were Christians (the South Africans that is - although come to think of it, quite a lot of Germans and Russians are Christians too). As Christians, they realised that a bloodbath of revenge might be a bad thing.

None of these involve my Big Idea, because none of these involve Libya. Libya has got a problem. It's not full of Christians for a start. It seems to be full of people from one of the other religions. The last documented good person from Libya was Simon of Cyrene, 2,000 years ago. Despite this, I hold to my Big Idea, that Libya should form its own government. That means that it should not be formed by China, or Russia, or Britain, or France, or Kenya, or Chile but by some good people from Libya, assuming they can find any.

And that is my Big Idea for today.

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Rev John Bell of the Iona Community  
Thursday, 4 August, 2011, 08:22 AM - Democracy, Bell
Rating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)

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?

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Rev Dr. (hon. Kingston) Dr. (hon. St. Andrews) Joel Edwards, International Director of Micah Challenge, Council Member of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation  
Saturday, 23 July, 2011, 07:29 AM - Democracy, Lessons of history, Morality, Edwards
Rating 5 out of 5 (Extraordinarily platitudinous)

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.

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Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic Studies and Public Understanding and Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam, University of Glasgow 
Wednesday, 15 June, 2011, 07:24 AM - Democracy, Siddiqui
Rating 1 out of 5 (Not platitudinous)

Good leadership requires a sense of purpose and high levels of integrity, but it also needs someone who is able to listen and lead by consent. As various dictators around the Middle East are now discovering, hanging onto power without peoples' consent can be a brutal and bloody affair.

In democratic societies too, people can rebel against their former leaders. Berlusconi's attempt to stoke the politics of fear in Milan, claiming that the city would be overrun by Gypsies, Muslims and foreigners had no impact on that city's vote. The whole of Italy has now rejected Berlusconi's policies on nuclear power, on water privatisation and on him never having to stand trial for anything. It seems even the Italians are now beginning to see Berlusconi as a joke.

Give someone too much power for too long and they will eventually begin to see themselves as having all the answers. They stop listening. They fail to lead by consent. As Lincoln once said, "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

We can all misuse authority and power. As it says in one of the nice bits of the Koran, we can all be asked to lead and we will all be judged on that leadership. For leaders to use their power wisely, they must always retain a little humility.

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Khaled Fahmy, head of history at the American University in Cairo 
Monday, 30 May, 2011, 09:09 AM - Democracy
Rating 0 out of 5 (Not platitudinous)

Egypt has endured 30 years of Mubarak's tyranny. Fuelled by fear of radical Islam, he has been free to rule as he wished, using this fear as a tool.

When I, and millions of others protested against his regime, it was not just against the corruption of his government, but also against this politics of fear.

Yet still, anxiety remains. Islamists, secularists, Muslims and Copts continue to live in fear of one another, unable to engage in dialogue.

Despite this, we have a new self confidence. We dare to dream that the future will build an Egypt that can accommodate us all.

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Breathtakingly Reverend James Jones, Lord Bishop of Liverpool and Bishop of Prisons  
Wednesday, 18 May, 2011, 08:07 AM - Democracy, Lessons of history, James Jones
Rating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)

Our most regal, gracious, glorious and majestic sovereign, who decides who gets to be an archbishop, is visiting Ireland. That brings me nicely onto Stanley Baldwin reading the celebrated and fascinating book, Ancient Law. One only has to select a sentence at random from this cracking good read to see why it has so consistently topped the best sellers charts.

The bias indeed of most persons trained in political economy is to consider the general truth on which their science reposes as entitled to become universal, and, when they apply it as an art, their efforts are ordinarily directed to enlarging the province of Contract and to curtailing that of Imperative Law, except so far as law is necessary to enforce the performance of Contracts.


I couldn't have said it better myself. No wonder Baldwin was such an avid fan of this inspirational work.

All the best prime ministers know their history and never repeat their predecessors' mistakes. That's why everything always gets better. Like Baldwin, they like to read Ancient Law. No doubt many of the revolutionaries in the Arab Spring have taken their lead from Ancient Law.

Understanding that the conception of Crime, as distinguished from that of Wrong or Tort and from that of Sin, involves the idea of injury to the State or collective community, we first find that the commonwealth, in literal conformity with the conception, itself interposed directly, and by isolated acts, to avenge itself on the author of the evil which it had suffered.


Who could fail to be roused by such words, to rush out into the street and demand freedom and liberty. I'll bet even the Chinese are shaking in their shoes! As it says in the Magnificat, the poor and the powerless will be made mighty - as generally happens all the time nowadays, and the tanks and armoured personnel carriers of hell shall not prevail against them (although they generally do unless some other tanks and armoured personnel carriers get in the way).

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Clifford Longley, a distinguished Catholic gentleman who talks a lot about religion, Platitude of the Year Winner 2010 
Monday, 4 April, 2011, 07:34 AM - Democracy, Longley
Rating 5 out of 5 (Extraordinarily platitudinous)

All of a sudden, we see uprisings in the Arab world in support of such Western values as democracy and human rights. This has left us all to re-examine our prejudices, and by "our" prejudices, I do of course mean "your" prejudices. Most of you thought that Islam was anti- democratic. In fact, many young Muslim men tell me, the Koran is just packed full of useful hints and tips on achieving and maintaining democratic accountability - so many that I don't have time to quote any of them.

And even some women are in favour of Islam too.

Interesting as the struggle for democracy throughout North Africa, the Gulf states and the Middle East is, let's talk about something even more important: the Catholic Church. Fifty years ago you wouldn't have recognised the Catholic Church - a secretive, male dominated, authoritarian, hierarchical, conservative, dogmatic institution, the Catholic Church of those days was light years away from the open, transparent, liberal, democratic organisation that we all know and love today.

It took a mere decades after the second Vatican council, for the Catholic Church to single handedly bring down the various fascist dictators that for some reason it seems to have been associated with throughout the 20th century.

Perhaps what we see today is the start of an Islamic enlightenment, very much like the European enlightenment that the Catholic Church so welcomed and was such an integral part of. Let us hope that the recent, staggering transformation of the Catholic Church, which has so amazed the world, will act as an inspiration for the enlightenment of the Arab peoples.

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Rev Dr Michael Banner, Dean and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge  
Wednesday, 30 March, 2011, 08:10 AM - Democracy, Banner
Rating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)

News just in: 1500 years ago, the Roman Empire departed from Italy. This was a real shame. As empires went, it really was a jolly nice empire. "What shall we replace it with?" asked Saint Benedict, as he sat around being saintly. "I know, let's all go and live in monasteries!"

The saintly Saint Benedict hurriedly set about inventing a rule for his monasteries. Each one had to have someone in charge, he would be called the abbot. When making a big decision though, the abbot had to consult with the whole community, even with the people who were the most insignificant. This was because the Invisible Magic Friend could put a useful thought into the heads of anyone, even insignificant people.

As we read the rule of Saint Benedict, as one surely does on a regular basis, we are struck by what a very good rule this is. It really was a revolutionary idea: rule by a benign dictator who must listen to the common people. As a Rev Dr, let me just assure you, that this was clearly a recipe for a contented and peaceful existence - much better than the Roman Empire.

At this point I'd just like to mention the story of the pirate brought before Alexander the Great. "What do you think you're doing?" asked Alexander. "Same as you," said the pirate. "Except I do it with one boat, so I'm called a pirate. You do it with a navy, so you're called an emperor."

As we see riots in the streets, we see how rubbish democracy is compared to the wise rule of an abbot.

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Reverend Lucy Winkett, Rector of St James Piccadilly, just down from Fortnum and Mason  
Tuesday, 29 March, 2011, 07:38 AM - Democracy, Winkett
Rating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)

Saturday was quite a day at St. James, near Fortnum and Mason. There was the good natured, family friendly, really rather jolly march against the imminent savage spending cuts, which I have to say I was quite enjoying. There were people from London, Birmingham, Leeds, Cardiff, Aberdeen, York, Burnley, Taunton, Bristol, Lancaster, Glasgow, Colchester, Norfolk, Preston, Telford, Ipswich, Newcastle, Swansea, Southampton, Coventry, Nottingham, Blackpool, Stoke, Lincoln, Hamilton and other places too.

Then there was the extremely well organised band of anarchists, dressed in black, with black scarves across their faces. They threw a can of paint at the bank and let off firecrackers, which I found quite disturbing. People hiding their faces is something that I find deeply unsettling. (Unless it's for religious reasons of course - that's perfectly OK.)

What is the distinctive Christian response to this rabble of rowdy rebels? It is to say words like, ethical, peace, justice, poor, faith, service, disadvantaged, dignity. The great Christian tradition is one of debate, of tolerance for competing views. I don't think wearing a scarf across your face is being very Christian at all. People who throw paint at banks should do so proudly and openly, not behind the mask of anonymity, at least until they graduate and actually go work for a bank.

In these difficult times, with many facing hardship and insecurity, it's important that we have an open political debate and not waste our time discussing violent protest. That's why I've chosen not to mention them at all today.

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Vishvapani (a much nicer name than Simon Blomfield) - I'm ordained you know! 
Friday, 11 March, 2011, 09:02 AM - Democracy, Vishvapani
Rating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)

The Dalai Lama is a complicated sort of His Holiness. On the one hand he's really into science and reform and being modern. On the other hand, he's a reincarnated god-king with the absolute power of a feudal monarch over his enslaved population. Now, having ruled only ten years longer than Gaddafi, he is to relinquish the political power that the Chinese have prevented him exercising, in favour of a democratically elected leader.

Everyone agrees that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a really super His Holiness. In a way, it's really rather good that the Chinese have restrained his political power. It really would be most awfully embarrassing if someone as holy as His Holiness were actually to preside over a largely illiterate nation of bonded serfs. Thankfully that was all taken forcefully away from His Holiness and he can now speak with great moral authority about the oppression of his people.

By having all his palaces and monasteries taken away from him, His Holiness the Dali Lama is the very embodiment of Buddhist notions of simplicity and non-attachment.

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