Saturday, 27 March 2010

Budget 2010: We are in danger of ignoring Britain’s real debt disaster

Every day, especially in this Budget week, you can read articles to your heart's discontent about government debt. I am not objecting to that: government debt is just as big a problem as people say it is. But you read very little just now about the personal debt which threatened to destroy us 18 months ago. Yet it explains our unhappiness, and our poor future, just as clearly as does Gordon Brown's borrowing. You have to put the two forms of debt together to see why we, as a country, as individuals, and as a political system with an election coming, do not know what to do next.

In 2003, which is now generally accepted as the year when policy in the Western world decisively took the path of profligacy, the mortgage debt of the British people amounted to £775 billion, or 68 per cent of Gross Domestic Product. This year, it is reckoned to be £1,253 billion, which is 86 per cent of GDP and works out at £49,000 per household. On top of that is another £340 billion of other forms of household debt, which pushes what we, as individuals, owe, to 9 per cent more than what the country produces in a year. All this debt is still growing. Read more
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Thursday, 25 March 2010

Sam Harris: Science can answer moral questions

The blurb says, "Adored by secularists, feared by the pious, Sam Harris' best-selling books argue that religion is ruinous and, worse, stupid - and that questioning religious faith might just save civilization."

Watch a (very slick!) video of the man here.

Actually his views have nothing necessarily to do with 'science'. It is just a common sense pragmatism: moral value = what reduces suffering.

There's some attacks on some religious practices (eg veiling), which seems enough to indicate, in his view, that religion is 'bad morality'.

Watch out for the bit early on where he shows a map of US states that permit corporal punishment in schools. It shows more than half the US, with these states coloured red. Most of them are in the south, 'therefore' it is all about the commands from God, spare the rod, spoil the child. What he doesn't show is something more like this diagram here, which, with the accompanying article, indicates that in seven of the states where corporal punishment is legal, fewer than 0.1% of pupils actually receive this form of punishment in 2002, whilst three-quarters of the instances were in just five of the twenty-two states on is map.

So apparently being a bit disingenuous in the interests of making a point is morally OK if you're a 'scientist'.

Slick? Yes. Profound? No. Scientific? Don't make me laugh.

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Anglican Cathedral Congregation Welcomes Witches

Just up the road in Asheville it seems the Episcopalians are welcoming witches onto their property to celebrate the Spring equinox together. The original news story is here and Midwest Conservative Journal waxes eloquent here.

As it happens Asheville witch Byron Ballard is cousin to a very good friend of ours who lives here in Greenville. What a small world it is! I hasten to add that our friend is a very good Catholic. No bedknobs and broomsticks or wicked old Wicca here, I can assure you.

Of course it is rather easy to poke fun at aging ladies in flowing robes and dangly earrings lighting candles and dancing around in a circle to celebrate the flowering of mother earth, and the Episcopal Church is an easy target for such ridicule, but we ought to stop chortling for a moment and realize that the witchy folks are very serious about their witchcraft, and while ridicule is one response we should remember that any sort of dabbling in the occult opens one to demonic infestation. All the literature on the deliverance ministry affirms that the easiest way to pick up a nasty spirit is through intentional occult activity.

This being the case, what can we say about the fact that a once Christian denomination--the Episcopal Church--and an Episcopal cathedral no less-- is welcoming a pagan group of witches onto their property? We might be dismayed, but why should we be surprised? Read more
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Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Passerby reported to police after trying to help schoolboy from tree

(Ed: "reported to the police"???)

A woman was reported to the police after going to the aid of a child left in a tree because it was the school's policy not to help youngsters in that situation.

Kim Barrett was passing Manor primary school, in Melksham, Wiltshire, when she saw a five-year-old boy apparently stuck in a tree. She went to help him but next day received a visit from a police community support officer, who told her she had been trespassing, she said.

Manor primary school today admitted that its policy was to observe children who climb into trees from a distance rather than go to them, for fear the pupil might be distracted and fall, or feel rewarded for bad behaviour.

It claimed the incident was shortlived and urged adults not to enter school grounds without permission.

Barrett, who has a six-year-old daughter at a different school, today said she was shocked by the policy. She had simply wanted to help the boy and was upset at how the school had responded. Read more
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Saudi woman poet lashes out at clerics in 'Arabic Idol'

[...] Ms Hilal earned her place in the final with a performance last week, which was seen as a response to a prominent Saudi cleric's call for those who advocated the mingling of men and women to be punished with death. In a 15-verse work, she railed against preachers who "sit in the position of power", "frightening" people with their religious edicts.

"I have seen evil in the eyes of fatwas, at a time when the permitted is being twisted into the forbidden," she said, with only her microphone and her eyes visible against the uniform black of her burqa. The clerics, she went on – and, by extension, suicide bombers who wrap explosives around their waists – "are vicious in voice, barbaric, angry and blind, wearing death as a robe cinched with a belt".

It was a bold message indeed, and in Saudi Arabia, where unmarried men and women are entirely segregated, a highly controversial one. But when she finished, the ranks of men listening erupted into cheers, and the judges sent her into today's final with compliments ringing in her ears. Read more
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Rory Fitzgerald meets the controversial former Bishop of Rochester and unofficial leader of conservative Anglicans

[...] Dr Nazir-Ali speaks weighty words at a hypnotic pace, each word enunciated with a trace of a soft Pakistani accent. You know that you are in the presence of a profound and incisive mind. I refer to Churchill's speech in 1940 and ask whether he feels that Christian civilisation is now endangered.

"I used to speak of a moral and spiritual vacuum that was created by the catastrophic loss of discourse in terms of the Judaeo-Christian tradition in the public place," he says.

"I think that vacuum is now giving way to a hostility to the Judaeo-Christian worldview. "I am pursuing a twin track on this: on the one hand you have to uphold the Judaeo-Christian tradition as a basis for making the most important moral decisions that need to be made.

"At same time, I am conscious that if present trends continue, we need another strategy... [as] in the last Dark Age, when Christian communities preserved the Gospel learning, and a kind of humanism, so that there were lights in the darkness. I think it would be wise for the churches also to build strong moral and spiritual communities that can survive and flourish in the darkness, and indeed attract other people to themselves. That's the way I have begun to think." Read more
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MP quizzed by police after saying 'wearing burkha was like having paper bag over your head'

(Ed: I wonder what would happen if I said the burka feels to me like the religious equivalent of a hoodie?)

A Tory MP has been investigated by police for alleged racial hatred after criticising the burka during a Commons debate.

Philip Hollobone described the garment as 'the religious equivalent of going around with a paper bag over your head with two holes for the eyes'.

Northamptonshire Race Equality Council, which is funded by taxpayers, complained to police.

Mr Hollobone, pictured, said the group wanted to see him prosecuted for inciting religious hatred but the Crown Prosecution Service has decided not to take action.

Debates in Westminster are protected by parliamentary privilege. Read more

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Atheists and believers walkout ends Government advisory group on religion

The Government’s main advisory group on religion has collapsed in acrimony after church groups walked out in a row between atheists and believers.

The Church of England condemned the group as “not fit for purpose” and complained that each meeting degenerated into an “impasse” between secularists and the religious. Secularists hit back, accusing Christians of “triumphalism and bullying”. Muslims had already stopped attending the group, whose remaining few members are meeting tomorrow to decide whether it is worth carrying on at all.

Hindus, Baha’is and secularists are still represented but the Church of England, Salvation Army, Methodist Church and Roman Catholic Church have all left, jeopardising its future. Read more
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Monday, 22 March 2010

New Bishop of Chelmsford: "Christian voice must counter racist voices"

The next Bishop of Chelmsford has urged people in his diocese not to vote for the British National Party in the forthcoming general election.

The Right Reverend Steven Cottrell, the Bishop of Reading - who was named as the next Bishop of the Essex and East London Diocese - said the “Christian voice must counter racist voices”.

The 51-year-old, who will be the bishop of the second largest populated diocese in the country behind London, said people must exercise their right to vote despite a lack of confidence in the political system.

”My message to voters is to go out and vote, despite an understandable anxiety and dissolution in the political process,” he said.

”I believe the particular Christian message to offer here is that we do want to live in a world which offers difference and diversity. Read more
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(From 2004): Stephen Cottrell "My mind is not made up"

Canon Stephen Cottrell, 45, Pastor at Peterborough Cathedral, who was named by Downing Street yesterday, is married, with three children. He is a liberal Anglo-Catholic, and no less radical in his beliefs than Dr John.

An adherent of church policy on homosexuality, Canon Cottrell said: “My personal view has been one that has been open to what God is trying to say to us through the experience of gay and lesbian people. I feel this is an open question. My mind is not made up.”

Canon Cottrell said he had supported the choice of Dr John for Reading when it was announced last year. This, he said, was because Dr John also backed the official line and as a celibate homosexual was not himself in breach of church policy. Read more
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Stephen Cottrell to be new Bishop of Chelmsford

(Which is interesting, considering my blog post last week which observed:

When Jeffery John was forced to stand down as Bishop of Reading, the appointment of Stephen Cottrell as his successor was greeted with enthusiasm by evangelicals within the Diocese of Oxford. Yet John and Cottrell are both members of the liberal group, Affirming Catholicism, and a glance at the cover of this book (published in 1998) is a salutory warning that the two men may differ little in underlying theology. For what reason, then, was Cottrell welcomed in place of John, other than that he was not a homosexual?
We shall see. Ed)

1.  New Bishop of Chelmsford

The Right Reverend Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Reading, has been nominated by Her Majesty the Queen as Bishop of Chelmsford in succession to The Right Reverend John Gladwin. He will be the tenth Bishop of Chelmsford.

Bishop Stephen Cottrell said: “I was born and brought up in Essex, and it is still the place I think of as home. Now I have been invited to return to this large, diverse and richly varied diocese to serve as your bishop. It is an immense privilege.

“What sustains me in ministry is the joy and beauty of the gospel. I want us to be a church that is gospel centred, servant hearted and mission focused. I am hungry for us to be a church that connects with every person and every community.

“I am excited by the prospect of getting to know and working alongside the parishes and communities of East London and Essex that make up this great diocese. I look forward to working with new colleagues and making new friends. Building upon the work of those who have gone before us in the faith, together we can do something beautiful for God in the communities we have been called to serve.

“For me coming to Essex and East London feels like coming home. However this is not the end of the journey. We must set our sights on the glory of God and on his son Jesus Christ and on the needs of the world - this is the path we will travel together.”

The Bishop of Bradwell, Rt Revd Dr Laurie Green, added: “We are delighted that Bishop Stephen Cottrell is to become the new Diocesan Bishop of Chelmsford.   Bishop Stephen is an exceptional man, whose abiding concern is that we all catch that glimpse of the wonder of God which can change our lives.  

“He is man of prayer who has a shrewd eye for the important issues of the day.  His books are always challenging and delightful, and he will bring new insights about how we should respond to Gods love and justice amidst the worlds challenges.   He is family man of great warmth and charm, and we look forward to learning from him and working with him here in Essex and East London.”
About Stephen Cottrell
  1. Stephen Cottrell was born and brought up in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex (baptised at St Barnabas, Hadleigh; confirmed and married at St Margarets, Leigh-on-Sea). 
  2. He was ordained in 1984, having trained for ministry at St Stephen's House in Oxford. He has served in parishes in London and Chichester, on the staff of Chichester Theological College where he taught apologetics and pastoral studies, as Canon Pastor and Vice-Dean of Peterborough Cathedral, as Missioner in Wakefield Diocese, and as part of Springboard, the Archbishop of Canterburys evangelism team. He was consecrated Bishop in 2004.
  3. The Reading Episcopal Area is part of the Diocese of Oxford. Bishop Stephen has oversight of 200 parishes across Berkshire. He also chairs the Board of Education for the Diocese.
  4. Before ordination he worked in the film industry and for a year at St Christophers Hospice in Sydenham.
  5. He is a founder member of the Church of Englands College of Evangelists and serves on their Governing Body. He also chairs the Church of Englands Religion in Media group.
  6. He is the author of many books, having written widely about evangelism, catechesis, ministry and spirituality. He is one of the team that wrote the Emmaus programme. This is used by about 3,000 churches in Britain, and also around the world, where it has been translated into several languages.
  7. In 2004 he was invited to write the Archbishop of Canterburys Lent book. This is entitled I Thirst (Zondervan 2003).  His most recent books are Do Nothing to Change your Life; discovering what happens when you stop (CHP 2007), Do Nothing Christmas is coming (CHP) and Hit the Ground Kneeling; seeing leadership differently (CHP 2008), a book of Lent and Holy Week meditations The Things He Carried (SPCK 2008) and a follow up book for Easter The Things He Said (SPCK 2009).  He has also written a collection of childrens stories, The Adventures of Naughty Nora (BRF 2008).
  8. Stephen is married to Rebecca, who is a potter and a lecturer in ceramics. They have three teenage sons. When hes not bishoping or writing books hes cooking, attempting to paint, reading poetry, juggling, playing the guitar, trying to play the ukulele banjo or busy with the joys of being a dad.
About the Diocese of Chelmsford
9.      With more than 2.8 million people, the Diocese of Chelmsford is the most populated Church of England region after the Diocese of London. The Diocese of Chelmsford covers the county of Essex, the unitary authorities of Southend and Thurrock and the five East London boroughs of Barking & Dagenham, Havering, Newham, Redbridge and Waltham Forest. The Thames Gateway, the main site for the London 2012 Olympic Games and London Stansted Airport are all within its boundaries. There are 608 churches in the Diocese, served by 387 stipendiary clergy, 26 non-stipendiary clergy and 360 Readers. The Diocese is led by the Bishop of Chelmsford and is divided into three Episcopal areas, each under an area bishop.


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The Anglican Communion as Communion of Churches- Michael Poon

The paper aims to draw out the historic significance of the Anglican Covenant for the Anglican Communion. It begins by examining the nature and reasons of the “ecclesial deficit” of the Anglican Communion. It points out that the ecclesial status of the Anglican Communion has never been clarified. The Anglican Communion arises historically as an accident. It has never been constituted as an ecclesial body. The paper traces the transformations in the Anglican ecclesiastical map amid powerful global undercurrents in the second half of the twentieth century. It reflects on the emergence of the status of the See of Canterbury as “focus of unity” of the Anglican Communion. It proceeds to point out how uncritical adoption of the term “instruments of unity” from Protestant ecumenical dialogues led to confusion and mistrust among Anglican Churches. The paper then explores the potentials of communion-ecclesiology for the Anglican Covenant. It goes on to argue that the Anglican Covenant, grounded in the New Covenant, provides the canonical structure of the Anglican Communion. It constitutes the particular Churches to be a confident Communion of Churches. The inter-Anglican structures of the Anglican Communion should in fact be the ecclesiastical embodiment of the Anglican Covenant. Read more
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How do we win back our freedom?

When I was growing up, there were two common phrases that you hardly ever hear today. One was: "It's a free country." The other was: "There should be a law against it." They tended to be uttered by people older than my parents who had been born not long after the First World War and may well have fought in the Second.

These phrases captured the essence of Britishness and why those wars were fought. We were, or imagined ourselves to be, "a free country" in a way that most European countries were not and had never been. That notion of being free defined us. We were not people subject to arbitrary state power and we both knew it and could say it. Perhaps this first phrase was used ironically at times; but when I heard it as a young boy it had a sense of certainty and permanence about it. What are we? A free country. Read more
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Sunday, 21 March 2010

Why everything you've been told about evolution is wrong

If what happens to you during your lifetime – living in a stress-inducing henhouse, say, or overeating in northern Sweden – can affect how your genes express themselves in future generations, the absolutely simple version of natural selection begins to look questionable. Rather than genes simply "offering up" a random smorgasbord of traits in each new generation, which then either prove suited or unsuited to the environment, it seems that the environment plays a role in creating those traits in future generations, if only in a short-term and reversible way. You begin to feel slightly sorry for the much-mocked pre-Darwinian zoologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, whose own version of evolution held, most famously, that giraffes have long necks because their ancestors were "obliged to browse on the leaves of trees and to make constant efforts to reach them". As a matter of natural history, he probably wasn't right about how giraffes' necks came to be so long. But Lamarck was scorned for a much more general apparent mistake: the idea that lifestyle might be able to influence heredity. "Today," notes David Shenk, "any high school student knows that genes are passed on unchanged from parent to child, and to the next generation and the next. Lifestyle cannot alter heredity. Except now it turns out that it can . . ." Read more
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