The Cardinal loses the thread

Priestly wisdom.

[I]n Britain today there is considerable spiritual homelessness…Many people have a sense of being in a sort of exile from faith-guided experience…To some extent this is the effect of the privatisation of religion today: religion comes to be treated as a matter of personal need rather than as a truth that makes an unavoidable claim on us.

Yes. That’s because it’s not a truth that makes an unavoidable claim on us. It sounds pretty to say that, but it isn’t true. (The ‘unavoidable claim’ is largely a matter of childhood imprinting. People who aren’t imprinted don’t experience the claim as unavoidable.)

The Cardinal loses the thread quite easily, and quickly.

‘Pope Benedict knows,’ he said, ‘that religion is about truth and not social cohesion.’ A very accurate remark I think. TS Eliot once observed that it was a dangerous inversion to advocate Christianity not because of its truth, but because of its benefit.

Then in the next paragraph –

One of the aims of the Christian religion is to create and foster a culture and society in which human beings flourish and God is glorified by his presence in a holy people.

So, it’s a dangerous inversion to advocate Christianity because of its benefit, but one of the aims of the Christian religion is to create and foster a culture and society in which human beings flourish. Ooooookay. Just throw everything and hope that something sticks, eh.

I wanted religion to be seen to be open to the questions of those who do not believe; those who call themselves agnostic or atheistic. As always, the interesting question about atheism is ‘what is the theism that is being denied?’ Have you ever met anyone who believes what Richard Dawkins doesn’t believe in? I usually find that the God that is being rejected by such people is a God I don’t believe in either. I simply don’t recognise my faith in what is presented by these critics as Christian faith.

Which bits? The Resurrection? The Trinity? God as all-powerful and perfectly benevolent? Which bits don’t you recognize? But there’s no point in my asking because (of course) he doesn’t say. He’s like Chris Hedges that way – atheists do this that and the other, with never a shred of documentation offered.

God is not a fact in the world, as though God could be treated as one thing among other things to be empirically investigated, affirmed or denied on the basis of observation. Many who deny God’s existence treat God in this way, and they simply don’t know how to ask the proper question about God. God is why the world is at all, the goodness, truth and love that flows into an astonishingly complex and beautiful cosmos…

What, exactly, does that mean? Is it anything other than pretty but empty talk? What does he mean? Does he mean just that God is the fact that the world is at all? If so then I believe in God. If he really means ‘God is why the world is at all’ then what does that mean? Why would it not be just a nice phrase that’s easy and pleasant to say but doesn’t actually mean anything?

I know it seems tediously village-atheist to say things like that, but what can we do? People – priests and theologians – will say things like that, and get respectfully reported by the BBC for doing so, so what can we do other than try to figure out what is meant, and if we can’t figure it out, ask why people say things that don’t seem to mean anything? If you say ‘God is why the world is at all,’ then what is ‘God’? If I said ‘Ranesh Pronunu is why the world is at all,’ you’d wonder what Ranesh Pronunu was, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t think that sentence explained what Ranesh Pronunu is – you would think it created a new mystery rather than solving an old one. So why is that supposed to tell us what God is? You tell me.

Is human identity and purpose a clue to God’s reality? Yes, because in our response to truth and love we are what God brings about as the expression of his overflowing goodness…

Oh, crap. Tell that to the people in Burma, tell it to the people in Zimbabwe and DR Congo and Darfur and Somalia and Bangladesh and Gaza. Tell it to the women of Saudi Arabia and Iran and Afghanistan. Tell it to sick people, people in pain, bereaved people, frightened people. Tell it to animals being torn apart by leopards or foxes or rats. Overflowing goodness nothing.

If Christians really believed in the mystery of God, we would realise that proper talk about God is always difficult, always tentative. Why are atheists so clear about the God who is rejected? A God who can be spoken of comfortably and clearly by human beings cannot be the true God.

Why? No, really, why? If this God is overflowing with goodness, why does it want to make a mystery and a secret of itself? If it’s such a good thing, why does it hide? I’m dead serious about that. (I’m dead serious about all of it.) If it’s such a good thing, why does it hide? There’s no reason for it. The only reason, of course, is because it’s not there, so the priests have to say it’s hiding. That’s a rather cruel hoax, I think.

12 Responses to “The Cardinal loses the thread”