Entries tagged with “Christianity”.


“Similarly, we wouldn’t publish cartoons likely to dismay or outrage mainstream followers of other religions​….”

So wrote David Studer, CBC’s Director of Journalistic Standards and Practices, in an email explaining why the news broadcaster will not be publishing offensive cartoons of Mohammed published by Charlie Hebdo, the magazine targeted by Islamists in Paris yesterday in a brutal attack that left 12 dead.

Studer’s email, the CBC News report tells us, was simply a reminder of “CBC’s long-established policy” on publishing images offensive to religious believers. The meaning is clear: the CBC’s historical practice is to not publish images that could reasonably be deemed offensive to particular religious groups.

Based on that declaration, we would expect that the CBC has never published images that would “dismay” Christians, right?

Yeah, not really. A quick search for Andres Serrano’s infamous “Piss Christ” shows up a couple of hits on CBC. In case you’re unaware of this “work of art,” it features a crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine.

There’s a picture of it on a Q entry from July 21, 2010: http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2010/07/21/is-art-replacing-religion/

CBC screen grab taken January 8, 2015.

CBC screen grab taken January 8, 2015.

A year later, CBC published another image of “Piss Christ,” this time on its main news site (see here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/arts/french-museum-reopens-after-crucifix-art-attacked-1.1075952) . The news story in question? Someone offended by it had damaged the work. So apparently it’s okay to portray an image offensive to Christians when a member of that faith violently reacts to it. But not so much if the offended in question are Muslims.

CBC screen grab taken January 8, 2015.

CBC screen grab taken January 8, 2015.

“We are being consistent with our historic journalist practices around this story,” David Studer writes on the CBC’s decision not to publish Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of Mohammed, “not because of fear, but out of respect for the beliefs and sensibilities of the mass of Muslim believers about images of the Prophet.”

It might be consistent with their journalist practices when it comes to Islam but clearly it’s not when it comes to Christianity.

Now, I’m not saying CBC should pull the “Piss Christ” images from its site. I certainly find them objectionable as a Christian, but I recognize we live in a country that allows freedom of speech. Instead, I’m simply pointing out a clear double-standard.

Kudos to CBC’s Neil Macdonald for disagreeing publicly with the stance of his network. His report “Religion, Satire and where we draw the line” clearly spells out the difference in action. He was not allowed to show the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed. But a Charlie Hebdo cartoon of Christ? Apparently that’s just fine.

CBC can say it’s simply respecting its historic practice of not publishing images offensive to members of religious groups. But when we actually examine those historic practices for ourselves, we see it’s simply not the case.



The Doctor confronts the old god in “The Rings of Akhaten.”

In case you haven’t heard, this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who. As a fan, I’ve wanted to pay homage to the show for some time, planning to write a post discussing the good Doctor and religion. Now seems as good a time as any, given that the most recent episode “The Rings of Akhaten” is a story in which the Doctor comes face to face with a “god.”

It’s a common enough theme in science fiction: the self-proclaimed deity who is unmasked as a pretender (think Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country—“What does God need with a starship?”). Still, the Doctor’s confrontations with religious beings are a little different than those in other science fiction series. He is, after all, a semi-divine figure himself. All space and time is at his disposal. He can go anywhere and anywhen. He’s more Q than Picard, if you will.

The Doctor’s confrontations with religious beings is different than in other science fiction. He is, after all, a semi-divine figure himself.

So when the Doctor comes up against a “god,” we know he’ll be able to expose it as a fraud. And it always is another a fraud. It might be a powerful being; it might be ancient. It might, as in the most recent episode, have existed for millennia, feeding on the offerings and worship of its followers. But whatever else it is, it is not truly divine. It is as much a part of the universe as anything else. It can always be explained. It can always be understood.

Except, perhaps, in one two-part story from the Tenth Doctor’s era. In this story, the Doctor again comes across someone professing godhood: he meets a being which claims to be the Beast, the devil himself. But the Doctor has faced many false gods in his day; they are all pretenders. “If you are the Beast,” he mocks, “then answer me this: Which one, hmm? Because the universe has been busy since you’ve been gone. There’s more religions than there are planets in the sky. There’s the Arkaphets, Christianity, Pash-Pash, New Judaism, San Claar, Church of the Tin Vagabond. Which devil are you?”

Only this time the devil is real. “Which devil are you?” the Doctor asks. “All of them,” the Beast replies. He is not lying.

Here the Doctor is confronted with something greater—and more terrifying—than he can imagine. Not merely because it is an unknown but instead because it is by its nature unknowable. When the Doctor asks the Beast when he came to be chained in the Pit, the latter answers, “Before time.” This answer makes no sense to the Doctor; he cannot conceive of a “before time.”

“What does ‘before time’ mean?” he asks.

“Before time and light and space and matter. Before the cataclysm. Before this universe was created.”

“You can’t have come from before the universe,” the Doctor responds incredulously. “That’s impossible.”

To which the Beast replies, “Is that your religion?”

The Doctor can only respond, “It’s a belief.”

The Beast scoffs, “You know nothing. All of you, so small.”

Here the Doctor, nigh on a deity himself, is confronted by something beyond him. Unknowable. Unthinkable. Impossible. He cannot conceive of existence before time and matter. His reason is too small; it cannot bend so far. He cannot comprehend it. He cannot measure it and test it. “If that thing had said it was from beyond the universe, I’d have believed it. But before? Impossible.”

So too did God question Job: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone?” (Job 38:4-6). The questions are, for Job, impossible to answer; they are beyond his understanding: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3). But Job’s inability to answer God’s questions about creation—and the Doctor’s inability to comprehend existence “before time”—does not change the fact of their existence.

So then: the Doctor finds himself opposed by a power he cannot even comprehend. He has no more ideas. He has no more options. Even the TARDIS—and, consequently, the only chance of escape—has been lost. All hope is at an end. The situation is utterly and completely beyond him.

The situation is utterly and completely beyond him. How fitting then, that the solution must also come from beyond him.

How fitting then, that the solution must also come from beyond him. It has, in fact, been prepared in advance by those who first imprisoned the devil. The Beast had been imprisoned “before time,” he tells us, when “the Disciples of the Light rose up against me and chained me in the pit for all eternity.”


The Doctor meets the Devil in “The Satan Pit.”

It is impossible to miss the reference to Scripture here. “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:7-9). And again: “The angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day” (Jude 6).

As in the biblical text, the devil was defeated and chained in the darkness (in the television series, the devil is quite literally chained on an “impossible planet” fixed in space in the shadow of a black hole). But the Disciples of the Light seem to have foreseen both the Beast’s attempt to escape and the Doctor’s presence at the event. When all hope is lost, the Doctor finds the Disciples of Light have prepared a solution for him ahead of time—quite literally before time existed.

Having fallen into the Pit, the Doctor awakens to find he was “expected.” “I was given a safe landing and air,” he says to the Beast, asking why. Slowly it dawns on him: provision for his safe descent was not the devil’s doing; it was the work of the Disciples of Light. “That’s it!” he exclaims. “You didn’t give me air, your jailers did! They set this up. They need me alive, because if you’re escaping then I need to stop you!” The Doctor discovers what the Disciples of Light intend him to do, and he does it—knowing full well it will mean his own death.

Except it doesn’t. In a deus ex machina worthy of the name, the Doctor’s previously lost TARDIS is discovered to have also fallen into the Pit. In fact, it’s landed right where it needs to be, almost as if by plan. And perhaps it was by plan. That’s what’s so fascinating about this particular Doctor Who story: it leaves room for the possibility of something more—something beyond mortal comprehension, beyond even the super-human Doctor’s understanding. The Doctor lays down his life to defeat the devil, only to find his life restored to him in the end.

God out of the machine indeed.


The two-part story under discussion here is “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit.”

Cross-posted at A Christian Thing.

“Does the fact that we have mental illness in our community show that the Gospel is weak or inefficient?” So asks my friend Karl Persson in a recent talk he gave at St. John’s Vancouver Anglican Church: “Make Level Paths for Your Feet: Mental Illness and Evangelicalism in the Lives of Cowper, Carey and Hauerwas.”

In order to avoid unsettling questions like the one above, too many of us in the Church have simply ignored the premise of the question: as far as we are concerned, there’s no such thing as mental illness. At most, we seem to think, some people struggle with spiritual problems which could be overcome if they just prayed harder and had more faith.

Karl turns that type of thinking on its head. By exploring the stories of three Christians who suffered with mental illness, he thrusts the existence of such conditions before our eyes. Dorothy Carey (wife of the great missionary William Carey), William Cowper (the great hymnist and friend of John Newton), and Ann Hauerwas (wife of prominent theologian Stanley Hauerwas) all suffered with mental illness. None found healing in this world.

Karl reflects: “We like the stories where we get up at the microphone and say, ‘These bad things happened but God got me through it, and now everything’s okay.’” But that simply isn’t the case much of the time. “It’s harder to hear these stories,” Karl says. They remind us that suffering and pain are all too real in this world, that God doesn’t simply wave a magic wand and make it all disappear.

We cannot simply deny the existence of mental illness. And if it exists (as it does), that poses the question: “How do we make sense of this theologically?”

For Karl, there are no easy answers. And that’s perhaps the point. This side of reality, we don’t get all the answers. All we can do is trust in Jesus Christ, clinging to God as he has revealed himself to us. All else may be smoke and vapours, intangible; but the cross is real. And the cross must therefore be our anchor.

Shortly after Karl gave this talk, a very close friend died suddenly. When he shared the link on Facebook, he prefaced it with the following words. I think them worth repeating:

My talk on Christianity, mental-illness, suffering and death. Listen with the caveat that death and suffering are bloody awful and have no sufficient theological ‘answer’ except that they will be sealed impotent in the deepest recesses of hell for eternity. Missing you Abigail, and anticipating death’s defeat, when we will be blessed by you once more in the presence of God, whom you loved and still love.

Amen. I too eagerly await that day when death will be at last buried in the lake of fire. And I too look for the resurrection of the dead, that day when every tear shall be finally wiped away. Until then, pie Jesu domine, dona eis requiem. Et nobis levamentum dona.


Karl Persson is a Doctoral Candidate working on the intersection of Biblical and Old English wisdom literature; theologically, he is interested in being a good husband to Meg, being a good father to Andrew, and working out a theological grammar that allows us to speak appropriately and well about issues concerning God, suffering, and the broader problem of evil.

The above link is to an mp3 file. The talk can also be downloaded as a wma file by visiting the “Learner’s Exchange” at St. John’s Vancouver’s website and scrolling to Karl’s talk (May 29, 2011).

Christianity and Literature: Philosophical Foundations and Critical Practice by David Lyle Jeffrey & Gregory P. Maillet (IVP Academic, 2011)

Guest post by Karl Persson

Ecclesiastes tells us that “of the making of many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh;” arguably, this assertion describes the plight of most of us English students who, out of the many texts in our ever expanding discipline, must be wise in considering what books we read and how to read them. Christian literary scholars find themselves in even more of a predicament, not only having to determine what to read, but also what it means to read books as Christians. Although I haven’t yet had time to purchase let-alone read this book, I nonetheless suggest that we couldn’t do much better than turn to Drs. Gregory Maillet and David Lyle Jeffrey in our search for Christian guidance in approaching English literature, past and present.

While you may wonder how I can make such a claim before reading the book, I do have good reasons, given my experience with the authors, particularly Dr. Maillet. Throughout my undergraduate program at the University of Regina, I took a number of courses with Greg, including Shakespearean Tragedy and Comedy, the Bible and Literature, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and perhaps most importantly for my own career, Old English Language and Literature. Greg taught all of these classes not only as an impeccable academic, but also as a Christian genuinely interested in the well-being of his students and the ways that their lives could be enriched through the study of literature and the larger philosophical and theological matters it approaches. As his Teaching Assistant and student, I learned much from his quiet but confident faith in Christ that was evident in his approach to literature, and I also appreciated the space he made for students like me to reflect on how we might learn to think about literature and literary theory as Christians. On a more personal level, I probably would not be pursuing my current line of academic study, Old English Literature, if it weren’t for Greg’s influence; not only did he go out of his way to persuade the university administration to let him teach the rarely offered Old English literature course in which I first learned the language; but he also encouraged me to study Latin at a moment when I was uncertain about my future academic plans; both of these languages continue to be instrumental in the work that I do.

In any case, given the advent of this new book by Drs. Maillet and Jeffrey, I wanted to share with you the impact that Greg’s faith has had on my life, not only in the hope that some of you will take the opportunity to benefit from the wisdom of both these superb scholars, but also in the hope that you will be encouraged by this story of someone whose faithfulness to Christ in the academy continues to testify to the grace of God.


Karl Persson is a Doctoral Candidate working on the intersection of Biblical and Old English wisdom literature; theologically, he is interested in being a good husband to Meg, being a good father to Andrew, and working out a theological grammar that allows us to speak appropriately and well about issues concerning God, suffering, and the broader problem of evil.


Yesterday CTV News reported the somewhat sensational headline “NASA discovers hundreds of new Earth-like planets”. Reading through the article (and similar ones from other news sites), the intensity of the claim is somewhat diminished. These new planets (if they are planets – apparently the scientists aren’t sure about all of them) appear as if they might be of similar size and composition as Earth. But the announcement of the discovery of “Earth-like planets” comes with a caveat; in the words of Dr. Paul Delaney, professor of Astronomy at York University, “It doesn’t mean that there’s life on them, it doesn’t mean that there’s atmosphere and water.” Moreover, we’re not nearly close enough to actually visit them in our search for extraterrestrial life. “You can’t get to these objects with spacecrafts,” Delaney says. “The closest ones are tens of light-years away and some are literally a few thousands light-years away. They are well and truly beyond our technological capability to visit personally.”

Still, the topic is an interesting one, and one that Christians shouldn’t avoid talking about. Should we stand on the assumption that God hasn’t created life on other planets? And if he has, what theological implications would that hold for us? When “creation was subjected to frustration” because of the Fall, did mankind drag down non-sentient life in other parts of the galaxy? Of deeper import, I think, would be the discovery of other sentient life in the universe. Did death enter their worlds because of sin in ours?

I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. In that series, Lewis imagines a universe where life exists on other planets (including the planets in our solar system), but suggests they have not been affected by the sin committed on Earth; God had sealed it off from the rest of the system. This isolation of our planet leads the inhabitants of Mars to refer to Earth as “the Silent Planet.”

Today we know that the worlds outside our world are filled with what we might call “natural evil”. Stars die out, asteroids crash into planets, and so on and so forth. It would be difficult to believe in Lewis’ “Silent Planet” in any literal sense of the expression (though perhaps we could imagine L’Engle’s spreading “darkness”). But the question really becomes whether evil (natural or otherwise) in the universe can be blamed solely on humanity; it would certainly seem unfair if other sentient, sinless beings were made to suffer for mankind’s sin.

In any event, I’d love to hear some Protestant/Evangelical takes on whether other life might exist, and what implications that would hold for Christianity. I just hope the theology involved might be a little more fully developed than in Larry Norman’s song “U.F.O.” with its final verse: “And if there’s life on other planets / Then I’m sure that He must know / And He’s been there once already / And has died to save their souls.” [For an interesting Catholic response to the question, check out Director of the Vatican Observatory Fr. Jose Funes’ take on the subject. The full interview is here in Italian. If, as with me, Italian is not your strongest language, you can check out two English articles on the interview here and here.]

It seems to me there is an obvious deficiency in the logic that says one demonstrates the superiority of a position by stereotyping his or her opponents through name-calling. Such “labeling” typically demonstrates the speaker’s simplicity of argument at best; at worst, it speaks to the general irritability of the name-caller. Yet, the fact remains such behaviour is a feature quite common in all sorts of debate. “So-and-so has defended proposition X. She must undoubtedly be a [insert negative term here].” But while there are many who are disposed to label other thinkers, there are regrettably few who seem to have an adequate grasp of either the label or the individual they are labeling. In such cases, the end result is inevitably an increase in hostility rather than an increase in dialogue.

An example might be helpful here. Take my stand on healthcare. As a Canadian, I tend to support government funded healthcare. In fact, I am unaware of any serious Christian thinkers in Canada who are fundamentally opposed to the institution (though they and I might criticise specific issues which have arisen within the institution). As a Christian, I find government healthcare an admirable method of ensuring the poor receive the same level of medical care as do the rich. I myself benefited from the program particularly as a child, receiving necessary surgery which would otherwise have been a significant financial hardship for my family.

Now imagine my surprise upon being called a communist by a certain American fellow I was once speaking with. Communism, as anyone who has actually bothered to read any of Marx’ writings will tell you, has a number of positions beyond socialized healthcare. Heck, even someone who bothered to spend a minute reading the Wikipedia article on communism could tell you as much. Perhaps the most prominent feature of the ideology is the idea that all property should be commonly controlled; communist states have accomplished this through the state ownership of all property. I, however, am not in the least in favour of government ownership of all property. So I clearly cannot be a communist.

My American acquaintance was certainly welcome to criticise my opinions on healthcare; but I am less inclined to think he was right to abuse words and their meaning in the process. More frustratingly, by labeling me a communist he was not only wrong, he was also deliberately attempting to put an end to our discussion. “You are one of them,” he seemed to sneer, “and I need not argue with your kind.”

This type of name-calling is a problem which has been exceedingly prevalent in Christian discourse for centuries. In the Book of Homilies (1547), the final sermon warns Christians against labeling each other so haphazardly. Satirizing the language of the day, the author writes: “He is a pharisee; he is a gospeler; he is of the new sort; he is of the old faith; he is a new-broached brother; he is a good Catholic father; he is a papist; he is a heretic.” In resorting to language like this, speakers were more interested in casting derision on others than thoughtfully reading and considering their ideas.

Today all sorts of labels are thrown about within and between denominations. Perhaps the insults most universal across the Christian spectrum are those of “fundamentalist” and “liberal”. The first is used to imply that a thinker is incredibly simplistic – an uneducated yokel or some similarly negative stereotype. The latter suggests that the thinker is more enamored of his own thoughts over and above scripture and the history of Christian thought over the centuries.

Yet if all sides in a disagreement automatically respond by using such labels – without hearing each other out – then whoever is in the wrong will never be persuaded of their mistake. In labeling others as heretics, we not only stop up their ears, we also insulate ourselves from considering the possibility that we may have erred.

Now, I am not suggesting that using labels is either unnecessary or inherently wrong. Quite the opposite in fact – I am arguing that labels are of the utmost important. But it is precisely because they are important that it is also important that they be used properly. The practice of naming is necessary to understand and distinguish one idea from another. It may well be, for example, that some writers might be accurately identified as “heretics” if they deny the resurrection or some other fundamental Christian doctrine. In rejecting the testimony of the ancient ecumenical creeds, they would by definition move themselves out of the accepted understanding of Christianity and into the category of heresy. Bishop Spong’s book Why Christianity Must Change or Die is an excellent case-in-point: in attempting to redefine Christianity on the creedal level, he admits that he and his beliefs cannot be included in the existing definition of the word. And if his thoughts on Christianity cannot themselves be called “Christian”, they must, by definition, be “heresy”.

But note the difference here. In order to label a thought or person, one must first a) understand what the label actually means, and b) have a thorough knowledge of the person/position to be labeled. We can only call something “heretical” if we first understand what heresy actually is and secondly have a thorough understand of the person/position being labelled such. Few things so impede the fruitful discussion of theology as does the assumption that any position contrary to one’s own must inevitably be “heresy”. If we would instead obey the words of St. Paul to “test everything” and “hold on to what is good” (1 Th 5:21), we would no doubt be pleasantly surprised to discover how much we have to learn from those we first dismissed. After all, the scriptures are clear that we are supposed to teach and admonish one another (Col 3:16); calling each other names succeeds in doing neither.

An article in The Globe and Mail discusses the rising number of theology groups who meet in pubs. I suspect Martin would be proud. Having been a member of a few such groups over the past few years, it certainly has my vote.