Notepad on Life

September 12, 2017

Believe it or not, Church decline is bad news for all

Filed under: Culture,philosophy,Religion — - @ 12:21 am
Tags: , ,

It was good to see little in the way of overt glee from the non-religious camp when the latest damning Church of England statistics emerged last week.

“…how can the Church of England remain in any meaningful sense the national legally established church, when it caters for such a small portion of the population?” wondered Andrew Copson, Humanists UK’s chief executive, while Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, called for “…a serious debate about the place of religion in our society.”

All fair enough, and, in Copson’s case, possibly the only time humanists and I stand shoulder-to-shoulder, for reasons masterfully encapsulated here by Giles Fraser.

I would suggest, however, that crumbling church numbers also present a problem for those for whom mere atheism is not enough. The underlying mantra of The God Delusion – that if we could only put this silly religious nonsense behind us, Mankind could embark on a golden age, celebrating science instead of Holy Communion – has been seized on by many since its publication. Not so much the atheism lobby as the atheism-looking-for-work lobby, they have sought to elevate non-belief from a negative to a positive.

We can’t give you God, but we can give you this instead, is the gist of their evangelism: minds focused on earth instead of empty heavens, looking out for one another instead of for the Second Coming, celebrating evolved reality over myth. No more religious wars on the macro scale, no more judgmentalism on the micro level. Net result? Everyone just calms the hell down.

You wouldn’t have to be the world’s greatest PR guru to spin that little lot but you might be struggling to shore it up after a week like the last one. For with our national religion in full-blown retreat, we should be seeing the green shoots of this alternative utopia in Britain now, surely? With faith ploughed under, fallow minds should be starting to latch onto the humanist creed, with all the happy consequences it portends. At least one Sunday supplement should have picked up on the new, more mellow Britain emerging around us.

Er, not quite. These are mere snapshots to the contrary, but see how many more follow in the next few days, weeks or months: a full-blown brawl breaking out in a Cambridgeshire church yard; someone gunning down a 14-year old child in London. The latest manifestations of what one journalist previously called “the astounding prevalence of fury” that he notices whenever he returns to the UK from foreign assignments.

Walk among the public as I do each day and see it for yourself, the increasing chippiness of people when matters are not quite to their liking, as if anger were the sole release valve to an inner despair. Note the insularity, and the erosion of those myriad small courtesies that our parents took for granted.

Ponder then, the contradiction of a secular philosophy that decrees that life is all we have, and the diminishing reverence with which that same life is regarded, should it be unwanted, past its sell-by date or standing between a criminal and his loot.

No, that ‘golden age’ penny just doesn’t seem to be dropping. If the Church of England looks increasingly irrelevant, those who inflate non-belief into an alternative lifestyle look increasingly like poker players, bluffing with a handful of nothing.


August 26, 2017

Two things that damn Britain, conveniently eclipsed this week

Filed under: business,Consumer,politics,Religion — - @ 7:57 pm
Tags: , , , ,
Pic courtesy of Claudio Sepúlveda Geoffroy

Maybe this is why we fixate on the mundane interaction of planets.

Because no-one’s re-creating 1930s Germany up there.

No-one’s making a mockery of ‘rest in peace’ up there, just so that businessmen can get to their destination 15 minutes faster than previously.

And while no-one’s saying that eclipse specs are stylish, they’re still a better look than holding your nose.

December 28, 2016

An opportunity missed, Church of England

Filed under: Christmas,Church,Religion — - @ 5:25 pm

Pic courtesy of Rondo Estrello

For an organisation whose attendance figures would reduce your average Non-League football club to sympathetic tears, this is Day One of the January sales and Black Friday combined.

Teatime, Christmas Eve. A candlelit carol service and the church building packed like it’s 1829 with a captive audience to die for. Eager kids and attendant parents and grandparents. People who might otherwise not enter a church without pallbearers beneath them but do so because they’re with relatives and don’t want to be seen as the sourpuss. Atheists, agnostics, sceptics and ‘lapsed’; all there because of the pull of family or of childhood echoes that refuse to die.

Once a year, the church gets this chance. Surely to God, between the crib, the candles and endless verses of Little Donkey, there is the chance to take 10 minutes and reach out to those people in earnest from the pulpit? Remind them (or maybe make them aware for the first time ever) that whatever they might make of his mission statement and brand management, this Jesus was no myth, but a real person. That Christmas Day was but a curtain raiser for a message and mission that changed the world.

Ten minutes in which to let everyone know that this ancient building is not just open on Christmas Eve, but on most days of the year, welcoming those who wish to pray, reflect, cry their hearts out, or even the most committed non-believer who just wants to enjoy the music or brief respite from a tumultuous world. To reassure them that there will be no pressure or hard sell on such occasions, just a warm welcome and as much or as little evangelism as each of them seeks.

But you didn’t do it, Reverend. You just trotted out the same old Nativity clichés and Christmas niceties, let the same old carols roll by and then beamed politely as everyone filed out afterwards. Your one moment of gravitas in 60 minutes the health and safety announcement for when it came to us lighting our candles. Another year, another golden opportunity gone begging. I just wish my faith in spiritual osmosis matched your own.

“Excellent”, you beamed at the regulars afterwards. “No-one got burnt.”

Indeed not. Figuratively speaking though, I doubt anyone was set on fire, either.

May 26, 2016

Where’s a burqa when you really need one?

Filed under: foreign,Religion,Women — - @ 11:10 pm
Tags: , , ,

I mentioned the film Eye in the Sky in my last post. There is a scene in it where a woman in the market place of a Muslim neighbourhood is chivvied in no uncertain terms by the apparel police for having her wrists uncovered.

From the burqa to the niqab, we are left in no doubt these days that preserving the modesty of women is a big deal in Islamic circles. Now, however, it seems that this may depend on what type of woman you are.

When you’re a Christian woman in Egypt, for example, suddenly modesty isn’t quite at such a premium, not when you’re stripped naked and made to walk through the streets by a mob of 300  Muslim men, as described in this report from The Independent.

No doubt this horrific tale (although the poor woman was 70, so at least there’s no suggestion of ageism) may trigger a familiar debate.

“That’s not real Islam.”

“Yes it is.”

“No it isn’t.”

And so on.

I’m not an authority on what is definitive Islam, so I’ll make do with this. Whatever label is most appropriately attached to the ghastly events of last Friday, be it ‘authentic Islam’ or a ‘rogue strain’, whoever aligns himself with it needs to know that an ideology capable of such a glaring double standard, is holed well and truly below the credibility waterline.

Shame on all involved. Whatever they are.

August 4, 2014

Jews arrested for singing Jewish songs…at Auschwitz

Filed under: foreign,politics,Religion — - @ 9:21 am
Tags: ,
That sign

Auschwitz (Photo credit: decafinata)

I was trying to figure out what the hell was going on here but then I read this:

Danny Feigen, a student at Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi in Jerusalem and member of Rabbi Ostroff’s group, witnessed a guard ask, “would you sing in the British museum?”

…and it all became depressingly clear. Rules is rules.

I see that the Auschwitz Press Office has clarified the situation in comments at the link, in much the way I anticipated but if they can’t see the PR disaster they have on their hands, particularly at this sensitive time, then it may not just be their security staff who could use a little ‘sensitivity training’.

Put it this way, were I running a Jobsworth of the Year ballot, I might be tempted to declare a winner at this point.


September 6, 2013

The Maldives – another crappy day in paradise

If this Amnesty International text I received wasn’t so serious, you’d be tempted to laugh at the lunacy of it all:

“MALDIVES – After action from people like you, 15-year-old rape survivor will not be flogged for ‘fornication'”

Enjoy your holiday.

August 4, 2013

Condescension to Church shows sad state of Independent

English: User box for Separation of Church vs....

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sure MPs at least, will be delighted with the Independent‘s recent leader column purporting to send those naughty Christians to their room without any supper.

It used to be left to the Right Honourable Members to reveal their breathtaking ignorance of the Christian faith by trotting out the patronising old canard about the Church of England sticking to preaching the Gospel and leaving politics to the politicians; you know, the experts…

Now the media are doing their job for them.

I knew there might be a secularist backlash when new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, showed early promise that he could be streets ahead of his predecessor when it came to being in touch with life beyond the cathedral cloisters.

I heard him handle with great aplomb an interrogation about the Wonga embarrassment, the highlight of which was interviewer John Humphrys‘ inability (or refusal) to see that this admittedly hilarious, if inadvertent, gaffe was fixable and posed no fatal threat to Welby’s proposals to provide hard-up people with a better alternative to payday loan firms and their eye-watering interest rates.

The Independent‘s nauseating arrogance and double-speak that same day, mind, makes Humphrys look the very model of perception.

Nick Baines has beautifully eviscerated the person responsible for it on his blog, so I merely pick over the carcass:

  • I defy even the their greatest critic to read the four Gospels and not see a Man as engaged with the world around Him as He was with the world He claimed is to come, whether you see Him as deluded or not
  • If Christianity was indeed a ship sailing nowhere and all about just hiding yourself away and mulling over scripture without ever putting it to work in the world around us, I suspect its membership past and present would be on a par with that of the Tufty Club.
  • “His efforts to…make the Church relevant…” Ah, so even you acknowledge that his approach has something going for it.
  • “[They] have no business in mainstream politics…” Everyone has business in mainstream politics. This is a democracy, where everyone gets at least a say, not some oligarchy where the only opinions that matter come from a self-regarding elite  in Westminster and the media. How many times, I wonder, have Independent commentators lamented the woeful turn-out at elections, and cried out for more ‘engagement’? Just not Christian engagement, apparently.
  • And once again, in a leader on this theme, no mention of the secular hypocrisy at the heart of it. Politicians want the Church of England to stay out of politics, while politicians continue to have a say in whom the Church appoints as its bishops. When it comes to clamouring for the separation of Church and State, atheists may be surprised at just how many Anglicans are egging them on.
  • “This is no swipe at religion”. This is like Ron Jeremy holding a postage stamp over his manhood in the hope that he’s covered himself. Of course it’s a swipe at religion. How old do you think your average reader is? Six? You think religion’s stupid, its practitioners belong in a soundproofed cell whose key has gone missing and you only wish you could say so in a national newspaper. You know what? So do I. Your transparent sincerity, at least, I could respect.

July 26, 2013

Some people need to think seriously about civil funerals

Filed under: Church,Religion — - @ 9:00 am
Tags: ,
Death's gonna cold-cock you

(Photo credit: _Madolan_)

He was only 40, respected and liked and the last thing I needed as we mourned another loss to cancer was for the moment to be hijacked by someone for whom the word ‘consideration’ apparently extends no further than the end of her nose.

So his family were oblivious to the irony of having the funeral at a church, yet asking that it not be ‘too religious’? Bit like turning up at a barbecue and asking if everyone could keep the carnivorousness down but I let it ride. Many people’s disinterest in religion is a passive thing: they go with the flow without becoming part of it. I understand that. At least they observed the house rules.

Not so the young woman appointed to read out one of the eulogies. Bright and breezy in her opening remarks, I was looking forward to what she had to say.

But not this.

It’s just a terrible business, she declared, in fact it’s what [his widow] would call “a crock of s***…”

She then turned to make a mock apology to the presiding clergyman. Because that made everything just fine, of course.

She’ll dine out on this one, I’m sure. There probably won’t be a soiree goes by from now on without her mentioning the time she swore in a church. She’ll savour the gasps and laughing adulation and then smugly ask if anyone needs his glass filling.

Then again, maybe she’ll get what she deserves; someone smart enough to point out the flip side of the tale she just recounted.

Imagine half-a-dozen Christians turning up to a New Year’s Eve party at the same lady’s house. Without asking, they replace the music with a Gospel CD because they felt the mood was getting a bit trivial. They then insist that everyone spends the last half-hour of the old year and the first of the new in a Bible study session.

I’m guessing she’d have thrown half of them out before it even occurred to her to ask for help. “They come in here,” she’d tell anyone who cared to listen, “impose their ways on the rest of us without so much as a please and we’re just expected to sit back and take it…”

“Bloody Christians,” she’d fume. “Who the hell do they think they are…?”

And you know something, dear reader? I would be right behind her, throwing the coats of my fellow Christians out onto the street after them. Because she would have a perfectly valid point.

Who the hell do such people think they are?

July 5, 2013

Of course folk whoop at weddings – it’s in lieu of Tweeting…

Filed under: Celebration,Church,Religion — - @ 8:53 am

Not to take anything away from Mark Palmer but his lament for weddings of dignity and reverence is one of those pieces where the comment section is even more informative than the article itself.

Having touched on this theme from a different angle in the past, I think know where Mr Palmer is coming from. Like me, he seems to regard the ceremony’s reflective restraint as an ideal counterpoint to the moment when the party starts in earnest. Not a sackcloth of po-faced reticence but a moment to savour that enhances the day.

After all, even those audience members who can’t let more than the first four four bars of an X Factor song pass without breaking into that grating American-style whoop, even they probably shut the hell up for just a few seconds at least when confronted by stunning scenery or a beautiful sunset. It is as if our subconscious knows that enjoyment is sometimes best experienced through quiet. Mark Palmer simply extrapolates that idea to social occasions.

As the comments on his article reveal, though, he is travelling on the smaller bus. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at the level of indignation he meets. In this Internet age, where interactivity rules and everyone from Ant and Dec to The White House wants us to Tweet, Like, or hit the red button, sitting quietly on the sidelines while someone else dominates the show may, in time, come to feel as old-fashioned a concept as your ‘Sunday best’.

This is why I fear that the minute’s silence for the dead is now under serious threat, at least at those public gatherings where the propriety of everyone present cannot be vouched for. It was the fear of the ‘lone wolf’ heckler – someone else yet to realise that it’s not all about him – that persuaded football clubs, for example, to replace the traditional minute’s silence with a minute’s applause, an arrangement that is showing every sign of becoming as permanent as it is ghastly.

Because, if you’re clapping, you’re ‘involved’, see? Look at me, everyone; mourning interactively.

Standing around, doing nothing, being moved by the solemnity of silence, on the other hand: what’s all that about?

Some people just have an affinity for din, I suppose and yet for all the suggestions that Mark Palmer may not be quite the life and soul of the party, I’ll take his company over that of anyone who routinely starts a Conga. I always think it bodes well for the conversation when you’re in the presence of those who aren’t uncomfortable with the concept of being able to hear themselves think.

July 2, 2013

We don’t like to talk about it – an open letter to the British Home Secretary

Dear Home Secretary,

I write to add my voice to those of the many people angered by your decision to ban American anti-jihad campaigners, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer from these shores.

That people who trade in words and ideas can be kept out of the same land that takes forever to expel Islamists who openly campaign for the destruction of our way of life would be baffling enough but on top of this, I believe the rationale behind your action is flawed.

For if expressing views that “foment…terrorist violence” or “foster hatred” is enough on its own to justify exclusion (the question of how valid such views might be does not even warrant consideration, I notice) then the gameplan is clear for anyone who objects to inconvenient truths being told or too bright a light being shone upon his ideology.

Slaughter a soldier on the streets of London. Blow up a tube train. And watch the British Government do your all your media management for you: suppressing anything likely to provoke you in future and allowing you to continue moving silently in the shadows.

If someone chooses to react violently because of discussion, you go after the violent. You don’t close down the debate.

A free society is never easy, I know. Voices get raised in the marketplace of ideas and making sure everyone stays peaceful takes time and effort. That is the price we have to pay, however, because the alternative – a land where debate is silenced – is unthinkable.

Sadly, I believe you took the ‘anything for a quiet life’ approach in making your decision. Rent-a-mob grumbled loudly in the corner and you blinked. In doing so, you revealed the most tenuous of grips on what democracy entails and made this country look gutless and shallow.


[Petition protesting the decision now 6,000-strong at time of writing]

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