Happy Inter-Faith week everyone. Yes, it's that jolly time of year again when people of all different faiths come together to discuss how much we have in common and how well we all get along.
But it wasn't always like this. There was a time when some religious people sought to impose their beliefs on others. Thankfully we don't do that sort of thing any more. And I just want to make it clear that it's not because we lack the power to enforce our will in Britain any more. Nor is it because, in an increasingly secular society, we find ourselves forced together to offer each other some crumb of comfort. In fact, even if one of us did come to dominate society as we did in the past, you can rest assured that we wouldn't use that dominance to alter the way things are done. All around the world, where one religion dominates a country, we see models of toleration and liberal values.
When we important religious leaders get together, we can do such fantastic things. A few years ago we got together and said, "Look, there are poor people in the world," something that until then had largely gone unnoticed.
Then there was the year we all went to Auschwitz together and we told the world, "This is really very bad and we don't think this should happen again."
There can be a teeny-weeny tendency for religions to divide people into "them" and "us", perhaps due to us having the true word of the Invisible Magic Friend and them being deluded, heathen unbelievers who stubbornly refuse to recognise the truth. That's why it's so important that we all get together and paper over these minor differences in doctrine.
p.s. I'm not going to mention the Royal Wedding. Inter faith week is far too important to distract you with trivia like that.
Has anyone mentioned the Royal Wedding yet? It's just the sort of thing we need to make us happier in these dark economic times.
But even the happiness that we feel about the Royal Wedding may not be enough. Most of you probably think that a new car or a new kitchen will bring you life long happiness - Radio 4 listeners tend to be shallow that way. The Prime Minister suspects that this may not be the case. The government's going to look into what makes people happy, and when they find out, they're going to change government policy to make us all happier. He understands that money doesn't make people happy. Having money actually makes people very sad, which is why he's taking so much of it away from people.
I want to tell you about a king who was obsessed with his own problems. He was told they'd all be solved if he spent the night in the shirt of a happy man. He searched the land for such a man but found only tales of his downtrodden subjects, who had real problems in life. Seeing all these problems, he decided to sweep away a hereditary monarchy and found a government elected by and accountable to the people. No, he didn't really do that - he decided to have a nice Royal Wedding to cheer everyone up a bit.
We, and by "we" I mean "you", have become far too selfish and obsessed with our (i.e. "your" ) material wealth. We, i.e. "you", have become greedy and vain and selfish. A Sikh Guru said we should help others. A Christian theologian said something very similar, so I'm forced to conclude that it must be true.
So Radio 4 listeners, I urge you to abandon your hedonistic ways and spare some time to help others. You'll find that it really does make you happier, perhaps even happier than the Royal Wedding makes you.
Vastly Reverend James Jones, Lord Bishop of Liverpool and Bishop of Prisons, Platitude of the Year Winner 2009
Wednesday, 17 November, 2010, 08:24 AM - James JonesRating 5 out of 5 (Extraordinarily Platitudinous and grovelling)
Has anyone mentioned the Royal Wedding yet?
Isn't it just wonderful? I love weddings, unlike some members of the clergy. They always make me cry, and what could be more romantic than a Royal Wedding?
And he's given Kate Middleton Diana's ring. Isn't that just so romantic? It's like saying he hopes Kate's life will be every bit as happy as Diana's was.
There's going to be a really big church. All the rich and famous and powerful and glamorous will be there, including a good crop of bishops. Oh please can I be on the guest list? I'm a really good groveller, I'd fit in just right at the Royal Wedding and I promise I'll be good.
And the Invisible Magic Friend will be there and there'll be prayers and hymns and they'll solemnly pledge to love one another until death or divorce do part them. Then they'll turn to face all their friends and families and rich, important people and they'll smile and there'll be fanfares and the bells will ring and everyone throughout the land will celebrate the joining together of these two young people.
But let us not forget that these are not any two young people, for they are one day destined to be King and Queen. Of course that can only happen when his grandmother dies and Charles and Camilla become King and not-Queen ahead of them. He doesn't even get to be Prince of Wales until that happens. He'll just have to scrape by on a duchy or two until he can get his hands on Wales and Cornwall.
Oh, isn't it all such a fairy-tale romance? I'm so excited!
Tuesday, 16 November, 2010, 09:26 AMI slept in and missed today's TFTD. So I'm going to have to improvise. Here's what I think Prof. Mona Siddiqui might have said. Tell me how close I am...
Something has happened in the news. This illustrates the importance of faith/spirituality/culture/family.
Islam, which is a religion of liberal, tolerant, gender neutral values, something you could all learn a thing or two from, advocates precisely this. It says so in one of the nice bits of the Koran.
Isn't Aung San Suu Kyi just fantastic? She's stuck to her pacifist Buddhist principles throughout her long campaign for democracy in Burma. Her Buddhist principles are completely different from the Buddhist principles of the Burmese generals, whose Buddhist principles largely seem to consist of brutally holding on to power at all costs.
Her many critics, such as, well... er... ...they're just too numerous to mention by name, say that maybe if she hadn't been so pacifist, things would be better for Burma by now. Perhaps if she'd led an armed insurgency - regularly blowing up government buildings - that kind of thing, the military leaders would have handed over power to an elected civilian government by now.
Aung San Suu Kyi may not have military power, but like Mandela and Rosa Parks before her, she carries tremendous moral authority and this in itself can bring about change.
Sometimes change happens quickly. Sometimes it doesn't. It can happen overnight or it can take decades. It all depends really on the rate at which change is happening. We won't know how fast change is going to happen in Burma until after it has happened. We'll just have to wait and see whether it's going to be fast change or slow change. But we know from her Buddhist philosophy (this is the good Buddhist philosophy and not the bad Buddhist philosophy of the generals, which probably isn't proper Buddhist philosophy at all) that change definitely happens eventually.
Jesus, who was the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend and therefore an authority on the subject, thought that peaceful change was a good thing too. This reassures me that peaceful change is a good thing, otherwise I wouldn't be so sure.
Aung San Suu Kyi's way of doing things is as recommended by Jesus and good Buddhist philosophy, and this gives us hope that she will succeed.
This lady is determined to bring about change the right way and for that I am both thankful and inspired.
WARNING: Only Catholic priests who are both legally and morally ordained, as validly understood through the legitimate moral authority of the Church, should attempt an exorcism. Devils are powerful beings and can be extremely harmful to the unqualified.
Here in the USA we're facing a huge rise in demand for exorcisms due to the influx of Hispanic and African Catholics who are more attuned to the supernatural. A new generation of fully qualified exorcists is desperately needed.
The new rite of exorcism was issued in 1999 after 20 years of careful, painstaking research by some of the world's top theological experts on the devil and his minions. But not everyone is happy with the new rite. Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican's chief exorcist for 25 years has conducted 70,000 exorcisms, averaging over three a day over the past 60 years and he says the new rite is far inferior to the previous, 1614, rite.
"There's just not enough smoke or sprinkling of magic water as there used to be and we don't get to call the Invisible Magic Baddy as many names. In the old rite we got to call him: ancient serpent, transgressor, seducer, persecutor, abominable creature, monster, profligate dragon, asp, basilisk. The new exorcism's just rubbish in comparison."
The new rite emphasises that not everyone who behaves strangely is necessarily possessed, some may have more need of a psychiatrist than an exorcist. The modern science of exorcism uses specialist equipment to detect demonic possession. The demonometer contains a small vial of magic water that glows when brought near the possessed. A photomultiplier feeds this into a digital display giving an objective, accurate reading. Most healthy adults read well under 2 in a possession scale of 0 to 10, but the possessed will regularly score 7 or more when tested with the demonometer.
In the 21st century, when neuroscience makes almost daily discoveries to help people with personality disorders, it's good to know that the Catholic Church is still relevant and able to purge the soul of invisible magic stuff.
Aung San Suu Kyi may be about to be released. Suu Kyi holds tremendous moral authority in Burma because of her Buddhist belief that good ends cannot be achieved by unethical means. She tells her supporters that it is not power that corrupts but fear, although maybe power corrupts a little bit as well.
We saw these ideals in action in 2007 when Buddhist monks joined with Buddhist students to protest against the government. The government also happen to be Buddhist but they're not proper Buddhists and there aren't as many of them as there are good Buddhists.
The Buddhist Aung San Suu Kyi, just like that other great Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, try to bring Buddhist principles into politics. This is just as good, or even better, than bringing Christian, Muslim or Hindu principles into politics.
In the good old Buddhist days in Tibet, millions of Buddhist serfs happily ploughed the fields so that Buddhist monks could get on with the important business of Buddhist monking. They cheerfully engaged in forced back breaking labour, tied to vast wealthy Tibetan estates, because they knew that the Buddhist monks provided a link to a higher order of reality. But the dream of a return to the good old Buddhist days in Tibet remains just a dream.
Both the Buddhist Aung San Suu Kyi and the Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, seek to demonstrate the Buddhist principle that moral integrity will defeat brute force in the end. Although it does mostly seem to be the case that meditation and chanting have, as yet, not proven to be a viable defence against bullets.
But when Buddhist meditation and chanting do eventually prove themselves against bullets this will show how vitally relevant Buddhist principles are to the modern world.
As there don't appear to be any big Jewish festivals coming up, I'll just talk about the news instead.
The violence of Wednesday's student protests may be a taste of things to come as the severity of government spending cuts begin to bite.
And it's all our generation's fault. We, and by "we" I mean "you", have been spending beyond your means for decades now. You've been racking up personal debts, buying things you didn't need, borrowing money that your children would have to repay. You've been going to swingers parties, having promiscuous sex with gay abandon, depriving your children of families.
We, and by "we" I mean good, holy, pious people like me, have been telling you all along that it would all end in tears, but you wouldn't listen. No, you knew best. Well let me just tell you that Moses, who definitely existed and definitely wrote the book of Deuteronomy, including the bit where he dies said all along that affluence was just wicked.
You've been having a very good time haven't you? A very, very good time. Well, not any more you don't. If you hadn't been going around having sex with whoever you fancied, we wouldn't be in this mess. I'll just wag my finger once more and say, won't someone please think of the children.
It is Remembrance Day. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, people throughout the land observe a two minute silence to remember the many members of the armed forces and civilians who died in war.
Many will be wearing poppies. Others choose not to, in protest at unthinking social conformity in another sacred day drained of meaning. That's why it's important that we do our best to remember what it is we are remembering and don't allow those with other agendas to hijack Remembrance Day.
It can be a day of mixed emotions, trying to avoid the jingoism that can spur young people to fight futile battles, while honouring those who have given their lives.
Aeschylus wrote that the first casualty of war is truth. All the more reason to ask, why did they die, where was God in all of this? We often turn for answers to the soldier poets of World War I. They remind us, with the authority of eye witnesses, not to fall into the trap of glorifying war, but simply to remember them, even when they were not brave, even when they did lose their faith.
It is the gift of the living to be able to remember them.
Unbelievably Reverend James Jones, Lord Bishop of Liverpool and Bishop of Prisons, Platitude of the Year Winner 2009
Hurrah! The Queen is on Facebook. 500 million people can now get daily news about the everyday goings on of ordinary royal folk. They will be able to engage in good, pure, wholesome activities, like clicking on the thumbs up sign, but they won't be able to become her friend.
The Queen's Facebook page is one of the nice bits of the Internet, but there are other bits that are not so nice. There are people out there called "bloggers" and they can be very not nice indeed. I'm not mentioning any names or anything, but there have even been blogs that criticised, or even mocked, me!
Now it would be well beneath the dignity of someone as unbelievably reverend as myself to respond in kind to such low life. Petty name calling, of the type indulged by these infantile nobodies is not what one does as a bishop. Instead, here is what the respected and I must say, right, journalist Andrew Marr has to say about bloggers.
"Most of them seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seamy, bald, cauliflower nosed, young men, sitting in their mother's basements, and ranting, very angry people."
The Internet is just like humanity in general. It has its wonders and its inspirations, like the Queen's delightful Facebook page (I'm sure Your Majesty will consider my unworthy grovelling should either of the Church of England archbishoprics become available any time soon), and it has its sewers, its festering pustules, its putrid vomit, its discarded toenails, it's irritating naval fluff.
We can only hope that one day, good, godly, fine upstanding people such as oneself, are put in charge of the Internet.