Thursday, May 10, 2007

Do we need religion?

Or should we by now have put aside such childishness?

From time to time I'd like to share some of the books I am reading or have read. If any reader wishes to respond with comments or criticism I would really welcome that.

I have referred already to the philosopher D. Z. Phillips. In the Introduction to his book "From Fantasy To Faith", to which he gives the title "Marches of Vocabulary", DZP asks us to consider Psalm 139.

"Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well."

What such passages take for granted is the inescapable reality of God. Notice that there is no appeal to the evidence for God's existence; no attempt to prove it. The movement of thought is not from the world to God, but from God to the world. The world is seen from the start as God's world.

But this, observes DZP, is not the world we live in. It's not our world; nor has it been for a long time. Since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment religious belief has been looked on as a conjecture, a hypothesis, a case of weighing probabilities, a matter of calculation. Our problem now is not how to escape from God but how to find him.

It may be important simply to recognise the difficulty we have in speaking confidently about religious belief. In our struggle to mediate religious sense what are we to make of religious claims to offer an abiding sense, the same yesterday, today and forever? How is that sense to be related to past, present and future? We are tempted to look for a religious sense which transcends the contingency of the world, its coming to be and passing away, a kind of religious experience which is complete, timeless, immune to any threat from surrounding change. Yet the content of religious belief has to be expressed in a language, and language itself is not static but forever changing. At a time of extremely rapid change, when materialistic optimism has come to a dead-end, what kind of sense does religion have? What might hope, love or faith amount to?

One answer is offered by T. S. Eliot in East Coker "The faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting". But the waiting is not without style. There must be an appreciation of what is at stake. Religious meanings cannot be secured by self-authenticating moments of intuition, immune from their surroundings, however uplifting. Connections have to be shown between the richness of religious tradition and the particularity of the present. Sometimes we can do little more than to hold on to the regularity of religious observance - "we are only undefeated/Because we have gone on trying."(TSE: The Dry Salvages). We have to struggle, in our own day, to find what an authentic religious voice might be. The voice must be our own. "For last year's words belong to last year's language/And next year's words await another voice"


aka lucy said...

"We have to struggle, in our own day, to find what an authentic religious voice might be. The voice must be our own." These words remind me of an interview I read with philosopher and poet John O'Donohue.
He said, "the thing you pushed against helped define you" and relayed a story about a non-believing man who raised his children in the Catholic tradition because "he wanted them to develop their spiritual awareness through interaction with a great tradition; to shape their questions against the push of that tradition."

I agree that it is in the "push" that we develop our own religious voice. it feels like that may be what you hope to do here is push a little :-)

not sure how that may strike you, but i felt it only "neighborly" to let you know i am here and i am thinking along with you.


goodfornowt said...

Thanks Lucy, it's good to have you along.

The notion of pushing has lots of connotations for me.

Psychologically, pushing boundaries, which for one so long in the tooth sounds a bit immature, but there it is.
Conceptually, it's about style and space and pace, about timing, the right word at the right time. DZP talks about letting talk of God "come in at the right place".
Pushing is also about energy, enterprise, having a go - a blog.

tread softly

aka lucy said...

time for a little fun :-) i have tagged you for a "meme." check out details at "diamonds."