It's one of the pressing problems of our age: what version of the Lord's prayer should we use? Should we forgive trespasses, forgive debts, or forgive sins? It's a tough one, but fear not, that's precisely the sort of vital challenge that Christian theology is willing to take on.
As luck would have it, debts have been in the news lately in the form of pay day loans. These are loans that poor people have to take out. Poor people are people who've run out of money. Just at the time when there are more poor people about, the British are becoming less tolerant of poor people, with many thinking that the poor just deserve to be poor.
Fortunately we have Christianity. Christianity invented being good to the poor. Judaism, which was a kind of dummy run for proper Christianity, also did some helping of the poor, although mainly their own poor. Christianity decided to help all the poor, which is why we don't have any poor people left today.
The Emperor Julian said so, so I must be right.
News, news, news. The news is just full of news these days. However, a lot of news is not news at all. It is in fact, old news, news that has been announced before it was news and that by the time it became news was no longer news.
There, no one can accuse me of only tangentially mentioning the news today. I've done nothing but talk about news, future news and past news.
Which brings me onto past and future tense and the true meaning of Christmas. The true meaning of Christmas is that we haven't had it yet. You're not supposed to be jolly yet. You're supposed to be miserable. There's lots of death, suffering, injustice and wealth disparity to dwell upon. Believer and unbeliever alike, ask why does the Invisible Magic Friend not do something? Simplistic answers like, he doesn't exist, are automatically excluded because it would make religion look silly.
The birth of the Invisible Magic Friend is something that happens NOW, that is to say, in several weeks time. It wasn't announced in advance, except by the prophets who announced it in advance. That is why Christmas is real news, or at least it will be when it happens. When it does actually happen, which is NOW, in several weeks time, we'll all be jolly grateful that it's already happened in the past, unannounced and NOW.
Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic Studies and Public Understanding and Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam, University of Glasgow
I was once asked if cultural traditions could be used to excuse a particularly violent case of honour killing. It cannot. Murder is murder and is always wrong.
Honour violence in this country is nearly always perpetrated by Muslim men against Muslim women. Family honour is often interpreted as narrowly as a woman's chastity.
Last year, there were nearly 3,000 reports to the police of honour violence. This is not something that we Muslims can afford to ignore. It is a culture intended to impose obedience in women through fear.
Religion cannot pretend to maintain the dignity of all human life while ignoring the murder of women. The mindset of Muslims must change. We cannot continue to enjoy the benefits of a liberal society while ignoring this oppressive behaviour. It is time to speak out against Muslim violence against women. If we do not then all Muslims will harbour some responsibility for the consequences.
Good morning Evan, good morning Jim and good morning to you all.
Well here we are in another crisis. It doesn't really matter what it is because there's always a crisis of some sort, this is just the latest one. It's mostly our own fault, whatever it is, for not learning lessons from the past and being too short sighted about the consequences of our actions.
Many crises ago, back in the last century, people sought scapegoats for their crises, and for once that really is how Nazi Germany started.
We were poor but happy back then. We left our front doors unlocked, because quite frankly, there was nothing worth stealing.
So here are some of my personal tips on how to deal with the latest crisis.
Don't worry about things that might never happen. There are much worse things that probably will happen and that you haven't even thought of yet.
Now some jokes.
How many Jews does it take to change a light-bulb?
Two, one to change the bulb and another to tell him how to do it better.
How many psychoanalysts does it take to change a light-bulb?
One, provided the light-bulb really wants to change.
How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light-bulb?
None, don't worry about me, I'll sit alone in the dark.
Don't be afraid to ask for help or courage. The best things in life really are free: friendship, kindness, complements and kisses. This isn't shmaltz but personally tested.
Sunday, 4 December, 2011, 07:30 AM - ClemmiesWe've had an extraordinary number of extraordinarily platitudinous contributions this month, with no fewer than eight top scorers and a further nine who only just missed reaching the top spot. I think we all need to offer a huge vote of thanks to all the TFTD presenters this month, and to the BBC's Holy Department of Religion and more Religion, for this bonanza of thoroughly entertaining nonsense. Lewis Carroll would be proud.
The month began encouragingly, with the matriarch of TFTD herself, Anne Atkins. Lesser apprentices to the TFTD craft often present woolly, incoherent nonsense to various degrees. Few, however, have ever mastered the art to the extent that AA has: the express delivery, the posh accent, the random juxtaposition of references to Jesus and the news. I would go so far as to say it is impossible to exceed the speed of gibberish of AA when her head is filled with a vacuum. This was a classic which I didn't even dare to parody. Every word was perfect, to take one away, or try to replace any part with a summary, would be to diminish the whole.
But if Anne thought she had it in the bag for November, she had another thing coming. The very next day, Rhidian Brook, another celebrity Christian writer, effused enthusiastically about Christian Cathedrals. Despite them being such wonderful buildings, Rhidian, very clearly and carefully, explained that we don't actually need the Church in order to pray to the Invisible Magic Friend, and that religion is, in fact, pointless.
In any ordinary month, Rhidian would stand a very good chance of winning the Clemmie for that. It was his sad misfortune to be up against some of the most platitudinous platitudes of all time, including his own contribution the very next week. In one of the most egregious misunderstandings of current affairs for a very long time, he suggested that organisations that are "too big to fail", like banks or the entire Italian economy, should be allowed to fail so that we can look after the little people. He wasn't joking either.
Lord Sacks, without even the slightest suggestion of irony, explained the long history of interfaith groups and their continued flourishing today. We need ever more and more interfaith groups, a fact that the Chief Rabbi seemed to find very encouraging.
Akhandadhi Das has clearly been nursing at the breast of Anne Atkins. This was AA, eastern mysticism style. It was a particularly stylish TFTD, beginning with something perfectly rational and coherent, before diving ever deeper into the darkness of unadulterated woo. Once again, I found myself quite unable to produce a respectable parody. My thanks to the ever faithful member of my flock, tony, who did a far better summary of das nonsense than I ever could.
Catherine Pepinster wasn't going to let the Anglicans and the Hindus have an easy ride. In an apparently logical series of small steps, she was able to demonstrate that the way to make a house a home, was to spend as much time as possible in a (Catholic) church, gobbling slim slivers of the Invisible Magic Friend. Yet again, I feel some sympathy for Ms Pepinster. In any other month...
We don't often get Rev Roy Jenkins showing up at the monthly awards ceremony, so it's good to see him joining the party. Rev Roy gave us the first of this year's "true meaning of Christmas" sermons. The true meaning of the festive season isn't that you're all going to have a good time with family and friends over an outrageously large turkey and a disappointingly small number of roast potatoes. The true meaning of Christmas is that Jesus is coming back some time soon to judge you all, so just watch out.
Finally, in a completely unashamed lack of taste, Rev Dr Michael Banner tried to find something significant that Christianity had to say about suicide (other than it's a sin and you'll go to hell for it). He failed utterly, of course, but I think it's the trying that's important, don't you?
So, out of this selection of delights, who receives this month's award? What's the point of trying to build up any sense of anticipation, it's Anne Atkins of course, but with a very honourable mention to Akhandadhi Das.
Saturday, 3 December, 2011, 08:09 AM - MarshallRating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)
Ambassadors are in the news. Iran and Britain have decided to stop having ambassadors. The 2012 Olympics, on the other hand, have decided to have some royal ambassadors. They'll royally tell everyone that the 2012 Olympics are really royally great.
This got me thinking about ambassadors. Here is what I thought.
An ambassador is someone who speaks up for someone or something and says, "Someone or something is really great." They usually arrive at the place where they're going to do their ambassadoring and say, "Hello, I'm the ambassador for someone or something. Now it's time for me to get on with the job of saying how great someone or something is."
In the New Tasty mint of the Big Book of Magic Stuff, Saint Paul mentions "ambassadors" twice: once in his second letter to the Corinthians and once in his letter to the Ephesians. That's how important ambassadors are: Saint Paul mentions them twice. He doesn't mention them in his letters to the Romans, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, in his first letter to the Corinthians, in either letter to the Thessalonians, or to Timothy, Titus, or Philemon, but that doesn't reflect on how important ambassadors are.
As an Anglican priest I know that a person who is really good at saying how really good someone or something is, will be really good at being an ambassador for that someone or something, because a really good ambassador is really good at that.
That's my thought for today.
Radiantly Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron Reverend Lord Richard Harries, Baron Pentregarth, Gresham Professor of Divinity, Baron, Bishop, Professor, Lord...
Friday, 2 December, 2011, 08:23 AM - HarriesRating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)
Isn't everything really gloomy at the moment? The economy is in meltdown. (Mervyn King said so yesterday. There, that's the news out of the way.) All over the planet there is violence and disorder, injustice and the poverty. It all seems so hopelessly catastrophic and irreparably horrible.
This is perfectly in accord with the teachings of Christianity. Christianity is an inherently gloomy religion, always expecting the very worst from humanity and never being disappointed. There was a good person once, in 17th century England, but he died and ever since it's been downhill all the way.
On the other hand, there's the invisible magic afterlife to look forward to. So always look on the bright side of death. Don't despair, for that is a sin. No matter how terrible everything is, and it really is terrible, your life after you die is going to be really amazing, unless it's really terrible.
In this particularly gloomy season of Advent, we can reflect that one of the advantages of all this evil is the large number of opportunities it provides to do good, bringing joy into the gloomy lives of our children and our children's children. You can do this even if you're not a Christian. That is surely something that we can all agree on, although it's still much better to do good while being a Christian.
The chancellor's autumn statement says things are going to get worse before they get better.
This is exactly what it says in one of the Hindu Big Books of Magic Stuff. Just hang on in there for another five or six years, a decade or two tops, and it'll soon be party time again. The future will be brighter for our children, and our children's children. Hope springs eternal. Where there's a will there's a way. Nothing venture, nothing gained. In for a penny in for pound.
I will now introduce you to four exotic sounding Hindu words, whose mystical eastern sounds lend gravitas and authority to their meaning. These words are as follows.
Darn socks - the ethical values that help us to repair damaged hosiery.
Arthur - the King of Camelot who provides the stability necessary for our economic prosperity.
Calmer - the state we need to be in to enjoy material things.
Mocha - the delicious coffee and chocolate mixture that makes us so spiritually fulfilled
All four are needed. If Arthur does not darn socks then we won't be calmer to enjoy our mocha. While Arthur may be a bit idle at the moment and outside our control, this is no reason not to darn socks or enjoy a calm, soothing mocha. We look forward to the day when Arthur returns to unite all of Britain in darning socks and have a calmer Mocha. That day will happen and it will take all four to make us truly fulfilled and better off.
A death by suicide affects us all. We wonder what depths of despair and hopelessness they must have felt to push them to such lengths. We wonder if there wasn't more that we could have done to bring them just enough hope, enough consolation, to bring them back from the brink.
Naturally we, and by "we" I do of course mean "you", turn to Christianity to find out what it has to say about this. Well it mostly says "don't do it", it's a mortal sin and you really don't want to die with a mortal sin on your soul. Then it argues quite a bit about how culpable the person who committed suicide is and how extensive their punishment in the afterlife should be.
If they had taken advantage of the Christian facilities for confession and forgiveness they may well have decided not to commit suicide. Alternatively they could have consoled themselves with knowledge of the wonderful invisible magic afterlife and how important it was to delay getting there as much as possible.
In this way, modern Christianity faces up to the reality of depression and despair.
Tomorrow there's going to be a big public sector strike.
This is what happens when people constantly struggle to work, work, work all the time. Why can't everyone just relax and be a vicar like me? We, and by "we" I do of course mean "you", are always trying to earn more money to buy more things, hoping that more things will make us more happy. Life just becomes one never ending labour of trying to get more money to get more things. It's the (spit) secular way and as we all know, "secular" means "bad".
Without wanting to speak in clichés, we all want to work hard and play hard. We've been living beyond our means for too long now. We cannot pay ourselves more than we earn. It's time to tighten our belts, to face the harsh economic reality. There is no such thing as a free lunch. It's all swings and roundabouts. What goes around comes around. If we take care of the pennies, the pounds will take care of themselves.
As you all rush to the secular shops to buy more secular things for Christmas that nobody needs, let's not forget the true meaning of Christmas. The true meaning of Christmas is that we should all be properly gloomy and morose until we go to a nice midnight service at our little local church, or in my case, a very large cathedral, of which I am now a canon.