Extra Resources: S 95 Beyond Tragic Spirituality

1. Questions for discussion

Here are the questions for discussion (in some cases amplified) which are proposed in the book, with the addition of some further questions.

Chapter Two

  1. 'The powers and principalities… reproach Christianity for not defending victims with enough ardour. In Christian history they see nothing but persecutions, acts of oppression, inquisitions. …They denounce the Christian concern for victims as hypocritical and a pale imitation of the authentic crusade against oppression and persecution for which they would carry the banner themselves…'. (Rene Girard, p. 180-1). Is the author right to attribute this reproach and denunciation to 'powers and principalities' to Satan, and to the Antichrist?
  2. 'There is sometimes a sense of competitive victimhood, especially in the matter of religion - they achieved that, why can't we achieve this? Rage and extremism seem somehow closer to the surface.' (Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, in a lecture on 7 th March 2005: for full text see www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/speeches/stori es/thompson_livery.shtml ). Do you agree? Should Christians 'play the victim card'?
  3. 'I have often been asked "What is the greatest difficulty you face in moving from India to England?" I have always answered: "The disappearance of hope"… What has happened to our civilisation which, so recently, was confident that it was 'The Coming World Civilisation"?' (Lesslie Newbigin, The Other Side of 1984, WCC, 1983, p.1; for full text see http://www.newbigin.net/searches/detail.cfm? ID=1 711 .) Would you say you have noticed a loss of hope in our culture within your own living memory?
  4. 'Those people crying loudest for retribution so often seem to be the least affected'. (Andrew Rice, whose brother David was killed in the attack on the World Trade Centre, New York, in 2001). …..For the full text of Andrew's testimony, see http://www.theforgivenessproject.com/stories/andrew-rice. (The Forgiveness Project is an important resource of personal testimonies relating to victimhood and reconciliation, and for a travelling exhibition of these which can be requested by churches and other groups.)

Chapter Three

  1. 'Remaining (consumed by anger and hatred) locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator. If you can find it in yourself to forgive then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator.' (Archbishop Desmond Tutu). Do you agree? (for the full text of his remarks, see http://www.theforgivenessproject.com/stories/desmond-tutu.
  2. Share any stories of 'whistleblowers' familiar to you. If you do not know any, you could consider Craig Murray's story - summarised, for example, by the BBC's Today Programme at http://www.craigmurray.co.uk/archives/2003/11/bbc_radio_4_tod.html. Discuss the sources of distress, and the spiritual nature of distress, which whistleblowers sometimes experience.
  3. Gemma McCartney said after her bother's murder in Belfast: 'Only now I'm in this situation do I realise how essential justice is. You see people on TV saying they're fighting for justice and you think, why don't they just accept things and get on with the grieving process? It's only now that I realise how important justice is. Otherwise he would have died in vain'. Discuss her viewpoint.
  4. Discuss the following quotations from Simone Weil's article The Love of God and Affliction':
  5. If Job cries out that he is innocent in such despairing accents, it is because he himself is beginning not to believe in it… he implores God himself to bear witness, because he no longer hears the testimony of his own conscience'. (pp.66-7)
  6. Except for those whose whole soul is inhabited by Christ, everybody despises the afflicted to some extent, although practically no one is conscious of it.' (p.67)
  7. 'There are certain deeds that cry out to heaven. These deeds are not only an outrage to our moral sense, they seem to violate a fundamental awareness of the constitution of our humanity. In this way, these deeds are not only evil, but monstrously evil… Deeds that cry out to heaven also cry out for hell. If Eichmann, instead of being hanged, had been tortured to death in the most lengthy and cruel manner imaginable, would this have been 'enough'? A negative answer seems inevitable. No human punishment is 'enough' in the case of deeds as monstrous as these. These are deeds that demand not only condemnation, but damnation in the full religious meaning of the world…' (Peter Berger, A Rumour of Angels (Penguin, 1969), pp.85-87). Do you agree with Peter Berger's claim that to invoke damnation when faced with monstrous evil is to show religious awareness?
  8. Discuss the following quotations from George Steiner's book The Death of Tragedy:
  9. Marx repudiated the entire concept of tragedy. "Necessity", he declared, "is blind only insofar as it is not understood". Tragic drama arises out of precisely the contrary assertion: necessity is blind an man's encounter with it shall rob him of his eyes…' (p.4,5)
  10. 'Call it what you will: a hidden or malevolent God, blind fate, the solicitations of hell, or the brute fury of our animal blood. It waits for us in ambush at the crossroads. It mocks us and destroys us. In certain rare instances, it leads us after destruction to some incomprehensible repose.' (p.9).

Chapter Four

  1. Read the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4.1-16). Discuss this in the light of issues of victimhood and evasion, starting with the Lord's rejection of Cain's offering and ending with the Lord's response to Cain's protest that his sentence overwhelms him.
  2. The story of Job is about a just man who becomes, ultimately with the permission of God, a victim of Satan. It is Satan who falsely accuses Job of being motivated by self-interest and not by a desire to honour God, and who asks for license to demonstrate this by testing Job. In the Garden of Eden, who does the serpent falsely accuse, and how? Where else in the Bible is Satan's work apparent behind false allegations?
  3. The Zimbabwean (21-27 Oct '05) contained an interview in which Roy Bennett, M.P. - stripped of his farm and imprisoned for a year - was asked how he spent his time in prison. He said: 'Lock-up in the prisons is at 4pm. So, from then until the lights go out at 8pm, in every cell you hear singing. And its all hymns and religious singing. And you know the voices of the people and how they harmonise: it's unbelievable. It used to make the hair on my arms stand up, it was so
    beautiful. And then, as the sun rises in the morning, the same singing would start… I would have prisoners coming to me with little slips of paper: 'Look up this verse, this chapter,' basically pertaining to my situation. It was unbelievable. They would refer me to Job. I was told to read Job regularly…. In prison, I took my hands off the steering wheel and said, 'Jesus, you are now in control'. Basically, any door that opens up, anything that happens, I go and do it. I'm heading back into Zimbabwe with exactly the same attitude: whatever needs to be done, I'll go and do it. Wherever I am led, I will go and do what needs to be done'.

Discuss this testimony in relation to 1 Peter 1.1,2: 'When anyone has endured bodily suffering he has finished with sin, so that for the rest of his life on earth he may live, not so satisfy human appetites, but to do what God wills.' (Revised English Bible).

Chapter Five

  1. '…the wisest way to cope is not to try to avoid being overwhelmed, and certainly not to expect to be in control of everything; rather it is to live amidst the overwhelmings in a way that lets one of them be the overwhelming that shapes the others' (David Ford, The Shape of Living, p.xxv) How can we let the gospel overwhelm the varied things which oppress our spirits day by day?
  2. 'There is a dangerous concern with spiritual technology, with method and technique, the carrying over into the spiritual realm of the corrupting effect of consumer capitalism. So we see spirituality sold as a commodity…' (Ken Leech, The Sky is Red, 1997, p.122). Why, in the light of our exploration of victimhood, is the concern Leech describes a distortion of Gospel spirituality?
  3. 'The poor, the deprived, the handicapped are not primarily a problem to be solved by the rich, the comfortable and the strong. They are the bearers of a witness without which the strong are lost in their own illusions. They are the trustees of a blessing without which Church cannot bless the world. (Lesslie Newbigin, 'The Right to Fullness of Life', in A Vision for Man: Essays on Faith, Theology and Society, ed. Samuel Amirtham, CLS Madras, pp. 339-47, p.346. For full text, see http://www.newbigin.net/searches/detail.cfm?ID=1567) Share how someone who has been a victim has brought blessing and inspiration to you personally.
  4. Rami Elhanan is an Israeli whose daughter was killed by a suicide bomber. 'At first I foolishly thought I could just go back to work and resume my life, but the pain was unbearable. Then, a year later, I met Ytzhak Frankenthal, the founder of the Parents' Circle…. I went along… suddenly I was hit by lightening. I can't explain it, but from that moment I had a reason to get up in the morning again. Since then my work with the Parent's Circle has become the centre of my life, a sacred mission.' (for the full text see http://www.theforgivenessproject.com/stories/rami-elhanan) How does the 'sacred' differ in nature here from the kind of 'sacred' which, when it is violated, is seen as calling for violence?

2. Further references for quotations used in the book

p.6 Anthony Browne is quoted from an article in the Spectator, 26 March '05.

p.7 Grace Davie has spoken in these terms in, for example, her paper 'From Obligation to Consumption: Patterns of Religion in Northern Europe at the Start of the twenty first Century', presented at the Bishops' Day Conference of the Diocese of St Alban's, 4 September 2002. For her full text on nthat occasion, see http://stalbans.anglican.org/daviepres.htm

p.9 Madeleine Bunting is quoted from an article in the Guardian Weekly.

p.11 Edward Farley is quoted from his article 'Transforming a Lukewarm Church', Christian Century , Aug 27 - Sept 3, 1997, pp. 754-757, p.329.

p.11 Alexander Solzhenitsyn is quoted from his Templeton Address, 'Men have Forgotten God', 1983, National Review, pp. 872-876, p.987.

p.12 Michael Leunig is quoted from an article in The Melbourne Age, Australia.

3. Further reflection on contemporary spirituality

For a collection of quotations chosen to help you reflect on contemporary spirituality in the context of the Gospel, see http://www.gospel-cul ture.org.uk/spirituality.htm.

Author: Revd David Kettle

David, an ordained Anglican, is Co-ordinator of The Gospel and Our Culture Network (www.gospel-culture.org.uk) in Great Britain and author of numerous articles published in Christian journals and magazines. He is married to Anne, a GP, and they have four children.

Books by Revd David Kettle

View all books by David Kettle