Looking for a great holiday in 2012. According to the New York Times Birmingham is ranked 19 in their list of 45 places to go in 2012. In a list that didn’t mention Paris, Rome or Madrid Birmingham even came ahead of Space! The reason? ‘Could England’s second city be first in food?’
David Thomas writing in the Independent said ‘six months ago I did something that few others can claim, or would even want to claim to have done. I took my wife, Clare, to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary with a night of romantic bliss… in Birmingham.’
‘It could be LA. It could by Sydney. It’s actually Birmingham. And The New York Times is quite right. It’s a great place. You should absolutely go there in 2012.’
But if you’re a Christian I have better reason than food for you to not just make a visit but to come and live in our great city. 2020birmingham is looking to work with people, churches and organisations seeking to plant churches in our city. Maybe God would say to you ‘It’s a great place. You should absolutely go there in 2012, 13,14….’
On the same day that the nation woke up to the news that Christopher Hitchens had died our Prime Minister gave a speech in Oxford to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.
That these two items of news should have followed on from one another on the BBC 10 o’clock news was striking.
Hitchens in his book God is not great argued that religion poisons everything. For Hitchens religion is not just wrong it is dangerous and damaging to society.
Cameron’s speech flatly contradicted everything Hitchens stood for when he said:
We are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so.
So who is right?
It is important to read Cameron’s speech in full to understand what he is and isn’t saying.
1. He was NOT saying that the majority of people in our country are Christians (although we should not entirely disregard the fact that in the 2001 census 71% of the British population chose to define themselves as Christian). It is not particularly clear in what sense Cameron regards himself as a Christian for example.
2. Nor was he saying that Britain as a Christian country is intolerant of people of other faiths. Quite the opposite it is Christian countries that have demonstrated a tolerance for other faiths.
Those who say being a Christian country is doing down other faiths simply don’t understand that it is easier for people to believe and practise other faiths when Britain has confidence in its Christian identity.
The tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too.
That could certainly not be said of Muslim countries where freedom to convert from Islam to Christianity is illegal and those who do face severe sanctions.
And although I have no way of assessing his claim it was striking that Cameron also said:
Many people tell me it is much easier to be Jewish or Muslim here in Britain than it is in a secular country like France.
What was Cameron’s point then?
Essentially it was this:
The Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country. Indeed, as Margaret Thatcher once said, “we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible.”
Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love, pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities these are the values we treasure.
Yes, they are Christian values. And we should not be afraid to acknowledge that.
So David Bentley Hart in his work Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its fashionable enemies rightly concludes:
Even the most ardent secularists among us generally cling to notions of human rights, economic and social justice, providence for the indigent, legal equality, or basic human dignity that pre-Christian Western culture would have found not so much foolish as unintelligible. It is simply the case that we distant children of the pagans would not be able to believe in any of these things – they would never have occurred to us – had our ancestors not once believed that God is love, that charity is the foundation of all virtues, that all of us are equal before the eyes of God, that to fail to feed the hungry or care for the suffering is to sin against Christ, and that Christ laid down his life for the least of his brethren.
It is very hard to imagine what the world would have looked like without Christianity. The nearest we can get is by asking how are countries that have long history of Christian faith and worship different from those that do not.
This post can’t possibly do the work of establishing that Christianity has had a profound influence for good that we all benefit from whether we acknowledge that origin or not. For that you must look elsewhere. Perhaps with Bentley Hart’s book or maybe this one God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science by James Hannam which has been short-listed for the Royal Society Prize for Science Books 2010
How should we respond as Christians to the speech?
At least three things come to mind.
1. David Cameron in his speech gave Christians ‘permission’ to openly acknowledge the God who has blessed our nation in ways not even we Christians easily remember. It is often the case that it is those who have emigrated to our country from other parts of the world who can see what we take for granted. They rejoice in the rule of law, freedom of speech, human rights, isn’t it time we thanked God for them too!
2. Christians also have been given permission by Cameron to challenge Government positions that would seek to undermine this all to valuable heritage for instance in the proposed attempt to redefine marriage.
3. The speech was also a repost to the new atheism which wants to rewrite history by distorting the contribution of a thousand years of Christianity in our country. Such a denial of history creates a culture in which scepticism flourishes. Cynic and doubter alike would do well to be reminded, and we can help in this, that the life that we enjoy and celebrate is simply NOT to be found in nations that are not built on a Christian foundation. There are uniquely Judeo-Christian values and at least in that sense Britain remains a Christian country.
Always controversial and an outspoken atheist his ideas have impacted and infuriated many.
His entry in Wikipedia notes that he was included in ‘The Top 100 Public Intellectuals Poll’ The poll ‘was conducted in November 2005 and June 2008 by Prospect Magazine (UK) and Foreign Policy (US) on the basis of responding readers’ ballot. The objective was to determine the 100 most important public intellectuals who are still alive and active in public life.’
I remember watching the documentary Collision which followed Christopher Hitchens (author of God is not great) and Doug Wilson as they debated ‘Is God good for the world?‘. It’s not a particularly good documentary in some senses but what you can’t miss as you do watch it is what a friendly relationship they enjoyed.
In an article in Christianity Today on the death of Hitchens Wilson writes ‘During the time we spent together, he never said an unkind thing to me—except on stage, up in front of everybody. After doing this, he didn’t wink at me, but he might as well have.’
As we reflect on the death of a godless man we remember the word of the Lord in Ezekiel:
‘Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?’
Google’s top 10 search lists for 2011 has just been released and for all those who feel the need to keep up to speed with what everybody is thinking they are an invaluable source.
There are top 10 fastest rising searches for 2011, fastest rising people (at least 5 of whom I’d never heard), a top 10 ‘how to’ list which includes at number 2 ‘how to snog’ and at number 7 ‘how to flirt’ and top 10 celebrities.
So if you’re desperate to look up-to-date on all things cool or you’re looking to understand the priorities and concerns of a nation you now know where to look.
The Bible contains surprising verses, even offensive verses, passages of the Bible that seem to be at odds with our understanding of the way the world should work and God behave.
Exodus 20:5 is one such verse;
I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.
If you’re a Christian you probably, like me, find a verse like that a little unsettling. What can such a verse mean?
1. It can’t mean that God actually punishes innocent people for the sins of an earlier generation. After all Deuteronomy 24:16 makes clear that ‘Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers.’
2. Rather through this verse God warns Israel that as Stuart comments;
‘God will indeed punish generation after generation if they keep doing the same sorts of sins that prior generations did. If the children continue to do the sins their parents did, they will receive the same punishments as their parents.’
Ryken notes that;
‘God never condemns the innocent only the guilty. Here it is important to notice something that is often overlooked — namely, how the threat ends. God says that he will punish three or four generations “of those who hate me” (Exod. 20:5). The children hate God as much as their fathers did (which, given the way they were raised, is not surprising).’
And here is his sobering conclusion
‘As parents plan for the future, they should be more concerned about the second commandment than they are about their financial portfolio. This commandment contains a solemn warning for fathers. When a man refuses to love God passionately and to worship God properly, the consequences of his sin will last for generations.
The guilt of a man who treasures idols in his heart will corrupt his entire family, and in the end they will all be punished.’
The second commandment in action
And then in the news today we find something that seems in every way to be a fulfilment of this warning in our own times. Dr Helen Wright, President of the Girls’ School Association, in a speech to be given tomorrow warns that the consequences of parents not knowing right from wrong are falling on their children.
‘I have a deep worry that some parents have been so deprived in their own lives of education and values, that they no longer know right from wrong and that they are as a result unwittingly ‘indulging’ children in some parallel universe where it is acceptable to let young children wear make-up and provocative clothing.
“If parents can’t see anything wrong in dressing up their children in ‘Future WAG’ T-shirts and letting them wear make-up, high heels and ‘mini-me’ sexy clothing, then something is intensely wrong in our society.’
Cecil B. De Mille the director of the Hollywood blockbuster, The Ten Commandments, described the folly of ignoring God’s 10 commandments in this way – he said ‘It is impossible for us to break laws; we only break ourselves upon them.’
The Telegraph reports on how a Christian couple, on leaving their church’s prayer meeting, found themselves coming to the assistance of Stephen Lawrence as he lay bleeding to death. Rather than ignore the cries for help from his friend they stopped, comforted and prayed for Stephen in his last few minutes on earth.
“I put my right hand on his back and left hand on his head. I could feel he was still breathing as his back was going up and down. Stephen was unconscious.
“I was praying over him in a whisper, I said things like ‘bless him Lord Jesus, heal him. Have mercy on him’.
Who knows what God may call on you to do when you next leave a prayer meeting and who knows how your prayers may be called upon to shape the eternal destiny of a victim of such a tragedy.
A fascinating interview on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning led to this exchange:
James Naughty in conversation with Joan Bakewell, recently appointed a Government Champion of the elderly.
Naughty: What did you conclude about how are we beginning to look at people who perhaps need at lot of help, a lot of care, who perhaps can be difficult and require a different kind of approach from people who maybe 50 years younger than they are?
Bakewell: …On the whole our society is quite cruel. We care about money, we care about fame, success.
Naughty: Has it got more cruel?
Bakewell: I think the decline of religious commitment to charity, and kindness has declined.
Nobody learns that. They don’t learn it in their home, they don’t learn it in their school, it’s seen as soft, it’s not what you’re about. You’re meant to stand up for your own individual personality, make your way in the world and good luck to you.
Kindness, empathy, generousity are all in short supply and people used to learn it from the churches. I learnt it in Sunday school.
Where do you learn it now? I don’t know.
What have the likes of Rowan Atkinson and Ricky Gervais got in common? Fraser Nelson thinks he knows
Fraser Nelson in last weeks Spectator magazine takes issue with the condescending tone of Rowan Atkinson;
Rowan Atkinson, the comedian and actor, this week denounced many of the clerics he has met as being ‘smug’, ‘arrogant’, ‘conceited’, and ‘presumptuous about their position in society’. He shows no mercy to the clergy, and shows no doubts whatsoever about his right to judge the church.
There are smug priests, of course, just as their are smug architects, smug engineers, smug police officers, smug politicians and, whisper it, smug comedians. No member of the priesthood, for instance, would sit behind the wheel of a sports car valued at £2 million, still less prang it, as Mr Atkinson did last month, No ‘clerk in holy orders’, as vicars used to call themselves, would attempt to raze a perfectly good house in Oxfordshire to the ground, and build in its stead a monstrous glass and steel edifice, as Mr Atkinson wants to do, in defiance of the wishes of local people. Some fuddy-duddies might consider this sort of behaviour to be arrogant. His unhappy neighbours might even suggest that Atkinson himself was a touch presumptuous about his own place in society. Perhaps Mr Atkinson is above hypocrisy.
Modern comedians have become a secular priesthood. They have their own customs and rituals, and their own language, which is not always friendly. There is a strict hierarchy among TV comics, and at the top of the profession, an untouchable, cabal, far grander and more self-important than any circle of bishops.
Many comedians like Atkinson are rich beyond their dreams. Most real priests, by contrast, live humbly, and dedicate their ministry to the lives of others without expectation of reward. If Rowan Atkinson is keen to continue his new vocation as a lay preacher, he would do well to learn from their example.
The Telegraph reports on the growing number of voices within the church opposed to Cameron’s attempts to legalise gay marriage.
With the sad news of the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs quite a number of people are quoting from his commencement speech given at Stanford in 2005.
Here’s a sample (full text available here)
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.’
For any Christian reading what stands out is that what motivated Jobs, at least in part, is the shortness of life and the inevitability of his own death.
Apart from the events of Easter day Jobs is surely right to say ‘death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it.’ But Christ’s resurrection changes everything. Because of him we can truly ‘think different’.
Jesus not only escaped death, but defeated death and transcended death. What a tragedy that it appears that Jobs never came to that understanding.
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