Isn't it a crying shame that the Guide Movement didn't read Lord Sacks' Spectator piece on the (not-so) new atheistm before evacuating the Girl Guide Promise of meaning and filling it with vacuous nonsense?

Mention of God has gone, replaced by “be true to myself and develop my beliefs”. Which, no doubt, will please anyone who thinks there is such a thing as a 'neutral', content-free or assumptionless language or worldview. It beggars belief.

Does it really mean that any belief will do – á la Joseph's 'any dream will do' nonsense? Really any belief? Or only those deemed acceptable… by whom… and on what basis?

Content-free language does not create neutral self-consciousness; it merely empties all language of meaning. And that does not create safe little altruistic models of moderation; it opens the door to little Hitlers as well as Snow Whites.

Even those who are glad to see God go must be embarrassed by what has replaced him.


The massive storm we have witnessed here in Philadelphia on the last day of our holiday is nothing compared to the storm of violence now raining down on Tripoli as the battle for freedom from Gaddafi’s rule enters it’s endgame. As with other similar struggles in the Middle East in the last six months, however, the question will soon move from ‘What do we want to be freed from?’ to ‘What have we been freed for?’

The distinction is important. It is easier to unite against a common enemy (or evil) than to unite for a common goal. It is easier (and more therapeutic) to pull down than it is to build up. Yet, we human beings seem to find it hard to learn the lessons of history that destruction is easier than construction.

Which is not to criticise the rebels in Libya – they have shown extraordinary courage, backed by NATO bombs, in challenging the regime’s brutality. A similar respect is due in Syria. But, the courage of the present will need to be re-energised and re-directed for building the post-conflict peace that lies ahead. If we are praying now, God knows we must pray even harder in the months and years to come – especially when our attention (and that of a hungry media) has moved on.

For the purposes of this post, however, the point is not primarily about uprisings; rather, it is about the distinction between ‘from’ and ‘for’. In fact, the thought was sparked by an excellent article by Bishop Tom Wright in today’s Spectator online magazine:

Defending the Church of England against the uncritical media mantra of decline and extinction, he summarises the role of the Church as follows:

“It exists, in other words, to do and be for the world what Jesus had been for his contemporaries: to bring healing and hope, to rescue people trapped in their own folly and sin, to straighten out the distorted pictures of reality that every age manages to produce, and to enable people to live by, and in, God’s true reality. It exists not to rescue people from the world but to rescue them for the world: to see lives transformed by the gospel so that people can discover a new depth and resonance of what it means to be human, precisely by looking beyond themselves to God, to the beauties and glories of his creation, and to their neighbours, particularly those in need. The Church does this through liturgy and laughter; through music and drug-rehabilitation programmes; through prayer and protest marches; through preaching and campaigning; through soaking itself in the Bible and immersing itself in the needs of the world. When God wants to change the world, he doesn’t send in the tanks (as many, including many critics, think he should). He sends in the meek; and by the time the world realises what’s going on, the meek have set up clinics and schools, taught people to read and to sing, and given them a hope, meaning and purpose which secular modernism (which gave us, after all, Passchendaele and Auschwitz as well as modern medicine and space travel) has failed to provide.”

I have offered a summary elsewhere as: “The Church is called to look and feel and sound like the Jesus we read about in the Gospels. If we don’t, we are a fraud.”

But the key point in Tom’s piece (also picking up nicely on David Bentley Hart’s ‘The Atheist Delusions’, which I am reading here) is that “It exists not to rescue people from the world but to rescue them for the world”. A popular critique of the church is that it indulges itself in some otherworldly preoccupations while the real (material) world deals with the real business. Yet, the Incarnation itself is about God opting into the world and not exempting himself from it. You can’t get more material – or less superspiritual – than that.

Christians do not seek escape from the world and all it’s complexities, but commit consciously to engage with it in all it’s messy contradictoriness. It might not be comfortable, but neither was the cross.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Philadelphia, USA

I was still ruminating on last week’s lecture to the Welsh Centre for International Affairs by the Archbishop of Canterbury on Ethics, Economics and Global Justice when I read of the indiscriminate murders of ten people in Alabama yesterday and fifteen people in Germany today. Added to that, I also had a long conversation with a friend in the City of London about the current financial crisis and the novel-but-incomprehensible notion of ‘quantitative easing’. And somehow there is a common theme to all three of these matters: alienation.

the-archbishop-of-canterbury1Back in September 2008 I took part in a discussion on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s article in The Spectator the previous day rather mischievously headed Face it: Marx was Partly Right about Capitalism. In it he wrote this about the gap between those who enter into financial transactions and those who use the consequent debt as an asset to be traded elsewhere for profit that is necessarily disconnected from the person whose money it originally was: …’individuals find that their own personal financial decisions and calculations have nothing to do with what is happening to their resources, in a process for which a debt is simply someone else’s wholly disposable asset.’

He then goes on (and I will quote the whole paragraph) to drive the point home that the alienation of the transactee from the transaction can only lead to a fantasy world in which reality disappears behind the hubris of algorithms and greed: ‘Behind all this, though, is the deeper moral issue. We find ourselves talking about capital or the market almost as if they were individuals, with purposes and strategies, making choices, deliberating reasonably about how to achieve aims. We lose sight of the fact that they are things that we make. They are sets of practices, habits, agreements which have arisen through a mixture of choice and chance. Once we get used to speaking about any of them as if they had a life independent of actual human practices and relations, we fall into any number of destructive errors. We expect an abstraction called ‘the market’ to produce the common good or to regulate its potential excesses by a sort of natural innate prudence, like a physical organism or ecosystem. We appeal to ‘business’ to acquire public responsibility and moral vision. And so we lose sight of the fact that the market is not like a huge individual consciousness, that business is a practice carried on by persons who have to make decisions about priorities — not a machine governed by inexorable laws.’

The Archbishop is referring to a system whereby ideas become assumed to be ‘things’ (the Market) and people become commodities subject to the impersonal and amoral powers of the reified abstract. In relation to the financial crisis his point is simply that the further you remove the ‘person’ from the ‘transaction’, the further you remove the moral agent from responsibility. Now read his lecture and you will see how he develops this in relation to ethics and the economy and the goal of global justice.

tim-kretschmerBut I think the same analysis is somehow pertinent to the murders in Germany this morning. We have no idea as yet why the 17 year old Tim Kretschmer decided to slaughter teenagers at his old school. Like those who have committed similar atrocities in Finland, the USA and elsewhere, we only get clues about what goes on in the mind of someone like this. But, clearly, something has driven this young man to believe that this world holds little value for him and that the lives of others are equally expendable.

The recent Good Childhood inquiry makes it clear that children become alienated from society and their own responsibility when (a) that is what they see adults living out and (b) when they perceive (unconsciously?) they have no stake in society or how it might develop and be shaped for the future. In other words, alienation from both engagement with and benefit from the world and society in which they live.

There isn’t space to develop this here, but I need to think further about the implications of this for both the economy (and our agency in shaping it) and for our children. This remains impossible without some reference to the reasons behind the establishment of those Old Testament ‘laws’ that offered boundaries for good mutual living and sharing – neither fantasising about the ‘ideal society’ nor romanticising the poverty around them, but always ensuring that the powerful should never forget that once they were slaves and everyone has a place in a healthy community in which value is attributed by something more satisfying than a fat bank balance.