Europe, nationalism and who we are

EU mapThe debate is hotting up. Or at least, the Prime Minister is. Will Britain vote to leave the European Union at the forthcoming referendum? Are we choosing between two lousy options, as Yanis Varoufakis argues?

I for one am much less enthusiastic about the EU since it has turned itself into an agency of neo-liberal economics, squeezing its poorer countries into ever deeper poverty. However if that’s a reason for Britain leaving the EU, it is an even stronger reason for Liverpool leaving Britain. But – oh, we’re British, aren’t we?

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The philosophy of Green politics

Russian dollsOn 27th January I gave a talk to Liverpool Green Party on the philosophy of Green Party politics. The full text is here . This post aims to summarise the main ways it differs from today’s dominant left-right debate.

One way to describe it is as a set of three tensions, arranged like a set of Russian dolls. The outer one provides the setting for the middle one, and the middle one for the inner.

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Why ‘no religion’ is the new religion

Linda WoodheadOn Tuesday I attended Linda Woodhead’s lecture ‘Why “no religion” is the new religion’ at the British Academy in London.

Linda is a sociologist of religion at Lancaster University and surveys how people describe their religious beliefs and affiliations. The latest news is that ‘nones’ (no religion) have been growing, and last month for the first time they hit 50% of those surveyed.

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Testing religious beliefs

Boy looking puzzledWhen it comes to religious beliefs, how do we know which ones are true?

The Modern Church website states that

Religious beliefs can and should develop in the light of new insights.

We have recently been asked

So what tests can be made on these ‘new insights’?

This post is my way of answering the question.

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Happy New Year – or not?

CalendarTime rolls on. Compared with this time last year we are all a year older. We have grown too big for our old shoes, or started a new school or job, gained or lost income, acquired another child or grandchild, come a year closer to retirement, buried one or both parents, been put on more tablets to keep us alive a little longer. What’s the point? If there is a point, are we nearly there yet?

Different societies have conceived of time in different ways. Mircea Eliade describes how archaic societies very often believe in two kinds of time. There is the original time, when the gods set up the world the way it is now. This is sacred time. Then there is the present age, which carries on unchanging year after year. Meaningful activities like hunting, eating and sex are given significance by relating them, through ritual, to their origins in sacred time. In this way sacred time becomes present again and makes the present sacred.

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Christmas worship

Carol singersSo you go to church at Christmas, but not on a normal Sunday? Does that make you a second-rate Christian, or inoculate you against Christianity altogether? Or have you got it about right?

This week’s Church Times carries an article by David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, full of good advice on how clergy should cater for Christmas attenders. It is based on a study of who turned up to Christmas services at Worcester and Lichfield Cathedrals, and why. I found the results quite telling, and encouraging.

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Zephaniah and terrorist Middle Eastern empires

Zephaniah. Woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493

Zephaniah. Woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493

This is my sermon for next Sunday. I’m posting it now in case other preachers can make use of it. It’s about the Old Testament passage in the Common Worship lectionary, from the prophet Zephaniah.

Zephaniah fits Advent 3 because like John the Baptist (and unlike Zechariah, with whom he should not be confused) he preached doom and gloom. Nevertheless the lectionary gives us an uncharacteristic passage, an optimistic hymn of hope that things will get better.

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If we had a civil war, would we want Syria to bomb us?

Lego bomberShould Britain go ahead with air strikes in Syria? The House of Commons is likely to vote on it soon.

What divides us is our gut feelings and value judgements. Since our society is hopelessly bad at thinking through its values, we hold proxy arguments about facts and outcomes which none of us can be sure of. This post is my attempt to express some significant Christian values.

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Church reform and its hierarchy

Women sharing a Eucharist‘Reform and renewal’ is the term used for the Church of England ‘s wide-ranging programmes of change. This post is about its proposal to rapidly increase the number of lay ministers : the unpaid to 17,500 (a 48% increase) and the paid to 2,000 (a 69% increase).

Reform and Renewal is a top-down initiative from the archbishops, so lay people may want a say. Laura Sykes has on her own initiative set up the Lay Anglican Public Colloquium to develop ideas on the best ways forward.

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The fear of Hell

The Mouth of Hell. From the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, 14th century

The Mouth of Hell. From the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, 14th century

The door of the room has never been opened before since first she set her foot on that red-hot floor. Now she sees the door opening. She rushes forward… “Look,” she says, “at my burnt and bleeding feet. Let me go off this floor for one moment, only for one single short moment. Oh, that in this endless eternity of years I might forget the pain only for one single moment…” Oh, that you could hear the horrible, the fearful scream of that girl when she saw the door shutting never to be opened any more. The history of this girl is short. Her feet first led her into sin, so it is her feet which most of all are tormented.

This and similar stories appear in a series of fourteen books by Joseph Furniss, written for children in the 1860s. The most popular, The Sight of Hell, sold millions: that is to say, millions of parents bought them for their children to read. They wanted their children to believe a fate like this was a real prospect, and reflect on it.

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