Friday, 26 September 2008

This and That

Look, I don't do regular updates! I rarely kept a diary up for more than a couple of weeks.

For those who are interested (greetings, weird people!), we had a very enjoyable few days on the island of Jersey, during which I read nothing at all (except the Saturday paper and some tourist leaflets). We will be spending part of next week on a trip to Canterbury Cathedral. The Squirmle has produced his first canine tooth (total count now 13).

I'm sort of following threads on the Christianity group at Library Thing, but my present intellectual/spiritual position is too much in flux for me to add anything to them with any degree of confidence or self-consistency. I have, for the moment, two problems. I have lost confidence in the notion of God as Creator; and I have lost confidence in the moral and spiritual authority of the New Testament. I am therefore going through one of my periodic attempts to see whether a sustainable liberal Christian faith can actually be reconstructed.

The first is prompted partly by some kind of psychic seepage from reading or hearing about the religious views of some of my personal heroes and luminaries, such as Ralph Vaughan Williams and David Attenborough. Also by watching Richard Dawkins on TV. Dawkins is supremely annoying in his insistence on engaging almost entirely with the lunatic end of contemporary Christianity, which obliges me to keep agreeing with him while saying "yes, but...". On the other hand, I do wonder whether my own position (a kind of loose evolutionary theism) is ultimately tenable. In discussion with my other half a couple of weeks ago, I found myself adumbrating Deism.

If God really were an Intelligent Designer, then so much of the design is morally repugnant that theodicy would become a problem. (To paraphrase Attenborough, why believe in a God who designs worms that live in children's eyeballs?) Perhaps I must put to myself the argument I have put to others: God cannot do something categorically impossible, and if creating a Nice universe with free creatures is categorically impossible, then he couldn't have done it any other way. But if God is not able or willing to intervene in evolution (any more than in natural disasters), then what is his contribution to creation? If he is merely a First Cause and Ground of Being, then it is hard to see how a created universe might differ from an uncreated one. The notion of a Creator then becomes entirely a matter of faith based on tradition: there simply is nothing in the universe to stand as evidence one way or the other. "God does not reveal himself in the world." My loss of confidence in the Creator is, perhaps, a result of so much recent exposure to Creationism, and my deeply felt rejection of it. Without the bedrock of irrational commitment to authority, it is hard to maintain grip on a liberal faith.

As for the New Testament: just as the realization that evolution is a fact undermines a traditional view of the Old Testament, the realization that homosexuality is a fact undermines a traditional view of the New Testament. Trying to retain Jesus while regurgitating Paul is hardly a new conundrum, but it is one which I am addressing anew.

If neither Creation nor Scripture can offer a reliable support for religious faith, then one has only the exercise of religion itself. I realize that I once summed up faith just so, about 20 years ago, as "the practice of prayer and virtue". But to engage with a non-interventionist God requires commitment to the kind of non-conceptual and contemplative prayer in which I have so often tried and failed. Perhaps I must make another effort towards Zen, which I once described as offering "a way of praying on those days when I don't believe in God". What, though, to do while attending public worship (irritating, distracting, boring)? As a householder (grihastha), I am no longer a free agent, able to wander at will between Solemn High Mass and the Friends' Meeting for Worship.