Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

Here is a piece I wrote for our local paper Arbroath Herald on 26 August 2011 edition.

The call to live a life of love

“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence”. Erich Fromm

The last issue of Philosophy Now, a highly regarded publication in the field of philosophy, and which has as one of its main aims to make philosophy accessible to the masses, was dedicated entirely to the subject of Love. The subtitle of this issue is ‘What is love’. In a number of articles the authors seek to explore this very important issue for our human existence. The authors seek to address the nature of love from both nonreligious but also from a religious perspective. The general consensus of the authors is that love is the ingredient that we humans can’t live without.

In one of the articles, Is Love and Art, Kathleen O’Dwyer explores the questions of what we mean by love and how we humans should express it. Her attempt to define “mature and perfect love” leads her to describe love in very similar terms as Christians understand the love of God for humanity. In her words “real love is motivated by the urge to give and to share rather than by the desire to fulfil one’s own needs or to compensate for one’s inadequacies”. This is a self-giving love which does not expect reciprocity, a love that respects the other for what he/she is. This love is based not on desire to control but on the desire to care for the other with respect and humility. This kind of love makes one vulnerable and risks self-exposure.

When we talk about practising this love Erich Fromm, a French philosopher, argued that love is not primarily about a relationship to a specific person but, love should be an attitude, a way of living, “an orientation of character” which should determine all our relationships, our relatedness.

It was so fitting for a publication like Philosophy Now to focus on the subject of love at this time, as today more than ever the issue of love is so relevant and urgent to our world. Our lives and our society seem more and more removed from forms of relatedness that are governed by love.

In the recent past we as a society have experienced a number of crisis that have shaken the foundations of our social order, and let us just remember a few: crisis in our political system when our politicians were exposed for fiddling their expenses, leading to loss of credibility in the system; The economic and financial systems have been discredited by the greed and intemperance of many and as a result we are still living in a turmoil which by all means does not seem to be ending soon; The recent telephone hacking scandal has also brought a cloud of suspicion over our press and even the police. The massacre that happened in Norway, coupled with the terrorist threats, show the extent of hate towards “the different other” and desire for harm the other, which exists in our society.

God has shown us his perfect love in action, as he came to us in Jesus. We see in Jesus’ life and death the manifestation of God’s love in action. Therefore we are challenged and called to be transformed by that love and as a result live by it and build our relationships by it. It is an urgent call for all of us to rediscover and live out that love, no matter in which institutions (religious or otherwise) we are, in whatever stations of life (young or old) we find ourselves, and with whichever system of belief. Only when we seek to live by this principle of love, only then we would be able to live balanced personal lives and build a fair and happy society.

“For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation” Rainer Maria Rilke.


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I came across an interview with Rupert Sheldrake on Enlighten Next Magazine website. This guy seems quite remarkable – does a lot of work on consciousness. Among other things he comes with a refreshing perspective on ‘God’ that challenges the mechanistic view of the Enlightenment. He also suggests (with some justification, I may say) that science is based “on all sorts of assumptions about nature that are essentially theological or metaphysical”

I share here a fragment in which he argues for the necessity of evil in a non-static (or should I say evolving or creative) universe. Not a new formulation but I like the way he puts is. In another part of the interview he blasts Dawkins and his clan of ‘deterministic’ materialists. You can read the full interview here

“Well, I think if there’s a universe of diversity and of becoming, which is what our universe is, then all things are mortal. Nothing lasts forever in a universe of becoming. If we lived in a frozen, crystalline universe where nothing ever changed, I daresay there’d be no claws and no blood. But the nature of existence, as we see it in the universe, is that all things come to an end and are recycled. Even the most long-lasting things we know of, like stars, come to an end. The forms in which things come into being have a limited life span, so all organisms are going to die sooner or later. And it’s the very nature of animal life that animals make their living by eating plants or other animals. So, if you are going to have animals that by their very nature have to eat other organisms, you’re going to have red claws and teeth somewhere or other. Decay, disease, death, and suffering are built into the very nature of an evolutionary universe of this kind. So, if we have an evolutionary universe in which change and development are built-in, in which there is a constant becoming of forms and dissolution of forms, these are inevitable features. The God of such a universe, the consciousness of such a universe, has to encompass these kinds of processes. You could, perhaps, have a different kind of universe, as I said, where everything is frozen in crystalline unity forever. But that would be a different sort of universe, a universe without becoming, without development, and also without creativity. It seems to be an inevitable consequence of the kind of universe we have that there’s going to be red teeth and claws around, and suffering, decay, disease, and death”.

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” White Evangelical Christians (in USA) are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus….. Before attempting an answer, allow a quick clarification. Evangelicals don’t exactly hate Jesus — as we’ve provocatively asserted in the title of this piece. They do love him dearly. But not because of what he tried to teach humanity. Rather, Evangelicals love Jesus for what he does for them. Through his magical grace, and by shedding his precious blood, Jesus saves Evangelicals from everlasting torture in hell, and guarantees them a premium, luxury villa in heaven. For this, and this only, they love him. They can’t stop thanking him. And yet, as for Jesus himself — his core values of peace, his core teachings of social justice, his core commandments of goodwill — most Evangelicals seem to have nothing but disdain”.

Phil Zuckerman, “Why E vangelicals Hate Jesus”, in the Huffington Post, read the rest of the post here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/phil-zuckerman/why-evangelicals-hate-jes_b_830237.html.

An alarm bell indeed! Let’s hope it is not to late to wake up.

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Quote of the day

“And so let me end as I began: if we can elevate religious values to the heart of the debate about global development and our global society, can we continue to consign religious values to only the fringes of the debate about the future of our national economies and societies?

My religion and reason tell me that we cannot for long be truly happy in any place when we see opportunities denied in every place; we cannot feel fully secure at any time when we know millions are feeling insecure just about all the time; and we cannot be wholly comfortable anywhere when the left out millions are found everywhere.

So I conclude; yes, for people of faith there is the risk of the sin of commission. So we must be humble enough to guard against theocratic error when faith enters the public square. But yes too, there is a greater risk, the sin of omission and we must never again allow the voices of faith to feel excluded from their rightful role. So let the trumpet sound. The voices of faith must and will be heard.”

Faith in Politics? Lecture by Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister of GB

on Wednesday 16 February 2011 hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury

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“Verbal agreement or mental assent to a particular set of doctrines does not make a Christian, nor does a claim to a particular experience. Yet, both what one believes to be true and what one claims to have experienced in relationship with God, others and the wider world are at the heart of the conversation that takes place as individuals give themselves to the search for meaning.”
Karen E Smith, SCM Core Text on Christian Spirituality, SCM Press, 2007, p. 22.

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Whenever I hear Christians bashing ‘secularism’ I wonder what do they mean and have they really considered what secularism is before joining the bandwagon. I wonder if secularism (as a concept) has been hijacked (as humanism has been) by extreme ideologies which skew its meaning to either get popularity or to find a hobby horse. In this process the concept is emptied of it’s wider meaning and devalued. For example modern humanism traces it’s birth within the Christian context – and I am bemused how today is used with such impunity to claim exclusion of faith.

Last week I heard the Pope bash again secularism as one of the ills of our society. While I agree that the Catholic Church might have an axe to grind with secularism – as the arrival of secularism announced the demise of political power for the Catholic Church – I don’t understand why this has to be a threat to Christians and their faith. The Protestant church, to my knowledge (and I am not a church historian), has been an advocate of secularism (well with some exceptions) since the Reformation. Secularism for me in simple terms means separating the political from religious and in practical terms making a safe space for all where religion does not dictate to society what to do but at the same time it is not excluded from society – an alternative to theocracy. Secularism per-se does not, and cannot, eliminate faith out of the public sphere – otherwise it looses it’s core principle – neutrality. Secularism is not atheism.

Simon Barrow with other members of Ekklesia have done recently a good amount of work to try and reclaim secularism as a concept.

Evan Harris published at the weekend a Secularist Manifesto in the Guardian which I find to fit with what I think secularism is. There is nothing in this manifesto that I could not say amen to and I don’t think many Christians would object to the ethos of this manifesto (some Christians though might find some aspects harder to accept). Here are the main points:

“A manifesto for secularist change would look like this:

1. Protect free religious expression that does not directly incite violence or crimes against others or publicly and directly cause someone distress or alarm.

2. End discrimination against nonreligious belief systems or organisations.

3. End unjustified religious discrimination


I would be interested in feedback.

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In 2007 Britain marked 200 years since the British Parliament passed the bill to abolish the Slave Trade, or what is otherwise known as the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. As I was involved in marking this event, in particular throughout Scotland, I sought to inform myself about this issue. In addition to reading about the Slave Trade and the Scottish involvement with it (my friend Iain Whyte published his book just in time) I also sought to find out if there were any significant local links (where I live) with the slave trade. Well I did find that there were two buildings which were built with money from the salve trade, one of them is in Blackburn (Blackburn House) and the other one in Bathgate (Bathgate Academy).

I have also learned that Christians found themselves on both side of the argument in regards to slave trade and slavery: it is now clear that Christians played a very significant role in the abolition of the slave trade and slavery itself, but there were other Christians who sought to defend the slave trade and slavery (it took another 26 years before slavery was outlawed in the UK).

John Lampard a retired Methodist minister wrote an article in 2007 showing how Christians in particular in the American South argued for slavery on the basis of the bible. Lampard shows how Revd Thornton Stringfellow, a Baptist pastor born in 1788 and Ordained in 1814 argued that slavery was undoubtedly biblical. I recommend his article which can be downloaded from here (the Set all Free website).

More information about Slavery in Scotland can be found on Scotland and Slavery website which I helped create while working for ACTS, which is still hosted by them.

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