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Hallo again to all.

Why is the daytime sky blue? For that matter, why is the nighttime sky black? Why do some things glow when exposed to ultraviolet light, and some not? How does a mobile phone send and receive sound through the air, and why does it stop working in elevators?

The full answer to each of these questions involves fairly sophisticated mathematics and science, but there are adequate answers based on the experience of everyday life. For example, a simple answer to the question 'why is the nighttime sky black?The night sky in the Northern hemisphere' is that the stars aren't as bright as the sun, so they don't light up the sky very much. A more science-aware answer would be that although the stars are as bright as the sun, they are very far away and the light is dim by the time it reaches Earth. The full answer to that simple question, of why the night sky is black, eluded scientists for centuries; in 1823 the German astronomer Heinrich Olbers formulated what is now known as Olbers' Paradox about the darkness of the night sky.

It wasn't until the late 20th century that astrophysicists, having absorbed Einstein's Theory of General Relativity (not to be confused with his better-known Theory of Special Relativity) came up with an explanation for something that can be adequately answered for most purposes by saying 'The night sky is black because the sun goes down.' In fact, the blackness of the night sky was for a while taken as verification of the fundamental tenets of General Relativity. Even now, scientists still don't seem to be able to agree among themselves about whether or not 'expansion redshift' is a necessary part of the answer.

Not long ago Anglicans Online received this question:

I have a question for you regarding the communion. I am a licenced Pastor with a Pentecostal denomination. To other mainstream churches I am recognised and am able to offer up communion when needed; however this is not so with the Anglican faith. Why? I am accepted everywhere else. Why not with the Anglican community? Is this not in a way discrimination?

Like the question about the night sky, this question can be answered at several levels in varying degrees of precision. The answer corresponding to 'because the sun goes down at night' might be 'because you aren't licensed in the Anglican church' or 'because the church canons forbid it'. An answer that would not be just a brushoff would need to include an explanation of the concept of ordination, including a certain amount of apostolic doctrine and church polity (after verifying that she did not live somewhere that women cannot be ordained or licensed).

So often we see simple questions about the church or its governance answered with complex theological answers that, while probably true, do not seem to satisfy the questioner. Mere doctrine is rarely the answer to any question: a summit meeting of archbishops or primates or Anglican theologians might work to formulate something on which they can agree, but can they formulate something that will make sense and seem reasonable to people with no training in theology?

In church every week we hear of 'these holy mysteries'. Are we hiding behind complexity and calling it mystery when simplicity can be had? We accept that Christianity involves tenets that mortal humans are asked to accept without understanding, but we wonder sometimes whether too much is declared to be a mystery, and whether the simple is made complex for reasons having nothing to do with faith.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 14 January 2007

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