The truth of the Gospel reveals and effects this change, but not as an immediate or instant process, historically speaking. The work of the “Spirit of Truth” is the continued performance of the truth announced and embodied by Jesus, made known particularly in the Church, the community of those being reconciled by the truth to their own truth.
A Christian understanding of truth – the Truth underlying other forms and performances of truth – is central for the ways in which the Church is to “do the truth”, and may also have some significance for processes beyond the practice of the Church such as those of restorative justice.
The telling of truth, in the senses presented by restorative justice, may not be a substitute for the broader reality of “doing the truth”, as John’s Gospel puts it, or the wider ethical imperative that comes from deciding to seek and live truth. Truth may be found when cases of abuse and violence are uncovered, but its pursuit is not merely a fact-finding matter – it must be sought, as a matter of choice and not only of external act.
For the Church, acknowledging that God’s performance of the truth continues through the Spirit of Truth is crucial, both as an affirmation of hope but also as a theologically-informed guard against unrealistic or misplaced expectations for immediate resolution of broken relationship. Contemporary examples of restorative justice and the theology of truth in John’s Gospel both suggest that the doing of truth is a profound and at times painful thing, which cannot be equated with mere statements of fact, or with easy answers to difficult questions.
The revealing of hidden (if at times horrific) truths, kept secret because of oppressive or abusive systems or of the vested interests of perpetrators, has been a prominent feature in instances of restorative justice. Oppression, it has been argued, depends on forgetfulness or on the suppression of truth. Telling the truth in these cases means establishing knowledge where there had been ignorance (enforced, accidental or wilful), and the learning that comes from these revelations may bring with itself an opportunity for re-establishing relationships or at least moving past old hurts.
From a sermon given at the Church of the Transfiguration, New York, July 13 2008
...the deepest and most extraordinary meaning Christians give to the idea of God’s Word and its economy is our identification of it with Christ himself. The Gospel of John begins with that great Hymn to the divine Word, who was “in the beginning with God” and “through [whom] all things were made.” The evangelist is harking back to the Genesis story, and showing us that God’s creative speech is not merely external action but arises from God’s own being. Then John tells that this Word who was God became flesh, and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.
The ancient Christian theologians we know as the Church Fathers referred to God’s plan enacted in the speaking of the divine Word and his incarnation as the “economy of salvation.” They meant not only that God arranged the resources of the world and human history in a distinct way, but that this economy of abundance reflected the character of God’s own being – the generation of the Son who is the eternal Word and the sending of the Life-giving Spirit were an “economy,” the gracious reality of the Trinity, itself the model of abundant love which is the hallmark of the cosmos and of human life lived to their fullest.
It is one of the tragedies of the current Anglicanism that an odd, un-Anglican and even unbiblical doctrine of the divine Word and divine economy is being taught by those who lay the most strident claims to orthodoxy. For you know, I am sure, of people for whom “Word of God” is just a sort of jargon for “the Bible.”
In scripture itself, “Word of God” does not mean “Bible,” since the scriptures do not thus speak of themselves but of God’s whole self-communication, from creation to redemption and beyond.
However the background paper written for the recent conservative gathering in Jerusalem known as GAFCON speaks in terms that seem not only to equate the Bible (rather than Christ) and the Word of God, but to divinize the Scriptures themselves. It states that “the core issues [confronting the Anglican Communion] are about whether or not there is one Word, accessible to all, and whether or not there is one Christ, accessible to all.” Context makes it clear that they are presenting the Bible (as “Word”) and then Christ separately, as twin articles of faith. We must remind our biblicist brothers and sisters that it is the one Christ himself who is the one Word accessible to all.
In the early Christian centuries, places of worship were very often built over the tombs of martyrs. In contrast to some other ancient religious traditions including Judaism, which kept mortal remains at a respectful distance, the bodies of the faithful departed and especially the martyrs were focal points that attracted Christian worship and devotion, their relics witnesses to the faith built on their example.
The Church in
Knowledge of the fact of Peter’s martyrdom, if not the place, was fundamental to his authority in the ancient Church. Although his imprisonment and death are not recorded in the New Testament, they inform the poignant farewell scene at the end of John’s Gospel, where Jesus predicts Peter’s being bound and led where he does not want to go, and the accounts of the story that Jesus said he would build his Church on the ‘rock’ that was Peter. For ancient as for more recent hearers, these would have evoked his faithful witness and the community born from it.
Later however the Church was to read Peter’s status in a somewhat different and more institutional way – not just in the literal building of Churches on his bones, but particularly by thinking of his leadership not as that of an itinerant apostolic martyr who was in Rome when he died, but as a sort of primordial ecclesiastical bureaucrat who had set up shop there. Yes, we made Peter a bishop.
The question of whether Peter was ever bishop in
Yet just as the literal fact of St Peter’s Basilica represents and reminds us of his witness, so too episcopacy, not just in
You have probably noticed that the Anglican world is currently full of meetings, especially of bishops. In just over two weeks the Lambeth Conference will take place, with a large majority but not all of the Anglican bishops in attendance. In
A great fourth-century bishop and theologian, Gregory of Nazianzus, is said to have written affectingly about such meetings: “I avoid”, he said, “all gatherings of bishops. One finds there love of money and love of power that beggar description”.
This somewhat jaded ancient perspective and our perhaps confused or discouraged modern ones alike tell us that struggles over preeminence in the Church are not new, and that despite sure foundations of apostolic witness, the edifices of the Church structure may sometimes seem less than edifying. Yet it is not primarily institutional structures by which the Church will be judged, even though they are important, but the authenticity of our witness.
We exist in a fragmented Church – by which I mean not merely the well-publicized rifts within Anglicanism, but the divisions of Christianity as a whole. These are the great scandal and difficulty, not internal Anglican ructions. We Anglicans have had a rather unique calling amid the competing and clashing claims of rival groups, namely a claim to inclusion or comprehensiveness; may it continue to be so. It is understandable then if we are discouraged by the current events, whatever our opinions are about the matters at issue.
Yet it is the authentic and costly lived witness of the Church, not its institutional unity, that is the foundation of its claim to real authority. The rock on which Christ built his Church was a real person whose tradition was bequeathed to real places – but it was his martyrdom, not his management, which underlies the great tradition of the Church that was to emerge after him.
The connection of his example with later bishops, in
In the last two weeks I attended historic services in Perth and Melbourne where Australia's first two female Anglican bishops were consecrated. These were moving and joyful occasions, reflections of Anglican diversity as well as celebrations of the full inclusion of women and men in the three historic orders of Christian ministry.
In Perth, Trinity College alumna Archdeacon Kay Goldsworthy became the first Australian woman to join the episcopate when Archbishop Roger Herft and an impressive array of bishops clad in cope and mitre gathered around her in St George's Cathedral, as the congregation sang the ancient hymn Veni Creator Spiritus. Among the bishops was another pioneer, Victoria Matthews, former Bishop of Edmonton in Canada and now elected Bishop of Christchurch, New Zealand. Laying hands on Kay, Bishop Victoria actually became the first woman to exercise a uniquely episcopal ministry in Australia, just ahead of the new colleague over whom she was praying. Speaking to the congregation, Bishop Victoria reminded us that we were not creating some new species called "woman bishop" but rather calling this woman, and others in future alongside men, to the apostolic ministry.
In Melbourne just over a week later, Canon Barbara Darling was made bishop by another crowd of episcopal colleagues, again including one woman - this time Bishop Kay Goldsworthy herself. This time the group was arrayed in the more sombre black, red and white convocation robes that are the traditional dress of Anglican bishops at Morning or Evening Prayer, but used on this occasion in deference to a "low-Church" sensibility still imposed on St Paul's Cathedral by local ecclesiastical politics. Bishop Barbara was handed a cope and mitre - but the liturgy did not provide her the chance to put them on.
The semiotics of liturgical garb are uniquely complex in Anglicanism, and arguments about them can seem twee or just absurd. However these details are reflections of the more explicit battles being waged in the wider Anglican Communion. While acceptance and inclusion of gay and lesbian members and ministers is the most prominent, the place of women in leadership remains one of them.
The robes worn in Melbourne, or rather the perceived necessity of not wearing cope and mitre, can be taken into two ways. First and positively, they represent the support for women's ministry by low-Church or evangelical Anglicans who often prefer that dress, as well as by the more high-Church or catholic wing arrayed around Bishop Kay in Perth. Bishop Barbara Darling is herself an evangelical, a former student and staff member of Ridley College, but has support and respect across the theological spectrum.
Negatively however, the exclusion or marginalization of "catholic" liturgical dress such as cope and mitre at St Paul's Cathedral, even at a time where more evangelical congregations and ministers in Melbourne are ignoring the minimal dress requirements for all Anglican clergy at public worship (i.e. the "surplice"), is startling. It reminds us that there is a less eirenic agenda, harking back to the Puritan strand of earlier Anglican history, that seeks to exclude aspects of ritual and theology that belong to Anglicanism's more catholic side, as well as women's leadership.
The tension is reflected in major upcoming meetings across the Anglican Communion. Bishops Barbara, Kay and Victoria will all attend the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in July. Some Australian and other conservative bishops have refused to attend Lambeth, and will only go to the "Global Anglican Futures Conference", where conservatives are seeking to articulate and build their alternative Anglican future. Although there will be more women at GAFCON than at Lambeth, there is a sort of give-away line in one authoritative apologia for the new meeting:
"Bishops and their wives, and clergy and laity, including the next generation of young leaders, will attend GAFCON""Bishops and their wives" - the wives presumably also being among the laity (and perhaps even clergy?) - betrays not simply a male but a patriarchal mind-set, which must seem highly dubious to many evangelical as well as to liberal and catholic Anglicans.
Another extract from the 2008 Morpeth Lecture...
I suggest there are now three paradigms of Church distinctly at work in the Anglican Communion, locally and globally. By ‘paradigms’ I mean ways of thinking and acting which, whether or not systematically articulated, have real significance in informing the practice and belief of Anglicans about what ‘Church’ is. And in this instance my interest lies in identifying how these paradigms understand the actual structures of Anglicanism, and are now helping generate behaviour within them.
First there is a ‘Confessional’ paradigm, more or less familiar from protestant ecclesiology, which views the Church as an invisible fellowship of believers. In contemporary Anglicanism, the advocates of a Confessional view tend to see the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as doctrinally constitutive, an Anglican equivalent to the
The second Anglican ecclesiological paradigm I will call ‘Institutional’. The proponents or inhabitants of the Institutional paradigm see the visible unity of the Anglican Communion in the same terms otherwise applicable to the universal Church. The ideas of unity, mission, ministry, and whatever else must be characteristic of the Church as a whole, are thus applied directly to the structures of the Anglican Communion itself. This Institutional paradigm is reflected in recent international developments such as the Windsor Report and the resultant proposal for an Anglican Covenant.
The thematic index of the Windsor Report, the 2004 document summarizing the work of the Commission established by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the previous year, includes listings for Authority, Bishops, Canon Law, Homosexuality, Scripture and Theological Development among others, but none for “Church”. This omission is revealing; and what it reveals is a sort of elision or confusion of an understanding of the Anglican Communion itself, and a doctrine of the Church. The reader will find that the term “Communion in Christ” is used to articulate a doctrine of the Church in the Windsor Report, and that this is done in significant and interesting enough terms. Yet the choice of the term “Communion”, however theologically powerful, becomes a device for the Report to slide from a discussion of what Communion in Christ is—what being Church or being Christian is, one would have assumed—to what the Anglican Communion is. There is no account of how that provisional and partial ecclesial reality which Anglicanism would have to be, from either classical protestant or Catholic points of view, relates to the universal Church. The assumption of the Windsor Report seems to be merely that if ‘Communion in Christ’ means certain things, then ‘Anglican Communion’ does too. A similar argument could be made for the way in which the biblical language of 'Covenant' has been applied in that process emerging from the Windsor Report to the institutional challenges of contemporary Anglicanism, without an altogether convincing transition.
I do not mean to suggest that this ecclesiological weakness invalidates efforts in global Anglicanism intended to foster understanding or unity. But I do mean to suggest that the basis for these may not be as theologically strong as their proponents assume, and that more and different thinking is necessary.
The third paradigm I wish to propose is more elusive, so I will start not with a label but a description. I believe that there are many professedly evangelical as well as catholic Anglicans for whom ‘Anglicanism’ describes a large network of Christians who, within the universal Church constituted by baptism into a common faith, share above all a particular history. This history has various versions, with narrative threads which all lead back to the Church of England, directly or otherwise. That history has various markers: liturgical, architectural, theological, and more. Few Anglican groups in the global diaspora have identical approaches to all these things, but there are few or no Anglicans who share none of them. Their sense of the Church as a whole is defined not by this history alone, but above all by baptism into a common faith.
The first or Confessional paradigm views the set of structures and communities that constitutes Anglicanism is only partly an adequate manifestation of Church, even in the provisional and visible sense. The second or Institutional tends to identify Anglicanism and Church, at least functionally. This third or ‘Historical’ paradigm resembles the second in viewing the structures of the Church as inherently significant, and is hence essentially catholic in mode rather than protestant, but shares with the Confessional paradigm a sense of Anglicanism as a partial and provisional manifestation of something larger, to which it must always be related.
From a sermon preached at St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, on Pentecost 2008
There is a growing literature about “the spiritual”, appealing not only to the conventionally religious, but to a wider audience perhaps unconvinced about religion, but convinced that there is something more to their existence than the purely material. There are corporate gurus now interested in “spiritual capital”, placed alongside the obvious material sort, and other kinds like “social capital”, as a means of developing more capable and reflective employees and organizations. There is now talk among educators of “spiritual intelligence” as a distinct form of knowing alongside the traditional IQ and other recent ideas like “emotional intelligence”.
The real competition for the Churches and for religion generally may not be atheism so much as that quite different possibility, of being “spiritual but not religious” – an intriguing and increasingly common self-description. Presumably God would say as much – although this need not mean it can apply equally to others! Perhaps despite the scepticism of our time we, the religious and irreligious alike, still tend to agree that there an inescapably spiritual dimension to life, something within and around us that is greater than ourselves and which demands attention and response.
The Christian doctrine of the Holy Spirit – of the presence of God through all of creation and life itself – may be a point of engagement for the Church with the sensibilities of our contemporaries. Christians, too, believe that there is a universal spiritual presence, which is far more than the distant creator over whom we can allow Dawkins to argue with fundamentalists. The Christian God is not merely a hypothesis invoked to explain the ultimate origins of the Universe, but also and far more so, the reality we experience as the present meaning and purpose of our lives.
This possibility of Christians thinking about the “spiritual” as a universal present reality depends on our remembering or learning that the Holy Spirit is not a sort of ecclesiastical peculiarity. There is a temptation for us to think that the gifts of the Spirit we recognize in ministry and sacraments are the main focus of the Holy Spirit’s reality, or that Pentecost is the first appearance of the Holy Spirit in history.
In fact the story in which the Spirit first appears comes rather earlier in scripture:
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters” (Gen 1).
The same Hebrew words can be translated “Spirit of God” or “mighty wind”, and we have no means – or need – to resolve that ambiguity. It would certainly be wrong to exclude the sense that these opening words of the Bible refer to the gift of the Spirit as given with and to creation itself. The great fourth-century theologian St Basil of Caesarea refers approvingly to a traditional understanding that in creation the Spirit “cherished the nature of the waters as one sees a bird cover the eggs with her body and impart to them a force of life from her own warmth…that is, prepared the nature of [the deep] to produce living beings” (Hexameron, 2.6).
The Psalms likewise acknowledge this divine creative presence in all life:
[all creatures] look to you
to give them their food in due season…
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the earth (Ps 104).
The biblical picture is that the Spirit is God’s active engagement with creation, continually moulding, enervating, loving, spurring it and us to our ultimate form. And this says something about creation too quite different from mechanistic creationism – that God’s work in it and us is not complete, but continual.
So if the Spirit is always active in creation, at all times, what is the Church saying about Pentecost and its own history when we celebrate the story retold today from the Acts of the Apostles? What the Spirit does in the Church is what the Spirit has always done in creation – making and remaking, giving life and giving new life. So the Spirit is not new or confined to the Church; the Church is new, and a sort of sacrament of the Spirit in the world. The Church exists to be a sign of God’s transforming creative love and power, but does not contain or exhaust that love and power.
We must admit that this witness by the Church over its history has been mixed at best; in particular we have fallen into the trap of treating the Spirit of God as justification for static institutional entrenchment, rather than as the source of creative power and new life. Our failures as Church, more than any inherent scientific implausibility about faith, are the greatest challenge to Christian credibility.
But that same Spirit has wrestled us into whatever creativity and community we have and we are as Church. The Spirit acts on our formlessness and inertia, like that of the primeval chaos, infusing us with life, love and creativity. In us the Spirit has acted for justice and compassion; by means of us the story of Jesus has been told and retold to many eager listeners; through us the Spirit has caused these stones to spring to life in the imposing statement of this very building.
And there is something in this call to be Church, to be people of the Spirit, which goes far beyond what being “spiritual but not religious” assumes or asserts. The Spirit works in the Church as a human community, just as in creation – not coercively, and not without ambiguity, but cherishing, imparting the force of life. It is not at our disposal – it changes us.
For there is no “spiritual capital” without justice, and no “spiritual intelligence” without love. Faith in the Holy Spirit is a willingness to discern and to cooperate with the Spirit’s work in Church and world, to put ourselves in creative relationship with the God who has made and is making the world, brooding over us, giving us life. The existence of the Church is a sign that the ultimate reality to which God calls us is not determined by us as purely autonomous individuals, harnessing ‘spirituality’ into the service of whatever goals we have set for ourselves independently of the Spirit’s creative, generative influence.
An extract from the 2008 Morpeth Lecture.
While the first Lambeth Conference was taking place and William Tyrrell was working to establish and expand his flock in Newcastle, American Episcopal priest William Reed Huntington was writing a book.
The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church as a whole had endorsed the Quadrilateral in 1886, and the Lambeth Conference of 1888 did the same, putting its own stamp on it in the mind of most Anglicans outside the
My purpose in recounting this narrative involves three things. First I do intend this story specifically to enjoin the Quadrilateral as a sufficient basis for Christian and by implication Anglican unity today, over against current attempts to recycle the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as a sort of Anglican ‘confession’ comparable to those of the continental protestant Churches. But the second and more fundamental point I wish to make would apply to the Articles as well.
No really significant movement for renewal within Anglicanism has begun, or is likely to begin, with attempts to define Anglicanism itself. The key moments and movement for various Anglicans, ‘high’, ‘low’ and other, all stemmed from attempts to identify and enact what was adequately and necessarily Christian. The Articles of Religion and the Quadrilateral, and for that matter the Reformation and the Oxford Movement themselves, all have this in common – that they were not attempts to establish distinctly Anglican groups or practices, let alone protestant or Anglo-Catholic ones, but to assert the fundamental and universal meaning and demands of Christian faith.
My third reason for invoking the Quadrilateral then is this. I do not believe that core practices or beliefs held for the sake of Anglicanism, rather than for the sake of the Gospel itself, are likely to inspire the necessary confidence or commitment that will provide a future vision for Anglicanism. The Quadrilateral will not serve Anglicans simply as a way of passively marking boundaries which the willing or the curious may cross if they choose. If its elements are worthy of defence they are worthy of advocacy as well. The paradox it offers and demands is that Anglicanism must look beyond itself to renew itself, and therefore be open to a diverse future or futures.
 Robert Prichard, A History of the Episcopal Church (Harrisburg: Morehouse, 1991), 187-90.
 Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book (New York: HarperCollins, 1995), 10.
 First published in
 John Woolverton, "
 Notably through the work of Charles Brent, Episcopal missionary bishop in the
Based on a sermon given on Palm Sunday 2008 in the Chapel of Trinity College.
The work of funeral directors and of those concerned with the running of cemeteries and crematoria has never appealed to me greatly, with my apologies to fans of the morbid glamour of Six Feet Under. My gratitude however for the fact that there are people who do concern themselves with these indispensable functions has only grown with the news of a novel occupational hazard in crematoria, the exploding mobile phone.
Phone batteries can explode when overheated, and apparently these cases stem from mourners slipping the deceased’s ‘cell’ into clothing or coffin prior to funeral and cremation, and disaster ensuing when the contents are committed to the flames of the furnace.
This phenomenon of the mortuary mobile could reflect a sort of ultimate funeral insurance for the deceased – if you weren’t really dead, perhaps you could call or at least text for help. There is an urban legend drawing on older technology, about the founder of the Christian Science movement, Mary Baker Eddy, whose tomb in Boston was alleged to have had a telephone installed, just in case!
But I suspect the case of the fatal phone in the furnace is about something else, and that it reflects the tendency for funerals and burials to be increasingly laden, not just with objects but with words and symbols too, in ways that suggest something of a contemporary crisis about death.
Inside coffins, it’s not just phones that are turning up, but all sorts of objects associated with status, or work, or recreation – whatever defines the deceased in the eyes of the their loved ones. Evidence suggests more and more objects are being placed with corpses – golf putters, gadgets, toys, a sports season ticket, guns, cigarettes, have all featured in recent times. We are beginning to resemble the ancient Egyptians in apparent desire to equip ourselves for the afterlife – but there lies the great irony. It seems there is an inverse relationship between what we actually believe about death and what follows it, and the amount of stuff we want to heap on and around the dead.
Those of us who officiate at funerals can tell you that even if we don’t see what is inside the coffin, there is a sort of verbal proliferation outside it that has become normative for many. Eulogies were once rare, and accorded to persons of particular distinction. Now many seem to think a funeral is incomplete without a handful of them – although the idea of a sermon may seem genuinely puzzling.
Both the verbal and the material forms of funereal accumulation or adornment are problematic, because they are attempts to shield or wrap ourselves in assurances about who they were and who we are that avoid the simple stark reality of death.
One of the reasons crucifixion was a demeaning and shameful end, even by comparison to other forms of execution, was that it amounted to an extended exhibition or humiliation of the sufferer. A victim was stripped not only of safety and health but of garments. Even the loincloth of iconographical tradition adorning the crucified Jesus protects our sensibilities rather than his dignity - it is unlikely to have existed. The crucified were held up naked for ridicule, as well as agony - a ridicule that consisted in taking away in death everything that might have covered or adorned the victim in life. Jesus’ burial also has no trappings associated with it – a niche hewn from rock, borrowed for a time – and no cell phone.
Jesus’ death and burial, an end which involves stripping, shedding or giving up all that has been grasped or given before, contrasts markedly with our accumulative approaches to death and what lies beyond it. And yet because of that he does speak to us beyond death. Jesus’ death itself asks us whether the measure of a life really lies in what we insist on wrapping it with, now or retrospectively – wealth or possessions, status or qualifications, or whatever we risk using to avoid our mortality. Can we face the possibility of our own death without the cell phone or the high-sounding words assuring us that we really were that great? Perhaps the measure of our life is really more what we gave up or let go of, in order to be really, truly human.
For on the cross, this is what Jesus exhibits, freely and without artifice. He takes to the cross and grave nothing more than our common humanity, a life lived for other’s sake and for love’s sake. And in this death bare of artifice Christians find a life worth remembering, worth following; and more than that, hope of life beyond death itself.
Last Thursday, the day after the Christian penitential season of Lent began, Rowan Williams took up his cross in a new and unforeseen way. Just when many thought his greatest challenge and burden in the first part of 2008 was the fragmentation besetting the world-wide Anglican Communion, a firestorm has erupted in
The most interesting and worrisome thing about this new controversy is not the content of Dr Williams’ lecture, or even the broader issue of Islamic law in Britain, but the violence of the reaction. Outpourings of horror and derision have come from thousands of people who have no idea what he actually suggested, and hundreds who think they do, but have responded to his assumed views without meaningful reference to his actual words. The Archbishop hit a nerve that has sent a whole section of British society into paroxysms not so much about what he said, as about what they fear.
The proposals the Dr Williams made were actually quite unremarkable, consisting of some gentle, and fairly incidental, glances at the emerging but far from complete accommodation in
The Archbishop’s thoughts were as much a description of existing and emerging legal practice as a call for change. There are many examples in the
We might be properly concerned about how such sub-systems dove-tail with the wider application of civil law, and about maintaining the values or opportunities that have to prevail in a free society. Dr Williams himself was more than clear, stating adamantly that no Islamic (or other) system working as an adjunct to the civil law could be allowed to disadvantage women, for instance, on the basis of custom or culture: “no 'supplementary' jurisdiction could have the power to deny access to the rights granted to other citizens or to punish its members for claiming those rights”.
Yet the public commentary since last Thursday has assumed or asserted that the Archbishop said or implied something quite different: some speak as though he called for a whole code of Islamic law to be implemented, including the worst excesses of the Taliban; others, that he envisaged British Courts themselves administering Sharia instead of British law. These and various other accusations since levelled at him are quite untrue.
Why, when all this is so important for
Dr Williams has set an example as important as it is forlorn. Few in
Of course legal or quasi-legal processes linked to religious and/or ethnic communities are particularly sensitive – but this is why they have to be discussed openly by community leaders. Muffling the debate under hoots and howls is a recipe for disaster. The fear and ignorance abroad about Islam in particular simply cannot be presented as part of a political or social landscape that a canny ecclesiastical bureaucrat will avoid. It must be named and faced, and changed.
If there is hope to be gleaned from this sorry state of affairs, it will be through some few who persist in telling the truth. Dr Williams was right to raise the issue, whether he is right about the particulars of accommodating Sharia in
Many comments about the Triffids’ music and its appeal have focussed on its peculiarly Australian character. The specifics of David McComb’s imagery and the very fact of his attention to religious questions and symbols sit awkwardly with that assessment. Rather than showing a more typically Australian secular apathy or animus to Christian faith, he employs its trappings powerfully, if piecemeal, in his construction of a world of yearning, distance and hope. And the specific forms that faith takes in his songs are not immediately derived from the religious practices of his own Australian upbringing, but are the product both of the US-dominated popular culture of his childhood and youth, and of the reflections on faith and religion found in a literary canon of European and American, as well as Australian, authors.
The religion of David’s songs is not exactly the “semi-Pelagianism” that some have said is more or less inevitable in the kind of Anglican boys’ school we went to. It is, however, unmistakeably Christian, and far more resonant of edgier forms both of Protestant and of Catholic piety or faith. While it may have been influenced by some childhood familial experience of a Presbyterian Church in suburban
Although the set of religious symbols that appears in his songs does not map clearly onto any one form of historic Christianity, it has some affinity with a trajectory of introspective and somewhat pessimistic thought that can be traced from Paul of Tarsus to Augustine of Hippo, and then through the Reformation to Kierkegaard. This is a Christianity of grace, not works, which may or may not include the trappings of symbol and ritual, but always centres on the need of a broken person for redemption.
This dynamic, so often present in his songs even where religious language is not, defies assimilation to the glib “spiritual but not religious” tag that might otherwise suggest itself for McComb’s ambivalent stance. There is no trace here of the banal “spirituality” of contemporary popular thought, the benign and domesticable reality that makes all quasi-divine; David’s divinity is gut-wrenching, all-absorbing, fearsome, and largely absent.
It is not much like
While eclectic, the recurrence of American mythology in this imagery is striking. The songs, religious in symbolism or not, manage the creation of a mythic American-tinged world that perhaps was only imaginable from
Perhaps, however, the eclectic or imported character of these religious elements does actually not make them less Australian. Debates about Australian values and virtues are a reminder of how banal it is to characterize Australia and its culture solely in terms of what is exclusively or iconically Australian in the view of a few, rather than in terms of the mixture of experiences and influences that actually constitute the eclectic reality of Australian cultural practice. Although David McComb’s religious world seems rather American, it is a sort of
David’s songs are arguably a darker and more pessimistic contribution to a chorus of younger Australian artists and intellectuals who surprisingly, given our secular self-image, find in Christianity rather more than delusion or boredom.