No, you should not love your neighbour ‘as you love yourself’

Oliver Harrison writes: Often, in normal times and in a normal church service, we start our prayers of confession with a very short excerpt from the Bible. The minister reads out Jesus’ words from Matthew chapter 22.37–40:

The first and greatest commandment is this: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

(And the congregation replies: “Amen. Lord have mercy.” Which is to say “Yes, I agree.” And “Uh oh! I haven’t actually managed to do that!”)

When Jesus says this, he is replying to some clever, cunning clergy who are trying to trip him up and trap him. They want to catch him out and make him say something that will incriminate himself so they ask him “Rabbi, which is the greatest commandment in the Law that God gave to Moses?” (And here I wonder whether the respectful term of address, Rabbi, is meant to be flattering and ingratiating or mocking and sarcastic.)

Jesus deals with the question directly. He doesn’t hedge or hesitate. He doesn’t even give one of his wise and funny replies. He answer straight away and straightforwardly. And Jesus says this:

The first and greatest commandment is this: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

In doing so he quotes two verses from the Old Testament. The first is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” from Deuteronomy 6.5, and the second is: “Love your neighbour as yourself” from Leviticus 19:18.

Then Jesus says something astonishing and extraordinary. He adds the words: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” The “law” here is the Torah – all the rules and ritual and regulations that God gave to Moses and that the Jews observe as their religious duty. The prophets are the messengers that God sent to remind and rebuke the people when they had stopped doing what was right and good.

I’ve got a Bible here that is just over 2,000 pages long. The Law part begins on page 125 (Exodus 19) and goes on about page 300 (the end of Deuteronomy). So that’s 175 pages of instructions and commandments and legislation. Rules and ritual and regulations.

The prophets run from Isaiah starting on about page 1050 right through to the end of the Old Testament on page 1390 (and Jesus would probably have also intended to what we refer to as ‘history’, so that’s even more). So that 340 pages. 175 pages of law and 340 pages of prophets equals 515 pages. In a 2,000-page Bible that is about one quarter of the total text. And Jesus says all of that information from God can be summed up in two commandments.


Now, two things to note. First, those two commandments are not equal. Jesus says “The first and greatest commandment is this: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” The first is greater, more important, than the second. If the two should ever be in conflict then obey the first. It takes precedence. God comes first.

The second thing to note is that people often misquote the second commandment. People say, genuinely and sincerely: “Love your neighbour as you love yourself”, adding a second, extra “love.” And they mean it. Boy, do they mean it. Especially, it seems to me, that additional “love” – with all it implies.

(An aside: have you noticed how people misquote another part of the Bible? 1 Timothy 6:10 says “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” but it’s often cited as simply “money is the root of all kinds of evil”. We need to take the second, extra use of the word “love” out of “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” and put it back where it belongs, so “money is the root of all kinds of evil” becomes as it should be: “the love of money of the root of all kinds of evil”. Each saying should only have one “love” in it.)

But the misquoting of that passage has consequences. It is used as the prooftext for a whole industry of self-love. Love yourself” has become a mantra, a maxim, a moral imperative. A popular saying is “If you don’t love yourself how are you going to love anyone else?” As if the latter were contingent upon the former, as if you your love for yourself is the only thing that enables and equips and empowers you to love others. So the logic runs: “Loving others is good. But if you want to do that then you first have to love yourself.” 

Mostly people don’t need any excuse or opportunity to “love” themselves – to be selfish and mean and greedy and lazy and so on. But just in case your conscience is troubled by “self-love” then this saying “If you don’t love yourself how are you going to love anyone else?” soothes such scruples and even obliges you do to it. After all, it’s ultimately for the good of others, right? The means justifies the end – and in this case the means (loving yourself) is hardly onerous anyway. So love yourself!

The only problem is that Bible does not say “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” but “Love your neighbour as yourself” – as we’ve already seen and said the word “love” should only appear once. Now why is that important? Why does that make any difference? What difference does that small, subtle change make? Why is “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” wrong?

It’s wrong because you can’t love yourself—not really. Love requires more than one person: one to love and one to be loved Love flows between people—plural. Two or more. Love by definition requires a lover and a beloved, a subject and an object, a giver and a receiver. You can no more love yourself than you can lift yourself up in the chair you are sitting in or lend yourself money. Loving yourself is impossible in the true sense but exists in a kind of counterfeit copy of genuine interpersonal love.

And the Bible calls it out. In 2 Timothy 3.1–2 we read “bad times are coming in the last days: people will be in love with themselves.” Self-love is not real love and is, in fact, sinful and selfish. We call it narcissism. So to misquote the Bible and say “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” is wrong. And it has consequences for our relationship with God and others (which are very two relationships that Jesus speaks of in our reading today, when he answers the Pharisees in Matthew 22.)


But get the quotation right – “Love your neighbour as yourself” – and it becomes beautiful and difficult and wonderful and risky. To “love your neighbour as yourself” means to treat others as you would want to be treated. To “love your neighbour as yourself” means to remember that you and they are, essentially, the same—not identical, but substantially the same.They, other people, have, similar needs and desires, hopes and fears, limitations and lacunae as you.

They are your equals. They, too, were also made in the image of God as his children. They, too, are creatures of infinite worth and dignity. They, too, are frail and finite, weak and wilful, selfish and stupid, deprived and depraved – just as you are. And then we treat them as we treat them as we ourselves want and need to be treated: with love – which means with respect, affection, honesty and kindness.

And having established that love requires the “other” or “others” we can see that the statement “God is love” only possible if God is more than one person.  When we say “God is love” we are saying God is more than one and yet he is one: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are united as one in the harmony of perfect love. There is one God and God is one because God is love.

And because God is with us and loves us we can love and be loved even when we are on our own. Shipwrecked and stranded on a desert island, isolated and alone, we could love and be loved because we would be with God and God would be with us.

So that’s why it’s not “love your neighbour as you love yourself” it’s “love your neighbour as yourself” Elsewhere, Jesus says: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt 7.12—also summing up ‘the law and the prophets’). This is called the Golden Rule and it marks a departure from the previous teachings of the rabbis and sages who had gone before. They had said “Do not do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you.” Confucius said it, the Stoics philosophers said it, Aesop in his fables said it, Epicetus said it. Everybody said it. Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you.”

So you don’t want others to lie to you or cheat you or steal from you? OK, so don’t do those things to others.


Rabbi Hillel (born 100 years or so before Jesus) was challenged by a heathen who said that he was prepared to convert to Judaism if Rabbi Hillel was able to teach the whole law standing on one leg. Hillel replied, “What is hateful to yourself, do to no other; that is the whole law and the rest is commentary. Go and learn.” Now that’s snappy, but it’s still in this negative form. It’s all very negative and you can keep this golden rule simply by staying in bed and doing nothing at all.

But Jesus says it differently; he says it positively. It’s a seems like a small difference but it’s a profound one. Jesus was the first to formulate this saying positively. Nowhere in ancient literature is there a parallel to the positive form in which Jesus puts it. Followers of Jesus are called to say not only: “I won’t do anyone any harm”, but also, “I will go out of my way to help them, I will seek their good, I will want for them what I want for myself, I will do unto them as I would have them them do unto me.”

It is not enough simply not to steal; we must give generously. It is not enough not to harm our neighbours; we must also positive help them. This requires us to be active – even proactive – in showing and sharing love. That’s why this is called the Golden Rule. The Silver Rule is “do not to do others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you” but the Golden Rule says “do to do others what you would want them to do to you”. Jesus puts it in the positive. It’s not enough to just avoid doing to others what you don’t want them to do you; no, we have to be active in loving others.


Two final points.

First, Jesus says “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Or “treat others as you want them to treat you.” Not as they do treat you, but as you would want them to. How would you want someone to treat you? What would you like others to do for you? Well, that’s how you should act towards them.

Second and finally, “love your neighbour as yourself.” Who is your neighbour? Allow me two examples.

Among my more right wing friends there are calls for limiting aid to the third world and restricting immigration and being tougher with those claiming state benefits in this country. Well, OK, there’s a case to be made for those things. But foreigners are your neighbours. People with black and brown skin are your neighbours. People who speak other languages and follow other religions are your neighbours. The poor in our own nation are your neighbours.

Now: love your neighbour as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So that’s a question and a challenge to my more conservative friends.

Next, to my left wing friends I say this: the unborn child is your neighbour. The foetus and embryo and baby in the womb is your neighbour. Love your neighbour as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Both of you, my left wing friends and my right wing friends, will say: But we have the right to do things which the law allows.” In the case of the unborn child, it is a woman’s right to have an abortion, to terminate the pregnancy, to kill the baby. Yes it is. In the case of the migrants and refugees and benefits claimants it is a sovereign state’s right to build walls and reinforce its borders and restrict welfare payments. Yes it is.

But having the right to do something does not necessarily make it the right thing to do. So there’s a question and challenge to both left and right, to both liberal and conservative. Love your neighbour as yourself.” All people are your neighbours, your equals, substantially the same as you. They, too, were also made in the image of God as his children. They, too, are creatures of infinite worth and dignity.

Jesus says:

The first and greatest commandment is this: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

To which we can only reply: Amen. Lord, have mercy.


Oliver Harrison is the Vicar of Holy Trinity, Wilnecote, just outside Tamworth in Staffordshire.


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304 thoughts on “No, you should not love your neighbour ‘as you love yourself’”

  1. Thank you for this. Interesting, your interpretation of ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’. Personally I would argue that it can be read as ‘Love your neighbour in the same manner as you love yourself.’ But the difference for me is your contention that too many people ‘love themselves’ in a selfish, self-centred way. I think that to love oneself well is precisely to love others. To love oneself is to act in care and generosity to one’s whole self, and to create space so that I can be all that God has created me to be. And that, to me, can only be achieved if we love in the way of Jesus, love others, care for creation, etc. So…loving myself necessarily involves loving my neighbour. Truly loving myself is impossible if I do not love God and love my neighbour. Thanks for a stimulating article. Edward

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  2. ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’

    Well, yes, I’ve sometimes thought. Who else can I love my neighbour as if not me? But that in itself, at least for me, raises the question of how I love my neighbour. Given that I am me and not my wife and not my son, etc., the way I love my neighbour will be and is different from the way each of them loves our neighbour. My wife is very generous with her time and will do almost anything for anyone, especially on the more practical side of things. She will quite happily help people garden or paint rooms. I am far more socially awkward and approaching ineptitude in most practical matters; I struggle with messiness and having things out of position, which means painting, gardening, DIY generally and an array of similar things push me out far too much out of my comfort zone. And yet I hope it’s true to say that I’m more than willing to talk through faith matters with people, to pray with and for people in a non-contrived Zoom context, to help people know how to study their Bibles, to support people getting to grips with using MS Word and the like (not everyone knows how to use them), to help with administration, and to go shopping!

    My point is that ‘loving your neighbour as yourself’ means one set of things for my wife and another set of things for me. This isn’t to say that I couldn’t paint or that my wife wouldn’t support someone unfamiliar with MS Word, but that we know our strengths and skills. We love our neighbours, even each other, as ourselves. She doesn’t try to love our neighbours as me, and I don’t try to love our neighbours as her.

    This may seem obvious, of course. But in my experience, it seems that some forms of loving are regarded as superior to others, which means that some people are regarded, tacitly, as superior to others. It’s quite likely that my perception here is clouded by my various insecurities, but I wonder if it’s also shaped by a head-vs.-heart framework that presumes, in our more pragmatist age, that the intellectual life is unimportant, or, at least, not so important as ‘practical application’ and the like. It’s difficult to love your neighbour as yourself when your neighbour rejects or grudgingly accepts the kind of loving you offer.

    By the way, the Common English Bible includes the second ‘love’ in its translation of Matthew 22:39, but omits it from its translation of Leviticus 19:18.

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    • Excellent points. Often the more extravert are viewed as the more ‘loving’ as they are more obvious because they get more involved in social activities.

      Peter

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  3. 1 As a slight aside, the Law and Prophets represents the whole of the Old Testament, from Genesis to Chronicles! Does it not.
    2 There is only One who fulfilled all the Law and Prophets, perfectly, absolutely, in particular the summary he gave, including love of neighbour.
    There is no other good enough.
    We are all incapable! And fall short.

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    • I would comment something similar. ‘Torah’ means ‘teaching’ rather than ‘law’ in the modern sense of the latter, and this is the whole of the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures. I’ve recently read Jonathan Sack’s “Covenant and Conversation” which is a series of meditations on Genesis. Genesis is almost entirely a series of narratives, but he says its purpose is to teach how to live. The threefold division of the Hebrew scriptures continues with the Nevi’im – the Prophets, which includes books we describe as history (e.g. Joshua). Then there is the Ketiv’im – the Writings (which includes Daniel, Lamentations and Chronicles).

      Thus, it is a moot point if Jesus includes the Writings in his descriptions. But it is clear that it is a comprehensive description. I wonder if the inclusion of the Prophets is partly because the sorry story of the people of Israel is precisely because of their failure to love the Lord their God will all their heart.

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  4. Good stuff. (Which, being interpreted, means: basically, I agree.) Two comments.

    I remember, a long time ago, probably 40 years or so ago, reading a commentary on this (and the parable of the Good Samaritan, I think) by Isaac Asimov. Obviously, a non-practising Jew. His take was that it was impossible to love someone as you love yourself, but this should be interpreted as “love your neighbour as a man like yourself” (it was okay to say “man” back then!). Not sure that I entirely agreed, but it does make a good point.

    Secondly, a point of my own. Jesus recites this summary of the law, and I wonder about the relationship between the two parts. What do they say about each other? They have to be directly connected: we love others as a corollary of loving God. But, just as important, it is in loving our neighbours that that we love and honour God. (Cf the story of the sheep and goats in Matthew: I know you have a slightly different interpretation of those verses, Ian.)

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    • Funnily enough, I find secular Jews (who are almost always familiar with Christian or post-Christian ethics) to be among the most insightful of commentators on New Testament texts. Their perspective is often unexpected and quite interesting. Just my own, personal experience.

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  5. “The second thing to note is that people often misquote the second commandment. People say, genuinely and sincerely: “Love your neighbour as you love yourself”, adding a second, extra “love.” And they mean it. Boy, do they mean it. Especially, it seems to me, that additional “love” – with all it implies.“

    I am not really sure what Oliver is referring to here when he says ‘Boy do they mean it’. Who are ‘they’? And what does ‘with all it implies’ imply? All seems a bit general as if it’s wanting to say something important but doesn’t actually do so.

    I read these verses as more to do with self respect and self esteem. You can’t so easily give respect and give esteem to your neighbours unless you have learned self respect and self esteem.

    Reply
    • To read verses in any manner is to see something in (a) the Greek and/or (b) the literary or cultural context that suggests this is the likeliest of the available understandings by a clearish margin, having first laid out the alternative readings and tried to make sure that no options have been forgotten. So here the questions would be – what in the Greek or in NT thought or context puts self esteem (a concept mostly associated with quite a different culture and period of history) in pole position?

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      • Trinity is a word that doesn’t occur in the biblical texts, but it doesn’t stop it being a thing there does it? Self esteem and self respect, whatever era the terms come from, are certainly things in the way Jesus dealt with people. I don’t know about pole position. Pole position was Jesus making people whole. Part of being whole is self respect and self esteem.

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        • Yes! But do you agree that certain concepts will only arise at all if one begins with a certain way of looking at things? Example: ‘progressive’ – a word with internal contradiction because it is based on a wrong assumption that certain things constitute progress or forward movement, which may or not be the case. Second example: ‘reactionary’ – a word that assumes that opposition to an idea must be because it is new when in fact it may easily be because it has internal contradictions. And so on.

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          • Many words are convenient shorthand Christopher, and so of course imprecise – of that we can agree. Especially true about words that seek to describe God – of some help to us but not at all accurate in describing that which is ineffable. Esteem and respect are things which Jesus demonstrates in his life and work.

          • Firstly there are always going to be things that are not in a world or worldview at all. Rockabilly music was not in first century Judea. Secondly there are going to be concepts like the 2 I mentioned that intrinsically make no sense.
            Thirdly there are going to be concepts that make sense but it is hard to see why they would ever come to be used. ‘Self esteem’ could fall in that category. Suppose that it is perfectly obvious that we all care quote a lot (sometimes too much) already about ourselves and our own lives (otherwise we would have ended them) and that no-one naturally wants to end theirs (otherwise very young children would be trying to, which they are not), and that one’s own inner health depends on giving to others and on *not* too much self-focus, so that one’s self never fails to be interdependent. ‘Sex’ is another example. How could the word actually be used except in a science book when it’s simply assumed that this is something between husband and wife, and it is not as though *they* are going to go round talking about it. Peter J Williams at Keswick did some very interesting word counts on the exponential growth of this word’s use (from rare to extremely common) once attitudes were changed.

            Change of worldview will bring different concepts, and different popularities for concepts, so that things that were scarcely considered take centre stage. Even then , that does not guarantee (of course) that a given concept is coherent. There will be a special temptation to introduce self-serving concepts, whether or not they are coherent, because self-serving concepts can serve self-serving lifestyles.

          • If I am right on this, however, then lack of self esteem can typically be an inverted type of selfishness or drawing attention to oneself, which will be given short shrift in times of exigency (and of course exigency used to be a lot more frequent). This can be tested by prediction. If the theory is correct, only in times of plenty will there be time to consider issues like lack of self esteem. Sure enough, attention to this topic has proliferated precisely in cultures of plenty.

          • I am sorry you take that view Christopher. Self esteem is certainly something I observe Jesus offering people in his encounter with them. That it was called something else in another culture and at two languages removed is hardly surprising.

          • Yes, you are right about Jesus showing worth to those whom society deemed beneath contempt. The discussion of the topic has been overwhelmed by the fact that the concept emerged at precisely the time when people had least actual deprivation but were being encouraged to live in a therapeutic me-first culture.

            Supposing we look at Mary Magdalene delivered from 7 demons, or Levi or Zacchaeus. These are not primarily, if at all, accounts about people who ‘felt bad about themselves’ – unless in the sense that they had good cause to!! If they were seeking pleasure or money they may, for all we know, in fact have felt (superficially) good about/within themselves before they met Jesus. Rather, they are stories about people who had done wrong and knew it and also then secondly knew the power of forgiveness which (thirdly) translated into generosity. Generosity is by definition other-centredness, which is the opposite of ‘self-‘anything.

          • Christopher: if you have ever worked with people who have suddenly become very aware of things that they have done wrong and the hurt that they have caused to others in doing them, then self esteem sand self worth are very firmly *part* of the conversation.

          • The woman with the issue of blood had done no wrong. And certainly had her self esteem restored to her by Jesus.

          • The woman with the issue of blood had done no wrong. And certainly had her self esteem restored to her by Jesus.

            She had her health restored by Jesus.

            He dealt with the real, physical problem — he certainly didn’t tell her, ‘You know what, you’re just great as you are, you just need to love your body, you go girl!’ like some modern psychobabble-peddler.

          • Giving people a restored sense of self esteem is not psycho babble.

            It’s practically the definition of psychobabble.

          • Hi Andrew.

            Your comment on people who have suddenly become aware of things they have done wrong to others and the hurt caused thereby – that comment is very much to the point.

            (1) Why were they not aware at the time?

            (2) One main reason for not being aware at the time would be that they intended something different and were acting in good conscience at the time. In which case they have not done wrong, and the thing to do is to explain and apologise, then everything is sorted. This sequence does not include any step that involves low self esteem, since one can immediately sort things by an explanation and apology.

            (3) The other main reason that occurs to me would be that they were acting originally according to a false worldview that has now been emended. Paul would be a good example. In consequence, he continued to think of himself as the chief sinner. But that did not leave him acting like a person hampered by unresolved psychological hangups – quite the reverse. His weakness only emphasised Christ’s greatness. Paul was Christ centred and that was the solution. Anyone overcome by self esteem issues will have them solved by being Christ centred not self centred (the latter being the default human state).

          • S

            She had more than her health restored. She had been ritually unclean for a number of years and therefore an outcast.

          • She had more than her health restored. She had been ritually unclean for a number of years and therefore an outcast

            Because of her health, she had been ritually unclean. Jesus healed the real root problem — her health — and the rest followed.

            Jesus didn’t try to teach her to love her body or to be at peace with herself or any other New Agey nonsense about self-esteem. He saw she had a real health problem, not a made-up psychobabble issue, and He fixed it.

          • “(1) Why were they not aware at the time?“

            I don’t find either of your two main reasons especially convincing Christopher. Mostly it’s because people make errors of judgment because of selfishness. As Judas found, once one discovers the true depth of that selfishness it can make you feel so worthless that….well…
            And wise counsellors can help that by helping with the process of repentance and restoration. Which includes restoring a sense of self worth and self esteem. If you reckon you don’t see any ‘type’ of that in the bible then I think you are reading a different text to me.

          • In addition, selfishness does not cause ‘errors of judgment’ (as though it were well intentioned!): it causes (a) weakness of will and (b) conscious harm.

          • Selfishness absolutely causes errors of judgement. How extraordinary to think it doesn’t!

          • S

            Jesus restored her wholly, health and self esteem; as he restored lepers, Mary Magdalen (how odd that Christopher thinks she had sinned) and just as he restored the self esteem of the woman at the well. Healing is holistic – body, mind and spirit.

          • It doesn’t. During selfishness, the selfish will is in charge. During judgement, rational judgement is in charge. The 2 are distant from one another. For example: I voted the wrong way, but in good conscience, not under the influence, and after rational reflection, in the 2005 election – that was an error of judgement.

            It reminds me of the people who call taking drugs or cheating ‘inappropriate choices’ rather than calling them what they are: namely, succumbing to forces that oppose our better nature (or ‘sin’).

          • Jesus restored her wholly, health and self esteem

            Jesus restored her health, because that was the thing that was wrong with her.

          • So, S, you don’t believe mind or spirits need healing? And that Jesus never healed people, only cured their physical ailments?

          • So, S, you don’t believe mind or spirits need healing?

            You’d have to be more precise about what you mean. ‘Mind’ and ‘spirit’ are too vague for me to say yes or no.

            And that Jesus never healed people, only cured their physical ailments?

            That’s what ‘healed’ means.

          • S

            No you can be cured without being healed and vice versa.
            Mind and spirit can be broken and need healing.
            Indeed, true healing involves body, mind and spirit, otherwise it’s not ‘healing’.

          • Hi Penny

            It is odd that you do not think Mary Magdalene had sinned, for 2 reasons.

            (1) Everyone has sinned.

            (2) If she had seven demons – which may even be a shorthand for being *completely* demonised – then we assume she gave them access.

            Also her subsequent generosity is especially characteristic of those who have been forgiven (and set free from) much.

          • “During selfishness, the selfish will is in charge. During judgement, rational judgement is in charge. The 2 are distant from one another. ”

            They were only distant from one another in Mr Spock or Data from Star Trek. The selfish will clouds our judgement. Always. People make the wrong choices for selfish gain.

          • Christopher

            1) yes we all sin

            2) is there such a thing is demonic possession? How might one ‘allow’ it? Might a psychotic illness be diagnosed as demon possession before the advent of modern medicine/science?

          • Hi Andrew

            There are many different degrees of ability to be rational. Just because one person’s selfish will is too strong to be absent does not mean another’s will be. It is a case by case thing.

            Hi Penny

            It would be hard to make a case for there being no evil spirits. A spirit is what animates one. People say ‘My spirit was broken’, ‘that person was full of spirit’. The promise of short term pleasure will cause many of us to open ourselves up to things we (know that we) should not. And that affects/changes our lives. Like Derek Prince, I find it hard to see sin and evil spirits as 2 completely separate categories. I should imagine that evil spirits are personalised (as individual ‘demons’) because (a) an individual and that individual’s life are inseparable; and (b) evil spirits have names and identities, e.g. pride – any number of which from one upwards can inhabit an individual. This much can be deduced quite apart from exorcism sessions, though the nature of exorcism sessions and how they pan out gives the same picture.

          • Plus, of course, your account leaves no space for individuals knowingly opening themselves up to malign influences. But there is nothing at all stopping people doing that, and in a world of 7.5 billion people, some of them will indeed do that.

          • All the more so because of the promise of short term pleasure and also the intoxicating sense of power and ‘freedom’ from authority, God, etc.. I would have thought that that would seem quite attractive superficially, and that not a few people would be tempted (or succumb) in that direction.

          • Hello Christopher

            I think I agree with you if you are saying that ideas like a broken spirit, a broken mind or a broken heart are metaphors for how we are affected by tragedy or depression. I agree that people are tempted by the glamour of evil (though evil is mostly banal), people want power and wealth an recognition, but I do not believe that they are possessed by literal demons. Of course other cultures have believed and still believe in demons. My disbelief is probably due to my own western, white, worldview.

          • I think the concept ‘metaphor’ is itself either incoherent or else (more probably) to be restricted to the discussion of language – but here we are discussing not language but realities.

            Being impatient with too-easy resort to the concept of ‘metaphor’, I have for 2 decades being collecting phrases and words that seem to demonstrate that a large proportion of (particularly) verbs that might seem metaphorical because they use concepts from another sphere of life – these verbs have in reality no literal equivalent. So they are metaphorical as opposed to what? But if (in so much of the realm of verbs) everything is metaphor, then metaphor ceases to be a meaningful or useful concept.

            As Wittgenstein found belatedly, the one-to-one correspondence between words and realities (signs, signals, whatever) works for nouns but not for verbs. Verbs must do the impossible job of putting into a single word a complex general-type-of-movement. It is no wonder that they frequently resort to the picturesque in order to do so.

          • Language is a reality and much of reality can only be apprehended through metaphor. Scripture is rich in it. Jesus is not really the light of the world, the true vine etc. Except that of course, he really is.
            Even disciplines which we regard as ‘objective’ or ‘neutral’, like science, employ metaphor. A sperm is presented as being active, i .e. the sperm penetrates the egg, which in this image is passive; rather than the egg absorbing the sperm. The sperm is imaged as masculine and active, the egg as feminine and passive. That is metaphor.

          • A sperm is presented as being active, i .e. the sperm penetrates the egg, which in this image is passive; rather than the egg absorbing the sperm

            I think if you have a look at a video of an IVF fertilisation you’ll see it’s no ‘metaphor’ that the sperm are the active ones.

          • hi Penny

            I question that. While also agreeing with S that one can see from videos the relative ‘activity’ of sperm and egg, I additionally think that the word ‘metaphor’ is overused and often very unclearly used. And oh how we need to be aware of the tendency to try to make everything vague so that any way of looking at things (and any lifestyle) thereby becomes acceptable: appeal to ‘metaphor’ is a key player in that. These are exactly the same people who generalise that ‘the Bible’ is basically poetic (they wish!), ignoring (in a relatively illiterate way) the vast majority of its genres.

            I have written 2.5 pages on this in WATTTC?. We should refrain from using words that are unclear. Just (at random) to take the latest word on my list: ’embed’. What is the literal equivalent of embed? It seems clearly to be metaphorical until we pause and realise it has no literal equivalent, nor could have. And there are absolutely hundreds of words (largely verbs) to which the same applies.

            From which the moral is: one can never be very precise when speaking of motion and action. Words atomise a reality that is not atomised but interconnected.

          • Brilliant article by Emily Martin on the Romance of the Egg and the Sperm…..

            If it weren’t utter rubbish it would have been published in a journal of biology, wouldn’t it?

          • “We should refrain from using words that are unclear. “

            Like ‘worldview’ perhaps?

          • Have you read it S? Or are you speaking from a position of ignorance?
            The point is that it is a critique of the biologists’ use of metaphor in a way that is inherently sexist.

          • Have you read it S? Or are you speaking from a position of ignorance?

            I haven;t read it; I’m not going to pay to read rubbish.

            But I note that:

            (a) it’s not published in a journal of biology, so it’s unlikely to be biologically reliable

            (b) the author is credited as an anthropologist, so not even a scientist, so again, all signs are that it’s going to be utterly ignorant of science.

            The point is that it is a critique of the biologists’ use of metaphor in a way that is inherently sexist.

            Right. Rubbish, from a scientific point of view, in other words.

          • Hi Penny

            Your account is, in my experience, typical of the inaccuracy of the metaphor-maximisers.

            There are many widespread titles of Jesus in John. Just confirm that none of these is a metaphor. Teacher, Lord, God, Son of God (particularly nonmetaphorical in the Johannine sense), the Son, Son of Man, Christ, King (of Israel), Less widespread but still not metaphorical are: Chosen one (1.34 some readings), Saviour of the World, Coming One (ho erchomenos).

            The only metaphorical ones are Lamb which comes only twice and Word which comes 3-4 times.

            As for metaphors making things clear, we have not yet established that even the concept ‘metaphor’ is an entirely clear concept.

          • S

            You don’t have to pay to educate yourself. If you google you can access a free PDF, which I did.
            But the point which the writer is making is that scientists also use imagery to describe a process natural processes. Figuring the sperm as the questor and the egg as passive is an example of biologists using a romantic or sexist trope which anthropomorphises both egg and sperm. It’s a brilliant and funny article.

          • Hi Christopher

            I’m clear what a metaphor is.
            Yes, John uses other titles, although Son of Man is metaphorical surely?
            But he also uses metaphor. More than the synoptics

          • You don’t have to pay to educate yourself. If you google you can access a free PDF, which I did.

            I do not condone electronic piracy.

            But the point which the writer is making is that scientists also use imagery to describe a process natural processes.

            True, but trivial. If this is an article where all the claims that are true are trivial and all the claims that are not trivial are false then I don’t need to read yet another one of those.

            Figuring the sperm as the questor and the egg as passive is an example of biologists using a romantic or sexist trope which anthropomorphises both egg and sperm.

            No, it isn’t. Have you ever seen a video of eggs and sperm? The sperm are wiggling around, insanely hyperactive, and the egg just sits there.

            To say that is not ‘a romantic or sexist trope’, it’s simply to state the facts.

            And again: why would you listen to an anthropologist on matters of biology? Anthropology isn’t a science. What it is I don’t know but it certainly doesn’t have anything to say about biology.

          • S
            It’s not piracy. It’s free access.
            Because the anthropologist is observing that the biologists are anthropomorphising the egg and the sperm.
            That is her discipline.
            Sperm do not strive. Eggs are not passive.

          • Hi Penny

            Is ‘Son of Man’ a metaphor? It looks more like a scripture-reference, with the implicit claim that the person referred to is now standing before you. Also ‘Son of Man’ means human being, and firstly Jesus was not metaphorically a human being, & secondly it is not possible to be ‘metaphorically a human being’.

            Things like Bread of Life, Light of the World – would normally be called metaphors, and not wrongly; yet we need to set the metaphors in a wider context, for this question is similar to the long Catholic-Protestant ‘eucharistic’/real presence debate. There are mediating views between classic-catholic and classic-protestant: ‘real presence’ (being vague) is itself one of these, as is anything that one might term ‘participatory’. If Jesus is the true bread then any other bread is merely a shadow of that which (in Venn terms) shares something with it. Lewis’s ‘Letters’ contain a passage where he opines that the ‘Eucharist’ helps us understand what food itself really is. You see how Lewis (a bit of a Christian Platonist) focuses on the real thing rather than, as the metaphor-mongers do, on the fleshly thing. The metaphorical view starts from the familiar reality and has Jesus compare himself to that – to which we traditionally append, ‘Of course he didn’t mean *real* bread when he said he was the bread of life.’. This is a correct view: Jesus said that the food that perishes, the initial birth, etc., are not what he has in mind and are fleshly by comparison with the real thing (3.6, 4.32, 6.27). But where the participatory view has the advantage over the metaphorical view is that it *starts* from the real thing and only later proceeds to the pale imitation (in rather a Platonic manner). We cannot understand as much about what the fleshly things really are unless we have begun with the spiritual, which sanctifies the fleshly.

            I think a focus on metaphor is like the Zwinglian memorialist view of ‘the eucharist’ – one feels that it is missing something of presence and of participation. Within a Christian-Platonist view of this sort, metaphor does not loom large. It is present and is affirmed, but the overall horizons are much wider and more holistic.

          • Hi Christopher
            I definitely agree with you about the participatory Eucharist, though I’m not a Platonist. And I do have my Zwinglian moments. Which is why I am not sure that, during lockdown, priests should be offering Mass on their own.
            I think Son of Man is a familiar Hebraic metaphor and some of Jesus’ titles are certainly metaphor. Are Hebrew titles of God metaphor too? I would think so.

          • What is ‘Son of Man’ a metaphor *for*?

            If Jesus has metaphorical titles, as he does (rarely-used ones like Word, Lamb) then you’ll agree that the large majority are not metaphorical, unless you can list others.

            Hebraic titles for God are many, but what they largely have in common is that they are existentially true (not metaphorical) of the way God in reality relates to his people and/or of God’s attributes.

          • In the HB ‘son of man’ is a metaphor for humankind.
            In the NT I’m less sure: a metaphor for humankind or a title for Jesus?

          • C F D Moule published when aged 86 a 3page summary in New Testament Studies (Son of Man: Some of the Facts) of the reasons why we need to continue to begin with the logic of the texts themselves.

            Some ‘Son of Man’ studies end up in an endless labyrinth. To me this is proof that they are on the wrong track. John Ashton: ‘Son of Man – that way madness lies’ (identified only in the index of NT Wright Christian Origins and the Story of God – vol2 I think).

            Goulder provided a relatively simple tradition history: silence on the title in Paul; then a tantalising use of Ps 8 in Hebrews – glorified Son of Man – leading to a reexamination of the OT texts that include the title.

            However Dan 7 would be a more obvious source for apocalyptic early Christians, and is already in 1 Cor 15 before Hebrews was written.

            As Rome came closer to destroying Jerusalem, the need for a deus ex machina became more pressing. So Rev and Mark (dated to 70) have a blazing message that the Son of Man will appear in heaven to right these wrongs.

            This necessitates that the earthly Jesus should be taken to have seen himself as the Son of Man – even as a key central identity that finally makes sense of things. The ubiquity of the phrase in Aramaic means that it is not a hard phrase to insert in self reference within the words of Jesus.

            The picture is muddied by Matthew and Luke whose use of the phrase can be more haphazard and is no longer driven by the exigencies of the year 70.

            ‘*The* Son of Man’ is likely to be the Daniel 7 one. So we have prophecy fulfilment not metaphor.

          • It’s not piracy. It’s free access.

            No it isn’t. The link you provided requires either an institutional login (so you belong to an institution which pays) or an individual payment to see the full article.

            Because the anthropologist is observing that the biologists are anthropomorphising the egg and the sperm.
            That is her discipline.

            Which has nothing to do with biology.

            Sperm do not strive. Eggs are not passive.

            Have you never seen a video of sperm and eggs? The sperm thrash about like anything in all directions and the egg just sits there. The sperm are clearly active and the egg obviously passive; that’s not a metaphor, simply an accurate and literal description.

          • Thanks Christopher. It’s a long time since I’ve read Moule orAshton.
            Would a 1st C Jew have used Son of Man as a Messianic title?

          • Was ‘Son of Man’ *ever* ‘Messianic’?

            The titles Christ and Son of Man are distinct in their semantic range.

            ‘The Son of Man’ as a title came about because it was needed: a deus ex machina on the clouds was badly needed. And – connectedly/therefore – it was prophesied (see Rev 1 for the nature of that prophetic message). Previous to this, several figures are expected to come: a Messiah (or two including a priestly one), a prophet like Moses, even the advent of God. But not anyone called ‘[the] Son of Man’.

            This addition of an extra title to the mix in the desperate period of the Jewish War (cum Roman Civil War) created what to the reader is now a confusing logjam of Christological titles in Mark and subsequent gospels. A clearer and crisper picture emerges if we omit the instances of ‘Son of Man’, e.g. it looks like a secondary addition that potentially spoils the otherwise very neat ‘the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath’ saying. But there was no way Mark was going to omit it. In 70 it was the central message. It was crucial both that the Son of Man should come on the clouds and that the Son of Man = Jesus equation be made – in the mouth of Jesus himself, in fact. Only thus would there be vindication (and disaster be prevented).

            ‘[The] Son of Man’ was never previously even a title at all. So no-one would use it unless they identified themselves with the one who was going to come from heaven. But since they were already on earth when they were speaking…
            (a) they were neither in a position to come from heaven
            (b) nor would they need to anyway,
            (c) nor would they be focussed on some future event that depended on their prior assumption to heaven, which is quite an ‘assumption’ to expect their hearers to make. What are hearers supposed to make of the prediction of a triumphant return when neither the departure nor the apparent setback that would make it triumphant has even happened yet?

            This title created by exigency does in fact have a lot in common with ‘Messiah’. By 70 ‘Messiah’ has become more a name than a title, its saving/redeeming force diluted because the Christ event has already happened. As in Rome (or in Homer, or in the history of denominations, or in an archaeological dig) one sees in the present day all kinds of periods overlaid on one another, so with the Christological titles in the gospels. A Messiah was desperately needed in 30; in 70 a redeemer from heaven was what was equally desperately needed.

            So it would be odd for anyone to use it of themselves before or since, whereas those who hoped for a miracle from heaven would use it of the one for whom they hoped.

          • However it’s not clear where Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 46, 71) references to the Son of Man fit into the developmental process. I wouldn’t want to give John too much credit for the currency of ‘Son of Man’, any more than it would be right to fail to acknowledge Philo behind the Johnannine Logos. 1 Enoch 37-71 is hard to date, I gather, but is important NT background to judge from the margins of Nestle-Aland.

        • S

          Google it. You will find free access versions.

          Recent biological research has shown that the egg is not passive.

          That is the way it has been figured by biologists though, while sperm ‘strive’. They cannot strive because they are not humans. That is anthropomorphic.

          An anthropologist is critiquing biologists’ use of romantic, anthromorphic imagery to describe a process which is as much about an egg absorbing a single sperm, as it is about a single sperm penetrating an egg.

          Sperm are incapable of ‘penetrating’ an egg immediately after ejaculation and, of course, most are ‘wasted’. They adapt due to the nature of the vagina and the ‘action’ of the egg.

          Reply
          • Google it. You will find free access versions.

            Are you sure they are not pirate versions? In general if the official source for something requires a payment, but you can Google it, you’re finding pirate versions. If you are sure they are legitimate then you can provide a link.

            Recent biological research has shown that the egg is not passive.

            What does it do, then?

            An anthropologist is critiquing biologists’ use of romantic, anthromorphic imagery to describe a process which is as much about an egg absorbing a single sperm, as it is about a single sperm penetrating an egg.

            An anthropologist who knows nothing about biology, or at least there is no reason to trust them on anything biology-related because they are not even a real scientist. So why would I read their paper to learn anything about the biological action of sperm or egg?

  6. Left wingers (and a lot of right wingers as well) typically deny that the unborn child is actually a human being and therefore not one’s “neighbour”. I do not know on what scientific or epistemological grounds they make this claim, but maybe those who follow this blog who don’t think abortion is immoral can explain why they think the ‘unborn child’ / ’embryo’ / ‘fetus’ isn’t a human life worthy of legal protection. In New Zealand, for example, just as the coronavirus epidemic was breaking, Jacinda Ardern’s government adopted a law legalising abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Ardern is an atheist who was brought up as a Mormon, so categories of sin against God presumably don’t enter her thinking, but her health minister is actually an ordained Presbyterian minister, and he approved this legislation. (I heard of no comment at all by NZ’s churches on this.) And in Virginia and New York State, they changed their abortion laws this year to legalise abortion up to birth. This seems no different from infanticide to me, and has long been the practice in Communist China. Anyway, if any readers of this blog (left wing or right wing) think that abortion is in keeping with the teaching of Jesus (as I know many people in the Episcopal Church in America believe), rather than the grave sin the Church has traditionally asserted it to be, I would be happy to know their scientific, epistemological or theological reasoning for this judgment.

    Reply
    • I have documented in What Are They Teaching The Children ch11 how the abortion supporters do not base their position on argument at all, only on a ‘might is right’ discriminatory abuse of the vulnerable and weak by the powerful, and on what they pretend or imagine to be situation ethics which is in fact a pick and choose that has in view only the effects on themselves or their peer group or cherished lifestyle. On many occasions when they had the opportunity to present arguments to their puzzled and distressed opponents, they failed en masse as documented. They then proceeded to view their complete inability to present arguments as superior to the 319 arguments in Alcorn’s ProLife Answers and my own development of that into 501.

      Our present culture is so privileged that it allows people never to take on board adult seriousness but to remain in a more selfish adolescent state. It is my hope that the virus will bring in a wave of seriousness and greater maturity as people contemplate their own mortality and the preciousness of life and of other people.

      Reply
  7. Im not sure I agree with the author’s understanding. In saying, for example, you should treat others as you want to be treated, shows a basic level of self-care and self-respect. Many today suffer from a lack of both, where self-hatred either of the physical body or being is common. The apostle Paul claimed that noone ever hated their own body, but he wouldnt say that if he was living today. But he recognises a basic (or high?) level of care and respect for one’s own being. Is that self-love?

    Im also not convinced that the 2nd commandment cannot be understood to mean ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’, at least if love for self equals treating oneself with care and respect.

    What I have observed down the years is that it is typically those who have a good sense of self-respect and care for themselves who are able to freely love others.

    Peter

    Reply
        • David

          If i’m not being too Anglican, I think I can agree with both what you are expressing and what Oliver claims. I dont think they are mutually exclusive but indeed walk together.

          I recall David MacInness telling me the main obstacle to people receiving more of the Holy Spirit’s love and power is they dont feel worthy and feel God would withhold it from them so they dont ask, seek knock. I certainly think from pastoral experience that is true. A sense of unworthiness, and even a self loathing that recoils from the love of God.

          However, I also think one can experience that and at the very same time not love the other, the neighbour. I think its precisely because of a lack internally of love experienced & self loathing that projected outwards becomes a lack of love shown.

          A love experienced enables a love to be expressed. Whilst our hearts are hardened to experience God’s love, how can we express it.

          Reply
    • PC1. You express my own questions with this article too. I particularly challenge the statement ‘Mostly people don’t need any excuse or opportunity to “love” themselves – to be selfish and mean and greedy and lazy and so on’. At a conference of Christian counsellors and spiritual directors participants were asked what they found to be the most consistent struggle with those who came to them. These would be mostly mature Christians. The overwhelming answer was ‘to accept that they are loved’. And for many it was the emphasis in Christian preaching the led them to be believe they could not be good enough to be loved. It was never enough. And to believe otherwise was the sin of pride or complacency.
      My own pastoral experience resonates strongly with that. I simply do not find that most people need little excuse to love themselves (the commas round “love” presumably to make clear this was not the real thing but indulgent selfishness). The social damage of poor self esteem and self worth is everywhere apparent. So I actually think the greater problem is not that we love ourselves too much, but that we love ourselves too little. And I think this text means just what it has been read as saying – we love ourselves and each other in the incredible love of God. We cannot give others what we do not have ourselves. And the two commandments are one. Love fulfils all.

      Reply
      • Maybe that is right if you are describing the pathology of depression, though I wonder whether the problem is not that people ” don’t love themselves enough” (though I sometimes put it that way to people with low self-esteem and a sense of failure) but are lonely and crave the love and affirmation of others. The wretched thing, of course, is that the love of another can’t be compelled, and for many people, the love of a dog or cat substitutes for that of a human.
        What do you think of my observations on abortion as a ‘non-issue’ for most westerners today and certainly not a ‘sin’? I don’t recall hearing any Anglican bishops, certainly not Welby, opposing it, although I think Rowan Williams did. Is abortion a no-go or no-sin question for Anglicans? Bishop Sarah Mullally of London – a former midwife – is on record she sees nothing wrong with it. Is it as morally insignificant – a choice or taste “for others” – as liposuction or tattooing? There are over 200,000 abortions in Britain each year, but I never hear Anglican bishops saying anything about this (as opposed to many other questions of the day).

        Reply
        • Brian … Well it is surely the case that if you have little or no love for yourself (for whatever reason) and therefore little sense of your value to others, you are likely to struggle to believe God or others could choose to love you at all.

          Reply
          • I was thinking of “love” as the desiring or valuing of the other, something which by definition isn’t in the self. I think Hilary of Poitiers has some reflection on this with reference to the Trinity and the late principal of Oak Hill Michael Ovey gave some insightful talks on this once. Love confers value on the other.
            What do you think of the matter of abortion? Has it anything to do with love of neighbour and why do you think Anglicans (as opposed to Roman Catholics and charismatic evangelicals) never have anything to say about it? Is it to with secular feminism?

          • Brian: I feel sure that if you wanted to write to ++Justin or +Sarah about the matter of abortion then you might find their views a bit more nuanced than you portray here. But quite what it has to do with this thread I’m unsure.

          • Yes – I have always wondered though whether lack of self esteem is rather a luxury of privileged societies that reveals itself as such in sterner days. A focus on others (a giving attitude, in other words) is key to our and their happiness, whereas lack of self esteem can just be another form (inverted form) of focus on self; and focus on self is always bound to produce problems.

            In this it has something in common with claimed-victimhood and the victim culture.

            Also the very formulation ‘lack of self esteem’ belongs to a different non Christian school of thought, and is an alternative label within that tradition for realities that the Christian would label differently.

          • Nuance is always good, but human life and death is an extreme issue, and nuance there is similar to a cannibal musing whether he should eat his victim on Tuesday or Wednesday, or with garlic or soy sauce.

            Nuance in the context of so-called abortion is ‘life or death for this innocent human? Mm – a difficult one, that. Finely balanced. A philosophical case of the lesser of 2 evils – the greater of the 2 evils being that the human should be allowed to live.’

            ??

          • “Also the very formulation ‘lack of self esteem’ belongs to a different non Christian school of thought, and is an alternative label within that tradition for realities that the Christian would label differently.“

            Christopher: please could you tell me which non Christian school of thought the idea of lack of self esteem belongs to And what is the “alternative label within that tradition for realities that the Christian would label differently.“

          • Andrew – it is because the author of this piece brought it up as an issue of failing to love our neighbours. Did you not read what he wrote? I know exactly what Sarah Mullally has said in her own words about abortion, that she has “no problem ” with other women choosing it. That means she thinks it is a matter of taste,not sin – a bit like having cosmetic surgery. And I know that Justin Welby has studiously avoided answering this question. I was asking David but he has declined twice to answer, which is his right. My own impression is that secular feminist thinking controls the way bishops think but so far they say nothing clear, in contrast to Rowan Williams. I would of course be interested to hear your view of the ethics of abortion and neighbour-love.

          • Self esteem as a concept is nowhere in biblical thought and everywhere in popular and mainstream psychology and counselling.

            One can see why it does not emerge in biblical thought – biblical thought is not exactly about navel gazing or the inward path: the reverse.

          • Failure to address a point is indeed a ‘right’, but how far does that get us? (a) What would motivate a person to claim that right? and (b) Is avoidance of points a characteristic of the most truthful and honest? Further ‘which is his right’ is in danger of being an unthought-through cliche, repeated so often because cultural avoidance of unwelcome issues is itself repeated so often, and this cliche is arguably the asserted-but-not-argued propaganda of the avoiders. (This to Brian not David.)

          • And I know that Justin Welby has studiously avoided answering this question. I was asking David but he has declined twice to answer, which is his right.

            Silence is a right, but only with the understanding that adverse inferences may be drawn from that silence.

          • Christopher: you seem to have avoided answering my question (which is your right) but perhaps you missed it. Let me put it again. It’s quite specific, picking up the rather general things you said earlier.

            Christopher: please could you tell me which non Christian school of thought the idea of lack of self esteem belongs to And what is the “alternative label within that tradition for realities that the Christian would label differently.“

          • please could you tell me which non Christian school of thought the idea of lack of self esteem belongs to

            Surely he did: the school of ‘popular and mainstream psychology and counselling’.

            And what is the “alternative label within that tradition for realities that the Christian would label differently.“

            Where to start with counselling psychobabble jargon?

          • Christopher
            Abortion is more nuanced in Judaism, which does not regard it as the taking of an innocent human life.

          • Penny – correct. Are you actually preferring dogma (Jewish dogma) to reason and compassion combined? If so, why? What gives dogma that status?

          • Apologies to Brian for going quiet in mid discussion. I know the frustration when others do it to me. I plead work pressure and simply losing track on this lengthening, multiple-entry discussion thread as to who I was talking to where! I can’t be the first to do that. To briefly respond, I find that when the subject of abortion is introduced it tends to take over and it is not the focus of this topic – any more than secular feminism is. On the plus side those speculating on the motives behind my silence now have some time to answer the questions they are being asked here and have yet to reply too.

          • I’m not in any way speculating on the motives behind any specific person’s specific silence. This is why I said ‘this to Brian not to David’. My point was to question the cliche ‘which is his right’. Very many times we cannot read or see or respond to all that is written. But the principle ‘which is his right’ needs further scrutiny, which was my one and only point. Added to which this phrase assumes that a person has read something in the first place (and therefore be in a position to respond to it), which will only sometimes be true.

            Many arguments fail to follow through because of the too easy acceptance of unexamined conventions, some of which may be conventions of convenience designed to get some party or viewpoint off the hook.

          • Christopher
            Mindful of David’s comment that it is easy to get side tracked, I am not preferring Jewish doctrine over Christian doctrine, I am observing that 2 religions, reading the same texts, come to rather different conclusions on where personhood begins.
            And I think your comment is a tad anti semitic.

          • Hi Penny

            Once again the questionable things you say are as the sand of the sea. Averaging one per line, which reminds me of some proofreading I had to do where there were 4 errors per line.

            (1) My comparison, as you’ll see by checking, was between things based on dogma and things based on reason and/or compassion. Not between 2 different dogma traditions. Dogma is still dogma, and insofar as it is dogma it remains unsupported and therefore not yet worthy of our support.

            (2) ‘Personhood’ is something I never mentioned at all. It is not a scientific concept at all, so can never be measured or quantified. Even if one defines it, one can define it by usage only, so even definition itself is circular. But if definition is circular and the concept is not scientific, what is the good of this word? Like most words, it can be used, but philosophical discussion requires some exactitude within its concepts. This word has none of that, yet is elevated to central concept (sic) within discussion of abortion, even when nobody had previously even mentioned it (sleight of hand in other words). Why? Because that very inexactitude is what will prevent any clear conclusions being reached. Which indecision and confusion is exactly what the antis want. Put a proper scientific concept (or a bit of clear English) such as ‘human’ in the place of ‘personhood’ and watch them running for their intellectual lives. At all times ‘human’ was and is clearer *and* more scientific *and* more relevant than ‘personhood’, so it would take some dishonesty to elevate the latter above the former.

            (3) Even then, what is ‘when personhood begins’ supposed to mean? What magic moment is there other than conception and birth? Is not the rest a continuum?

            (4) Supposing that there were such a magic moment (which there is not). It is obvious that one would have to apply benefit of the doubt over when that moment was.

            (5) ‘A tad’ is a cliche and ‘rather’ can be taken as snide even when it isn’t, and adds nothing of substance.

            (6) By your reckoning, ever to say that any option at all were better than the Jewish one (out of the millions of available options), on any of the millions of topics one might discuss, would be antisemitic. In reality, by the law of averages alone the Jewish option will be the less good of 2 options 50% of the time. That is why people speak of the antisemitism card. We are seeking truth, not playing cards.

          • Christopher
            Many doctrines have little ‘support’ save what we read in scripture and tradition.
            Thus the three monotheistic religions have different conceptions of the doctrine of personhood.
            If you prefer ‘human’, then what is a human being, and what tells us when an embryo becomes ‘human’? If we are religious we look to theological anthropology. It used to be thought to be quickening. Some religious commentators believe life begins at conception, but that is hardly ‘scientific’, since one twin can absorb another’s cells and become one human, not two.
            I think Judaism considers the life of the mother to be paramount too. But I am no expert on Jewish ethics.
            I think if you compare Jewish ‘dogma’ unfavourably to compassion, you risk being anti Semitic.

          • If you prefer ‘human’, then what is a human being, and what tells us when an embryo becomes ‘human’?

            The point isn’t exactly when it becomes human. The point is that right from conception it is indisputably a potential human life, regardless of the point at which it becomes an actual human life.

            A potential human life is not something to be treated lightly or discarded for frivolous reasons, I hope you agree.

          • Hi Penny and S – again several points arise. Most of which have often been answered already – it is more a case of the age-old answers not being absorbed.

            (A) You begin by saying that a lot of doctrines have little support. Other than textual. But that is precisely why I downplayed dogma in the first lace. Anything textual or formulary-based is not support. Anything textual or formulary-based is just assertion. So – if a lot of doctrines have little support, why believe them? By definitions the propositions one believes are precisely the ones that *do* have support. Support may be logical, historical, scientific, based-on-known-character, etc..

            (B) You say I ‘prefer’ the word human. Where do you get that idea from? It is not a matter of taste at all. It is just a fact that ‘human’ is a word that is more precise and more scientific. What has that to do with personal taste?

            (C) You use the odd expression ‘become human’. One is as one’s genetic profile and cells and origins are. Are we seriously to broadcast that Penny believes that the offspring of two humans is not human? We are now in the realms of mythology. Third, if young humans are not human – what could their species be? (Let’s choose?)

            (D) The life of the mother???
            This is an astonishing trope that falls away on examination.
            Where is the situation where an ailing mum’s health gets *improved* by the invasive, unpleasant and unnatural means of killing the baby inside her? Secondly, what would such an ‘improvement’ consist in? There are such cases. They are vanishingly rare. There are lots of ways of improving health – making a blood-soaked mess inside someone does not qualify – the reverse.

            Even worse than all that is the hellish idea that mum and babe are sworn enemies whose interests or rights should be pitted against each other. Yeuch!

            (E) Can Jewish dogma be worse than compassion? Of course it can. Most dogmas can be (and frequently will be)worse than compassion, Jewish or otherwise. What would anyone prefer – dogma (which by definition is unsupported) or compassion? Again, what is so different about Jewish? You seem without justification to be viewing anything Jewish as being in a wholly different category, a privilege not applied to Buddhists, Zoroastrians or anyone else.

            (F) S is surely wrong on potential for 2 reasons. Firstly, where we speak of potential we normally mean possibility of fulfilment – whereas in this case we have *probability* of fulfilment. But secondly and more importantly, if one is already human, one is not ‘potentially’ human at all. Just a human *with* potential.

          • (F) S is surely wrong on potential for 2 reasons. Firstly, where we speak of potential we normally mean possibility of fulfilment – whereas in this case we have *probability* of fulfilment.

            I don’t understand the distinction you are drawing here. ‘Potential X’ just means ‘something which is not yet X but has the capacity to become so’. There’s no distinction between ‘possibility’ or ‘probability’.

            Clearly a human embryo at some point (possibly from conception, possibly from later) is a human life; and before that (if such a time exists) it has the capacity to become human, so it is a potential human life.

            Just as, for example, someone in an astronaut training programme is a potential astronaut.

            But secondly and more importantly, if one is already human, one is not ‘potentially’ human at all. Just a human *with* potential.

            Yes, obviously. But my point is that when discussing abortion the point at which human life begins is a red herring. You may be convinced that human life begins at conception; but the point is that it doesn’t matter if you are wrong about that, because even if human life does not begin at conception, from that point an entity exists which is a potential human life. And a potential human life should not be treated lightly or discarded for frivolous reasons.

            (There may be cases where the potential life must be discarded; as we see with the current global health crisis, decisions now are being taken which will cost lives in order to save other lives. But that is always a weighty decision which must be made with all due appreciation of the consequences, and the correct regret and guilt.)

          • Hi S – here I think your apparent position is not just unsupportable, but unsupportable for numerous reasons.

            (1) There is a huge difference between probability and possibility. I don’t understand why this is being downplayed or denied. For example, 0.1% is possibility, 99.9% is probability. In that particular case, we are talking about all the difference in the world. The vast majority of babies that get killed off would have been born, therefore we can assume in a given case they would have been born. (But of course ‘being born’ and ‘being human’ are not remotely the same thing – see below.) Whereas when a child tragically dies in an accident, we speak about their unfulfilled potential. That potential is to be an astronaut or musician, many things none of which is more than slightly possible, but one or more of which would probably have happened.

            Contrast that with ‘the potential to be human’. The latter does not exist. We have moved from one sort of category to another, and committed a category error. ‘Human’ and ‘astronaut’ are not categories on the same level. In the case of ‘human’, one is human or one is not. It is not a status one can attain, in the manner of a shape-shifter. It is not possible to belong to no species at all. It is not possible to change species. It is not possible to belong to more than one species simultaneously.

            (B) We were discussing ‘human’, but that has for some reason been shifted to ‘a human life’, which is different. This sort of shifting obfuscates rather than clarifies (cf. Penny’s introduction out of nowhere of the concept of ‘personhood’, a frequent move that one finds happening) and one is not sure of the motives behind it.

            (C) Fortunately, the shift to ‘a human life’ makes no difference in this particular case, since there is no chance that the young human conceptus is dead. The young human conceptus is obviously therefore alive, so ‘human’ and ‘human life’ are here interchangeable. Otherwise the vultures would not be at the door smelling her/his blood at all.

            (D) ‘Life’ and ‘human’ are different types of concept. One is a status, the other a species. We need precision and clarity. Also the status called ‘life’ need not be restricted to a single individual, but can be spoken of as something shared. Humanity too can be shared, but the difference between life and humanity is that ‘life’ is far more philosophical and ‘human’ more scientific and we always must prefer the more scientific as being the more rigorous, defined and clear. How would anyone justify preferring the philosophical (less-precise) to the scientific (more-precise)? Surely the opposite would be natural. I am interested in the answer to this.

            ‘Life’ scientifically would mean that we would put on a level anything that included DNA – all plants, all microorganisms would be on the same level as humans. That obfuscates rather than clarifies. As John Habgood once wrote to me (as a biologist, which helps) on this topic, ‘Life is incredibly ubiquitous.’ Just so. But that only goes to emphasise how unserviceable a concept ‘life’ sometimes is, because it is too general.

            None of this complication is necessary. There is a concerted move (in some cases, an actual effort) to move away from the obvious and central fact of the presence of a human here. All we need to say is: ‘Is it ever right or even ok to kill a human?’ Then things become obvious (to any to whom they were not obvious already), because all agree it is never ok even to *harm* a human. And all further agree that the offspring of 2 humans is human. And that that human is alive, otherwise no steps would ever be being taken to kill them. And that they are (like – obviously) not the same individual human as their mum, otherwise the mum would die when they died. I apologise for talking of such horrific things. (And – such a multiplicity of *obvious* things all at once. And such a multiplicity of things so cruelly demeaning and callous towards ‘the’ proverbial conceptualised child, in other words to all of us.)

            (E) The idea that there is some magic moment in between ‘conception’ an birth has no leg to stand on, of course, for the reasons that:
            -conception and implantation and birth are watershed moments and nothing in between is a watershed. The idea of preferring a non watershed (a mere point on a continuum!) to a watershed is a non-starter. It is obvious that the very opposite is true: the latter should be preferred to the former.
            -(the even stronger reason) no scientific textbook would suggest that a human or human lifecycle failed to begin at what you call conception or that a description of it could even contemplate leaving out conception. So this has never, scientifically, been an issue in the first place. People try to make it an issue, either because they are prescientific, nonscientific, or ideological, or taken in by the ideologues.

            (F) It is axiomatic that in a parallel universe where there were such an entity as a potential human life, that PHL would need to be given the benefit of the doubt. But this is not such a universe, nor could any other universe be thus – unless it murdered the definition of ‘human’ and used words to mean something different, in the same manner as the cynical abortion-supporters whom we both abhor.

            (E)

          • (1) There is a huge difference between probability and possibility. I don’t understand why this is being downplayed or denied. For example, 0.1% is possibility, 99.9% is probability.

            But it’s still just a qualitative difference. This is about quantitative differences. When you’re speaking qualitatively, there is no difference between 0.1%, 50%, or 99.9%.

            You can see this because (I hope you would agree) whether termination of an embryo is wrong does not vary according to how likely that embryo is to be born alive, or how long it is likely to live once born. It’s not, say, okay to terminate an embryo that has only a 1% chance of being born alive but not one that has a 99% chance.

            So the numbers are irrelevant.

            Contrast that with ‘the potential to be human’. The latter does not exist. We have moved from one sort of category to another, and committed a category error. ‘Human’ and ‘astronaut’ are not categories on the same level. In the case of ‘human’, one is human or one is not. It is not a status one can attain, in the manner of a shape-shifter. It is not possible to belong to no species at all. It is not possible to change species. It is not possible to belong to more than one species simultaneously.

            You are wrong here as it is clearly possible for an entity to change from being human to not being human; indeed it will happen to every single one of us at some point. Therefore it is not logically impossible that the reverse change, from not-human to human, is also possible.
            (C) Fortunately, the shift to ‘a human life’ makes no difference in this particular case, since there is no chance that the young human conceptus is dead. The young human conceptus is obviously therefore alive, so ‘human’ and ‘human life’ are here interchangeable.

            I don’t think that follows. An embryo is made up of human cells, and those cells are alive.

            But there are other things which are made up of living human cells which are not human beings. Consider a heart which has been removed from one person and it being kept alive ready for being transplanted into another. That’s made up of human cells and those cells are alive. But it is not a human being, is it?

            Therefore not everything which is made up of living human cells is a human. So the mere fact that an embryo is made of human cells, and is alive, is not sufficient to prove that it is in fact a human being.

            What is indisputable though is that even if it is not human has the capacity — the potential — to become human. And therefore it deserves not to be treated lightly or discarded frivolously.

            (D) ‘Life’ and ‘human’ are different types of concept. One is a status, the other a species. We need precision and clarity. Also the status called ‘life’ need not be restricted to a single individual, but can be spoken of as something shared. Humanity too can be shared, but the difference between life and humanity is that ‘life’ is far more philosophical and ‘human’ more scientific and we always must prefer the more scientific as being the more rigorous, defined and clear. How would anyone justify preferring the philosophical (less-precise) to the scientific (more-precise)? Surely the opposite would be natural. I am interested in the answer to this.

            Now you’re just rambling.

            None of this complication is necessary. There is a concerted move (in some cases, an actual effort) to move away from the obvious and central fact of the presence of a human here.

            My point though is that (a) the presence of a human is not obvious — there are human cells, yes, and they are alive, but there are other instances where living human cells exist without the presence of a human (transplant organs, for example) but (b) also the presence or absence of a human doesn’t matter, because we should treat the potential human life with respect anyway.

          • Living things entirely composed of human cells are many. A human heart due for transplant, a human sperm. But how many of them are in perfect (or even more than slight!) spatial and temporal continuity with what you would term a human being? Suspicious, no?

            This is the sort of point one ought not to have to make. If a tree stump in my garden degenerates beyond recognition over time, no-one doubts it is the same entity. It is time, space and material-composition and blueprint – 4 highly essential matters – that determine these things

            Second, you will notice that you confuse ‘human’ with ‘a human being’.

            Third, many concepts simplify into entities what in reality are ranges in an infinitely complex continuum. So we speak of ‘human being’, and in reality the definition may not be so easy as it was thought to be in the former times when the term was coined. But have no fear. It may not be so difficult either. Each human is a single individual (albeit interrelated) ‘capsule’ whose movements and intentions and consciousness and organs are independent. If therefore we can indeed speak of human individuals, there is not the slightest chance that they *became* that way at a random point on a continuum. Which random points would be the candidates??? There are none, of course. Nor was there ever doubt of the human status since conception – where did that strange idea come from? The watershed moment aptly called conception (for birth is a nonstarter here scientifically, and implantation is a mere location change) is the only candidate, but it is odd to have to need to make that point.

          • Christopher

            Personhood is a thoroughly ancient Christian theological and philosophical concept.

            An individual human life does not begin at conception.

          • Hi Penny

            (1) Explain how ‘an individual human life does not being at conception’. That is precisely what begins at conception typically. And secondly, conception is the sine qua non.

            (2) You did not address the dual question posed previously. Too put something called personhood rather than ‘human species’ at the centre is to prioritise philosophy (something vaguer) over science (something more definite). The second point: the definition of personhood is circular and can never be finalised because definitions depend on usage – there is no grounding in science. Words in the dictionary can even be incoherent – though that does not apply in this case. Thirdly, this vagueness of the concept ‘personhood’ is exactly what the antis want, because in a situation of vagueness everybody is enabled to do their own thing amoral or moral.

            The fact that a concept is of long standing is neither here nor there. Millions of concepts are of long standing. In fact their long standing may be precisely what makes them pre-scientific!

          • Living things entirely composed of human cells are many. A human heart due for transplant, a human sperm. But how many of them are in perfect (or even more than slight!) spatial and temporal continuity with what you would term a human being? Suspicious, no?

            Not really relevant though. Things can be in perfect spatial and temporal continuity with each other and yet change in fundamental nature. A corpse is in perfect spatial and temporary continuity with the person it once was, yet has undergone a fundamental change in essential nature.

            This is the sort of point one ought not to have to make. If a tree stump in my garden degenerates beyond recognition over time, no-one doubts it is the same entity.

            But the moment I die, no one will doubt that the corpse which is left is not the same entity because it is no longer me. All we’ve proved is that sometimes things do change their essential nature and sometimes they don’t.
            Second, you will notice that you confuse ‘human’ with ‘a human being’.

            I don’t understand this. I am using ‘human’ as an adjective and ‘a human being’ as a noun. How is that confusion?

            Third, many concepts simplify into entities what in reality are ranges in an infinitely complex continuum. So we speak of ‘human being’, and in reality the definition may not be so easy as it was thought to be in the former times when the term was coined. But have no fear. It may not be so difficult either. Each human is a single individual (albeit interrelated) ‘capsule’ whose movements and intentions and consciousness and organs are independent. If therefore we can indeed speak of human individuals, there is not the slightest chance that they *became* that way at a random point on a continuum. Which random points would be the candidates??? There are none, of course. Nor was there ever doubt of the human status since conception – where did that strange idea come from? The watershed moment aptly called conception (for birth is a nonstarter here scientifically, and implantation is a mere location change) is the only candidate, but it is odd to have to need to make that point.

            Again, the counter-argument here is simple: there is clearly a random (actually I think ‘arbitrary’ would be the proper term) point in the continuum of time at which the ‘capsule’ ceases to be human: the moment of death. So why couldn’t there be an equally arbitrary point at which the ‘capsule’ becomes human?

            But my point is that it doesn’t matter. Maybe you are right that the entity is human from conception. But the morality of abortion does not rest on that so getting bogged down in arguments about what exactly is a human and is there such a thing as ‘personhood’ is irrelevant.

          • Personhood is a thoroughly ancient Christian theological and philosophical concept

            And the problem with it is that once you start suggesting things like moral qualities apply to ‘persons’ rather than humans is that you let in the possibility of declaring that, say, someone severely mentally disabled is not a ‘person’ and so can be euthanased.

            It’s a step along the road to the horrendous ‘morality’ of someone like Peter Singer.

          • Hi S

            Yes, Peter Singer did not actually believe what he said he did, since when the testcase came with his own relative, he changed his tune.

            Interesting that a lady is now suing our local ”abortion” ”clinic” in Twickenham because they did not inform her that her child would feel pain. (Sorry to speak of horrific – and startlingly obvious – things. The not-at-all-nice ‘N.I.C.E.’ who are being held to account have an acronym that was foreshadowed rather prophetically by C S Lewis in 1945.) This is a point emphasised by Peter Singer, after (I think) Jeremy Bentham – the point with animals is not can they think, but can they suffer. His view on ‘abortion’ I believe therefore involves a contradiction within his philosophy.

            On your other points:

            (a) Many things are human without being a human being. One can speak of both but cannot pass from one to the other seamlessly.

            (b) If you are saying it is unclear when baby becomes human, then what species (if any) do they begin by being, before their abrupt identity-shift from speciesless to speciesed? Does their genetic profile have no relevance? Does their parentage have no relevance? Since when have humans begotten frogs? Or armadillos chihuahuas?

            (c) Death is not an arbitrary random moment but a watershed moment. It is a moment of some significance in terms of what the organism can do from that point on. Whereas by contrast developments in the womb happen gradually.

            (d) The corpse remains human since humanity is to do with genetic profile, physiognomy etc..

            (c)

          • (a) Many things are human without being a human being. One can speak of both but cannot pass from one to the other seamlessly.

            Yes, you can have a human heart, human culture, and so on. That’s why I use the two terms, and I use ‘a human being when that is what I mean, not just anything to which the adjective ‘human’ could be applied.

            (b) If you are saying it is unclear when baby becomes human, then what species (if any) do they begin by being, before their abrupt identity-shift from speciesless to speciesed? Does their genetic profile have no relevance? Does their parentage have no relevance? Since when have humans begotten frogs? Or armadillos chihuahuas?

            You’re hung up on this idea of ‘species’. The point isn’t that the embryo might be a different species, but that it could conceivably be something to which the adjective ‘human’ could be applied but not actually yet a human life. Just like a human leg can have the adjective human applied to it but is not a human life.

            But whether or not it is at any given point actually a human life, it is always at least a potential human life and that is what is important.

            (c) Death is not an arbitrary random moment but a watershed moment. It is a moment of some significance in terms of what the organism can do from that point on. Whereas by contrast developments in the womb happen gradually.

            From the point of view of mere physical processes death is not a watershed moment. On a cellular level a body a minute before death and a minute after death is practically identical; the physical procesess which are involved in dying are just as gradual as the physical processes which take place in the womb.

            And yet something of supreme essential importance happens at that moment: the body ceases to be a human life and becomes a mere lab of meat.

            So given that such a supreme essential change happens at one end of life with no corresponding sudden change on the cellular level but rather a gradual dying-away of nerve impulses, and a slow fading of cell division, how can you be so sure something equivalently supreme doesn’t happen amidst the just-as-gradual cellular specialisations taking place in the womb?

            But my point, which I repeat again, is that even if such a change does occur it is (morally) meaningless to search for it, because even before it happens we’re talking about a potential human life and that potential means it must not be treated lightly or discarded frivolously.

            (d) The corpse remains human since humanity is to do with genetic profile, physiognomy etc..

            Yes, it remains human in the sense that it is somthing to which the adjective ‘human’ can be applied, like a human arm, a human settlement, a human disease. but that is why it’s important to distinguish between something which is merely ‘human’ in the sense that it can have the adjective ‘human’ applied to it, and a human life with all the moral quality that implies.

          • Hello Christopher

            1) an individual human life does not necessarily begin at conception because one twin may absorb the other, thus becoming one entity. We do not know how often this happens.

            2) personhood is a Christian concept, beginning with, I think Tertullian. It signifies the figure of a human person made in the image dei. A human, scientifically, is just a primate.

          • HI Penny

            Neither of your points works. (1) The point about twins is merely the same point you made above, which was the point that I answered in saying that an individual human life is typically exactly what the point-of-conception kicks off. Sometimes this kicks off twins instead – well, the more the merrier. We have 2 individuals for the price of one. In neither case do we have zero individuals, so the point fails. And also is in danger of trivialising a miracle. Each human is a miracle, but you won’t get any of them if you cut out the beginning of their story.

            (2) As for the point about personhood, that would on =ly have weight if someone had denied that personhood was a coherent concept and/or a Christian concept. Where did I do either? I denied that it as a malleable word and philosophical concept could be level pegging with a more scientific concept, and therefore cried foul when you introduced it so prematurely while real scientific concepts that could clear up any vagaries and circularities in the philosophical ones were still left on the sidelines. All the more so since I am familiar with people playing this card in the abortion debate, and most of those who play it – unlike yourself, perhaps, but why keep such company of all companies that one might keep? – are not friends of little human lives.

          • Hello Christopher

            I think you misunderstand. A human life cannot begin at conception if it is two human lives which then become one, as one twin absorbs the other.

            The concept of Personhood gives life dignity.
            A human is, as I said, merely a primate.

          • Penny, I never mentioned ‘a human life’. A minimum of one human being (and in most cases precisely one human being) begins at conception. You can also call this a minimum of one human life if you wish, and would be accurate in so doing, since clearly we are alive and not dead at that stage.

            S, I must press you on this idea that it is possible that a human being may perhaps somehow ‘begin’ at a ‘non-conception’ point.

            People are still hunting the elusive snark of the fabled non-conception moment, which is an alternative to conception, that a human’s life may possibly begin at. Do you expect them ever to find it? The whole thing is rigged so that they do not find it (not that it ever existed anyway) since in order to find it there would need to be an agreed definition of what we were looking for. There is no such definition, nor could there be, since definitions are circular and also (because they depend on usage) malleable. Which is exactly how some people (who have little science and fewer scruples) like it.

            It is a case of hopeful procrastination, prevarication and filibustering.

          • S, I must press you on this idea that it is possible that a human being may perhaps somehow ‘begin’ at a ‘non-conception’ point.

            Okay.

            People are still hunting the elusive snark of the fabled non-conception moment, which is an alternative to conception, that a human’s life may possibly begin at. Do you expect them ever to find it?

            I don’t know. But whether they find it or not has no bearing on whether it exists or not. Things can exist without being observable.

            Your point seems to be that in the absence of any clear other point, then human life begins at conception. But this is to mistake epistemology for ontology. The fact we don’t know something is no proof either way for how things are.

            Sometimes we can use use knowledge to make qualified statements about how things are; this is how science works. A scientist hunts desperately for evidence that their theory is wrong and, the more they’ve hunted without turning such evidence up, the more they can be certain that their theory is in fact correct.

            But as you point out, we can’t do that in this case because we don’t even have a clue what such evidence would look like. So the fact we have no evidence is not in itself evidence either way.

            My point is that it doesn’t matter, for the purposes of the debate about abortion, whether a human life begins at conception or not. Because either it does, in which case we should treat it with with respect and not discard it frivolously; or it does not but a potential human life begins at conception, in which case, again, we should treat that potential human life with respect and not discard it frivolously. Both alternatives lead to the same conclusion. So it doesn’t matter which is true.

            You might be right about human life beginning at conception; you might be wrong. But the conclusion is the same either way, so why waste time arguing about it?

          • Hi Penelope

            1. You are too intelligent to be duped by the ’emotive phrase’ cliche, which seems to have been brought in to curtail plain discussion of important realities.

            2. Does it not strike you that there are certain things that people *should* get emotional about, and will (unless they are cold). If we/they are cold then that needs to be brought before God. If people do not get emotional about the pictures of famine in Ethiopia, then that is a deficit in us, not in the ’emotive’ nature of the broadcast.

            Well then, if there are things we *should* get emotional about (and there are many) then the derogatory use of ’emotive subject/phrase’ makes no sense. Do you agree?

            3. But it gets worse.
            Within the phrase ‘little human lives’:
            (a) is ‘little’ accurate or not?
            (b) is ‘human’ accurate or not?
            (c) is ‘lives’ accurate or not?
            All 3 are accurate. It follows that you wish (?!) to quench accurate speech. This is what people mean by ‘illiberal liberal’? What do such people (from whom you have inherited this tack of argument) have to hide?

            Examination of a topic means maximising accurate speech, not treating it as the enemy.

          • Sorry, Christopher, you said that you never used the phrase ‘a human life’, but you did say ‘little human lives’.
            I can’t see the difference.

          • Hi Penny

            When I earlier said ‘I never mentioned a human life’ I was talking about the foregoing context within which I indeed did not mention it, but you had replied as though I had. I did not mean ‘never in my life’ nor that it was or should be an embargoed phrase.

            ‘Little human lives’ remains, of course, both an entirely accurate phrase and a high priority. It is a very interesting question who would object to accuracy and why. And it is a second interesting question who would object to someone raising priority (life-and-death) issues and why.

      • David,
        The two commandments are certainly not one. They are not to be conflated.
        God is other, not us.
        Unless we are god and we are worshipping our maker, ourselves.

        Reply
        • So not to be clearer. Love is the fulfilling of The Law. God is Love and we are to love him with all our being – and through all being – we love him in and through all he has made – as he loves us. In this way the second commandment is a fulfilling and completing of the first. I think that is why Jesus paired them as he did. Whether or not you agree I hope that is clearer.

          Reply
          • Much clearer, thank you, David.
            However, I don’t think the second fulfils and completes the first. Jesus does the fulfilling and completing of both in his active righteous perfect obedience, while we were his enemies. Otherwise, we are all skuttled.
            Both are imperatives resulting from the indicatives of (and within) the Triune love of God, the incarnation, cross and resurrection of God the Son, who first loved us, before we knew, before birth.

      • Indeed. I still struggle with that myself. Ive ordered a book ‘Does God Really Like Me’ so all these years later Im still not sure! Such is the human condition…

        Peter

        Reply
      • Thank you Andrew, Peter and David
        I think the author is conflating self absorption with self love. I can be mean, selfish, greedy and lazy. But that does not mean that I love myself; far from it.
        Loving one’s neighbour as oneself is so very difficult because we so very rarely love ourselves.

        Reply
        • I think the author is conflating self absorption with self love

          Yep. But then that’s what most people in the modern world do.

          I can be mean, selfish, greedy and lazy.

          At least then you have a clear view of yourself, and realise you are unlovable and do not deserve to be loved (which is why it is so amazing that God loves you anyway).

          Lots of people nowadays lack that self-awareness and think they deserve to be loved, and get cross when it’s pointed out that they in fact do not deserve anything of the kind.

          Reply
          • Is it true that humans are ‘unlovable’ and dont deserve to be loved? Who decides that? God? If so, then He has already deemed us to be lovable and loved. Not because God chooses to love the unlovable, but because God loves all of His creation, particularly humanity whom He also created in His own image.

            It seems to me that it was out of God’s love that He created in the first place, so to argue we are unlovable is ludicrous.

          • Is it true that humans are ‘unlovable’ and dont deserve to be loved?

            Yes.

            Who decides that? God?

            Nobody ‘decides’ it, it’s simply a fact.

            If so, then He has already deemed us to be lovable and loved. Not because God chooses to love the unlovable, but because God loves all of His creation, particularly humanity whom He also created in His own image.

            But if we deserve to be loved, then why should we give thanks to God for loving us? If we deserve God’s mercy, then why are we grateful for it? After all in that case God is giving us nothing more than what we already deserve. We shouldn’t be thankful to Him for simply giving us our just deserts, should we? Indeed we should demand he loves as as if we are lovable that is just our right.

            It seems to me that it was out of God’s love that He created in the first place, so to argue we are unlovable is ludicrous.

            When God created us we were not sinful. Since then we rebelled and are now (by our own choice) God’s bitter, hateful enemies. That’s what makes us unlovable and what makes it impressive that God loves us.

            After all didn’t someone one say that there’s nothing impressive or meritorious in loving one’s friends — even criminals love their friends? What’s hard is loving one’s enemies, the ones by all justice and logic one ought to hate.

          • Sorry S, I may be unlovable, but I am not God’s bitter, hated enemy. What a grotesque idea.

          • Sorry S, I may be unlovable, but I am not God’s bitter, hated enemy. What a grotesque idea.

            Of course you are. That is what sin makes us: the bitter, hateful (not hated, I think you misread) enemies of God. Because of sin we are bitter towards God and we hate everything that is light and good.

            It would therefore be perfectly proper of God to hate us in return. But He does not — he loves us instead, even though we hate Him. And that’s the amazing mystery that I shall never understand. That God should endure death on a cross for such hateful undeserving creatures as us when He didn’t have to, when all justice says He should have left us to die eternally as he deserve.

            But of course if you don’t think we are God’s bitter hateful enemies then there’s nothing amazing about it: God, by dying on a cross to save us, was just doing what we deserved by right of being lovely. There’s no need to be grateful to Him; indeed if He hadn’t gone through Hell (literally) to save us then we could justifiably lambast Him for not doing his duty.

          • S
            Yes, I did misread hated for hateful. Sorry.
            It doesn’t change my reaction though. I am not lovely, but I am not God’s bitter, hateful enemy and He died that we might become divine (as I have said before).

          • I am not lovely, but I am not God’s bitter, hateful enemy

            You are. We all are. We all hate the light and we love the darkness. We flee from what is good and we embrace what is evil.

            and He died that we might become divine (as I have said before).

            That’s heresy, to say that we can become like God. We are God’s adopted children and heirs; we are not, and never can be, gods ourselves. We cannot become divine and to say we can is dangerous falsehood.

          • S

            You might be. I’m not.

            Not heresy. Christian doctrine. Divinisation. Athanasius (as I have said before).

          • You might be. I’m not.

            Ah, the sin of pride.

            Not heresy. Christian doctrine. Divinisation. Athanasius (as I have said before).

            Yes heresy. If Athanasius said that we would become gods then he was to that extent a heretic, regardless of what else he might have got right.

          • S
            Not being a bitter and hateful enemy of God has nothing to do with pride; it is about love.

            I think we’ve had this conversation about Athanasius before. He was the guardian of trinitarian orthodoxy, a theologian who propounded divinisation, and not, most definitely not, a heretic.

          • Not being a bitter and hateful enemy of God has nothing to do with pride; it is about love.

            Thinking that your own love is sufficient to overcome the bitterness and hatred towards God of original sin is pride. It’s also heretical (specifically it’s Pelagianism).

            I think we’ve had this conversation about Athanasius before. He was the guardian of trinitarian orthodoxy, a theologian who propounded divinisation, and not, most definitely not, a heretic.

            He obviously was a heretic if he propounded divinisation. It’s entirely possible for people to be orthodox on some matters and heretical on others; the fact he was orthdox on the trinity has no bearing on his clearly heretical views about us becoming gods.

            You really do have a very high opinion of yourself, don’t you? You think you can overcome original sin and love God, and not only that, you think you can become a god yourself.

          • S
            Firstly, I recommend that you do a little research on the theology of divinisation before calling one of the greatest saints of the Church a heretic. It just makes you look foolish.
            Secondly, if I was a bitter hateful enemy of God, I could not love Her. This has nothing to do with pride or self love.

          • Firstly, I recommend that you do a little research on the theology of divinisation before calling one of the greatest saints of the Church a heretic. It just makes you look foolish.

            What research do I need to do? If the ‘theology of divinisation’ says that we can become gods, then it is heretical.

            If that’s not what it says then it’s badly named, isn’t it?

            Secondly, if I was a bitter hateful enemy of God, I could not love Her.

            Ah, you’re being adolescent too.

            But indeed. As bitter, hateful enemies of God, we are incapable of loving Him. Unless God deigns to give us His grace, and we humbly accept it, then we cannot love God.

            If you think you can love God by your own power, then you are a heretic.

            This has nothing to do with pride or self love.

            Of course it does. You’re claiming that you can, from your own power, love God. That’s heretical, it’s even an official heresy with an official name: it’s Pelagianism.

            And it’s pride because it’s having far too high an opinion of yourself. You think you can

            You certainly don’t have a problem with low self-esteem — quite the opposite!

        • ‘we so very rarely love ourselves’. Really? So we neglect to feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, house ourselves, give ourselves leisure time, buy ourselves treats, give ourselves time to do as we please?

          I think I am with Oliver on this one…!

          Reply
          • I don’t think any of those things is what Penny meant and what is truly meant by loving yourself

          • Andrew is right. But, on reflection, when people find it hard to love themselves they also forget to eat properly or to get dressed; they drink too much or take drugs in an attempt to ease the distress. What is often seen as self indulgence is often the inability to love and respect oneself. Christianity, although a materialistic religion, hasn’t always been good at recognising this.

          • What is often seen as self indulgence is often the inability to love and respect oneself

            I think more accurately it would be described as loving the wrong things about oneself; eg loving pleasure, especially sensual pleasure.

            The devil is not creative, remember; he can only distort what God has made. All sin, therefore, is really misdirected or corrupted or excessive love. And the love of self is part of that.

          • And that is my point. There is nothing wrong with doing those things. The author implies there is. The whole point of the command is precisely to do the same things for your neighbour, not just for yourself!

            Peter

        • S

          If you don’t like Athanasius try Irenaus, the author of Adversus Haereses, and Clement of Alexandria, both wrote on divinisation in their theologies of incarnation. Just because you don’t like a doctrine or theology doesn’t make it heretical.

          I’m amused that you think gendering God as She is adolescent. Since God has no gender, it is equally inappropriate to call God ‘He’, but you don’t think it immature to ascribe to the Godself a male gender? I wonder why?

          And while you’re researching heresies, I’d have another look at Pelagianism, if I were you. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

          I didn’t say I was able to love God of my own human volition, and although I am weak and unlovely and sinful, I am not Her bitter, hateful enemy.

          Reply
          • If you don’t like Athanasius try Irenaus, the author of Adversus Haereses, and Clement of Alexandria, both wrote on divinisation in their theologies of incarnation. Just because you don’t like a doctrine or theology doesn’t make it heretical.

            No, what makes it heretical is that it puts us equal with God.

            I’m amused that you think gendering God as She is adolescent.

            What’s adolescent is trying childishly to provoke a reaction.

            I didn’t say I was able to love God of my own human volition, and although I am weak and unlovely and sinful, I am not Her bitter, hateful enemy.

            So in your natural, corrupt, sinful, state, prior to God’s grace, what is your attitude towards God?

            If you say anything other than that it’s bitter hate, then you are lying to yourself (and being heretical).

          • 1) divinisation does not put us equal with God. Read up about it.
            2) I wasn’t trying to provoke a reaction other than suggesting that gendering God as always male is idolatrous.
            3) one can be fallen without being a bitter, hateful enemy of God. We are made in Her image. We are marred, but not bitter enemies. Which is, as I said, a grotesque concept. And possibly heretical.

          • 1) divinisation does not put us equal with God. Read up about it.

            What does it mean to ‘become divine’ then if not that we would become equal with God? What does ‘divine’ mean if not that?

            2) I wasn’t trying to provoke a reaction other than suggesting that gendering God as always male is idolatrous.

            Rubbish, of course you were. I just wanted to let you know I spotted it, I know what you’re doing, and I will not rise to it.

            3) one can be fallen without being a bitter, hateful enemy of God. We are made in Her image. We are marred, but not bitter enemies. Which is, as I said, a grotesque concept. And possibly heretical.

            Nope. The point of sin is that we hate the light and love the things of darkness. We love evil and we hate what is good. What is more good than God? So we must — in our twisted, sinful state, before God gives us grace and we humbly accept it — hate God, because God is good and we hate all that is good.

            You seem to think that sin is just a little mark, a ‘marring’, something peripheral to our essence. But it’s not. It runs right through the core of our being. Total depravity: there is no part of the image of God in us that is not corrupted by sin. (And no, total depravity doesn’t mean that there is no good in us; but it does mean that there is no part of us that isn’t turned towards evil.)

          • S

            You keep rising to ‘it’, which rather suggests to me that you figure God as Male. Which, as I said, tends towards idolatry.
            I suggest, as before that you look up the theology of divinisation.
            And again, you may hate the light and love the things of darkness but I think your theology of total depravity tends to deny the reality of the incarnation and the cross.

          • I suggest, as before that you look up the theology of divinisation.

            I have. It looks utterly heretical to me. Clearly you think I have misunderstood it. That is possible. But re-reading something I have misunderstood will not bring me closer to understanding, will it? So how about you explain to me what you actually mean by ‘become divine’ and how it is different from becoming the same as God so I can understand properly.

            And again, you may hate the light and love the things of darkness but I think your theology of total depravity tends to deny the reality of the incarnation and the cross.

            What? No, it’s your idea that we are just slightly-marred images of God which denies the reality of the incarnation and the cross, for why would Jesus have needed to take on human flesh and die to save us if that is all that was wrong? And why would it be so amazing that God loved us enough to endure torture and death to save us, if we were basically flawed but lovable?

            Someone once said that there is nothing special about loving one’s friends, for even criminals love their friends. What is amazing is when someone loves their enemies. Anyone would die for their loved ones, but it is astounding that someone should willingly die for people who hate them.

            That’s what makes God’s love for us so amazing: that He loved us when we were his enemies. That he died for us though we hated him.

            Your God’s love, where He loves people who may be a bit flawed and whacky but who are basically lovable, seems so tiny and small in comparison to the God who dies for those who hate him most bitterly, doesn’t it?

          • S
            I don’t share your theology.
            And I don’t care for being misrepresented or misquoted.
            So we’ll leave it there.

          • I don’t share your theology.
            And I don’t care for being misrepresented or misquoted.
            So we’ll leave it there.

            I’m going to assume that means you have realised that you cannot explain this idea of human beings becoming divine (or point to such a clear explanation) in a way that is not heretical, then.

          • I’m not here to educate you ‘S’, though, Lord knows, I try.

            So far you haven’t tried to explain at all how this idea of humans becoming divine isn’t heretical. You said to look it up; I did; it still looks totally heretical.

            So explain what I misunderstood and why I am wrong or admit that you can’t and I am right.

    • Does a Christian not get their acceptance, significance, security from Christ, Peter, who first loved them, Peter.
      This is a far cry, I’d suggest, from the vogue of self-respect. It is a union, an indwelling, through God the Spirit, with God in Christ, that is almost beyond fathoming, comprehension, a gift from God the Father.
      As is said of Christ, we become beloved “sons”, adopted.
      Don’t you just love him?

      Reply
      • Geoff, I think that’s easy to say but is not always a reality. It is precisely because of our own insecurities, developed over years from childhood due to various negative experiences, that we doubt our security, even in Him. Perhaps that is why I tend to be quite harsh towards those who cast doubt on eternal security, I have enough doubts thank you very much.

        Sometimes (often?) we dont all feel loved.

        Peter

        Reply
        • Peter,
          It is a constant battle to take our eyes and thoughts away from ourselves, to dwell on Christ, to put on Christ, that is the armour of God.
          Yes it may sound glib, but it reflects a reality of repetition, of renewing our minds with the washing of the word, so that when push comes to shove, it becomes real, deep in our psyche (soul – our mind, will and emotions).
          Psychologists today would recognise this as part of a process of what is termed, CBT, cognitive behaviour therapy. (Having in the past received Consultant psychiatrist and Consultant Psychologist care, and having been employed by a mental health charity I have some knowledge and experience that moves me away from simple, one-off, once for all solutions. There is a continuing battle for the mind to bring us back to Christ, and having the mind of Christ.
          Coming at this from a different angle, is “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” by Tim Keller, a small, cheap, booklet. A search would come up with some reviews and quotations. It is surprising, challenging and comforting, well worth a read. This is from my phone: I could put up some quotes from my computer and maybe the book, if it can be found.

          Reply
      • You are ahead of me, Geoff. The key point about God’s love is that it is a love for the unlovely. Indeed, God’s love is a love for His enemies – Romans 5:8,10, but also John 3:16 when one remembers that in John’s Gospel very often ‘the world’ stands for that which is opposed to God.

        The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector comes to mind. Which of the two had the better self-esteem and self-love? Which went home right with God?

        Reply
        • “also John 3:16 when one remembers that in John’s Gospel very often ‘the world’ stands for that which is opposed to God.”

          Read it in the Greek. 🙂

          “The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector comes to mind. Which of the two had the better self-esteem and self-love? Which went home right with God?”

          I thank Thee, Lord, that I am not like that Pharisee. 😉

          Reply
  8. Excellent explanation of a widespread misunderstanding; thank you!
    When Jesus referred to ‘the prophets’, he presumably included ‘the former prophets’ – did you in your calculation?

    Reply
  9. With a shaved head and tattoos, from the inside of his wrist to the inside of his elbow, there was a deep gouge, jagged, white scar. From below his ear to the middle of his throat there was a deep gouge, jagged, white scar; self inflicted, gut- wrenching violence, hastily repaired, here was a broken young man of intelligence, who had known the depths of despair, a vapidity , a meaningless, to his life, few know.
    Now a gardener in Christian service and leading sung praise in the church for the broken, being made whole.
    It was a privilege and pleasure to meet him a few weeks ago , with his humble thankfulness and quiet enthusiastic joy– a life that had been draining away, pouring out, through gaping wounds, being raised, and made whole.
    From a bottomless hole, elevated, raised to our Saviour’s top table.
    How unlike swathes of the church. How like Christ and his people.

    Reply
    • That very wonderful story of broken, lost humanity transformed by undeserving divine love gives me hope that Christ loves the ‘swathes of the church’ you apparently believe are unlike ‘Christ and his people’.

      Reply
  10. As usual C.S. Lewis said this true thing a long time ago and rather pithily:

    You are told to love your neighbour as yourself. How do you love yourself? When I look into my own mind, I find that I do not love myself by thinking myself a dear old chap or having affectionate feelings. I do not think that I love myself because I am particularly good, but just because I am myself and quite apart from my character. I might detest something which I have done. Nevertheless, I do not cease to love myself. In other words, that definite distinction that Christians make between hating sin and loving the sinner is one that you have been making in your own case since you were born. You dislike what you have done, but you don’t cease to love yourself. You may even think that you ought to be hanged. You may even think that you ought to go to the Police and own up and be hanged. Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.

    Reply
    • I do agree that C S Lewis speaks wisely on this.

      Also there is the question of why anyone would ever have needed any encouragement to love themselves. Eph 5.29 says no-one ever hated their own body in the first place – the reverse. We all look after no. 1. We don’t expect or deserve praise for doing so!!!

      Thirdly, ‘as you love yourself’ is not in the text.

      Fourthly its origin is quite easily traced to the ‘go on, treat yourself, you deserve it’ culture.

      I was once serving a customer who gave me this new ‘interpretation’ as so important that it was the definitive sign provided ‘in these last days’. As for loving oneself (O’Donovan on Self-Love in Augustine I have still to read) it is a natural thing to do, so one can call it normal and good. Certainly hating oneself is bad, but loving yourself is just expected and inevitable and is very far from being a virtue as it does not share the common characteristics of the other virtues.

      Reply
      • These comments from S and Christopher are exactly right. Christian love does not mean ‘having a positive valuation of X because of X’s qualities or deeds’, it means wishing and acting for the good and glory of X because of Christ. This is often too hard for us and it’s not natural – rather it is supernatural, because it sees the person clothed with Christ and not as she or he is but can be through the grace of God. This is the difference between the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the kindest ministrations of humanism. At the same time, a true minister of the Holy Spirit will recognise and affirm the good that he or she sees in others. Perhaps it is our own insecurity that makes us unable or reluctant to appreciate the good that is in others.

        Reply
      • I suspect C S Lewis felt rather differently about love after he was caught up in much more personal and profound human experience of it with Joy Davidman. What you describe is not self love Christopher, but self absorption. Self love, of some sort, is needed to even be able to love another. And Lewis, in A Grief Observed, wrestles with that.
        We certainly can not love another unless we have some degree of self respect and self esteem. Often, as I believe Lewis discovered, that can take us quite by surprise when we meet another who is able to release that in ourselves which has created a certain degree of self absorption. A Grief Observed sees that emerge again, as grief is bound to do. But it’s fascinating to see how it is wrestled with.

        Reply
        • I suspect C S Lewis felt rather differently about love after he was caught up in much more personal and profound human experience of it with Joy Davidman

          If he did there’s no evidence of it in his writing; The Four Loves is entirely consistent with his earlier writing on love and was published in 1960, the same year Davidman died.

          But then perhaps you take the same attitude to Lewis as you do to the Bible, so what he actually wrote is far less important to you than what you think he ought to have thought.

          Reply
        • Indeed. People forget how Lewis changed after his wife died. Anyone reading A Grief Observed can see that. Previously he was rather academic in his understanding of pain and suffering. Then he experienced it for himself, and all he found was silence.

          Reply
          • People forget how Lewis changed after his wife died. Anyone reading A Grief Observed can see that.

            You mean the notebooks he kept of his late-night writings after his wife had died, and published mostly unedited?

            While fascinating, they were hardly — as he himself points out in them — written when he was thinking straight. It’s unsurprising they read differently to his more considered works, but for that very reason they shouldn’t be taken as very revealing of what he actually thought, when he had an chance to reflect, consider, and put his thoughts in order. They are splurges of raw emotion, and I don’t think any of us would want to be judged by the splurges of raw emotion we produce in the dark hours of the night, that quite often we realise in the cold light of day were baseless and illogical.

          • I don’t think that’s wrong, but we need to be careful of the before/after simplified stereotype which is more the product of Shadowlands stage play and film than of a biographical treatment.

      • Well, St Paul was very wrong there. Many people hate their bodies and some strands of Christianity have encouraged this.

        Reply
        • Many people hate their bodies and some strands of Christianity have encouraged this.

          No they haven’t. It’s gnosticism which is body-hating, not Christianity.

          Reply
          • The whole scandal around the Iwerne/Titus Trust work is to do with negative attitudes towards the body. And back to Augustine And beyond the Church has given negative images of the body. Women who were menstruating were told not to come for communion. They had to be ‘churched’ after giving birth. How much more body hating could that be?

          • Andrew Godsall writes: “The whole scandal around the Iwerne/Titus Trust work is to do with negative attitudes towards the body.”
            Nonsense. It was to do with the breach of proper boundaries of how young Christian males should relate to each other through the intrusion of violent and homoerotic impulses among a couple of leaders – something that was common enough in the English public school system, where flogging and sometimes sexual abuse were always somewhere in the background. When I read C. S. Lewis’s ‘Surprised by Joy’, I was initially taken aback by how open he was about describing these abuses in English public schools in Edwardian days. That one of the leaders in the Iwerne Trust had young men (over 18, so no crime was committed) massage him nude shows an appalling lack of pastoral judgment, to say the least. Yet some of the contributors to ‘Thinking Anglicans’ , openly sympathetic to homosexuality, saw nothing wrong with this conduct and said so. Indeed they wanted homosexuality to be “celebrated”. They condemned John Smyth (rightly) for his flogging of boys but not the other person, a clergyman who asked for nude massages. Why the distinction?

          • You would have to show the reference to that on Thinking Anglicans Brian. I am doubtful.
            The punishments were given to prevent such boys thinking about their bodies in particular ways, I think.
            The point about churching and menstruation still stands

          • Andrew – Churching was never a hating of the woman’s body but a thanksgiving for safely coming through the perils of childbirth and the woman offering prayers and herself to the Lord.

          • Andrew, you say, “the whole scandal around the Iwerne/Titus Trust work is to do with negative attitudes towards the body.”

            I have been following both the John Smyth and Jonathan Fletcher sagas and I think this is the first time I have had this proposed as a basis for the behaviour. The core reason (or excuse), it seems, for the physical abuse was as a means of discipline. I’m not sure that really is the result of “negative attitudes towards the body.”

            I suppose that physical discipline might be particularly associated with impiety flowing from our physical nature. However, if this is the case, one needs to reckon withe the words of Jesus:

            “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30)

            Does this not seem to express a “negative attitude to the body”?

          • Christianity has often been tainted by gnosticism. Andrew gives a few examples. I would add others: the quasi erotic fasting, flagellation, self mortification and self denial encouraged by some Church fathers and later theologians from early CE to the High Middle Ages.
            Fasting and self denial have their places in Christian life, but not when they become anorexia and self harm.

          • Christianity has often been tainted by gnosticism

            It’s also often been tainted by mysticism. That’s not the fault of Christianity.

          • I can assure Andrew Godsall that some commentators on ‘Thinking Anglicans’ did indeed say they saw nothing wrong with young men giving nude massages to each other, they went further and said this was obviously latent homoerotic behaviour and the young men should recognise this and “celebrate” this as evidence of their supposedly suppressed homoerotic feelings. This is not surprising since about a third or half of the regular contributors to ‘Thinking Anglicans’ would identify as LGBT and the rest are pro-LGBT. It was evangelicals who were horrified by the nude massage revelations involving Jonathan Fletcher, not the liberals of ‘Thinking Anglicans’. The story has been covered often on ‘Anglican Unscripted’, how Fletcher’s PTO was withdrawn but he still continued to minister on occasion in churches – a bit like Peter Ball, except that Fletcher had committed no crime. Which is why the police declined to take any action.
            John Smyth’s brutal behaviour is another matter. What Justin Welby knew about this when he assisted in these camps is unknown but perhaps if Andrew wrote to him, he might get a nuanced answer.

          • Gnosticism tends to survive within Christianity because particular texts and traditions lead to non material interpretations. If I was a heresy hunter, I would say that gnosticism is heretical.
            Mysticism on the other hand is not a heresy, but a profound way of experiencing religious truths. St Paul was, by his own account, a mystic.

          • If I was a heresy hunter, I would say that gnosticism is heretical.

            Um, there’s no ‘I would say’ about it. Gnoticism is heretical. Which is why you can hardly accuse Christianity of the flaws of gnosticism.

            Mysticism on the other hand is not a heresy, but a profound way of experiencing religious truths.

            Mysticism isn’t a heresy because it doesn’t even have enough intellectual content to be heretical. It’s, as the old phrase has it, ‘not even wrong’. It’s just bonkers.

          • Iwerne/Titus negative attitudes to the body?

            As regards delaying marriage, you may be right. Maybe people had observed how very much more time for gospel work bachelors naturally had on their hands, and how high a percentage of the most effective work was done by bachelors.

            As regards sticking to Christian sexual ethics, you’re not right. In fact the reverse – great harm proliferates from their abandonment, including all the thousands of unnecessarily abandoned children from unnecessarily fractured families, something mysteriously far more absent from the former way of doing things.

          • Brian writes that a high proportion of commenters on Thinking Anglicans are LGBT and the remainder are pro LGBT in the contemporary sense.

            Pause and consider how many people this means will be barred from that site.

            Including intelligent and ‘thinking’ people such as David Shepherd and myself whose only crime was to include rational argument and statistics and expect better documented evidence in return, which was not always forthcoming – the normal scenario was that no evidence at all was forthcoming on the salient points.

            If one were on the lookout for a scandal (and here we are comparing the Iwerne context) then here it is. Instead, people try to damn the alma mater of John Stott and John Eddison tout court rather than their movement’s errant son(s). And ignore the scandal of what the modern culture is doing. There will be plenty of lawsuits to follow when secularism and the sexual revolution have done their dirty evidence-censoring family-killing work and the penny finally drops.

          • S

            I am aware that tit for tat comments get us nowhere, but, seriously, I suggest you read 2 Corinthians 12, if you cannot believe that St Paul was a mystic.

          • I am aware that tit for tat comments get us nowhere, but, seriously, I suggest you read 2 Corinthians 12, if you cannot believe that St Paul was a mystic.

            Could you be clear about the definition you’re using for ‘mystic’ here? Just to be sure we’re not talking past each other.

          • Mystic: a person who claims to attain, or believes in the possibility of attaining, insight into mysteries transcending ordinary human knowledge, as by direct communication with the divine or immediate intuition in a state of spiritual ecstasy.

            There can be little doubt that St. Paul was a mystic

          • What definition would you like to use then Ian? Do you think St Paul *wasn’t* a mystic?

            Maybe Christianity is a mystical religion – George Herbert perhaps thought so. So maybe we are all mystics.

          • By that definition every Christian is a mystic, which rather renders the term meaningless.

            What he said.

            What definition would you like to use then Ian? Do you think St Paul *wasn’t* a mystic?

            May I reply? A mystic is someone who continually has, or claims to have, subjective spiritual experiences, and who uses them (rather than evidence and logic) as evidence for theological arguments.

            St Paul describes having had spiritual experiences, but he never uses them as evidence for anything. His conversion, for example, was not the result of a subjective religious experience but of an objectively-experienced miracle (the light and his blindness, the scales that fell from his eyes), and all his theological arguments are based on historical events, the Law, and logic.

            Maybe Christianity is a mystical religion

            It’s not. It’s a religion of real history, and logic.

            Not subjective ‘feelings’.

          • I can’t see that anybody said anything about subjective feelings – apart from you. It’s your subjective feeling that the gospels only contain things that are accurate and factual relating to Christ’s life and resurrection. Evidence suggests otherwise.
            Ian, what is your definition of mysticism?

          • I can’t see that anybody said anything about subjective feelings – apart from you.

            It’s what mysticism is all about.

            It’s your subjective feeling that the gospels only contain things that are accurate and factual relating to Christ’s life and resurrection.

            No: it is an objective fact that either the gospels are reliable histories or they are not. They can’t be reliable for me but not for you, which is what ‘subjective’ would mean here. It is an objective fact that either the events happened as described or that they did not (or, if you want to go to a finer level of detail, for each event described it is an objective fact that either it happened as described or that it did not).

            Just as if I say, ‘at exactly 2:43 pm and 23 seconds on the 30th of April 2020 the external thermometer at my house read 15.6 degrees’, that is either objectively true or objectively false.

            There is no subjectivity there.

          • ‘Mystic’ is indeed a terribly broad word. Participation in Christ (whch Sanders rightly says is understood by Paul as a reality not a metaphor) is central to his worldview. He believes one can be absent in body and present in spirit – unless he is trying to spook people by this warning rather than speaking from a mystical understanding. My first (and practically last) mention in a citation was in the late John Ashton’s book on Paul’s religion, which (rather in the manner of Morton Smith) sees HolySpirit-possession as being in a similar category to spirit-possession, comparing shamans etc.. Then we have 2 Cor 12 etc.. There is plenty of material, and I am sure it can all be analysed without ever introducing so general and unclear a concept as ‘mystic’.

          • But S, as we saw on a previous thread, two contradictory Facts can’t co-exist. Jesus can’t have two rather different genealogies. Which one is correct? The last supper can’t both be a Passover meal and not a Passover meal. Jesus can’t have appeared for 40 days after the resurrection OR gone straight up to heaven. Which one is correct? And Judas can’t have both hanged himself AND just fallen over to die in a field. Which is correct? (To name a few).
            And the whole tone of his speech in John is totally different to that in the Synoptics. What kind of speech did he use?

          • Can I observe again that, it seems to me that these kinds of exchanges are pretty futile, since the two sides don’t appear to be listening or engaging with each other in meaningful terms.

            I guess you can continue if you want to. But I don’t find them enlightening, and I’d be surprised if either side here does.

            It would be much preferable to actually learn the different positions people are coming from.

          • Thanks Ian. I, for one, would love to learn about the position S is coming from. I’d love to know why he/she can’t even give a first name. I’d love to have a proper conversation via e mail with him/her. If you can facilitate any of that, please do. Until then, I find the position S presents totally incomprehensible. And the fact that S insists on remaining anonymous suggest that he/she does as well.

          • S
            I’m sorry, I have been away from my computer, but I cannot add to Andrew’s description of mysticism. Not all Christians are mystics, however, just as not all mystics are Christians. 2 Cor. 12 certainly describes a mystical experience.
            Christianity is an historical religion. There is little doubt that a man called Jesus was a rabbi/leader in 1st C Palestine and evidence that he was crucified and resurrected. Although no evidence outside the NT.
            Yet, as Andrew has observed, the NT accounts are not ‘historical’ given that they are full of contradictions and discrepancies.
            Nor would I call Christianity ‘logical’ given that it is based on texts which include talking snakes and donkeys, mythical characters, a man in the belly of a whale, throne visions, assumptions, virgin birth, resurrections, ascension. None of these is logical.

          • Thank you Ian. I, for one, would be delighted to understand what the issues are. I would be pleased to engage with S by e mail, and have offered this many times. If you are able to facilitate this, it would be good. As it is, I have no idea of the issues he/she is trying to raise. I find them incomprehensible. Perhaps the fact that he/she wishes to remain anonymous and can not even use a Christian name suggests that he/she finds the matter incomprehensible as well.

            P.s. your website seems to be having problems. It seems to revert to older versions of the same site at times, and does not update comments. Just in case you are not aware.

          • But S, as we saw on a previous thread, two contradictory Facts can’t co-exist

            Right, Yes. Exactly. So you agree there is no place for subjectivity in Christianity. Facts are either true or false, objectively.

          • As always S you avoid the question. If we agree that facts can’t contradict each other, how do explain the several obvious contradictions in the scriptures I have pointed out to you.

            Your view of scripture is simply subjective: it is not based on any observation of simple facts. The facts are that the texts have contradictions. Therefore, there are errors somewhere. And your view is that if there is one error, then the whole thing is called into question.

          • My questions to you, S, in case you have lost them are:

            Jesus can’t have two rather different genealogies. Which one is correct? The last supper can’t both be a Passover meal and not a Passover meal. Jesus can’t have appeared for 40 days after the resurrection OR gone straight up to heaven. Which one is correct? And Judas can’t have both hanged himself AND just fallen over to die in a field. Which is correct? (To name a few).
            And the whole tone of his speech in John is totally different to that in the Synoptics. What kind of speech did he use?

          • Once again Andrew you are eliding the facts of the text with your interpretive conclusions.

            I have previously linked to my article about the death of Judas, the toughest ‘contradiction’ text in the NT—and I think demonstrated that your view of ‘contradiction’ is incorrect. But I didn’t see a response to that.

          • Thanks Ian. These are questions to S based on his assertion that all facts have to be correct else that calls the whole text into question.

          • Sure. But this isn’t a closed discussion, and I have contributed before.

            I think your repeating of these assertions (and a symmetrical lack of engagement) without addressing issues that have been raised is what makes these exchanges so unproductive.

          • BTW those comments had appeared and disappeared again.
            The ‘facts’ as reported in different Gospels differ. Not just the Judas fact – I have listed several others. If S is to maintain his argument, he needs to address those.

            As I have said several times, please facilitate a discussion between me and S. I am very happy for that to be….

          • The facts are that the texts have contradictions. Therefore, there are errors somewhere. And your view is that if there is one error, then the whole thing is called into question.

            No; my view is that if the source is unreliable on one substantive issue then it is unreliable on all issues. That’s a totally different thing from whether or not there are errors.

            If two witnesses disagree about the colour of shirt the accused was wearing when he burst out of the house carrying the murder weapon, that’s a contradiction (and one or both of them must be in error) but it doesn’t mean they are reliable on the question of who they saw.

            On the other hand if a witness describes the accused perfectly, so there are no errors at all, but then it turns out they have a deal with a publisher for a seven-figure advance if the verdict is guilty, then even though there are no errors their evidence is unreliable, and unreliable in whole not just in part because any part of it they might have made up to suit their agenda.

            So reliability and containing errors are not the same thing.

            As I have said several times, please facilitate a discussion between me and S.

            He’s hosting an entire website that we have abused way past the point of reasonable toleration with our interminable ongoing discussion! A lot of people would have banned both of us long before now and not without justification. So how much more facilitating can he possibly do?

          • doesn’t mean they are reliable on the question of who they saw

            That was supposed to be ‘doesn’t mean they are unreliable on the question of who they saw’ obviously.

          • “No; my view is that if the source is unreliable on one substantive issue then it is unreliable on all issues. ”

            So – of the two very different genealogies of Jesus, which is correct? It’s a substantive issue. Not about the colour of his shirt. One of tjhem is wrong, and thefefrore the whole of gthe rest of their gosple is not reliable (According to your logic).

          • So – of the two very different genealogies of Jesus, which is correct? It’s a substantive issue.

            It’s not, no, because neither is presented by the author as a factually accurate genealogy (there simply aren’t enough names for that).

          • “neither is presented by the author as a factually accurate genealogy”
            Really? Where does it say that? And if it isn’t factually accurate, why are they bothering to put it in there?
            How do you know which bits are factually accurate and which aren’t?

          • S

            You are ignoring both Andrew and my comments on the historical evidence in the NT and the logic of scripture. There are contradictions and discrepancies in the NT (despite attempts to harmonise them), so, according to you, the whole thing us unreliable.

          • Really? Where does it say that?

            As I say; there aren’t enough names. They would have known that.

            And if it isn’t factually accurate, why are they bothering to put it in there?

            Scene-setting.

            How do you know which bits are factually accurate and which aren’t?

            Ah, now there is the real issue. You were bound to hit it eventually by accident. And the answer is, by careful reading and from looking at how other authors of the time wrote. In other words, from objective evidence — not from how it makes you feel and whether you like what it says about God.

          • There is an awful lot of ‘scene setting’ in the Gospels – yes!
            I think we agree then. At last.
            They are not historical records. They are not ‘eye witness‘ accounts – although some aspects of the text might be based on eye witness accounts. But that isn’t their primary intention. They are written so that people may believe. And we understand which bits are which by using – other scriptures, tradition, reason, and human experience.

            They are setting a scene. The scene they set is the ushering in of a new kingdom – the kingdom of heaven.

            Who knew, S, that we could believe Basically the same thing. Thank you.

          • They are not historical records. They are not ‘eye witness‘ accounts – although some aspects of the text might be based on eye witness accounts. But that isn’t their primary intention. They are written so that people may believe.

            No. The opposite. They are historical documents: that is their primary purpose. They are written so that people might know what really happened. So that people might know the objective truth.

            If people then believe, that’s up to them. Most people (at least nowadays) don’t believe — they reject the evidence — but at least at the end they can’t say they weren’t warned.

            Who knew, S, that we could believe Basically the same thing. Thank you.

            Don’t get cute with me.

          • Thanks for your response S. But you have said they are NOT historical in certain aspects. The genealogy is not historical – you were clear it was scene setting.
            It’s very clear from reading the gospels that they are written so that people may believe. The evangelists are clear about this. Historical records don’t read anything like the gospels.

          • It’s very clear from reading the gospels that they are written so that people may believe. The evangelists are clear about this. Historical records don’t read anything like the gospels

            To which other first-century reportage are you comparing them please to tell?

          • “…neither is presented by the author as a factually accurate genealogy”

            They are not, you are clear, historical records. If they were, they would need to be factually accurate. You can’t have it both ways.

          • They are not, you are clear, historical records. If they were, they would need to be factually accurate. You can’t have it both ways

            You’ve never read a newspaper report that begins with a bit of poetic scene-setting? Wow. What a sheltered existence you lead.

          • Blimey I think that it’s you that have led a sheltered life. I assume all newspapers are basically “poetic scene-setting”, and would hardly ever assume they are reliable historical records.

          • I assume all newspapers are basically “poetic scene-setting”, and would hardly ever assume they are reliable historical records.

            Ah, so, you agree the gospels are basically the same sort of thing as newspaper reports. Understood.

          • Well, I don’t think people like Rupert Murdoch’s group ‘owned’ the evangelists – so clearly there is a difference right away.

          • Goodness no such thing. I’m simply stating objective, historical, verifiable facts.

        • ‘Well, St Paul was very wrong there.’ I think Paul was intending not to be read literalistically there. ‘No one [in their right mind] hates his or her own body…’

          Reply
        • If you could just give us the l;ink to that Thinking Anglicans thread Brian…? I remain very doubtful that you say is true without evidence I’m afraid.

          Reply
          • Brian You insist “some commentators on ‘Thinking Anglicans’ did indeed say they saw nothing wrong with young men giving nude massages to each other … and said this was obviously latent homoerotic behaviour and the young men should recognise this and “celebrate” this as evidence of their supposedly suppressed homoerotic feelings.” I closely follow TA threads and often contribute. I can recall nothing remotely resembling such views. But they are long and multiple threads. TA is a supportive of faithful ss relationships as some of us here are. But they are fierce scrutineers of any and all sexually abusive behaviour in the church. The view you quote would not have gone unchallenged there – I certainly would have done. So I am inclined to think you have misunderstood what you read. But this could easily be cleared up if you supply the the name, date and time of the comments – and given the seriousness of your repeated allegations it is surely important to do.

  11. Shakespeare Sonnet LX11

    Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye
    And all my soul, and all my every part;
    And for this sin there is no remedy,
    It is so grounded inward in my heart.
    Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
    No shape so true, no truth of such account;
    And for myself mine own worth do define,
    As I all other in all worths surmount.
    But when my glass shows me myself indeed
    Beated and chopp’d with tanned antiquity,
    Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;
    Self so self-loving were iniquity.
    ‘Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
    Painting my age with beauty of thy days.

    Reply
  12. The Law part begins on page 125 (Exodus 19) and goes on [to] about page 300 (the end of Deuteronomy). So that’s 175 pages of instructions and commandments and legislation. Rules and ritual and regulations.
    What a travesty. The majority of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy consists of narrative, not rules and regulations, and includes a lot of repetition. And how can we look down our noses at all this in a society like ours, which regulates social behaviour to the nth degree. We have vastly more laws than the Israelites did. Government even tells you in what circumstances you may leave your home and how long you may walk and drive for exercise. Compare the Pharisees’ sabbath regulations (which were not in the Torah)!

    I Tim 6:10. Most readers on this site will be aware that the text speaks of love of money, and since this has been pointed out so many times over the years, I wonder whether it is true that the text is still frequently misquoted. And it would be nice if Oliver’s two quotations of the verse did not itself include typos.

    II Tim 3:2. The Greek is simply philautoi – lovers of self, not ‘in love with’ themselves. Since the whole article is based on translating correctly and making proper semantic distinctions, this seems pretty shoddy.

    Among my more right wing friends there are calls for limiting aid to the third world … etc.
    I would not wish my friends to ascribe my views to an a priori condition of being right-wing or left-wing but give me the credit of having thought sincerely and intelligently about the issues, whether they agreed with me or not. Oliver is not showing the respect for neighbour that he is advocating – which is the first condition for dialogue.

    Reply
    • “I would not wish my friends to ascribe my views to an a priori condition …”
      – Labelling views today serves as an excuse for not considering them on their own terms but rather for ignoring them or better, for censoring any expression, aka ‘de-platforming speakers’. The list of views that are now considered beyond discussion gets longer and longer in our hyper-regulated world, but it has to be said that the ratchet is almost entirely in one direction, a leftward one. The problem is most acute in universities which are funded by students (and parents) from every viewpoint but where only a narrow spectrum of socio-political views is welcomed. To his credit, Peter Hitchens is one of the few public speakers from a non-leftist perspective to enter these bearpits to express unpopular views and even he gets locked out at times, such is the intolerance and insecurity in university circles.

      Reply
    • Quite possibly what Jesus meant by the Law (Torah) is the whole of the Pentateuch. I don’t know. I was using a quick and easy reckoning.

      “And it would be nice if Oliver’s two quotations of the verse did not itself include typos.” What typos? (You made a couple, incidentally, including this: “And how can we look down our noses at all this in a society like ours, which regulates social behaviour to the nth degree.” Shouldn’t that end in a question mark? But I’m not nit-picking.)

      “The Greek is simply philautoi – lovers of self, not ‘in love with’ themselves.” Yes, that is better. And also makes my point just as well. Thanks.

      “I would not wish my friends to ascribe my views to an a priori condition of being right-wing or left-wing but give me the credit of having thought sincerely and intelligently about the issues, whether they agreed with me or not.” It was just shorthand. Lazy, yes, but it allowed me to create a balance — or perhaps you would say the illusion of balance, a rhetorical device. Let’s delete them if you prefer and deal with the two issues: aid/immigration and abortion.

      Reply
  13. This fascinating discussion of loving ones neighbour reminds me of a quotation from ‘The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass’.

    ‘ Freely I confess my sins, For God has poured his Grace in, But when another lists my faults, I want to smash his face in. …

    Reply
  14. Two slightly tangential points.

    1.) In the Good Samaritan the eponymous hero is the “neighbour”, not the stricken Jew. Now that is obvious (at least from the text, where it is explicitly stated) but it means our neighbour is not just those “lower” or “lesser” than us: not just the last and the least and the lost. We are each other’s neighbours, regardless of rank of status. The neighbour is one who loves / helps as well as the one one is loved / helped. I know’s that obvious but I wanted to say it.

    2.) Ephesians 5 looks like a possible prooftext for self-love except Paul is clearly talking about a person (a man, a husband) caring for his body 1.) because his body is his wife’s and vice versa and 2.) as a distinct part of himself, a little like Augustine’s idea that one way a human being is made is the image of God is that he or she is tripartite: body/flesh + soul/mind + spirit. So to care for one’s body is not the same as the kind of narcissism or “love yourself” (egotism or egoism) that is so prevalent today. It is not his “self” that he is “loving”, rather it is his “body” (or flesh) that he is caring for in a pragmatic, practical way. (This of course is slightly dualistic but I’m not convinced that that is always necessarily wrong and I do think Paul’s seomtimes slightly neoplatonism make him prone to that.)

    Interestingly, there are lots of words that start with “self-” where the second part is not something we can or should supply ourselves to ourselves but which can only come from God (and possibly others). E.g. self-pity (it is for God, chiefly, and sometimes others to pity us) or self-righteousness / self-justification (it is God who justified and makes right) or self-assurance (again, our assurance come from God). As for the current craze to “self-identify” as x or y (or as xx or xy, ha ha) – well, enough said. Let’s not go there. That said, said-control (and sometimes even self-denial) is a Good Thing and a fruit of the Spirit, but control is not something that God, who has given us some degree of “free” will, generally does to or for us.

    Reply
    • Oliver.
      The following may been seen as tangential,but it approaches the subject of self from a different place – the writings of Paul and self forgetfulness:
      1. “People sometimes say their feelings are hurt. But our feelings can’t be hurt! It is the ego that hurts – my sense of self, my identity. Our feelings are fine! It is my ego that hurts…Walking around does not hurt my toes unless there is already something wrong with them. My ego would not hurt unless there was something terribly wrong with it. Think about it. It is very hard to get through a whole day without feeling snubbed or ignored or feeling stupid or getting down on ourselves. That is because there is something wrong with my ego. There is something wrong with my identity. There is something wrong with my sense of self. It is never happy. It is always drawing attention to itself.”

      The answer is gospel humility:

      2 “If we were to meet a truly humble person, Lewis says, we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. They would not be always telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person). The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

      3 “Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself. It is an end to thoughts such as, ‘I’m in this room with these people, does that make me look good? Do I want to be here?’ True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings”.

      This is demonstrated by the Apostle Paul:

      4 “Paul is saying something astounding. ‘I don’t care what you think and I don’t care what I think.’ He is bringing us into new territory that we know nothing about. His ego is not puffed up, it is filled up. He is talking about humility – although I hate using the word ‘humility’ because this is nothing like our idea of humility. Paul is saying that he has reached a place where his ego draws no more attention to itself than any other part of his body. He has reached the place where he is not thinking about himself anymore. When he does something wrong or something good, he does not connect it to himself any more.”

      5 “…the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

      6 “C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity makes a brilliant observation about gospel-humility at the very end of his chapter on pride. If we were to meet a truly humble person, Lewis says, we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. They would not be always telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person). The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself. It is an end to thoughts such as, ‘I’m in this room with these people, does that make me look good? Do I want to be here?’ True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”

      7 “the problem with self-esteem – whether it is high or low – is that, every single day, we are in the courtroom.”

      8“You see, the verdict is in. And now I perform on the basis of the verdict. Because He loves me and He accepts me, I do not have to do things just to build up my résumé. I do not have to do things to make me look good. I can do things for the joy of doing them. I can help people to help people – not so I can feel better about myself, not so I can fill up the emptiness.”

      9 “…the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

      10 “C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity makes a brilliant observation about gospel-humility at the very end of his chapter on pride. If we were to meet a truly humble person, Lewis says, we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. They would not be always telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person). The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself. It is an end to thoughts such as, ‘I’m in this room with these people, does that make me look good? Do I want to be here?’ True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”

      11 “You see, the verdict is in. And now I perform on the basis of the verdict. Because He loves me and He accepts me, I do not have to do things just to build up my résumé. I do not have to do things to make me look good. I can do things for the joy of doing them. I can help people to help people – not so I can feel better about myself, not so I can fill up the emptiness.”

      12 “the problem with self-esteem – whether it is high or low – is that, every single day, we are in the courtroom.”

      13 “Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance? The atheist might say that they get their self-image from being a good person. They are a good person and they hope that eventually they will get a verdict that confirms that they are a good person. Performance leads to the verdict. For the Buddhist too, performance leads to the verdict. If you are a Muslim, performance leads to the verdict. All this means that every day, you are in the courtroom, every day you are on trial. That is the problem. But Paul is saying that in Christianity, the verdict leads to performance.”

      14 “the natural condition of the human ego: that it is empty, painful, busy and fragile.”

      15 “The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

      16 “In his book Sickness Unto Death, Søren Kierkegaard says, it is the normal state of the human heart to try to build its identity around something besides God.2 Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God.”

      17 “Up until the 20th century, traditional cultures (and this is still true of most cultures in the world) always believed that too high a view of yourself was the root cause of all the evil in the world…Our belief today–and it in deeply rooted in everything–is that people misbehave for lack of self-esteem and because they have too low a view of themselves.”

      18 “Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God.”

      19 “I cannot live up to my parents’ standards – and that makes me feel terrible. I cannot live up to your standards – and that makes me feel terrible. I cannot live up to society’s standards – and that makes me feel terrible. I cannot live up to other societies’ standards – that makes me feel terrible. Perhaps the solution is to set my own standards? But I cannot keep them either – and that makes me feel terrible, unless I set incredibly low standards. Are low standards a solution? Not at all. That makes me feel terrible because I realize I am the type of person who has low standards. Trying to boost our self-esteem by trying to live up to our own standards or someone else’s is a trap. It is not an answer.”

      Timothy J. Keller, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness

      (All quotations are taken from the book review on the GOODREADS and Gospel Coalition sites)

      It is a short, inexpensive book well worth the money and time to read, challenging and edifying.

      Reply
    • ‘So to care for one’s body is not the same as the kind of narcissism or “love yourself” (egotism or egoism) that is so prevalent today. It is not his “self” that he is “loving”, rather it is his “body” (or flesh) that he is caring for in a pragmatic, practical way. ‘

      – indeed. And that is precisely what the Good Samaritan did for his neighbour. He looked after his physical and mental/emotional needs. Hence it is perfectly normal and good to love oneself in the same way, contrary to the article. Just as we look after/love ourselves, so we should look after/love our neighbour.

      Reply
  15. This is another example of creating problems with scripture through analysis when its intention is to provoke action. No one needs a theology degree to understand the call to action of a simple maxim: love your neighbour as yourself. As Penny points out, there maybe a time to emphasise that wholesome people undertake more wholesome actions when love is required. I’m sure a number of us have emphasised the need for a holistic view of oneself – body, soul and spirit, from this commandment, because in our present world self-hatred and self-harm are so common.

    The Golden Rule can suffer from the same analysis; it does have its shortcomings. I know someone who likes people to be straight with him – life is black and white, right and wrong. Consequently, he engages with others in that same straightforward way; then people think he is offering insults when in fact he has no malicious intention at all:
    Guy to lady friend: “Hey, do you know you have got grey roots showing through in your hair?”
    Lady friend: “You shouldn’t say personal things like that!”
    Guy: “Oh, I thought you’d like to know!”

    Reply
  16. I appreciated your positive-negative distinctions of loving based on history. Also discerning the narcissism interpretation. But I was disappointed in the lack of attention to the Good Samaritan story in Luke, who was a doctor, and a bit more thorough I think. It save a lot of analysis, because it explains what loving your neighbor is. Its NOT loving your neighbor, as in the family next door. It IS loving the poor, needy, desperate, marginal folks, or people not like ourselves. This is overlooked by many evangelicals who are very good at loving God, and loving members of the church. They score highly here, maybe 95%. But in prayer circles, its always requests for me or my immediate family or someone I know at work who has fallen ill. Ask them about refugees or civil wars, or famine in another country, and the eyes glaze over. But someone they don’t know who is sitting in the dirt with a flat tire, do they stop? Usually not, even tho they could act like the Good Samaritan. They score quite poorly here, maybe 15%. I wrote a blog on this it you are interested further. https://www.iandexterpalmer.com/i-was-an-uncertain-samaritan/

    Reply
    • If their eyes ‘glaze over’ perhaps it is more to do with those people being complete strangers in a far off land? The example of the Good Samaritan deals explicitly with a personal encounter.

      Peter

      Reply
  17. I think Christian thought is so differently configured to secular therapeutic thought that tons of questions that naturally arise within the one would never occur to someone who inhabits the other. Because the basic concepts which the 2 systems of thought employ are quite distinct.

    Reply
    • Christopher this is just one vast generalisation after another. ‘Christian thought’ – what on earth do you mean by that? ‘Secular therapeutic thought’: what do you mean by that? The Covid-19 response team are secular thinkers about therapy. Are you referring to them? ‘Tons of questions’: never mind the weird analogy there, maybe just name 2 such questions, and reference them? ‘Basic concepts’: the basic concept of following Christ is that we may have life. Isn’t the same true of effective therapy? I know those who treat people with mental health issues. They certainly want wholeness for their patients. Please be a tiny bit specific?

      Reply
      • Both before and after conversion to Christ I have had experience of secondary care, as opposed to to primary care, mental health services as a professional, a lawyer and independent advocate, as a patient and having a mother who had been an in-patient in receipt of ECT.
        Certainly those who work in the system, in general, are there for the benefit of the patient, but even those who are at the top of their profession, such as my Consultant Psychiatrist, recognise that there are limits to the effectiveness and treatments, such as drug therapy basically is a matter of trial and error.
        Perhaps the greatest help was a result of two friends, mental health social workers who pointed me in the direction of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. As I knew the system as a lawyer, who had worked into Mental Health Review Tribunals I was able the persuade the Consultant to refer me to Consultant Psychologist.

        The key idea is that feelings are based on thoughts, which might be quite basic but are triggers, not always immediately identifiable, traceable.
        That is, Before a Feeling is A Thought.
        Next, which appealed to me, was to then look for the evidence on which the thought was based and weigh it up against other evidences.
        But, and here comes the crunch, none of it can answer existential matters such as the purpose and meaning of life and death, which were the ultimate trigger thoughts.
        And this is where the Two Systems , Christianity thought processes with God central to solutions and Secular thought processes separate and diverge, and to me liberal and sometimes unbelieving Christianity has nothing, or even less to offer than the mainstream professionally trained mental health workers.

        Reply
      • My point was just the general and unexceptionable point that whatever worldview you use as your basis, the questions and concepts that it automatically throws up are different questions and concepts than would automatically be thrown up had one started from a different worldview.

        Reply
          • But ‘Worldview’ can be such a general and slippery term as to be rather meaningless.

            How to argue in bad faith lesson #3247: deny that your opponent’s terms have any meaning even when it’s perfectly clear what they mean.

          • A worldview is one’s theory (based on experience, study and analysis) of how the world or universe hangs together in one or more of its major aspects (since who can adequately understand more than a couple of its dimensions?): a theory of which concepts therefore deserve priority, which should be deemed incoherent etc.. Worldviews will typically be engendered by the discovery of some key, cornerstone or kingpin that has a good deal more success in pulling together the threads than has previously been seen.

          • Your worldview, had you been born in India, is likely to be rather different to your worldview if you have been born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, for example.
            In other words, chance has a great to do with your worldview.
            In other words, worldview is limited (which you acknowledge).
            In other words, our ability to determine a ‘correct’ worldview is limited.
            In other words, worldview is a rather limited thing.

          • What you describe is a culture-view not a world-view: something altogether more limited and local.

            You acknowledge, then, that ‘worldview’ is a coherent concept that can be used.

          • I think worldview is a rather limited concept and not very coherent. It is inherently tied up with what you call a culture view. The Hubble telescope has taught us that quite plainly. We thought we knew the universe whereas in fact we only know a small corner in a very limited way. By the same token W hat you refer to as a worldview is in reality a tinyglimpseview……

          • Except that a worldview will typically have as its cornerstone some key principle that has in the adherent’s experience proven to be a key unifying insight that has been tested and passed with flying colours when compared to its rivals. Lewis – ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe in the sun, not just because I see it but because by it I see everything else.’ Likewise the Biblical documents jointly offer a winning *perspective*.

          • The quote from Lewis rather proves my point. Lewis no doubt believed the sun was at the centre of the universe. That was his perspective. Now we know that the sun he wrote of is simply one of many. There are other perspectives.
            But you do at least acknowledge in your comment the priority of experience in coming to a worldview. You clearly believe that the view is a subjective one. The experience of one born in India will likely be quite different and they will likely claim the writings of the Upanishads to be a winning perspective.

          • ‘No doubt’??

            You’re quite wrong on that. Lewis did not at all believe that the sun was at the centre of the universe. He wrote The Discarded Image re the different ways of looking at things.

            As a mediaevalist, he was used to putting himself in the shoes of mediaeval thinkers and to exercising the discipline of thinking as they did. He does this sometimes in the Narnia Chronicles, and of course in The Allegory of Love.

            It remains the case that the sun has a major and central place in the only world that we ourselves are part of. Therefore, what we write will be as seen from that perspective.

          • “..what we write will be as seen from that perspective.“

            Exactly the point. It is a perspective. Therefore to speak of a ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ worldview is a nonsense. It is simply one perspective amongst a number. Experience will, as you have indicated, assist our choosing of one over another.

          • So when you write ‘That was his perspective.’, the only answer is ‘That was not his perspective.’.

            When one comes across an excellent and successful interpretative key, all that that means is that it is significantly better than the previous ones that were tried. None of these have yet been tried out for what answers they gave in *every* sphere of life. And the fact that they were successful in providing *some* answers and increasing coherent understanding just means an advance not a final theory of everything (vid. Blind Men and Elephant). However, the Blind Men and Elephant story has serious flaws, not least that it leaves out the fact that sometimes there are blind alleys and far more things are false than are true.

            The concept of ‘revelation’ generally carries with it a sense of top-down rather than bottom-up. Top-down insights are different from coalface bottom-up ones because they are participatory and holistic: they ‘start from the answer’ (and if necessary work back to the question, a bit like a crossword clue solved by what we call instinct but in reality is based on some kind of data). Think of Paul on the Damascus Road. He arguably received in a moment an entire perspective or (better) reorientation – a cognitive one but more than a cognitive one: one that constituted reality and one in which he and everyone else was participating. As a rule, a unifying perspective will be simple (despite the fact that it covers such a broad ground) in that it is unified. Big things will be easier to see/grasp than small ones, sometimes much easier, by their nature.

            Contrast that with things that are culture-bound and local. Most so-called heresies are of that nature. They want the familiar small-scale local things to be written into, and figure large within, the essential nature of the cosmos itself.

          • Therefore to speak of a ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ worldview is a nonsense.

            So you think it’s nonsense to say, ‘the worldview that has the Sun at the centre of the solar system is incorrect’? Thinking the Sun is at the centre of the solar system is according to you not incorrect but just ‘one perspective amongst a number’?

            What else is ‘one perspective amongst a number’? Is the idea that you should drink bleach to cure the Chinese coronavirus just ‘one perspective amongst a number’? Or is that incorrect?

            Really?

            I mean logical positivism was wrong but you seem to be determined to outdo them and be wronger still.

          • You aren’t talking about worldviews S. you have moved to talking about verifiable facts. Christopher also moves between the two. They are different things.

          • You aren’t talking about worldviews S. you have moved to talking about verifiable facts

            A worldview is a view about how the world is (obviously, clue’s in the name).

            How the world is is a fact.

            Worldviews are views about facts.

            It’s you who’s trying to draw a spurious distinction between ‘worldviews’ and ‘facts’. There is no distinction.

          • Not so S. Worldview is just a very general and slippery term for a person’s philosophy or lifestyle. It might incorporate some factual stuff but more likely be about ideas. But it’s such a general term that it’s simply unhelpful.

          • “It’s you who’s trying to draw a spurious distinction between ‘worldviews’ and ‘facts’. There is no distinction.”

            This is just the same as you claiming that all of the details about Jesus’ life and death had to be reliable or else all of it was called into question. And then when presented with obviously unreliable information you had to backtrack and call it ‘scene setting.’ I think you will find an awful lot of scene setting in any old worldview you choose…..

          • Worldview is just a very general and slippery term for a person’s philosophy or lifestyle. It might incorporate some factual stuff but more likely be about ideas.

            Philosophy, yes, but philosophy is about facts and truth-seeking, so again you’re just proving me right here.

            And ‘worldview’ doesn’t refer to someone’s lifestyle. Someone’s worldview can inform their lifestyle obviously (someone with a hedonistic worldview is likely to live a sybaritic lifestyle), but the two are distinct.

          • You are just proving what a slippery and unhelpful term worldview is. We don’t even think it means the same thing. Tell me what definition you are using and a reference for it please.

          • If what you mean by worldview is philosophy then why not use that word? I’m very happy with that. But note philosophy is about theory rather than fact.

          • Andrew, are you saying that the fact that more than one perspective exists means that no perspective is correct? If so, I see neither the logic nor even the connection.

          • No, I’m simply saying that worldview is a vague and slippery term that you seem unable to come up with any meaningful definition of. If you mean philosophy, then use that term. Or else find a universally accepted and meaningful definition……

          • If what you mean by worldview is philosophy then why not use that word? I’m very happy with that. But note philosophy is about theory rather than fact.

            Now you’re making no sense (well, as usual). What does it mean be be ‘about theory rather than fact’? A theory is precisely a claim that certain facts are true. The theory of general relativity is a claim that time and space are related in a certain way. The theory of quantum mechanics is a claim that the behaviour of sub-atomic particles follows certain statistical laws. There is no such thing as a theory that isn’t a claim about certain facts.

            And philosophy is absolutely about facts. Philosophy is the pursuit of truth; ie, the pursuit of true facts.

            As for ‘worldview’ I’m happy with the OED definition:

            ‘world-view n. [after German Weltanschauung n.] a set of fundamental beliefs, values, etc., determining or constituting a comprehensive outlook on the world; a perspective on life;.’

            ‘A set of fundamental beliefs and values’: ie, a worldview is a set of things that one believes are true (ie things one believes are facts) and values that one thinks are the correct values (again, a claim about facts, this time the fact that those values are the real values).

            One’s world-view therefore can either accord with reality (the things one believes are true really are true, the values one holds really are the correct values) or not.

            If two worldviews conflict then one (or both) must be false; they can’t both simply be ‘different perspectives’ because one must believe something the other thinks is false.

            (I say ‘if two worldviews conflict’ because it’s possible of course for two worldviews to not conflict because worldviews are rarely comprehensive; they rarely stake a position on every single fact in the universe. So two worldviews might be different but compatible, if the facts they hold are simply not considered by the other worldview. But when two worldviews do take different views on a belief or a value, they cannot both be simply different perspectives; one or both must be wrong.)

          • S: you are getting confused about two different things once again. A theory is certainly a claim about facts, but isn’t the facts themselves. That’s the problem you seem to come up against every time. A theory has to be tested and proven before it yields the facts. A theory has a provisionality about it. You are wanting to treat provisional things as ultimate truth.

            Your confusion about the bible is an example. You ascribe to it ultimate truth. But only God and his son Jesus Christ are ultimate truth. The bible is provisional. It bears witness to ultimate truth. But to claim it is ultimate truth is just idolatrous. Phil Almond does the same with the 39 articles. They were written because those who authored them had very provisional ideas about the way things are – and history has proved them wrong. Their ‘worldview’ was just so skewed as to make them write some pretty mean stuff.

            Likewise The sacraments are provisional. They simply are a door into truth.

            And when you discover, as you discovered a couple of weeks ago, that you can’t maintain your theory about the absolute reliability of some facts in the bible then you have to change the theory. Some bits are not reliable at all, they are just scene setting. Your theory will die the death of a thousand qualifications.

            Your definition of worldview is just so general. But if you find it helpful………

          • S: you are getting confused about two different things once again. A theory is certainly a claim about facts, but isn’t the facts themselves. That’s the problem you seem to come up against every time. A theory has to be tested and proven before it yields the facts. A theory has a provisionality about it. You are wanting to treat provisional things as ultimate truth.

            You’re shifting the goalposts. The point is that a worldview —like a theory — is either right or wrong. It is not simply, as you claimed above, ‘another perspective’.

            So when you wrote:

            That was his perspective. Now we know that the sun he wrote of is simply one of many. There are other perspectives.
            But you do at least acknowledge in your comment the priority of experience in coming to a worldview. You clearly believe that the view is a subjective one.

            … that is utterly wrong. There are not ‘other perspectives’. There is one correct worldview and there are many wrong worldviews. It is not ‘a matter of perspective’. Nor are worldviews ‘subjective’. A worldview is either objectively right or objectively wrong. A worldview which has the sun as a unique object circling the Earth rather than one of many stars with planets orbiting them is not ‘just another subjective perspective’, it is objectively incorrect. And the same is true of every worldview: it is objectively either correct or incorrect (or more often a mixture of the two, but the point is that it’s an objective judgement against reality not a subjective mater of perspective).

            You were talking rubbish; admit it.

            Your confusion about the bible is an example. You ascribe to it ultimate truth

            No, I don’t. I say it’s reliable about matters such as God and the life of Jesus. I have never ‘ascribe[d] to it ultimate truth’.

            And when you discover, as you discovered a couple of weeks ago, that you can’t maintain your theory about the absolute reliability of some facts in the bible then you have to change the theory.

            I have never ‘changed the theory’. I explained to you my thoughts on the Bible and its reliability last year in terms of what makes evidence reliable; nothing has changed since then.

            Some bits are not reliable at all, they are just scene setting. Your theory will die the death of a thousand qualifications.

            The scene setting is certainly reliable in terms of showing us the context in which the writers wish us to read their work (ie, in the case of the genealogies you focus on, the context of God’s relationship with the world and with Israel).

            But the point is that the bits in the gospels which claim to be historical record are reliable historical record. Just over the weekend I read a nice little book called Can We Trust the Gospels? by Dr Peter Williams which gives a good broad overview of the overwhelming case for the gospels as historically reliable.

            Your definition of worldview is just so general. But if you find it helpful………

            It’s not mine; it’s the OED’s. It’s not general; it’s highly specific. And the whole point of defining any term is that it is helpful for discussion that everyone knows what a person means when they use that term.

            Or at least it is if the aim is to find the truth, rather than (as yours seems to be) to obscure the truth in a miasma of ‘perspectives’ and false claims of subjectivity so that you can argue that black might well be white and no one can say you are wrong.

          • Just to pick up on one comment here:

            ‘The point is that a worldview —like a theory—is either right or wrong’.

            I don’t think that is the case. I disagree with Andrew that ‘worldview’ is an unclear term; I think it is commonly used.

            But by its nature, it is a complex and multi-faceted thing, as is any philosophical outlook. So there might be elements that are more or less accurate, and with which we might want to agree or disagree.

          • ‘The point is that a worldview —like a theory—is either right or wrong’.

            I don’t think that is the case. […] But by its nature, it is a complex and multi-faceted thing, as is any philosophical outlook. So there might be elements that are more or less accurate, and with which we might want to agree or disagree.

            As I wrote later on:

            ‘And the same is true of every worldview: it is objectively either correct or incorrect (or more often a mixture of the two, but the point is that it’s an objective judgement against reality not a subjective mat[t]er of perspective).’

            Would you agree with that expansion / clarification?

          • “…it’s an objective judgement against reality”

            It’s a temporary judgement until some clearer reality comes along. Others will have different perspectives. It’s a theory. Not a fact. Just as your view about the historical realities presented in some parts of scripture are theories, not facts. Or in some cases – “scene setting.”

          • It’s a temporary judgement until some clearer reality comes along. Others will have different perspectives. It’s a theory. Not a fact.

            So you think the Ptolemaic model was merely ‘a temporary judgement until some clearer reality comes along’, not incorrect, and heliocentrism is not a fact but just a ‘different perspective’?

            Presumably you feel the same about the flat Earth — it’s just a different perspective, right? The Earth being round isn’t a fact, it’s just a ‘different perspective’ to that of the flat-Earthers?

          • Yes S – I do think the Ptolemaic system was temporary. Until Copernicus came long. Don’t you think that?
            And Copernicus didn’t have the advantage of the hubble telescope so his view was somewhat temporary as well.

            As to a flat earth – well, clearly we have been able to verify that theory and it has been disproved in various ways. We have been able to see it and it is not flat.

            How do you propose we verify all of the claims made in the bible? For one example, how do you propose we verify the number of days Jesus was on the earth between the resurrection and the ascension?

          • Yes S – I do think the Ptolemaic system was temporary. Until Copernicus came long. Don’t you think that?

            I think that the Ptolemaic system was as wrong in 50BC as it was in 1978. Do you not? Do you think that when we developed telescopes powerful enoguh to resolve the stars that suddenly the universe reconfigured itself so that the Earth now orbits the Sun, whereas before it was the other way around?

            It may have been the best system people could come up with from the observations they were capable of — but it was still incorrect even then, wasn’t it?

            As to a flat earth – well, clearly we have been able to verify that theory and it has been disproved in various ways. We have been able to see it and it is not flat.

            What has that got to do with it? Whether we have verified, or can verify, something has nothign to do with whether it is true or false.

            (And when you say ‘we’, of course, the ancient Greeks knew the world was round and even how big it was, and yet people have still clung to their ‘different perspective’ — so do you agree that they are wrong?)

            How do you propose we verify all of the claims made in the bible? For one example, how do you propose we verify the number of days Jesus was on the earth between the resurrection and the ascension?

            Are you being deliberately obtuse? Truth has nothign to do with verification. The number of days Jesus was on the earth between the resurrection and the ascension is a fact, yes? Whether it can be verified or not is irrelevant. It is a fact and there is a correct answer and any other answer is wrong, not just a ‘different perspective’.

            What we can verify is irrelevant.

          • But before you have wanted to be clear with me that the bible verifies the truth about Jesus life, death and resurrection. So I simply am not clear what you are saying. If verification is irrelevant, why bother to have any kind of witnesses?

            “The number of days Jesus was on the earth between the resurrection and the ascension is a fact, yes? Whether it can be verified or not is irrelevant. It is a fact and there is a correct answer and any other answer is wrong, not just a ‘different perspective’.”

            But why would the new testament give us contradictory answers about this fact? Is it simply more ‘scene setting’? The authors didn’t know the correct answer?

          • But before you have wanted to be clear with me that the bible verifies the truth about Jesus life, death and resurrection. So I simply am not clear what you are saying. If verification is irrelevant, why bother to have any kind of witnesses?

            Can you stick to the point please? The discussion here is about whether worldviews are claims about reality and therefore are either true or false, or whether they are merely ‘different perspectives’.

            But why would the new testament give us contradictory answers about this fact? Is it simply more ‘scene setting’? The authors didn’t know the correct answer?

            The point is that there is a correct answer. Even if we don’t know it. Even if they didn’t know it. You do understand that, right? There is a correct answer to the question ‘how many days was Jesus on Earth between the resurrection and the ascension?’ and all other answers are wrong? And that this is true even if nobody knows what they correct answer is? And if two people give different answers then one of both of them is wrong — they don’t just have ‘different perspectives’?

            I man I know this is really basic stuff — I’m asking really if you understand that reality exists even when nobody’s looking at it — but you are forcing me to go there.

          • Hmm..I don’t know how equipped you are to deal with such ontological questions S. And frankly I’m not very interested in those ontological questions.
            I am interested in your remark about verification. You really think verification is irrelevant? You have been telling me for a long time that the bible verifies things. Now I’m presenting you with another bit of conflicting information in the bible and you have shifted your view – conveniently once again it seems – to say that it is irrelevant.

          • Hmm..I don’t know how equipped you are to deal with such ontological questions S.

            Well, better than you, clearly.

            And frankly I’m not very interested in those ontological questions.

            See?

            Of course that again begs the question of why on Earth you are a Christian, as Christianity is entirely about ontological questions like how the universe came to be and what the purpose of it, and of human life, is.

            I mean remove the ontological questions from Christianity and what have you got? Precisely nothing.

            I am interested in your remark about verification. You really think verification is irrelevant? You have been telling me for a long time that the bible verifies things.

            I have never told anyone that the Bible verifies things. I’ve said, repeatedly, that it is a reliable witness on the questions it addresses.

          • “I’ve said, repeatedly, that it is a reliable witness on the questions it addresses.“

            And then when presented with things it is unreliable about you say it is just scene setting.

            But your main problem S is that your position is that questions are clearly not settled, even though there will ultimately be an answer. The Ptolemaic system was wrong, even though at the time people thought it was probably right because of their limited knowledge.

            But ultimately there will be a right answer. A right answer to the number of days Christ was on earth between resurrection and ascension for example. Which of course means the bible might not present us the right answer. You have no way to support your view that the bible is reliable. And never have had.

          • The Ptolemaic system was wrong, even though at the time people thought it was probably right because of their limited knowledge.

            Right. Finally. So you admit that worldviews are not just matters of ‘different perspectives’ but are made up of truth claims that are objectively either correct or incorrect.

            Lordy but you are exhausting even if you get there in the end.

          • No I agree with Ian about worldviews.

            “But by its nature, it is a complex and multi-faceted thing, as is any philosophical outlook. So there might be elements that are more or less accurate, and with which we might want to agree or disagree.”

            You still have a problem in your view of the bible as not actually having the final word. Your position is untenable.

  18. This has been a strange thread – and the debate seemed to bi-pass what I took to be the weight of Oliver’s post, and indeed the Lord’s challenge, to love my neighbour. And who is my neighbour? Oliver helpfully challenged us to see two particular groups: the immigrant seeking a safe haven and the unborn being knit together by God in the womb destined for life, rudely expunged in unfathomable numbers.

    Instead of address the weight of the challenge and even these particulars, we have pecked at particular weighting in his argument – and spent quite a bit of time on ‘self’ whether loved/loathed – but I read it as following the gaze of Christ to consider, not myself, but my needy and powerless neighbour.

    Am I missing something?

    Reply
    • To be fair, it was the author himself who spent considerable time on trying to negate, wrongly, any sense of loving oneself. It’s not surprising that others have then commented.

      As for the 2 examples he gives, I dont find them very helpful, particularly as he paints them as right/left issues when in truth different people have different views on them. Jesus’ example of being a loving neighbour involved a local, day-to-day situation. I think it’s easy to overlook everyday life where you live and think more about larger societal ‘issues’.

      I have mixed feelings on abortion, as do many Christians. What I find odd is that those who believe abortion at any time of pregnancy is murder, why they are not protesting every day outside clinics where these murders are taking place. Or why theyre not insisting that there must be a funeral for all the natural abortions (miscarriages) that occur every year, of which there are many (in the UK at least 1 in 4 of all pregnancies ends in a natural abortion). It sounds like a lot of outraged words to me, and nothing more.

      But as you raised them, Ill put it back at you – what do you currently do to help immigrants and the unborn child (per your understanding)?

      Reply
  19. I didn’t raise them – Oliver did – and then they were sidelined. I think they were worthy of more engagement than The self love.

    I don’t intend to take ur passive aggressive bait. Nor am I taking a higher moral ground – but think Oliver’s points of application are worthy of more consideration – regardless of what I do or don’t do. A discussion of them might help me to do more than I do.

    Reply
  20. ‘Who, that loves his brother, would not, upheld by the love of Christ, arise from the company of the blessed, and walk down into the dismal regions of despair, to sit with the unredeemed, and be himself more blessed in the pains of hell than in the glories of heaven. Who, in the midst of the golden harps and white wings, knowing that one of his kind in the old-world-time when men were taught to love their neighbour as themselves, was howling unheeded far below in the vaults of the creation would not feel that he must arise, that he had no choice, that, awful as it was, he must gird his loins and go down to the smoke and the darkness and the fire, travelling the weary and fearful road into the far country to find his brother? – who, I mean, that had the mind of Christ, that had the love of the Father.’ A sermon by George MacDonald on ‘Love thy neighbour’.

    Reply
  21. “And here I wonder whether the respectful term of address, Rabbi, is meant to be flattering and ingratiating or mocking and sarcastic.”

    I would suggest that it is meant to be ingratiating to the crowd, to keep them from being immediately hostile and instead be willing to listen to them.

    On the subject of immigration, since I love all people I respect all people’s desire to manage immigration. If mass-immigration and the resultant need for ‘community cohesion’ leads to the mass rape of poor girls and female orphans (and it most certainly did) how do you square that? You have to look at the law and the prophets. And the law is very clear of our obligation to protect the rights of orphans, and the prophets are very clear that strangers coming en masse is a curse.

    A similar example might be giving drug money to a drug money (thus profit to the drug dealer and profit to the cartel). You can try to make the argument that the drug addict is a person so you have to love him and be generous to him. Now if the drug addict lacks a sleeping bag or a warm coat then those necessaries, there’s justification to provide (as well as convicting anyone who would take those from him). But to give him money for drugs? I don’t see that in the word, and crucially it isn’t loving to everyone else or even him in the long run.

    Reply

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