Friday, February 12, 2010

That'll Do

I've been rehearsing the reasons for giving the blog a break during Lent, and concluded that if they apply from Wednesday, then they actually apply now too....

1. Time: important stuff is being neglected, and spending an hour or so a day composing here and reading other people's stuff will yield a whole working weeks worth of time for Lent. I'm also ending up doing things late at night and playing catch-up a lot, which means there's too many plates spinning. This one can drop.

2. Vanity: it's nice to have a blog that people visit, and revisit. It's nice to get linked. It's nice to get comments. But if even 20% of my motivation for blogging is to get the approval and custom of others to bolster my fragile ego, then that's 20% too much. I imagine that's an under-estimate. Why else would I check the number of visitors on a daily basis?

3. This week there's been a sobering comparison between the number of followers I have on Twitter, and visitors to the blog, and the number of birthday cards which actually arrived. I'm poor at keeping in touch with people at the best of times, but I don't want to trade the few decent friendships I have for hundreds of acquaintances who, though it's nice to have them, didn't notice when I wasn't there before and won't remember if I'm not around in a few months. It's time to give time to the important stuff.

4. I don't actually process information properly any more. Every piece of news is potential blog fodder, rather than something I properly read/listen to. My concentration span is getting shorter - I can't sit through something as simple as the main BBC news without flicking through the red button and other channels. That's not something I want to continue - to work properly, to pay attention to my kids and my wife, to engage properly with God's world, I need to be able to concentrate, to listen, to take things seriously as they are not as things that I can use for a bit more blurb on here.

5. Compulsion: I enjoy blogging, but (this is partly vanity again) there's a compulsion to post things every day, to respond quickly to what's going on rather than reflecting at leisure. Richard Foster - my guru on spiritual disciplines - recommends that we fast from anything we sense is becoming a compulsion.

and the more I think about these things, the more it doesn't really make sense to wait until Wednesday. If they're valid, they're valid today. So I'm off until Easter, and we'll see what happens then.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Car in the Field is a Toyota

This is my sons favourite YouTube clip, though I must confess I've not shown him much on there. He's only really interested in stuff being blown up and knocked down.

The views expressed by the owner of the trebuchet are not necessarily those of this blog.

Our car is currently in for it's third unscheduled maintenance in 12 months. It's a Renault, in case you wondered. Perhaps using a medieval catapult to break up cars and charging to watch would enable the government to recover some of the costs of the car scrappage scheme.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Morality and Religion

The Telegraph picked up yesterday on a US study into morality and religion, which concluded that there was no difference in the moral codes of believers and atheists: "The research suggests that intuitive judgments of right and wrong seem to operate independently of explicit religious commitments." It's worth looking at this article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Mark Hauser, author of the study, which explains it in his own words but without so much technical language.

The main bulk of the journal study is a summary of other pieces of work, arguing that morality is essentially about co-operation within societies, and has a basis independent of religion.

The major new research cited is a 'moral sense test' sponsored by a department at Harvard University. It's summarised thus: in dozens of dilemmas, and with thousands of subjects, the pattern of moral judgments delivered by subjects with a religious background do not differ from those who are atheists, and even in cases where we find statistically significant differences, the effect sizes are trivial. I.e. there's no ethical difference between atheists and religious people. However the article goes on to mention an area where there is a significant difference (the willingness to die for others) and explains it away as 'this is what you'd expect religious people to say'. Isn't that just explaining away evidence that doesn't fit the theory? Perhaps I didn't follow that bit of the argument so well.

Reading the Morning Herald article, it seems that most of the moral examples chosen were around life and death, and how far is it permissible to sacrifice the wellbeing of some for the benefit of others. I did wonder how many people found themselves administering organ donations in real life. Is it a weakness in the study that it doesn't seem to deal with everyday morality: helping the neighbours, giving to charity, honesty with money, humility, keeping promises etc. etc. ? And is there a difference between what box you'll tick on a website and what you'll do when the situation is for real?

law and ethics: the article also argues that the legal status of a moral question (the one they cite is euthanasia) makes no difference to how it's percieved: law, as a formal moral system, can only provide specific guidelines for specific actions, but such knowledge fails to penetrate or alter our folk moral intuitions. At one level this seems to cut across policies like the tax allowance for married couples proposed by the Conservatives, as it won't change attitudes. I must admit that intuitively I can't get my head around this conclusion, and it is only based on a comparison over 1 issue between 2 nations, so the evidence base isn't exactly formidable. Does, for example, reclassifying drugs create a different moral climate around them. Or legalising abortion? Or banning hunting?

- is the universality of moral norms evidence for the existence of a universal conscience? Romans 2:15 argues that certain moral laws are 'written on our hearts' whether or not we believe in God.

- this is quite hopeful, in the sense that it means that religion/atheism doesn't have to be a dividing line when it comes to agreeing on moral norms within a society.

- in some quarters there seems to be an argument that you 'can't be good without God', though I must admit the only people I've heard this from are atheists, so I must be reading the wrong Christian websites. Or perhaps the right ones. This argument is clearly nonsense. However there is a claim in the Christian faith that opening your life to Jesus will change you for the better - it's there repeatedly in the Bible. It's a claim which rings hollow at times, and any church member will be reminded on a regular basis that the only pre-requisite for being a Christian is to be a sinner first. Here's the challenge: does it actually make a difference?

- what headline to use: "Atheists are just as good as religious people" or "Religious people are just as good as atheists"? There's plenty of stuff around inferring that people of faith are morally inferior to people without it. Stephen Fry's recent address at a debate on whether the church is a force for good provides some persuasive ammo for this one. For every Chairman Mao there's a Bin Laden, and vice versa.

- The conclusion that biology = morality is the conclusion you'd expect from a centre with a strong basis in evolutionary biology. There can't really be any other explanation, if your presuppostions are that evolutionary biology explains all the significant stuff about human behaviour. That doesn't mean the research is wrong, but it's a reminder that science operates within paradigms, as does faith.

- The actual study results don't seem to be in the public domain yet. As such it's not clear if there are any significant differences for particular religious groups, or whether everyone is in the same ethical boat. Lumping all 'religious' people together, like lumping all 'atheists' together, might mask important details. Or it might not.....!!!

- If morality is simply a feature of evolution, a fancy way of saying 'agreed principles', then does any language of, for example, 'rights' make sense. To talk about rights implies objective morality, that certain things are innately due to us as persons. But if morality is principally the way our co-operation as a human society has evolved, then aren't 'rights' a myth, a construct built on a moral intuition which has evolved, but could just as easily evolve away again?

Lots of questions, not many answers!

'Don't Go to Church Sunday'

A footnote on this old post about Back to Church Sunday:
Idea for next year 'Back to World Sunday', where churches close their services and Christians spend the day hanging out with their non-churchgoing friends.

Someone else has had the same idea: Don't Go To Church Sunday at the moment just seems to be a website with a few ideas. It isn't a massive site, just one page - here's a snippet:
- Because we should be more interested in being the church rather than going to church.
- Because we should be more concerned about people getting to know Jesus than keeping ‘church’ going the way it always has.
- Because there are more people who have never been to church in Britain than those who have.

the site lists a few ideas and examples from around the country. (Ht Evangelism UK). I don't know if there's any kind of organised campaign connected to it, there aren't any clues on Google, though there are 55 million results for 'don't go to church Sunday'.

Other benefits:
- cuts the carbon footprint of the congregation who would otherwise have driven in (ditto on heating an ancient building - plan DGTCS in mid-January for fuel efficiency).
- the vicar/minister gets a bit of a break. Not that I have a vested interest......
- giving everyone else a break who normally puts out chairs, makes coffee, sets up the building, plays music etc. etc.

- it'll be the one Sunday in the year when several people walk in off the street, only to find the place closed.
- Mrs Miggins will still turn up to make the tea anyway, because that's what she's always done every Sunday since she took the job on . Actually, she could look after the folk who've come in off the street. Sorted.
- Several members will take the chance to try the new house church down the road, as they've spent so much time in church meetings that they don't have any non-Christian friends left to hang out with. They'll like it so much that you never see them again.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

St. Valentines Day Mass Exit

There are some special CofE resources for Valentines Day, which happens to fall on a Sunday this year (that was careless, I hope Sunday is ok*). Some of the ideas for marking this sound quite fun, but something is niggling me. Looking around the families at our church, there's probably a minority headed up by married couples who are both church members. Some are families where only one parent is a Christian, other are single parent families, some are couples with children who aren't married. So if we did anything Valentiney in a main service, it would be deeply uncomfortable for a large section of the church, so much so that they might even stay away.

We'll be picking up on a theme of love and relationships in our cafe service this Sunday, but trying to approach it from an angle that everyone can engage* with. Can a church (or any community) with a mixed economy of family structure celebrate marriage without that being uncomfortable for some? We provide overt support for marriage through things like our marriage preparation course (which seems to be accumulating 2 new couples a week at the moment), does overt support for single parents just come across as patronising, or are their places where this works well?

Of course we could make it really uncomfortable, and re-enact the life of St. Valentine himself. The legend has it that he was a priest imprisoned under Roman emperor Claudius for secretly marrying Christian couples. According to Wikipedia "this priest was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stoned; when that didn't finish him, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate." That could make for an interesting act of worship....


Monday, February 08, 2010

Everybody needs an Alastair Campbell

Here's Alastair Campbell on the Andrew Marr show yesterday, defending Tony Blair as he did at the Iraq inquiry a few weeks ago. The cynic might say that Campbell has got to defend Blair because his own reputation is so closely linked to Blairs. But if it's closely linked, then that's mostly Alastair Campbell's own doing.

I'm still not sure about the truth of the decision to go to war in Iraq, but whatever the truth, I'm very impressed by Campbell's loyalty to his former boss. What does it do for you, I wonder, to have someone who is so committed to you personally, that they will defend you 100% when it would be much easier to step away and hang you out to dry? It reminds me a bit of Paul and Barnabas in Acts, where Barnabas effectively sponsors Paul and sticks up for him, when it clearly wasn't easy for the early church to accept this former hit-man into their fellowship (Acts 9:26). Would Paul have got very far without the 'son of encouragement' standing alongside him?

A loyal friend is a great gift. Especially one who is so loyal to you that s/he will defend you to the hilt in public, even if they're telling you in private that you're wrong. One of the things we mention in marriage prep (currently running at our local) is the need to stick up for each other: it can be really corrosive to a relationship if couples make fun of one another or run each other down in front of others. It's tough when there might be in-laws wanting to carry on 'claiming' you as one of them, rather than letting the new husband and wife make their new family unit their prime loyalty. But the marriage pledges are a declaration of absolute loyalty to one another, and that means presenting a united front to the world.

Campbell has taken so many punches for Blair that it's not surprising he struggles a bit now and again. Another part of the Marr interview touched on the difficulties of living in the public eye and staying in touch with reality. I hope for his sake that Campbell has some good mates too.

Fresh Expressions of Ten Pin Bowling

A church is planning to open and run a ten-pin bowling alley to help bring jobs to its local community.

Towy Community Church plans to lease the 2.7 acre site of the former St Ivel cheese packing plant in Johnstown from Carmarthenshire council.

The 12-lane arena would create up to 20 jobs and profits will help fund community projects on site, including a food bank and free debt counselling.

Pastor Mark Bennett said churches had to change to engage with communities.
"Churches have to change the way they operate," he said. "I mean, keeping their core identity but changing the package and really connecting with our communities in the 21st century. So we have to serve and be 'salt and light' in our communities and not just preach on a Sunday."

The church's Sunday services would also be held at the new site, along with its furniture recycling scheme for people suffering hardship, a 50 seat café, a conference centre and performing arts activities for teenagers.

full BBC report here. Ht Joe Haward.

Yesterday I read about a church which still has box pews, and the deadening effect that has on worship (update: there are 2 sides to every story - see first comment below), and a couple of weeks ago highlighted one which has converted its Methodist chapel into a soft play area and cafe. It's encouraging to see local churches engaging with their community and designing their use of space around that.

Maybe we need a deal with English Heritage that for every church we agree to preserve as a historic monument (which is effectively what current planning regs require) another church is given carte blanche to revamp its premises. At the moment its easier to start from scratch (as in the case above) than it is to start from historic premises: most of the ideas they're contemplating would be non-starters in pretty much every Anglican setting I know, because of the issues around buildings.

Which all brings me back (again) to George Lings concept of the '7 sacred spaces' and how local churches can re-engage with a model of 'place' which has many facets, rather than just of being a gathering place for public worship. In the example above, and the Methodist soft play area, you could argue that an 8th space has been added: space to play. That doesn't figure highly in monasticism (!), but perhaps play is just as sacred as work, study, eating and worship. Now if that was a planning requirement for new churches......

(Graham Tomlin has more thoughts on pews and church buildings. Welcome to the blogosphere Graham!)

Sunday, February 07, 2010

New Car for Christians Who Don't Want Friends

ht Jesus Needs New PR.

I'm guessing this only really works in London, or anywhere else where traffic speed and walking pace are roughly the same.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Wikio top Religion Blogs February 2010 (= Jan 2010!)

The latest Wikio blog rankings are up and about, and the march of the card and craft blogs continues. Despite that, a few of the blogs below are starting to climb to something nearer their rightful places in the scheme of things.

The blogs listed are those which deal wholly, or in significant detail, with religious issues. Links don't imply agreement!!

26 Cranmer
58 Heresy Corner
121 this one
148 Islam in Europe
150 Thinking Anglicans
151 Gates of Vienna (beware of rabies)
157 The Hermeneutic of Continuity (apparently this was once the name of a minor character in Doctor Who)
169 What does the Prayer Really Say?
182 The Ugley Vicar
183 Church Mouse (big riser this month, chewing his way through all those card blogs)
184 Clayboy (possibly mistaken for a craft blog too?)
193 Bartholemews Notes on Religion
204 MadPriest bizarrely Wikio lists 'health and fitness' as one of Fr Jonathans main topics. Of course they could be wrong. If you're the praying sort, he'd appreciate your prayers right now. And if you're not, he'd appreciate them even more.
240 John Smeaton, SPUC Director

With the demise of Technorati's log of links, Wikio is offering its own way of keeping up with links in and out of your blog, but you have to be signed up with them to use it. It also only tracks other Wikio blogs, so far as I can tell. Matt Wardman explains more about Wikio Labs and what it can do. Quantity of links in seems to be a big factor in their rankings.

Of course several of the above will tank horrendously over the next couple of months as people quit blogging for Lent, which, conveniently for Anglicans this year, occurs between General Synod and the official announcement of the General Election on May 6th.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Bible: A History - Ann Widdecombe on the 10 Commandments

Update: oh dear. If Doug Chaplin's review is anything to go by then it's probably a good thing I missed it. Perhaps it wasn't worth a look after all, my apologies.

Part 3 of 'The Bible, A History' airs on Sunday evening, with Ann Widdecombe looking at the origins and relevance of the 10 Commandments.

Foremost among the programmes is Ann Widdecombe's investigation into the story of the Ten Commandments. The film sees her investigate the origins and influence of the Commandments, before she confronts forceful opposition from atheists Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry, and meets a mother who helped her critically ill son to end his life. It is Widdecombe's second foray into this area for Channel 4, having presented a programme on the Reformation in the acclaimed series Christianity: A History in 2008.

The Channel 4 site has a good interview with Widdecombe, put together last year after she recorded the programme:

A lot of this programme is about how the Commandments have shaped British society and British law. How important have they been in doing that?
They've been massively important. If you think about it, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour, these things are very, very central to our law. But to our society as well. Thou shalt not commit adultery - adultery may not be a crime in the legal sense, but it's still regarded as undesirable and immoral. Thou shalt not covet is perhaps the first attempt to make us careful about what we think as well as what we do.

The Commandments were influential in early English law, weren't they?
Yes. Alfred the Great produced the first real codification of English law, and it was based very heavily on the Ten Commandments.

You look at whether the Commandments have a role to play in modern society. Presumably you would say yes?
Well, I think that if we all lived by the Ten Commandments, we'd be a much better, more considerate, more orderly society.

Do we not essentially live by them as it is?
Do we? What about 'Thou shalt not covet' and bankers' bonuses? What about 'Thou shalt not commit adultery' and the complete breakdown of marriage? 'Honour thy father and thy mother' and nowadays we stick granny in the nearest residential home.

Could it be argued that others of the commandments are a bit dated? In a secular society, the idea of keeping the Sabbath holy is no longer relevant.
I would've thought that keeping the Sabbath holy made a much better society, because it gives you a family day.

Should be worth a look.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

UK Border Agency: Gene Hunt is Alive and Well and Working in Cardiff?

Yesterday the Guardian had a piece on allegations about the UK Border Agency office in Cardiff, which has resulted in an investigation by MPs.

Claims that asylum seekers are mistreated, tricked and humiliated by staff working for the UK Border Agency are to be investigated in parliament.

The home affairs select committee chairman, Keith Vaz, has called for an investigation following allegations that officials at one of the government's major centres for processing asylum seekers' claims express fiercely anti-immigration views and take pride in refusing applications.

Louise Perrett, who worked as a case owner at the Border Agency office in Cardiff for three and a half months last summer, claims staff kept a stuffed gorilla, a "grant monkey", which was placed as a badge of shame on the desk of any officer who approved an asylum application.

The whole thing sounds like Life on Mars. I sincerely hope it's not true, but that might just be mindless optimism. The realist in me puts this alongside the conditions at Yarlswood , the practice of child detention, and the other issues with UK Borders Agency, and wonders if it's fit for purpose. Yes this is just one office, and yes we do need border controls, and a functioning structure for sorting out genuine asylum seekers from people who just fancy our benefits system. I wonder if politicians are afraid to tackle this because they don't want to be seen as 'soft' on immigration?

Ht Split Horizons.

Other reports
Wales Online
No Borders South Wales campaigning group who've been picketing the Cardiff office for a while now.

Atheist Pop

For some reason I got involved in the #atheistpop thread which became a top Twitter topic yesterday evening. There seemed to be 3 sorts of contributors: people who replaced 'God' with things like 'a completely mythological idea who doesn't exist' in the titles of pop songs, the ones who were funny, and the ones who tried to be funny. Oh yes, and spammers.

Here's a few of my favourites:

It Looks Like I Will Have To Buy My Own Mercedes-Benz

Sympathy for Gary Neville

Oh! Think twice! It's another day for you and me in relative material comfort

I wish it could be Winterval every day.

By the Rivers of Birmingham


Hitchens Baby One More Time


Stairway to Upstairs

Nice Day for a Registry Office Civil Ceremony

You'll Probably Walk Alone at Some Point

Unlikely Concept of Natural Justice Chameleon.

Promised you an improbably coincidence.

Bat out of Oblivion.

My prize would go to Archdruid Eileen, who was responsible for several of the above, but I'm sure you can think of more.

Speaking of Twitter, Church Mouse has the latest 'Twurch of England' top tweeters, based on a scoring system which wants to be everyone's friend by giving you a high score. Strangely, lots of contributors to the #atheistpop thread seemed to be vicars.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

An Outbreak of Peace?

When the Church of England and the British Humanist Association are found singing from the same hymn sheet, we are likely to sit up and take notice. And when we find their joint anthem has further education as its subject, we might be forgiven for asking: what?

The answer is represented by the initials SMSC, which stand for “spiritual, moral, cultural and social” - normally found with the word “teaching” or “support” attached. You might as well get used to them now as SMSC is showing all the signs of being the next “big thing” in Further Education.

so begins this article in the Times Educational Supplement. So far, SMSC, or PSHE (physical, social, health and emotional I think it stood for) or anything which was aimed at children as whole people, rather than just repositories for knowledge and skills, has been confined to under-16s.

Here's the comments of a CofE educationalist:
“It is about knowledge over ignorance,” he said. “It is not about religion. We are coming up with inclusive guidance. Colleges are secular, which is fine, but this has defaulted to mean that we will do the training but not offer some morality or humanistic education.”

Dr Breadon said that educationalists often felt uncomfortable offering moral or spiritual guidance.

“There has been a slippage where people do not put forward their views on morality or spirituality for fear that they may be seen to be forcing these views on young people,” he said.

“But this is really about having intergenerational conversations.

“Staff in FE need to be Jacks of so many trades. Much is demanded of them in terms of teaching and nurturing young people post-16.

“Out of the blue, a tutor in construction or health and beauty may be asked about climate change, sexual ethics, terrorism, or depression. Without a strong sense of their own identity and morality these questions might be ducked rather than dealt with.”

Our local FE college has things like Holocaust memorial day, and stuff dealing with moral issues, but most of it is extra curricular, and more and more seems to fall to the chaplaincy to organise. That can mean it gets pigeon holed, which isn't helpful. It does seem bizarre that, according to the current curriculum, individuals officially stop being 'spiritual' when they hit 16.

At the same time, if people are learning workplace skills in further education, but not a moral and ethical code suitable for the workplace, then it's no surprise to find unethical working practices bringing the country to its knees. Workplace ethics is, alongside foreign policy, the big issue for the UK of the last 2 years.
The loss of confidence is also a big issue: I remember our rabidly left wing head of 6th form in Sheffield having no problems using General Studies lessons 25 years ago to educate us in the faults of the USA, and the role of the CIA in destabilising governments around the world. How many of todays teachers/lecturers would feel comfortable being so open about their ideology and convictions? This is where the current litigious atmosphere doesn't help: there are already too many stories of people getting into trouble for 'imposing' their beliefs on others, and that makes people nervous. One new parent recently asked our local school whether they were still 'allowed' to do Nativity services. There's a bit of unhealthy paranoia over faith, values and so-called tolerance (= 'don't you dare say anything to me that I disagree with or I'll do you for harassment').

The guidelines are being developed together with a government quango, so I'm not sure what legal force they've got, but it seems to be a step in the right direction. And it's great that both secular and religious groups are behind it. Perhaps we can find ways to cope with each others existence after all.....

Art and Christianity Meme

Jonathan Evens has posted a summary of the responses to the 'Art and Christianity' meme from a couple of months ago, where people were asked to post ideas on novels, art, music, drama etc. which for them 'expresses something of the essence of Christianity'. Fascinating list, with a summary post on what the choices reveal. Jonathan raises an important issue (my italics):

the need for clarity in what we are responding to within such works i.e. are we suggesting that the Christian themes/language/imagery/forms we are responding to are consciously or unconsciously inherent within the artwork or its creation and, whichever we suggest, whether they are being subverted or affirmed through their use.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Sacred Space for 6th Formers

Tim Abbott has just been involved in helping to run a prayer room at his local 6th form college, and has blogged each day of the experiment.

After a slow start we had a steady trickle of people coming through in ones and twos, more than twenty over the course of the day. With a few people in the room the gentleness and peace that pervaded the atmosphere once again inspired some deep one-to-one conversations. The girl who had come in for a long and quite serious conversation the day before came back looking brighter, happier, freer and I was able to chat to her about her life and her ambitions for quite a while. Yesterday's encounter had definitely made a difference.

There is something amazing about creating a sacred space where people can reflect, pray, wonder and worship. "Come and see" rather than "go and tell". Our task was harder due to the location of Sanctum this year and only having 4 days, but in the end we had over 80 visits. Here is what a few people had to say:

"It is the peace I have been looking for, it will be sad when it goes. My life has been very down, I hope this will help it go up."

"I didn't get a chance to spend much time here, but I loved it. It woud be good to have something like this in college more often or a permanent space or something similar."

"A wonderful place, very calming and it helped me feel better about a few things. College should have a permanent version of this. Thank you."

"Very calming place, made me think about things I take for granted."

It's sounds like a more active/interactive approach to providing space for reflection and prayer than a normal college 'quiet room'. Quite a tricky one in a diffuse community like a college, which doesn't really have a community gathering or core meeting place. Reading Tim's blog, they've tried to combine a personal approach and a desire to build a sense of community, with a 'come and go' element to the prayer room, rather than any fixed events or focal times.

Church of England: "end the 'shameful practice' of detaining children of asylum seekers."

This has just popped up on the official CofE website:

Children are detained through no fault of their own. They are often removed from familiar settings in sudden and alarming circumstances leaving behind friends, toys and personal possessions. Detention is a distressing experience. Child detainees experience insomnia, bed wetting, weight loss, speech regression, depression, and are known to self-harm. The children of asylum seekers are a vulnerable group, made more so by this policy which has no regard for their mental health. The experience of detention often evokes the trauma they have experience when flees their country of origin.

With the Children’s Commissioner, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of General Practitioners, the Children Society and many other bodies concerned with the well being of children I believe the continued incarceration of children to be a shameful practice for our society in terms of child welfare and human rights and must stop.

The continued detention of children must stop. I call on the Secretary of State to introduce humane-community based arrangements for children and families which recognise the need to put the welfare of children first, at the earliest opportunity.

from the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, full statement here, representing the 'Urban Bishops Panel' of the CofE.

To be honest it doesn't matter who says it, as long as somebody does.

Lump Your Enemies

Matthew Parris on Tony Blair:

How many viewers, watching the inquiry yesterday, noted his answer to a very early question? He rolled together in a single two-word phrase two political groupings in the Middle East who were in fact bitterly opposed to each other: “these people” was his collective term for Baathist nationalism and internationalist Islamic fundamentalism.

Worlds apart, surely? Forgive the italicisation, but this cannot be overemphasised: Tony Blair believes that all bad people are on the same side.

Richard Dawkins on Christians:
Needless to say, milder-mannered faith-heads fell over themselves to disown Robertson, just as they disowned those other pastors, evangelists, missionaries and mullahs at the time of the earlier disasters.

What hypocrisy. Loathsome as Robertson’s views undoubtedly are, he is the Christian who stands squarely in the Christian tradition.

Terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists don't make distinctions between Christian, Muslim and atheist, male and female, adult and child, American and Iraqi. All the bad people are on the same side.

Bono: "Choose your enemies carefully, for they will define you." I wonder if both Blair and Dawkins, in their different ways, have become like those they most fear.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Edited Highlights, December-January

A brief summary of the last couple of months:

Top 10 posts by visits:
1. There's probably no Street Pastors....
2. Latest CofE statistics on giving and ordinations
3. Clergy Bullying Rife?
4. Blue Christmas service
5. Mary and Joseph Don't you Flee to England
6. If Church Historians Made Beatles Documentaries
7. General Synod Headline Predictor
8. Seasonal Missage from the UK Border Agency
9. Alternative Advent Top 10
10. UK Border Agency: Invasion of the Baby Snatchers.

Total of roughly 9750 page views from 3784 visitors. Crikey that's a lot. Well, it is for me anyway....hello everyone!

Top referring sites, apart from Twitter and Facebook (who'd be 1 and 4 in this list respectively)

1. Bishop Alan
2. Church Mouse
3. Philip Ritchie
4. Maggi Dawn
5. Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley
6. BanksyBoy
7. Matt Wardman
8. Thinking Anglicans
9. Tim Chesterton
10. Clayboy

Thankyou to everyone who's linked here or seen fit to put this blog in their sidebar, it's nice to know that occasionally some of my blather makes sense to someone.

All the above is based on Google Analytics, in case anyone was wondering. Very handy device.

BBC Coverage of Euthanasia: Spot the Agenda?

Update: The Pratchett lecture was very good, delivered (completely from memory, from what I could see) by Tony Robinson on Terry Pratchett's behalf. As part of the debate, it was worth seeing, very thought provoking, and very honest. Panorama was pretty good, it brought in a range of opinions, though the core story was of a mum who helped her daughter to end her own life. Within that context, it's hard not to present those choices sympathetically.

In the middle of the Dimbleby lecture (with both brothers on the front row), between mentions of Martin Amis and Michael Parkinson, I was struck by the presence of the Baby Boomer generation at the forefront of the pro-euthanasia campaign. The line 'my life, my death, my choice' had echoes of the Boomer mantra 'we want to be free, to do what we wanna do' (from Easy Rider I think). In the 60s and 70s they tested the sexual boundaries, in the 80's and 90's the boundaries of consumption and greed, and now that the boomers have finished their world with SAGA, the idea that a life lived totally on my own terms might not end on my own terms jars with everything the Boomers have done and campaigned for. I'd be interested to see the breakdown of the Panorama surveys by age cohort.

Panorama documentary 'I helped my daughter to die' (judging by the title, it will be sympathetic to the assisted dying argument).
Terry Pratchett lecture (same link) arguing for the right to assisted suicide.

December 08-Jan 09
'A Short Stay in Switzerland' dramatisation with Julie Walters of the death of retired doctor Ann Turner, who travelled to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end her life.
Panorama 'I'll Die When I Choose'.
both sympathetic, and aired in the run-up to a Parliamentary debate on the issue.

News coverage of the Joffe bill in 2006, with commentary by Care Not Killing, a coalition of groups opposed to euthanasia. The summing up by reporter Fergus Walsh is quite obviously one-sided.

I'm struggling to think of a programme devoted to the issue which presented both sides equally, let alone allowed a supporter of palliative care to set the agenda and tone for the piece. If I'm wrong, then please let me know some examples, and I'll happily blog them.

In the meantime, I don't want my license payers money used so that the BBC can be a mouthpiece for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. Yes this is a complex issue, there are arguments on both sides, and its emotionally charged, but to me it doesn't look like the BBC are facilitating a debate, more that they are running a campaign. Is that fair?

Birdwatching as a Spiritual Discipline

From the Independent:

Anyone can learn the deep calm pleasure of patient observation and identification. It costs nothing more than a pair of binoculars. Bill Bailey's Bird Watching Bonanza programme is a response to the twitching majority. Jonathan Ross never got birdwatching, which was his personal misfortune and his professional failing. The greater British public are not obsessed by sex and celebrity. They want to look at birds. As Bailey puts it: "I find it life affirming that more people watched Springwatch than Big Brother."

Birdwatching is a journey of enlightenment, so I quite understand why it leaves non-believers cold.

I'm not a birdwatcher, a bird is something that tweets but isn't Stephen Fry, but I was struck by the qualities that twitching brings to those who pursue it. The ability to concentrate, attention to detail, patience, appreciation of beauty, a better sense of climate and seasons, there's a lot of overlap between all this and the kind of things that spiritual writers talk about. And don't even mention St. Francis.

Sure the article is trying to sell birdwatching to us. No mention of hours spent in the freezing cold waiting for a stork which never came. But then how do you learn patience and fortitude without experiences like that? I'm currently planning a walking holiday, and discovering that I'm much more of a wuss than I was as a teenager, when I'd happily stalk off into a rainstorm for the promise of a hot radiator and a cup a soup on arrival at the next Youth Hostel. A lot of that is down to having a car, and dozens of little choices made to avoid discomfort. Now my capacity to cope with discomfort has dropped, because it's not been exercised.

Love the way this final snippet brings together wonder and obsessive record keeping:

There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of but you must look for them. And then make sure you have logged them, if possible with photographic evidence, and inform the RSPB. Just as teaching of history has narrowed to Henry VIII and the Second World War, so nature has been taken over by lions, polar bears, and dishy male survivalists. It is wild life as Avatar. But there is also the gentle day-to-day nature of which schoolchildren know less. We need a little more "Hello, birds! Hello, trees!" We must cultivate our gardens.