Posts Tagged ‘theology’

Plus ca change…

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

“Imagine, if you can, a person being now put to death for a speculative theological opinion. You feel at once that in the most bigoted country in the world such a thing has become impossible; and the impossibility is the measure of the alteration which we have all undergone.”

I recently read this passage in a book of essays by the Scottish historian James Anthony Froude. Froude was from a famous family of Anglican theologians and scholars. What is notable is that the quotation above was published more than a century ago, in 1901.

In our times, people are executed every day for expressing their theological opinions. Particularly in Muslim countries but also in Hindu parts of India and probably other countries we don’t know about. Despite what we might think has been the increasingly liberal atmosphere of modern times, religious intolerance has increased in recent years.

“Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” That is French for, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” All the more reason to hold fast to whatever gains in tolerance we can manage, and all the more reason never to take religious freedom for granted. —J. Douglas Ousley


Time is Short

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

“Be alert,” Jesus says in the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent, which is this Sunday.

I couldn’t help seeing the somber side of Christ’s message over the past few days. The day before Thanksgiving, the husband of a couple I married a dozen years ago failed to wake up. The cause of his death is being determined; in the meantime, I journeyed to the North Shore of Long Island on Monday to officiate at the wrenching funeral for the man, who left behind his wife and three children under ten.

The Book of Common Prayer’s words about being “in the midst of things we cannot understand” were all too appropriate for the funeral. May we be alert to the gifts of God each day–and be thankful. —J. Douglas Ousley


God-help

Monday, October 29th, 2018

As a parish, we are reading The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. The book has sold some 34 million copies–largely I suspect to evangelical Christians who know of Warren’s phenomenal success of Saddleback Church, Warren’s megachurch in Southern California.

The Purpose Driven Life is written in a light style, with short chapters and lists of suggestions and catchy phrases. But it makes one weighty point: we are to look to God for meaning and purpose in our lives.

Warren notes that self-help books tend to offer the same advice about believing in yourself and working hard, etc. By contrast, Christians are to look to the divine for support.

This is a crucial distinction between secular philosophies and Christianity. We depend on God rather than on ourselves. We know that self-help will only take us so far. We have a different if sometimes perplexing view of the universe–a view we can only live by with God’s help. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Banality of Evil

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

When I was doing graduate work in philosophy, I was fortunate to take some courses with Hannah Arendt. Prof. Arendt became known for, among other things, her phrase, “the banality of evil.” She was referring to the phenomenon during the Holocaust where terrible events like the death camps and tyranny were so common that evil became banal–ordinary.

It’s hard not to think similar thoughts these days, following many mass shootings and terrorist acts at home and abroad.

Our Men’s Group last night looked at the presence of evil and how its existence might be reconciled with the Christian belief in a loving and omnipotent God. The key component of any defense of the Christian position is the necessity of human freedom in order to fulfill the purposes of God. We can’t grow in love and service to others unless we have the option of being unloving. And a world in which accidents never occurred would similarly preclude human freedom. Justice further requires life after death so that wrongs in this life can be made right.

Nevertheless, we agreed that many mysteries surrounding the phenomenon of evil remain. In the words of the Psalmist: “Out of the depths we cry out unto thee. O Lord, hear our prayer.” —J. Douglas Ousley


Good Heavens

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

Like many of you, I avidly read the newspaper accounts of new astronomical discoveries. I was particularly pleased recently by the news that two neutron stars had been observed as they collided. The results in astrophysical terms were as predicted, and scientists couldn’t have been more pleased.

I can’t begin to explain exactly what all this means. Dark matter and black holes are mysteries to me–layperson terms for almost inconceivably complex mathematical equations.

Yet as a person who believes in a Creator God, I find these discoveries deeply satisfying. I know that the universe could just “happen” to exist. I just can’t believe that this all occurred by chance. “The heavens declare the glory of God…” —J. Douglas Ousley


Stability

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

Many monks and nuns offer a lesser-known vow in addition to their commitments to poverty, chastity, and obedience. The vow is “stability.” The monastic promises to remain with his order in a given monastery or convent for the rest of his or her life–unless for some reason the head of the order requires relocation.

In our age where the average American changes job or residence every few years, stability is rare. Indeed, for many people, it may be impossible. In the Methodist Church, for example, clergy are usually moved every seven years by their supervisors.

There is certainly a value in change–a new home can be invigorating, a new job can be stimulating. But when one feels called to stability, it can be a blessing to one’s soul and to others around you. Speaking as one completing his 33rd year in the same job and home, I appreciate this blessing! —J. Douglas Ousley