Fourteen statements to help people see what religion is or can be
Fourteen statements to help people see what religion is or can be
[image from https://www.instapainting.com/requests/56455ed390f1f8204b8b45c7]
In this post I want to offer a short definition of the word ‘Theism’. I think I am some sort of theist, but I find that most of what is written on the wikipedia page for this word is quite alien to me. It says there that theism is “the belief in the existence of …” where for the dots you can put some sort of entity called a ‘deity’. But that is not how it works in my experience, and that is not how a lot of careful thinkers and writers have expressed it. The thoughtful theist does not consider that there is another ‘thing’ to be added to the set of all things, after one has exhausted what there is in the physical universe. It might seem like that, but I find it to be more subtle and hard to describe. The one Whom we learn to encounter is not ‘another thing’ but that which makes all things possible. As I say, it is rather subtle and quite open-ended.
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.
On a branch
a cricket, singing.
Issa (Japan, 1763-1827)
[translated by Jane Hirshfield]
From the web site From Spiritual Poetry – 22 poems about spirituality and enlightenment, selected and with comments by Jane Hirshfield [http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/articles/detail/68606].
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)
The Bible is recognized by very many people as the most important written text in existence, the “greatest treasure this world affords” as it says in the coronation service for English monarchs. But this does not mean all these people come to the same conclusions from what they read. This is because there is more than one way of understanding how to learn from the Bible. I will describe this in terms of three metaphors, and, as an illustration, apply them to the consideration of same-sex marriage.
image from http://wildlifesnaps.com/search_results.php?species_common=Martin,+House
Carnsore Point, Co. Wexford, Ireland. September 20th, 2009.
A poem by R.S. Thomas:
Summer is here.
Once more the house has its
Spray of martins, Proust’s fountain
Of small birds, whose light shadows
Come and go in the sunshine
Of the lawn as thoughts do
In the mind. Watching them fly
Is my business, not as a man vowed
To science, who counts their returns
To the rafters, or sifts their droppings
For facts, recording the wave-length
Of their screaming; my method is so
To have them about myself
Through the hours of this brief
Season and to fill with their
Movement, that it is I they build
In and bring up their young
To return to after the bitter
Migrations, knowing the site
Inviolate through its outward changes.
R.S. Thomas, included in R. S. Thomas, Collected Poems: 1945-1990
[image from https://mexicoinstitute.files.wordpress.com/ 2013/03/folk-art-community.jpg]
Particles in the universe come in two types, named bosons and fermions, after Satyendra Nath Bose and Enrico Fermi (“boson” is pronounced with a long ‘o’ and a hard ‘z’, to rhyme with “goes on”). Bosons include things like photons (particles of light), which can be absorbed or emitted in large quantities. Fermions include things like electrons and protons which form the building-blocks of matter. The chief distinguishing characteristic of these different types of particle is that bosons can congregate together in the same region of space and state of motion, all moving along together. Fermions, by contrast, only ever exist one at a time in any given place and state of motion. Photons in a laser beam are an example of bosons gathered together in the same motion. Electrons in different orbitals in atoms are an example of fermions avoiding one another. This leads to the fact that atoms with different numbers of electrons behave differently, which is the basis of chemistry.
The following are some reflections on Soil and Soil.
Alastair McIntosh’s Soil and Soul (Aurum Press 2001) defies the normal categories of writing. It is political and spiritual at the same time. How do you do that? McIntosh shows the way. He is driven by concern for social justice, and also by the feeling that yes, for goodness’ sake, we are spiritual creatures and are allowed to sing. We are allowed to do dumb things like take our boots off in order to enact physically our recognition of the holiness of place. This does not negate, but rather empowers the crucial exercise of getting facts straight and getting objectivity in view. Also it does not negate but rather empowers the otherwise dull drudgery of writing to an M.P. or organising a petition or getting permission to address a public enquiry.
The above image is from www.nature.org.
I recently finished reading Alastair McIntosh’s wonderful book Soil and Soul (Aurum Press 2001). Next week I will write my own thoughts on the book as a whole. This week I would like simply to present an extract. Here it is (starting on page 31 of the paperback edition):
It would have been around 1970 that the fishing started to change in the Hebrides. I was coming up to fifteen years old and it was a very sudden thing; disturbingly sudden. We’d put to sea and find ourselves catching nothing, without apparent reason. The tide would be normal. There’d be no hint of east in the wind. Just nothing. Very dead, as Finlay would say. Conditions would be like that for about two weeks, and then the fish would come back in. And then: nothing again. So, very dead. Why?