Monday, 9 April 2012

Holy Saturday Round up 2012

What a difference a year makes!  In 2011, in our review of the Holy Saturday reading group we mined a wealth of deep intellectual reasoning, thought, wittering, tangential argument and high value column inches from the great and good taking the Murdoch money, thus giving the Times the status of a newspaper of record in high society -

So, what do we have in 2012? 

The Times hard copy (£1.50) found at Luton Airport.  Not sure of origin of issue.

Ruth Gledhill writes concerning the wearing of the cross.  Given the background of the decision of Rowan Williams to resign as Archbishop of Canterbury, there was some talk concerning material culture, with the wearing of the cross as being an outward symbol of one’s profession of faith.  While one would expect Roman Catholics to preach the wearing of jewellery, trinkets and souvenirs of pilgrimage income streams, one is surprised that the Archbishop of Canterbury is being joined by evangelicals and – wait for it – the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt. Rev David Arnott.  John Knox would be rumbling in his grave and if the Mound collapses in a seismic heap, then we’ll know who to blame. 

We’re not sure whether Ms Gledhill’s omission of Archbishop Vince or Vin was a slight, but we can only imagine that Cardinal Keith (Frankenstein) O’Brien must be preening himself with the Britain’s Most Senior Catholic epithet status. 

Andrew Billen

There is a lot of talk about Bettany Hughes doing more of her goddess worshiping theories.  Whenever we hear of Dr Hughes I automatically think of the Green Goddess (the fire engine) as she parades with her tight t-shirt, in much the same way as a female gardener showed off her assets on a gardening show.  And why not!  The goddesses of Glastonbury are very capable and understand the importance of material culture, selling souvenirs, amulets, charms and trinkets.  If they discovered these objects in south-east Turkey thousands of years ago, it proves that nothing much has changed.  Religion, like travel, needs a handle for promotion.  Pilgrimage, souvenirs, trinkets and material culture help the economy, increase craftsmanship and are good for the well being.   

Andrew Riley

This is an amazing piece about church music which somehow seems to consider that the bulk of Anglican, with the odd mention of some Roman Catholic input from Tony and Cherie Blair no less, is worthy of a long piece in a Murdoch rag.  This was a long puff about some ghastly modern music specially written to celebrate Her Majesty, The Queen’s diamond jubilee.  This book is known by the title Choir for the Queen (Canterbury Press, £40) and some cathedrals are moaning at having to pay such a lot for the book for 20 choristers.  Some churches have spent this on buying candles for god’s sake!

This book may not rival the Eton Choir book, which was perfectly good, out of copyright and has some marvellous tunes.  One dreads to think what people will think of composers like John Tavener, Mark Anthony Turnage, James MacMillan, Richard Rodney Bennett and Judith Weir to name a few.  It is a long while since Peter Maxwell Davis has written a decent note, Judith Weir’s opera got panned at Covent Garden, James MacMillan’s stuff is truly awful and Tavener it may be recalled wrote a ghastly piece on the names of god which ruined his reputation after his resurrection during the funeral service of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. 

Rt Rev Victoria Matthews, Bishop of Christchurch, New Zealand

At long last we reach a bit of that old time religion and it had to come from Victoria Matthews, who happens to be Bishop of Christchurch in New Zealand.  They know something about the power of earthquakes, building one’s church on a rock and not on sand.  This is a piece which is well worth re-reading and one hopes that Bishop Victoria manages to bring some humility and Christianity into the Anglican Communion, which seems to have rejected the sticking plaster which Dr Rowan Williams offered. 

The best journalistic piece we could find was buried in a tv review (Saturday Review, page 44) by David Chater.  He gives a review of Bettany Hughes and a well-crafted piece of criticism and analysis.  This boy will go far!  We are mentioning some lines which delight – “Most of the world’s religions today have a distinctly masculine flavour but it wasn’t always thus …The earliest depiction of a woman was found at Gobekli Tepe in South-East Turkey…Representations of the mother goddess became larger and more voluptuous over millennia …even in Rome … men would castrate themselves to serve the cult of Magna Mater, the Polly Toynbee of the Tiber.”  It was unanimously agreed at our conclave that this David Chater piece be set to music, given that Billy Bragg is recasting some previously unknown lyrics by Woody Guthrie.  Perhaps Mr Bragg can be persuaded to outshine the ghastly choir book composers and have the cathedrals rocking in the aisles with the tills ringing and the electronic payment systems tweeting money into our cash coffers.  May you continue to monetise, valorise and vapourise!

PS: We would urge the BBC to save money and get rid off the truly awful Moral Maze and the ghastly Sunday Programme on Radio 4.  Britain has changed.  We now have a 7-day Sun shining in place of the News of the World, with many Labour MPs taking Murdoch’s money.  In the racing stakes for the next Archbishop of Canterbury, we don’t find York and London with a chance, but we are focussing on a bishop who is making the right noises.    

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Arab Spring spreads north, democracy falls in Greece and Italy


Well it’s been a while since we last reported.  Our new students are recovering from their first essays and we are delighted to report that the Arab Spring is continuing to rock North Africa, the northern Mediterranean and is working its way on the road to Damascus as we speak. 

The Occupy Movement has caused serious headaches for the Church of England in the occupation around the London Stock Exchange and St Paul’s Cathedral and two great pillars of theology have stepped down from the Chapter.  Giles Fraser took the Dean of Westminster with him and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has entered the fray on the side of some flimsy liberalism cause against the right-wing tendencies of the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres.  Women and the Church of England have taken a bit of the backseat, as have some of the alternative lifestyle fathers in the church.  The Roman Catholic Church continues to be engulfed in child sex scandals, notably in the Ealing Abbey case where St Benedict’s rule resulted in one of their members doing a bunk.  Meanwhile, the Vatican Bank and Dr Ratzinger himself are offering financial assistance and advice to the European Central Bank and the governments of Italy and the Eurozone. 

Mr Silvio Berlusconi has just gone.  Great Silvio, we thank you for endowing Italy with a game show mentality that has swept through the region and resulted in much time-wasting. 

Another fallen empire appears to be that of the Murdoch’s.  The News of the World is dead, James Murdoch has been recalled to the House of Commons and rumours of his arrest appeared on Twitter last night.  These, of course, have been denied. 

As to Her Majesty’s government, Dr Liam Fox had a bit of trouble with separating the Werritty from the verity and has fallen on his military sword, and has probably emasculated his career by being a prize twit.  Theresa May looks increasingly inept and though I’ve said it in the past, Shirley Williams seems to be the only LibDem that talks sense; but when you pitch the likes of Clegg, Huhne and Cable against the dumb-dumbs of the Tories such as Gove, Lansley and Francis Maude, not forgetting the lunatic Oliver Letwin, it makes you wonder what they put in the water in Whitehall these days. 

Some of our favourites from last session will doubtless return, but our fresh team of students within the faculty of Obreption Studies will be hoping to join the illustrious forbears who brought you such delights in the last session.  These students are now earning £500K salaries as spokespersons in defence, banking, energy, malpractice and journalism.

Our next round-up will feature the general election campaign in the USA and we’ll be taking a look at issues such as energy, charitable giving, civil religion in our usual broad brush approach.  Student fees are maximising very well, thank you.

Welcome back, everyone!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Riots in England

After four days of rioting in England, the finger pointing to the cause of the civil unrest is beginning its task of focussing on the culprits.  Meanwhile the politicians have been forced to return from their vacations and parliament has been recalled for tomorrow (Thursday  11th August).  Some of the BBC senior journalists have had to come back as well, in case their juniors upstage them on such critical matters. 

These riots which started off in Tottenham in north London, spread very quickly throughout south London and into the prosperous areas such as Ealing and Clapham.  The hand-wringing has started in earnest; the London Mayor is being challenged by Ken Livingstone for his policy regarding the policing of the city; many key figures in the coalition government have obviously been caught napping, and with Nick Clegg apparently in charge, the authority of parts of Britain were challenged by a bunch of teenage thugs who started to riot, smash and grab whatever Blackberry plasma TV, trainers, watches, and anything they could sell under the nose of the police, whose senior officers also happened to be on vacation.  It seemed as if the entire authority of the British Government had decided to take a 2 week nap and the ‘yoof’ had decided to take them on in a violent orgy of destruction and ‘criminality’.  At one point the cry went out: why don’t we hear  from the <insert name of religious leader here>?

Lord Obreption wishes it to be known that following our inter-faith discussions, we have decided that during Ramadan we would all enjoy God’s grace and have a prolonged vacation, in keeping with our obedience to God’s Holy Law.  For Christians, a month of Sundays has been dictated, and following Trinity Sunday we have been noticeable by our absence.  In fact many Christian bloggers have been quiet. 

With the Arab Spring having reached an indifferent summer and an approaching autumn with no resolution in Libya or Syria, our Islamic experts have decided to follow the traditions of Ramadan and await the joys of the forthcoming Eid.  In common with our like-minded members, we refuse to be drawn into a cultural condemnation of those who have been taking part in riots in London, Manchester, Salford, Nottingham, West Bromwich, but would note that Mr Salmond has said that Scotland has remained trouble free and should not be lumped with the UK.  Allan Massie in today’s Scotsman draws parallels between rioting and football hooliganism and opines that perhaps the absence of rioting in Scotland might be attributable to “The Old Firm”.  He might have a point, given that the Scottish Football season has already started and may well be providing an alternative channel for pent-up testosterone.  Also, the school hols will be coming to an end shortly.

“There are pockets of our society that are not just broken, but are frankly sick.” David Cameron

Ps: No, I do not intend to return early from my holiday in Tuscany! 

Saturday, 16 July 2011

21st Century Foxes, Vixens and Sewer Rats

Update:  (4 August 2011)

This news is bound to set the heather ablaze!  We were all ready attend a glorious shooting party in Perthshire and now we hear that "Hackgate" is also the talk of all the journalists and politicians in Scotland.

Will this have an repercussions on the First Minister Alex Salmond or does it prove that he was politically astute in courting the Murdoch press, especially the Scottish Sun to support the SNP?  In this there were certainly some strange bedfellows!


Over the last 10 days a tsunami of sycophants, sewer rats, gutter press journalists, phone hackers, bent coppers and pillars of the community (Members of Parliament and Peers of the Realm not excluding Piers Morgan) have been dragged into the leader columns of the international press.  We present a drama which is still unfolding as we write and reflect that tomorrow, Sunday, will be the first Sunday without the News of the World. 

The main characters in this drama are:
Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks, Les Hinton, Neil Wallis and Tom Crone

Politicians have not remained unblemished and David Cameron and Gordon Brown have both been guests at events organised by News International (NI) and News Corp.   The Metropolitan Police has also been called into question, especially John Yates, Andy Hayman, Lord Blair and the current commissioner Paul Stephenson.  The MPs who have been most active in using privilege are Tom Watson and Chris Bryant.  In the House of Lords, John Prescott has been consistent in claiming that his phone was hacked and other Peers of the Realm who may have taken the Murdoch shilling have put in their tuppence worth.  If this sounds like loose change, it is.  It shows that the UK is no cleaner than some countries which the Establishment despises.  In this scandal, we have seen politicians, press and police mingling to such an extent that one wonders whether this is the lubrication of the wheels of government or the raking of money, power and influence by very opaque means. 

The attention of the public has been drawn to NI primarily because it has recently been disclosed they hacked into a child’s mobile phone after she had gone missing and was later found to have been murdered.  The cover up then unfolded and has dragged in the great and the good, though strangely Whitehall, the civil service and some others pillars of the establishment have remained untouched.  We present the following links which illustrate the status of the constitutional ramifications of the Murdoch saga, it’s unwinding and some calls for a statutory body to oversee the press, as the PCC has failed.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown: Murdoch’s News International operated a “criminal-media nexus”

Lord Prescott’s speech in the House of Lords

Lord Grade’s speech in the House of Lords debate:

Baroness Wheatcroft’s speech in the House of Lord’s debate:

Meanwhile, the constitution is being tinkered with by Nick Clegg and his chums.  Charles Walker, MP, has made probably the shortest speech for many years in the House of Commons and other interventions are worthy of some notice. 

Mr Charles Walker: No system is perfect, but we have had a fairly dynamic democracy over the past 350 years and by fixing parliamentary terms we will lose some of that dynamism.

Mr Charles Walker: Fixed-term Parliaments: constitutional vandalism.

(you will need to search for Charles or Walker on the web page)

Stain from tabloids rubs off on a cozy Scotland Yard

Hacking row: Theresa May to 'outline' concerns over Met

Monday, 4 July 2011

Authoritarianism without hierarchy: Presbyterianism extra!


We are continuing our trend in challenges to authority with a further look at religion and society and mentioning some rather interesting one-liners which we have been gathering over the years.  I would refer you to our previous posts on: 

- Interfaith in Palm Springs

- the religious specialists conference Salon de Refuses at Edinburgh

- the event of channelling during the sacrament of the Blessed Bhaji (, and

- Presbyterian: the most fissile element in nature

These were posted early in the history of the blog.  Many had considered these to be over the top, but you will see from a list of commentators that end of term papers provided by our first class honours * essays have not been far off the mark.  To celebrate the 4th of July and the uprisings of the Americans against the British Empire, we are reviewing some of the better known reviewers of scholars.

Contemporary trends have impacted on religion in several ways.  First, the rise of science and its ability to provide more rational explanations than religion - for example Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang theory.  For an accessible introduction to the history and current developments in the latter, we recommend Simon Singh’s Big Bang.  This has also led to the rise of rationalism and the scientific method, based on hypothesis, experimentation and evidence, which encourages a questioning and investigative attitude.   Second, and related to the first, is the rise of democracy which scholars like Professor Donald Meek suggest has led to a “rejection of central authority and authority figures” and a reaction against “metropolitan control”.  In current UK terms, this has meant challenges from the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and to some extent Northern Ireland coupled with an ideological Conservative Party mindset which encourages localism.

This has generated an increasingly free, open and more tolerant society especially in western democracies, a decline in traditional communities and an increased emphasis on the individual and an individual’s rights.  It has seen changing social attitudes to women, minorities and sexual orientation and the emphasis on human rights.  By 2011, however, Rights and Responsibilities were being coupled as some governments found themselves hauled before the courts in terms of human rights issues.  This has even led to some difficulties in Scotland regarding the authority of the UK Supreme Court having any say in criminal law.  (Lord Hope)

Third, politics, economics, and advances in transport and communication technology have all made societies more interconnected with one another.  This trend towards globalisation has meant that societies are no longer isolated or insular, but are able to compare conditions (social, economic, political) as well as belief systems between each other.  The rise of Facebook and Twitter is said to be responsible for some of the Arab Spring uprisings, though this has been questioned with uncontrollable ‘spoof’ postings by some parties.

However, the increased openness has allowed others to examine and challenge long-accepted beliefs, either to reform the religion, abandon it in favour of another or ‘develop’ a hybrid of beliefs from several religions.  This utilitarian approach has been likened by Marion Bowman to a “spiritual supermarket” or a “pick and mix” approach to religion, and has been studied by scholars using rational choice theory, which is based on economic models.   (Economic models, however, have said to have failed in predicting the financial crisis of 2007 and the recession which followed it, though anthropological research has claimed to have predicted both.)

These trends have resulted in challenging the various forms of religious authority identified above.  Thus, the inerrancy and interpretations of scriptures and texts have been questioned, as has the selection and legitimacy of religious specialists (especially to interpret texts).  Moreover, traditions (and interpretations) have begun to be seen as being a product of particular historical and social contexts, so bringing their legitimacy and current relevance into question.  A few years ago, Katherine Whitehorn, the journalist and broadcaster, was quoted on a BBC Radio 4 programme as saying that tradition was after all “habit in a party frock”.

Thus, while these authorities may have exercised power and expected unquestioning obedience in the past, religion’s declining influence coupled with changes in knowledge and social attitudes have led to an increasing willingness to both question and look for alternatives.   The willingness to question is particularly prevalent in belief systems such as Wicca and New Age and Celtic spirituality which emphasise choosing beliefs according to personal preferences and experiences.  This can be described as having mystical ‘elements’ with transformational qualities and Linda Woodhead calls this “relational religion”.  (Much of the cult of the late Diana, Princess of Wales exemplified this.)  Professor Paul Heelas* describes this situation as one in which “The individual serves as his or her own source of guidance,” with a life being lived in the “here and now” and without a reference to an external authority.  Authority is essentially grounded in experience which is also able to modify tradition according to individual needs.

Authority within these belief systems includes texts where these exist; myths and traditions pre-dating conventional religion (e.g. Celtic Christianity); traditions from ‘nature religions’, for example Native American and aboriginal traditions, but also including so-called pagan religions, occult phenomena and eastern philosophies.  Other phenomena such as channelling, memories of a previous incarnation can be linked to post-World War I increases in spiritualism.   This has given rise to hybrids based on traditions across belief systems – syncretism – or on denominations within the same belief system – ecumenism.  Thus, Richard Holloway, a former Anglican bishop of Edinburgh described himself in a BBC Radio 4 programme as a “Buddhist, Quaker, Anglo-Catholic Agnostic.”

Some have attributed the appeal of these belief systems to a lack of understanding and some justifiable disillusionment towards science (failure of education system) and an increase in the promotion of intuition (previously thought to be exclusive to females).  With globalisation and the consequent exposure to alternative belief systems has come what David Spangler refers to as an “awareness that we are all one people ... [and share] ... a common destiny.”

However, this has also raised issues about authenticity, legitimacy and credibility.  There can be a lot of sociology jargon such as emic and etic perspectives which serve to further complicate the issue.  However, some have dismissed this whole trend as nothing more than misplaced nostalgia, romanticism or just plain nonsense. With some justification, Donald Meek also debunks the ‘phony’ nature of much that passes as authoritative in Celtic and new age spirituality as well as myths that either portray Celtic Christianity as having a ‘light’ touch compared to Catholics or being more in tune with nature.

As regards legitimacy, Celts by blood such as W Davies have dismissed “self-appointed Saxon expert[s] on Celtia” of being “cultural imperialist[s] or cultural transvestite[s]”.  Further, accusations of “cultural theft” have been made whether in relation to Druidry or the adoption of Native Indian traditions by non-Indians.  It has also brought into question the legitimacy of claiming affinity with traditions that one does not belong to by birth or ancestry.  Terms such as orthodoxy, orthopraxy and omnipraxy abound and it is obvious that an outsider wishing to market an alien spirituality would claim that one does not have to belong to a tribe to espouse its spiritual lineage.

Finally, the emphasis on personal experience has brought the credibility of these belief systems into question.  Thus, Heelas regards the “authority of the participant” and the absence of an agreed body of beliefs as “sociologically precarious” while others have dismissed this as ego gratification in this current age of celebrity and event driven historical ‘analysis’.   Similarly, Steve Bruce considers the ‘pick and mix’ approach only possible in societies where “people do not have very strong religious commitments” Indeed, a review of Woodhead and Heelas’s book likens these beliefs to a fashion accessory or ‘must-have’ “ideological clutch bag.”