Thursday, 20 December 2012

Why wasn't God at Sandy Hook?

Such an enormous tragedy struck at Sandy Hook School on 14th December 2012. 27 people were killed, including 20 students. It was second only to the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007 in terms of the loss of human life.

It raises many questions. Firstly, how can anyone make sense of such an event. Episcopal Bishop Ian T. Douglas said, there is "no way we could make sense of what had happened. No explanation or rationale could assuage our shock, pain and grief. As a religious leader, I knew that my job was not to try and make sense of what had happened. Rather my job was to be there, simply be there, with those who had lost loved ones in the terrible rampage."

However the next question, especially to anyone religious is always,"How could God let this happen?"

Bishop Douglas argued that God is always with us and knows suffering in a real sense:

(His son) "was born to a homeless teenage mom and whose birth was attended by barn animals and marginalized sheep tenders. This God-with-us and his parents would then become refugees in Egypt to escape the slaughter of other innocent children at the hand of King Herod. And the same God-with-us, Jesus, would die a torturous death upon the cross as a religious and political revolutionary. We Christians, however, hold onto the truth that three days later Jesus rose from the dead. When confronted with the question "How could God let this happen?" we can proclaim that God is a God who is with us, who suffers with us, and who embodies the promise and reality of new life in the face of death." (Read More)

Interestingly one newspaper decided to formulate a possible conversation with God about the event:

"Do you realize that since prayer was removed from your schools in 1962, teen pregnancy has increased by more than 500 percent? SAT scores have dropped 80 points, teen suicide has tripled, the divorce rate has tripled and violent crime has increased sixfold? Who convinced you that teaching my little ones to pray or learn about who I am would be harmful? The opposite if true. The less someone’s heart depends on me for their life’s purpose, comfort and love, the more likely they are going to commit a crime."

I've no idea how accurate these statistics are, but the conversation ends rather poignantly:

"I understand how these parents feel. My son was murdered, too." (Read More)

Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, interestingly asked what kind of God people were citing with this question:

"The God we put in our back pocket, that we carry around in case of emergencies, the 'come to my rescue God', or the 'God that doesn't allow bad things to happen to good people'....I don't believe that God exists."

He went on to say: "The people who want to differentiate God from pain and evil, they're not talking about the Christian God because from the Old Testament to the New Testament, God is in the midst of pain, leverages pain and, here's the key, redeems pain for good because God is a redeemer....That's the essence of the Gospel. The murder of the innocent son of God resulted in the salvation of the world. That's redemption. It's taking evil and leveraging it for something that's good." (Read More)

Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor, reflected on how everything possible has been done in America to remove any aspect of God or faith from daily lives, that it is no surprise that such events occur. He said it was interesting how everyone keeps asking '"Where was God?" when in a day to day way, He is forced out. Huckabee also talks about how God was there, as soon as the tragedy began, with teachers selflessly giving their lives to save their pupils' lives, the comforting hugs from strangers, even in the White House in Obama's speech:

Do you think these reflections bring comfort to the families involved? Do you think that these Christians are right questioning the American public's notion of God? Do you think there is a satisfactory answer?

Various other interesting stories have now also begun emerging....

Should teachers be allowed, even encouraged to carry guns for the 'next time'? It's already legal in Texas! Superintendent David Thweatt said: "If something happened here, we would have to protect our children. You know, police officers are true, everyday heroes in my book, but one of them once told me something very revealing. He said, 'Ninety-five percent of the time, we get to the scene late.' I can’t afford to let that happen." The state of Michigan has just passed law saying it is legal for teachers to bring guns to school. (Read more)
Do you think teachers should be allowed weapons in school? Would it help prevent future tragedies? Should we meet violence with violence, or be ready to 'turn the other cheek' (Matthew 5:38–5:42)?

Westboro Baptist Church continue to give Christians a bad name by planning a praise gathering outside Sandy Hook Elementary school to celebrate God 'executing his judgement'. (Read more)
Do you think Westboro Baptist Church should even be using the word 'Church' in their name? Do you think such an act could ever been seen as coming 'from God'?

Monday, 17 December 2012

Unexpected Nativity: "Brilliant. They won't be expecting that!"

Continuing with a series of blog posts on Christmas, after retelling of the story via social networks (see here) and the Pope's comments on the accuracy of nativity scenes (see here), today we look at the 'Unexpected Christmas'.

This incredibly cute video has been produced by a church group in New Zealand. The children in it play a whole variety of roles, with my favorite being the little boy who keeps saying, "Brilliant. They won't be expecting that!".

He illustrates a key point about Jesus' arrival and the Jewish expectations of the Messiah; He really wasn't the warrior king they were hoping for!

St Paul Church's in New Zealand have produced a series of these videos over the last few years which are worth a watch over the Christmas period:

What do you think of these videos? Do they convey the true message in a fun and accessible way? Is it simply an online version of the classic school nativity play? How do you remember learning the story as a young child?

Friday, 14 December 2012

@Pontifex (The Pope) Tweets!

After a previous post about following Jesus on Twitter, the Pope has now joined Twitter - @Pontifex.

On December 12th 2012, Pope Benedict XI became the first Pope to use the popular social network. He hit the send button on his iPad to broadcast his first tweet, subsequent tweets will be organised by senior officials in the Vatican but using only the Pope's words and with his direction.

By Wednesday morning when the first tweet was sent, he had 1 million followers. The first tweet he sent contained exactly 140 characters: "Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart."

Within hours the message had been retweeted more than 30,000 times, with more than 10,000 other users marking it as one of their favourites

Do you think it's a good idea for the Pope to be on Twitter? How will it help him communicate to people around the world? Is this a good idea for young people? Do you follow the Pope? 

Watch video here:

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Crisis at Christmas

My school, Sacred Heart of Mary (Upminster) have decided to support Crisis as our Christmas charity. Students are being encouraged to send less cards, buy cheaper wrapping paper and make donations in their form groups and RE lessons.

We are also learning about homelessness, and focusing on our Christian responsibility to help those in need. Reflecting on the way Jesus treated 'outcasts' such as Samaritans, tax collectors, lepers and sinful women gives us clear guidance on how to treat those in our society today who are on the edges of our communities.

We have been using a presentation (download here) based on some of the Crisis school resources (see here) and the RE prefects have put together a display board:

Crisis 2012 advert:

Crisis Open Christmas 2011:

Like Ed Sheeran, we are hoping the whole school community can support Crisis this Christmas. Students, staff and parents can make donations through the school finance office (in an envelop marked 'Crisis Christmas Appeal') or you can alternatively donate via Crisis direct: - Just £20.48 buys a place at Crisis for a homeless person including shelter, meals, clothes and access to a whole range of services to help them break the cycle and start a new life.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Nativity via Social Media

Even outside of Christianity the Nativity is seen as one of the greatest stories ever told. It's also one that can capture the creative imagination of every generation. Even ITV has capitalised on this, with its own Nativity Factor (watch videos here). However these two videos have both been praised for their creative approach in retelling the story through social media. Which is your favourite?

A Social Network Christmas:

The Digital Story of the Nativity:

Which video is your favourite?

How would you retell this story?

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Taking The Bible Literally?

  • 30% of Americans read the Bible literally, as word-for-word truth (Down from 40% in 1980 to 1984 period).
  • 49% of Americans believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally.
  • 17% believe the Bible to be a book of fables and legends.
Source - Gallup Poll

David Lose, a Bible scholar and published author, wrote a reaction to this. He highlighted four reasons why Christians should not be taking the Bible literally.

1) Nowhere does the Bible claim to be inerrant. The closest we get is, 2 Timothy 3:16: "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." Just because it is inspired, does not mean it is without error, it is after all largely persuasive writing by early Christians.

2) Reading the Bible literally distorts its witness. The Gospels confess faith rather than day-by-day record history, an example given being the Cleansing of the Temple. 

3) Most Christians across history have not read the Bible literally. St Augustine struggled with taking the Bible literally until it was explained by St Ambrose that interpreting it in an allegorical way may help. Early Christians did not need subscribe to the idea that for "something to be true it had to be factually accurate".

4) Reading the Bible literally undermines a chief confession of the Bible about God. Many of our Bible 'heroes' are not exactly ideal. As Lose cites, "Abraham passes his wife off as his sister -- twice! -- in order to save his skin. Moses is a murderer. David sleeps around. Peter denies Jesus three times."

Lose does not address the question as to why many Christians, particularly in America, do still read the Bible literally. Is it easier to read it literally? It is necessary in Christian churches that do not have other doctrine (as opposed to the Catholic Church)? What difficulties do Christians have when following it word for word?

Monday, 3 December 2012

Celebrating Advent Online

A few weeks ago there was a launch of the CAFOD iPhone App"Featuring inspiring stories, photos and reflections from our partners and projects around the world, CAFOD’s first app is a great alternative to the usual chocolate filled calendars. Why not instead try a calendar that inspires you to put faith into action for our brothers and sisters around the world this advent?"

The Archbishop of York has launched his own online Advent Calendar. According to his website:

"Every day in December to the run up to Christmas, the Archbishop will write a daily reflection on his website – and this year he will also record four YouTube videos, one for each of the Sundays in Advent."

Companies even offer to build your own online advent calendar - see here - and organisations such as West Midlands Police and Liverpool Museums have seen this as a way of advertising and promoting particular campaigns.

There are also Christian online advent calendars, such as the one at BeliefNet.

However the all important questions: are we happy not physically opening a fiddly little door each day? Are we happy without a nice little chocolate to eat for breakfast every day?! Perhaps online calendars can help us try to reflect on the true purpose of advent.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

WWJD: Where Would Jesus Shop?

WWJD - What Would Jesus Do?

John W. McCarthy wrote an interesting reflection on shopping in the US over Thanksgiving and 'Black Friday'. There had been a series of protests to draw attention to low wages and unaccommodating working conditions in places such as Walmart (Asda in the UK). He suggests we ask the question, "Where would Jesus shop?"

The answer, he begins, is:

"...Not as simple as supporting small businesses over Walmart. Instead, it is a call for all people of faith, especially Catholics, to live-out our long tradition of speaking up for these workers. The people who are working harder and harder for less and less need a community on their side."

He reflects on the effects on the individual and the family of more and more people struggling to make ends meet and consequently having to work all the hours possible to even try to support a family.

It is very clear that:

"Each purchase this holiday season can be a chance to stand with the "least of these" among us, as we work toward policies that promote a shared prosperity among us all."

A very interesting and timely reflection and this time of excess; "Where would Jesus shop?"

Do you think it's important to shop ethically? Do you think individuals can make a difference? Is this a Christian responsibility?

Read the article in full:

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Pope: You're Getting the Nativity Wrong!

"In the gospels there is no mention of animals" says the Pope. However admits that other parts of the Bible may have inspired Christians to include them and even the Vatican has included them in its nativity scenes in St Peter's Square.

Pope Benedict XVI in the third of his triology of books about the life of Jesus also questions the moment angels descended to tell the shepherds the son of God was lying in a manger nearby.

He points out there was no singing involved, and that the Gospel points out that the angels 'said' their message. However he does go on to point out that the Christian tradition is that angels always give their message in song.

Pope Benedict also reminds Catholics that the Virgin Birth, like the resurrection, is one of the "cornerstones of faith".

"If God does not also have power over matter, then he simply is not God," he writes. "But he does have this power, and through the conception and resurrection of Jesus Christ he has ushered in a new creation."

Take the Nativity Quiz - How much do you know?

Read more:

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

"A Very Grim Day": No Women Bishops in CoE

The next Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby (the current Bishop of Durham), urged a 'yes' vote for the ordination of women bishops at the General Synod yesterday. However the proposed legislation needed to gain two-thirds majority support in each of the synod's three houses - bishops, clergy and laity - but fell short by six votes in the House of Laity. He said, on Twitter, it was a "very grim day".

The democratic process is now to be reviewed with many with the Church of England bitterly disappointed with the outcome. It is very unlike the Catholic Church which is not run democratically with the Pope and the Magisterium (Cardinals/Bishops) making decisions for the Church with inspired guidance from the Holy Spirit.

There is now the divisive situation whereby the bishops and the clergy have made it clear they support the ordination of women bishops but the laity, the everyday church-goers, have said they are not sure.

However had the vote gone through, there would have also been division. The Pope had already put in place an avenue for CoE priests and even whole congregations to join the Catholic Church in a straight forward way, with catechises happening over time.

It is worth noting there are already women bishops in communion with the Church of England (3 in Australia and New Zealand; 5 in Canada; 1 in Cuba; 13 in the USA; and 1 in Swaziland).

Emily Buchanan, of the BBC made it clear:

"Justin Welby will need all his legendary mediation skills to navigate a way forward and to find new legislation which accommodates more traditionalists without then alienating the liberal wing of the Church."

What reasons do you think people give for not allowing women bishops? Why would it be tolerable to have women priests but not bishops? Which is more divisive, allowing women bishops or not? How does this decision reflect in wider society? Do you think the democratic processes of the CoE are a good idea?

Two sides of the debate:
Read full article:
Read more on the women's bishop debate here:

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Ireland's Abortion Law: Wrong?

Is Ireland's abortion law outdated and responsible for a woman's death?

There has been outrage, emotional, calls for investigation, protests and all kinds of debate in the last few days of the very tragic death of Savita Halappanavar.

The story, according to her husband goes something like this:

On the Tuesday morning, she asked to terminate her pregnancy, given her own worsening health and that the 17-week-old foetus was unviable because she was miscarrying, a fact that her husband Praveen said became clear soon after she arrived at the hospital.

But the request was apparently refused, the couple were told that it was against the abortion laws and that "this is a Catholic country". Guardian

Her mother is quoted as saying: "In an attempt to save a 4-month-old foetus they killed my ... daughter. How is that fair you tell me?"

The real controversy revolves around certain key facts, given Irelands' near total ban on abortion:

The 31-year-old dentist died of blood poisoning on 27 October in University Hospital Galway despite asking repeatedly to terminate her 17-week-long pregnancy. Staff refused to carry out an abortion because her husband said they had detected a foetal heartbeat even though the couple were told the baby would not survive. Guardian

However it seems it was not just the abortion law but also medical negligence that resulted in her death. Despite this, mass protests are being arranged around Ireland and also in London in a call to change their laws.

It is a response which some find unjustified and sensationalist in response to the particular case:

Dr Gerry Whyte, an associate professor at Trinity College Dublin, claimed that the law as it stands provides for abortions, but only in cases where it is deemed necessary to save the life of a mother. He said: "The legal principle is clear, in other words, if there was a real and substantial risk to the mother's life and where termination of the pregnancy was necessary to avoid that risk, then she would have been entitled to an abortion. Guardian

An anti-abortion spokesperson had this to say:

Niamh Uí Bhriain, of the Life Institute, said: "It is very sad to see abortion campaigners rush to exploit this case to further their own agenda. The tragic loss of Savita Halappanavar's life was not caused by Ireland's ban on abortion. We need to ensure that mothers and babies are best protected; and abortion is not part of best medical practise. It is medieval medicine." Guardian

Have abortion laws played a part in the woman's death? Is it right that there will now be reopened debate in Ireland? What do you think the consequences will be? Are people right to be out protesting? Are Ireland's laws too strict? Are the UK laws better?

Further reading:
Read more: and

More Than Human?

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
But sometimes, animals can appear to be in our image? Photographer Tim Flach has taken animals in to his studio and captured a books-worth of images that seem to show that perhaps humans and animals are more closely related than we give them credit for.
Christians believe that humans poses a soul, and have been given stewardship of the earth. This means we are more than just animals. Are these photos just clever studio constructions, or are we not so special after all? What makes us fundamentally different to animals? Are we not as different as we think?

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

"I'm Not In Pain": Vegetative Patient

BBC reports:
"A Canadian man who was believed to have been in a vegetative state for more than a decade, has been able to tell scientists that he is not in any pain.

It's the first time an uncommunicative, severely brain-injured patient has been able to give answers clinically relevant to their care."

This was the result of a new technology, an fMRI machine, and will mean that doctors and scientists will need to think again when dealing with patients in PVS (Permanent Vegetative State).

Usually after emerging from a coma there are no signs of communication or awareness of surroundings.

However doctors have now said:

"Scott Routley has been able to show he has a conscious, thinking mind. We have scanned him several times and his pattern of brain activity shows he is clearly choosing to answer our questions. We believe he knows who and where he is."

Another patient in PVS who has undergone this groundbreaking technology has shown that he has been able to gain new memories in this state:

"Steven Graham answers yes when asked whether his sister has a daughter. His niece was born after his car accident five years ago."

This raises some interesting questions when debating the topic of euthanasia. Arguing that the patient is uncommunicative or unaware may not be true. Would this knowledge effect a families decision? Does it make it harder to decide what to do?

Read full article:

Watch: The Mind Reader: Unlocking My Voice - a Panorama Special - will be broadcast on Tuesday 13 November at 22:35 on BBC One. Or catch up later on the BBC iPlayer using the link above.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Follow Jesus on Twitter!

Would Jesus have been a Twitter or Facebook kind of guy? Would he have used Tumblr? How would he have used social networks?

This is a simple video telling the life of Jesus through Twitter, an interesting twist on the Gospel story.

Beer in the Bible?

It is possibly a question that has troubled just a few Biblical scholars, but perhaps many an RE student:  was Jesus a wine-only man, or did he enjoy a beer too?

Dr. James Bowley, professor of the Department of Religious Studies at Millsaps College, spoke to his students recently about how the commonplace of making and drinking of beer in Mesopotamia, Egypt and the entire Fertile Crescent, which includes ancient Israel.

He pointed out in his talk to students that to be Christian and to abstain from alcohol on religious was without founding:

"The idea that religious people should abstain from all alcoholic beverages is a fairly modern one in history, and peculiarly Christian, and is certainly not the case in the ancient world of Israel, or other Mediterranean cultures, or among most early Christians."

“The wise use of these beverages, and the wise use of all of creation in the ancient world and today, is the lesson that sages, both ancient and modern, teach.”

Unfortunately it appears he is not able to answer the question of whether Jesus drank beer as well as wine, but he is confident that beer was a part of the culture of Israel at the time. 

Maybe it's not really that important after all.

Read more here:

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Obama: Splitting Catholics

Jay-Z, Obama and Springsteen

This morning I woke to a mixed Twitter timeline... messages of joy that Barack Obama had been re-elected, mixed with pure rage and hatred. Both came from Catholic Tweeters. Indeed just last week, I made a comment about Obama and was criticised at supporting him as a 'supposed Catholic'.


There several key reasons including those at both federal and state law:

1) His new healthcare law (dubbed 'Obamacare') requires private employers, including most religious private institutions, to provide workers with health insurance that covers contraceptives. There for Catholic employers (hospitals, schools, universities etc) will, by law, be paying for contraceptives.

2) Obama has voiced his opinion that women's rights should allow abortion within legal limits. Legalised abortion will not end in the US under Obama;s presidency.

2) In Alabama, state law has been passed that prevent Catholics from serving undocumented immigrants, even with basics like food, shelter, and medical services. Gospel values emphasise the commitment to the poor.

3) In Connecticut, legislators have proposed a bill that would force the Catholic Church to change how it is structured and governed—allowing the State to remake the Church in its own image.

Indeed the Bishops Conference of the US have set up a website addressing these issues:

There are also concerns about the increasingly legalisation of same-sex marriage and discrimination against Catholic adoption agencies.

In his speech on being re-elected he said:

“Despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America's future,”

“We want our children to live in an America not burdened by debt, weakened by inequality...that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. We want to pass on a country that's safe, and respected, and admired around the world.”

A country “built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being,” the president added. “We believe in generous, compassionate, tolerant America.”

It seems that despite the vocal opposition by pro-life groups and high profile campaigning by the US Bishops, Catholics were still voting for Obama. However a number of bishops seemed to be relenting and admitting that Obama may still be the better overall choice as they encouraged Catholics to, "vote with informed Catholic consciences."

The Catholic vote was divided, much as was the rest of the nation's voters, leaning slightly in favour of Obama. A final Gallup poll, reflecting tracking from Nov. 1 to 4, showed Catholics favouring Obama by 52 to 45 percent.

Do you think that Catholics should be influenced by Obama's pro-choice stance? Is this enough of a reason to not vote Democrat? Are Republicans really more Christian despite being pro-life?

Read more:

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

What does it mean to be a Catholic priest?

Many people think they know what it means to be a Catholic priest. It certainly is a 'job' that is above and beyond most others. It is also a calling that increasingly brings with it difficulty and struggle in our contemporary society.  

Fr Stephen Wang is a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Westminster, London. He is the Dean of Studies at Allen Hall seminary, where he teaches philosophy and theology. He was recently asked to summarise the meaning of being a Catholic priest in 1100 words. 

He begins: "The Catholic priesthood is an extraordinary vocation. Every Christian is called to bring the love of Christ to others. The ministerial priest, through the sacrament of ordination, is called to show that love in a special way."

"His vocation is to preach the Gospel and teach the Catholic faith; to lead God’s people in love, as a shepherd, as a spiritual father; and to celebrate the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, ‘for the glory of God and the sanctification of Christ’s people’ (Rite of Ordination). His whole being is transformed, so that he can be an icon of Christ for others, filled with the Holy Spirit, and a minister of grace."

"Catholic priests are ordinary men who never lose their humanity. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They have different backgrounds and personalities, different strengths and weaknesses. Yet they have all been called like the first disciples: ‘Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’ (Mt 4)."

"This is not just an ‘external’ call to do something for Jesus, but an invitation to draw closer to him and share his life more intimately; just as the Apostles, before they were sent out to preach and heal, spent time with the Lord in friendship."

After detailing some of the differences between priests in religious congregations, he goes on to detail further, the roles and responsibilities of the parish priest:

"Parish ministry is incredibly varied. In a single day a priest might visit children in the school, bring Holy Communion to the sick, support a bereaved family, help a couple prepare for their wedding, hear someone’s confession, prepare sandwiches for the homeless, and lead a sacramental programme in the evening. And so much of priesthood is simply being with others – sitting, listening, talking, praying."

"The heart of each day is the celebration of Mass, when all these concerns are offered to the Father in the Holy Sacrifice, and the priest leads his people in worship, repentance, thanksgiving and intercession."

"Some diocesan priests work full-time in more specialised ministries, for example, as chaplains in prisons, hospitals, universities or the armed forces. Some even work abroad as missionaries – a reminder that every priest is called to evangelise."

Fr Wang goes one to detail the vows that priests take and what these mean before continuing:

"The priesthood brings incredible joys, especially in seeing God’s grace transform people’s lives, and in the special bonds that are formed with laypeople and brother priests."

"There are also real difficulties and challenges. These can be in the spiritual life, in ministry, or in the ordinary human struggles that afflict everyone at different moments: tiredness, loneliness, stress, failure, sin. Like every Christian, the priest tries to live through his difficulties with faith and hope, staying close to the Lord, trusting in him."

He concludes with advice for young men considering the priesthood in forming their vocation. 

His reflections concisely explain something of what it means to be a Catholic priest, and some of the roles and responsibilities that a parish priest carries out. It is a careful reflection explaining some of Fr Wang's personal views on the role of the parish priest.

Is this what you expected a Catholic priest to say about his vocation? What surprised you about this account? What jobs didn't you realise a priest carries out? Could you sum up the meaning of Catholic priesthood in a few words?

Read it in full here:
Buy copies of the leaflet he has written here: 

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Dear Religion... Yours, Science: Gervais Tweet

@rickygervais "Dear Religion, This week I safely dropped a human being from space while you shot a child in the head for wanting to go to school. Yours, Science."
For those who have missed the news, this tweet related to Felix Baumgautner jumping from a helium balloon in the stratosphere and falling approximately 128,176 feet to earth, landing safely in New Mexico and  a young woman named Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for campaigning for female education rights. Thankfully she survived and is recovering in a British hospital.
Essentially the joke itself is at a level of ignorance "as damaging as that which so many religious people are accused of. It's a sweeping, fundamentalist statement equal to 'money is the root of all evil' or 'religion caused every major war.'" suggests Phillip Ellis of the Huffington Post.
He goes on to claim that to make "Felix Baumgautner and science the "winners" of the joke, Gervais (or whoever actually wrote it) only succeeded in trivializing the acts of the Taliban and the fact that a young woman very nearly died."
It is fair to claim that some very bad thing have been done in the name of religion. However is it right to include every single religious person in such a sweeping statement? Is it not fundamentalist in its own right, albeit athesit fundamentalism?
How would scientists react if religious people started to claim that they were  all responsible for the atom bomb and gas chamber? People would be ridiculed and discredited.
Ellis says that it is madness to even be choosing these two events to align, "One is a tragedy perpetrated by a totalitarian regime which uses religion to justify its own agenda. The other was a Red Bull publicity stunt."
In strong concluesion he finishes: "Shouldn't our super-modern society be a little bit too evolved and open-minded for the either/or religion vs. science argument? Why must one be superior to the other? Science is essential to the development of technology and medicine and the advancement of our society -- and religion has been a cornerstone of civilisation for millennia. It is incredibly unimaginative to believe that we can only reap the benefits of one at the expense of the other."
Do you agree with Ellis? Does Gervais have a point, but just made it badly? Is the crusade of the new athesits, who border on the fundamentalism they despise, helpful in modern society? Is it dangerously divisive?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Perfect in the Right Light?

This sculture was created by Tim Noble and Sue Webster. On first inspection, it looks like the people are constructed by a lot of unslightly junk. However, when the light is at the right angle, the people look perfect...

Perhaps it is a reminder that people may only appear perfect if they are in the right light? Or is it more than everyone is perfect in some light? For Christians, maybe it is the idea that by the light of Christ, all can be raised to perfection, in heaven?

Read more:

Monday, 22 October 2012

Science vs Religion, Again!

On 15th October 2012, a group of theologians, philosophers and physicists came together for two days in Geneva to talk about the Big Bang.

CERN decided that they would facilitate this meeting in light of the discovery of the Higgs boson.

It's important to remember that a "time before the Big Bang" is impossible territory for physicists. Is this an area where theologians and scientists may find common ground?

Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, says definitely not:

"One gets the impression from a meeting like this that scientists care about God; they don't. You can't disprove the theory of God. The power of science is uncertainty. Everything is uncertain, but science can define that uncertainty. That's why science makes progress and religion doesn't."

On the other hand you have John Lennox, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford. He is also a self-declared Christian. He basis for faith is the very fact that human beings can do science; this is evidence for God:

"If the atheists are right the mind that does science... is the end product of a mindless unguided process. Now, if you knew your computer was the product of a mindless unguided process, you wouldn't trust it. So, to me atheism undermines the rationality I need to do science."

Andrew Pinsent is research director at the University of Oxford's Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion who once worked at CERN beleives that engaging with philosophy could help science to better address the very big questions.

"There has been no new conceptual breakthrough in physics in a quarter of a century".

This is partly because science in isolation "is very good for producing stuff" but not so good for producing ideas, he beleives.

Dr Pinsent concluedes his feelings on the meeting:

"Many people of faith view science as a threat... I don't think science is a threat, so it is useful for scientists to show that they don't necessarily view it that way."

As one contributor put it during the meeting: "Religion doesn't add to scientific facts, but it does shape our view of the world."

Do you think science and religion are 'in battle'? Do people like Dr Pinsent and Dr Lennox help the debate and allow people to see common ground? What do people like Dr Krauss contribute? Remember that the Big Bang theory was first devised by a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaitre!

See original article here:

Monday, 15 October 2012

A Christian Walks In Gay Man's Shoes

Kurek, centre

Timothy Kurek has just published his book, The Cross in the Closet. In it, he details a year spent as a homosexual living in the US.

This is particularly surprising as he went to a right-wing church, saw himself as a soldier for Christ and attended Liberty University, the "evangelical West Point".

After speaking to a lesbian friend who has been ostracised from her family, he decided to challenge his own views and beliefs.

He said, "In order to walk in their shoes, I had to have the experience of being gay. I had to come out to my friends and family and the world as a gay man."

The Observer newspaper said: "Kurek's account of his year being gay is an emotional, honest and at times hilarious account of a journey that begins with him as a strait-laced yet questioning conservative, and ends up with him reaffirming his faith while also embracing the cause of gay equality."

Naturally many of his friends from Liberty were not impressed. Many wrote him emails after he came out, asking that he repent of his sins and warning that he faced damnation. Likewise, his mother's initial  response was, "I'd rather have found out from a doctor that I had terminal cancer than I have a gay son.".

However, eventually she too was won over and changed her views. "My mom went from being a very conservative Christian to being an ally to the gay community. I am very proud of her," he said.

In one gay bar, Kurek said he was stunned to discover gay Christians discussing their belief in creationism, "I found gay Christians more devout than me!".

Kurek's journey ended when he revealed his secret and "came out" again, but this time as a straight Christian.

He says that one of the most surprising elements of his journey was that it renewed his religious faith rather than undermined it, "Being gay for a year saved my faith". Kurek also said his experience not only should show conservative Christians that gay people need equal rights and can be devout too.

Was Kurek right to go undercover? How do you think he new gays friends felt? How do you think his family felt? Do you think this experience and the book will have a positive long lasting effect on Kurek? How about the conservative Christians in America?

See original article:

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Frank Skinner's Prayer About The Hell Thing

I'm not sure it's a coincidence that one of my favourite teaching resources, is from one of my favourite books, written by one of my favourite comedians. In Frank Skinner's autobiography as a committed Catholic, he includes a series of prayers. This one always struck me, and continues to do so as I read and re-read it over the years. Increasingly the students I teach are not familiar with Skinner, but the sentiment remains. I do always tell them that he was one of the most famous faces on TV for many years with his chat show ("Yes, like Jonathan Ross, but better...") and is on Absolute Radio ("I only listen to Kiss and Capital..."). However I like to mention that many years ago when he was very famous and performing at the Brentwood Centre, he came to Mass at our very own Brentwood Cathedral. His prayer is a great source of inspiration and reflection when contemplating issues of reconciliation and the big questions about life after death. Here it is, the Hell thing...

"Dear Lord,

I think taboo subjects are bad for a relationship. You know what I’m going to say. We need to talk about the Hell thing. Now, let me get this right. We fail the course and then you have us tortured forever. Not just till we die. We get teased and toasted for all eternity.

When I read about two kids torturing an old-age pensioner for a day and a half in his own home, until he died broken and humiliated I felt like crying. I even thought, ‘This is what happens to society when religion isn’t a big deal anymore.’ Please don’t tell me that this is the your-own-image you made us in. Of course, even as torturers we fall short. We can only keep ‘em alive for a day and a half.

This Hell thing, it’s just not you. You’re better than that. Even cattle get it short and sharp. This is the bad thing about working on your own. If only you’d had a team. When you brought up hell at a meeting, you’d have picked up on the raised eyebrows. You’d have gone away and come up with something better. I suppose purgatory was your compromise, but I think that’s something you put in for the Catholics: ‘Ok, we’ll go to heaven but we insist on some suffering beforehand.’ Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I have a corrupted-by-liberalism view of things that has strayed from the truth. Maybe eternal torture is a good thing, but do me one favour.

Don’t torture anyone for what they did to me. I forgive them. I’m the forgiving type. I wonder where I get that from.


"Who had let him down?" - Reconciliation After Violent Attack

As human beings, we need reconciliation. We make mistakes, we fall out with people and upset even those we love.

Having had the privilege of hearing the Mizen family bravely speaking about their experiences and journey towards reconciliation (see blog post <here>), I always look out for their campaign Release The Peace (see <here>).

However I was struck with the power of an article that appeared in the Guardian last week, 32 Tim Smits was very nearly killed last September by a young man on a bus.

I'll leave you to read his story here:

The most powerful part for me was when he said: "I tried to get my head around the actions of the young man too. How could he get to such a point where he felt able to attack another human being? Who had let him down? I spent hours imagining his childhood, trying to understand why he could do that."

However he then goes on to say, after the young man was caught: "Although I'm glad that justice was done, it wasn't a time for celebration. I feel incredibly sad that this young man's life has been thrown away. I wish him no harm."

He also goes on to explain the positives that have come from that near fateful day: "After six months of thinking about nothing but the attack, I decided that something positive must come out of this, otherwise I would just fall into a black hole. I wanted to use my creativity to turn things around for people like that, so have organised Cut-It-Out, a creative, community-based project to support disadvantaged young adults.

It underlines the importance of reconciliation within society and how anger and hate, just breed more anger and more hate. Tim Smits has had a horrific experience but he has tried to find something good and something positive.

Can we try to begin reconciliation with ourselves? With others? With our society? The Catholic Church has the Sacrament of Reconciliation to aid with this process. Is it a useful function? Do we need help to seek out reconciliation?

Read More:

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

3mins Of Procrastination To Stop Procrastination

"Putting off or delaying,especially something requiring immediate attention: She was smart,but her constant procrastination led her to be late with almost every assignment."

If you struggle with your time management, maybe this video will help...

Gaga: The Pope's Irrelevant

Last weekend the newspapers were full of Lady Gaga's claim on European radio that: “What the Pope thinks of being gay does not matter to the world. It matters to the people who like the Pope and follow the Pope. It is not a reflection of all religious people.”

Interestingly, she was raised a Catholic, but during her career been controversial in dressing as a nun, swallowing rosaries and using religious symbols in her act. Her song Judas contained references to Mary Magdalene being in love with the disciple who betrayed Jesus.

By definition a Catholic is someone who does follow the Pope. The 2010 “Annuario Pontificio,” or Pontifical Yearbook claimed there was nearly 1.7 billion Roman Catholics, making it still the largest religion in the world.

However Lady Gaga is an avid campaigned for gay rights and her comment was in reference to the comment made by Pope Benedict XVI on Friday. He told French bishops: “Marriage and the family are institutions that must be promoted and defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature, since whatever is injurious to them is injurious to society itself.”

Lady Gaga's response on French radio was: “I think that gay marriage is going to happen. It must. We are not actually equal—humanity—if we are not allowed to freely love one another."
The question of Catholics following all the Church's teaching has always been a much debated one. Do all Catholics fully subscribe to all Catholic teaching? Of course not. Should Catholics retain their own conscience on these issues? However is it fair to say the Pope is irrelevant? Are Gaga's views a reflection of many Catholics or not?

Read more:

Friday, 21 September 2012

Atheist Prayer Experiment

The Atheist Prayer Experiement is being organised by Premier Christian Radio. From Mon 17 Sep to Fri 26 Oct 2012. The rational for this experiement is as follows:

"The experiment is based on the paper by Oxford philosopher Tim Mawson titled Praying to Stop Being an Atheist. In it Mawson argues that, on balance, it is in the interests of those atheists who don't think it's absolutely impossible that there's a God to investigate the issue of whether or not he exists by 'the experimental method' - trying to ask him."

Many of the participants are part of a Facebook group - - and the below video gives some updates from people joining in.

Do you think this is a good idea? How do you think some atheists would feel about this? Obviously it is voluntary, do you think many people will convert or return to their atheistic beliefs?

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Compassion for Death Penalty Prisoner?

Terry Williams was sentenced to death for murdering Amos Norwood, 56, a chemist and church volunteer, whose body was found stabbed, bludgeoned and partially burned in a Philadelphia cemetery in June 1984.

Marc Draper pleaded guilty to murder and implicated Williams in the crime.

He has been granted a rare hearing after it turned out that prosecutors failed to reveal key evidence at his trial; this evidence concerned the motive for the attack. Murder is always wrong, and a criminal offence, but sometimes there are circumstances behind the crime.

His execution is still scheduled for October 3rd 2012, but has a hearing that could reduce that to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The reason for the appeal is that Norwood has sexually abused Williams, alongside many other young boys in their church congregation. The jurory were presented with a 'murder gone wrong' rather than a damaged 18 year old (18yrs 3months) who had undergone abuse and had finally snapped and sought revenge.

The jurory also did not know Williams had been sexually abused by lots of other older men in his neighbourhood, presenting a very damaged young man.

Williams committed a second murder of another child abuser which lead to his death penatly sentence.

Even his victim's wife is asking for his death penalty sentence to be halted.

Retaliation is always wrong, but does this man deserve to die for his crimes? This is a very unusual step just before an execution. Is it right that he was convicted by a jurory who deliberately had facts hidden from them? Do you think these facts matter in the case? 

Read more:

The Questions of Rosh Hashanah

Monday saw the celebration of the Jewish New Year. One of the key features of the festival is an examination of conscience; some of the questions asked include:
  • What's the most meaningful thing in my life?
  • Who in my life means the most to me? How often do I let them know this?
  • What are the most significant things I've achieved in the past year?
  • What do I hope to achieve next year and in my life generally?

For the non-Jew, these are still vitally important questions to consider. The New Year is not a celebration as such in Christianity, but addressing the issues of conscience can happen regularly at Mass or Confession (for Catholics) or at other points during services or reconciliation. 

Setting aside two days to think about these is important for people of faith and of no faith at all. It's a clear example of things we can learn and appreciate from looking at religion.

What would your answers be?

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Olympics & Paralympics 2012

This summer we have all been amazed by everything the Olympics and Paralympics have had to offer. Here are two of my favourite video complications... It may not be strictly RE but it's inspiring and emotional and has made us all feel like better people and indeed be better people!

Monday, 10 September 2012

TOWIE for Burkina Faso

Over the summer, we've heard so many amazing tales connected to the Olympics and Paralympics, but this one is local to us in Upminster and really captures the spirit of London 2012 for me. It also proves that so many people are essentially good and kind, and this is the legacy that I really hope Britain can sustain:

"When Paralympic teams arrived at Heathrow in the lead up to these Games they were normally met with flowers, smiles and helpers. But when 24-year-old Liam Conlon went to greet the five members of the Burkina Faso team, the picture was quite different. He found a forlorn group: wearing brightly-coloured national dress, they were sat on their bags surrounded by police, while tourists looked on taking photos.

The team had nowhere to go, and nowhere to train – and very little money to salvage the situation."

 Funding is often very spare in many countries for the Paralympics, and even for GB, where this years' Games aside, many athletes struggle to fund their training and competition.

 "Liam Conlon took the only solution available to him – he took them home to his mum and dad in Abridge, Essex, and over the following weeks found them somewhere to train, new equipment and a lot of new friends. When the team's two competitors – Lassane Gasbeogo and Kadidia Nikiema – get on their bikes to compete in the time trial at Brands Hatch it will be thanks to the huge generosity of the people they have met since stepping on to these shores on 6 August."
 The kindness that Liam and his family showed to these athletes was without limit:

"It has been an eye-opening, and occasionally perilous, experience for him and his family. "The very first day one of the team nearly burnt the house down," he said. "He put the electric kettle on the hob and turned it on to boil water – and there really has been something along those lines every day.""
The Brentwood School let them use their facilities to train, and even held a non-uniform day to raise funds for them. They'll continue this after the athletes return to Burkina Faso to help them continue to train. They even had to get a new bike which was provided at just cost price from France.
The article concludes: 

"Chef de Mission Florentine Ouedraogo said the team had been overwhelmed by the help and support they had received from so many different people. "It has been a fabulous experience, that we didn't expect at all," she said. "Without this help we just wouldn't be here. If any of these people come to Burkina Faso they will be welcomed as though they were our family.""

Read the article in full here:

So is this legacy of kindness, love and compassion one that Britain will be able to sustain? This is surely a model of behaviour that Jesus would have admired. Why is it so hard to be like this all the time? Do we need an excuse, a motivation? If London 2012 gave us that for just one summer, it'll be disappointing as it shows what kind of people we can be and should aspire to be.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Paralympics: Celebrating Disability vs Abortion Laws

James Parker is the Catholic Coordinator of the 2012 Games and first ever lay Catholic chaplain to serve at the Paralympic Games has had an interview reported concerning his belief that many of the "superstar" "heroes" of the Games could well have been aborted under UK laws.

On his interview for Vatican Radio he calls for Christians and others who value human life to challenge the government with renewed effort to bring about change in Britain’s “discriminatory and outdated abortion laws”.

As the hugely successful Paralympic Games draw to a close, he said, “My own experience of the Paralympic Village, the heavily guarded home to all the athletes and officials alongside the Olympic Park, is that it is a sacred place.”

He said the Village is strewn with wheelchairs, crutches, bodies of every shape, size, and so-called ‘disfigurement’ imaginable. And yet there is a stronger sense of community, and a vibrant tangible passion for life, that not even the greatest town or city could boast. The organising committee, LOCOG, has taken great care to provide an amazing ambience where people of every ability can live with ease.”

“The joy in the Village is palpable... It is a place where everyone is celebrated and honoured whether a medallist or not, and each person is in service of their neighbour. I am constantly reminded of the words of St Lawrence when, in the year 258, he was commanded by the Emperor Valerian to bring to him the Church’s treasury. Days later he brought before the Emperor the poor, crippled, and maimed and stated: “Behold the jewels of the Church!” He was then martyred for such a simple action.”

Parker had previously mentioned that “we see the word ‘Superhumans’ on our billboards and yet Paralympians are no different to any other human being. They often have greater degrees of adversity to overcome but this is an aspect of any life that truly wishes to be lived to the full."

“What is astounding is that Britain is enabling the eyes of the world to be opened to the giftedness and potential of those with disabilities through its hosting of the Paralympic Games. However, its own laws vehemently and shockingly discriminate against any new life in the womb that might possibly be affected by a physical handicap, genetic problems or a mental defect."

Parker was very surprised to discover that many Paralympians “don’t even realise that, should their team mates have been conceived in Britain today, they would most likely be aborted. If Britain wishes to retain its place towards the head of the medals table at future Paralympic Games in decades to come then it needs to seriously consider changing its laws to stop discriminating against what is presently termed as an ‘unacceptable quality of life’. Games aside, any society that wishes to be healthy needs to increasingly value disability and non-disability equally."

“The Christian community needs as a whole, along with others who share our beliefs on the dignity of human life, to continue to take the lead and, like St Lawrence, to stridently work towards changing Britain’s discriminatory and outdated abortion laws. If this issue is not addressed as we wave goodbye to the Paralympic Games from our shores, then it is hard to imagine when another opportunity of this sort will pass our way when British society and the world as a whole is celebrating the incredulous achievements of those with disabilities."

“Imagine how much lesser of a nation we would be without the lives of athletes like Ellie Simmonds, and how much greater a Britain we could be if more ‘disabled’ people of her ability were to be born, affirmed and celebrated.”

Read original article here:

This raises the debate on abortion laws in the UK. Many questions are raised, given modern medicine, in what circumstances should be a request for an abortion labeled as Ground E be accepted. That is when there is a “substantial risk” that the baby would be “seriously handicapped”. However this is on occasion liberally interpreted... last year there was a report in to the number of babies with lips and palates, as well as with “congenital malformations of the ear, eye, face or neck” (this can include problems such as having glaucoma or being born with an ear missing) aborted under this category. Read more here.

Is James Parker correct? Is it sensationalist to claim that many of our GB Paralympians could have been aborted? He also seems to imply that these type of abortions are rise? It reverts to the fundamental question, on what grounds can an abortion be granted?