Saturday, 29 December 2012

opinion at Christmas

The Huffington Post has photographs of Christmas 2012: Celebrations Around The World.

Jim Al-Khalili for The Guardian explains Why this atheist celebrates Christmas.

Linda Woodhead writes for The Observer that A British Christmas has lost faith in rituals, but not religion.

John Dickson writes for ABC Religion and Ethics about A fight they can’t win: The irreligious assault on the historicity of Jesus.

David Pocklington of Law & Religion UK presents this End of Term Quiz.

Cole Moreton for The Telegraph asks What has the Church of England ever done for us?

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 29 December 2012 at 11:00am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

John Dickson's piece was quite disappointing, amounting to a lot of assertions rather than any new arguments to counter the work of people like Dr Robert M. Price.

Posted by: Tom on Saturday, 29 December 2012 at 11:42am GMT

Thanks for the interesting article by John Dickson. His argument is sound and worth making. Most debunkers of the historical Jesus are out of their depth. Nowithstanding, if we are talking about the battle for public opinion, I'm not so certain that popularizers and controversialists are out for the count. We live in an age of conspiracy theorists, reality TV impersonating documentary film producers, and ideologues with blog sites on every virtual street corner.

Of course, the church has few counter measures because scholarship is so little valued in churches. Just look at the opinions being advanced by those opposed to women's ordination. The arguments are based on out dated scholarship, contorted readings of tradition and the rationalization of bias. They share with their historical Jesus debunkers, their opposite pole so to speak, a similar use ( often abuse) of sources and a similar lack of theological and historical method. In the end, the opinion that only the anatomically correct male may be a pastor is not much different from the view that Jesus never existed but Jedi knights are real.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Saturday, 29 December 2012 at 5:29pm GMT

Thanks to HuffPost for the picture of Archbishop Rowan Williams presiding at his final Christmas High Mass at Canterbury Cathedral. This is a reminder of the deeply sacerdotal ministry of a greatly gifted Archbishop. One was always aware of his belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Mass. We will all miss him - not only in the Church of England, but also in this lonely outpost of the ACANZP.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 29 December 2012 at 11:59pm GMT

Dickson spends a lot of words arguing with those who deny that Jesus actually existed. But the reason that people can dispute his (very probable) existence is that we know next to nothing about his actual life. What has come down to us is reconstruction and legend. Paul's (by definition, subjective) visions of a god-man have little connection with Jesus's human life.

One might say that, whatever the truth of Yeshua's actual life and teaching, the person of Jesus revered by Christians is as legendary as Isis and Mithra.

Posted by: murdoch on Sunday, 30 December 2012 at 7:08pm GMT

'In the end, the opinion that only the anatomically correct male may be a pastor is not much different from the view that Jesus never existed but Jedi knights are real.'

I have to say, RG, that this is a grotesquely disproportional equivalence.

Posted by: John on Sunday, 30 December 2012 at 7:21pm GMT

Yes, Fr Ron.

But we are also able to reflect on how deeply gay people were betrayed by him.

It is one of my saddest reflections that our family and the families of gay Anglicans throughout the world have been left poorer in spirit and less safe as a result of his time at Canterbury. All the more bitter as so many expected the opposite outcome.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Sunday, 30 December 2012 at 10:37pm GMT

"We will all miss him" Father Ron Smith

You may, others may not.

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Sunday, 30 December 2012 at 11:46pm GMT

I don't think that is true murdoch. I think we have a pretty coherent picture of what he was like, given that Mark knows nothing of 'Q'. I think we have a coherent picture of a charismatic preacher whose emphasis is on giving forgiveness readily, etc etc. What we do not have is the same level of confidence in individual pericope. Was one little thing said, was one action performed? But the general thrust of his ministry - we have that as confidently as we have most ancient history.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Monday, 31 December 2012 at 8:47am GMT

I am depressed that a man as educated as Jim Al-Khalili thinks the main thrust of the Christian faith is to gain heaven and avoid hell.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Monday, 31 December 2012 at 8:49am GMT

Gaining heaven and avoiding hell are precisely what some Christians believe is the objective of belief. Isn't that what some, particularly evangelicals, mean by 'being saved'. Unfortunately since that is also the noisiest form of Christianity, with clear cut rules and a pantheon of those who won't get there unless they 'repent', it is no wonder that outside observers think that is what we are about. It is, of course, that sort of rule bound religion against which Dawkins and Hitchen rail so much.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Monday, 31 December 2012 at 9:19am GMT

Rosemary, I think the idea that "being saved" means precisely that you end up in heaven not in hell is, sadly, a pretty standard Christian idea.

I was much more struck by Al-Khalili's point that like Christians, atheists can celebrate all that is good about life and humanity at Christmas.
Reality is that Christianity goes much deeper and encompasses the redemption of all that is unspeakably sad and horrible about life and humanity. If it were just a celebration of joy, not one of joy and hope, it would be terribly shallow.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 31 December 2012 at 11:05am GMT

@ Murdoch. One might say that, but if one did, one would be muddying the waters. But you could try and develop that idea into a full blown argument, but you would probably have to use a lot more words to get a hearing from professional historians.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Monday, 31 December 2012 at 2:44pm GMT

@ John, don't think of it as grotesque disproportion, think of it as hyperbole, you know,like the camel through the eye of a needle thing. ( : But, you know what I find grotesque and disproportionate? It's the notion that a person made in God's image cannot excercise the ministry of oversight unless they have a penis.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Monday, 31 December 2012 at 3:56pm GMT

Martin: It is one of my saddest reflections that our family and the families of gay Anglicans throughout the world have been left poorer in spirit and less safe as a result of his [Rowan's] time at Canterbury. All the more bitter as so many expected the opposite outcome.

Yes. Exactly. People need to understand that there are consequences. Real people are poorer in spirit (thank you for that language, Martin), instead of being lifted up. Real people are less safe. They are less safe if they are gay in Uganda, or Matthew Shepherd hanging out with yahoos in Wyoming who have heard from the Archbishop of Canterbury himself that gays are less loved by God. The are less safe if they are LGBT teens being bullied into depression and suicide. They are less safe if they are children who have been thrown out of their homes by unaccepting parents, whose harsh views are affirmed by none other than the "liberal" ABC.

There is a great need for Witness. Otherwise it is all abstract "issues" and open to outrageous sophistry.

Posted by: Cynthia on Monday, 31 December 2012 at 6:14pm GMT

OK, Rod, thanks for response. You presumably know that I am completely in favour of women priests and women bishops but also think that those who can't accept those things need to be given 'space'. I still think that to reduce their arguments (which I do not accept) to the matter of a penis is unjust.

Posted by: John on Monday, 31 December 2012 at 7:33pm GMT

Tks John for your reply. I'm of the opposite opinion. I believe it unjust of the Church to create "space" for those who propose to continue gender discrimnation ordinations. I oppose the use of policies such as "alternative episcopal oversight" or other official "guarantees". Such are funamentally unjust towards women,and continue the church's particpation in the discrimination against women by religion.

I don't accept the reasons offered against ordaining women as serious theological arguments. I understand them as politcal arguments in which one group claims the right to define how others are understood and treated. Hence my rejoinder which, in my view, is not unjust at all, but rather perfectly appropriate politcal sardonicism.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Monday, 31 December 2012 at 10:44pm GMT

Well perhaps those of us who don't believe such stupid things, and all the hymn writers who speak of the pure love of God, together with the more enlightened mystics throughout the ages, had better get ourselves into gear to make a much louder noise. Because I am a Christian because it is a wonderful way to live now. Because I am compelled by love of God and love of my fellow people. Because I am urgent to make this world the place it can and should be. Because being a Christian, following a demanding and sometimes difficult path, is so much the most worthwhile thing I have ever found to do it dwarves other endeavours (enchanting as some of the others are). Because I find God constantly exasperating and delightful, the historical Jesus gripping, and the Holy Spirit quite terrifying, in an adrenaline-junkie way (most of the time - sometimes just terrifying). And it is about time the world heard all this and woke up to what it is missing.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Monday, 31 December 2012 at 10:47pm GMT

@ Rod & John: rather like an astrophysicist, I don't think the concept of "space" should ever be separated from the concept of *time*.

For anti-WO crowd: (defined) Time&Space in a penitentiary (in the *original* sense of the term), Yes. Time&Space to build the Great Wall of Penis (thanks, Rod!)? No.

Posted by: JCF on Tuesday, 1 January 2013 at 12:57am GMT

Not talking any more about/to Rod/JCF (to whom best wishes),

I'm often troubled by some of the 'sophistication' of 'liberal' Christians (currently reading Spufford's 'Unapologetic') and think (through gritted teeth) that 'primitive' Christians often have a much better instinctive grasp of the questions. Forget about hell; forget about traditional conceptions of 'heaven'; it still seems to me that Christianity simply can't make its claims if it doesn't hold out the prospect of an 'afterlife' (form doesn't matter), difficult/impossible as I find it to believe in. At that point (as at many other theological points), one's best bet is Keith Ward, a million times superior as a theologian to RW, Hans Kung, the Pope, or anyone else out there.

Posted by: John on Tuesday, 1 January 2013 at 10:51am GMT

Regarding the opening comment by tom re Dr. Robert Rice, I'm not sure if Dickson had Rice in mind, but writers like Rice provide a valuable contribution to the historical Jesus debate. As in Science, so with history, lack of complete consensus may be a good thing in some instances. However the most valuable contribution of marginal views like those of Rice is that they give other scholars an opportunity to make detailed and well researched rejoinders proving Rice wrong. Rice essentially engages in a kind of apples and oranges argument i.e. lets prove apples don't exist by comparing them to oranges.

A small scale model if you will. One might make a strong argument that the empty tomb story in Mark is a late legend. From Mark to John it evolves over time. Just maybe, as some in the Jesus seminar have suggested, the body was never returned. Such a position on legend and mythology does not obviate the fact of the crucifixion of the historical Jesus. It does nothing to counter Raymond Brown's assertion that the death of Jesus on the cross is historical bedrock.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Tuesday, 1 January 2013 at 6:55pm GMT

"I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." John 16:12

As w/ all the mythos of Jesus Christ, it's *possible* that Christians needed (however many) centuries of seeing that myth as historical fact, before they would be to accept any/all of it as inspired fiction. If it came to that, I think I could *bear* the Story of Jesus being fiction. [That said, I choose to view the Gospel as TRUE, in a way I don't think fiction can ever *quite* be]

Posted by: JCF on Wednesday, 2 January 2013 at 8:19am GMT

@John- I am not arguing that there is no life eternal - but I don't think the thrust of Christian life is or should be about ways to get a ticket there. It is about how and why we live now.

Rod, yes, indeed, that is how the arguments work. Most of the arguments as to how that the proponents of these theories think the conviction arose in the early church that Jesus was alive, tend to rely on a spectacular naivety in the disciples - and (in my view) presuppose an unfamiliarity with death more plausible in OUR time than in THEIRS.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Wednesday, 2 January 2013 at 9:08am GMT

Eternal life is either here and now or it is not eternal - it becomes mere magic immortality.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Thursday, 3 January 2013 at 6:26am GMT

Eternal life is neither here or there .......

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Thursday, 3 January 2013 at 3:12pm GMT

"Eternal life is neither here or there ......."

Which is why it is here and now. :)

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Friday, 4 January 2013 at 4:20am GMT
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