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The death of liberalism in the West

16 June 2017

The news item was perhaps overlooked when the headlines were dominated by the Grenfell Tower fire and the shooting of a politician in the USA. But The Guardian told the story Tim Farron quits as Lib Dem leader | Politics | The Guardian:

Farron says ‘remaining faithful to Christ’ was incompatible with being party leader after repeated questions over his faith

He made a statement, which is worth reading in full, which shows just how anti-Christian the British media have become.

Farron resigns as Lib Dem leader:

From the very first day of my leadership, I have faced questions about my Christian faith. I’ve tried to answer with grace and patience. Sometimes my answers could have been wiser.

At the start of this election, I found myself under scrutiny again – asked about matters to do with my faith. I felt guilty that this focus was distracting attention from our campaign, obscuring our message.

Journalists have every right to ask what they see fit. The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.

There have been similar things in the USA, where Christian groups have been cold-shouldered from anti-war marches because they are anti-abortion, and from anti-abortion marches because they are anti-war.

Tim Farron goes on to say:

I’m a liberal to my finger tips, and that liberalism means that I am passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believe different things to me.

There are Christians in politics who take the view that they should impose the tenets of faith on society, but I have not taken that approach because I disagree with it – it’s not liberal and it is counterproductive when it comes to advancing the gospel.

Even so, I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in.

In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.

So it seems that there is no place for liberals in the Liberal-Democratic Party in the UK.

Tim Farron

The Wikipedia article on Tim Farron notes “Among political observers, Farron is widely seen as being of left-leaning political position. In a September 2016 interview, he identified the Liberal Democrats under his leadership as being centre-left.”

It seems that what the journalists questioned him on was not his political policies, but his religious beliefs. The Guardian article cited above noted that such things might be asked of someone of any religion, but I wonder if London’s Muslim mayor faced similar questions.

The anti-Christian attitude of the British media seems also to be reflected in recent statements by US  politician Bernie Sanders. I think that is rather sad, because I thought that Bernie Sanders would have made a better US president than either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Is It Hateful To Believe In Hell? Bernie Sanders’ Questions Prompt Backlash : The Two-Way : NPR:

A low-profile confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill this week raised eyebrows when the questioning turned to theology — specifically, damnation.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont pressed Russell Vought, nominated by President Trump to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, about his beliefs.

This is somewhat different from the Tim Farron case, because Russell Vought is no liberal, but if this report is to be believed, Bernie Sanders is no liberal either.

Bernie Sanders

It is difficult to know how accurate media reports are, but according to reports I’ve read, Vought supported his institution, Wheaton College, in its decision to sack another teacher for supporting Muslim civil rights. If Sanders had questioned Vought on that action, I’d have no quibble with it, but he didn’t, he chose to attack Vought’s theology and to misinterpret it, and it is doing that that he is similar to those in the UK who attacked Tim Farron for his theology.[1]

All this shows up the biggest flaw in Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations thesis. Huntington maintained that civilisations were based on religion, and that the religion of the West was Roman Catholic Christianity, but these events show that it is not: the established religion of the West is Secularism. I’ve said more about this in other articles, where I explain why I believe that Secularism is a religion, and why I think it has become established in the West: Christianophobia and Secularism in Europe, and Militant atheists, Christianists, and the idolatry of the West.

As a missiologist (student of Christian mission as a phenomenon) I’m well aware of the history of Western Christian missions to other parts of the world in the 19th century, which very often involved cultural imperialism, cultural clashes, and destruction of cultures. One result of missiology (mission studies) is that many Christians have become aware  of the errors of the past, and are much more sensitive about such things. Not so the 21st Century missionaries of Western Secularism, who go barging into other people’s cultures with the same crass insensitivity, and alienate people as a result.

In the history of England (and later Britain) conformity to the Established Church was enforced by laws which only really began to be relaxed in the 19th century. And now they are being reintroduced to enforce conformity to the new Established Church of Secularism.

Here’s a comment on Tim Farron’s stepping down from a Muslim liberal leader:

People of faith might think that their values can’t coincide with liberal values. But the truth is that liberalism is the most likely to uphold their right to practise any faith. As someone who defines themselves as both Muslim and liberal, I believe that our freedoms extend to anything as long as they don’t violate the freedoms of others.

As far as I’m concerned, for example, you can wear whatever you want: face veil, miniskirt, burkini, bikini. It really is your own choice. In fact, this shows in the Lib Dem manifesto, which was the only one of the main three to mention upholding the freedom to wear cultural and religious dress.

I’m a liberal, and once I was a Liberal, a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party of South Africa, which was forced by the South African government to disband in 1968 because it was non-racial. It was also non-denominational. It espoused a political programme and policies which people of different religious, cultural and linguistic backgrounds could support and work for together, regardless of their reasons for supporting those policies.

My reasons for supporting those policies were theological. I was a liberal because I was a Christian, not in addition to being a Christian or in spite of being a Christian, for reasons I have explained here and here. And that is why the story of Tim Farron saddens me. That he felt he had to step down indicates that the Lib-Dems in the UK are both anti-Christian and anti-Liberal.


Orthodox Anthropology: human beings or human persons

12 June 2017

There seems to be a theological dispute among bishops which has me rather worried since I read about it in this article Human Beings or Human Persons? | Public Orthodoxy:

One of the liveliest exchanges at the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church in June 2016 concerned which Greek words should be used in Council documents to refer to humans: anthrōpos (“human being”); or anthrōpino prosōpo (or simply prosōpon) (“human person”). The main protagonists in this debate were, in the anthrōpos corner, Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos), and in the prosōpon corner, Metropolitan John (Zizioulas), supported by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware). While this episode may seem to be an intra-Greek linguistic spat, the theological stakes are very high.

For me, the main theological points are these:

For Vlachos, it is unacceptable to identify and name humans as persons, since this appears to put them on the same level as the divine Persons. So humans must be thought of simply as anthrōpoi (human beings); they do not, in Christos Yannaras’ terminology, have a personal “mode of existence” analogous to the Persons of the Holy Trinity.

The position of Metropolitan John Zizioulas and Metropoluitan Kallistos Ware, however, seems to be this:

…a refusal to attribute personhood to human existence downgrades humanity. This is not fidelity to patristic anthropology, but rather its betrayal. The Fathers sought to elevate humanity by stressing that humans are created in the divine image, with the potential for union with God (theosis), and not mere pawns subject to impersonal and implacable destiny or the gods. If the notion that all humans are persons is not acceptable, still less acceptable would be the idea that humans are individuals (atoma), since this gives rise to selfish individualism, contrary to commandment of love. If humans are neither persons nor individuals, they are mere anthrōpoi, interchangeable and expendable specimens of homo sapiens. This is a reductionist view of humanity: humans as solely anthrōpoi are not unique persons of infinite value, as they are considered in Orthodox anthropology and Orthodox personalism. This theology, contrary to the spirit of patristic anthropology, plays into the hands of contemporary secularists, for whom humans are nothing more than intelligent animals.

And it is their view that I find myself most in sympathy with, perhaps because one of my first teachers of Orthodox theology was Father John Zizioulas, before he was raised to the episcopate, back in 1968 at a seminar or Orthodox theology for non-Orthodox theological students.

Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos and Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon

Now I find this all very confusing, not least because I read a book by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos called The Person in the Orthodox Tradition, and if this article is correct, I must have completely misinterpreted it, because I interpreted it in the light of what Christos Yannaras, in his book The Freedom of Morality, said about the human person.

I’m not a Greek language fundi, and part of the argument seems to be about the meaning of Greek words, which I also seem to have misunderstood. I took the Greek anthropos to mean the same as the Zulu umuntu, which means a human person. The English word for that is man, which has to do double duty, because it is also used to translate the Greek aner and the Zulu indoda, which mean an adult male human person. Some feminists and Western theologians would deprive us of the first meaning, saying that it is impermissible, which means that there is no English equivalent for anthropos or umuntu, and if I read this article correctly, there is no Greek equivalent for umuntu either, because anthropos means something less than umuntu..

Here follows a rather large chunk of my doctoral thesis on Orthodox Mission Method, in which I tried to explain Orthodox anthropology and Orthodox ecclesiology (in part for the benefit of my Reformed promoter). But, if I have read the article correctly, it will probably need substantial revision in the light of what these bishops are saying. Is it heretical, or based on mistaken linguistic premisses, or what?


Orthodox ecclesiology sees the Church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. In the West, “catholic” tends to be understood as meaning “general” or “universal”, whereas in Orthodox ecclesiology it is understood more as meaning “whole”. In Roman Catholic ecclesiology “the church” tends to be seen as monolithic, as a single body throughout the world bound in unity through the Pope of Rome. The local church is part of the whole, it may be described as a certain part of the single monolith, but is not at all separate from it.

In Congregational ecclesiology “the church” is essentially the local church, and the “catholic” church is the sum of all the local churches — the whole is the sum of the parts. These two images of the church, as a monolith or as a pile of pebbles, are not the only ones in Western Christendom. There is the “connexional” ecclesiology of the Methodists, the “presbyterian” ecclesiology of many Reformed churches, and the “episcopal” ecclesiology of the Anglicans. There is also a tendency to see the term “church” as referring to a denomination or sect, so that one can speak of the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church and so on, as if these were all parts or “branches” of the universal church.

All this is foreign to Orthodox ecclesiology. In Orthodox ecclesiology, and indeed in the New Testament, there is no conception of the church as a “denomination”. The term “church” refers either to the local church, or to the universal church. The relationship between them is not seen either as that of a part to the whole (and therefore incomplete if separated from the whole), nor as a pebble in a pile of stones, independent, complete in itself, and self-sufficient.

A more accurate image is that of holography, pictures created by laser technology, where if the picture is divided into two, one does not have two half pictures, but two whole pictures. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but the completeness of the whole resides in all the parts. One could almost say that the part encompasses the sum of the wholes. The local church, led by its bishop, is “catholic”, that is, whole and complete, yet it is not independent, as in the congregational model, but interdependent with the other local churches.


In Orthodox anthropology too, this holistic understanding is found. In Western philosophy, theology and politics, a distinction is often drawn between the individual and society. In liberalism, for example, the individual is seen as primary. The law and society should be structured in such a way as to protect the rights of the individual. Larger groupings, such as “society” or the state, are simply made up of collections of individuals. The whole is the sum of the parts. In fact in Western individualism the whole is sometimes seen as being less than the sum of its parts. There is a kind of nominalism, in which the collective bodies are seen as less real than the individuals that make them up. But there have also been philosophies and worldviews that have seen the individual as simply a part of a larger whole. Society, or the state, have been seen as primary. In totalitarian ideologies, such as fascism and communism, the welfare of the individual must be subordinated to the welfare of the whole. The larger group is primary, and the individual is simply a part of the whole.

In Orthodox anthropology, however, neither the individual nor society has much meaning on its own. Orthodox anthropology distinguishes strongly between the individual and the person. A person is more than an individual, a person is in relationship to other people (see Lossky 1973:121f). It is these relationships that make up society, as a larger whole. The “isolated individual” is incomplete. Eastern Christianity is communal: “it is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Eastern Christianity sees the Church and the person as a reflection of the relationship between the Persons of the Divine Trinity (Bajis 1991:6). As a Zulu proverb puts it: Umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu — a person is a person because of people. Yannaras (1984:22) notes:

In everyday speech we tend to distort the meaning of the word “person”. What we call “person” or “personal” designates rather more the individual. We have grown accustomed to regarding the terms “person” and “individual” as virtually synonymous, and we use the two indifferently to express the same thing. From one point of view, however, “person” and “individual” are opposite in meaning. The individual is the denial or neglect of the distinctiveness of the person, the attempt to define human existence using the objective properties of man’s common nature, and quantitative comparisons and analogies.

Chiefly in the field of sociology and politics, the human being is frequently identified with the idea of numerical individuality. Sometimes this rationalistic process of leveling people out is considered progress, since it helps to make the organization of society more efficient. We neutralize the human being into a social unit, bearing the characteristics, the needs and desires, which are common to all. We try to achieve some rationalistic arrangement for the “rights of the individual” or an “objective” implementation of social justice which makes all individual beings alike and denies them personal distinctiveness.

This view of man in numerical, quantifiable terms is in many ways a characteristic of modern urban and civilised society. The very size of cities makes it easy for people to be anonymous, to disappear into the crowd, and to relate to people only in a functional way. In small towns and villages, and even more in rural tribal society, people may have multiple relationships to each other. I might know the name of the person who works at the check-out counter at the supermarket, not merely from a label attached to their clothing, but because I meet them in other settings and situations. A recent job advertisement in a newspaper called for a “Human Resources Superintendent” for an industrial company. The implication is that people have simply become another “resource” in the production process, and such dehumanising terminology is scarcely questioned (Sunday Times 1995-07-24).

In Orthodox anthropology, persons relate to one other in much the same way as local churches relate to the universal church. The person is not an individual, a numerical unit, the smallest unit or component of society, which cannot be further divided (Vlachos 1999:16-17). The person, the hypostasis or prosopon, is the bearer of human nature, and thus in a sense represents the whole as well, without losing personal distinctiveness.

The truth of the personal relationship with God, which may be positive or antithetical but is nevertheless always an existential relationship, is the definition of man, is mode of being. Man is an existential fact of relationship and communion. He is a person, prosopon, which signifies, both etymologically and in practice. that he has his face (ops) towards (pros) someone or something: that he is opposite (in relation to or in connection with) someone or something. In every one of its personal hypostases, the created nature of man is “opposite” God: it exists as a reference and relation to God (Yannaras 1984:20-21).

When God gave the ten commandments to Moses, he did not hide his identity or that of his audience behind a string of impersonal passives, like our constitutions and statutes. The commandments do not say “Adultery is not to be committed”, but “Thou shalt not commit adultery”.

If you accept the ten commandments, you are not accepting one code of principles among many, you are not acquiescing in a general disapproval of murder; primarily you are committing yourself to a God who has a purpose and a judgment and who reveals that purpose to his people, part of which purpose is that you should not deny your neighbour’s God-given permission to live. Accepting the ten commandments is an act of faith in the living God, not of approval of an ideal way of life. They are not man’s idea of what God wants; they are God’s own word, addressed to man, second person singular (Davies 1990:2).

When God spoke to Moses, he spoke not to Moses alone, but to the whole people of Israel. Moses, as a person, could nevertheless represent other persons. “The person is not an individual, a segment or subdivision of human nature as a whole. He represents not the relationship of the part to the whole, but the possibility of summing up the whole in a distinctiveness of relationship, in an act of self-transcendence” (Yannaras 1984:21).

It is in the light of this that Orthodox ecclesiology must be understood. In the Divine Liturgy, the priest as a person represents the community to God and God to the community. The priest is the ikon of the community towards God, and the ikon of Christ to the community — not in the Western sense of being a “mediator”, as something apart from both the community and God, but as a person who is a person because of people. In English, something of this is retained in the word “parson” that is sometimes used for the parish priest — a word that is etymologically related to “person”. In Orthodox theology the bishop thus not only “leads” the local church, but represents it. “Where the bishop is, there the church is”, said St Ignatius.

In some African societies, this conception of one person as a representative of the community is also found — even to the extent that a single person is regarded as a community (Ogbonnaya 1993:120). There is a sense in which the king is the people. The king is the king because of the people. This is very different from the Western concept of absolute monarchy, which developed in the early modern period, in which the king was set over the community he ruled. It is also different from Hitler’s “Führer principle”, which has the connotation of a car and driver — the driver being different in quality from the car. In Zulu society, for example, the inkosi (a word that is variously translated into English as “king”, “chief” or “lord”) is a member of the community, and its representative. He is part of that which he represents.

When Christianity stopped being persecuted, Christians tried to transform human society into an image of the kingdom of God. The institution of the Roman emperor was to be transfigured, so that the emperor was to represent the people, to be the one person who stood for the people, the Tsar was to be the “little father”. The extent to which this transformation was achieved is a matter of debate among theologians. The point here is that it is related to the Orthodox understanding of the human person.

This view of human nature, of Christian anthropology, is almost incomprehensible to many Western theologians. This can be seen, for example, in a tutorial letter sent out by the Faculty of Theology of the University of South Africa to students, instructing them to avoid the use of the word “man” to mean a human being of either sex, but to use it only to refer to male persons (Saayman 1995:2). The concept expressed by the term “man” is missing from the consciousness of most Western theologians. Western theology has no need of a singular term for a human person that can also represent the plural, and therefore sees no harm or incongruity in censoring and suppressing that term, and insisting that is must be used only to refer to males. Such attempts to impose Western theological categories by such bodies as the World Council of Churches are seen by many Orthodox Christians as arrogant cultural imperialism, though those who participate in such ecumenical bodies are often too polite to say so, or express their criticism in guarded terms (see e.g. Veronis 1990:269). Others, however, use it to illustrate their understanding that “ecumenism” is a heresy, and a device for destroying Orthodoxy.

A human person is not simply a part of a greater whole, nor an individual in isolation apart from the whole, but contains within himself or herself the whole. A person is always a person in community, is a person because of people.


So much for my thesis, in which I even quoted Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, though I apparently misunderstood him entirely.

So I’m hoping for some comments from Orthodox theologian friends — where to from here? And where did I go wrong?

An academic generation gap?

5 June 2017

Duncan Reyburn recently posted a link to a book, Philosophical Approaches to Demonology, in which he has written a contribution, concerning which he says that it is “about how King James was a being really nasty when he wrote his book—titled, “Daemonologie”—back in 1597. My philosophical approach is rooted in the work of the late, great René Girard.”

I was interested in this because some years ago I wrote an article on Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery, While Duncan seemed to be viewing the topic through a macro-closeup lens, focusing on one book by one man, mine was more of a wide-angle view, though sometimes zooming in on the Zionist Christians of southern Africa.  In spite of these differences, however, it seemed that we were dealing with the same topic. King James VI of Scotland (I of Great Britain), was one Christian and Duncan covered his approach, I looked at a few more approaches.

I was quite surprised, then, to discover that in our bibliographies there was not a single work in common.

Perhaps this indicates a kind of academic generation gap. My article was published in 1995, whereas Duncan cites several works published after 2000, which obviously weren’t available to me. Even so, it still surprises me. Does knowledge get completely recycled every 20 years or so? Does that mean that I’m now completely out of touch?

Here are the two bibliographies:

Witchcraft Bibliography


Philosophical approaches to Demonology — contribution by Duncan Reyburn

Alison, James. 2001. Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments, Catholic and Gay. New York: Crossroad Publishing.

Collins, Brian. 2014. The Head Beneath the Altar: Hindu Mythology and the Critique of Sacrifice. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

The Politics of Possession 269

Crossan, John Dominic. 2012. The Power of Parable: How Fiction By Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus. London: Harper One.

Farneti, Roberto. 2015. Mimetic Politics: Dyadic Patterns in Global Politics. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

Garrels, Scott R. 2006. “Imitation, Mirror Neurons, and Mimetic Desire: Convergence between the Mimetic Theory of Rene Girard and Empirical Research.” Contagion: Journal of Violence, Culture and Mimesis 12–13: 47–86.

Girard, René. 1965. Deceit, Desire and the Novel, trans. Yvonne Freccero. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Girard, René. 1977. Violence and the Sacred, trans. Patrick Gregory. London: Continuum.

Girard, René. 1986. The Scapegoat, trans. Yvonne Freccero. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Girard, René. 2001. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, trans. James G. Williams. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Girard, René. 2008. Evolution and Conversion. London: Continuum.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. 2009. The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. New York: Infobase Publishing.

Hamerton-Kelly, Robert. 1993. The Gospel and the Sacred. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Levack, Brian P. 1992. The Literature of Witchcraft. Garland: University of Texas.

Palaver, Wolfgang. 2013. René Girard’s Mimetic Theory, trans. Gabriel Borrud. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

Pavlac, Brian A. 2009. Witch Hunts in the Western World. Westport: Greenwood Press.

Stewart, Alan. 2003. The Cradle King: The Life of James VI and I, the First Monarch of a United Great Britain. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Stuart, James. 2011. “Daemonologie (1597).” In The Demonology of King James , ed. Donald Tyson, 221–283. Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications.

Teems, David. 2010. Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible. London: HarperCollins.

Tyson, Donald. 2011. The Demonology of King James I. Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications.


Christian responses to Witchcraft and Sorcery by Stephen Hayes

Adler, Margot. 1979. Drawing down the moon: witches, druids, goddess-worshippers and other pagans in America today. Boston: Beacon.

Anderson, Walter Truett. 1990. Reality isn’t what it used to be. San Francisco: Harper.

Berglund, Axel-Ivar. 1976. Zulu thought-patterns and symbolism. London: Hurst.

Bosch, David. 1987. The problem of evil in Africa: a survey of African views of witchcraft and of the response of the Christian church, in Like a roaring lion, edited by Pieter G.R. de Villiers, vide de Villiers 1987.

Cohn, Norman. 1975. Europe‘s inner demons: an enquiry inspired by the great witch-hunt. London: Sussex University Press.

Comaroff, Jean & Comaroff, John. 1991. Of revelation and revolution: Christianity, colonialism and consciousness in South Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Daneel, M.L., 1990. Exorcism as a means of combating wizardry: liberation or enslavement?, in Missionalia, Vol. 18(1) April. Page 220-247.

Davidson, Hilda Ellis. 1993. The lost beliefs of Northern Europe. London: Routledge.

de Villiers, Pieter G.R. (ed.). 1987. Like a roaring lion: essays on the Bible, the church and demonic powers. Pretoria: C.B. Powell Bible Centre.

Ellwood, Robert S. 1973. Religious and spiritual groups in modern America. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Fox, Robin Lane. 1987. Pagans and Christians. New York: Knopf.

Hillgarth, J.N. 1986. Christianity and paganism, 350-750: the conversion of Western Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Hunter, David E. & Whitten, Phillip. 1976. Encyclopedia of anthropology. New York: Harper & Row.

Hutton, Ronald. 1991. The pagan religions of the ancient British Isles. Oxford: Blackwell.

Kiernan, JP. 1987. The role of the adversary in Zulu Zionist churches, in Religion in Southern Africa Vol 8(1), Pages 3-14.

Levack, Brian P. 1987. The witch-hunt in early modern Europe. London: Longman.

Luhrmann, Tanya M. 1989. Persuasions of the witch’s craft: ritual magic in contemporary England. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McCord, James B. 1951. My patients were Zulus. New York: Rinehart.

Murray, Margaret Alice. 1973. The god of the witches. London: Oxford University Press.

Parrinder, Geoffrey. 1958. Witchcraft: European and African. London: Faber & Faber.

Pomazansky, Michael. 1994. Orthodox dogmatic theology. Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.

Saul, John Ralston. 1992. Voltaire’s bastards: the dictatorship of reason in the West. New York: Free Press.

Schmemann, Alexander. 1973. For the life of the world: sacraments and Orthodoxy. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Stewart, Charles. 1991. Demons and the devil. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Trombley, Frank R. 1993. Hellenic religion and Christianization C. 370-529. Vol 1. Leiden: Brill.

Williams, Charles. 1959. Witchcraft. New York: Meridian.

Wilson, David. 1992. Anglo-Saxon paganism. London: Routledge.

Wright, William Kelley. 1941. A history of modern philosophy. New York: Macmillan.

What does it mean?

Though the differing bibliographies seem to indicate that there is no common ground, at least on the subject of witchcraft and demonology, fortunately Duncan and I have common ground in a wider sphere: we have both read G.K. Chesterton, though Duncan is far more of a fundi on Chesterton than I am, and has also written a book on Chesterton.

Or perhaps it is not so much a generation gap as an interdisciplinary one. The blurb for the book in which Duncan’s contribution was published, Philosophical approaches to demonology, reads:

In contradistinction to the many monographs and edited volumes devoted to historical, cultural, or theological treatments of demonology, this collection features newly written papers by philosophers and other scholars engaged specifically in philosophical argument, debate, and dialogue involving ideas and topics in demonology. The contributors to the volume approach the subject from the perspective of the broadest areas of Western philosophy, namely metaphysics, epistemology, logic, and moral philosophy.

Since the philosophical approach is so strongly contrasted to all other approaches, including my historical-theological approach, perhaps one cannot expect a common bibliography.

But I like to make connections. I like to see how different approaches can throw light on a phenomenon, and so I favour a more interdisciplinary approach. I’ll therefore be putting some of the books that Duncan lists on my “to read” list. And it bothers me somewhat that the philosophical approach seems to be proudly isolated from all other approaches. I’d be interested in reading some of the other contributions. but the price, even of the electronic version of the book, puts it way out of my league.

Also, the book focuses on demonology rather than witchcraft, and for much of history, and even Christian history, they were largely separate phenomena. King James I/VI lived in a place and period when witches and demons were most closely linked  in people’s minds, That could also help to account for the difference in the bibliographies.

That leads to another aspect of witchcraft that I haven’t mentioned yet — the literary. Witches played an interesting role in contemporary theatre, most notably in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It could be interesting to compare King James’s treatment of witchcraft with Shakespeare’s, and there’s an interesting blog article about Shakespeare’s approach (from which I also borrowed some of the illustrations): Are the witches in Macbeth evil?

Coming down to more recent times, we have the role of witches in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories, where the links with demons are fairly tenuous. Lewis’s contemporary Dennis Wheatley made a much stronger connection between witchcraft and satanism, though his writing slides over into the horror genre. Lewis’s fellow Inkling Charles Williams wrote about satanists in some of his novels.

One finds an entirely different understanding of witches in the Harry Potter books, in which witches are assumed to be female, and the male equivalents are “wizards”. Though English does not have gendered nouns in the same way as Greek, French, German or Russian, J.K. Rowling treats “witch” as feminine and “wizard” as masculine.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s books also feature wizards, who, far from being linked with demons, are on the side of the angels; in fact, as we discover if we read The Silmarillion, they are angels, until they go over to the Dark Side, that is. In The Hobbit there is also the witch-like figure of the Necromancer, who is male.

So I think there is quite a lot more that could be said about this, and perhaps we can discuss it at our next Neoinklings coffee klatch on 6 July 2017, when we hope Duncan Reyburn will be with us to introduce it from the starting point of his article.


Orthodox & Roman Catholic Reunion redux

3 June 2017

Every so often some or other Roman Catholic publication carries an article about reunion with the Orthodox, and notes that the differences between us are very small, and lamenting that the Orthodox don’t seem to be very enthusiastic about it.

Here’s another in the genre — Orthodox not interested in reunion with Rome | National Catholic Reporter:

When it comes to theology, the Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches are very close. We accept the same Nicene Creed, we recognize each other’s priestly and episcopal ordinations, as well as the sacraments of baptism, confession and Eucharist. Catholic and Orthodox teaching on morals are also quite compatible, with both being more conservative than their Protestant colleagues.

The touchy issue has always been the role of the papacy, but Pope John Paul II invited a worldwide dialogue on this topic, showing that the Vatican is open to a less intrusive role for the pope in the Eastern churches than in the West. There were even attempts to resurrect the title of patriarch of the West for the bishop of Rome, in order to distinguish his robust role in the Western church from his role in the East.

Rome is very much interested in improved relations with the Orthodox. It is deferential to Orthodox feelings.

But if it were truly deferential to Orthodox feelings, it would take them more seriously, and not condescendingly brush them off and minimise them. That’s not deference, that’s arrogance.

Like most RC publications and sources, this one tends to downplay differences, and reduce them to “the Papacy”. If one is to take the possibility of reunion seriously, then there must be honesty in facing the differences, and saying how they are to be dealt with. And in this, the RCs are far more evasive than the Orthodox.

We don’t, for example, accept the same “Nicene Creed”.

Surely the editors and writers of a Catholic publication ought to know that, and not pretend that it is not so.

Yes, “The Papacy” is a problem, and the RC pontifical ecclesiology differs from the Orthodox episcopal ecclesiology. But have they thought through the implications of reunion?

To give just one example — if there is reunion, will all RC bishops and clergy in Africa place themselves under the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa instead of under the Pope of Rome? If not, why not? And if not, how real would the “reunion” be?

I suspect that they might object to that, and might feel that it was a bit like the tail wagging the dog, even if you did lop off the bits of Africa that traditionally were under Rome (the Maghreb). And even if you did that, it would still be like the tail wagging the dog in what remained. And the Orthodox might not be so happy at being the tail, and might think it better to be a dog, albeit a smaller dog, than to be a bigger dog’s tail.

Pope Theodoros II. Pope Francis I, Pope Tawhedros II, Patriarch Bartholomew

Or to use another metaphor, the toothpaste has been out of the tube for well-nigh a thousand years, and by now has been trampled all over the floor and into the carpets. Getting it back now will be a lot more difficult than when it was freshly squeezed.

The biggest obstacle to reunion is the attitude of the writers of articles like this one, who think it is “deference” to refuse to take Orthodox objections seriously and try to sweep them all under the carpet of “The Papacy”. I wrote about this seven years ago, and I don’t think much has changed since then.

If there is to be any serious talk of reunion then the differences must be faced, and talked through, and sorted out first, and pretending that the differences don’t exist, as this article does, does not augur well for even thinking about such discussions.

You can’t begin to discuss differences when one party doesn’t know, and doesn’t want to know that such differences even exist.

We can be friendly with Roman Catholics, and talk with them about all sorts of things. We can work with them for peace and justice in the world. But we can’t talk about reunion, not yet. They aren’t ready for it.


100 must-read books about Christianity

30 May 2017

Someone posted this list of 100 must-read books about Christianity. I had a look at the list, and most of the titles I had never heard of, much less read. I had only heard of about 8-9 of them, and had read about 4 or 5. So what makes them “must-read”?

100 Must-Read Books About Christianity:

According to Pew Research, Christianity is the world’s largest religious group, so it’s worth knowing something about it, whether you’re a Christian or not. And if you’re interested in learning more about the Christian faith, there’s no lack of books out there. It’s hard to know where to start! I’m here to help with enough recommendations to keep you reading for a long time.

So I thought there really needs to be a better list

As an Orthodox Christian, I also thought that it was a bit inadequate that there were only two books by Orthodox Christians on the list. Not that such a list should be composed entirely of Orthodox books, but there should be more than were included on that list.

So if I were compiling a list of such books for someone who knew little or nothing about Christianity, what would I include?

My starting point would be The Lion Handbook of the History of Christianity as the best introduction for someone who wanted to get the big picture, an idea of how Christianity has developed and spread and changed over the centuries.

After that it should be possible for the reader to decide which strands to follow next.

The original list was divided into various categories, and I haven’t done that, and I suppose most of my recommendations would fall into the categories of theology and history.

I can’t think of 100 books, but here are some I think should be included, which were not on the other list:

Anderson, Allan. 2014. An Introduction to Pentecostalism. 
               Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
               ISBN: 978-1-107-66094-6

Bowden, John. 2007. A Chronology of World Christianity. London: 
               ISBN: 978-0-8264-9633-1

Dalrymple, William. 1997. From the Holy Mountain: a journey in
               the shadow of Byzantium. London: Flamingo.
               ISBN: 0-00-654774-5
                   A travel writer follows in the footsteps of St
                   John Moschos, who described his own journey
                   through the Christian Near and Middle East in
                   AD 578, over 14 centuries earlier, shortly
                   before much of it was conquered by the Muslim
                   Arabs. For most of those 14 centuries, the
                   Christian communities have survived, if
                   somewhat precariously. Now, in the 20th
                   century, they are in danger of disappearing
                   altogether, as they face the greatest threat
                   to their survival in 20 centuries.

Hopko, Thomas. 1981. The Orthodox Faith: Volume 1 - Doctrine. New
               York: Department of Christian Education.
               ISBN: 0-86642-036-3

Hopko, Thomas. 1984. The Orthodox Faith: Volume 4 - Spirituality.
               New York: Department of Christian Education.

Hopko, Thomas. 1997. The Orthodox Faith: Volume 2 - Worship. New
               York: Department of Christian Education.
               ISBN: 0-86642-012-6

Hopko, Thomas. 1998. The Orthodox Faith: Volume 3 - Bible and
               church history. New York: Department of Christian

Huddleston, Trevor. 1971. Naught for your comfort. London: 
                   The death of Archbishop Trevor Huddleston in
                   April 1998 was the prompt for re-reading his
                   book after 40 years. Huddleston was a
                   missionary priest of the Community of the
                   Resurrection who ministered in Sophiatown, a
                   black township near the centre of
                   Johannesburg, whose inhabitants were forcibly
                   removed in the name of apartheid.

Hughes, Philip. 1976 [1924] A history of the church to the eve of
               the Reformation. London: Seed & Ward.
               ISBN: 0-7220-7663-0
                   History of the church from a Roman Catholic
                   point of view 

Jones, Alexander (ed) 1974. The Jerusalem Bible. London: Darton,
               Longman & Todd.

Schmemann, Alexander. 1973. For the life of the world: sacraments
               and orthodoxy. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's
               Seminary Press.
               ISBN: 0-913836-08-7
               Dewey: 264.019 SCHM
                   Orthodox sacramental and mission theology.

Schmemann, Alexander. 1977. The historical road of Eastern
               Orthodoxy. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary
               ISBN: 0-913836-47-8
               Dewey: 281.9
                   Theological reflection on the history of the
                   Orthodox Church.

Ware, Timothy. 1986. The Orthodox Church. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
               ISBN: 0-14-020592-6
                   A general introduction to Orthodox Church
                   history and teaching and the current state of
                   the Orthodox churches.

If you can suggest any others that you think ought to be on such a list, please add them in the comments.

Requiem for Evensong

29 May 2017

Most Sundays on our way from church we listen to the radio (SAFm) in the car, and we usually catch the last part of that annoying opinionated man on Facts of Faith, and the first half of the broadcast Sunday service. Sometimes it was from our “home” parish of St Nicholas of Japan in Brixton, Johasnnesburg, but the last time they tried it to record it there there was too much interference from the transmitters at the Brixton broadcasting tower.

If we miss the announcement, we try to guess which church it is, but usually they all sound the same, with twanging guitars drowning out the words of rather sentimental “worship” songs, followed by a sermon.

But last Sunday was something completely different — Anglican Evensong from St George’s Church, Parktown, I think. At the beginning they announced that it was from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It sounded a bit odd to have Evensong in the morning, And even odder to have it from the 1662 Prayer Book. I’ve been to St George’s a few times, though many years ago, and they used the somewhat revised South African Prayerbook, then.

All that is by way of introduction to this article, which I think is a classic, a must read for anyone interested in church history — A Church that Was by Peter Hitchens | Articles | First Things:

English Protestantism, with its secret enjoyment of the chilly, the grim, and the frugal, was killed in fifteen years by supermarkets and TV commercials, fake Italian restaurants, cheap holidays in Spain. The Church’s loveliest and most accessible service, Evensong, was killed off in many parishes because, in the days before VCRs, worshippers preferred to watch a dramatization of John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga on TV.

If that rings any bells with you, go on and read the rest of the article. I think it’s not just true of England, but in some ways of South Africa too. Missiologists often speak of inculturation, the way in which Christianity becomes indigenous to a culture. What this article explains, however, is more like disinculturation.

It reminded me of 1973, when I was invited by the Revd Arnold Hirst to be assistant priest at St Martin-in-the-Fields Anglican Church in Durban North. I agreed, and on my first Sunday in the parish there were 200 people at Evensong. Well, not actually Evensong; back then it was something called Office II, but it was in the evening, and people came. Arnold Hirst was a bit scornful about two neighbouring parishes, Greenwood Park and Umhlanga. The former had dropped Evensong, and the latter, a new parish, hadn’t started it.

In 1975 the SABC began television broadcasts, and at the beginning of 1976 the full service was due to start. The Rector suggested that we drop Evensong (which by then was Evening Prayer from Liturgy 1975), because, he said, no one will come. He had a point. The average attendance on Sunday evenings was down to about 40, and full TV broadcasts hadn’t even started yet. We suspected that part of the reason was that he himself wanted to watch TV.

Evensong was stopped for a while, and then restarted, but by then only about 20-25 people were coming.

Then we became Orthodox, and we had Vespers, on Saturday evenings rather than Sundays, because the liturgical day begins at sunset the evening before. But many Orthodox parishes don’t have Vespers either. Some have Vespers and Matins combined, one following the other, in the Vigil service. Orthodox Vespers differs quite a lot from Anglican Evensong. It is always sung, and there is always incense, and there is never a sermon. I find it is a good thing to invite non-Orthodox friends to, to introduce them to Orthodox worship.

But this post is not about Orthodox Vespers, but about Anglican Evensong, and it seemed a bit strange to me that I should read this article the day after Anglican Evensong reappeared like a ghost from the past on the radio yesterday morning.

A few years ago in England there was Flash Evensong. People would call on cell phones and invite people to form a flash mob for evensong, or they would announce it on Twitter @FlashEvensong. But now it seems that even that has died. The last post there was in 2012.



Pro-life activists ostracised by anti-abortion and anti-war groups

27 May 2017

People talk about society being “polarised”, but it’s much worse than that. “Polarised” suggests that there are only two poles, but when pro-life activists are rejected by both anti-abortion and anti-war groups, then it’s not polarisation but fragmentation.

Consider these two posts (and apologies for citing Patheos, but that’s where I found them). In the first, pro-life activists are rejected by the anti-war movement because they are opposed to abortion: Can you be pro-life and anti-war? In Pittsburgh, apparently not.:

On Tuesday, a “Consistent Life Ethic” group was booted from sponsorship of the Pittsburgh March Against War after Facebook complaints against their pro-life stance.

Rehumanize International, previously Life Matters Journal, is a group that opposes all violence against human beings, including abortion, war, euthanasia, torture, capital punishment and human sex trafficking.

They were invited to co-sponsor the Pittsburgh March Against War, set to take place this summer, and were then removed from sponsorship after a vote of the other co-sponsors, following several complaints on the event’s Facebook page.

And here, pro-life activists are rejected by the anti-abortion movement because they are anti-war: Abortion: the Most Important Moral Issue Ever….Except for When it’s Not:

New Pro Life activists and writers have received accusatory messages demanding to know whether we are a “Podesta plant” or perhaps receiving Soros money to infiltrate the pro-life movement with insidious messages of social justice.

The message is clear: abortion is the worst evil. Stopping it is the top priority. The absolute necessity that we choose life for the unborn renders all other issues null and void, for now.

It seems that if you want to get on in this world, you have to want to kill somebody.

As a song from long ago put it, It’s a strange, strange world we live in, Master Jack (sung by Four Jacks and a Jill). People talk a lot about the importance of inclusion and the virtue of inclusiveness, but all we see is more and more exclusion. You can’t take part in an anti-war march, because you’re anti-abortion. You can’t take part in an anti-abortion march, because you’re anti-war.

People who are pro-life are not welcome in the US Democratic Party. This is something new, except, perhaps, for Communist parties, where everyone is expected to toe the party line in everything (this is what is called being “politically correct”). But for the most part, few people agree with every policy of the political parties that they support and vote for. Sometimes they even disagree with most of the policies, but vote for a party because they dislike another party’s policies even more. They choose the lesser of two evils. Demanding absolute toe-the-line political correctness seems to be aimed at promoting more polarisation, or more fragmentation.

But then, you see, these pro-life activists are extremists, and you know how bad extremists are. They want an end to all violence against human beings. And at the opposite extreme you have suicide bombers who not only kill other people but themselves as well.

The world does not like extremists. Whether they are extremely violent or extremely nonviolent, they are ostracised. The world wants moderates, people who are moderately violent or moderately nonviolent. You can march and say that you don’t want to kill some people, as long as you will also say that there are some whom you are willing to kill.

US Supreme Court removes ‘buffer zone’ keeping pro-life protesters at distance from abortion clinics | The Independent:

In 2009, Dr George Tiller, who performed abortions, was shot in a church in Wichita, Kansas, and in 1994, a gunman killed two receptionists and wounded five employees and volunteers at two clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts.

It’s OK to believe that people have a right to life, as long as you recognise that some people don’t have a right to life. Moderates have one great advantage over extremists — they can have their cake and eat it.