Category Archives: Theology

17 May

Humpty Rules OK?

What are the foundations of morality? The Ten Commandments? Our Lord’s summary of the Law in which we are commanded to love God and to love our neighbour? Does Aristotle “golden mean between the extremes” appeal? Or you might like to try Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative: “Act only on that maxim which you would will to be a universal law.” In the philosophical bargain basement, you can find the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill which declare that the rightness of an action is to be judged by its consequences. if you fancy a bit of positivism and moral anarchy, you can take your cue from A.J.Ayer and C.L. Stevenson who said that the propositions of ethics are strictly “meaningless” and merely emotive: according to these two gentlemen, when I say, “Slaughtering the innocent is wrong,” all I really mean is, “I don’t like slaughtering the innocent.”

Bewildered, we turn to the church. But what do we find there?

In the Season of Easter edition of Faith in Sussex, the Chichester Diocesan magazine, the Bishop of the Diocese, clearly with the election in mind, writes:

“But essentially the vote is an expression of engagement with a process in which law and taxation provide the foundations of what we believe to be morally right.”

I’m sure that if we were to ask the Bishop to clarify this perplexing utterance, I’m sure he would oblige with a qualification something like this: “Of course, I didn’t mean to say that law and taxation are the foundations of morality; only that what we choose to tax and the sorts of laws we make reveal the things that we value most.”

But, if that’s what you meant, Bishop, why was that not what you said?

There is a foolish notion, widespread particularly in politics and social policy-making, that it is the speaker or the writer who means. As if the same sentence in the same context from two different mouths could carry two different and even contradictory meanings. This is not so. It is not we who mean: it is  words that mean. And, unfortunately even for bishops, the choice of words determines what is being said.

It is no defence to reply to a challenge by saying, “That’s not what I meant!”

Then why did you say it? If you meant something else, why didn’t you choose words which would state that something else?

Unfortunately for all our public conversations, politicians, journalists – and it appears, even bishops – have all been reading Alice Through the Looking Glass and they have become the disciples of Humpty Dumpty:

“’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less’.”

No wonder Alice became irritated. And so am I!

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21 Jan

When I hear the word “culture”…

Wondering where to look next for a bit of excitement, I stumbled upon the briefing and agenda papers for the meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England to be held next month. My pulse raced and I could feel my face purpling as I read: 

“The Church of England needs to undergo a major ‘culture shift’ to mobilise lay members to spread the gospel in their everyday lives.”

My excitement was occasioned by the utter brilliance of this proposal. The Church has been around in England for 1500 years, but this is the first time a genius has arisen among the hierarchy to suggest that members of the Church might talk to their fellow-countrymen about the Christian faith. The idea is so radical and innovatory that the brain-dead ecclesiastical bureaucrat – sorry, I mean of course the pastoral expert- in Church House has actually had to coin a phrase to describe it. 

This luminous phrase is “culture shift.” And its radical nature is all in the fact that “culture” is not something we naturally associate with the contemporary Church of England

Unless of course we mean guitars and overhead projectors; with cutting up little bits of yellow paper and sticking them on bigger pieces of blue paper; of decorating cup cakes; of “holding a line dance for the Lord.” All these cultural activities, and more besides, are what the Church authorities recommend in their course booklet, Love Life, Live Lent.

Recently they produced something even better when they suggested that parish churches should become “Pokemon Hubs.”

“And behold, he saith unto them, ‘Go ye into all the world and wherever you come across anyone barmy enough to take any notice, tell him to set up a Pokemon Hub’.”

The report, entitled Setting God’s People Free, calls for Christians “…to be equipped to live out their faith in every sphere – from the factory or office, to the gym or shop – to help increase numbers of Christians and their influence in all areas of life.”

Brilliantly the Church House genius understands that, for Church members to be able to do these things, they will have to be taught.

This is an insight of truly startling originality and forces us, at the point of wonder, to contemplate the infinite depth and resourceful creativity of the mind of the contemporary Church. 

These inspired suggestions are key elements in the lay leadership strand of Renewal and Reform – the latest wheeze – sorry, “…an initiative from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to help grow the Church.”

Which, being interpreted means, “The Church authorities – bishops, synods and the like – have been so mindlessly inept for so long that hardly anyone comes to Church any longer. So we’ve run out of money, folks. You’d better get out there then are pull in a few punters – or we won’t be able to pay for the synodical bureaucracy and the bishops’ expenses.”

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20 Jan

The massacre of the innocents

Archbishop Justin Welby recently visited Auschwitz and afterwards said, “We must reflect on the human capacity for evil and the need to both recognise and challenge this wherever it appears. We must protest to the limit against evil: before it occurs, as it happens, and in its aftermath.”

That was very well said and profoundly Christian, befitting an Archbishop. Its pertinence is particularly noticeable in his phrase “wherever it {evil} appears.”

The extermination of 1.1 million people by the Germans at Auschwitz was a signal atrocity, but it was not unique. The Germans murdered six million Jews in their death camps, but the Russians under Stalin slaughtered three times that number – and some say even more than that. Still more were killed by the Chinese under Mao.

So this is where we should mark well the Archbishop’s phrase, “wherever it {evil} appears.”

And evil appears everywhere and in all ages “All have sinned and fallen  short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). This is the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, the fact that, while we may strive to do good, our will is inclined to evil. St Paul says, “The good I would, that I do not; and what I would not, that I do.” (Romans 7:19). We are divided selves. 

Nowadays the doctrine of Original Sin has gone put of fashion. Since the Enlightenment we have thought increasingly well of ourselves and so now the truth of the doctrine of Original Sin has been replaced by the lie of Progress. Modern, “liberal” Christians don’t believe in Original Sin: they think it’s just one of those dismal superstitions held by primitive people in the “pre-scientific” bad old days. Modern types are quite sure that they have grown out of such “negative” views.

The modern “liberal” preacher does not set about to convince us of our sinfulness but to cultivate our sense of self-esteem.

But it is easy to give the lie to the “liberals’” denial of the fact of Original Sin. If we are really so progressed, improved and altogether better than our forebears, why were more people slaughtered in the wars and genocides of the 20th century than in all the preceding centuries put together?

This is where I want to come a bit nearer home. The 1.1 million murders of the Auschwitz atrocity were an unspeakable evil. But since the Abortion “Reform” Act of 1967, 8,2 unborn children have been destroyed in the UK because their existence was. deemed inconvenient for those who procreated them. The legalisation of abortion, we were told, would abolish the dirty and dangerous backstreet clinics and termination would be allowed only within the first 24 weeks of gestation and in cases where the foetus was severely damaged or where there was a danger to the life of the mother.

“Termination,” they say blithely, clinically. They forget there should be an “ex” before that word

But for decades abortion has simply been used as another method of contraception used by the sexually incontinent.

8.2 foetuses destroyed since 1967. Currently at a rate of 200,000 every year in the UK. That’s an Auschwitz every five years.

And you tell me you don’t believe in Original Sin?

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25 Dec

Begone gloomy prelate!

“2016 has left us awash with fear.” Thus spake that leader of the Church Militant in this state of England, the Arch-community dirge-chanter of Canterbury, Justin Welby. We are haunted, he chants, by “the fear of terror and the economics of despair.”

If you Google SKY News, you can see a picture of him actually looking haunted and afraid.

Speak for yourself, Mr Welby. I’m not. I would rather believe the angel who said, “Fear not” than the wimpish Primate of all England.

The aim of terrorists is to make us afraid. I’m not going to oblige them, and I am confident most of my fellow countrymen are not going to succumb to fear either.

And what’s all this about “the economics of despair”? Foreign investment, since the referendum, is at the highest level on record. There are more people in work than ever. A score more economic indicators register strongly on the plus side.

There are so many things to be thankful for. Obama has (nearly) gone. We were spared Hillary Clinton. Trump is (almost) in the White House. The England XV went through the year unbeaten. Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow scored a stack of runs.

Welby himself has served another year at Canterbury – which means he has one fewer to go until the day he leaves office.

And Leave won that referendum.

Best of all, it’s Christmas Day. The Word is made flesh and dwells among us, and we behold his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father: full of grace and truth.

So Lord descend to us, we pray: and take that Justin Welby away.

I’ve got a better motto for us: Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus…”

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19 Nov

ARCHBISHOP TALKS SENSE!

Indeed, the age of miracles is not dead. Let me write the headline: ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY TALKS SENSE. It’s even better than MAN BITES DOG. Yes, Justin Welby has surprised us by acting entirely out of character. He has said we must accept that the terrorist group Islamic State has some connection with Islam. Here is an extract from the Archbishop’s speech:

“If we treat religiously-motivated violence solely as a security issue, or a political issue, then it will be incredibly difficult – probably impossible – to overcome it.

“A theological voice needs to be part of the response, and we should not be bashful in offering that.

“This requires a move away from the argument that has become increasingly popular, which is to say that Islamic State is ‘nothing to do with Islam’, or that Christian militia in the Central African Republic are nothing to do with Christianity, or Hindu nationalist persecution of Christians in South India is nothing to do with Hinduism.

“Until religious leaders stand up and take responsibility for the actions of those who do things in the name of their religion, we will see no resolution.”

I have never heard him say anything remotely sane or sensible before. I ran out of fleshy areas of my body which I might pinch to establish that I was not dreaming. Now I am left wondering why Welby spoke as he did. In the past he was always a fully paid up member of the Islam-is-a-religion-of peace-and-love brigade: those Guardianistas and BBC types who claim that the murderous psychopaths’ shout of “Allahu Akbar!” immediately before they behead you/throw a few bombs into a shopping centre/spray a playground with Kalashnikov bullets/ or perhaps crucify you is an aberration or a mere coincidence.

It was probably too much to expect the Archbishop to take the reasonable next step and declare that the Christian response – in fact the Christian duty – towards those who deliberately kill the innocent should be to fight them. This teaching, derived from Aquinas’ doctrine of the just war, is entirely orthodox. Better still if Welby had followed the example of St Bernard of Clairvaux who, in the Burgundian town of Vézelay on 31st March, 1146, delivered his famous oration on responding to the Muslim threat:

“…Will you allow the infidels to contemplate in peace the ravages they have committed on Christian people? …Fly then to arms; let the holy rage animate you in the fight, and let the Christian world resound with these words of the Hebrew prophet: ‘Cursed be he who does not stain his sword with blood!’ ”

But credit where it’s due: The Archbishop’s words represent movement in the right direction and a welcome change from the usual evasive, euphemistic tosh that churchmen speak concerning the barbarians who perpetrate mass murder in the name of Islam. Who knows where these things might lead? Perhaps next week the Archbishop will ascend the pulpit in Canterbury cathedral and say, “Up, lads, and at ‘em!”

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07 Nov

The existence of God

One of the most interesting passages – among so many interesting passages – in Ian Robinson’s writings comes at the end of his book Holding the Centre. He writes:

“After about two decades of intermittent struggle and a not badly received talk to a serious philosophical society on the subject of the ontological argument for the existence of God, I am unable to venture over the verge… To deny that there is judgement is foolish because the statement is itself an attempt at judgment. I would dearly love to be able to show that the insipiens who twice in The Psalms says in his heart there is no God is trying with Derrida to make the sense that there is no sense… I believe we make sense…Can anyone take it any further?”

I don’t think I can take this any further, but i can point to contributions by at least three philosophers which just might.

In An Essay on Metaphysics R.G. Collingwood says:

“If Gaunilo was right when he argued that Anselm’s ontological proof of the existence of God proved the existence of God only to a person who already believed it, Anselm replied that he did not care… Anselm regarded the fool who ‘hath said in his heart, There is no God’ as a fool not because he was blind to the actual existence of un nomme Dieu but because he did not know that the presupposition, ‘God exists’ was a presupposition he himself made.”

In God, Religion & Reality Stephen R.L. Clark writes:

“If rational discourse is only possible in a God-directed universe, it follows that rational atheists must actually rely upon the truth of theism even to argue against it…. God does not belong to the class of existing things, not that he has no existence, but that he is above all existing things, even above existence itself. Any existing God would be less than God. An existent God would be an idol or a demon.

!”A world in which literally anything could happen, for no intelligible reason, is not intelligible at all. If the truth is such as to be intelligible, there must be a reason why it is whatever it is. So either there is something that exists (and never needed to come into existence) because of what it is, or there is no explanation at all for anything.”

In The Experience of God, David Bentley Hart says:

“It simply does not matter very much is some god named ‘God’ might happen to exist, even if he should prove to be the unsurpassable and unique instantiation of the concept ‘god,’ as that fact casts no no real light on the enigma of existence as such. Even if this demiurge really existed, he would still be just one more being out there whose existence would be in need of explanation: one would still have to look past him and his marvellous works in order to contemplate what is truly ultimate: the original source of being upon which he and the world must both be dependent.””

“Whenever Aquinas spoke of the ‘first cause’ of beings, he was referring to an ontological not a chronological priority.”

I wonder if Robinson thinks this takes the matter any further? And I wonder what others might think?

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28 Oct

All in the mind?

The prevailing wind is a westerly. That’s why we get so much muck blown over from the USA. The current bit of muck is Halloween. This was never popularly observed until comparatively recently and in one sense it epitomises our infantilisation. It demonstrates the truth of G.K. Chesterton’s remark: “When men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing; they believe in anything.” It says much about the sort of society we are when, instead of celebrating All Saints’ Day on 1st November, we keep Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve) the night before.

Some Roman Catholics and many Evangelical Christians become very exercised by this celebration of Halloween and warn that it can lead to the worship and glorification of evil. I suppose in a few extreme cases it could, but the real purpose of this “festival” is to make a lot of money out of it by selling masks, costumes and other such tat – as with that other fatuity, Fathers’ Day.

It’s gormless – but no more gormless than the countless celebrations of gormlessness that we go in for these days in our dumbed-down junk culture. For instance, this morning there was a serious discussion between supposed adults on The Today Programme about emojis – those silly faces and doodles which people append to their communications on the varieties of antisocial media. Particularly puerile was the fact that they were talking about designing emojis for older people. So there was one with bingo numbers for eyes and another with a reprimanding stare. is that what oldies do, then: get their heads down in the bingo hall and look up again to scowl at their neighbours?

Our infantilisation is now surely complete.

But there is something nasty about even a pretend celebration of the dark powers – whether you believe that devils exist or not. What certainly exists – and exists very powerfully – is the human imagination. And it is but a short step from pretend to reality – as we notice when violent images watched on TV stir up some people to go out and commit violence in real life. Only last week, a teenage girl was so distressed by a horror series she watched on TV that she did away with herself.

Why can’t people get it into their head that mental events are  real?

St Augustine taught that psychological reality is spiritual reality and moral reality. He said that, if you want to acquire a particular virtue – say kindness – you should pretend that you have this virtue already. Try doing little acts of kindness and you will gradually become a kind person: in the same way that (given a fair wind) you will be able to play the piano if you practise for long enough. Augustine, the master psychologist, actually said, “You must become a hypocrite.” Hypocrite is the old Greek word for an actor.

Be careful which parts you act out then. Choose warily the stuff you want to pretend or to practise.

Be careful what you wish for – you might get it!

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15 Oct

Progressively worse

Hillary Clinton is promising “a progressive presidency.” I was wondering what this piece of jargon might mean when happily I received a clue – from the horse’s mouth, you might say.

Emails between two of Mrs Clinton’s closest colleagues have been made public. John Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign, and Sandy Newman, president and founder of the campaign group Voices for Progress, have disparaged what they refer to as “Catholic Middle Ages teachings.”  

Why, when modern types seek especially to denounce a particular viewpoint, do they refer to it as of the Middle Ages or Medieval?

Some of the most profound philosophical and theological thought was gifted to Europe and the world by Medieval churchmen. Adapting Plato and Aristotle, they established a system of logic and enunciated fundamental presuppositions of rational thought which, despite the efforts of 17th and 18th century detractors, continue to provide a basis for metaphysics and epistemology. Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Anselm and Francis Bacon were among the clearest and most imaginative thinkers of any historical period. It is no overstatement to say that such men as these created modern Europe. And their creation was embodied in the founding of the first universities, the great cathedrals, schools, hospitals, the beginnings of western music in Gregorian plainchant and that near-miraculous administrative instrument, the parish.

These were only some of the achievements of an age so contemptuously sneered at as “Medieval.”   

Another of Hillary’s “progressives,” John Newman, wrote: “There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a Middle Ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church.”

But Christendom was not a dictatorship. It provided a decent set of political liberties. If it’s dictators you’re looking for, John, look no further than your cherished “progressive” modernity: Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot. No “Medieval dictatorship” slaughtered human beings on a scale anywhere approaching the genocides committed by those men – who were fervent atheists, by the way. And there were more people killed in the wars of the “progressive” 20th century than in all previous wars put together

In another email, John Halpin of the Centre for American Progress mocked the conservatism of Catholics, especially converts: “They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy.”

It is difficult to attach any meaning to a statement as clumsy and convoluted as that, but I think we get the gist.

Medieval Christianity at least provided some practical guidance for our discerning of what is right from what is wrong – which the moral and social squalor of absolute ethical relativism cannot do. No doubt the practice of chastity is arduous, but the “progressive” alternative is unspeakable: every person, regardless of their, “gender” an opportunity for casual sexual gratification and millions of the unborn ripped untimely from the womb simply because people are sexually incontinent.

Listen – Hillary, John and Sandy – to words written by T.S. Eliot in 1934:

“Why should men love the Church? Why should they love her laws? She tells them of Life and death, and of all that they would forget. She is tender were they would be hard, and hard were they like to be soft. She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts. They constantly try to escape from the darkness outside and within, by dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.”

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27 Sep

The Church of St Jargon & All Gobbledegook

The Church of St Jargon & All Gobbledegook – formerly known as the Church of England – is affectionately called “Jarg’s” or “Gobs” by its devotees. It is “a resource  where exciting things are happening.” Last year, for example, they appointed Mike Eastwood, Liverpool Diocesan Secretary, to the “exciting” two days a week job of Director of the nationwide Reform and Renewal movement, aka “The Welby Babes.”.Mike has held exciting posts before his current appointment. He was Director of the Directory of Social Change – and they don’t come more exciting than that in the social engineering and class warfare sector!

The official announcement of Mike’s appointment mentioned that he had previously worked for the not quite so exciting Resourcing the Future Task Group and that, “He brings knowledge of the Church to support the programme into the delivery phases.” His responsibility at R&R will be, “…to bring the current work streams together and co-ordinate the activities in a way necessary for delivery.”

When we read such invigorating sentences as these, we can see at once that the new name, The Church of St Jargon & All Gobbledegook was chosen with brilliant aptness. 

The announcement continues in the same exciting style: “Mike will retain his role in Liverpool, with some changes in day-to-day activities to ensure manageability of workload.”

The tired old C. of E. is in its death throes – thank God. The stuffy old diehards, Prayer Book lovers and the like are dying off too. The numbers attending church show relentless decline. We should see this as a blessing, as the dead wood makes way for the exciting new ethos of R&R with its stimulating rock music “worship groups,” its informal, pass-the-parcel style liturgy and its scintillating shoals of “management teams.” 

The chronic shortage of priests is “enabling” R&R “to explore exciting new possibilities for lay leadership.” 

The future is bright. The future is all Jargon & Gobbledegook (with charismatic choruses obbligato).

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06 Sep

Onward Christian Soldiers!

Here follows the cheeriest, most encouraging, sentence I’ve read in a long time: “A Christian militia has liberated a village in Iraq from Islamic State.”

This victorious Christian militia bears a name with sonorous biblical resonance. They are called the Nineveh Plain Protection Units, in number about 3000 men, and they have just taken back control of Badanah in south-east Mosul. The group published video and images on Facebook of NPU fighters driving Islamic State from the village.

Praise be to God!

NPU commander Bahnam Abush told the Iraqi press: “The operation is a step towards the restoration of confidence and hopes for Christians to stay in the land of their grandparents.”

The Nineveh Plains were captured in 2014 by Islamic State who murdered many Christians and drove 125,000 from their homes. Since the Muslims took control of the area, they have used torture extensively. They also destroyed a number of historical landmarks in the area such as the walls of Nineveh and the 4th century Mar Behnam Monastery.

Well now, thanks be to God and the Christian militia, they have got their come-uppance.

Christianity has a long and noble military tradition employed frequently against imperialistic Islam. Charles Martel raised a Christian army and defeated a huge Muslim incursion at Tours in AD 732. The Knights of St John relieved the siege of Malta in 1565. When the Muslim general crucified captured Christians and floated their bodies across the strait on crosses, the Abbot rounded up 1000 Muslims, beheaded them and fired the severed heads back at the enemy from his cannons. Papal armies raised a fleet and routed the Muslims at Lepanto in 1571. And it was a Christian army under Jan Sobieski which lifted the siege of Vienna in 1683.

Now that what’s left of the European civilization created by Christianity is once again under Muslim attack, the words “Christian militia” never cross the lips of our archbishops and bishops. They prefer to appease our enemies and persecutors. You might say the policy of the church’s contemporary leadership is pre-emptive self-abasement. In Europe, the Middle East and much of Africa, Christians are being slaughtered wholesale and dispossessed on the grand scale. But all the bishops’ talk is about “Islamophobia” – in other words, don’t blame the Muslims; it’s our own fault.

Don’t hang around for Welby’s Christian militia to turn up: you’ll have to wait a very long time.

On at least four occasions in the last 1400 years, Christian militias have defeated the barbarians. This time it looks as if the barbarians are going to win. Not because we lack the resources to fight, but we lack the will. A courageous people under threat of subjection or annihilation can always hope to defeat the enemy. But once a people has lost the will to fight, has lost confidence in itself, there is no power on earth that can save it.

Things will have to get worse before they get better. When the threat became severe and critical in Iraq, there emerged that wonderful Christian militia to smite the enemy. The Muslim threat is only going to intensify here in Europe.

So we should all sing Psalm 68: “Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered: let them that hate Him flee before Him. Like as the smoke vanisheth, so shalt thou drive them away: and like as wax melteth at the fire, so let the ungodly perish at the presence of God.”

Shall we, in our extremity, produce a Christian militia too? Let us pray in the words of The Book of Common Prayer:

“O Almighty God, King of all kings and governor of all things, whose power no creature is able to resist, to whom it belongeth justly to punish sinners and to be merciful to them that truly repent; save and deliver us, we humbly beseech thee, from the hands of our enemies; abate their pride, aswage their malice and confound their devices; that we, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore from all perils to glorify thee, who art the only giver of all victory; through the merits of thy only Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

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