Fr Peter’s newsletter notes - January 2004
Posted on January 1st 2004 in Weekly messages
3rd Week of Ordinary Time - Sunday 25th January 2004
The famous English philosopher Bertrand Russell is the father figure of a whole school of English university philosophers who worked in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. His Olympian stature and lucid writing style meant his influence also extended far beyond the confines of academe. Many might remember his trenchant support for disarmament. He gave credence to the view that religion was a meaningless activity, and that questions about God and free will possessed no sense. The predominance of this school of thought within British universities with a few notable exceptions in Cambridge and Swansea resulted in a terrible impoverishment in the reasoned possibility for faith, and by extension to all the civilised traditions of our society.
Just this last week I have been reading the autobiography of just one of these 'children' of Russell, and it brought home to me once again, that to begin all intellectual activity in a vein of deep scepticism will always lead to agnosticism at best and atheism at worst. The same attitude towards our traditional institutions in this country has seen their progressive emasculation, a process that seems to be quickening under this present government. It is an attitude not extended to other faiths or cultures less they fall over the other beloved mantra of modern government, multi-culturalism. To apply the same sceptical attitude to Islam, or to the forms of government adopted in much of the Third World would run the risk of being labelled a 'bigot or a racist'.
The path to sceptism trodden by this philosopher began quite religiously at school. His religion teacher inspired him to attend an evangelical Church but this faded away while he became absorbed with philosophy and psychology. As a young man from Blackpool he was amazed at the sheer power of ideas, and how they could transport him from the gaudy seaside town into the realms of pure thought. The power of ideas and the question of certainty made him doubt so much, his own existence included. This well worn path had been illuminated by the famous French philosopher Rene Descartes and in a different way by the Scotsman David Hume. Such a newly discovered power can easily blot out the gentler muses, the appreciation of beauty and the contemplation of existence itself. We can become so obsessed by this power and the need to question everything that we forget the very fact of existence. The simplicity and virtual 'nothingness' of existence makes it the most difficult matter to contemplate. However without the possibility of this contemplation, no belief in God is possible.
There is absolutely no need to be a philosopher to become a believer, but for those enchanted by the power of thought it is necessary to dwell on this gentler muse less they think their way out of faith. The desire to know is intrinsic to our humanity, but like the freedom to choose, without a grounding in God's creation, these very human attributes can be so easily perverted and misused.
Readings from the Second Book of Samuel, 3rd Week of Ordinary Time, Year C, Cycle II
David has already been revealed as God's anointed through the action of Samuel but now is recognised by the elders. They established a covenant at Hebron recognising David as their own flesh and bone. The quality of leadership to be exercised by David as a shepherd recognises their mutual responsibility. Jerusalem has also been chosen as the place where God will dwell with His people. (Monday) The ark, which contained the tablets of the Law, had been 'lost' to the Philistines but now after David's victory it is brought back by stages to Jerusalem. The last stage of the journey is led by David himself. Once in Jerusalem he constructs a tent over the ark, recalling the tent of meeting in the desert, which is the first form of religious architecture. (Tuesday) Nathan's oracle to David reveals God's unconditional and everlasting promise to his 'house', and recasts the covenant made between God and Moses on Mt Sinai in terms of king and people. The establishment of David's house is God's answer to David's desire to build Him a house, emphasises that God alone is the author of salvation. (Wednesday) King David's prayer in response to Nathan's oracle begins with due deference to the Lord God, but finishes audaciously with a claim on God's fidelity to David's house. God's glory will be revealed through the future of David's line. There is a startling honesty about David's prayer. Which will be fulfilled in the person of Jesus who both completes David's line and gives glory to God. (Thursday) The well-known story of David's adultery with Bethsheeba is set in the context of war, and which will ultimately lead to internal strife within David's family. The prophecy of Samuel concerning kingship is now being realised- 'he takes what he sees and desires for himself'. Power does corrupt and with that comes the abandonment of right and wrong, and the distinction between true and false. (Friday)