The Bishop of Oxford seems to be in an irritable mood.
For a Christian it is always too early to give a final verdict, for only at the end of time will all be known, or as Tony Blair put it, it must be “left to God’s judgment”. It is strange how this standard piece of Christian orthodoxy should arouse such ire amongst the cultured despisers of religion just because it came from a Christian prime minister. They should have been worried if it hadn’t.
No it isn’t. It isn’t strange at all. It’s the taking it for granted that is strange. We know it’s a standard piece of Christian orthodoxy, of course, but that’s just it – it’s a standard piece of Christian orthodoxy and it’s a fairy tale. Our ire is aroused when people take for granted that an invented person-like yet mysterious agent will ‘at the end of time’ deliver a judgment on Tony Blair’s decisions. The bishop probably wouldn’t find it strange if people got irritated because Blair said his decisions must be ‘left to Harry Potter’s judgment’ at the end of time, but Christian orthodoxy is supposed to transform fantasy into the unremarkable. Well it doesn’t.
Yes, I prefer to rely on reason rather than eternity, if that is how you insist on putting it…But this is not all the mind does. When you and I read art critics we are looking for more than an ability to argue rationally. We want discernment and discrimination. If you like, we want sensibility as well as sense. This involves the mind to the full but not the mind alone. It is the same when we are thinking about moral or spiritual matters: the whole person is involved.
But what does that have to do with theism? (It is atheism that Harries is railing against.) Nothing, as he goes on to admit himself. But then what, exactly, is his quarrel with what he so elegantly calls ‘the attack dogs of the new atheism’? It’s hard to say. They think moral progress is possible. Harries prefers John Gray. Hmm.