Many people will rightly be reminding us of Stephen Hawking’s many achievements and of his great character. I hope we can all admire the way he made the most of his life in spite of, or possibly because of, his terrible illness. I will not go into a lot of detail here about the man or his achievements, as others will do it so much better than I could. However, I do want to comment on one aspect of his life. His atheism.
Stephen Hawking rejected the possibility of there being any kind of Supreme Being
You might expect Christians to sigh with relief at his passing. Some may do so. I do not. I am glad someone set out the case against Christianity – and all religion – so well. His writings, notably The God Delusion, gave us a proper challenge. He forced us to think.
It was a pleasant change from the usual anti-Christian cliches:
I’ve never read the Bible because it’s a load of rubbish
I don’t believe in God because church services are boring
Christians are hypocrites: the vicar never visited me when I was sick
Evolution proves God didn’t create the universe
There are so many religions, they can’t all be right.
You probably know of a few more. Stephen Hawking delved far deeper.
Was that good? Yes. It is true that what does not kill you strengthens you. Faith needs testing. But so does its antithesis.
We Christians owe Stephen Hawking a great debt of gratitude.
By now, he has probably discovered whether he was right or wrong about God. Although he never seemed to give God the benefit of the doubt, let us hope God will be more generous.
Easter is the time of year when many people will be thinking about their faith, or lack of. Perhaps you will be going to church. If not, there may be good reasons, some of which I have written about. Apart from deep theological questions, for some there are more practical concerns. Perhaps you’ve tried church and just couldn’t fit in, or perhaps there were things you didn’t understand and didn’t know who to ask.
How can I help you cope with Easter?
I tried to provide some help in my book How to Cope with the Church. It covers how to pray, how to read the Bible and what if you’re not free on Sundays, and looks at some misleading ideas about God.
What’s my Easter gift?
The e-book version will be free on Kindle from Monday 26th March to Friday 30th, which are the five days leading up to and including Good Friday. What better time to pause and think about your faith and/or your churchgoing?
I have written before about my attitude to the Police. As a writer of crime fiction, I have to portray the forces of Law and Order. You are entitled to ask whether the image in my books is the one in my head, or is it just something I have created for artistic purposes? The answer is that I try to be realistic, but make some allowance for the demands of the story. As I said before, if the constabulary did a wonderful job every time, why would we need an amateur detective like Frank Hill.
Does my view of the Police matter?
I know that I have a certain responsibility, because what we read, even in fiction, affects our world-view, at least to some extent. You tend to believe something you hear often, even if it is a lie or half-truth. The image sticks. It becomes an assumption rather than a stated belief.
Has my opinion of the Police changed recently?
Yes! To some extent. As I said before, in any profession there are bound to be some people who do their jobs really well, others who do it satisfactorily and some who are in the wrong job. I did not suggest those who enforce the Law in the UK are generally corrupt or unjust. However, two recent legal cases have brought out some worrying facts.
In one, the Court dismissed rape charges against a man, when the Prosecution admitted that the Police had withheld from his defence team evidence that was in his favour .
In another case, the Court held the Police liable in negligence for repeatedly failing to act on allegations against a taxi driver who was a serial rapist.
One of the worrying aspects of both cases was the reluctance of the Police to admit their fault, even after the Court judgements.
In the first case, it seems they were more concerned about getting a conviction than obtaining justice.
In the second case, they appeared to be saying they had to prioritise resources. Was an allegation of rape not a sufficiently high priority?
How will this affect the portrayal of the Police in my writing?
That remains uncertain. In the second book in the series Accounting for Murder, which is subtitled Old Money, I show the Police as honest and reasonable. They just get it wrong and are quite hostile to Frank, at least at first. Perhaps you will see more serious failings in later books in the series. Old Money will be published later this year. Hopefully, in a few months. I hope the Police will have started to improve by the time you read my third book in the series.
They have announced a review, not only of religious broadcasting, but also of the way they portray religion in drama and other programmes. I hope this includes soaps and documentaries. They say they have noticed that society has changed and they need to reflect this aspect of it too. At last!
Does this mean ‘propagating’ religion?
Some people object that it is not the job of the BBC to propagate religion. That would be a fair complaint, if the BBC was always uncritical in its treatment of the subject, but I think it tends to give a negative impression of Christianity in particular. I will come to that later. But first things first.
What should be the role of the BBC regarding religion?
There are several things the BBC should be doing, none of which constitutes propagating. It has a duty to inform, educate and entertain. Therefore:
The BBC should report on religious matters in news, current affairs and documentaries, just as it reports on other aspects of society, from business to the environment.
The Corporation should not confine its interest to any one religion or denomination. It needs to convey the breadth of beliefs and practices that exist, even within the Church of England.
It should try to understand people, institutions and ideas it reports on.
They should beware of stereotyping any group, whether clergy, businessmen, farmers or teenagers.
Religious programmes should not concentrate on doctrine. What actually goes on in a mosque or synagogue? In other Christian denominations? How does religion affect people’s daily lives?
What complaints do I have about the way religion is treated at present?
I am especially unhappy about the portrayal of Christians in dramas. They are almost always shown as either judgmental hypocrites or nice but naive. I expect both kinds exist, just as most stereotypes can be found in real life, but the vast majority of Christians I have known have been sincere, human, fallible and generally reasonably intelligent and sensible. Most of the missionaries I have known have really cared about the people they went to serve, and have been at great pains to avoid cultural imperialism.
What would I like to see? Positive, but rare, examples I have seen on TV in the last year or so are Rev and the curate in Call The Midwife. Forgive me if I have missed any.
Is it Good News of a great joy that will come to all people, as the angel said?
I hope you had a joyous Christmas. It should be the season of joy for Christians of all people. I have written about reasons to celebrate this season, whatever your religion or lack of one. I have also written about happiness and why Christians should be happier than anyone, at least most of the time. So why do some Christians find Christmas difficult?
Six things that can take away your joy.
You can get too busy and feel so much pressure like anyone else, but for Christians it’s worse because we’ve got to fit all that church activity in on top of family, work, parties and all the rest of it.
You can feel guilty when you are challenged by seasonal appeals from charities. You want to help them all but you can’t.
You are aware of many people who find this a difficult time, because of family tensions, money problems, sad memories. Can you avoid being insensitive, without becoming to be gloomy?
You feel frustrated at the secularisation and commercialisation of Christmas. Was there once a time when it wasn’t like this? You don’t know how to relate to people for whom this is the time to spend lots, eat lots and get drunk often.
You feel guilty for joining in too much with the above and being too much like everyone else.
Even in church, you’ve heard all the readings and carols so often it’s hard to feel the excitement you think you should.
What can you do to get some joy?
If any or all of these apply to you, remember:
You are human. He knows our frame. He knows we are but dust. (Psalm 103 v 14). Remember that other people are human too.
It’s OK to fit in sometimes. Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.
The birth of Jesus is such a great event that no celebration of it can be wrong or too much, even the secular elements.
If it seemed stale, pray for just some small part of it, a line from a carol, a bit of a sermon, a verse from the Bible to come alive for you. Then hold onto it.
What joy have I found this Christmas, so far?
Like a lot of people, I have found the dark, dull, damp days depressing. Things got a bit on top of me a week or two ago. Then I read the Christmas story in the version of the Bible we use for Open the Book. Something I have written about previously. It’s the Lion Storyteller Bible. The Christmas story is told in a “Good News – Bad News” format. I noticed that the angels always gave good news, but the bad news came from people. I saw how easy it is to see things from one perspective. I prayed for God to show me his perspective on a few things. Even though I haven’t yet got tidy answers, I feel joyful. I know there IS another way of looking at things.
In a miserable mood? Does the news depress you? Is the weather getting you down? Does this lift your mood:
Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la, la la la la la
Oh, so you’ve not got a hall and you’ve seen the price of holly.
‘Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la etc
You’ve nothing to be jolly about? Really? Be ready for jollity to descend on you, like it or not. Like this:
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way,
You can’t stand the mindless jingles they play in supermarkets, precincts and lots of other places. Try a church. Some of them play decent music and it’s usually got meaningful words.
Oh what fun it is o ride on a one-horse open sleigh!
No. I’ve no idea what it’s like to ride in a one-horse open sleigh and I certainly can’t say I’d find it FUN. Find something you’d prefer, like watching old movies or reading Sunday supplements. Whatever.
Are you in a generous mood?
Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat
Not keen on goose? Prefer turkey? Well, Christmas is coming anyway. You can’t say nobody’s warned you. It’s been coming since before Guy Fawkes Day, according to the shops. Get ready.
Please put a penny in the poor man’s hat?
I know! You’re fed up with charity appeals and if you put a penny in every poor man’s hat you came across, you’d end up broke and joining them. Be fair. You’re not as badly off as a lot of people. Spare something to give to someone or some charity. You must agree with some good causes, surely?
Are you in a thoughtful mood?
Are you in the mood for a proper Christmas carol?
While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground, the Angel of the Lord came down and glory shone around,
You don’t buy into all this angels, glory, wise men, virgins and all that? Not too keen on shepherds anyway? Can’t even give it the benefit of the doubt? Have you tried looking beyond the imagery at the real story?
Glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind.
Nothing to bring you joy in the angel’s message? Does the birth of Jesus not give you cause to rejoice? The carol, and the Bible, says “all mankind” – this great joy is not just for Christians.
How about these reasons to get into the right mood:
For a Christian…enough said already.
For a Jew: Jesus was Jewish and lived in Israel. He is the most famous and popular Jew ever. Whatever has been done in his name, he loved his fellow-countrymen.
For a Moslem: Jesus/Iesu is a person revered in Islam. “The Spirit of God”. Is his birth not a cause for celebration, even if you don’t accept him as more than that?
For a Hindu: is not Jesus one of the religious figures you worship? Is his birth not cause for celebration, even if you can’t accept his uniqueness?
For a humanist: are Jesus’ teachings not important? Are they not the basis for a lot of good deeds? Can you not celebrate his birth as that of an important historical figure, even if you deny his divinity?
For anyone who doesn’t give a **** about any of that: well, OK – it’s as good an excuse for a party as any other. Make the most of it!
Whatever your mood, remember: Christmas IS coming. Enjoy it. Get into the mood!
As I said in my last blog, my gift is my detective novel, Accounting for Murder, Double Entry. Itis available free on Kindle this week, from Monday 18th to Friday 22nd December. Read it over Christmas and be ready for the sequel, Accounting for Murder, Old Money, coming soon. Buy both as a gift for someone for Easter? Go to the link below on Monday.
Is the real story, why I have not published the sequel yet?
My second detective story, Accounting for Murder, Book II, Old Money, will not be published before Christmas. There have been various delays and now I am re-rewriting it. They say anyone can write a book (!) but the skill is in rewriting, to get rid of all the faults. I am also working on another non-fiction book, about Risk Management. My second detective mystery will probably be out early in the New Year. I hope you will find the wait worthwhile.
What books are you getting for Christmas?
If you have not yet read Accounting for Murder, Book I, Double Entry, now could be a good time, so you’ll be ready for the sequel. Anyway, you want a new detective story to read during the Christmas holidays, don’t you?
I am giving you an extra Christmas present this year. For a few days before Christmas, you will be able to get Accounting for Murder, Book I, Double Entry free on Kindle. Watch for details of the dates.
Remember my post asking for votes and/or money to help finish this project? Aviva give grants to community projects based on the number of votes made on their website. The project is to build a new church and centre in and for the community in Penketh, Warrington. We didn’t get quite enough votes to win the grant from Aviva we were after. But thanks for trying anyway.
It isn’t only about the grant
Thanks also if you are one of the people who gave money. Of course, we are still trying to raise the (nearly) 100,000 pounds we need. You can give on the donations website.
A lot of work had been done by volunteers and by contractors since I last wrote, but there’s plenty to do before we can use the building.