Keith outlines the current debate in the Church of Engkland regarding women as priests and Bishops
July 2011 Newsletter
I believe that Einstein more or less got it right in his Theory of Relativity. I don ‘t know whether I mean his General Theory or his Special Theory – and quite honestly I don’t understand the physics of any of it at all, as may well be the case for some or most of the readers of this. So my initial statement begins to sound more than a little weak! However, the reason I go along with it so willingly is that it sounds so obviously reasonable as a philosophy. Things really are relative, in so far as they appear to us from where we happen to be in time and space – and the same things appear differently to those set in a different time and/or space. Watching the partial eclipse of the red moon on TV News today showed the Earth’s shadow crossing it from above, from the left and from below, depending on whether the shots were recorded in Moscow, in the Middle East or in Australia! Here in the UK, of course, we saw nothing, because of the heavy obscuring cloud cover.
Last Saturday I heard impassioned [and they truly were impassioned – not noisy but so evidently heartfelt] pleas from three different priests in relation to the current debate in the Church of England about the ordination of women both as priests and as Bishops. One spoke as a Catholic traditionalist in the Church, one as a Conservative Evangelist and one as a woman priest. To get me right, I had to listen to them individually and then convert or translate their views to a view from my standpoint and try to discover what I could then perceive to be the truth.
Over the past three or four months I have seen several species of bird that I never seen before. During the past week, I had a Hooded Crow grazing in my garden for over half an hour and I disturbed a Siskin as I drove down the road. In the earlier spring I watched long-tailed tits and willow tits feeding off our fat balls – birds I have never seen before. Two or three months ago, a jay sat in the sun on a garden post for ten minutes or so. I have been able to identify both mistle and song thrushes grazing.
Of course, I have probably seen all these birds before, but never noticed them. This year, for some reason, I have been taking an interest and made sure I had books available and the internet to enable me to identify some of them. And it is tremendous fun. We are watching closely a swallow’s nest on top of the lamp directly next to our front door (which has 5 eggs, not yet hatched, but still being carefully mothered by the attentive parents). A couple of weeks ago we found a baby (tiny!) wren in the kitchen which we put back into the shrub outside the backdoor, below which was another baby wren on the ground and where we hope the nest was. We saw a parent darting about, but the next day there was no trace of any of them.
In deciding about anything, our conclusions have to be so firmly based on our own observations, guided in understanding and interpretation by the wisdom and knowledge of others, and always conscious that we have our own point of view (which means more correctly, I suppose, view from point), where much may be obscured for us or from which our angle of view may be quite distorting.
It behoves us all to take care as we pontificate on this or that that we do not tread heavily on the equally proper, but very different views of others.
But where does this leave truth? Is relativity all or are there absolute truths? Even in science, where all is doubt, where all theories are merely waiting to be proved wrong or inadequate (like Einstein ‘s theories, which have already gone that way), we come across such peculiar things as Absolute Zero or the Speed of Light, which cannot be exceeded (until, of course, someone finds a way to get colder or go faster).
The great religions and philosophies are actually defined ultimately by their success in defining absolute truths. Buddhists seek nirvana – the enlightenment that leads to the eventual release of the body from the cycle of death and re-birth – ie extinction. The three great Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) seek eternal life (the opposite of nirvana?) outside the body. In all cases, the search for the reward involves the discovery and practice of enlightenment and love.
Unfortunately we seem unable to find the absolute definitions of those states, at least not until we are so far on our way there that we are beyond communicating them to those who are still seeking.
So, ultimately the difference between science and religion is that the one seeks to find out what is defective or deficient in current understanding, whereas the other is searching for new understanding – not very different in the end! The one moves forwards, backwards, as it tests and tests received wisdom; the other moves forwards, forwards, as it seeks new and better wisdom. The one moves forwards, knowing that it has so far got it wrong or not quite right, to a righter paradigm; the other has faith that the truth is there, just around the corner.