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Unpersuaded by objections to incense

21 August 2015


From the Revd Neil Bryson

Sir, — Mr Ronald Caseby welcomes the possibility of the prohibition of incense in worship (Letters, 14 August) and invokes God and science to uphold his case. The support of both these authorities is questionable.

If the substance is harmful, proof must be provided of harm caused. Overwhelming evidence leading to prohibition would consist of careful comparison of congregations (and altar parties) exposed to incense with those not so exposed. Using a large population for the study, it would have to be shown beyond all doubt that the incidence of Mr Caseby’s list of ills is significantly increased in the exposed groups. Potential harm is not evidence: actual harm to the human organism must be demonstrated. Those most exposed to incense are thurifers: how many are harmed by it?

Mr Caseby states: “Priests now burn that gum in the pretence that God likes it.” Pretence? It’s commanded in the Old Testament right up to the last book, where that command is extended to the Gentiles: “My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to my name” (Malachi 1.11). It is burned in great quantities in heaven (Revelation 5.8; 8.3f).

If, as Mr Caseby contends, God made trees to absorb these chemicals and turn them into gum, it is strange that, rather than warn against its use, the Lord commanded it to be burned in worship.


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