Friday, 23 October 2009

News Talk (with Alison Ruoff)

Another shot in the dark – for anyone interested:

I am going to be on Premier Radio’s Newstalk tomorrow at 11.30am talking about this week’s news stories: in London digitally on DAB radio, or 1305, 1332, 1413 MW, in the UK on Sky Digital 0123, Freeview 725 and also live online at

I was on with Alison Ruoff: and, although she looked vaguely familiar, (the picture I had seen was this one: I wasn’t aware of her position on anything until we were recording (we recorded this morning). So, when I said, “the sooner the Church of England has women bishops, the better” I wasn’t expecting the outburst it provoked from Alison - her deep radio voice carrying the gravitas of her years. “Absolutely not,” she roared, “I will leave the Church of England if there are women bishops.”

Unfortunately the programme stopped there, so I didn’t get a chance to come back at her. I asked Alison afterwards whether she would become a Roman Catholic if the Church of England had women bishops. “No,” she said, “I will go to a Church that doesn’t have women bishops.” (I should have taken the opportunity here to point out that the Methodist Church in Britain does not have women bishops; its President and Vice-President next year will both be women.) Alison added that she didn’t have a problem with woman headship in the secular world, but not in the Church. Her role model? Margaret Thatcher.

I really do not understand the need to mystify the male position of authority within a spiritual context. It fractions rather than fosters our relationships with one another. It is divisive, deceitful and dishonest to cow-tow to an authority that is distinguished solely by the end in itself. All this does is depersonalise us and cripple our compassion rather than enrich our understanding.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Question Time

There seems to be a growing assumption from the Right ( that it’s only po-faced Liberals who are against the BNP appearing on this Thursday’s Question Time.

So, for those who didn’t spot it: Claire Fox wrote just as compelling a piece in yesterday’s Evening Standard ( as Melanie Phillips did in yesterday's Daily Mail (

Let's hope the BBC Trust doesn't lose its nerve.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Overcoming Violence in India

I am posting a link to a "sound bite" podcast I've put together following India.

It's called "Overcoming Violence in India" and it's dated October 16, 2009 (at the moment it is at the top of the page, but it will drop down the page over time).

The MP3 recorder I took with me was faulty. I didn't realise this until I was back in the UK. This has resulted in the loss of two of the six interviews I recorded (one of them with Bezwada Wilson, national convenor of Safai Karmachari Andolan - a movement for the elimination of manual scavenging). Three of the surviving interviews were only partially recorded and only one came out intact. So, I've just had to work around what was left and salvage all I could. This is why my voice comes in so abruptly at the "end" of three of the interviews (because the machine cut out half way through). Anyhow, maybe you wouldn't have even noticed all these problems if I hadn't pointed them out...

I reckon if I smoked 40 a day I could work up a sexy, deep radio voice. As it is, I am not exactly Charlotte Green...

Manual Scavenging

Here is the forth piece I wrote following the India trip:

I interviewed Bezwada Wilson in the dark on the balcony of a Delhi appartment. He suggested it would be quieter there then the living room where hosts and guests were socialising and tucking into food. I was so eager to interview him that I completely forgot I didn't have any insect repellent on and I was wearing open-toed shoes (er, with no socks). The mosquitoes were digging their fangs into our flesh and I started hopping from one foot to another, trying to ignore them. They got me twice on the same foot.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Free Thinking on Climate Change

A great piece of free thinking by Martin Beckford in yesterday’s Telegraph online:

It's clear Martin would rather like the Church of England to talk about something else other than climate change (which he doesn’t dispute is happening, but which he thinks has become an own goal for the Church). He illustrates this by pointing out that Church of England press releases have mentioned climate change more than they have mentioned God and Jesus this year. What, then, would Martin want God and Jesus to be talking about in 2009 if not climate change?

Well, he gives a hint: “As I pointed out last time, almost all environmentalists agree on the need to reduce the global population, but while the Roman Catholic Church rejects this solution, the Church of England fails to address it.”

Population control. Hmmm... I wonder what women bishops would want to talk about, if the Church of England had them?

Friday, 9 October 2009

In The Beginning...

Maybe the next thing that will come out of Bible scholarship is that mathematical possibility preceded God:

Thought For The Day

There was a deadlock in the final vote at the LICC debate last night: “This House Believes that Humanist speakers should be included in BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day."

Dr Andrew Copson, British Humanist Association.
Ariane Sherine, Atheist Bus Campaign.

Canon Giles Fraser.
Rt Rev Nick Baines.

Chairing: Radio 4 Today presenter, Edward Stourton.

The closing count was 21 for, 21 against and 10 abstentions. The network manager for Radio 4 was there and, of course, he abstained and kept his real opinion private.

I voted for the motion on the assumption that a humanist thought for the day would be philosophical rather than divisive.

Some members of the audience assumed that a humanist take on Thought For The Day would eventually become a series of platitudes, rather like listening to Imagine being played over and over again on the slot every week. The criticism followed an example of a humanist Thought For The Day by Ariane Sherine (founder of the Atheist Bus Campaign), which was very benign in its promotion of kindness, tolerance, forgiveness and plaurality of beliefs. She also argued that secularists had been marginalised for centuries. Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Croydon, said: “I was nearly in tears when Ariane was saying how deprived humanists have been.” (This was all the funnier when Ariane rolled her eyes.)

I think that we don’t know what we would hear so it would be interesting to find out.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Monday, 5 October 2009

Living Letters

Here is a link to the first report on a meeting I attended in Delhi:

It has attracted a robust critique by P.N. Benjamin, coordinator for Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD). For the record, the Living Letters team did not stay in anything you could call a five star hotel. However, Mr Benjamin appears to agree with the Church leaders’ call: “they must turn their attention the discrimination faced by Dalit converts within the Indian churches.”

(FYI - Before editing, the first paragraph originally read: "Indian Christian leaders have called on the Church to confess that the caste system is still being practised in churches.")

(In fact, here is the report as I orginally wrote it:

Indian Church leaders call for an end to caste discrimination inside and outside the Church

Indian Christian leaders have called on the Church to confess that the caste system is still being practised in churches.

The call came as senior representatives of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) met to discuss the Church response to poverty and exclusion on the International Day of Prayer for Peace (September 21).

An ecumenical Living Letters team representing the World Council of Churches was also present at the debate held at the YMCA Conference Hall in New Delhi. The ecumenical group expressed its solidarity with the NCCI in overcoming violence in all its forms – from poverty and neglect to discrimination and murder.

Bishop Taranath S. Sagar, President of NCCI, said: “There are millions of people who are subject to poverty and discrimination by the caste system in India. This is equal to racism. The outcast Dalits are being treated as Untouchables, not having access to dignified human lives and subjected to all kinds of humiliation.

“The Church should always be 100 percent sensitive to pain in society. Jesus was always sensitive to people’s suffering. He would go up to people and touch them. How sensitive are we to understanding the tears that the Dalits are shedding every day? Women are being raped, children are under nourished, food is not available to everyone and natural resources are not being distributed equally. Although the Constitution has laws to protect these people, in practise it is not happening.”

The Indian Constitution first outlawed discrimination on the basis of caste in 1955 with the introduction of the Anti-Untouchability Act, later renamed the Civil Right Act in 1979. Further protection for the outcast Dalits and tribal Adivasi people came with the Prevention of Atrocities Act in 1989. However, according to Church leaders and social activists in India, the implementation of these laws has been almost non existent.

Bishop Dr D.K. Sahu, General Secretary of NCCI, said: “People need to look at violence in all its forms. According to statistics, about 300 million people in India are in need of food. What else do you call that if not violence which makes people suffer hunger on a daily basis? India has cultures of a caste system and a culture of patriarchy. There are 2.7 million Christians in India and they are predominantly Dalit and predominantly poor.

“I think the Indian Church has to make a confession first. If you are alienated in society and you become a Christian, you are alienated again. We tell them, ‘if you become Christian then there is no discrimination’, but once they become Christian they are looked down upon by Christians of higher castes. A higher caste Christian will never marry a Dalit Christian, yet we say we are all one.”

Following questions put by the Living Letters team, Church leaders also explained what initiatives they were supporting in order to end caste discrimination. The NCCI is backing public interest litigation in the Supreme Court, making the case that Dalits and tribal people of Christian and Muslim identity are not covered by the Prevention of Atrocities Act. During Lent, the NCCI called on Christians to fast for justice in the name of Dalit liberation. NCCI members are involved in ecumenical dialogue about how the Church can be just and inclusive. A number of non governmental organisational campaigns also have the backing of the NCCI, such as Safai Karmachari Andolan - a campaign to end manual scavenging led by Bezwada Wilson.

Revd Dr P.B.M. Basaiawmoit, Vice President of NCCI, said: “In India, there is apartheid. The Dalit issue is a racist issue. Dalits are not seen as human beings. Tribals are less than Dalits.

“If the Church removes its own exclusiveness then we can begin to talk about inclusion of others. We have to work for inclusion in the Church.”


Here is a link to a few pictures:

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Glorious India

I have been accused of showcasing the poverty of India on my blog and not showing much by way of its glory. This really wasn't my intention.

Also, when I wrote that I believe passionately that social justice falls within the ambit of religion what I really meant was that religion falls within the ambit of social justice. Religion doesn't own social justice.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Kandhamal, Orissa, India

A short video of Kandho tribals and Pano Dalits dancing and singing on the site of their recently, legally demarcated land in Kandhamal, Orissa, India. September 2009. Filmed on a Blackberry.

These people lost their homes in the violence that swept through Orissa last August following the death of the Hindu hardliner, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati. While I was there, a van turned up and a couple of men started unloading asbestos sheets to be used for roofing.... Asbestos! Rama Hansraj from Catholic Relief Services told me that people were aware of the health hazards of asbestos. Apparently, it is slowly being phased out in India. But after this, I started seeing it all over the place. Adverts for asbestos down a high street in Hyderabad, for example!

Anyhow, on a more optimistic note, I can tell you that I was told by community workers that Christian and Hindu children are playing with each other once again in some Kandhamal villages.