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Thursday, September 19

WHEN JESUS SAYS THE WRONG THING:

In a London Times story published on the Anglican website Virtuosity, the newspaper═s religion writer Ruth Gledhill reported that the bishop of Oxford thinks that the eucharistic language of eating the Lord═s Body and drinking His Blood ä Jesus═ words in John 6: 51-58 ä so put off the modern man that Christians should stop using it. In his new book, Eating God, Richard Harries writes that

People who are groping their way into Christianity can suddenly find themselves shocked and horrified, though they may be too polite to express such feelings, at the sacrificial, cannibalistic language of the Eucharist.

He told The Times that Christians do not

take seriously enough people's sense of horror at going to a Eucharist or Mass, if they have never been before, and hearing the imagery of sacrifice and eating God. It is very shocking imagery and needs a lot of explaining. But the Church takes it for granted and does not realise that people can find it shocking and offensive. . . . [S]uch an idea can seem, literally, revolting to many people today, and this reaction has to be honestly faced.

This is a useful warning, so far. Christians often do not realize how they sound to others. They know the words so well that they do not see that the Christian vocabulary is a genuinely strange one to increasing numbers of their neighbors, and that words that to them mean comfort and solace offend and frighten those who take them at face value.

They are sometimes like the traveller who speaks to the natives in English and never notices their uncomprehending stares, and sometimes like the traveller who notices the stares and speaks to them in English but very slowly and loudly. They assume that people are at fault for knowing their own language rather than English.

But the bishop goes on, as one rather knew he would:

I think we should qualify the imagery in order to help people realise that this is metaphor. We should use images like 'the food of angels' and 'the bread of life' instead.

You will recognize an effective maneuver in the ongoing attempt, engaged mainly by those in clerical and academic office who wish to continue in it, to domesticate the Christian message. The speaker begins with a perfectly sensible statement about the gap between Christians and secular modern man and offers a useful warning that the secular modern man may not understand and may even be repelled by Christian language. He describes a problem we must try to solve.

But then, instead of suggesting ways the Christian language might be effectively presented to the secular modern man, so that it does not lose its meaning in translation, he suggests changing the language to suit the secular modern man. If he does not like what Christians say, Christians must say something else. It is as if the traveler had brought a cure for typhoid to a primitive tribe and finding that they do not understand English, tosses the medicine in the river and encourages them (with smiles and gestures) to use their own, knowing that they do not work. The man who cared for them would learn their language, but he would not change the message he came to bring them.

Now, Bishops Harries has not said that we must replace the biblical language with a secular one, as does the run of the mill liberal. He does suggest that we use other biblical terms, including ˝the food of angelsţ and ˝the bread of life.ţ But he has still, I think, crossed a line. If secular man can accept ˝the food of angelsţ and ˝the bread of life,ţ he accepts them because he can reduce them to metaphors for things like fellowship and ˝openness to the divine.ţ He does not necessarily accept them because he knows what they mean and wants what they offer.

At any rate, those terms do not mean everything that Jesus═ words mean. In ˝qualifying the images,ţ the bishop gives up, or gives away, the central terms in which Christians have spoken of the eucharist since the beginning, the ones St. Paul used in his own story of the Last Supper. He has given up the words that tell us that in eating Jesus═ Body and drinking His Blood, we will abide in the Son of God and He will abide in us. He has not only ˝qualifiedţ the thing in the hope of winning a hearing, he has given up the thing we have to offer.

So much for Jesus═ words. They were as offensive to the people of His time as they are (assuming Bishop Harries is right) to the secular man of today. They horrified the Jews and drove away even some of His own followers, but He said them anyway. But then Jesus was not as sensitive to contemporary needs as the Bishop of Oxford.

(Note: A revised and expanded version of this blog will be appearing in the November issue of the English magazine New Directions, published by Forward in Faith/UK, and then in Touchstone.)


11:26 PM


SABRE-TOOTHED RABBITS?:

The world is full of such a number of things: The Globe and Mail reports:

A bucktoothed, rabbit-like dinosaur related to Tyrannosaurus rex and other predators lived in China 128 million years ago, researchers report.

Instead of having a beak, Incisivosaurus has a long skull and jaws filled with teeth for grinding. However, in its most unusual characteristic, it sports two large buck teeth at the front of its jaw similar to those used by rodents for gnawing.


The article is titled: Bugs Bunny's ancestor unearthed.


6:02 AM


Wednesday, September 18

CONSERVATIVE CHURCHES GROW. WE KNOW THAT:

˝Socially conservative churches that demand high commitment from their members grew faster than other religious denominations in the last decade, according to a study released yesterday by statisticians who count American religious affiliations every 10 years,ţ reported The New York Times in a story titled ˝Conservative Churches Grew Fastest in 1990's, Report Says". It is a study well worth reading, and is reported further on the Glenmary Research Center═s website.

Among other things, it found that in the last ten years the Mormons grew the most (19.3%), followed by

the conservative Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, with 18.6 percent; the Assemblies of God, a major Pentecostal denomination, with 18.5 percent; and the Roman Catholic Church, with 16.2 percent. . . . The churches that lost the highest percentages of members were the Presbyterian Church USA (11.6 percent) and the United Church of Christ (14.8 percent).

One would have thought that everyone knew by now that conservative churches grew and liberal churches shrank, but

"I was astounded to see that by and large the growing churches are those that we ordinarily call conservative," said Ken Sanchagrin, director of the Glenmary Research Center and a professor and chairman of the department of sociology at Mars Hill College in Mars Hill, N.C. "And when I looked at those that were declining, most were moderate or liberal churches. And the more liberal the denomination, by most people's definition, the more they were losing."

That he is astounded is astounding in itself. One would have thought that a sociologist would know this without having to make yet another study. A socially conservative church that demands high commitment from its members has the advantage in all sorts of ways: it attracts people looking for identity, certainty, and purpose; by giving its members an identity, certainty, and purpose, it gives them reason to stay and raises the cost of leaving; it supports parents in passing on their faith to their children (what, after all, do Unitarians pass on, other than questions?); it encourages them to share their faith with outsiders; it gives people both a doctrine and a community that holds them secure in an insecure world; and so on.

I think this fairly obvious, but I think also that conservative churches grow for one other reason, not included in such studies because it is not empirically verifiable. In n addition to their obvious sociological advantage, conservative churches have an intellectual and pastoral advantage. They grow because they offer their people the truth. The truth makes their people happy and their happiness attracts others. Churches in which people meet the risen Lord have a great advantage over those in which they meet only each other.

One may believe that conservative churches are wrong, and one may even believe that they are dangerous, but that they will grow much faster than liberal churches is so far from astounding as to be almost a clich│.


6:09 PM


Tuesday, September 17

BEING FAIR TO THE LUTHERAN LUTHERANS:

A Lutheran reader wrote in to complain that in my blog on "polyamory" (posted on August 19th), I'd written that Lutherans and other mainline Protestants would eventually follow the Unitarians into the approval of the dressed-up form of promiscuity a Unitarian group has called "polyamory." She is right to object. I meant, of course, the mainstream Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, not the Missouri nor Wisconsin Synods. My apologies to both for having painted with much too wide a brush. I can imagine how trying it must be for a member of one of those Synods to be laden with the problems and sins of the mainline body.


3:36 PM


WHY CONSERVATIVE CHURCHES ARE GROWING:

The trends that Dean Kelley examined in his recently reissued book Why Conservative Churches Are Growing are still present in America religion: liberal churches are declining, conservative, especially Pentecostal churches, are flourishing. around to the Washington Post:

Evangelical and charismatic churches drew larger numbers of believers during the 1990s, locally as well as nationally, while mainline Protestant denominations struggled to stem an exodus from their pews.

But conservative does not mean staid; it means living church life as described in Acts: a strong presence of the charismatic and miraculous.

Liberals decline, but fundamentalists have not done very well:

Major denominations such as the United Methodist Church, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Episcopal Church and Presbyterian Church (USA) declined across the country, the study showed. Researchers and church leaders note that the average age of those congregations is rising, a sign that they are not attracting younger believers.

the expansion of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, fell well below the pace of the nation's population growth


Churches that demand something of their adherents give meaning to life:

"The churches that are demanding in some way -- that expect you to come two or three times a week, or not wear lipstick, or dress in a certain way -- but at the same time offer you great rewards -- community, a salvation that is exclusive of other faiths -- those are the churches that are growing,"

Mormon theology is not conservative in any sense, but their standards of behavior are, and they cultivate an intense family and community life, and

During the 1990s, it was the fastest-growing church in the nation, according to the study. Religious scholars peg that growth to the church's aggressive recruitment and active community life.

The Catholic Church is becoming Latino and charismatic:

When the Rev. Jose Eugenio Hoyos came to St. Anthony of Padua parish in Falls Church in 1993, he drew thousands of Hispanic immigrants to the church by providing a more familiar atmosphere during Mass. Now, although Hoyos has left for another parish, music at the two Spanish services is led by mandolins, guitars and maracas. People are free to call out and clap their hands. Pentecostal prayer meetings, where people pray in tongues, are held before Mass.
The result: attendance on Sundays grew from about 300 in the early 1990s to 6,000 in 2000.


Despite all the fuss about America becoming a non Christian nation, Moslems remain a small minority

Other research compiled last year by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and by the American Jewish Committee put the population of Muslims at 1.1 million and 2.8 million, respectively. The CUNY study was limited to adults; if children were added, the total would be about 1.8 million, a study director said.

Phil Jenkins is right: America is becoming even more Christian, not less.

The overall picture: churches that demand something of their adherents but offer access to a strong community or immediate access to the supernatural are growing: Mormons and charismatic. Churches which are fundamentalist but not charismatic are declining (Missouri Synod) or growing slightly (Southern Baptist. Liberal churches, which make few demands and offer little are rapidly declining.

This places into perspective the news from the London Times that

The Bishop of Oxford, the Right Rev Richard Harries, argues in a book, God Outside the Box , that Eucharistic imagery can be disturbing and that Christianity must regain the respect of the liberal intelligentsia if it is to survive and grow in Britain.

The opposite is of course the truth; few can be as wrong-headed as academic bishops.


9:40 AM


IT'S IN THE GENES:

The New York Times summarizes the current debate about innate abilities.

The followers of Rousseau, who are still legion, claim that every human being is born a blank slate, that all differences in human achievements are caused by social environment. If there are any differences among human beings, human beings are unequal, and this is unjust, because if everyone had the same opportunities, everyone would have the same achievements. It is therefore the purpose of governments to provide a level playing field. Any differences among human beings are a sign of injustice

the blank slaters ä the critics of sociobiology and their many adherents in the social sciences ä have sought to base the political ideals of equal rights and equal opportunity on a false biological premise: that all human minds are equal because they are equally blank, equally free of innate, genetically shaped, abilities and behaviors.

On the other side, sociobiologists say that many differences are innate. Environment interacts with innate differences, and produce differences in achievement among people.

There are practical consequences.

Moreover, the blank slate doctrine has political consequences that have been far from benign, in Dr. Pinker's view. It encourages totalitarian regimes to excesses of social engineering. It perverts education and child-rearing, loading unmerited guilt on parents for their children's failures.

Sociobiologists seem to lend support for the view that human nature is imperfect and needs to be controlled. Humans are not innately good and corrupted by society.

Dr. Pinker believes, to the contrary, that dominance and violence are universal; that human societies are more given to an ethos of reciprocity than to communal sharing; that intelligence and character are in part inherited, meaning that "some degree of inequality will arise even in perfectly fair economic systems," and that all societies are ethnocentric and easily roused to racial hatred.

Pinker

distinguishes between a leftist utopian vision of human nature (the mind is a blank slate, man is a Noble Savage, traditional institutions are the problem) and the tragic vision preferred by the right (man is the problem; family, creed and Adam Smith's Invisible Hand are the solutions).
"My own view is that the new sciences of human nature really do vindicate some version of the tragic vision and undermine the utopian outlook that until recently dominated large segments of intellectual life," he writes.


Man is good but fallen, and governments must retrain evil without creating further evils.

a good political system "should mobilize some parts of human nature to rein in other parts." The framers of the Constitution took great interest in human nature and "by almost any measure of human well-being, Western democracies are better," he says.


Common sense, if it doesn═t triumph, at least gets a respectable hearing in the Times.

Pinker does not address the subject, but obviously the differences in achievement between men and women are in part biologically based. Discrimination does not explain why there are no women linebackers, and maybe why there are so few women engineers.


6:20 AM


SECULAR FRANCE HAS ITS DEMONS: The German magazine Focus (9-9-02) reports:

The Couch is out. Ever more Frenchmen seek help from exorcists, when their soul pinches. The Church has responded: In France there are 80 official exorcists. They work as a team with secular pastors. When spiritual support and psychology fail, the exorcist steps in. ˝There are about ten exorcisms per year, ˝ estimates Father Bernard Hayet, General Secretary of the French Bishops═ Conference. ˝The demand is there. Perhaps because we are a multicultural society and therefore Frenchmen have a stronger relationship to magic and witchcraft than other Europeans do.ţ

Or maybe the French need it more. There has been an underground strain of diabolism in French culture since the time of the Decadents. Those who have a very strong stomach can read a description in Huysmans═ L÷ Bas.


5:48 AM




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