Tentative Steps towards Civility #4: Being Offended is not (necessarily) the issue

Revolutions invariably eat their children.

It’s an almost inevitable fact of history. The expression was coined by a royalist journalist during the French Revolution, Jacques Mallet du Pan. But perhaps, if tweaking was needed, more often than not revolutions eat their parents. Think Robespierre in France; Trotsky in Soviet Russia; Röhm in Nazi Germany. (more…)

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5-a-Day I: Detested & Loved words

Hate is a strong word. In fact, one of my favourite aphorisms of Graham Greene (taken from his astonishing The Power and the Glory) is that “Hate was just a failure of the imagination.” It is precisely because we are all such conflicted and complex people that the hatred of individuals is such a blight – there are always extenuating circumstances (even if they are not sufficient to justify actions). (more…)

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Modernist Ministry’s Dehumanising Metrics – consolidated

Last summer, I wrote a series of posts on the highly pretentious sounding ‘dehumanising metrics of modernist ministry’. Don’t be put off (although in fairness, I have to say I was quietly pleased by the alliteration there) because the more I’ve thought about it, and the more I’ve chatted with folks, the more I think there are some crucial things to discuss. This is certainly not the perfect analysis nor last word. But I hope it will at least present something of what troubles me these days. (more…)

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Václav Havel’s 1978 warning to the West

I’m trying to understand power – what it means, how it’s wielded, how it affects us. Big topic. But I’m increasingly convinced that we can’t understand the culture of suspicion without grasping the power of power (and itsabuses).

This has drawn meto someone who has been a bit of a hero, but whose writings I’d only dipped into. Reading Václav Havel‘s masterly and vital 1978 essay The Power of the Powerless has blown me away. Written in the dark days of Czechoslovak communism (only 10 years after the false dawn of the Prague Spring), it is a profound analysis of what it was like to live under a regime built entirely on lies. The only response, the only subversion of the regime, therefore, is to live in truth. (more…)

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As If These Walls Had Tears: Reflections on Berlin’s Holocaust memorial

Apparently there were only 19 hours of sunshine in Berlin between 1st January and 22nd March – a record low. Such absolute greyness is oppressive. But in recent weeks, there have also been huge snowfalls. The result is an eerily monochrome world. Not ideal for taking sightseers’ photographs. But somehow appropriate for a visit to Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. (more…)

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Francis Spufford on Childhood books 4: Why Narnia matters

For me, though, the standout of Francis Spufford’s reading memoir The Child That Books Built is the chapter entitled The Island. For it is here that he waxes lyrical about Narnia. It is not just because he chimes with the countless numbers who loved C S Lewis’ books (despite the likes of Philip Pullman and Polly Toynbee). It is the fact that he grasps something of their theological wonder (which will come as no surprise perhaps to those who have enjoyed his Unapologetic). (more…)

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The subversive messages of a dollar bill

I’d been vaguely aware of these from a while back, but had never looked carefully at them. It wasn’t until they were used as running gags in last week’s New Yorker money edition that I sat up and noticed. Dan Tague has created a series of prints in 2008 of dollar bills folded in such a way as to reveal all kinds of subversions of American capitalism and western materialism. There is something rather delicious about making a dollar spell out ‘American Idol’ or an American revolution battle cry, or the best advice of the contemporary conspiracy theorist.

Ingenious (more…)

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Cynicism or Criticism? Developing an integrated mind at University

This is an update of a talk I gave nearly 15 years ago to some students back in Sheffield. My aim was to help them avoid the classic polar mistakes of either avoiding the intellectual challenges of university or being swamped by them altogether. There are all kinds of other joys, opportunities and challenges when people first go to uni, and so intellectual development is only one aspect of what needs thinking about. But I fear it is often overlooked altogether.

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The dehumanising metrics of modernist ministry 3: The Past

No man is an island entire of itself said the prophetic priest-poet of old. Modernism and its western offspring, individualism, have done their utmost to prove him wrong. In vain. For whether we like it or not, we are all part of one another. And while Donne was clearly speaking of human society, he could equally have been referring to human history. For one of modernity’s most damaging trends has been to legitimise our innate haughtiness about the past. So having discussed how modernist culture shapes our present, and then sensed the crushing power ofmodernism’s relentless pursuit of progress, we must close the circle by considering the past.

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