The Rightful Place of Emotion in Human Decision-Making: Lockdown Debates as a Case Study

Reason and emotion both have a place in moral decision-making. And yet, as we’ve seen in recent lockdown debates in the UK, the important place of emotion in argumentation has been downplayed, even as it has dominated discussion in the background.*

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In Praise of Escapism

“Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?” (J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘On Fairy Stories’).* 

The escapist gets a bad name. 

In our wisdom, we consider those who seek to escape “real life” as doubly cursed: first, as deserters, because they make the attempt to abandon reality, and second, as idealists, because they think such flight from the facts of life is at all possible. 

Among the Reformed traditions in which I find my home, I suspect that some view escapism with this kind of suspicion. Reformed theologians are forever talking about the necessity of engaging with real life, the significance of engagement with culture, engaging with this and that issue related to the public sphere.**

And, closer to home, I see this suspicion, or blind spot, with regards to “escape” in my own thinking. The aim of this blog, after all, is to provide a “refreshingly realistic take on Christianity and politics”. And, in re-reading my own most recent reflections (here and here), I find that it’s almost as if I am making excuses for retreating from the world.

But what if retreat, or escape, or whatever we want to call it, is at times—I do not say always—necessary? What if the world out there, and in here, is so dark, that we ought to escape, ought to take refuge elsewhere?

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Quietness, not Quietism: The Prayer Book on Finding Rest in God

The Book of Common Prayer on at least three occasions makes reference to quietness in its collective prayers, or collects:

“…that we may pass our time in rest and quietness…” (Second Collect, Evening Prayer)

“grant…that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness…” (Trinity 5)

“grant…to thy faithful people…that…they may serve thee with a quiet mind” (Trinity 21)

Quietness is not the same as quietism, however. Quietism broadly speaking refers to a variety of religious and political philosophies characterised by permanent withdrawal from the world. Worldly events mean less, and perhaps are even meaningless, as one seeks truth in spiritual events and internal experiences. 

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Why I’m Pro-Vaccine but Anti-Mandate

When it comes to the covid jabs, I am pro-vaccine but anti-mandate. 

I am, broadly speaking, in favour of the covid vaccines. Getting the jab is, on balance, a wise course of action. This is especially true for those over 50 and those of all ages who are clinically vulnerable. But it might also extend to those aged 20 and over who have no underlying health conditions. With the roll out of the vaccine in the UK, we have seen the reduction of deaths and hospitalisations and so the risk of serious symptoms has been mitigated. Conversely, I find it generally irresponsible not to be vaccinated, though I would want to reserve that opinion on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, at the moment I’d view the goal of as getting as many folks as possible vaccinated against covid to be a good outcome because it is the most effective measure for allowing life to continue while also reducing (of course, never eliminating) fatalities and associated health risks. 

But I must part ways from the extreme voices on the pro-vaccine side who are calling for the vaccine mandate, i.e. for citizens to be forced to be jabbed. Many are comfortable with the state using a variety of measures to compel its citizens to get vaccinated. What appear to be authoritarian measures are, on this view, justified if the goal of vaccinating more people is achieved. I am extremely worried about the measures being used across Europe to compel citizens to be vaccinated. At the time of writing, such measures include lockdowns for the unvaccinated across countries in Europe, the threat of fines and imprisonment in Austria, internment camps in Australia, and segregated areas for vaccinated and unvaccinated in Germany. My central disagreement with the pro-vaccine camp is with the means of getting to that goal of increasing vaccination. 

I dissent from the mandate position on three grounds: first, on the basis of the fact that it is deeply counter-productive to the intended goal; second on the basis of liberty and opposition to authoritarianism; and third on the basis of the precedent that is being set for coercive state action moving forward. 

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The Pose and the Voice in Politics

Tobias Phelps, drawing on Stephen Marchedraws attention to the difference between the Pose and the Voice in politics. As he explains:

The Voice, a product of post-war literature’s emphasis on identity and experience, encouraged verbal originality and idiosyncrasy, the fullness of personality poured onto a page. It was flawed, often belligerent and short-sighted, lacking the range of the modernists or the authority of earlier writers. But at least it had spirit.

The Pose, however, is a product of distinctly 21st Century anxieties — its “foremost goal” is to “not to make any mistakes.” It is “language trying not be language, with the combed-through feeling of cover letters to job applications in which a spelling mistake might mean unemployment.” And as with Starmer’s brief reflections on his upbringing, “the style grows less personal even as the auto-fictional content grows more confessional.”

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Tribalism, Kimmich, Vaccines and Conversion

In the second piece in my series on Christianity and Tribalism, I argued that tribalism consists not of the presence of disagreement but the resentments held towards those with whom we disagree. These are expressed in how we treat, speak of and think about those who think differently from us.

Towards the end of the piece, I highlighted a common tribalistic move in contemporary debates—the injunction to “educate yourself”. On this view, the problem of tribalism is simply the existence of competing ideas. The solution is simply to resolve differences of opinion through catechesis into a closely guarded communis opinio

Only this week, I was sad to see a classic example of this tactic in the discussion around Joshua Kimmich who has, up until now, decided not to get vaccinated due to anxieties around the longer-term health effects (he remains open to vaccination in the future).

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NT Wright on Prayer and the Saints

With All Saints’ Day fast approaching, I’ve found myself getting into discussions with Orthodox and Roman Catholic brothers and sisters about what we’re doing as we celebrate this important day in the church calendar.

I’ve found myself returning to NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope, a book which re-lit the smouldering embers of my faith back in 2013. 

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Nobody’s Home

I don’t often expect something as mundane as a banking form to provide inspiration for a blog post. But I was recently filling out such a form when the section for providing my telephone number gave me pause for thought.

As I entered “not available” under “Home”, it suddenly struck me afresh how the changing nature of our telephone infrastructure has deeply impacted on our sense of who we are. 

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History and Theology in The Church and Academy

A plea for biblical scholars to recognise the scriptural nature of the texts they study and for preachers to take the history behind the text more seriously.

In this piece, I want to make the case for biblical scholars to be more theological in their scholarship and preachers more historical in their homiletics.

Biblical Scholars Should be More Theological

The term theological can be used so broadly as to mean anything: about God, about systematic theology or, even more broadly, with an eye to the Church. If by theological we include this last and broadest sense (writing for the church), then we could list any number of biblical scholars, including foremost among them, NT Wright, who has done more than most to communicate the message of New Testament texts and the Christian faith to a lay audience. Writing for the Church is absolutely vital to biblical studies. It is the lifeblood of biblical work. It is not simply that the Church needs theology. Theology needs the Church. Markus Bockmuehl, when once asked about what made him excited about the future of biblical studies, answered quite rightly, “the existence of over 2 billion Christians worldwide”.

But I mean something slightly more specific when I write that biblical scholars should operate in a theological mode. I mean that they should engage with the historic doctrines of the church, its tradition and the creeds. For biblical scholars to be theological means for them to allow the doctrines, tradition and creeds of the Church dialogue with, shape, chasten and enlighten their readings of the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible.

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The Heart of the Matter: Christ and the Fleshly Politics of Our Age

“The flesh desires against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh…” Galatians 5:17

“My kingdom is not of this world…” John 18:36

The Fleshliness of Contemporary Politics

Human systems of government fail because they mistake means for ends, or subsidiary ends for ultimate ones. The problem, for the Christian, is not simply that these philosophies are materialist, in the sense of having a concern for one’s material state of affairs (money, property, means etc.). Though, of course, these philosophies are materialist as well, and deeply so. Capitalism seeks to alter the material state of the individual and communism that of the collective via the proletariat. It is a problem when material change becomes the ultimate end. But their concern with matter is not the heart of their failure. For Christianity, after all, is also interested in the material and in man’s material means. Yet it does not seek to alter the material as a chief and ultimate end. If Christianity does alter a person’s material status, then this is always indirect. It is always sublimated to a higher end—that of the conversion of her soul, her character, her heart, her very self.

The problem is not simply that human systems of government and politics are too “material”, then, but that they are fleshly. That is, they leave man in a state that is unconverted and self-centred, apart from God. St Paul often uses flesh in the sense of “human nature” apart from God and left to its own devices. Our human systems are fleshly in the sense that they would make us materially wealthy or transformed (through whatever means), but leave our very selves languishing in a prison of despair, our souls shackled to the flesh which, left to its own devices, will only do us damage. These philosophies and systems of thought would leave us free to our own devices which is precisely the problem. Free to our own devices, we are free to destroy ourselves.

Christ comes to put the flesh to death, by his own death, and to convert the soul. If the material means of a person are changed, then this is a side-effect, an important side-effect, but a side-effect nonetheless.

***

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