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I’ve just returned from a day of discussion and networking at the Lowry hosted by the Evangelical Alliance (they’re not as scary as they sound)The Lowry Art Gallery at Sunset, Salford Quays.

I met a whole bunch of interesting people from business, media, arts, health, education and politics and we were given the opportunity to think and talk and dream about how we can be involved in changing society for the better.

How do we engage with the the society that we are a part of, the polis, rather than withdrawing into the individual? Through a recession do we find a safe cave and weather the storm, or use the opportunity to pull together and see what is common?

Not that these are easy questions to answer in practice, but they are made easier by connecting with others and having conversations and being inspired.

One of the most interesting things about the Obama phenomenon has been peoples positive reactions to a message of hope. If we believe what we see in the UK news, millions of people have felt a personal connection to that message, drawing them out of themselves and into political engagement.

Something that struck me from the conversations I had today was that we could probably do with a bit of that hope over here. We do satirical, we do irony very well, we do self deprecation, but what about a bit of hope that things could be better?

What would this hope look like? I don’t think it looks like the ‘national-lottery-it-could-be-you’ style hope that the media is so good at. ”TV hope’ you might call it: presenting an ideal, a better house, or better lifestyle, or better way to cook beef, held out as an unreachable prize while we sit on our couches and disengage, drool and get fat on chips.

Real hope surely has to connect with our own lives, our own stories, our own everyday selves, and those we know of who deserve better.

I have often heard people comment on the surprising evangelistic enthusiasm of certain Richard-Dawkins-like atheists. But now they are even asking for donations to fund a new atheist advertising campaign.

Professor Richard Dawkins has, apparently, generously agreed to match all contributions up to a maximum of £5,500. The bus slogan is set to read

“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”

I’m a Christian, and I don’t think this is a particularly bad thing. I do think it’s a little peculiar, but not ‘bad’ in any way. Peculiar, because one of the claims made by evangelistic atheists is that Religion hinders rational thought, but persuasion-by-bus-advert isn’t exactly the pinnacle of such thought.

However, the supporters of the campaign do hope that it might make people think, and if this is the case then I might be in favour of the slogan. Anything to get the question out there is a good thing.

I particularly like what Simon Barrow has said about the campaign:

For what it’s worth, as a Christian, I agree wholeheartedly with the slogan. The first part, anyway. It is indeed most probable that the kind of vindictive sky-god caricatured by the “new atheists”, perpetuated by fundamentalists, and subtly compared to flying space teapots by over-eager Cif readers, does not exist.

Barrow is not so sure about the second part:

The “stop worrying and enjoy your life” bit I find more problematic. Not because I want people to worry and not enjoy life, but because for so many people it is really difficult to do this right now. Which is why the real message that needs to get out there is about encouraging one another in active compassion.

Exactly. Furthermore, it hardly seems that being an atheist (or an agnostic) has anything to do whatsoever with worrying and/or enjoying life. If the aim is to encourage people to stop worrying then it seems like a severe mis-diagnosis of the problem. If the aim rather is just to persuade people to believe in atheism then the motivation that is offerd just seems way off the mark.

So, yay to the campaign if it encourages people to think about what they believe and why, and what they value in life, but an odd thing for Dawkins to fund. The biggest challenge to people beginning on an honest and sincere journey of faith is not athism but indifferance, or so it seems to me. Perhaps this slogan can help to challenge some of that indifference.

It’s great when you read something that strikes a clear chord with your own life. Illumination:

The difference between the integration of work and family in pre-industrial times and today is that in the old days there were clear limits on personal productivity and now there are not. Today “people judge what they should achieve by what they could achieve,” says Mr Katz [Professor at Rutgers University] and with our new technologies we can always theoretically achieve more. People thus “feel inadequate compared with the enormous opportunity they have”.

From the economist. That last sentence speaks to a source of anxiety that lingers at back of my own mind. Faith in a transcendent purpose and guidance on my life offers some relief, when I can hold on to it.

If you haven’t had a chance to see any of the BBC’s The Passion, then I recommend checking it out on iplayer. It’s fantastic.The Passion

I am a little biased, since I think that the story is potentially life changing (and that might be a slow process) and has unfathomable depth, but even if your view is more reserved it is undoubtedly one of the most influential stories ever; you don’t have to be very interested in stories and in their telling to be interested in this interpretation.

I confess, it took me a moment to accept the English accents in the desert (get behind me, Monty Python) but once over that small hurdle I was drawn in.

The biggest challenge, admirably met, seemed to me to be the portrayal of a man that was (is) followed so passionately – a man whose followers would start the biggest faith movement in the world. We need to believe, through the directing, the acting, and the writing that these people really would give up everything and follow him, many of them to their death.

“follow me and I will lead you to the Kingdom of God”

The disciples walk with Jesus through the desert and through Jerusalem. They are drawn to him and they love him.

Jesus walks among the sick and the prostitutes

“these are your brothers and sisters”

Powerful stuff.

Thanks go to Maverick Philosopher for this very interesting post, and this equally interesting link.

I should like to digest and say something about this, but not right now. I’m blogging the links so that you too can see how interesting a topic this is (and what floats my boat) and so that I am prompted to respond.

It is astonishing how much flack Rowan Williams has received after opening up a debate on secular law and religious conviction. A look at the transcript of the lecture and a listen to the BBC interview will show, I think, that what is being said by the Archbishop is cautious and extremely complex – as you would expect given the complexity of the issues that he discusses. The following is an extract from the lecture:

The danger is in acting as if the authority that managed the abstract level of equal citizenship represented a sovereign order which then allowed other levels to exist. But if the reality of society is plural – as many political theorists have pointed out – this is a damagingly inadequate account of common life, in which certain kinds of affiliation are marginalised or privatised to the extent that what is produced is a ghettoised pattern of social life, in which particular sorts of interest and of reasoning are tolerated as private matters but never granted legitimacy in public as part of a continuing debate about shared goods and priorities.

This is just a small part of the (occasionally heavy-going) manuscript: intelligent, informed and academic stuff! One of the dominant themes is how, as a society and in law, we should respond to a culture shot through with ‘multiple affiliation’ – that is ‘membership in different but overlapping sets of social relationship’. As Williams stresses, this is not just about British Law and Muslims. As an issue in political philosophy this runs deep.

There is no way to ‘sum up’ in some brief statement of opinion what is being discussed. No sound-bite is fitting or catchphrase appropriate. Yet the shower of ‘fierce attack’ splashed all over the media suggests otherwise.

As an example, the BBC reports that

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said he had “an enormous amount of respect” for Dr Williams, but could not agree with him on this issue.

On what issue? Precisely which miss-interpretation of the archbishop’s comments are you disagreeing with?

Genuine intelligent debate is pushed out of the public sphere, ridiculed almost, thanks to knee jerk reactions that simply fail to engage in any kind of necessary depth. Politicians are forced to actively reject less they are seen to endorse some single sentence misconstrual of a complicated issue.

I am also disappointed that I have been unable to find any comments in the mass media made by academics. Almost everyone’s frowns a awarded a column inch except, perhaps, for those most suitable to the task (of commenting, not frowning, though some academics I know…).

But I have gone on long enough. I end with a quote form the end of the William’s lecture. If a soundbite they want, why not this one?

In conclusion, it seems that if we are to think intelligently about the relations between Islam and British law, we need a fair amount of ‘deconstruction’ of crude oppositions and mythologies, whether of the nature of sharia or the nature of the Enlightenment.

Winter in ScotlandIt is becoming a bit of cliché in certain circles to have a moan about the true meaning of Christmas being eroded away. How many of the Christmas cards that you recently gathered and binned bore any mention of the nativity story? Occasionally terms like ‘Wintervale’ are thrown around, usually by those who immediately follow it with an (understandable) accusation of political correctness gone wrong. We can lament the demise of the primary school nativity play, being replaced with stories of Rudolf and Santa’s elves, and we can sigh at the uninspiring ‘Seasons Greetings’ that adorn our cards, but is this just an inevitable (lagged) effect of a society coming to terms with itself in a post-Christendom Britain?

I’m no expert on the subject, but I think I’m right in saying that before Christmas had even been thought up this time of year was a pagan festival (along with Easter). In a clever evangelistic move the early church merely changed the meaning of yearly celebrations already in place, and integrated them into the church calendar under new names.

Now I have chosen, and continue to choose, to steer my life towards a Christian world view, and to hold highly the stories of the bible and allow them, along with the communities of faith that I am a part of, to guide and influence my life. So I will continue to tell the ancient stories of Christmas – of God born as man on Earth – and to celebrate and remember. But can I expect others not so inclined to tow the Christ party line, and not just go out and party? I’m not sure.

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