Comments: Saturday columns of opinion

Times Online refers to a Notification of the Roman Catholic hierarchy against Jon Sobrino, and lack of trust between bishops and theologians.

In a church group last week I mentioned the five main sociological models of authority, the "classical" being: the charismatic, of a magnetic individual drawing authority, like Lenin, Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi; of traditional authority, a sacred system as in threefold ministry or monasteries; bureaucratic authority, which is fitting the office by rational selection to do a rational task, as in Synod and all these reports; but then systemic authority, of experts within the organisation, and such is with theologians that are at some variance from creeds; and then human relations authority, based on work teams, but here about groups who form and decide their beliefs.

The Roman Church has shown a combination of traditional and bureaucratic authority (in its rationality) in attacking systemic authority.

The same tendency is creeping into Anglicanism. The Archbishop of Canterbury has substituted traditional and bureaucratic authority against his own previous systemic output; and now there is talk of hermeneutics done at Communion level. Would such overule theologian experts elsewhere?

One of the contemporary systemic challengers has been Don Cupitt, who receives a very feeble if warm review in this Church Times. I have done a review of The Old Creed and The New, going into the next Faith and Freedom (Unitarian related academic level magazine), also at (my website). The main point missed in the CT is that Don has now abandoned "heterological language" of inherited Christianity for a more direct "autological language", and states that his critics were right all along. Here I depart from Don. His challenge is accompanied by the Sea of Faith movement of human relations authority. Don has written with clarity about Jesus too - - but despite SoF has been left alone. But contrast with the attacks on John Spong.

If the Anglican communion does split, I'd want to be in the part that values systemic authority and not centralisation. It's about research, after all.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 17 March 2007 at 8:28pm GMT

This is another excellent write up on the Templeton Prize winner, it expands a bit more on how his thinking can help both the religious and secular worlds and is worth a read

Giles Fraser's article was excellent. His consideration of "freedom from" and "freedom to" is pertinent. In fact, this weekend I've been thinking how people seem to think that wealth/status/intelligence/righteousness gives them the freedom to do whatever they want. When There seems to be a romanticisation that "successful" characters can to whatever they want to whomever they want whenever they want. We talk of "the secret" of success and making manifest whatever we want.

But the underlying question of the morality is forgotten. There is a difference between "can" and "should". Just because you can out think someone does not mean you should use that to steal or humiliate them. Just because you can go to war does not mean you should resort to violence.

Look at God, God has the power to wipe us out in an instant (God did it to Sodom and Gomorrah), but God doesn't. God understands the difference between can and should. Look to whom God gives power, God gives power to those who refrain from using it. It is the opposite of human instinct, humans think that the most powerful are those who can and do use the most force. Real power is knowing that you have the capacity to do something but choosing to not use it.

I've been thinking about game theory the last few weeks myself. If someone were to ask me what is the best hope for survival of humanity and/or the states of Israel or Palestine, the only answer is the fear of God. If the muslims to not fear God, if the jews do not fear God, if the christians do not fear God; then peace is not possible. It is the fear of God that will enable all parties to realise that all their futures are intertwined with the other and that God will not allow any one faith or sect to survive if it attempts to eliminate another faith or sect.

The age of tribalism is past. We are now completely interdependent and no one group can survive without the other. To quote a Texas billboard "Don't make me come down there - God".

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Sunday, 18 March 2007 at 5:36am GMT

On the changing swings of who is or is not endorsed by religious leaders. It has been rather amusing to watch souls swinging one way and then the other. It's one of the ways I know that we are dealing with God. Only God is clever enough to make it that no matter what we do, God wins the point.

The only explanation for there being consistently so many breakthroughs of such magnitude on so many fronts in such a short time frame is that God is on the move. No one else could cause this much uproar.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Sunday, 18 March 2007 at 5:51am GMT

I very much like your reflection, but please explain what you mean by "fearing" God. It strikes me that those who are rooted in fear, not loving trust, are the ones who become rigid and need tight rules as security blankets for themselves. The rules become a kind of insurance: If I obey this, then I'll be alright. This later extends to: If I allow someone else not to obey this and that someone believes they are alright too, then that leaves me with the awful possibility that my rules are not as secure as I need them to be. So I have to work even harder to impose my rules on everyone else, just to keep myself safe.

Freedom and responsibility - the jewels of Christianity. But so so scary and requiring a deep acceptance of being loved and safe before God. Otherwise the risk is just too great.

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 18 March 2007 at 8:57am GMT


One of the hopes of a "slam dunk" prophet is that God had moved enough e.g. tsunami, katrina, pakistan quake, wilma/alpha/nor'easter etc that people would wake up and realise that human endeavours are paltry compared to God's power if God decides to move.

The problem at the moment is that so many souls are so passionate that they must "win" that they are going to ridiculous lengths to "gain control". Attempted genocide (physical or cultural) is not healthy nor from God. But some souls are so convinced that if they do not destroy "the other" that "the other" will destroy them. They are irrationally angry and fearful.

The only thing that I can see that can "circuit break" some of the major conflicts that have gotten ridiculously out of hand is for them to wake up and realise that they are out of favour with God and the only solution is to start trying to work with their enemies rather than trying to destroy them.

The feminine side of God is really pissed off. The wives don't care if their "husbands" have been given a promotion nor how many disciples they have. They have been ignored, neglected and abused for centuries.

To put it in human terms. Your husband hasn't civilly talked to you for centuries. Done nothing for your birthday or wedding anniversary. When asked, he explains because it is because he is too preoccupied with his job. The husband then comes bouncing home all excited about his latest promotion. Do you think his wife gives a toss about his promotion? Her opinion is that he can shove his promotion in the same place he shoved his "presents" for the last few centuries.

Tithes and tributes mean nothing when people are starving or dying in stupid posturing conflicts. They haven't impressed God, in fact, they have earnt God's contempt.

No point pleading to God to "make it all better" for them. They wanted to ignore their wives' feelings and desecrate everything they touched? Fine. They made the mess. They can clean it up and explain to their children how it got to be this filthy in the first place. (And maybe, at least this once, they could try some honesty about their own culpibility).

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Sunday, 18 March 2007 at 9:39pm GMT

I know that husband very well, I was married to him. Although being a real person he was more complex than your sketch. And I know that all the apparent coldness, callousness and disregard for others was due to an utter inability to look at anything other than external success - because the internal was a desert. Condemnation isn't the answer, parental condemnation is what contributed to the problem in the first place. If God's love had been able to break through and show that self-knowledge is scary but possible when you're held in love, real growth and real self love could have developed. Only then is it possible to love your neighbour as yourself.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 19 March 2007 at 8:19am GMT

I am sure we shall all continue to read and reflect on Sobrino's Christology at the Crossroads for a long time to come. I think the CDF's stance shows that neither he nor the so-called faithful--actually intelligent agents in the world-- can be stopped from thinking, reflecting and acting.
At least they waited until Tony DeMello had died before trying to shaft him--and how pissed off I was to be given one of his boks with a Jo Ratzinger looseleaf 'spiritual health warning'inserted.

The great thing is neither Ratzinger nor the religious conseratives can win this war. Would that they had nver sought to turn spiritual, intellectual and apostolate activity into a battle ground in the first palce, with threats and bullying

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Monday, 19 March 2007 at 1:50pm GMT


That was a beautiful posting.

God gets so frustrated that souls will not "soften" and get past fear and violence mongering.

God loves to be the compassionate parent but there are times when the children are being so obstinate and naughty that the only thing that will stop their shenanigans is hard love. Big parent walking into a melee with a whistle and yelling "Stop! Look at what you're doing!" Sometimes they need to be put on the "naughty chairs" for a "time out" because they are so hyped up from their games that they can not stop until the adrenaline fades away.

At a civic level, that is what we see when we see "tit for tat" gang behaviour. If you can think of any other way to stop these various gangs of hoodlums destroying whole cities and nations just to prove they are top dog, let me know. But I haven't seen another solution yet, this problem has been going on for centuries.

And, please, don't blame Eve for this mess. She shut up for 2000 years, as told so that the men could get it right. If submissive women were going to solve this world's problems, it should have been sorted out centuries ago. So, if they can't sort it out by subjegating and beating women, maybe they might like to try and cooperate with us.

I find Hosea 11 quite inspiring in this regard e.g. "I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them... My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man— the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath. They will follow the LORD; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling..."

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Monday, 19 March 2007 at 8:55pm GMT

If I knew the answer I'd still be married!

Or better - if the only answer, persistent love and individual attention, forgiveness, care, compassion and more love worked for everyone, God's Kingdom would already have arrived.

The "time out", the "naughty chair", they all have their place, but it depends on who uses them, how and why. If you put a child on there to teach them a lesson, to humilitate, to punish... then you create a child in your own image.

If you put them there to have true time out before you take even more time to talk, to explain, to forgive and to love... then you stand a chance that the child may turn into a truly loving adult.

And of course, if you don't learn as a child you almost never learn as an adult.

But I sigh with you. Too many sufferers, too few who truly know how to love. And God's voice still too small for those who don't want to hear.

The answer is still the same, though - love. It's truly all there is.

But don't ever equate love to submission!! Eve was submissive for many many reasons, love was rarely one of them.
True love is brave, daring, challenging, scary, demanding and giving vulnerability . Considered foolish by the world, yet the only thing there is. True love is hard for the one who loves - it brings ridicule, resistance, hatred. To Jesus it brought death.
To the world it looks foolish. To the lover it is the most dangerous call.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 19 March 2007 at 10:13pm GMT

Thanks for this discussion.

You may enjoy Daphne Hampson's work --especially some chapters of After Christianity.

She deals with patriarchy and then having cleared the decks, with spirituality and spiritual practice in our age....

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Tuesday, 20 March 2007 at 4:55pm GMT
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