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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

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: , ,

Christmas; Nicety or Necessity?

December 18th, 2012

I think it’s fair to say people of all ages who’ve lived through 2012 will remember it as a good year, full of uplifting and memorable events like Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France win, the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympic and Paralympic Games and Felix Baumgartner’s space leap. It’s been year that has displayed the best of human achievement and endeavour.

So sad then that 2012 has proved to have a sting in its tail.

Another school shooting, in Newtown Connecticut, where 26 people, mainly children, were needlessly and brutally murdered. This event, just as all its predecessors from Dunblane to Columbine, sent shockwaves across the world, and left us asking once again; how can this kind of thing happen?

The Newtown massacre was all the crueller as it happened so close to the festive season, when people are busy making preparations, buying presents and looking forward to spending time with their families. But Christmas is a time of hope, peace and goodwill to all men isn’t it? Surely Christmas can offer us some hope, some respite from such evil… can’t it?

I would say with confidence that it can. But not the Christmas offered by our culture. That Christmas has become a nicety. My 3 year old illustrated this when I asked her recently what she was looking forward to most about Christmas. She replied ‘Father Christmas giving me lots of presents’. Alongside momentarily making me feel like a parenting failure, she had unwittingly summed up what Christmas has become – the shallow anticipation of material gain, along with warm and cosy feelings and the hope of having a ‘nice’ time. The problem is, niceties cannot answer big questions.

The true Christmas story speaks God’s love, proximity and identification with humanity right into the heart of Newtown, Connecticut. You see, from the moment Jesus was born, he was being hunted by King Herod; a despot who was nervous about a prophesied Messiah being born on his patch. This meant Jesus, having come into the world in the most chaotic and wretched way imaginable, was now a refugee, his parents having to flee to Egypt until Herod’s death. But there was significant collateral damage: ‘Herod…gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under’ (Matthew 2.16).

The slaughter of the innocents is a part of the Christmas story that is sometimes forgotten, often glossed over. How many nativity scenes include Herod’s soldiers alongside the shepherds and wise men? How many times does ‘The Coventry Carol’ feature in a Christmas service?

Yet it’s integral to the Christmas story, which displays that Jesus’ life was one of identification with human suffering  (‘He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain’ Isaiah 53.3). It’s also important because events like Newtown remind us that the spirit of Herod is still active in the world. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, perhaps unknowingly, highlighted this when he stated “Evil visited this community today”. How true. And such evil. But this isn’t the evil of one ‘loner’ who we can distance from the rest of humanity and therefore cling to our supposed inherent goodness. This is the evil of the same ‘spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient’ (Ephesians 2.2) and who holds the world under his control (1 John 5.19).

Nice Christmassy message? Not very cosy and warm and ‘nice’ but then neither is the gospel a nice message, neither is God ‘nice’ in the Santa Claus sense. He is good, and the gospel is good news to a humanity that has rejected its creator, gone its own way and therefore suffers the dual consequence of being morally adrift and open to God’s judgment without a plea. The only way to overcome the awful darkness that we see displayed through our own lives and through atrocities is to believe the message; that darkness is overcome through the death and resurrection of Bethlehem’s baby. For ‘the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work’ (1 John 3.8), and; ‘Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1.15).

We need saving, we need rescuing from evil. And that’s exactly what Jesus does. He is both the Saviour and the Rescuer of the world. That is why Christmas is a matter of necessity for us. We need it. So let’s tell it boldly, and celebrate the real hope that came into the world through that baby in the manger.

Categories: Central Point Tags: , , ,

Finding Joy …in Humility

March 18th, 2011

Who do you want to be like when you grow up? I’m not just addressing this to those under 18. It’s relevant for all of us. We all have people we look up to; we all have people we aspire to be like. Who is it for you? Your Dad? Your Mum? Maybe it’s a successful businessman? Perhaps it’s a respected friend. Maybe it’s a particular celebrity you look up to and want to emulate. You see, almost all of us have role models – someone whose life serves as a pattern to imitate; a goal to shoot for. And we all know that the power of role models is enormous… and the absence of those role models can be devastating.

Now, as well as giving us something to aim for in the future, role models also reveal a lot about ourselves right now. They reveal not only what we want to be; what we hope to become… but also role models have a way of revealing to us precisely what we think we are not right now.  And the distance between my own life right now and the life of my role model; the distance between those two lives is often the distance in our minds between failure and triumph; disappointment and joy.

So what do you aspire to? And who is it who represents your goal? And how confident are you that conforming your life to be like them is going to produce the satisfaction, the sense of accomplishment, the joy that you’re really seeking in life?

Well in the passage we’re going to be looking at on Sunday, Paul’s writing to a bunch of Christians in a place called Philippi. They’ve begun following Christ, but life isn’t turning out quite as they’d expected. They are encountering opposition – and not just from outside the church. There’s a whole lot of quarrelling and dissension within the church. And Paul himself – the man they’d trusted when he’d preached the message of the Gospel to them – he’s in prison. There’s the very real risk that he’ll lose his life.

In the midst of all this discouragement, Paul writes the Philippians a letter and asks them, “Have you considered Jesus? Have you considered his life and the model it provides? For in the pattern of the life of Jesus, there’s the source and the hope of real joy.” However, as we’ll see, the particular aspect of Jesus’ life that Paul homes in on is slightly surprising!

Categories: Preaching Series Tags: ,

Smelly Shepherds?

December 14th, 2010

Well the nights are rolling in and there’s a chill in the air. Everybody is tired and I’ve just watched the Coca-Cola advert on the television. This can only mean one thing… Christmas is nearly upon us.

For many of us this strikes fear to our very core as well realise how unprepared we are for the festive season. There are presents to be wrapped, Christmas cards to send to distant Aunts, cakes to be baked and turkeys to roast.

But what is Christmas actually all about? Is it merely about presents and chocolate, or is it about hanging sparkly objects from pieces of dead stick? Or maybe it’s about managing the odd family tension and  going ‘ooo’ and ‘aaa’ as we watch kids dressed in bed sheets and tea towels stumble through their version of ‘Little donkey’.

Well yes, Christmas contains all these things but it has a much more profound and exciting purpose as well. Christmas marks the birth of Jesus and this is not just a cute story we can tell the children, nor is it a story of poverty and the triumph of good over evil. The Christmas story symbolises the beginning of hope for a lost world. It is a story of new beginnings and fresh starts, not only was it the start of the life of a child but the moment at which God enacted his rescue plan for the world. At this moment in history God sent his son to earth for us, and thirty three years later we see that baby growing up and being crucified on a cross. However, this was not the end of the story as three days later we see him being raised to life, once and for all destroying the power of Satan and making it possible for us to enjoy a relationship with God.

So, the Christmas story… an outdated tale of smelly shepherds and an unimportant child born to a poverty stricken couple. Or a story of God’s son becoming man for our sake, the story of hope for the human race and the restoration of the relationship between God and man? You decide.

You can join us to celebrate at one of our Carol Services on Sunday 19th or on Christmas Day. Click here for more info.

Categories: Central Point Tags: