Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Love, death and Muriel Gray

I have mixed feelings about what Muriel Gray writes in The Sunday Herald. Often I cheer, decorously, as she swipes at a shared bee-in-the-bonnet. And I loved watching her climbing programmes some years ago. But when she gets on the religion trail I'm less happy. And this Sunday was one of these outings.

She does a version of Mark Antony's "and Brutus is an honourable man" speech (Shakespeare's Julius Caesar) to make us see the absurdity of pretending that it is not religion which motivates the potential suicide bombers. And she ends her argument by saying she doesn't feel she has to kill and maim the innocent because she doesn't believe in a god who tells her to. And we who regularly read her column know that she doesn't believe in any god, but rather reserves her most vitriolic stuff for Christians. At least, that's how I see it - because I'm personally involved.

I am a Christian. And I don't believe in a god who tells me to kill and maim. The god in whom I believe tells me to love. I've to love not only my friends - the easy bit - but also my enemies. That's hard. And the harder thing still is to love my neighbour as myself. And I ask the question that they asked Jesus : "who is my neighbour?" Jesus answered that question with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

I don't recognise Muriel Gray's vengeful gods. I wish she'd - just once - acknowledge that she's being selective. Not that it'll make any difference - because what I believe isn't dependent on her approval, or on anyone else's.


  1. As one of those of who don't have your level of certainty in God, perhaps I need the 'vitriolic anti-christian' viewpoint expressed to make me think more deeply. I agree it's necessary to comprehend the agenda beind the comments (and that cuts both ways), but they can be put to a useful purpose don't you think?

  2. I got the impression she was taking a swipe at the God of militant Islam. The God who condones murder is not the God I recognise either. Because Muriel doesn't recognise the loving God either, she can't see the difference between the two concepts.

  3. I suppose it boils down to a question of extremes - extremes which produce an over-simplified view of the religion concerned. It just makes for irritation when one is categorised according to this simplistic view.

  4. Or maybe she was just drunk...?

  5. **Long reply Alert! I think I might get carried away on this one.**

    I didn't see the article you are talking about, so I can't comment on it directly. However, there are a number of otherwise intelligent people who seem to suggest that religion is a major (or even the major) cause of evil in the world. They state either implicitly or explicitly that if only we could get rid of religion, the world would be a better place. They suggest that we should leave behind the superstitions of religion and embrace reason and science instead (as if Christianity was opposed to reason and science). This is stuff and nonsense!

    I fear that the human race is very inventive and can find all sorts of excuses to "kill and maim the innocent". To give just one example, how often is political ideology used as an excuse. Look at the communist regimes that existed in the USSR, or Cambodia, or China. Or the right-wing regimes of Nazi Germany or various South American countries. And without politics there is always race, or colour, or tribe, or... Unfortunately, even without religion, fallen human nature can find all sorts of reasons to "kill and maim the innocent".

    It is also nonsense because it ignores the good that religion brings. A few examples will illustrate... I understand that the second largest provider of social care in Scotland (after the state and streets ahead of any other organisation) is the Church of Scotland. Why? Not because it has to, but because it is responding to the the example and teaching of Christ. Philip Yancy in his book, Finding God In Unexpected Places, lists some of the positive benefits to individuals physical and mental health as well as giving some evidence of its positive impact more generally on society. He also describes some of the work of the Salvation Army at Ground Zero after 9/11.

    Now, I know that this can't be treated as a ledger with bad things done in the name of religion balanced against good things to see if it comes out mostly good or mostly bad. However, it is not fair to ignore or dismiss the good and it is not true assume or argue that strongly held religious belief inevitably leads to intolerance and/or destruction. As you point out, it is not hard to find love, sacrificial love, in the Bible - a love that leads to the service of others. Sacrificial service is the true fruit of radical or extreme Christianity not intolerance and destruction.

    I found your reference to the parable of the Good Samaritan interesting because I had just heard a podcast of a sermon about this. I thought I knew what this parable was about - Who is my neighbour? Anyone in need - right? The preacher pointed out that Jesus doesn't exactly answer the question asked with the parable. The focus is not on the person needing helped but on the person helping. "Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? The expert in the law replied, The one who had mercy on him. Jesus told him, Go and do likewise." [Luke 10:36-37 NIV] We have to be like the Samaritan. Jesus doesn't say, "these people are your neighbours", rather he says you have to be a good neighbour to others, even though it costs you and whether you like them or not. To be a good neighbour even to to Islamic fundamentalists... or daft journalists!

  6. Thanks for such a thorough and thoughtful response, David. I'm interested in you second take on the GS story - I've found since I started doing the occasional lectionary-based sermon at our main Sunday service that I've had to do a great deal of rethinking and discarding the apparently obvious thoughts. It's quite a responsibility - but I'm learning a great deal!

  7. Anonymous11:30 PM

    If someone was close to God then they could only feel sorry for someone who did not have faith in God or know (even a little) that - God is love. The truth is that Christ is the one and only hope of the world - Without him how would anyone want to understand and forgive their enemies and without him how would we ever know that the man who sweeps the streets around the palace is of the same worth as the man who sits on the throne within the palace. The influence of Christ in this world for good is all around us. If it would be possible to remove his influence from Shakespeare and Robt Burns then I think you'd be surprised with what you were left with. People don't hate religion they hate Christ.

  8. I had to think through the Good Samaritan one quite a bit to work out the distinction the preacher was making. At first I thought it was quite subtle but the more I thought about it, the more helpful I found it. Simply shifting the emphasis onto the Samaritan brings out the grace in his actions and helped me to make the connection to Christ and the grace he showed me - a sinner in need of mercy.

    The podcast came from Cambridge Presbyterian Church. A few years ago we were going on holiday and stayed in a village just outside Cambridge. I hit the Internet before leaving to look for a church we could go to and one of the churches I found (and the one we went to) was Cambridge Presbyterian Church. When we used to live in Glasgow, the church we went to there prayed for an Ian Hamilton who at the time was a minister in Ayrshire (I think). It turned out that the Ian Hamilton we used to pray for was now the minister of this Cambridge church.

    A few years later, when I discovered podcasts, I was pleased to find Cambridge Presbyterian regularly publishes podcasts of its sermons. I have found them to be extremely helpful and though provoking.

  9. Thanks for the links, David - when I recover from today's antics (see next post) I'll check them out!