Friday, November 30, 2007

Michael knows best

The Bishop of Rochester offered yet another of his opinions to the BBC this week.

"I am sorry that Tony Blair feels that he could not talk about his faith in case people thought he was a nutter. Christian vision underlies all that is important about Britain: its laws, institutions, and values. If Blair had been able to relate his vision to his policies, we would have had a much more constructive social policy at home and principled policies abroad."

It seems to me that sounding like a nutter is the least of Mr Blair's worries. Some of my best friends are nutters, but none of them are as unbearably condescending as Nazir-Ali.

Not in my name

Bill Buford asks is it possible that meat is now openly enjoying a renaissance—that it’s finally cool to be a carnivore? He reviews The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

It has a coherent ideology, evident in the opening pages, "an eleven-photograph sequence that shows the author taking two cows to slaughter. The pictures are not sensational, but they are unflinching. The first is of the animals boarding a trailer, the floor covered with hay, backed up against a corral (a dirt road, a wooden gate, early-summer foliage, a green-diffused light, Fearnley-Whittingstall, in his familiar Wellies, coaxing them along). Then: a captive bolt gun pressed against the top of an animal’s head. Then: the animal on its side on a concrete floor, collapsed, blood starting to pool. It is raised by its hind legs and hung upside down to drain blood. It is skinned, a thick white fat being peeled off the body in a single rug piece. This is followed by a tug-of-war removal of the unwieldy, instantly expanding intestines, like a white plastic trash bag filled to bursting, and the sawing of the carcass in half, the moment when conventional butchering begins. There is little accompanying text, apart from a rhetorical aside:Why is it considered entertainment when a predator kills another animal in a wild-life film, Fearnley-Whittingstall wonders, “whereas the final moments of human predation of our farmed livestock are considered too disturbing and shameful to be made available even for information.” The reader understands the point. Meat comes from an animal—a banal connection that has been obscured by the way supermarkets prepare and present our food—and the animal has to be killed. If you fear the sight of a carcass, you shouldn't be eating from it."

Heavy Metal

"When I lived in England, not so long ago, one of the minor pleasures of rural life was walking across a couple of fields, along a public footpath through a copse, discovering a small medieval country church, and going inside to contemplate the divine for a few minutes. In those days, the churches were unlocked. They’re not anymore. Presumably there were local lads who would steal from the Lord even then, but not a significant segment of the population who targeted houses of worship. So today there’s wire mesh over the beautiful (one assumes) stained glass to stop thieves pinching the lead from the windows. It’s a small loss, but a telling one. The police have no leads, and the buildings have no lead. Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it was stolen last Thursday."

- Mark Steyn, on escalating metal thefts in Britain.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Two Faces

Holy Smoke has this comment on Rowan Williams' uncanny ability to miss the point.

"Christians in Indonesia, Africa and the Middle East are being beaten, imprisoned, tortured and killed in the name of Allah. Moderate Muslims in Britain desperately need to be made aware of this situation.

"And what has the Archbishop of Canterbury given them? Yet another sermon on the evils of Yankee imperialism."

At the same time Kate Herbert in Education Guardian has been teaching primary school children about Henry VIII.

However . . .

"Many of them didn't understand the situation of Lady Jane Grey, having to choose between her religion and her life. One suggested that money is as important now as religion was then: they would rather change religion than give up money, homes and toys. Not the Muslim children. They wouldn't swap their religion for an easier life, even if it meant ruling the world for the next nine months."

I thought of my little grandson who would make serious sacrifices to get to see his wrestling heroes knocking ten sorts of **** out of each other but, as the child of a vicar's daughter, has no obvious sense of religious commitment whatsoever.

And then last week there was the TV programme Never Mind The Buzzcocks during which a member of the panel, commenting on David Bowie's performance in The Last Temptation of Christ, said it was so wooden that Jesus Christ should have been nailed to it. We all laughed. Minutes later an awkward attempt was made to tease another panellist, Germaine Jackson, a Muslim, about his beliefs which ended in a half-apologetic withdrawal when the look on his face signalled obvious displeasure.

What is is about Islam that so many otherwise outspoken people are reluctant to criticise, let alone poke fun at, it? In order to maintain the multiculturalist ethos are we in danger of creating a double standard under which the west, modernity and liberal democracy are always on the defensive? I feel increasingly uneasy.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Human Rights

Simon Deng, a former jihad slave and now a human rights activist, has written a remarkable protest to Bishop Desmond Tutu who has accused Israel of ‘apartheid’.

"The State of Israel is not an apartheid state. I know because I write this from Jerusalem where I have seen Arab mothers peacefully strolling with their families – even though I also drove on Israeli roads protected by walls and fences from Arab bullets and stones. I know Arabs go to Israeli schools, and get the best medical care in the world. I know they vote and have elected representatives to the Israeli Parliament. I see street signs in Arabic, an official language here. None of this was true for blacks under Apartheid in Tutu’s South Africa.

I also know countries that do deserve the apartheid label: My country, Sudan, is on the top of the list, but so are Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. What has happened to my people in Sudan is a thousand times worse than Apartheid in South Africa. And no matter how the Palestinians suffer, they suffer nothing compared to my people. Nothing. And most of the suffering is the fault of their leaders. Bishop Tutu, I see black Jews walking down the street here in Jerusalem. Black like us, free and proud.

Tutu said Israeli checkpoints are a nightmare. But checkpoints are there because Palestinians are sent into Israel to blow up and kill innocent women and children. Tutu wants checkpoints removed. Do you not have doors in your home, Bishop? Does that make your house an apartheid house? If someone, Heaven forbid, tried to enter with a bomb, we would want you to have security people ‘humiliating’your guests with searches, and we would not call you racist for doing so. We all go through checkpoints at every airport. Are the airlines being racist? No.

Yes, the Palestinians are inconvenienced at checkpoints. But why, Bishop Tutu, do you care more about that inconvenience than about Jewish lives? …Slaughter and genocide and slavery are lashing Africans right now. Where are you for Sudan, Bishop Tutu? You are busy attacking the Jewish state. Why ?"

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Scripture Stricture

I've always thought the Bible a dangerous book. Christopher Evans, who taught me New Testament Studies as an undergraduate, himself wrote a book entitled. 'Is Holy Scripture Christian?' But to find such a spiritual and intellectual giant as Kierkegaard calling for a ban set my eyebrows soaring skywards.

“Fundamentally a reformation which did away with the Bible would now be
just as valid as Luther’s doing away with the Pope…. The Bible Societies, those
vapid caricatures of missions, societies which like all companies only work with
money and are just as mundanely interested in spreading the Bible as other
companies in their enterprises: the Bible Societies have done immeasurable harm. Christendom has long been in need of a hero who, in fear and trembling before God, had the courage to forbid people to read the Bible. That is something quite as necessary as preaching against Christianity.”

Saturday, November 24, 2007


According to The Daily Mash Chancellor Alistair Darling has admitted sending millions of bank account details to a Nigerian doctor who contacted him earlier this week.

The Chancellor told the House of Commons he had received a 'very moving email' from a Dr Kwantana in Lagos who is hoping to begin a new life in Canada.

Mr Darling said: "Naturally he wanted to transfer his assets to his new home and asked for my assistance."

In keeping with our manifesto commitment of helping Africans to help themselves, I agreed to send him 25 million bank account details.

"In exchange for my role in this surprisingly simple transaction he has offered a generous commission which I believe will begin to offset the £25bn I have given to Northern Rock and which - we are all now starting to realise - is never, ever going to be paid back.

"Not in a million years. No siree. Not a snowball's chance in hell."

Mr Darling added: "Our new relationship with this gutsy Nigerian not only raises Britain's standing in the international community, but will deliver real value for the British taxpayer. I commend it to the House."

The Kwantana email in full:

Hello dear lovely friend and I am introducing myself at you as Dr Jericho Kwantana MD.

Most recently since birth I have been leaving Nigeria to start my new life in Canadia but due to and because of international bank lawings, good Nigerian doctors like I and myself are unable to be allowed to make huge and large inter-continental money transferings to the Bank of Torontoro.

Dearest lovely friend, I have in a prized Zurich account-hole waiting 21 billions dollar money. I am able and ready to transfer this cash bomb to you and if able to hold and send to my wife in Canadia, I will make the kind offer to you of full 10 percentage of totals.

I hope with sincerity and much enthusiasms that you are able to look kindly upon my Canadian ambitions. One last and final pleading to you: In order for transactions to overtake speedily, I require that you send to me very kindly the sort code and account number of every British person.

With the kindness and prayers of Jesus,

Your Friend Jericho Kwantana

Joke of the Day

An English professor told her students that there would be no excuse for not showing up for their final exam, except for serious injury, illness, or a death in the student's immediate family. A smartass jock in the back of the room asked, "What about extreme sexual exhaustion?" The entire class did its best to stifle their laughter. When silence was restored, the teacher smiled sympathetically at the student, shook her head, and sweetly said, "You can write with your other hand."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Do you know who I am?

I can actually remember an Anglican bishop who was known for thus addressing an obviously unimpressed young antagonist.

You may have heard of the grey haired lady who climbed three flights of stairs, opened a carved mahogany door and walked into an exotically furnished reception room. A gong sounded and out of a cloud of incense appeared a brunette eastern beauty: 'Do you wish to meet with His Omnipotence, the wise, all-knowing, all-seeing guru, Maharishi Naru?' 'Yeah', said the old woman, 'Tell Irving his mama is here from the Bronx.'

It's the easiest thing in the world to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. Spouses and mothers can help prevent it. Unselfconscious humility is rare. It can't be an achievement, because to try for it is to miss it altogether. It's a grace. It's free, but by no means cheap. It goes with a certain honesty and transparency. I have also found that it's usually accompanied by a deal of courage.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Being afraid

It is distressing to read in The Times that this man, the award-winning artist Grayson Perry, is consciously avoiding comment on radical Islam in his otherwise highly provocative body of work because of the threat of reprisals.

‘I’ve censored myself,’ Perry said at a discussion on art and politics organised by the Art Fund. ‘The reason I haven’t gone all out attacking Islamism in my art is because I feel real fear that someone will slit my throat.’

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Look after yourself

During a past bout of crippling anxiety I was urged to look after myself. I'd heard this before in the form, "Look after yourself, because if you don't do that you won't be able to look after anyone else." But, perhaps with brutal honesty, my counsellor offered a different ending viz "Look after yourself, for if you don't, nobody else will."

To this day I struggle with the bleakness of this: sometimes believing it true, and then again not being so sure.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

From the Chief Rabbi

'You know that in the middle of our synagogue services we have what we call the reading of the Torah- the reading of a scroll- a section of the pentateuch and some Rabbis rule that when this is to be read you stand and others rule that when its read you sit. A stranger came to a new community one year in America and went to the local synagogue that Sabbath. It was wonderful- everyone was welcoming and the praying was wonderful until it came to this bit in the middle of the Torah reading of the scrolls.

'To his amazement and horror half the congregation stood, half the congregation sat and they started yelling and screaming at each other. The people that were standing were saying, “ignoramuses, don’t you know when the Torah is being read you have to stand” and the people who were sitting were saying to the ones who were standing, “Heretics! Don’t you know when the Torah is being read you have to sit?” This crazy pandemonium carries on; the reading comes to an end, peace reigns and etcetera. The same thing happens the next week and the week after. Finally, the stranger cannot stand it any longer. The town is currently without a rabbi so he travels to the nearest town where there is a rabbi, a distinguished rabbinical scholar and he is ushered into his presence. An old, wise, grey bearded scholar surrounded by books.

'He says, “Rabbi, I have a question for you. Tell me, when the Torah is being read, do you stand?”

'And the sage stroked his beard and said, “No, that is not the tradition.” So he said, “Well tell me Rabbi, in that case, when the Torah is being read, do you sit?” And the sage shook his head and said, “No, that is not the tradition.” And the man said, “Rabbi, you’ve got to help me here. Because in my Synagogue, half of them stand and half of them sit and they all shout out nasty names to one another.” The Rabbi nodded and he said, “Yeah, that is the tradition.”

Get it sorted

During a weekend visit from my step-daughter we were told that we should 'get sorted' our problem with not wanting to go on long journeys by land sea or air. We both feel the same way, my wife and I, and it doesn't usually matter to anyone else, except for those who consider it an absurd existential waste to be free and able to travel the world and not actually to do it. However, whilst knowing our desperate desire to move within a fairly short radius, the said step-daughter has booked her wedding in Las Vegas. Her mum of course wants to be at her only daughter's wedding but, like me, has something like a mental block about flying to Vegas. Step-daughter has set her heart on the full works. Irresistible object - immovable force. It could only end in tears. And it did.

Is there something wrong with me? with us? with this not wanting to go and be somewhere else?

I love my life - my ordinary, daily, fairly routine life. If I could live forever I would go on doing the kinds of things I am doing now. I'm never bored - confused often, spoilt for choice occasionally, frustrated sometimes - but never bored. I find life, people, things, endlessly fascinating. I don't need to go anywhere else, or travel far, or go on any kind of 'journey'. I don't believe those who advocate self-improvement.

I'm deeply contented with my life as it is, where it is, doing the kinds of things I'm doing. All I need is someone to share it with. I have that someone.

Does this sound unconscionably smug? I'm sorry. Maybe it's my age, but more than ever being 'at home' is important. It's very nearly enough.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Putting on stones

I guess Perry de Havilland speaks for all of us in this furious reaction to the interview given by Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari to the Telegraph. Dr Bari is head of the Muslim Council of Britain which is usually credited as representing moderate Muslim opinion. God help us.

Is stoning ever justified? "It depends what sort of stoning and what circumstances," Dr Bari replies. "When our prophet talked about stoning for adultery he said there should be four [witnesses] - in realistic terms that's impossible. It's a metaphor for disapproval.

I see...

Don't worry, dear, what we are about to do to you is just a metaphor

It is pictures like that which fill my mind with homicidal rage. The Muslims partially burying this Muslim woman, in preparation for her being stoned to death in accordance with the Koran, all deserve nothing less than a bullet in their brains, to be put down like rabid dogs. And when I hear people like Dr. Bari describing this practice as a "metaphor for disapproval" rather than a method of theocratic execution, my feelings towards him move from mere disagreement into transcendent loathing. Take a moment and really look at that fucking picture. According to Dr. Bari, if there were four witnesses, that is perfectly okay then. Try getting your head around that.

And so when a man who cannot bring himself to unequivocally condemn such barbarity tells us that we have anything whatsoever to learn from what he sees as Islam, it would be fair to say "I do not think so". As I discovered in Bosnia in the 1990's, being a Muslim and accepting the norms of western post-Enlightenment civilisation is entirely possible... 'Muslim' becomes more of an ethnic identity rather than a religious one, in which you just have to ignore large chunks of the Koran or 'interpret' them into something harmless (and face it, there are parts of the Old Testament most Christians prefer to gloss over too). The key is that the Bosnian Muslims became more and more secular (i.e. less religious), more western, the west did not become more like them.

Friday, November 09, 2007


From the Guardian problem page:

"Almost every relationship problem that flounces on to these pages and collapses in an overwrought heap could be solved with one simple response: talk to each other. Bloody hell, it's not rocket science."

It's an ill wind

The first divorce directly related to the September 11th terrorist attack has been filed in New York. It appears that a guy with an office on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Centre spent the morning at his girlfriend's appartment with his phone turned off. Needless to say, he wasn't watching TV either. When he turned his phone back on again at about 11am, it rang immediately. It was his hysterical wife, "Are you OK? Where are you?" He said, "What do you mean? I'm in my office of course."

Saturday, November 03, 2007

From Blackburn Diocesan Website

Announcement from Bishop's House
We are sad to announces the deaths of Rev Nicholas Clapp on 11 October.