Friday, December 31, 2004


It's not too good to quote yourself, but Ekklesia has just put this out (Tsunami: justice as well as relief needed, say Christians) on the appalling tragedy in South Asia and East Africa --emphasising that the long-term solutions are down to politics not charity.

Having said that, the emergency need is enormous. I'm sure you've already donated, but here's another route: Christian Aid on 08080 004 004.

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Friday, December 24, 2004


This from David Wood at Grace Anglican Church, Joondalup, Australia - an excerpt from his wonderful Christmas Homily:

"[T]he flesh-taking of God in Jesus tonight shows us the eternal truth about God, truth to counter all [ ] lies.

"God turns out not to be some celestial monster, the task-master demanding satisfaction or the judge dispensing rough justice, the God of too much human imagination. To the acute disappointment of wowserish religious leaders, God does not, after all, specialize in pouring buckets of cold water on people having fun. God is not that prissy creature who disapproves of human love unless it conforms to a set of very tight rules.

"It is us, not God, who condemns young lovers, scowls at single mothers, worries over the supposed attack on the institution of marriage, and refuses to bless same-sex unions. God is not that maniac who sometimes appears at funerals, who “calls” us from this life before we are ready, who swallows up real human tragedy by somehow “taking” small children to heaven.

"To believe and trust in the only true God for half a minute, is to do away with all this accumulated junk."

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Monday, December 06, 2004


It is a painful and inescapable fact that distorted and unhealthy ideas about God, of which there are very many, often dovetail with human attempts to legitimate violence and oppression. One does not have to subscribe to some over-simple notion that religion (peculiar among life-stances) is the root of all evil in order to see that this is so.

The difficulty is perhaps particularly acute among the 'revealed religions' - Christianity, Judaism and Islam - where attempts to point this out often fall against the rock of an unyielding interpretation of some Scriptural text or inherited doctrine.

What lies behind this is usually a naive, solepcistic, partial or ideological reading of the text, commonly justified on the basis that it it the 'only', 'true' or 'traditional' one. On further examination such claims usually turn out to be untrue, but the weight of a view that buttresses our sanctity and dams our enemies proves massively appealing and 'convincing'.

Such is the case in the current intra-evangelical argument about 'atonement theory', the question about how the death of Christ is linked to God's offer of freedom and forgiveness in the teaching and imagination of the church - and the life (and death) of the world.

The recent stir has been occasioned by a book called The Lost Message of Jesus, published by Zondervan, 2004, written by Steve Chalke, a gifted Baptist preacher and social activist.

By most standards its contents are theologically unremarkable, reflecting a broad swathe of development in what we might call 'liberatory Christianity', consistent with the work of people like Sharon Ringe, Walter Brueggemann and Walter Wink - and at the more conservative end of the spectrum, N. T. Wright, the New Testament scholar who is now Anglican Bishop of Durham.

Chalke's message, essentially, is that Jesus was a social subversive, and that his call for radical transformation in the light of the coming realm of God embraces the political as well as the personal. Not much cause for complaint there, you might think - except that it challenges the complaisant and raises social justice as an inherent dimension of ekklesia and basilea.

The rub, however, is that Chalke has dared to criticise, inter-alia, the classical evangelical doctrine of penal substitution, the idea that God soehow required an innocent Jesus to 'pay the price' for human sin by violent death.

He was impolite enough to (accurately) describe the crude version of this doctrine as tantamount to 'cosmic child abuse', and to mention its links to the history of violence and domination sanctioned, tragically, in the name of Jesus Christ.

This is when the brown stuff hit the fan. On 7 October the Evangelical Alliance in the UK organised a 'debate' on Chalke's views: one which many felt was more like a heresy trial.

Subsequently the EA has publicly criticised Chalke and asked him to retract his comments, which sit clearly within the mainstream of Christian faith. A blow-by-blow account is available on Ekklesia, for the long-suffering.

None of the church's historic creeds have ever required a single view of atonement, and the biblical texts so often used in its favour can just as readily (and much more redeemingly) be understood in a strongly anti-sacrificial way, as Rene Girard and others have shown.

Still, the argument rumbles on. Its form, to those of us not part of the evangelical tribe, seems arcane and not a little unforgiving. But the issues are important.

At the moment I'm working with Jonathan Bartley on a collection of essays about atonement called Consuming Passion, which will be published in 2005 by Darton, Longman and Todd.

In the meantime, Stuart Murray-Williams gave a fine, succinct summary of the background to the debate in his contribution to the EA event, which can be found at the Anabaptist Network site. Important reading in its own right.

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Sunday, December 05, 2004


You may have noted that that this weblog has been rather sparodic recently. That's because such spare time as I have at the moment has mostly been given to the Ekklesia site, for which I have been a research associate since May this year.

Besides my sort-of-regular column, I've also been contributing news stories curated here.

Ekklesia was really the brainchild of Jonathan Bartley, whose interests in faith and politics moved in an increasingly radical direction in the 1990s. His own leanings are set out in 'The Subversive Manifesto' (BRF, 2003) - a popular booked aimed at local churches of a more conservative persuasion.

The site's values are linked to those of a mumber of partner organisations in the Anabaptist Network UK, a body which has also attracted dissenting, left-wing Anglicans like myself and Chris Rowland, who teaches New Testament at Oxford.

Ekklesia aims to be a radical Christian think-tank, but of late the news service has had a massive response. There are plans to split the site in two soon, one focussing on research and campaigns, the other on news.

One of the important roles Ekklesia can play, I think, is to mess up the 'liberal' and 'conservative' stereotypes that often bedevil attempts to talk about faith and politics in the media.

As it happens, Jonathan is from good evangelical stock - but has been courageous in supporting causes upopular in that constituency, such as Inclusive Church.

On the other hand I have a certain ecumenical pedigree, but have become increasingly convinced that an open, radical Christianity needs the nourishment of its biblical and 'traditional' roots.

That's something Ekklesia can help to get across. To the 'conservatives' we can say, "actually the Gospel is very radical", and to the 'liberals' we can say, "true liberality needs foundations."

As Bishop Peter Selby once put it, when the going gets tough "liberalism is not enough to support liberalism."

On the other hand, a conservatism which mistakes inflexibility for tradition or reaction for orthodoxy has misunderstood the true catholicity of the movement out of which it arises.

Jesus's agenda was not to shore up the fortress of exclusive religion, but to bring it crumbling down in favour of a new heaven and a new earth.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Advent is the time of promise; it is not yet the time of fulfillment. We are still in the midst of everything and in the logical inexorability and relentlessness of destiny. To eyes that do not see, it still seems as though the final dice are being cast down here in these valleys, on these battlefields, in these camps and prisons and bomb shelters. Those who are awake sense the working of the other powers and can await the coming of their hour.

Space is still filled with the noise of destruction and annihilation, the shouts of self-assurance and arrogance, the weeping of despair and helplessness. But round about the horizon the eternal realities stand silent in their age-old longing. There shines on them already the first mild light of the radiant fulfillment to come. From afar sound the first notes as of pipes and voices, not yet discernable as a song or melody. It is all far off still, and only just announced and foretold. But it is happening, today.

Read the rest of this piece by Alfred Delp, who wrote it in a Nazi prison shortly before he was hanged for "treason."

(with grateful acknowledgment to Daily Dig, from

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Tuesday, November 09, 2004


Charles Henderson from CrossCurrents, the excellent journal of the Association for Religion and Intellectual Life (USA), writes:

'Given spam filters that ruthlessly monitor content with a real of imagined relationship to the topic of our Fall issue, I hesitate to describe what lies in wait for those visiting our website or opening the pages of our latest issue. If you are interested either in the relationship between religion and sexuality in general, or the current state of the debate about this topic in religious communities or academic circles worldwide, our essays are essential reading.

'As editor Catherine Madsen puts it in her strong editorial: "When religion looks at sex from a distance, purging the erotic from its speech or explaining it away as tame allegory, it forfeits a measure of its civilizing power. The line in the old Anglican marriage service—long gone, of course, from the new one—was "with my body I thee worship." Worship meant something parallel to honor or adore in those days, not yet something exclusively religious, but the very shift in meaning underlines the validity of the instinct; if we cannot worship our lovers whom we can see, how shall we worship God whom we cannot? A language of adoration cannot be a language of inexperience, real or feigned. It can only be a language of experience, in which spirit is at home in flesh."

'Looking at sex from a distance, purging it from our pages, or explaining it away, is definitely not what we are up to in our Fall issue.'

The full index of text-available feature articles from CrossCurrents back issues is certainly worth checking out, too.

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Monday, November 08, 2004


I have been away for the past fortnight in China, taking part in an official British and Irish church leaders' visit to China Christian Council (Protestant) and Catholic churches and seminaries under the auspices of CTBI. Further news and reflection will follow. In the meantime, by a happy coincidence, the Guardian newspaper in Britain has begun a weeklong series of articles on the country, written by a 15-strong team of top-notch journalists. The special reports are here.

The first set (today) included a very brief reference to Taoism. It will be interesting to see if there is mention of the impact of the two fastest growing religious movements in the new China, Christianity and Buddhism. Following the (lamentable) impact of religion in the US presidential elections, the secular media here has woken up again -- in another periodic fit -- to the importance of religious belief in public life across the world. But I wouldn't be surprised if it is substantially overlooked in its latest coverage of the Pacific rim.

Old habits of ignoring things die hard...

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Monday, October 18, 2004


After weeks of speculation, the Anglican Communion Report drafted at Windsor under the guidance of the evucular Archbishop Robin Eames was finally published today. It looks like a genuine attempt, in impossible circumstances, to keep the argument going - that is, to encourage Christians of widely different cultures and temperaments to engage in jaw-jaw rather than war-war.

Of course it won't please everybody. But by disavowing expulsions, compulsions, censures and suspensions, Eames seems broadly to have set its face against institutional attempts to curb painful but necessary debate.

Nevertheless there is an acknowledgement that the overall balance of understanding of Scripture and Tradition across the Communion is decidedly conservative, and an invitation to those affirming of lesbian and gay people not to go on rocking the boat until a 'fresh consensus' becomes possible.

However, by inviting ECUSA to 'explain' their actions in consecrating the openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire 'with reference to Scripture', the report has also given those who think there are legitimate theological reasons for changing the Church's mind on sexuality to show precisely why this makes hermeneutical sense.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, amidst a sea of comment, has asked people not to leap to conclusions about Windsor too quickly. But spin-merchants are already having their way.

The BBC reported that "the Anglican Church has urged US church leaders to apologise for ordaining a gay priest as bishop". However, paragraph 134 of the report actually suggests that the Episcopal Church be invited to express only its regret "that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration" and "that such an expression of regret would represent the desire of the Episcopal Church (USA) to remain within the Communion."

A thoughtfully worded statement of "regret" has already been issued by the Primate of the Episcopal Church USA, Frank Griswold.

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While immersed in a frantic schedule and facing abominable insults from self-apppointed guardians of 'right thought' in the church, Archbishop Rowan Williams still seems to make time for some stalwart contributions to public debate.

This via Jonathan Petre:

'The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, yesterday urged America to recognise that terrorists can "have serious moral goals".

'He said that while terrorism must always be condemned, it was wrong to assume its perpetrators were devoid of political rationality. "It is possible to use unspeakably wicked means to pursue an aim that is shared by those who would not dream of acting in the same way, an aim that is intelligible or desirable."

'He said that in ignoring this, in its criticism of al-Qa'eda, America "loses the power of self-criticism and becomes trapped in a self-referential morality." ' [Full article]

Meanwhile Williams has contributed to a series of discussions about governance, global capitalism, the environment and humanum studies through the St Paul's Institute. The conversations are available online on *pdf format.

As if that's not enough, there's the first of a series of lectures honouring a predecessor at Canterbury, Archbishop Michael Ramsey. It's called Theology in the Face of Christ. Just what's needed.

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Sunday, October 17, 2004


Controversial French philosopher Jacques Derrida, who died on 8 October 2004, has been justifiably defended against his (often proudly un-knowledgeable) critics by literary theorist Terry Eagleton, writing in The Guardian.

The Daily Telegraph, not known for its natural sympathies towards left-leaning wordsmiths, also provided a reasonably accurate and balanced assessment - albeit confusing some of its structuralists and post-structuralists!

It commented: 'Derrida was the embodiment of the philosopher-rebel, admired for his explosive critique of the authoritarian values latent in orthodox approaches to literature and philosophy.

'The most popular misconception about him, Derrida said, was that he was "a sceptical nihilist who doesn't believe in anything, who thinks nothing has meaning, and text has no meaning. That's stupid," he protested, "and utterly wrong." '

In recent years Derrida turned increasingly towards God-talk and religion as sources of corrigibility pointing towards 'the impossible', and towards the lesions of thought and language which illustrate the failure of all human attempts at 'closure'. For him this was a profoundly ethical task. Desconstruction, the critical movement most strongly identified with him, is not about destruction - it is, rather, the antidote to totalitarianism.

Derrida's works on identity, death and forgiveness are among his most profound and persuasive. Particularly towards what turned out to be the end of his life (a script which, he would be the first to say, cannot finalised, let alone by his own account), he developed a creative dialogue with Christian and Jewish philosophers and theologians.

This from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

' "He acquired a whole new life in the academy in the last 15 years or so," said John D. Caputo, a professor of religion and humanities at Syracuse University, and the author of The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion Without Religion (Indiana University Press, 1997). "He began to talk about what he called 'the undeconstructible.'

'When Derrida was in vogue among literary theorists, you would not have heard that expression. The idea that deconstruction could be carried out in the name of something undeconstructible -- you just didn't hear from literary folks. But in his later work, he began to talk about the undeconstructibility of justice, of democracy, of friendship, of hospitality."

'Some scholars have referred to "the ethico-political turn" in Derrida's work during the 1990s. Interest in his writings increased among philosophers, and also among those in religious studies.
In earlier years, some commentators on Derrida's work had wondered whether his exacting attention to texts might not make him, in effect, a secular practitioner of the reading skills cultivated by centuries of Talmudic scholars. (Indeed, Derrida had hinted as much himself: His book Writing and Difference closes with a quotation attributed to a rabbi named Derrisa.)

'In interviews and autobiographical texts from his final decade, he began to speak about growing up as a Jew in Algeria during the Vichy period. More and more of his writing began to take the form of an overt dialogue with the work of Emmanuel Levinas, a French Jewish thinker who worked at the intersection of Heideggerian philosophy, ethical reflection, and biblical commentary.

' "The idea of something of unconditional value begins to emerge in Derrida's work -- something that makes an unconditional claim on us," said Mr. Caputo. "So the deconstruction of this or that begins to look a little bit like the critique of idols in Jewish theology."

'In 2002 Derrida gave the keynote address at the convention of the American Academy of Religion, held in Toronto. Speaking to a crowded auditorium, the philosopher said, "I rightly pass for an atheist" -- a puzzling formulation, by any measure.

' Mr Caputo recalled that other scholars asked Derrida, "Why don't you just say, 'Je suis. I am an atheist'?" Derrida replied, "Because I don't know. Maybe I'm not an atheist."

' "He meant that, I think, the name of God was important for him," said Mr Caputo, "even if, by the standards of the local pastor or rabbi, he was an atheist. The name of God was tremendously important because it was one of the ways that we could name the unconditional, the undeconstructible." '

Jacques Derrida's work was a major boost for those who believe that linguistic and phenomenological philosophy takes us much further in our understanding of the ecstasy and rationality of faith than traditional metaphysics and epistemology.

He was undoubtedly one of the great public intellectuals of the twentieth century. I believe his legacy to theology, even to biblical theology, will turn out to be immense. See, for example, Caputo's extraordinary piece of the experience of God and the axiology of the impossible.

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As the local and global politics around the aftermath of the war in Iraq grow evermore difficult, five churches have been bombed in Baghdad. Before the conflict began, Christian communities with relationships to the historic churches inside the country warned the Bush-Blair alliance of the dire consequences of ill-considered intervention. Their concerns were politely pushed aside in the interests of what was believed to be realpolitik. Tragically the consequences of this mess are being visited on those with least power to influence events.

I am now contributing regular news pieces like this to Ekklesia, by the way. My site index of these is to be found here.

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Saturday, October 16, 2004


"The soul must long for God in order to be set aflame by God’s love; but if the soul cannot yet feel this longing, then it must long for the longing. To long for the longing is also from God." - Meister Eckhart

And in this context, as Latin American theologian Leonardo Boff has eloquently pointed out, the refined biblical usage of 'soul' denotes the whole person -- what these days we call a psychosomatic unity -- re-oriented towards that fullness of life that is the gift of God, not some disembodied component of (or addendum to) a physical being.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2004


Radical film-maker Ken Loach (whose Kes is one of my favourite movies) has a new picture out. Ae Fond Kiss is an account of a Muslim falling in love with a Catholic in Glasgow. The backdrop is one of racial and cultural tension, stoked both by the media and politicians on issues such as asylum.

This from Loach on the British Home Secretary, who is, perhaps surprisingly these days, still a member of the Christian Socialist Movement:

"You get people like David Blunkett saying that Asian families should speak English at home. I wonder if he says that to the Brits who buy second homes in Spain. Do they have to speak Spanish? How about his Labour friends in Tuscany? Do they speak Italian? The man has no sense of history and proportion. He's a political thug and people like that inadvertently end up promoting racism." (London Metro).

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Tuesday, October 05, 2004


Once they told Rabbi Pinhas of the great misery among the needy. He listened, sunk in grief. Then he raised his head. “Let us draw God into the world,” he cried, “and all need will be quenched.” God’s grace consists precisely in this, that God wants to .. be won by humanity, placing Godself, so to speak, into human hands. God wants to come to the world, but to come to it through men and women. This is the mystery of our existence, the superhuman chance of humankind.
(Martin Buber).

Writing from the depths of Judaism, Buber and Pinhas remind us that the One who Christians meet in Christ is not a God whose incarnation begins and ends with the history of Jesus. This is the deep truth that traditional Christian language seeks to capture by picturing for us the 'pre-existence' of the logos and the gift of resurrection.

Rendered 'metaphysically', those concepts may cause us moderns no end of problems. Understood as encounter-beyond-words they call forth that God-with-usness which gazes right back at us in Jesus, even down to his demanding non-recognition (Matthew 25).

Picking up on this Jewish and Christian experience, theologian Ruth Page has suggested that 'pansyntheism' (God-with-all) may be a better descriptor for 'the incarnate God' than either stand-alone theism or panentheism (God-in-all, as favoured by process thinkers). The former is too aloof; the latter blurs the respective freedoms of God and creation while seeking their rightful congruence.

Meanwhile, what sticks out like a (very) sore thumb in Pinhas's prose is his near-suggestion that suffering itself may be quenched. I can't swallow that. The risen Christ is imaged with the wounds of crucifixion still impressed upon him. In a universe where love's possibility involves the lesions of contingency, suffering cannot be effaced. Nor, mostly, can the painful need it causes be satisfied. But even so, those who suffer can be faced, given worth and hope.

For this, as Bonhoeffer put it - and we shall have to live with the anthropomorphism - "only a suffering God will do." Not a God who denies, inflicts or disowns suffering, but a God who embraces it (and its victims) through unquenchable love.

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Monday, October 04, 2004


Were you looking to be held together by lawyers?
Or by an agreement on paper?
Or by arms?
Nay, nor the world, nor any living thing will so cohere.
Only those who love each other shall become indivisible.
(Walt Whitman)

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Tuesday, September 21, 2004


Charles Henderson writes in with news about CrossCurrents, one of the most interesting journals in the field of religion and applied theology across the spectrum:

'As we normally do, we reach beyond the news of the day to explore the currents that lie beneath the surface. For example, behind today's debate about the war in Iraq lies the long history of US foreign policy and how it has been influenced by various strains within American civil religion. Gary Dorrien's "Imperial Designs" traces that history up to the present, and lays out the options for the future.

'Likewise, beyond the present debate about gay marriage lies the under-reported story of polygyny. Debra Mubashshir Majeed explores the possible connections between the two. Similarly, ahead of politicized debate about strengthening education systems lies the untapped potential of service learning.

'Angela Leonard reports from the front lines of change and innovation. Many of the articles in the summer issue have been contributed by the scholars who attended our 20th anniversary research colloquium last year. Contributing editor, Stephanie Mitchem, frames the conversation in her Anniversary of Ideas.

'If you like what you find in this issue, but have not yet taken advantage of our offer of up to six complimentary back issues, why not subscribe now?'

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Christian leaders from across the world have supplied short, broadcast messages for a website ( to promote the International Day of Prayer for Peace, which takes place today.

Millions of Christians from all traditions – evangelical, ecumenical, Pentecostal and Catholic – will join in, says the World Council of Churches, which is coordinating the event.

"God weeps over God's world, aching because of conflict in Darfur, in Beslan, in Harare, in Colombia, in Jerusalem, in Belfast," says Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his personal message. He adds: "God - Emmanuel, God with us, with you - has no one but you to help God make this world hospitable to peace and justice."

The inspiring two-minute video messages are also an affirmation of the churches' and faith communities' work for change in the midst of the world’s current turmoil. They are in both webcast and broadcast quality.

This WCC initiative links to the International Day of Peace declared by the United Nations General Assembly, a world-wide effort intended as a day of global cease-fire and non-violence, and as an opportunity for education and raising public awareness on the issues involved. (From Ekklesia)

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Saturday, September 18, 2004


Arriving home late from London last night, I found myself leafing through the September '04 newsletter of Catholic Womens Ordination. (Carla Roth - my wife - and I joined a few years ago, partly through personal contacts, and partly to express some Anglican/Mennonite support.)

And, lo and behold, we discovered from the 'members update' section that our immediate next door neighbours, Liz and Diana, are involved too! Looked at another way, it's alarming what you still don't dicover for almost a year...

It also reminds me to add CWO to my permanent links.

Catholic Womens Ordination is a movement campaigning within the Roman Catholic Church for inclusivity and for the radical transformation of kyriarchal institutional Church structures. It calls for women's perspectives to enrich the Church's thinking and for women's gifts to enrich its ministry and mission.

Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, the American biblical scholar, uses the word kyriarchy taken from the Greek kyros, denoting 'master', to express the interlocking of oppressions within a hierachical system (racism, sexism, classism, etc.) in contrast to the liberating dynamic of the Gospel.

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US election campaign mail with a return address for the Republican National Committee in Washington DC has been issued in West Virginia warning voters that the Bible will be prohibited if liberal candidates win in November.

The Democrats are not named and there is no direct reference to Presidential candidate John Kerry, but the implication seems clear.

The literature shows a Bible with the word "banned" across it and a photo of a man, on his knees, placing a ring on the hand of another man with the word "allowed." The mailing tells West Virginians to "vote Republican to protect our families" and to defeat the "liberal agenda."

Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie would neither confirm nor deny the origins of the mailing when he was interviewed by the Associated Press agency which broke the story.

The tactic has been condemned as “scare mongering” by lobby groups and moderate church leaders.

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Friday, September 17, 2004


The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was interviewed by John Humphreys on the BBC Radio 4 'Today' programme recently, following the terrorist killing of around 350 people, mostly children, in Beslan.

He faced sharp questions on the meaning of belief in God in the light of such horrors. These excerpts were reproduced by the Church Times:

Where was God yesterday morning?
Where was God? Where was God in the Aberfan disaster? Where was God on 9/11? The short answer is that God is where God always is, that is, with those who are trying to comfort and bring light in any such situation. I would guess in such a situation - and how could one begin to imagine the nightmare in the school - there must have been older children putting arms around younger children. You might see God there.

But, in a world in which human decisions are free - even free for the most appalling evil like this - God does not dictate and intervene.

I suppose we all have the sense that some kind of line has been crossed here: that people can not only calculate that the death of children will serve their purpose, but actually sit with suffering children for days, watching in a calculating way. That is the kind of decision which, yes, you have to call evil.

[On the question of freedom of choice] Freedom is a word thrown around. It is a word that has big and dramatic resonances, but it often means very, very small things, a very small gesture.

But choice is denied to people who are victims?
That is what it is to be a victim: your choice is restricted; you are imprisoned.

That is what God allows; so he doesn't give us a choice, does he?
It is a fact that people exercise different levels of freedom. One person's freedom interferes with another's. That is why I do not believe that freedom is the essence of Christianity. It is one of those crucial aspects of it, but I would still come back to the question: what is it, in a situation of this dreadful captivity, that an ordinary child can still do with mind and heart?

Does the Church not preach that God is merciful?
Of course, this is nothing to do with God's mercy, it has to do with the kind of reality that the created world is in, which we make our futures in relation to God.

God calls us to co-operate with what he longs for; what he wishes to see, which is justice, which is love, and we are free to resist. Sometimes people resist violently and horribly, as in this case.

So what do you say to people who say: 'I simply can't believe any longer; this is not a good world.'
What I want to ask is: what is it that makes you find the torture and death of children so appalling? What is it that makes you value human beings?The faith that Christians hold, and other religious people, is that each person has that absolute value in the eyes of God, which means that it is impossible to treat them as a means to your own ends. It requires of us the most self-forgetful respect, the most generous, the most outgoing engagement with other persons.

If there is no eternal love focused on each and every individual, including the most vulnerable, including the most unimportant, then it is possible for persons to be used as tools, as objects. More.

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There was a slightly odd discussion about science and public policy on BBC Radio 4 this morning. In the wake of public health panics over matters such as the MMR triple-vaccine, the 'Today' programme asked how the confidence of the general public could be regained by the scientific community, which was sometimes seen to be too influenced by corporate and commercial interests.

This, of course, is an important and valid question. The marketisation of society, and with it of scientific endeavour, raises profoundly problematic moral issues. How can control and accountability be maintained in an era of weakening states and boundary-defiant technology?

Unfortunately, the axis of the exchange between Kathy Sykes, Collier Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Bristol, and Tracey Brown, spokesperson for the lobbying organisation Sense About Science, turned on a naive fact-value distinction - not helped by the interviewer, who seemed to think people wanted scientists to be "desiccated fact machines". It was as if Kantian and (more importantly) post-Kantian theory had never really happened.

In fairness, Sykes was well aware of this. But Brown's advocacy of evidence-based science as 'opinion free' seemed monological. Empiricism is an important tool, and rightly used can help guard against extending ideas beyond the explanatory territory where they first emerged. But wrongly used (that is, when it denies non-empirical factors) it can do the opposite. Seeing it as the only form of rationality is therefore dangerous. What we 'find' when we investigate analytically is conditioned by a range of social, cultural and political factors. One does not have to be a raving philosophical anti-realist to recognize this.

As Kathy Sykes rightly said, in the debate about the application of science and technology we need to hear from scientists about the evidence they are weighing, and also about how they see that evidence shaping (or being shaped by) wider public concerns. And we also need to engage with other perspectives on the same issues.

Mary Midgely has some thought-provoking and trenchant observations to make about over-reductive approaches to the public role of science in her new book The Myths We Live By. She has also made some useful interventions in the discussion about the different languages of religion and the social and material sciences, of course.

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Thursday, September 16, 2004


As the argument within the churches about human sexuality rages on, it is always good to see people who refuse to play 'the tribal game' and whose inclusivity is rooted in (no doubt painful) theological wrestling. I'm thinking of the recently formed Accepting Evangelicals who, along with Courage and the Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians, give the lie to the idea that this is some kind of simple war between 'liberals' and 'conservatives'.

Given the vituperative climate, AE are a brave bunch of people, too. But no-one who has worked with Benny Hazlehurst (as I was fortunate enough to do in Southwark Diocese in the mid-90s) could doubt his faith or integrity. Not being an evangelical I can't join. But I certainly send AE my best wishes and prayers. Their self-explanation is as follows:

Accepting Evangelicals is a new network of Evangelical Christians who believe that it is ok to be both Evangelical and open to accepting or affirming views on homosexuality.

It is both national and ecumenical and welcomes anyone who would call themselves an Evangelical. Among its founders are Benny Hazlehurst and Paul Roberts, both Anglican vicars & members of General Synod, and Jeremy & Bren Marks, founders of ‘Courage’.

"We want to create a space for Evangelicals to be able to sign up to an accepting or affirming position on the gay issue without having to stop being Evangelicals!” said Benny Hazlehurst. “We are passionate about the Gospel, and believe in the authority of Scripture, but are prepared to accept that there is more than one way to interpret the Bible on this issue.”

Accepting Evangelicals believe that many Evangelicals are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with some of the hard-line statements that are being issued on their behalf. The network also wants to engage constructively with those who are opposed to the acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships.

Membership of the network is free, and both people and churches can join up via the web site info.htm We need to break the myth that being a pro-gay Evangelical is a contradiction in terms so if you call yourself Evangelical, come and visit the web site, join up, and give us your feed back.”

My own musings on Christian faith and sexuality are here.

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From Embodying Forgiveness, by L. Gregory Jones, published in 2002 by ECONI:

"Easter is not about un-crucifying Christ. It's not about forgetting the past. It's about redeeming the past. There is a crucial difference between worshipping Christ un-crucified and worshipping Christ crucified and risen. He comes bearing the mark of nails. The risen Christ returns with a judgment that does not condemn but offers grace, offers forgiveness, even to those who crucified him. And so it is that God's definitive word - even in the face of being rejected by humanity - is 'Yes'."

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It was a great pleasure to meet Johan Maurer earlier this year - both in Birmingham, where he was based at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre for a number of months, and briefly in Exeter, where I live. Johan has recently entered the blogosphere with Can you believe...?. I shall add him to my regular reads. His current research revolves around the important link between the Quaker testimonies and evangelism. We enjoyed some wonderful conversations about the state of the world, the nature of Christian belief and the centrality of peace witness to the Gospel.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2004


Rowan Williams delivered a remarkable speech at the al-Azhar al-Sharif Mosque in Cairo last week. The full text is here and my Ekklesia news item includes excerpts. First, the Archbishop issued an unambiguous statement of the incompatibility between acts of violence and terror on the one hand, and the practice of true faith on the other. Second, and with great humility, he drew attention to the differences as well as the convergences between Christian and Muslim understandings of God, seeking to explain the significance of Trinitarian thought and to expound its deeper meaning in the context of the offence it occasions. In a climate in which Christian leaders are tempted towards either intemperance or avoidance, Williams' explicit but contextually (and humanly) sensitive approach provides a useful model for the congruence between testimony and dialogue in an otherwise dangerously polarised environment.

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Monday, September 13, 2004


This from Bill Wiser in 'For the sake of the children' on the Bruderhof site:

"Beslan is a call to America to remember the candles, the flowers, and the grief that united us in the aftermath of 9/11. On this day, if we turn down the volume, our ears will catch an echo of that still, small voice once again. We may not know where the road will take us, but we owe it to the world’s children to return to the starting point before we have gone so far that we can’t turn back."

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Sunday, September 12, 2004


Hundreds of churches of all shapes and sizes have marked Racial Justice Sunday today, and initiative promoted and supported by the Churches' Commission for Racial Justice of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, the official ecumenical body.

The aim is to:

* raise awareness of each other's cultures and experiences
* understand ourselves, our own roots and identity
* understand the feelings of people from different cultures
* become more inclusive and outward-looking
* become more welcoming
* encourage all members to contribute to the service of the community
* remember that whatever our skin colour, ethnicity or culture we are all children of God
* deepen our understanding of being ‘one in Christ’
* face up to the challenge of living this out in practice
* tackle injustice, not ignore it

See also my news item about RJS on Ekklesia.

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20-21 October 2004
High Leigh Conference Centre
Hoddesdon Herts EN11 8SG, UK

THEME: "Sharing Christian Faith & Values in a Post-Christendom Context"
with Dr Stuart Murray-Williams
Conference Accompanier: Dr Helen Cameron

* How do we share Christian faith in a post-Christian climate?
* How do we share faith respectfully and with integrity?
* How do we share faith with people of different and no faith?

The Conference is inter-active with speakers, accompanier reflections, question time and some buzz groups. Expect an inter-generational, multi-cultural approach with British and Irish input.

Further details here. Book early, says organiser Terry Tennens.

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Saturday, September 11, 2004

[68.1] REMEMBERING 9/11

"Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer utters itself" remarks the poet Carol Ann Duffy. It's an echo of Paul's discourse in Romans 8, whereby the Spirit articulates the unarticulatable on our behalf. No doubt this is how many will be feeling today - both those effected by the terrible events in New York in 2001, and those throughout the world whose lives have been torn apart by the war and terror that has been its tragic continuation. Whatever the rhetoric of the White House and Downing Street to justify their actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the world most certainly does not feel a safer place. The questions about where we are and where we are going as global societies only deepen. But we can continue to strive for justice amidst the mess. And we can remember and pray.

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Tuesday, September 07, 2004


In the wake of the horrors of Beslan prayer and silence feels the best course... But as the tragedy unfolded I was working on a long-overdue column for the Ekklesia site. It's called 'Making peace on terrorism?'...

' “To clutch at everything or to throw away everything is the reaction of those who [whether they know it or not] believe fanatically in death.”

'So declared Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor and theologian who faced the horrors of Nazism without ducking or diving – and who paid the price with his life.

'Sadly, ‘clutching’ and ‘throwing’ seems almost all we are habituated to do as the latest example of the awful logic of terrorism stares cruelly out of our TV screens in those unforgiving scenes of carnage from Beslan.

'When upwards of 350 people, many children, are killed through a school hostage stand-off in a once obscure border town, no-one knows quite what to think anymore.

'The numbing heartlessness of tactics like this also anaesthetises rational thought among politicians and sensible debate in the popular media.' More here.

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I Came across Maggi Dawn's superb weblog recently. And I noticed, inter alia, this moving poem by Rosie Mills. Some of you will recognise 'Texts of Terror' as the title of a marvellous book by biblical scholar Phylis Trible - published in the US by Fortress Press in the Overtures to Biblical Theology series, at the end of the 1980s IIRC...

For all the Godawful Bits of the Bible

(For Sara Maitland)

For the texts of terror:
For the rape and the pillage and the shame
Of these sanctified words;
For the whatthefuckdowedowiththis verses
That make no sense at all
To us, now;
For their endurance in our lives;
For the utter brokenness
Of God's human words;
For knowing how these words have
Prevented love,
Stifled life,
Stunted growth;
For still somehow reading on.

And yet,
In spite, or even because of all this,
There are theologies
Or irreverence and mischief
Winking their way into our lives;
Playful theologies of craft
Weaving the weft against the warp,
Shuttling untold designs
Into new patterns;
Theologies of art and lies
Telling us stories we never knew.

These painful words will endure,
Or maybe be forgotten.
How we inhabit their shadowIs no longer a question
For those who think they know,
But for the loving potters,
the waiting poets,
the holy clowns.

(c) Rosie Miles

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Monday, September 06, 2004


The tragedy of Beslan is part of a long cycle of violence and horror. This from the London Free Press in an article yesterday:

'President Vladimir Putin faces the same dilemma that earlier led czars and Communist commissars to seek "solutions" to the Chechen problem that were as brutal as any in the annals of warfare. ...

'Gen. Mikhail Yermolov, who led Russian forces in a ruthless 30-year campaign to conquer the Caucasus region in the 19th century, called the Chechens "congenital rebels." ...

'Yermolov eventually subdued Chechnya by incinerating its forests to deny cover to the guerrillas, and by executing dozens of Chechen hostages for every Russian soldier he lost.

'In 1944 Soviet leader Joseph Stalin accused the Chechens of collaborating with the Nazis and had the entire nation -- half a million people -- deported to Central Asia. An estimated 150,000 Chechens died during the forced winter march.

' "Deportation and the exile that followed united the Chechens, in bitterness, sorrow and rage," says Vladimir Dimitryev, an expert with the Russian Institute of Ethnology. "We are reaping the harvest today." '

CTBI offers the following prayers from its new Remembrance material, Beyond Our Tears.

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Saturday, September 04, 2004


"To love is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one…Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries, avoid all entanglements, lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfish­ness…The only alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers, all the perturbations of love is hell." (C. S. Lewis)

I have a distinctly ambivalent relationship to C. S. Lewis. His children's novels passed me by, I confess. And his Christian writings mainly came upon me when I was working in adult theological education, trying gently to wean people off some of the faux apologetic strategies that seemed a by-product of their encounter with his brilliant but narrowly scholastic mind.

What is more remarkable about Lewis than his allegorical accounts of faith, in my fragile opinion, is the depth of insightful feeling that can emerge (in quotations like this) from one so evidently steeped in moralism. It's like a breaking free, much as Kierkegaard's disturbing inner repression gave rise to flights of hopeful imagination. God is no respecter of our constraints.

This quotation seems particularly apt in an age of obsessive consumption - the new moralism for the post-moral.

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Sorry to have been away for so long. Other issues, other priorities. I aim to update the blog a couple of times a week from herein. We'll see how it goes.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2004

[64.1] TO DREAM AGAIN...

The National Council of Churches of Christ USA has forwarded copies of this flash movie to mark the anniversary of the birthday of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr., and to recall his inspiring legacy at another time of global turmoil and division.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2004


O God, Holy and Eternal Trinity,
We pray for your Church in all the world.
Sanctify its life;
Renew its worship;
Empower its witness;
Redeem its mission;
Heal its divisions;
Challenge its wrong doings;
Place it on the side of the excluded;
Make visible its true unity.

Through Christ, who was broken and restored. Amen.

Further daily resources here.

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Friday, January 16, 2004


Post 9/11 there has been an unprecedented growth in interest in Islam among educated Westerners. But those sections of the church whose narrative is driven by fear and suspicion are growing in strength, too. Appalling (and woefully factually-deficient) books are emerging -- David Pawson's 'The Challenge of Islam to Christians', for example, has been selling in extraordinary numbers. Even mainstream religious publishers have put out titles perpetrating hugely simplistic theses on an unsuspecting public.

How refreshing then, to see a constructive and critical piece in the mainstream media from Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester: a Christian leader of orthodox and conservative temperament whose personal and episcopal background in Pakistan enhances the authority of his words. On the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God, he says:

"The usual Muslim term for God, Allah, is pre-Islamic and related to both Jewish and Christian terms widely in use at the time. It is true that the Prophet Mohammed gave it a particular significance in his preaching of monotheism, but the term is still the ordinary word for God used by many Arab Christians.

"There is also social, as well as etymological, significance. In most parts of the Muslim world, language about God is common currency, used in greeting and thanking people, in praying for their welfare and so on. If Christians and Muslims were not referring to the same supreme being, daily conversation, let alone theological dialogue, would become impossible.

"[The Qur'an] claims continuity with the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and with the revelation given to the Hebrew prophets and to Jesus. If dialogue is even to begin, this claim must be taken at face value; the dialogue itself will reveal the extent of similarities and differences."

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Thursday, January 15, 2004


The Centre for Multireligious Studies at the University of Aarhus in Denmark has applied for a European Union grant to link with 22 research institutions in different European countries examining the impact of the growth and development of religious affiliation (not least among Muslims) on attitudes in public life. Previous cross-national research has not analysed migration and its consequences for changes in the perception of religion, researchers at the University of Aarhus say.

Religion has become much more important in politics, declared the Centre's director, Viggo Mortensen. "It is not only about the three to seven per cent of Muslims living in Europe, but also about the majority's re-evaluation of their values regarding religion, due to the changes in society of which immigration is a part," he said recently. (Ecumenical News International)

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Wednesday, January 14, 2004


The use of Godly rhetoric by politicians tends to send a chill down my spine, even if I have some sympathy for the politician in question. I've written elsewhere about keeping the wrong kind of religion out of politics and vice versa. This is not the same thing at all as seeking to keep the two categories apart: it's a question of who speaks for whom, how, why and on what basis.

For example, the Christian community may rightly choose to be deeply engaged in critiquing the assumptions of faith language in the political domain. A prime example is President Bush's application of hymns and biblical phrases to name America -- when they come from contexts intending to denote something quite different: a community of all nations, not a vested national interest.

Nevertheless, the entwining of discourses in the public arena is not something that can simply be wished away. And as Amy Sullivan ('Do the Democrats have a prayer?', Washington Monthly) has pointed out, if the forthcoming election in the US will not be determined by religious issues it shows every sign of being swayed by them. She notes:

"Bush and his political guru Karl Rove understand something very important about the religious vote. The President has solidified his standing among highly committed evangelicals, who, though originally wary of his conservative credentials, have been rewarded with the appointment of such religious conservatives as John Ashcroft to top administration jobs as well as through grants distributed under the faith-based initiative. But Bush has maxed out his support with conservative evangelicals; 84 percent voted for him in the 2000 election. To win reelection, he will need to hold onto the votes of another group which supported him in 2000: religious moderates--one of the least-appreciated swing constituencies in the country, and one whose allegiance is more up for grabs than most people realize. They include Muslims, most Catholics, and a growing number of suburban evangelicals, all of whom are devout, but many of whom are uncomfortable with Bush's ties to the religious right, whose agenda--from banning abortion to converting Muslims--is deeply disconcerting to them. Many of these "swing faithful" have also begun to wonder if Bush's rhetoric of compassion and justice will be matched by policy substance."

For this reason, she suggests, Howard Dean will need to grasp 'the religious agenda' for the Democrats. By way of inspiration, she says:

"When the Rt Rev John Chane, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, took to the pulpit this March [2003], his sermon sounded like a blueprint for the sort of religiously minded critique of the Bush administration that Democrats might want to study. Imploring parishioners to take seriously their baptismal vows to "strive for justice" in the world, Bishop Chane raised the example of the Bush administration budget and found it wanting. "We are embarking on a draconian program of social welfare," he declared, highlighting cuts in services to protect the poor, the sick, and the young. "This is not at all what Jesus Christ meant when he said, 'Suffer the little children.'" At the end of the sermon, the congregation spontaneously burst into applause in a very un-Episcopalian response to the bishop's political call to arms."

However, it is important to understand that Chane's address was not intended to endorse a particular party or programe. The critique he offered is as applicable to Democrats as Republicans (though they may be found wanting in different ways and to different degrees). It was, if anything, a comment on the fruits of a political duopoly which has predominantly served corporate interests and excluded the marginalised. It was also designed specifically to galvanise Christians to act on the vision of justice which is meant to characterise church, the ekklesia. For it is only out of the distinctive practices of a peculiar, all-embracing community (one demandingly critiqued by the Gospel it conveys) that a faith-speaking politics might look as if it had integrity. This could have significant ramifications on the way people behave when they enter the ballot box, but it is not prescribable by the interests that vie within the existing political system.

(Thanks to the Religious Left mailing list for drawing this article to my attention.)

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Tuesday, January 13, 2004


A prayer/poem that I return to again and again is one attributed to the late Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, who was murdered while celebrating mass in the Chapel of the Hospital de la Divina Providencia on 24 March 1980.

In Prophets Of A Future Not Our Own, Romero writes:

"This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

"We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest."

(See full prayer here)

The Religious Task Force on Central America notes:

"Every year, in celebrations throughout El Salvador, among Christian communities animated by catechists in the countryside, in local churches, at Romero's tomb in the cathedral, people recite his words once again from the homilies that gathered up for them and reflected back to them the truth of their situation. This was a remarkable thing for the poor of El Salvador -- to hear someone pronounce their reality, to name the causes of their suffering, to denounce the injustice, to speak to their hopes and help them believe that it was right and good to believe that these hopes should be realized in this world -- that indeed this was at the heart of the meaning of the incarnation of Jesus Christ."

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Monday, January 12, 2004


An interesting Washington Post piece on the media's treatment of American politicians' religious beliefs. The article is by Steven Waldman, former reporter and editor for Newsweek and US News & World Report, now editor-in-chief of Beliefnet.

In The Candidates' Spiritual Path he points out that "[t]wenty to 30 percent of Americans now practice a faith different from the one in which they were raised, according to sociologist Robert Wuthnow. And a much higher percentage have switched houses of worship. For 20 years now, sociologists have documented how Americans have become 'consumers' of spirituality. Changing faiths or churches could mean someone is flighty, but more often it means that they take their spiritual journey seriously enough to reassess it constantly. This is what baby boomers do. They shop. And serious shoppers are often quite intense."

This is true. Whether consumerism is a good model for spirituality, is, of course, another matter entirely -- and one which should not simply be conflated with change and development of convictions in an open culture. (See also Shopping for God, A Sceptic's Search for Value in the Spiritual Market Place by Rowland Howard.)

One of the circumstances that has sparked this debate is the scrutiny applied to Democratic Presidential candidate Howard Dean, who was raised Catholic, switched to the Episcopal Church, then linked with Congregationalism and is raising his child in the Jewish faith in accordance with his wife's tradition.

Waldman goes on: "Another misconception that has crept into the media analysis of the candidates' religious statements is the idea that Americans approach religion with the mind-set of theologians. Thus, Dean and [Wesley] Clark were maligned not only because they shifted a lot but because they seemed to do so for superficial reasons. Dean, it's often been noted, switched churches because of a dispute over building a bike path. Clark left the Catholic Church in anger over the anti-military rhetoric of a priest. Such trivial matters!"

Well, recycling your spirituality is one thing, perhaps. But a Christian leader standing out against militarism in this world climate? That's seriously encouraging. And to anything other than the shopping-basket mentality, very far from trivial.

[Thanks to Atrios/Eschaton for drawing my attention to this story]

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Sunday, January 11, 2004


In a spare moment today (one of those occasions when you feel almost morally compelled to do something indisputably non-meaningful) I flicked through the style section of a well-known national newspaper. Usually I find this sort of thing depressing. For a start most of the ‘décor’ on display is invariably bereft of books. Not a good idea. This time, however, I was inspired to discover that mess is the new cool – the ‘busy, eclectic look’. Now I’ve never intended to be fashionable in my life. I just have loads of junk. Somewhere I have a self-help tape called How To Declutter Your Life, but it’s buried under a pile of papers and I can’t find it. Thankfully none of my family ever came out with that peculiar cliché about ‘cleanliness being next to Godliness’ (pretty much the opposite of Jesus’ famous observation about true purity, thankfully). But it does make me reflect that congenital untidiness obviously betokens a soul ill at ease with mere worldliness. That’ll be several steps closer to paradise for me then...

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Saturday, January 10, 2004


"We talk about religious ‘faith’ – but what we mean in plain English is of course trust. A real person of faith isn’t necessarily a person full of a particular kind of religious certainty; it’s a person who has become trustworthy because they know that God is to be trusted and that God has trusted, loved and forgiven them.

"Each person’s life gives a message of one kind or another, a message about what kind of world this is. As the New Year starts, perhaps one of the biggest questions each of us could ask is - “what message does my life give”. Am I making the world a place where trust makes sense? And, deeper still, am I confident that even in my failings and my betrayals I am loved and trusted?" (Rowan Williams)

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Friday, January 09, 2004


Controversies over 'overt and public expression of faith through appearance' (a quaint description in a recent continental newspaper) continue to rage in Europe; particularly in France, Germany and Turkey, where, to differing degrees, there are prohibitions on what might be seen as flamboyant religious symbols in schools and some other public places.

In the UK the interpretation of secularity in public life is more towards permissive pluralism than restrictive anti-clericalism. This sensible Epiphany observation is from the consistently excellent and reliably thoughtful Thinking Anglican:

"The gospel is written for [people within Jewish communities] who are being awakened to the challenge of bringing the Christian faith to other cultures. Jewish dietary laws and distinctive dress would not be sustained within a faith which sought to be universal. Perhaps also the threat of persecution under the Roman Empire might have made it inadvisable for believers to parade their faith too publicly by sporting distinctive clothes.

One legacy is that there is no distinctive Christian dress code required by all, akin to the Sikh turban, or the Jewish skull cap. Within Britain we can also point to the fact that for those who want to retain a dress code which identifies their faith, this is accommodated to the extent of allowing Sikh men on motorcycles to wear a turban in place of a crash helmet. The law clearly shows that although the majority see no necessity for a religious dress code, the wishes of those who find this an essential expression of their faith are respected."

Which is surely as it should be. The writer might also have mentioned Jesus' frowning upon ostentatious religious behaviour and the earlier prohibitions on images. There is debate within as well as without faith communities on these matters, as over the veiling of Muslim women for instance. Is it oppressive or protective? No one answer is likely to suffice.

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Thursday, January 08, 2004


Giles Fraser in this week's Church Times:

"The hopes and prayers of many of us for the New Year are focused on the work of the commission to explore the limits of diversity in the Anglican Communion.

"I suspect that, very quickly, the commission will have to face a question that is often at the heart of disagreements about value: is there some philosophical space between monism and relativism?

"The question is whether the Bible is capable of supporting different theological positions.

"I wonder whether the answer to our crisis lies in the unlikely work of Isaiah Berlin. Berlin argued for a value-pluralism that is neither absolutism nor relativism. The idea that giving up on the belief that there is one, and only one, way of reading the Bible leads to anything-goes relativism is irresponsible scaremongering."

See the full piece here.

It is good to see Berlin's voice being heard again in so many areas of public life. For too long he was written off as a derivative, anodyne pragmatist. But his 'agonistic' thought (often mis-translated by lazy sub-editors as 'agnostic') is vital for an age of pathos.

Incidentally, Giles Fraser has himself written an excellent theological account of Nietzche; a corrective both to religious romantics and anti-religious cynics.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2004


Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has presented the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq with a dossier of statistical data compiled from seventy-two case studies of the treatment -- and mistreatment -- of Iraqi detainees, reports Ekklesia. This news item also made it onto BBC Radio 4's flagship 'Today' programme this morning. The full details are here. The CPT campaign for justice for detainees is seeking to work with the authorities to ensure implementation of human rights for all.

CPT is an action network born out of the witness of the historic peace churches (Mennonites, Quakers and others) in the USA. It has been working on the ground in the Middle East and other conflict zones since the mid-1980s.

On Tuesday 30 December 2003, at 8am, a grenade exploded on Karrada Street in Baghdad, two blocks from the CPT Iraq apartment, killing one Iraqi man and wounding two others. Said a spokesperson, "Team members saw the dead man's body lying on the edge of the street, covered with a large piece of cardboard. They watched as Iraqi men put the body in a simple wooden coffin. The men carried the coffin into the nearby mosque, before taking it away in a pick-up truck. Broken glass from shop windows littered the street and sidewalks along both sides of the street. People standing around in the crowd expressed grief and anger directed at both soldiers and those who had detonated the bomb."

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The return of FaithInSociety after the seasonal break (ah yes, happy New Year to you all!) has been hampered by some technical difficulties. Normal service is now resumed.