Bishop of Oxford’s Presidential Address

It’s quite well considered.

John Pritchard, Bishop of OxfordWhen I say I’m bored with sex I hope you won’t misunderstand me. But in another part of the forest, wearing my lead bishop on education hat, I’m being deluged at present with a campaign of emails on homophobic bullying in schools and Stonewall’s offer of free materials to help counter it. And I wrote recently to the clergy of the diocese on the House of Bishops’ Pastoral letter on same sex marriage – and that letter seems to have gone viral (as they say) – I’ve been getting emails of support from all over the country, indeed the world. The first same sex marriages will happen next week.

So, either way, I have to talk about sex. But fairly briefly. The House of Bishops didn’t excel itself in our Pastoral Letter on how to handle the phenomenon of same sex marriage. The tone had the awkward sound of scratching a blackboard. It was written by committee and no-one at the meeting of the House would have produced it, if they were writing alone. But we had to live in two time-frames – the longer one of considered conversation around the Pilling report, and the much shorter one of the very imminent arrival of a quite new phenomenon, same-sex marriage.

We were never likely to try and change two thousand years of belief and practice about marriage in a day in February at Church House Westminster. What the Pilling report, the wider Church and society as a whole are asking us to do is to listen and talk, to pray and to study, over a two year period about the biblical, theological, ethical, missiological and ecclesiological implications of what’s happening around us. That seems reasonable. The Church has to be in dialogue with its context in every age. If it isn’t, it becomes a defensive ghetto. And we believe we have good news for every generation and for all people. But is it good news of holy welcome or of holy resistance? The views of members of Synod here today will be very different, and not just in a binary way; there’ll be a whole spectrum of opinion here, and every opinion held vehemently, I guess!

But there are a couple of underlying realities we have to acknowledge. First, as I wrote in my letter to clergy, I hope it’s common ground that we’re part of a Church that’s called to real repentance for the lack of welcome and acceptance extended to gay and lesbian people as children of God. We haven’t listened well to the quiet, hurting voices, nor to those called to celibacy, nor to clergy who have lovingly and sensitively ministered to gay couples through the years.

The second thing we need to acknowledge is that we’re part of a culture that’s chaotically confused about sex. Sex has been outrageously commodified, pornography is ordinary viewing for teenagers and an addiction for very many adults, trafficking is a global business, prostitution is commonplace, sexually explicit films and TV are far beyond anything Mary Whitehouse could have imagined in her wildest nightmare. Multiple sexual partners are wreaking havoc on relational stability, sexual infections are massively increasing, hardly anyone is a virgin on their wedding night, and so on.  And in the middle of all that we’re trying steadily to work out a theologically coherent approach to same sex marriage.

But I think in a sense, we’re doing this on behalf of the nation. We’re trying to be responsible. We’re trying to grapple with a serious moral issue in a way that models openness and respect. OK, we’re messing up – badly. But we’re trying to discover how much we can agree on, and to learn how to ‘disagree well’ on what we can’t agree on. And then to decide how we can, or can’t, live with that spectrum of honest belief. The rest of society doesn’t do its moral reasoning like that. It prefers soundbites, three minutes of furious argument, and a YouGov poll.

In the meantime, the practice of the Church of England doesn’t change. We won’t legally be conducting same sex marriages in our churches. General Synod would have to agree to that being possible, and there is, you’ll remember, a quadruple lock in the legislation which protects the position of the CofE, to the gratitude of some and the shame of others. But lay people who enter into same sex marriages will continue to be welcome in our churches, to have full access to the sacraments, have children baptised and so on. Clergy, however, are not in the same position and are urged to honour their ordination promise to accept the discipline of the Church. But I’ve promised there will be no witch hunts in this diocese – we have a serious conversation about to begin and it’s no help to rush to judgement.

In the next couple of months David Porter, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advisor on Reconciliation who helped General Synod so much in tackling the issue of women bishops, will be offering the dioceses material and methods for our longer conversation. As I said in my letter to clergy I don’t actually expect very many people to change their views fundamentally through this biblical and ethical study, although I hope we’ll always be open to the high call of truth. But I do very much hope we can get to the point where we respect the integrity of the biblical interpretation of those we disagree with. None of us is taking a cavalier attitude to the Bible and its authority; but thoughtful, honest people can thoughtfully and honestly disagree.

We’re not in a good place on all this but it’s hard to move around much when you’re stuck in a cupboard. I’m sorry the House of Bishops statement was clumsy and hurtful. But we must continue to try and live as God’s people in God’s world in God’s way. And in that loyalty Christ must be glorified.

37 Comments on “Bishop of Oxford’s Presidential Address

  1. Oh, I do love it when liberals try to argue that “we all respect the Bible” as a part of their argument for not agreeing with what it teaches. Throughout the Bible same-sex sex is always rejected as against God’s will. And in nature God rejected it too – two men or two women don’t have compatible sex organs.

    The whole thing is just too cut and dried. The only real options are to follow Jesus and obey the clear teaching, or to follow your assumltions and get into terrible confusion – trying find ways to reconcile your assumptions with God’s revealed Will.

    • “Liberals”? Pritchard’s an evangelical!

      Personally, I don’t claim to “respect the Bible,” anymore than I “respect Homer” (of Greece, not Springfield). It’s a library of texts, of varying quality. It can inform, certainly, but it can’t dictate.

        • Unfortunately the term ‘evangelical’ has been coopted by people who are really liberals in much the same way that they have started claiming to be’orthodox’and to ‘respect the Bible’…. In their own way!

      • James, that’s helpful to know or we end up talking at crossing purposes. But what do you take as authoritative when thinking about moral and religious issues?

          • “Infallible oracles are not given to men; the desire for them is a relic of fetish worship and is essentially superstitious. If infallible guides were available, human judgment would begin to atrophy, just in so far as they were available.” – Sir Oliver Lodge

            • A pity that Sir Oliver succumbed to advancing the fallible oracles of mediumship. As one of his contemporaries describes:

              http://www.archive.org/stream/spiritualismsiro00mercuoft#page/4/mode/2up

              That’s a far cry from the stern test of true Israelite prophethood:
              ‘But the prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. And you may say in your heart, “How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?” When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. (Deut. 19:20 – 22)

              • I am familiar with the book by Charles Mercier to which you give a link. I used to own a copy of it, and I have read it at least twice. His book is extremely well written, and what he wrote about the meaning of evidence and proof is well worth reading and valuable, but his specific criticisms of Sir Oliver Lodge are for the most part poorly informed, and many of them are beside the point. As Lodge himself said of Mercier, “He seems to be a well-known, energetic, and amusingly able man. … I think that the best plan with a man of this kind is not to take him too seriously.”

                But an in-depth analysis of Mercier’s criticisms would take us too far afield from the present topic. Suffice it to say that Sir Oliver was a scientific and critical investigator of these matters, and while many will disagree with his conclusions and have every right to do so, he neither regarded nor treated mediums as oracles in any sense of the word – much less did he try to advance them as such – so any criticism of him on those grounds is completely wide of the mark. His strictures on the belief in infallible oracles remain valid.

                • ‘he neither regarded nor treated mediums as oracles in any sense of the word’

                  So, instead of purporting to be the mouthpiece of the gods, the medium purported to be the mouthpiece of his deceased son, Raymond, contacting him from ‘Summerland’. A voice with the superior knowledge of life on the other side. Infallible? No. Authoritative? Yes. And that exactly the influence of Hebrew and Christian prophets that is being contested here.

                  The issue is not infallibility, but authority: can the voice whether prophet or medium be trusted. Lodge’s so-called evidence now faces the same sceptical scrutiny levelled at the gospel and deserves to fail miserably.‘he neither regarded nor treated mediums as oracles in any sense of the word’

                  So, instead of purporting to be the mouthpiece of the gods, the medium purported to be the mouthpiece of his deceased son, Raymond, contacting him from ‘Summerland’. A voice with the superior knowledge of life on the other side. Infallible? No. Authoritative? Yes. And that exactly the influence of Hebrew and Christian prophets that is being contested here.

                  The issue is not infallibility, but authority: can the voice whether prophet or medium be trusted. Lodge’s so-called evidence now faces the same sceptical scrutiny levelled at the gospel and deserves to fail miserably.

                  • I’m afraid that this merely shows your ignorance of the issue here. This was true also to a great extent of Dr Mercier, a fact pointed out by Professor James Hyslop in his contemporary review of Mercier’s book.

                    Sir Oliver Lodge concluded that he had received genuine communications from his deceased son Raymond. He arrived at this conclusion on the basis of what he considered, rightly or wrongly, to be convincing evidence of identity displayed in the communications. He did NOT reach his conclusion on the “authority” of the medium, any more than I accept the genuineness of telephone calls, text messages or e-mails purportedly from relatives or friends – if I do – on the “authority” of the telephone, of the O2 network, or of the Internet.

                    In the scientific investigation of these matters, conclusions are reached, if at all, solely on the basis of objective evidence. No statement either from the medium or from the alleged communicating spirit is regarded as having any authority whatsoever. Yes, I know that there have always been uncritical and credulous Spiritualists who assume not only that anything which they hear from a medium must come “from spirit”, but that if it does – which is a very big if – it is thereby invested with more “authority” than if they heard it from their next-door neighbour or on the radio (or nowadays read it on some website). Sir Oliver Lodge was not among their number. Irrespective of the soundness or unsoundness of his views on “spirit communication”, his criticism of the belief in infallible oracles stands as valid. It will not do to reply that he “advanced” mediums as either oracles or prophets, whose pronouncements were “authoritative”. He didn’t.

                    • In the scientific investigation of these matters, conclusions are reached, if at all, solely on the basis of objective evidence. No statement either from the medium or from the alleged communicating spirit is regarded as having any authority whatsoever.

                      Oh, really. So take this explanation from Phantom Walls:
                      Short of that, however, when any of these discarnate intelligences get into realised communication or conversation with us, through a mediumistic channel, they tell us many things; they tell us that both we and they are permitted to be subordinate agents of the Almighty; that they are not necessarily greatly superior in grade to ourselves; and that they are conscious of other beings of all grades from low to very high. All these are said to be existent in the Universe as well as ourselves.
                      Given that, as you say, these statements are not regarded as having any authority whatsoever, on what basis does Lodge infer regarding *all* humanity:
                      So we are privileged to find, first, that we too are immortal spirits, at present in process of training amid difficult surroundings; and, next, that we are not alone in the universe, although apparently completely isolated in flesh; that the infinite intellectual and moral chasm which separates us from Deity is not, so to speak, empty, and that we are surrounded by those whom we are entitled to call friends.
                      This is his inference. So, if not by authority, on what hard evidence are the ‘discarnate intelligences’ demonstrated to tell the truth about human spiritual immortality?

                      Show your vast comprehension of the issue here.

                    • Those are perfectly reasonable, although far from unassailable, beliefs held by Sir Oliver Lodge following on from his conclusion that the empirical evidence demonstrates – to his own satisfaction, if not to everyone else’s – that human personality survives death and that communication between this world and the next sometimes occurs. Note that these beliefs or conjectures of his are in a section entitled “My Own Outlook” of Chapter 9 of Phantom Walls and are introduced with these words:

                      “So if I am asked what is the present outcome of psychical science IN MY OWN MIND [emphasis added], I should say…”

                      And the remarks which you have quoted are prefaced with “Furthermore, I BELIEVE [emphasis added] that…”

                      In the previous section, entitled “Practical Deductions”, of the same chapter he writes:

                      “Speaking for myself, I cannot say that I confidently trust the validity of communications which I am unable to test. I try to treat them for what they may be worth, as unverifiable matter, and I have a feeling that we possess an instinct which tells us more or less clearly when we are on the right path.”

                      In the section previous to that, entitled “Interpretation”, he writes:

                      “People shy at the phenomena, but the phenomena are the one certain thing about [this subject]. The real question turns upon the interpretation, and that is not a point on which anybody should be dogmatic. There is room for difference of opinion, in the present state of our knowledge.”

                      And in the same section he makes it clear that he rejects any idea of treating the subject as a revelation or a new religion.

                      So Sir Oliver is telling us what he personally believes. Greatly as I admire his writings, he was no more infallible than anyone else, and those who wish to criticize his investigations, his conclusions, or his inferences and beliefs based on those conclusions are absolutely within their rights. But the suggestion that he treated mediums as oracles or prophets is false. You may keep on till kingdom come quoting passages from his voluminous works with which you disagree, and I have no doubt that in some cases I will share your disagreement, but his criticism of the belief in infallible oracles still stands.

                    • For Lodge to explain: ‘I cannot say that I confidently trust the validity of communications which I am unable to test.’ does not negate his trust in the validity of that those communications (i.e. of discarnate intelligences) that he was able to test.

                      Even if we accept the reality of those communications that he tested, it cannot be perfectly reasonable to declare his discovery as part of psychical SCIENCE unless it is based on objective, rather than subjective evidence.

                      The use of words like ‘believe’ and ‘in my own mind’ merely establish his conviction based on personal observations, but it’s clear that he claimed to predicate his convictions upon observable phenomena, even calling his investigations, psychical science.

                      In the absence of any further scientific evidence from which one could reasonably infer that the so-called ‘discarnate intelligences’ actually possessed the knowledge of spiritual immortality that they claimed, his ‘scientific’ belief in the immortality of the soul is predicated upon a personal experience and acceptance of revealed discarnate authority, rather than falsifiable scientific phenomena. Chistians do the same.

                      As I said, ‘the issue is not infallibility, but authority: can the voice whether prophet or medium be trusted’ to reveal eternal realities?’ Lodge clearly thought that some could.

                    • There is a distinction that needs to be drawn here. Lodge was satisfied that he had established communication with certain people who had died, including his son Raymond. He did not reach this conclusion by trusting to the “authority” of a medium or of anyone else – and I hope that that point has now been definitively cleared up – but by obtaining what he considered sufficient evidence of the identity of the alleged discarnate spirits. That was the objective, scientific evidence. Whether he was correct in his interpretation of the evidence or in regarding it as adequate is a question on which people will doubtless disagree.

                      But if – and do I stress “if” – you can demonstrate scientifically that you have established communication with someone in the other world, or in this one for that matter, there is no scientific means of demonstrating the correctness of what they say on spiritual matters. If you accept it, then you do so on subjective, not objective, grounds. If you read Sir Oliver Lodge’s works on this subject, you will find that he certainly did not take any assertion about spiritual matters purporting to come from “the other side” as “authoritative” in the sense that he was obliged to accept it. On the contrary, he freely used his own judgment at all times to decide whether what he was told was credible or not. His criticism of the belief in infallible oracles still stands.

                    • ‘ you will find that he certainly did not take any assertion about spiritual matters purporting to come from “the other side” as “authoritative” in the sense that he was obliged to accept it.

                      Great. So, he applied his own subjective judgment based on some experiences to decide that ‘evidence’ that the human personality survived separation from the body was sufficient to warrant belief that the soul could not die. A leap of faith. You even suggest it to be perfectly reasonable, though not unassailable.

                      Lodge proclaims in his writings that he was convinced by revelation through an earthly medium of an immortality that cannot be proven by rational investigation.

                      One particular medium, Gladys Osborne Leonard (who was actually debunked by another researcher), had provided Lodge with considerably more ‘evidence’ of his son’s posthumous existence than others. He was more disposed to return to her for communication. That is what is meant by authoritative. An authority on jurisprudence such as Black’s Law Dictionary is not deem infallible, it is still consulted more than other sources as capably delivering reliable insight.

                      Whether you like it or not, in Lodge’s opinion, Leonard became an authoritative basis for communicating with his deceased son.

                      Authoritative does not mean that there is an ‘obligation to accept’ without scrutiny.

                    • “Incidentally it is clear that the word Immortality in the title is used in its conventional significance, for no assertion about infinity can come within our scope. Survival of personality is all that we can hope to establish. The real step or apparent breach of continuity in human life is taken at the grave and gate of death. If we survive that wrenching experience, it is hardly likely that we shall encounter and succumb to some other discontinuity of still greater magnitude; but of further adventures in the future we know nothing. All that we have evidence for concerns our individual continuance after separation from this material body: what lies in the dim and distant future it would be presumptuous to pretend to know. Truly that is a morrow for which we need at present take no thought.”

                      – SIR OLIVER LODGE, Why I Believe in Personal Immortality (1928)

                      Speculation? Yes. Legitimate speculation? Yes. Does it sound like a proclamation that he was convinced BY REVELATION THROUGH AN EARTHLY MEDIUM of an immortality that cannot be proven by rational investigation? I think not.

                      But really, none of this matters for present purposes. You may think that Lodge was wrong in concluding that he was in communication with his deceased son Raymond. You may think that the evidence of Raymond’s identity which convinced him was inadequate and should not have convinced him. You may consider that Lodge’s researches into the phenomena of mediumship were trash in their entirety. You may think that he was foolish to have anything to do with such things at all. But even if you are right, his criticism of the belief in infallible oracles remains valid. It cannot be answered by pointing to what you consider to be proof of Lodge’s own fallibility.

                      By the way, although it is not relevant to the present discussion, I should be most interested to know the identity of the unnamed researcher by whom Mrs Leonard was “actually debunked”.

                    • You may think that Lodge was wrong in concluding that he was in communication with his deceased son Raymond. You may think that the evidence of Raymond’s identity which convinced him was inadequate and should not have convinced him. You may consider that Lodge’s researches into the phenomena of mediumship were trash in their entirety. You may think that he was foolish to have anything to do with such things at all.

                      Indeed. And however you regard immortality, how could you prove my position to be objectively false by rational investigation? You can’t. Nor can you prove that his conviction by rational means.

                      ‘But even if you are right, his criticism of the belief in infallible oracles remains valid. It cannot be answered by pointing to what you consider to be proof of Lodge’s own fallibility.’

                      Straw man. The progression of this thread began with a comment by Carl Jacobs on authority, not infallibility.

                      My counter to your quote merely lamented Lodge’s own capacity to accept revelation that could not be proven by rational means. It was you who interpreted this as implying that I believed in infallible oracles, when the thread was about authority.

                      Infallibility and authority are not the same thing. Even JB’s response to Carl claimed: ‘Yes, I use my own judgment, just as those who appeal to biblical authority do.’ All you’ve really done is to set up a straw man of infallibility and not responded to my counter that challenged Lodge’s own subjective belief in the scientifically unproven revelation about the soul’s immortality. Poor show.

                    • Let’s just look at this, shall we? I quoted Sir Oliver Lodge to the effect that there are no infallible oracles, and that the belief in them is superstitious. You now reply by pointing out that authority and infallibility are not the same thing and that the former does not have to imply the latter. OK, fine: that is a perfectly good point. So wouldn’t it have been far less trouble simply to make that reply there and then, instead of answering with a post accusing Lodge of “advancing the fallible oracles of mediumship”, and then, when I pointed out that this was a misrepresentation, posting a series of fairly lengthy diatribes against him, not merely disagreeing with him – which you are fully entitled to do – but amply confirming your lack of knowledge and understanding of his position? And to what end anyway, since none of it affected the validity of what he had written about infallible oracles?

                      Poor show? Yes, no doubt about it: poor show on your part, old chap.

                    • My responses were within the context over an overall thread about ‘authority’. I’ve amply shown that what you distinguish of Lodge’s psychical science of spiritualism from Christian authority (calling it ‘perfectly reasonable’) is actually no different. It involves personal subjectivity, rather than being grounded in rational investigation.

                      As Lodge ultimately accepted the revelations from Leonard as authoritative, so do Christians accept the writings of Hebrew prophets and apostles. We advance the fallible writings as much as he ‘advanced the fallible oracles of mdiumship’.

                      If the thread of discussion started with infallibility and I had supported that notion, then you might have point. Unfortunately, this thread was not about infallibility, it was about authority. Your quote just lost the plot comme d’habitude.

                    • I hesitate to mention it, but you are wrong once again. Sir Oliver Lodge did not accept any “revelations” from Mrs Leonard as “authoritative”, any more than if I speak to someone on the telephone, and I am satisfied that he really is who he claims to be, then I have accepted the “revelations” from the telephone as “authoritative”.

                      He accepted some of the COMMUNICATIONS purportedly from his son Raymond which came through Mrs Leonard as GENUINE. Contrary to your erroneous assertion, this conclusion was grounded in rational investigation: he carefully and critically examined the purported communications and judged that they showed strong and convincing evidence of identity. Some said then, and some say now, that his standards of evidence were not stringent enough and that he was convinced on inadequate evidence, but whether they are right or not, the grounds on which his conviction was based were not like those on which Christians accept the writings of Hebrew prophets and apostles. (Lodge, as a practising Christian himself, would soon have set you straight on that point.)

                      If you thought that my quotation from Sir Oliver Lodge was beside the point, you should have said so immediately, rather than uttering criticisms of his work and conclusions which were not only ill-informed and misconceived, but in any case had no bearing either on the validity of the dictum of his which I quoted or on its relevance to the discussion.

                    • His ‘conclusions’ went beyond claiming that the communications from purporting to be from Raymond were genuine.

                      Your telephone analogy is ridiculous, since such communications provide falsifiable evidence. I could easily prove to others that the telephone caller was genuine who they claimed to be. For instance, I could by simply agreeing on that call to meet the person (along with anyone sceptical of the caller’s identity).

                      So, you claimed earlier that Lodge’s conclusion about spiritual matters was ‘perfectly reasonable’, later that it was ‘legitimate speculation and finally you insist: ‘there is no scientific means of demonstrating the correctness of what they say on spiritual matters’ (including his CONCLUSION about the immortality of the soul). Falsifiability is not a matter of stringency, but a basic principle of scientific research.

                      Lodge did not present his findings about survivability of the human soul as speculative, but as a finding of psychical science. He presented it nor as an untested hypothesis, but as tested fact. He claimed that his proof of survivability of the soul was scientifically derived. In fact, his ‘evidence’ was no more than a charade of empiricism.
                      So, without falsifiable data, his is a belief masquerading under the authority of science.
                      What is ‘ill-informed and misconceived’ is your thorough ignorance of that key component of the scientific method. Without it, your distinction between Lodge’s basis for accepting the spiritual communications as genuine and that of Christians accepting the Bible as authoritative is superficial. Neither is grounded in falsifiable data.

                    • Sir Oliver Lodge believed that he had demonstrated that the human personality survives bodily death, and that communication between this world and the next sometimes takes place. As he expressed it in Chapter XVI of his book “Raymond”:

                      “I am as convinced of continued existence on the other side of death, as I am of existence here. It may be said, you cannot be as sure as you are of sensory experience. I say I can.”

                      He had reached this conclusion purely on empirical grounds, viz. objective evidence of identity. Some may consider the empirical grounds grossly inadequate and unsatisfactory, but that is a different matter altogether. His conclusion, irrespective of the quality of the evidence on which it was based, was NOT a “revelation” which he accepted on the “authority” of a medium or of anyone else. Nor did he ever attempt to “advance” mediums as “oracles”. You have every right to disagree with him, but not to misrepresent him.

                      I have also made it clear that his belief in immortality in the strict sense of the word, which means more than mere survival, was speculation and that he did NOT claim to have demonstrated this empirically. The passage which I have already quoted from the Foreword of his book “Why I Believe in Personal Immortality” makes it clear that he explicitly acknowledged this.

                      Why do you persist, in the face of the plain facts, in trying to argue the contrary? And why do you persist in doing so even though (1) the validity of his dictum which I quoted concerning infallible oracles is quite unaffected by his research and conclusions on mediumistic phenomena, and (2) you have insisted that the quotation is in any case irrelevant to the discussion about authority? Whatever your motive, I can think of no worthy one.

                      (By the way, you still haven’t told us who “debunked” Mrs Leonard.)

                    • Your quote on infallibility did not begin the thread. It was a response to a conversation about authority. I had every right to place the response in the context of authority.

                      ‘He had reached this conclusion purely on empirical grounds, viz. objective evidence of identity. Some may consider the empirical grounds grossly inadequate and unsatisfactory, but that is a different matter altogether.’

                      Ah, objective evidence? Oh, you mean that the ‘Raymond’ control
                      was able to name at least one soldier whom he had served with during the War? Or perhaps, that there was no other plausible alternative regarding her séance description of Raymond’s army photograph? No possibility explored that Leonard might have gained access to the photograph beforehand.

                      As you well know, it was the lack of evidence (not just the objective kind) that exposed her to claims of fraud. She could not prove the ‘control’’s identity was Raymond. I suppose, though, that by your low standards of evidence, even ventriloquism counts, once it’s observable.

                      Yet, in denial of a very plausible alternative, the mere observation
                      of an external phenomenon doesn’t make it objective evidence of a claim. It is merely evidence of completely unrelated alternative. Unless that alternative, the reasonable doubt, is actually reasoned through and proven false, the person accepting the claims of such an occurrence is subjectively ignoring it.

                      Of course, along with falsifiability, repeatability is another part of the scientific method that doesn’t appear fundamental to your low bar of objective evidence. It would have been very simple for Leonard to prove the plausible alternatives proffered by Walter Mann wrong by repeating the miracle of insight with different ‘control’, or mention another photograph. She didn’t. It wasn’t objective evidence, merely a claimed phenomenon that lack any real test that was worthy of being described by anyone as empirical.

                      So, I wonder why you persist in the face of the scientific method to call the evidence that Lodge relied upon ‘objective’.

                      I really just wanted to see how you would distinguish infallibility from authority and objective from subjective evidence. You failed miserably.

                      We don’t all need to be experts in the life and philosophy of Sir Oliver Lodge. We do need the basic underpinning principles of the scientific method to make a claim of rational investigation, or that evidence is objective. That is patently absent from your responses.

                      And what else have I discovered about you? I mean, apart from your previous inability to read a simple blog post carefully? I know you can’t resist having the last word, so I’ll let you. After all, it’s Christian, right?

                    • Oh, so you are now arguing that the objective evidence on which Lodge based his conclusions was poor and inadequate. Good. That’s absolutely fine. (I shan’t waste time dealing with your rather curious implication that evidence which is inadequate can’t be objective or empirical.)

                      I am not concerned here with whether you are right. Why not? Because that question has no bearing on your claims that Lodge (1) advanced mediums as oracles or prophets, and (2) reached either his particular conviction that his deceased son was communicating or his general conviction of survival after death by relying on the “authority” of a medium or mediums. Both claims are false: he did neither of those things.

                      “Infallible oracles are not given to men; the desire for them is a relic of fetish worship and is essentially superstitious. If infallible guides were available, human judgment would begin to atrophy, just in so far as they were available.”

                      You may disagree with that dictum of Sir Oliver Lodge’s AND/OR you may regard it as irrelevant to a discussion of authority. If you disagree with it, criticism – even if justified – of his standards of evidence in his research into mediumship and misrepresentation of his position are neither necessary nor sufficient to justify your disagreement. If you regard it as irrelevant, such criticism and misrepresentation are merely further irrelevancies.

                      Thank you for letting me have the last word.

          • James Byron

            Following the evidence requires that you first evaluate the evidence. Evaluating the evidence requires a standard of evaluation. So whence cometh your standard of evaluation? There is no periodic table of morality that may be discovered by observation of phenomenon. There is no Boyles Law of human conduct that may be derived by modeling the behavior of man. The methodologies of science do not apply. So your statement of “I try to follow the evidence where it leads” in fact demands the very moral authority that you deny exists. You can’t evaluate the evidence without a standard of evaluation and you can’t acquire a standard of evaluation without an authority to provide it.

            Unless of course you are declaring that you are your own moral authority and that you will do what you think right in your own eyes. But then how do you possibly accomplish the necessary task of judging the conduct of others? For under that assumption there are as many potential authorities as there are men and each are equally valid. In such a world, we quickly leave behind evaluation of evidence and enter the world of relative power. Moral evaluation has been made arbitrary but there is a terrible objectivity to the application of power.

            A foolish man once wrote “We must love each other or die.” He could not define love let alone compel it. And we are all dead anyways. If we are to live, we must first be given life. If we are to live justly, we must be told what justice is.

            carl

            • Yes, I use my own judgment, just as those who appeal to biblical authority do. Difference is, I call it what it is, instead of claiming that my opinion, with all its flaws, is holy writ.

          • I think we all follow the evidence. The question is *which* evidence we see as having authority….

            Although you don’t see the canonical Christian Scriptures as having authority in an absolute sense, would you see them as having authority for Christian doctrine and morality?

            • I think we’re getting in a tangle over the different meanings of “authority.” When I disagree with biblical authority, what I’m objecting to is using “because I say so” as a justification; when you refer to evidence, you’re using “authority” to mean “has weight.”

              The Bible might inform doctrine and morality, but has no special weight because it’s the Bible. Any view must stand or fall on its own merits.

              • Err, no. The New Testament contains the most genuine, and therefore authoritative, records of Jesus’s life and teaching, and the writings of His disciples. That’s why its contents were recognized as having canonical authority by the early church. Ditto the Old Testament for Jewish people.

                So the Bible has an authority of its own.

                • Yes, agree the NT has the best records of Jesus.

                  What I disagree with is the notion that something gains merit *just because it’s in the canon*.

                  • Interesting line of thought. As an individual, you say, you use your own judgment. We all do that to differing degrees.
                    However, the problem is that organisations have policies and doctrines. First-century churchgoers could claim as modern ones do that a number of St.Paul’s doctrines lacked merit. For instance, circumcision.
                    Leaders had to decide, after due consideration, that circumcision is contrary to the doctrine of the church and that any church leader who perpetuates the practice is wrong.
                    How do modern Christians arrive at the conclusion that Christ was authorised to usher in a new basis for marking their commitment to God that superceded the rite of circumcision given to Abraham? How do modern Jewish converts to Christianity arrive at the same conclusion? What is the evidence, rather than opinion, that gives credibility not only to that conclusion, but also that it’s in faithfulness to Christ that we follow it?

                  • It has authority from the facts: 1. that it was written by Christians with firsthand experience of the revelation of Jesus Christ as a man, and 2. because Christians have recognized its canonical authority.

                    We are Christians only because we join with then in following Jesus.

  2. “But lay people who enter into same sex marriages will continue to be
    welcome in our churches, to have full access to the sacraments, have
    children baptised and so on. Clergy, however, are not in the same
    position and are urged to honour their ordination promise to accept the
    discipline of the Church.”

    Questions for the Bishop: So what is the relationship between lay people who take the sacraments and “the discipline of the church”? Is the discipline of the church in Anglicanism only for the ordained? If not, how do you decide who is under the church’s authority to discipline and who is not? And of the sanctions available in discipline for unrepented sin, is the withholding of communion one of them?

  3. I’m still looking for the ‘Well considered’ part.

    He doesn’t identify the central problem. Western culture has experienced a profound shift in its understanding of Truth. It has adopted the evolutionary mindset of “God is no longer necessary” and extrapolated to its logical corollary of “God is probably non-existent, and is in any case unknowable.” The church’s problem is that it is asserting moral boundaries that are sourced in a divine authority that is no longer acknowledged. Which means the wider culture isn’t asking the church to “listen and talk, to pray and to study” about anything. The wider culture is telling the church to shut up and mind its own business and get with the program. Man is now the moral authority and, no, he doesn’t have any interest in listening to the church yap about angels and elves.

    that’s called to real repentance for the lack of welcome and acceptance extended to gay and lesbian people as children of God.

    There is a terrible ambiguity in this statement. Does he mean “The church has stigmatized homosexuals such that they cannot receive support in the midst of temptation.” Does he mean “The church has condemned homosexuality as sin.” Those two positions cannot be held simultaneously, and it disturbs to think the author might have intentionally left the resolution of the ambiguity to the reader.

    The second thing we need to acknowledge is that we’re part of a culture that’s chaotically confused about sex.

    No, we are part of a culture that is blindingly clear in its assertion of autonomy as the governing premise of sexual morality, and consent the instrument if its implementation. The consequences are obvious for all to see, but that doesn’t make the morality confused.

    But I do very much hope we can get to the point where we respect the integrity of the biblical interpretation of those we disagree with.

    Except the two sides don’t respect the other side’s approach to Scripture. In fact, they both see it as the source of the problem. This has always been a question of authority. One side says “Thus stands it written” and the other side says “According to who?”

    This is an appeal for unity. The underlying unspoken but very loud message is “There are going to be married Gay clergy in the CoE very soon and we Bishops aren’t going to be able to do anything about it. Would you conservatives who might find this morally objectionable please not leave? We need your money and your children and especially your money. So let’s find a way to talk about this so we can learn to respect the integrity of the other.”

    Spinach.

    carl

  4. ‘But I do very much hope we can get to the point where we respect the integrity of the biblical interpretation of those we disagree with. None of us is taking a cavalier attitude to the Bible and its authority; but thoughtful, honest people can thoughtfully and honestly disagree.’

    Let’s look at an example of the so-called ‘integrity’ of revisionist biblical interpretation advanced by the Revd David Runcorn in the Pilling report:

    Runcorn: ‘Now Jesus strongly affirmed the place of marriage. But he also insisted that a redeemed, gospel community must not only transcend such (bi-focused) social institutions but even renounce them.’

    If we are to harmonise the techings of Christ with those of the apostles, the institution of marriage is not to be renounced any more than the responsibility towards one’s biological kin that St.Paul also mentioned.

    Yes, Christ was clear that the Kingdom of God would arouse opposition from the kin of believers ‘a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’ (Matt. 10:36).

    For Christians to be renounced by their family doesn’t mean that church members should renounce the blessing of family life generally and develop in cult-like isolation: ‘Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. (Heb. 13:4)

    Again ,in respect of support for senior church members, St. Paul makes their younger kin responsibile, declaring that: ‘Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever’ (1 Tim. 5:8)

    The binary marriage relationship that originated in sexual differentiation continue to have a purpose in the apostolic church. Yet, Runcorn probes: ‘Doesn’t a bifocused reading of Genesis 2 for human ordering in creation actually exclude any other kind of human relationships at all – friendship, community or society? There is only marriage on offer.’

    Well no. While marriage provided the first instance of friendship, community and society on a human level, marriage is only on offer for the re-union of what was divinely differentiated sexually. Non-sexual relationships are entirely beyond its purview.

    Runcorn: ‘Marriage as found in Genesis 2 is theologically, culturally and relationally a very long way from a Christian understanding of marriage.’

    Well, then it does seem strange that Christ himself harked back to it in the gospels as the divine instigation for a couple become, from God’s perspective, a permanent union through sharing with each other the divine gift of sexual differentiation. Adam’s ‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’ signifies equality. St.Paul echoes this by saying: ‘In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Eph 5:29)

    Runcorn: ”Marriage, as introduced in Genesis 2, is far more than the union of two individuals. In ancient Hebrew culture it expresses a vocation to community. This is often missed. But can the language of bifocus express this truth at all? Or is society itself bifocused – and if so how?’

    Marriage is a vocation for a man and woman to initiate a new offshoot of biological kinship. Its private intimacies precedes any consequent vocation to community.

    Runcorn: ”Marriage now appears almost as an aside – ‘for this reason’ (eg ‘and while we are on this subject’). For it offers, as the founding expression of human relationship, a primary illustration of the life-fulfilling and life-giving companionship that all humanity is created for. Marriage of man and woman is thus ‘typical’ (Moore), and to be utterly reverenced as that. But what is typical does not rule out the atypical. As we have noted, no other relationships of any kind are acknowledged in this account but we do not draw excluding conclusions from that.’

    ‘For this reason’ is not an aside, it is an explanation. In fact, Christ draw an excluding conclusion that prohibited re-marriage after divorce for trivial reasons.

    Runcorn is implying that if same-sex relations are merely atypical of the Genesis model, they should not be viewed as contra-biblical.

    However, the sexual relations prohibited by scripture are not simply ‘atypical’ categories of relationships that Genesis does not address. As sexual relations, same-sex relations are not unrepresentative of the marriage category. If anything, Runcorn would argue that monogamous same-sex relationships are very much of the same category. Well, he can’t have it both ways. If it is atypical, it does not deserve to be called marriage. If it is of the same type as marriage, it is a divergence from the archetype.

    So, from Christ’s archetype of marriage in Genesis, we can deduce God’s position is no different from His revealed will regarding divorce for trivial reasons: ‘it was not so from the beginning’.

    The statement that ‘Including Evangelicals find no grounds here for excluding the possibility of same sex relationships (that is unless any relationships outside of heterosexual marriage are excluded). Rather, the question is simply not addressed.’ Is patently false.

    It is only by suspending scrutiny that I could ever:‘respect the integrity of this kind of biblical interpretation. (as the Bishop of Oxford encourages).

    I’m not likely to abandon critical thinking any time soon.

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