Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

Edmund Campion

July 25th, 2008 No comments

Edmund Campion is an Oxford Roman Catholic who fled England to become a Jesuit in the 1500’s and returned as an illegal priest. He was caught, debated by Protestant scholars in the Tower of London, and executed for treason.

He claimed that he was on a merely religious mission, not political, but he was executed not for heresy but for treason. Questions of religion and politics were mixed because the Pope had some years earlier deposed Queen Elizabeth and forbade any Englishmen to obey her on pain of excommunication. A good article on the topic is:
Papists, and the “Public Sphere” in Early Modern England: The Edmund Campion Affair in Context, Peter Lake and Michael Questier, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 72, No. 3, (Sep., 2000), pp. 587-627 .

The Pope’s 1570 bull Regnans in Excelsis said:

Therefore, resting upon the authority of Him whose pleasure it was to place us (though unequal to such a burden) upon this supreme justice- seat, we do out of the fullness of our apostolic power declare the foresaid Elizabeth to be a heretic and favourer of heretics, and her adherents in the matters aforesaid to have incurred the sentence of excommunication and to be cut off from the unity of the body of Christ.

IV. And moreover (we declare) her to be deprived of her pretended title to the aforesaid crown and of all lordship, dignity and privilege whatsoever…

V. And also (declare) the nobles, subjects and people of the said realm and all others who have in any way sworn oaths to her, to be forever absolved from such an oath and from any duty arising from lordshop. fealty and obedience; and we do, by authority of these presents , so absolve them and so deprive the same Elizabeth of her pretended title to the crown and all other the abovesaid matters. We charge and command all and singular the nobles, subjects, peoples and others afore said that they do not dare obey her orders, mandates and laws. Those who shall act to the contrary we include in the like sentence of excommunication.

Thus, anyone who was a Roman Catholic and who believed in the authority of the Pope had to, as a matter of religious belief, refuse to obey the English government. Edmund Campion, as a Jesuit, took a special vow of obedience to the Pope. Thus, insofar as he followed his religion, he was a traitor to England– or, if you like, a traitor to Parliament and Queen Elizabeth, if loyal to Queen Mary Stuart. Further, the Bull implies that any Roman Catholic should use all efforts to obey the legitimate ruler– Mary Stuart– which meant to depose the pretended ruler, Elizabeth.

In such circumstances it does not seem unreasonable to me to make it illegal for priests to enter England, or that being a priest loyal to Rome would be prima facie evidence of treason.

See also “Campion’s Brag,”) his challenge to debate.

Categories: history, religion Tags:

Ecclesiology Questions

July 21st, 2008 No comments

My cumulative ecclesiology page, a list of questions and, at some point, discussion and answers in the style of Aquinas’s Summa, is here. I will add the post below to it.

Should books be sold in a church?

Should there be commercial advertising in a church bulletin?

Should money be collected in an offering during worship?

Should worship be beautiful?

Should children have rattles and drums to use during hymnsinging in worship?

Should a church have songs to which the congregation does not sing along?

Should there be clapping after someone has sung or played during worship?

Should children run the service sometimes?

Should there be patronage in choosing a minister?

Should the KJV Bible be used?

Should a person bring his own bible to church?

Should a church have pew bibles?

Is it wrong if members of the congregation do not dress formally, e.g. in jacket and tie?

Is it wrong if members of the congregation dress sloppily, e.g. in shorts and t-shirts?

Should women wear hats in church?

Categories: religion Tags:

The Noahide Laws

July 14th, 2008 No comments

The Talmudic Jews have a tradition that 7 laws are commanded to non-Jews. This is important as a sign of which laws are considered universally the most important. They are not the same as the 10 Commandments. They do not, for example, require worship of Jehovah, or observance of the Sabbath, which are laws specifically for the Jews. Sometimes people point to minor laws in the Torah to downplay the importantance of, for example,the prohibition of homosexuality. This is evidence that some laws are considered more important than others, and of universal importance. has the “The Seven Laws of the Descendents of Noah”, well-documented and with page sources and Hebrew in the original and transliterated:

Idolatry: (Strange work – i.e. serving an idol) Avodah Zarah
2 Blasphemy – ‘Blessing’ the Divine Name: (Cursing G-d) Birchat (Kilelas) HaShem
3 Murder: (Spilling blood) Shefichat Damim
4 Sexual transgressions: (Exposure of nakedness) (i.e. incest, adultery, homosexual acts and bestiality etc) Gilui Arayot
5 Theft: (To rob, embezzle.) (Includes rape and abduction) Gezel
6 Courts system: (Judgement, justice, and law etc.) Dinim

7 Eating a limb torn from a live animal: (Limb of the living.) Ever Min HaChai

From Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 56a; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:1….

Transgressing any one of them is considered such a breach in the natural order that the offender incurs the death penalty. Apart from a few exceptions, the death sentence for a Ben Noach is Sayif, death by the sword / decapitation, the least painful of the four modes of execution of criminals (see the Rambam’s Hilchos Melachim 9:14). (The four methods of capital punishment in Torah are: S’kilah – Stoning; S’rifah – Burning; Hereg – Decapitation; Henek – Strangulation.)…

The Rambam in Hilchos Melachim 8:11, writes that all Benei Noach who accept upon themselves the Seven Mitzvos and are careful to keep them and are precise in their observance are termed ‘Chasidei Umos ha’Olam’ ?????????? ??????? ???????? (‘the Pious Ones of the Nations’) and they merit a share in the World to Come. However, they must keep these Mitzvos specifically because HaShem (G-d) commanded them in the Torah through Moshe Rabeinu (Moses).

Further information is at:


The 7 laws that Noah gave to his sons in the Book of Jubilees, chapter 7, verse 20.

And in the twenty-eighth jubilee [1324-1372 A.M.] Noah began to enjoin upon his sons’ sons the ordinances and commandments, and all the judgments that he knew, and he exhorted his sons to observe righteousness, and to cover the shame of their flesh, and to bless their Creator, and honour father and mother, and love their neighbour, and guard their souls from fornication and uncleanness and all iniquity.

English translations (by Soncino) of the parts of the Talmud that discuss Noahide law:

Sanhedrin 56a & 56b

Sanhedrin 57a & 57b

Sanhedrin 58a & 58b

Sanhedrin 59a & 59b

Sanhedrin 60a & 60b

Sanhedrin 96b

Avodah Zarah 2 & 3

Avodah Zarah 64b, 65a & 65b

Baba Kamma 38a

Categories: religion, social regulation Tags:

Henry VIII’s Divorce: The Real Story

June 23rd, 2008 2 comments

It is sometimes sneeringly said that the Church of England was founded because Henry VIII wanted a divorce and the Pope would not give it to him. That is the true story that lay under the surface (or, going further, perhaps the true story is that Henry VIII wanted a divorce from Emperor Charles’s aunt, and the Emperor objected). The principle at issue, however, seems not to have been divorce, but whether the Church trumped the Bible, exactly the principle that split other Protestants from Rome. Here’s what seems to be the story. I’d have to do library research to find if it is correct, however— web sources are frustratingly vague.

The heir to the English throne, Arthur Tudor, married Catherine of Aragon but died some months later. His brother, the future Henry VIII, wanted to marry the widow. Church law, however, forbade a man to marry his brother’s widow, based (somewhat dubiously) on a verse from Leviticus. Henry applied to the Pope for permission to break the rule, and the Pope granted that permission.

The issue was whether the Pope had the authority to grant Henry permission to break divine law.

The Papacy said Yes. Henry said No. Henry submitted the question to various university faculties, and many of them, including ones in France and Italy, agreed with him. The one Protestant university that I’ve read of him consulting, Marburg, replied that Henry was correct on that narrow issue, but wrong on whether his marriage was invalid, because the underlying church law was wrong.

Update (June 26): I found the key book, Edward Foxe’s 1531 The determinations of the moste famous and mooste excellent vniuersities of Italy and Fraunce, that it is so vnlefull for a man to marie his brothers wyfe, that the pope hath no power to dispence therewith. I’ve posted it at It’s out of copyright, and I think merely scanning it in doesn’t count as adding enough to copyright it. It says right at the start:

NOt longe syns there were put forth vnto vs the college of doctours regent{is} of the vniuersitie of Orlea~ce, these .ij. questions, that folowe. The fyrste, whether it be leful by the lawe of god for the brother to take to wyfe that woma~ / whom his brother hath lefte. The seco~de, and if this be forbydden by the lawe of god / whether this prohibition of the lawe of god maye be remytted by the pope his dispensation

Not long since there were put forth unto us, the college of doctors regent of the University of Orleans, these ii questions that follow. The first: whether it be lawful by the law of God for the brother to take to wife that woman whom his brother hath left. The second: and if this be forbidden by the law of God whether this prohibition of the law of God may be remitted by the Pope his dispensation.

Categories: law, religion Tags:

The Seven Noachic Laws

June 9th, 2008 1 comment

From Roeber’s article about German Jews in early America:

For Jews, the commands given to Noah and his sons after their rescue from the deluge were revealed truth and laid down a clear set of requirements: to establish a society based on laws; to prohibit idolatry; to prohibit blasphemy; to prevent the careless taking of human life; not to tolerate adultery, incest, homosexuality, and bestiality; to prevent robbery; to avoid eating the limb torn from a living animal. These seven basic laws, applicable only to the people of the Covenant, had become the focus of a written tradition by the second century of the Common Era. The body of writings (the Tosefta) that commented on Noachic law began gradually to extend the applicability of the Noachic commands.3 Much later–not before the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries–Jewish commentators who followed Maimonides firmly maintained that gentiles also had to observe these laws. Maimonides believed that this was so not because humans could reason themselves toward the right conclusions, but rather because revelation at Sinai had codified them into the Decalogue. Maimonides assumed that non-Jewish access to the universal truths expressed here brought obligation in its train.

His footnote is useless. Other sources point me to Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah, which is not in English on the Web. See also the useful though opinioned “Comments Concerning
the Noachide Law, the Mosaic Law,
Judaism and Christianity”,

Categories: homosexuality, religion Tags:

Josephus on Sodomy and Abortion

June 9th, 2008 1 comment

At the time of Josephus, Jewish law abhorred homosexuality, of course. It also seems to have treated abortion as murder (Against Apion, 2.25)

But, then, what are our laws about marriage? That law owns no other mixture of sexes but that which nature hath appointed, of a man with his wife, and that this be used only for the procreation of children. But it abhors the mixture of a male with a male; and if any one do that, death is its punishment. … The law, moreover, enjoins us to bring up all our offspring, and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward; and if any woman appears to have so done, she will be a murderer of her child, by destroying a living creature, and diminishing human kind; if any one, therefore, proceeds to such fornication or murder, he cannot be clean.

Categories: homosexuality, religion Tags:

Thatcherite Gordon Brown

May 21st, 2008 No comments

Blogger Cranmer tells us that Gordon Brown gave a speech to the Church of Scotland Assembly about his moral vision. Brown says he believes in the Parable of the Talents, but clearly he has forgotten the parable’s ending and its moral. He says

And amidst all the challenges and headlines of recent months I have learned what really matters: that, for me, a life is best measured not by what office or title you hold but by what difference you can make by seeking to do what you judge the right thing, however difficult, and by the causes to which you dedicate your efforts.

As a son and now a father I believe in the Parable of the Talents my father taught me:

* that everyone has a talent,

* everyone should have the chance to develop that talent,

* and everyone should be challenged to use that talent and given the best chance to bridge that gap between what they are and what they have it in themselves to become.

And so I believe in the power of opportunity to change lives.

In the Parable, after the third servant has not used his one talent, unlike the first two servants with their their two and ten, his master says:

Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Thus, Brown is saying inadvertently that he opposes the welfare state!

Categories: politics, religion Tags:

The Hindu Vicar

May 15th, 2008 No comments

Cranmer wrote in 2006:

One priest, the Rev David Hart, a convert to Hinduism, has been allowed to continue to officiate as a cleric. His diocese renewed his licence even though he had moved to India, changed his name to Ananda (Sanskrit for ‘happiness’), and participates daily in pagan fire offerings to the snake god Nagar, and offers prayers to the elephant god Ganesh. He also offers namaaz at Muslim prayer halls. He sees no contradiction between these practices and his duties as an Anglican priest; he said he will officiate in a Christian church and a Hindu temple because ‘My philosophical position is that all religions are cultural constructs…”

Wikipedia says

His next book ‘An Introduction to Hinduism’ (London: Continuum 2009; Series Editor: Clinton Bennett) will examine the breadth of the Hindu faith as he discovers it living in India and will show how he regards his position as a Hindu believer as entirely compatible with being an Anglican priest in good standing with his diocesan bishop back in England.

Categories: religion Tags:

Female Elders in Churches

May 15th, 2008 1 comment

One question of ecclesiology is whether women should be elders. Walking in the rain today, I thought at first of an argument for that position, and then realized it cuts the other way.

The question is whether a passage such as the following implies that women in the America of 2008 should be ordained as pastors.Timothy 3 says

1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

My first thought was that this passage has no such implication, because in Paul’s time and place women would not apply for public positions anyway. No normal woman would “desire the office of a bishop”, so that case could be disregarded. Or, if one did, prudential reasons would so obviously argue against it that, again, there was no need to put in a special comment.

If the passage were about the qualifications to be a tax collector or a soldier the the argument of the previous paragraph would be valid. Its flaw is that in the Greco-Roman world there were priestesses. In fact, they come to mind more easily than priests do. Think of the Vestal Virgins in Rome and the oracle at Delphi. In that cultural context, a new religious cult such as Christianity could get away with having priestesses. The Jews, to be sure, did not, but Christians already had broken with Judaism on the questions of pork, circumcision, and Temple, and having priestesses would hardly increase the size of the break.

Putting aside other reasons, then, the cultural signifance of Timothy 3 might cut the opposite way of what we usually think: it was not an accommodation to the culture of the day, but a purposeful break with the culture. The pagans have priestesses; the Christians will not. That reasoning would apply equally well today. The episcopalians have priestesses; the Christians will not.

Categories: religion Tags:

20 of 114 Church of England Bishops Homosexual

May 3rd, 2008 No comments

I’ve come across a variety of items which point to the Church of England being heavily infiltrated by homosexual clergy. I became interested after reading a good book, Last Rites, by a homosexual ex-vicar who is perceptive in some ways and blind in others. It makes a good read, as he talks about the virtues of tolerance while also talking about how in the past evangelical clergy were quiet because they were afraid to talk and about how he called the police in to harass another pastor who wrote him criticizing his homosexual ways.

What surprises me most, though, is what a large fraction of the clergy and bishops are known homosexuals. Perhaps I shouldn’t be; for Anglo-Catholics, it is a chance to dress up in fancy garb and pretend to be a priest. One can be an actor, organist, or singer and get paid for it.

Damian Thompson writes:

A leading Anglican source has told me how many Church of England bishops are easily identifiable as gay. The answer is 20, he says, out of 114 diocesan and suffragan bishops….

I wanted to find out because an extraordinary article has appeared in this week’s Church of England Newspaper claiming – quite correctly – that the C of E is the most gay-friendly Church in the world, easily outstripping any other province of the Anglican Communion.

That is because its bishops routinely ignore their own official guidelines on homosexuality – and especially civil partnerships.

The article is by Christopher Morgan, a well-connected religious commentator who, many years ago, was best man at Rowan Williams’s wedding. It’s a good piece – he has done his homework – but it will shock some of the Church of England Newspaper’s evangelical readers.

It is not available free online, so let me quote the relevant passage. The background is that, according to a House of Bishops’ “pastoral statement”, a bishop is supposed to inquire into the nature of a priest’s gay relationship, to ensure that it is non-sexual, before giving a civil partnership his approval.

Morgan writes: “I do not think even one bishop has enquired into the bedroom arrangements of clergy in civil partnerships, …

Morgan goes on to talk about gay bishops in the Church, and says that George Carey told him on tape that he had ordained at least two. In fact, Dr Carey actually named the two bishops. One of the names came as no surprise, since (if my memory serves me) the bishop had, as a priest, once served as a judge for Mr Gay UK.

From My time at homo-erotic college, The Spectator Dec 7, 1996 by Oddie, William:

Some theological colleges have been traditionally more noted for sodomy than others, though it is probably not too much to say that it is normal in all of them, with the possible exception of some evangelical establishments. The most famous of all used to be St Stephen’s House, Oxford (known to its alumni as ‘Staggers’), where 20 years ago I was in training for the Anglican priesthood, and where (despite a much publicised purge carried out by the then principal, Father David Hope, now Archbishop of York) I estimated that fully two thirds were openly homosexual, many without doubt actively so.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere at Staggers in my day was certainly more discreet than the overt queening about of the pre-Hope regime, which had been exacerbated by huge quantities of gin – the Reverend Kenneth Leech, a former St Stephen’s House student (or `Staggers bag’) of this period, described the ethos of AngloCatholicism as `gin, lace and backbiting’. A hardly exaggerated portrait of Staggers at this time is to be found in A.N. Wilson’s novel Unguarded Hours (Mr Wilson is a former Staggers bag).

Father Hope had forbidden drinking (except for a pusillanimous glass of bad sherry after Sunday mass) and had thrown out the lace together with all the beautiful old Latin vestments. He had made a connection between elaborate liturgy and queening about, and there was now in force a regime of unrelieved liturgical austerity.

But the centrepiece of Father Hope’s reforms had been the supposed purge of the rampant homosexuality of previous years, which had caused such a scandal that Staggers had nearly been closed down. Things had been just as bad at Cuddesdon, the prestigious theological college known for its `old-school mitre’ -just outside Oxford, where Robert Runcie had once been principal. There was some resentment at Staggers that they and not Cuddesdon had attracted notoriety; it was rumoured that Cuddesdon had escaped public obloquy because its own scandals had been hushed up by the then Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Reverend Kenneth Woollcombe, who lived nearby.

At any rate, Father Hope’s widely bruited blitz on the queens had the desired effect, and Staggers survived ( to become a hotbed of radical feminism following women’s ordination)….

This all happened a long time ago. Things in the Church of England are much worse now and it would be almost impossible to threaten a theological college with closure on the grounds that it permitted sodomy. One college (not Anglo-Catholic) even encourages prospective students to bring their ‘partner’, male or female, to spend the weekend as part of the selection process.

The New Statesman says

…tabloid revelations in September 1994 that the then newly enthroned bishop of Durham, Michael Turnbull, who had condemned gay clergy in loving relationships, had a conviction for cottaging. An ex-monk called Sebastian Sandys outed three more bishops, including the then bishop of Edmonton, Brian Masters, at a debate at Durham University. Meanwhile, Peter Tatchell’s OutRage! issued a list of ten gay bishops who had endorsed anti-gay discrimination within the Church. They included the high-profile bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood (who has since died).

The climax of the campaign came in March 1995 when the then bishop of London, David Hope, was named Archbishop of York – the number two post in the Church of England. Under pressure from Tatchell, Hope – who had endorsed the sacking of gay clergy and backed a Children’s Society ban on gay foster parents – acknowledged that his own sexuality was a “grey area”.

Categories: homosexuality, religion Tags:

Hymns with Blame for the Crucifixion

May 3rd, 2008 No comments

From The Cyber Hymnal here are some hymns that put blame for the Crucifixion on those who follow Jesus. I’ve given authors when I’ve heard of them. In each case I’ve given the first verse and the relevant verse.


John Newton

In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career.

I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agony and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.

Sure, never to my latest breath,
Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.

My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
And plunged me in despair,
I saw my sins His blood had spilt,
And helped to nail Him there.

A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou mayst live.”

Thus, while His death my sin displays

In all its blackest hue,

Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.


Charles Wesley

Come, Thou everlasting Spirit,

Bring to every thankful mind

All the Savior’s dying merit,

All His sufferings for mankind!
True Recorder of His passion,
Now the living faith impart;
Now reveal His great salvation;
Preach His Gospel to our heart.

Come, Thou Witness of His dying;
Come, Remembrancer divine!
Let us feel Thy power, applying
Christ to every soul, and mine!
Let us groan Thine inward groaning;
Look on Him we pierced, and grieve;
All receive the grace atoning,
All the sprinkled blood receive.


My times are in Thy hand;
My God, I wish them there;
My life, my friends, my soul I leave
Entirely to Thy care.

My times are in Thy hand,
Jesus, the crucified!
Those hands my cruel sins had pierced
Are now my guard and guide.


Isaac Watts:

How condescending and how kind
Was God’s eternal Son!
Our misery reached His heav’nly mind,
And pity brought Him down.

Here let our hearts begin to melt,

While we His death record,
And with our joy for pardoned guilt,
Mourn that we pierced the Lord.


My sins laid open to the rod,
The back which from the law was free;
And the eternal Son of God
Received the stripes once due to me.

I pierced those sacred hands and feet
That never touched or walked in sin;
I broke the heart that only beat
The souls of sinful men to win.

That sponge of vinegar and gall
Was placed by me upon His tongue;
And when derision mocked His call,
I stood that mocking crowd among.

Categories: music, religion Tags:

The Good Samaritan Experiment

May 1st, 2008 No comments

The famous Darley-Batson experiment (Darley, J. M., and Batson, C.D., “From Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior”. JPSP, 1973, 27, 100-108.)
Its conclusion is that if people are in a hurry, they help a lot less, but being on the way to preach on the parable did not, but it looks to me as if this second conclusion is wrong, given the data, so do not rely on it.

Categories: experiments, religion Tags:

The Directory for Family Worship

April 13th, 2008 No comments

From The Directory for Family Worship (1647), a goo document to read:

…in every family where there is any that can read, the holy scriptures should be read ordinarily to the family; and it is commendable, that thereafter they confer, and by way of conference make some good use of what hath been read and heard. As, for example, if any sin be reproved in the word read, use may be made thereof to make all the family circumspect and watchful against the same; or if any judgment be threatened, or mentioned to have been inflicted, in that portion of scripture which is read, use may be made to make all the family fear lest the same or a worse judgment befall them, unless they beware of the sin that procured it: and, finally, if any duty be required, or comfort held forth in a promise, use may be made to stir up themselves to employ Christ for strength to enable them for doing the commanded duty, and to apply the offered comfort. In all which the master of the family is to have the chief hand; and any member of the family may propone a question or doubt for resolution.

Categories: religion Tags:

February 17th, 2008 No comments

God’s Law and What Is Good. The other night someone was saying that the book of Hebrews explained how God’s command to Abraham to kill his son did not violate the natural law against murder. It doesn’t. Hebrews 11:17-19 says:

By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten [son], Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God [was] able to raise [him] up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.

According to this interpretation, Abraham did think Isaac would die, but also thought that God could raise him up from the dead again and somehow keep the covenant. This does not eliminate the problem that Abraham was commanded to cause the death of his son.

Categories: religion Tags:

February 3rd, 2008 No comments

Islam vs. Christianity. What is the difference, and what is similar? The
Baylyblog has a good discussion:

(by Lucas Weeks, a ClearNote Pastors College student) Last October, 138 Muslim scholars issued this open letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders entitled “A Common Word Between Us and You”. One month later, dozens of Christian leaders responded in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times, the text of which can be found here

I am certainly in favor of using our common ground to build bridges to Muslims. Absolutely! But there are two important points to note in this particular discussion: First, this is not a personal exchange of ideas between friends. This is a discussion between scholars and religious leaders who have given their lives to studying and teaching from the Qu’ran and the New Testament. Consequently, the Christian response has a duty to acknowledge the Muslims for their effort to build bridges (which they did do) and to respectfully explain why a Muslim must be united to Jesus Christ before his love for God and for neighbor will be the love that God desires.

And it was precisely this that these Christian leaders certainly did not do.

Second, Christians who read these two documents must understand that the Muslim document was basically honest, while the “Christian” document was basically dishonest. This is a simple question of integrity.

If the men and women who wrote and signed the Christian response truly believe the foundational principle of the Christian faith is simply obedience of the two greatest commands, then the matter is simple: they simply aren’t Christians and they need someone to explain the gospel of Jesus Christ to them.

If, however, these men and women do understand that the foundational principle of the gospel is God’s love to us through Jesus Christ, then they very carefully obscured it in their response to the Muslims.

Pastor Roberts spoke on Romans 5 this morning and told this story about C.S. Lewis:

It is told that during a meeting on comparative religions in Britain that many scholars gathered together to discuss what, if anything, was unique to Christianity. Many different elements were discussed and debated. Was Christianity unique because of its concept of truth? No, other religions have this. Was it unique because of the doctrine of reconciliation? No, other religions have this. Was it unique in terms of inspiration of a particular book? No, again, other religions have this. It is told that C.S. Lewis entered the room during the debate and asked what the discussion was all about. “We are discussing what makes Christianity unique, if anything.” “That’s easy” Lewis responded, “its grace.”

At the heart of Islam is man’s love for God. At the heart of Christianity is God’s love for Man. Islam is a legalistic religion: follow God’s rules, which in Islam are few and well-specified, and you will go to heaven. Christianity is a rejection of legality. God will decide whether you will go to heaven or not, and you can’t buy your way in. Only He and the Cross can make you worthy.

Is the weblog post’s charge against the Christian letter’s signatories valid? The letter does not say that the fundamental pillars of Christianity are love of God and Man; it is not that bad. It even alludes to God’s love for Man being central to Christianity, here:

For Christians, humanity’s love of God and God’s love of humanity are intimately linked. As we read in the New Testament: “We love because he [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our love of God springs from and is nourished by God’s love for us. It cannot be otherwise, since the Creator who has power over all things is infinitely good.

The main problem is that the Christian letter is a wasted opportunity. It says that love is important in Christianity and Islam, which is true but vacuous. It could have made the big point about the Islamic letter missing what is central to Christianity, and thus taught the Islamic clerics something they did not know already. Or, it could have made small points, such as that Islam, contrary to the Islamic letter, does not preach freedom of religion. Instead, the Christian letter says:

We applaud when you state that “justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part” of the love of neighbor. When justice is lacking, neither love of God nor love of the neighbor can be present. When freedom to worship God according to one’s conscience is curtailed, God is dishonored, the neighbor oppressed, and neither God nor neighbor is loved.

If they’re going to say that, oughtn’t they to mention that Islamic law says that the penalty for a Moslem who converts to Christianity is death, and that missionaries are treated as criminals in many (most?) Moslem countries? Or maybe they are trying to allude to that, very obliquely. The Moslem letter only mentioned “freedom of religion” twice, (p. 3, p. 14 of the full, pdf, version), and then only obliquely.

Somebody should write a better response to the Islamic letter, which is carefully written and which I admire. The letter should talk about the common ground of Islam and Christianity, and about the big differences. I don’t know whether it should refer to contentious side-issues such as freedom of religion. It should be written by someone who knows enough about Islam to know whether Islam really allows peaceful co-existence, or whether it demands world conquest. In either case, we have common ground, especially since there is no realistic chance of Islam conquering the world in the next fifty years, and since even when they have conquered Christians, Moslems are supposed to tolerate them as long as they do not try to convert Moslems. Such a letter, too, should not be all sweetness and smiles. The important common ground between Moslems and Christians is what distinguishes them from idolaters, New Agers, and atheists. Saying that both Moslems and Christians are supposed to be nice doesn’t help bring us together, even if it were to be true.

Categories: Islam, religion Tags:

January 27th, 2008 No comments

Sin. I’d benefit from understanding sin better. Evangelicals are to content to say something is sinful simply because the Bible tells us so. That’s fine for a start, and a good “reduced form” as we say in economics. And I agree with Ockham that it is God saying something is sinful that makes it sinful, rather than God looking at something, seeing it is independent sinful, and therefore so naming it. Murder is because God says it is; God doesn’t necessarily say it is sinful because it is. But there are also natural law reasons for why most sins are sins, reasons not based on divine revelation. Murder is an example– there are good natural law reasons for it to be considered bad. But we should also look at lust, gluttony, sodomy, greed, sloth, and so forth.

Gluttony is an overlooked sin. Why is it sinful? What is it, exactly? Here are three possibilities.

1. Gluttony is poor stewardship. If I eat a lot, somebody else doesn’t get to eat as much.

2. Gluttony is bestial. I degrade my humanity, and pollute God’s image, by stuffing myself and by making myself fat.

3. Gluttony is distracting. I put food before God, both in my attention and when it comes to conscious tradeoffs.

These all have different implications. Thin people who don’t eat much can be guilty of Type 1 and 3 gluttony.

Categories: food, religion Tags:

January 20th, 2008 No comments

Alpha Course. My son wanted me to take a picture of this Alpha Course pamphlet, which is indeed striking.

An Alpha Course Pamphlet
Categories: art, religion Tags:

January 13th, 2008 No comments

The Name of God. I looked again at my notes on the Tetragrammaton today. They are in sad shape, but the jumble has interesting material in it. The question is how the 4 consonants of the name of God, הוהי or JHVH, ought to be pronounced. What vowels should be added? Jehovah is traditional. Modern scholars use Yahweh. I think they’re wrong. My young scholar told me that he thought V was more correct than W. The Y is clearly wrong for English– we translate the Hebrew Yod as J in Joshua, Jehu, Jehoram, etc. The only big issue remaining is whether there should be a vowel between H and V.

Categories: religion Tags:

January 6th, 2008 No comments

Here’s a Bible story from Judges 10 that I just learned about. Abimelech killed all his brothers, who were the rulers of Shechem, except for Jotham. Jotham told this story to the men of Shechem before he fled.

[7] And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you.

[8] The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us. [9] But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? [10] And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us. [11] But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? [12] Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. [13] And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? [14] Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us. [15] And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.

Jotham says more to connect this to Abimelech, implying that Abimelech is the bramble and that he and the men of Shechem will come to blows later, which they do.

The main point, I think, is that you have to worry about the motives of anybody who wants to be king. It is Plato’s problem of the Philosopher King stated some centuries earlier.

Categories: politics, religion Tags:

December 16th, 2007 No comments

Law (a 2004 repeat) What is the purpose of law? To make people behave well. Under Holmes’s “Bad Man” theory in “The Path of the Law”, laws are for the men who will not do good without the threat of punishment. That, however, neglects other purposes of laws which are important if secondary. One is the “expressive” purpose– that expressing that something is wrong is satisfing to the public. Related to that is the educational purpose of law. Even the good man does not know everything, and the law teaches him. From Psalm 119:

97 MEM. O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.98 Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than
mine enemies: for they are ever with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy
testimonies are my meditation.

104 Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I
hate every false way.

But for the law to achieve this purpose, it must be a trustworthy guide. We must trust the lawgiver to be willing to learn from the law. God’s law is trustworthy. If nothing else, it tells me what God wants, and that is important in itself. Human law is less reliable. If I see a law saying that it is illegal to perform haircuts without a license, I do not conclude that unlicensed haircuts are immoral, or even unsafe, because I think the legislature is wiser than I am. Rather, I conclude that either the legislature has been fooled, or they have been bribed by the barbers to restrict entry.

The Bible is a comfort to Christians because it is a reliable source of law. It still has many difficulties– notably, knowing what law in the Old Testament is still applicable after the Resurrection– but Christians at least have a basis for right and wrong beyond what their culture teaches them. Traditionalists are less grounded, but they at least can find grounding in the axiom that their tradition is reliable. Liberals, despite the confidence they commonly show, are more at sea. They cannot retreat to their culture, since it is a recent and ever-changing one. They are at risk trying to appeal to logical principles grounded in a few generally accepted axioms too, since they often profess a relativism which rules out logic. But that, I think, is what they commonly try to do anyway. John Stuart Mill is an example. He tried to ground morality on the rule of not hurting others, and that is common today too. But the rule turns out to be empty, since anything to which anybody objects hurts them and since it is by no means self-evident that we shouldn’t hurt other people (think of the hurt caused by winning a contest with others, or by starting a new business in competition with them).

Categories: law, religion Tags:

December 9th, 2007 1 comment

Trying to Change God, Not Ourselves The sermon today at St. Ebbe’s made a good point: when God makes us notice our sin, our response is often not to change our own behavior, but to change God. We want Him to withdraw His disapproval in exchange for something else we offer, or just to forgive us because he is merciful and we ask. We don’t want to give up our sin. I’ll have to keep this in mind. Micah 6:7-8 is the passage preached on:

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, [or] with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn [for] my transgression, the fruit of my body [for] the sin of my soul?
He hath shewed thee, O man, what [is] good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Categories: religion Tags:

November 25th, 2007 No comments

Pascal’s Wager and Diversification of Risk.Marginal Revolution reports on a Justin Wolfers’ variant on Pascal’s Wager: If you have five children, train each to be a disciple of a different religion. That way, at least someone in the family will get into Heaven.

This is an argument worth thinking about. It is not an argument about yourself, but about helping your children. Here, perhaps, is the fallacy. If I am selfish, I care about my own salvation, which this project will surely doom. If I care about my children, I should choose the best estimated outcome for each of them– which is the religion which best meets the conditions of Pascal’s Wager (a high up-side gain and a low down-side cost). The Wolfers project makes sense only in a mixed case where my utility is concave in my children’s utility. That’s not unrealistic, but it’s what we think of as our duty towards the children either– and remember, if we’re thinking about realism, my own salvation is going to weigh very heavily.

Of course, Pascal said that he didn’t think his Wager was sound, since only God can give saving faith– cold-blooded calculation won’t make you love God. But the Wager does work as a way to avoid punishment for sin, if not for adoption into God’s family.

Categories: decisions, pascal's wager, religion Tags:

November 18th, 2007 No comments

Making Big Choices under Uncertainty. I had a good talk about Christianity today during my visit to Warwick University. We talked about two fallacies of delayed decision. One is that of Buridan's Ass, who, halfway between two equally good mangers of hay, died of starvation because there was no way to choose between them. Lesson: To not choose is a choice in itself, and sometimes worse than not choosing the best alternative. The second fallacy is that of my webpost a few days ago: of choosing X because it is very uncertain which is better, X or Y. This seems silly until I bring in the application: choosing not to pray to God because it is very uncertain which is better, praying to God or (because he might not exist) not praying. It is quite possible to make your choice and pray heartily to a God you are not sure exists, just as you can write letters to someone who might never receive them or spend thousands of dollars on a medical treatment that might have no chance of
working. You may not be able to fix the degree of your belief, and without a strong belief you may find the discipline of following it hard, but you can make the decision.

Categories: decisionmaking, religion, thinking Tags:

November 4th, 2007 No comments

Divine Anger and the Atonement. I’ve always thought that the idea that Jesus had to die on the cross to propitate God for Man’s sins was a mystery– something that we had no way of understanding. There is no logical connection between Eric Rasmusen sinning against God and God having to die on the cross so Eric could be forgiven. Why not just forgive Eric outright? There could well be a reason, but we are not told it. (Click here to read more.)

Categories: religion, theology Tags:

October 28th, 2007 No comments

The Uses of Suffering. Not all suffering can be explained as useful, but some can, as Paul does in Romans 5:3-5: (Click here to read more.)

Categories: Bible, religion Tags:

October 14th, 2007 No comments

Alistair McGrath. David Wegener writes this about Alistair McGrath’s theologizing.(Click here to read more.)

A Coin Flip Example for Intelligent Design

October 10th, 2007 No comments

1. Suppose we come across a hundred bags of 20-chip draws from
hundred different urns. Each bag contains 20 red chips. We naturally
deduce that the urns contain only red chips. (Click here to read more.)

Evolution and Religion

October 6th, 2007 No comments

David Sloan Wilson, author of Darwin’s Cathedral, a book about the usefulness of religion as an evolutionary adaption, harshly criticizes Richard Dawkins for sloppiness in thinking about religion and evolution. This is part of Dawkins’s contempt for group selection, which is misguided. Click here to read more

How Does Christianity Affect My Life

October 3rd, 2007 1 comment

A good question to ask oneself is: “How do I live my life differently because of my religious beliefs?” Or, put a little differently: “If I didn’t believe X, how would my life change?”

Personally, I don’t think I’d engage in much vice, since gross sin is not advisable even if one’s aim is temporal happiness. I guess I’d not be writing posts like this if I were not Christian, nor would I go to church, or teach my children about God, or find interest in reading the Bible or thinking about theology. I wouldn’t pray, I suppose, though there is an earthly case to be made for prayer too. I would not give money to charity, and I would spend a lot more of my income— that is perhaps the biggest behavioral change I would expect.

Categories: life, religion Tags:


September 30th, 2007 No comments

I’ve started reading the just-published book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?, of John Lennox, whom I met at St. Ebbe’s. It’s good. I think I see the essence of the philosophical position of Naturalism now,Click here to read more