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Atheist Fundamentalism

No, that title doesn’t mean what people usually mean by the phrase. This isn’t about equating any outspoken opposition to religion with the sort of extremism that leads people to commit mass murder in the name of a God of love. Rather, it’s about how atheists often act as if literalist fundamentalism is the only game in town, and liberal belief is either irrelevant or non-existent.

A typical example of this might be countering Christian arguments by asking pointed questions about how Noah got all those animals on his ark, or dismissing a comment about the implausibility of a particular scientific theory (let’s say evolution) by observing that the questioner, being a Christian, believes in the much less plausible story of a magic tree and talking snake instead. Maybe “Atheist Straw-Manning” might be a more accurate title, but that rather prejudges the issue. Read More…

Pass the Virtual Wine

Ship of Fools, the rather fine Magazine of Christian Unrest, is running an experiment in online Communion, and the wider idea of virtual sacraments. It’s an idea that interests me, because I like the thought of playing around with different ways of expressing things, but it’s been causing quite a fuss, even among people who fit the Ship’s subversive, liberal mindset. It’s been described as shocking, ridiculous and even blasphemous. Being thoroughly awkward and contrary, this just makes me more interested.

Is true communion this…

A lot of the criticism comes from people who believe in some form of ontological change in the communion elements, either Transubstantiation or the slightly broader idea of Real Presence. There seems to be a fear, whether spoken or unspoken, that the magic won’t work if you do it wrong. I have no idea whether they think God can’t or won’t change the bread and wine, but I find either belief difficult to reconcile with church’s own description of God as loving and omnipotent. Read More…

Perry Mason and the Case of the Resurrected Man

Courtroom

I was recently introduced to an interesting phenomenon known as Perry Mason Syndrome, a term for a cluster of popular misconceptions about legal procedure derived from watching Perry Mason on TV, or more generally any legal drama. In particular, this can lead jurors to assume that defendants who are guilty will confess under questioning, or even that the prosecution case can only be adequately countered by forcing a confession out of a different witness, effectively reversing the burden of proof. This use of attack as the best form of defence, gaining an acquittal through confession, is sometimes known as the Perry Mason Method.

The reason why I bring this up is that I immediately found this reassignment of the burden of proof strangely familiar, having encountered something very similar several times in the last few weeks, especially over Easter. Jesus must have been resurrected, the argument goes, because the Bible says so and there’s no other plausible explanation for the recorded events. In other words, if you want to argue that the resurrection didn’t happen, you need to provide a convincing alternative explanation. Read More…

What’s so bad about heresy?

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Half of the people who attended the First Council of Nicaea were camera-shy

I am a man. I am also a woman. I am both married and single. I have two children, but I also have none. Obvious nonsense, but if I claimed to be God, this sort of self-contradiction would not only be fine and dandy, but it would be unacceptable to insist on one or other of the mutually exclusive descriptions given.

For example, Jesus is asserted by the church to be both “fully god and fully man”. There are a number of well-worn heresies that attempt to take this doctrine at face value and make sense of it, and which have been anathematised by the church as a result. Anyone who emphasises that Jesus was divine and suggests that in that case he wasn’t really human in a normal sense is “guilty” of Docetism. If you take the opposite tack and say that Jesus was basically human, and was “divine” in the sense that he was the ultimate man, a sort of perfection of mankind, your heresy of choice is most likely Socinianism. One or the other isn’t enough, you must believe – if not six impossible things – at least two contradictory things before being accepted as a Christian. Read More…

The Gospel According to Dr Seuss

I take as the text for my sermon today:

I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox
I do not like them in a house
I do not like them with a mouse
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

I’m sure we’ve all felt like that from time to time, haven’t we? I know I have. Read More…

Rise and Fall of the Human Empire

Christians set a lot of store by the opening chapters of Genesis, and they’re the basis for various doctrines, especially original sin. I don’t think it will surprise you to discover that I don’t hold to a literal interpretation of the garden of Eden, but I do find a lot of good stuff in the story anyway.

The most important question in approaching Genesis is what form of story it is. Fundamentalists treat it as history, even though one of the central characters is a talking snake. Others reject that idea for obvious reasons, generally treating it as a story, albeit one with a message – a parable, or a myth. In my experience, most call it a myth, but treat it as a parable, i.e. an illustrative story with an intended conclusion, or prescriptive subtext. Hence doctrines such as human dominion, male headship, creationism and of course the Fall of Man. That’s a shame, because I think it’s a very interesting creation and profound creation myth when properly handled. Read More…

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