Young children in art class

There’s a telling article by Laura McInerney in Tuesday’s Guardian contrasting the recent Pisa report on the attainment of school children with the policies of the British Government. According to the Report Britain is middle-ranking and not climbing up the scale at all, despite all the trumpeted policy changes.

Education Secretary Michael Gove and Schools Minister Liz Truss have blamed poor standards on ‘progressivist’ methods: child-centred learning, group work, allowing students to express opinions and share in decision-making. Instead, they want more rigour, especially memorising facts and ‘disciplined’ learning.

Mulled wine and candle

True story, from a non-religious friend. The family received a Christmas party invitation from neighbours who have just moved in. The invitation was to drink mulled wine and sing Christmas carols.

Sing Christmas carols? Not part of the family tradition. They had a closer look at the invitation card. It contained a biblical verse. They decided to decline the invitation.

Clapham omnibus

In the last few days I have had a couple of bus rides sitting next to people who positively smelled. It was a redolent reminder of the variety of lifestyles people have.

Because I live where I do and use the buses a lot, I often see people with very different lifestyles from mine. There is nothing unusual about that, but I fear it’s becoming less usual. As the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, more people have an incentive to insulate themselves from those with whom they have little in common. They then become unaware of what life is like for those others.

Quotation from Epicurus

This is one of the big religious questions, perhaps the biggest of all.

There is a huge debate about it. The technical term is ‘theodicy’. If God the creator is good, why does God allow suffering and evil? The problem is highlighted if we take seriously the principle, which Christians and Muslims have inherited from Jews, that the divine creator is all-powerful, all-knowing and perfectly good. So it is not surprising that, since the Holocaust, Jews have been in the forefront of debating the question.

Hurricane Katrina on radar screen

This is an article I wrote after Hurricane Katrina, but ended up not using. It begins with a quotation from the natural theologian John Ray, written in 1692:

If a country thus planted and adorned, thus polished and civilized, thus improved to the Height by all Manner of Culture for the Support and Sustenance, and convenient Entertainment of innumerable Multitudes of People, be not to be preferred before… a rude and unpolished America peopled with slothful and naked Indians, instead of well-built houses, living in pitiful Huts, and Cabbins, made of Poles set endways; then surely the brute Beasts Condition, and Manner of Living, to which, what we have mentioned doth nearly approach, is to be estimated better than Man’s, and wit and reason was in vain bestowed on him.