Thinking Faith blogs

Off to Australia

Next week I am off to Darwin in Australia where I will be delivering an academic paper on storytelling and a popular presentation entitled James Bond, Rat worship and Postmodernism: Subversive Questions for Christian Educators.

The conference is called Educating for Tough Times. There will be more than 1000 people attending.

Here is my take on how Bond would answer the five big faith questions. Bond is a great way to get young people thinking about faith.

Where am I?

I am living in a world full of gadgets, helicopters, booby-trapped briefcases, beautiful women, luxury and enemy spies.

Who am I?

I am Bond… James Bond. I am a supremely confident MI6 agent. I am 007 licensed to kill. I have complete confidence in my ability to achieve all my assignments. All women find me extremely attractive.

What's wrong?

Sometimes I lack complete control over nature and other people. Sometimes enemy agents refuse to be killed instantly. Sometimes I am attacked by huge crocodiles and sharks.

What's the solution?

I will trust in science and technology. Q will help me here. I have complete confidence in my ability to conquer my enemies and seduce all the attractive women. They can't resist me.

What will happen to me after death?

It's almost impossible to kill me but after I die at home in bed I will rot and be eaten by worms.

King of Chavs and being true to yourself

Michael Carroll is infamous in the tabloid press as the King of Chavs after winning £9.7m on the national lottery in 2002. Michael bought 80 cars, several mansions, invested £1m in Rangers football club, built a car-racing track and invested heavily in gold bling jewellery. Along the way, the former dustman has been deserted by his wife and child, had a spell in prison for failing to comply with a drugs treatment order and turned the lives of his neighbours, Allison and Sid into a living hell. They have had to put up with two years of caravans, cars and tyres being set alight, cars being raced constantly and long days in which Michael, the self-proclaimed "Chavvy McChavChav", and his friends sit in BMWs revving the engines until the early hours. Carroll is remarkably frank about his worldview – "I want my kid to follow its dreams. If he wants to be a bank robber, that's cool with me".

The Worldview

How you use and spend money reveals your deepest beliefs. We don't need to ask Michael what he believes in order to work out the worldview that has captivated his imagination. Carroll believes in his own autonomy. No-one has the right to tell him what to do! Many western people would agree with Michael that 'following your dreams' is the very essence of the good life. Few are as frank as Michael in being open to bank robbery as a possible career option for their children. And yet the secular slogan – 'follow your heart' or 'be true to yourself' can admirably describe the lives of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. These men certainly did follow their hearts and look what it did for the world.

Subversive Questions

  • Where has Michael gone wrong?
  • Is there anything wrong with robbing banks?
  • When is it right to follow your dreams and when is it wrong?

Worldview Awareness, Nursing and Peter Singer

A BBC Panorama investigation, broadcast this week, found evidence that staff were bullying and assaulting residents daily. Four staff from the hospital have been arrested and 13 have been suspended.

Terry Bryan, a former nurse at the hospital for people with learning difficulties, said that both the care home's management and the Care Quality Commission, the regulator, had failed to act on his "grave" concerns about the behaviour of staff.

Paul Burstow, the social care minister, yesterday described the levels of abuse as "appalling" and ordered a review into why the regulator ignored the concerns raised by Mr Bryan. The Care Quality Commission admitted that it had made an "unforgivable error of judgment".

We need worldview awareness when we read stories like this.

Immediately I think about Peter Singer.

Peter Singer is a famous and influential Australian philosopher. He is a committed atheist. Perhaps he is most famous for his book Animal Liberation.

Singer completely dismisses the biblical teaching that we are made in the image and likeness of God. He asserts that this view is guilty of species bigotry. For a secular thinker like Singer it is arrogant and false to assert that humans are better than ‘other animals’. In the light of Darwinian evolution we must embrace species egalitarianism. At the end of the day there is nothing special about human beings. We are just one of many species thrown up by the evolutionary process.

So people with learning difficulties are not special.  Some aren't even persons. And if we believe this deep down – nursing care will be profoundly affected.

Delightful story from Tanzania

This is another cracker of a story. It comes from the Neema Crafts project.

Hezron's Story: Weaving

Hezron was a proud and healthy young man in his mid twenties with everything to live for – a lovely wife, two beautiful children and another on the way at any moment, when the minibus taxi he was travelling in hit an oncoming car. All thirty people who were crammed into the vehicle died, except for Hezron and a new born baby, who had to be pulled from the bodies amongst the wreckage.

That day Hezron lost the use of both legs and found himself wheelchair bound at home, unable to support himself or his family, written off as a burden to society. After two years of watching his wife and young children have to fend for themselves, he felt utterly worthless and was on the brink of taking his own life, feeling that they would be better off without him.

When he was first pushed to the centre to ask for work his voice was barely audible, his self-esteem had sunk so low. He was taken on as a trainee weaver and today – one year on – he is full of life and enthusiasm. He has become a highly skilled weaver, enjoying the therapeutic activity involved and taking great pride in the beautiful items he produces. He peddles himself to work each day on the hand-pedal 3 wheeler provided by the centre, and feels proud of himself and his ability to support his young family.

The joy he had found is plain for all to see by the broad smile he wears as he races his fellow weavers up the hill to work each morning!

Another Inspiring Story from Africa

Neema Crafts was started in October 2003 by the Diocese of Ruaha. Its purpose is to provide handicrafts training and employment for deaf and physically disabled people in Iringa region, Tanzania, and also to change negative attitudes towards people with disabilities in the local community. Local employers are invited to see how skilled the workers at Neema Crafts quickly become when given the opportunity to fulfill their potential. The high quality of their work is changing the attitude of local people towards disabled people.

Hand Made Paper Workshop

Neema Crafts was started by Susie Hart, a British woman and herself disabled, who works for the Diocese of Ruaha. She began the Hand Made Paper Workshop, with three young deaf people who were faced with an uncertain future, without hope of further education or employment, due to the stigma attached to their disability. To date there are now over 20 deaf and hard of hearing people working at Neema Crafts. They are taught how to make paper from recycled and natural materials, such as maize husks, pineapple leaves and even elephant dung! They also learn many other skills, including screen-printing techniques and how to construct their hand-made paper into albums, picture frames and cards etc.

Josphat has been profoundly deaf from birth, and was among the first 3 young deaf lads with whom the workshop was started. When he first joined he was a very downcast and short-tempered individual, having suffered years of neglect at the hands of the extended family with whom he lived, his parents having died many years previously. After a few short months training at Neema Crafts Centre, Josphat had become a highly skilled paper-maker, his self-esteem rocketed and the way he expressed himself and interacted with others was utterly transformed. No longer considered a burden by his extended family, he was now able to support himself and contribute to the household income, thus earning their respect at last.

Deaf people give each other short-hand sign names. Due a curvature in his spine Josphat had always been known as 'hunchback'. After a few months working at Neema Crafts the other deaf people at the centre spontaneously changed his sign to 'he is able', as they'd seen that he'd become the most gifted paper-maker in the whole workshop. Thus after years of being made to feel conscious of his shortcomings, his whole identity had literally changed from his disability, to his ability.

This is a lovely illustration of what Neema Crafts Centre is all about; changing negative attitudes towards people with disabilities in the eyes of those around them and also in their own eyes too.

How about this for forgiveness?

Imagine this scene from a recent courtroom trial in South Africa: A frail black woman stands slowly to her feet. She is about 70 years of age. Facing her from across the room are several white police officers, one of whom, Mr. van der Broek, has just been tried and found implicated in the murders of both the woman's son and her husband some years before.
It was indeed Mr Van der Broek, it has now been established, who had come to the woman's home a number of years back, taken her son, shot him at point-blank range and then burned the young man's body on a fire while he and his officers partied nearby.

Several years later, Van der Broek and his security police colleagues had returned to take away her husband as well. For many months she heard nothing of his whereabouts. Then, almost two years after her husband’s disappearance, Van der Broek came back to fetch the woman herself. How vividly she remembers that evening, going to a place beside a river where she was shown her husband, bound and beaten, but still strong in spirit, lying on a pile of wood. The last words she heard from his lips as the officers poured gasoline over his body and set him aflame were, "Father, forgive them".

And now the woman stands in the courtroom and listens to the confessions offered by Mr. Van der Broek. A member of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission turns to her and asks, "So, what do you want? How should justice be done to this man who has so brutally destroyed your family?"

"I want three things", begins the old woman, calmly but confidently. "I want first to be taken to the place where my husband's body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial."

She pauses, then continues. "My husband and son were my only family. I want, secondly, therefore, for Mr. Van der Broek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have remaining within me."

"And, finally", she says, "I want a third thing. I would like Mr. Van der Broek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. van der Broek in my arms, embrace him and let him know that he is truly forgiven."

As the court assistants come to lead the elderly woman across the room, Mr. van der Broek, overwhelmed by what he has just heard, faints. And as he does, those in the courtroom, friends, family, neighbors — all victims of decades of oppression and injustice — begin to sing, softly, but assuredly, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me."

Eugenics and Secularism

Marie Stopes is most famous for promoting birth control and family planning. She was a committed believer in 'eugenics' which (simply put) is the belief that we can 'breed' better human-beings. This belief deeply affected her life and in particular her use of money. She cut her son Harry out of her will for marrying a short-sighted woman called Mary Barnes Wallis. Stopes wrote: "She has an inherited disease of the eyes which not only makes her wear hideous glasses so that it is horrid to look at her, but the awful curse will carry on and I have the horror of our line being so contaminated and little children with the misery of glasses… Mary and Harry are quite callous about both the wrong to their children, the wrong to my family and the eugenic crime." When Stopes died in 1958, a large part of her fortune was bequeathed to the Eugenics Society.

Marie Stopes was a committed materialist. She believed that humans are not creatures made in the image and likeness of God; rather we are merely animals. If the Darwinian perspective is true then there is nothing privileged or special about any individual person. There is nothing special or unique about our species. Hardly anyone objects to the breeding of dogs and horses and if the uniqueness of human beings is rejected then breeding better people becomes a mouthwatering possibility. In her book Radiant Motherhood (1920) she suggested that the "sterilization of those totally unfit for parenthood be made an immediate possibility, indeed made compulsory."

Subversive Questions

  1. Do you agree with eugenics?
  2. Where did Marie Stopes go wrong?
  3. Why do we value human life so highly?

Ritual Murder and the Biblical Story

In the newspapers there have been harrowing accounts of human sacrifice. A five year old Nigerian boy was smuggled into Britain and murdered in a voodoo-style 'muti' ritual killing. He was drugged with a 'black-magic' potion and sacrificed before being thrown into the Thames, where his torso washed up next to the Globe Theatre in September 2001.

Detectives have used pioneering scientific techniques to trace radioactive isotopes in his bones to his native Nigeria. They even enlisted Nelson Mandela to appeal for information about the murder. But they always struggled to formally identify the boy, who they called Adam, despite travelling to the West African state to try to trace his family. Now Nigerian Joyce Osiagede, the only person to be arrested in Britain as part of the inquiry, has claimed that the boy's real name is Ikpomwosa.

In an interview with ITV's London Tonight, Mrs Osiagede said she looked after the boy in Germany for a year before traveling to Britain without him in 2001. She claimed she handed the boy over to a man known as Bawa who later told her that he was dead and threatened to kill her unless she kept silent.

When we read stories like this we are confronted with evil and wickedness. And we all have to give a response.

Do we shrug our shoulders and ignore this? Or do we learn to indwell the biblical story and make sense of God's love for his creation and His judgment on human and angelic rebellion? Or is this horrific murder merely the inevitable consequence of impersonal physical forces (materialism)? Something that had to happen because naturalism is the best explanation?

We need to reflect deeply and pray – Your kingdom come.

Old Mongolian Woman becomes a Christian

Hanneke van Dam is a Dutch missionary to Mongolia who works with the German organisation HELP International. She reports in a recent newsletter:

As I was buying apples in a shop, I noticed a wrinkly old lady with big bright eyes standing next to me. We started talking and I offered to bring her home. As we drove to her home, she started weeping uncontrollably: 'Such a love I am feeling, I don't know what this is'. This 82 year old Buddhist woman had had a rough life: 10 of her 15 children died during childhood, one son was murdered 3 years ago and her sons that are still alive are sick and alcohol-addicted.

As we said goodbye, the lady whispered: 'To be honest, I am really disappointed in the gods I have worshipped all my life. If they had been good, my life would have been different. I think I am going to follow that Jesus of yours now'. On Sunday she came to church in her best mantle and rubbed with eau de cologne. She was the first for the altar call to receive Jesus.

A week later, she told me that she had thrown away all her idols and prayer chains, although nobody told her to do so. 'I don't need them anymore! From now on I will only pray to Jesus. Jesus is so good! I used to cry every day but I stopped crying and feel peaceful and happy. I could never sleep at night because of pain in my legs but now I sleep without any pain. I even can walk without my stick! How glad I am that I got to know Jesus!'

(Source: Hanneke van Dam, HELP International)

Another side of the Welsh Revival

During the Welsh revival of 1904 there were many extraordinary incidents. Here is one of them.

During a revival meeting in a disused sawmill in Aberdare, a heckler began shouting – "There is no God, if there be a God strike us dead in our seats all of us three". The man was full of derision and nothing could staunch his flow. "There you are, you see nothing happens!" His scornful laughter reverberated around the building.

Pamela Shepherd, a Salvation Army preacher spoke sharply to the man – "Infidel, God is not mocked. On your knees man, beg forgiveness while you still have time". The man seemed stunned and there was a gasp from the hushed crowd as the heckler suddenly clenched the rail of the bench in front of him with an iron hold. His two friends had to prise his hands loose and then he slumped to the floor. The two men tried to lift him and then one burst out in a shattered cry – "He is dead!" Within a few weeks the other two men fell ill and died.