Gandhi and what will destroy society

While on retreat I’ve been reading Stephen Covey’s The 8th Habit – from Effectiveness to Greatness. In it he quotes “seven things that, according to Gandhi’s teaching, will destroy us.” Here’s the list. I think it’s a bit too close for comfort in today’s U.K., particularly the last four.

  • Wealth without work
  • Pleasure without conscience
  • Knowledge without character
  • Commerce without morality
  • Science without humanity
  • Worship without sacrifice
  • Politics without principle

Ananias is one of my heroes

Today, January 25th,  is the festival of the Conversion of St Paul – in the Church of England and a few others besides. I read again today of the extraordinary event of Saul losing his sight and being healed miraculously by Ananias. Maybe many people yearn to have a dramatic conversion like that which turned Saul into St Paul. I admire the quiet heroism of Ananias who heard from God that he should visit and bless the one man who had been most responsible for the murder of many of his friends. This man whom we hardly know recognised and trusted the Voice, had the courage to do what was asked of him, and the course of history was changed.

Materialism, by John O’Donohue

John says: “All materialism – be it for money, power, possession, or people – has to do with an epistemology of quantity… the mistaken belief that, through an accumulation of quantity, you can settle the task of your own identity.

I'd like to write about what I like about this, but is seems that any attempt by me to to so would merely detract from the depth and insight of this statement. I've just been catching up on my reading of the Church Times (14/1/2011) which includes a never-before-published interview with John (who died three years ago) by Martin Wroe. That is where I found this quote and some other interesting ones.

I also like John's belief in blessing: the “speech-act” of one person speaking a blessing over another person. He sees this as something anyone can do, which “might be the coolest thing of all. It has a democracy and equality about it, a sense of well-wishing that is concerned more with the destiny of someone rather than their destination.”

Priest, poet, philosopher, speaker and author: his most famous book may be Anam Cara (Gaelic for soul friend) which was published in 2007. Full interview here.

Epistemology, noun, the branch of philosophy dealing with the study of knowledge.

Earlier article on this blog about John O'Donohue.

Does the Queen believe the Bible can still bring harmony to her kingdom, or is ‘sport’ the best she can offer?

Is it my imagination, or was the invisible ink glowing brightly in today's Queen's Speech? I'm not sure how good I am at 'reading between the lines' but it seemed to me that there was a kind of gulf between (1) the Queen's praise for the action of her prececessor King James in 1604 to commission a fresh translation of the Bible to bring “harmony” to his kingdom (which newly included England & Wales as well as Scotland) and (2) her examples of the way that sport is today “one of the most powerful ways” to bring harmony – because although there is opposition the opponents have to respect one another. (And it can help with the rehabilitation of our soldiers injured in places like Afghanistan too.)

I can see benefits of sport (like all good things, in moderation) but I find myself noticing that although the King James Bible was a momentous seven year scholarly project to bring harmony to the kingdom, the Queen did not mention the possiblity that a “most vivid translation of the scriptures” might bring harmony to our nation today. I find myself wondering whether this thought had not occurred to her, or whether it was 'between the lines': a hope that she had very much in her mind but did not speak for some reason.

I find myself admiring the way that King James had a vision of the Bible as a unifying text. Good leadership is about presenting people with a vision to aspire to and to work towards, and helping them to step towards it, and he sought to do that. I sometimes feel that the politicians who lead our country today see their role in a far to narrow way to do with juggling purse strings (taxes and how to spend them) and passing legislation – instead of presenting and building a unifying vision. I also wonder where in our de facto constitution – with its curious balance of power between government and monarch – the mantle of “visionary leader” rests.

Constitutionally the Queen uniquely holds together the Church (of England) and secular government because she is the head of both. Part of what is needed for effective national leadership is a common direction of religious and secular leadership (as demonstrated by King James) while government and church at the moment seem to be at each others' throats (at least in public if not in private).

The trouble with people for whom harmony is most important is that they are sometime not willing to say what needs to be said for fear of upsetting people!

The King James Bible, also known as the Authorised Version, was commissioned in 1604 and published in 1611. So it's 400th anniversary will be celebrated next year in 2011. I'm sure there are a lot of groups which will take an interest in this. One that I have noticed is Biblefresh which seeks to encourage a fresh interest in the Bible during this anniversary.

Full text of the Queen's speech care of the BBC here.

Impressed by Pope’s speech

The Pope's recent visit to the UK seems to have captured the imagination of many people and surprised the British press who found that their negative take on the event was not in tune with all public feeling. So, although it's taken me a while, I wanted to check out what he actually said.

His speech to politicians at Westminster Hall is worth reading. I like it because he puts across the importance of the Christian faith as a contributor to political debate in a very reasonable and reasoned way which I think only people who are unreasonable could reject! Take a few minutes to read it yourself. I read it in the Church Times, or it's here at the BBC.

As my Christian faith develops I find myself increasingly expecting the faith to seem reasonable to others, not just impressive on the basis of (say) experience of miracles. Afer all, since Richard Hooker, the Anglican Church has sought to weave together the authority of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.

I also found it interesting that during the Pope's visit those opposed to the “intolerance” of the Roman Catholic Church seem at times to have made themselves look intolerant. (See my earlier article.)

Chile, the Pope, and British Atheism

During his state visit to Britain just now, the Pope has expressed concern that British values and way of life could be eroded harmfully by increasing aggressive atheism. His comments are informed both by his religious beliefs and by his formative childhood experiences in atheist Nazi Germany. So he has authority in what he says. It behoves any host to listen politely to their invited guest, so I wonder what we construe in the vitriolic opposition to his visit by Britons who like to be identified by their membership of humanist organisations. (Are they atheist?). They criticise the behaviour of the Pope, but are we to discern their values from their behaviour also?

I read a moving article* today of the plight of the miners trapped underground long-term in Chile. They see themselves as being on a long shift (much longer than the half-day shift they expected). They've appointed people to particular tasks. One of the miners is now pastor, and part of his responsibility is to lead daily prayers and to prepare sermons. It appears that these are recorded, and published, although I haven't found them online. I presume that the miners are Roman Catholic, as about 90% of the country are, and so part of the Pope's extended flock.

This leads me to my test of whether Britain is aggressively atheist and whether that is harmful to society.

If there were a similar disaster in Britain, would the victims appoint a pastor from among themselves? How do you feel about that? Do you think that any atheists in the group would oppose such an appointment aggressively? If the atheists did act in this way, do you think it would be harmful?

(Comments welcome, as always!) 

* The Week, quoting an article in The Guardian newspaper.

Do physicists exist?

Do physicists exist? It could be old college rivalry between engineers and physicists that makes me ask this, or it could just make a change from tired questions such as “does Stephen Hawking believe in God?” or “does God exist?”

Professor Hawking's latest book (The Grand Design, published by Bantam Press) makes people ask such questions, and wonder whether he, or science, seeks to or can ever prove the existence (or non-existence) of God.

I'm very impressed by an article by Revd Dr Keith Ward in the Church Times (10th September 2010). I'll attempt to summarise it, but you'd be better off just reading it!

He laments Hawking's naive portrayal of the views of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish theologians about creation. Hawking portrays them, Ward writes, as believing that God “lights the blue touch paper” to get the universe started, and that the universe was created just for the sake of human beings. Thus Ward sees that Hawking misses the similarities between traditional theology and modern cosmology.

He writes, “The Christian doctrine of creation is not that God sat about for ages wondering whether or not to create a universe, then one day decided that he would, and started it off. The doctrine of creation, as it is found in Augustine and virtually all other significant theologians, is that the whole of space-time is dependent upon a non-spatio-temporal reality. If God brings time into being, God does not do so in time; for time does not exist until God brings it about. The timeless reality of God timelessly generates the whole of time and space. God can generate many different space-times, and Augustine mentioned this possibility in The City of God.

I like this: God (as far as creation is concerned) is outside time, so limiting God to acting inside time with a “blue touch paper” idea is naive, and also (Ward writes) it doesn't make sense to conceive of Him thinking, wondering, or deciding, and there is much in common therefore between theology and what Hawking writes. In the rest of his article he points out our belief that the universe was brought about intentionally by God – we are not an accident – and that God creates and explains physics (and physicists) and not the other way around!

Revd Dr Keith Ward is a former Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. Read his article here.