December 6, 2019
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Richard Holloway – On Faith and Doubt (Ideas at the House)

-Good evening and welcome to
you, and to our guest this
evening, Richard Holloway. [Applause] This is a talk in our ‘Ideas
at the House Series’ and we’re absolutely
delighted that Richard, between some quite intensive
Writer’s Festival Commitments in other cities,
has made time to come and talk to us. And I do need to tell you,
you need to be particularly nice to him,
because he’s on his way to Brisbane where,
where at The Writer’s Festival,
among other things, he’s going to be the captain
of a debating team whose other members are
Germaine Greer and Bob Katter [Laughter] So,
part of your job here tonight is to:
don’t ask him anything too scary or stressful. Just make sure that he has a
very enjoyable evening, as I’m sure we all will. The
‘Ideas at the House Series’ includes,
as you would know if you’ve come to some of our other
talks, a whole range of speakers
and, um…
…in a way we’ve had a collection,
by by accident, and to some extent by design…
we’ve had a sequence of very prominent atheists speak to
us, at various times over the
last couple of years. Just this year we’re having
had heard from both Richard Dawkins um…
…and Alain de Botton about, you know,
talking about ‘Religion for Atheists’. And,
and, in a way this is,
this is a, this is another part of that
puzzle… that we’re going to hear from
Richard tonight. He’s going to be talking to
us about his wonderful memoir,
ah, Leaving Alexandria:
A Memoir of Faith and Doubt… …that is the story of his
extraordinary life, um…
and how he, from a very young age,
lived what was essentially a monastic life,
as part of his education. How he went on to
hold … various um … take on various religious
roles, culminating in his period as
Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish
Episcopal Church between 1992 and 2000. Um, the book also chronicles his
journey of a different kind. His struggles with issues of
faith and doubt, as the title tells us um…
and his incredibly prolific writing on,
on those kinds of topics. It’s very interesting reading
Richard’s book to find that …um,
you will get the sense that he’s just written a book,
in terms of the narrative, but you will not see a moment
of time, in his account of his life,
where he could have done that. And,
obviously, and since his retirement,
I think, if anything,
you know, his prolific-ness has
increased. So,
his books include, obviously,
Leaving Alexandria, which we’re talking about
tonight, but,
working backwards, some amazingly,
some wonderful titles: Between the Monster and
the Saint; How to Read the Bible;
Looking in the Distance: The Human Search for Meaning;
On Forgiveness; Godless Morality: Keeping Religion Out of
Ethics- obviously, a title that,
in New South Wales, with the debate about
ethics/class, would have something,
something to tell us all. Dancing on the Edge:
Faith in a Post-Christian Age; Anger, Sex, Doubt and Death. Well, I think I can’t understand
why we haven’t got him yet at The Festival of Dangerous
Ideas. Um,
Who Needs Feminism; and … and,
and a number of others. So,
he’s somebody who has a, a life of reflection on these
issues, in different forms. Um,
and, as you will know if you’ve
read the book, but you will find out tonight,
is a wonderful story teller… a…
a wonderful ah, re-counter of his own life,
in a way that is both, um,
in a human sense, a very rich story,
but also one that explores the world of ideas,
and how that can impact on a life in a really interesting
way. Please welcome
Richard Holloway. [Applause] -Well thank you very much for
that very generous introduction. Um,
and it’s a great pleasure to be here. I was in Sydney a couple of
years ago, and greatly loved my time in
the city and it’s very nice to be back. On the 8th of July in the
year 2009, I was standing in a graveyard
in the middle of England when my phone went. And it was my American
daughter phoning me on her birthday. And when I tried to explain
to her where I was, I burst into tears. She immediately phoned her
mother and said, “Get hold of Dad. He’s standing in a graveyard
in England crying”. But it wasn’t just any old
graveyard. It was the graveyard of the
Society of the Sacred Mission, at Kelham near Newark,
in Nottinghamshire, right in the middle of
England. It was the mother house of
The Society of the Sacred Mission from 1903 to 1973. S.S.M. was formed by
one of those remarkable Victorian maverick geniuses. A man called Herbert Hamilton
Kelly. And he thought it strange
that God only seemed to be calling middle-class men into
the Anglican ministry. And so he founded a religious
order that would train uneducated boys,
working class boys… for the ministry. In a monastic setting,
because obviously they didn’t have a lot of money,
he would incorporate them into the life of a community. They would do all the chores
and work that needed to be done um,
in the house itself, and the House of the Sacred
Mission, Kelham Hall,
in Nottinghamshire. And they bought Kelham Hall,
when the family- it was owned by the Manners-Sutton family-
became bankrupt. And it,
it went into, bankruptcy and the society
bought Kelham Hall. Now if you want to know what
Kelham Hall looks like, picture Saint Pancras station
in London, if you’ve ever seen it. It’s an enormous extravaganza
of red brick and turrets and minarets. It was also designed by
Gilbert Scott, the famous Victorian
architect. And he had designed Kelham as
a kind of rehearsal for Saint Pancras Hotel. So the society came there in
1903, got into difficulties in 1973
and left. And Kelham Hall is now the
district headquarters of the local government. Sherwood and Newark District
Council. But the society kept the
graveyard. It’s very difficult to find. It’s enclosed in very high
yew hedges, it’s very penumbral,
very mournful. And for some reason,
over the last twenty years I’ve been insistently going
back and standing there, sometimes weeping. Because I went to Kelham as a
boy of fourteen, and it transformed my life. I was a very romantic
youngster brought up in the Vale of Leven. The Leven is the river that
flows out of Loch Lomond, the biggest body of water,
inland water, in Britain. A very powerful current
shoves itself into the River Leven which,
which flows down into the River Clyde. And lots of little villages
grew up on the banks of the Leven because it was famous
for dyeing cloth, silk works, bleach works,
that kind of thing. My father was a factory
worker there. But it was surrounded by
wonderful hills and Ben Lomond dominated the
whole valley. It’s an enormous kind of
lavender-coloured ziggurat from a distance,
from four miles away in the Vale. It stands up there on the
north east of the Vale and it dominates the whole landscape. And I was a little boy who
was fascinated by the hills. I spent a lot of time out in
the hills. And I had the kind of
romantics impulse to, to find meaning,
otherness, something, the ‘beyond’ in the midst of
nature. Is there something other than
all of this? If I scrape my way through
could I find purpose, and meaning, and God,
and transcendence? Is there something that this
is the imminent expression of? There was a sense to me of,
what one writer calls, “resonant absence”
What R.S. Thomas calls “An absence that feels like a
presence” And it’s something that
afflicts some human beings- this sense of the longing for
otherness to give this here and now-ness meaning. Does it exist?
Are we alone in the universe? Or is there an ultimate
creator, an ultimate artificer of the
whole thing? Or is it just simply,
inexplicably, a reality that popped into
existence and will one day disappear,
leaving not a rack behind? Now not everyone is obsessed
with these questions. I’m told that not many
Australians are. William James defined human
beings into two categories. The healthy minded who just
accept life as it is and they live it and they enjoy it. And the unhealthy minded like
me. Sick souls who constantly ask
questions about, “Does it mean anything?”
“Did it come from anywhere?” Gauguin’s famous questions in
that great painting of his when he heard of the death of
his daughter, slashed up there on the top
left hand corner, “Where do we come from?”
“What are we?” “Where are we going?” And these are questions that
come with our humanity because we are strange
creatures, we human animals. We’ve got these big brains. We’re self-consciously
interested in ourselves. We’re an object of interest
to ourselves in a way that the other animals aren’t. My little dog Daisy is
interested in the next walk, the next dish of food. I don’t think she agonizes at
all about her Dog-hood. She certainly,
she certainly doesn’t turn up in occasions like this to
listen to talks from superior dogs about Dog-edness,
about the meaning of Dog-hood, about the possibility of an
ultimate transcendent Dog. But we do. At least some of us do. Um,
and it’s these questions that’s given rise to the
three great and dynamic institutions:
religion, philosophy,
and science. And I,
as a wee boy, was captured by the intensity
of that. Um,
a romantic has been described,
especially a romantic seeker after God-
God being the ultimate object of the romantic’s quest,
ever disappearing from desire;
never, never capturable,
elusively disappearing round the corner ahead of him. And so,
there I was, this,
this little boy with these romantic longings
and they were fortified by the movies. I was a great movie goer,
particularly ‘western’ movies. Um,
because the western movies that I loved,
Shane with Alan Ladd- disappointed to discover he
was half my height later on- but,
um, but he looked magnificent,
tall in the saddle. And the sense you got from a
lot of those early romantic western movies,
of men, always men,
giving themselves to a great purpose,
usually for the sake of others. Um,
men without stars, men without places to lay
their heads. Jesus said that of himself. But who went and rescued
others and saved them um, from the local baddies. And then they rode away into
the sunset. They never got the girl,
because ‘a man had to do what a man had to do’,
and that was: ride away and leave,
um, whoever it was,
standing at the white picket fence,
wiping tears from her eyes, and the wee boy runs after
Shane shouting sh- I sounded like Sean Connery there-
Sh Sh Sean Connery, Shhhhane- you know how he’s
got that lovely lisp? Remember that last scene?
“Shane! Shane! Come back”. And so the combination of
this longing for ultimate meaning and not finding it,
and roaming the hills and looking for the unfindable,
possible, other thing,
and this idea of some men giving themselves away to a
great purpose, they’ve given away life,
they sacrificed life for the sake of others,
and it all came together one day,
when my wee cousin died of spinal meningitis,
and my mother said, “Come home to your cousin
Mary up the street because I’ll be comforting her”. And when I was there,
the rector of the local Episcopal church came in and,
at the end of making arrangements for Carol’s
funeral, he asked my mother who I was
and she said, “That’s my boy Dick.” “Can he sing?”
“Aye Dick’s got a good voice”. “Dick,
would you like to come and join the choir at St Mungo’s?” “Aye I’ll come.
What time?” And I turned up there on the
Sunday morning at half past ten. And he was an advanced
Anglo-Catholic, an unlikely hero for a boy. He had a wrap-over baldy
haircut. Um,
and when he used to visit me Kelham later on and play
tennis with us, it used to drop down over his
shoulder and float around in the breeze. And when he took us swimming
it trailed like a scarf behind him. You wonder why they do. I mean,
as a baldy myself, I sympathize. Um,
but it’s better just to get rid of what you have. But,
this was the man who called me into my life’s work. He turned this little red
sandstone church, that was never completely
finished, on the edge of Alexandria,
um, the town that I was brought
up, and he turned it into an
Anglo-Catholic shrine, with six big candles on the
altar, lights,
and incense, and a sense of mystery,
and somehow it came together with my longings on the hills. It suggested ‘elsewhere’,
something beyond um… a light high up in a tower,
a door half open somewhere. It suggested the other place
to me. I fell in love with it. I didn’t know anything about
religion, about doctrine,
about its claims to perfect truth. I just felt it appealed to my
romantic wee heart And I threw myself into it. And two years later,
I diffidently said, I felt that I was called to
be what he was, a priest. And he said,
“We’ll send you to Kelham”. And so off I went at fourteen
to Kelham Hall, in Nottinghamshire. It was um,
a kindly place. Very highly disciplined;
military in its discipline. We did all the chores. We had no servants. We cooked,
we cleaned, we scrubbed floors,
we kept pigs. But it was also a place
filled with the eccentrics. And when I go back to the
graveyard, it’s partly,
and I scrape the lichen off- there are thirty-five
gravestones in three rows- in my book I compulsively
detailed um, the very formation of the
graveyard because, on that visit in 2009,
I felt, “I have to write this down. I have to explain to myself
why I’m coming back here insistently year after year,
after year, long often I left the place”. And I would scrape off the
lichen. Here’s Father Edmund. He was a small,
tubby teddy bear of a man, asthmatic,
[breathes loudly] when he breathes
and prostatic too. He had prostate problems. And he was a hopeless Old
Testament lecturer. And he never really succeeded
in giving a complete lecture, because he was always…
…he was always kind of clearly agonizing,
to trot out to the local loo, and we would bring two
tumblers of water in and sit at the back of the lecture
hall and pour water slowly,
and noisily into the other tumbler,
and sooner or later he would, he would say….
“I must go” And he would trot off. And there was
Father Stephen Bedale, my hero,
He looked like an eagle. He was my idea of what an
authentic ascetic saint should look like:
a kind of hunched figure. Um,
he too was asthmatic and he lectured violently,
passionately, in the Letter to the Romans. And he would paw the ground
and shout, and he would be…
…and when I stand before his gravestone,
I feel accused. Because I feel that what
happened to me after my grand gesture of
giving my life away, I would have disappointed
him, and many of the others,
Because, in the year 2000,
I walked away from it all. And I wrote this book to try
and figure out why. How?
How it happened. How I found myself in that
position, and how it ended in that way,
um, in the year 2000. Kierkegaard said,
“We live our lives forward but we understand our lives
backward.” And,
it’s only when you’ve lived a bit and you look back,
that you think you can get some kind of handle on what
your life has meant. And I wrote this book,
partly as an exercise in personal archaeology,
to try and discover who I was…
that that’s the way my life worked out. A friend of mine who is a
Norse scholar, she lectures on Norse
folklore, sent me an essay a couple of
years ago, which was one of the,
one of the early clues I got, as to why maybe my life had
panned out the way it had, that,
that I hadn’t become um, the permanent ‘given away
hero’ who’s had a kind of consistency,
um, to his life. She sent me this essay,
and it was about the metaphor of the ‘loom’. The metaphor of weaving in
Norse folklore, as a way of explaining the
reality of the human existence. I was brought up to believe
that we’d complete free will, we were a blank sheet and we
made our lives by the choices that we made. We were free to make these
choices. Not so,
I now can see. And her metaphor of the loom
helped me to understand that in Norse folklore,
your actions do not make you, they reveal you. They tell you,
cumulatively, who you already are,
because most of what we become is already formed in
us. We’re determined by all the
forces in the universe leading right up to this
moment, the moment of our birth,
to the family that we chose. And I discovered,
looking back, that the character I inherited
was incommensurate, was not consistent with the
vocation that I felt I had, especially in its latter
stages. Do you know the famous Larkin
poem? I’ll bowdlerise it because of
this tender audience, but do you know the famous
Larkin poem: “They muck you up,
your mum and dad. They do not mean to,
but they do”. “They fill you with the
faults they had And add some extra,
just for you”. “But they were mucked up in
their turn By fools in old-time hats and
coats,” “Who half the time were
soppy-stern, And half at one another’s
throats”. “Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal
shelf”. “Get out as quickly as you
can, And don’t have any kids
yourself”. [Laughter] And Larkin,
of course, didn’t. Larkin was a pessimist about
human nature. But there’s a deep truth in
what he said. We do not choose our
character. I think there’s almost a kind
of fatalistic sense in which it’s given to us. The one angle we get on real
human freedom is self-knowledge. Leading…
…leading a life um, that examines itself. Plato said the unexamined
life was not worth living. I wrote this book of mine to
examine my life, to figure out why these
things happened to me. I made a number of
discoveries, and the first discovery that
I made, looking back,
although the signs were there from the very beginning,
looking back, um,
from my perspective as an old man,
I can see now that I was completely lacking in the
institutional loyalty gene. We need loyalists to
institutions, to cultures,
to systems. They’re the ones who keep the
process going and keep it running. Um,
they’re obedient, they obey the rules,
they always stop at red traffic lights,
even when there’s no one in sight and it’s a Sunday
morning in Edinburgh, and there’s clearly not going
to be anyone coming for another ten minutes,
I think you should turn off all traffic lights on Sundays
myself, I ignore them,
but the point, the point I’m coming to is
that I’m, I belong to that group of
humanity, that doesn’t have intrinsic
loyalty to institutions. I’m not seeing that as a
virtue or even as a vice but simply as a fact. And looking back from my
perspective now, I could see that the signs
were there very early. My church didn’t permit the
remarriage of the divorce until fairly recently,
but when I, even when I was a curate,
I was marrying divorced couples,
who wanted, a second shot at happiness. They’d fouled up. They’d been unfaithful. It had broken down,
it had never been compatible and they found someone else
and they wondered is it just possible to
reclaim some kind of happiness? Is it possible maybe to get a
second go at this life? Or am I to be defined forever
by this failure which is eating me up inside? And they would knock on my
door and they would come and they
would say, “Is it possible?
Could you marry us?” “We’ve met each other,
we’re both rather broken…” “But we really want to have
another go at finding contentment and relationship
and happiness.” The rule said I couldn’t. “Can you do it?”
And I ignored the rule, because it struck me as an
unmerciful rule. And it’s interesting that my
church has now changed the rule,
and that it’s been, it’s now been possible,
for the last ten years in Scotland,
it probably is true in the Anglican church here,
for the divorced to be remarried. But think of the
mercilessness of saying, “no.”
One shot. You get one go at it,
you failed. Misery. For the rest of your life. I married my first gay couple
in 1972, before there was even a
debate about the issue in, in the churches. I’d always known lots of gay
priests because they’re very prevalent,
in the Anglo-Catholic part of the Anglican tradition. The man who’d brought me into
the church was gay. I didn’t know it,
but I can tell now. And most of the mercy,
and the forgiveness, and the grace that’s been
ministered to me, has been ministered by gay
priests. Men who’ve been uncomfortable. They’ve been drawn to Jesus
because they somehow felt instinctively a sympathy
there, and because he was surrounded
by broken people who didn’t make it,
who weren’t successful, who weren’t morally sorted. And he was surrounded by that
kind of person, which is why I think a lot of
people, who feel,
um, they’re not accepted by the
respectable majority are still drawn to Jesus. “This man receiveth sinners,
and eateth with them.” He was condemned for that. And there came a time in
1972, I’d been rector of Old St
Paul’s, this wonderful church in
Edinburgh on the Royal Mile, I’d been rector there for
four years. And a young man came from
London to be interviewed for a job in Edinburgh Royal
Infirmary. He was a nurse,
and he came to be interviewed for a job,
Sister Tutor at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. The Old Royal Infirmary up
there in Lauriston Place, a magnificent great,
Victorian, kind of baronial thing. They’ve now turned it into
flats, and they built a bland new
hospital, out at Little France,
South of Edinburgh. Peter came up,
he got the job, but while he was up paying
his visit, he walked down The Royal
Mile, and he,
he saw a notice board advertising a church called
“Old Saint Paul’s” and it was down a Close
called Carrubber’s Close. A scruffy Close,
with kind of beer barrels out the back,
because there’s a hotel there as well
that towers- if you know Edinburgh-
um, the high lands,
the tenements, um,
tower over these dark closes, these alleys that run like
ribs off the spine of The Royal Mile. And he walked down
Carrubber’s Close and he saw a church. A strange,
gloomy, soot-begrimed church,
and there was a, a wee blue door halfway down
the close, and he opened the door,
as many have done, before and since,
and he walked into an amazing space. A space of grace and
acceptance, a space that somehow
withholds and yet discloses, something of that ‘ultimacy’
we all, or some of us are seeking,
and he, he felt welcomed by this
building. And there was a man over in
the corner, polishing brass. Richard. Richard was a closeted,
shy, introverted gay man,
who scuttled through life, furtively keeping his,
his jacket collar up, didn’t want to be noticed
anywhere, and he said,
“Would you like me to show you round the church?”
And he said “Yes please.” And by the time they’d
finished the tour an hour later,
they’d fallen in love. And Peter got the job and he
came back to Edinburgh and became Sister Tutor
and he joined Old Saint Paul’s. And they came to me one
Sunday after high mass and they said,
“It’s probably not possible, I know…”
“…but we would like to spend the rest of our lives with
each other.” “We would like to promise
’til death do us part.” “It’s not possible is it?
You’re not allowed to do it are you?” “Because we’re gay;
because we’re not really accepted here are we?” And I said,
“Yes.” And one Sunday night,
after Evensong, no one else there,
it was a private thing. It wasn’t legal
It wasn’t theologically appropriate. It was not allowed. It didn’t have any status
except in their eyes, and in the eyes of their God. And I stood in front of them,
in the little Lady Chapel that rides like a,
like a lifeboat, up above the nave and Old
Saint Paul’s, a lovely Giotto,
golden reredos behind me, and I read the prayer book
wedding service over them. They were together ’til death. But I wasn’t allowed to do
that. The law didn’t permit that
mercy. It didn’t offer them that
opportunity. And so,
from the very beginning, I was not keeping the
institution’s rules, which has made me interested
in institutions. We need institutions:
religious, political, cultural,
economic. But the trouble with the
institution as a human form, is that most of them were
created to fulfil a particular purpose. A great religious vision,
a political ideal, an artistic purpose… but they end up existing in
order to exist. They end up existing for
their own sake. The purpose of their
preservation, their,
their holding together, becomes why they are at all,
because they tend to get taken over by people who are
good at running institutions. And we know this. In all institutional history,
Nietzsche, who was a great student of
human psychology said that, “Humanity needs these stable
communities that hand on culture,
and politics, and religion,
and education.” But he said,
“The trouble with stable institutions of that sort
is that they are followed like a shadow by stupidity.” They become increasingly
stupid, because they become
increasingly locked into a permanent sense
that they are already fully formed and all truth is
within them. And this is particularly true
of religious institutions, because they have persuaded
themselves that they’re not just another
human form but that they,
that they are a hybrid form that’s part human and part
divine, and,
and therefore they, they are in a state of
sanctified permanence. Let me give you an example of
the kind of stupidities, that we’ve seen in human
institutional history. Think for a moment about the
status of women. Women were excluded from
participation, at any significant level in
most of the institutions um,
that were run in the world, certainly in my culture,
until within living memory. They didn’t even have the
vote until shortly after the First World War in Britain. Because,
the idea was that the institution was permanent in
its form. It was run by men for men and
women had a collateral role, a, a, a subsidiary role-
a submissive role. And if you know anything at
all about the debate that followed,
and the brave women that challenged this,
because, of course,
what always happens is that institutions,
as well as having power structures,
have victims. And they only change because
the victims rise up and make them change;
they never voluntarily handover their power. Mark said,
“That change comes not from the weakening of the strong,
but from the strengthening of the weak.” And women increasingly rose
up and said, “This should not be any
longer.” And they chained themselves
to railings, and they threw themselves in
front of horses, and they bored their menfolk
to death until the stupid men… started changing their minds. It happened a long time ago,
but it’s still not fulfilled, that revolution,
and it hasn’t even started in most religious institutions. And,
of course, in a religious institution,
there’s an extra trick. There’s another thing that’s
added on. When women where,
as it were, storming the political
institution and trying to open it up,
they only encountered what you might call ‘secular
stupidity.’ The men simply said,
“Oh women don’t understand politics.” Tell that to your Prime
Minister. Tell it to Margaret Thatcher. Women don’t understand. Their brains are not formed
in a way that can encompass the reality. Only men can understand that. They always…power always
develops weak ideologies to support it. But,
they’re essentially rationalisations of a desire
to hold onto power. In religious institutions
it’s even worse, because it’s not only simple
male arrogance and desire to hold onto power,
they also have a particular understanding of the sacred
texts that they believe are their title deeds. And so,
when five minutes ago, because it only started
happening really in my church, the Anglican Church,
in the late eighties and the nineties,
when women again started trying to storm the
sanctuary, the men
-in frocks incidentally- [Laughter] I know not in this
Archdiocese, because they,
they don’t do that. But,
the men in frocks said, “We’d,
sisters, we’d love to have your up
here in the holy place.” “We’d,
we’d like nothing better.” “My humanity reaches out
to…to you.” “But it’s God.”
“It’s the Bible.” “It’s in there.” “It says that you’re,
you’re man’s helpmate.” “You’re subordinate to us.” Paul says, “Women shouldn’t speak in
church.” “And if they don’t understand
the sermon, they should ask their husband
when they go home to cook him a dinner after.” And you see what’s going on
here? What happens in religious,
in sacred institutions, is that there’s an extra
hurdle to go over before you can actually
affect ‘just’ change. Religions cannot do the right
thing simply because it’s the right thing to do. They have to find religious
reasons to do it. Now in the case of women’s
ordination, there is a text in the New
Testament that actually helps you over the lump. There are lots of texts,
um, that subordinate women,
even in Paul. Um,
and if you’ve been married according to a traditional
prayer book wedding rite, you, you,
you’ll recognize this. I understand in this
Archdiocese women have to promise to submit to their
husbands. That surprises me,
with what I know about Sydney women,
but there we go. There’s a text,
in the Letter to the Galatians. And we leapt upon it. “In Christ,
there is neither male nor female.”
Thank God for that. “Slave nor free,
Jew nor Gentile.” And that text enabled us to
move on in the debate and to find good religious reasons,
for doing the right thing. So,
we made that change. Slowly, painstakingly,
agonizingly, and not universally because
the Anglican Church is still a patchwork of
places where it hasn’t happened. And,
of course, it hasn’t even been addressed
in the mighty Roman Catholic Church,
where there’s not even a topic of debate. But the next big issue that’s
coming along and challenging religious institutions and
asking them, “Surely you can change?”
“Surely you can see that you are preserving attitudes that
were appropriate in the… …in the Age of Bronze,
but are not in the twenty-first century.” And the big topic today,
of course, is the status of gay people. Increasingly,
I became associated with the campaign to rethink the
Church’s traditional attitude of,
not just distrust of gay people,
but of condemnation. I was challenged in um,
the Queen’s lavatory at Windsor…
…a few years ago… …by an Archbishop. The Archbishop of Southeast
Asia it turned out to be. There we were,
doing our business in the Queen’s urinal… [Laughter] It was a meeting of Anglican
Primates, um,
Anglican archbishops. And he said that I was
filling hell with homosexuals, because I was giving them
permission to commit a sin, that would damn them forever. I nearly decked him. [Laughter] But I let him piss his
wormwood and gall into the urinal,
the Queen’s pristine, white urinal. [Applause] But,
just think about it for a minute. Just think about that. It’s not just a question of
saying, “I don’t agree with it.”
Or, “I don’t think- I think it’s
unnatural.” Or whatever. But to say it would land
someone who loved a member of his own sex…
in hell forever, and ever,
and ever? Do you catch the monstrous
disproportion in that? Of course,
the whole idea of hell is monstrously disproportionate. There’s a famous sermon in
James Joyce’s, Portrait of the Artist as a
Young Man, when a Jesuit priest,
in a retreat for boys um, describes…
what it’s like in hell. The thickness of the walls
that are blazing. The,
the fact that the, that the whole person is on
fire. That their eyeballs,
and the eye sockets are writhing…
that their entrails, the,
the, their innards are permanently
aglow and burning. And he says that,
“Fire on this earth has the property that it burns out,
but in hell it has the property that it burns
eternally.” And religious people,
in certain elements of institutional loyalty to
their faith, have proclaimed that that is
the fate that meets people who’ve made love to members
of their own sex. The disproportion is obscene. And it was that debate,
that tumult in the Anglican Church that finally finished
me off. It happened at the Lambeth
conference of 1998. Lambeth conferences are
meetings of all the Anglican bishops on earth. And they come to the
University of Kent. Just imagine it:
700 men in pink frocks, living in student
accommodation. [Laughter] In 1988,
they meet every ten years, in 1988,
it was predicted that the Anglican Church,
which is a loose federation of autonomous provinces,
that it kind of formed itself by accident,
a bit like the British Commonwealth,
or the British Empire, and it,
it’s kept together by affection rather than
anything else, um,
by a shared liturgical language,
although there is an increasing and,
I think, disastrous centralising
tendency going on. Um,
and at Lambeth 1988, because cultures move at
different, according to different time
clocks, the great debate,
the great issue that was finally going to sunder and
sever the Anglican communion, was the ordination of women. Because it had happened in
places like North America, Canada,
the United States, in New Zealand. It was being debated here. It was beginning to be
debated in Europe. There are places that
refused even to debate it; that refused even to think it
was conceivable that a woman could in fact do these things. I think,
in fact, it was an Australian opponent
of the ordination of women said,
with great eloquence, “You could no more ordain a
woman, than you could ordain a meat
pie.” [Laughter] Because it was held,
you see, it was held that women,
could not receive the grace of orders
which is, which is,
as it were injected into a man. When the bishop lays his
hands upon the man, this,
this metaphysical implant inheres to his soul. But,
apparently, it wouldn’t take in a woman. [Laughter] And that doctrine is still
held. But what happened at Lambeth
1988 was interesting. The Archbishop of Canterbury
at the time, who presides at Lambeth
conferences, was an elegant diplomat. A very tactless one,
I loved him dearly, called Robert Runcie. And what he did was,
he glided the issue into the long grass. He, he,
he, came up with a classic
Anglican fudge. He said,
“We disagree about this issue.” “Some are doing it. Some will never do it.” “Some can’t make up their
mind whether even to think about doing it.” So let’s appoint a commission
to study the matter… …to report back sometime
before the Second Coming.” [Laughter] “And meanwhile,
those that are doing it will go on doing it.” “And those that are not doing
it can go on not doing it.” “And we will all jolly along
together.” And it worked,
and on the whole it’s beginning to spread. Although in Britain,
there still isn’t a woman bishop. 1999 came along. And the issue that was going
to break up the Anglican Communion,
was not the ordination of women… bowled that into the long
grass. That buying of time had
bought a certain kind of quietness into the argument. But the big issue was the
status of gay and lesbian people in the Anglican Church,
and whether it was even possible to consider their
ordination. I went to Lambeth ’98. I didn’t enjoy,
Lambeth ’88, but I hated Lambeth ’98. I went to Lambeth ’98
thinking, “We’ll do the same thing.” “We’ll,
we’ll appoint a commission.” Because we’re in-
There’s a whole range of different perspective,
different ways of looking at it. There are some people who
still want to stone gay people,
who want um, gay people to be capitally
punished. There are some people who
want it still to be outlawed. There are some people,
um … who want to, really not look at the issue
at all. They just:
‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of policy. There are some people that
want a strict sexual ethic imposed upon them. There are some people that
recognize that they are who they are,
and they should be allowed to love and commit themselves
as they can. And there were one or two
other positions even further left than that. And I thought we’ll appoint
another commission. We’ll buy time. No,
that’s not what happened. There was a horrendous debate
simply on this issue. Um,
and the thing that killed something in me was that,
it wasn’t like normal debates when you can be passionate
in your disagreement. You can say,
“No, that’s not right. That’s not what the scripture
says.” Or
“That’s not according to nature.”
Or, “That’s not appropriate.” You,
you, you can argue passionately
and I’m a Scot, I’m used to passionate
argument. What this turned into was a
feast of hatred. Bishop after bishop got up
and denounced gay people as animals,
as dogs. The language was virulent. One bishop said to me it was
like being present at a, a Nuremberg Rally. To hear all that
anti-Semitism, revved up. I felt unclean. Horrifying. Bishops. Men of God. Followers of Jesus told to
turn the other cheek, to love their enemies. And something in me died. What is it about religion
that can provoke this cruelty? Because cruelty is the worst
aspect of human nature. And if it’s fortified by
religion and by your view of God, I can’t,
I can’t be there. I can’t take that
understanding of God. Shortly after the debate,
a Nigerian bishop performed an act of exorcism on a young
gay man who was present. He was a deacon in the Church
of England. And he,
he tried to pull the demon of homosexuality out of him. A demon came out of Lambeth
1998, and it was the demon of
intolerance, of homophobia,
and it didn’t work to keep the Anglican Communion
together, because it’s already breaking
up into little fragments. Some that are prepared to
consider the possibility of these changes. And some who are implacably
opposed to it. I came home to Scotland. I wanted to leave at five
o’clock in the morning; get in my car and just come
away. I was,
I was crying inside. And it was the Archbishop of
Canada, Michael Peers,
who prevailed upon me to stay to the end. I had a dust-up with the
Archbishop of Canterbury, because I had to stay behind
for a Primate’s meeting. A meeting of Archbishops,
in whom more and more power is being inhered,
and I think that’s a mistake. What you want to do with
power centres is dilute them and spread them out. You don’t want to concentrate
them. The one thing that history
shows us, is that we do not handle
power well. And men of God
don’t handle it any better, um,
than, than politicians or
plutocrats. I came back to Edinburgh,
and I wrote a book. I wrote a book called,
Godless Morality: Keeping Religion out of
Ethics, because,
it seemed to me, that bringing God into debate
about these neuralgic and contentious subjects,
made them even more difficult to deal with,
because it trumped all possibility of arguing a
different point of view. Because,
if you could say, “This is what God believes…”
and looking back over the history of our understanding
of God, what Karen Armstrong in her
great book called “the history of God,”
it seems to me that God has either constantly changed his
mind, or we have constantly changed
our mind about God. And it might be that we’ve
made up most of God anyway. God apparently permitted
slavery, until the 1800s. Did he change his mind?
Or did we change our mind about God? That maybe he didn’t approve
of it at all? Maybe that bit was a human
construct? Something that was part of
the code of the time, and it simply got sanctified,
as these things do. God had subordinated women
until the 1990s. Did he change his mind in the
1990s? Or did we change our minds
about God? And there are many,
many other examples. Um,
God fixed people in their demographic condition. “The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate. God made them high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.” And stick with it. This is Alexander’s famous
hymn. So we constantly revised and
edited our understanding of the nature of this mystery
and the way it influences our ethics. So I wrote a book,
trying to leave all the religious stuff out,
and simply to look at issues on a human level. Because it’s difficult enough
to agree on a human level with these contentious
subjects anyway. And I felt that maybe,
if we did that for a bit, we might find good,
human, kindly,
humane ways of moving on. And my book was um…
…was denounced. Ah,
the same Archbishop of Southeast Asia,
whom I pissed beside in the Queen’s lavatory,
two years earlier, refused to come to a
conference in Scotland because of the book,
and he declared the whole of Scotland a heretical province. [Laughter] …which was tough on the
people of Scotland, because many of them wanted
rid of me by that time anyway,
and they would probably have elected him,
if it had been possible. And when the Archbishop of
Canterbury got up to deliver his presidential address,
mind ye, he was caught between a rock
and a hard place. The hard place was the
Archbishop, who wouldn’t come,
and the rock was the Archbishop,
the Primus of Scotland, who’d written this book that
was disturbing his Communion, and so he denounced the book
in his presidential address. Um,
that didn’t chuff me, because I didn’t want this
Englishman, walking into Scotland like a
colonial governor, denouncing the local district
officer. Um, there was a little bit of a
rebellion. It was at a conference called
the Anglican Consultative Council,
which has lay people, and they insisted that I get
equal time. But,
by that time, I was realizing:
the game is up for you. Um,
you’re so out of step, you’ve become a scandal to
people, this institution that you’re
supposed to guard and be an instrument of unity,
you’re destabilizing. People are disappointed in
you. You’ve hurt lots of people
that, that love you. And that you,
and you love them. And then a couple of weeks
after this, I had to go down to one of
the loveliest towns in the Scottish borders. The diocese of Edinburgh
takes in the lovely border country,
and I had to go down to one church,
to, to pay one of my standard
visits. That’s what bishops do,
they- it’s part of their queenly
role. Um,
they go around cheering up the parishes,
visiting them, preaching and,
um, and drinking tea,
and eating cold sausage rolls afterwards. It’s all,
it’s all part of the nature of the thing. And I’d loved this particular
parish, and I’d helped the rector and
his wife. And there was something
strange about the atmosphere. When I went over to give the
kiss of peace, which is part of the rite,
to people in the choir, they wouldn’t touch my hands. And when they came up to the
altar, and I was administering the
bread and the wine, the sacred elements,
a lot of them refused to take it from me. And when I went to the porch
at the end of the service to shake their hands,
many of them swerved past me, wouldn’t touch me. And I said to the rector,
“What’s going on here?” And he said,
“It’s that book, Godless Morality.” And the next day,
I got up. And after I’d been to the
Cathedral, said my prayers,
I bought The Scotsman, and I was the front page. I was the headline. “Clergy declare the diocese
of Edinburgh vacant, and call for the resignation
of Bishop Holloway.” Not all the clergy. It was a bunch of particular-
clergy with a particular kind of frame. And I realised it’s over. You’ve become an object of
offense to them. Um,
they’re right. You don’t belong here any,
any, any longer. You,
you, you can’t- you’re making it tough for
them, you’re,
you’re breaking down the walls,
you’re bashing in the windows, and they want the cosy warmth
of a certain package of doctrine and ethics,
and you’re wrecking it. And so I walked away. And I took to the hills. I wandered the Pentland
Hills, a lovely range of rolling
hills, south of Edinburgh. Am I still a Christian? Have I any understanding of
God left in me? There wasn’t much of God left
in me. God had always been elusive
to me anyway. He’d always been an absence
that felt like a presence. I was tantalized by God,
that resonant absence again. Um,
and the God that I was being told about,
the God who was punishing my gay friends,
the God who denounced me, was cruel. And I, I,
I couldn’t be part of that. And yet I’m still turned,
I was still turned by the longing that had got me into
this. The possibility of
transcendence, that there is meaning,
and that the meaning might be a great pity,
not a cruelty, but an absolute compassion. An absolute unconditional
love, like the unconditional love
of the father of the prodigal, in Luke’s great parable who
runs to meet his broken son, and doesn’t condemn,
and doesn’t even wait for the confession
before embracing him, bringing him home. There is that God. That’s the God of Jesus. And so,
one day, I went back down The Royal
Mile, and I went back down
Carrubber’s Close, I opened that wee blue door,
and I went in. And I sat,
and I felt received and understood. So I’m kind of in and yet out
of the Christian Church. I want it to continue,
but I want it humbled. I don’t want it cruel and
bullying. I want it modest and serving. I want it to feel broken,
like the broken Jesus, and not trying to sort people
into very precise understandings of humanity. I want it to accept the
totality of broken humanity. Most of us are broken,
in one way or the other, and we struggle with our own
meaning, with our own integrity,
with our own sinfulness. And the thing I found in
Jesus, and the thing you can still
find some churches, is an understanding of that. “Come unto me all ye who
travail and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” So I’m back. But I can’t proclaim. I can’t evangelise. I can’t say,
“This is the Truth.” I don’t know what the
absolute truth of it is. But I still catch a glimpse
of the tiny figure of Jesus, on a distant seashore,
kindling a fire… …a fire of compassion and
kindness. And I’ve become increasingly
allergic to religious certainties. They seem to me only to
crucify people. There’s an Israeli poet I met,
and whose work I love, called Yehuda Amichai. I sat with him a few months
before he died of cancer in Jerusalem,
another city divided in turmoil by religion. He wrote a poem called
“Ecology of Jerusalem,” in which the conceit of the
poem is there are so many competing religions,
a bit like Victorian factories emitting fumes. He says,
“There’s a kind of psychic smog over Jerusalem,
and it’s hard to breathe.” And he wrote a wonderful poem
that I used as the title of one of my books. “From the place where we are
right Flowers will never bloom in
the spring, The place,
where we are right Is hard and trampled. Like a yard. But doubts and loves dig up
the world, like a mole,
a plough. And a whisper will be heard
in the place where the ruined house once stood. “doubts and loves.” Doubts keep you humble and
modest in your claims unless they’re the claims
against injustice and cruelty and then there should be no
doubt, there should be challenge. But in thinking of the big
ultimate unanswerable questions
there should be a lot of modesty. But it should be allied to
love. “doubts and loves.” So what am I left with after
a life spent wrestling with this elusive god
and this strange burning-eyed prophet Jesus? I’m left with a kind of
existential gamble. One of my favourite
philosophers is a Spaniard, Unamuno. Obsessed again with these big
questions: “What are we?”
“Where are we going?” “What awaits us?”
“Is there anything?” And one of his epigrams
stayed with me, it rescued me in a
moment of despair, when I didn’t know whether to
get out in my early ministry, or just to stick in because
there was so much of beauty. This is what he wrote:
“Man is perishing.” “That may be, but let us
perish resisting…” “…and if it is nothingness
that awaits us…” “…then let us so live that
it will be an unjust fate.” And the thing that keeps me
religious, is the possibility
that there might be an ultimate purpose to the
universe and that it might, as certain
rumours suggest, in sacred text,
be unconditional love. And it seems to me to live as
if that might be the case, is not a bad way to be going. Especially if it makes us
kind to one another. So that’s where I’ve ended
up. Not with very much.
“A whisper will be heard…” What I hear is that little
whisper. Not hectoring,
bullying, preaching. A whisper will be heard. Listen out for it yourself. Thank you [Applause] -Thank you very much Richard
for that wonderful talk, it, I think it’s rather hard to
follow something with that resonant ending um..
But we do have some time left for questions from you,
ah, there are two microphones in the auditorium,
one on either side. So if you have something that
you would like to ask Richard, do come to one of the
microphones. Um… I might just start off by
saying, talking, following up on,
on what you talked about ah… with a church,
like the Anglican Church, um, that you want to see
church humbled and full of doubt. That church is still in a
state about the issues that’s, that, that, ah,
you found so difficult to deal with their reaction to. Um, and you talked about it
dissolving, what do you think is the
likely fate? I mean, ah,
that there will be a smaller humbler institution?
Or, that it might dissipate entirely? – I think there
are two, contrary tides here. I mean, let’s face it, the churches that are growing
are the… …the churches of certainty. And uh… I, I can understand
that because it’s, in an uncertain world…
ah, give me at least something I can hold on to. Something that tells me what
to think and how to act. Um, and that can be
wonderful for ah… for uncertain people. And I think those are the
churches that on the whole are growing. Um, who would join a church
that proclaimed my kind of poetic uncertainties? Um, well there might be
some, but it certainly- it’s never going to become a
mass movement. Although interestingly,
I do increasingly meet people who’ve left the church,
who want something um, more generous and spacious,
they miss the coming together, they miss the sacrament,
they miss the beauty of music, they miss the challenge to
their own um… struggles to be better people. Um, and ah,
but increasingly they can’t, they can’t hack it. Even in the United States of
America the, the biggest religious demographic
apparently is, is post Christians. People who are leaving. So, I don’t know where we’re
going to go in this. Um, ah, ah
you can usually find generous churches in
most big cities. Um, that, that allow a certain
spaciousness in people to sit as it were. Um, but the trouble is um,
it’s not a very strong, sales pitch. Because… -Kindness
– What, what compels people is,
I mean, if, if someone came into you
trying to sell a vacuum cleaner said, “Well you know,
I mean it’s, I’m not really sure if it
actually lives up to what the label says. Um you can’t really be
certain of these claims because advertisers always
exaggerate.” They’d say “What’s the point in-
if you’re trying to sell this thing to me.
Sell it to me!” Um, so I don’t know
where it’s going and I am alarmed by,
the fact that many, many young people I know
are living perfectly happily outside the church and they
find their spiritual sustenance in other,
other places. You had Alain de Botton on,
-Yes – Who’s written
a book called, Religion for ethic..
ah, Religion for Atheists I believe,
and he started a thing called the School of Life
and you go along and hear a secular sermon on a
Sunday morning. People go to concerts,
they come to things like this. Book festivals. There is a deep
spiritual hunger. Um, Sydney Opera House
probably fulfils that in many ways. This is probably a great
cathedral for, for that kind of thing. Um, because great music can
give you that sense of transcendence,
So, I’m, I refuse to get into the
prediction business here. Um, I think there are
contrary currents, um, and it’s anyone’s guess
as to how it will go, but Anglicanism used
to be tradition, traditionally rather
it didn’t over claim it was- it was kind of a muddled
church for muddled people. And since there are lots of
muddled people, it did have a strong vocation. But now it seems, increasingly,
um, to be a certain church for people of certainty. And I ah, I and,
and a lot of the certainties are highly moralistic. I think. I think we’ve already
fissured over the gay thing. There are provinces um,
and dioceses that won’t come to um,
international meetings, – Yes
– Because they don’t wont to consort with heretics and
people like that. So, um even appeasing them
hasn’t succeeded but of course appeasing,
does- never does. So um, I’m uncertain even
about the future. -Yes, mm, well it,
it’s an interesting question. Yes sir, to you.
-Can you hear me? Ok great. Well first I want to thank
you for a wonderful um, ah talk and-
I came from the States a few days ago,
I wanna thank you have a wonderful city. I am going to immigrate to
Australia soon. [Laughter] You guys have a fantastic
city here- Um, I read a book recently
by, ah, by Sam Harris, ah, called Free Will. I don’t know,
if you’ve heard or not about it? – Oh yeah, yeah.
– It’s an amazing book, it’s really kind of
disturbed me, as a neuroscientist
myself also, because it talks about the
idea of when our minds, make a decision, or we
make a decision. Our minds make the
decision before we are conscientious also,
of that decision by a few seconds. So meaning when I decided to
come here and make the question,
my mind made the decision before I made the
decision myself. Which means… -Your brain had made the
decision. -Exactly. The brain,
exactly. -Yeah
-The brain. So, basically, we have no free
will at all. According to Sam Harris,
or, according to the neuroscience nowadays. So how would you
approach that? That means even if I,
you know, want to be doubting something,
or I want to be unfaithful, or I want to be whatever,
it’s not me. It’s my brain making the
decision before even I can make anything about it. Or I can even decide to do
anything about it. -Um, I don’t buy it.
Um and um, but it’s actually very
interesting, and, and it’s one of the
big debates in science at the moment. The whole, the whole ah,
nature of consciousness, um, and whether um, the
mind is the brain, um, and- it certainly is
coactive with the brain and- but I do not buy it.
Because I think, and I think it’s part of the
mystery of our reality and part of the mystery of
the universe. I mean, take
Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Wire Elgar up to a
neurological measurement machine while he’s composing,
Elgar’s Cello Concerto. You will get a true read out. This is what’s happening
in his brain, but you will not get the
mystery of the Cello Concerto itself. Um, and the same is
true of the human being, I think that,
that my mind and my brain are coactive. But while I don’t think
there’s a ghost in the machine I don’t think I have an
independent immortal soul. I think there is something
mysterious about human consciousness. Um, and I think there’s
something parallel to that about the universe. Wittgentstein said “That if you could answer
every possible scientific question,
the problem would still remain and the problem is
‘being’ itself.” “Where did it come from?”
“How does it start?” So I think Sam Harris,
along with a number of the neo-atheists has become a
fundamentalist. Um, and in many ways um,
the neo-atheists have become the mirror image of the thing
they hate. Um, whereas I think that the,
the, the true honest position is that we don’t really know,
but there is something here that’s mysterious. And for him to reduce human
goodness to, to pure neurology,
I mean it, it reduces to absurdity his
own book anyway. I mean how can I take a book
that he’s written seriously, when in fact it’s simply
programmed by neurological impulses in his,
his brain with which his mind is not in touch. [Laughter] -I think he mentions that
actually he says “Am I writing what
I’m writing…” – Yep
– “Or is my brain just writing what writing and
do I control what I’m writing?” – It loses the person. Now um, and it may be one of
those things you just have to take a faith position on um, and I’m, I’m a semi-determinist. I think that the,
the real project in life is to know- to,
to know yourself. The Delphi Oracle, that’s what
it said above it: “Know thyself.”
“Gnothi seauton.” And it seems to me that the
one tragedy in life, is to die without knowing who
you were. Knowing that you
were a bad person, or that you were
a good person, or that you were an
indifferent person, that you were a,
a bigoted person, and the thing that gives you
a bit of a lever and freedom, um,
is increasing self-knowledge. Um, and I think that’s,
that’s the tragic thing about life. My Norse friend saying that, “Your choices reveal you.”
St Peter when he betrayed Jesus
in the high priest’s garden, didn’t know he was a coward
until that moment. He- “I will die with you.” He said to Jesus,
as he was being arrested and then a couple of hours later,
he’s revealed to be… a coward. And what you then do,
and what he then did, is that you realise that I’m
a coward. So, next time I will have to
struggle to find courage. But until you know that about
yourself, you cannot lever in the
modest freedoms that make it possible. And it’s the same in,
in counselling and psychotherapy,
and spiritual direction. It’s only when you have an
honest take on yourself, you’re not denying the
squalid reality of your life, that you maybe get a little
edge of becoming a better person. Um, and that’s why I do not
buy Sam Harris. But, God rest him. -I agree with you.
Have a nice day. Thank you. -Any other questions from you?
Looks like, yes? Great. – Um, I enjoyed your talk
immensely as well. It was, ah, moving at times. Um, I think you do Sam a
disservice though. Certainly,
ah, actually quite I agree with his um… theory regarding
free will. – Yep
– I think it’s actually quite enlightened and, um,
speaks, ah, immeasurable truth. Um, also I think it allows
one to view oneself externally and ah,
to make judgements about the moral things that they
um, are contributing to the society. Um, more than anyone that
believes in free will is able to do anyway. – Yep
– Um, and also I think you did mention in your talk that you
don’t believe in the, how Sam would put it, “Delusion of free will.” Did you not say that sir? – Mm mm
– So, um, my question is
um, I guess is: What’s your problem exactly
with what… [Laughter] …Sam’s been saying? -My problem is that I
do not think that, I believe that we are largely
determined but not totally determined. And that there is um, ah,
I mean, I’m with Spinoza on this;
I’m not with Schopenhauer or Sam Harris. Um, and I think Spinoza was a
much wiser person than either of them. Um, and Spinoza said “That we are largely
determined by all the facts of the universe that are
poured through us including our own physiology
and neurology.” Um, but the more you
know yourself, the more the possibility of a
kind of marginal freedom becomes possible. One of the good things about
Harris’s book, um, and it’s something I
commend him for, is that,
that so much of our social and penal policies are based
on the folly of absolute human freedom. Um, and we’re sending people
into prison, um, who are incapable
of having, ah, of making choices other
than the ones we, ah that, that we made. And I think that’s part of
his purpose, and I agree with that. I think that we should be
understanding what makes kids brought up in
dire circumstances, um, into criminals
and not make it worse by shoving them away. And, and a part of his purpose
is to get us to rethink those things. I’m with him on that. But I, I can’t buy the
absoluteness that he reduces everything to physicality
and materialism. I’m a semi-materialist,
a semi-determinist. I can’t go the whole way,
because I think there’s ultimately something
mysterious about personhood,
just as I think there’s something ultimately
mysterious about the universe. And particularly that it’s
produced creatures like us who transcended
and, and that the universe in us is now asking
questions about itself. I find that very bizarre and
I don’t think that you can have a completely scientific
analysis of why that’s happened,
because something has popped into existence in us that
wasn’t there before. -Yeah I agree but I don’t think Sam’s as strict a materialist as you
make him out to be. -Well you might know him
better than I do. [Laughing] -Oh no, well I can,
I can only say from what I’ve read. [Applause] -Of- I,
I just want to finish with one question, um, ah,
to Richard because particularly when you were, when you started your talk
this evening, so, to go back to the beginning
of what you said. And one of the things I
enjoyed so much about the book was that sense,
um, of, when it started off, of a childhood,
of your love of walking, of the movies. That, in a way your
discovering the church was part of this um,
you know, quite a very natural thing
for a child with those kind of,
a desire for somewhere else and those kind of romantic
leanings, the lookings,
somebody looking for, for answers and meaning. Um, and I just wanted to ask
you, do you think, do you feel,
that in a way, it, it at a different time and in
a different place it could have been something else? -Yes um…
but I still think the tug of transcendence would,
would be there. I mean, I do think that
there are some people who, who just can’t but wrestle
with these kinds of issues, and, and the fact that they’re
irresolvable makes it, it’s, it’s an
unscratchable itch. Um, but I might have been
diverted into a different path,
a different profession. Um, I’m grateful for the way
it, it educated me. Um, I wouldn’t otherwise
have been edu- -I would have left
school at 14. And, I know enough about what
can sometimes happen to um, highly intelligent people,
um, who, whose lives don’t, you know,
they can end up being very, very self-destructive. Um, I also learnt,
to love writing and fiction and poetry and metaphor
through it. And, and to me
what religion is, it’s a great story. It’s a great work of the
human imagination and it’s a beautiful way to
understand it. It is a human construct like
one of the operas you have here. And it can be restorative
and, and challenging and redemptive in that way. Um, and I couldn’t have
discovered that then. Um, although I didn’t-
I remember the night before I went off to Kelham. I’d never really read the
Bible much and I went up to see the rector in his study,
and he was out taking a call and I picked up a
Bible saying I’d better get to know this and I,
I flicked through the Book of Genesis and it was, you know,
gobbledygook to me. [Laughter] I didn’t get it. To me, the thing that had
captured my soul and my heart was this romance,
this, this possibility of the other. You know, the great lover. – Mm.
– Um, and I’ve, and I’ve
found quite a lot of that has satisfied me. Um, ah, but it conflicted
with this, this great persecutor idea,
this- because God is a dodgy character. I mean, a very,
very bad history. Um, ah and, What is the reality,
if there is a reality? If there is,
an ultimate mystery that comes anything close to what
we understand by God? Ah, you could do different
readouts from the way history and the universe he created. And that’s where I like the
kinds of things that Jesus said. Um, and I don’t think that He
came from heaven with a particular picture of God but
I think He struggled to try and make imperatives about
ultimate reality, relate to justice and mercy. Um, and even if they,
if the ultimate reality doesn’t exist,
justice and mercy do and are good enough. – Thank you very much Richard. [Applause]

Otis Rodgers



  1. Charlie Saiz Posted on December 28, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    Nothing Barmy about this man a very intelligent,warm and thoroughly nice human being.

  2. __________________________ Posted on November 23, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    When Richard began weeping talking about the father of the prodigal I burst in to floods of tears. What a wonderful, wise man. 

  3. nicksum29 Posted on August 28, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    Why does this man sound more Christian than ANY A N Y Christian I know.

  4. jonathon smith Posted on September 12, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    hell of a man !!! UTMOST RESPECT FOR HIM !!

  5. Steve Payne Posted on August 25, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    If this man is not all about all I think and wish and hope religion to be about, there is no such thing as religion, and doesn't deserve to be.

  6. Tom Glorioso Posted on June 19, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    A merciful man in the face of church and state that tend to unmerciful.  I feel inspired by him to speak out against the hate in the state and church.