January 29, 2011
The News Corp saga involving (a) the much-contested bid for control of BSkyB, (b) the sacking for reasons of sexism of key sports presenters on Sky, (c) the social canoodling of David Cameron with Rebekkah Wade and James Murdoch during the Christmas holidays, (d) the unravelling of the phone-hacking habits at the News of the World (but clearly not a monopoly practice by News Corp), and (e) the arrival in the UK of Rupert Murdoch to sort out the mess, have been too easy a target for comment in the last few weeks. Other commentators have said what needs to be said and anyone with half a brain is left to draw their own conclusions.
Andreas Whittam-Smith summarised it in his scathing critique in the Independent.
It would also be too easy to shoot arrows at the moral inconsistencies of the self-righteous Daily Mail – too much like shooting fish in a barrel. Yet one blogger has pulled it together in relation to the bizarre one-man organisation Christian Voice – which is a predictable shriek rather than a voice and not noticably Christian or representative of the Christian Church. ‘A Christian Voice’ would be a little more accurate, but this doesn’t stop the press from quoting the man behind the title, Stephen Green, or consulting him as if he represented anyone other than himself.
When will journalists and media researchers drop Christian Voice from their contacts list on the grounds hinted at in the description above?
Taking on the Murdochs is not a bsuiness for the fainthearted. Having a government in bed with James or Rupert is dangerous for more than democracy – although the current government seems to be carrying on a tradition begun earlier. Taking seriously much (but not all) press comment on religion in general or Christianity in particular is worryingly naive. It is like accepting that the fulminations of Christian Voice are either Christian or needing a voice.
There are informed exceptions (notably Ruth Gledhill and correspondents from the Guardian and Independent in particular) – although the speed (or judgement) and the need (for speedy stories) means that even they get it spectacularly wrong sometimes (in the same way I and the Church sometimes cause them great frustration). But, the reading/viewing public needs to be better educated in how to read/see what is reported and ask fundamental questions about what distinguishes informed reality from the rubbish.
Good journalism identifies the questions to be asked if reality is to be judged. It is not simply about telling a particular story to back a particular narrative in a way that closes down the questions and purports to deliver a definitive judgement.
A good society and a good democracy demand good journalism based on good research and a good understanding of the subject matter with informed comment from people who can be relied upon to actually represent the views of the community they purport to represent. Good journalism needs to be supported and encouraged – and the consumers need to learn to discriminate.
Steve Richards concludes:
This is a story about journalists losing control. The response to MPs’ losing control was the introduction of an almost comically tough external regulator. In this case I doubt if much will change. Some journalists and newspaper empires are more powerful than puny elected representatives.
January 26, 2011
There is some pretty awful stuff going on in the world, but it’s a little bit of sexism that dominated the headlines and headspace the last few days. Putin & Co. won’t learn that you can’t bomb terrorists into submission – the hard violence doesn’t deter people who are convinced they (a) have nothing to lose and (b) are earning heaven by blowing themselves up. But, Putin & Co. aren’t the only ones to think that massive force is a long-term substitute for justice.
I remember hearing Mel Brooks explaining (in defence of the tastelessly funny ’Springtime for Hitler’ in his film The Producers) that tyrants and dictators are best opposed by ridicule. Of course that’s not an argument against armed conflict per se, but it does make the point that getting people to laugh at preposterous pomposity is a good starting point for opposition. (Which is why satire is important.)
I am sure Sky has done the right thing in sacking Andy Gray for his outrageous and unprofessional sexism. They had to be seen to act – to do something in order to demonstrate that such behaviour and attitudes are unacceptable. Yet, as with other ‘unacceptable attitudes’ (racism, for example), removing the embarrassing culprit does little or nothing to change the attitude or prejudice: it merely pushes it underground. Then people who think that way just keep quiet about it.
But, I wonder if it might have been better to give Andy Gray an alternative. How about a two-hour programme in which he, the only man in the studio, is interviewed and questioned by a panel of prominent sportswomen. They could draw out his views and expose them to the ridicule they deserve. Lay them out in the cold light of day. Let them be seen for what they are. Put Gray on the rack of public entertainment rather than sack him?
And – please – let Kenny Dalglish’s daughter Kelly be chief interrogator. A former presenter on Sky Sports News, her tweet yesterday was perfect:
Phew, am exhausted. Just read about something called ‘the offside rule’. Too much for my tiny brain. Must be damaged from nail polish fumes.
January 24, 2011
Posted by nickbaines under Football
| Tags: Liverpool
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I have no idea where this comes from originally (I am trying to find out), but – despite being outrageous – is very funny. If you don’t understand what Liverpool fans have gone through in the last few years, it will be meaningless
January 23, 2011
I leave the country for less than 48 hours and interesting things happen back home. Coincidence?
I was in Germany to speak at the launch of a new initiative by the EKD aimed at getting clergy and their churches to make use of resources for reminding people of or nurturing them in the Christian faith. As here in England (and probably everywhere else), many people reject Christian faith when they are younger, but then never bring to it the questions an adult ought to have. Thus the faith of a child is still being rejected by an adult whose questioning might not have grown up with him or her.
In my parish experience this was often the case. Parents would ask about baptism for their child and, during a pastoral visit, would say that they don’t necesssarily know what it was they had left behind. Baptism preparation (lay-led and over three or four meetings in their own home) gave them the opportunity to look at Christian faith as an adult.
That is what Kurse zum Glauben is aimed at doing in Germany. The launch in Osnabrück was excellent, creative and involved lunchtime cabaret as well as a fantastic (Gospel) choir and food. I was the keynote speaker and still managed to get Liverpool and Bradford as well as Croydon into the occasion.
And while I was away? Andy Coulson resigned as David Cameron’s Director of Communications – something that was inevitable in the light of the phone-hacking haunting of his old employer. What I never understood about Coulson’s defence of his role in the News of the World phone hacking scandal was his contention that he knew nothing of what was going on. If that was so, he was an incompetent editor, boss and manager (which begs the question about why Cameron hired him); if not, then he was being economical with the truth. The truth is, he has done an excellent job for Cameron and will surely be missed – just as Ed Balls comes in (for Alan Johnson) to harrass George Osborne and a tough Communications Director is needed by the Tories.
The second thing that happened while I was away extolling the value and virtue of Kurse zum Glauben? Liverpool beat Wolves 3:0 away from home and Kenny Dalglish was spotted laughing. Mind you, Torres looked happy and the gloom over Liverpool appeared to thin out a little. Glorious. But there’s a long way to go from here.
Anyway, back to Croydon to continue the ‘ending’ while trying to get my head into what lies ahead in Bradford when we move north in April. It’s all giving me a headache and taking away the creative impetus for writing this blog. I’ll try to get more space soon.
January 18, 2011
A staff away day (in my house, bizarrely) was followed late this afternoon by the Confirmation of Election of the new Bishop of Southwark at St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside in London. The process (as I am discovering for myself) is rather byzantine, but it involves the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, a rank of lawyers in wigs and a lot of witnesses. The Archbishop of York was there, too.
I went from this event – full of wonderful old language and ceremony – to a place associated with old language and ceremony – St Paul’s Cathedral – for an hour and a half of clear language and no ceremony at all (other than getting past the doorman). From internal church stuff I moved to the stuff of the world outside.
‘Uncertain Minds: What an Agnostic Can Believe’ was the title of one of a series of discussions with interesting thinkers convened by St Paul’s Cathedral and the Guardian newspaper. It represents part of an attempt to create a constructive conversation about God and religion and is described by the Guardian’s Andrew Brown as “for those readers who prefer conversation to cage fighting”. Mark Vernon, one of the interlocutors with Professor Terry Eagleton this evening, describes the evening events as being “about belief and unbelief in an age of uncertainty. Our hope is to encourage a more sophisticated public discussion about religion between those on the inside and outside of faith.”
Of course, one of Eagleton’s contentions is that no one is ‘outside of faith’ and that even Richard Dawkins exercises faith every day: faith that his house will be there when he gets home or that his chair will support him, for example.
Eagleton gave a compressed account of a compressed lecture from matters raised in his book Reason, Faith and Revolution: reflections on the God Debate (commented on here). Aside from discussion of the tendency of people on all sides to demonise those with whom they disagree, discussion raomed across the difficulty of speaking of God without resorting to ‘evidence’, the nature of faith, the importance of the ‘body’, and the nature of language. En route we passed Marx, McCabe, MacIntyre, Aquinas, Aristotle, Plato and Giles Fraser.
The important thing about the event was that it was intelligent, thoughtful and respectful. It didn’t ultimately nail every aspect of the nature of reality, but it raised the discussion to a better and more reasonable level of engagement. Even ‘certainty’ got a philosophical boost: one of the funnier observations of an evening containing many funny observations was Eagleton’s that “liberalism is fearful of certainty” and - as if to demonstrate the point - that contemporary ‘yoof’ language reflects this. “It is 9 o’clock’ is far to certain; so now we say, ‘It’s… like… 9 o’clock’.
Eagleton repeated his demolition job on the aunt sallies set up by the New Atheists. The god Dawkins sets up in order to knock down is a god most of us don’t recognise as God. Dawkins’ god is a caricature of something that ought to be rejected by anyone with a shred of intelligence or decency. It just happens not to be the God most of us do believe in. As MacIntyre was said to have said:
The God rejected in the nineteenth century was the one invented in the seventeenth century.
It was useful also to be reminded of the importance of theology (and theological language) for politics. Whereas 1960s theology aligned (or even associated) theology with politics, theology cannot be reduced to the political: theology always has to critique the political. This leads the Marxist Eagleton to state that “the trouble with radical politics is that it isn’t radical enough – it doesn’t go to the roots”; politics needs a deeper critique from without.
The discussion of language was stimulating. Eagleton described the temptation of fundamentalists to ‘fetishise’ language – turning it into something fixed. Such fundamentalists, despite using the langauge of faith, actually lack faith; they just have certainties which deny the space for anything else.
This probably sounds a bit disconnected. However, these are just slices from a longer argument that I don’t have time to reproduce here. However, the video can be watched on the Guardian website shortly. The next one is a discussion between Giles Fraser and John Gray and it takes place on 7 March.
January 15, 2011
If the idea of academic ecumenical conferences doesn’t float your boat, now is the time to click onto a different site. However, if you can get beyond thinking it will be dry or abstract, you might well find that the conversations stimulated by the papers given in Salisbury this last week float your mind and theological imagination off in unexpected directions. I was tired when I arrived at Sarum College on Tuesday, but totally ‘alive’ when I left last night (unfortunately, missing the last morning). Anyway, here’s a summary of key points from the papers and a reflection: it might be quite long, but you have been warned.
Bishop Graham Cray, Ecclesiology, Culture & Mission: This began with an explication of the ecclesiological heterogeneity inherent in Fresh Expressions, Emerging Church and the churches involved in and around them. Starting with a brief survey of the changing context of English society and the place of the church within it (set out in the Mission Shaped Churchreport), the challenges facing a ‘traditional’ church are not hard to detect. The challenge to the churches is, therefore, to engender new forms of church which stand alongside, emerge from or extend the reach of existing churches.
The key point about Fresh Expressions is that there is no standard model to adopt or replicate; rather, there is a process of thinking, questioning, planning and discerning which has to do with genuine love of neighbour and not the prioritising of preferred worship styles. The theological underpinning derives from (according to the paper) (a) deciding what constitutes ‘church’, (b) the trinitarian nature of the ‘Missio Dei’, (c) mission as incarnational, (d) the church as ‘sign, instrument and foretaste’, and (e) our understanding of the ‘economy of God’.
Fresh Expressions have generated significant challenges, particularly at the interface of ecclesiology, mission and culture. The place (and dynamic) of sacramental life in the priority of a new Christian community is a key challenge within the church, but this has also to do with the nature, identification and generation of appropriate leadership. The ecumenical challenge is not the least of these.
The paper led on to discussion of key points, such as the nature of consumerism as both context and (potential) content of Fresh Expressions. The Germans are interested in how the Church of England in particular – given its particular history and culture) has come to a point of agreeing (with varying degrees of enthusiasm) that permission should be given for such risk-taking and ground-breaking initiatives.
Bishop Professor Dr Friedrich Weber, Current Missiotheological Discussion in the EKD following the 1999 Mission Synod in Leipzig: The German context differs from the English in that (a) membership of the Church is counted according to those who pay the Church Tax (two thirds of the population – 50 million – belong to a church), and (b) the division of Germany and subsequent reunification has profoundly challenged not only society in general, but the churches also. Projections in Church Tax income over the next thirty years led to the Reformprozess and some renewed thinking about the raison d’etre and mission of the Protestant Church in Germany. (The English cynics need to realise that the huge income from the Tax also funds massive and massively impressive social care provisions.)
Based on the image of ‘breathing in’ (worship, teaching/preaching, sacraments and fellowship) and ‘breathing out’ (mission, outreach and service), mission is not an optional add-on for churches that like that sort of thing. A brief survey of German social trends (de-christianising of society; reducing church membership; individualism of faith; the eclectic provisionality of personal ‘meanings’) explains why the mission question has gained in urgency since the late 1980s. The Mission Synod in Leipzig in 1999 was a key point in getting mission on the agenda of the EKD.
The state of play in Germany in relation to mission theology is characterised by such themes as: mission as a worldwide partnership for questions of peace, justice and the integrity of creation; mission as keeping alive the question of God beyond territorial borders; mission in the context of globalisation as intersubjective dialogue; mission as the recruitment and winning of people for the community of the church; mission as the conversion of people to one another and, therefore, the struggle for the unity of the church; mission as planned dialectical behaviour.
This has all led over time to specific initiatives in the EKD and its constituent churches, including: the establishment of centres of mission and evangelism training; courses on church growth, evangelism, nurture, education and service; nurture course resources; church planting.
There is a lot going on, but there is also resistance to these impulses for mission. Nothing new there, then!
Revd Professor Loveday Alexander, Mission & Unity in the Acts of the Apostles: Every church uses the Acts of the Apostles to justify (or direct) their (wildly diverse) ecclesiology and missiology! We are given a paradigm for a church that is apostolic, but also (and often forgotten or ignored) one that demands “strong – and equally costly – commitment both to the unity of the church and … to the catholicity of the church“. Luke gives us not a propositional model, but a narrative illustration of the first churches.
Via an exploration of the word ‘ekklesia’ and its use to denote both the ‘local church’ and the ‘whole church’, we can see mission as key to Luke’s narrative explanation of what the church is for. The church has always allowed space for diversity within its overall unity (of origin, place and practice). Antioch is the ‘fresh expression’ model of church, but Paul insists on its (and his) accountability to the ‘traditional/centre’ church in Jerusalem: the ‘centre’ and the ‘marginal’ are mutually dependent and mutually accountable. It was his taking this so seriously that ultimately cost Paul his life.
So, mission is not the sole preserve of the ‘fresh’ or marginal churches, but permission, generosity, complementarity and mutual accountability are the hallmark of a genuine missiological ecclesiology.
Professor Dr Martin Wallraff, Mission & Media: Remarks on the Spread of Christianity in Late Antiquity: Christian mission always uses certain media for communication and these also shape that mission and the church itself. (a) Communication of the church’s mission in the early post-apostolic centuries (up to the fourth century) did not centre on the use of media: “For the church, the widespread communication of its missionary activities was not important.” (b) The spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire coincided with the proliferation of the new medium ‘codex’ (i.e. from ‘scroll’ to ‘book’). The early Christians soon learned how to positively take advantage of this new medium. But it raises questions about what it means to call Christianity a ‘religion of the book’. (c) Stories of mission in late antiquity often emphasise that the conversion of whole peoples began not with a church government initiative or a bishop’s commission, but with surprising and ‘humble mediators’. (d) Christian mission often corresponded with a historical quantum leap in terms of media: (e) Liturgy (preaching, performative acts & aesthetics) acquired an exceptional position on the ‘religious market’ in late antiquity. (f) More work is needed on the correlation between media and mission – and this must be done ecumenically.
Discussion went on to the disaster for mission that is the unruly horrors of the internet when used by competing Christians engaging in their theological controversies. However, this particular genie is already out of the bottle.
The Revd Dr Paul Weston, The Missionary Church in the Theology of Lesslie Newbigin: This paper was an excellent and timely reminder of the greatness of Newbigin. It looked at ecclesiology in (a) eschatological perspective, (b) corporate perspective, and as (c) ‘foretaste’. Newbigin writes: “The disunity of the church is a public denial of the sufficiency of the atonement. It is quite unthinkable that the church should be able effectively to preach that atonement and to become, in fact, the nucleus of the reconciled humanity, while that denial stands.”
The connection between the doctrine and its consequent ethics has clearly still not been understood by the squabbling church whose Gospel lacks credibility in the light of its behaviour and discourse.
Professor Dr Michael Weinrich, Missio Dei and the Mission of the Church: Systematic Theological Suggestions in the Perspective of Karl Barth: This paper (in the absence through sickness of the author) represented a Reformed understanding of the church – one that drew criticism from all sides of the conference. However, it put emphasis on the activity of God in mission and placed a question mark over a church which busies itself with self-justifying activity aimed at self-preservation or self-perpetuation for its own sake. Mission begins and ends with God and is not primarily about bigging up the church. However, one comment suggested that an ecclesiology that reduces the church to nothing raises the question about why anyone should bother with it in the first place. (Weinrich disputes that reading of his text.)
Professor Dr Corinna Dahlgrün, Protestant Theology in a Religious Vacuum: This offered a searching and moving reflection on the experiences and challenges of ’a missionary perspective on the study of theology in Eastern Germany’. It covered the differences between the experiences of the church in the two Germanies and the particular challenges faced (particularly by the East) since reunification – which include small membership in the post-Communist East, residual ignorance of church and Christianity, materialism, and the imbalance between churches of East and West. The three concluding theses were: (a) the churches need individuals to undergo a ‘spiritual reformation’ in order to renew the church and society; (b) to do this, the church must learn to translate its message into a language people can understand; (c) the church needs to worry less about its internal purity and take seriously its vocation to mix it in the world for the sake of the world it is called to serve.
Dr Cathy Ross, An Exposition & Critique of the Five Marks of Mission: This paper offered a clear tracing of the development of mission understanding in the Anglican Communion in the last thirty years. It is remarkable how much energy and how many words can be expended in trying to sort out ‘mission statements’ when there is less evidence of their fruit to be seen. How on earth has the church managed still to obsess about the artificial division between evangelism and social action? “When Jesus was asked to sum up what God required of us, he did not answer in terms of either a set of ‘projects’ to be performed or a set of ‘doctrines’ to believe. Instead we are called to love God with our whole being, and to love our neighbour in the same way we love ourselves.” (Ramachandra) We were helpfully reminded (with reference to Oscar Romero) that “no mission statement can say everything, that we cannot do everything, that the final responsibility lies with God and that we are only ministers, not messiahs.” The ‘five marks’ were summed up by CMS as: ‘Proclaim, Teach, Respond, Seek, Renew’. But, perhaps ‘worship’ ought to be in there somewhere?
Bishop Martin Schindehütte, On the Missionary Dimension of Diaconal Service/Work: God wants everyone to be helped, saved, healed. That is the basis of the German church’s vast and expansive service of young, sick and vulnerable people through its Diakonia work. This led on to reflections on how those who work in this way (both employed and volunteers) are supported professionally and spiritually.
The Revd Hans-Hermann Pompe, The Recovery of Mission at Parish and Regional Level in Germany: Mission is back on the agenda, but there is still denial of its importance and urgency. This paper looked at some of the challenges to a recovery of mission and the implications of effective mission for the shape of the church.
The Revd Dr David Holgate observed the impact of mission thinking on the training of clergy and church leaders and called for ’robust theologies of culture’. In a changing world the church needs to get to grips with new demands and fit its leaders accordingly. (This followed an earlier contribution by Canon Dr Vernon White in which he described the changes in ministerial training and formation in the Church of England in the last thirty years or so.)
Canon Professor Paul Avis, Toward a Missiological Ecclesiology: The conference concluded (in my absence) with a paper that drew on the 1910 Edinburgh Conference and the emphasis on unity that ran through it. There is an “inseparable biblical and theological connection between unity and mission and … this deserves to be recognised in theological study, ministerial training, church policy and pastoral practice”.
So, there it is. Far too long a ‘digest. And I didn’t mention the worship, the pub, the meals or the fact that the conference was excellently chaired by the Bishop of Guildford, The Rt Revd Christopher Hill and Professor Dr Friederike Nüssel from Heidelberg.
You really had to be there…
January 13, 2011
This Meissen Theological Conference in Salisbury is proving too full for me to have done an easy digest as we go along. So, I’ll offer a quick summary of themes here and then try to make time when I get back home to write a resume of content.
Bishop Graham Cray opened up a conversation about Fresh Expressions, looking at ‘Ecclesiology, Culture and Mission’. This led into quite serious debate about how the ‘charismatic’ and adventurous ‘margins’ (Antioch) relate to the ‘centre’ (Jerusalem) and where the accountabilities lie in church life. This was given fascinating treatment on the basis of the Acts of the Apostles in a paper given by Professor Loveday Alexander on‘Mission and Unity in the Acts of the Apostles’.
If you want funny stuff, go to a German Patristics scholar working in a Swiss university. Professor Dr Martin Wallraff came at the ecclesiological questions from left-field by looking at media development in Christian history: ‘Mission and Media – Observations on the Expansion of Christianity in Late Antiquity’. Dr Paul Weston (Cambridge) took us back to and through the thinking of the great Lesslie Newbigin in ‘The Missionary Church in the Theology of Lesslie Newbigin’. This led into papers by (the absent) Professor Dr Michael Weinrich on ‘Missio Dei and the Mission of the Church’ followed by Professor Dr Corinna Dahlgrün on ‘Protestant Theology in a Religious Vacuum’.
Today we are looking at changes in the church’s approach to its mission before going on to how the English and German churches are tackling (practically) their engagement with the cultures and societies in which they are set.
The papers have been immensely stimulating, but the real benefit is in the conversation and debate that follows. It is impossible to do justice to the extent of the material, but a couple of quotes might be suggestive of the direction of travel:
Perhaps we have given too much uncritical emphasis on the church as steward of the inheritance from the past, and too little on the church as an anticipation of the future. (Graham Cray)
The fundamental task of mission is to bear witness to Christ – to be, if you like, ‘fresh expressions’ in the world of God’s living Word. (Not fresh expressions of the church!) (Loveday Alexander)
I’ll try to digest the discussions and papers later when I get the space.
January 11, 2011
I have just arrived in Salisbury for the Meissen Theological Conference. I attend as Anglican Co-chair of the Meissen Commission, but have no responsibility in this conference other than to participate and enjoy it. How nice is that?
The theme this time is ‘Ecclesiology in Mission Perspective’ – which basically means that we want to tease out our understandings of what the Church is (and what it is for). If that is still too vague, then we will be looking at culture, Scripture, unity, implications of Fresh Expressions, academic thinking in Germany and the UK, systematic and practical theological perspectives, ecumenism… and taking a peek at dead influential theologians (who happen to be both dead and influential) such as Karl Barth and Lesslie Newbigin.
Now, for those outside of church circles who might think this is a weird way to spend the inside of a week, I’ll explain where the interest lies.
Churches – like any institutions or any groups of human beings with a common interest or task – easily fail to address the demands of a rapidly changing world. Their default setting is to consolidate the gains or settled patterns of the past – especially where such gains were hard won or costly in some way. So, it is vital that serious consideration is given at regular intervals to re-examining why we think we are who we think we are and why we do what we do in the way that we do it.
The advantage of doing this here is that bringing two cultures and two histories together provides a perspective that sets the experience and priorities of a church in one culture in the context of the critical light of another. So, what might appear to be (or assumed to be) fixed and ‘given’ in England might look a little more relative when seen through the lens of another church’s theological or historical experience and thinking.
Given that – for both the Church of England and the EKD – our churches are not there merely to maintain themselves as ‘societies’ or institutions with a common identity, these themes become important. The Church exists for the sake of the world and not vice versa. It needs to be built up, grown and supported in order that it can fulfil its primary mission of ‘creating the space in which people can find that they have been found by God’ (in whatever circumstances of life). And we can learn better how to do that by subjecting our own preoccupations and assumptions to the scrutiny and questioning of those who come from somewhere else.
I’ll keep you posted.
January 8, 2011
Several people picked up on something I said on BBC Radio 2 last Friday in a Pause for Thought piece on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show. Picking up on reports last week that scientists had found why some blokes go bald, I remarked that “mine’s been falling out for years”. I then went on to say:
According to the scientists, the problem is not a lack of hair, but that the new hair growing out of heads like mine is (and I quote) “so small it appears invisible to the naked eye”. Right! Which basically means it’s invisible – or, as some of us would say, “not there at all”. It’s all to do with stem cells, apparently.
You know what? I don’t care. I remember someone once pointing out that hair growth is linked to virility – he said that if you blokes want to use your hormones for growing hair, that’s up to you… (He was completely bald.)
…we are made as human beings to grow and age and die. And it’s the fear of this process that lies at the root of some people’s attempts to roll back the clock or avoid the inevitable.
So, what do I, a Christian, think about science and scientists (of whom I have several in my family)?
Firstly, a Christian anthropology begins with God creating humanity in his own image and committing to us what is known as the ‘cultural mandate’ - to go forth and multiply and cultivate the earth (give shape to it, etc.). We are made to explore, investigate and seek to understand the world as well as live and thrive in it.
Second, scientists fulfil a serious element of the human vocation, helping the rest of us exploit (in a neutral sense) the world, investigate how and why it works in the way it does. Scientists have to find a way to enable the rest of us to understand, learn about and live with the ‘cosmos’ we are part of.
Third, matter matters. In Jesus, God opts into the material world and does not exempt himself from it (just in case we had missed the implications of the ‘creation narratives’ which keep depicting God as thinking what he had made was brilliant). The material world matters and we are made to respect it (although we usually live disrespectfully in it).
Fourth, however, is the tough bit for some people. Science deals in mechanics and explanations of causes and effects – it does not and cannot deal in meanings. The fundamental tenet of ethics is that ‘you can’t get an ought from an is’. That is to say, the mere fact that something ‘is’ does not imply or allow some ethical imperative to be derived from it. Which is to say, phenomena are distinct from inherent meanings.
This is why science and philosophy/religion belong together. Science can answer the questions about how things happen and what the causes and effects are; but these explanations (however provisional or otherwise) cannot imply value or meaning of themselves. We attribute meanings to phenomena according to other sets of criteria which we assume (or for which we argue) on other grounds that simply what ‘is’. The ‘why’ questions need different approaches and a different language.
So, a Christian anthropology welcomes the scientific task, encourages scientists to do their inexhaustible work, supports them in it and learns from it. If science deals in real material stuff, then there is nothing to fear. And those Christians who reject the bits of the scientific enterprise they find inconvenient to their ‘faith’ have perhaps missed the point several Christian apologists have emphasised: that if Christianity is true, it is true because it is true; it is not true because it is Christianity. In other words, lose your fear, love the truth and get out more.
Helmut Thielicke, the great (and dead) German theologian and preacher once wrote something about the world needing Christians who were passionately interested in the world: the arts, culture, science, and so on. What the world doesn’t need, he said (although I can’t locate the complete quote), is “stupid Christian Philistines”.
As God made clear in Jesus: get stuck in. And that’s what I think about science and scientists. And art and artists. And so on.
January 8, 2011
Time is tight these days – something to do with working Croydon/Southwark while turning attention to our move to Bradford in a few months time. But, I was going to write something this evening to pick up on comments about last couple of blog posts and now it seems a bit less urgent. I got home from seeing a long-time friend and opera singer Jonathan Veira (great venue, great live jazz, great food and great company) only to find
- Roy Hodgson has left Liverpool by mutual consent, allowing Kenny Dalglish to take up the reins for the rest of the season;
- A young US Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, has been shot (along with others) at an event in Arizona – prompting Sarah Palin‘s people to (a) pull down her website appeal for action against opponents like Giffords and (b) delete her ‘Don’t retreat, reload’ tweets from Twitter.
The departure of yet another football manager isn’t too much of a surprise, but Roy Hodgson is a decent, honest and generous man and he goes with credit for this. I think his position was untenable in terms of confidence and I am (for the first time this season) excited about the passion King Kenny might be able to bring to the Liverpool squad. But Hodgson will get another position soon and even his opponents in Liverpool will wish him well.
But, this is trivial stuff in the face of yet another shooting in the USA. People who live by the gun will probably die by the gun. It is just hard to see from this side of the Atlantic why some people on the other side of the Atlantic can’t see any connection between an obsession with gun ownership and the number of gun crimes on their land. And if the American Right are so convinced of their rightness in this respect, why take down embarrassing websites or tweets? Words are powerful and violence starts not with a finger on a trigger, but with an idea in the mind, given shape by words.
Later I’ll write what I was going to write. In the meantime, the mad world continues to spin.
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