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Short Cuts

Some things that have caught my attention this week...

Understanding Afghanistan
William Dalrymple’s Return of a King received numerous glowing reviews on its publication a year or so ago. I have only just got round to reading it, and it is an incredible achievement. With western troops in the process of withdrawal from the latest Afghan adventure, reading this account of the first Afghan war is both informative and sobering. The stand out quote of the book is from Sir Claude Wade on the eve of the 1839 invasion of Afghanistan by British troops,

There is nothing more to be dreaded or guarded against, I think, than the overweening confidence with which we are too often accustomed to regard the excellence of our own institutions, and the anxiety that we display to introduce them in new and untried soils. Such interference will always lead to acrimonious disputes, if not to violent reaction.

Nearly 200 years later, and we are still making the same mistakes.

Women bishops and all that
I was amazed that the vote by the general synod of the Church of England to open the office of bishop to women should be headline news on the BBC. Firstly because it can be a matter of little interest to the vast majority of the public and secondly because that it would eventually happen was inevitable from the moment women were allowed to become ‘priests’ 20 years ago.

As one outside of Anglicanism the whole structure of that church is somewhat baffling to me anyway, but all of us have our on going discussions about the role of women. Andrew and I have a gently rolling debate about this in the context of teaching (or “T/teaching”). As Andrew expressed in a post earlier this week he doesn’t think that the teaching on a Sunday needs to be “T” teaching, so he is happy for “t” teaching to take place. While granting that one of Andrew’s “T’s” is probably worth four of mine, I take a different angle from him on this issue. If you have a model of church in which the Sunday gathering is regarded as the high point of the congregational week, and if it is on Sunday that the main teaching is delivered to the largest proportion of the congregation (and I think Andrew and I are agreed on that) it is simple pastoral logic that we should be aiming for “T” teaching on Sundays: the kind of teaching that serves to guard, guide and govern the church – even if often we fail to do this as effectively as we should. This is even more the case in a culture like ours where even committed church members tend to be ‘twicers’ – not attending twice on a Sunday, as was the norm in my youth, but twice a month. Assuming that the typical church member is only exposed to between 60 and 90 minutes of teaching each month, I think that means we cannot afford to aim for our teaching to be anything other than Teaching.

In a typically provocative article, Brendan O’Neill (my favourite atheist commentator) writes about our societal obsession with child abuse. He concludes by saying,

The underlying cause of the paedophile panic remains unaddressed, unfixed. And that cause is modern society’s desperate need for moral clarity, for a sense of moral purpose, in an era when the old moral certainties have collapsed and the question of what is right and wrong, good and bad, is more confused than ever. In such a shaken, relativistic climate, the paedophile has emerged as the clearest personification of evil, the creature against which we might juxtapose ourselves and in the process discover what it means to be good. This is why every element of the elite, from the political class to all sections of the media to the charity world, has devoted itself to panicking about and posturing against paedophiles: they need these devils, wherever they might be found, to try to magic up a new morality in a post-moral era.

I would go further than O’Neill and suggest that the reason the paedophile has become this personification of evil is our collective bloodguilt over abortion. A society that allows hundreds of thousands of babies to be killed each year has to make atonement somehow, and chasing down paedophiles is our way of doing it.

Assisted Dying
We’ve had a slightly rough week in the Hosier household. Grace has been struggling with a stomach bug all week, and on Monday I put my back out; I am strapped up to a TENS machine and hobbling like the lame as a result. On Wednesday I spent four hours at the hospital with my second daughter who, while using a sewing machine, managed to sew over her finger, with the needle breaking off in it. This afternoon I am back at the dentists for the next stage of treatment having broken a tooth a few weeks back – I think it will be the delights of root canal treatment this time.

Of course, these are all extremely minor ailments, but they are a reminder of the weakness of the body and why those whose bodies have failed much more catastrophically might want to hasten the ‘mercy’ of death. Today the House of Lords debate the Assisted Dying Bill and I’m sure that the language of mercy and compassion will be much in play. However hard it may seem, I think the way this language is employed is misplaced – as does Theo Boer, a Dutch ethicist who used to support assisted dying but, “now, with 12 years of experience, I take a different view.” You can read what he has to say here.

This video by Baroness Grey-Thompson is also worth a look


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