Dean attacks theistic relativism

Radio Australia, Mar. 10, 2003
Reporter: Jo Mazzocchi

JOHN HIGHFIELD: The new Dean of Sydney’s Anglican Cathedral, St. Andrews, made a striking debut this weekend.

In his inaugural sermon at the cathedral, Dean Phillip Jensen – brother to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr. Peter Jensen – attacked what he sees as excessive relativism in the media treatment of Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

They can’t all be right, he argued.

His comments have not gone down well with some of Australian’s other religious leaders, as Jo Mazzocchi reports.

JO MAZZOCCHI: In what can only be described as a provocative start, Phillip Jensen has courted controversy by outlining why he believes some of the world’s religions – specifically Hinduism, Judaism and Islam – are mutually incompatible.

His reflections come from a conversation with a Hindu student, who recently told him that while Jesus Christ is one of history’s great spiritual leaders, rather than forsake his Hindu Gods, the youth simply wanted to add Jesus to his list.

But the new Dean says that’s unacceptable. Phillip Jensen argues while there are many wonderful Hindus, Muslims, Jews and atheists in Sydney, they cannot all be right. Some or all of them are wrong, and if wrong, he says, “they are the monstrous lies and deceits of Satan, devised to destroy the life of the believers.”

So just who, according to Phillip Jensen, is right and who is wrong?

PHILLIP JENSEN: The ones that are right are the ones who teach the truth, and the ones who are wrong are the ones who deny the truth. Jesus Christ either lived, or he didn’t live. The communists in the 1940s said that Jesus didn’t live. He either did, or he didn’t.

There is a fact out there, the man either did or he didn’t live. Now likewise, he either did or he didn’t die. Now, the Koran – in 4157 – says that Jesus did not die, and that the Jews and the Christians were deceived, or confused in saying that he did, that they are wrong, he did not die.

The Bible says that he did die. Now, I was not saying which of these was right, or which was wrong, but I was saying that you can’t get rid of the category of right or wrong in this area, because they both can’t be right.

JO MAZZOCCHI: Can you understand, though, how your comments could be interpreted as being quite insulting to other religions?

PHILLIP JENSEN: No, because I’m saying that Christians could be wrong. It may be that Jesus did not die, and is Islam is right.

JO MAZZOCCHI: But you didn’t name Christians in your speech.

PHILLIP JENSEN: I did, and I did say we could be wrong. You weren’t there, obviously.

JO MAZZOCCHI: But other spiritual leaders say they’re deeply offended by Phillip Jensen’s remarks. Rabbi Raymond Apple is a senior spokesman from Sydney’s Jewish community.

RAYMOND APPLE: The problem is that the word ‘truth’ can be understood on various levels and in various ways, and we believe that the truth is that human beings are entitled to be themselves with their own views, and no-one has any right in today’s pluralistic democratic society to wield a big stick and to say, as they used to do in the bad old days of the wars of the religions, you have to accept what I say, or else your life will be in danger.

JO MAZZOCCHI: Keysar Trad, a spokesman for Sydney’s Lebanese Muslim community, says he’s particularly detoured by the timing of this discussion on the eve of a controversial war.

KEYSAR TRAD: These comments will impact on some people.

JO MAZZOCCHI: How, how particularly will it impact on people within the Muslim community?

KEYSAR TRAD: So far, people on both sides are putting this war into perspective. It is not a war of religion, it is not a war of Christianity versus Islam, it’s a war for different motives. We might differ on the motives, and might dispute whether the motives are oil or disarmament, but we don’t dispute that this is not a religious war.

Now, when you make these comments it may add weight, or it may get some credibility to those sections in society that would rather believe that this is a religious war.

JO MAZZOCCHI: But Phillip Jensen claims he’s not intolerant of other religions at all.

PHILLIP JENSEN: Well the secularists have confused tolerance with relativism, and that was what I was attacking, and tolerance means that I beg to differ with people, and continue to accept them as humans with all the same respects, rights, values and trusts as any other human.

Relativism is the view that there is no right and wrong, we’re all in the muddle together, there is no reality out there, the world is neither flat nor round, no-one knows anything, it’s just the nihilism of post-modernity. It’s the people who won’t listen, are the secularists. They will never listen and they will never let us explain ourselves.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: The Dean of Sydney’s Anglican Cathedral, Phillip Jensen, with Jo Mazzocchi.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday March 14, 2003.
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