How interesting.

Papers released today from Margaret Thatcher's personal archive reveal that not everyone in her cabinet was in favour of sending the Task Force to the South Atlantic in 1982 to reclaim the Falkland Islands from the dastardly Argentinian invaders.

I was working in Cheltenham at the time and remember well many of the details of it all. Most of us also remember that the UK had given off many signals that our interest in maintaining the Falklands was weak – for example, the announced withdrawal of HMS Endurance from the South Atlantic. Not that this justifies the invasion, but you know how politics work.

However, that's not the interesting bit of today's news reporting.

Apparently, Thatcher's cabinet was 'split'. In other words, not everyone shared the same point of view as to how to respond to the invasion. We have discovered – much to our apparent shock or surprise – that opinions ranged from 'just let the islands go' to 'stick it up 'em, Captain Mainwaring'. But, what is shocking is simply that anybody should think of being shocked.

Do we not think that adults disagree – even when in government and faced with a quick decision about war? Isn't the whole point of collective cabinet government that different opinions are represented and given space for being voiced? Shouldn't we expect our leaders to be a little bit clever, a little bit concerned to look at all options, a little bit open to having views changed and developed as well as potentially confirmed by argument? This is why confidentiality matters: people with responsibility need a safe space within which to rehearse even their heresies in order to see what holds water and what doesn't.

Our problem is that we live in a culture where adults holding differing opinions is called 'division' or 'split'. Goodness knows we understand how all this language plays out in representation of the church. it is a little bit pathetic, but it also has the effect of inhibiting grown-up debate. 'Difference' is not the same as 'division' – it just doesn't sound as dramatic.

When will we grow up?


Greece boils, the euro trembles, the world waits (most of us helplessly) to see what will emerge in the next few days. Our futures, our pensions, our securities depend on the decisions of the very people who led (or allowed to be led) the world into the economic mess it currently experiences. Protests aside, somehow life just carries on.

It still seems odd to me that the present government wants to measure the well-being of the people of Britain without reference to religious or other motivation for living or choosing. I wonder if such inconvenient ‘truths’ as the recent Barnardo’s findings will be taken into consideration in such research. When Jesus said that to enter the kingdom of God you have to become like a little child he might have been stating a fundamental truth about human society and not just making a Christian attitudinal observation: that the well-being of our children is an indicator of the health of our society or culture.

Back in 2000 Rowan Williams (then Archbishop of Wales) identified the commodification and sexualisation of children – with adults competing childishly with children instead of behaving like adults – in his book Lost Icons. He raised questions that went to the heart of our society’s obsessions, seeing behind the confident exterior some of the ugliness that was festering unhindered behind the curtains. He was largely ignored – not for the last time.

Back in 2009 The Children’s Society published the report of the Good Childhood Inquiry. Being the largest evidence-based research ever conducted into the experience of and consequences of childhood, it provoked some interesting and (often) self-justifying responses – particularly from observers who couldn’t question the evidence, but found the conclusions inconvenient or unconducive to personal lifestyle preferences. There were those who quickly tried to forget it.

Following publication of Barnardo’s latest poll results this week, the airwaves have been full of debate about why British children are the unhappiest in Europe. But this again is inconvenient because it questions our values, priorities and lifestyle preferences.

This comes close to home for me not because of the events going on in London and other major cities around the world, but because I have just spent the day in Bradford at a Clergy Study Day where serious collective attention was being paid to issues of power, poverty and provision in relation to the so-called ‘Big Society’. (This day was planned a year ago, well before I even knew I was coming here, and the theme was clearly on the church’s radar well before the Occupy movement was even conceived.) Clergy deal every day with these issues on the ground.

Politicians and bankers might well have serious charges to answer, but that doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook. Why do we persist in ignoring inconvenient voices? Why do we ignore the evidence and continue to allow – or even foster – a culture that makes our children so miserable? Or do we just have to conclude that, actually, our children have just got it wrong?

We need to dig deeper and more honestly if we are to understand our cultural malaise. But, understanding won’t necessarily translate into action unless we genuinely have the will to change.

Coming back from Television Centre after the Alan Titchmarsh Show yesterday, the taxi driver got talking. After a while he asked me if he could ask an embarrassing question. I agreed and he said: ‘What does “hallowed” mean in the Lord’s Prayer?’ He went on to say that he had said it since childhood, but never thought about what it meant. Talking with a friend a couple of days earlier, he had mentioned this and the friend had said there were lots of things he didn’t understand but was now (as an adult) too embarrassed to follow up. He had seen my ‘interview’ on the telly in the foyer at the BBC and thought he could try asking me.

It was the perfect illustration of what lies behind the Why Wish You a Merry Christmas? book and made me reflect (in the cool light of today) about the child/adult issue at the heart of this week’s debate.

As children grow into adulthood their questions about God (does he exists – and if so, how and where?), the world (why is it the way it is and could it be different?) and us (why do I matter and is there any purpose to my life beyond accumulation of things? Also, how do I live in relationship with other people, deal with conflict, etc…?) grow with them – or should do. It seems to me that for many people the questions about God stay back as childish ones when in every other respect people grow up. So, we have adults thinking about (or, usually, rejecting) Christian faith in a form from childhood that has not been allowed to grow into the adult world.

Some of the ‘magic of Christmas’ stuff that has been flying around the last few days illustrates this. We want to keep Christmas as a childhood nostalgia that makes us feel warm and fuzzy. Fair enough, if that is what you want. But don’t then complain that the Christian Church is selling out if it fails to point out the obvious problems with this response.

I wonder if the reluctance to address the questions I raise in my book is simply a refusal on the part of some adults to grow up and ask adult questions of the faith. What many of my questioners have been saying is that we shouldn’t spoil it for the children – as if we always remain children. Vanessa Feltz put it to me (loudly) that the singing of a children’s carol might be a point of ‘entree’ for someone to the meaning of Christmas – maybe, but if we are still at the ‘point of entree’ thirty years later, surely something hasn’t gone quite right? It seems that the same people who want us to think hard (in the light of Dawkins et al) and be confident in the modern world then want us to turn our brains to blancmange when it comes to the content of Christmas. You can’t have it both ways.

Perhaps we ought to start by challenging (if encouragement doesn’t work) adults to recognise that the baby Jesus grew out of his manger, challenged the world and got himself crucified for being offensive – not for being a cuddly baby who challenges nothing and no one.

So, I will still sing the carols and tell the story and celebrate with everyone else. But Christmas is the beginning of a journey, not the end.

(The taxi driver was surprised to find that ‘hallowed’ meant ‘holy’ and that ‘your name’ refers not to a title/label, but to the character/nature of God. The conversation lasted  along time.)