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. 

Monday, 20 March 2017


The Philosophy of Immanuel Kant - introduced by Stephen Pickering 

IMMANUEL KANT (1724 -1804) is regarded by many as one of the three great Western philosopher alongside Plato and Aristotle.  By all accounts Kant was a popular lecturer, and he also published extensively establishing an international reputation. At first he taught the well-established philosophy of Leibniz, but became increasingly dissatisfied with it, and in 1781 published his master work, the Critique of Pure Reason. A second edition was published in 1787, followed by the Critique of Practical Reason (moral philosophy) and the Critique of Judgement (aesthetics) in 1788 and 1790 respectively.

What does Kant’s Critical Philosophy aim to do?
The aims of Kant’s critical philosophy can best be understand from their historical context, which is the Enlightenment. Kant invented the slogan ‘Dare to know!’ to describe the Enlightenment. Enlightenment therefore meant rejecting dogmatic claims to knowledge, in particular religious dogma, and dogmatic or speculative philosophy. But what should replace dogma? There were two contenders: rationalism and empiricism.

Rationalism and empiricism are competing and mutually exclusive theories of knowledge. Rationalists believe that our understanding of the world should be based on reason alone; empiricists, that it should be based on observation and experience. The rationalist school (Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz) and empiricist school (Locke, Berkeley and Hume) had been in competition over a hundred years. Kant’s greatest claim to fame was to unite them – thus ending the war among the philosophers – while at the same time leaving room for religious belief as well, thus also ending the war between science and religion. This unification needed a revolution in philosophical thinking.

What can we know?
Kant starts his revolution quietly enough by first distinguishing between knowledge derived from experience, in particular scientific or empirical knowledge, from other knowledge. That other knowledge mainly comprises Euclid’s geometry and Aristotle’s syllogistic logic. That knowledge is over two thousand years old and has never needed revision. It is the surest knowledge we have. Moreover, it is completely independent of the way the world is. It is knowledge we can claim to have before we begin a scientific investigation. For that reason Kant calls it  a priori knowledge, to distinguish it from experiential or scientific knowledge, which he called  a posteriori knowledge. And it is about a posteriori knowledge that Kant holds a remarkable and revolutionary view.

Kant’s ‘Copernican Revolution’
Kant’s ‘Copernican Revolution’ was to see space and time not as features of the external physical world, as Newton imagined, but rather they are an internal feature of our faculty of perception If space and time are mental entities, then we do not experience reality directly. Indeed, reality does not exist in space or time at all.  The world of objects that we experience through the senses is a world of appearances. However, these appearances exhibit regularities that can be studied and described by the laws of physics. In that sense, the world of appearances is empirically real. And because, unlike dreams, there is regularity and order in the world of appearance, we can be sure that there is some underlying deeper level of reality which is causing the appearances. Kant calls the underlying reality the noumenal world (in contrast to the phenomenal world of experience). All we can say about the noumenal world is that it is not spatio-temporal. And because reason and the categories exist for understanding the phenomenal world, their use to speculate about the noumenal world is questionable and probably invalid. We cannot therefore know anything about the noumenal reality that underlies appearances. Rational arguments aimed at proving (or disproving) the existence of God  therefore fail because reason is being used outside its domain of validity. We may choose to believe such arguments as a matter of faith, but we are constitutionally incapable of knowing the truth of such matters. But that also means that religious beliefs are beyond the remit of scientific investigation, and thus science and religion can coexist without contradiction.

Was Kant ultimately successful?

Kant made a great impression on his contemporaries, but he stressed that his work only laid the foundations for a philosophical system because he had merely shown the limits of reason, and that it would be for others to complete it. Philosophers took up the challenge with enthusiasm. Unfortunately they all went their own divergent ways leading not to one unified system but to a diversity of systems that persists to this day. But it is for just this reason that he remains an pervasive influence in modern western philosophy.

Join us if you can at Wychwood Library on Sunday April 2nd at 7.00pm for Stephen's introduction and discussion of Kant's philosophy.  No prior knowledge required - but you might be glad to have read this post before you come!