Pagan playacting

Iceland Is Officially Worshipping Norse Gods Again

refers to the establishment of a pagan temple and legal entity in Iceland after over 900 years of Christian dominance.

“Christian mission has always positioned itself as a rescue operation, that people were in desperate straits, were indeed under the influence of demons. … It is impossible to read the reflections of Marcus Aurelius … and not recognize a profound mode of religious expression. … It is impossible … not to recognize that [paganism] is the furthest thing possible from the demonic. It is indeed a form of religious expression from which we can learn much, and at the very least we need to respect.”

Indeed – but equally the stories of the gods raping and kidnapping women and boys means that the traditions need desperate reinterpretation to offer the gods as paragons of virtue, which is why the church, since the second century, has identified the deities as demons. That some pagans show a remarkable moral sense doesn’t overcome the fact that much of pagan morality was problematic, from child abandonment to the celebration of death in the gladiator contests.

As far as the Vikings are concerned, these are the gods who were worshipped by the raiders who destroyed Lindisfarne, Iona and many other monasteries in the last years of the first millennium. Resurrecting the worship of them shows a lack of sensitivity to their victims which should be problematic. One hope that  their new believers are merely ignorant, and not proposing to recreate the whole of Viking culture. Which of course demonstrates that this is merely play acting and not a serious engagement with what those gods were about.

Brexit to win 60/40

I’m a supporter of remaining in the EU – but I’m convinced we’re going to vote leave. Why? Because vast swathes of the population have HAD ENOUGH – and their political leaders have failed to reflect that frustration. In effect they are doing what this scene from ‘Network’ – a 70s film – proposed: going to the window and shouting ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more’ The polls are wrong because they are assuming that there will be the normal turnout amongst these groups, who tend not to bother with elections because they’ve long realised that it won’t change anything, and they don’t live in a marginal constituency. We got a hint of the difference when UKIP did so well in the European elections, but this time it’s going to be BIG.

I hope I’m wrong. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the margin is 55/45. But a clear anti-EU anti-establishment vote is going to happen.

Or I’m going to have a lot of humble pie to eat – but I will be happy, because we, and the world, will have dodged a bullet that would have put us all on the road to another recession, probably far worse than the one in 2008.

Politicians’ spin – an example dissected

As a remain supporter, I am deeply saddened by the revelation of the breakdown in trust between the voters and politicians that the referendum has dramatically. However when politicians persist in retailing as facts aphorisms that are misleading, if not actually untrue, it becomes understandable why this attitude has arisen.

In a Guardian article entitled ‘Ignoring immigration doesn’t work. Here are five reforms remain can sign up to’, Yvette Cooper made the comment, heard frequently elsewhere: ‘For centuries Britain has benefited from the dynamism and hard work of those who have come here from abroad’. The reality is that until 1945 immigration to the UK was negligible. A summary history of immigration to Britain gives the statistics, revealing a very small amount of migration over the years. So yes, there have been immigrants over the years who have blessed this country by what they have contributed. This does not however justify the conclusion that we must welcome mass immigration – yet that is her conclusion.

In what sense do immigrants offer dynamism and hard work? Immigrants probably are more dynamic than the locals. This is perhaps inevitable; they are people who have made the effort to move country, so are likely to be showing more initiative than the locals. This is usually regarded a plus, though in challenging the traditions of the host culture they may do damage. We may also face a diminishing returns; whilst the injection of extra dynamism may be helpful, later migrants will be less able to achieve. And we need to recognise the damage done to the sending country in seeing their most dynamic citizens taking off for pastures new.

What is less acceptable is the phrase about ‘hard work’. This does seem racist; the lazy locals are being shown up the incomers. Again it challenges the culture of the host community; if it has settled for a certain pattern of working as acceptable, the disruption by harder working newcomers IS damage to the local culture.

So perhaps the statement should read: ‘In the past, a small flow of migrants has disproportionately contributed to our economic development, at a time when their impact more broadly was very small. (in such areas as housing, infrastructure and demand for government services). On the basis of this I want to suggest that the large scale immigration of the past 20 years, that is likely to continue indefinitely. is a good thing.’

Ms Cooper’s original statement is, strictly, correct as she frames it. Once however it is explored, its flaws become clear. That such spin is routinely used to befuddle the electorate is why we hold our politicians in contempt. We are now reaping the consequences of this persistent self serving inexactitude (aka dishonesty…).

Feminist theology

There are a number of Christian beliefs which I wish I didn’t hold: I wish I could be a universalist; I wish I could give equal legitimacy to gay relationships; I wish divorce and remarriage wasn’t such a no-no. And I wish I could buy the claim that men and women are not inherently distinguished; instead I  would argue that men are tasked with leadership and authority roles which it isn’t right for women to exercise.

This is a minefield. Over the centuries the church has got it badly wrong, suppressing the gifts of women to an unhealthy extent. Actually that wasn’t restricted to women; the ability of most to develop their gifts to any significant extent wasn’t really an option. But the failure to offer women the education that was available no doubt left us deprived of their gifts. This can be over stressed; the church did better than the cultures from which it was emerged, and the New Testament hints at women having a significant role in the early church, though one that faded subsequently.

The issue is, of course, about how we interpret the bible. For the purposes of this discussion I’m taking Genesis as authoritative, which given that Jesus did so in his condemnation of divorce, seems appropriate. So what does this give us?

Genesis 2 offers us the story of the creation of woman. She is bought to Adam, and he NAMES her. This matches his relationship to the animals, whom he has named and has authority over. We name what we have authority over; even in our culture, the parents’ naming of their children reflects our authority over them. And this occurs BEFORE the fall; it’s not after it. Thus suggesting ‘Had God wanted demonstrate that woman is less fit to rule, he would not have given them the same calling to take dominion’ misses the significance of being a queen; a queen shares the king’s authority in reality, though ultimately under his authority.

It’s also important to recognise the words used in the Hebrew for rulership. The type of rule that the man is described as exercising over the woman as a result of the curse of the fall is מְשָׁל ‘mashal’ – the sort of rule exercised over a foreign land, rather than the rule of the king of Israel over Israel, which is the word מְּלֹךְ ‘malak’ which has the concept of taking counsel in it. So the fall results in a collapse of the relationship between man and wife from consultative and healthy to domination and unbalanced – as the phrase about ‘Your desire will be for your husband’ also suggests.

Turning to the New Testament, and its use of the creation story, we have 1 Tim 2:

‘8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.’

The point here is that women, after conversion, are still limited in what they should do. If we are to take this passage seriously, we have to provide an interpretation that engages with the reference to the events in the Garden. My own preference is to see this as a ban on church leadership for women; a policy that remains in place in theory in most of Christendom, though the drift towards Catholic parishes being headed by a woman religious because of the shortage of priests is a reality that is unhealthy. A particular problem relates to what is meant by ‘teaching’: it may well relate to the specific laying down of what the church believes on a topic that is distinct from week by week preaching. If so, this provides space for a woman to be the one who brings the sermon on a Sunday; however this leaves open the question of when ‘teaching’ IS occurring in the church. Not a topic I want to open up now.

A detail to bear in mind any discussion of this issue is way in which the punishment that lands on Adam and Eve persists to this day. Men still till the ground with great difficulty, and women suffer pain in child birth. Any attempt to minimise the truth and implications of the rulership of men over women should be able to point to these other effects being removed before claiming that women are to be released from the rulership. So when Christians by miraculous means are painlessly producing babies and our jobs don’t require the ‘painful toil’ and ‘the sweat of the brow’, then the rest of the package is defunct. Until then, we should resist trying to avoid what does seem clearly taught as part of the reality of living – though this is NOT an excuse for men being gratuitously dominant over women.

Finally we must recognise that the existence of what seems to be a gift from God doesn’t create the right for the possessor to use it. This is most clearly seen in presently celibate people; such individuals are gifted to be parents and sexually active, both good gifts from God. But just because they have that gift doesn’t mean they have the right to exercise it. So the fact that a woman appears well equipped to be a church leader doesn’t constitute evidence that she is fulfil that role.

Conclusion

‘Had God intended for man to rule over woman, he would have stated it more clearly when creating her. Instead he speaks it out as a consequence of her sin, and by doing so he relays the pain it is inflicting on both humanity and creation, but also, to the heart of God… It is time to set Eve free.’

I hope I’ve challenged the logic of this rhetoric. We are called to be faithful to the God who is revealed in the bible, even when He requires us to go against the fashionable views of the world that have come to dominate large parts of the institutional church.

Finally – to shoot us at men; the reason why women end up doing the jobs which the bible seems to indicate should be reserved for women is because we duck our responsibilities. We sit back and let them do the sharing, the leading and the praying. We may be sitting back in church because we have over committed ourselves at work – making our career the centre of our lives instead of finding God’s balance for it.

Recommended reading:

David Pawson Leadership is Male

John and Paula Sandford Restoring the Christian Family

Christians whinging about ‘Easter’ – who do you think you are?

This year the meme ‘we shouldn’t celebrate Easter because it’s pagan’ did the rounds on facebook. It is depressing to see mixture of ignorance, arrogance and superstition that drives this meme. Let’s take it apart.

  1. There IS reason to complain about the name ‘Easter’. Not that it comes from Mesopotamian Ishtar – as the fact that the name is only found in Germany and England reveals; elsewhere a name derived from Pascha is used for the Christian feast. It’s probable that the name of feast day comes from the Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility, though even that may be invalid. However given that all the days of the week are named after pagan deities in English, to be consistent you’d have to abandon those as well. Thor’s day, Woden’s day, Saturn’s day etc. Use those and Easter, or neither…

  2. The dating of Easter was finally set by the Council of Nicaea called by Emperor Constantine in 325. He didn’t invent the feast, merely got the council to get the minority of the church in Asia that was holding it on one date to come into conformity with the practice of the vast majority of the church that was holding it on another. It is certain that the feast had been celebrated by the persecuted church that preceded the days of Constantine; why do we, who’ve never been significantly persecuted, think we have the right to criticise those who were?

The modern challenge to Easter usually comes from ‘Sola Scriptura’ believers who try to pretend that it is possible to construct a working faith merely from the things in the bible. Whilst this is an improvement on the proponents of the ‘New Testament church’ fantasy – who try to do the church like they did it in the New Testament, but still insist on using the New Testament (think about it) – it not much better. The core objection is the idea that the Holy Spirit took a sabbatical from the earth for some 1500 years after the death of John until the Reformation. Really?

But it’s also defective because it fails to engage with the material in the New Testament that indicates that Christians are to be formed by the people through whom they were converted; Paul’s references to the Corinthians as his children who are to obey him as a result makes this clear. And any such Christian who wears a wedding ring is to be giggled at… In practice we ALL have traditions that we inherit; whilst it is appropriate to test them against scripture and discard what is CONTRARY to scripture, it is not biblical to pretend to a tradition free scripture.

Joshua 22:10-end – a text for the week of prayer for Christian Unity.

This story from Joshua is little known. When the Israelites first arrived in the promised land, some of the tribes settled on the eastern bank of the Jordan subject to a promise that they would help their brethren capture the territory on the western bank. When this task was finished, the Eastern tribes raised an altar to mark their commitment to the Lord – and to emphasis that they were part of the people of Israel. However this was misinterpreted by the Western tribes to be a violation of the law of Moses, which banned the building of an altar anywhere except the one place that the Lord would direct. So the Westerners organised to attack their Eastern brethren – but did make the effort to send a party to investigate first. These investigators were convinced by the Easterners’ explanation, and peace was restored.

So what lessons can we take from this?

  1. We need to take the commandments of God seriously. If a fellowship is reported to be acting in a way that is contrary to the scriptures, we should not ignore it. Although the New Testament model does not call for us to physically attack them, we should be prepared to clearly separate from them.

  2. Our actions need to be based on clear investigation. It’s NOT good enough to respond to vague reports that ‘those dreadful people are doing X and that’s not acceptable’. We see here that they were doing something that looked like X – BUT WASN’T. The classic example from church history is the attitude of the Reformation to pictures in church. ‘Must be idolatry – we must destroy them’ – an attitude that cost the UK much of the artistic heritage of the Medieval period. In more recent years allegations of ‘sheep stealing’ and ‘heavy shepherding’ were routinely made against the new Charismatic denominations. Whilst there may have been mistakes, the fact that those groups have now largely come to be accepted in the wider Christian community is a sign that the early rumours were, ultimately, unjustified.

  3. The outcome should be reported back. If a group has gone bad, then this fact should be declared publicly by the leadership of other Christian communities in an area. Equally if it’s been investigated and found healthy, then its clean bill of health is to be publicised as well. Of course this requires church leaders who are willing to ask those hard questions, take a stand and be clear about what they regard as acceptable and unacceptable behaviour or beliefs. Sadly instead we suffer a surfeit of rumours, a lack of clarity about where the lines are, and a general chaos, enabling the wolves to have free range in the flock. Meanwhile real relationships are disdained and opportunities are lost because those who have been hurt in the past by such wolves are more suspicious than they should be.

Why is this happening? A lot comes from an unwillingness to challenge other churches, to go and discover if they are ‘of the Lord’. It’s easier to avoid asking hard questions and drawing sharp lines. Part of this is because there is a strong belief that the church has tended to be more willing to reject the ‘new things’ that the Spirit is doing; the widespread rejection of Wesleys’ ministry and the Anglo-Catholic movement by the Church of England are trotted out as examples. So instead we’ve allowed liberal ‘theology’ to rule the roost – and seen chaos and massive decline in attendances.

It’s also hard work; there needs to be solid engagement between churches to enable the sorts of conversation that are necessary for this to occur. It’s interesting to note that the incident in Joshua occurs after the two protagonists had been fighting alongside each other – yet still distrust occurred. And today it’s not given the priority that it needs; because the leaders of churches don’t see this as one of their primary roles, they allow other issues that should be lower priority to distract them. Actually this follows from a belief that there aren’t really wolves out there – buying into the vague ‘ecumenical’ agenda – yet the reality is that there clearly are.

As ever we need to be discerning. It’s easy to get it wrong – it’s more attractive to look the other way – and that’s a dereliction of duty by our leaders. And remember where the story starts; the Easterners had wanted to affirm their full membership of the people of Israel – but didn’t talk to the right people to do so. We need to spend far more time in real communication – and far less in things that we KNOW are of no value, but are not prepared to actually kill off.

Qu’ran v Bible

The Qu’ran claims to be inspired instructions from the same God as the one who reveals himself in the Hebrew Bible. We should therefore expect that the two revelations will endorse the same attitudes at significant points. Yet once we start to look hard at the data, we find significant divergences. This series will look at some individually; the existence of these significant conflicts leads me to the belief that the spirit whom the Prophet of Islam encountered who identified himself as ‘Allah’ is not the God of Israel but an impostor.

Example 1

The Hebrew Bible prescribes a maximum sentence of 40 lashes. (Deut 25:3). The fact the Qu’ran has no similar restriction is one of the indications of its flawed nature; unlike the Torah, which imposes the restriction so that ‘your brother’ may not be degraded’ in your sight, the Qu’ran doesn’t care about the other.