No One Believes That The God Of The Bible Exists Anymore (From The Archives)

The title of this post is not a complaint; it is merely an observation. No one confronts the representatives of another tradition with a contest to see which one’s deity will send fire from heaven as Elijah did. No Christian blogger claims that those who comment negatively will be struck with blindness for doing so, as apostles did. God is depicted in many parts of the Bible as knocking down city walls, parting seas and so on. Yet no Christian dominionists are likely to march around Washington D.C. and see it fall into their hands.

Those who claim they “believe the whole Bible” and “take it literally” are being dishonest. Their pastor may have preached recently on the story of the fall of Jericho, but it was applied to God “making the strongholds of sin in your come life crumbling down”, not to a battle plan to take a city.

To be fair, not all Biblical authors view God in the same way. And so there is no single “Biblical view of God”. But certainly God as depicted in some parts of the Bible is not the concept of the deity served by Christians today.

The question a Christian needs to ask is whether they have the courage to admit that their view of God is not the same as that of many depicitions in the Bible. Do you have the courage to take the Bible’s actual words completely seriously, even when the result is that you are forced to acknowledge that you do not accept their literal truthfulness?

Let me end with a couple of thought-provoking quotes from Don Cupitt’s book, which I just finished reading:

“The Virgin Mary may cure many people in Portugal but she is much less active in Libya, whereas vaccination and inoculation are observably beneficial – and equally beneficial – in both cultures, the local religion in the end making no difference at all” (Don Cupitt, Taking Leave of God, p.123).

“To put it bluntly, classical Christianity is itself now our Old Testament…We have to use traditional Christianity in the same way as Christianity itself has always used the Old Testament. In both cases there is a great gulf but there is also continuity of spirit and religious values…When a Christian sings a psalm he knows there is a religion-gap and a culture-gap, but it does not worry him because he believes his faith to be the legitimate successor of the faith of the psalmist. Similarly, since the Enlightenment there has developed a religion-gap and a culture-gap between us and traditional Christianity, but we may still be justified in using the old words if we can plausibly argue that our present faith and spiritual values are the legitimate heirs of the old” (Don Cupitt, Taking Leave of God, p.135).

  • http://smidgensonreligion.blogspot.com Chris

    Very interesting quotes. I think there’s a lot of truth to what Mr. Cupitt says. What sense does baptism, for example, make in our modern culture? Basically none. We– Western Christians– no longer think in terms of purity and impurity, so what’s the use in ritual purification?

  • Isaiah Burton

      In many ways I agree with you, but it seems to me that most fundamentalists do believe that God did all those miracles that are in the Bible, but also believe that God acts in different ways in the world today. I don’t know that we can say that they don’t believe in the God of the Bible. They would say we are in a new age, covenant, or dispensation and that God has chosen to act differently now than He did in the past.
      For example, you mention the fall of Jericho not being taught as a battle plan. I doubt that anyone (then or now) thought that was a good battle plan that should be repeated. While pastors may speak of the fall of Jericho in terms of sin and strongholds, this is just them trying to bring a meaning out of the text for their current audience (it may be a good example of how to abuse the text) but it doesn’t mean that they don’t believe that God did literally bring down the walls of Jericho or that they don’t believe in that God.  
      But, on the other hand, I personally think that Greek philosophy had a huge influence on the Christian perception of God and that there is a divergence between most Christian’s understanding of God and the God of the Bible because of this influence. For example most Christians believe that God does know the future perfectly but many verses such as  Jeremiah 19:5 (where God says something “. . . never entered my mind!”) seem to demonstrate from the Bible that He doesn’t. 
      I guess I would say that most people don’t believe in the God of the Bible, but not based on miracles or even a change in personality (Jesus’ attitude toward sin versus Yahweh’s). The disconnect seems to be that fundamentalists come to scripture with a predetermined view of God’s attributes (bother moral [omnibenevolence, see 1 Kings 22:19 and following] and non-moral [omniscience, see Jeremiah 19:5]) and try to fit scripture into that view and not let scripture change it. Thus, they don’t believe in the God of scripture in that sense. 

  • http://www.gentlewisdom.org.uk/ Peter Kirk

    To be fair, in certain circles a lot is said about taking cities for God, and the strategies for doing so sometimes involve Christians marching round it singing songs of praise. Yes, it’s about making strongholds of sin, rather than literal walls, come crumbling down, but it is about cities, not individuals. Whether it works is another matter. I believe it can do, but that’s because I’m a Christian, not a deist like Don Cupitt, or even a “Bible deist” like Jack Deere says he used to be.

  • http://lowerwisdom.com JS Allen

    The God of Abraham did a pretty good job of literally crumbling the twin towers, right?

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  • Daniel James Levy

    James, I think you’re limiting your scope of investigation to the western world. As a skeptical Pentecostal, I have first-hands seen some of the “odder” things in the Bible. And for some of the odder other things I haven’t seen (in the Bible or not) I’ve had credible witnesses attest to it. Such people are scholars with doctorates.

  • Daniel James Levy

    Sorry, my point in regards to the scholars with doctorates is that they aren’t loonies.

  • John

    This post from James really rubbed me the wrong way…

    James wrote: Yet no Christian dominionists are likely to march around Washington D.C. and see it fall into their hands.

    John: These examples are purely made of straw. Since Christian dominionists believe God *spoke* directly to Joshua and commanded this, pending such a revelation to one of their influential leaders, we shouldn’t demand to see this as a demonstration of consistency with the Biblical record. So you’ll need better examples of this alleged inconsistency. A better one might be conservative Christian condemnation of various aspects of Muslim culture, that are clearly rooted in the honor-shame/agonistic world of the Bible.

    James wrote: Those who claim they “believe the whole Bible” and “take it literally” are being dishonest.

    John: Honestly, I think this claim is more likely to be dishonest than are the people who make those to claims. I am a Christian and accept that the Bible is full of myth and have no problem with this, as Jesus’ teachings for instance are largely non-literal. But to claim that simple conservative church-goers are being dishonest? Really? Are you that far entrenched in the world of academia that you are this out of touch? Making this whole issue about “courage” is also a bit ridiculous. Is that the problem? People just aren’t brave enough? Thanks for the psychoanalysis oh liberated one…Judging what are in most cases a very complex nexus of geographic, social, and educational factors, also involving (but probably less so) rational and ethical deliberations, in such a simplistic manner, speaks to me of immaturity, a lack of charity, and a judgmental nature.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    James, loved the article. I have noted the odd mentality of the S. Baptist faith I came from. There was a notion of an apostolic golden age, when miracles happened all the time. There is a sense that God could do that sort of thing again if He wanted, but don’t need to for some reason. In a way, it limits the expectation of the current church, as you could not believe that your own generation was as good as the past unless you to had miracles in your church. Then you have to add in the Baptist notion of the End Time, when all these miracles will come back before the end. 

    I think it creates an interesting dynamic, in that the current time for each generation of Baptist is a kind of low point in history between the glory of the past, lost, and a future glory that can be assured in by the activity of the church.

    I think the view that we are poorer than the Apostolic church, because we don’t see miracles as much, (in fact we have been seeing fewer miracles  each generation separating us from the first generation, when every event was ordered by God’s divine will) deludes us into thinking we can not make a new contribution to Christianity, or make Christianity better than it was originally, to exceed the acts of Jesus, as in John 14:12.

    I think your right that it may be a failure of faith that modern Christians act as though God would choose them in, for instance, a mountain top supernatural showdown. (perhaps the Pope should have a magic showdown with the Ayatollah).

    “John: These examples are purely made of straw. Since Christian dominionists believe God *spoke* directly to Joshua and commanded this, pending such a revelation to one of their influential leaders, we shouldn’t demand to see this as a demonstration of consistency with the Biblical record.”

    What is the check on claiming God spoke with you, your own sense of shame? Acting skills? I have noticed that preachers that claimed prophetic power, tend to inhabit the fringes, like Edger Casey or Oral Roberts. They are there, they just aren’t popular, because most Christians think that prophecy is a thing of the past. 

    • John

      Michael – I guess the check is your own sense of your own sanity. I have no idea; God has never spoken to me in such a way.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

        It seems that modern Christians are much more skeptical of recent claims of prophetic insight than those of the past doesn’t it?

  • John C. Poirier

    You sound a bit like Bultmann here. I’m with Daniel James Levy on this one, although I would say “mainstream denominational” where he says “Western”.

    I don’t think that most American Christians think of God as really that much different from the biblical God.

    I think you’d be surprised if you took a serious look at, say, the Word of Faith movement. That movement is *all about* taking the miracles of the Bible seriously, and esp. about taking to heart the apparent lack of any sort of expiration date on God’s miracle-working power. In fact, the Word of Faith movement constantly appeals to Jesus’ promise that the disciples would perform even greater miracles than Jesus did, and they generalize that promise as potentially applicable to anyone.

    Snake handlers obviously read the miracles literally, and consider them still applicable today.

    I think this applies even to the biggest miracles in the Bible. Most Word of Faith people would probably say that walls *can* come tumbling down, given the right (anointed) leader, and the right situation, etc. (After all, Joshua didn’t go around doing that to every city that rubbed him wrong.)

    Charismatics/Pentecostals often look to heroes of generations past, whom they often think of as miracle workers in biblical proportions (e.g John G. Lake, Smith Wigglesworth, etc.).

    Then, of course, there are the cessationists, but they also don’t belong to your generalization, as they discount miracles, not because they think God is different from the biblical God, but because they arbitrarily place a cessationist dispensation over their understanding of post-apostolic times.

    Perhaps you were raised in a mainline denomination, and don’t have firsthand knowledge of any of this. But I would say that the view I’m describing is held by literally millions of Americans. You can see it on display on most shows on Christian television.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Thanks for all the comments so far! I came to a personal faith in a Pentecostal church, and so I am familiar with that tradition as an insider, and not just an observer. I know that my own faith in my teens aspired towards that sort of belief – but I also know that I often felt like, even though I ought to be able to do some of the things I read about in the Bible, I didn’t have enough faith to go tell someone to be healed in the name of Jesus.

    And I think that when one tries to will oneself into such belief, since it involves conscious rather than naive literalism, it still involves belief that differs from that of the Biblical authors. 

    But it is indeed a fair criticism that, to whatever extent my post gets some things right, it applies to some parts of the world more than others.

    And I also feel the force of the comparison to Bultmann. I greatly appreciate his demythologization program, but am keenly aware that his sweeping statements about what “modern man” (who uses the “wireless”) cannot believe is problematic. But I think he was right that a modern person cannot will themselves into a first century worldview completely – the fact that we are aware of other scientific information, even if a choice is made to reject, ignore or misconstrue it, changes the nature of such faith.

    • Paul D.

      As another ex-Pentecostal, I think this article is right on and quite profound.

    • John

      James: But I think he was right that a modern person cannot will themselves
      into a first century worldview completely – the fact that we are aware
      of other scientific information, even if a choice is made to reject,
      ignore or misconstrue it, changes the nature of such faith.

      John: That this should be some source of despair for those wishing to have a “biblical” faith in modern times is not at all obvious. Everyone’s faith is different. Peter’s faith was different from John’s faith even within the Bible. I think you are just descending into vagueness here and the force of the argument you were trying to make has dwindled. The biggest problem, IMO, is that your examples were strawmen.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @John, I don’t think that my argument is a straw man. I think that some Christians really do think that our faith today should be like that of the Biblical authors and characters. But more importantly, it does indeed seem to me that those who say they believe that still think differently about God than ancient Christians would have, and are not aware of the differences.

    It may be that I am extrapolating from my own experience in ways that are not broadly applicable. Some other commenters said they could relate to what I wrote, and so perhaps if they are willing to chime in, we can figure out if perhaps we are both partially right – which would still require that I retract my “no one” and replace it with something more nuanced. :-)

  • John

    James – your examples were straw men. Joshua for example. We see an incongruity in praxis here – modern church members are not invading cities and circling walls – because these passages in the Bible are not believed to be prescriptive. John Poirier makes the salient point that this was not even generally prescriptive for the Israelites in the Bible. I agree with you on lack of awareness of the differences; I think it goes for liberals as well though.

  • No One of Any Importance.

       The issue, I see, is that the division lies in the idea of pitting “The Old Testament God” against “The New Testament God.” The tension of our faith is that He(God) is both. The Bible, and our faith, is full of these tensions. Is God a loving Father, or a wrathful Judge? The answer is “yes.” Is the Bible figurative or literal? “Yes”. It can be both. 
       Revelations is very figurative, some of it literal and it’s not all chronological. Psalms is literal in certain places talking of David’s actual experiences then other parts are figurative and romanticized. It doesn’t make what David wrote untrue about God, Seeing as scripture is God breathed. 
       This tension is part of our life, and our faith. We have to learn to accept these tensions. Do we believe that God can or will do things like destroying of cities? While He may not today, He will in the future. Revelations has some very detailed and literal descriptions of meteorological events that are directed and controlled by God Himself. 
       So to argue that the Bible is partially myth(exaggerated or false history) is wrong, but to argue that all of it should be taken at face value is also wrong. Everything must be read in context. If you remove the context and the co-text you get a pre-text. So read what the circumstances and context surrounding a passage in the Bible says about the passage itself. And don’t fall for the debate tactic of a redirect or shifting the burden of proof. No one has the need, or the means, to prove the metaphorical, allegorical, metaphysical, or spiritual(yes, I know it’s redundant). Can we prove every single little thing about the Bible? No. But does that make the Bible a lie? No. 
        What we can prove, which is most of the Bible, shows us that our faith and it’s foundational literature, can be pressed extremely hard and still stand the test of time and intense scrutiny. So to expect and explanation for something that we admittedly can’t prove, because of the very nature of it being supernatural is illogical and irrational.
       So all in all, to expect God to prove His consistency to us is irrational. Thus is the tension of our faith. The substance of things unseen.(Hebrews 11:1) The evidence of invisible things…Tension.

  • No One of Any Importance.

    To clarify on the very last paragraph, I mean it’s irrational to expect God to prove Himself to us by the physical manipulation of things by supernatural means. The very essence of Faith is explained in Hebrews 11:1. Believing without seeing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    I think John has a good point. I think the first Christians were in the same positions as the fundamentalist today. They did not witness great miracles, but they were slightly more gullible concerning coincidence and chicanery. They also believed stories of great miracles in their past, the Red Sea and Joshua. and even the people of the time that inspired those tales, would believe they are not to many generations from the gods. So all generations have lived with this belief that in old days magic was common, but now things are different because of X.

    In that sense the modern miracles are not hypocritical, because this is how religion always has been. The miracles of the past always seemed greater than now. Look at the bible, the first miracle is the creation of the world! later he scrambles the worlds language, floods the world, and then slows down. He talks a lot, destroys a city. Then it picks up with the moving of the sea, so and so on, going through phases of increased miracles to less miracles.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I’m starting to think that maybe Michael Wilson has put the matter better than I did. Perhaps it isn’t so much a question of people today not expecting God to do precisely the sorts of things he is described as doing in the Bible’s stories. Maybe from ancient Israel to the prent day, religious believers have always used stories of mighty things God supposedly once did to bolster their faith, and from then until now had to wrestle with the implications of the fact that the same things were not part of their own experience.

    • http://lowerwisdom.com JSA

      Yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to communicate with my “Twin Towers” comment.  

      I imagine that the ancients were a lot like us.  The vast majority never bothered to march around cities tooting horns, while a lunatic minority constantly made wild claims that never came true.  Then, when something extraordinary really did happen (due to sheer chance or whatever), it would be incorporated into the folklore, and would sometimes have staying power as a story.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    James, Do you even read your other posts and comments? What exactly is the point to this post? You seem to be advocating that modern people should have a view of God similar to ancient Christians for example. How do modern people learn how ancient Christians perceived God? The Bible right, is this not the same Bible you say was written by fallible men and to which you said. “and what we have in the Bible and elsewhere are expressions of faith in and experience of that God, and expressions of fallible humans’ experiences, perceptions, wishes and imagination?” You say Genesis is not historical, you call Daniel basically a forgery written after the events. So where is the importance of modern Christians to believe the same way? Don’t we all have expressions of faith in and experience of that God, and expressions of fallible humans’ experiences, perceptions, wishes and imagination? If the Bible is lacking in truth, what’s the point in believing as they did?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Howard, I was not implying that I think people ought to think the same way about God. I was addressing the fact that some people believe that they do, when in fact they don’t.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, Okay then, on that point I agree, but I would say that it is more the theology and interpretation that differs more than the direct statements in the Bible.

  • Harry W

     Hi Daniel,

    I’ve read your critique of James Gunn. I’d be interested to have some conversation, if that is amenable to you. I’m in London, UK, and from an evangelical Christian background, although now more drawn to a Liberal Judaism stance.

    ‘Skeptical Pentecostal’ is a new phrase for me!

    Hope to hear from you.

    Regards,

    Harry Wallington

  • John Haggerty

    ‘No one believes that the God of the Bible exists any more.’ You mean no one you respect. That leaves out John Piper, John MacArthur, Ron Wilkerson, Dave Hunt and many like them. Yet countless numbers of men and women listen to these evangelical preachers on YouTube. The Puritans are read now more than ever. Names like John Flavel, Richard Sibbes, George Whitfield, John Owen, Richard Baxter. Will anyone be reading a lightweight like Don Cupitt 350 years from now? The truth is that progressive Christianity is finished. You have nothing to say to the world. Words like sin, depravity and Saviour mean nothing at all to any of you. It’s as if you haven’t engaged at all with the enormity of evil in the 20th Century. Read the new book by Os Guinness, RENAISSANCE – THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL HOWEVER DARK THE TIMES. Put your own shallow convictions to the test. Go to John Calvin, whom the world is rediscovering. Listen to the radio website of the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones. ‘Whenever I have found myself doubting Christianity,’ he said, ‘I only have to look into the depravity of my own heart to know it’s true.’ Or how about Karl Barth? ‘Man is not good. Man has never been good. Man will never be good.’

    • nick.gotts

      Go to John Calvin, an antisemitic theocrat who supported the torture and execution of his theological and political opponents, and worshipped a god so evil he created people with the express intention of torturing them forever.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I don’t think you actually read past the title of the blog post. The point is precisely that conservatives of the sort you mention do not maintain “the Biblical view” in the way you assume. And it is due at least in part to the way assumptions can prevent comprehension when reading, as illustrated by your misunderstanding of this blog post, but which also happens regularly with the Bible.

  • John Haggerty

    Dear James, thanks for your response. I did read your text. What have you said that is of any real significance? You are stuck in an unhistoric view of ‘conservatives’. The battle lines were drawn in the 19th Century when BB Warfield stood against the new liberalism and modernism: the one a wasting sickness like a blood condition, the other a fatal cancer. God did act through miracles and through history. Many of the leading military and political figures in the Second World War saw the hand of God in the Allied victory over the profound evil of the Nazi ideology. The suffering was on a gigantic scale but evil was defeated. I stand under the authority of Scripture. You sit in judgement on it. To it you bring your own philosophy and world-view. Don Cupitt has said he was never interested in ‘neo-orthodoxy’. It was a most convenient way of sidestepping Karl Barth. Cupitt, second rater that he is, simply isn’t up to taking on Barth or Donald MacLeod or John Frame or any ‘conservative’ I could name. Scripture ends with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I was reminded of this two days ago when several people were killed in my native city of Glasgow, Scotland. Christ spoke of the 18 people killed when the tower of Siloam fell. ‘Unless you repent you shall all likewise perish.’ When you progressives begin to talk about repentance and the wrath of God against sin, then I shall start taking you seriously.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I’m not a huge fan of Cupitt, and so I am sorry that you chose this post to focus on. It seems to me rather odd to say that I am stuck in an unhistoric view of conservatives that is trapped in the 19th century, and then to quote Matthew Henry! :-)

      I am happy to try to take you seriously immediately, even though your claim to not sit in judgment on Scripture is inevitably false, and your characterization of liberalism and modernism in negative terms offered with not a hint of justification. I wonder if you realize the extent to which modern conservatism is in fact just that – modern, a movement that is inherently reactionary, and thus makes into points of dogma things that were merely assumption of the ancient authors of the Bible, distorting the BIblical material in the process.

      • John Haggerty

        Dear James, If my claim not to sit in judgement on Scripture is false, then it is because I am a sinner, not because I have no clue about historic development. What did the Reformers do? They went to Augustine. They took the church’s biggest gun and turned Augustine on the church. What did Luther do? He wrote The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. Is my understanding of modernism so very false? Tell me why. Tell me if there has ever been a revival, in which broken lives were transformed, that was a liberal revival.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          If your definition of “revival in which broken lives were transformed” cannot encompass what theological liberals like Martin Luther King Jr did, then I would argue that your definition is too narrow.

          • John Haggerty

            You’ve got me. Dr King really did it. But I see an aggressive wordliness in my own country, United Kingdom. I see it in working class people, middle class people, and the greedy rich in the City of London. If some form of ‘progressive’ Christianity (however carefully you define it) could humble us, put us down in the dust like the peacock-proud Paul on Damascus, then I should join such a movement.

      • John Haggerty

        Dear James, I am reading a book called ‘The Story of the Church’ first published in 1958 and authored by the late AM Renwick (formerly professor of church history at Free Church College in Edinburgh) and AM Harman (currently research professor at the Presbyterian College in Melbourne, Australia). They write: ‘The 19th Century was a great century in human history, and its astonishing social, economic, and scientific progress was closely linked with the religious life of the period. The evangelical movement which began in the previous century grew and developed in a remarkable way. This is true not only of the Dissenting Churches but also of the Anglican Church, where the evangelical section became a powerful influence in the life of country during the first half of the 19th Century. THE SAME CAN BE SAID OF THE EVANGELICAL FORCES IN AMERICA AND SCOTLAND.’ (Chapter XXI) In the same chapter, the authors draw attention to the evangelical revival in the US during 1857-60. ‘As a result of this work of the Holy Spirit,’ they write, ‘at least one million converts were received into the Church of God in the United States alone … From America it spread first to Ulster and then to England and Scotland. In Britain, as in America, it was seen to be the work of God, not of man …’ The book was republished by IVP in 2009.

        • Avenger

          John, you know you are welcome to join in discussions on other threads than this one. I don’t know whether you would want to, but feel free if you do. I recently attempted a very modest defence of the resurrection and was greeted with vociferous protest; so it might not be your cup of tea.

          • John Haggerty

            Dear A, I should welcome a debate about the Resurrection if I knew the blog. You might want to listen to Michael J Licona debate on Youtube. Mr Licona authored a very readable 700 page opus ‘The Resurrection of Christ – A New Historiographical Approach’ (IVP Academic). He’s professor of New Testament at Southern Evangelical Seminary. Remember, Christianity is in ferment in the United States. I can understand men and women feeling intimidated by extreme fundamentalism. As the blurb of Simon Critchley’s book ‘The Faith of the Faithless’ says: ‘The return to religion has arguably become the dominant theme of contemporary culture. Somehow, the secular age seems to have been replaced by a new era where political action flows directly from theological, indeed cosmic, conflict.’ My conversion came so late. I can hardly believe what a minefield I have stumbled into. We need to step back at times. As Robert Graves wrote, ‘there’s a cool web of language that winds us in’. Try reading a blog ‘Martin Halliwell, the Constant Dialogue: Reinhold Niebuhr’. Reinhold Niebuhr and his brother Richard wrote with great profundity about American society. I used to read them in my youth because I loved American writers like James Baldwin and Lionel Trilling and Saul Bellow and Mary McCarthy. The sociologist Peter Berger (a Methodist) is worth reading. Berger influenced Os Guinness. ‘Let us conduct ourselves like men,’ as Paul would say. Best.

            • Avenger

              John, there was a discussion about it on this blog recently. You can see it by clicking on this link: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2014/12/horus-tries-to-ruin-christmas.html

              I tend to find this sort of debate unfruitful. When people see no difference between the Resurrection and the golden plates of Joseph Smith, there is little to be gained from attempts at persuasion.

              • John Haggerty

                Thanks, A, I will look into it. One thing. The really Bible-centred evangelicals I completely trust, Iain H Murray, John Stott, Michael Green and Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, would have advised Christians not to spend too much time with people who do not share the evangelical faith. We pray for them and keep all channels open. But there is a time to take our leave for Christ’s sake. ‘Come out from among them.’ Progressives speak slightingly at times, not always, of the Scriptures. I don’t have the feeling they are down in the dust, humbled like Saul of Tarsus, the proudest of peacocks, as Christ called him out of his spiritual darkness. Often, in times of trouble, I listen to the online sermons of Dr Lloyd-Jones and Arthur W Pink on YouTube, with my Bible at hand. Pink’s ‘The Nature of Apostasy’ is a really daunting and times frightening sermon in four parts. But so necessary in these evil times. Right now I’m reading Ezekiel 16. A study guide published in 2014 by the Navigators Press says: ‘Ezekiel chooses the strongest possible terms for condemning Jerusalem as a prostitute. Sin isn’t polite and Ezekiel feels no pressure to be polite about it. The exiles need to wake up and face the ugly truth.’ This is preaching the world is waiting for.

                • John Haggerty

                  Dear Avenger, If you ever want to get in touch with me, you can do so by writing to Jack (John) Haggerty, c/o Hillhead Baptist Church, Cresswell Street, Glasgow, G12 8BY. I am not a member of the church but the good minister knows me and she will pass on your letter. I would then send you my home address, and any of the books or DVDs you were interested in. It would be grieving the Holy Spirit to continue posting comments on this blog. Can you imagine Arthur Pink doing so? He would rebuke me for getting involved in the first place. At the end of his life in 1952 he said ‘Christianity is in ruins’. The biography of Mr Pink by Iain H Murray is one of the books I should be happy to send you. Along with back copies of the Banner of Truth Magazine which Mr Murray (who lives in Edinburgh) helped found. I have no trouble talking to those who are not saved since they would include many fine friends and my siblings. But the comments I have been reading on the Horus blog remind me of the scribes and Pharisees who tried to trick and deride our Blessed Lord who told the ordinary people in the Temple ‘I am the light of the world’. We pray constantly for those who are not in Christ but we should also remember what the Saviour said to the Pharisees, ‘ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.’ The Gospel of St John Chapter 10 19-30.

              • Beau Quilter

                For myself, I find that when people are blinded to the similarities between the resurrection and other religious miracle stories, there is little to be gained from attempts at persuasion.

            • John Haggerty

              Sorry, Peter Berger is ‘a moderate Lutheran conservative’ according to Wikipedia. I have known a number of very socially responsible Methodists in my time, one of them a university sociologist, so I must have confused the German-born Berger with these good men and women. I believe he went through a profound change of ideas about faith, and before his peers stated publicly his belief in Christianity’s central importance for our times. The how-I-changed-my-mind theme became something of a legend in the life of Karl Barth. ‘The Cambridge Karl Barth’ edited by John Webster has first-rate essays.

  • John Haggerty

    To Nick, the anti-Semitism of John Calvin is shameful. Not to be defended upon any circumstances. Luther’s remarks come close to Hitler’s at times. They were both sinful men with personality defects. Embattled men as well. It doesn’t excuse them one little bit. Much of the anti-Semitism sprang from Europe, Rome, and the creation of the first Jewish ghettoes. In Poland and Russia anti-Semitism grew to monstrous proportions. I need only look again at The Fixer by Bernard Malamud (my favourite post-war novelist) to ask myself again: Why is this poor, holy Jew so hated? Yet in the 20th Century we see Simone Weil strongly attracted to historic Christianity in spite of her Jewish background. The chief rabbi of the United Kingdom said he wished the British people would return to Christian belief. As for Calvin’s view of election; he said it was in the foreknowledge of God, a colossal mystery, and not to be preached to people who were not yet saved. On his deathbed he apologised to his colleagues for being so overbearing at times. I believe he was haunted at his actions in the burning of Servitus. He had warned him not to enter Geneva. Blasphemy was a capital offence all over Europe. I do not defend it, nor do I judge the men of the past by our own modern ideas of justice. As for theocracy, what is it but the reign of Jesus Christ in governance and law? John Knox put it into practice in Scotland and made us a nation under God. Read WITH CALVIN IN THE THEATER OF GOD (Crossway Books) edited by John Piper and Paul Matthias. Watch a short YouTube film of John Piper in Calvin’s Geneva. Calvin saved doctrinal Christianity in worship. It’s still here in the 2lst Century, praise be to God.

    • malendfeminist

      Don Cupitt is a prophet of modern times, heralding a new down to earth humanistic spirituality based in theological terms (if anyone were to look into it) on a liberal Judaism to which Jesus may be considered an original contributer. This would then bring a healing to the divide which has existed ever since, which has been referred to in recent comments. It would be entirely innapropriate for Don Cupitt to concern himself with any “neo-orthodoxy”.

      I would suggest that the concept of sin – will be replaced
      by that of emotional pain. We ALL suffer with that – and, unrecognised
      and acknowledged…it invariably causes us to be evil (sinful) in some
      way or another, intended or unintended.

      So that is the big challenge – to deal with emotional pain…

      This is not something that needs a “saviour figure” – but rather, a simple, childlike honesty – from all of us.

      That’s all. Something relatively straightforward for any of us – from youngest to the oldest. No great theological complications…something to which we can all make a contribution.

      ‘He’ – would love it, of course!

    • nick.gotts

      nor do I judge the men of the past by our own modern ideas of justice.

      Hmm, I thought it was us atheists who were supposed to be moral relativists!

      As for theocracy, what is it but the reign of Jesus Christ in governance
      and law?

      The rule of arrogant, violent bigots like John Knox.

  • John Haggerty

    Dear Malendfeminist, your ideas are perfectly reasonable, viable and attractive. I have no quarrel with them on one level. They would go down well in my native country, Scotland, which is now in a post-Christian phase. One of the good things about secular, post-Christian society is in its openness in dealing with emotional pain.

  • John Haggerty

    Sorry, I was cut off behaviour I had finished. I was saying that our modern way of dealing with emotional pain can be very effective. Feminism has enabled women to talk about abuse, sexual, physical and emotional. But here is your difficulty, Malenfeminist. Sin and sin alone gets to the root of the problem. The sin of governments, institutions, international corporations. The sin of the ordinary man and woman. Don Cupitt can’t get away from Jesus of Nazareth any more than I can. But he can only deal with half of Jesus. He tears Jesus away from Judaism, away from a holy God who cannot look on sin. Cupitt does two things, both underhand. First, he removes Jesus from his eminence as Saviour, Lord and King. Two, he persuades his readers that we theological ‘realists’ are kidding ourselves. We can’t really believe in the God of the Old Testament and in the supernatural Jesus of the New, can we? Yes, we can. We go out into the streets of our cities and towns. We tell people that Jesus died for our sins. (We are the ones who meet the broken people, not the Sea of Faith crowd.) He who had no sin was punished in HIS flesh for MY sins. The world has as much need of a Saviour in the 21st Century as it had in the first century. Read some serious systematic theology, Malenfeminist, before you go extolling Mr Cupitt. He has nothing to say. He is a bitter old man pouring out his bile on we evangelicals. Reads THE FAITH ONCE ENTRUSTED TO THE SAINTS? by Geoffrey Grogan, former principal of Glasgow Bible College. (The question mark is in the book’s title. Grogan was a scholar and an evangelical and an intellectual. He knew the DNA of the Bible. And in the words of Francis Schaeffer, he knew the ‘lost-ness’ of modern man living in a godless universe. Thanks.

    • malendfeminist

      Hi John – thank you for your passionate response.

      I’m from an evangelical background, as most of the contributors to this discussion have been – and so understand you entirely. I’m 55 now, and it’s been a long journey out of this background – into the perceptions I currently have.

      I agree that the “sea of faith” crowd are not going to be the ones on the streets, exactly. It is necessary to withdraw from an approach one no longer has confidence in. I would suggest, however, that they will be over-represented in all the possible humanitarian agencies that you might find.

      Working instead informally on a one to one basis for the last 30 years has helped me to come to the realization that the phenomenon BEHIND the concept of sin – is that of emotional pain.

      Looking back at my own childhood within my evangelical family, I had begun to realize that with the best will in the world, my parents had significantly failed to provide the environment that I needed. Everything that had gone wrong (that was sinful, in effect) had happened on a purely unconscious level – they were entirely unaware of what they had been doing.

      The entire resources of the Christian evangelical world – spiritual and practical – were not able to prevent the damage that happened. The only thing that would have prevented it would have been greater psychological awareness of the personal human needs that my parents had, and a wider social environment which supported this.

      Absolutely none of this was available within the Christian world. The emphasis on ‘sin’ made no connection whatsoever with the psychological state that we were all in.

      Don Cupitt is someone who, not coming from a particularly religious background initially, has personally worked through many variations of Christian thinking (more than my own) in his journey of faith. The result is an enlightenment where his role has been to shine the way ahead for those who are still younger and have some energy left to engage more actively with the world.

      My contribution is to take the world of music as a way of highlighting the importance of the emotional world as the barometer of human health, and I am now moving toward engaging once again with the ‘man on the street’ in this respect.

      But I have to say that your confidence in this ability currently in the UK is somewhat over-optimistic! We are hopefully moving slowly towards such a position – but still have a HUGE distance to go. The inherent emotional repression of the past within anglo-saxon society – is still pretty much all-pervasive. People do often love to join in with “up-tempo” songs which put them on something of a high…but struggle to cope with anything which would trigger more painful emotions. So we exist in a very unbalanced mode.

      In short, my discovery has been that it is the absence of ‘emotional intelligence’ – wherever this state exists – which makes the world a ‘godless’ universe.

      By the way, this lack of emotional intelligence is nowhere more demonstrated than by many of the women who currently identify as feminist – who are in fact entirely un-feminist, merely swapping the former oppression by men – for that now by women, and this constitutes arguably the biggest social problem we face here in the UK at the moment.

      However, it was the male domination of my Protestant background that did all the damage to me – so countering female domination now, cannot involve a ‘return to the past’.

      It is necessary to find a new religious mode of expression – that encompasses true equality.

  • John Haggerty

    Dear Malendfeminist, I was moved by what you said. I am 63 so I know the difficulties in trying to understand one’s parents. My own parents would have been children and then teenagers during the Depression. They came of age during WWll. They brought us up with love during the post-war austerity. I am a product of the Atlee Government which, in spite of what the revisionists say, was the best thing that happened to the British people. Parents who ‘try their best’ as I am sure yours did, are often accused of ‘failing’. In your case, the failure was to provide for your ‘needs’. Emotional needs, imaginative needs, intellectual needs. The need to believe that all your hopes and ideals won’t be snuffed out. The need to be understood. The need to be accepted for who you are. I cannot know what it’s like to grow up in an evangelical environment. My own background was Roman Catholic. Vatican ll was well underway by the time I came of age. Yet the church hierarchy could never be challenged, not really. Priests were not to be questioned. This explains the appalling culture of male clerical cover-up on the sexual abuse of children. Jeanette Winterson, one of my favourite writers, describes brilliantly the way in which spiritual power, like political power, damages its children. The parents repeat all the mistakes of their parents. Jeanette Winterson, like Edmund Gosse long before her, broke free of it. Peter Tatchell, a courageous man, was told to leave the home of his evangelical parents for being gay. The first sin as someone said is always the failure to love. And the failure to understand. So I can see why people are drawn to the Sea of Faith movement. I can see why others get into New Age. A friend told me she agrees with Karen Armstrong: the Christianity of the 21st Century will be gnostic. I remain evangelical because I KNOW the reality of sin (in the widest sense, the sins of governments etc.) and of evil. Sin is a horrible word because sin is horrible. Watch Johanna Michaelson on YouTube on ‘The Beautiful Side of Evil’: we need woman preachers like her. Emotional pain is what sin does to people. Depravity as John Piper said is loving creation instead of the Creator. I am always falling into depravity of that kind. Ultimately the Sea of Faith is antichrist. Yes, they are moral and decent people. But they don’t see man as a rebel, as one who makes war on god. They don’t like to think of the wrath of God against sin. It’s too heavy. They don’t need or want a Saviour bleeding on a cross; they find the idea of a blood atonement abhorrent as Polly Toynbee, a brilliant journalist, said in The Guardian. ‘THEY WENT OUT FROM US, BUT THEY WERE NEVER OF US; FOR IF THEY HAD BEEN OF US, THEY WOULD HAVE CONTINUED WITH US.’ l John 2: 18-19 NKJV. I want to win you back for Christ, Malendfeminist, and that is going to be THE fight of faith in the 21st Century.

  • John Haggerty

    The words of Matthew Henry 1622-1714. A great Welsh non-conformist minister. (How I love the Welsh preachers like Henry and Christmas Evans and Daniel Rowland and Griffiths Jones and Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones.) EVERY MAN IS AN ANTI-CHRIST WHO DENIES THE PERSON OR ANY OF THE OFFICES OF CHRIST, AND IN DENYING THE SON, HE DENIES THE FATHER ALSO, AND HAS NO PART IN HIS FAVOUR WHILE HE REJECTS HIS GREAT SALVATION.

    • nick.gotts

      Did he always shout?

  • John Haggerty

    No, Nick, I doubt that Matthew Henry shouted. Street preachers don’t. They would do too much damage to their vocal chords. Perhaps I ought not to have capitalised those words. But let me say this: the devil speaks in warm persuasive tones like any good screen actor. He is indeed the Prince of this world. (The Prince was the nickname of Marlon Brando as a young actor.) Robert Murray McCheyne, a great Scottish preacher from Dundee, said this. When the soul in darkness approaches Christ, the devil appears. And this is what Satan says. He says, ‘Peace, Peace.’ And ever so gently he leads you away from Christ and back into the world. The devil’s gospel is a counterfeit one and it’s so wonderfully attractive. Hey, it’s fun. I myself used to wince whenever I was asked by evangelists, ‘Are you saved?’ I can’t tell you how bloody embarrassing I found them. Not till my 50s did I discover McCheyne, Matthew Henry, John Wesley, George Whitfield, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. My pride had to be mortified. In truth I hated Christ. The devil knows we want self-fulfilment above all things. We want to sit on our own little thrones. But as the Puritan preacher Richard Sibbes said: ‘Christ subdues the flesh by little and little.’ Only Jesus Christ has the power to take a man or woman out of the world.

    • nick.gotts

      Actually, in my experience street preachers very often do shout.

      But let me say this

      Subject to James McGrath’s veto, you can say whatever you like here.

      the devil speaks in warm persuasive tones like any good screen actor. He is indeed the Prince of this world

      But according to you, this world was made by God, who has absolute power over it. Why, then, does he let Satan practise his wicked wiles?

  • John Haggerty

    I am unable to answer, Nick. The problem of evil is the central problem. Love, not self-serving love, the greatest mystery. I am reminded of the last page of an Isaac Bashevis Singer novel, ‘Shosha’. Two men, Polish Jews, have survived the Holocaust in which millions perished. They are interrupted in their conversation by the lady of the house. She puts on the light against the dusk. ‘We are discussing God who may exist and the devil who certainly exists,’ one of them says. (I quote from memory.) It’s a mistake to think only simple people believe in Satan as the head of a hierarchy of evil. GK Chesterton said he sensed the existence of a personal force of evil, before he came to believe in a loving transcendent God. In Scripture the devil is described as a liar from the beginning, a murderer, and the accuser of the brethren. Christ’s words. I know we are told we live in a different mental world now. We must ‘demythologise’ all this stuff. Actually the ‘de-mythologiser’ Bultmann (whose faith was by his own admission weak) spent twenty years looking for someone like Jesus before Jesus. His search proved fruitless. (Apollonius is surely a fictionalised copy of Christ.) I think we have to distinguish between Satan as ‘the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience’ and the actual inhabiting of men by spirits of evil. One sermon I am reading now says: ‘Until we recognise the strong man armed (Satan) at the back of all darkness of thought and blindness to the gospel, we shall not do much towards bringing men out of the power of darkness, and into the kingdom of his dear Son.’ My prayers for all of you on this day of his Nativity.

    • nick.gotts

      Well, it seems your worldview pretty quickly runs into utter absurdity: a supposedly good God who creates people with the specific intention of torturing them for ever; a supposedly omnipotent God who lets Satan rule this world. And yet, you’re so certain you’re right.

      Incidentally, love isn’t particularly mysterious. Its evolutionary origin is in maternal care; but once a capacity to behave in a particular way has evolved, it can be generalised and altered by both evolutionary and cultural processes.

  • John Haggerty

    Sorry. Those last seven words should read, ‘into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.’

  • John Haggerty

    I am sorry you think my world view ‘runs into absurdity’, Nick. I have no fear of being scorned. A little humbling does a man good. ‘Absurd’ is a slippery term. Rationalists have to wrestle with it too. Do you know the theatre of the absurd? The writers grouped under this heading felt the absurdity of a godless universe. You say I am so very certain. As certain, say, as you? You have science and reason, always the best of allies. I am sitting here with the Xmas copy of the New Scientist. I just watched the Richard Dawkin’s DVD ‘The Unbelievers’ and I was enthralled. I am reading RD’s autobiography and can’t put it down. You say evolution explains love. It isn’t mysterious. It’s maternal. Paternal too, right? Remember when King Lear holds his dead daughter Cordelia in his arms? He utters the word ‘Never’ five times. (Sir Laurence Olivier really worked on those five never-again ‘nevers’ and rent the heart with his delivery.) Earlier in the play, Lear asks, ‘Who can tell me who I am?’ Can you, Nick? Are you really that clever? Hell, maybe you are. You have the neurobiologists in the wings. ‘Lear’s Brain’ would be a catchy title for a popular new science book . You say God tortures souls for eternity. Supposing God gives you a second chance to choose Christ after death? I hope and pray He does. But will you like the Lord any better when you are in eternity? Dostoevsky said that if he had to choose between Christ and the truth, then he would choose Christ. Could I say that? No. But then I did not spend two years in a political prison, did I? Maybe he was a wee bit mad? Mad for God? ‘The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.’ Blaise Pascal. A mad scientist. Fucked up, people tell me.

    • nick.gotts

      “Absurd” isn’t particularly slippery; it just has more than one meaning. In the sense I used it, it approximates to “self-contradictory”. In the sense Beckett and Ionesco used it, to “pointless” – although their work is not so simple as you seem to believe. While a godless universe itself has no “point” – it’s not for anything, doesn’t mean anything – human beings make their own purposes and meanings. Maybe that’s what you have trouble with, so you resort to worshipping an imaginary psychopathic sadist. If there really were such a vile god as you worship, the only moral response would be to spit in its face and go to hell – though I admit I’d probably lack the courage to do so. I can’t tell Lear who he is because he’s a fictional character. Hadn’t you noticed? I did not limit love to the maternal; I said that was its evolutionary origin.

  • John Haggerty

    To Nick Gotts. You are that clever. I just looked up your background in spatial representation and reasoning in humans, other animals and computers. I would rather read you than argue with you. As for your envoi. Max Frisch’s play, The Fire Raisers. You’ve topped me. I read it years ago and forgot about it. Brilliant point. Karl Barth suggested Jesus was damned in our place on the cross. The fundamentalists (among whom I am not numbered) called him a universalist. I can understand given your scientific background that this is sad, tedious stuff. (This isn’t sarcasm. Not my style.) The Bible deity as an imaginary psychopathic sadist? I can see it in notorious Old Testament passages. They make the back of my neck cold. I can see it too in the penal substitutionary atonement view of Christ’s death. To which I do hold. But God as a sadist, sadist as I understand the term? Josef Mengele, Fred West? ‘The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.’ Something about passing through the shadow of the valley of death? ‘I shall fear no evil for thou art there.’ Comfort blanket stuff. Middle of the night apprehension. I do make my own purposes and meanings. But the question won’t go away. Who is there who can tell me who I am? I shall read your work with interest. Thanks for demolishing me if that is what has just happened.

    • nick.gotts

      Hmm, well thanks for the compliments, but my intellectual achievements are not particularly impressive, nor what I’d have wanted or expected of myself at 20! The only paper relevant to the current discussion is “Agent-based simulation in the study of social dilemmas”, which is a long review paper about the origins and survival of altruism, more general than the title suggests. With regard to the “psychopathic sadist” remark, I was thinking more of Hell, and particularly the point I’d already raised about creating people predestined to damnation. As for “Who is there who can tell me who I am?”, I don’t see what you mean. Unless you’re severely demented or suffering retrograde amnesia (and I don’t think you are), you know quite well who you are. I get that you think there’s some deeper question to be asked, but why should there be?

  • John Haggerty

    Nick Gotts: ‘Agent-based simulation in the study of social dilemmas’ is the next text I will read. (Again, no sarcasm.) I might even pass off your ideas as my own at the next dinner party I attend. All integrity goes when I’m trying to impress a lady. A nice chat about the Bible is a big freezer. If God created people pre-destined for damnation then he sounds like the sadist you describe. Yes, I agree. There’s a lot of deranged stuff like this in cyberland. I came across a blog titled ‘Is Anna Frank in Hell?’ I ran this past a few mates (not Christian) I thought of as unshockable. It left them speechless. Me too. Rabbie Burns demolished hyper-Calvinism in his poem Holy Willie’s Prayer. His weapon was humour and a way with words. Calvin himself was troubled to say the least at the thought of lost souls. I can understand your dislike of the man and his ideas. His certainties have to be challenged in an open debate, a debate his own time forbade. When Maurice Bowra was commanding a battleship off the coast of German occupied France, he ordered an immediate bombardment of Noyons when he heard it was Calvin’s birthplace. You are correct in suggesting I’m troubled by a deeper question than identity. Why should such questions not be a form of thought disorder? I shall read you to find out. Truly, if I thought born-again Christians said little Anna was in Hell, I would be on your side. One hundred per cent.

    • malendfeminist

      Hi John – you seem a really reasonable, open-minded guy, and it’s a little difficult to understand why you are still so tied to Christian ideology.

      For my part – because the emphasis now has to be on common emotionality, any religious leaning at all has little relevance, except to help understand a person’s makeup.

      In the community work which is my interest – the aim is to bring together those of all faiths and none, ALIKE…so to take any strongly specific religious stance myself – would in fact be counter-productive. Better just to see positives wherever they can be found – towards the greater goal of common emotional expression and appreciation.

      • John Haggerty

        Dear Mal, you are asking all right. You cannot understand my commitment to doctrine? To me doctrine is the faith. ‘The faith is Europe and Europe is the faith,’ said Hilaire Belloc. He meant, of course, Catholicism. But the reformed believer could say the same. Yes, we do have ghosts to lay. Unpleasant ghosts as Nick reminded me. Our dark fathers who burnt heretics. Innocent women denounced as witches. The lunatic fringe of today who would consign Anna Frank to Hell. There are theologians like the late Professor Thomas Torrance (Church of Scotland) who could relate openly to a pluralistic society without the loss of doctrine. His university lectures were gathered in a book called ‘Incarnation’ (IVP Academic 2008). It carries a recommendation from Rowan Williamson. Your hope is in ‘common emotional expression’. Yes, I can feel this when people come together in an expression of real community. What then shall we say? Can real community life rooted in social justice and inclusion replace the need for dogmatic religion? Maybe. Last year I read a book of interviews with Raymond Williams, a thinker who shaped my youth. I can see that the failure of democratic socialism (in which Williams, an atheist, passionately believed) was a factor in my conversion. Os Guinness put it well in his new book, Renaissance: ‘Can it be that after two thousand years This Too Shall Pass is finally being written over the Christian faith too?’ In the summer I spoke to a young woman who had beaten drugs, alcohol and a dependence on abusive men. She had found Jesus Christ, not a Harry Potter figure, but a real Saviour predicted by the prophets of the Old Testament. She told me she’d happily given away her television set and how she used to watch every soap. We embraced as sinners saved, children of God by adoption. It grieves me deeply to be rejected by a serious man like Nick Gott. It grieves me to see Christians dismissed by Richard Dawkins, a man I rather admire. But the unity in Christ I felt with that young woman in Glasgow beats everything. We read in the Gospel that ‘many no longer walked with Christ’. Jesus asked Peter if he was going away too. Peter answered, ‘Lord to whom shall we go? Who else has the message of eternal life.’

        • Avenger

          John, I agree with you about the need to preserve the language of sin. The question of our evolutionary origins has been touched on, and it is interesting to note that your understanding of sin makes more sense in this context than the understanding of malendfeminist, who regards sin as a side-effect of emotional pain.

          Evolution is survival of the fittest. Sometimes this means survival of the nicest. The genes that prompt a mother to care for her children are more likely to be passed on than those that might make her indifferent . However, the fittest traits are often less savoury ones, such as aggression and ruthlessness. This is all part of nature. The language of sin cannot be applied to mindless animal cruelty, but when a certain level of sentience is reached, such as we ourselves possess, then it is appropriate to say that sin has entered the world. We are all born into sin because it is at the root of our nature.

          • John Haggerty

            Thanks, Avenger. You say more, in fewer words, than I. That ‘we are all born into sin’ is a hard doctrine. Humanists say we are condemning babies. But Christ said, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me,’ and then said we had to become like them, in spiritual rebirth. I cannot believe in the same way as hard-line Calvinists. Did you see the film ‘Creation’ on the life of Darwin? His wife, brilliantly played by Jennifer Connelly, can’t cope with his rejection of Biblical literalism. ‘We will be apart for all eternity,’ she tells him. ‘Is that what you want, Charles?’ Very chilling. This is about being trapped in a master narrative, and being too afraid to switch off the narrative’s control mechanism. Karl Barth described himself as ‘a liberal Calvinist,’ and admitted he would not have enjoyed living in Calvin’s Geneva, or any other theocracy no doubt. (Barth loved Mozart too much for one thing.) Yet he said he could happily read nothing but Calvin for the rest of his life. Barth refused to take his oath of allegiance to Hitler, and was summoned before a Nazi judge in Hamburg and told he would never teach again in Germany. He returned to Basle where, years later, he agreed to participate in ‘open sessions’ of the Second Vatican Council, along with other Protestant theologians. What a tragedy he isn’t read by fundamentalists. Yes, he thought we were born into a sinful world. No, he condemned no one to hell. God alone is judge. Watch on YouTube ‘Karl Barth’s Theology’ and listen to Cambria Kaltwasser, a Princeton Ph.D. student, as she speaks about a viable future for theology in the 21st Century. Thanks.

            • malendfeminist

              Hi John & Avenger,

              I can see you both struggle with the compassionate idea that emotional pain is the fundamental problem we face as human beings.

              However, if we look at the people who have become the most violent towards others – we will always find in them very high levels of emotional pain originating from childhood. When we look at those who have become the most destructive to themselves, we of course find exactly the same.

              Those of us who don’t take either of these routes – will invariably become depressed and physically sub-optimal to a significant degree.

              So I think that covers most if not all of us – to some extent.

              Some of us take physical substances to help cope with psychological pain – to narcotize ourselves from it. Others use other mechanisms…overdosing on work, sex, money etc in order to achieve the same aims.

              The most important mechanism however, is the ideational sphere. Ideas function as powerful opiates. This is why when we profoundly challenge someones religious beliefs…be they Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, New Age or anything else – we may often observe them becoming visibly anxious…the chemical pathways maintaining the psychological pain at bay are threatening to break down. As soon as we are finished, they are likely to need to get another shot of ideological reinforcement as quick as possible!

              Maintaining the religious perspective as primary puts us in direct confrontation with all the other options that may be present. It is never going to be helpful in terms of community work – any peaceful resolution here is clearly entirely impossible.

              Quite frankly, it is not particularly easy for people to understand that we all have emotional pain in common, either – but at least this holds the promise of a common unity that is not essentially condemning of our human nature, and where we can make a real healing difference to each other, as well.

              • John Haggerty

                Dear Mal, I feel a little like Jacob wrestling with the angel. You know how to debate. Yes, ideas CAN be opiates. Brecht, one of my favourite writers, elected to live in East Germany after the war. He couldn’t give up Marxist Leninis

                • John Haggerty

                  Sorry, Mal, I was saying that Brecht was unable to give up his belief in Marxist Leninism. In spite of what he knew about Stalin’s horrendous crimes. Brecht was a brilliant man. But men of his generation were committed to the myth of revolution. Is it the same with a simpleton like me? I am unable to ‘take leave of God’ in Don Cupitt’s phrase? Well, listen to two young women, Kait Dugan and Cambria Kaltwasser, on KARL BARTH’S THEOLOGY (YouTube). Kait says ‘God has chosen to be with us and for us in Jesus Christ’. If it was true then, it is true now. Cambria says, ‘God has spoken and the Word he has spoken is Jesus Christ – there is no higher Word above or behind Jesus Christ.’ I can best serve the wider pluralistic community when I am centred in this faith. Walking with the Lord is not an opiate. It is not like having a stiff drink at the end of the day and listening to jazz. (I am a former drinker and I still like jazz.) It is a painful walk for much of the time. But there is joy too. Also, life is preparing for eternal life. As John Wesley said, ‘Our people die well.’ Bless you on this Saint Stephen’s Day.

              • Avenger

                Hi Mal

                So religion is the opiate of the masses and you have just given me a shot of naloxone. Very droll :-) However, couldn’t it be argued that you have just chosen a different opiate? Is cultivating a sense of victimhood a way of anaesthetising our sense of moral responsibility? And isn’t this a way of morally infantilising ourselves?

                I think we need compassion and a sense of moral responsibility.

                And John, thank you very much for your comments.

                • malendfeminist

                  The naloxene metaphor is most appropriate – I am most reluctant to say much these days, but occasionally, in sophisticated company, as now – I will!

                  However, it is not about cultivating a sense of victimhood at all – quite the opposite in fact! In contrast – holding to the idea that we are inherently sinful – ‘born in sin’, is about as victimising as it is possible to be, in my estimation.

                  Understanding that we are what we are – purely and directly as a result of what we do to each other – is the beginning of being able to take collective moral responsibility for what human beings consist of.

                  This is no soft option. It is not necessarily easy to understand exactly WHAT it is that we do wrong to each other, to CORRECT it after it has happened – or to PREVENT it from happening to future generations. This is all a considerable challenge – but certainly not beyond our ingenuity.

                  It was growing up with the example of Jesus as a healer which got me started on this path of exploring emotional healing (often as a prelude to some physical recovery, as well).

                  As mature guys, however, it should be pretty obvious to us that the problem is largely one of a retained immaturity, and lack of mentoring. So many times in recent years I have had to ask my parents and family for a level of intervention in this regard – and it has been totally refused. “We’ll pray for you”, they say – but it is just a cop out.

                  God just won’t do – what is given to US to do.

                  We are a society largely frightened to confront each other about the things we see going wrong – for a whole list of reasons, perhaps. We have built up a phenomenal sense of individualism which now isolates us from our fellow man, paralysing us from engaging in the social action which is needed for us all to develop healthily throughout our lives. From my experience, Christians are as much a part of this problem (and frequently even more so) as anyone else – ‘Being too heavenly-minded to be any earthly use’ for example.

                  As you can see – I am railing exactly AGAINST our lack of moral responsibility – both individual and collective. This, and compassion – are not exclusive…but one and the same. Our lack of compassion is the DEMONSTRATION of our unwillingness to take moral responsibility for each others welfare.

                  • Avenger

                    Interestingly, the four of us live in the same land – which is now post-Christian, of course. I completely agree that it is our moral responsibility to take whatever practical measures are needed in order to solve our problems. For example, if we know that intervening to help troubled families at an early stage will prevent future problems, then we must do it.

                    However, I believe that there is another dimension to moral questions. I wish I could say more about this, but I don’t have John’s eloquence.

                    • John Haggerty

                      What eloquence? Try to buy a copy of a brilliant DVD documentary directed by Terence Davies. It’s called ‘Time and the City’. The city is Liverpool. Davies does a great voice-over of TS Eliot’s Burnt Norton…’I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope/ For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,/ For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith/ But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting./ Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:/ So the darkness shall be light, and the stillness the dancing.’

                    • malendfeminist

                      I’ll be interested in John’s reply, if he makes it, but my feeling is that we live in a time, alluding to the original title of this discussion – of the vacuum following widespread Christian collapse.

                      As you have seen, I have very real problems with Christianity, but what is needed, in my opinion – is a more powerful alternative – or else a plethora of destructive religious and materialistic substitutes will continue to sweep in to take its place.
                      The Christianity of past eras did at least often allow for some intervention. It may have come directly from a minister, or indirectly through a GP, but a moral basis for doing this was widely understood and accepted.

                      In the last few years I have called out desperately to every agency that one could think of – for assistance. Not only the NHS (both physical services and CAMHS) but the wider community of family friends, the Schools, the Church, Social Services & the Police. Absolutely no-one…and I mean no-one…has been willing to give anything more than the most superficial (and thus entirely ineffective) assistance to a family in crisis.

                      The last two named agencies have not only failed to act responsibly, but then instead intervened in a manner to make the situation many times worse, because of a pseudo-religious obession making men uniquely the ‘sinners’, and women uniquely the ‘sinned-against’.

                      Apart from this example of a secular ‘religion’, we have also seen how with the failure of progressive religious thinking to adapt sufficiently and boldly enough to someone like Don Cupitts prophetic guidance about raising human values as the absolute priority (actually, that’s what he really meant by ‘taking leave of God’) it has largely been left behind, and it is the neo-conservative religious groups appearing to offer strong family values that have increasingly been making the running instead, resulting in the kind of tragedy exhibited in Woolwich last year.

                      My family situation has admittedly been quite an extreme one – but I do see dozens of similar situations around me where the traditional religious structures of various kinds have become completely inadequate to influence what goes on within the home, and instead of challenging evil – serve rather to make highly disturbed behaviour respectable.

                    • John Haggerty

                      MD, I can see how bad the family situation must have been. And there are millions of families in crisis. The social agencies often fail, and may even make the situation worse. If I was in deep shit I do wonder what I could expect from the churches. Years ago I remember a TV discussion between a decent Anglican bishop and the journalist Petronia Wyatt. The bishop knew how bad things were in our cities and broken communities. He spoke of this as the fall-out from our experiment in liberal economics. Ms Wyatt had a look on her face I can only describe as a smirk. She had all the arrogance of her father Woodrow Wyatt. A deeply unpleasant woman. Later I heard the playwright David Hare praising church parishes in England for mopping up the human mess created by years of planned economic inequality. I do like Don Cupitt’s remark about raising human values as the absolute priority. How could I fail to like it? As you know, the move is on to privatise all social services in Britain and Europe. International companies would be in a position to sue democratic governments. The right-wing mean to remove all last traces of the welfare state. Just as they destroyed the working class movement. The young don’t even know what trades unions are or what they did for the workers. Unless we fight and fight we will all be wage slaves of the free market. You know the old anarchist saying. The people are never given anything by the powers that be. The people need to TAKE it.

                    • malendfeminist

                      Wow – you certainly are the most deeply sympathetic person – thank you!

                      And very well politically infomed, too. However, I am of the conviction that all political systems stem from the nature of the family. Previously inspired, genuinelly well-meaning revolutionary initiatives have foundered because of the authoritarian nature of the family that was still in place.

                      This is where the breakthrough has to take place, I believe – and THEN healthier wider institutions will be able to develop. Not many politically-minded people seem to be able to appreciate this, but hopefully a spiritually attuned person such as yourself will.

                      It has been a shock, over the last couple of years, to meet the gender feminist (I am a classical or equity feminist) brigade – head on. These people are feminist in name only – using this to disguise their true agenda…an authoritarian world ruled by women. These people absolutely wish to destroy male influence within the family, and are now embedded in key positions throughout society. However, they will use complicit males to do their dirty work for them as often as it suits them.

                      Whatever religious persuasion we may have – I think it will be found that this is the most dangerous development we have to face in the West. While no-one is more supportive of genuine gender equality than myself – following my early life experiences of a domineering father in the Christian tradition, the problem is one of domination per se, rather than who is doing it. In this respect women can and will be as harmful to children – as men…although it is generally a lot more difficult to assess the damage being done until one develops a much more sophisticated eye. For example, women can do a lot of their damage by risk limitation – by ‘over-protection’. They can do a lot of their damage by indulgence – ‘spoiling’ – or alternatively, by withholding love for various reasons. All these things could be easily spotted and addressed in the wider community family setting which it is my overriding concern to help develop – so achieving everything that Jay Griffiths would wish to see.

                    • John Haggerty

                      Dear MD, The journalist I referred to is Petronella Wyatt, not Petronia. She is quite bright. Sophisticated Lady, indeed. Let’s never under-estimate our political enemies by calling them stupid. It was the absence of sympathetic empathy that I saw in her face all those years ago. Cognitive empathy can only take us so far. And she had no respect for the good bishop’s pastoral experience. ‘The years have changed you somehow’, as the Duke Ellington song goes. I see she has an online article, ‘It’s Hell Being Posh and Poor’. Do you recall how Dennis Thatcher, in a conversation with the Bishop of Liverpool, said: ‘I am afraid that the word compassion is not in Margaret’s vocabulary’? The late Bishop (a hero to every cricket-loving boy) wrote down that remark of Dennis Thatcher’s before he forgot it. But I wanted to take you up on an earlier point you made. It was very much in the style of Don Cupitt. Ideas function as powerful opiates, you said. So people become visibly anxious when their religious beliefs are challenged. These persons may have a lot of pain. They have kept the pain at bay by constructing walls in their mind. Walls of rigid belief, intolerance, animosity, etc. Yes, we see this a lot. Read my comment from yesterday on a blog called ‘Why can’t Christians just admit that Anne Frank is in hell?’. These Christian fundamentalists read Scripture in a pagan way, I would suggest. They quote Jesus selectively. The Sermon on the Mount is rarely quoted. Jesus’ sayings about children never get a mention. People also invest all their hopes in political visions. There was a brave man called Milovan Djilas. He started as a professional communist revolutionary, a leader of the partisans during WWll, a friend and collaborator of Marshall Tito. Yet Milovan sacrificed a brilliant career for the sake of truth. Losing all faith in communism, he spent years in prison in the political state which he himself (gun in hand) had fought to establish. Miss Wyatt would like that story. Her late mother was Hungarian.

                    • nick.gotts

                      Really, the claim that feminists (“gender feminist” is simply a slur, no-one calls themselves that) want “an authoritarian world ruled by women” is a ridiculous piece of nonsense. Can you actually cite any such statement by any but the most marginal figure?

                    • malendfeminist

                      Sorry Nick – just lost an extensive reply with router crash and too tired to redo it now. Will try again another time if poss.

                    • Avenger

                      There was a case quite recently of a man with severe mental health problems who *literally* starved to death when his incapacity benefit was taken away. I wonder whether this troubled the Christian conscience of Ian Duncan Smith. Probably not.

                      Now, given that this sort of thing will still be happening in a hundred years, the question is not so much what we do about it, as what we think about it. What I think about it is that we are fallen creatures. I would say that your own observations confirm this.

                      To me, secular humanism is the cop out, because it is based on the delusion that we are capable of solving our own problems. Salvation will never come through our own efforts.

                    • malendfeminist

                      What is particularly interesting here, is your use of the term “fallen”. Yes, it may indeed be very apt, very correct…but fallen from what?

                      When I’ve surfaced properly I’ll give my take on that!

                    • Avenger

                      There was plenty of suffering in the animal world before humans evolved, but there was a difference. When a lion commits infanticide it doesn’t say to itself, “I wonder whether I should be doing this.”

                      The first time one of our remote ancestors said to himself, “I wonder whether I should be doing this,” but did it anyway, was the moment when the Fall occurred.

                    • John Haggerty

                      A: Now you have reached the heart of the problem. Do not retreat from this truth. Let no power on earth deceive you here. ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures and to save us from the wrath to come.’ The wrath of God against sin. Christ defeated the works of the devil on Calvary. Evil continues. So did the fighting in 1944 after the invasion of Europe. Indeed the fighting got fiercer all the way from the Ardenne Forest to Berlin. Countless thousands died horribly. The Reich committed itself to ‘total war’ even though Hitler knew he was beaten. He was determined to take Germany down with him. Sin is like that. The opposition to the Gospel will be fierce if and when the revival comes. Opposition will come from inside the church itself. Eminent men will say, ‘Your kind of Christianity is no longer relevant.’ I’m hearing it on this blog. When the Reformers took on the mighty works of Rome they did it with the Gospel. Farel told the bishop of Paris, ‘If I’m preaching something contrary to this book, the Bible, I will recant.’ But even Farel began to weaken. Then he heard the news of a brilliant young German theologian called Martin Luther…

                    • John Haggerty

                      Thousands died in a single day of fighting. See ‘Ardennes: The Secret War’ by Charles Whiting. British and American troops were slaughtered in these beautiful forests. American high command underestimated German tank strength and artillery. Whiting served in an armoured reconnaissance attached to both US and British armoured forces. For his series of West Wall books (the Battle for Hitler’s Siegfried Line) he interviewed many British and American veterans. The recent oral biography of JD Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno provides the fullest history yet of the reclusive writer’s war record. A brave and modest man, Salinger participated in the invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. His experience haunted him for the rest of his life. How can anyone document the suffering? Germany suffered the relentless aerial bombardment of its cities; men, women and children burnt in their own body fat as a result of the fire bombing. Later as Russian troops entered Germany through places such as Pomerania, they raped German women including little girls and old women. In some cases young women jumped from church towers rather than face what was coming. Stalin knew what was going on and did not take steps to stop it. After the war two huge fertiliser plants were deliberately closed down by the Allies (to our shame) resulting in many more deaths due to hunger and cold. Think of how many babies and children perished.

                    • Avenger

                      John, I don’t know whether you saw a comment that Nick Gotts made. He affected to be shocked at my suggestion that dreadful things will still be happening in a hundred years. Perhaps, he thinks that man’s inhumanity to man will have been ended by a hundred years of Atheism+. This is the sort of self-delusion we are dealing with.

                    • John Haggerty

                      Yes A, we come back to Karl Barth’s only entry in the Encarta Book of Quotations: ‘Man is not good. Man has never been good. Man will never be good.’ He was moved as much as anyone by acts of kindness. In politics Barth was a social democrat. The American civil rights movement, led by Martin Luther King, moved him deeply. But he viewed man as a rebel against God. Politics alone wouldn’t change man nor would Gnosticism or flights into mysticism. Perhaps there will be a new social movement, rooted in social justice and inclusion. Perhaps Cupitt and Dawkins are our prophets. I don’t think they are deep enough. I don’t think Simon Critchley goes deep enough though I admired parts of his new book ‘The Faith of the Faithless’. In speaking about the Gospel to non-Christians, Os Guinness always brings up the subject of evil and the suffering of the innocent. Without Christ we can do nothing. ‘Ye are from beneath; I am from above. Ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for except ye believe that I am, ye shall die in your sins.’ John 8: 21-24, Jesus to the Pharisees. No one believes the God of the Bible exists anymore? Jesus did.

                    • Beau Quilter

                      How ironic! Do you mean the brilliant young German theologian, Martin Luther, whose vicious anti-semitism became embedded in German culture and was eventually inherited by the Nazi’s?

                    • malendfeminist

                      My response here is inspired entirely by the wonderful writings of Edward Carpenter over 100 years ago.

                      As far as he was concerned, the fall is explained by the development of human consciousness. Previous to that we shared only a collective consciousness with the others of our own species (and perhaps that of others) as is often evident in other animals. The development of individual consciousness meant the loss of the “innocence state” we had before – expelled from this original state of consciousness for ever. Clearly, this is the origin of the Eden myths.

                      However, as far as Edward Carpenter was concerned, there was for him – however painful, a sense of an evolution in progress. He felt, then, that as a species – we were still on this journey, and that our destiny would be to recover that collective consciousness, but for it to be combined, now…with the unique individual consciousness we have developed.

                      This is a much more optimistic outlook than the one which you have raised – and I think he was right…despite the horrors which still persist, we can see progress in this direction, too. We can both do our bit to help this process along, quite possibly enjoy moments of it as it arrives, and be confident that the future is definitely potentially brighter – when seen in these terms.

                    • Avenger

                      M&F, you seem like a very decent person, but I have to be honest with you. In an earlier comment you said something very revealing:

                      Understanding that we are what we are – purely and directly as a result of what we do to each other…

                      This suggests that we are part of an elaborate array of dominoes. If I topple into someone it is because someone else has toppled into me, and so on. The question is this: are we, or are we not, autonomous moral agents? In my opinion, to reject our status as moral agents is to reject Christianity, and vice versa. As John has pointed out, there is a lot at stake here.

                    • John Haggerty

                      Avenger: GK Chesterton said, ‘Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has not been tried.’ Can you imagine a real revival in the UK? Men and women, of all ages, forsaking the pubs and clubs. Going to prayer meetings. The wealthy living as Christ commanded, living an austerity lifestyle as John Piper said American Christians ought to be living. Try to get a book called ‘Revival’ by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It brought me out of my liberal mindset. I wish the so-called ‘progressive’ Christians on this blog (who are not as progressive as they like to think) would take time out to read Lloyd Jones and the Puritans. Richard Sibbes, Thomas Watson, John Owen, George Whitfield. They might begin to approach the Bible not as fundamentalists, but as men and women called by God to live holy Christ-centred lives.

                    • Avenger

                      John, thank you for all the reading, and viewing, suggestions. I wish I had your erudition.

                    • John Haggerty

                      Oh, Avenger, no erudtion. Nick Gotts would demolish me in a debate. James McGrath would make mincemeat of me. That was a favourite saying of my father (born in 1915) – ‘He would make mincemeat of you,’ he’d say of some worthy debater. He was not putting me down, but trying to prepare me for life’s battles. I learn when I know I’m wrong.

                    • John Haggerty

                      Sorry. What the inimitable GK said was: ‘Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been tried and found difficult.’

                    • nick.gotts

                      It’s an appalling, callous and arrogant cop-out to say “Given that this sort of thing will still be happening in a hundred years”. You don’t and can’t know that – but attitudes like yours make it more likely.

              • nick.gotts

                I’m sure what you say is often the case; I don’t see anything in what we know that convinces me that deliberate cruelty, for example, is always the result of emotional pain. As Avenger says, our evolutionary past has left us with tendencies to aggression and ruthlessness as well as compassion and altruism.

                • malendfeminist

                  I know it’s perhaps hard to absorb, but working in the mental health field (albeit informally) one starts to become aware that human beings have very often grown up in a “sea” of emotional pain, to the extent that it has often become so normalized that it no longer registers as an issue.

                  Responses of sadism, as well as more general tendencies to aggression and ruthlessness are then only to be an expected outcome for some – whilst a sea of ‘faith’ responses will be an expected outcome for others.

                  I’m not wanting to put responsibility on a so-called spiritual degeneracy OR an evolutionary past…I think we simply need to learn to manage childhood, in partcular, better.

                  So in this I am in tune with Judaism…the faith that I believe Jesus was actually part of and wishing to develop – where the paramount need is always for more research and education…leading to greater enlightenment collectively, rather than individually.

                  • John Haggerty

                    A big yes. ‘The paramount need is always for more research and education.’ What you said made me hunt out ‘The Long Revolution’ by Raymond Williams. What you say about mental health, and the care and provision for children, is THE Big Issue. Along with homelessness, poverty, food banks and the cuts in public spending brought on by the greed and inefficiency of capitalism. My favourite book this year was KITH – THE RIDDLE OF CHILDSCAPE by Jay Griffiths (Penguin). It was praised by John Berger and Philip Pullman. Do you know, a little girl of 12 years died in Edinburgh in 2014 when a school wall collapsed on her. Cuts. And the crimes of the bankers. And the politicians who deregulated the financial industry. Starting with Reagan, Thatcher, and continuing under Clinton, Bush and Blair. What would the Lord say? ‘WOE TO YOU WHO ARE RICH, YOU HAVE HAD YOUR CONSOLATION.’ I wish they hung a great bloody banner like that outside St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey.

                    • malendfeminist

                      Thank you for those suggestions, John – I’ve put them on my wish list…have only a tiny budget for this sort of thing, but will look them up on YouTube.

                      You may get my drift in all this that what I believe to be the answer to all these concerns – is a new down to earth spirituality based in the home, in the form of a new version of extended family – rather than any new or revived institution of religious ideology.

    • nick.gotts

      If you’re really interested in reading the paper, I can email you a pdf. However, it’s 90 pages long, and there’s been a lot of relevant work in the decade since it was published. You won’t find anything relevant to “Who is there who can tell me who I am?” I wasn’t suggesting asking the question in the sense I think you mean it indicated thought disorder, just that the fact that we feel the need to ask a question doesn’t imply that there’s an answer.

      • John Haggerty

        Dear Nick, I felt the kind of excitement when I read about your research background that I feel with articles in New Scientist. (I started to take New Scientist when I read the novelist Alan Garner talking about it in an interview.) But you won’t believe the next bit. I don’t know how to check my emails. I have never sent or read an email in my life. I am a strange man indeed. A dunderhead. But I will find some way of reading you. (I could send you a stamp addressed envelope.) I think the Lear question is about living with one’s own consciousness. I have ‘The Conscious Mind’ by Zoltan Torey (MIT Press 2014) beside me at the moment and other books on consciousness. But I am talking more about purpose, meaning etc. Victor Frankl did a book called, I think, ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’. Was it he who got me on a religious road? Or Simone Weil or Kierkegaard? Or John Coltrane who claimed to have had a mystical experience when he composed his last album, Love Supreme? (His poor mother said she knew her boy was going to die after she heard it.) When I read your comments I began wondering how different my life would have been if I had had some real scientific training at university level. But can we ever escape the irrational? How do we deal with grief and mortality? Peter Medawar in his autobiography says he would cower in his study when the bells of Oxford churches pealed loudly on Sunday mornings. The music of eternity did not sound sweet to his ears.

        • Beau Quilter

          How did you sign up for a disqus account without email?

          • John Haggerty

            Beau Quilter, I like your name though I’d prefer a Belle. A lady in an office in the city fixed me up with an email. Using it on my first ever laptop got me on to Disqus. But friends who try emailing me say it always bounces. An old girlfriend from Estonia, now living in Berlin, sent me her email in a paper letter. But I don’t know how to do emails. And I’d love to get back with her. Oh well. Didn’t know Medawar learned to live with bells. A great quotation. Reminds me of what Hemingway said about Nelson Algren’s writing. ‘Mr Algren knows how to punch … If you let him get too close he will hurt you.’ Thanks, Monsieur.

            • malendfeminist

              Hi John – it would probably only take a few minutes for someone at any church you are involved with – to set you up with your own gmail account. If you can handle Disqus, then it’s not difficult to do email…and it would surely give you a lot more scope for personal interaction?

              • John Haggerty

                Dear MF, Thanks for the idea. Yes, I will do this. One thing you should know. At the age of about 50 I was very far from reformed Christianity. On my bookshelves were Radicals and the Future of the Church and The Long Legged Fly, both by Cupitt as you know. I thought Karen Armstrong and Cupitt were the must-read writers. My inquiry into the reformed movement did not spring from a heart seeking the truth. I was merely doing background reading for a story I wanted to write. It was that casual. When I came upon biographies of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Arthur W Pink, both written by Iain H Murray, I was unprepared for their effect on me. Why had I never come across such thinking before? It was utterly counter-cultural. In a way reactionary as James McGrath might say. But in another way the most radical thought imaginable. Another thing. Whenever I have tried to interest close friends and family members in evangelicalism, they put up their hands in horror. These are moral people. They have a lively interest in spiritual matters. But the Gospel of grace? No. We will never get to the bottom of Jesus Christ. The ablest New Testament scholars concede this, I believe.

                • malendfeminist

                  To be frank, I find such a turnaround in such a short space of time utterly baffling, and myself for the moment completely in sympathy with your relatives! I also find it rather difficult to reconcile with many of the other perspectives you have shown – which retain a liberal character.

                  However, the wider dance between conservative/liberal perspectives is interesting. My great grandfather pounded the streets as a London City Missionary, then my grandfather reacted against this to become a much more liberal-minded Anglican. My father reacted against this to become an evangelical with an interest in the Charismatic movement. I in turn have reacted against this to take up the liberal cause again.

                  Obviously there have been considerable individual differences along the way – but generally speaking both my father and I seem to have ended up identified with our respective grandfathers!

                  • John Haggerty

                    Your family romance is fascinating, MF. When I use the word ‘romance’ I am paying the highest compliment. ‘Romance’ in the way RL Stevenson used the word. (I am a Stevenson enthusiast and I am all to aware he told his advocate father he didn’t believe in God.) The London City Mission is one of my interests. It makes me think of White’s autobiographical novel ‘Mark Rutherford’ – White was another evangelical who lost his faith. But why do you see a conflict between liberalism and the reformed faith? Liberal culture is the big sea we all swim around in. It can be challenged from the inside, challenged in love. Iain Murray says in his new book, Evangelical Holiness, ‘There are no seeds of godliness within us that simply need to be nurtured and cultivated. All mankind fell in Adam and became a stranger to God.’ Think of how revolutionary that would have been in the Sixties when the Beatles were into their bogus guru. It would have knocked every guru off his perch. John Lennon might still have be alive if he taken this road. I did laugh when you said you have some sympathy for my relatives. One of my sisters works in London for an international charity. Early this year she was quite put out when I tried to give her a CD called the Xmas Day Collection by Lloyd-Jones. She refused to take it. There’s a wonderful moment in Iain Murray’s biography of Archibald Brown (Spurgeon’s successor). A dying young woman with a child at her breast receives Christ in the last few days of her life. Let the clever people shake their heads in dismay.

            • Beau Quilter

              Unless you live in a complete bubble, virtually anyone could show you how to set up and use an email address. Just ask for help.

              • John Haggerty

                Merci, Monsieur Quilter. I shall ask my clever neice for help. May the steeple bells peal sweetly for you and yours in Twenty Fifteen.

            • John Haggerty

              Correction. Hemingway said: ‘Algren can hit with both hands and move around and he will kill you if you are not awfully careful.’ Watch on YouTube Algren’s Last Night and Nelson Algren Documentary – Algren Trailer Spring 2013.

  • John Haggerty

    James: The journalist Ved Mehta (hope I have his name right) did a series of articles for The New Yorker, later collected in a book The New Theologians, published by Pelican in the late Sixties. He interviewed Bultmann. During their conversation Bultmann said he always asked his new post-graduate students if they could imagine the Second Coming. Year after year the young men and women would say No, they couldn’t really believe in it. Now you are asking the major question, it seems to me. Can we, should we, step out of our postmodern mindset in our reading of the Old and New Testament? Would it get us anywhere? Here’s my experience. In my late 50s I attended Sunday evening services at the Free Church of Scotland. The minister’s understanding of the Old Testament was profound. I would listen closely, on the edge of my pew. I wondered if there was any need to demythologise, or remythologise. Perhaps the miraculous events of the Old are just stories, a way of interpreting Providence. Perhaps the miracle-working Jesus of the New Testament is a figure ‘generated’ by the early church. Whatever my approach, I begin as a sinner and as a rebel against God. This is what the Free Church taught me. Read The Real Reason for Revival by Martin Lloyd-Jones (Spiritual Life Network).

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Bultmann’s message, about the need for decision, is not fundamentally different. Indeed, his existentialist approach had a strong influence on Evangelicalism.

      • John Haggerty

        True. There was a strong influence. But I might compare his lasting legacy to a remark someone made about Thomas Carlyle. ‘Carlyle led us into the desert and left us there.’ Bultmann by his own admission was unable to offer much pastoral help to veterans of the First World War. It was Barth who, in crisis, locked himself away for weeks, turned to Romans and led the post-war 1918 world out of liberalism.

  • John Haggerty

    We have baptism because Christ commanded it. Notions of purity and impurity haven’t gone away. The poet Seamus Heaney said the water of baptism is a timeless and cleansing (living) symbol. Maybe that is why many today relate to celtic Christianity. Can’t anyone see the trick Cupitt pulls? He says that ‘since the Enlightenment there has developed a religious-gap and a culture-gap between us and traditional Christianity’. Gaps occur all the time. Generations engender them. Note the word ‘us’. His view of the Enlightenment is limited, partial, partisan. There was no sudden before and after. The Enlightenment was not an event like the French or American Revolutions. It was fluid and complex. Take pre-Enlightenment Pascal. His knowledge of mathematics was prodigious. Pascal’s conversion was of a kind that Bernard of Clairvaux, mighty saint of the pre-reform church, would have understood. And Pascal’s writings continued to speak to men during and after the Enlightenment. William Blake despised many aspects of the Enlightenment; he railed against Voltaire and Rousseau. And Blake spoke to the generation (mine) which saw men go to the moon. Cupitt writes glibly of the Enlightenment. Students sometimes write glibly of Classicism and Romanticism as if Romantic writers were so different they could not see the past with clear eyes. In fact they returned constantly to antiquity. Such students come unstuck with Goethe who has both romanticist and classicist elements in his thought and expressed feeling. Certainly with Romanticism there was a powerful new movement in European writing, painting and music. And the discoveries in science and the new philosophers made the Enlightenment a heady time in thought and activity. But men of every kind still held to a faith in the Scriptures as God’s revealed word. (My own little country of Scotland produced ministers fluent in their knowledge of science, mathematics, philosophy, modern German, Hebrew and Greek.) Others lost their faith. If a man says to me, ‘Look I just don’t like Christianity and I see no place for it in my life or the life of my friends’ then I have no trouble understanding him. But Cupitt never quite says that. John Henry Newman wrote his book The Development of Doctrine to demonstrate, as he believed, that there was continuity in Christian thought. Newman’s successors were men like Maritain and Maurice Blondel and Baron Von Hugel. There were of course sceptical men like Alfred Loisy who would be closer to Cupitt. (Loisy is a much bigger figure than Cupitt and a troubling one for believers.) In the 20th century Karl Barth rejected the liberalism of his old teacher Adolf von Harnack (and rejected natural religion) so changing the post-1918 religious landscape. Kierkegaard is someone you should devote a blog to. He really is a bridge between ‘us’ and the 19th century.

  • John Haggerty

    Can I add a footnote? Baptism is a sign of God’s grace, but not the grace itself. The water symbolises God’s promise to cleanse from their sin all who come to Him in faith. Water can’t wash away the guilt of human rebellion and disobedience. Only God’s grace in Christ can do that. Baptism is a seal. At the heart of the sacrament of Baptism is God’s pledge, whereby He promises to all who believe, the blessings of new life, forgiveness, a place in the community of faith, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the gift of eternal life.


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