Shadowing Sheridan re God is Good For You

 

The following notes and comments are based on the material in Greg Sheridan: God is Good For You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times, Crows Nest Au, Allen & Unwin, 2018.  The bulk of these quotations are from Part 1 Christianity  (pp1-167). There are fewer quotes from part 2 Christians as this section is largely the opinions of the various Christian individuals Sheridan has interviewed for the book…this is not to say they have nothing useful to say but my intention for this blog is to carve out Sheridan’s key line of argument as to “why God is good for you”. Without agreeing with everything in his book I think his attempt is brave, helpful and an enormous wake up call to the Australian and Western Christian church if they are not already somnolent!

i)     Sheridan argues that Western humanity without God could lead to human boredom and confusion and produce deadly consequences. (p1). This may or may not be true. What is true is that Western Society, since Classical Greek society, through the Roman Empire to Christendom leading to Western hegemony throughout the Americas and Africa has been theocentric. The book has not been written on what these societies might look like without transcendent religious principles.

ii)    It is no exaggeration to say that Christianity is in nearly existential crisis in the West (p2)…the West—meaning for the moment  Western Europe, North America and Australia and New Zealand—is trending atheist as the rest of the world is trending religious. (p3) It is hard to dispute this statement. Alister McGrath made the point powerfully in his recent book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea..there are more Christians in Nigeria than in the whole of the USA, Canada, Britain and Australia put together! This is not a good stat for the West! In Australia the predominant growth in active Christian churches has come from immigrants born elsewhere in the world.

iii)    In every age group above 45 years a solid majority of Australians identify as Christian, but in every group below 45 a solid majority is not Christian. (p4) This is certainly true of the average Anglican parish in Gippsland. In our quite vigorous local Anglican Church in Gippsland the average age of parishioners is above 73.

iv)    An Ipsos poll found that 39 per cent of Americans agree that religion generally does more harm than good. (p7) Evangelical Christians, who even a decade ago seemed the most dynamic part of the American Christian churches, are having great difficulty passing their faith. (p8)  I think this is also true of Australian evangelical families today.

v)   Catholic and Christian schools, though they do much wonderful work, have not been effective in communicating even the knowledge of the contents of Christianity to their students, much less in instilling a devotion to lifelong commitment. (p8f) I work as a chaplain in an upper middle class P -12 school of almost 1000 students. Only a tiny percentage of these students would own up to Christian faith.

vi)    Schools are not the most important factor in sustaining religious belief in young people. The family is the most important factor. Schools can’t do what families don’t do. But part of the crisis of belief in Western Christianity is a paradoxical crisis of knowledge….[young people] ..know almost nothing of the history and the content of their civilization. (p9)

vii)  The therapeutic age we inhabit tells us always to follow our dreams, to be true to ourselves, that our life’s project is self-realisation. But often enough our dreams at any moment are a bad guide to what we should do. This is true at all the different stages of life. (p11)

viii)    It is too easy to convince ourselves that what we want to do at any moment is justifiable. (p12) [Without faith,] for quite a long time society will live off its accumulated moral capital. A broad code of ethics will seem self-evident because that’s what people have always believed. But our ethical instincts—liberalism, human rights, even secular and democratic government—came about through hundreds of years of predominantly Christian thinking, refinement and social practice. If God is gone, the basis for our ethics is gone. As the French philosopher Ernest Renan once put it: we are living off the scent of an empty vase. (p12)

ix)    Even the high priests of the new atheism sometimes acknowledge this. Richard Dawkins, author of the bestselling The God Delusion, admits that without God, there is no absolute standard of right and wrong. He thinks humanity, unguided by God, can provide the standard instead. I have less faith in humanity by itself than he does. (p12)

x)     I never see a religion section in a mainstream bookshop now; There are honestly titled ‘self-help’ shelves, or more pretentiously, they are labelled, speciously, ‘spirituality’. (p15)  I agree this is often the case. In the Gippsland town I live in there is an excellent bookshop. They stock Richard Dawkins, Christopher HItchins, A C Grayling, but no Alister McGrath, no Tim Keller, no John Dixon, no N T Wright, no C S Lewis. I buy there regularly. Earlier this year I gave them a list of suggested titles they might consider stocking but none have materialised so far.   Readings in Carlton in Melbourne does have a religion section with some Christian material.

xi)    We have reached the stage where now much popular culture is overtly hostile to Christianity. Much more is just indiffererent.  (p17)

xii)   A lot of this, of course, has to do with the revelations of shocking and terrible crimes of clerical child abuse, a grave subject which any contemporary consideration of Christianity has to address…Now forces hostile to Christianity have used these abuses to try to sweep religion out of the public square altogether. (p17f).

xiii)   If in Australia, as the census suggests, half the population are Christians, then at the very least popular culture does not reflect reality. It is unrepresentative. It discriminates against Christians by blanking them out of the culture just as it formerly discriminated against racial minorities.(p20)

xiv)   Most university-level courses that deal with history or politics or literature or the humanities generally have at their heart an attachment to one form or another of critical theory or some related approach which nominates Western civilisation as the chief demon of history. In the view of all these these theoretical approaches the West is guilty of racism, sexism, colonialism, militarism, exploitation, class discrimination, neo-colonialism, economic imperialism and quite a few other sins. And it is uniquely guilty of these crimes. Because Christianity is so associated with Western civilisation, Christianity is cast as a primary villain as well. (p20).

xv)   Being Christian doesn’t solve the human condition. People still behave badly and do evil. But they also behave well and do good. The sense of Christianity in education has become cockeyed, unbalanced, inaccurately hostile. (p21).

xvi)    On pp22-23 Sheridan traces a line of Christian decline from Mediaeval times as expressed in the C18th Edward Gibbon’s ironic and dismissive treatment of early Christian figures, and especially of early devotional practices alongside the C14th distinction between the spiritual and the physical;  the Renaissance emphasis on the glory of humanity as opposed to spirituality;  to the disunity in Christianity provoked by the Protestant Reformation, the C17th wars of religion through to  philosopher David Hume’s C18th dismissal of miracles alongside the scientific revolution and philosophical Enlightenment and the upheaval of the C19th industrial revolution resulting in increased division between rich and poor and the rise of atheistic Marxism. In the C20th he cites two world wars, the sexual revolution, impact of technology, the gradual decline of family life, French existential pronouncements about the death of God, Freud’s dismissal of religious faith as repressed sexual desire and the development of academic Biblical scholarship’s attack on the authenticity, age and unity of Biblical texts. He cites as the final challenge the sustained affluence of the West through technological advance leading to the view that humanity no longer needs God’s mercy.

xvii)    Sheridan notes that in Australia… the State is starting to restrict Christianity…although in no sense like the way Christianity is persecuted in many parts of the world….In fact Christians are the most persecuted religion in the world, a story often ignored by Western media because they conceive of Christianity as the villain, not the victim. (p24).

xviii) Against this data Sheridan notes that after Government, the churches are the biggest deliverer of social services in Australia. (p25) and religious schools subsidise massively the cost of education in Australia (p26).

xix)    …in the US religious people give about four times as much to charities do non-religious people  [Arthur Brooks: Who Really Cares] (p27) and the US National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper in 2017 titled “Is Religion good for you?” Here is one of the headline results: ‘Doubling the rate of religious  attendance raises household income by 9.1 per cent. (p28) Sheridan cites other data conclusively showing a direct relationship between religiosity and happiness. (p29).

xx)    Sheridan notes that even the long-running Western efforts for governments to take over all the traditional welfare and solidarity functions of the churches and the family are finally an outgrowth of long religious sentiment. (p29f)He cites the Christian background of C19th and C20th liberalism;  the C19th Christian opposition to slavery and support for the working class, the spirituality of socialism under Britain’s Atlee, Papal encyclicals, Wesleyan campaigns for decent wages and working conditions.

xxii)   In the C20th the soul—the embodiment of our deepest integrity and destiny—gave way to the self, as the therapeutic age replaced the age of belief. Now, in our postmodern times, in the world of social media and the universal quest for celebrity, even the self has been supplanted by the brand, the quintessential expression of which is the ‘selfie’.  (p31) A certain panic at the existential emptiness of liberal atheism impels liberalism to a new authoritarianism. Everyone must genuflect to the same secular pieties. (p31) [So also argued in the podcasts of Jordan Edwards!]…Nothing is more powerful now in Western politics, or more dangerous, than identity politics. It sells itself as a way to help disadvantaged and marginalised communities. But eventually everyone wants a slice of identity politics and it sets all against all. (p31)

xxiii)     It has been rightly said that when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing; they believe in everything. An intolerant atheism is just one variant of a wild miscellany of ideologies and esoteric cults gaining ground in the West. (p31)

xxiv)    Jeremy Corbyn old-fashioned communist banners —hammer and sickle —have featured in big rallies in London. In the murderous violence at Charlottesville in the US in 2017, Nazi symbols were in evidence. The two most evil ideologies, which spawned the two most evil dictatorships in the blood-soaked 20th century, once more find minds so shallow and so ill prepared for life as to be fertile ground for them. (p.32) …If we lose God , we lose something essential of our humanity. (p32)

xxv)    “Materialism, the most boring as well as the least accurate way of experiencing the world and recording experience, is the dominant mindset the Western intelligentsia in our day.”  A N Wilson: The Book of the People, 2016.

xxvi)     Sheridan notes, quoting Jonathan Sacks,  that the Genesis narrative, rather than being myth as such, is rather a polemic against myth. (p38) (referring to Ancient Near Eastern myths e.g. Enuma Elish where mankind is made from the blood of the dead god Kingu. Sheridan further notes that only atheist fundamentalists like Richard Dawkins …take it absolutely literally, in order of course to discredit it. (p38) He further notes, correctly I think, that the Old Testament, contrary to popular press, is full of the universality of God, even as it records the special place of the Jewish people. (p39).

xxvii)     None of this proves or disproves God, but it shows what a friend the Judao-Christian God has been to human reason. It is also the case that as the Old Testament progresses, the Jewish knowledge of God becomes deeper, more sophisticated. This is all important to keep in mind when considering the notion that belief in God is rational, because it is not the case that belief in any god, or all gods, is entirely rational. (p39)

xxviii)    That is not to say other religious traditions, many with deep wisdom and the fruits of centuries of human contemplation, do not themselves confirm the rationality of believing in God. (p40)

xxix)     A rational belief need not be a proven belief. A belief can be justified but not proven. Much of the problem comes from popular misunderstanding of what belief is. Belief involves the will as much as the intellect, perhaps more. (p40)

xxx)     Faith, including religious faith, is not the enemy of reason. Faith is the basis of reason. This is because the central question of faith is most often not what you believe, but who you believe. (p41)

xxxi)     One reason most people are neither convinced to believe nor convinced to disbelieve by rational arguments alone is because God is a God of experience. Most people believe in God because they have an experience of God, and that experience of God most often comes through other people. (p42f)

xxxii)     There is today a great effort to bluff people out of their beliefs about God by ridicullng and demeaning those beliefs, claiming that people’s faith is primitive and superstitious….Sheridan quotes Australian poet Les Murray in “The Last Hello”, a meditation on his father’s death. At the end of the poem he writes: 

“Snobs mind us off religion nowadays, if they can.

Fuck them. I wish you God.”   (p43)

xxxiii) Sheridan comments on Thomas Aquinas’ five philosophical proofs for the existence of God: I find Thomas’s approach, including what was termed the argument from design (which has nothing to do with the modern theory of intelligent design), overall convincing. But it is not a knock-out argument, because God is neither provable nor disprovable.

xxxiv) It is one of the central mysteries of the human condition that all truth, like all l ife, requires a dynamic balance. To be true, all truths involve a balance of t truths, and this balance is always dynamic. Nothing inert is alive and no truth is really true if pursued in isolation from other balancing truths. The great fanaticisms of history typically obsess over one intellectual commitment which, if balanced and constrained by other intellectual commitments, could be quite true and quite benign. But pursued exclusively they cease to be truths. Nazism began with a love of country. Love of country is no bad thing, but without all the balancing and limiting truths that constrain it, it goes i insane. (p46)

xxxv)  Sheridan compares religious faith with falling in love. The decision is rational, but reason is only a small part of the process. The decision goes beyond the rational. (p46f) He then quotes Tim Keller: (The Reason For God). ..all of our strongest desires, correspond to a strong reality…(eg hunger, sleep, food, sex). The desire to behave decently implies the existence of decency. The desire for God, therefore, implies God. The vast majority of human cultures seem to be saying, with Les Murray: “I wish you God.” (p47)

xxxvi) It is not inconsistent to believe that Christianity is completely true and that yet other religious traditions contain much truth. And it would be absurd for Christians to hold that only they have ever experienced God directly. So this vast human testimony of the direct experience of God has to be confronted by anyone taking the subject seriously. (p48)

xxxvii) Where does this voice of conscience come from? And who are we answerable to about it? (p48)

xxxviii) Why is there something rather than nothing? (Sacks reports this question being asked at a Jewish function and its receiving the querulous response ‘And if there was nothing, still you’d be unhappy.’) (p49)

xxxix) How come our world is so incredibly receptive to the evolution of life, and of human life? (p94) Sheridan quotes Fred Hoyle: ‘A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics.’  (p49) and he quotes Freeman Dyson: The more I examine the universe in detail and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find t hat the universe in some sense must have known we were coming.’  (p50)

xl)  Sheridan refers to Stephen Hawking’s hypothesis of an infinite number of parallel universes “so that we got the one that was just right’  Sheridan replies: Now God and Science are very different, but if you can believe in an i nfinite number of parallel universes, it’s surely as easy as apple pie to believe in God.  (p50)

xli)    Sheridan comments on the possibility that we are alone in the universe. Perhaps the universe was made just for us. (p50) On the other hand Sheridan dislikes this statistical fact at present the least compelling of all the arguments for God. One lesson that a lifetime of journalism teaches you is that just because something is exceedingly unlikely doesn’t mean it won’t happen…if something is statistically unlikely it is nonetheless logically possible. Sheridan notes that previous ‘God of the gaps’ arguments have fallen on hard times. (p50f)

xlii)   Rather, the grandeur and wonder and majesty of the universe are more suggestive to me of God’s personality. (p51)

xliii)  The only people who evolutionary theory discomfits, unless its claims are exaggerated in a tendentiously anti-God fashion, are extreme biblical literalists. p52)

xliv)  Sheridan opposes Jesuit Theilhard de Chardin’s perfectly cockamamie idea that Christianity itself was evolution and the whole human race was evolving towards God. There was beautiful poetry in his words, but trying to fit good and evil, humanity and God, into a vast plan of evolution which didn’t allow for individual human agency was, in the end, just irredeemably eccentric, His writings could not deal convincingly with evil.  (p56)

xlv)   When those who make mistaken claims for science set out to destroy God, they always end up diminishing human beings. (p58)

xlvi)    On Dawkins’ book The God Delusion Sheridan comments: the universe implies a creator; it doesn’t prove a creator. Dawkins tries to turn this on its head and say: improbable as the universe is, God is even more improbable. But despite all his scientific learning he actually doesn’t provide any evidence that God is improbable..and of course such a question—quantifying the probability of God —is in any event absurd…Dawkins admits he has not studied theology—that is, the wisdom the finest minds of humanity have accumulated from experience, reflection and, indeed, revelation through the centuries—but then makes dogmatic statements about God as though he, Dawkins, were endowed with divine knowledge and we lesser mortals must accept the absolute authority of his pronouncements…eg Dawkins asserts that God could have created complex life unless he himself was complex. And if he is complex the he must have evolved. And if he evolved he was therefore not at the beginning of things. Certainly none of Dawkins’ argument here is remotely proven, or remotely likely, or even a little bit intuitive. It’s atheism by pronouncement, not logic.  (p59f)

xlvii)   Sheridan challenges much in the anti-Christian arguments of Christopher Hitchens, for example, that the Revd Martin Luther King Jr was not really a Christian. (p62) But Sheridan admired Hitchens as a professional journalist..he  had read a lot of books, talked to a lot of people, travelled widely, thought about things and at the end of all this he got in the ring and threw a few punches and saw if any of them landed, expecting all the while to absorb a few rhetorical blows himself ..he was not at all pompous.  Dawkins, on the other hand, is an eminent scientist in one field  but has no particular expertise in other fields. …he constantly misrepresents Christianity by taking i ts most extreme literalist and fundamentalist interpretation and making that stand for the whole of Christianity. He is atheist fundamentalist who apparently thinks that only a semi-deranged, extreme fundamentalist is a true Christian. (p63)

xlviii) Dawkins and Hitchens claim to dislike Mother Teresa because they disagree with her views on theology and abortion. When I read their attacks I wanted to ask them both, how many times had they interacted personally with, and t ried personally to help, the poor and diseased and the dirty and the hungry on the streets of Kolkata? (p65)

  xlix)  Christians have a right to be worried about what is happening to their beliefs in the West. The primary challenge is not intellectual but cultural. And it may yet become much more than cultural.Yet most of the world is religious . As I write this I have a full-time foreign editor of an Australian newspaper for more than 25 years. It is impossible to interact with Asia, or the Middle East, South America or Africa for that matter, and think that religion is not central to people’s  lives. (p66)

xl)    ..I am aware that all religious belief looks much more reasonable from within the tradition that it does from the outside. In the swirl of anti-Christian satire and abuse that runs through much popular culture these days, I remember seeing a description of Christian practices along the lines of: ‘so you eat this dead guy’s flesh while a non-human judge in the sky monitors your mind and if you’re guilty of thought crime sends you to burn in a fire forever as punishment’ …..the hostile atheist summer of Christian belief does make a point about just how strange the Christian beliefs are, at least by the standards of today’s culture. (p72)

xli)    On miracles Sheridan comments: It would be extremely perverse to believe in God but believe that he can only do the things we can do ourselves….One thing that the New Testament, the Apostle’s Creed and the general teaching of the Christian churches does not allow you to hold is that Christ was a great moral teacher, a social worker or a political revolutionary, but not divine, or claim to be divine, or to establish a new system of belief, in short a new religion. (p77)

xliii) It may even be that some Christian leaders find it easier to talk about the ethical stuff, in which most people of good-will can find something to feel positive about, and which is certainly indispensable, rather than the actual religious claims of Christianity….lots of Christian beliefs are not really easy. They are liberating. The longer you spend with them, the more sense they make. (p80)

xliv)  Sheridan comments on the search for justice in society. If there is no God… the fate of many in the world is wickedly unfair, unjust. (p81)

xlv) In the Christian view, Christ chose, in solidarity, to share in human suffering on the cross. He chose to stay behind with us, to share in the suffering of the human condition. (p84)

xlvi) The modern mind rebels against the idea of angels and devils, yet readily enough accepts, as we have seen, and without the faintest shred of evidence, the idea of an infinite number of universes, many of them exactly like ours.  (p87)

xlvii) …whatever we do with our lives, [according to Christianity], we too will be judged. This is justice. This, in the end, is the adult responsibility of creatures with the majestic gift of free will, and a creator who takes their decisions seriously. It is a comfortable thought when we think that bad people might be responsible for what they’ve done. It’s not necessarily as comfortable when we think that we ourselves will be responsible for our choices as well.  (p87)

xlviii) On hell, Sheridan quotes Australian evangelical author Roy Williams saying he cannot accept that anyone goes to hell permanently, for all eternity. His view on hell seems to echo a somewhat ambiguous remark by Pope Francis t hat ‘no-one can be condemned forever because that is not the logic of the Gospel.’ (p88)

xlix)  The ragged edges of Christianity, the loose ends, don’t make me think it untrue; rather the reverse. The raggedness of faith is something you can love, something that feels true and human. It is all of a piece with faith. One paradox of faith is that it always involves a dimension of doubt. If it was absolutely self-evident, there would be no need for faith….the absence of absolutely neat and compartmentalised formulas is a sign of life. Only dead things are completely stable.  (p88f).

l)      The atheist has to believe that all religions are all completely wrong, and that the overwhelming majority of human beings who live today and who have ever lived were all deluded about the most important things in life. (p93)

li) …the Christian understanding of God is that God is not just good; he is goodness itself, God is love itself. So when God is a jealous God, he is demanding fidelity to goodness itself. (p94)

xli) What I have always found more perplexing is the idea that we spend eternity in our bodies. Some Eastern religions believe in a purely spiritual eternity…a bodily resurrection, which Christianity teaches, is much more uncompromising, much more radical. [p.94} While the bodily resurrection is a radical idea 1 Corinthians 15 makes it clear that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. What is sown is a physical body ..what is raised is a spiritual body…a body yes but in a perfected spiritual form beyond our existing comprehension.

liii) Chapter 3 title: What did we ever get from Christianity —apart from the idea of the individual, human rights, feminism, liberalism, modernity, social justice and secular politics? (p96)

liv) The first great statement of classical secularism…’Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s….Jesus said: My kingdom is not of this world. (p96f)

 

lv) On sexual or racial  discrimination: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 30:28) …every human being has unique and irreducible worth in their relation to God (p98f)

lvi) Nonetheless, we shouldn’t overcame for Christianity either. There are passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament which imply a toleration of slavery..(p99)

lvii) People get their idea of Christian corruption and obscurantism from films like The Name of the Rose, or, even more ludicrously, The Da Vinci Code. (p101)

lviii) Western science was born because of the attempt to discover the workings of God’s laws in nature. (p103) [cf Kepler: thinking God’s thoughts after Him.]

lix) Sociologist Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity, locates one critical factor in the early expansion of Christianity as its appeal to women. (p104)

lx) Sheridan quotes Pope Benedict’s 2005 encyclical letter, God is Love: the close connection between eros and marriage in the Bible has practically no equivalent in extra-Biblical literature. (p105)

lxi) Sheridan notes that unlike Jesus’ male disciples, both Mary his mother and Mary Magdalene never let him down, and were with him as he died.

lxii) Sheridan quotes Larry Siedentop: Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. (2014)….Siedentop amply demonstrates …that no part of the pre-Christian ancient world supplied anything like the moral, existential, spiritual or intellectual basis on which the idea of the human individual, and all the main ideas behind modernity, could possibly rest ….The most decisive of all was Christianity’s universalism, ….[arising] from the belief that the human condition involves a unique encounter between every human being and God, that each human being has been created in the image of God and possesses an immortal soul and that human beings by their own decisions and outlook can greatly influence their own relationship with God.  (p107)

lxiii)   The intervention of God into Jewish history meant that in some sense history had a direction. Therefore time had to be conceived of as linear, not cyclical, as was the common idea in the ancient world. A linear view of history is liberating, while a cyclical view of history can lead to determinism and fatalism. (p108)

lxiv) Paul not only followed Jesus; he offered the first fusion of Jewish and Greek thinking. (p109)

lxv) Tertullian, who wrote in early 3rd-century Carthage, was the first great Latin author in Christendom. He understood the implication of conscience for religious liberty. …”Nonetheless it is a basic human right that everyone should be free to worship according to his own convictions.”  (p109f) Sheridan notes: It hardly needs to be said that Christians at times spectacularly failed to live up to Tertullian’s insight..(p110)

lxvi)   The lives of the saints, even the spectacle of the martyrs, provided  people with an example of a kind of social mobility. However you were born, you could be a saint. (p110)

lxvii)   In the century after Constantine’s conversion the authority of the Roman empire in any event began to slide. There was a certain disorder in the times. Christian bishops became important figures in cities, projecting order and leadership. With their concern for the poor, the Christian churches instituted what was in effect the first welfare states in some of those cities. (p110)

lxviii) …Saint Benedict emerged to shape decisively one of the greatest forces to influence Western civilisation; the innovation of Western monasticism. (p111)

lxix) …the developing field of church law or Canon law…came to greatly influence secular law.. (p114)

lxx) St Augustine, who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries in North Africa ..is himself sometimes considered the inventor of the individual in Western culture.  His Confessions were the first psychological autobiography. (p114)

lxxi) In the 12th and 13th centuries…Western universities, all of them Christian universities, made their appearance. [p117]

lxxii) Sheridan quotes Siedentop: “The example of the church as a unified legal system found on the equal subjection of individuals thus gave birth to the idea of the modern state.” (p118)….in great contrast to ancient law, the Christian conception of natural law transmogrified over time into a doctrine of human rights. (p119)

lxxiii) It is also the case that many Christians said and did appallingly bad things in the name of Christianity during the Middle Ages. Numerous popes said foolish things. Anyone who seeks to condemn Christianity because of the sins of Christians will have plenty of material to work with.  [The argument here has been that the ideas of Christianity developed and led to the birth of modern liberalism….many, many bad ideas were tried along the way. In my view, Christianity has been overwhelmingly a force for good in history. But there is no denying the many bad things many Christians did. (p121)

lxxiv) The Protestant Reformation (or more accurately Reformations) attacked much that was corrupt in the old church. It introduced its own new corruptions as well. Martin Luther had many moral and theological insights, but he advanced Christian anti-Semitism to a kind of hysterical fever pitch. The Reformation shattered the unity of the Western Christian church. Its worst outcome was the series of religious wars that followed. And then both Catholic and Protestant used coercion, sometimes terrible and merciless, to compel adherence to one denomination or another. This was not only an evil in itself; it had a devastating impact on the ultimate prestige and moral credibility of Christianity, especially with intellectuals. (p122)

lxxv) The Enlightenment of the 18th century ..produced scientific and technological advance of a fundamental kind. …but the interesting thing about the Enlightenment is that its chief publicists were literary men rather than the scientists themselves. (p122) Sheridan quotes Stark: “What the proponents of Enlightenment actually initiated was the tradition of angry secular attacks on religion in the name of science.”  (P122) Sheridan concludes: It was not t he scientists who led the charge against religion, for the best scientists understood both the strengths and the limitations of science. (p123)

lxxvi) In chapter 4 Sheridan grapples with the problem of evil. …one of the things our culture likes to do with evil is medicalise it. This helps us avoid confronting the reality of evil. (p125)…everything must be explained in terms of biology and culture and philosophical materialism. Only the spirit cannot be admitted into our explanations….to think of our public culture as therapeutic …actually diminishes the majesty of choice which is at the heart of humanity, and which confronts every person. The ability to choose between good and evil, and among every shade of grey in between, is an ineradicable element of human nature. (p126f)

lxxvii) ,,,the mystery of evil lies within human agency and human choice. The Christian view of evil, which was the view of Western civilisation until five minutes ago, when the culture stopped believing in the transcendent, is that humanity is universally challenged by …sin, that we live in a fallen state. (p127)

lxxviii) Even our sense of moral outrage presupposes God. Just who are we outraged against if there is no God? Not only that: why do we think the universe, our world, our neighbourhood, anything we find appalling, is morally wrong? If our world is just atoms and energy and evolution then whether we l ike it or not, it has no moral character at all. It’s just a question of our own paltry preferences. (p129)

lxxix) ..the straightforward explanation for evil is our sovereignty, our free will as individuals. If we have free will  we have the ability to choose to do and be evil.  (p135)

lxxx) Because we are so affluent in the West, because we hide death in hospitals and nursing homes, becausese we anaesthetise so much pain and provide so sedulously for our own comfort, we sometimes forget that every human being is in need of God’s mercy, that every human life contains its own tragedy. (p135)

lxxxi) One consideration is that God seems to respect his universe. It has its own independence. It follows its own rules. (p135)…Sheridan quotes G K Chesterton: The refusal of God to explain his design is itself a burning hint of his design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man. (p137)

lxxxii) What is certainly the case is that merely being Christian does not solve the contradictions of the human condition.  A Christian is not immune [from the reality that] the line between good and evil runs through the middle of every human heart. (p139)

lxxxiii …the most systematically persecuted religious minority in the world are Christians [based on research from the non-partisan Pew Reseach Centre….on the other hand: whenever Christianity has been banished, the problems of humanity have got worse not better. (p140)

lxxxix) A. N. Wilson, in recounting his journey to temporary atheism, recalls looking at several religious conflicts and coming to the conclusion that religion caused war. But then he looked at several conflicts where religion was not a f actor, or not a big factor, and decided that the real thing conflicts have in common is human beings and human nature.

xc) The worst crime of Christians in my lifetime is clerical child sexual abuse. This is the most devastating and terrible thing I have learned about Christians and institutional Christianity. (p143)

xci) Looking back does it show that the Christian churches were uniquely bad? In one sense, sadly not. Police figures suggest the vast majority of abuse of children occurs at home. Our society is living through an epidemic of abuse against women and children.  Overwhelmingly the perpetrators are men. What is utterly shocking is that this happened at all on a large scale in Christian institutions. (p144)

xcii) The 1960s also marked a new stage in the hyper-sexualisation of culture. Even in Australia there was a brief period in the early 1970s when some semi-respectable people argued that pederasty, or man/boy love, as it was sometimes called, was ethically defensible.In the context of comprehensive apologies over this issue, Pope Benedict XVI commented: ‘in the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as  something fully in conformity with man and even with children. This, however, was part of a fundamental perversion of t he concept of ethos. It was maintained—even within the realm of Catholic theology—that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself.’  This kind of confusion had one tangible, terrible result. (p145)

xciii) The churches have to go on, after this shame, with all the tasks they are needed for.

xciv) There is no evolution in the human soul, just social change that can make it harder for easier to fortify a good conscience. Evil never goes away. For Christians, too, it seldom takes a holiday.  (p148)

xcv) Some Christian fundamentalists interpret the Old Testament literally, or nearly literally…..This is an interpretation which has no support in mainstream Christianity.  Judaism also had its fundamentalists  and literalists especially the Karaites, whose origins date back to the 1st century BC. These fundamentalists reject the rabbinic commentaries, or interpretations, of the Hebrew scriptures. Instead they look for the plain meaning of the words. They can accept that a poem is a poem, or a figure of speech a figure of speech. But whatever the meaning was when the text was first written and first read is the meaning they are after. The Karaites represent a tiny minority in world Judaism.  (p151)

xcvi) Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is one of the finest interpreters of Jewish scriptures. His reflection on Christian, Islamic and other religious books is also profound and illuminating. No-one, though, writes about the Old Testament books more evocatively, faithful to both their original intent and their utility in everyday life. In his important book Not in God’s Name, Sacks shrewdly observes: ‘Every (religious) text needs interpretation. Every interpretation needs wisdom. Every wisdom needs careful negotiation between the timeless and time. Fundamentalism reads texts as if God were as simple as we are. That is unlikely to be true.’  (p152)

xcvii) The Old Testament always engages in its context. It was inspired by God but written by human beings for human beings. It was inspired by God but not dictated by God. It is not the distilled essence of heaven but the wrestled truth of humanity in dialogue with heaven. (p155)

xcviii) Naturally God will speak in a different tone of voice to different people at different times. Human understanding of God is always limited, although God does not change. I certainly cannot believe that God ever tells anyone to slaughter every man, woman and child in a given population. So let me declare my own rejection that is a lasting message inspired by God.  (p166)

xcix) There’s still a lack of comfort about politicians of faith who talk publicly about the inspiration of their faith. That’s partly because while politicians tend to be more churchgoing that the population generally, they are reported on by journalists who tend to be less churchgoing than the general population.  (p204)

c) John Howard: There is a big difference now even from ten years ago, and t that is a determined and vicious attack on Christianity. The attempt to drive religion out of the public square is quite clear. This has accelerated a lot in the last ten years. But you can’t understand Western culture without understanding Christianity. (p214)

ci) The only truly acceptable contemporary Christianity for Western political culture now seems to be a Christianity which doesn’t mention God and which subscribes to conventional elite wisdom on policy issues. (p218)

cii) Sheridan quotes an Australian monk who quotes French sociologist Jean Baudrillard: ‘The five qualities that postmodernism lacks are depth, coherence, meaning, authenticity and originality.’ (p269)

ciii) Sheridan ventures his preferred option for Christian operatives today: theological conservatives  and operational pragmatists with strong situational awareness, as the military might say.  (p279)

civ) Sheridan quotes Allan Bloom’s 1987 classic: The Closing of the American Mind: ‘there is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes that truth is relative. Sheridan comments: If you believe that all truth is relative, then you also believe that truth is not true any longer, that really there is no truth.  (p283)

cv) Sheridan notes Campion College in NSW. It has dedicated itself to immersing its students in the great tradition, based on the great books, of Western civilisation. This is not such a novel idea overseas. Campion College is Australia’s only liberal arts college, but such beasts abound in the US (p285)

cvi) Christians in the West now live in exile. They have been banished from Christendom, however imperfect and unsatisfactory Christendom was when it existed. Their situation is perplexing, full of paradox and difficult to understand. But Christians and their churches and their leaders won’t be able to respond effectively unless they understand the dimensions of their situation…The Christian churches in Australia and in the West generally have poor situational awareness. Until five minutes ago many of them thought they still represented a consensus view of life and social goods, and indeed ultimately of human meaning, in our society. That is no longer true. As this book has argued, Christianity in the West is in crisis. He cites Jesus in Mark 13:13 you will be hated by all because of my name. (p317ff)

cvii) Sheridan notes that in today’s Western environment Christian ideas are seen as stale and dull. (p321)

cviii) English Anglicanism is in its weakest position since the Reformation. Its decline is radical, rapid and dizzying. A tiny proportion of English young people regard themselves as Anglican. So whatever the virtues or otherwise of the English Anglican strategy, it is impossible to argue that it has worked. (p323)

cix) When mainline Christian churches have attempted to be culturally and socially relevant they have typically tended to fall into one or both of two traps. Trap one is that in trying to make their message more culturally acceptable they have actually watered down the content of their message. This is not only wrong in principle but, paradoxically, it seldom if ever works even in marketing terms…the other typical mistake is that in choosing to ape the secular culture, they don’t actually do contemporary cultural expression very well, while abandoning the transcendent beauty of their own traditions. (p329)

 

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