Thursday, 26 November 2015

Female status in the west and its debt to Christ

Jesus Christ has had a huge and growing effect on history, as described in Who is this man? By John Ortberg, one that has grown from humble beginnings in Jerusalem  to  inspire the lives of billions and transform societies  2000 years later in a variety of ways and His influence continues to  grow. 

As noted by H.G.Wells  in ‘The Greatest  Men in History’:

The historian’s view of an individual’s greatness is ‘what did he leave to grow?’ Did  he start men to thinking along fresh lines with a vigor that persisted after him? By this test Jesus stands first.

The incarnation of our Creator into humanity not surprisingly had numerous profound effects, including the infusion of the divine into situations of suffering and sin, something requiring deep prayer and meditation to comprehend but  God chooses to make spontaneously available in many cases.  Even though only partially understood and sometimes wrongly portrayed by the powerful institutions, both secular and clerical, Christ has transformed the world to a degree which makes Christian society more humane, free, democratic  and technologically advanced than any other (look around the world today and tell me you don't agree, bearing in mind that most non-Christian nations, such as India and China, have been  influenced by the west in modern times).

One of the many unique contributions of Jesus Christ to human progress was the effect on the place of women in society and how he overturned tens of thousands of years of entrenched exploitation of females worldwide. Here I will list just a few points:

Image result for imago dei virgin maryThe Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. Hundreds of virgin births occur in nature every year. While this has theological significance in the case of Mary, signalling that God had not favoured any biological blood line for His entry into humanity, it also illustrates the essential complementarity  between the gender roles which God chose for his incarnation.  He could have just appeared out of nowhere, like an angel, but to be fully human He had to go through all the stages of life from visceral birth to  physical death and interact fully with both genders.

The Samaritan woman at the well.   Jesus’s  longest recorded conversation with one person was with a woman, a Samaritan (a sect despised by the Jews) who had been married 5 times.  It was a conversation about her relationship to God and  ‘many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.’  It was to her that Christ gave this eternally powerful statement:  But whosoever drinketh of the water I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14)

Women followers.  Jesus travelled from place to place spreading the gospel.  Following him were the 12 disciples, Mary Magdalene, Joanna wife of Chuza from Herod’s court, who was the manager of Herod’s household,  Suzanna and a host of others (see Matthew 27:55, Luke 8:1-3).  Joanna used her comparative wealth to help in spreading the word. This was unprecedented and must have raised many an eyebrow. Respectable women and unmarried girls were expected to remain at home, out of sight.

Healing and resurrection of women. Jesus healed a woman who for 12 years had been sick with a flow of blood and, uniquely, without a word having been spoken beforehand.  She just touched his cloak from behind while being surrounded by  a crowd and the healing power flowed into her.   Later that day  he resurrected the daughter of Jairus, the ruler of a synagogue, having been called to his house.  (see Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:22-42, Luke 8:41-55.)

Martha and Mary. Jesus  was invited into the house of Martha , Mary and Lazarus of Bethany. While Martha prepared food Mary sat listening to Jesus. Martha resented this but was rebuked by Jesus who made clear to her the importance of spiritual values. This, I believe, would have been unusual, given the general status of females at that time.  He could have chosen to say this to a man but he was here to relate to and influence humanity, not just men; and humanity involved male and female in complimentary roles and equal before God.  It also emphasized that the woman’s role was not confined to domestic duties, important though these are. (See Luke 10:38-42.)

Gathering to anoint Christ's body.  The Bible relates that on the morning after the Sabbath, as early as they could possibly come without breaking the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the lesser and Joses (also called "the other Mary"), Salome the wife of Zebedee, and Mary the mother of the apostles James and John,  came with spices to anoint His body and prepare it for burial.(See Mark 16:1-2.)

The discovery of the empty tomb . The gospels record that the empty tomb was discovered by  Mary Magdalene of Magdala and other women, and it was to her  that an angel first announced the Resurrection, something which no one was expecting and was probably the most cosmically significant event since beings with the imago deo had  appeared on earth.   Not surprisingly Mary  initially met with disbelief  from the male disciples, who had dispersed and become demoralized as their belief in him as the Messiah ebbed away on witnessing his ignominious death. (See  Matthew 28:1-10;  Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-8.)

Women in the book of Acts.  There are numerous cases of single or married women preaching or teaching the gospel, or being healed or resurrected by one of the disciples. Paul’s first European convert was Lydia (Acts 16:40), who was used by God to house him and Timotheus.  Also in Acts 9:36-42 Dorcas full of good works, died and was raised by the Lord through Peter.  For a detailed listing of women's contributions to the spreading of Christianity in the first century see

fn photo fn clayton 1891
Florence Nightingale, pioneer of modern heallthcare
Women through history. As the influence of Christ spread, however imperfectly,  throughout the world  women played an increasingly important role in history, whether as nuns in convents or  mystics [e.g. St Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897); St Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)] or major forces for good in society. Dozens could be listed. FlorenceNightingale’s (1820-1910) God- inspired initiatives in the Crimean War were an essential precursor to the nursing vocation and the founding of the NHS in the UK following WW2. She also pioneered the application of statistical techniques and is said to have invented the pie chart.   And innumerable social reformers and founders of charities throughout the 19th and 20th centuries have been women. The Quaker Elizabeth Fry, for instance, was responsible for the Prison Act of 1823, while William Wilberforce was campaigning to outlaw slavery for the first time in
Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa followed a vision from Christ
history. The blessed Mother Teresa (1910-1997) worked in Calcutta  as a nun and a missionary. She left a privileged upbringing after a vision from Christ.

 Harriet Beecher Stowe and Harper Lee were  Christ-inspired novelists that helped major shifts in the spiritual state of the USA, leading to the civil rights reforms. They have also taken on roles of national leadership, as did Joan of Arc.

Compare the treatment and status of women in Roman times with nowadays:  the Law of Romulus allowed routine killing of female fetuses and infants, resulting in  a gender ratio of 140 males to 100 females. Temple prostitution was widespread. Sex slavery and  child molestation were standard, default practices, and even today are only regarded as wrong in societies with a Christian heritage or after recent Christian  influence.  In India, for instance, gender exploitation is being slowly removed by conversion from Hinduism or Islam to Christianity. Even within a non-Christian religion the leaders are being led by example.(My personal view is that the Holy Spirit is working through all religions and will eventually bring them together in Christ, even when cultural and ritual practices are retained. The world will then be in peace except for those who reject Him.)

I am not an academic and became confirmed in Christ only a few years ago in my sixth decade. However,  the more I look at history the more apparent it becomes that the unique role of women in western society and their growing role in other parts of the world, even today, owe a great debt to the life, teaching and resurrection of  Jesus the Christ.  


Thursday, 12 November 2015

Living planet: the cosmic connection (updated 12 Nov 2015)

Terrestrial life appears to have begun with single celled organisms some 4.1 billion years ago (until only a few months ago the accepted figure was 3.8 billion years), when the earth was still subject to  the late heavy bombardment, a very hostile place of meteors and molten rock. It is now a labyrinth of vegetation, bacteria, viruses, insects, worms, reptiles, fish, birds and mammals interacting through hierarchies and networks in ways  only now beginning to be apparent. It is all happening on scales ranging from the sub-atomic  to the global and it is no longer heresy to say that the processes of organization and self improvement  throughout are far from random. Intelligence and purpose are revealed to an extent which the 19th century biologists could never have imagined. The whole biosphere appears to be intelligent through and through, not just a lot organisms blindly competing for survival and driven at random by a blind watchmaker. Random processes do occur, but they are present within an ordered scheme and used by some guiding agency in a systematic way.
Did terrestrial life start in the late heavy bombardment?
Equally revolutionary is our growing perception of how this ecosystem is influenced by extraterrestrial factors:

  • Sun and Moon affect tides, which affect  marine life ranging from viruses to blue whales.  Tidal effects probably extend down into the crust which is also home to bacteria and viruses. The cyclic motions and eclipses of celestial objects, together with the Earth’s magnetic field, have allowed birds and mammals to migrate over large distances.
  • Sunlight is the energy source which through photosynthesis powers all microbes and plants, except that a few  get their energy from  reactions between inorganic chemicals of stellar origin.
  • Solar energy, mostly ultra-violet (UV) , brings heat into the atmosphere and ocean, so that ice can be melted, water evaporated and a life friendly warm environment sustained. Although the Sun’s output has grown by 20-30% over the 4.3 billion year history of the Earth the surface temperature has remained life friendly.
  • Cosmic rays from supernovae, gamma ray bursts and supermassive black holes non-randomly induce mutations in viruses, bacteria and the cells working within living organisms.  This has permitted speciation in insects and microbes (and possibly worms) and microevolution in some higher life forms (e.g.  Darwin’s finches).
  • Supernovae (very hot stars in their death throes) manufacture iron and heavier elements used in life and civilization, either directly in the composition of soil, plants and animals, or indirectly by providing the radioactive heat sources (uranium and thorium isotopes) deep down in the Earth  which drive plate tectonics and volcanism, both crucial to the biosphere’s evolution (e.g. the water cycle would be impossible without it).
  • Stars have produced  elements (notably carbon -12),  simple compounds and organic complexes with up to 10 atoms, either internally or in circumstellar space, which are all part of the living systems here on Earth. Precursors of RNA and DNA together with some 200 other organic compounds have been produced in astronomical  environs.
  •  Comets consisting largely of ice are thought to have replenished atmospheric water loss as they hit the Earth over the aeons. The water loss is due to due to cosmic ray bombardment driving water molecules into space. 
  • Meteors and meteoric dust amounting to millions of tons over the aeons have crashed and burned into the oceans, land and atmosphere with inevitable effects on organisms, especially during the late heavy bombardment of 3.8 - 4.15 billion years ago.
  •  Asteroid motion has been orchestrated by Jupiter, Saturn and Venus to result in mass extinctions as the asteroids hit the Earth over hundreds of millions of years. A rapid spurt of new life forms are created after every extinction event. 

  •  Cosmic fine tuning (e.g to 100 decimal places in the case of the gravitational constant) was needed to allow all the processes of life and individual  organisms to occur. Dozens of physical constants are  adjusted in this way to permit biological life.

  • Dark matter may be playing a role in these events, e.g. in guiding the motions of planets over billions of years or in affecting heat processes in the Earth’s core. Research on this is only just starting and given that exotic dark matter forms most of the universe its role in the biosphere could be fundamental.
  • Quantum entanglement ('spooky action at  distance') is now accepted as standard physics. It enables instantaneous interaction between certain particles e.g molecules originally sharing the same quantum state, regardless of separation, including some in biological systems. Probably the farthest apart organisms subtly influence each other with no time delay and given that all particles were entangled in the Big Bang singularity there could be atoms in organisms connected to anywhere in the universe at any time, past, present or future.
Most of this is fairly easy to check in a google search and far from exhaustive. It is the result of peer reviewed academic research. Holding in one's mind all these connections between life and the universe adds an extra dimension to the experience of witnessing nature and, for me, testifies to the intricacies  of God's creation and the way it was brought into being.

John Sears

Author, 2077: Knights of Peace

See also

 Our Precious Planet

Deep mystery of existence

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