Comments: Saturday opinion columns

Re: Webster's piece - his plea that contradictions learn to live together should be daubed in metre-high letters in many places up and down the AC.

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Saturday, 19 May 2007 at 2:31pm BST

Well I stared for some time at Joseph Ratzinger's book, and rather pleased I did not get it after this review in The Times. In any case, I saw that the end of the book goes on that the Greek philosophical framework was not alien to the historical Jesus, but in taking different meanings of Son of God it encapsulated it perfectly into one precise meaning. And I thought, that's just the point isn't it, it is an alien framework into which is bashed the variety of meanings of different stages still visible in the already Greek gospels and elsewhere in the NT.

It is because of such as the work of Geza Vermes and E P Sanders that we cannot have people like Akinola and others telling us what to believe, and that there is some recognition that there is a growing gap between liturgy, and what it does, and the texts behind and what they point to it full of development.

Ratzinger again turns a culture into an absolute in order to limit the revelation of God and the titles of other members of the Godhead. Odd that, raising human culture to limit transcendence. That is what doctrine does when it is unsupported by present day culture. Islam avoids this by maintaining pure transcendence above any culture, though of course it fixes as absolute a very narrow language of revelation.

Doctrine and dogma do not work anymore, except functioning as an inherited liturgical path. The Christ of faith is an imaginative concept, a reflection back of different times, layer upon layer, much of which perhaps has to be cut through to find something more immediate, demanding, even strange, these derived out of a particular Jewish eschatology.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 19 May 2007 at 2:38pm BST

I always think that it is a good idea to read a book before you start a critique of it and other important but related issues.The problem with some approaches to doctrine and dogma is that the "authors" are determined that they should be the sealed string around their ecclesiastical parcel, that often contains sources that are so ancient and remote that not even their supporters really know what they originally meant. Sadly Christianity is suffering from at least two extremes; the Fundamentalist "gold-edged paper papacy" and a Papacy that has the potential for meeting up with them round the back of the universal Church's toilets!

Posted by Cardinal Wardrobe at Saturday, 19 May 2007 at 6:02pm BST

I'm fascinated by Giles Fraser's conclusion that "the more open a community, the less it looks like a community".

Do we have to / can we learn new ways of defining "community"? Or are we condemned to define ever narrowing circles?
At present, it doesn't even seem to be a value that everyone shares.

Posted by Erika Baker at Saturday, 19 May 2007 at 9:36pm BST

I'd be more impressed by Prof. Vermer's review if he sounded more even handed. Especially when it comes to his distrust of Greek culture, he seems to be bringing personal bias to the texts that may not be entirely appropriate. Consider, all four of the Gospels were written in Greek (as were Paul's letters) and probably written by people who would have been familiar with the assumptions both of Greek culture and of Hebrew culture. Why should we assume that these authors got the story so entirely wrong that we can't use an understanding of the Greek culture of the time to begin to understand who Jesus was?


Posted by Jon at Sunday, 20 May 2007 at 6:41am BST


You might like this article Algemeiner It puts forward an explanation of why the Torah was given to a people living in a bleak desert. It is a similar concept to how you described an Islamic precept.

Basically, God tries to be outside of any one culture so that God is not seen to be only for that one culture. In some ways, Jesus also tried to do this, by referring the Father as a separate and more powerful entity or by dodging compliments.

Which leads us to Giles Fraser's article. God asks us to form communities, but not to see our commmunities as the most godly or only form of godly manifestations. We are to respect our neighbours and listen to them, for their independent experiences can help us learn more about both them, ourselves and God.

This leads to a perennial and difficult struggle. How do we create and maintain our own sense of community, whilst being hospitable and open to others? It is not an easy thing to do. But then God often asks us to do that which is difficult because we learn things that we would not learn otherwise.

For example, living on this plane of existence teaches us about consequence, cause and effect, because things are slowed down enough that we can see correlations that are not seen at faster levels. God does not want the universe expanding so that it no longer exists, that is why it has dark matter that slows things down. Everything has a birth and death, it is the journey in between that is interesting. Just as God uses dark matter to stop the universe exploding and the journey ending, God uses Spirit to act as the brakes on earthly destructive paradigms, so that humanity can continue to live and evolve.

Some angels don't like this, because they want to go back to before the big bang. Ask God to take them home. Some humans don't like this because they want to be consorts and/or emperors of the world. Grow up, such visions are Tower of Babels disaster.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Sunday, 20 May 2007 at 9:11am BST

Because they are not the same, Jon.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Sunday, 20 May 2007 at 1:43pm BST

Thank you Cheryl. I regard the "giving" of the Torah as problematic. The issue here is a series of locals and particulars and how something universal is achieved.

Regarding Judaism as inherited and expressed now, I rather think Rabbi Sacks has it right that Judaism is a particular faith and, with no universal aspirations, can express itself in difference with others and say something (including from bitter experience) about toleration in the world. There may be something expressive about a barren place for a tradition of revelation but it does not make it universal. The article is over the top: the Bible, for example, is as subject to critical methods as a human production as any other book.

Jon's comment raises the local and the international. There were three main cultures in Palestine plus those that travelled and the message of Jesus is part of and embedded in the local culture, even one that had imported some concepts into eschatological Judaism. It is all about the fulfilment of Israel, its perspective, its role and that people. The Greek culture is really outside of his concern, over and above, but it is the passport to travel of any ideological message. The Roman culture was about power but was quite alien.

Translating into another culture involves change, but in addition the main "Lenin" to Jesus's "Marx", Paul, turned the Jesus particularlism of the coming Kingdom, which Paul shared, into a crucifixion-resurrection scheme and accelerated the shift from an exalted human after his death towards a divine character. Particular Jewish Christianity became lost.

I think the Pope is on to something, and it undermines his own argument. It is an argument about culture, but a good interpretive social anthropologist will say that you would have to be immersed in the culture of Yeshua, Jesus, with "thick description", to try to begin to tease out what he meant. Paul was something of the sociological "stranger", and in-between man, but not only did he translate but he altered, and this is the problem. It is only a belief to say that somehow a creed, hundreds of years on and beyond that space, encapsulated what Jesus meant and what those around him understood. I rather think it is one layer after another and another.

Posted by Pluralist at Sunday, 20 May 2007 at 2:34pm BST


I empathise with this sentiment "...the Bible, for example, is as subject to critical methods as a human production as any other book..."

One of the traps that some Jews have fallen into is a ethnocentric belief that God has made them the centre of the universe and/or humanity. The same risks apply to other faiths, including Christianity.

That is one reason that God sends the Jews into exile and/or makes their state's existence perilous. It is to remind them not to become so self-absorbed that they fall into the traps of idolatry, cruelty and/or complacency.

There is a place for souls such as Moses, Abraham and Jesus who are never truly at home within any one people or culture. It is in grappling with what they are and how to interface with them that we find ourselves coming to grips with our deeper relationships with God.

I agree with you about the layers upon layers.

In terms of having Jesus return, he will need to be recognised by all the peoples of all the nations. That means he will have to fix some of moschiach ben David’s errors.

Actually the Shekinah would prefer someone like Abraham, who at least respected women. 2 Samuel 6 highlights the Shekinah’s main grievances. Firstly, the Shekinah was dumped in someone else’s house because she protected her honor, then when David saw that house was being blessed, three months later he opportunistically brought the Ark back into his own home. But then he rebukes Michal’s concern about her honour through her husband’s conduct and deprives her of children by not servicing the anointed wife. Jacob’s sons had more honour when they killed Dinah’s lover (so that she would not be seen as a prostitute), even though Dinah should have been allowed to marry and reconcile those two tribes as her lover had agreed to become Judaic. Further, David showed no empathy or concern for Michal’s feelings, even though she had saved his life at the risk of her own and her father had then turned her into a royal concubine. See 1 Samuel 18:20-28, 1 Samuel 19:9-17, 1 Samuel 25:44 Now, if David had any emotional sense, he would have realised that Michal’s concern over his conduct was a plea to have her own honour restored, but instead David smote her again.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Sunday, 20 May 2007 at 4:48pm BST

One feature explored in linked ekklesia article is the concept of God's presence dwelling with humanity. It is an interesting things in that I have not seen a lot of recent Christian studies asking how or when will God's presence again dwell with us. e.g. Psalm 85:9, David has a vision of God's glory again dwelling with humanity.

I think David’s son, Solomon, realised that the Shekinah’s feelings had been hurt when her anointed one was dismissed so easily and that part of Solomon’s womanising was trying to reassure the Shekinah that he did care about her feelings and want her back (see the references to the sister alluded to in the Song of Songs e.g. 8:8) I think that is also why David was driven out of his home by his son Solomon. Though to commend David, he might have been blind to why he was in trouble but he did continue to sing God’s praises.

Unfortunately Jesus continued the antagonism with the feminine in his dismissive comments about Jerusalem (see Luke 19:40-44). Jesus is quoted elsewhere as saying that he is without a home.

Michal's terse comment would be that be that since David had kept her barren and without a secure home, it would be a shame to deprive him of the opportunity to continue to expose himself to the slave girls in the public square. One of her nick names for moschiach ben David is the wandering minstrel with his bands of merry men.

If David (aka Jesus) really wants to dwell with the glory of God, then he is going to have to start being nice to the feminine. God can not dwell with those that hate God, you will not find the feminine in camps of misogynists. The only females you find amongst misogynists are effectively either slaves or prostitutes.

There are probably some souls who would not like these interpretations. My only comment is that if their interpretations are so fantastic, then why is the world in such a mess? After all, their interpretations haven't brought Jesus back, have they? Maybe rather than trying to destroy that which does not flatter, you might get further if you integrated and learnt to live with paradoxes and pragmatism.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Sunday, 20 May 2007 at 4:58pm BST

A Messianic Jew correspondent regards the Shekinah as a support when walking with the one she calls Jshua. For her Jshua has fulilled the Law in advance. Somehow her tiny group has avoided all the Pauline influences. How far back its members go in unbroken line is hard to say, but their stories do. It is interesting how far this group has fallen out with notions of Israel as presently constituted (how different from fundamentalist and new Messianic Jews that are basically fundamentalist Christians playing Jewish games). They have more time for Islam, especially the mosque as a kind of understood temple, but the Hanzaars of the Second World War (Muslims recruited by the desperate Nazis) became a problem.

I think my approach is somewhat more humanistic than yours Cheryl. What interests me about the group I'm mentioning here is that it does give insight into the early Yehsua without all the Pauline culture, but resulting in a sub-group of Jews or a sub-group of Christians, a kind of in between but authentic.

Posted by Pluralist at Monday, 21 May 2007 at 1:24am BST

Geza Vermes points out the obvious flaws of the Pope's book (already noted by several German-speaking and Brazilian exegetes and by theologian Hermann Haering -- see my review at Vermes does not tackle the question of the Hellenization of the kerygma in his review, but the Pope on the last page of his book does talk as if Nicea were a simple transcription of what Jesus says about himself (taking the discourses of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel as historical -- as Benedict does). I believe in the truth of Nicea, but we must note that the Christians has a lot of trouble fitting their message into the ill-fitting Greek garb. Justin was the first to use classical literary forms, and he was quite clumsy in them (see Overbeck, Die Anfaenge der christlichen Literatur). The obligatory debate with Greek categories such as ousia and hypostasis created one formulation of Christian truth, but Benedict suggests that Greek metaphysics is intrinsic to the expression of Christian truth and is the highest form of reason -- this is very eurocentric.
Jon writes: "I'd be more impressed by Prof. Vermes's review if he sounded more even handed. Especially when it comes to his distrust of Greek culture, he seems to be bringing personal bias to the texts that may not be entirely appropriate."
Note that the studies of Jesus against a Hellenistic background, which the stress on the Jewish background corrects, actually damage Church teaching by making the Jewish Jesus an alien being and by suggesting that Christology is the offshoot of Pagan mysteries. Benedict also tries to present Jesus as Jewish, in dialogue with Jacob Neusner.
" Consider, all four of the Gospels were written in Greek (as were Paul's letters) and probably written by people who would have been familiar with the assumptions both of Greek culture and of Hebrew culture. Why should we assume that these authors got the story so entirely wrong that we can't use an understanding of the Greek culture of the time to begin to understand who Jesus was?"
To begin to understand, sure; Vermes would agree. Hellenistic Judaism is, however, far more useful for understanding Paul, John, Luke than for understanding Jesus of Nazareth in his historical pre-paschal ministry. Closer engagement with less Hellenized Palestinian Judaism and with the local culture of Galilee sheds fresh light on Jesus, and also on Paul.

Posted by Fr Joseph O'Leary at Monday, 21 May 2007 at 7:26am BST


I have never heard of this group.

Biologists would refer to this as possible convergent evolution.

Do you have any links to their websites and/or ideas and/or historical studies?

Sometimes an evolutionary dead end is actually really sensible, it just doesn't survive a more aggressive species.

Maybe that is why God locked away the mother whilst humanity dealt with its transgressions? (Isaiah 50:1)

Personally, I would rather be happily locked away in a box for 1000 years or even 100,000 years rather than watch humanity kill itself due to arrogance, cruelty and complacency. As long as God gives me Sims2 or equivalent, I could be occupied for a few centuries at least.

There's no point being here if humanity and its guardians are not going to listen to good advice.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Monday, 21 May 2007 at 12:00pm BST

There are about 200 self-knowing individuals left in this group called the Kanai. Sophia Siedlberg is making a big effort at recording what it is about. Her thoughts are somewhat from within and sometimes need some sorting out, given the oral and pathcily written transmission of the tradition, so I effectively edited what she wrote for me and from some other of her writings in a number of other places.

Some links then here:

And some textual bits here:

I placed these in Judaism in my Learning - Religion area but it is a problematic placing; furthermore, the Kanai of India are more regularly identifiably Christian.

The issue is, did all the Jewish Christians disappear with the Jewish War, or did some slip away? And if none slipped away, one wonders where a group began that developed a memory that looks like it traces itself back to an attachment to the Jesus that became messiah after his death.

(And the more this is looked at, the more this messiah attribute comes after his death, the moment of he either is or he isn't)

A most recent example of Sophie discussing is here:

Posted by Pluralist at Monday, 21 May 2007 at 2:08pm BST

You have written a substantive review Fr Joseph O'Leary that works reading it on its own terms. It is worth a number of reads.

So how, in the light of all that, do you believe in the truth of Nicea. We know how the Pope does.

Posted by Pluralist at Monday, 21 May 2007 at 2:36pm BST

How do I believe in the truth of Nicea?


Posted by Fr Joseph O'Leary at Tuesday, 22 May 2007 at 4:40am BST


The links are interesting but fragmented. Justice can not be done within the 1 week lifespan of this thread. I am going to permalink this thread and contemplate the material over time. With prayer and meditation, we might see elements come up in further discussions.

Fr Joseph. That was a great posting.

There is a DVD series called "Peter and Paul" where Anthony Hopkins plays Paul which is produced by Vision Video. It is an excellent series and I think gives a good portrayal of Paul the man. It is clear from this series and his writings that Paul found the Greeks fascinating.

One of the underlying tensions in the New Testament is how the fascinations and experiences of the authors affects how and what they valued about Jesus. For example Paul never experienced Jesus in the flesh and was fascinatd by the Greeks. Peter, Mark, Mathew and Luke knew Jesus the man and had a guarded attitude to the Gentiles.

A possible overgeneralisation is that in recent decades there has been a tendency to dismiss the mystic elements within many religions. (What happened to the Sufi's? I miss their open interactions). The hermits, mystics and prophets are God's insurance that core lessons are not forgotten by institutions. They are also a source of renewed insights of the scriptures when the current instutitions and/or paradigms fail or become destructive.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Tuesday, 22 May 2007 at 10:48am BST

Well I warm to much of that writing, but I see it as compromising Nicea, not supporting it. It is not my method: I would not quite play with the language like that myself, wondering what it means.

The first issue is ourselves and what spiritual traditions offer, which is a complex language of means to reflect and consider direction - a pragmatic version of the road to salvation. Traditions offer inherited language, and of course we can add and take away. One tradition offers a path, and a path is a useful discipline, and a discipline is a means to change.

My soteriology here is pretty much Buddhist, but the content would be Christian, in the sense of the immediacy and urgency of Jesus and his ethical reversals. Of course the historical Jesus is hard to get at, but the layers in the text are there. Secondly I go with the eucharistic tradition of material and spiritual gift-exchange as part of the personal and group enrichment on the questioning road ahead. There is a lot of social anthropology and humanism in this.

I just think a lot of the language of Greek philosophy is rather like a think skating rink - good for skating along as part of the process, but stop and it'll crack and you go into very cold water. It is remarkably thin stuff.

In other words, I'll run with Nicea and Chalcedon as means to an end, but stop and there is nothing much there.

Posted by Pluralist at Tuesday, 22 May 2007 at 2:10pm BST

"In other words, I'll run with Nicea and Chalcedon as means to an end, but stop and there is nothing much there."

Very interesting suggestion -- I think we would be in agreement; see

The fetishization of Nicea and Chalcedon is a long story in itself, and would fall under the rubric of "attachment to views".

"I see it as compromising Nicea, not supporting it. It is not my method: I would not quite play with the language like that myself, wondering what it means."

It's enough to say that Nicea and Chalcedon were right and true in their context, and that they challenge us to find their "dynamic equivalent" today. "The divinity of Christ" is a horizon of ultimate meaning that can never be brought into simple focus. When we hear John's Gospel in Church the exalted Christ is speaking to us in the Spirit from the Glory of the Father -- this reality is what is important and the dogmas are only protective fences around it.

Posted by Fr Joseph O'Leary at Wednesday, 23 May 2007 at 4:32am BST

To be honest the angst over the philosophy doesn't worry me. I hadn't even heard of these people.

What I do know from Jewish mythology is that the Shekinah was the higher soul annointed to protect this planet and all its inhabitants whilst many of the other angelic orders went to "better" places.

If you know anything about angelic beings, they can not rest if their core mission is in jeopardy. Nor will they bow down to any humans or other elements who try to destroy that which they have been annointed by God to protect.

If God didn't want the Shekinah protecting the earth at this time, then God would not have allowed Gaia and the Shekinah to give so many signs as to who they chose as their advocate.

Jesus acknowledged the Daughter of Zion coming into Jerusalem, thus her orders to protect this planet have not been rescinded. Jesus also promised gentleness, so her hopes for a time of peace without tyranny have been affirmed.

Any souls who seek to desecrate this planet, tyrannise its occupants or justify their complacency have the contempt of the Daughter of Zion.

There is a scene in the movie "Two Weeks Notice" where Sandra Bulloch's character expresses her disappointment that "George" had the potential to do great things but had capitulated to peer pressure and complacent opportunism.

Sometimes in marriages the spouses need to be reminded of what each of them brought to the marriage. Someone who marries in and finds themselves treated by respect and reverence can forget that some of that treatment comes not from their own merit but out of respect for who is their marriage partner. It doesn't hurt every so often to be reminded that bonds of affection run deeper than bullying, and that friends will do unsolicited things to demonstrate their loyalty. It can sometimes be enough to bring a recalcitrant spouse back to their senses.

If Gaia and the Shekinah are not worthy enough, we don't mind if there is divorce. Just stop trying to annihilate a planet because you are not winning the arguments.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Wednesday, 23 May 2007 at 11:35pm BST


Actually Luke did not meet Jesus in the flesh. Many believe he was converted by Paul shortly after the Council of Jerusalem while Paul was in the Phrygian region.

Paul did have a resurrection encounter with Jesus.

Posted by Chris at Wednesday, 23 May 2007 at 11:55pm BST

_When we hear John's Gospel in Church the exalted Christ is speaking to us in the Spirit from the Glory of the Father -- this reality is what is important and the dogmas are only protective fences around it._

Well the Christ of that gospel's expression. Same? The protective fences have a few holes in them.

The Church in Wales has an interesting alternative response following Old and New Testament readings: Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church - Thanks be to God. I rather like that as an alternative to the awkward This is the word of the Lord - Thanks be to God.

Posted by Pluralist at Thursday, 24 May 2007 at 3:08am BST

Hi David R

Contradictions should learn to live together? Sounds great, until you think about it. By your argument, those who approve sin and those who do not should simply (and freudianly) 'learn to live together'. Those who believe lies are better than truth and those who believe the reverse should 'learn to live together'. Community is everything; truth is nothing.


Posted by Christopher Shell at Thursday, 24 May 2007 at 2:06pm BST

I don't know anyone who approves sin and who believes lies are better than truth.

But I do know a lot of people who genuinely have a different definition of sin (like you do, from my point of view), and who believe that their view is right. I don't have to share your views in order to accept that they are your sincerely held beliefs.

I can happily live side by side with you, as long as you do me the courtesy not to accuse me of deliberate sin and intentional lying.

Community is very much, humility is everything.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 24 May 2007 at 4:08pm BST

Erika says "But I do know a lot of people who genuinely have a different definition of sin..."

That's the point Erika!
The only definition which matters is that of God.
You and your mates declaring holy what he calls sin is not credible.

Posted by NP at Thursday, 24 May 2007 at 6:01pm BST

The point, NP, is that I believe that God's view of sin is not the same as the evangelical view of sin.

That may make me wrong in your eyes, I can live with that.

What I object to is being called a liar and someone who does not value truth.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 24 May 2007 at 7:56pm BST

But isn't the point, NP, that we should all seek to align ourselves with GOD's definition.

But the other part of that point, NP, is that honest and faithful persons seeking to discern God's will may come to different conclusions.

At least, that's what used to happen amongst Anglicans. People would come to different conclusions and then argue about it in the pages of the Times - or perhaps the Church Times.

No longer, if you and the Prince Bishop of Abuja get your way. Then we'll have the Primate of All Nigeria telling us exactly what God thinks - and dissent at your peril.

Posted by Malcolm French+ at Thursday, 24 May 2007 at 8:02pm BST

One of my nicer lines in the last few days in a homily was to point out the importance of having a SD/confessor/soul friend: their function being (among other things) to help distinguish between what God is saying and what David Rowett WANTS God to say.

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Thursday, 24 May 2007 at 11:57pm BST

that depends on how mature you are in selecting your Spiritual Gude and your willingness to be open to guidance!

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 25 May 2007 at 9:25am BST

My original point was misunderstood. Sin and lies were just two examples I plucked out of the blue - I could just as easily have said murder or oppression of the poor.

What were they examples of? They were examples that demonstrated that the principle 'contradictions must live together' doesn't always work, and that it is puzzling why anyone should make such a generalisation if they were not an out and out unthinking pluralist.

The examples I chose were not necessarily relevant to the present case. But here is one that may be:
Supposing three people disagree about something. Some people will assume that all three hold an equally worthwhile view. Even that there is equal evidence for the views of all three. What an odd thing to assume. It may be, for example, that person A believes something because that is where the evidence has led him/her; B claims to believe it because of his/her instincts; and C claims to believe it because of what s/he can gain out of it. There is nothing equal about A, B and C.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Friday, 25 May 2007 at 2:14pm BST


OK, so we all agree that criminal and law abiding people cannot always live side by side.

You seem to believe there is only one objective truth and that all those who don't see it are deliberately on the wrong side of the law.

What I am talking about is different people genuinely trying to follow Christ, but having different ways of doing that.

That each thinks the other is "wrong" (I'd prefer the term misguided), is obvious. That one defames the other as being so immoral that they can't live side by side is at the very least a lack of humility.

Or was your post about contradictions living together not aimed at the current religious disputes but only a general kind of observation?

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 25 May 2007 at 2:37pm BST
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