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Thoughtful talkers

18 October 2013

Pat Ashworth reads articles to enlighten Melbourne Anglicans

A Faith to Live By: What an intelligent, compassionate and authentic Christian faith looks like
Roland Ashby
DLT £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 (Use code CT577 )

ASK an intelligent person an intelligent question, and you are certain to get an intelligent answer. Roland Ashby, theologian, Benedictine oblate, and editor of The Melbourne Anglican, asks the kind of complex theological questions you can only satisfactorily ask in the medium of print, where the question remains in front of the reader as well as the response.

The book is a compilation of interviews with 25 thinking people, published in the Anglican between 1996 and 2011. Consequently, they're not bang up to date - Rowan Williams's reflections, for example, pre-date his translation to Canterbury. But the book serves to open the mind and whet the appetite for more targeted reading, especially in its engagement with the world of science.

A number of scientists reflect on Dawkins and the "new atheism". The mathematician John Lennox, whose brother was badly injured in a bomb blast in Northern Ireland, considers the weakest part of the atheist argument to be where morality comes from. For the theoretical physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne, science is just as much an act of faith as religion.

Scientists in the area of particle physics, in particular, believe in all kinds of unseen realities, he suggests: "I believe in the unseen reality of God just as I believe in the unseen reality of quarks. It's the intelligibility, the making sense of things which wouldn't otherwise fit together which persuades me that there is a deeper reality being encountered."

Diarmuid O'Murchu, priest and social psychologist, is convinced not only that quantum physics affirms that God exists and is a God of love, but that the quantum vision also gives new insights into understanding the resurrection - something on which many of the writers offer a perspective. The quantum vision "certainly allows for the possibility of the resurrected state".

For Greg Clarke, chief executive of the Bible Society, Australia, one of the very unattractive parts of the new atheism is that "they suggest that they are the only ones who have been intelligent enough to realise that there is no God. All the while choosing to ignore the incredibly intelligent people who hold the opposite view."

Frankness and honesty mark the contributions. Esther de Waal, for whom a sense of wonder is part of faith, suffers from recurrent depression, and says: "I am so tired of having Mother Julian quoted at me - 'all will be well and all manner of things will be well' - because when you are actually at the bottom of a very dark tunnel and there is no daylight at all at the end, that is the very last thing you want to hear."

All have a relish for inquiry. There is no danger here of making God too small.

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