Child circumcision and religious liberty

The reporting of the recent regional court judgement concerning infant circumcision in Germany has been predictably sensationalist; it is a ruling of a local and low court, binding only in a very limited geographical area, and I assume – albeit as a legal layperson – that it will be overturned fairly quickly. (The European Convention on Human Rights – which will overrule any local law in Germany – does, it is true, place a ‘public health’ exclusion on the right to family life (8.2) and the right to freedom of religious practice (9.2), but (a) ‘public health’ usually means the prevention of communicable diseases or widespread health threats, not protection from individual harm (assuming it is accepted that male...

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The place of the churches in society

In an article in the Independent newspaper this week, Mary Ann Sieghart (or her subeditor) announced that ‘You don’t have to believe in God to cherish the Church’, a proposition which she offered in response to the latest attack by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins produced a survey showing that many people who ticked the ‘Christian’ – perhaps particularly the ‘Church of England’  - box on the census showed few signs of basic Christian knowledge, and reported little participation in Christian practice. His figures were hardly surprising, of course: it is not news that the 70% of the population who claim to be Christian are not all at worship on Sunday morning. He drew from them the conclusion that self-identification should...

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Modesty wraps rock! Or, getting public theology right

Over the last couple of weeks I have become aware of a campaign in the UK to make ‘modesty wraps’ (that is, plain covers) compulsory on all magazines displaying sexually explicit content on their covers. I am not sure who started it – there was an earlier, and linked, campaign concerning the placement of such magazines in Cooperative stores – but my friend Carl Beech has been energetic in promoting it on Twitter and elsewhere. This strikes me not just as a campaign I want to support, but as an excellent example of the doing of public theology. Public theology, it seems to me, should always be a rather ad hoc activity: as I have argued in print before now, confession of belief in the Incarnation demands that we believe that theology does...

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If you don’t want Tim Tebow, we’ll have him!

OK, the ‘Tebowing’ thing has been on the edge of my consciousness for a while now, mentioned on Twitter feeds and the like every so often. I could see various American friends getting exercised about it, concerned that it promoted ‘slot machine prayer’ theology, in which public intercession by a quarterback could be expected to ensure divine aid for his side in winning the game. Of course this isn’t good theology, but a not-dissimilar belief in the efficacy of prayer in promoting selfish wants is almost universal in Christian piety in my pastoral experience, and this example seemed less awful than some others (unless you happen to be a Steelers fan, I guess…) I confess that I didn’t get why everyone is so excited about...

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Of the Monarch, her Bishops, and the press

The Christmas tradition of the Monarch making a direct address to the nation is not one I object to, but nor, I confess, is it one I generally notice. All that I know of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II leads me to suppose that she is a person of wisdom, true Christian faith, and an unwavering commitment to the public duty that was thrust on her by accident of birth; none of that means that in an otherwise busy season I find sufficient reason to pause to take notice when she offers a brief narrative of her own understanding of the state of the nation. My Facebook and Twitter feeds this year, however, were full of Christian admiration for her speech, often coupled with unflattering comparisons to the sermons preached by the bishops who serve under her in one of the...

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