Broadcasting Any Questions from Greenbelt seemed
fitting, as the festival heads for its 40th birthday. The programme
is 64, and Jonathan Dimbleby is celebrating 25 years as its
Following the programme's summer tradition, the panellists were
not politicians, but none the less represented the Left (Joan
Smith), and Right (James Delingpole), as well as a local, Dr
Timothy Brain, a former Chief Constable of Gloucester, and the Revd
Lucy Winkett, the Greenbelt representative.
Questions ranged from perennials such as euthanasia and exams to
George Galloway's comments on rape, and the nude photos of Prince
Festivalgoers and residents were enthralled to see how the
programme was put together. The sober intensity of the broadcast
was a surprise, and only Delingpole attempted the odd response from
the hip. But it was good to hear Winkett and Smith - a
self-declared atheist - agreeing on many issues.
Afterwards, the producer took pains to praise the quality of the
questions proffered: "It's by no means always like that, I can
The Revd Dave Tomlinson,
author of The Post-Evangelical (Features, 24 August),
kicked off the talks programme in the Jerusalem venue with "How to
be a Bad Christian . . . And a better human being", connected to
his new book of the same title.
Tomlinson admires those who would never set foot in the north
London church of which he is Vicar, but who still live lives that
(consciously or not) embody Christian values. He says that
Christianity needs to be taken out of the hands of Christians, and
given to such people.
The term "Christian" is better thought of as a verb than a noun:
"A way of life rather than a badge to wear," he says. Jesus never
called on people to believe particular things: he invited people to
Challengingly, Tomlinson confessed to frequently saying to
people in his parish: "I don't think God really cares whether you
come to church or not. . . God is much more interested in who you
are as a person -the decisions you make; the way you treat other
Tony Campolo laid down a challenge to his
audience and the Church, to speak with authority, not power, in his
talk "The Power Delusion".
Jesus gave up his divine power because love and power are in an
inverse relationship, he argued: the more you love someone, the
more you have to give up any use of power over them. Consequently,
the Church must live out the Christian life, then speak with the
authority that that gives rather than coerce politicians with the
power of a bloc religious vote, he argued.
While he spoke with passion, and his well-honed illustrations
packed a punch, Campolo did not adapt an American message to a
British audience. So we had California's Proposition 8, not gay
marriage; male headship in the family, not episcopal headship of
the Church. Above all, he assumed a Church that had the power to
make politicians quake - a possible reality in the United States,
but a total fantasy in the UK.
In the "Not the Abbey Habit" panel discussion -featuring
Ian Adams, Vanessa Elston, Ian Mobsby, Shane Claiborne,
Tess Holland, and Mark Berry - new monasticism ended up
sounding rather like old monasticism, in as much as it involved
individuals grouping with others, and committing themselves to
authentic and humble discipleship for the benefit of the whole
Interestingly, every panel member expressed some personal,
social, or ecclesial frustration that had provoked him or her to
explore something different, and thus discover in new monasticism a
renewed affirmation of life in Christ, and in relationships.
One member of the audience aptly misheard every reference to new
monasticism as "numinous", which succinctly summed up the diverse
In the Big Top, Shane Claiborne, the founder of
the Simple Way, in Philadelphia, cut an endearingly gawky figure:
tall, prodigiously dreadlocked, in homemade clothes.
His message is simple: we'll never solve the economic mess we're
in without adopting a truly radical approach to our possessions. He
advocated an ethic of communal sharing, and of embracing the idea
of manna: taking only what you need from one day to the next.
These are biblical ideas, but he and his "holy troublemakers"
have put them into practice, staging a subversive Wall Street
jubilee and throwing around sackfuls of money for the homeless to
scoop up, besides setting up a community health-care scheme that
has grown to 20,000 members.
Claiborne urges Christians to believe in miracles, not despair:
"For some strange reason, God doesn't want to change the world
without us." And he makes it all sound huge fun.
On Saturday morning, the Church Times columnist
Canon Giles Fraser drew a large crowd to the
Jerusalem venue, for a talk on economic growth.
Cigarette in hand Fraser, who resigned as Chancellor of St
Paul's Cathedral in connection with the Occupy protest, reflected
on the causes of the financial crisis, and the reasons for the
Church's "lame response".
We lived on a planet of finite resources, yet our economic model
was about continuous growth. "We haven't been able to articulate
what prosperity for us might look like that's not about continual
growth," he said. And the Church's response had, too often, been
"bland", and not rooted in a knowledge of the financial system.
Christians were called to model "the idea of having enough", he
said, and of not striving for continual growth, which, if left
unchecked, "will kill us all".
In a moving talk on Saturday morning, Emma
Major considered the painful subject of miscarriage, and
how the Church could better respond to people who had lost unborn
Churches could offer prayer for individuals and organisa-tions
supporting people who have suffered miscarriages. There should also
be funerals and memorial services available, Major said. She has
suffered four miscarriages.
"Saying goodbye is a part of grieving, and a funeral or memorial
service is a time to be able to say goodbye. It is important not
just for parents, but for siblings, grandparents, aunties and
uncles, and friends. That community needs to grieve and have a
place to do that, to come together."
At a time when the Church of England is tiptoeing round the
question of women's leadership, the Revd
Dr Kate Coleman strode into the debate.
A leader in her own right, with more than 20 years' experience
of pastoral respon-sibility (she also chairs the Evangelical
Alliance Council), she used the story of the woman at the well to
expound five sound principles of transformative leadership which
would prove effective in any context, secular or sacred.
She told her audience - where women outnumbered men by more than
two to one - that the story could be more aptly entitled "the
racially inferior heretic at the well", and argued that the
Samaritan woman broke taboos by taking news of Jesus back to her
community. In so doing, she may have played a significant part in
evangelising the whole of Samaria.
Coleman talked of her own experience as a black woman trying to
establish herself in a male-dominated Christian world. Her closing
challenge was to: "Discover your calling, and get on with the
On Saturday afternoon, the Revd
Professor John Polkinghorne, a former physics professor at
Cambridge, and an Anglican priest, blended content for scientific
minds, in the packed Centaur auditorium, with careful explanations
for the layman, and theology infused with faith in a loving
Professor Polkinghorne painted a vision of a world destined for
death and decay. In the capacity of genes to mutate - the key to
evolution - lay the origins of cancer, he explained. "There is a
shadow side to evolution, a snake in Eden."
Yet, while science told a horizontal story, theology told a
vertical one, written by a faithful creator. He spoke of a future
world, a glimpse of which had been provided by the resurrection of
Christ: the "pattern" of each person would be retained by the
divine memory, and embodied in the world to come. But this
re-surrected body would be different, in a transformed world not
destined for decay, but primed for the "unending unveiling of the
inexhaustible riches of the divine nature".
In an answer that might resonate with Rob Bell's fans, the
Professor concluded that this world would be open to all. "I think
God's loving mercy is not a limited time offer, and not withdrawn
The Big Top played host to a rerun from the Cheltenham Science
Festival in the form of a panel debate on prayer on Saturday
morning. It was packed.
The Revd Richard Coles
recounted personal experiences of prayer while training as a
priest. The author Dr Mark Vernon offered
interesting parallels between prayer and developmental psychology:
during both there is a gradual growing of love from self to others.
Professor Chris French distinguished between
effects on the people praying and effects beyond them.
These opening statements sparked a torrent of questions from the
floor. Discussions centred on how to understand consciousness and
the psychological effects of prayer - two big challenges in a
scientific understanding of the mind.
Despite the man-eating bog that greeted spectators at the Big
Top on Saturday afternoon, a drama, The God Particle,
opened to a packed house. Down at the pub, we meet Bex the
physicist, and Gilbert the vicar, two geeks with an initial spark
of combustible chemistry. Their relationship develops against a
backdrop of increasingly strange happenings in the small village of
Three Pigs, eventually leading to their threatened arrest.
Science and faith collide in a series of "miraculous events",
including disappearing vicars, time-warps, and donkeys' dispensing
It was witty, and unmasked the stereotypes to show that
scientists and clergy were ordinary folk, who had more in common
than society might expect. Enough, even, to fall in love.
In the Revd Professor Dairmaid
MacCulloch's 30-minute talk, he gave an admirably concise
summation of his 1000-plus-page book, and multi-part BBC TV series
on the history of Christianity.
Just as the Bible could not be described as a book, but was more
of a library, he said, so Christianity could not be considered as a
If anything characterised it, it was diversity, as the faith
shifted across time, culture, and language: "Christianity is a
Quoting a Dominican theologian, he said: "Christianity is not an
answer, it is a question." He pointed back to the Council of
Chalcedon, in 451, when the Roman emperor tried to impose an agreed
definition on the nature of Christ's humanity and divinity - a
definition that two-thirds of the church leaders refused to sign up
Professor MacCulloch urged the Church to continue to ask
questions over current issues. Christianity could only live on if
it "remains a questioning faith", he said.
Katharine Sarah Moody, an academic theologian,
spoke on Saturday afternoon about giving God up for Lent.
Drawing on the ideas of several philosophers and theologians,
including Pete Rollins, she described the Atheism for Lent course,
an unusual Lenten practice "in which we purge ourselves of where
God and religion act as masks", she said.
Participants in the course read some of the strongest critiques
of theistic belief and religion, and came to Good Friday sharing in
Christ's sense of abandonment on the cross, where "God experiences
being without God; his own form of atheism."
From Jack Sparrow to Captain Hook, we can't resist a man who
rolls his arrs. Neither can Kester Brewin: he's
written and self-published Mutiny! Why We Love Pirates, And How
They Can Save Us, the basis for his talk.
In the 18th century, Royal Navy control of the Caribbean was
shaken by pirates: these were brigands, but brigands who shared out
the money fairly, and elected their leaders.
Brewin retells the parable of the Prodigal Son from the wayward
son's perspective, calling his return home to the safe, closed
domain of his rich father a tragedy. His pirate mission fails:
nothing has changed. It was not a reading that all would agree
with, but this was entertaining, provocative, and unorthodox.
Brewin would make an excellent pirate.
In "Alas, Make Poverty History didn't make poverty history" on
the Jerusalem stage, on Saturday, Christian Aid's Paul
Brannen looked back at the successes and failures of Make
Poverty History (MPH), and at plans for a new coalition of agencies
to campaign together in 2013.
MPH had been successful in mobilising a broad coalition and mass
public support. But the message had been confused by the launch of
Live 8, he said, with the perception that MPH was about aid rather
than justice and trade.
The new campaign, building up to next year's G8 summit, in the
UK, hopes to get governments to keep their 2005 promises on aid and
climate change, and to address land grabs and tax dodging.
But Brannen was open about the uncertainties and divisions among
the campaign's members, which must be settled before the launch,
due in January.
Gideon Levy is a writer for the newspaper
Ha'aretz, and an Israeli patriot. He is profoundly
disturbed, however, by the lack of knowledge, or concern, shown by
some of his compatriots about what is happening in the Occupied
Uniquely, Israelis managed to occupy the territories while
portray-ing themselves as the victims, he said in his talk on
Israeli society and the Occupation. They achieved this, he said, by
dehumanising Palestinians; otherwise they would not be able to feel
content with their own lives.
Levy sees little reason for optimism, and can only point, in
hope, to other unexpected breakthroughs, such as the end of
Peter Tatchell has been honing his pitch for
the best part of 40 years. It shows. His romp through the history
of equal-rights campaigning and the relevant legislation flowed as
freely as the rain.
The questions and answers that followed served essentially as an
opportunity for myth-busting. The 1949 Marriage Act did not define
marriage as between a man and a woman; that only came in 1973. Many
religious organisations do want to perform same-sex marriages.
Preventing gay marriage is actually an attack on religious freedom;
civil partnerships are equally unjust - many straight couples want
to commit without the patriarchal baggage of the marriage
And no one, at least in Tatchell's campaign, wants to force
religious organisations to perform same-sex marriages. Separate is
The Revd Sharon Ferguson was introduced, and
addressed the hypocrisy of the law. She can marry two strangers who
may never visit a church again, providing they are straight. The
gay couple who faithfully attend her church every week, and are
known to be in a committed a loving relationship with each other
and with God, are turned away at the door. Her plea was to remember
that every one of us could be wrong in our theology. None of us
know who will be turned away at the pearly gates.
Wikileaks? Check. Arab Spring? Check. President Obama? Check. In
less than ten minutes, Hannah Lownsbrough had hit
all the necessary buzzwords for a generic talk about the internet
As campaigns director for 38 Degrees - one of the most
success-ful online campaigning organisations - she might have been
forgiven for extolling the virtues of this new form of political
The negatives were not ignored, however.
President Obama is struggling to maintain the phenomenal
engagement he engendered in 2008. A strong online presence failed
to save Ségolène Royal. E-politics can be superficial, transient,
and alienating for those less technology savvy.
Unsurprisingly, Lownsbrough finished optimistically: the
internet offers - like the unions of old - the opportunity to
reconnect different and mass social groups, and bring politics back
into our daily lives.
While it's still true that it's people who change politics, in
technology if not in politics - it is those who adapt first who
Sara Batts's "Finding Your Feet in a Church
Full of Families" was a fun, interactive workshop geared mainly at
singles. And, given the dearth of single men in UK churches, it
wasn't surprising to see that 90 per cent of the audience were
The amazingly crass things people say to the unattached, such
as: "Your time will come", were vented, and laughed over. Batts
asked the audience to write the worst ones down, screw them up, and
launch them at her. But she was at pains to stress that it wasn't a
There was no time to explore why the Church can place the family
on a pedestal, but participants' stories and tips were helpful. The
workshop attempted to make a positive out of what can feel like a
negative, and there was a plea for more like this at Greenbelt.
Canon Giles Fraser is "nearly a pacifist". In
his Sunday talk on "the military ethical complex", he asserted his
belief that "most of them [the soldiers] shouldn't be there in the
first place". Nevertheless, he said, we can learn about the
"micro-decisions" made in war that "shed light on. . . the poverty
of our own ethical culture".
Fraser says that he has learned more about ethics from teaching
at the British Army's defence academy, at Shrivenham, than from his
attempts to engage "slovenly" students at Oxford. And, he believes,
we can learn something from the men and women who must make
split-second decisions about right and wrong.
The right framework, he suggested, is virtue ethics, which has
less to do with what you do than who you are, and involves
rehearsing to be the person you want to be. An essential virtue, he
argued, was forgiveness; not the fluffy version people struggle
with, but "a refusal to act like the violent other".
Vicky Beeching, the Christian worship singer,
who is now a research fellow at Durham University, gave a
stimulating talk in GTV, on Sunday afternoon, on the connections
between technology and spirituality.
Technology represents "a quest for God and his attributes",
Beeching said. For example, the way we use the internet to find out
more and more information shows part of our longing for God's
attribute of omni-science, for knowing everything. And technologies
such as Skype replicate our hunger for omnipresence: "our face and
our voice appear miles away from us in someone else's room; we feel
we've cheated laws of travel and possibility".
Beeching loves technology, and says that she often feels God's
presence while online. But she recommended times of solitude and
silence, away from computers and mobiles, in order to engage in
self-reflection. Ultimately, she said, technology will never fulfil
our hearts' desires. "Some questions in life can't be answered by
The writer and journalist Cole Moreton updated
his work on the post-Christian spirituality of Eng-land, with some
reflections on the Olympic Games. Britain, he said, was looking for
ways to hang on to the special moment it had discovered, hoping for
something else to maintain the optimism and positive sense of
itself it had discovered there.
He argued for a continuation of the English union with Scotland,
but stepped aside for writer Doug Gay to make the
case for independence north of the border. Gay's case was the more
lucid, pointing out that for newcomers to Moreton's mongrel nation,
"British" and "English" remained toxic words, whereas "Scottish"
But both agreed that there could be a future collegiate
Britishness, social if not political, in which the people of these
islands could seize hold of a new identity. And, rather than hold
on to traditional forms of preservationist religious tradition, a
new way forward would genuinely embrace people of all faiths.
A former director of the festival, Andy
Thornton, talked of his experience at the Citizenship
Foundation in "Finding and using your political will".
People of faith, he said, were in a privileged position because
religious traditions encourage reflection, and a desire to listen
to the best part of themselves. This helps them to avoid the twin
traps of purist idealism and cynicism.
He warned Christians about getting stuck in the impossibility of
achieving God's perfect will. "We ask ourselves, who am I to be
brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?" he said, quoting the
American spiritual activist Marianne Williamson. "Actually, who are
you not to be? You are a child of God."
"Who is involved with a co-operative?" Over half the hands in
the Bethany venue shot up. "Now spend a bit of time coming up with
ideas for a co-operative."
There was a definite sense of apprehension in the audience. What
had been billed as a talk was rapidly morphing into a workshop. But
an hour later, the venue manager struggled to get people to move
their conversations outside.
Richard Bickle and Chris
Herries had demonstrated the power of co-operation. The
ideas were flowing, and expertise and experiences were being
exchanged: what about a co-operative chicken coop? A co-op pub? Or
even a co-op university?
Centaur was packed on Saturday afternoon for a talk from the
former Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Dr Tom
Wright, who now teaches at St Andrews University. It was
Wright's first time at the festival for 20 years. He spoke on his
new book, How God Became King, which attempts to answer
the question: why did Jesus live? For many Christians, all that
seems to matter is that Jesus was born, died, and rose again,
The four Gospels are all about how Israel's God became king, he
said. "For most of Christian history, people haven't really
understood why the story of Israel is important. The entire
biblical narrative is that the creator God called Israel to be the
means of rescuing creation from ruin." The gospels tell the story
of how Israel's God became king, through Jesus. "Jesus came to
transform God's people so they are now the ones through whom the
world will be transformed." The gospels "are a love story, and we
discover as we read them. . . that the power of love is one that
Wright reminded his audience: "The Gospels are full of signs
that Jesus's followers were called to be not only Kingdom people
but cross people . . . suffering is the way by which God became
king through Jesus, and that is the way the Kingdom has to be
implemented. God forgive us, we have colluded with a comfortable,
middle-class sort of Christianity."
On Sunday evening, a panel discussion took place, in GTV, on the
theme: "Democracy is Dangerous". Peter Tatchell,
the human-rights campaigner, said that democracy can be dangerous
when it beomes "the tyranny of the majority over minorities".
In a democracy, the will of the majority should prevail,
provided it doesn't conflict with human rights, he said. "For me,
human rights always trump majority rule." Tatchell noted that
significant social-reform movements, such as the Chartists and the
Suffragettes, have usually started as grass-roots movements,
outside the mainstream political process.
Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow,
spoke up for the party political process. People need to be
encouraged to participate in the democratic process, and to be part
of solutions to problems, rather than simply seeing elected
politicians as a customer complaints desk, she said.
In Peter Tatchell's talk considering a 20 per
cent wealth tax, he said that the claim that there is no
alternative to government austerity is the "biggest lie of modern
His favoured solution (out of several briefly outlined) was a
one-off wealth tax on the richest ten per cent of the population.
It would be graduated, perhaps starting as low as two per cent, but
rising to about 25 per cent for the richest one-per-cent.
The money could be used to wipe out 80 per cent of the current
debt; or, as Tatchell would prefer, to kick-start a massive
investment in green technology, creating employment and growth.
Tatchell admitted no expertise in economics or finance. He
insisted that his ideas were "common-sense". But is that good
enough in a technical field such as tax, where the richest ten per
cent reach well beyond his caricature of billionaires with yachts
Thomas Lynch is an award winning poet,
essayist, short-story writer and . . . funeral director (Features,
10 August). There is no schizophrenia here - these strands of his
life weave together.
He talks with depth and wit about elemental subjects like life,
sex, and death. And his Saturday-night reading, and Sunday-night
address, took in all these areas.
"The acoustic splendours of childhood rhymes, and the vowel-rich
language of the Latin mass," had helped make him a poet, he said.
He is informed by his Roman Catholic faith, and years as a second-
generation funeral director.
He believes that funerals and poetry are both "deeply human
events", and rued the trend toward "celebrations of life", where
"the only person not invited is the dead guy. The dead guy is as
essential to the funeral as the baby is to the baptism."
He gave no formulas for grieving. "Whatever there is to feel,
feel it. The only way round [grief and death] is through it."
Leaving the venue, one person after another said: "That was my
highlight of the festival."
On Sunday, Ian Morgan Cron kept a large
audience enthralled, with his story of growing up with an alcoholic
father, and by reading from his book Jesus, My Father, the CIA
A witty, relaxed storyteller in the Garrison Keillor style, his
restrained revelation of his own pain and alcoholism, and the
possibility of subtle redemption within dysfunctional families was
As a formerly Roman Catholic, now Anglican, priest, he is also
hugely funny about religion.
Jessie Joe Jacobs, founder of A Way Out
charity, which assists young people with drug and alcohol
dependency, among other issues, had almost a full house on Sunday
lunchtime for her talk, "Alcohol: Britain's Holy Grail".
The ensuing debate was full of refreshing frankness and honesty
- with one man admitting that though being horrified by the
statistics of liver disease, foetal alcohol syndrome, and death, he
later would stand, drink in hand, in the Jesus Arms almost as if he
hadn't heard a word of it.
By the end it was difficult to know how to feel. Depressed by
the stats? Inspired to change habits and mindsets? Shocked into
teetotalism? The resounding feeling was a chilling awareness that
our love affair with alcohol may be worse than anyone wants to
The decision of Rabiha Hannan to wear a
headscarf during her talk "Eve's Paradise: teapot or veil?" with
the Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills was
always going to be a conversation-starter.
Hannan, a pharmacist by trade who co-edited Islam and the
Veil (2011), explained that she chose to wear it, not just
through a personal conviction about what God might want of her, but
because it enabled her to command the attention of Muslim
audiences, who might otherwise refuse to listen to her.
The contention that the importance of the veil has been
over-exaggerated, and that there is much more that women are called
to by God, was part of her message.
A fascinating session on the place of woman in creation, and the
Fall, in the Bible and the Qur'an, discussed the similarities and
differences. The Qur'an, for example, doesn't specify whether man
or woman was created first.
Evans-Hills, a priest and acting interfaith adviser to the
Bishop of Leicester, argued that the C of E was hardly in a
position to preach on equality. It was a dialogue full of grace and
David Nussbaum, CEO of World Wildlife Fund UK,
gave Greenbelters an unusual view of the state of the planet.
He imagined "Mrs Earth" as a hospital patient with myriad
symptoms: alopecia (deforestation), open sores (tar sands
extraction), fever (global warming) and, worst of all, a bad case
of parasitic humans. The simplistic patient-doctor metaphor was
perhaps a bit belaboured, but it made Nussbaum's point that the
planet is in grave condition.
WWF's latest Living Planet report revealed that species
in tropical zones have declined by 60 per cent. Currently, we need
1.5 Earths' worth of resources to provide everything humans need;
if everyone lived to Western standards, that figure would be more
like three to five planets.
Natural beauty has its own intrinsic value beyond economics, and
only through "one-planet living" we can work to preserve it.
Ultimately, Nussbaum finds hope in the Bible's promise of a new
heaven and new earth.
Sunday's "How to. . . ?" GTV session was
particularly varied, ranging through how to . . . be a DJ; be
beautiful; name the divine, and how to write a novel about science,
when you're not a scientist.
The stand-out talk, however, was by oncologist Samir
Guglani. He tackled "how to treat cancer" so eloquently
and poetically; it almost made the horrific subject-matter
beautiful. At Greenbelt, you can be at a swing dance class one
moment, and be brought to tears only an hour later. Programmers
struck gold with this one.
Every year, there's a seminar that blows your thinking. The
American theologians Rebecca Parker and
Rita Nakashima Brock's "Saving Paradise: Earth",
on Monday, was one.
They challenged concepts of heaven and the Kingdom of God, by
arguing that the whole of the Hebrew scriptures centre around Song
of Songs, and within that book, a paradise garden is symbolic of
that which was lost and would later, be redeemed.
Parallels with Jesus' teaching on the Kingdom of God could be
drawn, along with those of the Bride of Christ, and suddenly, Luke
4 and Matthew 19 took on new signi-ficance.
Apparently, the Song of Songs was the most popular book of the
Bible in the pre-Enlightenment West. The speakers argued that the
worth of the erotic language of its author had been sadly dismissed
by a rationalist, cerebral Church.
The system of "severe apartheid" perpetrated by the Israeli
government was "much worse" than that conducted in South Africa,
said Dr Mustafa Bargouti, a Palestinian parliament
member and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, in "The road to Palestinian
freedom" on Monday morning.
Dr Bargouti believes that non-violent resistance is the solution
to human rights violations committed by the Israeli government.
After showing pictures and videos depicting such violations, he
called on the audience to visit Palestine, and to support a
programme of boycott, divestment, and sanctions.
If the children forced to go through security gates to get to
school, during a short window of time every morning, were British
or American, he suggested, "the whole world would be up in
In "Can we remake our world?", the Shadow Foreign Secretary,
Douglas Alexander, highlighted both a change and a
crisis that had made people feel their future was out of their
The change was that globalisation and technology had obliterated
many routine jobs (the three-word description of the past decade
was "Made in China", not "War on Terror", he said). And the
financial crisis would take five to ten years to get over, he
Asia was returning to being the producer of half the world's
goods, as it did before the Industrial Revolution. The transfer of
power from state to people, happening in the Arab Spring through
social media, would continue. "We are way off-track on climate
change," he said, and needed to make the world economy
"carbon-neutral in little more than a generation".
But despite appearances, the world was more at peace than it had
been for a long time, and more people had been brought out of
poverty in the past 50 years than the previous 500. "We can remake
our world," he concluded, "but only by realising that we are the
people we have been waiting for."
The Monday lunchtime talk by Caspar Melville,
editor of New Humanist magazine, on "Is there any hope for
heathens" was well received by the audience. Melville proposed "a
kind of thankfulness and hope" that was less concerned with the
future, and more concerned with the present; to "disentangle hope
from the idea of the future, and bring it into the here and
He warned that the humanist belief in the moral progress of
humanity "can be a complacent delusion. . . But it would be a
failure of imagination not to try to believe in moral