Black Friday and the Heavenly Father

So the Church of England wants us to pray and they’re willing to enter the market place by attempting to screen an advertisement in our cinemas. Good for them. Sitting in the cinema, I imagine it will be no more offensive than a man on the moon looking through a telescope carried to him by balloons from a girl on earth who thinks he’s lonely. I also imagine it will be considerably less offensive than someone impressing on me the need to have their product in order to be sexy, intelligent, popular or some other vacuous insinuation.

Personally, I’d rather not have religion proseltysing in my face when I’m out for some rest and relaxation, but then the rubbish spewed out by some big companies about how their product will save me is a considerably less endearing form of salvation than a spot of ‘Our Father’. In any case, I’ve been known to grumpily scoff in the cinema with the occasional ‘what total bollocks’ when the claim by some product is so damn stupid, it is offensive.

It’s the problem though of liberal religion really. Our salvation is not even as electrifying as a deoderant. We would like you to feel better, to do better and to work together harder to make the world better, but our message is soft. We can’t promise a thrilling experience unpacking the latest gizmo or trying on your newest item of clothing. Neither can we guarantee the emotional rollercoaster akin to the guilty feeling when you see the dent in your bank balance. And our miracles are laughed at whilst the celebrity endorsed miracle of the newest piece of technology is inescapably alluring.

Of course, and I would say this, I think the enduring power of living in a community, seeking to make the world a better place through your shared values and marking the moments of the year and times in your life are important things to hold on to – just as teaching the ideas of civic responsibility and concern for the stranger or comforting the bereaved and visiting the sick. But that doesn’t mean I want or need that message in the cinema. Let me sit back and relax; I’ll happily be entertained with real fiction in the picture-house not sacred myth and hope for humanity.

Lately I noticed a pub selling itself under the tag line ‘Join our congregation’ (of beer drinkers) and the Christmas advertisement for one big supermarket encouraged me to ‘love your neighbour’. So I did get to thinking, if the materialistic world of consumerism can get in on my act, then why shouldn’t religion get in on theirs?

And let’s face it there are plenty of snake oil sellers preying on our insecurities and superstitions offering us all manner of religious paraphernalia. The free stress test, red strings, holy waters and post modern indulgences are undeniably a sign of the religious consumables travelling in the direction of the market place more aggressively and successfully than the Church of England or progressive Judaism could ever muster.

This Friday is Black Friday apparently. I still think it sounds a bit like a commemoration of some kind of medieval plague. Rather than lighting a candle, some will make pilgrimage to the shopping centre to discover the best deals. If they’re lucky, they’ll come away with something they’re looking for and a slightly reduced bank balance. Doubtless we’ll be offered some sage advice on getting a competitive advantage, avoiding the crush and disappointment and there will be some equally pious wisdom about consumerism gone mad and the true face of human greed.

I should think a few Fathers and Rabbis will be praying for forgiveness of our trespasses and that we be not led into temptation. I’ll be making ready for the Sabbath (Shabbat), minding my own business, and modelling to my children that there is more to life than what we have and what we can buy. I like new things too, but there must be some counterbalance to commercialisation of everything. It’s not salvation through retail therapy but there’s a lot to be said for quiet redemption and saving for a rainy day. And most of the lifestyle we’re sold with that other ‘retail stuff’ is bollocks anyway. Maybe Digital Cinema Media did the C of E a favour after all.

The Big Questions television programme – 12 January 2014

As the Big Questions show airs today I have prepared a few sources and resources about the various issues which were touched upon – some of which reflect my position as a rabbi working within Liberal Judaism and others which simply present a more nuanced and, in my opinion, coherent comment on the issues that were discussed.

I should add that the debate as it progressed placed me curiously at the end of the panel containing the ‘against’ voices (ie advocating that Human Rights should not always override Religious Rights). I actually don’t think my position is so clear, though the false dichotomy of the question is really the problem in that regard.

The truth is that whilst all of us were forced to defend our religious communities we should remember it is easy to mock behaviours and customs which seem strange to us and the people exhibiting them (is there a cultural superiority at work here? I’m reminded of the commentary on Modernity and Jewish practice in Prof Arnold Eisen’s book ‘Rethinking Modern Judaism’ – chapter 1). We should be careful because I suspect behind the debate lie the seeds of division and hatred in humanity.

I want to add one other thing to the question of the t-shirt wearing students. I personally have no issue with the wearing of the t-shirts and would not seek to ban the freedom of expression that allows them to be worn. We all, as followers of religion, need to reinforce our sense of humour and remain impervious to provocation and thick skinned to anyone who would like to cause offense. But, I do have an anxiety about the way in which public discourse and the t-shirts themselves seek to provoke conflict. I wonder what is actually at the heart of this debate in which the two sides back off into their corners? I am not convinced that it is really about secularism or freedom of speech or in fact religious doctrine. And in fact, the debate about the veil and the t-shirts have a number of similarities – they’re about clothing, about belief, identity and are at the nexus between one’s self and the outside world (and making statements about that world).

Anyway, I digress. Here are some resources and I also commend to readers that they follow the UK Human Rights Blog and the Law and Religion UK Blog. There is also useful information on the EHRC website. I’m also grateful to the tweeters whom I follow, who comment on these issues, frequently as professionals and often in the field of law and philosophy.

A brief summary to the Human Rights Act and religion is here: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/human-rights/what-are-human-rights/the-human-rights-act/freedom-of-thought-belief-and-religion/index.html

Some posts by me about Human Rights

Is Christianity in the UK under attack?

I’m not the person to answer this, but I followed closely the former Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on this subject last summer (that is aside from the threat to Christians in some parts of the world at the moment). Personally, I think religious communities on the whole in the UK have it pretty good at the moment. There is a tolerance, respect and constructive involvement of religious communities in public debates. We even have, though it bothers me slightly, a minister for faith and communities. The reality is that religious groups need to come to terms with the fact that they no longer carry the authority as they used to, which means they have a role to play in the conversations in the ‘public square’ but do not get to veto our elected politicians when it comes to law making. I’m certain that there is a difference between Christianity and Islam (both of which were dominant religions of whole geopolitical regions) and Judaism and other minority religions in the UK which have negotiated the way in which their religion plays a role in public and private. It is no surprise that an established church feels threatened as its traditional role changes and authority wanes:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/16/rowan-williams-persecuted-british-christians_n_3768502.html

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/aug/15/rowan-williams-persecuted-christians-grow-up

B+B judgement:

http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2013/12/11/gay-discrimination-and-christian-belief-analysis-of-bull-v-hall-in-the-supreme-court/

http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/RoB/religion_or_belief_in_the_workplace_an_explanation_of_recent_judgments_final.pdf

Homosexuality, Equal Marriage and Liberal Judaism:

http://www.rainbowjews.com/

http://www.keshet.org.uk/

https://rabbijanes.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/equal-marriage-liberal-judaism-views-before-the-parliamentary-vote/

http://www.liberaljudaism.org/news/news-archive/459-rabbinic-conference-statement-on-jfs-lesson-controversy.html

Refusal to serve pork products:

http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2013/12/23/ms-muslim-employees-and-the-tricky-issue-of-reasonable-accommodation/

Circumcision:

This was the issue on which I was taken to task most in the programme. I recently gave comment to the Ham & High Newspaper on the subject, but my comments were not printed very extensively. However the conversation with the reporter was considerably more civilised! The ignorant assertion of the student (as I understood it), in the programme, that the Talmud’s description of infant mortality post-circumcision is like a mandate to kill Jewish babies was in my opinion a gross misreading of the sources. The Talmud is not written in a time of modern medicine and actually reinforces, through a limited understanding of medical conditions, the view that circumcision is not permitted in Jewish law in cases where the child’s life will be at risk.

http://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/circumcision_is_not_genital_mutilation_north_london_rabbis_jump_to_defence_of_religious_practice_1_3174666

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?id=101505309894175&story_fbid=608975835813784

Liberal Judaism publication on the subject: http://liberaljudaism.org/images/pdf/leaflets/lj_in_practice_circumcision.pdf

http://www.theguardian.com/law/2011/jun/15/male-circumcision-ban-health-religion-debate

A general document about some myths.

One of the mohelim from the Association of Reform and Liberal Mohelim has his own  website.

Segregated seating at Universities:

http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/news/2013/december/gender-segregation/

http://freethoughtblogs.com/maryamnamazie/files/2014/01/560365-Letter-to-Universities-UK-06-01-2014-final.pdf

Professor Mary Beard wrote her own response to the furore itself – http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/2013/12/sex-segregation-on-campus.html

Guidance on Sikh articles of faith

http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/publications/sikh_articles_of_faith_guidance_final.pdf

Obsessions of the faith and traditional values:

A blog post from me in which I bemoan the fact that we (politicians and religious leaders) seem obsessed by sex and reproduction.

I wrote a post here about why I hate it when (particularly Christian leaders and politicians) talk of ‘traditional’ values.

French Secularism:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3325285.stm