Monday, March 14, 2016

Rebranded (again)

So I have changed the name of this Blog (yet) again.  So what? Whose business is it anyway?

The fact is that the recently deceased title (Gallican Anglican Orthodox) was insufficiently geographical (in the last third) and far too theologically ambitious (in the same third).  What do I know about proskenesis for example - not to mention apokatastasis?  Just spelling the words is hard enough.

But Eastern is just the ticket.  If it had to, it could refer to Eastern Otago (where I live) and thus be safely geographical like Anglican and Gallican and thus largely devoid of any potentially embarrassing theological content.  Heaven forbid that there should be any theological content at all in these progressive and enlightened times.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The sound of the trump

I must say I enjoy politics on television.  One of the most enjoyable aspects being (of course) that you can always turn it off.  But who would want to turn it off when none other than Donald Trump is having a little spat with the Roman Pontiff?  Not me.  And I'm afraid I have gone and taken sides. God bless the Holy Father!

However, we should feel a certain sympathy for The Donald.  (As an aside, I think that Lord Macdonald, High Chief of the Clan, should perhaps threaten The Donald with legal action under the Trades Descriptions Act.  Who does Mr Trump think he is - the equivalent of The Chisholm, or even of his fellow American The McBain of McBain?  Clan Donald is equipped with no less than three fully fledged chiefs already, not counting the High Chief himself who surely is The Donald.  Any more chiefs would be mere ostentation.)

But to return.  We can have a certain sympathy for Donald Trump if only because so many others have thought like him, both in the past and in the present, and I imagine that original thought has never been his strong suit. However, Mr Trump has certainly been living up to his name. He has provided a terrific fanfare for the religious instincts of his tribe, and tribal religion is all too often the only kind of religion that many people can understand.  And strangely enough, this is just what Christianity is most definitely not about.

Take the experience of Christ himself.  Did he or his views appeal to the Tribes of Israel speaking at his trial through the High Priest and his Council?  Not to mention previous conflicts with the Pharisees and the Sadducees?  From the biblical record it doesn't look much like it.  Kierkegaard said that Christ died for one man, and that every man is that one man.  There is a certain contrast here with the declaration  of the High Priest that it was expedient that one man (Christ) should die for the people  - and for the people, read the tribe.

Christianity is often taken for a sort of magic.  It has had its uses from winning wars to curing warts, and I would guess that very many, perhaps most, people have thought of it in such terms.  For them, Christianity is about making life (both here and hereafter) safe for God's people - but not perhaps for anyone else.  It's an understanding of the matter which has a very good pedigree - one which can even be found in the pages of the Old Testament itself.

But divine revelation - indeed divine self-revelation - did not come to an end before Matthew, Mark, Luke and John had picked up their pens.  Indeed, it can be seen to have reached its climax in the pages of their Gospels in the person of Jesus Christ.  And he most certainly did not just rubber-stamp all that had gone before.  From now on you would have to make do with just one wife.  But at least ham sandwiches could be enjoyed by all - except for their recently deceased ingredients, of course.

But religion became completely impractical from the point of view of someone like Mr Trump's friend and supporter, Sarah Palin. Even sparrows are of concern to their Creator - so no assassinating helpless moose from a helicopter, even if you can see Russia from your kitchen window.  Now you have to love your enemies and do them good. Violence is out - especially from helicopters whether in Alaska or Vietnam.   National greatness is of little significance in eternity,  and Christianity is not particularly useful either in curing toothache or in making America great (yet) again.

Christ himself refused to be made an earthly king, despite being the King of Heaven, and he refused, despite all those legions of angels, to defend himself against the mob which came to the Garden of Gethsemane with Judas to take him prisoner. Riches are no longer to be seen as an indication of God's favour but as a means of doing good.  They are to be given away - preferably to the despised poor, and especially to those in need of a decent system of healthcare.

And the Great Wall of America is not even to be thought of, let alone paid for in pesos.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

On the fence

I realise that renaming this blog Gallican Anglican Orthodox probably doesn't help to make it look any more sensible (let alone intelligible) than it did before, but I have not done so without reason. The three adjectives are in an ascending order of significance (as you might well expect) and to my mind the most significant does not obliterate those which are less so.  But then, neither are they are all equally significant.

It seems to me that holding together two or more separate things without making them equal to one another can be a very difficult thing to do.

The temptation to ignore differences altogether and to give First Prize to everyone is as great as the temptation to throw something (or even someone) overboard.  In my opinion neither of these options is satisfactory.  At the present time in the West it seems that Prizes for All are obligatory among the bien pensant, and no more so than in matters to do with the distinction between male and female and its attendant consequences.

Do we have to pretend that nothing has changed even when Bruce becomes Caitlin (if only more or less)?  Are designer babies and wombs-for-hire as ho-hum as all that?  And must we refer to David Furnish and Elton John as husband and husband?  I am not in any way aligning myself with those who are still a little teary over the cruel abduction of gay - that lovely, happy word straight out of Swallows and Amazons, but then neither do I intend to go to prison in Kentucky with any county clerks.

Perhaps we would do well to reaffirm the difference between the sexes and then recognise that this difference can and does include ambiguities - without either rejecting them or canonising them.

So let's just sit on the fence for a bit and have a think, shall we?

Friday, February 05, 2016

How big is God?

I have just read for the second time God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? by Dr John C Lennox and I am more impressed by it than I was the first time, probably because greater familiarity led to greater understanding.  He writes very clearly about semiotics and the human genome (among other things) and what I manage to grasp of it I find most impressive.

Like the formerly enthusiastic atheist Professor Antony Flew in There is a God, he establishes very convincingly  from scientific evidence the  overwhelming likelihood - indeed necessity - of what two scientists Guilliermo Gonzalez and Jay W Richards in their book The Privileged Planet call 'an extra-terrestrial intelligence immeasurably more vast, more ancient, and more magnificent than anything we have been willing to expect or imagine.'

So far so good.  Encouraged by his book  I looked Dr Lennox up on Youtube and found him debating these matters with Professor Richard Dawkins before an audience in the American Bible Belt. Naturally I cheered for Dr Lennox, or at least I did until we came to his closing statement.  Until then he had more or less stuck to the science with excellent effect.  But then he became an enthusiastic spokesman for evangelical Christianity, and in my opinion he did the cause no favours.

That's because preaching the Gospel these days requires an approach in two stages, not one.

Firstly, it should be recognised that theism is not the given that it was two thousand years ago - and for a long time afterwards as well.  Now you have to show that there could indeed be a vast, ancient and magnificent extra-terrestrial intelligence behind reality as we presently experience and understand it.   The title of J B Phillip's book Your God is too Small should be borne in mind here.

The second stage consists of building on the first.  Any suggestion that the Creator is a small-minded chooser of favourites - to give but one example - makes God little better than Woden or Zeus, and to my mind at least, makes atheism seem almost like a moral duty.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Divine Suitability

Not long ago the American scientist Lawrence Krauss (often to be seen on television) gave a lecture in Australia in which he proclaimed God to be entirely unnecessary.  The universe could come into existence without a cause because subatomic particles do so all the time - if only for a mere nanosecond or so.

An eighteenth century deist would most probably have to agree, but not a Christian, of the eighteenth century or otherwise.  For the latter, God is required at all times to keep the creation in existence. Indeed, should the Divine Mind wander for an instant, that would be the end of us, and of everything else as well.

As is often the case, the real problem lies not with the reality or otherwise of God, but with his intentions.  Why would he bother to cause the fleeting existence of subatomic particles at all?  Even for Christians this sort of thing is a great problem.  They often have very firm ideas of the way God should behave even while they accept his omnipotence.

Of course the Son of God could be born of a virgin. God should be able to do that, he brought genes and chromosomes into existence in the first place after all.  But should the Son of God be born of a virgin?  What about his complete humanity - wouldn't that be fatally compromised in the process?

Our doubts often arise not from what we believe to be possible, but from what we think to be suitable, which is hardly an objective standard.

In the nineteenth century a newly appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland found a Book of Common Prayer in the Chapel of Dublin Castle (missals came later!) with all the prayers of praise blacked out.  He asked the guards officer who used it why this was so, and was told that no gentleman wished to be praised to his face.

It's not always wise to second-guess God.  I wonder if that is really what Lawrence Krauss and those who think like him are trying to do.

[Originally published on my now-defunct blog Speculations and Certainties]

Now you see it ...

I have just watched on youtube the late Christopher Hitchins, not long before his death, being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman. And I would have to say that I was both moved and impressed; essentially because of Hitchens' consistent honesty in the face of an all too certain future - what there was of it. And indeed even the interviewer, sometimes the barracuda of the BBC, showed a touching gentleness throughout the thirty minutes or so of the programme.

Hitchens was something of a barracuda himself when it came to religion - just about any kind of religion, but especially Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  According to him, they were not just untrue, they were actually extremely harmful and dangerous, and as to the latter qualities, you can see why he wasn't entirely wrong.

Paxman tempted him with Pascal's Wager: if there is no God there is no problem, but then again there might be, so wouldn't it be wiser to be religiously observant - just in case?  To his great credit Hitchens said that if indeed there was a God, and if this God was of any moral worth, he would surely prefer truth to self-serving deceit, thus reminding me at least of Christ's witness to Pilate when all the chips were down, "For truth I came into the world."
Hitchens was not too keen on being described as an atheist in case anyone thought there were a God in whom he could disbelieve.  But what he could believe in however, was rational thought based on a completely materialist understanding of the world, itself based upon empirical observation.  And I must say, I wonder how he or anyone could manage that.

What is there to observe?  All atoms are 99.9999% empty space.  And the infintesimally minute fraction which remains can best be described as a quantum fuzz.  Not for nothing has one Professor Sussman in California suggested that the universe is really a hologram!  Observation until the recent past was obviously an illusion.  We would have regarded what we now believe about the atom to have been mere nonsense.  99.9999% empty space indeed!

Hitchens, rather to my surprise, was not completely dismissive of the idea of God.  What he really objected to was the certainty of many people's ideas about God, and the often disastrous consequences of that certainty. Micah's injunction to walk humbly with our God surely includes a theological dimension as well, and I wonder if the new atheism is a necessary reminder of that, just as the nature of the atom should be giving Christopher Hitchens' continuing supporters pause.

[Originally published on my now-defunct blog Speculations and Certainties]

Advent Warnings

On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry announces that the Lord is nigh.  So it does, and St John had another announcement to make as well: the fearful arrival of the wrath to come. Just the thing to prepare you for the onslaught of the festive season, although I doubt that that is what he intended.  But for many people God and wrath are a fairly compulsive combination made all the more certain by the guilt of our original sin or our most unoriginal sins - or both.  Either way it hardly matters: most of the human race is headed for perdition, since as Augustine observed, the fact that God has chosen to save a few shows his mercy, while the fact that has not chosen to save the majority shows his justice.
Now what is wrong with St Augustine's analysis of the situation?  See if you can spot the problem.  Is it the equation of wholesale damnation with justice?  Is it the very concept of damnation itself?  You could get good marks with either of those answers.  But the real answer, I think, has to do with God's choosing, and by that I do not mean just the choice he makes at the end of our earthly lives, but also the choice he makes at our conception when he chooses to endow each of us with an immortal soul.
Before I began to exist I do not recall being asked if I wanted to run the appalling risk of ending up among the lost.  Had the matter been explained to me, I can confidently assure you that I would have politely declined the offer.  Who could possibly do otherwise?  Oblivion trumps Auschwitz every time - especially for eternity.  And nor do I expect any enquiries as to my preferences when I depart this life.  Once again, a grateful oblivion will not be an option.
So what is all this about free-will?  God is going to make the two most vital decisions for me whether I like it or not.  He has already decided that I would exist, and he is not going to give me the option of ceasing to do so when my earthly life is over.  I rather think this puts God under an obligation to see me right in the end, but I bet you some of my most fervent co-religionists will feel cheated if there is not a substantial number of God's children burning down below.  Augustine himself rather looked forward to it since he believed that the sight of their suffering would be one of the joys of the redeemed.

O I do so hope not. 

[Originally published on my now-defunct blog Speculations and Certainties]