Saturday, 14 February 2009

opinions to think about

I wrote recently about a Theos report on Rescuing Darwin. Andrew Brown has now written at Comment is free about Science vs superstition, not science vs religion.

Last week in the Church Times Andrew Davison wrote that The C of E should nurture theology. For more about the Returning to the Church conferences, go here.

Giles Fraser wrote about the Credit Crunch, see The crunch needs global resolution. And don’t miss the lucid explanation of the Credit Crunch by Andreas Whittam Smith in a synod paper, The Inernational Financial Crisis and the Recession.

Earlier this week, Jonathan West asked Should I worry about the church?

The Archbishop of York wrote in the Daily Mail The intolerance towards Christians in the public sector is an affront. Another copy is on the archbishop’s own website.

Jenny Taylor wrote in The Times Let us use chastity to channel the soul’s energy.

Elizabeth Gray-King wrote in the Guardian about Valentine’s Day.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 14 February 2009 at 8:58am GMT | TrackBack
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The Archbiishop of York is campaigning loudly for the rights of Christians not to have to defend their beliefs, and their rights to not have their beliefs attacked.

He is very quiet in his defense of those beliefs, but strident in his claims that those beliefs should never need to be defended.

Posted by: Steven Carr on Saturday, 14 February 2009 at 11:37am GMT

I'm sorry, but I think it ridiculous that anyone in a nation with a Christian denomination as its established church, and the sovereign as head of that church, and leaders of that church appointed by the government can complain of "intolerance" toward Christians.

While that is not the situation on my side of the pond, the complaint is similarly ridiculous here. Christmas is a national holiday in the US; the major holy days of no other faith have a similar status.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Saturday, 14 February 2009 at 12:09pm GMT

Very good piece by ABP John Sentamu. It argued its case without really disputing the value of a generally secular public space (which disputation gets Christians into all sorts of messes) and by putting down a practical challenge to all those nominal Christians who sort of espouse Christian beliefs and values but do little to support them. I really don't think any other church has leaders of the calibre - in their hugely different styles and capabilities - of Williams and Sentamu. Moreover, there is a kind of goodness in Sentamu that I do not find in Wright.

Posted by: john on Saturday, 14 February 2009 at 2:23pm GMT

I have a response regarding Andrew Davidson on the loss of theology: it happened in the Unitarians some time back because you cannot impose theology when there is diversity of belief. You can do theology classes; you can recover use of theology but it must draw from other disciplines.

http://pluralistspeaks.blogspot.com/2009/02/recruitment-problem.html

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 14 February 2009 at 3:44pm GMT

The furor over the suspension and disciplinary action towards the two women in Britain seems at the face of it ludicrous. It seems one had their e-mail privacy invaded and the other shouldn't go around stating that they are going to pray for somebody else, they should just do it, and not "wear it on their sleeve".

Perhaps this is the huge elephant in the room that nobody wants to approach; not just the public testimony of "being" a Christian, but the uncomfortableness created by a person (consciously or not) using Christianity as a means of excluding themselves from others, or others from themselves in a move that is a lightly disguised effort at feigning superiority. That's not what Christianity is all about, and that's something we should be discussing and demanding of ourselves.

Actions speak louder than words.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Saturday, 14 February 2009 at 4:36pm GMT

Choirboyfromhell

"the other shouldn't go around stating that they are going to pray for somebody else"

She didn't. She asked people whether they would like to be prayed for. If they refused, she respected their wishes.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 14 February 2009 at 6:46pm GMT

Choirboy alluded to "...the uncomfortableness created by a person (consciously or not) using Christianity as a means of excluding themselves from others, or others from themselves in a move that is a lightly disguised effort at feigning superiority..."

On the one hand, there is the question about having faith and being to legitimately manifest that faith. In civilized societies, there is not an issue, in power-hungry societies, even prayer can become a political act (e.g. the courtiers used prayer in their (failed) assassination attempt of Daniel).

On the other hand, there is the question of misuse of faith, which Choirboy's comment raises.

Many of us are aware of smug, aggressive Christians who bleat cries of "abuse" or "victimisation" when they are called to account for their mistreatment of others. They are the souls who taunt others with threats of hell, purgatory or limbo. They talk about how Jesus will choose between the goats and the sheep, and how they are the sheep and everyone they have excluded from their church are the goats. Such souls would do well to go back and reread Matthew 33.

Here is Jesus' definition of the sheep "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’"

The goats are those who do not do for the least of these. Refusing to offer hospitality, apologise for past misconducts, refrain from insults and slander, are the acts of goats; who are sociopathically indifferent to the suffering of others. Complacency and neglect are forms of abuse. Ezekiel 13 and Exodus 23 are consistent with Jesus' message that we are called to move, give warning and offer comforting and counselling. When souls witness abuse and neglect within their churches and do nothing, then they are just as tainted as the perpetrators of the deeds.

Chastity imposed upon souls is not liberating, it is neglect and a form of emotional abuse. There is a huge difference between choosing to be chaste and having it as the only way of avoiding abusive men.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. on Saturday, 14 February 2009 at 10:09pm GMT

'Chaste men and single, financially viable women have historically made a huge impact as social reformers. From the prophets, to Florence Nightingale, from the suffragists to the missionaries who founded hospitals and schools worldwide, chastity has proved politically radical. They channelled “the soul’s energy” — one definition of sexuality — into great causes.'

- Jenny Taylor: Times article -

One of the dangers in lionising the moral choice for chastity - over and above that of practising our God-given sexuality - is that we can substitute chastity as a charism obove charity; that 'most excellent of gifts' we hear of in the Scriptures.

Although Jenny Taylor's article reminds us of the good to be derived from chaste lives - especially among the members of Religious Orders - it must always be remembered that most human beings are not called to exercise this particular gift, which is a special grace from God.

One of the problems of the chastity demanded of a priest within the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, is that thie can lead to perversion - as encountered by that Church in recent cases of paedophilia, as well as illicit relationship with other people. Herein is already an argument for an openness to married clergy.

This should tell us that enforced chastity can be a burden - rather than a blessing for the person concerned - as well as for others involved with them in illicit relationships.

Chastity, for Christians, can only be accessed and appropriated as a gift of God, requiring the discipline that will be necessary to conform with it's sometimes stringent requirements. We are all sexual beings, and as such have sexual feelings endowed by nature. For those whose choice is to procreate, this is the way the Creator has chosen for humanity to survive. So that chastity, of itself, can no longer be viewed by the Church, as any sort of 'superior' vocation, but rather as one chosen by the few whom God empowers to exercise that choice.

Sometimes, the 'soul's engergy' requires one to give one's-self to the beloved, sexually, for (as the old marriage service counsels us) 'the mutual comfort and help' of both. The Song of Solomon can teach us about this act of loving.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 14 February 2009 at 11:36pm GMT

Erika: I realize that the nurse in question was undoubtably well-intended, but the question of her just praying for the person(s) without asking or talking about it might have been the issue that seems to have gotten the ire of her superiors. Why didn't she just quietly address God without the other knowing about it? Would this had invaded the privacy of the other? Would the other had even known of her prayers? Surely God would have, and that is what counts isn't it?

For a while here in the USA, especially with 'fundagelicals' was the statement "I'll pray for you", which was in effect a way of telling you that you were wrong, but the person was unable to prove it. I realize that this is a fine line; and it is unfortunate that good people are being victimized, if that is the right word for it, in their well intended agenda, but we must be aware of our motivations to be effective in our ministry.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Sunday, 15 February 2009 at 12:18am GMT

"This trend is replicated in the Anglican Communion as a whole. Gone is our fabled open-mindedness and confidence in the quest for truth. The issue at the heart of our current troubles — the legitimacy of homosexual relationships — has been studiously ignored as a matter for theological investigation at a global level."

-Andrew Davison - Church Times article -

In the current climate of tensions within the Anglican Communion, Anmdrew Davison's article draws overdue attention to the paucity of real engagement in the theological understanding of the current issues by both clergy and laity within the body of the Church.

My own remembrance of a powerful forum for such
theological engagement - both in teaching and subsequent discussions by clergy and laity - was at the excellent 'Institute of Christian Studies' hosted by the parish of All Saints, Margaret Street, in the heart of London's metropolis.

Based on a number of study groups, proceedings began with a celebration of the Eucharist, followed by a common meal in the underground refectory, before embarking on different study programmes, led usually by experts in the particular field of study. I myself was personally engaged in studies on at least two evenings a week, the substance of which was guaranteed to quicken the mind and gladden the heart with their thoughtful presentation and the opportunity to share in the following discussion.

One of the groups which I attended, for instance, dealt with Christian Ethics, and included such subjects as abortion, euthanesia, homosexuality, divorce, and business practice. I also, with my group, was able to pay a visit to Burrswood, the Anglican Healing Centre founded by Dorothy Kerin, the celebrated stigmatic of the last century, to follow up on our discussion of the ministry of healing - in the Church in and the medical world.
This particular visit opened up my eyes and mind to the theology of healing, in all its aspects.

If such parish-based initiatives were available today, as they were then in early 1970's England, then perhaps the appalling ignorance on issues like human sexuality and gender differentiation would be much better confronted by clergy and laity in our churches - thus obviating the need for schismatic division on issues of biblical literalism and woolly theological method. I thank God that my own spiritual journey was enhanced by these studies - to the point where I was brought to an understanding of my own call to ministry.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 15 February 2009 at 10:13am GMT

"If the church decides that women clergy are in some fashion or other not the equal of men, then this is can only be seen as a reflection of an attitude the church has towards women in the world, and it is not pretty." - Jonathan West -

In his Guardian article, Jonathan West (an avowed atheist), in looking at the behaviour of the Church from the outside world, puts this very important point relating to the attitude of the official Church of England's General Synod to the acceptance, or otherwise, of women as bishops and priests in the Church.

Quite rightly, in my opinion, he argues that the current official stance on this matter is that women may not be equally acceptable as ordained ministers in a Church which embraces principles of justice and equality for women and men in all other sectors of life in the community. For the Church to continue on this path, it would need to produce some pretty strong theological arguments that would justify a moral separation between the status of women as priests as opposed to their status as equal human beings in the world. And the world will be looking to the Church to show their hand before the next General Synod.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 15 February 2009 at 10:40am GMT

Pat O'Neill Christmas is a national holiday in the US; the major holy days of no other faith have a similar status.

I always thought it was weird that my university (back in the 60's), with a sizable Jewish student population, called the mid-December to post New Year break, the "Christmas holiday."

Although the USPO issues stamps for Christmas, Eid, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, etc.

Posted by: Jay Vos on Sunday, 15 February 2009 at 2:52pm GMT

Choirboyfromhell

No, I saw an interview with her, she did ask people whether they wanted to be prayed for. She did not do it without asking or talking about it.
And I think that's how it should be. After all, you don't patronise those who don't want prayers, but those who do are also greatly helped by the knowledge that you are praying for them.

This whole thing is completely ridiculous. Anyone can say "no thanks", and that should be that.

We are so worried about "offending" people that we lose all sense of proportion.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 15 February 2009 at 3:47pm GMT

@choirboyfromhell

From hearing the nurse in question being interviewed on the BBC, I understood that prayer had been offered as a possible means of comfort to the patient. The offer to pray with the person was made and declined. It was only after the patient mentioned (in passing) it to one of the original nurses' colleagues that it was made an issue and escalated leading to the nurse's suspension.

This was not an attempt at evangelisation, as far as I can see. It was a health professional offering something to (perhaps) assist the well-being of a patient, in the same way as a massage, or a foot bath (more theological implications there).

The NHS recognises the spiritual dimension in the healing process - that's why they employ chaplains.

Kennedy

Posted by: Kennedy Fraser on Sunday, 15 February 2009 at 4:41pm GMT

"Many of us are aware of smug, aggressive Christians who bleat cries of "abuse" or "victimisation" when they are called to account for their mistreatment of others."

Too true, Cheryl VA.

I saw a short film on anti-gay campaigner Anita Bryant last night, and she was pulling this kind of "Poor Little Abused Christian ME!" routine ***30 years*** ago.

Lord have mercy.

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 15 February 2009 at 7:56pm GMT

Having worked as a chaplain in health care settings, I have the sense that the nurse's aims were sincere and well-meaning but that she may, may have fallen short in two ways.

Firstly, her skills of approach might need to be more varied than simply the yes/no prayer offers.

One of these skills sets involves actually getting to know the person first before reaching out from inside one's own particular faith or religious frameworks. The many empathy skills almost always count for more than anything else we say or do, especially in a time of crisis illness and treatment.

Such self-offering is akin to a sort of praying in action. Nurses, especially believers who are nurses, one might expect – would already know their whole work is a sort of prayer. Freely given, no strings.

Alas, conservative believers like to claim their innate powers and privileges high as givens through their special conservative religious faith. After all, Jesus' message is automatically universal, and so my prayers as a follower are universal, too?

The nurse can weigh her own heart and conscience, but her story occasions a related musing about right-wing Christians, generally - who often act as if they strongly feel their special relationship with Jesus gives them a standing holy vocation to target, judge, proclaim, and even interfere and even punish - the people with whom they may cross paths.

One becomes vulnerable to such penally oriented traditional believers at some risk.

Being ill is a markedly vulnerable time for the patient, for friends, for family. Perhaps for health care providers, too.

Secondly, outside a formal liturgical setting in common prayer where I have joined in a public worship setting, I wonder about - the nurse's needs (or any of us, needs?) to mark herself (ourselves?) brightly in holy halo spotlights as a certain sort of Christian? Given the misdeeds of our churches historically; as well as the mean-spiritedness of so much conservative Christianity, I think that automatic pilot leeway for conservative folks to keep tearing us apart in all our big tent shared spaces, let alone in our health care spaces, is far from caring and far from wise.

Conservative believers do NOT get an automatic pilot free good will pass from me as a progressive believer, any more than I get one from, say, USA Pastor Rick Warren. Sentamu's good will towards me cannot be automatically presumed.

Posted by: drdanfee on Sunday, 15 February 2009 at 8:59pm GMT

I think that especially the Americans commenting here seem to be influenced by right-wing bible belt evangelicals constantly praying for you, like it or not, and being generally a little too insensitive to the needs of other people.

And much as I normally agree with you, Drdanfee, this seems to be a little bit of long distance psychologising too far. We don't even know whether the nurse was a "conservative".

In this case, it really is not the nurse that got it wrong. Anyone who has seen the interview with her can be pretty sure that she is extremely sensitive to the needs of her patients.
Nor is there any doubt that the patient did not mind being asked, she had not judged the situation wrong at all.

The patient just happened to mention it to someone else, and then all hell broke loose.

It's determinedly secular officials who cannot imagine that a very sick person might feel deeply comforted by the thought that someone prays for them, and who studiously ignore the facts of this particular case yet nevertheless use it to force their own agenda, who are deeply wrong.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 8:01am GMT

I have followed this story on other blogs and in the newspapers. Caroline Petrie was engaged in hard-line evangelizing, of a particular fundamentalist kind. She had prayer cards made which she distributed to patients. They read:

'I am sorry for what I have done wrong in my life and I ask for forgiveness. Thank you for Dying on the Cross for me to set me free from my sins. Please come into my life and fill me with your Holy Spirit and be with me forever. Thank you Lord Jesus. Amen.' She had been formally reprimanded for giving these out.

She has also been photographed holding a tract called 'Two Ways to Live', and in interviews she has defended this tract. It has been stated, though I can not find a source for this, that she distributed this tract. It says, among other things:

'The sentence God passes against us is entirely just, because he gives us exactly what we ask for. In rebelling against God, we are saying to him, “Go away. I don’t want you telling me what to do. Leave me alone.” And this is precisely what God does. His judgement on rebels is to withdraw from them, to cut them off from himself—permanently. But since God is the source of life and all good things, being cut off from him means death and hell. God’s judgement against rebels is an everlasting, God-less death.
This is a terrible thing, to fall under the sentence of God’s judgement. It is a prospect we all face, since we are all guilty of rebelling against God.'

Some newspapers, with a right-wing agenda, have run to her aid, but there is really little to defend. She was wrong. I wouldn't want her nursing me or anyone I cared for.

Posted by: toby forward on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 9:35am GMT

I normally agree with the Archbishop but I'm not sure he should be contributing to the Mail and its encouragement of right wing prejudice. Yes, the cases of these two women are examples of PC gone too far but both reveal our angst about fundamentalism in society and in the workplace - no-one wants the sick, or the vulnerable preached at in inappropriate ways. Generally I think our public institutions get it right. Benign, tolerant religion is accepted - intolerant faith with its own hidden agenda of evangelism and subversion, rightly, is outlawed. This is the base not just of 'Christian England' (another DM prejudice!) but of our present plural society where all benign religion is acceptable in the public sphere - unlike in secularist France, for example.

The Archbishop certainly does go too far when he claims that his religion is like the colour of his skin. Forgive me but one can chose a religion or change it but the same is not true for things such as race nor for that matter gender or sexuality - all areas where the church does not set a particularly good example of fair or equitable treatment!

Posted by: andrew holden on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 9:59am GMT

Toby
if you're right and if I haven't got all of the information, then of course what she did was absolutely unacceptable.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 10:25am GMT

Toby, thanks for the additional information. I wouldn't want her near vulnerable patients, either. When my late father was dying of cancer, a "friend" of the family decided that it was an opportune time to start sending him similar literature; evidently she found his low-key Methodism too lukewarm to suit Jesus or herself.

Posted by: BillyD on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 11:41am GMT

Again, the question that is not being answered here is why didn't the nurse just pray for the individual and not say anything to anybody about it?

Yes, Erika, some of us Americans are quite admittedly "influenced" by [our reaction] to right-winged bible belt evangelicals due to the fact of the widespread abuse of Christianity we've witnessed firsthand. A part of me wants to say it began here, and I'd like it to bring it to an end here as well.

And again I'll state that the woman was probably truly compassionate in her intentions, and didn't mean it to backfire. And yes, there was probably a ridiculous amount of nonsensical and tiresome "political correctness" at play in the hospital management, but the fact remains that she got a reaction from the fact that she violated a long held unspoken rule of getting a little too personal with her faith, especially in a situation where she had some leverage and power over others (that she undoubtedly and sadly was unaware of).

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 12:54pm GMT

Choirboyfromhell
"Again, the question that is not being answered here is why didn't the nurse just pray for the individual and not say anything to anybody about it?"

Apart from the fact that I find it very disrespectful to pray for people who might resent it, I also think that a huge part of being prayed for is the comfort it gives you to know that people pray for you.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 2:18pm GMT

I do not think it is appropriate for professional staff to actively bring their religious beliefs into the service delivery of their work. I really don't understand why they cannot simply do their work which has no place for this sort of intrusive and inappropriate behaviour

Posted by: Merseymike on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 2:42pm GMT

"Apart from the fact that I find it very disrespectful to pray for people who might resent it..."

Good Heavens, Erika - do you have some sort of informed consent form that you distribute to people you want to pray for? ;-)

I honestly don't see that bringing up anything or anyone at all in a conversation with God is disrespectful, or anybody else's business.

Posted by: BillyD on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 3:34pm GMT

I think it's worth remembering that the rather conservative Michael Ramsey would say no more about intercessory prayer and its effectiveness than that it was 'being with God, with the people on your mind'. No promises, no bargains, no deals, no demands either way. Just that. If Caroline Petrie goes to God daily in prayer, and if she bears her patients in her hearts, then I would expect that she does what Michael Ramsey describes. In fact, if she prays, and if she cares about her patients, she can't do otherwise. Why tell them? Why ask them? Just do it.

Posted by: toby forward on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 4:44pm GMT

"I honestly don't see that bringing up anything or anyone at all in a conversation with God is disrespectful, or anybody else's business."

It depends on the motivations of the individual wanting to do the praying, BillyD.

Erika, You and I would probably derive great comfort in our time of trial to have somebody offer to pray for us, but there are those who might not.

All of this over-reacting originates from the abuses of over-zealous evangelism. Keeping our house in order dictates that we are aware of our own agenda when promoting Christ's.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 4:55pm GMT

".... no place for this sort of intrusive and inappropriate behaviour."

Of course it's only intrusive and inappropriate if you find it to be so - and many people actually value being prayed for. Nursing and teaching are not usually undertaken in highly controlled environments where people leave themselves at home - the key, surely, is finding out what is appropriate. Of course some people will choose to be offended just for the sake of it. Personally I think a polite 'no thank you' sorts most things without giving offence in return - of course if that was ignored then you might have genuine cause for complaint.

Posted by: andrew holden on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 6:45pm GMT

Re the nurse:

Once all *medical* responsibilities to the patient have been taken care of, I don't think a quick "I'll pray for you" is any more intrusive than a quick "Good luck".

It's where it becomes a question ("Do you *want* me to pray for you?"), that it may become a BURDEN to the patient---the last person who should be burdened, in their condition!

I think this situation has been overblown (AFAIK): probably by those who wanted to make the nurse a cause-celebre victim. A simple caution to the nurse ("you may inform quickly, but don't interrogate" re prayer), would have sufficed---IF this is truly a woman of goodwill, not an exploitive proselytizer.

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 9:02pm GMT

"Erika, You and I would probably derive great comfort in our time of trial to have somebody offer to pray for us, but there are those who might not. "

Quite. That's why you ask!

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 9:07pm GMT

"It depends on the motivations of the individual wanting to do the praying, BillyD."

I suppose that it really boils down to a question of "who's to know?" If I pray for a student - without getting their consent or letting them or anyone else know about it - how is that disrespectful? Is I see a natural disaster or terrorist attack taking place via TV, do I have to wait until I receive a proper request from someone directly involved before I ask God to have mercy on the victims?

If all this *is* the business of someone besides me or the Almighty, then how are they apprised of this? Does God rat me out?

Posted by: BillyD on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 9:50pm GMT

"I do not think it is appropriate for professional staff to actively bring their religious beliefs into the service delivery of their work."

Do you think it's appropriate for people to bring their left wing political beliefs into the service delivery of their work? I can think of lots of examples. I wonder what your response would be if a nurse got into a row with a family over whether their dying son's partner of 20 years was allowed to be at the bedside.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 17 February 2009 at 3:56pm GMT

While that is not the situation on my side of the pond, the complaint is similarly ridiculous here. Christmas is a national holiday in the US; the major holy days of no other faith have a similar status.

Posted by: Grants on Tuesday, 17 February 2009 at 5:54pm GMT
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