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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Transfiguration, 1947

- by John Armstrong

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tilikum the Orca, Andrew Linzey, and zoos

Saw the story in the news about the Orca that killed his trainer (Killer whale experts say: Reintroduce Tilikum to the wild) and it made me think about zoos. I used to love zoos when I was a kid and I still feel a certain attraction. I've been many times to the San Francisco Zoo, the San Diego Zoo and the Wild Animal Park there too. I've also been to San Diego SeaWorld and seen the Orca show, though I haven't been to the Florida park where the trainer was killed by Tilikum.

- Tatiana, the Siberian tiger who attacked and killed someone at the San Francisco Zoo and who was shot dead

But zoos make me sad now because they seem like animal prisons. Of course, some zoos are better than others and some do research and conservation work, but even so, the conditions at many are horrendous. The bottom line is that zoos take animals from their natural habitats (or bead them in captivity) to use as objects of curiosity and entertainment, while we gobble up what was once their home.

Anglican priest, theology professor at Oxford, and director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, Andrew Linzey, has little good to say of zoos (What are zoos for? BBC) ......

[...] As Professor Andrew Linzey, director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, says the real story is the plight of animals in zoos and Nuremberg is further evidence of the harm they cause. "When we've taken over their lives, made them dependent on us, and submitted them to an unnatural regime, we have a special moral responsibility for them," he says.

"The creation of dependency always involves direct duties. It's implausible to argue that just because it happens in nature, we should allow it to happen in an environment where we have artificially made them dependent on us," he adds. "If you really like polar bears and care for them and think they are an important part of the ecosystem then help to preserve their natural habitat. Zoos actually make a minuscule contribution to conservation."

- This chimpanzee was passed around five zoos before arriving in a Texas roadside zoo at the age of 37 - Wikipedia

Suffering, Nietzsche, and Piz Corvatsch

- snow night at Piz Corvatsch

I've never liked Nietzsche, and for soooo many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons was his ideas that nothing really good comes without hardship and that tragedy can work as an affirmation of life, represented by this line from Twilight of the Idols ... What does not destroy me, makes me stronger. My own feeling, counter-intuitive as it may be, is that there are some good things that can be achieved without hardship (gifts), and that tragedy more often tends to warp and maim people.

But today I saw a post at Open Culture, Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness, that showed a video which begins with Alain de Botton climbing Piz Corvatsch, Nietzsche's favorite mountain in Switzerland, while discussing the philosopher's life and his belief that hardships make a person a better person, and I decided to give it a look ...

This video on Nietzsche is just one of several that can be found at Philosophy – Guide to Happiness about different philosophers and lessons that can be learned from their works ... Socrates on self confidence, Seneca on anger, Epicurus on happiness, Montaigne on self-esteem, and Schopenhauer on love. Enjoy :)

Olympic Philosophy Soccer

A Munich Olympics soccer match between the Greek philosophers (Socrates, Plato, Heraclitus, Archimedes, etc.) and the Germans (Hegel, Nietzsche, Kant, Wittgenstein, etc.), with Confucius and Aquinas/Augustine as refs ... vintage Monty Python.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Papers on Hans Urs von Balthasar

For those interested in Hans Urs von Balthasar, I came across an old (2008) Balthasar blog conference at The Fire and the Rose. I've only just started reading the papers myself but they look interesting. Here's the intro by David W. Congdon .....


Tomorrow is the beginning of the first annual 2008 Hans Urs von Balthasar Blog Conference on the theme of “Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Theological Exegesis.” Over the next week, we will read and discuss nine short essays that investigate different aspects of how von Balthasar read and interpreted Holy Scripture. These essays range from discussions of hermeneutics (Nielsen) to an analysis of how he read the Old Testament (Doerge) to an essay on how von Balthasar understood the name of the Lord in Exodus 3 (Murphy) to a survey of von Balthasar’s exegesis of the New Testament texts on the resurrection (Drury). Along the way, I will post official responses which will help frame our discussion of the material.

While a new essay and response will be posted each day, from March 17-25, I encourage every one to continue the conversations beyond the one day. This is the advantage of holding a “blog” conference: our conversations with the presenters are not limited to a fifteen minute block of time. We can engage the issues for days and even weeks.

Let me offer a word of thanks to everyone who is participating in this exciting project. I am grateful for the hard work each person has put into this. Many thanks to those who wrote the plenary posts as well as to those who wrote responses.

In a world where we are bombarded by seemingly endless amounts of information, I trust this conference will offer something distinct and interesting. While blogs have been disparaged (often rightly) by academics, I hope this experiment demonstrates that theo-blogging can be a place for academically rigorous and theologically sophisticated work. More importantly, in a conference examining the interrelation between theology and exegesis, I hope most of all that these essays provoke us to return to the text anew for a fresh hearing of God’s Word. May we gain a greater appreciation for what von Balthasar accomplished, and, following his example, learn to cultivate a faith that always seeks understanding.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bernard Alfrink

- Pax Christi Netherlands

I'm interested in things Dutch, from old movies like Soldier of Orange, to the Illustrated manuscripts at Museum Meermanno and Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague: Interactive Presentation of Handwritings. So I was intrigued to read up on friend of Edward Schillebeeckx and one of the guys at Vatican II, Bernardus Johannes Alfrink. Here's a little about him from Wikipedia ....

Bernardus Johannes Alfrink (July 5, 1900 – December 16, 1987) was a Dutch Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Utrecht from 1955 to 1975, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1960 .... led the Pax Christi movement in the Netherlands .... From 1962 to 1965, the Dutch primate participated at the Second Vatican Council, and sat on its Board of Presidency ...

He's mentioned here and there in John O'Malley's book, What Happened at Vatican II ... he spoke up against the use of nuclear weapons (p. 235), against indulgences (p. 281), and for the use of contraception (p. 237), among other things.

There's not a lot to be found about him on the web, aside from some conservative bashing of him and the Dutch Catechism, but here's a short TIME magazine article from 1969 that's kind of interesting and which mentions him and the church in The Netherlands .....


Roman Catholics: Declaration of Independence

The church in The Netherlands is perhaps the most independent and autonomy-minded in the Roman Catholic fold. Time and again, it has challenged Rome's ideas of orthodoxy. Last week the Dutch defied the Vatican again, this time with particular force. Meeting in the North Sea town of Noordwijkerhout, the Dutch Pastoral Council, a 109-member assembly of laymen, priests and bishops chosen two years ago to outline policy for the country's 5,000,000 Catholics, rejected Pope Paul's encyclical Humanae Vitae as "not convincing on the basis of the argumentation given." That statement was all the more imposing because it was signed by the nine bishops at the meeting, including Bernard Jan Cardinal Alfrink, primate of The Netherlands.

Shortly after the encyclical was published last July, the Dutch hierarchy issued a pastoral letter of commentary that praised its idealism but reaffirmed the responsibility of the individual conscience, in birth control as in other matters. The council's statement went considerably farther, rejecting the Pope's ban on contraception and declaring that "discussions about the way marriage is lived have not been closed."

Reluctant Agreement. The bishops abstained from another vote in which the council overwhelmingly endorsed the controversial Dutch Catechism in its original form as "a safe guide for religious instruction." The catechism, which was endorsed by the Dutch hierarchy, came under Vatican fire for being ambiguous about such subjects as Jesus' sacrifice and the perpetual virginity of Mary. Last month the Dutch bishops reluctantly agreed to insert, as an appendix to the next edition, a number of theological criticisms made by a commission of cardinals named by the Pope.

Still another resolution by the council proposed that the church should remain open to radical new approaches and ideas on contemporary ethical issues. Although the final motion did not specify the issues, earlier drafts had cited premarital sex, homosexuality, abortion and mercy killing. "When the situation is not right to render judgment," said the Dutch assembly, "the ecclesiastical authorities should abstain from giving definitive directives and, whenever possible, should leave room for experiment. In these cases, taking risks is justifiable and even necessary if the church is to remain faithful, in multiformity, to her essence, being the people of God on the march."

The Dutch Council's decision presented a new ecclesiastical dilemma for Pope Paul. As last week's resolutions at Noordwijkerhout illustrated, it is an increasingly open question as to just how long he and the official church can tolerate the doctrinal rebelliousness of The Netherlands' feisty Catholics.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Death by communion wafer?

- René Descartes, 100 French Francs (1942)

I was reminded of a review by bible scholar Ben Witherington of the book Descartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict between Faith and Reason (Descartes Bones - Can You Dig Them?) when I saw today that the mystery of Descartes' death has been attributed to murder by poisoned communion wafer. Here's the story in the Guardian ....


Descartes was 'poisoned by Catholic priest'

René Descartes died not from natural causes but from a fatal dose of arsenic administered by a Catholic missionary working in Stockholm, it has been claimed. Photograph: Corbis

For more than three and a half centuries, the death of René Descartes one winter's day in Stockholm has been attributed to the ravages of pneumonia on a body unused to the Scandinavian chill. But in a book released after years spent combing the archives of Paris and the Swedish capital, one Cartesian expert has a more sinister theory about how the French philosopher came to his end.

According to Theodor Ebert, an academic at the University of Erlangen, Descartes died not through natural causes but from an arsenic-laced communion wafer given to him by a Catholic priest.

Ebert believes that Jacques Viogué, a missionary working in Stockholm, administered the poison because he feared Descartes's radical theological ideas would derail an expected conversion to Catholicism by the monarch of protestant Sweden. "Viogué knew of Queen Christina's Catholic tendencies. It is very likely that he saw in Descartes an obstacle to the Queen's conversion to the Catholic faith," Ebert told Le Nouvel Observateur newspaper.

Though raised as a Catholic, Descartes, who had been summoned in 1649 to tutor Queen Christina, was regarded with suspicion by many of his theological coreligionists. His theories were viewed as incompatible with the belief of transubstantiation, in which the bread and wine served during the Eucharist become the flesh and blood of Christ. "Viogué was convinced that … his metaphysics were more in line with Calvinist 'heresy'," said Ebert. The theory of foul play has been greeted with caution by scholars. Since Descartes's death on 11 February 1650, pneumonia has been blamed for robbing the world of the so-called father of modern philosophy.

Ebert rejects this as incompatible with the facts. In a letter written after his patient's death, Descartes's doctor, Van Wullen, described having found something wrong – which Ebert believes to be blood – in the philosopher's urine. "That is not a symptom of pneumonia; it is a symptom of poisoning, chiefly of arsenic," said Ebert, adding that Descartes asked his doctor to prescribe an emetic. "What conclusion is to be drawn other than the philosopher, who was well-acquainted with the medicine of his day, believed he had been poisoned?"


I've never liked Descartes myself, if for no other reason than his attitude towards animals. As Wikipedia states ... he believed that only humans have minds. This led him to the belief that animals cannot feel pain, and Descartes' practice of vivisection (the dissection of live animals) became widely used throughout Europe until the Enlightenment.

But would (other) Catholics have wanted him dead? Although he did consider himself (at least publicly) to be Catholic, some thought of him as a Deist or an atheist, and to again quote Wikipedia ... Contemporary Blaise Pascal said that "I cannot forgive Descartes; in all his philosophy, Descartes did his best to dispense with God. But Descartes could not avoid prodding God to set the world in motion with a snap of his lordly fingers; after that, he had no more use for God."

But, on the other hand ...Stephen Gaukroger's biography of Descartes reports that "he had a deep religious faith as a Catholic, which he retained to his dying day, along with a resolute, passionate desire to discover the truth." After Descartes died in Sweden, Queen Christina abdicated her throne to convert to Roman Catholicism (Swedish law required a Protestant ruler.) The only Roman Catholic she had prolonged contact with was Descartes, who was her personal tutor.

I saw a post about this at a First Things blog too, and most of the commentors to the post seemed to believe the idea unthinkable .... not the part about a priest murdering someone, but the part where the priest would adulterate a host to do so. As one of them wrote .... An arsenic-laced communion wafer? It would have to be an accident – there’s no substance to the charge. :)


Between my house and the grocery store there's a house with about 20 bunnies in the yard. Yesterday on the way to the store I took pictures of them, but only a few turned out ok. The bunnies have totally eradicated every living plant in their yard :) so I bought them some carrots at the store and threw them over the fence on the way home ... that's when I should have taken the photos :)

The plum trees are blooming

Monday, February 22, 2010

Two videos


One is a Gresham College lecture by Keith Ward on euthanasia (the video embedded below might be just part of the whole: you may have to follow the link to see it all - Keith Ward: Religious Perspectives on Euthanasia) ......

The other is an interview with René Girard on his new book (Uncommon Knowledge: René Girard). Below I've pasted the YouTube version (part 1) of the interview .....

The Degenerates

This morning I woke up from a dream about a group I briefly belonged to, The Degenerates. Nope, not a metal band :) but a bunch of people like me with Stargardt disease .... or fundus flavimaculatus, a genetically inherited juvenile macular degeneration that causes progressive vision loss usually to the point of legal blindness.

I thought I'd post a couple of photos I found on Google that show what we degenerates see when we look at stuff ....

So I do have peripheral vision, but the area that is missing (for me, it's not black or gray like in these photos, but multicolored) follows whatever I focus on - the macula of the retina is where vision is focused, and that's what's degenerating. This makes it hard to read, to draw, to see objects (like on-coming vehicles) or people's faces ....

... and one gets into the weird habit of not looking at what one's trying to see, so you can still see it sort of. I quit The Degenerates after only a few meetings - we didn't have much in common aside from the eye disease and to be honest, it creeped me out to see myself replicated in all these other degenerating people. I hope tonight I dream about Kermit instead :)

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Ikon: The Harrowing of Hell
- Denise Levertov

Down through the tomb's inward arch
He has shouldered out into Limbo
to gather them, dazed, from dreamless slumber:
the merciful dead, the prophets,
the innocents just His own age and those
unnumbered others waiting here
unaware, in an endless void He is ending
now, stooping to tug at their hands,
to pull them from their sarcophagi,
dazzled, almost unwilling. Didmas,
neighbor in death, Golgotha dust
still streaked on the dried sweat of his body
no one had washed and anointed, is here,
for sequence is not known in Limbo;
the promise, given from cross to cross
at noon, arches beyond sunset and dawn.
All these He will swiftly lead
to the Paradise road: they are safe.
That done, there must take place that struggle
no human presumes to picture:
living, dying, descending to rescue the just
from shadow, were lesser travails
than this: to break
through earth and stone of the faithless world
back to the cold sepulchre, tearstained
stifling shroud; to break from them
back into breath and heartbeat, and walk
the world again, closed into days and weeks again,
wounds of His anguish open, and Spirit
streaming through every cell of flesh
so that if mortal sight could bear
to perceive it, it would be seen
His mortal flesh was lit from within, now,
and aching for home. He must return,
first, in Divine patience, and know
hunger again, and give
to humble friends the joy
of giving Him food--fish and a honeycomb.

Concerning That Prayer I Cannot Make
- Jane Mead

Jesus, I am cruelly lonely
and I do not know what I have done
nor do I suspect that you will answer me.

And, what is more, I have spent
these bare months bargaining
with my soul as if I could make her
promise to love me when now it seems
that what I meant when I said "soul"
was that the river reflects
the railway bridge just as the sky
says it should—it speaks that language.

I do not know who you are.

I come here every day
to be beneath this bridge,
to sit beside this river,
so I must have seen the way
the clouds just slide
under the rusty arch—
without snagging on the bolts,
how they are borne along on the dark water—
I must have noticed their fluent speed
and also how that tattered blue T-shirt
remains snagged on the crown
of the mostly sunk dead tree
despite the current's constant pulling.
Yes, somewhere in my mind there must
be the image of a sky blue T-shirt, caught,
and the white islands of ice flying by
and the light clouds flying slowly
under the bridge, though today the river's
fully melted. I must have seen.

But I did not see.

I am not equal to my longing.
Somewhere there should be a place
the exact shape of my emptiness—
there should be a place
responsible for taking one back.
The river, of course, has no mercy—
it just lifts the dead fish
toward the sea.

Of course, of course.

What I meant when I said "soul"
was that there should be a place.

On the far bank the warehouse lights
blink red, then green, and all the yellow
machines with their rusted scoops and lifts
sit under a thin layer of sunny frost.

And look—
my own palm—
there, slowly rocking.
It is my pale palm—
palm where a black pebble
is turning and turning.

all you bare trees
pile of twigs
red and green lights flashing
muddy bottle shards
shoe half buried—listen
listen, I am holy.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Thou didst not love them at all

- The Temptation of Christ by Tintoretto

Reading the Wikipedia page for the Temptation of Christ, I was reminded of Dostoyevsky's view of the three temptations offered to Jesus by the devil, given in The Grand Inquisitor (The Brothers Karamazov). In the story Satan suggests three possible personas Jesus could adopt to successfully be the Messiah. Here's how Wikipedia puts them ...

* Someone who rescues the poor and needy from their hardships, as manifested by feeding the hungry
* A magician and miracle worker who wins converts by spectacular acts, as manifested by surviving a jump from a high pinnacle. That the devil places Jesus in a very public location, rather than the numerous high pinnacles in the desert, gives credence to this view.
* A political liberator from the oppression of the Romans, as manifested by having power over the kingdoms of the world

Jesus rejects these possibilities because they would take away people's freedom. All this comes up when, in the story, Jesus returns to Earth, to Spain at the time of the Inquisition. He performs miracles and gains a following, but is then arrested by the church and scheduled for an auto de fé. The grand inquisitor visits Jesus in his prison cell the night before his execution and tells him that people don't really want freedom but peace of mind, and that the Church has had to step in and do what he should have done in the first place. The inquisitor pinpoints Jesus' moment of failure as his rejection of the three temptations offered him by the devil ... to turn stones into bread, to throw himself off the temple tower, and to rule the world. Jesus never says a word in the story, but when the inquisitor is finally done talking, Jesus kisses him. The inquisitor then releases him.

I remember really being struck by The Grand Inquisitor when I first read it in college. I had back then what feels now to be a pretty unrealistic belief in the worth and power of free will, and I hated the inquisitor's abysmal opinion of human nature, so I thought the inquisitor and his church were terribly in the wrong and that Jesus had indeed made the right choice. Now, although I think the church often attempts to usurp people's freedom to an indefensible degree, I think the jury's still out on whether human freedom, such as it is, can excuse all the suffering it's used to justify.

You can read the text of The Grand Inquisitor online here, but I've posted a couple of paragraphs of it below, just the beginning of the part where the grand inquisitor is talking to Jesus about the first temptation, turning stones to bread (about a third of the way down the page) ........


"Judge Thyself who was right -- Thou or he who questioned Thee then? Remember the first question; its meaning, in other words, was this: "Thou wouldst go into the world, and art going with empty hands, with some promise of freedom which men in their simplicity and their natural unruliness cannot even understand, which they fear and dread -- for nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom. But seest Thou these stones in this parched and barren wilderness? Turn them into bread, and mankind will run after Thee like a flock of sheep, grateful and obedient, though for ever trembling, lest Thou withdraw Thy hand and deny them Thy bread." But Thou wouldst not deprive man of freedom and didst reject the offer, thinking, what is that freedom worth if obedience is bought with bread? Thou didst reply that man lives not by bread alone. But dost Thou know that for the sake of that earthly bread the spirit of the earth will rise up against Thee and will strive with Thee and overcome Thee, and all will follow him, crying, "Who can compare with this beast? He has given us fire from heaven!" Dost Thou know that the ages will pass, and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only hunger? "Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!" that's what they'll write on the banner, which they will raise against Thee, and with which they will destroy Thy temple. Where Thy temple stood will rise a new building; the terrible tower of Babel will be built again, and though, like the one of old, it will not be finished, yet Thou mightest have prevented that new tower and have cut short the sufferings of men for a thousand years; for they will come back to us after a thousand years of agony with their tower. They will seek us again, hidden underground in the catacombs, for we shall be again persecuted and tortured. They will find us and cry to us, "Feed us, for those who have promised us fire from heaven haven't given it!" And then we shall finish building their tower, for he finishes the building who feeds them. And we alone shall feed them in Thy name, declaring falsely that it is in Thy name. Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! No science will give them bread so long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, "Make us your slaves, but feed us." They will understand themselves, at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share between them! They will be convinced, too, that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, worthless, and rebellious. Thou didst promise them the bread of Heaven, but, I repeat again, can it compare with earthly bread in the eyes of the weak, ever sinful and ignoble race of man? And if for the sake of the bread of Heaven thousands shall follow Thee, what is to become of the millions and tens of thousands of millions of creatures who will not have the strength to forego the earthly bread for the sake of the heavenly? Or dost Thou care only for the tens of thousands of the great and strong, while the millions, numerous as the sands of the sea, who are weak but love Thee, must exist only for the sake of the great and strong? No, we care for the weak too. They are sinful and rebellious, but in the end they too will become obedient. They will marvel at us and look on us as gods, because we are ready to endure the freedom which they have found so dreadful and to rule over them- so awful it will seem to them to be free. But we shall tell them that we are Thy servants and rule them in Thy name. We shall deceive them again, for we will not let Thee come to us again. That deception will be our suffering, for we shall be forced to lie.

"'This is the significance of the first question in the wilderness, and this is what Thou hast rejected for the sake of that freedom which Thou hast exalted above everything. Yet in this question lies hid the great secret of this world. Choosing "bread," Thou wouldst have satisfied the universal and everlasting craving of humanity -- to find someone to worship. So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship. But man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men would agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the other can worship, but to find community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time. For the sake of common worship they've slain each other with the sword. They have set up gods and challenged one another, "Put away your gods and come and worship ours, or we will kill you and your gods!" And so it will be to the end of the world, even when gods disappear from the earth; they will fall down before idols just the same. Thou didst know, Thou couldst not but have known, this fundamental secret of human nature, but Thou didst reject the one infallible banner which was offered Thee to make all men bow down to Thee alone -- the banner of earthly bread; and Thou hast rejected it for the sake of freedom and the bread of Heaven. Behold what Thou didst further. And all again in the name of freedom! I tell Thee that man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born. But only one who can appease their conscience can take over their freedom. In bread there was offered Thee an invincible banner; give bread, and man will worship thee, for nothing is more certain than bread. But if someone else gains possession of his conscience -- Oh! then he will cast away Thy bread and follow after him who has ensnared his conscience. In that Thou wast right. For the secret of man's being is not only to live but to have something to live for. Without a stable conception of the object of life, man would not consent to go on living, and would rather destroy himself than remain on earth, though he had bread in abundance. That is true. But what happened? Instead of taking men's freedom from them, Thou didst make it greater than ever! Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering. And behold, instead of giving a firm foundation for setting the conscience of man at rest for ever, Thou didst choose all that is exceptional, vague and enigmatic; Thou didst choose what was utterly beyond the strength of men, acting as though Thou didst not love them at all- Thou who didst come to give Thy life for them! Instead of taking possession of men's freedom, Thou didst increase it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom of mankind with its sufferings for ever. Thou didst desire man's free love, that he should follow Thee freely, enticed and taken captive by Thee. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having only Thy image before him as his guide. But didst Thou not know that he would at last reject even Thy image and Thy truth, if he is weighed down with the fearful burden of free choice? They will cry aloud at last that the truth is not in Thee, for they could not have been left in greater confusion and suffering than Thou hast caused, laying upon them so many cares and unanswerable problems ...........


Friday, February 19, 2010

Magical swords

- by Howard Pyle

I'm reading (listening to) over again The Magician: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott. This is the second book in a fantasy series and many of the characters are immortal versions of past real people .... the good guys are the alchemist Nicholas Flamel and the legendary Celtic female warrior Scáthach, staying in Paris with teenage twins from San Francisco named Josh and Sophie, at the house of the Count of St. Germain and his wife, Joan of Arc (yep, she escaped the pyre). The evil ones, John Dee and Niccolò Machiavelli, are hot on their trail. I've reached the point in the story where Nicholas discribes famous magical swords ... Excalibur, Clarent, Joyeuse, Curtana, and Durendal, among others. Some of these are well known, like Excalibur (and Clarent, which Mordred used to kill Arthur), but I thought I'd mention the three others, which are connected.

Joyeuse was the sword of Charlemagne, and is mentioned in The Song of Roland. It supposedly holds the Spear of Destiny within its pommel, and now lives at the Louvre ....

Another sword mentioned in that poem is Durendal...

Durendal ... is the sword of Charlemagne's paladin Roland .... In The Song of Roland, the sword is said to contain within its golden hilt one tooth of Saint Peter, blood of Saint Basil, hair of Saint Denis, and a piece of the raiment of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the poem, Count Roland attempts to destroy the sword to prevent it from being captured by the ambushing Saracens and creates La Brèche de Roland in the Pyrenees in the process. But Durendal proves indestructible, so he hides it beneath his body along with the oliphant, the horn used to alert Charlemagne.

- The death of Roland at the Battle of Roncevaux, from an illuminated manuscript c.1455–1460

And another was Curtana, said to belong to Ogier the Dane, a friend (eventually) of Charlemagne's who's also portrayed in The Song of Roland. The sword supposedly bore the inscription "My name is Cortana, of the same steel and temper as Joyeuse and Durendal."

- H.P. Pedersen-Dan's statue of Ogier/Holger Danske at Kronborg castle, Denmark

I recommend the The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott - fun with lots of mythology, magic, and history. You can read about other mythical objects here at Wikipedia.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

David Hart, Karl Rahner, angels & demons

Reading something today by David Bentley Hart reminded me of something I'd read once by Karl Rahner, and brought up some questions .... are we part of a hierarchical cosmos with angels good and bad intermediaries between us and God, or does God deal directly with us? Does Jesus, predated (on Earth, anyway) by angels, undo the need for them? Or does everything still work together in some kind of combo system? What I read didn't answer my questions really but it was interesting.

First David Hart, from The Doors of the Sea (p. 65) ....

"In the New Testament, our condition as fallen creatures is explicitly portrayed as a subjugation to the subsidiary and often mutinous authority of the angelic and demonic "powers," which are not able to defeat God's transcendent and providential governance of all things, but which certainly are able to act against him within the limits of cosmic time. This age is ruled by spiritual and terrestrial "thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers" (Col. 1:16; cf. 1 Cor. 2:8; Eph. 1:2; 3:10), by the "elements (stoicheia) of the world" (Gal. 4:3), and by "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2), who -- while they cannot ultimately separate us from God's love (Rom. 8:38) -- nevertheless contend against us: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12) ...."

And now Rahner who, being a Jesuit with a discernment of spirits pov, should have a pretty interesting take on angels/demons. The book of his in which I'd read about angels was Encyclopedia of theology: the concise Sacramentum mundi (Google Books link), but it was just too hard to transcribe what I'd read, so I thought instead I'd post some of a very long article about Rahner's theology, just the bit that summarizes Rahner's thought on angels and demons ....


Demythologization in the theology of Karl Rahner
Theological Studies, March, 1994 by Michael D. Barnes

Angels and Demons

Rahner applies this same line of thought to belief in angels and demons and arrives at conclusions that demythologize the belief. He worries that, on the one hand, the Fourth Lateran Council seems to have declared formally that angels do exist,(66) but that, on the other hand, this belief appears too easily to be mythological.(67)

The Bible is unclear, Rahner says, acknowledging one of his sources for theology, Christian Scriptures. In the Bible there sometimes are beliefs based on "primitive ideas," that are urgently in need of demythologization." In saying this, of course, he is relying on modern beliefs and methods of biblical interpretation. He continues to appeal to Scripture, though, to make the further point, that if there are angels and demons they have an intrinsic relation to the cosmos. He bases this claim on the scriptural references to principalities and powers whose apparent role in ancient belief, including that of Paul, was precisely as rulers of aspects of the universe.(68) Rahner appeals also to Thomism, which defines matter not as bits and pieces of stuff, but as materiality, as the one "field" of the cosmos, as the aspect of time-space extension that is characteristic of the universe as God created it. Here is another way to affirm the commonality of all that is created. If angels and demons exist, he says, they too are part of the natural world.(69) His analysis is one of how reasonable it is to believe in angels, "within the scope of natural knowledge,"(70) the kind of knowledge that is appropriate for what is part of the natural universe.(71)

He explores possibilities widely. He seriously entertains the idea that angels and demons do not exist.(72) But he tries out an almost science-fiction scenario as an alternative, that angels may be a name for "eschatological beings" that do not yet exist but, will come into existence in the future as the product of continuing cosmic evolution. He defines angels then as "regional subjectivities," i.e. as modes of transcendental consciousness which are not linked to the cosmos through the kinds of bodies that humans have, but, analogous to the human soul-body form of life, have a special connectedness to certain regions of cosmic reality.(73)

After this speculative exploration of what is conceivable about angels, Rahner returns to the question of what is actual: Do angels really exist?(74) He rejects miracles as evidence, as one might expect from his theology of miracles. He looks instead for natural structures in the universe that could be explained best by postulating some sort of "regional subjectivity" that could be called angels. His modest conclusion is that it would be at least possible that the natural order, without a mythological interpretation, as he puts it, could include something like angels.(75)

In individual passages his wording sounds as though his primary concern is to determine the existence and nature of angels as part of traditional Christian belief. But the background concern, one that wins out in the end, is to reinterpret and, if necessary, abandon the belief if it cannot be successfully demythologized and naturalized. Modestly, Rahner never concludes that belief in angels, and demons also, is so intrinsically mythological that it can no longer stand. But the strongest support he gives to the belief in the end appears in the form of advice to avoid a "primitive rationalism" that denies the possibility of any "creaturely subjectivity" above the human.(76) Whether this possibility has already or will become actual in the history of the universe is something he cannot say but which, he believes, still presents the danger of mythological thought.


(66) Investigations 19.252. (67) Ibid. 250. (68) Ibid. 252, 255. (69) Ibid. 258. (70) Ibid. 260. (71) In this article "On Angels" Rahner also offers a theory about revelation, namely that it consists only of what is true of the truly Supernatural, which is God alone. Thus only beliefs about God, Trinity, Incarnation, and possibly a few other unspecified beliefs can be part of revelation, strictly speaking. Knowledge of all else, even angels if they exist, is therefore part of natural knowledge. The way to know if angels really exist is to use the natural sciences! (72) Investigations 19.260. (73) Ibid. 265. (74) Ibid. 266-67. (75) Ibid. 274. (76) Ibid.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

is Lent all about eating gruel?

I hope not, and here are three helps for Lent that emphasize its positive quality ......

Fr. James Martin SJ discussing almsgiving and joy during Lent .....

Here's an audio Lent retreat I've been listening to ... This series of retreat conferences was presented by Fr. Larry Gillick, S.J. at the Jesuit Retreat House, outside of St. Paul, Minnesota, from January 25 to 28th, 2007. The conferences follow generally the Sunday liturgical readings for for Liturgical Year C [2010] and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

And here's part of an article on the subject of Vatican II, Lent, and baptism - Ash Wednesday: Our Shifting Understanding of Lent. As someone who went through RCIA, and who at the time didn't really even believe, I'm glad to know there are second chances to renew baptismal promises .....


Shifting Understanding of Lent

With the disappearance of the catechumenate from the Church's life, people's understanding of the season of Lent changed. By the Middle Ages, the emphasis was no longer clearly baptismal. Instead, the main emphasis shifted to the passion and death of Christ. Medieval art reflected this increased focus on the suffering Savior; so did popular piety. Lent came to be seen as a time to acknowledge our guilt for the sins that led to Christ's passion and death. Repentance was then seen as a way to avoid punishment for sin more than as a way to renew our baptismal commitment.

With the gradual disappearance of the Order of Penitents, the use of ashes became detached from its original context. The focus on personal penance and the Sacrament of Penance continued in Lent, but the connection to Baptism was no longer obvious to most people. This is reflected in the formula that came to be associated with the distribution of ashes: "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return." This text focuses on our mortality, as an incentive to take seriously the call to repentance, but there is little hint here of any baptismal meaning. This emphasis on mortality fit well with the medieval experience of life, when the threat of death was always at hand. Many people died very young, and the societal devastation of the plague made death even more prevalent.

Ash Wednesday After Vatican II

The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) called for the renewal of Lent, recovering its ancient baptismal character. This recovery was significantly advanced by the restoration of the catechumenate mandated by the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (1972). As Catholics have increasingly interacted with catechumens in the final stage of their preparation for Baptism, they have begun to understand Lent as a season of baptismal preparation and baptismal renewal.

Since Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, it naturally is also beginning to recover a baptismal focus. One hint of this is the second formula that is offered for the imposition of ashes: "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel." Though it doesn't explicitly mention Baptism, it recalls our baptismal promises to reject sin and profess our faith. It is a clear call to conversion, to that movement away from sin and toward Christ that we have to embrace over and over again through our lives.

As the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday calls us to the conversion journey that marks the season. As the catechumens enter the final stage of their preparation for the Easter sacraments, we are all called to walk with them so that we will be prepared to renew our baptismal promises when Easter arrives ......


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Incarnation, the cross, and Vatican II

I've come to a part in John O'Malley's book What Happened at Vatican II about Schema 13, On the Church in the Modern World (which became Gaudium et Spes), and how it touched on the difference between a theology of the Incarnation and one of the cross. Here's a bit of it (pp. 234-235) ....


[...] The debate opened on a positive note ..... Nevertheless, many concerns were raised ..... Not until the debate on chapter 3, however, was a fundamental concern raised that would assume considerable importance after the council. Caedinal Frings, whose peritus was Joseph Ratzinger, was the first to broach it. The schema, according to Frings, relied too exclusively on a theology of the Incarnation and slighted the cross. The mystery of the cross cautions us about the world and impels us "in our following of Christ to a life of sacrifice and of abstinence from worldly goods." On the same day, Archbishop Hermann Volk of Mainz, speaking in the name of seventy fathers, "mostly of the German tongue," made similar points.

At stake here were two broad theological traditions. The so-called Augustinian (or eschatological) tradition, which the Germans wanted to make sure was given its due, was more negative on human capabilities and on the possibility of reconciliation between "nature and grace." Luther, of course, is the best known and most outspoken proponent of such a "theology of the cross," and at the council observers from that tradition felt the schema did not take enough account of sin. Karl Barth was the theologian who had articulated that theology most effectively in the twentieth century and had influenced especially German-speaking bishops at the council.

The other tradition was more dependent on the theology of the Eastern Fathers of the church and took its Western form most notably in Aquinas. In it the Incarnation was the key mystery, through which all creation was reconciled and raised to a higher dignity than before. Although some German-speaking theologians helped prepare the theological aspects of the text, people thought of it as "French." In its elaboration Rahner had clashed with Congar and Daniélou, and he was, along with Ratzinger, a leader in the German opposition to it. Even some French bishops, however, felt that in its present form the schema did not adequately address the negative aspects of contemporary culture. Two Polish bishops -- Klepacz and Zygfryd Kowalski -- painted a dire picture of the decadence and sinful pride of the world.

The fathers listened to more than 150 speeches on the schema. Aside from general issues like the above, the number of specific issues raised and the diversity of the mentalities that raised them make the debate impossible to summarize ....


I prefer a theology of the Incarnation rather than one of the cross, and a good article on it is The Incarnation: God's Gift of Love by Ken Overberg SJ). Now to go look up more about French Jesuit Jean Daniélou.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lunar Man-Bats

I found an interesting non-fiction (audio) book at the library yesterday - The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York by Matthew Goodman. It's about the Great Moon Hoax. Here's some of what Wikipedia has on that ....


"The Great Moon Hoax" was a series of six articles that were published in the New York Sun beginning on August 25, 1835, about the supposed discovery of life and even civilization on the Moon. The discoveries were falsely attributed to Sir John Herschel, perhaps the best-known astronomer of his time.

The headline read:

At the Cape of Good Hope
[From Supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science]

The articles described fantastic animals on the Moon, including bison, goats, unicorns, bipedal tail-less beavers and bat-like winged humanoids ("Vespertilio-homo") who built temples. There were trees and oceans and beaches. These discoveries were supposedly made with "an immense telescope of an entirely new principle". The author of the narrative was supposedly Dr Andrew Grant, who described himself as the travelling companion and amanuensis of Sir John Herschel, but Dr Grant was fictitious.

Authorship of the article has been attributed to Richard A. Locke, a Cambridge-educated reporter who, in August 1835, was working for the New York Sun. Locke never publicly admitted to being the author ..... [the] object of Locke's satire was certainly Rev. Thomas Dick, who was known as "The Christian Philosopher" after the title of his first book. Dick had computed that the Solar System contained 21,891,974,404,480 (21+ trillion) inhabitants. In fact, the Moon alone, by his count, would contain 4,200,000,000 inhabitants. His writings were enormously popular in the United States, his fans including intellectual luminaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson ...... The story may also have inspired Edgar Allan Poe to write and publish "The Balloon-Hoax" in the same newspaper on April 13, 1844 ......


I'd like to think that hoaxes like this can no longer be perpetrated, given the access we currently have to global news, but even now it's not so easy to tell what's real and what's cooked .... though the internet allows hoax-busters to set things straight, it also allows for the faster growth of such hoaxes. But anyway, I like the idea of Vespertilio-homo :)

- 1835 lithograph of Lunar Man-Bats

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Vatican II and indulgences

I'm still reading What Happened at Vatican II by John O'Malley SJ, and I thought I'd post some bits on indulgences (the full or partial remission of temporal punishment in Purgatory, due for sins which have already been forgiven, and gained through ritual prayers, the doing of certain acts, or in the past, money paid) from the book (pp. 280-282) ........


[...] With the Protestant observers present, the subject was touchy. Indulgences had driven Luther to post his "Ninety-Five Theses," the beginning of the Reformation. The Council of Trent in a hasty and somewhat perfunctory decree just before the council ended reaffirmed the legitimacy of indulgences and provided measures to obviate abuses of them. In subsequent centuries the popes, and especially Pius XII, had granted even more indulgences, with the possibility of gaining large numbers of so-called plenary indulgences in a single day. Some theologians and bishops felt that the matter was again spinning out of control, while others questioned the whole concept, which was, put most simply, that by performing certain good actions individuals could lessen the time in Purgatory for themselves or others ........

The first prelate to speak, in the name of the Melkite episcopate, was the intrepid Maximos IV Saigh, and he fired off the most radical criticism. By categorically denying that there was any connection between the intercession of the church and the partial or full remission of any temporal punishment resulting from sin, the concept on which the practice rested, he torpedoed the basis for it. Moreover, he challenged the assumption of a continuity between the practice of the early church and the medieval doctrine and practice of indulgences. "There is no indication that in the primitive and universal tradition of the church indulgences were known and practiced as they were in the Western Middle Ages. More specifically, during at least the eleven centuries when the Eastern and Western churches were united there is no evidence of indulgences in the modern sense of the term ... The theological arguments that try to justify the late introduction into the West constitute, in our opinion, a collection of deductions in which every conclusion goes beyond the evidence." .........

The interventions the next day from Alfrink speaking for the Dutch episcopate, König for the Austrian, and Döpfner for the German did not help matters. The last two, especially, made a strong impression. Döpfner did not go so far as to call for the abolition of indulgences, but he severely criticized the theology that underlay the document, the misleading way it handled the history of indulgences, and the changes in practice, all too minimal, that it advocated. He was the last to speak that day ..... In the written reports the episcopal conferences of Belgium, England and Wales, Scandinavia, Haiti, Brazil, Chile, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Dahomey, Japan, and Laos expressed dissatisfaction with the document prepared by the Penitentiary, and the last three called for the abolition of indulgences. Two years later, on January 1, 1967, Paul VI would issue an Apostolic Constitution on the matter, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, which consisted of a modest revision of the original text ..........


An interesting past article on all this is He who holds the keys to the kingdom from The Tablet. You can read most of the material that Maximos IV had for Vatican II, including all that he had to say about indulgences, at this website - The Melkite Church at the Council. And there's another interesting article on a similar subject subject - Punishment, forgiveness, and divine justice by Tom Talbott. Myself, I don't like the ideas of either Purgatory or indulgences.

Sequoia saplings, etc.

More yard photos ....

- a few years ago I bought two on-sale Sequoia saplings at the hardware store and planted them in the backyard. Now they're about 12 ft. high. They have interesting bark.

- the Periwinkle vine is blooming. It's pretty but the vines take over everything.

- the Boysenberry vines are aggressive too - this one is taking over a dead part of the Acacia tree. The thorns are pink :)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hans Urs von Balthasar and Karl Rahner

I was looking for something about Karl Rahner but instead came upon these two videos (part 1 and 2) on Hans Urs von Balthasar by Karen Kilby, professor of systematic theology at the University of Nottingham, who's written some books/papers on Rahner. I've also posted a video by her on Rahner below the Balthasar videos. I found the videos very interesting (now to go look up Joseph Maréchal SJ) ....

And here's her video on Karl Rahner .....

Friday, February 12, 2010

Medieval political theology and the corporation

Here's a lecture by Catholic academic Eugene McCarraher on social justice and the corproation as a person (remember the latest Supreme Court decision - Justices, 5-4, Reject Corporate Spending Limit?). All I know about corporations I learned from The X-Files :) so it was interesting to listen to a lecture that began with a mention of The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology ......

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I saw today that the movie Romero can be watched at YouTube in sections. Here's a bit about the movie from Wikipedia ...

Romero is a film (1989) depicting the life of assassinated Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero, played by Raúl Juliá. Richard Jordan played the role of Romero's close friend and fellow martyred priest Rutilio Grande, and actors Ana Alicia and Harold Gould also appeared in the film. Romero was the first feature film from Paulist Pictures, known for the production of a long-standing television series called Insight. The film was screened in 1989 at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was directed by Australian filmmaker John Duigan and produced by Paulist Pictures founder Father Ellwood (Bud) Kieser. Composer Gabriel Yared, who went on to win BAFTA Awards and an Oscar for his other scores, composed the music for Romero.

I haven't seen it myself, so I hope it's good :) Here is part one. You can find the other parts at YouTube .....

Aids, theological truth, practical reality

There's a post at America magazine's blog by Austen Ivereigh - Aids, condoms, and the suppression of theological truth. Here's a bit from the post .....

The Vatican has admitted shelving a theological report into the morality of the use of condoms to prevent Aids .... a high-ranking CDF official ... "Everyone knows that theologically there is a strong case for clarifying that teaching ... but there's just no way of doing it publicly without it being misunderstood ... It would be confusing for the faithful." ..... The Church was accused in the media of making the Aids crisis worse by opposing the use of condoms to prevent its spread. In fact, condoms are not the solution to Aids in Africa, and as the Pope last year pointed out, their promotion has contributed to the spread of Aids for a whole host of reasons .... But the question in moral theology still remains of whether it is morally preferable for an infected man to use a condom than not to use one. The consensus of moral theologians -- and this was doubtless reflected in Cardinal Lozano Barragán's report -- is a firm YES ...

I guess it should come as no surprise that the Vatican thinks the faithful are too dim to understand a nuanced change of stance, but what especially bothers me is something about the post itself -- it dwells on Catholic theologians' opinion of the ethics of using condoms to prevent Aids, but at the same time it pushes the erroneous idea that using condoms actually makes the spread of Aids worse.

More on the subject of Aids and condoms ....

- South African Bishop Opposes Vatican's Ban on Condoms (NPR)

- Aids and the lesser evil (The Tablet, editorial)

- The church & AIDS in Africa: condoms & the culture of life (Commonweal)

- Three Things You Don't Know About AIDS in Africa (Esquire)

- Catholic condom ban helping AIDS spread in Latin America: U.N. (Reuters FaithWorld)

- Emily Oster: What do we really know about the spread of AIDS? .....

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Photos from the yard

I guess there's a big storm in the east but out here spring is starting. Here are some photos from the yard today ....

- the acacia tree is blooming in the foreground

- here's the ever growing pile of branches I have to cut up for the "green garbage" cans. The green stuff is mistletoe, which kills a lot of trees here

- the gray squirrel waits for me to go away so he can partake of the snacks I brought

- but the blue jay born here last year isn't afraid of me

- so he takes a sunflower seed. What interesting feet he has :)

- the brown squirrel (Fox squirrel?) isn't afraid either. I just noticed when looking at the photo that he seems to have something stuck to his face ..... does anyone know what that is?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

From The Saint Francis Poems

by David Brendan Hopes

Clara Scifi Consults the Flowering Crab Concerning Her Lord Obedience

I have been obedient two or three days together.
I danced for the one-eyed fiddler man,
gave bread to the rich to make them wonder.
I held a cardinal rose between my teeth
to see them blush, the grave young men,
too young
to blunt their hearts on God.

I have done sometimes what must be done.
I kissed lepers on their aching mouths.
I lay in bed a whole day
and made my sisters bring me
trays of apricots and yellow cream.
I heeded you, my savants,
sustaining bones, wise feet, lungs

ever simple in the sea of air,
hands, nerves, attentive blood
flowing through, finding where I hunger.
I learned your ways and followed,
so to keep this world,
this hurly-burly beauty,
this beast hock-deep in stars alive.

A ragged man knocked at my father's door.
Not the first nor the second time
that he said follow me did I understand
it was no request.
Thereafter I have ridden my bare feet
through briars and my rough smock
through doorways where my friends

remember me in miniver and vair.
My ragged saint said, Grieve, Clara.
The world does not remember you.
So in obedience I grieved till I grew merry in it,
and when he said rejoice , I did not know how.
I built jubilation from the ground up.
I made my soul a body dancing over mirrors.

I have been obedient two or three days together.
I have stood looking out to sea
as though the Lord my Lover would return
beneath a billowing sail.
I've stepped into thieves' firelight, and begged,
and they gave, fearing to come
between me and my furious acquiescence.

I've perplexed the dying with a joke,
because the time was commanded
to be glad in.
Always I have walked beside sir ragged bones
waiting if he said rise up
to rise, and if lie down to lie on straw
and dream of satins where I lay before.

I have been obedient but for the day
I crept cat-like back into my father's garden
where the flowering crabtree wore her Whitsun,
all scarlet in the sky-blue town.
Through my rags and boils
she knew me.
As when I was a child I curled

my hurts against her. Then I heard
the crabtree say, Abide. Abide.
I've kept my flowers for you an extra day.
Take the dry spear out of your side.
Pack the prickly crown away.
Sit in my shade and think your thought
of what are the goods and what's the price,

of who has loved you and who cannot,
of bony saints mewling in paradise.
I am pink in the sad gray town.
I am fire in a field of ice.
Why'd storm kiss me when it blew the steeples down?
I shake out my beautiful hair and go
round her and round her, and do not know.

The Calling of Andrew and Simon Peter

- by Giusto de' Menabuoi

Friday, February 05, 2010

St Peter Healing St Agatha

- by Giovanni Lanfranco

Here's more of his work ....

Miracle of the Bread and Fish




Thursday, February 04, 2010

Something of a rant

As those who are interested in the subject know, Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality in Britain has withdrawn an amendment to the Equality Bill that clarified rather than changed existing law, stating that churches were exempt from discrimination legislation when appointing priests and other “religious” posts, but that they must comply with its terms for “non-religious” jobs, such as youth workers or accountants (Harriet Harman defends equality legislation following Pope's criticism)

Most of those who have commented on the Pope's remarks about the Equality Bill have agreed with him. I don't agree with him or them and I wanted to point out why - I think most of the arguments are disingenuous. An example is The churches stand for pluralism by the Bishop of Winchester. Here are just a few points he makes that drove me to obvious distraction .....

I, and some of my fellow bishops,voted against one small set of provisions in the bill in particular. Those provisions were new and did not replicate the relevant parts of existing equality legislation. They would have had the effect of changing, by stealth, the position for organised religion which was agreed and clearly established in 2003.

This is untrue - the law would not have been changed - it's already on the books.

Those who believe that the churches and faiths are wrong on various matters of sexual ethics, or in having an all male priesthood or requirements concerning marriage and divorce, want to use the law to compel us to act differently.

Also untrue - the Equality Bill does not affect these areas (check out Myth-busting: The Equality Bill and religion).

The problem of modernity is how to order ethical life in a society of strangers – or at least, a society where close bonds of kin and community are weak, and in which there is no single moral story shared by all. Baldly put, there are two options: to impose a single moral order on everyone; or to establish a social structure which encourages genuine pluralism and diversity, and generates a community of communities, each living according to their authentic moral code, the role of the state being to police the margins and mediate when moralities clash.

Ssecular democracies don't impose one moral order on all .... citizens vote, they have a voice. If society agreed with this idea of pluralism, which allowed for communities, each living according to their authentic moral code, Mormon splinter groups would be practicing polygamy and women could be stoned to death under Sharia.

The church is often accused of seeking to impose its own story, its own morality, on everybody. But we have argued consistently for a long time for the second version of a liberal society – one where difference is allowed to flourish and is not subjected to a single version of morality imposed on everyone – still less a thoroughly illiberal society where some seek to banish others from public debate.

Oh, get out of town! One example - if churches are ok with allowing different groups to live by their own moral rules, why are they trying so hard to defeat civil same-sex marriage? And as far as I can tell, this statement of the Bishop's (in the Guardian) shows no one is being banished from the debate

This is where I still think that the equality bill – for all its noble intentions and humane motivation – got the balance wrong in the provisions that were contentious in the House of Lords recently. If we are to be a thriving community of communities, how can it be right to argue that those who are employed to promote the aims and values of a community need not share – and live their lives consistently with – those aims and values. What I believe and how I act are integrally linked – and that is true of everyone, not just of religious believers.

What this promotes is a religious ghetto. I don't know about England, but in the US, at Catholic Colleges, there are teachers of all kinds ..... Jewish, atheist, gay, lesbian, etc .... that diversity and acceptance of difference hasn't exploded anyone's faith. And being overlooked is the fact that not all Catholic or Christian organizations are made of a homogeneous set of believers ..... don't look now, but there are actually dissenters.

It helps, though, to start by seeing where we agree and where we do not. In that respect, the propaganda around the equality bill – on both sides – has not helped.

Sigh :(

To intervene or not to intervene: that is the question

My question, anyway .... does God intervene? If not, why not? If so, under what circumstances? I'm still watching the Stargate episodes on DVD and came to one that almost seemed to address this issue :)

If we will reflect backwards, we'll remember that in my last Stargate post, archaeologist Daniel Jackson had been terminally irradiated and was at the point of death when an ascended being offered him ascension to a higher plane of existence, which he accepted.

In this episode, Abyss, one of the main characters, Daniel's friend Jack O'Neill, has been captured by the evil Goa'uld named Ba'al and is being tortured by him for information. The torture has been going on for quite some time (Jack can be tortured to death over and over, as Baal possesses a sarcophagus, a device that can resurrect most fatalities), but between the bouts of torture, Jack is imprisoned in a heavy-gravity-field cell.

As Jack languishes in that cell, he's suddenly joined by Daniel. Jack thinks at first that he's imagining Daniel, but Daniel assures him that he's there in truth, though of course in his ascended body (is this like Paul's "spiritual body"? :). Finally believing, Jack asks Daniel to help him break out of the cell -- after all, he has some heavy duty powers as an ascended being -- but Daniel says he can't intervene, that he's just there to console Jack ..... so reminiscent of my conversations with Jesus/God :).

- Jack and Daniel


Daniel - Hi, Jack.

O'Neill - Daniel…

Daniel - I leave, and look at the mess you get yourself into. It's good to see you.

O'Neill - Yeah, you too. It's a shame you're a delusion.

Daniel - No, I'm here. I'm really here.

O'Neill - Sure you are

O'Neill takes off his shoe and throws it at Daniel, who winces. The shoe passes through him and bounces off the wall.

Daniel - Here in the sense that my consciousness is here, if not here in the full physical flesh and blood sense, which is really neither here nor there. The point is, you're not imaging this.

O'Neill - I just tossed my shoe through you.

Daniel - Yes you did. That's because I've ascended to another plane of existence ..... I'm energy now.

O'Neill - How's that working out for you?

Daniel - Good, actually, very good. You, however…

O'Neill - Yeah, well…you know what it's like coming back from the dead. Takes a while to get the color back in your cheeks. So…not a delusion?

Daniel - No.

O'Neill - Okay…show me your stuff. Bust me out of here.

Daniel - I can't.

O'Neill - Why not?

Daniel - I'm not allowed to interfere.

O'Neill - You're interfering right now.

Daniel - No, I'm not.

O'Neill - Yes, you are.

Daniel - No, I'm not. I am consoling a friend.

O'Neill - What good's the power to make the wind blow or toss lightning around if you can't use it to spring an old friend out of jail?

Daniel - I would if I could.

O'Neill - You can't do that stuff?

Daniel - I can. I just can't ......

O'Neill - If the Daniel Jackson I knew was really here…

Daniel - I am.

O'Neill - Then do something. You listen to me. I don't want to go through that again. If you were really my friend and had the power to stop it, you'd stop it!

Daniel - The hardest part of being who or what I am is having the power to change the things I want to change and knowing that I can't. Even when I'm certain, even when it's absolutely clear to me, even when it affects the people I care about. Because for all I can do, I'm no more qualified to play God than the Goa'uld are .....


And that's where the similarity ends, because God is eminently qualified to play God, so to speak, and yet still .....