Saturday, 23 June 2007

Redding and Hart

Two of the most prominent Anglican clerics, Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding in The Episcopal Church, and Rev. David Ananda Hart in the Church of England, are also self-declared members of Islam and Hinduism respectively, according to their own confessions and practices.

I tend to treat Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding and Rev. David Ananda Hart slightly differently. I have met David Hart on a few occasions in Sea of Faith gatherings.

When it comes to the transcendence of God and even Jesus as a highly regarded prophet, Rev. Redding is all right, vut for me the problem comes with the Qur'an. Islam now universally regards the Qur'an as the Book dictated from God by the Angel Gabriel to Muhammad, and in the special (not present day) Arabic it is perfect in every word and punctuation mark (no exegesis I know about, even that stressing the particularity of its location and time, criticises this given). I do not see how Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding can follow that, and maybe she does not. Even more so, Muslim belief is that this same Book was recited to Isa, Jesus, and that this became corrupted as in the New Testament just as the words of Moses were corrupted, as were all of all the central prophets. Now Jesus, we can be pretty sure, did not recite any book, nor is this the structure or origins of the New Testament. The New Testament is a collection of books originating in the early Churches, with its key figures, and at some stages removed include oral and already communal material about Jesus as understood by the early Churches. The material, arranged as biographical, with its huge stress on Easter, in the synoptics, and the emphasised Greek philosophical base of the Gospel of John, or any other parts or collections, do not have an origin in a recited Book by Isa or Jesus or Yeshua. Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding must know this. Presumably too she is aware of other insights later than Muhammad into the revelation of God such as by Sikhs and Bahais (to take but two) whereas Islam states that Muhammad is the last prophet, not just one, should she actually believe in a from-God form of progressive revelation that therefore moves on to and moves on from Muhammad.

Personally, too, whereas I have no difficulty with the Jewish healer, preacher and teacher Jesus, with his reverse ethics and his immediacy, and his peaceful self-sacrifical roads, I do have a problem with Muhammad, however relatively ethical in his day, who continued with raids on caravans going through the desert, and was in effect a clan leader, however communal and ethical was the organisation of the clan. One of these is, as far as we can tell, clearly ethical and unambiguously so and the other leaves me with questions.

Perhaps Ann Redding really does believe that Muhammad in the cave received actual revelations. Perhaps she thinks they were recited, and done so to Muhammad first as more purely religious and then more organisational. Perhaps she believes in the miracles that Muhammad, apparently illiterate, could remember himself and tell others, have them remembered by others perfectly, have them collected after Muhammad's death that then became several versions of the Qur'an years later, and just happened to collect correctly back into one perfect Book. She might believe this, and she might not, but I do not. If she does then she must account for the content of the Qur'an, much of which is easily contradicted by reference to what it apparently describes. The Trinity, whether it exists or not, or how, is not God, the Son and Mary, and it is not polytheistic. This is just one example of "error" in the Qur'an, which is supposed to be impossible. It only takes one error, after all. That does not deny its beauty as a heard recited document itself, but it does deny the claims made about it.

David Hart is rather different, because David believes that all religion is a human construction, and is a postmodernist, so the Gods of Hinduism are themselves constructions. Now he can say this because Hinduism allows a variety of explanations and indeed Hinduism is story based - it does not matter if these characters exist as story, although we have to be careful not to impose Western "truth" notions on to a cyclical religion as Hinduism or indeed "non-truth" origins on to it. I see myself no difficulty understanding, say, Ganesha as a God who removes obstacles, or Krishna as the colourful character that he is who was playful as a child and precocious teenager, who opened his young mouth and showed the universe, or Rama in his victory, and then of course the insights of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the sustainer and Shiva the destroyer-recreator - insights into creative processes, never mind then the pure transcendence yet still relational Brahman.

I have a brass Hindu 3-0 with Ganesha on the study door, Hanuman is on a study shelf top, and there is a baby Krishna in the art room, and Ganesha is in the dining room... They are expressions of aspects of religion. There are Buddhas too through the house, Pagan items and, also, Christian icons, crosses and candles.

I've just taken delivery of John Hick's (2004) The Fifth Dimension but passed it on to a friend who will be an ordinand from September. This discusses the transcendent Real, different faith constructions, Gandhi and Kushdeva as examples of a key ethical basis of religion (as also seen in Jesus) and Christianity as true myth. I have much agreement with his viewpoint.

1 comment:

Innocent Abroad said...

FWIW I've also been told that in one verse the Qu'ran advises moderation in the consumption of alcohol, and in another the total abstinence that Muslims (are supposed to) practice. Perhaps I've been told wrong.

More generally - I regard any concept of a God who favours those born in one time and place over those born in another as infantile. It is the grandiosity of the infant who centres the world upon himself in order to deal with the enormity of his fear. None of us can claim spiritual merit by the accident of birth, and even the attempt to do so block us from the practice of caritas which is the only justification religion can ever have or ever need.