What Eye in the Sky teaches us about terrorism and moral dilemmas

eyeinthesky_article_image (1)This week the Joint Committee on Human Rights asked the UK government for ‘urgent clarification’ on the legal position of using lethal force overseas for counter-terrorism.

The question arose from their consideration of the use of an RAF drone to kill Reyaad Khan, a UK citizen, in Syria last year. This not only raises the issue in parliament but also among the media and general public. It poses a challenge for us all to consider the deeper spiritual and moral questions beneath this technical legal question.

How do we address such issues? For thousands of years, philosophers have considered such questions through the use of ‘thought experiments’. These are short stories that raise ethical dilemmas, causing us to think about what we would do in such a situation, and what underlying ethical norms or moral laws this reveals.

In recent years, feature films have provided excellent thought experiments. And now, as parliament considers the questions raised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the excellent film Eye in the Sky is running in cinemas across the country….

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Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Some thoughts on spiritual education.

Much has been written recently about statements from various spiritual educators that ‘Muslims and Christians worship the same God.’ This has precipitated rather simplistic headlines. However, if spiritual education is to be truly effective, there is a need for more substance and clarity beneath those headlines. So, I offer the following framework in the hope that it will help the growing debate around this issue.

In the particular case of Islam, Christianity and God, the content and style of the education we offer (pedagogically) must be informed by our understanding of the varying views of God (theologically), which must in turn be informed by the varying views of reality (ontologically), and ultimately communicated in a language that is clear and helpful (linguistically).

Perhaps a few bits of flesh on these bones might add value to the debate…

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What the box-office success of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice teaches us about engaging young men in spiritual, moral, social and cultural questions

Batman-vs-Superman_article_imageSo, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice has confounded the critics by becoming a resounding success at the box office. With ticket sales of $166m at the opening weekend in the USA this film not only came top of the top ten, but also took over twice as much as all the other nine films added together. Globally, at $420m, this film had the fourth-biggest opening weekend in history, and the highest ever for a superhero movie.

This week, accountants at Warner Bros will no doubt reflect on how the film justified its $250 million production budget and has assured the subsequent Justice League film franchise that it clearly heralds. But for those of us who are interested in what films say about the spiritual, moral and social issues in our culture there is a deeper question to be considered.

When fans praised the film with simple words such as ‘awesome’ and ‘must-see’, why did film critics fall over themselves to create clever condemning epithets such as…

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What Disney’s The Finest Hours illustrates about mission and sacrifice


People organizing church events often ask me to recommend a film that will appeal to a broad audience, without being offensive to any; and will stimulate discussion, without being too demanding for those who are not film-buffs. I now have a new film in my current recommendation list.

The Finest Hours (in UK cinemas now) tells the true story of 33 crew members lost at sea on the stern section of SS Pendleton, which had been broken in half by a dreadful storm; and the four US Coastguards who faced almost certain death as they set out on a seemingly impossible rescue mission. This is not a so-called ‘faith-based’ film but the parallels with Christian mission are clear, powerful, and inspirational.

Bernie Webber (played by Chris Pine), is the young coxswain of a lifeboat, struggling to live with the weight of his past failures, but prepared to give his life to save those who are lost at sea. Experienced fishermen warn him that any mission to reach the stricken Pendleton in such a dreadful storm means certain death, and that he should turn back. But, in words almost identical to those used by many missionaries through the years he says “I’ve got to go out – they don’t say I’ve got to come back.”

In an experience matching those of many missionaries, he soon…

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What The Big Short illustrates about true value


Nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, The Big Short tells a story of huge importance and complexity, in a cinematic style that is wonderfully engaging and accessible.

Adam McKay, the film’s director and co-writer, has been described as the cinematic equivalent of a jazz musician – his films are outrageous, anarchic and chaotic but have a clear structure and message. Formerly a writer and director for Saturday Night Live (the TV series known for satirical sketches and monologues that raise important political and economic questions), in this film Adam McKay clearly shows his passion for helping a wide audience to understand the causes of the devastating banking collapse in 2007-8.

In an irrepressibly gripping style, The Big Short tells the true story of a ragtag group of Wall Street outsiders who bet against the banks and won. These realistic characters are…

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Star Wars and spiritual education

Star Wars: The Force AwakensPh: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm 2015

I could feel the excitement and enthusiasm all around me as I sat in the cinema packed with young people ready to watch the new Star Wars film. From the opening scenes they were clearly gripped by the story and impressed by the cinematography, as indeed was I. But, as we walked out together, I was also thinking about the opportunities and challenges that this film highlights for those of us involved in spiritual, moral, social and cultural education (known as SMSC in today’s school curriculum).

Although the film essentially repeated the familiar Star Wars formula, many subtle differences between it and the first Star Wars powerfully illustrate some important underlying changes in our culture over the intervening 40 years – which have implications for those of us involved in spiritual education. Here are just three examples: Continue reading