Is all change good?

I think one of the failings of our contemporary world is the adoption of the enlightenment principle that change is progress and all change is therefore good. I think this comes from the enlightenment (enlightenment is a name put into use by its promoters and I can’t help but reflect that this name is often misleading – the dark ages, another name brought in by promoters of the enlightenment, are not all dark and the enlightenment is not all light). Anyway, is all change really good?

I think if any of us reflect for a moment we would soon conclude that all change is not always for the good. As I grow older my eyesight is changing for the worse. for instance. When people close to me die it leaves a great gap in my heart that I cannot bring myself to declare is a good gap. A pandemic brings a great deal of change and whilst some of it might seem to be good I can’t help but feel an awful lot of people would be better off it it had never happened. No, not all change is good.

I think then we can very quickly conclude that not all change is progress. This may seem obvious to you but bear with me. There are those who will criticise those of us who want to hold on to some things, because they are in our estimation good, and accuse us of being against progress and change. They will tell us that we are ‘old stick in the muds’ who don’t want any kind of progress. Now maybe at times that is true of me (I don’t like it when they put things in a different place in the supermarket or when my favourite TV show is moved to a different time – for instance) but in most cases, this is certainly not true.

In technology terms, for instance, where finances have allowed I have been an early adopter. I was an early adopter of the personal computer and the world wide web. I even played a part in moving the world wide web on with some of the programming projects I was involved in. I accept that as I get older the shine has gone from some of the early technology projects I see today but I am very much in favour of progress (that is change for the better). However, I am also very opposed to change for the worse.

How do we decide what is change for the worse? It is difficult. Some things don’t really reveal their worse nature till they have become the established way. So it requires two things in particular.

  1. A good understanding and appreciation of history. Quoting Winston Churchill (yes I know others said the same thing before him but this is the one from Churchill): “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
  2. A good dose of wisdom (wisdom is, of course, the ability to think through a subject in depth and then come to a reasoned conclusion based on an unprejudiced understanding – or, in short, agreeing with me).
  3. I’m going to add a third thing – for me the most important. A strong belief in God in Christ. God has given us scripture to help us in making these choices. I don’t apologise for this belief but I understand you may not share it.

So we should be in favour of progress but not all change is progress and some change is bad.


On a search for truth

I’ve been on a search for truth all my adult life. I believe that the truth will set you free. This search has taken me down a lot of dead-end roads but I have travelled them because sometimes to get to where you need to go you have to be able to eliminate the roads that are not right.

For a while, I was an atheist (a couple of years as a teenager). I explored the arguments, and whilst I enjoyed the perceived freedom of not being responsible to anyone else, I felt that there was something missing. I discovered that, for myself, the arguments were intellectually hollow, I was hiding in definitions and false assumptions about religion. For me, it lacked honesty and truth. Like many atheists I encounter today it is more to do with personal anger than with truth.

I returned to my parents faith and went back to church. In truth I was tempted back by the prospect of girls and strangely thought that being an atheist would not be a problem for joining a church group. They put up with me and led me to the person who said the truth will set you free.

As I explored this faith I felt called to full-time ministry and was accepted. I left College and decided to explore a more liberal view of the bible and theology. I read widely and found that there were good reasons to be a liberal in my views. However, liberal theology took me back to where I had been as an atheist. Indeed, at its most sceptical there is not much distance between liberal theology and atheism. I perhaps ought to note here that there is no relationship between political liberal views and liberal theology – they are different things. Liberal theology is dominated by scepticism. After a few years of this, I decided as a Christian Minister I perhaps ought to read the bible. So I started to read it and also read widely about the bible.

My search for truth has always included the need for intellectual rigour. I need there to be good scholarship behind a view and I desire logic and a coherant view. This is when I discovered that I did not have to be a liberal sceptic. I discovered that scepticism is not more intellectually vigorous – in fact, I discovered quite the opposite. It turned out that there are plenty of reasons to have faith in scripture and I could choose to believe as opposed to doubt. It turned out that doubt was just a state of mind and not a road to the truth at all.

I appreciate others will have a very different story about their own search for truth and whilst I accept that it doesn’t make my journey any less valid.

So, I discovered that for me the truth I was seeking was found in trusting Jesus Christ. I found it in believing that God has spoken through the bible and that with a little effort the truth can be found there.

I am still a seeker after truth and I can say with confidence that the truth has indeed set me free.


What moral compass do you use?

We all need a moral compass, a set of rules or guides that help us make moral decisions.

The prevailing view seems to be that you make it up as you go along. So something happens and then you pick whatever way might suit you best at that time.

Sometimes people claim a rule, sometimes referred to as the golden rule in the mistaken belief that all religions and philosophies share it i.e. “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or similar. This is OK for some situations but is not a universal rule for everything. It also seems to me to be very self focussed and so you consider what would be best for you and then treat others that way. Others think of something like the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Fine but isn’t that the way the Nazi’s thought during WW2. They considered it was better to eliminate a whole race of people to benefit the greater number. Yes, they were completely wrong but it fits this philosophy very well.

Then again who determines that these rules are the best ones? They are just a persons idea of what morality ought to be. Maybe they makes sense but is making sense a good enough reason to follow a moral rule. Again, the Nazi way made an awful lot of sense to a great number of people. Or what about Marxism – that made a lot of sense to an awful lot of people but when tried it resulted in the extermination of millions (no doubt based on the greatest good for the greatest number again). As bad, if not worse, than Nazism.

We have managed to get to a reasonably good place in our Western world. Not perfect by any means and still a long way to go, but consider what the moral foundation for all this is – Christianity.

Yes, the Church gets it wrong at times but has also been a great force for good in our society in the West. Please note I’m only thinking about the Western world at the moment. The principles taught by Christianity have helped move us forward in much of our attitude towards equality, supporting the poor and the environment. It was an appreciation of this that led many from previous generations to declare themselves Christian even when they did not attend church. They knew that the Christian faith offered them a moral bedrock on which they could build a better world.

Is the alternative to use a moral system that is based on people’s thought. Are our Philosophies supposed to be our guide? If you think science will then you will be mistaken because science – by its own rules – is morally neutral. There have been many Philosophies through the years, many of which have advocated approaches to morality that we would quickly reject now (try reading some of Plato’s ideas if you doubt this). People are just not smart enough and lack the ability to see into the future – an essential quality for any strong moral system.

Christianity offers a moral code beyond opinion. Even if you take God out of the equation it has demonstrated its ability to guide us into a better way of life. However, if we include God then we have a system that is based on someone who can see into the future and knows what the implications of its rules will be.

As before I freely admit that there have often been failures in trying to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ but where the rules have been followed – even if not perfectly – we have together managed to build a better world.

I believe it is time we reconnected with our Christian codes and started calling ourselves Christians again.


What is unity?

I’m trying to think through what unity means, in particular in the church but maybe some of the issues are also important in the rest of the world.

We act according to what we value and what we value is driven by what we believe. So having useful and meaningful actions requires us to have useful and meaningful values and beliefs. Actions are driven by beliefs. We know there is a link because it is a common practice to say that if you know what good behaviour is but have trouble believing the basis for that behaviour then if you act as if you do have those beliefs eventually your beliefs fall in line. e.g. if you want to love someone then do loving things to them and you will discover that you start to love them. Of course, if you loved them then you would behave in a loving way towards them and if you failed in the loving acts it would be evidence you did not really love them.

I believe in the idea of unity – that it is good and right for humanity to work and act together in a good and proper way. When the world unites we can achieve great things, disunity leads to all kinds of troubles.

The problem I have is this. Do we all have to believe the same thing if we are going to act in the same way? It seems the answer would be yes. Of course, this could be a very general belief or even a set of different beliefs that lead to the same value, I suppose. So different religions, for instance, might agree that being kind to each other is a good value to hold although the beliefs behind them are different. Which I suppose would suggest we don’t need to have the same beliefs as long as they result in the same values. But, is this truly unity or just an imitation of it? The unity is seen in the action but not in why that action is being done?

However, often beliefs between different religions oppose one another (as they might in politics, science, etc). If these beliefs are opposed (they can’t both be true at the same time) then in what sense can we talk about unity.

I think this is an important question for the church. What is unity? If we all think that unity is important (and I believe we do) what does that mean in reality. At times the church has tried to control unity by forcing everyone to believe the same thing. To its shame this has resulted in torture and burning in the past. But even if their methods were wrong perhaps they had a point. Only those who believe the same thing will act the same and if acting the same is unity – this is the only option. Is this how Jesus saw unity? When Jesus prays that we will all be one (John 17:21) does he mean we should all believe the same thing? Or maybe, unity in Jesus’ mind is something different.

It is clear, made even clearer in recent debates, that Christians do not all believe the same things. There are many denominations to prove this. The Methodist Church in Britain and Ireland has long held that it is possible to live and work together even when we have a range of different beliefs, we have described ourselves as a broad church. I wonder if we delude ourselves on this?

I am beginning to wonder if we are not as broad as we like to think. That our practices influence what we believe and as we continue to insist we unite in practice it forces us to believe certain things. Those on the edges of these things slowly drift away. Due to the decline of the church we fail to see the results of our one tracked way. Maybe this is OK but we delude ourselves if we believe we have achieved a way of unity.

Sorry I’ve gone all over the place with this one but I think my conclusion. so far, is that true unity does depend on shared beliefs and that without those shared beliefs the Methodist church is fragmented and not united. Maybe if we are prepared to face this we might find a way through.


Should Christians allow people to behave badly?

We seem to have a problem these days with bad behaviour. It seems Christians have taken the idea of not judging others to an extreme it was never intended to go. It results in Christians refusing to say that certain kinds of behaviour that are prohibited in scripture are wrong, on the grounds that we should not judge.

We need to appreciate what Jesus is talking about when he says we should not judge others. A judge is someone who can see bad behaviour in someone and who when the guilt is proven will pass sentence on them. So there is the establishment of guilt or innocence and the passing of sentence.

First, then there is the question of guilt. It is not our place to condemn someones behaviour on hearsay. Just as a Judge should presume innocence until guilt is proved, so should we. However, the establishment of guilt might be very obvious. Perhaps the person is caught in the act or freely admits their guilt.

We might look to the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8) to see this in action. In the story, Jesus is consulted after a woman is caught committing adultery and without denying it (presumably she is aware she has been caught). The guilt is established so what happens next has nothing to do with the establishing of the guilt. Jesus does not attack anyone for saying the woman committed adultery, he does not defend her actions. At the end he says do not do it again.

What happens next is key. The crowd is going to sentence the woman to stoning. This is where Jesus steps in. Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone.

Surely, this is what Jesus means when he says we should not judge. That is we should not pass sentence.

God makes it clear that he will bring justice.

Now, this does not mean that within a society it would be wrong to have courts of law etc where felons can be sentenced. For the sake of society we must have a system of keeping the law – otherwise we might as well not have them. Laws are important for society to work – of course. That is a topic for another day, perhaps.

But for us as an individual it is wrong for us to pass sentence on someone. We should understand that we are all guilty of something – even if it is just bad thinking – and so cannot pass sentence on an individual.

So then, we can – and should – point out when people do not behave according to God’s standards. But we should do it in a way to reform them not to punish them. Jesus goes to the trouble of explaining how a church can do this (see Matthew 18). Of course, this is how to deal with a believer but I think it makes the point that bad behaviour should not be ignored on the grounds of not judging.

So if someone is behaving badly we do have the right – indeed the responsibility to point it out and do something about it.

Now, this does not mean naming and shaming or saying look at how bad you are and how good I am (that is passing sentence and arrogance).

So if, say, a politician is living an immoral lifestyle we are within our rights as Christians to point this out. In my opinion. As long as we understand that in doing so we are also sinful people and in need to grace, to ignore bad behaviour is to allow it to continue.


I’m tired of the noise

I like to keep up to date with what people are saying on the Web. I admit that this is not really possible with so many people contributing to such a vast network.

When it was in its early days there was a perhaps nieve approach which encouraged people who did not normally have a voice to say what was on their minds. Like minded people found connections and there was great benefit to those connected. At least where those connections were innocent enough – it didn’t take long for the dark web to emerge (that place where bad/evil connections are made). Anyway, I’m getting off the point.

More recently I have noticed an intolerance and ignorance growing. We once hoped that people could have sensible discussions about issues and examine the arguments and take some time to listen to those who thought differently in the hopes we might become better educated about things ourselves and maybe even learn something that might change our mind about something.

Now it seems it is all about who shouts the loudest.

The connections to like minded people now enables us to shout down those with a different point of view. Instead of discussion and examination of differing points of view we use our like minded friends to generate noise to stop someone else from speaking. This is often done by playing on assumptions about people and what they believe and exploiting popular beliefs or modern bogeymen to drown out what the opposition says.

I’ve seen the BBC descend into a one tracked noise enhancing machine in more recent years, where they only put the noise makers into their programs. The Web itself is now dominated by noise makers (the polite term for them are Influencers – a term you will hear on the BBC regularly).

Of course, if we are not careful we start to collude in this because it can be very entertaining to watch (as long as we are not on the receiving end). People would much rather laugh at a Politician being thrown out of a pub than listen to what they have to say – for instance.

When Parliament was first televised it was a shock to many to see them behaving so much like school children – trying to silence the person speaking with jeers and noise. We thought it a terrible thing and yet now it has become the only part that people want to see. We love the bit when the Politicians call each other names and try to ridicule the other – or at least most of us seem to do so.

Not me.

I want a world where the problems can be discussed and where everyone gets their say. Where you don’t have to feel ashamed for thinking something but instead can share that thought so that it can be examined – even when that thought is offensive to someone else. The only way to get people to think differently is to educate them, you don’t do it by shouting them down and ridiculing them. If you do that they simply find someone else who thinks as they do (pretty easy thing to do on the Web) and start making noise back.

As we descend into mob rule I pray that maybe we might find a way to listen rather than shout.


Lessons of the death camps

What does the existence of death camps like Auschwitz teach us? Why must we never forget the horror and baseness of these places?

In a time when learning, science, art, music, education, etc was at its peak we still managed to build death camps and treated people worse than we treat cattle.

We already had the likes of Beethoven and Rembrant. We had already committed ourselves to the ideals of evolution and physics. Our science was applied to master races and weapons of destruction on a vast scale.

The horrors of that time are summed up in the words of Bertrand Russel (arguably the worlds greatest atheist philosopher):

“The science to which I pinned my faith is bankrupt. Its counsels, which should have established the millennium, led, instead, directly to the suicide of Europe. I believed them once. In their name I helped to destroy the faith of millions of worshippers in the temples of a thousand creeds. And now they look at me and witness the great tragedy of an atheist who has lost his faith.”

We can look at all this and shake our heads and marvel at how so many intelligent people could be so stupid. We can believe it is down to mistaken philosophies and following a corrupted leader but the truth is it is the darkness that lives in each one of us that caused this and that darkness still remains.

I quote a holocaust survivor Victor Frankl

“If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton (someone who behaves like a machine and shows no feelings) of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere produce of instinct, heredity, and environment, we feed the nihilism (the belief that nothing in life has any importance or value) to which modern man is, in any case, prone.

I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment–or, as the Nazi liked to say, ‘of Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.” -Viktor Frankl, Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor

The truth is that this nihilism lives with greater force today than in any other time in history, even greater than the time that spawned the second world war. We study Hitler (and rightly so) looking for the flaw in him that caused all that suffering and yet at the same time deny that his flaw still lives in each one of us. We are more concerned about our selves and our own rights than we have ever been. We are more convinced there is nothing more than the physical world and we are nothing more than bags of chemicals driven by circumstances and environment. We are nothing more than selfish genes. We have given up on life meaning and purpose and substituted happiness, desires and selfishness. Do you not understand where all this will lead us?

Is there a solution?

There was a man who had answers to all this. He talked about things beyond the physical world and about a God who loves us and wants to help. He told us to think of others before ourselves. He taught us that love must not come with conditions but is built on sacrifice. He told us to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. He even gave up himself in love for us so we might know what it means to be in a relationship with God. He declared he was equal with God, God himself in human form. He came back from the dead to prove it.

In our own strength we will fail. We cannot science or educate or psychology ourselves into a great new world. We tried to do that and we failed, death camps ought to remind us of this failure though we also seem to have failed in learning the lessons. We cannot overcome the darkness ourself and if we choose to ignore that darkness, that is in the heart of us all, it will continue to fester and grow.

There is only one way out of the darkness and that is to follow the light.

There is one way forward and that is in following Jesus, so that is what I am trying to do.


Why there should be a naughty list

Tesco seem to have taken it upon themselves to declare that morality is no longer a thing – there is no naughty list. This is either very naïve or incredibly irresponsible – in my opinion.

I agree with the sentiment that we need to be kinder to ourselves and others. However.

Here is a list of why we should probably all be on the naughty list (feel free to include others):

  • Refugees living in tents while I take my house for granted.
  • Being upset I can’t see my family when some have no family to see any time of the year.
  • Children starving while I worry my turkey isn’t big enough.
  • Spending money on stuff I don’t need when others do not have what they need.
  • Getting annoyed at my family.
  • Racism
  • Abuse
  • Laziness
  • Arrogance
  • Ignorance
  • Want

I am reminded of G.K Chesterton who wrote the following in response to a letter request from the Editor of the times on the subject of “What is wrong with the world?”

I am.

Perhaps today the response ought to include Tesco.

Pretending there is no naughty list when there is indeed so much that is wrong with the world and with me is not good for anyone. It suggests it is OK to ignore the suffering of others (caused in no small part by us) so we can overindulge (and Tesco are prepared to help you by selling you all that stuff you didn’t need so you can overindulge – how nice to have such a friend). Oh and by the way a chip manufacturer is not family and banks are most certainly not on your side.

I’m not against Christmas or treats but come on – this is just plain immoral.

I think a far better approach is to admit our failings – own up to them, both to ourselves and others, ask for forgiveness and change our ways.

Sounds like what Jesus said.

Christmas is a time for forgiveness and God offers forgiveness through his one and only Son Jesus Christ. Own your naughty list and pray for forgiveness and then enjoy that you get it.


Re-Imagine Worship?

I found this article on Premier interesting and thought I’d share it here. The question maybe ought to be what is God telling us in all this?


Where has the light gone?

We seem to have reached the part of the year where the days seem very short (it is a shame that all the stuff we have to do doesn’t also get shorter – but that is the subject for another time). It is a good time to pull the curtains, put your feet up and enjoy a hot chocolate drink. However, it can seem like the darkness is winning and we are stuck in the gloom with the prospect of relief too far off to give us much hope. It is, perhaps, a time to reflect on those last few days of Jesus’ life before his crucifixion. Abandoned and alone he faced having to endure a terrible end. What must he have thought about in that time? Well we do know one thing that was on his mind – us. We know that the darkness will not win but sometimes it is hard to remember. I encourage you to remember that these things do have an end and soon the light will return.