No Antidote to the Poison Woman: Juliette Hughes Damns the Church with Faint Praise

It’s good to see The Age being “balanced” for once. I jest of course. They have published a reply by Juliette Hughes to Catherine Deveney’s column bagging the church (see my blog here).

Hughes is quite a decent writer (see her article here on euthanasia), but this is way from her best piece. As a defence of the Christian faith it fails dismally, giving little reason for belonging to the Church other than that they are nice people and they do good work. She agrees with Deveney that the church hierarchy are guilty of “misogynistic and regressive policies”–although at least she does not subscribe to the “recipe for grumpiness” (as John Allen called it) ie. mistaking the hierarchy for the Church. She says that the Bible isn’t a problem for her, because

taking the Bible literally is pointless, for it contains many different stories by many different authors that are easily taken out of context.

“For the instance,” she says,

most Catholics don’t feel they need to believe that the Bible’s account of creation is historically and scientifically accurate.

She is right that the scriptures are not “simply reportage”, but like “most Catholics”, she misunderstand what is meant by a “literal” reading. The Catechism says:

116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal”

It is precisely because the Bible “contains many different stories by many different authors that are easily taken out of context” that it is so important to maintain the literal reading which is achieved by scholarly “exegesis” and “sound interpretation”. But Hughes blithely declares that she

can’t really take seriously someone who believes that the Bible is the inerrant word of God.

Well, either she does not know what the Church means when they say the Word of God is “inerrant”, or she “can’t really take seriously” the Second Vatican Council which declared:

“Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit” DV 9

“We must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation [nb. not scientific or historical curiosity], wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures” DV 11

But of course, Hughes does not believe that “salvation” is something universally required. She makes the rather curious little statement:

I certainly don’t believe that someone who isn’t a Christian needs “saving”.

I know this is politically correct — for goodness sakes I work in interreligious affairs where the only sin greater than suggesting that your dialogue partner needs to be saved is to suggest that he can only be saved “in the name of Jesus” — nevertheless it is a curious statement to make in a defence of the Christian faith. I take it that she does believe that Christians need “saving” — or at least that she herself needs “saving”. Perhaps the difficulty is with the word “save”, which really seems to have lost any real meaning. The alternative translation of the biblical word “to save” is “to heal” or “to be made whole”. And I think everyone would agree that we all need healing to some degree or other, that we are all seeking wholeness of some sort or other. The suggestion — in fact the call witness — of Christianity is that real healing and wholeness can actually be found in Jesus Christ.

In this is my real beef with Hughes’ article. From beginning to end, it doesn’t mention Jesus Christ once. It certainly doesn’t mention his resurrection. And is there any other reason for being a Christian than faith in Jesus Christ and believe that he rose from the dead? As saint Paul said, “If Christ be not raised we are the most miserable of all people.” Deveney would be absolutely right to say that all Christians — including Hughes — are completely mad, if in fact Jesus never rose from the dead.

So if you want to find a real defence of Christianity, don’t bother reading Juliette Hughes’ defence. I suggest you read The Spanish Bishops Conference’s latest statement as translated on Sandro Magister’s website. Here is what they have to say about the resurrection:

34. The resurrection of Christ is an historically substantiated event, which the Apostles witnessed and certainly did not invent. This was not a matter of a simple return to earthly life; on the contrary, it was the greatest “mutation” that has ever taken place in history, the decisive “leap” toward a profoundly new dimension of life, the entry into a totally different order, which concerns Jesus of Nazareth first of all, but together with him ourselves, all of the human family, history, and the entire universe. For this reason the resurrection of Christ is the center of Christian preaching and witness, since the beginning and until the end of time. Jesus Christ rises from among the dead because his entire being is united with God, who is love that is truly stronger than death. His resurrection was like an explosion of light, an explosion of love that broke the chains of sin and death. His resurrection inaugurated a new dimension of life and reality, giving rise to a new creation that continually penetrates our world, transforming it and drawing it to itself.

Now there is the real reason for being Christian.

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4 Responses to No Antidote to the Poison Woman: Juliette Hughes Damns the Church with Faint Praise

  1. Lucian says:

    You are aware that what You’re saying here is dead wrong, … aren’t You? First of all, if we’re suposed to take things literal, we’ld have no Christianity today [*] (likewise, St. Paul wouldn’t make any sense [‘for the letter kills, while the Spirit bestows life’, or: ‘didn’t you know that all that’s been said in Scripture, allegorically has been said?’]); second, not even the Fathers of the second and third centuries, who fought Gnosticism, of all things, for cryin’ out loud, didn’t embrace such a view. The last thing You’ll see in the Fathers [and N.T.] is literal interpretation.

    [*] see:

  2. Schütz says:

    “Dead wrong”???! The Catechism of the Catholic Church is “dead wrong”!!!? What “I’m saying” here is nothing more than what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says. I guess you, Lucian, must fall into that category of those who misunderstand what is meant by “literal”.

    There are three diffent approaches to a literal hermeneutic.

    1) The bible is to be interpreted literally and only the literal interpretation has authority (fundamentalism).

    2) The bible is to be interpreted literally, but it has no authority(liberal protestantism).

    3) The primary hermeneutic of the scriptures is the literal, but this is supplemented by the secondary spiritual interpretation in line with the Traditions of the Fathers. Both interpretations are authoritative. (Catholic).

    The full teaching (from the Catechism) is as follows:

    115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

    116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal”83 [St. Thomas Aquinas, S Th I, 1, 10, ad I].

    117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

    1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism84 [cf. 1 Cor 10:2].

    2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”85 [1 Cor 10:11; cf. Heb 3:1 -4:11].

    3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem86 [cf. Rev 21:1 – 22:5].

    118 A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:
    The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith; The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny87 [Lettera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria, moralis quid agas, quo tendas anagogia].

  3. Arabella-m says:

    Hello David,

    My parish priest was impressed with the ‘progressive Catholic’ Juliette Hughes’ reply to Catherine Deveney. He read a large part of her letter as part of the homily today.

    Part of his homily was very good – he spoke about the recent publicity of a potential merge of the Anglican & Roman Catholic Churches and how this can lead us to ask questions about what is essential to us in ‘religion’.

    He used Ms. Deveny’s and Ms. Hughes’ opinion pieces in ‘The Age’ as examples of that questioning. He was positive about Hughes’ opinion and her conclusion that “what I have needed to do for myself is to work out what I didn’t believe and what I did believe. The former was relatively easy; the latter is taking a lifetime.”

    I’ll tell him about this post on your blog as he should find your take on Hughes’ opinion piece of interest.



  4. LYL says:

    If I say, “I had to stand in line for a b’zillion years,” my literal meaning is “I had to stand in line for a very long time.”

    The story of creation literally means that God made everything we can see in some kind of orderly fashion. He seemed to think this was a good idea.

    Thus, as always the Church is quite correct in asserting that “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.”

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