Comments: Start the new Decade with a bit of Both/And

Thank you, Alan Wilson for your willingness to link all forms of anti-Semitism. Bravo! Religious anti-Semitism led to secular anti-Semitism led to the death camps.
It's also amazing how many alleged Christians I meet who insist Jesus of Nazareth wasn't Jewish. I'll guarantee you he wasn't Christian, and I mean no offense. But, whatever he may or may not have thought of himself, he didn't worship himself. The Gospels are filled with examples of Jesus' devout observance of Judaism.
Sadly though, at least in the US, the Feast of the Circumcision is becoming the Feast of the Holy Name. One more link broken.

Posted by peterpi at Friday, 1 January 2010 at 5:01am GMT

If you were a Roman Catholic, like R.I.W., you would have been celebrating neither the Holy Name of Jesus nor the Feast of the Circumcision but a Solemnity of Our Lady. We, this morning in my parish in N.Z. celebrated all three at once. So, not just one or two, but three celebrations in one day.

I wonder whether the circumcision bit was more to do with personal hygiene for males than a plan by God to disfigure little boys? Oops! However, I have been asked, as a priest, whether it might be necessary for adult converts to Christianity to submit to a very painful operation in order to replicate the experience of Jesus to be *kosher*

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 1 January 2010 at 9:41am GMT

"God gave circumcision as a sign of his favour towards his people, their specialness (to use a rather cheesy term) and their identity. It was a way of personalising their belonging and identity by expressing it in an individual’s flesh."
What about the women?

Posted by Frances at Friday, 1 January 2010 at 10:15am GMT

From what I remember of undergraduate researches some 40+ years ago, the likelihood is that circumcision was a betrothal rite in orgin, rather than anything to do with hygiene. A man sine proputio was already spoken for - a symbol of the loss of virginity or something. It probably became a sign of the covenant in the exilic period.
Attaching theological reasons to long-standing practices is something which even Anglicans do.

Posted by cryptogram at Friday, 1 January 2010 at 11:50am GMT

"From what I remember of undergraduate researches some 40+ years ago, the likelihood is that circumcision was a betrothal rite in orgin, rather than anything to do with hygiene."

Exodus 4:24 is quite suggestive on this score, though pre-exilic Jewish theology on the subject must have been fascinating.

Posted by Caelius Spinator at Friday, 1 January 2010 at 2:57pm GMT

Thank you for the both/and approach. It is interesting how the debates about grace/faith/works continue to run along the protestant/evangelical/catholic 'fault lines'. And interesting that whilst the nouveau puritanical approach heavily stresses grace taking us straight to heaven, it goes down the opposite line of saying that some works can take us straight away from it. Hence people like Peter Ould in his blog can dare to suggest that Gene Robinson and Jeffrey John (and presumably people like me) are leading people down a 'wide road to hell' (his phrase, not mine) by teaching, as we do, that those in faithful same sex partnerships are also within God's graceful plan 'just as they am'. I am tempted to say that they can't have their cake AND eat it.... but then we all have our inconsistencies. The Both/And is the best approach that there is.

Posted by Canon Andrew Godsall at Friday, 1 January 2010 at 3:05pm GMT

An interesting essay, though I wish you had taken the matter a step further and brought the Islamic attitude to the revealed law into some focus. While Christians are still rightly anxious about our relationship with Judaism, the question of serious theological approaches to Islam seems to me to be a more pressing - though related - one. After all, Judaism and Islam have far more in common with each other, in terms of religious philosophy, than either does with Christianity.

Muslims, like Jews, are puzzled by the Manichean separation of law and grace. For Muslims, the divine ordering of human societies IS a clear sign of God's grace and his mercy towards his erring people. I have studied Islamic theology in an academic context for some years, and have found it a constant challenge to my Christian assumptions.

Posted by rjb at Friday, 1 January 2010 at 5:13pm GMT

Thank you very much for this excellent reflection on Law and Grace. As a priest friend often says: Now that there is nothing we have to do; what are we going to do?" The Law is not a way to salvation, but a way of living salvation. I also agree with Bishop Alan's warning about the great dangers of Christianity's separation from our Jewish roots. We have certainly see the horrors caused by that. Increasingly though, I have encountered fundamentalist Christians espousing a Zionist theology, almost to the exclusion of the Pauline understanding of Grace. It seems to me this has its own dangers, not least of which is their insistence on the necessity to rebuild the temple and their refusal to support peace talks in the middle East or any proposal that gives a place in the Holy Land to Palestinians. Sadly we have seen horrors there, as well. The both/and approach is much needed on numerous fronts.

Posted by Edgar Wallace at Friday, 1 January 2010 at 6:45pm GMT

"Hence people like Peter Ould in his blog can dare to suggest that Gene Robinson and Jeffrey John (and presumably people like me) are leading people down a 'wide road to hell' (his phrase, not mine) by teaching, as we do, that those in faithful same sex partnerships are also within God's graceful plan 'just as they am'."
- Canon Andrew Godsall -

I've long considered anything Peter Ould might say on his blog is to be taken with a huge pinch of salt. His contention is that homosexuality is a 'behavioural problem', rather than an in-built reality for many people. The mere fact that he considers himself to be a regenerate heterosexual who was formerly 'gay' requires much more than the experience of a so-called 'passing fancy'; to convince intrinsically homosexual people that they ought to submit to pseudo-psychological analysis, spiritual manipulation and hormonal treatment in order to free them from their 'un-spiritual' sexual orientation, is just a mistaken understanding of the true situation.

The continuing fundamentalist 'Christian' anti-gay pressure to conform to the heterosexual *norm* is nothing less than blasphemy - against God's ordering of Creation, in the way that God has so obviously ordered the complexity of gender and sexuality differences in the lives of human beings - not to mention the evidence of sexual differentiation in the animal world.

Such basic ignorance of the realities of sexual orientation is something one has come to expect from the likes of Mr Ould - whose own experience does not measure up to the majority of those who are intrinsically homosexual. Furthermore, his theory of 'redemption' for gays is highly suspect and, in some cases outright dangerous.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 1 January 2010 at 10:13pm GMT

"After all, Judaism and Islam have far more in common with each other, in terms of religious philosophy, than either does with Christianity."

It doesn't seem that way. Islam, like traditional Christianity, is universalist, in that it wants to supplant other belief systems. Modern Judaism does not. And some Muslim approaches to the Koran reminds me a lot of Southern Baptist bibliolatry in ways that Jewish attitudes towards the Bible do not.

Posted by BillyD at Saturday, 2 January 2010 at 12:53am GMT

Fascinating discussion on the both/and aspects of grace/works. I'm reading an essay by Jacques Ellul in which he discusses the Hegelian dialectic in terms of thesis/antithesis giving way to something altogether different from both, but having flavours of both--the synthesis. The way Jacques puts it, it sounds like the New Creation envisioned by St. Paul and I wonder if the New Creation is the synthesis--the beyond both "all works" and "all grace."

Posted by Lila at Saturday, 2 January 2010 at 3:47am GMT

I have read that male circumcision was a substitute by the ancient Israelites for human sacrifice. Rather than sacrifice the entire baby, the Israelites, who were horrified at the idea and/or ordered by God not to, "sacrificed" the foreskin. The bible says it's a sign of the original covenant between Abraham and God. Jews continue it as a sign that covenant is still alive and binding. Similar, in a way, to some Christians celebrating Holy Communion/Eucharist "in remembrance of me [Jesus]".
Frances, you asked about the women. My cheeky answer is that women didn't count. Among Orthodox Jews, women are still, in my opinion, left out of important Jewish rites of passage/religious observances. The Orthodox answer is that men and women have separate but equally important roles. Call me an arrogant liberal, but I don't buy that argument.

Posted by peterpi at Saturday, 2 January 2010 at 5:03am GMT

My fear is that it is, or will be used to be, another simplistic answer.

The Zionism of the fundamentalist Christians is an example of what will happen if we reduce our questions of relationship to merely "our Jewish roots." It is a very complex relationship, and one honored more in a healthy understanding of our similarities *and* differences than in a mere wistful looking at what - we think - Jews do.

In some cases, it was good that we abandoned some things.

Frances, for instance, asked "What about women?" Some answer may be found in the prayer:

"Baruch atah Adoni aloheinu melech ha olam shelo asani isha" or "Blessed are you, Lord, our God, king of the universe, who did not make me a woman" said by men in the shacharit, or morning service. There are, in the "Aleinu," verses thanking God for not making one a woman, slave or gentile - for, as the prayer has said, gentiles worship illusory gods that cannot save.

Much has changed in the Judaism we are "looking back to" in talking of Christ's circumcision, and we would not recognize, would be horrified, by the Judaism of that time. Temple sacrifice would, alone, cause us nightmares. Stephen wasn't simply arrested by the Mossad, he was executed as a communal public event. Even the prayers I mention above are not universally used. There is a debate on the necessity - or even advisability - of circumcision in a more hygienic age.

The Judaism we know and -- very justifiably! -- look to and appreciate as our foundational religion has largely been formed and developed because of its existence in a world in which it has had to co-exist with, often in spite of, Christianity. We have learned from each other. One of the things we've *both* learned is that the "natural" or political or "common-sense" order of things often does not, in fact, reflect any good or life-giving growth. Jesus knew this and spoke against people who had given up seeking law and were, instead, worshipping THE LAW. One of the great gifts Judaism does offer us is the Talmudic tradition, halakha and mishna, an attempt to engage the tradition with the realities. In many ways, as Judaism in an increasingly-gentile world grew more flexible and aware, Christianity grew increasingly inflexible and doctrinaire. We still have no real commentary tradition, even in the progressive wing of Christianity. We can also learn, I think, from modern Judaism in that it is still Judaism, while also containing a spectrum from the Hassidim to secular Judaism. The "Jew" is more important than the "orthodox" or "reform" or "sephardic" or "ashkenazic."

That tension is necessary between us, I think. It is fine if you want to call the feast "The Circumcision" but the question is why it matters to you. Circumcision no longer has the same linguistic texture and religious/cultural significance it once did, nor do we have any real reason to want it to. So, is it just nostalgic longing for the "way it used to be" that never was?

Posted by MarkBrunson at Saturday, 2 January 2010 at 5:35am GMT

Your comments regarding Circumcision: "And what an embarrassing, not quite Anglo-Saxon thing ‘Circumcision’ sounds like! Messy, painful, foreign" shows a certain ignorance of British and colonial practise from the 1890s to 1950. For that period of time circumcision was widely practised amongst the British upper and middle classes, indeed all the Royal Family males were routinely circumcised. Circumcision was widely practised in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Rhodesia until fairly recently so although you regard it as messy it is certainly not foreign. You would have to be over 60 in the UK to be routinely circumcised but in the other English speaking countries no older than 30!

Posted by John Anthony at Saturday, 2 January 2010 at 4:57pm GMT

I realize, upon re-reading, that my remarks on Modern Judaism being informed by Christianity was a mistatement, insofar as it would be taken to mean that Christianity added something to Judaism.

I believe that it was informed through the MISDEEDS of Christianity in the past - a demonstration of how not to do it. Everything that Jesus taught rose from that Jewish thought and tradition, but it was the suffering at the hands of those Christians who ignored those compassionate teachings that drove home the lessons.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Wednesday, 6 January 2010 at 5:57am GMT
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