Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Children and demon possesion

"There is a belief ... that children can be possessed, and those beliefs have no place in the 21st Century." This quote (from memory) was in respect of deaths of children because they were believed to be demon possessed.

The problem is, I don't agree with the quote. Now, just for clarification, I DO NOT agree with killing children, under any circumstances. However I do believe in demon possession, although I need to explain that, and I will later. The deaths of these children through the misguided actions and beliefs of their parents or carers is a tragedy, and one that should be avoided. The beliefs and mindsets that lead to these actions are, in my view, very misguided and clearly dangerous. Any belief system that teaches that killing children is better than them being "possessed" need to take a good look at itself. And change.

Now I did say that I do believe in demon possession, and I need to clarify what I mean. I think that there are enough examples and enough evidence that something that is covered by what we might call "possession" has and does occur. There is, I believe, something that goes on with certain people, in some cases, which changes the way that they behave and think. I also believe that the "demonic" is real, in that there is a spiritual force for evil, and that this force has a personal nature.

But the truth is that I - and no-one else - do not know or understand the true nature of the spiritual. In fact, in the West, we have a very Greek perception which separates the "body" and the "soul" and the "spirit". The Hebrew perspective does not separate these, but sees a person as a holistic one, not distinct. The problem is that in this perspective, the traditional concept of "demon possession" does not work.

The reason I have a problem with the quote at the start is that I think those beliefs are perfectly reasonable in the 21st Century. I believe that the concepts of demon possession, that people, including children, can be possessed, are valid. I don't know what it means, and I do know that killing a person is not the answer. Rejecting a belief and an idea that does appear to have some lasting validity, just because some misguided people misuse this belief is wrong and also dangerous.

So, in conclusion, killing children because they are believed to be demon possessed is unacceptable today. Killing, hurting, abusing children is unacceptable today, that is the the core problem. The fact that people use a belief to justify it is no reason to totally reject the belief, just to accept that certain people will misuse any belief to hurt others.

Greenbelt 2012

.... was rather wet.

But it was an excellent time, a fabulous line up and the weather didn't real spoil anything. I will be putting a couple of posts from things I have learnt from the weekend. Other than, just how muddy it can get.

I heard Bruce Cockburn, The Proclaimers, Seth Lakeman, Bellowhead, Speech Debele. That is pretty exceptional, not to mention other acts that I saw around them. I heard Prof John Polkinghorne, Vikky Beeching, Deborah Fielding and Shane Clairbourne, among others. There was not a bad music act, or talk. Some I disagreed with, but that is a positive. I have returned invigorated.

Watch here for more....

Wednesday, 22 August 2012


There is a lot of chatter about this topic of late. Firstly the case of Julian Assange, who is accused of sexual misdemeanors in Sweden, and secondly the comment of American politician Todd Akin. However, these are just representative of opinions that are occasionally heard, usually by less prominent people.

What is worse, as a male, I find that there is a subtle tendency to assume that I accept that rape is sometimes acceptable, that the boundaries are rather blurred.

I should point out that this is not the case.

Firstly, what is rape? Well, the BBC site shows some legal definitions ( WARNING: Explicit. Definitely NSFW ). However, I would be a little less specific, not needing to make a full legal definition. I would say rape is any sexual action done without the consent on any participant.

Now this definition does not have any sense of a relationship in it, so just because the people are married doesn't mean that it isn't rape. Any more than it wouldn't be if it was your sister. Rape is rape, however the people are related.

It also does not have any sense of history involved. So the fact that two people have previously had sexual relationships previously does not mean that any future activity cannot be rape, any more than people arguing means that it cannot be murder next time they meet. Rape is rape, whatever the history.

Another myth is that women who dress provocatively are "asking for it" - the famous Fendi slogan "Shaped to be raped" from 1984, which quite rightly attracted a whole lot of shock and criticism, shows that this idea is very widespread. Women dress to be sexually attractive. Often they are open to, or looking for, a sexual encounter. But they are after a consensual encounter, not rape.

The only real issue involved in consent. This is where it becomes far more of a problem, because once in a relationship, consent can sometimes be assumed, or taken as implicitly given, rather than explicitly stated. The subtleties of a relationship mean that communication can be more complex. But there must still be consent, however this is given - and refusal means no, whatever the previous state of the relationship.

The other issue around consent is that consent is a conscious decision. It is not related to specific sexual acts, it is related to a conscious decision to participate or not. This is why Todd Akins argument (apparently supported by doctors) that a womans body will not conceive from rape is meaningless. The mechanics of a the female reproductive system are not governed by the conscious mind - the system does not know whether the acts are consensual or not. Akin should find some doctors who know what they are talking about, because it is clear that the ones who have advised him do not.

A final comment, and a final critical issue, is that rape is not a sexual crime. It is a crime of violence. Yes it has a sexual element, but it is not a sexual crime. Rape is about one person inflicting violence on another. All of the arguments about what is and isn't rape, what is "legitimate rape", then we should apply this to other crimes of violence against a person. There is no such thing as a "legitimate kicking their head in". However you dress, you are not asking to be beaten up.

Rape is Rape. If there is not consent involved, it is wrong. How difficult can it be to grasp that?

Monday, 20 August 2012

Pussy Riot

Seeing as everyone else is blogging about this, I thought I had better too. There are some interesting lessons to be learned from this case. For anyone who has missed it, Pussy Riot are a punk group who were arrested after singing a song calling for Mary, Jesus mother, to get rid of Putin, in an Orthodox church. For this they were arrested, and have now been sentenced to 2 years in jail.

Now others have pointed out, quite rightly, that the charges against Pussy Riot and those against Jesus are remarkably similar. They were both accused of blasphemy and causing outrage. And the religious authorities worked with the secular authorities to gain condemnation and punishment.

However there is another important question that have been asking is what would happen if this had occurred in the UK. Or America, or any other western country? Well I think it is fair to say that if someone were to get up almost any church in the west, and say "Mary Mother of God, bring down Cameron/Obama" then there might be some fuss, but no arrests.

However, look at the Occupy protest at the stock exchange. St Pauls Cathedral didn't really know what to do about them - welcome them, or refuse them? And it became very ugly. So what if someone were to stand up in St Paul and swear and call for the government and the city to be overthrown, they would be arrested. Their fate would be equivalent to the Pussy Riot members.

The truth is that the church in the west is as married to the economic and political system that we are all involved in. The church, which should be standing as a challenge to the society, is instead far too engaged with the society, far to much a part of it to be a real challenge, or to support a challenge.

"But my church doesn't! My church does speak out!" I hear some people claiming. It is not about single churches, single voices. It is a problem that Christianity, as a whole, is too institutionalised. Single voices, which are important, are drowned out by the larger and louder voice that people hear that deny these truths.

No, the truth is that the church and the secular powers in the west are not really that different from the east. The triggers are different, but the attitudes are the same. Sad to say.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The end of the Olympics

We are at the end of the London 2012 Olympics, and it seems like a good time to review them, look back and see whether they are as good as the seem to have been.

 I did express, in various places, concerns with the commercialisation of them. I also expressed concern that the games lanes and other traffic issues would cause more problems and give the main event a bad feeling. I think these fears were valid and reasonable, but not as significant as I had dreaded.

Team GB did get 29 gold medals, and a total of 65 medals. We also had a large number of competitors who did not achieve medals, but who gave of their best and did us proud.

We had an opening ceremony that was stunning - brilliantly put together, brilliantly executed. the closing ceremony was less spectacular, with a few oddities, but it was still a party to finish the greatest 2 weeks of sporting achieving.

The venues we provided were fabulous - including the ones for the "roaming" events like the marathon. The volunteers were out of this world, and thoroughly deserved their standing ovation in the closing ceremony. The sports were clean and largely uncontentious - with a few exceptions there were no challenging or problematic umpiring decisions, no disqualifications to take issue with.

We saw some magical sporting moments - Usain Bolt winning the 100M against some strong competition; Rudisha running a spectacular 800M to break the record, and bring all of the other runners with him to all achieve significant times. I have read that Andrew Osagie, the British runner who managed 8th place in the final, would have won the Gold in the last few Olympics.

All in all, I think we can look back on London 2012 and be immensely proud of what we as a nation have achieved.

But what will the real legacy of these games be? I can hope that we can appreciate some of our less well supported sports, and acknowledge that our footballers, who are some of the most highly paid sportsmen in the country, but who failed to perform, can get less money and less investment. We need to put the money into the areas that need investment and to reward performance. We have shown that we have very skilled and talented sportspeople, and we should invest to develop more in the areas that we can - not just to win medals, but to be the best that we can.

Sporting achievement is not the most important thing, the most important achievement, but it is an achievement. It is a celebration of what we are capable of as people. It is a glorious celebration of humans as beings created in Gods image, reveling and celebrating what we are capable of.

London 2012 - something we can be extremely proud of.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Train fare rises

As I write this, there are reports of the planned train fare rises, which are to be once again, a few percent above inflation. We are told that these above inflation fare rises are necessary to fund much needed investment in the system, as we are told every year.

But this is crap.

The problem is that if you put fares up by 3% above inflation one year, you only then need inflationary rises in future years to provide this same level of extra money each year. So, for example, if the fare rises 5 years ago were a few percent above inflation, providing an extra, say, £10M that year for investment, then every year from then on, if inflationary rises are allowed, this extra £10M will be provided. The value of this money will reduce, but it will still be there.

If the following year another higher-than-inflation rise is agreed, that raises an extra £11M, that means that the train companies are then taking an extra £21M that year. And onwards. If higher-than-inflation rises are allowed EVERY year, as seems to be the case, then the EXTRA money raised by the train companies will rise each year. If the same extra percentage is allowed each year, then the train companies are getting double the extra each year. that is substantial.

The problem is that this is claimed to be for investment in the system. However the truth is, as most people will agree, we do not see this investment in the system. We do not see substantial improvements in the performance of our train services - in fact, for my local service, we see ever poorer service. What is more, the real investment we have seen, in extending the platforms and buying newer rolling stock, are not paid for from the fare money. These are paid for from public money. The extra fare money seems to go towards paying the train companies profits.

The real reason for these fare increases is that the government wants to have no financial involvement with the train companies.They want to make them completely self supporting, which is a ridiculous idea, because the result of this will not be better public services. The results will be that people will resort to private transport - cars. Or not be able to get around, or get to work. Transport will become, if we are not careful, the privilege of the wealthy.

Any yet our society is being driven around people being mobile. If our society requires people to be mobile - the decimation of the high streets and the "centralisation" of services - then to also remove peoples ability to travel is wrong and dehumanising. I get particularly annoyed when people are dehumanised - one of my high horses. That is why this is an issue for Christians, for people of faith, for people who care about human rights and human dignity.

Transport is not a "basic human right", unless your society is built around transport. The "basic human right" at issue here is the ability to engage and interact with the society. Reducing that, which is what is being done, is unjust, unfair and inhuman. It should stop.

Sunday, 12 August 2012


After this incident recently, David Camerons response was ""If any other politician got stuck on a zip wire it would be disastrous.With Boris it's a triumph... London is lucky to have him.". It made me think, why is is so good to have a politician who seems to be immune to embarrassment?

The response of so many MPs to the expenses scandal was similarly nonchalant. "We were only claiming what we were entitled to" they seemed to say. In so many cases, there was no embarrassment at what had gone on. there was no sense of having let people down. Some of them did, and credit to them, but not all, and even some of those who were prosecuted wanted to argue that these were not affairs that the courts should have jurisdiction over.

I may be out of step here, but I want my politicians to have a sense of shame when they do something that is wrong, a cause of embarrassment, to attempt to hold up the dignity of their office. We seem to have lost that, rather, so many seem to think that they are entitled to run the country, and get lots of money for doing so. There is something about our political system that seems to encourage this, not least because it is endemic in all of the main parties. I wish I had answers, but I think we need to ask the questions.

It is also sad that I see some of the same problems in the church, worldwide. Church leaders who do not know what embarrassment is, and make the church look stupid. They speak on subject that they clearly know nothing about, because, obviously, as Gods people, they are right on every subject. They make claims on subjects that they should know about, and demonstrate their ignorance and prejudice. They issue statements without, apparently, any understanding of how they will be received.

Church leaders, even more than other Christians, need to be learners. Actually, we should all be learners, whatever our situation, but for those who call themselves Christians, the drive should be because we need to learn more of God in new and different ways, in ways that challenge us. Before we make public declarations on topics, we should be prepared to learn - and as a blogger, I would include myself in this. And all Christians who might make public statements should make sure they know about how the media works. Leaders of all sorts should, I believe, be involved in social media, an understand the effect that this can have.

And I am sorry, but Boris should hold his head in shame for getting caught trussed up like that, in the middle of an Olympics that are showing that the UK can organise global events with a relaxed efficiency, and deliver a stunning Olympics.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012


There is a myth - with some truth in it - that women only marry a man so that they can change him. There is also a belief in some churches - many churches, actually - that their role is to help people to change. I am increasingly convinced that this is actually not very Christian.

Now you have finished spluttering into your drink about this, I know that there is a lot of biblical and especially Gospel teaching about change. Joseph was told "he must be born again", which is clearly about change. The woman caught in adultery is told to "go and sin no more" - that s, change her lifestyle. So yes, there is a biblical challenge to change to be more like God.

The problem I have is that this change is something for an individual and God to do.It is not our role to tell people to change - it is our place to accept people as they are, and trust God to deal with them in his time. We seem to like to change this around, and insist people need to change, and struggle to accept them until they fit in.

The question is, what would it be like if we - Christians - focused on simply accepting people as they are, introducing them to God, and letting God do whatever he wants? For one thing, He would not change the things we consider so important. But he would start to change the things that make a real difference. They might change into people we don't like. They might change into people who challenge us to meet with God again.

Change is difficult. The other thing that we as Christians need to do is help and support people who are changing, who are going through difficult times. We need to support them as they fail to change, fail to make progress, and continue to accept them exactly as they are - difficult, stroppy, moody, whatever. Helping, supporting, holding people as they work through their issues is a far harder thing to do. But we are not called to the easy route.

to an extent, this is what I am seeking to do through the site and support - just accept people as and where they are, listening to their struggles, and seeking to support them as things change for them. Not criticising, not insisting on a particular route, just trying to see if I can do anything to help people struggling. To my mind, that is Christianity.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Have I lost my faith?

It was 6 months ago that I left my church. It seems like an interesting time to reflect on what has happened in that time, and also on what happened then – the question of the title.

Firstly, I should point out that I have been occasionally attending another church on Sundays. I turn up when I feel like it, join in, and do not get committed. That is the point, sort of – I do not wish to spend my time and effort on a church structure.

So have I lost my faith? It depends on what you mean. Have I lost my Christian faith – no, quite definitely not. If anything it is stronger now, as I can spend time exploring, and thinking through questions and doubts that I have. Also, the site has driven me into looking into a particular area of faith to explore, and I am finding this very challenging and exciting.

So have I lost my faith? If you mean in the church, then the answer is yes. It has been tenuous for a long time, but I finally came to the position that I had to admit my faith in the church as a structure and organisation had gone. I should clarify what I mean by this – I don’t mean that the Body of Christ, the assortment of Christian believers is no longer important. Quite the opposite, and this is my understanding of the church as describes in the Bible. What I mean is that the structures and organisations that make up “the church” to most people are no longer appropriate and relevant to a Christian faith.

In the months after leaving, one thing I noticed what that my evenings were free. Without the endless meetings or preparation to support the church structure, I had free time, which I could spend writing this blog, reading, engaging (or, most often, blobbing out). It struck me that an awful lot of the effort of church members is spent on supporting the structure, and very little of that is really about growing as a Christian. That is one of my biggest problems with the church structure at the moment – that the time and effort involved in supporting the structure can seriously take away from time to support the personal growth of people involved. It convinces me that for many people, if they are to grow as a Christian, the last thing they need is the church.

The other thing I find interesting is that, in the last 6 months, the only people to contact me have been the members of my house group. I am grateful for their contact, but I am shocked – genuinely – that none of the other people in the church that I would have considered friends have been in touch. No-one, it would seem, is concerned over my well-being, my spiritual situation, my more detailed reasons. My feeling is that, now I am no longer contributing to the church structure and processes, it seems that I am of no interest to anyone.

To me, that is the saddest reflection on the church of all.