Monday, 16 February 2009

more about Jenny and Jasmine

In my Saturday roundup of opinion pieces I included the article that Archbishop Sentamu wrote in the Daily Mail. One of the cases that he referred to there was the case of Jenny Cain and her daughter. The Telegraph reported this under the headline Primary school receptionist ‘facing sack’ after daughter talks about Jesus to classmate.

This case has given rise to criticism of the school, for example, according to the Telegraph:

John Sentamu said it was an “affront to the sensibility” of Christians everywhere that Jennie Cain is being investigated for alleged professional misconduct after she sent a private email to 10 friends asking for prayer.

And there was also Christian school receptionist row: More bishops speak out in support of Jennie Cain.

George Pitcher followed up with an opinion piece headed Christians need protection in law.

Other reports of the incident give a rather different picture. See for example:

Exeter Express & Echo Girl, 5, told off at school for talking of God followed the next day by Parents back head’s stance in storm over ‘go to hell’ comment

BBC School row over pupil’s God talk

Ekklesia School defends stance on girl who told classmate she would “go to hell”

Simon Barrow has written this comment article at Ekklesia Scaring the hell out of kids?

… Perhaps those Christians who object to the school wanting to maintain a non-threatening environment should ask themselves how they would feel if a son of theirs ended up crying after being told by an atheist pupil that religious people are nuts and should be locked up? Or if their daughter was upset by a Muslim telling her she would suffer eternally for not believing in Allah and his Messenger?

In both these cases, there would be an outcry if the school did nothing, or if it said that that their kids would have to put up with being frightened, because trying to stop this would amount to “not showing respect for beliefs”…

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 2:23pm GMT | TrackBack
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As usual there appears to be more to the Jennie and Jasmine story than is first reported. I hope that the Abp of York had actually read the whole story rather than just what was reported in the Telegraph or does he think it is acceptable for one child to tell another that she will go to hell if she doesn't believe in God? Presumably the child got this idea from somewhere. Is that what the mother believes too? Seems to me that 'christian'have been seeing rather a lot of persecution when actually there isn't any at all. Perhaps a sign of some desperation that all their efforts at conversion or at least holding the fort don't seem to be working?

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 4:34pm GMT

So this girl is reprimanded for threatening another student with eternal damnation for not believing in the Christian God. Good. I am an Anglican and was repeatedly told by Pentecostals that I was going to Hell because I am not a Christian and am not "saved". I have lived with them trying to coerce me, by any means they could think of, into accepting their beliefs. And it wasn't only the Pentecostals. I wish there had been someone to reprimand them. I know this is a little child, but she obviously needs to learn that there is a difference between evangelism and threatening people, that one can show the light of Christ without resorting to threats. From personal experience of such people, and the fact that she thought she was only "talking about Jesus", I am pretty sure there is no-one in her congregation who understands that not so subtle difference, and she needs to learn it somewhere before she has to stand before the Judgement Seat and give answer as to why she thought she took upon herself a right that is God's alone, that of deciding the fate of the souls of others. What's even more bothersome is that there are Church leaders defending this as some sort of religious freedom, as thought threatening and coercion are somehow things Christians should be free to do. Well it isn't. St. John Crysostom said it isn't, and I agree with him.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 4:46pm GMT

While the country still carries the farce of having a national Church.....no anti-Christian secular attacks should be allowed.We are not a secular state.

Posted by: Robert Ian williams on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 6:14pm GMT

Rows like this happen in the Colonies all the time. What first gets reported as "Poor persecuted defenseless Christians are being thrown to the lions again" often turns out to be quite different, something else entirely.
I remember an incident in the Midwest where a school was sued by a conservative Christian group because the school forbade a child from praying voluntarily in school. It turns out that the "voluntary prayer" in question was being shouted through a bull horn or loud hailer by the student at other students during recess or play time – day after day.
If a Muslim child told a Christian child that the Christian child was going to Hell for being a non-believer, and the Muslim child was warned by school staff not to threaten children with Hell, I suspect the reaction from the currently-offended Christian would be totally different. There would be no talk of freedom to express one’s views. But some Christians feel they are automatically exempt from the rules of polite (multicultural) society.

Posted by: peterpi on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 7:19pm GMT

It's the height of disingenuous manipulation, to report this story as beginning with "a little girl talking about God", NOT "a little girl threatened another little girl---to the point of tears---that she would 'go to hell'".


ConEvs may threaten ***other adults*** all they want to, with Hellfire. Not children!

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 9:10pm GMT

"While the country still carries the farce of having a national Church.." - Robert Ian Williams

Robert, I can quite see how a R.C. like yourself would regard the Church of England's legal and constitutional position as The Church of England, to be farcical. Nevertheless, that is the legal status of the C.of E. - until the people of the nation decide differently. This, of course, is not the situation obtaining with the so-called Church of Rome, which claims a wider domain, and therefore no national title.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 17 February 2009 at 5:29am GMT

I like 'so-called Church of Rome': plays to all my prejudices.

On how Sentamu would respond to you (which you raised elsewhere), I think he just wants the gay debate to go away. He's not personally bothered, but has sometimes been put in a false position as 'enforcer' and seems to find the likes of Colin Coward a bit 'noisy'. Such attitudes are not ideal but they are a lot better than some.

Posted by: john on Tuesday, 17 February 2009 at 10:56am GMT

"ConEvs may threaten ***other adults*** all they want to, with Hellfire."

No they can't. They have no right to bring disrepute on the Gospel by such tactics, they have no right to co-opt the word "Christian" to mean solely whatever they believe, they have no right to claim that not being allowed to insult, revile, coerce, threaten, and force their beliefs on everyone else is "persecution" and denial of their rights. That kind of behaviour is not necessary, it isn't Christian, and it is deeply offensive that any cleric would defend it as some sort of right. Now, the discipline meted out to this child's mother for sending a private email from her own home asking for prayer is way over the line as well, but if this little child actually thinks that saying "you'll go to Hell if you don't get saved" or "if you don't believe in God" or whatever is "talking about Jesus", then that child needs to be taught what Christianity is, and apparently so do her mother, her local parish (since where did she learn something so awful?), and, I suspect, so does the Archbishop of York.

Posted by: Ford elms on Tuesday, 17 February 2009 at 3:15pm GMT

alleged professional misconduct after she sent a private email to 10 friends asking for prayer.

If I'd used work facilities to send private email, I wouldn't be complaining about such an investigation nor would I expect +York to make it into an issue of Christianity either.

Posted by: Tim on Tuesday, 17 February 2009 at 5:30pm GMT

Bang on Ford Elms...

You see, perhaps it is an American thing (and apparently Canadian-[that's also probably redundant]), to become so full of your version of Christianity, and to 'read' the bible, that you can literally attack not only others' denominations, but their perceived commitment and faith in Christ as well. This is the harsh reality of fundamentalists, and I'd wish that our leaders would be up to the task of calling it for what it is, outright abuse and slander of one's personal beliefs.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Tuesday, 17 February 2009 at 5:48pm GMT

"perhaps it is an American thing (and apparently Canadian-[that's also probably redundant]),"

You know, once I thought it was a Fundamentalist thing. Then I thought it was an Evangelical thing, since all the Fundies I knew suddenly, at some point in the late 70s, were offended at being called Fundamentalist and demanded to be called Evangelical. Given the comments I have read here and elsewhere by some who identify as Evangelical, I certainly don't see it as solely a North American thing, I see many of the same things being said, and see much the same mindset, in some Brits as well. I am slowly, grudgingly, coming to the conclusion that it is a human thing. It is there in us AC's too, we're just a lot funnier about it, and really don't care if those who don't, as my father calls such things as genuflecting, "bend and twist" go to Hell, since if their False Beliefs don't deny their entry into the Kingdom, their lack of liturgical taste surely will:-) Besides, we're not too concerned about Hell, we're just waiting to get into the Kingdom and criticize what's wrong with the worship of the angels, 'cuz you just know the Use of Heaven can't hold a candle to the Use of Sarum. Seriously, though, I think we all might be susceptible to this, but we have a responsibility, I think, to confront this nonsense everytime we encounter it. The AbofY certainly needs to be told that it is not a matter of religious rights, it's a matter of what is seemly and tasteful. We ARE anglicans, after all:-) And you take that back about us being all alike over here. I'm from Newfoundland, I'm not even like a Canadian, much less an American!:-)

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 17 February 2009 at 8:21pm GMT

I was very saddened at Archbishop Sentamu's willingness to believe these exaggerated daft stories (like the ones - usually turn out to have no foundation - of local councils banning Christmas) peddled by the right wing media.

The purpose of these stories is to promote a sense of grievance and victimhood. This is very easy to do and wise leaders are needed to avoid that particular trap of insanity.

There are already laws to protect Christianity in that the laws on religious discrimination cover all religions in terms of goods and services and therefore education (but with an exemption for faith schools....).

Not sure what "laws to protect Christians" would look like. Here's my attempt:

Protection of religious liberty (Christianity) regulations.

a)No one espousing or promoting a religious viewpoint pertaining to Christianity shall at any time be subject to penalties under any provision of the criminal or civil law
b)No one espousing or promoting a religious viewpoint pertaining to Christianity shall at any time be subject to adverse action of any kind by their employer or any other person whatsoever
c)Anyone who seeks to interfere with or prevent a person from promoting a Christian belief, or a belief connected to Christianity, or to one of its many forms, in any way whatsoever shall be liable on conviction to a fine of up to £5,000.
d)In these regulations 'pertaining to Christianity' means "a religious viewpoint advancing one of the many forms of Christianity as the one true religion to exclusion of all others"
e)Protections under these regulations do not extend to a person expressing negative views concerning Christianity or one of its many forms or expressing doubts concerning the veracity of such religious viewpoints, or carrying out an act which may cause alarm, worry or distress to a person identifying adherence to one or other form of Christian religion.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Wednesday, 18 February 2009 at 10:43am GMT

Actually Ford, I'll be there (in Heaven) to criticize the tempo of the Howell's Nunc of the Col Reg. (And to tell everybody how I would sing the tenor solo)

On a slightly less silly note, I should think Canadians would always be insulted when only people from the USA call themselves "Americans". If you're from the Western Hemisphere, and not living on some rock in the West Indies, you're an American.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Wednesday, 18 February 2009 at 7:49pm GMT

"If you're from the Western Hemisphere, and not living on some rock in the West Indies, you're an American."

Depends on who you talk to. Interestingly, Latin Americans, I think, seem more likely to have a broader definition of 'American' than English, or possibly French, speakers. For English speakers, "American" means citizen of the United States of America. It's kind of like saying that if you are from Ireland, you're British because you are from the British Isles. Dare ya to say that in a pub in Galway! Or tell a bunch of Scots in Glasgow that they're English. Go on! I dare ya!

And after your musical critique of the Nunc, can we raise a few jars and grouse about Willan? Seriously. I'm eagerly anticipating Lent so we can move on from the Missa de Sancta Maria Magdalena. Beautiful in an academic musical kind of way, but utterly inaccessible, the perfect wall to keep a person from really getting into the Mass. It provokes all the high emotional involvement of a loaf of stale bread.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 19 February 2009 at 1:56pm GMT

"On a slightly less silly note, I should think Canadians would always be insulted when only people from the USA call themselves "Americans". If you're from the Western Hemisphere, and not living on some rock in the West Indies, you're an American."

Well, if you are thinking North America, don't forget Mexico!

The kinds of over-simplistic over-dramtic - the barbarians are at the gate and Christianity is about to be erased kind of stuff is frequently posted to peoples' whole mailing list in the states. I've told a couple just to take me off their lists.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Thursday, 19 February 2009 at 2:41pm GMT

"And after your musical critique of the Nunc, can we raise a few jars and grouse about Willan? Seriously. I'm eagerly anticipating Lent so we can move on from the Missa de Sancta Maria Magdalena. Beautiful in an academic musical kind of way, but utterly inaccessible, the perfect wall to keep a person from really getting into the Mass. It provokes all the high emotional involvement of a loaf of stale bread".

Interesting, I usually come across the Willan during penitential seasons, not otherwise.

Ya can't beat the Byrd Four Part with a stick, that's almost as good as s-x! That's what I sang at my first high church Ash Wednesday, too many years ago (!) And for low-church schmaltz, I'll take Oldroyd's Mass of the Quiet Hour (written in his rather high church parish south of London). Hey, living well is the best revenge!!!

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Friday, 20 February 2009 at 2:52am GMT

1- Any solution that says that people should not be allowed to say what they actually do believe - most of us would agree that this is wrong, for very good reasons. Stop people saying things merely to score points or to get back at people or to proclaim people second class. But who has the right to stop people saying what, so far as they can see, is true (i.e., a 'belief')?

2- The criterion that is often used is: Is this offensive? That is not a criterion that deserves to be used. For example, things can be both offensive and true, and things can be said about each of us which are both offensive and true. The question 'Is it true?' and the question 'Is it offensive?' are both important, but the former is clearly more so. The chances of the universe being exactly as we would want it to be are more minuscule than the chances of monkeys writing Shakespeare. Thus, it is pretty much certain that *some* aspects of the way the uiniverse really is are going to be offensive to each of us. But that is not going to change the way the universe really is. It is not us that created it, and it is not us that create it now. This may seem like the most obvious point possible, yet it seems to be being denied.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Friday, 20 February 2009 at 1:04pm GMT

"I usually come across the Willan during penitential seasons, not otherwise."

We're just beginning to experiment with changing the Mass setting with the season. Still have to keep the Creed Merbecke or people will grouse. AC at our place can easily mean nothing more than 'set in their ways'. I can see why some would only use Willan at penitential times, it being somewhat flagellant. Honestly, usually with a new Mass setting, I don't like it initially because it's new. I go to St. Mike's, we're all like that. Then I find some access to it, usually at the Sanctus, and soon I'm singing along happy as a pig in proverbial. Not this time. I just can't find a crack in it anywhere. There's no point in that Mass that says, "Here, this'll hook ya. See, you can relate to this bit." Nowhere. I fully expect the Dismissal to be "Willan's navel has been gazed at, go in peace!"

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 20 February 2009 at 1:26pm GMT

"But who has the right to stop people saying what, so far as they can see, is true (i.e., a 'belief')?"

Who is trying to do this? Do you really think that the only way to witness to the faith is to insult and threaten people? Do people really think it is a good thing to be a Christian just because you are terrified of what the angry vindictive Christian God will do to you if you not believe? God is not mocked. To Him, and this is something we Anglicans should know from childhood, "all hearts are open, all desires known, and from (Him) no secrets are hid." Don't you think He knows if you are a Christian simply because you have been terrified into believing some blasphemous image of Him as a corrupt and vindictive judge, only too willing to go back on His promise of love to us and torture us eternally for the slightest infraction? This isn't about this child's, or her mother's, right to witness to their faith. It isn't even about their right to believe such appalling things about God if they want to. It is about everybody else's right not to be attacked by religious fanatics.

"Thus, it is pretty much certain that *some* aspects of the way the uiniverse really is are going to be offensive to each of us."

First of all, there is no objective evidence that what I as a Christian believe is "the way the universe really is" any more than such evidence exists for any religion. That's why it's called faith. I've asked before, can you give me one piece of objective evidence of the truth of Christianity? Second, why seek to give offence? It's not as though this child, or her mother, is required by Christ to threaten other people with eternal damnation. As a matter of fact, the Gospel seems pretty clear in its instructions that we NOT do that. Can you think of no better way to witness to the Gospel?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 20 February 2009 at 3:11pm GMT

The 2 essential points here are:

(1) The NT word-group from which we get 'faith' is pistis/pisteuo, which has a broad semantic range that unfortunately does not map neatly onlt the English language at all. Hence the multiple controversies about the meaning of 'faith'. We are expecting ancient & koine Greekl to have the same concepts as us - and why should they?
Pistis/pisteuo covers belief (ie a working theory based on evidence but falling short of proof/knowledge - and most situations in life do fall short of 100% proof/knowledge), but it also covers trust and commitment. All of these are based on evidence. There is no such thing as non-evidence-based pistis. If there were no evidence one would not be in a position to have pistis in the first place. People who claim to have 'faith' in the absence of evidence are probably believing what they want to believe ie their preferred scenario. (For example: 'It'll be all right in the end' - even if there is no evidence for this.) The foundation of their so-called faith is ideology and wishful thinking. This is not biblical 'faith'.
The NT mostly talks about the trust/commitment sort of faith (e.g. (a) 'belief into' as the Greek phrase goes; (b) 'believing God' like Abraham - believing the words spoken by a trustworthy person). It does sometimes speak of the kind of faith which you put in the foreground, where lack of knowledge is the central idea. But I can think of only 2 examples: 'we walk by faith not by sight' (2 Cor) and the definition of faith in Heb 11.1. This compared with loads and loads of NT instances of pistis/pisteuo with other meanings central - about 65x pisteuo in John alone. It is a standard, a cliche, that NT faith is essentially of the Heb 11.1 kind - but while it always is of that kind, this is very rarely the central thrust of the word pistis or pisteuo. So this view, popular in the pew, is not to be found among biblical scholars.

(2) Even if one gives evidence objectively, or merely states one's belief, it is human nature for people to think one is speaking ad hominem even if one is not remotely.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 21 February 2009 at 2:28pm GMT

It goes without saying that while faith/belief is always evidence-based (since one could scarcely *really* believe anything without evidence, and the only alternative basis for a belief is a mere wish - which would be a dishonest basis) the *amount* of evidence varies, and always falls short of that which exists in those rare cases where there is full knowledge/proof.

It's a bit like an election. There is usually one candidate who appears better to my or your mind than the others, even if only slightly better. A candidate can win with 30% of the vote. But they are still the best bet to win.

Likewise in scholarship there are competing theories on a given matter. The one for which there seems to be most evidence becomes one's working hypothesis. If it has significantly more evidence in its favour than the next-best of its competitors, one may be said to 'believe' it. To believe something is to acknowledge that, evidentially, it is the best bet.

Where did the idea come from that there is a kind of belief called 'religious' belief, which is in a different category from other kinds of belief? Not from the New Testament: that is for sure.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 21 February 2009 at 2:35pm GMT

Christopher Shell scripsit: It is a standard, a cliche, that NT faith is essentially of the Heb 11.1 kind

Yes, very much so, I find. At least in evangelical circles faith is apparently unseeingness.

In my experience it is the walk.

I've been a brethren, a free-evo, a failed evo-boptist (their fault!), a CoE evo and a low-liberal Episcopalian veering on non-theist in my time; I trust this means none of the above can step forward claiming to be "the one true faith", because the common factors do not support such a view.

Posted by: Tim on Sunday, 22 February 2009 at 6:55pm GMT

"Even if one gives evidence objectively,"

But you don't, Christopher. If your faith is even in part based on evidence, then provide that evidence, please.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 23 February 2009 at 2:42pm GMT

"It goes without saying that while faith/belief is always evidence-based"

Christopher, John 20, notice verses 24-29, with particular reference to verse 29.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 23 February 2009 at 3:10pm GMT

Hi FOrd-
There are any number of reasons why citing John 20.24-9 is inapposite:
(1) There are other kinds of evidence other than sight-based evidence;
(2) Jesus himself, in John's gospel and others, is taken to have predicted his own resurrection. So the evidence in this case would consist in the fact that it is rational to believe a trustworthy person, whether Jesus, Mary, the ten apostles, or all of these.
(3) If Jesus's 'Blessed are those who have not seen but yet have believed' were taken across the board, Jesus would also be commending belief in little green men, and that the moon was made of green cheese. By what criteria would he wish us to distinguish between which things we should and should not believe?

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Tuesday, 24 February 2009 at 1:14pm GMT

I'm so glad that: green cheese, little green men, etcetera, are not part of any credal statements in the Church Catholic and Reformed. Otherwise, I might have 'lost my faith' years ago. I don't *see red* very often over these columns, but I'm beginning to get that rosy glow of impatience.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 24 February 2009 at 10:32pm GMT

"There are other kinds of evidence other than sight-based evidence"

Yet you still refuse to give any. It might be rational to believe a trustworthy person, but how is that evidence of anything? Scripture tells us Jesus told the Apostles He would rise again. They then tell us He did. How is that evidence of anything? Let me help here. For me, one of the most powerful arguments for the truth of the Gospel is St. Paul. I cannot understand how someone can go from being a vehement persecutor of Christians, to the extent that he may have been responsible for the martyrdom of St. James, to the foremost proponent of the Gospel without Divine intervention? But that still isn't objective evidence. We have the Gospels, documents written for a specific purpose by people who 2000 years ago followed a preacher for whose existence we have only one other historical reference. That can consitute evidence that he existed. Aside for the phrases 'born of the Virgin Mary' and 'crucified under Pontius Pilate' where is the evidence for anything else in the Creed, even Mary's virginity? Christopher, I have no doubt whatsoever that God exists, He is not some abstraction, His existence is not dependent on me, He is not some "inner Christ" we need to awaken in ourselves, the resurrection was not some sort of abstraction, neither was it "a conjuring trick with bones". But what is the concrete evidence for any of this? I don't have any, you don't either. Frankly, I think it much the same as what I see in some liberals. For them, radicalism redeems the rather embarassing fact of faith. "Yeah, I go to Church, but I'm still cool, defending the downtrodden and all." For you, you seem to need to give some sort of scientific veneer to faith, since you need to be seen as rational. "Yeah, I go to Church, but look how analytical and evidence based I am." Well, you are rational, but religion is in many ways irrational. That doesn't make it wrong, neither does it make it something to be ashamed of. I move in scientific circles where believers are looked askance at. So what? You only make them look askance insisting on evidence that is patently not there. The Apostles' faith in Jesus's words that He would rise again is NOT concrete evidence.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 25 February 2009 at 2:47pm GMT

And this is another reason why it'd be better to have these arguments over a pint: no threads to derail!

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 25 February 2009 at 2:48pm GMT

When you say religion is irrational, I take it that you mean that so-called 'religious' so-called 'beliefs' are often irrational. Correct, but which of us can answer for another person's 'beliefs'? Jesus was not much to do with 'religion' anyway, but everything to do with real life.
I think your error is to take 'religion' as your starting-point. How can it be the starting point when others don't even have it in their picture at all, either as a starting-point, a midpoint or an endpoint? It is a very rare word in the NT (e.g. James 1) and even then can be translated different ways.

There are all sorts of evidence other than sight-evidence. Hearing evidence (i.e. testimony), touch evidence etc.; logical evidence; and others which are often less strong and verifiable e.g. some kinds of historical evidence. Many realities posited by scientists have never been seen. If someone has proven truthful in the past, then their testimony counts as evidence. Few would dispute that.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Friday, 27 February 2009 at 6:16pm GMT
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