Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Poetic challenge to prayers for peace

"I suspect that last Christmas the tubby old pope 
Prayed for peace on earth. Well, what a hope.

If he's looking for method of wasting his time he 
Might as well pray for snails not to be slimy.

There were wars in abundance from Congo to Yemen
As it was, is and shall be, eternally, amen."

Joe Bennett has been very badly served by our Christchurch Press this morning! He has written a poem summing up the year, but it has been printed as a piece of prose. My excerpt above restores the poetic structure of his rhyming couplets.

For non-locals, Joe is kind of "resident atheist" lurking in our Fairfax media. He has never let an opportunity go by to have a go at God and the above is his latest example.

But he does have a point, does he not? That we - not just the Pope - have prayed and prayed for peace on earth, prayed to the Prince of Peace to bring his peace-making reign to fulfilment and yet this year has not been a year to see progress towards peace among the nations.

We can rejoice that there are stories of progress towards peace in people's hearts as they find God and experience the peace which surpasses all understanding. But it is an awkward fact that despite praying and praying, the world is not a happy place this Christmas.

Moreover, it is a bit less happy for Christians than last year. Christmas, for instance, has to be celebrated in secret in Brunei by Christians and not at all by Muslims.

What would you say to Joe if you met him out strolling with his dog in Lyttelton this morning? It would be fine if you just said "Good morning, Joe," because I imagine he would be a doughty debater were you to take him on in an apologetics match, the Power of Prayer versus the Cynicism of  his Rhyming Couplets.

What would I say? I think I would offer this, perhaps after asking if Joe would like a coffee, as there would be a bit of "unpacking" to do with each of the following ripostes:

- Fair call to draw attention to the unanswered prayers of Christians.
- What might God say to praying Christians about the outbreak of wars and our responsibilities for preventing/ending wars? Wars do not start by themselves. Christians may not have started certain current wars but Christians are players in the geopolitics of oil and arms selling. God is generally reluctant - it would appear from experience - to answer prayers the pray-ers could answer for themselves.
- Christians will always look foolish in any attempt to rationalise the mystery of God and God's ways with the complexities and travails of the world. It is true - noting something else he says later in the poem about Muslim faith in the face of Haj pilgrims dying - that faith has a persistence to keep believing against evidence to the contrary. But our faith as Christians is not in a God who never answers certain prayers but in a God who may not answer our prayers today but will answer them tomorrow (i.e. in the end).

Incidentally, for another take on Joe Bennett versus theology, see this post made on Liturgy a couple of months back.


Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

The Vatican reply (which I assume isn't a joke) made me life. If reminds me of Chesterton: the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.


Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, I meant laugh and there's no wine flowing here; yet.


Peter Carrell said...

I guessed you made a mistake Nick.
You must be mortified that you are not infallible :)

Father Ron Smith said...

I think Joe Bennet is a closet Christian, Peter. Did he not once teach at Christ's College, Christchurch? He has infinite wit and some sagacity. Worth reading at any time. I think he was baptized a Roman Catholic. He might quite like Mass at St. Michael's. We have many a 'lapsed Catholic' wordshipping with us. They seem to enjoy the inclusive nature of our congregation - with serious liturgical worship.

Anonymous said...

Psychologist Steven Pinker, the atheist in my village, spent his sabbatical a few years ago writing The Better Angels Of Our Nature, a history that documents, and as far as possible explains, the steady decline in human violence over the past several centuries. An important part of this decline is that warfare is less ubiquitous and less lethal. So if we assume with Joe Bennett that the world we see is a test of the effects of prayer, then it appears that several centuries of dona nobis pacem have been and continue to be answered. In fact, Professor Pinker's book did not make me think that that prayer was an ineffectual waste of time. Rather his systematic unpacking of the concept of violence and his chronicle of how it has changed through time seriously challenged me to think that we should be praying more about that and other manifestations of sin.

Bowman Walton