Saturday, July 21, 2007


In his fine book ‘Search for Reality in Religion’ (1965, re-issued 1984), which I have been re-reading recently, the personalist Quaker philosopher John Macmurray writes: “[Removing] for ever the fear of death… is a tremendous gain in reality; for until we reach it – however we reach it – we cannot see our life as it really is, and so cannot live it as we should.”

He continues: “The fear of death is the symbol in us of all death; and fear is destructive of reality. It is true that one can gain this familiarity with death and use it falsely. We can say, as so many of my contemporaries did after the war, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ But it may well lead us to the opposite conclusion. We may feel that life is precious because it is short; and because it may end at any moment we must live so that every day would be a good day to die in, if death should come. Without this knowledge of death… there can be no real knowledge of life and so no discovery of the reality of religion.”

I have written a longer piece for Ekklesia which explores this theme in relation to religious violence and the Gospel. It is called Re-evangelizing the religion of death.

Incidentally, Macmurray - a non-believer and soldier who became a Christian, Quaker and pacifist - was one of the finest philosophers of his generation. He was also a committed democratic socialist. Ironic, some would say, that Tony Blair cites him as a formative influence, along with the equally unlikely (from a Blairite perspective) radical Anglican Catholic, Kenneth Leech. (You there, Ken?).

The person who pointed me in the direction of Macmurray, incidentally, was the late Alan Ecclestone, dissident priest and writer on prayer. A wonderful man. See Tim Gorringe's tribute and exposition of his life. [Pic: John Macmurray, (c) the JM Fellowship]

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