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Hallo again to all.

We can't recall just what circumstance led Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici to fall into our path in our late teens, but it did. And it charmed us. Its baroque yet compelling prose was an antidote to the dry maths textbooks and Greek verbs that accompanied our university life. Here is Sir Thomas on heresy and schism:

For heads that are disposed unto Schism and complexionally propense to innovation, are naturally indisposed unto the order or economy of one body; and there, when they separate from others, they knit but loosely among themselves nor contented with a general breach or dichotomy with their Church, do subdivide and mince themselves almost into Atoms.

The extended, almost diary-like essay of Religio Medici was a favourite for years. Through its pages we could sense the Church of England in the 1640s, when the Age of Enlightenment had not yet banished the 'wingy mysteries and subtleties' of the mediæval church and the atmosphere was a rich and heady stew of intellectual rigour and mystical devotion.

In our early twenties, we fell under the spell of minor 19th- and early 20th-century novels, many of which had serious Anglican overtones. Sinister Street, by Compton Mackenzie, is perhaps one of the best known, but the Benson family seemed to be a small publishing house of its own, with Robert Benson's nearly unreadable The Light Invisible and AC Benson's dreary Thy Rod and Staff as two examples of an enormous number. The characters in this genre moved in a world that had vanished at the end of the First World War. We bore with the wooden characters and the tedious plots to absorb the atmosphere of a Church of England in a well-ordered — if class-bound — world; a world where the church still mattered.

We see in news reports that the church still matters today in the USA, cited in this or that poll as the most overtly religious country — but what sort of religion? Peter Manseau and Jeffrey Sharlet, founders of Killing the Buddha, try to answer that question in two ways: by their own road trip, mapped along the highways of the USA, and by asking some of the best writers in the States to encounter a book of the Bible and make it their own, by 'taking them apart, blowing them up with ink and paper'. The result? Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible, which portrays religion, what passes for religion, and what pretends to be religion (is there a difference?) in the States today.

All books flash, glint, and mirror their times. No matter what church you're a part of, this book provides you with a compelling background for understanding the context in which the Episcopal Church in the USA makes its home. It challenged us to confront the images of God we've created, as comfortably and sensibly and wonderfully Anglican as we think they are — and perhaps as we think God should be.

'Killing the Buddha' may be a Buddhist concept indeed, but there is a lesson that Anglicans may well take to heart in these days of line-drawing, certainties, and finger-pointing. As someone once said, when you find God hating the same things you do, watch out. If that isn't a Buddhist-Anglican concept, we don't know what is.

See you next week.

Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 18 January 2004

A thin blue line
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