Saturday, 18 December 2010

pre-Christmas opinion

Jane Williams starts a new series for Comment is free belief with The Book of Genesis, part 1: God created. “Genesis looks at what the culture around it believes about the nature of the material world, and disagrees with it profoundly.”

Giles Fraser writes in the Church Times about Defending the faith from its cheerleaders.

James Jones writes for Living Lightly: The Bishop Reflects at Christmas.

Christopher Howse writes in The Telegraph about An African church in Hampshire. “The leading church architect of the 20th century found inspiration in North Africa,” he says.

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite writes for The Washington Post about The difference between Jesus and Santa Claus.

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 18 December 2010 at 11:39am GMT | TrackBack
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Jane Williams' essay is the best counter-argument to the creationists I have read in many years.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Saturday, 18 December 2010 at 12:01pm GMT

Regarding James Jones's piece. Just because a story uses reversals and radical transformations of character like 'the Good Shepherd' to be consistent with the hoped for Kingdom of God does not make the story history. It is still a fable of the apparent past, just as the consistent hoped for future wasn't realised and is a utopia.

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 18 December 2010 at 12:33pm GMT

Regarding Jane Williams's piece. She wrote:

"It is not what we might call a "scientific" disagreement, in that it is not so much talking about the mechanics of how the world comes into being. Instead, it is a "theological" disagreement, which leads to a radical rethinking of what human life is for and how the human and divine realm interact. Genesis is arguing that our lives are not accidental and purposeless..."

But here's the problem. Whatever it argues, however theological it is as opposed to anything else, the fact that the world does come into being otherwise than Genesis, indeed as a science, tells us that human life is accidental and purposeless, and that only we can give it that purpose in our transience.

You have to build your theology on what is, not on what you'd like it to be or what others thought it was - and whether they thought it precisely as Genesis or not they did think this was all by an interventionist hand.

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 18 December 2010 at 12:40pm GMT

Thanks you Giles. As Fr Mark has said elsewhere, Christians are hardly likely to get their heads kicked in while crossing Trafalgar Square whereas gay men, going about their ordinary business, are murdered there. And no Christian leader says anything at all.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/8207682/Public-schoolgirl-jailed-for-deadly-attack-on-gay-civil-servant.html

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Saturday, 18 December 2010 at 1:20pm GMT

Well said, Giles Fraser.

Meanwhile, in real modern Britain, rather than episcopal fantasy-land, people get their heads kicked in, not for being Christian, but for being gay http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/8207682/Public-schoolgirl-jailed-for-deadly-attack-on-gay-civil-servant.html

Could George Carey, Michael Scott-Joynt and their chums please raise their loud and privileged voices against violence committed merely on the basis of the sexual orientation which they so stigmatise?

Posted by: Fr Mark on Saturday, 18 December 2010 at 1:59pm GMT

I am always struck by how an article on religion or faith on the Guardian's Comments Are Free--Belief page is very much like suddenly turning on the lights in an old decrepit house: the cockroaches go scurrying everywhere (in the CIF case, in the Comments section). Mindless kneejerk atheism is obviously alive and well in the UK. I thought Dr. Williams' article on Genesis was very good and thoughtful, and Geoff Melnick did a nice job in the Comments section spraying the cockroaches.

Over on our side, we have more problems with mindless kneejerk fundamentalism than with m.k. atheism. Although, when you think about it, they really do have a lot in common, don't they?

Posted by: Bill Moorhead on Saturday, 18 December 2010 at 3:48pm GMT

"But here's the problem. Whatever it argues, however theological it is as opposed to anything else, the fact that the world does come into being otherwise than Genesis, indeed as a science, tells us that human life is accidental and purposeless, and that only we can give it that purpose in our transience."

I'm probably more comfortably within the bounds of what people call Anglicanism than Pluralist, but I agree with him.
Belief (and unbelief) are ultimately arbitrary decisions.

Posted by: Counterlight on Saturday, 18 December 2010 at 4:22pm GMT

Yes Bill, they do. People repeating tired old cliches rather than engaging with arguments.

As regards Pluralists comments on +James Jones piece - yes, but one way of judging if something is history or not is to see if it is what was likely to be invented. It is not full proof of course (it is likely the Conservative Party story would include Prime Ministers from Eton and it does, it is likely the Labour Party story would include aspiring men from modest backgrounds becoming its leaders and it does). Shepherds are not that likely an invention - judging what is and is not historical in areas of a dearth of evidence (as there too often is) is an up hill job.

However the probability is that the bishop is wrong about the manger - this is a hollow between the work room and the better room which during the day must have been a convenient place to put a baby - the animals were out during the day, and presumably if the family were using this room because the others in the house were full, the animals were out. cf Kenneth Bailey.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Saturday, 18 December 2010 at 5:28pm GMT

Genesis gets a kind of spurious authority from being the first book in the Bible -- "In the Beginning" and all that. But it seems to be one of the texts cobbled together in Babylon when Judaism was being invented. Doubleday once published an edition of the scriptures in the order of composition; it gave rather a different view of the relationship of the parts. Scholars have found no evidence for the history in the Hebrew scriptures earlier than the Kings at the time of the compilation -- Solomon, David, everything before, fiction or lore.

I thought the first page or so of comments on Williams's article were perceptive, not village atheistic at all. Genesis gets almost everything wrong that can be checked (the male/female dichotomy most hurtful among the errors). You don't need Genesis to have a warm fuzzy feeling about existence -- I get a charge out of knowing that all life on Earth is one; People, cabbages, giraffes, amoebas, ducks, lizards, and all, have common ancestors. Gives a better perspective than "dominion" I think.

Posted by: Murdoch on Saturday, 18 December 2010 at 7:39pm GMT

"Once again, Lord Carey and his friends have got it badly wrong......Furthermore, what many people suspect - and they are probably correct - is that this sort of campaign is motivated by a very narrow band of ethical concerns, led, once again, by a visceral disgust at homosexuality. When Lord Carey speaks of the need to stand up for Christianity, many of us now hear him as saying something as petty as the need to stand up for the right to be anti-gay. Well, count me out! - Giles Fraser, C.T. -

Me too!. This sort of homophobic derailment of the Gospel ethic of inclusivity of ALL people in the task of redemption which Christ came at Christmas to bring is nothing short of scandalous. In any other country, or with any other religious body, such statements as the ex-ABC is making about the need for 'purity' of religion (exclusive, of course to his own brand of Christianity) would be counted subversive.

This is the sort of stuff that the world does not need at the celebration of the Birth of the Saviour of all humanity - black or white, male or female, high or low, rich or poor, regardless of sexual orientation. As Archbishop Tutu has so beautifully reminded us: ALL, ALL people are accepted by God - no matter what there difference may be. "They will know you are my disciples by your Love" - said Jesus, not by your puritanical partiality. Shame on Carey!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 18 December 2010 at 8:38pm GMT

Giles Fraser is correct about Carey and the other professional Christian victims,

Meanwhile, the US Senate joins the House of Representatives in abolishing Don't Ask Don't Tell, and the US can join Great Britain and other civilized nations in letting glbt people serve openly in the armed services. This despite a full-on attack by conservative Propestant chaplains. Implementation will not be instant, but we're on our way. Don't tell Lord Carey!

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Saturday, 18 December 2010 at 9:19pm GMT

From what Rosemary Hannah said: let me ask, what were some shepherds going to see? Where was this? Who told them, and why would it have been interesting to go and see that baby?

It is a myth from top to bottom. Jesus becomes interesting when he opens his mouth and starts talking, once he's learnt something and starts moving around. And even that is all wrapped up in the thoughts and hopes of the early Churches.

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 18 December 2010 at 10:07pm GMT

Murdoch - in the eyes of current scholarship, it is not quite like that. The jury is very much out on whether any/much of the narrative in Samuel and Kings is able to be traced back to the period in question. I myself (and I am pretty conservative) would tend to see much of the Succession Narrative as early, but by no means all or even most scholars do. There is a general tendency to push much of the 'history' into the Persian period. That makes much of Genesis, if it has its roots in Babylon, pretty early. 'Cobbled together' is an unhelpfully modern way of looking at it - few ancient texts have single authorship, and the idea that single authorship is more 'authentic' than joint authorship and redaction is one very much of our own time.

But there is a heck of a lot more to Genesis than questions of whether it is 'historical' or 'scientifically accurate'. What, to a Jew or a Christian, makes the beginning of Genesis stunning is the fact that God created the world and found it good. To us, that is hugely significant.

And, to take but one instance from the narratives of the Patriarchs, when Jacob/Israel comes up from his struggle with God, he says that seeing the face of the brother he has wronged is like seeing the face of God. If one stops to think of all the implications of that, it is so stunning it is irrelevant who penned it and where.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Saturday, 18 December 2010 at 11:30pm GMT

Hear, hear (or is it here, here?) Fr. Mark..
Meanwhile here in 'Uhmerka', (after the UK legislated it more than a decade ago) the LGBT community is finally allowed to serve in the military without lying about it.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101219/ap_on_go_co/us_gays_in_military

And don't worry, one of our upper-chamber dinosaurs, the ex-candidate for president is making equally disgusting comments and playing the "victim" all too well. Maybe they'll see the handwriting on the wall...... at the rest home.

Posted by: evensongjunkie on Sunday, 19 December 2010 at 1:40am GMT

"indeed as a science, tells us that human life is accidental and purposeless"

It does? And I thought it told us about the mechanics of evolution etc., about everything from the Big Bang onward.
If you can confidently say anything about whether the origin of life is accidental or whether it has purpose, you're a better scientist than any I know.

And, no, this is not God-of-the-gap stuff, this is just a basic recognition that we actually don't know.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 19 December 2010 at 1:09pm GMT

"Over on our side, we have more problems with mindless kneejerk fundamentalism than with m.k. atheism. Although, when you think about it, they really do have a lot in common, don't they?" -Bill Moorhead.
Indeed they do. I think they speak the same language, and that both are singularly lacking in imagination.


Posted by: Old Father William on Sunday, 19 December 2010 at 7:53pm GMT

I really do think that Pluralist needs to be reminded that, for Believers, religion involves engagement of the heart as well as the mind

Yeh! I'm a Believer!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 19 December 2010 at 8:42pm GMT

"But there is a heck of a lot more to Genesis than questions of whether it is 'historical' or 'scientifically accurate'. What, to a Jew or a Christian, makes the beginning of Genesis stunning is the fact that God created the world and found it good. To us, that is hugely significant."

But Genesis is not a FACT, it's a STORY someone told, and the moral, that creation is good, is really independent of the story; you tell the story to back up the conclusion you want, you don't infer it from the story. I'm with the Pluralist -- religions nowadays repeat a lot of founding myths that the members don't really believe, or couldn't believe if they would consider the lack of evidence for them. We cling to the conclusions, not the facts.

Yes, "religion involves engagement of the heart" -- which is to say that it's a story we tell ourselves; it's an expression of feelings and intentions. All worthwhile and inescapable. But there's no way to pin it down -- beliefs, and opinions, differ. People are tribal, and hearing the tribal story everywhere one turns gives a powerful sense of validation.

But we no longer look ONLY at Christian views of history, or Christian assumptions. The Earth is full of different engagements of hearts. Free of evidence or fact, relations among them come down to argument, or power-play. More chance of getting together on the basis of evidence and mutual benefit.

Posted by: murdoch on Sunday, 19 December 2010 at 10:10pm GMT

Murdoch
humour us for a minute please.
Stand with us in this place where there is indeed a loving God who created with a purpose.

What method of revelation/awareness/evidence could possibly make you recognise it or hope it?

I accept that you cannot access the myths in the same way we can. But short of ancient people having come across a book with physical descriptions and mathematical equasions, can you imagine any way at all that might make you believe?

Because it strikes me that unless you think of what COULD, in theory, touch you, you only ever plant yourself firmly in the "can't be" position.

But in that case, no wonder you and the "could be" people will only ever talk cross purposes.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 20 December 2010 at 8:31am GMT

Random observations:

(1) I think one of the interesting things about Carey is that he's not actually homophobic (or at least I don't read him as such: others may know differently from other things he says or does). I recall him saying a few years ago that he thought it perfectly possible that Christian doctrine on this question might reasonably change. So I think he's more opportunist (has decided that this is a useful dividing-line) than homophobic. I don't claim that this makes him a responsible moral agent.

(2) I'm not with Pluralist. It's perfectly legitimate for Christians (Williams, Jones) to argue from within Christianity: they are not required to be 'proving' Christianity all the time.

(3) I'm not really with Erika or Fr Ron or Murdoch either.

If God has no 'hard' explanatory function within the universe/multiverse, that's very troubling for theists and should be. You have to commit to the proposition of God as ultimate cause. (I'm not claiming it's easy.) I don't like all this talk about 'feeling', 'heart', etc. It's very vulnerable intellectually - and it's the intellectual case for God that's under attack now (as indeed it should be - I have no quarrel with atheists or atheists mouthing off).

I don't like the concept of 'faith', either, or at least the concept as now generally understood, because in Greek 'pistis' does NOT mean 'just deciding to believe', it means CONVICTION. The early Christians, writers and readers, regarded the Gospels and Acts as 'proof' texts.

(4) A more general thing: J Williams, qua fairly strong Evangelical, has to have a commitment to some sort of strong content in Genesis. The rest of us don't - or shouldn't. Why can't we just say: 'interesting historical document', 'part of our tradition', 'very inspiring' - 'but we don't attach any theological weight to it'. As for 'shepherds', please. The birth narratives are indeed fairy stories. They're nice. They express certain social/political/cosmic reversals (which are indeed serious). But they're not factual narratives. Very few NT scholars would claim that. Why this discomfiture about saying that outright? Fear of the whole thing unravelling, of course. But that's the risk, and one has to run it.

I write as one goes to church every Sunday and oftener.

Posted by: john on Monday, 20 December 2010 at 8:43am GMT

I missed Puralist's comment to me - I imagine he can anticipate my answer. Angels. I imagine them a huge and terrifying, flaming and other-than-human, but dear knows how they chose to appear that night.

The thing is, if you start from the assumption (it is just that) that all people experience is the totally normal, that which current science can anticipate and explain - you will dismiss as not-having-happened all sorts of things which people do actually experience, and which (if they think you will not scoff) they will happily tell you about. And that people will only experience things physics can fully explain IS not merely an assumption but one which can be rapidly proved false.

If you 'know' what can and cannot happen before you start to listen to what people say has happened - you do not half cut yourself off from the full wonder of the universe.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Monday, 20 December 2010 at 9:11am GMT

Murdoch - there are few 'facts' - there are a good many useful working hypotheses. I very much doubt the creation account was ever meant to be read as 'a fact' - but if you think 'stories' are without power, I suggest you read what Terry Pratchett has to say of the power of stories. 'Stories' transform. They express. They create.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Monday, 20 December 2010 at 9:27am GMT

john is quite right to say few NT scholars would accept the birth narratives - I don't think I (and I'm not a NT scholar) would accept them in toto. But I think we need to be aware that some of the methods which cause them to be dismissed are - well, incestuous. They rely on circular arguments, and more on literary criticism than on historical methods. But that does not mean I accept or reject them on grounds of faith - just that I think some literary arguments are too too circular to be intellectually satisfying. So it is fine to say openly you don't believe them if you do not - but equally fine to challenge the arguments used to reject them.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Monday, 20 December 2010 at 9:45am GMT

John,
Being homophobic isn't merely a set of intellectual beliefs. On the contrary, I would say that the convictions of your heart determine the intellectual framework you subscribe to. Actions speak louder than words... by their fruits shall you tell them...what you have done to the least of them.... I am not at all interested in what Lord Carey says he thinks, what betrays him is what he does.

As for my understanding of faith, I don't think I have said anything at all about how I experience it or what level of conviction I have. What I am trying to do is to accept the parameters Pluralist and Murdoch are setting as their paramaters for the conversation and to engage within them. It's no good me trying to talk about something people immediately reject, it's much more constructive to try and have a conversation based on what others are actually saying.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 20 December 2010 at 10:50am GMT

Two BBC things:

+ABC has an article in the Christmas edition of Radio Times (UK BBC TV and Radio listings magazine - circulation of c950,000 per week).

See http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/3090

The Nativity - BBC 1 7:00pm (GMT) (Mon 20th - Thu 24th)

A primetime slot for a retelling of the Nativity story written by Tony Jordan.

"Andrew Buchan (Garrow's Law, Cranford), Peter Capaldi (In The Loop, The Thick of It) and rising star Tatiana Maslany (Cra$h & Burn, A Grown Up Movie Star) have been cast in a magical re-telling of the classic Nativity story.

Written by Tony Jordan (Life On Mars, Hustle, EastEnders) for BBC One this Christmas and produced by Red Planet Pictures in association with Kudos through BBC Wales."

See http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2010/04_april/30/nativity.shtml

Should be available on iPlayer as well.

The Daily Express has chimed in already with a quote from the Christian Institute:

http://www.dailyexpress.co.uk/posts/view/218290/Fury-over-BBC-s-Nativity-insult/

Posted by: Kennedy on Monday, 20 December 2010 at 11:07am GMT

I recall still with joy and amusement Eartha Kitt being guest interviewer on Monitor, Huw Weldon's late night show when the BBC still did programmes for thinkers, oh, about 40 years ago. She was interviewing the then controvertial materialist philosopher Freddy Ayer on his atheism and pressing him hard on what he would say on encoutering God after he died."Well", he replied with the customary arrogance of his tribe, "I would demand of Him an explanation as to why He didn't furnish me with proof of His existence while I was alive!".

Posted by: John Waldsax on Monday, 20 December 2010 at 12:00pm GMT

John Waldsax
Is that really an arrogant statement? It strikes me that some people's intellectual and psychological make-up just makes faith extremely difficult for them if not impossible. Just because some of us find it easier doesn't mean that it IS a simple endeavour.

And if someone completely evidence based ever did discover that there is a God, he might well ask why his brain didn't evolve in a way that made faith possible for him and what that says about the power that created him.

I have a lot of sympathy for the question.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 20 December 2010 at 3:57pm GMT

"'Stories' transform. They express. They create."

Amen and amen. Stories are powerful. But some can be verified, some cannot. Some can be falsified. It matters whether a story has any basis in "fact." The stories told about gay people in fundamentalist circles are fervently believed, false, and extremely damaging, for example.

We have the illusion that we see a world outside ourselves, but actually all that we see is inside our heads, interpretations of sensory receptions. Fiction can create worlds as real to our minds as the actual world. Many of us have lived for a time in Middle Earth! (Or Jane Austen's England.) A common criticism of even the most beneficent religious belief is that it trains people to believe without evidence. I'm not saying, Give up your story, or the richness you find in it, -- just, Know that it's a story.

We have two nativity narratives, contradictory, mutually exclusive, fantastic, unattested in history (no Augustan census, e.g.). The "facts" in them matter so little that we can smoosh them together annually in a Sunday school pageant for toddlers. The rest of the New Testament doesn't mention them. Consideration of them can start from there.

Thanks for reigning yourself in when arguing with me, Erika. One does sense your holding back. I can only repeat what I often said to my Baptist mother -- I believe in your experience. Explanations may differ.

Again, I'm not denigrating the power of story. We live in a world of story. We can't remember, communicate, or think without language, which comes out in story (narrative). But part of the story told by religion has often been turned against my kind, used to condemn us as less than human. I'm kind of sensitive to unsupported "belief" at this point.

Posted by: murdoch on Monday, 20 December 2010 at 5:01pm GMT

I read the Daily Express story, thank you Kennedy, and I find all this publicly pious posturing amusing.
Even today, we have men perfectly willing to stone women whose pregnancy cannot be adequately explained to the men, especially if the women are unmarried in the eyes of the men. We have women being executed after being raped because, well, the women must have been immodest. The rapists get a few canings and go home.
We look at the Nativity stories through roughly 1,900 years of religious filtering, through art, written texts and commentaries, beautiful music, and wonderful movies.
IIRC, Mary and Joseph were betrothed but not married when Mary started showing signs of being pregnant. Even Joseph had doubts. Eventually an angel clues Joseph in, but that angel's message is not broadcast very broadly. Judean male social standards towards women 1,900 years ago were rather chauvinist, smug, and proprietary. Mary's pregnancy was bound to be talked about by the local villagers, regardless of where she was, by those who knew her or knew of her. If she said "God caused this", I can only imagine the thoughts the hearers would have had. Remember, four or five months would have passed between obvious signs of her impending motherhood, and heavenly hosts, ecstatic shepherds, wise men bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh rather than blankets, food, and other useful items.
I'm only reading the Express article, but I think certain people need to get over themselves.

Posted by: peterpi on Monday, 20 December 2010 at 5:47pm GMT

John Waldsax, Sir Alfred Jules Ayer was President of the Homosexual Law Reform Society, which campaigned for the equalization of laws for homosexuals. He said, "as a notorious heterosexual I could never be accused of feathering my own nest." For his time this nonbeliever was an exemplary pioneer for LGBT equality, which is more than can be said for many representatives of the established Church of England. (The Quakers and Unitarians were light years ahead of the C of E. and also much more accommodating to nonbelievers.) As a gay man, I am indebted to people who have helped make the world better for sexual minorities whether or not they were Christians.

Liberal Christians, secularists, humanists, and atheists have much in common on social justice issues, much more than they do with fundamentalists and conflicted mainline Protestants.

People of different beliefs and no belief ought to be able to work together on social justice issues.

Gary Paul Gilbert


Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Monday, 20 December 2010 at 6:03pm GMT

Erika,

I don't think you are construing either of these points correctly.

(1) It is logically possible to conceive of people behaving in a certain way without really believing it or without being absolutely committed to it? Happens all the time, I would have said. Apply to Carey. His behaviour looks like straight homophobic or Evangelical can't break free from his premises. In fact, when he says he can conceive of church acceptance, he reveals himself as immediately more complex and of course still unprincipled. But he's not viscerally homophobic. He isn't.

(2)I don't see that you are keeping the conversation going with Pluralist or Murdoch at all. You are confusing things: because you are blurring together all Christian 'myths' as if they were equally useful or defensible. They aren't. I am trying for a bit of clarity and rigour by saying: let's not discuss this (Genesis/Jesus' birth narratives) but discuss things that matter, e.g. the possibility of consciousness independent of materialism.

Posted by: john on Monday, 20 December 2010 at 7:51pm GMT

The point is, Murdoch, that Genesis is belief expressed as story. The creation is not, I believe, INTENDED to be read as history or as science. That fact some mistakenly (in my view) read it in that way does not invalidate what it is trying to say. It is NOT the same thing as presenting as fact something which is an invention. There is nothing at all doubtful or immoral in presenting one's beliefs through the form of poetry or narrative fiction. The problem only arises when somebody, reading, mistakes the intent.

As to the birth narratives, they are not mutually exclusive, in fact they show a considerable and to me impressive overlap, given it is generally agreed the one does not 'know of' the other and vice versa. And I fear as a historian (different period) I am resigned to fact and invention combined on one narrative. If one dismissed all history where belief or mistake coloured accounts and introduced non-facts - there would be little history. Perhaps none.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Monday, 20 December 2010 at 9:17pm GMT

John,
Well, whether Carey is committed to homophobia or just happens to try to ruin gay people's lives out of boredom and just kind of stumbles into these situations is semantics.
Fact is, his involvement is always on the anti-gay side, it is always about not wanting to employ gay people or about not wanting them in your house, and he always shouts that his brand of Christians are being oppressed because they're not allowed to discrimminate against gay people.

He doesn't need to be "viscerally" homophobic, it's enough that he is a practicing homophobe.

As for not having a conversation with Pluralist and Murdoch - you're right. Because neither has replied so I don't know where they would like a potential conversation to go.

My question to Murdoch was truly that, a question, not a statement of my own faith.
What myth does and which myth is powerful or valid in which way could, possibly become a topic to be discussed.

But that wasn't my question. My question was what kind of argument or what potential people who only believe in science might be open to in order to approach the possibility of God. That is the baseline that has to be clarified before any conversation is possible because if the anwer to that is "none", all conversation is closed.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 20 December 2010 at 9:44pm GMT

"I don't like all this talk about 'feeling', 'heart', etc. It's very vulnerable intellectually - and it's the intellectual case for God that's under attack now (as indeed it should be - I have no quarrel with atheists or atheists mouthing off)."

- John, on Monday -

'Heart stuff' is, indeed, very vulnerable intellectually. It does well to remember, though even the apostle Paul (who was a bit of an intellectual, if I have categorised him correctly), when he met the risen Christ (whether in person or in a vision) had his own belief system turned upside-down and inside-out; by what, exactly? - an affective experience of the risen Christ, that's what.

"Where are your wise men (philosophers) now?"
I guess the infinite wisdom of God may be so ineffable that is has to be God-given - rather than ascertained through human thought processes.
And to anyone who really thinks that God can be circumscribed by their own philosophical method doesn't need God anyway. The link to that sort of 'knowledge' - to a Believer - is our common humanity with the Incarnate Word.

I've never gotten over the fact that "God so loved the world....etc"

Happy Christmas All!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 21 December 2010 at 12:53am GMT

Rosemary Hannah, A question about the Succession Narrative (2 Sam 9-20; 1 Kings 1-2): Do you think it possible that its author is none other than the Yahwist? Robert Alter points out that the narratives in Gen 27 and 2 Sam 13:1-22 have the same structure (7 scenes with 2 speakers in each scene, one of whom appears in the following scene; both stories centre on a man in bed) and that the 2 Sam story echoes Gen 39.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Tuesday, 21 December 2010 at 3:22am GMT

"If God has no 'hard' explanatory function within the universe/multiverse, that's very troubling for theists and should be. You have to commit to the proposition of God as ultimate cause"

(Ignoring the "have to" imperative---which naturally gets my dander up!)

This sounds very linear---and very human. Partial. Mortal. Fallible. Limited.

God---if God there be---is necessarily BIGGER than that. (Bigger than Biggest!) Beyond the Beyond. And waaaaaay beyond "hard explanatory...proposition of...ultimate cause."

WHATEVER we can conceive of, ain't God.

...which is why I stick w/ metaphor, analogy, allusion: "Life dies on the cross. For Love." Stuff like that...

Posted by: JCF on Tuesday, 21 December 2010 at 7:25am GMT

First: Re The Augustan Census. There were two.

The first, the actual listing of the Households, in 2 BCE the second, the taxation, some 7 years later, if I remember rightly.

Quirinius, who was promoted between 1 and 2, was responsible for both.

Second: Re Bethroted. The Bethrotal was the l e g a l form in all lands until well after the Gregorian Reforms of the 11th and 12th centuries (in Sweden until 1915/1918).

So, no nonsence about Mary being "unmarried".

The Wedding (the Feast) had not taken place yet, but otherwise Joseph and Mary were m a r r i e d.

The requirement for the Bride to be virgo intacta entered English law in 1753, I have been told.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Tuesday, 21 December 2010 at 7:40am GMT

Dunno Spirit - it is blindly obvious that whoever wrote it, did so with a view to showing Solomon in the the best possible light. David is great - but not TOO great - his failings are there, but not such as to suggest his sons cannot inherit his good qualities. His mother, Bathesheba gets off incredibly lightly. This would be true whatever period it is written in. It is not so much a pro-Davidic document as a pro-Solomonic one.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Tuesday, 21 December 2010 at 11:07pm GMT

That our world, in its imponderable depth and infinite variety, is sustained by and depends on some gracious power and wisdom, which all people call "God," is a truth not formulable in hard scientific categories but that is very persuasive to those who see the world with the eye of poet or philosopher.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Wednesday, 22 December 2010 at 4:37am GMT
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