Tuesday, September 30, 2003


Thinking Anglicans is an excellent new(ish) website which has a rootblog RSS feed, too. A sane persepective on the intense debates going on within worldwide Anglicanism. As they say: "TA proclaims a tolerant, progressive and compassionate Christian spirituality, in which justice is central to the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of God. Our spirituality must engage with the world, and be consistent with the scientific and philosophical understanding on which our modern world is based. It must address the changes which science and technology have brought into our lives."

Also worth checking out, if you haven't already (surely you have by now?), is the InclusiveChurch.Net initiative, which now has more than 5,000 signatories.

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Friday, September 26, 2003


Broadsheet reading religious adherents would probably have been tempted to dismiss Andrew Anthony's diatribe against the irrationality of faith ('Religion Is A Class-A Drug') in The Guardian recently. They would be wrong to do so. He articulates very accurately the deep anger that many western liberals feel about the subject right now.

Of course it is breathtakingly daft to claim, as Anthony does, that: "[r]eligion - Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism etc, etc - is by definition irrational and, more than that, it is an irrationality that lays claim to the complete truth." This is rhetoric shaped by precisely the kind of generalised demonisation that it claims to be against. A classic example of being inhabited by the spirit of 'the enemy', and one that cheers only those occupying the rigid extremes of discourse.

But elsewhere there are palpable hits: "[T]here is plenty of ammunition in the New Testament for anti-semites. But only if you ignore the logic, such as there is, of the Bible. Correct me if I am wrong, but the whole point of the gospels is that Christ died for "our" sins. Thus someone had to finger him - whether it was the Jews or the Romans - and whoever did should then surely be congratulated by Christians for arranging the set-piece that gave birth to their religion. Except that God must have arranged his son's death because He arranges everything. Or does He? Who knows? What we can be sure of is that while it is perfectly acceptable to denounce [Mel] Gibson's film as anti-semitic, few critics will go so far as to call it anti-sense."

This is, of course, a travesty of the Gospel narratives and of the task of interpretation. But it is a travesty which sadly bears the marks of some versions of Christian believing. I don't know if Anthony reads his fellow-columnists, but Giles Fraser (vicar of Putney, lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College Oxford and instigator of InclusiveChurch.Net) dealt with the fraught question of atonement very effectively not so long ago ('Easter's Hawks and Doves'). Curious that, these days, you get this kind of debate in the broadsheets, but rarely in the church media -- much of which long ceased trying to talk to anyone else.

See Giles Fraser's other columns here.

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Thursday, September 25, 2003


Not being an aficionado of country music, I had given Johnny Cash very little thought until he died, I'm afraid -- and specifically until I saw this reflection from Nathan Decker on 'The Daily Dig'. The lyric below is reprinted from www.bruderhof.com.

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.

Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side (c) Johnny Cash estate

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Wednesday, September 24, 2003


Distinguished literary critic Terry Eagleton has, in the past, more than dallied with radical Catholicism -- as well as with Marxism. He was, if I recall correctly, one of the authors of The Slant Manifesto, a key tract in the history of the Anglican-Catholic Left from the 1960s. Eagleton's profitable musings have taken him in different directions since then, but he remains a trenchant critic of the conceits of the nihilistic end of post-modernism. This from his recent essay, Living In A Material World:

"Cultural theory as we have it promises to grapple with some fundamental problems, but on the whole fails to deliver. It has been shamefaced about morality and metaphysics, embarrassed about love, biology, religion and revolution, largely silent about evil, reticent about death and suffering, dogmatic about essences, universals and foundations, and superficial about truth, objectivity and disinterestedness. This, on any estimate, is rather a large slice of human existence to fall down on. It is also rather an awkward moment in history to find oneself with little or nothing to say about such fundamental questions. [...]

"Postmodernism is obsessed by the body and terrified of biology. The body is a wildly popular topic in US cultural studies - but this is the plastic, remouldable, socially constructed body, not the piece of matter that sickens and dies. The creature who emerges from postmodern thought is centreless, hedonistic, self-inventing, ceaselessly adaptive. He sounds more like a Los Angeles media executive than an Indonesian fisherman. Postmodernists oppose universality, and well they might: nothing is more parochial than the kind of human being they admire.

"[T]he bracing scepticism of such postmodern thought is hard to distinguish from its aversion to engaging with fundamentalism at the kind of deep moral or metaphysical level where it needs to be confronted. Indeed, this might serve as a summary of the dilemma in which cultural theory is now caught. Postmodernism has an allergy to depth, as indeed did the later Wittgenstein."

I'm not sure I agree on Wittgenstein. And postmodern critique has much to offer in deconstructing modernist hubris. But Eagleton demonstrates that distinguishing theory from fashion (or, as Mark C Taylor once put it, "a matter of thought from a matter of mere scholarship") is vital for our moral, political and spiritual welfare.

Terry Eagleton's latest book, After Theory, is published this month.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2003


Another superb article in The Guardian by Karen Armstrong - a first-rank academic in the area of interreligious studies and theology, a former nun, and (as if that wasn't enough) one of the best commentators working in the journalistic medium. She will not let us off the hook:

"How do we account for the rise of this religious violence in the post-Enlightenment world? Ever since 9/11, President Bush has repeatedly condemned Islamist terror as an atavistic rejection of American freedom, while Tony Blair recently called it a virus, as though, like Aids, its origins are inexplicable. They are wrong, on both counts. The terrorists' methods are appalling, but they regard themselves as freedom fighters, and there is nothing mysterious about the source of these extremist groups: to a significant degree, they are the result of our own policies. [...]

"Ironically, we tend to become like our enemies. In describing his war against terror as a battle between good and evil, President Bush has unwittingly reproduced the rhetoric of Bin Laden, who subscribes to a form of Sunni fundamentalism that divides the world into two diametrically opposed camps in just the same way. The last thing the Israelis intended was to create "Palestinian Zionism", and yet in the early days Israel aided and abetted Hamas, which virulently opposed the secularist ideology of the PLO, in order to undermine Arafat. They should have learned from the tragic fate of Egypt's Anwar Sadat, who, at the beginning of his presidency, sought to create an independent power base by courting the Islamists who eventually killed him.

"The west has also cultivated its future enemies, by arming Bin Laden and other Arab mujahedin in Afghanistan during the cold war and by giving initial support to the Taliban. These exploitative policies reflect a thinly veiled contempt; the religious ideas of these groups were dismissed as beneath serious consideration. Yet to those who had studied these movements it was clear long before 9/11 that fundamentalists all over the world were expressing fears and anxieties that no government could safely ignore."
(From: 'Our Role In The Terror')

See also Karen's fine book, The Battle for God: a History of Fundamentalism.

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Monday, September 22, 2003


'Room to be people' was the title of a superbly open and engaging little book on the meaning of the Christian faith by Jose Miguez Bonino, Argentinian Methodist liberation theologian and a vice-president of the World Council of Churches. It's a phrase which often comes to mind when I think of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. I went there on a visit to the US west coast some six or seven years ago, and Canon Mark Stanger hosted me very... well, graciously. The Cathedral is an extraordinary place to pray, to worship and to experience the sheer spaciousness of God in the human spirit. The website was one I chanced across again on Sunday evening. Well worth a look for resources, music, meditations and more.

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Sunday, September 21, 2003


The BBC Radio 4 'Sunday' programme had a slightly more up-beat update from NEAC (see 5.2. below) . The great majority greeted Rowan Williams very warmly, it reported. And 'Fulcrum' got it's first media plug and friendly bishop -- Tom Wright of Durham, to be precise. Meanwhile the Archbishop told his audience wryly that he had been tempted to preach on the AV translation of Psalm 71: "I am become, as it were, a monster unto many." Instead, in a seven-minute address and prayers, he encouraged them (and us all) to listen more carefully for God. It is remarkable (and no coincidence) that the Church of England at its most disturbed and dysfunctional has a leader who is so centred, thoughtful, good-humoured and spiritual. Not to mention a first-rate scholar and poet (thanks to David Fielden for that link). Dr Williams needs all the support he can get.

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Saturday, September 20, 2003


Stephen Bates, The Guardian's religious affairs correspondent, has a revealing (if slightly depressing) article about the National Evangelical Anglican Congress (NEAC) in Blackpool ... and the refusal of some delegates even to pray in the same room with the Archbishop of Canterbury, with whom they disagree over homosexuality.

The piece refers, inter alia, to Roy Clements, the outstanding preacher and Christian leader whose outing effectively ended his public ministry as a Baptist pastor and leader within the Evangelical Alliance. Roy's excellent website is a source of essays and information from the alternative evangelical conscience on questions of sexuality, rooted in careful reflection, prayer and tough personal experience.

The number of evangelicals in and outside the Church of England who refuse to tow the line of the vociferous, wealthy and extremely well-organized conservative lobby is much higher than is often realized -- not least because of the climate of vituperation which surrounds them. Christina Rees speaks out in Bates' article. Jonathan Bartley of Ekklesia has written of his experience. And Jeremy Marks of Courage is interviewed on Clements' site, which also contains a very good summary of responses to what is going on from outside the evangelical camp. Other dissident voices include Anne Townsend (the missionary author, now psychotherapist and Anglican priest), US theologian Tony Campolo, and Dave Tomlinson (of 'post-evangelical' fame).

The point of mentioning this is not to 'fan the flames' of argument (to adopt the ironic title of this year's NEAC), but instead to point towards the true diversity that exists within the evangelical world. My own interests in this are three-fold. First, it is part of my own inheritance. I attended NEAC in Nottingham in 1977 as a young student Christian. Second, a close member of my own family was gay, and suffered enormously from the tension between his own experience and the repression of the religious culture that had nurtured his faith. That was part of what occasioned my 1999 pamphlet, Toward Communion. Third, though my own theology has moved into significantly different trajectories over the years, I still value the faith and vitality of evangelical colleagues. Their commitment to taking Jesus Christ, the Bible and mission seriously is crucial: though in many respects what 'evangelical orthodoxy' believes about such things is, in my experience, severely lacking.

A friend of mine who teaches theology in Scotland put it well. Speaking of his students, he observed a frustration with many of the self-styled 'liberals' who were afraid of conviction lest it offend anyone. The evanglicals, on the other hand, had conviction by the spadeful but needed, he said, to think much harder about what they believed. His judgement? 'They could be the future of the church - but they really need to get their theology sorted out!'

From a very different angle, Alison Webster, social responsibility adviser in the Anglican Diocese of Oxford, writes today's Face to Faith column on the sexuality argument.

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From 3-5 October 2003 the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA, and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences will hold a conference on The Past and Future of the Science-Religion Dialogue: Celebrating the Work of Ian G. Barbour.

The conference sessions deal with methodology; God and nature; theology and physics; theology and biology; ethics, technology and the environment; and perspectives from process theology, Roman Catholic theology and Buddhist thought. Presenters will explore a variety of theological visions of the field's wider dimensions and its frontier challenges. Each speaker will assess what has been accomplished in the past and help us envision what lies ahead as we look toward the coming decades in the light of the legacy of Ian G. Barbour.

Barbour earned a Ph.D. in physics at the University of Chicago, where he was a teaching assistant to Enrico Fermi, designer of the world's first atomic reactor. After teaching physics in Michigan Barbour embarked on a Ford Fellowship to study theology and ethics at Yale Divinity School. Moving to Carleton College in 1955, he created what is now the department of religion while teaching half time in the physics department. He began a lifetime of research and writing on science and religion, starting with the fundamental methodological issue: how do we relate fields as divergent as the natural sciences and religious thought?

He went on to explore the theological implications of physics, cosmology, evolution, anthropology and the neurosciences, as well as ethical issues concerning technology, human need and the environment. In 1999, Ian Barbour was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in recognition of his wide-reaching efforts to further the dialogue between science and religion. (c) CTNS

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Friday, September 19, 2003


Most commentators agree. Whether 'conservative' or 'liberal', they judge the Sermon on the Mount as pie-in-the-sky stuff for the particularly saintly; worthy, but plain 'impractical' in the 'real world'. This isn't a consensus I share. What Marcus Borg calls the historical-metaphoric approach to the text reveals a profound challenge to our assumptions.

"The Gospel is best described as the drama of divine reversal. Almost everything that constitutes what we might call the 'dominant logic' of our time is turned back to front, inside out and upside down... " Here is one of a set of reflections on the Beatitudes for the Work Dynamics series. They are intended to be simple, direct, pastoral, but theologically informed. The rest can be located on the articles page.

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A thoughtful and provocative site from American theologian Kenneth Cauthen. He comments: "The[se] articles set forth the views of a theologian deeply influenced by modern science, historical studies, cultural relativism, ecological concerns, pragmatism, and the like. They represent what I believe to be persuasive and pertinent for a generation about to enter the 21st century. I employ a form of process-relational thought and am deeply rooted in the Christian (and Baptist) traditions. These essays are tentative expressions but reflect five decades of reading, thinking, and teaching. Long ago Harry Emerson Fosdick defined a liberal as one who wanted to be both 'an intelligent modern and a serious Christian.' That is my aim and the guiding philosophy of these essays."

A recent correspondent asked me if I was a liberal. The answer, inconveniently, has to be 'yes' and 'no'. Yes, because the possibility of liberality in religion and politics has been one of the great gifts and developments of the twentieth century. No, because liberality is not sufficient in and of itself; nor is it self-sustaining. Like modernity it has its virtues and its blind-spots. Theology informed by liberalism and modernism can be enormously fruitful. But it can also end up devaluing the uniqueness of the texts, traditions and convictions with which it works.

What is especially important in a climate of growing absolutism is the discovery of resources from within the Christian tradition which can speak positively of, and to, pluralism. I think this is more than possible. As Richard Rohr once said in my presence, "My exclusive commitment to Jesus Christ has shown me that in Christ God is abolishing all human exclusivisms." I think that's just about right. Can other life-stances (including liberalism) develop similar trajectories? That is up to them, and it is also part of the challenge and strain of dialogue -- which, as the WCC reminds us, is rooted in authentic witness to each other of what we have seen and heard.

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Debbie Herring of the Urban Theology Unit, Sheffield, has a fabulous set of resources on her cybertheology.net website. She explains: "This site is intended as a resource for those interested in the study of theology in cyberspace, theology of cyberspace and theology for cyberspace. You'll find collections of links under each of these headings. There's also a section of links concerned with research method in this environment. There are links to some of my own lectures, essays and articles on cybertheology."

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From a review of Kenneth Cragg, 'Am I Not Your Lord? Human Meaning in Divine Question', London Melisende, 2002, ISBN 1 901764 21 4, hardback, pp. 255, £18.

"In spite of its hard-headedness [this] is a redemptive work. The final chapter contains a clear-sighted repudiation of religiously sanctioned nationalisms, a call to discernment and discrimination (in the technical, non-pejorative sense of the word) among faith communities, and a redrawing of the virtue of secularity away from irreligion and anti-religion. Both the character of the transcendent God and the unity of human beings in a world divided by ideological manipulations are at stake in the confessions we make. Rigorous self-examination is implied in the divine question, says Cragg. If society is not to be overcome by cancer, faith is needed. But if faith is not to turn bad, despair, despotism and false hopes must be overcome. This is the religious quest."

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Evangelicals in the Church of England meet this weekend at a time of high drama over the sexuality argument within the Anglican communion. While much of the media attention will no doubt go to the more belligerent protagonists, 'central' evangelicals are trying to create a space for debate and encounter through a new network called Fulcrum.

They say: "While diversity among Evangelical Anglicans is one of their strengths, fragmentation is not. Our desire is to see the various strands within Evangelicalism drawn together by a shared outlook that flows from historic Evangelicalism's commitment to Scripture, the cross, conversion and mission. We believe this commitment unites all Evangelicals, whether they count themselves as conservative, open or charismatic (or a mixture of all three). It is this that forms the centre of gravity which we seek to renew."

For non-evangelicals that begs a large number of questions, of course. There are some within that fold who deny the diversity of the Bible and its shadow sides, for example. A more serious dialogue on hermeneutics is required. And is the strengthening of 'party identities' really what's needed at the moment? In what would a 'shared outlook' among evangelicals consist -- and how would it enable them to handle the deep convictions of those who disagree with them?

It seems unlikely that hard-liners will be appeased by such moves right now, capital 'E' or not. But Fulcrum's willingness to acknowledge the divisions of their own tradition and to engage collegially with Christians of other outlooks is an important sign of hope. There is a generosity to their statement which is to be applauded.

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The amount of verbal (and now physical) abuse occasioned by illusionist David Blaine's 44-day self-deprivation ordeal is truly astonishing. He is supposed to be the narcissist (according to received wisdom on the subject), but the truth is: we just can't bear not to be in on the act

Suspended in his glass cage over London's Tower Bridge, Blaine's antics naturally raise all kinds of questions. Isn't it more than a little tasteless for a super-rich American to dress himself in introspection and risk his life needlessly in a world where many have no choice, where people face death daily? And how much less does someone have to do, in practical terms, to court a world media transfixed by the glare of mere spectacle?

Those are among the obvious issues. But, as with much postmodern performance, there is something rather more threatening at stake. Blaine is doing no more or less than holding up a blank canvas to his public and seeing what projections they decide to thrown on to it.

His role is passive. But what is revealed about some of the watchers is disturbing, frightening even. We are ready to vilify and scapegoat even the most unthreatening of presences. We hate so easily. We are stirred to anger so needlessly. Even those who "couldn't give a monkey's" are obviously enraged.

Blaine sits in his cage, eyeing his spectator-tormentors. But they (we) are the ones caught in the spotlight. Who is afraid of what -- and why? What's worse, a slow sapping of life or the shock of utter emptiness? In certain respects that box might as well be a crucifix.

Meditative musings aside, there is nothing overtly religious about Blaine's fast. Nothing Christ-like about his 'sacrifice'. And thankfully no religious system has yet been able to 'claim' his presence. Quite the opposite. The cage is a voluntary non self-emptying, a none (sic) event, an exercise in purposeful fruitlessness. But perhaps that is exactly what it takes to expose the massive cruelty at the core of our palpably vacant agenda...

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Thursday, September 18, 2003


More (see also 3.2 and 1.2 below) on the challenge and opportunity of encountering biblical texts, from a review published last year:

"[Walter] Brueggemann suggests a twofold interpretative strategy in relation to the Bible: making critical use of the tools around us, certainly, but above all allowing ourselves and our world to be challenged by the ‘counter-drama’ of the text itself. This is how we can ‘fund’ post-modern imagination with the fragments of a Gospel which bursts open new possibilities – instead of merely buying into a new ideology, or trying to create another citadel within which everyone is supposed to submit.

"In this ‘re-reading’ process, imagination – the capacity to portray, receive and practice the world in ways different from the ‘common sense’ view generated by dominant orthodoxies – is the vital ingredient. For Brueggemann what lies behind the text is a God who both reveals the basis of life and invites us to join in the redemption (re-construal) of the world. In the final third of the book he helps us to re-enter the biblical counter-drama by sketching, with the aid of specific biblical passages, the shape of a ‘Gospel infrastructure’ for living – in direct contrast to ‘the infrastructure of commodity consumerism’. ...

"... The question for the community that is shaped by its encounter with these texts – as the church must necessarily be – is ‘what authorises us to change or go beyond the received text?’ Here the theological case must be made for a creative interaction between the fruits of the living tradition, the excesses of language, the constraints of reason, and the uncontainable God who lies behind and beyond the world in which it is set."

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One of the mixed blessings of writing about religion on the web is the correspondence that comes your way. Any letter with the word 'prophecy' in the header is always a good warning in itself, since it invariably announces the writer's conviction that they hold some special key to unlock the 'meaning of the Bible' and (inevitably) the end of the age. It is such patchworks of de-historicized texts and half-baked, retrojective regarblings of current events which have, for many thoughtful people, confirmed the suspicion that Christian and Jewish scriptures are little more than primitive playgounds for the deranged religious imagination.

Those who deploy historic texts in this way are (without intending it) showing the deepest possible disrespect for them. Understandably, most serious biblical scholars just ignore this stuff -- and meretricious nonsense such as 'The Bible Code'. Of the scholarly challenging of misunderstanding there is no end: and since the 'answers' that the Bible pundits seek are to do with human certainty (not the contingency in which open faith deals), the grounds for conversation seem pretty sparse. The trouble is that this leaves a huge gap between those who learn and those who leap.

One of the few scholars who seeks to fill this particular void is Craig C. Hill, Professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. His book 'In God's Time' (and the website created to promote it) is a model of patient wisdom. Likewise, but at a more rarified level, Peter Ochs of the University of Virginia demonstrates what is at stake in scriptural reasoning, even if he is, perhaps, a little too dismissive of historical-critical methodology. The Society for SR, of which he is a leading light, has a stimulating electronic journal. Another treasure is Stephen Fowl's book, 'Engaging Scripture: A Model for Theological Interpretation.' Different perspectives are offered by 'The Postmodern Bible', ed. George Aichele et al., (Yale University, 1995) and 'Voices From The Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the third world', ed. R. S. Sugirtharajah (SPCK, 1991).

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An extraordinary conversation unfolded on the train yesterday evening. Armed only with The Sun, three commuters pontificated on what they would like to do to "violent and intolerant" Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri. Most of these ways of "dealing" with "the mad Mullah" involved reciprocal degrees of intolerance and violence, it seems. So no surprise there. Finally one protagonist, warming to the tabloid's own suggestion, came up with the best idea of all. "They should send him back to Islam," she declared without a flicker of irony. I wanted to suggest that until we stop being the mirror of the problem, we cannot see the light. But I didn't have the courage...

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Wednesday, September 17, 2003


Has the church grasped the central ethos of the message that formed it? Or is it constantly in danger of betraying the freedom and love of God in a world crying out for such things? These questions re-asserted themselves in my mind when I read, in the Church Times, a review of a book I co-edited a couple of years ago with Graeme Smith ('Christian Mission in Western Society', CTBI, 2001). The piece was written by Robin Greenwood, and the heading -- possibly not of his creation -- was 'Back to Jesus now that religion's done.'

At one level I feel uneasy about the simplicity of that. I want to say that there is no way 'back', only ways forward. And 'Jesus' can be a sticking plaster... and in many cases religion is far from 'done' (whatever we might wish). The questions linger.

Yet the more I think about it the more I have to accept the truth in this incidental but crucial phrase. Historic Christianity is, indeed, in crisis. And its salvation is not abandonment, but the recovery of its foundations -- which are in a person and a dynamic, not a dogma and an institution.

"The defining logic of Jesus is, in fact, God. In particular, it is the self-giving of a God who is wholly beyond our manipulation and (mostly in hidden ways) closer to us than the murmering of our hearts.

"How such a God is to be understood and responded to in an age of secular reason and irrational faith is, for the theologian, the key issue. And problem. And opportunity.

"Without doubt many have, for a variety of reasons, given up on God. And many of those who haven't given up (and who couldn't even conceive of it) have turned God into an ideological weapon of their own convenience.

"This is, sadly, as true in Christian communities as it is in those of other great faiths. 'Religious' or 'spiritual' people are not immune from falsehood. Actually, they may be prey to it in especially dangerous ways, because their wrong-headedness can quickly acquire a divine sanction – thus becoming invulnerable.

"To re-discover God through Jesus helps in this regard, because believing in Jesus' Lordship becomes, paradoxically, an essential means by which we can be empowered to disbelieve the ruling ideas (and most especially the ruling religious ideas) which currently imprison us as human beings, or even as Christians.

"Put simply: if God (whatever else God is about) is like Jesus, or more accurately, if God comes to us in and through Jesus, then we have some basis for knowing what God is not.

"We know, for instance, that God does not inflict violence and suffering. Quite the opposite. God endures and absorbs it. That is the meaning of the cross and the hope of the resurrection.

"To discover God in Jesus is also, through prayer, reflection and action, to discover that God is actually nothing like the God we thought we believed (or disbelieved) in.

"Who God finally is remains beyond our capacity, of course, because God’s ‘being’ is absolutely unlike ours. But the promise of the Gospel is that, in terms which can be made flesh, God is not less than God is in and as Jesus – that is, God is not less than infinite, uncontrollable, non-violent love.

"And that is just the beginning of a renewed hope which might make a vital difference for us and for our world -- if we, as followers of this Jesus, can develop the courage and the capacity to act on it. " From: To change the world.

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Well, it's one way to sell your product in this damnably commercial environment. WeWantYourSoul.Com provide a survey to find out where your heart really is -- and therefore where your treasure will stack up best, too (as St Matthew might put it). I discovered the following: "Your soul is worth £30205. For your peace of mind, 17% of people have a purer soul than you." Well, that puts me in my place for the time being... but I think I'll leave the cash on the shelf.

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The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme run through the World Council of Churches, in association with NGOs and the heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, is an enormously important peace-and-justice building mechanism in a deeply fractured political climate. An example of how faith communities can make a positive contribution in a situation of conflict where religion is often darkly entwined in wrong-doing.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2003


For many years, it seems, the influence of the US religious right has been restricted in terms of its impact on faith communities in Britain. Now that is beginning to change. One of the first areas in which the new climate is blowing is education, where two 'Christian schools' (in Gateshead and Middlesborough, respectively), have declared that they will teach 'creationism' (a grotesque distortion of biblical faith) alongside evolutionary biology -- which will in turn be described, quite disengenuously, as 'a faith position.' It is sad that new generations are coming into existence whose experience of Christianity may be that of a religion which turns its back on reason and the enormous gains of scientific discovery. This is far from how the tradition has been in the past. Here are some resources and reactions to the current situation. See also Faith and Reason.

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Many of the arguments in the Church of England (and elsewhere) at the moment concern the role, status and interpretation of the Christian scriptures -- which are, themselves, located in the midst of many other competing texts and authorities in an irreversibly plural world. Much of what is said on this topic in the arena of the media is vastly misleading. Here are some resources for beginning to think through this challenge sensibly and faithfully...

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Where to start this diverse collection of posts on subjects as diverse as politics, property, passion and preaching? With a declaration of conviction, I suppose. But given the state of the world, that is far from easy.

As faith-based extremism straddles the globe, religion is getting a dubious press, and understandably so. Arguments revolving around God cost lives, say the sceptics. They are right.

From Muslim-Christian violence in Nigeria to bombers in Bali, from the 'Lord's Resistance Army' in Uganda to 'promised land' settlers in occupied Palestine, from communal conflict in India to sectarianism in Ireland... misplaced faith is deadly.

If you're gay, love your partner, and have been nominated to be a bishop things are not quite as drastic, of course. But they are still hugely unpleasant.

When people disagree about the fundamentals of faith they can be deeply unattractive and wounding to each other and to those around them. Often without realising it.

For anyone who belongs to a religious community this is more than just "someone else's problem." It raises questions about the enterprise of faith per se.

So it is an extremely foolish person who embarks on the journey of 'reflecting theologically' about society at large without recognising just what a hugely destructive force religion can be. Any religion.

And yet, and yet... We all know that faith can also be a source of immense inspiration, redemption and exemplary humanity. Think of Desmond Tutu. Or Sojourner Truth. Or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Or Hildegard of Bingen. Or a cloud of other witnesses.

What's more, and whatever the urban sophisticates may wish, religion is not going away. It is now a bigger player on the world scene today than anyone would have credited, prior to the terrible crash of those twin towers in New York on 9/11.

So where do we go from here?

[read on]