A lay essay in Theology
Category: Doctrine and Theology
First Published by Hodder & Stoughton, 1965.
After a somewhat confusing beginning, during which Nicholas acknowledges that the purpose of the book is to discuss chaos and evil, and the part humans and religion play in this, the author presents a highly intellectual analysis on religion and experience, and how they both apply to life in general, mainly in the areas of family life, upbringing, marriage, sex, politics and art. He refers a lot to the psychology of how religion has influenced us in the past, and how it does today. He discusses at length how our past affects us in our lives subconsciously, and that in recognising the truth about himself and the world around him, feelings of hopelessness or depression lingering from the past would start to lift, enabling a person to live more fully today.
He tries to analyse good and evil, acknowledging that in order to know how to do good you have to be the sort of person who automatically chooses to do good without knowing it. Trusting that it is possible to be this sort of person is understandable only through the eyes of religion. He makes the claim that religious language is the only language in which one can talk about important issues such as the world and oneself.
Religion did not compel, did not threaten: it described what was offered to a person, which was freedom; and even if this was not accepted, freedom was still there. It was the language, the stuff of life, by which men learned not to be machines; that in fact they were not. (p.48)
Some sections of the book seem unclear as to their meaning, and do not make easy reading. The author appears to make some odd claims, such as questioning the authority of the Bible, but acknowledges that our understanding of God is very limited; what is knowable is only such through man's experience of God. To write of religion is difficult. Through the ages men have tried to write and talk about God, yet not fully understanding (not that this is possible) and so have been led to violence in the name of love. Nicholas analyses some of the reasons for this. Ultimately he makes the very true claim that religion without experience is dead, and leads to hatred or worse; yet this is the case for many churches. He observes that where Christ bought freedom man has imposed rules, and alongside that a fear of breaking them.
It is one of the ironies of religion that all this is spelt out for Christians, yet they do not believe it. (p.70)
After a fairly slow start to the book, he goes on to discuss the role of religion in marriage, but seems to hold fairly traditional views on the roles of men and women. His description of the marriage relationship is both artistic and descriptive; indeed very poetic. Following this he has a wonderfully graceful portrayal of God suffering for us, and the book begins to come alive.
There is an eye-opening view into the psychology of child behaviour, and the needs of a child as they grow, which seems to link the issues discussed, and the meaning of the book.
Nicholas challenges, quite rightly, our attitudes to how religion works and what religion is, but crucially he states it is not ideas, but talking of our experiences, that will inform others of the truths that Christians believe in.
Debbie Newson, June 2007
Debbie Newson is a nurse, a student at London School of Theology, and is currently writing her own book.Order from www.christianbookshops.org
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