I had a phone conversation with my father a few days ago, and the subject of the troubles in the world came up. My father reacted by saying “It’s all the fault of religion”. Now, what should I have said? Should I have tried to tell him to make distinctions, for example between fundamentalist and liberal or whatever? I felt as spiritually exhausted as he does in his late eighties but managing extremely well since my mother died nearly three years ago. What does “religion” mean? It can mean “re-tie” (re-ligare our relationship with God through a system of belief, prayer, sacraments and community worship). It can also mean man’s desire to apprehend and appropriate the mystery of what lies beyond our understanding.
If I’m honest with my father, or with anyone else expressing this reproach, I can hardly contradict him. The three most intolerant religions in the world are all monotheist. They (at least Christianity and Islam) expect everyone in the world to join them on pain of eternal hell because their existing belief systems are bogus and graceless, and because they need to be brought into conformity with the religion’s moral principles. From this point of view, mankind would be better off without these root causes of historical and present-day religious warfare, slavery, colonisation and extermination of indigenous populations, etc.
Then we can retort that much more suffering was caused by atheistic or neo-pagan ideologies like Soviet Communism and Nazism. Could Christianity be justified because it makes people suffer less than under unredeemed human nature in all its cruelty? Should Christianity be allowed to cause any suffering at all to remain credible? I don’t think there are any convincing answers.
One big problem I find with Christianity (since I am myself a Christian and a priest), is that it claims to be the only way, whether through an infallible Pope and Church, an infallible Bible (complete with passages that are just as bad as the equivalent or comparable passages in the Koran) or via some imaginary relationship with Christ. What do we make of the claims of Christ himself saying things like “I am the way, the truth and the life…”? What do we make of the mandate to go and convert the world and that those who refuse the Gospel will be damned? Are we not bound to these words, or are we not bound to reject them and everything else in that belief system?
Whilst doing some research to see if anyone had ever come up with a convincing argument that Jesus was insane, I came across a description of Lewis’s Trilemma. This is an apologetic argument by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity to claim Christ’s divinity with the only two alternatives being that he was evil or insane. It is an interesting one. I have to admit that I find many things I read in the Gospels deeply disturbing – for example the claim to be the only way to heaven, some of the eschatological imagery he used like the fig tree, or sending demons into pigs. Surely the narrative of these words and events has allegorical meaning, like the interpretation of the Old Testament, but they still leave us wondering.
Was Christ a control freak in opposition to the establishment (Temple, Sadducees and Pharisees, etc.) or was he the “cynical” anarchist we prefer to see in the one who preached the Sermon on the Mount? This is what it boils down to. The real problem is how one goes “through” Christ, in the same way as you would go through your local Bishop, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or the Pope: an application letter and an interview (if you’re lucky enough to get a reply) – or in some allegorical and metaphorical way. It would seem to me that the only way to defend this notion of Jesus’ way being the only way is his divinity. He was speaking as God, not as a mere human figure, the incarnate God. This God, the God above God, is the one divinity of all.
It gets worse when we start to dismantle and criticise as biblical scholars have been doing since at least the nineteenth century. There have been men like Bultmann and Harnack who sought to debunk and deny the very possibility of miracles and wonders. There have been more intelligent exegetes since then like my own Old Testament professor, Fr Dominique Barthélemy OP (his obituary). There are discrepancies, failed prophecies, something completely incoherent about many things we read in those pages. Unless we reject the Bible as junk, we can make some sense by different levels of reading and understanding as Origen proposed. Much can be read as allegory or poetry, or as analogy to explain myths that are too distant in the past to be remembered. Christianity itself has evolved over the centuries through its various compromises with human power and ambition.
I have already criticised the notion of an eternal hell and its being the means to force everyone into a single system through blackmail. That Jesus would be the only way out of the cosmic “concentration camp” seems just to be a means of political control. Is it possible to be a Christian whilst believing that everyone else is also right or in good conscience? If not, Christianity itself, like certain forms of Islam, is to be blamed for human suffering like the political ideologies. We can’t be black-and-white about this. Christianity is true, but so is Hinduism, Buddhism and tribal religions. The liberals of the early nineteenth century had a theory of a “primitive revelation” made by God (just one name for a universal consciousness) to all people, whether they were monotheist or whatever. The Bible contains wisdom and beauty, but so does the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita, not to mention the recently discovered texts of Nag Hammadi including many Gospels to add to our New Testament. We all have our “dark side”, and so do all these holy books. What these books really reveal is man’s quest to understand our life and search for meaning. We live in history and a vast human context involving traditions and collective consciousness.
I was struck by a passage in a Don Camillo film, where the good priest begins a hunger strike to protest against his Mayor’s decision to twin the village with a village in Soviet Russia. Don Camillo asks Jesus how he could approve a union with a godless place. Jesus answers that there is nothing and nowhere in the universe where God is not present – and this persuades Don Camillo to have the feast of his life. God can bring good out of anything, even ignorance and sin. This is the most profound message of another Christianity that has been drowned out by all the noise.
This presence of spirit and consciousness everywhere is a part of revelation in history and the experience of those who have told their tales. The Bible narrates many such revelations and experiences, but I imagine that most remain unrecorded.
There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Many people discover these ideas that transcend materialist understanding, and can find light in the doctrines and creeds of churches. Such formularies are teaching devices to convey ideas in simple terms, but they are not the limit or end of knowledge. Like the skeleton gives shape and form to a human body, dogmas are there to point the way and help us, but we don’t stop there. We have to accept the fact that that most people nowadays have no use for churches, either because they are materialists or because they expect light that is much more transcendent and deeper than what a church could give them. To say that one size fits all is simply not possible.
We priests often complain that there are only two or three in our churches, or none at all, but perhaps the complaint is “We go to all to this trouble and no one is interested” or simply that we are on our own to finance our “plant”! A church community unifies a group in shared beliefs, makes liturgy and sacraments possible, justifies a man who chose to become a priest and builds a whole culture around it. Many of us need this kind of support, or feel that they need to give this support to others. However, there comes a time when it is sloughed off like when the child becomes an adolescent, or it acquires a new and deeper meaning. This is a terrible responsibility for a church community and its priest. Perhaps what we can do for people is to offer them experience of the divine through the liturgy and some sign of our own transfiguration by Christ.
We in the Anglican Catholic Church are very lucky to be so small and marginal, because this truth is brought home to us. We were too big in the 1990’s, and the “bishops’ brawl” was the result, the split-ups due to hurt egos and frustrated politics. Lessons have been learned, but we know it could happen again if we let it happen. We have to be humble, and priests before being clerics! Being in a Church can give us a sense of structure, confidence and purpose, but it can close down our critical sense, close our minds and tolerance. It can become the phenomenon of the totalitarian cult. Churches bring out both the best and worst in people.
Many years ago, seeing the decline of churches in the west, I had a discussion with a priest and asked him the question – What if the Redemption has been undone? Could it be like before Christ, when – we are told – everyone went to some “temporary” hell to await the Messiah? I think that the idea of Redemption needs to be understood afresh, and this is not what Christianity was about. This would come over as a terrible heresy, but it is the one cause of the “our way or the highway” thinking and all the drifts. What difference did the events of Christ’s life make? Visibly, not a lot. We still hate and kill each other, we still get sick and die, we still suffer from accidents and natural catastrophes. A lion doesn’t lie with a lamb without eating it! Obviously it isn’t situated there.
It’s either nonsense or beyond our understanding. We all see things differently from each other and answers cannot be expressed with mere words. There are many things I experience without being able to describe them, mostly “flashes” of things that have no origin or obvious purpose. I have read the theory according to which a schizophrenic is not mad or sick, but perceives reality differently. Joan of Arc heard voices, dressed as a man, got burnt as a witch or a heretic – and is a Saint of the Church. If there is a Redemption, it isn’t automatic or given merely though joining a Church and getting baptised – it has to be found beyond everything we know and understand. It obviously concerns a world that is not the one we know. Ever heard of the multiverse theory? There might be an infinite number of existences like all the different radio frequencies in which we die old in one, die young in another – an infinite number of possibilities. We struggle with quantum physics, which seem to be nonsense, whilst giving us scientific data that flies in the face of Newtonian physics.
What is original in another way of seeing things is seeing Christianity as true, but Hinduism and Sufism too. Other religions bring people to supernatural life and goodness. Who are we to say that they are false or inspired by the Devil? But, doesn’t that say that Christianity has no meaning or purpose if it isn’t the one true lifeboat that can save the shipwrecked from drowning?
There is much wrong with the world, and we might even be on the way to World War III and our annihilation. On the other hand, diverse cultures and beliefs are something good and beautiful. God is present in our modern cities like in the Russian village with the Communist mayor. There is more light and goodness in the world than sin and darkness. Each person is on a journey, unknown to the rest of us. What right have we to stop that person, demolish his self-esteem and offer the remedy in the form of a spiritual straitjacket? I am sure they are better You-name-its than we Christians!
This is where we have to baulk at the idea of converting people and bombarding them with Christian propaganda in the same way as a washing powder manufacturer tells us that its product washes whiter. How can everyone be right? Is there not a principle of non-contradiction, in which two contradicting propositions cannot both be right? One is right and the other is wrong, or they are both wrong. But mystery is above conventional reasoning, logic and epistemology. Different religions, philosophies and cultures seem to be so many facets of a single transcendent reality. Deep down, the various experiences of the divine do not contradict each other but compliment each other. It is because of this that I have been interested in Gnosticism for many years, reading the various available English translations of ancient texts, knowing about various unorthodox spiritual movements in history like the Cathars and the men of the Renaissance, modern depth-psychology. It brings many aspects of exoteric Christianity into perspective, and brings a new understanding. I have readily accepted the so-called Universalist theories expressed by many and even aspects of so-called Pantheism. One name given to God these days is “universal consciousness”, a kind of Platonic universal idea of us all containing an image of God or the wholeness of God. As a little boy, I wondered whether atoms were not little solar systems containing planets and life, and that our solar system was not an atom forming a part of a macrocosm. Reality transcends our little minds!
Why belong to a Church? One of the ideas I found in Nicholas Berdyaev was the notion that we need to have some constant reference, a discipline that gives us structure and which moderates us, bringing us to think and be self-critical. A balloon filled with hot air or helium needs a tether to keep it close to earth, and it uses weights to control its altitude. Otherwise it would rise to the top of the atmosphere and then explode due to the decrease of atmospheric pressure. Pure Gnosticism cannot survive in the world or in history. It isn’t made for the collectivity. We are all a part of humanity and we are social creatures. However imperfect the Church is, we need it, and in an ideal world it would need us. We can all too easily arrive at that Church’s limits of tolerance, and if the point of rupture is reached, the cycle has to begin anew.
How do we live our spiritual life? To begin with, it seems to be simply living and treasuring the moments that bring us something special and unexplainable. I am most likely to find this kind of experience in nature – on land or at sea. We begin to find that “hell is” – not – “other people” to give a contradiction to Sartre’s famous idea, but that they are finding their paths which may be similar to our own or so radically different we can’t imagine ourselves belonging to the same species. Many people are going to seek their way without having anything to do with a Church. Most people I know have nothing to do with churches, but few of them are really atheists.
I can make a case for multiculturalism in the west as we have, with different races and cultures having taken refuge for political or economic reasons. The objection would be made – what if they are Daesh terrorists come to kill us? Christians centuries ago did the same thing, and more recently to “savages” in those places we wanted for our empires. Europe could all become part of a caliphate in which public executions would become commonplace like the seventeenth century in Europe – but it is unlikely it would go that far. Even in Putin’s Russia, there are different immigrant cultures of people who have had to learn to live in Russia. We will just have to take what happens (hoping that the more unpleasant people will blow themselves up or get shot).
In every religion, there is a contemplative and spiritual tradition. There is the Kabbal in Judaism, Sufism in Islam, and various Gnostic resurgences in Christianity, invariably bumped off by Constantine’s goons or the Inquisition. It is amazing how similar these spiritual traditions are, and that is not to mention Buddhism in the Far East and the mountains of Nepal.
One of the heaviest weights man has had to carry is fundamentalism, whether in Christianity or any other religion. It destroys nations and persons, it causes war and untold misery. It is the conviction according to which “we” possess the truth and anyone outside of it is unworthy of life, happiness and freedom.
I have often thought I would like to visit countries like India and Nepal. My brother once did as a medical student and brought back some amazing photos and anecdotes. Many did in the 1960’s and certainly enjoyed smoking many a good joint of best Afghan or whatever the west forbids on pain of very heavy prison sentences! Seriously, even if we never get to travel very much, we can at least keep our minds open and wonder what it would be like for a white European or American to live in a strange culture and make the best of it.
I would like to take time and open my mind to new realities, which we can do next to our own doorsteps thanks to immigration. There aren’t too many possibilities in my village, but I have lived in Marseilles where I felt well in my cassock next to the Tunisian or Moroccan street trader wearing his jubba or thobe. Live in the East End of London, and you get an idea of Bangladesh or Pakistan. The cooking smells can be quite exotic! Perhaps a few of those would like to get back at us for the old British Empire – but most are open to those who respect them.
I am constantly brought back to Fr Charles de Foucault who went to Algeria and got knocked off by Muslims. His life seemed totally pointless and a waste, yet he found holiness and gave his life for God and kindness to his Muslim neighbours. Perhaps they beat the hell out of white Europeans for whom the world is just money and more money! Fr Charles did not seek to conquer or convert. He still got killed, but his message was one of love and compassion – and that is our Redemption through Christ.
I don’t know, the way I see it is that it is still true that no one can be saved who does not have faith in Jesus Christ, but what happens between a soul an God in those final moments— even in ways invisible to outside observers– is a mystery. If Jesus is really who the Church says He is— both God and man— and if the various Patristic teachings on what He came to do are true— than I do not see how it’s possible that Hinduism, Islam, Post Temple Judaism or the various other religions could also be true. One doesn’t have to consign souls to hell because there is that possibility that Jesus Christ comes to all men in that twilight between this world in the next and gives them a choice that they can make. If God is Love than most men— we can hope— will not refuse that love.
Personally I cannot entertain the idea that other religions are true and paths to heaven without Jesus Christ. I admit that there are noble elements within them, but there is no Redeemer. To me the mystery of Christ that most resonates with me is the Incarnation. Is He both God and man or not, and if so, what does that mean for all mankind?
Perhaps what you reject is the triumphalist attitudes that have been present historically amongst some Christians. I think that it’s not necessary to beat people over the head with our faith and threaten them with hell all the time, but it doesn’t mean we have to reject the possibility of hell or reduce Christ to one path among many up the same mountain.
I’d agree that fundamentalism is a heavy weight,and one I have no need of. I’m a real believer, but I do not beat people over the head with my faith.
I like what you said about needing a reference point. Traditional liturgical Christianity is perfect for this. For me it’s less about the liturgy than about the daily round of the Office as set out in the Old Orthodox Prayerbook,the Horologion and the Jesus Prayer. These are my own reference points.
No longer do I pay much attention to the pope, the bishops or the happenings in the churches in terms of politics. I need a connection to something eternal. I can see what Berdayev meant.
“Whilst doing some research to see if anyone had ever come up with a convincing argument that Jesus was insane, I came across a description of Lewis’s Trilemma. This is an apologetic argument by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity to claim Christ’s divinity with the only two alternatives being that he was evil or insane.”
Lewis ignored the most plausible alternative: Jesus never uttered the words attributed to him by John the Evangelist.
And you know this to be “the most plausible alternative,” how, exactly?
So every opinion the fell from the wit of Raymond Brown is “Gospel truth?” I see.
Right, because everyone can see that I said just that. Yet another example of why internet discourse is a hopeless waste of time. Has it occurred to you that scholarly books contain, in addition to the author’s own conclusions, footnotes that reference what other scholars have said?
“…internet discourse is a hopeless waste of time.”
perhaps so, but it occurs to me that you (yes, and I) are involved in just exactly that Hm.
And apparently the use of footnotes makes a writer appear wise. Does it? Sorry, it is a very easy thing to select references in support of an opinion the quoted author actually rejects. I’ve done it in my more opinionated and less responsible past. What Dr. Tighe asked, and what I’d like to hear is why YOU find such an alternative to be more plausible than others. I don’t happen to find it so.
It would take an entire essay to give a full explanation, so let me just give a couple of reasons. First, compare what the Johannine Jesus says, and how he says it, to what you find in the epistles of John. The vocabulary and rhetorical styles are identical: the same personality comes through in both. So either Jesus wrote those epistles (absurd) or the writer of those epistles is also the one speaking through the mouth of the Johannine Jesus. I suppose one could argue that the Johannine community was somehow “imbued” with the personality of Jesus, so that it was his influence on them that comes through in their writings, but then why did the synoptic writers so completely miss the personality of Jesus, since the Jesus they portray is hardly at all like the Jesus of John’s gospel? (To the point where the Johannine Jesus actually forswears on what the synoptic Jesus says: “And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? Which is exactly what the Marcan Jesus DOES say.) Second, have a look at what Jesus says to Nicodemus: “WE speak of what WE know, and bear witness to what WE have seen, but you do not receive OUR testimony.” Why on earth would Jesus himself have been speaking in the first person plural? Was this a Freudian slip into the royal ‘We’? This is obviously the evangelist speaking on behalf of the Johannine community and echoing their conflict with the synagogue (which Nicodemus personifies). I can go on and on, but it’s as plain as day to me that the Jesus of John’s gospel is a mouthpiece for the Johannine community and their theology.
On this question, as on others pertaining to the Gospel of John and whether it embodies authentic sayings of the Lord, I’ll see you Raymond Brown and raise you J. A. T. Robinson (*The Priority of John* 1985). Brown (1928-1998) was a great scholar, but many of his conclusions seem to reflect and embody the general consensus among academic Scripture scholars of his time, and in general he seems to have subordinated historical considerations to textual ones in his work. Robinson (1919-1983), although a theologian whose Christological and general theological views I find both arbitrarily propounded and deeply unsympathetic, as an exegete and Scripture scholar was above all else a widely-learned historian, and had an ability and willingness not to run with the herd which seems to be rare among scholars in this field. Robinson does not deny than “John” had a definite style, idiom, and point-of-view, but, then, so did the synoptists, and he insists that the seeming “simplicity” and “down-to-earthness” of the latter is no sign of superior historical authenticity (unless one makes the a priori assumption that an explicit “higher Christology” betokens greater distance from “the historical truth,” which Robinson clearly and ably rebuts, and that despite his own rather low-ish Christological views). Robinson’s use of “priority” in regard to the Gospel of John reflects his conclusions that on every matter about which we have evidence allowing scholars to compare the fourth gospel with the others – the topography of the Holy Land in general and Jerusalem in particular before 70 AD, the institutions and procedures of both the Jewish religious establishment and the Roman governing officials, awareness of incidental “small details” – again and again the Gospel of John emerges as more accurate and better-informed than the others. Robinson, accordingly, leaves open the possibility (which in many instances he views as probability rather than possibility) that the same might be true as regards the preservation of authentic sayings and discourses of the Lord.
Thank you, J.D. for putting so clearly what I would have wished to say.
You are welcome CG. I’ve thought about this stuff a lot over the years. We cannot put Jesus Christ on the same level as Amida Buddha, the Allah of the koran or turn him into just another Avatar of Vishnu and expect to actually be Christian. Really and truly contemplate the Incarnation and what it means if it’s actually true. This is what the Christmas cycle is all about.
Fundamentalism is a bad thing if by fundamentalism we mean that we are to beat people over the head with our bibles and our teachings or force people to be Christian, but it’s not bad if we are firmly and unapologetically Christian, holding to those basic teachings about our faith passed on for almost 2000 years.
The atheists lose all credibility to me when they blame religion for so much violence when atheist communism and a godless humanism have been responsible for deaths in the millions in the last century alone. Some religions have a tendency for violence written into their teachings such as islam, and some people just happen to be violent and religious at the same time even though there is no precedent for violence within their holy book. I think of Christians in this.
Take away religion and you’ll still have violence and death. Do humanists and atheists stop death and violence with their pluralism, tolerance and support for abortion and infanticide? Has secular pluralism or the various branches of psychology really done much more than Christianity to stop violence and death or even to explain the human condition in and credible way?
There’s no stopping it, and by it I mean death,violence,cruelty and suffering. At least with Christianity we have a narrative of the Fall to help explain the predicament we are in,along with a story of a Redeemer who is both God and man whose life, death and resurrection have given us the opportunity to be free from all the suffering around us. Even if our hope is primarily eschatological still it’s there.
There is no restoration of our fallen nature in islam, post temple Judaism, the various sects and branches of Hinduism or any other religion, much less in a dull agnosticism, atheism or humanism. There are similarities for sure, and there are even noble elements and a longing for transcendence within all of them, but there is no redeemer, and if we are truly Christian I do not see it as possible to honestly believe these are all alternative and contradictory paths to salvation.
Why should we not just be the best Christians we can, without apology,and without dumbing things down?
I don’t know about you but I need a worldview and narratives about where I’m from and where I’m going. I love the rites,rituals,signs and symbols of our Christian Faith. They are like signposts through this fallen world pointing towards eternity. I do not wish to bludgeon people with my religion, but neither will I dumb it down or give people assurance that they can easily be saved within any religion or none. I pray for all men and do not despair for their salvation, but I am unapologetically a Christian and I do believe that hell is possible.
You may be right, but blogging and trolling have ravaged Christianity, at least with the minority of people who use computers and internet. Everything has become so polarised and filled with noise. Yes, there is something special about Christ. Christianity is my faith. I believe Christianity could bring true freedom to many who are not Christians, but to make Christianity into a kind of perfect Orwellian Thought Police is a travesty. We will never get down to the bottom of it.
Whatever happens, man will continue hating and killing until we’re all dead – nuclear war, comet impact, doomsday disease – take your pick. The world is both beautiful and ugly. We humans don’t seem to be the same species as each other. We can come up with all sorts of theories about predestination and all that…
The bottom line is that there is no one solution for all. That sounds like relativism and liberalism – so be it.
Christianity is true, but so is Hinduism, Buddhism and tribal religions.
These words seem to have prompted a range of responses. From J.D.: I think that it’s not necessary to beat people over the head with our faith and threaten them with hell all the time, but it doesn’t mean we have to reject the possibility of hell or reduce Christ to one path among many up the same mountain.
I find myself asking, for whom is the possibility of hell envisaged: those who do evil (including those who are baptised) or those who do evil (including the evil of not being baptised)?
And this, again from J.D.: Fundamentalism is a bad thing if by fundamentalism we mean that we are to beat people over the head with our bibles and our teachings or force people to be Christian, but it’s not bad if we are firmly and unapologetically Christian, holding to those basic teachings about our faith passed on for almost 2000 years.
And I find myself asking, what is the essential difference between “forcing people to be Christian” and being “firmly and unapologetically Christian” if the latter includes thinking that only Christians are right, or have truth etc.?
You see, I think it’s important to read Father Chadwick’s post as a whole. I read him as clearly inviting us to be aware of the possibility that Christian religion can be as dark as any other and that we must not replace God with our religion. I don’t read him as saying that a life lived in imitation of or inspired by the figure of Christ cannot bring salvation. But if we are unable to say of any person whether or not they are saved or not, on what basis can we assert that the Christian life is essential to every person and time?
It is one thing to find meaning in Jesus; another to insist that that meaning is universal and just-so for everyone else. It is not “relativism” to reason that because a mystery such as the “Incarnation” roots meaning into particular life (that of a first century Jewish man) and time, all particular lives and times must have their validity. The pivotal concept underlying Incarnation is the concept of a God who “so loves” his creatures…etc.
The way I look at it is this: if I am a Christian, by birth and early formative circumstances, because God willed it, then clearly, by the same criteria, the millions of Hindus and others born and formed in their own time are so because God must have willed that too. If He did not so will them, then I can hardly claim His will for my circumstances, and so it must be some cosmic accident or deeper mystery. The idea that He made my Christian baptism easy or possible for me but not for millions doesn’t make sense to me.
But I am seasoned enough to know that arguing over absolutes is rarely helpful, when each person’s absolutes differ. I don’t expect to convince others but find it helpful to explain why I might think x or y. The story of religious dispute I suspect always comes down to the postulation of absolutes, that some, not others, can have Truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And all I can say is that in the fixation on Truth (however it is conceived), Love and humility seem generally to be casualties.
The big question would be knowing whether there would be any point to Christianity if no-one possessed or “knew” the full or absolute truth. What if there has never been any fulness of revelation, and that Christ was only a stage in history? Of course that is heresy to conservative and exclusivist Christians. Provisionally, I go along with Christianity being true, but that non-Christians participate in that truth in some way. Karl Rahner”s “anonymous Christian” theory is condescending to non-Christians, so we have to do better than him. In the end of the day, this fixation on truth is highly suspect, and virtue seems to suffer.
I get the impression that humanity is getting more inhumane and insane. It must be in the eye of the beholder! 🙂 I have a sense of foreboding.
It is always a pleasure to read Bill Tighe (even when I don’t agree with him!) Though not a professional historian, I have friends who are. And some of them – like Dr Tighe – are genuinely amazed at the attitude of sceptical Biblical scholars to the basic historicity of the New Testament writings.
Anyway, I just happen to have at hand (from a talk I gave recently) two quotes that might be useful, and perhaps even entertaining.
The first is from a former Dean of York’s magisterial “Theology of the New Testament”. This long paragraph must gain a prize in the “common sense” stakes:
Since the rise of modern biblical scholarship the question has been asked, Who first thought of this way of setting forth the significance of the historical life of Jesus? Every conceivable kind of answer has been given. It could not have been the Evangelists who first thought of it, because St Paul knew it long before St Mark’s Gospel was written. It could hardly have been St Paul, if we may trust the evidence which he himself supplies, including, of course, his own protestations of loyalty to the Gospel which he had received. Could it, then, have been the community at large, the Church into which St Paul was baptized? Some scholars have assumed that the early Christian community collectively worked out the theology of Christ as the fulfilment of the Scriptures. Such a conclusion, however, is not convincing, because communities do not think out such brilliant reconstructions as this uniquely original reinterpretation of the OT plan of salvation. There must have been some profoundly original mind which started the whole development on its course. Are we to assume that some creative thinker, whose name and whose memory have perished, is the genius behind the NT theology? Such a conclusion would indeed be an argumentum ex silentio. There remains only one other possibility: the mind behind the NT reinterpretation of the OT theology of redemption was that of Jesus himself. Could any solution be more probable? It was the Lord himself who first suggested, as much by his deeds (signs) as by his words, the fundamental lines of the theology of the NT. One gains the impression from reading the Gospels that the disciples were slow to understand what Jesus was trying to teach them during his historical ministry (e.g. Mark 4.40f.; 6.5 If.; 8.16-21; 9.32, etc.; cf. Luke 24.25; John 14.9, etc.), and that it was not until after the crucifixion and resurrection that the clues which he had left with them began to shape in their minds a coherent pattern. After the resurrection of Jesus they themselves were conscious that they were being guided by the Spirit of the living Lord into all the truth concerning him (John 16.12-15); the things which the historical Jesus had said to them were now brought vividly to their remembrance through the activity of the Holy Spirit in their midst, and now they understood their inner meaning (John 14.26). This is the hypothesis upon which the argument of this volume is based, and it is our contention that it makes better sense of the NT evidence than does any other; its validity will be tested by its success or failure as a foundation for a coherent and soundly historical account of the theology of the apostolic Church. See Richardson, Alan (1972), An introduction to the theology of the New Testament. (Fifth impression.) (London: SCM Press), pp. 22-23.
The second quote is from John Robinson’s Redating the New Testament, p. 319. Robinson, while expressing his confidence in the accepted method of modern Biblical studies with their “scholarly checks”, speaks of the need scholars have of a “friendly chiding” for not always appreciating “by any contemporary standards, what excellent sources they have.” He then quotes what he calls “this somewhat naughty comment” of A.H.N. Green-Armytage: “There is a world – I do not say a world in which all scholars live but one at any rate into which all of them sometimes stray, and which some of them seem permanently to inhabit – which is not the world in which I live. In my world, if The Times and The Telegraph both tell one story in somewhat different terms, nobody concludes that one of them must have copied the other, nor that the variations in the story have some esoteric significance. But in that world of which I am speaking this would be taken for granted. There, no story is ever derived from facts but always from somebody else’s version of the same story . . . In my world, almost every book, except some of those produced by Government departments, is written by one author. In that world almost every book is produced by a committee, and some of them by a whole series of committees. In my world, if I read that Mr Churchill, in 1935, said that Europe was heading for a disastrous war, I applaud his foresight. In that world no prophecy, however vaguely worded, is ever made except after the event. In my world we say, ‘The first world-war took place in 1914-1918.’ In that world they say, ‘The world-war narrative took shape in the third decade of the twentieth century.’ In my world men and women live for a considerable time – seventy, eighty, even a hundred years – and they are equipped with a thing called memory. In that world (it would appear) they come into being, write a book, and forthwith perish, all in a flash, and it is noted of them with astonishment that they ‘preserve traces of primitive tradition’ about things which happened well within their own adult lifetime.” See Robinson, John A. T. (1976), Redating the New Testament (London: S.C.M. Press), p. 319
I read Richardson’s book 35+ years ago, and think it wonderfully “bracing” in its intelligent and scholarly good sense.
And I recall with pleasure an hour’s conversation I had with Robinson about 18 months before his death concerning the Epistle of St. Clement to the Corinthians concerning its dating and the possible identity of its author. Robinson strongly commended to me *The Church of Rome in the First Century: The Bampton Lectures for 1913* by George Edmundson (London, 1913: Longmans, Green and Company), a wonderful book which suffered the strange fate of falling into oblivion immediately after its publication, until Robinson “resurrected” it. I have read the book at least three times from cover to cover, and commend it to all whom its subject interests.
I personally think that the arguments for a pre 70 AD dating for Clement are compelling. The case was taken up by the late Fr Thomas Herron (who had worked for the CDF as Cardinal Ratzinger’s English language secretary) in his 1988 doctoral dissertation, published posthumously in 2008 as “Clement and the Early Church of Rome : On the dating of Clement’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.”