Monday, December 31, 2007

They should lash us to our pews

Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?...Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?

The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.
Annie Dillard, (1945 - ) from her book Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters

Sunday, December 30, 2007

How green was my valet?

Slavery was in fact the very first form of "Renewable Energy". Slavery was green! And, what is even better, slavery was sustainable - it lasted for thousands of years, until the ability to use fossil fuels gave us the liberty to feel bad about it. Whenever someone waxes eloquent about "Renewable Energy", think slavery. Because that is where wishful thinking is taking us.

- Commenter Alice.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The First Noel

Mr Noel Coward is supposed to have said that he loved criticism, just so long as it was unqualified praise. Now I've mixed feelings about that cove. The closet he was in was made of glass. Everybody knew. I have no need for a closet in that sense. All my sexual sins are straight. But my need of praise is probably greater, and certainly more secret, than Mr Cowards ever was.

At the same time I tend to think less of those I am able to impress. How could they be so easily fooled? It's not the best basis for friendship, which is one of the reasons I don't have a lot of friends. I see them either as lying to me, or as lacking perspicacity. The notion that they might just like me is beyond my credulity, though I really do get on with a few of them. Groucho Marx's complaint, that he would not wish to belong to a club that would have him as a member, is a self-defeating mantra with which I am well acquainted.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Out of the mouths of teenagers

From The New Statesman:

"Our local high school participated in a government sponsored science program called "GLOBE". They faithfully recorded air temperatures (high/low/noon) for 12 years, even during vacations and summer breaks. No matter how the numbers crunched- no evidence for rising temperatures. Curious, we tapped into the data for all the other school's data participating- no evidence. We chalked it up to the fact that data since 1994 isn't a good enough time period ( but it feels like it when your doing the work)."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Reasons, God and doing the right thing

More sanity from Norm:

"A.C. Grayling tells us that Tony Blair 'practically said' the following:

I believe in God and he told me to go to war in Iraq.
"Practically said, because in fact Blair didn't say that. Grayling is referring to the former prime minister's remarks as reported here or here or here. And it's an obviously prejudicial way of representing his decision; as if Blair had no reasons for going to war but just listened to the Big Guy and bing, that was it - He commanded and Blair obeyed. Others, likewise, make much of the fact that Blair sometimes says he did what he thought was right. The scandal! You might imagine that other people, in acting, don't do what they think is right, or that Tony Blair arrived at his decision about what he thought was right independently of the reasons he had for thinking so. Of course, Blair did have reasons for going to war in Iraq, reasons which he set out before parliament and the country. Doing what one thinks is right, and (for a person of faith) communing with God in coming to a decision, these are not necessarily processes above all reasoning; they can be, respectively, the outcome of and an aid to weighing reasons.

"All the wise souls, so many liberals amongst them, who wilfully misconstrue what Blair has said on this score reveal only their own failure to accept that there might have been reasons on the other side from the one they took. That is one measure of their liberalism."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

From below ground

On my daily walkthink I was turning over in my mind how I see my place as a Christian priest in a modern world. In a word 'unattached'. I don't mean that in a denominational sense. I am happy to be called Anglican, albeit a member at-a-distance.

My trouble is that I have always been a rather idealistic priest with an ideal view of the Church. In other words, the Church that I could serve in does not exist. During my ministry the people who upset me the most, no - who crucified me with their vicious nastiness, were members of the Church, not outsiders. I appreciate, even relish, the opposition of genuine opponents, as well as the loyal opposition of friends. What I cannot bear is the extremes of 'family' behaviour that turn the local Church into a sub-human, let alone sub-christian culture.

Another thing I find tricky is representative office. The peculiar expectations that people have of the clergy has meant that being a priest in the Church has felt to me too much like being in a prison, sometimes a dungeon, and too often it has felt like being buried alive.

Sticks and Stones

Jonathan Derbyshire writes about how hard it is to avoid giving offense, since some people take offense simply because they are oversensitive, or because they harbor unjustified prejudices.

. . . there is no "distinctive performative verb for insulting"; that is, we don't say, "I insult you," whereas we do say, "I promise to you" or "I censure you." This means that insults are often ambiguous: One can be insulted without taking offense (the insult can, as Austin puts it, "misfire"), just as one can take offense where none is intended. There are . . significant implications here for restrictions on hate speech confined to profane or vulgar language. There can be "politely worded insults," after all, but to prohibit these as well would be to risk "stifling all controversial discourse." It is one thing to claim that words are also deeds and can do harm, and quite another confidently to specify the words that wound.

Terry Wogan on his morning radio show often describes people listening or watching TV, and waiting expectantly to be offended. Some of them have lived in parishes I have served as a priest. Then again Jesus was accused of blasphemy, and the early Christians were known as atheists. So what should we expect?

Sweet Reason

AC Grayling in defence of the "New Atheists".

. . . eventually, one hopes, those who persist in wanting to have an invisible friend, who continue believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, will do so in private, where such proclivities belong, along with wearing the opposite sex’s underwear. And we will all enjoy the Mass in B minor and Chartres Cathedral, as we all enjoy the Coliseum where the gladiators fought, and the murals of Pompeii, and the essays of the atheist David Hume, for their intrinsic merits, understanding the sociology of their provenance in due perspective, not needing to believe in the Norse or the Hindu or the Christian gods to do so, nor wishing to, nor – best of all – having to, for fear of the lit faggots at the foot of the stake.

Monday, December 17, 2007

'Tis the season to be jolly

Thaddeus Tremayne explains why we may soon have to find a way to put Santa Claus back into Christmas.

"A frosty reception awaits Santa Claus in Britain this year. It seems that the much-loved benefactor of children everywhere is, in fact, suspected of being guilty of a number of illegal practices.

"Greenpeace UK has accused Santa of 'environmental terrorism' by encouraging crass global consumerism without any effort to dispose of packaging and minimise waste. They have also attacked Santa for his record of pollution output and have demanded that he take steps to lower the carbon footprint of his activities. The complaint has prompted officials at the Department of the Environment to investigate Santa for possible breaches of the EU Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment Directive, which makes the producers of goods responsible for their environmentally sound disposal.

"Further trouble can be expected from the Information Commissioner who has pointed out that Santa may be in breach of the Data Protection Act by keeping records of all the country's children. In particular, his lists of who has been naughty and who has been nice constitutes a behavioural database which cannot be kept without the unambiguous, specific and informed consent of the subject.

"The Equality Commission has also weighed in with concerns about Santa's employment practices. His policy of only working with elves is clearly discriminatory and leaves him open to prosecutions by pixies, faeries and goblins who are not being considered for employment due to their race.

"The Department of Work and Pensions is also investigating the work practices of Santa on the basis that, over the Christmas period, he demands that his elvish workforce work around the clock in order to meet the seasonal demand. This is a clear and unequivocal flouting of the EU Working Time Directive which limits the working week to 48 hours and could give rise to a further prosecution.

"Santa's time-honoured habit of stopping for a drink of brandy in every household (and there are 25 million in the UK) will also bring trouble. According the Civil Aviation Authority, the alcohol limit for any pilot is 20 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. Police forces nationwide have been put on alert for an overweight, elderly, bearded man at the controls of a nine-reindeer sleigh and, if spotted, to apprehend him immediately.

"Santa was not available for comment but a spokeself has said that Santa is seriously considering whether or not to fly over British airspace this year."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Kith and Kidney

"Barbara Ryder, 59, is one of only four people in the UK to have made an altruistic kidney donation."

Until September 2006 living donors were only allowed to give kidneys to those genetically linked, or related through marriage.

A question occurs to me. If these donations are truly anonymous, could they be used to aid the recovery of, say, a notorious child-murderer, and would that cause prospective donors to have second thoughts?

Heaven's Above

This Peter Sellers' film in which he plays a country parson appointed by mistake always touches me, especially the words he addresses to his disgruntled parishioners:

"What I have, you don't want. What you want, I can't give."

An epitaph for my ministry.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Living for kicks

From Faith and Theology, this by Reinaldo Arenas:

“The difference between the communist and capitalist systems is that, although both give you a kick in the ass, in the communist system you have to applaud, while in the capitalist system you can scream.”

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fair Trade?

James Bartholomew worries about the really poor.

"I have long been slightly resentful of "Fair Trade" labels because of the implicit suggestion that all other trade is unfair. The slogan has seemed anti-capitalist in making this implicit suggestion and since capitalism is the source of prosperity around the world and the reason that so much of humanity has been lifted out of absolute poverty, the suggestion seems to me both inappropriate and damaging.

"I have also suspected that the Fair Trade labelling could also more damage specific groups of poor people. Now, today, Andrew Alexander has provided an indication of how this could work:

"In fact, the Fair Trade doctrine is pernicious, for all its genuinely good intentions - such a common feature of "cures" for world poverty.

"The doctrine may bring satisfaction to a substantial bureaucracy and a sense of virtue to consumers, but it is positively harmful to the world's poorest.

"FT producer acquires his label by showing he is paying a "fair" wage, is treating his workforce well and ensuring that the children get education and medicines. Obviously, this favours those who have already moved out of the most basic poverty.

"The prospects for the very poor are thus made worse since they cannot compete on such terms. The right to undercut is the privilege of the poor - of poor individuals, poor countries, poor businesses. It should not be undermined.

"Moreover, to obtain a Fair Trade label, a producer must buy a licence and submit to inspection - in countries where corruption is notorious. To impose a licensing cost, a tax and a powerful bureaucracy on any producer hardly seems a natural way to help the poor. It is also a barrier to those wanting to start up on their own.

"Coffee production provides useful examples of cost. For coffee production co-operatives of under 100 workers, the Fair Trade people charge £1,500 for certification and annual renewal costs of well over £800. Since the average Kenyan income is under £200 a year, this is not negligible. The system also creates a significant travelling inspectorate."

Bethlehem and bigotry

Michael Gove continues to swim against the tide.

Eggnog lattes on sale at Starbucks? Feature-length M&S commercials? There’s one invariable sign that Christmas is almost upon us – a story about how Bethlehem is suffering at the hands of wicked Israel.

It has become almost as much a feature of seasonal journalism as stories about how Nativity plays are being subverted and commentaries on how commercialism is snuffing out the true meaning of the festival.

This year we’ve already had our first exercise in demonising Israel for its treatment of Bethlehem with the graffiti artist Banksy enjoying extensive coverage for his trip to decorate the security barrier near the town with his work. The message of Banksy’s work and the coverage it has generated is the same: oppressive Israel has snuffed the life out of the town where the Prince of Peace was born. Herod’s spirit lives on, even as the spirit of Christmas is struggling to survive.

The truth is very different. The parlous position of Palestinian Christians, indeed the difficult position of most Christians across the Arab world, is a consequence not of Israeli aggression but of growing Islamist influence. Israel goes out of its way to honour sites and traditions sacred to other faiths while the radicals who are driving Palestinian politics seek to create an Islamist state in which other faiths, if they survive at all, do so with the explicit subject status of dhimmis. But when it comes to Israel’s position in these matters it’s still a case of O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see them lie.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Moral Maze

Susan Hill asks:

At what point would you abandon an old friend who committed some serious offences against both the law and the moral code of almost everyone who is sane enough to have one? At the first crime ? The fifth ? When they went to prison ? Never ? At what point would you say enough, I cannot be associated with someone who has done this any longer ? And what would it take ? Murder ? Before that ?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Getting Jiggy

One of the things that got me down about being in the Church was the endless cycle of debates about this, that, and mostly the other, which over my lifetime never seemed to go anywhere only sometimes backwards.

The answer of course is to incorporate into the canon of scripture the writings of people who knew much more than Isaiah, Jesus, St Paul, and the gang about such issues as human sexuality.

A couple of examples from Gore Vidal:

  • Actually, there is no such thing as a homosexual person, any more than there is such a thing as a heterosexual person. The words are adjectives describing sexual acts, not people. The sexual acts are entirely normal; if they were not, no one would perform them.
    • "Sex Is Politics" (1979)
  • The reason no one has yet been able to come up with a good word to describe the homosexualist (sometimes known as gay, fag, queer, etc.) is because he does not exist. The human race is divided into male and female. Many human beings enjoy sexual relations with their own sex, many don't; many respond to both. This plurality is the fact of our nature and not worth fretting about.
    • "Sex Is Politics" (1979)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

On global warming

My own position may be summed up as:

1. It's probably happening.

2. But there may be some benefits - like fewer deaths from hypothermia.

3. Some of it might have nothing to do with how humans behave.

4. We should be careful not to spend so much money on trying to stop it
happening that we fail to protect the vulnerable from its consequences by investing in such things as water conservation, health and education.

5. By being vegetarian, not flying, recycling, and not wasting fuel, I feel I do my bit for the environment.

6. I get sick of being lectured, by rich people who live in big houses, jet about and eat meat, about how much more I should be doing to save the earth. Incidentally, they mean 'save the earth for humans', the earth is a lot older than us and will survive anyway in one form or another.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Not about race

Martin Amis denies he is racist.

. . . it's not about race. It's about ideology.

If every inhabitant of a liberal democracy believes in liberal democracy, then it doesn't matter what creed or colour they are. If, on the other hand, some of them believe in Sharia and the Caliphate (and believe, too, that slaughtering the attendees of ladies' night at the Tiger Tiger discotheque is a good way of bringing that about), the numbers start to matter.


It's December and, as Nancy Banks-Smith writes:

About this time of year, you sense a trembling like railway lines shaking with the rumble of an oncoming express. Or, as it is known in soaps, the Christmas Special.