Archive for October 22nd, 2006

‘Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching’

That’s the title the London Review of Books gives Terry Eagleton’s savaging of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. It’s a guilty pleasure to read something as well-written (pleasure) and scathing (there’s the guilt). He begins:

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster. These days, theology is the queen of the sciences in a rather less august sense of the word than in its medieval heyday.

After which he takes the gloves off…

I was taken by Eagleton’s pen portrait of Jesus:

Jesus hung out with whores and social outcasts, was remarkably casual about sex, disapproved of the family (the suburban Dawkins is a trifle queasy about this), urged us to be laid-back about property and possessions, warned his followers that they too would die violently, and insisted that the truth kills and divides as well as liberates. He also cursed self-righteous prigs and deeply alarmed the ruling class.

Thanks to Brandon for the link.

1 comment October 22nd, 2006

Sunday Week 29 Year B

Readings: Isaiah 53:10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45

I was watching a rerun of the West Wing the other evening, right back from the first series, and there was President Bartlett delivering an impassioned pep-talk to his daughter Zoë. She was about to leave for College and the passion flowed as the president grappled for words, trying to find how to say what he felt he needed to say. Here was his youngest about to step beyond the limits of his protection into an unsafe world and he wanted to say all that was in his heart of care and concern, of advice and admonition, of what to do and what not to do, who to know and who not to know—above all of who to be. All the stuff that needs to be said, yet cannot be said, but somehow is heard.

I remember being on the receiving end of just such a heart-to-heart—embarrassing and baffling and touching. To hear my father’s pride in me and his doubt and to see a strange vulnerability come over him as I realised the depth of my power to hurt him and the power of my desire not to. Here he was trying to give me the low-down, the pith of what he wanted for me, the essence of what he held most dear, the lessons he had learned, his fragile legacy of wisdom… for me, his son, to stand me in good stead, to make me a man.

Those two scenes have been with me today … with the echo of a third. Imagine it if you will. There’s God the Father on the timeless eve of the Incarnation, giving the Son just such a pep-talk, such a blessing. Telling him what to aim for, who to hang with, what to value, what to fear. I can see it, that picture—for some reason by the hearth of a roaring fire—but I can’t hear the words.

I find myself having to guess. Well, it’s not exactly guesswork since I’m supposing Jesus took that pep-talk to heart and lived it day-to-day to make his father proud. So I have a clue what passed between them. I glimpse a father’s concerns in his son’s. I hear an echo of a father’s words on his son’s lips… ‘The son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many’.

October 22nd, 2006


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