Monthly Archives: September 2007

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The God Delusion

The God DelusionIt has become so popular, so widely discussed, so much a feature of discussions on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site and Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science site (sites I visit a lot), that I have decided to take the plunge, and read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. I plan on providing a running commentary on what I read here in my blog (even though it does not have a great deal to do with the blog’s initial aims).

A couple of preliminary comments before I start:

  1. I am not planning on reading through, organising my thoughts, and then writing an organised critique, theme by theme. Rather, I’ll comment on what I find, as I find it, not knowing quite where he or I will end up.
  2. I will, however, cheat to a certain extent: I’ve been scribbling notes to myself as I read, and my blog entries are worked up from those notes. At the time of writing, I’ve read (and scribbled) up to somewhere in ch.3, and have glanced ahead to the start of ch.4. So this isn’t quite pure ‘stream of consciousness’ reviewing.
  3. I’m reading the 2007 Black Swan paperback edition.
  4. I have read several newspaper articles and blog comment pieces about the book; I have also read an article by Nicholas Lash in the latest New Blackfriars, but I have not tried (and probably will not try) to read widely in the secondary literature that the book has already generated. So apologies if I flog here horses that have already died elsewhere.
  5. No-one, if they spend a moment to check who I am, is going to expect me to be a huge fan of the book. I hope, though, to be a generous, fair and open-minded reviewer, even (especially) when it annoys me. If anyone is reading this blog, I hope they’ll keep me to that in the comments.

Continuity and Discontinuity

I’ve been on holiday for a week, in (mostly) sunny Cornwall, and confirming that Kynance Cove is one of my favourite places in the world (and the Lawrences some of my favourite people).

Anyway, just one last post to put the ‘abducting John’ strand of thinking to bed. I have spoken of a ‘dialectic of description and registering resistance, within a life in pursuit of holiness’, and then suggested that needs to be rethought. I’d like instead to suggest that a theologically nuanced reading of the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus in Mark (and, more deeply, between Mark’s Jesus and the ‘as it is written’ of the Prophets) will start with a ‘reading for continuity’: reading John in terms of Jesus and Jesus in terms of John: John the Baptist as the one who made Jesus possible; Jesus as the one who was made possible by John. Reading John as theotokos, as I put it a long time ago). This is itself an ongoing process, a matter of continual adjustments in reading as a better ‘fit’ is sought between the two sides; it is not a matter of a static, achieved interpretation.

This ‘reading for continuity’ will be shadowed and interrupted, however, by ‘registering discontinuity’. Register the resistances on both sides: that in Jesus which exceeds anything we can see made ready in John; that in John which is unassimilated, unpreseverved, unfulfilled in Jesus.

Mark’s Gospel lends itself to reading for continuity (that is how it tells the story) and to seeing the ‘resistances’ on Jesus’ side. It allows glimpses or hints of resistances on John the Baptist’s side only indirectly, through the gaps in what it says. When it comes to the Prophets, and to the Hebrew Scriptures in general, those resistances are considerably more visible.

What I am suggesting has some connections to the ‘criterion of dissimilarity’ and opposing proposals of a ‘criterion of similarity’ in Jesus research – but I am not proposing criteria for judging historical authenticity: rather, I am proposing (to myself, if no one else) a set of questions to have in mind when reading, a set of processes of reading to go through, and hold in tension, in order to be sent more deeply by these texts into serious thought.

And I have one last complication to throw back in, from another strand of posts on this blog. ‘Reading for continuity’ may well be rather complex, if one of the forms of such continuity involved is precisely the ‘prophetic’ continuity of speaking from within the excess involved in any attempt at continuity. John the Baptist is made, in Mark, to stand (in part) precisely for that inspired discontiunity-for-the-sake-of-obedience which is an authentic, continuous strand in the Hebrew scriptures…