24. September 2017

With all Your Mind – The Acumen of God’s People

Service Type:

‘…Be transformed by the renewing of your mind…’ (Romans 12, 2)

Belief and knowledge: faith and reason have more often than not been set over against each other – the Pauline exhortation to ‘fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen, for what is seen is transient, what is unseen is eternal – is a powerful one. The C1 theologian Tertullian famously remarked, ‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’ But he misses the point altogether; Christianity – God’ self-revelation in Christ at a time of God’s choosing, ‘when the time had fully come’ – was born into a thought world created by Greek Moral Philosophy, Roman Legal and Political Thought as well as Jewish Religious History. In short Athens and Jerusalem had everything to do with each other, and continue so to do. Not least in respect of today’s great confrontation – between science and religion…

“God is not an alternative to science as an explanation, [God] is not to be understood merely as a God of the gaps, [God] is the ground of all explanation: it is [God’s] existence which gives rise to the very possibility of explanation, scientific or otherwise. It is important to stress this because influential authors such as Richard Dawkins will insist on conceiving of God as an explanatory alternative to science – an idea that is nowhere to be found in theological reflection of any depth. Dawkins is therefore tilting at a windmill - dismissing a concept of God that no serious thinker believes in anyway. Such activity is not necessarily to be regarded as a mark of intellectual sophistication.”  (John C. Lennox, ‘God’s Undertaker: Has Science buried God?).

But as with everything, we have to be careful. Just as we would deny the right of science to debunk religion, so we have to be equally clear that we deny the right of religion to debunk science. One of the greatest threats to the stability of society as a whole is the rising tide of anti-intellectualism; and no more is this evident than with regard to religious and religious beliefs; especially those religions like Christianity – religions of the book – where the suggestion that the book be read uncritically and its writings followed to the letter risk bringing its adherents, and its opponents to the brink of catastrophic conflict…

“I don’t really know what “intellectual” means, but if it means you’ve got a desire to learn, you’ve got a desire to look for things that haven’t been presented to you, then, maybe. I think that “intellectual” is quite an exclusive word. I think it’s just for anyone that has a thirst or a hunger to improve themselves, or a yearning to escape from somewhere to get to a better place.” (Pete Doherty).

Hence the notion of acumen – or what I like to think of as a ‘common sense’ approach to life in general, and to questions of faith in particular – if the answer appears to be a ‘squirrel’ it’s because the answer is a ‘squirrel’, it doesn’t have to be ‘Jesus’ every time. And with ‘common sense’ there needs must be a generous helping of humility – nobody like a know-all precisely because no one can ‘know it all’…

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents... someday the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new Dark Age.” (H. P. Lovecraft).

It can be a humbling experience to have to say ‘I don’t know’ but it can a most liberating experience as well. To be prepared to acknowledge that there is that which we don’t know is a necessary prerequisite to learning, at whatever level. And all of us have a lot to learn. But religious faith is not so much about the acquiring of more knowledge, for its own sake, rather it is about understanding what we know in a new way – being transformed ‘by the renewing of our minds’ – no longer regarding anything ‘from a worldly point of view.’ On this Harvest Sunday it is about understanding the world around us in a way which is different from how others might regard it – a reverence for nature that would otherwise be missing from our appreciation of the natural order. It is about seeing people differently, listening to them differently, appreciating others as we might appreciate ourselves simply because God sees each of us in the same way regardless of how different we might appear to each other. It is about being prepared to love, to love first, last and always – to judge yes, as we would wish to be judged, but then not to condemn but rather to forgive. It is about making the best use of what we know, using knowledge constructively not destructively, that we might unite people rather than divide people, building one another up, rewarding the good that people do, praising their best efforts and celebrating their achievements according to the contribution each has made to the well-being of all others. That is Harvest, because whilst it is right and proper that we continue to acknowledge the particular contribution that those who put food on our tables make to our lives, because we all have to eat, and whilst it is right and proper that we give money to support work in the wider world which improves the quality of people’s lives, it is also right and proper that we celebrate what has been accomplished by the application of the mind – the intellectual revolution that transforms every generation and which is a necessary prerequisite to whatever might be achieved in every other field of activity…I am also aware that the mind is a mystery, ‘the ghost in the machine’, and that there will be those for whom mental illness is a burden often beyond our bearing

“There never can be a man so lost as one who is lost in the vast and intricate corridors of his own lonely mind, where none may reach and none may save.” (Isaac Asimov: ‘Pebble in the Sky).

We bear one another’s burdens.