Archives for December 2011

The top religion and ethics stories of 2011

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William Crawley | 11:22 UK time, Tuesday, 20 December 2011

This has been a year of big stories globally, nationally and locally. And many of them have been shaped or coloured by religious and ethical dimensions -- from the revolutions sweeping through the middle east to the traumatic implications of phone-hacking revelations for British journalism. Here are some of the most significant stories of the year. You can use this thread to suggest others or to comment on any of these. I'll discuss some of the stories that defined the twelve months with my guests on the New Year's Day edition of Sunday Sequence.

Arab Spring Revolutionary protests that began in December 2010 dominated 2011. The domino-effect of revolution has so far touched Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and many other countries in the middle east. Colonel Gaddafi lost his life after a civil war in Libya, and President Mubarak lost his job.

Journalism in the dock
Rupert Murdoch shut down The News of the World, which had been in existence since 1843, after revelations of phone-hacking and other questionable practices at the paper. The government soon launched a public inquiry, led by Lord Justice Leveson. The Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the media produced some extraordinary testimony which may lead to proposed changes in press regulation.

Ronan Kerr Politicians from across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland joined leaders from the main Protestant churches in attending the funeral of the murdered Catholic police officer Ronan Kerr. At the funeral, Cardinal Sean Brady appealed to dissidents: "In God's name stop - and stop now!"

The Rapture that never was ...
Harold Camping is a serial predictor of the end of days. He previously announced that the Rapture would take place on 21 May 1988, then again on 7 September 1994. His most recent prediction, 21 May 2011, came and went, so has "reinterpreted" his prophecy and Judgment Day was re-scheduled for 21 October 2011. The fact that you are reading this now is evidence enough of the need for a further re-scheduling. Apparently an "invisible judgment day" took place last May, so invisible that it took Pastor Camping two days to realise it has happened. The pastor later apologised and resigned from ministry.

Occupying Saint Paul's "The Church should not put its name to any course of action that may lead to violence against the protesters. I can't in conscience go down the road on which they are embarked." With those words, Canon Dr Giles Fraser said goodbye today to his job at St Paul's Cathedral and plunged one of Britain's leading public institutions into even greater chaos. Plans by the Cathedral authorities to remove OccupyLSX, the anti-capitalist tent city which has been encamped on its doorstep, "could mean there will be violence in the name of the Church", according to Dr Fraser, who served as Chancellor of St Paul's from 2009.

The King James Bible at 400
It was a year of commemorations and celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of the Authorised Version of the Bible. Even Richard Dawkins penned a celebratory essay. And Prime Minister David Cameron capped off a year of celebrations with a lecture reminding Britons that they live in a Christian country and should celebrate that too.

American Presbyterians vote to ordain gay ministers And the leader of Ireland's Presbyterians wasn't impressed. Moderator Norman Hamilton said America's largest Presbyterian church had taken a step away from orthodoxy by voting to ordain gay and lesbian clergy.

Osama: to kill or not to kill?
Former Irish president Mary Robinson expressed "moral unease" about the killing of Osama bin Laden. He should have been arrested and brought to justice, she said.

Blood sacrifice: Northern Ireland's gay ban stays in place In September, Northern Ireland's health minister, Edwin Poots MLA ruled that sexually active gay men will not be permitted to donate blood, leading to allegations of "irrational prejudice". The health ministers in England, Scotland and Wales had already lifted the ban on the basis of a new review of the clinical evidence which concludes that there is no significant risk to public safety warranting a continuation of the ban.

Bishop calls for end of celibacy rule
In September, the former Bishop of Derry Dr Edward Daly called for an end to mandatory clerical celibacy. Dr Daly, who was a bishop for almost 20 years, said there needed to be a place in the modern Catholic church for a married priesthood. He also said that many young men who considered joining the priesthood turned away because of the rule. Dr Daly addressed the controversial issue in a new book about his life in the church, A Troubled See.

The civil union that could split a church
The decision by the Very Revd Tom Gordon to enter into a civil partnership with his partner of 20 years outraged some conservative members of the Church of Ireland, particularly in Northern Ireland. Dean Gordon told Sunday Sequence that he entered into the new legal partnership with the full knowledge of his bishop, Michael Burrows, and that his relationship had been supported by members of his congregation. The Church of Ireland 's house of bishops soon announced that they would hold a crisis summit in the Spring of 2012 and encouraged their clergy and members to resist un-Christian language in public debates about the controversy.

Bogus healers
Both the BBC and Sky News reported that at least six people have died in Britain after being told by churches that they had been healed and should give up their HIV medication, and they have evidence of evangelical churches in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow also claiming that people with HIV can be cured by spritual intervention.

Missal Crisis Ireland's Association of Catholic Priests claims that the church's new missal is "sexist, archaic, elitist and obscure."

Taoiseach launches assault on the Vatican
Following the publication of Judge Yvonne Murphy's review of the Catholic diocese of Cloyne, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, used language in the Dail never before used by an Irish premier. He accused the Catholic hierarchy of putting the Church ahead of child rape victims. Mr Kenny said the latest revelations had exposed a dysfunctional, elite hierarchy determined to frustrate investigations, and he warned the Holy See that religion does not rule Ireland. "For the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago," he said.

PMS: the beginning of the end
In August, thousands of people across Northern Ireland received cheques in the post this week from the failed Presbyterian Mutual Society. A rescue package underwritten by the Westminster government and the Stormont executive allowed those who invested less than twenty thousand pounds to get all their money back. Larger investers received 85 per cent of their money, with final settlements dependent on the sale of PMS assets.

Norway mourns We began to get a better picture of Anders Behring Breivik, the man who murdered 68 men, women and children in two attacks on 22 July. It emerged that Breivik passionately hated Muslims and, bizarrely, appeared to have believed he was defending Christian values by assaulting the multicultural outlook of contemporary Europe.

A year of farewells
This year we said goodbye to Rev John Stott, Cardinal John Foley, Dr Jack Kevorkian, Osama bin Laden, Muammar Gaddafi, Rev Peter Gomes, Sir Jimmy Savile, Ken Russell, Christopher Hitchens, Kim Jong Il, Vaclav Havel.

Who is your Person of the Year for 2011?

William Crawley | 17:32 UK time, Friday, 16 December 2011

In 2006, we named the scientist and culture warrior Richard Dawkins our Person of the Year. In 2007, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness shared the accolade as Person and Deputy Person of the Year. In 2008, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, took the title. In 2009 it was awarded jointly to the Irish abuse survivors Marie Collins and Andrew Madden (pictured). And last year we named Pope Benedict XVI as Person of the Year.

Which man, woman or child has most inspired us, challenged us, impressed, infuriated, or simply pre-occupied us in the past twelve months? The person, in short, who will be forever associated with this year. Who gets your nomination? Will it be a politician, a scientist, a religious leader, an entertainer, a military leader, or a campaigner. It could be a hero or a villain. It could even be an idea whose time has come, or an object that defines this year.

Submit your suggestions, and tell us your reasons for the suggestion. But remember, it's not a competition: I get to pick the Will & Testament Person of the Year (it's one of my few remaining pleasures), and I'll reveal his, her or its identity on air on the New Year's Day special edition of Sunday Sequence.

Farewell Hitch

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William Crawley | 08:03 UK time, Friday, 16 December 2011

I've already been asked, in an early morning radio interview, what I imagine the legacy of Christopher Hitchens will be. Some will identify his contributions as a political thinker in the tradition of Jefferson and Paine; others will point to his contrarian journalism in the tradition of Orwell; still more will focus on his critique of religion (more properly his critique of the idea of God) in the tradition of Voltaire.

He was a public intellectual who could get down and dirty in just about any debate of any importance, and a controversialist who fearlessly assaulted what he believed were dragons of superstition and ignorance.

But I'll remember Christopher Hitchens principally as a writer, and as one of the great cultural essayists of our age. I've been collecting his books for years and reading his journalism wherever it appeared. I can't remember a dull sentence; that was something that completely eluded him. And that's how I'll celebrate him: for his ability to take an English sentence for a walk.

This is the advice he once gave to would-be writers. It's as good a summary of Hitch's approach to life as he's left us: "Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the 'transcendent' and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don't be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you."

Vanity Fair announcement.

In his words: Daily Hitchens. Greatest hits.

Obituaries: Peter Hitchens, Graydon Carter, Stephen Fry, Ian McEwan, James Fenton, Francis Wheen, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, NPR, The New York Times, New Statesman, The Guardian, Daily Telegraph.

What war on religion?

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William Crawley | 11:19 UK time, Thursday, 8 December 2011

Rick Perry, the governor of Texas whose presidential run has been described by some as "George W Bush -- the Sequel", has used his latest TV attack ad to respond to President Obama's "war on religion". Which leaves some commentators scratching their heads wondering, what war on religion? Others have dismissed the ad as a desperate (and homophobic) attempt by Perry to persuade American evangelicals to get behind his campaign. Watch the ad here.

Here's the text of the TV ad:

"I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian," the Texas governor says. "But you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. As president, I'll end Obama's war on religion. And I'll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage. Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again."

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