Wednesday, June 30, 2010


One of our bishops was stranded in Egypt by the volcanic ash:

"we discovered a small, hassle free, souvenirshop, and enjoyed the conversation with our elderly Egyptian host. On the third visit with some days still to go before our rescheduled return flight, I explained our frustration at not being able to return home.

'You must not be disappointed', he said, 'you are a gift to us'. He really meant it,and his words struck home. From that moment we both saw the rest of our stay as a gift, and the frustration gave way to opportunity and enjoyment."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New Harry Potter Trailer

if it's half as good as the book, then it should be a cracker.

'Rev' iew

Saw 'Rev' last night on BBC2, there's clearly been enough water under the bridge in Dibley Village Green for a new TV vicar sitcom. Here are some of the reviews in blogland so far:

Orange blogs notes how middle class the sitcom is, despite the setting. More here.
Saintly Ramblings liked it and spotted some inside knowledge by the scriptwriters
'More real than Dibley' says Paul Roberts. But then so are most things...
Kevin Scott
onetimothyfour sees a blend of stereotypes and decent research
Rectory Musings 'so rare to see vicars portrayed this accurately and sensitively'
Tracing Rainbows didn't like it
Thoroughly Good Blog did.

Update: thumbs up from Suite 101 and TV Pixie, and the Guardian discusses whether it's ok to fancy your vicar. Depends what she looks like, I suppose.

To which I'd add:
 - It's great to have a TV vicar with something resembling an ordinary prayer life, we haven't had that since Don Camillo. Tom Hollanders part was less of a caricature than some of the others (I loved the slimy archdeacon), and I look forward to seeing it develop.
 - The bad language wasn't necessary, but at the same time there's an attempt to put across the 'vicars are human too' point of view. How many clergy cheered when he shouted at the builders?
 - The scenarios are overblown, but mostly recognisable.
 - I'd love to get the clip where all the new families turn up in church - complete with takeaway coffee, Nintendo DS etc., and have to fumble with hymn books, standing/sitting/kneeling and an array of strange behaviour - and show it to every church leader in the CofE. And every other church for that matter.
 - It's trying harder than Dibley to be thought provoking and less hard to be outrageous/funny.
 - Pretty well researched. My concern is that it's so well researched that only Anglican insiders will 'get' some of the jokes, and everyone else will go 'huh?' (update: judging by the reviews from non-church blogs, perhaps my concern is unfounded.)
 - Tuning in again next week

Monday, June 28, 2010

Please Ignore Everything I Say

"We now have the dubious distinction of being able to communicate more and say less than any civilization in history. We have become, as Clement of Alexandria says, like old shoes - all worn out except for the tongue. And because so many words bombard us from so many media we tend to play little attention to them. Can you or I remember even a single full sentence from the last movie we saw, or the last email we reiceved? (or the last blog we read?)

What we must learn, therefore, is discernment. Some words deserve sustained attention, others do not... it is a positive virtue for us to remain ignorant of much of the attention-getting, ego-driven, greed-motivated words that whizz by on the information superhighway. We do so in order to be attentive to words that speak life into our souls. This, too, is a discipline." (Richard Foster, 'Spiritual Classics' p110)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dancing Data

This has got to be the most creative presentation of stats on world poverty and health I've seen. Watch for the changes from 1960 to the present. Great way to capture the imagination, and communicate a message.

Had he simply produced sheets of paper with figures on, he wouldn't have got a standing ovation. The way you present the message is vital to how you get it across. The conclusion of the talk is all about this: how do you link data to design, so that the message can be heard. We need to see things as well as hear them.

Original vid and a sizeable online discussion here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

London Community Gospel Choir in Yeovil on Saturday

Just had this reminder through:

The UK’s premier Gospel Choir, the LONDON COMMUNITY GOSPEL CHOIR
Saturday 26 June – 7.30pm
Elim Pentecostal Church, Southville, Yeovil, BA21 4JA

TICKETS AVAILABLE on the door – Don’t miss this amazing event – right here in YEOVIL!

You are very welcome – we would love to see you.

Say Hi to my better half if you're there, I'm on babysitting duties. Wonder what's on TV?

Faith, Volunteering, and Community Involvement

This from Christian Research's

On 29 April 2010 the Department for Communities and Local Government released two further topic reports from the 2008-09 Citizenship Survey relating, respectively, to Empowered communities and to Volunteering and charitable giving. The Citizenship Survey is conducted by face-to-face interview among a representative sample of adults aged 16 and over in England and Wales, including an ethnic minority booster sample. NatCen conducted 14,917 interviews between April 2008 and March 2009.

The Empowered Communities report includes an analysis by religion of participation in civic engagement and formal volunteering. Of the major faith groups, Buddhists are shown to be most active (69% participate), followed by Christians (64%), those identifying with no religion (58%), Muslims (48%), Sikhs (47%) and Hindus (46%).

In terms of influencing decisions in their local area, a rather different pattern emerges. Sikhs are most hopeful (61%), followed by Muslims (49%), Hindus (48%), Buddhists (47%), Christians (39%) and those of no religion (37%). All groups feel they have much less say over decision-making at national level, the high being 49% for Sikhs and the low 20% for those identifying with no religion.

The Volunteering and Charitable Giving topic report includes no breaks by religious affiliation, but the links between faith and volunteering are analysed. For example, of those who have engaged in formal volunteering during the past twelve months, 33% have helped religious organisations. The proportion of the population that undertake voluntary work rises progressively with age, from 22% among the 16 to 25s, to 50% for the over 75s age group.

Places of worship are a source of information about potential opportunities for formal volunteering for 21% of the sample, but especially for those aged 65 and over (35%). Religious motivations for regular formal volunteering are cited by 17% of all adults and by twice this number among the elderly and ethnic minorities.

When it comes to charitable giving, 74% of adults give to charity of whom one-fifth (15%) give through a collection at a place of worship.

The reports are available to download from the department for Communities and Local Government.
But you'd better crack on, as 'all content on this website is being reviewed'

Research Brief is a monthly e-newsletter, and you can subscribe via admin (at)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Nursing and Spiritual Care

Missed this at the time:

Patients missing out on spiritual care, say nurses
Published: 12 May 2010

Patients are missing out on important spiritual care despite it being a nursing ‘fundamental’, according to nurses who responded to a new RCN survey published today (28 April).

The survey of over 4,000 nurses found that only a small minority (5%) felt that they could always meet the spiritual needs of patients, and the vast majority (80%) felt that spirituality should be covered in nurse education as a core aspect of nursing.

The most important spiritual need identified by nurses was having respect for privacy, dignity and religious and cultural beliefs (94%). Spending time with patients giving support and reassurance especially in a time of need (90%) and showing kindness, concern and cheerfulness when giving care (83%) were also key concerns.

Today’s survey shows how important nurses view meeting the spiritual needs of patients. Almost all (90%) feel that providing spiritual care improves the overall quality of nursing care, and the vast majority (83%) believe spirituality is a fundamental aspect of nursing, even for patients with no religious beliefs.

Other findings include:
• the overwhelming majority (80%) feel that the need for spiritual care also applies to atheists and agnostic
• 91% of nurses believe that they can provide spiritual care by listening, and allowing patients time to discuss their fears, anxieties and troubles
• almost all (94%) do not believe that spirituality involves only going to church or a place of worship.

Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the RCN, said:
“Nurses are clearly recognising a need in their patients for care which addresses more than just their physical symptoms. Nurses of all ages and generations are telling us that spiritual care is fundamental to why they became a nurse. However, this is not about harking back to an age of daily prayers on wards – instead it is about personalised care and giving nurses guidance and time to get to know their patients as people rather than just their medical conditions.”

The RCN believes that there should be clear guidance for nurses and other healthcare professionals to allow them to approach spiritual issues sensitively and with confidence while being able to meet the needs of patients. Nurses in this survey made it clear that spirituality is the joint responsibility of nurses, patients, chaplains, families and other health professions working together.

Nurses detailed their views on the meaning of spirituality. One said:
“I consider spirituality to be part of the ‘whole’ care one should be giving to patients and families. To me it means ensuring that the ‘mind’, i.e. thoughts, worries etc, as well as the body, is considered when providing care.”

Another said:
“I am a Christian. However, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to impose my beliefs on others while they are in a vulnerable position. What I do believe is that I support them in the particular spiritual needs during that time – whether they be Christian, Muslim, Atheist, whatever. It is their right to be treated as a whole, unique person and it is our duty, as nurses, to treat all our patients holistically, for the person they are and the beliefs that they hold. Physical care has to be tailored to each individual and so should spiritual care.”

full press release here. Two immediate thoughts:
1. 'Spiritual care' could just as well be described as 'holistic care' - giving someone time and a listening ear isn't overtly 'spiritual'.

2. It sounds like nurses themselves would like to work holistically, to attend to patients as whole people, not just as bodies with symptoms. Whether they have the time to do this is another matter (or perhaps it's just that the targets are all to do with bodies?), and there seems to be a call for the skills and knowledge to offer more spiritual care. In turn, that might mean that part of the chaplains role is enabling and encouraging nursing staff to offer spiritual care on the job, rather than simply being on the other end of a pager if a patient/family wants someone to talk to.

An experience: At one NHS hospital, having had a consultation for a medical condition which I was quite worried about, the doctor pronounced me fine and then left as quickly as he possibly could. I had lots of questions, and would have been much more reassured and less anxious if I'd had the time to ask them - or at least felt that I had the time to ask them. It felt like my questions weren't an inconvenience a person who clearly had better things to do than talk to me. The body was treated but the rest of me seemed to be incidental. I have to say our GP is excellent in this regard, though he must be sick of the sight of me by now!

Ht Christian Research, who have updated their website, it now looks much better, well done them.

From Stalin to Mr Bean counter

Checking the Department for Communities and Local Government this morning for any info about Grant Shapps talk on housing later today, I noticed that the dates are all printed in Russian (at least I think it's Russian):

Added: 23 Июнь 2010

I don't know if this is a hangover from New Labour, a glitch in the software, or some wag who didn't like the budget and wants to jump the queue to become an 'efficiency saving'.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

'Rev' new BBC2 Sitcom

Dave Walker notes the arrival of a new sitcom on BBC2 next Monday, 'Rev' starring the superb Tom Hollander. It's about a run down inner city parish, with the standard array of peculiar characters (Vicar of Dibley minus the animals?). Hollander says of the programme in an interview with the Scotsman: In a very modest way, it is pro the church and pro this vicar. I emerged from this show with a great deal of respect for vicars. They put up with a lot and do really good work for people having a bad time.

lots of interesting stuff in the above interview, for example:

Hollander, reckons clergymen make a good subject for comedy. "We all struggle to behave well, but it's more extreme for vicars because they look sillier when things go wrong."

He has a theory as to why writers have so often been drawn to men and women of the cloth. "Stories about vicars are always being told because they're at the heart of our society. Vicars touch all parts of the community and see life in all its extremity."

They meet everyone from people grieving for lost loved ones to those approaching imminent death to the homeless to youngsters eager learn about life. They cover all the bases. As a vicar, you're the one person who can't say no – your door is always open. So writing a comedy about a vicar, you can go down pretty much any route. It's a terrific narrative spur."

"The vicar is an eternally fascinating character," continues the actor, who has previously played a more pompous parson, Mr Collins, in Pride And Prejudice. "The church is still one of the pillars of our society. Christian morality is in our daily lives whether we recognise it as Christian or not. When we get christened or married or die, we drift naturally in the direction of the church. And in moments of crisis, when our spiritual Tom-Tom is no longer telling us what to do, we find ourselves scrabbling at the vicarage door."

Follow the link to Dave's Church Times blog for other links on the programme. It'll be interesting to see if it's another Dibley-style ensemble comedy. Judging by the clip above, it's reasonably well researched, but asking a vicar to comment on something like this is like asking a nurse to comment on Holby City. I'd love it to achieve the ideal balance between comedy and realism, but a decent script will do. "Nigel, wouldn't you like to help me weed out some hypocrites?"

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Paying Respects

BBC4 has a 'Fatherhood Season' running at the moment. A programme last night looked at fathering styles in the early 20th century, and tried to make the case that the 'strict Victorian dad', with children seen and not heard, was a caricature.

I was most struck by an old mans recollection of his own fathers funeral. As he rode in the cortege as a boy he saw people stop by the road, remove their hats or touch their heads, and he remembers feeling a great pride that people were stopping to respect and honour his father. So, he said, whenever I see a funeral procession go past I stop and pay my respects, just in case there's a another little boy in there looking out.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Comings and Goings

The late lamented Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley have updated us with the whereabouts of their merrie band of oddbods. Meanwhile Archdruid Eileen has reappeared, or perhaps regenerated, Time Lord style, in the world of Thomas Hardy. I'm sure it makes sense to somebody.....

More permanently, Revd Alan has hung up his keyboard

Farewell of a different sort to Ruth Gledhill, whose blog is now going behind the Times paywall, taking it out of mainstream circulation. I think that rather defeats the point of blogging, and from the comments left on Ruths blog it doesn't look like many of her readers will be prepared to pay up to read it. We shall see. The Times site now looks like an expanded front page, but you have to register/pay to access the main content. I imagine other papers are watching with interest.

Still on paywalls, having found the Church Times cricket reports were fully available last week, they've now gone behind the subscriber paywall again. We're through to the quarter-finals, though depending on how that goes it may be best to keep it hidden!

Newish on the blogroll
The Vernacular Curate

I've probably linked to Bosco Peters Liturgy blog before, but its much more interesting than the title suggests!

Christian Intel Daily is a good site if you're laid up with the flu or can't sleep, an ecletic collection of news, blogs, etc. It's US based, judging by the content, but there's quite a large blogroll to work through.

Now that the whole SPCK/SSG debacle is over, Phil Groom can be found on the Christian Bookshops blog, keeping an eye on the Christian publishing industry, book trade, marketing tactics and other issue. I liked this story:
what can we do as Christian booksellers and retailers to help those whose lives and relationships are blighted by porn?
The Kotisatama Christian Bookshop in Helsinki came up with a simple answer when an organisation called the ‘Freethinkers’ launched a campaign offering people pornography in exchange for religious literature: they offered people free New Testaments in exchange for their porn magazines.
That’s what I call mission on the high street.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Praise Him on the Vuvuzuela

Having noted a few days ago that I wasn't aware of any church yet using the vuvuzuela in worship, the Church Times has just reported this:

A South African newspaper, the Mail and Guardian, has reported that the vuvuzela is commonly used in church services in neighbouring Bots­wana. One Botswana church­goer, Jacqueline Chireshe, explained: “The vuvuzela is a biblical instru­ment; it is a trumpet, and God expects us to blow the trumpet in offering praise to him.”

Last year, members of the Nazareth Baptist Church, founded in 1910, unsuccessfully argued that they owned the copyright on the instrument, which was used on an annual pilgrimage to a mountain in KwaZulu-Natal which they consider to be holy.

So there you have it. One persons worship is another persons wasps nest amplified to 140decibels. I imagine if it's 'used in neighbouring Botswana', it can still be heard in services in South Africa. Still waiting for them to go on sale in Tescos.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fathers Day 'World Cup' Talk

By popular demand (ok, as a result of one comment yesterday), here's the notes for my all-age talk for Fathers Day.

How is a father like a football team?

Striker/Attacker: goes and gets the goals. Fathers are often the breadwinner, on the front line. They also need to provide leadership, to help their families win.

Defender: protects the family, tackles what needs to be tackled (from DIY, to conflict issues within the family) – tackle the threats to your family: bad influences, habits, temptation, making sure the family spends time together, talks, plays.

Goalkeeper: or goal-keeper. What are your goals? Do you have an idea of the kind of family you’d like to be? Fathers need to have a vision of the good family and to promote it and work towards it. Sometimes it's easier to let things drift. Also, sometimes the goalkeeper has to pick the ball out of the net – times when you’ve got to be humble, and admit that things have failed. But then you start again.

Midfield: lots of running around, joining things up, keep things connected. Connect to your wife – talk, have special time with each other (when did you last have an evening out? Church/cells should enable this – babysit kids so that mothers and fathers can have quality time together). Connect to your children – play, spend time with them, show them the things you’re passionate about (taught my kids to play cards and cricket). Connect with other dads and men, need support.

Finally, stay in touch with the Manager.

all of the above with pics of the relevant England players on powerpoint. Or, if we lose tonight, South Americans. It needs quite a bit of polishing up, and we're going to give out Mars bars to all the blokes in church ('work rest and play' as the old slogan went, and they're all World Cup themed this year).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Baptism Merchandise

Scouring Tesco online for some world cup themed tat*, I came across this, one of several items in their range for baptism/christening parties. Tesco are savvy enough to have tabs both for 'Baptism' and 'Christening' in their menu, even though both link to pretty much the same stuff. It's the same event, but it's called 'baptism' by church people and 'christening' by everyone else.

There's also an attempt to jump on the bandwagon of new wedding traditions by selling baptism themed 'favours' - presents that guests are given simply for turning up (? never really understood this). There's also some interesting 'table decorations', including confetti in the form of tiny crosses. It's an odd thing to be throwing about at a party, considering what it symbolises, but like baptism itself the cross has been detached from its moorings in history and meaning and has become, like St. George's flag, a 'nice' symbol to be wheeled out on appropriate occasions.

I guess it's all reasonably tasteful, but I'm slightly twitchy about it too.

* I'm looking for something to give to all the blokes in church which isn't flowers (too girly) or beer (too pricey/potentially controversial). Sunday's Fathers day talk will be on a football theme, focusing on a Dad's role as striker, defender, goalkeeper and midfielder. And the need to stay in touch with the Manager. But that's another story.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fathers Day '24'

This is great

Father's Day 24 from Flue on Vimeo.

And yes, it's probably too late to order the Fathers Day resources from CVM in time for Sunday. The ladies will have already done this but no, typical men, we've left it until the last moment and now it's too late.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

2 minute intro to 'Missional Church'

Ht Start the Week. A bit black and white, but it's hard to be critical of something which puts things so simply. Which church most resembles yours?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Weddings 101

The Weddings Project has 7 top tips for vicars taking weddings this summer:

1. Introduce yourself with a smile
- some people are surprised to find how relaxed and friendly vicars really are.

2. Make those practical 'housekeeping' notices about confetti and phones before the bride comes in
- so the theatre of her arrival starts the service with style.

3. Make them in a permissive, friendly fashion
- how about: "make sure you turn your mobile back on after the service"?

4. Encourage everyone to make themselves at home
- let people know where they are free to move about, let children come forward or stand on a pew for a good view.

5. Practice the promise the guests will make
- some people think they have to whisper in church, but when you rehearse the guests 'we will' before the bride arrives, it really breaks the ice.

6. Have a paparazzi moment
- make sure everyone gets a good angle for photos or video, even if you have to restage the big moment at the end of the service.

7. Help guests keep their promise with prayer
- give a promise and prayer card to every guest. They can keep it by the bed or the kitchen sink and pray every day for the happy couple.

The prayer on the guest card reads: “Dear God, pour out the abundance of your blessing on them. Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts and a crown upon their heads. Bless them in their work and in their companionship; awake and asleep, in joy and in sorrow, in life and in death. Amen.”

There's a good page here with all sorts of resources for clergy for weddings, and marriage preparation. The Weddings Project has done some good work in talking to couples, guests and churches about what makes for a 'good wedding', and there's now a card designed specially for wedding guests as a memento of the day, with a prayer for the couple. It's a great idea, similar to the cards we give to godparents after a baptism (perhaps a card for baptism guests is the obvious next step?)

I'm both gratified and bemused by the comments I get after weddings. Gratified because there are some nice ones. Bemused, because people have obviously been to weddings which have been somewhere between uninspiring and an ordeal. We need to raise our game.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

...Like a Noisy Vuvuzuela, or a Clashing Cymbal...

The South African organisers of the World Cup are getting a bit of pressure to ban the vuvuzuela. I'm not yet aware of any church embracing them as a fresh expression of irritation:

Jordaan (the South African organiser) admitted he was not a huge fan of them himself. "I would prefer singing," he said.
"It's always been a great generator of a wonderful atmosphere in stadiums and I would try to encourage them to sing.
"In the days of the struggle (against apartheid) we were singing, all through our history it's our ability to sing that inspired and drove the emotions."

I'm struck by these comments about singing, and its place in history and culture. Occasionally there's debates here and elsewhere about the place of singing in church, and whether it's off-putting to newcomers, or people who aren't used to singing. Culturally, I'm not really sure where the UK is at. We'll do mass singalongs at football matches and concerts, but singing in smaller gatherings is now pretty unusual. There was a picture of a South African living room on the news a couple of nights ago, complete with dancing, vuvuzuelas, etc., in a gathering of roughly a dozen people. We Brits need lots more than that to get the anonymity we need to lose our inhibitions.

But perhaps if there was a cacophonous din that could only be drowned out by loud corporate singing, we might find our voices again....?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Giant Pumpkin Competition

Something for the weekend...

Introducing the inaugural Giant Pumpkin competition. Fun for all, just apply at the Potting Shed and take away a free planted giant pumpkin seed (Atlantic Giant) to germinate and grown on. Attend the weigh-in on 2nd October 2010. Heaviest pumpkin wins! Come and get your free, planted seed at the Potting Shed from 22nd May 2010. Full instructions provided. Click here for more info

Can you beat the world record of 1,725lbs (784Kgs) or the UK record of 915lbs (415Kgs)?

The competition is proving very popular, we have a few free seeds left and have planted them up and watered them. Collect your seedling soon while stocks last.

There, you were wondering what to do to take your mind off the football. Any more games like last night and they'll be calling Sir Terry Wogan out of retirement to do the commentary.

Bloggers note: a Rubicon is crossed with this post. This blog now has a 'gardening' label. Watch out for others in the set such as 'mid life crisis' 'Harley Davidson' 'beer belly' 'in the good old days' and 'Alan Titchmarsh'. If the full set is completed then please do bring capability proceedings against me, as I'll clearly need to be restrained for my own safety.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Angel of the North's Halo Discovered at Last

An enduring mystery of the North East has been solved, with the unveiling today of this next to Middlesborough football stadium:

It's a £2.7m bit of artwork designed by sculptor Anish Kapoor, called 'Temenos', and is planned to be one of 5 giant bits of art on the Tees Valley. Any similarity to a giant ankle support, or indeed a Slinky, is purely coincidental. The other possible inspiration could be a giant pair of handcuffs.

If it was informed cultural commentary you were after, try here.

'Temenos' is a Greek word meaning a piece of land set aside for the worship of pagan gods. Maybe the Angel will be wanting his halo back. And his frisbee.

Nazareth Ultrasound

In a valiant attempt to trump World Cup fever with the Christmas rush, the Churches Advertising Network have unveiled their contribution to Christmas 2010. I was impressed with their bus stop nativity scene last year, and this is just as provocative and eye-catching.

More thoughts on this at Phil's Treehouse, Deiknuo, and Bishop Nick (responding to some of the scoffers), and I particularly like his conclusion:

This poster is designed to arrest the attention of the usually disinterested. It is aimed at awakening the imagination, teasing the curiosity and provoking fresh consideration of the heart of Christianity – precisely what Jesus did with parables, images and stories. No, it doesn’t cover all the bases and deal comprehensively with every theological nuance; but it gives a huge kick start to thinking about what Christmas is all about.

Elsewhere the Daily Fail , like SPUC, tries to turn this into a story about abortion. There's a different perspective from The Lay Scientist.

Just to re-read that tagline: Christmas starts with Christ. Not a debate about abortion. Wouldn't it be sad if an ultrasound image, the first picture of a new life, just became a symbol of a debate about death?
Though at least I now know what happened after my wife swallowed her wedding ring.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Thomas Aquinas and David Laws

'Thinking Faith', the online journal of the British Jesuits, has just posted a piece on the morality (or otherwise) of the David Laws/Daily Telegraph episode. A snippet:

St Thomas Aquinas treats an action as gravely wrong when it harms another, for this breaks the second of the great commandments on which the whole of the law is based – to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Nobody can doubt that David Laws has been harmed, and badly harmed.

We have also been harmed. The media, not our elected representatives, have determined the composition of our government. It is for the Prime Minister to require the resignation of a minister or for the Commons to demand it on our behalf; in this case the media have illegitimately usurped a power that belongs to us and is only to be exercised by our representatives.

I'm not usually an avid reader of Catholic moral philosophy, so for me the article is a novel approach to the issue, and comes out strongly in defence of David Laws, and (as you can see) in criticism of the Telegraph. As a Yeovil constituent, I know a lot of people who speak well of Laws as an MP, and I strongly hope he stays on as an MP, and that he still gets the chance to play a part in government. It's possible to make a case both for and against his conduct: sympathy with his fear of people's reactions to his sexuality is tempered by the taxpayers money involved (though it would probably have cost us more for Laws to lodge with someone he didn't know.) It's right to demand high standards of those in power, but it's also right to show mercy and give people a second chance.

I find it hard to be outraged over what David Laws has done, but I don't find it so hard to be outraged over what the Telegraph has done. The timing itself is 'interesting', and I can't really see how it's in the public interest to tip out from office the kind of able and (increasingly) credible politician that we need to see us through the present mess.

Enough has been written about this already, my only addition would be to call for a review of local Libdem campaigning literature. This made much of a) David Laws expenses record (clean as a whistle) and b) His Conservative opponent's living arrangments in London. To say these now look seriously misguided is a bit of an understatement.

Last word to David Laws, whose interview with the Western Gazette is well worth a read to understand where he's coming from. He's more gracious to the Telegraph than I am, does mercy extend to the media....???

Mr Laws went on: "When I was born it was less than ten years or so after homosexuality was decriminalised, and there was still a lot of prejudice in society, as there is now, although a lot less now.

"And at school, among family and everybody I knew, it was not regarded as something that was acceptable or easily understood. When you are young you are afraid of being seen to be different and it is easier to lie, and that was easy given that I didn't have any relationships for a large part of my life.

"You more you lie to people the more difficult it becomes to un-lie and tell the truth. I have always been quite a shy and private person. I wanted to go into politics and public service but didn't want to have to tell people about my sexuality.

"I guess it was pretty stupid really, because all of the people I have spoken to since Friday have accepted it without hesitation – my parents, family and friends.

"Not being honest with them has meant a huge price over recent years. I have had to keep a large part of my life secret. My family and friends have never been able to meet my partner, and it's meant that I have had a growing distance between some of these people because of the inability to be honest with them.

"And also I feel, as a politician, a bit of shame not to have set a better example to people who have the same issues and who might expect a bit more leadership from the top."

He feels some relief that this secret is out.
"I have heard from lots of friends over the past few days who said it didn't matter to them, or they didn't care about my sexuality, and to be able to meet them in the future, to be honest with them, to meet them with James, will be a huge relief," he said.

"I will always owe The Daily Telegraph that they have allowed me to be more honest about who I am and that part of it will lead to a greater happiness and sense of reconciliation in my personal life."

(Update: it was odd to hear 5 live reporting as 'news' this morning David Laws saying that he was grateful to the Telegraph, since these are words he wrote in the Western Gazette on 3rd June, even if they were only posted on his blog yesterday. It used to only be news if it appeared on telly, now it's only news if it appears on a blog!)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Religious Atheism

Interesting take on atheism as a cultural/religous phenomenon in the New Scientist. Here's an extract from an interview with scientist and teacher Bernard Beckett, who writes fiction books based on scientific themes chaired an event for Richard Dawkins and, as a result, shifted your views from atheism to agnosticism. Why the conversion?

The event sold out very quickly. The people were huge fans of Dawkins, and being amongst a group of card-carrying atheists was something I'd never experienced before.

I'd probably have called myself an atheist at the time. But normally, that means going your own way and creating your own response.

Instead, it felt more like being in church. Suddenly, there were a whole heap of people who seemed to be responding as one. To me, that reproduced some of the things I disliked about the church I was brought up in, because leaps are made from atheism to other beliefs that you are meant to have as well.

For instance, the belief that there is something negative about the influence of religion, which I don't necessarily think is true. It's a very complex sociological question that would take a lot of research, but suddenly, if you're one of us, you also have to be against religion.

At that point I feel uncomfortable. I also felt uncomfortable with the idea of wanting to convert people; to atheism in this case. It felt evangelical, and that's not my instinct at all.
There was an issue of New Scientist recently, where
Marcelo Gleiser wrote about the search for the theory of everything. Gleiser believes that this is a bit of a hangover from religion.
For some people, like Dawkins, science is about beauty and meaning and truth. I'm really uncomfortable with that. I don't think science is about that at all.

Science is a little bit more than a wonderful way of modelling and predicting, it's a wonderful technical abstraction. I think science is a really wonderful technical abstraction.

I can't see any great evidence that humans have any ability to access anything other than the material world. Beyond that, who knows, but there's no good evidence that would take me to any particular belief. And that seems to me to me to be a more rigorous view and one I'm much more comfortable with.

This does strike a chord: just as there's a culture within church circles which contains lots of things which have nothing to do with Christianity, there also seems to be a culture around certain popularisers of atheism which goes a long way beyond science.

However, if you think that you're right and that someone who disagrees with you is wrong, then it seems a bit postmodern just to let everyone have their own point of view, and not get a bit 'evangelical'. I'm not a scientist, but if certain things are scientific facts then it's probably a good thing to teach/persuade other people of them. Ok we can be less sure about the existence or otherwise of God, but if you can only argue for a position if it's certain, how on earth do you discover whether or not it's certain in the first place...?

Being 'evangelical' about atheism logically follows from being an atheist: religion must look like a massive and self-indulgent waste of time, resources and effort, and people are much better being persuaded to do something more useful. The same impulse also follows from believing in God, though for different reasons!

But what Beckett hints at is that, as well as being a reasoned position, evangelical (or 'religious'?) atheism has also become a cultural boundary marker for a certain social/intellectual group. Heck, they've even got merchandise. The church, sadly, has reams of examples of what happens when you forget the difference between a cultural boundary marker, and a core belief. I'm even required by church law to wear some of them.

But maybe that's a feature of any ideology or intellectual movement: the beliefs have to take form within a culture, and be expressed, or else it's all purely theoretical. And once they do that, the outward form of the belief is often the first bit of it that outsiders encounter, and it becomes part of the package. Is 'evangelical' atheism bound to develop its own subculture?