Tuesday, October 28, 2008


"The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life." - Jane Addams [With thanks to www.sojo.net]

Monday, October 27, 2008


“[If] people’s beliefs – secular or religious – make them belligerent, intolerant and unkind about other people’s [beliefs], they are not ‘skilful’. If, however, their convictions impel them to act compassionately and to honour the stranger, then they are good, helpful and sound.” - Karen Armstrong

As it happens, I reached page 392 in Karen's stimulating book The Great Transformation at the same time as someone sent me a link to this. See also 'Empathy in a polarised world'.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Two days ago I heard the very sad news that United Methodist Church minister and research psychologist Andrew J. Weaver has died in the USA. I never met Andrew, but we were due to get together in person in New York next Spring, having corresponded for nearly two years, on and off. We connected because of his principled campaign, alongside others, to try to stop the historic Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Texas from dedicating a George W. Bush library and research centre. He became a good friend of Ekklesia and wrote for us on a number of occasions. We subsequently discovered, perhaps unsurprisingly, that we had a number of friends in common, including John Lee in the Church of England and the late, great religion writer and Christian feminist, Monica Furlong. Andrew was a colourful and committed character, by all accounts, and left an abiding footprint for the Gospel of justice and peace in troubled times. It would have been wonderful to lunch with him at the Met. He will be in my heart and memory when I travel to the Big Apple in March '09, by God's grace. I believe I have at least one article from Andrew in my Ekklesia 'pending' folder. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Friday, October 24, 2008


"There is no justice we don't make daily like bread and love." - Marge Piercy, from the poem The Ram's Horn Sounding.

"The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope." - Barbara Kingsolver, novelist.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Living in a Multi-conviction Society: Conversion, Conversation & Co-existence, with Simon Barrow - St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, 6.30 - 8.30pm, Thursday 23 October 2008, 78 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 4AG. Entry free. All welcome.

That's "conviction" as in "belief", by the way. It's not about the different number of prison sentencing options available!

There have been some good blogosphere comments on the 'atheist bus campaign'. I have highlighted some in Cold water, buses and shared humanity. Among others I have discovered since, referring to my Guardian article, are a supportive one from a doctoral student in Manchester, and a constructively critical one from Iain Clark ('Storm in a Teacup'). I think Iain has misunderstood a couple of my points - and certainly the underlying point about rationality and God-talk. But that may well be my fault, not his. I hope to respond shortly.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Earlier this month, I wrote a piece for the Baptist Times about some recent research into references to religion, faith and God occurring in the conference platform speeches of major British politicians. A version of this has now been published on Ekklesia as Beware politicians and God-talk. The history of distorted speech in the two-way mirror that is religious and political power-broking has a long and inglorious history; one which is regularly recapitulated across the Atlantic, I fear. But before we cheer or boo politicians talking about faith, let's look at the content.

"At its core the Gospel is about God’s suffering servant opening the door to a new kind of life not circumscribed by ‘the powers that be’. It involves speaking and acting act for personal and social transformation in ways that may prove deeply uncomfortable to both political and religious elites [...] Significantly, none of the political speeches Theos surveyed mentioned Jesus’ disruption of the status quo, and few sermons do either. But what if faith is not a flag to be waved? What if it is a call to conversion – starting with us?"

My colleague and friend is in action about this tonight, by the way: "God bless America? Should Politicians 'Do God'?", with Jonathan Bartley - at the crypt, St James Clerkenwell from 7pm, Weds 22 October 2008, Clerkenwell Close, London, EC1R 0EA.

Also, a reminder for: "Conversion, Conversation & Co-existence: Living in a Multi-conviction Society", with Simon Barrow - St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, 6.30 – 8.30pm, Thursday 23 October 2008, 78 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 4AG.


"How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" - Saunders Lewis.

Thanks to Sze Zeng (Singapore) for that quotation. He also said some kindly positive things about the work I've been involved with on post-crunch economics. The Lewis quotation rings very true with me, though more so in the arena of the written word, where I probably feel most at home. (Well, OK, I can talk for Britain, too ... but radio and TV soundbites are not me, because I like to unpack ideas with others rather than flash them and instantly move on.)

I recall also a delightfully honest (and typically convoluted, but illuminative) quotation from David E. Jenkins, I think from his very fine 1967 Christology book, The Glory of Man (SCM Press), where he says something to the effect of, "I'm not at all sure that I know what it is that I think I am trying to say about this, even as I reflect on writing it." And then there is autodidact lyricist Jon Anderson's injunction: "Look in the light of what you're searching for", which contains the idea that the object of our attention may effect our way of seeing. This is true not just in physics, I find.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


The immediate fundraising hit of the 'atheist bus' is more evidence of the changing nature of our multi-conviction society, and the challenges this poses to all of us - and to a form of Christian witness which is about love that embraces and challenges suffering (in the spirit of Jesus), rather than imposing itself as yet another power ideology in a competing 'supermarket' of beliefs (in the pattern of church-of-power Christendom).

I was due to hear and meet Richard Dawkins tonight, as he is involved in a debate in Oxford (with the silly title of "Has science buried God?"). Unfortunately, other urgent issues have intervened. Anyway, as it happens, his 'Atheist bus project" has just been launched. Well, sort of. They have the wheels, but the bus and its slogan (“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”) are still in the garage, pending enough fuel to get out on the road in January 2009. It's a curious business, as the Methodists have observed. Apart from my Ekklesia comments, I have done an article for Guardian Comment-is-Free on Atheist evangelising?

Monday, October 20, 2008


"We must talk about poverty, because people insulated by their own comfort lose sight of it." - Dorothy Day

Public debate about religion, non-religion and much else is in a mess right now - bogged down by confrontational politics, personal anger, intellectual cul de sacs and simplistic dualisms. But it doesn't have to be this way. On Thursday 23 October (this week!) I'm leading a practical seminar at St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace (78 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 4AG) entitled Conversion, Conversation & Co-existence: Living in a Multi-conviction Society. It runs from 6.30pm - 8.30pm, and entry is free. You are more than welcome. If you can't make it, please pass on the information to those you know in the London area who might be interested. You don't have to say in advance that you're attending - but it would help the organisers if you did! Notes to enquiries@stethelburgas.org

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I have expanded a 'Westminster Watch' column I wrote for this month's Third Way magazine (which is devoted to Christian social ethics, culture and society), in order to look at the economics, politics and theology of thinking and acting our way beyond the global credit and banking crunch. There's an excerpt below. The full article is: Seeking to build a just economy.

"Markets per se are not the issue [..] The greedy, one-sided and shortsighted assumptions and systems that markets are often embedded in are the problem. And those can be changed. Fatalism about this is not, despite its pretensions, realism. And reality is more intriguing, open and multivalent than many self-styled ‘realists’ allow. It’s always worth asking, “which kind of realism are you seeing as contradicting a radical (to-the-roots) Christian hope, and does its version of ‘reality’ include the transformation wrought by the Gospel?" Or is this something the church has simply filtered out in its attempts to appear ‘credible’ to those who dismiss its message?

"In political terms, the challenge, as theologian Jurgen Moltmann acutely pointed out some years ago in his book The Future of Creation, is that a qualitatively different social and economic order cannot be imagined purely on the basis of the one that now exists. It requires a stretching of our current capacities and therefore has to be critically envisioned, spiritually dared, and practically edged towards from a position of faithful agnosis. We see darkly, but we still press forward."