Pages

Monday, 30 April 2012

Chapter & verse, Elohim, hades and more

Episode 5 of The Human Bible podcast, hosted by Bob Price, has been posted.  No earnest self-flagellating offered, and none required.

Great fun, plus you learn stuff!

God loves a cheerful giver

For those who missed it on Jim West's blog.


Saturday, 28 April 2012

Gaps in the Vision

Imagine that you're a fundamentalist with pretensions.  A sophisticated fundamentalist.  You even have a PhD.  Imagine also that you're a bit of an entrepreneur.  You are Dear Leader of your own little high-demand designer sect.  You publish your own journal, a slick affair that looks good on a coffee table, or so you hope.  And now you have set yourself the task of writing about Genesis.

Choppy waters ahead!  The faithful, tithe-paying members expect feel-good apologetics.  But you've been cultivating contacts in the scholarly community, so you can't just go to print with bluster and proof texts.  What to do, what to do...

This is, of course, an entirely hypothetical situation.  But it does bear a passing resemblace, perhaps, to the situation David Hulme (PhD) finds himself in with the Winter 2012 issue of his journal, Vision.

Hulme is a former Worldwide Church of God evangelist and presenter of The World Tomorrow program (a title recently coopted by Julian Assange for quite different purposes).  These days he's top dog in a minor schism, the Church of God, an International Community.  He's also a gap-theory creationist.

So how does Dave manage to keep his balance on the thorny issues of Genesis

Step 1: line up some heavyweight authorities to quote:  Herman Gunkel, John Levenson and Claus Westermann.  Not extensive or even particularly relevant quotes you understand, just a felicitous sentence or two to lend a veneer of credibility.

Claim that "this gap theory - or understanding - has great explanatory power."

Claim that "It is accepted by some scholars that this [tohu va vohu condition in Gen. 1:2] is a reference to the result of Satan's rebellion against God before the creation of humankind..."

Scholars accept this?  Really?  Sadly Dave doesn't name names, and I for one can't think of a single legitimate biblical scholar today who's swallowed that particular camel.

Dave has no qualms about identifying the talking snake with Satan, something Genesis itself fails to do (can we all say etiology together?).  "The intrusion of Satan into human history occurs in Eden.  He was dominant on earth as the guardian angelic power until his opposition to God brought his downfall.  Now the object of his deception became Adam and Eve..."

This is a great precis of John Milton's Paradise Lost, but a complete misreading of the Hebrew Bible.

As for Gunkel, Levenson and Westermann, one can only wonder what they might make of it all.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Kids and the Good Book

Holy crepe!
James McGrath has an interesting posting up about misreading the Bible.  He relates an example from his (adult?) Sunday School class, which has been covering the letters to the seven churches of Revelation.
One of the attendees said that at first glance they thought that two of the churches were having problems with the Nicotines.
Well, there's a smoking hot issue!  Then:
We also had mention of another issue that comes up in Revelation 2, as it was misread in a Sunday school class for children, namely “sexual immortality.” It sounds like an interesting topic, and yet I still kind of hope we won’t come back to it.
Yup, I can understand that.  Then James goes on to ruminate about putting the unexpurged Bible into the hands of minors.
But the very fact that such a misreading apparently came up in another Sunday school class, one for young children, makes me wonder once again what people are thinking, giving Bibles to the very young. Presumably it is a bad idea to do so unless one is prepared, and considers it appropriate, to talk with them about all the sorts of contents the Bible has. Otherwise, just give them a collection of excerpts, or perhaps give the Bible as a collection an R rating and leave the reading and discussing of it until people are mature enough to deal with all its contents.
I keep thinking about all those niche Bibles that have been targeted at kids in recent times.  Ones with pink 'little princess' covers for girls, ones with action figure-type covers for boys, and  it sends a shudder down my spine.  Two shudders actually, one for the content and another for the kitsch.

All of which reminds me that, as a nine-year old I had my first theological crisis - of many to follow! - trying to work out why, if the Lord was my shepherd, I should not want him.  Good old King James English. 


Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Real Paul?

 “We are not all Apostles, who were sent by a firm decree of God (certo Dei decreto) to us as infallible teachers (infallibiles doctores). Hence they cannot err, but we can, and we can be deceived in our faith, since we lack such a decree of God.”
Luther

Think of Paul the apostle and what comes to mind?
  • The love chapter.
  • The profound theologian.
  • The doctrine of grace.
  • Freedom in Christ.
It's a starry eyed approach, reinforced by the deep respect with which Paul's writings are read, whether in the lectionary cycle of mainline churches, or as proof texts hauled out to prove a preacher's point beyond any shadow of doubt.  Though most of us might never refer, as Luther did, to certo Dei decreto or infallibiles doctores, many of us begin with that very presumption.

But as anyone knows who has actually bothered to read Paul in context, he was at times - and one is tempted to say most times - a thoroughly egotistical and cantankerous old sod.  He is self obsessed, vain, sarcastic, irritable, uncharitable toward others, abusive and authoritarian.  He even falls out with his close colleagues, Barnabas is the obvious example along with John Mark, unless they are firmly submissive under his commandeering apostolic thumb.  He goes ballistic at the slightest hint of criticism.  We even suspect that he's not above inventing a few stories - or at least stretching the truth - in a good cause... his cause.  Few epistles demonstrate this more relentlessly than 2 Corinthians (chapters 10 -13).

Things are not going well in Corinth.  Along with some genuine concerns, which are quickly dealt with, the really big issue seems to be that locals have dared to criticise Paul and show some independent thought.  The apostle is clearly irritated and in no mood to take prisoners.  While claiming not to boast, Paul lets rip with a series of boasts to put his 'opponents' (who are actually fellow Christians) in their place.  You have to wonder what the Corinthians side of the story was, but of course we have no access to that.

Pastoral concern or just a massive hissy fit?  Whichever, the author of the love chapter didn't practice what he preached.  Of course Paul, like everyone else, was "only human."  But that's the very point where Luther throws out the anchor: certo Dei decreto and infallibiles doctores.


We can read Paul with the deepest respect, but it isn't possible to factor out his idiosyncrasies or his humanity.  Firm decrees and infallibility?  Not so likely.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Excuse me Ms. Mazar, are you nuts?

Ms. Mazar and her special friend
The March/April issue of the BAR includes (p.20) a half-page feature on the "seals of Jeremiah's captors," uncovered by Eilat Mazar.  So far so interesting.  But then...
... now visitors to Edmond, Oklahoma, can see them at their world premiere at the Armstrong Auditorium.
Herbert W. Armstrong College provided support for Eilat Mazar's City of David excavations.
And there's a nice link to the auditorium website, courtesy of BAR.  The exhibit will, we're told, be on show through October 16.

Does Ms. Mazar, or the BAR, know anything about Armstrong Auditorium or Herbert W. Armstrong College?  Do they know about the separated families, their policy on medical intervention, that the college is unaccredited?

Do they know that both are controlled by the Philadelphia Church of God, led by Gerald Flurry, who claims to be "That Prophet" (John 1:21 KJV).  A man who writes: ""God's ministers must... lead God's people to magnify my office -- which is really God's office." (Royal Vision, July-Aug. 2000, p. 30).

Does Ms. Mazar know that Flurry, a British- Israelite, teaches that Anglos are the "true Israelites", not Jews.

Does she, or the BAR, know or care how Flurry's ministers operate?  Even down to telling their tithe-paying members how to make an approved cup of coffee?

Flurry must be delirious at the credibility he gains by being associated with Mazar (courtesy of the funding he throws her way), but does Ms. Mazar realise that this is a two-edged sword, and that bludging off Flurry makes her work look very shonky indeed?

Flurry knows we are judged by the company we keep. He gains respectability from the association, even if he has to shell out big bucks in the process.  Mazar loses, even though she gains cheap student labor.  Now the PCG gets to strut its stuff once again with the "world premiere" of these artifacts?  Incredible!

Giving comfort and lending credibility to high demand religious sects isn't a smart strategy for any scholar, regardless of the goodies on offer.

[A nod to the source - only to be known as Guinness O'Shandy - who kindly forwarded me a copy of this issue of BAR.  Cheers!]

Friday, 13 April 2012

The Wright TIME

Easter, and TIME magazine trots out a seasonal story.  This year, good heavens, it's about heaven.

Or more specifically it's about the Wright Stuff, the crusade by Anglican bishop and academic N.T. Wright to re-conceptualise the Christian afterlife and bring heaven down to earth, a view "that's at odds with the pearly gates."

Many good things are said to flow from this 'new' understanding.  Christians can change their focus from 'pie in the sky by and by' to engagement with real-life issues today, anticipating a transformation that will fully come at the end of time.  The image shifts from harps and cherubs to resurrection, justice and transformation.  "The further believers have moved from the New Testament era," the article notes, "the further many Christians have moved from New Testament understandings about heaven."

It sounds good.  The traditional concept, expressed for centuries in art both great and gross, is a hard sell in the sophisticated twenty-first century, and the butt of more humour than any serious belief.

But I can think of Christian communities where resurrection eschatology has been long established - certainly long before any uppity bishop came along to lend it a veneer of respectability.  Various 19th and early 20th century sects, both in America and Britain, made it part of their stock in trade.  These non-conformist believers didn't expect to 'go to heaven,' but to rest in the grave until the resurrection, a time when the earth will be redeemed and every tear wiped away.  In response they were often labelled heretics, with much mumbling about 'soul sleep', but that sounds a lot like Wright's position.

But here's the bad news.  Few of these good folk cared a great deal about engaging with real-world issues.  Most scorned any kind of activism, content instead to await the coming magic millennium here below.  Feeding the hungry?  No.  These people were content to put notes in their wide-margin bibles and leave the hard yards (other than a spot of evangelising) to the Lord, content in the knowledge that they knew much more about the Bible's teaching than any bishop.  They've been, as much as the heavenly clouds and harps afficionados, no earthly use at all.

So, yes, it may be some progress to see the old paradigm take a nose dive.  It was incoherent and heading south anyway, with or without the help of Tom Wright.  But the not-so-new, not-so-Wrightian alternative won't mean much of a difference in itself, despite all the fine words and high hopes.  Changing our world for the better needs something more than swapping eschatological theories in the ecclesiastical engine room.

Marcion & More

The latest Human Bible podcast is up - the fourth so far - and here's a chance to get 'up to speed' with an introduction to one of the most influential but under-appreciated figures in the early church, Marcion (Lil' Mark). 

Biblical raconteur Bob Price also delves into the inspired erotica of the sultry Song of Solomon, asks about just how accurate Jesus' predictions of The End were, and just how amazing grace is in the Calvinist tradition.

Not to be missed!

You can also hear Philip Harland (York University, Toronto) talking about Marcion in a much more academic way here.  This appears to be the audio of a lecture.

Cover to Smother

Updated April 17.

This is a tale of two very different "chronological Bibles," both coming out of Britain, one currently in print, conservative evangelical, and non-scholarly; the other dating back thirty-seven years, emerging from the Catholic tradition, and based on critical scholarship.

The first is likely to be sitting on the shelves of a Christian bookstore near you, an abomination known as Cover to Cover: Complete.  It's the Bible Jim, but not as we know it.  Some jokers have taken the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation, an atrocity in its own right, and rearranged its bits and pieces to reflect that imaginary "grand narrative" so beloved of fundamentalists and old-time Calvinists.  Great bleeding chunks are severed and repositioned according to the fantasies of the editors, with little thought to distinctions of genre, authorship, or probable time of writing.  A dumbed down proof-texting-friendly mish-mash for a dumbed down readership incapable of the mildest critical thought.  This is the kind of Bible resource guaranteed to lower your IQ with no effort needed whatsoever.

For starters (literally!) they begin with John 1:1-2, then Psalm 90:2, before locking in Genesis 1:1.  Isn't that special.  Then, taihoa a mo' mate, it's across to Isaiah 14:12-17 ("Satan cast out of heaven") and a slab of Ezekiel (28:13-19) before resuming in Genesis 1... and then it's only half of verse 2 before flashing back to Isaiah (45:18) and hauling verse 4 of Genesis 2 out.  After all that the "chronology" resumes (briefly!) with Genesis 1:2b-8.

This is apparently based on something called "the Reese chronology." 

How do they justify this?  By marketing it as a 'reading plan'.  The subtlety of that classification is, one suspects, largely lost on the kind of folk who buy it.

Doubtless it's selling well.

If that's enough to make you despair, or consider converting to the Baha'i Faith, then consider first the second publication - dating from that far off year of 1975 - called The Bible In Order.  This is an edition of The Jerusalem Bible in which the text has been arranged according to estimated date of composition, using modern critical scholarship.

The result is fascinating, even after more than 35 years.  With the benefit of hindsight there are judgement calls that might go in another direction today; the commentary provides a much sunnier view of the historicity of the Exodus, for example, than is credible since satellite images of the Sinai have been scrutinized for signs of mass migration.  But overall this is an amazing achievement.  The text begins at Genesis 12 with the stories that set the scene for the Exodus.  The early chapters of Genesis, bolted on to the rest of that book at a later date, appear here after the Solomon narrative in 1 Kings.  The earliest psalms are cautiously identified and printed following the main body of Proverbs (which excludes the first nine chapters).  And so it goes.  You could lose yourself in this thing for weeks on end!  Remarkably, this is the work of one scholar, Joseph Rhymer of Notre Dame College, Glasgow (now St. Andrews College), and proof that, as a rule of thumb, Catholic biblical scholarship - especially as communicated to a lay audience - has much greater credibility than most populist evangelical offerings.

The only place you're likely to find The Bible in Order is a good second hand bookstore (nod here to Evermore Books where I sourced my copy... sorry, the only one in store).  But if you're into third rate rubbish, the shelves at your nearest Christian retailer in Great Britain or other English speaking countries outside the US - this is surprisingly a British imprint - are probably heaving (heaving also being the appropriate reaction when you find one) with Cover to Cover: Complete.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Mike Wallace and the Rader Interview

The passing of veteran television journalist Mike Wallace, age 93, was noted around the world this past week.  For some of us his most significant interview, however, was not with one of the many notable and eminent people he encountered over a long career, but with a certain church accountant named Stan Rader on Easter Sunday 1979.

It was the time of "the receivership crisis" in the Worldwide Church of God, then one of America's highest profile new religious movements.  Herbert Armstrong's heir, son Garner Ted, had been cast out, rumours were flying about financial scandal, and church treasurer Stanley Rader had suddenly catapulted into the number two position in the corporation.  It was also then that the State of California moved in with a court appointed receiver to protect the assets of the church and conduct a full examination of the books.

I don't believe 60 Minutes screened in New Zealand at the time, but it didn't matter.  Copies of the broadcast - usually cheap audio cassettes - were quickly winging their way, via various sources, to every part of the planet where members were struggling to come to grips with the crisis that had seen Armstrong himself flee out of state to Tucson, and reestablish his church as a 'corporate sole.'  It was at this moment of madness that the octogenarian apostle declared a doctrine of Petrine Primacy - much to the shock of everyone concerned - to justify his unchallengeable authority.

Mike Wallace's interview with Rader was quite the performance.  Rader's performance.  His most memorable line: telling Wallace "you're on my list!"  And then he kicked him out.

No surprise that thousands of the brethren themselves walked out of the church.  No small matter with disfellowshipments falling like confetti, families split apart and the church reacting as only an authoritarian structure of that kind can, with even greater demands for control over people's lives.  Loyal brethren were bused in to Pasadena to do the unthinkable, wave placards, occupy buildings on the church's campus and generally hang tight with the official line.

Armstrong, Rader & Arthur Rubinstein
(It still amuses me, at this far distance out, that some of those who acted as Armstrongism's 'enforcers' during this 'cultural revolution' were later, with hardly a blink, to become the vanguard of the evangelical putsch after Armstrong's death.)

What goes around comes around, and it wasn't long before the announcement that "Mr. Rader" had stepped down from his responsibilities in the church.  Who held the bloodied knife?  I gather, despite being ordained to the church's highest ministerial office - under 'the apostle' of course - Rader never darkened the doors of the church again.  Apparently he was attending a Messianic congregation at the time of his death.  I hope it brought him some comfort and a sense of forgiveness.  He was not the caricature of evil he was sometimes made out to be, though he certainly appeared self-serving and a born manipulator.

Mike Wallace had many, many more important interviews than this one.  But for those who suffered under the heel of Armstrongism at the time, and those in the painful process of tearing themselves free, this was the one they will always remember.

Rest in Peace Mike.

[The Painful Truth site still, bless 'em, has the audio of that 60 Minutes program available - all 18 minutes - for those who want to take the time trip.]

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Ehrman's Pale Galilean

I know, the debate over Bart Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist? is starting to go stale.  But there's one further review out of MIT that's worth pointing to.
Bart D. Ehrman, a highly respected New Testament scholar, has taken on the challenge of defending the mainstream view on the historical Jesus from the seditious attacks from “mythicists,” new and old. In his new book, Did Jesus Exist?, Ehrman sets out to provide that single, coherent theory in favor of Jesus’ historicity. Which he does, with less than spectacular results.
Ehrman opens his argument by claiming that the question of Jesus’ historicity is all but settled from the start, since to his knowledge no serious scholar — now or in the past — has ever doubted the existence of the historical Jesus. By serious scholar, Ehrman means one holding a PhD (exit Doherty) and currently tenured in the field of New Testament studies (exit Carrier). The only bona fide exception Ehrman allows seems to be Robert Price (The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, 2003). Ehrman seems to have no problem with the possibility that holding a counter-mainstream view may affect a scholar’s chances for obtaining tenure in the first place.
And the concluding paragraph.
Nothing pale about this version
The historical Jesus that emerges from Ehrman’s mainstream defense is a purely human, miracle-free Jewish male with a very common name living in first century Palestine, who after an unremarkable youth went on to teach things that many others had taught before; one more apocalyptic preacher, among many others at the time, whose predictions were proven wrong within a generation; one more “troublemaker” crucified like countless others by the Romans after a drive-thru trial during the Pilate administration. Being such, the Jesus that can be reconstructed from history with any certainty is, for all practical purposes, as irrelevant as the mythical one, effectively shrinking the debate on his existence from a grandiose quest with theological implications to an inconsequential and endless exercise in academic hair-splitting.
 A pale Galilean indeed.  The more traditional make-believe, tutti-frutti flavoured saviour is much more fun.

Oh for heaven's sake!

James, get a grip!
Ehrman’s book is incredibly rich in detail. It reflects his typical fairness, insight, and clarity. I know that many mythicists have already begun panning the book, even before reading it in at least some cases. There have been and will continue to be attempts at misrepresentation and distraction from the force of Ehrman’s points. My plea to those who hang out in circles in which mythicism is popular, and who have never investigated the issue but who might be inclined to join in that dismissal, reflects the fact that I was once a young-earth creationist. You are (as I was, back then) hearing one side of the story, one that does not represent what experts in the history of this period and the origins of this religious movement have to say. You may have been told that there is a worldwide conspiracy to suppress the truth – just as young-earth creationist are told about evolution. Please, I ask you, listen to what Ehrman, a renowned expert with relevant credentials and experience who is an agnostic with atheist leanings, has to say on this topic.
 There is just soooo much wrong with this.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Multiple Choice Hotplate Jesus

Y'know, I kinda like this graphic from he-who-may-only-be-known-as-Sabio.  Check out both the posting that goes with it, and the one that follows.  Just the thing for Easter Sunday!


And if you feel you'd like to share which among these options you currently find most convincing, well, step right up.  I tend to the hot plate top right.


Saturday, 7 April 2012

Is Easter Pagan?

Well, allowing for a generous interpretation of 'pagan', of course it is.  But hello, that's the way any culture works, picking up interesting traditions and morphing them till their origins are lost and, frankly, irrelevant.  What matters is what we mean by them, not someone a thousand years ago.

Evangelical Christians take some persuading about this, particularly the wooden-headed fundamentalist brigade, and you have to suspect that there's a strong element of anti-Catholicism in the mix.  Regardless, doubts about the appropriateness of Easter continue to be a source of disquiet out on the fringe, and seem to be growing as the centre of gravity continues to tip away from the mainline churches. 

Dr Tim McGrew disagrees though.  McGrew isn't a historian or a biblical scholar as far as I can tell from his CV, but one of those interesting breed of apologists that, having ceded the battle on other fronts, have specialized in epistemology.  Forgive me, but when I read of someone thus qualified being "a specialist in the historical accuracy of the New Testament" or an expert on miracles, sirens go off in my head.  That doesn't prevent Tim being a smart dude though, and he defends the traditional non-pagan understanding with some vigour in a short interview aired on Radio Rhema.  Convincing?  Not for a minute.

What interests me though is the backstory to the interview.  Apparently a lot of local fundamentalists are buying into the pagan origins thing and even maybe, reading between the lines, the Thursday crucifixion theory.  Shades of Herman Hoeh?

Meanwhile, I'm off to heat up a hot cross bun.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

John Shuck on Bob Price

After an admirably balanced posting (found here) on the latest Bart Ehrman book, Did Jesus Exist?, John Shuck moves on to a review of Bob Price's The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems.  Again, he does a sterling and fairminded job.  If you've been considering hearing the other side of the story, Price is probably the place to start, and Shuck's review is a great introduction.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Luther on economics

"I do not see that many good customs have ever come to a land through commerce, and in ancient times God made his people Israel dwell away from the sea on account of this and did not let them engage in much commerce."

The reaction from whatever passed at the time for the Wittenberg Chamber of Commerce is not recorded.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Speeches in Acts

"And so the speeches of Acts, which must date well before any of our Gospels, and almost certainly predate the writings of Paul himself..."  Bart Ehrman

Bart Ehrman is a scholar I admire.  I've read everything from The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture to Forged.  But now in the wake of Did Jesus Exist? I'm puzzled.

Take for example, Ehrman's insistence that the speeches in Acts reflect very early sources.

Ehrman concedes that these speeches were "placed on the lips of the apostles at key moments of the narrative."  He notes that "it was customary for historical writers to invent the speeches of their main characters," and that "historians came up with speeches that seemed appropriate for the occasion."

But then he continues:  "But the speeches in Acts are particularly notable because they are, in many instances, based not on Luke's fertile imagination but on oral traditions."  (p.109)

Really?  Evidence?

"The reason for thinking so is that portions of these speeches represent theological views that do not mesh well with the views of Luke himself, as these can be ascertained through a careful reading of his two-volume work."  He goes on to state that these speeches contain preliterary traditions.

All of this assumes that Luke-Acts in its present form is a literary unit.  We know, however, that Marcion used a much briefer form of Luke, and that Acts is attested later than Luke.

The usual explanation for the difference between Marcion's Luke and the expanded canonical version is that Marcion took a pair of scissors to it in order to make it servicable to his views.  Evidence?  None.  Just as likely, Luke was padded out later in an edition that made it more acceptable for emerging orthodoxy.

Even if preliterary traditions were used when crafting the speeches of Acts, it's quite a stretch from there to asserting that they form a reliable, independent source for the existence of an historical apocalyptic prophet named Jesus.  Here at least, Ehrman's line of reasoning seems tenuous.

From there Ehrman leaps all over the place.  On page 141 we hear that these speeches contain material that predate Paul's letters, on page 172 that the speeches preserve very primitive traditions that appear to date from the earliest years, on page 190 that they long predate the Gospels.  In none of these examples can I find supporting references.

If I had to choose, I'd still say the weight of the evidence supports the apocalyptic prophet reconstruction.  But that's what it is, a reconstruction, and one that's not universally accepted - witness the cynic sage of the Jesus Seminar or Richard Horsley's political reading.

Given what we know about the dating and accuracy issues with Acts, this is one line of argument that seems a tad underwhelming.  If we indeed hit solid ground in the speeches - the speeches that, if running true to form "were placed on the lips of the apostles", then that would be about the only place in Acts where we do!

"Acts is a beautiful house that readers may happily admire, but it is not a home in which the historian can responsibly live."  Richard Pervo.

FWIW, some of the texts - none by mythicists! - that I think throw some real light on the nature of Acts are:

John Knox, Chapters in a Life of Paul, SCM, 1987 ed.
Mikeal Parsons & Richard Pervo, Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts, Fortress, 1993.
Joseph B. Tyson, Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle, University of South Carolina Press, 2006.
Richard Pervo, The Mystery of Acts: Unraveling It's Story, Polebridge, 2008.

Pervo's The Mystery of Acts is a true mythbuster, and pulls no punches.


Covenant crashes

Jean Mayland
Oh the dear old Church of England...

News today that the 'covenant', brainchild of Rowan Williams, Great White Father to the Anglican communion, has crashed and burned.

The covenant, perhaps better termed 'the compromise', was intended to keep the various segments of Anglicanism together in the face of emerging issues in the post-modern world.  To do so, the American Episcopal Church was to be offered up like a sacrificial goat on the high altar at St Pauls.  The unforgivable treatment of Gene Robinson, shunned by his British peers, must go down in history as one of Anglicanism's most shameful moments.

The issue is broader than the place of homosexuals in the church, but this has been the trigger, or perhaps the pretext, for division.  The problem is, in larger part, that many Anglican churches in the so-called Third World are hyper-conservative, bible-bashing, woman-relegating, gay-hating, authoritarian pig-pens of human oppression.  Quite the contrast to the polite, well-heeled, progressive, liberal, tea and crumpets Anglicanism of the Anglo world.  Rowan Williams determined to play a strategic game of appeasement.  He lost.

And who brought down the Gandalf-like, bewhiskered, bespectacled scholar-priest?  A 75 year old slightly stooped woman named Jean Mayland who was ordained in 1994.

Tellingly, most bishops voted in favour of the Williams covenant, but the peons, clergy and laity, sent it to its doom.

Good job!