Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Evangelicals ended slavery!

Evangelicals, Quakers and other Christians were a significant influence in ending slavery, but initially attempts to change things were pretty pragmatic - gradual change was proposed. But something happened in the 1820s that radicalised a small proportion of the population of North America to insist on immediate and uncompromising abolition of slavery. What was it? This is how Professor Blight of Yale University answers that question:

"First, it was Evangelical Christianity. Some of the radicalism they took from their faith. They took from the so-called Second Great Awakening. They took from this idea that somehow, it was their duty, it was their place in the save was only one step further--and Finney told them that--to save society as well. And if conversion to Christ or conversion to faith, conversion to salvation, can happen immediately in a person, why not a whole society? If you can revolutionize a single soul, why can't you revolutionize a hundred, 100,000, 1,000,000?... We're living in a different kind of era of Evangelicalism in the United States--although some Evangelicals are indeed reformers, they tend to be seen today largely as political conservatives, social conservatives. Some of the Evangelicalism of the 1820s in America, in the 1830s, became a much more radical kind of Evangelicalism in terms of the social changes that they were advocating."

The false dichotomy between saving souls for another world and saving the world itself, was clearly not understood by nineteenth century evangelicals. Certainly, my research on the period confirms this and has revealed Christianity's relationship to slavery to having been a broadly positive one.
For anyone interested in reading the full transcipt or watching the lecture, it can be found here.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

I am an atheist!

I found the lyrics of this video interesting. It implies to me that the question of whether or not there is a God is a side-issue and always was, until the Enlightenment wanted to make an issue of it. Up until then, the debate was - what kind of God do you have? Is it a God of power or justice? Not, is there a God? The Bible was certainly written in a context in which the Enlightenment question 'Is there a God?' was irrelevant. In fact, early Christians were accused of being atheists.

Today, as always the question is - what kind of God do you have? Or, to ask this same question with 'secular' language: What do you value most highly? I find this video interesting because it does not put atheists on one side and theists on the other - rather it puts those interested in justice and love on one side (whether religious or not) and those who hurt and abuse on the other (whether religious or not). The issue of whether they believe in God or not is secondary.

No Justice for Binyam!

You may remember that in November we campaigned for the closure of Guantanamo and we wrote postcards to Binyam Mohammad. See video of Mohammad's testimony here.

This week his lawyers asked the courts to order the release of documents held by the Foreign Office, which support his claims and implicate UK intelligence services. The 2 Lord Chief Justice's said that it was "plainly right" to publish this "powerful evidence", but that Milliband had blocked its release, because the US had threatened to stop sharing intelligence if it were made public.

So, is Binyam going to get no justice for being held without trial and tortured? It seems might is right after all. Clearly in the UK the government is not subject to the courts, but visa versa! Let's protest against this outrageous denial of a human beings right.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Our kids are miserable!

After reading about The Children's Society report, I can't get it out of my head. Here are a few of their findings:

One in six British children have serious emotional or behavioural problems. Children today, it said, are unhappier now than 30 years ago. It said, "Between the lines can be gleaned the uncomfortable truth that many children today are deprived, not of money, but of parental time and love." Two-thirds of children believe their parents 'getting on well' is one of the most important factors in their lives, but only a third of parents thought it mattered that much. And it doesn't seem to matter if they're rich or poor.

What's more, it didn't blame any nebulous social factors. It said that children are unhappy and there is one overwheliming cause - excessive individualism. This is the widespread belief that the prime duty of the individual is to make the most of their own life, rather than to contribute to the lives of others.

It's sobering stuff, especially for someone with children. There does seem to be something about our society that just cries out, "Unhappy". Startling increases in suicide, anorexia, insomnia and depression. Two boys from my school (in seperate incidents) committed suicide over Christmas! What is going on? Yet, anyone would think from the news coverage that the pressing issue of our day is not unhappiness, but the credit crunch! And all of us (Christians included) are caught up in it all as victims and perpetrators simultaneously. How much are we imbibing the really unhelpful values of our society - almost without noticing?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Religion is a ship

“The Great Religions are the Ships…Every sane person I know has jumped overboard.” (Hafiz, a sufi)

I love this line from Hafiz and at certain points in my life it has meant a lot to me. I think the metaphor of religion as a ship is just brilliant and my imagination runs wild thinking of all its possibilities.

I must confess to having once thought of my faith as more of a rock than a ship. But I was being far too over-optimistic as I soon came to realise (the hard way) when the ship began to sink (rocks don't sink!).

Faith is a ship because it has by definition no external prop, but only the structural integrity and interplay of its component parts. When I came to realise this, I wanted to do exactly what Hafiz suggests - jump overboard! After all, if faith has no prop, then the ship (my faith) was just pretending to a certainty that never really existed. It would be better to jump overboard and roll with the waves. Maybe the uncertainties of the sea were scarier, but also more real.

Since realising that my faith did not have a solid foundation, I've come to realise that its survival relies in its being meaningful. I find Hafiz's image helpful here too. I'm presuming Hafiz had in mind sailing ships, rather than ships with engines. For me, the interaction of faith and culture is what sustains the meaningfulness of my faith just as the right interaction of sail with wind, directs the ship.