Saturday Supplement

Just incase I didn't give you enough to read yesterday, here's a round-up of some of the interesting links I came across during the week that were too substantial to simply pass on via facebook...
Carrying on a them from last week, there have been a number of lent-related posts, and many turning their backs on the "self-denial" discipline for various reasons. One of the more interesting reflections, was this piece by Mark Galli on "Giving up self-discipline for Lent." But if you are still looking for resources to help you through this season you could do worse than check out Rachel Held Evans' "40 Ideas for Lent".
Meanwhile, a lot has been made recently of another attempt by Richard Dawkins and his atheist acolytes to demonstrate that the UK is not a Christian country, on the basis of a half-baked survey asking people basic Christian facts like "What is the first book of the New Testament?" Giles Fraser memorably derailed that particularly spurious piece of reasoning on Radio 4's Today Programme, expecting Dawkins to be able to recite the full title of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" - but he couldn't, and when his attempts petered out he mumbled "Oh God..." Perhaps it was that experience that turned the encounter between Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury into a relatively tame affair... It's still worth a listen though. Slightly more lightweight yet is this piece from the BBC looking at how Christianity is woven into the fabric of British society. Others responded to the original issue in quite strange ways, and in Shored Fragments Steve Holmes takes Mary Ann Seighart of the Independent to task for her strange analysis of the place of the established church in Britain.
There are many within the Christian camp in the UK who agree with Dawkins on his analysis of Britain as post-Christian, but their responses to this may vary. One group sees an increasing sense of marginalisation of  Christianity. This was powerfully expressed by "Clearing the Ground" a recent report by Christians in Parliament, an All-Party Parliamentary Group, and Evangelical Alliance Partner, chaired by conservative party member Gary Streeter MP, looking at the freedoms of Christians within UK public life. However Simon Barrow at the theological think-tank Ecclesia, suggests that this report does little to clear the ground, and is, instead confused and at times contradictory. I understand what he means, but was relieved to see that they repeatedly make clear that they are not making any over-egged claims of systematic persecution of Christians or purging of Christianity from the public sphere.
Of course in the US there is a separation of church and state, which paradoxically seems to make the faith position of those running for election a much bigger issue. The run in to the Presidential election this year is hotting up with the Republican candidates tearing strips of each other, and none of them seeming like a genuine contender for the White House. One of the big factors is that Mitch Romney's Mormonism isn't quite acceptable to the conservative evangelical element within the Republicans. It would be interesting to see, if he does get nominated, whether they would stay away from the polls altogether rather than vote for him, despite their febrile antipathy to President Obama. perhaps this short piece by John Fea would confuse them further, suggesting as it does that actually Barack Obama may be one of the most explicitly Christian presidents in history
In the US one of the "hot-button" issues for the religious right is abortion... while for the left it is "a woman's right to choose." However I wonder what either side would make of the frankly disturbing report I read in the Daily Telegraph suggesting that killing newborn babies is ethically no different from abortion. I sometimes suspect that such sensationalist pronouncements are only made to allow medical ethicists their 15 minutes of fame... However, there is a dangerous logic to their claims and in a society with a decreasing sense of moral and ethical absolutes this could lead to all sorts of chilling policy shifts.
Going back to the wrong side of the Atlantic, I also came across this initiative by one of my favourite budget eateries, Panera Bread, where they operate on a "give what you can" basis, allowing the poor to eat for very little... I'm always on the look out for potential social enterprises and had wondered about a Panera franchise on this side of the pond, but personally I think that particular initiative is more likely to work in the US where there is already a strong "tipping" culture... Here I'm not sure that they would stay open a week! But they claim it is a "test of humanity" so I would love someone to try it here and prove me wrong.
And finally here's a wee musical gem from one of my favourite artists, Karine Polwart... I've put it on here because it (somewhat incongruously) appeared on the cBBC programme "Tracey Beaker" yesterday... noto that I watch such things, but it then did a bit of bouncing about on facebook as a result.

Enjoy the rest of your Saturday...



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