Media on Religion, December Edition

Dr Abel Ugba is member of the Centre for Religion and Public Life and Teaching Fellow in Sociology at the University of Leeds whose work focuses on media, religion, migration and international development. This is the third piece for his ongoing MoR column for the Religion in Public blog.

In December, a Barelvi Muslim launched a legal fight to keep his father’s grave sacrosanct, a church of England congregation employs technology to self-assess its performance, a reverend said Nativity plays are outdated, a church in Bristol reopened after 60 years, and Einstein’s ‘God Letter’ raked in £2.3m.  

When religious rites collide with human rights: In the West Midlands, a Barelvi Muslim is fighting to stop visitors to the Strictly Cemetery from stepping on his father’s grave because his religion abhors the practice. He wants to erect a four-inch marble edging around the grave, but Walsall council officials say that only ‘moulding of graves’ is permitted. Determined to restore his right to practise his religion in strict accordance with its tenets, Atta ul-Haq has applied for a judicial review of Walsall council’s policy. The review is being undertaken by Lord Justice Singh and Mrs Justice Carr at the High Court in London. Atta ul-Haq’s lead counsel, Michael Fordham QC, is convinced his client’s demand ‘is borne out of a fundamental religious belief that the grave is sacrosanct and stepping on the grave is a deeply offensive, religiously prohibited act.’ The Daily Telegraph– December 5.

How good is my hymn? Press the button: Worshippers at Aylsham Parish Church in Norfolk are utilising an app to provide real-time verdict on church hymns. The options, which include thumbs up, thumbs down or heart emojis, appear on a large screen behind the rector. The Church of England congregation uses Mentimeter, which also enables congregants to respond to polls and share what they are praying about. At one service, everyone was asked to type in what they were praying about. ‘Peace’, ‘the NHS’ and ‘mental health’ featured most prominently, while ‘Brexit’ and ‘Mrs May’ also made an appearance. Rude terms were filtered out. According to Rev Andrew Beane, the team rector: ‘People can give honest feedback or say they found a certain bit challenging. If I were brave enough I could ask, “How was my vicaring?” We are quite a traditional church, but our congregation is great at embracing new things.’ Critics argue that this dalliance with new media is the latest strategy of the churches to shore up a fast-dwindling youth population. The Times, December 5.

Are Nativity plays outdated? Former Kirk moderator Rev John Chalmers thinks so. This month he described them as ‘irrelevant’ and a distraction from the true essence of Christmas. Rev Chalmers raged: ‘I’ve lost patience with the annual row about whether Mary was a virgin. It’s irrelevant when considered against the central message that God is with us where the poor get first dibs and the mighty are brought to their knees.’ It’s safe to say that many share Rev Chalmers’s disgust with a festivity whose origins have more to do with Roman and Greek pagan gods than Jesus Christ. – The Sun, December 5.

A Bristol Church has reopened 60 years after it was bombed out of existence. St Nicholas Church was hit during the Blitz in 1940 and it closed in the Fifties. The Grade II-listed building was later leased to Bristol City Council and rebuilt as a museum, tourist information centre and offices. The Diocese of Bristol stated that the church reopened after a £3.8million investment over six years. –  The Daily Telegraph, December 10.

A letter in which Albert Einstein derided the existence of God has been auctioned for about £2.3m. Written in 1954, Einstein’s ‘God Letter’ also articulated his position on his Jewish identity and heritage: ‘…the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong, and in whose mentality I feel profoundly anchored, still for me does not have any different kind of dignity from all other peoples,” he writes. “As far as my experience goes, they are in fact no better than other human groups, even if they are protected from the worst excesses by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot perceive anything ‘chosen’ about them.’ A statement from Christie’s auction house in New York stated: ‘This remarkably candid, private letter was written a year before Einstein’s death and remains the most fully articulated expression of his religious and philosophical views.’ The Independent, December 6.

Image Credit: Martin Addison

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