Saturday 8 January 2011

Non-Objective Theology

I return to an earlier blog entry about the postmodern theology of Rowan Williams. Here is, I suggest, more support for my view about the non-objective basis of his faith-details.

There needs to be a caveat here, that clearly on the experience, of the down and down and down and down, there is a 'real' that corresponds, I suggest, with Christian Eastern Orthodox or Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim 'reality' that is considered either deep, or beyond, or of (paradoxical) essence. So I'd revise what I wrote in that putting the two together he might be nearer the Buddhist or Eastern view than of a completely Western postmodernist approach. It's how he then makes that specific, the Christian content.

And compare this with the material from the Unitarians in 1836 and written up in 1936. It really worried them in 1836 that ordinary poor people were deprived of Christian culture (and only Christian culture) whereas for Rowan Williams the acquisition of Christian faith is optional among guiding bigger visions of reality.

On 27 December on the Today programme (BBC Radio 4), Diana Athill, 93, asked the Archbishop of Canterbury about what gives religious commitment.

Diana Athill: What is the experience people go through that gives them faith?

Rowan Williams: I'd be very reluctant to say that there is only one kind of experience because, actually to quote some of what you say in your book somewhere near the end, it's not obvious that there is just one kind of personality that finds this possible, or one obvious reason why some people don't find it possible. I think here of Wittgenstein saying that it's very seldom arguments that change people's minds, it's experience of things in general at a certain level and he talks about how the experience of suffering can be a trigger for faith - strangely because we often think it is the other way round. But I guess that what it may come down to at the end of the day is the feeling that when you open up in silence to what is there, there is something there that is not the self, which you struggle to find images and words for, which comes into focus for me as a Christian dramatically and decisively in one set of stories, but behind that is an infinite hinterland: you open up, you are silent, you seek to absorb what there is. And I suppose that's at the root of serious religious practice. I would otherwise be very reluctant to talk about just one thing that triggers it.

Diana Athill: But that interests [?] me because this thing 'what is' which fascinates and is marvellous - marvellous - and the thing that made material, that triggered it into life, and that makes life conscious of itself (that is what is so extraordinary), that we sit here knowing that we are alive and able to ask why, which is to me, in itself, so amazing.

Rowan Williams: Umm [affirming].

Diana Athill: I don't want to explain it.

Rowan Williams: I'm not sure I want to explain it either, in that sense.

Diana Athill: I think I want to just accept it...

Rowan Williams: Yes.

Diana Athill: ...without giving it a story.

Rowan Williams: I think I'd rather say for me, looking into that extraordinary fact, is looking as it were down and down and down and down, into something which doesn't have a bottom...

Diana Athill: Yes.

Rowan Williams: ...which doesn't have a final point of explanation, but seeing that that very infinity somehow opens out on to what I call God, who is not therefore an explanation in the sense that you identify in the laboratory what causes what, but the context, the environment, in which everything makes sense: the bottomless resource of action and - well I'd say - intelligence and love as well that surges up and, among other things, produces people having conversations in front of microphones!

James Naughtie interviewed Diana Athill on what it was like being a guest producer of Today. She said, in respect of the above interview:

Diana Athill: ...and I thought that's all right, I'd be sitting in my room, I'll have a few ideas, and the next thing I found myself talking to the Archbishop of Canterbury and...

James Naughtie: Well, a lot of people listening to us now will have heard your conversation with Rowan Williams, or part of it, which we broadcast earlier in the programme. It was a very interesting conversation, wasn't it, because he refused to try to give you a simplistic answer or advance a simplistic argument.

Diana Athill: It was a lovely conversation; I really did enjoy that. The minute I went into his study and saw all those heaps of books on the floor I thought I like this man. And after that he was so kind and so open, so friendly. I didn't quite expect to find it so easy to talk to him.

She would leave it as it is, therefore, this thing one might call transcendence (and I question his interpretation of Wittgenstein: surely, like William James, it is the expression and act of expression that generates the experience), but he attaches a story, which he calls definitive and decisive. But can a story ever be definitive and decisive? Only, I suggest, in terms of itself.


Peter Carey+ said...

But what if the story is true, then, surely it can be decisive...?

I'm reading Hauerwas - A Community of Character and he does a lot with narrative and the importance of story...

Very interesting,

Peter Carey+

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Depends what is meant by 'true': if objectively true then why go to all this explanatory bother? Anyway, contrast the research-free Radical Orthodoxy with the research using Social sciences and of course science. The notion of historical intervention from some deity is, I'd have thought, long dead.