Thursday, June 24, 2010

'Not a religious man'

Last week the office mail brought me a copy of the University of Otago Magazine - always a good read and a very honourable Otago publication. It featured an engaging article on Professor Alan Musgrave, a great Dunedin identity noted for his work in the philosophy and history of science. The writer wrapped up the article noting as follows:

'Unsurprisingly, Musgrave is not a religious man. He read the Bible once, when he was a teenager, and found it to be a "tissue of contradictions". Religion, he suspects, is a manifestation of our need for absolute certainty. Or perhaps, as Australian philosopher David Stove said, we invent Gods who care about us to try to satisfy our insatiable need for attention.'

Now I found myself quite gob-smacked at the naivety of these remarks - and I don't think this is about Musgrave but more about a very common mind set. Just begin with the bible itself - if one does not see contradictions in the bible, then one is simply being stupid. A collection of works, of differing literary types, written across a huge time span by different 'authors' and in different contexts is bound to produce contradictions - different points of view. The problem would be if the bible had no contradictions and was a seamless text - that would be truly sinister and open to suspicions of conspiracy.

By the same token, I cannot think of any great theologian or any mystic who would lay claim to absolute certainty in matters of faith - faith and certainty really don't sit easily together. In fact faith's typical way of being is to embrace uncertainty and hold oneself attentive before the darkness of God. That is a radical way of being in the world and has absolutely nothing to do with 'our insatiable need for attention'.

Am I being grumpy?

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