Through advent at John Bunyan Baptist Church, I'm running 4 evenings looking a different contemporary issues - so far we've looked at UK politics and also Afghanistan and war. This week were looking at money and the economic crisis. I found some great resources here on the website of Columbia Theological Seminary from their journal @thispoint Spring 2009, for those who might want to have a go at tackling it with their church. It has a set of articles and then 4 'lesson plans'. Looks like they have some good stuff in their archives as well, for example on creation; new church experiments; living faithfully in a culture of fear.
Watching the 2nd American presidential debate was depressing. I thought Obama was an alternative to McCain, but when it came to foreign policy, it was difficult to tell the two apart. McCain just talked rubbish, scary rubbish. The only real difference seemed that Obama would not have gone into Iraq. But he was quite happy to go and kill Bin Laden and seemed to believe that would end the (supposed) 'war on terror'. Both men seemed to live in a dream world. Listening to them on Russia: Obama talked about 'dangerous nationalist impulses' - look at yourselves!!! America, like Great Britain, has very rarely, in my opinion, been a 'force for good' in the world. I can only hope that this is just Obama feeling he has to sound tough on foreign policy for the voters.
Jeremy Paxman went down in my estimation after last night's newsnight, where he seemed to be making wild statements and not listening to the measured response of Tariq Ramadam and Stephen Lowe, Bishop of Hulme, who I have a lot of time for. As for the other in-studio guest, Douglas Murray, who was talking a lot of rubbish and very rudely with regards to what Rowan Williams actually said.
The responses from the various politicians, shows that they either can't read or that they are completely in the media or public pocket, that they can't rise above silly soundbites. It makes me both sad and annoyed that some many in the media and politics and in the Church of England are intellectually unable to engage in real debate. Rowan Williams calls the nation to rise above debate that deals only in poor characterisation and ill-formed knowledge of the other (here Sharia law).
Douglas Knight posts on this topic here. Deborah Orr makes good sense in the Independent.
Rowan Williams does not do soundbites. He does carefully argued and constructed arguments. The problem is in our reductive society / politics / media everything has to do be reduced to soundbite and headline. Some of what the media and the politicians are saying Rowan Williams said last night on Sharia law is way off mark (Will Gordon Brown ever stop peddling his crap 'British values for Britain' and the such like, no one buys it!). Interestingly you might think the Archbishop would learn after the media in almost all quarters twisted what he said about the nativity story - he said certain traditional elements are legend and not scriptural - this was turned into Archbishop says christmas story is just a legend. Sean Winter and Kester Brewin warn us off passing judgment without actually engaging with what Rowan Williams actually said. You can read it here (the argument is fairly complex). I found Paul Valley's analysis in the Independent pretty on the mark.
Last night was the first lecture for this term's Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture public lectures on religion and public policy. It was given by John Battle MP, the former adviser on faith communities to Tony Blair. It was an entertaining and thought-provoking lecture. Some things he said:
When he came to meet with all the permanent secretaries of each governmental department, he got not find a single one that did not issues and questions relating to faith communities.
He argued that faith commnuities need to define their relationship with state, otherwise it will be defined for them. He want to see faith communities become government critics (in the best sense of the word).
He suggest that the test of enterprises like scriptural reasoning will be in their shared action.
He argued we are in a climate where politics is dominated by fear; where the watchwords are security and terrorism. (An opportunity if ever there was one for faith communities to demonstrate and witness to an alternative politics)
He said that parliament and politicians do not have enough time to pause; everything is reactive and without due consideration.
And finally he argued that the word 'neighbours' is now only understand as a tv soap about fictional characters on the other side of the world, rather than a concrete reality in people's lives.
I don't think inheritance tax is a bad idea. Its certainly a populist idea for middle england. I think Will Hutton makes a good case for the importance of inheritance tax. I'm not sure its good news the way every politician has jumped on the inheritance tax is bad bandwagon. Increasingly we are devoid of any moral mainline politicians, who will answer questions clearly and properly. Gordon Brown has done nothing to convince - today's PMQ being a case in point. I must say neither has Cameron.
Stuart blogs about marriage and family in response to the Conservative's Social Justice Policy Group report called Breakthrough Britain. First of all I like the way that Iain Duncan Smith has set up the Centre for Social Justice to explore these issues, although I'm not sure I agree with all the conclusions the Report reaches. Get married for a better tax breaks seems to be not the best reason for getting married. I think the intention, or I hope it is, is to value marriage, I'm not sure tax breaks are the way to do that. Stuart says he is pro-marriage. pro-family and pro-children. This seems to me to be right, although I'm wondering whether I would want to be pro-church before anything else. I think the response of the church to marriage, family and children is witness: to demonstrate the possibility of marriage until death do us part, of being family, of having children. Marriage often gets the short straw in public. Hauerwas says marriage is a deeply subversive act. I don't think we present it as such. Sam Wells say this about marriage (which I think is the message the church should bring):
Marriage is the great proclamation of abundance. All is focused on a single other - but the truth is that, far from not being enough, that one person is more than enough. Here is the mystery of another person - another mind, another imagination, another myriad of experiences and energies and enthusiasms and enjoyments. Could one ever exhaust that person? ...
Marriage is not zero-sum game, where one person sacrifices their career, or their friends, or their creativity, or their deepest needs, so that other can be the hero, or be the star, of never have to lose the argument. It is an adventure, in which the new body can be together what neither of them could have been apart, and the only thing that might stop them would be any sense that they could somehow get their on their own. One other person is always more than enough, when you believe that that person will listen to you until you run out of things to say, when you trust that that person will wait as long as it takes for you to understand why you are the way you are, when you realize that that person will always impute the best of motives to your actions however clumsy you feel inside.
I'm not an expert on economics or on the implications on the budget, but it does seem to me that this new budget will increase the divide between rich and poor, as Adam Curtis' The Trap suggested has been the case since Labour came to power in 1997. Rather than being a government of social justice, ultimately (if Curtis is right), Labour have made social mobility even harder. A drop in income tax is welcome, but the removal of the 10p lower rate, means those lower wages will end up paying more tax. I don't understand how this is fair? Its giving with the left hand and then taking it away with the right, which so often seems typical New Labour. We're taking troops out of Iraq, but we're sending more to Afgahstan. We're setting up children centres and starting programmes like Sure Start, but then we're not giving the adequate funding to make them work and make a difference in the community. It's annoying.
If you go to labour.org.uk you can email Tony a question. It seems a good opportunity to ask the PM about Labour policies. Last night I watched the last Labour political broacast, which featured Tony and Gordon having a late night chat on their achievements and their dreams. Very clever, I thought. But I remained unswayed. I've had a look at the different policies put out by the parties and currently the Liberal Democrats do seem have the kind of policies I would like to see initiated.
Tony and Gordon frustrate me. I think both of them are natural gifted leaders (just compare a Blair speech with a Michael Howard speech) and I instictively warm to them, but both - Blair especially - are prone to using their gifts to twist and avoid the truth. I find their policies on childcare to suggest that professionals do a better job than parents, which may be true in some cases, but the government should support parents and allow them to be at home with their children, instead of pushing mothers (and in some cases fathers) back into the world of work. I find Blair's unwillingness to apologise annoying - I don't want an infalliable Prime Minister (if there ever could be one), so why do they act as if they are.
Well that's some of my thoughts on Labour, but as I said above, policy wise the Lib Dems have got my vote. On education they would give an 'equal emphasis on vocational learning' and to 'reform inspection system'. On tax they would 'introduce a 50% rate on tax on incomes over £100,000 a year' - a bigger tax on the very rich - something Labour fail to do. On pensions they would 'introduce a citizen's pension guaranterring £105 per week for single pensioners and £160 for couples.' On the environment they would 'cut tax on vehicles that pollute the least, funded by increased tax on those that pollute more.' On the same issue Labour say they would 'enable at least 25% of household waste to be recycled or composted by 2006, with further improvements by 2008' - this I think is extremely important.