Monday, 18 September 2017


No more than a cosmic accident?

The National Centre for Social Research (NCSR) recently published the latest British Social Attitudes survey reporting that 53 per cent of us have no religion, and that the young are the least religious of all. As Angela Tilby says in her column in the Church Times:
As religious literacy has waned, young people have simply absorbed the anti-religious narrative of our time. ... The script that human life is no more than a cosmic accident, and that we acquire meaning only by choosing to be who and what we wish to be, is now deeply embedded in our culture. 

Speaking truth to power? 

Leaving aside exactly what constitutes 'religion', let alone what the variety of people questioned took it to mean, there is little doubt that this is now the prevailing mood. And along with the decline of truthfulness in public discourse (our Foreign Secretary arguing with the UK's Statistics Authority as I write) there is a question over what now typically guides our thinking on matters of moral standards, such as, for example, compassion towards our neighbour, the poor, and refugees. If we do not trust our leaders in public life, from our MP to our vicar and from international experts to our own academics, where will our principles (if we have any) take us? Consumerism? Mindless destruction of our planet? My family, my community against the rest? America/Britain/me first?

People like us

On a (possibly) more light-hearted note, the popular philosopher Julian Baggini (author of A Short History of Truth) comments in an article today on the huge support for a Tweet by a disgruntled London commuter. Along with others on the Kings Cross Victoria line the commuter bemoans the loss of his painfully acquired advantage on the Underground over 'tourists and provincials' now that London Transport has painted green lines on platforms to show where the train will stop. Baggini concludes, maybe with resonance for broader aspects of our national life: 
Traditional British fairness is not about treating everyone equally. It's about giving subtle, informal advantage to insiders and locals. The outraged commuters may not realise it, but they are following the ethics of both old-boys networks and "Britain first" nationalists.  Both see preferential treatment for "people like us" as more just than treating any Tomasz, Dag or Ali the same. 

Challenging the anti-religious narrative

Back on the subject of religion and our culture's unthinking attitude to it, Angela Tilby calls for more 'thoughtful, culturally literate' Christians to 'come out' and contribute to changing the narrative, from academics and scientists to media people and celebrities. She misses a contemporary C S Lewis.  Well, in the Wychwoods we are fortunate in having a number of inspiring speakers to make us think twice: Richard Coles came to Milton's village hall as did Angela Tilby herself as well as, just a year ago, biologist Andrew Briggs and artist Roger Wagner. 

On Sunday we look forward to a talk by Professor Keith Ward on religion and rationality - a task for which he is more than qualified with his background in both philosophy and theology. Angela Tilby is worth quoting again in order to set the scene which Keith Ward will no doubt tackle incisively: 
In reality, the anti-religious script is less intellectually secure than it seems. It has been shown again and again that it is not really scientific: it distorts history, neglects philosophy, takes no account of religious experience, and is not obviously superior to faith in terms of rationality.  While its rhetoric is strident, and even bullying, it steadfastly ignores the ultimate questions of existence. 

Keith Ward is our guest at Milton under Wychwood village hall on Sunday, 24th September at 7pm. Open to all.  Retiring collection. 

Wednesday, 13 September 2017


This article, announcing the coming season, first appeared on the CHASE benefice website 

In the 1630s a group of intellectuals known as the Great Tew Circle met a short distance away from the Wychwoods to champion the use of reason in the religious polemics of the time.  At Wychwood Circle we could say we are focused on exploring the use of religion as well as reason in the political, moral and technological upheaval of our own time.

What can we know?
The clash, or otherwise, of faith and reason has taxed thinkers from the days of the Roman Stoic Epictetus (“I am a rational creature; so I must sing hymns to God”) through the spread of Christianity and other faiths and the so-called Enlightenment to the present day.  Is Religion Irrational? Foremost amongst contemporary theologians and philosophers is Professor Keith Ward who on 24th September will be at Milton under Wychwood’s Village Hall to help many of us to face this theme head-on. He is a prolific author and if you can’t make it, you will find a whole range of topics on his website, from science and the cosmos to morality and the non-literal interpretation of Jesus’ teachings.
In January 2018 we will be further challenged by Oxford philosopher Tom Simpson (formerly an officer in the Royal Marine Commandos and now resident in Chipping Norton) on the issue of trust, and not so much what we can believe, as who we can believe. His topic will be ‘Can We Still Trust Experts?’ – never so relevant as in our post-referendum and Trumpian world of post-truth and ‘alternative facts’.

How then shall we live?
For those who are willing to put in the preparation, our 2017-18 season will include three discussions taking the recent book How Then Shall We Live? as our theme.  The author, Sam Wells, is both Vicar of St Martin in the Fields and Visiting Professor of Christian Ethics at Kings College London – and a contributor to Thought for the Day on BBC.  The book, readily available in paperback, usefully divides up into three sections: Engaging the World (October discussion), Being Human (February), and Facing Mortality (May). Please email for more information.  

And are robots people too?
So some have asked, as they stop to think about the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and humanoid robots who might not only make and then drive our cars but offer home care and even medical advice in the near future.  What impact will these developments have on our identity and self-understanding? In December we will watch a recorded lecture by Professor John Wyatt and discuss the massive ethical and other implications of AI.

Only connect
Other upcoming events, as usual open to everyone and anyone, whatever their standpoint, will give us an opportunity to look at poetry under the heading of ‘Only Connect – turning to poetry’ (November 12th) and an evening at the Village Hall where local (and international) Yoga teacher Ruth White will help us to consider How To Turn Adversity into Advantage (March 11th).  Most of our meetings take place in Wychwood Library, warmly welcomed by librarian Ruth Gillingham, on the second Sunday of the month: but check for occasional changes of date or venue. 

Saturday, 8 July 2017


The Village Hall is about halfway along the Shipton Road into Milton

Thursday, 18 May 2017


Julian Bond, former director of the Christian Muslim Forum (more detail below), has kindly provided the following taster of his theme on June 4th at Wychwood Library, to which as usual all are welcome: 
There is a lot of negativity towards Muslims in some parts of society, including amongst Christians. Having come to be involved in inter-faith, and especially Christian-Muslim interaction, through openness and actual encounter, it was only later that I started to look for Biblical or Gospel reasons for positive engagement with Muslims.  One of the key texts is 'Love your neighbour', or as I prefer to say in particular contexts, 'Love your Muslim neighbour'. Continued reflection on this, coupled with my writing project 'Jumbled up in Jerusalem', a contemporary retelling of the Gospel story, led me to begin thinking about how Muslims might be incorporated into the story and teaching of Jesus. A few examples are shown below:
 "If anyone causes one of these beloved ones - who believe in me (this includes Muslims) - to trip up, they'll wish they'd been thrown into the sea with a heavy weight hung around their neck."
"You have heard it said, 'Don't let these Muslims come over here and Islamise our society'. I say - don't be so bloody arrogant and hostile; society is for everyone and if you hate people you might as well kill each other!"
"You have heard it said, 'Love your neighbour, and to hell with all these bloody immigrants and refugees ...' But I say to you, 'Stop reading the tabloids.  And yes, loving your neighbour would be a good start, but love your enemies too, love foreigners, strangers, Muslims, LGBT folk, atheists, secularists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, tax men (and women) and DWP employees. Bless them!" 
"A man and a woman go into the Temple to pray. One of them is a Methodist preacher and prays like this, booming and echoing round the building: 'God, I thank you that you've chosen me and I am one of your people, that I am counter-cultural, I don't drink, don't gamble, don't invest in unethical companies, fast during Lent and give to Christian charities.' But the other one, a Muslim, prays like this: 'O Allah, in your love and mercy have mercy on me and all my failings; keep me on the straight path.'"

Former Director of the Christian Muslim Forum Julian Bond is currently working as Connexional Grants Team Leader and was previously seconded to the Archbishop of Canterbury's Initiative in Christian-Muslim Relations for two years from the Inland Revenue. He was one of the originators of the Christian Muslim Forum's leaders programme which has been encouraging influential Christians and Muslims to engage with each other at a local level.
Julian Bond has engaged with the Muslim community around the country while also encouraging Christians to meet with Muslims both through the Christian Muslim Forum and as a member of the Methodist Church - member of The Square, Dunstable and previously District Inter Faith Advisor for Bedfordshire, Essex and Herts. His passion is for committed friendship and collaboration between Christians and Muslims.
He is a Theology graduate from the University of Aberystwyth and is keen to encourage wider dialogue with, and 'translate' religious ideas for, the non-religious. He is currently writing a short book on 'Jesus our Role Model'.

Monday, 17 April 2017


Mark Clavier thinks the insights of sociology have been largely untapped in theological discussions compared to the influence of modern philosophy and the life sciences.  In particular, the popular notion of ‘postmodernism’ is often just consumerism ‘dressed up in posh, philosophical clothes’.  His reading in sociological discussions of consumerism has led him to wonder whether consumer culture, partly because it makes the same claims on identity, is 'best understood as a religion – a highly destructive one, too – that needs to be better understood and challenged.’

In a recent book he says consumerism is not morally neutral, as some have claimed, but is more like a global movement that has many of the same characteristics as the great religions.  Christianity and Islam offer the nearest historical parallels, both international movements that ‘either eclipse or transform local cultures’.
One of the ways that religions transcend local culture is by connecting with people at the important moments and stages of their lives and situating those events in a larger narrative. Almost all religions have rites of passage and other rituals meant to provide meaning …
Drawing comparisons with the ‘sacraments’ in Christianity (baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, marriage, etc) he devotes the first part of his book to demonstrating how consumerism is a global religion, by mapping out ‘a consumer’s life according to a sacramental grid’.  Thus chapter 2 is entitled, Initiation into consumerism, and chapter 3, The consumer rites of adulthood

As well as criticising the churches for conforming to consumer culture, Clavier goes on to draw attention to just how much damage consumerism is causing to 'culture, societies and the planet'.  It’s not just environmental degradation, of which we all become ever more conscious, but also the fact that we can only enjoy the fruits of consumerism because the vast majority of the world’s population cannot.
Ultimately the enjoyment in wealthy nations of maximised choice, self-actualisation and ready access to goods and services is based on profound inequality. … [W]e are only free to be who we want to be because almost everybody else is not. 

Anyone is welcome to join the discussion at Wychwood Library on Sunday, May 7th at 7pm.  A retiring collection will be taken to cover costs.