We all know that asking questions is important. Asking the right questions is at the heart of most intellectual activity. Questions must be encouraged. We all know this. But are there any questions which may not be asked? Questions which should not be asked? Although many a young undergraduate might initially say “no: never! All questions must be encouraged!” I think most thoughtful people will realise there is a little more to it than that.
Last term I was privileged to be invited to give a sermon in Exeter College chapel here in Oxford. Here I am posting an extract from that sermon, with minor modifications to fit it to the blog format.
I began by talking about the fact that we all find it hard to know how to talk about God. Two ways which don’t work are as follows. First there is a rather obviously muddled way, in which people talk about something that has the appearance of being like other entities, only bigger and more powerful, located somewhere called ‘heaven’. Secondly there is an attempt to be more careful, but which often fails to carry real weight. This is when people speak in a more philosophical way, bringing in terms such as ‘omniscience’ and ‘omnipotence’, but all held at arm’s length, so that it all seems a bit artificial, like a word-game.
(the extract begins here)
Last week I posted a thought in which music in major and minor keys is used as an analogy for ways of thinking or of seeing. I did not develop the analogy; just hinted at it. Now I will develop it a little.
The sort of activity that tries to “turn minor chords into major chords” in this analogy is any activity where a naturalistic or scientistic world-view is imposed on the very framework of a discussion, so that a view which does not accept that world-view is prevented from even being expressed in its own terms. Here I am using the word ‘scientistic’ not for science, but for a philosophical position which puts analysis and dissection into low-level physical causes at the centre of all discourse, as if that were the most important thing, or only way of getting at truth.
Events in Syria and Europe have made me decide to postpone some other thoughts and instead comment on something at the heart of Islam. This overlaps with a Christian issue, and it needs careful handling, so this is a long post (almost 3000 words). I hope readers will give it a fair hearing.
This blog is not a commentary on political and religious affairs in general. It is about science and religion. However, now more than ever, we need accurate thought about what will help, in the long term, to overcome religious violence, and therefore I am posting here some relevant material. I will be discussing the way we approach the Bible and the Qur’an.
image: Prayer by Graham Dean, see http://paintingandframe.com/prints/graham_dean_prayer-8947.html
We have to abandon all claims to know, and opt instead for the choice of seeking to learn, admitting that we have much to learn, and humble enough to allow that seeking to learn can include, yes, simply asking.
I have not posted for a couple of weeks because I was ruminating on what to say. There are a variety of issues I could write about, but I decided in the end to present, in an informal way, some general thoughts on theism, world-views, atheism, faith, science and religion.
What this blog advocates is a broadly positive stance on both science and that aspect of human life which is about refusing materialism and scientism, in favour of a richer notion of what may be said to be true and real. That lengthy expression refers, broadly, to what has often been called “religion”, but I have been cautious about the use of that word in this blog, because of all the obvious dangers and abuses that often accompany religion. I think that there is both good religion and bad religion, and in the end what I want to do in the blog is not about religion as such, but about encouraging one another to realize and live out the most complete expression of what human life is, whatever that may be.
This post is mainly to announce that I have now added a further talk to the resources section. You can find it here:
Here is an extract from the talk:
image: detail: Mother and Child by the Sea, Jozef Israëls
I have been reading We make the road by walking by Brian D. McLaren (Hodder and Stoughton, 2014). Here is a quotation from it. I will not comment further; he makes the point so well.
A little girl once asked her mother if the Bible story of Elijah flying to heaven on a chariot of fire was ‘real or pretend’. How would you have answered here question?
You might try to explain that sometimes a ‘pretend’ story can tell more truth and do more good than a ‘real’ one—as Jesus’ parables exemplify so powerfully. You might explain how real stories are often embellished with pretend elements. Or you might respond as that little girl’s wise mother did: ‘That’s a great question! Some stories are real, some are pretend, and some of the very best ones use a mix of both reality and make-believe to tell us something important. What do you think about the Elijah story?’ The mother’s answer didn’t tell the little girl what to think. It invited her to think — as a bona fide member of the interpretive community.
A Man Digging Potatoes, Thomas Frederick Mason Sheard
So far in this blog I have tried to offer ways for people unsure about religious language to find a way in, and I have objected to various unsubstantiated or ill-argued claims coming mostly from outside the Christian movement. However, in the interests of balance and straightforwardness, I want to admit this week that the worldwide Christian movement itself has deep problems and often does much harm. I think it does a huge amount of good too, but it has its own characteristic problems and they will not go away quickly or easily.