The Gay Marriage Debate: Leave your belief at the door

1It is often said that Christians should not push/impose/force their beliefs on the rest of society.

I find this not a little bit interesting.

What is meant by such a statement?  It is quite simple: You have beliefs that impact your life, which I don’t care for.  So please refrain from doing whatever you’re doing in the event that your beliefs end up impacting my life in a way that I don’t care for.

The premise is simple – this is my life not yours.

An issue has again raised its very ugly head due to events that are taking place over in the US.  For more on this check out the front page of the NY Times here.

I’ve been reading blogs, Fb posts, and articles around the traps that are hellbent on wiping the other side out.  These kinds of ethical issues draw out the worst of both sides, which is a real shame.

It is immature.

Whether it is the legalisation of prostitution, the privatisation of the state-owned railway or the implementation of industrial reform there is a political process that is to be followed in order to create legal norms in our societies.  One aspect of this is public debate in which exists numerous parties (not two!) that fight it out for their own piece of the ideological pie.

Shhhhh!But no matter how many parties are fighting for the pie, how dare anyone or any party try to remove opposing voices from the debate.

The call for Christians to leave their beliefs at the door is not only naive (how can they?), but also contrary to the very pillars that our modern societies are based on.

Furthermore it is simplistic.  There are many people who are not religious that hold ‘traditional’ views on this matter.  So what request is to be made of them so that their view/s might not impact in a similar way to the christians’?

What we see in these debates (on both sides) is a kind of insecurity, the kind of insecurity that one can see in autocratic states where any given ideology cannot fly by political persuasion alone.

Voices are silenced.

Perspectives are outlawed.

Make no mistake, debate is to be had, due process is to be followed, and outcomes are to be respected, but on no terms are Christians (or any other party) to be quiet because their beliefs impact their voice, whether we agree with them or not.


Atheist Church

The Sunday AssemblyWhat would church be like without God?

Now we know.  Check it out here.

In Islington there is a church service for atheists.  In a stroke of pure irony, they hold their meeting in an unused church.

The service is taken by a comedian called Sanderson Jones.  They sing songs, take up money for the running of the service, and they even have a time of silence.  To round it all out, there appears to be a segment where Sanderson teaches about the atheists’ position.

One wonders why?

evangelOne attendee said that she was coming to sing and to listen to something positive.  The clip shows them singing one of Queen’s hits.  ‘After all the church does not own Sunday mornings’, one lady said.


Sanderson stated that he’s not taking the mickey out of church, but rather, ‘trying to build upon it.’


Of most interest to me were the intentions of the movement, yes movement.  The goals of the atheist church are chillingly familiar to those of any suburban Christian church or Islamic mosque.  ‘If the idea spreads’, they wish to create another Sunday service and then they want to expand into other cities.

We find ourselves in interesting times when organised religion is simultaneously rejected and embraced.

Mrs Christ, is that you?

Was Jesus married?

That question is beside the point at the moment.  The big question is, will the Harvard Theological Review publish Prof. Karen King’s article on the recent discovery of a Coptic papyrus fragment that apparently speaks of Jesus’ wife.

The evangelical world rejoiced when a bunch of Coptic gurus brought the ship down.  They deemed it a fake, not least because it demonstrated dependence on the Gospel of Thomas.  The response was swift.  The Harvard Theological Review decided not to publish King’s article.

End of story…

…until Harvard Divinity School spokesman Jonathan Beasley told us that the article has not been rejected.

Check it out for yourself here.  Here is the rationale:

“Dr. King’s `marriage fragment’ paper, which Harvard Theological Review is planning to publish in its January, 2013, edition – if testing of the ink and other aspects of the fragment are completed in time – will include her responses to the vigorous and appropriate academic debate engendered by discovery of the fragment, as well as her report on the ink analysis, and further examination of the fragment.”

End of story…

I think not.

But to be frank, I’m not sure if the story ever started.  We must, however, follow due process and allow the academy to follow the due process of scrutiny and investigation.

A little bit of anathema never hurt anybody

Let him be anathema!

Two weeks ago I was sitting in a cafe talking about Jesus to a young aspiring school leaver who was heading to a Bulgarian Orthodox seminary.  I forget the exact details of the discussion, but the gist stays with me.  He was telling me that God, who is wholly other, is unknowable – classic EO line.  When I probed a little further about who Jesus was and what he revealed of God he said it… Jesus could not reveal God as God.

Needless to say we had a hearty discussion.

Interestingly, today I was reading up on some Karl Rahner (RC theologian and priest) and he observed that most Christians (RCs? Although I think his observation would apply to the protestant side too) struggle to capture an orthodox understanding of Jesus’ humanity and divinity.  He asserts that the majority of Christians would subscribe to a Docetic Jesus where God’s divinity inhabits the fleshly vessel.  God in human clothes made of skin.  Jesus was not fully human, just kind of.

Then you would know about the Elephant Room saga, where Mark Driscoll questioned T. D. Jakes on his view of the doctrine of God, in particular his views on the doctrine of Oneness.  The Oneness doctrine rejects the concept of the Trinity and instead subscribes to a modal view of God.  The entire discussion did little to clarify the situation, but what we do know is that Jakes subscribes to a doctrine of God that uses the terminology of ‘manifestations’ as opposed to persons.

How did the church in times gone by deal with these theological bents?  Simple, ‘Let him be anathema!’

The best example of the ‘Let him be anathema!’ cry is found in Cyril of Alexandria’s work called the Twelve Anathemas.  He was not dealing with a Docetist, but the father of Nestorianism, Nestorius himself.  I don’t intend to go into the content of the letter to Nestorius but Cyril’s view was clear.  Nestorius believed that Jesus had two separate and autonomous natures.  According to Cyril (eventually), Nestorius needed to adopt the position that Christ had two natures but that these were without division or separation.  Cyril’s letter outlines in no uncertain terms how Nestorius could go about working towards reforming his position.  Each of the twelve points ended with ‘Let him be anathema!’  A sure sign that Cyril meant business.

The point?  You get stuff wrong you get the anathema line.

But what was Cyril saying?  My way or the highway?  Are the Twelve Anathemas the sharp words of just another arrogant bigoted fundamentalist?  An intolerant absolutist?

In Cyril’s day, despite Ehrman’s current commentary to the contrary, there was one Lord, one faith, one church, one orthodoxy.  In the 5th century this was defined for the most part by the c. 325 Council of Nicaea, as well as the collective works of the fathers in the 200 odd years prior to it.  Orthodoxy was not some ambiguous thing that any one individual could trump up and it was for this reason that the powers that be could compare an individual’s theology with that of the orthodox tradition.  If someone fell outside of the bounds they were met with the severe response: Let him be anathema!

The point is that in those times messing up your doctrine of God was serious business with serious, potentially eternal, repercussions.  The church new this and the proponents of the heterodox views knew this also.

What has changed?  A lot and nothing.

Nothing has changed in that the issues are just as serious.  Fiddling with orthodox views of the divinity and humanity of Christ and the Trinity, for example, is not to be done flippantly as though it were a choice of strawberry or chocolate.  What we see in the first millennium and a half is an urgency coupled with a holy fear to be faithful to how the great theological minds throughout history conceptualised God in Scripture.  Surely our attitude should be the same!  We have the privileged of enjoying the longevity of these views – you know the old line, standing on the shoulders of giants.

Furthermore,  nothing has changed in that Arianism is still as heretical as it was in the 3rd and 4th centuries.  Docetism is still errant.  Nestorianism 1500 years on has not become any more faithful to the text of Scripture then it was in the 5th century.  History for the believer is not simply about dates, times and events.

History plays a role in what we believe, but also importantly in what and why we don’t believe.

We also see that nothing has changed with regard to the very specific use of anathema in the Bible.  Here are two apt usages:

  • Gal. 1:8-9But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed (anathema). 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed (anathema).
  • 1 Cor. 16:22,  If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed. Maranatha.

But something has changed!

One can openly deny the doctrine of the Trinity and hold to Oneness views of God and still be counted as a part of the church.  One can grow up in a church and hold to Docetic views of Christ unchallenged.  We no longer here the damning cry, ”Let him be anathema!’

I wonder why?

Well, it probably doesn’t surprise you, but I have some suggestions:

  1. Perhaps it’s a mark of our age of tolerance.  You can believe what you want over there and I’ll be over here believing what I want.
  2. Worse, perhaps it reflects our age’s characteristic pervasive interpretive pluralism.
  3. Perhaps it points to our poor theological training systems.  I mean, where do people learn that historically damned views can be considered as viable orthodox theology?
  4. Maybe, as we observe in many of our denominations, the little or no doctrinal accountability  has come back to bite us.  Ok, you can try to win me over on any form of church governance, but it is clear that the NT teachers submitted to the top dogs when it came to theology.  When they were in error they (and we) knew about it.
  5. Or could it be as elementary as not knowing our church history.

Time to bring it back – ‘Let him be anathema!’ for God’s sake!

Enforcing Freedom

Freedom is pure gold.

Find it, steal it, store it, treasure it, sit on it, stare at it, dream of the possibilities that it brings, give it, receive it, hide it, do whatever with it, but whatever you do with it, don’t lose it!

I make it sound like it is yours to lose.

Freedom never comes cheaply and nor should it.  It is gold, after all.  History has shown us that it costs money, time, lives, and other things too.  It is fought for and won.  We see this happening all around the world at this moment.  The Egyptians have recently fought their oppressors and realised the price of freedom – if that is what they won.  In Syria they are coming to understand the high price of freedom as they eagerly look forward to a time when Bashar Hafez al-Assad is no longer in power, a power that gives him the capacity to rain down mortars on their villages and cities.

While some look forward to the realisation of a utopian vision filled with choice, selection and individualism, we who enjoy such freedoms are heading for something else.  While it might be hard to get freedom, it appears as though it is just as hard to maintain it.

I like how Oz Guiness put it – freedom requires virtue, virtue requires faith (of some sort), faith requires freedom…

This triangle makes a whole lot of sense.  If freedom is to perpetuate itself then it must be driven by a robust system of virtues, virtues that are agreed upon by society and which are habitually foundational to the way society operates.

But virtue must be informed by some kind of faith.  What drives virtue?  What validates virtue?  Where does virtue find its genesis?  What inspires virtue?  This is where the rubber hits the road.  The belief system (whatever that is) underpins virtue.  There is no virtue that has no faith underpinnings.

Finally, if that belief system is not engaged in voluntarily then of course it breaks down.  And so faith requires freedom.

The concept of freedom is clear.  The concept of virtue has become relative.  The concept of faith is disregarded or irrelevant.

Freedom hinges upon the idea that our society subscribes to a certain set of virtues, but what happens when those virtues are not subscribed to by some?  We create law to enforce them.  So for example, rightly or wrongly euthanasia is illegal in Australia.  It is embedded in the law because some people think that it is their prerogative to choose when and how they should die.  Others think that it is not their prerogative.  Their freedom to euthanise is taken away because society does not think that it pertains to what is virtuous, which is necessarily founded upon belief(faith) of what it means to be human.

The outcome for those who believe that euthanasia is a right for all does not look much like freedom.  In this case what takes away freedom and what is maintaining freedom?  Law.

So what?

Well, surely you see the issue here. How can I, based upon my faith ideas, impinge on the freedom of another by imposing what I think is virtuous?  What gives me the right to say that my belief system is any more ‘right’ than theirs?  On what grounds do we decide what is virtuous and what is not?  This surely must be problematic as we demand by law that certain ideas, lifestyles, practices and religions, etc, be enforced by law.

Freedom is no longer a ‘habit of the heart’, defined by a collective virtue, which is underpinned by a collective faith, which in turn informs freedom.  What is freedom is arbitrary, which is based upon arbitrary virtues, underpinned by a set of arbitrary set of beliefs, which are subsequently imposed on society by law.

So much for freedom.

Liberalism, nihilism and the meaning of meaningless

‘Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.’  The liberal would have to agree with the wise king’s words.

What is at the heart of liberty, says another wise man called Justice Anthony Kenny, but ‘the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.’

Liberalism, with its grandiose views of self-empowerment, freedom, inalienable rights, neutrality and the power of the will, has demonstrated with unparalleled linguistic flatulence that the individual human with his/her copious stores of wisdom has the last word when it comes to meaning, meaning, that meaning means, potentially, whatever you want.

Is it a pity that liberalism is being blindsided by the freight train called nihilism?  Granted, this picture understood in the present tense is surely antiquated.  The catastrophic collision has occurred and the disaster zone has been taped off.  Now we trawl through the wreckage looking for anything that might resemble something that could be of use.  We are like the soldier in the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan who picks up his blown off arm.  We pick up something that once gave value, something that once served us, but now this something is nothing but a dismembered piece of grammar lying is a semantic graveyard.

I call their bluff.

In their moment of weakness they employ these dismembered grammars, and attribute meaning in a traditional sense.  They revert back to tried and true notions of language, conception, and, dare I say it, truth, without calling it truth, of course!

Ah, bifurcation they say.  Clearly, split-personality disorders are not the substance of the psychiatrist’s list alone.  Shall I construct or deconstruct, that is the question.  The call is for something more moderate.  More nuanced.  More balanced.  There is a call for sensibility, a middle ground that annihilates nihilation, a haven wherein some measure of meaning can be safe-guarded.  But how can this be?  Meaning is mine to make!

The train, however, has arrived, and this train does not allow the liberal to have his or her cake and eat it too.  It is quite the quandary.  The liberal wants to set me free without sentencing me to a life of meaningless.  The liberal wants to release me from the state without plunging the world into a morass of ego fuelled self-fulfillment.  The liberal wants to ignite purpose without granting that there is some such thing called purpose that contains meaning.  The liberal wants to grant me a moral prerogative without any care to instruct me as to how I should ground that prerogative.

The liberal defines tolerance as a social quality of equality.  Equally true, if true could be construed as such for the time being, tolerance is a social quality that presupposes that everything is truth.  We all know, however, that if every thing is true then nothing is true.  Tolerance renders truth meaningless, unless of course we’ve defined tolerance wrongly.  That presents its own semantic dilemma, doesn’t it?

It appears that we are back where we began.

Liberal ideology is a snake that has turned on itself, twisting, binding, constricting.  Life ebbs.  Expiration is all there is.  It grasps at its own meaningless meaning to gain some traction, but because this meaningless meaning means nothing, there is little to latch onto.

The irony of liberalism is that it does offer meaning, it is just that the meaning it offers is meaningless.