Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Discovered something interesting about Mersea tonight. The tide was up at 7:10pm, covering the Strood - which was extremely bizarre, as it shouldn't have been, according to tide tables etc. But: mild westerly wind (25mph or so) and low pressure (1006) obviously count for more than the tidal movement itself (supposedly only 3.8m - and it covers the Strood from about 4.6m or so). Pressure is much more important than I thought.

Which means that when we get low pressure, strong wind AND an expected high tide - that's when we get 1953. Which is going to come, at some point.

The non-violent image

In his 'The Peaceable Kingdom' Hauerwas writes:
"... those who identify with a nonviolent stance are often challenged with 'But what would you do if...?' The dots are usually filled in with a description of a case where it seems absolutely essential, and certainly for the greatest good, to use rather than refrain from violence. Such cases are usually enough to convince others that nonviolence simply cannot be justified as an unqualified principle. It seems self-evident that violence at times is necessary. Of course everybody assumes that it is always better to avoid the use of force if possible, but it seems that something is decisively wrong with any ethic that rules out the legitimate or even tragic use of violence before the fact. Yet that seemingly self-evident presupposition ironically contains a deterministic view of our existence that I expect few of us would be willing to accept. For it is my contention that if we are genuinely nonviolent we can no more decide to use violence even if the situation seems to warrant it, than the courageous can decide under certain conditions, to be cowardly."
A part of Hauerwas' argument is precisely that we need to re-imagine what it means to act in the world, so that our own characters flow from a Christian narrative, not a narrative that has been predetermined by the (fallen) world. So the task of the Christian church is to shape people who are non-violent, who do not contribute to the cycle of violence that so defaces the image of God in our common humanity.

This I believe to be true.

It is a struggle that must, first and foremost, be won in our imaginations. For when a man entertains the conception of an evil which would seem to necessitate a violent response, that in itself is a corrupt use of the imagination. It is an imagination driven by fear; fear of pain and suffering for oneself or for another. It is also an imagination that is formed by worldly conceptions of what it is to be human - for example, that through the sharing of a genetic inheritance with violent chimpanzees, we too have a violent genetic inheritance.

This is my struggle. In particular, I need to strengthen my Christian imagination, so that I can bring a suitably Christian vision and hope to the expectations of imminent apocalypse.

Such an imagination is not a Christian imagination. To conquer violence without can only proceed from the conquering of violence within - and that means the conquering of the fear within. To achieve this, the imagination has to be taught and strengthened and fed through the contemplation of peace; and, principally, the prince of peace. For it is only through such contemplation and nourishment that the disposition to nonviolence is first formed and then established as a virtue within the faithful person. The imagination of the world must itself succumb to the imagination and the imaging of Christ.

What must be held before the heart of the faithful is the icon of death being conquered, so that the faithful no longer have any fear of death. Instead they have perfect love, which casts out fear.

A different way of saying this is to say that our image of God within must be awakened. For if our imaginations are formed by the world, then we will be formed as people in the image of the world - and that is the way of violence. If we allow our own divine image to emerge; if we feed the imagination with the image of the nonviolent God - then we shall become a nonviolent people.

Then we shall live out our vocation as Christians.

Which is my vocation too.

Lord, may we so know your peace in our hearts that we may ever trust in you to be our defence; our ever present shield in danger; through Christ our Lord, Amen.

(My thanks to Patrik, whose comment here has remained with me, and helped me greatly.)


...A key notion used by Wittgenstein when discussing these issues is ‘depth’. To return to his Remarks on Frazer, in particular the consideration of the Beltane fire festival, Wittgenstein wrote (p143) ‘Besides these similarities, what seems to be most striking is the dissimilarity of all these rites. It is a multiplicity of faces with common features which continually emerges here and there. And one would like to draw lines connecting these common ingredients. But then one part of our account would still be missing, namely that which brings this picture into connection with our own feelings and thoughts. This part gives the account its depth.’ Then, later, when considering the part of the ritual which involved a make believe thrusting of a man into the fire, ‘It is now clear that what gives this practice depth is its connection with the burning of a man’. The important thing about a ritual action, that which allows it to have the character of a ritual action, is this dimension of depth.

(look at the photo closely. Happy Halloween :o)

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Machine Crusade/ The Battle for Corrin

Well- very readable, otherwise I wouldn't have got them finished by now, but as novels, rather than as historical sketches, they are ultimately very disappointing. Totally arbitrary changes in characterisation in many places (that of Ishmael is the most gratuitous and striking); no development of some of the most interesting characters; much less exploration of the philosophical problems - they even start reproducing quotations used as chapter headings that they have used several times before. Not good.

Glad I've read them - they've re-introduced me to the Dune universe so I'll now re-read the whole sequence again - but I can't see myself re-reading these ones.

On Divorce

(Basically my sermon notes for Mark 10.1-12)

Jesus’ teaching on divorce is robust: “at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

I am persuaded that an easy acceptance of divorce, particularly where children have come into being through the relationship, has caused all sorts of social breakdown, and evidence for that is not hard to find. Yet I don’t believe Jesus’ teaching is quite as simple as it is made out to be. I am coming to accept that a slavish obedience to a rule can be destructive of the human flourishing which is God’s consistent will for us. We could begin with the hidden elements of the text today, in that Jesus was advancing a radically pro-women argument, in that he structures the question in terms of mutuality and loneliness, rather than property.

Consider the context of first century Judaism – every woman was defined by their relationship with a man, first the father, then the husband. A woman typically had no independent status – hence the repeated injunction in Scripture to look after the widows and orphans, in other words all who have no male economic protector. In terms of social status, the key thing for woman was fertility (with Genesis 1 referred to, “be fruitful and multiply” understood as the divine command) and women who were infertile were cast on the scrapheap. This was often the excuse for divorce, and was the context behind Jesus’ words.

In answering the question, Jesus doesn’t refer to Genesis 1 but to Genesis 2 – man and woman cleave to each other and become one flesh – which is to emphasise the point about mutuality, where the key phrase is “not good to be alone”. This brings out the importance of relationship – God as trinity, where relationship is essential to God’s own makeup – and we are made in God’s image, in other words we find our fullest expression through relationships and service to one another.

The cornerstone of this is commitment – to maintain a relationship through the bad patches – yet even this, because of our hardness of heart, can become something offensive to God. For the point about sticking to a relationship through thick and thin, which we do have to take with great seriousness, has, I believe, been abused and rendered idolatrous at certain times and in certain contexts. It comes down to a question about the place of rules and the grace of God – the rules are there to give us life; Jesus shows us the life which comes from following the rules; but what this means is that if the rules lead to a life where the love of Christ is absent then it is more important to follow Christ rather than the rule.

It is never of Christ to collude with injustice – Christ aggressively and angrily challenges injustice and stands up for those who are weak and defenceless – yet so often in human history the rule about sticking with a marriage through thick and thin has been abused in order to abuse, normally the woman but sometimes the man, and to put it bluntly, Jesus does not teach us to be doormats!

The thing is that breaking off a relationship – ie separation – can itself be a way of continuing a conversation. To collude with injustice, to not speak the truth about a situation, this is not of God. If all else fails, separation can be the last resort of the one whose will for the marriage is that it continues. Surely they will listen to this! But if even this cannot work…?

Let us remember Jesus’ teaching elsewhere about marriage, when he links it to the resurrection – a marriage is not eternal, it is not something that partakes of heaven – it is an earthly relationship, an earthly form, which can be wonderful and heavenly, but can also partake of the other place. The real issue is about our brokenness, the fracturing of our world through sin, and the presence of God’s grace which can redeem the most fallen situation.

I find Jesus’ teaching on divorce difficult – primarily because at heart I agree with it, and we can see the consequences of an abandonment of the teaching around us in our society today – yet I also believe in a God of grace, not of rules – as Jesus repeatedly quotes Hosea, the living God is a God who desires mercy and not sacrifice. So often we see sacrifice as the demand made upon us, that we need to mutilate ourselves in body or spirit in order to be acceptable – yet this is not the living god, this is the baal or the moloch who destroys life, not the one who dies on our behalf in order to give life.

Yet there is a suspicion in my mind here. Jesus’ begins his teaching on divorce by relativising Moses’ words – placing them in context, as a concession to human sin. Are we not called to do something similar? To relativise the words of our Lord, as a concession to our sin, in order not to have our hearts and souls broken on the rigidities of the law? All we have are fragments, within which we make our lives, trusting not in our own righteousness, but the grace and mercy of God.

NB for a slightly different take on divorce and the blogging of sermons, see this.

We need to work on having fun

Paul Mobbs is the author of what I think is the best introduction to Peak Oil, especially for UK readers (see here).

This is an optimistic interview with him. "The whole point about modern society in Britain is that the only way we know to have fun these days is to expend energy. We need to relearn all those skills our grandparents had for having fun with very little. That’s what its really going to be about. If you look at human history, we can bear anything, so long as we have a bit of fun at the same time. The fun bit is what we really have to work on."

NB I'm booked to talk to our council about Peak Oil in the next few weeks. The Totnes model seems to be the way that Mersea needs to go forward.

Watch Mexico

Mexico's problems are going to get really severe - and are massively influenced by Peak Oil, in that their main oilfield (the largest in the Western Hemisphere) has peaked, and is depleting at the rate of 10.6% in the first six months of this year.

Have a look at this site for an examination of some of the firewood.

Sam Sam pick up thi musket

The end of the world cometh (see here, from the man who first notified me of Peak Oil).

I still muse much about non-violence. I was recently told a story (non-parish related) about a man who was abusing his four year old daughter, and who was therefore barred from further contact.

This is violence. For what would the non-violent response to such abuse be? There is sometimes a folly that sees sanctions as morally different to war, rather than as points upon a continuum (indeed sometimes sanctions are worse than war, as with Iraq prior to 2003). The moral issue is coercion, to no longer have a relationship of I-Thou but of I-It - and the It must be conformed to my will.

There are situations where I am simply not satisfied that non-violence is right. Undoubtedly these are situations that are mired in sin, and where a violent response is sinful - but nonetheless the violent response seems less sinful than the alternative.

As with protecting a child.

This is on my mind because I am more and more convinced of the coming trauma (have a read of this essay for an example of something that influences my perspective).

The logic seems inexorable. Wars are most often triggered when there is a decline in resources - and we face a decline in spades. And then lots of war, of new and deadly forms.

So what does a community do when there is a band of brigands coming to take away the means of life of that community?

"Do not resist the one who is evil".

I'm just not sure a) that I could or would follow non-resistance, or b) I could persuade anyone else of the rightness of it. I don't deny that a violent response is sinful. I just insist that the non-violent response is also sinful.

There is the choice. Resist - and therefore choose the lives of A over B. Or do not resist, and choose the lives of B over A.

In a situation where billions will die and be slaughtered, do you just give up? Or do you seek to preserve something of your community, your civilisation - your gospel?

I do not know. I just do not know.

"Blessed be the LORD my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight" (Psalm 144.1)

The Demonic Richard Dawkins

A few years ago I read this very interesting book called 'Demonic Males', by Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson. The basic argument is that much of our (male) aggression is 'hard-wired' and shared between ourselves and the chimpanzee. Thus, observing chimpanzee aggression gives insight into the aggression that human beings are capable of. It's a good book.

One of the central planks of Richard Dawkins' objections to religion is the argument that religious belief causes violent conflict. Hence: "…faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness… Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings… What a weapon! Religious faith deserves a chapter to itself in the annals of war technology, on an even footing with the longbow, the warhorse, the tank, and the hydrogen bomb."

One would imagine that even Richard Dawkins would accept that chimpanzee violence is not driven by religious 'delusions'.

However, I wonder about the disconnect manifest in Dawkins' outlook; that is, the way in which this prominent zoological understanding - of which he is surely aware - is bracketed out of his perception of religion. If most of our genetic inheritance is held in common with the chimpanzees; and if chimpanzees, without religion, manifest violence - why should religion be held to be the 'source of wars and violence'? Why the appeal to 'decent human feelings'? And where do they come from?

I just begin to wonder about the level of personal integrity that Richard Dawkins enjoys. What is wrong with him? Why is he so caught up with this issue - what is it that is gnawing away at him, driving him mad like this?

My suspicion is that he is fighting something in himself.

He is struggling with demons.


There are some mornings when I can't help but think of Kubrick's 2001.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist

Interesting watching this one night after the alternative. You can tell that Renny Harlin is an adolescent, whilst Paul Schrader is an adult. This one was flawed, but of significantly higher quality.


As you didn't get a TBTM today, here is a GOP instead (= Gratuitous Ollie Picture) taken on his afternoon wander.

Hauerwas on right worship

"One reason why we Christians argue so much about which hymn to sing, which liturgy to follow, which way to worship is that the commandments teach us to believe that bad liturgy eventually leads to bad ethics. You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend." — Stanley Hauerwas, The Truth About God: The Ten Commandments in Christian Life, p.89

Sam laughs manically in the background ' yes yes yes....'

HT: Alastair
(This is, by the way, the topic of one of my Learning Church sessions. It's gratifying to find a Hauerwas quotation that makes the point so well.)

The End of Suburbia

No TBTM today - because I forgot to take a picture! My mind was wholly engaged with this morning's Learning Church session, which I was quite pleased with, on the whole. It was essentially an overview of the first two chapters of my book (chapter 2 in particular) - which you can read here.

BTW An abbreviated version of 'The End of Suburbia' - one of the best documentaries about Peak Oil - can now be viewed online here.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Exorcist: The Beginning

Much better than I had expected (tho', be warned, my expectations were quite low - it's directed by Renny Harlin).

But there is a sequence of, say, 15 minutes within the last half hour, which I found quite compelling - as Merrin recovers his faith, and kisses the stole of his fallen colleague. That really got to me.


If someone said to me that he doubted whether he had a body I should take him to be a half-wit. But I shouldn't know what it would mean to try to convince him that he had one. And if I had said something, and that had removed his doubt, I should not know how or why.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Some Peak Oil links

For those who are still new to this stuff:
- an excellent introduction to the present state of play, giving an expected peak date of 2010 can be found at the Oil Drum here;
- some slides from Robert Hirsch (.pdf) can be found here (via John Robb);
- the image above is stolen shamelessly from Aaron here, with whose comments I completely concur.

Zen and the art of tunnel maintenance

OK. Go watch this.

Bear in mind:
1. The animator has been offered a job by the people who brought you Wallace And Gromit.
2. The animator had to turn it down as he is only 14 years old.
3. The animator has been Home Educated.
4. He doesn't have a television.



I took loads of piccies this afternoon. Many contenders, but this one just edged it. The ones I like the most at the moment have the most 'painterly' skies - ie they look as if they have been painted on, they have texture.


And this is a gratuitous Ollie picture, just for MadPriest.

"What are you doing, my master?"

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Go read


On the one hand I'm thinking 'Ah, I'm not the only one who's got a handle on this big idea - from a Christian point of view'.

On the other I'm thinking 'yeah! somebody else sees what I see!!!'

Should also read: this, this and this.

Oh yes, I should also give up using the word 'should'. I don't believe in it. I think it's satanic.


...there is no shadow of turning with thee

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"Temporary shelters of identity"

"What I would like to do is rescue the notion of wrath by attempting to show how there is indeed no violence in God, but that the phenomenon which religious language has described as “wrath” is very real, and worth taking seriously."

Which is precisely what I plan to do in my Learning Church session in two weeks time; largely influenced, as I am, by Alison's wider analysis. (And this is why I think Alison is both a genius and a wonderful teacher of Christianity: "the magic and enchantment we must learn in our gay Hogwarts is only good magic if it helps us return to our own mugglehood as a contribution to the enchantment of all muggledom.")

(HT *Christopher, for reminding me of it)

Accumulating crises talk now posted

My Learning Church talk - "The accumulating crises of our time" - is now available for your listening pleasure.

If your blood isn't running colder by the end of it then I will have failed in my intentions....

(And for the reason why I don't ultimately accept the doomer perspective, go here)

I am Apocalypse

Seems reasonable, given my present interests (grin).


"Midnight... on the parade..."

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sunday, October 22, 2006

From ambition to glory

(Today's sermon, based on Mark 10.35-45 and Hebrews 5.1-10)

Have you heard the expression 'be careful what you pray for, in case God grants your request'? That came to mind when I looked at today's Gospel reading concerning the sons of Zebedee, who come to Jesus and say ‘teacher we want…”.

It is a request made from ambition, to sit one at Jesus’ right and the other at his left in the kingdom. This is an image of glory - to sit next to the king in his pomp and circumstance, and bathe in a little reflected light. Of course, the sons don't really know what they are asking for. Jesus asks them 'can you drink the cup I am going to drink?', referring to his crucifixion, his role as Isaiah’s suffering servant, who heals us by his wounds - and the two sons blithely say 'we can', thinking that this will qualify them for the honour they seek. Well, they get what they wanted, and it wasn't what they wanted. In any case, Jesus deftly subverts their request by saying that it is for the Father to bestow honours. Glory belongs only to God, and any glory that we enjoy is a gift that comes from the father.

Teacher we want… Ambition is a common human problem, for it is a desire for social success - to be seen by others at Christ's right and left, and to share in that exaltation. Or to be a successful politician, or a millionaire businessman, or even to score the winning goal in a World Cup final. Or even to have your picture in a national newspaper…. And the deep source of the problem lies not in there being energy turned to achievement, but that the achievement is in the interests of the ego, which craves social approval, and fears death if society does not grant the approval. Christ is quite clear in his teaching, that whoever wants to be great must become like a servant, whoever wants to be first must be a slave. Those who are first shall be last. This is turning the values of the world upside down. Christ is establishing a community in which the values which are esteemed are not those of the world - of power, of wealth, of celebrity - but those of the suffering servant king, who washes his disciples' feet to show how it must be among them; who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. And this is why he continually teaches us not to be afraid. For fear is the voice of the ego, which seeks bodily preservation and bodily comforts - but we must fear the one who has charge of the soul, not the societies who might have temporary charge of the body.

What we must do is allow God room to work his plans in our lives, to allow his grace to be in charge. We cannot fully comprehend God's plans for us. All that we can do, as we walk in faith, is trust that he is in charge, that he loves us, and that, as Julian of Norwich put it, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. What our prayers should be focussed on is not the attainment of particular ends, but that our choices might coincide with God's choices and that we can become channels of His peace. And this means obedience.

It is written in the letter to the Hebrews that Jesus ‘learned obedience through what he suffered, and being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation’. Here we have the idea that following the will of God leads to suffering, and that suffering is something that needs to be endured – but also that, if we do endure, as Christ endured, then we get in touch with ‘the source of eternal salvation’, the amazing grace and glory of God. Jesus shows us what obedience is, as he accepts the situation that he has been given. Think of the agony of Gethsemane: where Jesus can see where things are going, and he doesn’t want to have to endure what lies ahead, but he places himself in God’s hands and says ‘not my will, but thine be done’. As the letter to the Hebrews has it, ‘Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and was heard for his godly fear’. Jesus knows what is likely to happen, he felt that it was unjust, but he allows God to be in charge, and accepts his destiny, whatever God has planned for him. And God has something glorious planned for him.

Some years ago I took a funeral of a man who was greatly estranged from his family. He was 86, and had apparently been incredibly lazy and selfish throughout his life. What caused him to be like that we don’t know, and he has now gone to give an account for his life before God, who knows all things and has mercy on our frailties. But what most struck me was the response of his son, who had doggedly kept in touch with his father, despite a great many reasons why he might not have done, and who had worked phenomenally hard in his own life, to raise and love his own family, to whom he was clearly very close. I am sure that some people, when faced with great suffering, lash out in pain and anguish. But somehow, this man had managed to absorb the suffering he was given, and not pass it on. This son was clearly not a saint, but it was also clear to me that he was living out something essential to a Christian life. Grace was active in him, and it was something glorious.

For we are called to endure the sufferings we are given. This world can be a hard one, a vale of tears. But if we accept that suffering with compassion, and remain open to God, then we too can become vessels of grace. I am aware that I am talking about something heroic here. If I said this to the people of Iraq this morning I would expect to be stoned for my troubles, and that would probably be justified. But to throw the suffering that we receive back onto the world or back onto the people that have caused it merely repeats and increases the suffering for everyone. We have to follow the way of the cross. And this is not stoicism – a stiff upper lip which represses all our emotions, and which ends up stifling the heart. This can only rest on the assurance that we are loved, that deeper than the troubles that we endure lies a mystery that embraces us, feeds us and welcomes us. And if we can obey, and we can endure the suffering, then we receive God’s grace – and finally we become what God is calling us to be: glorious; we share in the glory that belongs only to God, but which we live within as his children.

Ambition turned to obedience; obedience leads to suffering; suffering leads to grace; and grace leads us to glory. We cannot know what God’s plans are, but we can know what God is like. For we have seen Him. And from that we know that we can trust Him. Jesus said ‘I have come that you might have life, and have it in all its fullness’. This is the promise that we have been given. It is not a promise that life will be easy, or that everything will go well. In fact, the way of the cross is closer to being the opposite. But it is the promise of a reward that the world cannot touch. For after the cross comes the resurrection. And that is the glory which is our calling as children of God.


Ollie had a very early walk this morning. For some reason I woke up at 5:15, and after half an hour thought 'sod it' and took him out. So the above is a blurred image of Bradwell at night.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Dawkins disembowelled

I've been aware of this for a while, but it has now been made available on-line without a subscription. Marvellously entertaining, and much more theologically aware and sympathetic than I had expected from Terry Eagleton.

Another Christian blogging about Peak Oil

Can be found here.

How exciting.

Wittgenstein, Plato and Pickstock: the sense of religious language

(I wrote this whilst at Westcott, researching for a PhD at Cambridge; the writing of it led directly to the decision to abandon the PhD and concentrate on spiritual formation. If you follow the argument, you will understand why…)

1. In her book ‘After Writing’ [After Writing, Catherine Pickstock, Blackwell, 1998] Catherine Pickstock advances the thesis that ‘liturgical language is the only language that makes sense’ and that ‘the event of transubstantiation in the Eucharist is the condition of possibility for all human meaning’. In this essay I intend to show 1) that the Scotist metaphysics identiifed by Pickstock are the subject of an implicit critique by Wittgenstein; 2) that the wider philosophy developed by Wittgenstein as a result offers considerable support to the principal conclusions of Pickstock’s thesis; and 3) that there are significant differences between the understanding of Socrates offered by Wittgenstein and Pickstock, and that these differences point up a fundamental disagreement over the place of philosophy within theology which has practical consequences.

The Argument of After Writing
2. Pickstock begins her thesis with an examination of the Phaedrus, a mid to late Platonic dialogue. The argument is conducted through an analysis and rejection of the Derridean interpretation of this work, ie Pickstock contends against Derrida that Plato assumed that language was primarily doxological in character, ‘ultimately concerned with praise of the divine’ (p37). According to this view, Socrates ‘attacks sophistry not on the grounds of its linguistic mediation of truth, but because of its undoxological motivation’ (p37). Sophism is therefore identified with the ‘practices of demythologisers... who are concerned only with superficial matters rather than substantive content’ (p5). Through Part 1 of the book Pickstock traces a line of descent from this sophistry through to modern secularism, showing how, for example, the Cartesian elevation of rationality, with all its consequences, owes its origin to ‘the beginnings of a technocratic, manipulative, dogmatically rationalist, anti-erotic, anti-corporeal and homogenising society undergirded by secularity and pure immanence’ (p48), against which Socrates contended. According to Pickstock it is this move away from a transcendent understanding of language which prepares the way for secular modernism: ‘“sophistic” immanentism is the ultimate foundation of these illusions’ (p49). Part 2 of Pickstock’s work is concerned with a detailed analysis of the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic Liturgy, and is concerned to show how it expresses this non-sophistic understanding of reality, such that ‘The words of Consecration “This is my body” therefore, far from being problematic in their meaning, are the only words which certainly have meaning, and lend this meaning to all other words’ (p263, original emphasis). However, in between the two parts of the thesis is a ‘Transition’, which is a key part of the whole thesis, and it is with this that I would like to begin my analysis.

3. According to Pickstock the liturgical polity was sundered from within by an excess piety, principally through the work of Duns Scotus (d. 1308). I would like to pick out the following characteristics of Scotist thought, as presented by Pickstock:
a) the primacy of rationality: ‘And since the “possible”, as distinct from the “actual” is by definition only realised in thought, or in some prior or virtual realm, the place given to the “possible” by Scotus inaugurates the logical basis for privileging epistemology over ontology, and the rational over the actual, thereby opening the way for modern metaphysics’ (p127);
b) the elevation of divine sovereignty: ‘The supremacy of God’s will, according to Duns Scotus, is such that it can realise all possibilities, even those which contradict the actual necessities of the particular created order in which we live’ (p132); and
c) the consequent change in our understanding of the miraculous: ‘Scotus’ departure from analogia entis, which distances God from the world, precipitates a necessary preparedness to undergo at any moment a radically discontinuous and arbitrary alteration caused by God, whose presence in the world is now viewed more ontically, in terms of a willingness to intervene. The miraculous is no longer to be found in the analogical resemblances of the physical order, but in the possible radical discontinuities of that order’ (p131-2).
It is my contention that these elements of Scotist thought are implicitly criticised by Wittgenstein. I will begin by considering his Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough [Included in Philosophical Occasions, ed Klagge and Norman, Hackett, 1993, pp119-155].

Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Frazer’s ‘Golden Bough’
4. Wittgenstein wrote his Remarks in two periods, the first around 1931, the second after 1948. These remarks have been described as one of the two ‘most radically instructive sources for the critical comprehension of ritual’[Brian Clack, review of Cyril Barrett, Wittgenstein on Ethics and Religious Belief, Religious Studies 1993, p577, quoting Rodney Needham. I owe my analysis here to Dr Clack, whose book Wittgenstein and Magic is forthcoming in 1998.], and they are certainly the most extensive comments that Wittgenstein compiled on religious belief.

5. Frazer’s account of ritual in the Golden Bough was concerned to demonstrate an evolution in human consciousness from a state of magical belief, through a state of religious belief, to a final enlightened state of scientific belief. Wittgenstein took great exception to this, principally because it made religious beliefs look like an error, and thus portrayed religion as something that was essentially rational in character. He wrote ‘I believe that the attempt to explain is already therefore wrong’, and later, ‘No opinion serves as the foundation for a religious symbol. And only an opinion can involve an error’ (p120-1). On Wittgenstein’s account, people undertake ritual actions in order to appease something like a religious instinct. He invites us to consider other examples of similar actions: ‘Kissing the picture of one’s beloved. That is obviously not based on the belief that it will have some specific effect on the object which the picture represents. It aims at satisfaction and achieves it. Or rather, it aims at nothing at all; we just behave this way and then we feel satisfied’ (p123). For Wittgenstein, religious expression is something that is wholly natural, ‘One could almost say that man is a ceremonial animal...men also perform actions which bear a characteristic peculiar to themselves, and these actions could be called ritualistic actions... the characteristic feature of a ritualistic action is not at all a view, an opinion’ (p129).

6. Wittgenstein’s understanding of Christianity is of a piece with this. In 1937 [Culture and Value, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Blackwell, 1980, pp28&32.] he wrote ‘The historical accounts in the Gospels might, historically speaking, be demonstrably false and yet belief would lose nothing by this: not, however, because it concerns “universal truths of reason”! Rather because historical proof (the historical proof game) is irrelevant to belief...A believer’s relation to these narratives is neither the relation to historical truth (probability) not yet that to a theory consisting of “truths of reason”’. Most clearly, towards the end of his life [In 1950; Culture and Value p85.], he wrote ‘A proof of God’s existence ought really to be something by means of which one could convince oneself that God exists. But I think that what believers who have furnished such proofs have wanted to do is give their “belief” an intellectual analysis and foundation, although they themselves would never have come to believe as a result of such proofs.’ It seems clear then, that for Wittgenstein, any form of Scotist prioritisation of the rational is misconceived: religious belief is not a consequence of ratiocination.

7. A key notion used by Wittgenstein when discussing these issues is ‘depth’. To return to his Remarks on Frazer, in particular the consideration of the Beltane fire festival, Wittgenstein wrote (p143) ‘Besides these similarities, what seems to be most striking is the dissimilarity of all these rites. It is a multiplicity of faces with common features which continually emerges here and there. And one would like to draw lines connecting these common ingredients. But then one part of our account would still be missing, namely that which brings this picture into connection with our own feelings and thoughts. This part gives the account its depth.’ Then, later, when considering the part of the ritual which involved a make believe thrusting of a man into the fire, ‘It is now clear that what gives this practice depth is its connection with the burning of a man’. The important thing about a ritual action, that which allows it to have the character of a ritual action, is this dimension of depth.

8. Before the remark on man as a ceremonial animal referred to above, Wittgenstein wrote ‘How could fire or the similarity of fire to the sun have failed to make an impression on the awakening mind of man? But perhaps not “Because he can’t explain it” (the foolish superstition of our time) - for will an explanation make it less impressive?... I don’t mean that just fire must make an impression on every one. Fire no more than any other phenomenon, and one thing will impress this person and another that. For no phenomenon is in itself particularly mysterious, but any of them can become so for us, and the characteristic feature of the awakening mind of man is precisely the fact that a phenomenon comes to have meaning for him.’ Thus for Wittgenstein, the explanation for ritual lies not in a mistaken hypothesis, which falsely elevates rationality, but in the way in which a rite can be perceived as ‘deep’, ie as something which provokes a sense of awe and connectedness. Or, as Fergus Kerr has put it, ‘What it is that is deep, about religious rituals as well as magic, is evidently that they bring us into significant relationship with these earthly mundane phenomena.’ [In ‘Wittgenstein’s Kink’, p257 of Beyond Secular Reason, ed Philip Blond, Blackwell, 1997]

9. This leads to a different understanding of the nature of miracles. Consider his remarks on the practice of sun worship; whereas on Frazer’s account the rite is a supposedly magical process, undertaken in order to summon the sun, Wittgenstein simply points out that ‘toward morning, when the sun is about to rise, rites of daybreak are celebrated by the people, but not during the night, when they simply burn lamps’ (p137). Or consider these remarks [Culture and Value, p56], on the ‘miracles of nature’: ‘One might say: art shows us the miracles of nature. It is based on the concept of the miracles of nature. (The blossom, just opening out. What is marvellous about it?) We say: “Just look at it opening out”.’ It seems clear that Wittgenstein’s conception of miracles was explicitly not one of ‘divine intervention’, rather it concerned events within the natural process that provoked a sense of depth in the observer. This conception is most explicit in two further remarks, the first from his Lecture on Ethics given in 1929 [Lecture on Ethics, in Philosophical Occasions, ibid, p43.], the second from a reported conversation [Taken from Cyril Barrett, Wittgenstein on Ethics and Religious Belief, Blackwell 1991, p202.]:
a) following a discussion of experiences such as wonderment at the existence of the world, and the experience of being absolutely safe, Wittgenstein considers ‘what in ordinary life would be called a miracle’, such as a person growing a lion’s head. Wittgenstein suggests that if this happened then people would send for doctors and have the situation investigated, ‘And where would the miracle have got to?’. He continues, ‘This shows that it is absurd to say “Science has proved that there are no miracles”. The truth is that the scientific way of looking at a fact is not the way to look at it as a miracle’.
b) Wittgenstein is considering a report of a ‘faked miracle’, an account of a statue of Christ which bleeds. He comments ‘I have a statue which bleeds on such and such a day in the year. I have red ink etc etc. “You are a cheat but nevertheless the deity uses you. Red ink in a sense, but not red ink in a sense”.’ [Presumably the final clause is using the words ‘in a deeper sense’ - Cf remarks on p87 of Culture and Value.] Although this is something that is created by human endeavour it is still something that can provoke the ‘depth’ or sense of awe which Wittgenstein sees as essential to religious ritual and as underlying a correct understanding of miracles.

10. To conclude this section, then, the Scotist understanding of religion, particularly in respect of its prioritisation of the rational and its understanding of the miraculous, is the implicit subject of Wittgenstein’s critique of Frazer. I would now like to consider how this relates to Wittgenstein’s wider philosophical project, for as Fergus Kerr has argued, Wittgenstein’s philosophical method ‘originated in his objections to Frazer’s reductively rationalistic accounts of primitive religious practices.’ [In Wittgenstein’s Kink, p257.]

Wittgenstein’s understanding of philosophy
11. Wittgenstein at one point employs the analogy of a potato growing shoots if it is left in the dark. He considered that this was what happened in philosophy: philosophers were searching for the light, and just as the potato sent out tendrils which stopped as soon as they found light, so also philosophy built up great metaphysical works in an attempt to gain insight into how things were. What Wittgenstein wanted to do was to shed light on the potato to stop the tendrils from growing in the first place.

12. For Wittgenstein, philosophical problems are the result of conceptual confusion and to meet these problems what is needed is conceptual clarification. The task of the philosopher is to carefully depict the relationships between different concepts. The concepts are the ones used in our everyday language, and it is the fact that the concepts are used in our language that gives them their importance. Thus Wittgenstein wrote: ‘Philosophy can in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it.’(PI 124) The philosopher’s role, therefore, is essentially non-deductive; it is not concerned with offering proofs for particular positions, it is concerned with achieving clarity.

13. When philosophers ask how it is that we know that there is an external world, how we can be assured of the independent existence of other people and so on, this is evidence that the philosophers do not understand the words that they are using. In these examples, the philosopher’s questions appear to be grappling with profound truths, deep and important issues. (Cf PI 111) For Wittgenstein, however, these are not genuine questions, rather they are confusions felt as problems. The philosopher should be concerned with what sense it makes to say certain things, not whether something is true or false. What is needed is an overview of the language being used, the concepts employed, and once this is done then the questions cease to trouble us.

14. Why then is philosophy important? When describing language, Wittgenstein uses the analogy of an old city, which has small twists and byways in the medieval centre, and as you move out through the suburbs the roads become straighter and the houses more standardised. What philosophy must do is provide an accurate road map, which can be a reliable guide as you travel around the city. (What it cannot do is build houses).

15. Wittgenstein wrote ‘The results of philosophy are the uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense and of bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language. These bumps make us see the value of the discovery.’ (PI 119) I understand the first part of this to be like pointing out that, in the centre of the city, there isn’t in fact a mountain, there is a market square. We do not need a grand metaphysical structure to tell us about time (for example) we need to see how people live, to observe how language is sewn into the way that they behave.

16. The second part is the more interesting, and I understand it to mean that, if we are using the map and find that we crash, there is something wrong with the map. This is important because if we crash, we are forced to look up from the map and see what the state of play actually is (this can be related to his advice to most of his students not to study philosophy: it is more important to look around than to make maps - unless you were a genius at map making, like Wittgenstein).

17. The analogy can be developed further. In opposing the tendency to offer essentialist or scientific style explanations of phenomena, it is rather like map makers from the suburbs trying to say that the city centre is also built along long straight roads. When you use a suburban map, therefore, and bump your head, you realise that there is more to life than suburbia. I think that, in throwing us back from our mental maps and making us look at what actually takes place, what Wittgenstein is trying to do in the Investigations has the same motive as the Tractatus - to focus our attention on what is really important. To go back to the analogy, if we bump our heads in the town centre then it is probably because the road has diverged to go round a large obstacle - a cathedral, perhaps, or a football ground. Places that have importance in people’s lives. I think that what Wittgenstein is trying to do is to get us to focus on what really matters in our life. He once said ‘What is the importance of studying philosophy if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life?’

18. Wittgenstein wrote that ‘Philosophy simply puts everything before us’ (PI 126), and also that philosophy ‘leaves everything as it is’ (PI 124). If we gain a clear view of what is at issue, and our problems are therefore dissolved (our minds cease to be troubled) then no new knowledge has been provided. It is not that we now know the truth, rather it is that we now have clear minds. Whatever it is that we knew before, we know now; the difference is that now our minds are content with that knowledge.

19. An important element in Wittgenstein’s thought is the notion of ‘family resemblance’. Consider games - board games, ball games, Olympic Games and so on. What is it that makes them all games? In fact there is no common element; rather there is a network of overlapping similarities which allow us to groups these activities together. What is important is that the notion of family resemblance provides a new analogy with which to categorise things, one that doesn’t try and reduce games to a single vital constituent, without which a game would cease to be a game. For Wittgenstein the ability to be a good philosopher depended upon the ability to think up good analogies or counter-examples (PI 122) which allow for a new way of seeing connections, or which provoked the observer to ‘change the aspect’ under which a phenomenon was seen.

20. One thing that Wittgenstein wishes to emphasise is the importance of the particular case. Wittgenstein is trying to resist the urge to give an overarching theory, an explanation of different phenomena. The urge to give explanations to cover every case is actually neurotic, and it is this urge to generalise with which Wittgenstein takes task. Thus in PI 11-14 there is the discussion of language as like a tool box, with different tools to perform different functions. Why should there be something which all tools have in common? And why are you so concerned to find it? Wittgenstein is very concerned to ease the philosophical mind away from its tendency for abstract theorising, and to focus it on everyday details. Thus there can be no clear argument in the Investigations or else it could be summarised and generalised. The Investigations should be thought of as being an exercise book, or a form of therapy. If you work through the book then you will be cured of the tendency to generalise.

21. This gives an insight into something that Wittgenstein was very concerned with: the urge to find the essence of something, and possibly then to explain it. We should focus on the differences involved with different games (that we normally would accept are games) in order to avoid coming up with a new definition of what a game is that would actually exclude various forms. Rather than trying to look below the surface, we should simply observe the practice, and accept that the practices cannot be shoe-horned into a particular intellectual framework - our minds need to switch off. Wittgenstein felt that this urge was the result of the obsessive worship of science in our culture, and the desire to apply scientific methods to other fields.

22. The way that philosophers should work is to examine language, and to ensure that their ideas have a natural home in the way that people live. In any philosophical investigation, language has a pre-eminent role. For Wittgenstein many of our problems arise because we expect our language to be logical and clear, when in fact it is complex and opaque. We are misled by the grammar of particular concepts. For example, on the surface the following two sentences would appear to have the same grammar: ‘Birds flew by’; ‘Time flew by’. The first word in each sentence functions as a noun. For the first sentence, when we ask what the word ‘Birds’ means, we can point to an external reference and say ‘Those are birds’, and thus we can explain what the sentence refers to. But what of the second sentence?

23. A traditional philosophical question might be ‘What is time’? We want to know what the word means, and because the word is a noun we look to see what it is that is referred to. Yet there is nothing to which we can point and say ‘That is time’. Thus philosophers are puzzled, and trying to answer questions such as this is the epitome of the ‘deep and meaningful question’ which a philosopher is meant to consider. For Wittgenstein, though, the question is nonsensical.

24. Wittgenstein would say, why do we assume that there must be something tangible to which the word refers? Look at how the word is actually used in our language, and see if that enlightens your consideration. Thus, when we look at the contexts in which we use the sentence ‘Time flew by’ they would tend to describe times when we are particularly absorbed in a piece of work, or where we are with friends having an enjoyable evening. The phrase derives its meaning from that context. To then ask, ‘What is time?’ would be absurd. What we must always have at the forefront of our minds is the contingent basis of the language that we use. Language has evolved for particular purposes, it has various distinct uses, and there is no necessity that there is a clear and logical basis for it. (PI 116)

25. What Wittgenstein does, therefore, is try and get us to examine what language actually is, and to try and forget for a moment our preconceptions, or our desires for what we want language to be (PI 131). Wittgenstein wants to release philosophers from the ‘mental cramp’ that comes when we try and ask insoluble questions like ‘What is time’. Hence he employs the examples of language games. In setting up the different language games, for example at the beginning of the Investigations, Wittgenstein is attempting to raise our awareness of what language actually does in different situations.

26. It should now be clear in what way Wittgenstein’s work can be seen as offering a support for Pickstock’s thesis. Where Pickstock claims that it is the event of the Eucharist which provides sense, because it is only in the liturgical context that the words have meaning, Wittgenstein would concur and say that it is in the practice of Christian life as lived - paradigmatically in the Eucharist - that a proper understanding of Christian language can be found. If Christian liturgy is the summation of what Christianity is about then in follows, for Wittgenstein as well as Pickstock, that (for Christians) ‘the liturgical words of consecration are the only words which have meaning, and lend this meaning to all other words’. [There is an issue here about Christianity and other faiths, which needs to be addressed. Pickstock’s thesis that outside the mass there can be no meaning can be understood as saying 1) the mass exemplifies the deepest meaning of Christianity, but also 2) non-Christian liturgy is meaningless. The latter is a metaphysical thesis in so far as it claims that meaningis restricted to Christian language. However, an argument could be made for the latter in post-Wittgensteinian terms, along the lines that Christian liturgy is ‘deeper’, ie it allows for more human integrity, but unfortunately there is not space to do so here.] However, the extent of the overlap can be overstated and I want to now examine the areas of disagreement between the two approaches, and what the implications of this might be.

Wittgenstein’s critique of Socrates
27. For Wittgenstein the source of the traditional approach to philosophy was Socrates [Wittgenstein didn’t distinguish between Plato and Socrates (nor do I in this essay); he sometimes called the source of confusion ‘Plato’s method’.]. He once said to his friend Drury [Quoted in The Danger of Words, M O’C Drury, Thoemmes Press, 1996, p115.], ‘It has puzzled me why Socrates is regarded as a great philosopher. Because when Socrates asks for the meaning of a word and people give him examples of how that word is used, he isn’t satisfied but wants a unique definition. Now if someone shows me how a word is used and its different meanings, that is just the sort of answer I want.’ Or consider these remarks, the first made in 1931, the second in 1945: ‘Reading the Socratic dialogues one has the feeling: what a frightful waste of time! What’s the point of these arguments that prove nothing and clarify nothing?’; ‘Socrates keeps reducing the Sophist to silence, - but does he have right on his side when he does this? Well it is true that the Sophist does not know what he thinks he knows; but that is no triumph for Socrates. It can’t be a case of “You see! you don’t know it!” - nor yet, triumphantly, of “So none of us knows anything”.’

28. I expect that Wittgenstein had in mind a passage such as this one, from Socrates’ first speech in the Phaedrus: ‘in every discussion there is only one way of beginning if one is to come to a sound conclusion, and that is to know what one is discussing... Let us then begin by agreeing upon a definition’. In the conclusion of the Phaedrus Socrates restates this: ‘a man must know the truth about any subject that he deals with; he must be able to define it.’

29. For Wittgenstein it is this emphasis upon definability in words which is the source of all our metaphysical illusions. Whereas for Pickstock Socrates was a doughty fighter on behalf of a doxological account of language, for Wittgenstein Socrates was the source of all our metaphysical troubles, and that, contrary to Pickstock’s account, the source of (for example) Descartes’ ‘clear and distinct ideas’ lies much deeper than Duns Scotus, ‘they lie as deep in us as the forms of our language’. It seems clear that, as Baker and Hacker put it in their commentary on the Investigations [GP Baker and PMS Hacker, Wittgenstein: Meaning and Understanding, Blackwell, 1997, p350], ‘Wittgenstein noted that some of the deep distortions of meaning, explanation and understanding originate with Plato’.

30. As a consequence one can take issue with Pickstock’s claim that Scotus’ thought ‘permitted the return of a spatialized sophistic outlook which Socrates might appear to have banished forever.’ Instead I would argue that it is precisely the reintroduction of Platonic philosophy to Medieval Europe in the 12th century that inspired and enabled Scotus to develop his philosophical system (this would also make more sense of other historical events, such as the controversies over the Creed in the Patristic period - why expend so much time unless the definition was vital? - and the understanding of the Koran in the Muslim world). Both Plato and Scotus are developing metaphysical systems. Consider this remark of Wittgenstein’s from 1931: ‘People say again and again that philosophy doesn’t really progress, that we are still occupied with the same philosophical problems as were the Greeks. But the people who say that don’t understand why it has to be so. It is because our language has remained the same and keeps seducing us into asking the same questions. As long as there continues to be a verb ‘to be’ that looks as if it functions in the same way as ‘to eat’ and ‘to drink’, as long as we still have the adjectives ‘identical’ ‘true’ ‘false’ ‘possible’, as long as we continue to talk of a river of time, of an expanse of space etc etc, people will keep stumbling over the same puzzling difficulties and find themselves staring at something which no explanation seems capable of clearing up. And what’s more, this satisfies a longing for the transcendent, because in so far as people think they can see the “limits of human understanding’ they believe of course that they can see beyond these’.

31. Rather like the potato shoots searching for the light the metaphysical systems are seeking to appease a thirst for depth - the ‘immortal longings’ that Kerr describes in his recent book. It is in this sense that metaphysics is a kind of magic, for the metaphysical systems are the intellectual equivalent of the rites considered by Frazer - they can provoke a sense of awe and reverence. On Wittgenstein’s analysis this is something that is inevitable given the structure of our language. Accordingly, ‘Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language’; as para 111 of the Investigations puts it ‘The problems arising through a misinterpretation of our forms of language have the character of depth. They are deep disquietudes; their roots are as deep in us as the forms of our language and their significance is as great as the importance of our language - Let us ask ourselves, why do we feel a grammatical joke to be deep? (and that is what the depth of philosophy is).’ I would thus argue that any Platonic metaphysical system is inherently flawed, and that Scotus was simply ‘bewitched’ by the reintroduction of the Greek perspective. It is thus not the case that ‘Scotus inaugurated a metaphysics independent of theology’ [John Milbank, The Word Made Strange, Blackwell, 1996, p45] for this tendency was implicit in Platonism from the very beginning.

32. We are left to consider the question of how far theology can be reconciled with philosophy, and what the relationship between the two should be. Fergus Kerr has written that ‘The history of theology might even be written in terms of periodic struggles with the metaphysical inheritance’ [Fergus Kerr, Theology After Wittgenstein, Blackwell, 1986, p187.] and it does seem as if there is something intrinsic to metaphysical endeavour which is inimical to the practice of theology, certainly on a post-Wittgensteinian account of metaphysics. For on Wittgenstein’s account metaphysics is the expression of the desire for the transcendent, a natural theology: in theological terms it is a desire to attain the divine from human efforts. In this way, all such metaphysical systems are idolatrous, for all such natural theology must be subordinate to that derived from the revelation in Christ [NBThis is not the same as the critique of metaphysics offered by John Milbank - ‘the domain of metaphysics is not simply subordinate to, but completely evacuated by theology, for metaphysics refers its subject matter - ‘Being’ - wholesale to a first principle, God, which is the subject of another higher science, namely God’s own, only accessible to us via revelation’ (The Word made Strange, p45)].

33. This is where the deepest disagreements between the Wittgensteinian approach and that of Pickstock are to be found. Pickstock’s argument that only liturgical language has meaning is prefigured by her contention that Socrates accepted an understanding of language as primarily doxological. If my understanding of Wittgenstein is correct, however, there is a contradiction between this understanding of Socrates and the main contention of her thesis, for the metaphysical project that she denounces in Scotus is bound up in our language and created when we are seduced by the metaphysical impulse (and that was what Socrates and Plato succumbed to); as Kerr puts it ‘our way of talking easily generates Platonism’ [Wittgenstein’s Kink, p248]. The argument ultimately concerns the nature of language and how far it can express religious truth. For Wittgenstein ‘the words you utter or what you think as you utter them are not what matters, so much as the difference they make at various points in your life’ [Culture and Value, p85] and I think that this is wholly in tune with Pickstock’s desire for a ‘revolutionary reinvention of language and practice which would challenge the structures of our modern world’ (p171), particularly given Wittgenstein’s comment that he would by no means prefer a continuation of his work to a change in the way people live which would make all these questions superfluous.’

34. For Wittgenstein it is always action which is primary - ‘In the beginning was the deed’ - and our language gains its sense from being embodied in certain practices. Consider the following passage (written in 1937): ‘Christianity is not a doctrine, not, I mean, a theory about what has happened and will happen to the human soul, but a description of something that actually takes place in human life. For ‘consciousness of sin’ is a real event and so are despair and salvation through faith. Those who speak of such things (Bunyan for instance) are simply describing what has happened to them, whatever gloss anyone may want to put on it.’

35. Wittgenstein is always concerned to emphasise the practical importance of a religious belief. He distinguishes between the character of religious beliefs and other beliefs: ‘Christianity is not based on a historical truth; rather, it offers us a (historical) narrative and says: now believe! But not, believe this narrative with the belief appropriate to a historical narrative, rather: believe through thick and thin, which you can do only as a result of a life. Here you have a narrative, don’t take the same attitude to it as you take to other historical narratives! Make a quite different place in your life for it.’

36. A religious belief is not analogous to a belief about a matter of historical fact, or scientific theories. It is one which makes a difference in terms of how you live your life and can only be understood in such contexts ‘it strikes me that a religious belief could only be something like a passionate commitment to a system of reference. Hence, although it’s belief, it’s really a way of living, or a way of assessing life. It’s passionately seizing hold of this interpretation.’

37. There are also his remarks that ‘I believe that one of the things Christianity says is that sound doctrines are all useless, that you have to change your life (or the direction of your life)...the point is that a sound doctrine need not take hold of you, you can follow it as you would a doctor’s prescription. But here you need something to move you and turn you in a new direction’ [Culture and Value, p53]; and ‘A theology which insists on the use of certain particular words and phrases, and outlaws others, does not make anything clearer...It gesticulates with words, as one might say, because it wants to say something and does not know how to express it. Practice gives the words their sense.’

38. This element of Wittgenstein’s thought is one that is continuous throughout his life, and is normally overshadowed by the contrast between the metaphysics of the Tractatus and the non-metaphysics of the Investigations. He once said to Drury that all his fundamental ideas came to him early in life, and his fundamental concerns were always ethical and religious in character. Although he certainly wasn’t an orthodox Christian - he couldn’t bring himself to believe the sorts of things that Christians believed - I would claim that Wittgenstein had a deeply mystical sensibility, and that this was why he ‘always looked at things from a religious point of view’. As Norman Malcolm put it, ‘it is surely right to say that Wittgenstein’s mature life was strongly marked by religious thought and feeling’ [Norman Malcolm, Wittgenstein: a Religious Point of View?, Routledge, 1993, p21.]. Consider his remarks concerning the Tractatus when he was seeking a publisher: ‘The point of the book is ethical...my work consists of two parts: of the one which is here, and of everything which I have not written. And precisely this second part is the important one. For the Ethical is delimited from within, as it were, by my book; and I’m convinced that, strictly speaking it can ONLY be delimited in this way.’

39. Similarly in his lecture on ethics in 1929 (when he was given carte blanche to discuss whatever he wished and chose ethics because he wanted to talk about something which had general importance) he argues ‘not only can no description that I can think of therefore do to describe what I mean by absolute value, but...I would reject every significant description that anybody could possibly suggest, ab initio, on the grounds of its significance. That is to say: I see clearly now that these nonsensical expressions [the Tractatus] were not nonsensical because I had not yet found the correct expressions, but that their nonsensicality was of their very essence. For all I wanted to do with them was just to go beyond the world, that is to say, beyond significant language. My whole tendency, and I believe the tendency of all men who ever tried to write or talk ethics or religion was to run against the boundaries of language.’

40. This concern remains in the Investigations: ‘The results of philosophy are the uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense and of bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language. These bumps make us see the value of the discovery.’ (PI para 119)

41. I would suggest that there is still a residual metaphysical ambition in the argument of After Writing. Pickstock’s argument is that ‘only a realistic construal of the event of the Eucharist allows us to ground a view of language which does not evacuate the body, and does not give way to necrophilia’ - as such she gives the view of language a role in grounding the rejection of necrophilia, and this is to repeat the metaphysical illusions of Platonism, whereby language on its own can achieve religious meaning. For Pickstock, ‘Plato will already have anticipated or hinted at’ [After Writing, p270] the answers that Christianity can offer, and this is why liturgy ‘consummates’ philosophy, for it brings it to completion. For Wittgenstein, however, it is not that liturgy consummates philosophy, for philosophy is sterile and is not a fit partner for liturgy. The two operate in different spheres. I would contend, therefore, that at the heart of the argument of After Writing Christianity is subordinated to an intrinsically idolatrous Platonism.

42. This argument is emphatically NOT saying, however, that Wittgenstein’s critique of metaphysics should be accepted ‘because it makes a certain type of theology possible’ [Beyond Secular Reason, Introduction, p40]. Blond’s critique of Wittgenstein repeats a common misunderstanding - indeed a metaphysical misunderstanding - of Wittgenstein’s project, and one, moreover, that Kerr’s article in his volume was trying to overcome. For Wittgenstein philosophy was essentially non-substantive, it was not concerned to offer explanations, nor was it concerned to show ‘the nature of existence’ for these are metaphysical questions. As such they belong in the realm of theology, which is where the ‘really important’ questions are considered, and hence, if you accept Wittgenstein’s conception of philosophy it doesn’t interfere with religious beliefs. Not because it makes theology possible or gives it a foundation, for those are metaphysical claims, but because it reduces philosophy to its proper sphere, which is the search for clarity in our understanding. For Wittgenstein ‘All that philosophy can do is destroy idols’ [Philosophical Occasions, p171]; it cannot say anything about God, and hence ‘If Christianity is the truth then all the philosophy that is written about it is false’ [Culture and Value p83]. It is therefore a serious misreading of Wittgenstein to say that ‘he repeats a metaphysical account of the physical in that he also actualises the ontological and transcendental occlusion of the possibility that God is to be seen in the visible world’ [Beyond Secular Reason, p41] for this analysis still assumes that it is possible to say something substantive about God in metaphysical terms.

43. In On Certainty, Wittgenstein writes: ‘The child learns to believe by a host of things, ie it learns to act according to those beliefs. Bit by bit there forms a system of what is believed, and in that system some things stand unshakeably fast and some are more or less liable to shift. What stands fast does so, not because it is intrinsically obvious or convincing; it is rather held fast by what lies around it.’ When a child is taught the use of religious language the existence of God is not something which is rationally demonstrated, rather it is the precondition for the way of thinking and living being taught to the child. I would say that the awareness of God comes about gradually through being inducted into a form of life - ‘Light dawns gradually over the whole’.

44. For Wittgenstein ‘What is good is also divine. Queer as it sounds, that sums up my ethics’, and furthermore ‘Ethics, in so far as it springs form the desire to say something about the ultimate meaning of life, the absolute good, the absolutely valuable, can be no science. What it says does not add to our knowledge in any sense.’ It is always a mistake to try and think of theology as something that enables us to add to our store of knowledge because, on his analysis, religious truth (and what is theology if not the search for religious truth?) is ultimately something that must be shown. It is not a matter of cognitive knowledge, separate from life, but of a fully embodied existence - a life lived in all its fullness. It is not something that can (or needs to) be argued for or justified by argument; it can only be seen by ‘a change of aspect’, and that can only be provoked by a life.

45. After Wittgenstein, with Pickstock, liturgy must be seen as the locus of meaning. But the corollary of this, against Pickstock, is that we shouldn’t be ultimately concerned with establishing an orthodoxy, whether radical, neo- or otherwise. The Christian - whether a theologian or not - is called to orthopraxy, for it is only in living the life of love that our words will make sense.

Sam Norton
Westcott House
February 1998


Reasonable Learning Church this morning, where I outlined the doomer perspective, which I am more-or-less convinced by. At least, convinced in the sense that ceteris paribus - if nothing changes - we are doomed.

What most needs to change is spiritual. We either return to God or we die. Either way, western civilisation, as experienced for 200+ years, will end in my lifetime.

Hmmmm... Close to the bone

You scored as Roman Catholic. You are Roman Catholic. Church tradition and ecclesial authority are hugely important, and the most important part of worship for you is mass. As the Mother of God, Mary is important in your theology, and as the communion of saints includes the living and the dead, you can also ask the saints to intercede for you.

Roman Catholic


Neo orthodox


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Classical Liberal




Reformed Evangelical


Modern Liberal




What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com


I have arrived at the rock bottom of my convictions.

And one might almost say that these foundation-walls are carried by the whole house.


Friday, October 20, 2006

What will Google do?

Late last year, when I was using the 'Running On Empty' Yahoo group, I had a minor debate with Matt Savinar, and I argued that the doomer perspective didn't take into account the dynamic response of corporate interests, which I summed up in the question "What will Google do?" (see here for original message).

Anyhow, that question has now been answered.

An Inconvenient Truth

Saw this on Wednesday afternoon, with a group from church. Very good, tho' very little that I wasn't already aware of.

I hope there are lots of really horrible weather events next year in the US that compel him into the presidency. I'm a sucker for comeback stories. Rocky III has to be one of the formative influences in my life...

By the way

There are so many things that I want to read and so many things that I want to say and I am way behind on both.

I just wanted to say that.


Go watch this. Wonderful and compelling.

(HT The Fire and The Rose)


In my Peak Oil presentation I talk about wind being a viable alternative - there's now an excellent discussion over at the Oil Drum about the viability of wind. Turns out that the EROEI is 20-25:1 which is outstanding (and significantly better than deep water oil - how about that). As always, some of the best information is in the comments (see especially the comparison of wind with photovoltaics near the bottom).

So there's room for hope.

And that's all I'm going to say about that.

The fen this morning

Spent last night at Hemingford Grey with a colleague. It should be called 'cell group' but that sounds a bit grand when we are down to just the two of us! A good thing to do, even when we despair at the future of the church (spent much time talking about this book).

Thursday, October 19, 2006


And that something stands fast for me is not grounded in my stupidity or credulity.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Island

Reasonably diverting.

Another one where there is a fairly obvious political parallel, but it was rather laboured to be honest. Not sure it was an advance on the Matrix, for example.

However, I did like the 'programming' - "you have been chosen". You're so special, you're so unique, just like everybody else.... You might almost say that they were New Age clones.

Let us be Human 2: Peak Oil

Audio of last Saturday's talk can now be found here.

Those familiar with Peak Oil won't hear anything new, but for those unfamiliar with it, it might prove a good introduction.


Do you trust wikipedia?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lets get depressed

Doing some research for next Saturday's learning church, whilst also juggling various other parish matters - including some sudden seriously bad news for a colleague - and finding that it is all rather an accumulation of sadness.

Good summary of the line that I'll be taking is here.

In short: the human race is in 'overshoot' - there are more of us than can be sustained, and the chances are that there will be a significant reduction in human population.


Let's get depressed.

(I'll cheer up again later)


Our talk gets its meaning from the rest of our proceedings.


Monday, October 16, 2006


What I hold fast to is not one proposition but a nest of propositions.


Sunday, October 15, 2006


Seven thin barrels of oil eat seven fat barrels of oil.
And we're not at the beginning.
We're half way through year seven.


The reasonable man does not have certain doubts.


Saturday, October 14, 2006


"follow the whole of your nature and write the book that only you can write, and see what happens"

(Philip Pullman, a man with whom I have significant disagreements, but these words are displayed largely and prominently by my computer. In practice I omit 'the book that' and substitute 'what'. Hence, 'let us be human' and all that shall follow from it.)

Well exactly!

John Stott: "I said Christ and the biblical witness to Christ. But the really distinctive emphasis is on Christ. I want to shift conviction from a book, if you like, to a person. As Jesus himself said, the Scriptures bear witness to me. Their main function is to witness to Christ."

I seem to recall being accused of 'neo-Barthianism' when I made the same argument a while back.


The Ladykillers

Fun. I do like the Coen brothers.

Strange light

There was a really strange light on the beach this afternoon, opalescent. I suspect the air was saturated with moisture, as if it wanted to rain but couldn't get its act together. Tried to capture something of it with these piccies, but as always, you can't.