After Paris, maybe we need to slap ISIS about with Matthew’s Gospel?

These are the words of a savvy operator who knows that the counter-intuitive move will confound the enemy.

Since the hideous Paris attacks last week, a point that has been made over and over again is that ISIS (or, Daesh if you want to annoy them) have a strategy of provocation.  Their atrocities are designed to ‘sharpen the contradictions‘ by provoking people in Western countries into acts of racism, and provoking Western governments into acts of war.  They hope that by sowing division and actually causing human rights abuses against minorities, more Muslims in these countries will become disaffected and radicalised.  Journalist Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed has a good analysis of the strategy: Continue reading “After Paris, maybe we need to slap ISIS about with Matthew’s Gospel?”

Amidst Racist Shootings and Stabbings, the Resurrection of Jesus

I have heard the voice of Jesus

Recent weeks have brought us a couple of examples of improbable and extraordinary forgiveness in the face of brutal racism.

Today, the newspapers carry the story of teacher Vincent Uzomah.  Of the 14 year old who stabbed him while shouting racists slurs, Mr Uzomah said this:

As a Christian I have forgiven this boy who has inflicted this trauma and pain on me and my family. Our prayer for him is that he will make use of the opportunities and support that will be provided to him to become a changed person who will make a positive contribution to the society.

Continue reading “Amidst Racist Shootings and Stabbings, the Resurrection of Jesus”

We're not a Christian nation and those who say we are are mistaken and dangerous

A lot of hoo-hah this Easter about David Cameron’s comments that the UK is a Christian country. A group of scientists and writers wrote an angry letter to the Telegraph calling this divisive.

Personally I think Cameron was trolling us—saying something deliberately controversial in order to provoke the liberal left. The European elections are looming, and I would be willing to bet that precisely the sort of people who are drifting from the Conservative Party to UKIP are the sort of people for whom the whole ‘we are a Christian nation’ schtick would resonate. Its a faux culture war in order to shore up the base. Continue reading “We're not a Christian nation and those who say we are are mistaken and dangerous”

Memes, Religion and DNA

Jack of Kent has an interesting post about St Luke’s Gospel. He says that the nativity story has been embellished and fabricated to the point where it is simply incorrect… other than the fact that Jesus was indeed born around 4 BC, somewhere in what is now modern Palestine.

Why ‘improve’ on the nativity?  Simply put, it makes for better PR, and helps the religion to grow!  This mutation of the original facts reminds me of the idea thought that religion is very much like a strand of DNA.  The individual elements of the story change and adapt, the better to survive and flourish.  Yet throughout, the essence of the story remains.

It was none other than Richard Dawkins who coined the word ‘meme‘ for ideas that grow and evolve, in his famous treatise The Selfish Gene.  So I am surprised at the venom with which he and other atheists slag off religion and the preposterous, obviously false claims contained within the Abrahamic texts.  If you want the kernel of the Nazarene’s philosophy to survive a couple of millennia of war, disease, natural disaster, shifting borders and mutating languages, then you have to wrap it in parables, fabulism, and sound-bites.* Continue reading “Memes, Religion and DNA”

On Politics, Power and the Pulpit

Criminalising political protest in places of worship is un-democratic and wrong.

Following the news that two members of Pussy Riot have been sent to remote penal colonies in Russia, UCB Radio asked me on to Paul Hammond’s show on to discuss ‘Politics and the Pulpit’.

Is a church an appropriate place for political messages?   There are two aspects to this question. The first is whether activists should protest in a Church.  Was the uninvited ‘hooliganism’ of Pussy Riot justified? I cited the example of Jesus himself, who caused havoc in the Temple in what was surely a political as well as spiritual protest (see, for example, Mark 11-15). Continue reading “On Politics, Power and the Pulpit”

Censoring Inflammatory YouTubes

The ‘Innocence of Muslims’ nonsense also raises the questions on the other side of the controversy: should the American filmmakers have published the video? Should they have been are allowed to upload it to YouTube?

First: The principles of free speech are pretty clear cut in this case. The video is pretty awful, but does not call for violence towards anyone. So banning such a video would set a terrible precedent. It would allow the religious to censor criticism of their religion… And God knows, the Christian fundamentalists in the USA would relish that opportunity.

However, the question of whether the authors should have made the video is another matter. I wish they had not. They did it for hateful, disrespectful reasons. It comes from a bigoted mindset, and is designed to provoke and inflame. People who make that kind of art tend not to be very nice, interesting, or intelligent. But, to repeat the key point of the article I wrote about Günter Grass for the New Statesman, To say this is an act of artistic and moral criticism, not a statement on the principles of free speech.

Finally: should YouTube have removed the clip or suppressed it in certain countries? They did precisely this in Egypt, I believe. I think that this might be the most interesting part of the whole affair. On the one hand, YouTube is a private company, with its own Terms & Conditions that are distinct from the law of the land. If it wants to set a higher bar for free expression then I suppose it has the right to do that. On the other hand, YouTube has become so ubiquitous that It has become part of our public square, a shared communal space that is essential for democracy. Perhaps it has to act more like a government than a private company, and take a more permissive attitude to free expression.

Who cares whether Jesus was divine?

Jesus’ ethical teachings persist even if there is no causal connection between God and the Holy Bible.

The Daily Dish dedicates some time to tell us ‘All About Mormons’, courtesy of some South Park clips. The first clip suggests that Joseph Smith pretty much made up the Book of Mormon and claimed divine intervention, while the second clip reminds us that this doesn’t really matter:

Maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to Thank for all that. The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now, is loving your family, being nice, and helping people … you’ve got a lot of growing up to do buddy. Suck my balls.

It is odd that Sullivan makes no analogy with other Christianities, or other religions, which also carry absurdities. I’ve always thought that men claiming to have spoken to a burning bush are probably pretty high on something, but not God. And if someone goes wandering about the wilderness these days, and then claims to hear voices, we declare them to be psychotic, not prophets. And some passages of the Gospels which deal with sightings of the ressurrected Jesus (for example, Mark 16:12 or Luke 24:16) stretch credibility. Time and again, disciples do not recognise Jesus when he appears. Could that perhaps be because it was a different guy, claiming to be the crucified preacher!? I find it hard to believe that Sullivan did not take these glaring issues into account: I guess he simply decided against making that particular point in that particular post.

This is odd, however, since Andrew has been writing a lot about his faith recently, and I should have thought he would want to explicitly align himself with the sentiments expressed by the liitle boy in the South Park clip. Biblical inconsistencies do not, or should not matter to other strains of Christian either, because it is Jesus’ ethical teachings that should be of paramount importance. These persist even if there is no causal connection between God and the Holy Bible. They persist despite the falsity of the Virgin Birth. They persist despite the hoax of the Resurrection. Tony Benn is fond of quoting Malcolm Muggeridge, thus: Jesus was not the Labour MP for Galilee North. I say that is a shame, because Jesus is a great politician! “Pay a bit of tax“, “Be nice to the kids“, “Don’t let money rule your life” and, of course “get pissed at weddings“. Universal policies by which we can all interact with our neighbours. His ethical pronouncements stand us in good stead, even the evidence for his divinity is unconvincing.

It seems to me this is the difference between the fundamentalists, and the ‘private faith’ which Andrew Sullivan has been discussing in the past few months: faith is what you believe when no one’s watching. Only this latter group can embark, as Sullivan has done, on a reinterpretation of the texts that would (say) make homosexuality permissible. Meanwhile, the fundamentalists pursue the red herring of Intelligent Design, or concern themselves with what two or more people do in the privacy of their bedroom.