Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Christian faith and reason

Friday, December 16th, 2016

This is the promised second letter to the editor from today’s Financial Times. A reader from Berlin responds – beautifully – to Anjana Ahuja’s December 7th column “Echoes of Galileo in the populist retreat from reason”.

Sir, ….

Galileo Galilei actually spent his house arrest rather comfortably in one of the residences of the Medici family in Rome and later returned to his villa south of Florence to continue his work. If he had been “forbidden to propagate his beliefs”, as claimed in the piece, he would hardly have been able to finish the most famous of his works, Discorsi, which was published in Italian five years after the trial. What was demanded from Galileo in this famous trial, was not to revoke his claim that the sun and not the earth is the centre of the universe, as often claimed, in fact he was asked by Pope Urban VII (whose protégé he was!) to phrase his claims as a proposition only. Galileo rather haughtily insisted them to be a certainty. In contrast, the Pope acted with diligence, as scientific findings very rarely can be called certainties and generally only have value until improved or overturned by later generations. As it turns out, both were wrong, the Church and Galileo, as neither the Earth nor our sun are the centre of the universe.

The Galileo example is ill suited to illustrate the myth of a church hostile to science. For hundreds of years monasteries were the only centres of learning far and wide. ….

Were it not for devout Christians such as Grosseteste, Bacon, Albertus Magnus, to name just a few, Europe and America would never have become places where the sciences thrived and still strive like nowhere else in the world. Luther even held the view that our restless desire to get to the bottom of things is inherent in Christian mentality ….

Alexander von Schönburg, “Devout Christians who helped science thrive“, Financial Times, letter to the editor, 16 December 2016 (metered paywall).

science under siege

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

The conflict between scientists and political leaders (secular and religious) in some countries is moving toward levels that were common centuries ago, writes British-Indian science journalist Anjana Ahuja. The coming change of government in the USA is but one example, though a surprising one.

Four centuries ago, Galileo caught the unwelcome attention of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1616, his conviction that the Earth went round the Sun, contrary to the geocentric view of the universe, simply irritated theologians; by 1633, the astronomer was under house arrest and forbidden from propagating his beliefs, a situation that prevailed until his death in 1642. It might have been worse for a heretic: he could have been burnt at the stake.

Scientists may well feel the heat from those in power once again. Donald Trump, US president-elect, established his anti-science credentials by declaring climate change a Chinese hoax. In Mike Pence, he chose a running mate who seems not to believe in evolution. One science blogger said Mr Trump’s cabinet looked as if his team had “made a list of all 300m Americans, ordered them by competency … and then skipped straight down to the bottom”.

Anjana Ahuja, “Echoes of Galileo in the populist retreat from reason“, Financial Times, 7 December 2016 (metered paywall).

Anjana Ahuja has a PhD in space physics from Imperial College London, and is now a contributing writer at the Financial Times. She is also a visiting lecturer in science journalism at City University in London.

Advice for Young Muslims

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

Beautiful words. Everyone should read them. This is what the editors of Foreign Affairs think, so they have left it ungated. There is no need to subscribe, even to register, to access this essay from the current issue (November 29, 2016). Highly recommended.





forgiving our enemies, Venezuela edition

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

In the late 1990s John Paul Rathbone worked in Caracas as a journalist. He returned recently to accompany “a friend, the Benedictine monk Laurence Freeman, acting as his translator”, and subsequently wrote a wonderful account of the experience. Here is a brief excerpt. (more…)

on pacifism

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and left wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” G.K. Chesterton wrote that in 1910, and during the hundred or so years since, nothing has changed. “Difficult” concepts (thou shalt not kill; love your enemies; do good to those who hate you) become impossible in times of war and are conveniently forgotten.


During the 1939-45 war … all the churches I knew … seemed in support of the war. …. [J]ust as we prayed to God for victory and deliverance, so did the German people; and just as chaplains on our side blessed the men before battle, so did the other side. […]

Gradually [as years went on] the church I had grown up with ceased to have relevance. …. In my early thirties, I found myself on a spiritual search and to my everlasting gratitude was led to Quakers and read the great testimonies. It was … as though everything came tumbling into place. …. I knew then that I could not answer all the questions that arise, such as “What would you do if …” and “What about Hitler and his attempt to execute all the Jews, the homosexuals, the mentally ill, the gypsies?” Later, I met a relative who had been a conscientious objector in the 1939-45 war, and he gave me great help. His brother lived in a psychiatric hospital due to injuries received in the 1914-18 war, and indeed died there in the early 1970s. The simplicity of his answer, “I did not want to do to anyone what had been done to my brother,” put into words what has remained a truth for me.

Quaker Quest, “Twelve Quakers and Pacifism”, Quaker Quest Pamphlet 3 (London, UK, 2005), pp. 13, 15-16.

I have begun my own spiritual search, so would like to share these words with you. This and other pamphlets in the series are not available online, but can be purchased from

good and evil

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

If there is a loving God, why does evil exist? This is a question that troubles everyone with faith. Quakers believe that there is potential for good and for evil within each of us. There exists no Devil to tempt us or attack us, no Hell to punish us.

We Quakers are often accused of a rosy view of the world and of people that denies the existence of evil. That is entirely to misunderstand what we mean when we speak of ‘that of God in every person’. it does not mean that every person is good, that no person is capable of evil, but rather that every person has the seeds of goodness, and of God, within her or him. It means that every person has within the potential to reach some perception of God. …. To put it in conventional religious language, even the most sinful person is capable of redemption.

Likewise, we all have within us the potential for wrongdoing. …. The absolute ethic that my religious perception leads me to is simple: loving my fellow beings is right; hurting them is wrong. Any action hurting or diminishing another is an evil one, bearing within it the seeds of greater evils. Thus can contempt of one’s neighbour escalate and accumulate force until it results in war.

Quaker Quest, “Twelve Quakers and Evil”, Quaker Quest Pamphlet 4 (London, UK, 2006), pp. 16-17.

I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.

Psalms 23:4

Quakers and Nazis – conclusion

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

I have completed all of Hans Schmitt’s book Quakers and Nazis: Inner Light in Outer Darkness (University of Missouri Press, 1997), and am posting my final blog on it. The previous two blogs can be downloaded  here and here.

This book contains a wealth of information, but is difficult to read or summarize. For this reason I decided not to post more reading notes. Instead, I am posting a scan of the short conclusion. In my opinion, this is the most interesting, most readable chapter of the book.

The author begins his conclusion by writing “This book … has rested on no conceptual framework ….” Indeed. This, precisely, is why the book is not easy to read.

Quaker 214

Quaker 215

quaker 216Quaker 217Quaker 218Quaker 219



Mennonites and Nazis

Saturday, May 28th, 2016

I am continuing to read Quakers and Nazis. It is a well-researched, fascinating history, but difficult to read. One reason the reading is difficult is that its author tends to wander away from his main subject (the Quakers in Nazi Germany). One example is his brief mention of strong Mennonite support for the Nazis. This surprised me. I found this difficult to believe, since Mennonites are pacifists, and often collaborate with Quakers in projects to promote peace. Here is the passage that disturbed me: (more…)

London’s Muslim mayor

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

By voting in Sadiq Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting, the UK capital has provided a much-needed role model for Muslim youth who feel, rightly or wrongly, that they are socially marginalised. Though he is not the only prominent Muslim in the UK, he is the first Muslim mayor of a major western city. The symbolism is important.

At a time of rising Islamophobia, the arrival in City Hall of the son of a Pakistani bus driver and a seamstress, who grew up on a council estate, is a celebration of multiculturalism. It is also a defeat for radicalism, be it the product of populist and far-right xenophobia or the poisonous teachings propagated by Isis.

Roula Khalaf, “Sadiq Khan offers new role model for young European Muslims”, Financial Times, 11 May 2016 (metered paywall).

Sadiq Khan was born in London in 1970 to immigrant parents from Pakistan. He was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Tooting (a district of South London) from 2005 to 2016.

The FT either overlooked Calgary, Alberta (Canada), or does not classify it as a “major western city”, since Calgary, with a population of 1.2 million, also has a Muslim mayor. The Mayor, Naheed Nenshi, was born in Toronto in 1972 and raised in Calgary. His South Asian parents migrated to Canada from Tanzania. Nenshi was elected Mayor of Calgary in 2010, then re-elected in 2013 with 74% of the vote.

It is more accurate to describe Sadiq Khan as the first Muslim mayor of a major western capital city. (Calgary is Alberta’s largest city, but not the capital.)


Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

No wonder the Quaker community has always remained small: being a Quaker is difficult.

Hans A. Schmitt, Quakers and Nazis: Inner Light in Outer Darkness (University of Missouri Press, 1997), p. 10.