Monthly Archives: October 2006

Happy Reformation Day!

Today is a red-letter day for Lutherans and other Reformed Christians. While most of us are gearing up for All Saints and All Souls (and while the secular world is getting into Halloween mode), the Lutherans are singing “A mighty fortress” and hoisting their beersteins (or port glasses in the Barossa) with a hearty “Sola Fides”!

For those of you not up on Ref History, the reason Oct 31 is Reformation Day is because that is the day that, in 1517, Brother Martin Luther (the Blessed Doctor, as Confessional Lutherans call him) posted his 95 Theses on the local notice board (ie. the door of the Wittenberg Church).

[That’s Brother Martin played by Joseph Fiennes in the picture. I wonder if there is some sort of meaning here somewhere with Joseph doing Luther while his brother Ralph got to do Lord Voldemort…?]

The reason for choosing this particular church door was that the next day, being All Saints day, the Elector, Frederick the Wise, would stage the annual exhibition of his vast collection of relics, which always drew a crowd.

Not that many Lutherans would be aware of what was actually in the 95 Theses. Some will able to quote the very first Thesis (“Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance”–quite good spirituality in that), but most would be unaware that they uphold, rather than reject, the authority of the pope and the existence of purgatory.

Luther wrote his theses as the starting point for an academic debate at his university, which was never–in the excited aftermath–actually held. I would like, one day, actually stage the debate with a Lutheran theologian (any takers?), because looking at them, I think that some of Brother Martin’s statements about purgatory do not properly represent the teaching of the Church (although they might well have represented what was generally taught in Luther’s day).

For eg. thesis 16 says: “16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.” This seems to put purgatory in closer relation to hell than to heaven, whereas Catholic theology sees purgatory as completely different from hell and the anticipation of heaven. More accurate would be to say that the correspondence is to “despair, hope and assurance” respectively.

Anyway, there it is. The most Protestant festival of the year is side by side with the most Catholic festival, and between them both this pagan nonsense of Halloween has got its claws in. Funny old thing, history…

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And another one bites the dust…

There can’t be terribly many Lutheran pastors left in the US these days. They’ve all either gone to Rome or Constantinople. The latest one to go down this road (or, to be specific, the latter road) is “Fr Fenton” at the Conversi ad Dominum blogsite.

I wish him and his family all the best, as they undoubtably face the same struggle that all converts do.

But my mate Peter Holmes in Sydney has a saying with which seems to apply in this case: “ABC: Anything But Catholic”.

When I realised I could no longer remain as a member of the Lutheran Church, one pastor said to me, “What about Orthodoxy?”. But it was never really an option, for two simple reasons:

1) I am a western Christian, and (even if the Pope doesn’t use this title anymore) the Bishop of Rome is the Patriarch of the West and it was with him that I had to seek communion

2) In the end, there is only one meaning of Catholic that cuts the ice, and that is “in communion with the Pope”. Any other meaning and you’re simply making it up as you go along.

Fr Fenton says in his resignation letter that he is glad to be entering “the true visible Church of Christ on earth”. Well, yes he is, in that the Orthodox Church is acknowledge by all to be an authentic part of the “true visible Church”, by virtue of their valid bishops and sacraments. He is certainly more closely in communion with me now than he was as a Lutheran. But to talk of “THE Orthodox Church”, seems a little naive, when there are so many Orthodox Churches, and they are for ever in and out of communion with one another. The Orthodox Churches are consigned hopelessly to being ethnic churches.

If I may add a 3rd point to the two above, there is another thing about the Catholic Church. It has to be catholic, ie. universal. “The Orthodox Church” is a communion (more or less) of true visible local churches, but can they really claim to be “THE true visible Church of Christ on earth”?

I respect Fr Fenton’s decision. It just wasn’t mine, for the reasons stated. But because the Orthodox Churches are true Churches (if not THE true Church), I am sure that he and his family will find the peace they seek.


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My girls too…

I like “…”s. They’re so expressive…

Anyway… On with the blog…

Fraser, over on his obscure blog, has some neat pictures of his kids, one in “pirate mode”, so I thought I would put up something personal and show my kids in dress up up too.

Fr Michael Court is a local SVD priest who has a sideline as a magician and once a year does a “magic night” for the parish schools. The kids all get dressed up as something magical–lots of wizards and witches and fairies. The sort of thing to sends fundamentalists scurrying under their beds… (there’s those …’s again).

Anyway, here are my two in “Harry Potter” mode. Yes, Maddy is the infant magician, but can you guess who Mia is? (No, not Hermione).

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What have Terry Pratchett, Richard Dawkins and Pope Benedict all got in common?

They are very, very interested in the relationship between Reason, Religion and Science.

I have just finished reading Science of the Discworld III. You have to be familiar with the Discworld novels to really get the point of the “Science of the Discworld” series, but if you are, then do yourself a real favour and read these three books. If you’re not, then do yourself an even bigger favour and start reading the Discworld novels now. There’s about a hundred to choose from and Pratchett writes faster than you can read so you will be laughing until you’re in the grave.

Right, back to “Science III”, the whole premise of this book is what would have happened if Darwin didn’t write “The Origin of Species” but “Theology of Species” (or, as the wizards keep saying it: “The Ology” instead of “The Origin”). So, yes, it is about evolution and God and reason etc. etc. Its an entertaining and educational read, but you can easily get annoyed with it. Not so much with Pratchett as with his co-writers, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. The approach these blokes take to the relationship between religion and science is not unlike that of Richard Dawkins.

Who, if you are interested, recently did a radio debate in Ireland on the topic of the rationality (or lack of it) in religious belief. Zenit did us the monumental favour of putting the transcript up on their website in two parts: Part I and Part II. His interlocutor, David Quinn, runs circles around Dawkins. Dawkins is reduced to a sort of Monty-Pythonesque “No it isn’t; Yes it is” style of argument.

Back to “Science of the Discworld III”: the first customer review on the Amazon link above is fairly spot on, I reckon. The reviewer writes:

It isn’t as if Pratchett is setting up 6 day creationism against science. This book is actually based on a premise that people who believe that God works through evolution are dangerous and that godless evolution must triumph if the world’s population is to be saved. …Beyond that the logic of the arguments here defeat each other. As the book points out, one of the great strengths of Victorian England was that diversity flourished in it, and that is one of the reasons it was such an inventive time. What Pratchett also knows is that the diversity existed because no one world view predominated at the time. So what does Pratchett propose? To end the diversity of world views by making a godless scientific one the only show in town.

Dawkins, in the radio debate, actually does set up the straw man of “creationism” and fundamentalism as the only possibility for religious belief. He wants to say that all religion is a delusion.

All religion? No, not quite. He doesn’t mind Einstein’s “sophisticated” type of religion “which really wasn’t religion at all.” Einstein “used the word “God” a great deal, but he didn’t mean a personal God, he didn’t mean a being who could listen to your prayers or forgive your sins.”

Is any other type of religion okay? Well, yes, Dawkins doesn’t find the deistic types of belief in God a problem. They “believe in a kind of God, a kind of personal God who set the universe going, a sort of physicist God, but then did not more, and certainly doesn’t listen to your thoughts, and has no personal interest in humans at all.”

The real “delusion” is reserved for “theists, who actually think they talk to God and think God talks to them.”

So let’s get this straight: Dawkins is happy to acknowledge that there may be a God–even a God who could create the entire universe (or multiverse, if you prefer) which is pretty powerful–but not so powerful that he could actually communicate himself to his creation! That would be “delusional”.

Later in the interview, Dawkins rejects Quinn’s definition of the “unmoved mover” as God. “You just defined God as that”, Dawkins retorts. WELL, YEEES! DOH. But it isn’t really a very original definition of God. It’s what Aristotle and Aquinas–and Einstein for that matter–thought of as God.

Dawkin’s God–and Pratchett/Cohen/Stewart’s God–is too small. Their God, the one they reject, it the anthropomorphic watchmaker God with the beard who created the world 6000 years ago. In other words, these guys are way, way, WAY behind the theological times. Its like they’ve got a hundred degrees in science, maths and astrophysics, but haven’t even graduated from Sunday School in theology (or whatever the equivalent is in Philosophy).

First published in 2005, one suspects that the authors of “Science of the Discworld” have not read much by Papa Benny as yet. They are, however, familiar with JPII’s dictum that “the bible does not wish to teach how the heavens were made, but how one goes to heaven.” But this “sophisticated reconciliation of evolution with God is a wishy-washy compromise, a cop-out.” Why? “Because evolution knocks an enormous hole in what otherwise might be the best argument yet devised for convincing people of the existence of God, and that is the “argument from design”.”

Well, in fact, the argument from design is still alive and well–and not just in the philosophically and theologically immature attempts of the “Intelligent design” mob. That’s where Pope Benedict and Cardinal Schoenborn etc. come in. That’s where these scientists need a good dose of philosophy and theology to counter their single track rationality that sees only the empirical as the rational. I wonder if Dawkins, Pratchett and co have taken the time to read the Regensburg address? I doubt it. Pity.

Actually, Cohen and Stewart give the clue towards the end of their book with Pratchett. As the reviewer said above, the key is not being tied down to one “world-view”. Different stories can exist side by side without being contradictory. In fact, each can throw a different light on reality. Human beings, as they conclude, are not simply Pan narrans–the story telling ape–but Polypan multinarrans. The evolutionary story and the creation story can actually work together in a complementary manner. Not a compartmentalised manner, as Dawkins would have us think, but in a narrative way, in which two accounts of the same reality can both be objectively true for what they are trying to convey.

The other problem is that which many people have of having a God who is neither big enough, nor small enough. Ratzinger, in Introduction to Christianity, deals with this issue:

In a world that in the last analysis is not mathematics but love, the minimum is a maximum; the smallest thing that can love is one of the biggest things; the particular is more than the unversal; the person, the unique and unrepeatable, is at the same time the ultimate and highest thing.

I think even Einstein understood that.

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How to kill a blog…

Don’t post anything for ten days. Sorry about that, guys.* I’ve been flat on my back for the last week since buggering** up some of my stabilizing muscles in my lower back. I am slowly returning to normal, and although I would still describe my degree of pain as severe in normal circs, I am feeling one hundred percent up on what I was last Monday.

Anyway, while lying flat out I have found lots of things to blog about, and hopefully will get the opportunity over the next few days.

* In a recent meeting of the Commission, a dispute arose when I used the term “guys” to cover the whole assembled body. One of our female religious members felt that it excluded women. I hope all our readers understand that in modern parlance “guys” = “guys and gals”.

** Another coloquial term in modern parlance. Not to be confused with the ancient meaning of the word.

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Is nothing sacred? "Pope’s Latinist" fired by university

Father Reginald Foster, famously called the “Pope’s Latinist”, has been fired by his university, the Gregorian in Rome. Which just goes to prove that the whole world is going crazy.

If you want a taste of Father Reginald, go to this website which has collected together an archive of the Vatican radio “Latin lover” programs.

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Everything You Need to Know about the Regensburg Affair — All on One Page!

The last month has probably been one of the most significant in the recent history of Christian-Muslim relations. The Holy Father’s lecture in Regensburg caused waves and ripples around the world. As the waters are now settling, we could look back over the news, commentary and material that has emerged in this time and hopefully learn something about the road ahead.

To make this task easier, we of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission (one uses the Royal ‘we’ in this occasion) have constructed a web page which collects together much of the relevant material. You will find it here: “The Regensburg Affair”.

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"Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI": An Authentic Response to Regensburg from an Authentic Islam

Well, we saw the violent responses to the Pope’s Regensburg address. Some would have liked to think that that was “true” Islam showing its colours. But, as is often pointed out, there is no “Muslim Vatican” to speak on what is “authentic” or “true” Islam. Now comes a response which is anything but violent; a response which is considered, reasonable, even “friendly” in tone; a response which takes up Benedict’s invitation to sincere dialogue and which can stand as an authoritative basis for the future of the dialoge.

The “Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI” has been signed by such an incredibly universal array of signatures from Grand Muftis, political authorities and Islamic university professors, that one cannot but conclude that the views expressed therein are “authentic” Islam. What’s more, there is not a belligerant word in the entire letter. It is as respectful and gracious as Papa Benny undoubtably intended his original lecture to be.

I suspect that there may be plenty reading this blog who may not be inclined to read the “Open Letter”. I suggest that this inclination may be due to the fact that such persons do not wish to sincerely enter the dialogue, but prefer to hold their own preconceived notions about what “true Islam” is. Well, if that describes you, I pity you. Prove me wrong and read it. Then leave a comment.

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Important statement by Pope on religious vilification

It went completely under the radar of the press, but the Holy Father, in his general audience on October 11, was talking about the rather strong invective used in the NT Letter of Jude, especially verse 8-13. This passage has been often raised by opponents of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act here in Victoria, as they have used it as a scriptural example of religious vilification. One can hardly believe that Pope Benedict did not have the recent spat over the Regensburg address in mind when he said the following:

Today we are no longer in the habit of using such controversial language, which nevertheless tells us something important: That in all the existing temptations, with all the currents of modern life, we must preserve the identity of our faith. Of course the path of indulgence and dialogue, which the Second Vatican Council has felicitously undertaken, will surely be continued with firm constancy. But this path of dialogue, so necessary, must not make us forget the duty to rethink and to witness always with as much force the guiding lines of our Christian identity that cannot be given up.

It is important to keep very present that this, our identity is not to be toyed with on a simply cultural plane or on a superficial level, but requires strength, clarity and courage given the contradictions of the world in which we live.

He interprets his own comments when, in English, he later summarises his point: “In the letter of the New Testament, traditionally attributed to the Apostle Jude, a strong emphasis is placed on keeping true to our Christian identity. Sustained by the grace of Christ, we must be steadfast in our faith and moral values, while respecting others and remaining open to dialogue.”

In both this address and the Regensburg lecture, Papa Benny has pointed to “rather brusque” expressions of the past, and used them–not as demonstrations of how we should speak to one another today–but of commitment to truth and reason.

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Whose "feminine" is "THE feminine"?

In an article published in the Friday edition of The Age, Leslie Cannold, senior lecturer at the Centre for Gender and Medicine at Monash, decides that the Government shouldn’t let religions get away with what she sees as blatant sexual discrimination. Apart fromt the tricky businesses of the freedom of religion and the separation of Church and State, there are a number of things I want to take issue with in her article.

It should be noted that her intention is to criticise all three abrahamic faiths, not just Christianity, so when she says “church” in the article, she means “church/synagogue/mosque community”. So when she says that “most Australians” would agree that it should be unlawful for someone to be denied “a leadership role in the church” or to be “physically segregated” on the basis of race, she is right–at least as far as Christianity and Islam is concerned, but not Judaism. I don’t think “most Australians” have an issue with Jews chosing only Jewish people to be their rabbis or for segregating Jews and non-Jews in their places of worship. Leslie should also be thankful that modern Judaism has no priesthood as did ancient Judaism, which defined the requirements for priesthood not only by race and gender, but even more specifically by tribal pedigree–they had to be a Levite to boot.

She describes leadership in religious communities as “aspirations and opportunities”. If she means this in terms of “ambitions”, she is working with the wrong categories for what is essentially a servant role.

Her main accusation however is that “sexism” plays an “integral role” in the Abrahamic religions. I think what she means is–and what makes her wild is–that we actually distinguish between male and female. We have a particular understanding of what it means to be male, and what it means to be female, and proceed on this basis. What she calls “sexism” we call “making distinctions”.

In the same vien, she says that Dan Brown was correct in his “general thesis about the determination of the first Christians to suppress the feminine.” Which prompts me to ask: Whose “feminine”? I would argue that the Church strove to defend “the feminine” from confusion with “the masculine”. What was being opposed was a corruption of “the feminine”, and what was proposed was a purification of “the feminine”.

This purification was not a “sacralisation”, mind you. Christianity has never sought to sacralise either “the feminine” or “the masculine”, for it is clear that these are categories that belong to the world of the profane rather than the world of the holy. Nevertheless, “the feminine” and “the masculine”, like all created things, are good in themselves but are capable of and in danger of corruption, and require purification. As part of this purification, the Christian faith (I can’t speak for the other religions) has always sought to properly distinguish between male and female by seeking to understand God’s role and purpose for both men and women. Thus purified, both “the feminine” and “the masculine” are able enter into the realm of the holy.

Paul, of course, gets a fair beating in this article. He is supposed to have brought his “Hebrew” ideas of the uncleanness of the female into Christianity. It should be stressed that Christainity, by adopting Jesus’ teaching that the origin of uncleaness is the human heart and not any external matter, did not adopt as part of its dogma the idea that women were less pure or more unclean than men.

She claims that women had to “maintain dutiful familial relationships with men: fathers, brothers, husbands”–but so also Christian men had to maintain dutiful familial relationships with women: mothers, sisters, and wives! Roles are important, yes, but not only for women.

Ah well, one could go on. Not worth it really, because in the end, we are talking about different “feminines”.

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