Hell manned

Last Sunday – Remembrance Sunday – the padre preaching in our church in Corsham spoke as only a soldier with experience in Afghanistan could, and gave two stories of soldiers in their twenties who were blown up there and died. He may have meant to paint a picture of heroism, however I only found myself wondering why we still send so many there for involuntary multiple amputations and death. As often, Paul Vallely's words do better than mine to ask that question. I saw his article first in November's Third Way magazine http://www.paulvallely.com/?p=4557

Pleased by review of decision to abolish cheques

This is an update of this article which I originally wrote on 11th May 2011, because the result of the review was to abandon the plan to abolish cheques. Hooray!

I don't know when the original publicity for this happened, and I've missed the 6th May deadline to join in with the enquiry, but I'm pleased to see that HM Treasury is reviewing the 2010 decision to abolish cheques in the UK in 2018.

Apparently there has been a deluge of correspondence from alarmed people, particularly from charities who are concerned less people will give to them. There also seems to be a move to abolish cash. A while ago I read of a journalist who had tried to live without cash for a day: a poignant issue for her was her inability to give to beggars. How will Big Issue sellers cope?

I think her point is a good one, and what about giving people gifts. “I've transferred some money to your account” does not seem as satisfying as saying “here you are” as you give a cheque or cash. When I mentioned this to someone the other day he said that there is a business opportunity to create bank-transfer-gift-cards!

So, I stand for not making changes that marginalise people who are not part of the mainstream “economy.” The current piece of paper that we call a cheque is just a standardised form of a written instruction to a bank from a customer to pay another customer. What excuse do banks have for refusing to pay “on the order of” their clients? Don't they exist to provide a service to their clients?

The decision to abolish cheques was subject to alternative methods being found. Maybe that has been forgotten about. I don't see effective movement in that direction, but then I wouldn't want to cooperate with it anyway!

More details here: http://www.albany.co.uk/blog/inquiry-into-abolition-of-cheques/


Sustainability Toolkit

Here's an interesting link to a course put together by a friend of mine, Martin Sandbrook, at the Schumacher Intitute in Bristol. It's all about finding a more sustainable way of doing things and making use of Systems Thinking instead of just mechanistic approaches with a view to – amongst other things – living a more satisfying life. The Sustainability Toolkit: the first twelve-month course was launched in January 2011.

Easy treatments for Hay Fever

  • Shampoo your hair daily: it will get rid of pollen trapped there
  • Gently blowing your nose gets rid of pollen: do so regularly
  • Use sunglasses as they reduce the effect of pollen on the eye (conjuctivitis)
  • Don't dry your clothes outside as pollen may settle on them
  • Smearing vaseline on the inside of your nose works just as well as many official medicines
  • Work out what pollens you are allergic to, and be particularly careful at times of year and places where they are prevalent. Allergy tests may be available, or keep a diary of your symptoms
  • Enjoy walks in the day not the evening as pollen counts are highest in the evening
  • Making love produces natural antihistamines and so helps unblock the nose!

This is my paraphrase of material from The Times which I read in The Week of 30th April 2011.

“Let me explain the problem science has with religion”

'Let me explain the problem science has with religion.' The atheist Professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new students to stand.

'You're a Christian, aren't you, son?'

'Yes sir,' the student says.

'So you believe in God?'


'Is God good?'

'Sure! God's good.'

'Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?'


'Are you good or evil?'

'The Bible says I'm evil.'

The professor grins knowingly. 'Aha! The Bible!' He considers for a moment. 'Here's one for you.

Let's say there's a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help him? Would you try?'

'Yes sir, I would.'

'So you're good…!'

'I wouldn't say that.'

'But why not say that? You'd help a sick and maimed person if you could. Most of us would if we could.

But God doesn't.'

The student does not answer, so the professor continues.

'He doesn't, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer, even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him.

How is this Jesus good? Hmmm? Can you answer that one?'

The student remains silent.

'No, you can't, can you?' the professor says.

He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax.

'Let's start again, young fella. Is God good?'

'Er..yes,' the student says.

“Is Satan good?'

The student doesn't hesitate on this one. 'No.'

'Then where does Satan come from?'

The student falters. 'From God'

'That's right. God made Satan, didn't he? Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Evil's everywhere, isn't it? And God did make everything correct??


'So who created evil?' The professor continued, 'If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to

the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil.'

Again, the student has no answer. 'Is there sickness?

Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things, do they exist in this world?'

The student squirms on his feet. 'Yes.'

'So who created them?'

The student does not answer again, so the professor repeats his question. 'Who created them?' There is still no answer. Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace in front of the classroom. The class is mesmerized. 'Tell me,' he continues onto another student.

'Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?

The student's voice betrays him and cracks. 'Yes, professor, I do.'

The old man stops pacing. 'Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you.

Have you ever seen Jesus?'

'No sir. I've never seen Him.'

'Then tell us if you've ever heard your Jesus?'

'No, sir, I have not.'

'Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelled your Jesus? Have you ever had any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that matter?'

'No, sir, I'm afraid I haven't.'

'Yet you still believe in him?'


'According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn't exist. What do you say to that, son?'

'Nothing,' the student replies. 'I only have my faith.'

'Yes, faith,' the professor repeats. 'And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith.'

The student stands quietly for a moment, before asking a question of

His own. 'Professor, is there such thing as heat?'

' Yes.'

'And is there such a thing as cold?'

'Yes, son, there's cold too.'

'No sir, there isn't.'

The professor turns to face the student, obviously interested.

The room suddenly becomes very quiet. The student begins to explain.

'You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat, but we don't have anything called 'cold'.

We can hit up to 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can't go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold; otherwise we would be able to go colder than the lowest -458 degrees.'

'Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matte r have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-458 F) is the total absence of heat. You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.'

Silence across the room. A pen drops somewhere in the classroom, sounding like a hammer.

'What about darkness, professor. Is there such a thing as darkness?'

'Yes,' the professor replies without hesitation.

'What is night if it isn't darkness?'

'You're wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something; it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light, but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and it's called darkness, isn't it? That's the meaning we use to
define the word.'

'In reality, darkness isn't. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn't you?'

The professor begins to smile at the student in front of him. This will be a good semester. 'So what point are you making, young man?

'Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with, and so your conclusion must also be flawed.'

The professor's face cannot hide his surprise this time. 'Flawed? Can you explain how?'

'You are working on the premise of duality,' the student explains…

'You argue that there is life and then there's death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can't even explain a thought.'

'It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, just the absence of it. 'Now tell me, professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?'

'If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do.'

'Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?'

The professor begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes where the argument is going. A very good semester, indeed.

'Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a preacher?'

The class is in uproar. The student remains silent until the commotion has subsided.

'To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, let me give you an example of what I mean.'

The student looks around the room. 'Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor's brain?'

The class breaks out into laughter.

'Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor's brain, felt the professor's brain, touched or smelled the professor's brain? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, with all due respect, sir.'

'So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?'

Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable.

Finally, after what seems an eternity, the old man answers. 'I guess you'll have to take them on faith.'

'Now, you accept that there is faith, and, in fact, faith exists with life,' the student continues.

'Now, sir, is there such a thing as evil?'

Now uncertain, the professor responds, 'Of course, there is. We see it everyday It is in the daily example of man's inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.'

To this the student replied, 'Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart. It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.'

The professor sat down.

The student was Albert Einstein.

Albert Einstein did write a book titled God vs. Science in 1921…

This abounds in emails and on the Internet. Does anyone know where it came from? It's very entertaining, except that it perpetuates a view that science and Christianity are in conflct which is not my view!

Does your religion bring about flourishing?

I've just read an interesting book review in the Church Times. It's of Good and Bad Religion by Peter Vardy.* He is Vice Principal of Heythrop College, London, and lectures in Philosophy of Religion.

Under the headline “MOT for religions” Ronan Head in his review of the book summarises its point that we should judge the goodness of religion against Aristotle's notion of human flourishing and the virtues that characterise this alignment.

So good religions that promote flourishing also promote justice, freedom, and equality. To be responsible for their actions, humans must be free to choose them.

Bad religions are characterised by: forms of authority that stifle independent thought and promote unquestioning obedience; fundamentalist readings of their holy texts; and fear of science and technology.

Seems wise to me!

* SCM Press 2011 £12.99 978-0-334-04349-2

Sickened by aftermath of UK referendum on Alternative Voting system

 Maybe I should get angry about politics more often! The result of the referendum, by a large majority, is “no” to a change from our voting system from “First Past the Post” to “Alternative Vote.”

I'm appalled to hear politicians who wanted a “no to AV” vote saying that the “no” result means that the British people do not want electoral reform, while the “yes” group say the referendum should be followed by consideration of other forms of voting reform. Surely the occurrence of such a squabble just shows that the question was badly worded, or that there should have been more than one question! Whose idea was it anyway to just ask one question about one specific system?

The “no” team, which includes most of our senior politicians, appear to be complacent enough to believe that this vote exonerates “the system” as if no improvement were possible – just as after an election they claim that the publication of an enormous manifesto with some sane and some insane ideas gives them a public mandate for every sentence in it and at the same time impunity if they break these promises at will! Shocking!

The British parliamentary and legal system is based on the idea that if you have group of people with one idea, and another group argue from the opposite position, then the result will be a correct answer. Historically the system has much to commend it, however it relies on reasoned intelligent debate and individual conscience. Quite apart from the fact that most MP's vote as they are told to vote by their leader, the mere fact that in the run up to this referendum the government have not been able to create a balanced and impartial leaflet about the pro's and con's (but instead appear to have bahaved in the usual electioneering way of seeking advantage for their party) seems to show that people in parliament are no longer capable of reasoned debate. So either “first past the post” is out of date or we are no longer mature enough for it.

Many people have expressed fear that a change in the voting system will result in more coalition governments in Britain, however a friend has pointed out to me that, while our first past the post system has created a coalition goverment for the UK, the election just now has created a “decisive majority” in Scotland through their system of Proportional Representation!

In most of the recent general elections, the public have been encouraged by some to do “tactical voting” if their candidate was unlikely to win enough votes to be elected. In other words, vote to stop the candidate you least like, rather than to elect the candidate you want. A major benefit of AV is that it eliminates this need. You can vote for who you want, and also state who you want to win if your favourite does not win.

I hope there is nobody who has in the past, or will want in the future, to place a “tactical vote,” amongst those who voted “no” to AV or chose not to vote.

Persistence wins out!

Sometimes, when things are not going as well as we should like, we are wise to examine whether we should be doing something differently. However it may be persistence, not change, that is needed, as Calvin Coolidge noted.

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” 
Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) 30th President of the U.S.A.

Persist: to continue steadfastly or obstinately in spite of opposition or warning; to last, to endure.

From the Internet: Background on Coolidge and this quotation;
More impressive quotations from Coolidge – here and here.

(I find these links helpful, but take no responsibility for them.)

And to finish off, here's a related quote I also like by John Quincy Adams (1825-29) 6th President of the U.S.A. “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”

Life isn't all about new information. I know, in my life and in my coaching work with business leaders, that at times what is needed is help in discerning what to persist with and what to stop doing – and encouragement to continue the journey. If you would find such support helpful, get in touch.

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Don’t label people groups as inferior, it opens the door to human rights abuses

I've just read* an interesting letter by Professor GS Solt to The Times (April 9 2011) commenting on the current exposé of the British conflict with the Mau Mau in Kenya in the 1950's. Drawing on his experiences of that and of the Nazis in Austria in the 1930's he declares that:

“When a govenment declares that a section of its subjects is inferior, and the law gives them inferior rights, the message soon becomes that they are not quite human. This is how some (apparently decent) people can knock off work at the concentration camp and go home for tea with a clear conscience. Even the British.”

He is generalising to draw what seems to me to be a valid conclusion about the way in which whole countries are able to move in the direction of genocide. It seems obvious, when thought about, that governments have an equal duty to all their subjects and should not be considering one group to be inferior. However there seem to be a lot of places in the world where particular groups are considered inferior for many reasons, including race, religion, upbringing, and intelligence. His writing makes me feel the edge of the precipice over which we can so easily fall.

* in The Week 16th April 2011.