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Is liberal theology really killing the church?

First Church of OtagoThis is an old favourite. It’s a regular occurrence that some survey or other, possibly carefully designed to produce this result, appears to show that conservative churches are doing better in numerical terms than liberal ones. It may be that they’re growing while liberal churches are shrinking, or more likely that liberal churches tend to be losing members while conservatives are holding steady or shrinking at a slower rate, but this is used as clear evidence that liberals are killing the church. So are they?

Any survey of this type faces huge methodological challenges in getting a meaningful picture at all, given the proliferation of different churches, different ways of counting membership and attendance, and particularly the question of how a church is identified as liberal or conservative, in the absence of an objective scale. And then there’s a good chance that a narrow survey for one purpose will be picked up and abused as evidence for something entirely different. Read More…

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Pope Joan – Fact, fiction or something else?

PregnantMost people have heard the legend of Pope Joan, or a variation on the theme. At its most basic, the story goes that there was once a Pope who turned out to be a woman, generally held to have been discovered when she suddenly gave birth in the street. It’s often claimed that this incident led to subsequent Popes having to sit in a sort of privy chair with a hole in the seat, so that a cardinal could confirm their sex.

It’s an appealing story in many ways, depending on your inclinations. A woman who rose to the top by impersonating a man, in an age when women were rarely educated, is a common form of fable for good reasons. Add in the church’s foolishness being scandalously revealed in public and the delicious (if bizarre) mental image of the Vatican’s Groper-in-Chief fondling the papal scrotum before announcing “Testiculos habet et bene pendentes” (He has testicles, and they hang well), and I’d really like it to be true. Read More…

Maybe I need to get down to basics

I’m not really interested in being obvious. I enjoy finding unusual angles and approaches, and I don’t want to waste my time proving that the world’s round, or grass is green. There’s nothing wrong with that in its place, but it’s not my thing.

That’s served me well enough until now, and it’s still true that if I’m ever reduced to posts with no more content than “What about those creationists, eh?” this blog will have passed its sell-by date. But then I experienced a sudden influx after being featured on Freshly Pressed (waves to new followers), and I found myself attracting sermons from people who didn’t know me, haven’t been following my story and in some cases, didn’t even convince me that they’d read and understood the post in question. Read More…

Interview with Dr Joe Wenke

Joe WenkeWhile I was working on my review of his book, I was lucky enough to be able to ask Joe Wenke (pictured right) a few questions about it, including what he was trying to achieve and how he felt about the stories he was satirising. So here, as a sort of bonus track, are my questions and his answers.


Was there a particular thing that inspired you to write the book?

As I explain in “The Genesis of You Got to Be Kidding!” a piece that I originally wrote for the Huffington Post but which is now included as an afterword to the book, the way I got the idea for writing the book is kind of strange. I woke up one morning, and the first thing I thought of was that I would read the Bible and when I found something funny, I would write about it. I had never had that thought before, and I don’t know why I woke up thinking the Bible was funny, although it is hilarious. Read More…

What’s in a miracle? – A scientific system of canonization

MiracleI recently wrote a summary of the process of becoming a saint in the Catholic Church. Well, now I want to pick up on something that’s been bothering me about it – it’s those miracles.

To head off any objections, I’m not interested in an argument about whether miracles are possible – such debates always get bogged down in semantics and evidence-free speculation. But it might surprise you to know that I think the definition of a miracle is fundamentally a scientific one, albeit with the thoroughly unscientific attitude that if we can’t explain it, we should just stop trying, give it a special name and say Goddidit. Read More…

So how do you become a saint, then?

Saint Maria(Imagine the title in the voice of Monty Python’s constitutional peasants)

If you’re not a Catholic or a religion nerd/tragic, you may not be aware that there’s a very specific qualification to be canonized by the church (in other words, to become a saint). It’s quite hilariously formalised and complicated, as only Roman Catholic doctrine can be, and consists of four steps.

First, once they’ve been dead for a while, a bishop may begin an investigation into the person’s life to make sure that they were good (for Catholic values of good), and that no heretical cult is currently worshipping them (as if that affected their worthiness). During this process, the candidate is known as “Servant of God”, and their body will be exhumed so that relics can be taken. Seriously. It’s not all beer and skittles being a saint. Read More…

Jesus – The Ultimate Cassandra?

Toy JesusThe question of the historicity of Jesus is a long-standing point of contention. What do we really know about him, how reliable are the few accounts that have been preserved, and did he even exist at all? Everyone has a view and it’s a subject that’s been done to death, but ultimately it’s a question we can’t answer. What evidence we have was recorded and preserved by people who followed and believed in him, and falls a long way short of an objective historical record.

The evidence is patchy and unreliable, and people will reach conclusions based on their preconceptions and their inclination to believe that an account’s truthful. So far, so boring and unenlightening. But what if Jesus really was who it’s claimed he was? If he truly was the Son of God?

If Jesus was an incarnate deity, miracle-worker and saviour of the world, his PR seems to have been unaccountably bad. Read More…

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