Saturday, September 30, 2006

Love and Virtue (for MadPriest)

(I've been having a conversation with MadPriest here.)

Love: once a soul has reached this state [of abolishing self-will], she can say to the virtues: 'I have no further need of you, now I have served you all this time'.

The Soul: I agree, dear Love. I was their servant, but your kind courtesy has set me free from enslavement to them. Virtues, I leave you behind forever! My heart is now freer and more at peace than it has ever been. It was hard work being your servant, that I know well. For a time I put my heart inseparably into your service and you knew it: I was completely given over to you, therefore then I was your slave, but now I am released, and I wonder how I was able to escape.

Love: This soul knows no care, has neither shame nor honour, neither poverty nor riches, neither joy nor sorrow, neither love nor hate, neither hell nor heaven.

Reason: For God's sake, Love, what are you saying?

Love: What I mean can only be understood by those to whom God has given understanding and by none other; it is not taught by scripture, nor can human reason work it out... It is a gift received from the Most High, in whom all knowing leads to a loss of understanding...So this soul that has become nothing possesses all and possesses nothing, knows all and knows nothing, wills everything and wills nothing.

Reason: Lady Love, how can this be, you said before that this soul has no will? How, then, can she will everything and will nothing?

Love: Because, dear Reason, it is not the soul's will that wills, but God's will willing in her; the soul does not rest in love as if led to it by any desires of her own. Rather, love rests in her, takes over her will, and has her will of her. So now love can work in the soul without the soul's will, and the soul will be freed from all cares."
(Taken from 'How to be a Heretic', Denys Turner)

One irony: Marguerite Porete's major writing was 'A mirror of simple souls', which was condemned as heretical in 1306. It was circulated anonymously after that time, and over time the authorship was forgotten whilst the text remained. In 1926 it was granted an official Catholic 'imprimatur' (ie approval) because it was seen as being written by 'an unknown male of the fourteenth century'. Porete's gender and language were more objectionable to the hierarchy than her theology.

About religious experience (William James, Schleiermacher etc)

This is something originally written for the MoQ.org group, and published here. But I may as well put it up here as well. I'll write something else about it in a second, but let me just say at the outset that I partially misrepresent Kant here, tho' I haven't changed it because I don't think the misrepresentation threatens the main point. The essay was written in a hurry!

~~~

Pirsig, Schleiermacher, Mysticism and the MoQ

This essay was sparked by a desire to recapitulate some of the central points about mysticism that I have attempted to argue for in the MD forum (normally against David Buchanan). In the course of some revision, I was greatly struck by a description of Schleiermacher's understanding of mysticism, and so it seemed worthwhile to put the material that I was gathering together into the form of an essay, rather than a long post on MD. Without wishing to sound grandiose, I think I have located a potentially serious problem with the 'metaphysics' part of the Metaphysics of Quality.

Central to any account of Western intellectual history is the figure of Immanuel Kant, and considerations of mysticism are no different. A key concept to understand is what has come to be known as the 'Kantian problematic', which, in summary, goes something like this: all of our knowledge comes to us from experience. However, since experience is always our experience, it is never a pure experience, but is always mediated and conditioned by the structure of our minds and apprehension. What we experience are the phenomena, that which is provoked in us by the thing in itself; things in themselves are noumena, and unknowable.

This raised problems for religious believers. For although Kant accepted the existence of God, it was in such an attenuated form as to be unrecognisable as a focus of devotion, and his account of human knowledge (his epistemology) ruled out any possibility of relationship between a believer and God; we are simply physically incapable of enjoying such an experience. At best, God is a useful idea, a means of moral regulation.

This is the Kantian problematic: the notion that we cannot experience God directly. It immediately brought forth a response, which, whilst retaining the Kantian epistemology, argued that in certain circumstances it was possible to have a 'pure' experience, i.e. to experience the 'noumena'. This was the Romantic movement, which argued that whilst reason cannot enjoy such a pure experience, it was possible to circumvent the Kantian problematic through the operation of the feelings, most especially through intense, visionary or ecstatic experiences.

In the development of the Romantic understanding, a key thinker is the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), who was strongly influenced by the Idealism of his time. Schleiermacher believed that the source of religion was an immediate feeling or consciousness, which is a precursor to rational awareness. I take the following from a discussion of Schleiermacher by Grace Jantzen :

"…immediate consciousness points to the stage before subject and object are differentiated. There is, Schleiermacher suggests, a primal stage of consciousness in any experience, a stage before the objective content is discriminated from the subjective participation. This consciousness cannot be consciousness of anything, it cannot have any specificity, because by the time the object of consciousness has been specified one has already moved away from the primal undifferentiated state. Such movement is of course necessary for thought or knowledge to take place: in this Schleiermacher agrees with Kant. But the truly religious moment is the moment before such differentiation into subject and object has taken place: this is what he means when he speaks of religion as immediate consciousness."

Jantzen goes on,

"…any claim of religious belief or knowledge is secondary to this pure experience, and is nothing more than our stammering attempt to articulate its essence. The attempt is natural and right; but it is not right if we then become wedded to these articulations and make them into dogmas which must be believed, or, even worse, treat them, rather than the spring from which they arise, as the essence of religion…. The original feeling, the immediate consciousness, Schleiermacher holds to be essential to human nature, and… this is everywhere the same; but the way in which it is articulated varies with the language and culture and situation of the experiencer. Hence arise the different religions of the world. Their differences of dogma and ritual are simply different expressions of the same essential experience, more or less adequate according to the degree of authenticity, balance, or corruption of its proponents, but all of them only efforts at expressing the inexpressible pure experience."

Jantzen then outlines aspects of Schleiermacher's system which are essential for understanding the modern conception of mysticism - for Schleiermacher called himself a mystic and saw his work as defending the insights of mystics through the ages. These aspects are:
1. mystical experience consists of pre-rational immediate consciousness or feeling;
2. mystical experience removes the distinction between subject and object;
3. mystical experience is prior to language and is therefore ineffable; and
4. mystical experience dissolves or annihilates the self;
5. mystical experience cannot be sustained, and is therefore transient;
6. mystical experience is nevertheless noetic, that is, it imparts insights about the nature of Reality.

Schleiermacher's influence on the way in which mysticism was studied was huge, and his conception dominated academic studies of the question from his own time until very recently. The academic studies built up through the nineteenth century all shared an acceptance of the Kantian problematic, i.e. that division between the 'phenomenal' and the 'noumenal', and viewed mystical understandings as in some way bypassing the normal constraints of intellect, in order to access reality directly. Hence Rudolf Otto, for example, whose 'numinous' is the same as Kant's transcendent realm.

At the end of the nineteenth century, and drawing on this body of academic studies, William James wrote his "The Varieties of Religious Experience" (published 1902), and he argued that mysticism has certain characteristics (the inheritance from Schleiermacher's account is, I trust, obvious). He argues, "[I] propose to you four marks which, when an experience has them, may justify us in calling it mystical", and the four 'marks' (two major then two minor) are:
1. Ineffability - "it defies expression, no adequate report of its contents can be given in words. It follows from this that its quality must be directly experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others. In this peculiarity mystical states are more like states of feeling than states of intellect."
2. Noetic quality - "Mystical states seem to those who experience them to be also states of knowledge. They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect"
3. Transiency - "Mystical states cannot be sustained for long." And
4. Passivity - "when the characteristic sort of consciousness once has set in, the mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance, and indeed sometimes as if he were grasped by a higher power."

It is William James' version of mysticism, derived from Schleiermacher, which has dominated the 20th century investigations, and for my purposes here I would point out that, in this understanding - let us call it the "Modern synthesis" - mystical experience is rare, private and experiential; those who enjoy such experiences are spiritually significant and blessed; but they are the inheritors of the great spiritual teachers of the past, and they have access to the common root which supports all the different religious traditions of the world.

This understanding has developed in various different thinkers through the twentieth century, and we could pick out three representative 'streams':
1. John Hick and William Johnston focus on mystical experience as the 'common core' to all religious belief, transcending the culturally bound expressions in different traditions;
2. Don Cupitt and Matthew Fox emphasise the dynamism associated with those who enjoy mystical experiences, especially in contrast to religious authorities and those who would insist on some sort of orthodoxy; and
3. Joseph Campbell and Alan Watts see the mystical experience in much more Jungian terms as the symbol or sign of the inner psychic transformation attainable by those who pursue religious paths.

From my point of view it is what these thinkers have in common which is of interest, viz. that mystical experience is not bound by a historical community or culture, but is rather focussed on the self-realisation of a particular individual.

The academic community, for all its problems, does not stay still, and this "Modern synthesis" has come under increasingly sustained criticism over the last twenty years. It would be fair to say that it is now largely rejected as a coherent account, certainly of religious mysticism within the Christian tradition, and, by and large, as a description of mysticism as such. I will run through the principal problems under two headings, philosophical and historical.

Philosophical problems:
- the notion of 'pure experience' depends upon the Kantian epistemological framework for its coherence. If this is removed, then the concept becomes unworkable. As the Kantian framework is - to put it mildly - heavily contested in the academy, it is difficult to sustain this conception unless you are also prepared to accept the wider Kantian understandings;
- the problem of 'essentialism', that is, the assumption that there is a 'common core' underlying all the different manifestations of mystical experience. This is an inheritance from the Cartesian program, seeking a reductive explanation of phenomena. If you accept, e.g., the Wittgensteinian notion of 'family resemblance' then it becomes problematic to insist upon a common core lying underneath difference;
- in discussing the ineffable characteristics of mystical experience, the expression 'non-conceptual' (and equivalents) are being used to stand for conceptual terms. Put differently, if a mystical experience has some impact upon a person's understanding then it must be 'ascribable' to that person, by themselves or another, and so the insistence on 'non-conceptuality' is self-contradicting;
- the "Modern synthesis" depends upon an individualist epistemology, again deriving from Descartes, which makes what happens to a particular ego central. If this is rejected (which it generally has been) then, once more, the synthesis breaks down.

The historical problems are related. One of the more surprising things I have learnt about William James is that in researching his Varieties he did no reading amongst the primary sources himself, relying on the work of his student who had gathered together a collection of short extracts. It is not surprising that those who follow in James's footsteps are confused as to what the mystical tradition is actually about.

- The French church historian Henri de Lubac laid a great deal of the foundations for the revolution in understanding mysticism in the early decades of the twentieth century, showing how the understanding of mysticism had shifted sense during the 11th and 12th centuries, looking particularly at the nature of the Eucharist. One of his most important conclusions was that mysticism was a public and accessible phenomenon.
- More recently, Louis Bouyer has articulated the transitions that have occurred in the understanding of mysticism down the centuries, including the most recent ones outlined above. To quote from one relevant part of his writings, "The links of Denis, the first and most influential of the great mystical theologians… with Neoplatonism are undeniable. But precisely that which, for Denis himself, constitutes mysticism, is not what these experiences which he describes my have in common with, for example, those of Plotinus. It is, on the contrary, their position at the intersection of a whole specifically Christian spiritual tradition of scriptural interpretation and the ecclesiastical experience of the liturgy, the eucharistic liturgy. His mystical theology, as he understands it himself, is his manner of recognising the Christ, at the breaking of bread, in all the scriptures."
- As more research has been done directly on the Christian mystical tradition, it has become more and more clear that not only are the Christian mystics themselves not interested in their own 'experiences' (understood as private, ineffable, noetic etc), but that their precise arguments are to undermine and critique the emphasis upon such exotic experiences, as a snare and spiritual delusion, leading to the vices of self-absorption and Titanism.

The foregoing is a very rough and ready overview of current academic debate on the subject of mysticism. I hope that if nothing else it has imparted a flavour of the debate, and the points that are at issue. However, if this was all there was to it, it could have remained as an MD post. I think there is something more. If the academic community is right in rejecting the Kantian problematic, and therefore the 'Modern synthesis' understanding of mysticism - and the grounds for doing so are really quite overwhelming - where does that leave Pirsig and the MoQ? For the links between the MoQ and Schleiermacher's project seem profound, even down to some of the language used. Is it accurate to describe the MoQ as simply a redescription of Schleiermacher's scheme, that is, is not Dynamic Quality merely a Kantian 'pure experience', and the levels of Static Quality merely a redescription of phenomena? If not, why not? This is not to suggest a direct borrowing, only to point out that Pirsig's work - probably via William James - has inherited a conceptual shape from Schleiermacher, and that conceptual shape is very largely discredited within the academic community.

I don't yet have positive answers to put forward to the questions that this raises, but I felt it would be worth sharing the questions.


Sam Norton
December 2004

Calling a spade a spade

"The United States is rushing headlong into neo-fascism. We cannot shrink back from using such strong language; we have to call a spade a spade. If the government denies habeas corpus to anyone at any time, we can confidently declare that the country has fallen into a kind of governmental dictatorship."

Mad-eyed from stating the obvious

Good stuff over at A Purpose More Obscure:

"When you come, as you soon must,
to the streets of our city,
Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
In God's name to have self-pity,

Spare us all word of the weapons, their
force and range,
The long numbers that rocket the mind;
Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left
behind,
Unable to fear what is too strange...."


That's how I felt after reading that letter in the Courier 'Mad-eyed from stating the obvious... begging us in God's name to have self-pity'.

Quite so.

TBTM20060930



Remember that one is sometimes convinced of the correctness of a view by its simplicity or symmetry, ie these are what induce one to go over to this point of view. On then simply says something like: "That's how it must be."

(LW)

Friday, September 29, 2006

No excuses for terror

This is by way of a note to myself that I want to watch this when I get the chance.

(Also, I'm now one-third of the way through this, which is very worth watching).

Mean bunch

What if I don't want to switch?: "after a couple of months we will begin requiring you to switch in order to access your Blogger account"

Well that's that then. I don't want to change - I am very suspicious of 'beta' products - but we don't have a choice.

This is why western civilisation will collapse

A letter published in 'The Courier', the Mersea Island paper, 29 September 2006.

"Why have we forgotten coal?"

I have given some thought to the ceased power station at Bradwell and of others around the country. I live in sight of Bradwell and there is now talk of it being renewed. I am thinking of coal...
Any smoke would be carried away with the prevailing winds, towards the channel...
I personally say that coal is the only answer to getting electricity from Bradwell or anywhere else avoiding nuclear rods.


~~~~~~~~~~

Of course, if we use coal, Bradwell will be under several metres of water, rendering the whole debate null and void. Am I disordered for finding this letter intensely depressing?

TBTM20060929



"The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them."

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Osama in Dawn of the Dead



Another shamelessly stolen picture, this time from Sandmonkey.

Genocide Against Muslims

Since Israel was created, some 10 million muslims have been killed or murdered by violent state action. The numbers break down like this:

"Israel is responsible for about 60,000 Muslim deaths (all its wars and the occupation included).
The USA is responsible for about 70,000.
France is responsible for about half a million (in the 1950s alone, by the most conservative estimate).
Russia (along with the former Soviet Union) over one million.
About 8.5 million Muslims were murdered by Muslim regimes, internal Arab civil wars, and Arab tribal ethnic cleansing."


Of course, this is all the fault of the evil Zionist regime.

/irony off

As my four year old son reminded his mother the other day, two wrongs don't make a right. Israel is guilty of all sorts of wrong doing. But the total loss of perspective evidenced in Western media is mind boggling.

(HT Normblog)

Pakistan and the end of NATO

"NATO, as the leader of the counter-insurgency in Afghanistan (unlike the USSR before it) will not mount a serious effort. Signs of stress are already evident. NATO will quickly fold under the mounting pressure (which may spell, for all intents and purposes, the end of that treaty organization)."

Another good blog to keep track of (along with John Robb's own weblog). If you're interested in that sort of thing.

TBTM20060928



§105. All testing, all confirmation and disconfirmation of a hypothesis takes place already within a system. And this system is not a more or less arbitrary and doubtful point of departure for all our arguments: no, it belongs to the essence of what we call an argument. The system is not so much the point of departure, as the element in which arguments have their life.

§106. Suppose some adult had told a child that he had been on the moon. The child tells me the story, and I say it was only a joke, the man hadn’t been on the moon; no one has ever been on the moon; the moon is a long way off and it is impossible to climb up there or fly there. – If now the child insists, saying perhaps there is a way of getting there which I don’t know, etc. what reply could I make to him? What reply could I make to the adults of a tribe who believe that people sometimes go to the moon (perhaps that is how they interpret their dreams), and who indeed grant that there are no ordinary means of climbing up to it or flying there? – but a child will not ordinarily stick to such a belief and will soon be convinced by what we tell him seriously.

§107. Isn’t this altogether like the way one can instruct a child to believe in a God, or that none exists, and it will accordingly be able to produce apparently telling grounds for the one or the other?

(Wittgenstein, On Certainty. Written long before Armstrong, of course)

It occurs to me that this is why a general belief in Christianity and the church collapsed in the 1960’s in England (the reception to John Robinson). The church no longer took itself seriously, and so nobody believes it anymore.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

TBTM20060927



"The propositions which one comes back to again and again as if bewitched - these I should like to expunge from philosophical language."

(LW)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

TBTE20060926





"The world will be saved by beauty."
(The Idiot)

TBTM20060926



"O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,
let it be known this day
that thou art God in Israel,
and that I am thy servant."

Monday, September 25, 2006

Seven








These are in order.

The Clearing

Very well acted; very sad. I think there is a parable about modern life embedded within it but I'm too tired to try and dig it out.

Sea of Scarlet

Monastic Mumblings, a Friar's Journey: Sea of Scarlet:

"Torture is an unmitigated moral evil. I have no understanding of any sort of truly Christian theology in which torture is not a grave moral sin. So here we are in what can arguably be considered the most 'Christian' of political times and for the last five years we have been torturing various suspects around the world. Where is the outrage?... Somehow something has changed in American Christianity. We no longer believe in the gentle Shepherd from Nazareth, we have put our faith in politics, guns and bombs. We have lost our way on a sea of scarlet sin, and have no one to blame but ourselves."

I agree rather strongly with this. Haven't managed to read Kavanaugh yet, but he's climbing up the reading list.

Discipline in the Church

A sermon preached 11 August 2004 on Matthew 18.15-17 - inspired by the comments, many thanks to you all.

A few weeks ago, in our regular Wednesday morning bible study, ____, ____ and I were discussing church discipline, and I quoted this morning's gospel passage. The passage gives clear directions for how to deal with those who sin against you: first take your objection to them privately. Second, invite some others along 'so that every matter may be established' by a larger community. Finally, bring it to the attention of the whole church, whose judgement will be reinforced with heavenly power - whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Powerful stuff - the church determines what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and establishes eternal boundaries.

There are a number of things I would like to say about this. The first is simply to say that when I was quoting it, I thought that I was quoting a teaching from Paul. I find this teaching much more akin to Paul's broader teaching than to Christ's (I was thinking of the teaching Christ gives about how often you should be forgiving your brother for their sin, and He says seven times seven times, which comes immediately after this passage). Paul is much more concerned with questions of church discipline - the main tenor of Christ's teaching, on the other hand, is about the nature of the Kingdom. But this is Christ teaching us about how to exercise church discipline, so we must pay especial attention to it.

Which brings me to my second point. It seems to me - especially if it has the authority of being Christ's own words - that this is a very good teaching, and one that the church as a whole, and perhaps every parish church in particular, should pay especial attention to. The idea of church discipline can seem quite foreign to the Church of England, in that historically the boundaries of acceptable behaviour have been set so very broadly. But there are movements of the Spirit even in the Church of England, and although a recent proposal for strengthening clergy discipline was rejected by General Synod, I think that such a system will eventually be established. I, for one, would welcome that.

Such a system, however, would apply to the clergy, but what about the laity, the people of God, all the different church members? When was the last time that one Christian in this church admonished another for not living up to their faith, for falling short of Christian standards? I find that quite an unsettling thought in many ways, but perhaps that simply shows how very English I am, and that it seems an invasion of privacy or an intrusion into someone else's business to be following Christ's teaching. Christ was clearly not an Englishman.

It seems to me that we in the church really should take Christ's teaching seriously and, in the words of Paul's letter to the Colossians, teach and admonish each other in all wisdom. I feel that this would be very healthy for a church - if there was a culture that embraced such mutual criticism and encouragement - I think that it would make us much more effective witnesses to our faith. Note that I said 'and encouragement' - simply because governing all these questions of church discipline is surely Christ's teaching about motes and beams and the prohibition on judgement of each other….

Ah. Christ also teaches us not to judge. How can we not judge, when Christ also tells us 'if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector'. Well, remember that one of the disciples was a tax collector, and that Zacchaeus was saved even without giving up his job. I'm not sure about pagans - they would certainly seem to be outside the faith community, and certainly this teaching has been taken as the sanction for excommunication.

I think that the key is that the admonishment and correction of one member by another is set in the context of forgiveness, not of judgement and condemnation. In other words, the reproof is on behalf of the one committing the sin. If the wages of sin are death then how is it that a loving brother or sister can allow another to persist in sin, when it destroys life? The forgiveness must already be present, otherwise the person making the correction only brings more judgement down upon their own head (which I think has happened at certain times in church history). So we are to correct each other in the faith, as long as it takes place from love and an assurance of acceptance and an acknowledgement that we are all sinners, and that we need each other's support to proceed in the Way.

Yet there is still this hard question. What do you do when there is no agreement on what constitutes a sin? When one group in the church says that certain actions are sinful, and another group in the church says that they are not? Well, this is of course the question that some of the finest minds in our church are currently wrestling with, so I'll leave a final answer until they have given their report. All I would say is this - there is a vast level of agreement on the important questions which face the church, most especially the necessity to seek justice in our world. I think the Lord will be with us if we pursued his teaching on those matters with our whole heart, rather than being caught up with a forensic pursuit of each other's sin.

In the meantime I think our calling is a simple one. And I would finish by quoting Paul's teaching from the sixth chapter of his Epistle to the Galatians, where he writes this: "Brethren, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ."

TBTM20060925



The sky is crying the streets are full of tears
Rain come down wash away my fears
And all this writing on the wall
Oh I can read between the lines

Rain come down forgive this dirty town
Rain come down and give this dirty town
A drink of water a drink of wine...

(Dire Straits, Hand in Hand)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Not a moralism but a mysticism

I have been troubled by Simon’s comment on my ‘not ducking’ post. It’s opened up a whole abyss, which I would like to describe.

Simon said:
“It is clear in scripture that Paul expected the church to exclude unrepentant sinners - for their own good [so that they would understand the seriousness of their sin] and for the good of the church [if you let person A off without comment person B will feel he can commit the same sin with impnity].

Sin is a cancer, which should not [be] left untreated. It depends very much on the manner in which we treat it. Paul tells us to deal with things privately where possible, so that there can be love and so that reputations are not harmed. If my brother sins and the first thins I do id denounce it at the next church meeting - I am wrong. But if my brother sins and I privately show him a better way and help him renew his relationship with God - i am right.

The brothers in your story are learning how to avoid being picky and judgmental and grassing on each other and to have a right self awareness. Good. But I am concerned that they might start to accept sin - we still need to know that sin is sin, and help each other to overcome it rather than beating each other about it.”

Now then. I really disagree with this, but the disagreement goes so far down that I don’t know quite where to stop. So I end up writing something which is (hopefully) more positive.

Firstly, though, let us take a cue from the way in which the Roman Catholic Church dealt with Galileo. Cardinal Bellarmino wrote:
“If there were any real proof that the Sun is in the centre of the universe and that the earth is in the third heaven, and that the Sun does not go round the Earth but the Earth around the Sun, then we would have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and rather admit that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true".
This is how I feel with respect to the sorts of passages in Paul that Simon is referring to. I think Paul is wonderful, but I also think that – if he is saying what Simon thinks he is saying – he is saying something radically opposed to the message of Christ. So I would rather admit that I do not understand Paul, than to accept him as an authority mandating something which I know – from Christ – to be untrue.

Of course, the burden is on me to say what I know from Christ to be true. Which is the point of this post. It needn’t take very long.

I think that Christ established a New Covenant in his blood. This New Covenant was the one promised in the Old Testament, whereby God’s laws and commands would be written in people’s hearts. The foundation of this New Covenant – this new marriage between God and His people – is built upon a refusal to judge. Hence ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged, for the measure ye give will be the measure ye receive’; hence ‘forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’; hence all the teaching about forgiveness as the foundation of Christian life.

The Old Covenant(s) involved keeping to God’s commands. Hence, for example, David’s charge to Solomon at the end of David’s life (which we had at Morning Prayer the other day, and I found very moving):
“"I am about to go the way of all the earth," he said. "So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go, and that the LORD may keep his promise to me: 'If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.'”
I understand the New Covenant to be God’s fulfilment of these promises, built upon our fallen state, unable to raise ourselves up, and WHOLLY dependent upon God’s grace for all that we do. We are not to focus upon the commands of God – however wonderful and liberating they are to follow – but we are instead to focus our hearts upon God, to have our hearts broken, to remove our hearts of stone and have instead the gift of hearts of flesh placed within us.

Our New Covenant is the setting aside of judgement upon us, with the quid pro quo that we set aside our judgement of one another, leaving ourselves, as a community, wholly dependent upon God’s grace at individual and group levels. We rely upon God to save the church, for He did say that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.

So I really don’t know about the exclusion of unrepentant sinners. Jesus’ example, which we are mandated to follow if we are to walk in his way, was ‘love one another as I have loved you’. The way that he loved was to go to the sinners and break bread with them.

And I’m really unsure about the need to exclude ‘for the good of the church’, pour encourager les autres, so to speak.

So often Christianity has collapsed into being merely a new coat of paint on the Old Covenant. A different set of rules, but the underlying spirituality is unchanged. Even when – perhaps especially when – sola gratia is emphasised the most, the acceptance of grace seems to become a work in and of itself.

We are invited in to a relationship of love. We are the prodigals returning, being met with eagerness by the Father. It is not our business to close the door on the prodigals behind us.

We are the ones who have excluded Christ from amongst us; He is outside the city wall; yet He forgives, and it is that forgiveness which is heartbreaking and liberating.

It gives us no place to stand with regard to one another.

No place to stand.

We must not judge.

We must not judge.

We must not judge.

If this means that an institution falls away then so be it. The church, the Body, this is divine, and far beyond our control.

We are simply to allow that grace to take root and flourish within us, to become channels of mercy and peace.

So if the priest tells the sinner to leave, then I shall leave too. For I too am a sinner, and my place, following Christ, is to be with the sinner. I have no place to stand other than that.

And it seems to me now that that is where the church belongs, that is where the church is most truly itself. So perhaps God is even more in this process than I suspected.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.


And Jesus' blood ne'er failed me yet.

Leander Harding on the Pope and Anglicanism

Rev’d Dr. Leander Harding » Blog Archive » The Pope’s Speech:

"Anglican theology at its best is thoroughly committed to the slogans of the Reformation, by scripture alone, by grace alone and by faith alone. Nevertheless it has also had a high appreciation for the Greek inheritance in theology including Platonic philosophy and the Greek Church Fathers. It may be that Anglicans have unique resources for healing this rift which has appeared between faith and reason both in the culture and in theology which can build resources for a dialogue of civilizations."

TBTM20060924

'But what about such a propositions as "I know that I have a brain"? Can I doubt it? Grounds for doubt are lacking!'

(LW)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Religion of Peace

Picture stolen shamelessly from Sven.

Allowable weakness are very annoying

Back when I was a civil servant I was assessed on the Belbin model of management, and I came out quite strongly as a 'plant', with associated Shaper and Resource/Investigator traits. What I was - by quite a long way - rather bad at was the 'Completer/Finisher' type. In other words, I'm not good at detail. If I concentrate on the detail, that's fine, but most details don't seem to have an obvious link to the larger picture - hence they get overlooked. (In so far as the plant has real gifts, they are constituted by being able to see the wood rather than individual trees). We all have differing strengths and weaknesses, the key - as was emphasised in my training - is that we delegate to cover our weaknesses, rather than wasting energy trying to control all of the outcomes ourselves, often with hugely destructive consequences. Hence Belbin has a vocabulary of 'allowable weaknesses' - and the allowable weaknesses of a plant are inattention to detail (so it all fits together).

Anyhow, an example today - rather funny once I saw that side of it - of how I sometimes get tripped up on detail.

Parish Quiet Day - led by my colleague - excellent use of time and resources - very enjoyable. But I have to leave half way through because I have agreed to take an anniversary service for one of the Mersea organisations that I'm officially involved with. This is annoying, because the Quiet Day is doing me all sorts of good, and chiming with much that I have been reflecting on recently (important quote from my colleague: "Christian holiness is not a matter of moralism but of mysticism." Now that is wonderfully accurate and pithy (and reassuring in terms of how it shows how far my colleague and I are in tune :)

Anyhow, after an hours drive to return to Mersea - and then a half hour wait on the other side of the Strood because the tide is up again (groan) - I get home and check the details for the service I am taking this afternoon.

And I discover that I have been booked for two thousand and SEVEN.

Grrrrr.

TBTM20060923



"From its seeming to me - or to everyone - to be so, it doesn't follow that it is so. What we can ask is whether it can make sense to doubt it."
(LW)

Friday, September 22, 2006

What not ducking looks like

Further to what I wrote earlier, I've come to a bit of a conclusion about what not ducking will look like.

Obviously much will depend on the detail (wherein the devil doth dwell) but it seems to me now that if some members of our Body are excluded on the grounds of their sinful proclivities, my place is with those who are excluded. Because I too am a sinner.

~~~~

A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him, saying, 'Come, for everyone is waiting for you'. So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug and filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said, 'What is this, father?' The old man said to them, 'My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the sins of another.' When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him.

A brother asked abba Poemen, 'If I see my brother sin, is it right to say nothing about it?' The old man replied, 'Whenever we cover our brother's sin, God will cover ours; whenever we tell people about our brother's guilt, God will do the same about ours.'

A brother sinned and the priest ordered him to go out of the church; abba Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying 'I, too, am a sinner.'

(From 'Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers', ed Benedicta Ward)

Continuing to wrestle with violence


Exhuming that Iraq post was revealing, in terms of how far my political perspective (on the Bush administration in particular) has shifted, and how much closer I am to embracing non-violence completely. Yet there is something that prevents me from going the whole hog - and in fact there is a part of me which has started to become suspicious that 'non-violence' is an idol. Here are some more or less connected thoughts, which represent a snapshot. The last paragraph is probably the most important.

A sincere embrace of the just war perspective would practically differ from a pacifist perspective in only a very small minority of cases. Most wars are unjust and unjustifiable.

Tim sent me an interesting link - here - which contains an interesting argument: "A second confusion in this argument is the notion that taking part in war shall be regarded as a lesser evil, rendered necessary by extreme circumstances. Such a claim has no part in traditional just-war theory—or, indeed, in any coherent moral theory." This is exactly my perspective. It may well be true (though I doubt it) that it has no part in traditional just-war theory, but to engage in the discussion on those grounds would rapidly become academic and abstract. The intriguing question, for me, is whether it is true that this perspective has no place 'in any coherent moral theory' - because this I think is quite true, and it underlies why I chose the Bonhoeffer quotation this morning: "The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge." This, I think, puts the finger precisely on the difference between a Christian perspective and a more conventional philosophical/ moral position. We live by grace.

Hauerwas's argument (in The Peaceable Kingdom) about interrogating our imaginative examples is a strong one, but he doesn't actually deal with the examples themselves - and the examples themselves are not abstract, but are real. So for the time being, I remain of the view that there are situations where I would resort to violence. This is an admission of sin, but I can't see any way around it. Where things get awkward is when this perspective is shifted to a wider context, ie national or cultural. I remain of the view that Islamo-fascism is a radical evil, and one which if left unchecked will cause a tremendous pestilence to descend upon the world.

Yet is this just a question of lack of faith? That's the issue that repeatedly nags at me. If I really believed in the overcoming of the world, I would not presume to judge the outcomes of decisions that might be made - I would simply obey the divine commands. For example, in pragmatic terms, I think that the Islamo-fascists have enough truth in their arguments to be heard sympathetically by most Muslims; I think that the Western world is sufficiently weak in material and spiritual terms that the eventual 'victory' of the West is not assured [[I'm a long term optimist there - I think the West will bounce back - but I think we have a darkness to work through first - and I don't think we will be able to bounce back without addressing our cultural blind spot with regard to our Christian inheritance, in other words, without something like a revival]]; so it is not by any means implausible to me that the gospel could be eclipsed in the world; that the Bible could become a demonised text, that, over time, within a world-wide caliphate, the New Testament becomes something forgotten. Now I don't believe that God will ever leave himself without witnesses, and I think Shia theology in particular has resonances that cross over into Christianity, so whether the Word becomes silent, that I don't believe. But how far is the Incarnation repeatable? And does it threaten the church's understanding of itself if it allows itself to die?

And what is the cost? Even if I was convinced of the long term triumph of the gospel against all odds (and I do believe in the long term triumph of the gospel in the hearts of all people) - does it really make sense to acquiesce to the fascists? And if we embrace a non-violent resistance against them, what does this mean when the fascists also embrace non-violent processes (eg democracy) to introduce something abhorrent (eg Sharia law)? Rowan Williams is fond of asking the question - and I think it is an extremely good one - "Who pays the price?" Is it legitimate, by my actions, to expect others (eg children) to pay the price? Or is there something here worth defending with dirty hands?

I am also starting to harbour a suspicion about non-violence, about whether it can itself take an idolatrous position within a theology. The Scriptures are violent texts; Jesus himself is angry and acts in ways that can be considered violent (Temple cleansing, obviously, but also violent speech acts); most of all, the violence of the world exhibited in the crucifixion is incapable of preventing God's plans being accomplished. I do not doubt that violence is inherenty and inevitably sinful. My dispute is about whether it is always the MOST sinful option available.

I am thinking an awful lot about two films. One is the Passion of the Christ, which haunts me, and was responsible for a significant shift in my attitudes. Watching Jesus exhibit non-violence was intimidating and inspirational. The second is the Mission, full of wonderful filmic imagery, and which throws up the fundamental choice at the end. Do you walk with Jeremy Irons behind the monstrance, or do you pick up your musket with Robert De Niro? I've always thought I'd be with De Niro (partly because my character is much more like the one he portrays in that film) but I am perennially disturbed by a sense that Irons is the one who shows faith. Yet the outcome of his faith is that the villagers are slaughtered.

There is a different way, I am sure. Not bound by pre-existing categories, into which we must fit our moral instincts. We can only ask 'Lord, what is your will for me here and now?' - and then seek to follow it, leaving any judgement as to merit in His hands alone.

Flight of the Phoenix



Reasonable film, but what most struck me whilst watching it was how it is a parable for Peak Oil.

If you're an optimist, not a doomer, that is.

The Pope and the Prophet

The Pope and the Prophet | Workers' Liberty

"All the more shameful then, for the Guardian, the chief “organ” of British invertebrate liberalism, to editorialise, magisterially about Islamic-Christian relations (18-9-06). What needs to be done is to defend free speech, without weaseling equivocation! The Guardian? It argues, essentially, that the sensibilities and demands of political Islam should be pandered to. Theirs is liberalism rendered helplessly unprincipled, denuded both of historical perspective and historical memory. It is without even a spark of the will to defend the liberal values it professes to hold."

Some on the left do get it. Some on the right most definitely do not.

Episcopal sodomy

Bending the Rule: Facing Ecclesiastical Discipline: Under the Sky?

Go read. A reminder about the realities as they bite.

I'm reading lots of theology written by gay people at the moment, and also a lot written by the "mainstream" community, amongst other things.

What I find remarkable is that it is the gay voices which are challenging me to be a better Christian, and to invite me to live more faithfully; whereas much of the rest is, in truth, a temptation to live more easily and comfortably. I think that says something rather important.

TBTM20060922



"The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge."
(Bonhoeffer, 1st lines of his Ethics)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

TBTM20060921


I find it hard to tell you
'Cause I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It's a very, very
Mad World

(Tears for Fears)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Peak Oil Man

Go watch this. I'm not that much of a survivalist, but he has a point, and it's quite amusing to watch!

Ante-bellum thoughts on Iraq

(Written March 2003. I think the most useful bit is towards the end, about the Fall.)

What is the case for war?
This can be simply stated. In 1990 the Hussein regime invaded Kuwait. Following the passing of UN resolutions, the US led a coalition to restore the status quo ante bellum, achieved in early 1991. As part of the ceasefire agreements (between the UN and the Hussein regime) the Hussein regime was required to disarm. A program of sanctions was put in place until that disarmament was effected.

In 1994, the UN inspectors (UNMOVIC) were poised to withdraw from Iraq and recommend the lifting of sanctions, as they believed that the Hussein regime had co-operated fully with the disarmament process and no longer possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD). However, a series of defections from the Hussein regime, notably by Khidhir Hamza, the head of the Hussein regime’s nuclear weapon design program, led to a realisation that the inspectors had been comprehensively misled by the regime. This led to a renewal of the inspection process, which uncovered evidence of nuclear weapons research and biological and chemical weapons capabilities.

From 1996 onwards the Hussein regime progressively reduced its cooperation with UNMOVIC, and this led to the withdrawal of the inspectors in 1998, followed by a short Anglophone bombing campaign.

In November of 2002 the UN, at the promptings of the US government, passed resolution 1441 which provided the Hussein regime with a ‘final opportunity’ to disarm, or suffer ‘serious consequences’ if it did not cooperate fully.

That full cooperation has not been forthcoming. The Hussein regime is still committed to a program of WMD production, and remains a threat to the international order. The UN resolutions must be enforced: therefore there needs to be military intervention in Iraq, to bring to an end the process begun by the Hussein regime’s invasion of Kuwait.

This argument is prima facie plausible, legal and morally acceptable (eg in Christian ‘just war’ terms, see below).

What is the case against the war?

The case against the war is more manifold than the simple case for war presented above.

Milan Rai, in his book ‘War Plan Iraq’ (Verso Press, 2002) gives ten reasons why a war against Iraq would be wrong. They are:
1. There is no evidence that Iraq possesses WMD
2. There is no established link between the Hussein regime and Al-Qaeda
3. The western powers are not motivated by a desire for ‘regime change’ but for ‘leadership change’
4. The war will probably trigger a humanitarian disaster
5. The war will endanger the Kurdish ‘safe haven’
6. The war would be illegal
7. Iraq’s neighbours are more afraid of the US than of the Hussein regime
8. Western military establishments are opposed to war
9. Western populations are opposed to war
10. An invasion could trigger a world recession

I would add further arguments against the war that should be considered
11. The war is driven by a short-sighted desire to control oil resources
12. The war is a distraction from more urgent problems in the Middle East (Israel/Palestine)
13. The war is a distraction from more dangerous regimes like North Korea
14. The war would cause regional chaos
15. The strategy of inspection, containment and sanctions is working
16. An invasion of Iraq would trigger a strong renewal of terrorism against the West
17. An invasion of Iraq is the first move in the establishment of an American Empire
18. A war would set a dangerous precedent for pre-emptive military action and probably weaken the UN, depending on when and how it starts

Considering the arguments against war

1. There is no evidence that Iraq possesses WMD.
It is true that, since the inspectors left in 1998, and returned at the end of 2002, no ‘smoking gun’ has been found. Yet it is a truism that ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’. There is sufficient evidence for Hans Blix to express concern about the Hussein regime’s plans, such that he states (January 03) that the Iraqi regime has not yet evidenced a willingness to disarm. I believe that Blix is as well informed as anyone can be on this question, and I consider this argument absurdly naïve. This argument does not overcome the case for the war. (Note added '06: Ha!)

2. There is no established link between the Hussein regime and Al-Qaeda
I believe this to be true but irrelevant. The case for war, as outlined above, does not depend upon a demonstrated link between the Hussein regime and Al-Qaeda. However, more can be said about this point. A link between the Hussein regime and Al-Qaeda is not impossible – it is something that may or may not exist. The arguments that such a link will not develop depend upon Hussein making a rational decision and acting in his own best interests, ie that any transmission of WMD to Al-Qaeda would eventually be traced back to him causing massive retaliation. Thus, this argument depends upon the good sense of Hussein in order to have any validity whatsoever. Yet, to put it at its most simple, the record of Hussein’s judgement is not one that gives rise to confidence. Hussein has demonstrated repeatedly that he is prepared to take high risk endeavours with catastrophic consequences: in 1973, 1974, 1980 and 1990 just to mention the most prominent. Reliance upon the good judgement of the Hussein regime is not a viable strategy. This argument does not overcome the case for the war.

3. The western powers are not motivated by a desire for ‘regime change’ but for ‘leadership change’
This criticism has some force. The history of western intervention is not one that reveals a consistently high moral character, and often Western interests have been best served by the presence of a pliable dictator. (I believe one US statesman once commented ‘he may be a s.o.b but he’s OUR s.o.b!’). The situation in Afghanistan, despite the clear benefits of overthrowing the Taliban regime, is not a great advertisement. Yet in the case of Iraq Western leadership, especially European, seems committed to full regime change. Moreover, it is difficult to see how any successor regime could fail to represent a significant improvement over the Hussein regime. I therefore conclude that this argument does not overcome the case for the war, although if the US/UK do not follow through with constructive engagement then the last state will be worse than the first.

4. The war will probably trigger a humanitarian disaster
This is the strongest argument against the war: that there will be great suffering consequent to armed intervention. In one sense that is inescapably true – war is hell, and in hell people suffer. Yet there are some grounds for hoping that an armed intervention would not lead to as much suffering as some claim. The destruction consequent to modern warfare is orders of magnitude less than that associated with earlier twentieth century warfare. In some of the major air campaigns against Germany in World War 2, up to 10,000 tons of bombs were dropped in a single night. In contrast to this, from January 17 to February 27 1991, US aircraft dropped a total of 17,109 tons of bombs, an average of 427 tons per day. A bombing campaign against the Hussein regime today would be even more highly focussed: almost all the bombing will be ‘guided’, whereas only some 5% of 1991 bombing was equivalently accurate. In 1991 the vast majority of residential areas were completely spared any destruction, and remained untouched. There are good grounds for hoping that this will also be true today. However, the argument pays no attention to the humanitarian disaster that is the present situation. It is difficult to believe that a situation after a successful war would be worse than the situation that obtains today. However, there is an inherent risk involved, as a long war could overturn complacent assumptions made beforehand. I shall return to this point.

5. The war will endanger the Kurdish ‘safe haven’
The Kurdish safe haven has been established and enabled to flourish due to the maintenance of the No-Fly Zones by US and UK air forces (the French dropped out in the late 1990s). There is a risk of Turkish intervention from the North, although there are some grounds for thinking that the US would be able to keep them ‘in line’. This is a risk to be considered, but on its own I don’t believe it overcomes the argument for intervention.

6. The war would be illegal
This argument can have a number of different applications, dependent upon which idea of ‘law’ is being defended. Yet the most relevant – the international law as practiced in the United Nations – explicitly indicates that ‘serious consequences’, ie war, would follow if the Hussein regime did not disarm. It could be claimed that a second resolution is needed to make this absolutely clear, but so far the Western powers have operated scrupulously through the customary forms of international law. Moreover, if the UN resolutions are not enforced then the authority of international law is destroyed. (A sidenote: the resolutions against Israel have a different legal basis to the resolutions against Iraq and cannot be compared in legal terms). As things stand, this argument is without merit.

7. Iraq’s neighbours are more afraid of the US than of the Hussein regime
It is difficult to know quite how to respond to an argument of this sort. Some authorities claim that other Arab regimes are afraid of the US; other authorities claim that those same regimes are desperate for the US to displace Saddam, and are only terrified that the West will again back down. I do not believe that the vast majority of commentators are in any position to know the truth of this assertion, and in any case, it is a minor point. It seems to depend for its force upon widespread distrust or distaste for the United States, and thus, ultimately, an assertion of moral equivalence between the US state apparatus and the Hussein regime state apparatus. That latter perspective is contemptible and morally vacuous. I conclude that this argument is without merit.

8. Western military establishments are opposed to war
It is undoubtedly true that some former military officers are opposed to the war, yet it is also true that some former military officers are in favour. In any case, in the western democracies military establishments have to follow the decisions of the duly elected authorities. In extreme cases those establishments can either refuse to carry out orders, or use more modern methods of making their discontent plain. I have not seen such evidence of mass discontent from the serving military establishments. However, such dissent as exists indicates that this approach is fraught with risk, and that is indisputable. I conclude that this argument is inconclusive.

9. Western populations are opposed to war
The population of the United States seems settled in favour of a war against the Hussein regime. The populations of European countries seem much more ambivalent or hostile, yet there seems a consistent trend to approve of a war that had been secured by a second UN resolution. Perhaps it is true that a democracy should not go to war unless there is a majority opinion in its favour – yet that is not an argument about the merit of any particular case, but about the pragmatic discernment of politicians. Historically, populations have often been averse to going to war, yet such opposition dissolves once fighting starts. So I conclude that whilst this may be a practical point, it is not a point of principle. I do not see it as sufficient to overcome the case for the war

10. An invasion could trigger a world recession
The most truth that could be extracted from this criticism is that a prolonged war could exacerbate a world recession. In my view the fundamental problems of western economies are more deep rooted and of much longer duration than anything associated with the present Iraq crisis. Yet there is a risk associated with going to war. This needs to be taken account of, although it would be difficult to argue that economic grounds over-ride legal or moral grounds. I therefore consider this argument to have some merit, and I shall return to it.

11. The war is driven by a short-sighted desire to control oil resources
I believe this argument, although popular, to be utterly fatuous. If the concerns of the West were have a reliable supply of oil, then Hussein would be delighted to agree contracts for the further exploitation of Iraqi oilfields. Actually, he has – with the governments of France and Russia in particular, in contravention of the spirit of the UN sanctions regime, if not the letter. The governments that have tried to uphold the authority of the UN system in this regard have been the US and UK, and their perspective is manifestly not driven by a desire for selfish benefits related to Iraqi oil. However, there is an underlying truth buried beneath much of the ignorant invective about oil. The global economy is dependent upon a steady supply of oil from the Middle East; the countries that are most dependent on that oil being China, Japan and the other countries of the Far East. If the supply of oil was seriously disrupted then it would cause havoc and precipitate a great deal of worldwide suffering. In the long term it would be prudent to diminish that dependency, yet that is not something which can be achieved in the short term. In the short term, the Hussein regime is a significant potential threat to that supply, and I believe that it is a legitimate interest of the world community to seek to safeguard that supply. That is part of the case for war. This argument is therefore without merit. (Note added '06: Ha ha ha ha ha.... I have completely changed my mind on this aspect of the question. It's all about the oil, stupid Sam.)

12. The war is a distraction from more urgent problems in the Middle East (Israel/Palestine)
It is undoubtedly true that the situation in Palestine is an urgent problem, yet it is not clear to me that allowing the Hussein regime to continue would aid a solution to that problem (for example, Hussein dispatches monies to the families of suicide bombers, giving them a financial incentive to maintain a bombing campaign) while there seems to be some merit in seeing benefit arising from regime change in Iraq and a wider change in attitudes consequent to a successful war. This point is debatable, but I do not consider it anything like overwhelming against the case for war. I conclude that this argument against war also fails.

13. The war is a distraction from more dangerous regimes like North Korea
It is undoubtedly true that the North Korean regime is potentially much more dangerous to the international order than the Hussein regime. Yet the North Korean regime has not, since the ceasefire in 1953, conducted aggressive campagins against its neighbours, nor has it been the subject of numerous UN resolutions and requirements to disarm. I believe it is legitimate to deal with the problems represented by the Hussein regime first, and that this argument does not overcome the case for war. What it does do, however, is focus the attention on a frightening situation. This will be discussed further in the ‘wider implications’ section below.

14. The war would cause regional chaos
I believe that this argument has merit. There is a risk that armed intervention would precipitate the break up of the Iraqi state, and consequent armed intervention from neighbouring powers, including Turkey and Iran. Hussein may attack Israel or Saudi Arabia, leading to unpredictable consequences. This is therefore an issue that requires careful consideration, but it is not conclusive.

15. The strategy of inspection, containment and sanctions is working
This is the most prevalent of the arguments against the war, and it is one that I believe to be at best naïve and confused, at worst mendacious and hypocritical. The sanctions regime is not working: it is estimated that Hussein receives a ‘private’ income of some $3 billion per year from extra-legal sales of oil. Moreover, it is clear that it is the people of Iraq who suffer the most from the sanctions regime. According to UN figures up to half a million Iraqi children have suffered a premature death as a direct result of the sanctions regime, and that suffering has to be brought to an end. Furthermore, the sanctions regime forms only one part of a broader containment strategy. That strategy depends upon a continued presence of the Western military, to enforce the no-fly zones and the work of UNMOVIC. That approach has not succeeded in twelve years – indeed there is a great deal of evidence to say that it has failed. My view is that this approach cannot continue; that it was, at best, a short term measure, and – as with the issue of German reparations after World War One – it has caused many more problems than it was designed to solve. This is the true ‘humanitarian disaster’ that must be ended. The choice as I see it is between abandoning any attempts to deal with the Hussein regime, and military intervention. Clearly current US diplomacy leaves much to be desired, and it has obscured this fundamental truth, but if you look past the fog of propaganda there is a fundamental choice here. I shall return to this.

16. An invasion of Iraq would trigger a renewal of terrorism against the West
Clearly an attack would confirm Al-Qaeda and their sympathisers in their views, and quite possibly give them greater determination. Yet it is not clear to me that there is anything that would not give such confirmation. September 11th proved that these terrorists are not open to negotiation on terms that we could possibly accept, and a strategy based on appealing to some form of reasoned judgement on their part, as with Hussein himself, is not viable. What can be done is to reduce the underlying resentment against the West, from which the perverted fundamentalism of Al-Qaeda can feed. That resentment can only be addressed by improving the quality of life of the average Middle Eastern citizen over the long term, through a process of political and economic reform. Military intervention in Iraq can clearly be seen (subject to the comments on objection 7 above) as part of a process to ‘drain the swamp’ that feeds the monster of Al-Qaeda. As such, although there might be short-term costs, those costs are highly likely to come about in any case, and the long term costs are reduced. I therefore conclude that this is not a conclusive argument against intervention.

17. An invasion of Iraq is the first move in the establishment of an American Empire
This may or may not be true; it is, in one sense, unknowable, unless to the present US administration. Yet the case for intervention against Iraq needs to be appreciated on its own merits. If those merits are sufficient then the motivation of the present US administration is a separate issue – just as the motivation of the British government was a separate issue to the righteousness of fighting Nazi Germany. Is it possible to enforce freedom at the point of a gun? Probably not. But if tyranny is enforced at the point of a gun, and the gun is then removed, there is then a possibility of freedom. The way I think the US sees it is that the status quo allowed problems to fester in bad regimes, and those bad regimes fostered the terrorism that led to 9/11. Therefore the US is no longer prepared to tolerate ‘bad regimes’ in the world. That is scary – could lead to all sorts of conflicts down the line – but it can still be seen as the lesser of two evils. Once more, I conclude that this is not a conclusive argument against intervention.

Summary
In the face of the argument in favour of war against the Hussein regime, I conclude that the following arguments have some substance as objections:

1. The war will probably trigger a humanitarian disaster
2. An invasion could trigger a world recession
3. The war would cause regional chaos
4. The war might endanger the Kurdish safe haven.

In addition, much of the debate has thrown up issues relating to more dangerous regimes like North Korea.

It seems to me that these arguments are essentially about balance of risk. There is a risk that there will be a humanitarian disaster consequent to war, there is a risk that intervention will exacerbate world recession, there is a risk of regional instability. Yet on the other hand, continuance of a containment policy is manifestly insupportable, and ignoring the situation is untenable. To allow the Hussein regime such a clear success would be – in my view – to lay the seeds for future wars and potentially devastating (ie nuclear) conflicts in the medium term. That follows a sober assessment of the established character of the Hussein regime. As such, those in positions of responsibility, principally the US, have a terrible decision to make. Past actions have had unforeseen consequences, and we are now in a situation where no course of action is without risk. It is a situation of extreme jeopardy, and the world will not be the same once war has begun.

Christian language 1: Just War Theory
What has Christianity got to say about the situation – surely Christ would not sanction a war? Possibly not, yet that point is insufficient. Christ is our standard and our criterion for righteousness. Yet sometimes it is impossible for us to be righteous – at which point we are dependent upon grace. It is an illusion to think that we can sort out all our problems, that we can have a definitively ‘right’ answer to problems like this. The Christian tradition has grown up around that central recognition.

To begin with, I would like to outline the elements of traditional ‘just war’ theory, as I understand it:

1. A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
In my view, this element is met (I think a case could be made that fewer lives would be lost by a short war than by the maintenance of sanctions; obviously that's extremely hypothetical and wholly dependent on the length of any war). The Hussein regime has not lacked opportunities to change its ways and reintegrate itself into the world community, and has for twelve years demonstrated an opposite intention.

2. A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
The key question is what constitutes a legitimate authority. Certainly what has taken place so far has been within UN auspices, and I would expect that to continue. However, I personally would think democratically elected governments have greater legitimacy. So this element is, I think, met in full.

3. A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient - see next point). Further, a just war can only be fought with "right" intentions: the only permissable objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
This would seem to be the cast-iron element against the currently proposed endeavour. However a) this action cannot be understood separately from the 1990 attack on Kuwait (following which there was a conditional ceasefire, and the Hussein regime is not meeting the conditions) and b) the doctrine or pre-emption is relevant. Again, I think this element is met, although this is perhaps the most arguable point. Certainly the doctrine of pre-emptive attack is open to great abuse.

4. A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
I think this element is met, although I think the conflict is potentially much more fraught than the 1991 war.

5. The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
I think this element is met in full - although I acknowledge, in saying that, that events could show that confidence to be misplaced.

6. The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
I hope that this element will be met. Certainly judging be other comparable recent military actions, the risk to eg civilian life is massively lower than in previous conflicts. However, this hope could be proved totally false – and that is a very scary thought.

7. The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissable targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.
Again, I think we can have a high confidence that this element will be met - certainly for the US/UK side of things, although there is a reasonable expectation that Hussein will seek to engineer a higher amount of collateral damage than a benign ruler would allow.

Although the just war language is very helpful for thinking through a situation systematically, I don’t believe it goes deeply enough into the present situation to be a final guide. For that, we need to press more deeply.

Christian language 2: living in a Fallen world
I don't think I can explain my position properly without giving a little background in Christian theology, specifically what is meant by 'the Fall', for this is the background against which I am assessing this situation. The Fall, as I'm sure you're aware, is the expulsion from Eden as the result of biting the apple. In other words, we're not in paradise and we're sinners. This is pretty axiomatic for Christians (if there is no Fall, there is no Sin; no Sin, no need for a Saviour; no Saviour, no Messiah, no Christ, no Christianity). What this means in practice is that we live in an environment which is structured sinfully – we are embedded in practices which cause us to sin and there is no way for us to avoid sinning. More than this, we need to recognise this sinfulness as the first stage in moving away from the situation; put differently, it is recognising the light in Christ that allows us to see the darkness for what it is.

Now, in a situation like the one we have at present with regard to Iraq, it is quite clear what the past patterns of sin are which have caused us to be 'mired in sin'. Hussein established himself as a despot on the back of US, specifically CIA, support. Indeed, Rumsfield himself went to Iraq in the eighties as Reagan's special envoy, to provide - well, we don't know for sure, but chances are it wasn't agricultural support. Going further back, the UK is wholly complicit in the creation of Iraq as an artificial state. I think I am right in saying that the UK were the first nation to gas the Kurds (not Churchill's finest hour - I think it was the early twenties).
More recently, the follow-through to the 1991 war was ill-thought and driven by narrow and unenlightened agendas. The West did not want to prolong the war and risk further casualties. Consequently we have the sanctions and inspection process which a) has not inhibited the Hussein regime, b) causes great suffering to the people of Iraq and c) broke down at the end of the 90's. So we are now in a situation where the Hussein regime has been able to develop WMD in the face of repeated UN resolutions.

It seems to me that the principled pacifist position is coherent. This says that the use of force is never justified; that there are various creative and non-violent ways to change the behaviour of those with whom we disagree; and that (as I feel this can only be responsibly held from a religious perspective) we must trust in God for the ultimate outcomes. Crucially, this perspective rules out *all* uses of force, ie all forms of coercion, and therefore - especially in the light of the last decade's experience – the whole sanctions regime needs to be discarded. Thinking imaginatively this discarding of sanctions would be accompanied by a huge multinational investment in Iraq, to rapidly advance the quality of life of the Iraqi people, to ensure that there was a change of heart on the part of the Hussein regime, so that they saw that it was in their best interests to maintain stability etc etc.

As I say, I think this is coherent and also - to a religious person – quite a strong argument. Thing is, I can't bring myself to accept it. That might be due to a lack of faith on my part. I am fond of Cromwell's dictum: "Trust in God... and keep your gunpowder dry." In other words we must trust in God - but that does not excuse a lack of prudence on our part, for God also works through us, when we let him.

If we follow the logic of the Gandhian position through, then there is no point at which we respond to force with force. This would allow all sorts of monstrosities to take place if the opposing forces were sufficiently motivated. Gandhi said (I paraphrase from memory) that 'it is a matter of faith for a satyagrahi that there is no one who is beyond the reach of love' (satyagrahi = seeker after truth). I think I do believe that, but I don't draw from that the conclusion that the use of force against such a person is always wrong (is always a lack of faith). Consider a hypothetical example: you are a police officer in the US. There has been a terrorist threat received against a children's hospital; you are on guard in a particular ward. Two men enter, both with guns. One moves towards you, the other starts shooting children. (Obviously I'm delibarately polarising this presentation to bring out the underlying issue).

It seems to me that a Gandhian perspective would seek to put your own body between that of the person shooting and the children - to try and provoke an awareness of love and the right in that person. Yet the second man prevents you from doing this. So the shooting goes on. At what point does it become right to use force - to draw your own gun and shoot the person killing the children?

You might say that this is too hypothetical and unrealistic, so let us change to a very real situation: was Todd Beamer right to lead a revolt of the hijacked passengers against the terrorists who had siezed control of the Philadelphia flight on September 11? I think that he was - indeed I find his story to be tremendously moving, and one that reveals a difference between the social quality of the typical US citizen and the typical UK or European citizen which is shaming to the latter. But that may be an ignorant comment.

To my mind there is a fundamental contradiction between this Gandhian position and a traditional Christian one, and the difference lies in the way in which the traditional Christian view accepts the inevitability of personal sin - indeed, it makes it central and says that it is a dangerous illusion to think that you can be free of it.

In the hospital example, to my mind, a Christian policeman would be perfectly justifiied in shooting the intruders as soon as there was an apparent threat to the children in his care, but - and this is where the distinctiveness of the Christian viewpoint becomes apparent - _it_is_still_a_sin_to_shoot_the_intruder_. The Christian viewpoint does not say that the use of force is righteous - it says that it is a failure, a failure provoked by all the previous sins in which all the participants and the wider society share. It therefore prevents an ideology being built up around the 'rightness' of that individual decision - for such an ideology would deny that there was any sin involved. Such ideologies are triumphant in the use of violence and ultimately fascist. The use of violence is always a failure and a cause for repentance. So there is a difference between something being 'justified' and something being inherently good or 'righteous'. For a Christian, war is never righteous, but it can sometimes be justified as the lesser of two evils.

Lesser of two evils?
Is that the case in the present context? I don't think our present framework (sanctions and inspections) can continue. The sanctions a) hurt the people of Iraq and b) broke down due to their long-drawn out nature, their impact of on public consciousness, and have not prevented the regime from pursuing WMD. The inspections can only work if there is co-operation from the regime. I agree with Powell completely on this - you can treble the number of inspectors, put in troops, do whatever, but unless there is a commitment from the regime to 'come clean' then they will not be able to succeed in their task.

It is still possible to argue, of course, that this process would be better than the alternative of going to war. That the risks and suffering attendant upon going to war outweigh the risks and suffering attendant upon not going to war. To my mind the key question is what would happen *after* the war. If the US/UK treat it in the same way as they have Afghanistan - ie don't get involved in 'nation building' then I think that the war cannot be justified, for there would not be a significant benefit to the people of Iraq, there would not be anything to justify the suffering consequent to war. Yet I have some room for hope when considering Blair especially, and remembering things that he has said in the past (especially his party conference speech in October 2001). Yet it is true that Blair is not in control of the situation.

Now, there is almost nothing that you and I can do to affect the eventual outcome of this situation - we can comment on it, give our views and the reasons for our opinions, but largely I think our opinions are just that. Moreover, those who are presently entrusted with making the decisions have far higher quality information available to them on which to base those decisions comapred to us. At this point it becomes a matter of judgement and, I would say, of character. My judgement is that Blair in particular is taking a principled stand, one not governed by short-term political calculations but one governed by his perception of what is right. I'm hopeful that Bush has a similar perspective. Blair is, I think, risking everything on this issue - there is a not insignificant chance that he will no longer be Prime Minister in six months time, as a direct result of the stance he is taking.

My understanding of the situation is not without ambiguities, qualms and second, third and fourth thoughts. I could be reading this situation completely wrongly. I don't have a conclusive answer. I just think that the status quo (including any variant on extended inspections) is insupportable, for all sorts of reasons (including Christian ones) and the choice as I see it is between letting Hussein out of his cage or military intervention. I don't see either course of action as clearly correct, hence my discussion of the Fall. We're in a mess of our own making, we are none of us righteous, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3.23).

Concluding thoughts
Christianity teaches that we live in a Fallen world, that is, that we are embedded in an imperfect environment. As a consequence of past mistakes, past sins, we are sometimes faced with choices where we cannot avoid sinning again. We are forced to choose, and we must choose between two or more 'evils'. What makes Christianity distinct is the resolve not to redescribe such 'evils' as ultimately good, and therefore to accept the personal consequences of deliberately choosing to sin. Christians believe that God is merciful to those who repent of such sin, and hold fast to the light and grace that is made available through Christ. This frees Christians to act according to the light which is in them, to do the best that they can, without a necessity to seek personal moral perfection, trusting in God for both the worldly outcome and their own personal salvation. It is clear to me that a decision in favour of armed intervention in Iraq can be justified, and, for what it is worth, I think that it is justified. Yet I could well be wrong.

In this present situation, our leaders are faced with terrible choices, and ultimately nobody else can prejudge their decisions, although clearly time will tell whether the choices made are good or bad. I think we can only make our own decisions, and the primary decision is whether to put our ultimate trust in ourselves and our own powers, or to put our ultimate trust in God. So if the Republicans have become arrogant with power, and are not trusting in God for the ultimate outcome, then I think they are leading the world to ruin. If the decision to attack is motivated by a concern for the weak and defenceless (the Biblical 'widows and orphans') then it is justified; if it is taken from a lust and glorying in power and temporal might - then it is damned and damnable.

I think about Isaiah's critique of the Hebrew nation. Isaiah's principal criticism of foreign policy lies in the fact that the rulers will not put their trust exclusively in God to protect them. To modern ears it may seem that the rulers were prudent to make some practical provision for their people's security, but for Isaiah this is evidence of a lack of faith: 'For thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength." And you would not, but you said, "No! We will speed upon horses," therefore you shall speed away; and "We will ride upon swift steeds" therefore your pursuers shall be swift." (Is 30.15-16)

That prophetic claim, to completely put our trust in God, is effectively quietist, ie you don't get involved in secular struggles. I can't believe that to be Godly, although I readily accept that may merely show my lack of faith. Yet what I think it does mean is that we do what we can, and we trust in God to help or hinder us, and we remain open to changing our perspectives and our actions according to the light that God provides. It is precisely that openness that distinguishes those who place their trust in their own powers, their own rationality, from those who place their trust in the higher power.

So perhaps prayer is the most important thing we can do.

“Almighty God, whose is the eternal only power, and other men’s power but borrowed of thee: we beseech thee for all those who hold office that, holding it first from thee, they may use it for the general good and to thine honour: through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (William Tyndale)

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Note added '06. Hmm. I think I should stick to the theological analysis a bit more, but at least I wrote this: "To my mind the key question is what would happen *after* the war. If the US/UK treat it in the same way as they have Afghanistan - ie don't get involved in 'nation building' then I think that the war cannot be justified, for there would not be a significant benefit to the people of Iraq, there would not be anything to justify the suffering consequent to war."

Where I would now, with the benefit of hindsight, argue differently, are on two grounds: 1. that oil was certainly a major factor (if not THE) major factor in the decision to attack both Afghanistan and Iraq; and 2. the Bush administration was clearly not motivated by a concern for the widows and orphans, they did not act in anything remotely resembling a Christian manner, and not only were they malevolent in their intentions, they were also incompetent - and they remain criminally incompetent in this regard. However, I still can't bring myself to see the removal of Hussein as the wrong choice. The status quo was insupportable. Still got a lot to ponder and consider.

The other thing is: I have since discovered Hauerwas, and been greatly impressed by 'The Peaceable Kingdom' amongst other things. (I've also discovered Girard and Alison, which are relevant). Two things from Hauerwas - a) the point about failure of imagination, ie be suspicious of arguments like my one involving the police officer above; and b) what would the world be like if Christians refused to kill each other, if Christians put their common faith above allegiance to a state undertaking? I'm persuaded of that latter point, I think.