Category Archives: Theology

13 Feb

Fallen angels

It’s lovely when it’s one of theirs, isn’t it? A sexual predator, that is. It seems so often it’s one of ours. By ours I mean priests, freemasons, Tory MPs from the shires and such like. By theirs I mean the worldwide community of institutionalised do-gooders – specifically Oxfam.

Now, let me give credit where credit is due. This morning on The Today Programme Justin Webb and John Humphrys were reading out the newspaper headlines. Webb said, “The Oxfam sexual abuse scandal is the lead for them all – even The Guardian which had not previously reported this story with much enthusiasm.”

Of course not! Do-gooding lefties don’t go in for sexual abuse – or money-laundering, drug-trafficking, wife-beating or omitting to pay their library fines. Lefties, Guardianistas and Oxfam-wallahs were all immaculately conceived and sinless from the start.

But – praise God – there is such a thing as truth after all. Oxfam representatives have been at it all over the world: in Haiti in particular and even in their own charity shops. I know it’s hard to believe – as if one were asked to believe that St Bob Geldof once refused to take an old lady to the other side of the road.

But heck, it’s true. So true that Oxfam’s deputy boss has had to resign. Rejoice!

In the wake of these sordid revelations I took a look at Oxfam’s website to make sure they were still there. Oh yes, they’re there all right, their self-righteousness and sanctimony shining as brightly as ever. When it comes to self-glorification Oxfam beats that Pharisee in the gospel who exclaims: “I thank thee that I am not as other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers. I fast twice in the week. I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:12)

Ah but Humphrys and Webb were right: Oxfam’s sins have been found out and all the world knows of it. How are the mighty fallen!

Their website still advertises their do-gooding in ever so many world crises: in Syria, in Yemen, among the Rohingya and in the DRC.

Oddly, they don’t mention the crisis in their own high street shops where teenage assistants have been sexually-abused.

All their favourite slogans still appear though and their propaganda. For example:  “To spread that change and make it last, political solutions are also needed to tackle the root causes of poverty and create societies where empowered individuals can thrive. We will always act, we will speak out, and we won’t live with poverty.”

The lefty ideology is still unabashed, plain (and ugly) as a wart on your cheek: “Political solutions” (But I thought you were a charity, not a quasi-Marxist pressure group); “root causes” (ie not droughts, floods and natural shortages but exploitation and corruption which is, of course, the result of centuries of the West’s imperialism); “empowered” (ie politically radicalised).

There are other notices on their website which I didn’t quite understand: “New in: women’s accessories”

I’m not joking. I’m quoting. Can anyone enlighten me, please?

And then, “Run for Oxfam.” I suggest they change this to “Run away from Oxfam.”

Today Oxfam. Who knows what tomorrow might bring? Sexual predators exposed in the vegan community? In the Woman’s Hour studio?

But give thanks for that the truth is out. No one is immune against the peccatum originale – not even the saints in Oxfam

16 Jan

Has David Bentley-Hart gone off his rocker?

David Bentley-Hart is a man I admired greatly for his book “God” – a quite outstanding essay in philosophical theology.

But he’s gone right off the rails in his new project to offer us a “subversively literal” translation of the Greek New Testament. No honest translator sets out a priori to produce a subversive version – or an orthodox, conservative version if it comes to that – but to produce the best translation he can

A few points then

First it is an astonishing claim to suggest that all previous translators of the New Testament got it wrong! What the immaculate Tyndale? The scholars, including Lancelot Andrewes, who produced the King James Version? The superb mostly American linguists who gave us The Revised Standard Version? All duds and just waiting for David to come along and put them right?

Besides, the interpretation of Paul which David says is plain wrong happens to be substantially the same interpretation as that held by Augustine, Luther, Karl Barth, Newman and Joseph Ratzinger. Were they all wrong too?

A few details…

Paul does not say we are born “damnedly guilty” He says “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Original Sin is our self-corruption of our own will: “The thing I would, that I do not; and what I would not, that I do.” That’s Paul’s definition of Original Sin in words of one syllable

No – we are not saved by our good deeds but good deeds in those who are saved through faith in Christ are pleasant to God, and they are performed by the grace of Christ. As Paul says, “Not I but Christ within me.” But good deeds cannot save us. As Blake said, “If moral virtue was Christianity, Christ’s pretensions were all vanity.” If good deeds save us, why the need for Christ’s sacrifice?

In St Paul, but also in the synoptic gospels and in The Book of Revelation, we find the teaching of everlasting hell. Though, as Aquinas said, “There certainly is a hell. But don’t worry, there’s probably no one in it!”

“For Paul, pistis means…” Oh dear! What does this perfectly simple Greek word mean for the rest of us? It’s from Plato  – cf “epistemology” – and it is, at least to start with, an intellectual commitment. Repentance “metanoia” – much favoured by Paul – is also an intellectual act: it means “change or renew tour mind, your way of thinking.” Repentance and faith go together in Paul – as they do in John the Baptist and in the three short epistles of John: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…” And so on. This theology pervades the New Testament. Hardly surprising since it IS the gospel!

Paul chooses different themes in one epistle from those he chooses to expound in another: Colossians is full of the doctrine of the Cosmic Christ (which David touches on); but that’s not the teaching we find in Romans. Philippians is largely about a different theme altogether: Christ’s pre-existence and self-emptying (Kenosis) – see especially chapter 2

It is facile to suggest that Paul is some sort of Manichee – spirit good; flesh bad. If so, why does he tell us that we shall be given “a spiritual body” – soma-pneumatikon? Why is he such a strong preacher of Christ’s Incarnation?

I’m disappointed to find David offering us sensation, a mere squib, when he is capable of writing the real thing

But then people do get tempted and corrupted – even theologians – as, of course,  St Paul says!

01 Jan

Does Welby have a wireless?

The Archbishop of Canterbury has delivered his New Year’s message to the nation in which he praises the responses of what he calls “communities” to last year’s terrorist atrocities and to the Grenfell fire. Actually, “communities” is not a helpful word, Mr Welby if your aim is to promote social cohesion. There is one community and we are all part of it, whereas “communities” connotes ghettos – that failed multicultural experiment which encouraged the separate development of the different races and creeds. Most of the immigrants who have settled in Britain over the centuries have integrated into the general population – into the community, in fact. Only in recent years there has arisen an exception: Muslims who so dislike our British community that they segregate themselves in a form of apartheid. How inconsistent and odd of lefties such as Welby to have condemned apartheid when it took place in South Africa, but to applaud it here in their use of that divisive word “communities.” What we have in Tower Hamlets, Dewsbury, Walsall, Oldham and a score other of our cities and towns is not Muslim “communities,” Mr Welby but Muslim ghettos.

In his message, which was broadcast on the BBC, the Archbishop said he also wanted to highlight the suffering of people “struggling to find work or relying on food banks” and “those who are bereaved or coping with poor mental health or physical illness.”

He added: “Their suffering will never make the news.”

Really? Does Welby live anywhere near a television set or a wireless? Does he ever read a newspaper? If he did, he would discover that, far from “never making the news,” the topics of unemployment, food banks – many organised by the Church of which Welby is titular leader – and mental health are never out of the news. These subjects are of great public concern and so it’s right that they should feature prominently in the news.

It is entirely right that the Archbishop should express his thanks to the emergency services for their courageous presence during terrorist attacks and at terrible public disasters such as Grenfell. Likewise, his concern for the poor and the sick is something required of him by the faith which he professes. I just wish he would profess the Christian faith rather more than he does. Christian morality is derived from Christian doctrine. And the most fundamental Christian doctrine is that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but we can take comfort and hope from the fact that Jesus Christ died to save us from our sins. So, if we repent and turn to Christ, we shall be saved,

Not a word about this from Welby. As if a chemist were to talk about chemistry while avoiding all reference to chemicals, or England’s opening batsman should walk out to bat – only without his bat.

Surely, the turn of the year is the time for looking back and repenting of our sins, negligences and ignorances and for looking forward in hope and confidence in the saving work of Jesus Christ?

The social gospel is a very fine thing. But the social gospel without the gospel is just sentimental socialism. 

23 Aug

Fools, damn fools and modern biblical critics

Sometimes a report is so uninformative, inaccurate, vague and generally fatuous that it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. In most such cases we can simply pay the report no attention, grimace frustrated and toss it into the wastepaper basket. But when the subject under  the report’s review is as important as the interpretation of Scripture, as a priest I feel I owe it as a matter of pastoral care to spell out what’s wrong . In today’s Daily Telegraph there is such a report and it begins thus:

“The earliest Latin interpretation of the Gospels has been brought to light by a British academic – and it suggests that readers should not take the Bible literally.”

So this has only very recently been “brought to light” has it by, as the article goes on to mention, Dr Hugh Houghton of the University of Birmingham?  Well, I have news for Dr Houghton and for Olivia Rudgard who wrote that Telegraph article:

Throughout the centuries there have actually been only a very few scholars and ordinary readers who have taken the Bible literally – and for a very good (and obvious) reason: most of the Bible does not consist of propositions of fact.

Much of the Bible is poetry and hymns. How, for example, would anyone go about taking a line such as “The Lord’s my shepherd” literally? Or “I am a worm and no man”?

No one has ever believed that when the Bible says God made the world in six days and on the seventh day he rested means that God formed the universe in six days of twenty-four hours and on the following day he took to his pipe and slippers and sat back in an easy chair.

Or that one of Solomon’s lovers really had a neck that was “a tower of ivory.”

Or that “the stars of heaven fell to the earth.”

To continue to enumerate examples would be the exploit of an imbecile. Besides, there are other aspects of this dismal tale to consider….

Dr Houghton says, “There’s been an assumption that the Bible is a literal record of truth – a lot of the early scholars got very worried about inconsistencies between Matthew and Luke for example.”

No, they didn’t get very worried. They were scholars, not idiots. They noticed differences between Matthew and Luke – that Matthew has wise men visiting the manger while Luke mentions only shepherds – and they concluded that these variations didn’t evidence contradictoriness but two different theological perspectives. Similarly, no one in his right mind would conclude that because the synoptic Gospels declare that the crucifixion happened on one particular day while John says it happened on a different day that therefore the crucifixion never happened.

That may be how dumb literalists and contemporary theological academics think but it is not how the early biblical commentators and the Church Fathers thought.

The fact is – and it has been well-recognised by scholars and general readers for a thousand years and more – that much of the Bible is in the similes and metaphors of poetic expression; and that the biblical narrative lends itself to allegorical interpretation. The masters of that craft were such as Origen and Augustine in the earliest centuries of Christian history.

And they didn’t need to wait for Dr Houghton to come along and explain to them their own method! 

08 Aug

God gets it right at his second attempt

God got it wrong first time round and was told to try again.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office funds an institution called Wilton Park which has just published a report Opportunities and Challenges: the Intersection of of Faith and Human Rights of LGBT+  Persons

“Evangelical Christians in the Global South – mainly Africa – should be expected to re-interpret the Bible to make it compatible with LGBT+ ideology.”

This agency, supported by the British Government demands “direct action” and says, “Religious leaders should be held to account for their promotion of hatred against LGBT+ people. Queer lawyers and their allies are well-placed to challenge hate speech through administrative law and litigation.”

The churches must be obliged to provide “enlightened textual exegesis.” There should also be “…teaching of LGBT+ in Sunday schools and Queer theology in colleges training people for the church’s ministry.”

The report denounces missionaries and Christian teachers for “spreading prejudiced views”

The Wilton Park report calls for “the improvement” of the Bible, particularly of accounts of “Sodom and Gomorrah which perpetuate hatred.”

I quite agree. I have spent my life as a theologian and I confess that for all those years I took the Bible to be the Word of God. But, following my enlightenment by my LGBT+ friends and by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I now see that the Bible is a wretched travesty, a primitive and pernicious denunciation of homosexual behaviour which, thankfully, our enlightened and emancipated understanding reveals to be one of the greatest blessings received in the whole history of the human race. Not only do I approve, therefore, of the rewriting of biblical texts to demonstrate God’s Original Error and to prove what a holy and blessed thing homosexual behaviour is, but I shall make my own contribution to this new vision by offering a fresh translation of the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

“ And it came to pass that the Lord did look down upon the cities of the plain, even upon Sodom wherein dwelt the shirt-lifters and upon the whole company of them that did bat for the other side  which wast called Gomorrah. And the Lord repenteth of the wrath that wast aforetime kindled in his heart against them and all their doings which (in the days wherein God erred) he declared were abominations. And behold, the Lord said, ‘I will no more cause mine anger to be poured out upon them, neither will I destroy them in my judgement. And I will cause their works, even unto their shirt-lifting and their batting for the other side withal, to be blessed and to be honoured among all men…and women and among them that wist not what manner of creature they be.’

“So the Lord set his pink ribbon in the heavens as an everlasting sign that he would no more wax wroth against them that were in the olden time called an abomination but which are from henceforth to be called them in whom the Lord delighteth. And lo the Lord spake unto them and said, ‘I will give unto every man and woman and unto them which wist not what manner of creature they be boxed sets innumerable of Judy Garland movies and The Lamentations of Stephen Fry even unto every one of them in his/her/their own cottage.’

“And they all arose and with one accord said, ‘How come we shirt-lifters, brown-hatters and them that do bat for the other side to hear in our own polari the wonderful works of Stephen Fry?’

“And behold, the pillar of salt which aforetime wast Lot’s wife (Let him that readeth understand) wast turned into Judy Garland. So the multitude of them lift up their voices and sang Candle in the Wind.

27 Jul

Goodnight sweetheart

“Such modest attainments as you can boast in the way of polite society will hardly survive the faith to which they owe their significance.” – Choruses from the Rock (1934) by T.S.Eliot

In other words, if Christianity goes, the lot goes. Europe has rejected the Christian faith and consequently the form of life which was created by that faith and which sustained our continent for fifteen hundred years has disappeared. People imagined that western societies could, with impunity, abandon Christianity and somehow all the good things which we value and cherish would remain.

They won’t and they haven’t.

The secular modernity which has replaced Christianity has delivered us into spiritual, intellectual, moral and aesthetic decadence.

Spiritually, religiously, the churches have discarded their formative texts. Roman Catholics have ditched the Tridentine Mass in favour of modern doggerel versions. The Church of England has thrown out The Authorised Version of the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer. Our theologians – from Bultmann’s “demythologising” of the gospel to Robinson’s Honest to God and John Hick’s The Myth of God Incarnate – have ceased to believe in the Virgin Birth of Our Lord, his miracles, his Resurrection and Ascension   

In the matter of morals, society, aided and abetted unfortunately by the church, has rejected the Ten Commandments and replaced those rules for living with act utilitarianism or situation ethics. This is defined as “doing the loving thing in any given situation. regardless of rules.” In other words, we make up our ethics on the spot. This is also known as “the new morality” – of which a wit remarked, “It’s only the old immorality in a miniskirt.” Whereas, the Ten Commandments are ethically sustaining because they are deontological – from being, from what is rather than what is merely thought . Separate morality from being and you end up, as Hamlet knew, in a world where “…there’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” So you can think yourself to be a girl even if in fact you are a boy. Or you can be non-specific or neutral. Schools have replaced the old pronouns “he” and “she” with the non-committal “Zie.”

As with our ethics, so with our intellectual life, we have descended into a new Babel of relativism. Deconstructionist critics such as Jacques Derrida claim that “Texts don’t have meanings.” (He said this in a text, by the way!) And if there are no meanings, there is no such thing as the truth.  There is only “true for me” or “your” truth and “my” truth and “post-truth.”. We are so intellectually distracted that we can’t see that this means we can no longer talk about truth. In such a world our great philosophical tradition from Plato to Kant, from Aristotle to Collingwood has come to an end.

Aesthetically, we value and admire the wrong things. The rot started at The Renaissance. I’m not saying the Old Masters couldn’t paint, but that their attention was wrongly focussed. From the divine and spiritual objectivity of the Middle Ages – of such as Giotto and Fra Angelico – the Renaissance painters decided to picture humankind and the natural world instead. As T.E. Hulme said, “They rejected man’s place in the world as a species bound by Original Sin and requiring a Saviour and came to believe that, on the whole, humankind is a good thing.” We have descended further into a generalised mess  which says that a work of art is anything that anyone says is a work of art. So we have installations, Saatchi, Tracey Emin and art as anti-art, Damien Hirst and animals pickled in formaldehyde, tattoos and the worship of ugliness.

We have abandoned chivalry, etiquette and honour along with natural hierarchy and deference. Our broadcast media, the Internet and the whole of our gadgeteered world of electronic devices is a lewd peep show. In their decline, the Romans had their bread and circuses. We have pizza and porn shows: Love Island in which people are paid to have sex on camera for the benefit of a depraved mass audience.

We are rotten within and we have become unable and unwilling to defend our civilisation against barbarism. This too is a consequence of our abandonment of Christianity. Four times since The Battle of Tours in AD 732 to the relief of the Siege of Vienna 1683, Christian armies led by Christian princes defended our continent against imperialistic, marauding Muslims who would first destroy it and then turn it into a dust bowl resembling the landscapes from which they originated. Secular, modern Europe invites the Islamic hordes in and reserves its condemnation only for those who oppose these disastrous incursions. The preferred word is “Islamophobia.” But a phobia is an irrational fear and there is nothing irrational about fearing a barbarous enemy who has stated times without number that he wants to kill us.

What words are left for Europe? Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine et lux perpetuam luceat eis…..Dies irae, dies illa.

Good night sweetheart

These fragments have I shored against my ruins.

17 Jul

Four legs good; two legs bad

I don’t know how they get away with it. Let me try to explain, but first you’ll need a bit of background

The first Bishop of Loughborough is to be Rev’d Canon Gulnar Eleanor Francis-Dehqani, Canon Francis-Dehqani was born in Iran in 1966 and, along with a great many other Christians, she and her family fled that country after the 1979 Islamic revolution which brought to power Ayatollah Khomeini

The new bishop likes to be called Gull and the Diocese of Leicester (of which Loughborough is a part) has told us what they expect from her: “Guli will take a full role in the work of the Church across Leicester and Leicestershire, but the post will also have a focus on supporting Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) clergy, lay workers and congregations in the county.”

Gull is delighted with her job specification:

“I’m very excited…”

(Newly-appointed hierarchs always start off by telling us how excited they are)

This one is excited “…about the potential for this role which draws together several important themes in the current life of the Church. Whilst being a bishop for the whole diocese, it (sic) will be a particular joy and a privilege to learn from and draw out the rich resources of Christians from minority ethnic communities.”

Well, she does not exactly speak as we speak in the street, but I think we know what she means. Since her escape from Iran, she has held a great many posts in the realm of synods, quangos and church committees and she has mastered the art of talking multi-culti bureauspeak.

That’s what I meant by saying I don’t know how they get away with it. I mean Gull and the Diocese ought surely to be arraigned for racism?

We can only imagine the furore that would ensue if a diocesan office had issued a job-specification as follows: “The post will have a focus on supporting White, English and Majority Ethnic (WEME) clergy, lay workers and congregations in the county>”

And if the appointee’s response had been: “It will be a particular joy…”

(Joy, like excited is another word they can’t leave alone)

“…and a privilege to learn from and draw out the rich resources from the majority white English population.”

An appointee saying such things would be denounced immediately for shameful and vile racism. She certainly wouldn’t be appointed. For the scandal is that you can be as racist as you like – so long as the objects of your racism are British and white.

I have listened to the arguments of the multi-culti fascists for for half a century and so I know them all off by heart. We are allowed to make exceptions in the case of preferred minorities, because they are under-represented and so we must give them a leg up with a good dose of positive discrimination.

The trouble with this is that there is nothing positive about it. Discrimination is discrimination is discrimination.

The multi-culti bureau-speakers are racists. And they get away with their racism because the counter culture, the culture of preferring minorities, is the culture now.

Do you remember chapter three of Animal Farm and Snowball’s condensation of The Seven Commandments of Animalism? “Four legs good; two legs bad.” 

14 Jul

Transcendental gibberish

William Hague, who was leader of the Conservatives while they were in transition between what Theresa May called “the nasty party” and what, under her leadership, has become “the totally useless party,”  now moonlights as Occasional Panglossian Columnist (OPC) on the Church Times.

William is very ambitious. Not for him the trivial aims of passing a law to ensure that everyone is happy all the time or turning the reservoirs of ignorance and imbecility which are our state schools into models of scholarly excellence. No, William really wants to make his mark.

He wants to abolish all rape and sexual violence in warfare. He says: 

“It is often said to me that without war there would be no war-zone rape, as if that were the only way to address the problem. While, of course, our goal is always to prevent conflict, we cannot simply consign millions of women, men, girls, and boys to the suffering of rape while we seek a way to put an end to all conflict, since this goal is one we should always strive for but may often not attain.”

I have read William’s statement eight times already this morning and I still can’t make up my mind whether it is a moral message so profound that we should all be awe-struck and take our shoes off before we read it, or whether it is a candidate for one of the six impossible things that the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass boasted she could do before breakfast.

William’s words are so momentous that I cannot bear the full glory of them in their entirety, so I shall have to discuss them a bit at a time.

First his certainty of the truth of the proposition, “Our goal is always to prevent conflict.”

No it isn’t. Sometimes the right thing to do is to wage war thoroughly – for instance, when our country is threatened by a murderous aggressor. Let us take the example of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in September 1939. We shouldn’t have done it according to Bill Pangloss. We should have tried to prevent it. And we did this resolutely and consistently for a decade. It was called “appeasement” and it didn’t work. In fact, most military historians are agreed that, if we had waged war on Hitler sooner – for instance when he marched into the Rhineland with a battalion that was little more than ceremonial – the far greater carnage that ensued would have been averted.

I hope I’m not going too slowly for you, but one has to be so punctilious when stating the bleedin’ obvious.

So, let me move on to the next episode of Willie in La-La Land by reminding myself that in moral philosophy ought implies can. In other words, I cannot be bound morally to do what I can’t accomplish physically. For convenience, let us take another historical example. How would William have prevented the mass rapes perpetrated on German women by the avenging Red Army in the last years of the Second World War? What “mechanisms” would he have “employed”, what “systems” would he have “put in place” so that these unpleasant things could not have happened?

The answer of course is that, if William had been around in 1943, he would have been powerless to do anything to prevent these atrocities – because he would have had no authority over the Red Army. Similarly today, he has no control over what barbarians of Islamic State or Boko Haram might do in the territories which they occupy.

(Incidentally, he might just possibly be able to minimise such atrocities but, ironically, only by doing the one thing which, he says we must not do – and that it by waging war on them).

Of course, we might devise a moral code for the conduct of our own armed forces which says that they must not rape the enemy’s womenfolk. But the conduct of the enemy’s armed forces is beyond our control.

In the light of these reflections, we can return to William’s original statement and see that it is not, after all, some exalted ethical proposition.

It is sanctimonious gibberish

13 Jun

Ill met by moonlight

There is a noxious composition by Harrison Birtwistle called Endless Parade, really an extended noise, the very antidote to music. It’s one of those many pieces written by avant garde composers to irritate regressive people who like their music to have tunes and even to have something to do with beauty.

Endless Parade has its verbal, intellectual and philosophical companions in most of the discussion programmes about history, ideas and the arts on such as the BBC, the Arts Channel and the History Channel. With notable exceptions  – such as Leonard Bernstein’s remarkable series The Unanswered Question or Bryan Magee’s Conversations with Philosophers – these programmes are at best uninformative and misleading and at worst mere fatuity and claptrap.

Typically the format consists of a presenter who pretends ignorance – when this is Melvyn Bragg the pretence is undetectable – who asks faux naif questions of “experts” on behalf of the  ignorant and idiotic listeners or viewers. What follows is the spectacle of academics attempting to talk for long enough to generate in themselves the hope they might accidentally discover something interesting to say.

They hardly ever have. And this is not least because they can’t speak English. They speak only academic jargon. They might be reading from the text book or, more likely these days, the “study module.” They also speak “hand- me-downs” which are really only the unexamined universal prejudices of left wing university types turned media sages: The Renaissance a good thing; the Enlightenment a jolly good thing; French Revolution a pretty good thing; universal rights – bang on; democracy, modernity, diversity, feminism, multiculturalism, equality etc…

No need to flog it to death

And I mustn’t fall into the same trap and waffle as these illustrious persons do. Let me offer an example.

Yesterday on his Radio Four programme Beyond Belief the genuinely likeable Ernie Rea was asking a panel of three “experts” about humankind’s relationship with the moon over the millennia. Amid the usual catalogue of infelicities and desecrations, there was offered the insight that it was only with the coming of the Romantic Movement that we “…began to talk not just about the city but about the wilderness; about women and the feminine as well as males and the masculine; about the night and the dark as well as the day.”

By heck, whatever did we do for conversation before the time of Shelley, Keats and the other boys (and girls) in the 18th century band?

Had we really never come across Moses who led the Israelites forty years in the wilderness of Sinai? Of Jonah in the darkness of the stomach of the great fish? Or, “Yea the darkness hideth not from thee” (Psalm 139:12). Or the fact that St John of the Cross (1542-1591) wrote of “the dark night of the soul” centuries before Mary Shelley gave us the benefit of her nasty dreams? In my ignorance I had thought women had always featured prominently throughout our religion, mythologies, history and culture yonks before The Lady of Shallott turned up. Or perhaps Eve, Ruth, Naomi, Deborah the prophetess, Cleopatra and the Queen of Sheba were only men in drag? Same goes for Ophelia, Desdemona and Lady Macbeth, I suppose?

Did we have to wait for the Romantics before we could talk about women? For heaven’s sake the dumbos on our panel of “experts” were discussing the moon! Wouldn’t you have though that even academics might notice that from ancient times the moon has always taken girls’ names: Selene, Artemis, Diana?

Beyond Belief indeed

PS It never stops. That doyenne of the purple patch and the non sequitur, Hilary Mantel, has just been on previewing her forthcoming Reith Lectures by telling us, “The spoken word differs from the written word.”


Give her the Nobel Prize somebody!

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!