Stephen Hayes's Blog

February 5, 2016

This morning we went to TGIF to hear David Levey speak on Why I read irreligiously: doubt, apologetics and fiction.

TGIF (just in case you didn’t know, the letters stand for Thank God It’s Friday) is a weekly gathering in three different centres in Gauteng, held in bookshops with coffee bars attached.[1]  Some one speaks on a topic usually related to the Christian faith and society and culture. It lasts an hour, from 6:30 am to 7:30 am, so people can get to work afterwards. We’ve been a few times, when people have spoken on topi9cs that particularly interested us.[2]

From the TGIF blurb:

What does literature have to say to theology – and vice versa?  And how do we take literature on its own terms without hastily imposing theological categories; how do we leave room for and engage with doubts and genuine questions in literature?  Don’t miss David Levey as he offers a tour of various authors ranging from postmodern writers to feminist theologians to new atheists.  Drawing on his own journey of faith and reading, David will invite us to listen for the deeper questions.

This is part 1 of a 2-part mini-series.  The first part will explore the relationship between theology and  literature more generally, while part 2 (next week) will offer a particular focus on outspoken bestselling atheist Philip Pullman.

Prof David Levey has recently retired from the Dept of English Studies at Unisa but remains an Associate Professor and Research Fellow, with strong focuses on the faith-literature interrelation, especially as regards popular culture in general and Philip Pullman in particular.

We’ll have to go next week to hear the second part.

David Levey speaking at TGIF, 5 February 2016

David Levey speaking at TGIF, 5 February 2016

Afterwards we discussed the possibility of meeting regularly to discuss the general topic of Christianity and Literature. TGIF is all well and good, but it covers a wide range of topics, not all of which are interesting to everyone. Perhaps what we want is a kind of Tshwane Inklings, with no speaker, no set agenda, just getting together to chat on the broad topic of Christianity and literature. Perhaps, like the Oxford Inklings of the 1930s, we may read some of our own writing to each other.

In order that it should not just be a vague desire, we set a time and a place for our first meeting: 10:30 am on Thursday 3 March 2016 at Cafe 41 in Eastwood Avenue, Arcadia, Pretoria, and thereafter on the first Thursday of every month. We will meet for coffee and literary/theological chat, and those who want to stay for lunch can do so.

If there’s anyone reading this who might like to participate, come and join us. If you live too far away, start your own, and join our electronic NeoInklings Forum, where you can discuss things online.


[1] TGIF meets most Fridays at three different venues in Gauteng.

All venues start 06:15 am for 06:30 am and end 7:30 am sharp.  Free entrance, all welcome.  No need to book – just walk in.

The venues are:

Hodges Coffee House, 345 Jan Smuts Ave, CRAIGHALL PARK
Seattle Coffee Company, CRESTA Shopp’ng Centre
OM Link Building, 1211 South Street, HATFIELD

[2] You can read about some other TGIF gatherings we have attended here:

New monasticism meets old | Khanya
Hobbits, heroes and Jesus – TGIF | Khanya
Bloated job titles and other examples of diseased language | Notes from underground

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Published on February 05, 2016 03:16

February 4, 2016

This is an election year in the USA and the media have been speculating on how “Evangelicals” will vote.

To judge from media reports the Evangelicals will vote either for Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. There have been some protests about this stereotyping of American Evangelicals, and I have written about the media stereotyping here. In some cases this has led to the phenomenon of Evangelicalophobia — fear and loathing of Evangelicals.

The phenomenon of Evangelicalophobia is not new, however. I became sharply aware of it in 1999 when the so-called Ontario Center for Religious Tolerance began promoting fear and loathing of Evangelicals. It turned out that their notion of “religious tolerance” did not extend to Evangelicals when in 1999 they began propagating rumours to the effect that Evangelicals, disappointed that the world had not ended in the year 2000, would stage terrorist attacks in the USA. These repeated warnings were clearly calculated to promote fear and loathing of Evangelicals, and seemed a pretty swivel-eyed notion of religious tolerance to me, and, in my view at least, completely undermined the credibility of the Centre.

So Evangelicalophobia had been around for some time, it didn’t just start with the current US election. But what is an Evangelical? This article So What, Then, Is “American Evangelicalism?” can help, and a British blogging friend, who lives in Cyprus and has experienced both British and American Evangelicalism, comments on some of the differences here: God-Word-Think: Evangelicals?

Perhaps people who want to know what evangelicalism is will find those helpful.

Part of the difficulty is that “evangelical” has a fairly wide range of meanings in Christian theology and history. It was originally an adjective, and its use as a noun is more recent. Here are some of the meanings.

Relating to the four written gospels of the New Testament. People sometimes speak of the “evangelical sacraments”, meaning baptism and the Eucharist, which are the only ones mentioned and also commanded in the Gospels. Others, like anointing of the sick (unction) are mentioned in the New Testament epistles, but not in the Gospels, so they are not “evangelical”.

The Evangelismos in an Orthodox Church, showing the Annunciation and the four Evangelists.

The Evangelismos in an Orthodox Church, showing the Annunciation and the four Evangelists.

Pertaining to the Gospel or Good News of the Kingdom of God. Mark 1:1  The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The gospel (evangelion) is both the good news proclaimed by Jesus Christ, and the good news of his coming, which, according to St Luke, actually goes back a bit further, to the Annunciation (Evanglismos), the announcement of the angel to the virgin Mary of the coming of Jesus Christ. These events marking the coming of Jesus Christ have traditionally been celebrated by Christians annually on 25 March, 25 December and 6 January. One who proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ in speech or in writing is called an Evangelist. So the writers of the four written gospels are called Evangelists, and those who follow them in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ are called evangelists. Note that there is a difference between an evangelist and an evangelical, which at least some journalists are not aware of.
Protestant, and especially Lutheran Churches in Germany. Martin Luther disliked the term “Lutheran” and preferred “Evangelical”, indicating that he thought the Lutheran Church was truer to the gospel than the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore “Evangelical” can refer to Lutherans, as opposed to Roman Catholics or Calvinists (Reformed).
Among Anglicans, “Evangelical” meant “Low Church” rather than “High Church”. High Church Anglicans believed that the church was important, and that (in England) it was more than simply an arm of the State, but important in its own right. The Evangelical Revivals of the 18th century produced evangelistic preaching aimed at conversion or “awakening” of dormant nominal Christians, and this led to the interpretation of the term “born again” as meaning making a conscious decision to follow Jesus. This has sometimes been called “decisional regeneration”, to distinguish it from the traditional teaching of “baptismal regeneration”.  With their emphasis on the importance of individual conversion rather than membership of the church, Anglican Evangelicals tended to be “Low Church”.
Evangelicals versus Ecumenicals. In the 19th century Protestant churches had become mission conscious, and sent missionaries all over the world to preach the gospel. In 1910 an International Missionary Conference was held in Edinburgh to discuss matters of common concern, one of which was that competition between the numerous different Protestant denominations from various countries was hindering mission. This gave rise to the Ecumenical Movement, which culminated in the formation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 1948. At a meeting of the International Missionary Council (IMC), which had been formed as a result of the Edinburgh conference in 1910, it was proposed that the IMC join the WCC, which happened in 1961, and the IMC became the WCC’s Commission for World Mission and Evangelism (see here for more details). Some Evangelicals objected, saying that this was making mission subordinate to the unity of the church. Thus there was a split between Ecumenicals, who saw unity as taking priority over evangelism, and Evangelicals, who saw evangelism as taking precedence over unity. The evangelicals arranged a series of mission conferences, now loosely referred to as the Lausanne Movement (from the venue where one of the conferences was held).

This is a very sketchy summary of some of the different meanings of “Evangelical”. Follow the links for more information.

Note that in the first two the word “evangelical” is an adjective, and these meanings are common to all Christians. In the last two “Evangelical” with a capital E is also used as a noun, and it refers to a subset of Western Protestants.

In this article I have made no reference to the rise of the “religious right”, which is a movement of right-wing political activism, which started among Fundamentalists rather than Evangelicals, but has extended its appeal to some groups of Evangelicals, especially in America. For more details see The Founding Father of the Religious Right. Before then, Evangelicals tended to be a-political. They were more interested in saving souls than in playing politics, and indeed one of their criticisms of Ecumenicals was that the latter were too concerned about politics. At Lausanne conferences there have been some differences of opinion between people with right-wing tendencies and the rest, but the right-wingers have generally been in the minority, and their views have not found much of a hearing. For more information see Documents of the Lausanne Movement.

For this reason I think the media stereotype of Evangelicals as right-wing in politics is inaccurate and unfair. Perhaps the word “Evangelical” has been skunked, and now means so many different things to different people that one needs to qualify it before using it. But I hope this article may bring a little clarity to those who have asked about it. And Evangelicalophobia, like Islamophobia, is an attempt to stir up religious hatred, and no good will come of it.


Point of view of the author

Since I have said that “Evangelical” can mean so many things to different people, it may help anyone reading this to know where I am coming from.

I am not an Evangelical, but an Orthodox Christian, and so in a sense I don’t have a dog in this fight, and that gives me a measure of neutrality.

Having said that, I should also acknowledge that I might not have been Orthodox, or any kind of Christian at all had it not been for an evangelical teacher who evangelised me and rattled the cage of my atheist/agnostic upbringing to present to me the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was Steyn Krige, a conservative Evangelical and progressive educationist, a radical leftist of the religious right.

But I am not writing this to give an “Orthodox” view of Evangelicals and Evangelicalism. I’m writing it as a church historian and missiologist. I haven’t tried very much to “bracket out” my Orthodox views, since for the most part there has been little need — there has been little contact, and for the most part Orthodox and Protestant Evangelicals inhabit different worlds. But as a missiologist I do see at least one overlap: In the 18th century John Wesley and St Cosmas the Aetolian, quite independently, one in Britain and the other in the Balkans, went around preaching revival in the open air. John Wesley was one of the founding fathers of the Evangelical Movement.

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Published on February 04, 2016 02:25 • 1 view

February 1, 2016

Someone posted a link to this article on Facebook, and I strongly disagree Five reasons you should write in your books | Joel J. Miller:

Some will be scandalized. I’m an inveterate scribbler. That’s especially true when it comes to nonfiction, but even novels suffer a few slashes and asterisks. If writing in books ever becomes illegal, you’ll find me in the prison library, lurking in a corner, sharpening a smuggled pencil.

The author is mainly talking about writing in his own books, and since he owns them, that’s OK, but I find it excessively annoying when people write in library books. Finding a book where someone else has underlined things usually distracts from what the author is saying, and very often you don’t know whether the underliner was marking passages they agreed with or disagreed with.

Annotate2And even if it is my own book, I don’t generally underline things or highlight them, because if it is a good book, on a second reading something quite different might stand out for me, which I might have missed on a first reading. If I have underlined things, then I’m more likely to miss anything new.

The author  of the article also mentions indexing noteworthy passages in books, and I have less objection to that. Most books have several blank leaves at the end where this can be done. That can be a useful tool and does not distract other readers, and can be useful to them if they are looking for the same things.

Another exception I might be willing to make is where the book has factually incorrect information, for example a date or the name of a person or a place. But this should be rare, and should be reserved strictly for matters of fact rather than matters of opinion. Who was responsible for starting a war is a matter of opinion, but the date of a significant battle in that war is usually a matter of fact.

I have found that most of the things that Joel Miller finds useful about writing in books can be accomplished more easily and more efficiently by computer software.

There are several note-taking programs available, and one that I use for notes and quotes from books is askSam.

Using such a program it is easy to enter notes and quotes from books, with comments as well, and then to search for themes across several books. So, for example, if I want to find something that I read about myth and concepts, I can enter those two words as search terms, and it throws up this:

The nature of myth.

Source: Berdyaev 1948:70.

Myth is a reality immeasurably greater than concept. It is

high time that we stopped identifying myth with invention,

with the illusions of primitive mentality, and with anything,

in fact, which is essentially opposed to reality… The

creation of myths among peoples denotes a real spiritual life,

more real indeed than that of abstract concepts and rational

thought. Myth is always concrete and expresses life better

than abstract thought can do; its nature is bound up with that

of symbol. Myth is the concrete recital of events and original

phenomena of the spiritual life symbolized in the natural

world, which has engraved itself on the language memory and

creative energy of the people… it brings two worlds together


Even if I’d underlined the passage in the book it would not have helped, because it was a library book, and even if I had the time to travel to the library, I might find that someone else had taken the book out.

So for annotating and indexing stuff that you find in books, there are now much better ways. Let your computer do the work. You can read about askSam and similar notetaking programs here or here.

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Published on February 01, 2016 21:26 • 1 view

January 28, 2016

John de Gruchy writes in his blog:

For those who have enquired about my books and publication, or are interested in them, may I draw your attention to the following:Being Human: Confessions of a Christian Humanist (2006). In this I set out my understanding of what it means to be a Christian today over against fundamentalism and secularism.Led into Mystery: Faith Seeking answers in life and death (2013). I wrote this in response to the tragic death of my son Steve.A Theological Odyssey: My life in writing (2014) This was published in celebration of my 75th birthday. It gives full details of all my publications (books, essays, articles), and something about how and why they were written.Sawdust and Soul: Conversations about Woodworking and Spirituality (2015) With William J. Everett. Together with my friend American fellow theologian and woodworker, Bill Everett, I explored what woodworking has taught us about life.I have Come a Long Way (2015). This is an autobiography.

Source: Books etcetra

And John de Gruchy and I are working on another book we hope to publish later this year, one the history of the charismatic renewal and related movements in South Africah church history. Click here for more details.

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Published on January 28, 2016 07:27 • 1 view

January 24, 2016

A couple of weeks ago we restarted Orthodox services in Atteridgeville, about 15 km west of Pretoria.

The parish was started by Fr Nazarios and Fr Elias, two missionary monks, and services were held in a children’s home, or the congregation was transported to the monastery in Gerardville. In 2009 we had a teaching week, which was quite well attended, and the parish seemed to be growing, but after the death of Fr Nazarius and the closure of the children’s home, there was nowhere for the church to meet, so it stopped meeting, yet there were two people who were able to lead Readers Services: Demetrius Mahwayi and Artemius Mangena.

With the blessing of our bishop, Metropolitan Damaskinsos, we arranged with the African Orthodox Church in Atteridgeville to use their church for services, and began a fortnight ago, on 7 January 2016.

African Orthodox Church in Atteridgeville

African Orthodox Church in Atteridgeville

My wife Val bought some wood, and made two ikon stands (analogia) and hangings, and mounted prints of ikons of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Theotokos (painted by our daughter Julia Bridget Hayes) on boards, and this Sunday we set them up in the church. Fr Frumentius Taubata joined us this Sunday, and so he was able to bless the ikons and ikon stands.

Atteridgebill congregation after the blessing of the ikons and ikon stands

Atteridgeville congregation after the blessing of the ikons and ikon stands

We were joined by some of the members of the African Orthodox Church congregation, including their deacon, the Revd Enock Thobela. Even though we did have a priest with us this time, we still used the Reader Service, because it will take some planning and preparation before we are able to serve the Divine Liturgy there.

Fr Frumentius Taubata preaching at Atteridgebille

Fr Frumentius Taubata preaching at Atteridgebille

The African Orthodox Church began in South Africa in 1924, and its l;eader, Daniel William Alexander of Kimberley, went to America to be consecrated bishop in the African Orthodox Church there, the seme year that the first Orthodox bishop of the Patriarchate of Alexandria was established in Johannesburg.

Foundation nstone of the Atteridgeville church.

Foundation nstone of the Atteridgeville church.

Daniel William Alexander went to Uganda in 1932 and Kenya in 1934, and established Afrikan Orthodox Churches there, which were received into the Patriarchate of Alexandria in 1946. You can read more of that history here. The South African branch of the AOC, however, remained independent, and after 1960 split into several separate groups, with a long and complex history.

For the last 20 years I think my main ministry in the church has been teaching leaders of mission congregations to lead reader services in the absence of a priest. This might seem odd to many Orthodox Christiasns, who, if there isn’t a priest, either go to a service in another parish, or stay away from church altogether. I think the importance and rationale of the Reader Services is best explained in the following description by a bishop in America. If you manage to read to the end of it, you will also find a link to where you can download a Reader Service book in pdf format, which you can read and use as the bishop suggests (with the blessing of your own parish priest and/or bishop, of course).

Comments on Reader Services by Archbishop Averky

(An excerpt from The Typicon of the Orthodox Church’s Divine Services: The Orthodox Christian and the Church Situation Toda.)

Archbishop Averky of Holy Trinity Monastery at Jordanville, New York, makes some remarks in a report concerning the “Internal Mission” of the Church which was approved by the whole Council of Bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia in 1962:

“It is extremely important for the success of the Internal Mission to attract, as far as possible, all the faithful into one or another kind of active participation in the Divine services, so that they might not feel themselves merely idle spectators or auditors who come to Church as to a theater just in order to hear the beautiful singing of the choir which performs, as often happens now, totally unchurchly, bravura, theatrical compositions. It is absolutely necessary to re-establish the ancient custom, which is indeed demanded by the Typicon itself, of the singing of the whole people at Divine services… It is a shame to the Orthodox faithful not to know its own wondrous, incomparable Orthodox Divine services, and therefore it is the duty of the pastor to make his flock acquainted with the Divine services, which may be accomplished most easily of all by way of attracting the faithful into practical participation.”

Further, in the same article Archbishop Averky dispels the popular misconception that Orthodox Christians are not allowed to perform any church services without a priest, and that therefore the believing people become quite helpless and are unable to pray when they find themselves without a priest. He writes, on the same page of this article:

“According to our Typicon, all the Divine services of the daily cycle — apart, needless to say, from the Divine Liturgy and other Church sacraments — may be performed also by persons not ordained to priestly rank. This has been widely done in the practice of prayer by all monasteries, sketes, and desert-dwellers in whose midst there are no monks clothed in the rank of priest. And up until the most recent time this was to be seen also, for example, in Carpatho-Russia, which was outstanding for the high level of piety of its people, where in case of the illness or absence of the priest, the faithful themselves, without a priest, read and sang the Nocturnes, and Matins, and the Hours, and Vespers, and Compline, and in place of the Divine Liturgy, the Typica.

“In no way can one find anything whatever reprehensible in this, for the texts themselves of our Divine services have foreseen such a possibility, for example, in such a rubric which is often encountered in them: ‘If a priest is present, he says: Blessed is our God… If not, then say with feeling: By the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.’ And further there follows the whole order of the Divine services in its entirety, except of course, for the ectenes and the priestly responses. The longer extenes are replaced by the reading of ‘Lord, have mercy’ twelve times, and Little Ectene by the reading of ‘Lord, have mercy’ three times.

“Public prayer, as none other, firmly unites the faithful. And so, in all those parishes where there is no permanent priest, it is absolutely necessary not merely to permit, but indeed to recommend to the faithful that they come together on Sundays and feast days in church or even in homes, where there is no church, in order to perform together such public prayer according to the established order of Divine services.”

This normal church practice, which like so much else that belongs to the best Orthodox Church tradition, has become so rare today as to seem rather a novelty, is nonetheless being practiced now in several parishes of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, as well as in some private homes. This practice can and should be greatly increased among the faithful, whether it is a question of a parish that has lost its priest or is to small to support one, of a small group of believers far from the nearest church which has not yet formed a parish, or a single family which is unable to attend church on every Sunday and feast day.

Indeed, this practice in many places has become the only answer to the problem of keeping alive the tradition of the Church’s Divine services….

The way of conducting such services should preferably be learned from those who already practice it in accordance with both the written and oral tradition of the Church. But even in the absence of such guidance, an Orthodox layman, when he is unable to attend church services, can derive much benefit from simply reading through some of the simpler services, much as he already reads Morning and Evening Prayers. Thus, he can read any of the Hours (First, Third, and Sixth Hours in the morning, Ninth Hour in the afternoon), which have no changeable parts except for the Troparion and Kontakion; he can simply read through the stichera of the great feasts on the appropriate day; or he can read the Psalms appointed for a given day….

From Orthodox Word, Jan.-Feb., 1974, Reprinted in A Manual of The Orthodox Church’s Divine Services, compiled by Archpriest D. Sokolof, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY, 1975.

Click here to download a .pdf file of the text of the Readers Service, in English and North Sotho.

And if you would like to hear what it sounds like, click here to download an MP3 file of of the Typika/Obednitsa sung in North Sotho and English. No, it’s not s super polished choir, just our Mission congregation at Mamelodi meeting in a school classroom.


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Published on January 24, 2016 08:30 • 1 view

January 17, 2016

There has been quite a lot of comment on social media recently about the decision of Wheaton College, in the USA, to sack a professor because she said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

I refrained from commenting on this for a while because most of the reports I had seen were in secular media that do not understand theological issues, so it was not clear what it was actually about. It did concern me, though, because Wheaton College is the repository of much of the archives of C.S. Lewis, who was one of the twentieth-century  Christian writers who said some of the most interesting and thought-provoking things about Christianity and contemporary culture.

Now, however three articles have appeared, which throw some light on the issue, or at least show why it is an issue.

Confronting the Tashlans of Our Time: Wheaton College, Miroslav Volf and the Name of Allah | Finding Tangle
Wheaton and the Controversy Over Whether Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God | Robert Priest, Mark Naylor, and Dale Wolyniak –
What Arab Christians Think of Wheaton-Hawkins ‘Same God’ Debate | Christianity Today

These articles all emanate from Evangelical Christian sources (which happens to be the same theological tradition that Wheaton College belongs to). and in different ways they present the theological question: Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

Muslims and Christians claim to worship the God of Abraham, as do Jews, so these three religions are sometimes called Abrahamic. So the question really boils down to whether the God of Abraham is the same God. Christians believe that the God of Abraham is also the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ is himself the God of Abraham.

Ikon painted by Bridget Hayes

Ikon painted by Bridget Hayes — Ikonographics

On one Internet discussion forum for Orthodox Christians a Muslim posted the question “Who is Allah?” to which I responded that Allah is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Of course the Muslim disagreed, and no doubt Jews would disagree too.

I’m not a great theological fundi, but it seems to me that if people make an issue out of saying that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God, and insist that it is important to insist that they do not, they then turn God into a purely human construct, and thus deny that God exists at all.

If God exists at all, he is bigger than human constructs, and while one can say that Christians and Muslims have differing conceptions of God, different theologies, to insist that God is entirely determined by those human constructs is to deny God altogether.

As an Orthodox bishop has pointed out:

In Orthodox patristic theology it is clear that the mystery of the Holy Trinity is one thing, which we will never understand, and the doctrine of the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which the Fathers expressed after having experienced Revelation, is another thing.

St John of Damascus (who lived in Damascus while it was under Islamic rule, and was therefore familiar with Islam) described Islamic theology as a heresy that mutilated God. But he never suggests that Muslims worshipped a different God. Their theology was different, certainly. But to say that there are different Gods is to confuse human theology with the divine essence, which is idolatry. It confuses the map with the territory. If you have two maps, an accurate and an inaccurate one, you do not have a different territory, you just have an inaccurate map.

The article on Confronting the Tashlans of our time raises more and somewhat different problems.

The author goes beyond the question of Muslims and Christians, and makes a distinction between God and Allah. This is pure linquistic chauvinism, which I have dealt with in another article, so I won’t say any more about it here.

But the article also identifies C.S. Lewis’s literary creation Tash with Allah, which is a problem in several ways. While the author acknowledges that Tash is a creature (“Tash, in the story, did turn out to be real. He was not just some idea to be manipulated but a distinct and evil creature who did not care for his followers and was destined to be vanquished by the might of Aslan’s roar”), I believe that both Christians and Muslims regard Allah (God) as the uncreated creator, and therefore not a creature.

In doing this the author seems to make the very error he is trying to avoid — creating a Tashlan, a mingling of the uncreated with the created, which is therefore exactly the kind of parody of the incarnation that C.S. Lewis was trying to portray in his book The Last Battle.

It seems to me that Tash is much closer to Satan in Christian thought — a creature, not the creator. Tash has no power to create, he can only twist and distort the good creation of Aslan. His followers are not like Muslims, but more akin to Satanists. The Calormene culture in the novels may bear some superficial resemblances to medieval Saracens, but the cult of Tash is completely different from Islam.

C.S. Lewis populated his fiction with numerous divine and semi-divine beings, fauns and dryads, Bacchus and Silenus, a river god, planetary rulers and more. But he is always careful to maintain the distinction between creator and created.

Muslims, Christians, and I believe Jews as well maintain this distinction. Muslims go on to say that God neither begets nor is begotten, which Christians do not accept. But that does mean that there are two (or three) uncreated creators, one who begets and is begotten while the other does not. There is one God who is the uncreated creator, worshipped by Christians, Muslims and Jews, even if their conceptions of him differ.

But, as I said, I’m not a theological fundi. If someone can show me that this is heretical, I’m open to being convinced.

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

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Published on January 17, 2016 21:06 • 8 views

After the Anglican Primates meeting last week, which, from what I’ve heard narrowly managed to avert the disintegration of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, announced that he was working towards having a fixed date for Easter. Archbishop Justin Welby hopes for fixed Easter date – BBC News:

The Archbishop of Canterbury is working with other Christian churches to agree on a fixed date for Easter.

Justin Welby made the announcement after a meeting of primates from the Anglican Communion in Canterbury.

In the UK, an act of Parliament passed in 1928 allowed for Easter Sunday to be fixed on the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April.

However, this has never been activated and Easter has remained variable, determined by the moon’s cycle.

Coming just after a meeting at which different views on sexual morality and the theology of marriage threatened to tear the Anglican Communion apart, I can’t help wondering whether this Easter business is perhaps a diversionary tactic to shift the media spotlight to the Orthodox, for whom the calendar is as much a contentious issue as sexual morality is for Anglicans.

One interesting response came from a Pagan friend, who said on Facebook, “If they are talking about divorcing Easter from its connection to the Full Moon, I’m going to be very cross indeed.”

My somewhat jocular response to that was that if Eastern and Wester were always on the same date, the Orthodox would not be able to invite their Western friends to Holy Week and Easter services, because they would be busy with their own, and also the Orthodox would be deprived of the opportunity of buying chocolate Easter eggs in the shops at a discount rate. Not so much this year, when Easter and Wester are five weeks apart (1 May & 27 March) and the chocolate eggs will be well out of the shops by the time Easter arrives.

But it was the connection with the full moon that I find interesting. I don’t have any very profound thoughts on this, and no doubt all kinds of people could pick holes in this, but I thought it is interesting to compare Christian and Pagan notions of the full moon and other astronomical phenomena.

creatheavIn one of the biblical accounts of creation, Genesis chapter 1, the creation of the sun and moon are describes as follows:

And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.

And the evening and the morning were the fourth day (Genesis 1-16-19).

There are several interesting things here. One is that the light-bearing bodies are created after light, and even after day and night. They are to mark the distinction between day and night, but do not make the distinction.

Another thing is that the light-bearing bodies are not named. They are not called the sun and moon, but simply the big light and the little light.

This is not an accident, but it is making a deliberate theological point. The people of Israel were aware that many of the surrounding nations worshipped the sun and the moon, or the deities believed to control them, but the covenant God had made with them told them that they were not to do such things. So the creation of the sun and moon is described in such a way as to show that the heavenly bodies are not to be worshipped. They are creatures, created by God, and their purpose is not to be worshipped, but to provide illumination and regulate the calendar.

So the Christian take on it is somewhat different from the pagan take on it, and even the neopagan take on it.

But where we can agree is that they are there to regulate the calendar, and if God saw that it was good, then it is good that they should go on regulating the calendar.

There are other biblical accounts of creation that show it in a somewhat different light, and perhaps they resonate better with what pagans feel about such things. For example this one, when the Lord questions Job, who has been questioning him about everything that has happened:

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.

Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?

Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;

When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?  (Job 38:4-7)

And it is this view that was taken up by C.S. Lewis in his book The magician’s nephew, when he describes the creation of Narnia accompanied by singing stars, and his friend and fellow-author J.R/R. Tolkien did something similar in the Ainulindalë. Lewis went even further along that line when, in his novel That hideous strength, he gives the planets and their divine rulers their old Roman pagan names and characteristic behaviour, though he also refers to them by their names in his made-up language, Old Solar.

Lewis comes closest to explaining this in yet another novel, The voyage of the Dawn Treader, where two children from our world travel to Narnia and meet a retired star. One of them, Eustace Scrubb, who has had an entirely modern education, says “In our world stars are great balls of burning gas,” to which the retired star replies, “Even in your world, that is only what they are made of, and not what they are.”

And it seems to me that the proposal to fix the date of Easter comes out of the kind of worldview that Eustace Scrubb was educated in. It smacks of Enlightenment thinking, the same kind of thinking that produced the metric system. Of course generations of school children can be thankful that the metric system has made school mathematics easier. But when it was adopted in South Africa 45 years ago, one of the first effects was a rise in building costs. That was because metric bricks were smaller, and so they took 14% longer for a bricklayer to lay them. The metric system is easier to calculate, but a lot of its measurements are not on a human scale.

And is the world really dying for a fixed date of Easter? Wouldn’t it be better to put our time and effort and energy into sorting out things like the civil wars in Syria and Ukraine and Burundi and other countries, beside which the messy dates of Easter and even Anglican squabbles about sexual morality pale into insignificance?


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Published on January 17, 2016 03:53 • 4 views

January 15, 2016

Richard-Spyros Hagabimana, a Colonel from Burundi, who is also a Greek citizen and a faithful Orthodox Christian, has been cruelly tortured and illegally held in various prisons in Burundi since June 2015, and is to be tried on December the 14th 2015, under the false accusation of participating in the attempted coup of May 2015. In fact he is jailed and tortured for refusing to use violence to repress -and even to kill- protesting demonstrators, mostly women and children.

Source: English | free richard-spiros!

Apparently he has now been found innocent and freed. but I hope the full story can be told.


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Published on January 15, 2016 19:52 • 5 views

January 11, 2016

The work is definitely worth reading, and I gave the book to my sister as a Christmas gift. She is a great admirer of To Kill a Mockingbird and I think this book will resonate with her.

Source: Go set a Watchman

I hadn’t planned to read this, but after reading this review I might.

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Published on January 11, 2016 20:32 • 2 views

January 10, 2016

I’ve seen a couple of interesting articles on children’s literature recently, comparing British and American styles of writing.

Harry Potter vs. Huckleberry Finn: Why the British Tell Better Children’s Stories Than Americans – The Atlantic:

If Harry Potter and Huckleberry Finn were each to represent British versus American children’s literature, a curious dynamic would emerge: In a literary duel for the hearts and minds of children, one is a wizard-in-training at a boarding school in the Scottish Highlands, while the other is a barefoot boy drifting down the Mississippi, beset by con artists, slave hunters, and thieves. One defeats evil with a wand, the other takes to a raft to right a social wrong. Both orphans took over the world of English-language children’s literature, but their stories unfold in noticeably different ways.

An interesting thesis, and I was wondering about it when an American scholar of the Inklings (some of whom wrote some of the best-known British children’s fantasy stories) posted a tweet on Twitter, asking “which fairy story traumatised you most as a child?”

And I couldn’t think of any fairy stories that had traumatised me at all. I could think of a children’s story that traumatised me as a child, and it was one of the American moral realism school. My cousins had a copy of this book:

Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories Volume One (Bedtime Stories, #1)Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories Volume One by Arthur S. Maxwell

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It was moralistic and scary. The story that traumatised me most, so that I still remember it, was one about a boy who liked to throw stones, and he threw one at a girl called Doris, and hit her on the voice box so she could no longer speak. It gave me nightmares for weeks.

I later developed a taste for horror stories, and I’m in the middle of reading a collection of horror stories at bed time, but none of them has ever horrified me as much as Uncle Arthur’s bedtime stories. I later discovered that the book had been published by Seventh-Day Adventists, and Seventh-Day Adventism is a “made in the USA” variety of Protestantism that is more moralistic than most.

Uncle Arthur’s bedtime stories is perhaps an extreme example of the moralism that pervades much American children’s literature, but I think Colleen Gillard in her article in The Atlantic misses the mark in many ways. She makes no mention of Madeleine l’Engle, for example.

And one of the pull quotes in Gillard’s article gets it exactly wrong:

Popular storytelling in the New World instead tended to celebrate in words and song the larger-than-life exploits of ordinary men and women.

But the best fantasy and fairy stories are not about extraordinary people, they are about extraordinary things happening to ordinary people. Jack the Giantkiller is an ordinary boy who climbs an extraordinary beanstalk. The children in the Narnia stories are ordinary schoolchildren who encounter an extraordinary world. In The Lord of the Rings Tolkien emphasises the ordinariness of hobbits, some of whom have quite extraordinary adventures. Harry Potter is a wizard, which makes him extraordinary among muggles, but in most of the stories he is a wizard among other wizards, where being a wizard is not extraordinary. And at the centre of the Harry Potter stories are moral choices where Christian values predominate, contrary to what Gillard asserts.

Gillard goes on to say that British children’s stories are better than American ones because of the pagan roots of British fantasy. I think that is adequately refuted in this article Catholic or Pagan Imagination: A Response to Colleen Gillard — Letters from the Edge of Elfland, and the author’s reaction to Gillard’s article is similar to mine:

Things were going along fine at first. The first line of the article, a kind of one sentence summation of the article in toto, says, “Their history informs fantastical myths and legends, while American tales tends to focus on moral realism.” Gillard goes on to provide evidence for this by first contrasting Huckleberry Fin to the Harry Potter stories. As Gillard writes, “One defeats evil with a wand, the other takes to a raft to right a social wrong.” American children stories especially from the nineteenth century onward tend to focus on life in the frontier and usually have a strong moral ethic to them that involves working hard, or being cunning enough to get others to work hard for you, sticking to your guns against an immoral society or an amoral nature. Gillard, citing Harvard professor Maria Tatar, connects the American side to the Protestant work ethic. Again, I find myself agreeing. Yet it is when Tatar suggests that it’s simply that, “the British have always been in touch with their pagan folklore…. After all, the country’s very origin story is about a young king tutored by a wizard.” Now Gillard, and Tatar, is going a bit awry if you ask me. First of all, King Arthur, while an essential story within British culture, is not exactly the country’s origin story. That’s not quite the role it’s meant to fill. But putting that aside, Merlin being a wizard and Arthur’s tutor (which sounds much more like Gillard is getting her Arthurian legend through T. H. White rather than, say, Chretien de Troyes or the Gawain Poet or many, many others) doesn’t make those stories pagan.

I think there as more than can be said about this. The Arthurian stories are set in Romanised Britain just after the Roman invaders had left and when the Anglo-Saxon invaders are beginning to arrive. But they were popularised in Britain at the time that the Norman invaders had established their power over the Anglo-Saxon invaders of the post-Arthurian period. The people at the centre of the Arthurian stories are neither Norman nor Anglo-Saxon, so it is certainly not their origins that are being portrayed. And I find it interesting that the legend of the Holy Grail is being developed just about the time that the Roman Catholic doctrine of transsubstantiation was being defined. The Arthurian stories are not really pagan, and nor are they children’s stories.

Gillard also does not mention the British author whose children’s stories are most pagan in background, namely Alan Garner. If any children’s book comes close to supporting Gillard’s thesis about paganism in children’s literature The Weirdstone of Brisingamen would.

But the appeal of Garner’s works is similar to that of the more demonstrably Christian-based ones like those of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien et al. I think David Mosley comes closer to the mark when he contrasts the Catholic background of British culture with the influence of the Protestant work ethic on the dominant American culture.

But I think there is even more to it than that. The USA was founded in modernity, the values of which were shapped by movements such as the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment. These shaped the kind opf Christianity that took root in America, and the kind of values portrayed in much American children’s literature.

British authors like Tolkien and Lewis portray, or at least value, a premodern worldview. In the Harry Potter books there is something similar. The Muggles are thoroughly modern, mired in modernity. But there is something premodern about the wizarding world, even though there is much that is also modern about the students at Hogwarts.

Modernity has little time for the premodern world and worldview. Christian missionaries who came to Africa from Western Europe and America in the 19th century battled to understand the premodern African culture they encountered and many of them concluded that Africans must be “civilized” (ie “modernised”) before they could be Christianised. Compare also the Orthodox missionaries in 19th-century Alaska witrh their Protestant counterparts. The Orthodox missionaries attributed some of the visions of the Alaskan shamans to the Holy Spirit, the Protestant missionaries attributed them to primitive superstition or the devil.

What I think Gillard fails to understand is that premodern Christians and premodern pagans inhabited the same universe. They experienced the same problems in the same way and within the same cultural framework, and very often the same assumptions about the world. They may have differed about the solutions, but they faced the same problems.

Gillard seems to regard Christians in the premodern world as modern Americans in medieval dress — which is precisely what the Seventh-Day Adventist authors of books like Uncle Arthur’s bedtime stories do. Seventh-Day Adventist illustrated books on the Bible show Americans from 1947 wearing dressing gowns wandering around the ancient Near East. That is perhaps the biggest fantasy of all.

If anyone would like to follow the theme further, see my article on Christianity, Paganism and Literature.




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Published on January 10, 2016 22:36 • 2 views