High Spirits

High Spirits

Reducing Religion Down

By 4.13.15

Liberal Christianity is made up of three reductions:

1. The reduction of religion to morality.

2. The reduction of morality to love of neighbor.

3. The reduction of love of neighbor to tolerance plus welfare programs.

The classic expression of the first reduction is found in Matthew Arnold’s definition of religion as “morality touched by emotion.” Liturgy doesn’t much matter. Nor does dogma. And it certainly doesn’t matter whether your form of church government is congregational, presbyterian, episcopal, papal-episcopal, or even no-church-at-all.

God says, “I don’t care what you believe, how you worship, etc. Just be good.”

The reduction of morality to love of neighbor allows liberal Christians to escape from the Augustinian puritanism that has been the mark of orthodox Catholicism and classical Protestantism. As long as you love your neighbor, you are being good.

Thus moral goodness is compatible with fornication, unmarried cohabitation, out-of-wedlock childbirth, abortion (unborn babies don’t count as “neighbors”), and homosexual sodomy. It is also compatible with small-scale lying and cheating.

High Spirits

India’s Jekyll and Hyde

By From the June 2014 issue

This year’s election in India, a marvel of modern democracy with 815 million eligible voters going to the polls, has the potential to change the country for the better economically, and for the worse spiritually.

Simmering just beneath the surface of the campaign lurks a real prospect of religious subjugation, persecution of minority groups, and serious communal violence. Yet much of the electorate is also optimistic that the country’s economy could be revitalized. How will these conflicting scenarios play out? 

The hopes and fears of tomorrow’s India are focused on the election’s anticipated winner, Narendra Modi, leader of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). He is the odds-on favorite to become the country’s next prime minister. His party will certainly take the largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha—lower house of Parliament—although for regional reasons he may narrowly fall short of an absolute majority. One way or another, there is little doubt, following the usual coalition horse trading, that by the end of May, India will have a new political landscape dominated by Modi and the BJP.

High Spirits

He Maketh Wars to Cease

By From the April 2014 issue

Anglican leadership? The phrase has had the ring of an oxymoron in recent years. From the fractious and predominantly liberal Episcopalians in America to the militantly conservative churches of Africa, the 80 million worshippers in the world’s second-largest Christian denomination have long been rent asunder. They split on women bishops, same-sex marriages, ancient versus modern liturgies, songs versus hymns, pews versus chairs. Schisms divide happy-clappy charismatics and dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists, evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics, gay priests in overt relationships and seminaries in conflict. You name it, Anglicans have a row about it.

High Spirits

None of Our Business?

By From the January-February 2014 issue

Why has the Western world, and its churches in particular, been so slow to wake up and do something about one of the greatest international human rights tragedies of the 21st century? This is the murderous persecution of tens of thousands of Christians across the Middle East. In the last three years it has intensified on a scale that is becoming alarmingly reminiscent of the persecution of Jews in Europe during the 1930s.

Just as Kristallnacht and other early Nazi outrages failed to rouse the conscience of the civilized world 80 years ago, so the spilling of the blood of today’s Christian martyrs is similarly underreported by the media and ignored by the public.

Yet as the annus horibilis of 2013 rolls into what is predicted to be an even worse new year of persecution, it is becoming clear that the attacks on Christian communities are becoming sustained and systematic. They spring largely from the coordinated hatreds of militant Islamists, from which governments of the region and the world tend to avert their eyes.

High Spirits

More Things Wrought By Prayer

By From the November 2013 issue

ABSENT FROM THIS column all summer, I have been walking, in the words of the 23rd Psalm, “through the valley of the shadow of death.” It has been both a dreadful and a wonderful experience.

The ancient power of prayer, allied with 21st-century neurosurgery, played its part in this particular walk. The heroine, also the patient, was my wife Elizabeth. In the early hours of the morning on July 1st, she woke me up with the words “Don’t panic, Jonathan, don’t panic. I’ve got a terrible pain at the back of my neck.”

Three ambulance rides and three hospitals later, it emerged that Elizabeth had suffered a ruptured aneurysm in her brain. It caused a major bleed, specifically a sub-arachnoid hemorrhage. As her next of kin I was warned that five out of ten such victims die in the first four days. Another two die within the next 14 days. Of the three who survive, most are left with some kind of physical impairment and brain damage. Grim odds indeed.

High Spirits

A Panoply of Beauties

By From the June 2013 issue

Margaret Thatcher’s funeral was a memorable, moving, and magnificent occasion. Obsequies for great statesmen can be tightrope walks across the divide between the temporal and the eternal. There are many conflicting pressures: past controversies, political sycophancy, private grief, and religious ritual. But this send-off produced a near perfect mixture of history and spirituality, high ceremonial and human touches. What made the occasion so special was that the great lady had chosen all the key components entirely herself.

There was, however, one moment she could not have controlled. For me and many others in the congregation, it elicited the deepest emotions of the day. As her casket was carried out of St. Paul’s Cathedral on the shoulders of military pallbearers while the choir sang Stanford’s Nunc dimittis in G, the first sight of her cortege by the crowds spontaneously produced a swelling wave of sound. It was so unexpected that those of us still seated beneath the great dome of Christopher Wren’s ecclesiastical masterpiece were startled. 

High Spirits

The CEO of Canterbury

By From the April 2013 issue

Anglicans have just enthroned a new archbishop, Justin Welby, who had a serious career in business before entering the ministry.

High Spirits

An Oasis of Tolerance

By From the March 2013 issue

TIMES ARE TOUGH for Christian communities in the Middle East. They are being slaughtered in Syria, persecuted in Iraq and Iran, bullied in Egypt, and frightened by the rising tide of militant Islam in almost every Arab country.

But there is one exception to this depressing trend. It is a Gulf state where the authorities have allowed Christian churches to double in size and in number; where congregations are growing exponentially with their services protected under national law; where the biggest problems facing church leaders are expanding their buildings, managing their crowds, and finding enough parking spaces for their worshippers. Welcome to the United Arab Emirates, a Muslim country that shines as a beacon of freedom and tolerance for other faiths in an increasingly intolerant region.

High Spirits

Black Punches Back

By From the February 2013 issue

Serious comebacks by two serious men of achievement.

High Spirits

At Work and at Prayer

By From the December 2012 - January 2013 issue

WE ARE APPROACHING the season of New Year’s resolutions. Alas, for me and many others this ritual is embarrassingly like the old joke that compares keeping the commandments to taking an examination paper: “Ten are set but only four need be attempted.” Even so the endeavour of making resolutions is usually worthwhile. Less enduring, perhaps, in areas of physical denial such as “drink less scotch; cut out desserts,” but more so in personal disciplines of the spiritual life.

So on a wing and a prayer one of my resolutions for 2013 will be: to bring God into work. This is not a generalized call to evangelize the workplace. It is a quest of personal exploration to see if the path of God-centeredness can be followed as one goes about the often mundane task of earning a living. What has encouraged me to search for this path is that no fewer than four friends of mine have recently produced writings or set examples in this unusual field.