07 November 2007


His Holiness goes Holistic.

I've just come back from a lecture given by the Bishop of London at Leicester University on the subject of "Climate Change and the God Delusion", so thought I'd write up my impressions while still clear in my mind. The lecture was due to start at 5:30 but the Bishop didn't arrive until about an hour later (meanwhile I took a little walk to get some fresh air). The delay was due to his chauffeur-driven car being held up in traffic on the way from London (a measure of his commitment to fighting climate change?).

The Bishop's use of "The God Delusion" in the title was a bit of a fraud since he did not address any points in Dawkins' book, merely throwing out the customary jibe about "fundamentalist atheists". He has however evidently read the book, since he made use of some of the ideas in it for his own purposes, as indicated below.

The lecture was the inaugural one of a series which are to be concerned with "theological thinking on contemporary topics". The Bishop referred to the Church of England as having a "non-sectarian gene" in its DNA. He cited the sociologist Max Weber in terms of the compartmentalisation of religion and science - their "mutual irrelevance", which brought a laugh. He didn't mention Gould's "non-overlapping magisteria" (dealt with in TGD) which is the same idea. However he cited this view because he thinks a more "holistic" approach is now needed. So evidently he does believe in the reality of an interventionist god in some form.

Another notion he took from TGD is that of "raising of consciousness". This was partly in terms of the need to convert knowledge into awareness in the climate change debate. In this he is right of course. However, he attacked humanism as being a philosophy in which humans see themselves as little gods. We have shrunk "god" to being an idea in our minds. I suppose the message is that we need to recognise the danger that our "rapacious self-interest" (a quote from Jonathan Porritt) can have on the planet if we don't control it. But I'm sure humanists agree with this. We just seek rational solutions to the problem rather than theological ones.

He quoted Matthew Arnold's famous poem "Dover Beach" about the sea of faith receding, and suggested that the receding tide was a warning of a coming tsunami of faith! (This was based on evidence of church attendances in London.) It occurred to me that if there was a coming tsunami it could well be one of Islam, which might not be what he is hoping for. He spoke of Britain being both a secular and a christian country (but didn't also call it islamic).

He spoke of there being a new credulity about - and of cults of unreason. In this I think we can agree with him. He cited an example of astrology. In the brief Q&A session at the end I asked if he included Young-Earth Creationism and Jehovah's Witnesses among these cults of unreason (thinking of their anti-science stances) but his reply was something about millenialism and catholic doctrine, which rather struck me dumb, due to its being a complete nonsequitur.

There was some theology that probably went over my head. Something about christians reverencing matter, which seemed very different to anything I learnt in RI years ago. He made some puzzling quotes at the end, one from Philip Pullman's trilogy, about "spirits", and another from a mediaeval writer which mentioned "demons". Presumably he thinks such beings real. Perhaps it will be possible to see a written version of the lecture to get a better idea of what this was about.

By the way. Sorry I've been away for a while. This was partly for technical reasons (access to the blog) and partly because I was hoping to find someone in LSS to take over the blog, since I'm retiring as web-editor in December. However, I may be able to continue here, though with less frequency.


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