70 years on, do we still believe in human rights?

Hands expressing human rights. Source: skepticalscience.com

This Monday is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was a great achievement. Nobody publicly disapproves of human rights. They are too important.

But as soon as we ask what these things are, we get into trouble. Nobody has seen them. Do they really exist? Or are they, as Jeremy Bentham argued, ‘nonsense on stilts’? Positive rights are easily recognised: buy a bus ticket, have a right to ride on the bus. The right is granted by a known authority. Human rights, on the other hand, are a type of natural rights, and appeal beyond all human authorities. To what?

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Why worship?

Church congregation A short while ago I was asked to explain the point of worship to my local Philosophy in Pubs group, many of whom are atheists and don’t see the point.

Reflecting on it made me realise why I’m uncomfortable with some of what goes on in churches today.

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Rees-Mogg, Habakkuk and their values

Habakkuk & Jacob Rees-MoggBritain has been the laughing-stock of Europe for a couple of years, but I write this at a time when it seems in complete disarray, with government ministers campaigning like fury against each other.

The presenting issue is Brexit, but Brexit alone cannot explain the depth of hostilities. Most of the debate is about the practical questions – Irish border, tariffs, EU citizens. Behind the practicalities lie people’s underlying values, which are harder to explain or even notice. To illustrate this I compare an article by Andy Beckett about the Rees-Moggs with the ancient Hebrew prophet Habakkuk.

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Raising the retirement age is completely unnecessary

Greengrocer

Photo taken by Sean Chin at www.SeanChin.com.

Today is the day the state pension age for women rises to 65, the same as for men. From now on the Government intends to raise the age for both men and women together: to 66 in 2020, 67 in 2026 and 68 in 2039. The Cridland Report so decrees.

Why? Why do we have to work longer and longer before we retire? I am a baby boomer, brought up to believe my generation had the best living conditions ever. Things were going to carry on getting better without limit. New technology was going to mean we could spend less and less time at work. Why is everything is being put into reverse?

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Poems for justice (3)

FigsThis is the third of three posts about the ancient Hebrew prophet Micah, based on sermons I preached at St Brides Liverpool.

This one is about what we mean by peace. It focuses on Micah’s vision of everyone sitting under their own vines and fig trees, with no-one making them afraid. It is a vision of peace and satisfaction, the kind of situation people long for when they are in the middle of a war.

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The meaning of life in East and West

Michael Puett

Michael Puett

Harvard Professor Michael Puett’s lecture last night was as challenging as it was entertaining.

The title was ‘Chinese Philosophy and the Meaning of Life’. I had no idea that the strongest values of western culture were about to be turned on their head, but that’s what happened.

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Climate change: more hubris won’t stop it

Image of the Earth burningJohn Vaillant’s shocking description of the recent fires in California, hotter than anything seen before, melting everything in urban landscapes, should wake us up to the future awaiting us all if we carry on with our destructive lifestyles.

Now, the latest Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change demands ‘urgent and unprecedented changes’ by 2030, only 12 years away.

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Poems for justice (2)

Israeli grain mill

Israeli grain mill

This is the second of 3 posts about the ancient Hebrew prophet Micah, based on sermons I preached at St Brides Liverpool. This one is about the relationship between justice and fairness.

The first describes how Micah lived in a society with conflicting beliefs about justice. So do we. To illustrate the difference, here’s an old story. You may have heard before, but it makes a point.

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Poems for Justice (1)

MicahCentral Liverpool’s food bank, previously known as Hope+, has now been renamed Micah Liverpool. In its honour I was asked to introduce the Hebrew prophet Micah in three sermons at St Brides’ Church.

This one is based on Micah 6:1-8, which is quoted towards the end of this post.

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The origins of the Eucharist: not what you may have thought

Eucharist, Communion, Mass, Lord’s Supper. For the first Christians, it was their central activity. It was what they gathered for. Why?

The usual story goes like this. On the day before he died, Jesus gathered with the twelve apostles for the kind of meal groups of Jewish men often shared at the Passover Festival, with bread and wine. Jesus said of the bread ‘This is my body’ and of the wine ‘This is my blood’. He also said ‘Do this in remembrance of me’. 150 years after the death of Jesus, and from then on, the standard explanation of the Communion Service has been that Christians are doing what Jesus told them to do at the Last Supper.

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