Archive for April, 2012

Blaise Pascal

Except for the usual famous quotations, none of the writings of the great French philosopher, mathematician and born-again Christian apologist Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) has ever come to my notice until now.  On a whim, I’ve bought a copy of his Pensées and have been dipping into it at random, coming up with gems like this (French first, then my attempt at a very free translation into English):

Il n’y a que trois sortes de personnes: les uns qui servent Dieu l’ayant trouvé, les autres qui s’emploient à le chercher
ne l’ayant trouvé, les autres qui vivent sans le chercher ni l’avoir trouvé.  Les premiers sont raisonnables et heureux, les derniers sont fous et malheureux.  Ceux du milieu sont malheureux et raisonnables. Pensées 12:160

There are only three sorts of people:  those who having found God serve Him; others who set out to look for Him but have not found Him; and the rest who live their lives not having looked for Him, let alone found Him.  The people in the first group are sane and happy, and those in the last group are crazy and unhappy.  Those in the middle are unhappy and sane.

No doubt the great man had in mind the question the Bible asks, “Canst thou by searching find out God?”  Job 11:7

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For some people, even believers, Easter is far from being an unalloyed occasion for joy.  Despite its premier place in Christian belief, it seems to be slipping further and further down the mainstream Anglo national consciousness.  One obvious reason is that nowadays we think about death, and the risk of eternal damnation, somewhat differently from our forbears.  That affects our views about the credibility, desirability, let alone possibility, of life after death. (more…)

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Hanslope Church

Hanslope Church

Every year at about this time, Easter, the media strike up the band with some old favourites:  the church is dying, it’s irrelevant to people’s lives and concerns, churches are empty, clergy mouth platitudes or are too wet.  It’s a seductive old tune.  But is it true?

Casting my mind back 20 – 30 years, I recall a time when the following things were true for the church in England: cold and empty churches; the services still held in 1662 language, with silly Victorian hymns; Anglican participants in an ecumenical gathering being told that they could not share in the Catholic’s recitation of the Lord’s Prayer; all priests were male and the idea of there ever being a non-white  bishop, let alone archbishop, preposterous; the Dean of Winchester – one of the last to be seen dressed in gaiters – saying that there was a Christian case for nuclear weapons; narrow-minded interpretations of salvation and threats of damnation; an air of hopelessness and decay.

Now we have increasing numbers: standing room only in Catholic churches in West London as Polish residents flock to mass; a galaxy of Afro-Caribbean churches seemingly in every town; the present Archbishop of York from Uganda; the next Archbishop of Canterbury being chosen by the church, not the government; a canon of St Pauls Cathedral warning the police not to break up the protestors camping on its steps; the other archbishop cutting up his dog-collar on TV;  church schools oversubscribed; services in contemporary language; women priests, though not yet bishops; Thought for the Day regularly explaining Hinduism; the spread of purpose-built mosques; the television series Rev; the crucifixion re-enacted in cities in the UK; to my certain knowledge, at least one gay bishop in England and a gay Dean (what of it?); the New Atheism failing to find traction in our community so far.

Tonight we go and share the Easter Mass with our fellow congregants in a country church (pictured), and see that there are more of them than 20 years ago, and of all ages.  Our mass will be participatory, and moving.

No, I don’t think the church is fading.  It’s actually being reborn.  That’s a good feeling to have at Easter, when we celebrate renewal and resurrection into new life.  God bless us all.

Happy Easter

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Concentration camp inmate

Bergen-Belsen, 1945

Now, at the beginning of Holy Week, it is difficult to imagine science fiction shedding any light on what Christians believe is about to happen.  The Passion and the Crucifixion are in a different category, full of various layers of meaning, none of which seems to have any direct relevance to what science writers might depict.  But I remember reading a short story, years ago, that makes such a connection, and powerfully, and opens the door to an uncomfortable truth, about who is crucified and by whom. (more…)

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God prevents a church from falling down.  This little anecdote, collected and retold by Marco Polo, is of Samarkand the ancient city on the Silk Route to Cathay.  It can be heard in various ways including benign – one can imagine it in the mouth and gestures of a storyteller in the market place – or malign, as a relic of intercommunal strife in 13th century Central Asia: (more…)

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