Myths, facts and values

Fracking rig
Fracking rig

The British Government has produced a standard response to opponents of fracking. It takes the form of ten pairs of ‘myths’ and ‘facts’. You can read them here. Friends of the Earth has produced a rebuttal.

I have written on fracking before. This post looks at how the rhetorical use of words like ‘myth’ and ‘fact’ is used to suppress major questions of priorities and divert attention to minor details. I focus on this particular document because it is a clear example of an all-too-common tendency in our superficial society. We spend our time tightening up a few nuts and bolts when we should be asking whether we bought the wrong machine.

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Power, responsibility and voting

Remains of an ancient Athenian kleroterion, a system of randomising allocation of state offices to citizens
Remains of an ancient Athenian kleroterion, a system of randomising allocation of state offices to citizens

Local elections today, and in a few weeks we are, after all, to elect members of the European Parliament. Is this anti-democratic, in view of the 2016 referendum, or is it very democratic as it uses a better voting system than the UK’s biased First Past the Post system?

And we may yet get a second referendum on membership of the EU. Would that be a betrayal of the clearly expressed will of the people, or an opportunity for the people to express their will now that we know more about it? Does the welter of conflicting claims about what is, or is not, fair reveal an underlying awareness that our democracy isn’t democratic? Are there better ways for decisions to be made?

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Resurrection, miracle and Harry Potter

God raised Jesus from the dead, according to the gospels. For some, it has become the whole point of Christianity.

But what it means has changed. Today Christians often interpret the Resurrection as a miracle that breaks the laws of nature – something you can only believe if you also believe in the laws of nature. Here I argue that treating it like this trivialises it.

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Amoral or differently moral?

Dollar sign

The failure of our governing elite is technical and political, for sure. But it is also moral. They have short-changed the public for so long that they don’t know any different.

So writes Aditya Chakrabortty in a recent article in the Guardian, arguing that ministers act in their own financial interests rather than the interests of the country. This post asks what kind of moral failure we’re seeing.

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On responding to tragedy

Fig tree

This is my sermon for this coming Sunday, in case anyone wants to pinch it – or bits from it.

It’s based on the Gospel reading Luke 13:1-9. Jesus responds to a couple of tragedies with some pertinent comments and a story about a fig tree.

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Mass shootings: how to respond?

Yet another mass shooting. We used to think they were unique to the USA. Now they can happen anywhere. Why?

And how should we respond? Do our public responses only make things worse?

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Are we civilised? Should we be?

There should be no snot on the nostrils… A peasant wipes his nose on his cap and coat, a sausage maker on his arm and elbow. It does not show much more propriety to use one’s hand and then wipe it on one’s clothing. It is more decent to take up the snot in a cloth, preferably while turning away. If when blowing the nose with two fingers something falls to the ground, it must be immediately trodden away with the foot. The same applies to spittle.

Thus Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process summarises some instructions in Erasmus’ 1530 publication On Civility in Boys. This post compares The Civilizing Process with Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature to ask: are we civilised, and is civilisation what we want?

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Climate Strike and spiritual values

Today’s youthful Climate Strike shows the immense gap between what young people are concerned about and what governments are doing. It is as though governments – not just ours, but most of the ones most responsible – are simply failing to address the urgency of the situation as described by the world’s climate scientists.

Children holding Climate Strike banner

This post asks about the role of spiritual values. There has been a great deal of Christian literature arguing that Christians should be concerned about the environment. But should Christian concern be any different from everybody else’s concern?

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Why do we make each other so ill by polluting the air?

Air pollution is ‘ the new tobacco‘, said the World Health Authority a short time ago: ‘the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more’. It now affects over 90% of the world’s population.

Now the Guardian has just published an excellent article about the damage we are doing to children. A reporter attended a consultation at the Royal London Hospital. For the children there, air pollution is linked to heart disease, dementia, reduced cognitive ability and asthma deaths. A growing number of people are considering moving house, or school, or even country because of it. This post asks why we are doing it.

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Fake news, democracy and the real world

Cartoon of Donald Trump reading

How much fake news is there? And how much does it matter?

In Britain the concerns usually focus on Brexit: which side told how many lies, how many people believed them, whether they are bringing disaster. In the USA everything is on a much bigger scale.

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