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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