Cameron tried to send love to Murdoch editor: FAIL!

I haven’t kept up with the details of the Leveson inquiry into the British press. But I sometimes see headlines of something really shocking, and sometimes of something really stupid. But today’s news takes the biscuit: something potentially shocking but also so hilariously stupid that no one will take it as seriously as they perhaps should.

Rebekah BrooksToday at the inquiry, as the BBC reports, it was the turn to give evidence of Rebekah Brooks, former editor of the Murdoch newspapers the News of the World and the Sun, and then Chief Executive of  Rupert Murdoch’s company News International until she was forced to resign in 2011.

It has long been known that Rebekah is a personal friend of Prime Minister David Cameron. So it is hardly surprising that they exchanged regular text messages, although she has called allegations that he texted her 12 times a day while opposition leader “preposterous”.

But what really seems preposterous is this part of Rebekah’s evidence:

She said the prime minister signed off most texts with the letters DC but occasionally used the acronym LOL.

But she said he stopped this when he learnt the text shorthand stood for “laugh out loud” not “lots of love”.

In other words, David Cameron, a married man, was in the habit of trying to send “lots of love” to this woman friend, but he in fact completely failed to do so! I’m not sure which is more concerning, that he would have this kind of relationship with a newspaper editor, or that he would be so incompetent at expressing his love. I’m sure Rebekah indeed laughed out loud when she found out what was happening.

I hope these revelations don’t cause difficulties between David and Samantha Cameron or between Rebekah and her husband Charlie Brooks. But I would be pleased if they signal the end of the far too cosy relationship between the British government and the Murdoch controlled press.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: Cameron’s religion?

Be NiceOnly this evening I came across the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), in Allan Bevere’s post Jesus Without the Church? Not! The term was apparently coined by Kenda Creasy Dean, in her book Almost Christian (which I have not read). Bevere quotes Ben Gosden‘s summary definition of the beliefs of MTD adherents:

  1. Moralistic: The object of Christian faith is to be nice to others in accordance with moral lessons in the Bible as well as natural law observed through reason.
  2. Therapeutic: The main purpose of life is to find happiness.
  3. Deism: God created the world and holds ultimate power, but is very uninterested in human life and will not intervene except when someone needs an answer to a problem.

John Meunier has given a rather more detailed description of Advanced MTD, to which Kenda Creasy Dean herself gave an appreciative response.

Dean, Meunier, Gosden and Bevere all suggest that MTD is the typical religion of American churches, at least from their shared perspective in the United Methodist Church. Indeed Meunier writes that

This religion is so deeply embedded into our congregations that digging it out will be fatal to most. Like a cancerous tumor, it has invaded too many vital organs to be safely dug out.

I can’t help wondering if this MTD is in fact just as deeply and fatally embedded into most churches here in the UK, especially but not only in the Church of England. Perhaps the “therapeutic” side is not so strong here. But the deism is probably even stronger: nobody expects God to intervene just because “someone needs an answer to a problem”.

This, it seems to me, is the kind of religion which Prime Minister David Cameron professes, as seen for example in his Easter message, in which he spoke of two roles of faith:

Faith has a huge amount to bring not just to our national life in terms of values; it has a huge amount to bring in terms of strengthening our institutions …

And for him “The values of the Bible, the values of Christianity” are “values of compassion, of respect, of responsibility, of tolerance”. But there is no mention here of God intervening in anything, except Cameron perhaps implicitly rejects this in his sceptical remarks about the Resurrection, which I discussed in my post Cameron and Obama on the Resurrection.

Nor is there any explicit mention of the “Therapeutic” aspect of MTD, but this is implicit in his remarks about tolerance and in support of gay marriage. Cameron clearly believes that homosexuals have the right to have anything which they think will make them happy, and anyone who seeks to deny this, even with the intention of “strengthening our institutions”, is considered intolerant and beyond the pale. Now he is entitled to his opinion on this matter, but it is one more characteristic of MTD than of true biblical Christianity.

So, what can we do? It looks as if Cameron wants to encourage MTD in this country, at the expense of genuine Christian faith. But when so many of our church leaders are adherents of MTD, what can the rest of us do? Well, I guess we can show MTD to be false when, in response to our prayers, we see God intervene to set our nation to rights. So let us pray!

Cameron and Obama on the Resurrection

Barack Obama and David CameronPrime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama, who met recently in Washington, have both taken the opportunity of the run-up to Easter to talk about their Christian faith, including their position on the Resurrection.

Gillan Scott gives the text of David Cameron’s Easter message at a reception for Christian leaders. Gillan highlights some positive points in this message. Like Phil Groom in a comment, I am far from convinced that Cameron is really signalling a change of policy on gay marriage; rather, I would suggest, by insisting that the government proposals are only about civil marriage, he is asking Christians to choose different battles to fight.

But the main point I want to make here is not about gay marriage at all, but about Cameron’s Christian faith, or lack of it. Last year I wrote about how seriously he misunderstands the Bible, as centrally “about leading good lives and helping each other as best we can”. This week’s message shows all the more clearly how little true faith he has:

… actually, really, Easter in many ways is the one that counts. Even those of us who sometimes struggle with some parts of the message – the idea of resurrection, of a living God, of someone who’s still with us – is fantastically important even if you sometimes, as I do, struggle over some of the details.

So what Cameron seems to be saying, in somewhat confused words that are surely his own and not a speech writer’s, is that he doesn’t really believe in the Resurrection or in a living God who is still with us. For him, it seems, Christianity is merely “about leading good lives and helping each other as best we can”. But that is not Christian faith at all; it is no more than what the best of atheistic and deistic philosophers thought. Indeed, if Cameron doesn’t even believe in a living God, he really should call himself a deist or an agnostic, and make no claim to be a Christian.

So it came as a pleasant contrast to read these words spoken today by Barack Obama, quoted by Joel Watts from a speech at the White House Easter Prayer Service:

It is only because Jesus conquered His own anguish, conquered His fear, that we’re able to celebrate the resurrection. It’s only because He endured unimaginable pain that wracked His body and bore the sins of the world that burdened His soul that we are able to proclaim, ‘He is Risen!’

These are the words of a true Christian. Mr Cameron, will you be able to join Mr Obama this Sunday in proclaiming, with genuine faith, “He is risen!”?

David Cameron writes like the KJV

David CameronPrime Minister David Cameron in effect writes “Like the KJV”, but he also writes like the KJV. Not that he uses old-fashioned language, thee’s and thou’s etc (see what David Ker wrote about how these are misunderstood today), but that like KJV (in most editions), the written record of his words, from his speech in Oxford yesterday about that Bible version, is chopped up into short lines, often only part sentences, typeset as separate paragraphs.

I thank Eddie Arthur and Archdruid Eileen for pointing me to the full text of Cameron’s speech, which meant that they were able to comment more fully and intelligently than I did last night. As I already wrote in a comment on that post, I agree with Eddie’s conclusion, in line with my earlier post, that the PM has missed the main point of the Bible. Perhaps, as leader of a multi-cultural and multi-religious nation, he was politically obliged to skirt around it. But his self-description as a “vaguely practising” Christian suggests that there is more to this than political expediency.

Nevertheless, there are some parts of Cameron’s speech which I greatly appreciate, such as this:

I have never really understood the argument some people make about the church not getting involved in politics.

To me, Christianity, faith, religion, the Church and the Bible are all inherently involved in politics because so many political questions are moral questions.
So I don’t think we should be shy or frightened of this.

I certainly don’t object to the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing his views on politics.
Religion has a moral basis and if he doesn’t agree with something he’s right to say so.

But just as it is legitimate for religious leaders to make political comments, he shouldn’t be surprised when I respond.
Also it’s legitimate for political leaders to say something about religious institutions as they see them affecting our society, not least in the vital areas of equality and tolerance.

I have copied this extract from the official website without reformatting (unlike the extracts I quoted yesterday from the BBC report) to show something of how it is divided into very short paragraphs. Indeed in some places they are even shorter, as here:

I think these arguments are profoundly wrong.

And being clear on this is absolutely fundamental to who we are as a people…

…what we stand for…

…and the kind of society we want to build.
First, those who say being a Christian country is doing down other faiths…

…simply don’t understand that it is easier for people to believe and practise other faiths when Britain has confidence in its Christian identity.

Why is the text divided up like this? Is it so that each phrase can fit on to a teleprompter screen? Is it to help Cameron with phrasing and intonation as he speaks? In any case, it is a reminder to us that Cameron’s text, like the KJV in his own words, was “intended to be read aloud”. He makes a good point in criticising other versions (he mentions NIV and the Good News Bible):

They feel not just a bit less special but dry and cold, and don’t quite have the same magic and meaning.

As Eddie points out, understanding of the Bible text has to be primary, and so it should not be presented in mysterious or obscure language, as over the centuries much of KJV has become to many English speakers. A translation should be as clear to its readers as the original text was to its intended audience. But just as the Bible was written primarily to be read aloud, and to sound good as such, it is right for translators to produce versions which when read aloud sound good, warm and meaningful.

David Cameron does God

Some years ago I noted that Tony Blair does God, but only after he had left office, and that the next Prime Minister Gordon Brown was also reluctant to talk about God while in office.

David CameronBut their successor seems to have set aside this reluctance, perhaps a reflection of him being leader of the party traditionally associated with the Church of England. Indeed a BBC headline proclaims that David Cameron says the UK is a Christian country. This initially unlikely sounding assertion is explained in some of Cameron’s words:

We are a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so …

Let me be clear: I am not in any way saying that to have another faith – or no faith – is somehow wrong. I know and fully respect that many people in this country do not have a religion. And I am also incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make our country stronger. But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.

Referring to Alistair Campbell’s comment that politicians shouldn’t “do God”, Cameron continued:

If by that they mean we shouldn’t try to claim a direct line to God for one particular political party, they could not be more right. But we shouldn’t let our caution about that stand in the way of recognising both what our faith communities bring to our country, and also just how incredibly important faith is to so many people in Britain.

So is this statement an unacceptable intervention by the state, in the person of a Prime Minister, into matters of religion? Or is it, from the other side of the coin, unacceptable for Cameron to bring his personal Christian faith into the political arena?

I would say it is neither. It is good and proper that a professing Christian is leading our country (that is by no means an endorsement of his policies!) and is prepared to speak out about his faith, in an appropriate context. It is right that he doesn’t “claim a direct line to God”. I’m not sure I would quite agree with his assertion that “We are a Christian country”, even in the way that he explains it, when there are so many here with other faiths or none at all. And it might have been politically wiser to avoid saying this, and possibly offending those who are not Christians. But it is his right as Prime Minister to do so.

It is also excellent that Cameron has been prepared to play a prominent part in marking the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, not only in his speech in Oxford today but also in contributing to the People’s Bible project (whatever I might have thought about his choice of verses for the latter). I hope that this publicity will prompt more people to read the Bible, either in the KJV or better still in a more modern version that they will understand more clearly. And I hope and pray that they will not just read it but will take its message to heart and come to know the God revealed in its pages.

So what is the central message of the Bible?

Yesterday, in my post No, Mr C, that’s not the central message of the Bible, I wrote that Prime Minister David Cameron doesn’t seem to know what that central message is. But I made no attempt to state what I think it is. So it is with good reason that Archdruid Eileen, in her own post The Central Message of the Bible, asks:

But if some nice words about being good aren’t the central message of the Bible, what is? Is there a central message at all?

A family Bible from 1859Now those are very good questions, especially the second one. Does the Bible have a central message? Or is it just a collection of different documents each with their own central message? It certainly is such a collection. But it is not a random collection: the books were chosen, under God’s providence, to convey an overall message, the story of God’s dealings with humanity from the beginning to the coming end. And this message, as it is a coherent one, can be summarised and its central point can be found.

So what is this central message? The Bible does include the words which Cameron chose to write out, and also some rather different sentiments which the Archdruid notes. How can we say which, if any, of these are central? I suppose that is a matter for literary analysis, a subject in which I would not consider myself an expert. But I can still offer my tentative opinion. And this is based on the idea that the focal point of a narrative is usually not at the centre but towards the end, after an extended build-up, but also not at the very end because there is usually some kind of epilogue.

On that basis, the focus of the Bible is not on the Old Testament, which is an extended build-up, but also not in the latter parts of the New Testament. That tends to suggest that it can be found in the four gospels. Then within each of these gospels we can look for the central message. Each of them (at least if we include the longer ending of Mark) consists of a long build-up and a short epilogue, and in the focal position there are two climactic events, the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Is one of these two more central than the other? Well, that is the point of the series which I recently started, and intend to continue, Cross or Resurrection. So here I will only give a sneak preview of the conclusions I expect to reach in that series, that these two are equal in importance, in the Bible as well as in the Christian life.

I note also what the Apostle Paul considered too be “of first importance”, with the cross and the resurrection given equal place:

that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.

1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (NIV)

So, I would conclude that the central message of the Bible is very simple: Jesus was put to death on the cross and rose again from the dead.

No, Mr C, that’s not the central message of the Bible

As the Guardian reports, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has contributed to the People’s Bible project, a copy of the King James Version handwritten by celebrities and ordinary people. Thanks for the link to David Keen on Twitter.

David Cameron at his home in OxfordshireApparently the PM ignored his office’s suggestions and chose his own verses to write. And this was his choice:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. 9Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (KJV)

Now these are good sentiments for a top politician, who should hopefully not just “think on these things” but also put them into practice. But I am concerned by the following words, a spokesman’s explanation of Cameron’s choices:

The reason he chose those verses is because he’s always liked them.

They contain the central message of the Bible about leading good lives and helping each other as best we can. There is no hidden meaning and I wouldn’t read between the lines.

No, Mr Cameron, that is not the central message of the Bible. So if this is really the whole reason why you chose these verses, then you clearly don’t have much understanding of the Scriptures.

This morning I read this on Google+:

To most Christians, the bible is like a software license. Nobody actually reads it. They just scroll to the bottom and click “I agree.”

It seems as if, apart from a few favourite verses, that is what the Bible is to David Cameron. Without a firm scriptural foundation it is no wonder that his Christian faith, in his own words, “sort of comes and goes”.

But if Bible believing Christians keep out of politics, from fear of “dominionism” or compromise, then of course we can’t expect any better of those do who find their way into high office.

Not Brown, but blue and orange

At least here in Chelmsford even the sunset sky was painted in the colours of the two parties of the moment, blue and orange, as David Cameron took over as Prime Minister.

Gordon Brown faded away much more quickly than I expected, apparently because his own Labour party was not behind the suggested “progressive alliance” with the Liberal Democrats.

So we will have a coalition instead between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. I wish the new government well. I hope its colours will turn out to be not so much of the sunset as of a new dawn for our great country.