Category Archives: religion

Negative religion

In P. D. James’s A Taste for Death1 there is a brief conversation about religion between Miskin and Massingham. Drawing on her school experience in an inner city comprehensive with significant racial diversity, Miskin has decided that the school’s religion was ‘anti-racism’. It struck me how negative many people’s expression of religion can be. It can express itself in attitudes like anti-racism, or intolerant tolerance. Agnosticism is essentially negative, and atheism is the ultimate negative religious expression.

Such expressions of religion are centred around a negative concept, unlike Christianity. While Christianity has a negative component in an intolerance and hatred of sin, that is more than eclipsed by the many ‘positives’ in the character of God. The ‘negativity’ is a necessary consequence of the positive perfections of God (e.g. jealousy and love), but is not central to Christianity.

To dwell on the negative is to distort biblical teaching. And to ignore or diminish the negative is also to distort it. What holds the negative and positive together in Christianity is the self-revelation of the character of God which is perfect in all its multi-faceted aspects. This unity of God is reflected in his universe, so to live in his universe without recognizing the unifying effect of his character must surely be what fuels the distortion and emphasizes the negative.


1. End of Book Five, ch. 6 (London: Faber & Faber, 1986).

The Limits of Science

Here’s an interesting clip from a post-debate conversation between William Lane Craig and Peter Atkins. Craig successfully demolishes Atkins’s assertion that science is omnipotent by listing 5 things that science cannot prove. It never ceases to amaze me how men like Atkins who are well-educated can come out with such absolute drivel. But what is worse, their comments are published and broadcast widely without refutation, so they are widely held to be true, despite being obviously false.

(HT: Matt Perman — What’s Best Next)

A lesson in lion taming

C. S. Lewis ends the fourth chapter of Book I of Mere Christianity with a note on the supposed middle road between the twin alternatives of a universe viewed from the perspectives of materialism and religion. He dispels the notion that the Life-Force philosophy (a.k.a. Creative Evolution, or Emergent Evolution) is in reality a middle road. If the force is personal, then it is the same thing as religion, and if impersonal, then it is materialism by another name. He describes the pulling power of this view astutely:

One reason why many people find Creative Evolution so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences. (p. 34)

He sees so clearly that the thought of a great Force gives a sense of continuity and is somehow vaguely comforting when life is going well. But,

If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life-Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life-Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen? (p. 34)

The abundance of faiths in the supermarket of religion to which we trundle our spiritual trolleys bears out Lewis’s point well. Even dyed-in-the-wool materialists cannot escape the hope of this wishful thinking, so Dawkins calls himself a “cultural christian”, while all the time denying every doctrine of the Church. Let’s face it, science may have smells, but only liturgical Christianity has the bells and smells.

But it strikes me that such wishful thinking is not only to be found among nostaligic materialists who gravitate to the more liturgy-focussed Christian denominations. Even those of us who worship in more Word-focussed forms of service may be content with just the familiar cadences of the preaching. Once through the doors, we can be adept at turning the volume down, or even off, until next Sunday. It can be hard to tell whether it is a fix or an inoculation. However it is to be viewed, it clearly demonstrates that we have never answered Lewis’s question in another book, “Is he a tame lion?”