Saturday, 27 February 2010

opinion at the end of February

This week The Question in The Guardian’s Comment is free section is Are religious texts lost in translation?
Can the spirit of the original be adequately conveyed in a different language?
There have been three Responses.
Alexander Goldberg The word is just the beginning
Conserving the message of texts is important, but it’s what you do with those texts and their teachings that really matters.
Heather McDougall A question of interpretation
Two key texts – John’s gospel and Revelation – illuminate the way belief can turn on the translation of one or two words.
Usama Hasan When words are immutable
There are still those that argue that the Qur’an should not be translated at all. But the best translation of its teachings is action.

In other Comment is free columns:

Lee Rayfield writes Let’s not take the path of assisted dying
Arguments in favour of assisted dying play on our sense of compassion – but they should be resisted.

Andrew Brown asks What do believers want from God?
The Church of England has opened a web page for anyone to post their prayers. Reading them is sad and humbling.

Tom Holland writes a Face to faith column about St Paul, the radical.
St Paul is often dismissed as a finger-wagging bigot. This could not be further from the truth

Tom Sutcliffe writes that The old doctrines are not enough.
The church must provide a valid assertion of truth about life that can stand comparison truths and wisdom drawn from science


Giles Fraser writes in the Church Times that New vigour is required in our ethical life.

Jonathan Sacks writes in a Times Credo column
Credo: Why the Ancient Greeks were wrong about morality
The Judaeo-Christian ethic is not the only way of being moral; but it is the only system that has endured

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 27 February 2010 at 10:45am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

"Indeed, one of the great PR dis­asters of modern Christianity is allowing the concept of sin to be seen as something ethical."

Thank you, Giles!!!

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 27 February 2010 at 5:49pm GMT

Regarding Heather McDougall: how on earth is a Zoroastrian, Gnostic and intermediary view of logos as the source of using logos "very Trinitarian" and non-Arian? The argument doesn't add up. It is precisely because it was 'in the beginning' that it can be Arian, the first born created divinity that is the agent to make the world (and all that).

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 27 February 2010 at 6:16pm GMT

Regarding Usama Hasan's piece, the reading I gave of the Qur'an was where it claims a 6 day creation and God giving the characteristics of day and night. I wonder to what interpretation this gives rise? When do the words "wrong" appear in such interpretations?

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 27 February 2010 at 6:27pm GMT

I think Tom Sutcliffe should replace me at Fulcrum. He'll then find out about his 'only words' and the place of laypeople in a national Church institution. I rather agree with him, and though it may be a trivial comparison he might answer whether 'Jesus lives' can be compared with the often stated 'Elvis lives' (as I think it can, if I can bother to claim either).

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 27 February 2010 at 6:36pm GMT

On Sin and Death: "The reason St Paul links the two is that sin is not an ethical category so much as a soteriological one. Human beings can free themselves from the pain of death by locating their centre of interest in God, dying to self, and rising to new life by par­ticipating in the divine life. Sin is all that keeps us wedded to self and thus impedes our ability to transfer the centre of interest in our lives from self to God."
- Giles Fraser, Church Times -

Indeed! Giles Fraser identifies the reality - that sin exists in creation; that humankind is its natural heir, and that God's answer to this was the Incarnation of Jesus, Word-made-Flesh, so that the due penalty of sin - which is death - could be overcome by Him, both for us and in us!

As Giles so well reminds us; the truth of the Ash Wednesday 'Ashing Prayer' - "Thou art but dust and unto dust thou shalt return" - is what one might call reality therapy, signifying ultimate death to the 'humus' and the hope of regeneration through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Today's Gospel account of the Transfiguration of Jesus is just such an example. As we 'listen to Him' and do what He ask of us, Christ becomes our hope and joy. The transcendental Feast of The Eucharist is our Food for the Journey - to the fullness of life in God.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 28 February 2010 at 3:16am GMT

I find Tom Sutcliffe's piece disturbing from many points of view, not least, of course, the fact that I share many of these thoughts.

The answers I would give are:

(1) If one believes in God, belief in an afterlife/resurrection (however one does it) becomes a necessary concomitant belief. Otherwise, theodicy is impossible.

(2) Of course, it's true that it's not nearly enough to say 'science and religion aren't incompatible': one must make some effort to showing why this should be so. One common effort - 'science shows the "how", religion shows the "why" ' is generally terrible, because the whole point of the scientific challenge is that progressively reduces the "why" areas. So for serious thought one must go to Polkinghorne and Ward (and a few others - certainly not the present ridiculous Pope, the present ridiculous Archbishops of York and Canterbury, and the present ridiculous bishop of Durham), and there one will read about the possibilities of intelligence/consciousness independent of matter, hence of God, afterlife, etc.

(3) To be a believing Christian (rather than a cultural Christian) one has to hold three things in tension: (1) general arguments for the existence of God (first cause, consciousness, Big Bang, laws of the universe, mathematical principles, etc. etc.); (2) the evidence of the first Christians on Jesus' 'resurrection' (whatever - doesn't matter; the crucial thing is the 'demonstration' that 'death is not the end'); (3) one's general experience that 'it works'.

(4) Church leaders really have to raise their game in this area (as in others). Most of them are quite hopeless at this. At the very least, on the negative side, the very last thing one wants or can live with is loud-mouthed bullies bellowing about what one must believe to be a Christian.

Posted by: john on Sunday, 28 February 2010 at 12:36pm GMT

Two corollaries to my post above:

(1) As I read Giles Fraser, here and elsewhere, he doesn't believe in an afterlife/resurrection, rather in 'participation in God's eternity' only in our own lives. Nothing wrong with that, of course (I am not accusing him), but it doesn't meet the 'theodicy challenge';

(2) Since many, perhaps most, people who do the Christian thing find in it anxiety as well as fulfilment (whatever), it is vital that we all allow one another the maximum amount of 'space'. That includes 'liberals' allowing 'space' to 'orthodox', which is why I continue to support 'special arrangments' (whatever) for FiF.

Posted by: john on Sunday, 28 February 2010 at 3:29pm GMT

I can't speak for Giles Fraser, but I don't see why we could not trust God to redeem the world without each of us living forever after death.
As the whole concept is well beyond my intellectual capabilities, I have insufficient knowledge to construct any logical chains in this respect.

I trust that God is and that God is love and that he will redeem his creation. As for the rest, I'm willing to just wait and see.

The question certainly doesn't influence how I live my faith and my life here on earth.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 28 February 2010 at 5:41pm GMT

John is Honest John too. However, turn the thing around. Start with scientific theories, knowledge, mathematics (including limitations) and the fantastic world of fractals with self-generating patterns. Time is also crucial - its variety. Then theologise - theologise in terms of our places, transience, what is it to be ethical and communal given such transience and why, what the various traditions suggest given this science (rather that have religious dogmas and try to shoehorn science into them) including the 'today' thoughts of Jesus, or transience by Buddha, or the distance of transcendence in Islam. There are no boundaries to this.

Question is this: what is Christianity, being Christian rather than just a cultural Christian. Is it not the cult of a person. Why would you want to maintain that? What benefit, what service, does it offer? Why not, instead, turn it around, starting with the science and the arts and ask questions about that, including contributions of prophetic figures of near-East and East?

Posted by: Pluralist on Sunday, 28 February 2010 at 8:41pm GMT

I followed Andrew Brown's link to the C of E site, but could fin no button to press to leave a prayer request- but did see list of supplications and intercessors already left. (I feel rather foolish about it--it is probably staring me in the face and its getting late).

But I do think it a very good idea if people can work out how to leave their prayers.....

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Sunday, 28 February 2010 at 8:48pm GMT

Does Lee Rayfield rally think he is infallible ? Or does he just feel too responsible for protecting us all ? I don't find him very convincing either, here. or on the Moral Maze, on this issue.

He has a point of view and that's it. Period. He does not speak for me.

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Sunday, 28 February 2010 at 9:30pm GMT

"I pray that Jesus will be known by all in Greater Manchester and that liberal doctrines will cease so that the glorious truth of Jesus being saviour of all can shine out into the dark streets of our region."
- Prayer on the C.of E. web-site -

Why saddle the Bishop of Manchester (whom I believe to be a reasonable and Godly bishop) with having to recite this particular prayer in public?

Let's hope that this openness to the expression of bigotry on the Church of England web-site will not require a de rigeur public expression of what seems to be a counter-Christian sentiment. This prayer seems to be self-contradictory in it's clear equivalence of anti-liberality with the salvation of Jesus Christ in the Gospel

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 28 February 2010 at 9:54pm GMT

"Otherwise, theodicy is impossible."

Well, isn't it? For the rest I'm with Erika.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Monday, 1 March 2010 at 5:35am GMT


If you're committed to the notion of a 'loving God', who can be 'trusted' to 'redeem the world', you're surely also committed to 'theodicy'? And if 'theodicy', you have to have a theological narrative about the victims of the Tsunami, the Haitian and Chilean earthquakes, etc. etc.?


'Start from the other end.' I do constantly, as I struggle to assess how well Christianity stands up or doesn't. When I describe those various bishops and archbishops as 'ridiculous', I mean in this context. For them, as church leaders, not to be able to/not to see the necessity of thinking 'outside the box' is 'ridiculous' and (I think) extremely reprehensible and irresponsible.

Jesus as 'cult figure' like many others. No: I think the Christian 'myth' is extraordinarily potent in how it touches base with all the 'hot button' issues that any theology has to cope with: life, death, suffering, material, spiritual, humans, god(s), justice/injustice,time/timelessness, etc. etc. If it is possible to construct a plausible theology, this would be it. It would also be how a God (if she exists) would have to communicate with intelligent and conscious creatures.

Posted by: john on Monday, 1 March 2010 at 12:56pm GMT

Absolutely, theodicy is the question. But I don’t think we can necessarily know the answer. It may include every single one of us for eternity, but that may just as well be a mental construct to help us make sense of something we simply cannot comprehend. I have a deep aversion against making God smaller just so I can comprehend him.
I trust that he is, I trust that he is love and I trust that whatever will be will be what we try to express with the terms salvation and redemption.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 1 March 2010 at 2:59pm GMT

Folks may be interested in this very insightful article linked at Episcopal Cafe. I'm still digesting the article at the time of this post, but the treatment of the relationship between the Baptismal Covenant (used in Canada as well as TEC) and the "Anglican" Covenant,is well worth a read.
-Rod Gillis

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Monday, 1 March 2010 at 4:41pm GMT


If you're committed to the notion of a 'loving God', who can be 'trusted' to 'redeem the world', you're surely also committed to 'theodicy'? And if 'theodicy', you have to have a theological narrative about the victims of the Tsunami, the Haitian and Chilean earthquakes, etc. etc.(john)

Salley Vickers is very helpful on the powerlessness of G-d in her novel and its PS.,

Mr Golightly's Holiday.

Nonetheless, there is the terribly moving scene when a voice comes from the gorse bush, "Tell thm I am love. Tell them I am love."

It is worth reading and pondering. It has nourished me no end.

Also of course True Resurrection and all Fr Williams' other books --still unsurpassed. (HA Williams of course).

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Monday, 1 March 2010 at 5:14pm GMT

Further to my comment on the impossiblity of a pre-conceived intelectual argument of theodicy and Mr Golightly'sHoliday, may I also say :--

There are place 'where prayer has been valid', places where you'll see Love in Action every day of the week --

such as St Joseph's Hospice, Hackney where they care for, and love people of all religions and none....

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Monday, 1 March 2010 at 5:18pm GMT


I know that lines have been somewhat blurred here, but the starting-out point of this discussion was the need to present a case for Christianity which would stand up in the modern world and/or persuade Pluralist that the whole thing isn't completely undermined by modern science. From that point of view, the things you say don't meet the needs of the situation, whereas a strong theodicy obviously is required, otherwise Christians just look silly and shifty when asked for their reactions to (e.g.) natural disasters. As I have said before, Sentamu sounded absolutely terrible when quizzed on the Today programme about Haiti. Christianity is losing the intellectual battle. It's no good burying one's head in the sand about this.



Posted by: john on Monday, 1 March 2010 at 9:50pm GMT

There is an argument, John, that the Christian myth has a story pattern that illuminates the pattern of life - that is obviously of suffering, of having to go through a death of a situation to get through to the other side. So Christianity has a kind of commentary on the difficulty of life, of hope through the worst of times. The problem is that it is just that - a reflection, a commentary on what already is, the primacy given to the what already is.

And it can stand as that. The 'cult of the person' aspect is then more a liturgical one, that instead of addressing this one religion as such a reflection, it is constantly dogmatic about revelation and salvation as through one man. I'd say this is just unnecessary, and there are good grounds for saying this is the made religion of salvation after the ministry of Jesus himself - but to say that isn't to be taken as to raise the ministry of Jesus himself (a sort of loyalty token) but what accompanies an otherwise useful myth that also developed after events and changing beliefs rapidly took place.

It's why I want to take issue with Alister McGrath despite vanishing from Fulcrum and its aggressive conservative evangelical posters.

Posted by: Pluralist on Tuesday, 2 March 2010 at 3:05am GMT

If you’re suggesting that I have to knit myself a set of beliefs in order to attract others to God, I can’t really be with you any longer.
Theodicy is a huge question already and only a leap of faith can allow anyone to live with it.
What you’re saying is that we have to have some certainty at the end, otherwise people won’t be able to make that leap of faith. That’s just another way of creating a God of the gaps and is not very intellectual at all. Truth is that we have to extend our leap of faith to cover every aspect of our faith, even our cherished hope that all will be well.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 2 March 2010 at 7:37am GMT


Thanks for your response. Glad we are in amity.


I'm not saying anyone HAS to believe anything in a coercive way. I'd be the last person to say that. What I am saying is that it is important - vital, even - for Christians generally to raise their game when presenting their case to outsiders, especially outsiders aware of 'the science'. Of course, theodicy is a problem - though personally I don't think it is nearly as much a problem as many do - but if it's a problem it should be faced and proper responses should be produced. I dislike the concept of 'the leap of faith': it's so vulnerable and so useless for persuading others, and furthermore I believe it is unhistorical in the sense that in the NT 'faith' really means 'conviction', i.e. taking the thing as proved. That is not to deny that modern Christians may, rather rapidly, have to make such a 'leap', if they are to believe what they are supposed to believe.

Rev L:

Thanks for your responses. The things you mention have 'internal' force for people who are already Christians, not much for outsiders. Each to his own. Personally, I can't stand Sally Vickers - though I happen to be reading one right now! (3 for £5 at the bargain book-shop). As for H Williams, I've never read any but surely he's orthodox pro-Resurrection (and resurrection), in which case he supports my view that the Christian is pretty well locked in to these 'supernatural' things as answers to theodical problems.

Best wishes to all.

Posted by: john on Tuesday, 2 March 2010 at 1:01pm GMT

Isn’t the problem precisely that different Christians have different answers to the theodicy question? Who would be responsible for formulating a “proper response” and who would be charged with the PR for it when the next disaster strikes?
I know it’s not easy in a society that expects sound bite answers and certainties. But isn’t the truth that we HAVE no answer other than a number of theologically possible theories and the answers that have made sense to us at various stages of our faith journey?

To me, it is a bit like trying to discuss same sex relationships with biblical literalists. That is a level at which intelligent engagement is not possible. Unless we widen the parameters of the debate, no intelligent answers can be given.
The same is true for talking to people who want to approach faith with a scientific mind. We CAN have intelligent conversations, but not if we concede that they alone should set the framework for the conversation.
I believe that our task is not so much to find answers that appeal, but to show people that other categories of approaching the topic are not only possible but necessary if the conversation is to be fruitful.

Faith lite just can’t be done.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 2 March 2010 at 2:33pm GMT


But some of the answers are very bad, e.g. natural disasters are the result of 'the Fall', man's 'sin', etc. This problem has nothing to do with 'instant sound-bites': rather, with the need for Christians to say something sensible. Far too often, they don't, and it weakens Christianity.

I am not arguing for 'faith lite'. On the other hand, any implication that 'it's all a matter of faith' is (a) I think, a misunderstanding of what 'faith' is, or should be (above); (b) theologically and in other ways not very helpful. I'm not decrying other people's 'faith journey' (though, as you see, it's not a concept I like), just agreeing with the original poster that Christianity needs a bit more intellectual stuffing.

Posted by: john on Tuesday, 2 March 2010 at 5:02pm GMT

I agree that blaming earthquakes on man’s sin and the Fall is nonsense, but every theologian will tell you it’s nonsense. The problem is not that Christians don’t have deep answers but that too many spout silly answers and that no-one challenges them effectively. Plus, sadly, too many Christians actually believe that it’s all to do with the Fall.

I agree with you that shallow theology has to be challenged. The problem is that in our media and soundbite driven culture deeper arguments get lost. “It’s God’s punishment for sin” sounds catchy and makes good headlines. “We don’t actually know but here is what theologians through the ages have said” will get contracted to “Bishop admits he doesn’t understand” or some such nonsense. And it will stick! You only have to look at the “conjuring trick with bones” that still has the public believe Bishops no longer believe in anything and has Christians shout against unorthodox beliefs, to see what can happen to the most erudite and thoughtful people.

When I look at the same sex debate and how appallingly shallow it is and how few people engage with deep theological arguments, I have absolutely no hope that we will get our act together to provide credible answers to people outside the church.

So if you're looking for intellectual stuffing, I absolutely agree with you!
I don't hold out much hope.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 2 March 2010 at 7:03pm GMT


Just for information: i do believe in the resurrection - which is a very different idea from that of Plato's everlasting soul. I just refuse to conflate the two.


Posted by: Giles Fraser on Friday, 11 March 2011 at 7:06pm GMT
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