Saturday, 26 January 2008

opinions this weekend

Geoffrey Rowell writes that Paul shows how faith could turn all our lives around in The Times.

Alan Wilson also writes about Saint Paul, in The Power of Love.

Stephen Smith writes about the Holocaust in the Guardian’s Face to Faith column.

Christopher Howse writes in the Daily Telegraph about a Coincidence in a Bath bookshop.

Giles Fraser writes in the Church Times about Technology: does it dispel the wonder?

And the Church Times carried a leader about Christian unity: Two ways to hold the body together.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 26 January 2008 at 12:13pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

I find myself in disagreement with Giles Fraser. Technology and the new information it delivers to us has not diminished my faith but increased it. The more I learn about how the universe works, the more I am in awe of it and its Creator.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Saturday, 26 January 2008 at 2:20pm GMT

I also disagree with Giles Fraser. Nihilism, as a sort of absence, has its own potential to be religious. It is a stark other, a beyond all the beyonds and intensely dark, out of which the tiniest speck of light can be that religious faith, and yet needs the intense dark to do it. Nihilism is a kind of cleansing, and its very nothingness is religious.

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 26 January 2008 at 4:04pm GMT

Stephen Smith opened with "It is relatively straightforward to believe in a benevolent god when things are going our way. It is more difficult when circumstances turn against us, but then maybe that is when some of us turn to our god in search of help."

Consider Proverbs 3:11-13 "My son, do not despise the LORD'S discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding..."

or Proverbs 13:1 " A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke."

or Proverbs 27:5 "Better is open rebuke than hidden love."

Contemplate also Jeremiah 2:19 "Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me,” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty."

This is where Giles Fraser's piece fits in. Giles is grappling with how thinking shapes perception and how that then ripples into emotional wellbeing and spiritual succor. It's been an interesting journey to watch over the last few months and I confess to pleasure at seeing a soul looking beyond the surface of things. Nihilism might not be the best word, but there is wisdom in Giles' piece. Giles is reminding us that when we assume everything is mechanized and covered by laws, we lose reverence or, to quote Jeremiah, the awe of God.

Yet it is that awe of God that Stephen Smith was able to describe in the Auswitzch survivors. An awe of God brings faith, and that faith in oneself enables one to look optimistically for evidence of faith in others. The witnessing of faith from another, no matter who or how unexpectedly, brings joy to the faithful. Their love of God is not alone nor are they doing it on their own.

To quote Jewel from "Hands". "We must learn to demand not more from each other but more from ourselves". When we manifest faith and love, we bring hope, not just to ourselves but to others, we find ourselves on a highway to peace.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. Clough on Saturday, 26 January 2008 at 7:43pm GMT

Giles Fraser does bite off a lot in his brief essays, but he's thought-provoking and fun to bounce off of. He never directly answers the question he raises -- does technology dispel wonder? For some, befuddled by its glitz, perhaps. But not for all. When Kant found wonder in "the starry heavens above and the moral law within," he was using a telescope to observe the "starry heavens." I built telescopes when I was a kid -- and the experience of looking through them was that of wonder piled upon wonder (though it was a naked eye observation of the night sky that gave me my first true experience of the sacred at the age of 9). And recall the wonder of first looking down upon the earth from 35,000 feet -- an experience made possible by technology. Or that of traveling to experience the great diversity of human cultures and cultural perspectives -- just a few centuries ago, most people lived their whole lives and died within just a few kilometers of their birthplaces.

Technology is neutral, an extension of our senses and capacities, to be used well or abused, depending upon our foolishness or wisdom...

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Saturday, 26 January 2008 at 8:03pm GMT

"Nihilism is a kind of cleansing, and its very nothingness is religious."

It can be. But it can also simply an empty, unreligious nothingness, or an absolute denial of everything. In which case it is not religious but denying religion.

There's the mystic, life affirming via negativa, and there is a plain lack of engagement that can lead to life denying depression.

We need to be clear what we're talking about. I think Giles means the latter.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 26 January 2008 at 10:05pm GMT

'he never directly answers the question he raises' - Peter says. And he's right in a way. That is because the title is always a retro-fit, mostly by the hand of another, after the column has been done. It is meant to be an eye-catching way into a piece rather than a question to be answered.

I don't know if it was right to try and do something philosophical in a 420 word space. I thought it a worthwhile challenge though it is bloody difficult, especially writing for a general readership. And it certainly leaves one exposed to objections one can anticipate but not address. I guess I have thought of this little series more as philosophical provocations than complete essays. They couldn't be anything else. As Peter says, they are there to bounce off

But my overwhelming feeling after commiting myself to this series - and then seeing GAFCON sail into view - was one of frustration at having to think high thoughts ... a frustration revealing the truth of Marx's 11th thesis on Feuerbach: "philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point however is to change it".

Anyways, thanks to those who have discussed the anti-Plato thing on this site. Its been stimulating to watch on. For those who are interested, the core of my anti-Plato stuff is Martha Nussbaum's brilliant 'The Fragility of Goodness' where she argues that Plato is reacting against the tragic view of human life expressed in Greek theatre. In doing that he creates a conception of the human self in which fragility and vulnerability have been expunged - and he does it though the creation of his particular style of metaphysics. Perhaps I ought to have done something on Nussbaum's view, but, again, I couldn't find a way to do it justice in so short a space.

Posted by: Giles Fraser on Sunday, 27 January 2008 at 8:55am GMT

OK Giles, GAFCON's boat is over there near some sort of island and seems not quite so sure of its sailing into the waters, and by my looking even its supporters do not quite know where it is going. It might even be showing some damage. Some of its crew are looking at other boats but other evangelical boats are not sailing with it and they don't even seem to be sailing in the same direction amongst themselves.

Posted by: Pluralist on Sunday, 27 January 2008 at 2:14pm GMT

Giles, I enjoy your column in the CT and your thought for the days.Peter Toon has a very good article on evangelical Anglicans and their revised sexual morality on virtue online.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Sunday, 27 January 2008 at 4:53pm GMT

Hi Giles

Your insight of creating a "conception of the human self in which fragility and vulnerability have been expunged" is so pertinent to our modern debates, particularly vis a vis GAFCON.

You see, the new puritans have made the same mistake as the religious leaders that Jesus was rebuking.

They have both fallen into paradigms that if you create the "perfect church" that means fragility and vulnerability have been expunged. That's why they try to expunge GLBTs and those who would advocate for them. That's why they suppress women and white wash over their fallibilities and mistakes.

They believe that if they can prove they have manifested perfection that means they are within God's grace and they are thus "safe".

Yet ironically, many of our most beloved and greatest biblical characters are actually the antithesis of this "perfection" and are certainly far from safe e.g. Joseph sold into slavery after an aborted murder plan, Jonah who ran away from problems, both Moses and Jesus the babies for whom many others were killed as the ruling authorities sought to prevent their actualizations.

Then there is Sarah, who confounds the angels who exhort laws, order, rituals and perfection. It was angels who decreed that a post-menopausal woman was to become the mother of Israel, and in the process they broke the "natural order" of her fertility. They accused Sarah of laughing at them; they lacked emotional wisdom, for they failed to recognize sarcasm.

The same as souls still vilify Eve, who apparently is so unforgivable that even Jesus' sacrifice is insufficient. Eve wanted to be guardian of this planet and knew that involved change and risks. Sulking males who don't like this planet and its occupants are welcome to leave, the rest of us are prepared to live with our vulnerabilities and fallibilities and make the most of whatever circumstances God bequeaths us.

Jesus didn't worry if he was born into the right family at the right time in the right location with the right circumstances. Jesus had a calling and he got on with doing it. Jesus trusted God to make the most of whatever Jesus did and trusted that whatever he did was sufficient unto itself.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. Clough on Sunday, 27 January 2008 at 7:52pm GMT

"Peter Toon has a very good article on evangelical Anglicans and their revised sexual morality on virtue online."

Robert Ian Williams -- Would you be so kind as to post a link to said article? I looked for it over on VOL, but was not able to locate it, and hate to muck around too much within that site, as its peculiar spin on reality serves my blood pressure poorly.

Thanks in advance.

Posted by: Viriato da Silva on Monday, 28 January 2008 at 12:42am GMT

Well, if evangelical anglicans have a 'revised' sexual morality, presumably the culturally conforming revisionist view is the traditional Christian morality: the majority position in Christian doctrine and practice since the day of Pentecost.

Timothy Radcliffe is right to call for 100 years (plus?) of disagreement. The only alternative is to lie, or to water down, & one would be amazed if anyone thought either of these valid options. Options are only eliminated by being proven to be self-contradictory or non-Christian, and that is easier done if there is debate than if there is a dishonest charade of agreement. For the rest, any right-spirited Christians are already in harmonic conjunction in all they do (so why lose sleep about a supposed 'disunity' that is really no more than the inevitable result of our not yet having all the answers); & there are some truths (not by any means all) that become apparent in practice rather than through debate.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Monday, 28 January 2008 at 12:56pm GMT

Well ChristopherS we have had a few centuries of rather seriously trying out this or that essential aspect of the claim which contemporary Anglican traditionalists will still try to assert - and the evidence is pretty clear, though still open to further inquiry, discussion, and investigation.

Rule bound celibacy - i.e., avoid homosexual acts because they are innately this or that bad thing.

We know and have tested at least some key few of the various negative claims.

Consider the accusation of being innately disordered - which is Vatican-Speak for,They do not make babies. Consider the familiar accusations that homosexual acts lack being properly opposite sexed/gendered - which is ConEVo Newspeak for Gagnonian objections. Consider the claim that such acts are realiably causes connected with all manner of personality and health problems - which is JoeNicolosi Newspeak, helped along by junk science from Paul Cameron.

None carries much empirical weight when put to any number of careful empirical hypothesis tests. All generate one or more ethical problems - not least their handy roles in constructing/maintaining closeted gay lives all around the world - a sort of dominant central planning agency which inevitably creates black markets for the truth which is defined away, and labelled out of traditional bounds.

Sooner or later the rest of us were going to try out available ethical, practical, and theological alternatives to maintaining the faulty operational commands of traditional views - Be invisible, Keep silent, Do not tell any truth which upsets the straight bretheren especially if they hold church life power.

Experimenting - without permission from the church life powers that be, thanks to their self-interested holier than thou condemnations - we discover some puzzling things. Other than the nuts and bolts of sperm meeting egg, all sexual acts are more or less similarly ordered/disordered, depending on how one views embodiment. One wonders how to even come to any ethics of sexual acts, apart from deeper considerations of embodiment, relationships, covenants, heart motives, families and communities of lived context, and the alternative beat goes on.

If we think the traditional Anglican closet works, we are ignoring the plentiful evidence of all the damage Anglican closets do. And we haven't been paying good attention to the goods that innovative alternatives to the closet have been generating now, for about a hundred plus years. Father Jake says: Free your mind and your God will follow.

Posted by: drdanfee on Monday, 28 January 2008 at 4:07pm GMT

My goodness, sometimes vehemence based on assumptions can be quite fun to observe.

For example, the idea that Christianity's sexual morality has been consistent since the Pentecost.

A quick trawl of google disproves this, the bible is full of polygamists, and apparently even Jewish Kings shared the pleasures of temple prostitutes (e.g. Judah). The answer on this website really pleased me: Polygamy is shown in the Old Testament as a custom among the Jews, at least for those who could afford more than one wife. The Bible does not really provide an end to polygamy... The early Christians adopted the pagan practice of monogamy. The ancient pagans generally disapproved of polygamy, although they did not actually consider it illegal.

It pleases me no end to know that a cornerstone of Christian sexual morality is based on a incorporation of a pagan concept.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. Clough on Monday, 28 January 2008 at 6:51pm GMT


I agree with your comments about the biblical examples or marriage and sexual morality.

It always seemed to me that most of the biblical "heroes" were either polygamous or adulterous. And many biblical examples of true love were within same gender relationships. Yet we end up with marriage between one man and one woman being the only possible acceptable arrangement within orthodox Christianity. I am still not sure which biblical texts are used to justify that.


Posted by: Simon Dawson on Monday, 28 January 2008 at 10:47pm GMT

Viriato...I'm sorry but a computer illiterate like myself does not know how to create a loink..go to vol and make inquirie.

I like the allusion to a GAFCON BOAT....remember in the hold there is the lay presidency time bomb ticking, and Captian Jensen holds the detonator behind his back...."come on board dear friends", he says as the Anglo-Catholic bishops scramble up the gang way.

Meanwhile back in Port Sydney the poor Anglo-Catholic remanant cannot wear eucharistic vestments..theres is an Anglican Anglo-Catholic church in Sydney where the eucharistic vestments , never used are in a glass case...I kid you not. GAFCON Anglo-catholics insist these are let out!...come out of the closet has another meaning in Sydney.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Tuesday, 29 January 2008 at 12:23am GMT

I agree that there is nothing in the bible to support the tightly defined sexual purity rules so often claimed to be Christian.

But... the Christian ideal has to be to love your neighbour as yourself. That does mean that you don't use people for your pleasure and that you don't enter into unequal relationships. To my mind, that rules out polygamy and adultery fair and square and leaves room only for committed one to one relationships.

Whether marriage comes into it is a matter of choice, and whether those relationships end up being life long or find an honest conclusion some time is a matter for the couple concerned.

The hallmark has to be showing respect and love at all times and not elevating your own needs above those of your partner, unless yours are no longer met to the extent that you cannot give what your partner needs from you any longer.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 29 January 2008 at 8:15am GMT

If you go on Youtube and type "Heath Ledger in Hell", you'll see the most unpleasant video of Pastor Fred Phelps explaining why his church is picketing the actor's funeral in the name of "traditional" Christian sexual ethics (i.e. vile homophobia).

Posted by: Fr Mark on Tuesday, 29 January 2008 at 2:28pm GMT

Meanwhile back in Port Sydney the poor Anglo-Catholic remanant cannot wear eucharistic vestments..theres is an Anglican Anglo-Catholic church in Sydney where the eucharistic vestments , never used are in a glass case...I kid you not. GAFCON Anglo-catholics insist these are let out!...come out of the closet has another meaning in Sydney.
Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Tuesday, 29 January 2008

If I am not mistaken les freres Jensen had to engineer a certain loosening of the vestment rules in Sydney to enable the Dean to lead services in a business suit and preaching gown. The practice across the diocese before this change was that cassock, surplice and scarf/stole was (and mostly remains) the standard vesture adopted by clergy for leading services. As a result of this change it is that it is theoretically possible for clergy to adopt just about any vesture they like - including Eucharistic vestments.

I'm aware that there are anglo-catholic parishes outside the city centre that use the chasuble. In the parish to which you refer the chasuble is the only vestment that is NOT used. In a twisted way, it's kind of become the parish tradition not to wear it.

More to the point, I very much doubt any of the anglo-catholics in Sydney would have much truck with those bishops from their tradition who've joined with GAFCON.

Posted by: kieran crichton on Wednesday, 30 January 2008 at 11:03am GMT

this stuff actually MATTERS to people?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 30 January 2008 at 12:42pm GMT

Stephen Smith's writing on the Holocaust is very moving.

Goes to the heart of things.
(unlike the writings on Saul / Paul.

How far did his writings help to lead to the Holocaust at the end of the day, I wonder ?

Questions the good bishops of the Churches are far too nice to admit of for one moment. As they bandied about words like Chirst, love and grace.

They would rather about a safe Feast and leave Holocaust commemoration to others ....

Posted by: L Roberts on Wednesday, 30 January 2008 at 1:19pm GMT

Erika - believe it or not, yes, vestment controversies matter. Especially in Sydney, where the historical position has been to try and limit the use of vestments to an acceptable minimum. It's all to do with something called evangelical identity, I believe....

Posted by: kieran crichton on Thursday, 31 January 2008 at 1:14pm GMT

"...believe it or not, yes, vestment controversies matter..."

As if God gave a hoot what we wear when we worship him.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Thursday, 31 January 2008 at 6:28pm GMT

"As if God gave a hoot what we wear when we worship him."

I believe the idea in Sydney is that such things make us look like Papists, and God cetainly does not want to be worshipped by Papists. Seriously. Their diocesan leadership has proudly announced they will never attend a Mass. I'm given to understand the poor Anglo-Catholics struggling along in Sydney used to have a Corpus Cristi procession in which, in a lovely act of spiritual defiance, they gaveBenediction in the direction of the Cathedral!

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 1 February 2008 at 3:56pm GMT

"I believe the idea in Sydney is that such things make us look like Papists, and God cetainly does not want to be worshipped by Papists. Seriously. Their diocesan leadership has proudly announced they will never attend a Mass."

And, once more, we see the con evo hubris in presuming to completely understand the mind of God.

I don't think God particularly cares whether we "worship" him or not. We do it because it allows us to be closer to him. All God wants is summed up in the two great commandments. If we do that, he's satisfied.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Friday, 1 February 2008 at 9:54pm GMT

God does care ...what about the first commandment?

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Sunday, 3 February 2008 at 7:47pm GMT
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