What with the Iraq war enquiry, and hospital enquiries and this, that and the other enquiries, everyone wants to hold someone to account. It's all very vulgar and democratic - self righteous victims or bereaved relatives demanding to know who is responsible. I certainly prefer the far more civilised approach of me telling you things and you just listening, with none of this irritating criticism.
"Judge not, lest ye be judged - by me that is, 'cos I'm God," said Jesus. You'd better be careful going around condemning someone as holy as Saint Tony of Bliar. You too could end up being condemned for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people that you killed in good faith.
We're starting Advent, where we Christians pulse with hope, palpitate with anticipation, throb with eagerness. We roll out stock phrases like feed the hungry, clothe the poor and sort the sheep from the goats. We look forward to the return of Jesus, who hasn't returned in any of the previous 2,000 Christmases, so there's a fair chance this year will be it. Isn't that something to look forward to? A whole four weeks of us telling you all about the true meaning of Christmas and its deep spiritual connection with the Iraq war enquiry.
Saturday, 28 November, 2009, 06:43 AM - Not TFTDRating 5 out of 5 (Extraordinarily platitudinous)
In a striking reversal of received wisdom, it has finally been proved (by a professor of economics no less) that segregating children on the basis of their parents' Invisible Magic Friend is the best way to build strong community cohesion. This should be obvious to all sane, rational people, but now we have the evidence to back it up.
The Reverend Janina Ainsworth, chief education officer for the Church of England, explained. "Ofsted inspectors rated far more faith schools as having properly written action plans for community cohesion. Some of the faith schools even put part of their plans into action!"
Piers St-John Avery, headmaster of Saint Charles' Church of England School in Wiltshire, illustrated how his school contributes to inter community relations. "Once a month, we take the 3rd form boys to some godforsaken inner city estate, where they play a game of football with a whole bunch of brown kids from the wrong religion. This way they get to meet people from all sorts of backgrounds that we don't let into our school. We tried the same thing with the girls at netball but the ones in the jilbabs kept tripping up and falling over."
Professor David Jesson says, "This finding runs completely counter to those who say sectarian schools are 'divisive'. This is clearly not supported by the Ofsted inspection evidence. With this solid statistical result, I now hope we can get rid of the few remaining mixed faith schools in Northern Ireland which have done so much to promote sectarian bitterness in that troubled province."
Reverend Ainsworth concluded, "Mixed schools are just rubbish at building community cohesion. How can they possibly extend a friendly hand to other races and other religions when they're all mixed up in the first place? They haven't even got to the stage of creating divisions yet, much less started to overcome them. It's madness I tell you, complete madness! No wonder Ofsted rates them so poorly. By contrast, our high Ofsted score clearly vindicates this sensible and progressive policy."
A U.S. court has ruled that a bank was being harsh when demanding mortgage payments from someone who couldn't pay. It decided that the bank was just being unfair. The place to look to learn all about fairness is the Hebrew Big Book of Magic Stuff. There you'll find the Invisible Magic Friend being fair to all races and beliefs in equal measure. The Invisible Magic Friend is particularly fair in Genesis 18 where Abraham explains to the all wise and loving divinity that it's really bad form to smite the innocent to get at the wicked.
Of course you only get a feeble English translation of the original Hebrew. Several of the words are untranslatable into English, so let me go ahead and translate them anyway. English distinguishes between justice and charity, but Hebrew has a word that means justice and charity, which although being totally untranslatable, means "fair".
So there you go, the Hebrew Big Book of Magic Stuff says laws and society should be fair (although what it actually says is untranslatable).
Everywhere I go, people always ask about women in Islam. They go on and on and on about it. I mean, honestly, anyone would think there were some sort of divine injunction to beat women up, or treat them like property, or give them fewer rights than men. It's just ridiculous! As Professor of Islamic Studies and Public Understanding and Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam, University of Glasgow, let me just assure you that there are some lucky women in Islam, like me for example, who live in countries where we can do pretty much anything a man can. It's really just a cultural thing and not really anything to do with Islam (which is merely a complete way of life). And besides, lots of women like wearing a bag over their head and being beaten by their husbands and not being allowed an education, so the ones that don't like it don't really matter.
You see, what Islam does is give people hope. Naturally non-muslims don't have any hope, but Muslim women, being muslims, can live in hope of an afterlife, where they don't have to wear bags over their heads, or get beaten up, or live in ignorance. They just have to be one of 72 virgins that services some random bloke as often as he pleases - but with no bags!
Now that British schoolchildren are to be given lessons in how to respect women, we see that violence against women is just as prevalent here as elsewhere. Men are just naturally brutes. The difference here is that men are violent to women through stupidity and ignorance. They really haven't been told how to do it properly. Without a faith like Islam and a holy book like the Koran to guide them, I can't see how lessons on violence will make much difference.
The devastating floods in Cumbria could be about to return. I used to be a vicar in Cumbria. Every year I'd watch with trepidation as the flood waters nearly burst the river bank. Rather than petition to strengthen the flood defences, I'd trust to the Invisible Magic Friend and wonder how long it would be before we were all flooded.
It's at times like this that Christianity comes in really useful. What they need is a bit of Jesus around to calm the winds and the rain. Jesus, the magical meteorological manipulator, will soon have things fixed. All you need to do is visit your local church, say some prayers, light a candle in return for a small donation, and everything will soon look just rosy and tickety-boo. While there, you can ponder on the river of time, rushing by like a Cumbrian torrent, careering towards your inevitable demise and those of all you love. Sickness, pain, weakness, suffering and dementia await you all. What other religion brings you hope and consolation like that?
And as if all that weren't enough, there'll be sympathy. Lots and lots and lots of lovely sympathy.
Oh, and ethics.
Happy 150th anniversary of The Origin of Species everyone! We Buddhists, unlike some other religions that I'm not going to mention by name, have no problem with science. We're big fans of evolution, with no silly ideas like a "creator" or origin myths to contradict the search for scientific truth. You can trust us to be sensible and rational and really very intellectually hip with all you scientific types. That's why I say Origin is a great book, it's a fantastic book. I love it. At least as far as it goes. Well, it's alright I suppose. It could be better.
Well, I mean science is just so limited isn't it? When has science ever taught us anything really useful, like about karma or reincarnation, or the search for enlightenment, or helped us with a nice bit of meditation. I mean, learning that there's a really simple explanation for the diversity and apparent design of living creatures is all very interesting and everything. Maybe it's even useful in some sort of boringly pragmatic way, but come on, you're not seriously comparing it to Buddhism are you? Did you know that humans are self aware for example? No, honestly they are. And that some things cause other things?
Good job we Buddhists are around to fill in all the gaps left by science.
The Origin of Species - it's OK. I suppose.
We have had a flood of biblical proportions. Of course, the biblical flood wasn't actually real. Unlike all the stories about Jesus, which were real and definitely did happen, the flood story is not real and definitely did not happen. It is a story, an allegory, a myth from which we should draw understanding. It tells the story of how the Invisible Magic Friend got angry, killed just about everything on planet Irth, and then having done so, said "sorry" and invented pretty rainbows to cheer everyone up, or at least those still alive. It was a really lucky fluke that light never refracted that way before the first rainbow.
In reality, my Invisible Magic Friend does not get angry. In fact, being timeless and unchanging, he cannot actually "get" anything, but in particular he doesn't get angry. He made the rainbow "bow" shaped to show that he was hanging up his weapons of war, despite the fact that he definitely never got angry, never flooded the planet and never waged war on planet Irth. The flood that didn't happen, reminded the Invisible Magic Friend (although he didn't need reminding because he cannot forget anything and had never been angry in the first place) how much he loved the Irth. It is a promise that he will never again (although he didn't do it even once) destroy the entire Irth.
British people, who regard themselves as being invincible, find themselves powerless against the forces of nature, i.e. the forces of the Invisible Magic Friend. He may have promised not to flood the Irth, but he does like to practise a little from time to time on places like Cumbria, El Salvador and New Orleans.
But when will people learn not to wage war on the planet's Irth's climate?
And now the news from a faith perspective. It's been a while since anyone talked about football, so let's talk about football, because if there's any one thing that's nearly as important as religion, it's football. They're calling it the Hand of God - Thierry Henry's handball against Ireland.
What deeper meaning can we read into this? Is it just a random meaningless event, like the appointment of the European President? Or that other topical story that's in the news again, the lightning strike of Yorkminster Cathedral in retribution for the views of the Bishop of Durham? Is the Invisible Magic Friend punishing Ireland for its wickedness?
No, no, no, no, no. The Invisible Magic Friend doesn't work that way, even though my Big Book of Magic Stuff repeatedly says he does, everywhere from Noah to Job to the Babylonian Exile. The Invisible Magic Friend is a loving Invisible Magic Friend and doesn't go around smiting people in anger. There is still the tricky little problem of why the innocent have to suffer. There are no easy answers to this question (other than the Invisible Magic Friend not existing, but we can dismiss that explanation since otherwise it would mean I was talking nonsense).
When faced with the great questions of life, like why Ireland lost at football, we naturally think of the Crucifixion. The visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend definitely suffered, just as the innocent people of Ireland are suffering now. They can comfort themselves with the thought that Thierry Henry will go straight to hell, as indeed will anyone who is French.
There was a really good programme on the telly the other night about George Best's son Calum and his alcoholic father. It's very easy to blame alcoholics for their addiction, but we need to remember that alcoholics are people too. So how should we cure them?
Jesus had some novel ways of curing people. "Hi, I'm the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend and I can forgive sins. Your sins are forgiven, so you should be able to walk OK now. As for you, just take some of this mud and spit twice a day before meals, that should heal your cataracts. And you, the loony, I'll soon fix you, just a matter of casting out some bad invisible magic bits and sending them into those pigs. That should do the trick."
But what do these stories actually mean? Obviously Jesus, who really was the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend, wouldn't believe that disability was the result of bad karma, or that mud and spit could cure blindness. And it's clearly risible that he'd think you can treat mental illness by casting out demons. That's just silly. No, clearly these are just metaphors for a much more sensible, 21st century, holistic approach to medicine, including alcoholism.
A lot of people are going hungry and not just in familiar famine areas such as Ethiopia, but also in the United States. Fortunately for them, there's just been a big Jewish festival. Happy week after Mitzvah Day everyone! While you lot have been loafing around not helping anyone, we Jews have been being generous and helpful for a whole day. And it wasn't just one particular theological sub-sect of Judaism that was being charitable, we actually put our theological differences aside in order to do something useful. Pretty impressive, eh?
We decided to spend the day being nice to people because our Big Book of Magic Stuff told us to. We are compelled, ordered, required, commanded, forced to act. This is we spiritual people at our very best. Doing good deeds on Mitzvah Day is incredibly important. It ranks right up there with such important commandments as not collecting wood on the Sabbath. Those of you who don't have a Big Book of Magic Stuff probably didn't bother helping anyone on Mitzvah Day. You probably don't realise that you're supposed to feed the hungry and save lives. You are not compelled, ordered, required, commanded or forced to help anyone, so it's lucky we're around to tell you all about it.
You should do what our Big Book of Magic Stuff says and do something to help other people. That way you can stop being selfish and self-centred and become as generous and charitable as we are. And we're so modest about it too, not telling anyone that we've done charity work for a day. If only more of you were like me.
We Jews have the humility to thank the Invisible Magic Friend for the food that we eat. Granted He didn't actually invent farming, or domesticate livestock, or plant food, or irrigate fields, or develop new crops, or harvest grain, or process the food, or distribute it to shops - humans did all that, but He was responsible for everything else.