And because this of all things would rejoice his heart, let us at this time remember in his name the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed…
So prayed the congregation at King’s College Cambridge as they do every year in the popular broadcast service. It probably always was a bit of a mismatch. People who turn up to the services probably don’t think of it as an act of solidarity with the poverty-stricken, any more than singing ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ generates concern for the people who live there, surrounded as they are by the Israeli security wall.
There’s a telling article by Laura McInerney in Tuesday’s Guardian contrasting the recent Pisa report on the attainment of school children with the policies of the British Government. According to the Report Britain is middle-ranking and not climbing up the scale at all, despite all the trumpeted policy changes.
Education Secretary Michael Gove and Schools Minister Liz Truss have blamed poor standards on ‘progressivist’ methods: child-centred learning, group work, allowing students to express opinions and share in decision-making. Instead, they want more rigour, especially memorising facts and ‘disciplined’ learning.
True story, from a non-religious friend. The family received a Christmas party invitation from neighbours who have just moved in. The invitation was to drink mulled wine and sing Christmas carols.
Sing Christmas carols? Not part of the family tradition. They had a closer look at the invitation card. It contained a biblical verse. They decided to decline the invitation.
In the last few days I have had a couple of bus rides sitting next to people who positively smelled. It was a redolent reminder of the variety of lifestyles people have.
Because I live where I do and use the buses a lot, I often see people with very different lifestyles from mine. There is nothing unusual about that, but I fear it’s becoming less usual. As the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, more people have an incentive to insulate themselves from those with whom they have little in common. They then become unaware of what life is like for those others.
This is one of the big religious questions, perhaps the biggest of all.
There is a huge debate about it. The technical term is ‘theodicy’. If God the creator is good, why does God allow suffering and evil? The problem is highlighted if we take seriously the principle, which Christians and Muslims have inherited from Jews, that the divine creator is all-powerful, all-knowing and perfectly good. So it is not surprising that, since the Holocaust, Jews have been in the forefront of debating the question.
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