God, forces and the laws of nature

You are stranded alone on a desert island. The perfect stereotype: sand, a few rocks, palm tree in the middle. Absolutely nothing to eat or drink. No sign of human presence.

You go to sleep, and in the morning you wake up hungry. You open your eyes and see, on a rock next to you, a plate with a fried egg, bacon, sausage and baked beans. Next to it is a glass of fruit juice and a mug of coffee. There is absolutely no sign of how it got there; no footprints, no sound of a helicopter, nothing. Hungry as you are, you scoff the whole lot.

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Reality check

Looking back on last week, the best that I have seen of television has invariably majored on violence.

Human beings have a fatal attraction to violence, and to its seductive power, an attraction that is outside their control and of which they are therefore afraid. As I look back over the past week in which violence, both fictional and real, has figured quite significantly, I wonder whether this state of denial of our fear is really a healthy approach to the reality of a violent world and of our own violent inclinations. Take the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. For one thing, it is hard to separate the reality of an event like the shooting of a President from the reality of the films which have been made about it, some of which were also shown last week.

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Permission to think

Rob Gallagher remembers an occasion at his theological college:

I had a tutor, John Fenton, at St Chad’s College Durham, who turned me up-side down. He used to regale us for our second-hand essays copied from the books who would say to us, “I know St Paul believes this, but I don’t believe you believe it. What do you believe?” We had fellow student-priests in tears, ‘losing their faith’. We began to think of petitions to remove him, for not telling us what to think, what to do. One day of tension and frustration, John was sat opposite me in such a ‘tormented’ group, asking us – asking me – ‘Why have you come here? Why have you come to this college?’ I was humiliated. All I could think of, was ‘for the power’, ‘to pull the women’, ‘to dress up’. What blurted out before thinking, was, ‘I think the only reason I’m here is, that after Robin Hood, Jesus was my hero!’ A big smile spread across John Fenton’s face, and he said, “At last! We’re getting somewhere.”… and walked out of the room. Left to ourselves, we all began to share the ‘skeletons in our cupboards’, our poverty of ideas, seeds of our own thoughts, and we became a ‘college’, a community of thought.

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Women bishops: is anybody throwing in the towel?

What? Can this be the Church of England? For well over a generation the debate on women’s ministry has been a permanent push-me-pull-you. If the supporters gain an inch, the opponents lose an inch. What is essential to one side is unacceptable to the other. Zero sum game.

Now suddenly there is an overwhelming majority transcending the impasse: yesterday’s vote in General Synod produced 378 in favour, 8 against and 25 abstentions. In what looks like a massive change from the equivalent vote a year ago, we all win prizes.

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Richard Holloway and being honest about God

This is the last of my series of blog posts about the weekend conference on John Robinson’s Honest to God. The last main speaker was Richard Holloway, and it was clear that a lot of his fans were present.

Richard gave us an account of his changing views, which have already been much discussed. His latest book Leaving Alexandria is a best seller. Overall we were left with the impression that he isn’t sure what he believes but is content to be unsure. This does not mean he is abandoning Christianity – on the contrary he quoted Baron von Hügel: ‘Never leave a religion until it has made you the holiest person it is capable of making you’.

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