After 22 years in prison, Troy Davis was executed for the murder of off duty police officer Mark MacPhail. There are all sorts of issues to explore here: why did most of the witnesses withdraw their testimonies, why was there no forensic evidence, is 22 years in prison sufficient punishment? Is the man who was executed the same man of 22 years ago? What about the huge imbalance of black men on death row?
I'm not going to explore any of those. I'm going to talk about the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend. Why did Jesus have to be sacrificed on the cross? I'm sure this is the pressing question that everyone desperately needs an answer to this morning. As a Rev Dr, let me just assure you that it was not, I repeat not as retribution for the sins of mankind. This is a common misconception, often held by those who don't properly understand Christian theology. In fact, we've known since Martin Luther that if there was any justice in this world, we, and by "we" I do of course mean "you", would all be condemned to eternal misery.
Fortunately, Christian theology teaches that Jesus, whom you'll recall was the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend, is loving and merciful and forgives you. Which just goes to prove, yet again, how fantastically useful theology is.
As William Shakespeare's lesser known brother Archie famously said, "Couldst thou spareth not an schilling, dear brother Bill?"
As to why Jesus had to die? That's just too theologically complex to go into at the moment. Don't forget to tune in next time for some more vitally important Christian theology.
A couple of politicians have been trying some "blue sky thinking". Steve Hilton thinks maternity leave should go. Maurice Glasman wonders if Labour's immigration policies have fuelled the far right.
This sort of out-of-the-box, anything goes thinking is precisely what theology is all about. It's about seeing the big picture, the full context, the grand scheme, our true place in it all, and filling it with invisible magic stuff. It's about the invisible Magic Friend becoming visible. Big ideas like that. I mean really, really big, original ideas like that. No one had ever thought of the Invisible Magic Friend becoming visible before Christianity. That's the sort of practical, down to earth, life changing, explosive idea that only theology can
So hurrah for politicians who think the unthinkable like theologians do. We need more of that type of thinking in parliament.
Has anyone mentioned Advent yet?
You might think you're having a busy time trying to sort out the Christmas shopping, just imagine what it's like for me. I've got week's worth of complex theology to get through. You've no idea how much theology I have to wade through as a busy Canon Chancellor in the weeks before Christmas.
What many people forget is that Advent isn't just about looking forward to the coming of the baby Jesus, who doesn't really appear on Christmas day because that all happened thousands of years ago. The true meaning of Advent is in looking forward to the second coming of Jesus.
Obviously I don't actually believe in the second coming of Jesus, just as I don't actually believe in most traditional Christian teaching, that's for people who are much less theologically sophisticated than myself.
I suppose I better mention something to do with the news. Julian Assange is a bit like Jesus Christ, as he exposes all the crimes and hypocrisies of world governments. And now back to the second coming.
As the psalmist says on the day of judgement, "Did you really have to bring that up. I am so embarrassed." Or as Saint Paul so wittily remarks, "You're all screwed."
What people who are less theologically sophisticated than me don't seem to realise is that the day of judgement isn't all about thunderbolts and anger, it's about that tear of disappointment running down your mother's cheek, just before you're condemned to eternal punishment.
But judgement is good. Without someone to spy on you and judge you, you'd all just run around doing what you like, because you're like that, basically immoral, selfish and cruel. Without the threat of eternal punishment, nothing matters and nothing counts for anything.
With such an utterly negative view of humanity is it any wonder that I need psychotherapy? I mean wouldn't you if, despite your enormous theological sophistication, you didn't really believe in anything, including your fellow human beings?
Incandescently Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron Reverend Lord Richard Harries, Baron Pentregarth, Gresham Professor of Divinity, Baron, Bishop, Professor, Lord...
Two days after the spending cuts, and after previous presenters have ignored them in order to talk about holidays for portaloos and the cost of shoplifting, I've decided it's time to look at the cuts from the unique perspective of being a Christian.
There are different opinions about the spending cuts. Rich people think they've been hit the hardest, whereas poor people tend to think they've been hit the hardest. It all depends on whether you're rich or poor really. Rich and poor people differ in their perspectives in other ways too. Those at the top in society tend to think that the way society is ordered is pretty good and that it's important to keep it that way. Those at the bottom tend to disagree. It all depends really.
We Christians resolve such issues by appealing to what we call the "incarnational principle". Without wishing to confuse you too much with these complex theological theories, the "incarnational principle" is the principle that the second bit of the Invisible Magic Friend became "incarnate". And that's why many 19th century vicars became socialists.
So, bearing in mind the incarnational principle, are the cuts fair? It's a question that only humans can appreciate and it's what distinguishes us from animals. Using the incarnational principle, we can see that we are made in the image of the Invisible Magic Friend, whereas animals aren't.
So are the cuts fair? It all depends really.
The Saville Enquiry, which has provided gainful employment to numerous lawyers over the past twelve years, is due to report today. 1972 was a time when pop music was real pop music and nostalgia was real nostalgia. Happy, happy days, apart from the thirteen people shot dead on Bloody Sunday.
This is exactly like the book of Revelation, the holy trip of Saint John the magic mushroom eater. You see there's this scroll with seven seals, although why the scroll should have seven aquatic mammals on it is never fully explained. The magic mushroom eater weeps, for no one can open the scroll. Then the lamb that was slain (who's really the second lump and the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend) opens the scroll and unleashes the four horsemen of the apocalypse, which is really nice of him.
In order to understand this, you either need to consume some seriously hallucinogenic drugs, or alternatively consult a theologian. What this passage clearly shows is that the Invisible Magic Friend is present throughout time, simultaneously in past present and future (you probably won't see this unless you're as highly theologically trained as what I am). Don't worry that the theory of relativity suggests that there is no such thing as simultaneity and therefore no such thing as a universal "now" - this is a theological "now" and is not defined by inertial frames of reference.
So in conclusion, the Saville Enquiry is about something in the past, will be reported today and will be read in the future, just like the book of Revelation says.
Happy Workers' Memorial Day everyone!
Three words are guaranteed to provoke scorn: Health and Safety. But health and safety are important. There were 27,000 major injuries at work last year, including 180 deaths. One of those deaths was a young farmer, Andrew, crushed between two tractors. Before he died he etched another three words, addressed to his father, on one of the tractors, "I love you."
We live in a risky world, full of accidents and tragedy. So why did the Invisible Magic Friend make it that way? Eminent theologians have carefully investigated this problem for centuries, employing all the power and insight that theology has to offer, and have come to the conclusion that we haven't a clue. So in the absence of an answer, here are some guesses. For one, it gives me lots of moving, personal stories that I can exploit on slots like this to push religion. Second, it means we have freedom. We are all free to be killed or seriously injured at work. This just goes to prove how really loving the Invisible Magic Friend is.
But the Invisible Magic Friend did not leave us without guidance. He gave us practical rules to follow, like "Worship me every Sabbath" and "Don't worship anyone but me" and "Don't take my name in vain you 'orrible little creation" and "Don't covet your neighbour's ass." If you follow these simple rules then you are almost certain not to be crushed to death by tractors.
Some people like to ignore these rules because they want to go around being sinful and wicked and ungodly and militantly secular. They think that going to B&Q on a Sunday is more productive than a good day's worshipping, but don't worry, they'll burn in hell forever for it.
So in conclusion, the Invisible Magic Friend loves you, even the ones that he unfortunately has to burn in hell forever.
We've just got a brilliant new sculpture at Saint Paul's Cathedral (the cathedral that I'm Canon Chancellor of). Many people ask "What does it mean?" This is where others go wrong and try to explain its meaning. Far too many people are too keen to explain things. They want to go around understanding things in a very vulgar and not very intellectual fashion.
This is also where people go wrong with theology. Much bad theology (i.e. theology that I disagree with and that is clearly wrong) comes from people trying to understand the Invisible Magic Friend. They ask questions like "Why does a loving God allow suffering?" or "Why do the ruthless prosper while the meek suffer?" or "Why does Piers Morgan keep appearing on TV?" What you have to understand is that these are eternal mysteries with a beauty all their own. We gaze at them in wonder, thinking "Wow, isn't it just great not to know the answer? I wonder what's for tea tonight?"
As a Rev Dr (and not just any old common Rev Dr, but a Rev Dr Canon Chancellor) let me just assure you that this is how theology gets a bad name. Not because it's an entire academic subject based on stuff that's just made up, has no boundaries and is completely untestable, but because people keep trying to answer questions with it. If people stopped trying to understand theology and just accepted it as a mass of loopy self contradictory words streamed randomly together then they would get so much more out of it.
This is why theology is like modern art. Both are amazing, both are beautiful, both give a lifetime of laughter to their creator as they sit around watching people ask, "Yes, but what does it mean?"
Bountifully Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron Reverend Lord Richard Harries, Baron Pentregarth, Gresham Professor of Divinity, Baron, Bishop, Professor, Lord...
The case of identity theft using British passports raises important questions about identity. Who am I? Where am I? What am I for? Sometimes I'm a Right Reverend Bishop, other times I'm Lord Harries Baron Pentregarth. Occasionally I like to be Gresham Professor of Divinity but sometimes I'm just Welsh. It's so confusing trying to figure out just what one is, don't you find?
Thankfully, Christianity spotted that identity isn't fixed but can change. Non-Christians don't realise this, so it's a good job Christianity came along and sorted that out. With striking boldness, 1 John says, "we don't know what we'll become but we'll definitely become something". The extremely good theologian but unfortunately not quite so good assasin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, agreed that we probably don't know what we'll become, but he thought that Jesus, the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend, probably knew. I think this demonstrates once again the practical value of theology.
As with so many aspects of daily life, when deciding when to go to war, one naturally consults a theologian. Of course, most theologians are dead and have passed into the invisible magic world. We obviously can't talk to people in the invisible magic world (to claim that would be just silly) so distinguished personages and opinion formers, such as the distinguished Editor of The Times, consult distinguished Catholic gentlemen such as oneself, for a summary of theological arguments.
Saint Tony of Bliar, a distinguished Catholic, may not have consulted with his distinguished chancellor on whether to invade Iraq, but he did consult Thomas Aquinas. Unfortunately, not being so skilled in theology as distinguished persons such as oneself, he got it wrong. Aquinas was trying to understand Christ's entreaty to "love your enemies". Obviously this is not meant to be taken literally. As a highly skilled theologian of the Catholic Church, Aquinas was able to show that what Christ actually meant was: "invade their territory, destroy everything they've built, steal all their riches, kill all the men, rape all the women and enslave all the children". Thus demonstrating, once again, the wide ranging, practical value of Theology.
It is a sad indictment of our modern world that the Chilcott Enquiry spent virtually no time whatsoever consulting distinguished theologians such as Saint Thomas Aquinas. Instead, they seem to be obsessed about pathetic little details like whether the Iraq war was legal. I mean, who cares about International Law? George W. Bush, a distinguished Christian gentleman, certainly didn't.
"Theodicy" was invented by Leibniz, a good, Godly, philosopher, to explain why a merciful God allows so much suffering in the world. This word comes from the Greek roots: Theos, meaning God and, idiocy. According to Leibniz things could've been much worse. Oh, you have no idea the chamber of horrors that God chose for humanity on the first few drafts. It makes the odd natural disaster killings thousands and destroying millions' more lives look like a walk in the park, So you just be grateful God was persuaded to add as many nice bits as possible,
Voltaire, a cold, soulless, rationalist philosopher, said Leibniz was talking rubbish. He satirised him as a fool and condemned Theodicy as a sick joke, always trying to get God off the hook. Voltaire may have thought believers were idiots, but I still believe and I'm a Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, so obviously there's a bit more to it.
I have no easy answers to all these difficult questions. The simplest answer, that the Invisible Magic Friend doesn't exist, is obviously wrong. That would mean I had devoted my life to nonsense and would be ineligible for a clerical pension in a few years time. Instead, I think we should stop thinking rationally, and go beyond that to a world of deeper meaning. When you stop thinking about problems they usually just go away of their own accord.
So Invisible Magic Friend, please be nice and help the people of Haiti, who for some very good reason you have chosen to visit with death, misery and destruction on a colossal scale, and accept this candle from me so that I can worship you, your incredible mightiness, and ask you to help those who are so small. It makes me feel so much better.
Having a rational argument at times like this is in such bad taste.