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Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Margaret Thatcher and the myth of pitiless indifference

April 12th, 2013

They say you will always remember where you were when you found out that Princess Diana died. I was curled up in a sleeping bag on the floor of a mate’s house in London.

I wonder if the same will be said for Margaret Thatcher. On this occasion though, perhaps I should have paid attention to what was said to me at that moment, rather than my exact location. Upon hearing the news, the very next thing that I was told was: ‘Its probably best to avoid facebook for a few days.’

Wise words. Sadly unheeded.

The most controversial/divisive/polarizing (etc, etc) British Prime Minister of the 20th Century certainly lived up to her tabloid headline legacies if my facebook chums are at all representative of British society.

It’s quite disorientating when you’re used to a stream of ‘lol’s’, hilarious cat pictures and amateur weather reports to suddenly have to deal with words like ‘genocide’ and ‘odium’ and, in some cases, status updates that go on for over 500 words.

There was passion. There was vitriol. There was a smattering of sentimentality, but even that was executed with feeling. People really care about this woman’s life, even if they hated the woman herself.

And what was missing? Well, on Monday there weren’t many ‘Keep Calm and carry on’ spoofs, 90s music videos, nor even the usual plethora of half eaten sandwiches  that people so kindly photograph and instagram for me on a daily basis. The banality and trivilaity of 21st century existence suddenly exploded into real human emotions. It was like people came alive again on Monday 8th April.

I know what you’re thinking. Its what I thought too. It all goes to prove that God exists, doesn’t it?

Oh, that’s not what you were thinking. How embarrassing! Well, let me explain my train of thought then.

According to the prevalent philosophies of our age, we really shouldn’t get so worked up about things. There is no such thing as moral evil that we should take offence at, and actually no such thing as moral good that we should celebrate and take pride in. At a popular level, a moral life is one in which you listen to your heart, hold on to what you believe or follow your dreams. Underpinning these pearls of wisdom, are the slightly more sophisticated ideas of 20th century moral philosophers.

AJ Ayer argued just before the Second World War that all morality was totally subjective. Statements like ‘giving to charity is good’ and ‘murder is bad’ are essentially just expressions of people’s opinions along the lines of ‘I like Marmite’ or ‘I’m not overly fond of the colour mauve’. In effect then, Bob Geldof is no better than Anders Breivik. They simply have different tastes.

Jean Paul Sartre, writing at a similar time, redefined a good life as a life lived with force and vigour, devoid of any objective moral checks. According to Sartre, I define my own meaning and my own morality. The most important thing is to make sure that I use my freedom to act with commitment and passion, and not just to fade into the background. Try to relieve 3rd world poverty or gun down a few dozen people? Following this train of thought, both courses of action would be equally ‘moral’, in that ‘morality’ is a myth and both decisions would forcefully impose your own version of meaningfulness on the world.

And then a little more recently, we have the New Atheist movement, whose proponents have joined forces with Ayer and Sartre in cheerfully explaining away any sense of moral obligation that we’ve been led to believe in. Our sense that some things are ‘right’ and some things are ‘wrong’ is a product, like everything else, of the evolutionary development of our species. Our more kind and empathetic ancestors proved to be better survivors than our more selfish, violent predecessors and so human beings have this general feeling that helping old ladies across roads is good and stealing milk off school children is bad.

Which brings us nicely back to Baronness Thatcher.

Why are people so hot under the collar about this lady and the decisions she made? It would make sense for miners from Yorkshire to have strong feelings about this, but I’m not facebook friends with any miners from Yorkshire. Why are people who were barely alive when the Iron Lady bid her tearful farewell to Downing Street so irate about what she did or did not do?

The answer is simple. Their responses give us a glimpse of the truth we all know but so many have tried to hide. Our actions and decisions matter. Humans have real value. There is such a thing as right and wrong.

The moral relativism and evolutionary extrapolations of the last 100 years have deadened us to moral evil and the value of human life. No question. We might have never heard of Ayer, Sartre or even Dawkins before but their effect is overwhelming. For most 21st century Westerners, life simply doesn’t have any meaning. Not really. Not beyond, eating and drinking, for tomorrow we die. And this leads to countless directionless, meandering lives lived with no sense that they have any real consequence. It also leads to a general atmosphere of utter apathy.

Then, every now and again, something comes along and shakes us out of our carelessness and frivolity and reminds us that we’ve been tricked. An event or personality appears that provokes an emotional reaction that shouts that our actions do matter and our lives are important. They can be forces for good or forces for evil. Not forces for ‘whatever we decide is good’ or forces for ‘the things we’re not very keen on’ or even forces for ‘what we’ve been programmed by natural selection to value or despise for the continued promulgation of the human race’. Real good and real evil. And if there’s real good and real evil, there must be someone beyond us who decides what fits into each category. It is impossible to conceive of a moral law without a moral law giver. Therefore there must be a God and he must care enough about human beings to set us codes of behaviour.

Richard Dawkins wrote this in his book ‘River out of Eden’:

‘The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

It’s a very good summary of the only sensible conclusion to questions of life’s meaning if you remove God from the equation. However, try telling that to Morrissey, Glenda Jackson and Elvis Costello. I don’t wish to side myself with any of the specific verdicts of her life- I don’t really understand politics and still hold to the apparently slightly outdated view that you shouldn’t speak ill of the recently deceased. However, without making any judgement on Margaret Thatcher’s achievements, I think I can be pretty sure about one element of her legacy and it certainly can’t be described as ‘pitiless indifference’.

Categories: Central Point Tags: , ,

No more Mr. Nasty

May 16th, 2012

What on earth has happened to Simon Cowell! I wonder if at last he presents us with compelling evidence for alien abduction. A couple of years ago, he was in his X Factor judge’s seat, dishing out the cutting, pompous put downs that had become his trademark, then after a year in America, he returns with a saintly smile and a newfound love of puppies.

In fact, it’s not just Mr Cowell who has undergone this amazing transformation. Saturday evening’s plethora of talent shows has become full of Katarina Witts, Danni Minogues and Craig Revel Horwoods queuing up to out-mean Mr. Nasty. But not any more. The Voice and Britain’s Got Talent have been most notable for their judges’ camaraderie and general nice-ness.

The bodysnatching theory seems to fall flat when confronted with this cross-channel sea change in the tone of our prime time viewing. I don’t think it can be explained by a genuine moral change in the individuals involved either. Surely this is all calculated and deliberate. The only sensible explanation for this flurry of encouragement and pleasantness is that the market research has convinced the TV executives that the British public has had enough of nastiness (at least for the time being).

I think that, as Christians, we need to take this to heart. In offices full of gossip and slander, it is so easy to be sucked into the habit of character assassination. We can be led to believe that abstaining from such conversations (or even worse, combating the tide of viciousness) might cause us to be regarded as irrelevant and trite. Similarly, sometimes as Christians, living in a world that is often so hostile to God and his values, we get the idea that we should be openly and aggressively oppositional towards our culture- being the first to criticise unwise government policy or ridicule public figures who hold views that we consider anti-Christian. You don’t have to spend long on Facebook to find Christians even slagging off other Christians who veer from their theological position.

However, we are called to be the light of the world. This means that we should show people a way to live that is different but also attractive and winsome. Deep down, the world is fed up of back-biting and an over critical spirit. Let’s show them something different. Are you known as the type of person who builds people up or cuts them down? Would people expect you to be critical first or encouraging?  In your defense of the gospel, even in the face of hostility, do you speak with pride and aloofness or with ‘gentleness and respect’ (1 Peter 3:15)?

Categories: Central Point Tags: ,

New Music – Zang Productions

January 13th, 2012

As you may have noticed, our new church website features several videos relating to different areas of church life. If you haven’t had a chance to take a look at them yet, it’s well worth having a gander! They provide an excellent introduction to what Churchcentral is all about.

To make these videos the high quality products that they are we couldn’t rely solely on Russ’ chiselled features, Owen’s cheeky smile or even Sam’s comedy backwards leap (StarCity video- right at the end). We needed some decent music so decent music we did get! The soundtrack to all of the videos is provided courtesy of Zangproductions, a Moseley based independent record label (www.zangproductions.co.uk). All of the artists on the label are Christians (you will probably recognise at least one) and Zang exists not only to produce quality music but to bring the good news of Jesus to people in a relevant and thought provoking manner.

Interested in checking it out? Here are some recommendations:

Fiction Fight- I am a thief

http://fictionfight.bandcamp.com/

Beautifully crafted worship music that breaks away from the usual Chris Tomlin/Matt Redman mould. Fiction Fight blend together a variety of musical styles which provide the backdrop for deeply  personal, profound songwriting. And you can pay whatever you want for it. Highly recommended!

(The King Edwards site video features ‘Love is brave’ and the Lordswood site video features ‘My rescue’)

Benjamin Blower- Pillar of smoke

http://www.zangproductions.co.uk/releases/benjamin-blower-the-pillar-of-smoke/

Imagine Jeremiah the prophet crossed with Johnny Cash hanging out regularly with the Beastie Boys. That’s Benjamin Blower. He’s awesome and all his stuff is worth checking out but this is my favourite.

(The church homepage video from ‘Childhood by Benjamin Blower and the army of the broken hearted featured on the album ‘The darkness doesn’t love you’ )

Ickberg- Arctic Village Beaver

http://www.zangproductions.co.uk/free/ickberg-arctic-village-beaver/

Some people may remember the DJ Shadow album ‘Endtroducing’ from the 90s. If you don’t recognise the name you will definitely have heard the music on various film soundtracks or adverts. Ickberg make a similar brand of(largely) instrumental hip hop. Another quality free download.

(The StarCity video features ‘Make me’)

Selina Blakeney- Russian doll

http://www.zangproductions.co.uk/free/selina-blakeney-russian-doll/

Zang’s latest release is really just Selina’s beautiful voice and very little else. Almost entirely accapella, ‘Russian doll’ combines layers of harmonies with heartfelt songwriting to create a moving, hypnotic mini-album and once again it doesn’t cost a penny.

Joel the Custodian- My organs are yours

http://www.zangproductions.co.uk/releases/the-custodians-my-organs-are-yours/

Joel makes hiphop as it should be. His sound is crafted from reggae, electronica and even country music, with lyrics exploring themes such as the devastating majesty of God and the frail mortality of man. And, you’ll never guess, its FREE!

Categories: Central Life Tags: , , ,

Joy in Loneliness

February 11th, 2011

A major report by the Mental Health Foundation suggests that more than 1 in 10 people in Britain feel lonely “often”. The same report also revealed that the percentage of households occupied by one person has doubled from 6% in 1972, to 12% in 2008; while the rising divorce rate also means the number of single-parent families is increasing rapidly. Overall, the survey found that 48% of respondents think that people are becoming increasingly isolated and detached from each other. This is backed up by the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics, which show that there are 7.5 million people living alone in the UK; compared with 4.3 million 15 years ago.

But while loneliness is common in middle-age, or retirement, or as people go through a divorce or bereavement – the problem isn’t just confined to older age groups. A recent report by the NSPCC found that ChildLine received nearly 10,000 calls last year from children saying they felt lonely. Commenting on this, David Rose (Health Correspondent for the Times) makes a link between technology and loneliness. He writes: “Technology and the pressures of modern life are today blamed for creating an epidemic of loneliness, as increasing numbers of people rely on the internet to communicate with friends and family. While the internet has changed the way people communicate, some experts argue that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter undermine social skills and the ability to read body language, leaving people increasingly isolated.”

Now all of this simply illustrates the fact that people nowadays are increasingly disconnected. They’re isolated; they’re lonely; they’re hurting. And it’s an epidemic – it’s in the culture; it’s in the church; and for some of you, it’s in your life. So, this Sunday, as we continue our series on ‘Finding Joy’, we’re going to do a case study of someone who experienced profound loneliness – the Apostle Paul. But, as we’re going to discover, his attitude to loneliness is somewhat unexpected!

Categories: Preaching Series Tags: ,

Distorted

November 5th, 2010

The most dangerous lies are the ones we never notice. Common but deadly deceptions impact us every day. They can distort our thinking in ways we’d never expect and leave us with a life we never imagined. Our ability to recognise them can spell the difference between happiness and the loss of all we hold dear.

In the new five week series, starting on the 14th November, I’m going to expose five common ways God’s truth gets distorted. Each one has the potential to destroy our relationships, cloud our decisions, and twist our perception of him. Each week we’ll tackle a hot issue – things like sex, suffering, authority and sin – and look at how they often get distorted in our lives and culture. And, more importantly, we’ll see how we can recognise and overcome these distortions.

To launch the series I’m going to highlight the root cause of the deception in the world. The Bible says that there is more to this world than we can see. Beyond all that we are able to measure and understand is a spiritual world. It’s a world that we can neither see nor touch, yet we feel its impact every day. It impacts us relationally. It impacts our thinking. It impacts our worldviews. It impacts our attitudes toward morality and purity, our finances, our marriages, how we date, how we do business, how we interact. It’s an invisible world and it’s all around us and impacts everything we do.

The truth is, there are evil forces at play who are very happy for us to ignore their existence. If we are to overcome the distorted view of life which they propagate, we desperately need to wake up to the reality of the unseen spiritual world.

Categories: Preaching Series Tags: , , ,

An Alternative Culture

October 1st, 2009

Fuelled by my time in New York with church leaders from 84 major world cities, I’m more convinced than ever that God’s called us to transform our city. It’s not enough for Christians to simply live as individuals in the city. In Jeremiah 29:7, for example, Israel’s exiles were called not just to live in the city, but also to love it and work for its economic, social, and spiritual flourishing. And Jesus told his disciples that they were “a city on a hill” that showed God’s glory to the world (Matt. 5:14-16).

Christians are called to be an alternate culture within every culture; to show how things like money, power and sex can be used in non-destructive ways. The Christian counterculture should encourage a radically generous commitment of time, money and relationships to social justice and the needs of the poor, the immigrant, and the economically and physically weak. Christian community must also be visibly committed to relationship-building between races and classes that are alienated outside of the church. And we’re to avoid secular society’s idolization of sex and traditional society’s fear of it. We’re to be a community that so loves and cares for its members that sexual abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity within it makes sense.

But it’s not enough for Christians to form a culture that runs counter to the values of the broader culture. Christians should be a community radically committed to the good of the city as a whole. We must neither just denounce the culture nor adopt it. We must sacrificially serve the common good, expecting to be constantly misunderstood and sometimes attacked. Basically, we’re to walk in the steps of the one who laid down his life for his opponents so as to transform the world

Categories: Central Point Tags: ,