Category Archives: media

Homophobia, religion and a radical alternative

Pink TriangleBBC News is debating an increase in homophobic violence on Britain’s streets. The story includes a comment by Michael Cashman MEP.

Cashman played one of TV’s first gay characters when he appeared as Colin in EastEnders in 1986. He’s quoted as saying that homophobia is being reinforced by faith schools:

“Within faith schools we are still getting a message of anaesthetised hatred – ‘we don’t hate these people but they’re not equal’. If that is said enough, it softens the brains of young people and that’s so dangerous.”

Religion makes the news for all the wrong reasons: sectarian violence; hatred; war; in-fighting about gender roles; arguments about the “correct” biblical view of sexuality. You name it, religion seems to have had an unhelpful influence on it.

If you’re reading this thinking “religion’s bad and wrong”, then: Shock! Horror! – I’m very tempted to agree. You can take your dead end Sunday mornings, doing your duty by turning up to a draughty old building while your heart deadens within you, and you can – well, you can do whatever you like with them. But… (there had to be a but, didn’t there?) I don’t believe that’s what  the christian faith is about.

So what is it about? Forget the rules. Forget the religion. My faith is grounded in a relationship with a person. A person who’s an example of how to live right. A role model who offers me a way into “a rich and satisfying life.” Someone who knows me – who really knows me – and who chooses to love me anyway. Someone who has the authority – and chooses to use it –  to forgive me my biggest mistakes. Someone who keeps on giving me second chances. Someone who frees me to get up, brush myself down, and try to do better next time.

The person in Jesus.

Christians get a lot of stuff wrong, and unfortunately having a faith doesn’t prevent that. I’d say, unscientifically, that Christians mess up at least as much as (and possibly more than) other people. But the stuff-ups are our doing. They represent what’s wrong with us, not something wrong with Jesus. They’re the reason we need Jesus in the first place.

And what does this Jesus guy have to say about homophobia? Easy. He tells me it’s simple: “Love others as well as you love yourself.”

Does this sound compatible with homophobia? No.

Does it sound compatible with loving and accepting people for who they are? Yes.

Does that mean everyone (me or anyone else) always gets it right? No.  But as I’ve said, our stuff-ups are our doing, something wrong with us, not something wrong with Jesus.

The idea that “anaesthetised hatred” might be taught to our young people in the name of faith schooling is both frightening and contrary to Jesus’ way. Hatred, anaesthetised or otherwise, must very clearly be off the educational menu. But are faith schools really to be singled out for any failures here?I’m not sure. OFSTED recently published its report on faith based schools, considering whether the Regulations governing their operation are fit for purpose. The report comments on how schools nurture citizenship and community involvement in their students. According to the report, faith schools seem to be succeeding in culturally relevant education of their students:

“The provision made by all the schools visited to develop their pupils’ spiritual, moral,social and cultural understanding was at least good [and schools desired to promote] their pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and to live successfully in modern Britain.”

It seems to me that the presence or otherwise of homophobic violence on our streets is far wider than one of the teaching in faith schools. We need to look wider. How do we as a country, a society, a local community and as individuals behave towards people who are “other”? And how do we teach our children to approach “otherness”? Other faiths, other nationalities, other ethnicities, other political views, other sexual orientations… Maybe our terribly trendy liberalism (“you can do what you like; I can do what I like; just don’t threaten my space and I’ll stay out of yours”) isn’t working.

Jesus once told a story about who we should consider to be our neighbours, called the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus scandalised his listeners by casting a Samaritan man, a social outcast, as hero. The Samaritan disregarded cultural norms to help a fellow traveller (who probably wouldn’t normally have accepted) while religious leaders and pillars of the community preferred to steer clear.

I think the message is simple. We need to engage, not to disengage, with things that challenge us. When I next come across something or someone that’s different to my little world, my challenge for myself is to answer question: “This is my neighbour. How can I love this person better?”. I invite you to join me.

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Cool thing.

Journeys_May06_RBGC_RedSand2Now here’s a great idea.

At Faith Journeys some folks are ingathering information about people’s experience of the Christian faith – what’s influenced them (positively or negatively) both as children and as adults, and what turned them onto (or off) all things faith-related.

I love hearing other people’s stories. It never ceases to amaze me how different people are, and how diverse our different perceptions of God are.

The plan is to collect loads of people’s experiences and stories and share them (with permission of course).

I hope it might help us see what the contemporary experience of Christianity looks like, and how church in different forms “works” or doesn’t.

I’ve just joined up. The site’s in its infancy, so it’s more about giving than receiving for now, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what they come up with. Why not have a look..?

God is back.

51mgL9sKssL._SL500_AA240_God thrives in the midst of healthy competition.  Arguments and stances against God can turn out to be some of the best adverts for him. In the UK, you only have to look at the media coverage generated by arguments by people like Dawkins and the London Buses campaign against God’s existence to see people who might never otherwise have stopped to think about it pause to consider what they really believe.  Meanwhile, in countries like as China, where Christianity is outlawed, despite persecution of Jesus’ followers there’s evidence of some of the most remarkable church growth seen anywhere.

In an article published in The Scotsman today John Micklethwait says that when the Economist, of which he’s the Editor, published God’s Obituary in its Millenium issue, its prediction of faith’s demise was misguided.  Now, he says, the message is that God is Back. He’s written a book explaining why.

Not only is God back, but he suggests that the more modern our society gets (and Economist-style, he harks back to arguments between David Hume and Adam Smith to substantiate his position), the more evident it becomes that as humans we are fundamentally theocentric. Rather than killing religion, democracy and markets, technology and reason are combining to make it stronger. The crux of the argument is this: modernity provides choice; choice gives rise not to increasing secularism but to pluralism; and where there’s pluralism we’re forced to make decisions. That goes for making decisions about our belief in God as much as anything else. There’s no such thing as not making a decision about it – arguably, a failure to decide for God implicity results in a decision against him. 

The good news for God, argues Micklethwait, is that we want to believe in him. Given a chance to believe, we’ll do so.  The election of President Obama, he suggests, will be a great sales appointment for God:

“Imagine you are a young accountant in Edinburgh or a young financier in Glasgow; the picture of Obama as a young, liberally minded metrosexual walking into a church in Chicago and finding some kind of meaning in his life is … powerful…

[Religion] is something that’s going to be around and is spreading and will affect politics and public life.”

I hope so.

Susan Boyle Mania: Susan’s first kiss

2842_81701991834_677921834_2218846_2163950_sSusan Boyle. She really warmed my heart, but a week after my previous post about her, I’m less optimistic. I tend more to worry for her as she’s caught up in a media circus. Just for the record, I know this post adds to it, so I’ll blog briefly here and leave it at that.

I took this photo on my way home from work tonight. It made me sad.  I don’t understand why this needs to be news. Last week we saw a beautiful lady remind us we all have gifts and that we should be careful about how we judge others. She reminded us that beauty is not defined by our shallow social norms.

This headline somehow seems to imply that hitherto there’s been something wrong with this lady’s life, and that now she’s hit celebrity status everything’s going to be transformed for the better. I really dislike this. Why?  (1) It reinforces the ways we judge people based on appearance and conformity to our narrow-minded norms (and yes, I’m as guilty of it as anyone else); and (2) it bolsters the false belief that hope and happiness are to be found in glamour, fame, materialism, and in doing what everyone else does.

For once, I don’t really have anything positive thing to say… it just seems shallow in the extreme. Maybe I’m wrong. Am I?

Bill Maher v Jesus Christ: Religulous #2

090401billmaherandjesusWell, I did it. After my earlier post I bought an enormous bar of chocolate and settled into a big, comfy  cinema seat to watch Bill Maher take on Jesus Christ.

I have to tell you I was disappointed.  

I’ll say this for Maher – he is a funny guy. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh – a lot. But despite setting himself up as honestly investigating God, a major strategy Maher employs is to ask people hard questions, to expect eloquent one line replies, to laugh at their absence, and to intersperse them with footage of material deliberately intended to undermine and ridicule them.

Predictably, he focuses on easy pickings, examining the controversial edges rather than the core foundations of faith. Creationism, homosexuality, and Islamic fundamentalism are come under scrutiny in favour, for example, of asking people about the basis and values of their faith. We come away knowing the ways in which it’s possible to ridicule religions but without the balance of counter-arguments.

So first and foremost, sadly, Religulous is a rant. That said, it’s also thought provoking. 

First, I was struck how frighteningly easy it is for christians to be way out of touch with people who don’t believe the same things they do, and to be unable to relate to them.

Second, I was reminded sharply religion can be ugly, has a great deal to answer for, and that  as a church we face a huge challenge in disentangling our mistreatment of God and His people from the truth of His message.  We have a lot of work to do to re-introduce our society to who Jesus is and his cultural relevance. 

Third, I the film was a reminder that what a person of faith says and does is watched, and it’s judged, and will be viewed through filter of: “this is what God stands for”. Scary. How we choose to present ourselves and our faith –  whether we’re thoughtful, balanced and equipped to discuss intelligently and honestly with other, matters.

Fourth, as I blogged previously, even without the help of satire, it’s easy to see how faith can seem to be crazy. We need to recognise that. However, the fact is that people continue to want to investigate Christianity. We also need a space where people can really consider life’s big questions and make their own informed decisions. Gordon Brown (reportedly) recently said he intended to do just that  attending an Alpha course. It was on April 1st (shame – I thought it might be for real – my innocence made me giggle when it was pointed out to me!) Whatever, having skirted the edges, maybe Maher should consider it. 

Susan Boyle is Beautiful!

140x1056I’m not a big tv fan generally, and reality tv in particular tends to send me screaming from the room. I just don’t get the desire for fame and glamour, although I’ll concede I do like to see an underdog triumph.

When a friend suggested I watch Simon Cowell et al interviewing Susan Boyle for Britain’s Got Talent 2009, I was sceptical. But here I am, 8 hours later, still thinking about her. Why? Because in her there’s the start of a story hope. A middle aged lady, who by her own assessment “never had the chance” to make it doing what she loves, had the guts to stand up in front of Cowell, known for his ability to knock down the most confident of wannabes. No-one expected her to be anything more – if we’re honest – than a laughing stock. We watch her being set up in advance – you can just see the footage for the out-cuts… And then she takes a breath and sings.

She really sings. As she does so, she comes alive. We’re reminded of what real beauty is: not the skin-deep glamour of the stage, but the inner life thing that comes out when we do what we’re made to do. There’s something profound in it. I saw it; Simon Cowell saw it; hopefully you see it too. Certainly the rest of the world seems to be seeing it, judging from the attention she’s attracted.

It lifted my heart, reminded me that we’re all given beauty and it’s there to be celebrated. We shouldn’t be afraid to show it. “Wow! Go on!” I thought. What a gift, and how much more fabulous for being unexpected!

I felt a wee bit emotional, too, to see this lady start to live  a dream. I also worry for Ms Boyle, though, that making it through the interviews invites her into a lion’s den she’s likely to be unable to imagine from the confines of her West Lothian life. There’s an innocence in her, and that’s to be cherished. I wonder how it will change. Let’s hope the experience is a lifting one for her.

For now, for me, note to self: quit judging, expect to see beauty in people, and be ready to celebrate it.

Watch her here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY