Saturday, 21 October 2006

Weekend opinion

The Guardian’s “Face to faith” column is by Colin Sedgwick who writes that Self-harm has no place in the Christian discipline.

Christopher Howse’s regular “Credo” column in the Telegraph is Kindness amid persecution.

In The Times Jonathan Sacks writes Danger ahead - there are good reasons why God created atheists.

Giles Fraser also writes about atheists (and Richard Dawkins) in his Church Times column Atheists’ delusions about God.

Patrick Noonan writes in The Tablet about the modern missionary - From soul catcher to adventurer.

Saturday evening Addition

David Goodhart writes about God’s big comeback in the Guardian’s Comment is free.

Sunday Addition

Cristina Odone in The Observer It’s my cross and I’m proud to bare it.

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 21 October 2006 at 10:40am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

I find myself agreeing entirely with Giles Fraser and Jonathon Sacks as quoted.

If a Christian is to have a good world-view, it must include reality (science with its anchoring to experiment) and be shaped by and acknowledge the existence and role of atheists and folks of other faiths.

Posted by: Tim on Saturday, 21 October 2006 at 11:54am BST

I loved Patrick Noonan's article noting that missionaries begin " find the Christ of other cultures - "the hidden traces of God" - in other cultures." It so reminds me of Paul the apostle at Areopagus, where he had to bring the world of Jesus and relate it to what was already understood (see Acts 17:18-34).

Richard Dawkins latest book is worth a read, I still like his meme model. Dawkins problem is that he looks at religion at its worst and dismisses it all (throwing out the baby, the water and the bathtub). However, he plays a profoundly important role in shoving in our faces the worst of our excesses and calling us to account for ameliorating them in the future.

Sedgewick's article reminded me of a recent Torah study looking at Jacob's son Joseph. The study made the point that sometimes bad things happen to good people, because God sees that they will survive the experience and enrich both themselves and those they come to influence when they come out of the dark period. However, the article also cautions that there is a difference between a testing brought on by God, and one sought out by human initiative. An error some souls make when they are inspired by another's hardship is to replicate the experience so they might also be inspired by victory, but people who choose to enter into such dark passages often fail the tests. They forgot that it was God who chose to refine and temper the soul, and that therefore God looked over the soul sufficient to the circumstances and their character at the time.

And the kindness amid persecution applies as much to being kind to GLBTs as it does to Christians in Muslim communities. There is the common theme of being respectful and kind to the alien in our midst.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Saturday, 21 October 2006 at 12:41pm BST

Jonathan Sacks' recent book The Dignity of Difference is one of the classics of the contemporary period for toleration. It is a pity that he was rounded on by a group of his rabbis in Manchester and had to alter a chapter to fit in, but the main points are still there. His comment in the Times about God creating atheists is of that same ethical line as in The Dignity of Difference.

There is far more to Dawkins than Giles Fraser's condemning him as a salesman of atheism against a God that is over simplified; however, Dawkins would benefit from a more extensive encounter with those of us on the liberal and radical end. He might find many levels of agreement, and already Dawkins has stated some sympathy with the understanding behind Deism. The more interesting position is that of the physicist Paul Davies, and he can be brought into the frame: and he is clear he is not talking about the God of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament either when he is considering the meaning that might be behind a coherent scientific view. Davies sounds over coherent to me, and there are many meanings in our world of differences.

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 21 October 2006 at 2:01pm BST

I love the links drawn in the essay by Fr. Noonan between listening, opening oneself to the traces of God overt and hidden in other cultures/frames, and Tikkun - all and each as a primary tool in the missionary kit of best practices.

Oh that the Anglican Global South were now nothing but busy with just such tools - both sharing their gifts and entering wisely and empathically into the Global North cultures/frames which they otherwise find so incomprehensible and alien to them.

I am still puzzled at how the newish frames of equality, competence, diversity, and best practices can be so dismissively scorned by Global South leaders who apparently have nothing more to learn about following Jesus of Nazareth.

I still think the best remedy for any blind spots that Global South leaders might have would be 30 days in silence and in service, listening without answering back right away, as they, say, shadowing a life in the days of Bishop Robinson and the believers of the Diocese of New Hampshire?

And yes, thank God for atheists and all the other neighbors who mainly help us ask questions and seek discernments we would otherwise ignore, neglect, or outright avoid. I sometimes hear in the passions of some atheists, a deep yearning implicit for a better sort of deity than they have so far encountered in this or that world religion. Not to mention a shrewd take on the fallibilities of most religious institutions.

Posted by: drdanfee on Saturday, 21 October 2006 at 4:13pm BST

Pluralist , please where is the reference to Prof. Davies given ? Or what is the ref ?

my thanks

Posted by: laurence on Monday, 23 October 2006 at 10:23am BST

'Here I stand - against everything the rest of you believe in.'

I had no idea that this is the meaning of the cross-nor do I accept it, as such. If she wears it as an act of definace, fair enough, I sppose. Though as a gay man I don't feel defied by her cross ! She seeems to be setting up straw persons, and it all feels self-indulgent to me. Some Christian traditions would eschew turning the Cross into a fashion statement --or any other statment of the extraneous. Surely, when we think 'we've got it', we've lost it ?

Also there is a great difference (isn't there) between wearing a cross and bearing the Cross ?

I don't buy that the RC denomination and C of E are being marginalized and ground down by all these 'dreadful secularists', at all. They seem to be doing fine at that, without extra help from (imaginaed) enemies. However, I should think the average Brit, is fairl;y pissed of at being lectured by the leaders of these small deominations. I wouldn't want football managers lecturing me on my sex life, education system etc., either ! (That's in case people pipe up with "more people go to church than football" !)

Posted by: laurence on Monday, 23 October 2006 at 10:48am BST

Christopher Howse dismises Witchcraft en passant, and greatly undermines his whole peice. He, apparently, knows nothing about it. But is content to malign its folowers, with impunity.

In fact the Churches historically, created this situation where 'christians are persecuted', and they STILL do. Whenever they war mong either literally or metaphorically, theu=y are creating an environemnt of intollereance -- including their anti-gay rhetoric and acts--what goes round comes round. Sowne they leap to condemn Wicca or gays they are also condemning christians elsewhere.

What of China's persecution of Tibet and its religion culture and language ?

Posted by: laurence on Monday, 23 October 2006 at 11:18am BST

David Goodhart writes of sixties liberalism as though it were a coherent philosophy selected after reflection. It is not. Often, very little reflection or review of options is involved at all. Rather, it is taken up (not 'chosen', that would be too rational a term) opportunistically by those lucky or rather unlucky enough to inhabit a society that turns a blind eye to it. It corresponds precisely to the outworkings of the selfish human nature: ie it is not a rational choice but an animal instinct. Since we are all humans Id have thought we would all recognise this to be true!!

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Monday, 23 October 2006 at 1:01pm BST

"To seek to impose your will on another, against his or her will, is the first step on the road to dehumanisation."

How true! Would that both sides of the current Anglican debate took it to heart! One side calls it "reassertion" and claims God's blessing on it. The other calls it justice, and likewise claims the blessing. One side claims to love that which they do not understand and sees no reason to try to understand. The other demands "human rights" from God Himself. Each side see the other as the enemy to be fought against, rather than the fellow Christian to be loved and understood. Seems we have walked far down the road of dehumanization already.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 23 October 2006 at 5:25pm BST

Ford Elms

The kind of stereotyping which says there are two sides and one says and the other says ... is dehumanising too.

Mostly "they" don't say quite what "people" say "they" say.

And mostly, most of those who would agree in general terms with what is said, would, left to themselves, express it differently.

God does not love or call collectives or organisations, but people. We are all different. God calls us together with people different from ourselves. When we start lumping people together, we have begun seeing them differently from the way god sees them. That is when dehumanising begins to happen.

There is a wonderful scene in 'To Kill a Mockingbird' where a mob gathers and the young (and naive) Scout calls them individually to be who they really are. That is where humanising begins. It may be brave or foolish, but it is never without risk.

That is what the cross means.

Sermon over.

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Monday, 23 October 2006 at 9:27pm BST

Paul Davies was on BBC News 24, so I just listened to what he said, and it is about his latest book but I have forgotten the title. Anyway he was saying that he sees a time ahead when physics has answered key questions (obviously an optimist) and then can go on to discuss the meaning of it all. I'm just umming and arring over spending more money I haven't got on John D. Barrow and The Artful Universe Expanded, Oxford University Press, where far more connections are made between science and creativity. It sounds like this is more down my street.

Posted by: Pluralist on Tuesday, 24 October 2006 at 2:15am BST

You're absoltuely right. I go on and on about not lumping people together, then I do the same thing. The only thing I can say in my defence is that there are certainly two publically expressed opinions, so, I guess, two camps, on this issue, while the majority of Anglicans, I feel at least, are somewhere in the middle. Thanks for bringing me back to the straight and narrow.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 24 October 2006 at 11:33am BST

I laugh at scientists who think that the how explains away the why. For example, not approving of how a woman behaves when she feels rejected does not explain away why she exists. Understanding that a star can go supernova does not change that the universe or that star existed.

Similarly, obsessive intelligent designers and grand unified theorists' models often fall for similar reasons. They are so busy trying to integrate things into one model that they take hyperboles with timelines, purposefulness and thus often fail to recognise the turbulence where models are affected by more than one factor.

That's a little bit like the biodiversity thinking about the tropics, they are finally realising there are two factors at play (one of creating more species and the other of conserving existing species) rather than one being right and the other completely wrong.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Tuesday, 24 October 2006 at 6:24pm BST

The Big Bang is what it looks like from our end when God says "Let there be light!" I have never understood how this is a problem. Scientists and religious people arguing over this is rather like the patrons of an art gallery running onto a football field yelling that football isn't valid because it isn't art.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 24 October 2006 at 8:33pm BST

Ford. I agree. I sometimes feel like they are in a Monty Python debate, an adaption of the scene where Brian shouts "You're all a bunch of conformists" and they all (but one) chant back "No we're not". Here, we say they are talking about the same thing, and the scientific and religious conformists both chant "No we're not". But a few of us on the sidelines snicker and say "Yes they are".

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Wednesday, 25 October 2006 at 10:42am BST

Hi Ford and Cheryl
How would you answer the suggestion that in that case you are dualists? Of course, you could say that science and 'religion' (horrible word: Id prefer 'ultimate questions' or 'spiritual questions') are dealing with different dimensions of reality. Yet if we are really going to understand reality, all the more reason for not separating the two in the first place. Reality itself doesn't separate them; only our study of reality does so.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Wednesday, 25 October 2006 at 12:38pm BST

Dualist is one step up from stuffed in the ears ignoramous. It is still an attempt to oversimplify and cartoonise the world and reality to fix limited mental models.

Many of the major theological, scientific, philosophical and moral dilemmas we face today are not to do with problems in reality. They are to do with people trying to oversimplify reality or overstate their claim to understanding reality.

We would have much more viable scientific, social, political and theological paradigms if we had the humility to recognise the boundaries of where models "fall over" and to accept that they work in one place and not another. For example, the laws of gravity do not apply to beings that are too small to feel its effects - there are some aquatic creatures that position themselves by the world's magnetic fields. We would have even more success if we learnt to cope with the "and also" e.g. diversity in the tropics. We would have more success again if we could cope with the idea that systems experience punctuated equilibrium and that in one state one set of paradigms suffices, but when the base conditions change, then the old paradigms are insufficient and we need to understand the rules that will work best in the new environment.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Wednesday, 25 October 2006 at 7:29pm BST

Alas, I must be the ignoramus in question. Oh well, despite being a dunce, at least I am (as you put it) 'one step up from' not being able to spell 'ignoramus' in the first place.

Cheap cracks aside (and I have always thought an ignoramus ought to be a lovable, rather slow-witted dinosaur, the iguana's half-cousin) - well, on the topic of dinosaurs, your thoughts on evolution are -well- thoughtful; and thought-provoking. My point was only that science and (what we call) religion are often treated as separate dimensions of study, whereas in the real world the objects of study in question are actually inseparable (as opposed to identical): ie I was advocating holism as a sine qua non.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Thursday, 26 October 2006 at 12:16pm BST


I liked your last posting and agree with you that the two are not inseparable.

My issue (not with you, I hope) is when people try to hyperbolize and deny evidence e.g. age of universe or existence of dinosaurs. They diminish their credibility because they demonstrate that they will destroy evidence that threatens their world view. Unfortunately, history shows that the same souls who would destroy evidence will also destroy souls who are inconvenient to their vision.

I don't have a problem with God being billions of years old with billions of years to come. I think trying to make him only 5,000 years old is a bit of an insult (a bit like insisting your middle aged wife has plastic surgery so she is a prettier package to take to parties). Humanity's consciousness and ability to comprehend God at this level might only be 5,000 or so years old, but that is the age of humanity's collective consciousness (not God's).

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Friday, 27 October 2006 at 12:42am BST
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