Summary of discussion, March 2nd 2017
We were more theological than usual this month!
The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge was planning to display a doll depicting the Christ child, kept in Italy and “miraculously” surviving an earthquake. For many people such symbols and artifacts are an important part of their faith. Others, however, think of them as superstitious or even idolatrous.
Artifacts can be reminders of and pointers to God- but there is always the danger of staying with sign and not going on to the relationship (rather like driving along the A6 and seeing the sign pointing to Wymington, but then staying there). In the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John chapter 4) there was the question of whether God should be worshipped in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerizim. Even if there is a right answer, Jesus says the point is a relationship with God (“worship in spirit”, v 23).
Can the same be true of the Bible? We can argue about doctrines and history, whereas Jesus says that the Scriptures should point us to him. The same can be true of church buildings, which can claim our time, money and love, rather than places where we can meet to share and reflect on our experience of God in the world and in all life.
Jeremiah chapter 2 talked about idolatry- not a misuse of symbols and artifacts that can drift into superstition, but trusting your life and the life of society to powers other than God. The United States theologian Walter Wink (1935 to 2012) came to the conclusion that the religion of America was not Christianity, but something he named “the Myth of Redemptive Violence”- the idea that when things go wrong the good guys need to go in and beat up the bad guys to restore justice. Wink claimed that this theory had become America’s notion of God- but in fact was an idol, a false god which dominated much of its politics, including its foreign policy. Jeremiah said that the people’s faith in false gods was leading them into disaster- which was their own fault.
The Samaritan woman in the John chapter 4 story had been in a relationship with five different men (verse 18). Does that mean that she was promiscuous or (more likely in her society) that she had been repeatedly abandoned by the men in her life? She would have been ostracised for that just as much- society is always quick to blame the victims of abuse.
A newspaper article reported that sex education will become compulsory in all schools from the age of four (not only local authority schools as before). The Church of England has supported this. One reason given is to guard against the potential distortion of sexuality through the internet. However the lack of good teaching and discussion about sexuality (stemming from Victorian times?) had already left a dangerous vacuum in which “Thou shalt not” rules were imposed but not explained. When those “rules” were questioned there was little basis in society for a good ethic of sexuality. Perhaps good sex education in schools can begin to remedy this lack.