Are we civilised? Should we be?

There should be no snot on the nostrils… A peasant wipes his nose on his cap and coat, a sausage maker on his arm and elbow. It does not show much more propriety to use one’s hand and then wipe it on one’s clothing. It is more decent to take up the snot in a cloth, preferably while turning away. If when blowing the nose with two fingers something falls to the ground, it must be immediately trodden away with the foot. The same applies to spittle.

Thus Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process summarises some instructions in Erasmus’ 1530 publication On Civility in Boys. This post compares The Civilizing Process with Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature to ask: are we civilised, and is civilisation what we want?

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The Healing of a Madness: Brexit and Trump

According to one of the Oxford dictionaries, there is a possible link between madness and creativity, a truth born out by a few great artists but also by the political despots that history throws up from time to time. It seems that in leadership and art, there is a stark choice to be made when it comes to creativity, whatever form it takes.

The creator, like God, can make ‘weal or woe’. (Is.45:7) At the same time, life itself is seldom defined by these extremes. Most of it goes on in the middle ground. So it is the middle ground that we are ultimately returned to when crises subside, and it is in the middle ground that we have to re-shape and make sense of the everyday, having learned what we can from the immediate past.

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Lorraine Cavanagh on the case of Shamima Begum: an unrepentant prodigal

Somewhere between Nathanial Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne (The Scarlet Letter) and the story of the Prodigal Son we meet Shamima Begum, a nineteen year old mother of three (two of her babies have died) and an ISIS bride, who now wants to come home to the UK.

Two issues seem to dominate the discussion in regard to allowing her to return: The first, does she pose a threat, existential or physical, to the nation? The second, does she feel any regret for what she did when she was fifteen?

It seems that in both cases the answer is no. This is where it also seems that the good people of the UK, or at least the immigration services, the Home Office and the diplomatic service, have a problem. Her situation does not sit tidily within the ethical norms described in the two scenarios I have just mentioned. To many people’s way of thinking, if she is unrepentant she must pose a threat.

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Climate Strike and spiritual values

Today’s youthful Climate Strike shows the immense gap between what young people are concerned about and what governments are doing. It is as though governments – not just ours, but most of the ones most responsible – are simply failing to address the urgency of the situation as described by the world’s climate scientists.

This post asks about the role of spiritual values. There has been a great deal of Christian literature arguing that Christians should be concerned about the environment. But should Christian concern be any different from everybody else’s concern?

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Why do we make each other so ill by polluting the air?

Air pollution is ‘ the new tobacco', said the World Health Authority a short time ago: ‘the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more’. It now affects over 90% of the world’s population.

Now the Guardian has just published an excellent article about the damage we are doing to children. A reporter attended a consultation at the Royal London Hospital. For the children there, air pollution is linked to heart disease, dementia, reduced cognitive ability and asthma deaths. A growing number of people are considering moving house, or school, or even country because of it. This post asks why we are doing it.

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