Saturday, 22 March 2008

Telegraph: Catholic Archbishop joins calls for free embryology vote

The Archbishop of Cardiff has joined leading Catholics and spoken out in criticism of Gordon Brown over his Government's controversial legislation on embryo research.

The Most Reverend Peter Smith said he has privately advised MPs, including at least one minister, to vote against certain aspects of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill when it comes before the House of Commons later this year.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the Church's leader in Scotland, will use his Easter Sunday sermon to censure the Bill which he described as "monstrous" and compared to the creation of Frankenstein's monster.

He said he hopes that Catholic ministers would be prepared to resign rather than accept orders to back the legislation but, ultimately, it was a matter of individual conscience.

But today Labour MP Jim Devine, himself a Catholic, urged the Bill's critics to discuss the issue with scientists involved in stem cell research.

Mr Devine, the MP for Livingston, has also written to the Cardinal, calling on him to meet the scientists involved.

And he said he would be "happy" to set up a meeting between the leading Catholic and Dr Stephen Minger, the director of the stem cell biology laboratory at King's College London. Read more
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Matthew Parris: Britain on uncertain seas

[...] Who knows what's happening? Perhaps nothing, after all. Perhaps this will all blow over. But what unsettles me goes deeper than a sense of mystery about the future. At most junctures in history there arises the feeling of a lull before a possible storm. Heck, we were in a worse state in 1945, or 1979. Danger was more imminent in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 posited bigger unknowns for the future. But at these crossroads the air was full of ideas: strong ideas, competing ideas, confident philosophies, angry dissent. People had policies. Ideologies clashed. Politicians and thinkers jostled to present their plans. Leaders led.

But what distinguishes this hiatus in 2008 from those earlier forks in the road is the impassivity of our politics, and the idleness of political debate, as we wait. There is a sense of vacuum.

There was not in 1979, as there is now, this curious hollowness in the air. Where today is the bold advocacy, the impatience to persuade, the urgency of argument? Where are the shouts of “Here's how!”? It is as though the stage were set for some kind of theatrical climax, but peopled only with stage hands and the rattle and murmur of the scene-shift. Where are the leading actors, the big voices, the great thoughts?

Pictures of David Cameron in his kitchen, a family scene sweetly contrived to frame his thoughts on paternity leave, or whatever, and images of the passionless figure cut by Alistair Darling at the dispatch box, his grey stare charged with all the philosophical depth of a shop-window mannequin, stick in my mind. Are these the spirits of the political age? Read more
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Daily Mail: AIDS research in crisis as 'miracle' vaccines actually INCREASE chance of catching virus

The search for a cure for Aids was in crisis last night after it was revealed that two supposed "miracle" vaccines not only fail to protect people from the virus, but could put them at greater risk of becoming infected.

It is a massive blow to Aids research, which has ground to a halt - with seven other trials of similarly designed would-be vaccines either suspended or called off indefinitely.

The US government alone pumps £250million a year into research to try to find a "Holy Grail" vaccine which would put an end to Aids.

Now scientists fear the disastrous outcome of the two most promising trials leaves them back at square one.

Hailed as major breakthroughs when the tests began, the US-funded STEP and Phambili studies were shut down when it became clear the vaccines could leave patients more susceptible to the virus, which attacks the immune system and which killed more than two million victims last year - 320,000 of them children. Read more
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Daily Mail: Gaia author: We're all doomed!

The first angel blew his trumpet, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were hurled to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. Revelation 7:7

[...] Nature is adapting to the changing climate and Lovelock argues that humankind will have to do the same. We will face a ruthless period of natural selection.

"I reckon there are about 80 per cent more people than the world can carry," he says sanguinely.

Geography will play the largest role in survival. By chance, Britain is well-placed for the new hot phase. An effect of the changes will be the end of the Gulf Stream which keeps Britain warm.

So the climbing temperatures will be countered by cooler water. However, our European neighbours will not be so fortunate. "A lot of people who come here will be Europeans," predicts Lovelock.

"If you take the IPCC predictions, then by 2040 every summer in Europe will be as hot as it was in 2003 - between 110F and 120F. It is not the death of people that is the main problem, it is the fact that the plants can't grow. There will be almost no food grown in Europe.

"By 2040, parts of the Sahara desert will have moved into middle Europe. We are talking about Paris. As far north as Berlin. In Britain we will escape because of our oceanic position."

But Britain will not be entirely unaffected. According to Lovelock, rising sea levels will threaten central London, Cambridge and Somerset.

"We should do what the Dutch have done, and build a sea wall - or abandon the middle of London and have it as a lagoon city. Parliament and the City could relocate to higher ground."

The consequences of climate change are a science fiction nightmare. The writer of Dr Who, Russell T. Davies, once told me the only plot he would avoid was the environment because he could not give audiences a happy ending.

Yet Lovelock contemplates catastrophe almost with excitement. I ask why is he not terrified.

He answers that he has never lost a single night's sleep over the future. Scientific interest overcomes self-interest. He has a humility about the place of humans in the 3.5 billion year lifespan of the Earth. He talks not of people but of "our species".

He passionately wants "the best of our species" to survive, and is philosophical about the majority who won't.

"It will be a challenging and difficult life ahead but it will bring out the best in us. It will bring the most awful problem for our people and our Government. Read more
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Telegraph comment: Without Christianity, our society is doomed

[...] We might have expected the Church to resist the decay, but instead it has connived with the destructive sexual and social revolution begun in the 1960s. Back then, I voted for homosexuality to be decriminalised. But this meant "between consenting adults in private" - where "between" meant two, "adults" meant men over 21 and "private" meant behind locked doors. I did not foresee the obscene and coercive "Gay Pride" pantomimes that now disfigure our high streets.

Who would have thought we would live to see the Bishop of Hereford fined £47,000 and made to attend a re-education course because he refused to employ a practising homosexual in his diocese's youth services? How long before I am carted from the pulpit to the nick for preaching that sodomy is not morally equivalent to Christian marriage?

I voted also for abortion law reform, because I was told it would put an end to squalid back-street terminations. I did not think I would see the result: 200,000 abortions every year and most as a form of contraception.

We imagine we can ditch Christianity and yet the good things we have inherited in our way of life will continue. They will not. Christianity formed Western civilisation and is so consubstantial with it that if Christianity goes, the lot goes with it. Let T?S Eliot, writing in 1934, give us a text to think about this Easter: "Do you need to be told that even such modest attainments as you can boast in the way of polite society will hardly survive the Faith to which they owe their significance?" Read more
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Telegraph: Public school nurse sacked after son reports her for smacking his brother

A senior nurse at a leading public school has been sacked after smacking her 10-year-old son at home.

Susan Pope, 45, was investigated by the police who decided she had done nothing wrong after she hit the boy on his bottom.

But the £25,000-a-year boarding school said that because social services remained involved in the case, it could damage the school's reputation. It fired her for alleged gross misconduct.

Mrs Pope, who has three children, is taking the school to an industrial tribunal claiming unfair dismissal.

The row is likely to reopen the debate about smacking children.

Mrs Pope said she hit her son on the bottom after he was abusive and repeatedly swore at her. Her elder son, who was 15, called the police. Mrs Pope and her husband, Folker, a chartered surveyor, were arrested and held in a cell for 32 hours. Read more
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Telegraph: Bad behaviour in classrooms is blamed on indulgent parents

Classroom discipline is deteriorating because over-indulgent parents are spoiling their children, according to a report.
# Your view: Who’s in charge in Britain’s classrooms?

Primary school pupils are increasingly difficult to teach as they throw tantrums during lessons if they fail to get their own way, the Cambridge University study says.

Their problematic behaviour is being fuelled by growing exposure to television, computers and video games - as well as spending too long in baby bouncers and strapped into cots - which damages children's development, it is claimed.

The study, commissioned by the National Union of Teachers, comes amid growing fears that standards are being undermined as children are increasingly unprepared for full-time education. Read more
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Gledhill Blog: Full text of Cardinal's sermon on embryo bill

This Bill represents a monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life. In some other European countries one could be jailed for doing what we intend to make legal. I can say that the government has no mandate for these changes: they were not in any election manifesto, nor do they enjoy widespread public support. The opposite has indeed taken place – the time allowed for debate in Parliament and indeed in the country at large has been shockingly short. One might say that in our country we are about to have a public government endorsement of experiments of Frankenstein proportion – without many people really being aware of what is going on.' Read more
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Times: Cardinal Keith O’Brien attacks 'monstrous' human embryo Bill

The Government is heading for its biggest confrontation with the Roman Catholic Church to date over its controversial new laws which will allow the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos.

A senior Cardinal condemned the plans as “monstrous” and of “Frankenstein proportion”.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien will use his Easter Sunday sermon to launch a scathing attack on the human fertilisation and embryology bill, describing the proposals as “grotesque” and “deathly”.

He will tell worshippers at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh: “One might say that in our country we are about to have a public Government endorsement of experiments of Frankenstein proportion – without many people really being aware of what is going on.”

In his sermon, the text of which was released today, he adds: “It is difficult to imagine a single piece of legislation which more comprehensively attacks the sanctity and dignity of human life than this particular bill.” Read more
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Telegraph: Easter message from the Bishop of Chelmsford

Right across our country and in every community Easter will be celebrated in the churches.

The story of the resurrection of Jesus will bring joy, hope, and fresh life to the people. In my diocese, which covers the old county of Essex, this will be as true in the vibrant and diverse communities of East London as it is in the rural villages in the north of the county.

The church is present in them all. Easter will be celebrated throughout.

This is not just an accident of our history. It is a result of the Church of England having a constitutional duty in this country to ensure that Christian ministry is available to all its citizens.

Unlike the Post Office we cannot shut up shop and go where the trade is better!

We have a duty to be present and serving in every place.

It is a trust we share with all Christian people and traditions. Read more
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Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Central London Dean of Women's Ministry says physical resurrection of Jesus doesn't really matter

The Dean of Women's Ministry in London, Rosemary Lain-Priestly, sits remarkably light to the notion of Jesus' Resurrection in this interview on Radio 4's Sunday Programme.

5 minutes in:

Roger Bolton: [...] Do you believe it doesn’t matter whether it was about a body or not, or do you believe it definitely wasn’t?

Rosemary Lain-Priestly: The Scriptures tell us that the tomb was empty and it may well have been. Who am I to limit what God might choose to do? But my faith in the resurrection doesn’t stand or fall on whether there were human remains in Christ’s tomb. [...] So perhaps it doesn’t matter whether or not Jesus took his [physical body] with him.

RB: [...] Would it matter to you, would it shake your faith if a tomb was opened up and the bones in it were confirmed as those of Jesus? Your answer to that is it wouldn’t matter at all ...?

R L-P: I don’t think it would matter because the resurrection that I believe in, I think has continuity with what we experience in this life but in some very profound sense is about transformation, its about something other than what we have already experienced.

Listen to the broadcast here (limited time)

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The Anglican Debacle: Roots and Patterns

(Ed: This article from Mark Thompson in Australia has some challenging things to say about Anglo-Catholicism. Even though the current divide in Anglicanism is not along the old lines of churchmanship, there are other elephants in the room, and the 'wounds of a friend' can be faithful (Prov 27:6). Others may wish to respond.)

... a golden age of Anglicanism, in which biblical patterns of doctrine and practice were accepted by the majority, is nothing but an illusion. Biblical Christianity has always struggled under the Anglican umbrella. At some times it did better than at others, but there was never a time when evangelical Anglicanism, even of the more formal prayer book kind, was uniformly accepted or endorsed by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer were, after all, burnt at the stake with the consent of most of the rest of the bishops in Mary’s church.

The Puritans who stayed within the Church of England suffered at the hands of Elizabeth I, and William Laud and others made life increasingly difficult for them after Elizabeth’s death. The re-establishment of the Church of England following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 was never a determined return to the Reformed evangelical version of Archbishop Cranmer, but a compromise designed to exclude anything that resembled Puritanism. Wesley was hunted out of the established church. Whitfield had to preach in the open air when pulpits were closed to him.

However, the real seeds of the problem we now face lie in the nineteenth century. John Henry Newman’s infamous Tract 90, published in 1841, encouraged Anglicans to read the Thirty-nine Articles as a Catholic document.2 In this way he opened the door to the possibility that you might publicly assent to the Articles while reinterpreting them to say what you wanted them to say. What he did in the interests of a more Catholic version of Anglicanism others would do in the interests of a more liberal version before very long. As one scholar put it, ‘whether he intended to or not, he taught us to lie’.

Later in the century liberal approaches to the Bible and Christian doctrine were introduced into Anglican thought through men like Samuel Taylor Coleridge (whose Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit was published in 1840 though it had most likely been circulating privately before then) and two collections of essays: Essays and Reviews published in 1860 and Lux Mundi published in 1889. By the end of the nineteenth century, liberal Anglo-Catholicism was the dominant form of Anglicanism in Britain and elsewhere (with one or two significant exceptions).

So it is not simply that a couple of rash actions in the past five years or even the last fifty years have undermined what was a pretty well-functioning institution prior to that. Evangelical Anglicans have struggled in a hostile environment within the denomination for a very long time. Sometimes their ministry has flourished, despite the hostility of the hierarchy. Whitfield, Simeon, Ryle, Stott, Packer, Lucas — God has raised up many Anglican evangelical leaders in England and elsewhere.3 But their faithful ministry has always involved struggle within the denomination.

That background might lead you to ask, ‘So what’s changed now?’ If the denomination has long been compromised in these ways, and evangelicals have always struggled within it, why are we arguing that we have now reached a moment of crisis where decisive action needs to be taken? What is different about what’s happening at the moment? Read more
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Go to church and pray if you want to be happy, say scientists

Those with religious beliefs are likely to be happier than atheists or agnostics.

Research suggests religion can act as an "insurance policy" against the adversities of life.

Regular churchgoers also appear to cope better with events such as divorce or unemployment and may even be happier.

The study, presented yesterday at the Royal Economic Society's annual conference-in Coventry, used data from across Europe to investigate the effect of being religious on life satisfaction, as well as attitudes towards government policies.

Although the idea of religious belief as a "fortress" was not new, "this issue of insurance has surprisingly received only limited attention", the report's authors said. Read more
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Why I believe in God

[...] Does the fact that the universe ticks beautifully indicate a God? Perhaps not. But the mathematics, the physics, is very beautiful. Perhaps it only seems so to us.

But then why do we comprehend some of what it does? Why can we second-guess the universe? Why does it seem orderly?

Because, Prof Dawkins would say, we, being human, order it thus, of course. And we do so with our innate mad notions.

But human beings seem sometimes to have several other mad notions at odds with the other life we see around us: co-operation, compassion, compromise; an occasional readiness not to kill, rape and enslave which seem absent from every other species that we know of. Not that we never do; only that we often don’t. And no other creatures seem to. What makes us different?

The readiness to sympathise and at the same time rationalise is not contingent upon religious belief. But a belief in God is the most frequent mainspring for it in all of human history.

Equally, the failure of Paley’s argument from design applies to Dawkin’s modified notion of Darwinian blind design.

We are still left with the fundamental questions: why should there be anything rather than nothing? What caused the Big Bang? Why, uniquely (so far as we know), can people think, and love, and imagine a life beyond the material?

Is there, ought there to be, a point to any of this – by which I mean for every meson and gluon in the billions of galaxies, numberless beyond imagination?

Has consciousness any significance?

If your answer is “No”: All right. There you are. Dolly back. Fade to black.

If you think that there may be a reason why there is something rather than nothing, and that it is conceivable that what you think and do matters, we can continue. Read more
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Monday, 17 March 2008

Bp Mouneer Anis: Anglican Communion's "delay, obfuscation, mendacity"

THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury’s Anglican Covenant is not scheduled to be implemented until 2015, the Presiding Bishop of the Middle East and Jerusalem reports.

In a statement released following the Feb 29 to March 4 meeting of the joint standing committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates, Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt stated he had “lost many of the hopes” he had had for preserving the Anglican Communion from collapse due to delay, obfuscation and mendacity.

A member of the primates’ joint standing committee, he described an institution trapped in a culture of bureaucratic inertia that saw “conversation” as an end in itself. Bishop Anis said he was “shocked” to hear from the staff of the ACC the Anglican Covenant would not be enacted until 2015.

This “gives the impression that we are not in a state of crisis and that there is no desire to move towards a solution. In my opinion, if we wait until 2015 or even 2012 the Communion will be fragmented,” he wrote.
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Times: Shannon Matthews is the new face of poverty

[...] Poverty has a new face now, and it’s called Shannon Matthews. What her sad little story has destroyed, possibly for ever, is the convenient middle-class myth of coherent, material poverty. Instead, it has revealed that what devastates the lives of modern children is something altogether much worse – inner poverty; poverty of the soul.

Although clothed and fed, often with a parent or a stepparent in work, children in Shannon’s world have to exist in a state of pervasive, low-level psychological chaos that is beyond the remedy of any social worker. There are no state palliatives for emotional neglect; or an endemic lack of emotional stability. There is absolutely no cure for the horrors of growing up with adults who exist in a state of permanent volatility.

In a world such as Shannon’s, there are no certainties other than the fact that there are no certainties.

These children are not like our children. Their parents are not adults we would recognise as adults. The children do not come home from school to someone to ask them how their day was. Many are denied anything but fleeting attention, interest and stimulation.

Many, furthermore, spend their lives trying to be invisible in order to cope with the adults in the house – hostile boyfriends; stressed, angry mothers. Any children’s charity will tell you that the biggest threat to children comes from violent boyfriends and lovers; from mothers, in other words, who prioritise their own relationships over their children.

Add to this households where drink and drug abuse by adults is a common factor, and you begin to see how scary and unstable some children’s lives are. Read more
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The Credit Crunch - any Christian comment?

(Ed: Is it me, or is there a lack of Christian comment on the elephant in the global living room? (If you're going to remedy this, please observe the 'posting policy' and provide a proper, full, name and location.)

Larry Norman: "children died the days grew cold, a piece of bread could buy a bag of gold, I wish we'd all been ready."

The Daily Telegraph: It is unsettling to watch the world's reserve currency disintegrate. Commodities from gold to oil and wheat are taking on the role of safe-haven "currencies". The monetary order is becoming unhinged. I doubt the dollar can fall much further. What is it to fall against? The spreading credit contagion will cause large parts of the globe to downgrade in hot pursuit - starting with Europe. [...] The race to the bottom must soon begin. Half the world will be slashing rates this year to stave off credit contraction. The dollar will have a lot of company.

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