Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Thank God for atheists!

 I couldn't help but be amused listening to this little discussion between Giles Fraser and Richard Dawkins. If you haven't heard this already, Dawkins is asserting that most people who self identify as Christian are not actually so because they cannot, for example, name the first book of the bible. Then Fraser suddenly asks Dawkins to give the full title of The Origins of the Species - and it is quite fun to listen to him stutter and stumble as he is unable to do so.

I have a lot of time for atheism (honestly!) For a start, all the people I live with, AKA my family, are either atheists or agnostics. I would hate to live in a society without a diversity of views and I would hate to live in a theocracy. I am glad of a degree of secularism because I think curbs the intolerance to which societies with a religious basis are often prone. The problem is that atheism itself can become an all consuming ideology. A "fundamentalist" atheist can come across as ever bit as narrow, joyless and prejudiced as a fundamentalist of any other ilk, and, dare I say it, when atheists assert the  absolute superiority of their beliefs they can be just  as "irrational" in their aridity and lack of perspective as those they decry. The militant secularism which we observe today takes itself terribly seriously and often seems to have had a sense of humour bypass.

Perhaps that's why I couldn't resist a chuckle at Richard Dawkins expense and I recommend this clip to brighten up your day!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

The problem of getting along!

It has been one of those weeks in which I have barely had time to draw breath. Blogging has gone out of the window, although I have to admit it was rather a relief to have an excuse not comment while  Synod moved another slow and torturous step closer to consecrating women bishops with still the possibility of further setbacks and conflicts to come. I do now believe that we will get to a position where women can be bishops with only a code of practice as provision for those opposed - a provision which already represents a considerable concession on the part of women in the Church and which, it should be noted, is not available in other provinces around the Anglican Communion. In July 2011, I was privileged to attend a talk by Bishop Victoria Matthew of Christchurch in which she described the way that it has been possible to work graciously with those opposed to women's ministry despite the lack of even a code of practice. The talk was hosted by WATCH but it would have be of great benefit in allaying the anxieties of groups such as Reform and Forward in Faith, although sadly I do not think it was generally attended by many who are opposed to the current legislation under discussion in Synod.
While Synod conducted its business with all the speed of a glacier in slow motion, the increasing divide between church and state became more evident with the ruling that Bideford Council had acted unlawfully in including prayers on its formal agenda. This ruling has been described as creating delight and dismay in equal measures. Well, I felt neither delight nor dismay,  rather a mixture of thoughts and feelings. After reading the details of the ruling, I did conclude that a sensible and appropriate decision had been made. It is not the case that "prayer has been ruled unlawful", simply that prayer should not be included on the formal agenda of a Council meeting which individuals are summoned to attend. Councils are free to have a gathering  for prayers, to which councillors are cordially invited, prior to the start of a formal meeting. It seems to me this is right and proper - the freedom of religious belief does not include the freedom to impose those beliefs upon others.
At the same time, I felt that this was a case which should never have gone to law. We are seeing a worrying number of cases (over issues such as the wearing of crosses, the displaying of a palm cross on a dashboard etc) ending up in court rather than being resolved through good sense and decency. It is true that sometimes we do have to dig our heels in over a point of principle, but that point should not be reached before we have first thought long and hard about our motives and whether there is any way in which we might compromise. In many cases I suspect that the lack of ability to compromise is on both sides and I wonder how far people just become locked in an ideological battle - which undoubtedly they see as a legitimate "point of principle"?
I was not surprised to read that the issue of prayer before council meetings has caused conflict elsewhere. When Portsmouth Council allowed a Muslim imam to say a prayer (which seems to me only fair if there are to be Christian prayers), one Christian councillor walked out of the meeting, later saying 'I do not believe we are praying to the same god'. In Shropshire another councillor called someone "disgusting" for wearing headphones during prayers in which he did not wish to participate.
My final verdict is that there is no end of the ways that we can manage to treat each other with contempt and fight to the death over our differences of belief and identity and there is nothing like the issues that exist around religious belief to bring those less than admirable instincts to the fore. It reinforced the point that law is needed only because we are so very fallible and unable to exercise innate decency to each other. A recourse to law almost always speaks of our failure,  in that light a win is not really a victory.
Delight? Dismay? We've been here before and we'll be here again.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

God's "Yes"

The gospel reading for today (Mark 2-1-12) is the story of the paralysed man who reaches Christ by being lowered down through the roof. It is one of many tableaus in the gospel that immediately captures the imagination and conjures up a striking visual picture. We can picture the crowds, the heat, the desperation of the friends (or, as Jesus saw it, “their great faith”) the disapproval of the teachers of the law and the drama of the man who came in through the roof turning into the man who walked out through the door!

The second New Testament reading is the wonderful description of Christ as God’s YES ringing out through history and creation,
“ Jesus...is not one who is yes and no, On the contrary, he is God’s “Yes”, for it is he who is the “Yes” to all God’s promises.” (2 Cor 1:19-20)
The connection between the weekly bible readings is not always obvious, but this matching is inspired. The passage from Mark offers us a contrast between the “can do” attitude of the friends of the paralysed man, yes-men who were determined to do whatever it took to bring their friend to Christ, and the “you can’t do that” attitudes of the teachers of the Law, who were very much no-men, with a mindset eager to find objections.
The passage also speaks of barriers - the attitudes that build up barriers and the attitudes that break them down. First of all there is the physical barrier of the crowds and the physical barrier of the roof. God often seems inaccessible, and the journey of faith too full of difficulties until we acknowledge a need so strong that we seek a way through, even if it seems completely unconventional. Secondly, there are the other barriers, the barriers set up by other people who are quicker to define blasphemy than they are to see grace and more willing to see problems than solutions. Thirdly, there is the barrier of sin and the difficulty of accepting forgiveness. The reason the paralysed man wanted to get to Jesus was obvious, he wanted to be able to walk again and was tired of being crippled, but Jesus healed his inner paralysis first because that was the greatest need. The irony is that inner paralysis was also the greatest problem afflicting the teachers of the Law, they just didn’t know it!
This passage tells us that the message of the gospel challenges negativity and paralysis of mind and spirit and offers a ringing affirmative to forgiveness, freedom and hope.

Mr Catolick on Synodical poppycock!

I always find Mr Catolick rather scary . This article Church must make women bishops MPs say, gives some more details on the subject of his mewlings. It will be interesting to watch events next week.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Petition in support of London Clergy

Synod 11 -so much warmth and support.

If you feel able to sign this petition in support of the London clergy , please do so!

You may also be interested to read that Nick Holtam, the Bishop of Salisbury, has given an interview to Ruth Gledhill of The Times saying he used to think marriage was only a heterosexual matter, but he says:

“I’m no longer convinced about that. I think same-sex couples that I know who have formed a partnership have in many respects a relationship which is similar to a marriage and which I now think of as marriage."
I wonder how much Nick Holtam's attitudes have been influenced by his own marriage. There was opposition in some conservative quarters at his appointment, given that his wife's previous marriage ended in divorce, and some would consider it not a legitimate marriage.
It is important to note that the issue of civil partnerships being allowed on religious premises is distinct from the debate over whether same sex couples can be described as "married". The law has now changed to allow CPs on religious premises, but the Church of England has exercised its right to disallow them. It has said the matter can only be decided by General Synod, yet it has given no indication as to when, or whether at all, it will be put before General Synod. The issue of  whether civil partnerships (which confer almost all the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage) will or should able to be legally termed "marriage" is a separate matter recently thrown into relief by the Government’s declaration of its intention to pass legislation to allow full marriage equality in the near future.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

London Clergy sign letter about Civil Partnership

More than one hundred clergy in the diocese of London have put their names to a letter asking that, just as  the Church of England allow priests to conduct civil partnerships if they so wish. They are asking that clergy should be allowed to exercise discretion and act on their conscience in this matter, just as they can choose whether or not to remarry divorcees. It is heartening to see so many clergy signing this letter, and it may make the current position, which I believe is that they are unwilling to allow the matter to even go before Synod, to be less tenable.
The response of the Bishop of London, Richard Chartes is to recognise that this "arises from a proper pastoral concern and it is right that it continues to be discussed openly", while still asking for prayerful and respectful debate, something which is entirely appropriate and not discouraging. It is worth noting that the Church's current position is not only that civil partnerships cannot be conducted on Church premises, but the Church of England does not officially carry out blessings of civil partnerships.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Do dogs have souls? (Part eighteen)

We can learn so much from dogs, can't we? No, I'm not suggesting that we should all jump into a great heap of leaves, I'm  just suggesting that a little more of the exuberance, perseverance and zest for life wouldn't go amiss at times... It sometimes occurs to me that dogs will be very much at home in heaven!