Greenbelt: Talks

31 August 2012

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 chairman.

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 Harry.

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 assure you."

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 follow him.


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 people."

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 community.

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 experiences shared.

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 children.

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 job".

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 God.

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 at death."

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 relationship advice.

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 single entity.

If anything characterised it, it was diversity, as the faith shifted across time, culture, and language: "Christianity is a many-splendoured thing."

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 to.

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 Territories.

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 apartheid.

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 institution.

And no one, at least in Tatchell's campaign, wants to force religious organisations to perform same-sex marriages. Separate is not equal.

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 and politics.

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 engagement.

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 gain most.

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 female.

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 moan-fest.

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 Google."

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" was not.

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, Wright said.

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 wins".

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 times".

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 and mansions?

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 and me.

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 deeply touching.

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 admit.

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 intellectual curiosity.

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 arms."

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 grasp.

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 said.

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 now".

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 progress."

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