Thinking Anglicans


Lesley Crawley writes for The Guardian’s Cif belief that Sexism runs deep in the Church of England.
“I’ve experienced prejudice working as an engineer and as a priest – only difference is, in the church it’s institutionalised.”

Anna Tims writes about the Bishop of London for The Guardian: A working life: the bishop.
“From dawn till dusk, the diocese of London fills Richard Chartres’ exhausting schedule. He’s got an Oyster card, but finds his hybrid car a convenient compromise.”

Judith Maltby writes for Cif belief about The Church of England’s shameful record on capital punishment.
“If parliament debates the death penalty, the church should speak against it with all the authority of a reformed sinner.”

British Religion in Numbers has data on this week’s A-level results in Religious Studies: Religious Studies A Levels, 2011.

Bruce Chilton in The Huffington Post asks (and answers) the question What Does The Bible Say About The Mother Of Jesus?

Also in The Huffington Post Maria Mayo writes about 5 Myths About Forgiveness in the Bible.


  • Richard Ashby says:

    Substitute ‘homophobia’ for ‘sexism’ in Lesley Crawley’s article and you will get some idea of what it is like to be gay in the church.

  • Martin Reynolds says:

    I found the report of two part of the day spent alongside the Bishop of London of some particular interest.

    The first must be the breakfast meeting over “links with Nigeria” – I would have liked to hear just what “links” this early morning discussion touched on! Of course the second was his counsel of an anxious American priest so disturbed by events in the Anglican Communion that he gets the ear of the bishop of London.

    Somehow I don’t think this call was from someone disturbed by the way churches within the Anglican Communion have tried to attack the legitimate Anglican presence in the USofA.

  • toby forward says:

    Good to read Judith Maltby’s article. You can see all the points she makes, and many more, in great detail in the excellent book ‘Hanging in Judgement’ by The Reverend Harry Potter. (yes, really!)

  • Randall Keeney says:

    Just a couple of questions: After taking oaths of loyalty to the crown, just how much are the Bishops in the House of Lords allowed (practically) to criticize the crown? As recent example, I am thinking of the Bishop who criticized the opulence of the last royal wedding. How long was he in office afterward?

  • Rosemary Hannah says:

    Maria Mayo’s is a somewhat partial view – crucially she ignores the ‘debt’ parables. It seems impossible that somebody as well-qualified as her is unaware that the Aramaic word for debt also covers sin – and so the parables on this topic were intended, and would have been clearly understood, to refer to how we treat those who have wronged us, who ‘owe’ us, in other words, the remission of debt (or not) is forgiveness. In an earlier article on the same subject she raises the issue of these parables and then fails to confront it. Her approach seems to be driven more by a pastoral imperative than a desire to understand the message contained in the Synoptic gospels.

  • Rod Gillis says:

    Great to see the link to Lesley Crawley’s article. She is spot on: “We need to see sexual discrimination in the same light as racial discrimination – they are both unjust and dehumanising.”

    It’s not just the old C of E either. Despite major strides in thirty five years, sexism is still alive in the Canadian church. Placating conservative men still trumps the principle of gender equality.

  • Pat O'Neill says:

    Maria Mayo somehow manages to write about forgiveness and completely ignore the parable of the Prodigal Son. How is that possible?

  • Chris Smith says:

    It’s this disproportionate placement of “conservatives” in all hierarchies in Christendom, be they Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox. The progressive voice always has to struggle to be heard. The so called “imperial” model of being Church (top down power), is being challenged, and rightly so. Bishops are supposed to be like shepherds watching over their flocks. Instead, many behave and live as princes and kings. This does not go down easily to the vast majority of Christians. It’s the hypocrisy of it all. I do not believe Anglican Bishops should be in The House of Lords as there is a huge conflict of interest. Again, so many bishops serve the elite and discard the hopes and dreams of women, and the glbt communities. Bishops can and do disenfranchise entire groups of people. I believe there is a strong desire to see the entire system of selecting and electing a bishop radically changed. There is a grave deficiency here as many churchgoers are NOT represented or even “invited” to the table. This must change or such issues as sexism, homophobia and misogyny will continue to plaque the Church. Most members of the worldwide hierarchy of bishops will fight to keep the status quo no matter what the stakes are. The stakes are high!

  • Rosemary Hannah says:

    @Pat – In that case because she is writing about human to human forgiveness, and the father in the parable is seen as an image of God. But she ignores rather too much which does not fit her needs.

  • Rod Gillis says:

    @ Chris Smith ‘Resolved: this house believes organized religion to be socially servile”
    What do you think?

  • I am bound to agree with Nick Smith’s (no relation) post, when he criticises the current system of episcopal appointments in the Church of England. Although I am not a member of the C.of E. – being currently part of ACANZP, in New Zealand – I have to recognise Canterbury’s influence over the rest of the Provinces, especially with regard to the prospect of a Covenant Process binding on all the Provinces willing to accede to it.

    The fact that the Church of England is alone among the Provinces in the selection and election of its bishops, which is based on a hierarchical, quasi-governmental system – rather than the more usual (in the other Provinces of the Communion) synodical process – leaves the hierarchy of Mother Church open to such charges as being sexist and homophobic, both situations being contrary to the broader consensus of the wider constituency of the Church.

  • ” If Jesus teaches unconditional forgiveness, then God must be exempt from that teaching.”

    – Maria Mayo –

    I find this statement rather strange. In isolation it could mean that God might act in ways contrary to the teaching of Jesus.

    Taken more liberally, the essence of Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness could be seen to encourage his hearers to emulate the utter generosity of God who has already forgiven us – by ‘the tender mercy of our God’; who has redeemed us. Through the sacrifice of His Only-Begotten Son we are now ransomed, restored and forgiven!

    Of course, to be able to ‘enter into’ that unconditional forgiveness, we will have to acknowledge of need of the same.

  • rjb says:

    “[Mary Mayo’s] approach seems to be driven more by a pastoral imperative than a desire to understand the message contained in the Synoptic gospels.”

    Quite so. I think this is a priest attempting to make the Gospel palatable (or perhaps even possible) rather than trying to be true to the uncompromising demands Christ makes of us. If you want a nice, sensible, ethical, worldly religion, of the kind that Mayo appears to favour, I’d recommend Islam.

  • Rosemary Hannah says:

    @Pat- Mayo is writing about human to human forgiveness. She can exempt the Prodigal Son parable as long as she considers it as being simply about God’s forgiveness. But her whole argument is predicated on a disconnect between what God can/should/will do and what humans can and should do. That makes me very very uneasy – it has serious knock-on effects for incarnational theology.

  • Canon Andrew Godsall says:

    It is amazing to see the tentative support from some of the extreme conservative bloggers (Cranmer’s curate, John Richardson, Peter Ould) for the re-introduction of Capital punishment whilst they bluster away about the evils of euthanasia and abortion.

  • evensongjunkie says:

    Canon Godsall, they’re just taking their cues from equally myopic American politicians (and their religious/corporate puppeteers), in that abortion is the ultimate evil while destroying post-birth child health care is sacred. The same logic that condemns abortion while also condemning preventing ones by birth control. Go figure.

  • david wilson says:

    Mayo is not so much concerned about writing about the doctrines of forgiveness, but rather what she perceives as the “myths” of unconditional forgiveness – hence why so much has been left out and indeed a rather distorted view presented.

    Although it can be argued that forgiveness is an action of the will, surely it must also – with God’s grace be followed by the heart, otherwise one simply has a subconcious grudge.

    As for forgiving church members – I guess that depends on whether they are forgiving sins on behalf of God as it were – say before communion. This would require a clear conscious and that repentance of the sin had actually occurred. So one can forgive an attacker ( one is asked to love and ask God to bless an enemy), but this still leaves it open to them having to repent before God before they can accept communion, or face the prospect of judgement before God.

    AS for Jesus not forgiving those who crucified Him – it is difficult to see that he had not himself forgiven them in His heart, otherwise how could he say they know not what they do. Indeed the early church would have offered forgiveness and salvation to some of those individuals.

    As for Islam offering a better solution – it clearly offers no solution what so ever as the Lord is risen. He is risen indeed.

  • Suem says:

    I thought Mayo’s article was a useful corrective to some of the rather glib (and damaging) pastoral approaches to forgiveness that we can see in Christian contexts. She does leave an astonishing amount out though, such as the Lord’s Prayer? She also claims that it is anachronistic to suggest that the gospels touch on the idea of forgiveness as psychologically beneficial. It is true this is a largely modern concept, but modern concepts are often found or anticipated, in some form, in myths, stories and writings throughout history, even if they are not explicitly formulated in the way we frame them today.

  • JCF says:

    @ CanonAG & esj: it’s all back to the Manichean Black/White worldview which dominates conservative religion. Good and Evil are easily, omnisciently discerned by the Elect—as are Good People and Evil People. Fetuses are definitively Good (“innocent human life”), and ergo inviolate under ANY&EVERY cirmcustance. But, after you’re born, you’re Fallen and, if caught breaking God’s Laws, liable to divinely-ordained authority (e.g., a Tory government!) to pay the Ultimate Penalty. Very simple.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be omniscient the way religious conservatives are? {sarcasm/Off} ;-/

  • peterpi - Peter Gross says:

    Evensong Junkie @ 12:12pm 22/8/2011,
    Concerning the “equally myopic American politicians …”, more than two decades ago, in a Newsweek magazine article, an American liberal politician (whose name I have forgotten, mea culpa) summed it up quite succinctly. The people you speak of “believe in post-partum abortion.”

  • rick allen says:

    “It is amazing to see the tentative support from some of the extreme conservative bloggers (Cranmer’s curate, John Richardson, Peter Ould) for the re-introduction of Capital punishment whilst they bluster away about the evils of euthanasia and abortion.”

    Very true. Equally amazing are those who oppose capital punishment yet see no inconsistency in promoting euthanasia and abortion.

    All life is sacred. What’s so difficult about a consistent ethic of never deliberately taking a life?

  • ” Article 37 of the 39 Articles of the Church of England (1563), to which all ordained ministers of the established church assent, states that “the Laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death, for heinous and grievous offences”. Anglicans were not alone. In 1566 the Council of Trent of the Roman Catholic Church reaffirmed the morality of the death penalty: “The just use of this power [capital punishment], far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to [the Fifth] Commandment which prohibits murder”. – Judith Maltby –

    In the case of the Anglican option of the ’39 Articles’, this is just one reason why ACANZP no longer insists on its clergy’s assent to them.

    But as for the Roman Catholic option – the option to excuse capital punishment as ‘non-murder’ – ought, clearly to apply, equally, to the matters of justified abortion and euthanasia. Each situation (C.P., Abortion, and Euthanasia) involves the process of ‘taking life’, which ever way one looks at it. You can’t have it both ways. But then, that’s ‘religious’ casuistry for you!

  • “Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, is an implacable traditionalist.” – Anna Timms –

    This figures – but how does the good bishop accommodate the traditional Anglican accommodation of REASON in his episcopal praxis?

    For instance, if, as someone here has already suggested, if he has been caught giving counsel (consolation?) to, say, a cleric from ACNA, or Nigeria, on their distaste for the independent actions of TEC on the Ordination of Gay Bishops; then where might his sympathies lie? They probably are not with TEC! So, in that case, perhaps his ‘implacable traditionalism’ might just have got in the way of the charism of Reason.

  • Nat says:

    Capital punishment is a dreadful thing. We may, rightly, have little sympathy for those who commit horrific crimes. Moreover the topic of certain guilt vs innocence is deeply troubling. But one issue that has never been much discussed is the horrible effect of capital punishment on those who carry it out – from the prison chaplain to the “execution team”, to the person who inserts the needle or pulls the lever.

    They may be volunteers (is the chaplain a volunteer?), but I question strongly whether there are not some things for which a person should not be allowed to volunteer. I have read the that the divorce (and worse) rate among all these people is the highest possible – and what can they eventually think of the sanctity of life, theirs or the lives of others, if they are licensed to do such things? We turn our backs on this, and allow these people to become victims of capital punishment too.

    Capital punishment has no place in any evolving, enlightened, civilized society – nor in a Christian one.

  • evensongjunkie says:

    “Equally amazing are those who oppose capital punishment yet see no inconsistency in promoting euthanasia and abortion.”

    The difference is self-will in the case of euthanasia. And nobody, I repeat nobody, wants an abortion.

    Oh, and do you think money comes into account? The health care system that wants to soak up revenue from a long-terminally ill patient? The State of Ohio which openly argues in favor of capital punishment as a more cost-effective means of dealing with major criminals? And the poor person who realizes after losing a job that they can’t afford the baby? Give me a break.

    So answer my question-how opposition to birth control is going to help in eliminating abortions?

  • MarkBrunson says:

    “All life is sacred. What’s so difficult about a consistent ethic of never deliberately taking a life?”

    No one lives that ethic, not even you. It is a false ethic.

  • William says:

    Why is “never deliberately taking a life” a false ethic?

  • rick allen says:

    “So answer my question-how opposition to birth control is going to help in eliminating abortions?”

    I don’t think I said anything about birth control. I know it seems intuitively right that making it available should reduce the number of abortions and illegitimate births. But, in fact, since contraception has become a constitutional right and available in safe and effective forms, abortion and illegitimacy have increased rather dramatically. I can’t explain it, but it seems to be a fact.

    “No one lives that ethic, not even you. It is a false ethic.”

    I guess. So far I’ve managed not to kill anyone, and I intend to keep trying.

    But, on a larger scale, yes, it is difficult to keep from justifying killing to further our social goals, whether those are reducing crime, cutting medical costs, or furthering sexual liberation. But I think we should certainly try. Think of the other gospel imperatives–love your enemies, give all you have to the poor, be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. Few of us are able to get anywhere near to these. But that’s not to say that we shouldn’t get as close as we can. And surely refraining from killing shouldn’t be that difficult.

    “The difference is self-will in the case of euthanasia.”

    It amazes me how, in my lifetime, suicide has become acceptable for so many. “Whose life is it, anyway?” As if my life were really a piece of property that I own and could dispose of at will. Even Socrates at the end of his life denounced suicide, since we are given a certain post by the gods, and it is right that we should stand by it, rather than desert.

  • MarkBrunson says:

    “Why is “never deliberately taking a life” a false ethic?”

    Because you live.

    Don’t you eat?

    Don’t you breathe?

    Even vegetarians deliberately take lives.

    And Rick! Do you participate in a society that allows war? Do you enable a religious ethic that brings people to the point of despair and suicide?

    Such hypocrisy, Boys.

    You don’t value life nearly enough, nor do you have the humility to understand that no life – human or otherwise – is not a God-created life. You kill incessantly – as do we all – and have no ability to *create* life of any kind! You take no responsibility, have no sense of guilt in the life-destroying society in which you participate! So much for the pious claims that you are aware how much you are sinners!

    Your ethic is self-justification!

  • Erika Baker says:

    “It amazes me how, in my lifetime, suicide has become acceptable for so many.”

    What worries me about this kind of statement is that it doesn’t generally differentiate between matters where people generally should not be of a different opinion and matters where a different opinion is ethically possible.

    This makes a differentiated conversation quite difficult. Blanket statements like “all life is sacred” do not really engage with the complexities of having to chose whether a baby dies in childbirth or the mother, or whether it is acceptable to kill someone who is about to kill your child, or whether it is acceptable for a terminally ill person to take their own life in a society in which they are only kept alive by advance medicine and where, if it were genuinely left to nature, they would have died long ago.

    We do ourselves no favours if we don’t differentiate and just make moral sounding black and white statements that don’t engage with the grey reality that is life.

    And so I accept that it amazes you that suicide has become acceptable for so many, but I do not accept that your amazement is anything other than your own personal value judgement.
    It is ethically possible to come to a different conclusion, even for religious people.

    Our whole public discussion about most controversial topics would be much more mature if we accepted that there are topics about which we personally feel very very strongly, but where other people can legitimately come to a different view. To lump them all together under one moral banner, thereby placing them all firmly on the “totally and obviously unacceptable” scale only hinders a genuine debate and compassionate understanding of those who do not think like we do.

  • rick allen says:

    Mark, you are quite right, I should have said that all human life is sacred. Of course we must kill to live, and, on that account, I am what some call a “speciesist,” what I call a “humanist.” Still, though we must eat, we need not be cannibals.

    And of course we live in a violent society. Perhaps we need not. Both of our political parties are dedicated to imperial wars. But perhaps they will not be so forever.

    Erika, I don’t deny that when life comes into conflict with life we are sometimes faced with impossible choices. I was simply responding to a comment that “self-will” is sufficient to justifiy taking one’s own life. It still surprises me that this “triumph of the will” has gone so far in our common thinking. It is perhaps understandable that we think this way after a century of unprecedented mass killing in support of various social and political schemes. But surely we are going to be better beginning with as absolute a principle as possible that we are not going to sacrifice human lives if we can help it. It is so easy, much too easy, to justify killing. We see it everywhere.

    And, as Christians, it seems we should have that sense that, as St. Paul put it, we were bought for a price, and are not our own. Our life is a gift and a responsibility, not a piece of property. I am not my own slave.

  • William says:

    I undertsand “life” here to mean “human life” and its unquestionable dignity as defined by numerous Church documents. Why do plants and animals not share in that dignity? Because it is the human person alone who is created in the image and likeness of God.

    We could also talk of innocent human life which would refer to people who are particualrly vulnerable and need protection. What is more innocent than the baby in the womb? And yet our society continues to turn a blind eye.

  • evensongjunkie says:

    So Rick you’re telling me that I have no right to end my own life when it’s been kept going much beyond it’s usual or natural means by modern technology. So perhaps we have no right to interfere in the natural aging process via medicine as well?

  • david wilson says:


    I am not sure what you mean by “Good People and Evil People” – we are all fallen people – and all of us capable of evil – even great evil. That is why Jesus came and died on the cross – and also why God in His goodness sent His Holy Spirit to start the process of santification – indeed it is not just us that lives, but Christ in us – to help us live a life worthy of Christ’s sacrifice.

    I find it impossible not to see the truth of our fallen nature – the viciousness of any children’s playground provides amply evidence. It doesnt require omniscience to know that. which is one of many reasons that Islam is very clearly not true.

  • Of course, ‘Thou shalt do no murder’ is vastly better rendering of the sixth commandment and differs from the broader meaning suggested by the alternative, ‘Thou shalt not kill’.

    Even St. Peter, described strange voices in his head commanding him again and again, ‘Rise, Peter, kill and eat’… (Acts 10:13)

    Of course, in this case, the intended victims of these destructive thoughts were animals (the classic initial symptoms of psychopathology, do you say?).

    I guess we can take comfort in knowing that ‘no animals were actually harmed during the making of St.Peter’s dream’ (Phew!). Apparently, it was a challenge to abandon the OT demands for ritual segregation in order to reach Gentiles, like Cornelius, with the gospel of grace…Not the deep-seated latent rage of a psychopath!

  • Erika Baker says:

    you said earlier that you have managed so far not to kill anyone, yet we all live in countries in which our safety is guaranteed by people who are, indeed, trained to kill on our behalf.
    We can’t avoid being implicated here, even the most pacifist one among us, unless they actively fight the system and try to change it, are implicated.

    I’ve been thinking about what you say about our self will, and I really struggle to get a handle on my own thinking here.

    I absolutely agree that the starting point has to be the sacredness of all human life, its dignity and the responsibility that comes with this. I don’t necessarily agree that this means we always have to come to the same conclusions about what that means in individual cases in practice.

    Self will isn’t necessarily to be equated with unthinking selfishness, although there is indeed a trend in society that makes me wonder whether individual responsibility without the direct fear of the condemnation of society or the subsequent divine judgement leads to a lack of moral engagement.

    But isn’t it also possible that people of faith genuinely believe in a God who will not condemn them for taking their own lives? That they have seriously thought about their views on abortion, euthanasia etc., and that they have come to a different understanding than you have?
    These people will not repeat the whole agonising process every time the topic comes up in conversation. In the end, all our hard won convictions turn into apparently simple statements, especially on discussion forums like this.
    But it’s maybe too facile to just presume that selfishness has overcome morals and “my will” trumps all.

  • MarkBrunson says:

    All life is created by God, and all was proclaimed “very good” in the end.

    You, William, make a false – absolutely false – distinction to excuse yourself. What’s more helpless than a baby in the womb? A lamb to the slaughter, perhaps? In any case, you cannot absolve yourself from murder of humans when you participate in a society which breeds murder. You are responsible, a willing, wanton follower. No better than the rest, and less honest with yourself. You are in no position to declare others out of bounds. You just do your killing a little differently.

    When *YOU* can create even a single, living cell from nothing, you may have the wisdom and power to declare what is more or less sacred life. Until then, all life is God-created and equally sacred.

  • MarkBrunson says:

    What is forgotten, David, is that the Scripture, for what it’s worth as historical document, presents the eating of meat as a result of the Fall.

    Killing is killing. Life is created by One, and only One.

    What I find telling, even amusing, is that the moral absolutists here (I’m not including you, btw), are absolute only insofar as it doesn’t inconvenience them. This is just one of the less heated areas in which the incredible mental gymnastics played to excuse self while declaiming the “clear, unalterable truth” is a glaringly obvious trait if observed with detachment, especially from self. I, for instance, am no Greenpeace organizer, nor PETA card-carrier. I eat meat, but I’m aware I cause death to do so; I have been vegetarian, and still caused death to live. I am aware that the degrees of seriousness I attach to one type of lifeform over another are mere mental construct to allow me to keep living. God sustains the pig, just as He sustains the human.

    The lack of self-awareness is lack of humility, in it’s truest sense, and the very essence of the beam in the eye.

  • rick allen says:

    “But isn’t it also possible that people of faith genuinely believe in a God who will not condemn them for taking their own lives?”

    I think that’s quite certain. But I also think that, when we look back in history on how we have so often rationalized our various departures from the sanctity of human life, we need to become even more careful about the slack we cut ourselves.

    And of course morality is always to be distinguished from culpability.

  • William says:

    Mark, I am living by the principles that I believe in – I admit I am not perfect – but I do try to live life as a Christian. I take scripture and tradition and the teachings of the Church as my guide. Tradition asserts that the human person is created in the image and likeness of God. I have not made this up myself, it is what the Church has handed on as being the teaching of Christ. Therefore, the killing of a baby in the womb is a horrendous act.
    I’m not entirely sure why you condemn me for participating in society. I have to live and go about my daily business.
    You end by saying that I have no right to make a statement about what is sacred and then go on to make such a statement yourself.

  • Erika Baker says:

    “But I also think that, when we look back in history on how we have so often rationalized our various departures from the sanctity of human life, we need to become even more careful about the slack we cut ourselves.”

    Yes, but when I look at the cutting edge of medicine and the suffering it brings to people – babies who would once have died in the womb being kept alive and then facing a short life of pain, old and sick people who would have died long ago kept in a living hell for years…. I don’t think the answer to what being careful about the slack we cut ourselves actually means is that easy.

    Sanctity must mean more than mere preservation at all cost.
    At the very least, in the case of suicide, we must allow people to make their own moral choices and accept responsibility for them.

  • MarkBrunson says:

    You’re still rationalizing, William.

    This “image of God” is also the image of that which created all life, not simply human life.

    You feel you HAVE to participate in society. You feel you HAVE to “live,” as you put it. Yet there have been those, most honored in the same tradition you claim, who have withdrawn from society.

    What you do is not really the concern, but your blind insistence that it is, somehow, more holy and more orthodox than what others do. You are NOT aware of the extent of your fallenness.

    “You end by saying that I have no right to make a statement about what is sacred and then go on to make such a statement yourself.”

    This is simple lack of attention on your part – I said you have no right to make statements about what constitutes more or less sanctity of lifeforms, and that, in that absence of authority, all life is equally sacred.

    It is heartening to see, however, that you realize your views are entirely derived from a tradition, rather than objective reality.

  • William says:

    “This “image of God” is also the image of that which created all life, not simply human life.”

    I don’t disagree with this statement but I’m not sure how it refutes my argument. What I am saying is that plants and animals are created by God but are not made in his image and likeness. They lack intellect and will – what philosphers call the divine faculties of the soul. As this is the definition I accept of being made in the likeness of God then I think my argument is perfectly rational.

    You claim that there is no authority about what
    constitutes “more or less sanctity of lifeforms”. I say, there is an authority – Christ. And as I accept a revealed religion, I accept that his teaching has been revealed through scripture and tradition.

    Tradition is simply the deposit of teaching handed down from Christ himself. Why should there be a conflict with objective reality? Many philosopers before Christ came to the same conclusions, relying only on human reason.

    However on a positive note, I too am heartened, that at least you believe in “objective reality”.

  • Mark,

    I get part of your point that we make human distinctions over what we loosely call ‘sanctity of life’, while participating in the survival tactics and a society that condemn other forms of life.

    However, you say you now eat meat. Even if you’re partial to ‘some hava beans and a red chianti’, I’m hoping that you make the distinction between the consumption of animal and human flesh. On what basis is that? Is that a false dichotomy based on societal norms? Does an aversion towards cannibalism involve a mere subjective revulsion, the fear of social retribution, or is there a modicum of objective reality there. That is, where the circumstances involve a real choice, rather than the containment of a threat to our physical survival, you uphold the importance of protecting human life over other forms of life. Well, that might be what’s meant by ‘sanctity of life’.

    Why would God enforce such a high penalty on the murder of humans and then run a non-stop animal abattoir as a central part of it’s reparations towards God? Was the OT dispensation an objective reality?

    Mankind bears the most distinctive stamp of our Maker and our human form was uniquely moulded in preparation for the incarnation of Christ. More than any other part of creation, God’s mind can find expression through man’s mind. The murder of another human being represents the fullest possible contempt for that potential for divine incarnation.

    According to Christ, ‘you are worth more than many sparrows’ (Matt. 10:31)

  • Rosemary Hannah says:

    At risk of a ‘me too’ post – ‘The murder of another human being represents the fullest possible contempt for that potential for divine incarnation.’

    It does – and we do not need to lower ourselves to the level of licensed murder because others have sunk to the level of unlicensed murder.

  • Erika Baker says:

    “It does – and we do not need to lower ourselves to the level of licensed murder because others have sunk to the level of unlicensed murder”

    As it stands, every single person I know would agree.
    The difficulty comes when we have to define “murder” and at that point, absolutes are no longer very helpful.

  • It’s a pity that there’s not nearly as much hand-wringing over the phrase ‘dignity of life’ as there is about what we mean by the ‘sanctity of life’.

    Is ‘dignity of life’ our intrinsic human worth, or can it vary? Can it be diminished by incapacity, immaturity (including pre- natal), age, the commision of crime, terminal illness, or our own feelings of being purposeless to ourselves and others.

    If a confessed and convicted child murderer calmly and sanely completes an affidavit requesting for a lethal dose of barbiturate in order to end his/her life, does our understanding of human dignity solve the dilemma. Is the ‘right to die’ forfeited by their crime?

    In the absence of absolutes, what’s the solution to conflicting ‘rights’?

  • Rosemary Hannah says:

    Erica, are you arguing that some kinds of killing justify a death penalty? I am simply arguing that we NEVER need to sink to the level of taking a second life because a first has been taken. That we have no need of a death penalty under any circumstances

  • MarkBrunson says:

    My point is, David, that you can no more create a sparrow than you can a human being.

    The rest of what you’re saying is – I regret to inform you – self-justification for considering one form of life more expendable than another. That’s fine, but let’s not deceive ourselves about what we’re doing here! Self-deception in that small level leads to the great self-deceptions – for instance:

    We can say that God imposes a high penalty for taking human life, yet . . . the same God sends Samuel to “hew” Agag after Saul’s having shown him clemency; the same God that demanded the slaughter of every living thing amongst enemies in the OT, placing the lives of men, women, and children on the level of their cattle! You can only reconcile such divergent images of God through self-deception, or by assuming that, in some way, some humans are *really* animals and can be slain with no penalty.

    As far as I know, there’s no OT “dispensation” to eating meat, rather it is a *result* of the Fall; i.e. – sinfulness made manifest through our will.

    There are sound objective reasons for not eating human beings, besides the subjective revulsion experienced by a complex human brain, including Creutzfeld-Jakob disease. That such a revulsion is independent of the Judeo-Christian revelatory religion is shown in the Native American myth of the Wendigo, which being is treated with especial revulsion and horror, and the ghoul-like creatures of Asian mythology.

    Finally, it’s *fava* beans, and, I find them mealy and bland, while, as an abstaining(recovering) alcoholic, I never drink . . . wine.

  • Erika Baker says:

    sorry, no! I misunderstood, I thought you were referring to the general “sanctity of life” debate that here includes euthanasia and abortion etc.

    No, I’m 100% with you as regards the death penalty!

  • David Shepherd says:


    It would help to prove your case after some debate, as Christ would, rather than delivering verdicts of defective reasoning (rationalising, self-deception, self-justification) within your first few lines of thought. What’s your verdict on self-examination?

    The very reason that I referred to St.Peter’s dream in an earlier post was to highlight how we might judge his vision by 21st century Western standards. In the same way, you try to apply modern medicine as objective proof that cannibalism is wrong. Surely, it was objectively wrong before these discoveries? You are equating, rather than just associating the concomitant harm of an action with its morality.

    While I recognise that you can’t be exhaustive, what do those examples, a 20th century discovery of Western medicine and a few baleful creatures drawn from Native American and Asian folklore, actually prove? That we can now say that cannibalism may be harmful to humans (although several cultures have practiced it without particularly grievous physical symptoms and have their own folklore that contradicts the myths that you’ve cited).

    The fact that a superstition is held by several cultures doesn’t make it any less superstitious. While our fear may fuel traditional myths that dissuade certain types of behaviour, that fear alone does not explain why certain kinds of harm offend God, while others have been encouraged by OT prophets.

    Considering the biblical examples that, you assert, are contradictory, we still know God can and does allow the destruction of entire communities by natural means, without commissioning human intervention. This is either permitted by the prerogative of an all-powerful Creator, or it’s the action of a lesser agency beyond His control. Forget human intermediaries, you could just as easily accuse God, as many do, of genocide for permitting human suffering to destroy innocent lives.

    PS: ‘Fava’ it is. Please forgive my ham-fist on an iPhone keypad. Proof of that self-justifying tendency, no doubt. 😉

  • MarkBrunson says:

    We all self-justify.

    I’m sorry, David, for my own ham-fistedness in not making clear that that is my point.

    There are no ABSOLUTE. MORAL. LAWS. delivered by God that we can prove to be *from God*.

    Other than that, I’m not sure where you’re going. We seem to be having two entirely different conversations, and I’m too tired and heartsick anymore for the endless slash/bash/smash – there’s no “debate” or even “argument,” just the endless un-fellowship of un-love. I’ve begun to believe the institutional christian church is Hell and its dogmas, liberal and conservative, simply the scribbling on diabolic jailhouse walls!

    That might be a good point for all of us to take, since we all keep wondering why mainline religion is falling off — this is how “christianity” appears from detached perspective.

  • Hey Mark,

    Let’s forget this ‘to and fro’ for a while and remember the ideas that unite us. We both, at some point, tasted a bit of ‘forever’ and that turning point was a person called Jesus. For all of my strong exchanges, you, as a person, are still more important to most others here and certainly, more than a few lines on a blog.

    So, cease-fire, my brother, you’re in pain. If it helps, get my e-mail address from Simon and really sound off.

    I know that you’d do the same for me.

  • William says:

    You spoke about absolutes not being helpful in coming to moral conclusions about murder (with regard to abortion and euthanaisa). But when the debate moved on to the death penalty, you were very firm about such absolutes. I would be interested to learn how you distinguish between these situations and on what authority you base your moral conclusions.

  • Erika Baker says:

    Very simply? Because the ethical considerations behind it would take hours to thrash out, so just the conclusions?

    Abortion: early stage foetuses are potential human beings, not actual babies. Their lives are not intrinsically more important than the lives and the health of the family of real people they could be born into. If there is a conflict, it is potentially possible to decide that already living people are more important.

    Assisted suicide: regardless of my own moral values, the responsibility for people’s lives is their own, even before God, I cannot take that responsibility from them. There are enough good ethical arguments for letting people make their own choices for me to accept that my view must not be imposed on them.

    Euthanasia: Tricky one! But where people have made a living will and therefore already accepted responsibility for their death, or where it is very clear that they will not recover and that their life has absolutely no positive quality, there are good moral arguments in favour. Enough, again, for me to know that it’s not as simple as shouting “murder”.

    Capital punishment: Already living people who do not wish to die. We do not have the right to kill them. There are no extenuating circumstances other than our own sense of revenge. All the reasons for killing them are about us, not about them. Therefore absolutely not acceptable from a moral point of view.

  • Erika,

    ‘Their lives are not intrinsically more important than the lives and the health of the family of real people they could be born into.’

    Foetuses may not be intrinsically *more* important, but are they intrinsically *equal* to ‘real’ people?

    Following your logic and given that the foetuses *are* alive, are you distinguishing foetal lives from ‘already living people’ by the ability to survive individually, or the legal status that current abortion laws apply? You can’t debate the status quo on abortion by applying the status quo on abortion as a given.

    Let’s say that they lack, until birth, full humanity and can be terminated. Well, no, because you cannot terminate after 24 weeks gestation, unless the mother’s life is in jeopardy. Yet, once out of the womb, they are babies, magically entitled to the human right of full protection from State-sanctioned termination. At birth, they attain the protection from harm that you would grant to a murderer, as of right. So, we end up providing greater protection as vulnerability and innocence diminishes. Not sure whether that was the intention.

    So, our humanity becomes a casualty of conflicting rights and their legal remedies, rather than an intrinsic quality that we all possess.

  • Erika Baker says:

    “Foetuses may not be intrinsically *more* important, but are they intrinsically *equal* to ‘real’ people?”

    I think that has to be up to every person’s individual conscience.
    To me, as long as there is no conflict between 2 goods, they equal to real people. But when there is a conflict of life and death between the living mother and the developing foetus, then the mother’s status as an actually living person, maybe even with responsibility for other children, definitely trumps the rights of the not-yet person.

    My real point is that there is no black and white. “Abortion is murder” is not a helpful slogan because murder is always wrong, period. But abortion is not always necessarily wrong, there are clear cases where it can be acceptable to terminate a pregnancy.

    At the very least, people who do not want to allow it have to face the fact that they may cause unbelievable suffering to the mother, long lasting health problems, maybe even death.
    They must at least recognise this as the price for their supposed moral purity.

    The truth is that there is no moral purity to be had here. We can only chose between two “evils”, and we should not kid ourselves that we’re doing anything else.

    And because of that, we have to leave the decision to those people who have to live with the outcome, because our own false sense of our own moral purity would be unacceptably expensively purchased on the back of the suffering we impose as a consequence.

  • William says:

    The debate can be thrashed out on fairly predictable lines – I know the conclusions of those for and against abortion. What I am interested in is how you arrive at those conclusions. You say that early stage foetuses are potential human beings and not actually babies. On what authority or evidence do you base this judgment?

  • Erika Baker says:

    Biology, William.

    An actual baby can survive on its own when it’s outside the womb.
    Before then, it is foetus.

    What we’re discussing is whether a foetus has the same moral status as a baby.

  • Erika Baker says:

    and I’m sorry you think the debate has been “thrashed out along fairly predicable line”, that makes it sound as though people had just been lobbing unthinking slogans.

    I had though we were having a good conversation, especially David asked some very pertinent questions and I have tried to engage with them. I hope that he doesn’t feel I have just thrown balls in the ring.

    I agree, there are only three answers: abortion is always wrong, always right, sometimes acceptable. And we have all been thinking about this for years, so there is an element of each of us knowing how we feel about it. But I hope that doesn’t translate into treating the topic casually, or that this is what you think we have done here.

    Maybe you would like to comment on my main argument, that this is not an issue where there is a moral high ground and that all we can do is chose which side of “guilty” we’re coming down on? And that being the case, that we ought not to make these decisions on behalf of the people who have to live with the consequences, as though we alone were moral beings and they had to be told by us?

  • Erika Baker says:

    And finally, sorry I forgot that earlier, the problem isn’t merely one of “when does a foetus become human”. Even if you believe that it is fully human from conception, the same ethical question remains: is selective termination allowed in the case of multiple conceptions where it is likely that all will die otherwise?
    What do you do when it’s a case of either saving the mother’s life or the child’s?
    What do you do when you know months before birth that the baby will only live for hours and is likely to be in considerable pain?

    We’re also discussing the eternal question of what to do when the lives of 2 human beings conflict. It’s the same question as: can I kill my attacker in self defense, can I kill the person who is about to kill my child etc.

    If it’s THAT important never to kill, then we also ought to be asking ourselves serious questions about wars, about training soliders to defend our country, about the soliders we send to help in countries that are being torn apart by cruel dictators etc.

    If it’s THAT important, then we cannot just single out abortion for our moral condemnation and accept all else.
    And if we did – we would still have to live with the consequences of our ethical choices, which may well be a dead mother, a country that nobody rescues and an attacker killing you because you are not allowed to defend yourself.

  • William says:

    The key issue here, before going into all the other scenarios you mention, is whether an embryo is a human being. The medical evidence reveals that a 17 week foetus is capable of experiencing pleasure and pain. There is evidence on camera of a foetus recoiling in horror during an abortion. Also evidence of a 17 week foetus smiling. These are solid facts, and contradict the idea that the foetus is somehow sub-human and of less value to God.

  • Erika Baker says:

    I don’t think I said anything about sub-human or of no value to God.

    If you read my posts, I spoke about ethical choices when there are two conflicting goods.
    And these remain the same if the parties in the conflict are both fully human.

    Would you care to answer the questions I’ve actually posed?

  • David Shepherd says:

    I think that William’s point is that the premise that the foetus is merely a potential human being compared to ‘already living people’ accords them an inherently lower position on the scale of conflicting rights. John the Baptist was united with the Spirit of God in his mother’s womb. William’s reference to the medical evidence corroborates the reality of pre-natal human consciousness.

    There are triage procedures that allow doctors to prioritise treatment for life-threatening injuries according to severity. There is no mention of some being potential human being, if that is a more accurate description of your view than ‘sub-human’.

    The idea of ‘potential humanity’ is as reductive and oversimplifying in life and death situations as equating every abortion to murder.

    Let’s also be clear that pregnancies are terminated everyday for far more trivial reasons (impact on lifestyle, economic, social, scholastic and career trajectory) that you omitted. We have a duty to inform the view that killing a foetus is an innocent last-ditch remedy for all kinds of contraceptive failure.

  • Erika Baker says:

    yes, to me, a foetus that cannot live outside the womb does have a lower status than the living mother, and if there is a serious conflict between her life and the foetus’ life, I would save the mother any time. The future mental health of a raped 14 year old has, to my mind, a greater priority than the 6 week old beginning of new life she’s carrying.

    As for William’s medical diagnosis of the emotional state of foetuses, I know of no medical science that says they “recoil in horror” or that babies who generally don’t smile until they’re about 4-5 weeks old are able to do this in the womb. Whatever we observe, we should be very careful about what emotive language we use to describe it.

    But all this isn’t helping.

    Even if we assume that the two are of completely equal moral value – on what basis do you then make a decision in a life or death situation?

    I’m still not seeing any engagement with the real problem here, that of having to make impossible decisions at times.
    In my examples earlier, how would you decided whose life to save and why?
    If my categories are not valid in your eyes, on what principles do you base your decisions in these situations?

    And I agree that abortions are performed for far more trivial reasons, although I would not be quite so categorical about what is a valid reason and what isn’t.
    I have seen families torn apart by what you might call mere “economic reasons” and it is not a pretty sight and has a shocking impact on the children.

    But I agree, I would not support abortion as a lifestyle choice.

    And if you did want to draw the line somewhere, I’d be quite happy to discuss a mechanism for that. But what I will not agree to is condemn all abortion at all times. Just because something is morally wrong does not make its alternative morally right.

  • William says:

    My purpose in asking the original question, was to see if there was any common ground between us regarding the nature of the human person. I wanted to know if Erica regarded a foetus as a human being, made in the image of God. And if she did not, on what authority or evidence she based this conclusion.
    Until we are clear on this matter it would be pointless to debate more difficult scenarios. Our understanding of the dignity of the foetus is of direct relevance to these more complex cases.
    David is right. The majority of abortions in the UK are simply cases of individuals wanting rid of the child. As Joanna Jepson has pointed out, there are instances of abortions taking place as late as 28 weeks for no other reason than a cleft palate. This issue really does need debating – honestly and with a desire for the truth. It is too easy to just go along with what society finds acceptable.

  • Erika,

    I mentioned the triage system that is used to prioritise medical treatment for those with life-threatening injuries. Why couldn’t a modified version of this be applied to these choices, taking into account the crucial, intertwined importance of the survival of both mother and child? Admittedly, abortion involves destroying a life rather than delaying/witholding vital treatment. Nevertheless, the result for those in trauma scenarios is the same.

    In the majority of the difficult cases that you mention, doctors might indeed opt to save the mother, but not because her life is of intrinsically more worth than the foetus she carries. Simply whether, based on agreed medical criteria, the chance of her long-term independent survival (or that of a foetus) is greater. We might debate whether the quality of that survival should also be a primary determinant. The point is that our society is capable of developing a rigorous system for making these tough decisions without assigning a lesser status to specific category of humanity.

    Still, in these extreme cases, I accept that because legislative sanctions would be either unenforceable, impose potentially unbearable hardship, or result in physical coercion, we should continue with informed parental decisions. Unfortunately, the moral equality of the foetus does not currently inform those decisions. This should change.

    Killing an unborn child to attenuate psychological, or economic impact alone is different. It opens a Pandora’s box of justifications for ending another human life, many of which may be arbitrary, vindictive and spurious. Advocates of capital punishment do the same.

  • Erika Baker says:

    I agree with most of what you say, but I am not so sure about “Unfortunately, the moral equality of the foetus does not currently inform those decisions”.

    Despite the often made claim that women use abortion as a form of contraception, and yes, we probably all know someone who did, the majority is hugely aware of the heavy moral responsibility. They speak of aborting a baby, they know very well that this is not a step to take lightly.

    You’re just avoiding my questions. My point is that even if we all believed that foetuses are as 100% human as the mother, there will still be situations where we have to decide between saving one life or the other. Or whether we save one of several growing lives in the womb or let all die.
    On what basis do we then make our decisions?

    My contention is that there is no moral purity to be had there. What is your view?

  • Erika Baker says:

    “Killing an unborn child to attenuate psychological, or economic impact alone is different. It opens a Pandora’s box of justifications for ending another human life, many of which may be arbitrary, vindictive and spurious.”

    I think this is where the real dividing line lies.
    Extremists apart, most people would support abortion when it’s a genuine life or death choice.

    It’s where we then draw the line is the difficulty.

    And again, I come down on the side of being very careful with quick moral judgements.
    I have known a woman who did not abort her unborn child and who subsequently developed predicted mental health problems that caused her very nearly to kill her older child. After months in mental health care she still needed extended round the clock support to keep both her children safe.

    The same is true for “mere” economic issues. Unless we have lived close to a family torn apart by financial pressures we tend to live in the comforting middle class illusion that you can get rich on benefits. The reality is quite different, and only recently an (I think OECD) study showed that Britain is second from the bottom regarding child poverty, beaten to the bottom slot only by the US.

    Until I’ve had the chance to walk in some of those people’s shoes, I will not judge whatever decisions they come to under pressure. I simply cannot sit here in the comfortable safety and financial and emotional security of my own life and condemn them for what I do not truly understand.

  • William says:

    When it comes to the situations you refer to, the lives of the child and the mother are of equal value. It would be morally impossible for me to say that one is more or less worthy of life than the other. How can we judge this without putting ourselves in the position of God?
    However although direct abortion is always wrong, surgical intervention or treatement to save the mother, which might result in the accidental death of the foetus would be lawful. This is the principle of double effect. In other words, the intention is to save the mother, rather than to kill the foetus. The death of the foetus would be a consequence of trying to preserve life, rather than a deliberate decision to end it.

  • Erika Baker says:

    Thank you.

    But if the 2 are genuinely of the same moral value, on what grounds would you aim to preserve the mother’s life and not that of the foetus?

  • Erika,

    While I agree that we should avoid personal condemnation, we are talking about the framing of public policy. I could find a myriad of variables that distinguish my less than middle-class Croydon upbringing from everyone else’s. It doesn’t and shouldn’t change the law.

    Of course, we should view difficult choices with understanding and compassion. However, we still need to face the challenge of applying public policy consistently and without the sway of personally acquired or inherited middle-class guilt.

    You may invoke all the compassion in the world, but the law demands, for instance, the prosecution of any person who performs an illegal abortion after 24 weeks, where the mother’s life in not in jeopardy and the foetus is without serious handicap. As you have clearly presented elsewhere, the basis of legislation (including the anti-discrimination variety) remains universally applicable, regardless of anyone’s socio-economic standing.

  • Erika Baker says:

    I quite agree.
    I also believe that the law as it stands was framed with compassion in mind.

    It is completely inconceivable that anyone would wish to have an abortion after 24 weeks for an unimportant reason. Abortion at that stage means going through labour and giving birth to a baby that is actually viable!
    And everybody knows that we’re talking about a baby at that stage. This is way outside the grey area of when a conception becomes a person.

  • William says:

    It’s not a case of preserving the life of one and not the other. I’m saying that we do all we can to save both lives. The scenario you present is of a mother’s health being in grave danger. Surgical intervention may be necessary – after all if the mother dies , the baby dies with her. The accidental consequnce of this could involve the death of the foetus. But this is an accidental consequence and not a deliberate one, as in the case of abortion.

  • Martin Reynolds says:

    Forgive me for this quote from Erica out of context but it helps evoke a certain mindset:
    “a foetus that cannot live outside the womb does have a lower status…..”

    Nursing a person with Alzheimer’s who already cannot survive outside the womb of her family and cannot remember most of her life and predictably will forget all – one does wonder about these benchmarks and definitions that define us “human” or “vegetative”, “viable” etc etc.

    I am deeply decided against the use of abortion as a method of birth control but on one occasion over 30 years ago (together with my bishop) paid for a woman (and provided the cover story) to have a child aborted that was not her husbands. He was in prison for murder, just one he had been caught for. He was then due for release in a little under a year and we all believed he would have killed his wife, the baby and, most probably her other children.

  • Martin,

    I hope that I can question your decision as a means of gaining understanding. I know you may have asked these questions of yourself and, heaven knows, we all wrestle with our own consciences.

    It would appear to be a matter of weighing the responsibility to not kill one child with the potential of that child’s existence to inadvertently bring death to others. With all due respect, at what point in pre-natal development does terminating the secret pregnancy with that inadvertent possibility of harm become unconscionable?

    If abortion was *not* an option and he was released, would you have paid for someone to kill him in order to pre-empt the murder of the wife and family?

    Why not end a life that has killed before and would likely kill again? After all, before his prison term, you say he had killed others with impunity. The police offered no real guarantee of protection.

    Perhaps, a reason to support capital punishment.

  • Martin Reynolds says:

    David, I thought to have set my historical actions precisely in the “moral maze” you have made even more clear by your added option of murdering the father.

    That option, I must tell you, never occurred to me. Though I fear it might have been more easily and more cheaply done.

    Otherwise, I refer to what you write:
    “I know you may have asked these questions of yourself and, heaven knows, we all wrestle with our own consciences.”

  • I respect those boundaries of what you have put in the public domain.

    Some might say, (not me), that in the ‘moral maze’, ending the father’s life as I mentioned, might not have been murder.

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