Comments: Opinion - 2 January 2016

Sarah Coakley's proposition is well-made. If we simply take bible narratives as literal, then we retreat into fundamentalist naivety. But this does not mean that those same bible narratives are 'unreal' and to be dismissed, in terms of their power and revelation.

For example, the early Genesis narratives - of creation, of mankind, of Noah, the flood, and the new beginning... to reduce these narratives to literalism the way some fundamentalists would like to...

...is to hold the telescope by the wrong end and - sadly - reduce and diminish what the Bible is communicating.

But to treat those early Genesis narratives as archetypes - to be 'received' as one would receive tales told round a camp fire, with dreamings and imaginings... is to hold the telescope by the end that enlarges and dignifies the bible, by doing what it set out to do.

Connection with archetypes - whether in church services or in the reception of biblical text - is to open up portals in our minds, hearts, souls to the realities that operate beyond cold analysis of fact. Realities that need to be received and opened up to with emotion, imagination, and the 'letting go' of receptivity.

The archetype of 'Baptism' is thread through the vast and spread out pages of biblical text (for example).

Jesus: "I have a baptism to undergo."

What baptism, you have already been baptised?

"He was talking of his death and resurrection."

Yes. And he also says: "You must be baptised with the baptism I will be baptised with."

In short, we too are called to die (to self), to be placed in the hands of God, and to rise to a new life in the Spirit.

The archetype is presaged by so many examples in biblical text - all pointing to a kind of 'burial' followed restoration.

So Jesus says: "The only sign I give you is the sign of Jonah."

But the bible also gives us the same archetype of baptismal burial, lostness in God, and restoration: in the narrative of Noah; in Daniel and the lions' den; in the firy furnace; in Joseph in the pit and his narrative after; in the going down into the Red Sea; in the 'lostness' and death in the wilderness before entry to the new land.

The death and burial of Jesus points, archetypically, to a deep and profound spiritual truth: that we open ourselves to spiritual life by the 'narrow' way of death to self, of burial of our controlling identity, of dependence on God alone, and of the way that can release us to a new kind of life, either individually or corporately.

Archetypes are a language of the bible. They are portals to human and divine consciousness at the imaginative and feeling level. The accounts of angels, and prophecies, and the virgin birth can be re-approached with a second openness or naivety, once we start receiving them in a different way, not factually alone, not analytically, but emotionally opening up to the whole narrative and its mystery, beauty and wonder.

We can be innocent again, without sacrificing our minds, our reason, our scientific scepticism. By opening up to truth... in liturgy, in sacrament, in the realms of biblical archetype... we acknowledge a deeper reality, and recall that "there are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 12:22pm GMT

Now here is a Giles Fraser column I can appreciate. Fortunately, one can appreciate his conclusion without sharing his obvious enthusiasm for Karl Barth. The maxim about preaching with a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other is one I've always liked. It strikes me as kind of strange that people would come to a liturgy and never hear a critical faith reflection on the events in the world that trouble them.

However, I could never get into Barth in a substantive way despite having taken an inter-disciplinary graduate seminar built around his commentary on Romans. I'm still not sure I understand him.

However, in support of Fraser's point regarding war and the co-opting of religion there are other sources that reinforce his critique of the Cameron government. Raimon Panikkar, for example, cautioned against turning the Christian God into an idol.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 3:02pm GMT

Thanks for the Sarah Coakley article. Always great to read items on the infancy narratives; but right-left brain theory, really? This section of her piece is pivotal:

"McGilchrist's thesis remains highly controversial ...But to the religious practitioner his central thesis makes a certain sense..."

I'm not sure that what some scientists refer to as "neuro-mythology " really helps us contend with religious mythology. The better approach is an intellectual bilateral one. One can read the text from the perspective of a Raymond Brown on the one hand and the perspective of religious studies, folks like Joseph Campbell or Raimon Pannikar, on the other.

Our problem has less to do with weird science and more to do with our arid ability to appreciate a mediated mythic consciousness. Of course, in naming these names folks can no doubt guess at the tree like rings my aging brain contains.

On the wider subject of Angels, it is possible with Angels as it is with God to move from myth to metaphysics.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 3:30pm GMT

Howard Jacobson makes a plea for more sermons and writes that 180 seconds of Thought for the Day is insufficient time to give a good account of the world's great religions. However may I recommend Milton Jones' books "10 Second Sermons" and "Even More Concise 10 Second Sermons". In many of his pithy addresses this highly perceptive, enormously intelligent and extremely funny Christian Apologist gets right to the very heart of the truth of our religion in a mere 10 seconds.

Posted by Father David at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 6:20pm GMT

Re Peter Wehner's article, there is a letter in today's NY Times online pointing out that Wehner seems not to know that many of the positive characteristics he attributes to Christianity have their origin in Judaism, the faith of Jesus' family and indeed of our Lord himself.

Re Sarah Coakley's article (lovely by the by) it brings to mind RS Thomas' I think that maybe I will be a little surer of being a little nearer. That's all. Eternity is in the understanding that that little is more than enough.

Posted by Sara MacVane at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 6:33pm GMT

"Re Peter Wehner's article, there is a letter in today's NY Times online pointing out that Wehner seems not to know that many of the positive characteristics he attributes to Christianity have their origin in Judaism, the faith of Jesus' family and indeed of our Lord himself."

Thank you, Sara McVane! It's amazing how many Christians don't grasp that. Including, sadly, many clergy
Jesus of Nazareth wasn't Christian. He didn't worship himself. At least, I don't think that's part of any mainstream/orthodox Christian theology.

Posted by peterpi - Peter Gross at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 7:46pm GMT

One of Mr. Wehner's points is that Christianity rejects the Platonic view, in Mr. Wehner's opinion, that the material world is evil.
I've heard lots of conservative Christian people, lay and clergy, say that precise thing. For them, it's a very dualistic vision, with heaven as good, and the material world as sinful and evil -- until Jesus comes again to redeem and refresh everything. In fact, some conservative Christian people are apathetic about pollution, global warming, nuclear war, terrorism, etc., because hey see those ills as a sign that the End Times are coming closer, and they'll be Raptured and whisked up into the clouds, and after the End Times, Jesus will restore everything back to a pristine state.

I find that horrifying. Jesus isn't some Santa Claus/Superman, who will make everything right for us, and then shower us with goodies.
I think God expects us to clean up our own mess.

Posted by peterpi - Peter Gross at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 7:57pm GMT

I'm inspired to read Karl Barth's commentary on Romans, largely due to Giles Fraser's rousing recommendation.

On another note, always wonderful to read Archdruid Eileen. A serious sermon accompanied by a sidebar of subversive humour. A great meal, I'd say.

Posted by Pam at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 8:48pm GMT

Susannah, I don't see things as "fundamentalist naivety" as you do.

For me Faith means that we cannot simply dismiss Biblical claims that God made the world in 7 days or that Jesus was born of an immaculate conception. It doesn't require us to accept that those things DID happen, but we are required to accept that those things MAY have happened in the literal way presented in the Bible. I found Sarah's Coakley's piece somewhat unclear but I read it entirely differently to you, For me she is saying that we must balance left brain and right brain, giving dominance to neither.

So the left brain says there was a Big Bang and evolution. The right brain says the world was made in 7 days. I believe Coakley is saying we must simultaneously accept the possibility of both. For me that is the essence of Faith.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 3 January 2016 at 6:00am GMT

No Kate. The two sides of the brain material above doesn't add up to "the left brain says there was a Big Bang and evolution - the right brain says the world was made in 7 days". The suggestion is that the left side is involved in the bits of objective evidence needed to weigh up whether one accepts any particular theory (in this case, whether creationist, evolutionist or any alternative) while at the same time the right side remains open to the sorts of discontinuities, feelings and poetry which might add to or disturb the left side's necessarily simplistic conclusions - so the whole brain might well be saying 'I accept Big Bang and evolution but I also have a sense that God is in this in a mysterious way I might not be able to spell out so easily' - although actually McGilchrist's case is more subtle than that.

Posted by Peter Mullins at Sunday, 3 January 2016 at 12:21pm GMT
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