Saturday, 11 September 2004

columns on Saturday

In The Times Geoffrey Rowell writes about his recent visit to a Russian monastery at Solovki in Belief which resurrects hope from the wreckage of despair. An extract:

At the heart of the Christian understanding of God is the faith that the God who allows human beings made in his image the freedom that is necessary for them to love, is the one who in love enters into the darkness and evil that such freedom also permits. Crucfixion/Resurrection is the deep inner rhythm of the life in Christ which is at the heart of the Church. Solovki which seemed annihilated and crushed by the tortures of the gulag is now a place of resurrection, of hope born out of an incredible despair.

Somewhere this resurrection faith, to which Solovki is a standing witness, touches the terrible darkness and evil of Beslan, a very ordinary Ossetian town which I passed through once on a journey from Georgia. Innocent children, teachers, families broken-hearted and grieving, caught in a web of evil and destruction — the scenes we have witnessed will haunt all of us.

There are no easy answers to this problem of evil, no way to live in the face of it, except the way of that deep conversion which is repentance, a turning away from darkness and evil, to the resurrection life of new creation. The cost and victory of God’s love in the Cross of Christ, which next Tuesday the Church will celebrate on Holy Cross Day, is where we see the God who stands alongside us, and enters into our human suffering, in a gulag in the White Sea or in a school gymnasium in Beslan. “Out of the deep have I called to you, O Lord — Lord, hear my voice!” “If I go down to Hell, you are there also.” “Nothing can separate us from the love of God” for, as the Russian church sings on Easter night: “Christ is risen! and the demons are fallen.”

It is this faith alone which is the source of our hope, and the kindling of our love. Without this there is only the continual rekindling of a cycle of hatred and violence, creating that web or axis of evil which can only divide and destroy. Easter faith and resurrection life point us to that goal of our human life together, which is shalom, the deepest peace and communion, the life of the city of God, which is by grace God’s gift to us.

In the Telegraph Christopher Howse writes about how Getting out of hell isn’t easy.

In the Guardian Rabbi Tony Bayfield comments that Religion is a bloody disgrace which is subtitled The Abrahamic family of faiths is now frighteningly dysfunctional.

Related to this is the article in The Times by Simon Rocker on efforts to encourage a more constructive Muslim-Jewish dialogue in Britain: Fraternity eases the religious and political divide.

In Friday’s Church Times Giles Fraser wrote this:
It’s the Psychology of survival a biblical reason for obsession with sex

I missed this yesterday:
Guardian Martyn Percy on Harvest Festivals A harvest of the spirit

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 11 September 2004 at 9:30 AM GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

Giles Fraser is wrong to scorn ‘1950s family respectability’. We are currently looking for ways to bring down divorce rates, abortion rates, premature sex rates etc.. Why are we looking at all when there are already cultures available to us which successfully kept these figures down? 1950s Britain being a good example.

We have a lot to learn from them, not in all ways, but in some important ways. Let’s examine their culture, and learn ‘how did they do it?’.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 11, 2004 11:57 AM

Without ‘scorning’ ‘1950s family respectability’ there are some obvious reasons why we might not want to return to it. In the first place it was largely a result of oppression — the denial of opportunity in education and the workplace to women, and the denial of opportunity in education and further education to those who failed to pass an exam at 11. The denial of the opportunity for a woman to get out of an abusive marriage.

Perhaps it is not surprising that in such an environment the divorce rate was low. Nor is it surprising that in an environment in which women had virtually no control over their fertility (apart from back-street abortions) that women (and their parents) were much more concerned about ensuring that sexual activity was confined to a marriage, preferably one in which the husband could provide for his family.

Much as some of us might wish that the morality that derives from that environment was still in existence — and much as some of us might choose to live lives of self-discipline because we are able to do so (both financially and physically) and because we believe that it is good for our families, ourselves, and for the wider society — it is hard to see that forcing people to do this, in the way that they had to do so right up uintil the recent past is necesarily a good thing.

Rather society has to learn the limits of activity and do things because it recognises that it is a good thing to do.

Posted by: Simon Kershaw at September 11, 2004 03:15 PM

Don’t you think that if you have low expectations of people, they will amply fulfil them? Whereas if you have high expectations, the result will be better.

In issues like divorce and abortion, if you give an inch, many people will take a mile - and indeed that is just what they have done.

Yet in other areas of life, e.g. paying a mortgage, paying schoolfees, people are prepared to go through incredible self-sacrifice, because there is social expectation and other motivation to do so.

That’s why I think it comes down to social expectation & family expectation. Those parents and teachers who want the best for their children invariably have high expectations. Those who know great things are expected of them flourish. Those who cannot be convinced that anyone loves them or is investing in them vent their wrath in other ways.

In most of the British-Asian cultures known to me, there are high expectations of children, yet the children grow up balanced, pleasant and well-motivated. The divorce and abortion rates are very low. Can anyone not believe that this is a better way than the relative free for all we now have, which has many victims?

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 11, 2004 04:16 PM

“Don’t you think that if you have low expectations of people, they will amply fulfil them? Whereas if you have high expectations, the result will be better.

In issues like divorce and abortion, if you give an inch, many people will take a mile - and indeed that is just what they have done.”


What I’m hearing here, is that “many people” don’t deserve freedom (to control their marital status, to control their bodies: usually women are the presumptive “unworthy” in either case). Such are your low expectations of them, Dr. Shell.

What Mr. Kershaw rightly recognizes, is that the stability of the 1950s (and quite likely the “balanced, pleasant and well-motivated” society of your British-Asian cultures, though I can’t say anymore without knowing the specifics) is the stability of repression and patriarchy (forgive my redundance!). Place a significant enough social stigma (if not the threat of outright violence, as in many patriarchal cultures) on disruptions like divorce (and, of course, patriarchy’s control of women’s bodies), and you can create a cheerful illusion of balance and good motivations. You just have to ignore a man beating his wife now and then, or a groom’s family extorting (sometimes violently) a bride’s, or (speaking of abortion) widespread female fetus/infanticide.

Post-modern Western society has its faults, no doubt about it. But they are not going to be solved by regressing to some “ignorance is bliss” (female former, male latter) pre-modern state. Only an egalitarian society can truly be said to have “high expectations”: for what is lower than to write half of humanity off?

Dr. Shell, let me be frank: you try my patience. Jesus loves you, Jesus died for you, Jesus is the Light of the World: the Real World, not the Bizarro-World from which you keep sending us missives. Humankind “fell from the Garden” a long time ago: not some wonderful 1950s “paradise” where women knew their place in the kitchen (and on their backs), and queers their place in the closet (if they weren’t to become literal faggots). What you, in your straight, male (and, I’m guessing, white) privilege experience as society’s disintegration, many more of us experience as Christ’s Liberation.

Too many of our current problems are caused by our failing to follow the Liberating Christ faithfully enough: we still cling too much to the world’s definitions of power and status (our “high expectations” are too often merely of Making Big Bucks—-or Euros. Or even Pounds. {g}).

Yes, our ancestors have left us a rich heritage in many areas (across every culture). But we are not to build booths upon them (or look back to Egypt, or bury our fathers: the Bible is full of these “Full Steam Ahead!” metaphors). Shall we follow Christ into the Kingdom, or settle for 1950s domesticity? The train’s pulling out of the station . . .

Posted by: J. Collins Fisher at September 12, 2004 06:50 AM

My analysis is that it’s a false either/or to say that the choice is between either 1950s culture and modern-day culture. There are plenty of other options. I was not calling for a wholesale return to the 1950s - but equally who can claim that we are now better than them in every possible respect? You and everyone else would grant that they will have been better than us in some respects and worse in others.

There can’t be anything controversial about wanting a drop in abortions or divorces, since no-one could deny that these both increase the sum of human unhappiness.

Nor could there be anything controversial about looking to societies who have successfully achieved these lower figures to see how they did it.

Is modern America, which has a divorce rate unparallelled anywhere in history, really leading the world? It’s common sense to say that it is not leading the world in this particular matter, but trailing the world, as the statistics make reasonably clear.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 12, 2004 10:50 AM

Dr. Fisher, I see you’ve been trying to fight the good fight here this weekend. I’ve been on a long weekend with my wife and it’s been blissful to be away from the “…simple repetition, ad nauseum, of contested arguments (or cite Biblical citations I can and have read plenty of times for myself).” as you posted in another thread below.

Simon, This is your blog and far be it from me to tell you what to do with it. However, it seems that the “orthodox” posters and their persistent trolling are really ruining the comment threads on “Thinking Anglicans” lately. I’m just going to knock off reading the comment threads for now, but you might consider turning off commenting for a bit until some of these folks find other places to satisfy their drives to be the Internet versions of street preachers while using your site as a virtual soapbox. And yes, this advise is free and worth every cent you paid for it ;)

Posted by: David Huff at September 13, 2004 12:37 AM

I think I can guess what Dr Shell will say to that, so let me say it for him:

“If we are lovers of truth, we will surely want to continue the discussion to the end. If someone wishes to stop a discussion, it is often a sign that he is afraid of where the truth may lead him.”


Have I mentioned my own definition of a troll? A troll is someone who can’t resist having the last word in every conversation.

Posted by: Andrew Conway at September 13, 2004 09:17 AM

Not true! Not true! ;-)

[And it’s Mr., Ms., Dr., or just plain “JC” to you, Andrew luv. I may be gender-ambiguous—-and frickin’ immature (ask Dr. Shell!)—-but I tain’t no ingenue: earned my gray hair the hard way.]

Posted by: J. Collins Fisher at September 14, 2004 02:08 AM

‘If we are lovers of truth, surely we will wish to continue the discussion to the very end’.
-That’s true almost by definition. No-one could disagree.

‘If someone wishes to stop a discussion, often it is a sign that he is afraid of where the truth may lead him.’
-I’ve also found this to be true, and unsurprising. But I expect there are other reasons for ending discussions, tho’ it does seem odd to end them (let alone to wish to end them) before conclusions have been reached.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 18, 2004 01:29 PM
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