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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