From wrath to apocalypse (5)

The fundamental claim that roots all of Christian life and behaviour is that the Kingdom has begun. Everything in Christian life is rooted in the Easter morning event. This is the good news, the evangel, that there is a new King (the original evangelists were the heralds sent out after a battle to proclaim that a battle has taken place, there has been a victory, and now there is a new King. Paul takes up this language and uses it to talk about Jesus). The whole point of being a Christian is to live under this new King, for the Kingdom is breaking into the world here and now. It is not something that will be accomplished all at once at the end of time (that is apocalypse), it is something which is beginning, and now we are engaged in this process of starting to live by the rules of the Kingdom. 

That is what the Church is called to be. The Church is that community which lives by the rules of the Kingdom. The Church consists of all those who accept that Jesus is Lord – that God is in charge, that His purposes will be accomplished. It is not up to us to achieve the salvation of the world, for the world already has been saved. We do not have to save the world, but we do have to live in the belief that it has been saved. We are resident aliens, immigrants within the secular world, who have ways of life which don’t belong to the world but which belong to the Kingdom, which is coming but not fully here yet. So our ways of life, our hearts, are set upon a different Kingdom, which we long for and which we hope for. The crucial thing about Christian hope is that it is rooted in a decision, a settled will. It is not that we feel hopeful. Christian hope is not a feeling, it doesn’t rest upon our emotional make-up.  It is a decision to act according to this information about the new King.  It is a decision and a way of life. It is not an internal emotional state.

John Chapter 3 verses 14 –21.  “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life, for God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict. Light has come into the world  but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
We are all working in the darkness, and before we know about Christ we do not really know whether our work is good or not. Once the light starts to dawn we can see the nature of the lives we are embedded in, and once we can see the crisis comes. That is when we have a choice to make. Do we stay trapped in the works of darkness or do we go towards the light?  “They will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.”  What is that fear? It is the fear of judgement. It is the fear of being condemned. It is the removal of that fear of condemnation which enables the walking into the light. The whole point about the good news it is that the process of judgement doesn’t have to apply. However, if you believe that you are going to be judged and condemned for what you have been doing, then you will resist what is coming. If, instead, you trust in God being benign, you are enabled to walk into the light. That is the kernel of Christian hope: we can change from how we have been. We can turn towards the light.
The Christian imagination is not about imagining the apocalypse – that is the worldly vision. The Christian imagination is instead rooted in love. The revelation, the light which is coming in, is about the truth of who we are as created human beings. It is to say “it doesn’t have to be like this, this world is not set up in the way that God intends us to live, this is not God’s intention”. Instead, the light which is dawning is revealing what God’s intention is, and it exposes the truth about who we are and how we live and therefore it sets us free from these processes. We now have a choice. When Jesus says “I come not to bring peace but a sword”, this is what He is describing. There is a peace in the darkness but now that the light has come there is a necessity of choice. The choice can be painful. There will be a clash between those who turn towards the light and those who stay in the darkness, between those who move towards the light and those who don’t want people to go to the light, because it threatens their comfortable darkness. This is why those who turn to the light will be persecuted. That is the way of the cross.
This is profoundly political in implication. It is about how we live, the choices that we make from day to day. We are called to repent of our present ways, changing our hearts, setting our hearts on the light, turning our hearts away from the darkness and turning to the light. This is why Jesus begins his teaching with these words: “The time has come, the Kingdom of God is near, turn your hearts around and believe in the Good News.”

From wrath to apocalypse (4)

So what is the nature of Christian imagination? There can in our lives be a temptation to long for an apocalypse in the gnostic and dualist sense, i.e. to see all the bad people go to hell. It is rooted in a hatred of the present system and a desire for judgement.  It is a very human response that those who are suffering, or those who care about those who are suffering, long for God to act, for there to be same cataclysm and to say “destroy it because it is causing so much pain”.  That is the psychological root of the desire for apocalypse.  It is closely tied in to a sense of judgement and discrimination.  It doesn’t even have to be “I am innocent”, so much as “they are guilty, God destroy them, God damn them!”
This is not the Christian perspective. We are taught ever so clearly and directly that we are not to judge.  What this means isn’t just “I’m not going to blame someone for something”, it is a call for Christians to let go of the whole game and business of judging, of blaming, completely. That language and grammar is what drives apocalypse and we are to abandon that language and grammar. We are not called to let go of discrimination, of seeking to discern what the will of God is, but we are called to stop playing the game of “this lot are the righteous, we keep the rules, we keep the law, and that lot are not”.  It is to accept that everyone is in the same boat, that we are all sinners, we are all liable to judgement, and therefore giving up on judgement as a whole. So we do not just give up judgement of other people, but also of ourselves – and by doing this we are set free from “the curse of the law”. 
Jesus says we must be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect and He gives a wonderful image of what that perfection is, saying that the Father sends the rain on the just and the unjust. There is no judgement in the rain, it is not that the wicked have a dark cloud above them pouring down rain and thunder and lightning! There is something much more generous and open-hearted about the perfection which we are called to follow. This is the heart of the Christian way, that we let go of the process of judgement, of seeking to separate out the good and the evil. Think of what original sin is, when you bite the fruit you get the knowledge of good and evil, and what Jesus is doing is overcoming that original sin, He is taking away the consequences of that knowledge of good and evil and therefore “I’m good, you’re evil”, or even “I’m evil and you’re good” are both of them a long way from the Christian point of view.

We must let go of this process, and the spiritual root of that letting go is a settled acceptance of the Father’s will. This is the Gethsemane moment: “Not my will but thine be done” and allowing God to be in charge of all judgement. Obedience, therefore, is more central to what it means to be a Christian than “being good”. To be obedient is to have our imaginations shaped by who Christ is and what He shows, to follow in the steps that He has laid out for us. It is about how we hope.

From wrath to apocalypse (3)

One way of describing it is to say that Jesus shifts our perspective from apocalyptic to eschatology.  (Eschatology is simply the study of the last things; the ‘eschaton’ is the end, the full stop at the end of time). Christians are called to live in the light of the end of the world, in the light of the last judgement.  

Now when Jesus is talking about this, he uses images that are sudden.  They will come like a thief in the night. Or think about the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, or the story about looking after your house, he emphasises suddenness, the immediate nature of it and so we are called to live as if it is about to happen. There is a phrase which Christian theology uses to talk about this perspective and its called a realised eschatology. What that means is that the end of the world in breaking in an applicable way now, and so we live in the light of it now. It is not something that is happening in the future to which we need not pay any attention.
Think of a bus driving along a mountain pass, and imagine that the driver has absolute certainty and conviction that he will get to his destination safely, that if for example he should go off the edge of the mountain, there are these wonderful angels who will lift the bus back on to the road. That bus driver will view things rather differently than the bus driver who does not have that certainty but expects something dangerous to be possible and therefore pays attention to that present moment and lives consciously and attentively to ensure that he drives properly and does not go off the edge of the cliff.   Apocalyptic is the perspective of the first bus driver who has got a certainty about where things are going and therefore does not worry too much about what happens in the meantime.  That is the ‘left behind’ understanding; that is the understanding that says, “Yes let’s have a war between Israel and the Arabs because that will bring about the Second Coming.” Realised eschatology, in contrast, is the second bus driver. This is the perspective that Jesus is teaching, saying that we have to concentrate and live in the light of the end of the world now.  We actually have to pay very close attention to each moment in time because the judgement could be just around the corner. The normal Christian way of describing this is to talk about ‘living in the Kingdom’.  A great deal of standard Christian language and doctrine has its roots in this perspective. It is the vision which structures Christian ways of thought, which was inaugurated on Easter morning, and which shapes and conditions the way that we live here and now.

From wrath to apocalypse (2)

This [apocalyptic] thinking has a common shape: i) the world is wicked; ii) God’s wrath is coming to destroy it through doom and apocalypse; iii) the righteous will be redeemed and the wicked will be punished; and then iv) there is a new creation. There are many contemporary examples of this. So for Peak Oil, the perspective would read: i) we are reckless in our consumption of oil; ii) Peak Oil will cause a never-ending recession; iii) those who are unprepared will suffer; iv) those who have prepared will manage. Global Warming is another: i) we are reckless in our production of carbon dioxide; ii) this will cause runaway climate change; iii) there will be tremendous suffering; iv)… There are also some remarkably sub-Christian forms, possibly the most prominent being the ‘Left Behind’ series, which is based on some rather dubious nineteenth century Biblical speculation (the perfect example of ‘doctrines of men’). It is the common shape which is important to grasp, for this is not the Christian vision. 

“The commonly held understanding of hell [i.e. this punishment of the wicked] remains trapped within the apocalyptic imagination, that is, it is the result of a violent separation between the good and the evil worked by a vengeful God.  It seems to me that if hell is understood thus we have quite simply not understood the Christian faith.” James Alison

The trouble with apocalyptic, what you might call ‘the doomer perspective’, it that it is dualist.  It is all about making divisions, and there are three primary splits:
– a split between the righteous and the unrighteous;
– a split between heaven and earth; and
– a split in time between now and the future. 
What does Jesus say about the end of the world?  He was living in the midst of the time when this language was prevalent.  When everyone accepted this apocalyptic framework, that was the common language of his time, but Jesus subverts it.  He is doing something different with it, for Jesus’ ministry is centred upon an overcoming of all these dualisms. With respect to the first He comes to sinners, not to the righteous; He spends his time having meals with the prostitutes and the tax-collectors and the religious authorities criticise him for it. He is trying to overcome the division between those who are pure, who keep all the purity laws, and those who get excluded for various reasons, because they have not got the right number of limbs, or they cannot walk. Jesus spends his time with those who are wounded, not with those who are righteous.

The second split, the great division between the realm of heaven and the realm of earth, is symbolised by the curtain in the temple which gets torn in two. The heart of Christian faith is that Jesus is God Incarnate, that the barriers between heaven and earth have been overcome. Jesus’ very existence is a refutation of this second split. The one word rejection of that is incarnation, and you cannot get more fundamental to the Christian belief.

Yet it is the third split which is most important for our purposes here, for what Jesus is doing is bringing “the end of the world” to bear on how people live in the present moment… to be continued

From wrath to apocalypse (1)

What is apocalypse? It is a genre of writing. The best examples in the Bible are the book of Daniel in the Old Testament and the book of Revelation in the New Testament. It was a very influential genre between around 200 BC to 200 AD and it had its roots in political events going on at that time, in particular the rule of the Roman Empire in the Promised Land, and the sense within the Hebrew people that things were not going as they had been promised. Apocalypse as a genre has different forms. There are frequently visions involving specific symbolism, for example beasts with heads and horns, but these are political allegories: the beasts are normally gentile kingdoms, and the horns coming out of the beasts are the rulers of the different gentile kingdoms.  Much of the symbolic language in the book of Revelation can be mapped on to the political environment of the first century.

A useful distinction between different forms of apocalyptic is that they can be vertical or horizontal. Vertical apocalypses are where someone is lifted up into the realm of the angels, into the cosmic heaven and they are enabled to see the truth. Gnostic apocalypses are like this, for gnosticism is all about gaining access to the heavenly realm through understanding the truth and leaving this world behind.  Alternatively there is also a horizontal realm of apocalypse which is much more biblical; for example, Isaiah 24, where God brings the present structures of the world to destruction in order to accomplish his purposes within the world.  Vertical apocalypses, then, are about leaving this world behind, whereas horizontal apocalypses are about the change and reform of this world. The vertical involves travelling up and beyond; the horizontal are about travelling through time.
The language of horizontal apocalyptic is that history is coming to a close: there is a cosmic cataclysm and a consummation of God’s purposes, and then a recreation, and this has its roots in the prophetic criticisms of the status quo.  Isaiah 24 to 26 is a good example. Biblically, apocalyptic is concerned with criticising unjust political arrangements and seeing God’s activity as breaking into the world to act to bring about His purposes. It is not about leaving the world behind and being lifted up into the heavens.

“…within the mainline Jewish writings of this period, covering a wide range of styles, genres, political persuasions and theological perspectives, there is virtually no evidence that Jews were expecting the end of the space time universe.  There is abundant evidence that they knew a good metaphor when they saw one, and used cosmic imagery to bring out the full theological significance of cataclysmic socio-political events”. (Tom Wright)

There are many different ways in which elements within our society fasten onto something which leads them to say “this is why we are doomed”, “no this is why we’re doomed”, or add them all together and “this is why we are doomed!”. This is simply echoing the cultural legacy of apocalyptic.  Even if we are not aware of it, we are interpreting events and information through the lens of apocalypse. Someone might say “Hang on I cannot be influenced by apocalyptic because I’m not a Christian, I do not believe in it”.  This is a little bit like saying, “I’ve never read any Greek literature, I’ve never read Plato, therefore my thinking is not shaped by it.”  These thought forms are diffused throughout our civilisation.  They are the bedrock of our thinking, the river bed through which our thinking flows like the water, and apocalyptic is very influential in the way that our culture understands the world. There is an historical memory of this promise that the world is going to come to an end, and so, inevitably, part of our community fastens on to alarming portents and starts to replay this process of apocalyptic.
to be continued

The Wrath of God (5)

last part
Jesus said that He was going to abolish the temple and create it again in three days. The empty tomb now corresponds to the Holy of Holies: God has come out from the place of sacrifice and we are sprinkled clean, but instead of the goat’s blood, we have Christ’s blood, which makes us clean and reconciled with God. The two angels at the empty tomb correspond to the two cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant which was placed in the Holy of Holies. The site of the resurrection is the new mercy seat, and so, if you accept the resurrection then you have received reconciliation with God. It is the revealing of this truth through the story of crucifixion and resurrection that sets us free from being trapped in the process of natural and human wrath. This isn’t separable from either the crucifixion or the Last Supper, the three things together, hang together and cannot be separated out. “This is my blood of the New Covenant shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” This is the sacrifice which we are called to share in. We are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb.

Jesus is the second Adam, for in Adam humanity goes off the right path and disorder follows, whereas in Christ, humanity is put back on the right path. In so far as we share in and participate in Christ’s life, then we are on the right path, and we are taking part in the restoration of the world. What goes wrong is put right: as in Adam all die so in Christ shall all be made alive. This is the New Covenant: it is written on people’s hearts, it is not simply about a passive obedience, it is actually about being wholly committed to it. God will take away the hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh. The right relationship with God, the right relationship with each other. What this process is about is aligning ourselves with Christ. Christ is the one through whom the world was created and in so far as we are aligned with Christ we thereby keep the law. If we pursue the New Covenant, if we share the New Covenant then we have right relationships with the world, so the creation is put right.

The Eucharistic liturgy begins with the exchange of peace, and that is very important because that is what stops the scapegoating, the human wrath, that you are at peace with your neighbour. We are not at peace because we are both righteous, we come to it as sinners, as people in need of forgiveness. We cannot get that forgiveness by our own merit, we are relying on that benign God coming out to us, and therefore because we don’t have any righteousness of our own, we are not expelling anyone else who is unrighteous, because we are none of us righteous. This is a core element of sharing the bread and wine, that we don’t expel beforehand. This is what Jesus is accomplishing, this new Covenant. It begins with the exchange of peace and so we receive the forgiveness and we give thanks for it.

So what is the wrath that is to come? We are in a situation where we have been profoundly transgressing both the natural laws and the revealed laws. Because we have been transgressing those laws, breaching the limits, then wrath is descending upon us. In Rwanda for example, the slaughter was worse where the population was most dense. They weren’t able to feed themselves and they slaughtered each other and whilst there was much scapegoating (human wrath) between the Hutus and Tutsis a major factor was simply where the population was most dense. That was wrath, and it was a foretaste of what is to come.

So are we entering into the apocalypse? No. Our imaginations, how we understand God, who we understand God to be, whether we picture in our hearts and minds God as someone angry, seeking to punish and chastise, or whether we see God as someone loving and merciful, seeking to bring us into life – this is where our real spiritual work needs to be done. Our imaginations need to be renewed in the light of Christ.

The Wrath of God (4)

So how do we understand Christ in this context? Well, how do Christians describe him? We say things like: Jesus is Lord, Jesus is the Son of the Most High God, “He is a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.” These are titles for the High Priests in the first temple. They were not created from scratch in order to respond to Jesus himself. There was an existing theological vocabulary which was then applied to Christ and this is what Jesus is carrying through: Jesus is accomplishing the Day of Atonement once and for all. We often think of atonement as something that ‘covers over’ sin or ‘puts away’ our sin with regard to God. That is not the way in which it was understood in the first temple period. Atonement rather was mending something that was broken, or repairing something that was torn, it is something being fixed.

Atonement is all about renewing the creation. If we keep to God’s commands then he will allow the land to flourish. God structured the world and it has certain characteristics and principles reflecting his creating of it. If we keep to those principles, if we abide by those strictures and rules then we will be in harmony with God’s creation, we will be in harmony with the creator and there will be righteousness and peace. There will be Shalom. Shalom comes from being in right relationship with God, and that gives right relationships with the world and the world flourishes. Shalom is not simply the absence of people fighting, it is a concept with much broader, richer sense, it is the whole creation flourishing.

Then what was Jesus doing? God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God – Jesus is the one enacting the atonement, this reconciliation between humanity and God, healing the creation and bringing an environment, a society, which is in disorder, corrupted by idolatry, back into the right relationship with God. Jesus is the answer to idolatry. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, so in him we see what these orders and strictures and laws and rules are all about, they are all tending and pointing towards Jesus, they are all teaching us about what it is to be human. This is what life is focused on, all things were created through him, so there is nothing in creation where Jesus is not present, where Jesus is not that which will heal and put creation right. And how do we do this? to be concluded

The Wrath of God (3)

Another sense in which wrath can be described is in human terms. In the ritual from the Day of Atonement there was a role for a scapegoat – upon which all the sins of the nation were laid. A human society – if it isn’t rooted in God, in right worship, in right relationships with self and neighbour – will fixate on to something else around which to form an identity. This will become an idol, and then this idol will require sacrifices in the pagan sense in order to keep the society together. The perfect example is 1930’s Germany and the scapegoating of the Jews. A society which was under tremendous stress sought to preserve a sense of identity by worshipping the idol of racial purity; this meant picking upon a scapegoat, and there was then a unity amongst the majority through denying and expelling the minority. This is a fact of human nature. If we are not centred on God then we will be centred on something else and that something else becomes an idol. If the governing idol is Mammon, then the scapegoated minority will be the poor, who will be described as deserving their poverty due to some moral failing, such as laziness. If the governing idol is sexuality then the scapegoated minority will be the fat and the ugly, who will be described as deserving their unhappiness due to some moral failing, such as a lack of self-control. This scapegoating process, always present, becomes dominant during times of crisis. In our time it is no longer the Jews who are most vulnerable to being rejected, now it is the Muslim community. We are still unredeemed, and we are therefore prone to violence and anger and slaughter and sacrifice. This is a path that can only end in war. In such circumstances there is still a sense of pagan sacrifice, there is still a dynamic whereby there is an angry deity present – but the angry deity is not God. We are the angry deity. What the ritual of the Day of Atonement shows us is God acting to try and overcome our wrath. To reveal it to us and to set us free from it. We are the ones being revealed as the pagans who require sacrifice in order to maintain our sense of identity and social processes, we are the angry ones.

This, then is the second way in which the language of wrath can be used. Wrath is first and foremost about when we go against the natural order and suffer as a consequence, but it is also about the nature of who we are as a human society when we are fallen. If we do not focus our human society on the Living God then we will end up having this process of scapegoating and sacrifice repeating itself for ever.

The Wrath of God (1)

There are two things that I believe about wrath: that the phrase “the wrath of God” refers to something real but also that, as Julian of Norwich taught, “there is no wrath in God”.

The film “Clash of the Titans” (either version) contains a good demonstration of the pagan understanding of sacrifice. Andromeda is a princess of Ethiopia, and her mother has offended the gods by saying that Andromeda is so beautiful. Disaster descends upon the city in the form of a famine, and in order to work out why there is a famine, they go to the oracle and the oracle says, ‘It is because you have offended the gods by describing Andromeda as being so beautiful. Therefore you have to sacrifice Andromeda to the gods, then all your troubles will be over.” This is what happens – Andromeda is chained to the rock so that the Kraken can consume her. Of course if you’ve seen the film, you’ve got Perseus coming along with the head of the Medusa which turns the Kraken to stone…

This is what Scripture sees as the pagan understanding of sacrifice: there is an angry god who has been offended and needs to be appeased, the people therefore have to give up something precious in order to appease that angry god. This is not the Hebrew understanding of sacrifice. The Hebrew understanding can best be understood by going through the ritual of the Day of Atonement as it happened in the first temple period.

The Day of Atonement can be understood as the moment when the people were reconciled with God and their sins were wiped away. At the centre of the religious devotion was a particular ritual which the High Priest carried out which expressed and accomplished that reconciliation. To begin, the High Priest entered the Temple and sacrificed an ox as propitiation for his sins. Having made that sacrifice the High Priest is regarded as ritually pure and cleansed of sin. To signify this change of state, the High Priest then put on a bright white robe, because he was adopting the persona of God, of YHWH. In effect, the High Priest ‘became’ YHWH for the remainder of the ritual: he acts in the name of the Lord, becoming an angelic figure also called “the Son of God”. The High Priest then took two goats, and by process of lot, i.e. chance selection, one was chosen to represent the demons (Azazael) and the other one represented God – so the two goats represented the holy and the sinful. The High Priest then sacrificed the ‘God’ goat over the ‘mercy seat’, the central part of the Ark in the Holy of Holies. This was the most sacred area of the temple and represented God in his essence – beyond space and time, beyond creation.

After this the High Priest came out from the Holy of Holies past the curtain which divided the Temple area in two. This represented God engaging with the creation, so when the High Priest came out he was wrapped in a robe made out of the same material as the curtain. At this point the High Priest is no longer representing God in His purity but God engaging with creation, God incarnate. The High Priest then sprinkled the blood of the goat around this area and around the people gathered there, and this signified both the healing of creation and the cleansing of the sins of the people. Once this is done, the High Priest and the other Priests lay hands on the second goat, the scapegoat, and they drive that goat out from the Temple area into the desert. This represented the sins being driven out from the community, restoring the people to a healthy relationship with God.

The essential contrast to grasp is that, in the pagan understanding, the motion is from sinners towards a god, that the sinners do something to appease the god. In contrast, in the Hebrew understanding, it is God who is active, who moves towards the sinners. God takes the responsibility to overcome sin and estrangement in the world. That may seem simple, but it makes all the difference in the world. When the High Priest goes through this journey, this ritual enactment of God’s activity in reaching out towards creation, he goes into the Holy of Holies, which represents God in himself, and it is God’s initiative that is being carried out. In other words, God is benign, God is not angry, God is the one actively reaching out in love. This is where our understanding of Christ’s sacrifice comes from, because this is what Jesus is doing. Jesus is the great High Priest who is acting in the stead of God, He is doing this work and rather than sacrificing a goat at the beginning of the process, He is himself the sacrifice.

So if God is not wrathful in the sense of a pagan angry deity what does the language of wrath in Scripture refer to? to be continued…

Reason, emotion, judgement, faith

Here is one of those truisms that I quite like:

“The definition of insanity is to repeatedly do the same thing whilst expecting a different result.”

This seems to embody some wisdom – it might be told in order to bring someone trapped in repetitious behaviour to realise that they are doing something wrong, and that if they are unhappy with some aspect of their present situation then they need to change something.

Now compare that with the story of Robert the Bruce and the spider making a web, which generates the truism ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again’. Once more, this seems to embody some wisdom – it might be told in order to encourage someone not to give up, not to be daunted by a sense of failure but to learn to overcome the obstacles in their path and treat triumph and disaster just the same.

My point is not that one of these truisms is ‘more true’ than the other. My point is that discerning what is appropriate depends upon the faculty of judgement, what Aristotle called φρόνησις phronesis, or practical wisdom.

In my chapter 3 I was quite critical of “reason” – a position that I maintain. “Reason” – as understood in contemporary society – is, to my mind, radically inimical to the cultivation of phronesis. This is due to the idolatrous conception of reason, in particular, the way in which it systematically denigrates the emotional aspects of human life.

Now Scott responded with this comment: “Emotions follow beliefs. That is, they are involuntary reactions we have as things happen to us, but what they are (and how strong) depends on how those things are evaluated (subconsciously) by our beliefs. Hence, they are data that, if we are self-observant, tell us what our beliefs are — in particular, in this context, what we idolize. But the only way to change beliefs (short of personal revelation — different data) is through reason.”

I disagree with this. I would want to discriminate between “reason” – by which I would understand our capacity to exercise logical thought – and “intellect” which I understand in a much broader sense. Intellect is to my understanding something much more reflective and, indeed, a much more integrated-with-emotion sort of faculty. It is intellect which gives birth to phronesis. In other words, our emotional reactions are not (they do not remain) unconscious – the whole point of spiritual maturity is that the emotions progressively become more integrated into the wider personality.

What I mean by this is that the choice between sanity and Robert the Bruce can be made entirely rational on either side – I see that as simply a sterile working out from whatever premises are chosen, and trivially true. What the intellect can do, however, is work out which of sanity and Robert the Bruce is applicable in the particular instance. This faculty derives from, and is dependent upon, a high degree of self-understanding and awareness with regard to values. It is this faculty which, to my mind, can only result in faith – for all other value commitments end up producing idols. (I don’t expect this to be persuasive to those who currently worship such idols, but it makes sense to anyone ‘outside the bubble’.)

Which brings me to how this links in with faith. The commitment of Christian faith is that in Jesus Christ we see the truest account of what it means to be human – the image of God in human shape. In other words, Jesus Christ is the idol of the system, in the sense of being the capstone and summation of it. The choice between sanity and Robert the Bruce is one that ends up being drawn into an intellectual reflection that brings Jesus into the conversation (much more could be said in unpacking this – another time).

To walk with a particular faith is to make choices that reveal that the judgements formed derive from a specific set of assumptions and beliefs about the nature of reality; in other words, a Christian faith is displayed by a series of decisions that only make sense if the actor is assumed to believe the truth of the faith. The worth of Christianity is then assessable by the fruits of those decisions made by such actors (called saints in Christian theology).

The saints are those whose capacity for judgement has been built up from the intellectual integration of reason and emotion; or, to put that differently, the emotions of the personality have been trained to love God with all heart, soul, mind and strength. The saint is the one who has been enabled to desire one thing, and thus has purity of heart. That is why they see God.