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Peter Kirk

The Church of England is not in fact becoming "less and less, the religion of the common man". Attendance has been stable over the last decade and even growing slightly. But I agree that disestablishment would help it more than hinder it.

Peter Kirk

... unless of course your point is that the C of E is becoming more the religion of the common woman than the common man. It is certainly more the religion of women than of men, but I don't know whether this gender imbalance is increasing.


That's good to know, Peter, that C of E attendance has stabilized and is even inching upward. I could have sworn I heard reports on the BBC to the contrary.

Peter Kirk

Yes, John, you have, but those reports were entirely unjustified. See this post of mine, and this follow-up.


Thanks for the links, Peter.

Your point about the danger of extrapolating from a slice of recent data into the distant future is an excellent one. It's a favorite scare-mongering tactic.

Peter Kirk

Indeed, John, just like the climate change crowd I'm sure you're thinking!


"Since religious institutions must survive by attracting people to come through their doors, the United States has become a hothouse of religious innovation and variety."

I guess I would like to challenge this and at least request some people think about things a bit more deeply. Using free market notions to explain religious success must include three major elements: innovation, bankruptcy, and anti-trust. If only the first element is emphasized, a very skewed notion of why Christianity in America is successful results. Bankruptcy is equally important as a failed church or denomination has its assets disposed of and sometimes sold off to others.

Anti-trust too is important. In any organization, people of dubious character and motives claw their way to the top and then reward others like themselves. A monopoly will naturally tend to a monopoly of corruption.

Innovation in Christianity is really related to the spiritual entrepreneurs, who usually live in tension with the seminaries - and the innovations of the seminaries.

There are several other complications to this, such as the secular education system providing atheists, agnostics and modernists an elevated, state funded teaching platform relative to Christianity. Emulating what is good in America regarding religion will be quite a trick.


Umm, your listing of places where official (or unofficial) state support of religion was a problem forgot to mention Saudi Arabia. Or Iran. Or Somalia. Or Indonesia. Or Pakistan. Or Bangladesh. Or Turkey. Or Iraq. Or Morocco. Or Algeria. Or Afghanistan. Or Yemen. Or Niger. Or Senegal. Or Mali. Or Tunisia. Or Azerbaijan. Or Guinea. Or Tajikistan. Or Libya. Or Jordan. Or Mauritania. Or UAE. Or Oman. Or Kuwait. Or Kosovo. Or Qatar. Or Comoros. Or Bahrain. Or Djibouti. Or Western Sahara. Or Maldives. Or Brunei. Or Egypt. Or Malaysia.


Oh yeah, and Syria and Turkeminstan too.

Peter Kirk

Iyov, thanks for the reminder. But in at least some of the countries you mention, such as Turkey, there is a strongly guarded barrier between the state and any religion. Yes, there may be some state intervention in religion, but generally more to control than to support. And in these countries religious influences are kept strictly out of state affairs.



thanks for pointing out my failure to mention the situation in countries with a Muslim majority. The situation in India, China, Japan, and Myanmar, for example, is also worth thinking about. States love to establish some religions and disestablish others.

But it comes close to a general rule that the established religion does not benefit from it in terms of credibility.


But it comes close to a general rule that the established religion does not benefit from it in terms of credibility.

I don't know if that is true. Has Islam been hurt, among Muslims, by the fact that a number of the countries with Muslim majorities implement Sharia law (for example, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Iran)? It seems that when Iran had its revolution and became a religious state that Muslims celebrated this as a great victory.

Turkey, of course, was a great plan for a Western-style democracy with a Muslim majority. But since the passing of Ataturk, Turkey has moved firmly to a more religious model. Turkey, for example maintains a state-controlled office, the Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı governing all mosques. And the brutal supression of the Kurds, for example, is partly a reflection of the tensions between the Turkish Hanafites and Kuridsh Shafites.

Indeed, Islamic prestige is for sale. It is interesting to further note, in this context, that Jimmy Carter only became critical of Zionism after he started to receive very large amounts of money from right-wing anti-Semitic Saudi sources, namely Shiekh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan (note that both Harvard and Guiliani have rejected money from the Zayed Foundation because of its long history from anti-Semitism). It seems for our great "human rights" President, Saudi Arabia is just fine: a county which has on its flag the words "There is no god but allah, and Muhammed is his messenger" as is famous for its oppression of non-Muslims and women. On the other hand, after he cashed his check, Carter was perfectly willing to believe that Zionism was racism.

Now, I'm an American, and I think separation of state and religion is a dandy idea. Yet, I see Israel signaled out for criticism in a way that Saudi Arabia; although Israel, for all its faults, is by far the closest thing to a western-style democracy in the Middle East.

And then we could talk about Iran . . . .



There are Middle Eastern governments, or at least one - Turkey - that are surfing the wave of Islamic revival with some skill, but most of them are making a hash of it.

As for Iran, everything I've read suggests that the credibility of religion among the masses there has taken a huge hit under the mullah state. But if what you wish to say is that the mullahs couldn't care less, that the power they now have matters more to them than whether people in general hate them or love them, I suppose you're right.

Joel Katz -

Your readers might be interested in taking a look at "Religion and State in Israel".

It's the only weekly review of media coverage on these issues out there in the blogosphere.

(by the way, its not affiliated with any movement or organization - which means you get a real cross-section of articles and opinion).

Joel Katz


Thanks, Joel. Your site is very interesting.



I think your thoughts on this are exceedingly interesting. Have you blogged about this in detail?

Doug Chaplin

I can't help feeling that this is a very American post, in which separation of church/religion and state is simply assumed to be a good thing. At the same time, I wonder if you have seriously asked why it is that American political leaders feel a need to give an account of a lively more-or-less Christian faith, while political leaders in countries that have a form of "established" religion seem to feel no such obligation.



the post does assume more than argue that the disestablishment of religion is a good thing. If you think the opposite is the case, I suggest you make your argument. If you do, don't forget to show that the establishment of a given religion and the freedom of all religions are compatible.


John, I haven't blogged on that topic. I remember an article from the Economist outlining the free market notion for the success of Christianity, which was itself probably in response to someone's thesis. It is not something I have time to pursue, but I would certainly be interested if someone did give it a little more work.


I think Doug Chaplin is right.

A film such as The People vs. Larry Flynt is uniquely American. Where else would the critics favorably review a film hailing the right (held unanimously by the Supreme Court) of a sleezeball to publish an image of the most famous clergyman having sex with his mother in an outhouse?

In the US, we take it for granted that a Catholic can be the spouse of the President. That didn't work out so well for Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII. And (thank God, thank God) we don't have anyone in Congress remotely like Ian Paisley.

Now I'm not going to give the government of Israel a blank check. I'm fairly critical of the US government, and that's a government I participate in (by voting, by contributing money to political groups and candidates, and by taking part in public discourse). If I'm so critical of my own government, you certainly won't be surprised that I'm critical of other governments.

Yet, it strikes me that criticism directed against Israel is "special". For example, I have spent significant time in Jordan on behalf of the US Agency for International Development. I have a number of Palestinian friends there, and it does not strike me that their lot is incomparable with that of Palestinians living in Israel -- or, in many cases, even of Palestinians living in the West Bank. Now, if one searches hard enough for it, one can find criticism of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in the US media -- but nothing to same degree as one finds criticism of Israel. (Maybe it is the Queen Noor factor.)

Why isn't Jimmy Carter protesting for Palestinian rights in Jordan? (One only need look at the list of Saudi funders of the so-called "Carter Center for Peace" to imagine the answer to that question.)

Why isn't the Presbyterian Church USA calling for a boycott of all companies doing business with the government of China? (One only need look at the overlap between companies on the NYSE and those doing business with the People's Republic to imagine the answer to that question.)

So, true, the Israeli government supports Orthodox yeshivos. As an American, that strikes me as unreasonable. But then it also strikes me as unreasonable that what many consider to be a leading (if not the leading) theological institute in Eastern Orthodoxy -- the School of Theology at the University of Athens -- is also government supported. Oh, yeah, and what is the National Ministry that supports that center of Eastern Orthodoxy called? The Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs. So why did you mention "Israel" in your post title and not "Greece"?



there is a movement afoot in Israel that wants to see a disestablishment take place. I run across voices to that effect because I have a long-standing love for Israel and read widely in its press and beyond. That's why I posted on the case of Israel: because I wish Judaism to flourish there. Perhaps you will remember an earlier post of mine on the phenomenon of reverse aliyah. These are questions that interest me.

If it bothers you that Israelis like Gorenberg write so passionately in favor of disestablishment, take it up with them. I for one think Gorenberg, not Chaplin, is right on.


It strikes me that you did not even read my comment. For example, I direct you to the second sentence of the last paragraph.


As for the tendency of liberal Protestants to call for disinvestment from Israel and/or a boycott of products, I am not in agreement, and have worked hard in my denomination (which has a strong liberal Protestant component) to combat unilateral anti-Israel propaganda.

As for the corruption that Orthodoxy's throne and altar system breeds, I blogged about that before I blogged about similar, and far less severe issues in Israel. That was my recent Putin post. I picked that example rather than Greece because the Russian situation is probably worse.

Still, I eagerly await your defense of establishment on your blog. As I said to Doug, don't forget to show that the establishment of a given religion and the freedom of all religions are compatible.


I think, Iyov, you need to explain in what sense you agree with Doug.


John, first, I support disestablishmentarism, as you'll note when you get around to actually reading my post.

But, let's count. in the last two weeks, you've made the following posts about Israel and Zionism:

(1) Simon Holloway on Yom HaShoah and Zionism

(2) On the need to disestablish the Jewish religion in Israel

(3) Zionism and Zionstheologie

(4) The Apostle Paul was a Zionist

(5) What does it mean to be a Zionist today? Watching and Waiting with Yehuda Amichai

(6) Boycott! A Messianic Jew becomes a Finalist in the Independence Day Bible Contest

OK, now how many posts have you made criticizing Greek or Russia in the entire lifetime of your blog?

Umm, by my count 1.

Population of Israel: 7 million

Population of Greece: 11 million

Population of Russia: 140 million

As they say on Fox News, fair and balanced.

If only you would spend as much time critiquing your own United Methodist Church as you spend critiquing Israel. (By the way, in case you are interested, number of UMC members worldwide: 12 million.)


I think, Iyov, you need to explain in what sense you agree with Doug.

I agree with this statement: I can't help feeling that this is a very American post, in which separation of church/religion and state is simply assumed to be a good thing.

I think that is absolutely correct. That is axiomatic in the US and not elsewhere. However, I'm a loyal American, and I actually buy all of our propaganda about the US being the freest country on Earth. So I think your post is very American-centric -- in that you assume American standards are good for everyone. I also feel the same way. I'm good with Pax American. I support demanding human rights in other countries (China is pretty high on my list.)

I just want our fine American standards to be applied uniformly.

Because, even the PCUSA had to apologize recently for its rampant anti-Semitism. (I'm waiting for the UMC to get around to apologizing.)



that you would understand the six posts you mention as critical in a bad way only shows that you have, as we say in Italian, "un dente avvelenato" when discussing the topic (The phrase implies, according to a website: “When I speak on this topic, be aware that I am foaming-at-the-mouth furious about it, and anything I say is colored by that.”)

If you are in favor of disestablishment, I'm glad to hear it. That means you are critical of current Israeli policy, and the ultra-Orthodox who insist on that policy, just as I am. But trust me, Iyov, I won't hold it against you.



you say:

I'm waiting for the UMC to get around to apologizing.

Don't bother. The one-sided stuff you've rightly held up for ridicule in the past represents the point of view of only a tiny sliver of the UMC body politic. Pretty much the same people in the denomination who read the New York Times on a regular basis. Which is why, if you tell them they might want to consult with Jewish confreres about the questions they confidently frame judgments about, they are genuinely surprised and say, "But I read the NYT all the time, and I see good Jewish names advocating the very same positions."

The world is a complicated place.


Look, as you and I both know, I am forced by a fundamental principle of being an American to often say I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

But still, can't you get in a couple more digs at the other side?


You're right, it's been too long since I've laid into pro-Hizbollah types. The next time Michael Totten takes on the spouters of nonsense, I will link to it.


Thanks! As a reward (not that I'm attempting to be Pavlovian), here is some cheerful news.

Bluegrass Picker of Afula

for those who read modern Hebrew, the point is ==best== made at

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    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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