Gerald shares his heart for the region

January 26, 2010

Gerald shares his heart for the region in this talk given to the Pioneer Engage plant early January. Download the notes from the talk here: pioneerengage.org.uk/teaching

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There Probably is a God – a counter campaign

March 12, 2009

The British Humanist Association in their “There Probably isn’t a God…” campaign state on their web page that “our vision is a world without religious privilege or discrimination, where people are free to live good lives on the basis of reason, experience and shared human values.”

All very good, and I’ve no doubt that people who have no faith in God can adjust and modify behaviour which leaves them “ethically concerned but non-religious”.

But a brief look at the atheist bus campaign donors paints a completely different picture. This is what a number of donors have written about the Christian faith and Christian people. Thus far comments, easily accessed on their donation page, include:

“Let’s sue the Church –Ethics comes from personal and cultural experience, not dogma – belief in God is an obstacle to Holiness – The game is up for centuries of twoddle from Bishops and priests – God is dead. Heaven is empty – This is for that “Christian tosser” in Southampton, put this on all the buses and sack the pillock – I’m fed up with all that Alpha Course garbage everywhere!”

And much more besides.

So much for an atheistic world view where people are “free to live good lives on the basis of reason, experience and shared human values.”

Theory is when you have ideas, good theology is when ideas have you.

To be sure, the majority simply said it was a “good idea”. Most gave between £5 and £10 and so far over £150,000 has been donated.

Roy Hattersly, the well known writer and former politician is an atheist. He is also known for his fine books on the Enthusiasts, Wesleyans, Moravians and evangelicals. I once did a 30 minute programme with veteran broadcaster Joan Bakewell where Mr Hattersly was also a guest.

The thought of there being a God horrified him. It raised too many ethical and moral questions. But following hurricane Katrina he acknowledged that Christianity produced a better quality of person that atheists do.

Whilst I believe that to be true, from my many encounters with atheists on radio and television, the reason we as Christians are able to respond to drama and crisis is because we are organised. Local churches can make immediate responses to area-wide crises or quickly raise money to send to Tear Fund, Christian Aid or other worthy charities who pour millions of pounds into desperate situations around the world for 52 weeks a year.

The brilliant writer and commentator Matthew Parris recently wrote that what Africa needs is the Christian gospel. He made it clear that humanitarian aid was insufficient to rebuild family, society and the structures of politics, education and industry.

He noted that at one stage he was happy with the humanitarian aid, but why the gospel?

Now he realises that the gospel has changed the DNA, motivation, and therefore lifestyles of those working in Christian aid organisations.

It is interesting that whenever there is a disaster people aren’t calling for atheists to give rhyme or reason to what’s happened. It takes something more than atheistic rationality to make sense of injustices (often created by people hiding behind religion) or atheists like Stalin wiping out 20 million of his own people, our Mugabe, Kim Jong-il, and so many more who are not exactly known for their faith and commitment to Christian values.

But in the world of Richard Dawkins’ atheists, there is no YMCA/YWCA, Christian Aid, Tear Fund, Christian youth organisations, Christian faith schools, or the continual funding of agnostic/Christian charities by churches around the world. No Christian architecture of Cathedrals, Abbeys or Cloisters, hardly any Radio 4 – dependent as it is on music relating to Christ’s birth, life and ministry and Biblical events.

Strangely there are many atheists who like these fruits of Christianity.

In this country the Advertising Standards Authority has cleared the advertising campaign despite more than 300 complaints. ASA have to investigate even if there’s only one complaint.

According to the ASA the campaign was an “expression of the advertiser’s opinion and therefore unlikely to mislead or cause widespread offence”.

I for one welcome this campaign. More money spent on posters will lead to more discussion of the Christian faith, Christian rationalism as well as spirituality.

I was on the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 a while back. Jeremy asked the atheist questions which I allowed him to answer and every time I tried to answer Jeremy’s questions to me the atheist leapt in, exposing theology which was about 75 years out of date!

What seems to have raised the ire of so many in the atheistic campaign is the huge response to Alpha, which in recent years has seen 2 million people complete the course in the UK.

A regular newspaper speaks of healed and reconciled relationships, addictions to pornography, gambling and alcohol broken and people formerly living for themselves now living for others.

Mmmmm. I think that’s the world most of us would like to live.

Ariane Sherine who kick-started the original campaign is said to be delighted this campaign has gone global. Well Ariane, wherever you go we’ll be there to meet you.

It was the late, great journalist and thinker Malcolm Muggeridge, who for years ran with the likes of atheists including Bertrand Russell and Sir Freddie Ayre – who were unbelievably influential in the 1950s, seemed to be on television every week and were highly effective in debunking the church and faith, particularly to university students. Many believed it was this often hilarious academic’s sometimes bitter crusade that paved the way for the free love, promiscuity and drugs of the 1960s.

But there came a time when having lived and worked as a journalist in communist Moscow, which he said was “like a bear that crushed you to death” and then in capitalist Washington, which he likened to “a cancer that eats you to death” he heard some words ringing in his ears. “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Muggeridge reflected “if only there had been another man I could have gone to, another road I could have travelled or another book that made more sense, but there was no other such man, no other such road and no other such book – so almost against my will, I submitted to the irresistible grace of God.”

His conversion didn’t escape the press who wrote page after page of his newfound faith. He dedicated most of his royalties to charitable work, particularly to work in India with Mother Theresa, lived humbly and entertained in his Robert’s Bridge, Sussex, home almost until the end of his life.

This is Christ at work in his people, with all of the flaws and deficiencies we live with. I wonder is this a better world than what we see elsewhere?


A letter sent to Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC

November 10, 2008

Firstly can I say, with many thousands of others, that Mark Thompson was absolutely right to suspend Mr Ross and Mr Brand in the light of a huge public response to the humiliation, shame and distress caused to Andrew Sachs, his granddaughter, family and friends.

As it happened, my wife and I returned from a social event on the evening of the 18th and as we returned by car found that radio was tuned to Radio 2. We never did hear the offensive material aimed at Mr Sachs and his granddaughter, because it was so awful we turned it off after 90 seconds!

In what we heard, Mr Ross had explained he’d done his wife a small, fair favour and he was going to ask for a favour back and “slip up behind her” in bed.

This caused waves of hilarious laughter, gross comments from Mr Brand and general leery, loud and dirty responses.

Mr Ross highlighted Mr Brand’s promiscuity and the language soon descended into the similarity between quaffing various brands of wine to various vaginas!

We were then treated to a number of tastes, by which point it was turned off.

I confess, over the next few days it had occurred to me to write and complain, but both Mr Ross and Mr Brand poke fun, swear, blaspheme and talk dirty whenever they can on radio and television and any letters of complaint appear to have been taken with a pinch of salt.

This has continued for a very long time.

The fact this was pre-recorded and authorised for broadcast is even more stunning. These calls were not a prank, they are illegal. If I did this privately, never mind on air, I’d almost certainly be receiving a visit from the police.

Were I to be found guilty of making malicious or abusive phone calls I could be fined or sentenced with several months in prison. Perhaps this is what Mr Ross and Mr Brand need to bring them back into the real world. Whereas if bank tellers, shop assistants and waiters spoke to us like this we would take our business elsewhere.

I was barely out of my teens when 40 years ago Kenneth Tynan uttered the F word on TV, and slowly at first, but with massive acceleration of late, we’ve been subjected to this arrested adolescence where the likes of Ross and Brand congratulate themselves for breathing, insulting, laughing and talking all at the same time!

With the exception of the tightly scripted Jonathan Ross film review programme, any time messers Ross and Brand stray from their autocue, they stray from comedy idealism to pragmatism – in other words what can we get away with?

Their lavatorial humour, expletives, blasphemies and obscenities regularly spill over into mainstream comedy of all things cooking and traffic cop programmes. It’s not that there haven’t been complaints but this rise of gratuitous, offensive and usually not very funny attempts to shock and offend without care or understanding that we are paying their wages!

Lastly, I’m told that Traffic Cops, aired by BBC1 Mondays at 9pm recently had 27 serious expletives broadcast.

Friday Night with Jonathan Ross 10.30pm had 19 serious expletives, of which 9 were bleeped out – that must have been pretty bad!

But the BBC are not alone in this regard. Jamie’s Ministry of Food on Channel 4, Tuesdays 9pm, had 27 serious expletives, ITV 1’s Natural Born Sellers recently had 21 serious expletives – and so I could go on.

I once asked former politician Jonathan Aitken what led him to lie about a bill at the Paris Ritz of less than £1,000. He responded, when you think you’re at the pinnacle of your career you’re indestructible and unassailable. A few months in prison and an encounter with Christ and Christianity changed all that for good.

Perhaps we should be praying for Mr Ross and Mr Brand, in the hope they will use their significant skills and intelligence to benefit others, albeit for entertainment, not ridicule, offense and indecency, which increasingly it seems they are the only people who find funny.

Yours sincerely,

Gerald Coates