Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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Alternative Vote and other animals

Visualisation of electoral outcomesIt seems that our new ConDem government will be offering us a referendum on changing the electoral system used for general elections from First Past The Post to Alternative Vote (FPTP → AV). The pre-election manifesto status was that the Tories wanted to keep FPTP, the Lib Dems wanted proportional representation (PR), while it was Labour who were the party suggesting a move to AV. A few times the BBC made the mistake of suggesting that AV is a proportional system, but this is not surprising from reporters who are more concerned with personalities than electoral geekery.

There is some self-interest in the parties’ various stances. On the basis of votes cast in this last general election, the Tories would probably lose seats given any of the other systems, Labour would probably gain a few seats under AV, and the Lib Dems would probably gain around a score of seats under AV and over a hundred under PR. Of course, these are hypothetical results, because we can’t be sure how a different system might change the way electors cast their votes (for the data, see this Grauniad article). All the different systems would still have resulted in a hung parliament, but oddly both AV and PR might have made a Lib-Lab coalition more appealing with a stable majority (mainly because the Lib Dems would have more seats). The ConDems offer of AV is a compromise in that the Tories would possibly lose seats but not as many as under PR, and the Lib Dems would gain seats but not as many as under PR.

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The birth of Jesus according to the Qur’an

In Islam, Jesus (‘Isa عيسى) is an honoured prophet. Qur’an 19 — Suratu Maryam سورة مريم, the Chapter of Mary — begins with the story of Zechariah (Zakariyya زكريا) being promised that he and his barren wife will have a son, to be called John (Yahya يحيى), and he is struck dumb for three nights as a sign of the promise. Although Zechariah is not described as a Jewish priest, it said that he comes out of the sanctuary (mihrab محراب) after his prayer.Mary (Maryam مريم) is introduced in verse 16, where we are told nothing of her apart from that she leaves her family and goes to an ‘eastern place’ away from them. God sends an angel to her, popularly understood to be Gabriel (Jibra’il جبرائيل), although the Qur’an describes him simply as ‘Our Spirit’ (Ruhana روحنا). Mary is a virgin, and the Qur’an agrees with the Gospels that she conceived miraculously by the power of God. The child she is to bear is fortold to be a sign for humanity and a mercy from God (ayatun lin-nasi wa-rahmatun minna اية للناس ورحمة منا).When Mary went into labour she went out into a remote place, and clung to the trunk of a palm tree (an-nakhlah النخلة). The Qur’an records her as crying out in pain that she would rather had died and been forgotten at that moment, giving birth all alone. Then God, out of mercy, made a spring to bubble up beside her and urged her to shake the dates from the tree so that she could be refreshed by them. Continue reading


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Glory to God in the highest!

The angels sing to shepherds to tell them of the Messiah’s birth. Luke 2.14records the multitude of heaven’s army in Greek as:

Angels and shepherds from Cambodia

Angels and shepherds from Cambodia

δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ
καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη
ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας.

There has been a little trickle from Jim West’s blog via clayboy about how best to translate the song. Continue reading


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Maranatha!

'Maranatha' in Greek, Aramaic square-script with Tiberian vowel points and Syriac, in its two divisions.Advent is well come nigh! A truth calendrical and etymological. So, I thought I might delve into one obscure word in this season’s vocabulary. 

The word ‘Maranatha‘ appears in I Corinthians 16.22 and Didache 10.6. Respectively:

εἴ τις οὐ φιλεῖ τὸν κύριον, ἤτω ἀνάθεμα. μαράνα θά.

If anyone does not love the Lord, let them be anathema. Marana tha.

ἐλθέτω χάρις καὶ παρελθέτω ὁ κόσμος οὗτος. Ὡσαννὰ τῷ θεῷ Δαυείδ. εἴ τις ἅγιός ἐστιν, ἐρχέσθω· εἴ τις οὐκ ἔστι, μετανοείτω· μαρὰν ἀθά· ἀμήν.

May grace come and this world pass away. Hosanna to the God of David. If anyone is holy, let them come; if anyone is not, let them repent; maran atha; amen.

It is an Aramaic phrase (although Luther tried to twist it into a totally different Hebrew phrase — מָחֳרַם מָוְתָה māḥăram mothâ, ‘devoted to death’). It was once thought to be a curse word, associated to its preceding anathema in the I Corinthians verse, but is clear that the ancient authors who promoted this interpretation had a rather hazy understanding of the phrase. However, that verse is part of Paul’s concluding prayer for the Corinthians, and forms a rather disjointed collection of prayed aphorisms:

  • All the brethren send greetings.
  • Greet one another with a holy kiss.
  • I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.
  • If anyone does not love the Lord, let them be anathema.
  • Maranatha.
  • The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
  • My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus. Continue reading


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Islam’s victory over Christianity

Today is Eid Mubahila (Feast of the Cursing Contest), a Shia Islamic festival. It commemorates a meeting between the Prophet Muhammad and a delegation of Christians from Najran in southern Arabia (today’s Yemen).The meeting took place on the ninth year of Hijra. The Prophet had sent embassies to various part of Arabia bidding its inhabitants to become Muslim. The city of Najran had an extremely obstinate Christian population who refused to convert. Muhammad sent a letter to Najran to invite them to convert or pay jizya (tax for nonbelievers), and they sent a delegation headed by Abbot Abdul-Massih Aqib, Bishop Abdul-Harith ibn Al-Qama and Monk Sa’id to Medina. The account says that they changed into silk robes and gold rings before meeting the Prophet, and that he would not meet with them until they changed back into their humble clothes. Continue reading


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Why so pensive, Pascal?

Blaise Pascal by Augustin Pajou, Louvre

Blaise Pascal by Augustin Pajou, Louvre

I find the various philosophical arguments for the existence of God intriguing speculations rather than cast-iron proofs. However, in Pascal’s Pensées there appears one compelling argument that ditches the speculation and goes for a straight, honest wager. It goes like this

  • If you believe in God
    • and God exists, you gain everything.
    • and God does not exist, you loose nothing.
  • If you do not believe in God
    • and God does not exist, you gain nothing.
    • and God does exist, you loose everything.

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