22 February 2008

Classic Hauerwas

Stanley Hauerwas is always good for a thought-provoking/outrageous comment or two. Here is a classic example from a lecture published in a recent edition of the Princeton Seminary Bulletin (thanks to Inhabitatio Dei for pointing it out):
I assume most of you are here because you think you are Christians, but it is not at all clear to me that the Christianity that has made you Christians is Christianity. For example:
  • How many of you worship in a church with an American flag? I am sorry to tell you that your salvation is in doubt.
  • How many of you worship in a church in which the fourth of July is celebrated? I am sorry to tell you that your salvation is in doubt.
  • How many of you worship in a church that recognizes Thanksgiving? I am sorry to tell you that your salvation is in doubt.
  • How many of you worship in a church that celebrates January 1 as the “New Year”? I am sorry to tell you that your salvation is in doubt.
  • How many of you worship in a church that recognizes “Mother’s Day”? I am sorry to tell you that your salvation is in doubt.
Of course the point he is making is that a lot of what passes for Christianity in America today is nothing more than thinly veiled worship of contemporary American values. A similar point might have been made in reply to the fury that greeted the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent speech on the relation of religion to the law in modern society.

16 February 2008

Wrong turning

I’ve been struggling to make progress on the novel recently. After trying to blame the usual suspects (overtiredness, overwork, etc.), I have come to the conclusion that I took a wrong turning a few thousand words ago. Looking back over what I have written in the past month, it is fairly clear that I have revealed too much, too early. As a result, I find myself becoming bored with what I am now writing – a 25,000-word anticlimax is no way to end a novel! So I need to backtrack and hide one or two crucial pieces of information from the reader.

13 February 2008

The joys of machine translation

Mark Newton over at Solaris has just posted a review of the Solaris Book of New SF, Vol. 1, which he found on a Brazilian website. Not trusting his Portuguese to be up to the job, he used Google to translate it. The result is a classic piece of machine English. Here, for example, are a few kind words about Solaris:
A publisher small but pujante, which has already begun in the best style kung-fu-shaw-brothers-tarantino: Walking in the door and attitude, will face?
Yes, indeed! You can read the entire piece here.

Not another comment on the Archbishop’s speech

There seems little point in adding to the torrent of words already spilt in response to Archbishop Rowan’s recent speech on ‘Civil and Religious Law in England’. Instead I would simply recommend that anyone who wants to engage with what he was actually saying would be well advised to read the excellent analyses by Andrew Goddard and Mike Higton.

Hopefully when the present furore has died down some serious thought will be given to the very important questions raised by his lecture. For example, how should a modern pluralistic society accommodate the religious believers in its midst? Is there any place for conscientious objection to aspects of our public culture? What limits should the state impose upon religious communities to ensure that their members both enjoy the rights and fulfil the responsibilities of citizenship in the wider society?

And, of course, the way sections of the media and some politicians reacted to his call for a carefully reasoned debate on these matters says some disturbing things about the nature of British society at the beginning of twenty-first century, which need to be teased out.

Addendum: Mike Higton continues his analysis of the Archbishop’s speech with a piece entitled ‘What is Enlightenment?’ The Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, has issued a statement, which offers a very lucid summary of the Archbishop’s main points. And The Tablet offers an interesting take on what Rowan Williams was trying to do.

07 February 2008

Hell does freeze over!

I was amused by this photograph, which I spotted just now on the RealClimate blog. As you can see, Hell really does freeze over. Since it is in Norway, this is probably not very surprising.

The sign shown in the photograph had me thinking about the harrowing of hell for a few moments. Sadly the reality is more prosaic: apparently Gods Expedition means ‘cargo shipment’ in an old Norwegian dialect (think, the expediting of goods).

06 February 2008

Ash Wednesday

Today is the first day of Lent, forty days that have traditionally been set aside by Christians for fasting, self-examination and prayer. In the popular imagination, Lent has long been reduced to that time of year when we temporarily give up chocolate, alcohol, tobacco or some other little luxury. Contrast that with the far more radical understanding of fasting offered by Isaiah in the Old Testament reading for this morning’s Eucharist:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isaiah 58.6–7)

04 February 2008

Is the Anglican Communion worth fighting for?

According to a recent blog entry, Bishop Idris asked this question at the end of a recent Regional Council meeting. Having spent a year or so trying to find an alternative where I would feel at home, my short answer is a definite ‘yes’. Of course, being a notorious pedant, I can’t resist giving a longer answer, beginning with the observation, ‘It depends on what you mean by “this Anglican Communion”’.

What it means to me is an international network of churches who broadly share the same approach to Christian worship. In my year of wandering, I (re)discovered that the Eucharist was an essential part of my personal spirituality. I find the worship of churches that marginalize the Eucharist (i.e. most Reformed and Protestant churches) simply unsatisfying. On a more theological note, I think the marginalization of the Eucharist calls into question the apostolicity of those churches.

After a central emphasis on the Eucharist, what I expect to find in a church/network of churches is an openness to diversity. I think that is implicit in another of the classical marks of the church, namely, catholicity: universality in the sense that it is able to embrace all human cultures and all human experience. No one is excluded simply because of the colour of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, their politics or their taste in music. Conversely, everyone is challenged to work out for themselves what it means to live a Christ-like life.

Given those emphases, my return to Anglicanism was a simple process of elimination. The only churches that meet the first criterion are Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Lutheranism. Roman Catholicism is simply too centralized and monolithic. The various Orthodox churches in Scotland mostly seem to be trapped in ethnic ghettoes of their own making (I’m not Greek so I can’t see myself ever being fully at home in the Greek Orthodox Church, and I have no wish to commute all the way to Dunblane for English-language services in the Russian Orthodox Church). There is one Lutheran congregation in Scotland. They are a very welcoming bunch of people and, if I lived in East Kilbride, I might be tempted to align myself with them were it not for the fact that their form of Lutheranism takes an exclusive approach to the Eucharist – only Lutherans in communion with the Missouri Synod may receive the bread and the wine. I couldn’t in good conscience belong to a church that puts a wall between me and my fellow believers in other parts of the body of Christ. And so I am once more part of the Anglican Church (specifically, St Ninian’s, Pollokshields).