Thursday, 19 October 2017

An Atheist Born Every Minute

An old meme from Richard Dawkins goes round the block again thanks to Linda Beale, a comedian who seems to think atheism is still cutting-edge.
Now, I guess fundamentally I just can't see how a newborn can be an atheist. To me being an atheist requires a decision that there is no god or gods - at least an intellectual assent. A newborn baby is just a baby. If being at the default setting (ie with absolutely no opinion on the existence of god(s) is the right one, here's a few other things babies don't do:


  • Understand the philosophy of science
  • Know where Tarporley is
  • Drive cars
  • Ride bikes
  • Operate smart phones
  • Understand the metanarrative of "The Woodlanders" by Thomas Hardy
  • Write haikus
  • Get comedy
  • Use Powerpoint to create memes
  • Read Twitter
  • DIY
  • Care for pets
  • Speak Dutch - or even, let's be honest, whatever their native language is scheduled to be
  • Be smug


No, all these things have to be taught and / or learnt by experience. The only thing babies can do are drink milk, excrete and accept love. Along the way babies, as they grow into adults or comedians, will learn the power to discern, to pick up or reject ideas, to know the difference between an edgy tweet and a 3-year-old idea that was never right in the first place. They will pick up nationalities, their local culture and - hopefully - the cultures of the world. They will learn about their context in the world. They may or may not grow up in a religion, and they may or may not decide to reject it, or indeed embrace one. They may grow up in liberal families or conservative ones - and again they can choose to accept or reject. They may grow up with parents that like Elvis Presley, Russ Abbott's Comedy Madhouse or W1A - and again, they can rebel or not.

In short, babies have got a lot of learning, growing and changing to do. Don't go thinking their default setting is the right one. Babies are useless.

There's a better response to Dawkin's original comments here from Andrew Brown. Don't go "below the line." They're not very edifying.



Looking for  a Christmas present for the churchgoer in your life? Or are you in need of a book to make you laugh at and think about the church? Well you probably need "Writes of the Church  -  Gripes and Grumbles of People in the Pews" - a perfect stocking filler.  From Amazon, BRF and good Christian bookshops.
A queue of people at the vicarage door, holding letters. The vicar is hiding behind the curtains.
Writes of the Church - On sale now and perfect for Christmas

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Coming to Their Census

As the great "who plays which role in the Nativity Play" crisis draws closer, at least little Celestine is making it easier.

I mean, I'll have to write another scene. But compared to having another wannabe  Mary? Especially when the Druid's grandkid getting that gig is always gonna be controversial.

Anyway. Celestine wants to be the one in overall charge, who gets the key characters to Bethlehem.

No, not God. Augustus Caesar.

I'm very proud.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Church of Not Thinking Too Hard

Yeah, it was a strange part of my early development. I spent a year in quite a fundamentalist church.

They regarded most modern learning with suspicion. You had to be able to read 17th Century English, of course, so you could read the Bible. But science was seen as deeply suspect. Mathematics was encouraged as how else could you calculate the end of the world? But you could forget anything approaching geology or human biology.

Greek and Hebrew were regarded as unnecessary, as the Bible had already been translated perfectly. And Modern Languages were generally held to be deeply suspect, as doubting the power of God as revealed at Pentecost.

And in fact it was the languages stuff that caused me all the trouble. It was a great internal struggle. I knew I would get disfellowshipped. I liked many of the people, and knew I would have to leave them. But, you know, in the end I knew I had to be true to myself, however horrified they would all be.

So I did it. I came out as bilingual.



Looking for  a Christmas present for the churchgoer in your life? Or are you in need of a book to make you laugh at and think about the church? Well you probably need "Writes of the Church  -  Gripes and Grumbles of People in the Pews" - a perfect stocking filler.  From Amazon, BRF and good Christian bookshops.
A queue of people at the vicarage door, holding letters. The vicar is hiding behind the curtains.
Writes of the Church - On sale now and perfect for Christmas

Monday, 16 October 2017

Shut Your North and South (or - My Kingdom for a Norse)

In the category of "Exciting News Only a Guardian Reporter Wouldn't Know is Old News..."

A historian has discovered that the divide between North and South may go all the way back to Viking days.

Let's have a think.

"Husborne Crawley."  Anglo-Saxon from start to finish.

"Derby". Danish.

Blimey. It works.

If only everybody else in the whole of history hadn't known about this before, it would be absolutely amazing. Except, in the broad sense, we all did.

Watford Gap, by the way, the place that he claims has a historical role going all the way back. totally fails as a place that divides the two.

"Watford", the village after which the Gap is named - is Anglian.

To the West are Kilsby, Barby,  Willoughby, Ashby - all Norse. Should be Saxon, according to this theory. Even Rugby is south-west of the Watling Street, for pity's sake.

To the East - sure, there's Long Buckby. But also the Haddons (Anglian), Winwick (Anglian), and - to the North East where they should definitely be all-Viking - the fantastically-named Yelvertoft. Anglian "Yelver", Norse "toft".

Proving that (a) life is always more complex than simple rules and (b) there are no measures historians won't go to, to get a grant.



Looking for  a Christmas present for the churchgoer in your life? Or are you in need of a book to make you laugh at and think about the church? Well you probably need "Writes of the Church  -  Gripes and Grumbles of People in the Pews" - a perfect stocking filler.  From Amazon, BRF and good Christian bookshops.
A queue of people at the vicarage door, holding letters. The vicar is hiding behind the curtains.
Writes of the Church - On sale now and perfect for Christmas

Of Sexuality and Surgery

Burton Dasset over-excited about the news that doctors will be asking patients about their sexuality.

Spent his whole time in the appointment giving the (female) doctor details of his sexuality. Including the disturbing degree to which she features in his mostly-imaginary sex life.

Apparently she was quite surprised, took a few notes. Said thanks but it was really only going to be for statistical purposes.

Unfortunately he ran out of time. So he'll have to get his ingrowing toenail looked at another day.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Flu and Flights of Fancy

I'm going to give you a warning. The link here goes to a Daily Mail article by Katie Hopkins.

You probably don't want to follow it, but it's right I source it.

To save you the trouble of reading it - it's Katie Hopkins telling us she won't allow her child to receive the flu vaccine because he's "fit and healthy." The article is a fine example of the power of anecdote over data.

Up to the 1918/9 Spanish Flu pandemic, influenza outbreaks followed the "U shape" of many diseases, where the very young and very old were most likely to die. Spanish Flu was different. It killed young, healthy adults. People drowned as their own lungs filled with blood.

Being young and healthy, given the wrong flu strain, is no protection. If the immune system of a young, healthy person turns against their own body it can be catastrophic.

I'm not saying this year's flu will be catastrophic. The Australian outbreak has probably told us roughly what it will be like. It's much like last year's but worse. But kids are abnormally good spreaders of disease, and the wrong rogue mutation could spread like wildfire.

I won't tell you what to do about flu vaccination - it's terribly complex. But I can tell you this - don't listen to Daily Mail controversialists who have to delete large numbers of tweets because they don't think very well.

They're not a very good example.




Looking for  a Christmas present for the churchgoer in your life? Or are you in need of a book to make you laugh at and think about the church? Well you probably need "Writes of the Church  -  Gripes and Grumbles of People in the Pews" - a perfect stocking filler.  From Amazon, BRF and good Christian bookshops.
A queue of people at the vicarage door, holding letters. The vicar is hiding behind the curtains.
Writes of the Church - On sale now and perfect for Christmas

When Worship Leaders Go Rogue

You know how it is with Worship Leaders.

There are some who are sensitive. Introduce the songs and/or liturgy and/or tea light ignition with appropriate sensitivity. Respond to where people appear to be. Listen to the Spirit. Generally encourage people to recognise God's presence. Then get out the way.

And there are others who just introduce the songs and crack on. That's OK. You're not introducing your personality into the service to any great extent. But then some people don't have the kind of personality you really want to introduce into the service. Should you have that kind of personality, and you're leading a service - just shouting out the numbers / titles is exactly what you should be doing.

And then there are are the others who use every space between items in the service to tell us about their previous spiritual experiences. To share their home-spun philosophies. To read great chunks of scripture out. In short, to just really let people know just what God really wants them to just really know. And to enable them to just really get close to  God in a way that is just really - you know. Real.

I'm not going to tell you what type of leader Jerbert is.

 Let's just really assure you that his knees aren't actually broken. I'm much better with a cricket bat than that. What does he think I am? An amateur?




Looking for  a Christmas present for the churchgoer in your life? Or are you in need of a book to make you laugh at and think about the church? Well you probably need "Writes of the Church  -  Gripes and Grumbles of People in the Pews" - a perfect stocking filler.  From Amazon, BRF and good Christian bookshops.
A queue of people at the vicarage door, holding letters. The vicar is hiding behind the curtains.
Writes of the Church - On sale now and perfect for Christmas

Paul Says, Sort it Out

My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be
known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in
everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be
made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (Php 4.1-9)
Quick quote from "Writes of the Church" if I may.....

Dear Sir 
The vicar has suspended me from leading prayers in church.  Just because instead of standard “confessions”, I read out the names of a number of worshippers, and what they needed forgiveness for.
Makes you wonder what he is hiding.
Dr Sandra Ireland
We don't what happened to make Euodia and Syntyche fall out. Paul is kind enough not to mention the actual problem. Maybe it was a disagreement over who was on the flower rota that Sunday. Maybe one or the other had, like Dr Ireland, decided she was going to announce the other's sins to the church. Or was it a row over who was most important?

Doesn't matter. Whatever the row was about, it had made it to Paul. And Paul is concerned. Because a Church is not meant to have such rows that they make it all the way across the Roman Empire.

What I don't think it was, was a clear cut disagreement about something that really mattered. You know, like Paul telling Peter he was wrong about the Gentiles. This is less important, less arguable and therefore more toxic. The disagreement of the organist that thinks he should pick all the anthems and the vicar's decided for him. Of the powerful chap on the PCC who wasn't asked to be on the Christingle planning committee. Of the priest who never got the nod when a vacancy for canon came up.

So Euodia and Syntyche sit there as a reminder forever that churches don't grow or fall by their precision of doctrine - or Paul would have told them the answer. They aren't broken by one piece of dodgy furniture or architecture - in Paul's day they didn't even have buildings. But they can be poisoned by the little stuff - the grumblings and petty ambitions.

And yet the better way is given. Stop moaning about each other. Sort things out clearly. Be gentle.

Then pray, and give thanks to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, can flow from us to others - if we just let it flow in, first.



Friday, 13 October 2017

Where the Wild Stuff Is

Scientists announce they have discovered half the missing mass of the universe.

A great achievement.

In late news, the remaining missing mass has been identified as:

  • Odd socks
  • Biros (thank you Douglas Adams)
  • Reading glasses
  • Fluff left in the bath
  • Alternative Service Books "just in case"
  • Brexiteers' Hopes
  • 20p pieces down the sofa
  • Jeremy Corbyn's home-made jam
  • Euro 96 caps
  • Garlic that's 12 months out of date in the fridge
  • Failed Brexit strategies
  • Old service sheets nobody could get round to throwing away
  • Arsene Wenger's unsigned resignation letters
  • The brushings from hipsters' beards
  • Cat fur shed on people's sweaters
  • Unwanted keyrings
  • Dork matter
  • Crusty bits off cheese
  • Unread books by Richard Dawkins
  • Unread poems by Rowan Williams