Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos

Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos
Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

What is love?

I wrote this just before Valentine's day in 2015; you read it at the earliest in Holy Week 2016 - two wonderful examples of the complexity of the question ‘What is Love?’; the word ‘love’ has so many meanings.

Every month I go along to Lincoln Drill Hall for something called the Philosophy Cafe, really just a group of people meeting to explore ‘philosophical’ questions like, ‘what is love’, ‘what makes me, me.’ On occasions I have been asked to introduce the discussion and I was working away at how to introduce the question ‘what is love.’ I decided to quote from St Paul Corinthians 13, Shakespeare Sonnet 116 and the four (or more) words the ancient Greeks had for love. I was shot down; to use an extract from the Bible would offend some people and that would destroy the discussion. We couldn’t agree, so someone else introduced the discussion using only the Greek words.

It set me thinking.

I accept that to some people the Bible might be divisive, but in one sense what it is, is just the thinking of a middle eastern people between two and four millennia ago. So, not so very different to the writings from around the same time from the Greek world.

The Bible, Shakespeare and the literature of the ancient Greeks are, together with a few other bits, the foundation of the English language; they are the ‘air we breathe.’ I suspect that no-one in the Drill Hall talking about what is love, will not have been influenced in their thinking by at least one of these sources and probably by all three. To exclude the Bible because it may offend is nonsense.

As Christians, we believe that the Bible is more; it is God’s word or at the very least an account of man’s relationship with God. The Bible responds to the question ‘What is Love?’ with the answer, God is love.

What fascinated me in the discussion about love without the Bible, was that many people saw love as underlying everything. Whatever Greek meaning was taken, romantic love, family love, friendship or love for mankind - charity, the meaning that St Paul used -,  we seemed to come back to the same point that love underlies everything, like God really.

May I wish you a very happy Easter

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

This book is both disturbing and rewarding. Whilst Pullman emphasises that it is a story, it does follow, in a great many respects, the story of Jesus as told in the Gospels.

There is a jarring early on as the Annunciation is replaced by a rather equivocal scene with Mary and an angel in the guise of a young man. The result is twins and this provides the machinery of the plot. The elder, Jesus, is a good man who does not claim to be God. His younger and weaker twin brother, named Christ, has no such scruples. Jesus is passionate about calling all to repentance for the Kingdom of God is very close at hand. Christ is altogether more circumspect.

There is real pleasure in coming across stories from the Gospels told so refreshingly and well. That of the Prodigal Son would come first on my list. But there are then those stories, which although based on the Gospel account, deviate in some material way. This can both upset and let the hackles rise, until the note on the back cover is recalled: This is a Story. It is a story and, for a story to work, particular actions and motivations must be present. On a second reading and on reflection these deviations begin to shed light. Some are precious Gospel stories and so the deviations also jar deeply.

Peter’s confession at Caesarea Phillippi is met by a furious denial by Jesus, but, in the context of this story, this is in character. The Feeding of the Five Thousand in this story is about sharing. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins is given an intriguingly different twist. With others the precious elements are missing. The journey to Emmaus has none of the burning in the disciples’ hearts as the scriptures are revealed; Jesus is not recognised as he breaks bread. There is no Last Supper and so no washing of Peter’s feet. The Eucharist is introduced after the resurrection and then misunderstood.

For all the jarring, I found myself drawn yet more closely to Jesus of Nazareth and his goodness and honesty. Pullman has created vivid depiction of the man, even if many Christians would dispute his theology.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Does a fine tuned universe put pay to God?

I have written before that physicists have long argued that life exists only because the conditions are or were exactly right. I hadn't realised just how precisely right they had to be.

A wonderfully gifted Lecturer in Philosophy from Hull (see below) explained the issue quite brilliantly at the Drill Hall on Saturday. Just how was it that the conditions were just right? Was it by the design of some superior being. Was it by chance? Or was this universe one amongst perhaps an infinity and so was the one to have the right conditions. Ockham's Razor was the 'technique' used to choose between the explanations. It holds that the choice should be that which require the addition of the least new elements. So the plethora of universes wins.

We went on to talk of God.

If we reject the idea of 'God' behind the creation of the universe, is that an end to any idea of God?

We can still look at the world's great religions for moral guidance, for a framework of how life may be lived. Or do we now know it all? Has the secular world taken on all that is helpful and so can put forward its own moral framework. I have argued elsewhere that perhaps the Church has been too successful in enabling this. Perhaps we can look at Jesus, for example, and look to follow his teaching. We would need also to look at Jewish teaching to achieve a reasonably comprehensive framework. We could equally look to Islam, Buddhism and other faiths.

We could do this, but does the faith rather fall apart once the creator God is removed?

We can talk of a spiritual dimension, something removed from the measurable world, something that can neither be proved or disproved by science. Richard Dawkins might suggest that this world is none other than our own unconscious mind. Yet the Bible itself talks of the Kingdom of God being within. Can we conceive of God in us, rather than out there? If we can, can we also communicate such an idea and leave in place the Bible, for example? We can explain that it represents the thinking of man over millennia and our thinking has simply taken a good few steps further forward with the benefit of science.


Daniel Came is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Hull. He received his BA and MPhil degrees in Philosophy from the University of Cambridge and his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Oxford. He has held a Junior Research Fellowship in Philosophy at Worcester College, Oxford and a College Lectureship in Philosophy at St Hugh’s College, Oxford.

Fine-Tuning, Theism, and the Multiverse Hypothesis

Physicists have calculated that, if the laws and constants of physics had been even slightly different, the universe would have developed in such a way that life would have been impossible. This apparent “fine-tuning”, some say, is best explained by theism. Multiverse theories are typically offered as naturalistic rivals to theism. If there are vastly many universes which vary ¬perhaps randomly ¬in their relevant parameters, then it is not at all surprising that at least one universe is life-permitting.
In this talk, I evaluate the adequacy of the multiverse hypothesis relative to classical theism in explaining the fine-tuning of the universe.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Questioning the existence of God

Archbishop Justin Welby questioned the existence of God after the Paris attacks. Matthew Paris provided a helpful summary of traditional theology on God and evil

The more I think about this, the more important it becomes that the leader of our Church should admit to doubt. I find it hard to conceive that anyone seeking Christian truth for a good number of years can have no doubts. Archbishop Welby thus affirms seekers like me, and I value that.


This single word was used by the Dalai Lama to name his religion, in response to a question by Duke of Edinburgh.

The sermon by Hugh Jones at St Nicholas Newport Lincoln on 24 January explored such fundamental questions in the context of the week of prayer for Christian unity and the very obvious differences within the Anglican Communion. I took away three key tenets of Christianity: a commitment to truth, an acceptance of difference, but above all a total dedication to human wellbeing

As I knelt for Communion, I felt a deep affinity for those many refugees I encountered in Lesvos. We didn't break bread there, we don't follow the same religion, be we are one, members together of humankind. Perhaps that is the ultimate primacy.

Is there then a place for religion? For many of those I met on Lesvos, it might be a commitment to the Prophet. For me it is a continual listening to/searching for the voice hidden in history of Jesus of Nazareth.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Has the Church been too successful?

“You know what the problem is with the Church?”

I waited for the pearl of wisdom.

“It’s been too successful.”

This conversation took place some years ago now, but I recalled it on two occasions recently.
The first was a gathering of over one hundred people who had come together to plan our response to the arrival in Lincoln of the first refugees from Syria. We talked about collecting clothing and household goods; we explored the possible problems that refugees might face. We began to plan a fundraising event and someone said, “this is what churches used to do.”

In the discussion that followed, it became clear that many there had been brought up with the church as part of their lives, but that they had long since stopped attending. My suspicion was that that early church going may have given us all that sense of concern for our fellow human beings that had brought us all together.

But there were others there, probably most, who had no history with the church. My colleague who had identified the ‘problem with the church’ would argue that christian teaching over centuries had entered the blood stream of the nation and so we all have, or can have, that sense of christian values. This is dangerous territory since atheist friends would take issue and point possibly to some shared set of values that come from our shared humanity.

In a sense it doesn’t matter, since, whoever we were, we all came together for a common cause.

This brings me to my second occasion. This was in Veryan church at the end of November when the school gathered for their Friday assembly, which they do each week. What struck me was just how at home everyone appeared to be. I remember my time as Reader working with the school and how the church had in recent times been an unfamiliar place for most. Not so now: mums, grandmas, toddlers, all happily chatting before the school children arrived. Then the children themselves came in, settling down to something that was part of everyday life.

They heard the story of Ruth wonderfully told by the Open the Book team. I was struck by how the story resonates with the refugee crisis. The children listened and then prayed. I went away happy that those children would have a sense of christian values which would last them through life.

Is that enough? Or should we worry that they don’t come to church on Sunday?

What matters, surely, is that that christian values are being learnt by another generation, but also that the church is being used for this purpose.

A stop along the journey

Two years ago I saw the Church of England at near to its worst and this put a stop on church attendance. I determined that I never wanted to return to what had been for me a faith that steered my life. I did, however, not let go and decided instead to seek a fresh expression of that faith. This is a work in progress about that quest.

A crucial part of not letting go was a commitment every other month to write a letter for the Veryan parish magazine. I decided that I should not stray too far from orthodoxy but that I could explore. Key pieces of exploration were three books that I view as important. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, by Philip Pullman; The Testament of Mary by Colm Tobin and Meeting God in Mark by Rowan Williams.

So where am I?

My very dear friend and priest, the late Peter Durnford, held that Jesus was central to his faith. This remains for me the corner stone, however.....

We need to acknowledge that much of the gospels is creative theology. The Jews had to understand the story of this young man in ways that made sense to them. It follows that to get anywhere near to the man, we need to strip all this away. This is something that both Pullman and Tobin tried to do. In a way Williams gets closer as he argues that the miracles get in the way of the teaching.

The teaching that we find when all else is stripped away is that that is needed for sustainable life on earth. It draws on much in Judaism. It is replicated to a greater or lesser extent in the other world faiths. It is mirrored in much secular moral teaching.

So that is the core, this person Jesus who taught us how to live.

In a way I would like to leave it there. However, there is one point that keeps bubbling in my mind, the nature of prayer. I have come to view it as the 'to do list', not by some mysterious 'God', but by us. It is good, for it is a time when those concerns for the world can be named. Some can to a small extent then be addressed by our individual actions, more by the concerted effort by many, others, of course, not at all.