Je suis Charlie

Night in/errant

Following on from my previous post, I notice James McGrath has linked to a post from Fred Clark today. Fred is talking about Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist seminary, who it seems is frightened about the need for some final authority. Fred quotes Al as saying “Without the Bible as the supreme and final authority in the church, we are left in what can only be described as the debilitating epistemological crisis. Put bluntly, if the Bible is not the very Word of God, bearing his full authority and trustworthiness, we do not know what Christianity is, nor do we know how to live as followers of Christ.”

Perhaps what he really hankers for is a Pope? No, I suppose not, as he’s a protestant, and protestantism went in a different direction in the 15th century. Apparently, though, just putting forward the Bible as authoritative is not enough; Fred chronicles how Al has had to add a number of additional statements as to how you should read it.

I wonder if Al has forgotten John 14:6 (NIV) “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever”? Advocate is sometimes “comforter”, sometimes “helper”. It does rather follow from the direction of my argument in the previous post that it would be desirable to read scripture with the aid of your own inspiration via the Holy Spirit, does it not?

Mind you, this is what broadly happened following the break from the pope in the reformation, and the result is thousands of protestant denominations all of whom read bits of scripture in different ways, so perhaps this wouldn’t give President Mohler quite the confidence he is looking for. Perhaps a vote of all those who have interpreted scripture themselves? Maybe not – something tells me he is not a fan of the Jesus Seminar!

Personally, I’m inclined to say “welcome to the twenty-first century”. Nobody’s epistemology rests on absolutely firm ground any more since a succession of German, French and American philosophers and theologians have cut away the support for anything which might be called “foundational”, just as a succession of physicists have cut away the support for anything really definite, anything really solid in science.  A ” dark night of the certainty embracer” perhaps?

You never know, perhaps he will come to the wisdom of Jack Caputo, saying that God does not exist, he insists; he is a weak call to which we can do no more than say “perhaps”, and “yes, yes”.

And follow the call, with a certain amount of intellectual humility.

God feels for you…

A lot of theologians these days are talking about an interpretation of God which does not see him as a kind of superhero (as I criticised recently). John Caputo talks of the “weakness of God”, Peter Rollins talks of abandoning the concept of the “big other” and suggests that the message is that we are all broken, not that God will fix it, process theologians such as John Cobb talk of a relational God who involves himself with humanity but does not control.

It’s nice to feel one is not alone!

Now, I am a man. I suffer from the age-old problem that when you come to a man with a problem, he will either tell you how he thinks you can fix it or he’ll offer to fix it himself – and this does not improve communication with women, who, when they bring a problem to you most often want you to sympathise with them, to enter into their pain, to be present for them. It’s taken me a lot of years of marriage to get this idea into my thick skull, and I still not infrequently revert to type and start suggesting solutions to my wife, which proves not to be what she was looking for.

This breed of theologians, however, are now talking of a theology of the cross in which God is seen as entering into the suffering of the world, demonstrating that he is not in fact the unmoved mover, the unfeeling omnipotent one moving human pieces around for some cosmic purpose (in much traditional theology, the purpose being to become able to forgive humanity). It’s the kind of image which I talk about in connection with Matt. 25:31-46, in which I see God as being damaged when we cause or allow damage to any other human being – “What you did not do for them, you did not do for me”.

This is very much the kind of response to problems which women, rather than men, tend to gravitate to.

So, it occurs to me that there is a fault in what I’ve written so far – when I’ve mentioned God, I’ve used the term “he”. In relationships, it looks very much as if God is more female than male – so I should perhaps have been using the term “she”. “Verily, God is our mother” as Julian of Norwich (a woman) wrote some 500 years ago.

God is with us in all of our pain and suffering, and she feels for us in this; she does not come and offer us a “quick fix” or offer to fix it for us (at least, on the whole).

Theologians having been mostly men, it is maybe not too surprising that it’s taken the best part of 2000 years for them to start thinking of God in terms which are more female than male, as something other than a big man in the sky. In quite a lot of cases, they still can’t bring themselves to think that way.

I feel their pain, just as God does in her infinite wisdom…

Fun with Fritz

Fritz Leiber was an American writer, chiefly of fantasy and SF, probably best known for his “Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser” series. One of his early books (1943) was called “Conjure Wife”. It may not have been his best work, but it’s the one which has kept coming back to me most. It’s still in print today, it seems.

Briefly, the plot involves a young scientific rationalist professor who discovers that his wife is a witch. She has been preparing a load of charms. Our hero manages to persuade her that this is superstitious nonsense, and to remove all the charms from the house and give up this practice.

At that stage, he becomes horribly unlucky (to say the least), and eventually realises that his wife’s charms have been protecting him all this while from the offensive magic of all the other witches around. That’s all of the plot I want to give away…

This came to mind last week when I was thinking about prayer. Now, I’m moving in some circles where lots of people talk as if prayer is an extremely effective force. Granted, most of them don’t actually act that way – in general, they act extremely prudently, but also pray, perhaps following the maxim that you should pray for assistance but also take all steps possible to encourage your desired outcome to happen, and accept any assistance you actually get even if that doesn’t look much like a miracle.

I am not personally particularly convinced that prayer has ever worked for me in a tangible way, and more or less stopped doing petitionary prayers many years ago. OK, there have been occasions when I have asked for something for myself since. Apart from a few occasions when I’ve received a conviction about the next thing to do (as I follow the maxim that I should pray only for knowledge of God’s will for me and the power to carry that out), I can’t say anything I’ve asked for for myself or another has actually happened.

But what if the world is something like the one portrayed by Leiber, but instead of spells and hexes, it operates on petitionary and imprecatory prayers? Maybe there don’t even need to be imprecatory prayers involved, but the side effects of one person’s petitionary prayer may be bad results for another (and reason tells me there’s a substantial probability that this is usually the case, even if I didn’t know stories like “The Monkey’s Paw”)? No-one I know well admits to imprecatory prayer, so I sort of assume the second “maybe” would have to be dominant, or at least I do until Leiber’s paranoid fantasy bites again, making me paranoid about everyone’s motives and honesty! (Just for a moment, OK?).

That’s the snag with paranoid fantasy, it gets directly at the emotional, non-rational bit we all have (mine, I call “EC”, for “Emotional Chris”), and has a tendency to sideline your reason, either for a few moments or, sometimes, for a lot longer.




Holding out for a Rapture

(to the tune of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding out for a Hero”:-

Where have all the good men gone
Why don’t you help me, Lord?
Where’s the angel of revenge
With mighty flaming sword?
Isn’t there a rider pale upon a whitened steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream
of what I need


I need a rapture
I’m holding out for a rapture ’til the end of my days
‘Cause I don’t want to work
For the Kingdom on earth
Or to fellowship with all the gays
I need a rapture
I’m holding out for a rapture ’til the end of my life
As I can’t get no ease
With no liberals here
And I want to leave them to the strife

Somewhere after midnight
In my wildest fantasy
Somewhere just beyond my reach
There’s someone reaching down for me
Corpses rising out of tombs and trumpets blaring loud
Lifting up into the air and feeling mighty proud


Now with the rate with which my Humvee burns gas
Soon there will be none left at all
Seasons are changing with all my exhaust
Always fall

We can’t have any peace in Iraq
Nor Syria or Israel
Armageddon must happen
It can not fail


I need a rapture. I’m holding out for a rapture ’til the end of my life.