Sunday, 29 May 2016

A faith of the faithless that is an openness to love

As I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, as part of my sabbatical I intended to re-read a couple of Simon Critchley's books. Well, I've just finished his "Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance" and found it as powerfully persuasive as I did first time around, although I hope that this time through I have understood it and internalized it better than before.

I've now turned to his related book "Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology" which impressed me last time I read it. I've just read the following paragraph in the introduction which seems to be well-worth of reproducing here:

"Although we can be free of the limiting externalism of conventional morality, established law, and the metaphysics of traditional religion, it seems that we will never be free of [what Oscar Wilde calls] that 'sordid necessity of living for others.' The latter requires an experience of faith, a faith of the faithless that is an openness to love, love as giving what one does not have and receiving that over which one has no power. It is the possible meaning of such faith that constitutes the horizon for this book" (p. 11).

It seems to me that I could say it is this possible faith of the faithless that constitutes the horizon for my own ministry as someone sympathetically inclined towards a Christian atheism and religious naturalism.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

"The religion of Christ, but purged of theology and sacraments; a practical religion that would not promise a future bliss, but provide bliss on earth"—Tolstoy

Over the past few days I've been making one of my regular re-reads of Tolstoy's Gospel in Brief but this time using Daniel H. Shubin's translation found in "Leo Tolstoy and the Kingdom of God Within You" (2013). In the introduction Shubin quotes from an entry in Tolstoy's diary dated 4th March 1855 that he made whilst on active duty in Sevastopol:

Yesterday a conversation regarding divinity and faith led me to recognize an immense concept, the materialization of which I felt myself capable of dedicating my life to. This thought was the basis for a new religion, one that would be pertinent to the development of humanity. It would be the religion of Christ, but purged of theology and sacraments; a practical religion that would not promise a future bliss, but provide bliss on earth. It seems to me that the only manner to bring this concept to fulfillment would be the effort of successive generations consciously working toward this goal. One generation will bequeath this concept to the next and at some time, either motivation or intelligence will bring it to its materialization. To act consciously to unify people with this religion is the thought that I feel will drive me.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A letter in the Guardian to Jesse Hughes from a fellow Bataclan survivor Ismael El Iraki

The Bataclan Theatre (source)
Two weeks after the horrific attacks in Paris on 13th November 2015 I wrote a piece called "In praise of the Eagles of Death Metal and in respectful and grateful memory of those who were brutally murdered at the Bataclan in Paris but who encourage us still to live."

I meant every word I said but, as the weeks passed by the problematic nature of Hughes (which I already knew a little about) began to surface in the wider public realm. This seemed to require a response from me so, in February 2016, I gave the following address, "It’s easier without complexity—the problem of Jesse Hughes".

Some of you may be aware that Hughes has continued to say more and more problematic, unpleasant, racist and downright dangerous things and this culminated last week in an interview in Taki's Magazine. I warn you, it's not a pleasant read but that is, perhaps, why you should read it.

Then, just this morning, I read an open letter to Jesse Hughes in the British newspaper, the Guardian. It was written by Ismael El Iraki, a fan who, like Hughes himself, was accidentally caught up in the violent events that night. I recommend reading this piece of intelligent and compassionate sanity and thank Ismael El Iraki from the bottom of my heart for having the courage to write it.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The word properly required only for this sentence, not for the next or the next and not the Word of the Lord, nor of any of the Philosophical Fathers

Geneva Bible
Circumstances mean that I currently find myself in situations in which two different groups of people with whom I need to engage are convinced they have, not only the Truth, but the last word on this Truth.

The first group is political and it is in the form of orthodox Marxism. If you want to know what this position says click on the following link:

Orthodox Marxism

The second group is religious and it comes in the form of conservative evangelical Christianity, a position that can best ascertained by taking a spin over to the webpage of Wycliffe Hall in Oxford (with whom I had more than a few run-ins whilst I was studying theology in Oxford):

Wycliffe Hall

The problem in both cases is that the people concerned believe, as I have just said, that they have the Truth and the last word on this Truth.

However, in raising this matter I’m not saying that, by contrast, I have the Truth and, therefore, I should have the last word on political matter X and religious matter Y. Not at all. I’m simply saying that human experience tells us over and over that there is no simple access to some simple overarching Truth and the consequence of this is, therefore, that there can be no last word but only a commitment to an open-ended, critical dialogue in which appropriate ways to proceed are continuously to be worked out together.

Naturally, I find myself ridiculed by both groups when I suggest that we best proceed by sharing perspectives and allowing ourselves not only to attempt to change other people’s opinions, but also genuinely to be prepared to allow our own opinions to be changed by engaging in such a dialogue. The wager being that a genuinely useful, ad hoc (i.e. for this moment), lower case "truth" may emerge between us that is appropriate, now for this situation, now that.  

As James C. Edwards, a philosopher whose work I admire greatly and which had a profound impact upon me, said in his "Plain Sense of Things":

However good and true a poem [or, I would add, any other creative texts like Engels’ “Dialectics of Nature” and “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific”, or the Bible] there is always call for more such poems [or other creative texts] . . . . There is, after all, the right word to speak, the one properly required for this sentence (if only I can hear it), but it is the word properly required only for this sentence, not for the next or the next. It is the right word, the only right word; but it is not the Word of the Lord, nor of any of the Philosophical Fathers (p. 234).

I’m a great believer that, in the beginning is the word but it is always the right word of which Edwards speaks, one for this sentence but not (necessarily) the next, for this situation but not (necessarily) for the next.

A DiEM 25 (Democracy in Europe Movement) group has started in Cambridge

As regular readers of this blog will know, in February I became a member of DiEM25, the Democracy in Europe Movement an initiative started by, amongst others, Yanis Varoufakis.

As a recent post of mine called The day the music (of Europe) died . . . a jazz musician’s reflections on the EU “deal” with the Greeks and the end of a great democratic and cultural vision revealed, the crushing of the "Athens Spring", really did cause me to despair. However, with the launch of DiEM25 in February of this year, some measure of hope has been restored to me and last week I, along with twelve other people, formed a DiEM25 "Spontaneous Collective" (a DSC) here in Cambridge and we now have our own Facebook page:

Please feel free to get in touch with me/us either via the Facebook page or through this blog.


A ride over to Lidgate Castle

A meadow on the way out of Cambridge
Yesterday I took a longish spin on the Copenhagen-Pedersen out into Suffolk to visit the site of Lidgate Castle which was built c. 1143. As you'll see in the following photos there is a church on the site, the nave of which may have been the castle's chapel.

I've been cycling this part of the country for years but, somehow, have never made it there before. I'm glad I did!

Below are a few photos from the ride, just click on a photo to enlarge it. All were taken with my iPhone 6+, the ones in black and white using the Argentum Camera App.

The level crossing at Dullingham
Water Tower at Ditton Green
Looking west from the hill at Lidgate
Lidgate Church
A small section of castle wall (?) in the graveyard at Lidgate
Some gravestones in Lidgate graveyard
Lidgate Bailey Pond

Burwell Castle earthworks

The evening sun from the living room window of the Manse

Saturday, 21 May 2016

The Confraternity of the Faithless

When I think of religion at all, I feel as if I would like to found an order for those who cannot believe: the Confraternity of the Faithless, one might call it, where on an altar, on which no taper burned, a priest, in whose heart peace had no dwelling, might celebrate with unblessed bread and a chalice empty of wine. Everything to be true must become a religion. And agnosticism should have its ritual no less than faith.

Oscar Wilde quoted by Simon Critchley