Comments: two Tablet lectures

Thanks much for the James Alison talk. He is so clear and yet so well-read and all so exciting to read, all that the same time. I shall never be able to think or write like that, certainly. But everybody needs the better models they can find, whether or not they immediately stretch to live up to them.

One of the wonderful things about Alison's method is that he can draw upon what we tend to call both catholic and reform insights, all to renew our understandings of Spirit and Sign.

Just love that passing remark: We are not a people of the book. We are a people of Spirit and Sign.

Posted by drdanfee at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 2:08am GMT

I warmed to its moderation and even its confidence when considering secularity.

Posted by Pluralist at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 2:40pm GMT

James Alison's piece is excellent. He faces up to "...the universality of the human tendency to scapegoat and sacrifice, text and law will merely create new forms of sacred as you impose them on others, and become much more tough, rigorous and likely to sacrifice those who fall foul of them."

He later comments that "...Faith is not a rival sacrificial system among many. It is the undoing from within of all sacrificial systems wherever they may be."

And these comments from his concluding paragraphy apply to much of the Anglican debate right now. "The normal results of the undoing of a scapegoating culture, or of a system of goodness, is wrath, anger, and violence out of control, because the fragile bulwarks which held that society together have been undone, and there is less and less belief in the authentic "sacredness" of whatever might put them together again. In the midst of this, the slow, patient forging of holy desire, and the intermediary, negotiable institutions which encourage peace and foment flourishing, is very difficult, and very fragile. We are quite extraordinarily lucky to find ourselves on the inside of the Happening. The Catholic Faith enables us to navigate the wrath which is produced as sacred structures and boundaries collapse from within and a new creation emerges."

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 8:36pm GMT

Thanks too to Aidan O'Neill for working so hard in such meaty detail to present just how the current trends in Roman Catholic thinking are misconstruing things like democracy, secularity, and a few other things that are said to be beyond the Vatican's pale.

Posted by drdanfee at Wednesday, 3 January 2007 at 4:56am GMT

I, too, found the phrase, "We are not a people of the book. We are a people of Spirit and Sign," especially valuable. The reference is, of course, to Islam which connects Judaism, Christianity and itself together as "People of the Book." The over-eagerness to adopt this designation so as to create a faux-brotherhood with Muslims is to be resisted. There is a very different dynamic with "the Book" in Christianity and Islam. Alison's pock-marked barn is more like the Bible than Mohammed's Quran.

Posted by Doug Taylor-Weiss at Wednesday, 3 January 2007 at 1:26pm GMT

Of course Islam refers to Jews & Christians as "People of the Book" not because Jews & Christians worship their Holy Book(s) but because our faiths are named (& acknowledged) in Islam's Holy Book.

(But I assume you all knew that).

Alison is an excellent speaker as well as a writer -- we have had him at our monastery -- I highly recommend his work (although I do not concur with the necessity of submission to the Holy See).

Posted by Prior Aelred at Thursday, 4 January 2007 at 12:15am GMT

I have heard of Christians who do not read the Old Testament (which is different from the original Torah anyway). In fact this
forum had a discussion a little while ago where some claimed that the OT was superceded by the NT. My rebuke at the time is that Jesus came from and needed to be consistent with the OT or he did not come from the biblical God.

Mohammad was trying to get past a theological impasse in his time. A balancing counterweight was required to slow down Christianity's violent extreme. An attempt to have a "fresh start"
needed to be tried to see if a new book would avoid the problems of abuse that both Jews and Christians had made.

History shows us that a new book did not solve those problems. That is where James Alison's
paper is spot on. Any book can be twisted. In Rabbi Lerner's book "The Left Hand of God"m he comments how the bible's triumphant victorious passages can be co-opted. The point he
makes is that when you read those passages they are usually in the context of a mistreated and oppressed people being liberated from

What happens is bullies those same passages as an affirmation. Whereas if they took a step back, they would realise what they thought was a compliment is actually a promise to the oppressing and a rebuke to the bullies. e.g. Habbakuk "I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not
their own. They are a feared and dreaded people;they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor."

This could describe a nation that intervenes in other nations affairs to protect their own interests, either covertly or overtly. A nation that disregards justice for the poor, protection of women's wombs, the safety of children,
destroys others' infrastructure and creation itself simply to perpetuate its short term interests.

Such a nation is not a nation desired by God but being used by God to teach humanity a lesson.
Well the lesson has truly been learnt, now the challenge is to get the Babylonians to repent. Then we can work on getting the counterweight to
also repent. Otherwise the whole planet is going to end up looking like Israel and Palestine. Who wants that? Not I.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Thursday, 4 January 2007 at 10:32am GMT

Cheryl the link to the Tikkun site and the Network of spiritual Progressives is very interesting and encouraging to me in UK. I am in awe of all the energy and creativity expressed in america.

I particularly enjoyed 'Abraham Joshua Heschel: A Still Relevant Theological Voice' and hope others here,may get a chance to read it.
best wishes

Posted by laurence at Sunday, 7 January 2007 at 10:30pm GMT
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