Saturday, 26 December 2009

We need a shared story to underpin our national life

By any reckoning, Britons have had an uncomfortable and anxious year. Even as the implications of the financial crisis sank in and the belt-tightening began, news broke of the ride for which we had been taken by our political masters, via their expenses forms. The war in Afghanistan claimed the lives of more than 100 British soldiers. The Copenhagen summit raised awareness of environmental problems, but left it unclear what would or should be done about them. And attacks on the traditional family continued, with claims by ministers and "experts" that no one form of the family was to be preferred to any other.

It has been tough for everyone, but Christians in particular have found themselves under pressure. Nurses have been told not to pray with their patients; registrars ordered to conduct civil partnership ceremonies in spite of conscientious objections; evangelists forbidden to spread the word in "Muslim" areas; and permission for Good Friday processions refused on the grounds that they are a "minority" interest and do not warrant police time.

Given the sea of troubles with which we are faced – at home and elsewhere – what can we look forward to as we face 2010? First, we need to accept that the financial and political crises are not primarily about the failure of procedures and regulation. The angst about the war in Afghanistan, similarly, is not just about the sad loss of life. The broader problem is that there has been the loss of a common narrative, a story which underpins our national life. In the past, this was provided by the Judaeo-Christian tradition, derived from the Bible. This narrative has been at the root of those values which we regard as particularly British, whether to do with the dignity of the human person, with fundamental freedoms of belief, speech and assembly, or with equality – which is not about "sameness", but a recognition of the image of God in others. Read more
No comments will be posted without a full name and location, see the

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Teenage alcohol abuse up, but fewer people counselled for hard drug use

Record numbers of teenagers are receiving help for drug and alcohol problems, but the number of those undergoing counselling for heroin and crack use is falling, official figures show.

A total of 24,053 under-18s in England were treated in 2008-09, according to statistics from the NHS National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA). That was 150 up on the previous year, suggesting that demand for specialist services such as counselling and harm reduction is levelling off, said the NTA.

Almost nine in 10 of those got help for problems associated with their use of cannabis (12,642) or alcohol (8,799). However, the number of those getting help for their use of heroin or crack has fallen by about a third in the last four years. In 2005-06 a total of 1,081 did so but, last year, that number had fallen to 657. Those figures confirm the recent generational shift among those under 30 away from the two drugs, a trend experts have welcomed.

Similarly, while the number of young people being helped to tackle cocaine problems had risen from 453 in 2005-06 to 806 in 2007-08, it dropped to 746 last year. That constituted 6% of all teenagers who received help.

Addiction is rare among teenagers, said the NTA. "Evidence continues to suggest that overall drug and alcohol use among the general population of young people is declining, and the increasing availability of specialist substance misuse services ensures that many more of the minority who do need help are getting it." Read more
No comments will be posted without a full name and location, see the

Church recruiting drive targets two-year-olds

(Ed: Can't help noticing the difference in the target link "church-recruiting-drive-targets-children" and the eventual headline: "Church recruiting drive targets two-year olds". The latter is obviously much more likely to help people discover their inner Richard Dawkins.)

Children as young as two are to be targeted as part of a new campaign to recruit young people back to the church, the Guardian has learned.

The Church of England is planning its first concerted drive to engage under- 18s after admitting that it is comprehensively failing to connect with children and teenagers.

Proposals will be put before the general synod in February that include a blueprint to set up breakfast, homework and sports clubs in schools as well as working in publicly funded toddler playgroups to spread the Christian word.

A document outlining the proposals, seen by the Guardian, says urgent action is needed to shore up the number of children in church.

"We need to reconsider how we engage with and express God's love to this generation of children and young people, whoever and wherever they may be," it says.

Using frank language, it suggests the church is failing young people by being out of touch with their lives. "The tragedy is that we appear to be failing even those with whom we have already connected. The challenge is how to creatively offer children and young people encounters with the Christian faith and the person of Jesus Christ," it says. Read more
No comments will be posted without a full name and location, see the

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Dominic Lawson: It's no wonder some Christians forget that Jesus was Jewish

(Ed: in a brilliant series of non sequiturs, Lawson manages to establish, on the strength of the biblical evidence, that Jesus existed and that he wasn't who the biblical authors clearly believed he was.)

The muse of Minnesota, Garrison Keillor, is generally thought of as an impeccably liberal figure. He was raised as a member of the Plymouth Brethren, a notoriously rigorous Christian sect; but as an adult he became an Episcopalian by choice, indicating a much less stern attitude to matters of faith than that practised by his parents.

Yet, in the week of good will to all men, Keillor suddenly demonstrated a flash of that old-time religious fervour – even fury. In his regular column for the Baltimore Sun he launched into an attack on two groups which he claimed were attempting to destroy the true spirit of Christmas: Unitarians and (whoever would have guessed it?) the Jews.

This (in part) is what he wrote: "Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that's their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong [for them] to rewrite 'Silent Night'. If you don't believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn 'Silent Night' and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write 'Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah'? No, we didn't. Christmas is a Christian holiday – if you're not in the club, then buzz off ... don't mess with the Messiah." Read more
No comments will be posted without a full name and location, see the

Monday, 21 December 2009

Cervical cancer link to early sex

Ed: There is a wonderful 'non sequitur' from Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK at the end of this article, who is quoted as saying, "the results back up the need for the HPV vaccination to be given in schools at an age before they start having sex, especially among girls in deprived areas."

Why does she not say, "the results back up the need for girls, especially in deprived areas, to be taught the importance of not beginning sexual activity at an early age"? Why is it always assumed that whereas human beings can cut down their carbon use, and even give up the highly addictive activity of smoking, they cannot change their sexual habits?

Having sex at an early age has been linked with double the risk of developing cervical cancer.

An investigation into why poorer women have a higher risk of the disease found they tended to have sex around four years earlier than more affluent women.

It had been thought that the disparity was due to low screening uptake in poorer areas, but the study found this was not the most important factor.

The latest findings are published in the British Journal of Cancer. Read more
No comments will be posted without a full name and location, see the