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.
Wednesday, 18 November, 2009, 08:06 AM - ButlerRating 2 out of 5 (A little platitudinous)
Lot'sh o' people don't have jobsh, like I do (hic!). Sh'terrible! They get up in th'morningsh and there'sh... there'sh... (hic!), nuffin useful for them to do. They jusht, sit around all day, throwin cuddly toysh out. The Archblishop o' Cantering knows all about thish. He'sh told the Tea You Sea how to fixsh it (hic!) fixsh it all.
And another thing! The Shalvation Army do shum bloody good work, they do (hic!). Damn fine organisha... organic sensation the Sally Annes. Good for them.
You can do your bit for unemployedsh. No, honeshtly, you can. Help them wif their grammar (hic!) 'n shpelling 'n shtuff, short've fing. If you're lucky they might give you jusht a teeny weeny sherry. I'm the Bishop of Shuffock. Sh'what I do (hic!).
Tuesday, 17 November, 2009, 05:16 PM - TFTDI bring glad tidings of great joy to my flock of sheep. Thought For The Day will continue in its present form! You realise what this means? Yes, Platitude Of The Day will also continue in its present form.
I knew that the good, noble, principled, unelected people of the BBC trust would not let me down. In similar light, we can expect Prayer For The Day, BBC Scotland TFTD and Pause For thought, all to continue to intrude in their respective programmes.
I hope you will all join me in my campaign to introduce TFTD into the Channel 4 7 o'clock news (a bastion of liberalism and political correctness if ever there was one). We can add it to Match of the Day and to Watchdog, where we can here about consumer affairs from a Faith Perspective. The sky really is the limit from now on.
Tuesday, 17 November, 2009, 08:11 AM - VishvapaniRating 0 out of 5 (Not platitudinous)
Yesterday Kevin Rudd apologised for the mass deportation of children to Australia and for the suffering they endured.
Apologies are important. They are a recognition of the wrongs done to people, a recognition of their identity. When someone has been stripped of their identity then an apology recognises that they are individuals. To return someone's identity, of which they had been previously stripped, an apology is just what's needed. When someone has been stripped of their identity and suffered as a result, their suffering can be acknowledged by something as simple as an apology. Yesterday we heard of someone who had been stripped of his identity, and suffered as a result. An apology helped a lot. My father was a refugee and had to leave his own father, whom he never saw again. He wasn't stripped of his identity so there is no need for Gordon Brown to apologise to him.
So, in summary, when you find someone who has been stripped of their identity, do the right thing and go and apologise to them. As we Buddhists say, "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."