It isn't easy being a priest. You can't just pick the nice bits from the Big Book of Magic Stuff. You'll doubtless recall all the stories of genocide, barbaric punishments, enslavement, religious absolutism and misogyny that were regularly read out in church when you were young.
Imagine my horror, yes Horror, when I was asked to read Luke chapter 6, blessed are the poor and woe to the rich. My heart sank as I realised that I would be forced, forced I tell you, to preach about precisely the issue I had resigned over.
I'd like to use the metaphor of tectonic plates to describe the predicament of Saint Paul's and the street protests. It lets me use phrases like "fault line", which conjures up images of unimaginable forces and sounds all sort of grand and sciency. It puts theology on a par with geology and makes it sound as if theology actually has something to contribute to the debate about human inequality. These are much more compelling images than one gets from words like "confused", "irrelevant" and "hypocritical" when one thinks of the wider Church of England's response to the protests.
I'm not against capitalism, at least not any more. Anti-capitalists are just that, they are "anti" without having an alternative. The Church isn't like that. Unlike anti-capitalists we are against vast inequality, against rampant materialism, against poverty and suffering. But we are not just against them, we are for whatever the opposite might be, without getting into any specific solutions to complex economic questions.
In a very real and definite sense, the Church believes that it would be nice if everything were better.
I went to a really nice do at the Guildhall the other day. I got to wear some fancy dress, not quite as good as my normal fancy dress, but pretty fancy all the same.
Now there are a few po faced killjoys out there, who ask awkward questions like, what would a poor carpenter from Nazareth have thought about all this pomp and ceremony? Well obviously he would have approved. You see, despite all the fancy dress, I'm not at all part of the establishment. All this fancy dress is all just part of the church's subversive, radical agenda.
When the rich and the powerful attend a big fancy do like that, they are forced to confront humble ministers of the cloth like myself. They are forced to look me in the eye and say, Giles (they call me Giles on account of the fact that I'm not really a member of the establishment), Giles, you are our conscience. Thanks to you we are accountable to each other and to the Invisible Magic Friend. Accountability does not come through balance of powers and democratic control, but through public displays of faith.
I find myself attending more and more lavish functions, ever more restricted to the country's elite. I don't know what greater proof there could be of my revolutionary credentials.
Yes, I'm quite convinced that if Jesus were alive today, he would have been standing right beside me in the Guildhall a few days ago. Absolutely no doubt about it.
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.
Friday, 16 September, 2011, 07:13 AM - FraserRating 1 out of 5 (Not platitudinous)
Baha Mousa was beaten to death by British soldiers in 2003. As well as those who brutally tortured Baha Mousa, there were many others who stood aside and did nothing, including the Catholic chaplain
Among the strongly Christian population of the United States, a recent poll showed that 54% thought that torture was often or sometimes necessary. According to human rights lawyer, Conor Gearty, such attitudes begin by taking the word "human" out of human rights. By dehumanising the enemy in the name of some greater cause, we make their lives dispensable.
"Ecce homo," said Pontius Pilate, "Behold the man." Behold Baha Mousa - he was human too.
Isn't all this stupid, senseless violence so stupid and senseless! Now we're getting copy cat violence all over the country - violence imitating violence. I just want to make it absolutely clear that I fully support the police. No doubt about that. Wonderful people the police. Some of my best friends are in the police. But do they have to meet violence with so much violence? Couldn't they try offering some of these young thugs some flowers and camomile tea?
It's what Jesus recommended. OK, admittedly they did crucify him, but that doesn't invalidate the principle, does it? Ultimately, violence is not defeated by more violence. Violence is defeated when peace is restored. That's why it is the likes of the twitter tag #riotcleanup, with 90,000+ followers, that really defeats violence. Here we see people at their best, helping each other, in the spirit of kindness and service.
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.
The USA owes $14,300,000,000,000.
I'm not an economist. I don't spend my time reading economic theory or calibrating computer models of the economy. I barely know anything at all about economics. In fact, what I know about economics, you could right on the back of a match box. That's why I'm going to talk to you about economics.
US government debt is exactly the same as Adam and Eve. That's where it all started and it's been down hill all the way since then. I don't wish to sound grumpy or anything, but everything just keeps getting worse and worse and worse 'till everything's just completely awful and unimaginably terrible. Original sin is not about humanity's fall from grace and its loss of innocence, necessitating the second bit of the Invisible Magic Friend sacrificing himself, as some deluded Christians may have erroneously informed you. Original sin is about government debt, and as sins go, US government debt is about as sinful as it gets.
Adam and Eve weren't happy with the GDP of the Garden of Eden. They had to borrow fruit from the tree of knowledge, fruit that they couldn't possibly repay, leaving it to future generations to service the debt. Enough is enough. There are limits to economic growth. We need fewer jobs, less production and overall economic stagnation and contraction. That is the only sure fire way to pay our debts, increase happiness and ensure the general well being of the human race. (Oh, by the way, in the resulting economic depression, I'll still be getting paid, so feel free to come and see me if you want some spiritual comfort while your family starves.)
Government debt is money that we have borrowed from our children. Won't someone please, please think of the children.
The USA now owes $14,300,005,000,000.
"Incredibly smart Invisible Magic Friend, who's voyeurism knows no bounds."
That's a prayer. It tells you that the Invisible Magic Friend knows absolutely everything you've ever done or thought about doing. It's all on a need to know basis of course, but he needs to know everything so he can judge you on the day of judgement.
Has anyone mentioned the phone hacking scandal yet? Or Rupert Murdoch? Or news International? Good job I'm here then. You see it's all very theological, but I'll try and make it simple for you.
Newspapers, like the Invisible Magic Friend, pass judgement on others. You could say the Invisible Magic Friend is the ultimate hack journalist. He sits up there, with his infinitely big notebook, his cigarette with the eternal one inch of ash hanging off it, his white beard and his trilby hat, scribbling down all those covetous thoughts of yours.
Is this theology getting a bit too deep and complicated for you? Let me put it another way. Newspapers can be very, very powerful. They can pass judgement on you. Believe you me you really don't want to get on the wrong side of the newspapers. They can expose your hypocrisy or stupidity and then everyone will have a good laugh at you. The invisible magic friend is also very, very powerful. Believe you me, you don't want to get on the wrong side of the Invisible Magic Friend. There's one big difference though. If you're judged as having to burn in hell for all eternity (that's the penalty for a first offence), you won't get all us good Christians having a laugh at you. When have you ever heard of a Christian saying they'll get the last laugh?
So in summary, and after much theological thinking, the scandal in the news media explains why you can trust the Invisible Magic Friend. Which just goes to show, once gain, how incredibly useful theology is in everyday life.
Every 5 minutes a child runs away from home or from care. That's 100,000 a year. A quarter are forced out. On the streets they are vulnerable to predatory adults and the false escapes of drink and drugs. I was so outraged by these scandalous statistics, this wanton disregard for the welfare of children, that I decided that enough was enough, I just had to do something. So I immediately grabbed my coat, dashed out of the door and headed straight for a museum.
The Museum of Childhood was full of happy, smiling children in neatly pressed school uniforms. I breathed a huge sigh of relief - no street urchins dressed in rags, surrounded by empty tins of Tennents' Super here. I was reminded that children take a special delight in the world around them, especially when it's filled with toys.
I was also reminded that real Christianity, true Christianity, my Christianity, likes to enjoy itself. We're not like certain dour faced puritans, such as... well we all know who they are, no need to name names - so-called "Christians" that don't want to have priests and bishops with lots of shiny gold threaded vestments and great big flowing capes with pointy hats and big ornamental poles to carry around.
Jesus, the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend, said we needed to be more like children. Unfortunately, some children are being prematurely sexualised and made to think as adults by adults who want to be more like children... so Jesus was obviously wrong about... er, just forget that bit.
Anyway, we should be very, very angry indeed about the mistreatment of children. Won't somebody please, please think of the children!
I want to talk to you today about the art of Ai Weiwei. Which brings me on to religion. Religion is very much like art. It is subversive, not at all part of the establishment. It asks all the difficult questions and even makes up some answers.
Believe it or not, there are control freaks out there who want to tell you what to think. That is why they are so afraid of religion. When you have a religion you are free to think what you like. Free, FREE, FREE I tell you! You are free to have an Invisible Magic Friend. Free to ask, what if there is more than this world? Eh? Eh? What if? Eh? Makes you think, eh? A famous poet asked that, so there. What a disappointment it would be if this dull, uninteresting universe was all there was.
I am free to have random thoughts rattling around in my Rev Dr brain. That's what makes me so dangerous. That's why "they" want to suppress me, to prevent me from coming on Thought For The Day. But they will not succeed. Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better.
And in conclusion, that's what the art of Ai Weiwei is all about.