Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Parents off the Hook

A post with a longer gestation period than usual. Which means that it is rather less topical when I first thought about writing it. But the fact I am not quick witted or articulate enough to commit cyber-ink to cyber-paper should not be an impediment to saying anything.

The latest campaign from Richard Dawkins marketing wing is a full-on plea to parents, teachers and others with responsibility for bringing up and educating our children not to "indoctrinate" them with our own values. Instead we should let them choose for themselves. The spirit of this idea seems very sixties to me. I have this vague memory that there were schools then where outmoded ideas like "lessons" or discipline were seen as unhelpful in a child's development. So they were allowed to do pretty much as they liked. Not suprisingly they chose to run riot.

As a parent I am relieved I did not see this poster about 12 years ago. Then I would have faced a real dilemma. Bring them up as catholics (as I did). Or listen to the wise counsel of Richard Dawkins and keep them away from religion. The problem is that would have opened up a series of difficult questions as to what I should say. What moral compass should I equip them with? Christianity strikes me such a good way to provide children with some standards with which to grow up I fear that any alternative would smack of improvisation. I mean don't steal and don't murder are a bit Old Testament. Perhaps: if you must steal or generally create mayhem, at least don't get caught.

Last week was inter-faith week. I had the privilege of attending a work-based "event" at which a number of speakers from different religious traditions talked about how their faith informed their approach to working life. Among them was a humanist who gave a good account of the humanist perspective about how we should give of our best in this life as its the only one we have. But more strikingly as I listened to the accounts of those with faith - and in particular a Sikh - I was impressed by the thought that the journey we are on to make sense of this world and to connect with God really is a universal one.

Richard Dawkins and other anti-theists wish to win a people for science and rationalism. But I believe the price we would pay for their "victory" is a moral vacuum. And how would that vacuum be filled? Whilst we should stand behind our own beliefs I also think that we should not be afraid to stand shoulder to shoulder with other faith communities and decry this latest campaign for what it is: dangerous nonsense which undermines our role as parents and creates far more problems than it would ever solve. Religions across the world are at heart about our relationship not just with God but with one another too, and whilst they are prone to fall into the hands of those who will distort and pervert religion for more secular ends, the basic tenets of religious faith provide us with far more by way of a toolkit for life than science. And so it is a wonderful way of helping our children understand their place in the world.

One last thought: the Dawkins marketing department obviously aren't parents. The average child having been brought up in a faith-based environment, far from becoming a fully fledged and deluded theist, has a tendency to push back at everything that parental authority can muster by the time they reach their mid-teens. A far more effective poster would have insisted that parents do label their kids; and then left the kids to give their response.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Better off on our own?

On the way in to work yesterday I took a few seconds out from reading the paper to take in what my fellow commuters were up to. We were reading books, papers, e-mail on our Blackberries. Or we were texting, taking calls on our mobiles or taking in a film, playing on hand-held game consoles. In short we were carrying in our hands life-lines to a world of choice: work, friends or just their own personal space.
When we get off the train, we continue to simply inter-act with the world until it meets all our needs. And our world seems to me to offer this gratification as never before. On the way in to work there are dozens of food outlets where I can choose from numerous different varieties of coffee, have an English or Continental Breakfast or something entirely different altogether. At lunch its Italian, Mediterranean, Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Fusion,Vegetarian, Low-fat, Gluten-free: I want it, I can get it. Ten years ago if I wanted to buy a CD I might go to the town and scour the shops to see if it was in stock. If it wasn't I had to order it or - most likely - go to London. No need now: if I want the product, I can order it on-line; if I want to experience the music I just log on to Last FM and listen; or download it. Same too with books and films.
And if I do want to go to a shop I can now do so virtually 24 hours a day courtesy of the local supermarket. Sunday no longer presents an obstacle to my shopping fix either. I am naturally outraged that some stick-in-the-mud people restrict my Sunday shopping to between the hours of 10 and 4 but I guess that leaves a bit of time to just chill. And boy can I do that. Satellite television caters for my every need - football or film mostly but if the urge takes me I can watch repeats of Who Wants to be a Millionaire or America's Next Top Model.
In short I can now design my own world and have it to conform to all my preferences. I can read the news when I want - I can even have it sent to my mobile if I prefer. Mass media communications are increasingly designed to fit the person. And if I wish to respond then the same digital media opportunities present themselves - Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and so on.
In this world where our own desires can be so readily gratified the question that came into my head was this: why should anyone feel the need for God? When the world can meet all your everyday needs and more why think about the transcendent? And just as that thought of why bother goes through your mind along comes a bendy-bus saying "There probably isn't a God so enjoy life". So its not so much a case of "Is there a God" as: well, even if there is does it matter? We're doing perfectly well without God, without religion; we have our laptops and our i-Pods. We have on-line shops and real shops. We have the world at our finger-tips on Facebook. Show me where God is in all this. There is no evidence, after all, that even if there is a God that it affects me personally, is there?
So, one by one, the light switch is being turned as more of us recognise that we can do perfectly well without God. Both from a personal perspective and from that of society as a whole. And for those of us resolved to keep the switch s firmly "On" what are we to say who have set the switch in the "Off" or "Couldn't Care Less" mode.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Why I am a Christian

It is simple as this. I get up at 6:30am. Off to the study for 10 minutes reflection and prayer. Each day, I log on to the laptop and go to the Universalis for the day's readings and I find this.

Luke 17:7-10 ©
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Which of you, with a servant ploughing or minding sheep, would say to him when he returned from the fields, “Come and have your meal immediately”? Would he not be more likely to say, “Get my supper laid; make yourself tidy and wait on me while I eat and drink. You can eat and drink yourself afterwards”? Must he be grateful to the servant for doing what he was told? So with you: when you have done all you have been told to do, say, “We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty".

Everyday I make a living in London. The "real world" perhaps. And there are thousands of books out there on how to work, to lead others and to survive or succeed in that environment. Which of them can sustain us better than those few verses from St.Luke's gospel. Just wonderful.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Competition time

With the candles still warm from Hallow'een and the fireworks still unlit a reminder that Christmas is not far off greeted me yesterday at my local Tesco. A huge decorated tree greets shoppers and reminds us that there can barely be 50 shopping days left till Christmas.
I will be keeping an eye out for the Christmas gift idea or product that seems most utterly at odds with the Christian notion of Christmas but is nevertheless offered as a serious suggestion. Hot off the blocks is "The Atheist Guide to Christmas" which is so disappointing because it persists only with the notion that there is probably no God. Have these people lost the courage of their convictions? Just too wet to be taken seriously.
An early front-runner therefore is the Waitrose Food and Home Direct Catalogue (free). This offers seasonal and other fare to would-be entertainers in ready and convenient form. At a price. 15 iced cupcakes at £10.50. 12 afternoon biscuits at £15. Or for Christmas day itself how about mashed potato at £5.50 for 4 or Roast potatoes at £5? Wouldn't we better advised to use our money on something that is more in keeping with the spirit of the season. On somebody in need for instance? Food for thought....

Monday, 2 November 2009

Losing my Religion......

..."That's me in the corner"

If its not already obvious, this blog is written by someone who knows more about balance sheets and football than they do about religion. I do take an interest but I do so without any particular training beyond reading the odd book aimed at a wider readership: Abbot Christopher Jamison or Karen Armstrong, for example; New Directions from cover to cover, obviously; and blogs like Damian Thompson or Ruth Gledhill. I make study of the scriptures a daily habit and they still have the habit of beating the rest hands down.

...."Trying to keep up with you"

But I am no theological heavyweight (or for that matter, featherweight). I am probably much the same as the average church-goer: not ignorant by any means but certainly lacking the
knowledge of someone who feels they have much to offer the debate about the Holy Father's recent announcement of full Communion for disaffected Anglicans. So like the rest of us in the pews, I will listen closely to the debate, to the guidance of our bishops and priests; and above all hope to be guided by the Holy Spirit. But.........

...."Consider this..."

Wikipedia says that "Anglo Catholics believe is fiercely debated, even among Anglo Catholics themselves. " Perhaps that explains the mind-boggling number of Anglo-Catholic "traditions" in the world today. And nowhere is Wikipedia's observation more evident than on the blogs, websites and forums where the future of Anglo-Catholicism is discussed. It isn't just Roman Catholics and Liberal Anglicans expressing scepticism about the nature of these proposals or dismissing this as a move that will change very little. Quite often the controversy is between Anglo Catholics.

For what its worth, this may be the time when the luxury of internal dissent is one that should be put aside; for all Anglo-Catholics to ask themselves the question: what are we for, if anything. Having done so we can at least begin to consider future, not as a loose alliance of Christians but as a group with far more in common than what divides us. Because far from thinking that very little will change I think Anglo-Catholicism could be squeezed out of existence, caught between the pull of Anglicanism on the one hand and the Roman Catholic church on the other. I believe the future is far healthier if Anglo-Catholics consider our response to the Holy Father and to our longer term future as a corporate group.

Because what really is the future otherwise? Some will stay put, others will move to Rome. But overall we may end up even more fragmented than we are now. Whatever critical mass there is now will be lost, probably for good. That really would be tragic

The Holy Father's has offered a way ahead for Anglo Catholicism. Whatever our response, I pray that its a single response.

"....I've said too much"