Comments: Saturday newspapers

An answer to Theo Hobson goes something like this. Faiths that are built on an identity have to base them around some feature. You can have a faith of a people, like Judaism, or a faith of a geographical area, like Hinduism, or a faith of a path travelled, like Buddhism, or of a tribe (made into everyone) like Islam.

Christianity in universalising a faith of a people that in the face of universalising needs written definition, and even if it is seen as a faith of a person (Christ) that person can die (crucifixion) and can relived dissolve into the world (incarnation). So if it does not fix matters somewhere, then it risks its own loss on several of its own theological models.

To some extent it should, and it should not idolise its scriptures or texts made at any point. But even with loss, the liturgical aspect is going to be a point of conservatism.

I've been part of an institution that has had no creeds. The Unitarians started as Presbyterian Puritanism where the Bible was believed reliable and trust deeds assumed a trinitarian God. There was no certainty in the Bible, and Christian doctrines were dropped; until recent times the culture upheld its minimal Christian identity. Now, if wanted, that identity has to be worked at, and maintained as a performance - and is often dropped.

Even where it wants to be religious at all, it has to draw on museums of old language, reinvent traditions and find repetitive forms. If there is going to be a pattern of reflection, a kind of guide through life by which to reorientate the self, then there has to be some sort of maintenance, and richer worship requires either more maintenance or more effort at reconstructions.

So we deal with inherited forms, but perhaps should realise that this is what they are.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 3 March 2007 at 3:29pm GMT

Aside from the inane association of Caravaggio with evil...

It's nice to read an an artist's view of the relationship between their art and faith.

I find most of his denials unnecessary. I can't think of ever coming across ideas that how much you pray or are 'good' have any bearing on creativity for a person with faith.

Similarly, I really don't feel thoughts about direct movement of the hand or mind by God are common thing for most believing artists.

Personally, I feel it is a sort of partnership. Me the blind fool stumbling about in the dark woods, and the Lord occasionally saying 'look over here', and 'see? remember this?', 'might this remind you of something?', 'stop drinking yourself into a stupor you fat old queen', 'oh, okay for now. But we need to sort that out', 'come on, lets go walk about, lets give you some reassuring synchronicity to comfort you in your new-creation-drama', 'hey, wouldn't that be cool' and so on.

I feel as though I'm given some opportunities, some experiences, some understandings, and the ability to take them and run with them, with help. For me there is an intense faith thing with it that puts me to shame. I doubt 98 per cent. So God let's me have lots of 'quiet time'. Then I get a hand-on-hip moment that says, 'okay, here's your bit of reality again... where have you been... why have you been wasting again.'

But then, Hough is already an established professional, and I'm as yet unpublished - so maybe that's why my experience is so different.

But his sense of the faith/art thing is ultimately too alien to be explained just by that, I feel. There are just a few snippets relating to mistakes and self-esteem that begin to seem familiar, but that's about it.

Posted by matthew hunt at Saturday, 3 March 2007 at 3:46pm GMT

The simple answer to the dilemma of inside church or outside is: Real World. If the church were thoroughly, nothing but its most erroneous ways and preachments - if individuals and small daily groups of us could actually forgo institutional and public life in a complexly organized culture; then surely we could at least reject the worst of church life, or even do without bothersome and fallible social institutions completely. We can find great folly and meanness in institutions of church life, yes, and probably also in every other example of all other social institutions. Look at the failings of democracy. Yet to throw in the towel is hardly a real option?

The struggle is, institutionally, to live the church into being a responsible member of modern global life. Huge, huge task. By its innately conservative institutional procedures, enacted via its typical structures or processes of internal authority, the church is designed not to move off any dime, ever. If this were not so, the Archdiocese of Boston probably would never have tolerated, let alone covered up, the sexual abuse of so many, many, many of its parishioners children. TEC, a sort of cinderella to the big sisters of the realignment, was founded as a more democratic church life experiment; and we all know what orthodox Anglicans are saying about her. At the very least, she deserves to sit in ashes and soot until Bishop Minns and Bishop Duncan give the relenting word that allows her to move on to shine their boots in preparation for the next Lambeth.

Posted by drdanfee at Saturday, 3 March 2007 at 3:47pm GMT

This rather reminds me of really old law and medicine, say. Until the empirical revolutions really got a good grip, and medicine had to keep up with change, because the arts of healing apart from the tested sciences of knowing are sheer folly and nothing but folkways and guesswork.

If the old medicine as a range of institutions could be reformed - and keeping things changing for the better is rather a daily task, never absolutely finished because what we know, and know we know, changes weekly if not daily in some domains - sure we may have hope for muddling through with other social institutions. Even, including our church life, institutionally.

Wishing away institutions, because at their worst they dminish us all, is rather like trying to wish away the dark and power-mad hungers in ourselves. We are institutions, and so we hold them accountable for learning, changing, growing - just as we pretty much in pilgrimage and repentance hold ourselves accountable for learning, changing, growing. Nowadays, orthodox believers often preach as if they had a magic way to do away with sex and embodiment, by ignoring it, punishing it, and letting it die the slow, leisurely deaths of authoritarian marriages where the partners are trapped, no matter what. The folly of that wish is obvious. Atheists sometimes speak as if belief in God were the root of all evil, when in fact, it depends. Meanwhile, if you have met and follow Jesus, you are not asked to stop - just because the world is needy, deadly, mean, or narrow-minded, inside and outside of our church life.

Posted by drdanfee at Saturday, 3 March 2007 at 3:49pm GMT

"Love is a verb".

Love is many faceted. It is loving to recognise that the world is unsafe and that your children need to be able to recognise and avoid excessive risk. But conversely it is loving to let them challenge themselves and discover that they can survive. A child raised without any risks becomes incapable of responding to ensure their survival when they are confronted with risks. Conversely, a child needs to be weaned into risks and not left out on the streets while they are still in nappies.

God has a vision of love, it is a vision that leads to peace, justice for all, decency in public and private behaviour, compassion and inclusiveness.

Humans are social animals, by their very nature they coalesce into societal structures. Whether that be government, church, community group, family networks, support groups.

The role of prophecy is not to preach to the converted, it is to reach those who would not otherwise contemplate God's visions and hope. A prophet hopes that they will inspire others towards taking up the bible and its values to make the world a better place. A prophet hopes that the church will look beyond vengeance and self-justification to the difficult but more necessary "behind the scenes" implications of God's theology. A prophet knows that a church that understands how Auswitczh evolved is more likely to be able to prevent it happening again. A prophet knows that a church that is blind to its own internally hateful paradigms is incapable of preventing it recurring again.

Isaiah 45:19-25 God does not speak in secret from a distant place of darkness. God again and again heralds what is required. Zechariah 7:9-14 God tells us that true justice is required, and that if we do not heed God's call for compassion and mercy, then we ourseves make the world desolate.

A healthy church would respond to the claim that soft liberals made Hitler possible with the comment that excessive need to please authority figures and to be submissive made Hitler possible. Being a prophet means speaking out against injustice and cruelty, no matter which authority figure is sprucking it - whether it be a military dictator, a cruel church, or a rogue state.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Saturday, 3 March 2007 at 8:38pm GMT

There is nothing in Predergast's discussion of skills and attitudes (by which he seems to actually mean, values or centers of value) in connection with growthful and successful marriages that cannot also apply to committed and communally supported same sex relationships. Ditto, for parenting. The skills and attitudes of effective parenting in support of a thriving child, within wide leeway parameters in various cultural contexts, remain much the same whether the parent is one single mom or dad, or two men or two women, or an opposite sex couple.

The hidden, big contemporary shift is from authoritarian and patriarchal legacies, to equality and collaboration and mutualities. Thus in parenting literatures, we have clearly shifted from parents always know best no matter what because God has made them parents, to parents should know (and do?) in general the sorts of things which are actually good for children.

The more conservatives preach this sort of thing which supposedly only applies to them as God's special, exclusive exemplars; the more the rest of us muse on the hidden, more generalized lessons.

Posted by drdanfee at Sunday, 4 March 2007 at 1:59am GMT

Re the discussion of whether the "institutional church" is needed--it depends what you mean by the "institutional church."

If you mean an institution devoted to establishing and promulgating doctrine, and teaching faith and morals, of course not. We're literate, we have bookstores, libraries and internet access, we can go to lectures, take courses and figure out these matters for ourselves. That's just good old Protestantism: we can read the Bible, and these days, much, much more, and figure it out for ourselves.

If you mean an institution to maintain buildings, conduct services, employ priests, musicians and support staff, advertise, and raise money to pay for it, of course it's needed. It's not feasible for part-time volunteers to do this anymore than it's feasible for part-time volunteers to run museums, libraries or other public amenities.

I've always been curious about what people mean when they repudiate "the institutional church" or "organized religion." Are they rejecting the idea of the church as a teaching institution, establishing and promulgating doctrine? Or do they not like the buildings and services because they have some vision of small groups meeting in peoples houses to sing Cumbayah or individuals finding God on the golf course?

Posted by H. E. Baber at Sunday, 4 March 2007 at 3:46am GMT

Re: the institutional church: Terry Pratchett pointed out that the natural size of a coven is one.

A faith based on encountering The Other needs to find ways to ensure that its adherents also Encounter Others, hold collective memories and so on, simply to counter the centripetal tendencies of people.

Posted by mynsterpreost at Sunday, 4 March 2007 at 9:06am GMT


I agree with most of your comments about raising children. I would caution that an excessive liberalism in raising a child can be fatal. A toddler does not need to experience or being run over to learn those lessons, it is reasonable for them to to trust their parents that they should stay away from sharps, heights, roads and chemicals.

What happens with some parens, however, is that they do not have a weaning model of parenting that allows their children to develop their own risk assessment and decision making commensurate with their development. It is never comfortable, you will always end up comforting a child, at times frustrated that you have precluded them an event (e.g. a dubiously unsupervised disco) or tears of pain when something backfires on them (e.g. an attempts to make friends with someone who is unkind leads to a public humiliation).

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Sunday, 4 March 2007 at 7:52pm GMT

On the comments of what is the "institutional" church. The buildings and infrastructure are a legacy of what has been, it can be nice to leave them intact for sentimental reasons.

What is important about a church (or any religious community) is how it affects its own members and they affect the broader community. Does the religious community bring people into a closer relationship with God? Does the community help people make wiser decisions? Does the community take responsibility for how they impact on the broader society?

I also want to add: "Does the church keep Jesus accountable for honoring his covenant with God?"

That sounds like a weird question but I heard a sermon yesterday that the most important thing is promoting and affirming Jesus' name. The preacher actually criticised those parishes that have an emphasis on helping the poor or the environment as distracting people away from this core mission.

I found myself very uncomfortable until I realised that they had forgotten to look up what Jesus as the Messiah is meant to fulfill.

I contemplated that there is a big picture pattern that has been forgotten. The OT describes what God would like from the annointed high priest. Jesus' life ministry was like his election speech to convince God that he was a worthy candidate. He was even lobbying the Daughter of Zion as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (promising gentlenss). The scene in the Mount of Olives was like Jesus asking "Well, how about me? Do I pass?"

God's consent was based on Jesus' life ministry and public words, and their consistency with being able to fulfill and honor the OT visions and hopes.

Jesus' annointment was not meant to be "Oh, now I am King, you can worship me, and all is cool." There's actually a job description of what the Messiah is meant to fulfill and who the Messiah is meant to protect.

God needs churches that will love Jesus in a way that ensures his professional conduct honors God. Similarly, our churches are accountable for making sure they understand and honor the requirements that are their obligations as Jesus' acolytes.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Sunday, 4 March 2007 at 8:14pm GMT
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