Tuesday, 23 February 2010


What a dismal low our politics has sunk to! Has the difference between the "main" parties become so insignificant that it has come to this?

Bullying happens in the church, unfortunately, and we have procedures for recognising and dealing with it. It is not the same as people being irascible. Bullying has distinct characteristics :

- it focuses on and exploits people's sense of inadequacy (and everybody, no matter what they say, senses personal inadequacy). In this respect it is "satanic" in the true sense - it tells people "You're no good, are you?" "You can't do this, can you?" Mere aggression may be upsetting, even intimidating, but it doesn't necessarily implant that worm of self-doubt. Bullying can take place without any overt aggression at all.

- it tends to take place over a long period of time, gradually undermining a person's sense of self-worth, often through barely noticeable things - a passing word, a glance, a minor action e.g. bypassing someone in decision-making, leaving someone 'out of the loop', going behind someone's back, giving someone a task without giving them the resources to do it.

- it often also tries to recruit others into reinforcing this pattern by colluding with it. It is at this point that it becomes most dangerous.

I don't know what happens in military training nowadays, but in the past carefully controlled bullying has been an important part of the training process - it grooms people to become torturers in their own right once they are set free to take their own resulting sense of self-loathing out on more vulnerable people.

I have heard nothing in the discussions about what may or may not have been going on in the office at No.10 that refers to bullying as such at all.

New blog launched

As I become increasingly involved in Oxford Green politics, my blog posts are tending to deviate away from the original focus of this blog. Also there is a danger of a blurring between my 'professional' life as a church minister and my political life as an individual.

I've therefore launched Green Wolff, a new blog at http://www.greenwolff.blogspot.com

Friday, 19 February 2010

your carbon pinprick

The Bishops of Oxford and London and others are going to reduce their carbon footprint for Lent by (amongst other things) reducing their mobile phone usage. I've done a quick rough calculation :

An hour on a mobile phone equates (at a rough calculation) to leaving a 100w light bulb on for 50 seconds.

It wouldn't consume enough energy to remotely begin to start your car, let alone drive it! It might heat the glow-plugs of your diesel car up (i.e. turning on the ignition) before you actually try starting it.

A typical surge-protected 8-way multiplug, if left switched on (but with nothing plugged into it) is roughly equivalent to having 20 mobile phones permanently in use. The one I've got (no longer using) used 43 watts doing nothing. According to another rough calculation : over the course of a year, that's equivalent to boiling 5,000 kettles of water for two people. It would take my mobile phone about a day and a half to boil the same kettle.

In fact, the 'Carbon Fast' suggestions for Lent from Tear Fund (see http://www.tearfund.org/webdocs/website/Campaigning/CarbonFast09/Carbon%20Fast%202010%20actions%20for%20web.pdf) which is what the bishops are signing up to is a good list of suggestions. Looks like it's their PR people that don't quite get it.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

to be 'free' is to be 'free for relation'

Rowan Williams's address to the Church of England General Synod (see http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/2752 ) is a helpful and practical overview of the meaning of freedom.

"The freedom claimed, for example, by the Episcopal Church (in the United States) to ordain a partnered homosexual bishop is, simply as a matter of fact, something that has a devastating impact on the freedom of, say, the Malaysian Christian to proclaim the faith without being cast as an enemy of public morality and risking both credibility and personal safety. It hardly needs to be added that the freedom that might be claimed by an African Anglican to support anti-gay legislation likewise has a serious impact on the credibility of the gospel in our setting. And in the Communion we have no supreme executive to make the decisions that might settle how the balance of freedom might be worked out."

He challenges the individualistic understanding of freedom :

"This, you see, is where the Christian understanding of freedom has a distinctive contribution to make to the broader discussion of liberties in society. Christian freedom as St Paul spells it out is always freedom from isolation – from the isolation of sin, separating us from God, and the isolation of competing self-interest that divides us from each other. To be free is to be free for relation; free to contribute what is given to us into the life of the neighbour, for the sake of their formation in Christ's likeness."

And he urges people to resist seeing others in two dimensions rather than three. Reality is more complex. He describes the hard practical work on gun crime that the Episcopal Church in the USA, stereotyped as a liberal talk-shop, is doing in the Bronx and the compassionate work the Church in Uganda - typecast as passionately homophobic and Biblically literalist - is doing in the rehabilitation of child soldiers and the continuing, intensely demanding work with victims of trauma and HIV.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

"Put the gun down, Mr Hoggart . ."

A response to Simmon Hoggart's article about climate change 'true believers' in this Saturday's Guardian (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2010/feb/06/climate-change-simon-hoggarts-week) :

If Simon Hoggart is 'agnostic' about man-made global warming leading to irreversible climate change then he must be allowing for the possibility that the warnings are correct. What probability of that would he need in order to support urgent action on carbon reduction? One in six? If I played Russian roulette it would seem rather silly to boast that I was 'agnostic' about whether the spun cassette had landed on the one loaded chamber before pulling the trigger. But as I understand it, the scientific consensus is that at least five of the six chambers are loaded, most of them not with blanks. In which case we're talking, not about 'agnosticism' but stupidity. The fact that the 'gun' is pointed at the world's poor and our unborn grandchildren adds reckless irresponsibility to the score card.

Now factor in the quite separate issue of the probability that global demand for oil will outstrip maximum possible supply within eight years.

Now consider the low risk involved in action : weigh up the possibility that a low-carbon economy is not only achievable but that it could offer more political stability and a better quality of life to more people on the planet than the present set-up has proved capable of delivering.

Add it all together, and you have to conclude that his article is both silly and dangerously irresponsible. This is nothing to do with religious faith. I don't have to be a 'true believer' to say 'Put the gun down, Mr Hoggart. You don't have to do this.'

Friday, 5 February 2010

We can't afford cynicism

The BBC has been responsible for some excellent programming lately : Radio 4's 'Analysis' last week was a thorough piece on Green thinking (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00q3cnl) even if a bit too negative for my liking.

But there are times when I want to throw something at the TV or radio. If I hear one more time 'good news' that the 'economy is growing' I may not be responsible for my actions. If we really want the economy to 'grow' in this sense, the best thing would be to engineer thousands of deaths in multiple car pileups - because that will make money whizz round the system nicely. How long will it be before the BBC gets the message that 'economic growth' (as measured by GDP) means virtually nothing?

Last night's main TV news allowed us to wallow further in the MPs expenses scandal, without actually learning anything. The real scandal never got a mention. The real question that I've never heard anyone ask or answer is 'who set up the allowances system in the first place, and why?' There was a passing mention that the MPs themselves set it up. True up to a point : but as I understand it, that was back in the 1970s, i.e. virtually none of the MPs currently in Parliament were responsible. Sure they could have challenged it at any time since, and it is no credit to Parliament that no-one (so far as I know) did.

It's exasperating because it encourages cynicism about politics and politicians. It encourages people to imagine that the world would be a better place without politicians. A more stupid notion I can't imagine, given that politics is about how power is distributed and used. A world without politicians is complete anarchy. We can't afford cynicism.

Many years ago I chaired a Church Meeting in which we discussed a letter we'd received from Ken Livingstone's GLC. One lady said she'd not got any time for politicians - they were all a waste of space. Sitting next to her was her husband, recently out of hospital where he'd received life-saving heart surgery. I had to remind her that without politicians she'd have been a widow.