Archive for August, 2007

Oh, And Another Thing

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

It isn’t a new album but it is new to me, Simon and Garfunkel’s reunion concert in the park is musically perfect. The only flaw with it is that Paul Simon lets Art Garfunkel talk. Everytime he speaks, I get itchy hands. Hands itchy for some wedgying because he is such a poindexter. “Get off the stage you talentless freak!” is what I would have shouted.

On my holidays I also saw seven minutes of Grey’s Anatomy and I feel it was sufficient for me to pass judgement on it as the worst piece of poo to grace our TV screens that wasn’t “reality” or about desperate housewives. It is about desperate doctors though; beautiful women who seem utterly incomplete without a man to have a sexual relationship with. It even has a voice-over so that the dumb kids in the audience can follow. And it is so cute the way it uses hip bands to carry along the momentum during its many surgery-to-bed montages. The OC and Desperate Housewives had a baby, Satan was the fertility doctor and Grey’s Lobotomy is the result.

By the time you read this, I should be in Edinburgh for two days of theologising where I get to sit taking notes at a conference much much too smart for the likes of me. It will rock!

Your Correspondent, Hopes to have riled Babette

Travelling In The Bigger Footsteps That Have Gone Before

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

So over the last month I somewhat neglected Zoomtard, my internetting generally and also my job. In fact, I haven’t gone to church in four weeks. It was surprisingly refreshing. I can’t wait to get back though. It may be held in a school room with pie charts explaining fractions on the wall. The chair in front of me might display a crudely drawn male member. The singing may be lacklustre and at least one of the songs will make me want to pull my hair out but damnit it will be good to be back there. Getting a little taste of the hereafter.

Turns out heaven is a very large post-primary school. Suckas!

I saw a lot of movies and things like that over the last few weeks. The Simpsons gets a 2 out of 5 for generally being very good but in no way doing justice to the proud heritage it has set as the most important cultural artifact of my generation and of course, practically being my third parent. I loved bits of it and hold out hope that when someone buys it for me for Christmas and I watch it 18 times before New Years it will have stood up tall and taken the love it deserves out of my heart.

I also saw Hairspray. I am not ashamed to admit that. You know when your girlfriend groans with boredom at the prospect of another Die Hard, Die Hard 5, Die Harder To Defeat All Evil for example? She doesn’t feel that way because she is a hollow shell of a halfling with no appreciation of the fine art of blowing things up while driving quickly. She says that because she actually really likes the big action set pieces for about 90 seconds. But then 13 minutes later, after the jet pilots fail to kill McBain but do manage to take out half the city she is bored. I felt the same way about Hairspray. It was brilliant and fun (and I even will forgive John Travolta in drag ruining an opportunity for sensitivity and replacing it with buffoonery of the worst kind- its a man dressed as a woman, how very amusing!) but then the songs dragged on and on and on. And Queen Latifah was in it. And it wedged in an insulting message at the end. Actually I hate Hairspray and all it represents. How did I ever fool myself into thinking it had merits. Die Hairspray. Now that would be a movie Bruce Willis could make watchable.

Another movie that was aimed at the ladies and to which I flocked was Waitress. In spite of it perpetuating three of my most hated myths I couldn’t help but like Waitress. Myth #1: Marriage is a trap from which infidelity can liberate you. Myth #2: Regardless of your complex emotions in the run up to the birth, the moment you hold your baby in your arms for the first time you will have a magical life long bond to him or her. Myth #3: The worst myth of all; follow your heart.

Your heart hates you. It cosies up to you by ceaselessly telling you lies you’d like to hear about yourself and then when it really counts, it sends you one way when you needed to go the other. Whenever your heart has led you the right way, it only led you there so that it could spring an even bigger trap further down the road.

But besides this and the fact that it actually sells a fourth myth- that money solves all problems- I can’t help but love a movie that has a woman tell a man that she doesn’t need him to complete her, make her whole or save her. Amen! So rare that such a message is delivered and followed through on so that it isn’t just mealy mouthed platitudes. Plus, it has Nathan Fillion in it which means it is funny. And there are amazing baking scenes. I sat in the back row wearing a long coat, salivating at the cakes. Imagine Zoomtard in his sleaziest voice whispering, “Oooh look at those cakes!” and you have the right idea.

We also saw Raising Arizona which like all Coen Brothers films is adorable but it basically leaves you feeling a little underwhelmed. You feel it should just have ended twenty minutes sooner. Kookie camera angles and Holly Hunter can only get you so far.

The Illusionist is one of those movies that should probably be making hundreds of millions, or at least as much as My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But even in the big serious-actor-laden magic movies, it comes second best to The Prestige. There is no way that it convinces you that you are in Vienna. Austrians don’t speak with posh English accents, even imaginary English speaking Austrians. Plus, the magic angle wasn’t done nearly as compelling as its superior competitor. Plus, the Prestige has David Bowie.

Finally, or at least the last opinion I’ll share with you about movies, we saw the Bourne Ultimatum which is the best film I have seen this year. I am utterly addicted to these movies. “He drove off the roof” should have some kind of colloquial meaning so I get to use it everyday. It even had a resurrection angle which is so hot right now in popular culture. If you haven’t gone to see it, then tell your uncle his funeral can wait and book tickets for tomorrow night. It is that good. All the actors are brilliant, Bourne is a fascinating character and the plot is terrific.

I also listened to a lot of music. This paragraph is for Stig who stupidly is still not back from the Andes. I’ve had the Smashing Pumpkins album for about a month but still can’t be bothered to listen to it. I am a decadent westerner. Icky Thump is brilliant but maybe we should ask more from the White Stripes? Bjork’s new album never lives up to the opening song. St. Vincent is good, but she’s no Sufjan Stevens. I am starting to like Bruce Springsteen twenty years too early. Jarvis Cocker has temporarily lost his mojo obviously. Feist is really good at being pretty and making class singles but she is hardly Joni Mitchel, is she? The Go Team! will serve as background music to my powerpoint presentations for the next 16 years. Finally, Rilo Kiley might be my favourite band.

Your Correspondent, He just don’t say this world of trouble is the only world we’ll ever see

Flashlight Fight

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

Continuing on from yesterday’s post I wanted to dwell on the joy-thing. I was on holidays for the last few weeks. It was great. We went to exotic places, we ate new foods, we swam in clear blue oceans. Well, we did none of these things but we did visit in-laws and spent a glorious week with three astounding people in a very deserted country cottage. One of the evenings we were barbecuing as the day was drawing to a close. We sat out under the tall trees through which a golden sunshine was warming us. We ate good food. We made stupid jokes. It was good. Good, good, good in all the meanings of that very fine word.

Regardless of how depressed your life has been, all of you have had moments strikingly similar to that- eating out with friends in a beautiful setting. It’s so pedestrian in its universality. But at a really dramatic point in the Gospels we find almost the exact same situation. Jesus has been killed on the cross of Rome. The Apostles had come to the only logical conclusion- that Jesus was not who he or they thought he was. But reports came from the women- I mean who would trust them!- that Jesus was alive again, not resuscitated but dare they believe it, resurrected. Thomas who they nicknamed Didymus (better or worse than Zoomtard?) refused to believe it. It was only when he was confronted with the wounded body before him that my patron apostle, the substitious disciple exclaimed (throwing a curve ball that the Dan Browns of the world will never resolve), “My Lord and my God”. The Apostles desperately want to get out there and tell the world about this epochal moment. The whole of history surely hinged and yet Jesus infuriatingly asks them to wait. Wait? Wait! After three years listening to his teaching, trying to be like him, after seeing him handed over and killed and now having seen him risen they still aren’t ready. So they wait for this so-called Spirit.

Angry zealous mobs can’t chase you out on a lake. Maybe that is why the fishermen Apostles decided to go for a trip on the sea of Galilee. After a hard night’s toil they approach the shore and they see a man on the beach. They don’t recognise him as Jesus. He shouted across and asked if they had caught anything. This bit always strikes me as weird since it is usually only freaky weirdos who interrupt fishermen they don’t know from their work. But obviously hanging out with Jesus has been good for the Apostles because instead of throwing him two fingers and turning away they answer and admit they have caught nothing. Jesus, who is still unrecognised says, “throw your nets over here on the right- I can never remember if that is starboard or not”. The nets drop in and suddenly tighten. There is a tremendous bounty of fish here. And the penny drops and it is Peter, who mutilated a bodyguard during Jesus’ arrest and within hours had denied him three times in public, and it is this Peter who realises who their curious consultant is.

He jumps straight into the lake and swims as fast as he can to meet his Master, in the moment, unburdened by the guilt and shame that hung around him ever since that dark night. The others followed and they saw that Jesus had prepared a fire.

Jesus is cooking. Jesus is barbecuing. Jesus is making them breakfast.

And in the sparse language of bios, the Greek biography that serves as the Gospel’s genre there was no way for John to flesh the scene out the way you want it. You want to know what they talked about. You want to know about the jokes that they told. Eight men, passionate friends who had been through so much, how could they not have mocked Peter for his enthusiasm as he swam those final 100 metres to shore? John doesn’t have time to tell us all this. Books were expensive, (even) for Christ’s sake! He has the amazing story of how Peter was embraced by the man he had rejected to tell. He has to paint what happened on the Cross in minute detail so that us dumb bozos drunk on 18th Century “Enlightenment” and empiricism can get the message. He doesn’t have time to tell me all the things I want to know because while there was food to be cooked and drink to be drunk and jokes to be told, the most important story was the bread, broken.

The Gnostic heresy at its foundation is that the soul is sacred and the body is base and corrupted. It is the heresy of all those cheeky chappies pretending there is a universe of “Gospels” that us Christians have tried to hide. Its world denying core is shared by Richard Gere pop-Buddhism and Madonna’s Kaballah-lite and evangelical joy-hating but it is a philosophical cancer on life. The Incarnation is the divine “NEIN!” to such vain attempts to create significance for ourselves. God sees it fit to humble himself and dwell in the world, constrained by time and space and hunger and grief and tiredness and puberty and all the other things I wish I didn’t have to grapple with. This God says “NO” to any suggestion that the Created order is the problem. He created it! He said it was good. You might often see the verse John 3:16 but you rarely see John 3:17 where we read,

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Take that Gnostics! Take that joy haters! The world is a glorious place charged with the grandeur of God, its glorious Creator. Its pleasures are worth disputing for.

Your Correspondent, Loves even boiled buckwheat

Joy Is A Moral Good

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Every month on Zoomtard, I chop and change the banner. It’s usually extraordinarily complex graphic design that ends up there. You didn’t notice? Perhaps your browser doesn’t render it right? Maybe you should download Unobtainofox, a hip new browser you have to be invited to download and then you’ll see my digital-da-Vinci-ness.

This month, as the non blind amongst you can see, the banner reads joy is a moral good. I decided on this title one late July evening. Wife unit was fiddling around on the pc, I was reading the last Harry Potter, we were drinking beer and eating tasty delicious stupidly cheap nachos and life was good. Then a friend rang the wife unit and in the course of a long conversation she heard a story that kind of broke our hearts while also enraging us. This friend is a Christian. She is also a really cool person. She is also a really accomplished person who spends her working life making up cures for fatal diseases. And when I say making up I don’t mean in a crystals and herbs and potions kind of way, I mean in a lab with bunsen burners and test tubes like on CSI. I have only ever watched CSI once and it featured the Suicide Girls. My impression of it is very low. But my impression of real science is very high and this friend is very definitely a real scientist.

So, we have a cool, very smart Christian girl. The story she told was one about a long term colleague and his leaving party. She gets on brilliantly in the lab with her other eggheads. So she goes out for dinner with them and she is having such a fine and dandy time that she decides to go on to a nightclub. There she danced and drank (moderately!) and had an absolute blast. And then a week later in the course of another conversation she asks wife-unit if there was anything wrong with being in the nightclub and enjoying it so much. She described her thinking this way, “I felt like I shouldn’t be enjoying this so much.”

The reason she felt that way was that she is, I feel, in a cancerous but all too common Christian environment that fails to understand that joy is a moral good. There is nothing wrong with it. It’s not just neutral, it is good. How freaking basic can you get here? How fundamental an error can a community of people make? A community of people who follow a God who makes 500 litres of the finest wine as his arrival-on-the-scene miracle?!

This revulsion of joy is heresy. I am more confident about dropping the H-Bomb here than I am in any other area- it is heresy (of the Manichean, Gnostic order) to believe that the world and its pleasures are inherently sinful. It, like all heresy, strips the church of its vibrancy and its ability to truly proclaim the coming and already here Kingdom of God. Our friend expected that her church buddies would lament at how she could revel in that den of sin. My response to anyone who says that nightclubs (why stop there- football stadiums too, supermarkets as well, don’t forget libraries!) are places of sin is to remind them that my church is full of sin. If you have to stay away from nightclubs, you better stay away from church. Sin is not something out there in the world lying in wait amidst the tall grasses, counting the seconds until it can pounce on you. Sin is something that parasitically holds you captive. Sin is sown in your heart and harvested in your actions. You don’t need the “World” to incite it in you. This is one of the mistakes of the hermit monks- a life spent in isolation is a life that has an infinite supply of sinful opportunities because it is spent with yourself. Humans are sin factories. If bad things happen in nightclubs, it’s not the building’s fault, or the music’s but the people.

Christianity is not a religion of law and rules. It is not a life of asceticism to be lived in frugal discomfort. The Christ that our friend proclaims is the Christ who spurned the religious leaders to eat with the whores. He is the Christ who celebrated the glory of life, who loved eating with friends, who loved the world and all his grandeur that can still be seen in it.

Some people who wouldn’t call themselves Christians still read Zoomtard and his verbose rambling even though he always waffles about theological topics. It would make Zoomtard’s year if by some wonderful enlightenment you realised that the son of God really was resurrected one Pesach. But if that day ever happens, never let yourself get caught up in world-denying religion. The soul is not at war with the body. There is no reason to fear any place. Joy is a moral good.

Your Correspondent, thinks the Feast of Cana couldn’t hold a match to Lisdoonvarna

One For The Christians

Friday, August 10th, 2007

I spent the afternoon reading NT Wright. I am so grateful that he writes 743 books a year on average because it will be a real shame for me when I have read everything he has written. It won’t be attractive to see a 54 year old man crying.

There are a great deal of Christian leaders, it seems, who are very concerned to act as policemen on other people’s research and thought. The “evangelantes” love to chase down Tom Wright and I think John “I used to write books about Grace” Piper is allegedly publishing a book in the Autumn that exposes Tom Wright as a heretic of the highest order who is intent on selling the church down the river Tiber so we all become enslaved by that Antichrist, Pope Benedict. I may be parodying his position somewhat, but I think there is a variant reading in Matthew that says “Blessed are those who parody the caricature artists”.

The reason Tom Wright gets all kicked around is because he teaches, allegedly, a New Persepctive on Paul. Now I am dubious that there are any new perspectives in theology. The JWs and the Mormons make new discoveries. I try to be more in the business of just finding ways to live out the age-old perspectives today. I used to read and hear the intellectual guardians of the evangelical churches ranting about the dangers of Wright and his New Perspective but never quite understood. Then I read some of Wright’s books and still didn’t understand. Then I read some of Wright’s books about Paul and still didn’t understand. Then I read his big heavy books and I still don’t really understand. Forgive me for my poor methodology but I have concluded that there is nothing to be afraid of.

Scot McKnight, no slowcoach himself has done a great little mini-series that explains in a way that I understand, the “New Perspective” that the Bishop of Durham allegedly advances. He does it fairly too. If that whets your appetite, Christianity Today have a bigger treatment on it this month.

Now if someone could explain the Auburn Avenue/Federal Vision controversy in a way that makes sense to me, that would be great too.

Speaking of Piper, he is a pastor in Minneapolis and after the bridge collapsed he said this:

God had a purpose for not holding up that bridge, knowing all that would happen, and he is infinitely wise in all that he wills

While on one level I guess I can understand/agree but I would also feel a need to add my own comment:

God’s purpose was that the politicians in Minneapolis, the engineers who worked for the city and the workmen who implement the decisions made by those two groups would do their job as excellently as possible and so protect the bridge from falling down. Call it Jaybercrow‘s influence but Calvinism sometimes looks horrendous to me. Calvin however, always looks superduper sweet. Little bearded Frenchman.

Your Correspondent, Fusing Flashdance with MC Hammer shit

Busting An Even Better Move

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Zoomtard better not turn into a Hitchens-Watch website where I obsessively and boringly follow the new fundatheist Christopher Hitchens. He sure does know how to write but he seems intent on following the lucrative path of the Atheists’ High Priest Richard Dawkins in turning his remarkable ability for rhetoric to the service of silly arguments.

In his latest Slate article he has a go at Islam. He writes:

No human being can possibly claim to know that there is a God at all, or that there are, or were, any other gods to be repudiated.

Why can no human make such a claim? Well according to Hitchens it is because it is unreasonable. Reason can’t support such a claim. The problem that he fails to allude to, deal with or overcome, the problem he tries to walk past fast enough so that you don’t notice the sleight of hand involved in his priestly duty is: How is it unreasonable? Assertion is not argument. But his transubstantiation of reason into secular humanism can offer only strong assertion.

When you do sit down long enough to see that Hitchens, and Dawkins and their disciples are actually passing off a philosophical movement as the sole purveyors of truth you begin to see them as strangely religious people. Hitchens believes in post-enlightenment materialism in the same way that I believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are the foundations of all our other observations. Like CS Lewis put it, I believe in Jesus like I believe in the sun. Not because I can see it but because by it I can see everything else. Materialism acts in the same way for Hitchens. His vaulted “reason” is as axiomatic as my worshiped Christ, and equally a matter of faith.

This doesn’t mean that all our different faiths collapse down into a question of opinion: I have my faith and you have yours. In fact, it is a tenet of post-Enlightenment thought that faith is like this, truth neutral, a subject one can’t argue about. I actually believe that the reason Hitchens and Dawkins are so unwilling to enter into specific debate with Christians about their Christ or their Scriptures or into specific debate with philosophers about their epistemology is because they know that in such a debate, their casual appropriation of reason will be shown for the power play that it actually is.

At the end of the article where Hitchens basically pitches all moderate Muslims into the same camp as the Extremists (let me use their tactics and just appeal to your senses here- that argument doesn’t sound right at all, does it?) he finishes with a truly extremist statement. We should, he says, remind the Islamofascists that there are almost a billion Hindus who they are offending and angering, a billion plus Christians and so on.

How about reminding the Islamists that, by their mad policy in Kashmir and elsewhere, they have made deadly enemies of a billion Indian Hindus?

That is the kind of reasoned response that only such a clear headed thinker could offer: we must increase the animus, get more people in on the aggression and make sure the temperature rises so that no dialogue is possible. Even Jesus wasn’t as smart as Hitchens.

Your Correspondent, Spends what Jesus saves

Clear The Stage. He’s Busting A Move

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Christopher Hitchens published a book recently called God Is Not Great and he has been making quite a fuss about it. Douglas Wilson undoubtedly won their debate and he has had quite a kicking around the place recently. I was shocked to read in an interview in the Atlantic Monthly how he remixed these various intellectual losses to make them sound like brushes with crazies. Atlantic is a subscriber only site but the brilliant GetReligion covers the duplicity here. Integrity eh?

I have been enjoying the brilliant Scotteriology recently. (Soteriology is the technical term for the study of salvation, so its a pun, but forgive him cos he is funny). He is a former professional ice hockey player turned seminarian. He has a genuinely good sense of humour which is rare for us God-botherers. I’m not sure if I can go all the way with him in his reasoning but I liked, as usual, his post on Hitchens here.

Praise be to God Almighty that the UN has agreed to deploy a 26000 strong force to Darfur. But it is not the only crisis that requires our intervention. Zimbabwe is finally surely, crawling into the grave Mugabe has been busy digging for it over the last years. Samantha Power wrote an amazing article in the Atlantic almost four years ago about the chaos that ruled in what was once known as Rhodesia. Samantha Power by the way is back in Ireland this month for the Kilkenny Arts festival. You should go hear the most compelling Irish-born person since MC Hammer (he was brought up in Roscommon). Failing that, you should read her breathtaking, tear inducing A Problem From Hell.

Here is a weird and sad story about a double suicide in New York that may have been prompted by Scientololgy harassment. I’ll leave it at that since who can say any more at this stage.

Finally, remember I talked about the mathematics of the Mobius Strip? How can you forget, you all roar back me. I have a really bad Mobius strip joke.

q. Why did the chicken cross the mobius strip?

a. To get to the same side

Your Correspondent, Entertained neither by your compact discs, nor your Super Mario Men

This Might Spoil Harry Potter For You

Friday, August 3rd, 2007

Last week I watched that movie about the yellow people who say funny things and bounce into things and don’t get hurt. What is it called again? The Simpsons. I am a ginormous fan of the Simpsons so I didn’t enjoy the movie. The purist in me just found it not good enough. I will buy it on DVD. Watch it seventeen times. Then I will make references to it every time I write a sermon because I will love it so much.

Transformers? I couldn’t get past the fact that Megan Fox’s real name is Megan Fox. And that is what she is, in a pornstarish way. Which is good since Michael Bay needed something to zoom in on to distract us from the lack of plot when there wasn’t a lot of noise or Optimus Prime. Megan Fox sounds like the kind of name a pornstar name generator would throw up. On the plus side, the noises of the Transformers transforming are really cool. And I learned things: like how dumb Iranian scientists are! Who knew?

The other major cultural event of recent weeks was the publication of the final Harry Potter book. Wife-unit read it slowly over the course of about 2 days, drawing it out so she wouldn’t have to say goodbye. I knew it was good when it kind of made her cry at the end. See how casually I puncture her hard-rock n roll reputation. She cried at the end. I didn’t, but I could have because the book was better than I could have imagined it. From the very first page it was utterly gripping and it never let me down. It is a masterpiece. I used to be quite private in my enjoyment of HP. I wouldn’t have evangelised for them. Wrap a cheap tie around my neck and call me “Brother” now though because you really should get in on the game, even at this late stage.

The utterly shocking thing about this book is not that it delivered on the stratospheric expectations. It is how God-elevatingly Biblical the story turns out to be. I quietly suspected it. Even if Rowling was the demon child of Richard Dawkins and Philip Pullman I still would never have anything to do with the crazy Christian fringe who attacked the books back in the beginning. But as the story weaved in and out I kind of maybe sensed that something was going to develop along the lines it did (I will do my best not to give it away). But then when the end comes it is so robustly, fully formed that it was exhilarating. I need to read it again in the winter, but Rowling seems to have settled in Narnia in the way she poetically and with alarming openess, turns the climax around the Gospel.

I’d love to talk about this (stay away from the comments if you still haven’t got your hands on a copy). Does the success, the mania of Harry Potter, now that we have come to the end and seen it for what it really is, not tell us Christians something very serious about how we communicate the Gospel. There is no tension, no build up and no drama. In fact, we flatten out the drama, the plot, the narrative and punch people in the face with flat doctrinal statments. We don’t even draw on the poetic ones like “God is love” or one Rowling uses as a major device, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Instead of tantalising people and drawing them in we compress and compact it down to the 2 ways to live, the 4 spiritual laws or draw a bridge diagram.

The only thing I regret is that if I ever am blessed with children, they won’t read, enjoy and be astonished by Harry Potter the way I have been. By then, just like Narnia, the Philip Pullman’s of the world will be rolling their eyes at the very idea that Harry is a great literary character. CS Lewis said that he wrote Narnia to slip past the dragons that keep guard at the doors of our minds, the dragons that protect us from the stunning message of the Gospel. Rowling has proven herself to be an even better secret agent than Lewis was, I think. In the coming generation we can expect to see her stock fall and plummet as she is recast as a peddler of religious stories of a slightly dubious quality. I guess she can console herself by swimming in a tank of money.

Your Correspondent, Nobody listens to tapes in cars when he’s on the radio

And Then They Just Look Confused

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

For those of you who don’t like reading rambling half-baked ideas that stretch to thousands of words, here is my recent Pope entry re-done to make sense. No one should be surprised that the Pope is Roman Catholic. The heart of Roman Catholic theology is Eucharist. Its dominance in the way that Rome thinks about faith can’t even be compared to any concept in evangelicalism/reformed/Protestant/choose your own term for that which isn’t Popish or Russian!

The Eucharistic belief of Roman Catholicism is in my opinion, an elaboration that goes beyond the bounds of Scripture. The New Testament as I read it, does seem to indicate that Communion is more than a mid-morning snack that all us Christians partake in. However, I feel the Roman Catholic concept of transubstantiation owes more to the rediscovery of Aristotle in the 1000s than it does to the Bible. I believe that Thomas Aquinas developed an ingenius and intruiging model for how the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Jesus using Aristotelian terms but that doesn’t mean he was right. It just means he was very creative and clever. He was right about lots of things but not this.

This is where I enter into speculation. I don’t think the Thomistic formulation of transubstantiation became vitally important until after the Reformation. In the attempt to create distance between the Mother in Rome and the upstarts in Wittenburg and Geneva and Praha, the Eucharist became increasingly dominant. Fast forward 400 years of much the same conflict between Rome and the Protesters and we end up with Pope Benedict XVI basically reiterating Roman Catholic dogma- if the true presence of Jesus is contained in the Eucharistic meal then the Prods are repudiating Jesus. They are not participating fully in the Christian life. They are failing in their calling. They are not church.

Thus, the Pope reiterates the kind of thing you’d expect the Pope to believe if he was really the Pope and the world goes into a little seizure over the fact that Roman Catholics still haven’t gotten the memo from modern progressive types that reads:

Please stop being Catholic. This whole Jesus thing is so 124AD.
Plus, nuns are creepy.

Maybe with the shortened version you’ll woo the person sitting beside you at the next dinner party. Remember to call your first child Zoomtard when it turns out he is a doctor and you marry him.

Your Correspondent, Sick of you teaching him your time-tested values

Things To Say About The Pope At Dinner Parties

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

So Papa Ratzie came out with a controversial paper a few weeks back. Well, the Vatican came out with a paper and Bennie XVI put his name to it. According to tabloid newspapers, I think he said that all Protestants have arachnid DNA and intend to launch a treacherous plot on the Vatican that involves spinning gyroscopes and defamed statues of Jesus’ ma. But it seems that amazingly enough, the press mis-reported a story about religion. While the press are obviously just matching a desire in the population at large when they pass off Bennie’s comments as confusing, bizarre oddities from an empire that lives in a fantasy land, the one thing everyone expects of a Papal letter is true of this one: its boring.

Not all Papal documents are boring. But this one was a yawnfest. And its only a few paragraphs long. I had to put on very loud hip hop to stay awake. I had to make a big cup of coffee and cover it in melted chocolate and drink it while injecting cocaine directly into my crotch to follow it. Would a major new statement of Vatican theology on the role of other churches make me bored? Hell no. The reason this is boring and not worthy of all the angst poured out on it is that Bennie is just reiterating a view that has been around for a fair old long time.

A friend once emailed me and asked me to write a series of Zoomtards on what is the difference between Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant understandings of Communion. I told them they were crazy and I might as well start a series on how to start a successful catering company or what to do with your old radiators when you get your central heating replaced because I know less about that than the average stray cat wandering around the arches of Rome.

But as much as the following post might be totally wrong headed, I think the best way of understanding why Pope Benedict could say what he said is to look at Communion. As it is reported in the media, Pope Benedict XVI just issued a holy slap-down on all us upstarts with our 400 year old ideas of Reformation. Really, what they are trying to do with this letter is some internal clearing up of things that had become hazy. Before any Prods starts having an eppo, let’s all remember there is a reason why we aren’t Roman Catholic and for most of us, it is fairly closely associated with the ecclesiology of Rome.

So I am a Christian and my theology is all over the place. I think the Trinity is at the centre and the Church is really important in there and its all about grace but basically, I am a confused mess. I tried to draw it out once but it just kept looking like a toilet. This is not the case with Roman Catholic theology and the centre-piece of Catholic doctrine is Communion, or as they like to call it in their lingo, Eucharist (which means thanksgiving in Greek).

The Council of Trent wrote on October 11, 1551 in the Decree Concerning the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist:

…after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things

This is a clear formulation of the idea of transubstantiation. Many of you will remember from history class in school that Roman Catholics believe that the bread and wine is actually the body and blood of Jesus and Protestants believe that its just bread and wine and we do it to remember Jesus. That is a classic case of lies to children of course. Its simplification is very misleading. “Protestants” (a term so meaningless here that I might have begun the sentence more profitably with “Others”) hold beliefs about Communion along a wide spectrum from the position you learned in history class that is truly Anabaptist right through to practical transubstantiation in some of the more austere Anglican churches. For Rome, once you take Communion in a worthy manner, it is the source of and summit of the Christian life.

Even leaving aside the accounts of the Last Supper, the New Testament offers lots of reasons for Christians to have moved, as I feel an urge to move, away from a plain, flat reading of the Last Supper as something we need to “just remember”. In John 6 Jesus says that he is the bread of life that leads to eternity and calls himself superior to manna, the miraculous bread that sustained the Israelites during their Exodus out of Egypt, through the desert. It really does lead the reader to think Jesus is saying that following him is a sacramental act in some way. (Sacramental meaning God’s use of material things to share out his grace). 1 Corinthians 10, and 11 both pose a real stumbling block for the “plain reading” folks too, I think.

Now this is where Zoomtard ventures into deep waters that are threatening to engulf him. I am not convinced that this idea of transubstantiation as formulated by the Roman Catholic church is in keeping with the Scriptures. It doesn’t seem to me to be a faithful acting out of the drama of Scripture. The major problem I have with it is that it seems to be grounded in Greek philosophical categories. Aristotle, 400+ years before Jesus talked about the essence and substance of objects. The rock fell to the ground because there was something in the essence of the rock that desired to be with the ground. The Neuro agreed to marry the Zoomtard because there was something in the essence of the rohypnol that clouded her judgement.

Aristotle’s works were lost to Europe with the fall of Rome and were re-introduced in the 1100-1200s by Islamic scholars. Thomas Aquinas took them up in the 1200s and famously retooled them to do the work of Christian theology. Now I have no problem with that at all. It is right and proper that we take the terms and ideas of other streams of thought and appropriate them for our good use when the opportunity arises. The New Testament is filled with enough repackaged Roman terms (church, anyone?) for us to close down that particular line of criticism for good. So Aquinas sought to explain a common view using Aristotelian terms. So, according to him, a supernatural substantial change occurs in the Mass. The form stays the same but the essence of the object is changed. Bread stays outwardly bread but its essence is no longer that of processed wheat. It is now the body of Jesus of Nazareth.

For me, this is a stretch that seems barely comprehensible. Let me offer some conjecture for the next paragraph. 300 years after Aquinas, his theology had assumed a role in Catholic theology that was more venerable than anything we can imagine today. As glorified as NT Wright or Karl Barth is, even as Jean Calvin is, no one can compare to the influence that Thomas had. Luther came along and righteously called Refomation! on the excesses of this hierarchical church that had utterly forgotten the core of the Gospel. Six million French Catholics become Calvinists as he did such a magnificent job of translating the Gospel story into terms that average people can understand. Germany was lost to Rome. Britain was lost to Rome. And soon Rome starts to get the message. The counter-Reformation begins. The Jesuits are formed. There was still an unholy mixing of political and military might with the office-bearers of the church but as they sought to save the sinking ship, Catholic leaders needed to find something to differentiate themselves from the Reformers. The Reformers had after all, by now, developed an impressive body of theology, modes of worship, ecclessiological institutions. Why wouldn’t you join the democratic, Grace-preaching, vernacular speaking Reformed church down the road?

I think, without really being able to back it up at this point, it is at this stage, with the Council of Trent, that Roman Catholic theology shifted to base itself around the Eucharist. The valuable models that Aquinas and co offered became Dogma. They were no longer ways of understanding the mystery of Communion. They were now the only way to understand it. If Jesus is “really” present in the Roman communion then it follows on that other Christians are not partaking fully. If they refuse the role that the transubstantiated bread and wine plays as the source and summit of the Christian life then they are just ecclessiological communities.

So at the dinner party, what you need to do is explain how Aquinas remixed Aristotle, that the lads at Trent repelled Luther’s rebellion by emphasising Eucharist and that five hundred years of theological evolution has meant that Pope Benedict XVI is compelled by his tradition to say that if you do not understand Communion the same way, then you are not being Church properly. This is a sad position for him to be in. Communion, as hinted at by the meaning of the word, is about bringing people together. But the comments that were made in this paper, just like the things said in Dominus Jesus should not damage the ecumenical project. This is the ecumenical project. If Rome talks with me their goal is that we may one day take Eucharist together. If I talk to Rome, my goal is that we might one day be in Communion and to do that we must start taking Communion together. I suspect it will take a while to work that one out! Misreporting by newspapers, absurd reductionist comments from Rome and dense theological language aside, we are the church. On a local level it need not matter whether you are Roman, Anglican, Baptist or Presbyterian. We are all part of the church universal, the church Catholic.

Your Correspondent, Makes the Ewoks look like Shaft