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Batter my head, three-person’d God

10 October 2014


CHRISTIANITY doesn't get much more muscular than Manny Pacquiao, a Filipino boxer who has won ten world championships at eight different weights. He gave an interview that wonderfully bewildered The Observer's Kevin Mitchell.

The standard US sportsman has a close relationship with God at work, but a rather more open relationship when at play. Pacquiaio does things the other way round.

"'I have a lot of dreams and visions,' the world welterweight champion says in a voice as unthreatening as a mother's whisper. 'I even heard the voice of God. When I heard the voice of God, I am trembling and melting. I feel I have died. It was an amazing, amazing experience.

"'I'm happy because I found the right way, salvation, born again. We are required to be born again, all of us. Christ said unless we are born again we cannot enter the kingdom of God. So it's very important to me. Jesus Christ said: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." There is no other way. The only way is through Jesus.'"

According to his manager ("I'm not a religious man"), this is deeply upsetting to the boxer's mother, since he was raised a Roman Catholic: "She's always trying to press a rosary into his hands." She also worries that it will harm his political career; for he is a hugely popular figure in the Philippines.

But his wife is extremely happy: "He doesn't party any more, doesn't drink any more. He's a clean liver, doesn't fuck around with girls no more. And his wife is very happy about that. He's a better family man. So there's a lot of good that goes with it."

He is due to batter a hapless American into submission at one of the giant Macau casinos in November.

THE GUARDIAN also had an unsavoury story from Australia about Frank Houston, the father of the founder of the Hillsong churches, who had been prominent in the Assemblies of God.

When he confessed in 2000 to the past sexual abuse of a prepubescent boy, his own son sacked him from the Assemblies of God. Nine victims in all came forward, and one of them, known as AHA, has just been testifying at an Australian government inquiry.

"In 2000 AHA met Frank Houston and a third, unknown man at Thornleigh McDonald's, he said.

"Frank Houston allegedly told him, 'I want your forgiveness for this,' and offered him $10,000. The unnamed man then put a food-stained napkin in front of him and told him to sign it for the money, AHA told the commission. AHA signed the napkin and the unnamed man said he would send AHA a cheque.

"Frank Houston said if there were any problems to call [his son, the Hillsong founder] Brian Houston, which AHA did two months later when nothing had arrived, the commission heard.

"AHA alleged that Brian Houston became angry and said: 'You know it's your fault all of this happened - you tempted my father.'

"He said he had replied by asking Brian Houston if he was also molested by his father. Brian Houston allegedly slammed the phone down.

"Two weeks later a cheque with no covering note arrived in the mail, he said."

This is not what is normally meant by the prosperity gospel. It is also interesting in its reversion to an entirely Anglo-Saxon (as in pre-Norman) idea of justice: the crime is erased by a payment of money to the victim. 

THEN there was an unusual face-of-Jesus story. For once, this one was quite probably meant as a depiction, since it was painted on a Roman plate excavated in Spain. As the Daily Mail had it: "Archaeologists in Spain claim they have found one of the world's earliest known images of Jesus - and he doesn't have a beard.

"The figure is engraved on a glass plate dating back to the 4th Century AD, according to Spanish reports. He is flanked by two apostles, believed to be Peter and Paul.

"The scene is striking because Jesus looks very different from later depictions - he has no beard, short, curly hair and is wearing what appears to be a philosopher's toga."

The Guardian preferred a more scholarly approach: "The history of Christianity in Spain may have to be rewritten after the discovery of a glass plate depicting Christ that dates to the fourth century AD.

"Christian Spain is thought to have begun in the fifth century with the arrival of the recently Christianised Visigoths from central Europe and Byzantium."

I don't know by whom Christianity in Spain is supposed to have started in the fifth century when the Arians arrived, but perhaps The Guardian is pursuing a subtle theo-logical agenda in which the orthodox are written out of history. This is obviously more likely than that someone is copying what's in a press release.

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