About Me

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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Dawkins, rape, and paedophilia

Richard Dawkins has inflamed the twitterverse with some recent comments intended to illustrate the structure of certain arguments. The two tweets that create the firestorm were:

"Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think."

"Mild paedophilia is bad. Violent paedophilia is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of mild paedophilia, go away and learn how to think."

It seems that by grading rape and paedophilia in degrees of moral badness some people took Dawkins to be undermining the case that all instances of rape and paedophilia are morally bad. Or perhaps that while it is all bad, some is not worth getting all that worked up about.

Dawkins did not help himself here by speaking of "mild paedophilia".

These two issues are both highly inflammatory and Dawkins was less than sensitive to the feelings of those who have been victims of date rape and "mild paedophilia." To him, this was a simple matter of logic.

What he failed to adequately appreciate was the social context in which his comments were thrown out. Take rape. Western societies have not taken rape with the seriousness that it demands, and in particular, rape by one's partner or someone with whom one is on a date have been treated as relatively trivial. So campaigners have been working hard to drive home the message that such rape IS wrong and ought to be treated seriously. To this end, Dawkins' comments could be taken as trivializing the issue.

However, I want to say that I think that the basic point that Dawkins was making is surely correct. We do not want to say that all crimes that fall into a particular category must be ranked as equally bad. That is clearly nonsense, and we do not apply such thinking to other instances of sinful behaviour. It may be that in certain contexts, in order to drive home that all crimes in the category are bad, we will speak with equal ferocity about them all. That is appropriate in some contexts. However, to suggest that the only way to get people to take the horror of rape or paedophilia seriously is to treat all cases as maximally and equivalently evil is simply mistaken. And Dawkins is correct to say that pointing out that some evil acts are even worse than other evil acts is NOT a recommendation or excuse for any evil acts. Society is right to express its disgust at rapists and paedophiles, but society is wrong if in so doing it fails to distinguish degrees of evil in those categories. What we need is to find ways to do so that do not trivialize any particular instances.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

What is polytheism? Do polytheists exist?

I have wondered recently what polytheism is. In theory it is simple: monotheists believe that there is one god and polytheists believe that there are lots of gods. Thus, Muslims, for instance, are monotheists and Hindus are polytheists.

But it is not as simple as that. The ambiguity concerns what we mean by "God" and "gods."

Take the Bible. In the Good Book the term "god" is not reserved for Yhwh, the god of Israel. The Bible recognizes many gods. (Ps 82:6, addressed to the divine council, is a classic instance of this, quoted approvingly by Jesus in John 10:34 on the very issue of a plurality of gods.) The gods of the Old Testament are heavenly beings that rule over the nations. Yhwh is one of many 'elohim (gods).

So is Yhwh just one god among many? Is the Bible polytheist?
Not in any simple way.

Yhwh created the other gods and rules over them. He alone is thus spoken of as "the god." Yhwh is incomparable and in a league of his own. Yhwh alone is the creator, the source of all things. The other gods simply mediate his rule over creation. So we are not wrong to cap "God" when we speak of Yhwh. He is not simply another god; he is the God of gods.

I've been reading a lot of Plato recently and sometimes he seems to offer a not dissimilar picture. Plato was an ancient Athenian and we all know that Athens was polytheistic, awash with multiple gods. Plato too recognized these gods (though he distanced himself from some of the crude and immoral stories of the gods). He even saw the cosmos itself as a living being, which he calls a god. So he was a polytheist, right? Well, that depends what you mean. Plato seems to see the ultimate ground of all things as single and unitary—the Form of the Good (what neoplatonists called "The One"). When he tells his creation story he tells it in terms of a single divine craftsman who creates the gods, including the divine cosmos. Not all gods are equal in Plato's cosmos. In one sense, Plato was a monotheist—though we'd need to be careful how we spelled out exactly what we meant by the term when speaking of him.

Much the same can be said about sophisticated versions of Hinduism, in which the gods are aspects of a single ultimate divine reality. (By "sophisticated" I do not mean new versions of Indian traditions that aim to respond to monotheistic faiths by claiming to say the same thing. I mean ancient interpretations of those traditions that the most intellectually vigorous elements in the tradition have affirmed.) What may superficially seem like polytheism may turn out to be more complicated than that, and to affirm a single ultimate divine source of reality.

Indeed, one wonders whether the normal uses of monotheism and polytheism involve a category mistake. When monotheists affirm one God they are, among other things, affirming a single divine reality upon which everything else depends. The mistake is assuming that everything referred to as a "god" in a religious context is intended to fit into that category. It is not. So we need to look below the surface level of simply counting up the entities named as "gods" when deciding whether a religion is monotheistic or not.
Indeed, perhaps the categories themselves are only of limited value, concealing as much as they reveal.

Be that as it may—the biblical faith of the church is that there is one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. This, however, does not exclude acknowledging the existence of lesser gods (whatever we may mean by that); it only excludes the worship of them.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

A bad argument for women bishops

After the Church of England's General Synod voted to in favour of women bishops I was reading The Independent newspaper, and there was a opinion column on the issue. Its author was not hostile to the Church of England and was very pleased that the Church had finally agreed to have women in its "top posts." However, her reasoning struck me as poor. It is very important for the Church to have women bishops, she said, because it needs to reflect the values of the society round about it.

On TV, after the news came out, various folk were being asked what they thought about the decision, and the sentiment was much the same — we're pleased because it brings the church more up to date. (Or as one person put it, "It's amazing! Next thing you know we'll land people on the moon!")

But is it the responsibility of the Church to reflect the values of the society round about it? Hardly! The NT ekklesia were often known for doing precisely the opposite. Not for the sake of being bloody minded, but for the sake of being true to the gospel.

Don't get me wrong. I support the idea of women bishops. My point is simply this:
for a Christian, the case for women bishops has to be made on grounds internal to the theo-logic of the Church.
In this instance the matter was especially tricky because there is a universal historical Christian tradition of restricting the episcopate to men. And one cannot simply set that aside as if it counted for nothing! A tradition that old and that universal would need to be taken very seriously indeed. One would need to show that the theological underpinning for a male-only episcopate was shaky and that the theological case for including women was strong. One would need to show that a restriction of the episcopacy to men is not consistent with ancient and central Christian notions.

That is why I am not dismayed at how long it has taken the Church to make this decision. The pressure is on all the time to CHANGE NOW! CHANGE FAST! While such quick change is all but required in our Speedy Gonzales culture, it is also likely to land you in a mess. Wisdom, for the most part, does not rush.

I am very pleased about the decision — it was, in my view, the theologically right one. (I appreciate that many will disagree.) But we must never seek to primarily justify it on the basis that it makes us fit in better with society at large. Such a consideration is, at best, secondary. The gospel must always call the shots.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Alleluia—wonderful contemporary choral music

"Alleluia" by Eric Whitacre

Deep Church Rising: Countdown to publication

Getting excited: Deep Church Rising is published in just eight days time (17 July 2014).

Here is the blurb:

The major cultural changes in Western societies since the Reformation have created a serious challenge for the church. Modernity in particular has been inhospitable to Christian orthodoxy and many have been tempted to reject classical versions of the faith. This has led to a division within churches that Walker and Parry name "the third schism," a divide between those who believe and practice the central tenets of Christian tradition and those who do not.

The authors have adopted and adapted C. S. Lewis' phrase "deep church" to highlight the necessity of remembering our past in order to recover historic Christian orthodoxy. This book is a call to deep church, to remember our future, to make a half-turn back to premodernity; not in order to repeat or relive the past, but in order to draw on its rich yet often-forgotten resources for the here and now.

Andrew G. Walker is Emeritus Professor of Theology, Religion, and Culture at King’s College, London.
Robin A. Parry is an editor at Wipf and Stock Publishers.

And here is the table of contents:

Part I. The Third Schism: On Losing the Gospel
1. Introduction: The Third Schism and Deep Church
2. Modernity and Postmodernity: The Roots of the Third Schism

Part II. Deep Church: On Recovering the Gospel
3. Deep Roots: On Relating Scripture and Tradition
4. Deep Calls to Deep: Introduction to Chapters 5–7
5. Deep Faith: Orthodoxia as Right Believing
6. Deep Worship: Orthodoxia as Right Worship
7. Deep Living: Orthopraxia as Right Practice
8. Deep Transformation: Recovering Catechesis
9. Deep Church: A Eucharistic Community

Appendix 1: The Nicene Creed and the Filioque
Appendix 2: Deep Church and Fundamentalism

Thursday, 3 July 2014

A song profound beyond words

This song is so unusual and striking . . . and so very deep. For me it is a fabulous demonstration of the way that form and content can work so powerfully together in music. Wow. You may not "get" it, but I am sure that some of you will.

I have only recently discovered Page CXVI and The Autumn Film (two different musical "projects," but the same people). Their music is really fantastic. This song, however, is not typical for them, except that it is in-formed by a Christian spirituality and a deep feel for music. Do check out the sites. If you sign up you get a bunch of free downloads.