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November 13, 2012

Chaplaincy Blog
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» Is the Meeting House a Cathedral?

We like to think too that there is a sacredness about the Meeting House:  not the “holy” atmosphere created by mysterious dark spaces, candles and incense, but an atmosphere of hospitality, friendship and unconditional welcome. If people feel this when … Continue reading

October 8, 2010

History Division News
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» ‘Our Work Is a Mission’

The Friends’ Relief Service and Displaced People after the Second World War

<image src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/10/8/Quakers.JPG" height="550px" width="720px" /> Image: Members of FRS 124 leaving Tilbury for Ostend in July 1945, from the Friends’ Library, London. Used with permission of the Religious Society of Friends in Great Britain

Dr Fiona Reid considers past perspectives on relief work

After the Second World War there were about 10 million displaced people (DPs) in Europe alone. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was responsible for most of them, yet voluntary societies, such as the Friends Relief Service (FRS) played a huge role too.

The FRS was organised by the Quakers, although not all of its members were Quakers. Team members were largely motivated by the belief that humanitarian work was an expression of Christian commitment and they defined themselves against the highly professionalised model of relief work being pioneered by UNRRA. FRS teams often presented an image of themselves as simply good-hearted amateurs doing their best, yet the Quaker training and selection process was rigorous. Unlike UNRRA, FRS teams were proficient in local languages and only 1 in 10 applicants to the FRS was accepted. The Quakers clearly and deliberately understated their own training. But why? Possibly from a sense of modesty, possibly from a sense of moral superiority, or possibly because they simply felt inadequate when faced with the realities of life in a DP camp. Yet this strong world view – erroneous in itself – may well have maintained morale and protected FRS teams from some of the psychological trauma of relief work.

Fiona Reid is head of Glamorgan's History Division. Her research and teaching specialisms include the social impact of World War II and the history of refugees. This entry summarises the conclusions of her research presentation to the history division's War, Violence and Society seminar series, ‘Our Work Is a Mission’: The Friends’ Relief Service and Displaced People after the Second World War.

September 21, 2010

History Division News
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» Papal Aggression in postsecular Britain?

<image src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/9/21/ArchbishopandPoperesized.jpg " />

Dr Timothy Jones reflects on Benedict XIV's visit to Britain

In the lead up to Pope Benedict’s recent state visit to Britain, Vatican ecumenical expert, Cardinal Walter Kasper compared arriving in Heathrow to landing in a third world country and talked of Britain’s ‘aggressive new atheism’. His comments were regarded as bizarre diplomatic faux pas. They were reported with barely suppressed glee by the liberal press alongside protests against the child abuse scandal and Vatican policy on HIV-AIDS prevention, remarriage and homosexuality. Cardinal Kasper’s comments, rightly condemned as racist, nonetheless identify a real shift in the religious landscape of Britain.

Opposition to the Pope’s visit was principally from secularists rather than Protestants. While this secular anti-Catholicism had clear parallels with Britain’s historic sectarian anti-Catholicism it is different in key ways. The most interesting difference is the failure of the new atheists to tap into nationalist sentiment. As ticket sales to the Pope’s public appearances attest, most Britons were apathetic rather antagonistic to the Pope’s visit. Britain might not be especially Christian anymore, but neither is it especially secular. Secularists appeared as ideologically motivated in their irreligion as the religionists they opposed.

In their public interactions, the Pope and the leaders of the Church of England were presented on remarkably equal footing. The Roman Church claims to be the one true Church with universal jurisdiction, yet Benedict had tea with the Queen, the head of the Church of England. Perhaps more dramatically, on Friday the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury jointly lead evensong at Westminster Abbey. They processed down the aisle side by side and pronounced the benediction in unison. This ritual display of equality belies recent sectarian conflict.

Scholars are now suggesting that rather than entering a secular age contemporary Britain is better described as postsecular. Society is increasingly organised around secular principles and the country is rarely described as ‘Christian’ anymore. While Christian churches continue to play a social role (one that may be about to be dramatically expanded in David Cameron’s ‘big society’), they are more and more seen as players in a more level ideological landscape that also includes Muslim, Hindu and secular ideologies.

As the Pope's visit has illustrated, the central religious problematic in modern Britain is no longer secularisation, but multiculturalism. And perhaps the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury walking arm in arm down the aisle of Westminster Abbey on the eve of the beatification of John Henry Newman can be read as a good omen for multicultural Britain. After all, Cardinal Newman was contiguously the greatest Anglican and the greatest Catholic in nineteenth-century Britain.

Dr Timothy Jones teaches and researches modern British history and the histories of religion, fundamentalism, gender and sexuality.

September 7, 2010

Chaplaincy Blog
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» Chaplain Welcomes Hawking’s Rethink on God

In his 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, Professor Stephen Hawking famously asked: “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? ... Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?”

Then, the professor speculated that a Creator God might provide the answer. Last week, in a new book serialised in The Times, Hawking declared God to be redundant because “the Universe can and will create itself from nothing”.

As a physicist and a Christian, I applaud Hawking’s change of position. Invoking God as the one who breathes fire into the Universe is to take the dangerous path of placing faith in the “God of the Gaps.” Faced with a link in a causal chain which we do not understand, we are tempted to declare “God did it!” and solve the problem… at least until science comes up with a better answer, and kicks away one apparent foundation of faith.

The beginning of the Universe represents a deeper problem than the usual “God of the Gaps” scenario, though. It represents the quest for the termination of a chain of explanations which would otherwise stretch on for infinity. Imagine a small child exploring the world and asking “… and why did that happen?” in response to every previous answer. What kind of reply would silence the child and provide an answer so satisfactory that no further why is possible, or necessary? Mediaeval philosophers declared the First Cause or Unmoved Mover to be “that which people call God”.

Hawking, together with many contemporary scientists, argues that the Universe itself is the kind of thing that needs no prior explanation – the ultimate free lunch. The explanation goes like this: Imagine you have no money – you can’t carry out any transactions. But suppose the bank gives you an interest free loan of £1,000,000. Your net worth is still zero – but there’s a lot of interesting things you can do with that million pounds. Further, the bank doesn’t need to have money in its coffers to give you the loan; it creates the capital by ‘quantitative easing’, so the bank’s net worth is also zero! In the same way, quantum physics says that nothing is identical to “something plus a debt”. Therefore from nothing (no universe), energy can be loaned to create a universe – and here we are! Perhaps the universe we are in is the only permissible debt under the rules; or perhaps it represents one of many debts which exist. No Creator is needed – for the same laws of mathematics create both the bank and the loan.

But… I am a Roman Catholic, and each Sunday at Mass I recite the words, “I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” How can I declare that with integrity?

My faith is in Jesus Christ, who came to show the world, in the fullest way possible, the God he called Father. After decades of reflection, a disciple of Jesus wrote the opening verses of the Gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” Therefore, I believe that in these words Jesus is saying, through his disciple, “My Father and I were intimately involved in the beginning of all things.” I don’t need to know the details of how God did it, and I am not invoking God as a necessary explanation of why the universe exists. I am simply trusting in the Bible’s statement that God was involved.

Further, Jesus also said “I am the Truth.” In some profound way, the God revealed by Jesus is all truth, all love and all beauty. If the mathematical laws which govern the universe are intrinsically true, and are themselves sufficient to summon a universe into being, the fire is already present in the equations. God does not need to breathe on the equations. Rather, the fiery equations themselves are one small manifestation of that ultimate Truth, which people of faith call God.

This blog article was written by Revd Gareth Leyshon, who is a Roman Catholic priest, an Associate Chaplain to the University of Glamorgan, and who holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics for studies on dust in distant galaxies.