Tuesday, August 21, 2007

fairtrade cake

And in a bit of hidden news which will probably not come as a great surprise to many, the Co-op Group (aka CWS - who produce the own-label food products in local co-op stores) has decided to discontinue certain fairtrade products. There has been little fanfare and the Co-op Group hasn't even updated their own website to recognise this change.

The products are, we think, Co-op Chocolate Cake and Co-op Sultana Cake. But it might also include others listed on this website.

Monday, August 20, 2007

on doubt

I have recently been spending time with a bunch of doubters. They generally sound far more sane than most Christians I know.

Generalising hopelessly, most doubters seem to have started as particularly enthusiastic Christians - who were then abused by their church or individuals in the church. This then led to them questioning whether any of it is helpful or just bunk. Some seem to be so scarred by their experiences of abuse that they find it extremely difficult to move on with their lives, which is very unfortunate.

I just want to say a couple of things to any of them that happen to be passing here:

  1. I'm really sorry. I mean it.
  2. I am so sorry, I am almost lost for words.
  3. You are absolutely right about most of what you say about the church.
  4. You are absolutely right about most of your criticisms of theology.
If it is any comfort (and I appreciate it probably isn't) I'd say that church is spectacularly bad at communicating with people who have doubts and even people who ask too many difficult questions.

For those of us who continue to wear the badge of Christian or Christ-follower, we need to listen very carefully to these people as they have something very important to say to us. First, they tell us that most of our behaviour is a lie - and they are right. Second they say that most of our beliefs are a lie - and they are right. The difference between them and us is that they are prepared to speak the truth and we are not.

We need to collectively get over ourselves. The basis of Christianity is that unless there is a God of Love, the universe and existance is ultimately meaningless. When the Christ came, he did not reward those with great faith and fantastic theology. He lifted up those with little faith, healed those who did not commit their lives to him, scuppered those who thought they were correct. If we condemn those who are honest enough to speak their doubts, we condemn those who Christ rewarded. Remember, the first disciples were fishermen who knew nothing of heaven, hell or calvinism. The only person Christ told would be in heaven was a murderer dying on a cross.

Yesterday, I spent time arguing with my friends in church. Unusually, they were not debating with me, but arguing about such things as their experiences of the best city schools and whether their sons were suited to go to medical or law school and I was being a confused and bemused umpire. I'm sorry, whilst those things are not bad in themselves, do we not have some kind of twisted values when we are extremely concerned about our kids and their future ability to make money - yet couldn't give a toss about anyone else around us?

Is christianity in the final analysis simply a self advancement project for us and for our children?

Have we even read this text we claim to hold? Is it possible that we are so familiar with it that we have stopped listening in any case?

For example, yesterday the passage was about spies and Rahab. The prostitute. Someone who obviously showed tremendous faith because she helped enemies escape.

OK call me a cynic here, but there are a few things we never talked about in sunday school. First, why exactly were the oh-so-holy spies of Israel hanging out with a prostitute?

Let me spell the options out in simple language:
  1. Rahab could have been wandering around town and noticed a couple of very attractive young men who clearly shone with the glory of the living God. Knowing in her heart for the first time the light that only comes from the Holy Spirit, she immediately understood that these men were agents of God, and so she should help them escape from the evil city and so gave them a leg-up over the city walls. Or.
  2. She was a prostitute. They met her at a brothel. In the course of her profession, she came to appreciate that these men were Israelites (which come to think of it might have been one of the few ways to tell) and also saw how she was putting herself in danger, so quickly dispatched the men hoping that she had been able to cobble together some kind of promise of protection for the coming invasion.
Two options. The first requires a considerable flight of fancy and accepting things that the text does not say. The second accepts only the text at its word and the possibility that as she was a prostitute, she might have actually been having sex with men for money.

Even if that is not the case (and I'd submit that my theory is far more likely than the sunday school version), are we really happy with the idea that we're teaching our children it is prefectly OK and A1 to betray your country on the basis of meeting a couple of hunks who say they are from God? That it is prefectly OK to pick up a donkey bone, go crazy and kill a load of random people? Excuse me?

If Samson is an example of faith and a hero of belief in Yweh, then I want nothing to do with it, and nor should anyone else who has a brain inside their head. He was a dangerous psychopath.

Quite what it says about Christians who read this stuff, watch extreme movies like The Passion of The Christ and then have the gall to tell other people about the dangers of extreme violence in books and movies is beyond my understanding.

Finally, I want to say this.

Recently I have been offered two versions of Christianity. The first, as I have said above, is a kind of personal development project. Get right with God, do the right things in the right places and suddenly you will have peace and joy and frankly, you'll float around like you are on drugs. If anyone asks you to do anything - you can't man, cos you have like heavenly stuff to get on with. There are more worship events, prayer meetings and groovy things to be doing.

The second is a religion of respectibility. What matters is the way we look, the way the building looks, the way that we are seen by our community, how often we are in the local newspaper, whether we can manage to get our kids into the 'right' schools and the 'right' universities.

I want to make it clear that neither of these have anything at all to do with the Gospel of Christ. Null, nothing, zero. What matters is not whether we look good or feel good about ourselves. What matters is whether we are serving those in need in our community. Either we are - and are humbly following the example of the one we claim as saviour - or we are not. Jesus was absolutely clear about that.

In a number of ways we are far from the gospel we mouth. We are selfish, not selfless. We are concerned with our bodies and looks instead of dying to self. We are unprepared to put ourselves in harms way rather than running towards danger. We do not have love for our neighbour.

It is therefore no surprise when Christians look in the mirror and dislike what they see.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

John Pilger video


Monday, August 06, 2007


My family is not buried in the back garden. I said it for comedy effect. B is back later today and H tomorrow.

Just to clear up any misunderstanding.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Edward Lear and the Fundamentalist

Who or which or why or what is the Akhund of Swat?

So starts a very silly poem by Edward Lear. I remember reading it when I was a child, glorying in the strange sounding names - and shouting every other line. It really is quite funny.

But I am now in the position to answer the question. The Akhund of Swat was a highly revered Muslim religious leader in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan who has been compared to a kind of Pope.

Bizarrely this name from a nonsense poem also has a bit part in the rise of Islamic fundamentalism known as Wahhabism which led in turn to modern Islamic extremism, and the 'war on terror'. If you ask the question who created the Islamic terrorists, unfortunately the historic answer has a lot to do with us, the British.

To cut a very long story short, in the early 19 century, the British were set on empire-building and expending their territory from India. They cynically initially did this by mercenaries from the British East India Company, largely by setting different ethnic and religious groups against each other. A small band of men set up amongst the already fairly extreme tribal groups from Afghanistan, preaching a form of Islamic orthodoxy and glorious death by jihad. Everyone who did not belong to their cult was an enemy and they were ruthless in attacking without regard for their own deaths. They were regularly declaimed as outcasts and heretics by other Muslim groups. However, their popularity grew when the British first attacked them - whereby managing to unite the ununitable tribal groups under the Akhund - and then following the great Indian mutany of the mid 19 century whereby the British autocracy took violent revenge on their participation within the mutany. In fact many religions which today claim to be peaceful were involved in that bloody tit-for-tat including Christians, Muslims and Sikhs. Who'd have thunk it?

Eventually the ideas spread across India and took by force control of root the holy sites of Islam, which are now in Saudi Arabia - where it became the powerful Saud dynasty. When oil was found, this form of fundamentalism was rewarded with great wealth and protection from the self-seeking oil-swillers of the west. There was a split in that movement, and out of it came the suicide bombing jihadis of today.

Rather than constantly complaining to the rest of Islam - which have been roundly condemning, fatwa-ing and fighting against the movement for several hundred years - we need to recognise our own responsibility for the rise of the movement, which lies partly in our own disgusting past.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Jena Six

This is almost unbelievable. I am lost for words.

More here

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