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Proof that God exists

There is a fairly common statement made by agnostics and atheists alike that: there is no proof that God exists.

Many times I have heard Christians argue that we should not engage with such statements because then we will argue and it will only lead to confusion. However, it seems to me that our non-engagement has led to far more confusion than anyone getting confused by the arguments. We have done such a disservice to people when we have stepped back and refused to engage with the challenges. Ultimately people do come to faith through an encounter with Christ and not through the intellect but if people believe that the intellect is against God then why would they ever seek to encounter Jesus? People are captured by atheism because it, at least, attempts to offer reasoned answers.

I am not embarrassed about Jesus or God and so I’ve learned a way to answer the question.

If I’m challenged that there is no proof for the existence of God my response is: well, actually I think there are at least five good proofs. They are:

1. Why does the Universe exist? What made it exist?
2. The fine-tuning and complexity of the Universe
3. Objective moral values
4. The historical facts surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
5. Personal experience of the existence of God.

These may need expanding on – maybe I will do that in a subsequent post – but even having a response will take most people by surprise.

Every Christian should be prepared to answer when they are challenged about their faith.

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So heavenly minded, no earthly good?

Is anyone ever so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good?

I think the answer is no. At least in the sense that if someone genuinely has their thoughts concentrated on God and as Jesus put it, is loving God heart soul and mind (heavenly minded) then there is no reason why they would be no earthly good. In fact they should be more earthly good than anyone else.

I think this is born out throughout history where many of the great advances in health care, science and social reform have been driven by those who are very heavenly minded.

But this must be one of those sayings where a literal interpretation is not intended.

What is meant, I think, is that some people devote themselves to a selfish view of heaven (often involving a desire for study of various religious small details) where they substitute thinking for action. Where thoughts of God should motivate to good things they are instead in love with thinking and philosophizing rather than God.

So, the root of the problem would be pride and selfishness. The prime sins of the fall (that is the first sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden). Or, as God often describes it, adultery. If we don’t devote our heart and soul to God alone then we sin.

So, I would suggest any form of religion that makes the practice of that faith into one of selfishness is failing. If you don’t have your mind on heaven then you are failing. If your thoughts of heaven are exclusively about how you can be good enough, in the practice of your faith, to get past the gates then you are failing.

It is a complicated thing. We should think about our own soul and its journey and be especially concerned about our journey into the afterlife. Yet, if that fills our mind with a preoccupation with self then we have failed. As Jesus puts it seek first the kingdom (Matt 6:33).

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Why would anyone want a humanist funeral and why isn’t every atheist utterly depressed?

Watching the TV the other day one of the stars (I’m avoiding saying who it was because I’m not singling them out, I think this is a general attitude among many) started talking about how they were going to have a humanist funeral (as my late brother also wanted) – nothing religious at all and then followed up his monologue saying you have to have hope, life is nothing without hope.

It seems to me this sums up the typical assumption that somehow you can reject belief in God and put yourself in the centre of the universe and then still have hope and even some kind of afterlife.

Yet, where does that hope come from? Is it hope in some unseen force of the Universe that will make things better in the end? According to most atheists, who think about it, the Universe is heading for destruction and there is no such force. Anyone relying on humanity improving into a Utopia and that somehow their small life will have contributed to it is very deluded. According to science one-day humanity will cease to exist and the Universe expand so far that there will be only cold and death. Shouldn’t this make our efforts at improvement pointless and end in deep depression for us all. The way many atheists seem to think they can avoid this depression concerning future destruction and endless death is to avoid thinking about it. What kind of answer is that! No wonder as more people like the appeal of atheism the world becomes more depressed. It is making me depressed just thinking about it.

Here is what Bertrand Russel once said about this wonderful atheist future (his approach was not think about it):
“All the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins.” Bertrand Russell (1872–1970).

Why are you not in deep despair? Or is it because you are deluding yourself about the atheistic faith you profess? Everything you have ever done, all the art produced and progress and ending problems is in the end pointless.

No atheist should have a humanist funeral. At best it is a bunch of deluded people thinking that somehow a person’s life had meaning and that maybe as your atoms blend into the Universe (perhaps as pond scum or worse) you go on forever. Well, my friend your atoms may survive (all very poetic and all) but you and your achievements do not. Even the memory of those who knew you will disappear with a little time. When you die your body should just be disposed of and no humanist funeral – to have such a funeral is something of a joke.

Am I upsetting you by talking about the truth as an atheist should see it?

I’m also told that more young people are praying these days. Praying to whom? If more of them think they are atheists then why do they pray? And who do they think is listening?

I agree that you need hope but hope is not an end in itself it needs to be hope in something. The same can be said about faith – also wrongly used as a noun these days. Faith and hope need to be in something.

Hope is what then? Humanity? Politicians? Science? All of these have failed utterly in the past. Humanity will one day disappear (according to science); politicians hardly need describing as a bad source of hope; science took us into two world wars and the possible complete destruction of everything if another world war ever comes. Where is the hope coming from?

I think there are plenty of reasons to believe that God exists.

  • That the Universe exists in the first place.
  • That the Universe is so finely balanced.
  • The existence of objective moral values.
  • Historical facts surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • The personal testimony of those who have encountered God.
  • etc.

So if God does exist (I believe God does) and if Jesus has revealed the nature of a loving God to us (I believe this is true) then we have a God who we CAN put our hope in (and pray to).

If such a God does exist you had better find out what that God wants and stop putting yourself in the position of God in your life.

So I am not depressed, as any atheist should be, but instead I’m following God who gives me reason to hope.

I will have a religious, Christian, funeral because only this makes sense and offers any kind of hope when someone dies.

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Lessons from Thomas and Tess

I’m talking about lessons from Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbevilles of course. Is there a Christian lesson to learn?

I’ve been re-reading this wonderful book by a master story teller. Hardy has a wonderful way of describing the world and in particular, the now lost, rural world of Dorset. Sometimes he gets carried away and goes too far with it but generally his abilities enable us (me) to share in his love for this time and its people.

However, Hardy is wrong in his pessimism, which he personally described as realism. This may be the world as he saw it but I feel very sorry for a man who saw the world in such bleak ways. He seems determined to believe that the worst will always happen and that people are essentially evil, although the reverse seems to be true of Tess.

Yet this is a story and in a story it is possible to go too far to make a point. I think his critics sometimes miss this important point. So I’ve been trying to work out what point he is making in this book. I think there are probably many, good writers seem able to do that, but there is one point in particular that stands out to me. It revolves around the failures of the various characters to protect the purity of Tess.

I wondered. at first, if the point was that Angel should not have looked for purity in his new wife. I suppose this is part of the problem, in that everyone is a sinner and so we should think hard and understand our fallen condition before being the one to cast stones. Angel was also guilty – in my opinion more so – and yet he seems to think his simple confession takes away his guilt whereas Tess has to carry her guilt, according to Angel, despite her confession. This is complex and I think addresses the problem of male expectations of women and what men were allowed (if not expected) to do in Victorian England, etc. However, Angel then compounds his own guilt by failing to protect Tess through what follows. I can’t help but want Angel to return and save Tess, I think because I feel so much for the character of Tess herself. Hardy always maintained that Tess had kept her purity throughout all her trials, and I agree with him.

Tess is failed by her parents. Her father gets drunk and forces Tess to take the hives to market and her inexperience at driving (the problem compounded by her brother who is a better driver falling asleep – another let down for Tess) and so their horse is killed. Her father also fails to protect her innocence by passing his own responsibilities on to her mother. Her mother then fails to check the credentials of the man she entrusts Tess to, as well as failing to warn her of any of the dangers. Tess’ innocence then leads to her loss of physical purity.

Alec, her rapacious cousin, fails to protect her and instead takes advantage of her innocence. His later conversion to Christianity also soon fails Tess when he insists she is responsible for tempting him back into desiring her – though in truth she has done everything she can to spurn him.

The church fails her when she turns to it for help and comfort. We are told that she has an unsophisticated faith that contains elements of paganism. The church failed to educate her – despite in Hardy’s time having lots of opportunities (Hardy taught Sunday School himself in his youth, I understand). When she reached out for support she was let down. I think Hardy also believed that God has let Tess down by his absence throughout the story. You can write God out of a story but it does not mean you can write God out of life – by the way.

Angel arguably lets Tess down the worst. He should have forgiven her, it is obvious that he loves her and yet persuades himself that he can’t live with her past. Telling Tess that he cannot be her husband whilst the man she had sex with first still lives will ultimately lead to Tess killing Alec and her own death. Angel in failing to look after his wife also pushes Tess back into the abusive Alec’s arms, her motivation being her pure love for her family and sacrificing her own happiness for them. It would be easy to hate Angel but he does at least return and Tess’ true love for him seems to win me over.

Tess is ultimately let down by the law which saw no room for a woman to kill her abuser. Presumably, this becomes part of Hardy’s own thinking when as a 16 year old he witnessed the hanging of a woman convicted of murdering her abusive husband, and even when that abuse was known she was refused a pardon, or commuting of sentence, because she insisted her husband had been killed by a horse rather than at her own hand with an axe, right up to the last days before her execution. This moment left Hardy a changed man and it seems pretty clear had an influence on the telling of Tess’ story.

Tess’ purity is challenged by various events, which in many ways would make her impure in the eyes of people. I find it interesting that Hardy believed that her purity was maintained and presumably he believed there was something about purity that stands outside the physical. This is interesting in itself because Hardy seems to have become an atheist and someone who only believes in the physical. It is clear in Tess, though, that there is something that is immaterial (her purity) and if the immaterial does exist it surely opens the door to a belief in God. She was physically impure (pre-marital sex, illegitimate child and murder) and yet her true purity (love, intentions, etc) for Hardy remained pure. I agree with him.

I disagree with some commentators I’ve read who seem to believe Hardy is attacking social convention and religious taboos around sex. I actually think the opposite might be true. Hardy values purity above everything in this story. Yes, Tess’ inner purity is enough to make her physical impurity forgivable, if not excusable, because her physical purity is taken from her rather than her giving it away, but he is not trying to say that physical purity does not matter at all. If that was his message why does he go to such lengths to heap blame on those who failed to protect Tess’ physical purity? I also wonder if those of us who read the story do not in turn weep over Tess’ lost purity and innocence because we know the value of such things?

So there is a Christian message in this book. Innocence and purity are things we should protect and value and those who neglect to protect such things are as guilty of causing the loss of purity and innocence as anyone else. I just wish Hardy had found a way to finish the story with Tess’ purity winning through so I could have saved my own heartbreak at the end.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.