Systematic and Philosophical Theology – William Nicholls

Theology today can mean anything from reverence for the living God to the proposition that God is dead.  How has the ‘science of thinking about God’ reached this dilemma?

In modern times theology has run into that same crisis which has been induced in the whole of civilized culture by the direction of science.  The volume outlines the directions in of thought adopted by such modern theologians as Barth, Bultmann, Bonhoeffer and Tillich in the face of scientific challenge.  it reveals a liveliness and openness in modern religious thought which suggests that, whatever it may become in the future, theology is not dying.

Over the last year I have been paying attention to some famous American apologists and have come to the conclusion that they are very much like politicians in their answers to questions.  Finding Systematic and Philosophical Theology at the back of my bookcase has allowed for some more meaty theological thought instead.

The theology in question is focused on German protestantism of the first half of the 20th century, although there is some mention of Catholicism as well, when ideas converge.  All this is actually a lot more interesting than it may sound, believe it or not.

For laypeople who are reading out of general curiosity, such as myself, the first chapter is handy in summing up theology of the church upto the 19th century, before dealing in a more detailed way with 19th century German belief. Continue reading “Systematic and Philosophical Theology – William Nicholls”

Theory of Religion – Georges Bataille

“Religion”, according to Bataille, “is the search for a lost intimacy.”  In a brilliant and tightly reasoned argument he proceeds to develop a “general economy” of man’s relation to this intimacy:  from the seamless immanence of animality, to the shattered world of objects, and the partial, ritual recovery of the intimate order through the violence of sacrifice.  Bataille then reflects on the archaic festival in which he sees not only the glorious affirmation of life through the destructive consumption but also the seeds of another, more ominous order – war.

It’s been a while since I dipped my toe into the world of Philosophy and it was extremely fortuitous that I decided to start here.  It’s hard to know what to expect from Bataille, a writer on such diverse subjects as mysticism, the surreal, poetry, and erotica.

Bataille was an atheist so naturally a book entitled Theory of Religion was always going to pique my interest.  The title in in itself is misleading, this is not about organised religion as we would think of it today but something more ancient, an innate need to separate the physical from the spiritual.

The more naturalistic elements of understanding the divine are explored, The severance from our animal ancestors through evolution, but with a wish to retain a connection despite community being favoured over the competitive singular. Continue reading “Theory of Religion – Georges Bataille”

A History of Christianity – Diarmaid MacCulloch

How did the cult around an obscure spiritual teacher from Nazareth in the first century come to be the world’s biggest religion, with a third of humanity its followers?  This epic, acclaimed history follows the story of Christianity around the globe, from ancient Palestine to contemporary China.  encompassing wars, empires, reformers, apostles, sects and crusaders, it shows how Christianity has brought humanity to the most terrible acts of cruelty – and inspired its most sublime accomplishments.

Any book starting off with some etymology between Hebrew and Greek words automatically tell me that this was going to be a good book, and so it proved over 1016 pages of small print.  Its dense on facts but in a good way and has some gorgeous photos.  I learned a lot and have a lot more questions.

Is it a complete history of Christianity? No, as MacCullough is quick to establish.  I wonder if there can be such a thing, like a complete history of the Mediterranean, it just seems way too complex for a single volume, or even a single lifetime of work.  What the reader does get though is a fair, balanced and comprehensive view between supposition and fact, by a good historian who occasionally drops in a bit of dry humour along the way.

There is plenty of depth here, hundreds of names and dates, and bouncing around between time frames but it never feels overwhelming and with short chapters focussing on specifics – of both Eastern and Western churches, then beyond –  it is an easily readable if turbulent book. Continue reading “A History of Christianity – Diarmaid MacCulloch”

What is Religion? and Other Writings – Leo Tolstoy

An insight into Tolstoy as there was no dust jacket to amuse you with.

Sat in work’s canteen, I found myself enjoying a bit of Tolstoy, nothing beats having a paid fifteen minute break to sit and read a book.  This book wouldn’t have been my obvious choice for a début work read but it was something I had started and quite simply didn’t wish to distract myself with another book.

I remember picking up my somewhat battered 1902 version from a wonderful second-hand shop four or so years ago and it is worth every penny of the £4.95, I paid for it.  Why somebody would let this go I have no idea.  Tolstoy writes with a simplicity and a logic that whilst sometimes seeming a little repetitive, makes his points with an effective and compelling clarity.

The primary essay centres on Tolstoy asking what is religion and its essence?   He begins by analysing the key message of all religions, what they have in common, the teachings, in particular Christianity (and the teachings of Jesus) and how far the established church has diverted from certain tenets of its own faith.

In this and the other writings, class is a big factor for the author, asking why small groups of powerful people be it in the Church or not are working for their own ends and not for the good of everybody.  Tolstoy also asks us to consider the logic of some of the dogma that surrounds the modern-day state of the church, these are issues that are around today and seem to still be largely ignored. Continue reading “What is Religion? and Other Writings – Leo Tolstoy”

Vita Brevis – Jostein Gaarder

 ” Vita Brevis is both a classic love story, beautifully told, and a fascinating insight into St Augustine’s life and that of his concubine. It is up to the reader to determine its authenticity”

I find Jostein Gaarder’s books a bit hit and miss, in fact the score is now 4-3 in favour of the ‘hits’ thanks to this book.

Whilst having a potter around a bookshop in Buenos Aires, the author comes across a letter written to St Augustine (author of The Confessions, bishop of Hippo in the fourth century and all round pious chap) from his ex lover Floria Aemiliathe.

Naturally he (Gaarder) buys the letter and wants to get it verified, so sends it off to the Vatican, where it is never heard of again, and all he is left with is a photocopy of the original. The question being how much of the letter you are about to read is true, or is it just an intellectual excerise by the author?

I haven’t got around to purchasing and reading a copy of The Confessions yet but it doesn’t make the book any less enjoyable as Floria quotes extensively from said book and gives us a mini biography of their relationship, his treatment of her, as well arguing with his views on religion.

Floria herself is very intellectual, quoting from various Greek myths and philosophies as well as Roman orators. Although the letter is written from her personal viewpoint, it has a wider aim of asking questions of the way the Catholic church doctrine works and how the church viewed and treated women, especially intelligent women. Continue reading “Vita Brevis – Jostein Gaarder”

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