Saturday, 16 August 2008

opinions this weekend

Giles Fraser in the Church Times writes about China. See Watch what else China is doing.
Unfortunately the website has truncated the article; as a temporary measure I have copied the full text below the fold.

Andrew Brown has written on Comment is free The discussion of religious differences online is not a game.

And earlier in the week, he wrote The religion of politics.

At the Telegraph Christopher Howse wrote At the Gate of the Year.

Rather more interesting is the blog article by George Pitcher titled Exposed: Christian unity preached in church.

Jonathan Romain writes at The Times about Time and chance in the hurdle race of human life.

And earlier, Libby Purves had written about Richard Dawkins, the naive professor.

Giles Fraser: Watch what else China is doing

MAO ZEDONG died in 1976, and since then, two big things have happened to China. The first is the explosion of the Chinese economy. Everybody has been talking about that. The other is the explosion of religion.

The distinguished sinologist Professor David Ownby went so far as to tell a United States congressional committee: “I would wager that the growth rate in popular participation in both official and unofficial religions in China has been equal to, if not greater than,the growth rate of the Chinese economy over the past 25 years.”

So, while many of us are glued to the Olympics, it is worth reflecting on the treatment China has been dishing out to the persecuted religious organisation, the Falun Gong. Although it is less well-known in this country than the Dalai Lama and the Buddhist struggle for Tibetan autonomy, the Falun Gong is arguably a far more significant organisation.

Mao once claimed that “religion is poison,” and he systematically repressed faith. Yet, in the decades after his death, China experienced a charismatic revival. It began with the popular rediscovery of traditional Chinese medicine, and developed into claims of miraculous healings, and some thing remarkably similar to speaking in tongues. The whole phenomenon had a New Age feel, and became amazingly successful, gaining up to 100 million followers (more than the 77 million we claim for Anglicanism).

The star of this powerful revival, known as the qigong, was a former government official and amateur trumpet player, Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong. His writings became essential reading for millions of Chinese, filling parks around the world with stretching Falun Gong exercisers.

The Falun Gong might seem a bit wacky for Christian sensibilities — rather gnostic, from the stuff I have read from Master Li — but it is a peaceful organisation, whose teachers are not allowed to charge for handing on their version of enlightenment. It just got far too big — with a larger membership than the Communist Party — and this flashed red for the deeply anti-religious imagination of the Chinese government.

So, in 1999, the Falun Gong was banned,and derided as an “evil cult”. Li Hongzhi now lives in New York. But many of his followers are not so lucky. According to the UN, 66 per cent of all Chinese torture cases involve a member of the Falun Gong, and half the labour-camp population are members. Many believe that there is an extensive programme of forced organ-harvesting taking place. Amnesty International has been jumping up and down to highlight this wicked persecution — and so should we.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 16 August 2008 at 8:49am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

Dr Pitt reveals her motives for publishing +Rowan's letters to her in the Western Mail

Posted by: Keith Kiber on Saturday, 16 August 2008 at 9:36am BST

At one level, I empathize with Andrew Brown's comments. At another, the internet gave souls a chance to articulate that which had been repressed.

It's all very nice being polite and civilized, but when that means glossing over pedophilic priests or aiding and abetting wife bashing, then that civilized veneer needs to be washed away.

When a local diocese is caught up in sanctimonious back-slapping and gloats over others' suffering, then the internet provided recourse to find righteous souls who are indignant at suffering and oppression.

The future of Sodom and Gomorrah hinged upon finding sufficient righteous souls, there was no rules about how to find them. If the internet was the only way to find them, then the internet was the tool to use.

Similarly, neither Jesus nor John the Baptist were overly concerned about "civilized" behaviour when it came to the Pharisees and priests of their day. "Brood of vipers" was the Baptist's contemptuous phrase for them.

When Jonah went to Ninevah, he did not only go to the priests in order to "protect" their reputations, Jonah went from the highest to the lowest and God saw enough repentance across the spectrum to save that city.

The spats between Christians have been healthy. It has demonstrated that some Christians know what they are doing, know how hurtful it is, and are vehement in their rights to abuse others. In exposing their selfishness, it gave the opportunity to bring forgiveness to the other faiths and movements. After all, if as Christians they are forgiven for such conduct, who are they to deny grace to others who have done less than themselves?

God is God of ALL Creation, and God would not be just if God meted out one kind of justice to Christians and another to everyone else.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. on Saturday, 16 August 2008 at 5:06pm BST

As a scientist and applied biologist, I find Dawkins to be strident, petulant and quite boring.

Posted by: ettu on Saturday, 16 August 2008 at 5:51pm BST

Dr Pitt's mean strategy could backfire, given the humane and reasonable content of the leaked letters. Today I am in Oxford and I stumbled accidentally on a case of a young Nigerian man tortured, brutalized for his gayness in Nigeria. Anglican bishops had better get up their prophetic voices on this issue. Their performance so far, notably at Dar-es-Salaam, covers them with shame.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Saturday, 16 August 2008 at 5:55pm BST

I'll second that regarding Dawkins, or should that be Dorkins...(sorry , couldn't resist).

In a way, D and the ID people deserve one another, they are both strident, deal in absolutes, and seem appallingly bad at the observation of facts; Dawkins for example can do nothing but squirm and fall back on a specious species of hack metaphysics when confronted with the question of our observed reactions to such facts as music, poetry and meaning in our lives. Given that he cannot easily explain from his own self-limited palette of argumentation the evolutionary necessity of such things, I am hardly surprised he cannot handle the concept, let alone the reality, of God. Talk about being hoist by one's own petard:

""Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence."

For more words of wisdom (he's proud of some of these statements?!), go to:

At the same time I do find it interesting that Dawkins nevertheless uses some quite transcendent language: science has an 'eternal' aspect; science is true and beautiful; the universe is strange and wondrous, and science is "true, inspiring, remarkable".

The man is terminally conflicted, and makes claims for the evidential rightness of science which are as preposterous in nature, perhaps more so, than those things that he descries and then decries as being apparently fundamental to faith, such as lack of reason.

The man is certainly not without his ego - I really had to laugh out loud at:

"...the stereo-type of scientists being scruffy nerds with rows of pens in their top pocket is just about as wicked as racist stereotypes."

Pretty defensive for someone so abounding in certainties!

Posted by: orfanum on Saturday, 16 August 2008 at 7:41pm BST

[Might Dr. Pitt face ANY repercussions for her (ungracious, at least) actions? An ethics board of her medical association review, or something?]

"there is no need for atheists to understand what theologians say because they already know that the theologians are talking about something that doesn't exist. This dismissal, in advance, of everything your opponents might say as meaningless is the hallmark of all popular philosophical or religious discussion on the internet."

Ain't that the truth---and not just of atheists.

I'm still smarting, because a "Catholic Anglican" poster to TA, has (thus far) completely ignored my testimony, addressed to him, of nearly 30 years of sacramental ministry provided to me by God's priests-made-female. "Dismissal, in advance, of everything your opponents might say as meaningless", indeed. :-(

Lord have mercy!

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 16 August 2008 at 8:17pm BST

Dr. Pitts comment, and particularly the following, underlines what I have said all along: That the purpose of the revelation (while clearly not acted on during Lambeth by ++Williams) was to "help" traditionalists, though I went so far to specifically say the Gafconites: "“As for why I decided to offer [the] letters to the public arena ... I became almost sure for various reasons that the liberals knew far more about Dr Williams’ personal views than the TRADIONALISTS did and, if so, the BALANCE should be redressed." [emphasis mine]

Balance? Good grief! Williams slapped around the No. American churches during Lambeth. Was there something more you wanted him to do?

Posted by: cany on Saturday, 16 August 2008 at 10:16pm BST

Dawkins does nothing of the sort - there is no need for a god-person at all to experience human emotion or reactions.

I have seen him speak twice and read a couple of his books and I find him convincing and erudite

Posted by: Merseymike on Sunday, 17 August 2008 at 2:34pm BST

I don't go in for Dawkins bashing, though I don't agree with everything he's written I think he's a really thought provoking writer that religious folk should engage with instead if feeling threatened and scared all the time.

I think James Allison's writings are a good antidote to this.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Sunday, 17 August 2008 at 3:25pm BST

Yes the most disturbing thing about Rowan at this latest Lambeth is his rather complete unwillingness to:
(1)step back from policing and punishment as institutional wavers offered in the main to the conservative Anglican realignment campaign - yes it is and was and probably will be still funded by USA rightwing (very rightwing some wold say of Ahmanson, Scaife, and other funders of public record) -
and of course:
(2) his utter and total failure to make any inside Lambeth space, not even by invitation, to hear the honest and true voices of just those queer folks across several modern generations who have been on the front lines of living and testing this change that is so often preached to be a doomed (and worse, immoral?) social experiment.

Of course, inviting queer folks to speak honestly for themselves to the bishops at Lambeth, out of the all too real daily lives they have been so busy living (when allowed by mostly westernized democracies to do so?) would only have challenged the most conservative bishops with further contradictory evidence. If they have so far failed to heed or even read the mountains of competence data published in peer reviewed journals, why would they listen in any deeper spiritual sense to queer folks speaking honestly? - of the very daily life competencies which allegedly can never be, given what the tradition says and what the conservative say scriptures say about queer folks, period?

The policing and punishment thang is equally puzzling, maybe more so from certain angles of investigation. Is Rowan so angry with Canada and TEC for going ahead with fairness and conscientiousness to test the new directions that he himself longs for a means to police, to punish?

Rowan will not take the role of Chief of Anglican Police. Still, look for a tough Anglican cop, indeed. And look for Rowan to be playing Captain Vere on the good Anglican ship Indomitable as the policing and punishment go forward.

All Sad folly, from historic Anglican angles.

Posted by: drdanfee on Sunday, 17 August 2008 at 5:02pm BST

Yes, James Allison is a fascinating writer.

Posted by: Merseymike on Sunday, 17 August 2008 at 10:03pm BST

I think Dawkins sees cultural information as simply being transmitted as efficiently as genetic information (by analogy, which is not something that is scientifically verifiable), but does not particularly give the information thus conveyed any intrinsic purpose (see The God Delusion, p.195-198. Interestingly, the reason for creating the meme analogy in the first place was somehow to 'demonstrate' that the gene theory wasn't the only 'Darwinian game in town').

Dawkins to me makes a leap of faith from a distinct branch of scientific enquiry to dismissing those ('libruls' included) who believe in God, mostly in my reading of him by deft (erudite?) turns of arguing in analogies.

To apply a critique to Dawkins based in part on unpicking some of the necessary falsity that ensues from utilizing analogy and therefore rhetoric to subtly exploit the 'successful' comparators for it as being evidence for the claims he in my reading of him makes for science, is not 'Dawkins bashing'. I personally find him 'erudite' but *unconvincing*.

To infer that one is 'afraid' of Dawkins simply because one can make out rhetorical weaknesses in his method is a bit poor. I am no more afraid of Dawkins in relation to my growing faith than I am of lamp posts or dirigibles. I can acknowledge and move on, having understood the principles of electricity and lighter-than-air travel.

I will give some of his camp one thing, which is the claim that the scientific method and science in general are optimistic in nature, in opposition to the cultural pessimism they perceive being at the root of religious practice and religious thinking. I would agree - and in my case it's only the recent realization of the essential optimism of faith that's brought me to the altar rail.

I am all for engaging Dawkins et al (recognising he exists and that his arguments have social and political force), but I am afraid he thinks we are all delusional; it would be as difficult to engage him as it would be for the insane person to convince his psychiatrist that he was, in fact, sane. All the patient can do is ask instead the existential question 'why are you doing this', since the existential is probably the only tack you'd be able to use to sail against the headwind.

Posted by: orfanum on Sunday, 17 August 2008 at 10:09pm BST

"As a scientist and applied biologist, I find Dawkins to be strident, petulant and quite boring."

As a physician, I concur. Add to that soulless, uninspiring, and fundamentalist. But then again, I returned to faith after 20 years or so of a scientific approach showed me that, while medicine was great at dealing with the physical and measurable, but it really can't conceptualize, let alone fix problems with, the things that make us human.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 18 August 2008 at 12:22pm BST

"his utter and total failure to make any inside Lambeth space, not even by invitation, to hear the honest and true voices of just those queer folks across several modern generations who have been on the front lines of living and testing this change that is so often preached to be a doomed (and worse, immoral?) social experiment."

Or even the voices of those brutalized in African homophobic societies. Paradoxically, the evangelical voice that the world heard at Lambeth was that of the bishop who was not invited.

TEC have a mature and responsible attitude to gay ethics, and are well aware of the issues highlighted by Aids. They propose a conservative moral ideal of monogamous fidelity and regard couples who espouse that ideal as blessed. This is actually the same idea as put forward in the leaked Pitt letters. How can bishops who are blind to the social ills in their own countries, whose teaching in practice encourages promiscuity and its dangers, and who even bless homophobic violence, think they have the moral high ground? Because the Bible tells them so?

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Monday, 18 August 2008 at 1:54pm BST

Orfanum - I agree that the word "why" is the only one that is both necessary amd sufficient to clarify the dichotomy between science and faith

Posted by: ettu on Monday, 18 August 2008 at 4:51pm BST

'Spirit of V.2.', ..."because the Bible tells them so? "

Yes, indeed. This is the root of the whole problem in our Anglican Communion today - the different ways in which we interpret the Bible.

On the most recent 'Trinity Institute' web-site offering, there is a remarkable video of a black Harvard Professor agreeing that some of the evangelical churches are in danger of bibliolatry. The position of the Holy Book in the chancel, and its primary place in ethical and moral teaching, is seen by some church communities as the entire focus of God's Word - in a way that subordinates the Word-made-flesh, guaranteed by Christ, in the Eucharist.

To those of us of a more catholic approach, the
Bible is an excellent resource from which we can learn of God's redemption of the world through his Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. In most of our churches, the Scriptures have an honoured place - but not over and above the presence of the Word in the Sacrament he left us.

The Holy Spirit did not cease teaching us and empowering us for mission after the biblical Day of Pentecost. The Body of Christ is continually being renewed and refreshed by the very same Spirit who brought Christ to birth in the womb of Mary. "When the Spirit comes, s/he will lead you into all the Truth". The Spirit is still coming.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 19 August 2008 at 10:15am BST
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