Archive for the ‘Culture and Christianity’ Category

Here is a piece I wrote for our local paper Arbroath Herald on 26 August 2011 edition.

The call to live a life of love

“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence”. Erich Fromm

The last issue of Philosophy Now, a highly regarded publication in the field of philosophy, and which has as one of its main aims to make philosophy accessible to the masses, was dedicated entirely to the subject of Love. The subtitle of this issue is ‘What is love’. In a number of articles the authors seek to explore this very important issue for our human existence. The authors seek to address the nature of love from both nonreligious but also from a religious perspective. The general consensus of the authors is that love is the ingredient that we humans can’t live without.

In one of the articles, Is Love and Art, Kathleen O’Dwyer explores the questions of what we mean by love and how we humans should express it. Her attempt to define “mature and perfect love” leads her to describe love in very similar terms as Christians understand the love of God for humanity. In her words “real love is motivated by the urge to give and to share rather than by the desire to fulfil one’s own needs or to compensate for one’s inadequacies”. This is a self-giving love which does not expect reciprocity, a love that respects the other for what he/she is. This love is based not on desire to control but on the desire to care for the other with respect and humility. This kind of love makes one vulnerable and risks self-exposure.

When we talk about practising this love Erich Fromm, a French philosopher, argued that love is not primarily about a relationship to a specific person but, love should be an attitude, a way of living, “an orientation of character” which should determine all our relationships, our relatedness.

It was so fitting for a publication like Philosophy Now to focus on the subject of love at this time, as today more than ever the issue of love is so relevant and urgent to our world. Our lives and our society seem more and more removed from forms of relatedness that are governed by love.

In the recent past we as a society have experienced a number of crisis that have shaken the foundations of our social order, and let us just remember a few: crisis in our political system when our politicians were exposed for fiddling their expenses, leading to loss of credibility in the system; The economic and financial systems have been discredited by the greed and intemperance of many and as a result we are still living in a turmoil which by all means does not seem to be ending soon; The recent telephone hacking scandal has also brought a cloud of suspicion over our press and even the police. The massacre that happened in Norway, coupled with the terrorist threats, show the extent of hate towards “the different other” and desire for harm the other, which exists in our society.

God has shown us his perfect love in action, as he came to us in Jesus. We see in Jesus’ life and death the manifestation of God’s love in action. Therefore we are challenged and called to be transformed by that love and as a result live by it and build our relationships by it. It is an urgent call for all of us to rediscover and live out that love, no matter in which institutions (religious or otherwise) we are, in whatever stations of life (young or old) we find ourselves, and with whichever system of belief. Only when we seek to live by this principle of love, only then we would be able to live balanced personal lives and build a fair and happy society.

“For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation” Rainer Maria Rilke.

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“The picture of religion that emerges from New Atheism is a caricature and both misrepresents and underestimates its real New Atheism RIPcharacter”. Caspar Melville Beyond New Atheism, in the Guardian

Caspar Melville, a defender of New Atheism (at least up until yesterday) seems to suggest that this movement is a FAD (my own interpretation) and might have reached its end of the road and now it is time to move beyond New Atheism. In this article he seems to suggest that New Atheism, and its prophets (where he is one among them), are wrong in a lot of things. He is not shy to also admit that there is (or there was?) an economic benefit for this a-religious movement (they did not manage to build themselves an equivalent to a ‘Vatican state’ yet). It is no doubt that the High Priest Dawkins has also pocketed a small fortune from this enterprise.

I wonder how will this ‘beyond New Atheism’ look like? Suggestions please.

Mark Vernon attended the event Caspar Melville mentions in his article wrote a post about it on his blog. Not sure what agenda was/is beyond this apparent ‘shift’?

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Whenever I hear Christians bashing ‘secularism’ I wonder what do they mean and have they really considered what secularism is before joining the bandwagon. I wonder if secularism (as a concept) has been hijacked (as humanism has been) by extreme ideologies which skew its meaning to either get popularity or to find a hobby horse. In this process the concept is emptied of it’s wider meaning and devalued. For example modern humanism traces it’s birth within the Christian context – and I am bemused how today is used with such impunity to claim exclusion of faith.

Last week I heard the Pope bash again secularism as one of the ills of our society. While I agree that the Catholic Church might have an axe to grind with secularism – as the arrival of secularism announced the demise of political power for the Catholic Church – I don’t understand why this has to be a threat to Christians and their faith. The Protestant church, to my knowledge (and I am not a church historian), has been an advocate of secularism (well with some exceptions) since the Reformation. Secularism for me in simple terms means separating the political from religious and in practical terms making a safe space for all where religion does not dictate to society what to do but at the same time it is not excluded from society – an alternative to theocracy. Secularism per-se does not, and cannot, eliminate faith out of the public sphere – otherwise it looses it’s core principle – neutrality. Secularism is not atheism.

Simon Barrow with other members of Ekklesia have done recently a good amount of work to try and reclaim secularism as a concept.

Evan Harris published at the weekend a Secularist Manifesto in the Guardian which I find to fit with what I think secularism is. There is nothing in this manifesto that I could not say amen to and I don’t think many Christians would object to the ethos of this manifesto (some Christians though might find some aspects harder to accept). Here are the main points:

“A manifesto for secularist change would look like this:

1. Protect free religious expression that does not directly incite violence or crimes against others or publicly and directly cause someone distress or alarm.

2. End discrimination against nonreligious belief systems or organisations.

3. End unjustified religious discrimination


I would be interested in feedback.

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In 2007 Britain marked 200 years since the British Parliament passed the bill to abolish the Slave Trade, or what is otherwise known as the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. As I was involved in marking this event, in particular throughout Scotland, I sought to inform myself about this issue. In addition to reading about the Slave Trade and the Scottish involvement with it (my friend Iain Whyte published his book just in time) I also sought to find out if there were any significant local links (where I live) with the slave trade. Well I did find that there were two buildings which were built with money from the salve trade, one of them is in Blackburn (Blackburn House) and the other one in Bathgate (Bathgate Academy).

I have also learned that Christians found themselves on both side of the argument in regards to slave trade and slavery: it is now clear that Christians played a very significant role in the abolition of the slave trade and slavery itself, but there were other Christians who sought to defend the slave trade and slavery (it took another 26 years before slavery was outlawed in the UK).

John Lampard a retired Methodist minister wrote an article in 2007 showing how Christians in particular in the American South argued for slavery on the basis of the bible. Lampard shows how Revd Thornton Stringfellow, a Baptist pastor born in 1788 and Ordained in 1814 argued that slavery was undoubtedly biblical. I recommend his article which can be downloaded from here (the Set all Free website).

More information about Slavery in Scotland can be found on Scotland and Slavery website which I helped create while working for ACTS, which is still hosted by them.

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Dogmatist scientists need to be reminded, now and again, that the discipline of science is not about absolute truth. So says Robert Winston.
As I was getting ready to go to bed last night I was flickering through the channels on my new TV (well you know when you have a new toy you need to get used to it) I noticed that Robert Winston was the guest on BBC 24 hard talk programme. Winston was answering the question “can we trust the science” (you can still watch the full programme on the BBC iPlayer).
Winston pointed out that in the wake of the recent scandals (i.e. climate gate) there is some unhealthy arrogance among some scientists which is rather damaging to science.
The following words struck me “there is a degree of scientific dogma, when, for example, very strong committed atheist, for example, talk about science being the absolute truth, I don’t think that really helps science, it is rather undermining because science is not just about truth it is about probabilities, it’s about likelihood to some extent, and of course what we know from the science and what I say in this book, of course, is the more we explore the more half truths or part truths we find that the more we find that we actually can’t explain”!
One might also say that the religious dogmatist need to also be reminded that religious dogmas are human constructs that reflect cultural, historic and social context that gave birth to them. Therefore these dogmas need to be re-evaluated all the time, and as such might not be ‘absolute truth’. What do people think?

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Arguably the most prominent evangelical leader in America, Rick Warren writes to the Ugandan  Christian leaders asking them to reconsider their support for the controversial law to criminalise homosexuals in that country. Warren’s intervention is unprecedented and surprising and shows how far the mainstream evangelical have moved in a relatively short period of time.

At the same time Warren’s intervention puts Rowan Williams to shame. Williams has kept quiet to his shame over this odious proposed legislation while he was quick to jumped up within less than twelve hours after the election of Mary Glasspool as the bishop of Los Angeles Diocese of Episcopal Church in USA. Well done Rick, shame Rowan.

Here is a video and the letter of Rick Warren which are posted on his blog:

“Dear fellow pastors in Uganda,

I greet you in the name and love of Jesus Christ as I send this encyclical video to the pastors of the churches of Uganda with greetings from your fellow pastors around the world. May grace and peace be with you this Christmas season.

We are all familiar with Edmund Burke’s insight that, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” That is why I’m sharing my heart with you today. As an American pastor, it is not my role to interfere with the politics of other nations, but it IS my role to speak out on moral issues. It is my role to shepherd other pastors who look to me for guidance, and it is my role to correct lies, errors, and false reports when others associate my name with a law that I had nothing to do with, completely oppose, and vigorously condemn. I am referring to the pending law under consideration by the Ugandan Parliament, known as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

As a pastor, I’ve found the most effective way to build consensus for social change is usually through direct quiet diplomacy and behind the scenes dialogue, rather than through media. But because I didn’t rush to make a public statement, some erroneously concluded that I supported this terrible bill, and some even claimed I was a sponsor of the bill. You in Uganda know that is untrue.

I am releasing this video to you and your congregations to correct these untruths and to urge you to make a positive difference at this critical point in your nation.

While we can never deny or water down what God’s Word clearly teaches about sexuality, at the same time the church must stand to protect the dignity of all individuals — as Jesus did and commanded all of us to do.

Let me be clear that God’s Word states that all sex outside of marriage is not what God intends. Jesus reaffirmed what Moses wrote that marriage is intended to be between one man and one woman committed to each other for life. Jesus also taught us that the greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Since God created all, and Jesus suffered and died for all, then we are to treat all with respect. The Great Commandment has been the centerpiece of my life and ministry for over 35 years.

Of course, there are thousands of evil laws enacted around the world and I cannot speak to pastors about every one of them, but I am taking the extraordinary step of speaking to you — the pastors of Uganda and spiritual leaders of your nation — for five reasons:

First, the potential law is unjust, extreme and un-Christian toward homosexuals, requiring the death penalty in some cases. If I am reading the proposed bill correctly, this law would also imprison anyone convicted of homosexual practice.

Second, the law would force pastors to report their pastoral conversations with homosexuals to authorities.

Third, it would have a chilling effect on your ministry to the hurting. As you know, in Africa, it is the churches that are bearing the primary burden of providing care for people infected with HIV/AIDS. If this bill passed, homosexuals who are HIV positive will be reluctant to seek or receive care, comfort and compassion from our churches out of fear of being reported. You and I know that the churches of Uganda are the truly caring communities where people receive hope and help, not condemnation.

Fourth, ALL life, no matter how humble or broken, whether unborn or dying, is precious to God. My wife Kay and I have devoted our lives and our ministry to saving the lives of people, including homosexuals, who are HIV positive. It would be inconsistent to save some lives and wish death on others. We’re not just pro-life. We are whole life.

Finally, the freedom to make moral choices, and our right to free expression are gifts endowed by God. Uganda is a democratic country with a remarkable and wise people, and in a democracy everyone has a right to speak up. For these reasons, I urge you, the pastors of Uganda, to speak out against the proposed law.

My role, and the role of the PEACE Plan, whether in Uganda or any other country, is always pastoral, not political.  I vigorously oppose anything that hinders the goals of the PEACE Plan: Promoting reconciliation, Equipping ethical leaders, Assisting the poor, Caring for the sick, and Educating the next generation, which includes the protection of children.

Please know that you and the people of Uganda are in my constant prayers. This Christmas season I pray you will experience the three purposes of Christmas as announced by the angel at the birth of Christ. First, the angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy.” Christmas is a time of celebration — Jesus is the Good News for the whole world. God came to earth to be with us! Next, the angel said, “For unto us is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” Christmas is a time for salvation. If we didn’t need a Savior, God would not have sent one. Finally, the angel said, “Peace on earth, good will toward men.” Christmas is a time for reconciliation. The message of Christmas is good cheer, good news, and good will for the whole world.

It is my prayer that the churches and people of Uganda will experience all three of these this season. May God bless you; and may God bless the nation of Uganda.

Christmas 2009″

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It is reported that members of a jury in Texas used the Bible (as an inspiration and a law book, it appears) to sentence a man to his death. What are the dangers in replacing the legislation of the land with the (selective?) rules of a sacred text?

If we use one sacred text should we not allow those people of other faiths use their sacred texts or sacred legislations (i.e. Sharia law) when reaching a court verdict? These are only two of many other questions that arise from this case and should give us Christians food for thought.

See also this item on Amnesty International site.

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I am still here but with less time available for blogging. Apologies to those who expected more from me!

Just read Andrew Brown’s post on his Guardian Blog. Well I didn’t heed his advise and clicked on the links and I was left with imagining the nightmare world that would result should such a conservative project remotely succeed in practice. It is ironically that the initiators of this religious project do not see that their thinking is clouded by an ideology which if given political power could become demonic.

For me though God’s realm (or kingdom if you wish) looks compleatly differently. It is a reality where God’s presence and his love (shown in Jesus) transforms people from inside out. Now if this is liberal nonsense and utopia, then so it be. But I believe that Jesus layed his life for this.

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Henry Potter poses some legitimate questions in this article, The right to offend. See how many agree with him.

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While reading Clive Smith’s article  The final act of Linda Carty’s tragedy in the Observer (in which he shows the potential of gross injustice in the case of the death sentencing) I could feel the anger boiling up in my veins at the injustice and inhumanity dished out under a justice system which still has this barbaric middle age practices, often inspired by faith in a vengeful God of the Old Testament. I am not an expert in the death penalty legislation (and it’s abolition in many parts of the world), but could I be wrong to think that societies with prevalence of ‘conservative’ religious belief, based on a literalistic reading of the sacred texts, are more likely to support death penalty legislation?

A disclaimer: this short post was written under the influence of anger

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