Wednesday, January 26, 2005


One recent correspondent expressed surprise "that a theologian should link to the news reporting of the National Secular Society." I can't think why. It's a rich source of material. Why NSS were even decent enough to plug my Jerry Springer piece a couple of weeks ago. And I'm content to stand with others against "the stifling censors of the religious right", even if their reasons for doing so are differently-shaped to mine.

Of course I know some 'secularists' behave as if they had a vested interest in portraying all religious thought as irrational, and faith as an irretrievable antonym of reason. Frankly I don't think they do themselves any favours when they do this. But it's their call. And I can well sympathise with the anger and frustration that religion can cause, because I've experienced it myself. It's still more productive and honest to challenge each other in our best guises rather than our worst, though I know how easy that is to say and how difficult to do.

But none of our problems in hearing each other as we would like to be heard should be allowed to detract from the fact that a serious, well-tempered conversation between thoughtful Christians and thoughtful humanists can only be enriching, though not easy -- given the politics of religion and public life and the way it encourages us to stack our arguments in 'opposing camps'.

Much the same applies in terms of theology and atheism, it seems to me, where the people keenest to bang on in the God-Notgod 'debate' are usually people in some odd time warp of analytical philosophy and pre-Heideggerian metaphysics. They're either blissfully unaware of how things have moved on in philosophy through phenomenology and narrative/linguistic thinking, or they hate "continental thought" because it doesn't allow them to 'win' in the way they think they ought to.

Meanwhile, free-thinkers on all sides who prefer an exchange-of-difference to a war-of-position can go on thinking freely. And, I’d suggest, working together to take on those who seem to want to take the responsibility of freedom away. But for this we will need something a lot tougher than 'tolerance'. Do we have the courage and willingness to talk about it?

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