We watch a lot of TV series from the US, most of it very well written and illustrative of America today.  At least we assume so.  But one hole does appear in the fabric.  For a society supposed to be so religious, America on screen rarely seems to darken the doors of places of worship except to attend weddings and funerals or chase people.

Of course there are exceptions.  One episode of The West Wing shows the anguished president alone in the National Cathedral; another has Toby attending temple and talking with the rabbi afterwards.  In ER, a troubled Dr Susan Lewis is shown in one episode entering and leaving a church at Christmastide.  The NYC Police Commissioner in Blue Bloods visits his parish church for hard words with the priest, and I seem to remember Jack Killian doing the something of the same in an episode of Midnight Caller.  I can’t think of any others.  Brody worshipping on his prayer mat in Homeland is not quite the same thing.

God and humanity

Religion explains.  That is its function.  All the great belief systems have their own responses – explanations for the perplexed – to humanity’s great eternal questions, developed and embellished over centuries of exposition. Continue Reading »

Many people over a period of time compiled the New Testament.  This I knew, of course, but I have rarely seen it so clearly explained as it is by Diarmaid MacCulloch in his recent review of Reza Aslan’s new book Zealot, in the London Review of Books, 10 October 2013, pp9-10:

“Aslan says what all scholars not in thrall to blinkered religious conservatism say: when reading the New Testament, we have to fight through several filters of authorship to get any idea of how these sacred texts relate to a life lived in first-century Palestine.  All the works included in the New Testament canon were written in a language different from Jesus’ native tongue, and even the earliest among them were written by someone who never met him in his earthly life; the latest may postdate his death on the cross by about a century.  They are coloured by preoccupations which were not those of Jesus himself, and they fuelled the development of a church which became radically different from anything Jesus or the first generation of his followers could have envisaged.”

None of which invalidates the NT: it just means we have to be careful when reading it and quoting from it.

What God?

The hand of God

The hand of God

Exploring my freedom to visualise God in various ways, I come up against an obvious difficulty.  If we, in western Europe at least, have lost faith in the kind of personality-deity so masterfully portrayed in the Abrahamic tradition, so dominant in its religions, what is there left to interact with, let alone worship? Continue Reading »

Holy oil

Anointing DavidIn the BBC’s copious coverage of the 60th anniversary of the last coronation at Westminster, back in June, there was a note of special pleading.  I think that the issue it raises is an important and a contentious one which should be dealt with now, before the next coronation. Continue Reading »

Spiritually sick

When, as has happened this week, the media report on particularly appalling murders, some explain that the perpetrators are known to have had “mental issues.”  This appears to be the modern way of saying “mentally sick.”  Yet many of the worst killers appear to be fairly rational in their reasoning and behaviour and don’t always present symptoms of any mental illness that might explain their crimes.

I reckon that any one of us can be sick in body, mind and/or soul, or any combination thereof.  If so, there is room for a category of being spiritually sick.  Some might call it being evil but that implies an impossibility of a cure.  I mean something that can be treated.  Having lived in five African countries and visited four more, I think that African culture has no difficulty with this concept, even while we might deplore some of the ways the condition is ‘cured’.

A woman who in any culture starves and beats her toddler son to death is clearly sick in some way or other; it is only the West’s rationalism and unease with religious belief that prevents us publicly acknowledging the true sickness exhibited in each case by the crying needs of a soul gone wrong, not just “evil.”  It is not only the victim that needs our intervention and help.

Cardinal Bertone has been watching too many episodes of The Borgias on TV.  The outgoing Secretary of State for the Holy See claims in an interview that his work was made difficult by ‘crows’ and ‘vipers’ in the Curia.  It is possible to be faintly amused by this sort of language, but not altogether so.  Is this language the sort a bishop should be using?

It puts one in mind of the joke about Vatican number plates and their prefix SCV which Romans affect to believe stands for Se Cristo Videsse (‘If Christ could only see this’).  Let us all hope that the new Secretary, Archbishop Parolin, is not so maladroit.


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