Evil swallows most of its own venom and poisons itself, wrote Montaigne. I do not believe in Satan.

Milton’s Satan tempted Eve and Adam, and precipitated the Fall. Blake said Milton was of the Devil’s party, and did not know it. But in Genesis 3:1, the “serpent” which tempts Eve is “more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made”. Its motivation is unclear but it is not a fallen angel.

In Job, Satan is “The Accuser”, one of the heavenly beings, not the Enemy we find in Milton. He is the Accuser in Zechariah 3, and a tempter in 1 Chronicles 21. The word “devil” does not appear at all in the Old Testament. In Revelation, though, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Jesus watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.

In the Gospels, Satan tempted Jesus, proposing other ways of gaining followers, entered Judas before his betrayal, and causes mental and physical illness.

CS Lewis’s Screwtape liked two attitudes in humans- an unhealthy interest in devils, or disbelief. Wormwood seeks to draw his victim from things of lasting value to lesser things. Wormwood delights in the destruction of the World War, but Screwtape is wary, as war can bring out virtues of honour and courage in human beings. The professorial Screwtape even gives a lecture. In Perelandra, though, the spirit which possesses Weston and fights Ransom for the soul of the first woman created on Venus is mindless, silly in a way which is less than childish, destroying because that is what it does rather than for any purpose.

And there is Mephistopheles and Faust. This is Hell, nor am I out of it. He is a deceiver, whispering to Faust of things which have no value in reality. The Hesychasts imagined themselves surrounded by tempting demons. The start of sin was to pay attention to one, from which the sinner slid down to constant indulgence without shame. However, I doubt there is any a co-ordinating intelligence plotting this.

A man left his wife, and had an affair. She would not let him go, and they are back together. Now, he might see the affair as a lack of trust and respect for himself as well as his wife. He was running away. Then, he would not see it like that, or he might not have left her in the first place. His sin arose from his failure to see his situation and the people in it clearly.

It is tempting for the Evangelical to imagine “Civilization” as a whole is in fact NOT the glorious by-product of our marvelous Christian heritage, but rather the construct of an entourage of fallen angelic beings, led by Lucifer himself, a construct which in fact serves as the mechanism by which he ultimately aims to use in order to establish his fully-realized kingdom on Earth. It puts him at war with God’s creation.

William Blake, Satan before the throne of God from illustrations to the Book of Job

Two truths

Can two truths coexist?

Many Christians would say no. No-one can come to the Father except through me. Many atheists would say no, too, because the concept of God is as unlikely as that of a teapot orbiting Jupiter. To me, though, it is possible for someone to be atheist for good reason, and another to be religious for good reason, and for the good reasons of one not to apply to the other. That I do not choose your atheism does not mean that I do not respect it. Christians should know that I know in part; your part may seem inconsistent, because we do not see the whole. And I am irked enough by atheist Quakers saying “When you are as spiritually mature as me you will be non-theist too” to not say something similar.

It is like Athenian v Spartan, Apollo v Dionysus, Enlightenment v Romanticism, the language of a scientific paper v lyric and metaphor. We think differently. That is our strength. Coming to respect and appreciate the other’s way of thinking and expressing thought enriches both.

Or, her experience of Christianity is oppressive, and in liberating herself she has left it, but in mine I have felt the oppression but have also found liberation, so have stayed. For me the liberation is real.

Here is a dispute. I could go through it, showing at every point how I was right- it is tempting. Violet II asked Violet I why she referred us to lessons on communication. Well, if Violet II had taken an atheist stance and I had said the physical evidence of Noah’s Flood is overwhelming and “scientists” who deny it are entrapped by Satan, we would be unlikely to come to concord, or even courteous, respectful disagreement; but here we started with friendly intent, and it would be sad to lose that through misunderstanding.

Though I still assert that being able to respect a way of thought which is not my own is essential to such friendly dialogue.

Violet I referred us to this post on respectful communication. Oh God, not Elevatorgate again? [He was an Asshole! Picking her up in the LIFT? WT-


What it misses out is that we can both be right. Scientific consensus moves on when one expert in a narrow field produces an explanation of evidence which convinces the others. This does not apply to internet debate, where we dialogue through comment boxes rather than peer-reviewed journal articles.

Elevatorgate might be a good illustration, though. It is not strictly a dispute between all men and all women, but between high and low sex drives, or beliefs about casual sex. In the Tube, I saw an advert for holidays in Las Vegas: Come to a place where your accent is an aphrodisiac. Or- Las Vegas! You know about the drink and gambling, but have you heard of the no-strings casual sex!!? I was disgusted, but not everyone will be. Onywye. Elevatorgate.

-He meant well.
-She was repulsed.

He did not force himself on her, but made a proposal. There are arguments why he should not have done so, but feminist objections to slut-shaming make them more difficult to put consistently as absolute objections.

How would I put this as a seventh rule for pretentious ape?

Accept that the other’s contrary belief does not threaten your own. I do not have to convince thetruthisstrangerthanfiction that Noah’s Flood is just a story, to be certain of that myself. That is not quite it:

Accept that a belief you do not share may have value. At least sometimes. Try to find that value??

Or something. You may have better words for it, so do comment.

Guercino, Hersilia Separating Romulus and Tatius


I Corinthians 3 is the scriptural justification, such as it is, for Purgatory.

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14 If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

Blake, the gate of Purgatory

The idea makes some psychological sense. Someone with her heart in the right place might not deserve Hell, but might not yet be fit to enter the presence of God: so be sent to freeze and quake in frigid purgatorial fires, which cleanse her.

However, it reinforced Christianity as a tool of social control. Obey, or however harsh life is here, you will suffer more after you die. In The Karamazov Brothers, Lena, rebelling against the stultifying conventionality which has labelled itself the Christian way has no words for any alternative but evil and wickedness; so in her desperation she cries out to be evil. Living in Christian love should be freedom, but her Orthodoxy is slavery.

Blake, Light carrying Dante, Purgatorio canto 9

The doctrine of purgatory made the Church corrupt. Noble men, who used force and feudal law to compel peasants to work to feed them, who spent their time in armour on horseback murdering other peasants, accumulated wealth to endow chantry chapels, where monks would say masses so that their souls would spend less time in Purgatory. American conservative Evangelicalism is not the first time Christianity has made God weep. Blake, Purgatory, Dante entering the fire

And. There are moments in life when human beings are tested, individual and national Days of Judgment, which Jesus called being “born again” and Paul here calls passing through the fire: metaphors of pain balanced by the rewards offered, “seeing the Kingdom of God”, or being the temple where God dwells.

Why should I care what happens after my death, when I am alive? Humans create ideas of reward and punishment imposed by God, while Jesus and Paul teach of the ordinary consequences of our actions, enforced by objective reality.

Blake Purgatorio, the way into Heaven

Quakers and Christians

Should British Quakers engage with the World Council of Churches?

The Quaker Committee for Christian and Interfaith Relations is to consult Meeting for Sufferings about whether we should engage with the WCC document “The Church: towards a common vision“. It asks, do we still regard ourselves as a church, and have we anything to learn from the wider church? A better question would be, is this where our energies could fruitfully be employed?

Some Christianity is a curse. If someone backs up his homophobia with bible verses, and accounts it virtue- “I’m Biblical, and you’re not”- he has nothing to teach me. The long slow struggle of the Church of England to have women bishops– well, I am glad they have, now, but we had women leaders in the seventeenth century. The CofE still persecutes its gay clergy.

I have heard of parents disowning and refusing contact with their children, because the children left their faith group. This, going against the parent’s deepest instinct, denying the child’s path or judgment any value, repels me.

Karen Armstrong writes that a personal God can validate our prejudices and make us judgmental of others, as we create “him” in our self-satisfied image. This is not a Quaker view of God: can we reach maturity without rejecting this conclusively, following the leadings of the Spirit and leaving behind silly human-made dogma such as the Virgin Birth?

Then she writes, The World religions all seem to have recognised this danger and have sought to transcend the personal conception of supreme reality.

We could unite with those in other churches transcending simplistic views of God. We could find value in their struggle, and perhaps even in the personal God which they still value.

A lot of the WCC document concerns matters of order. Could one church recognise another’s ordination? Can we share the Eucharist together? I wonder if we could accept the pastoral care of an ordained minister, even her/his pastoral guidance, or authority. We do have authority in our equal society: my experience of weighty Quakers speaking wisdom gives them that authority.

What if the other churches could seek us out with open hearts, find what we value and what sustains us? In blessing them, we could find how they bless us.

The end of the Quaker response is beautiful. We are willing to recognise and form closer relationships with other churches, not so much because they acknowledge any particular account of the Church, but because they represent a visible sign of God at work in the world. We hope other churches could go forward in mutual recognition on this basis. That is, we believe God is in relationship with others beside ourselves. The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion, said William Penn.

If you are reading this on email, do come and see it on the website. For some reason you don’t get the beautiful featured images on the email.

Christian persecution

François-Guillaume Ménageot, the martyrdom of Saint SebastianChristians are persecuted in the UK and the US, for their beliefs. Gay people use discrimination law to drive Christians out of business.

It is a Christian belief that Christians should not condone gay sex. This is most important, because some Christians (including me) believe we should celebrate LGBT as part of human diversity and God’s wonderful creation. So Christian hoteliers refuse a gay couple a double room, and Christian bakers refuse a gay couple a wedding cake, and then are driven out of business by the force of law. The gays persecute them, with the state’s connivance, taking their money and making them pay costs. You cannot lawfully be sacked for being Christian in England, but you can be sacked for expressing your Christianity, for example by stating your disapproval of colleagues’ sex lives.

It is not for me to deny that is a Christian belief, as Christianity is so wide. I had a lovely chat with a lesbian URC minister yesterday- “Lesbian”? “Reformed”? Strange, and wonderful- on how we had both thought that to be Christian you had to believe in Substitutionary Atonement, but it really wasn’t necessary, and was inconsistent with God being Love; and how people want the Bible to be infallible, without internal contradiction and easy to understand. She was angry that seven people at their Synod Jusepe de Ribera, Saint Sebastianblocked equal marriage; but they will not, for ever, and it was only seven. Before she went to her church six years ago, they voted three to one that they would accept a gay minister.

I could say they should just bake the cake, but in the Roman Empire I could say they should just sacrifice to Caesar. “Render unto Caesar”, Jesus said. Because Caesar is not God, the sacrifice has no meaning. Yet we celebrate our martyrs’ courage rather than mocking their stubbornness. The only way to respond is to close the business, or continue paying damages. The law will allow nothing else, if you persist with your beliefs.

Jesus says, Do not resist an evildoer. Pray for those who persecute you. Jesus was addressing Jews under foreign occupation. About forty years later Jews intent on resisting started the Jewish Wars leading to the destruction of their temple in 70 and the expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem in 135, so Jesus’ words were good advice which applies now to these Christian bakers. Resistance will only harm you.

Paul says Bless those who persecute you. Live in harmony, as far as is possible live peaceably, never avenge yourselves- for if we lived by an eye for an eye, the whole world would be blind. This is the only way to win over your persecutors.

The art of accompaniment II

Matisse, painted blue nudeI cannot encounter another human being without being open. Any preconceptions I have of them, and especially any demands I might make of them, get in the way. I am not properly encountering, now, of course: I do not walk my talk because I am in conscious incompetence; but I see the possibility, and sometimes try it.

What the Pope says is beautiful- approach the other with sandals off, as on holy ground- and helps me see that conservative Catholicism is completely worthless. It is a set of moral rules, and frightened, hectoring demands that we all keep them. It is not even of use as ascetic discipline, because the demands are made on others, and the demands one emphasises are those one may accomplish easily, from inclination or circumstance. It might give a fragile sense of community, all people believing the same way until one has to be Cast Out for Sin, but at the cost of preventing any meaningful encounter with another, or any understanding of oneself.

Liberal Catholicism sees the failure of conservative Catholicism, but is hardly better in the Pope’s definition, which states the “objective evil” of the other’s acts, even if not culpable for particular reasons. Thomas Aquinas adapted Aristotle for mediaeval Christians, and is now a “Doctor” of the church, one of only 33 (three of whom are women). His explanation is the orthodox belief, though superseded by newer philosophy. In the same way, contraception is seen as always wrong, though experience shows the evolved human baby-making drives are quite strong enough to overcome a person’s rational commitment to contraception.

So the Liberal Catholic seeks to encounter the other, with a set of preconceptions. When this other is healthy and oriented towards God, s/he will behave in the correct Catholic way, eschewing contraception, celibate if gay. That prevents the encounter, prevents the Liberal Catholic from seeing the value in the other’s ways of being. The Catholic is trapped into thinking only her/his way can be good. Even for the liberal, there comes a moment where the other who sees the world differently must be excluded, because that other is incorrigible. In trying to remove the speck from the other’s eye, the Liberal whacks her over the head with the log in his own. At best, the liberal will tolerate church attendance of the Bad person, but not any teaching position or participation in the Eucharist. There are the Good people, who eat the bread, and the Bad people, who may receive a blessing or not as they choose.

When Francis said “Who am I to judge?” he went on The problem isn’t this (homosexual) orientation — we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else, the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby. He would welcome us in, and insist on his rules.

The Quaker way is to encounter the other without demands. Of course I make assumptions about how another is. I want things from people, and am perturbed or angry when they do not do as I wish. I project that as judgment on the other. This is contrary to the commands of Jesus. It excludes me from the Kingdom of Heaven. Seeing it, I have a chance of alleviating it.

The Art of Accompaniment

What did the Pope mean? Accompanying others, to encourage growth in the Christian life? Angry as some conservative catholics have been, I could give a conservative interpretation: the Catholic church still believes it has morality cornered, sorted, specified, and the Christian should be nice in encouraging the other to see it his way. This is more effective than angry denunciation, but the result remains the Catholic one size fits all: gay BAD, contraception BAD, etc.

I hear the words on accompanying as a Quaker, and they are lovely. As a Quaker, I would say we are continually learning, and I have to be as open to learning from the other as I expect her/him to be from me. Someone who wants to teach me is interesting as a specimen, but the content of the teaching is probably worth little. I have met too many bores, know alls and closed minds- if you spent just an hour in their company, they think, and paid attention, you would have the world as sorted as they.

It is not worth doing this accompanying with everybody, says Francis. It has to be a pilgrimage with Christ to God: those who seek to avoid God are self-absorbed, and accompanying would entrench that. (Oops. I don’t think this is me, but it is a wee bit close to the bone.) The accompanier must protect the sheep from wolves who would scatter the flock. There is one Catholic moral view, and the opposition is a deadly threat, rather than an alternative way of seeing, or a worthwhile attempt at what is Right and true. To the Quaker, there are no wolves.

The Gospel tells us to correct others and to help them to grow on the basis of a recognition of the objective evil of their actions (cf. Mt 18:15), but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37). Someone good at such accompaniment does not give in to frustrations or fears. He or she invites others to let themselves be healed, to take up their mat, embrace the cross, leave all behind and go forth ever anew to proclaim the Gospel. One truth, one perception.

One might find Francis a conservative with a concern for PR, rather than a liberal. One can see chinks of light: every believer must study the Bible (p175) and in it will see the contradictions, lines of growth, and Love. You cannot be a conservative once you start to think.

The heart of [the Gospel] message will always be the same: the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ (p11). God constantly renews his faithful ones. I want to see hope here, that Francis might want his flock Christian, rather than merely Catholic- but the more I study his words, the more I see that is a leap of faith.

To celebrate having one thousand followers, I include these two polls. I would love to know how many of that thousand actually read this.

Welcome in

The Adoration of the Shepherds, El GrecoChurches have all sorts of ways of ring-fencing ourselves, locking people out, comfortably defining evil as Not-us, Them Over There; but at the heart of Christianity is inclusiveness. Jesus says “Go out and make disciples of all nations” which is impossible if you will not talk to them. All nations are the mission field. As the Jesuits recognised, they listen to you more if you make an effort to listen to them, to see what they value, to speak their language.

Then, there is salvation by grace. Between the saddle and the ground, the man realises that he has done wrong, and he accepts the offer of Christ. He calls on Christ as his saviour. He is in, immediately. However we might disapprove of him, he is one of us now, part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Muslims have the same idea. The Shahada (testimony) pronounced sincerely to a Muslim is sufficient to make you a Muslim. Say “La ilah illa Allah, Muhammad rasoolu Allah”, meaning “There is no true god (deity) but God (Allah), and Muhammad is the Messenger (Prophet) of God.” Anyone may be included.

Some Christians talk of The Fundamentals- originally the verbal inerrancy of the Bible, the divinity of Jesus, the Virgin Birth, salvation by Penal Substitution (Jesus bears the punishment for our sin) and the physical resurrection of Jesus- but these are inessential. How could it be otherwise? One Christian might see that another’s belief is insufficient, and attempt to educate him, but Jesus admonishes her to first take the log out of her own eye.

A Christian is anyone who follows Jesus, in however idiosyncratic a way.

Christians cannot merely associate with Christians, or with people of whom we approve. Again we have Jesus’ example, associating with foreigners, colonial oppressors, prostitutes, pharisees- anyone willing to talk to him.

Let the one without sin cast the first stone. Inspired by Linuxgal.

Atheist Quakers III

DSC00272Fear can be Good.

I am happily theist, or at least Protean: that every hair on my head is numbered is valuable, and feels true to me. And David Boulton is bordering on anti-theist: he asserts as a matter of certainty that there is no God, that the promptings of love and truth are simply (not merely) our own evolved primate processes. He has a wonderful turn of phrase, for example “The Republic of Heaven”- that there is no God, no King, does not mean there is no Heaven, nor that we cannot be in it.

So I thought, I am glad he is a member of the Religious Society of Friends, because his extreme position makes room in our Society for others to join too. People like Mark. And there are others like Sarah, who pisses me off a bit, saying that “I was a theist when I was immature, and when you are mature like me you will be non-theist too”, but that is OK because we share these experiences.

And I thought, here am I, the Good Person. I am Eirenic, seeking ways we can come together, in our shared experience of God, or those unconscious processes, whatever it is, and where the words we use to explain our experiences, though different, do not get in the way. And Sarah, though she is polemic, speaking up for Her Side, the process is big enough to cope with our differences, and neither of us can do great DSC00273damage to the Society even though it behoves us to take care to do good.

Then I thought, I have a lot of experience of being excluded. The last picked for the Volleyball team at school, because I was useless (Oh- was that you, too?) The queer, deviant, pervert. Here am I, the Good Person, making sure everyone is included and no-one is cast out, and I am that out of my own experience of being excluded and fear of being excluded again.

My fear produces a constructive and creative and Loving result.

Of course fear can be good. I skid on the wet road, that makes me frightened, I take care not to do it again, I don’t die in a car accident; but it seemed my fear was of everything, and it was merely harmful, merely holding me back; and now that overwhelming fear, the Ache, the Scream, the Desolation, can be part of me which produces life and delight. The grit in the oyster. As long as I don’t take it too personally when someone leaves, for whatever reason.

I have my stories off pat. I was bullied at work. I was right and management was wrong, and these are the facts to demonstrate both assertions. I tell them for my own sake, of course- it was not my fault- because I need to assert that to myself, and another’s guarded assent helps me. If I have self-confidence, I can say “I have had some difficulties, and currently I am on the sick” and not anticipate “Well, you don’t look unfit for work to me” or be hurt by it if it happens.

Atheists read this

Seated harlequinI do not argue for the truth of Christianity, but its value. I practise Christianity because it helps me live a good life. Good means good to me.

Truth is what is. If you shave God away with Occam’s razor because we can increasingly answer the question “How did we get here?” through scientific materialism, and claim there is no more evidence for God the Creator than for a teapot orbiting Jupiter, that is absolutely fine. Nevertheless the word “God” is useful to describe particular human experiences which have value. You might use psychology to analyse my occasional sense of Oneness with the Universe which produces awe and wonder, calm and acceptance in me. Congratulations. I will still use God-language. Christianity remains a useful way into these experiences.

The Bible has value. It is contradictory- Jesus claims to be God, but also simply man; Nehemiah calls for Jewish isolation from foreign cultural influences, as they are evil, but Jonah proclaims God’s love for the Assyrians, who had destroyed the Northern kingdom of Israel. That the Grand Canyon was not formed during a few months of flood, or even that human sacrifice is revolting, does not vitiate the Bible. I might think a saying repulsive and silly, and later find value in it. This means that being open to it being valuable profits me.

Christians do silly, destructive and oppressive things, like seeking to prevent legal abortions even for rape victims because if it was really rape “a woman’s body has ways of shutting that The Blind man's mealdown”. By all means tell me this, but in moderation. Christian history is full of vileness, of wars, persecution of “heretics” and outsiders, and support for vile things such as slavery. However this does not mean that I must reject what I consider to be “true” Christianity, which would support none of these things, and which is also a thread throughout the last two thousand years.

This post is inspired by Violet Wisp, whose pictures and prose I recommend. Of course I play what she calls the Supernatural trump-card– “My God is magic and does not need to make sense”- because the world does not make sense to me, and acceptance that I do not understand particular things helps me towards greater understanding.

You do not know what I believe. God is, and God is not. If I use God the Creator as a way into understanding- I am created in the image of God, therefore I am loving, creative and powerful- this does not prevent me from using atheist materialism in a similar way- I have evolved here over 4.5 billion years, therefore I fit. Practice is more important to me than dogma: I value sitting in silence with Quakers, where people speak when Inspired, and what matters is the value of what they say, not the precise mechanism, materialistic or spiritual, of Inspiration.

You might think of my Christianity as a series of hacks, to do as well as I can at life. You might think your life-hacks are better- but I have learned mine over decades, they work for me, and it is more courteous to describe yours than to demand I reject mine.

Pictures from MMA.