Wednesday, January 31, 2007


“Today, we must look to the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, as a metaphor of our national character and aspiration, its symbol a thirty-foot-high cardboard picture of a slot machine and a chorus girl. For Las Vegas is a city entirely devoted to the idea of entertainment, and as such proclaims the spirit of a culture in which all public discourse increasingly takes the form of entertainment. Our politics, religion, news, aesthetics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death” ~ Neil Postman

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[11.27 GMT] Wrong debate, wrong language. Ekklesia, Jan 31, 2007 Malcolm Duncan from Faithworks puts an evangelical case for adopting non-discrimination in the provision of public services. Also: Evangelical leader welcomes UK equalities legislation.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Responding to comments from Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster and the most senior figure in the Catholic Church in England and Wales, the independent UK religious think-tank Ekklesia says it is a mistake automatically to conflate church-based initiatives in civil society with government-sponsored services.

The Cardinal has suggested that the government’s refusal to allow its publicly-funded adoption agencies to refuse gay adoptees poses a threat to the voluntary work carried out by all churches. Ekklesia says this is not so.

Instead it suggests that the “adjustment period” of 21 months creates a fresh opportunity for a “mature and careful reconsideration on both sides of the role of the churches in relation to the government, with its responsibility to provide for all, and civil society, where there is space for a number of actors and different contributions.”

The basis of this reconsideration, says Ekklesia, needs to be an acknowledgement that Britain is not a ‘Christian country’ but a plural society in which the great majority of the population are no longer regular Christian adherents.

The churches can therefore no longer assume that their definitions of what is right will be accepted by everybody, especially when public money is going into services intended for the whole community, it says. But this is an opportunity not a threat for the churches.

The think tank points out that discrimination against lesbian and gay people has been strongly opposed by a number of Christians on theological grounds, and that the churches need to acknowledge that they do not speak with one voice.

Ekklesia says that the argument about church and government is “deeply confused” when people ignore the crucial distinction between public provision and voluntary action.

“Some church reactions to the Equality Act, which most people see as a matter of consistency and fairness, hark back to the Christendom era when the action of government was based solely or largely on principles determined by the churches”, commented Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow. “However, we are no longer in that era.”

Ekklesia argues that there is no general threat to church-based voluntary initiatives, but says that arguing against equal treatment in public services “is bound to cause hostility towards the church, with people questioning whether it is fit to be a state recognised provider.”

The think-tank says that instead of resisting change, the churches need to take a positive attitude to what the Cardinal described today as their "loss of power", since this gives them an opportunity to recover the dynamic of the Christian message as an identification with those at the margins of society.

The Cardinal made his remarks on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning (30 January 2007) following a statement from Downing Street yesterday.

See also: LGCM says children must come first in adoption matters (13.59 GMT)

Related resources: Redeeming Religion in the Public Square - a ground-breaking new approach to faith and politics from Ekklesia. Faith And Politics After Christendom - a timely reappraisal by Jonathan Bartley. Learning to love again - Simon Barrow on Guardian CIF: church agencies are turning against their own message. 'Defeat' at the hands of equality legislation may be the best spiritual outcome for them. Conscience and justice - Savitri Hensman unpacks the Christian pickle over discrimination. Christians must stand against discrimination - Giles Fraser says those who oppose equality do faith a disservice.

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“The [public] imagination of faith refuses to be content with human arrangements—social, economic, political, urban, rural—that are not based on the practice of human freedom in the presence of God. That imagination will pertinently challenge those arrangements through envisioning alternatives, through prophetic speech and action, through the creation of communities that include, strengthen, and give integrity to those at the margins” ~ Andrew Davey, Urban Christianity and Global Order: Theological Resources for an Urban Future

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Monday, January 29, 2007

[20.26 GMT] Blair confirms that Catholic adoption agencies will not be able to discriminate Ekklesia, 29/01/07

"Love alone is credible; nothing else can be believed, and nothing else ought to be believed. This is the achievement, the ‘work’ of faith: to recognize this absolute prius, which nothing else can surpass; to believe that there is such a thing as love, absolute love, and that there is nothing higher or greater than it; to believe against all the evidence of experience, against every ‘rational’ concept of God, which thinks of [God] in terms of impassibility or, at best, totally pure goodness, but not in terms of an inconceivable and senseless act of love."
~Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone is Credible, pp.101-102.

Not of course that we can capture this love, or render it's 'senselessness' as prescriptive reasoning. The point, rather, is to seek ways of inhabiting it - and so to discover through repaired relations that love is not primarly "an emotion", but an intention of concerned dispossessiveness toward 'the other'. What Balthasar is pointing out is that God, having no need to compete within our world of objects and relations, is the wholly non-possessive Other. And therefore the unrestricted source of all possibilities of love.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007


The great majority of the worst crimes committed by human beings arise from their false claims to know things beyond doubt, whether in the name of God or in the name of any ideology (religious or otherwise) that abjures human frailty. Perhaps few perceived this more clearly, during the trials of the Nazi era we remember on Holocaust Memorial Day, and specifically the 'church struggle' against the embrace of totalitarianism, than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Railing against both arrogant positivism and the abandonment of truthfulness, he wrote:

"No good at all can come from acting before the world and one’s self as though we knew the truth, when in reality we do not. This truth is too important for that, and it would be a betrayal of this truth if the church were to hide itself behind resolutions and pious so-called Christian principles, when it is called to look the truth in the face and once and for all confess its guilt and ignorance. Indeed, such resolutions can have nothing complete, nothing clear about them unless the whole Christian truth, as the church knows it or confesses that it does not know it, stands behind them. Qualified silence might perhaps be more appropriate for the church today than talk which is very unqualified. That means protest against any form of the church which does not honour the question of truth above all things." [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, No Rusty Swords, translated by Edwin Robertson and John Bowden (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), p. 160]

God's truth, in other words, is not the equivalent of our malignant fantasies about 'knowing' or 'ruling'. It is to be discovered, rather, by entering into the most vulnerable aspects of human life, and finding there a vocation of love which defies conquest. This is why, for Bonhoeffer, the greatest possible engagement with reality is to be found through engaging the suffering compassion of Christ - a commitment which led him to the gallows at Flossenburg.

See also: Stanley Hauerwas, Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Truth and Politics, Center for Theological Enquiry, Princeton, New Jersey, USA. The ambiguity and difficulty of Bonhoeffer's relation with the ingrained anti-Judaism of his theological inheritance is explored wisely and sensitively by Stephen R. Haynes in The Bonhoeffer Legacy: Post-Holocaust Perspectives (Fortress Press, 2006). More titles here.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007


"Integration was not enough to save [the German Jews in wartime Germany]. Suspicion, prejudice and discrimination lay dormant, awaiting crisis. It was this deeply embedded anti-Semitism that the Nazis were able to unleash. Britain today has more complex fault lines than the straightforward Judeo-Christian duel played upon by the fascism of the 1930s. We are surrounded by a cacophony of cultures, of which we often know little. If hit hard with the ideology of hatred, our society would not split into two, it would shatter into a thousand pieces.

"The question is what do we really know about our neighbours? Did you wish your Muslim friend well over the fast of Ramadan, or chat to your Hindu friend about Diwali, or find out what Yom Kippur means to a Jew? Have you learned why your Polish colleague has left her child with a grandparent to come to work here, or found out the variety of degrees your East European office cleaners have between them? Have you ever spoken to an asylum seeker about why they are here and what they have left behind? Do you think of your colleague as disabled, or just the same but different? Are we actually speaking to each other or just passing by? This year's Holocaust Memorial Day (today) is trying to address some of these issues. " ~ Stephen Smith of HMD, writing on Guardian CIF. See also: Holocaust Memorial Day supporters warn against complacency, Ekklesia.

A recent YouGov UK poll conducted by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust suggested that 41% of us think that the Holocaust could happen again. Worryingly, 36% of us also think that if genocide were to happen most people would stand by and do nothing. The vast majority of us - 79% - do not realise that black people were also targets of the Nazis and nearly 50% had no idea that the Roma community, lesbians and gay men, and people with disabilities, were also persecuted.

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[00.01 GMT] Learning to love again. Simon Barrow, Guardian Comment-is-Free, Jan 26 07, 07:00pm: Church agencies are turning against their own message. 'Defeat' at the hands of equality legislation may be the best spiritual outcome for them.

Friday, January 26, 2007


"Can we find a way of transposing the remains of folk religion, other vestiges of a desire for a 'Christian nation', and the remaining opportunities of a paraochial system which still theoretically covers every area of the land, into the shape of an ecumenical church which can nonethless know and show that is stands for the universal concern of the universal God for the whole of humankind?" ~ David E. Jenkins, writing in God, Miracle and the Church of England (SCM Press, 1987).

A good question with which to mark the formal end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (*.PDF resources from the WCC for 2007). And with which to signal the question about how the 'inherited' and the 'emergent', in terms of Christian institutions, might engage in fruitful interaction. This is also, by extension, an inter-faith question. What is the community of Christ in a globalising, plural environment? As the early Christians asked in Acts of the Apostles, "Where are the ends of the earth?" {Image: St Bartholemew's, Dinard, France}

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[00.01 GMT] Adapting ourselves to adoptive grace. Ekklesia, 26/01/07. Simon Barrow asks why equality is such a trial for the institutional church... This piece is substantially, er, adapted (and supplemented) from by blogpost below. There's a bit about 'adoptive grace' in Ephesians as a defining charcteristic of the church near the end.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Meanwhile, it's still Epiphany - and Christ emerges in the shadows, not as a "blinding light", but more like a "ray of darkness", bringing surprising, incalculable redemptive possibility to what seems just mire and muck. Look again. This is a different kind of radiance to the sort that we can generate, attach to a switch, and position or point at will.

"God’s revelation in Christ is revelation in concealment, secrecy. All other so-called revelation is revelation in openness. But who then can see the revelation in concealment? .. Nobody [but those who see] God’s judgement and grace in the midst of human weakness, sin and death, where otherwise [humanity] can see only godlessess.’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Theology of Crisis

"Darkness... there is something about the context of darkness. Only in darkness can you see the light for what it is." (Thanks, Maggi Dawn)

"For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3.3)

The word epiphany comes from the Greek - epiphaneia - which denotes manifestation, a making-known. With the exception of Easter, it is the oldest season of the church year. In early Christian communities, it was a time when new converts were admitted to the ekklesia, the Christly body politic, after a period of exploration and preparation. {Pic: Eiphany icon of St Giles}

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It would appear that the most senior figures in the Catholic and Anglican churches have no real idea just how bad they look to a massive number of people right now. Living in an ecclesial cocoon, they express "shock" at the reaction to their determination to discriminate. I refer, of course, to the unseemly row over the Equality Act 2006 and Catholic adoption agencies. These bodies do a good job, and receive public funds in a variety of ways, including local authority fees. It is reasonable, therefore, that they comply with universal access regulations. But the church, which seems to be fixated on homosexuality at the moment (it counts for much more than baptismal identity in determining one’s standing, it seems), doesn't want to.

If you are an atheist, a Muslim, a lone parent, divorced and remarried, or cohabiting - all estates which put you outside the Catholic fold, or at least its teaching - you can adopt through one of 12 Catholic agencies, provided that you can show you are a good parent. But if you are gay and in a permanent, stable partnership, you can't - even if you are actively Christian. This will strike most people as odd, inconsistent and not a terribly good testimony to the love of God. It will also, from April 2007, contravene the UK law, which wants to give lesbian and gay people the same rights as black people, religious persons, and so on. The Cardinal Archbishop's response (backed by Canterbury and York) has been to threaten to close 'his' adoption agencies, while acknowledging that they assist the most vulnerable. This beggars belief.

In seeking compliance with SORs, no-one is requiring the church to change its teaching on homosexuality - though many of us feel that it can and should on perfectly mainstream, biblical, tradition-generated grounds. Evangelicals, too, are questioning the simplistic 'family values' agenda. No, what is being asked of the church as institution is that, in seeking the kudos and responsibility of sharing a role as a public service provider, it does so with fairness and equanimity. As government minister Harriet Harman says today, you can't be "a bit against discrimination". Overall this is another classic case of Christendom confusion. If the church wants to operate in the public arena (one it does not control, and where it will meet those with different values, moderated by an elected authority which has to make space for all) it has to face the consequences. If its conscience does not wish to do this, it has the option of withdrawing or establishing a private service. There is no threat to freedom of religion in this. Oh, and the C of E adoption agency, the Children's Society, has accepted gay couples as adoptees for the last eight years. And Vatican big-wig Cardinal Levada, when in California, allowed three such cases, too.

The sad thing is, overall the churches are patently not practicing the radical ekklesia of equals created by the Gospel of Christ (except in the breach of their own strictures), and those they are now fighting perhaps have something to show them of God's grace-drenched meaning, as they struggle with the full humanity of the homosexual minority. Meanwhile the scaremongering continues. It's tragic. And no way to promote ‘family’ to the last, the least and the lost. Suffer the little children, indeed. And Ruth Kelly. Update: Tony Blair gives personal backing to gay adoptions 25/01/07, 15:30.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007


"Your weblog seems to jump back-and-forth between the politics of religion, social justice and peacemaking, heady theology, philosophy and spiritual nourishment", someone wrote to me recently. I took it as an affirmation. I think it was intended that way (!), though I realise that not everyone appreciates the whole dish. This one covers several of those topics in a particular, reflective way. It's a brief excerpt from Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, by Kathleen Norris {pictured} - a writer I have long appreciated. There's an interview with her here. ["A strange and remarkable book… Part memoir, part meditation, it is a remarkable piece of writing… If read with humility and attention, it becomes ‘lectio divina’ or holy reading. It works the earth of the heart.” — The Boston Globe]. Hat tip to Charletta Erb.

"The problem with theology is always to keep it within its bounds as an adjunct and a response to a lived faith. In the early Christian church, we can see how quickly the creeds, which began as simple statements of faith made at baptism, and were local in character until the early fourth century, became tests of orthodoxy as the church established itself as an institutions. And as such, they could be, and were, used to include or to exclude people from the Christian fold.

"Since the earliest days of the Christian church, there has been a curious tension between Semitic storytelling, which admits a remarkable diversity of voices, perspectives and experience into the canon, and Greek philosophy which seeks to define, distinguish, pare down. It is the latter most people think of when they hear the word "theology," because at least in the Christian West, it is that tendency that has prevailed. In her book, Image as Insight, the theologian Margaret Miles states that: 'The history of the western Christianity is littered with the silent figures of Christians who found themselves excluded by each increment in verbal theological precision.'

"As a poet, I am devoted to imprecision. That is, while I try to use words accurately, I do not seek the precision of the philosopher or theologian, who tend to proceed by excluding any other definitions but their own. A well-realized poem will evoke many meanings, and as many responses as there are readers. Like a ritual, a poem is meant to be an experience, and only as it becomes incarnated as experience does it reverberate with more meaning than intellectual categories could convey. This is what keeps both poetry and ritual alive.

"As for theology, it has to be content to tag along. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, commenting on John 14:6, wisely says, 'To me "I am the way" is a better statement than "I know the way".' "

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[08.41 GMT] "Jesus took the [injunction] to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, and pushed the definition of who is our neighbour, out, out, and still further out, until it reached to the ends of the earth and included all of humanity - all of God’s children." ~ Alvin Alexi Currier (courtesy of

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


On The Guardian Coment-is-Free: A household solution. Simon Barrow, Jan 23 07, 08:30am: Big Brother has shown us the banality of evil, but what about the domesticity of good? {Pic: Shilpa Shetty}. Further links to the reality TV racism media bruhaha-of-the-moment are in the article.

"What we haven't seen in Celebrity Big Brother, any more than in the rest of society, is people who are able to mediate conflict - better, transform it. Such skills exist. But they are low-key, require patient commitment in the face of provocation, and remain hugely under-resourced.

Conflict transformation isn't about imposing solutions by fiat or force. It involves developing human relationships beyond the place where insecurity translates into outwardly directed aggression, reshaping it instead towards personally resourced (but also deeply social and political) change. More. {This piece was selected as an 'editor's pick' today}

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There was a thoughtful piece in Saturday's Times newspaper (20 January 2007) from Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, entitled A gentle reminder that soft answers can turn away wrath. He observes:

When did we lose the culture of civility? When did anger become a political weapon? When did the era of gentleness die, to be replaced with our current age of rage? One thing is certain: this is a dangerous development, and we must pull back from the brink.

Often the origin of words tells a story. “Civility” comes from the same root as civilian and civilisation. “Polite” has the same origin as politics and polity. “Urbane” derives from the same root as urban. All three come from Classical words meaning a city and its governance. Why so?

In antiquity, cities, especially those on the Mediterranean, were where people of different faiths and cultures came together to trade. They had to learn to trust one another. They had to develop an ethic that worked with strangers as well as friends. That is where civility was born.

What follows raises some interesting questions. I personally think we need deeper traditions than trade to offset the drift to war - the kind of alternative, deeply-rooted communities of civility of which Alisdair McIntyre speaks at the end of After Virtue, in fact. Commerce, by contrast, has sowed as many seeds of division as it has assuaged. (Hmmnn.... can you assuage a seed?) Anyway, it's a bad place to put too much faith. Similarly, I wouldn't blame everything on 'politicization'. This is often the charge of those who, in fact, have power. The question is not whether to engage in politics, but how and with what relationship to a lived recognition of the humanity and dignity of our imagined opponents as well as our supposed allies - noting that these divisions may prove to be more malleable and complex than tactics alone allows. (I suspect that Sacks would broadly concur with these points, while being more favourably disposed to the civic efficacy of markets than I am.)

Nonetheless, the problems that Sacks refers to are real - and cross the boundaries of religion and non-religion, too. Anyone who reads the feedback on The Guardian's Comment-is-Free will know that, sadly, some of the apostles of redemption through reason can be as belligerent, intolerant and exclusive as those they readily damn as possessing false faith. More than a few of the reactions to Inayat Bunglawala's Everything is illuminated, which seeks a bridge between Islam and Enlightenment, bear this out. The issue is not disagreement, it is bile, vitriol and what I call "the eliminative mentality": I can only be what I am by excluding what you are. Anyway the concluding comment by the Chief Rabbi is very apposite:

"A soft answer turns away wrath,” says the Book of Proverbs, “but a harsh word stirs up anger.” “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Verbal violence, the Bible suggests, is a prelude to physical violence. Those who cannot sustain a civil conversation will eventually find it impossible to sustain a civilisation.

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Monday, January 22, 2007


"Welcome is one of the signs that a community is alive. To invite others to live with us is a sign that we aren't afraid, that we have a treasure of truth and of peace to share ... A community which refuses to welcome - whether through fear, weariness, insecurity, a desire to cling to comfort, or just because it is fed up with visitors - is dying spiritually." ~ Jean Vanier

For any who do not know, Vanier is the founder of the international network of L'Arche communities. These are found in many different cultures and reflect the ethnic and religious composition of the locales in which they exist. They share a common philosophy and approach, the goal being to bring together people living with developmental disabilities and those who assist them to live and work to create homes, recognizing one another’s unique value and gifts. The UK communities can be found here.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007


Thanks for those who sent notes to me following the Heaven and Earth show on BBC1 this morning. I did a 20-minute interview on the subject of what's wrong, theologically as well as scientifically, with 'intelligent design' creationism. Only a very brief snippet got used, and sadly many key points were overlooked in the feature as a whole. For example, the presenter kept referring to ID as "a theory" and the segment referred to it as "an alternative to Darwinism". It is neither of these things. It offers no testable hypotheses, as a scientist from the Wellcome Foundation (Professor Mark Walport, a leading expert on immunology and genetics) pointed out - but without being given time to explain why. ID accepts some features of evolutionary theory, but rejects others, on grounds which have been thoroughly taken apart by experts in the field as well as at the 2005 Dover trial. Incidentally, the main proponent of ID on the programme was not a scientist but Alistair Noble, an educationist who works for a Scottish Christian lobby group, CARE. His odd claim that ID is science because it starts by making claims about it could, of course, be said of many other dubious and discredited ideas - astrology, for example.

One of the things I had done (though you didn't get to see it) was explain why the so-called 'intelligent designer' of ID is a caricature of God as traditionally understood by Christians. God gifts the whole world process (not allegedly 'unexplainable' bits of it) ex-nihilo rather than through manufacture. What God 'creates' ('lets-into-being' is a better term these days) is potentiality and self-generativity. It is the resulting freedom of the world in relation to the essence of the divine that allows the possibility of truth, beauty and wisdom to develop uncoerced in the direction of relationship. Love requires contigency, in other words, not manipulation from without. ID also undermines the essential message of Genesis, which is not a hypothesis about life-mechanics, but rather a powerful, figurative, multi-layered affirmation that the world is good and fruitful, despite our marring of it - a notion directed against Ancient Near Eastern myths which said otherwise.

What ID does, as with creationism, is to create an inherent opposition between nature and the divine, so that the more you have of one, the less you have of the other (as if they were competing 'things') - exactly the kind of antithesis that the Jewish and Christian narrative is trying to overcome. It is also based on flawed metaphysics and the basic philosophical category error which takes absence of evidence to be an evidence of absence: viz "we're stuck with this limit, so an extra terrestial must have done it". This isn't science, and it's terrible god-of-the-gaps theology in spite of its (oft-refuted) claims to have found an end-point not a gap.

Nor did 'Heaven and Earth' point out that the UK Department for Education and Science has already rejected ID and creationism as inappropriate for inclusion in school biology lessons on scientific grounds; that the major Christian denominations have no problem with evolutionary biology and oppose creationism; and that many of those promoting ID, and claiming it as a scientific proposition, are actually Young Earth Creationists who don't even accept what they are putting forward. Rather, it is part of a political 'wedge' strategy. Get the distant cousin in and he'll bring all his relatives, essentially. In introducing Philip Johnson, an ID creationism advocate, the programme could also have mentioned that he denies the predominant scientific view that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is causally central in giving rise to AIDS.

Altogether, less than satisfactory. But for many people, not least popular TV producers, the issues are dense and complex. So one simply has to go on communicating. My agenda includes a couple of popular pieces on the theological contradictions of ID, one for The Guardian CIF and one for my Ekklesia column. When I get the time, as I keep saying.

See also the excellent archives and NCSE's review of creationism around the world (including the UK) and the Vatican response to ID. Thoroughly recommended, for those who want to know more, are these titles; and Not In Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design is wrong in our schools. Theologian Ted Peters has also co-authored with scientist Martinez Hewlett a very good primer for local congregations, Can You Believe in God and Evolution? A Guide For the Perplexed (2006).

Also: Blair accused of complacency on classroom creationism; Christians and humanists call on government to rule out 'creationism' in science classes; Creationism distorts truth in science, says vicar; UK anti-evolutionists seek to lure parents with new website; US churches celebrate 'Evolution Sunday'; Churches urged to challenge Intelligent Design; Theologians and scientists welcome Intelligent Design ban; Schools minister says creationism has no place in classroom science; Exam Board rules out creationism in UK classrooms; Vatican astronomer says creationism is superstition; Archbishop of Canterbury criticises teaching of creationism; Creationists target schools and universities in Britain; Dawkins attacks creationist plans; Faith schools may allow extremists in, say critics; Creationists plan six more schools; Christians to explore values in science and technology; New Christian academy rejects creationism as 'rubbish'.

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[10.20 GMT] New Irish Anglican primate favours C of E disestablishment and an end to anti-Catholic ban (full story)
Simon Barrow, co-director of the UK religious think tank Ekklesia, which has in the past said that disestablishment is desirable for the health of both the church and a plural society, welcomed Bishop Alan Harper's remarks."It would be good if the thoughtful, forward-looking position of the new Irish Primate could re-open a proper debate among the churches in England, not just the Church of England itself," said Barrow. He continued: "Binding the church to the state through the crown restricts the freedom of both, and mortgages the Christian message to a reliance on governing authority rather than Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who was actually put to death by a religion-state alliance."
[01.02 GMT] Being suspicious of Christian unity. Ekklesia, Jan 21, 2007. Simon Barrow suggests a different understanding and pattern of ecumenism for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2007 ... more

Friday, January 19, 2007

[09.51 GMT] TUBE CORN. If you are watching TV on Sunday 21 January 2007 in the UK you can catch Ekklesia's Simon Barrow on the 'Heaven and Earth Show' (10.00 am BBC 1) talking about science, theology, creationism and the problem with 'Intelligent Design'; and colleague Jonathan Bartley on 'The Moral of the Story' (11.20pm ITV) discussing the rise in interest rates, global warming and the racism row in Big Brother.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

[17.26 GMT] GOVERNMENT BACKS STUDENT MEDIATION CALL. A UK government minister, education chief Bill Rammell, has given his backing to the recommendations of a report from the think-tank Ekklesia which proposes the resolution of conflicts between a number of Christian Unions and university Students' Unions, through mediation rather than court battles. Full story here. Also: Full text of the letter from Bill Rammell here (*.PDF file). Ekklesia's report on Christian Unions and their complaints is here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


"We have to be careful about the level on which we place the infinite. If we put it on a level which is only suitable for the finite, it does not matter much what name we give it". Simone Weil, quoted by D.Z. Philips in The Problem of Evil and the Problem of God (SCM Press, 2004). Good God-talk is generative, imaginative and life-reforming, but is also careful not reduce the infinity of the divine to a superannuation of human being, its conceptions and fantasies. One of the challenges of theology at the moment (confronted with popular non-sense such as anti-Darwinian Intelligent Design, which I have to talk about on TV this weekend) is that it needs to aspire to creativity, to enable us to be surprised by God, so to speak; but it also has a regulative function in requiring us to discipline our speech, so that it does not reduce God to - in the case of ID - a projection of our own understanding of reality which is somehow in competition with the natural processes of the world, rather than donative of them (which is what is meant by 'creation'). This is put well in a recent Times article about God-talk (sadly mis-titled by an editor) from the redoubtable Brian Davies, an English Dominican and Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University, New York, USA. Also worthwhile is 'emerging chuch' scholar Peter Rollins on How (Not) to Speak of God (SPCK, 2006). I've had a brief look at this, and read a few reviews. I want to give it more serious attention when I get some time.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

[07.06 GMT] The bridge-building path By Simon Barrow: The legacy of Martin Luther King reminds us of our tendency to turn 'the other' into a threat rather than a source of potential enrichment. Profile; all SB articles. Guardian Unlimited: Comment is free -

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Absurdity as the theatre of war. Simon Barrow contemplates Bush, Camus, Iraq, oil, and the perversity of hope - Ekklesia, Jan 14, 2007:

“Don't wait for the last judgment - it takes place every day”, remarked Albert Camus, the existentialist philosopher of life in the face of the absurd. An atheist himself, he also once challengingly declared: “What the world requires of the Christians is that they should continue to be Christians.” You don’t get much more theological than that.

Since George W. Bush made the unlikely assertion, via his press secretary Tony Snow, that his Summer 2006 vacation reading had included Camus’ famous novel L’Etranger (‘The Outsider’ - better 'The Outside-Insider'), one has to wonder what the US President would make of these observations – especially in the light of his own current plans concerning the future of Iraq. Continued.

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"It is hard to believe in [Christ’s love] because it is a devouring love. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of a living God. If we do once catch a glimpse of it we are afraid of it. Once we recognize that we are [children] of God, that the seed of divine life has been painted in us at baptism, we are overcome by that obligation placed upon us of growing in the love of God."
~ Dorothy Day, from 'To Die For Love', The Catholic Worker, September 1948.

"Ultimately, we are reborn to love because in this expanding, gracious space within us, we arrive at the astonishing presence of God at the core of our life. We blunder into the heart of God and find our own."
~ Sue Monk Kidd, from Firstlight

"Humanism was not wrong in thinking that truth, beauty, liberty, and equality are of infinite value, but in thinking that [we human beings] can get them for [ourselves] without grace." ~ Simone Weil, Inspiration Occitanien

[Pic: Dorothy Day, (c) Catholic Worker]

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

[01.22 GMT] SOUND ADVICE. “If malevolence be spoken of you and it be true, correct yourself, if it be a lie, laugh at it.” (Epictetus)
[01.14 GMT] "There are just some activities that there are no Christ-like ways of doing....All attempts today to justify violence from the life of Jesus or his teachings are devoid of spiritual and intellectual merit." ~Bishop Emmanuel Charles McCarthy (1992 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and former U.S. Marine pilot)
[00.12 GMT] SCM joins calls for mediation not legal action in Christian Union student row (Ekklesia).

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


I haven't read it yet, but this book looks right up my street. Very topical, too, given the arguments currently raging in the churches on both sides of the Atlantic. It's written by a family friend with whom I've just reconnected - indeed, connected for the first time, as far as my adulthood goes. Deirdre Good is Professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary (Episcopal Church) in New York City. A widely published author and lecturer, she is also a programme consultant to television on religious history. Her most recent book is Mariam, the Magdalen, and the Mother, a collection of essays on the Mary figures of the Bible.

"Many people claim to know what Jesus would say or do in the kinds of ethical dilemmas we face today, but applying "traditional" Christian values out of context actually sells Jesus' teaching short. What are Christian family values, Deirdre Good asks in Jesus' Family Values, why are there so many interpretations of what Jesus actually taught and said, and which of these biblical values should guide our lives?

"She begins by setting this conversation in the context of the Greek, Roman, Jewish, and first-century sectarian world, and criticises the attempts to use biblical texts literally in advocating for marriage and the family. Other chapters take up the meaning of house and home, marriage and divorce, and biological ties vs. extended families and communities.

"Through careful attention to the words and stories of Matthew, Luke, Mark, John, and the letters of Paul, Good provides an ideal method for studying the Bible to find out what it actually says to our communities and households today. " (From the publisher's blurb)

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[02.01 GMT] SORs UPDATES: Anti-gay rights activists do not represent most religious opinion, say critics; Parliamentary challenge to UK equalities regulation fails. See also the ongoing coverage on Thinking Anglicans.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Given the extraordinarily negative and depressing reaction of many Christian groups to the UK government's incoming Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) on goods, services and facilities, it is heartening that at least one significant service agency (and an evangelical one, to boot) has called time on this nonsense in no uncertain terms. I don't agree with FaithWorks on everything, but this is a bold and necessary statement. Good on them. In other respects, the churches are sadly gaining a reputation not for a liberating Gospel, but for a message which requires fear, prejudice and discrimination to sanction it. More strong but temperate voices to the contrary are needed. Incidentally, the legislation that outlaws discrimination in the public realm against lesbian and gay peope does the same for members of religious, ethnic and other groups. See also: Faith groups are misrepresenting sexual equality rules, say critics 09/01/07, and my colleague Jonathan Bartley's probing of the emerging 'persecution complex' among some Christian groups at the end of Christendom. Christian Today, who otherwise have given solid backing to the nay-sayers, have (happily) reproduced Malcolm Duncan's excellent 'open letter', which is to be found in its orginal form here.

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Monday, January 08, 2007


An epiphany of love in a suffering world? January 8, 2007. Simon Barrow reasons with the mystery of incarnation (Ekklesia).

"[T]he One who we meet in Christ this Epiphany is not a God whose coming-in-the-flesh begins and ends with the history of Jesus. It is, says the tradition, an eternal condition of the divine to be given within the limits of our humanity – rather than in some esoteric knowledge or proposition. This is actually what the strange language in St John's Prologue seeks to convey by picturing for us the ‘pre-existence’ of the Logos (divine reason), and later by proclaiming that the one who was crucified is now ‘risen’ – in other words, that the tortured love we meet in the person of Jesus is finally recovered in the hidden and un-containable life of God. This claim, experienced through forgiveness and restoration-in-community, is what Christian hope is all about." More.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007


"The community of faith is a community of longing, not possession. It is for those who have glimpsed something of the divine, as well as for those who have not, but long to. It is for those who have achieved some level of discipline and control in their lives and for those who have not, but long to. St Augustine once described the Church as a school for sinners, not a museum for saints. It should be as wide as humanity; it should include all who wish to be attached to it; it should welcome their desire to explore the mystery that besets us."

From Dancing On The Edge by Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus in the Scottish Episcopal Church

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

[382.1] 2007? JUST SAY NO!

Only kidding (wonderful story, though)... a very happy New Year to you!

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Monday, January 01, 2007

[15.37 GMT] Reshaping our democratic debate Jan 1, 2007 Simon Barrow looks at how to put people before political posturing.

"Christian hope is not based on which political party is in power. Nor is based on being purpose-driven, as some have written, or cajoling ourselves toward happiness, as some have preached. Our Christian hope is based on an Easter reading of the world. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ God overturns the world. God does a whole new thing. Easter is not the result of gradual progress. It does not signify a military victory. It is not the destruction of all that is evil. Rather, it is a breaking through to a whole new future. It is a letting go of what has been in order to grasp what is given in Jesus Christ." (Phil Edwards)

[Artwork: Penelope Aitken]

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