This Heading will contain a whole range of views/opinions that do not necessarily belong to my ‘Spiritual Writings’ heading. As with that other heading, my views will change as and when I get a bit wiser to things and therefore suggest you check with this content every now and again. There’s no particular order to them and is really just a section for a wide range of stuff.
This heading will contain more personal entries for my son to read, which hopefully he might enjoy reading when he is older. Perhaps there is no logical order, rhyme or reason to these personal entries, except to give me a little light relief to the more challenging material elsewhere on the website.
Contents of the various articles below (some written up and some as works in progress and not yet posted):
· Why I love ‘Father Ted’ (Irish sitcom from the 1990s)
· In praise of the BBC (radio mainly)
· The wonders of ‘oil-pulling’ (and other health fads)?
· Various UM website links and news (constantly needs updating)
· The tantalising proof that belief in God makes you happier and healthier (from a newspaper article)
· Why I am a Political Centrist (and why I think God would too)
· Climate change and the need to accelerate renewable energy sourcing
· World population growth and the need for reduction?
· Future working life in the 21st Century and beyond
· Changing family structures and its impact
· Is modern football (soccer) financially sustainable in the UK?
· Living in a city Vs living in a countryside – which would you prefer?
· Liberal democracy Vs autocratic rule Vs theocracy – is the West in decline?
· Physical wellbeing Vs mental wellbeing – which is more important?
· Social media and the death of meaningful conversation?
· Sport and chemical enhanced performance
· News media and the death of newspapers?
· Digital book-reading Vs talking books Vs physical book-reading
· To what extent should we tax wealth?
· To what extent should we support the poor and disadvantaged?
· Multi-national media streaming and the future of terrestrial TV
· Should judges make new law instead of our legislators?
· Generation gaps – can bridges be built or should they?
· Is Facebook worth spending time on?
· In praise of silence and reflection time
· The future of music streaming – can a music band make it anymore?
· Gender identification – how secure are we in our own bodies?
· What makes for a happy marriage?
Why I love ‘Father Ted’
In the 1990s, Channel 4 (one of my favourite TV channels for its diversity of programming, especially its documentaries) commissioned a series called ‘Father Ted’. It was set in a rural backwater of western Ireland called ‘Craggy Island’. In its run-down parochial house lived the four main protagonists - three priests and a housekeeper. Just to look at the iconography of ‘kitsch’ religious pictures and statues and dated furniture, which were so reminiscent of 1950s and 1960s Irish Catholic homes, was a nostalgic joy in itself to see. However, it is when you start to follow the quirky, surreal story-lines that, within a short space of time, you start to get hooked.
When the comedy programme first came out, as an Irish Catholic I didn’t know what to make of it. Certainly, there was a generational difference between how my mother and one of my aunts viewed it, and how a younger audience viewed it. On the one hand, I could see that it may come across as a blasphemous ‘Mickey-take’ or send-up of Irish priesthood. If one didn’t get the humour, then some of the content was so ‘close to the bone’ that one could imagine a ‘fatwa’ type edict being issued by some other faiths for the heads of those involved (writers, directors, actors etc.) to be delivered on a plate!
On the other hand, it has helped in my appreciation of my Catholic upbringing i.e. don’t take your religion too seriously but glory in the co-creativity we have been blessed with by God. With religious observance and ritual often seen as over serious, then this was a great antidote that I like to think God would be rolling around in laughter at. The comic timing, script and acting is superb – perhaps it ran its course after three episodes, we shall never know. I say this because the series ended with the very sad and untimely death in 1998 of its main actor, Dermot Morgan, who played Father Ted.
Now, it has taken on near national treasure status among Irish people, both in Ireland and the UK. I did wonder if non-Irish would get the humour because, with its cultural references unique to the experience of living in Ireland during the 1960s, I thought a lot of it would be ‘lost in translation’. Well, it seems not, because my wife and friends, who are non-Irish, as well as my son love to watch repeat episodes at our home. Now, 12 years after its third series finished, it is still one of the most popular comedies in Channel 4’s On Demand website, and the link for this is below. Stay with it even if initial reactions are a bit nonplus – it does start to click as the characters reveal their idiosyncrasies and get under your skin.
A close friend sent me a link to a well-written Guardian article about the 20th Anniversary of Father Ted. It also includes some clips from the show.
In praise of the BBC
In recent years, to help with my ‘black dog days’, I have come across more of what the BBC has to offer, especially its radio output. To my wife’s occasional consternation, I am quite an avid Radio 5 Live and World Service listener – she prefers her radio for music, as opposed to my preference for round-the-clock news, commentary and sports.
(Perhaps, this is another example of the irreconcilable differences that sometimes exist between the tastes of men and women when it comes to how we spend our leisure time!)
In addition, Radio 5 feature a lot of fairly lively phone-in topics on current affairs and I find these quite informative while I potter around in the garden or while doing DIY. But she is right in telling me that too much listening to, largely, bad news stories and occasional angry voices on the radio, talking over each other on some heated topic, can be hazardous to my mental health and wellbeing, and so I have started to explore other BBC radio stations on offer. Its live sports coverage, though, is still second to none.
BBC’s World Service, as well as Radio 4, feature more weighty news depth as well as feature items from correspondents around the world and interviews with sometimes interesting people. Radio 3 offers great classical and jazz music; Radio 1 has up to date music for the younger audience (though not always to my taste); Radio 2 is more pitched at the older audience with its range of current and past sounds (though, again, not always to my taste); while Radio 6 is a more newer offering with eclectic sounds that cover a wide range of musical tastes. (Where else can you hear Grand Funk Railroad coming after Buddy Holly and then leading into Frank Sinatra?!)
Its TV output is also first class, especially its nature programmes, dramas and documentaries (with thankfully no advert breaks in between). Its website is well laid out with good archive material, and as you can see, I like to cite its articles for various references. In many ways, it is the ‘gold standard’ by which other media organisations measure themselves.
More importantly, it is trusted and respected around the world for providing knowledgeable content that is in the main seen as fair, objective, impartial and informative. You can sense that its presenters would be prepared to give their whole working life to it, even if they could command higher salaries in other more commercially-minded media outlets. Funded by licence-fee taxpayers, it is British broadcasting at its best, and one of the great benefits of living in the UK.
Addendum - I came across a good article by Alisdair Palmer, writing on the Daily Telegraph’s website, in reference to imminent financial cuts to the BBC’s World Service. This radio service to the world community, in whose countries free speech and expression are effectively banned, is immensely important and should be preserved and given more funding, not less. Palmer’s article makes some good points:
The wonders of ‘oil-pulling’(?)
A friend told me about this some time ago and I tried it for a while. I have no idea if it works or not though but just thought to add this piece in case anyone is interested in having a go. According to Indian Ayurvedic medicine “The oil pulls all mucous, bacteria and toxins from your body through your saliva". I take a mouthful first thing in the morning and swish it around in my mouth for about 15 minutes before spitting it out when having a shower. However, be prepared for phlegm-like substances to be coughed up for about 30 minutes afterwards – I guess these are the toxins. A good article about it that I came across is:
(Anyway, perhaps I should put up a disclaimer that you should seek medical advice first and, in the event of you suffering any side-effects that the article speaks about, then please don’t sue me for professional medical negligence – I’m not a doctor!)
Reflecting further on this issue of health awareness, there is an awful lot of it out there especially on the internet. No week goes by without some new ‘fad’ coming along, whether it’s the magic of goji berries, a grapefruit diet, eating more kale, standing on your head for 10 minutes each day etc. – the list is endless. It seems we in the West obsess about weight loss and looking good, almost like some new found religion. We learn about 101 or 1001 different things that could make us die younger and therefore to avoid.
Perhaps folks feel they have no control over what’s happening around them but they do have control over their own physical mind and body, and therefore successfully doing so gives them a sense of achievement and purpose. All well and good but what about our spiritual mind and our spiritual body – how well are we looking after these? It is our spiritual mind and body that we take with us to the next life, after all.
When half the world is thinking about where their next meal is going to come from, the other half are obsessing about weight loss and how to reduce the calorific intake of a wide range of foodstuffs that they can just reach out and grab and virtually gorge themselves silly on. From Heavenly Parent’s point of view, it must sometimes feel like having children in one room of a house eating plentifully while their brothers and sisters are in another room barely surviving. No parent would wish their own children to be so divided between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ – why should it be any different for our Heavenly Parent?
Various UM website links and news
As regards the UM related website links below, with a multitude of organisations attributed to Father Moon’s initiative in reaching out to as wide an audience as possible, there will be a fair amount of reading (and clicking on your mouse) to do. The ‘News’ part of it is in regard to any important UM or world news event that I may wish to communicate.
I should stress that these are religious-based sites and its contents may not be to everyone’s taste, especially if you are of a more secular mindset. I’m afraid there will always be the intransigent who will refuse to see anything of value in the religious experience. Presumably, they will not have got this far in reading anyway so perhaps I should not be overly sensitive about this point. That is their prerogative and free-will to make and I can only hope that even if they reject the religious experience that they will be touched in other ways by the central message of SMM i.e. the need to build families that are stable and filled with unconditional love. If such are built then they will find they are nearer to God than they think, or wish to think.
There are two main links:
· http://um-uk.org/ - this is the link to the UK branch of the Unification Movement. It contains a number of links to other affiliated organisations, such as the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) and the Women’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP). It also includes the Family Fireplace site, a name which I like, as it conjures up all kinds of happy memories I had growing up with my family all sitting around the fireplace watching black & white TV – how times have changed!
· http://www.reverendsunmyungmoon.org/index.html - this is the link to Sun Myung Moon's official website, where you can also access the Divine Principle video lectures (American based so some acquired listening tolerance may be needed). I would also advise checking out SMM’s life story – it is quite an account of triumph over adversity.
I just finished reading quite a good book called ‘Sun Myung Moon: the early years 1920-1953’ (publisher: Refuge Books). It is by Michael Breen, a UM member, who was a correspondent/journalist in South Korea for the Washington Times, the Guardian and The Times. It details some first-hand accounts of those who knew SMM in his early years and shows the considerable ordeal he went through, especially in a North Korean prison camp, during the 1950-51 Korean War.
The following are various sites that the UK Unification Movement has either directly set up or is closely allied with.
· http://www.uk.upf.org/ - this is the UM’s Universal Peace Federation’s site, which also highlights the Ambassadors for Peace programme.
· http://peacedevelopmentnetwork.wordpress.com/ - this is the weblog for the inter-religious Peace Development Network (which has close links with the UPF) and is particularly important in forging closer links within the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities.
· http://www.familyfed.org/ - this is the international site of the FFWPU (or Family Federation for World Peace and Unification to give its full title). The home page also lists the UK address of its UK head office, which is 43 Lancaster Gate, London W2 3NA.
· http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-10748148 - this link takes you to some BBC info on the subject of North/South Korea tensions (dated July 2010) + there are some useful background info links as well
· http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17497603 - this is a BBC link (dated March 2012) relating to an interview with a London follower, Simon Cooper.
Visit of Little Angels to London
A Korean dance/ballet troupe founded by SMM, called Little Angels, performed at the famous Sadler Wells Theatre in London on Saturday the 2nd of October, 2010. It is Korean children’s folk ballet at its highest standard, and they are famous, not only in South Korea but throughout the world. Here is a link, which includes two YouTube clips of them performing:
SMM sponsored their world-wide trip to express gratitude to all the countries that took part with the other UN forces in 1950 to help defend South Korea during the Korean War. As such, many of the 3000 or so tickets were given free to the British Korean War veterans and their families to attend, which was being handled by the Korean War Veterans Association. I found it quite moving at the end of the performance when many veterans in their 80s were called on to the stage and each were offered special presents as expressions of thanks from Father Moon’s representative.
· http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/8306100.stm - a week later, this item also appeared regarding the mass wedding of many thousands of UM followers as well as non-UM people who wished to renew their marriage vows in a sacred ceremony. My wife and I also had our wedding vows renewed at this ceremony in London via satellite link.
· http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/8266029.stm - this is a mass wedding that coincidentally took place in Singapore around the same time, to help commemorate the 150th anniversary of their botanic gardens. It perhaps shows that this idea of ‘mass weddings’ may well catch on, not least in the significant cost-savings made, as revealed at the end of the clip!
Extra notes on the UPF’s proposal to the UN
The following is from an email sent to me by the UPF. It includes a link to Father Moon’s speech to the United Nations, in which he proposed the importance of uniting both the political with the religious quests for global peace through the formation of this inter-religious council within the auspices of the UN. I would respectfully ask you to read his short speech in full - it is a remarkably written piece that seeks to address the core problem with the present United Nations set up and remit. How else are we to achieve a 'new world order' unless the United Nations adopts this bicameral institutional harmonisation of the mind (through religion) with the body (through politics)?
“This is part of an ongoing consultation organized by the Universal Peace Federation International. Similar consultations are being organized in other UPF Regions during the months of July and August 2010, to develop a proposal or resolution that may be submitted for consideration by the UN member states when they convene in New York in September of this year.
It was in August 2005 that UPF’s Founder, Dr. Sun Myung Moon, speaking at the United Nations, proposed the establishment of an inter-religious council within the UN system.
For a copy of the speech please click
For developments of the Inter-Religious Council Initiative, please click
Although we have yet to see the fulfilment of that vision, we have witnessed, over the past decade, a growing awareness of the importance and, indeed, the pressing need for interfaith dialogue and cooperation if we are to achieve lasting peace in our world. Religions and faith-based organizations can, and should be partners with governments, the United Nations, and with other NGOs in an effort to achieve peace and prosperity for all people.
The Consultation will seek to address the following concerns:
1. Mission: What is the mission and primary goals of the interfaith council?
2. Feasibility: Is it possible to build an interfaith council within the UN system?
3. Structure: How would the interfaith council function within the UN system?
4. Action Steps: What steps are needed if we are to achieve the goal?”
Weekend Workshops (London)
These are often held at Livingstone House, Chistlehurst (South East London). Fees: £80 guests, £50 concessions (includes FFWPU members)
Q. Who can attend? New Guests and FFWPU members can attend
Q. Can I only attend if I bring a guest? No, anyone is welcome - the mixture of the above makes for a great workshop. There is a new atmosphere and approach on these workshops - if you sample it and like it, you will have more confidence to invite people to future workshops.
Q. Why does it cost so much? First of all, compared to many developmental seminars and retreats it is not at all expensive (for two days full board and a packed programme!). Secondly, we barely cover costs, and that's without paying staff, at these rates.
If you wish to go, then please phone Livingstone House (tel. 020-84670187) to arrange a time to visit first, and meet with one or two of the staff there as well as see the surroundings, before deciding whether to sign up for a workshop.
There are also Seven-Day Divine Principle Workshop in Livingstone House where guest rates are £210, concessions are £175, and a special student rate of £150. Back in 1978, when I first came over from Ireland, I attended these workshops in Livingstone House. It is a beautiful building that once belonged to the famous Victorian missionary and explorer, David Livingstone. It was then used as a Catholic nun’s convent and sometime later was sold to us around 1975. In many ways, I regard it as my ‘spiritual home’ because of the depth of experience I had there and was an ideal retreat experience away from day to day distractions. Accommodation is comfortable and the food is good as well.
The tantalising proof that belief in God makes you happier and healthier
(I came across this article and hope you find it inspiring. It is by Tom Knox, nom de pleume for well-known journalist and author Sean Thomas and featured in the Daily Mail (UK) on 18th of February 2011).
God has had a tough time over the past few years. On TV, in newspapers and on the internet, the debate as to whether faith has any relevance in a sceptical modern world has been as ubiquitous as it has been vigorous. And it has been pretty clear which side is the most splenetic.
From Richard Dawkins’ powerful atheist polemics to Christopher Hitchens’ public derision of the Roman Catholic Tony Blair and Stephen Hawking’s proclamation that the universe ‘has no need for God’, it seems that unbelievers have had the dwindling faithful on the run. Or have they?
As research for my latest novel, Bible Of The Dead, I have spent months investigating the science of faith versus atheism, and discovered startling and unexpected evidence. It might just change the way you think about the whole debate, as it has changed my view.
I am not a religious zealot. On the contrary, I was a teenage atheist. And although in adulthood I have had a vague and fuzzy feeling that ‘there must be something out there’, I was never a regular church-goer. But what I have discovered, on my voyage through the science of faith, has astonished me.
My journey began a couple of years ago when I was travelling in Utah, the home of Mormonism. During my first week there, I approached this eccentric American religion with a typically European cynicism. I teased Mormons about their taste in ‘spiritual undergarments’; I despaired at being unable to find a decent cappuccino (Mormons are forbidden coffee, as well as alcohol, smoking, tea and premarital sex).
But then I had something of an epiphany. One night, after a long dinner, I was walking back to my hotel in downtown Salt Lake City at 2am and I suddenly realised: I felt safe. As any transatlantic traveller knows, this is a pretty unusual experience in an American city after midnight.
Why did I feel safe? Because I was in a largely Mormon city, and Mormons are never going to mug you. They might bore or annoy you when they come knocking on your door, touting their faith, but they are not going to attack you.
The Mormons’ wholesome religiousness, their endless and charitable kindliness, made their city a better place. And that made me think: Why was I so supercilious about such happy, hospitable people? What gave me the right to sneer at their religion?
From that moment I took a deeper, more rigorous interest in the possible benefits of religious faith. Not one particular creed, but all creeds. And I was startled by what I found.
For a growing yet largely unnoticed body of scientific work, amassed over the past 30 years, shows religious belief is medically, socially and psychologically beneficial. In 2006, the American Society of Hypertension established that church-goers have lower blood pressure than the non-faithful.
Likewise, in 2004, scholars at the University of California, Los Angeles, suggested that college students involved in religious activities are more likely to have better mental and emotional health than those who do not.
Meanwhile, in 2006, population researchers at the University of Texas discovered that the more often you go to church, the longer you live. As they put it: ‘Religious attendance is associated with adult mortality in a graded fashion: there is a seven-year difference in life expectancy between those who never attend church and those who attend weekly.’
Exactly the same outcome was recently reported in the American Journal of Public Health, which studied nearly 2,000 older Californians for five years. Those who attended religious services were 36 per cent less likely to die during this half-decade than those who didn’t. Even those who attended a place of worship irregularly — implying a less than ardent faith — did better than those who never attended. Pretty impressive. But there’s more; so much more that it’s positively surreal.
In 1990, the American Journal of Psychiatry discovered believers with broken hips were less depressed, had shorter hospital stays and could even walk further when they were discharged compared to their similarly broken-hipped and hospitalised, but comparatively heathen peers.
It’s not just hips. Scientists have revealed that believers recover from breast cancer quicker than non-believers; have better outcomes from coronary disease and rheumatoid arthritis; and are less likely to have children with meningitis.
Intriguing research in 2002 showed that believers have more success with IVF than non-believers. A 1999 study found that going to a religious service or saying a few prayers actively strengthened your immune system. These medical benefits accrue even if you adjust for the fact that believers are less likely to smoke, drink or take drugs.
And faith doesn’t just heal the body; it salves the mind, too. In 1998, the American Journal of Public Health found that depressed patients with a strong ‘intrinsic faith’ (a deep personal belief, not just a social inclination to go to a place of worship) recovered 70 per cent faster than those who did not have strong faith.
Another study, in 2002, showed that prayer reduced ‘adverse outcomes in heart patients’. But perhaps this is just an American thing? After all, those Bible-bashing Yanks are a bit credulous compared to us more sceptical Europeans, aren’t they?
Not so. In 2008, Professor Andrew Clark of the Paris School of Economics and Doctor Orsolya Lelkes of the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research conducted a vast survey of Europeans. They found that religious believers, compared to non-believers, record less stress, are better able to cope with losing jobs and divorce, are less prone to suicide, report higher levels of self-esteem, enjoy greater ‘life purpose’ and report being more happy overall.
What is stunning about this research is that the team didn’t go looking for this effect — it came to them unexpectedly. ‘We originally started the research to work out why some European countries had more generous unemployment benefits than others,’ says Professor Clark.
But as they went on, the pattern of beneficial faith presented itself. ‘Our analysis suggested religious people suffered less psychological harm from unemployment than the non-religious. Believers had higher levels of life satisfaction.’
So what’s going on? How does religion work this apparent magic? One of the latest surveys to suggest that religious people are happier than the non-religious was conducted by Professors Chaeyoon Lim and Robert Putnam, from Harvard, and published last year.
They discovered that many of the health benefits of religion materialise only if you go to church regularly and have good friends there. In other words, it’s the ‘organised’ part of organised religion that does a lot of the good stuff.
Going to a friendly church, temple or mosque gives you a strong social network and a ready-made support group, which in turn gives you a more positive outlook on life — and offers vital help in times of need. The Harvard scientists were so startled by their findings that they considered altering their own religious behaviour.
As Professor Lim said: ‘I am not a religious person, but . . . I personally began to think about whether I should go to church. It would make my mum happy.’ But if the ‘congregation’ effect is one explanation for the good health of churchgoers, it’s not the only one. Other surveys have found that intrinsic faith is also important.
For instance, a study of nearly 4,000 older adults for the U.S. Journal of Gerontology revealed that atheists had a notably increased chance of dying over a six-year period than the faithful.
Crucially, religious people lived longer than atheists even if they didn’t go regularly to a place of worship. This study clearly suggests there is a benefit in pure faith alone — perhaps this religiousness works by affording a greater sense of inner purpose and solace in grief.
This begs the question: Given all this vast evidence that religion is good for you, how come the atheists seem so set against it? They pride themselves on their rationality, yet so much of the empirical evidence indicates that God is good for you. Surely, then, it is the atheists, not the devout, who are acting irrationally? All this will come as no surprise to many students of genetics and evolution, who have long speculated that religious faith might be hard- wired into the human mind.
For instance, twin studies (research on identical siblings who are separated at birth) show that religion is a heritable characteristic: if one twin is religious, the other is likely to be a believer as well, even when raised by different parents.
Neurologists are making exciting progress in locating the areas of the brain, primarily the frontal cortex, ‘responsible’ for religious belief — parts of the brain that seem designed to accommodate faith. This research even has its own name: neurotheology.
Why might we be hard-wired to be religious? Precisely because religion makes us happier and healthier, and thus makes us have more children. In the purest of Darwinian terms, God isn’t just good for you, He’s good for your genes, too.
All of which means that, contrary to expectation, it is the atheists who are eccentric, flawed and maladaptive, and it’s the devout who are healthy, well-adjusted and normal. Certainly, in purely evolutionary terms, atheism is a blind alley. Across the world, religious people have more children than non-religious (go forth and multiply!), while atheist societies are the ones with the lowest birth rates.
The Czech Republic is a classic example. It proclaims itself the most atheist country in Europe, if not the world; it also has a puny birthrate of 1.28 per woman, one of the lowest on the planet (so soon there won’t be any godless Czechs to proclaim their atheism).
The existence of atheism is therefore something of an anomaly. But then again, anomalies are not unknown in evolution. Think of the dodo or the flightless parrot, doomed to extinction. Are atheists similarly blighted? Are Richard Dawkins and his type destined to vanish off the face of the Earth — the victims of their own intellectual arrogance?
That’s not for me to say; it’s for you to ponder. All I do know is that reassessing the research has changed the way I think about faith. These days I go to church quite a lot, especially when I am travelling and researching my books. For instance, the other day I found myself in Cambridge — the home of Stephen Hawking — and took the opportunity to do some sightseeing of the city’s intellectual landmarks.
I strolled by the labs where Hawking does his brilliant work, popped into the pub where they announced the discovery of DNA and admired the library where Charles Darwin studied. As I did, I was in awe at the greatness of Man’s achievements.
And then I went to Evensong at King’s College Chapel, and it was beautiful, sublime and uplifting. And I felt a very different kind of awe. Sneer at faith all you like. Just don’t assume science is on your side.
(End of article)