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Culture War Roundup for the week of May 1, 2023

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Commenting on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Coronation Sermon

Nobody has made a post about the coronation yet. There weren't any major culture war incidents. It went off without a hitch in other words. I'm reaching to find something to talk about. Here is my reaction to the sermon given by the archbishop of Canterbury during the ceremony. The sermon states the ceremonial role of the British monarch in plain terms and tries its best to skirt around the fact that the king has no power. He likens Charles III to Jesus. Here is the full sermon:

We are here to crown a King, and we crown a King to serve.

What is given today is for the gain of all. For Jesus Christ announced a Kingdom in which the poor and oppressed are freed from chains of injustice. The blind see. The bruised and broken-hearted are healed.

That Kingdom sets the aims of all righteous government, all authority. And the Kingdom also sets the means of all government and authority. Jesus doesn’t grasp power or hold onto status.

The King of Kings, Jesus Christ, was anointed not to be served, but to serve. He creates the unchangeable law that with the privilege of power comes the duty to serve.

Service is love in action. We see active love in our care for the most vulnerable, the way we nurture and encourage the young, in the conservation of the natural world. We have seen those priorities in the life of duty lived by our King.

Today we have the honour of being in this Abbey with so many who show such love; you work with charities and organisations, you build community, you serve the nation in Armed Forces, in emergency services, and so many other ways. Next door are 400 extraordinary young people in St Margaret’s, whose lives speak of service. Around the world in the Realms and Commonwealth are so many more. You live your lives for the sake of others.

The unity you show, the example you give, is what binds us together and offers societies that are strong, joyful, happy and glorious. They bear heavy weights for us.

The weight of the task given you today, Your Majesties, is only bearable by the Spirit of God, who gives us the strength to give our lives to others. With the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the King is given freely what no ruler can ever attain through will, or politics, or war, or tyranny: the Holy Spirit draws us to love in action.

This is promised by Jesus who put aside all privilege, because, as the first reading tells us, God will give all things for our sake, even His life.

His throne was a Cross. His crown was made of thorns. His regalia were the wounds that pierced his body.

Each of us is called by God to serve. Whatever that looks like in our own lives, each of us can choose God’s way today.

We can say to the King of Kings, God Himself, as does the King here today, ‘give grace that in thy service I may find perfect freedom’.

In that prayer there is promise beyond measure, joy beyond dreams, hope that endures. By that prayer, for every King, every ruler, and, yes, for all of us, we are opened to the transforming love of God.

The archbishop likens Charles III to Jesus, not by elevating Charles to the level of a god, but by bringing down Jesus to the level of a man. Christians believe that Jesus was both a man and a God. The fact that he was and is an omnipotent deity is essential to Christian theology. But having the limitations of a man is what makes the telling of Jesus' life in the Gospels a compelling story. The archbishop's sermon depicts Jesus as a very talented preacher who relies on the power of persuasion to save souls. This aspect of the Gospel story most closely resembles Charles III's role as archon basileus of a parliamentary democracy. But unlike the British monarch, Jesus had real power to back up his preaching.

The sermon oversells what Charles III can accomplish with mere persuasion. It states with confidence that "showing unity" and "giving a good example" are sufficient to "bind us together", to "offer a society that is strong, joyful, etc." and to "bear heavy weights". By speaking of the ceremonial role of the British monarch as sufficient to accomplish the duties of kingship, the archbishop leaves no consideration for what happens if persuasion fails to produce the advertised results.

I was raised Christian but became an atheist a long time ago. When I think back on Christianity, there are certain concepts that that strike me as peculiar. One of these is the concept that a one's salvation may hinge on a chance encounter with another person whose intervention changes one's life for the better. It strikes me as chaotic, random and therefore unfair. My naïve understanding of Christianity when I was a Christian was influenced by growing up in an individualistic culture and a school system organized along individualistic lines. Every person was tested by God individually, I imagined. Sharing notes or copying answers from other test takers was not part of the test. I believed my choices in life would just determine whether or not my soul was saved. But the thought that my choices in life could be the determining factor in making somebody else a good person literally never occurred to me, and if it had, it would have greatly discomforted me. I would have perceived it as an added burden. Again, it would never have occurred to me that other people were sharing the burden of making me a good person. I would have perceived the sharing of responsibility only as an increased burden. I imagine that people raised in collectivist cultures perceive the sharing of burdens as generally resulting in a decreased burden. The concept of a mutually supporting community taking collective responsibility for the salvation of their souls is probably much closer to how people thought about Christianity in the past. It almost gives me warm fuzzy feelings, but I still find the chaotic, random nature of it discomforting.

Service and helping people is the unifying theme of the archbishop's sermon, but there is something lacking in his call to service. I like to help people. I like to be of service. I like giving people presents. I like teaching. I'm pretty good at it. But something I don't try to do is influence friends and family and coworkers to make them better people. I shrink from any situation where somebody is doing something immoral that I could intervene to correct. It's one thing teach somebody practical knowledge, and quite another to stage an intervention.

Christianity used to take the collectivist approach to saving souls. It wasn't enough to lead the horse to water. Responsible people had to dunk the horse's head and make it drink. The king was often the one doing the dunking. Since the time of the Glorious Revolution, the power of the state has grown enormously. But liberal democracies impose artificial limits on how they use their enormous power. Faced with equine dehydration, or any other societal problem, the solution must be more education, free counseling and state-sponsored therapy. It's fitting that the land of the NHS should refer to kingship as a service. The solution is always a service. Yet there remain certain classes of societal problems that are best solved—or that can only be solved—by issuing a command.

I disagree with the ad hoc social justice theology, because the Kingdom of God is not of our world (John 18:36). One of the most significant problems facing Christianity is the failure to read the plain wording of Jesus’ teachings, that we share between brothers (Christians in the Church) and lay down our lives for our friends (fellowship in the Church). Christians are not golems designed to do good for outsiders continually. They are designed to help Christians and make Christians, which is why so many of the passages on charity speak about brothers and little ones (in Christ). The Apostles did everything for Christians, they formed churches and shared wealth among Christians and did not go around healing atheists. Of the non-Christians, they said not even to share a meal with them! Any charity done to a non-Christian without the purpose of conversion is wasted.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan has been manipulated by false teachers who suppose that, despite every single parable possessing greater meaning in each word chosen, this parable simply means “do good to everyone”. Indeed, instead of Jesus saying “do good to everyone”, he wastes his words contriving his only parable with no greater meaning. A Samaritan, the original Jews / true priestly line of Israel, who are the neighboring faith of the Jews? No reason this is added. A man traveling from Jerusalem, the home of the Jews? No reason added. Encountering a man half-dead, on a path, and doing what was sufficient to save his life? Nope, no reason this part was added. How about when Jesus refuses to heal the Canaanite woman unless she humbled herself, saying “it is not right to throw the bread to the dogs”? He must have just been speaking in tongues, …

So the Archbishop should have elevated the masses to the mysteries of God instead of picturing Jesus as a SJW, IMO. But as for the King humbling himself? I find this beautiful. The only problem with a hereditary monarchy is that they lack the right moral training. Consider also in Philippians 2:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Consider the end result. Are you making knees bow? Are you making tongues confess?

I'm confused about your reading of the Good Samaritan Parable.

The Samaritans aren't the friendly neighboring faith to Jesus's jewish audience, they're the heretical near outgroup. The Jews had demolished their temple in the previous century and in Jesus's time the Samaritan's profaned the temple mount by scattering bones on it. The parable is given in answer to a questioner asking 'who is my neighbor' that they should love as themselves. Before the heretical Samaritan helps the injured man, a priest and a levite refuse to help him, possibly because they value ritual cleanliness so highly they don't want to touch the man who may be dead. Jesus ends the parable by asking which of these is the injured man's neighbor.

Casting the hated heretic as the merciful unexpected neighbor rather than the high status fellow Jews suggests a broadening of the boundaries of who is a neighbor we are commanded to love, not a limiting of it to co-religionists.

As you mentioned, Jesus was against the religious developments of the Pharisees and was also critical of the Sadducees (who may be “Levites” in this parable). Their focus on purity laws, criticized abundantly in the Gospel, means that they could not touch a corpse without great inconvenience. The man is described as half-dead. Hyrcanus who ordered the Samaritan temple destroyed was aligned with the Pharisees IIRC. As Jesus came for the “lost flock”, and as he’s shown elsewhere friendly to Samaritans, I don’t think he or his followers considered them the out-group. In John 4 it’s mentioned that his apostles were surprised he was talking to a woman, but didn’t ask her what her business was, as they did with others considered the out group. He then stayed with them and apparently converted many of them.

The only criticism against the Samaritans by Jesus, as far as I know, is that the woman had five husbands. An interesting aside, in that passage, what’s translated as “no dealings with Samaritans” could be translated as “no joining up with Samaritans.” Perhaps these five husbands allude to the five books of the Pentateuch which the Samaritans believed to be holy only, and Jesus is coming to her as the one which represents the joining of the five books of the Torah. The husband motif is elsewhere found in the Bible, and this also allows us to make sense of why the woman twice repeats “he told me all that I ever did”.

It's kind of one of Jesus' things to be associating with people who would ordinarily be expected to part of the outgroup (tax collectors, lepers, "sinners" and yes, Samaritans), instead of the religious leaders. What do you mean by "he didn't ask her what her business was"? Are there numerous other examples of him doing that?

I wouldn’t phrase it like that. Jesus helps all manners of sinners because that’s one of the things God is for: a physician who heals the sick. He is not so much “associating with the out-group”, which for him are the Pharisees that he despises and curses, as showing us what God is. His associates are the Apostles, who are not sinners except the foretold Judas. I think we can be sure that this is the point because it’s specified exactly in the passage where he reclines with tax collectors etc:

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance

Yes, Jesus is there for the healing of the (spiritually) sick. But the Pharisees most certainly are sick, they just might resent being told so.

But I suppose that doesn't contradict your overall point about the good Samaritan, so let's address that. I think what Jesus is saying is not "which person shoud be your neighbor: Priests, Levites, or Samaritans." I think the priest and the Levite are set up as supposed to be thought of as exemplary keepers of the law (remember, this is all set up in the context of asking what is the greatest commandment of the law, and then this is something of an exposition of the second greatest), but what Jesus is saying is no, you should have compassion instead, despite being a Samaritan and so being much worse on the keeping-the-law scale, as they would think. Perhaps along the lines of the "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" in the prophets. But the question is not whether we should treat the Samaritan as a neighbor, it's that the Samaritan was treating the Jew as a neighbor. Again, Jews and Samaritans didn't exactly get along, so there's a picture there of transcending the ethnic boundaries.

At least, that's how I read it. Thoughts?

I'm not saying Jesus personally saw Samaritans as his outgroup, I'm saying that the Jewish man he is telling the parable to did because most Jews at that time did. It's unexpected that a Samaritan would help a Jews in the parable just as it is unexpected that a Jew would ask a Samaritan for water in John 4.

While it's true that there is supposed to be especial care for other Christians, it should not be unique to them.

The Samaritans were not at all looked upon favorably. See in John, where there is the woman at the well, and it's unusual that they are talking with one another (and not just because of different sex).

As to the not eating a meal with them, the main quote that I'm seeing this for (and by all means, bring up any others), is 1 Corinthians 5:11: "But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one."

Because it specifies someone who calls himself a Christian, I take this more as saying not to eat with professed Christians who do not live that out, not that it's talking about unbelievers.

For something showing both that there should be more care for Christians, but also that there should be care for everyone, see Galatians 6:10: "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith."

Of the non-Christians, they said not even to share a meal with them!

Are you referencing 1 Corinthians 5:11?

I always took pretty much the opposite interpretation of that verse.

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the greedy and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to leave the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is a sexually immoral person, or a greedy person, or an idolater, or is verbally abusive, or habitually drunk, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a person. 12 For what business of mine is it to judge outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the evil person from among yourselves.

New American Standard Bible

Thank you for correction, my memory was quite off. Although there is also the “don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers” in 2 Cor 6:14, and then the ‘those who don’t care for their relatives are worse than unbelievers’ in 1 Tim 5:8.

If you associate with immoral outsiders, doesn't that make them into insiders, who you are forbidden from associating with? And doesn't that then make them into outsiders again, so you have to associate, so you then can't associate...?

No, hanging around with a Christian doesn't make you a Christian.