Comments: Opinion - Easter Saturday: 2 April 2016

Excellent final paragraph by Giles Fraser which sums up exactly and succinctly where we are as a national church. I can however trump his record as there has been a church here on the hill of Bex with a priest since 772. When the Conquoror landed nearby had he looked up on his way to do battle he would have seen a little Saxon church that had been there for almost 300 years before he landed here from Normandy. As for a church that is supposed to be dying - I am pleased to say that at the main Resurrection Easter Eucharist attendance was up by over 25% on the previous year. Reports of the C of E's Obituary are grossly over exaggerated and highly premature.

Posted by Father David at Saturday, 2 April 2016 at 12:10pm BST

Having read Giles Fraser (always first choice), I followed up with Archbishop Welby's Easter Sermon. ( no time to get to the others just yet).

Interesting that both Fraser and Welby begin with a reference to the Easter Vigil. The Vigil always reminds me of the "yet, but not yet' aspect of Resurrection, a sense of the eschatological dimension.


An additional similarity between the two, Fraser and Welby, is that both are paying a lot of attention to social issues--although it is interesting to ponder the different way in which each navigate the same terrain.


My favorite line from Fraser is this one,
"there are those who want to save [the church] with cod management theory and evangelical up-speak. But if we as a church really believe in death and resurrection, then we don’t really need any of that secular sorcery." The allusion brought a smile.

This comment from Welby caught my eye,
"Imagine if those who built this cathedral more than 800 years ago were to be given a smart phone, or see an airplane fly through the sky or be taken to the cinema to see a film… They would have nothing in their experience to help them comprehend what was going on." I thought of our current Anglican troubles and smiled. What delicious, if unintended, irony.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 2 April 2016 at 8:42pm BST

Giles Fraser believes the resurrection is an act of defiance. And he makes good points to back up his argument. His parish is disadvantaged with many social problems. And this is just the territory where defiance Christian-style can make a big difference. I sometimes wonder if it isn't more difficult doing Christianity in a well to do area.

Posted by Pam at Saturday, 2 April 2016 at 10:39pm BST

Of course, both Giles Fraser and Justin Welby are attempting to proclaim the hopeful Gospel at Easter 2016 as they ought and well done. But perhaps one query: I do wonder whether there might be too much of a dichotomous clash of nature vs Grace or Faith vs reason somewhere. So the Resurrection (unhelpfully put in categorical terms) has to be unnatural: “There is nothing natural about resurrection. At Easter God is completely disrupting the pattern of life and death.” Yet earlier on, and more helpfully, His Grace has “... the reality of purpose and achievement which is the gift of God’s creation”. Without falling foul of Dr Fraser’s dismissal of the Resurrection not being an argument, I would like to think that a dichotomy is neither necessary nor self-evident, nor giving in to deism, to say that it is in the nature and purpose/reason of God’s mighty and continuing and above all Gracious act of creation to bring about the Resurrection Life - at so great a cost and victory and yet from Grace upon Grace. Christ is Risen!

Posted by keithmcianwil at Sunday, 3 April 2016 at 5:37am BST

Giles Fraser sanctifies failure: if he's representative, little wonder the progressive wing of the church is dying; with resurrection unlikely to follow.

Suffering's combated not with magical thinking, but by identifying the cause of the problem, and working to fix it. Evidence is crucial to that endeavor. That Fraser declares evidence and reason irrelevant to his faith ought to nix any surviving illusions that he's any kind of a liberal.

Post modernism's brought us to this, and it's a sorry place.

Posted by James Byron at Sunday, 3 April 2016 at 12:36pm BST

@ keithmcianwil. Interesting observation, and interesting to know how either Giles Fraser or Justin Welby would respond to it.

Fraser's article is responding, of course, to general social perceptions about religion at present. Readers get a clue by following the link via the word "religion" at the beginning of his article. His third paragraph is key.

More people scan media articles than listen attentively to sermons. Empirical types tend to respond to creed code i.e. "I believe/we believe in this, that, or the other mystery with tweets or sound clips popularized by new atheists. In this regard Giles is helpful. He reminds his readers about the nature of religious identity, its defining and defiant nature in a heartless and rationalistic world.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 3 April 2016 at 5:24pm BST

Giles Fraser's moving article reminded me of the final episode of Rev a couple of years ago: the tiny, beleaguered congregation breaking into the boarded-up church to proclaim the resurrection. 'The darkness has not overwhelmed the light of the Word.' And Bishop Paul Bayes once again made me grateful that he is our bishop in down-but-not-out Liverpool.

Posted by David Emmott at Sunday, 3 April 2016 at 8:36pm BST

@ James Byron, "Post modernism's brought us to this, and it's a sorry place." James, could you expand on this? ( I appreciate Fraser's columns, but I'm certainly not a post-modernist). Be interesting to re-read Fraser in the light of an expansion on your comment.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 4 April 2016 at 12:09am BST

"Suffering's combated not with magical thinking, but by identifying the cause of the problem, and working to fix it. Evidence is crucial to that endeavor."

said Jesus never...

Posted by Alastair Newman at Monday, 4 April 2016 at 10:43am BST

James Byron. I don't know how many times I have said this. I am absolutely not a liberal.

Posted by Giles Fraser at Monday, 4 April 2016 at 1:27pm BST

Rod, by post modernism, I'm referring to Fraser's repeated habit of rejecting the search for objective truth (did the resurrection happen?) and prioritizing subjective meaning (do I get emotional fulfillment from believing that it happened?). What matters isn't truth, but "my truth."

Ironically for a movement that began among left-wing academics, po-mo suits conservatives who want to reject modern science and other discoveries, since when there's no objective truth, evidence can be discarded; and since it leads to ideas that don't work, junking evidence is inherently dangerous.

Alastair, true: and if Jesus hadn't thought Adonai was about to enter history, end the world, and create a new earth without suffering, he may well have thought differently. He thought that God was about to fix our problems for us, and that obedience to God was paramount: when you have to effect change yourself, picture changes radically.

Just because Jesus didn't say something doesn't mean it lacks value. That's nothing but the authority fallacy. He had nothing to say on gender equality, democracy, universal healthcare and the minimum wage, either, but doesn't mean those are bad things.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 4 April 2016 at 2:02pm BST

McAteer's "thinking" as represented in Keyes' article in TLC is a perfect example of why metaphors are metaphors and only metaphors, and, in every case, can be strained to the breaking point. Certainly using them as a basis for dogmatic or moral theology is very thin ice indeed. In this case, I'll simply leave it as saying that it's unsound.

Posted by Daniel Berry, NYC at Monday, 4 April 2016 at 2:09pm BST

Pam, I like your comment, although I've had to learn to temper my suspicion of, well, well-to-do parishes. Somnolence can, I think, afflict any part of the church that's tempted to be satisfied with itself. It happens to me a lot.

Posted by Daniel Berry, NYC at Monday, 4 April 2016 at 5:15pm BST

Giles Fraser's article strikes me as working on the edge of meaninglessness, using religious metaphors when a more direct and simple language would do and thus making those metaphors vacant. Everyone sees this sleight of hand, and it's hardly sleight of hand - it is cumbersome, and everyone sees not only how the trick is done but that it ceases to be a trick. He and I might agree on resurrection and incarnation, except I don't believe it and he uses the words in some chuck-about extended use manner.

Posted by Pluralist at Monday, 4 April 2016 at 7:32pm BST

@ James Byron, ok thanks for the reply James, for your take on Giles Fraser in relation to post-modernism. I reckon Fraser is the best guy to reply about the application of your analysis to his take on things ongoing.

All I can say is that I like Fraser's columns although although I don't always agree. I liked this one. I suspect it is the social contextualization that appeals to me. Theologically I tend to live in a kind of Lonerganian space, if somewhat eclectically. Heart and mind, love and knowledge, thoughts and intentional feelings are all in the horizon.

Fraser writes, " Do I believe in the resurrection? Of course I do. And I believe in it by frying bacon and refusing to give up. This Easter rising is not just some fancy intellectual idea, it’s a form of praxis."

I don't see that as a celebration of failure.

Just by co-incidence I've been re-reading some Henri Nouwen throughout Lent and into Easter.

From, The Road to Daybreak, Nouwen writes:
"[Resurrection] was not a spectacular event forcing people to believe. Rather, it was an event for the friends of Jesus, for those who had known him, listened to him, believed in him. It was a very intimate event a word here, a gesture there ... but with the potential to change the face of the earth."

Fraser does not seem that far off.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 4 April 2016 at 9:08pm BST

Thanks for commenting, Giles. I don't dispute that you reject liberalism: like I said, it's a misconception that's often expressed, and should be put to rest.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 4 April 2016 at 9:26pm BST

«Rod, by post modernism, I'm referring to Fraser's repeated habit of rejecting the search for objective truth (did the resurrection happen?) and prioritizing subjective meaning (do I get emotional fulfillment from believing that it happened?). What matters isn't truth, but "my truth."» - James Byron

Science is very seriously considering that we might inhabit just one of an infinite number of parallel universes and/or whether we are merely a simulation or projection from a high dimension objective reality.

Against that sort of science then subjective reality might be the only reliable reality.

«Ironically for a movement that began among left-wing academics, po-mo suits conservatives who want to reject modern science and other discoveries, since when there's no objective truth, evidence can be discarded; and since it leads to ideas that don't work, junking evidence is inherently dangerous.»

The inconsistency is only with high school science. True science has many fewer immutable truths. Indeed, since even many physical constants are constant only in local time and space, it is likely that certain mathematical relationships are the only objective truths.

Science offers very poor grounds to counter any spiritual beliefs because science is little more than observations in local (4 dimensional?) time and space and some deductions about other times, locations and dimensions and offers no more objective truths than spiritual beliefs. One of the spiritual issues of the day is the widespread delusion that science offers a concrete objective reality rather than being another belief system.

Indeed, if science suggests we might live in just one of an infinite number of simulated relatives, than in at least one of those realities the world was only created 4000 years ago. Science tells us it is unlikely we inhabit that reality but that it is possible we do. As I say, subjective meaning might be the best we can hope for.

Posted by Kate at Tuesday, 5 April 2016 at 7:00am BST

I don't always agree with Giles Fraser either (in fact, I don't think there's anyone I always agree with), but this piece was brilliant.

There is a danger for our religious words to become purely spiritual and theoretical, something we can feel strongly about during a moving Service.

But when you're in a parish like Giles's, faced with that level of deprivation and all the resulting apparent meaninglessness of anything individuals can do to try and make a difference, it is reasonable to ask what a lofty word like Resurrection can mean, in that context, now, if it's not to be another form of "jam tomorrow".

Well said, Giles, thank you.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 5 April 2016 at 9:04am BST

It was interesting to hear + Richard Chartres reflect on 20+ years as Bishop of London in this interview with the team at St Mellitus College
https://sptc.htb.org/godpod/godpod-100

Posted by Simon W at Tuesday, 5 April 2016 at 10:04am BST

Kate, I agree that science doesn't offer immutable truths, but that's no reason to embrace solipsism; same goes for speculation about alternative universes. If reality's so out-there, it's all the more reason to adopt the most vigorous testing, to avoid misleading ourselves. Fraser's shrug of "it doesn't matter" is no answer.

I also agree that science is different in kind to philosophy, but that being so, philosophy must be bounded by it. If Fraser's arguing not only that God arbitrarily suspends natural laws, but that we can reasonably believe this extraordinary claim on the basis of mere feelings, he's opening the door to rampant quackery.

If he's not advocating the most extreme po-mo, what is he advocating? I see there's plenty comments on the 'Guardian' site, so hopefully, he'll flesh out his ideas over there.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 5 April 2016 at 9:41pm BST

The resurrection of Christ transcends science.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 6 April 2016 at 1:21am BST

@ Kate, "The resurrection of Christ transcends science."

An Interesting statement, but I'm not sure where it leaves the modern believer?

Resurrection is a one of the mysteries of the Christian Faith which is to say it is a mystery that is revealed. The mystery as expressed in the NT is expressed in and to a world of myth. It is the task of NT interpreters, doctrinal theologians and systematic theologians to work on what is meant by Resurrection. It is the task of preachers to proclaim what is meant. In that regard Giles Fraser. Justin Welby, The Primus of Scotland, in the examples linked here, each do a very competent and pastorally relevant job.

The term "high school science" is problematic. At the high school level there is a very basic introduction to the data of science and the scientific method.

While Christ transcends history the Christian is called upon the make an ethical response to the world in which the Christian lives, including a response to the socio-economic vectors that inform our understanding of poor neighborhoods; simili modo with issues of sexuality.

Just as one does not short cut a response to human trafficking by reading the letter to Philemon, or short cut a response to sexism by reading only the Corinthian correspondence, one is very ill advised to short cut a response to the human sexual response by reading, for instance, Romans 1. One must work with others, and acknowledge the expertise of others in the physical and human sciences in order to properly understand the phenomena that one believes may give rise to moral questions.

I think what one can conclude from Scripture and tradition, is something of the nature of the values that are applicable. Values may be transcendent which means in part that they may be shared at least in broad outlines among faiths and with people of goodwill who may not have profess a distinctive faith i.e., against such there is no law.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 6 April 2016 at 2:52pm BST

I think the first thing a modern believer needs to do is to understand the limitations of science. Science cannot - yet at any rate - explain life or consciousness and therefore present day science cannot be authoritative on resurrection.

I am a mathematician by training and have a different perspective than those who rely on science. For me, irrational numbers exist but clearly set just outside a purely scientific reality, complex numbers even more outside that reality. Topologies of higher dimensions and non-Euclidean geometries take us even further from the observed physical realm studied by science.

So by high school science I mean something terribly limited in scope and imagination. As a mathematician rather than a scientist, I personally don't feel in anyway discomfited by the miraculous and see nothing jarring in the approach Giles Fraser takes as do you and Jeremy.

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 7 April 2016 at 2:36pm BST

There's a very witty and quite accessible blog post on Scientific American which discusses solipsism as a consequence of quantum theory:

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cocktail-party-physics/guest-post-is-it-solipsistic-in-here-or-is-it-just-me/

That's not to say that solipsism is necessarily the "correct" philosophy (in either a scientific or theological sense) but to the extent that Giles Fraser's views include elements of solipsism, I don't see them as inconsistent with present-day scientific understanding.

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 7 April 2016 at 4:42pm BST

@ Kate, "I think the first thing a modern believer needs to do is to understand the limitations of science." Well of course. But, conversely, the modern theologian needs to understand the importance of science, its methodology, and its field of operations, and the limitations of theology. Just as an aside, such would be the case in inter-disciplinary work in the area of bio-ethics.


"Science cannot - yet at any rate - explain life or consciousness and therefore present day science cannot be authoritative on resurrection." This statement seems to conflate two distinct areas of investigation i.e., the data of the physical sciences science and religious meaning.

Consciousness as self awareness is a problem for neuro-science. Resurrection, whether as a mythological or metaphysical term, lies outside the field of science. The standard catholic position is that science cannot add information to revealed mysteries. Perhaps that is what you intend to say?

"I am a mathematician by training ...."

I, on the other hand, am not; but have had a chance to look at Lonergan's book,Inisght? The first V chapters of Part I, Insight as Activity, treats mathematical issues e.g., positive integers, algebra, classical and statistical laws, theorems, Euclidean Geometry, motion and time and the like. Of course there Lonergan is on the road to developing cognitional theory. Part II, Insight as Knowledge, treats the differences between mythology and metaphysics, the notion of mystery, notion of truth, and general and special transcendent knowledge.

Of course, we all belong to some sort of a tradition, and Lonergan's approach is not compatible or of interest to everyone.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 7 April 2016 at 9:31pm BST

@ Kate re science, math, resurrection etc. You might be interested in Lonergan's book, Insight, if you have not considered it already.

The first 5 chapters of Part I, Insight as Activity, treats mathematical issues e.g., positive integers, algebra, classical and statistical laws, theorems, Euclidean Geometry, motion and time and the like. Part II, Insight as Knowledge, treats the differences between mythology and metaphysics, the notion of mystery, notion of truth, and general and special transcendent knowledge.

Part of Lonergan's skill set, in addition to philosophical theology, included formal training in mathematics. He studied economics as well.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 8 April 2016 at 4:18pm BST

Thanks Rob

I suspect I would find Insight outdated. Most such treatments, particularly of that vintage, rely upon infinity being countable. With the work of the amazing Prof John Conway, we now recognise there are uncountable infinities.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 16 April 2016 at 10:46pm BST
Post a comment









Remember personal info?






Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.