29 June 2008

Making God in our image

Interesting issue highlighted this week in 2 different places.

Joel Edwards (IDEA magazine) writes of the gay and lesbian Christian movements that, despite their obvious sincerity and acts of service, 'their version of God is one I simply do not recognize from 2,000 years of Scripture and tradition'. He is 'concerned that there is an attempt at trying to remake God in our image'.

Rabbi Miriam Berger (Saturday Times Register) hopes that the new gender-neutral prayerbook for Reform Jews 'allows people to construct their own belief and their own concept of God'.

We all know that we live in a consumerist society and this affects our attitudes to many other aspects of life. Relationships, for example, or time. But God? Surely He is in a different league?

Apparently not. It is uncomfortable for us to realise that God is sovereign. That we are subject to His reign, not He to ours; that He sets the rules, not us; that the definition of 'good' comes from Him and is applied to us, rather than the other way round.

The Bible tells us that God made us in His image. And therefore we have dignity and value and (inestimable) worth. This is a very different starting point from a secular worldview, which also ascribes dignity, value and worth to human beings but is less clear as to whence that value derives.

And this different starting point leads us along a very different path. We are not gods, we are creatures, created by God, for His pleasure. And He sets boundaries, moral boundaries, on our behaviour.

At first glance, this may seem to make us smaller but actually the very opposite is true.

As we realise that God is the centre of the universe, rather than ourselves, we become aware of someone far greater than we are - infinitely good, indescribably lovely, unutterably beautiful. Then, and only then, can we aspire to be who we truly are: human beings, fearfully and wonderfully made.

26 June 2008

Headlong hurtle into a federal Europe?

What will it take to stop the government's headlong hurtle into a federal Europe? The government's refusal to hold a referendum on the ratification of the EU treaty, despite a clear promise to do so, is the subject of a legal challenge. The Irish have rejected the treaty. The Czech's are not prepared to bet £3 that their Senate will say Yes.

And yet Gordon Brown continues blithely on, as he had some overriding mandate to do so. Which he does not.

I have never understood the enthusiasm of any British Prime Minister for making agreements which undermine, and threaten eventually to remove altogether, the sovereignty of this nation. We are a sovereign nation. We have a Queen and a Parliament. Why would we want to subsume ourselves under some other entity?

24 June 2008

carbon-dating: science or fiction?

Revealing answers in the Times Register this Saturday on the subject of carbon-dating and how scientists know whether is it correct.

The first writer tells us that, previously, other techniques of dating, such as rock-stratigraphy, indicated that the age of the Earth was several hundred million years. But, when carbon-dating was introduced, the Earth's age 'overnight, as it were, leapt to several billion years'.

And yet, according to writer number two, carbon-dating is only reliable for objects up to about 60,000 years old.

So, we are basing our understanding of the age of the Earth on what, exactly??

22 June 2008

Gay clergy - what are we doing?!

Very telling juxtaposition on the Faith pages of the Times this Saturday. Top of the page, Rev Dr Geoffrey Rowell on the Bible: 'the scriptures are normative for testing new teaching both normative and ethical'. I do agree. But directly below, Rev Richard Haggis is busy defending gay clergy and suggesting we put the matter to a vote of local lay members of the C of E.

Are we mad?

Can we not read the Bible, in which God tells us, in no uncertain terms, and through different people, centuries apart, that he finds the practice of homosexuality detestable? Not the people, let's be clear, but what they practice.

Do we not understand who the Church is? The bride of Christ, pure and holy. We are made for Jesus. Our highest calling is to worship Him and glorify Him. What right do we have to say that things are OK when He says they are not?

We are called to love and honour God. Number 1. And then we are called to love the people He has created and loves more than life itself. But we are not called to become like those who don't yet know God - if we do, then really we have nothing to offer them that they could not find elsewhere.

Let's honour God and let His light shine...

19 June 2008

What is the proper role of Government / Family / Church / Economy?

I went to a most interesting talk recently by Stuart Etherington, NCVO Chief Executive, on whether 'Civil society is in danger of being hugged to death by government, local and national'.

He described the growing importance of 'civil society', meaning those activities which are governed by neither the state nor the market and made up of both charities (rooted in philanthropy) and co-operatives (based on mutuality and self-help) and highlighted the focus by politicians in Great Britain on understanding how government should be engaging with civil society.

Should the state simply be smaller? Or do we need a radical rethink of the role of the state, especially in areas such as building communities and social capital, where the work of civil society , or 'the voluntary sector', is so effective.

Perhaps the role of the state in such areas is one of 'enabler' rather than 'doer' . If so, then the question is: How do we do this, what mechanisms can government use to enable the voluntary sector to do what it does best? How can government help us to help ourselves, and to help our neighbours?

Listening to all this, I thought back to a talk I heard many years ago, describing the various institutions of society - family, church, government and economy - each of which have their proper area of operation. If any of them expand to exceed this area or, indeed, shrink so that they no longer fulfil their role, then the whole of society suffers.

The speaker's contention, with which I agreed, was that the economy had gained an importance far greater than it should, and that the influence and status of both the family and the church had shrunk, to our detriment. This is reflected in David Cameron's speeches in recent months, suggesting that happiness rather than economic growth should be the measure of our success.

I think that the state has also exceeded its boundaries and is intruding into areas in which it should not be.

When the welfare state was set up in 1944, the state usurped the role of the church and, to some extent, that of the family, rather than complementing them. Now, faced with the challenges of an ageing population, advances in medical technology, widespread family breakdown and an increasingly fragmented society, the government is finding it cannot cope alone and is turning to the voluntary sector for help.

Clearly, the family, church government and market all need to work together for the benefit of us all. The national debates currently taking place, on the interaction between the state and the voluntary sector, on the scope and the remit of the NHS, and on the place of Christianity in our national life, are all attempts to address this fundamental question:

What is the proper role and remit of the institutions of society: the government, the family, the church and the economy?

Mary Douglas

17 June 2008

42 day detention - Protection v. Freedom

Tony Robinson's Crime and Punishment programme does it again! How topical can you be. Tony describes the setting up of the Magna Carta, which decreed that no-one can be detained without trial for more than 24 hours. 24 hours! And here we are considering 42 days...

The BBC website points out that it was as recently as 2000 that we introduced the basic 48 hours detention, with the ability to extend it to 7 days if the courts gave permission. In 2003 this increased to 14 days, in 2006 to 28 days.

So, in just 8 years, we have moved from 24 hours to a possible 42 days.

What are we thinking? Do we hold our freedom so lightly that we are prepared to throw it away.

Who needs terrorists to take away our freedom. Just intimidate us for a few years and we will do it all by ourselves!

16 June 2008

Drug free prisons are 'impossible'

There is a chilling sentence in the recent report on drugs in prisons: 'The creation of drug free prisons is an expensive option and was not considered to be practical in the current resource climate'.

Any government which accepts this does not deserve to govern.

Firstly, if the 'current resource climate' is preventing us doing something important which needs doing then let's change the climate! Let's stop wasting money on countless consultations and conferences and quangos and spend the money instead on something which really will make a difference to the lives of some of the most desperate individuals and their families.

Secondly, this statement is flawed even on its own terms. The same report estimates that, over their lifetime, a drug addict costs the taxpayer more than £800,000. So, let's have an 'Invest To Save'. Invest money now in drug treatment and rehabilitation and therapy and joined-up management and save the taxpayer countless millions of pounds in the long-term. Not to mention the radical impact this would have on the lives of the people and communities a government is elected to serve.

12 June 2008

Good news for street children in Asia

A bank run for street children by street children...

I was delighted to read recently that Children's Development Banks are springing up in some of the most needy parts of Asia, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

First set up in 2001 by the NGO 'Butterflies', they enable street children to save whatever money they earn, rather than having it stolen. They also help the children to pick up valuable life skills, proritising their needs, setting goals and learning how to use their money to achieve those goals.

11 June 2008

Changing attitudes in Japan?

Anyone who has visited Japan and, like me, been deeply impressed by the sense of tradition and respect and self-discipline, will have been shocked by a new book by Professor Yoshihiko Morotomi of Meiji University describing the unruly behaviour of parents of school children across Japan. Teachers tell of a major change in the attitude of parents. Instead of respectfully supporting teachers, they are now far more likely to plot together to sack a teacher who has complained about their child.

Apparently, the parents think of themselves as consumers, standing up for their rights...

I think of them somewhat differently. Never mind the academic success they so clearly seek for their offspring. What values and attitudes, exactly, are they passing on to their children?

10 June 2008

Moral, Without a Compass

The title says it all. The Church of England report published this Monday and entitled 'Moral, Without a Compass' was featured in the Saturday Times this weekend, on the front page, leading article and a two page spread.

Researchers for the 180-page report approached every C of E bishop and more than 250 MP's, peers and academics. Every respondent agreed that there was a deep 'religious illiteracy' on the part of government. The report paints a picture of a government so committed to a seculaer agenda that it wilfully ignores the enormous contribution of Christians, both as congregations and as individuals, to Britains's civic and charitable life.

The Times' Leader points out that, before the welfare state, it was the Church who provided healthcare, education, housing and protection. And recognises that the Church 'was, and is, fundamental to Britain's values and identity'.

Well done, The Times. Now all we need is politicians who have the courage to recognise that Christianity is the foundation of this nation we love.

09 June 2008

Innocent until proven guilty - unless you're on the DNA database

Apparently the only protection for innocent people who have had their DNA details stored against their will is the European Court. The EC's Grand Chamber of Human Rights is to hear the case of two men in Sheffield who were arrested in 2001 and had their fingerprints and DNA samples taken. Although they were cleared of any crime, their samples were not removed from the database.

Mr Lake, Lincolnshire's Chief Constable and former chairman of the database, is concerned that the removal from the database of the DNA details of all those who were arrested but not convicted will prevent the detection of some of the most serious crimes.

I am concerned about the principle which underpins our system of justice - that we are innocent until proven guilty. If Britain's National DNA database is populated primarily by those who have committed crimes, it is not unreasonable for those who, in the eyes of the law, have not committed any crime to want their details removed.

The purpose of the database is clearly to help find criminals. The more information the police have, the better they can do the job of finding criminals. The issue is of balancing one human right (to privacy) against another (freedom from harm).

The question is: Do we want a database which holds the DNA details of every one of us - or not?

05 June 2008

Blair's bid to unite religions totally misses the point

Tony Blair misses the point totally, completely and utterly in his bid to unite the world's religions to do good for the world.

For 2 reasons.

Firstly, religion is the formal expression of man's search for truth, the man-made overlay of a spiritual urge deep within all of us. To try and harness 'religion' to serve some other end, however worthy, is to put the cart before the horse. God made man, not the other way round. The most important thing each of us can do is to seek God. Seeking God is not a means to some other end.

Secondly, to try and unite Christianity with any other religion is to betray the core tenet of Christianity - that God, as Christ Jesus, came into this world to live and die and rise again, and that He needed to do this for us to be able to regain the relationship with God for which we were created but have each thrown away through our desire to be god of our own life.

When Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father but through Me', it was not empty words. If there were any other way for us to get to God then Jesus would not have had to die on the cross. And, for sure, if it was not absolutely necessary for Him to die on that cross, to suffer the physical agony of crucifixion and the spiritual agony of separation from His Father, He would not have done so.

For Blair, or anyone else, to try and 'unite' a religion which tells of God coming to mankind, of God making the first move, of God making the ultimate sacrifice in order to win back the people He created and loves so so so much, with any other religion, none of which, however sincere their followers may be, can make that claim, is the deepest insult imaginable.

Justice being restored

Excellent first programme in a new series on Channel 4 this week (Tony Robinson's Crime and Punishment 1st June 7pm), describing how the legal system has developed in Great Britain over the centuries. I was particularly interested to hear him say that, from around 597 AD with the arrival of St Augustine, Christianity was a major influence and that our system of law was built on the Ten Commandments.

And fascinated to learn that around 924 AD, when all England was united under one legal system, the primary method of law enforcement was the 'Hue and Cry'. If anyone saw a crime being committed, they were legally obliged to shout 'stop thief' (or murderer or whatever) and everyone over the age of 15 was legally obliged to form a possey to catch the thief. The programme then showed a 'have a go hero' as being the 21st century equivalent. Indeed.

Furthermore, if the criminal escaped the 'Hue and Cry', then they were outlawed - literally, outside the law. If found, they no longer enjoyed the protection of the law.

I am glad to see that the attitude which has prevailed in recent years of political correctness, where it has seemed that the law affords more protection to the perpetrator of a crime than to the victim, is changing. And we are beginning to understand again that each and every one of us is responsible for the well-being of our own community.

The tide is turning in this nation. Justice is being restored.

04 June 2008

Helping children to stay with their families

I was very encouraged by an article in the Saturday Times this weekend (31 May P4), describing a scheme whereby volunteers with no experience of social work are helping families of children on the at-risk register.

All the children in the families who have been helped have been taken off the risk register. Most importantly, in contrast to the national average whereby 2/3 of children go back onto the register, ALL the children have remained off the register.

The scheme, 'Volunteers in Child Protection', is being piloted in Bromley and Sunderland by the charity Community Service Volunteers. They are now talking to several other local authorities wanting to implement this in their area.

The volunteers are a total cross-section, of all ages, male and female, and from all parts of the community. They support the parent(s), helping them to develop a routine at home and work out how best to manage their children's behaviour. CSV requires a commitment of at least a year, usually four hours a week at whatever times suit the family they are working with. They say that the key is to help the mother to do things for herself, working our her own solutions, and not become dependent on the volunteer.

I do hope this spreads and is equally successful across the country. I remember talking to a very experienced foster carer who said that, however well the children she fostered were doing, she was still aware that what they actually wanted was to go home. The very best thing for a child is to remain with their own family and the more we can do to help that the better.

Mary Douglas

02 June 2008

Belief in God

I watched the Channel 4 Dispatches programme 'In God's Name' recently, originally broadcast on 19th May. As a committed Christian myself, I was encouraged in some parts and dismayed in others. We do not always do ourselves a favour in what we say, or do not say, and in the way we say it.

However, what really disturbed me was the voice-over from the interviewer. It was biased and patronising, and did not convey any real attempt to understand, but rather to alienate. I am so aware that to understand a world-view different from our own is very hard. But if a TV programme is to help us to do that, then it needs to let the people being portrayed speak for themselves, not undermine everything they say even as they say it.

Believing in God is not a minority activity. The majority of people in this world do so. It is only in the Western world, and especially in Great Britain at the moment, that we seem to find ourselves in a society where to believe in God, to really believe in God, is belittled as somehow delusional, or dangerous, or inadequate or old-fashioned.

And the consequences of this are clear for all to see - broken families; young people, disillusioned and aimless, roaming the streets engaging in violent and anti-socail behaviour at a time of their lives when they should be at their most idealistic and passionate; older people, alone in the world, alienated and separated from their families and communities who, in other societies, value and honour people in their old age.

But this is only a recent phenomenon. Up until about 60 years ago, there was a common understanding that our lives are rooted in God, that we depend on Him for our very existence, that His words are words of wisdom, to be treasured.

And what can change so rapidly in one direction can change just as rapidly in another. In the grand sweep of history, this secular worldview is just a temporary blip.

Children need a mother and a father

How can this nation expect to thrive when those who govern us do not understand that every child needs a father?

I struggle to understand how a majority of MP's could reject Iain Duncan-Smith's amendment on 20th May, seeking to ensure that children conceived through IVF have a father figure in their lives. Common-sense apart, the evidence given to the Joint Committee on the Human Tissues and Embryos (Draft) Bill, the precursor to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, was so clear.

The Centre for Social Justice, in the report to the Committee, said that the state should not deny the child’s need for a father, citing numerous social research studies which challenge the notion that deliberately planning to have fatherless children can be in their long-term interests. Some of them:

Carlson (2006): father – but not mother – involvement is a key predictor of teenage behavioural problems

Amato (1994): regardless of the quality of the mother-child relationship, the closer children were to their fathers, the happier, more satisfied and less distressed they reported being. This holds for both sons and daughters

O’Neil (2002) a longitudinal study which took a life-course perspective, showed that children living without their biological fathers are twice as likely to be in poverty and/or in poor health; teenagers without their fathers are more likely to be teen parents, offend, smoke, take drugs, play truant, face exclusions and leave school early; and young adults who grow up not living with their fathers are more likely to be unemployed, have low incomes, experience homelessness, go to jail, enter and dissolve cohabiting unions and have children themselves outside marriage.

Many eminent people had wise words to say to the Committee.

Professor Almond, Emeritus Professor of Moral and Social Philosophy at the University of Hull urged caution when tampering with something as fundamental as having parents of each sex.

Dr Andrew Fergusson of the Christian Medical Fellowship: God’s ideal intention for life is for a child to have a mother and a father; having a child is not a right.

The Bishop of Swindon, Rt Revd Dr Lee Rayfield: this Bill relates to a deliberate decision to bring a child into the world without a father.

Professor John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Studies for Ethics, Philisophy and Public Affairs at the University of St Andrews: 'To engineer a situation in which one of those [mother or father] is to be absent is to wrong a child'.

All this is NOT discriminating against those who are doing their best to raise a child on their own. It is simply recognising that there is increasing evidence that children thrive best in a family with both a mother and a father.

If the best interests of children is the main concern of legislation, it is our duty to recognise such differences and frame the law accordingly. We owe it to these children.

Mary Douglas