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Magistrates have missed their chance to join the 21st century

Justice ScalesNews is a cruel mistress. This morning, I was surprised and rather delighted to read a BBC report on a motion to end the practice of swearing an oath on the Bible or other holy book, and to replace it with a secular, non-specific recognition of the responsibility to tell the truth and the potential consequences for not doing so. By this evening, that move had been rejected, preserving the status quo. That’s right, raise my hopes and then dash them, why don’t you?

What annoys me about this isn’t so much the continuation of a long-standing practice, seeing that different groups are allowed to make promises appropriate to their beliefs, but the arguments given in favour of it. Read More…

Some cross-channel musings on secularism

I’m sorry for the long break. I was on holiday, my plans for posts just before leaving and just after returning turned to dust in the face of circumstances and the usual holiday packing and unpacking routine, and in the end I found it was quite restful to just leave the blog alone for once and get on with other things.

I’ve still got a huge amount of stuff I want to write about, but the thing I had to get off my chest now was an insight into the true practicalities of secularism, and how they differ from popular fears and propaganda. The source of this insight, and the subject of a potential case study, is (of course) France. Read More…

If the BBC want journalism by numbers, they should at least get the numbers right

It shouldn’t be possible to write about a subject and leave your readers with less knowledge than they started with, but if it is, the BBC achieved it today with an article on the subject of hospital chaplains. The hook for the article was a Freedom of Information request on the subject by BBC Local Radio, but the original motivation for that request is unclear.

HospitalThe article didn’t get off to a good start, catching my attention with a headline claiming that “NHS Chaplaincy services cut by 40%”. The failure to specify that this only related to England could possibly be forgiven, but the headline gave no detail of the timescale for this drop (it was since 2009), and the omitted “of hospitals” is vitally important. Read More…

Hospital Chaplains Revisited – a dialogue

Last year, I hosted a guest post by my friend Chiron, arguing in favour of hospital chaplains. Now I understand a petition (or rather two petitions) relating to hospital chaplains will be considered by the Welsh Senedd this week, so I thought it was time to revisit some of these issues. But as we’re coming from different positions, this time it’s a back-and-forth between us.

Hospital CorridorHi Chiron, I’ve been sent some interesting information about a bit of a to-do that’s kicking off in Wales on the subject of hospital chaplains. Apparently, your guest post for my blog has been brought into the discussion, so I thought you’d be interested to take a look. Any thoughts?

Hi RA, I’d certainly be very interested in seeing what form this ‘to-do’ is taking. The post I contributed to your blog was principally about one of the errors that secularists make when they’re talking about NHS chaplaincy: that it’s a ‘religious ministry for religious people’. As I said in your blog, that’s simply not true. Read More…

Is religious co-operation really all that liberal?

MinaretEcumenism and interfaith dialogue is big news these days. Last year Baroness Warsi, a Muslim, led a delegation from the UK, an officially Anglican state, to meet the Pope, and the result was a bit of a multifaith love-in. And just recently, I read about a new trend of Convergence Christianity, specifically described as not simply blending into a moderate middle, but rather being more open to discussion and adopting elements of each other’s practices, despite differences.

Ecumenical relations are often held to be a good thing, a sign of increasing religious liberalism and willingness to compromise. That’s a fairly obvious conclusion to draw when different religious traditions are prepared to talk and listen instead of condemning each other, but there’s another angle that may be worth considering. Read More…

How Lord Carey made millions of Christians simply vanish

I always sit up and take notice when Lord Carey speaks. Admittedly, that’s because I expect him to say something I’ll want to be incredibly rude about, but I imagine he’d be pleased that he’s not being completely ignored.

His latest intervention is no exception to that rule, although his spat with David Cameron at least manages to be entertaining. The sight of the two of them blaming each other for a rising tide of secularism based on their own peculiar definitions of what secularism actually means is like two bald men fighting over a comb that doesn’t even exist.

Leeds MinsterMy first instinct was to write about Carey’s belief that he’s being persecuted, but I think the people at Newsthump have dealt with that pretty effectively. Then I thought about obliterating Carey’s description of “aggressive secularism”, a concept on a par with militant fairness or angry non-discrimination, and possibly inspired by Chomsky’s nonsense sentence “colourless green ideas sleep furiously”, but Dean Burnett did it better than I could have done. Read More…

Why even the non-religious should regret the church’s backwardness

Cricket LordsOnce, many years ago when I was younger and even more stupid, I found myself hoping that an England cricketer would fail. The year was 1995, and Robin Smith, who I quite admired as a middle-order batsman, had been recalled to open the batting against the West Indies. I thought he was being misused, and that the selectors were most likely to realise their mistake if he suffered a series of low scores, so every run he scored was an irritation.

Maybe I was right about the selectors’ mistakes, but I missed the point, as my friends pointed out to me. What I wanted was to see England perform well, but I’d allowed my personal view of how that should be achieved to take over. I’d missed the obvious truth that if Smith did well, that was good for England. My focus was my preferred means, rather than the end.

My mistake there was glaringly, embarrassingly obvious, but a lot of people fall into a very similar error in relation to the church. Read More…

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