Daily Archives: November 4, 2017

(FT) Living With Gods at the British Museum — the inescapable power of faith

A small poster shows a grinning Soviet cosmonaut floating outside his spacecraft. His bright red suit and cheerful demeanour contrast with the darkness of space. Above him are some childishly rendered stars; down on Earth, the onion domes of a Russian Orthodox church appear slightly askew. The cosmonaut, having completed his researches, is saluting the viewer and proclaiming his proud conclusion: “There is no God!”

That will come as startling news to the objects all around him, gathered for the British Museum’s new exhibition Living With Gods: Peoples, Places and Worlds Beyond. The 1975 poster is the only artefact here that tells us that religion is not something we need to worry about — but the Soviet Union’s communist regime lost that particular propaganda battle long ago. What we have instead, in this small and tightly organised display, is all the reasons that religion thrives and matters, now as much as ever before.

All aspects of religious faith, from the depths of private contemplation to the unbridled energy of festivals and commemorative rituals, are covered, in forms and places that are constantly surprising. A Jewish skull cap bears the badge of Leeds United football club; a series of wooden phalluses from 19th-century Japan, hopeful offerings from childless couples, shock Christian sensibilities; a car pendant featuring Mao Zedong’s picture and signature, asking the then Chinese premier to “protect our journey”, acknowledges a slippery demarcation, in some parts of the world, between political leader and spiritual guide.

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in History, Religion & Culture

(NYT Op-ed) David Bentley Hart–Are Christians Supposed to Be Communists?

After all, the New Testament’s condemnations of personal wealth are fairly unremitting and remarkably stark: Matthew 6:19-20, for instance (“Do not store up treasures for yourself on the earth”), or Luke 6:24-25 (“But alas for you who are rich, for you have your comfort”) or James 5:1-6 (“Come now, you who are rich, weep, howling out at the miseries that are coming for you”). While there are always clergy members and theologians swift to assure us that the New Testament condemns not wealth but its abuse, not a single verse (unless subjected to absurdly forced readings) confirms the claim.

I came to the conclusion that koinonia often refers to a precise set of practices within the early Christian communities, a special social arrangement — the very one described in Acts — that was integral to the new life in Christ. When, for instance, the Letter to the Hebrews instructs believers not to neglect koinonia, or the First Letter to Timothy exhorts them to become koinonikoi, this is no mere recommendation of personal generosity, but an invocation of a very specific form of communal life.

As best we can tell, local churches in the Roman world of the apostolic age were essentially small communes, self-sustaining but also able to share resources with one another when need dictated. This delicate web of communes constituted a kind of counter-empire within the empire, one founded upon charity rather than force — or, better, a kingdom not of this world but present within the world nonetheless, encompassing a radically different understanding of society and property.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Ethics / Moral Theology, Personal Finance, Stewardship, Theology: Scripture

A Prayer of John Chrysostom to Begin the Day

I am not worthy, Lord and Master, that Thou shouldest come under the roof of my soul; but since Thou desirest to dwell within me, O Lover of mankind, I am bold to draw near. Thou dost bid me to open the door which Thou alone hast made, that Thou mayest enter and bring light into my darkened mind. I believe that Thou wilt do this, for Thou didst not cast out the harlot when she came to Thee in tears, nor reject the publican when he repented, nor cast out the robber when he confessed Thy kingdom, nor forsake the persecutor when he repented; but Thou didst number among Thy friends all who came to Thee in penitence, O Thou Who alone art blessed, now and world without end.

–Frederick B. Macnutt, The prayer manual for private devotions or public use on divers occasions: Compiled from all sources ancient, medieval, and modern (A.R. Mowbray, 1951)

Posted in Spirituality/Prayer

From the Morning Bible Readings

Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”

–Matthew 13:31-35

Posted in Theology: Scripture