I’m in the final stages of completing a new book called Imagining Rama. My publisher, planning the cover and layout for the book asked, as they always do, who is your target audience? I told her, initially, “People who searching for transformation” but then broadened the ‘market’ to “searchers.” From her standpoint, the trick is to get people to recognise something of interest to them on the cover, pick up the book, read the blurb on the back cover and open it. Then maybe some of them will buy it. It’s what they encounter on the outside that’s important in selling books: the design of the cover, the title, the author (well-known or not and I’m definitely not), what section the book is in, and so on. That’s why authors need publishers, bacause they know how to get people to take the first steps toward reading what you’ve written on the inside.
What’s inside Imagining Rama will have to remain a secret a bit longer. But I will share the opening of the Foreword.
“Why am I writing this book? I suppose I’m a bit like Arthur Stace, the homeless man in Sydney Australia who wrote the word ‘eternity’ in chalk on the sidewalks of the city for over forty years. He wanted people to encounter something that would trigger their imagination and expand their horizons about living. That’s my purpose also.”
It’s tricky, persuading people to listen to what you have to say, no matter how valuable you may think it may be. You have to resonate with some need, some desire inside them. The wrapping of the book and the opening — the outside — must connect with what’s inside them. Isn’t that the challenge Christians face in communicating the Good News? Maybe we need to realise that, no matter how powerful our message is, its “wrapper” (the behaviors of the people living it and communicating it) are what counts in most cases, in persuading people to really listen to the message.
I visited St Winifred’s Well in northern Wales on my holiday and encountered an “old fashioned” religion that I hadn’t experienced since I was a boy. This holy place is called “The Lourdes of The UK” and has been visited by kings and ordinary people for many centuries. While I was there, an old couple was collecting a bottle of holy water from a brass spout. They got me thinking. I have an ideal of what religion and church ought to be — different now than when I was a boy — but is my view too limited? I began to think of other churches I have experienced.
On the same trip, I visited the Coventry Cathedral — the bombed out shell destroyed in a German air raid in WWII, built next too a very modern new cathedral. There were a few visitors in the ruins, and all were probably having a religious experience of some kind. The theme of this cathedral is forgiveness — even while the theme of the new church is portrayed by the massive bronze figure of the archangel Michael spearing the Devil. I thought the juxtaposition of these two themes says a lot about < !->Christianity Continue reading “The real church?”
Peter Fitzsimons (a skeptic) recently wrote in the Sydney Sun Herald: “There have been 10,000 gods worshiped since the dawn of time. You (Brian Rosner, a theologian he is debating) have rejected 9999 of them as arrant and obvious nonsense. I counted up, and I have rejected just one more.”
He is pointing out a very important point! Human beings go through the same process in their individual lives as mankind has gone through over eons of history, regarding their beliefs in God. We Christians call this process salvation history and see God’s hand in the human and individual journey of belief. The skeptic believes that only man’s unaided reason has and must accomplish this awesome feat. That is definitely a point worth debating.
Christians start with today’s reality — the real presence of God in their lives — and look backward at history to see God’s loving hand in human history. I suppose skeptics also start with their current reality, seeing ‘facts’ and what science makes of them. Christians “believe and see;” skeptics “see and believe” only what their “facts only” paradigm permits.
So, at the root of the argument about 10,000 gods versus one lies an epistemological question, too deep for most people to examine let alone decide what is true. What can a man know? Is there truth beyond human reason? Science simply says that, for something to be scientifically true it must have certain attributes: be based on observations and measurements that can be verified by other independent observers, and so on. Christians don’t dispute science’s competence within its defined and limited field of study. Philosophy is still debating these questions. Theology — about which, in circular reasoning, Peter Fitzsimons quotes another skeptic Sam Harris: “Theology is little more than a branch of human ignorance” — starts with the reality of God, as God has communicated this to us, and seeks answers about what we know.
Do you see what I’m getting at? Christians and skeptics see the world — and the world’s 9,999 false gods and the one true God — in utterly different ways. There is no common meeting point, other than Christians must love the skeptics according to Jesus. The questions of educating children about God, and prayer in schools, are also points about which where there is no common ground. In a pluralistic society, with both skeptics and Christians, it seems to me that the question to be debated is, are we going to teach epistomology in public schools? Should children be taught that science is all that there is or that some people “believe and then see” God’s hand in the world? Can skeptics allow that flexibility in the public education system — or must families and churches be the only permissible sources of this deeper education? That is a public policy question worth debating.