Friday, July 13, 2012

Have modern churches lost God somewhere along the way?

There is a need for the mystical and sublime.  Comment from Sydney, Australia by Elizabeth Farrelly below.  Like her, I am not   religious but I feel great peace when I am in either of my two favourite churches, both of which are very "old-fashioned".  And I am appalled by some modern barns that call themselves churches  -- JR

The girls on the footpath at Railway Square are having a little whinge about the bells. They're tourists, by the look, from Cairns or possibly Perth, peachy, bumptious and untroubled. Except by the bells. It's the loudest street corner in town, but those bells keep messing with their heads.

"They're so annoying," complains one, with flick of glossy mane. "Why can't they just be quiet?"

The bells - a glorious, liquid carillon - originate across the street in the mysterious other world that is Christ Church St Laurence. They sound real, real ropes swung on by real bell-pullers. But OMG. Calls to piety can totally interfere with your hooking up.

My church pathology has got so that, when my need for ancient mysteries starts to fibrillate, I must drive to (of all places) Canberra. On the bleached-out expanses of Anzac Parade, Edmund Blacket's lovely St John's offers a deep well in a dry paddock.

So I am consoled, although I resist his arguments, by Alain de Botton's assurances in Religion for Atheists that a craving for ecclesiastical aesthetics is not weird.

The yearning is not merely physical. It's for both church and liturgy. King James's Bible was 400 years old last year, the Book of Common Prayer 350 this year. Many writers, from Alexander McCall Smith to PD James, link their success to early inoculation with these books' entrancing rhythms.

"I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy Catholick Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the flesh and the life everlasting." Even as a kid reading comics in church I loved this stuff. "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made … "

Yet the Sydney church seems to give rather less of a stuff than those girls on the street.

I'm no medievalist. My preferred architecture is transcendent modern. But so few moderns (except Corbusier, Ando, Zumthor) do decent church.

Why? Partly education. The moulding of light for mystery and transcendence do not figure large in Design 101. And partly the Church itself, as client, frantically shedding anything that might distinguish it from big-box shopping.

So when a new church pops up I'm all agog. This particular Sunday morning, then, is a church-crawl between two extremes; Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp's superwhite renovation of Blacket's St Barnabas on Broadway, and Sydney's last-remaining pocket of pigmenty God-gloom, Christ Church St Laurence, tucked into the soot and stone of Railway Square.

The Barneys rebuild - and yes, the diminutive is official - is now almost complete. It was never Blacket's best moment; small, awkwardly sited and lately painted clotted cream. Yet I was aghast when it burnt, and more aghast that the rebuild would be total.

Yet architect Richard Francis-Jones has made a handsome building, eye-catching despite some ambiguity of purpose.

If you didn't know, couldn't see the glazed cross on high up front, what would you take this building to be? An office, says its glazed street facade. A community centre or three-star hotel, says its foyer. Something monkish, maybe a convent, says the crested white hood, visible from afar. A school, perhaps, or yoga studio, or minor publishing house.

The entrance is rewardingly ceremonial, ramping boldly up from Broadway (although not on the cross's axis, which is planted with trees). The foyer - and no, we don't say narthex - has the strongest sense of higher power, being emphatically vertical, with the cross-shaped window beaming in.

But the auditorium (no, not nave) feels distinctly secular. It has proudly curved walls, up which children love to run and down which they love to slide. It has an intimate acoustic and a low-brow, first-person liturgy ("Jesus died so I don't have to hide") on a big screen above the stage.

That's enough for me. I like this building, but sense no godliness in its formica-smooth interior. I understand that this slide into civicness began 350 years back, with Christopher Wren's 51 rebuilt post-fire London churches, and that Barneys is on the humanism gradient.

But whereas, in Wren's flattened, white-and-gold interiors you feel the enlightenment at work, Barneys's bright auditorium feels less a defence of science than a yielding to lounge-room populism. Church in an age of consumption.

I don't want church to be about me, or my ordinary life. I come here for otherness. So off I head, with my little troupe, to the darker, more wrathful end of the spectrum.

Christ Church St Laurence is about as high as High Church gets in Jensenite Sydney. It has Latin and incense, pews and shadows, robes and chants and genuflection. Where Barneys has joy, St Laurence has solemnity.

In part this is aesthetic; a difference between upbeat and down, between major and minor keys. But it's also a shift of the power relationship between God and humankind.

Democro-capitalism's biggest failing is putting humanity firmly in charge - of nature, the planet, God. Where once, God was a given and we were created, it's now we who are given, and God shaped to fit. Push has become pull.

That's OK, I guess, but it doesn't suit me. I like a sense of necessity, of very God. If you're going to have God - and I hover pathetically between atheism and agnosticism - you really need a big one. God underneath is just not God.

If I'm bothering to do church, I want my penny-worth of exigency. I do not wish to say "help us to look after the world and to reach our full potential," when I could be saying "give us this day … "

I want chiaroscuro of language and space. I want it difficult, subtle, hard and high. I want crucified, dead and buried. I want glorious.

Obscure? Sure. But as the Prince of Wales wryly notes, "the word of God is supposed to be a bit over our heads". Also the house.


The human right to claim welfare payments:  British jobless could sue for better payments under controversial plan

Human rights law will be extended to include the right to claim benefits and enjoy a comfortable standard of living courtesy of the taxpayer under plans unveiled last night.

A Government panel of experts is considering whether Labour’s Human Rights Act – which is already hugely controversial – should be extended to include so-called ‘socio-economic rights’.

This would allow the jobless to take the Government to court if ministers did not provide a minimum standard of living.

Earlier this week, a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggested a family of four needed an income of almost £37,000 to have a satisfactory lifestyle.

The ‘Commission on a Bill of Rights’ was set up by David Cameron to end the rampant abuse of human rights laws.

Originally, the Prime Minister had pledged to scrap Labour’s Act and replace it with a UK Bill of Rights, which would stop the system being abused by criminals and those who refuse to work.

But, after being forced into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats he had to downgrade his pledge. Instead, he established the commission to decide the best way forward. Yesterday, despite deliberating for 15 months, the panel said it had not decided whether to recommend any change to the Act.

But it said that, if it did decide to opt for a Bill of Rights, it wanted to consider suggestions from the public and pro-human rights groups on whether to add on yet more ‘human rights’ which must be respected by Parliament and the courts.

Under a section headed ‘Additional Rights?’, it suggests ‘a right to equality’; a ‘right to administrative justice’, which would build on the existing ‘right to a fair trial’; ‘rights for victims’; ‘children’s rights’; ‘socio-economic rights’; and ‘environmental rights’. The last two are likely to be the most contentious.

Under ‘socio-economic rights’, it says: ‘Such rights, which are found in a number of bills of rights in other countries, can include rights to adequate healthcare and housing, a right to education, a right to a minimum standard of living, and a range of other social security entitlements.’

On benefits, the panel suggest copying wording from the South African Constitution.

This promises a right to ‘social security, including, if they are unable to support themselves and their dependants, appropriate social assistance’.

On the environment, the panel suggests that everyone should have the right to live in a world that ‘is not harmful to their health or well-being’ where there is ‘secure ecologically sustainable development and the use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development’.

Critics fear this could lead to all building projects being automatically challenged under human rights law – creating a boon for lawyers but stifling economic growth.

MPs said they were hugely disappointed with the report, which also suggests the courts having the power to strike down laws made by  Parliament. Currently, judges can rule that a law is incompatible with the Human Rights Act, but must leave it to the politicians to decide what to do next.

Tory MP Dominic Raab said: ‘The Commission risks being hijacked by the human rights lobby. It is supposed to be looking at how to scale back the rights inflation and compensation culture that has undermined law enforcement, democratic accountability and personal responsibility.

‘Instead, it has churned out proposals for even more human rights. That would give judges enormous power to set social policy without proper democratic accountability, and cost the taxpayer a fortune.’

Mr Cameron voiced his frustration in May at slow progress on his plans to scrap the Human Rights Act.

He blamed delays on the compromises made necessary by being in a coalition, but said he remained determined to press ahead with the change.

Sir Leigh Lewis – chairman of the panel, which will make its final recommendations later this year – said: ‘I am pleased that the Commission has published this second Consultation Paper. We want to hear from as many individuals and interested parties as possible.’


'Being allowed to wear a crucifix at work is a vital freedom': British PM backs law giving right to display religious symbols

David Cameron has promised to change the law if necessary  to allow Christians to wear crosses at work.

The Prime Minister told MPs yesterday that the Government would back the right to display  discreetly a symbol of faith in the workplace, despite legal rulings to the contrary.

He said he supported Nadia Eweida, who is fighting a case at the European Court of Human Rights after being barred from wearing a cross by British Airways.

Miss Eweida, 61, a Pentecostal Christian of Twickenham, south-west London, was sent home after refusing to remove or hide a necklace with a cross.

An employment tribunal ruled she had not suffered religious discrimination, but the airline changed its uniform policy after the case to allow all religious symbols, including crosses. Miss Eweida has pursued the case, however, to try to establish in law the rights of other religious people.

She and Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who was barred from working on wards by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust after refusing to hide the cross she wore on a necklace, claim they were discriminated against by their employers.

The Government is opposing  their appeal.

In the Commons yesterday, former shadow home secretary David Davis described Miss Eweida’s treatment as a ‘disgraceful piece of political correctness’.

He said he was surprised Government lawyers were resisting her appeal, telling Mr Cameron he could not believe it would support religious suppression in the workplace. The Prime Minister told MPs he fully supported the right to wear religious symbols at work.  He said: ‘I think it is an absolutely vital freedom.’

Mr Cameron insisted the Government would change the law if necessary to make sure employees can wear religious symbols at work.

‘What we will do is that if it turns out that the law has the intention of banning the display of religious symbols in the workplace, as has come out in this case, then we will change the law and make clear that people can wear religious symbols at work,’ he said.

The women’s cases will be held in Strasbourg in early September.

Miss Eweida said: ‘Of course,  it is excellent news that the Prime Minister says he will change the law, but why doesn’t he get on  with it?  ‘Up till now the Home Office has said it would be too cumbersome for employers to have to look after all their employees’ religious requirements.

‘If Mr Cameron means what he says about overruling them, then he should not wait for the European court to decide but change the law now.’

Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable said: ‘As her local MP, I’ve supported Nadia’s right  to wear a cross throughout  her campaign.  ‘I wrote to the Home Secretary  18 months ago urging her change the law.

‘So I am delighted by the Prime Minister’s announcement that the law will be changed to allow people of all religious faiths to be able to wear symbols of their religion.’


Australia:  Provocation defence  gets Korean man off murder charge

Who's the galoot in the hat? You might ask.  It's actually the trial lawyer, Winston Terracini, who got the Korean guy off the hook

A MAN who caught his wife in bed with his close friend has been found not guilty of murder on the grounds of provocation.

Joachim Won came home from work sick in May 2010 to find his 44-year-old wife, Anna, having sex with his friend Hyung Mo Lee.  Won, then 56, went to the kitchen, grabbed a knife, and stabbed Mr Lee, 48, seven times, allegedly shouting "you must die" or "he must die".

A NSW Supreme Court jury took less than an hour to return a verdict of not guilty to murder. Won was automatically found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Won was overcome with emotion when the verdict was delivered yesterday.

Won's barrister, Winston Terracini, SC, said: "It's a very satisfying result and Mr Won, through his legal representatives, had offered to plead guilty to manslaughter from the very beginning but the Crown rejected it."

Mr Terracini had told the jury his client was acting under "provocation", in that he was so shocked by what he saw he lost self-control.

The jury was asked to decide if the act of finding a spouse in bed with someone else could have induced an ordinary person in the position of Won to have so far lost self-control as to have formed an intent to kill, or to inflict grievous bodily harm.

The case is the latest to focus public attention on the law of provocation, which is the subject of an inquiry by the NSW Parliament. The inquiry began last month following the case of Chamanjot Singh, who was given a six-year jail sentence for slitting his wife's throat with a box cutter.

In May, Singh was found guilty of manslaughter rather than murder after a jury accepted his claim that he had been provoked by a stream of verbal abuse from Manpreet Kaur, 29, including an alleged threat that she would have him deported.

Mr Terracini said the principle of provocation had been seen as valid since the 19th century.

Reacting to the verdict, the victims' advocate Howard Brown said cases where provocation is argued should be left to judges, not juries.

The defence of provocation was abolished in Tasmania in 2003 and Victoria in 2005, following a recommendation by the Victorian Law Reform Commission which found the law "partly legitimates killings committed in anger".


I am going to be all multicultural here and note that, when normally great  Asian patience is pushed beyond its breaking point, the result is often explosive.  The man "runs amok", as they say in Malaysia.  So I think that on multicultural grounds at least, the defence of provocation should remain available,  with juries in the best position to sort out the claims in particular cases,  as they did above


Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCHAUSTRALIAN POLITICSDISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL  and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine).   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site  here.


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