Sunday, November 29, 2009
Approximately once a month I toddle down to Newtownards at an unearthly hour on a Sunday morning to do a stint on their Sunday morning Christian magazine programme, Dawn Reflections, with Vanessa Jones. My role is to comment on the Sunday papers, from a faith perspective, and to do a pre-prepared 3 minute review of the key story or stories in the previous week's news. What follows is, broadly what I said in that review this morning.
We are coming into that season when we remember that when Christ first took on bodily form, he came as a helpless child into the world… Later, when he had grown up, in the face of his followers keeping children from him (probably for easily understood but unexplained reasons) he said “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” The original Greek suggests that Jesus was angry with his disciples, though the NIV, RSV and Catholic Jerusalem Bible all translate it as "indignant", because you can't have an angry Jesus can you? The King James Version and old Catholic Douai Bible translates it as "much displeased." I wonder whether he would be indignant, much displeased or incandescently furious at the behaviour uncovered in this week's report.
How many Christmases must we celebrate? How many baptisms must we share in before we realize the import of those facts… The Kingdom belongs to the children… And how dare any of us… any priest or pastor in any denomination… any bishop, archbishop or church administrator, forget that… Children come first…
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
He also throws light on the appalling profiteering by both homeopaths and the pharmaceutical industry in the African AIDS crisis as well as the scandalous media fuelled hoax surrounding MMR... I look forward to a new volume with a chapter devoted to pandemic flu!
He suspects that a major problem is the role of humanities graduates in the media wearing their ignorance of all things scientific like a badge of honour... a suspicion I have had for years...
From time to time he makes sideswipes at religion, and I was half-expecting a fully fledged chapter on the old canard of the conflict of science and religion... the medieval holding back of the scientific endeavour of people like Galileo (more of whom in a day or two), its modern equivalent in the faux-science of creationism (meat and drink to the so-called "New Atheists"), the unthinking superstition of New Age pick and mix religion, and the disasterous effects that the edicts of mullahs, missionaries and ministers have had on the physical and mental well-being of people. Of course, my argument would be that these are examples of bad religion, that I would have as much difficulty with as he has with bad science. But that chapter never came... perhaps he is keeping his powder dry for another book...
But there was one thing he did raise in relation to the inappropriate medicalisation of problems that raised issues for me theologically. He suggested that the tried an tested method of selling us pills (of whatever variety) is first to persuade us that we have a problem and then provide the solution in an easy to take tablet form...
And it made me wonder, is that what we do with the "bad news - good news" approach to Jesus' message?
If it is, is that a legitimate expression of the gospel... or is it a technique that has come down to us from 19th century evangelicalism, where the traveling preachers learned many of their techniques from the quacks selling patent medicines?
Is there a good news without bad news?
But back to the book... my humble opinion is that this should be compulsory reading for every parent before they're allowed to have children... but being realistic it will probably only be read by those of a similar conviction... to use a religious analogy, he is preaching to the converted... Most who have already given up on conventional medicine will have given up on him too because he's a doctor after all...
But you'd never find us religious types just preaching to the converted...
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Whilst preparing for the two funerals that I have to conduct today, I came across this piece by Bishop Charles Henry Brent, which apparently was sent to Fiona Castle by a well-wisher shortly after the death of her husband Roy. Bishop Brent is probably more famous for his more developed analogy of death being like a ship sailing over the horizon. Here he uses the same image but in the form of a prayer:
We seem to give them back to Thee, 0 God, who gavest them to us. Yet as Thou didst not lose them in giving, so we do not lose them by their return. Not as the world giveth, givest Thou, 0 Lover of souls. What Thou givest, Thou takest not away, for what is Thine is ours also if we are Thine. And life is eternal and love is immortal, and death is only an horizon, and an horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. Lift us up, strong Son of God, that we may see further; cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly: draw us closer to Thyself that we may know ourselves to be nearer to our loved ones who are with Thee. And while Thou dost prepare a place for us, prepare us also for that happy place, that where Thou art we may be also for evermore. Amen
Friday, November 13, 2009
This is what the defender of faith had to say:
'I have long believed that we are all united by a common bond of faith - faith in a sacred dimension beyond ourselves [Are you listening, Richard Dawkins?]; faith in, for want of a better description, a divine "essence" to the meaning of existence; faith in the integrity of life itself.'
An understanding of faith like that certainly NEEDS a defender... because it is so feeble that it certainly couldn't defend itself!
Sunday, November 8, 2009
in mortal men, who cannot save.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Israel
Those whose hope is in the LORD his God
the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them
the LORD, who remains faithful for ever.
He upholds the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free;
the LORD gives sight to the blind and lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the foreigner and supports the fatherless and the widow,
the LORD thwarts the ways of the wicked.
The LORD our God reigns for ever, throughout all generations.
Praise the LORD.
From Psalm 146
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Sunday, November 1, 2009
In this time of public finance cutbacks can I suggest a means of saving a lot of money and wasted time and effort? Ditch all the expert panels and commissions that the government has been establishing... funding for various periods of time and then dismissing their findings when they don't think they will be able to sell them to the wider public... Rule No. 1 of being an expert on a government appointed panel... When they want your opinion they will give it to you.
Recently we've had the sacking of the government drugs adviser, the deliciously named Professor Nutt, for daring to suggest that government drugs policy was politically based rather than based on any evidence of the medical or social dangers of cannabis or ecstasy, and the subsequent resignation of some of his colleagues... And before that we had the public binning of recommendations from what was said to be the most comprehensive review of primary education in England and Wales for 40 years, which suggested that starting kids into formal learning at age 4-5 has no educational benefit. I suspect that these 2 examples, however, are merely the tip of a very large iceberg. But there is no point in appointing these panels if you aren't going to pay attention to what they have to say...
Why is this happening?
Are there wider agendas on the education question regarding getting mothers out to work earlier to swell the workforce and reduce the burden on the welfare state? Then why can't they be honest about that?
On the drugs question is it simply an issue of them going for the lager-drinking Sun vote rather than cannabis smoking Guardian hippies?
Are they trying to show themselves to be champions of the ordinary person and "common sense" in the face of these ivory tower intellectuals who don't have to live in the "real world"?
Is this all just a function of New Labour spin over substance and will the Tories with Blairite-retread Cameron be any better?
But then why should we be critical of the Westminister crowd, when we have reports on education, community relations and dealing with the past which have been parked in a dark alley at the back of Stormont for political reasons (which all largely come down to the Unionists hating the Republicans and vice versa).
I've got opinions on all of the above subjects although I am an expert on none of them, and while I don't believe that you should always go with the expert opinion on any one subject, because of the wider consequences or context, you should at least offer a rationale as to why you have just poured thousands (if not millions) of taxpayers hard earned cash down the drain. Professor Nutt was undoubtedly politically naive in his public comments. His government paymasters don't appreciate being rubbished by their underlings in the full glare of the media. But if there is a compelling social case for rejecting expert opinion then the public should be told why.
But if the reason for rejecting such opinion is simply a matter of it being hard to sell to the wider population, well that is what being a leader is all about... Not simply finding the front of a baying crowd and getting yourself into the front row, whatever way it's heading...