Last week I had the dubious distinction of appearing on the Atheist United Front facebook site. It was of course because of my article about Stephen Hawking's dismissing heaven as a "fairy story for those afraid of the dark", which was so much commented on. I did look at what the seven people on facebook had to say, which frankly wasn't much. Some had a pavlovian reaction to the headline only, one dismissed my view because I used an Apple (! - apparently a sign of deficient intellect!), one suggested I should write a book about the evidence for the resurrection (he apparently hadn't noticed I'd cited one. Sorry, I'm not inclined to reinvent the wheel. Read JND Anderson, Jesus Christ the evidence of history. You can still get copies via Amazon.), one appeared to have read my article and complimented it on being well written, while still disagreeing with me.
Normally I'd feel quite honoured to have been singled out for mention, but I say it was a "dubious distinction" because they also had it in for one Howard Camping. In fact they, and extraordinarily, our major news outlets such as the BBC majored on him. You'll be aware that he is the octogenarian President of Family Radio (the Californian Christian radio station) who predicted the end of the world for 6 pm (his time, I think) with a cataclysmic earthquake. I think I buy into the theory that it made the headlines because it's the first such nutty prediction to have hit the internet - and sadly there are a lot of gullible Christians out there. The odd thing, of course, is that the only thing the Bible, from where Mr Camping gets his ideas, says about the time of 'the end of the world' (as it's popularly known) is
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24: 36). I'm a bit irked that the likes of the pastor expose faith to such universal ridicule. He'd already got it wrong once before in 1994 - "miscalculated". It's sad that he didn't learn from his mistake.
On a more cheerful note, the Queen did a rather good job in the Irish Republic. There was a rather good piece about her in Friday Night Theology just eight days ago, which pointed out that she is now the second longest reigning monarch in British history. "Fewer than 1 in 6 Britons will be able to remember a time before Elizabeth... For everyone else, she has always been – unobtrusively but reliably – there. As indeed has her Christian faith. Queen Elizabeth has made it clear in various broadcasts over the years that her faith in Jesus Christ is extremely important to her; a foundation stone of her life of duty. That is obviously a delicate message to convey if you are head of state, there being ample opportunity to offend or alienate those of no or different religious faith, and it is to the Queen's great credit that she has managed it so well.
"Her Christianity serves a good example of the nation's. Discreet, unassuming, but subtly pervasive, Christianity has shaped and defined the United Kingdom, just as has its monarch, for far longer than anyone can remember."
The article finishes with mentioning the influence of the Bible, "the single most important influence on our national politics". "This is not to say that it has been the only influence or that it has always been a positive one. It hasn't, rather it is to point out that our political life is shot through with ideas and convictions that are grounded in our Christian heritage. Why are we committed to the idea that all humans are of equal worth? Why are we convinced all, no matter how rich or powerful, are equal under the law? Why are we prepared to tolerate differences in religious opinion? Why is freedom of religion and of conscience so important? Why do we (or, perhaps, some of us, now) believe that government is justified by its commitment to the common good? Why do we think that the people should have a voice in selecting their political rulers?
"These beliefs are grounded ultimately in our historic Christianity. It is impossible to say whether they would have developed without those Christian foundations, just as it is impossible to say whether they will be maintained if we persist in eroding those foundations. But it is possible - indeed, today, sadly necessary - to say that they did develop in, through and because of the nation's Christianity and not, as some like to claim, in spite of it." Jennie Pollock, who wrote that, it seems to me, is a good deal more sensible than Howard Campling - but less newsworthy in the world of sensation-seeking media.