Saturday, May 31, 2008
Just like Blink last year (written by the same guy, as you might have guessed) this week's Doctor Who episode is a blinder. And unlike Blink, it's also a two-parter, with enough unfinished plot threads to weave an entire tapestry. Here's a few of my predictions.Donna, and the other 4,022, are saved, not as in "rescued" but as in "document". This is a library, for crying out loud. I'm pretty confident about this: the teleport will have been re-rigged into a makeshift pattern buffer in order to save the remaining populace, such as it was. It's an old Star Trek plot device, and goodness knows they had a high proportion of redshirts.Professor River Song (Riverson, I thought the credits said) and the girl in the house are the same person. Admittedly, this is a complete guess and is probably wrong. But in the "Making of…" programme afterwards, Russell T was hinting darkly at how everything would make sense, so there you go.Clearly the makers are meant to be hinting at some kind of relationship between the Professor and the Doctor in the future. His future, that is, not hers. It's in her past. With the classic hand-hold at the end of the episode, I wonder if she doesn't end up as a Doctor's assistant. Can Professors be assistants to Doctors?On the episode in se, I liked the spoilers/spoilers theme; it's taken the Doctor down a peg or two, bringing in someone from his future as there really are things that he doesn't know. The Vashta Narada aliens are a very clever touch; last year we were afraid to close our eyes, now we're afraid to step out of the light. Some of the visual trickery they have to pull off for those effects is quite stunning, and getting the timing right when you're doing split-dialogue recording must be an impressive task. Or do they do it all with cuts nowadays?Incidentally, there's got to be something rather odd about people who would rather edit the Doctor Who episode page than watch the episode itself.
Friday, May 30, 2008
In pictures: Brazil tribe (BBC)If you've ever read John Grisham's The Testament, this must be the kind of place where his missionary character was working. They're quite amazing pictures of this Amazonian tribe with absolutely no contact with the outside world. Still, I think I'd sooner have the UK!Macmillan ignored smoking warning (BBC)The then-Chancellor of the Exchequer decided that the public health risk was small compared with the benefits to the Exchequer, and so argued for a policy of studied ignorance. It evidently didn't occur to him that the Great Unwashed might want to be able to make the same calculation for themselves. And so it is that Yes, Prime Minister strikes again.
Hacker: Humphrey, we are talking about 100,000 deaths a year.Appleby: Yes, but cigarette taxes pay for a third of the cost of the National Health Service. We are saving many more lives than we otherwise could because of those smokers who voluntary lay down their lives for their friends. Smokers are national benefactors.(I doubt the figure ever was a third, actually; tobacco raises about £8bn, and the most recent Budget allocated £105bn to the NHS.)
Thursday, May 29, 2008
It's a requirement of being listed on the stock exchange that companies produce annual reports; possibly also half-yearly reports, although I'm not so sure about that. Anyway, most companies produce very professional reports, summarising the business and piling in as many facts and figures as they think will bamboozle analysts into upgrading the company's recommendation.A few of the smaller companies, however, have chairmen whose views are somewhat more idiosyncratic. These are the sorts of men who, given a soapbox and half a minute, will have told everyone exactly how to put the world to rights.Partly for your delectation, and partly because I want to store it for future reference, I offer this link, to a Motley Fool discussion thread wherein participants have been recalling some of the better company announcements they have read. I particularly recommend El Oro's reports; here is the latest one. Just scroll down a little for the Chairman's Statement, and enjoy.
Michael Spencer is clearly unimpressed; Adrian Warnock reserves judgment; Terry Virgo is open–but–cautious (which is probably a new experience for him *ahem*). I've even dug up one charismatic who claims to have had a vision warning against it as Satanic; if more people knew about that it'd put the cat among the pigeons for sure. According to Dan Phillips, who is unsurprisingly unconvinced, "people as far away as England are wondering about it."Although York Baptist is normally about five years behind on any evangelical fad , it does mean that it's something I probably ought to be aware of, given my occasional run-ins with charismatic brothers at church.
So what do I make of it? I could wave this kind of thing off with a cessationistic hand, and I have days where I'm ready to do just that.But let's take it on its, erm, merits. I can't remember the exact quote, but the kicker was "he came out of his coffin praising God and Todd Bentley." No-one—I repeat, no-one—who was resurrected in Scripture came out singing the praises of the instrument. No-one.The claim of having been "in heaven" is always a little suspicious, too. "No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man," says the Lord. And Paul seems content to describe his experience in 2 Corinthians as a vision or revelation, without insisting that "he was really there" (whatever that means in relation to heaven).My Dad was in Bangladesh recently and saw Muslim "holy men" doing many of the things you see televangelists doing, and taking payment for them in much the same way (there's no suggestion that Bentley is doing that, by the way). So even if reports of the supernatural have not been greatly exaggerated, that doesn't remove the obligation on us to assess every so-called "new" movement according to Scripture, to understand whether what is being presented to us is the "old" gospel.Sadly, it looks like Bentley is content to sound his own praises in the midst of a congregation. That tells me all I need to know. I heard that this was a cause of complaint from one of those charismatic brethren, who in a church meeting expressed concern that we always missed "every move of the Spirit." I wasn't present, but on hearing of this, demurred, thinking that we weren't being carried to and fro by every wind of doctrine.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Read Hywel Jones on preaching sola fide, to non-Christian and Christian alike. (Acknowledgement: Scott Clark.)On a note of pure, unadulterated name-dropping, he was my father's immediate predecessor in the pastorate at the church where I grew up (it was Hywel's last pastorate; he then moved into academic theology as principal of LTS).
I was listening to an old Issues, Etc. programme about the doctrine of the two kingdoms today, and it occurred to me that there looks like a tension or two within it. It's not a question I think about a lot, and so I find myself thinking of what the psalm says, "I do not deal in matters great, Nor things for me too high." Nevertheless, I'll try to explain where I think it needs to be more carefully articulated, if the tensions are to be avoided.In explaining that the government can do things that private citizens may not, Todd Wilken referred to the question of an armed citizenry, saying that it is not for private citizens to bear what he called "the sword". It seems to me that this would influence the question, in the States, of so-called "Second Amendment rights". But there's a tension, right there, given that the 'apolitical' doctrine has just produced a very political statement. And at that, one with which I reckon a good deal of two-kingdoms types in the States would disagree.I also wondered what it did for 'just war' theory. If the government decides to go to a total war footing in order to secure needed resources, on what basis do we oppose that? Being somewhat Van Tillian in disposition, I have an innate suspicion of the claim that you can legitimately argue morality from a secular perspective.Then there's Wilken's entirely justified view that no form of government is prescribed in Scripture, although many are described. The way he expressed it, though, seemed to be somewhat at odds with the now-standard Western Christian defence of democracy as "the most truly Christian political system", or even as "Christianity in government". Well, accepting that the case can be well over-stated by Christians who are favourable towards democracy, nonetheless it seems fair to say that ideas of liberty, equality and participation are consonant with good Christian ethics and also with democracy. Is it really the case, as Todd Wilken seemed to be suggesting, that we ought to be indifferent, as Christians, between the systems that give rise to Robert Mugabe, Hu Jin Tao, Vladimir Putin and Gordon Brown?Finally, and with a nod to the Bishop of Durham, it seems to me that the gospel is a declaration which the world will hear—and in its way, rightly—as a political statement. If we declare that "Jesus is Lord!" then we say that Caesar, at the end of the day, isn't, and our allegiance is owed to the King of kings. That has political implications, doesn't it?
Saturday, May 24, 2008
How about ten years too late?The explanation for the long 'honeymoon' after Blair's sweeping into power in '97 was because the Labour party manifesto was straight out of the traditional wedding superstition: "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue".Perhaps my next one'll be more topical…
Friday, May 23, 2008
The number of the day is 17.6%, the swing from Labour to the Tories which occurred in yesterday's Crewe & Nantwich by-election. Gwyneth Dunwoody, who held the constituency until her death earlier this year, had a 7,000 majority (she achieved a high-water mark in 1997 when her majority was nearly 16,000) but the Conservative candidate reversed the numbers to a majority of nearly 8,000 on a turn-out which was not significantly lower than in 2005.The somewhat concerning thing about the swing is the implication for the next general election: if the entire country replicated the 17.6% swing from Labour to Conservative, we'd be looking, according to a little bit of playing with the Torygraph's political map, at a parliament with a Conservative majority in excess of 330. Labour would have under 100 seats and the Government's majority would be a little under twice the size of the Labout Government's majority in 1997.Now, I'm not a natural Tory voter, and only have a small handful of issues on which a Tory candidate could have even the remotest chance of convincing me to vote his way. Nevertheless, I can remember Tories complaining that even if they deserved a drubbing in '97, a Government with a majority of nearly 180 was far too strong for the country's own good; I have to say, the subsequent events suggest they were right. So, I wonder, who will be complaining now that a potential majority of 330 for the Tories is far, far too strong for the country's good?
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Often mis-attributed to the Bible and counter-attributed to Benjamin Franklin, this phrase turns up unexpectedly in Matthew Henry's commentary on Joshua 5:13–15; Henry died when Franklin was about six.As with anything like this, it's not quite so simple as to allow us to attribute the phrase to Henry rather than Franklin. The textual history of Henry's commentaries is fairly muddled, as the books were completed after his death by other ministers; so one of them might have added it. It's even possible it was added in the revision of 1811, although the phrasing (particularly the use of "that" rather than "who") suggests an older use of the English language. And it appears in italics, which in Henry tends to mean he is quoting another author or common saying. So whoever inserted that phrase, and odds are it was Henry, was quoting a common saying of the day. Of course, it's a rather odd saying to read in a Bible commentary, given that the entire witness of Scripture stands directly against the sentiment, so I'm hoping I'm wrong and it wasn't Henry who slipped it in.A bit of fishing around with Google reveals the culprit to be a classical Greek playwright, Aeschylus, and answers.com has what seems to be a fairly conclusive mapping of the phrase from Greek to modern English, although Henry isn't present, despite having an almost identical phrasing to Franklin but twenty-five years earlier. So now we know.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Every minor annoyance nowadays seems to get its own ream of legislation to ensure that people don't misbehave. Rather than rail against this tendency for once, I'm going to celebrate it with a suggestion of my own.What is it with walking while you're talking on a mobile phone?The number of near-misses I've had and seen prove that no-one is able to concentrate on any sort of motion while they've got a brain-fryer stuck next to their ear. Given that pedestrians can also pull off the kind of manouevre (sudden braking to a halt for no good reason being a good one outside Marks and Sparks) which would see a driver or cyclist pulled off the road, my proposal is simple. Treat the foot exactly like the car. Require walking proficiency tests at school, ban mobile phone usage while moving and prohibit drunkenness in charge of feet; Boris has already made a good start by banning drunkenness when in charge of a Tube ticket.Who's with me? Let's get Britain moving!
Friday, May 16, 2008
Off the back of an Ed Clowney sermon, I was thinking about this whole business of the content of worship, with particular reference to sung worship, although not limited to such. While the argument for exclusive psalmody clearly isn't one Ed subscribed to, nor is it one I have much time for, he made an important point about having language—and thought-patterns—which are conditioned by Scripture, recounting the benefit of having prayed with John Murray whose prayers, he said, were almost all quoted Scripture.Another side of this is an educational question, which came out of a recent White Horse Inn discussion about the "language of the faith": if you asked an average church member in your congregation what "propitiation" is, or what "justification" means, would they be able to tell you? It may well be that people can expound the doctrine without the vocabulary, but that's like trying to explain the off-side rule without using words like "ball" and "goalkeeper". Why should we expect the church to have less vocabulary than football?Then there's a question about the way our culture is confronted by our theology. In the West, we have an obsession with expressing ourselves, and while in many contexts even within the church, self-expression is a good thing, we need to recognise our limits. Our own thoughts and feelings cannot always be trusted; we need look no further than Psalm 73 to see an example. We can all too often turn our feelings into perceptions of reality, and need to hear God, speaking through his word, in order to be given a less tainted vision: of Christ, first of all, and of ourselves secondly. In other words, put theologically, the fact that our sinfulness reaches throughout our entire being means that we should maintain a healthy scepticism about our abilities to come up with acceptable worship independently.Finally, there's a theological question. In gathered worship, whose word has priority? Obviously, when the Scriptures are being read and expounded, then God's word has the priority; but how about when we sing, or pray? Whose word has the priority then? Surely, the word of God has priority even when it is us who are responding to his word in song, or seeking his face in prayer.I get funny looks occasionally—not always—from people when they find out that if asked to pray in church, I have everything written out beforehand, rather than just "winging it". Of course, there have been occasions where some news has come in to be prayed about just before the service started and I have had to slip in a paragraph on the hoof. But I always wonder what's going on in their minds: it seems that they value spontaneity above everything else, and given Psalm 73, I'm not too sure that God agrees; I think that he values faithfulness to his word somewhat more.Postscript: Bob Godfrey also wrote a very helpful article dealing with a lot of these issues; I understand that he himself
believed [edit: he's still alive, so he] believes in exclusive psalmody, but he clearly doesn't press the point, preferring to make the case for the priority of the word of God, rather than its exclusivity.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
So, the simple fix to the 10p tax debacle has prevailed. Her Majesty's Robbers and Crooks will move a couple of tax bands around to send up to £120 back to each taxpayer below higher rate, at a cost of £2.7bn to the Exchequer. The MP for Edinburgh South West was on Today this morning, telling Sarah Montague that the famous 'fiscal rules' were more like… guidelines.Apparently, when his predecessor—no, not Malcolm Rifkind, do pay attention—said that borrowing should only be to invest, he fully intended to add, 'over a full economic cycle (and not in any specific case).' So that's all right, then, the Debt Manglement Office can put out another £2.7bn of debt to finance this reversal. But only this year, we're told, which makes me wonder what's going to happen to the tax brackets next year.He was pressed by the redoubtable Ms Montague on the point that this really isn't investment, and then decided that a better tack was to argue that it is going to be, kind of, sort of, ish, invested, in the British economy. I think he really wanted to say that the UK population is going to make an asset class out of beer and curry. And what a difference £3bn will make in a £1,300bn economy, I must say; this must be the Scottish equivalent of George Bush's vaunted tax cut in the States.And of course, through all this let us not forget that this fix is not a solution, as reported by the Times. Those who were hardest hit by the initial tax arrangement will gain the full benefit, but as they lost out by £230, they will only recoup about half their losses.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Not morally or politically, but financially, that is. According to a report in the FT recently, the Labour Party could need to file for bankruptcy. I've always wondered exactly how it is that political parties can get loans: what's your business plan for getting the money back? Surely any sort of scheme to turn an election victory into healthier party finances would be outright embezzlement.Anyway, the good news is that Labour has a backer who's willing take over the running of the Party, paying a fair value (according to the Second Lord of the Treasury's own valuation method), and once it's been cleaned up, sell it back. Here's a full copy of the letter, sent to the leader of the Labour Party.
Friday, May 09, 2008
One of the things I've noticed is that while evangelical preachers can be hesitant to preach Christ from an Old Testament passage which is practically screaming his name at the Christian reader, they would sooner shed their own blood than preach him from a passage in which he is crucially absent. What do I mean, that Christ is absent from a passage, you rightly ask, especially given that I'm such a stickler for preaching Christ from all of Scripture? Let me give an example.
And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to me; all of them are bronze and tin and iron and lead in the furnace; they are dross of silver. Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have all become dross, therefore, behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. As one gathers silver and bronze and iron and lead and tin into a furnace, to blow the fire on it in order to melt it, so I will gather you in my anger and in my wrath, and I will put you in and melt you. I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted in the midst of it. As silver is melted in a furnace, so you shall be melted in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the Lord; I have poured out my wrath upon you.”And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, say to her, You are a land that is not cleansed or rained upon in the day of indignation. The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured human lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst. Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain. And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord has not spoken. The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice. And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God.” (Ezek. 22:17-31)Okay, so this is the "prophetic perfect tense", in which the Lord speaks in the past tense about something to happen in the future. And what's he saying? The prophets, priests and kings are arrogant, selfish and profane, and the people are rotten to the core. And so the Lord looks for someone to 'stand in the breach', classically taken to be intercession, but that doesn't quite do it. Walls don't plead with an invader to go away, they bear the full weight of the attack and thus avert it for the people behind the wall. There is a moral 'breach' in the walls of Jerusalem, caused by the lack of a righteous man who will stand for the people, and because of that lack, the Lord must lay the punishment on the people.What Israel needs is a perfect prophet, priest, king; a true Israelite who will serve faithfully, and substitute effectively. Our passage leaves us with the question, Where can we find such a man?That's what I mean by observing that Jesus is missing from the passage: there is no presentation of a potential solution to the conundrum, the Lord does not promise such here. And yet, we know that the solution is that the Lord provides himself as the one who stands in the breach, to bear the full onslaught of his own wrath. Jesus is the missing solution to the present problem. And having been there, I can tell you that even evangelicals whose preaching I generally respect will preach this kind of passage as if we are to provide the substitute by our intercessory prayer. So this outline matches that of the sermon I heard, and here's Matthew Henry's interpretation.So you see, there is a kind of passage from which Christ is absent, and his presence is way in which the crucial tension within the passage is resolved. I wonder, can you think of any other Old Testament passages in which a similar tension is resolved by Jesus?Oh, and if you want a bit of a chuckle, read this sermon. Verse 30, apparently, is a good springboard to talk about Patrick Henry, an 18th-century American Revolutionary. Lord, have mercy.
Ha! Fooled you. I'm not thinking of the beleaguered Minister for the Civil Service, although some may think the advice wise for him, too. No, I'm thinking of Gordon Ramsay, who today told the Beeb that he wants the Government to outlaw—yes, you read correctly, outlaw—the sale and use of out-of-season vegetables, with fines for those who break the law.Half of me wants to treat this really sensibly, and half just wants to mock. So indulge me for a moment and then I'll try to put a straight face on.
A silent menace stalks the night. Sowing the seeds of destruction wherever it goes, it is deadlier than a crate of small arms and more lethal than a packet of Colombia's finest. This peril has extended its roots throughout the British economy, with tendrils threatening to squeeze the life out of the very air we breathe. And its name?The Kenyan strawberry.So, apart from the sheer ludicrosity of his idea, what else can we say about it? Well, there's always something a little unseemly about a trader who wants the government to stop his competition from doing something otherwise legitimate. It smacks of a trader trying to eliminate his competition by force of law. If Ramsay wants to make all his restaurants "in-season produce only" and advertise them as such, he's free to do so, as are others. There's no need for compulsion in this matter, unless what Ramsay really wants is not to compel restaurants but to compel consumers—that means you, reading this—who would no longer have the choice of eating Kenyan strawberries, and all because some jumped-up Michelin chef doesn't want to see asparagus in the shops out of season.But secondly, there's something very unseemly about a rich Westerner calling for a ban on the import of foodstuffs from developing countries. Sure, someone might argue that with food prices hitting the roof, those countries need all the food they can get, but that's precisely the point: they need all the food they can get, whether by growing it or buying it. If a Kenyan farmer's climate and soil are so arranged that he can produce a greater value of strawberries than wheat, even with the current high prices on wheat, then he ought to be allowed to grow and sell strawberries in order to buy needed wheat, and Gordon Ramsay ought not to be allowed to stop him. While there are some caveats, and we obviously need some food safety standards and so on, the principle is fundamentally sound: free trade is good news for the poor.Thirdly, I'm not all that convinced by the food miles argument on which people so heavily rely. Recent estimates (2007) have it that shipping only accounts for about 3.5% of emissions, and aviation, for only 2%; transport in total only accounts for about 14% (2000). Certainly for a product like chocolate, rather than shipping cocoa to an industrialised country to make chocolate, it would be far more environmentally-friendly to process cocoa to make chocolate in the country of origin, as well as contributing significantly to that country's economic development. For agricultural produce, perhaps that counter-argument holds less true. Nevertheless, the issue is less immediately obvious than Ramsay claims.Perhaps, along with a few other choice contributions from Anglo-Saxon to our vocabulary, Gordon Ramsay's beloved f-word needs to be turned on him for a change?
Thursday, May 08, 2008
In true Private Eye fashion, I present to you the following pair. One is a Muslim extremist who preaches terrorism against the West; the other is a famous actor who has spoken out against Islamic oppression and been quoted approvingly by the BNP for his troubles. Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you…
This raises the horrendous prospect that the Met have actually got the wrong man in custody: I bet they really wanted that vicious good-for-nothing dwarf, Gimli.EDIT: I just looked at it and realised that the width is all wrong. Blinking Blogger layouts. 1220 09-May-2008.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
There's a very good article at Chronicle.com about the place of evangelicals in the (American) academic world, by Michael Lindsay from Rice. He's got some very good insights, although being an academic, they're not really quotable sound-bites. But here's a few good bits.
In 1993, Michael Weiskopf wrote an article for The Washington Post in which he described evangelicals in the United States as "poor, uneducated, and easy to command." Although the comment provoked outrage from evangelicals, Weiskopf's assertion was not without merit. At the time, only 15 percent of evangelicals held college or graduate degrees. Even though religious conservatives dominated higher education at the turn of the 20th century, by 1993 they had lost their influence within the academy.Or, as Mark Noll memorably put it in 1995, the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.
Forty years ago, conventional sociological wisdom said that society would secularize as it modernized. Such predictions were dead wrong. Levels of education and development have risen sharply around the world, while at the same time religion's influence has grown. It's time for the academy to come to grips with this dynamic.He also quotes Stanley Fish, who said that in academic discourse, religion must become not merely an objct of study but a viable "candidate for the truth". I may quibble with the language, but the fact that it may yet be the case that a Christian perspective could be considered viable in academic discourse where it has much to say is a positive sign. Here's another bit.
Evangelicals are the most discussed but least understood group in American society. Observers often assume that they are in lockstep with the Republican Party, but the sociologist Christian Smith has shown that 70 percent of evangelicals do not identify with the religious right. Other observers conclude that evangelicals principally serve their own interests, but Allen D. Hertzke's persuasive Freeing God's Children: The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights (Rowman and Littlefield, 2004) shows that evangelicals work as vigorously to protect the religious freedom of Buddhists and Jews around the world as they do that of their fellow Christians.And ain't that true over here in the UK, and not just among academics?
Monday, May 05, 2008
The most recent BUGB magazine has started a feature interviewing people who are involved in the Baptist Union of Great Britain, asking things like "favourite Bible passage", "favourite hymn", that kind of thing. While people often say of those questions, "There are no wrong answers!" that's quite the wrong way round: there are only wrong answers. Take, for instance, the President of the BUGB, John Weaver, whose answer to "last Christian book you read" was,
The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McClaren [sic]. It's fantastic—basically he is saying that the church has lost the plot and we need to rediscover what the gospel is about. I believe that too.The title, of course, would lead you think that McLaren was propounding gnosticism of some sort, but no! he's actually saying that the gospel isn't about sin and salvation, it's about something totally different. McLaren talks in this Youtube video about the core of the message of Jesus as being about living in a "new way of life", putting very firmly the sanctification cart before the justification horse. And the President of the BUGB thinks this is great. Oh, man…Next up is Kwame Adzam, a minister (I assume) in West Norwood and a trustee of the BUGB. His story, when asked for "place felt closest to God" is this.
My bedroom. Recently there with my wife we realised that we need the prsence of God with us, and right there prostrate before God in our bedroom, the presence of God, his light, filled the room, and it was just a treasured moment.Yish. Less said about that, the better I think. I guess the promise of Jesus, "Surely I am with you always," is a less certain guarantee of his presence than some shiver down the spine. Oh, man…And lastly, there's Dianne Tidball, who said of the last Christian she'd read,
Surprised by Hope by Tom Wright. Fabulous book. First 200 pages not so good, but worth it for the second 200 pages: it is just brilliant.Fair play, at least it's a good book, by all accounts. I've a few issues with Tom Wright (who doesn't?) but any book fiercely defending the fact that Jesus rose bodily, so that the grave lay empty after the third day, gets big plus points from me. Ah, but then, that's the bit of the book she just described as "not so good". Oh, man…If I were in charge, I'd call it BUGBear.
Friday, May 02, 2008
One of the political principles I believe in firmly is that of subsidiarity, which is the guiding principle that matters ought to be handled by the lowest competent authority . So, as I've previously written, I believe that hospitals and schools ought to be administered by local councils rather than by central government. And actually, once that's been achieved, a manifesto calling for human services to be made independent of local politicians (through an educational voucher scheme, for example) would get a very big tick against it.But why? And importantly, why do I think it ought to be up to local communities to make a decision which could just as easily be made from Whitehall?It's a question of power. According to modern, Western socio-political theory, the state exists as a product of the national community, and its power derives from the people. Town halls, likewise, have an authority which derives from the people, and not—crucial point—Whitehall.Therefore, it is local people—local users of these services—who should decide about the running of their services. Whitehall has, over the decades, expropriated power from town halls and arrogated to itself not only the funding but also the operational control over education, health and other key services such as policing and prisons.So if local councils ought to be the forum for deciding how these services are administered, what about the money? What is necessary is that local councils' taxation powers be greatly widened. The only tax local councils can directly control is the council tax, which is deeply unpopular and I can understand why. National government needs to cut as much of its council budget as it can and restore the power to levy a wide range of taxes to the local councils. This will have numerous benefits, the two most obvious of which are tax efficiency and tax competition; the spread of innovation is another which is quite obvious. Yes, I'm basically proposing bringing the rigours of the market into local government taxation and service provision. And I think it might just work.Last time I wrote about local government, I plugged the Liberal Democrats' The Power to be Different. I'd also like to flag up the Conservative Direct Democracy UK, which is a movement within the Tory party (more active a few years ago, but still going) to bring them back to a more localist form of politics, proposing many things in common with the Liberal Democrats, although not altogether the same. I actually hold to a stronger version, which is that all matters ought to be handled by the smallest competent authority, which is to say that all levels of government ought also to be slimmed down. But that's another matter altogether.