Tuesday, October 8, 2019

A turning point in Kiwi religious stats

A few weeks ago, in our local media, we read reports of how the 2018 NZ Census revealed that for the first time, respondents stating they affiliated with Christianity were fewer than respondents stating they did not affiliate with Christianity (e.g. here, here and here).

Around that time our local newspaper, The Press, offered a considered Editorial on this news, which is here.

I felt that it was a moment when it is reasonable for a church leader to also make public comment and I wrote and submitted an op-ed to The Press. So far it has not been published so I will publish it here.

This is what I submitted:

"“Has Godzone turned Godless?” is the right question for The Press Editorial (27 September 2019) to ask in response to recently released statistics about religious affiliation in New Zealand. The 2018 Census is the statistical point in our history ‘when “no religion” eclipsed Christianity as the leading religious affiliation’ in our nation.

For most churchgoing Christians this news will not be new. For decades now we have known that there is a huge gulf between the number of citizens willing to declare themselves Christian in the census and actual attendance in churches. Another way of understanding the figures the editorial discusses could be to say that 2018 is the year when we decided to change our conversation from talk of the decline of the number of Christians to talk of the growth in the number of post-Christians. The editorial, after all, rightly notes that we are a nation in which “A sense of being spiritual replaces the idea of being religious,” and that “Philosophers such as John Gray have persuasively argued that even as ‘secular liberals dismiss Christianity as a fairy tale, their values and view of history remain essentially Christian’.”

I think we could develop the last observation. As we respond to climate change, to tragedies such as the shootings on 15 March 2019, and to poverty, to name but a few issues of our day, we see virtues such as compassion, mercy, and grace motivating the vast majority of our nation to act selflessly, to love our neighbours as ourselves. In other words the no longer Christian nation by stated religious affiliation remains still a Christian nation in respect of attitudes and actions.

We are not, however, united as a nation around these values. If compassion and generosity, for instance, were to the forefront of responses to 15 March 2019, we have also been painfully aware that racism continues to be a feature and not a bug in our post-colonial society. That raises the question, What will sustain Christian values in a post-Christian nation? Can a nation with declining allegiance to Christianity be sure to remain admirably Christian through a long post-Christian future? The 2018 census figures offer no guidance as to what kind of nation we might become in the long term as an increasing majority jettison affiliation to Christianity.

Potential good news is that while affiliation to Christianity measured by successive censuses has dropped dramatically, churchgoing remains reasonably steady in New Zealand, at about 9% of the population. Some churches are experiencing decline but others experience increase, especially through migration which brings Christians from Asia and Polynesia to New Zealand. In uncertain religious times ahead of us, we can be sure that churchgoing Christians will continue to promote Christian values and to resist their demise. Among the diverse voices which will seek to shape our future society, a strong Christian voice will speak up for compassion, mercy and grace."

Ron Hay, a Diocese of Christchurch cleric and writer has a probing, percipient blogpost here, also in response to the Press Editorial on the census figures.


Andrei said...

I felt that it was a moment when it is reasonable for a church leader to also make public comment and I wrote and submitted an op-ed to The Press. So far it has not been published so I will publish it here."

You are the Anglican Bishop of Christchurch - no?

The founding fathers of your city were Anglican, in fact they raised an Anglican Cathedral at right at its center

And yet in 2019 the leading local paper will not publish a letter from you as Bishop?

That would seem to mark a major reason why there is a decline in religious adherence - the cultural leaders of this nation have an marked antipathy towards it. If they were doing their job (insted of peddling psuedo religion in the form of Climate Change) they would have sought you out for comment and I bet fifty years ago they would have

PS Now here is a funny thing in the data "Roman Catholics" are enumerated separately from "Catholics" but when combined Catholics now outnumber Anglicans

This press release from the Government titled "Loosing our Religion" shows the antipathy our elites have to religion as well as the stunt they have pulled to lower the apparent number of Catholics.

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Andrei,
We will see whether or not the op-ed is published ... I do not assume an automatic right to be published in this particular era.

I think we live in a both/and world: thre are many issues and climate change is one of them; and arguably is very important if there is to be a future for the human race which is half-decent; and if we have opportunity to do something about it, then that is a moral decision and has justice considerations: in short, living righteously in the 21st century must attend to climate change (and even if the choice is to make no changes to the way we live, to make no change as a matter of conscious moral decision in the light of assessment of the facts).

The Roman Catholic/Catholic distinction in the census is an oddity but I accept there are more self-identifying (Roman) Catholics than Anglicans!

Andrei said...

I think you missed my point Bishop Peter (I guess you'ld feel uncomfortable if I addressed you as your Eminence :) - but I believe your position should be acknowledged and respected)

That Government release was purposefully misleading over the number of Catholics, not that I care particularly but it is not an oddity.= - it is designed to minimize the signficance of Catholic "community" in New Zealand.

Go to your first link TV ONE News STATE OWNED New Zealand's equivalent of Pravda in Soviet Union except Pravda was less deceitful than One News. Now did the reporter reach out to any major Church leader for comment? Of course not - the reached out to Humanist New Zealand president Jolene Phipps and she represents the views far far less New Zealanders than you do or a Catholic Bishop does but is given the platform to have a go at the Church.

Take the second link - first paragraph "A "striking" percentage of New Zealanders now have no religion, and Scientology's Kiwi following has gained just three new members in several years." Scientology? Since when has Scientology had a significant presence in New Zealand? Since never. And their go to "expert" for comment is Peter Lineham of Auckland's Rainbow community Church.

The entire public narrative about Christianity is being controlled by people who hate the Church choose who gets to have a voice and who is to be marginalized and shut out.

The same thing is true for "Climate Change" of course - there is an official narrative and any voice that contradicts that narrative is sidelined.

I beleive Christianity should have a voice in public discourse - those who hate the Church might be crowing that Christianity is in decline but it still represents 40% of the people of this Nation and their representatives should be heard.

Our cause isn't helped by Bishop Drennan blotting his copybook but then again how many had heard of him, let alone heard him speak, before he did.

The most well known "Bishop" in NZ is Brian Tamaki of course and he doesn't do our cause any favours

Craig L said...


re Catholics/Roman Catholics - the "distinction" is due to the religion question not having a tick box for main denominations, so the published info at present is essentially showing what people put down on their form - they haven't "grouped" up the data officially yet. Personally I think it should be grouped up in a release like that, but it wasn't.

Peter- also note that there are probably more Anglicans than were put down due to the same reason - for example I was the only person in my household who put Anglican, the rest put "Christian" as an answer for the Religion question.

cam said...

RE Faith and Belief Survey 2018 my record is stuck it seems.

We've got stats datung back decades. We've asked a sample why. Do we ignore them?

With all respect to the author and blogger you link to at the end, and the fact 'his blog' is exactly that; as you have linked it as percipient there are some points I might challenge.

'Liberal theology', whatever that means, to blame...

As noted previously Blockers and Repellents to 'spiritual but not religious open to dialogue persons' would seem to point to a contrary position. That my limited reading of the author in question doesn't have me arrive at a definiton of his version of liberal does not help. But if his 'liberal' is as broad and ambiguous as my 'conservative' then we will be at crossed purposes. F&B Survey points to my 'consevative' positions as repelling and blocking. Like I say we might have different versions of what those labels mean.

Secondly. Geering/Spong et al. Why refuse them a space to dialogue? Heretics, perhaps, atheists, maybe. What is the fear that would drive them from the public square at the hands of those of us with differening theologies? Counter argument, counter ideas, this is the stuff of big-boy pants. When our new Cathedral is placed back at the centre of the city will we fear sharing the space of dialogue with other faiths and none? Are we threatened the Gospel in word and sacrament will he inefficacious if the space has had a non-beleiver or antogonist in it? Surely God is greater than that, that is his defintion. What can be made unclean?

Thirdly. Failure to embrace contemporary culture and music style? Ummm...kind of unsays the previous paragraph about responding to contemporary context theologically. To rephrase a sentence or two. Who needs quazi artisan coffee, bright lights, drum-kits, and euphoria, with a Gospel of a servant king tacked on the end, when we have Starbucks, Bruce Springsteen, and Dr Phil already?

Spiritual seekers not interested in stepping back in time? My 'fogey' thoughts on liturgy are never far from the surface. I am not alone...


But it easy enough to find allies out there for either pole. Perhaps the poles are part of the issue?

Fourthly. Remembering these are only my opinions. Love and kindness are always needed. It is hard to see in the world around us the triumph of either. Sure they may be there, but God's love poured out in the Spirit is where my hope and faith for the Kingdom directs action. Are we to abandon love and kindness to secularism? This would be the coupe de grace of the church.

Like I said I don't know the author, but drawing up battle lines of orthodoxy...liberal/conservative, High Liturgical/ Contemporary Grassroots etc isn't working. It's not Christ's design. As it turns out I don't like a lot of what passes for contemporary and conservative. But I'll not claim I speak for anyone else let alone the church universal. I'm in church. Why dont we ask those who aren't...

oh wait we did. F&B2018.

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Andrei: TVNZ in a video news item the weekend before last did much better re asking Christian leaders ...

Dear Cam: yes, all good thoughts! I think we need many voices reflecting on the situation we are in and how we might see change in the 21st century ... Ron Hay is prepared to put something in the public sphere ... there is not much else around is there?

Dear Craig: true!

Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter, in the context of this thread, I do wonder if we Christians may sometimes be too concerned about our own backyard and failing to see the significance of St.Paul's mission beyond his own religious group towards the radical inclusion of ALL people (Gentiles?).

Today's 3-minute retreat with the Jesuits reminds us that there are other people in the world besides self-professed Christians, each one of whom is precious to God. Citing the Letter to the Romans 15:15-16, their message for today is this:

"Inspired by the grace of God, Paul was compelled to reach out to the Gentiles to include them in his ministry of preaching the Gospel. This caused controversy among the Jewish Christians, who believed that Gentile converts must first be circumcised. Paul knew then what we know today: God is the God of all people. There are no exceptions. No humanly imposed qualifications. Everyone is saved by Jesus in ways known only to God".

Are we so self-focused on our own community that we sometimes miss the point that God is working in other places and contexts, and through communities other than our own to draw people to God's-Self?
This does not mean that we can ease up on our own evangelising, but it may mean that we need to concentrate on HOW we evangelise. Is it with rules and regulations (circumcision?) or with love and care - regardless of our inclination to judgement?

Glen said...

Hi Ron and +Peter,

Can't agree with you more; we need more decisions based on "love and care-regardless of our inclination to judgement."

We need to be much more careful about rushing into making "judgements" about gender and human sexuality'

Gender is of course only a "social construct" and there is no credible science to refute that claim. A number of "conservatives" push a misplaced idea from the middle ages that there is only two genders- male and female; but us moderns know that such an old fashion attitude to human sexuality can not be sustained.

So,dear Bishop, when I turn up in my dress complete with my wig, red lippy and mascara,saying that I am no Glen but Glenys, and even being prepared to disrobe to prove I am a female wanting wanting "ordination"; do I fit the criteria????

However if "gender" is only a "social construct", as the modernists tell us:there is in reality, no such thing as men and woman and therefore no such thing as same sex blessings.

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Glen,
Life is complicated and some humans are not as simply “male” or “female” as others.
Inevitably judgements are made - I find there are stores my darling wife wants to linger in which won’t supply what I want to wear - and I confess that sometimes I have rushed to judgement in shopping malls!
I personally also find that decisions about who is to be ordained are also complicated and many judgements are required in the process.
One has to be alert to the possibility of selecting people who will be less orthodox than readers of ADU ... :)

Anonymous said...

In Cockaigne, Peter, the results of a similar survey were published in The Cock & Bull, that nation's prestigious newspaper of record. However, their refutation by the leader of the neo-pagan community there has stirred a friendly controversy in the Working Group on Avoidance of Extinction of the CoC's General Synod.

The neo-pagan argued that secularisation could not possibly be depressing participation in the CoC because the rising participation in groups like his own pointed to a contrary trend toward re-enchantment. So too, did the diffusion of several New Age practices and some serious cultivation of South Asian religion among the technological elite. Journalists, he claimed, had an "occupational bias" toward Max Weber's *secularisation hypothesis* that was "leading them to view a phenomenon of our own time through the anachronistic lens of the end of the Weimar Republic."

What then explains the trends of the data? Tribalism. The great postmodern trend that Weber did not quite foresee was the disintegration of modern societies with a shared episteme into rival tribes of the heart and mind. As an Anglican church, the CoC observes a religion of national unity within the greater unity of Christendom. But as such it is not identified with any one of the tribes that have been crystalising in the matrix of Cockaigne's society.

The CoC's participation is dropping as tribesmen find no way into it from their several tribal mindsets. Conversely, neo-pagan participation is rising as the numbers of those seeking the re-enchantment of quotidian life steadily approach some eventual limit.But although *Eliminative materialists* are right that Christendom is fading or gone; they are mistaken in thinking that their militant style of secularism has replaced it or ever will. In fact, there will never be a replacement for it.

Why is the Working Group on Avoidance of Extinction of so many minds on this critique? That I will have to explain on Monday.


Peter Carrell said...

A couple of observations about tribalism from a Down Under perspective (where Anglicanism has been an almost state-religion for NZ but never quite established itself since in our Christendom mode there has always been plenty of participation by society leaders in Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist churches):
1. There is, in my view, a troubling sense (from the perspective that tribal identity as, e.g. Anglicans, matters in the reconfigurations of our age) in which in the post-Christian age, Anglicanism hasn’t quite become tribal across our islands ... as a comment above noted, many people participating in Anglican churches do not identify themselves as “Anglican.”
2. By contrast, there is a sense in which in some regions, “Anglican” is becoming a “cool” tribe to belong to and I see (via my own interactions with such a tribe) that as a strengthening, binding thing in the disintegration of NZ Christendom. There is also an important sense in which many parishes in our islands are forming themselves as tribes (again, with advantage of this age) so that locally, Christians eagerly gather at (say) the Parish of Somewhere, in the church named after St Trevor, but the identity is all about, “Oh, yeah, we belong to St. Trev’s - great people.” But the vicar has to make a few compromises to the words of the agreed NZPB liturgies in order to hold all the former Baptists, Pentecostals, etc who have joined ... and only a few long term Anglicans in the congregation understand the roles of (e.g.) bishop, synod, faculty committee!!

Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter; today being the day when former Anglican priest, Cardinal John Henry Newman, whose life and ministry at the Church Catholic is being recognised in Rome today - in the presence of Pope Francis, Prince William of England and various dignitaries of both Roman and Anglican Churches; is it too much to think that God already has (within the Divine prerogative) secured the preservation and ultimate unity of the Christian Church?

For a former Anglican to be so recognised by the Pope as worthy of Sainthood - is perhaps only parallelled by Rome's belated (upcoming) recognition of its own Mother Suzanne Aubert, for her works of compassion in New Zealand, when we Anglicans in Aotearoa had already accorded her that status in our Anglican Calendar of Saints.

When some of us were at the recent Anglo-Catholic Hui at her final resting place in Wellington recently, it was Wellington's Anglican (bare-footed) Bishop, +Justin Duckworth, who presided at our joint Mass there in the chapel commemorating her upcoming Sainthood.

I see these two 'happenings' as hopeful; of the future of the 'One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church' - a church that continues in the faith and sacramental faithfulness of the Apostolic Tradition.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Peter, for your observations on churchly tribes in NZ that are (2) Anglican and (1) not quite so. You have obliquely made the points that I had expected to make on Monday.

Here up yonder, the old societies of Christendom officially promoted unity. In them, churches taught an authorised package of intuitions, stories, habits and tastes that hung together as a standard lifestyle that included church participation.

Today those same societies officially promote diversity. In them, tribes more openly improvise bricolages of the intuitions, stories, etc that have replaced the one authorised package for their members. These only include participation in religion that subjectively fits the rest of the tribal bricolage. And a religion only fits a bricolage when its elements are configured in a particular way.


For example, nothing about a gun necessarily implies a moral sentiment, let alone a doctrine of God. However, the pleasure of shooting one can draw one into the company of others who also enjoy that, and in places where I have lived, gun-lovers have much more often been in-group altruists than those indifferent or averse to guns. That is, they have distinguished between an in-group to whom they have many reciprocal obligations even against their self-interest, and an out-group to whom they have few or no such obligations. For a mere gadget, a gun has some intriguing effects on the soul and the society of souls. Those effects can inspire and constrain thought.

Now some serious Christians I know like guns. They are clear-minded and well-read, and of course their bricolage holds together many *intuitions, stories, habits and tastes* beyond their shooting. Still, their love of guns does not seem wholly unrelated to several concrete differences between their sentiments about God and my own. This is not to say that their minds are closed, but it is to say that their bricolage is the rough draft of reality that they bring to the thought of others, even when the subject of that thought is God. In the universe of ideas about Christ, there are some that have always been resonant for these folks, others that they will only savor as elders, and still others that they may only grasp after the end of time. Meanwhile, I read Douglas Campbell and they read Douglas Moo.

The great tradition has always transcended such differences. Can denominations?


Jean said...

I found Ron Hay’s highlighting of the only 7 000 people in the census who registered themselves as being atheists. While the number stating they were ‘non-religious’ was significant, one can only ‘imagine’ the difference between being an atheist and non-religious, and non-religious only, is that the latter category believe in something beyond human’s/ourselves even if they don’t associate that spiritual aspect with a religion.

I concur with Andrei’s point on the scarcity of thorough reporting especially in the interpretation of statistics - I muse the majority of Christian’s in our country will be unlikely to accept that nigh on 40% of our population are Christian as identified. Cam there is nought wrong with Geering sharing his views, there is something skewed when his views are so publicised and promoted in contrast to other views. Personally I tried reading one of his books but found it hard to hold my attention past a couple of chapters, a radio interview he did gave a better understanding of his viewpoints. I ascertain Ron Hay’s reference to liberals refers to a growing dis-belief in the resurrection and a number of people’s desire to define Christianity or Christian’s by values rather than the gospel, Jesus died to save us from our sins and reconcile us to God; he lives to intercede for us. And his subsequent question, if we loose the Gospel how different are we to other religious or secular bodies?

I concur with Peter’s point on the value basis of our society and where disengaging from a Christian narrative will lead us as a nation. I concur with his response to BW re Anglican’s in NZ being both tribal and not (many identifying as Christian first then Anglican and/or coming from a different denominational background - although this is common across all kiwi churches I think; one of my Anglican Priests grew up Catholic). I have to say though I haven’t been to an Anglican Church yet though that has altered the prayer book liturgy due to the presence of people from other denominational backgrounds - used a shortened version maybe �� . And Peter, what is a faculty thingy ....? : )

Why the Humanist Society was chosen to comment by media will be because it chooses to see and attack Christianity as privileged in NZ and non-religious people as underprivileged and this has more sensationalist appeal than the views of church leaders. I think Humanist NZ also need to do good research on the facts rather than focusing on the easy prey such as yes again Brian Tamaki and in the commercial world Sanitarium (although not Christian); especially when it comes to be against Christian hospital chaplains, and the tendency to view religion as unrelated to the story of human rights. All non-profit organisations receive tax breaks because they are non-profit, including the humanist society, and the processes in place for verifying that are now extensive. Hospital Chaplains are only partially funded by the government the rest comes from Church bodies and volunteers, and there is no pressure there on people who have no faith or a different one, Chaplains will pass on requests for different pastoral aid - why not ask the opinion of patients and nurses and doctors, why attack a service there to help people, isn’t helping people what humanists want? Notwithstanding the people who will suffer if organisations who operate from a Christian ethos such as the Salvation Army, the City Missions, Presbyterian Support Services, St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Social Housing, Prison Fellowship NZ, etc etc etc etc are deemed privileged and taxed on donations.

Enough from me!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean,
Good thoughts.
A clarification and a correction:
1. “Faculty” concerns the required permission from the Bishop (via a diocesan paper/committee process) for fittings and fixtures in a parish church to be approved. You cannot pop a stained glass window of either the Madonna, or Madonna into your church on the decision of the vestry!
2. Sanitarium: a business associated with the Seventh Day Adventists who are generally thought of us Christian.

Father Ron said...

I find Jean's reference that people seem to believe in 'values' rather than the Gospel intriguing, to say the least. If the Gospel has nothng to do with 'values' then we are indeed all lost.

I must say that all this angst about numbers and surveys is quite beside the point - if one consders that Christians - above all people - are meant to be 'leaven' a word meaning a small, energising, organism that enlivens 'the lump'. This surely means that Christians - in this present world - may only be a small minority of the total population. It is only self-absorbed puritans who rely on numbers for their moral justification. Followers of Jesus always were - and still are - 'outsiders', not the privileged 'Inner Sanctum' ("Fear not, Little Flock, I have given you The Kingdom'). This could mean thar "Small is Beautiful" - when really commmitted to he Gospel.

Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter, I have only just connected with your link to Ron Hay's comments on the reason for Anglican 'decline' in Aotearoa/NZ. Here are a couple of paragraphs that betray Ron's own theological stance, that needs to be realistically challenged:

"The church is also hugely responsible for its own decline. A major factor has been the spread of liberal theology which results in the church having no distinctive message to proclaim and looking simply like humanism with a few ritualistic trappings. Who needs a church which does nothing more than encourage us to be kind and loving when most of us live by that ethic already? When New Zealand’s most widely known theologian is an atheist clearly something major is amiss.

"Sometimes, too, the spread of liberal theology which results in the church having no distinctive message to proclaim and looking simply like humanism with a few ritualistic trappings. Churches which have a creative and contemporary style plus a distinctive message have thrived and grown. Many of these are independent churches or recent denominations that have sprung up and are worshipping in non-traditional buildings."

In the first paragraph, Ron blames the decline on what he is pleased to call: "the spread of liberal theology which results in the church having no distinctive message to proclaim and looking simply like humanism with a few ritualistic trappings". I would have thought that the very liberality of the new theology being brought forward in today's Churches (plural) is the 'distinctive message' that the Church is much broader than the narrow confines of some traditional puritanical self-protectionism. (Jesus was also accused of a too-liberal theology by the religious right of his own day, and look what happened to him!)

Also, we get this howler: "Who needs a church which does nothing more than encourage us to be kind and loving when most of us live by that ethic already?" If this were the case, we might not need the Church at all.

In his very next paragraph, Ron says this: "Churches which have a creative and contemporary style plus a distinctive message have thrived and grown". One can only presume that Ron is talking about the 'charismatic' (with-it) congregations which major on loud music and long evangelical sermons as their staple diet - rather than the orderly liturgical worship centred around Christ in the Eucharist. What Ron hasn't mentioned in his critique is the problem with mega-churches that have grown fat on the 'Prosperity Gospel' theme, which still ignores the plight of the poor and disadvantaged.

If Ron was to visit a Roman Catholic Church, he might well discover that the main worship is centred around the celebration of the Mass - with or without the attraction (mainly for the young) of modern choruses - where the central focus is on Jesus Present in the way that He, Himself provided at the Last Supper. The sermon may also concentrate on matters of deep human concern that Jesus himself sought to address in his own incarnate lifetime. Traditional Anglican Churches that are concerned for the future of the planet and humanity may also focus on the life-giving sacraments as the basis of their worship - the sorts of activity that Churches were originally raised up to provide.

What we all need to remember is that in this present age, the Church Militant may always be small - on pilgrimage, being 'salt and light' rather than 'bouquet garni'.

Jean said...

Thanks for the correction and clarification Peter. I often make the poor mistake of mixing up Seventh Day Adventist Churches and Jehovah Witnesses, and I can now add faculty to my list of acquired administrivia knowledge... I was doing a bit of a rant yesterday ....

Fr Ron, from my perspective values are central to Christianity, however, I hold the view of values emerging out of belief (Ie: values have an origin). My values towards differently-abled people are formed from a belief of all people being equally worthy in the eyes of God - God does not show favouritism. A Buddhist woman I was friends with valued herself as needing to make up, to earn her worth as she believed her suffering Polio as the consequence of wrong she had done in past lives.

Father Ron said...

Jean, Were not you and I considering 'values' as being part of the Christian Gospel? I did not mention Bhuddists. But then, I'm pretty sure the Bhuddist religion has certain values that do co-here with those of Jesus and the tenor of the Gospel.

Jean said...

Yes Fr Ron we were talking about values in reference to the original point I wrote about that you questioned that of “people believing in values rather than the gospel”...

It has been my observation that the use of the word ‘values’ is becoming viewed or perceived as a substitute for belief rather than an outworking of it. People want something to be a moral compass so to speak, principles to live by. For example there is a big push for schools in NZ to teach values, but what is left out is whose values? Everybody believes in something, values are not independent of belief. Due to our history historically our values have stemmed from Christianity but, can that be sustained, can we truly believe we will keep Christian values without people’s willingness to acknowledge Christ?

Anonymous said...

"...can we truly believe we will keep Christian values without people’s willingness to acknowledge Christ?"

No, no, and yes.

No-- Philosophically, the fact/value distinction collapsed in the 1950s and 1960s. Talk about values per se does not mean anything. Be wary of those who insist on talking about them anyway. What are they using these slippery words to evade?

No-- The ethos of Christ is is not a cognitive tool for hovering Nowhere in space to make calculated choices for life on the ground Somewhere. It is a pattern of motivation for those who know in the Lord that they live in the new creation, the presence of the kingdom, the marriage of heaven and earth, etc. Apart from the gospel's heart and cosmos, this ethos cannot make sense.

Yes-- The prophets do not say that the nations will stream to Zion because they have a full understanding of torah. The prophecy, rather, is that they will see the glory of the Lord in the way God's people have arranged concrete, ordinary, human matters, and that this excellence will draw them to the place where fruitful arrangements are the usual ones.

For instance, the godless cannot understand the mysticism of the Song of Songs and Ephesians 5, nor how that informs the Christian idea of mutual submission, but they can see that this idea enables an excellent marriage, and can try to imitate that with the cruder concept of equality.


Again, it was Andrei who cut through this fog with his comment that, because the godless can only see *what* we do-- not *why* we do it-- and what fruit that bears, our only credible testimony to the world about ethics takes the form-- "Any human beings, including ourselves, may be overtaken by X. In the Lord, we have responded to X with Y, which has yielded Z, a fruit that we all rightly desire. You too may wish to respond to X with Y to get Z."


Anonymous said...

A modern and contemporary example shows how a theological idea can beget social capital.

In C18 Britain, punishment was widely thought to cure moral defects, and since insanity was thought to be a moral disorder, even the mentally ill were commonly kept in jails or jail-like confinement.

But the Quakers of that time favoured a universalist construal of St John i 9 in which the Light then coming into the world enlightens every soul. This reading implied that Christ himself was within every prisoner whether guilty or insane. Thereby moved to compassion for those suffering the cruelties of incarceration, the Quakers invented (1) "penitentiaries" or humane prisons where convicts could reflect on their sins, and (2) *moral treatment* of the insane that anticipated much contemporary psychiatry.

In time, secular scientific reformers throughout the English-speaking world adopted the Quaker practices. They did so, not because they agreed with Robert Barclay on the exegesis of St John i 9, but because they saw that these practices worked better than the alternative. Obviously, they did not teach or practice the ethos of universalism.

Did these practices born of faith flourish as methods of science? On one hand, the psychological sciences have done much to deepen our causal understanding of the way they work in persons. In that respect, we understand "moral treatment" better than the old Quakers who invented it. But on the other hand, societies shaped by dreams of heaven/hell or progress triumphant have lacked the compassion for prisoners that the Quakers had from their belief that "that of God is in every one." To the contrary, the conditions in American asylums led courts to close them in the 1970s, and the prisons of our "incarceration nation" are, as Andrei says or implies, a disgrace.

As in many other matters, we cannot gleefully hope that the secular institutions fail. But we must admit that they cannot succeed without the support of a Body that lives by the only ethos in which these interventions make sense.