Universal Credit: what kind of justice?

Paul Bayes, Bishop of LiverpoolThere is an excellent new article by Paul Bayes, the Bishop of Liverpool, on justice as applied to benefit claimants and the introduction of Universal Credit.

Liverpool, like every British city but perhaps more than most, is full of stories of families left with no money because of benefit cuts, sanctions and the Bedroom Tax. Bayes writes:

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Brexit and the echoes of empire

Map of England swivelling roundNot only did Britain vote to leave Europe: it seems we can’t even negotiate with it. We seem overconfident that we can push our weight around and get what we want, while unable to take other Europeans seriously.

Why? Do we really think the British are so superior to everyone else? Or is it just the English? Is England revealing its cultural failings?

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Why progressives need God

World with lit fuseThis is an edited version of the talk I gave at St Denys Bookshop in Manchester, on 30th September. It describes my new book Why Progressives Need God, and why I wrote it.

My background is in liberal theology. For quite a while I’ve been an active member of Modern Church, a liberal society in the Church of England. My main focus is philosophy and ethics, so I ask questions like: do we need to believe in God? Does it make any difference? I think it does.
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What is the meaning of life?

Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

42.

Okay, that’s funny.

Why?

It’s funny because it works grammatically, but it’s obviously an inadequate answer. We laugh because we know nobody has got an adequate answer.

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God and the hope of a better life

This is the last of a series of four reflections on progress. The first was about the ancient idea that a supreme god maintains the universe with a long-term design.

The second and third were about the ideas of progress most common today, and what happens to it when it becomes a self-contained objective independent of God.

This final reflection looks more closely at a God-based theory of progress.

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The rise and fall of progress

This is the third in the series of four reflections on progress. The first was about the ancient idea that a supreme god maintains the universe with a long-term design. Progress is then about achieving the purposes for which we have been designed to live at our best. It is a positive claim.

The second was about the ideas of progress most common today, new technologies and economic growth. We ended up with some rather negative observations. New technologies and wealth can help in some ways, but when we treat them as what progress is all about, we make things worse for ourselves.

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What does progress do?

Francis Bacon by Drebbel, via Wikimedia Commons

Francis Bacon by Drebbel, via Wikimedia Commons

This is the second of my series of four talks on progress.

The first describes its origins. Human life is unsatisfactory but our lives have been designed, by some kind of god, with potential for improvement. Sometimes we go forward, sometimes we go back, but the world has been designed for the possibility of a better life for everyone.

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Progress: what is it and is it possible?

Children in carI’m doing a series of four talks on progress at St Brides Liverpool. The first was last Sunday. This is an edited version of the text. At the end there are questions for discussion, because this is what we do at St Brides.

The other three talks will be about the main ideas of progress today (mainly new technologies and economic growth); alternative theories of progress and the growth of scepticism; and finally how the Christian tradition can offer a positive account of it. Further details are in my new book Why Progressives Need God.

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Social mobility or equality: which is more godly?

LadderThere is a good article in the Guardian by Selina Todd on the tension between social mobility and equality. Written in the context of a disagreement between Conservative and Labour Party policies on education, it argues against social mobility and in favour of equality.

This post asks about the underlying values which might make us approve of one or the other, and argues that there is an essential difference between secular and religious perspectives.

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The Parable of the Mustard Shrub

Israeli mustard plant

Israeli mustard plant

This is my sermon for this coming Sunday, based on the Gospel reading’s parable about mustard.

I have designed it to illustrate two things. The first is how New Testament scholars analyse early Christian texts to shed light on what Jesus said and meant. The second is how this kind of research sometimes challenges earlier views and presents Jesus as a much more radical and exciting character. My main source is John Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus. Crossan’s interpretation is disputed but I find it convincing.

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