vendredi, octobre 27, 2006

Are you a saint or a ghoul?

This guts of this post is stolen from the London Institute on Contemporary Christianity- if you haven't heard of them yet, they are a wonderful group of hip Christian writers and speakers. You can subscribe to their meditations, which appear to come out once or twice weekly. A prerequisite is liking the British, of course, because they do have a UK-immersed point of view. A couple of things one might want to consider when reading this meditation on atheism and Christianity-why does Richard Dawkins get his knickers in a twist about Christianity, when it is no longer even a particularly potent cultural force in Great Britain (although Tony Blair is apparently going to convert to Catholicism when he isn't PM anymore)? And what do we make of General Sir Richard Dannatt's ideas about Christianity over here, in a nation whose people would still overwhemingly say that they are Christians?Let alone our President (I hardly dare wonder about VP Cheney-that guy sometimes appears to bat for both sides). My feeling about President Bush is that he uses his faith as a cover for his prejudices-the result is that he has managed in so many ways to make Christians here in the United States appear fundamentalist morons (other countries that claim Christian histories have also done really bad things in the name of democracy or monarchy or conversion, would always like to think we'd do better as small "d" democrats than the colonialists of the 19th century). The point made in this essay remains accurate, though-judge Christian ideals by the words and life of the man Christians profess to follow as Savior, not by how well we actually follow them. Sometimes I wonder whether Christians are more comfortable with Halloween than with All Saints Day!

The Two Richards
Whatever we may think of the appropriateness of what General Sir Richard Dannatt said to the Daily Mail last week, his honesty is welcome. His remarks about the invasion and occupation of Iraq overshadowed some other comments on the ‘moral and spiritual vacuum’ in Britain today. ‘Our society’, he said, ‘has always been embedded in Christian values; once you have pulled the anchor up there is a danger that our society moves with the prevailing wind. … It is said we live in a post-Christian society. I think that is a great shame.’
Richard Dawkins would emphatically disagree. His recent bestselling book The God Delusion puts forward the extraordinary opinion that people in post-Christian secular society are far more moral than those who lived (or live) under the code of one of the world’s religions. Passing over the monstrous evils perpetrated in the 20th century by atheist regimes, the Oxford professor of the public understanding of science delights in describing the horrors carried out in the name of God.
The evidence does not support him, however. In a better-informed discussion of the issue, in his book Is Religion Dangerous?, Keith Ward, former professor of divinity at Oxford, argues that, although religion has been used to justify hatred, envy, greed and fear, no faith has such anti-human values at its heart. ‘Religious institutions’, he writes, ‘can be used by authorities to support their own cause, and the rhetoric of religion can then be used to enlist loyalty to very ambiguous policies, for which the use of violence can seem to be … justified.’
Of course, like all belief systems, different religions embody different worldviews, and these find expression in different values. The core values of the post-Christian West today have been defined, by David Selbourne (author of The Losing Battle with Islam) in the Times, as the ‘doctrines of market freedom, free choice and competition’. Is this threadbare, impersonal vision all that the mighty West has to offer? Small wonder, then, that people are looking elsewhere for a moral compass. What happened to the great Christian principle that we should love our neighbour – of whatever race or creed – as we love ourselves?
Thank you, Richard Dannatt, for the reminder. It’s over to us, now, to help our society to rediscover the transforming message of Christ.
Helen Parry

religion has been used to justify hatred, envy, greed and fear, but no faith has such values at its heart
what happened to the great Christian principle that we should love our neighbour as ourselves?

mardi, octobre 24, 2006

I know I should be writing about the political scene (two weeks until the barbarians bring down Rome!), pontificating on latest diatribe of the atheist Richard Dawkins (his brand of what one reviewer termed "nihilistic Darwinism" may be too erudite for me-I barely understood the reviewer's critique), or talking trash about football. I seem to be stuck in "family mode" these days, so you need to go elsewhere for your excitement. The kids had dinner with their dad, as they usually do on Mondays, and I picked them up in the parking lot of the diner where we often meet for this ritual. There's something really tawdry about a divorcing couple exchanging children in a public place. The only reason their dad and I do it this way is because it is often easier than trekking the extra 20 minutes to the other person's house-but it still reminds me of the dissolution of our family, and my responsibility in that. Possibly it's salutary to feel the lash of guilt now and then, because we are always being warned about the horrible effects of divorce on children, and ours seem to be navigating relatively well. The only obvious effect of this low rent rendezvous place on the children is that they almost always seem to want to play the "claw", the hook which, much more often than one would think, has picked up stuffed animals and dropped them into a chute for Sian or Colin to bring back to our home. One of them, a blue and white animal of uncertain gender, creed, race, or country of origin sits on my bed, a present from Colin. Last night, conscious of the time, I refused to allow them money or time to attempt to beat the claw, and we drove home. No sooner did we arrive but Sian declared she was very hungry, and sat down to a salad sandwich (I know her dad feeds her). Colin needed to do his reading. The problem was that by the time Sian had eaten and Colin done his 20 minutes of reading the time had crept by 9:00. When Colin came into Sian's room to have a chat with her as I was attempting to get her to turn off the lights, I lost my temper and walked out, threatening them with the worst punishment in our little family-that I would not stay with them when they went to sleep. No entreaty swayed me, cruel creature that I am. Skulking in my tent like Achilles, I looked across the hall. There was Sian, on Colin's bed, reading him a story before he went to sleep. Softened by this domestic scene, I went back in to give them bedtime hug-forgiveness all around. It was only this afternoon that I discovered that the whole scene had been staged for my benefit by Sian and Colin in hope that I would relent of my ill behavior and sit with them while they went to sleep. Laughing merrily as we wended our way back from her school, Sian said they had expected their scheme to work because: "You are such a sap, Mom!" Since we were our way to Dairy Queen, I have to admit she is probably correct. I can't figure out why I don't feel repentant myself.

dimanche, octobre 22, 2006

Undimmed by time

They've known one another for just a little over 50 years now. Time has left its mark on both of them, but it has not dimmed the affection they feel for each other. The younger one has a debilitating chronic illness that keeps him inside his house most of the time. The older man suffers from a few ailments, but still travels the globe, honored and feted as the foremost African-American historian of his age. They met as young professors at a New York City college-one near the beginning of a long and successful teaching career, the other already famous in his field and about to become even more eminent. Both outsiders in their own way-one Jewish, one black-they developed the habit of walking together around the college where they both worked, and ending up at a deli where they continued to share ideas and confidences over corned beef and pastrami. Neither of them eats corned beef or pastrami now, of course. Over the past five decades, they have edited books together, visited each other's homes, attended conventions, and become friends with one another's spouses. Any relationship that goes on for more than half a lifetime, extending well beyond the deaths of their two beloved wives, is not uncomplicated-nonetheless, they are, the older scholar told me when I visited him recently, like brothers. In New York for a speaking engagement this past week, he took a cab from Manhattan and visited the younger man, who had recently suffered a fall and was confined to bed. What did they discuss? I can only imagine-what does one talk about when Thoreau and Lincoln and Du Bois and Douglass are like old friends, to be summoned to butress an argument or illumine an anecdote? When I heard of the morning spent together, I rejoiced, and I wept, for the durability of the friendship and the constraints, the cruel constraints, that time lays on the strongest of us. But my dad didn't seem in the least unhappy-he was pleased, I think, to be taken out of the bounds of illness into the wider world of history and politics and theory that has been his true home for so many decades-and to see his dear friend, who cared enough to reinforce, with grace and delicacy, the bond between them, only strengthened by the years.