Make sense in a meaningless universe, by Richard Holloway

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RICHARD HOLLOWAY was a brave advocate of women, LBGT people and marginalized people in general. In this book he reveals that he tried to live the story of Jesus, however weak it is.

This is a Jesus who worked as a tecton, who considers Holloway someone working on a construction site, and whom Tom Wright translates as "artisan" in his new version of the Bible. This Jesus lived his life as if the desired reign of God in human affairs were actually here now. He made the future present by showing forgiveness that overcomes the endless chain of human resentment with a radical love that identifies with the least.

Jesus expected the second act of this great act of salvation to take place soon if the whole order of things were turned upside down, a belief shared by the early Church. But that was not the case. Nevertheless, Holloway is obliged to follow this Jesus by making the future present now, opposing the power of oppression and standing with the weak. He remains a member of the Church because the Church keeps the memory of this Jesus alive.

Holloway notes that he is no longer convinced by any of the larger stories that try to make sense of life. Both the scientific story (which he tells exceptionally well) and the story of God have some influence on him and he is happy to live with the unresolved contradictions between them. AlamyRichard Holloway at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2017For him, the key question is no longer what you believe in, but how the story you believe causes you to respond to the terrible suffering of the world. What matters is how you behave.

I am challenged by his commitment, but I am not convinced that it is appropriate to answer the questions he asked at the beginning of his book.

First, it is not possible to separate Jesus from the story of God in which he believed. He prayed to what he considered to be a compassionate father and gave up his life to do his will with complete confidence that the divine kingdom of love would ultimately prevail.

Second, the early Christians believed that God's reign on earth had come in a decisive sense in Jesus himself, in whom heaven and earth were one. They were baptized into his death and resurrection and proclaimed that Christ lived in them and that the Holy Spirit worked through them.

Third, Christians at 300 were a significant minority in the Latin West and a majority in some parts of the Greek-speaking East. Peacefully and despite convulsive but violent persecutions, the heart and mind were convinced of the story of a loving God who came to save us from our own self-destruction and to win us over to an eternal glory.

Holloway has a particularly violent chapter denouncing church instruction on predestination, women and sex and classifying the church as one of the cruelest institutions in human history. That may be true, but if that was all there was to say about the Church, how did it awaken the imagination and win the loyalty of so many people, including him and me?

Fourth, it is a pity that the book contains nothing about the everyday experience of Christians. The mystical experiences he mentions are very rare. What is central to every Christian life is the daily attempt to pray and put the Lord's Prayer into practice, with the experience that this actually brings life to and deviates from it, which leads to a reduction. Most Christians, however shy, would claim an experience of grace in trying to live as a Christian

Holloway quotes the famous passage in The Brothers Karamazov twice when Ivan tells stories about terrible cruelty to children and says: "It's not that I don't accept God, Aljoscha. I just very respectfully return the ticket to him." This is a challenge that never ends and that always neglects a believer, and it shouldn't go away.

It's a pity, however, that Holloway is not thinking about what it could actually mean to return the ticket and what that means. because the clear conclusion is that it would be better not to have been born, better if life hadn't existed at all.

Camus wrote: “There is only one really serious philosophical question, suicide. Judging whether life is worth living or not is a fundamental question of philosophy. “It is desperately sad that too many people commit suicide and the vast majority do not. Is that because they feel that there is something big at stake in all the fighting? so that despite everything they can “bless with W. H. Auden what there is to be”. They are happy to have lived.

Of course, this does nothing for the millions who died in misery and for the brand that leaves it in our heads. And it leads to Ivan's other challenge: No future harmony could justify the suffering of innocent children. But this too needs to be examined and questioned more than Holloway. For example, do we assume that there is a final state in which all who have ever lived can bless God for their being? an ultimate state in which the victim and the torturer can embrace? an ultimate state in which suffering, though not forgotten, has lost its sting as if two lovers find each other after an argument and the pain of the past is out of sight?

Such greater hope is not meant to be a dejected answer to the problem of suffering, and it can be a futile hope; but without such hope, a belief in God's alleged love would have no moral value. Such a story is essential to Christian belief.

Holloway rightly asks us to examine the story we live by to see if it actually reacts to suffering in practice. He does this with his characteristic honesty, enthusiasm and punch. But in response to Ivan, there is more to say than he thinks.

The Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth is a former Bishop of Oxford and an Hon. Professor of Theology at King & # 39; s College in London. His book The Beauty and Horror: In Search of God in a Suffering World (SPCK) is now available in paperback.

Stories we tell ourselves: make sense in a meaningless universe
Richard Holloway
Canongate £ 16.99
Church Times Bookshop £ 15.30

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