Sunday, April 27, 2008


(This one was prompted by yet another infuriating radio programme.) Since the recent rash of media-fuelled 'debate' about the reality or otherwise of God takes it for granted that the argument concerns the existence or non-existence of a 'thing' or 'being' that is part of a category of things or beings called 'gods' (about which non-sense, see section two of What difference does God make today?), it is worth being reminded that earlier thinkers worth their salt, like the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, spent a good deal of time patiently explaining why this is not plausible, let a lone desirable:

God is not an object beside objects and hence cannot be reached by renunciation of objects. God, indeed, is not the cosmos, but far less is God 'being minus cosmos'. God is not to be found by subtraction and not to be loved by reduction...[] God is to be discovered, if at all, in relation."

Wading through the internet, it becomes rapidly apparent that the loudest voices for or against 'religion' and its supposed 'object' are invariably ignorant of the long and subtle discussions of the past on such topics, or contemptuous of them (without necessarily knowing what they are contemptuous of), and that there is an automatic assumption that we know what we are talking about when we start to throw around such terms in relation to the divine. Which, invariably, we don't.

All of which reminds me of the comment attributed to irascible theological ethicist Stanley Hauerwas (I paraphrase, but I think it might be in Dispatches From the Front) and directed to his new students at Duke. "Welcome to my class. This is a liberal arts university, which means that someone will have already told you that you are here to make up your mind. I'm here to remind you that until you have spent time carefully listening to all the people and arguments I've been following for years, you haven't got a mind worth making up!"

This is profoundly true, but not popularly so in an environment where we assume that we know more than those who came before us, and where the conditions of debate are those we take as read. How I wish someone had said that to me 32 years ago. It might have made my journey from ignorance to very-slightly-less-ignorant a lot quicker.


Richard said...

Yeah, I am pretty certain the Hauerwas quote is from Dispatches (although my memory of the quote is that it was somewhat less PC!)

Simon Barrow said...

I think you're right! ;)