Saturday, 12 December 2015

The first thing Scripture says about joy

"The first thing Scripture says about joy can be summed up in the beginning of the hymn Jesu meine Freude [Jesus, my joy][1]. This is the keynote of the biblical proclamation of the birth of Christ, of the advent of the kingdom of God in the fellowship of Jesus with his disciples, of his resurrection and ascension. (Lk 2:10; Mk 2:19; Lk 24:41,52; Joh 20:20). God wants to make us glad through Jesus Christ. He does not want to depress us or shoulder us with problems, he does not want to present us with insoluble problems, but he wants us to rejoice in Jesus Christ and his rule...This belongs to the simple things which we like to forget as we are engrossed in the difficult things, namely that we learn to be chuffed about Jesus like children. Is it not the worst case of ingratitude and obduracy of heart, if the one who came for our salvation, for deliverance, now becomes a burden to us? If our joy in Christ dwindles away, so does our love for him. Without joy in the Son of God who became man and rose from the dead we get into grumbling, dissent and sadness. But how do we find such joy? Only through the firm belief: Jesus lives! If it is really true that Jesus lives, that he testifies himself to us, guides and helps us, how can we be other than glad like the disciples when they saw him on Easter Day? (Joh 20:20)

Those who have found Christ walk their way with joy, in their joy they go and sell all that they have and buy the precious pearl (Mt 13:44 [cf. v.46]). Those who do not walk the way of Jesus become sorrowful like the rich young man (Mt 19:22). Those who commit themselves entirely to the way of Jesus will become glad in it. Such joy proves itself also in the suffering which this way can bring for us (Mt 5:12; 1. Pet 4:13ff; 2. Cor 6, 10; Phil 2:17; Col 1:24; Heb 10:24 et al.). The basis of all such joy is the nearness of Jesus (Phil 4:4). Ach, mein Herr Jesu, dein Nahesein... [My dear Lord Jesus, your closeness...][2]. At the same time there is the confidence that it is exactly in this way that the work of Jesus Christ on earth is fulfilled and completed (2 Tim 2:10). Thus the things that should bring us affliction and annihilation, by God’s wonderful grace, only strengthen our joy. If we remain in the proper joy, then it is really true: ‘No one will take your joy from you’ (Joh 16:22) because this joy will last into eternity (1 Pet 1:8).

The church is a fellowship of joy. All rejoice in the special grace received by one (1 Cor 12:26). John does not know a higher joy that seeing his children walk in the truth  (2 Joh 1:4; 3 Joh 1:4; cf 1. Cor 13:6). Paul invites his church to participate in the joy of his suffering for Jesus Christ (Phil 2:17). Jesus calls for joy with him over every sinner who repents. The whole of Lk 15 is governed by this call (15:6,9,23,32; cf 2 Cor 7:9f). Christians are a daily source of joy for one another (1 Thess 2:19; Phil 4:1). Those who have their eyes open for their fellow Christians can never lack a reason to be joyful. Isn’t it astonishing to know that not only Jesus is our joy but also our Christian brother or sister? Do we not have reason enough today to be filled with this joy?"

[1] A hymn written by Johann Franck in 1650.
[2] The opening lines of a hymn written by Christian Gregor in 1767 which continues brings great peace into our hearts / and the sight of your grace makes us so blessed / that body and soul rejoice in it / and become grateful.

Friday, 11 December 2015

How Jesus Sends People Away

A Canaanite woman once came to Jesus and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 

But he did not answer her at all, we are told in the Gospel according to Matthew.

When he does answer her, his words seem harsh: ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’

There is a lesson here about how we are to come to Jesus on which I have heard sermons and maybe preached myself. But I only noticed yesterday something about what intervened.

The disciples were rather bothered about the woman's shouting and urge Jesus to send her away to which he responds ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’

What sort of answer is this? ‘You're quite right. This pagan dog is a real nuisance. Let's send her on her way so that we can keep our focus on the lost sheep of Israel.’ No, that's not what Jesus said.

It seems that the disciples and Jesus knew of only one possibility of sending the woman away - by dealing with her request. Jesus does not even contemplate the possibility of shooing off the woman empty-handed. This is why he speaks of his mission.

There is an amazing gracious truth hiding in these harsh words. We cannot approach Jesus as if we had any right to have our wishes and desires fulfilled by him but neither need we fear that he will send us away entirely empty-handed.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Am Morgen der Trauerfeier und Beerdigung

Jetzt brechen wir auf und machen uns auf die Reise dieses Tages.

Wir bitten um die Gegenwart Christi,

der diesen Weg vor uns gegangen ist.


Herr Jesus, Du hast uns den Weg zum Vater gezeigt:

Herr, erbarme dich.

Herr, erbarme dich.


Herr Jesus, Dein Wort ist ein Licht auf unserem Weg:

Christus, erbarme dich.

Christus, erbarme dich.


Herr Jesus, Du bist der gute Hirte, leite uns zum ewigen Leben:

Herr, erbarme dich.

Herr, erbarme dich.


Die Liebestreue des Herrn hört niemals auf,

seine Barmherzigkeit kommt nie zu Ende.

Neu ist sie an jedem Morgen;

groß ist deine Treue.

Der HERR ist mein Teil, spricht meine Seele;

darum will ich auf ihn hoffen.

Denn der HERR ist freundlich dem, der auf ihn harrt,

und dem Menschen, der nach ihm fragt.

Gut ist es, schweigend zu harren auf die Hilfe des Herrn...

Denn der HERR verstößt nicht ewig;

sondern er betrübt wohl und erbarmt sich wieder nach seiner großen Güte.

Denn nicht von Herzen plagt und betrübt er die Menschen.


Himmlischer Vater,

Du hast uns nicht für Dunkelheit und Tod erschaffen,

sondern zum ewigen Leben mit Dir.

Ohne Dich haben wir nichts, auf das wir hoffen können;

mit Dir haben wir nichts zu fürchten.

Sprich zu uns jetzt Deine Worte des ewigen Lebens.

Hebe uns aus Sorge und Schuld

zum Licht und Frieden Deiner Gegenwart,

und halte uns die Herrlichkeit Deiner Liebe vor Augen,

durch Jesus Christus unseren Herrn.



On the Morning of the Funeral, aus Common Worship: Pastoral Services (2011)




Saturday, 28 November 2015

Please Don't Say These Things at my Funeral

I am with Chad Bird. So, please don’t say at my funeral…

1. He was a good man. I don't believe that humanity divides into good and bad people. Good and bad run right through each one of us. In fact, given the good upbringing and many privileges I have enjoyed, you'd be appalled how much bad there still is, if only you knew.

2. Thomas this...Thomas that..."If anyone’s name comes up over and over, let it be the name that is above every name—Jesus. He is the one who has conquered death. He is the one in whose arms I will have died. He is the one, the only one, who gives hope to the bereaved. Let me decrease that Christ may increase."

3. God now has another angel. My death and resurrection are not going to make me less human. "In fact, once I am resurrected on the last day, I will be more human than ever before," free from the sin that has distorted my humanity.

4. We are not here to mourn Thomas' death, but to celebrate his life. If you think celebrating my life will do you good, go ahead, but not at the expense of a proper funeral. I am in agreement with Chad's earlier post on the tragic death of the funeral.

5. Thomas would not want us to weep.
"There is a time for giving life and a time for dying...a time for weeping and a time for laughing..." (Ecclesiastes 3). That's all right. "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). If you don't feel like weeping, that's all right too.

6. What’s in that coffin is just the shell of Thomas. "What’s in that coffin is the body that was fearfully and wonderfully made ... in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-14). What’s in that coffin is the body that Jesus baptized into His own body ... What’s in that coffin is the body that ate the saving body of Jesus, and drank His forgiving blood in the Supper, that I might consume the medicine of immortality." I don't know how this body will relate to my new embodied self but I trust the promise that the physical body has a future. Don't diss it.

"I want the beginning of my funeral to be focused on Jesus, as well as the middle, as well as the end, as well as every point in between. I care about those who will attend. Let them hear the good news, especially in the context of this sobering reminder of mortality, that neither death, nor life, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord, for He is the resurrection and the life."

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

God and Pain

If I were God, I'd end all the Pain, says John Dickson in a book whose subtitle is Struggling with Evil, Suffering and Faith (Matthias Media 2001, rev. ed. 2002).

John Dickson loves to doubt (question) everything. This is how he introduces himself. "So, whatever else this book represents, at its heart it is a tribute to doubt."

The last one standing: John Dickson doesn't propose to settle the questions raised. He compares the perspective found in the Bible with alternative perspectives on suffering and suggests that the biblical is the most intriguing and beautiful one on offer.

The alternatives. In Hinduism suffering is a question of balance. Present suffering is pay-back for past evil, quite possibly evil committed in a previous life. It's intellectually satisfying. Everyone gets what they deserve until one's individual karma allows one to escape physical existence altogether and attain nirvana. Emotionally or existentially it is maybe less satisfying.

Buddhism proposes that suffering is an illusion. "Buddha came to believe that our experience of suffering was intimately related to our desire or affection for the things of the world." Remove the desire (e.g., for good health, for a better life) and the suffering (e.g., from bad health or poverty) is gone. "Philosophically, the Buddha's insight is profound. There is little question that our experience of suffering is related to desire. If I desire a full stomach, starvation will feel like suffering; if I desire human intimacy, being widowed will appear to be a tragedy; if I desire wealth, bankruptcy will look like a misfortune, and so on. Remove these desires, and all such feelings dissipate." But can I live this way?

Islamic thought puts emphasis on all events in history, including all suffering, as absolutely determined by the will of God for reasons unknowable, and indeed unquestionable, by us. For the Muslim "the cause of suffering is therefore not to be found in any factor external to God, such as the doctrine of karma in Hinduism or philosophizing about 'desire' in Buddhism, but in the personal activity of the Sovereign God. Suffering thus becomes an opportunity for the faithful to 'submit' (true to the meaning of Muslim) to Allah's indisputable will, and to reaffirm the central creed that Allah is the 'Cause of all causes'."

Within Atheism suffering is natural, "the unhappy by-product of a universe driven only by the random intersection of time and space. Everything that happens in the world - whether good or bad - happens without any design and without any thought of us at all." [The very use of value judgements like "good" or "bad" may be problematic in this view.] Can anyone really live consistently believing this?

Invitation to doubt. "One of the distinguishing things about the Good Book's approach is that it stops short of providing a single, all-governing answer such as that found in Hinduism ('balance') or in Atheism ('natural')." Especially in the Psalms, "the God of the Bible bids us to approach him with our doubts, our fears and our frustrations." It's personal engagement that matters.

The justice of God. A world without pain and suffering could have been created in the form of a Truman Show, God playing dolls-house with the world. "Much of the suffering we experience in the world is a direct result of [our] God-given independence being turned to ill effect, being turned into autonomy. And so we are able to say No to the ways of the Maker: No to justice and peace; No to marital faithfulness; No to sharing resources with the poor; No to equal rights for all; No to daily human kindness." But God pledges justice in a Day of Judgement at the end of history.

The renewal of all things. In the biblical story the disorder of nature is related to human sin, as we are intimately connected with our world and God pledges to renew "the creation damaged by our displacement of God" - the resurrection of Christ demonstrates that God means to renew the physical world.

The wounds of God. Unlike the Aristotelian and Islamic 'Unmoved-Mover' the God presented in the Bible is a 'Deeply-Moved-Mover' who has himself wounds." The God who is in control of all things, who acts behind the scenes in all things, is also the God who willingly suffers. He is the one I can shout at, cry with and find comfort in. His heart, if not all his ways, is clear to me because on the cross he wore it on his sleeve for all to see."

"Christ's death is more than an identification with us. The Bible makes clear it is a substitution for us." From it springs the invitation to mercy through which I can experience the forgiveness of sins now and the renewal of all things then.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Aquinas on Happiness

Chapter 4 of Ellen T. Charry’s God and the Art of Happiness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010) on Saint Thomas Aquinas includes a review of Aristotle’s teaching on happiness. “Happiness is not a matter of acquiring something outside us, but of adopting a particular way of life….Happiness is being an excellent person, and that is demanding; learning to “do” one’s life excellently takes time…The path to happiness sis unflinchingly social, not private, because it takes place in the context of interpersonal and public relationships and behaviors. One must know what behaviors to cultivate, and this knowledge comes from a good upbringing that inculcates moral discipline and good priorities, as well as from a keen intellect that practices good judgment.”

“Thomas is especially interested in knowing God, and, though he does not always call it happiness, life’s goal is to know God perfectly…Perfect knowledge of God is perfect happiness for Aquinas.”

“Aquinas is unique among theologians in that mixed in with his eschatological vision is a temporal construal of happiness that is experiential. He is the first Christian theologian to embrace temporal flourishing in this life by enjoying material goods – though it is a minor theme, one inspired by Aristotle.”

“Happiness…is knowledge and not physical well-being. It is an intellectual activity that is completed by delight in loving what we desire….Ultimate happiness is a spiritual activity: it is seeking our ultimate good, which is, of course, God. Complete happiness is knowing God utterly…Knowing God is not information about God but an intimacy with divinity itself (the divine mind, essence, or nature) that satisfies the soul’s deepest desire; it is simultaneously intellectual and emotional joy, in which love infuses knowledge.”

“Since happiness is knowing the divine mind, we are hamstrung using our mind alone because our little minds cannot grasp the divine mind.” “By becoming spiritually adept, one becomes emotionally secure and less needful of external sources of gratification. This benefit is lost on those who miss the signs of God in this world that would enable them to understand the true source of goodness.”

“Divine illumination is the foundation of Aquinas’s doctrine of happiness: God is both the means and the object of human happiness.”

All things are purposeful and God uses secondary means to make creatures flourish in fulfillment of their God-given purpose. “Acting on things for their good advances their purpose, and as this happens we are also improving: enhancing the flourishing of others enhances our own. This is enjoying ourselves and being happy in this life.”

“Virtue is necessary but not sufficient for temporal happiness. This is a deep break with Christian Stoicism and Neo-Platonism. Even if it is an intellectual pleasure, enjoyment is embodied and the body contributes to happiness (art. 5). Happiness needs a healthy body because poor health can impede virtue and thus impede the correct orientation or will toward selecting appropriate desires. At the same time, ‘happiness of soul overflows into body which drinks of the fullness of the soul’ (art. 5). Physical and spiritual pleasures work together because soul and body are an indivisible unity.”

“Thomas made two contributions to the developments of the Christian doctrine of happiness. First, he integrated Augustine’s notion of happiness residing in the enjoyment of God with divine illuminations, the beatific vision, and immortal life. These were all Augustinian themes, but the bishop did not unify them. Aquinas incorporated Aristotles’ valorizing of personal well-being into Augustinian theology to create a genuine if limited Christian doctrine of terrestrial happiness while sustaining central interest in eschatological happiness.
        His second contribution is that he recognized that terrestrial happiness prepares one for eternal bliss. Augustine did not emphasize the continuity between material and spiritual happiness, which Aquinas appreciated more. For his part, Boethius tried to wean us from relying on good fortune and the ability to accumulate wealth, power, fame, and reputation; Aquinas, by contrast, valued mundane happiness because he saw continuity between temporal and eternal bliss: temporal happiness is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, and enables us to anticipate and yearn for eschatological fulfillment even more. To the degree that achieving this goal requires good attitudes, a well-disposed mind and body, and friends, divine grace enables us to be happy in this life. Thomas viewed the great river of time and space that we occupy as the arena in which the desire to celebrate our life in the goodness of God’s creation, however imperfectly, enables us to develop knowledge of God and hope for eternal bliss.”

“Illumination is the gift of loving and wanting to know God utterly; it gives unifying purpose to life.”

Boethius on Happiness

The consolation genre of ancient literature was not designed to comfort but to exhort readers to get on with life rather than wallow in self-pity. The Consolation of Philosophy by Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (c. 482-c. 525) is more confrontational than other works of that genre and “unusual in that the author exhorts himself” as Boethius is in prison facing execution for a political offense he did not commit. Most commentators agree that “it is a Neo-Platonic exhortation…to embrace God as the means to overcome sentimental self-pity.” Its Christian character is rather less obvious.

Boethius suggests that “perhaps only ill fortune will capture our attention so that we can focus on the source of true happiness. Shifting reliance from fortune to God is the wake-up call of the work.”
“Ill fortune is a blessing in disguise. In addition to helping us see ourselves more clearly, it enables us better to distinguish true from false sources of happiness by stripping us of pride in our cleverness and virtue.”

“True happiness is the realization that only one “substance” is self-sufficient, powerful, honorable, famous, and even pleasurable. The good that people seek piecemeal in so many different temporal goods is, it turns out, one simple “substance”: goodness itself. Those who seek happiness in wealth, office, reputation, and bodily pleasure are grasping at pieces of goodness, for wanting them is to desire the good. Seeking the good in objects rather than activities is misplaced. Happiness can never be attained in this way because it is not to be had when enjoying any of these goods. The seeker who looks there confuses the pleasure these objects bring with genuine happiness that is enjoying goodness itself even when that brings no external reward and even misfortune.”

“The issue is that we do not know what true happiness is because we do not know what is truly worth wanting.” Material pleasure is insufficient, we must acquire divinity. “That is, when we realize that we partake of the ordered beauty and goodness that is God, enjoying that goodness becomes the basis on which we enjoy the world and find the power, riches, and wealth that we were looking for in their material expressions.”

In suffering we must not think of ourselves as “victims of fate” but “beneficiaries of divine providence.” “The suffering of the just enables us to discover our strengths and to exercise virtue. They give others examples to follow, and unjust death brings posthumous renown.”

“Happiness is commonly thought of experientially; Boethius rejects that notion because experience is unreliable…Happiness is an outlook arising from a staunch commitment to divine omnipotence and goodness in the face of contradictory experience…Believing that one’s misfortunes are part of a larger invisible divine plan for the well-ordered functioning of the cosmos should enable the sufferer to be content that his suffering is not pointless or that it damages the divine reputation…Ultimately, happiness is participating in divine intelligence wherein all makes sense.”

Notes from Ellen T. Charry, God and the Art of Happiness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010) who comments further “This is a hard teaching. Happiness is enjoying being part of the divine plan. While there is nothing in Boethius’s presentation that departs from Christian theism…the redemptive dimension of Christian theology that gives hope is missing. His notion of happiness is tinged with despair about the need to be ever striving for intellectual perfection and vigilant against feels of dejection, anger, and defeat. Boethius offers only the power of unremitting strength, unqualified by relaxed joy…Because Augustine compassionately gave credence to suffering, he could not take the hard line that Boethius did. Augustine’s future eschatology offers hope of reward while counseling endurance now. Boethius offers a realized eschatology, at the expense of succor for the suffering in this life. That being said, Boethius does believe he is succoring sufferers, only not in the way they might hope. Succor is the strength not to be brought low by experience but to rise above it and to exercise one’s dignity by doing so.”

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Augustine on Happiness

From Ellen T. Charry, God and the Art of Happiness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010)

“To know and possess God is to enjoy oneself. This is the most important theme of Augustine’s great corpus. Enjoyment of God is the light of life. Holding fast to it is the challenge…Happiness is perfectly knowing and enjoying God who leads us into truth and connects us with himself. We can hasten towards this culmination through faith, hope, and love…but cannot finally arrive there in this life.”

“Happiness is knowing, loving, and enjoying God securely. For that, one must seek and find God, and this seeking proceeds by cultivating wisdom. It is the highest end of human life. Wisdom requires virtue but is not itself virtue, for wisdom resides in God revealed in Christ.”

“This very early work [De Beata Vita] has accomplished the following: all people want to be happy, and God has made this possible; humans are defined as both body and soul, implying (against the Stoics and Plotinus) that the well-being of the body is important. Further, human life is purposeful: to become wise and filled by enjoying God as much as possible in this life is to achieve our purpose, knowing that here we will never be completely safe from suffering and distress. Only those who know or have God to the fullest experience this spiritual joy. Yet, as well as we may know, love, and enjoy God in this life, happiness will never be complete until fulfilled in the eschaton. While being filled with the wisdom of God surfaces here early on as central to Augustine’s teaching on happiness, it will eventually be eclipsed by love.”

“Happiness characterizes God-lovers, and loving well is the key to happiness…We flourish when we enjoy our chief good, the end for which we are made – enjoyment of God.”

“Happiness is high-quality loving by means of which one extracts the best that life has to offer…To be good is to love in a manner consistent with one’s God-given nature. Living wisely is living virtuously – that is, in obedience to the self God created us to be.”

From a summary of Sermon 368 (“Whoever loves his soul will lose it”): “What does this mean? Some loves are harmful while others are helpful; when we pursue helpful ones and let them push out harmful ones, better self-love will prevail. Therefore, one way to grasp the healing of the soul is to see it as learning to love oneself well. This is not in any way individualistic, antisocial, or prideful, because, for Augustine, self-love exists always in the context of comprehensive Christian identity – in relationship with God and others.”

“[The] instability of love is the greatest impediment to the training of love unto salvation. Vanity and greed are distorted forms of love that create psychological and spiritual dysfunction. Augustine realizes that the specific form this dysfunction takes depends on individual differences, but the conflicted self is a universal human experience essential to Augustine’s theological psychology. Finally, he argues, divine grace is the only way that the divided soul can truly be healed. However, our ultimate reliance on God for this healing does not absolve us of the responsibility to be guided and to guide others in loving as best we can here and now.”

“People say they want to be happy; they say that they want the truth and do not want to be deceived by falsehood. But they are unwilling to be convicted by the truth when it criticizes their distorted love…people love truth only when it confirms and supports them.” Augustine “understands the power of defense mechanisms that entrench us in patterns of thought and behavior and that resist insight and change.”

“The journey into God is a healing journey into one’s soul, for each step deeper into God heals and strengthens love. In this journey, love of material goods loses its power as the soul is perfected in the love of God which is perfect self-love.” (Cf. O’Donovan on self-love in Augustine)

“Augustine concludes that only those who have everything they want – and want nothing wrongly – can be happy…The best thing to want in this life is a will to love well and desire good things in proportion to their goodness, the getting of which will make the seeker happy as possible for as long as possible. A good will that aspires to God can bring a person near to complete happiness, but Augustine holds tenaciously to the view that life is so challenging that true happiness eludes us. Temporal happiness, then, is wanting and having what is good – righteous love of self, neighbor, material things, and al these in God – in proportion to their goodness. This requires spiritual training.”

“The implicit teaching on happiness in The Trinity is soteriological. Salvation is the healing of the soul through the slow and painful recovery of the shattered and lost image of God that we are intrinsically by the grace of creation.” “Augustine’s therapeutic soteriology is the primary handhold for the current effort to reclaim a Christian doctrine of happiness.”

Augustine’s “doctrine of happiness remains hopeful that we can have and enjoy what we seek and be healed by that enjoyment. It is cautious in that it discourages high expectations of persistent flourishing as life proceeds. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Augustine’s doctrine of happiness is that it heals the soul. It is a christologically grounded eschatological theory of happiness that is salvific. To be healed is to be happy. If we cannot be happy in this life, it is because we cannot be fully healed here – not that we cannot be healed here at all. The soul’s rest in God is its healing…happiness is not just that we enjoy seeking God but that his goodness, wisdom, and beauty actually do heal us to the extent that we know, love, and enjoy him.”

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Happiness: The Western Philosophical Heritage

From Ellen T. Charry, God and the Art of Happiness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010)

“Although the differences among them are significant, all the various ancient philosophical pathways with which Christianity competed affirmed that life ought to be lived purposefully. One should strive for the highest good that life offers: eudaemonia (variously translated as “well-being,” “flourishing,” or ”happiness”). The schools disagreed about the content of what a flourishing life looks like and about how to achieve it, but they agreed that a principled life is best. A casual or haphazard life is not likely to be a successful or enjoyable as a well-crafted one. Ancient philosophies of happiness are teleological: life reaches towards an achievable goal…In contract to happiness as sustained external pleasure, the ancients agreed that happiness is enjoying oneself in living morally and productively, and it is an external judgment on how one is faring at life. It is a judgment on how one orders one’s life as a whole, and it is the enjoyment of that life’s positive results. Both the enjoyment and the judgment are inspired by a pattern that identifies a life that is going well enough to be called a fine life – we might even say, a beautiful life. Overall, well-being comes from using oneself consistently, intentionally, and effectively, and hence it is a moral undertaking. Flourishing reflects the moral quality of one’s ultimate purpose or organizing principle.”

“Here is a taste of what Augustine plundered from these sources. He agreed with the Epicureans that a flourishing life must be a judgment about the whole of a life, both psychological and physical. Obversely, he thought that complete well-being is never assured: against the Epicurean denial of divine providence and judgment he asserted a strongly eschatological teaching that happiness is not completely realizable given the vicissitudes of life. He agreed with the Stoics that a happy life is a consistently virtuous one, but he disapproved of their disdain for the emotions and, like the Epicureans, disagreed that material well-being is not valuable as a good in its own right, even if it is not the highest good. From Plotinus he took the idea that happiness is a form of self-realization: realizing that our true identity lies in God and our likeness to God. Of course, Augustine meant the God of Israel, not of Plato. Again, he disagreed with Plotinus that care of the body is irrelevant to that realization, though he did not spell out how physical and spiritual well-being hold together.”

A fuller summary of Augustine's debt to the classical heritage is on pages 22-24.

God and the Art of Happiness

Ellen T. Charry writes that her God and the Art of Happiness “is a sequel to By the Renewing of YourMinds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine, where I argued that classical doctrinal theology is pastorally motivated and that its end is human flourishing. At the outset of that book I note that “all the thinkers to be examined here held that knowing and loving God is the mechanism of choice for forming excellent character and promoting genuine happiness.” Having argued there for the pastoral function of Christian doctrine, here I review the history of the theological conversation about happiness and offer a constructive proposal for reopening it now.”

“Western Christian theology is skittish about temporal happiness, not because the tradition has not engaged the subject but because happiness has been primarily construed in terms of eschatology...This study addresses the general concern for theology’s emphasis on future eschatology at the expense of temporal happiness by proposing that happiness is a realizing eschatology with salvation centered in sanctification. Salvation is growing into the wisdom of divine love and enjoying oneself in the process.”

“Untethered from God, there is little call to locate happiness in a spiritual-moral framework. Christian doctrine has not adequately linked piety to pleasure, thus leaving a theological gap between goodness and happiness. Happiness unlinked from goodness and linked to excitement instead has moved in to fill the space. My hope in reopening the theological discussion is to reconnect pleasure to goodness so that happiness may regain its soteriological calling, not only for Christians who may have ceded the term to the marketplace but also for those who seek spiritual flourishing. This treatment of happiness agrees with most classical ones that, while all want to be happy, many are looking in the wrong place. While all seek happiness, this offering carries a special burden for those traumatized by life’s adversities – that they may be comforted and encouraged.”

Here is Scott McKnight's book notice.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Luther's Preface to the Quran

Pastor James McConnell delivered a sermon at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast on 18th May 2014, in which he denounced Islam in language that seems, at least as first, reminiscent of the language of, e.g., the homily on the time and place of prayer in the second book of homilies. These old sermons and this new sermon have in common that they seek to commend the worship of the one true God by clearly refuting the error of Islam. But there are differences. Martin Luther was as clear as anyone on distinguishing between the Allah to which the Quran testifies and the true and living God we know from the Bible. (See also my earlier post on Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?) But he was not promoting ignorance. Indeed, he wrote a preface to a printed edition of the Quran:
"May there be none so infirm in the church of God that they do not have this conviction fixed in their mind, that, as certain as they know that they are alive as long as their senses and bodily motor functions are still vital, as certain as they know that it is day, as long as they see the sun passing above the earth in the middle of the sky, so certain should they be that it is patently impossible that any religion or doctrine about the worship or invocation of God be true that utterly rejects the prophetic and apostolic writings….
Muhammad acknowledges, however, that he is devising a new belief that dissents from the prophets and apostles. Therefore, as you firmly repudiate the beliefs of the Egyptians who worshipped cats and of the Arabians who worshipped dogs, so you shall denounce the new creation of Muhammad, because he himself openly admits that he does not embrace the teaching of the prophets and apostles. If there are any who are so without understanding that they do not have this conviction fixed in their mind that the only true religion is that which was from the beginning handed on by God, with clear testimonies, through the prophets and apostles, even if these persons do not now read the writings of Muhammad, but either only hear about the Turks or see them, how will they fortify themselves against their beliefs? Rather, it is a shameful and impious ignorance if they do not daily admonish themselves in intercession concerning this belief, if they do not separate themselves from the Jews, the Turks, and other nations in prayer; if they do not meditate on the fact that this one alone is the eternal and true God, the creator and sustainer of all things, who hears us and will grant life eternal, who revealed himself in the writings of the prophets and apostles, who willingly sent God’s Son to be a sacrifice for our sake. Those who meditate on these things in prayer will acknowledge that this stupidity is no light sin."
The churchmen of the sixteenth century had virtually no contact with Muslims. Their knowledge of Islam was second-hand and shaped by the serious threat to Christendom presented by "the Turks".

Today we know, or ought to know, that the Islamic world, while maybe not as diverse as the Christian world, is nevertheless far from monochrome. We have many more means of getting to know Islam and, maybe even more importantly, many more opportunities to meet Muslims. When we preach, we are addressing people who know Muslims and maybe even speak to Muslims, especially if the sermon is streamed online. When we reproduce these old homilies today, we are not doing the same thing as the readers of them did in centuries gone by. Today's preachers ought to be better informed. They ought to speak differently. And they can. As Archbishop Cranmer points out, there is a better way.

Friday, 5 June 2015

What is a Church?

Our church is open to visitors. I am planning a little display to explain to casual visitors what a church is. I would like something which makes some sense to the Chinese students who visit with virtually no knowledge of the Christian faith without being patronising. The idea at present is to have an A4 sheet (landscape) in the middle, flanked by two A4 sheets (landscape) on either side. This would fill one of two available panels. The other might give  information about what to do if you would like to find out more about this, that or the other. The first draft has a key word for each sheet of A4. The central panel's is "church" because it is the starting point for the explanation.

The central panel: Church, from Greek kyriake "the Lord's" means "belonging to the Lord" and can refer to either a people or a building.

Upper left: Jesus of Nazareth lived in Roman occupied Israel some 2000 years ago. Both Christian writers and ancient non-Christian historians agree that Jesus was a teacher who performed healings and that he was crucified by the Roman authorities under Pontius Pilate. What happened next is the stuff of controversy. The reports that Jesus was raised from the dead were widely known, accepted by some and rejected by others. Those who have come to accept that Jesus is alive in a new body believe that he was thereby vindicated by God and made Lord over all. The affirmation that Jesus is Lord is the basic confession of Christian faith. The resurrection of Jesus happened on what was then counted as the first day of the week, a Sunday. This is why Christians, whenever possible, meet together on Sundays.

Upper right: Christ, from the Greek meaning "Anointed" (Hebrew: Messiah) refers to the king whom God promised to rule in God's kingdom of justice and peace. Christians (those who have pledged loyalty to this king and put their trust in him) believe that Jesus ushered in this kingdom not through military conquest or clever political machinations but by living a perfect life showing forth God's love, declaring God's truth and accepting the consequences of human wrongdoing in suffering and death. His death on the cross made the cross an important sign of Christians, reflected not least in the architecture of church buildings.

Lower left: A building which specifically belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ is called a church. It is the place where his people assemble together to worship, celebrating the wonderful things God has done and making themselves available afresh to his service. Important elements are listening to God's Word (the Bible) and sharing bread and wine in a symbolic meal whose pattern was given to us by Jesus and through which he has promised to meet us. The meal is known as the Eucharist (Greek for thanksgiving), Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper and the Mass (from the final words of the rite by which we are sent out into the world).

Lower right: The people who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ are called the church. Their allegiance to Christ is first marked in baptism, a water rite by which people are identified with Christ in his death and resurrection, acknowledging that Jesus died the death we deserve and gives us eternal life as a free gift. Those who belong to Christ, the Lord, also belong to each other as brothers and sisters. Christians affirm that they now belong together as members of one body by regularly meeting up to praise God and to encourage one another to live as those who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Any suggestions for modifications or a completely different way of doing things are welcome - email Rector on the address.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Specific or Generic Cake

There has been much commentary on the Gareth Lee v Ashers Bakery law case, some links are provided on the TA website to which may be added Martin Salter's reflections on cake, conscience and commerce. Not having read all of these but a number, I am still not persuaded by the first part of the judgement claiming that the customer was (indirectly) discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation. Evidence for (direct) discrimination on the grounds of political belief, as argued in the second part, seems to me much stronger.

One point of the controversy deserves maybe more attention that it has received. It is the question what sort of product this cake is. The managers of the bakery considered it a vehicle for a political slogan with which they would be implicated by making the cake. That the cake expresses a political conviction can be granted but the Judge rightly observed that no consideration seems to have been given to alternatives which could have created the necessary distance between the bakery and the political conviction. While not mentioned in the judgement, use of neutral packaging might have been sufficient to prevent any association of the bakery with this political view.

The Judge seemed more inclined to consider the product just a cake, one in the generic category "cake with graphics and writing on it". To deny such a cake to one customer but not another is unlawful discrimination. This makes sense to me. If baguettes are sold to some customers but not to others we have a problem.

So the question really is whether one cake with writing on it is just like any other generic cake or whether a cake with the slogan "support equal marriage" on it is a specific cake, one which had never been sold before to any customer and which the bakery does not wish to make for Gareth Lee or indeed for any other customer under the sun. I do not think the answer to this question is obvious; I am surprised that apparently it has not been explored explicilty.

The situation would be similar, if a bakery offered "wedding cakes" with a groom and a bride figure on the top of the cake, saying this is our "wedding cake" - take it or leave it (or, if you are a gay couple hitching up, club together with a lesbian couple, buy two cakes and change the figures.)

A related question may be weather a bakery would be free to provide "baptism cakes" but not "bar mitzvah cakes" or "bar mitzvah cakes" but not "bat mitzvah cakes", or whether a bakery that offered Ramadan-themed cakes would be obliged to provide "baptism cakes" as well.

It is a fine line between the freedom of a baker to offer the products they like and the right of customers to buy whatever another customer has the right to buy and the line goes through the specifci/generic distinction, as far as I can see.

If Gareth Lee had come into the shop, saying I'd like this cake over there for an anti-homophobia event with my gay friends at QueerSpace and if he had been unable to purchase a cake, it would have been a clear case of illegal discrimination. The fact that a cake with a particular design had to be specifically produced prompts the question here.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Discrimination without Motive

The full transcript of the County Court judgement in the case Gareth Lee v Ashers Bakery illuminates an aspect of the Judge's reasoning which had eluded me when I reflected on the summary statement in my previous post.

The defendants argued that they did not discriminate against Gareth Lee because of his sexual orientation or political beliefs by pointing out that

  • regardless of his sexual orientation or political beliefs they would have served Gareth Lee if he had ordered the cake without the message
  • they would have refused to fulfill the order for a "Support Gay Marriage" cake, even if the order had been made by "a heterosexual customer".
The Judge did not consdier these fair comparisons "for the reason that it oversimplifies the enquiry" in that it does not take sufficiently into account that discrimination "may be subtle, insidiuous or hidden," even to the discriminator.

Asking for the grounds, the why of discrimination is ambiguous. The question may be about "what caused the treatment in question" or about what was "its motive and purpose." Citing an earlier case, the Judge observes that "the former is important, the latter is not." 

In other words, the question is not whether the bakers were and are happy to serve people of a particular "sexual orientation" or people holding particular political beliefs - we may grant that they are entirely happy to do so - but whether people like Gareth Lee are given unfavourable treatment. 

The comparison must therefore be between a heterosexual customer ordering a "Support Marriage" cake and a homosexual customer ordering a "Support Gay Marriage" cake. The former gets served, the latter does not. This constitutes discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The Judge then cites from Bull and another v Hall and another [2013] UKSC 73
"[37] To permit someone to discriminate on the ground that he did not believe that persons of homosexual orientation should be treated equally with persons of heterosexual orientation would be to create a class of people who were exempt from the discrimination legislation. We would not normally allow people to behave in a way which the law prohibits because they disagree with the law. But to allow discrimination against persons of homosexual orientation (or indeed heterosexual orientation) because of a belief, however sincerely held, and however based on the biblical text, would be to do just that."
The relevance of this is not immediately clear to me. Does this imply and allege that the people at Ashers Bakery do in fact "not believe that persons of homosexual orientation should be treated equally with persons of heterosexual orientation"? Up to this point, I thought the argument was that the claim that the bakers do not hold such a belief was granted but declared irrelevant because in spite of their best intentions "gay customers" (who can be assumed to be in favour of "gay marriage" and willing to promote this with cakes?) are in fact disadvantaged over "heterosexual customers" (who may be presumed to order cakes which say "Support Marriage"?) and hence indirectly discriminated against.

PS: In the second part the QC for the Plaintiff claims that it is possible to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their religious belief or political opinion even without knowing what these are. The Judge rejected the Defendant's claim that they did not know the customer's political opinion but agreed that even if this had been the case, the refusal to bake a cake with the message "Support Gay Marriage" would still have been a case of discrimination on the grounds of politic belief.

Ashers Bakery

I am not a legal expert nor the son of a legal expert. These notes are merely by way of digesting the judgement that the court delivered in the Ashers Bakery case, based on the published summary.
The defendants are not a religious organisation; they are conduction a business for profit notwithstanding their genuine religious beliefs and in accordance with Regulations 16(2) are not therefore exempted by the Regulations.
To me this opening gambit sounds somewhat prejudicial because it suggests that the oweners or managers of Ashers Bakery claimed exemption from anti-discrimination law which I am pretty sure they did not. (Reading the full statement it makes more sense, as it is in effect a comment on the decision by the law-makers not to include a conscience clause for businesses.)

Judge Brownlie agreed with "the plaintiff's submission that same-sex marriage is or should be regarded as a union between persons having a sexual orientation" which I read as implying that those who enter into a "same-sex marriage" should be considered to have a "same-sex orientation" although I am not sure where this leaves bisexuals and others. More importantly, Judge Brownlie also agreed that "if a person refused to provide a service on that ground then they were discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation."

This has a certain logic but is it relevant? No-one claims that this business transaction fell through because the customer is in a same-sex marriage (we don't know that he is) and the managers of the Bakery repeatedly stressed that they serve all customers without discrimination.

Judge Brownlie appears to grant that the managers did not actually know that the customer was gay. But they had "the knowledge or perception" that Gareth Lee either is gay or at least "associated with others who are gay." With this the Judge appears to insinuate that the Bakery discriminates against customers who associate with gays which would be remarkable.

The Judge explains that
the defendants must have known that the plaintiff supported gay marriage and/or associated with others who supported gay marriage as this was a cake for a special event the plaintiff was attending
I would have thought that the message "Support Gay Marriage" which was to be put on the cake would have given the game away without any knowlegde of the event for which the cake was requested. But Judge Brownlie recognises that supporters of "gay marriage" are not necessarily gay and hence settles for the lesser claim that supporters of "gay marriage" can be presumed to associate with gays. In addition, she concludes that Karen McArthur, who served Gareth Lee, knew that "the plaintiff was a member of a small volunteer group; he wanted his own graphics on the cake" etc. In other words, the customer was thought to be in agreement with the message he wanted to have put on the cake.

Fair enough, but what exactly is the relevance of that? Does the Judge want to argue that the cake was refused not so much for the message it was intended to bear but because the customer was thought to agree with that message? Indeed, this seems to be where this is going. The argument at this point appears to be that the Bakery refused to bake this cake not because they could not support the political message the cake was to convey but because the manager "must either consciously or unconsciously have had the knowledge or perception that the plaintiff was gay and/or was associated with others who are gay."

How so? The critical point, as far as the Judge is concerned, seems to be that "the graphics being lawful and not contrary to the terms and conditions of the company" cannot themselves be considerd the grounds for refusing the cake; the ground must therefore lie in the Bakery's perception of the customer. Hence the claim that the Bakery did not discriminate against a political belief only but against a customer and that on the grounds of his sexual orientation. On a first reading of the summary, the reasoning seems to me hostile and torturous.

That the refusal also constituted discrimination against a political belief can be shown more readily by making the fair assumption that the Bakery would have been happy to provide a cake that spells "support marriage". In refusing to add the word "gay" the Bakery was restricting Gareth's Lee freedom to manifest his beliefs. What the defendants were asked to do may put limits on the manifestation of their own religious beliefs but this is necessary to protect "the rights and freedoms of the plaintiff...To do otherwise would be to allow a religious belief to dictate what the law is."
Judge Brownlie held that what the defendants were asked to do did not require them to support, promote or endorse any viewpoint.
The defendants are welcome to their religious beliefs but must not "manifest them in the commercial sphere if it is contrary to the rights of others." To use an analogy I have employed earlier, bakers are printers, not publishers. A publisher may refuse to promote books of a certain political or ideological bent but a printer presumably is not permitted to refuse business on the grounds that they do not want to promote what is being printed.

The judgement has no direct application to charities. It concerns the commercial sphere and the rights of customers on providers. The decision implies that the conscience of providers must not interfere with the freedom of customers. The second part of the judgement is therefore arguably not so much a victory of "gay rights" over "religious rights" but of consumer rights over any other considerations. The owners and managers of Ashers Bakery are free to commission a Hindu printer for a booklet that proclaims that "Jesus Christ is Lord!" and may request a flower arrangement which spells "only mixed-sex marriages are genuine marriages" from a florist who happens to be a member of QueerSpace.

PS: The full statement by the Court is now also available

The Cruelty of Denying the Trinity

The exposition of the doctrine of the Trinity in The Cruelty of Heresy: An Affirmation of Christian Orthodoxy (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 1994) begins with this observation: “The Christian teaching regarding the doctrine of the Trinity should not be as daunting and intimidating as many have made it appear…Christians can learn more about the Trinity without comprehending its mystery.” C. FitzSimon Allison observes that it is important to note to which problem or question the doctrine of the Trinity is the answer.
The problem is called “the one and the many.” It is not unique to Christianity. Everyone, everywhere and always, has had to struggle with this problem…simple solutions to the one and the many sacrifice the diversity and individuality of the many for an imposed and tyrannical unity of the one, or sacrifice the unity (family, nation, business, club, or church) for the sake of the pluralism and diversity of the many.
The author does recognise later on that the Trinity is not merely an answer to a philosophical question but also, maybe we should say first of all, to the way God has revealed himself.
The crucial question is not “Is there a God?” but “What kind of God do we have?” The faithful Christian answer is: the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whom we know by the Holy Spirit.
        Thus, the Trinity is essentially God’s name: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, one God…As it is clear that the New Testament teaches nothing of three gods, it is equally clear that there are significant distinctions between Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. They are distinct, they are related, and they are one. How can this be so?
In other words, God’s witness about himself demands that we think of God as tri-une and this leads to a doctrine which presents us also with an answer to the problem of “the one and the many” – an answer that claims that neither disunity nor uniformity has the (first or) last word. “The teaching concerning the Trinity does not proceed from philosophical concerns but from the saving experiences of God’s action as recorded in scripture.” 

The different ways in which this teaching has been denied or betrayed amount to stressing the unity at the expense of the distinctiveness. Most commonly the three-in-one paradox was resolved by merging the “three” as mere temporary modes into the “one.”
“Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God” is simply explained by them as the Father temporarily manifesting himself as the Son and at other times as the Holy Spirit. It is like one person being a spouse, mother, and insurance executive. One objection was noticed immediately….If it were the Father who was manifest as Jesus, then…it was in fact the Father who was crucified.
Because a person can take any number of roles, not merely three, an analogy which may better illustrate this heresy is the appearance of H2O as ice, water, and steam (although children who have not yet been cured of their curiosity by education may wonder where snow fits in here).

A second, and to my mind even more serious because inescapable, objection is that such teaching pretty much excludes serious reflection on the interrelationships of the three. If this teaching had won the day, we could think of Jesus Christ only as a temporary manifestation of God, a role he played for a while, rather than the eternal image of God.
If this were so, you or I may be so unlucky as to reach that judgment seat on a day that God has a headache and is playing a very different role from the one we’ve seen in Christ….
        To believe in a god whose action in Christ is not his everlasting divine nature is to be bereft of any final confidence that God is the same as God’s self-revelation in Christ.
“If God is known only in modes or roles…then we cannot know God or be known by God, on the deepest levels” but we would know that he is not Love because prior to the creation of the universe there would have been no love between persons.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Human Rights Law and Religion

I do not follow the BBC series The Big Questions. I don't think I have seen an episode before but the 10 May 2015 episode came recommended. It asked: "Has human rights' law achieved more for humankind than religion?" (The programme description puts "law" in the plural.)

The discussion was pretty pathetic - a lot more shouting than logic; watching it felt like a waste of time. The question is not well put. What is "religion"? Is it the sum of all "religions"? What would count as "a religion" in this broad sweep? Is belief in some sort of deity required? If yes, how do we think about Buddhism? If not, does the belief that every human being (excepting the unborn, usually) has human rights make you a religious person?

Even if one knew what "religion" was, how would one measure what it has achieved? By what standard? We cannot run experiments on societies with and without "religion". Peter Tatchell maybe sought a way through by distinguishing between "religious people" who may be good or bad, just like non-religious people, and "religious establishments" which, it seems, have always been bad - at least for human rights. To point out that some religious leaders have led governments that promoted justice and peace and that the record of atheist leaders can hardly be said to be inspiring would not wash with Peter Thatchell. "Hitler? Stalin? Mao? It wasn't their atheism that did it" would be the answer. But would it not be at least worth exploring how and to what extent particular religions have promoted oppression and how and to what extent they have been a restraint on oppression? Yes, "atheism" did not tell Hitler or Stalin what to do but was their lack of religion in any way related to a lack of restraint? Yes, "atheism" did not tell the Chinese to adopt single-child policies and to prefer baby boys to girls to the extent of murder but did the freedom from the shackles of religion promote gender equality in China?

The programme's question invites a comparison, albeit not a very sensible one because "religion" and legislation are rather different things. Here the rhetorical question asked by one of the participants along the lines of "Has Starbucks done more for humanity than coffee?" makes a fair point. But at least it should be comparatively easy to establish what human rights legislation has achieved.

There was surprisingly little attempt to establish even this. Iran was held up as a (bad) example for what "religion" does to deny people their human rights. This looks promising because it seems possible to link specific violations of human rights with particular interpretations of Islam and because one can compare the cultural situation before and after the revolution to get a broader perspective on the difference made by giving religion a greater role in the political life of a nation. But to move this forward it would also be helpful to ask specifically, "What has human rights legislation achieved for the people of Iran?"

The question could be put more pointedly. It was taken for granted by several participants that "equal marriage" is a human right. It was also allowed that if the question of "equal marriage" were put to a referendum in Afghanistan, the answer would be a fairly unequivocal "No." But, as Andrew Copson in answer to that question explained, "human rights guarantees [!] that even if 99% of the society voted that you should be tortured, you're not going to be tortured [!] because the rest of the world, if they are watching and available...are watching out for your rights." How does this work in practice? Does the CEO of the British Humanist Association believe that the UK has a moral obligation to invade Afghanistan and occupy it again until torture has been ended and marriage no longer requires a mix of sexes?

If it is not enough to ask what the aims of a religion are, if we also have to ask what a religion has actually achieved, the same goes for human rights law. Pointing this out is not meant to suggest that human rights legislation is merely an ideal - fcar from it. I believe that legislation can play an important role in securing people their human rights but arguably on its own it is not enough. There needs to be a willingness to grant and defend human rights in actual practice. Laws and declarations need to be internalised and/or defended by force.

For many the question whether on balance "religion" proves to be more of a help with this than a hindrance is critical here and this was probably the question behind the question, given that no thought was given to what "religion" has "achieved" in terms other than securing the human rights of individuals. Much was made of the potential for "religion" to differentiate between an in-group and outsiders with the latter being treated badly. But no-one wondered how this relates more broadly to the question of how we nurture community cohesion and identity without encouraging such arrogance. Securing the human rights of individuals cannot really happen without communities who share a common interpretation of human rights and commit to watch out for each other's rights.

If the practical effect of human rights legislation was barely addressed, neither was its foundation properly explored. Claims and counter-claims as to whether the concept of human rights arose (uniquely) within Judeo-Christian cultures are only a very small part of the discussion that needs to be had here. Andrew Copson seemed to defend the fact that "human rights" are a cultural construct as an advantage but towards the end of the discussion rejected the premise of a question that queried our right to impose this cultural construct on others with a riposte which assumed that human rights are self-evident. True, "the person who is being tortured in a prison in Bangladesh for exercising their right to free expression" is not asking to be colonised, that person may well have a right sense oif their human rights being violated but this is only part of the picture. What about the torturers? Why do they not acknowledge the prisoner's human rights? Do they lack a proper concept of human rights or do they violate prisoners, knowing full well that they deny human rights? If the former, how do we explain human rights to them? If the latter, is force the only reply available to us to counter their use of force?

No, all in all it was a very superficial discussion.