Sunday, June 26, 2011

Better Questions

A conversation with friends this week left me searching for a paragraph in a book I read forty years ago as a young student. I found it, as if I always knew it was there. It's from Voices in the Wilderness by John Bowden.

There is a point, he writes, at which our ultimate questions turn round and question us. He then goes on to quote Peter L Berger:

A child wakes up in the night, perhaps from a bad dream, and finds himself surrounded by darkness, alone, beset by nameless threats. At such a moment the contours of trusted reality are blurred or invisible, and in the terror of incipient chaos the child cries out for his mother. It is hardly an exaggeration to say at this moment, the mother is being invoked as a high priestess of protective order. It is she (and, in many cases, she alone) who has the power to banish the chaos and to restore the benign shape of the world. And, of course, any good mother will do just that. She will take the child and cradle him in the timeless gesture of the Magna Mater who became our Madonna. She will turn on a lamp, perhaps, which will encircle the scene with a warm glow of reassuring light. She will speak or sing to the child, and the content of this communication will invariably be the same - 'Don't be afraid - everything is in order, everything is alright.' If all goes well, the child will be reassured, his trust in reality recovered, and in this trust he will return to sleep.

Bowden then continues:

A common enough scene, yet it raises one of those questions fundamental to our very existence. Is what the mother says true, or is she lying to the child? The mother's actions are true only if there is some truth to the religious understanding of human existence. For if reality is limited to the natural reality that we see around us, then the reassurance given to the child, as it may be given to other people in other situations, even on a deathbed or by a graveside, is ultimately a lie. For all is not well. The terror which the child is experiencing is the ultimate reality, and the reassurance given is no more than a diversion. At the heart of the process which is essential to the making of a human person, at one of the most crucial moments of trust, there is a lie.

Since my earliest years as a student of theology and throughout my training for ordination in the Church of England it has seemed to me as though psychological forces have been at work to deflect attention away from this ultimate and existential kind of question and towards issues pertaining to society and politics. Religion has come to be seen as valuable only insofar as it enables human beings to live together in peace and with justice - the more peace and justice in the world, the more firmly established, the less we need religion at all.

The above quotes from Berger and Bowden go some way to explain why I have never quite been won over by this new theology. I think that the older questions were better.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I am from Australia.

Please find an essay which points out that what you are advocating is essentially the mommy-daddy parental deity. The author also points out that the parents, and the community in which they live, is the only real source of protection for the child.

goodfornowt said...

Thanks for this. I find the language and content of the essay rather dense, with over-use of capital letters.