Archive for February, 2012

Quote of the Day

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

The root of all sin is fear: the very deep fear that we are nothing; the compulsion, therefore, to make something of ourselves, to construct a self-flattering image of ourselves we can worship, to believe in ourselves – our fantasy selves. I think all sins are failures in being realistic; even the simple everyday sins of the flesh, that seem to come from mere childish greed for pleasure, have their deepest origin in anxiety about whether we really matter, the anxiety that makes us desperate for self-reassurance. To sin is always to construct an illusory self that we can admire, instead of the real self we can only love.

SOURCE: Timothy Radcliffe – Why Go To Church: Page 21 – Quoting Herbert McCabe

Religion news coverage drops from 2% to 0.7% of the newshole

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

CAVEAT: The following is US focused and so not entirely sure of the applicability to the UK.

I got myself all excited last year after learning that mainstream media coverage of religion-related issues and events doubled from 2009 to 2010, accounting for 2% of news.

However, the The Pew Forum notify us of the fact that between 2010 – 2011 religion news coverage dropped to a dismal 0.7%.

You can download the full report here in PDF format.

Here’s a few salient points:

Religion ranked 22nd on the list, receiving about the same level of attention as immigration, transportation and race/gender/gay issues.

The biggest religion stories of 2011 involved tensions over Islam.

Compared with topics such as politics and the economy, religion does not typically receive a lot of attention from the mainstream news media, and 2011 was no exception. When religion did make news, it was often because of accusations about extremism or intolerance.

None of the top religion-related subjects among bloggers in 2011 was a top story in traditional media outlets.

Bloggers focused on such topics as the Rapture predictions of a Christian radio host and science and religion. Bloggers also tended to cover religion in a less sustained way than the mainstream media.

A quarter of the coverage (25.0%) focused on religious beliefs and practices, touching on many different faiths. Nearly equal in attention was the theme of religious violence and extremism, which was found in 21.6% of the coverage studied. The vast majority of these stories focused on concerns about extremism in the Muslim community.

Another theme was religious tolerance, which accounted for 9.0% of the religion coverage and also included many stories dealing with Muslims. Other themes receiving significant attention were church-state issues (14.6%) and religion and politics (16.8%). And 4.1% of the coverage focused on religion-related scandals.

As with traditional media, religion received less attention in social media in 2011, particularly in blogs. Overall, religion was among the top five subjects covered in the blogosphere for only five weeks of the year. That is about half the number of times religion appeared among the top five weekly topics in 2010 (12 weeks) and 2009 (11 weeks).

For the three years that PEJ and the Pew Forum have conducted such tracking, the discussion of religion in social media generally has aligned with the coverage in mainstream media. That was not the case in 2011, however. None of what emerged as the top religion stories in the mainstream media were hot topics in the blogosphere during the year.

The subjects that moved bloggers included the Judgment Day prediction by Harold Camping, head of the Family Radio broadcast network. Camping predicted that Saturday, May 21, would be Judgment Day and the Rapture would occur, transporting faithful Christians directly to heaven and leaving behind others on Earth to suffer through the Tribulation, as some Christians believe is prophesied in the Bible. When the day came and went, many bloggers characterized Camping’s followers as naïve. But a number of religious bloggers also discussed the incident with more sympathy for Camping, and a few commentators also said they felt badly for those who had devoted so much time and energy to the cause.

The second-biggest religion story in the blogosphere, as measured on a week-by-week basis, was a July 18 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that discussed the “psychological mechanisms behind faith.” The op-ed was the second-most linked to story in the blogosphere for the week of July 18-22, accounting for 17% of blog attention.

Twitter users did not focus very much on religion in 2011. In only one week during the year did a story about religion rise to the ranks of the top five most-tweeted topics, and that was during March 21-25, when the future of religion was much discussed on Twitter. It was instigated by a BBC story about a team of researchers who studied census data worldwide and predicted that religion is headed for extinction in such countries as Australia, Canada and Ireland.

The whole thing is worth reading, but just to let you know that Catholicism managed to garner a paltry 11.3% of all religion news!

The Scale of the Universe – What is mankind that you are mindful of them?

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Check out this this interactive tool, which conveys some sense of the scale of the universe, from the galactic to the quantum level.

For some reason this Psalm came to mind:

LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Quote of the Day

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Science takes things apart to see how they work; religion puts things together to see what they mean.


Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Dawkins and Anthony Kenny discuss origin of human beings

Friday, February 24th, 2012

I did originally post the video here, but it was slowing the blog and automatically playing, which was a pain, and so here’s the link to the vid if you want to watch yesterday’s debate.

Messianic Jews and Christ at the Checkpoint

Friday, February 24th, 2012

The following is a cross-post written by Dr Calvin L Smith, Principal of King’s Evangelical Divinity School:

Earlier this week Messianic leaders issued a joint statement responding to the forthcoming Christ at the Checkpoint conference. The statement is available here. (I mentioned this briefly in an earlier post), while the Messianic RPP site commented on it here. Later this week the organisers of Christ at the Checkpoint issued a response to the Messianic statement, which can be found here.

I have not really commented on this blog about Christ at the Checkpoint (CatC). However, in light of the public Messianic statement and the CatC response, now seems an appropriate time to do so, especially given the nature of this view expressed by CatC about the Messianic statement:

Your statement has undermined all these reconciliation efforts, given the wrong impression concerning our relationship with the Messianic body, and done harm to the unity of the body of Christ in the Holy Land.

This seems to be the main point that the CatC organisers seek to make (this sentence is highlighted in bold on the blog of CatC programme director Stephen Sizer, though not on the CatC website which must be a formatting error). It is a serious charge which, together with another point the CatC statement raises, merits some comment.

Whether intended or not, the appeal to Matthew 18 in the CatC statement gives an impression of the organisers seeking to silence those who publicly disagree with them. After all, Matthew 18 is referring to taking a brother to task when he sins against you personally as an individual. It has nothing to do with doctrinal disagreements within the Church (often dealt with publicly in the New Testament). Besides, CatC has publicised far and wide its views, aims and activities, so it cannot reasonably expect fellow believers to remain silent about issues they disagree with so profoundly. Neither can CatC expect their critics not to go public yet actively promote and publicise endorsements of the event. This is a double standard.

Related to this is the serious claim that the Messianic statement has somehow done immense harm to the unity of the body of Christ in the Holy Land. Leaving aside how a lack of Messianic support for the event suggests this statement is somewhat hyperbolised, I struggle to reconcile CatC’s claim in its statement to have the right to express itself as it sees fit yet with an expectation that Messianic leaders may only express their concerns in private. Again, it merely reinforces the impression of seeking to silence critics. Moreover, such a statement looks like nothing less than spiritual one-upmanship, an attempt to claim the high moral ground.

Finally, concerning the claim that the Messianic statement has contributed to a wrong impression of CatC’s relationship with the wider Messianic community, the lack of Messianic participation in the forthcoming CatC conference strongly suggests very little of a relationship with the Messianic movement in the first place. And here, I believe, is where the heart of the problem lies. The nature of much of what came out of the first conference, inflammatory rhetoric from some individuals involved with CatC since, involvement of strongly anti-Israel speakers, and indeed even some of the comments on the CatC Facebook page, all contribute to an impression of CatC as an Israel-bashing, anti-Zionist fest. Thus, while I believe there are sincere people involved with CatC who seek genuine reconciliation, it is hardly surprising that some of the voices and noises emanating from CatC make the Messianic movement deeply suspicious and involvement by Jewish believers minimal. Neither is the view that Christian Zionists are somehow heretics who follow another gospel the language of reconciliation, nor will it further the involvement of many on the other side of the debate. And that is precisely the point: for some of us in the middle or who lean towards the other side of the debate, the trenchant and inflammatory views of some of those closely involved with CatC leaves us unconvinced of the reconciliation value of the conference.

There is nothing more many of us would long to see than sincere, genuine and longlasting reconciliation between believing Jew and believing Arab in the land. I believe that if and when it happens at the hierarchical level (it already exists between many believing Arabs and Jews at the grassroots level, whatever some would have us believe), some of the genuine and sincere people involved in CatC will play a key role in such reconciliation. And when it comes I cannot help but think it will initially be reached in private, out of reach of the glare of public scrutiny as both parties seek to build trust towards each other. Unfortunately, too much inflammatory rhetoric contributing to an unnecessarily pejorative and divisive debate by some involved with CatC has affected how the whole event is perceived by many, as the Messianic statement demonstrates. Such unchecked rhetoric is either the result of ill-discipline, or else absolutely no desire for any kind of meaningful dialogue or true reconciliation. This was certainly my own personal experience of one of the CatC speakers some time ago who made clear that dialogue was pointless, that he would never permit it to change or modify his views. Clearly he was only interested in dialogue which led to agreement with his own extreme viewpoint.

Rt Rev Vincent Nichols is dead right: Christians are not persecuted in the UK

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

I wholeheartedly agree with the archbishop of Westminster Rt Rev Vincent Nichols who is quoted in the Guardian as saying:

I personally don’t feel in the least bit persecuted. I don’t think Christians should use that word.

Absolutely right.

In fact, if Western Christians are to self-define as “persecuted” then we need a new term to coin the brutalisation of Christian minority groups in Islamic lands and elsewhere.

Nichols goes on to say:

“what might have started out as an acknowledgement of a variety of religious and philosophical positions has produced a seeming determination to tear the legal and therefore cultural life of the country away from its Christian roots.”

Again, absolutely right. And I will be the first to acknowledge that the secular agenda is on the ascendancy in the UK. However, this still does not equate to “persecution” in the true sense of the word.

It is entirely possible of course, that the UK Christian ‘persecution narrative’ is based on a subjective perception that we are witnessing the thin edge of the wedge, and I think this is the very heart of the matter. UK Christian persecution anxieties are not so much based on current events, but on the perception of what may be on the horizon. We can see a slippery slope and it makes us edgy.

Let me elaborate on the UK Christian “persecution narrative” as I see it. I believe it is a self-reinforcing group narrative within which subjective perceptions are evidenced as an objective reality. Firstly, you cite a few recent high profile legal cases. Any that were successful prove the encroaching persecution; any that were unsuccessful prove the anti-Christian bias of the law courts. Either way the narrative is affirmed and the lawyers make money.

All of this “evidence” of persecution perpetuates the narrative, leading to a subcultural “moral panic” that potentially precipitates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Many outside of Christianity perceive Christians to be lamenting the loss of a privileged position and status within our culture, rather than anything else. Sometimes I can’t blame them. Many of the recent high profile Christian ‘persecution’ legal cases have revolved around the ‘Equality’ laws and many in society are annoyed, as they perceive Christians as believing they should be exempt from such laws. Yesterday Sir Trevor Phillips, the Head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was quoted as saying:

…..the law stops at the door of the temple as far as I am concerned.

Of course, this cuts both ways.

The crux of Phillips’ argument is that it is only inside a church or religious institution that believers can apply their own rules. Phillips also makes the argument that if we make exceptions for Christians, then we need also make exceptions for others; for example, the implementation of Sharia law. There is a logic to this in my mind.

In truth, no government will really be able to legislate for ‘offense’ or ‘equality’ for everybody, as it is inevitable that as a result of these laws, some will actually become discriminated against. Personally I believe the government should legislate as little as possible in this area of life.

Given the hostility of the world towards Jesus, should we always expect the world to be nice and friendly towards us? Is this even a healthy state of affairs for the Church, as it can potentially foster complacency and too much involvement in worldly affairs?

The truth is, if we define ourselves by our victimhood, we have a massive problem, as we ape the society around us, which is dominated by a hierarchy of victimhood.

In conclusion, I will state that I personally don’t feel that I belong to a beleaguered minority; we’re everywhere and I think Christians need to be more confident about who we are.

UK Christians need to stop using the word “persecution” for fear of devaluing the term. We may experience areas of discrimination, belittlement, exclusion, and so forth – Who doesn’t – but this is patently and qualitatively different to persecution.

Anyway, when did Jesus say it would be an easy ride?

Quote of the Day

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Western society has had little success in recreating institutions and forms of solidarity to replace those that declined in importance in the past 100 years, such as the family or the church.

This wholesale loss of group membership is manifest in a heightened desolation of liberal autonomy.

The rise in mental health diagnosis is a sign of this. It is the new market society expressed in emotional terms, a privatisation and categorisation of all human distress. Its costs have passed out of the community and on to the balance sheet of the state.


A quick update and heartfelt thank you

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Just to let you good folks know that I’m now home from hospital. Obviously not feeling tip top right now, but a million times  better and continuing recovery and treatment at home.

I just want to say how literally overwhelmed I am at the kind messages of support and prayers I’ve received.

Thank you ALL so much.

Here’s to a fruitful Lent for us all.

Blogpost about Stuart from Wifey

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Hello, just to say that unfortunately there will be some downtime on the blog for a while, as Stuart is poorly and in hospital.


An Update. Thank you so much for all your prayers and well wishes. Stuart is on the road to recovery and has responded well to treatment, so hopefully will be able to continue his recuperation at home, at some point this week.

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