Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Joyeux noel

...from Montignac in the foothills of the French Pyrenees. What a place to spend Christmas. Superb weather. Extended restaurant lunch today lasting three and three quarter hours. Nice nosh though, tres francais. Boeuf bourgignon - I'll check spelling later (beef casserole).
The mountains are sublime, especially at sunset; rose-touched distant peaks one afternoon, purple cut-out silhouette against pastel pink sky another.
Yesterday, out for a sunrise walk, I had a slight mishap retracing my steps between the rural farming villages and for a few minutes thought I was quite lost. But then I noticed a familiar lie of land ahead and realised I'd just walked past our 'gite'. There's a parable in there somewhere.
Homemade dogwood tree up, Christmas lights fixed, baby niece Maia, 7 months, not falling asleep - teething?
And will we get to see Calendar Girls? Questions to be answered.
Have a blessed one.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The power of not defending yourself

I've been thinking I need to get a digital camera sometime soon so I can start adding some images to this blog; it's a bit dull with just text. Meanwhile I'll just have to try and come up with snappy titles...

We have a new vicar at Holy Trinity Idle, Robin Gamble, bit of a Bradford legend, and he took his first service today having been licensed on Monday. An engaging fellow, broad Yorkshire, sounds a little like Alan Bennett the playwright, funny because, though I don't know much about him personally, he's an unashamed evangelist and will probably help make the comfortable in the congregation uncomfortable, in contrast to AB's cosy cocoa and slippers image.

I just watched 'An Arabic Christmas Carol (Byzantine Hymn of the Nativity)', recommended by Rob. Haunting music and images, expressing the awesome Christian truth that the Power and Presence underpinning the cosmos humbled himself - or 'Godself' as I've seen it expressed sometimes as a way of addressing the gender problem... It leads me to ponder one point I've briefly expressed before but want to expand on a little: a feature of Christ's manner and behaviour that has tremendous attractive and persuasive power, contrasting sharply with ordinary human methods and approaches. It's the willingness to forgo answering back, defending himself against accusers. Able to do this because he felt utterly and ultimately secure in the love of his Father God - freeing him from any sense of needing to defend himself. His sense of perspective allowed him to do this: the knowledge that though he might look weak and foolish for the time being, in the long run it was the path of wisdom. It strikes me as part of what Rob expressed in his image of living fully as a fish in water - freedom to be... This ethic is one of the things which enthralls and persuades me of God's reality. Without God you have to defend yourself and what you say - now.

I do read and absorb comments from readers who disagree. Don't think I'm putting my fingers in my ears. But we're coming from very different places and I have to keep writing about what interests me - hopefully some of it will interest you...

On a lighter note, in the event last night of not being able to tune an old telly I was taking over to a friend's to watch the finale of The X Factor (I'm not going to try and defend THAT now either!), we ended up watching 'Charlie's Angels'. Lucy Liu flicking her hair in slo mo as in a shampoo ad near the start was just one of the memorable tongue in cheek moments.

But this post is going from the sublime to the ridiculous...

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Christmas Stats

Sadly 'The Xmas Factor' idea - see 24 Nov post - had to be shelved; X Factor marketing not happy. So an alternative set of radio scripts for local Harrogate station Stray FM. Smith & Jones style, but using male and female voices. Revised 11/12 - as recorded.

1. Wrapping paper

A: Here, listen to this.

B: What's that then?

A: Guess how much wrapping paper we use in this country at Christmas?

B: No idea.

A: Eighty three SQUARE KILOMETRES. Apparently that’s enough to cover Scunthorpe four and a half times.

B: Blimey, I wonder if someone’s tried it.

A: Dunno. So why do people buy so much of the stuff?

B: Well it makes things look nicer don’t it, covers up the bad bits. Like Noel Edmonds' face on the cover of that new book of his.

A: S’ppose. But do you ever think under all this wrapping paper, we’re losing the true meaning of Christmas?

B: You mean the plot of the Doctor Who special?

A: No.

B: Birth of Santa?

A: Birth of JESUS silly.

B: Oh. Is that what it’s all about then?

2. Turkey

A: Here, listen to this.

B: What's that then?

A: Have you any idea how many turkeys this country eats at Christmas?

B: Not a clue. The missus gets through about five.

A: Well I’ll tell you. THIRTY MILLION.

B: Blimey, that’s enough to fill a small country. Gotta be a name for it.

A: Whatever - it’s a lot of birds.

B: Even more than your brother’s been out with.

A: Button it. Tell me though, what’s turkey got to do with the real meaning of Christmas?

B: You mean snow and Santa and that?

A: No, I mean the baby Jesus. There was shepherds, camels, maybe a donkey or two, but nothing about turkey - let alone Christmas pud.

B: Blimey, I hadn't thought of that. (pause) Mind you, I'm not sure Christmas has any meaning without Christmas pud.

3. Christmas cards

A: Here, listen to this.

B: What's that then?

A: How many Christmas cards do you think get sent in this country each year?

B: No idea. I never get any.

A: Well I’ll tell you: One point seven BILLION.

B: That’s an awful lot of penguins on skis. Oh well, plenty to go round at least. That, or someone's got a ruddy big mantelpiece.

A: Add to that all the e-cards and you’re talking silly numbers.

B: Yeah. Though I never thought of one point seven billion as a SENSIBLE number.

A: What I want to know is, with all these cards flying about, does anyone remember what it’s supposed to be all about?

B: You mean mince pies?

A: No.

B: Kittens in santa hats?

A: No, I mean the baby Jesus. And, you know, shepherds, angels, wise men and all that.

B: Oh. Wouldn't they look a bit funny in Santa hats?

4. Christmas trees

A: Here, listen to this.

B: What's that then?

A: D’you know how many Christmas trees we’ll put up this year?

B: Go on. Amaze me.


B: Blimey, that’s a heck of a lot of paper going to waste.

A: And guess how much rubbish all those trees’ll make. TWELVE THOUSAND tons.

B: That's even more than you've got hidden under the bed. Mind you, it's the needles on the carpet’s what bothers me. Dreadful mess.

A: Yeah. D’you wanna know why we put Christmas trees up though?

B: No idea.

A: Well cos it’s evergreen, it's a reminder of the coming spring. Also, says here, it’s a sign of everlasting life with God.

B: Oh right. I’ll tell you what I wish had everlasting life. My vacuum cleaner.

5. Santa

A: Here, listen to this.

B: What's that then?

A: I’ve been reading some statistics about Santa getting round to see all those kids at Christmas.

B: Oh yeah?

A: Yeah. To give a medium sized lego set to every kid, he’d have to travel – wait for it – seventy five and a half million miles, going at six hundred and fifty miles a second, and pulling a sleigh of three hundred and fifty three thousand, four hundred and thirty tons. That’s four times as heavy as the Queen Elizabeth the Second.

B: She's put on some weight then.

A: The ship stupid.

B: Oh right. Anyway, sounds a liability. He must have ruddy good travel insurance.

A: Yeah.

B: But what’s this got to do with the real meaning of Christmas? You know, the baby Jesus and that.

A: Well, didn’t he come down to earth from heaven or something? That sounds like an awful long way.

B: Yeah. Mind you, I bet he didn’t have to bother about reindeer.

6. Cost

A: Here, listen to this.

B: What's that then?

A: D’you know how much the average household spends for Christmas Day? Nine hundred and twenty quid.

B: That’d buy you a few mince pies eh?

A: Yeah. Works out at one pound twenty eight p a minute.

B: That‘s almost as much as Jonathan Ross makes. When he’s employed.

A: Isn’t it a bit odd though that people spend so much money, when you think what Christmas is supposed to be all about?

B: What, you mean a new ipod?

A: No.

B: New boyfriend?

A: The baby Jesus stupid. God’s free gift to mankind.

B: Free gift to mankind? Blimey.

A: Amazing eh?

B: Yeah. (pause) I just hope it didn't take up too much wrapping paper.

Friday, 28 November 2008

What kind of G(g)od?

I just caught a bit of 'Cataclysm' there, the C4 series about the genesis of earth and life on it, interestingly presented by Tony Robinson, who last time I checked was a man who besides a talent for playing Baldrick had a religious, dare I say it Cn faith. But that's an aside. A couple of Bob's images that have stuck in my mind of late, to capture a sense of the fulfilment and 'living life in its fulness' that the Christian way offers (not wishing to sound exclusive), are of the fish made to swim in the river and the 'upswelling desire' for 'God'... I'm acutely aware of a key difference in the way I think of God and how atheist fellow passengers view God, god, yahweh,... It's to do with the size and texture of the conception we entertain. About who or what we worship. You see, I have every sympathy with the atheist's exultation of a developed morality, high regard for the power of reason etc. And I'm curious why I as a 'believer' I don't stop there but choose to have faith in 'The LORD'. As I see it, the atheist's view of God is commonly a very small one, a conception which I myself couldn't possibly hold to with any sanity or dignity. 'A cruel local storm god', 'a petty deity', these are some of the kind of phrases I've come across. Like a little statue on a mantelpiece. Who indeed wd want to be devoted to such a being? But the God I commit to, not without my own doubts and questions, is both as big and as small as can be conceived: the ground of the universe or multiverse, yet embodied in the delicacy and vulnerability of a new born babe - to offer a momentary reflection on the import of my last post's sketches in amidst the cartoon humour. So one task in 'bridging the gap' here is how to convey this view of the Godhead as awesome, beautiful, tender etc as the heart of Cn theology holds he is, rather than this contemptible tinpot deity that atheist friends hold up for ridicule.
I wish I cd go on, I wish I cd go back and answer some qs, but I have buses to book, bills to sort, recycling to take out, tidying to do... but if a discussion is sparked, all well and good, and I'll be back next time.

Monday, 24 November 2008

The Xmas Factor

Latest scripts for a set of radio thoughts to be hopefully played on a Yorkshire FM station shortly before Christmas - for a popular audience remember. We've even found a good Simon Cowell voice over...

Dermot O’Leary (DO): Welcome to The Xmas Factor, where this week we're in Bethlehem.

SC: Whoa, whoa, hang on. Guys, what are you WEARING? Dressing gowns, tea towels on your heads? It's just RIDICULOUS. I mean CRAZY bad.

Shepherd: But we’re shepherds.

SC: So what on earth makes you think you're gonna make it here? I'm sorry guys, the image is ALL WRONG. I just don’t think you’re right for the show. You need to go away and think about what you really wanna do.

S: We wanna find the baby Jesus.

SC: Good luck to you guys. (to judges) What is it about Bethlehem just now that’s attracting all the nutters?

FX: sheep baa sound

Dermot O’Leary (DO): Welcome back to The Xmas Factor, where this week we're in Bethlehem.

SC: Guys, I thought those shepherds were bad, but what's going on HERE? Turbans, camels, it's just SO over the top. You're like something out of the Arabian Nights.

LW: He’s just jealous guys, don’t listen to him.

SC: (sarcastic) Thank you Louis. Anyway I hear there’s a rising star among you. What do you call yourselves?

3 KINGS (who are girls): The Three Kings

SC: Three kings? Right, er, guys. Ok, let’s see what you’ve got.

KING 1: Gold.
KING 2: Frankincense,
KING 3: Myrrh.

SC: Hold on, hold on. Gold, frankincense and myrrh? Guys, girls, whatever you are, it's a singing competition. That's SING, not BLING.

(aside to judges) What is it about Bethlehem just now that’s attracting all these weird people?

FX camel sound?

Dermot O’Leary (DO): Welcome back to The Xmas Factor, where this week we're in Bethlehem. It’s been a disappointing day, and the mood among the punters is gloomy. One couple feeling the strain more than most is hubbie and wife team Mary and Joseph. All her life Mary’s harboured a dream, and she really believes this could be her moment. It hasn't been easy though, and with rumours of an angelic visitation, a baby on the way and no clear indication who the dad is, she's had her fair share of stick - not to mention a few doors slammed in her face. But Jo's stuck by her, and with so much at stake we're all hoping and praying they can produce something really special tonight.

SC: The thing about this show is, we really have NO IDEA who's gonna step through those doors next.

Dermot O’Leary (DO): Welcome back to The Xmas Factor, where this week we're in Bethlehem.

SC: Ok guys, before he comes in, I’ve gotta be honest with you, on paper this Jesus doesn’t look very promising. Don’t even know who his dad is - turned down by every major inn in Bethlehem - and born in a STABLE for goodness sake. I mean it’s just a FIASCO. In fact I think we need to decide now. Yes or no?

LW: I dunno. I think we should give him a chance. You might be missing something here.

SC: Oh come on, don’t be ridiculous.

FX baby cries

SC: Um, how old is this Jesus by the way?

Dermot O’Leary (DO): Welcome back to The Xmas Factor. And with proceedings in Bethlehem drawing to a close, there’s one person the judges can’t stop talking about.

SC: What is it with this Jesus kid? It’s just unprecedented. This show's supposed to be about turning nobodies into stars, but here we've got someone going from being a STAR to a NOBODY. From King of the universe to a baby in a manger. I mean it's just CRAZY.

LW: I know. It could really jeopardise the brand. Whatdaya think's gonna happen?

SC: God alone knows. All I can say is, all bets are off for the Christmas number one.

Dermot O’Leary (DO): Welcome back to The Xmas Factor - the grand final in Bethlehem. And with King Herod and baby Jesus going head to head, it’s very hard to call. Let’s hear from the judges.

SC: Well Herod, I’ve gotta say, you pulled out all the stops there and that was just FANTASTIC. (cheers and whoops). You’ve got the fan base, the will to win, the killer instinct - I really think you’ve got what it takes to go all the way.

Baby Jesus on the other hand, I just think at this stage of the competition you're looking very vulnerable. It's a cut throat business and I'm really not sure you're gonna make it.

L: I disagree, I think the kid’s got something. Anyway, it’s out of our hands. It's gonna go to a public vote.

SC: OK. We’ll just have to see what THEY make of this Jesus then.

Monday, 17 November 2008

What scope the grace of God?

Some of the thoughts that have been 'running in my head' (a catchy number one hit from 2003 as I recall)... I've been thinking quite a lot lately about how Christian truth - assuming here you believe in it - can be thought through and applied to real life and people in a way that fully expresses the highest, most expansive and generous view of God's grace, and takes full account of the richness and sheer complicatedness of human experience. The simple evangelical line recites that you need to believe in Jesus and that he died for your sins to be saved. Say the sinner's prayer. This may suit a particular person at a particular moment in life in a cosy church environment, but how can the idea that this man Jesus died for the sins of the world be meaningfully communicated and made relevant to the vast tide of humanity living out the brief candle of their lives without meaningful absorption of the message. JC described the kingdom of God as like a mustard seed or drop of yeast that gradually grows, or permeates the world. So in secular Britain say, what of the tens of thousands of ordinary decent secular folk who pay their taxes and watch Coronation Street but don't give God much thought and are felled yearly by the grim reaper, without having 'signed on the dotted line of a 'clear commitment to Christ'? (cheery one today!). I believe the grace and kingdom of God are more expansive and embracing than such a model implies... but how? In what way(s)? I'm just bit by bit flagging up some questions I'm interested to explore...

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Prayer as the communion of friends

Some recent reflections. Today in church the interim vicar - standing in while we await the arrival of Bradford-famous Robin Gamble in December - was speaking on the John passage where Jesus disinguishes his friends, as opposed to servants, as those who were 'in the know' - those with whom he shared what he had learned from his Father in heaven. He also referred to a Genesis story whose drama and pathos make it one of the rugged mountain peaks of Old Testament narrative: Abraham, who was called a friend of God, pleading with the Almighty for the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of the possibility of just a few righteous people: fifty, then forty, right down to ten. The key message was that prayer - which can in God's goodness mean conversation between friends - has power to shape the future through as God, while remaining sovereign, chooses to allow His decisions and actions to be affected by the prayers of those with whom He is intimate.
An interesting contrast was drawn between this dynamic, fluid model of God's engagement with human beings, and the Muslim view presented more as prayer being about bringing one's life under the sway of the immutable will of Allah, above and beyond. To be continued...

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

The Big Jig

Greetings. In a bit of a break from deep musings, Glasgow friend Greg has asked me if I can publicise an exciting event coming up in October, a ceilidh featuring his legendary band The Jiggers. Friday 10th October, 7.30pm, Destiny Centre, Shawlands, Glasgow. No problem Greg.
The Big Jig and A promo by the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppets. (it wasn't my idea)

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Scripture - and students

One of the challenges I find is to retain what I have read, learned and perhaps meditated on in my devotional reading in the morning, so that it influences the rest of the day. For example, just now I’m reading through Psalm 19, especially vv 7-11 about the merits of the ‘law of the Lord’. I’m often most impacted most by scripture early morning, a little reflection helping me see the explosive impact of ‘familiar’ verses afresh eg v 8b ‘the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes’. A surprise; we tend to think of a command as burdensome, but it - presumably not just hearing but doing it - is actually described as enhancing your earthly and spiritual vision…
This afternoon I visited Bradford University ‘Freshers Fayre’ to chat with folk at the Christian Union stall with a view to attracting new folk into the soon to be re-launched ‘Whistling Frog Radio Group’. Struck - though of course hardly surprised - by the numbers of Asian and Muslim students. And by the range of religious stalls in the fair. It’s something my arrival in Bradford has made me think about more, particularly regarding the Muslim community. The religious and cultural fabric of the community is so strong, so entrenched. How does this make me feel as a Western Christian? What does it mean to be a Christian in relation to the Muslim community?
A few questions to begin to pursue. Hope to write this ol’ blog a bit more ‘little and often‘, it’s been a tad too occasional of late…

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Olympic spot

Back after a bit of a break with a new radio script to get you talking (if anyone's still reading :))...


'And welcome to the blue riband event of these games: the race of life. It's Topbloke in lane 3, Smallfry in lane 5.

(starter gun) And Topbloke’s off to a blistering start in lane 3 with everything going for him, looks, talent, charisma. Picks up speed round the bend with the plush job and nice house. Smallfry meanwhile slow out of the blocks with self esteem issues, has a lot of catching up to do.

And Topbloke’s cleared the first hurdle superbly, conflict at work but his natural charm has carried him through. Smallfry struggling to keep up and really smacking those hurdles, problems on all fronts and looks to be right out of this.

Out of the bend and Topbloke is flying - promotion, bonuses, company car, and he accelerates down the back strait with the beautiful wife and four lovely kids. Smallfry still trailing badly.

Oh, but Topbloke’s slowing a bit as they enter the final bend, a spot of complacency creeping in - and he hasn't taken that hurdle well, bad row with the wife has knocked him for six.

And late in the day Smallfry is coming through as he starts to look for spiritual meaning in life, well what about this?

So it’s neck and neck down the home strait oh and Topbloke's clattered that last hurdle, lost his job, confidence, and nowhere to turn. And Smallfry has just discovered an incredible overwhelming love and is storming through and looks like he's gonna win this and it’s absolutely astonishing!...

Oh my goodness me, and with a rumour coming over the wires that he’s… found God, well, I just can’t wait for the interview.'

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

One Lord of Time?

Well this ol' blog has been a bit quiet of late, so here are my latest radio script offerings exploring some of the spiritual ideas suggested by Doctor Who, to be bedded in the famous music and hopefully playing soon. I voice them, having worked on my David Tennant...

1. Now one of the things about being the Doctor is that people are sometimes amazed how cocky I can be around some frankly very scary creatures. To be honest a lot of this is just bravado and down to the fact that I can tell better jokes than your average dalek (but don't tell them I said that). But you know what, these creatures I meet are frankly nothing compared to some of the things you humans have to put up with: rising house prices, threat of recession… Anne Robinson. Scarier than anything you could dress up in a green suit if you ask me. Still, from what I've heard you've also got the greatest being in the universe rooting for you. And you can actually get his help - just by. praying to him. Wouldn't mind a bit of that myself sometimes - even if I am a Timelord.

2. Now you might think that being a Timelord must get a bit lonely at times - you know, 902 years old, last of my kind and all that, keep having to get new companions. And I can't deny sometimes I feel it'd be nice to settle down, have a family, bit of stability, you know… instead of constantly flying across galaxies and circumnavigating the 42nd radial asteroid parabular (that was a nightmare). I have to say though, even I feel a bit put in the shade by the One you call the Son of God. I mean, to leave somewhere called HEAVEN – to come and live among you humans - no disrespect, but that makes time and space travel look like, well, flower arranging. The thing that’s a mystery - even to me – is frankly why he doesn’t get a bit more attention.

3. Now being the Doctor, I’m not going to pretend that one of the perks of the job isn’t the Tardis. I don’t care what kind of motor you’ve got, if you can say you get around in something called ‘Time and relative dimensions in space’, I know who the girls will want to talk to. Obviously what gets people is how something which looks so small and ordinary on the outside can be so big and, well, extraordinary on the inside. It does have its downsides – maintaining the thing’s a nightmare… but you know what, it’s not unlike some things you humans talk about – like ‘faith’, for instance. Looks very ordinary and unassuming on the outside – some people wonder if it’s even real, but when you actually try it for yourself, get inside it, start to live it - that’s a whole different ball game.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

The Apprentice

Updated 21 May...

A radio script idea based on the popular reality show.

Overview: Sir Alan assesses 3 apparently successful characters and finds them wanting, and a 4th who's less 'successful' but wins out on the character stakes.

(Intro music).

Receptionist: Sir Alan is ready for you now.

Clara (under her breath): Sir Alan is, like, God.

(ticking clock)

Alan Sugar (AS): Morning all of you.

All contestants: Morning Sir Alan.

AS: Clara, how did you feel the task went today?

C: I were really pleased Sir Alan. People call me ‘the Rottweiler’, and today, I literally – I think that’s the right word – I literally bit the heads off three of me team mates.

AS: I bet they loved you for that. Michael, what have you got to say for yourself?

Michael: Sir Alan, I would do absolutely anything to get this job. I would walk over hot coals backwards. In a nightie.

AS: Note that down Margaret. How about you Lucy?

Lucy: To be honest Sir Alan, I thought it was really difficult. In fact I think I fluffed it.

(scornful sounds from the others)

AS: Not very promising. However, today I’m gonna give you a slightly different take on things. (music up) Clara. You make Attila the Hun look like Little Bo Peep. Do you ever stop to think about people’s feelings?

C: Sir Alan, it’s dog eat dog out there.

AS: Oh is that right? Michael, what would you do to help someone else get a foot on the ladder?

M: Well Sir Alan, I can’t say I’ve really thought about it…

AS: (cuts in) Not very convincing. Lucy, you at least looked out for people; I like that. Clara, Michael. You’re very good at making a shed load of money. But what good’s a six figure salary if you’ve got to screw someone over to get it? I hate to disappoint you Clara: I’m not God. But maybe the man upstairs knows a thing or two when it comes to what really matters…. Lucy?

L: Sir Alan?

AS: The task was a bit of a shambles. But you took the flak. You cheered up your team mate when she was in pieces. Bottom line: you cared about someone else more than yourself. Lucy… you’re hired.

(Music fades out).

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Bradford in the mix

We all have perceptions, however vague, about places we know of but are on the fringes of our geographical awareness. Before moving to Bradford, what did my mental map read? Slightly edgy: 'Brad' has a brash, cocky ring, like Mr Pitt in his Stetson and boots in Thelma and Louise. Bradford City Football Club, Leeds-Bradford Airport... 2001 race riots brought awareness of its Asian population, and recent TV dramas have highlighted its associations with Islam and possible terrorist plots.

Living here, I've also tasted its distinctive Yorkshire flavour: York stone terraces and factories, earthy accent that remains at the attractive end of the regional scale. I've been moving between two distinct zones: Idle village, centuries old, hilly, quaint, barely a non-white face to be seen; and the city centre, slightly shambolic, bustling with multi-ethnic mix. The regal Midland Hotel overlooks a large cratered space that, having lain derelict for years, is now busily grazed by piston dinosaurs watched over by men in hard hats.

In the cluster of shopping streets, a scattering of black clad fully veiled figures move furtively, but most Asian girls wear happier attire, commonly loose bright-coloured trousers tight at the ankles, silver or gold heels and long silken scarves. A posse of three strolled down the street yesterday in almost identical blue white and black. And the stores where I hunted out a running top sported a noticeable contingent of Asian staff: red-T-shirted assistants, hefty crew-cut security guard.

Religious and ethnic plurality lends an exciting buzz to a place like Bradford. But it's taken me a while to learn to relax and enjoy such pulsating diversity. Partly through being quite introverted in my younger years, my Christianity used to be too attached to a limited range of experience 'markers'. Big changes in environment and circumstances, like going to university, or to Korea to teach English, produced crises of faith. I've had to develop a broader conception and experience of the love and wisdom of God to weather such storms; a common experience I'm sure. And it's an ongoing process. Bradford's multi-ethnic, cultural mix reflects the world at large: plural, complex, diverse. It's a constant challenge to ponder how a faith like Christianity is not time and culture bound, a fragile ornament in an easily shattered box; but liquid and dynamic with the potential for life and influence in all times and circumstances.

But it's about time I had lunch :)

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Religion on the box

Last night I watched a fascinating programme on BBC2 about religion, psychology and mental health, 'Am I normal?' presented by psychologist Dr Tanya Byron. Atheist readers would have found a friend here; I hope no-one would mind me saying she's quite a looker as well. Early on she spoke to a street evangelist who'd received an ASBO; and a nun. She suggested, quite plausibly I thought, that the reason for the public's broadly contrasting responses to the two - suspicion and uncomfortableness towards the one, acceptance towards the other - had a lot to do with context; the street preacher was operating outside a recognised religious context, the nun within one (this bears on my own line of work, seeking to place spiritually oriented radio programming in the secular arena of commercial radio - but more on that another time).

Dr Byron seemed intrigued by the self-denying lifestyle of the nun of her own age she spoke to; a reminder to me of the power of testimony and experience, which has the potential to transcend intellectual barriers. 'Your willingness to put your life on the line like this communicates more eloquently than words or argument the possibility that 'there's something in this'' may have been a thought that at least flickered across her mind.

The faith healer Benny Hinn was also featured, and I have to say, the rally shown in India with vast enraptured audience, a wheelchair being carried off and one poor fellow's head being rocked up and down back and forth like a rag doll... created the decided impression of a showman, to put it cautiously. Right down to the white suit (and presumably, shoes). Less diplomatic terms, such as one beginning with 'char' and ending in 'tan' proffer themselves, but I'd be the la-st one to jump to conclusions. And I don't know the man and his ministry well enough to speak with any authority - so I'd be interested to hear from anyone with a different perspective.

But on the other hand... a thought to challenge atheists too. One of my biggest objections to viewpoints such as Dr Byron's is the insistence on reduction and seeing things through either just one or a very limited range of lenses. 'No scientific evidence for God or the power of prayer'. Prayer is not and was never meant to be a slot machine to convince atheists. If it's not considered - and in the last resort experienced - in a context of trust, relationship and personal transformation then it's always going to look odd from the sidelines.

Scripture and the message of Christ through a lens of faith can be compared, to posit two images in my mind of late, to a mountain range or a treasure chest - inviting exploration and enjoyment. I was struck the other day by the power of Christ's character to elicit fascination and faith; to cite just one example that's especially relevant in relation to atheist debate: his ability when questioned and attacked, simply to be silent. That self-control and composure frankly evinces a greatness of character more persuasive and compelling than any mere intellectual debate. But without a spark of trust releasing this kind of truth in its full flush of colour - acknowledging there's an elusiveness to 'faith' in atheist eyes that bears further reflection - I guess it's always going to look strange and nonsensical at best. And dare I say it, slightly monochrome?

But enough for today.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Pubs, banners and a sermon illustration

A few more ruminations from Sunday... The reader - a Yorkshire woman, her accent gave it away - spoke on the NT passage containing 'once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God' (once I've unpacked my concordance - along with all my other books - I might be able to give you a reference for that). Her most memorable illustration in a good sermon was this: just as celebrity memorabilia acquires great value simply through having belonged to someone famous, so also we as children of God have immense value simply through belonging to Him. As so easily happens to me even in a good sermon, the next paragraph or two was unfortunately obscured by a reverie triggered by this one thought: recalling a Radio 1 DJ explaining how being a fan of the late Kenneth Williams had inspired him to acquire almost all of the great man's possessions from his godson, as they were yet to be auctioned. He admitted that having KW's old clothes stashed away in his attic was a little creepy. I'll say. But you get my point (hopefully).

The closing worship brought another surprise. Out of the corner of my eye I'd noticed him unfurling a very large lilac banner; the next thing I knew, a man, probably in his early forties, came dancing down the aisle, rotating this banner helicopter fashion, round his head in a rippling silken figure of eight, then at the front of the church round his body in a whirling fluttering column... concluding the dance with other worshipful body gestures.

Now back at St Silas in Glasgow, I've seen several younger members of the congregation use banners, and I think its undoubted visual grace makes it a valuable contribution to worship. But what impressed me particularly here was, frankly, the bloke's age. I mean how many men in their forties can you imagine doing this? Kind of breaks a few basic markers of the traditional 'masculine image' if you ask me. I guess it could easily have been uncomfortable and 'cringey' to watch, but it wasn't; it was powerful and moving. It could only be so, of course, because the guy was actually pretty good at it - and, I learned, he only did it occasionally, when he felt led by the Spirit. In other words, don't necessarily 'try this at home':). Still, for my first church service in Bradford, quite an experience to be part of. Well done sir.

I also didn't mention having chatted with some friendly folk over coffee, including one Mavis, married to one Errol (they don't make names how they used to). I'll be exploring some other churches Sunday evenings (I went with my house-mate to St Peter's in Shipley this one just gone). But those bells of Holy Trinity pealing within a stone's throw have a come hither beckoning embrace that may be hard to resist on a Sunday morning (could be a different story if I wasn't a church-goer!).

I noticed the Lord Clyde pub is named after 'possibly the most famous British soldier of the mid-nineteenth century'. There you go. Since then I've also noticed The Wrose Bull, The Swing Gate and The Balloon and Basket. At the top of the road, corner of High Street/Town Lane junction, also sits the 'Towngate Fisheries', proudly displaying it's banner 'Winner Best Fish and Chip Shop Yorkshire area 2007'. This is quite a place.

In due course I'll share more of what I'm actually doing with Whistling Frog Productions. For the moment, putting finishing touches to my first newsletter. Also pondering a possible first programme idea, based around BBC1's 'The Apprentice'. 'You're hired'? (not my line, I admit).

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Idle ways

I notice how moving to a new place has given me a new interest in Facebook, basically because I hardly know anyone down here. I do have a lovely cousin, Joy, who lives with her husband in nearby Guiseley (pronounced, most definitely I am assured, like disguise (at first I got it wrong, doh)), an aunt, Ann, in Leeds, and my venerable godfather Arthur, who teaches at Bradford University and lives in the village of Addingham. And a friend of my house-mate Neil has been up since Wednesday night, doing some paintwork on the house, kipping in the living room and joining us for communal feeds in the evening; including, fittingly enough, on Friday night my 'legendary' lentil curry.

In short, I'm not utterly friendless and alone :)

But this morning, Sunday, I made my first serious foray into the local community, walking round the corner to Holy Trinity Parish Church, Idle, whose gothic flank is clearly visible through the trees from my bedroom window, and whose bell I hear softly tolling on the hour.

I'd heard the Thursday evening bell-ringing practice, and at ten o'clock this morning the fruit of this labour tumbled and cascaded in joyous melody across the village. Such an exuberant call to worship, such a resonant symbol of English religious heritage; but also, I couldn't help imagining, for the New Inn Saturday night revelers and other godless Idle hordes:), possibly a right nuisance.

The service itself was a pleasure. Within this ancient frame of buttresses and bells - not so long ago the church celebrated its 175th birthday - the life of the Spirit evidently bubbles. While my initial impression was of a bit of a congregational split, with an exuberant youthful band of arm-raisers at the front and more venerable members sitting in scattered reserve further back, a feeling of collective warmth grew. Warm purple carpet and chairs replaced pews (I learned) a few years back, and the reader's long rich blue scarf - someone tell me the proper word - echoed the ornate blues and reds of the arching stained glass window at the front, depicting the ascending Christ with worshipful disciples and angelic hosts...

What an intriguing little place Idle village is. On Wednesday afternoon, after a monthly prayer morning with the HCJB team, I took a short wander. I'd already noticed at the junction at the top of the high street, across the road from my bus stop, the 'Idle National Spiritualist Church'. Gold lettered 'Stage 84' marks out a blackened converted church hall in the middle of this crossroads, and moseying a little further, I discovered a plaque reading 'Stage 84 Yorkshire Performing Arts School', of which this building was evidently the original venue.

Just behind is the Idle and Thackley Conservative Club, with patron only parking. Further on is the 'Cambing Cricket' ground, a green field which, while smooth enough, has a gradient and general lumpiness affording the impression it is unlikely to have seen a game for some years. But summer could prove me wrong.

Idle also boasts a collection of olde English pubs, the general character of which has been sketched to me by colleague Nick who's local to the area: the 1840 one's called 'The Oddfellows Hall', then there's 'The Coniston', 'The New Inn' - fronted by garish boards advertising its disco, karaoke and sports nights, and 'The White Bear' and 'The White Swan'. Apparently Bear good, Swan bad (drugs). We'll see. Nearer central Bradford I've also spotted the 'Horse and Farrier', 'The Lord Clyde' (I thought I'd left Glasgow); and my favourite so far, 'The Corn Dolly'. Cute.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Hello Bradford

I'd intended to make my getaway on Saturday after lunch, but an underestimate of the packing project combined with the siren call of Doctor Who persuaded me late afternoon that it might be best to hold off till the next morning. So just before midday Sunday, I finally eased the hire transit van with my life in the back, out of the gates of The Laurels, Bridge of Weir, and headed south to the North. Annie Mac on Radio One kept me amused most of the way down the M74/M6, especially 'Sunday Squabbles', one of those bizarre confessional features where people call in under the odd impression that broadcasting their problems to the nation and awaiting solutions phoned in by the public beats sitting down for a private chat, any day.

Stopping at Annandale Water services, Johnstonebridge for a spot of light refreshment, a quiet stroll round the pond was broken by the alarming sound of my name being barked from behind: 'Bruce! Bruce, stop it! Don't you dare...' I was relieved to discover on turning round that it wasn't some scary individual from my past who couldn't believe I'd had the audacity to leave without saying goodbye, or repaying some long forgotten loan - but the owner of a black lab that was finding the idea of a dip all too tempting.

Soon after turning off the M6 onto the A65 cross country, I began to feel like I was in Yorkshire. And nearing my destination, I was conscious of entering a distinctly northern town; the hills laced with Coronation Street style terraces, the factory chimneys, the local stone, the peaked caps... (ok, not that last one). Once in Bradford, the AA directions broke down and I had to stop and ask a couple of times to reach my destination of Garth Fold in the village of Idle. It's a name I'm going to have to fight against, but all the same, a lovely wee spot, if you'll excuse the Scottish twang (heavens, I'm actually moving closer to my roots coming here - Guisborough on the north edge of Yorkshire - so there's really no excuse)... quiet stone courtyard type layout, rural aspect, trees, nice view, small Anglican church nearby with a bell tolling on the hour (so far hasn't disturbed my sleep too much)... and across the road from the famous 'Idle Working Men's Club' - you couldn't make this up - circa 1928, and just up the road from a pub whose name I'll need to go and check, dating from 1840.

Sunday night I had my first carry-out curry from the Idle Balti - a smooth creamy chicken 'makhani', beautiful. I think I could get used to this place.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Fool's gold?

Sadly I haven't yet been able to catch up with all the comments on the last post yet, but with a new month dawning and at the risk of looking a fool (for Christ:)), I just want to articulate a little more - particularly for the benefit of atheist readers - how I see the life of faith. I want to widen the camera angle again for a moment.

Atheists have - quite rightly - a high degree of interest in reason and evidence, and how truth claims match up to these. And from what I've read, they often seem to have a pretty low opinion of how religion squares up on these fronts. Let me just clarify, in case there is any doubt, that as I understand it from my reading and investigation about faith and Christianity in particular: defences of the faith also put a very high premium on these criteria, of reasonableness and evidence. So there's plainly a sharp disagreement here.

There's a big discussion to be had about the nature and status of 'evidence'. But just to sketch one of the most obvious broad brush contrasts between the sceptical view, and the faith one. Sceptics are looking for 'evidence' that is tangible and unmistakable to any neutral observer, but within a framework of quite narrowly defined criteria, similar to criteria for observing physical phenomena in a scientific experiment. The common cry is 'Prove it', 'Give me evidence'. By contrast, my impression is that the lens employed in Christian apologetics to discuss the validity of faith from a perspective of reason and evidence, is generally wider. A broader exploration is attempted of how reason and faith operate in real life, in a variety of areas. And a broad criticism that would be levelled at the sceptical viewpoint from this perspective is that it doesn't consistently apply the same principles it uses to attack faith, in other broad areas of thought and life. It strains gnats but swallows camels, to quote, if you don't mind me doing so, er, Jesus.

But here is where the heart comes in. A good defence of Christianity will show the value but also the limitations of reason in attaining truth in its broadest senses. It will show how reason and the evidence that is there leads, invites, beckons, not by proof but with intellectual integrity intact, to the threshold of faith. The heart matters here; there has to be an open-ness. But if that threshold is crossed, like Lucy stepping into the wardrobe, then a whole new world is unveiled. Life and perspective can be changed, perhaps slowly, perhaps suddenly; like the life blood in a butterfly's wings transforming it from grey chrysalis to a vision of light and beauty, or the wind in a surfer's sail lifting the board and sending it coursing across the waves. A step is taken; power, energy, life and motion are released.

Last week my three year old niece and her parents were up to stay. At one point, when we were swinging her or something, her mum said, 'They're so trusting'. A child's instinct to trust becomes in an adult so easily stifled and withered, instead of growing and developing alongside the - no denying it, crucial - capacities to reason, question and critique. Trust opens up experience, and indeed knowledge and revelation that are unattainable without it. It's quite possible to think people with faith are deluded if you want to. But I'd say that sceptics need to consider carefully, with a wide angle lens, if the phenomenon of religious faith in the world, which embraces many sane, thinking people, really falls into the same kind of category as belief in unicorns, fairies and the like. The more dare I say it 'scientific' approach in dealing with a large phenomena of this kind is to explore and examine it first from as many angles, and in as much depth, as possible.

Who knows where that might lead?

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Breaking open the vessel

As I haven't posted for a fortnight, here's a comment I wrote in response to Jonathan's post on 'Musings' top right, 'Science and its limits: Chapter Seven', March 8th. It expresses some of my recent thoughts about faith.

'...I don't think God will be found in the detached testable way you want. We're looking at reality in very different ways, like through a different lens or set of specs. I'm thinking about how people move from atheism to belief in God, and it strikes me that the idea of paradigm shift is helpful here: a different way of looking at reality. And while discussion has a part to play in tackling intellectual problems, you'd likely find from testimony that things like time and experience - or a particular very striking experience - have a part to play. CS Lewis in 'Surprised by joy' is a case in point (he like A McGrath was an atheist first).

If you see reality through this radically different paradigm, then it - the same reality we all see - can positively throb with a sense of the presence of God, at least some of the time; eg ask an African Christian, I'm sure from the perspective of a culture steeped in a sense of the spiritual character of the world and nature, he/she would give a very different account of what reality looks like from a western secularist.
I'm just trying to challenge the secular science view a bit here.

For me, evidence of God is primarily relational - though this has taken time to develop. Not through detached observation of data. A good starting point is a simple step like the prayer, 'God, if you are real, please reveal yourself to me', with even a 'mustard seed' of at least openness. It could be mixed with a load of scepticism and questions to be answered - it'd just be a start. Who knows what might happen given time. Another principle of 'evidence' from the Christian perspective is, act on the little that is revealed, even just a small step like a question to read up on, and more truth and presence (of God) are revealed.

REVELATION is a key concept; that we don't have to work it all out for ourselves, but that God reveals Himself. In various ways, nature, the bible, and primarily through a Person, Jesus. It is through dynamic interacting personal relationship with Christ as revealed in scripture that I experience God's reality in a growing way from day to day. It's a whole being interaction, head, heart, will, not just head. Yes, some intellectual obstacles may need to be removed first, and go on being removed. But then it's like a process of surrender - not of your brain, but of your whole being, to the reality of God as personal dynamic presence that breaks and crashes upon you like waves.

I'm just trying here to give a clearer picture of what having faith in God looks and feels like for a Christian - spurred by the 'evidence' question J.

I've been meditating recently over several days on John 9 in the bible, about a man born blind who was healed by Jesus - had an experience no-one could take from him, even in the teeth of strong opposition and questioning from the religious elite of the day. It seems relevant. Again, this is a way I think God is revealed, through narrative and drama, not just philosophical or scientific speculation.

Think about what's going on when you fall in love, or read an epic like Lord of the Rings - examples of something like the kind of suspension of intellectual scepticism, and openness and vulnerability of heart and imagination that are involved in faith in God.

No, I haven't been on acid. I'm just a bit more lucid in the morning.'

Friday, 29 February 2008

Insight from a volcano

Recently I've watched a couple of BBC series on large scale natural and geological phenomenon: 'Earth: the power of the planet' and 'Ten things you didn't know about...(tsunamis, earthquakes, avalanches). I love learning about the natural world and science; I'm a sucker for 'Life in Cold Blood', occasionally 'Horizon', and another excellent recent one, 'Atom'. And not surprisingly in the context of recent blog discussion, I find myself constantly reflecting on how religious faith, including my own, meshes with the captivating fields of knowledge these kinds of programmes open up.

It was a scene from the volcano episode of 'Power of the planet' the other day that crystallised an insight that had been simmering for some time. The presenter, Dr Iain Stuart - a congenial Scotsman - was discussing the volcanic activity that sustained and gave birth to Iceland. A scene of him contentedly soaking with locals in a warm geyser pool gave way to a computer-generated model of the extraordinary structure which lies beneath the island. Shooting up from the earth's core is a colossal funnel of lava, like a giant molten tree trunk; and it is of course the point where this plume hits the surface of the ocean that has produced - well, Iceland.

Now this is of course basic geology which anyone with a background in the subject would probably be quite familiar with. But for someone without such prior learning, the image was spell-binding - as indeed have been many images, facts and figures in the whole series. I've always had a hunger for knowledge about the natural world, and contrary to one popular stereotype, have never found my religious faith instilling any kind of fear or reluctance to glean more. In fact, the growing inner freedom of spirit faith nurtures seems if anything to sharpen this hunger. While it is pleasant enough to view pretty pictures of Iceland's landscape, I am intrigued by the bigger picture, the inner workings, what lies under the surface.

And I try to bring the same exploratory approach to faith. I'm struck by the parallels between religious and scientific knowledge. In both cases, full-blooded appreciation is only gained through a questing spirit that is prepared to 'get under the skin' of what is apparent, to dig deep for understanding. No great progress in science would have been possible without this drive to think outside the box, push past preconceptions and conceive physical reality in fresh ways. And no progress can be made in grasping and savouring spiritual realities without a similar attitude and approach. And it seems that one of the starting points, as Rob pointed out, is being prepared to take seriously the fact that there are different ways of gleaning knowledge, of which the scientific method is only one. A grade one class in epistemology would I reckon tell you that. 'Oranges are not the only fruit' as Jeanettte Winterson observed in a very different context. To quote from the opening of Chapter 6 of 'Science and its limits', (The Limitations of Science: What Can It Not Tell Us): '... if knowledge is restricted to scientific knowledge, we will thus be sheltering ourselves and our beliefs from the relevant portions of reality' p97. Sobering stuff - and I can't deny being curious to know what my atheist friends make of it.

Finally: it's been one heck of a weather day. Scotland's been through the washing machine. 'Heather the weather' must have been waxing lyrical.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Making airwaves

Last Wednesday I was interviewed and accepted for a radio producer post with Whistling Frog Productions in Bradford, a UK-based ministry of HCJB Global, which has media and healthcare ministries around the world. Exciting news, so I look forward to moving to Bradford (yes, I know that sounds odd to some!), hopefully in a few weeks' time.
Meanwhile, I need to start building up a prayer and financial support base - in common with a number of Christian ministries, the post itself is not salaried - as well as start investigating part-time work opportunities down there, and in other practical ways get ready to go.
More soon...

Monday, 11 February 2008

The atheists' take on science: a problem

There's nothing like a good book to expand knowledge, awareness and ways of looking at things. I've started reading 'Philosophy of Science', the original 1986 title of the book 'Science and its limits' by Del Ratzch. I'd recommended it to Jonathan on the Musings blog, see top right, and he posted a rather different take on it. It's an overview, 165pp long, and one of a series called 'Contours of Christian Philosophy'. That might turn off some readers before even opening it, which would be a shame, because core sections present a clear informative account of ways of understanding the nature, role and scope of science as they have developed over the centuries.
Chapter 1, Science: What is it?, outlines its basic aspects and presuppositions. The italicised words give a flavour: natural science, discipline, theoretical, natural explanations, empirical, objectivity, rational...
Chapter 2, The Traditional Conception of Science, outlines first the 'Baconian conception'. Next, rationality, sub-divided into prediction, covering-law model of explanation, hypothetico-deductive testing (in which concepts including proof, experiment, hypotheses, deduction and logic are summarised). Then the empirical element, and objectivity, where the role of the scientific community is briefly addressed. Followed by some initial implications.

It proceeds to examine 'Positivism: a Major School in the Traditional View', and its position on the empirical, rationality and objectivity. This is where, in light of the current debate with atheists, things start to get interesting. On the empirical, DR notes that British philosopher John Locke, was so impressed by the accomplishments of Newton, which he perceived as:

'having banned the nonempirical from science... that he thought that if restricting science to the purely empirical had proved to be the ultimate key to scientific knowledge (and who could doubt that?) then that restriction must be the key to other knowledge as well... the genesis of modern empiricism, the doctrine (note) that all concepts, ideas and substantive knowledge available to human beings must ultimately rest solely on experience - in particular, on sensory experience and observation. The implication of that doctrine (forcefully advocated by David Hume) was that any alleged idea or belief which did not have that empirical grounding was really empty and quite literally meaningless', p33.

When I read that, I thought heavens, this is starting to sound familiar.

I won't be spending much more blog time outlining and quoting another author's thoughts so extensively, but I've done so here in the hope of engaging my atheist readers in a level of reading and discussion we can all take seriously. Hopefully around a book like this, or of similar quality. DR goes on to outline the implications and decline of positivism, delineating the flaws that made it 'increasingly clear that the positivist outlook was bankrupt as a philosophy of science, and ultimately incoherent as well', p36. A brief look at the decline of the traditional view of science closes chapter 2. There are seven more chapters to go.

This isn't half as entertaining as reading in 'The God Delusion' about belief in God being comparable to belief in fairies, unicorns, an orbiting chocolate teapot and an imaginary friend called Binker. But golly, the science looks more serious.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

The charm and the flaw of Richard Dawkins

I've finished 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins. I like to give credit where credit's due: although I stalled at a couple of points (started reading it in September), I readily acknowledge the guy is a clever, lucid and witty writer, so large parts were actually quite enjoyable, and I learned some fascinating science stuff, especially in the last few pp. But in RD's handling of religion, I utterly concur with Alister McGrath in 'The Dawkins Delusion' that:
'Dawkins simply offers the atheist equivalent of slick hellfire preaching, substituting turbocharged rhetoric and highly selective manipulation of facts for careful, evidence-based thinking... surprisingly little scientific analysis... a lot of pseudo-scientific speculation, linked with wider cultural criticisms of religion, mostly borrowed from older atheist writings', p10.
He goes on to note that Prospect magazine, whose reader survey as noted in the TGD fly leaf voted RD one of the world's three top intellectuals in Nov 2005, went on to carry a review of the book. Describing it as 'incurious, dogmatic, rambling and self-contradictory', the review was called 'Dawkins the dogmatist', p11.
A look at some specifics will await another post - the argument about probability in Chapter 4 'Why there almost certainly is no God' - to which AM responds - is the part that intrigued me most and that I'd most want to go back to. A broad brush observation for now: RD is clearly and admirably passionate about science, and ponders the wonders of the world that are in its scope to reveal, with all the goggle-eyed delight of a child in a cathedral. But for some reason, he is unwilling seriously to explore even the possibility of another, dare I say it, yet more marvellous cathedral: the cathedral of the spirit, unlocked with the key of faith, where God in relationship might just be found. Not held at arm's length, ostracised, distorted and pilloried through misrepresentation (particularly of the OT) as a 'monster'; but, even modestly and hesitatingly, approached and explored as the majestic reality He might just be. God is by no means always obvious, I can as a lifelong searcher and explorer myself concur; but the mistreatment of the mystery by one who shows so little evidence of actually having seriously investigated it, in the final analysis feels oddly weightless.
I also recently began reading 'The Miracle of Theism' by late Oxford Fellow and Reader of Philosophy, and atheist, JL Mackie. As a careful, fair and deeply thought through examination of the topic - within confines admittedly more philosophical than scientific - I can regard it seriously and with respect. Unfortunately TGD, for all RD's wit and flair, has not earned the same. I don't suppose my atheist readers will like any of this, but it leaves me wondering what it was that pulled down the blinkers for Mr Dawkins. Or at least prevented him from having a proper look.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Who's deluded about God?

Ok, by popular request - thanks Lee - I'm back with a post. Lately I've been reading Richard Dawkins' 'The God Delusion' and Alister McGrath's much shorter rebuttal, 'The Dawkins Delusion'. One of the first things that's struck me is the contrast in the quality of scientific reviewers the two authors were able to acquire to endorse their books. Harvard experimental psychologist Stephen Pinker looks like the most eminent scientific reviewer for TGD, but he only describes it as 'a characteristically elegant book' - no actual critique of RD's approach to religion at all. Next best is science journalist Matt Ridley, who offers a typical, Dawkins school, ill-informed unconsidered false dichotomy between 'faith, spirit and superstition' and 'truth'. Beyond these two, RD has had to rely for concurring anti-religion praise on three celebrity names who aren't scientists at all: Philip Pullman, a fantasy author; Brian Eno, a musician; and Derren Brown, an illusionist!
Contrast the line-up of McGrath's reviewers, and the specificity of their criticims: Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project: 'dismantles the argument that science should lead to atheism... has abandoned his much-cherished rationality'; Owen Gingerich, Professor of Astronomy at Harvard: 'demonstrates the gaps, inconsistencies and surprising lack of depth in Dawkins' arguments; and Michael Ruse, Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University: 'TGD makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why.'
Out of time - much more to say on this - but lastly, one of McGrath's chief points is that the mainstream of the scientific community has long recognised that nature is open to interpretation of varying kinds; atheist Stephen Jay Gould was 'absolutely clear that the natural sciences - including evolutionary theory - were consistent with both atheism and conventional religious belief'.

Monday, 4 February 2008


As Lee commented in my last post, this blog has indeed gone a little quiet. It must be the hibernation instinct (plus a bad cold); hopefully with the lightening days - did you notice? - I'll be emerging from my burrow a bit more. News: I have an interview 13th February, a week Weds, in Bradford for the Whistling Frog radio ministry, part of 'HCJB', a global organisation involved in media, education and healthcare. More in due course...

Monday, 7 January 2008

Happy New Year

And just to say, having to stay away from the blog for a bit while I sort out a backlog of other stuff in my life! Hope to be back soon...
I don't often say much about what I'm up to in the bigger scheme of things, so for anyone who's interested, I'm in the process of applying to join a radio ministry based in Bradford called Whistling Frog Productions, which seeks to create spiritually engaging and challenging material to air on mainstream commercial stations in the UK. I should have an interview this month, just waiting to hear...