Did God sink the Titanic? Thomas Hardy and John Piper

RMS TitanicArchdruid Eileen has posted an interesting poem by Thomas Hardy, The Convergence of the Twain. And it seems that this is a genuine poem, not a Beaker Folk satire. According to Wikipedia, it was published in 1915. And it is relevant today because it commemorates the sinking of the Titanic, 100 years ago today.

What is shocking to read is that Hardy, the 19th century novelist who became a 20th century poet (his last novel was published in 1895 and his first poetry in 1898), clearly blamed God for sinking the Titanic. The iceberg that sank the TitanicIt is “The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything” who prepared the iceberg, and when “the Spinner of the Years // Said ‘Now!'” the collision took place. And Hardy seems to imply that this is judgment on “the Pride of Life that planned her”. But we also note that the poem depersonalises the disaster by saying nothing about the horrific loss of life.

Now Hardy was well known for his religious scepticism, and leaned towards agnosticism and deism. So it is hardly surprising to see a somewhat jaded image of God in his poem.

But I can’t help wondering what John Piper would say about the Titanic disaster. Well, he has tweeted the following, an argument ably demolished by Alan Molineaux:

When the Titanic sank 20% of the men and 74% of the women survived. That profound virtue was not nurtured by egalitarianism.

But that doesn’t apportion blame for the tragedy. Quite possibly Piper is preaching or writing on the subject today. But in the absence of any record of that so far, I can only argue by analogy with what he recently wrote about tornadoes:

Why would God reach down his hand and drag his fierce fingers across rural America killing at least 38 people with 90 tornadoes in 12 states, and leaving some small towns with scarcely a building standing, including churches?

… God alone has the last say in where and how the wind blows. If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command.

Tornado near Dallas, Texas, April 2012So Piper’s God commanded these tornadoes to devastate towns and kill many people. Presumably he would also say that God told the iceberg to cross the path of the Titanic. But where Piper disagrees with Hardy is that he doesn’t see such disasters as judgment of specific evil. Rather, they are a word to everyone, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

But is this God who chose, for no fault of their own, 38 people to kill with tornadoes and 1,514 to kill with an iceberg really the Christian God we learn of in the Bible? In his article about the tornadoes Piper quotes verses about God sending winds and others about people being killed by winds and other disasters, but none of these passages say explicitly that God sent the winds or other means which killed people. He quotes Matthew 8:27, but ignores the context in the previous verse: if God sent that particular wind, why did Jesus rebuke it? The language used in such passages hints at demonic activity in that storm on the Sea of Galilee. And if in that storm, why not also in destructive storms and other disasters today?

I don’t claim to know what caused these disasters. Perhaps we should put the blame mainly on humans, who took the risk of living in areas known to be prone to tornadoes and of steaming at full speed across a sea known to be studded with icebergs. For some the risk did not pay off.

But in the end what matters is not the anyway inevitable death of our mortal bodies, but that through Jesus Christ we have eternal life and the hope of new and glorious resurrection bodies.

N.T. Wright on Scripture and the Authority of God

N.T. WrightThis is how N.T. Wright, the former Bishop of Durham and now a professor at St Andrews, ends a paper on Scripture and the Authority of God:

Scripture is then part of the Spirit-given means, along with the koinonia of the church and the strange new-Temple significance of the sacraments, by which the people who find themselves in Act 5 [i.e. the church age] are able to improvise appropriately as they move towards the ultimate goal. The Bible is not an end in itself, in other words. It is there so that, by its proper use, the creator may be glorified and the creation may be healed. It is our task to be the people through whom this extraordinary vision comes to pass. We are thus entrusted with a privilege too great for casual handling, too vital to remain a mere matter of debate.

Amen!

This paper, adapted from something Wright wrote in 1991, has been published in six parts over the last month at The BioLogos Forum: N.T. Wright on Scripture and the Authority of God, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 (the quotation above is taken from part 6). This seems rather unconventional material for BioLogos, but it is certainly an excellent paper.

C.S. Lewis on the cover of Time Magazine

C.S. Lewis on the cover of Time MagazineThanks to Brian LePort for linking to a “rediscovered” Time Magazine cover story, from 8th September, 1947, featuring the famous Christian author C.S. Lewis.

In his post Brian looks mainly at Lewis’s interesting remarks on anthropomorphic language – apparently quoted from his then forthcoming book Miracles.

I agree with Brian, and with Lewis. But this is the quotation I would like to share with you, not from Lewis but from the article’s author:

Lewis (like T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, et al.) is one of a growing band of heretics among modern intellectuals: an intellectual who believes in God.

65 years later, are believers still considered heretics, in those circles? And is their band still growing, or shrinking? The world needs more people like C.S. Lewis: forthright Christians with academic integrity and writing skills, or perhaps other media skills for our rather different age, who can speak God’s truth into our popular culture.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: Cameron's religion?

Be NiceOnly this evening I came across the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), in Allan Bevere’s post Jesus Without the Church? Not! The term was apparently coined by Kenda Creasy Dean, in her book Almost Christian (which I have not read). Bevere quotes Ben Gosden‘s summary definition of the beliefs of MTD adherents:

  1. Moralistic: The object of Christian faith is to be nice to others in accordance with moral lessons in the Bible as well as natural law observed through reason.
  2. Therapeutic: The main purpose of life is to find happiness.
  3. Deism: God created the world and holds ultimate power, but is very uninterested in human life and will not intervene except when someone needs an answer to a problem.

John Meunier has given a rather more detailed description of Advanced MTD, to which Kenda Creasy Dean herself gave an appreciative response.

Dean, Meunier, Gosden and Bevere all suggest that MTD is the typical religion of American churches, at least from their shared perspective in the United Methodist Church. Indeed Meunier writes that

This religion is so deeply embedded into our congregations that digging it out will be fatal to most. Like a cancerous tumor, it has invaded too many vital organs to be safely dug out.

I can’t help wondering if this MTD is in fact just as deeply and fatally embedded into most churches here in the UK, especially but not only in the Church of England. Perhaps the “therapeutic” side is not so strong here. But the deism is probably even stronger: nobody expects God to intervene just because “someone needs an answer to a problem”.

This, it seems to me, is the kind of religion which Prime Minister David Cameron professes, as seen for example in his Easter message, in which he spoke of two roles of faith:

Faith has a huge amount to bring not just to our national life in terms of values; it has a huge amount to bring in terms of strengthening our institutions …

And for him “The values of the Bible, the values of Christianity” are “values of compassion, of respect, of responsibility, of tolerance”. But there is no mention here of God intervening in anything, except Cameron perhaps implicitly rejects this in his sceptical remarks about the Resurrection, which I discussed in my post Cameron and Obama on the Resurrection.

Nor is there any explicit mention of the “Therapeutic” aspect of MTD, but this is implicit in his remarks about tolerance and in support of gay marriage. Cameron clearly believes that homosexuals have the right to have anything which they think will make them happy, and anyone who seeks to deny this, even with the intention of “strengthening our institutions”, is considered intolerant and beyond the pale. Now he is entitled to his opinion on this matter, but it is one more characteristic of MTD than of true biblical Christianity.

So, what can we do? It looks as if Cameron wants to encourage MTD in this country, at the expense of genuine Christian faith. But when so many of our church leaders are adherents of MTD, what can the rest of us do? Well, I guess we can show MTD to be false when, in response to our prayers, we see God intervene to set our nation to rights. So let us pray!

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: Cameron’s religion?

Be NiceOnly this evening I came across the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), in Allan Bevere’s post Jesus Without the Church? Not! The term was apparently coined by Kenda Creasy Dean, in her book Almost Christian (which I have not read). Bevere quotes Ben Gosden‘s summary definition of the beliefs of MTD adherents:

  1. Moralistic: The object of Christian faith is to be nice to others in accordance with moral lessons in the Bible as well as natural law observed through reason.
  2. Therapeutic: The main purpose of life is to find happiness.
  3. Deism: God created the world and holds ultimate power, but is very uninterested in human life and will not intervene except when someone needs an answer to a problem.

John Meunier has given a rather more detailed description of Advanced MTD, to which Kenda Creasy Dean herself gave an appreciative response.

Dean, Meunier, Gosden and Bevere all suggest that MTD is the typical religion of American churches, at least from their shared perspective in the United Methodist Church. Indeed Meunier writes that

This religion is so deeply embedded into our congregations that digging it out will be fatal to most. Like a cancerous tumor, it has invaded too many vital organs to be safely dug out.

I can’t help wondering if this MTD is in fact just as deeply and fatally embedded into most churches here in the UK, especially but not only in the Church of England. Perhaps the “therapeutic” side is not so strong here. But the deism is probably even stronger: nobody expects God to intervene just because “someone needs an answer to a problem”.

This, it seems to me, is the kind of religion which Prime Minister David Cameron professes, as seen for example in his Easter message, in which he spoke of two roles of faith:

Faith has a huge amount to bring not just to our national life in terms of values; it has a huge amount to bring in terms of strengthening our institutions …

And for him “The values of the Bible, the values of Christianity” are “values of compassion, of respect, of responsibility, of tolerance”. But there is no mention here of God intervening in anything, except Cameron perhaps implicitly rejects this in his sceptical remarks about the Resurrection, which I discussed in my post Cameron and Obama on the Resurrection.

Nor is there any explicit mention of the “Therapeutic” aspect of MTD, but this is implicit in his remarks about tolerance and in support of gay marriage. Cameron clearly believes that homosexuals have the right to have anything which they think will make them happy, and anyone who seeks to deny this, even with the intention of “strengthening our institutions”, is considered intolerant and beyond the pale. Now he is entitled to his opinion on this matter, but it is one more characteristic of MTD than of true biblical Christianity.

So, what can we do? It looks as if Cameron wants to encourage MTD in this country, at the expense of genuine Christian faith. But when so many of our church leaders are adherents of MTD, what can the rest of us do? Well, I guess we can show MTD to be false when, in response to our prayers, we see God intervene to set our nation to rights. So let us pray!

Cameron and Obama on the Resurrection

Barack Obama and David CameronPrime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama, who met recently in Washington, have both taken the opportunity of the run-up to Easter to talk about their Christian faith, including their position on the Resurrection.

Gillan Scott gives the text of David Cameron’s Easter message at a reception for Christian leaders. Gillan highlights some positive points in this message. Like Phil Groom in a comment, I am far from convinced that Cameron is really signalling a change of policy on gay marriage; rather, I would suggest, by insisting that the government proposals are only about civil marriage, he is asking Christians to choose different battles to fight.

But the main point I want to make here is not about gay marriage at all, but about Cameron’s Christian faith, or lack of it. Last year I wrote about how seriously he misunderstands the Bible, as centrally “about leading good lives and helping each other as best we can”. This week’s message shows all the more clearly how little true faith he has:

… actually, really, Easter in many ways is the one that counts. Even those of us who sometimes struggle with some parts of the message – the idea of resurrection, of a living God, of someone who’s still with us – is fantastically important even if you sometimes, as I do, struggle over some of the details.

So what Cameron seems to be saying, in somewhat confused words that are surely his own and not a speech writer’s, is that he doesn’t really believe in the Resurrection or in a living God who is still with us. For him, it seems, Christianity is merely “about leading good lives and helping each other as best we can”. But that is not Christian faith at all; it is no more than what the best of atheistic and deistic philosophers thought. Indeed, if Cameron doesn’t even believe in a living God, he really should call himself a deist or an agnostic, and make no claim to be a Christian.

So it came as a pleasant contrast to read these words spoken today by Barack Obama, quoted by Joel Watts from a speech at the White House Easter Prayer Service:

It is only because Jesus conquered His own anguish, conquered His fear, that we’re able to celebrate the resurrection. It’s only because He endured unimaginable pain that wracked His body and bore the sins of the world that burdened His soul that we are able to proclaim, ‘He is Risen!’

These are the words of a true Christian. Mr Cameron, will you be able to join Mr Obama this Sunday in proclaiming, with genuine faith, “He is risen!”?

American Baptism, Democratic and Republican

Archdruid Eileen as drawn by Dave WalkerArchdruid Eileen offers a perceptive comment:

In America, it seems to me, you can tell politicians apart by the age at which baptism takes place. Broadly, I reckon, Democrats baptise children and Republicans baptise adults.

This is really an aside in her post A Guide to English Christianity, which led her creator to tweet “*leaves country*”. But America will be no safe haven for the writer after that comment.

But is this correlation true? It certainly seems to tie in with my experience. Among my limited number of American friends, those from mainstream denominations, who generally baptise children, tend to be on the political left, whereas the Baptists and Pentecostals who only baptise adults tend to be on the right. I would suppose that the latter tend to be more individualistic, in both politics and religion, and to be Republican, whereas a stronger sense of society and corporate identity could be linked to both baptism of children and Democratic politics.

However, the rule doesn’t seem to work for recent Presidents and presidential candidates. Bill Clinton is a Democrat and a Baptist; George W. Bush is a Republican and a Methodist (former Episcopalian). Barack Obama fits the bill as a Democrat from the paedo-baptist United Church of Christ, but he was personally baptised as an adult in that denomination (which incidentally implies that he is not a Muslim). Of Obama’s four current Republican challengers, two are paedo-baptist Roman Catholics, although Newt Gingrich has been baptised as an adult, not once but twice; one, Ron Paul, is a Baptist who baptises children – at least his own five; and one, Mitt Romney, accepts only adult baptism, in its distorted Mormon form. So, it seems, Eileen’s rule is followed better by the ordinary people than by their leaders.

“Miracle man” Muamba dead then alive – Doctors amazed

Fabrice MuambaFootballer Fabrice Muamba now seems to be recovering slowly, although he is still in intensive care. See this video for the latest report. Along with most of the nation, I thank God for this remarkable answer to prayer.

The amazing thing in this case is that, after collapsing during an FA Cup tie, he is said to have been dead for as long as 78 minutes, with his heart not beating. Even doctors have used the word “dead”. For all of that time people were giving him a variety of medical treatments – and others, even players on the pitch, were praying for him. But it was only after well over an hour that the medical team was able to restart his heart.

The BBC Health Correspondent, Nick Triggle, asks, Can you be dead for 78 minutes? He writes:

The more details that emerge about Fabrice Muamba, the more amazing his story becomes.

The latest has seen the Bolton footballer labelled the “miracle man”.

Nevertheless, he explains, it is possible, though rare, for someone to live again after being dead for this long, with paramedics unable to find any signs of life. Of course one might say that Triggle has to say it is possible because it has happened, in at least this one case.

In this case Muamba was receiving the best possible medical treatment and was also being prayed for. So it is impossible to say whether the prayer played any part in his return from the dead, or in his subsequent recovery.

But this does raise the question of what happens in cases where apparently dead people are raised by the power of prayer alone, when no medical treatment is available, or when doctors have stopped treating the patient as dead. In recent years there have been many reports of such healings, most controversially in connection with the ministry of Todd Bentley. Now I accept that there are serious issues here in that there is no independent verification of many of the reports coming out of the Lakeland events. But there does seem to be a common pattern among most of the reported raisings of the dead by prayer: that they usually happen within an hour or two of death.

So could it be that all or many of the genuine cases (and I assume here that at least a few are genuine) of people being raised from the dead through prayer are similar to that of Muamba? A person’s heart has stopped, probably for some medical reason. There may have been repeated attempts to start it again, but these have failed. As the BBC suggests in Muamba’s case, there may have been some residual activity in the heart, but no regular beat. Then, after an hour or two and in response to prayer, the heart has started to beat again, and the person has come back to life. Well, something like this happened in Muamba’s case, although we don’t know what if any different treatment he received when he arrived at the hospital.

So, am I suggesting a naturalistic explanation of reanimation by prayer, that people spontaneously rise from the dead, and there is only a coincidental link with prayer? Not really – although maybe the dead wake up more often than is realised, only to freeze to death again on a mortuary slab. But I am suggesting that the power of God can touch a heart which is still, but maybe not completely dead, and start it beating again. Yes, a miracle, but perhaps one which does not go as completely against the scientific worldview as some might think when they hear talk about the dead being raised.

"Miracle man" Muamba dead then alive – Doctors amazed

Fabrice MuambaFootballer Fabrice Muamba now seems to be recovering slowly, although he is still in intensive care. See this video for the latest report. Along with most of the nation, I thank God for this remarkable answer to prayer.

The amazing thing in this case is that, after collapsing during an FA Cup tie, he is said to have been dead for as long as 78 minutes, with his heart not beating. Even doctors have used the word “dead”. For all of that time people were giving him a variety of medical treatments – and others, even players on the pitch, were praying for him. But it was only after well over an hour that the medical team was able to restart his heart.

The BBC Health Correspondent, Nick Triggle, asks, Can you be dead for 78 minutes? He writes:

The more details that emerge about Fabrice Muamba, the more amazing his story becomes.

The latest has seen the Bolton footballer labelled the “miracle man”.

Nevertheless, he explains, it is possible, though rare, for someone to live again after being dead for this long, with paramedics unable to find any signs of life. Of course one might say that Triggle has to say it is possible because it has happened, in at least this one case.

In this case Muamba was receiving the best possible medical treatment and was also being prayed for. So it is impossible to say whether the prayer played any part in his return from the dead, or in his subsequent recovery.

But this does raise the question of what happens in cases where apparently dead people are raised by the power of prayer alone, when no medical treatment is available, or when doctors have stopped treating the patient as dead. In recent years there have been many reports of such healings, most controversially in connection with the ministry of Todd Bentley. Now I accept that there are serious issues here in that there is no independent verification of many of the reports coming out of the Lakeland events. But there does seem to be a common pattern among most of the reported raisings of the dead by prayer: that they usually happen within an hour or two of death.

So could it be that all or many of the genuine cases (and I assume here that at least a few are genuine) of people being raised from the dead through prayer are similar to that of Muamba? A person’s heart has stopped, probably for some medical reason. There may have been repeated attempts to start it again, but these have failed. As the BBC suggests in Muamba’s case, there may have been some residual activity in the heart, but no regular beat. Then, after an hour or two and in response to prayer, the heart has started to beat again, and the person has come back to life. Well, something like this happened in Muamba’s case, although we don’t know what if any different treatment he received when he arrived at the hospital.

So, am I suggesting a naturalistic explanation of reanimation by prayer, that people spontaneously rise from the dead, and there is only a coincidental link with prayer? Not really – although maybe the dead wake up more often than is realised, only to freeze to death again on a mortuary slab. But I am suggesting that the power of God can touch a heart which is still, but maybe not completely dead, and start it beating again. Yes, a miracle, but perhaps one which does not go as completely against the scientific worldview as some might think when they hear talk about the dead being raised.

Murdoch company accused of killing old woman

Rupert Murdoch is in enough trouble here in the UK, mainly with the phone hacking scandals involving his newspapers. But I don’t think any of his UK companies have been accused of causing anyone’s death.

Hallie Jean Mayes Knauss CulpepperBut that cannot be said about his American companies. The US news channel Fox News, which he owns, has now been directly implicated in the death of an old woman, by inciting her to reject the medical treatment which she needed – as reported by Karoli at Crooks and Liars and by Fred Clark at Slacktivist (thanks to James McGrath for the latter link). The old lady’s daughter wrote:

FOX News killed my precious mother, Hallie. She watched FOX religiously. And when she fell ten days before she died, she refused to go to the doctor because, “I don’t want Obamacare to get all of my information! she declared …

It seems that this old lady believed many of the deliberate lies which were being put forward by the Fox News anchor, lies directed at President Obama and at his health care policy. She appears to have thought that if she had accepted medical care, following her fall, her medical information and her money would have been sent to Islamic extremists. This is of course completely false, but a reasonable deduction from the lies told by Fox News.

Like Fred Clark, “I wouldn’t say Fox News is directly responsible for this woman’s death”. But, assuming that the facts as reported are accurate, I would suggest that the Fox campaign of disinformation about Obama and his policies gives them a measure of responsibility, in this case and in any other similar ones.

And, just as Rupert Murdoch should accept personal responsibility for the phone hacking at the News of the World, and probably at other newspapers he owns, he should also accept personal responsibility for all of the consequences of the lies told by Fox News.