Thursday, 30 September 2010

Ed, faith, marriage and kids.

Ed Miliband became Leader of the Labour Party last Saturday andedmiliband almost immediately his personal life became public property, or at least that is what the media would have us believe. And so began the exploration of all things Ed including not just his political convictions but his religious beliefs and family life.

In interviews Ed has explained that he doesn’t believe in God, though he respects those who do. There is an interesting summary of Ed’s publically expressed views on faith by The Church Mouse. I think Mouse is a little more cynical in his comment than I would be in saying:
It struck Mouse that Miliband was probably attempting to follow Clegg's line that in some ways he wished he did have a faith, but unfortunately doesn't.  This is designed to make believers feel that they are respected and valued, whilst making non-believers feel that he's also on the side of reason and rationality, no matter how nice it might be to believe in these fairy stories. 
Patronising all round really.  If the truth is that he looked at it and decided it was not true, Mouse would rather he just said that.
I have plenty of friends who express their admiration, even at times envy, of people of faith while not believing themselves.

As much attention has been focused on Ed Miliband’s family life. I think this is a matter of legitimate interest because in his Leader’s speech at the Labour Party Conference Ed spoke at length about the importance and value of family and family life, both for him personally and for society. Some have commented that this commitment to family didn’t stop Ed committing a public act of political fratricide, despite all his statements about how much he loves his brother David. Others have been quick to point out that Ed is not married to his long term partner and the mother of his child. It has also come to light that Ed had not been registered as the father on his child’s birth certificate.

In an interview on Channel 4 last night, Ed explained that he was planning to get married and when his second child is born he will register as the father of his children. He seemed very relaxed, if not laid back, about all this. There was one particular phrase that left me uneasy:
"Justine and I have a very strong bond and actually we've said in the past we intended to get married," he said. "I actually think the British people are very relaxed about whether we're married or not."
It may be a surprise to discover that the reason for my unease is not primarily because of what I believe about marriage as a Christian. I have clear views on marriage as a precious gift from God, but I don’t expect someone who isn’t a Christian to share that understanding of marriage. Nor is it the case that I think any less of Ed’s commitment to his partner than many of our politicians who are married. Let’s be honest, it hasn’t stopped some of them having affairs and others are so committed to marriage that they have decided to have several. No, what concerns me is that this ‘relaxed attitude’ might reflect a general ignorance about the legal state of those who are in committed long term relationships and yet not married.

cert-marriage-england-wales My wife is a tutor and lecturer in law and she is frequently amazed and disturbed by the number of mature students who are under the clear impression that ‘common law marriage’ is legally recognised in this country; it is not. They assume that their long term partner and they enjoy the same legal rights as those who are married; they do not. The situation is clearly set out in this helpful statement: Marriage, cohabitation and civil partnerships. Once the students realise the true situation they are far from relaxed about whether they are married or not because a false assumption about their relationship has been shattered. Sadly, there are many people in our country who do not know about or understand the implications of not being married until something goes wrong and then it is often too late.

I am also uneasy about the relaxed nature of Ed Miliband’s attitude to being registered as the father of his child. Again, there are important legal implications arising from this situation. These  relate to parental responsibility and the rights of a father who is not registered as the father and not married to the child’s mother. If someone loves their child, then being relaxed about legal procedures that secure that relationship in law would seem pretty foolish.

Now Ed Miliband is an intelligent man and I would expect he is aware of the legal implications of not being married or registered as his child’s father. If he isn’t then that does not bode well for someone offering themselves as a potential Prime Minister, nor for the country they are seeking to lead. I would assume he and his partner have taken appropriate steps to mitigate the legal position. But it is not something to be relaxed about, as too many partners and parents have discovered at great personal cost.

h/t David Keen, Maggi Dawn, Bex Lewis and Martin Beckford for Twitter conversations on this topic.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Latest Harry Potter trailer

My kids can’t wait and neither can I. Here’s the latest trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.

Warning: contains offensive American reference to 'This Fall' rather than Autumn.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Who’s the Nazi?

The Pope had hardly landed in the country and opened his mouth and the secularist and atheist commentariat were up in arms. This is the line from Benedict  XVI’s speech at Holyrood Palace that caused so much offence:
Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).
In minutes the offended issued their rebuttals. The British Humanist Association responded with:
The notion that it was the atheism of Nazis that led to their extremist and hateful views or that it somehow fuels intolerance in Britain today is a terrible libel against those who do not believe in God. The notion that it is non-religious people in the UK today who want to force their views on others, coming from a man whose organisation exerts itself internationally to impose its narrow and exclusive form of morality and undermine the human rights of women, children, gay people and many others, is surreal.
Of course the high priest of atheism, Richard Dawkins, could be counted on to go in to full rant mode, which he did both in his speech at the Protest the Pope rally and on his website where he accused the Pope of being the enemy of humanity. Highlights include:
Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, was respected by some as a saintly man. But nobody could call Benedict XVI saintly and keep a straight face. Whatever this leering old fixer may be, he is not saintly. Is he intellectual? Scholarly? That is often claimed, although it is far from clear what there is in theology to be scholarly about. Surely nothing to respect.
At first I was annoyed by the Pope’s disgraceful attack on atheists and secularists, but then I saw it as reassuring. It suggests that we have rattled them so much that they have to resort to insulting us, in a desperate attempt to divert attention from the child rape scandal.
It would be unkind to prolong this point, but Ratzinger’s speech in Edinburgh on Thursday was so disgraceful, so hypocritical, so redolent of the sound of stones hurled from within a glass house, I felt that I had to reply.
Joseph Ratzinger is an enemy of humanity.
He is an enemy of children, whose bodies he has allowed to be raped and whose minds he has encouraged to be infected with guilt. It is embarrassingly clear that the church is less concerned with saving child bodies from rapists than with saving priestly souls from hell: and most concerned with saving the long-term reputation of the church itself.
He is an enemy of gay people, bestowing on them the sort of bigotry that his church used to reserve for Jews.
He is an enemy of women – barring them from the priesthood as though a penis were an essential tool for pastoral duties. What other employer is allowed to discriminate on grounds of sex, when filling a job that manifestly doesn’t require physical strength or some other quality that only males might be thought to have?
He is an enemy of truth, promoting barefaced lies about condoms not protecting against AIDS, especially in Africa.
He is an enemy of the poorest people on the planet, condemning them to inflated families that they cannot feed, and so keeping them in the bondage of perpetual poverty. A poverty that sits ill with the obscene riches of the Vatican.
He is an enemy of science, obstructing vital stem-cell research, on grounds not of morality but of pre-scientific superstition.
Less seriously from my point of view, Ratzinger is even an enemy of the Queen’s own church, arrogantly endorsing a predecessor's dissing of Anglican Orders as “absolutely null and utterly void”, while shamelessly trying to poach Anglican vicars to shore up his own pitifully declining priesthood.
Finally, perhaps of most personal concern to me, he is an enemy of education. Quite apart from the lifelong psychological damage caused by the guilt and fear that have made catholic education infamous throughout the world, he and his church foster the educationally pernicious doctrine that evidence is a less reliable basis for belief than faith, tradition, revelation and authority – his authority.
Amidst the general offense taking, ranting and abuse there were some who offered considered commentary and reflection. On the meaning of the Pope’s comment is this from Andrew Brown in The Guardian: Pope Benedict XVI was talking about the Nazis, not Richard Dawkins, where he makes the following observations:
We're not used to Germans coming here to talk about the war, so many people have jumped to entirely the wrong conclusion about Pope Benedict's attack on atheist extremism. He didn't mean us. He didn't even mean Richard Dawkins. He was talking about the Nazis, who, he said "wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live."
For him, a nation that turns away from God entirely has nothing to keep it from treating people as disposable means, rather than ends in themselves. The liberal appeal to reason, to choice, and to human rights doesn't go far enough. He believes in all three, but he thinks they must be derived from something else. That something else was once generally understood to be Christianity. If that is no longer true, Benedict believes we are all shrunken and impoverished: "Let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a 'reductive vision of the person and his destiny'."
So he believes that what gave Britain the strength to resist nazism was its long Christian heritage, in which the powerful and effective were animated by their faith.
Where secularists see religion as a divisive force, and their own beliefs as the self-evident and true base on which a healthy society can be built, Benedict sees that secularism itself can be challenged. Human rights are not self-evident. What rights we have depend on what kind of people that we think we are, and that is exactly the kind of question which social change and multiculturalism sharpen. It's not a question to which there is any agreed answer in Britain today.
The second piece is a comment on Dawkins’ response to the Pope and comes from Stuart Sharpe on his blog Sharpe’s Opinion. Stuart writes as an atheist but his critique of Dawkins is devastating. Here are a few excerpts and the whole post is worth a read:
I watched this video of Richard Dawkins speaking at the ‘Protest the Pope’ rally with a mixture of disappointment, alarm and brewing anger. Disappointment at the way he failed utterly to use reason, or logic, or rationality in his speech, preferring instead emotive platitudes and fallacious diatribes. Alarm at the crowd of protesters cheering his every sentence, reserving their loudest jeering for his portrayals of the Pope as ‘an enemy’, and for his characterisation of ‘them’ as running scared from ‘us’. Brewing anger at the way the name ‘atheist’, which I have identified with ever since I first heard it, has been dragged through the mud over the last weekend by both the Pope’s ridiculous taunting and by Dawkins’ brawling mob of ‘secular humanists’ or whatever it is they’re calling themselves now.
When the Pope told us, during his overly-expensive-but-otherwise-mostly-harmless State Visit, that Hitler was an atheist and secularism is the root cause of the Holocaust, my first reaction was to laugh. I mean, Hitler? Really? Obviously, it’s unlikely the Pope’s ever been on a Usenet discussion group (though HM The Queen was sending email in 1976, so anything’s possible) but have none of his speechwriters, helpers, aides or support staff ever heard of Godwin’s Law? Whether Hitler was an atheist or not makes no odds, so apart from a little light ridicule, who gives a damn?
Apparently Dawkins does. Not only that, but he’s hell-bent on proving to you that Hitler not only wasn’t an atheist, Hitler was a Catholic. He devotes some five minutes of his speech to this – nearly half of the video. It’s still utterly fallacious; still pathetically stupid, still pretty much playground debating (‘you’re a Nazi!’ ‘No,you’re a Nazi!’) but nevertheless, the crowd aren’t saying ‘now hang on a minute’, they’re going bonkers for it. Yeah! The Pope’s a Nazi! And a kiddy fiddler! Woo!
Is it merely the existence of religion which so gets his goat? I’m as versed as anyone in the atrocities carried out in the name of religions, but is Dawkins really so certain, so absolutely sure, that religion itself is the very root of these problems, rather than merely being itself a symptom of a deeper problem with humanity? If Dawkins really believes that atrocities like the Crusades, the Salem witch trials, the Holocaust, the 9/11 attacks or the abuse of children by figures of trust and authority couldn’t possibly have happened without religion, where is his evidence for this? He does believe in the need for evidence, doesn’t he?
And yet looking at Dawkins now, I see not a defender of rationality, not a beacon of light in an dangerous world of faith-based stupidity. I’ve begun to see a figurehead of a new and somewhat sinister religion. One which cares not at all about those genuinely positive things which have come from faith on a personal or global level. One which isn’t interested in introspection, or analysing the faults in the arguments on which it is based. One which is built on a foundation of hatred towards the members of all other religions, which is willing to persecute Catholics on the basis of atrocities they didn’t commit, and which sees all of this as a battle between ‘us’, the enlightened forces of good, and ‘them’, the irredeemably evil ones. The enemy.
I don’t know what that is, and I don’t know what to call it, but I’m certain that it isn’t the atheism I grew up with.Star Wars seems to be about as close to a religion as the people I’m closest to have ever had, and strangely enough I feel like Star Wars has a lesson which can be applied here – Anakin Skywalker fell from grace because he began to hate, and to see others as his enemy. This sermon could end on no better note than with the words of Master Yoda – “fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate; hate, leads to suffering.”
From where I’m sitting, Dawkins already seems to have lead us to hate. I dearly hope that’s as far as his new crusaders go.
The Pope’s visit was bound to stir up emotions. I had serious reservations and believe there are legitimate questions to ask about the nature of the visit and about the conduct and teaching of the Roman Catholic church under the present Pope and indeed his predecessor. But one thing the Pope’s visit has achieved is to highlight the fallacy that some of religion’s most vociferous opponents are either rational or enlightened in their opposition.

Update: I missed Andrew Brown's excellent follow up article on the subject: Pope Benedict and Nazism.  Here's a taste:
To recruit the unimaginable and almost incredible horrors of the twentieth century into the service of internet flame wars is a kind of blasphemy against humanity. Shouting "nyah nyah, Hitler was on your team!" is pissing on the corpses – or the ashes – of the dead.
Anyone seriously thinking on how to derive their morals from their beliefs must of course work out how it is that their own beliefs and morals are incompatible with totalitarianism. To that extent the pope must always conclude that true belief in God is incompatible with Nazism; and Bertrand Russell would have to conclude that true humanism was. But this exercise is necessary precisely becasue neither atheism nor faith in themselves protect us from inhumanity. No one should take the apparently logical next step and conclude that those who disagree with us theologically are therefore morally inferior or closer to evil. Certainly no Christian should, who believes in the reality of sin.
Andrew had to switch off the comments on his column 'for obvious reasons' which tells us all we need to know about some of the vitriol doing the rounds on the subject.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Greenbelt 2010 #gb10

A guest post by my wife Kate, who felt moved to pen the following reflection on this year’s experience of Greenbelt.
Queuing, queuing, queuing
I know its part of life
But when it came to Greenbelt
The problem became rife.

It started in the car park
And soon spread to the loos –
No matter you were desperate
To do your number twos.

They queued to get the best seats
To see the main event
Just to find the guy from ‘Rev’
Was in another tent.

And if you were a parent
You were queuing for the queue
‘Get there early’ someone sighed
‘Try 2002’.

Some of the old timers
Knew to come prepared
With chairs and books and flasks of tea
Shed Seven though were spared!

But patience is a virtue
A queue’s a chance to pray
Or start a conversation
And brighten someone’s day.

So next time stewards tell me
My wait has been in vain
I’ll thank them for their courage
And bless them in the rain.

Unless someone has queue jumped
Which justifies complaint
For though I am a Christian
I’m not a ******** Saint!
And some pics…
greenbeltkids K & D chilling in the Tiny Tea Tent
thevicaragesMr and Mrs Vicarage
greenbeltmud The slough of despond: our tent was 2nd from the left
Greenbeltflags Keeping the flags flying
greenbeltdodgebros‘Militant skiffle’ from The Dodge Brothers

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Holy Cross Day

In the early 1990s I served as curate in charge of St Lawrence, a church plant in the Waltham Holy Cross team ministry in Waltham Abbey. I really enjoyed my time there, though I had a habit of falling asleep in the sanctuary canon stalls of the Abbey church during choral evensong and would wake up to find everyone looking at me while they stood to recite the Apostles Creed. My dilemma was to decide whether to pretend I had been praying or to try and join in and hope no one had noticed.

The Abbey church is dedicated to Holy Cross and St Lawrence and so  I always remember it and the people of the parish on Holy Cross Day.  The Abbey south of abbeyat Waltham was the last in the country to be dissolved by Henry VIII in 1540. There had been a church on the site for hundreds of years, although the building had been rebuilt several times. A settlement existed there in Saxon times, but the earliest recorded history of the town dates back to the reign of King Canute when a member of the royal court, Tovi the Proud, brought a miraculous stone crucifix from his estate in Somerset to Waltham. From this is derived the old name for the district, Waltham Holy Cross.

The church containing the cross was rebuilt in the 1050's by Harold Godwinsson, later King Harold II, as a college of secular canons. After his death at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Harold's body was taken to Waltham Abbey and buried. Today, two stones mark the spot, just to the east of the present building, where his body is believed to lie. The inscription on one reads: "THIS STONE MARKS THE POSITION OF THE HIGH ALTAR BEHIND WHICH KING HAROLD IS SAID TO HAVE BEEN BURIED 1066" and on the other "HAROLD KING OF ENGLAND OBIIT 1066"

The present building is the fourth on this site, and was erected in the first quarter of the 12th century to replace the church founded by King Harold. In 1177, Henry II re-founded the church as an Augustinian abbey, as part of his penance for the murder of Thomas Becket. When the abbey was dissolved, the buildings erected for the canons were then pulled down – only the nave survived, because it had always belonged to the parish.
walthamabbey Most of the present building dates from c1120, though the Lady Chapel and the undercroft beneath it were built in the 14th century. The tower at the west end of the church, which now dominates Waltham Abbey, was built in 1556 (during the reign of Mary I) using materials from the demolished Abbey. It was erected  at the west end (instead of the east where the old tower, which had fallen down, had been) as the church was leaning in that direction and needed propping up! The east end, the stained glass and the painted ceiling were installed in the 1860s.

I thank God for my time at Waltham Abbey and for all the people I came to know there in the congregations and wider parish. Above all I thank God for all that he has done for us through the cross of his Son the Lord Jesus Christ.
Almighty God,
who in the passion of your blessed Son
made an instrument of painful death
to be for us the means of life and peace:
grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ
that we may gladly suffer for his sake;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Pope spam

Today the Pope has sent a message to the people of Great Britain. You can read the full text here and the Church Mouse has posted about it on his blog.

However, this morning I also received another message related to the Pope’s visit. The message popped into my office inbox and informed me:
Within 2 weeks from now the Holy Father will visit the UK! Looking forward intently to these historic days? Extraordinary and affordable bespoke religious articles will help you to commemorate the Pope’s visit and to enhance your living faith and devotion. Go to the official UK Papal Visit on-line store to order your bespoke religious gifts and rosaries.
A quick glance at the items on offer didn’t exactly entice me; I don’t want a cup with Cardinal Newman’s mug on it, nor an essential, yet bespoke, handmade, glass rosary and I’m not really in the market for a ‘hot items’ spiritual bracelet.

I was intrigued to discover that my work colleagues had also received this message from Stadelmaier Italia purporting to be the ‘official merchandise exclusive supplier’ for the Pope’s visit. Now this email was unsolicited, sent to multiple recipients pushing commercial products and by any reasonable definition therefore qualifies as spam. So I’m afraid it now resides in my junk e-mail folder alongside other emails offering me the delights of viagra, dodgy financial schemes and other products promising to improve my performance. I’m not really sure that’s the company the Pope wants to keep but then I remember Jesus did spend his time amongst dodgy tax collectors and sinners.